Friday, September 17, 2021

Weekend Reads: The Fairy Tale Enchantress series by K. M. Shea (Rachel)



I have always loved fairy tales. As a teen, I devoured all of Andrew Lang’s colored fairy tale books. Then, I discovered the wonderful world of fairytale retellings. It was only a few years ago that I found K. M. Shea’s Enchanted Fairy Tale series. This then led to the series I am sharing about today, The Fairy Tale Enchantress series.

Angelique begins the series as a young enchantress-in-training with massive reserves of power. That impressive magic is tied to her core magic, war magic, specifically the ability to feel and control multitudes of sharp objects in an area. Because of this core and its potential for horrible consequences should she turn evil, the Conclave, a governing body over the world's magic users, place strict constraints on her. They abused her in subtle and not so subtle ways like gaslighting, the constant assumption of her motivations being evil, and/or threatening to seal her magic. This has been going on for years before the beginning of the first book.

Hope that Angelique will get a chance to thrive comes in the form of her new master, Everiste, who appears at the beginning of the first book in the series. He begins working to undo the years of damage caused by the Conclave and others on her psyche. However, the damage is more extensive than Everiste initially thought. But before he can make much progress, Everiste is captured by a group of power-hungry evil magic users, and the pair of them are separated.

The series of six planned novels (four of which are published now) follows Angelique through the arduous process of finding and rescuing Everiste. She grows as she makes this journey, learning to heal through the love and acceptance of many people outside her insular world of magic users. She does this while working to stop the evil magic users from attacking governments and kingdoms to subjugate the non-magic users. She is constantly thwarted in her search by desperate cries for help. Unable to stand by while others are harmed, she is compelled by her tender heart to assist them. Yet, not without cost to herself and her missing master.

What I love about this series is K. M. Shea’s accurate and beautiful portrayal of personal growth and the process of overcoming abuse. It is rarely a quick or easy process. And some scars are always going to be there even after we heal.

The books are engaging and entertaining. The characters are real and become almost like friends. I am eager to read the last two books when Shea releases them. So far, each new installment has been worth the wait.

Written as a parallel series to her Timeless Fairy Tales series, K. M. Shea’s The Fairy Tale Enchantress series can stand alone. However, I strongly encourage anyone interested to read it after the first series for a deeper level of enjoyment as you get to see some of the events through Angelique’s eyes.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Interview with Allison Tebo (The Goblin and the Dancer Blog Tour)

We are so excited to welcome Allison Tebo to Lands Uncharted today! Allison is a fun author of fairy tale retellings whom I've had the opportunity to connect with through the Facebook group we founded together, Faith and Fairy Tales, and she is such a kind, thoughtful person. And she just released a new book, The Goblin and the Dancer - we get to be a part of her Blog Tour to celebrate! I'll include more information about the book and Blog Tour below (including a fabulous GIVEAWAY!), but first, let's hear from Allison!

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am a Christian author in my late twenties. I am the youngest of four children and I have a twin sister. I have a background in sales, but I now spend most of my day writing conversations between imaginary people. When I’m not writing fairy tales, I’m writing action adventure speculative fiction for T Spec Fiction, the e-zine I run with my three sisters. When I’m not creating new worlds with a keyboard, I love to create them with paint or charcoal by utilizing my certificates in cartooning and children’s illustrating from London Art college. When not dabbling in the imaginary realm, I enjoy baking, reading, and defending my title of Gif Master!

Ha, Gif Master is a title worth defending! What prompted you to start writing? Are you one of those authors who knew you were meant to write since childhood, or did it come as a discovery later in life?

I was telling stories with my Legos, dolls, and plastic dinosaurs for as long as I can remember, but I actually started writing at the age of ten, because I was imitating my big sister. My first story was a one page mystery, a very bad one. It has since been destroyed.

Even though I officially started out my writing career because I was imitating someone else, I think the career choice was rather inevitable. I grew up in a family of storytellers and was surrounded by storytelling day and night. It definitely didn’t take me long to start writing simply because I had to! The stories had to get out.

Sometimes it does feel like the stories decide to be written rather than an author deciding to write... Which fictional character (book or movie) do you most relate to, and why?

One character I relate to a lot is Joy from Inside Out. She is highly motivated, almost solely motivated, by helping others and she has a lot of enthusiasm and zest for life. She’s almost aggressive in her friendliness and helpfulness and she loves intensely. She’s very energetic and enthusiastic, but she also has a tendency to micromanage. I don’t usually relate to a lot of characters in fiction, but I saw so much of myself in Joy that it startled me.

What a great character to relate to! We’re all about exploring new worlds here at Lands Uncharted—if you could choose one place to visit, real or fictional, where would you go?

Ah, what a hard question! If I were visiting a fictional world I suppose I would have to pick Narnia: it’s the imaginary world that I’ve yearned for the longest. If it were a real world location, I would pick the Wizard of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC. It looks like an amazing little place dedicated to one of the best book series in existence.

Ooh, I've never heard of that theme park! I bet it's amazing! Now, please share one of your favorite writing tips.

When you’re done writing your book, don’t immediately submit it to beta readers. I see a lot of newbie indie authors do this. Definitely have someone with strong developmental editing skills go over your draft first. Make sure your story is solid, structurally, before rushing into proof reading. Be ready to accept instructive criticism and to rewrite your book until it is truly polished work.

Completely agreed. Your newest book, The Goblin and the Dancer, released on September 10th! Congratulations!! What inspired the Villain’s Ever After series, and how did you choose The Steadfast Tin Soldier for your retelling?

The Villains Ever After collaboration was the brainchild of the brilliant Camille Peters. I saw her pitch for the series in a Facebook group and it was such a fun idea that I asked if I could participate. Ultimately, twelve fairy tale authors assembled with the goal of making cross promotion fun by collaborating on a fairy tale series with villainous twists.

As for The Steadfast Tin Soldier, I’ve had an infatuation with goblins (or any ugly little creature) for some time. I had also watched a YouTube video where a Lego orc had a crush on Arwen that, alas, didn’t work out, I found myself thinking that the ugly guy should have had a fair shot at winning the girl’s heart. I was determined to do an elf and goblin love story and was on the lookout for an opportunity to present itself. When I joined the Villains Ever After collaboration shortly thereafter, I began looking through fairy tales to retell and discovered, with delight, a reference to a villainous goblin in the story of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Here, at last, was my opportunity to write the goblin and elf romance. The rest is history!

Aww, now I'm even more excited to read it! What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of writing fairy tale retellings?

That’s a hard question! I love so many things about the fairy tale genre. I love the allegorical elements, the strange and lighthearted oddities, the fantastic creatures and wondrous settings. But I think, ultimately, writing fairy tales is very cathartic. When the world doesn’t make sense, I can still take something weird and try to inject logic and reason into it. I’m not able to answer all the worlds’ questions, but I can provide answers for why Cinderella’s father married the wicked stepmother! Writing fairy tales is a way for me to bring answers, order, and clarity to a part of my mind that craves it. I also love stories that almost demand sweet endings. There’s enough sorrow in the world: I love making people laugh and giving readers the assurance that they will be completely satisfied and happy when they reach the final page.

My least favorite aspect of writing fairy tales? Probably all of the connotations for overly fluffy romances, instead of good, solid stories. That, or the people who tell you you’re not a ‘real’ writer because you write retellings instead of creating your ‘own’ plots. How frustrating!

Ugh, that is definitely frustrating. Can you give us any insights into your next project?

I’m plotting out several more fairy tale retellings. One is based on Jack and the Beanstalk and set in a world inspired by Vietnam/Cambodia and another is a Pied Piper set on a fictional tropical island! And, as always, I create fairy tale flash fiction and fairy-tale themed articles and games on Patreon every month!

Ooh, fun! Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Allison! Congratulations again on your new release! You can connect with Allison on her website, Instagram, Patreon, Facebook, newsletter, Amazon, and Goodreads. And here's the back cover blurb for The Goblin and the Dancer:

Grik the goblin spends his days as a janitor cleaning the Metropolitan Dance Hall, drawn to the Elvish world and tired of the darkness of his underground home. He secretly pines for the ballet company’s lead dancer, Rosanna, but his own ugliness and shyness stand in the way of confessing his love.

When a handsome soldier named Paul appears on the scene to make a bid for Rosanna's affections, Grik’s jealousy bubbles over and he commits the unthinkable, plunging all of them into the river and down into the depths of the earth.

Determined to redeem himself, Grik leads Rosanna and Paul through the place he calls home: but even a goblin can’t be prepared for everything that is found underground. Trapped in the dark, nightmares both within and without rise to the surface, threatening to destroy them all.

A magical and heartfelt retelling of The Steadfast Tin Soldier about finding your worth.

Doesn't it sound fantastic? And that cover!! You can purchase The Goblin and the Dancer on Amazon. Oh, and did we mention something about a giveaway? :) You can enter for a chance to win HERE. Good luck!

Don't miss the other stops on the Blog Tour!

Sept 10th

Sept 11th

Sept 12th

Sept 13th

Sept 14th

Sept 15th

Sept 16th

Sept 17th

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Story Snippets: On Stories by C.S. Lewis (Sarah)



This week, I have something a bit different to share—a snippet on stories from one of my favorite authors (C.S. Lewis) on the value of re-reading and what makes a story meaningful, from his essay On Stories:

The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain ideal surprisingness. The point has often been misunderstood. The man in Peacock thought that he had disposed of 'surprise' as an element in landscape gardening when he asked what happened if you walked through the garden for the second time. Wiseacre! In the only sense that matters the surprise works as well the twentieth time as the first. It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact that delights us. It is even better the second time. Knowing that the 'surprise' is coming we can now fully relish the fact that this path through the shrubbery doesn't look as if it were suddenly going to bring us out on the edge of the cliff. So in literature. We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties. Till then, it is like wasting great wine on a ravenous natural thirst which merely wants cold wetness. The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have again the 'surprise' of discovering that what seemed Little-Red-Riding-Hood's grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia.

Lewis has much more to say on the theory of story, which you can read in the full essay online or in his book On Stories And Other Essays in Literature, but I love the idea of meaningful stories being worth revisiting. What do you think? Do you re-read to savor your favorite tales? Do you think a story must be re-readable to be worth reading the first time?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Weekend Reads: The Seventh Sun by Lani Forbes



My Favorite Book of 2021

I sort of stumbled onto The Seventh Sun. It pulled me in from the first page. I read The Seventh Sun early in the year, and while we still have three months left in 2021, I seriously doubt another book will dethrone it.

Since this is a clean reads site, I want to be up front for any parents who are looking for clean YA reads for their teens and for more sensitive readers. The Seventh Sun is a clean read and would be rated PG-13. There are a couple of caveats. Human and animal sacrifice is a part of the culture. While the human sacrifices are not on the page, they're heavily implied and animal sacrifice, while not graphic is a bit closer to the reader. Also, there is a sensual scene with temptation to take a physical relationship too far. It's realistic and provides an opportunity for reflections on boundaries. However, this makes the story more appropriate for older teens or adults. And potentially a pass for readers who are uncomfortable with any physical contact beyond chaste kissing.

Where do I start on what makes The Seventh Sun so good? Setting, character, plot, theme? Yes. All of this. First there's the story world. Based on Mesoamerican culture, the majestic pyramids, lush vegetation, abundance of wildlife, and rich details of cultures of the Chicome people with each region having control over certain elements.

Prince Ahkin with the death of his father and implied self-sacrifice of his mother, he is now responsible for the sun rising each morning and setting each night. And there is the prophesy of the world ending under this, the seventh sun.

Mayana is from the region that controls water. A daughter among a family of sons parented by a sometimes harsh widowed father, Mayana hates making animal sacrifices and drawing blood each time she needs to control water.

Now that Prince Ahkin is the ruler of Chicome, he must select a wife. Six girls including Mayana are selected, each one from a different region with a different power. One will become Prince Ahkin's wife and the other five sacrificed. Except, Mayana is certain some texts have been altered, and she questions the need for human and animal sacrifice. She must enter the sun temple to read the original texts, the forbidden temple located in Prince Ahkin's village.

The six candidates, Prince Ahkin, and supporting cast of family and servants are engaging. There are the devious and endearing candidates, but each one is unique rather than stick figures from central casting.

So we have a great setting and fun characters. But the plot. On the surface, it sounds like another typical dystopian selection to the death book. How can that be something that kept me up way too late with "one more chapter"? Oh that's just the premise. The plot twists and turns more than an Olympic gymnast's tumbling pass. It ends with a "what just happened?" So good! And why it's the best book I read this year. The theme. The book is solidly secular with a polytheistic religion and required sacrifices. At the same time, Christian themes are never out of reach. Love, the needlessness of animal/human sacrifice, sacred texts, self-sacrifice/selflessness, peace, faith. So many themes to explore, especially the religious and political ones.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Art of Momentum (Lydia)

If I was to take a great story and boil it down to its pure essence, I’d say you’d be left with the concept of momentum.  A concept where the plot, characters, action, and setting lead your eyes from sentence to sentence, dancing across the page, until all words disappear and soon, five hours have passed, and you’re left with nothing but an overwhelming sensation of raw emotions mixed with the aftertaste of adrenaline.  A taste unlike anything else.

But crafting a story that compels your reader to keep reading is quite the daunting endeavor.  There’s no “One Size Fits All” formula for writing a gripping story, because as is the nature with any creative art, once a formula for success is created, it quickly becomes formulaic.  Predictable.  Boring. 

So, what are some things you can do to avoid reader boredom and craft effective momentum?

1)      Seek Balance:  Find a balance in your story between predictability and defying expectations.  Don’t be afraid of using tropes or genre styles, but at the same time, challenge them in new and exciting ways.  Keep your story grounded in the rules of the world and in the behavior of your characters, but don’t be afraid to throw in a plot point or two to shift the story in a new direction, one that may be brand-new or even one that can give a face-lift to a current trope.

2)      Focus on Transition:  Whenever your shift from scene to scene, be sure to incorporate a transitional sentence first.  And always start these sentences with the means of how the transition occurs.  The secret to momentum in any story is to treat your words and sentence placement like a camera.  For instance, you’d want to see a character enter their car, before we see them have a meltdown into their steering wheel.  Or we should see a character draw their blade, before they use it to battle a dragon.  The purpose of transition is to use your words to visually help the reader move from scene to scene as seamlessly as possible.

3)      Break the Monotony:  This is especially difficult in journey-based stories, like fantasy or even fairy-tale retellings.  Often times, characters in these genres will spend countless chapters just walking around, talking about their feelings or the plot, going from town to town, without anything really interesting happening.  And, just like a kid can get bored on a long road-trip, a reader can quickly grow bored of a long journey. If you reach a point in the pacing where the journey feels like it’s beginning to stagnate, stop and ask yourself:  What would make this more interesting? Throw in a slice of drama or intrigue.  Find what makes your story fun and flesh that out even more.  The more fun or interesting you make your journey, the more your reader will be delighted or compelled to stay along for the ride. 

4)      Avoid Resolution while Providing Rewards:  One of the last struggles of crafting momentum is when a story provides a resolution to its conflicts too quickly.  Ending the conflict before it really gets off the ground.  This can result in a sort of “Start/Stop” pacing, where a conflict is introduced, it rises to a climax, then it’s resolved relatively easily so the plot can keep moving forward.  Usually, an effective story keeps the conflict rising throughout the entire story in one solid arc building up to the ending.  Focusing on a single overarching conflict will help you create a more seamless story:  the kind where all the events naturally build on one another, leading your reader to a very logical and satisfying conclusion.  However, while you should avoid easy resolutions, you should not avoid rewards.  Rewards are the little moments of celebration for your characters, the moments for joy and peace.  Rewards shouldn’t completely resolve the conflict of the story, but they should provide tranquility and a moment for the story to breathe.  Using rewards sparingly is a great way to invest your reader quickly, and an essential trick to make your reader care before the final climax.

In the end, the key to momentum ultimately stems from finding balance between the familiar and the unique.  Between suffering and success.  Between conflict and resolution.  And, in this delicate balance of simple and complex, is the source of a powerful and enjoyable read.

What are some of your thoughts on momentum and on what makes a gripping story?

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Embracing the Ever-Changing Journey (Mary)

 I don't know if I've ever met a single person who would honestly say "Oh man, I love change!" As humans we're wired to want to stay in the place we're used to (whether that's in terms of the location we live in, our job, etc.), even if it isn't completely ideal, because - well, we're used to it! Sure, it isn't ideal, but if we change things might get worse, so we hang tight.

As writers, we can be the same way about our writing routines. I know I am. When life does its thing and throws changes into my routine or my list of responsibilities or my schedule, it becomes a massive struggle to adapt my writing habits and usually results in me going for weeks or even months without writing as I struggle to hang onto my old routine from the old situation.

And since life rarely stays the same for long, writing has felt like a constant upheaval for many years for me. It's so rare that I actually have the chance to conduct my habits the way I used to, the way I like to.

Back in July I had the privilege of attending the Realm Makers Conference in St. Louis, and while I was there I happened to bump into Allen Arnold, author of The Story of With, and was able to chat with him for a few minutes.

If you've never had the opportunity to do this, I highly recommend that you make an opportunity as soon as possible. Mr. Arnold is one of the most spiritually refreshing people I have ever talked to, and he has a way of just seeming to know exactly where you are in your creative journey, and how to help you get back onto the path if you've tripped into a ditch.

He reminded me that my writing routine today doesn't have to look like it did when I was a twenty-something single, getting up early and writing for hours before work every single day religiously, in order for me to still be productive. Yes, I now have a husband and a baby and we're in the process of buying a house and then we're going to be moving and then I'll have a farm to take care of and then we'll have more kids and then we'll be homeschooling...but I don't have to wait for all of that to go by before I can be productive and serious about my writing.

He reminded me that small steps still get you somewhere. That even if it's years before I can return to the habit of writing for an hour or more every day, it's still worth doing.

"And years from now, when you look back at this time," he said, "I think you're going to be really proud of what you've accomplished."

"Life is chaotic, and we think we have to wait for things to calm down before we're able to create," he continued. "But it's actually just the opposite. When we create, we turn chaos into order. So rather than waiting for the chaos to go away before we create, those chaotic moments are when we need to create the most, to bring order to that situation."

I'll spare you the details of how I burst out ugly crying and all that. Mr. Arnold must be used to that sort of reaction, because he appeared completely unbothered by it and was very gracious.

But since then, I've been focusing on making time to create not just "despite" the chaos of having a one-year-old and trying to buy and house and all of that...but because of it. I'm focusing on embracing the ever-changing journey of creativity and actively looking for ways to adapt, rather than stressing out because I can't find a way to do it the way I used to. When things get hectic and crazy and stressful, I've started looking for opportunities to create - whether it's through writing or crafting or baking - and the difference it makes almost feels worthy of the word "miraculous."

I'm learning that there is so much more joy to be found when we stop obsessing over comfortable campsites and start embracing the joy in the journey.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Weekend Reads: The Beast and the Enchantress by Camille Peters and Rumpled Rhett by Rachel Rossano (Kimberly)

 Happy Labor Day Weekend! It's the unofficial start of fall season and the perfect time to curl up with these two new fairytale retellings!

Today I bring you two different fairytale reimaginings by two different authors that both play with the idea of what if the traditional villain was actually the hero.

First up is The Beast and the Enchantress by Camille Peters!

My Rating: 4.5 stars

This lovely novella takes the idea of the enchantress, the inciting incident antagonist, and asks what happens when she falls in love with the prince she cursed into a beast. This is a very sweet read where the enchantress starts out unimpressed with the prince then is motivated to curse him in an impulsive pique after he hurts her younger sister. I loved the motivation wasn't truly arbitrary or just for laughs evil on Astrid's part. It was misguided and influenced by her own shortcomings in a pursuit of a type of justice. Only the spell also rebounds on Astrid a bit.

While the beastly side of the curse isn't "he's a monster", I appreciated the development of both characters. Redeeming both of your protagonists and making their growth fit takes definite skill. Astrid isn't a "morally grey" villain. Nevertheless, she had some great growth from the brash impulsiveness driving her decisions in the beginning to the change of hearts required for breaking the curse. Overall, a sweet read in a new world that I wouldn't mind reading more of in the future. 

Next we have my review of Rumpled Rhett, the latest retelling from our very own Rachel Rossano!

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Oh my goodness, I cannot explain how much I love this book without spoilers. Nevertheless, I shall do my best. ;)

Rumpled Rhett is a reimagining of Rumplestiltskin and the Huntsman character who appears in various fairytales. Only instead of being the villain, he is most definitely the hero. I adore this story and Rhett and Cat's relationship. The arranged marriage/marriage of convenience between them is one of the most touching and sweetly romantic I've read. Rhett has a lot of groundwork to build in earning Cat's trust due to the fact she comes out of an abusive household. This background and how it shapes Cat as well as her reactions throughout the book have been handled with grace and respect without turning the book itself too dark to handle emotionally. It brings hope and reminds everyone that kindness, respect, and love can fan the embers of waning strength back to a roaring fire spurred on by hope. I applaud Rossano for being able to strike the balance of acknowledging the weightiness of Cat's background and family dynamics without making it uncomfortable or too dark and depressing. 

Rhett, for all his fearsome reputation, is the perfect gentle hero for Cat and I adore them together. I wish I could say more about this gentle intriguing hero but he has so many secrets and twists in this book and I don't want to spoil anything! This reimagining of Rumplestiltskin also features cameos from some intriguing background characters whose hinted stories are sure to add to the wonderfully rich world developing in the Once Upon A Duchy series. I cannot wait for the next book!

How do you feel about villain redemption or being reimagined as the hero in fairytale retellings? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Kimberly A. Rogers