Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shells and Watches and Gears, Oh My!

A few weeks ago, my photo club held a macro photography workshop. It was a lot of fun; the club presidents (who had set the whole thing up) brought in a lot of items for people to photograph and some backdrops/backgrounds to photograph them on, and everyone had four-ish hours to do pretty much whatever they wanted. I took a lot of pictures, which also took a while to edit . . . but I'm finally through with them, and I thought I'd post my favorites.

As I mentioned, the presidents brought in a lot of possible photography subjects. Some of them were what you'd expect for macro photography: flowers, fruit, shells, and such. Some were more unusual: slinkies, marbles, small pebbles, and other random bits and pieces they thought might make good macro subjects. But my absolute favorite thing to photograph there . . . was this:

All together now: STEAMPUNK!

There was a whole box full of this sort of thing: watches, clock faces, gears, keys . . . there was even an odd-looking device that was apparently the inner workings of an old clock, but I didn't get any pictures of it. Someone else was almost always using it when I wanted it- thus the only real problem with the workshop! However, there were plenty of smaller items to keep me satisfied, so I'm definitely not complaining.

I have a less eerie-looking version of this as well, but I think this one is a bit cooler.

Funny-ish thing with this picture: I was done taking it and about to put all my stuff away . . . when I realized that the back of the watch face looked even cooler than the front. So, naturally, I had to set back up.

Awesome as steampunkery is, though, I didn't spend the entire time taking pictures of it. Another of my favorite items was a nautilus shell, which was split into three cross-sections, and which I took several pictures of.

After doing a picture or two of just the one section of the shell, I got the idea to put one of the cross-sections on top of the other so that the curves went in opposite directions. The effect didn't work quite as well as I hoped, but it still looked fairly cool.

And a bonus alien nautilus (otherwise known as what happens when I play around with the presets on the curves layer):

Eventually, of course, I made my way back to steampunk, this time in combination with what I think was an old hard drive. Not knowing much about the inner workings of computers, I could be completely wrong.
Yes, I do have an affinity for the gritty, weathered look. How did you ever guess?
I accidentally put the clock face in this one upside-down. Oopsie.
And now we step away from steampunk again for some sparkle:
And also a twisted slinky:
For the record: the slinky was like that when it was brought in, and I'm very glad I didn't have to try to untwist it.

And we'll finish off with one last bit of  more elegant steampunk:
This picture, I would like to note, is one of my favorite shots, but it was also ridiculously hard to edit. See, the original version was tilted at about a thirty-degree angle from this one, and that is not ok. So, I had to rotate the crop so that the picture was more or less straight . . . which left large white areas that needed to be filled in. I managed to fill these in with some creative copy-pasting from uncropped versions of the image and the black brush for the background . . . and then Nik filters decided not to recognize half of what I'd done. Cue much frustration. However, I do like the end result, so at least all the aggravation was more or less worth it!

What do you think of my macro photography? Which image is your favorite? Is there anything you think I could've done better on any of these? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Underground: It's Just the Beginning; This Isn't the End

I should've seen it coming, really.

I joined the Underground, a forum created for fans of The Berinfell Prophecies, in spring of 2011. In the almost-four years I've been there, the site has gone down or messed up in some way about once a year. Sometimes it's from hackers. Sometimes it's because of spammers and the site's defenses against those spammers blocking the wrong people. Sometimes it's because the Underground has so many awesome people and stories and memories on it that it temporarily breaks the servers it runs off of. Each time something like this happens, it's frightening. But each time, someone steps in to fix the problem and bring the UG back online.

Each time- until this time.

On Friday, March 13- just three days ago- I tried to log on to the Underground and found it gone. There were no clues as to what had happened, only the message: The site you're looking for cannot be found. I tried again- still nothing. When the site was down the next day, I emailed Sir Hopper, the more active of the authors of TBP, to see if he knew what was going on. His reply: The server had been hacked. The UG as we knew it was gone.

From the very beginning, The Underground has been one of my favorites- if not my very favorite- sites on the internet. Why? I could list numerous reasons, but in the end, they all trace back to one cause: the people. The Elves of the Underground are, quite frankly, beyond amazing, and they've become some of my closest friends- never mind that I've never met a single one of them face-to-face. We've chatted together about everything and nothing, obsessed together over shared favorite books and movies and fandoms in general. We've shared our stories and our characters with each other and even written together- written epic, amazing stories, some of which were still in progress when the Underground went down. Most importantly, we've supported each other. Whenever one of our number was struggling, the others came alongside to encourage and pray for him or her. It didn't matter if the struggle was something big- depression, a potential move, a family member losing a job- or something small- an upcoming test in school, a need for inspiration in writing. We encouraged. We prayed. And we saw our prayers answered.

And now all that's gone.

Except . . . it isn't.

Just as the Elves of Berinfell didn't cease to exist when Berinfell was destroyed, so the Elves of the Underground remain even after the Underground is gone. And just as our namesakes salvaged what they could of their city and moved to a new place of refuge, so our Elven community has a new home: the Underground 2.0, Whitehall Castle Forum. True, it's not the same as the original Underground. True, we've lost a lot. But the people who made the Underground the Underground remain, just in a new location. If you're a fellow Elf who's been wondering what happened to your community, please come join us at Whitehall Castle. We miss you. And if you're not an Elf yet, but you enjoy The Berinfell Prophecies or just Christian fantasy and writing and awesomeness in general, come visit us- maybe even come to stay.

Rest in peace, original Underground. Long live the Underground: Whitehall Castle.
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

P.S. If you know other Elves who haven't yet heard this news and you have a way to contact them, please let them know about this change! We're trying to make sure all the elves have heard, but there are some people we don't have contact information for. Thank you!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sarah's Genre-Savvy Guide to Fairytale Survival

Maybe you know how it happened, maybe you don't, but one way or another, you've found yourself not in your own familiar world but in that of a fairytale retelling- and a very Grimm world it is! Naturally, you want to find a way back home, but in order to do that, you need to know how to keep from getting yourself trapped, killed, or worse. But never fear! Sarah is here to help with 10 simple tips that will- hopefully- keep you in one piece and unbewitched until you're safely in your world again!

  1. First and foremost, familiarize yourself with the local folklore. Most of them will probably have at least a grain of truth, if not more. Pay special attention to the creepy legends that no one likes to talk or think about and that are only mentioned in fearful whispers. These will, almost undoubtedly, turn out to be absolutely true in the worst possible way.
  2. On a related note, supposedly magical forests, haunted castles, and similar places are rumored to be this way for a reason! As a general rule of thumb, these places are also to be avoided- the less entangled you get with magical places (and, by extension, the magical beings that inhabit them), the safer you'll be! However, as it's not unlikely that finding your way home will involve going to one or more of these places (for various reasons), you should be familiar with where they are and what stories surround them.
  3. As I mentioned, getting entangled with fairy folk and similar tends to lead to trouble. However, the odds are that you will end up having to deal with them at some point. This leads to my next tip: do not tick off the fairies. Even the nice ones often have a tendency to overcompensate for perceived insults. Be polite and respectful- but don't be a pushover.
  4. Likewise, be nice to the old people. This should go without saying, really- what kind of person goes around being nasty to their elders?- but it's worth mentioning. After all, old people in fairytales have a tendency to be magical beings in disguise- and even if they aren't, they usually have pretty good advice. So, yeah, respect them. If they're  Also: if you meet them on the road, offer to share your lunch. They appreciate that. 
  5. Another thing: talking frogs are, invariably, enchanted princes or such. Other talking animals could go either way- cats and birds, in particular, tend to be shapeshifted fairy folk or just animals who happen to be able to speak like humans- but frogs will always, always be enchanted. 
  6. This next piece of advice is a really, really major one: if you must make bargains with fairy folk, enchanters, or anyone who's magical or not fully human in any way, be extremely cautious. If possible, don't make bargains at all; at least 90% of fairytale troubles occur simply because a character strikes a deal with someone or something. Not all bargains are bad, of course, but make one with the wrong being and you'll find yourself having to pay a lot more than you want to. In extreme cases, they end with someone dying or worse. (Yes, there is worse. Twelve Dancing Princesses remakes, in particular, seem to be full of this.) So, whenever possible, do not make bargains with magical beings. Of course, sometimes it's either a bargain or immediate death, in which case, well . . . you're in trouble either way, but at least if you make the bargain, you might have a chance of escaping later on. Even so, if you must make a bargain, be as careful as possible. Do not, under any circumstances, leave loopholes that the being with whom you're making the bargain can exploit. Likewise, if you agree to give something up, make sure you know exactly what the something is; don't say something like "whatever is standing behind my house" or "the first thing that greets me when I get home." 
  7. Also, as a wise cat once said, "Don't go giving bits of yourself to anybody." This can include hair, blood, teeth . . . even personal possessions, in the hands of certain beings. Best-case scenario, possessing a bit of you will allow the being to play Evil Twin and do a lot of nasty things that people will blame you for. Worst-case scenario, well . . . let's not go there. I can think of at least three possibilities, and none of them are pleasant to consider.
  8. Moving on from bargain-making: do not eat the fairies' food, even if they offer it to you! This goes for any food or drink offered by magical people or beings in general. Usually, this will result in the fairies or other beings gaining some kind of power over you, or your not being able to leave "fairyland" (wherever that happens to be). In occasional cases, it'll just make you lose your taste for human food . . . but that's still not very good, as you'll end up starving to death. However, food offered by wizards and other humans with magical powers (other than witches) is generally safe.
  9. If you get involved in any kind of quest, a good thing to remember is that things tend to happen in threes. So if you've faced two monsters, there will probably be a third (bigger) monster through the next door. Completed two challenges? There'll be another one coming. Met up with two mysterious old ladies offering you gifts? You'll come upon another one before you get wherever you're going. Keep this rule in mind and you'll have a slightly better idea what to be on the watch for.
  10. Finally, the simplest solution will often work, even if it doesn't make sense. Remember: you're in a fairytale, possibly even in fairyland. Things work differently here. Sometimes, the faster you run, the slower you get anywhere, and the easiest way to see what can't be seen is to look for its shadow. Essentially, don't just consider the possibilities; think of the impossibilities as well.  
In the end, of course, most of these tips come down to respect, kindness, and common sense- and a bit of uncommon sense as well. Keep that in mind and you should have little trouble surviving your fairytale and finding your way back home- not to mention having a nice bit of adventure while you're at it.
Best wishes!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Random Fridays: Spring 2015 Reads
Hello, everyone! This week's Random Friday theme is Spring 2015 Reads. In theory, spring should be just around the corner- though, the view outside my window says that warmer weather is still at least a few blocks away! However, whether or not sunshine and spring flowers will be arriving soon, lots of awesome new books are releasing in the next few months, and today, I'm going to share with you the ones I'm most excited for.

 1. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman (releases March 10)
Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina, one of my favorite reads of last year. I'm super excited to return to this world, to see what'll happen to Seraphina and her friends, especially Orma- hopefully, he'll be in this one and not off hiding because of the events of Seraphina. I look forward to finding out how the conflict between humans and dragons develops, as well as seeing more of Seraphina's world. (Reading about this on Goodreads, though, I did find out that apparently there won't be a third book in the series. I am highly disappointed.)

2. Out of Darkness Rising by Gillian Bronte Adams (releases March 15)
I just read Gillian's other book, Orphan Song, at the beginning of this week and absolutely loved it, so I'm really excited to read more of Gillian's writing. Out of Darkness Rising looks like it'll be really awesome. From the prologue excerpt and the book trailer, it sounds like it'll be along the lines of Tales of Goldstone Wood and The Door Within trilogy, both of which are favorites of mine. As a note, Gillian is running a giveaway of this book on her blog, so you should definitely check that out.
3. Omega Dragon by Bryan Davis (releases March 20)
I said this before, but I'll said it again: I cannot believe this multi-series is actually ending. The first book was published eleven years ago, in 2004; I read it in . . . 2010, I think? Maybe 2009? Since then, I've always assumed that there would always be another book coming out, another adventure of Billy, Bonnie, Walter, Ashley, and the rest of their friends and family. But now this is the last one. And ever since Mr. Davis released a sneak peek of the first chapter on his site, I've been a little scared that a lot of people are going to die in this one. Not that I don't believe that Omega Dragon will be amazing- I know it will be. Odds are, it'll be even better than I think it will be, because Bryan Davis is just that good. But I'm still worried for my favorite characters and sad that this is the end.

4. The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (releases March 25)
Though I don't read a lot of contemporary books, I love the Penderwicks series. The Penderwicks in Spring takes place five years after The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, and I'm not entirely sure what to think about the time change. On one hand, I can see why the author chose to skip ahead, but on the other hand, I like Skye and Jane best (particularly Jane, with whom I've always identified closely) and I've heard that this book will mostly focus on Batty and Ben rather than the older sisters. All the same, I look forward to seeing what the Penderwick family is up to now, and I'm sure it'll be enjoyable.
5. Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine (releases April 21)
A Tale of Two Castles is my favorite of the Levine fairytale retellings, so I'm quite excited that the sequel is finally coming out! I look forward to seeing more of Mastress Meenore and Elodie. Also, if this is anything like A Tale of Two Castles, 'twill be a nice fantasy-mystery, a genre I've been wanting to read more of lately. I'm not crazy about the cover, admittedly, but I don't doubt the story will be good. (And now I need to reread A Tale of Two Castles to prepare!)

6. The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson (releases May 12)
I love Melanie Dickerson's fairytale retellings, and I'm looking forward to seeing how she handles the two stories that make up Huntress: Robin Hood and Swan Lake. Hopefully my library will get it in quickly, instead of making me wait like it has with The Princess Spy

7. Lion Heart by A. C. Gaughen (releases May 19)
Speaking of Robin Hood retellings, Lion Heart, the third and final book in the Scarlet series is also coming out this spring. Part of me is a little hesitant to read it because Lady Thief was . . . not my favorite book in the world. I mean, it wasn't terrible, it just wasn't as awesome as I wish it had been. All the same, I want to know how the series ends, so I'll most likely try to read Lion Heart
8. Illusionarium by Heather Dixon (releases May 19)
STEAMPUNK. Yes, yes, yes. I need more steampunk. And just to make it even better, Illusionarium is by the author of one of my favorite fairytale retellings, Entwined. I haven't been able to find much information about the actual plot, but it's steampunk and I love, love, love Heather Dixon's style, so that's enough for me. (Plus, I've been waiting for ages for Heather Dixon to release a new book, so, yeah. I'm very happy that the wait is over.)
 9. Draven's Light by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (releases May 25, 2015)
Last but definitely not least, we have a new Goldstone Wood book! Let us begin by taking a minute to appreciate the beauty of this cover. I mean, as a general rule, Goldstone Wood covers are really pretty, but Draven's Light is one of my top three- maybe even top two, since I can't decide if I like its cover or that of Golden Daughter better. Anyway, moving on. I'm excited for just about anything Goldstone Wood, but that's because the books are always really amazing, and having read the excerpt available on the book page, I'm sure that Draven's Light will be no exception. Apparently it goes back further in Parumvir's history than any other Goldstone Wood book to date, so that should be interesting. (Why must May be so far away?)
What new books are you looking forward to this spring? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Thursday, March 5, 2015


About a month ago, my sister asked me if I had any ideas of what to knit next. I gave her the usual list- a hat, wristers, a cowl, and possibly some other things- and then added another suggestion: a dragon. This caught her attention, and I told her about the stuffed dragon pattern that I'd found a while back and never tried. She asked to see the pattern, and I showed it to her, and asked that if she did end up making dragons, that she make one for me as well.

Fast forward to last Sunday evening, and look what appeared on my bed:
Isn't he cute? His name is Velone, after a dragon in one of my stories. I actually specifically requested that my sister make my dragon to look like the character Velone, since he's pretty much my favorite of all the dragons I've written- and he's probably in or close to my top five of dragons in general.

Why? I'm glad you asked.

Velone, the character
Velone is a miniature ice dragon, which means he'll never get much bigger than a housecat. At the moment, being only about two weeks old (as of the end of Destinies and Decisions), he's small enough to fit comfortably in a largish coat pocket. In fact, he spends a good deal of time in a pocket, since it makes a good hiding/napping spot.

Velone is a Rider's dragon, bonded to Emma Alyron. Like Emma, Velone loves music. His favorite way to express himself is through humming: cheerful tunes when he's happy, slower melodies when he's thinking hard, and Emma's favorite songs for when he's trying to encourage her. When he's not trying to express a particular emotion or sentiment, his "default" tune is the first one he heard Emma sing in the moments before he hatched. Though she sang it as a lonely lament, it's since become a symbol of hope for both of them.

Velone might be tiny, but he has an enormous heart and a protective streak three miles wide. If something is threatening his Emma, he'll do whatever he can to stop it, and when she's feeling discouraged, lonely, or just not good enough, he'll hum, nuzzle her cheeks, and remind her of the truths she needs to hear. He doesn't entirely understand why Emma fears all the things she does, and he consistently nudges her to step outside her comfort zone, to be the person she could be rather than the person she sees herself as.

Writing about Emma and Velone is almost always really fun. Velone is very different from most of the other dragons in my stories when it comes to interactions with his Rider. For one thing, because he's so small, there's a lot more cuddling involved. (Yes, dragons do cuddle, or at least mine do.) For another, he communicates more through images, feelings, and humming than through actual words. This makes him a bit more challenging to write, but I enjoy the challenge. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Velone also serves as a catalyst for Emma's growth as a person, which makes their interactions doubly fun to write.

Do you have a favorite dragon or other mythological creature in your stories? Please tell me about him or her in the comments! As always, I'd love to hear what you have to say!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

P.S. Just in case, Velone isn't the only dragon my sister's made . . . she's actually been really busy. To demonstrate just how busy, here's a picture of all her dragons: