Saturday, January 27, 2018

Favorite Webcomics

Allo, everyone! So, I don't mention this much, but I really love webcomics and graphic novels. There's a lot of variety- it seems at times that people will try in webcomics and graphic novels what they wouldn't dare in a normal novel- and, obviously, they have a very different feel than a standard book. And, yeah, there's some that fall flat for various reasons, but the ones that are done well put me in awe of the artists/writers' skills at conveying so much with just pictures and dialogue bubbles. And webcomics in particular are made sweeter by the anticipation of the next installment, yet they're also super easy to binge-read (which is how I do a lot of webcomic reading, honestly). Anyway, since I enjoy them so much, I thought that I'd share some of my favorites.

Favorite Webcomics

1. The Silver Eye (Laura Hollingsworth). I'm pretty sure this is one of the best webcomics on the entire internet. The Silver Eye features the quality storytelling you'd expect from any great fantasy novel, with lovable characters, mysterious backstories, startling plot twists, masked figures (ok, one masked figure), humor, and a healthy dose of magic. On top of that, it has absolutely gorgeous artwork, especially in recent chapters. (And Laura is currently redrawing the first several chapters, so it'll soon be the same quality all the way through.) Seriously, though- the colors! The expressiveness! Everything! I would hang it on my wall if I could. (Actually, I can; I just don't like spending money. That's also the #1 reason I don't have more problems with a lack of bookshelf space, for the record.) As I said, Laura is currently redrawing and reposting some of the first few chapters, but she's almost back to normal chapters- which means this is the perfect time to start reading, so you have some time to get caught up!

2. West of Bathurst by Kari Maaren. Why, yes, this does happen to be created by the author of one of my favorite books of 2017! And, honestly, West of Bathurst may be my favorite of her stories so far. It contains an astounding amount of weirdness, yes, but it also has folklore references, colorful characters (including one infuriating, wonderful, and mysterious Casey Mulligan), a magnificently mind-bending plot, a healthy dose of humor, an emotional rollercoaster of feels (particularly if you binge read it, which I tend to do), and an astonishing amount of weirdness. The comic ended in 2013- I actually started reading it the day it ended, if I recall correctly- which means that it's the only webcomic on this list that won't make you wait for updates.

3. Runewriters by Shazzbaa. Hello, least-angsty of my favorite webcomics! The panel right there sums up the interactions of the main characters (and the comic in general) pretty well, honestly. It's got its share of danger and creepiness and mystery, but Runewriters is also a generally fun story with equally fun characters (including a deaf girl and a grumpy necromancer/healer) and some pretty cool magic. So, yeah. I like it. Shazz went on hiatus for a few months last year, but she's back now with weekly updates.

4. It Never Rains by Kari Maaren. I just really like this author's work, ok? It Never Rains is slightly less convoluted and slightly more frustrating than West of Bathurst or Weave a Circle Round, in my opinion anyway, but I still enjoy it. It's got unlikely friendships and time travel and sisters and characters who are kind of geeks and humor and basically all the things a webcomic needs. (As a side note, it also has a main character with two mums, so . . . yeah. It's not exactly a major part of the story; I just don't want someone yelling at me because I didn't warn them.) Anyway. This one updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, usually, though Maaren occasionally does a week or two of daily updates. Those are delightful.

5. True Magic by Aja. This is arguably the most plot-focused, least character-focused of my favorite webcomics. It's not even that convoluted a plot, compared to some? It started out pretty simple, just some inventive village teens off to try to stop nobles from terrorizing their village. But then people started disappearing, and our heroes got a little sidetracked, and . . . yeah. (My favorite character also got separated from the rest, and now I'm impatiently waiting for the focus to shift back to her.) Anyway. This comic usually updates on Tuesdays, but occasionally the author skips a week for reads of his (or her? not really sure?) own.

6. NaNoToons by Errol Elumir. I think this is probably the most widely-read of the webcomics on this list? It's also the most comic-y of the webcomics, if you get what I mean. But that's part of what makes it so much fun to read, plus it's a nice little destresser during NaNoWriMo. Again, I'm a little disappointed that the storyline is focusing less on my favorite characters, but it's still fun. (Plus, NaNoToons indirectly led to my discovery of Kari Maaren's comics, so I guess you could say I owe it a debt of gratitude? 'Cause if you haven't gotten this already, Maaren's works are awesome.)

7. Darths and Droids by the Comic Irregulars. I . . . don't even know how I started reading this? Like, all the others, I can point to something and say "Oh yeah, I found out about it through this" but not this one. I'm pretty sure it was the first webcomic I ever read, which doesn't help matters. Anyway. It's funny, it's Star Wars, and it started my interest in tabletop RPGs, which . . . still hasn't gotten anywhere, but I'm working on it. Sort of. The current arc isn't my favorite, but that's mostly because I'm less familiar with the base story.

Do you enjoy webcomics? What are your favorites? Please tell me in the comments; I'm always looking for more recommendations!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I'll Take the Lashes

A short story set in the Berstru Tales universe. Inspired by:

I'll Take the Lashes

            “Well, Captain, seems we’ve caught ye at last. All that runnin’ ye did for nothing.” The pirate captain smiled like a shark in a school of fish, sunshine glinting off gold in his smile and the sharp blade of his saber. “And now ye’ll make me an’ my crew rich as the Deep-Keeper with his hoards of sunken treasure.”

            Makatala Lea’li glared, kneeling on the rough deck, her black braids falling past her bandana into her face. She’d evaded this man— Black Montego, he called himself— and his crew for months now. Months! And now she and her crew were caught, thanks to an hour’s inattention. A rueful glance around showed the cost all too clearly: the Windrunner’s mainmast broken in two, her forecastle a shattered wreck. Half Makatala’s crew dead or wounded; all of them captives on Montego’s vessel. Serpent’s currents! If I’d been more careful—

            “Nothin’ to say?” Montego asked mockingly. “Ye had plenty earlier. Right colorful too.” He leaned in closer. “Hope ye find yer tongue again later. Ye and I are goin’ to have a chat ‘bout what yer islands are hidin’.”

            Like I would—! No. She’d correct him on that point later. Now, she had more important things to consider. “Let my crew go. Keep me, but let them go. You don’t need them.” She had to force the last word out. “Please.”

            “Tryin’ to be noble, are ye?” Montego laughed. “I’ll be keepin’ a few a’ them for leverage later. The rest . . . As ye say, I don’t need them. I was thinkin’ a’ just tossin’ ‘em off the side for the sharks. But . . .” His smile widened without becoming less cruel. “I’ll give ye a deal, Captain. Pick one a’ yer men to take a floggin’. Every lash he takes ‘fore he cries mercy, I’ll spare one a’ yer crew. Let ‘em go back to yer ship and sail off, even.”

            “Son of a sea snake!” Makatala spat. “The Keeper of the Deeps makes better bargains than that.” Then again, what more could she expect from a pirate?

            “Some a’ yer men’ll get their chance with him soon enough.” Montego shrugged. “Take the deal or leave it. Yer choice.”

            Makatala clenched her fists. “Fine. I’ll take the lashes.”

            He laughed. Laughed! “Ye will, and take enough to kill yerself before ye can make me rich. Try again, Captain. I need ye in one piece.”

            Makatala hesitated, glancing over her crew. It’s our best chance. But who was left who could take a flogging? If that traitor Spayne were still on her crew— but even if he were, he’d back out before he took a single lash. Who was loyal enough to take it, then? Enele or Tamoto would. The two of her brothers who sailed with her were as dedicated to the crew as she— but Enele had been run through by Montego himself earlier, and Tamoto wasn’t much better off. And the rest of her crew? Wounded and battle-wearied, the lot. Plenty loyal enough, but how many strong enough to do any good?
“Make yer choice, Captain.” Montego’s voice drew Makatala’s attention back to him. “I won’t wait ‘round bloodied water ‘til sunset.”

Makatala gave him a poisonous look. But before she could speak, another voice called out from among her crew. “A man freed for every lash, you said?”    

She didn’t have to look to identify the speaker— but she did anyway. The Berstruer, Jaku, had pushed his way to the front of the crowd of captive crewmen and faced Montego, steady and unwavering as a mountain. He appeared mostly unwounded— small wonder; with that massive sword he wielded, most enemies couldn’t get close enough to touch him while he brought down one pirate after another. And Berstruer though he was, he was nearly as tall and strong as the largest of Makatala’s many brothers. If anyone among the captives could survive enough of a flogging to save most of the crew, he could. And yet . . .

“You swear it, Montego?” Jaku went on. “They’ll return to the ship, unharmed, and be free to go?”

Serpent’s twisting currents, what are you doing, Jaku? He was no islander like most of those above the Windrunner. He wasn’t even part of her crew; he was only aboard her ship because she’d taken him captive— though she’d freed him from confinement within a day, realizing that he wasn’t an enemy, that he was fighting the Li’o Val just as she was. And now he would take a flogging for her men? What was he thinking? She opened her mouth to tell him to stop— but couldn’t. He’s our best chance, fool though he is . . .

“As ye say.” Montego grinned. “Are ye offerin’, boy?”

“Swear it.” Jaku crossed his arms. “Unharmed, no pursuit, one lash for every member of Windrunner’s crew. Swear on your ship and your honor as a captain. Then— yes, I’ll do it.”

Montego’s brows drew together beneath his black hat. “Strong oaths ye’re askin’ for there, boy.”

He was right. No sailor or captain on all the endless seas would dare break them, not even a pirate with no other honor. Stories circulated in smoky taverns about what befell those who did— strange storms full of green lightning; whirlpools that appeared suddenly to swallow ship and crew.

“I don’t intend to be whipped only for you to turn around and throw everyone off the side,” Jaku replied. “Swear it and I’ll take every stroke you give me.”

Montego snorted. “Fine. I swear, by ship and captain’s honor, to release one a’ the Windrunner’s crew for every lash ye take, ‘til ye call for mercy. I’ll not harm ‘em, nor pursue ‘em. This I swear.” He sheathed his sword. “Now, let’s get on with it. Bring ‘im!”
Two of Montego’s crew approached Jaku, but he stripped off his shirt and walked forward willingly. As he passed Makatala, he nodded to her. “Captain.”

Makatala shook her head. “You’re no island’s son, Jaku. You don’t have to do this.”

“With due respect, Captain, yes I do,” he replied, and moved on.

Makatala watched as Montego’s men tied Jaku’s wrists to the mast so his arms stretched above his head, while one other fetched a long whip from a bag beneath the steersman’s post. This he handed to a man who Makatala presumed to be Montego’s first mate.

And then it began.

The whip snaked through the air and struck Jaku’s back with a snap. A streak of red blossomed where it hit. Jaku sucked in a breath with a hiss of pain. Montego smiled and called out, “One!”

A pirate escorted one of the captives back to the Windrunner as the whip fell again, then again, then again. Makatala wanted to look away from the site, but couldn’t. She owed that much to Jaku. And, too, the scene held her gaze even as it horrified her.

Jaku never cried out, that was the worst of it. Other than those sharp intakes of breath, he never made a sound at all, even as the captain cried “Twelve!” and the first mate swung the whip with particular force. He clenched his fists; his face screwed up with pain; he jerked with each strike— but he remained nearly silent as the whip cracked and red ribbons of blood trickled down his back and dripped onto the wooden deck, where they joined other, older stains.

On the fifteenth lash, Jaku at last let out a deep moan of pain. Montego held up a hand, and the mate paused. “Had enough, boy?”

Jaku shuddered and tried to pull himself up straighter. “No.” He shook his head, wincing. “Keep on.”

Montego shrugged; lowered his hand. “Yer funeral.”

The whip fell again. There seemed to be more blood than skin on Jaku’s back now. He clung to the rigging to which he was tied as if it were his only lifeline in a storm. Still, he did not cry out— but small noises that somehow conveyed more pain than any scream escaped him every few minutes.

Another three strokes and Montego again stopped his mate. “Enough yet?”

Jaku hesitated, glanced towards the few remaining crewmembers, then shook his head once more. “Keep on.” The words came out in a gasp. “Keep on.”
You’re mad. Makatala clenched her fists, still staring. She should stop this; order Jaku to give up. How much longer could he hold on? But she couldn’t; she couldn’t give that command, not if she wanted the rest of her crew freed. She couldn’t doom her crew to save one man, no matter how much her conscience protested. Deep-Keeper take you, Montego, for forcing me into this choice!

The whip fell one last time, and the final captive climbed back aboard the Windrunner. Makatala slumped in relief. They’d be safe, even if she wasn’t. Jaku dangled from his ropes, slumped, head hanging forward, shuddering with each shallow breath.

Montego scowled, a hand on his saber. “Now ye did it. Cut ‘im down.”

“Wait,” Jaku mumbled, his voice barely audible. “Wait. Two more.”

Montego snorted. “What’s wrong with ye? Ye freed yer mates. Now I want ye off my ship.”

“Two more,” Jake repeated, words slurred from pain. “One for me. One for the captain.”

“Not happenin’,” Montego snapped. “Ye— I’ll let ye go without the lash, serpent’s son. Get back to yer ship before ye do me any more damage. But yer captain stays here.”

“You swore,” Jaku’s hands tightened on the rigging. “You swore. One lash to release one of Windrunner’s crew, until the one being lashed gives up. Captain Lea’li’s part of the crew. And I’m not giving up.”

Montego drew his saber, looking like he wanted to run Jaku through. “You can’t—”

“You. Swore. On your ship and your honor.” Jaku twisted to look directly at Montego. “You know what happens if you break that vow.”

Montego glared, then abruptly sheathed his saber. “Captain’s worth more than a crewman. Five lashes, and if you make one sound, it stops.”

“Done.” Jaku gritted his teeth, obviously bracing himself. The whip fell again: once, twice, thrice. Jaku shook, his face pale, eyes shut. Fourth lash; he jerked but didn’t make a sound. The fifth stroke fell, and he at last went limp, silent save for his shaky breaths.

Montego muttered several curses. “Release ‘em both, and toss their weapons back after ‘em. I won’t have any trace of their blasted madness on this ship!”

The men holding Makatala released her. She dashed forward to catch Jaku as another sailor cut him free. Jaku nearly fell to the deck before Makatala pushed under his shoulder to support him. “That,” she hissed in his ear, “was the most reckless, terrible foolishness anyone on my ship has ever committed. I might have to let you join my crew now.”

“Had to do it,” Jaku mumbled, stumbling along as she dragged him towards the Windrunner. “Your brothers couldn’t. Crew couldn’t. No one could. But someone had to. So I did. Couldn’t leave you all in a pirate’s hands . . . I’ve seen what they do . . .”

Makatala guided him across the gangplank. “I would’ve managed.” Behind them, two of Montego’s pirates bundled up the Windrunner crew’s weapons and tossed them onto the Windrunner.

“’Course. But someone has to look out for sisters . . . Couldn’t’ve faced mine again if I let you down . . .” Jaku sagged, but gave her a delirious half-grin. “’Sides . . . I think I’d do anything for you, capt’n. Anything you asked. I . . .” He slumped and collapsed to the deck, slipping out of Makatala’s support.

Makatala knelt anxiously— but no, he wasn’t dead. Just unconscious. It was a miracle he’d held on this long. “Naea! Ala’i! Get this man to my quarters and tend his wounds. The rest of you, get to work. We’ve got our freedom, thanks to Jaku. Let’s not waste it.”

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

Ah, technology. For some writers, it’s a blessing; for others, a bane, and for most of us, it’s both. Nonetheless, almost every writer uses it at some point, whether they’re looking for epic motivational music on YouTube, collecting character inspiration on Pinterest, actually writing on Microsoft Word, or searching the internet for answers to one of those weird questions we all end up asking eventually. As a primarily pencil-and-paper writer, I’m a little less reliant on technology than some of my friends, but I still have a host of programs, sites, and apps that I use pretty regularly for writing-related purposes. And because I figure some of these might be helpful for others, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. Some of these you probably already know about and might even use yourself, but others you might not be familiar with.

Tech to Save a Writer's Sanity

(Or at least make their lives a little easier and more productive)
  1. Evernote
    What I use it for: So. Storming. Much. Where do I even begin? A friend of mine told me about Evernote around the time I got my new phone, and I am so glad he did. I installed it on my laptop and my phone- which means any document I create on one shows up on the other- and I use it for everything, even stuff that isn’t writing related. I keep notes on it about my current WIPs, possible character names, and future story ideas, along with random other information like radio stations, wi-fi passwords, and my ever-growing list of books I want to look up. I’ve written blog posts, story chapters, and even short fiction on it. I’m currently in the process of transferring my entire worldbuilding notebook onto it. And, yes, I could do all that in an email draft, but Evernote allows a lot more organization and way nicer formatting. Also, apparently there are Evernote templates for writer-y things like character creation and worldbuilding, so that’s nice if I ever get around to checking them out. Which I probably won’t, but y’know.
    What I don’t use it for: Long projects. You can’t write a novel in Evernote- well, you probably could, but it’s not exactly ideal. However, you can write just about anything else in it, and you won’t have to email it to yourself (which I did a lot of before I installed the app).
  2. yWriter
    What I use it for: Editing Destinies and Decisions, mostly, and sometime in the future, I’ll probably rewrite my fairy tale retellings on it. However, people who do their first drafts on the computer could write in it as well. It’s basically a free sort-of-Scrivener with fewer features and a less snazzy interface. It’s great if you’re working on a story and you need to move chapters around, rewrite scenes multiple times, and so on. You can easily create a new version and still hold on to the old version, or you can reference an earlier scene without having to scroll back in the document. yWriter is also nice if you want to investigate a Scrivener-type program, but don’t want to do the Scrivener free trial for whatever reason.
    What I don’t use it for:
    Any project that I don’t want tied to my laptop- which is one of yWriter’s chief faults. I have yet to figure out how to easily export the files to a Microsoft Word document that I could work on elsewhere, other than copy-pasting scene by scene. I also don’t use it for editing straightforward projects like Blood in the Snow, only projects in which I know I have to totally move scenes around and add a lot of new material.
  3. Forest
    What I use it for:
    Ok, so this one isn’t a writing app, but I think it’s super helpful for writers because it decreases your potential distractions. Basically, you set the amount of time that you want to focus and the app plants a virtual “tree.” If you navigate away from the app during that time, your “tree” dies (and you feel like a slightly horrible person). You can set up Forest to allow access to certain other apps- music, name generators, Google Translate, so on- but it’ll keep you off stuff like Pinterest, Hangouts, or whatever else your distraction of choice might be. It also functions pretty well as a timer, for those who like to set “Write for X Hours per Week”-type goals. (I also just discovered that there’s a Firefox extension version in addition to the app, which I’m 100% going to get- apparently it keeps you off particular websites as long as it’s running, and yeah, I can definitely use that.) 
    What I don’t use it for:
    For one thing, I obviously don’t use it when I’m writing on my phone. I also try not to use it if I think I might have to use blocked apps for actual writing-related purposes; for example, if I know I’ll be introducing a new character and I want to access my reference pictures on Pinterest, or if I think I’m going to end up Googling a bunch of stuff. Other than that, it’s pretty fabulous.
  4. Name Generators: Behind the Name, Fantasy Name Generators, FaNG (app), Name Generator (app)
    What I use each for:
    Behind the Name is always my first choice for main character names. It’s got a wide range of names (with history and meaning!) from languages and cultures all over the world. If you know what you’re looking for, you can browse name lists, but if you’re not really sure, you can use their random renamer to generate a bunch of options. Usually, I pick a few different language groups I’m thinking about and set it to give me a first name, three middle names, and a last name, generate ten or so of those, and combine as necessary. I also sometimes use the Fantasy Name Generators site, which actually has both real and fantasy names. It doesn’t give you meanings, but it’ll generate ten names at a click. Plus, you can use it for place names, descriptions, riddles, and a ton of other stuff. Finally, on the app side, we have FaNG, which is designed for roleplaying games and provides names for a few major RPG types, plus some real-world names from a couple cultures, and the Name Generator, which focuses entirely on real-world names from a wider set of languages. 
    What I don’t use each for:
    As I already said, Behind the Name and the Fantasy Name Generators site are generally my first two choices for name creation. Usually, I’ll use Behind the Name more for planning major characters and the Fantasy Name Generators for minor characters, non-characters, and on-the fly names. However, both of them require internet to work, so when I’m on the go, I’ll use whichever app has names that fit my setting.
  5. Yearly Word Tracker Spreadsheets
    What I use them for: Er, well, tracking word count? But the tracker is also set up so you can keep track of time spent writing, daily and monthly averages, monthly and yearly totals, and monthly and yearly goals. Plus there’s pretty art, which I find pretty motivational. There’s also a version specifically for NaNoWriMo, but you don’t need it; I’m generally fine with just the normal November page in the year-long tracker. But yeah. I find that keeping a record of how much and how long I write helps me be a bit more regular with my writing, so that’s helpful.
What are some resources- whether software, apps, websites, or another form of tech- that you find particularly helpful for writing? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

P.S. What do you think of my new header? I'd love to hear your input- what you like about it, what you don't like, what you think could be better. Thanks in advance!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Old Books Yet Unread

Allo, everyone! As I mentioned earlier this week, one of my goals for the year is to read more old books- at least one for every three new books I read. Some of these I'll be revisiting; for instance, it's been far too long since I reread The Lord of the Rings all the way through, and I rather want to revisit some of the classic adventure books I used to enjoy. However, I also have a reasonably long list of older books that I keep intending to read but never get around to, and I'd like to try to clear it out a bit this year. More or less all of these can fit into one of four categories: 1) Lewis and Tolkien, 2) books that influenced Lewis and Tolkien, 3) miscellaneous classics I got away with not reading, and 4) random books that somehow appeared on my TBR, probably on a friend's recommendation. Hopefully I'll finish the year by reading a fair sampling of each category. And today, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of what I intend to read, in no particular order.

Old Books Unread (Until Now!)

  1. The Pilgrim's Regress and 'Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Or, more accurately, everything Lewis ever wrote, with the possible exception of the Oxford History of English Literature (referred to by Lewis as his "O HEL project," for good reason!). These two are my top priority, though, the first because it relates somewhat to some of my classes last year and the second because people keep telling me how amazing it is. The fact that those two are novels and the rest of Lewis's work tends to be either scholarship or theology (with a few exceptions) also helps.
  2. Something by G.K. Chesterton. I'm not actually sure what, since I'm really not at all familiar with Chesterton; all I know is that he's fits in the "influenced Lewis and Tolkien" (or at least Lewis) category, that he's apparently very good, and that he's often quoted in relation to fairy tales and dragons. So, I asked a friend for recommendations and now I've narrowed my choice down from "something" to six different books, and . . . yeah. I'll probably end up reading either some of the Father Brown mysteries or The Man Who Was Thursday, but I don't know for sure.
  3. Either The Iliad or Beowulf. Or, better yet, both. The Iliad is one of the few books that doesn't neatly fit into any of the categories I mentioned earlier; it's not so much that I got away with not reading it as that I didn't realize I wanted to read it until I read The Odyssey in Fall 2016 and fell a little bit in love. I suspect I'll still prefer The Odyssey to The Iliad, mostly because Odysseus, but y'know. Beowulf, on the other hand, I read a portion of in Brit Lit a few years ago and enjoyed, but I never got around to reading the full poem. If anyone has a translation they particularly like, please let me know; otherwise I'll probably go with Tolkien's version, because Tolkien.
  4. Shakespeare's Hamlet. NoIhaven'treadityetpleasedon'tkillme. People keep telling me to read Hamlet, I keep saying "Yes! I plan to soon!" with the very best intentions . . . and then I don't read it, making it a classic Category 3 "book I got away without reading." Shame on me- but I will fix that this year! There are a few other Shakespeare plays I want to read, like The Taming of the Shrew and The Merchant of Venice, and maybe a reread of MacBeth, but Hamlet is definitely top priority.
  5. The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris. I thought, when I noticed this on my TBR list, that it was part of Category 4 (random books from who-knows-where). However, while I still don't know how I found out about it, further investigation has revealed that Morris was one of the more influential pre-Tolkien fantasy writers and that both Tolkien and Lewis enjoyed his works- this one in particular. I also heard that apparently the language makes it a bit difficult to read, but, y'know, if I can manage Shakespeare I can probably manage this as well.
  6. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I enjoy Pride and Prejudice- who doesn't?- but after Sense and Sensibility dragged on for ages and I DNF'ed Emma, the rest of Austen's works became Category 3 "Classics I got away with not reading." But this year seems the perfect time to try to jump back in, especially after I basically reread P&P back in October, and Northanger Abbey seems a good place to start- mostly because a heroine determined to make her life into the stuff of her favorite stories sounds thoroughly relatable.
  7. A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller. This is most definitely a Category 4, as I can't even recall where I first heard of it and only rediscovered it quite recently. From the description, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it; it sounds like it'll either be delightfully subtle satire or dreadfully depressing and cynical. Obviously, I'm hoping for the former.
What classics do you keep meaning to read or reread? Any suggestions of old books that I should add to my list for the year? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)  

Monday, January 1, 2018

Ring the Old Year Out; Ring the New Year In!

Happy New Year, y'all! It's 2018 . . . and just in time, because y'know how after a new year begins, there's that transition period of trying to remember to date things as the new year and not the old one? My brain decided that we had to be different and so I keep accidentally dating things as 2018 instead of 2017. It's very annoying, especially since I thought 2017 was actually a good year. Among other things, it included:
  • Writing and editing a total of 129,321 words in three major projects and a handful of short stories, which included:
    • Fight Song (draft completed; editing and posting in progress)
    • Blood in the Snow (written, edited, and submitted to Rooglewood's 5 Poisoned Apples contest)
    • Destinies and Decisions (first edit/third draft in progress)
  • Participating in two Camp NaNoWriMos and NaNoWriMo, including my first November as a NaNo Rebel.
  • Assembling a professional portfolio and completing a substantial number of design projects, including two infographics (which I may share at some point, because I'm super happy with them).
  • Moving from New York back to Virginia (huzzah) and repainting my new room.
  • Watching the rest of Merlin and roughly one third of Fairy Tail.
  • Cosplaying as Captain Elizabeth Britworth, steampunk time traveler and airship captain.
  • Reading 93.5 books (which is a little lower than usual but at least they were mostly good books).
What, then, does 2018 hold? Obviously, I don't know for sure, seeing as I'm more Lightweaver than Truthwatcher, but as usual, I have several goals for the year in a few different categories. For the record, these aren't exactly hard and fast, I-must-do-this-or-die-trying goals. If 2019 rolls around and I haven't accomplished all of them, I'm not exactly going to be torn up about it. They're just things I want to aim for on the principle that even if I fail, I'll have gotten somewhere beneficial.

Writing Goals!
  • I am setting myself a writing challenge every month so that I write more regularly.
    • I have built myself a reputation for finishing things. For getting things done. For being someone who works steadily, if not always swiftly. It's accurate . . . but when you look at my writing, it's not as accurate as it once was. Not as accurate as I want it to be. There was a time I wrote every day, or nearly so. I finished one story and started another the same week. Not everything I wrote was good, but enough of it was, at least for my level of skill. But lately, I feel like I write and edit in fits and starts, bursts of words during NaNo events or when I feel particularly inspired, and nothing in between.
    • I cannot let this go on. I can't afford to. And I don't want to. I want to know what I could do if I wrote now like I did once. How much could I finish that's been in progress too long? How much could I begin or revisit that I've denied myself because I have so many projects unfinished? I have stories growing that I want to tell, some of which have been maturing for a long time, and I want to get myself to a place where I can write them and write them well. That means I need to start writing on a regular, daily, basis. And so: writing challenges.
    • That's not to say that every month will be a NaNoWriMo-level goal. I know that's not sustainable, not when I have classes and work and friends to attend to as well. Some months will just be a hundred words or a short poem per day. But as long as I keep writing or editing daily, or nearly so, even a small goal will be enough.
  • What do I intend to accomplish with all this writing and editing? Well, I have a few main projects:
    • Finish editing and posting Fight Song. This should probably be my top writing priority, seeing as I've left y'all hanging for several months now. (Sorry about that. Blood in the Snow kind of consumed my writing life.)
    • Write a short fiction piece a month. Ideally, this will be something that I can post here on the blog. It could be anywhere from a few-hundred-word sketch to a five-thousand-word short story, depending on the idea. But I'm becoming steadily more wordy, and I need to recapture the ability to write short. Plus, I really need something to balance all the editing I plan to do, and I hope this will help.
    • Finish rewriting Destinies and Decisions. Honestly, I need to sit down and decide exactly what plot changes to make and what to keep. Once I do that, I think this whole process will go a lot more smoothly, especially since I was at one point pretty excited about where I was going with the story. And after I'm done with the rewrite/edit, I can figure out where I'm going with the series from here.
    • Finish editing Between Two Worlds. Katelyn keeps poking me and reminding me how fun she is to write and hinting that she's ready for another adventure, and I can't do that until I complete this edit of her first story. Plus, this should be comparatively easy project, since I don't plan on any major changes to the plot.
    • Participate in all three NaNoWriMo events. I'll probably be editing things for at least two of them so that I can continue to work on the other goals I've already outlined, but NaNo is fun, and I missed it in 2016, and this past year has proven that I can do NaNo and college as long as I don't mind being a bit of a rebel. So, yeah. I'd like to write something new for at least one of the events, but established projects are higher priority.
    • I suspect all that will keep me busy for most of the year, but if I finish early . . . well, I'm not sure what I'll do. Maybe I'll start a new novel or novella; maybe I'll work on another editing project; maybe I'll actually start actively trying to get published. After all, Between Two Worlds is one of my two top picks for a novel debut. We'll have to see what happens.
  • My goal for the month of January is 15 hours of writing, editing or worldbuilding. That'll be about half an hour a day, which should be doable even allowing for homework, friends, and exercise, as long as I don't procrastinate. It'll also allow me to build up a bit of a buffer if I need it. Depending where I am about halfway through the month, I may adjust the goal, but we'll see what happens.
Reading Goals!
  • I'm setting my Goodreads reading challenge at 77 books, as opposed to my usual 99. This is for a few reasons. For one thing, I wasn't able to make 99 this year, and I don't want my reading challenge to be a stressful thing. For another, all the writing and editing I already talked about is going to keep me pretty busy. As for the third reason . . . well, C.S. Lewis told me to do a thing, and so I'm doing it.
  • Confused? To make it more clear, a quote:
    • "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones." - C.S. Lewis, "On the Reading of Old Books"
    • I read this essay in November and have been chewing on the ideas ever since, and in the end reached the conclusion that Lewis is, of course, right, and therefore I'm going to take his challenge. I'm not bold enough to try one old book for every new one, but one old to every three new I can do.
    • As for what that means exactly, I've laid down a few ground rules for myself:
      • An "old book," for purposes of this challenge, means anything written before 1963. Most people whom I've asked have agreed that a book is "old" if it's more than 50 years old, so 1963- 55 years ago- works on that end. 1963 is also the year of Lewis's death, which I thought was quite fitting.
      • The old books do not have to be entirely first time reads, but at least some of them should be.
      • The exception to that: anything by Tolkien qualifies as an "old book," even though some of it may have been written after 1963 and quite a bit of it was published after his death in 1973. This exception mostly exists because I don't feel like sorting out when exactly he wrote whatever book of his catches my eye. Also, I eventually want to read the Beren and Luthien book that just came out, as well as his translation of Beowulf, and now seems as good a time as any.
      • I cannot read exclusively Lewis, Tolkien, and Austen, even though Lewis alone could probably last me a year or two and I want to read literally basically everything he wrote.
      • I don't have to count books I read for class or official news reviews towards my "new books" total if doing so will cause unnecessary stress. Likewise, if I'm home on break, have a large number of new-release library books out, and need to read them quickly so I can return them before I head back to college, I can delay reading the old books that should accompany them. The goal of this challenge is to broaden my streams of reading and thought, not to place undue burden upon myself. 
Life Goals!
  • Finish reworking the blog. If you haven't noticed, I have three nice, new writing directories up top. I haven't had much time to work on the blog design since I finished those, but the next thing I have planned is a new header. I have the design in mind; I just have to see if I can make it work!
  • Keep doing martial arts. I've really enjoyed the class this past semester, and I want to keep going- especially since some of the new people in the class are catching up to me and thus I should get to start learning new stuff within the next month or so, as long as they keep coming! I'd also like to start going to the gym on non-martial-arts nights more regularly, even if all I do is walk on the treadmill or read on the exercise bike for half an hour. I've slacked off this past year, and I need to step up my game!
  • Continue to survive college. Obviously. If I can keep my GPA too, that would be lovely. (Not that it matters greatly, since I don't plan on going to grad school and I'm not in the sciences, but it's currently a very shiny number and I want to keep it that way.)
  • Actually try tabletop roleplaying. I said this last year too, and I thought I'd found a group at one point . . . but no one responded to my attempts at contact, and so I've come to the conclusion that it was a hoax. At this point, I'm about ready to advertise for other players if I have to- the problem is that at least one of those other players has to be willing to be the GM.
  • Brush up on my German. Not that I have much prospect of going to Germany any time soon, but still, you never know when it'll come in handy. And if I pick it up again now and stay in practice this time, I'll be more than ready when I eventually do get to Germany- which I will someday, one way or another. I'd also like to pick up another language if I can, but we'll see how that works out.
How was your 2017? What goals do you have for 2018? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and have a great year!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)