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'. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Character Interview #9: Shaetha Sohran

Hey again, digressors. So you've probably guessed what's happening today by the title of this post, but I'll tell you anyways. Last week, I opened up the forums (or the comments section, rather) for you to ask Shaetha Sohran questions. Well, the questions are in, and Shaetha is here to answer them.

Thanks for coming out today, Shaetha. So, here's the first question of the day. What lessons did your late father teach you about life through his sacrifice?
Oh... Um... Do I have to answer this?

Yes, you do.
But... Okay. Well... I guess he taught me that love has to be stronger than fear. The fear won't always go away, but if you really care about someone, then helping them needs to be more important than your fear. I think that's the definition of love, actually. It gives when it's hard, even when it hurts. Fear might be strong, but love has to be stronger, or it isn't really love. I suppose that's what I've learned.

What is the most difficult thing about getting over fear?
I guess for me, the hardest part is that a lot of the time, fear is based on something that's actually happened, either to me or someone else. In my case, I... I'm afraid of fire because of what happened to our house and our parents. So it makes it hard to fight my fear in that area because something bad actually happened, and for all I know, it could happen again. Not that it's likely, I guess, but it's possible. And some part of my mind refuses to let go of that reasoning, so it's a constant battle to keep disagreeing when what I fear is, in some way, realistic.

What advice would you give someone else who is trying to get over their fears?
First of all, breathe. Focus on dealing with the things you can influence in the present instead of working yourself up over things that might never happen. And pray, if you believe in God. I do, but I know not everyone does, so... I understand why praying might not come naturally. Remind yourself of what's real and what's not. Distract yourself if you have to, and spend time with people and places that make you feel safe. You can't control what happens, but you can control how you react to it. Of course... the thing is, a lot of what I've had to deal with isn't just fear. It's memories that seem like they're happening again, which then cause fear because I think it's all still happening. I can't really control those just by writing off my usual fears. Which makes it even more important for me to get somewhere safe and be near someone who understands and can remind me where I am. I don't think I'd be anywhere near getting over my fear of fire if I didn't have Lehn to help me.

What's your favorite thing to do?
As a hobby, or in general?

Either way. You choose.
Well... I know some people might think this is strange, but I love hugging. And being hugged. Is... is that too strange?

No, I know plenty of people who love hugging. And what about hobbies?
But you just said I could--

I changed my mind. Your hobbies? What do you like to do for fun? 
...I... I like drawing, but I'm sort of new to it, so I don't really know yet whether I'm any good or whether it's among my favorite things to do. And it might sound odd, but I actually like cooking. I enjoy mixing things together and preparing a meal for people I care about. Also, it makes me feel... powerful, I suppose, when I can use fire to do something good, even though I'm afraid of it.

What do you and your brother have in common? 
A lot of things, I guess, but we're still fairly different. He's more confident. And more fun-loving. And I don't think he really believes in Yahveh anymore, or at least not in the same way I do. But anyways... We do both love people and want to make others feel better as much as we can. Some people might even think Lehn is too friendly, which is kind of similar to how they think I ask too many questions and hover a little. I don't know. But I'd say that -- our love for people -- is the main thing we have in common. 

When you have the chance to listen to music, what kind do you like?
I don't get much of an opportunity to listen to music, but I like love ballads and hymns.

Are you a morning or a night person?
Morning. It feels more alive to me, and I don't like the dark. I prefer to have plenty of light so I can see things and move around.

What's your favorite season, and why?
I like spring. It has a lot of color, and it's more cheery than some of the other seasons.

Fun fact: Sohrem despises spring for a lot of the reasons you just mentioned.
...I'm sorry... But I like those things about it. I don't really prefer summer because it's too hot. Fall and winter are also good in their own ways.

Um, Shaetha, you don't have to compliment all the seasons. We just wanted to know which was your favorite.
I know, but... I don't want to make it sound like I think there's anything wrong with the other ones.

It doesn't. I think you've made absolutely sure of that by now. But anyways... If Lehn was in danger from a fire, would it be hard to save him, or would your protectiveness and love overpower your fear?
I don't really like to think about it...

Indulge us just for a minute, and then we can move on, okay?
All right... I'd like to think that I could save him, because I love him enough that I'd at least want to try. But I don't know what would happen if the memories took over. I might get stuck and be burned with him. Not that I wouldn't try, but I... I might not make it out. The decision to go in after him would be easy. It's what would happen afterwards that worries me, because I would either save him or die trying. I couldn't handle coming out without him.

If you had to use a weapon, what would be your weapon of choice?
No. I don't want a weapon of any kind.

The phrasing of the question implies that you wouldn't have the option to refuse.
I said no.

Come on -- what if an enemy attacked you or someone you loved? Would you just stand by and let them do it?
.........I... I don't know. I guess not. Maybe... maybe if I could have something that wouldn't hurt them too badly, that would just knock them out or take them down long enough for me to tie them up, I'd be all right.

Hey, you've used a sword before, haven't you? Oh, that's right -- you dropped it... So maybe that's not the best option. 
I don't want to talk about it. Are there any more questions? 

Just one. How do you feel about your name?
My... name?

Is there an echo in here?
No, I just... I guess I've never really thought about it, or not recently, anyways. I like my name well enough. People seem to think it fits me, in general. I like that there aren't any harsh noises in it.

I guess that could be considered a plus.
I think it is, anyways. You... you did say that was the last question, didn't you? I kind of have to get back to the others...

Yeah, that's fine. Just be careful, okay? You never know what might happen.
...That's comforting. Just please don't hurt anyone.

Uh-huh. Sure thing.
I'm not that naïve, you know...

Of course not. Goodbye, now.

*escorts Shaetha back to her world and locks the door* Have fun storming the mountainside.

Okay, so I guess it's fairly unlikely that Shaetha will "storm" anything, but you never know. She can get surprisingly aggressive when she's under a great deal of stress and people she cares about are in jeopardy. Which are two things that have been happening a fair amount lately. But anyways. What do you think? What are some tips you would give to someone looking to overcome their fear? What's something that used to scare you (or still does) that you've pushed past to do what's right and/or achieve a goal that was important to you?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scribely How-To: Tools For Character Development

Hello again, fellow digressors. I bet you didn't expect to see me again this soon, did you? Well, here's the thing -- it's a blast sharing with you things I've written and read, and raving about the new writing music I've found. But as an author, when I visit the blogs of fellow authors, I get a little excited when there's some kind of how-to on something that's been giving me trouble. A long while back, I uploaded a post called Scribely How-To: Insecurity Maps, and it seems like several of you were excited by the concept of a new way to explore your characters' insecurities and see them laid out together. Well, I'm not sure I've discovered any other kinds of graphics to make, except maybe for character playlists, but we're not talking about those today. The theme of this post will be finding ways to make character development easier to tackle. 

The thing about crafting complex, compelling characters (alliteration happens) is that, while it is vitally important, sometimes it's hard to actually pull it off. Why? Well, think about it. What would happen if someone tried to sum you up as a character? 

Say you're a sixteen-year-old American girl, and you love dystopian novels and knitting. (Let's ignore, for the moment, the probable statistics on how many sixteen-year-olds actually enjoy knitting.) It would probably be easy for someone who had just exchanged a conversation with you to say this much if anyone else asked who you were. The information would be accurate, but it wouldn't sum you up as a person. If someone asked the person who'd just talked with you what your outlook was on life, and all they knew about you was that you had those hobbies, would it be accurate for them to say that the meaning of life to you was knitting and reading your genre of choice? Probably not, because your age and hobbies are only one small part of who you are. They might occupy much of your time, but they are surface details, symptoms of whatever lies within your mind and heart. 

Additionally, while you might connect on a certain level with others because they also love dystopian novels and knitting, if that was all you ever talked about, the relationship would seem to be a shallow one indeed, because no-one is made up solely of what can be seen on the surface. What is within you, what matters to you, and how you view the world affects what you do on the outside, so if someone wants to truly connect with you and understand why you love certain things and act a certain way, they would have to find out a whole lot more than what hobbies you used to occupy your time. The same thing is true of characters. Character development is hard because characters are people, albeit fictional ones, and people are complex, made up of so many different elements that you could know them for a lifetime and they might still surprise you. 

And sometimes it seems like it's taking a lifetime to get to know your characters, doesn't it? At least it's felt that way for me in many cases. One key difference between getting to know a real person and getting to know a character is that you can spend time with a person. You can sit down and have a face-to-face conversation with them. You can exchange questions and have lengthy conversations about your interests, your likes and dislikes, and your views about yourselves, each other, and the world. You can also observe them in day-to-day situations and see how they respond to various circumstances. A fictional character, on the other hand, is trickier to know, because you're creating them. You can't exactly sit down with them and say, "Okay, character -- tell me about yourself," or invite them to a party and observe them there. I mean, you could, I suppose, but you'd still have to be the one coming up with their answers and writing/typing what happened to them and what they did. (If you're sitting down to figure out a character and their words start appearing on the page or the screen without your intervention, something might be off.) 

So what, then? Well, you could always just sit down and start writing down known facts about your character and see what else comes to mind. But after a while, that can get old, and when you run out of ideas, where do you turn? I have a few ideas, some of which I might have mentioned in the previous How-To, but bear with me here.

1. Find a character development worksheet. 
These things are tremendously helpful for me because they provide a list of things that a reader might want to know about a character, things which might not have occurred to me otherwise, and allow me to simply fill in the blanks with whatever seems most consistent with how I want my character to be. It's easy for me to come up with questions such as how they look, how old they are, and what they like to do for fun, but what about their quirks? What do they do when someone presses them to do something they don't want to do? How do they feel about their family? What is their best characteristic, or their worst? There are so many questions to consider, and they might not all come to mind immediately. There are a plethora of worksheets out there, but here's a good one, complete with relevant advice and tips on things to consider when developing your characters. (Yes, the author of the post has been mentioned here a few times. Now shush.)

While you're at it, go ahead and explore the Go Teen Writers blog that hosts the worksheet I just showed you. It's tremendously helpful and encouraging. In fact, they have a whole list of topics here if you're looking for advice on something specific. Finding more should be easy -- just go to Pinterest or your preferred search engine and type in "character development worksheet" and there should be several options. Make sure to do a quick scan-read before you download, though -- not only does the quality of worksheets vary, but some worksheets will be geared more towards one genre (e.g. science-fiction, contemporary, romance) and might not be the best fit for you and your WIP.

2. Find a list of potential traits and go through it to find ones which might fit your character. 
While a worksheet may help you come up with new questions to ask and prompt you to come up with answers, a list of traits can help you answer those questions more easily and effectively, and also perhaps to consider the implications of a particular aspect. Writers Helping Writers is one of my favorite resources for this method. The creators have released four wonderful thesauri in digital and paperback format: 

The Positive Traits Thesaurus (Useful for exploring character attributes and strengths. Available in physical and digital form.) 
The Negative Traits Thesaurus (Useful for exploring character flaws and weaknesses. Available in physical and digital form.) 
The Emotion Thesaurus (Useful for writing believable emotional reactions to events. Available in physical and digital form.)  
Emotion Amplifiers (Useful for realistic application of secondary elements such as sickness and fatigue which might influence a character's reactions. Free download! No paperback version, as far as I know.) 

I have found these to be invaluable because not only do they provide a list of traits, but they also offer such information as potential reasons for a particular trait, behaviors associated with it, and what traits in other characters might highlight or aggravate your character based on the traits the first possesses. They also have a set of more limited but still useful thesauri (such as ones for physical features, talents and skills, and emotional wounds) online here. The character wounds one is especially useful in exploring various elements of a character's backstory and how various events would likely shape them as a person, so I recommend you check that one out.

3. Take them for a test drive. 
This traces back to my note about being able to observe a person in situations and better know them by their reactions to what happens. There is, in fact, a difference between having a head knowledge of a person or character's traits and knowing how those traits translate into their behavior. For example, you might know that a person dislikes spiders, and from that knowledge you might extrapolate that they will react negatively should they encounter an actual spider. You could always learn from a secondary source how extreme their reaction is, but until you actually see it happen, you have only a head knowledge of their probable reaction, not drawn from experience of any kind with watching them actually react.

With characters, I've found that of all the various kinds of prep work I could do during their development, one of the most helpful things to do is to follow writing prompts using them, or throw them into character chats wherein they react in real-time to other authors' characters (and yes, I'm aware the authors are still doing the work, but trust me when I say that the method makes a difference). For instance, if I asked you how your character would react to a random dog growling at them, you could tell me that the character is afraid of dogs and would react accordingly, or you could write a scene wherein the given scenario happened and show me that way. This is probably more effective in testing whether the character development you've done has been effective rather than necessarily coming up with anything new, but it can still help. Sometimes things look just fine when you're scribbling them onto a list, but when they're actually brought to life, you might find there's some related detail you haven't considered (or you may choose to experiment with different details and see how it fits). CCing, however, has helped me at every stage of development. There's just something about throwing a character into a room (or forest, or whatever) with a character neither you nor they know fully, with another author whose mind works differently from yours guiding the other side of the conversation.

4. Ask "Why?" until you've completely run out of things to discover (as far as you know). 
This is, honestly, one of the main things I do with any kind of development in my writing -- whether I'm exploring a character, their culture, or the way their natural world works (if it's not the real one). If you think about it hard enough, there's usually a reason for most things in the world. Like, let's assume again that your character is afraid of dogs. Why? Is it just because they're loud, or did he/she have a bad experience with one earlier in life? Look into that, and also consider what other implications the reason behind that fear might generate.

My second book, 'The Merchant's Son', takes place in a bordertown wherein there's a lot of racial tension between the people from within the borders and those from without. That's all well and good to know, but why is there tension? Well, I figured, maybe the people from without felt like their territory had been infringed, and so they didn't take to their neighbors too well. This might lead to them performing acts of varying levels of resistance towards those from within the borders, who would retaliate by providing their own methods of resistance. Over generations of this tension building and running ever deeper between the nations, there would grow a common belief on either side that the people from the other side of the border were universally terrible (or nearly so), which would only foster the feelings of hostility and drive tension levels higher.

So here I've taken a surface detail that I'd already established about the cultural setting of my story and gone deeper to investigate the reasons behind it, which gives further insight into both cultures and also hints at what attitudes my characters might have inherited by being born on one side of the border or the other. Likewise, exploring the reasons behind surface traits and attitudes in your characters (whether a fear of dogs, a distrust of their parents, or simply a dislike for the number 7) may help you to understand the way they think and, as a matter of course, explore what other consequences their attitudes -- whether conscious or no -- might have on their behavior.

5. Read books about characters you love and study what makes you love them. 
It always comes back to reading, doesn't it? Well, I imagine that makes sense. After all, you'd be hard-pressed to create any sort of great art without first studying what's done before and how it was accomplished. Otherwise you're basically running blind and going off of your instincts, uninformed by any accomplished sources, which isn't likely to help much. Of course, you shouldn't try to copy other people's characters, as this might get you anything from a complaint about them being unoriginal to someone calling you out on plagiarism (which is a serious charge). Besides which fact, you are an artist, a creator of worlds, ones which can come from no mind but your own. Why would you want to rip off the product of someone else's creative process?

Regardless, there are some elements which most well-developed, beloved characters have in common, even if they're nothing alike in background or personality, and the more you read of the characters whom either you or those you trust love, the better equipped you will be to answer questions such as, "What makes a character likable? What combination of traits could potentially turn a reader off to my character, and if those traits are central to them, how can I make the combination work anyways? Is there a gap somewhere in the list of things I've considered about who this character is and why they are the way they are?" Basically, when trying to find ways to become a better writer, read, read, and then read some more. Repeat ad infinitum.

In summary, character development is a complicated process, but there are many ways to make it easier on yourself, or at least to make the tireless work you do to get it right as effective as possible. I won't tell you to stick to one method, nor to use all of them, because no two minds work exactly the same way, and therefore what works for one person may not work for another. What I do hope is that you'll come away from this list today with a little less fear of the process. But be patient with yourself. Creating new worlds and people from the ideas swirling around in your head is a tremendous feat, and it won't always come easy, but that's okay. As Theodore Roosevelt once said,

"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty... I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."

So what do you think? What methods do you generally use for character development? Do you have any that I haven't listed here, or maybe some elaboration on one of the points? What's your favorite character worksheet that you've found? I'd love to hear about it! And possibly check it out for myself... Even after years of working with the same characters continuously, I keep finding out little details that I'd never considered. My family says I talk about my characters and fictional worlds as if they're real and I'm just finding out more about them as I go along, and sometimes it does honestly feel that way. I wonder if that's a good sign or a sign that I need help with my problem of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality...

But, of course, I digress.