Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Of Reading Minds and Dark Forests

I sat in the car in the middle of Texas city traffic, glued to a story of terrible intensity.

Not driving, thankfully.

It was a new trilogy; the story of Willet Dura, a reeve who investigated murders for the king. Burdened with a vault inside his mind, Willet Dura remembers spending a night in the Darkwater Forest when he fought in the war. But he can't remember what happened, or anything about the evil that dwells there. The Darkwater leaves a vault of evil inside the mind of every man who enters it—turning them into murderers when the vaults open after sunset. Normally people with vaults are destroyed, their minds shattered because of the unknown evil inside them. But Willet can't be destroyed yet--because, along with a handful of other people in the land, he has the gift of domere--reading people's minds.

This story led on some pretty intense curves. Book 1 I barely made it through, it was so intense (but I’ve since come to love it and read it again.) Book Two I had to ask for an extension on because a poor character endured so much, and like the terrible villain of reading ahead that I am, I knew before it happened and was crushed by the anticipation. That doesn’t sound like a recommendation, but Patrick Carr is honestly my favorite fantasy author of the 21st century. I was so excited to read the ultimate climax of the Darkwater in book 3, and it flipped any theories I had on their head. And no, I didn’t read the climax ahead of time. ;)

Echoing the thoughts in another review on Goodreads, I love how Carr’s characters have to face so much vulnerability about their own flaws—both Erroll (Staff and Sword trilogy) and Willet (Darkwater Saga) have serious things wrong with them—but they’re willing to seize hold on the adventure that comes anyway. Willet is a man of sarcasm. Of a recklessness that I can relate to. (“I’m tired of overthinking, let’s just take this jump and see if it works.”) He’s seen more than Carr’s other MC Errol has, but still has a heart of compassion in spite of the hard murders and gritty evil he’s had to face. He is broken by pain, but not brittle. And man, I just love hanging out with him. He’s a comrade. A guy whose loyalty you can count on. Someone you want to protect. And in spite of being broken, he isn’t an emotional wreck. He’s still in many ways a normal, emotionally stable guy that can honor his king and fight for good. He has the best of wholeness and brokenness entwined. And his friend, Bolt? Best crusty, sarcastic sidekick on planet earth.

Book 3 had some big questions to answer. And for the most part, it delivered a terrifically fun adventure that I devoured in a week. The backstory took me a bit to adjust to, because it felt even more fantasy and slightly Silmarillion-esque than the rest of the series. Some of Willet’s relationship with Gael in book 2 felt like an Anakin and Padme misstep. I think it got better in book 3 when they had some key big adventures to go on together. There was one moment in the climax where I would have loved to have seen the aftereffects be slightly more intense, even if just for a scene or two. Honestly, they’re small quibbles. I loved it. I wanted to love it. The Wounded Shadow did a fantastic job of wrapping up a lot—and Patrick Carr puts a lot in his books. I couldn’t have asked for more from the conclusion.

I liked the unanswered questions too. The ungiven endings. Maybe it’s making room for a future series (and I’d sign up to return to the Darkwater any time) but I think it also illustrates a reality. Like Gandalf says in Lord of the Rings, we fight the evil in our generation, and our children will have to fight too. This book illustrates that quote really well. The Wounded Shadow also illustrates the importance of taking the time to love, no matter how much time is given you. Love well. Love now. Don’t wait. While that surprised me, I liked the conclusion that Carr drew.

One of the themes in both of Carr’s series is the religious leadership learning that it has done wrong because of centuries of misunderstanding. It makes me think of the reactions the Pharisees had when Jesus came. They wanted to follow God, but when Christ arrived, they didn’t understand the signs because they had a broken way of doing things. Just to clarify, this story isn’t meant to be an allegory of that. But drawing the parallel is interesting. Like them, the Vigil had the right heart, but sometimes misunderstood the application. Carr’s characters have to face the fact that they have sinned and taken blood unnecessarily. They have to face past memories and a new way of working together. Eileen’s plot especially illustrates the religious elite re-learning truth in a beautiful way.

If you’re looking for a parent guide, some of the elements might be a bit PG for younger readers (Willet and his band have to go to a big city where immodesty is rampant and marriage is held extremely lightly). Carr did extremely well building new cultures even in book three, and the city didn’t bother me particularly.

So in conclusion? The Darkwater conclusion had one more round with characters I loved and enough drama to fully satisfy as a climax. I enjoyed that midnight chase in Cynestol. The scenes in the besieged Treflow. The interactions of flawed characters making choices to heal or break. Ealdor’s revelations. Bolt’s moment of sacrifice. Mark’s beautiful heart for redemption. It’s a series I definitely want to read again, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from this author.

This book was provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own. Positive opinions were not required.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meet the Author Behind Crowning Heaven {and join the giveaway!}

Ten and three-quarter years ago (yes, I just calculated) a girl sat down next to me at a conference-- "a chance meeting as we say in Middle Earth." Since then, we have both graduated highschool, attended conferences together, shared countless hours of conversations, and dreamed of holding our own published books in our hands.

It was Emily, first, who taught me to write with heart, simply by watching her write her own stories. She lived and loved them, and I had not been able to look at her style and imitate some key steps at the beginning of my journey, I would never be where I am today. If she had not asked me to read one of her stories, and a couple of years later, said yes to reading one of mine...but she did.

And today, Emily is bursting on the world with her novel debut: a YA planetary fantasy, Crowning Heaven, crafted with heart and love and vision. It's a story of rival queens, of kindness and danger, of courage and responsibility...of a girl named Heaven, loved by one kingdom who wants to crown her and pursued by another kingdom who wants to kill her.

It's a joy to interview Emily on the blog today.  (And stay tuned for a giveaway below!)

via Goodreads
What got you into story writing in general, and what made you pick Crowning Heaven for your first project in particular? 

I got into story writing because I told stories for years, really ever since I can remember. I hit probably twelve or thirteen and I started writing some in documents on the computer. It was just kind of a natural progression. Oddly, I would boil it down to two things. I love people, and I was scared of things as a child. All the stories I ever made up as a kid were about people in dangerous situations doing brave things. I think for me, telling stories was a way to deal with things I didn't know to deal with any other way. And then I am so inspired by people and find different personalities fascinating, that once I started making up characters I found I couldn't stop. As for Crowning Heaven, I just knew. I had been working on a heavy historical fiction project for a while that I was intending to publish first, and then Crowning Heaven came out of nowhere and swept me off my feet. There are those projects that come and take over all on their own and this was certainly one of them.

I love how storytelling brings bravery and courage. That is so inspiring. What are some themes and character personalities close to your heart in Crowning Heaven?

Man, there are so many. Heaven dealing with death and loss, for one. I feel (though she had a far sadder upbringing) that I can relate on that level--being tender-hearted and loving people and trying to with wrestle death and who lives and dies, often when there seems to be no reason. I also love the themes of hope and finding beauty in the midst of darkness or being kind or doing the right thing regardless of what anyone else is doing. As for characters, I have always been fond of Thrasi. I don't think we are much alike but I so respect his reserve and his sense of honor. Of course, there's Heaven, and both Breac and Nic are just the sort of people who I would have admired growing up. And Swithun Flood. He has a very special place in my heart. He above anyone else I think I would respect in real life. I don't know. I want to say them all.

You have such a gift for writing heroes. I always love the integrity you capture in your characters. Are there any authors or art pieces that inspired you in writing this story?

Many. With authors (this is going to be a weird mix) it was probably Rosemary Sutcliff, Kathryn Worth, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, and Armstrong Sperry among many, many others. I tend to read voraciously and then inspiration sort of filters down and I don't even realize who has inspired me. With this project actually, I had a few specific films that inspired me: Thor, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and all three Hobbit films. Coming off of watching them flavored and inspired the direction of this book. And then a particular piece of music: Homecoming by Thomas Bergersen. I heard it at a very formative stage in the book's development and it has been my faithful companion ever since. It encapsulates the whole impression of the book. For drawn art, check out my Pinterest board. All that's on there.

Very cool! I love the mix of things you drew from in your creative well. OK, so what have you enjoyed most about this publishing journey so far?

Getting to share my book with people. Seeing them fall in love with the characters that I am so madly in love with. That's it right there.

Yes!! Do you have a favorite way to celebrate on launch day? Movies? Tasty goodies?

As this is sort of my first time, I will see if I perfect my launch day celebration, but here's what I decided on the other day that I think might be my ultimate favorite: a nice cake, something sparkly, and a beloved film, preferably one that helped inspire my book. Oh, and writing again. I miss my first drafts!

Aww, this sounds perfect! Just the thing. If you could be a character in your book for a day, who would you pick and what would you do?

This is way harder than I thought it would be. Maybe Jani, because Jani always finds a way to have fun. If I was Jani I would go sneak back to Earth and buy myself pizza and a milkshake. But I guess I could do that anyway.... Tell you what, I would want to be Athen, and I would want to go up to the fast-running rivers in the north and go fishing for the great fish that spawn every year.

Jani's such a fun friend. I would totally want to do that too. OK, so last question: how do you feel that Crowning Heaven adds an important voice to the YA genre, and what message would you like to send with it?

The YA genre is in general very dark right now. Teens and others around that age are finding that the world can be an unfriendly and evil place and the genre is reflecting that struggle. I feel like Crowning Heaven is important right now especially because it takes real issues and it deals with them, yet without exposing the reader to content that is harsh or explicit, and while inspiring courage and hope. Many books that try to tackle hard issues can leave you feeling dark or discouraged and I think they do you a disservice because that actually is only half the picture. Because there is a God, there is hope. And that is what I strive for in my writing, to instill hope, to inspire courage, to show the beauty that exists around us, all while telling a good story. A good book should not primarily be about an argument or propaganda, but about telling a good story. And I think YA is in need of good stories right now.

Thank you so much for doing this Q&A! It's a joy to have you on the blog and celebrate your FIRST BOOK RELEASE!

Oh, it was my honor. Thank you for having me! 

If you'd like to purchase Crowning Heaven-- 

who are we kidding Schuyler, GIVE ME THE LINK 

then you can head straight to Amazon for Kindle or Paperback

Enter the Giveaway

Comment below for your chance to
 win a Crowning Heaven themed 
candle and art print! 

Giveaway open until 5/22. International participants are welcome! 

Meet the Author 

As long as she can remember, Emily Hayse has been avidly in love with story, a love that has only grown with time. A fascination with human nature and an ongoing quest for courage, hope, and beauty drive her writing passion.

When she isn’t writing, she can be found working with dogs or horses, studying historical tall ships, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. Her hobbies include learning Maori and Gaelic, playing the bodhran, and trying to restore a classic car.

You can connect with her on her website,, check her out on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Million Dreams {the greatest showman}

via Pixabay
I fell irrevocably in love with The Greatest Showman soundtrack on a Saturday morning.

I had been wrestling with the second draft of War of Honor. All the best scenes in the first draft were melancholic bittersweet, and you just can't write a melancholic bittersweet book that you'd like readers to read a second time. There was something missing--too much sadness.

don't be scared, it's all going to be ok. well, maybe not all

Then I flipped on "A Million Dreams."

I'd already listened to it--in company with Tightrope and Rewrite the Stars--several times. But that Saturday morning, curled up in our fluffy red recliner, I put the soundtrack on repeat--and the outline for Folkestone Files 2 flew out of my fingers as fast as I could type. It was more balanced. More fun. It was the missing piece. It made me feel like this was the story that would match up to book one--the book I loved so much.

When you find a piece of music that unlocks the words in your brain, you put that baby on repeat and you keep it on repeat.

The Greatest Music 
Eventually, I branched out of those three songs into the entire soundtrack--a kaleidoscope of feisty circus music and contemplative longings. It's far from typical musical fare. Channelling a more contemporary sound, the lyrics pump your imagination with adrenaline and the emotions of the human experience.

After that, I saw the behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook. As a creative, the deep dreaming inside of me reached out to the years of dreaming that had put this movie together--a love so great that they kept the project in mind until all the right pieces fell in place. That awesome electric moment cannot be beaten--when Hugh Jackman got so excited in rehearsals that he just had to sing, even though he had eighty stitches in his nose from a recent surgery. I watched it over and over, as a matter of fact. I kind of wanted to see the movie. The longing grew until finally a friend texted me and said "we just got the DVD, do you want to come?"

Yeah, girl!

Sis and I set out on a bright Friday morning drive in company with The Afters. We smiled the whole way home. It was a thing of beauty. Of joy. Of fiery colors and beautiful screenwriting and incredible talent. Watching the scenes along with the music this time created so. much. gladness. The movie branched into the realm of dreams bigger than life

...a huge, gorgeous moon backdrop

...dancing on the parapet of a city apartment building

...that awesome slo-mo movement of P.T. Barnum throwing on his red Ringmaster coat for the first time--desperate for this new venture to work after all the risks he's taken.

He's an absolute swindler, but he knows how to swindle out smiles all along the way.

The Greatest Character Arcs
I've watched TGS three times now, processing the story of P T. Barnum starting his circus with the rich, young Phillip Carlisle. As the movie tackles present-day conversations about racism and diversity, it follows the Barnum as he creates a joyful hoax that captures the middle classes and alienates the press, until ever so gradually, he starts to swindle himself. By the third viewing, I had so much fun noticing the character arcs in even more detail.

Barnum starts with small swindles--making a tall man a little taller; a fat man a little fatter; changing a giant's nationality. But after being needled by his daughter's rejection from her rich friends, Barnham starts his downward spiral. When his troop meets Queen Victoria, Barnum and Carlisle have coattails while the rest of his people are in their costumes. He shrugs it off when the bearded lady questions him about it. His second downward step starts when he seizes the chance to bolster up his pride. When he invites the famous singer, Jenny Lind, to tour the US, he stops the hoodwinking and starts the fraud in earnest. The next time Barnum steps on the stage, he deliberately lies to the audience--and the glow of support we've seen so far on his wife and daughter's faces stills to frozen expressions. It's a subtle but powerful moment.

As he starts gaining the hearts of all the classes, no one is his master. Not even the nearest people who should be able to require accountability. Barnum deconstructs until he faces the last swindle of all--cheating on the wife he loves best. (This plot was handled really well.) In the climax that follows, his worst fears come true in a few scenes of solidly written and redemptive story screenwriting that still leaving you loving and rooting for him to find a happy ending.

In contrast, Phillip Carlisle has a positive character arc--starting as a half-drunk rich playwright without ambition. After a rollicking, swindling deal with Barnum (semi-cool for the rhythm and semi-uncomfortable because of all the alcohol) he throws in his lot with the circus. While Barnum starts shunning the circus freaks to feed his pride, Phillip starts embracing their identity. He refuses to accept an audience with the queen without them. When Barnham shrugs the circus freaks aside at Jenny Lind's concert, Phillip stays with them in the standing room section. And while he stumbles with Anne when his parents catch sight of them, he later makes it up to her. With the circus freaks, he recognizes the love and genuineness he's been missing, culminating in a willingness to sacrifice his own gains on their behalf.

The Greatest Inspiration 
While that just might have gone deep, my two favorite things about the movie are the theme and the joy. The theme of pride leads to self-deceit and self-praise which wounds those nearest and dearest to us. It was woven through the script and acted out with subtle artistry, shown without being told. Pride hurts--it exchanges valued people for the sham of accolades, trades the best you can be for the worst you can be--and ultimately leads to the burning of your empire in a painful grace. In the scene where Barnum's wife stands looking out to sea, a deep well of hurt hidden under her thoughtful expression, you see a woman who has forgiven much--and is big enough to forgive again.

But while this theme goes deep, I honestly didn't think about most of that until the third showing. The first two times I watched it, I loved it just for its own sake. (And I really love it most for the happiness it contains.) The story itself is a pageantry of color and imagination, perfect for a Friday movie night. It moves fast, showing the sheer joy of creative imagination, colorful costumes, skillful acrobats, and sweet romance. And the soundtrack, which kept me company all the way to the last night of Camp NaNoWriMo, gave me a missing ingredient to a story that was way too melancholic and a character whose passion I wanted to honor.

jaeryn, who else could we be talking about 

While I could be a lot more comfortable with a lot more fabric on the bearded lady's circus costume, this circus tale provides a happy ending in a world of drama and angst. I love the drama and angst as much as anyone, but sometimes--many times--the world needs a reminder of happiness. And P.T. Barnum, in his glorious, larger-than-life world, gives us just that.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Of Bookish Dreams and Spring

via Pixabay
A warm spring wind is blowing through our open doors and windows. Today is a day for short sleeves and bare feet--for lying around and celebrating a chase for words up until midnight last night. A day for listening to Gettys on the way to teaching and promising the kids prizes for games at class next week.

It's a day for the largesse of spring. A day that makes me remember Aslan's joyous run through the town in Prince Caspian. A day to buy a couple of used copies of Shakespeare (Henry V and Hamlet) and dream of reading them this summer. A day to celebrate later with some of The Greatest Showman after a month of Camp NaNo.

It's a day to forget winter and gray skies.

Sis and I watched The Greatest Showman twice on Friday--once riding out to friends who owned a copy and singing the songs all the way home. Once with a copy from the library. I'm still mulling. I want to tumble out a bunch of thoughts, but I need to mull just a little longer while it digests, and then I'm hoping to bring an article to the blog. (Message me if you watched it and want to discuss or fangirl?)

In my reading time, three Yorkshire children are bringing a garden alive--pale green points in rich earth, a fox that lifts its face to be petted, and a saucy red robin seeking for ego-stroking. I'm also reading about a talking bear in London. I plan to see the movie version of Paddington later in May (I haven't seen it yet) but a friend said to read the books first, and I'm so glad I did. Paddington bear is the most precious smol luv on this planet. He came from Darkest Peru because his Aunt Lucy went to a home for retired bears, and he spends his time on various adventures that all come out all right. Like Pooh, Paddington has no adversary (at least in the first book). His adversaries are circumstances and mistakes. His sweet mournfulness when he encounters disappointing facts and sweet-hearted solutions to his own accidents simply warm the heart. I can't wait to read Paddington to children someday.

Last night, in company with a peppy soundtrack (which is the equivalent of Red Bull for tired writers) I closed in on the final April goal for the War of Loyalties sequel. After breaking down the goal into daily counts, it was actually hard to hit the daily target, but I had a swing day every week which made for 6 days of writing with Sundays off. I hit 50,000 words a couple of minutes before midnight. Most of the month was revising what I had already written, or rearranging scenes, but some of the scenes were new. All in all, it was satisfying--cutting a lot of flubber, improving plotlines, and fighting away on a second draft. I'm still not sure if I'm hitting the cohesive plot I need to hit, but I'm telling myself that this is book two, and I need to sit down and fight it out. I'm hoping to send out the first chapters to some beta readers in the next month and get the invaluable outside perspective that always tells me if I'm on the right track. If I can, I'd like to have a good, solid draft by the end of the summer. If I write the second draft and it's still not solid enough (sometimes weaving big books takes several attempts) then...I'll keep trying. 

How did Camp NaNo go for you? What are your favorite books to read when the winter gives way to spring?

PS. One more review needed to help us cross War of Loyalties into double digits for reviews! Want to be a Samwise? Check out War of Loyalties and leave a couple of sentences about your honest thoughts on Amazon!

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