Friday, March 9, 2018

An Open Letter to Those Who Have Failed

Today I'm writing to everyone who has experienced the sting of failure at something that mattered to them.

You had a goal, maybe one you set for yourself, maybe one assigned to you by an authority figure (a boss, a parent, a teacher), and you were determined to fulfill it to the best of your ability. You knew it would be tough, but you rolled up your sleeves, pushed into the fray, and gave it your all. You put in that overtime, you eliminated distractions, and you pushed past every obstacle that tried to get in your way.

You did your absolute best to ensure that the product of your labors was the pinnacle of perfection...

...and it wasn't. Your essay came back with an undesirable grade stamped at the top, your boss told you to scrap the project and start over (or even fired you), or you created something and put it out into the world only to discover that no-one enjoyed or got anything worthwhile out of it. And in that moment, when the adrenaline rush of having completed your task spiraled down into a sick feeling in the pit of your gut, you had this thought at the forefront of your mind: "I had one job, and I failed."

This letter is for you.

As with many of my posts (of which I know this is the first in a very long time), I'm writing this from a place of experience. As many of you know, in late 2016, I published the third book in my fantasy series, 'The Sehret Chronicles: The Survivor'. And then in 2017, I pulled it from the market and announced that I intended to rewrite it and publish the new edition at an undefined later date.

Those of you who know that much likely also know that at that point, I essentially dropped off the face of the earth as far as writing and blogging were concerned (though, let’s be honest – I’ve never been good at blogging on a regular schedule). What you might not know is why.

When I finished writing 'The Survivor', I faced a rather challenging situation -- where with previous books, I'd been able to recruit more objective third parties to help look over my work and point out problem areas/tell me when I needed to work on something, I faced what one might call a "beta famine". Others were willing to look the book over for me, but found their schedules too busy to allow them to get through the giant of a manuscript I'd sent to them (upwards of 140K words in its first draft form). No matter how many I asked, and how many (I'm sure) fully intended to be of help, I got hardly any feedback, and my self-imposed deadline for publishing the book I'd spent three years writing and editing loomed menacingly.

I had to make a choice -- push back the deadline until I could get more substantial, objective feedback (probably the most sensible option), or rip into the manuscript based on my own judgment and what little input I'd managed to glean from others and publish the book "on time".

And I made what was admittedly a rash and incredibly risky call: I chose the second option. I combed through the book, chopped scenes relentlessly, tuned up as much as I could, and with much terror and stomach-twisting, I uploaded the manuscript and hit 'Publish'.

And it tanked. I mean absolutely, spectacularly TANKED.

This could have been partially due to my subpar self-marketing skills, but I largely blame myself for failing to hold out for better feedback and rushing to publish something that clearly was not ready to be released into the world. Beyond mere low sales figures, the only reviews I got on the book cited a plot in shambles, characters who didn't seem like themselves, and a message that was confusing and, in some places, actually disheartening.

When the first review came in and pointed out these glaring issues, I went to my parents' room in the middle of the night (yup, I'm a low-energy Lymie and still live at home), told my mom about the review, and cried my eyes out. My depression/anxiety/OCD/etc. kicked into overdrive, and my headspace got unspeakably dark. This was my primary method of ministry, of contributing to a world I was rarely able to reach otherwise, and instead of helping my target audience, I'd produced something disappointing and potentially discouraging. I wanted to pull the book right then and never publish anything ever again.

But years of talking to other indie authors have taught me that sometimes a few one- or two-star reviews are mere flukes, and that you shouldn't act on them unless they become a trend. I did not feel the review was malicious or even necessarily incorrect (I take reviews very seriously, especially when I can tell the reader is sincere), but as it was only one, I made the decision to leave the book on the market for a while and see what happened.

And then it came -- the second, lengthy and painstakingly detailed review, relating not only every single thing that I'd felt insecure about during the process of writing and editing the manuscript, but also concerns for aspects of the story with which I had been happy, or felt I'd done well for once. And I cried again. My stomach roiled. I felt like I'd failed utterly, like I could never recover from having thrown so much time and effort and passion into a project for three years of my life and produced a result as catastrophic as this.

This left me with a decision. From my perspective, I could have done one of four things:

1. Left the book on the market, accepted that it was the "black sheep" of the series, and tried to make up for my mistakes with the next installment,
2. Take it off the market and pretend it never existed, either proceeding with a new, completely different book or just leaving the series as-is,
3. Take it off the market and never publish anything again (something I seriously considered more than once), or
4. Take it off the market and try again.

After consulting trusted sources close to me (including an old writing buddy who was invaluable in providing feedback for the first two books), I chose the fourth option. I swallowed my pride (most of it, anyway), unpublished 'The Survivor', and posted my apology to the world, along with the promise that I would undergo a rewrite, and requested prayer, as I'd never done something this drastic before and knew that I would struggle once the euphoria of having a second chance wore off. (It was stressful having something on the market that I felt might not be good enough, and I gleaned some measure of relief from the knowledge that it wasn’t available to potential readers anymore.)

It's been seven months since I made that announcement, and the manuscript for said rewrite is still at... *checks current word count in Scrivener* ...6,587 words.

Yup, you read that correctly -- seven months, and the current version of the rewrite doesn't even contain a thousand words per each month I've been working on it. Granted, this is partially because I've made several attempts and, upon being unhappy with some of them, pulled scenes that would have added onto my measly word count. In any case, rewriting this book has been possibly (I daresay almost certainly) the most difficult thing I've ever done as a writer.

Why? Because every time I open that document or someone asks what I'm working on lately, I'm reminded that the whole reason I'm still working on this book is because I failed. As even one of the aforementioned reviewers acknowledged, I threw my heart and soul into the project and tried my best to make it everything it could and should have been, but still it flopped profoundly.

So every time I try to get back to work and make progress towards what I hope will be a better and more worthwhile result, it feels like I have someone leaning over my shoulder, continually whispering, "You failed. You failed at this once, and you'll fail at it again. You are a failure."

But I’d like to draw your attention to an important element of this post’s title: It is addressed to “Those Who Have Failed”, not to “Those Who Are Failures”.

It is crucial to draw a distinction between the two, and to understand that failing and being a failure as a person are two entirely different things. Everyone fails at something eventually, and while the consequences vary in their nature and severity, we (and especially the perfectionists among us) can all relate to the crushing discouragement that follows, and thus may glean much from the following one-liner that you’ve probably heard a million times:

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

But why should we “try, try again” when another attempt brings with it the potential to fail again? Would it not be safer to give up, to run up the white flag of surrender and save ourselves the heartache? Why should I put in another several months/years into rewriting a book from scratch when it brought me such agony last time despite everything I put into it?

As to the question of whether it would be “safer”, I would have to say that yes, from the perspective of a fearful human being, the idea of holding back from attempting something (especially something at which you've previously failed) would feel safer. After all, it's difficult to make the same mistake twice if you never make a second attempt at the pursuit in which the mistake was first made. 

To the question of whether it would be better, though, my answer would have to be… maybe not.

The reason I say “maybe” instead of “definitely” is because sometimes there are things we are truly not meant to do, either because they are not worthwhile pursuits or because they’re simply not part of God’s plan for us. So the first step following any failure should be to ask ourselves (and, more importantly, God) whether what we failed in doing is something we are meant to do.

If the answer is no, the next step should be to let go – there’s no point to continuing in something that wasn’t meant for you, and neither is there anything to be gained by holding onto guilt and regret over falling short in the pursuit of something that you weren’t meant to achieve. It’s okay. You’re allowed to not excel at some things, and you’re certainly allowed (and I would encourage you) to step away if you feel that what you are pursuing is getting in the way of something more important. God is the ultimate giver of second chances, and you can always seek Him and pursue His will anew, even if you find you've strayed from it before now. 

If the answer is yes, then that’s when you really need to buckle down and get brave. Because with every new beginning, there is risk. There is the potential for stress and failure and heartache, and there’s no way of knowing what lies on the road between where you begin and where you’re trying to go.

But is the risk of embarrassment or a temporary emotional low really worth turning away from something God has set before you to do?

This is where my answer has to be a resounding NO. And let me tell you why.

First off, if you’ve already consulted God (through prayer, the Bible, and the input of godly advisors) and determined that the seemingly failed pursuit is one you’re meant to undertake, nothing else matters. Nothing. Not fear, not shame, not any insecurities you might have (remember, Moses had speech difficulties and thought he wasn’t worthy of speaking on God’s behalf because of it). If God has set you on a path, He has a purpose for it, whether you see it or not, and He will bring you through it, no matter how many times you think you’ve faltered or even fallen along the way.

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

- Philippians 1:6, KJV

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

- Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV

Second, if what you’re doing is for God and backed by His will, you can bet that any doubts and fears that might arise are not from Him. After all, if God is with you in your pursuits, then who are you doubting when you think things like, “I can’t do this”? It would be understandable to doubt yourself, as a fallible human being, especially when the Bible explicitly says that “without [God], ye can do nothing” (John 15:5, KJV). But if you’re doing God’s will and leaning on Him for the strength to follow through, then to doubt your future is to doubt Him. And that is an entirely different matter.

If we truly trust in God to direct our paths, we have no reason to fear, because He knows the way and is infinitely capable of getting us to the end of the road, regardless of our own inadequacies.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”

- 2 Timothy 1:7-9, KJV

Third and finally, anything done for God is done with eternal benefits in mind, and thus, continuing in a difficult task when God is in it will ALWAYS be better and more worthwhile than anything we might lose in the process (time, energy, comfort, pride, etc.), and is certainly well worth the risk. 

This is why, despite how atrociously behind I am in my writing goals, no matter how badly I feel about myself as a writer or how much I would like to throw in the towel and give up trying, I refuse to give up. This is not out of pride or stubbornness (although I'd be lying if I said those never play a role in my decisions or my resolve), but rather because I believe God has set this task before me, and even if I failed the first time, I have to believe there was some purpose to my efforts (even if it was just to teach me a lesson -- for example, not to rush to publication like that again), and that what God has in store for me is worth pursuing. Because while I may have failed, and may often think of myself as a failure, God is not and has not, and I can trust Him to do His will through me regardless. 

I just have to press on, keep a stiff upper lip, and trust that the infallible God I serve will use even my stumbling efforts to His glory. 

If God is in what you're doing, then even your failures (crushing as they may seem at the moment) will lead to a greater victory in Him. This is our hope and our promise in the face of even the most devastating failure. 

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”

- Philippians 3:13-16, KJV

Rejoice in the Lord (a cappella) - Hamilton Family

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Brief Announcement Regarding Sehret #3

Hello, dear readers. I hope you're all having a wonderful night (or day, depending upon when you read this). I come to you all tonight with an announcement that has been months in the making.

After much time spent praying, reflecting, and consulting trusted people around me, I have decided to unpublish the current edition of 'The Sehret Chronicles #3: The Survivor' and publish a rewrite at a later date. Some readers found it confusing and poorly executed, and upon review, I agree with them. While I'm not sure yet how long this rewrite will take or exactly what changes will be implemented, I will make every effort to produce a more polished and enjoyable second edition.

Anyone who has purchased the book in eBook format, fear not -- when the new edition is published, you should receive the new version as an update to the one you already own. I should note, however, that this means I will not be releasing a fourth book until this situation with the third is remedied as much as possible.

I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this might cause, and covet your prayers as I undergo this process. Thank you, and God bless.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Release Announcement! (The Sehret Chronicles #3: The Survivor)

The time has come -- the day is here...

One book more!

...Okay, I shall now switch out of Broadway musical mode and get to the point of my post. You may have noticed that I have not been very active on here for the past several months. There is a reason for this -- I have been hard at work getting the third book of The Sehret Chronicles publication-ready. It's taken up a lot of my time, attention, and energy, and I am pleased to announce that at last, there is a third book on the market!

The Survivor, formerly known as The Rescuer, picks up directly where the first book, The Follower, left off. Here's the back-cover blurb, for more info:

The ragtag group thrown together by a cave-in in 'The Follower' have reached the surface of the Rhenor mountains, and have plotted their course to Delnam, where they will part ways at last. Their adventure takes them through the hostile Kirat territories, but as long as they keep to themselves and are careful to avoid the locals, they expect to reach their destination safely.

When Zarea Kal, a Kirat runaway, brings her pursuers crashing down on the camp, the group united by circumstance is rent apart once more. Now those taken captive must fight for their freedom, and those already free must survive long enough to set things right.

But even with their enemies occupied, the battle for their souls and sanity still rages, and demons -- either real or of the mind -- refuse to retreat into the shadows that spawned them.

The battle for survival is not over. It has only just begun.

This release has been three years in the making, but at last it is here, and the book is now live at the links located at the bottom of this post (you can read what's written above it, or skip ahead -- it's up to you).

Not sure you're interested based on that description alone? Here's a sneak peek from the beginning of the book:


The man looked dead, but it was hard to be sure. In the light of the dying lantern above him, his face was blank, his eyes shut, and his chest too obscured for Zarea Kal to be sure it was not moving. The keys at his belt swayed and glittered like jewels, tantalizing her in a way no true gem ever could. She watched them with eyes wide, her bow primed to notch and let loose another arrow if the man rose.
Beside her, Darek whispered, “What are we waiting for?”
Zarea silenced him with a wave of her hand, and her eyes flitted about the area. A small camp, three men guarding it, none well-armed. Their chest of supplies sat open to the air, dragged out earlier by the largest of the three to allow for easier access during the supper hour. That might have been wise, considering how much they ate from it. But they'd never bothered to drag it back into the tent.
And that was their mistake.
The brawny guard still did not stir, but Zarea thought she heard him mumble something unintelligible, and she released a shaky breath. The man was alive, and she lacked the nerve to change that. Hopefully, he would have the decency to stay unconscious until they were gone. She notched another arrow and rose to a crouch. “Let's go.”
Darek nodded, and they advanced. Zarea led the way into the camp and slowed her step as she approached the man she'd shot. The sedative-coated arrow that pierced his shoulder remained in place, and Zarea's eyes flitted to the wound before she forced them to move away. She dropped by his side and fumbled with the knot that tethered the keys to his belt. She grabbed at what she thought was the right end to loosen it and yanked.
The keys jangled.
“Kali!” The hissed nickname made her look up. Darek gestured wildly to his belt and glanced at the tent nearby.
Of course. Zarea pulled a knife from her belt and began to saw. A few heart-jolting clanks later, she pulled the keys free.
A breeze blew through, and the corner of one of the tent flaps flipped enough for Zarea to see inside. Her heart leapt to her throat at the sight of the two sleeping men inside.
She inhaled deeply and pulled an arrow from her quiver, then held it in her left hand like a dagger while gripping the keys tightly in her right. Darek rushed to her side and took the keys, then moved swiftly to the chest of supplies. After several agonizing moments of peering into the lock, of sticking one key after another into it without success, finally there was a click and he pulled the key free. He glanced at Zarea and lifted the lid.
Zarea’s breath caught at the sight of the contents. Stores of dried meat, of bread, and even a bag of dried berries sat before them. They were not much to look at, but she could not turn away, and her mouth watered. How pathetic that she should desire these withered old morsels after seventeen years of having plenty without having to lift a finger.
Darek rifled through the chest to see if there was anything else of use, then gestured to Zarea and mouthed, “The bag.”
Zarea rushed back to their hiding spot and snatched up the empty satchel she'd left there. A few stale crumbs fell to the ground, and she left them for the men to find. She and Darek stuffed as much as they could into the satchel, stuffing a fair amount into their mouths, as well.
The food stuck in Zarea’s throat, and she coughed, then froze wide-eyed. She waited for the men to wake up, to rush out and see who it was that was coughing on their precious food. But no-one came.
Darek’s eyes were equally wide, his lips cracked as he whispered, “Water. They must have some.”
Zarea tried to think. If she were these men, traveling through the plains in the dry season, where would she keep a precious commodity such as water? Not in this chest – she knew that already. She would want it nearby, easy to reach when the need for refreshment hit her.
Her eyes strayed to the tent, through the flap as it waved in the wind, and she caught sight of something that might be a jug by the larger man's bedroll.
Darek followed her gaze, and his face turned ashen as he shook his head. “No, Kali. They'll wake up.”
“We need water.” Her knees wobbled, but she forced them to hold her up as she crept to the tent and pulled back the flap. She caught her breath as the light fell through the crack, all the way to the jug and the man sleeping beside it. He stirred.
A pair of hands clapped over her mouth and yanked her back from the tent. She gasped, fumbled for the knife sheathed inside her tunic.
“Keep still,” a familiar voice hissed in her ear. “I'm not going to hurt you.”
Zarea ripped herself free of Darek’s grasp. “If you grab me again, I'll stab you.”
“Go in there, and they'll kill us both.” Darek lifted the full satchel of food. “Please, Kali – we have enough for a while. We'll reach the mountain soon, and when–”
“Stop telling me what to do,” Zarea snapped, snatching her confiscated longknife from his grasp. She lifted her chin imperiously. “I give the orders here, remember? We need water, and I'm getting it. Now stand guard.”
Darek opened his mouth to protest, then clamped it shut and pulled his own bow free, notching an arrow as he nodded and raised it to its ready position.
Zarea took a deep breath and, with her knife raised, stepped into the tent. Every breath the sleeping men took, every twitch or mumbled word made her jump, and she had to fight the urge to turn and run as fast as her legs would carry her. She reached the big man's side and held her breath, afraid the slightest noise would bring about sudden death. She saw the jug, about eight inches tall, and nearly as wide, just past the stranger's head. She tensed, took a careful step, placed her foot mere inches away from his head, certain he would wake and sweep it out from under her. Still his snores filled the tent.
The jug was inches away now. All she had to do was lean a bit, reach out, pull it ever so carefully over his head, and...
The jug’s weight knocked her off balance, and before she could so much as reach out to stop herself, she fell and found herself sprawled over the man's brawny chest.
And that was when he gasped, his eyes flew open, and he threw Zarea back as he groped for his sword. “What...”
Across the tent, his companion stirred. Zarea slugged the man beside her and, in the split-second before he could react, snatched his smaller water canteen from beside him and took off. Hands reached for her. She pulled away, dove out of the tent. Footsteps shuffled behind her and pounded into the open.
An arrow whizzed free of Darek’s bow, and Zarea heard a strangled cry as it hit home. She dashed forward to join Darek, but stumbled and bumped against his arm, and another arrow flew loose, far off-course. It hit the ground beside the larger man, who snatched it up as though it were a child's dart thrown too far from its target. Darek stepped backwards, fumbled for the knife on his boot.
The big man swung the arrow at him. Darek ducked, cried out, used the man's weight against him to throw him to the ground, and fell with him.
The less imposing man charged at Zarea. Fear had stolen away her sense of forethought – with a flick, her knife flew, and the man fell. Zarea gasped, her hand at her mouth. She hadn't meant to throw it. She didn't even know where she'd hit him.
Darek's cry of pain drew her attention back to the fight on the ground. Zarea turned, notched an arrow.
She needn't have bothered. Darek swung a fist, and the man cried out, freeing him. Zarea did not have time to process what had happened before Darek grabbed her wrist and yanked at it. “Run!”
Zarea barely managed to retrieve the food satchel as Darek dragged her along with him at top speed. Soon they put a fair amount of distance between them and the camp, and Zarea wondered why the big man hadn't followed them. Why had he not mounted one of his horses and taken off after them by now?
But she knew why, and the reason made her double over retching.
Darek stumbled from the sudden stop and fell to his knees a few feet away.
“I killed him,” Zarea gasped, unbelieving. “Darek, I killed that man.”
Darek did not answer, and at once Zarea noticed that his breathing was different, quivering, punctuated with gasps and suppressed groans. She stumbled over to him. “Darek, what...?”
That was when she saw the blood.
Her eyes grew wide. “He stabbed you!”
“It’s fine,” he rasped. His eyes were full of pain, but he set his jaw in determination. “Just a scratch... Caught me off-guard.”
“That is not a scratch,” Zarea snapped. “We have to find help.”
“The mountain,” he coughed.
Zarea groaned. “Hang the mountain – I never want to hear of it again!”
“The mountain, Kali,” Darek insisted. “There are places there, places to rest, find water, and herbs to treat wounds. We can find them.”
“This was a mistake.” Zarea blinked back tears and fought to keep a stern edge to her voice. “Darek, I was wrong. We never should have left home. We need to go back. We need to find my mother and tell her–”
“We’d never make it,” Darek said firmly, his voice stronger than before. His blue eyes pleaded with her brown ones. “We’ve gone too far into the wilderness. We can't turn back now.”
Zarea shook her head violently. “No. We can make it, and once we're home–”
“We’d die before we got there, or they’d kill me. And I’m not sending you off on your own.” Darek gripped her hand tightly, using his free hand to push against the ground for support to sit upright. He grimaced as the pain overtook him again. “Help me walk.”
She helped him to his feet, and for several steps, he leaned heavily on her as he tried to regain his bearings. But at last, he nodded and released his hold on her shoulder. “Let go. I can do it on my own.”
“You're sure?”
He nodded, still pale, his expression tormented as he lifted his eyes towards the looming Rhenor mountains. “Let's get going.”

If you'd like to read a longer excerpt, go the Smashwords page for the book and download a sample there (the first 20% of the book, completely free to read), or read up through the beginning of chapter two here.

Paperback Links:

E-Book Links:

Alternatively, if you would prefer a signed copy, you can contact me at my author e-mail, and order one directly from me. Books purchased from me are $12 USD plus shipping. Haven't read the first two books? That's okay! You can check them out on Goodreads or at the links below:

The Follower
(Book One)

Paperback Links:

E-Book Links:

The Merchant's Son
(Book Two, prequel to The Follower)

Paperback Links:

E-Book Links:

If you read the books and like them (or just have something to say about them that you want other potential readers to know, even if it doesn't warrant a full five stars), I'd really appreciate it if you'd leave a review. Reviews are one of the most effective ways to spread the word about a book, and are invaluable to indie authors like me. But either way, I hope you have a blessed day and enjoy whatever books you do choose to read, whether they're mine or someone else's. (If you're a fan of Christian fantasy, my personal recommendation would be to check out Jill Williamson's books. They're fantastic. I'm also checking out R. J. Larson's work now, but I haven't read enough to have an opinion on her work yet -- I shall let you know when I do. The world can always use some more good, clean speculative reads.)

Have any book recommendations you'd like to share? Questions about the book I've just released? Feel free to comment below! I'll try my utmost to reply. Releasing a new book is always nerve-wracking, so I should be spending a lot of time online, checking on things, updating other things, talking about all the things on the social networking... um... places, and...

Yeah, basically, there's a good chance I'll reply this time around. And I shall endeavor to do more with the blog in general, now that the most daunting item is off of my to-do list. Maybe I'll even post more installments in the short stories I've previously posted...

...But I digress.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Woe to the Five ('King's Folly' Review and Song)

I suppose you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here today.

Sorry, I had to say that. *ahem* Welcome, digressors. As per the title, I am here today to deliver a final review of ‘King’s Folly’, book one of Jill Williamson’s ‘The Kinsman Chronicles’, as the sum of its parts (’Darkness Reigns’, ‘The Heir War’, and ‘The End of All Things’). I could just give you a flat-out summary of my thoughts on the book, and if that’s what you want, feel free to scroll down to the end and catch the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) version. But if you have the time and the patience to bear with me for a bit, I would like very much to tell you a story.

If you’ve been following me and/or my blog for very long, you’ve probably gathered by now that I’m a bit of a Jill Williamson fangirl. Mind you, I am also a fangirl of other people and things (such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Doctor Who), but Jill’s work is of particular interest to me because she is a contemporary author writing in one of my favorite genres and does it very well. (Plus she’s just a great person in general, but I’m getting off-topic now.)

Really, though, get out there right now and try to track down as many good Christian fantasy novels as you can. Difficult, isn’t it? At least it always is for me. I might find a book or two on occasion by an author I don’t know, but to find a single author whose work I consistently like and feel confident in recommending to others is a luxury I prize.

My first experience with Jill’s books was ‘By Darkness Hid’. I read the entire ‘Blood of Kings’ trilogy and came out of it euphoric from the excitement of what I’d discovered. Along the way, I also managed to drag some of my teenage friends, my mother, and a few complete strangers into the fandom, but when I myself reached the end of the series, I found myself hungering for more. One Christy Award-winning trilogy (two books out of three won it) was, of course, a wonderful thing to experience, but once it was over, where was I supposed to get my fantasy fix?

Cue sometime last year when I caught the announcement that Jill was writing a new fantasy series, with different characters and cultures, but in the same general world (hundreds of years beforehand) as ‘Blood of Kings’. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. I feared I would spontaneously combust from excitement before I ever had a chance to read the new books.

Now imagine how my excitement piqued when I discovered that Jill was building a launch team to help promote the book and the three eBooks of which it was comprised. The list of responsibilities was a bit intimidating for me, an awkward introvert with little skill for marketing, but being on the team would give me the opportunity to read all three eBooks beforehand and even receive my own copy of the full novel. So of course, I leapt on the opportunity, typed up my application as quickly as I could, and submitted it, euphoric with the very idea that I might get to experience the new series sooner than I had anticipated and have an excuse to fangirl unashamedly.

But true to my anxious manner, soon after submitting I began to prep myself for disappointment. Surely there would be many people who applied, and many of them would have much better marketing skills than I. By the end of October, when Jill was due to send out e-mails to those who made the team, I was utterly convinced that I had no chance of receiving such a missive. I resigned myself to waiting and began to make other plans for my time.

And then I got the e-mail. Against all odds, I was in. I didn’t know how exclusive the group might be (after all, as I said, Jill is a nice person, and I felt there was a good chance I was only recruited because of the sheer excitement I related in my application), but the instant I received that confirmation, all the old excitement came flooding back, and more. Anxiety also reared its head as I was faced again with my own woeful lack of experience with the successful promotion of books, no matter whose they were.

But — and this is a testament to just how much I wanted to read the book, and how badly I wanted an excuse to further promote Jill’s work — I decided to push through my own hesitations and do my best. I figured if nothing else, I could take cues from the more experienced members of the group and just follow their lead, and maybe I would look like I knew what I was doing.

My discomfort increased as I received the digital ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) of the books and saw that, as Jill had warned, this series would not be geared towards teens, or at least not young ones — it was geared towards a more mature audience, and while what mature content existed was handled in such a way that the reader would not get inappropriately caught up in it, just the simple fact that it was there made me, an awkward person from very conservative circles, nervous. What if I kept reading and it got more awkward? What if it was handled carefully in the beginning, but for whatever reason it devolved later? What if I had signed on to promote something and had to drop out a few weeks in because I couldn’t support the content? But I decided to keep the faith and keep reading, knowing that Jill had produced good, wholesome content consistently thus far, and reminding myself that sometimes darkness (when applied in moderation) can later give birth to much greater light.

The long and short of it is this: it was worth it.

Once I pushed past my initial discomfort, I got caught up with the characters and their stories. In the beginning I connected with Wilek and his sense of honor and responsibility, then my allegiance became divided when Trevn bounded into the picture and stole my heart with his winsome manner and boundless energy. (I think if I met the two in real life, I would have a very difficult time keeping up with Trevn and would instead end up sitting around talking with Wilek while Trevn ran off to some adventure somewhere.) Charlon, while her goals conflicted with those of the main characters and drove her to some ends which… well, you can find out what those ends were for yourself… was still a sympathetic character and I felt her pain deeply throughout all three parts. And Mielle… Well, she reminded me a bit of Vrell from ‘Blood of Kings’, except that thus far Mielle has not made me want to throw an iPad across the room out of frustration. (Don’t get me wrong — Vrell was a good character. But she did have her… *ahem*… moments.)

Even with the warnings that this story would take place long, long before ‘Blood of Kings’ and many things would be different, I was not prepared for just how different things would be. But that was not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, I found the culture (or cultures, rather) fascinating, and felt that even with as much as was articulated throughout the story, there was a world’s worth of information and depth beneath the surface that I as the reader could only dream of learning. The religions in particular intrigued me in how each of them evolved from their origins and, with all their differences, shared some things in common. I found this made them more believable, as many real-world religions have a few common elements (a moral code of some kind, end-times prophecies, references to past events that were interpreted very differently through the lens of different worldviews, etc.). If they were all too similar to each other or too starkly different from one another, it might have felt contrived, but they were not, and it did not.

On that same topic of religion, I liked how the assortment of similarities and differences between faiths created a natural confusion for the characters, leading them on a treasure hunt for truth wherein the reader gets to tag along and also come to those conclusions for themselves. Rather than shoving a sermon into the reader’s face, instead the narrative says, “Here are the facts, here are the issues — now look and judge for yourself which one is the truth.” And this, to me, makes the whole thing that much more effective. I must also admit to a certain degree of envy, as I struggle with this very area in my own writing. Believe me, it’s a difficult balance to maintain.

In addition to the above points, it all just felt so real. I swear if I fell asleep reading ‘King’s Folly’ and was groggy enough when I woke, I might be confused to open my eyes and see my own real-world room when I’d only just been in the five realms, clinging to medieval furniture as the Five Woes shook the land beneath my feet. I could forget, in my reverie, that the characters I read about were not, in fact, real people, and that the peril and suffering they endured was only penned by a human author onto paper and bound up in a book. Certainly, by the time I got to the end, I was tempted to just pick the book up again and read it from cover to cover to reunite with the characters and their world again.

Well, okay, technically I did pick it up again. I basically carried it around everywhere hoping someone would ask about it so I could babble to them about how much they needed to read it.

And now, in summary, I shall give you the long-awaited…


If you are a mature teen or adult fan of epic fantasy, Christian or otherwise, you should read this book. There are thematic elements to deal with due to the culture in which the books are set, but from the beginning of ‘King’s Folly’ to its end, I could see the progression beginning from darkness to light. Besides which fact, the storytelling was stellar, the worldbuilding was rich, and the characters were like living people who just happened to end up living inside a book. I admit to being quite impatient for the next book’s release.

If you're interested, just go to the Goodreads pages for the book below, or go for the first installment, 'Darkness Reigns', and try that out for free if you're not ready to commit to the full story.

King's Folly:

Darkness Reigns:

Oh, yes, and as for the "song" part of the post... Yes, well, I suppose I should make good on that, shouldn't I? Well, a couple of days ago, I sat down and wrote a ballad inspired by 'King's Folly', recorded it a cappella and added filters to make it fit the feel a bit more. If you want something to listen to as you start in on the series or just to get an idea of what's in store, give it a listen on SoundCloud here, or click on the YouTube video below.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Runaway - Part Three

Hey again, digressors. How are things going for everyone? Things have been interesting for me. A combination of physical and mental health issues have made getting things done complicated, but at last I appear to be on a bit of an upswing, so I am again getting a few things done. And among those things I'm doing is writing! I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo, as I do twice a year, every year, regardless of whether I have much chance of winning. It gives a distractible person such as me a bit more motivation to be organized and set achievable goals. 

Speaking of distractibility, you probably didn't click on this post to hear me talk about my schedule, did you? Well, if you did, I apologize, because at the moment I don't have much of a schedule to speak of -- just a list of things I need to catch up on doing. So as I run off to do some of that catching up, I shall give you something that is long overdue... 

The Runaway
Part Three

The rest of the day passed in a blur of classes and practice sessions with some of the more established recruits, and the next morning Jorthen awoke to more of the same. Except by morning, there were also whispers everywhere, and if he listened hard enough, he heard words like “Shamindo”, “spy”, and “horse thief”. 
“I heard,” said a wide-eyed, raven-haired girl who had arrived with last month’s batch of new recruits, “that he set fire to a family’s house so that he could have their horse. That way there were no witnesses, and so he would have gotten away with it if Lieutenant Lavahr hadn't caught him.” 
Caught him, indeed. Jorthen quickened his step to get past the clump of teenagers before they could spot him. Besides the sensitivity of the issue, the fond tone the girl adopted when she said his name unnerved him even more. 
When he arrived at Geram’s quarters — just off of the medical room — he took an extra moment to listen at the door before knocking on it. He heard no yelling or objects smashing, only a less than intelligible grumbling, so he gave himself permission to enter. 
The door creaked as he opened it, and across the room, Geram spoke but didn't turn. “About time you got here.” 
“I’m sorry, I was delayed.” Jorthen walked forward until he could see past Geram and smiled politely to avoid grimacing. “Good morning, San.” 
The boy sat quietly as Geram worked on him, but his eyes flitted just as nervously as ever between Geram and Jorthen. He was upright this time, and his hands fiddled nervously with each other in his lap. They were burned, but not nearly as badly as his back, which was thankfully turned away from Jorthen. 
In lieu of getting an answer, Jorthen cleared his throat and addressed Geram. “Is he fit to be moved yet?” 
“He’d better be, if your recruits are going to keep crowding the area in an attempt to see him.” Geram cut a length of bandages free and flung the roll back into its respective basket. “I’m a physician, not a showman.” 
“I apologize,” Jorthen said. “If you say he’s well enough, I’ll work on finding him a place to stay.” 
“You mean you’ll be taking him to confinement.” 
Jorthen blinked. “Confinement? Why would I do that?” 
Geram sighed heavily and wrapped the new bandage around San’s freshly salved arm. “The boy’s a criminal, Lavahr. He has to face trial.” He hesitated in his work and said more quietly, “Sorry, lad. That’s the way it works around here.” 
San swallowed hard and looked at his still twitching hands without response. 
Something about the reminder of how the system worked awoke a knotting feeling in Jorthen’s stomach. He glanced at the door. “What if I took him?” 
“We’ve just addressed that.” 
“No, I mean if I took him into my custody.” He turned again to look at Geram. “I could do that, couldn’t I? Take responsibility for him until the council decides what to do with him?” 
Geram studied Jorthen and seemed to mull over his question as he secured the bandage. “Aye, I suppose you could. But it would involve paperwork.” 
“I’m used to paperwork.” 
A raspy voice asked, “Would I live with you?” 
Jorthen had nearly forgotten how much the smoke had affected San’s voice. Or was it always like that? He stepped forward cautiously. “It would be safer. But then, it would also mean you’d have to follow me around a fair amount. I’d be your guardian.” 
“I don’t trust guardians.” 
“…An older brother, then. Temporarily. How does that sound?” 
San flinched and coughed a few times but didn’t manage to articulate a response. 
Jorthen chose not to wait for his approval. “Geram, will you help him get cleaned up and ready to go while I clear the way?” 
Geram nodded. “Just so long as he cooperates with me and you don’t try to rush me into releasing him before I’m through with him.” 
“Fair enough,” Jorthen said. “San, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” 
“Fine,” San managed, then said no more as Jorthen turned and left the room. 
“All right, now you listen well, lad, and know it’s for your own good. For the next week or two, you come back in here once a day so I can check on those burns and make sure everything’s in its place. You can tell Lieutenant Lavahr I said so, and he’ll listen. If you go running off or don’t show up for check-ups, I won’t be able to help you. You understand?” 
San wasn’t sure what part of his silence made him look like an idiot to outsiders, but at least Geram’s lectures weren’t violent. He nodded and bit his cheek hard to distract from the way the motion made his head ache. He didn’t know what kind of air was actually in the room, but it tasted like smoke, and his lungs still burned with every breath. Would the old man be able to fix that in any of these check-ups? 
“You know, we’ll have to do something about this strong, silent act of yours,” Geram said, lightly cuffing one of the few unburned patched on San’s arm. San managed to limit his defensive reflexes to a twitch this time. “I can do my work just fine with your silence, and Lavahr will make do with it, but you won’t fare well at trial if you don’t speak up in your own defense.” 
“Don’t matter,” San croaked. 
“Sure it does. Why wouldn’t it?” 
San looked down at his hands and fiddled with them to avoid looking at Geram. Maybe if he just didn’t speak, the man would give up on talking to him and leave. 
“You know, the council’s feelings for Shamindo illegals are less hard than they used to be. If you can give a good reason for your crime, they might let you off.” 
Geram stepped back and sighed heavily. “And just why’s that?” 
San dragged his gaze up to meet Geram’s. But then the memories he had came flooding back. A pale face turning purple. His hands screaming as they gripped something fleshy and fragile. Claws in his head and the scent of wood burning as beams came crashing down around him. 
His head split again, and he grimaced as he grabbed at it and moaned. 
“Easy there,” Geram said, and patted the pillow that sat on the bed to San’s left. “You lie down yourself — I’m not risking it.” 
San struggled to keep his breathing even as he followed the man’s orders. He pitched to the side and nearly fell off the bed, but Geram caught him and eased him onto his back. So much for not intervening. San wanted to scream, to tell Geram to leave him alone, to weep and to thank the physician for caring all at once, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper. 
“Pathetic little meatbag. Did you really think you could defy me?” 
As soon as the words surfaced in his mind, he panicked, stuffed them back into their box and clamped his eyes shut. It wasn’t real. It was just your imagination. It didn’t happen. 
But what if it did? 
He didn’t know. He just didn’t know anything anymore. 
He could feel Geram’s eyes on him still, could hear the silent question echoing on the air between them. 
“C-can’t tell them,” San wheezed. “’Cause I don’t remember.” 
“Because I said so, that’s why,” Jorthen told the disgruntled crowds as they groaned at him. “San might have broken a few laws, but he’s been through a traumatic experience, and things will work out better for everyone if we can all just give him a little space to recover.” 
“Why are you protecting him?” 
“I’m protecting all of you, not just him. His defensive reflexes are strong, so if you go after him, expect him to fight back.” 
Most of the crowd continued to murmur, but dispersed, except one heckler who called out, “You can’t hide him forever, Lavahr! If he’s a spy, we all have a right to know.” 
“He’s not a spy,” Jorthen said flatly, “and he’ll be in my custody as soon as Geram clears him for release. Now are you going to follow my orders, or do I have to speak to your supervisor about your insubordination?” 
The heckler glared at him, then spun on his heel and strode away, shoving his way through the rest of the crowd. 
Jorthen deflated as soon as the crowd was gone, and without the noise, his head grew a good deal clearer. And with that clarity came the first doubts he’d allowed himself to humor since San had tumbled into his life yesterday evening. Why was he taking responsibility for a criminal? Young or not, injured or otherwise, he’d stolen someone’s horse, and unless the Guard could track them down and obtain their permission to release San, that fact could very well get him executed under Reshan law. That would mean that Jorthen had just agreed to take charge of someone who was one trial short of death row. What sort of damage might that do to his law-abiding reputation? 
But the memory of those haunted green eyes flitting about in terror and the long scars raked across the boy’s back brought back enough determination to send him striding determinedly to the inspector’s office to start the paperwork. 
It took him all of ten minutes to sign the most essential documents and get ahold of the stack which he had left to sort through, and as he walked back through the halls, he checked around every corner to be sure there were no more lurkers about. 
He reached Geram’s door and knocked twice, then entered. The sight of San flat on his back gave him pause. “Do you need more time?” 
San’s eyes opened and Geram moved to help him sit up, but his efforts were denied, and soon the boy sat upright and slid onto his feet beside the bed. He pulled self-consciously at his right sleeve to cover a set of horizontal scars on the inside of his wrist and said nothing to either of the other men. 
Geram approached Jorthen and handed him a satchel containing whatever supplies a physician deemed necessary for a recuperating criminal. “He’ll need this. See to it that he comes to check-ups regularly.” 
“Thank you, sir,” Jorthen said, and slung the satchel over his shoulder. “San, you ready to go?” 
San nodded and shuffled forward, glancing wordlessly at Geram as he passed. 
Jorthen led him out of the room and through the halls, where despite his efforts, a few people still managed to show up and gawk. San made no remark about them, but inched closer to Jorthen until their elbows nearly touched. 
“It’s all right,” Jorthen said. “I won’t let them hurt you.” 
Another nod, followed by more silence. The merest hint that San might have begun to trust him. 
Jorthen only hoped his trust wouldn’t prove to be horribly misplaced. 
They got to Jorthen’s quarters, and Jorthen gestured to the lone bed in the back corner as he set his stack of papers onto his desk. “You can use my bed if you need it. I have a spare bedroll I can lay out when it’s time to sleep.” 
San glanced at the bed, then stared up at the ceiling. 
Jorthen followed his gaze and frowned. “What? Is there a spot I’m not seeing?” 
“There aren’t any cracks.” 
“…Yes, and…?” 
San shrugged and looked at the bed again. “Must be nice.” 
His voice was as scratchy as ever, but something about the different environment seemed to have put San more at ease. Why else would he say more in the first minute here than in the night and day he’d spent in Geram’s quarters? 
Jorthen cleared his throat and nodded. “It is. Anyhow, you should probably be warned that I snore. My first roommate was a light sleeper, so he complained about it.” 
“I scream.” 
“In your sleep?” 
“Halfway.” San made his way to a bedside table and poked at a lantern there so hard that it shifted to the edge of the surface. 
Jorthen lunged, then stopped himself as San righted the lantern on his own. He inhaled deeply. “The cabinet in the far corner should have some spare clothes. You can try on anything you think might fit.” 
San sniffed. “No offense,” he said, “but I don’t think your clothes would even stay on me.” 
More words. Spiteful, perhaps, but they were words, at least. “Some of my old things might. I didn’t join up last week, after all.” 
“I still don’t—” 
“Here,” Jorthen interrupted, then strode to the cabinet and pulled out an old but well-maintained uniform from when he was fifteen or sixteen. This he held out to San. “Try this one. We can worry about boots later.” 
San barely had time to accept the clothes and eye them suspiciously before Jorthen headed for the door. “Where are you going?” 
Jorthen halted and fought a growing itch in his legs. “I have other responsibilities to address. I’ll be back soon.” 
Silence met his words, and San looked back down at the clothes, suspicion fading into blankness. 
“San,” Jorthen said. 
He looked. 
“I will be back. I promise.” 
“…If you say so.” 
“I do say it,” Jorthen affirmed. “So don’t go anywhere. Understood?” 
Another sniff. “Sure.” 
Good enough. Jorthen obeyed his itch and left the room, but locked the door behind him, just in case San should get it into his head to wander. An angry seventeen-year-old would be much easier to face than the possible consequences if the same boy got loose and fell under the scrutiny of those who already resented his presence. All the same, Jorthen hoped the hints of spite that had gleamed through in the room would not prove to become his usual manner. If they did, well… keeping him safe might soon become exponentially more difficult. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Why I Fear Being A Role Model

It was a day like any other -- I was at home, going about my business, and struck up a conversation with a friend on Facebook (the main place where I, a chronically ill hermit, get my socialization fix). I don't remember exactly what we were talking about. But I do remember the conversation digressing into MBTI discussion and jokes. My friend mentioned a habit she'd begun to develop, and I made a joke along the lines of, "Uh-oh -- you're turning into me." The gist of her response was, "I could do worse -- you're a pretty good person to aspire to be like."

I blinked at the screen, stared at her words for a few seconds, then rattled off a joke to change the subject. Her words echoed through my mind, and I had no idea what to do with them. Me, someone people would want to be like? A role model?

No. Obviously she was just being nice. And of course, I tossed around the seemingly rhetorical question in my mind: "Why would anyone want to be like me?"

So here's one of the most basic facts you need to know about me: I am not perfect. Nobody is, right? But somehow, the idea of having someone -- especially a younger person who's still figuring themselves out -- look to me as an example of how to behave is terrifying. I mean, how do you even do that? As the fourth-born child out of five and the youngest girl, I never felt much pressure to be an example for anyone. (Firstborn children, my cap is off to you for getting through life with the myriad of expectations placed upon you just because you happened to be born before any of your siblings.)

But I mean I am really not perfect. At least from my own perspective, I have a lot of flaws, some of which I'm on the road to conquering, others not so much. In fact, it seems like the longer I live and interact with others, the more aware and self-conscious I become about my own shortcomings. Having a few invisible physical and mental illnesses only compounds this. Because here's the deal -- I am literally brain-damaged. Not in the sense that I got in a car crash and bashed my head against something or anything like that, but because since I was in high school I have had parasites crawling through my body, burrowing in and eating away at whatever they found. And part of what they found was my brain and nervous system. As a result, even though they're clearing out of my blood bit by bit, I'm still left with a flaky brain and a tendency to be less than normal in my behavior (not that I ever really was in the first place). Depression saps my motivation. Anxiety paralyzes me and compels me to run into the arms of the many sources of procrastination which I've discovered. And brain fog sees to it that, on those rare occasions when I have both the motivation and the confidence to work, every word written or edited is... is, um... What was I going to say, again?

Oh, right. It's a struggle. That's what I was going to say. Except I was going to use much better words and some kind of original metaphor to make myself sound clever.

Anyways, you probably get the picture by now. Whatever flaws I might have had as a "normal" person are exacerbated (though not caused) by all the stuff going on in my brain and the rest of my body. Where I might have once been a little nervous about sending someone a message after extensive silence between us, now I tend to avoid conversations altogether just so I won't have to deal with my brain saying, "But what if they don't want to talk to you? What if they want to talk to you but you're not interesting enough? No, don't say that or they'll think -- uggggghhhhh, why on earth did you say that? That was the stupidest possible way to answer that question. Just close the chat window and run away to watch Netflix with me and never try to talk to people again." Where I might have been a little flustered to see that someone challenged my strongly held belief (oh, woe of all woes), now I panic and have to resist the urge not to lash out or dissolve into tears over the perceived rejection of my point of view.

In fact, if I were to believe everything my addled brain tells me in an average day, I would believe myself to be the:

1. Least reliable
2. Most irrational
3. Laziest
4. Most cowardly
5. Most ignorant
6. Least interesting
7. Most awkward
8. Most annoying
9. Clingiest
10. Most paranoid
11. Most temperamental

...person in the world.

So why, out of all the ~7 billion people on this planet, would anyone choose to look at me and want to model their lives and behavior after mine?

I have no idea how many people out there actually look up to me and how many just say so to be nice. I don't know what I look like from the outside, any more than most of the people I meet know how I see myself from the inside. The truth is, most -- if not all -- of us are our own harshest critics. It's easy to look at someone you admire and think, "Wow, they've really got their lives together," because they have a nicer car than you, a larger group of friends, or a Bible that's a lot more heavily highlighted than yours.

But I don't live inside your head. I don't know what thoughts cross your mind as you roll out of bed in the morning, what you notice first when you appraise yourself in the mirror. I don't know whether your comfort in social situations is natural or whether you're just really good at faking it. For all I know, if I compared my list of my own perceived flaws with the one you've made for yourself, yours might be just as long or even longer.

And yet if neither of us ever took a gander at the other's list, we would never know. We would probably just hide our lists behind our backs, smile and laugh pleasantly, and pretend we never felt insecure about anything in our lives.

And most likely, we would believe each other. Because even as we're aware that everyone is human and you should never judge a book by its cover, still we do it every day.

In fact, I believe this happens a lot, especially in this digital age where nearly everyone is on various social networks, posting and tweeting and snapchatting all the most interesting parts of their lives to everyone else. We spend ages searching for the perfect profile photo, then touch it up a little just to make ourselves look a little better and more put together. We take a few extra moments before posting our statuses to make sure everything is worded in a way that will make us look as clever, spiritual, funny, [insert preferred descriptor here] as possible. Everything gets filtered through our own ideas about what people like or don't like about us and what we could do or say to make them like us more. And the more we use that filter, the more impressive we appear, and the less our insecurities show through to anyone observing us.

This phenomenon also occurs in face-to-face interactions, though, not just online. Isn't it only human, after all, to want to be the best version of yourself that you can be? And if you can't be perfect, you might as well try to make others think you are, right?

But no-one is perfect. We all come with our own baggage, our own insecurities about who we are, what we are, and how other people view us. Listen, it doesn't matter how amazing and confident and put-together someone looks on the outside -- everyone, from your next-door-neighbor to the guy sleeping on a park bench to the celebrity whose face you have as your phone's wallpaper, has insecurities. Their life might seem perfect, but they have bad days, too. They just might not air them out for everyone else to see, or if those days do come to light, it usually wasn't their desire to allow that.

That's a big part of why the idea of being a celebrity is frankly terrifying to me. Because you get little to no privacy. As a living, breathing human being with a beating heart and a brain capable of forming thoughts and emotions, you have insecurities just like everyone else. The difference is that, when you're a celebrity, everyone is watching you. Everyone expects you to be perfect, and they're constantly looking to you for inspiration on everything from their hairstyles and clothing to getting ahead in their careers and having the best relationships possible.

And if you fall short of their expectations, everyone is disappointed. Everyone looks at you and shakes their head and says, "How could you? You aren't supposed to mess up like that. You're a role model -- you should know better."

And right there, that is why the idea of being anyone's role model scares me. Because I'm not perfect. I'm not even good at pretending to be perfect. The closest thing I can do is to try and behave as normally and respectably as possible and apologize when I mess up, hoping beyond hope that everyone will forgive me when I inevitably slip up and disappoint or hurt them in some way.

Because it happens. Always. The people who love me unconditionally stick with me anyways no matter how much I let them down, but that doesn't mean I never do anything that falls short of their expectations for my behavior. I can't help it. I am human, and I am flawed, and no-one is more aware of this fact than I am.

Well, I suppose there is one person -- the only perfect person who has ever lived or ever will live.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? The only perfect human ever to walk the face of the earth since the first humans committed their original sin is Jesus Christ. He was fully human, but was -- and is -- also fully God. God knows everything and everyone. And on top of that, you know what I went and did when I was a kid? I asked Him to come into my life and pay the price for all my sins and stupid mistakes, to work in me and make up for the imperfection that has always been a part of me. So I don't even get the luxury of pretending that no-one knows what I've done or what makes me feel insecure, because He's right there in my heart (figuratively speaking), and He's around all the time, nudging me when I'm headed the wrong way, and waiting patiently for me to come back to Him when I disregard His directions and take the crooked path anyways. He's so thoroughly perfect and patient and all the things that I am not, and just thinking about it makes me a little weak in the knees, because how am I ever supposed to match up to that?

Here's the simple answer: I'm not. Well, of course He wants me to try. But I will fail, because I am human, because I am me, and anyone looking to be exactly like me in every way will either fail in the same ways or be disillusioned when they see me stumble. Anything good they see in me is not really mine, but rather is the result of Jesus standing with me, holding me up when I'm weak, telling me which way to go when I feel thoroughly lost.

But maybe that's been the point all along. Maybe it's not about what people see in me so much as it's about what they see through me. I fall short of perfection daily (strike that -- multiple times a day), but Jesus is still with me, and even when I don't see it or try to forget it, He's shaping me and the course of my life to accomplish His purpose, even when I'm not being particularly cooperative about it. He works all things together for good, even my laundry list of flaws and insecurities that I try so desperately to hide behind my back.

Well, I'm airing a few of them now. And my desire is that when you see me open up about my life and some of the areas where I fall short, you aren't disillusioned by my broken nature. Instead, I want people to look at me and see Christ's light shining through all the dark cracks in my soul that mark me as the damaged creature that I am.

Because that's the gist of it, digressors. Jesus is the ultimate role model, the one person worth emulating in His entirety. If you see Christ-like attributes in people you know, by all means strive to adopt them, but not because a fallible human possesses them. Rather, do it because what you see in them reflects Jesus and His pure perfection. Lift the weary when they fall, not because a celebrity you like helped that one person one time, but because "what you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me." (Matthew 25:40) Be "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 103:8), not merely because your one friend has a skill for it, but because that's how Jesus is and how He wants you to be. Be honest and sincere, and "whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as doing it unto the Lord, and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23), because this isn't about other people, right? It's about Jesus and trying to emulate Him, in recognition of the fact that He has never failed and never will.

Will it be easy? Probably not. Will you mess up? Most definitely.

But in this way, when someone does choose you as a role model (because let's face it, even though you're not perfect, God designed you to be pretty amazing and someone out there is bound to recognize it), they won't just see your mistakes or some front you've put up to make yourself look good. They'll see your imperfections, true, but they'll also see how God uses those imperfections to bless others around you, and that will encourage them to go to the source, to the ultimate role model you so openly emulate.

This is, ultimately, my goal. It might seem incongruous, but as proud as I am, as strong as the instinct may be to stuff all my imperfections into a trunk and shove it into the back of a closet somewhere, ultimately I hope people understand just how imperfect I am. I hope they see that I have...

1. Bad days (but He gets me through them)
2. Insecurities (but He works through me anyways)
3. Temptations (but He always offers a way out and forgives me when I fail)
4. Bad habits (but He motivates me to attempt change, even if it's a slow, bumpy process)
5. Fears (but He gives me courage)
6. Weaknesses (but He gives me strength)
7. Misgivings (but He encourages me to forgive)
8. Doubts (but He gives clarity)

...and that if they consider me to be any kind of role model, it's really not me they're seeing. It's my Savior and the continual work He is doing in me (and in those around me) to make me more like Himself and show His love and goodness to those around me.

And, dear digressor, if He can work through me, an overly emotional, depressed, anxious, bitter, often disturbed human being... what might He do through you?

"I am crucified with Christ:
nevertheless I live; yet not I,
but Christ liveth in me;
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God
who loved me,
and gave Himself for me."

Galatians 2:20 (KJV)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: 'The Heir War' (Kinsman Chronicles #1.2) By Jill Williamson

Hey there, digressors. Guess what hit the digital market today? It's a new book! The second installment of 'The Kinsman Chronicles' by Jill Williamson released today, and it's available at all (or most) major eBook retailers. And because I know you're dying to know my opinion of it (okay, okay, maybe you're not, but you're already here), I shall leave it below. But first, for context, you can visit this site for the official blurbs of the books. Oh, and a charming little graphic Jill herself made in honor of the occasion. 

Two months ago, I reviewed 'Darkness Reigns', the opener to a compelling high fantasy series by Jill Williamson. Today I am reviewing its faster-paced sequel. 
The first book was very good, and a solid beginning to the series, but since it had to do the job of introducing not only an entire cast of characters, but the complicated world in which they lived, the pace was a little slow. 'The Heir War' does not have this problem. With 'Darkness Reigns' as a launching pad, it takes off, carrying along the reader in its ride through the five reals and the environmental and interpersonal chaos throughout. It's a riveting tale, filled with action and suspense that left me eagerly anticipating the next installment. Tension mounts between characters and prophecy comes to fruition, the religious systems are further developed, the faith themes have begun to evolve and cast light into the darkness, and the more questions are answered, the more rise up to take their place. 
If I had to pick a favorite character, though the cast in general is fantastic, I would choose Trevn, the youngest Sar (or prince) of Armania. He's energetic and charmingly offbeat, childish at times but with a good heart and a desire to see truth come to light. 
I do feel compelled to give a heads-up that there is some innuendo involved, primarily by cruder characters in conversation and dares and by priestesses seeking to fulfill an ancient prophecy. However, it's plot-relevant rather than gratuitous, so I wouldn't say that it necessarily makes the book any less worth reading. I'd only say that the story is clearly meant for adults and older teens, and this should be taken into consideration when choosing whether or not to read it. 
Overall, I liked 'The Heir War' even more than 'Darkness Reigns', and  I eagerly look forward to reading the third book. 

So what do you think? Would you like to join in on the quest to save the five realms? You can get 'Heir War' at any of the links below the lovely cover if you're interested. If you haven't read 'Darkness Reigns' yet, it's free for download at all the same e-retailers as 'Heir War'.