Fantasy fiction, reading

The Raven Cycle Revisited

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So, a few months ago, I decided to re-read the 4 books of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Initially I read books 1 and 4 several years ago (when each was first published), and I just could not get into the writing style, the characters, or the plot. And quite honestly, this really bugged me, after thoroughly enjoying The Scorpio Races, and being so love in with The Wolves of Mercy Falls that I called it my top trilogy of the 2010s.

So, what made The Raven Boys so different for me? I couldn’t even put my finger on it, but there was an underlying tone to the writing that just seemed…somehow off. It wasn’t until recently, when I found out that Stiefvater had been tremendously ill for a number of years — while trying to finish writing The Raven Cycle — that it clicked.

Not wanting to just give up on one of my favorite authors, especially now that I understood there were extenuating circumstances, I determined that acquiring copies of and reading the entire series immediately was the way forward.

That part was an interesting journey in itself.

To begin with, the first set I ordered had really uneven printing — on some pages, the text was so light, I could barely make out all the words. It became really frustrating, to have to sit in just the right light, at just the right angle and right time of day, merely to be able to follow the story. So I returned that set, and ordered another, from a different store.

I experienced the same exact problem. While it wasn’t as pronounced in this set, and seemed to be mostly confined to books 1 and 4, there were still pages in books 2 and 3 where the words inexplicably faded considerably, then the density of the ink picked right back up in the next paragraph. It was disconcerting, and actually hampered my enjoyment of reading.

It made me sad.

Especially since I had finally found what was missing from my first experience with this series: its heart.

It all washed over me at once: Gansey and Blue are ADORABLE, Ronan is awesome, Adam is such a precious misunderstood cinnamon roll, and Noah’s tragic backstory, just…sobbing emoji. By the end of The Dream Thieves, I was IN LOVE with The Gray Man, the Lynch brothers, SO BADLY rooting for Blue and Gansey to beat their curses, and IT WAS ALL SO AMAZING.

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And then…it all began to fall apart for me in Blue Lily, Lily Blue. *sobs* 

I have mentally gone back and forth about whether it’s mean or not to attempt to objectively critique the work of an author who was very sick at the time of writing. Because my respect and appreciation of the author remains intact — possibly it’s even gone up, knowing that she still managed to churn out bestselling novels despite suffering with serious health conditions.

Which is why it’s a little painful to admit that…the second half of this series falls distinctly flat for me. Evaluating as a reader, I have to say there were many inconsistencies, secondary characters that just kind of disappeared, subplots simply gone away, the introduction of new characters whose purpose was lost on me, and too many scenes that should’ve been pivotal felt either cut short, or the transitions were jumpy and it seemed like there was too much happening “offscreen.” I don’t agree with the direction of some of the character arcs, because they didn’t make sense for me as I was reading, and their choices seemed to come out of nowhere.

It’s why, in the end, I’m still going to rate this series as “in the middle” for my own enjoyment. It won’t probably ever rank up there with The Wolves of Mercy Falls. This does tug on my heartstrings a bit, I won’t lie. I do still kind of wish I could so deeply devote myself to all of the books written by an author who has given me so many cherished moments of laughter and tears.

But that’s also an important part of being a reader: Realizing that you are allowed your own opinion, that the writer doesn’t owe you anything, and making that special connection is worth savoring. We can’t expect every single book we pick up to change our lives. We should relish the ones that do.

And I know I do. Every time I catch a glimpse of the spines of Shiver, Linger, and Forever on my bookshelves, I smile. I sleep on a pillowcase bearing raven feathers and the words, “You are made of dreams.” Hanging from my light fixture is a wooden ornament announcing to the world, “Trees in your eyes, stars in your heart.” I know I’ll read whatever Maggie Stiefvater releases in the future, whether I adore it, or merely appreciate it.

There are so few authors I’ve read in my adult life who have spoken to me on a personal level, letting go because of one or two disappointments is simply not an option.

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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, television

How It Should Have Ended: The Specific Game of Thrones Edition

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MASSIVE! SPOILERS! AHEAD!

If you’re behind on the finale of the TV show (which aired last night), and don’t want to know anything, then don’t read on. If you don’t mind, or if you already know and are here to commiserate, then do go forth. This will be an EPIC rant, protecting no information of a possibly unknown kind. You have been warned.

I’m also sure this is only one of many posts on this topic that will be released this week. Hope you won’t wear out on the screaming too fast.

To say I was disappointed by the series finale of Game of Thrones is beyond an understatement. There should have been plenty of action, much better dialogue, character development that MADE SENSE, and a much BETTER (there’s no other word) ending for a series that we poured our hearts into for 8 seasons.

Now, I admitted recently that I was late to the party on this show, and I’ve spent several months catching up on past seasons, between DVDs and streaming. But after being intensely on the fence about it, one read of the books, and I was hooked, and love for the show developed quickly. So, while I haven’t been involved as long as other fans, believe me, I am still involved.

And this is exactly why, on a scale of 10, my ire is at 14.

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For those of us that have been watching through the faithful adaptations of our favorite plots from the books, to witness the show running out of books to follow and doing a pretty good job of creating character arcs that worked afterwards, most of us were a little nervous and pleasantly surprised by season 8 thus far. Starting in season 7, when there really wasn’t anything left from the books to draw on that the showrunners hadn’t already featured, there were many ways it could’ve gone very wrong. But generally the show was still good — or at least okay, and we kept plugging along.

There were even plenty of moments in season 7 that I wanted/needed to see — Dany finally returning home to Dragonstone, Tyrion and Arya making it back to Westeros, the Stark children at last reunited in Winterfell, and ships we weren’t quite sure about — such as Jamie and Brienne — definitely landing on the radar.

And I have to say, as someone who was absolutely not a fan of Cersei Lannister, after what the power-crazy religious fanatics in the Sept put her through, I actually felt a tiny bit sorry for her. And Margery Tyrell went from being the girl we stood behind to fix the corruption in King’s Landing, to a flatout brainwashed hypocrite that deserved to get blown up. This sudden flipflop in characterization was the start of me beginning to worry that the show could be capable of turning accepted facts on a dime…at the drop of a hat.

Therefore, here we come to the downfall of Daenerys Targaryen.

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This is the Mother of Dragons, the last of her line, the girl who was supposed to be sitting on the Iron Throne, not in exile half the world away, suffering one hardship and setback after another. We cheered her on for 8 seasons, knowing that not only was she better than the Lannisters, she was better than everybody else who might possibly take the crown. And there were plenty of contenders in the early seasons — after all, it was called the War of the Five Kings. But after the early/tragic/expected demise of Ned Stark, I knew it wasn’t just important enough to beat the Lannisters — we needed someone deserving to rule Westeros.

And Dany was it — she was the orphaned child of the Mad King, the only member of her family to survive (since her own brother, sadly the absolute worst prospect for monarchy — yes, even more than Joffrey — was killed by Dany’s husband). Dany wasn’t just a heroine in the making, she was a symbol of making it through impossible odds, of putting the world to rights. People have literally named their children after this character. She was an inspiration.

We don’t know yet what actually happens to Dany in the books, since the written series isn’t finished. (The author has promised the last publications are finally on the horizon, but no concrete news on release dates has surfaced as of the timing of this post.) But I am positive that whatever George RR Martin puts together for her will be a MILLION times better than what the TV show did.

Last week, we were all shocked when an early surrender at King’s Landing led NOT to Dany triumphantly at last walking up to the Iron Throne and taking her birthright. It led to her, for absolutely no reason at all, opting to burn down the entire city — with all its innocent elderly, women and children inside — and nearly destroy the very building holding the one piece of uncomfortable furniture she’s spent 8 seasons trying to get back to.

HOW in any world does this logically follow the motives of a woman who, on her long quest, freed slaves, saved innocents, forgave trusted advisors who betrayed her, and had promised that she’d limit the casualties in the final war against Cersei?!

Her suddenly going all Mad Queen and Jon Snow having to kill her resulted in the realm being left in chaos.

ALTHOUGH JON SNOW IS THE LOST CHILD OF PRINCE RHAEGAR AND HAS A TOTALLY LEGIT CLAIM TO THE IRON THRONE, AND REALLY ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS REVEAL THIS TO THE WORLD AFTER HE KILLED DANY. The Kingsguard and the Northern Armies would have united behind him, kicking the Unsullied and remaining Dothraki out of their country, and we all know Drogon would have obeyed Jon — because he did in previous episodes, and in the finale, too — so then Jon would’ve been the unbeatable, rally-behind-able King of Westeros, and order is restored. Boom.

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To have the Iron Throne simply melted by Drogon is RIDICULOUS, and invalidates the entire series. To have the remaining lords and ladies — even ones who have committed heinous crimes as part of this war (or who haven’t been seen in years) — determine who becomes King is completely irrational in the context of a medieval world that has always operated as a monarchy. The last-minute-plug-for-democracy was just stupid, so out of place and modern-agenda-y that it just pissed me off. And having Samwell Tarly speak such ludicrous words put a stain on this beloved character, adding insult to injury.

And, seriously, seriously, BRAN as King?!?! Are you ******* kidding me?!?! (Yes, feel free to mentally insert rude words at this point — heaven knows that’s what I thought to myself.) That was the last straw for me. The ONLY things that made sense about the ending was Tyrion as Hand of the King (just it was the wrong King), Brienne finishing Jaime’s entry in the book, and Ghost and Jon being reunited.

But everything else…

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Arya leaving Winterfell, after HOW MUCH she went through to get back… Sansa not making sure Jon took the throne… Jon ending up back on the other side of the Wall… Bronn on the Council!?!… Cersei not being publicly executed for her crimes… Jaime not returning to Brienne… INSERT RUDE WORDS HERE. LOTS. OF. THEM.

I’m sorry, boy. I truly am. You, Ghost, should be at King Jon’s side in Winterfell, hunting and keeping order over those silly, squabbling Northern lords, and lending your strength vicariously to Tyrion the Hand, holding it all together marvelously in the South. You know who the true King is, that House Stark was meant to become superior, and not scattered, and I bet you would’ve helped Lord Tyrion woo back Lady Sansa as well.

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Fantasy fiction, pop culture

Game of Thrones: Better Late to the Party Than Never

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So, a few years back, I started hearing a lot about this amazing/scandalous/both TV show called Game of Thrones. Apparently it was incredibly violent/well-written/moving/dividing, but at the time, we didn’t have HBO, so I didn’t get to find out for myself.

Then I came across the startling revelation that the show was based on a series of high fantasy novels, so I began investigating more. At first — I’ll be perfectly honest — the fact every single one of these books could be used as a weapon against zombies (meaning they’re huge, people) really intimidated me. (Remember, folks, I have a phobia of books over 500 pages.) So for a while, I just held on to this knowledge and mulled it over.

Eventually, I decided to go for it. I checked the first in the series, A Game of Thrones, out of the library, and devoted at least an hour every evening towards finishing it before I turned 50.

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I finished it in less than a week.

I could not put it down. The characters leapt off the page, the prose was so realistic and attention-grabbing, the story’s slow unfold kept me hooked through the last chapter. Despite the violence and the sexuality, most of the text maintained a PG-13 rating, and the moments it strayed into R were generally short-lived, and I could manage that. More than anything else, I was so connected to the characters — especially the Starks, Tyrion, and Dany — that I had to know what would happen to them.

So I rushed back to the library for the second book, then the third. After a while, the author’s increase in profanity and sexual content did begin to wear on me, and I figured it might be time to switch to past seasons of the show, now out on DVD — where I could conveniently fast-forward through those scenes.

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Now we’re about a year on fron the start of this experiment, and while I haven’t yet read all of the books, nor seen all of the episodes, I am pretty well caught up, and literally on the edge of my seat at 8:58 every Sunday night to view the latest installment. (By the way, this means we’re temporarily paying extra for HBO. It’s worth it.)

While I’m completely late to the party on this fandom, I am SO glad that I made it. While neither the books nor the show are perfect, there is a ton of good stuff here. I have to say that I genuinely will miss the show after this, its final, season, and I haven’t been able to say that about a TV series in a long time.

And while I’m not champing at the bit (like many fans), I am interested to see how George R.R. Martin chooses to wrap up the written version. Given that the showrunners ran out of book material ages back, I applaud them for having the guts to decide which way the character arcs should go, and carrying it out — because once an original work is adapted to somewhere else, that new version now is its own thing, and has the right to be different from the source material if it wishes. Or, if you’ve finished writing a season that ends in major cliffhangers because the last book published has left the readers biting their nails for years on end, and kind of have to come up with an alternate track.

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My guess is that some of HBO’s decisions Martin would never even have considered; and I find all of this okay, either way. Because what it boils down to is Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire has the power to be such an enduring story, and this — as a writer, as a fan of fantasy literature and art — is what sticks with me. It’s what sticks with so many of us, why this series has been on the bestsellers list for years.

What makes a story good, in terms of content, has been and will be subjective forever. What makes a story powerful and moving and unforgettable is how it’s told in the subtext beyond the content. The themes of loyalty, loss, love, struggle, moving on, finding yourself, trying to be your best, not always getting it right that are prevalent throughout this series is what resonates with people.

In the last decade, I’ve had a very, very hard time finding art and entertainment that really struck a chord; so when I do come across something new that fits the bill these days, I dive in.

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Am I nervous about what will happen to my favorite characters at the end? (both versions) Oh, yes. Am I largely pleased about what’s happened so far in the show since they’ve been going “off book”? Actually, yeah. Do I treasure some of this incredible storytelling on page and on screen? Absolutely.

Was I ever headcanoning as I read, and then disappointed when something didn’t turn out the way I expected? In fact, no. And this “just going with the flow” attitude has been something new for me; usually if I didn’t call a twist — or the twist is one I was afraid of, in a bad way — then I get very disillusioned, and will often just put down a book or turn off a show.

So here’s the biggest thing Game of Thrones has done for me: Let me relax my usually rather high standards for my “type,” and for that I am grateful. If I’d stuck to, “But I don’t read adult fantasy,” or “All these books are too long,” or “I don’t even get this channel”… I would have missed out on a whole lot of enjoyment these past several months.

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Fantasy fiction, self-publishing

Announcing The Super Secret Project!

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Note: Reminding everyone I don’t own any of these images nor take credit in any way for the Minecraft videos referenced here. They are under the complete creative control of Rainimator.

Good morning! So, at long last, here I am with official news of the Super Secret Project! The reason I dubbed it so was because I’d been considering writing a standalone to go with The Order of the Twelve Tribes for a while, but really wasn’t sure just what I wanted it to focus on, nor did I want to promise a storyline that later changed (I do enough shuffling on publishing “deadlines” as it is). So I decided I’d refer to it as “the Super Secret Project” until I had more concrete details mapped out.

Well, this spring, White Fang got involved in the planning process, and he agreed that keeping it under wraps so that we could later do a big reveal was good. And now, here we go…ready?…

The novel will be called Fire and Wind, and its protagonist actually makes her first appearance in Volume 3: Healers and Warriors! It’s a short scene, but it establishes her presence in the Order world and sets up some important things about her character. Right now, she doesn’t have a name; she’s known only as…the Demon Girl.

She’s a character White Fang developed, based on inspiration he had from a YouTube Minecraft video series by someone whose screen name is Rainimator. These videos have it all — action, adventure, well-done animation, fitting music, plot twists to make you cry. If you or a young person you know are into Minecraft at all, I recommend checking out this channel.

So here’s the original inspiration:

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White Fang put together his own origin story for his “Demon Girl” (often referred to in Hunters’ notes as simply DG), and together we outlined the role this character will play in the rest of the canon and the standalone. She’s shrouded in mystery in her Volume 3 entrance, and Fire and Wind shall dispell it and uncover her true self. In Healers and Warriors, it’s not very clear — is she truly evil? is she an antihero? how does she have vital connections to high-profile figures in the mortal and fey realms?

All this and more will be found in the pages of Fire and Wind. Publication shall occur in the summer of 2019. (Can you believe it — that’s not too far away!)

If you haven’t read Volume 3 yet, don’t worry, you can still enjoy (and follow) Fire and Wind. Though I, as a conscientious author, kindly suggest you’re all caught up on the canon so that nothing about DG’s introduction takes you by surprise.

*shameless plug sequence concludes*

So, this does indeed fill you in on the Super Secret Project! More news to come on other fronts as I carry on and move forthwith into grander scales of writing completion!

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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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