Thursday, April 27, 2017

Life After: Huntress by Julie Hall (Laurie)

Me again :) Sorry for the lack of variety in bloggers this week - I'm helping out Erin, who has hit a very busy stretch at work. Make sure to stop by on Saturday, when we'll have another guest Top 3s post!

Speaking of guest Top 3s posts, a few weeks ago Julie Hall stopped by as part of her blog tour celebrating the re-release of Life After: Huntress to share her Top 3 Places to Travel. Today, I want to talk about her amazing book!

In Life After: Huntress, Audrey wakes up in the afterlife without any memories from her time on earth. Heaven is beautiful, but also mysterious, changeable, and filled with new roles and expectations. As if her lack of memories wasn't confusing enough, when she gets assigned the position she's to fulfill for all eternity, Audrey's certain there's been a huge mistake. She couldn't possibly be cut out to be a huntress, required to battle demons alongside a crew of bulky guys.

Then Audrey meets her trainer. Logan is unnervingly attractive, but also harsh and distant. Their clashes make for long, painful days in the gym, until their first run-in with a demon brings them closer than they could've anticipated. Filled with doubts, Audrey must sort out her true purpose in the afterlife, and whether she can trust the God who brought her there.

I think Audrey was my favorite part of this book. She had a fun voice and great sense of humor, but I also felt very drawn into her confusion and emotional turmoil. She was easy to relate to in her frustration with her new assignment and jealousy of a fellow huntress who seemed a little too perfect. Her chemistry with Logan was palpable and I enjoyed seeing their relationship develop, but I also wanted to yell at them a few times. Just TALK to each other!!! *Ahem* Moving on... :)

The author's depiction of heaven was nothing like I would've ever imagined, but I loved the creativity and vivid descriptions. And I found the idea that God intends for us to continue to grow and have purpose in the afterlife both thought-provoking and appealing. The spiritual theme was subtle for most of the book, but when it came together towards the end it was so powerful I was brought to tears.

Fans of young adult fantasy with humor, action, and romance will definitely want to check out Life After: Huntress! I'm eagerly anticipating the next book in the series, which is coming out later this year! Also, make sure to follow Julie Hall's updates, because she will soon be revealing a gorgeous new cover! I know because I got a sneak peek :)

How about you? Have you read any books that take place in the afterlife? Can you think of any literary couples that made you especially frustrated?

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

All About: Cover Reveals (Laurie)

For my On Writing posts for the rest of the year (possibly beyond!), I've decided to do an "All About" series. All about...what? I'm glad you asked! :) As I've become more involved in the writing world, I've noticed that authors have a lot of catchwords and phrases they use frequently without explanation. It's not a problem when they're addressing fellow authors or readers who have become super-fans, but for most readers and even newer writers they're not familiar concepts. So these posts are for anyone who's seen authors issue invitations to participate in a cover reveal, Facebook party, or street team, but didn't quite know what they meant. Anyone who would possibly be interested in signing up for a newsletter or ARC if they had a better sense of what was involved. I hope these posts can bring clarity to these amorphous ideas, both from an interest / information standpoint but also to encourage you to get more involved with your favorite authors - since you'll finally know what on earth they're talking about :)

First up: Cover Reveals! Cover reveals have become very popular, especially among authors who self-publish or work with smaller publishers, because they're a great way to generate interest in an upcoming book. A cover gives potential readers something to latch onto and can disclose so much more about the genre, story, and / or characters than a simple title. To maximize the excitement around a cover reveal, an author usually schedules it for a certain day and tries to build anticipation in the days or weeks leading up to the event. Many authors also want to get others involved in spreading the word.

...Which leads to my reason for posting on cover reveals. While the concept is easy to understand, I'd wager a lot of people still scroll past links to cover reveal sign up forms because they don't understand what's involved or whether they could really be of any help. So I'll speak a bit about my own experience with cover reveals, though every author or publisher will likely approach it a little differently.

Sign up forms for cover reveals are pretty straightforward. Mostly they just need your name and e-mail address; some will also ask you to check boxes for which social media platforms you plan to share the cover on (don't worry, I've never been scolded for failing to share on a certain social media site if I forgot which ones I checked!) and possibly request that you agree not to share the cover before the official reveal. Once you're signed up, a day or two before the reveal date you'll receive an e-mail with the cover, back-cover blurb, and likely some additional information about the author and book (this collection of info is sometimes referred to as a media kit). Then on the day of the official cover reveal, you share the cover and any other information that makes sense based on the social media platform you're working with. So, for example, if you have a blog, you could share everything they included in the media kit, but on Twitter you'd only have space for a quick line about the book or the cover.

And that's it! It's really that simple :)

So who should sign up for cover reveals? Only people with a successful blog and thousands of Facebook friends? While such credentials certainly don't hurt, they're definitely not necessary. Blogs are great, but a cover is easy to share anywhere no matter how much space you have to post. If you have friends / followers that don't overlap with the author's and some of them may be readers of that genre, then you could be helping that author reach a new audience, even if it's not a giant one. And even if you didn't sign up for the cover reveal but you see others posting the cover on the reveal date, feel free to pass it along! Cover reveals are definitely a the-more-the-merrier kind of event :)

Of course there's no pressure if this is something completely out of your comfort zone, but it does mean a lot to authors (especially smaller-scale authors) to have friends and fans share their excitement about a fabulous new cover and an upcoming book. Plus you get to see the cover ahead of time and feel like you're part of the author's in-crowd :)

Have you ever participated in a cover reveal? How do / would you like to get involved with your favorite authors? What topics would you like to see me cover in future All About posts?

Thanks for reading!

P.S. In case you missed it, our own Jill had her cover reveal for her upcoming new release, Spark, back in March. Isn't it gorgeous??

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Top 3 Writing Exercises (Laura)

To tag off a post from Liz last September that featured inspiring writing prompts, here are some writing exercises that may help you overcome writer's block or get you out of your head when you are overthinking.

3. Change perspective
Rewrite the first pages of your novel in a different point of view. If you've written it in third person, try first. Maybe try writing a scene from a perspective other than your main character's. No need to use it in the story; just use it to get your thoughts moving in a different way. So go crazy!

2. Character journal
Write a journal entry from the perspective of one of your characters. It will not only allow you to strengthen that character and his or her voice, interaction with the world, and relationships in the story; it will help you generate new thoughts and ideas. Think about the details that character would care about and how he or she would express them. Try this with as many characters as you want, perhaps all in reaction to the same event they experienced.

1. Ask "What if?"
What if your book started in chapter two? What if the story took place in the previous century? What if the lovers didn't end up together? Ask yourself specific questions that turn your book on its head or delve into the details in a new way. List them one after the other, as quickly as you can think of them. It's just a list, not an actual change to your book, so you can feel free to shoot them down later. But just by writing them, you are considering new possibilities and thinking outside your book's box with no pressure to commit to any change. See where it takes you and what solutions it opens your mind to that may strengthen your work.

What are some of your favorite writing exercises or prompts?



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Your Turn: Favorite Point of View (Lizzie)

I read a lot of classics and inspirational historical romance, so when I started writing, I thought omniscient POV was the way to go. It was the only truly elegant writing style. Third person would do for modern books, and first person was decidedly lacking in elegance with all those I's (apparently, I'd forgotten that my beloved Jane Eyre and The Prisoner of Zenda were both written in first person).

When I started writing, there was no question that my short stories would be written in an omniscient POV. But, to my shock, when I sat down to write my first full-length novel (The Beast's Enchantress), it came out in first person! Some characters choose their own point of view, it seems, and Alexandria, strong heroine that she is, wanted first person.

I quickly realized first person is not so choppy and inelegant as I had labeled it in my prejudice. The high school English class injunction against using "I," "me," and "we" isn't fair or just. So far, I've written three novels in a POV I'd declared I didn't like and wouldn't write in! When I try to write a novel in third person now, I find myself slipping into first person. It's a good thing I changed my mind about liking it!

Do you have a preference for point of view? Why? What about tense? Do you like first person present, as for Storm Siren and The Hunger Games? I still find it choppy and prefer past tense, but will put up with it for a great story. Do you prefer a narrator as for The Hobbit? Or do you even care so long as it's a great story?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Balanced Perspective (Jill)

Bleeding hearts
During the chaos of preparing for my debut novel Spark's release, I've missed what's happening outside. Winter has finally released its hold on Pennsylvania, and spring has moved in. I managed to get outside to enjoy the sun and take some pictures of what's blooming around our house.

Forsythia: one of the first signs of spring in our community. Unfortunately, our bush needs to be cut back almost every year. It grows really close to the house--too close. In the winter it gets covered with ice and sticks to the siding.

Daffodils: my favorite spring flower. A few years ago, I bought a bunch of bulbs for naturalizing. Now they've begun to multiply and fill the flower garden.

Hyacinths: so pretty, but rough on my allergies. I've only had them a few years, and their dark pink color always surprises me.

In a month or two, the lilac bush will bloom, and the bleeding hearts will show up. I'll also have to buy a flat (or two or three) of my favorite summer flower: pansies. Summer will also usher in the peonies, the daylilies, and the three clematis vines climbing the trellis.
Standing in the sun, the wind messing up my hair, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. In spite of the writing projects on my to-do list, I need to take time for the things I love: planting flowers, spending quality time with family, and other pursuits, like reading or crafting. I always struggle with balance--making sure I've made time for faith, family, work, and personal wellness. I've found if I'm doing fantastic in one area, the other areas suffer. As someone who makes their own hours, it's easy for me to get caught up in the work arena. But after spending some time decompressing during Easter Sunday, I realized how desperately I need "down time," or I'll burn out and my work will be inferior. So I'll keep striving to balance my life. Maybe I'll master it in a few decades.
Have you managed to balance your life? If you have any tips or tricks that work for you, please share them in the comments.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Top 3 Redemption Stories in Honor of Easter (Erin)

In honor of Easter Sunday, I wanted to mention my favorite redemption stories in Fantasy Literature. Redemption is such a powerful theme. We all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus volunteered to take our place and die on the cross. We see this same theme in several fantasy books and movies.

WARNING: All 3 listings contain plot spoilers, so don't read the details if you haven't seen or read these stories!

3. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkein: In the third book of The Lord of the Rings series, we see Sam and Frodo struggling across barren wasteland, in order to destroy the One Ring in the lava of Mount Doom. However, the One Ring exudes a tremendous amount of power for evil and Frodo is starting to be influenced by it. Often, Sam has had to carry the ring for him. As Frodo slips the ring on his finer and claims it as his own, Gollum bites his finger off, and falls, with the ring, into the fire. This story is such a good reminder that we can't resist the power of Satan on our own. We need companions on our journey, to help bear the load, and sometimes, even our enemies have a part to play in God's plan.

2. The Shack by William P. Young: Caveat: This is only nominally fantasy, and I haven't seen the movie, because I am afraid I would cry too much. After a tragic crisis in his family, Mac encounters all three faces of the Trinity in a very personal way, in a shack, that Young describes as "a metaphor for the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged...the thing where shame or hurt is centered." Being able to see and experience God in all of the areas of his hurt and need is deeply healing for Mac and for readers, as well.

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis:  Edmund betrays his brother and sisters for some Turkish Delight (candy, not turkey stew, as I thought when I was little). In order to save him, Aslan volunteers to die in his place. This is the saddest scene in the movie. Lucy and Susan hide and watch as the White Witch and her evil army put the majestic lion to death. When my children were young, we always had to skip this scene, and it still makes me cry every time. I find such comfort in the fact that Aslan would choose to give his life as ransom for Edmund, even when Edmund clearly didn't deserve mercy.


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Right Question for a Character's Foundation (Hannah)

A few weeks ago, in my post on fantasy travel and transportation, I mentioned my love for Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls games. They are computer role-playing games, which means you get to create a character (or several) and play in the world of Tamriel as that character. Usually when I am creating a character, the first question I ask is “What are her moral and political beliefs?” From there, I can figure out what background would lead to such a worldview, and look ahead to what sort of lifestyle she will have. This question is a great place to start because the character’s worldview colors every other aspect of her life.

But it isn’t the best place to start.

Around Christmastime, one of my friends was creating her first character for the Elder Scrolls, and she asked a question I hadn’t thought of. Or, rather, it was a question I had tacked on to the end of the character-creation process. I wondered why she chose to start there, but pretty soon I realized exactly how important her question really was.

Who or what does your character worship? 

The Elder Scrolls universe is high fantasy and completely separate from earth, and therefore has its own mythology… including many different philosophies, pantheons, and religious groups unique to that world. I had a couple of religious characters, but the question of what each character worshipped didn’t even come up until fairly late in the process. Part of this was because for a long time, my characters only differed in the skills they had and the factions they joined. I didn’t even consider playing a religious character until near the end.

But the issue went deeper than just the way I played the game. It came from a subconscious misunderstanding of worship. Consciously, I know better, but I wasn’t really thinking about it and I slid into an easy – but detrimental – mindset regarding the importance of worship.

What you worship isn’t just a cosmetic thing you add on the end of a character. Worship defines every single aspect of life – morals, beliefs, lifestyle, desires, and priorities. I skipped right to the surface with my “moral and political beliefs” question, but my friend looked deeper, into the very heart and soul of a person. Whether someone is religious or not, what he worships is the foundation of who he is.

What is worship, then? Worship is usually used in a religious context; for example, I worship God. But if it were only a religious thing, then non-religious people would be excluded. In a broader sense, to worship something is to show it your absolute devotion, love, and investment. One of the definitions provided by Google is “adoration or devotion comparable to religious homage, shown toward a person or principle.”

A person who worships a deity of some sort places that deity above everything else, and lives his life in accordance with the nature of the deity. Someone who worships something more tangible, like money, will live his life with money as the top priority. Obviously, his lifestyle will be different to reflect the difference in what is most important to him. Someone might worship a political or philosophical idea, making its realization his life’s goal. Others might idolize work, pleasure, power, prestige, a person or group, or really anything else imaginable. In short, asking what the character worships is asking, “What is the foundation of his entire life?”

This Good Friday, I encourage you to reflect on who or what each of your characters worships, and carefully investigate how that priority colors every other aspect of his life. Then turn this analysis inward. Who or what do you worship? I know for me, as a Christian, it is easy to say I worship God. But too often, I can tell by my lifestyle that God is not really my priority. During those times when I prioritize myself, I have to be careful to remember the One I truly want to worship, and not just live my life aimlessly.

We are building up to Easter, the most important holiday of the year. As you search your characters’ hearts and minds to understand them more fully, take a moment to analyze yourself. Are you ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and rejoice in the freedom and grace He offered on that incredible morning?

Thank you for reading!

~ Hannah