Fantasy fiction, reading

What To Read Next?

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So, recently I’ve been complaining a whole bunch about literary genres/styles that have let me down, and made me realize how much published fiction I actually don’t want to read.

The next logical question then becomes: What will I read instead?

It took me a little bit to figure out (I blame stress for getting in the way of such an important decision), but the answer came at last: Switch to a genre I haven’t been near in a long time.

Since I unofficially “gave up” Middle Grade a couple of years ago (because I was “too old” for it), I decided this was a good time to reacquaint myself.

The Morrigan Crow series by Jessica Townsend:

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I’m only about 40 pages into Nevermoor and already am hooked. I really want to know more about this world and what will happen to the characters. I’ve heard some conflicting reviews of this series, but I’m keeping an open mind. Because it’s aimed at ages 10-12, the writing is super simple and easy to read pretty quickly, but not feeling like you rushed through it and didn’t grab the plot points.

(For me, this is a major downside to adult fiction; there are too many authors that write such long, drawn-out descriptions and background that I’ll just skip ahead 20 or 30 pages at a time to get to the part where something actually happens. And usually by then, I’m not invested anymore in trying to care about the characters. I really need a concentrated focus not only to get my attention but also my sympathy. Sorry, adult fic authors.)

Hopefully I’ll have a positive review of Nevermoor to post later!

Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty:

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I loved this author’s debut, Serafina and the Black Cloak. While the sequel unfortunately didn’t do it for me, I was very pleased to hear Beatty has a start on a new series. I like the setting and premise of Willa of the Wood, and it seems to have a more magical atmosphere than Serafina in general, which I can get behind, since American-based fantasy worlds/systems are in rather short supply lately.

(And as much as I love the wave of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings inspired fandoms, I feel like it’s time the fantasy lit community as a whole branched out more. That could be an entire post unto itself.)

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell, and Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee:

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Are adding these to my list technically cheating since I got them for White Fang? Well, not necessarily, because realistically I will read at least one of these. The Train to Impossible Places and Dragon Pearl especially have this sense of good old-fashioned adventure and friendship that’s been sorely lacking in many of my recent choices.

White Fang has been in a real reading slump lately, so I decided to throw some MG at him as well. A few years ago, he “outgrew” the MG he had been reading, so we tried some more lighthearted YA SFF, and that worked well for most of middle school and ninth grade. But then, about 8 months ago, every single title I brought back from the library would just sit…and sit…and sit on his dresser, until it was due, no more renewals, and not even opened.

So I stopped checking the YA section for him, and began passing on the picture books I selected for Muffin after I’d read them at the little guy’s bedtime. It worked. Before the summer was over, he was ready to give The Train to Impossible Places a shot; even this spring, I think he would’ve turned it down. My method is a testament to the power of shaking up your TBR.

Have you read any of these? Have you ever thrown in the towel on a genre or style in favor of something completely different? Let’s get some comments going on this!

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Fantasy fiction, self-publishing

Author Interview: Kyle Robert Shultz, Master of the Afterverse

 

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Q: So, you have successfully launched an entire fictional universe, lovingly described as “The Afterverse.” Can you give us a summary of what this means and the major players involved?

A: The Afterverse is an alternate universe in which practically every fairy tale, myth, legend, and classic story in existence is a real historical event. This combination of stories has led to the development of a “modern” world similar to our own in many ways…except that magic and magical creatures exist in the Afterverse. Currently, I have two series of books set in this world. Beaumont and Beasley takes place in the 1920’s E.A. (Ever After) and revolves around the adventures of detective-turned-Beast Nick Beasley and enchantress Lady Cordelia Beaumont. They investigate cases pertaining to fairy tales and other European mythology. Crockett and Crane is set in the Old West of the United States of Neverica (during the 1890’s E.A.) and centers on monster hunter Todd Crane and U.S. Marshal Amy Crockett. It involves American folklore and legends. I’ve also written a number of short stories and spinoff concepts that delve deeper into other eras and settings in the Afterverse.

Q: Your next releases in the Afterverse are “Deadwood” and “The Gepetto Codex.” Can you tell us a little more about each of those?

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A: Deadwood (releasing June 30) is Book 2 of Crockett and Crane, while The Geppetto Codex (release date TBA) is Book 5 of Beaumont and Beasley. However, they actually retell the same story—the tale of Pinocchio, which has something of a darker edge to it in the Afterverse (not that the original wasn’t fairly dark already). In Deadwood, Todd Crane and his friends fight to save a town from a mysterious magical entity that can possess and control wood, which is a lot scarier than it sounds. The Geppetto Codex focuses on two characters who have remained on the sidelines in the Beaumont and Beasley series thus far: Gareth Llewellyn (a faun) and Sylvia Kirke (a dryad). They travel to Vetri (the Afterverse equivalent of Venice) to investigate sightings of mysterious monks who have the power to transform people into wooden statues. This book also builds on the mystery of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a character who was introduced in the previous Beaumont and Beasley installment, The Hound of Duville and Other Stories.

Q: What are – broadly speaking – your future plans for the Afterverse?

A: The Beaumont and Beasley series will run to at least fourteen or fifteen books. I know how the overall story will end, but I’m not in any big hurry to get there. I’ll write as many books as this series needs to do justice to all the character arcs and storylines that I’ve introduced and give them closure. Books 1 to 3 form a sort of introductory trilogy for Beaumont and Beasley. Books 4 through 8, when complete, will constitute a storyline I’m calling “The Jekyll Saga.” This arc will bring a number of the plot threads begun in the earlier books to a close, though not all of them. A third major arc will begin in Book 9 (title TBA), and a fourth and final arc will bring everything full circle and complete the story begun in Book 1, The Beast of Talesend.

The big storylines which started in Crockett and Crane Book 1, Horseman, will conclude in Book 3, Westenra, to form a self-contained trilogy. However, the series will continue after that with installments that are more stand-alone and less arc-heavy. I have a lot more folklore from this side of the pond that I’d like to use. Book 5, for example, will focus on Canadian legends and history.

I have other Afterverse projects in the works, as well. The Blackfire series, which features my fan-favorite dragon Malcolm Blackfire as a main character, will run to at least five planned books; possibly more. I’m also working on a more modern urban fantasy series with Afterverse elements called “American Gargoyle.”

Q: You recently published your first non-fiction title, reverse psychology writing advice that you’ve appropriately called “Not Write Now.”

A: Yes, that was a lot of fun to write. I wanted to bring something new to the writing-advice market, so I decided to flip writing advice on its head. Not Write Now will explain to you exactly how to avoid writing, but in the process, you just might find yourself writing more than ever before. It’s the book I wish I’d had when I started this journey…because at that point, I genuinely did want somebody to tell me to quit writing so that I wouldn’t be in a constant battle with my inner critic. My hope is that Not Write Now will be the kick in the pants that will help some authors out there to stop listening to their inner critic.

Q: Are you planning to add more non-fiction to your author resume? Give us the scoop on that.

A: I do have one other nonfiction book planned at the moment. It will be called Character Boot Camp, and it will essentially be a bunch of fun exercises authors can use to bring depth to their characters so that they feel like real people and not just cardboard cutouts. It will be in the same humorous vein as Not Write Now. This book probably won’t be released until early 2020, however. Beyond that, I don’t currently have any other nonfiction plans, but I would like to add more titles of this nature to my platform eventually.

Q: In recent months, you’ve made some changes to your platform (for example, shelving the podcast, increasing free stories to newsletter subscribers, relaunching books, adding a Patreon, etc.). For the benefit of other writers considering any or all of these approaches, could you discuss a bit what the decision making process was on what to keep and what to let go of?

A: In general, I try to make sure that my writing always comes first, which is what I would advise other authors to do as well. It’s very easy to fall down a rabbit hole of some other aspect of indie publishing and leave the actual writing process behind—or at least, it is for me. And there are some things, like marketing and a certain degree of social media activity, that we can’t really forgo as authors if we want to be successful. All the more reason to make sure the core of our platforms doesn’t veer away from simply producing good stories. I’ve learned not to bite off more than I can chew in terms of side projects. The podcast was very time-consuming, and while I enjoy writing nonfiction books now and then, I don’t see myself ever committing to a weekly audio production like that again. I know there are many people who manage to maintain a podcast in addition to a fiction-writing career, but I definitely don’t have enough time for both. Boosting my newsletter freebies, on the other hand, is something with a tangible return that doesn’t require me to take time away from story-crafting. Relaunching my books late last year took a lot of time and effort, and it did require me to postpone drafting new books for a while, but it made a big difference for my visibility and sales. The Patreon has thus far been a rewarding addition to my platform which grants me both an additional income stream and another avenue for interacting with fans. However, I paused the Patreon over the months of May and June because I knew I couldn’t do the short stories I was releasing there justice while also working on the full-length novels that many of my readers have been waiting for. In the end, there’s always a delicate balance between reaching new readers and giving current readers what they deserve. If a particular project disturbs that balance, I know it’s time to make a change.

Q: Finally, because this is a topic we don’t get nearly enough updates on, please tell us how Muffin the dog is doing. 

A: She is doing marvelously. I just got her a kiddie pool to splash around in, which makes a big difference during the hot summer months in the Idaho desert. She loves it. And it tires her out, which allows me to have undisturbed writing sessions in the late afternoon and evening while she sleeps. 

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You can visit Kyle at:

Home

http://facebook.com/kylerobertshultz

On Twitter: @KyleRbrtShultz

http://instagram.com/kylerobertshultz

Fantasy fiction, Young Adult fiction

My Love for the Undersung Stiefvater

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In the last 10 years, I’ve only discovered a handful of new authors who really excite me. Maggie Stiefvater is one of them. I adore her flowing, lyrical prose, her in-depth characters, her willingness to try new takes on common mythos or story forms. I have read almost everything she’s published, and been severely impressed by nearly all of it.

Which is why it’s a source of ongoing irony and bittersweet realization for me that I cannot stand The Raven Cycle. When people ask if I’ve read it, with a heavy heart, I roll my eyes and answer, “Yes…and I wish I liked it.”

Why didn’t I like The Raven Cycle? Well, several reasons. One: It relied too heavily on archetypes — the special snowflake (Blue), the tragic star-crossed lovers (Blue and Gansey), the apparently fruitless quest for a lost king. And I thought that wasn’t really a Stiefvater trait. Two: It had wayyyy too many throwaway secondary characters and subplots — again, that felt out of character (for me) for this author. Three: The pacing felt totally off. I honestly thought she could’ve written one novel detailing, start to finish, Blue and Gansey’s particular journey, and then spent the other 3 in the series focusing on all the subplots, like all the psychics and the lost Welsh king and the Raven Academy and dream thieves. Everything seemed to go on tooooo long.

So, in short, her bestselling series is not for me, and it kind of made me sad.

But, the biggest disappointment — in my opinion — was the fact that I was constantly comparing The Raven Cycle to her other books…and found it continually lacking.

The first Stiefvater book I ever read was The Scorpio Races, and from then on, I was hooked. Her style, her characters, the way she slowly unwound a story, so that one could simply enjoy the path she took the reader down, was so glorious and mesmerizing. Since making the transition from juvenile to adult fiction, I’d found myself more and more let down; genres were leaving a strong impression of cliches and worn-out devices; I prayed there had to be more to it than this. When I picked up The Scorpio Races in the library, I didn’t even notice, or care, that it was marked as YA. I was just sucked into the world of man-killing horses off a remote British island, and didn’t want it to end.

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More than re-igniting my love for reading, Stiefvater prose and concepts hinted to me there may be different (better) ways of writing.

While The Scorpio Races is far from a forgotten novel, many fans of The Raven Cycle either aren’t aware Stiefvater wrote other titles, or they haven’t been read. Whenever I see Scorpio getting love on social media, I do a little happy dance.

Ms. Stiefvater has amassed a good bibliography for her age. While her most recent release, All the Crooked Saints, has been getting a bunch of attention, and Raven fandom is definitely going strong, I’ve seen my other favorite of hers, The Wolves of Mercy Falls, sadly sliding into the background.

A few months ago, I introduced White Fang to the catalogue of Stiefvater, and it was such a brilliant experience — for both of us. He fell in love (a bit literally in terms of Isabel Culpepper) with Shiver, then raced through the rest of the series. He was awed by the ending of All the Crooked Saints, and ate up The Scorpio Races. And he wholeheartedly agrees with me about The Raven Boys.

So, what makes this author’s earlier works truly stand apart? Considering that, at any given time across the last year, all 4 books of The Raven Cycle are somewhere on the bestsellers list, why is it that this quartet falls hopelessly short for these bookdragons?

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The Wolves of Mercy Falls is written so compactly; no, it isn’t an action-packed, quick-paced page-turner. It focuses on a character-driven plot, and if you’re after lots of explosions, you’ll need to try something else. But there is such beauty in this slow and relaxed unfolding of the tale of Sam and Grace, Isabel and Cole. And there isn’t a single secondary character or subplot that doesn’t seem to fit or becomes an unnecessary tangent. Stiefvater remembers all these little references and mentions from earlier, and keeps going back to them. She knows just who’s important to each main character, and why they need to pop up again at this point, and why it will matter later to the individual arc. By the last page of Forever, I didn’t think there were any loose threads (apart from one minor niggle, which she then addressed in Sinner).

The characters are not trope-y. Grace is an ordinary teenager, who is thrust into extraordinary circumstances; she isn’t a special snowflake, she doesn’t have a quest, the fate of the world doesn’t rest on her overburdened shoulders. As much as I love Harry Potter, we need to move beyond The Chosen One. It was sooooo refreshing to read about normal adolescents concerned with normal things: their parents, their significant other, friends, teachers, college, if they remembered to charge their phone. It’s real, it’s relatable.

Yet while most of the characters are teenagers, the focus isn’t on high school drama, another huge plus. Grace and Isabel know there are more important things in life, and they want to concentrate on them, rather than get swept up in hystrionics that won’t matter worth a speck in 6 months. Even as an adult, these girls were highly sympathetic.

Successfully writing deep first person POV is tough — and Stiefvater pulls it off. Switching voices and getting the reader to believe you’ve changed narrators is even tougher. She manages this, too. Usually switching narrators trips me up when reading, but not with Wolves. I know Grace, and Sam, Isabel, and Cole, and how they understand each other. I get a look at the relationships from both sides. It’s such a well-rounded portrayal.

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I just didn’t develop the heart for the Raven characters that I do for Wolves and Scorpio. And while Crooked Saints didn’t frustrate me, I simply wasn’t as impressed as I hoped to be. While I’ll happily look forward to what Ms. Stiefvater produces next, I’m rapidly coming to peace with the fact that, for me, her works are in two camps.

Literature is completely in the eye of the beholder. Readers shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that. I believe this is a perfect example of “it just wasn’t my cup of tea.”

And I have honestly tried all of her novels that I’ve read with an open mind. My favorites will remain my favorites; my reasons will stay the same. But this doesn’t discount me from wanting to dive into whatever is printed in the future with her name on the cover. Regardless of the premise, tale, or potential tropes inside.

That’s probably the highest compliment we can give an author.

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Autism, Fantasy fiction, writing

The Speculative Fiction Conundrum

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So, here we are, almost to Realm Makers! (I’ll let you scream as much as you want, by the way, if you’re nowhere near ready.) It’s a big deal, because this is one of the few Christian writers’ conferences that focuses on speculative fiction (that simply means sci-fi, fantasy, retellings, dystopia, alternate histories — all the stuff we can’t know for sure or may be impossible in our world). Although I won’t be there in person, my books will be there (recent drama happened related to that, so cue my own screaming). But I really hope to make it to the conference physically at some point, since I have yet to have the opportunity of attending a writing conference that takes Christian worldviews and the “impossible” stuff and combines them, without batting an eye.

I’m proud to be a spec fic writer; honestly, I don’t see it conflicting with my worldview in the real universe at all, and it actually really rankles me when other people claim the opposite. There are, unfortunately, problems with writing spec fic that go beyond the religious discussions. It can affect many aspects of your author life.

For example, I’ve had a couple of people say they “didn’t get” my work, but they simply never read fantasy (and therefore, I truly wouldn’t have recommended my titles to them). While there’s no hard and fast rule that fantasy can only be read by people who have previously read it, there simply are folks who will never pick up a fantasy genre book in their lives. And while that may hurt your feelings as an author, for the most part, it’s genuinely nothing personal. It’s all about individual taste.

Spec fic has yet to be seen as mainstream, though. No matter the number of superhero and aliens-from-outerspace movies topping the box office, how many TV shows are produced involving time travel and AI and the zombie apocalypse, regardless of the fact that names like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are consistently on the bestseller lists, we’re still considered a “fringe” element of entertainment and the arts.

And tossing aside what I said about not taking it to heart, sometimes that’s tough. When it comes up in conversation that you’re an author, and people ask what you write, and you say, “Fantasy!” and they get this glazed look in their eyes. When you purposefully wait until a certain librarian is on duty to request particular titles, because you really don’t want to have to spell out every single word to the poor frazzled person at the check-out desk. (Yes, this is absolutely my life.) When you can’t watch the season premiere of a favorite show because the rest of your family is watching the playoffs for whatever sport.

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So many of us don’t hold a grudge against the stuff we’re not into; we’re just bored by it, and we’d rather spend our free time analyzing what intelligent life on another planet may look like, how we’d get out of the labyrinth, or learn to cook Middle-Earth style. We don’t say to people, “Oh, my god, don’t waste your time with soccer/antiques/gardening!” Why, then, do we get such rolling-eyes, derisive-snorting, under-the-breath-laughing responses when we admit what our interests are?

It’s why lots of us are willing to travel hundreds of miles to attend a conference with tons of other people we’ve never met, just to be around folks who feel like friends within minutes, when you can simply walk up to somebody else and compliment their Star Trek shirt, and you spend the next 2 hours having coffee with them.

As a spec fic artist of any sort, you can sometimes feel isolated from the rest of your community. Thank God for Twitter, because I found a whole bunch of Christian geeks, before I even knew such a thing existed! And since my local library hired a staff member who watches/reads most of the stuff I do, I truly feel like my immediate social circle is widening. And though there are plenty of very valid reasons I won’t be able to go to Realm Makers, I do still wish I could — because I would, for once, feel at ease extroverting.

Occasionally, we can’t even win with the “mainstream” spec fic folks — the ones that feel faith and spiritual practices are ridiculous. Not that this covers all of them, not by a long shot. But indeed, the blending of Christian beliefs and fantasy or sci-fi or dystopia is a relatively new thing. Too many well-meaning people of the Church felt it was necessary to do away with superstitions and folklore throughout the centuries, until the idea of otherworldly creatures and dimensions and physics were reduced to Disney films. (This perspective also told agnostic/non-believing SF people that there was no room for God in their art, which has been just as damaging.)

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I take issue with so much of this, and I know I’m not alone. So, yes, we can all band together, and hopefully work through our own differences about religion and politics (the unmentionable subjects), and maybe, one day, the entire spec fic community will be on the same page (yes, pun intended).

Especially since Christian SF authors and artists have a lot of valuable stuff to contribute. We can encourage people to think about God, about society, about laws, morals and traditions in a very different way to those who write/draw/act/produce media minus a faith/spiritual-based foundation. We should be invited to the table, to openly debate philosophy and ideology, science and legend. Nor should we receive backlash from churchgoers for including magic and myths and fairytales in our works that also search for God and Heaven.

And we should be promoted just as much as non-SF artists. We shouldn’t get relegated to the back of the metaphorical room simply because of what we write or read or watch. We should have the chance to reach just as many people as our mainstream counterparts.

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I’m facing this quandary right now as I attempt to fix/work more on How To Be A Savage. It’s a completely contemporary piece (one of my very few), and there are days when I know I just can’t. I have to write about unicorns and mermaids and poohkas that afternoon.

It’s important for me to write HTBAS in a “real world” vein, since it’s addressing serious topics in the real world, and I want to make an impact on these things that I feel are necessary to hash out, for the sake of our children and future generations. Sometimes we can’t run off to a distant galaxy to do this (as much as we’d like to, myself included).

And I already know (without running a poll or anything) that this Own Voices novel will interest more people than my fantasy series. There are folks who won’t hesitate to pick up HTBAS, and have never heard of The Order of the Twelve Tribes. And all of this is hard for me not to take personally.

Yet, my goal for Savage is to educate people about autism, on a broader scale than my autistic characters in Volumes 1-5. There are different standards, different expectations — of my own making.

As I said, the conundrum.

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Fantasy fiction, self-publishing, The Invisible Moth

Volume 3: Title and Cover Reveal!

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Yes, everybody, here it is! Making its in-person debut at Realm Makers this year, Volume 3 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes shall be called Healers and Warriors, and this is the cover you need to be on the lookout for. Another fantastic design by The Kyle Robert Shultz (#shultzwithoutac), Healers and Warriors will be available in paperback in the very near future. You can find it on Barnes&Noble.com even if you can’t be at Realm Makers, and online purchases will be possible long after the conference is finished.

I don’t have a concrete release date yet, but I estimate around July 1st. A limited number of autographed copies can be acquired through Kyle at the Realm Makers conference July 19th-21st (so hunt him down while you can — but please be gentle, he still has other covers to create for me). And, as previously mentioned, if you need to place an online order, you’ll be able to do so anytime after I approve Volume 3’s publication.

There have been a few bumps in the road to release for this one, so I (and Kyle) greatly appreciate all of your patience and ongoing support. I’ll be back with more updates soon!

Fantasy fiction, self-publishing, Young Adult fiction

Spotlighting Masters and Beginners!

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One year ago today, I officially put my baby debut on sale, thrust the result of my hard work and long wait to be published into the world, for public consumption. Wow, that makes it sound not quite as pleasant as it actually was. Well, I have to admit, seeing Masters and Beginners on Goodreads, seeing the ARC reviews on blogs, was almost terrifying at first. In a good way.

Anyway, since this is my “bookiversary” (yes, anniversary of the book’s release), I wanted to mark the occasion with the fanfare it deserves! Seen above is the redesigned cover of the first installment in my fantasy series, The Order of the Twelve Tribes, created by Kyle Robert Shultz. The story inside either the first or second edition cover is the same; I switched printing companies, and wanted to do certain things announcing my establishment as an author — like secure a cover designer for the whole series, really increase my presence on Goodreads and Twitter, and build a solid foundation of loyal fans who would move mountains for me. Okay, I’m being slightly facetious on that last bit. But the fandom part is important. To those of you who have been around since the beginning, I want to say (again, but it never gets old) THANK YOU, for all your support and participation and faith in my writing.

So, today I want to go a little nuts, waxing lyrical on my own title, and we’ll celebrate Masters and Beginners: Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes!

The story focuses on the Driscolls, a pretty ordinary family that lives in a pretty ordinary town in Ohio. The reason we choose to follow their tale is because they’re actually descended from a secret organization called The Order of the Twelve Tribes, which knows the forgotten truth of the universe — that faeries, angels, and monsters are real — and the Order protects unsuspecting people from the more unsavory of these creatures.

Sophie Driscoll and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, and their parents, James and Kate, take over running the Annex, a local facility that stores documents and objects related to Order history and the fey. As they officially join the Order, they find themselves immersed in a world of literal magic, and danger.

As if that wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, the new neighbors are demi-fey (half human, half faery), their pets are talking, shapeshifting cats, and I leave Volume 1 off on a twist worthy of the most brilliant/evil author. It ensures that you’ll have to read Volume 2 (see, brilliant) to find out what happens.

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Classified as YA (because I wanted to write something my kids could read before they were all grown up), my contemporary-fantasy-blend series isn’t limited to the ages of 12 to 17. Scattered throughout the text are references to the art and entertainment that helped bring about my inspiration to write this tale, such as Harry Potter, Discworld, Warriors, Warehouse 13 and Doctor Who. My playlist during the writing part of this project also receives its credit, by appearing in the form of lyric snippets at the start of each chapter.

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There are still a few copies of the first edition available, which can be acquired through me (though I only accept cash, check, or gift card, sorry). The redesigned cover/second edition can always be found at Barnes & Noble:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/masters-and-beginners-daley-downing/1126998956. (And they accept credit cards, and often have free shipping deals.)

If you enjoyed Volume 1 and feel inclined to post a review on Goodreads, Barnes & Noble.com, or a blog, that’s fantastic, and I espouse further thank yous still.

This last year has been quite the journey, and I look forward to what comes next! See you all there, moths!

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

My Love/Hate Affair with the World of Shadowhunters

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White Fang has entered the world of Shadowhunters. He finished reading City of Bones last week, and is now onto City of Ashes. He has NO IDEA of the massive plot twists that await before he finishes City of Glass, and I am DYING keeping the spoilers under my hat. But I will absolutely do so for his sake.

Last night we watched the movie of City of Bones, and he and I agreed (I’d already seen it) that most of the acting was great, the plot changes were acceptable, and it was worth viewing.

Without getting into a whole discussion on the book vs. the movie (personally, I liked the movie, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so there), I will say that there were hints towards events portrayed in later books in what was hoped to be the first film in a series. Then production was switched to the TV series, Shadowhunters, which I cannot stand. Sorry, folks.

Anyway, my biggest issue with the foreshadowing is (again, NO SPOILERS, everyone, he reads this blog) is the reminder of the fact that Cassandra Clare repeatedly broke my heart in City of Fallen Angels/Lost Souls/Heavenly Fire. 

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The only reason I pushed myself to finish the whole series was the proverbial: to find out what happened in the end. Although I felt the wrap-up in book 3 was very nice and good and pleasant and fair, once I found out the author had written more, I couldn’t help myself.

Here are my thoughts of books 1-3: OH MY GOSH!!!! What a wild ride! Everyone who likes fantasy should totally read this! Wow, that ending!!!

Here are my thoughts of books 4-6: WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY?!!?!?!!

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I truly felt this was a perfect example of: When the publisher wants more, but the author is tapped out. Plots suffer. Character arcs suffer. Readers suffer. And then so do book sales. And possibly great movies get cancelled, and turned into lame TV shows.

Now, I’m well aware that authors are allowed to change their minds without asking the readers what we think. And some authors can pull off stunning twists that no one saw coming, and we haven’t all fallen down on the floor, crying. But when it comes to The Mortal Instruments, I — and thousands of other fans — firmly believe the series should have ended with City of Glass.

After how much I enjoyed the first couple of books, I felt betrayed by what the ultimate conclusion actually became. Yes, betrayed. I had a bitter taste in my mouth for WEEKS after finishing City of Heavenly Fire.

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I wasn’t even encouraged to try the prequel series, The Infernal Devices. Eventually I did take Clockwork Angel out of the library…and returned it within a week, unfinished. That was over 2 years ago.

The prequel felt so flat, so churned out to feed the demands of an ever-increasing fan publicity monster. At least, to me it did. The banter all felt recycled from The Mortal Instruments, the characters merely Victorian versions of Clary and Jace and Alec and Izzy and Simon. It did not float my boat.

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And then there are the spinoffs. I haven’t touched any of them. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I have touched them — the library copies, to very, very carefully take a peek at the blurb…and then return them to the shelf. Actually, I think I read the first 2 pages of The Shadowhunters Codex. But my enthusiasm for the world as a whole was already seriously waning by this time, so I don’t feel like I missed much by opting to pass.

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However, I caved when The Dark Artifices hit shelves last year.

And then I was back on the floor, writhing in agony. Because of reader’s remorse. Because I knew I shouldn’t have bothered with the 700-plus-page behemoth of confusion and lackluster-ness that was Lady Midnight. I ended up skimming the last several chapters, found out who the (cardboard cut-out) villain was, and didn’t even bother with the epilogue. I don’t care for the characters, or the new plot, and didn’t even see the need for this series to be written.

And, yes, all of this is just my opinion, and there are many happily carrying on with this world. But I am (long) done.

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Last night, watching the movie again, I remembered anew what drew me to the books in the first place — the incredible worldbuilding, the intense potential for character arcs, the depth and breadth of backstory, the wonders awaiting around every corner, creepy and horrifying, or beautiful and admirable. The unwavering optimism of teens in a very challenging situation, sometimes in way over their heads, and how they faced everything with bravery and humor and teamwork — even when their personal feelings about who, or what, the team should consist of were complicated — all of this really won my heart.

Those are the feelings from reading the early books that I really want to hold onto. Let’s hope I can, in the midst of further releases and adaptations that are in danger of making me bitter.

Well, it’s still up to me, how much I take in, and what memories I choose to put front and center. Just like maintaining hope that Clary and company will defeat Valentine and retain the Mortal Cup. Not giving up even when it looks bleak.

Luckily for all of us this is just a fictional world, and we can decide to visit or leave whenever we wish. Though I must admit, I do still sometimes feel sad that I’ve decided to leave.

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

March Mini-Reviews

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Well, it’s a winter wonderland out there! At least for me — and if you don’t care for the snow and are ready for spring, then my apologies. Not too sorry, though — it looks wholly amazing, and I am once again awed by the splendor of Creation.

So it’s time for another round of mini-reviews! I’m already off to a raring start with reading this year (I guess setting my Goodreads challenge at 25 was laughable?!), which means I have more reviews to give!

Let’s start with a bit of nonfiction for a change — this I actually read years ago, but I’d forgotten how well-written it is, and my husband stumbled across it in a largely- unrelated Google search. So I decided to see if our local library still had it.

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Wicca’s Charm is an excellent, objective, and compassionate account from a Christian journalist who spent years researching the modern interest in ancient polytheism and the sudden surge in the practice of nature religions in the late 20th century. She never judged the many people she interviewed for their personal beliefs and customs, and while she found herself drawn deeper into her own faith, she also clearly saw a lot of the ways that the Church has let down so many of the people it’s meant to be building up. I highly recommend this one for anybody interested in bridging the gap between specifically Christian believers and those who are following non-Christian religions.

The next on this list will start a bit of extended whining. Sorry…

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I wanted to enjoy this. Oh, did I ever hope to open the cover and be swept away into a tale of magic and modern legend. Sigh. I’m afraid Enchanted Glass didn’t do it for me. Maybe I was still a little hung over from the anesthesia? But I had a very difficult time following the plot, and constantly got bogged down by the extremely similar names both the protagonists had (Aidan and Andrew), and felt frequently confused by the roles the secondary characters actually played. The housekeeper, Mrs. Stock, particularly was so irritating to me I wanted to chuck something at her, and began skimming the scenes she was in. And then the ending made NO sense to me, and I twisted into a bundle of discontent.

Unfortunately, my malcontent only continued with The Night Circus. Trust me, I’m aching, too…

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After hearing such great things about this novel, it’s been on my TBR (admittedly near the very bottom) for quite a while. I got to page 50 and just couldn’t get into the style. The prose felt neverending, and not really enlightening as to getting the plot going or establishing the character relationships. I struggled on as long as I could, then finally threw in the towel about halfway. When I had yet to reach any actual night circus action. (The auditions for a new illusionist don’t count, sorry, folks.)

At least I had saved my re-read of Shiver until now (after ordering it at Christmas). This will definitely perk me up.

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I read the whole trilogy (minus the “extra” wrap-up, Sinner) a few years ago. Recently, I decided it was time to enjoy The Wolves of Mercy Falls all over again, so I bought the first book. A few weeks ago, White Fang was literally moping (yes, quite literally — sorry, dude) over the fact he was AGAIN at the end of his TBR. (I swear he must be sacrificing cans of tuna on a scratching post altar under the full moon to a cat god who grants the power of speed reading, because he went through the 8 books I got him at Christmas in NO time.) Anyway, I handed him my copy of The Scorpio Races — and the rest, as they say, is bookdragon history.

So he has now completed all 4 of the Mercy Falls tales, and he is IN LOVE with the series.

No complaints with that. But what do I give him now?!

If you guys haven’t read “the other Maggie Stiefvater series,” what are you waiting for? The Wolves of Mercy Falls has definitely been eclipsed by the phenemeon The Raven Cycle has become, but I find the writing and plot and characters in Mercy Falls far superior. The protagonists are SO easy to root for, and I love the dynamics between the secondary characters in this quartet.

Well, that’s all for today! I’ll be back probably next week, as I put aside blogging for a bit in the pursuit of attacking fiction drafts (most likely with a flamethrower, or a live dragon). If you’re new around here, don’t forget to check out some of my more recent posts and some of my readers’ favorites! (Links are all in the sidebar.) Happy Wednesday, everyone!

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family, Fantasy fiction, spiritual growth

Guest Post: Kyle Robert Shultz on The Magic Elephant in the Room

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Good morning, all. Today we will be joined by Kyle Robert Shultz, the #ShultzWithoutaC author of the Beaumont and Beasley fantasy series. Given that Mr. Shultz is spiritually and morally a churchgoing Christian, some may be surprised that he writes fantasy fiction, chock full of storybook magic, witches and wizards, and mythological creatures. All of this was part of what drew me to this author’s writing in the first place. As someone who believes in Jesus of Nazareth as a divine Savior, and tries to follow his teachings in everyday life, I got very fed up with being told that one cannot attend church on Sunday and read fantasy Monday through Saturday. With popular authors such as Ted Dekker and Carrie Anne Noble breaking this mold (and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien never being off the bestseller lists in the past decade), I was very interested in connecting with like-minded writers in the indie publishing camp. So I asked Kyle to write about this subject for today’s post, and I’m actually going to use it to lead into a 2-part discussion on the topic later in March. So enjoy, and have a great day, everyone!

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The Magical Elephant in the Room by Kyle R. Shultz

In my experience, Christian writers of fantasy don’t like to discuss the thorny subject of magic. We either use it in our stories or steer clear of it, but we’re not inclined to get into a big debate about the ethics of *Anthony Head voice* SOSSERY. The conflict over the subject has been going on ever since Harry Potter first become popular in the 1990s. Much of the furor and book-burning has died down since then, but even today, if you write a novel that heavily features magic, you’re likely to get a review from a Christian reader which at least mentions it as a potential problem.

So, since this is still a relevant issue in 2018, I say we stop tiptoeing around it and and tackle it head on. Ready? Here we go. The basic argument from Christians against fictional magic is as follows:

  1. Real-world magic is wrong, according to the Bible (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 21:8).
  2. The Bible also tells us to do nothing that would cause another to stumble and commit sin, even if what we are doing seems innocent (Romans 14:21).
  3. Therefore, reading and writing stories involving magic is wrong because it might encourage someone to engage in real-life sorcery.

If we don’t accept the idea that real-world witchcraft is real or dangerous, than this argument is invalid. However, I don’t ascribe to the doctrine of cessationism. I believe that the supernatural forces described in the Bible–both good and evil–are just as real today as they were in ancient times. The Bible passages regarding witchcraft specifically refer to the practice of communing with pagan gods, similar to both the medieval notion of consorting with demons and the modern concept of neo-paganism (i.e. Wicca). These practices are not only idolatrous; they’re potentially harmful to the soul.

That being said, however, we need to get some definitions straight. Magic as defined by the Bible refers to both witchcraft (invoking pagan/demonic entities) and divination (foretelling the future through means other than consulting God, such as astrology). The definition of fictional magic is a lot broader. It’s a force that the characters harness to achieve their goals and to do things impossible in the natural world. Fictional magic may or may not bear similarities to the sorcerous practices that the Bible describes. The magic systems in the works of J.K. Rowling or Brandon Sanderson, for example, are generally no more demonic in nature than the metric system. They’re mechanical rather than spiritual. On the other hand, there are fictional works which veer too close to promoting actual paganism–Buffy the Vampire Slayer being one of the strongest examples.

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Where, then, does this leave the Christian author? Presumably, due to our beliefs, we won’t be writing something that reads like a recruitment pamphlet for Wicca. But all the same, is it wrong for us to be writing about characters who cast spells, especially if we present such characters in a positive light?

The core of the problem lies in the reader’s awareness of the divide between fiction and reality. If an adult reader attempts to summon a demon into his or her living room after reading Harry Potter, Mistborn, or even the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the fault lies more with the reader than the author. It shouldn’t be the writer’s job to repeatedly remind adult readers that fiction is fiction. Child readers are another issue altogether, since young children don’t necessarily have the same grasp on what should and should not be mimicked. I have, in the past, been surprised by the level of occult content in books directed at younger readers, such as the Gatekeepers series by Anthony Horowitz or the Demonata books by Darren Shan. (That’s not an actual critique of the books, as I haven’t read more than a few pages of them–I’m just naming them as examples.) But while there are sometimes murky philosophical waters to be navigated in the Harry Potter novels, as well as occasional content that might be too frightening for some children, I still maintain that it’s highly unlikely the series will lure children into actual occult practices–especially if their parents have clearly explained the differences between real and fictional sorcery.

Assuming that actual paganism is not being endorsed, I don’t believe there’s a conflict between Christian faith and writing magic-heavy fantasy. Integral to the fantasy genre is the concept of other worlds, very different from our own. In this world, magic is dangerous and should be avoided. But in fiction, we journey through a vast multiverse of worlds where magic is not inherently evil. The stars in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are sentient beings whose patterns inform centaurs of future events; our stars are not. The Potterverse contains people biologically capable of casting spells using wands and faux-Latin incantations, our universe does not. There is no reason for such distinctions to become muddled.

Furthermore, I don’t think Christians should act on a blinkered understanding of Biblical teachings about paganism to single out those who read or write books involving magic. Getting on that soapbox can damage the cause of Christianity by turning away non-believers who have an innocent love for the fantasy genre. What magic represents for many people is a power beyond the physical world; beauty and glory bursting in upon dull and colorless reality. To condemn this is to deny the very thing that we, as Christians, are meant to be offering those outside the faith. Let us not, in the effort to save people from some nebulous occult threat, steer them away from all the wonder of fantasy–a signpost on the way to embracing a very non-fictional God.

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Fantasy fiction

The “What If” Fantasy Tag

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Hello all! So, I’ve been tagged by The Kyle Robert Shultz (yes, that really is his official title) to do this tag, which will be fun, since I hardly need an excuse to wax lyrical about my favorite genre, fantasy!

1. Your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The cast of the most recent fantasy book you read comes to your assistance… who are they? Will they be helpful?

That would be Skylar, Gilbert and Aldwyn from “The Familiars.” Yes, they actually would be helpful in this situation, although they’re from a world that doesn’t have cars, and even with all of them being animals, since they’re magic, and they love to help people. So they’d find a way to get my non-magic transportation up and running.

2. You go to bed one evening and wake up in the lair of the villain of the last fairy tale you read; where are you and how do you plan to get out?

Hmmm…that would be the Shifting Fortress from book 3 of “The Familiars.” (Since the villain in book 4 didn’t actually have a lair.) Getting out would be really hard, as the Fortress transports itself from place to place. I guess I’d have to team up with Skylar, Gilbert and Aldwyn and have them rescue me.

3. You are transported into a fantasy realm and given a mythical creature as a companion and best friend… which mythical creature do you get?

What’s the criteria for this? Who would be assigning the creature, and based on what? Okay, I’m probably overthinking it. If someone else was giving me a companion, though, it would probably be something like a griffin or a small dragon. (I’m not even sure how I came to that conclusion, with the non-existent qualifications. See, this is why I need to know!)

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4. In a strange series of coincidences, you end up needing to take the place of your favorite fantasy hero or heroine. Who are you?

Okayyyy… I am either Almathea of “The Last Unicorn,” or Susan Sto Helit of “Discworld.” Because I have wanted to be Almathea since I was about 7 years old; and when I first read “Soul Music” several years ago, I decided it does not get any better than your grandfather actually being Death and being called in to learn the family business.

5. To go along with question #4, now that you are that character, is there anything you would do differently than that character, now that you are running the show?

As Almathea, I think the only thing I would’ve done differently was to kill King Haggard earlier, and turned the Prince down quicker, so that I wouldn’t have gotten sidetracked from my all-important mission of saving the other unicorns so easily. As Susan, I think I’d probably be a little nicer to the Death of Rats in the beginning.

6. If you were yourself in a fantasy novel, what role do you think you would play in the story?

I’d better become the queen of all things, but have a super-extroverted and energetic assistant to carry out all the major tasks — like, you know, running the world — so I’d have plenty of time to wander my castle accompanied by my pet talking ocelot, hiding from people and acquiring the best library on the planet. Oh, but still get to tell people what to do when they came to me for advice — which they would, of course, because I’m the wise and lovable autistic queen.

7. One morning, as you are going about your daily business, you pick up an everyday item and a voice booms in your head with prophetic words about your future. What object is it, and what is your prophecy?

A book. The prophecy is that I’ll discover a far more beautiful world than I ever thought existed.

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8. You are transported into a magical realm and turned into a mythical beast…what beast/fantasy creature do you want to be?

I am a unicorn. This is a fact, for those of you who doubt it. I actually spend my free time galloping through pixie-filled meadows and healing injured stray cats with my horn.

9. If you could read your way into any fantasy realm, but the catch is that you can never leave, would you? Which realm would you choose?

Hmmm, this is a tough one. I’m not sure I’d like not having the option to leave. If I was in magical creature form, it’d probably be easier to stay indefinitely. And in that case, I’d have to say “Warriors,” or the Afterverse of the “Beaumont and Beasley” series.

10. As you are going about your normal day, you discover that you have a magical power. What is it?

To see into the future. And not just that, but the ability to make people believe me that I really do know what’s coming and how to change it.

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