Tag Archives: Reflections

Taking the Plunge

*Deep breath* Well, this is terrifying. *Deep breath* Just do it. *Deep breath* I don’t think I can. *Deep breath* Do it! *Deep breath* Nope, this is scary. I changed my mind. *Deep breath* If you don’t do it now, you never will.

Sound familiar?

If you ever took swimming lessons, you probably had to jump off the diving board as part of the final pass. I’m not the greatest swimmer. If I ever fell into a river, I’m pretty sure I’d drown. Unless, you know, a brave firefighter or policeman or bystander jumps in and saves me. Do you know how many times I jumped off the diving board in my life? Three, max. I’m fine right up until I look down and see how far down it is and then I just cannot make myself jump off the board. I was the kid who had the humiliating experience of the ENTIRE swimming pool yelling at me to jump in because I was too scared to do it. Yes, I was embarrassed into jumping off the diving board. Olympics material, I am not.

What does this have to do with writing?


This summer I took the plunge into the scary world of indie publishing. I spent about three weeks between my final edit and the night I ultimately pushed the button feeling terrified. No one is going to want to read my book. I’m not ready for this. Maybe I should push back the publishing date again even though this time it’s not driven by the need for edits or cover tweaks or anything like that (even though I was still making some tweaks to the print cover). Maybe this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Maybe I shouldn’t do it yet.

I was going through all the motions of getting ready to click that button and publish, including talking to the tax guys, but in my heart, I was standing on the edge of the diving board absolutely terrified. I suddenly didn’t feel ready anymore. Was my book really as good as it could be? What if people hate it? Or, worse, what if no one reads it? Am I really ready for this?

I didn’t feel ready when I pushed the button and let my book baby out into the world at large. However, I knew that if I didn’t push the button, I would keep finding excuses to put it off for “just a little bit longer” until I finally climbed off the diving board and ran away for good (not that I’d admit it). So, I took that last deep breath, closed my eyes, and stepped off the diving board.

I am now a published author. I am preparing to release the next book in the series, the first full-length novel, this fall. I am actively working on the first draft of Book Two with plans for more books already mapped out. Want to know a secret? *whispers* I still don’t feel ready.

One thing I have learned over this past summer is that you may never feel ready to release your book. But, being afraid, always being poised on the edge of the diving board, isn’t a good way to live your life. If you’re an author like me, then you are very empathetic and it doesn’t take much to make you feel worried about something. This is a gift and curse. Empathy makes me a better writer, but I can’t stand to be surrounded by bad news all day long. It makes my heart hurt. I need good news, I need joy and life and the reminder that there is still light and hope in the midst of the darkness of this world. Hard emotional scene to write? I pour so much of myself into it, feeling what the characters feel, that I’m too drained to write again for days, sometimes weeks until I recharge on good books, fun movies, and maybe some cross-stitch. The good thing is that this makes the characters’ struggles and emotions feel real to the readers, it’s not just a plot point. The bad thing is that sometimes it doesn’t take anything to make me feel discouraged and definitely not ready to be writing anything, much less publishing it. Being a creative personality is hard sometimes. We feel deeply yet we can be our own worst enemies when we listen to the fear that we are not ready, we aren’t good enough yet, we shouldn’t be publishing even though all the feedback from our peer groups, beta readers, and ARCs says “this is your time and it’s definitely ready.” I, personally, don’t want to be that writer who published one or two books and then let fear get the better of me and stashed all the other manuscripts in a drawer to never be seen in my lifetime. I don’t want to let fear stop me from doing what I am meant to do. What I have been called to do. No, my book is not rocketing off the bestsellers charts in a one book wonder moment. It would have been cool to see but I knew going in that it was a pretty far-fetched (read: infinitesimal) improbability. And, I’m not selling as many books as my more probable dream. However, I am selling books. Every copy that sells is progress and I know someone out there is reading my book right now. No one would be reading it if I hadn’t clicked the button. What’s worse? Not selling as many copies as your best-case scenario or not sharing your story with anyone because you got cold feet right before it was time to let your book fly.

If you’re an author who always knows when your book is finally ready and you never second-guess yourself, I applaud you. You’re my new hero. If you’re more like me and feel confident right up until the point that it’s time to click that button or submit to that agent and are then clamped the pincers of terror, know that you are not alone. There are lots of us. The secretly terrified writers who are now published authors forcing ourselves to get back on the diving board for the next jump into the publishing pool. So, the next time you step on the diving board and are staring all the way down, remember that you’re not alone. We’re all standing up there, shaking on the inside, with you but we are not going to be ruled by fear. We are going to take that last deep breath and jump. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, it is the decision to act in spite of that fear. So, act.


No Three Star Rule or Why I Write Negative Reviews

Have you seen the blog articles that encourage reviewers to never give lower than three stars? Some of them even urge not writing a review lower than four stars. For the most part these bloggers (at least some of whom are also authors) firmly believe in the old adage “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” Others suggest that negative reviews shouldn’t be given due to the fact it pulls a book’s overall rating, which is unfair to the author. I can understand those arguments. However, I don’t necessarily agree with them.

As anyone who has read my past reviews can tell, I do not hold to a three star review rule. Yet, I have only reviewed three books that earned below three stars on my review grading scale. I firmly believe that it is important for reviewers to be honest. Now, I try not to get the genres I don’t enjoy or books that have warnings about mature or edgy content both because I don’t want to read those particular books and because I know I’m not the author’s target audience. And I also believe that negative reviews do not always equal spiteful reader. Nor do I believe that negative reviews primarily come from a jealous competitor. Negative reviews can sometimes be more helpful than the positive reviews because they glean out the readers who do not fall under the targeted audience who would probably leave more negative reviews in their wake.

No one wants to hear that their book fell apart in one area or just didn’t work for a reader. Not one writer wants to hear that and it’s a lot easier to assume the negativity is spouting from jealousy or spite than to admit the reviewer might be right about something not working. Our books are our babies. Getting a negative review can be like having some stranger come up to you and say “That is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen and I don’t mean in an ‘it’s so ugly, it’s cute’ way either.” Ouch! But, as painful as it is, negative reviews can be helpful once you get past the initial sting . . . or crushing blow.

Negative reviews can have several long-term benefits.

  • They can point out plot holes or character flaws that deserve a second look.
  • They can identify weaknesses in our writing style.
  • They can divert potential future negative reviews from occurring by (a) alerting other readers who aren’t in our target audience that this isn’t the book for them and (b) letting potential readers who do fall in our target audience know this book is something they might want to check out.

It’s never fun to get a negative review but every book has its niche audience and not everyone fits into that audience. Everyone has different levels of what they like or don’t like in a book. POV, characters, storyline, plot, description, dialogue, pretty much anything can be a hit or a miss for readers. For example, I don’t particularly care for love triangles but sometimes an author convinces me that the triangle works for the storyline and the characters. It’s still not my favorite romance arc but it doesn’t “ruin” a book. Like any reader, I have my particular genres and subgenres I enjoy reading more than others and I always try to take a genre mismatch into account when I’m reviewing a book that is more miss than hit for me. A stale plot or less than perfect editing can be rescued by characters and the heart of the story. I’ve read some stories I consider diamonds in the rough because they need more editing rounds.

For the three stories I gave less than three stars to, the key factor I looked at was the content and whether or not I thought it really fit the stated goal audience. I always try to take into account whether the book is written for a secular or Christian audience because different audiences lead to different expectations and I do hold books written for Christian audiences at a higher standard. I also hold books for YA and children to a higher standard for content. I firmly believe writers can address tough topics and include violence and romance without being gratuitous so when I read a book where the content seems to be hugging the gratuity factor a little too much for my taste I ask “Is it necessary?” Is it essential to the plot for this character or scene to be there? Does it add to the story or distract from it? Should I recommend it to people who have different reading tastes than I do? I also admit that I can be really thrown off when anachronistic words show up in medieval/early history settings especially in fantasies because they yank me out of the story mood. Lots of other readers won’t even bat an eye at these things. But I mention these instances in my reviews because I know there are other readers who don’t like anachronistic moments/words to be a surprise and are more tolerant of them if they go into the book knowing they are going to show up or they pass and another negative review is avoided. I also mention them for the authors since many a time it is extremely easy to accidentally use  period/setting-inappropriate words, phrases, and terms because we use them all the time in everyday life. Like I said before, what is a complete miss for me can be or is a hit with a lot of other readers based on other reviews simply because we all have different tastes.

Honest reviews can hurt at times. Especially if they’re not positive. I debated a long time over what the overall grade for the books should be because I didn’t like giving low stars but I also didn’t feel I could just inflate the score or not review at all. But I also tried to recommend possible fixes for the authors to take to help avoid negative reviews in the future. One of the books was by a Christian author who went very gritty and edgy. Just a brief head’s up in the product description would have been enough for me to know I should probably pass because it doesn’t fit my reading tastes. I respect authors for writing the stories they want to write even when it’s not necessarily a story I want to read. It takes courage to put your book out there for the world to see, especially when you know what is sweet or compelling for one reader might be sour candy for another. And of course, one person may love the sour candy and dislike the sweet candy. It all depends on one’s outlook. For example, I’ve discovered I’m not really a steampunk girl so I’m less likely to pick up steampunk for review anymore. But, if someone asks me about Christian steampunk writers, I know what names to give them.

Not every writer or every book is for every reader but for every book and writer there is going to be an audience. I like happier, more hopeful stories. I have friends who like grim, dark stories. I like romance with comedy over outright horror or techy sci-fi. I have friends who like horror, techy sci-fi, and thrillers over any hint of romance or fantasies with humor. I like arranged marriages and friends falling in love over a period of time over love triangles and insta-love. I have friends whose likes are the exact opposites. But we have different options because there are so many books available. I also have taken to reading negative reviews first to see what people are saying and if there are any specific mentions of content or plot twists that would lessen my enjoyment of a book. I don’t want to read a book I don’t enjoy or at least like a lot. Who does? Reviews are naturally biased to your own preferences even though I do try to take these into account and be as fair as possible. Every person’s measure of content, editing, plot, and characters is subjective. This is what writers need to keep in mind when the negative review shows up. Take negative reviews with a grain of salt, this reviewer was not your intended audience, but also keep in mind that negative reviews with solid reasoning can help attract your intended audience, cut down on the future negative reviews, and also give you things to consider with your writing style.

Negative reviews are unpleasant and can be devastating to a writer’s feelings but they are not always bad news.


One Life to Live

Does it ever strike you that we are given only one life to live? There aren’t any do-overs or replays. We are born, we live, we die, and our earthly legacy is only what we achieve, what we do in this life. So how is our one life going to be remembered?

Some of us will be remembered through our families, our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Some of us will be remembered because we did something embarrassing or incredibly foolish, although hopefully that won’t be our only legacy. Some of us will be remembered through our legacy of works and/or faith. Some of us will be forgotten because we let all the chances to do something memorable, to take the opportunities given to us, pass us by because we were too afraid or were too busy or just didn’t feel it was the right time or that our efforts weren’t good enough to move past the starting gate.

As writers, we have one life to live but that life can produce  many books or only a few books that will impact someone somewhere or no books at all. Writing is hard. It takes courage to bare our ideas, our thoughts, our hopes and dreams, and even a little piece of our soul through the written word. And to be perfectly honest, I know I’ve sat at my desk staring at my looming To Do/Wish list and just thought that I am never going to get to the end of the first leg of the journey (aka publishing). But then I look at the stories I’ve already completed, at the projects that HAVE reached some sort of stepping stone, and at the reasons why it took longer than originally planned to reach the point of “ready to publish.” One, I wanted to have a true polished piece so was unwilling to take shortcuts. Two, I wanted to write stories that honored God and that meant giving my very best. Three, I still have a life outside of writing that demands my attention and time too.

Writing is emotionally and spiritually draining at times because you’re pouring your whole heart into the words, the plot, and the characters. If you are anything like me, you also pour your heart into the non-writing areas of your life. All this effort, this sinking of yourself into your work makes being able to recharge mentally, emotionally, and spiritually extremely important and also difficult. For example, a few days ago, I sat down with a book to read for fun. A major CBA book that wasn’t fantasy but I hoped it would help with the recharge. Instead, I ended up even more drained because there wasn’t anything truly fulfilling or relaxing in the book’s plot. The reason I mention my reader experience is because it also ties into having one life to live and our legacy as writers. Do we want to produce the sort of books that leave readers more drained than they started or the books that provide hope, an escape from the harshness of our world (at least for a little while), a reminder that we can still laugh and enjoy life, and show the different ways Christ’s love surrounds us?

We have one life to live. What is your legacy going to be as a writer? Are you going to be brave enough to put your work out there even if you don’t personally feel it’s as ready as it can be? The hardest part in the editing process is knowing when you’ve reached the point where your tweaking has become detrimental instead of helpful to the story. It’s also knowing when to say this is the final draft even if it’s not as perfect as you imagined. Are you going to be embarrassed by what you have written if your family learns about it? Then do you really want it to be your legacy? Are you going to pour yourself into your writing? Are you going to make the effort to make a difference with your stories by focusing on light and hope in spite of the darkness? Are you going to stop making excuses and procrastinating on finishing what you’ve started, what you’ve been dreaming of and write your book? You don’t have to be a best-selling author to have an impact, a legacy. But you do have to finish the first draft. You won’t have any legacy if you never make the effort.

What is your legacy? When your one life is over, will you be wishing for a do-over or be content in the knowledge that you made the effort and left something behind that’s worthy? Everyone has decisions or periods in their lives that they wish they could do over and do differently but we don’t have to let those moments be our only legacy. As writers, we can leave any number of legacies. Sometimes we’ll write flops, sometimes we’ll write hits, and most of the time we’ll write the middle ground. But even a flop can be a better legacy than never trying. Don’t let your life be one filled solely with “I wish I had” or “I wish I had not” or “if only . . .” Seize the moment, have faith, and be courageous. Be a writer who finishes their work and who leaves a legacy.

Scary “Research” Books: I Really Am a Writer

It’s funny how I’ll stop and look at my bookshelf full of books for writing research and then go “I shouldn’t show some of these to people who don’t know I’m a writer.” They’re not bad, but they are . . . unusual and occasionally a little scary at first glance. Because I am a fantasy writer, I have a lot of Celtic mythology books, general mythology, books on ancient cultures, medieval weapons and warfare, fantasy weapons, and then there are my specialty books. Those are the ones that probably seem a little scary.

I love to write about shapeshifters and other creatures of legend so I have a number of books on werewolves, cryptozoology, and mythical creatures in general. I also have some books on angelology/demonology, which come in handy when I’m revamping original legends into a new creature. But the scariest book for research I currently have in my possession is probably Book of Poisons: A Guide for Writers. And of course, the “a guide for writers” is in much smaller print on the cover (not even on the spine) compared to the main title. I like this book, it’s a very handy reference that covers all sorts of poisonous plants, creatures, and medicines with the all important details for antidotes and treatments and any other special consideration for writerly plots as well as what you should keep in mind when making up a poison or disease, but it’s probably not one of my “look at my bookshelf and you’ll get to know me” books. 😉

Now I know I can’t be the only writer who has somewhat scary research books. So what is one book you would wait to show someone until after they’ve learned you’re a writer?

When Spellcheck Quits – I’m a Fantasy Writer

I’m a fantasy writer. Part of my job is digging up cool (unusual) names and making up names for people, places, creatures, plants, and things, but a couple weeks ago I was working on a project and spellcheck up and quit on me.

My initial reaction was: What just happened?

Immediately on its heels was: *falling out of the chair laughing* Spellcheck gave up on me!

I did talk to a few other fantasy authors who told me this has happened to them too around the 140k mark. I have had Word’s spellcheck throw some interesting hissy fits but I have never had it say “You have so many spelling and grammar errors, Word is no longer going to automatically show spellcheck suggestions anymore.”

This is probably the funniest accomplishment I have reached as a writer. Of course, I had to go through the slight inconvenience of manually spellchecking another 18k. But it wasn’t bad enough that I don’t want to ever make spellcheck quit again. 😉 I consider it one of those funny quirks of being a fantasy writer and it was funny enough that it actually cheered me up after a week of wrestling with time trials and writer’s block. And now I want to make spellcheck quit again, teeheehee.

I’m a fantasy writer. It’s a lot more fun than even I expect sometimes. 😉


Time Trials

Time, time, all round and yet there are never enough hours in my day.

Who can’t relate to that sentiment? For writers, especially, it seems we have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. Life interferes with our carefully laid out schedule. And if you’re anything like me, you feel like an utter failure when the Schedule goes flying out the window because of family, school, illness, the non-writing job, etc. I myself have been struggling to get everything writing-related done because my planned spring break schedule of writing the rest of my web serial and getting ahead on edits with two different books was sunk by the iceberg illness. But when you’re too sick to write coherently, you need to rest and recharge.

The same thing goes for when our other high priorities demand more time than we had originally planned. Writers who are working, parenting, and still managing to write at least one book a year: I applaud you. I especially applaud those parents who choose to push out their writing schedule in order to spend more time with their families. Family, work, and school should not be placed behind writing. We don’t want all the other important areas of our lives to suffer simply so we can succeed in the single area of writing.

What we want and need is balance. That is what gets me through my time trials. No, I’m not working on my book but I am succeeding in X area of my life. For me, it’s usually school. Right now it is not practical for writing fantasy to be the number one priority even though I love it. Giving my all in school is my top priority. I know this and I know and plan for it to move up the priority food chain once I finish my degree because I will have more time for writing. For other writers I know, it’s their day job or raising their families or even spending more time with God that is the higher priority.

But we are not failures for giving the proper priority to things other than writing. Some writers firmly believe that you must write X number of words a day or X number of pages a week or X number of books a year in order to be professional and not an amateur or hobbyist. And they mean well, I’m certain that they do, but the wonderful thing about writing is there is no one way to succeed. What matters is we keep trying and we keep writing even if we go a week or two without writing anything in our book. Some of us write faster than others so 1k a week is a measly output from our perspective but that’s a  triumph for others. Some of us are great at outlining and others prefer pantsing it and still others go for a balance between the two. The point is we are all different.

Personally, I believe you are a professional writer when you start publishing, it doesn’t matter whether or not you can make a living on writing. So when the time trials come up and you reach the end of your day or week and you look over your writing to-do list that ended up turning into a “You Wish” list, don’t feel discouraged. Don’t feel like a failure. We only fail when we quit. Priorities change with the needs of the day or the week and our writing time, precious as it is, is often the only thing we can sacrifice in order to meet those pressing needs. This does not mean we are not taking our writing careers seriously. It means we have perspective.

When the time trials grab you and tear up your writing schedule, here are some things that I’ve found helpful:

  • Focus on the most pressing need first. If there’s going to be a break between your pressing needs, use that time to jot down notes for your current writing project, read over your last written work if possible, or simply read someone else’s book and recharge.


  • Sit down at the end of the day (or week) and figure out which writing project can be put on the backburner for longer than planned until you finish your most pressing needs, this should leave you with your “must finish by X date” project instead of spreading out over multiple projects and your high priorities.


  • Tell yourself it’s okay to move your writing schedule out. It seems simple but if your deadline is self-imposed, not giving yourself any wiggle room can be extremely stressful.


  • Don’t feel guilty. You are a writer, you love writing, and you want to succeed. When faced with time trials, you always have the hard decision of letting your writing take a lower spot on the priority totem pole in order to meet the more pressing needs or continuing to divide your attention between needs and the want of meeting your writing schedule and having both suffer because of it. Choosing to adjust your writing schedule is hard but in the end it will give you a better book than rushing through and making mistakes that you wouldn’t if you weren’t too stretched out.


  • Finally, celebrate the victories no matter how small. Victory sweetens everything even when you still have a lot more to do. It’s also encouraging because you proved to yourself that you still got it and you can still meet your writing goals even if it’s not as many as you had hoped for in the beginning. For example, I have a huge To Do list and I’m behind a bit but I have achieved a victory by finishing the revisions for Tiger’s Paw and now I’m only one editing round away from prepping for publication next month.

What tips or suggestions do you have for fellow writers who are struggling with time trials and juggling priorities?

Sacrifice – Authors and Characters

It’s Good Friday. The day we commemorate the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ whose shed blood covers our sins and provides salvation. Sacrifice is one of the theme archetypes in fantasy. Characters sacrifice comfort, home, family, friends, and sometimes themselves in order to achieve the quest and (more often than not) save the world. But is that sacrifice worthwhile?

In fantasy, the theme of sacrifice is very common, almost to the point of becoming a cliché. But it is also relatable. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NKJV). I have had a character who sacrificed himself because it was part of his character arc and I’ve seen some extremely well-written sacrifice arcs that cover everything from comfort and home to oneself. Because, let’s be honest, how boring would the Hobbit have been if Bilbo Baggins didn’t sacrifice comfort in order to go on an adventure? Or how differently would the Lord of the Rings have been if (Spoilers ahead!) Gandalf hadn’t sacrificed himself to provide the escape from the Balrog or Frodo sacrificing everything to carry the ring to Mordor or Boromir sacrificing himself in his final redemption as he tried to protect Merry and Pippin? And how much more do we love the characters who are willing and ready to lay down their lives for their faith or to protect another character?

But, what we authors need to be mindful of is whether the sacrifice truly fits into the character’s growth (this goes double for if he or she is a main character)? I won’t name any of the books or movies I felt had a contrived sacrifice because we all know that reader opinions vary when it comes to whether a sacrifice was fitting/moving or contrived. But, when considering having your hero or heroine make the ultimate sacrifice take into account whether or not they have to die or only be willing to die. Sacrifice does not always mean that the character making it must die. Willingness to die can be just as poignant. Or perhaps the ultimate sacrifice does not need to be made by your hero or heroine but by someone else. The plucky sidekick who has been the light, joyful reminder of all the good in the world. Or the previous traitor (willing or unwilling) who wants so badly to make amends and maybe protect his/her family or friends. When I try to decide whether a character makes the ultimate sacrifice, I look at his/her growth over the course of the story and whether a sacrificial death will (a) complete the character’s natural redemption/growth arc or (b) is just a way for me to make sure everyone in the world can see how sacrificial and great this character is even though I have other options for both sacrifice participant and type of sacrifice/plot resolution or (c) I have run out of ideas for this character and I’m not even going to consider the other options because they must die. Obviously, option a is the preferred one and leaves more satisfied (if emotionally crushed) readers.

I think part of the reason sacrifice is such a popular theme, in fantasy and especially in fantasy written by Christians is tied to Jesus Christ and His death on the cross. It is a vital part of our beliefs that Jesus Himself carried out the greatest sacrifice once for all the sins of every person in the world, past, present, and future. And our beliefs impact our writing. Look at Tolkien, he did not set out to write the Lord of the Rings as an allegory but his Christian beliefs left an imprint on  his characters and their story arcs. And many Christians feel that their fantasy should be allegorical at least to the extent of having a character mirror Christ’s sacrificial death even if it comes across as forced to readers. To each his own.

Another reason I think sacrifice is a popular theme is because authors can relate to it . . . a lot. Authors sacrifice many things ranging from spending all their free time off work working on their writing to cutting back extra pleasures such as going out to eat to save up for a professional editor or even choosing to turn down a high-grade contract due to the publisher wanting content that the author’s Christian conscience cannot agree to writing. Writing is not the career path to take if a person only wants to get rich quick and it will take a while (unless you happen to become an overnight sensation) before you build a big enough fan base and have enough books out to break even and even longer before you earn a profit. But these sacrifices are made because authors love to write.

What we need to remember and what Good Friday and Easter remind us of is the fact that the truest and best sacrifices are motivated out of love. Not the drive to be the best saintly character ever. Not for fame or impressive contracts. True sacrifice is made out of love, it is an expression of love. And the best sacrificial arcs in fantasy and in any fiction are those motivated by love, the truest and purest of love whether it is romantic, familial, philia, or agape.


*Note: Due to it being Easter weekend, which is a time for family, the next episode of The Stolen Jewel will be posted on the 12th.