Saturday, January 19, 2019

Top Three Fantasy-esque Phenomena found in Real Life (Lauricia)

I love the sense of grandeur and awe that an amazing fantasy setting can produce. I will forever be entranced by well-described castles, elven tree cities, dwarven mountain catacombs, and dragon eyries, as well as some of the more spectacular magical elements those locations can contain. Sometimes, however, the world we actually inhabit contains fantastic elements that exceed the imagination of any author. Here I list the top three I have recently discovered.

The Rainbow Eucalyptus

When I first saw a picture of this tree, my instant reaction was, “Who in the world would paint a tree? The mosaic-like pattern of bright colors on the rainbow eucalyptus look too staged to be real, but it turns out that rainbow eucalyptus are a thing. Native to the Philippines, this tree can be found in a limited number of other places where the air is warm and the ground is wet. It can grow six feet wide and over 250 feet tall in its native habitat. Its vivid colors come from the random shedding of patches of bark. The newly exposed bark starts out a bright green color, then fades to darker green, blue, purple, pink-orange, and maroon in that order. Because the shedding of bark happens randomly, different patches of the tree exhibit different colors, giving the tree its rainbow effect. You can view several pictures of this tree here.

Fata Morgana

When I was a teen, there was a song (which I can’t remember the title of) about building castles in the sky. Apparently another song about the same idea is gaining notice now. All of this recognition begs the question, what does “building castles in the sky” mean?

The phrase is based on a type of mirage known as the fata morgana, which occur frequently near the straits of Messina. Named after Morgana le Fey in Arthurian legend, this type of mirage is built of multiple images that compile to look like floating castles and cities, among other things. Their name comes from the archaic belief that Morgan created these images to lure sailors to their deaths. Added side note: this natural occurrence is also responsible for the myth of the Flying Dutchman and other ghost ships.

To learn more about the fata morgana, check out this detailed (but slightly colorful) article on

A parahelic circle (photo source: By Commander John Bortniak, NOAA Corps - 
Image ID: corp1608, NOAA Corps Collection, Public Domain,

The Parahelion

Also called the sun dog, the parahelion is another form of optic phenomenon that occurs when sunlight is refracted and scattered from ice crystals in the atmosphere. A parahelion appears as bright patches of light in a halo path around the sun and can occur anywhere in the world. The ultimate parahelion, manifests as four spots of light: one each above, below, and to the right and left of the sun, all at a distance of about 22 degrees away from the sun. A really crisp parahelion will even include a parhelic circle, which is a horizontal white line crossing the sky on the same level as the sun.

You can see a stunning example of the parahelion here. Although there is some debate about whether the occurrence in this video is real or staged, it’s an excellent example of the amazing effect the parahelion could possibly produce.

I'm curious to know what awe-ispiring, sense-of-mystery-inducing things you have found lately. Please share them with me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Writing Updates, Free eBooks, Book Releases, and Plans for 2019 (Lizzie)

I haven't done a writing update in a while, and since my Writing Life post coincides with the new year and my birthday, I thought it'd be a great time to review 2018 and gaze into 2019. Fortunately, I'm pleasantly surprised (and just surprised in general) at what's happened in the last fifteen or so months. So here's what's happened and what's happening.

1) I wrote five short stories! And I'm working on a sixth with a seventh planned! (Two of these are available for free.)

Short stories. I didn't see that coming. I thought I'd stick to novels since my attempt to write a 20K novella ended up a 120,000 novel. But I really enjoyed writing the shorts (all about 9,000-12,000 words) and will probably write more of them after I finish the ones I have planned. 

"How to Hide a Prince" was published as part of Fellowship of
Fantasy's anthology Tales of Ever After. The ebook is
available for FREE here.

Short story #2 is a retelling of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."
It's a cute story with a lovable automaton,
and it is available for FREE here.
Blurb: Janawyn Stahl is convinced there's a connection between her godfather's
suspiciously talkative automaton named Theo and his lost nephew,
but can she protect Theo from the evil Mouse King long enough to find out?
Stories #3, 4, and 5 aren't out yet, but I can give you a few hints about them. Story #3 is due out in April as part of ENCIRCLED, a fairy tale retelling collection with a few authors your might recognize from the blog. My story is "A Spell's End," and it's a quite different Nutcracker retelling from "The Seventh Crown" and is closer to the ballet. ENCIRCLED has a beautiful cover, so stay tuned for our cover reveal! Stories #4-7 are actually a foray into steampunk (with some faeries throw in too), so something new for me. I'm really enjoying working on the collection, called STAR CLOCK CHRONICLES. I'm not sure when it will be out.

2) To Catch a Magic Thief is up for pre-order and releases in February!

As for full-length novels, I edited and re-edited and wrote a epilogue for To Catch a Magic Thief, the next book in The Magic Collectors series (The Rose and the Wand being the first). This is the story that started out as a 20K novella. It's about Alexandria's sister Gabriella and her unsuitable suitor, Marcel. Full of mystery, humor, romance, danger, and a terrible curse, it's a story I'm excited to share.

To Catch a Magic Thief is available fro pre-order here.

3) The Rose and the Wand was chosen for Fellowship of Fantasy's November 2018 Book of the Month!

This was a delightful surprise, and I really enjoyed connecting with the FOF Book Club (a FaceBook group). If you're not a member, consider joining. Most books chosen are available for free at the beginning of the month.

In addition to the above news and 2018 review, I enjoyed a few book signings, which included getting a few copies of The Rose and the Wand into a local bookstore. As for writing plans for 2019, I'll be working on publishing To Catch a Magic Thief  and Encircled, finishing Star Clock Chronicles, and finishing the next Magic Collectors books, THE KING'S SPELL.

I hope your 2019 goes well!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Top 3 "Epic" Escapes (Julie)

A few months ago, I had what I like to term as one of my "adventure" dreams. A group of bad guys was chasing me through this house because I had something they wanted. The house turned out to have an unlimited amount of doors to run through. The more I ran, the more doors kept appearing. It was kinda like the house wanted me to escape. I did eventually escape from the evil gang of whoever they were.

I tend to have quite a few of those "adventure" dreams to where I'm trapped but somehow find a way out. If only writing escape scenes were as easy for me as they are for my brain to come up with in my dreams!

If you've ever read any fantasy, sci-fi, or pretty much any fiction story, then you've probably read dozens of escapes...some death defying and others slightly implausible, but still fun nonetheless.

So journey along with me as we explore three "epic" escapes from some of my favorite adventure books.

1) Imagine if you suddenly found yourself in your nightmare, in the flesh, being chased by an enormous house on two chicken legs maned by a large, evil cat (who wants to eat you)? Your options include outrunning a chicken house, getting squashed by said chicken house, or get eaten by large, evil cat. Unfortunately, you know you can't really outrun the house. It does have longer legs than you. Just as you except to get squashed or eaten, your rescue arrives in the form of a small, yellow convertible driven by a demented looking clown twice the size of the car. The clown hops out and distracts the chicken house while you make your getaway in the toy car.

Sound pretty awesome? Check out the whole story here: Nightmares by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

2) For this adventure, you find yourself burglarizing the local library (gasp)! Your objective: abscond with the bottled ship, USS Stargazer, and return it to a suspected witch. You and your friends gain the ship and all is going well when you come face to face with the school bullies. Who also want the ship. And will beat your brains out to get it. Your friends yell at you to run, as you have the ship, and they will delay the bullies. The only way out of the library is through a second story window. Options: get beaten to a pulp or smash through glass and plummet to the ground. You choose the window. You plop a piece of candy in your mouth and run straight through the window. Wait, a piece of candy? Yes, but this isn't an ordinary piece of candy. It's an Ironhide, which makes your body as strong as iron. So crashing through a window and plummeting two stories is nothing. You make your escape just as a police car heads toward the library.

Want to know more about this peculiar brand of candy? Check it out here: The Candy Shop Wars by Brandon Mull

3)  This one may be more familiar to you. You've just destroyed a powerful, dark magic ring and saved the Earth. But now you're stranded on a rock as the mountain erupts and spews lava all around you and your best friend. Options: well...there really aren't any options. As you lay there thinking about your home and what could have been and listening to your best friend mourn the loss of the love of his life, giant eagles swoop in and carry you away to safety. Talk about an unexpected escape from certain death!

Many of you may have guessed this famous escape from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien.

These are just a few of the terrific near-escapes to be found in books. If you've read an award winning escape, I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Lord of Dreams by C.J. Brightley (Laurie)

If you've been following Lands Uncharted for a while, you probably already know how much I adore audiobooks from posts such as my Top 3 Audiobooks and my reviews of Dragon's Curse and Beggar Magic by H.L. Burke. So you can imagine how quickly I jumped at the chance when C.J. Brightley, an author whose work I've been wanting to read for some time, offered to give out a few free Audible codes for her book, The Lord of Dreams (thank you, C.J.!!). And I'm so glad I did!

The Lord of Dreams opens with Claire on her sixteenth birthday, disappointed that her ordinary life falls so short of the adventures she dreams up. As she falls asleep, she finds herself in a dream that seems far too realistic, faced with a beautiful, terrifying man who announces himself as the villain in her tale as he fulfills her wish for an opportunity to be a hero. Tasked with the goal of saving an imprisoned fairy, Claire discovers that being a hero is far less glamorous than she'd envisioned and that her own tendencies can often be cowardly and petty rather than heroic. With the help of several new friends, Claire manages to save the fairy and return to her normal life.

Over the next few years, Claire encounters the enigmatic "villain" - the King of Faerie - on several more occasions. Then Feighli, one of the friends who helped on her original quest, shows up in her mirror with an urgent plea. In the midst of a raging war, the King of Faerie has been kidnapped and named Claire as the only one who can rescue him. Though confused why she might be able to rescue him and whether he's even worth rescuing, she agrees to help. Armed with only a butter knife, Claire ventures into the land of the Unseelie to seek the Faerie King and finds freeing him from his prison to be a simple task compared with restoring his tormented mind. Her attempt to bring him to safety and sanity blends her dreams with reality and overturns her assumptions in ways she could've never imagined.

I had seen this book likened to The Labyrinth, but otherwise I went in with very few expectations of where it would go. I'll admit at first it seemed like a girl's random adventures in Faerie, but I'm so glad I kept going because it turned into so much more! Every encounter that appeared random at first came full circle later in the story, and the world of Faerie became increasingly fun to explore. The writing was beautiful, and while I at first found the transitions between the real world and dream world a bit confusing, the narrative worked really well if I was just willing to stop thinking so hard and go with it. :) My absolute favorite part of the book was the rapport between Claire and the Faerie King - their interactions were so charged with emotion and fun to interpret, and their relationship became so much more profound than I anticipated. The ending completely satisfied my reader's heart, plus made me want to read it all over again to put all the connections together better in my mind (and to relive some favorite moments!).

If you enjoy a mingling of dreams and reality and exploring a unique vision of the Faerie world, I would highly recommend The Lord of Dreams! I also highly recommend the audiobook - the narrator had a wonderfully soothing voice and did a great job bringing the characters to life with different voices and accents. I do want to note that the main character is in her twenties for most of the book, but it was clean enough to be appropriate for teens.

What do you think? Have you read any books that take place in Faerie or take a character back and forth between dreams and real life? Do you like books that read like an imaginary romp, or do you prefer a more tangible, linear feel?

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Top Three Reading Resolutions for the New Year (KaLyn)

The 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge has ended! How did you do?

After adjusting my goal half-way through the year, I managed to squeak by in the end with twenty-four books. Twenty-four books is a realistic goal for me, and I'll be sticking with it again this year. But I will be changing some reading tactics.

More Focus

Oh, how the marvels of technology have influenced the flow of information and the formats in which we consume it. Don't get me wrong. I love tech. It's part of what drew me into the world of coding and software development before I left the workforce to homeschool our youngest child who is both gifted and challenged in some of the same ways I am. But it is those same tech changes that continue to impact my attention span through overstimulation.

So, this year, I aim to reign-in my screen time and use of technology by doing more work the old fashioned way - books and paper - and to set boundaries for when and how long I do fire up a computer, pick up a smartphone, or even read on an e-reader.

More Audiobooks

Sometimes it's nice to have someone else read to you, especially after you've been staring at words on a screen all day. Even with a nice set of glasses to reduce blue light exposure it can be taxing. Plus, audiobooks are great for road trips.

More Fiction

Only a third of the books from my Goodreads challenge last year was non-fiction, but it doesn't reflect the amount of time I spent reading non-fiction. I often combed over passages, materials from professional development classes, and various articles multiple times.

Honestly, learning is somewhat of a compulsion for me so my consumption of non-fiction will not change. However, I do plan to spend more time reading fiction. Starting with two books releasing this month that I've been looking forward to reading: Black Blood, the conclusion of the Children of the Blood Moon series by S.D. Grimm and Flare, the second book in the Firebrand Chronicles by J.M. Hackman.

Do you have any reading goals for the new year?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Blessings (Lauricia)

Greetings and happy New Year! I hope this first day of 2019 finds you warm, well, and surrounded by love.

What is it about the new year that makes this time so special? It is the magic inherent in beginnings. All of that unrealized potential…all of the possibilities yet to be explored…beginnings call us with whispers of starting afresh and living better. Whether we go to bed early or stay up late to celebrate, we all experience a sense of relief when it comes time to put an end to the old, and we look forward with anticipation to the new.

As Christmas has ended and the busyness of the season winds down, I’ve been reflecting on the upcoming year and what I hope to make of it. This is not typical for me, as I eschew New Year’s resolutions in favor of working on my issues as they arise or become known to me. However, I’ve been considering the adage that “failing to plan is planning to fail,” and I’ve determined that my sanity will benefit from a bit more structure in my schedule. With the new year upon us, what better time to make a new plan?

How about you? What do you hope to accomplish within the span of a dozen new months that stretch on the horizon? How do you plan to make it happen?

As you read this in the first, fresh hours of 2019, I hope your year brings 365 days of realized potential and fully tapped possibilities. I hope your beginnings are successful and your fresh starts abound with new life. I hope each day is filled with beauty, wonder, and magic, and I hope the stories you write have enchanting endings. Most of all, I hope your year overflows with grace and love.

(And lots and lots of good books!)