Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday Musings: Quiet Joy and New Year's (Reading) Resolutions

... being a post in two parts

Part 1: Quiet Joy

Last week I wrote about my surprising disconnect from the Christmas season this year. Turns out I just had to wait a bit longer.

The joy cameunexpectedly—in a quiet way. First, my friend Stephen shared his article from last January where he quoted from C.S. Lewis' chapter in Mere Christianity on Christian marriage:

This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do.
Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.
At the time, I only took this passage to mind in the way Stephen originally used it—in regard to fandoms and not killing the joy of partaking in stories by always demanding the first and strongest thrill from every interaction. But God brought it back to my mind later.

Our associate pastor had asked me a few weeks back if I would write and read "a poem or something else" for the Christmas Eve service. I had written up a villanelle on a family trip two weeks ago, but the more I looked at it, the more it felt forced. As though I were trying too hard to get an old thrill instead of allowing the words to say what they wanted. So two days before the service, I reworked it into a "something else".*

This small (or large) act of revisiting a project served to lighten my spirits a great deal. When the service finally came, I found myself thinking back to Lewis' words. "It's the small, quiet joys," I thought, "that keep the thrill alive. Even at Christmas."

And it was a good Christmas after all.

Part 2: New Year's (Reading) Resolutions

One thing that usually happens around here at Christmas is that I get books. This year, despite my best efforts at making a wishlist for our parents that consisted of not so many books, I still wound up with quite a few:

  • Tolkien's Beowulf translation
  • Tolkien's Sigurd and Gudrun adaptation
  • Glamour and Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis
  • Christian Mythmakers by Rolland Hein
  • Goldenhand by Garth Nix
  • I Don't Want to Kill You by Dan Wells
  • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
  • The Celtic Vision by Esther de Waal
  • A Life Observed by Devin Brown
  • The Book of Common Prayer (this edition, to be precise)

And most of these went straight to my bookshelf in our bedroom (also known as the "read this soonish" shelf). Once they did, I realized I had a problem. The shelf, already filled to overflowing, was now almost unmanageable. So I purged the shelf (i.e. I took the books that had moved down my priority list to the library downstairs). In order to keep myself from winding up in the same position next year (and in order to maintain my wife's sanity when it comes to my frequent book-buying urges), I am making a couple of resolutions.

  1. I shall not buy a book (even at a library sale or McKay's) without first having read one I own. [This is a revision of a rule I used a few years back; originally, it was read two to buy one.]
  2. I shall not add a book to the bedroom shelf without first having read a book on the shelf (and removing it).

For the sake of transparency, here's what the bedroom shelf looks like now:

There are also a few books on the shelf that aren't included in the "read it and remove it" clause: the Bible (on the top far right) and the three large books on the bottom left: Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and A Dictionary of Irish Folklore (which is here partly to keep the shelf weighted on the bottom :P).

So what about you all? Any resolutions for the new year, reading or otherwise?

* Here, for those of you who are interested:

Christmas Musings
Above Bethlehem, star and nebula, cloud and angel, from heaven to heaven,
The universe was holding its breath.
An unexpected arrival, long promised
Long looked for, long cherished and feared
The Word had come to conquer death.
Since Seth and before this entry
Had been prepared, prophesied, planned
Still, the universe held its breath.
Angelic glorias and humble praise, difficult journeys and worldly edicts
Preceded His coming.
Temple-dwelling Anna and faithful Simeon gave praise to God
For the end of the night
For the Messiah, this child, the Word made flesh
The Son of Man come to conquer our death.
In the Jordan, with John’s praise and heaven's dove
The voice of the Father announcing His might,
The Word revealed Himself
And the universe withheld a silent breath.
Outside Jerusalem’s walls—continually before Him
Who bears our names on His hands—on the skull-strewn heath
Darkness—with nails and spear—put out the Light of the World.
The Word, crowned with thorns, was conquered by death.
The Son rose with Sunday
And above Jerusalem, star and nebula, cloud and angel, from heaven to heaven
With the joy it had reserved since His birth

The universe shouted for the Word had conquered death.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday Musings: Confessions of a (Surprise) Christmas Curmudgeon

Before you start telling me about how wonderful the Christmas season is, believe me – I know. It's my favorite holiday season, just as autumn is my favorite season of the year.

But this year, it seems a bit more distant than usual. Autumn felt the same. My two favorite times of the year seemed to take forever to arrive this year, yet they have come and (in the case of Christmas, nearly) gone without much more than a whisper of my usual joy.

In autumn's case, the dissonance between this year and previous autumns lies in the delayed cooling of the weather (and our cold snap coming before Halloween). I also didn't have as much of a boost in my creative drive as I usually do. I made one cross stitch sampler and a pair of fingerless gloves this year (the former for Samwise's room, the latter out of necessity). 

Normally, I'm bouncing from project to project in the fall, both craft and writing. This year, not so much. Part of that probably comes from anticipating Samwise's arrival and our recent move. Now that I'm driving 40 minutes each way twice a day, there's a little less time in the day for leisure.

Don't get me wrong, the move was a good one, and in some ways necessary. But the shorter hours for writing, making, and reading are one side-effect of the move I'm still adjusting to.

But Christmas. Christmas is a season I hardly ever have to strive to be in the spirit. It's like putting on my fingerless gloves – muscle memory, hardly any thought. It just happens. I have to resist the urge to listen to Christmas music all year long (and I don't always resist). I love buying gifts for friends and family, and eagerly look forward to receiving my assignment for this year's Secret Santa months before we even put our names in the hat. I begin working on narration and drama for the church Christmas production no later than August. Christmas is at the heart of me. But some days this year I've felt a little too much like this Relient K song:

Now that we're 6 sleeps away from Christmas, I'm finally asking why it has felt so distant this year. And the answers came more quickly than I anticipated.

I'm a father of a two-month-old. That's new, and wonderful, and something we're all still adjusting to. (As a side note, Samwise loves staring at the lights on our Christmas tree; sometimes me rocking him near the tree is all that will calm him – and other times it has no effect. Babies. ;) )

I haven't been involved in the church Christmas as much as usual. In fact, all I did this year was write the narration, give a little direction, and let my wonderful drama team handle it. And handle it they did. Better than I could have hoped.

We haven't been in church as much, period. We've been to services twice in the last two months, slowly easing our way back into attendance because babies are fickle and immunosensitive and such. It's been great to be back the days we've been, but there's still a gap in our worship time I'm hoping we will bridge soon.

Life is just a little crazier than usual. We're celebrating with our parents and my brother and his fiancée this weekend. Then we're heading south for that same brother's wedding to said fiancée next weekend. There have been extra trips (which are bigger endeavors with a baby on board) and there are still changes to our schedules and lives we're figuring out post-Samwise.

All that to say, I'm trying to find the joy of Christmas I've been missing. Seeing the choir and drama team perform yesterday lifted my spirits a great deal. I expect that this weekend will do much the same as we celebrate on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with family, church family, and friends. Sometimes, it pays to just rock and watch the lights go by. Sometimes the small moments make up the bigger experience.

Has anyone else experienced a strange shift in their experience and enjoyment of Christmas this year?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The End of One Year, The Beginning of Another

It's been a crazy couple of months since I last posted. Our little Samwise joined us, and our lives haven't been the same since.

I haven't been idle with my writing in those two months, though I'm still learning the balance of having a writing life with an infant in the house. I've been making a lot of progress with Albion Academy's publication. We have a cover, which I'll officially reveal in an upcoming post, and I'm a few chapters away from the end of the galley proofing, which means the official manuscript will be finished before long!

Some of you may remember the Almost an Inkling flash fiction contest I participated in last September and October. The winning entries in that contest have finally been released in an ebook from Oloris Publishing. You can pick that up in EPUB or MOBI format here.

In anticipation of Albion Academy's forthcoming publication, I'm going to be overhauling Inexhaustible Inspiration. This change will come in two main ways: one, I'll be redesigning the look and feel of the site, attempting to make it more streamlined and user-friendly; two, for the first time ever, I'll be setting myself a formal blogging schedule. That schedule will be as follows;

Monday Musings: Anything from writing issues to philosophical questions to book reviews; these will be posted every week.

Top 10 Tuesday: Once a month at least (probably the first Tuesday of each month), I'll bring out one of my Top 10 lists.

Watercolor Wednesdays: I'm taking up watercolors this Christmas, and this will be a place for me to share my trials and successes (but mostly the former, ;) ). I may also post pictures of sketches and such. No sense limiting ourselves to one art form. These will come at least once a month. More often if I can get the painting time in.

ThrowBook Thursdays: Once a month (second or third Thursday), I'll post a book I've read before that still means something to me. It may be one I've mentioned before (Narnia, anyone?) or something that surprises you all.

Saturday Snippets: On the last Saturday of the month, I'll post some snippets of what I've written that month. For the foreseeable future, these will most likely come from the second book in the Albion Quartet, as that will be my primary focus. The goal is to have that one ready to go to the publisher around the time Albion Academy comes out in July, so that we can release it a year later. Then it will be on to book 3! (But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Thank you all for sticking with me over the last few years. I can't wait to see where this next year takes us all!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Elements of Me

Mirriam wrote about the little things from childhood that made her who she is this morning, and it was a fun and fascinating read. I usually feel like I should write something after reading Mir's blog posts, but this time she even said "Go for it!" in the post, so I am.

The following is a rambling (big surprise) list-ish thing of various influences from my childhood and growing up that have made me who I am today, with an emphasis on the things that make people say, "That explains a lot."

* My dad's humor: Dad has a strange mix of dry British wit and American slapstick. He introduced me to the Three Stooges and Mel Brooks and plenty of so-called "dad jokes" (which I honestly have never seen as being particular to fathers; they're just good humor). Despite that, it took me a long time to appreciate a good pun, but now that I do, I can joke with the best of them (aka Dad).

* The Smoky Mountains: This was our family's favorite vacation spot, and there's a large part of me that knows exactly what Lewis meant when he described the mountains of heaven in The Great Divorce because I've been there in winter, spring, summer, and autumn. Autumn is my favorite season, and the mountains are a large part of that.

* Merlin and all things magical: I actually should probably back up and say "Disney" because the Disney movies and fairy tales I grew up watching have shaped my imagination in lasting ways. Disney was my first introduction to other loves like Merlin and the Arthurian legends, and classic books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

* Books, generally: My mom instilled a love of reading in my brother and me when we were very young and I've never lost it. I love reading, being read to, reading to others. Listening to books, watching movies adapted from books. Books on shelves, books in stacks. Kids' books, "grown-up" books, books of magic and imagination. Stories that grip the mind and soul and leave you changed.

* Narnia, specifically: While I came into the world of Narnia late compared to many of my Narnia-loving friends (I only read most of the books in 5th or 6th grade), it left a very noteworthy mark on me: I wrote my first novel because I wanted to write something as important as Narnia (achievable goal, yes?). While I had been writing small stories and creating worlds before, that novel was a gateway to a calling and I haven't stopped writing and plotting and imagining since.

* Moving: We moved a lot in my middle school, high school, and college years. I learned to adapt and be at home quickly.

* Myths: I don't remember encountering mythology before 3rd or 4th grade when I found a book of Greek myths in the school library. They took hold of my imagination and I've since discovered the tremendous wealth of folklore and myth the world has to offer.

* Heroes: Tarzan, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Aladdin, Prince Philip, Miss Bianca, Cinderella, Merlin, Dorothy, Caractacus Potts - just to name a few. I grew up watching brave people fight evil and win in the name of love and truth. My idea of a hero has developed since then but it still owes a lot to those characters from my youth.

* Nature: Dad is an outdoorsman. He always took care to show us something new when we were outside and teach us the name and uses of plants and how to spot animals and their tracks. We watched storms and went crabbing on moonlit beaches. We hunted in early gray mornings and fished on hot afternoons. He taught me to appreciate the world around me.

* Quotes: Somewhere in my childhood I started relating to my family, friends, and the world at large via movie quotes (music and book references too, but mainly movies). It became a shibboleth of sorts for Wesley and me: we knew who our people were based on which quotes from our everyday conversation they recognized, how easily they slipped into our brotherhood.

* Horror: I love watching black and white horror films (or old films in general). They can, at their best, evoke all the right emotions of fear, love, anguish, righteous anger, and triumph. They have true heroes and clear villains. Struggling people stuck in the terrible place between saved and lost. And best if all they expose human nature in all its depravity without reveling in that depravity.

So that's just a glimpse into the things that make me who I am. What would your list look like?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Carrying Peace

I've been trying to write this post for the better part of two months. But I never quite bring myself to sit down and type.

This year started out with an exhausted and creatively weary me. I'd just come off of NaNo and the Christmas season in which I'd been in two separate church dramas with three total performances. I needed a break.

And then the break became more of a hiatus. I did some revision work on Albion Academy, and I toyed with finishing There's No Place like Home?, but really I just took a break from everything.

Then the Year of Major Life EventsTM started rolling. We learned we were going to be parents, we started looking for a house. We had weddings and birthdays, anniversaries and funerals. My brother's wedding date was moved, and we were now both in the wedding. We found a house. I was elected as a deacon at our church. I signed a contract to have Albion Academy published.

Oh yeah. That was the original reason for this two-months-in-the-making post.

I'm having a novel published.

It still feels like it's happening to somebody else. (So does the reality of my impending parenthood, for that matter.) But there are a thousand tiny details to arrange in the next few months to get the gears of the publishing machine rolling.

And through it all, I've felt like I'm still on that break from the start of the year. This is always the fear underlying the creative urges when I start or pause or resume anything I'm working on: that I'll pause it someday and never resume, or that I'll "resume" but behave as though I were still on pause.

For months now I've been trying to figure out why I haven't been writing consistently if at all. Where my creative drive has gone. I've been reading (and now we've got a library card again, listening) as much as ever, perhaps more. But I also have a writing nook set up that I haven't used since I put everything in its place. The problem is me, no doubt about it; but what about me? It could just be the stress and chaos that precede and follow all the changes we're going through this year.

But if I think about it, a large part of the problem is that I go through most days without any goals in mind. I am here to survive the day, to get to the end when I can sit on the couch with Jeana and watch TV and just exist for a bit. And while occasional days like this are okay, I shouldn't be spending every day feeling this way. It might feel like I need a break, but really what I probably need is a break from my break. I need to move.

In Jeana's counseling courses, she was taught to make and keep a wellness plan -- a holistic scheme by which she ensures her own wellbeing so that she can be better prepared, enabled, and equipped to guide others in caring for themselves. I think I need to establish my own wellness plan of sorts. One thing that will definitely go on there is keeping myself to a writing habit; another will be to take breaks from the Internet and TV. I'll probably have to adjust it now and after the baby arrives. That's okay. Life (as this year has been making every effort to prove) is a journey -- a peregrinatio as the monks call it. And while we're told to be still and know God, sometimes that peace isn't a lack of movement as much as it is an inner stillness. We can carry peace with us on the road.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The VIC (Very Important Characters) List

A friend of mine recently did a list of characters that she had obsessed/was obsessing over and I thought I'd do a similar list. These are in no particular order and the list is not exhaustive (by a long shot).

1.      Olorin/Gandalf from LotR
2.      Galadriel from LotR
3.      Glorfindel from LotR
4.      Hazel-rah from Watership Down
5.      Fiver from Watership Down
6.      Samwise Gamgee from LotR
7.      Aslan from Narnia
8.      Reepicheep from Narnia
9.      Edmund from Narnia
10.  Shasta from Narnia
11.  Puddleglum from Narnia
12.  Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist
13.  Greed/Greedling from Fullmetal Alchemist
14.  Pinako Rockbell from Fullmetal Alchemist
15.  Hoenheim from Fullmetal Alchemist
16.  Winry Rockbell from Fullmetal Alchemist
17.  Rumplestiltskin from Once Upon a Time
18.  Regina Mills from Once Upon a Time
19.  Charlotte A Cavatica from Charlotte’s Web
20.  Jonathan Strange from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
21.  Stephen Black from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
22.  John Childermass from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
23.  Bartimaeus from the Bartimaeus trilogy
24.  Matthias from Redwall
25.  Martin the Warrior from Redwall
26.  Pau Zotah Zhaan from Farscape
27.  John Crichton from Farscape
28.  Steve Rogers from Marvel comics/Captain America films
29.  Kermit the Frog from the Muppets
30.  The Great Gonzo from the Muppets
31.  Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island/Muppet Treasure Island/Treasure Planet
32.  The Doctor from Doctor Who
33.  Luke Skywalker from Star Wars
34.  Leia Organa from Star Wars
35.  Dick Grayson/Nightwing from DC comics/TeenTitans
36.  Raven from DC comics/TeenTitans
37.  Beast Boy from DC comics/TeenTitans
38.  Riku from Kingdom Hearts
39.  Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager
40.  The Doctor/EMH from Star Trek: Voyager
41.  Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation
42.  Spock from Star Trek
43.  Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
44.  Worf from Star Trek: TNG/DS9
45.  Aladdin
46.  Beast
47.  Belle
48.  Bernard from The Rescuers
49.  Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland
50.  Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz
51.  The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz
52.  Merlin from Arthurian legend
53.  Sherlock Holmes
54.  Lucy Pevensie from Narnia
55.  Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender
56.  Iroh from Avatar: the Last Airbender
57.  Minerva McGonagall from Harry Potter
58.  Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter
59.  Remus Lupin from Harry Potter
60.  Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts/Harry Potter (Ok, this is cheating a bit, but he’s already my new favorite.)
61.  Scorpius Malfoy from Harry Potter
62.  Albus Potter from Harry Potter
63.  Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader from Star Wars
64.  Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars
65.  Prince Philip from Sleeping Beauty
66.  Inspector Jacques Clouseau from The Pink Panther
67.  Molly Carpenter from The Dresden Files
68.  Molly Weasley from Harry Potter
69.  Hermione Granger from Harry Potter
70.  Death from Discworld
71.  Rory Williams from Doctor Who
72.  Tarzan
73.  Westley from The Princess Bride
74.  Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride
75.  Robin Goodfellow/Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
76.  Ariel from The Tempest
77.  Mr. Halloway from Something Wicked This Way Comes
78.  Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
79.  Ender Wiggin from Ender’s Game
80.  Will Stanton from The Dark is Rising
81.  Merriman from The Dark is Rising
82.  Willy Wonka from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
83.  Igor from Young Frankenstein
84.  Atreyu from The Neverending Story
85.  Falcor from The Neverending Story
86.  Thursday Next
87.  Jean Valjean from Les Miserables
88.  Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle
89.  Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
90.  Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time
91.  Dr. Elwin Ransom from Out of the Silent Planet
92.  Deth from Riddle-Master
93.  Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables
94.  Mina Harker from Dracula
95.  Jonathan Harker from Dracula
96.  Professor Van Helsing from Dracula
97.  Binabik from The Dragonbone Chair
98.  Cory Matthews from Boy Meets World
99.  Ginger from Chicken Run

100.                      Darkwing Duck

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes: What I'd Want in a Musical Adaptation

I was listening to the soundtrack for Finding Neverland (the musical) today, and when I reached the song "Circus of Your Mind" a thrilling idea occurred to me -- this is the sound I would want in a musical version of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It's possible that the idea was slightly influenced by my listening to the soundtrack for the Addams Family musical recently as well. In any event, I started wondering about what else I would like to see in a Something Wicked musical.

The Story

For those of you unfamiliar with Something Wicked This Way Comes, it is the story of two friends, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, who were born within minutes of each other on the night before Halloween. Their friendship is tested when a traveling carnival run by the mysterious duo Cooger and Dark comes to town. The carnival (true to its trope) brings the citizens of the town face to face with their deepest desires and fears, usually with messy results (such as the traveling salesman who is made one of the carnival's attractions). The biggest temptation facing Will and Jim is the carousel that will make anyone who rides it age. Jim, the younger of the two, wishes to be older for once in his life, even if it breaks his friendship with Will. Will is content to be as he is, having seen the effects of age on his older-than-average father. They also have to deal with the darker effects of the carnival's presence in the town when Mr. Dark decides that they have seen too much and starts combing the town for them.

As far as the script for the musical goes, Disney's film (scripted by Bradbury himself) would be a good starting point. The script covers the plot and themes of the book very well and, with its shorter running time, still leaves room to add songs and maybe even restore some of the scenes from the book that were dropped (such as Will and Jim's shared nightmare of the Dust Witch searching for their houses).

The Music

As I said, the sound of Finding Neverland's "Circus of Your Mind" would be perfect for this book, particularly in any songs involving the carnival and Mr. Dark. For the Dust Witch, I'd think something sultry and exotic. Jim and Will's songs should reflect their innocence and disconnectedness from life. The lyrics surrounding the carnival and its members (whether sung by them or other members of the cast) should have a mythic quality. I'd especially love something dark and lyrical sung by Will's father as he researches the history of "the autumn people" as he calls them. There should be room for light and joy in the songs, but the bulk of the musical would have to take on a dark, brooding tone ranging from Jim's determination to be older to Mr. Dark's desire to collect the people of Green Town. Speaking of Mr. Dark, he and his partner Mr. Cooger (largely absent from the film) could have a rousing (if chilling) intro number along the lines of "Marley and Marley" in The Muppet Christmas Carol, although their song would likely have a much darker shade of humor like something from Sweeney Todd.

The Cast

I'm not very well-versed in the stars of Broadway and other theatrical venues, so this will be focused more on what qualities I'd hope for in the characters than specific actors.

Jim and Will are the main characters, so if the show keeps them at their proper ages (almost 14), there will need to be a group of strong child actors in these roles. I would hope that any show would try to keep these two young because it would kill half of the conflict to make them much older than they are in the book. While both of them are white in the book, I don't think race need play a part in their casting, so long as the light and dark dynamic of their hair/personalities is carried over. (It's a pretty big part of the novel's imagery.)

Will's father should be someone like Joel Grey who can portray a frail man with a strong spirit. He should be bookish rather than physically imposing (although if he were someone with a strong physical appearance who could somehow appear to be frail and old, that would be astoundingly wonderful to see).

Mr. Dark was portrayed by Jonathan Pryce in the film, and I think he'd still be a good fit for the role. It needs a certain gravitas and chilling threat in its portrayal, someone who can play a refined businessman when the need arises but has a deep well of darkness and violence waiting beneath the surface to swallow the unsuspecting. Mr. Cooger would need to be someone who has excellent chemistry with the actor for Mr. Dark and who could hold his own when playing opposite such a large personality.

For the Dust Witch, there will need to be an actress who can express herself as everything from a creepy old witch to a young seductress. She will likely be a woman of color, in keeping with her description in the book.

So what book, movie, or other story would you like most to see turned into a stage musical?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Top(-ish) 100 Books

My friend Melissa recently shared an article detailing the author's Top 10 lists of the Top 100 books and asked everyone what their top 100 would look like. I'm not sure this is an iron-clad Top 100 for me, but it's a rough list (in alphabetical order for the sake of clarity). To no one's surprise, it's primarily fantasy books, and there are lots of repeated authors (mainly C.S. Lewis).

1984 by George Orwell
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Across the Wall by Garth Nix
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass by Lewis Carroll
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman by Brian Jacques

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
Dune by Frank Herbert
Collected Poems by Dylan Thomas
Hangman’s Curse by Frank Peretti
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Heaven by Randy Alcorn
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

Holes by Louis Sachar
How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I am NOT a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
If You Give a Moose a Muffin
Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
Innocents Aboard by Gene Wolfe

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Lirael by Garth Nix
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Marlfox by Brian Jacques
Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Monster by Mirriam Neal
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Othello by William Shakespeare
Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques
Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti
Planet Narnia by Michael Ward
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
Richard II by William Shakespeare

Riddle-Master by Patricia McKillip
Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Sabriel by Garth Nix
Saga of the Volsungs
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Golem’s Eye by Jonathan Stroud
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
The Harp of the Grey Rose by Charles de Lint
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
The Paper Magician by Charlie Holmburg
The Pawn by Steven James
The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams

The Scarecrow of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Spooky Old Tree by The Berenstains
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis
The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L’Engle
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien
War in Heaven by Charles Williams
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Wolf Moon by Charles de Lint

Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Thursday, June 30, 2016

ThrowBook Thursday: Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal

Look at that cover art. Love it. Adore it.

Last year, my friend Mirriam passed along a draft of her WIP, Paper Crowns, after I'd expressed an interest in reading some of her writing (specifically one having to do with wyslings). I flew through it, loving every minute. When she announced its imminent publication, I was overjoyed. I knew this was a book to be shared with the world, and now it would be.

I've just finished my reading of the final, published version, and I'm pleased to say that I loved it even more the second time through.

My initial impression of Paper Crowns, in summary, was "this is a fun, wild romp through Faerie." That impression still holds true.

So why should you read Paper Crowns?

The main characters are vibrant (both in the sense of being three-dimensional, and in the sense of Hal being a blue-furred cat).

The secondary characters are worthy of their own books. (At least one gets his own sequel, still in the works.)

There's magic and mayhem and snark abounding.

There are wizards without hearts and wizards with hearts.

There are Celtic gods and elementals with large voices.

There are good guys and bad guys and several whose moral positions you won't ever be sure of until the last pages.

There are living creatures of ice and paper. Imagine origami on a grand, Gandalf's fireworks scale.

You will not want to abandon this book because it always keeps you laughing.

Basically, if you enjoy fantasy, humor, or faerie stories, you should try this book.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top 10 Tuesday: Fairy Tales

Beauty and the Beast

I'm a sucker for true love conquers all and the transforming power of love. The Disney version of the tale was one of my favorites as a child and I've only grown to love this story's heart even more since then. Till We Have Faces, Lewis' retelling of "Cupid and Psyche" (itself an earlier form of "Beauty and the Beast"), is one of my favorite books of all time. I can't get enough of seeing people learn to love others more than themselves, especially when the other person is unlovable. That's Christ-like love, and it's powerful.

The Six Swans/Seven Ravens

I first encountered this story in an old VHS of fairy tale retellings (it also had a Robin Hood retelling and others I've forgotten). I remember the love of the heroine for her brothers and her perseverance in fulfilling the prescriptions for breaking the curse drawing me into the story like few I'd heard before. I certainly couldn't have kept utterly silent for such a long time. While I've not seen many adaptations of it, it's still one of my favorite tales.


"Cinderella" is one of those fairy tales that gets a lot of grief. People cry out that she has no agency, that she just sits back and takes the maltreatment she receives from her stepfamily, that she relies on others (the prince, the fairy godmother) to save her. While she does seem very passive, I've read some brilliant analyses of the tale that argue her role is actually quite active -- she actively chooses compassion, to turn the other cheek, to not respond to evil with evil. Cinderella embodies meekness and humility while still preserving her kind spirit. For that reason, this tale ranks among my top 10.


I'll admit that the biggest draw to this story for child me was the abundance of magic. There are genies and magicians and tricksy cleverness aplenty. But it's also a valuable story in that it demonstrates the necessity for wisdom in judging the character of others and in what you wish for. Not only that, the story places as much value on hard work and (depending on your version) honesty as it does having a magic class-crossing genie in your pocket.

Diamonds and Toads

This is one of the stories Disney hasn't got their hands on (yet). Probably because there's no romance in it. It's in the vein of "Cinderella", but rather than focusing on the treatment of Cinderella and her escape from that abuse, it emphasizes the difference in the two daughters' hearts. One daughter is kind to an old beggar woman (truly a fairy) and receives the blessing of having diamonds fall from her mouth when she speaks ever after; her sister, less kind and also greedy, refuses to show kindness to the same fairy, now disguised as a young and beautiful woman. In return, she is cursed to have toads fall from her lips whenever she speaks. It's a simple tale but the message resounds in Scripture: treat others as you wish to be treated, speak only such words as are good for building up, etc.

Billy Goats Gruff

This is one of those stories everyone seems to know in childhood, but it falls by the wayside when we're a bit older. Like a lot of childhood stories, it features clever heroes outwitting the bad guy. It's not one that pops up a lot for me now, but it was a childhood favorite, so I'm sticking it in here. If you get a chance, check out Terry Pratchett's and Neil Gaimain's stories that are sort-of retellings of it, both called "Troll Bridge."

Hansel and Gretel

I'm not really sure why I wanted to include this one; it's one of the darker fairy stories, even in the sanitized versions. Maybe it's the image of a house made out of gingerbread. Maybe it's Gretel's intelligence saving her brother. Maybe it's because it gave us the Looney Tunes character Witch Hazel, the exquisite running gag of "Hahn-sel" (like Hans, as opposed to "Hansel" like "hands"), and the wonderful insult, "Ah, your mother rides a vacuum cleaner." Who knows? But it is a fun story to come back to with different elements emphasized or explored.

Little Red Riding Hood

This story has so many retellings out there it either has been reworked to death or has untold depths to explore. I tend to argue the latter, especially when I see fantastic takes on the story like Once Upon a Time's from its first two seasons. There are variations to satisfy any fairy tale lover, from Red saves herself to the Woodcutter rescue, happy endings, sad endings, and ending in between.

The Snow Queen

My penchant for "The Snow Queen" stems from two Hallmark-produced miniseries, one based on Andersen's fairy tale and another based on "Snow White" that borrows elements from Andersen, namely the shattered mirror and its effects on those who find a shard of it in their eyes. It's a beautiful tale of love and friendship conquering everything from emotional coldness to laziness to outright wickedness. It also features one of the best heroines in all of fairy tale lore: Gerta.


"Bluebeard" is a weird story. It features locked doors, prohibitions, and mysterious bridegrooms (a bit like Cupid and Psyche, but not so happily ended). While its original is most likely a cautionary tale about curiosity (a la Pandora) its variants feature the bride saving herself as well as being saved by brothers, sisters, and mothers. It's a creepy story but worth the read if you find the right version.

Sleeping Beauty

Here's another tale rife with magic, but the magic isn't necessarily what brings me back to this story again and again. The things I love about this story include the prince's efforts to win through the forest of thorns, the sober view of evil as that which twists what is good into what is misshapen, and the necessary concept of good turning even the deeds of evil people (and fairies) for the better. "Sleeping Beauty" has some wonderful images of love (even beyond the romantic kind) conquering all.

*All images found via Pinterest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why You Need to Read Plenilune

When I first started reading Plenilune, I didn't really have any idea what it was about. I knew that I wanted to read it after finishing Mirriam's novel Monster (although I foolishly went on a trip without already having purchased Plenilune, so I had to delay it until I finished the book I started as soon as Monster was over, The Paper Magician). I knew that I enjoyed reading Jenny's blog posts and that she was good friends with Mirriam. Other than that (and the tantalizing precis on Amazon's item page), I was going in blind.

The Prose
But from the opening chapters, I was sucked in. The prose in this book is rich and wonderful. Biblical and Shakespearean references do more than pepper the story -- they flavor it through and through. The characters leap to life like those in Dickens and Austen. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you took Austen's books, melded them a bit with Burrough's planetary fantasy, and added a dash of C. S. Lewis, you'd have approximately what Plenilune is. This is planetary fantasy at its finest: lush and wondrous. I found myself highlighting passages of description and dialogue because they were resonating with me as so many bits and pieces of Les Miserables had.

The Story
The opening struck me as a bit slow coming off of a bunch of contemporary fiction and thrillers that moved at breakneck speed toward a hair-raising ending. Plenilune takes its time to set up the board and carry you through to checkmate. There might be those who find this slower pace a flaw, but it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in its careful advance, neither too slow nor too fast.

Jenny takes the story from a very mundane opening scene through fantasy, romance, and adventure to a conclusion that satisfies (almost) every desire and question I could have asked for. (There had to be a little room for the pantheon of novels coming in its wake.)

The Cast
I'll confess to being peeved with Margaret's lack of curiosity in the early chapters, but by the time we meet the fox, I had accepted that this was simply not her nature. I couldn't fault her for being herself and not me.

Speaking of people's natures, Rupert and Dammerung are perfectly written and rounded characters, foils for each other, Margaret, and the reader. I couldn't have asked for a better pair of opponents whose battle to be caught up in. Rupert has a bit of the sympathetic villain about him, and something of the dangerous fiend as well. Dammerung is the dashing hero of story, but his power makes him dangerous just as Rupert is dangerous.

The women in Plenilune's Houses do not leave all to the men, but neither are they the stereotype of "strong female characters" who need no man and cannot exist in the presence of strong male characters (and the reverse is true as well). I long to write characters as dynamic, vivacious, and complex as those in this book.

In Short
You should read this book if you're a fan of planetary fantasy like Burroughs' or Lewis', Gandalf, sagas, Austen, Susanna Clarke, foxes, cosmic battles, the Roman Empire, and/or vibrant characters who speak like Shakespearean characters without being unintelligible. If you don't find yourself in that section, I still suggest reading it. It has such powerful moments of mirth and sorrow that it can't help but resonate within the human heart.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Albion Academy Snippets

Several of my blogging writer friends do what they call "snippet posts" which include short excerpts from whatever they happen to be working on at the moment. In my attempt to get myself more regular in my blogging (and my writing), I decided that sharing some short snatches of Albion Academy, the first in my Albion/Merlin series, would be a good thing to try. Without further ado, here they are, divided by narrator:

Mortimer, the Djinni
Normally he's a bit more ... bluish.

Wishes are curious things, capable of great wonder, yet so easily twisted by those who grant them.

"I wish to become human," I said to the Elders, the twelve oldest Djinn who had any desire to rule and weren't in the bottle. They sat, reclined, or floated around the perimeter of the small chamber, encircling me, each close enough to touch.


"By the crotchety Elders," Brutus swore. Then he started laughing and I wondered if I'd made a mistake in calling out. I hadn't thought about doing it. I had wanted to prove Spork right. Brutus's attitude toward her and the other young Djinn was dishonorable to all the Djinn at Albion. I hadn't realized how much disdain Brutus had for others, not just humans and those who associated with them.

When Brutus recovered from his laughing fit, he said, "Morty, you got yourself trapped by a card-carrying human? I thought older Djinn were supposed to be better at eluding capture."

I decided to play a game with Brutus by mixing a little truth into my response. "When it suits us."

I smiled, envisioning the expression on his face as my words sank in.

"What do you mean 'when it suits you'?"

"I mean if I didn't want to be in here, I wouldn't be."

Brutus considered the implications of my words and said, "That's crazy talk."

"Perhaps," I said. "But I've learned madness can be a matter of perspective. Just look at Don Quixote."

"What about Don Quixote?"

"Well," I said, "he was a brave man who fought giants and knaves for the sake of his lady love."

Brutus scoffed. "That's not the story, Mortimer. Don Quixote was a mad old man with a stick."

"According to whom?"

"Cervantes," said Brutus.

"How do you know Cervantes wasn't mad himself and covering his tracks?" I asked. 


There wouldn't have been a stronger reaction if I'd said Principal Reese was in the room playing the national anthem on the tuba while juggling flaming batons and riding a unicycle. Well, maybe there would have been a little more reaction to the unicycle.

Merlin, the wizard
Well, not THAT Merlin.
Five years before, a stranger with pale hair appeared on our street and struck up conversation with me. When I told Mom about the strange man who asked my name, whose voice echoed as though he were in a cave not on the street, we packed up and moved from Oregon to Alabama overnight. The first day in Ilium, I chose Harry as my Knower. The first night, the stranger appeared in our new backyard, this time with a different appearance. In the night, he stood taller than the fence, his once-pale hair now divided into four shades – red, gold, silver, and black – and writhing like a nest of snakes above his head. His eyes followed the same color scheme – above each pupil, the iris was golden and below, red. The whites were silver, the pupils deep as shadow, but his face was the same.


At last, I opened my eyes. The log floated three inches above my palm with no hint of the oscillating motion I'd expected. My success with the spell fascinated me to the point I didn't notice the neighbor boy staring over the fence until he spoke.


Not the most original way of introducing yourself to the new neighbors, but it got my attention. I let the log drop and turned to look at the boy on the fence. He fell to the ground. Otherwise, he probably would have said more.


Mortimer wisely took us to the park behind the hospital, so we didn't just appear in Gabriel's room without any notice. As he guided me through the paths, I closed my eyes more often than not. Total darkness disoriented me less than darkness disturbed by random splashes of color.

"I'm going to need a stick at some point," I said as we entered the hospital.

"Or a dog," Mortimer suggested.

"You volunteering?" I asked.

"I haven't yet learned that shape, so no."

Bryn, the Valkyrie

You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

My brother, Thor, nudged me through the Knower's bond. Focus on your teacher, lillesøster, not your classmates. You didn't use a favor from the All-Father to criticize humans.

I twisted the gold ring on my right hand that signified the All-Father's favor. Thor was right, of course, but I didn't have to be happy about it. I'd have liked to see Thor try focusing on reversed curses with a classmate like Merlin Pendragon.

I'd be up to the task, Thor said.


The dead boy from earlier that week waited inside the door, his skin covered once more in the raven's mark.

"Go away," I said. "Rest in peace already."

I drew my knife and brandished it at the dead boy. All-Father help me if a mortal came by just now. Was it a ghost or something worse that I faced?

Someone spoke just to my left, but the words made no sense. My eyes never left the dead boy. His eyes, filled with a strange curiosity tempered with hunger, locked with mine. He did not flinch when I brandished the knife at him. I prepared to strike, hoping that might at least drive off the spirit long enough for me to reach Asgard and ask Heimdall or Mother what could follow me even into Buckley. I had never heard of a Valkyrie being haunted, but Heimdall saw all that happened across the nine realms and Mother had begun the Valkyries. Surely one of them would know.

Before I could launch my attack, someone caught my arm.

"Bryn, stop! What are you doing?"

It was Merlin. Where had he come from and why was he holding me back? Didn't he realize there was something dangerous in the halls? I shrugged off his grasp and turned my attention back to the dead boy's ghost, but it was gone. In its place stood a tall black mortal dressed in dark clothes. I had seen him around the Buckley halls before. Merlin and Mortimer had mentioned his name, but it escaped me. He looked from my face to Merlin's and back, the hungry-curious gleam never leaving his eyes. Then he turned and walked away as though a Valkyrie brandishing a knife in his face was a customary event.


Elaborately carved likenesses of the wolves Geri and Freki and the ravens Huginn and Muninn adorned the throne, each serving as a gateway to one of the All-Father's private retreats for those who knew the passwords, and only the eyes of Huginn were illuminated, which meant the All-Father had gone to his watchtower, where no one ever disturbed him except the Lady Frigga, and her only in times of war. I laid my hand on the carved Huginn's head and muttered the words that, even as they were taught, I was instructed never to use, except in dire emergency.

"Forgive me, Mother," I said as I passed through the gateway.

"It is not your mother's forgiveness you need," said the All-Father.

If you liked these snippets, let me know in the comments! The images in this post came from Pinterest; if you want to check out more Albion-related pictures, head to the Pinterest board for the series.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Myth in Charles de Lint's Riddle of the Wren

I recently picked up Charles de Lint's Riddle of the Wren because I learned that it was part of Mirriam's inspiration for Paper Crowns (that is, she flipped through, saw the word Wysling, and ran with it). I wanted to see what he'd done with the concept, and when I saw that Cernunnos was also included in the glossary, I knew this book would be worth the read. (Mirriam also asked me to see how the two books compared.)

From the opening pages, this book feels quintessentially de Lint-ish. It has ordinary people who love stories and wild things and the edges of artistic society. There's lyricism in the prose and a sense of wonder and magic pervading the world. The opening chapters felt like something out of the Newford stories rather than something like Harp of the Grey Rose or Wolf Moon, both of which seem to be related to Riddle of the Wren in the sense of de Lint's working old myths and folktales into new works.

RotW works its way into Irish lore about the Tuathan and their enemies, along with those who fall into neither category -- the Grey Gods and their followers, the weren or moor folk. Cernunnos is the lord of this third category, and though (much to my disappointment) he never directly appears in the book, his influence is apparent from the first of Minda's dreams when his servant Jan Penalurick appears to ask for her help.

The contrast between the reality of the Tuathan, Daketh, and Grey Gods and the seeming fabrication of the monotheistic Koevah of Minda's world supports the rest of the book quite well. At first glance the religion of Koevah seems to be a caricature of Biblical monotheism. Koevah's name appears to be a play on Jehovah, and the description of his personality is basically the same reductionist view of God in the OT most people throw around when trying to make out that God hates people. Minda compares her impression of Koevah to the "little gods" found in the illustrations of a book and finds she prefers the little gods. I found myself wondering why she would -- not in the sense of why prefer fauns to a judgmental curmudgeon in the sky, but why prefer something you could refer to as little? The idea of your god or gods fitting in your pocket to be pulled out when you want them and ignored when you don't is a dangerous attitude in any religion, not just Christianity. This isn't Minda's only moment of possibly unsound theology. She also ignores (or is ignorant of) the danger inherent in being visited in her dreams by an aspect of the Horned Lord Cernunnos. It isn't till Wysling Grimbold -- who I lovingly refer to as Gandalf in a Trufflehunter suit -- mentions it that anyone in the story recognizes the potential danger inherent in Minda's dream.

Seriously, I waited the whole book for this guy to show up and nada.

Riddle of the Wren is a passing fair novel. It doesn't shy away from the fact that Minda puts the group in danger several times and admits to the mistakes of the various characters so that none of them appears to be Mary Sue-ish. I think my main disappointments come from what I wanted it to be compared to what it is. I wanted there to be a redemption of myth in this book because I came off of all the discussions about that when I picked this up. I know better than to expect this from de Lint, who tends toward the pagan in his books, but the desire to see a myth redeemed is still there. I wanted there to be a more direct appearance by Cernunnos and the other deities described in the book because I am a fan of the "mythology is true" and "God/gods are real" tropes in fiction. I like books that do this because I see in them a reflection of Christ entering the world and the Story His Father is telling. And RotW doesn't do that in the grand way I prefer. So I'm slightly disappointed in it. The bright side is I now have more material fodder for my books because (in true Inklings fashion) I've seen something that disappoints me and now wish to write it the way it ought to be told.

While the story hits some predictable plot points (the power is within you!), the story is different and intriguing because of its use of multiple worlds, Irish myth, and a diverse cast of characters who, though painted at times in broad strokes, leap off the page whenever they can. If you haven't read any de Lint, this is a book to cut your teeth on. If you've read him before, you'll find this book is at once everything you've come to expect from him and yet not quite all you hoped it would be. I recommend reading it if you're a fan of myths, Charles de Lint, Celtic things, and world-hopping fantasy. Also talking badgers.

*All images found via Pinterest.