Friday, August 9, 2019

Golden Braids Blog Tour DAY 5: The Dragon's Flower!

Hello, everyone! It's the final day of the Golden Braids blog tour, and we're finishing out the week with an Asian-inspired fantasy: The Dragon's Flower by Wyn Estelle Owens. I absolutely love this book; it's got an epic scope yet a personal feel, fabulous families, adorable romances, a Fox that isn't a fox, and a writing style remniscent of some of my favorite authors. You can read more of my excitement over on Light and Shadows, but while you're here, I have an interview with Wyn Estelle Owens, so maybe stick around for that first.

About . . .

The Dragon’s Flower!

In the wilds of the mountainous country of Akiyama, there stands a pagoda. When Shichiro, an exiled, honorless samurai stumbles across it one rainy morning, he expects to find it empty and abandoned. He was not expecting to find a lonely princess with near-mythical blue eyes dwelling in the top floors.

Hanako has dwelt alone for all her life, with only her two silent handmaidens and the countless dragon effigies on her walls to keep her company; her only knowledge of the outside world gained from the books and scrolls she reads. When the wandering ronin stumbles onto her haven, she gains her first friend, never knowing how deeply this chance meeting would affect her.

The threads of fate have tied these two together, and all the while turmoil boils in the midst of the Seven Countries of Azuma-no-Kuni. Rumors of alliances and armies sprout up, and whispers of the long-lost Imperial Line returning at last. Old prophecies ripen at last, and old myths prepare to show themselves once again in the hour of need. Amongst it all stand two new allies—an isolated princess and a near-friendless ronin, as the wheels of fate and destiny circle them and draw ever closer. Will peace at last return to the fractured realms, or will remnants of the once great Empire splinter beyond all redemption?

Find it On: Amazon || Goodreads

Wyn Estelle Owens!

Wyn Estelle Owens is the penname of a young woman who’s still figuring out what this whole ‘adult’ thing is all about. She lives in a big, old house in Maryland by a Hundred Acre Wood (dubbed Neldoreth) with her parents, three occasionally obnoxious brothers, her dog Jackie, and her rabbit Joker. She is fond of reading, writing, drawing, speaking in dead or imaginary languages, playing videogames, quoting classic or obscure literature, being randomly dramatic, and generally making things out of yarn. Her dream is to write stories that inspire people to chase after the wonderful world of storytelling. Her favorite all-time authors are Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Christa Kinde, and above all, J.R.R. Tolkien, who first inspired her to pursuing novel writing when she read the Hobbit at the age of seven.

Find her on Facebook.

Interview with Wyn Estelle Owens

Welcome to the blog, Wyn! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, like your hobbies, how you got into writing, your favorite books (besides your own), or just anything else you’d like to share?
Hello, thanks for having me! Hmm… my hobbies. I have a lot of hobbies—things like drawing, reading, storytelling to my cousins, and any sort of crafting are my favorites. My favorite books are The Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl and absolutely anything by J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but what truly inspired me was when my mother read the Hobbit to us when I was six, and then reading it for myself the next year. My early efforts were, uh… interesting, but I completed my first novel (over 200 pages, written by hand), before I turned thirteen. Someday I plan to revise that story and publish it, but who knows when that will be?

That should be interesting. So, The Dragon's Flower is an Asian retelling of Rapunzel. What gave you the inspiration for this story and especially for the setting?
The inspiration happened back in the summer of 2016, during the gap year between Five Magic Spindles and Five Poisoned Apples. I had guessed the most likely retelling for the last contest would be Snow White, but I decided to come up with a Rapunzel retelling as a back-up, just in case. I think I had been musing about different settings and tower substitutes and the like, so I had been thinking about pagodas and a possible Far Eastern retelling. Then, I ran across a picture on pinterest. It depicted a Japanese samurai on a horse, staring up at something with a look of faint wonder on his face, and I thought “I wonder if he’s looking up at a princess, like the prince in Rapunzel?” And since I already had pagodas in my mind, the picture cemented my musings, and the beginnings of The Dragon’s Flower was born—a wandering samurai and a princess dwelling at the top of a mysterious pagoda. Sadly, the horse in the picture did not make it into the actual story.

Ah well. Having read The Dragon's Flower already, I can tell that you put a lot of research into the world. How did you go about doing your research, and how did it fit in with your writing process?
Almost all of the research was done on the internet, a lot of it during the writing process. This type of research, of course, led to much hairpulling, railing at uninformative websites, and desperate searches for cross-references in order to make sure any tidbit of information was accurate. Still, it was a lot less stressful than the research for my last book, and since the world of Azuma-no-Kuni is only Japan-inspired and not Japan itself, I did have some room for improvisation.

I definitely agree that writing an "inspired-by" world is nice in that regard! What's your favorite piece of writing advice you've ever received (whether "favorite" means most interesting, most useful, most unusual, or some other definition)?
It’s been so long that I can’t remember the exact phrasing or even who said it, but this is how I remember it.

“You can’t rely on the muses, or blame them when you haven’t written anything. Muse and inspiration is fickle, if you only write when they’re in your favor you’ll never get anything done. You have to sit down and write, even if your inspiration is dry. It may be trash, or at best unrefined, but that’s what first drafts are for. The rest can be polished later, but you can’t edit words that don’t exist.”

That is advice that I pretty much live by. Great quote. Fun question: if you could pull one of your characters into our world for a day, who would you pick, and what would you two do together?

Ooohhh, one of my characters? Isao, definitely. He’s my favorite (sorry, Shichiro!), and I’d love to spend a day with him! What would we do? Well, we’d probably take a drive up north to my hometown and spend the time hanging out in all my favorite spots, laughing and joking, and eating ice cream while plotting pranks on my brothers for when we get back to my house. Then we’d probably watch something fun and actiony—A-Team, maybe?—and eat ramen until he has to return.

Isao would be super fun to hang out with! Finally, any hints on what we can expect from you next? Will you be writing any more stories set in the world of The Dragon's Flower?
Well, I do have a collection of short stories I plan to release sometime this Autumn—maybe as soon as late September. We’ll have to see on that, however. As to more stories in Azuna-no-Kuni? Ahaha, well…. DF was supposed to be a standalone. Then, all these characters showed up with either extremely interesting backstories or exciting future potential, and then I started fleshing out the history and all these intriguing near-mythological, legendary heroes started showing up, each with stories of their own, and… yeah. There’s gonna be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Flower. When, (or how many), I’m not sure… but they are coming.

You have no idea how happy that makes me. Thanks for both answering my questions and for giving me something to look forward to!

And many thanks to all of you for stopping by! So, tell me, are you excited to read The Dragon's Flower? What are you most looking forward to? Please tell me in the comments, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour posts and enter the giveaway!
Have a lovely day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Blog Tour Stops: August 9

Knitted By God's Plan - Five Reasons to Read
Light and Shadows - Five Reasons to Read


Unicorn Quester
The Language of Writing


Safe Return Doubtful - Shichiro
Dreams and Dragons - Wyn

Guest Posts

Reality Reflected - Rapunzel and Ancient Japan

Or find the full list of stops here.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Golden Braids Blog Tour DAY 4: Interview With Meredith Leigh Burton

Hey'a, everyone! It's the second-to-last day of the Golden Braids blog tour, and today's book is Rebekah's Refuge, the latest book by Meredith Leigh Burton. This is a delightful western fantasy with an emphasis on family that I really enjoyed. You can read more about my thoughts on the book over at Light and Shadows; here, I have an interview with Meredith! But first — you know the drill — a little about the book and author.

About . . .

Rebekah’s Refuge!

Never allow a stranger to buy you anything. Never reveal what you truly are. Above all, never, ever allow your hair to be cut.

In a plague-ravaged world, people will stop at nothing to find a cure. Rebekah is a young norn who on the run for her life. Charles, a man desperate to heal his ailing wife, wants the life-giving magic contained in Rebekah's hair.

When Rebekah’s path crosses with Martha’s, a mother who has lost her daughter to the same man, secrets will be revealed. Buried fears will be resurrected, and the conflict between norns and humans may cause devastating havoc. Will Rebekah and Martha find a way to help both human and nornkind, or will Rebekah’s pursuer capture her? Will the plague be eradicated, or is a more sinister plan at work?

Things are not how they appear in this story of finding a place to belong. Rebekah’s Refuge is a tale of sacrifice, love and courage. You will meet many individuals, human and norn alike, who bear scars, scars that cannot be seen. A tenuous thread binds their destinies together, but threads, like hair, can easily be cut. Only those who listen can find the courage to fight. Rebekah’s Refuge is a tale of desperation and hope, a story of turmoil and healing.

Find it On: Amazon || Goodreads

Meredith Leigh Burton!

Meredith Leigh Burton is a voracious devourer of fairy tales. She is a motivational speaker, teacher and writer. She attended the Tennessee School for the Blind and Middle Tennessee State University, where she received a degree in English and theater. Meredith hopes to convey through her writing that people with differences can contribute much to the world. “Snow White” has always been her favorite fairy tale. Meredith has written another fairy tale based on “Snow White” entitled Hart Spring, which can be found in her anthology, Blind Beauty and Other Tales of Redemption. She resides in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Find her online at:  Goodreads || Amazon

Interview With Meredith Leigh Burton

Welcome to the blog, Meredith! First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, like your hobbies, how you got into writing, your favorite books (besides your own), or just anything else you’d like to share?
It is such an honor to visit your blog, Sarah! I am a voracious bookworm, love helping with church activities, love spending time with my young nieces, enjoy attending plays and concerts and love to sing. I have a huge sweettooth and enjoy baking, (but not as much as eating), anything with chocolate or caramel.  My favorite books include The Tales of Goldstone Wood series, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, Entwined, by Heather Dixon, and any book that retells fairy tales or explores different cultures with an emphasis on folklore.  For instance, one of my favorite authors, Erin Entrada Kelly, is releasing a debut fantasy novel this fall entitled Lolani of the Distant Sea, which contains many references to Filipino folklore.  I am very excited to read that one.

Oooh, a fellow Entwined fan! And Lolani of the Distant Sea sounds great too. So, what, in your opinion, is the best part of the writing process? The hardest part?
The most enjoyable part of the writing process for me is the way characters will surprise you.  I am more of a plotter now than a pantser, (which is not the way my writing began), but characters still
have a way of surprising you. I might begin by thinking one character is a villain, but then I realize they may not be. I also adore writing dialogue. If I can hear a character's conversation, the story
will flow smoothly.  I also love the revision process. My least favorite part of writing is the way in which I second-guess myself regarding world-building.  I admire authors who can develop such intricate worlds in such logical fashion.  I have to constantly review my plots to make sure that the points about the world make sense.

World-building can be tough, I agree. As readers may or may not know, you happen to be blind. Does that affect your writing process at all, as opposed to the writing process of a sighted author? If so, how?
That is an excellent question. No, my writing process is probably no different except in the equipment I use. I use a device called a Braille Sense to outline; a handheld machine with a Braille display I
can read and a Braille keyboard on which I can type ideas about characters or outlines plot points.  I type multiple drafts of a manuscript on a standard laptop computer that uses a speech program called JAWS. The screenreader reads what I have written, and I can then go back and listen for any mistakes and correct them. I do hire an editor to help me with visual aspects of a story.  It's amazing how simple details about vision can be so tricky. For instance, in a certain story, I had a chase scene in which soldiers were pursuing two sisters. I didn't realize how far-ranging a person's eyesight is, so
I had to adjust the scene fairly significantly in order to make it realistic.

That would be tricky. What sources did you draw on for inspiration as you wrote Rebekah's Refuge, other than, of course, the original Rapunzel fairy tale?
I drew on 2 Corinthians 5:17, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation," since the story explores the theme of renewal.  I drew on news reports about the disease of racism that is infecting our country.  Even though much progress has been made, there is much that still needs to be done.  I also drew on my own family's experience with illness.  We have been having a difficult year with my
grandmother's sickness, and I understand the pain and distress involved in caring for someone who is very ill.  This fact helped me to develop the villain's backstory.  Well, he may or not be a villain.
Readers will have to judge that for themselves. I also researched different types of faerie lore.  Norns were inspired by dryads and naiads, spirits of the trees and water.  While I wanted my norn characters to have human aspects, (they are meant to reflect humanity even if they are otherworldly), I wanted to portray a reclusive race who are often misunderstood even if they have much to offer.

I can confirm that you did a great job with that. Speaking of the norns, Rebekah's Refuge features a very unique magic system involving music and magical hair. How did you come up with this magic system?
The magical system was inspired by the original tale of Rapunzel, a fairy tale that I love but that often frustrates me. When Rapunzel is in the tower, she often sings, and her singing is so lovely that it causes the birds to cease their music to listen to her. The singing also draws the prince toward the tower. While I have always enjoyed Rapunzel's story, I felt that she was cruelly used, both by the witch and the prince. He was drawn to her music, yes, but he only visits her at night and makes her weave the rope that he will then use to free her. He is a prince. Why can he not report what he has found, capture the witch and find a way to release her sooner? If you read the original tale, (not the sanitized version), you will be disturbed by his actions and their end result.

I wanted the hair and Rapunzel's voice to stand for inner strength, a strength which she can rely upon with or without a man's help. This world's Creator is the one who empowers, thus he gives the norns
something they can use both to help humanity and themselves.

That's beautiful. Now, time for a fun question! If you could spend an afternoon with any of the characters in Rebekah's Refuge, who would you pick and what would you do?
I would love to hang out with Rebekah, the norn who is my main protagonist's namesake.  She's creative, kind and lonely, and she loves interacting with others.  Unfortunately, she is often misunderstood, but she is protective of those she loves and is very strong.  Rebekah is the "witch" stand-in in my tale because I have never considered the witch in Rapunzel to be a villainness.

I did notice that. That's an interesting perspective. Finally, any hints on what book you'll be working on next? Do you think there will be more books set in the world of Rebekah's Refuge someday?
Absolutely! I am working on a novella entitled Regret and Revelry, a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling. The story is about a fae kingdom of the Unseelie Court and a dysfunctional family within that court. When some lower-cast mortal sisters become entangled in a deceptive brother's schemes, the sisters must find a way to escape. However, the true villain is not the one you might think.  The story is inspired by The Twelve Dancing Princesses tale as well as 2 Samuel Chapter 13.

Yes, I hope to write more books in Rebekah's world.  In fact, The Princess and the Invisible Apple Tree, a Snow White retelling I released last year, is set in that world in an earlier time period. That story does not deal with norns, however, and addresses more nonmagical events.  Even if I write books in the same worlds, I prefer for all my works to act primarily as stand-alones.  I deeply abhor
cliffhanger endings or books that rely too much on previous ones in a series.

Regret and Revelry sounds amazing! And I didn't those two books were in the same world. That's super cool. Thanks for answering my questions!

And thank you, readers, for stopping by the blog and supporting the tour. Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour posts!
Have a lovely day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Blog Tour Stops: August 8

Knitted By God's Plan - Five Reasons to Read
Light and Shadows - Five Reasons to Read


The Language of Writing


Dreams and Dragons - Meredith

Character Spotlights

Reality Reflected - Rebekah
The Labyrinth - Martha
Dragonpen Press - Frederick
Or find the full list of stops here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Golden Braids Blog Tour DAY 3: MECHANICAL HEART RELEASE! (Ft. Writing Deaf Characters (When You're Not Deaf))

Hey'a, everyone! As you can see from the title, Mechanical Heart is officially out! Writing, editing, and publishing this book has been quite a journey, and it involved a lot of challenges I didn't have to deal with when writing Blood in the Snow. But it's done; it's out in the world and ready for you all to explore; and all those challenges are now just life lessons and stories to tell. And for today, I'm sharing about one of those challenges . . . but first, blurb time.

About . . .

Mechanical Heart!

Can you save someone who doesn’t know if she’s alive?

Breen lives locked away, separated from the world by the walls of her clock tower and the machine of gems, gears, and magic that replaces her heart. That is, until an unexpected visitor appears in her tower, offering a dangerous gift: freedom. His promises awaken hope for a life unbound by the tower walls — but she knows that if he learns about her heart, it’s only a matter of time before he turns on her.

Josiah is powerless. Though he’s the crown prince of the mighty Chanian empire, he feels stifled by his inability to protect his people from the schemes of corrupt nobles. When he discovers a girl trapped in a locked clock tower, he thinks he’s finally found a problem he can solve . . . but more than just walls keep her captive.

From the royal palace to the streets of Rivenford to the tops of clock towers, secrets hide around every corner in this steampunk retelling of Rapunzel. Breen and Josiah hold the keys to each other's struggles — if they can break down the barriers that divide them.

Find it On: Amazon || Goodreads

On Writing Deaf Characters (When You're Not Deaf)

If you’re an author of speculative fiction, you learn pretty quickly how to write characters who are different from you. After all, most writers aren’t sword-wielding, spell-slinging adventurers or sharp-shooting, quick-witted starship captains. Very few of us grew up without knowing who our parents are; most of us haven’t had to deal with the mental or physical aftermath of fighting for our lives; and none of us have ominous prophecies hanging over our heads. (At least, I assume not. If I’m wrong on that one, please let me know.)

Mechanical Heart is no exception to that principle. After all, its cast includes a politician prince whose desire to change the world is only surpassed by his tendency to make dramatic speeches, a pair of pretty brilliant (and also rather technically minded) inventors, and a princess who might be one of the most outgoing and extroverted characters I’ve ever written. Oh, and did I mention that two of those characters — one of the inventors and the princess — are deaf?

So, how does a hearing author write a deaf character? The usual advice for writing characters different from you — “Write people, not characters” — only goes so far. For the rest, well, that requires a lot of research and a bit of ingenuity.

Most of that research went into figuring out how Breen and the other major deaf character, Princess Grace, would communicate and interact with other people. In the earliest version of the book, conversations between Breen and Josiah (the prince I mentioned earlier) involved a lot of written notes and too-accurate lip reading. However, the more I learned about life for a deaf person, the more I realized that what I had was both unrealistic and infeasible.

Thankfully, by the time I got around to writing the second, third, and fourth drafts, I had help. By that time, I was in college and had found a friend with a fair knowledge of sign language and the Deaf community. She and some of her friends were able to answer quite many of my questions, and they directed me to solid resources for learning more. (For those curious: most of the people I asked said that Lifeprint is the best choice for learning ASL, and I relied on it quite a bit in certain scenes.)

Of course, how characters talk to each other is only part of how they interact. I also had to try to understand how people in the Deaf community tend to view hearing people and what behaviors and attitudes would be realistic or unrealistic on both sides of the conversation. One resource I found particularly helpful on this point was a deaf YouTuber, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, who has some videos that provide a really good look at a deaf person’s perspective. Of course, the attitudes of someone from our modern era might not match those of someone from the Victorian era . . . but I’m not writing historical fiction here! That meant I could make societal treatment of the deaf in the world of Mechanical Heart a lot more like what it is today than what it was historically.

(Also, minor sidetrack: Victorian attempts at hearing aids are fascinating. Most of them were something along the lines of an ear trumpet or a reverse megaphone — but the Victorian people found so many ways to hide them. In hairpieces, in hats, in fans, in chairs . . . it’s honestly impressive. This article from the Washington University School of Medicine covers the topic pretty well; go read it. It’s cool.)

Even once I’d done the research, writing from a deaf POV and about deaf characters had its own challenges. Obviously, I had to make sure I wasn’t including sound details when I was writing from the perspective of a deaf character. However, I also had to consider other details that normally wouldn’t be a concern, like whether or not characters would actually be able to see what the other was signing and what type of sign language different characters use. (For example, Breen uses her world’s equivalent of ASL, which has a grammatical structure different from that of English. On the other hand, Josiah, who often has to speak and sign at the same time, tends to use his word’s version of PSE, which uses ASL signs with English word order.)

Even with all that to consider, though, writing from Breen’s POV wasn’t any harder than writing from any other character’s POV. In fact, her scenes were often easier to write than Josiah’s many debates and other verbal sparring matches. The biggest challenge was just making sure I got her part right. I want to tell a good story, but I also want to tell it in a way that’s respectful to the communities my characters represent. I’m aware that I may have gotten some things wrong; after all, I’m only human. But I did my best, and I hope that will be enough.

So, are you excited to read Mechanical Heart? What are you most looking forward to? Have you ever written a character who's deaf (or faces other physical challenges that you don't)? What character that you've written about would you say is the most different from you? Please tell me in the comments, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour posts and enter the giveaway!
Have a lovely day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Blog Tour Stops: August 7

Knitted By God's Plan - Five Reasons to Read
Light and Shadows - Five Reasons to Read
Dreams and Dragons - Writing Deaf Characters


Reality Reflected + Mini Interview!
The Page Dreamer
The Language of Writing
The Labyrinth + Mini Interview!
The World of a Writer


To be a Shennachie - Sarah

Guest Posts

Dragonpen Press - Why Nomances

Or find the full list of stops here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Golden Braids Blog Tour DAY 2: Interview with Molly Storm

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second day of the Golden Braids blog tour! Today's release: Molly Storm, a short story featuring a sea witch, pirates, and a surprising emphasis on family. (You'll notice that last thing is a theme this week . . . which makes me happy, obviously!) For today's interview, we have the main character of this book, Molly Storm herself! And I'll share what she has to say with you just as soon as I tell you a little about her book and author.

About . . .

Molly Storm!

A witch, a pirate, a lighthouse, and... seaweed? Molly Storm is a short story inspired by the tale of Rapunzel.

“You and I, lass, we’re both sides of the same coin. We’re both the heart of the ocean, but you’re more the kindness and goodness. I’m the storms that crush ships. Don’t cross me, Molly. I’ll crush all the sweetness out of you.”

Find it On: Amazon || Goodreads

Annie Twitchell!

Annie Louise Twitchell is a homeschool graduate who is obsessed with dragons and fairy tales. She enjoys reading, writing, poetry, and many forms of art. When she's not writing, she can often be found reading out loud to her cat, rabbit, and houseplants, or wandering barefoot in the area around her Western Maine home.

Find Annie on: Blogspot || Facebook || Instagram || Twitter || Author site

Interview With Molly Storm

Hello, Molly Storm! Welcome to the blog! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself? Who you are, what you do, maybe a random fact or two?

I'm somewhat of an outcast. I don't know who my parents are, and I was raised by an old widow who lost her husband at sea. Naturally, I took after her. People around here don't much like witches. They're foolish, most of them, but Ulva teaches me to think more kindly of them.

I don't know; I might agree with you . . . Now, if you don't mind my curiosity, how did you end up becoming a witch living in a lighthouse? After all, that's not an occupation or location many people take up.

The old woman who raised me was called a witch by the local folk because of her knowledge of potions and charms, and also because she took on the duties of lighthouse keeper when no one else would. They used to say that her husband's ghost haunted the island and that's why she lived out there. Now, me, I know better. The only ghosts on the island are the ghosts of memories and regrets and long-lost loves.

I don't know, sometimes those are the hardest ghosts to escape. So, what's been the hardest part about raising Ulva? The best part?

I never met a child as sweet and as mild as Ulva. In many ways, that's the hardest as well as the best. She's so mild that it can be hard to tell when she needs comfort and care.

That does sound both wonderful and challenging. If you had a day off to go anywhere and do anything, anywhere and in any world, where would you go and what would you do?

I always wondered what it would be like to travel to Scotland. Rumors whisper that my parents hailed from there.

Scotland would be wonderful, and I'm not surprised you might be Scottish. Last question! If you could go back to the start of your story and change your decisions, would you?

I don't know. If I hadn't made the choices I made, I wouldn't have lived the life I've lived, and I don't know what I'd do without my Ulva. Do I regret how things happened? Stars, yes. But I can't say as though I could change them. I've made my choices and there are consequences, good and bad, and I've accepted both.

And thank you all for reading and supporting the tour! I hope you're all excited to read Molly Storm now! What are you most looking forward to about it? Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour posts and enter the giveaway!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Blog Tour Stops: August 6

Knitted By God's Plan - Five Reasons to Read
Light and Shadows - Five Reasons to Read


Reality Reflected
The Page Dreamer
The Language of Writing


Unicorn Quester - Annie
Dreams and Dragons - Molly
Or find the full list of stops here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Golden Braids Blog Tour DAY 1: Hair We Go Again!


Hello, everyone! It's day one of the Golden Braids blog tour, in which we celebrate five new retellings of Rapunzel — including my own, but that's not for a few days yet. Today's release: Kendra E. Ardnek's Hair We Go Again, book five in the Bookania Quests. I really, really love this book, and I'm sharing my thoughts on it (as well as the other books in the release) over at Light and Shadows. Here at Dreams and Dragons, on the other hand, we're interviewing two of the characters from the book . . . but first, a little about the book and author.

About . . .

Hair We Go Again!

Still reeling from recent trauma, Robin and Eric struggle to find stability in the midst of increasing tension both at home and with others. When friends ask their help to rediscover their castle, lost during their hundred-year sleep Robin and Eric agree to help. But this castle holds secrets of its own – including what may be the fate of Eric’s long-lost brother – launching them on another quest. Meanwhile, Maryanne's busy on a much more important mission of her own: find a jackalope. Yet no one’s ideas seem to coincide with hers, and family disagreements muddy everything. Can healing ever be found when people refuse to communicate?

Find it On: Amazon || Goodreads

Kendra E. Ardnek!

Kendra E. Ardnek loves fairytales and twisting them in new and exciting ways. She’s been or acting them on her dozen plus cousins and siblings for years. “Finish your story, Kendra,” is frequently heard at family gatherings. Her sole life goal has always been to grow up and be an author of fantasy and children’s tales that glorify God and His Word.

Find her online at: Website || Blog || Goodreads || Facebook || Twitter || YouTube || Newsletter || Instagram || Amazon 

Interview with Eric and Lukas of Winthrop

Hello, your highnesses! Welcome to the blog! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself? Who you are, what you do, maybe a random fact or two?
Eric: I'm Prince Eric of Winthrop, and this is my older brother Lukas, who just reappeared after being missing for six years. My wife is the best swordsman in the world.
Lukas: Really, that's the best you can do? Brag on Robin? Well, in that case, my wife has the longest hair in the world. Or ... she used to.
Eric: Let her skip a couple haircuts. She can get there again.

Hey, Robin is worth bragging on! Speaking of, what would you each say is your brother's best trait? Worst trait?
Lukas: Eric is very charismatic and a natural leader, but he doesn't like admitting when he's wrong.
Eric: Lukas is ... intelligent. But he's too passive and likes to avoid problems.

Interesting. As readers discover in Hair We Go Again, you two have had a bit of a rivalry going on for some time. Has that conflict always been present, or was there some moment or event that set it into motion?
Lukas: It wasn't always present. I used to adore my younger brother. But then he grew up and became insufferable.
Eric: Let's just face it, you're petty over how many things I'm better than you at.
Lukas: That is not the word I would use.

Ooof. If you two could do anything and go anywhere for a day, with the caveat that you had to spend that day together, where would you go and what would you do?
Lukas: Well, that would end in disaster.
Eric: Lukas never leaves the library if he can help it, so it'd also be pointless.

Ah well. It was worth a try . . .What would you say was the best part of your adventures in Hair We Go Again? The worst part?
Lukas: I would say that the best part is that I've finally returned home after so many years spent wandering. The worst part is that I apparently returned at the time when Eric was at his most brick-headedness.
Eric: I ... can't actually argue with that one.

Yeah, not surprised. Last question! If you could go back to the start of the story and give yourselves one piece of advice, what would you say?

I would tell myself to go more north and not take the detour I did.
Eric: I would ... try to listen to Robin more. Prioritize her over my father. After all, she is my wife and if my father can't understand that level of commitment, well ... that's his problem. He's the one who wanted me married.

Ha! Good advice, both of you. Thanks for answering my questions! 

And many thanks to all of you for stopping by! So, tell me, are you excited to read Hair We Go Again? What are you most looking forward to? Please tell me in the comments, and don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour posts and enter the giveaway!
Have a lovely day!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Blog Tour Stops: August 5

Knitted By God's Plan - Five Reasons To Read
Light and Shadows - Five Reasons To Read


Christina and Camera + Mini interview!
The Language of Writing
The Labyrinth + Mini interview!
The World of a Writer


Reality Reflected - Robin
The Rambling Rose - Rapunzel
Dreams and Dragons - Eric+Lukas

Or find the full list of stops here.

Friday, August 2, 2019

August 2019 Doings!

Welp. That's another month gone. For once, I was aware of the time passing . . . if only because I was painfully aware of how much longer I had to work on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel at times. Speaking of which, let's jump into the Doings!


  • Obviously, the main event of the month was Camp NaNoWriMo. My 12 Dancing Princesses/Hades and Persephone retelling is turning out significantly longer than I anticipated, which is . . . I don't know how I feel about it, honestly. I do know that I forgot how talkative some of these characters are.
  • I'm not going to lie; a lot of this month was a struggle. I had a week where I barely had time to write, and another few weeks after that where I didn't want to write or do much of anything creatively productive. I'm pretty sure I know why — because most of the books at the top of my TBR were Asian fantasy, which I didn't want to read while I was still starting my new book for fear that they'd influence the setting or story more than intended. But that meant I basically didn't read anything, which meant that once my well of inspiration started getting low, it never got refilled. Lesson learned, I guess.
  • I did manage to finish the month, though, after a weekend trip that involved a lot of writing time in the car and after binge-re-reading Today Nothing Happened, a journal webcomic that's about as far in genre from my WIP as possible. My final count for the month was 20,140 words. So that's great.
  • And, in case anyone was curious: no, the book doesn't have an official title yet — particularly since my comment in my last Doings post about how the term Earth might not exist in this world sparked a discussion about why not and a revelation that I got mixed up on my etymology. (That is to say, the Earth is named after the dirt, not the other way around.) So now I'm trying to decide between two names:
    • Blood in the Earth. (Fits really well thematically with the book's setting and certain plot elements, but I'm not sure if people would see the term "Earth" and think our planet first, rather than dirt or soil — which would be a problem; while the world of the book resembles Earth strongly, it is not actually Earth.)
    • Blood in the Soil. (This avoids the confusion about Earth and fits most of the same themes that Blood in the Earth does, though it has somewhat different connotations. My main concerns with this one: for one thing, I'm not sure it would lock me into "Blood in the [insert s-word] for future titles, and for another, it kind of sounds like a Southern gothic novel to me? Though I could be wrong; I don't read Southern gothic.)
    • There were almost three names here, since I was still kinda considering Blood in the Night, but then I realized that it sounds like a vampire novel. So . . . that's out.
  • I also worked a bit on my D&D campaign during some of the points where I didn't want to work on my novel. (You would think that would be just as draining, but it kind of depends which episode I'm working on.) I currently have a bunch of ideas for different episodes and challenges, and they're all kind of right around level 3 or level 4, so . . . good thing characters tend to stay there for a while. I am seriously excited for this campaign, though, even if it's a long way from done.


  • So . . . you know how basically tried to devour the library the last few months?
  • That did not happen this month.
  • Basically the only books I read were the other Five Golden Braids books — all of which are pretty great, by the way. But each of them gets a list-post next week in the blog tour, so I'll skip talking about them now.


  • The most exciting thing I watched all month: How To Train Your Dragon 3! In the theater! One of our local theaters was showing it again on special, so my sister, my mom, and my sister's friend and her family all went to see it. I liked it on the whole, aside from some intended-as-comedic elements that I thought didn't need to be there, but I also have mixed emotions about the ending.
  • I mean, on one hand, it was a great ending — thematically fitting and all that. It definitely paid off all the character and plot conflict that we'd had over the rest of the movie.
  • But on the other hand, I am sad about certain things because those things involved goodbyes and it was not OK.
  • Also, this may have been the prettiest of the HTTYD movies, but don't quote me on that.
  • The second-most exciting thing I watched all month: I finally saw Spider-Man: Homecoming. Like most Marvel movies involving Tony Stark, it was a good movie, but could have been better if certain people actually bothered to communicate. Seriously, that could have eliminated a significant number of the more frustrating plot problems. And it's not like the pieces weren't already in place! And I'm going to rant about how I would have written the movie differently if I were in control — it's been out long enough that everyone probably has either seen it or knows all the spoilers. If you don't fit in one of those categories and you care about staying that way, just skip past the whole indented section.
    • So, a lot of the conflict comes from the fact that after Germany, Tony is kind of ignoring Peter — or, not necessarily ignoring, but at least not responding. And he gives no explanation for why that we're aware of. Bad call. We'll give Tony a pass initially, 'cause Steve kind of did a number of him in Civil War. But once he starts pulling himself back together and saw that Peter was still all excited to be a superhero and an Avenger, what should or could he have done?
    • Simple. Contacted Peter, maybe even invited him to Avengers/Stark Tower and basically said "Look, kid, you did great in Germany, you're excited, all that is awesome. But you're not quite ready to officially join the Avengers yet. So, the next several months are training time. Keep practicing with the new suit, keep proving what you can do at street level, and when you're ready, you can go on another mission with me."
    • Even better: Tony also uses this as an opportunity to set up a regular "check-in" time when Peter can talk to either him or (more likely) Happy and let them know how stuff is going, ask questions, that sort of thing. Y'know. An actual mentorship. That would've been great, but not absolutely essential.
    • Possibly Tony also uses this opportunity to start whatever training program Karen referenced in the film for helping Peter learn how to use the suit's advanced features (though that would eliminate some of the tension and comedic elements later on).
    • (Possible counterargument to this part of the plan: Tony is a busy man. He has bigger things to worry about than a kid superhero. Counter-counterargument: the film makes it pretty clear that Tony was aware of what Peter was doing anyway, and also, taking responsibility for your choices is a thing.)
    • So. Now Peter's not as frustrated by the fact that he's not doing "real" superhero stuff because at least he knows he hasn't been forgotten about. He's still hero-ing every spare minute, probably, and so the film's plot goes more or less as it would anyway up through the first encounter with Vulture up through the bit where Peter finds out where the weapons deal is happening and tells Happy about it.
    • At that point, instead of Tony still pretending he's ignoring Peter and secretly calling in the feds, he tells Peter "Great work, kid; I've called in the feds and we'll take it from here." Peter probably protests that he wants to still be involved. Possibly he shows up anyway and still messes stuff up somehow, but in that case, it's his own storming fault and Tony is honestly justified in taking the suit away.
    • Or, possibly, it doesn't even get as far as the weapons deal. Possibly Peter instead tells Tony about tracking the Vulture and his crew to Maryland, Tony says "Great; thanks; we'll take it from here," and Peter interferes then and gets the suit taken away then — though, obviously, that would have made the Washington Monument scene go very differently.
    • After this, the film continues basically like it did anyway, and the climax goes down pretty much just like it did in the movie, 'cause that was honestly really great.
    • And after the climax, Tony still invites Peter to be an Avenger, and Peter probably still says "Thanks, but I think I need more training." Or possibly it's more low-key; maybe Tony shows up with Peter's new suit in hand and is like "Hey, you did great. You're still technically in training, 'cause you're a minor and probably shouldn't be doing full-time heroing, but you get to go on missions with me sometimes now. Speaking of which, suit up." That would lose the impact of Peter's choice, but I think it would still work thematically.
    • Aaaaand there you go. Spider-Man: Homecoming as rewritten by me.
  • Ok, for those of you who didn't want to read spoilers: those are over now. MOVING ON.
  • In other movie-watching news: I'm trying to figure out how I feel about western movies.
  • See, my dad really likes western movies (specifically John Wayne western movies), and I like the idea of westerns (to the degree that I had a whole subplot in one novel that was basically "how close can I get to a western in a medieval-ish fantasy setting?"). But the only western movie I'd watched until recently was the original The Magnificent Seven, which is a good movie with great character development . . . culminating in the death of a lot of the characters I really liked.
  • Needless to say, this did not make me feel terribly inclined to watch more westerns.
  • However, my dad recently bought a collection of old John Wayne movies and wanted to watch some of them. And I was feeling bad about having judged an entire genre off of one work, so I said I would watch a couple of John Wayne movies before I went back to Cedarville. And that is how I ended up watching Blue Steel and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and why I'm now trying to figure out how I feel about the genre as a whole.
  • (Blue Steel, for the record, was intensely unimpressive, but it was also obviously a low-quality movie with equally low-quality writing. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, on the other hand, was very well-written, very well-acted, and very well-staged. The scriptwriters and directors did an excellent job of showing you that even minor characters had lives and dreams outside of the plot, the conflict was pretty well set up . . . but certain things didn't happen like I expected them to, and I'm not sure if I like how they happened instead. Also, Tom Doniphon is problematic, but he reminds me of certain of my characters, so now I don't know how I feel about him or them. It's a problem.)
  • Oh, and I watched more Star Trek. I continue to prefer The Next Generation to the Original Series, but I don't think that surprises anyone.


  • I MADE PECAN PIE! Obviously this is the most important thing that happened all month.
  • (It's not. But it was delicious and I'm very happy about how well it turned out.)
  • Anyway. Even aside from Camp NaNoWriMo, July was pretty busy, especially the first half of the month. That's not a bad thing, but it doesn't help my ability to write.
  • Independence Day was fun, but low-key: we went over to a friend's house, enjoyed some really great barbeque, and watched the DC and New York fireworks from the comfort of the friend's living room. (It had been threatening rain all day, plus no one was really that excited about going somewhere to sit in a buggy field to watch things explode, so we decided it was better not to risk anything.)
  • Next on the lineup: Cow Appreciation Day! Yes, we did go to Chick-Fil-A for all three meals. But, look, if they're going to give me a free chicken biscuit or BBQ chicken sandwich or whatever and all I have to do is show up wearing a cow shirt, I will absolutely take that deal. (I mean, technically I got a breakfast burrito instead of a chicken biscuit, but my point remains.) This was also the day we went to see HTTYD3, so it was a good day all 'round, if not a terribly productive one.
  • And shortly after that, my grandpa came to visit (as he usually does this time of year), so that was fun. That said, we didn't do a ton while he was here, since he's having hip problems. We did go to 7/11 on 7/11 day for free slurpees, though. And then, oddly enough, we then visited him a week or so after he left so that he and my dad could make my sister a desk hutch for Cedarville. (Why did we not just make it here? Basically, Grandpa is better set up for woodworking projects than we are, and we had to be in Pennsylvania anyway to drop my sister off for the camp she was volunteering at, so . . . why not?)
  • So, yeah, that's pretty much all the event-y stuff. In non-event-y stuff: my sword is progressing fairly well. All the pieces are printed and sanded, so now I just have to epoxy them all together and paint the whole thing. I'm also toying with the idea of making some kind of sheath for it, but I don't have the skills to make a model for 3D printing . . . anyone have any suggestions?
  • And, yeah, as you probably guessed from the start of this section, I've been baking! So far, I've made several loaves of sourdough bread (I still can't get it shaped right, though I'm making progress on the density problem), pretzels (twice! they were delicious), pancakes (also delicious), and pizza. I'm unreasonably proud of the pizza.
  • (Also, I play Hearthstone on and off, but July was more an "on" month than an "off" one because they were running a special event and I absolutely loved their special twist on the game for the first two weeks of the month. I really wish there was a way I could play those characters outside the event, 'cause they made those particular classes two to five times more interesting than they had been. Well, three of the five did. The other two, not so much. Needless to say, this did not help with Camp NaNoWriMo, especially since the most interesting week of the special event coincided with the week in which I felt least inspired.)

August Plans!

  • Mechanical Heart releases August 7! That's less than a week away! I am quite excited but also a bit stressed — more about the tour than the actual release. It should be good, though.
  • On that note: you get a blog post every day next week on both my blogs. Different blog posts, even. On Light and Shadows, I'll be posting five reasons why you should read each of the Golden Braids books. Meanwhile, Dreams and Dragons will be hosting an assortment of interviews.
  • And after that, I will probably take a week or two off of blogging, both because I'll be tired from the blog tour and because I'll be headed back to Cedarville the week after my book releases!
  • This semester should be pretty solid on the whole. I don't have any classes that I'm dreading, though I am nervous about some of my graphic design classes — I've heard that the professor is tough. But, hey, I get to learn how to make fonts, so that's exciting. Plus, I get to take a creative nonfiction class, which was one of the creative writing courses I was most disappointed out missing back when I decided not to do a creative writing minor.
  • Besides that, August will mostly be occupied with trying to finish up projects: the draft of Blood in the [Something], the first month or two of my D&D campaign, my sword, my knitted cloak (or, part of it, anyway), a few other dorm items, and so on.
  • Also, I need to get back to the whole reading-all-the-books thing. And I have shows I want to watch.
  • So, yeah.
How was your July? What are your plans for August? Which title do you think sounds better, Blood in the Earth or Blood in the Soil? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, July 26, 2019

Books I'd Give to My Characters

Hey'a, everyone! There's just a week and a half left before Mechanical Heart's release day! I'm both excited and nervous, especially since I still have stuff to prep for the blog tour. (Prewriting blog posts kind of slowed down when Camp NaNo hit, for obvious reasons.) Anyway, for today's Friday 5s post, I thought I'd borrow an idea from my friend Emma over at Awkwordly Emma. In the past, she's periodically done "Books I'd Give to Characters from X" posts. I'm putting a little bit of a twist on it, though: the characters I'm giving books to are the main cast of Mechanical Heart! Granted, this could be a little tricky since, out of the four main characters, only one (Grace) is a really big fiction reader . . . but I'm up for the challenge, and I think it'll be a good way to let y'all get to know them a little before their story comes out. To that end, we've also got character art by the wonderful H.S.J. Williams here, which I'm super excited to share with y'all. So, let's get started!

Books I'd Give to the Mechanical Heart Characters

1. For Breen: the Illuminae trilogy. Breen is the trickiest of these characters to pick something for. She has the least formal education out of any of the characters (one of several unfortunate side effect of being stuck in a clock tower for half your life), but she's clever enough that that might not stop her from reading whatever she chooses. She has more time on her hands than some characters (though not as much as some Rapunzels in other stories), but when given the choice between a book and her inventions, she'll probably pick the latter. In the end, I've decided to give her the Illuminae trilogy (along with some kind of primer on common elements of sci-fi, like, y'know, space ships and wormholes and aliens and stuff, seeing as that sort of thing hasn't been thought of in her era). It would give her a fairly sizable escape from her ordinary life (what's further from a clocktower than a spaceship?), and the format is such that she could easily read as much or as little as she wanted to. Plus, she'd find the technology fascinating, even if it is advanced super far beyond anything she's familiar with.

2. For Josiah: the first Mistborn trilogy. Josiah's first reaction to the Mistborn trilogy would be "In what world do I have time to read 1,800 pages of fiction?" But once he tried it — probably at least partially in audiobook form; he very much prefers listening to things to reading them — he'd see quite a lot of his culture and its issues in those of Luthadel, and he'd see himself in Elend in many respects. In addition, he would appreciate the philosophical issues that the characters work through over the course of the book. And while he might not be fully on board with the methods of Kelsier and his crew, he can recognize and enjoy them as well-developed characters.

3. For Luis: The Complete Sherlock Holmes. Luis, like Breen, will almost always pick his inventions over a book — not that he dislikes reading, but he has so many ideas and so little time to make them in that there's just no question of priority. And while he would probably enjoy the Illuminae trilogy as much as Breen would, he would probably also enjoy a good mystery — ideally, one that's short and sweet, based in logic, and wrapped up nicely at the end. And if it features a highly satisfying friendship between the main characters, all the better. So, yeah. He's getting The Complete Sherlock Holmes — because you can't go wrong with a classic. (He almost got the Knight and Rogue series, but I think certain elements of Fisk and Michael's friendship might hit just a little too close to home for him for that series to actually be a stress-reliever.)

4. For Grace: Howl's Moving Castle and sequels. Grace is the biggest reader out of the Mechanical Heart cast. She's not particular about genre, or even if it's fiction or nonfiction; she just wants something that's interesting and well-written and has good characters and that she can talk about with people when she's done. (Honestly, it's hard to say if she enjoys reading the book or talking about it afterwards more.) That means the challenge with her isn't so much thinking of a book she would like but rather figuring out which book she would enjoy most. So, what book do you give to the girl who loves everything and, in a sense, has everything? For a girl who's read everything she could and is constantly searching for something unique? For a girl whose world includes magic, but has a notable lack of wizards? When you put it like that, the answer's clear: Howl's Moving Castle and sequels. Because when in doubt, Diana Wynne Jones is almost always the answer, and if you haven't yet met Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer, what are you doing with your life? (And before you think less of me or Grace for the fact that she got Howl while everyone else got heavy books: Grace will absolutely borrow everyone else's books the minute they're done with them, so she's kind of getting all the books here.)

5. For all four characters: Illusionarium. Illusionarium was one of the first steampunk books I read, and while it didn't outright inform any elements of Mechanical Heart, it did inspire me in part to write my own steampunk novel. So, in a sense, by reading this, Breen, Josiah, Luis, and Grace are discovering a part of where they came from — not that they'd know that. But I suspect that most of them would enjoy the story anyway.

What about you? What books would you give to your characters? And what impressions do you get of the Mechanical Heart cast based on what you see here? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

P.S. Please let me know if all the images are or aren't showing up — my internet is being wonkier than usual today. Thanks!

Friday, July 19, 2019

In Which An AI Attempts to Do My Job

You're the only one who can write your story. That's an oft-repeated encouragement among writers; depending where you're coming from, it promises that your work matters, that your work is unique, that you have some weird form of job security in that you cannot really be replaced by another person or, heaven forbid, a robot. It's also not entirely accurate; other people can take your story and make it their own (as evidenced by, say, series that are taken over by another author after the first author dies, or even the existence of fanfiction). And, as it turns out, there are AI that are at least semi-competent at writing.

So, does that mean that an AI can write your story? I decided to figure out the answer using Talk to Transformer, a neural network created by Adam King and based on OpenAI's GPT-2 learning model. I feed the AI the first few lines of one of my novels, and it generates the next few paragraphs based on what it knows from downloading a large chunk of the internet. From that, we'll see if an AI really could write my story.

 Can An AI Do My Job?

First Test: Blood in the Snow

We begin, obviously, with Blood in the Snow. If you're not familiar with it: it's an Asian-inspired retelling of Snow White crossed with The Goose Girl, a story of betrayal, friendship, magic, and finding one's voice. It's also available to buy on Amazon or add on Goodreads, if you're so inclined! What will the AI do with it? Let's find out! The original prompt is the portion in bold; the AI created what follows.
The cherry blossoms fell slowly the morning Princess Zhu Baili of the Kingdom of Seven Rivers left her home forever.
Baili tucked her hands deeper into the wide sleeves of her red silk robe, watching as the petals sprinkled the surface of the Taìyáng River and swirled around the royal barge.
She heard the noise of the wind through her bedroom window. It was silent and beautiful, like birds flying. In her room, she tucked herself deeper into her white robe and closed her eyes, waiting for her mother's footsteps to come slowly down the steps of the palace, like a boat sliding into the waves.
After about forty-five minutes had passed, a small door was opened. As the door closed, the rain began to fall, soaking the windows, and the breeze blew through her room.
With little noise, Princess Zhu Baili fell asleep for only nine hours.
On Friday morning, June 6th, she awoke at six. She looked at the clock, and heard her mother's footsteps enter the room, which was now empty, as usual. Looking in all directions, she saw her little sister Yúxi in her bed, still wearing her long gown.
As you see, the AI manages a surprisingly pleasing tone (especially given how little of the original it had to work with). It does have a bit of trouble keeping track of small details, though, and it seems inclined to take the story in a rather different direction than intended. It's also invented a younger sister for Baili . . . which, honestly, is pretty feasible. Baili has more than a few siblings who don't feature in Blood in the Snow.

Now, let's move on to the second test: my upcoming novel, Mechanical Heart!

Second Test: Mechanical Heart

Mechanical Heartin case you somehow missed it, is a steampunk retelling of Rapunzel centering on a girl trapped in a clock tower and a prince fighting his relative lack of power. It comes out in just three weeks (ahhhhh!), and I'm super excited. Because we have two POV characters, I'm going to give the AI the opening lines from each of their first chapters and see what happens.

First up: Breen's POV! I ended up running this one multiple times (trying to give the AI a fair chance) and ended up with a couple good options. My favorite result actually bears very little resemblence to the original, but it sounds like an interesting story.
Her heart beat on, as it always did.
Breen waited, eyes shut, trying to ignore the pain of her bones knitting back together. The crystal in her chest burned with an almost unbearable heat as it fed magical energy into her body. Yet the clockwork of her heart pumped on, unperturbed.

"I was planning to see you again."
Breen spoke, not to Akenes or her fellow workers. No, she spoke to Breen's friends, her closest circle around whom she was able to talk for the first time this day as the ship began its turn at Port Jarnarth. Breen spoke as Akenes stood on a deck and waited anxiously for the ship to approach her, a small ship that she knew could never reach Akenes, ever.
The crew of Jundlande stared at her, and the look on her face was one of confusion and terror. The people of Jundlande couldn't comprehend what Breen had done. She had done it, surely. They would never understand what she had done to their world. No. They would see what she had done. She had done it for them.
Again, a bit muddled on who and where characters are, but an interesting concept. What did this alternate universe Breen do? Will people understand what it is and why she did it? Who is Akenes? All the questions; none of the answers.

Moving on, let's see what the AI makes of Josiah's introduction . . .
“Powerless!” Josiah waved his hand in the air, pacing up and down the rich red carpet of the royal library. “That’s what we are. What we’ve become. Powerless!”
His eyes widened and he took a step back, the sound of glass shattering behind him. “Powerless!?” It was the cry of a frightened man, a scream that echoed around the building. “Oh God!” His sister's scream seemed to wake him up from what he'd been doing; it had broken his trance and, now that he was awake, he'd found it hard to concentrate in front of the door.
He stumbled down the steps onto the carpet, staring out toward the ceiling as a faint pink glow made him look back up at the room.
He pulled himself up by his sword before he could cry out again; instead he turned on a dime, and when the first girl was gone he turned to the girls in a look of incredulity, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. He saw her face grow even larger, her cheeks starting to get red.
So, the AI seems to have decided that Josiah is either in a horror novel or the survivor of some horrible event. Possibly both. Poor Josiah. Though, you have to admit, the AI's decision is pretty characteristic of certain schools of authors . . .

That's two tests, but any student of fairy tales knows that it's best to do things in threes. So, the AI's last chance:

Third Test: Once Upon a Dream

For those of you who don't know, Once Upon a Dream is a steampunk Sleeping Beauty retelling featuring dreamworlds, chemistry nerds, and the power of science motivated by love! I wrote it for the Five Magic Spindles contest and intend to publish it at some point, but it needs a bit of work first. Can an AI do that work for me? Let's find out. As before, the lines from the original work are in bold; the rest is the AI's creation.
Our story begins as do most tales: with a dream.
The ground rippled beneath Alexander’s feet, sending him stumbling sideways into the nearest tree. He pushed himself upright, brushing lichen and tree sap from his jacket. Another ripple unsteadied him, but he was ready for it this time and stayed upright.
His eyes were open. He took in the sights. A distant hilltop, a dark and distant lake, a dark and distant tree. He turned toward the lake, hoping with his eyes that it would give way without warning.
It did, and the ground beneath him cracked and rolled back, letting him out of the tree and into the lake—and his head, which lay atop of a tree branch. All that remained was a rock with something staining it, something bright and dark shining, and the world seemed filled with nothing except the image of him perched and waiting.
While he sat, staring at the landscape, the other characters of the tale moved away. They were gone, they said of themselves. In their place were strange men, who called themselves the Order, and had come down to see how the world went (or didn't go).
The AI's tendency to get a little mixed up about the details actually works somewhat in its favor here; the weirdness adds to the feel that this is a dream world that works by dream logic. One also has to appreciate the AI's decision to go a bit meta at the end, and this Order (looking to see how the world does or doesn't go) and the strange stone sound quite fascinating. All that said, it's certainly not the story originally intended.

So, in conclusion: our jobs as writers are probably pretty safe from the AI, at least for now. But if we're ever stuck for story ideas, dropping a few lines in this particular neural network might be a good way to get the mind working.

Now, it's your turn! Add your speculations about any of these AI snippets in the comments, or put in a few lines of your own work and share what the AI comes up with! I'd love to see what you get out of it!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Mid-Year Book Freakout 2019!

THE TIME HAS COME. The year is half gone, and that means it's time for my biannual book freakout! In which I actually don't freak out that much, but I DO review the reads of the last six months, yell about my favorites, and save myself a bunch of effort in December.

A few stats before we get started: I've read 99 books so far this year . . . which is only slightly less than the number I read all of last year. What the actual pumpernickel. How did I do this? (I know the answer, actually: I decided to get back in the habit of reading a chapter or two or ten before bed, plus I reread the Oz books and the Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus books. That adds up fast.) That comes out to roughly 40K pages, for those who are curious, so I've done the equivalent of reading Oathbringer 32 times, Illuminae 67 times, or Howl's Moving Castle 121 times. As you can guess, that means I have a lot of material to choose from here.

Mid-Year Book Freakout

1. Best book you've read so far in 2019:

As per the usual, this one's a tie between two AMAZING books:

Masque by W.R. Gingell

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

So, on one hand, we've got a fantasy murder mystery crossed with a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast), featuring a heroine who I fell in friend-love with approximately five seconds into the book and a thoroughly shippable main couple. And on the other hand, we've got a steampunk adventure involving pirates and intrigue and adventure and terrifying creatures and a noblewoman-diplomat with no sense of tact and all the other things that I can't help but love. You see why I can't pick?  

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2019:

It's a three-way tie this time, 'cause I'm terrible at decisions. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME CHOOSE.

Honor: A Quest In by Kendra E. Ardnek

Staff & Crown by W.R. Gingell

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Honor is the best yet of the released Bookania Quests (note that I said "released"; Hair is even better); it's got the after-ever-after angle that I can't get enough of these days. Staff & Crown is the third in the Two Monarchies series and my second-favorite after Masque. (Notably, both of these books involve Isabelle as a major character.) And, of course, I can't fail to mention my beloved Invisible Library books, especially since The Mortal Word is another proper murder mystery that involved all my favorite characters in one place HALLELUJAH.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to: 

A Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson!

I really should've read this by now, but my library is slow at getting it. I am muchly displeased. I thought about buying the OwlCrate box that was supposed to have this book in it, but I decided to save my money and get just the book later. But I'm super excited; Rogerson's An Enchantment of Ravens was one of my most-yelled-about books last year and I can't wait to see what this one has in store!

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:

This is possibly cheating because, A) it's actually five releases, and, B) one of those releases is my book. But I am immensely excited about it, moreso than I am for any other book that I'm seeing on my Want-to-Read list on Goodreads, so we're going for it. As a reminder: signups for the blog tour are still going. Your support would be much appreciated.

All that said, if I have to pick a single release that I'm not directly involved with . . .

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

I mean, Sanderson has to make this list somehow. It's practically tradition. And I am looking forward to reading this, even if Skyward isn't my favorite of his books. If his past performance is any indication, Starsight will be even better than the first book . . . and I'm holding out hope that it'll be another nomance novel with primary focus on friendships and comraderie, but I'm also preparing to be disappointed on that front.
Speaking of disappointments . . .

5. Biggest disappointment:

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

This book. This storming book. It could have been amazing. It had so much potential — dystopian fantasy, Navajo mythology, a monster-hunting protagonist. And then it squandered all that possibility by persistently muddling around in darkness and distrust and treachery and blood. At times, it went full-on horror story (enough so that I wish I could blank the book from my memory altogether, other than the fact that I shouldn't read it). Yeah. Don't try this one.

Oh, and speaking of wasted potential . . .

I never imagined that monsters, superpowers, and time travel could be so boring. It didn't help that the main character seemed to go out of his way to make himself unlikeable, or that all the other characters were equally grumpy and miserable and messy. Add on top of it that it has the same aggressively bleak and "realistic" feel as some of the books that turned me off realistic fiction when I was younger, and this is just a solid nope.  

6. Biggest surprise:

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

I picked this one up more or less on a whim and went in with low expectations, having read a lot of meh/unimpressed reviews . . . but it was actually surprisingly good? It's basically the fantasy equivalent of the road-trip-to-deal-with-your-problems that the contemporary genre loves so much, and it was rather slow-paced and meandering as a result . . . but it was also thoughtful and even philosophical at times and very much character-driven and generally a nice change of pace. It did talk about some rather heavy topics at times, and I'd rate it at the older end of YA (or possibly even NA?) as a result, but still, I enjoyed it.

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

W.R. Gingell! I found out about her through Deborah O'Carroll, tried Masque in hopes that it would cure my Invisible Library book-hangover, and fell in love almost immediately. Her Two Monarchies books are my favorite; I devoured them all within a week or so of reading the first ones. They're magical and wonderful and almost Diana Wynne Jones-ish in style. But I also really enjoy her City Between urban fantasies, which have a healthy dose of humor and mysteriousness and are generally fun.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:

Tragically, the book-verse still insists on pairing off every interesting male character, and I try not to make a habit of entertaining crushes on people who are already taken (whether they're fictional or real — doing it with former means I have practice in avoiding drama with the latter). So, no character crushes.

New favorite ships on the other hand . . . those I've got. A few I especially like:
  •  Isabelle and Pecus from Masque. (A delightful detecting duo; they're both clever and strong-willed and loyal, but they work really well together, when they're not working around each other.) 
  • Luck and Poly from Spindle. (The most Howl and Sophie-ish couple I've ever read, other than the original. Need I say more?)
  • Robin and Eric from Honor: A Quest In. (Technically already a favorite couple of mine, but they just keep getting better.)
And there's one other couple that could make the list, but they're spoilery. Suffice it to say that they show up in the last two books (chronologically speaking) of the Abhorsen Chronicles and that I did not see the ship coming.

9. Newest favorite character:

Have I raved enough about Isabelle from Masque yet? She's smart and stubborn and sneaky; she has a head for intrigue and mysteries and making people do and think as she wants; she loves food and friends and fashion; and she's just so fun to read about. Plus, when I first met her, she's twenty-eight and happily single and probably would've stayed that way for the whole book if Lord Pecus wasn't such a good match for her. Basically, she's fabulous and I would be quite happy to be her, honestly.

A few other favorites who I absolutely love:
  • Melchior from the Two Monarchies series. (He's dashing and clever and dramatic and was temporarily a cat; what more could you want?)
  • Captain Grimm from The Aeronaut's Windlass(A noble rogue of an airship captain whose tactical ability is only outweighed by his loyalty to his crew and his courage in the face of danger. He's arguably the best part of the book.)
  • Gwendolyn Lancaster, also from The Aeronaut's Windlass. (Again: smart, stubborn, clever, but with emphasis on the stubbornness. She and Isabelle would probably get along, though Gwen isn't half as subtle as Isabelle can be.)
  • Athelas from the City Between books. (How could you not love a tea-loving, scheming fae who knows far more than he lets on and is, in general, a reasonably sensible person?)
  • Sabriel from the Abhorsen Chronicles. (She's smart and practical and generally a protagonist who I appreciate very much. She may not know what she's doing, but she'll get stuff done all the same.)
  • Mogget, also from the Abhorsen Chronicles. (He's a cat who's really more than a cat. What more could you want?)

10. A book that made you cry:

Um. I don't know. I guess I'll say the Strange the Dreamer duology by Laini Taylor. It didn't make me cry, per se, but it did have some parts that made me sad and others that made me very angry, so it counts. Right?

11. A book that made you happy:

Paws, Claws, and Magical Tales anthology

I should probably stop yelling about the Two Monarchies books for a bit, so I'm going to spotlight this one instead. I mean, it's a whole anthology about magical cats and cats in magical situations; that's pretty guaranteed to make anyone happy. There's one story, "Whisker Width" (H.L. Burke), that I especially like and wouldn't mind ending up in the middle of.
(Also, Spindle, Masque, and Staff & Crown, but I said I'd stop yelling about Two Monarchies books.)

12. Favorite reread this year:

(This is replacing "favorite book-to-movie adaptation you've seen this year" because I never have a good answer for the original question.)

Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

I don't think this surprises anyone, but I am so glad I decided to reread these books. I'd forgotten how awesome they are and also how much I love Leo. Leo is great. So's Frank. Anyway. And they really do go in the category of books-that-are-better-the-second-time-round, mostly because you semi-remember what's coming and you can say "Oh, I see what you did there" and also "Ok, it's fine; you know they survive." So that helps too.

Also worth mentioning: my reread of L. Frank Baum's Oz series. These were some of my favorite books when I was younger, and it's interesting to reread them now — they're way more bizarre than I remembered. Still good books, though.  

13. Favorite post you've done so far this year:

My post on The Only Blind Dates I'll Ever Go On, in which I sing the praises of my college's Blind Date With a Book event! Runner-up: my post a few weeks ago on whether steampunk is sci-fi or fantasy. Both were fun to write, though for very different reasons, and let me yell about something that excites me.

14. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year:

I haven't bought many physical books this year, but I did find The Aeronaut's Windlass at my local used bookstore recently. So that's pretty fabulous. I'm going with that one. (Also, I got Firefly!!!)

15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

Lots. And I have no idea which ones I'll actually read because lately I've had a policy of "read what you feel like reading" instead of "must read all the newest releases." (The exception, of course, is when I have a book that I agreed to review.) But a few that are on my list include:
  • Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. (Asian fantasy that comes recommended by C.G. Drews; it sounds super cool and I meant to read it last summer but didn't have time.)
  • The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen. (More Asian fantasy, this one based on the Mongols. Like Empress, I meant to read it last summer and then didn't.)
  • All Rights Reserved by Gregory Scott Katsoulis. (I don't read much dystopian anymore, but this sounds cool, so I'm making an exception.)
  • Hertz to Be a Hero by Bryan Davis. (I keep forgetting this book exists, but I really enjoyed the first one in this series, so, yeah. I need to read it.)
Whew. That was a lot of books. How's your reading going so far this year? Any books you really loved (or were really disappointed in)? Please tell me in teh comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)