Friday, January 31, 2020

January 2020: First DOINGS of the DECADE!

Hey'a, everyone! It is the last day of January and a Friday, and that means it's time for the first Doings post of the decade! WOOT WOOT. I have no idea why I'm making such a big deal about this, but it's something different, so we're going with it. Anyway. January's been one of those months where it feels like it's actually two or three months stuck into one, so that's been interesting. We'll see how much I remember to recap.


  • So, as far as writing quantity goes, I'm doing great. My goal was 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day, five days a week, and though the start of the month was a little rough, I had some really good days and I currently have a really nice streak going. My total for the month so far is 24,214 words, not counting whatever I write today.
  • The majority of that has been on D&D stuff, both because that has a closer deadline (I need to have a new session every Friday) and because D&D is currently easier to write than my novel. Around the beginning of the month, I planned out all the episodes for the semester, so I just have to expand my summaries into actual playable session outlines.
  • I've gotten some done on Blood in the Earth/Soil, but not as much as I'd like. Again, D&D is higher priority and easier, and all the bits of my novel that I'm really excited about seem very far away. I mean, yes, they'd be closer if I worked on the bits that I'm writing now, but . . . yeah. I did manage to finish one notebook and start a second, though, which is exciting!
  • (D&D is going great, though. We've had two sessions so far this month — we had to call off one because of someone's birthday — and everyone seems to be having a good time. And I'm putting Plans in motion, and everyone just hit level 5 and it's all very exciting for me.)


  • I really haven't read a lot in January — I've been knitting, and I haven't had many gaps between classes and such in which to sneak a few chapters.
  • I finished King of Scars literally the day before Christmas break ended, and I have kind of mixed feelings about it. In all fairness, I really should have realized that, no duh, reading Nina's POV would be a constant reminder of that one bit at the end of Crooked Kingdom that I really disliked. Somehow, Zoya ended up being the best POV character in the story, which is impressive given how much I disliked her in the original trilogy.
  • Two of my other main reads were retellings: Shadowkeeper (Hades and Persephone crossed with Castor and Polux) and A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Beauty and the Beast). Shadowkeeper was a great concept with an execution that was ok but could have been better (though it's still worth the 99 cents that it currently costs as an ebook). A Curse So Dark and Lonely has been on my TBR list for a while and is definitely one of the better Beauty and the Beast retellings I've read. The characters were great, and, wonder of wonders, people actually tried to communicate with each other after they argued instead of being huffy and stubborn. WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE. Also, it's excellently twisty.
  • I'm finishing up the month by rereading the Illuminae Files, which I intended to do over Christmas break but didn't have time to read. I thought I'd just hold off on them until my next break, but then I ended up with a spare hour Monday afternoon during which I was too tired to do anything productive, and I was right next door to the library, so I figured I'd see if they had the first book . . . and they did, so I reread it in three days, and it was just as good as I remembered it. I think the reread was made better not just by the fact that I could pick up hints and clues and such but also by the fact that I took the AI class last spring and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey as a part of that, so I was reading the bits about AIDAN kind of in light of what I'd gotten then. I'm currently partway through Gemina, which is also as excellent as I remembered. (Actually better, since I'm attached to Nik this time around.)
  • I'm also keeping one of my reading goals and reading outside the speculative fiction genre! Currently, I'm reading How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, which is the most recent book by Randall Munroe (aka the guy behind XKCD and What If?). It is, as you might expect, excellent and hilarious and highly enjoyable. Absolutely would recommend.


  • I really didn't watch a whole lot this month. I saw about two-fifths of The Scarlet Pimpernel (the one with Ian McKellen in it) and thought it wasn't bad, though I didn't get to the part that I actually wanted to see (aka the part that's the book proper and not the flashback material put in chronological position). It was long and late and I wasn't feeling well, though, so I didn't finish.
  • The roommate and I have also started watching (rewatching in her case) season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We've gotten through the first 2 episodes, which includes the "Cave of the Two Lovers" episode. That . . . was a thing. Also, Sokka in that episode is basically me during a lot of D&D.


  • In case anyone was curious: the homemade artisan bread that I was working on when I posted my last Doings post was delicious. The loaves fused oddly, which wasn't great, but they tasted amazing. Definitely going to make those again once I'm home.
  • But there will not be any baking for a while because, guess what, I'm back at Cedarville.
  • For my last semester.
  • Please insert the appropriate nervous screaming noises here. (If you've lived in the same dorm as me for any length of time, you probably have a pretty accurate idea of what that sounds like.)
  • Anyway, yes. It's my last semester. I'm enjoying most of my classes, and even the two classes that I'm not crazy for, I like the people there and I'm glad to be taking one last class with them, if nothing else.
  • But I'm basically in two web design classes (Web Design II and my independent study) and it's a lot, but I'm really enjoying it. Coding and scripting and such are weirdly satisfying in a way that graphic design and writing aren't, and I can't really explain why, but yeah. It's great. I like it. There's about a 30% chance that I'm going to find a way to work these skills into my PWID professional project (read; basically a pre-capstone project), though it kind of depends on what my professor and I decide.
  • I'm also back in a class where the amount I talk during discussions actually affects my grade, and it's surprisingly hard to adjust after a full semester (possibly a full year?) with no classes like that.
  • Outside of classwork: my roommate got Sentinels of the Multiverse (aka one of my favorite strategy games ever) for Christmas, so we've been playing that a fair bit whenever we both have a decent chunk of spare time. I've gotten to test out different heroes, which is fun. My favorites are definitely Fanatic (basically a paladin with wings; she smites evil a bunch and occasionally heals people) and Chrono-Ranger (time-traveling cowboy and bounty hunter whose effectiveness is directly proportional to how many bounties he has out at any given time). I've also determined that how much I enjoy playing a character is determined as much by aesthetic as it is by mechanics.
  • My online D&D group is also still going strong. We had some MAJOR REVELATIONS dropped on us, not last session but the session before that, and some of us are still processing that, but we have a very clear objective in front of us right now, which is nice! And it does not involve negotiating with dragons other than the one in the party! Which my character is very happy about!
  • Also this month was CU Lead, which is a leadership conference that all org officers are required to go to. It was not a fabulous day — it rained, some of the vital conference information was only available in an app that I couldn't download, and there were a lot of people. But it was a lot more helpful than last year's conference, with more practical advice and less theory and devotional-type stuff, so that's good.
  • Additional not-terrible thing: CU Lead was the Saturday before MLK Day, and for the first time ever, we got MLK Day off from classes. So we had that day to make up all the homework and social stuff we didn't have time for on Friday, at least. And the chem club had a game night that evening, which was fun. (Oddly, the chem club game night was more fun than the Inklings game night this past week, even though I knew fewer people by far. I think it has to do with the personality dynamics of the people in the club.) And my roommate and I went to the Mexican restaurant down in the town for lunch, which was completely and utterly delicious.

February Plans

  • I have two basically-final projects that I plan to start this month (my Honors colloquium project and my aforementioned professional project) and it's so weird to think about that. Plus, of course, I have the usual projects and reading and such.
  • Writing-wise, I plan to keep going with roughly the same goal as I had this past month, but I'm upping the amount a little to 500 words or 30 minutes of writing, 5 days a week. I could probably go even higher if I wanted to, but I don't want to overdo anything, especially since I don't know how much time class projects will take up.
  • That writing, by the way, will hopefully include at least one, maybe two, Valentine's Day short stories (because it sounds like fun and I currently don't get to write any romantic scenes in my WIP). Watch for more about that on my Facebook page sometime today or tomorrow.
  • February also means Blind Date with a Book at the Cedarville University library, which I am super psyched for! I'm curious how they're going to handle it this year, but I'm sure it'll be great. I'm going to read so many books this month, haha.
  • Outside of that, D&D and orgs and such will probably proceed as per the usual. I do have a couple D&D and other tabletop RPG one-shots that I'm either running or participating in, which I'm excited for. (The one-shot I'm running is set in Eberron, which means I get to be steampunky and I get to mess around with an artificer NPC, so that'll be super fun.)
  • And, yeah. That's pretty much it. But I think it should be plenty to keep me busy.
How was your January? Have you been able to keep any of your resolutions or goals from the start of the New Year? What plans do you have for February? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 24, 2020

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

So, the other day, I was contemplating the fact that I write an awful lot of multilingual characters for someone who's solidly monolingual. (I really do, if you haven't noticed. I have more multilingual characters than monolingual ones.) And that started my thoughts down another trail: what would happen if the main characters of Blood in the Snow and Mechanical Heart met? Who would get along well? Who would fight? Granted, it's not something that's likely to happen (given the current lack of the appropriate magical and technological knowledge on both ends), but if it did . . . and if they somehow could understand one another despite different languages and deafness and whatnot . . . Well, I had such fun imagining the possibilities that I just had to share.

If Baili Met Breen (And Related Potentialities)

  1. Baili and Josiah bond surprisingly quickly over their similar roles in their stories/worlds. It's not, like, instant friendship, but Josiah's good at drawing people out, and he and Baili quickly find their common ground (they're both royalty, both working for the rights and benefits of a lower class, both dealing with court life and all that comes with it). They share stories, which turns into sharing strategies, which turns into an all-out "ideal society, what's it look like" discussion. They also compare notes on people trying to kill them, 'cause that's also a shared experience. Meanwhile, Chouko and Luis also bond pretty quickly over their shared roles as reason-speakers to idealistically heroic royalty.
  2. Xiang kind of geeks out a bit over Breen and Luis's inventions. Fun fact that comes up a little in Blood in the Snow and a lot in Blood in the Earth/Soil: the Liu dynasty is known for being particularly interested in scholarship and study of the world, and Xiang is no exception. And while his primary interests are medicine and magic, not engineering and invention, he still finds Luis and Breen's work really storming cool. Breen doesn't entirely know what to do with his particular brand of enthusiasm, but Luis quite enjoys getting to show off a bit. (Xiang also pulls Baili over to see the inventions that he finds most interesting; Baili is also very impressed but not as excited.)
  3. Regardless of what communication-enablers are put in place, Gan and Baili both get Grace, Josiah, and Breen to teach them some sign. It's actually Gan, not Baili, who makes the request, but Baili joins in as soon as she realizes what's going on. They both pick it up reasonably well for the amount of time they have, but Gan is both better at it and more into it than Baili is. (This is partially because Gan's attitude is "I can think of five different ways to use this, also, languages are interesting," while Baili's attitude is "This is reasonably interesting and a fun bonding experience!")
  4. Because it's in the title and must, therefore, be mentioned: Baili and Breen get along, but definitely are not instant best-buddies or even instant friends. They both respect each other and what the other has had to go through and is now trying to accomplish, but neither one leaves their encounter thinking "Ah, yes, I would go out of my way to spend time with this person again at a later point." And they're both honestly pretty ok with that. Baili, as has already been mentioned, prefers spending time with Josiah (and also Grace), and Breen finds Chouko, Azuma, and Gan a bit easier to deal with.
  5. Josiah, Breen, Baili, and Xiang are all rather concerned (to varying degrees) about the potential implications of Bloodgifts and blood alchemy if combined. The first time Bloodgifts come up, Josiah and Breen actually freak out a little (in the sense of "Wait, blood-based magic, we thought these were ok people, not blood alchemists . . . oh, wait, it's not blood alchemy, it's actually ok, no one is dying over this, we're fine"). And the first time blood alchemy comes up, the topic doesn't go very far before Xiang starts wondering (out loud) what would happen if the blood alchemists got their hands on the blood of someone like him or Baili, and should they possibly move to a more secure location with more guards (not that he and Baili couldn't protect themselves, of course, and not that they don't trust their friends to also protect them, but he has almost lost Baili once and he would rather not have it happen again). Everyone ends up fine in the end, of course, but it still causes some stress on both sides.
What about you? If you've read both Mechanical Heart and Blood in the Snow, what are some other interactions you think might occur if the casts of the two were to meet? Alternately, how do you think the cast of either Mechanical Heart or Blood in the Snow (or both) might interact with the cast of your WIP? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

Hey'a, everyone! This week's post topic comes courtesy of my lovely roommate, who suggested it when I said I was going to write a dragon-themed post this week. (Why dragons? Yesterday, if you missed it, was Dragon Appreciation Day! I celebrated by posting pictures of my cute dragon stuffies on social media and writing a D&D episode featuring a dragon that most of my players appreciate quite a bit.) Today we're talking about dragon types and interpretations that we'd like to see more frequently in books and other media. I'm including some wished-for dragon types from my roommate, some from me, and some from both of us. Of course, if I'm putting it on this list, it's safe to assume that I'd like to see it more often too, so . . .

 Dragon Types That We Don't See Enough

  1. From my roommate and I: Asian-style dragons. Asian-type dragons, like a lot of Asian fantastical beings, are tragically underused in literature. I know they're featured in the Invisible Library series (yet another reason I love those books) and that's the only one I know for sure. But I feel like there's a lot of untapped potentials there . . . and I feel like certain authors (*cough*KyleRobertShultz*cough*) could have a lot of fun with interactions between Asian and Western dragons if they showed up in the same series.
  2. From my roommate: More human-shaped dragons. In the sense that they're dragons that can take on a humanoid form as well as their dragon form but they still act like dragons and they're not under a spell or whatever. (And yes, I have told her about Invisible Library and the Afterverse.) This is actually a pretty fun trope, one I've used in a few of my yet-to-be-published books, and I agree that it's rather underutilized. (At least, outside of sketchy fantasy romance novels . . . And, on that note, I'd like more of these human-shaped dragons to be not primarily objects of desire or desiring after other characters . . . can they just be friends with their non-dragon companions? Please?)
  3. From me: Dragons in more personalities and archetypes. At the moment, I feel like dragons get typecast a lot. You have the Kilgarrahs (ancient mentors who mostly give advice in varying degrees of crypticness), the Saphiras (loyal and dedicated companions who provide support and offer to eat antagonistic people), the Smaugs (villains of immense villainy), and the Celestes and Gymns (can be large or small but aren't on the same level as a human character). You do sometimes get dragons who play other roles, but those are comparatively rare, and I'd like that to change.
  4. From my roommate and I: Dragons with unusual and non-traditional hoards. Ok, yes, Jessica Day George did this and did it super well, but why is no one else doing it? Give us a literal book dragon. Give us a dragon who hoards blankets, the softer and cozier the better. Give us a dragon who hoards replica dragons, everything from statues to paintings to stuffed animals. As my roommate suggested, give us a dragon who hoards emotions or experiences and whose hoards' physical element seems to have no unifying factor because everything is connected to something bigger than itself. Or give us a dragon who has an obsession in place of a hoard. There are so many things you can do with this and no one is doing it. It's tragic.
  5. From my roommate and I: Intelligent pocket dragons. Look. We want all the other stuff on this list, yeah. But what we and everyone else really want? Tiny, brilliant, imperious dragons. Dragons that can fit in your pocket or ride on your shoulder but can think and communicate with all the devious, mischevious intelligence of a Saphira or a Smaug. Miniature grumpy librarian dragons. Mischevious dragon companions who get way too excited over puns and wordplay and riddles. The dragon equivalent of Bard Eanrin. Please, someone, make it happen.
What types or interpretations of dragons would you like to see more frequently? And have you read any books that feature dragons in the ways my roommate and I would like to see more of? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

Friday, January 10, 2020

The Actually Terrible AIs You Didn't Know You Needed

This post topic is brought to you by 7 A.M. Sarah, who apparently channels her inner Tumblr weird-blogger when she's tired. Have fun. 

What's a sci-fi story without a surprisingly human (or inhumane) AI? Ever since someone realized that you could use ones and zeroes and code to make computers seem like they can think and reason and make decisions and develop consciences, we've been sticking them in narratives left and right. It doesn't matter if it's strict sci-fi or sci-fi adjacent stories (like superhero narratives); a sufficiently cool AI makes everything better. Of course, a competent AI may make things too easy for our intrepid heroes. The solution? No, you don't make the AI the villain. You create an AI in the spirit of Wheatley and the useless box*, one that's mostly useless, yet more or less lovable. And if you have trouble coming up with one, never fear. I have a helpful list of five terrible AI ideas to get you started.

Actually Terrible AIs

  1. Sand(wich)Net. Originally intended for gathering and analyzing information on massive numbers of individuals for purposes of threat detection and defense, this AI, for reasons unknown, instead collected a huge database of peoples' favorite sandwiches. Despite numerous attempts to train it for other purposes, it always returns to sandwich data. Occasionally, however, its defense protocols will be triggered, at which point it will stop at nothing to keep the detected threat from getting their preferred sandwich type.
  2. InVisionary. This android was developed as a prototype of a new "race" that would live and work alongside humankind. Due to a mixup in programming, however, it communicates exclusively in motivational speaker quotes and bad web design advice. The project was mostly abandoned after this failure, though the android has developed a small internet fandom, mostly composed of people who believe that the android's shared quotes online hide a secret message.
  3. Future Explorer. This AI is intended to deliver accurate-as-possible predictions of future events of almost any type. And it does! It's amazingly accurate, in fact! The problem, unfortunately, is that it processes and loads so slowly that every prediction appears at least 24 hours after it would be helpful and/or relevant.
  4. CuriAIsity. Created by the small, optimistic portion of the InVisionairy team that didn't abandon the project, this android was intended to serve the same purpose as the original. However, when this android was turned on and its systems connected to the internet, the prevalence of cat pictures and videos on the web led the android to recognize cats and kittens, not humans, as the true masters of society. The android has since dedicated the rest of its existence to helping, serving, and caring for all of catkind that it encounters. Its makers attempted to use it as the foundation of a cat daycare and boarding center, but the center closed after the android refused to give up the cats it was entrusted with.
  5. CARL (Chronological Authority on Relevant Lore). CARL was designed to be a history-teaching tool that would allow students to "interact" with various historical figures, both famous and not. It worked very well until its chronologically-bound linguistic terms database got scrambled. It was quickly retired, but not before convincing a significant number of middle-schoolers of several linguistic improbabilities, notably the idea that George Washington and his contemporaries frequently used the term "Groovy."
Your turn! Share your terrible and useless AIs in the comments; I want to hear what you can come up with! Or just tell me which of these you'd most like to read or write about.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade) 

*Yes, I know, it's not actually an AI, but it got the point across, didn't it?

Friday, January 3, 2020

(Belated) November + December 2019 Doings!

It feels a little weird to be doing a recap post for November and December of last year after doing all my New Year 2020 posts earlier this week, not gonna lie. But I also know that if I don't do this post, I will eventually need to look back at it for some reason and then be frustrated that it doesn't exist. (For the record: I do occasionally go back and reread my Doings! posts, so this isn't out of the question.) So, let's get going. Because I'm covering two months, I'm going to try to stick to just the highlights and general themes — which is really going to be all I remember anyway.


  • NaNoWriMo occupied most of November, obviously, and is 50% of why I basically didn't post at all in November. As you may or may not remember, my goal was to complete a nonfiction piece and a D&D episode every week, and I pretty much accomplished that. Was it anywhere near 50K? No. But I didn't think it would be, so I'm counting it as a win.
  • I have also determined that I have roughly the same relationship with creative nonfiction as I do with poetry: it can be fun to write, and I can do some really cool stuff with it, but it's not my natural state. I can't just sit down and write creative nonfiction if I haven't been mulling over an idea for a few days (a fact that caused more conflict than I'd like between my professor and me). Fantasy, on the other hand — if I'm not burned out and don't get distracted, I can sit down, review where I am in my novel or my campaign, and get a solid chunk of writing done regardless of how "inspired" I am.
  • But I did submit some of the pieces I did to actual lit journals and stuff, so we'll see if anything comes of that.
  • And Season 1 of my D&D campaign had a pretty good finish! Everyone had fun, and while the finale wasn't quite as awesome and amazing as I hoped (mostly because all the prelude to the final battle took waaaaay longer than I expected and we were all tired by then), I think it still worked well. And I've been working on Season 2 over break, and I have about half the episodes summarized. (Are they the half of the episodes I need? No. But they're there.)
  • In terms of actual novel-writing, I was able to write some over Christmas break. I've adjusted my novel's timeline a little to make certain things happen sooner than I originally planned. And I'm still trying to figure out how to get my POV characters to actually interact. But I'm excited about what's coming up, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to work on it a lot more this coming semester.
  • And, of course, I wrote the New Year's short story that I posted a few days ago! If you loved Luis in Mechanical Heart, you want to meet Luis, or you enjoyed last year's New Year's story, please do check it out!


  • I actually read a surprising amount in November? Most of which I could've sworn was in October? But apparently, I did a lot of stress-reading.
  • Definite highlight of the two months: Sorcery of Thorns, which is basically one of my top three books of the whole year and absolutely amazing and yeah. In case you missed my Best of 2019 part two post, it's pretty much what might happen if someone took Howl's Moving Castle and crossed it with The Invisible Library and Abhorsen. So, yeah. It's amazing. Read it.
  • I've also been working through the Grishaverse books over Christmas break. So far, the original trilogy was ok but not amazing (other than Sturmhound, who is awesome), the Six of Crows duology is as excellent the second time around as it was the first, and the four chapters I've read of King of Scars are solid but cause considerable pain in the feels.
  • The main highlight from November was Death Be Not Proud, which is Snow White in jazz age New Zealand. It's every bit as good as that description implies, and I definitely recommend giving it a read.
  • Besides that, I read H.L. Burke's latest books, and both were pretty enjoyable. Heart of the Curiosity is steampunk, which Burke does well, and features a sister duo who I greatly appreciate. And Prince of Stars, Son of Fate was fun and twisty and somehow made the forbidden romance trope work in a way that I liked for once.
  • And, of course, I have to mention Heather Dixon Wallwork's The Enchanted Sonata, which is a pretty delightful retelling of The Nutcracker and which was my Christmas read for this year. It's more of an inspired-by sort of book, though, when it comes down to it . . . but, honestly, most Nutcracker retellings are more "inspired by" than "retelling." I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I don't think it had quite the same spark as the author's other books.


  • I basically watched nothing at all at Cedarville, mostly because I didn't have time to watch anything.
  • At home, I watched the usual Christmas movies — A Charlie Brown Christmas, White Christmas, The Grinch. I finally watched the new version of the Grinch and thought that it was ok, but it's far less powerful than the original. (I have a long-ish diatribe on why that is, and it hinges a surprising amount on the Grinch's treatment of Max. If you're curious, ask in comments.)
  • I also watched a couple more episodes of Doctor Who (I'm almost done with Season 2), an episode of Psych, and the first two episodes of an anime called Made in Abyss because I needed something to do while knitting and didn't feel like listening to audiobooks. Doctor Who was good, though the episodes I watched were all a bit weird. Psych I watched because I'd seen two partial episodes while watching over friends' shoulders and enjoyed those, but I don't think it's a show that I'll continue watching on my own — the concept is fun; the humor and main character are more enjoyable when you're not watching alone. And Made in Abyss is . . . interesting? A bit weird, but the concept is good.
  • The most recent thing I watched (and possibly the best thing) was The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (as usual, I'm about a year behind everyone else). It was honestly a really good movie — it kind of felt as though someone had combined The Nutcracker with Entwined and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I saw a fair number of the twists coming, but not from a mile away, and artistically speaking, it was a pretty gorgeous film — frosted fairytale-toyland aesthetic with some delightful hints of steampunk throughout. A bit cliche at times, but still, I'd rewatch it.


  • The semester is over; glory hallelujah. It was a great assortment of classes, and I learned a lot of cool stuff, but I had too many high-workload classes and too many extracurricular responsibilities going on at the same time, and that became very apparent in November and December, and the quality of my work suffered because of it. And, yes, everything got done on time, and I'm fairly satisfied overall with how my final projects and exams and such turned out in terms of quality, I am not 100% satisfied with the grades I got. And I know it doesn't matter long term, but . . . yeah. It happened, and I'm going to leave all the school stuff there.
  • (I did learn how to do paperback binding, though! And actually bound multiple paperback books! And taught other people how to do it too! So that was cool.)
  • There were three highlights to November: birthday celebration, Thanksgiving, and cheese night.
  • For my birthday, my friends and I went to the new Mexican place that just opened in Cedarville and then went to the Ayo dance showcase, and it was a seriously awesome time. I'm not sure if I enjoyed the food or the showcase more, to be honest. But I do know that I'm definitely going back to the Mexican restaurant.
  • Thanksgiving was fun; my sister, my sister's roommate, and I drove back together, and we survived the trips both there and back. It was nice to have some relaxing time at home, and I got to do some baking. (I made two types of roll, one regular yeast and one sourdough, and both turned out well.)
  • And then when we got back, we had cheese night in my dorm. My roommate and I have been toying with this idea for a while; basically, we invite a bunch of people to get together, bringing with them assorted fun and fancy cheeses and things to eat with cheeses, like crackers and grapes and apples and sparkling cider, and then we just hang out and have a good time. And it was a very good time! Even though I was loopy for most of it! I ate much yummy food, and we played Avalon, and it was just generally a lot of fun.
  • December, of course, was mostly occupied by Christmas, which was had in stages: the TDK Christmas party in November (a success), Christmas with my roommate (featuring gingerbread cookies that she decorated while I did statistics homework, because situational irony is a thing), Christmas with the Bible study (featuring a kids' Christmas play that didn't involve people playing multiple roles, along with some very delicious baked potatoes and a surprising number of people my age) and Christmas at home (featuring me, as usual, working until the last minute to get knitted gifts done).
  • Christmas at home also featured a lot of baking; I made super soft molasses cookies two days before Christmas, sourdough pizza Christmas Eve, and a cranberry apple pie on Christmas day. (And I helped my mom with biscotti because I've never made it and want to learn how.) Everything was pretty delicious, even if my sister thought I put too much cheese on the pizza.
  • (And then I made another loaf for my aunt when she came to visit after Christmas and it was not as pretty. But oh well.)
  • (I'm also currently making a non-sourdough artisan loaf based on the latest baking challenge on Sally's Baking Addiction, and I'm super excited to see how it turns out.)
  • As I mentioned two points ago, my aunt and cousins came to visit after Christmas. It was nice to see them again, and we went to the Air and Space Museum while they were here, which I haven't been to in ages. I kind of ended up getting separated from the rest of my family at the very start of the museum . . . but it's fine. I had fun.
  • New Year's Eve was also pretty fun; we got together with our Bible study as usual for an early countdown and lots of good food. And I got to see some of my old friends who moved away two summers ago, so that was fun.
  • I feel like a lot of these highlights center around food. Mostly bread and cheese. I'm not entirely sure what that says about me.

January Plans

  • I already talked about writing plans in my 2020 Vision post, but as a recap: I'm aiming for 300 words or 30 minutes of writing per day on either my novel or my D&D campaign. I'm also going to try to start gathering some info that I need to figure out my rough publishing plan.
  • (I'm also messing around with a D&D one-shot for some friends who are interested in trying D&D but don't want to commit to a full campaign yet, so we'll see what happens with that. My main campaign takes first priority, obviously, but I have a rough outline for the one-shot, and . . . yeah. We'll see.)
  • Classes start up again next week, so obviously, that's going to take a lot of my time. I'm excited, though; I have my last two professional writing classes, two web design classes (well, one and a half), a graphic design class, and a one-credit honors class. And even though I have a 9 AM and an 8 AM, I have nothing in the afternoons any day except Monday (when I have the honors class), and I only actually have two hours of in-class lecture time per day (with, again, the exception of Monday). Online classes are glorious.
  • (I'm also hoping very much that I can do a repeat of last spring semester and get a couple weeks ahead on one of my web design classes so I'm not as stressed later on. That would be nice, but we'll see how it goes.)
  • Speaking of stress, as I mentioned in my 2020 Vision post, I really need to buckle down on figuring out the after-college stuff. So, applying for jobs, obviously . . . but also thinking about grad school? Maybe? My parents recently brought it up as a possibility that I should consider, so I need to figure out if it's worth doing now, later, or not at all. And obviously, that'll take longer than just January, but I need to meet with people and get advice and all that sort of thing.
  • Beyond that, most of my plans revolve around trying to make sure I have time to do fun stuff like watching Avatar and other shows with my roommate, actually going to Nerf wars (and maybe ASL club, if I manage to relearn enough of what I've forgotten), and having a board game night or two (assuming other people have time for that . . .). Y'know, fun stuff with friends, since I only have a few months left with most of them. (And now I'm sad . . .)
How were your November and December? Did you get any good books (or other stuff) for Christmas? What plans do you have for January? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)    

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Vision

Well, here we are: the start of a new year and a new decade. I’d like to say that it feels hopeful or weird or whatever, but, let’s be real: it feels a whole lot like yesterday did. After all, when you get right down to it, the first day of the New Year is just another day to which we arbitrarily assigned a particular meaning. There's nothing inherent about this particular sunrise that somehow lessens the problems of the time behind us or makes the time ahead of us more hopeful. We're still the same messy people we were yesterday; it's just that today, we have a little more motivation to try to be better.

All that said, it is a good time for looking back and looking forward. 2019, on the whole, was a pretty solid year, and I'm hoping 2020 will be equally solid. Admittedly, the last three or four months have been tough, but they're behind me and I have hope that the next five-ish months will be easier. So, let's get on with the review, shall we?

2019 Reviewed


  • Soooo the whole “set a writing goal every month” thing? Didn’t work out so well this year. And by that, I mean that I don’t think I ever explicitly set a monthly writing goal outside of NaNoWriMo once Mechanical Heart edits were done.
  • Actual writing quantity wasn’t bad, though. I wrote a total of 61,340 words and edited a total of 110,628 words. Some of those overlap, though, as major rewrites (like I did on much of Mechanical Heart) count in both categories. 
  • As far as the major writing goals I set last year:
    • I successfully edited and published Mechanical Heart, and so far the response has been largely positive. (Thanks muchly, everyone!)
    • I wrote somewhere between 30 and 50% of a new novel, Blood in the Earth/Soil. Obviously, I still have not decided on a title. My current plan is to get to the end of the book and decide which one is more thematically appropriate. 
    • I did not work on Dust of Silver or Once Upon a Dream. I thought a lot about Dust of Silver and its world and sequels — ok, mostly its sequels. Thinking about sequels makes me more likely to work on the initial book, though, so it’s something.
    • I also didn’t put together a rough publishing plan, as I was too busy actually publishing things the first half of the year and trying to write something to publish the second half of the year. Oops. 
  • Outside my original goals, I learned how to write creative nonfiction and wrote roughly a dozen creative nonfiction pieces of varying lengths. (I can’t actually post any of them because the professor requires us to submit things for publication in lit journals and such, but oh well.) I also write a D&D one-shot and half a campaign (with the other half to be written in the near future).


  • My final reading count for the year is ___ books. I initially set my goal at 77 books, and I raised it two or three times over the course of the year. I did read a lot of fairly short books at the beginning of the year, so that helped.
  • And I have once again failed in my attempt to read more old books unless you count the fact that I read all 12-ish Oz books back in February. I mean, that comes out to the same number as one book per month, but . . . they’re not as varied as I intended, that’s for sure.


  • Despite the best efforts of last semester to murder me, I continue to survive in college. And now there’s only one semester left. What the actual pumpernickel.
  • I also continued my internship from two summers ago last summer. I put in fewer hours, but I’m still happy with the work I did. 
  • I did not make it to RealmMakers, mostly because money, but I did seriously consider it. I did go to Nashville, though, so that was cool.
  • I kind of dropped my language practice with both German and Irish midway through last February/March. I feel vaguely bad, but I had to much on my plate at the time, and I just never picked it back up.
  • I was selected as Honors secretary a second year. The dynamic of the board this year is very different from the year before, but it’s not a bad difference. I’m still enjoying the opportunity to help make my favorite org on campus happen.
  • I attended the first of probably-many weddings for people my age whom I consider friends. This isn’t actually an accomplishment, but it is a sort of milestone, so I’m mentioning it.
So, that was 2019 in a nutshell. Time for 2020 goals! As usual, these aren’t hard-and-fast things but rather things that I’d like to accomplish if possible.

2020 Goals


  • Even though it didn’t work as well as hoped in 2019, I once again want to set and achieve a writing challenge eleven out of twelve months. Part of the reason I failed this past year is that after I finished Mechanical Heart, I was too burned out to do as much writing as I felt I should be doing. Hopefully, if I allow myself a month without a writing challenge at some point during the year, I’ll be more likely to succeed the rest of the time.
    • My challenge for January is 300 words or 30 straight minutes of writing, editing, or worldbuilding per day, five days a week. I know 300 words is achievable, though not without a bit of effort; that’s just two or three pages in a notebook or a section or two in a D&D session plan. 30 minutes should also be doable, even once I’m back on campus, but it’ll help me stretch my writing stamina back to where it used to be.
  • What projects do I hope to accomplish this year?
    • I want to draft and edit Blood in the Earth/Soil and have it ready for publication in late 2020 or early 2021. I don’t think that the Arista Challenge is going to happen this year; the timeline as I understand it requires too quick a turnaround. (There’s a chance, but I’m not banking on it.) I still want to publish in 2020 if possible, though.
    • I also want to draft at least one short story/novelette set in that world. I have two ideas that I’ve been toying with, one that I came up with in the middle of editing Blood in the Snow and one that I thought up this past fall. Both focus on secondary or minor characters from Blood in the Snow, though only one is a fairy tale retelling. I’d like to write and release at least one of them this year, especially if Blood in the Earth/Soil gets pushed back to 2021.
    • In addition, I still need to figure out a rough publishing plan. This is going to start with talking to some authors who’ve done both small-press and self-publishing or large-press and self-publishing. Which is mildly intimidating, even though I follow and have interacted with several such authors. But once I do that, I can start sorting out the rest of the plan.  
    • I need to finish my D&D campaign. This is a much more contained goal, since I have a deadline for each session and for the end of the whole campaign. And this semester, I hope to be a little more organized with my campaign planning.


  • I’m going to start with a goal of 99 books this year instead of playing it safe with 77. I think I can afford that after the success of the last two years. Besides, if I do my Afterverse catch-up read, I’ll have at least a dozen fairly short books right there.
  • In addition, I want to read at least 12 books that are outside the speculative fiction genres. I feel like I should at least try to branch out a little more. Plus, people keep recommending contemporary and historical fiction books that actually sound fairly good, so maybe this goal will give me more motivation to read those.
  • Plus, those books can overlap with a second attempt at reading one book per month (or 12 total books) published before I was born. Yes, I am steadily relaxing my attempts at reading older books. My hope is that once I achieve it one year, I can start making it harder again.


  • Obviously, my main life goal at the moment is to graduate and figure out my life. I’m pretty sure that “figure out my life” means “find a full-time job,” and I’ve been saying as much pretty confidently to people for the last year, but lately my dad has been encouraging me to think about grad school, so . . . I don’t know. Much like the whole “figure out publishing” thing, I need to talk to people with more experience before I make too many decisions.
  • Pick up German and Irish again or learn more ASL (and get better at what I do know. Basically, do something with learning other languages. It’s helpful for writing and it’ll come in handy if I ever manage to go overseas. Less practically, I have a vague dream that if I ever get married and have kids, I want to raise them to be at least somewhat multilingual. But I can’t really do that if I can’t speak the languages I’m trying to teach them.
  • Figure out if the side project I came up with last spring-ish is actually feasible and, if so, start making it happen. I don’t want to give too much info yet because I don’t know if this is something that’s actually that feasible or practical. But if it does work out, it’ll be really cool and might make me a little money, so, yeah. I hope I’ll have time to make it work.
  • Get back into photography. Since we moved to New York, the amount of photography I do has significantly decreased, and it’s kind of making me sad. Plus, I feel like I need to relearn a bunch of what I used to know and a bunch that I should have known already but ignored because I was thirteen or whatever and didn’t care about technical details. Of course, that requires time and ideas, so . . . we’ll see what happens.
How was your 2019? What would you say was the best thing that happened to you or that you accomplished this year? Any big plans or goals for 2020? (Or small plans or goals?) Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)