Give me five seconds to scream into the void.
And now I'm back. Thank you for waiting.
Writing books is fun. Going to college is fun. Taking care of a dozen boisterous middle schoolers is somewhat fun. But doing all three at once? I'm running up and down a flight of stairs every half hour to check on my science experiment, I have a book cover to retouch, I have to be at work in three hours, I have church this evening. I had church yesterday evening, too. At least I had Monday off. I was too busy eating ribs and swimming with friends to post a blog, so you have my heartiest apologies for that.
But, on a cheerier note, I got my first look at Where I Stand yesterday.
The proof came in the mail. I got to stroke the matte cover, smell the soy-based ink, thumb through the pages. And see all the little things wrong with it.
Most things I don't necessarily care about. Drawing something? I'll lose interest in half an hour, so whatever I do in that time is going to be the finished product. Writing a sign for something? The letters aren't the same size. Good enough. But when I'm writing a book? Everything had better be perfect or I won't be able to live with myself.
I stopped school early yesterday and nit-picked the cover design. I spent most of the morning with Microsoft Paint zoomed in at 800%, manipulating every single pixel until it was satisfactory. And then I showed a picture of my failed proof to a co-worker, and she smiled.
"You're upset because there's a little bit of orange on the spine? It's not that big a deal."
Maybe you're right. But that was just the cover. Now, I have to go through every page and take note of every missed comma, confusing phrase, and instance of incorrect formatting.
When you're a writer, you're not just a writer. You're a graphic designer, editor, salesman, and expert in thermonuclear astrophysics. And a historian. Sometimes also a costume designer, stunt choreographer, and accent coach. Writing itself turns you into a perfectionistic, overthinking, and occasionally sadistic human being.
I might wear a thousand and one hats. Not all of them fit right. But by golly, I'm going to balance them all and enjoy it.
Now, dear readers, I have a special opportunity for you. If you have enjoyed reading Where the Clouds Catch Fire, or amused yourself by stopping by my blog twice a week, you might be interested in a free copy of Where I Stand. And I'll give you one. The only thing you have to do is drop by Amazon on September 14 and leave a review. It doesn't have to be a thesis on symbolism and hidden meaning. Even a sentence or two, along with four or five stars, would be awesome. And I can't thank you enough. Comment below to get your free copy! God bless you, dear readers!
I have excellent news for you, dear readers. Where I Stand, the long-awaited sequel to Where the Clouds Catch Fire, now has a release date. Saturday, September 14.
More than that, I will be joining the Author's Round Table Society at Frontier Village Fall Festival on the 14th from 9:00 to 4:00, although I might have to duck out a bit early for church. God willing, and assuming Amazon gets my books to me on time, I will have copies of Where I Stand available for purchase.
I might also be selling hot pads. It depends on how many videos my online classes have me watch. Anyway, expect to see something handmade there. I might even be wearing a handmade Viking costume. You never know.
Some of my relatives have been pestering me about my next live stream. The first one went well, the second one didn't so much, but I'm excited to try again. So at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday the 15th, join us at www.facebook.com/dontraidmymonastery for our third live stream event! I'll be answering any questions you have about the sequel, its production, any future books in the series, or the characters.
I don't know if any of you, dear readers, call yourselves writers. But if you do, I'd love to give you whatever advice I can. So if any of your questions involve writing advice, I might be able to help you.
When I started my writing journey, I wanted to be a published author by the time I was fourteen. Four years, I thought, would be plenty of time to write and publish a book in. Under normal circumstances, I would have been right. But I had to write at least 250,000 words of absolute garbage before I was able to start putting out good material. And those 250,000 words of garbage put me three years behind schedule. I was disappointed, but I got over it. The joy isn't in the end result. It's in the process.
And that's why I'm going to start work on Book 3 in the Clouds Aflame series just as soon as I possibly can.
Do you plan on coming to the Fall Festival if you're in the area? Do you think I should dress up like a Viking? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Being 11:00 a.m. on the seventh day of September, I and five of my many relatives set forth on Castle Rock Lake. We had every intention of gamboling in our boat, which was owned and captained by my Uncle Joseph, and returning around four in order to ready ourselves for supper.
Our expedition began uneventfully. We had brought with us a tube, which we tied temporarily to a stranger's unused dock while my father skiied behind the boat. We then retrieved the tube, and I was given command of the helm while my sister was towed behind us. Having never captained a vessel unto this point, and being unfamiliar with the controls, I did my best and traversed perhaps a mile of open water. Uncle Joseph then regained control of his vessel, and I joined my sister upon the tube.
Only a handful of times have I ridden in such a vessel. The tube's handles were in odd locations, so that my sister and I were nearly lying on top of one another. But we sallied forth at tremendous speeds, and my body was lifted into the air multiple times, soon after which I requested to return to the main vessel. My sister, however, continued tubing; we lost two hats and a pair of goggles on our voyage, and only one of the hats was recovered.
The time now being past noon, we put off our gamboling to find a sandbar on which to consume a picnic lunch. The first sandbar we lighted upon was far too small for our purposes (there was a mere two feet between the water and the underbrush), and so we left once more. All this time, my sister we towed behind us on the tube, and she nearly fell asleep as we drove slowly beneath a railroad bridge, then through a channellock (a word that means nothing to my non-nautical mind) to another bar of sand.
This island proved much more suited for our purposes. It was surrounded by minnows, some quite large, and at least three frogs leapt into the bushes as we set up our umbrella and chairs. After running the ship aground, we dined on sandwiches prepared for us by my Aunt Lily, and as we had misjudged the amount of water we would need to bring with, I drank soda in an effort to save the healthier beverages for my parents.
With our luncheon thus finished, my sister and I decided to explore our surroundings. We found a small cove of lily pads, which I had never seen before in person. We waded to another sandbar where we found the tracks, we presumed, of a doe and her fawn, along with more minnows and a beautiful pink flower that our mother thought might be cloves. We then explored the extent of our original sandbar. There was a large area we could wade through, but it dropped off steeply past a certain point, so that I was treading water while my sister four feet away from me was merely ankle deep.
After a pleasant foray into Doyle's The Sign of the Four, as I had brought the book with me sealed in a Ziploc bag, we desired to return home. The hour was 3:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter, and there were ominous clouds forming to the north of us, the promise of rain along with them. We weighed anchor, loaded our chairs and our persons, and shoved off.
Uncle Joseph plied the throttle, but nothing happened.
The jets were clogged with sand, and we were stranded.
Last night in small group, we were asked this icebreaker question: "What was the last movie you saw in theaters?" My answer, unfortunately, was Toy Story 4. I might have enjoyed it better if I'd seen Toy Stories 2 and 3. I can't even remember where I saw the first one. We don't own it. I didn't go to a theater to see it. Church movie night? Maybe. Still not sure.
Two of the girls in the small group said that the last movie they'd seen was Disney's live-action remake of The Lion King.
Not mad that I haven't seen the movie yet. Not mad that ticket prices are expensive or that I don't have time off to see a movie or anything like that. I'm just mad that this movie exists. And it's obviously not because it's a poor-quality movie. I can't judge the quality of a movie I haven't seen yet. I'm mad on a whole other level.
The level of artistic integrity.
Call me old-school, but I believe art is about two things: self-expression and viewer enjoyment. You make something, be it a movie or a book or a painting or a piece of jewelry, because you either feel the need to create something or because you want to get a point across. Maybe both. Also, you make whatever art you make so that other people can either enjoy your art, relate to it, or be moved to change something in their own lives.
Here's one thing art is NOT about: Money.
Yes, money is nice and necessary and all that. But it's not the point of making art. Last month, I made $7.32 off Where the Clouds Catch Fire. Considering that I poured four years of my life into making this novel a reality, would I like to make more? Yes. But am I upset? No. Because when art becomes more about making money than about creating a worthwhile contribution to society, it ceases to be art.
We all know that the House of Mouse is a media giant. It owns Star Wars, Marvel, the ever-popular Princess deal, and God knows what else. And we know that giant corporations don't really care about much besides making money. As much as that fact upsets me, I understand it. Money is way more important to most people than it should be.
But here's the part that really irritates me: with the endless sequels and remakes, Disney has stopped even trying to be creative. No new plots or characters. No new worlds. Just the same worlds you grew up with, revisited in a more adult-friendly way. And because you grew up with those worlds and would love to take a trip down nostalgia lane, you're going to buy a ticket and give some of your hard-earned cash to a company that really doesn't need it.
Disney. Hire some homeschool graduates. Start recruiting people off Wattpad. For the love of God, do something. Unless you're making substantial changes to a plot or character, don't bother serving us leftovers. At least pretend you still care about something other than money.
Readers, what do you think about the Disney remakes? Let me know in the comments below! God bless, and don't forget to check us out on Facebook!
Good morning, everyone! Or afternoon, or evening, or whatever time you happen to be reading this post. I just wanted to let you know that my college classes start today. Since you've finished reading Chapter One of Where I Stand, I'm afraid we'll have to wait until next week to get a new short story. I want to give my classes a few days to settle before I tackle any major extracurriculars, including my blog. So if Thursday's post is late (which it shouldn't be), you'll know why.
Regardless, I wanted to tell you that you're doing a great job at whatever you're doing, God loves you, and keep up the good work! Be blessed!
A while back, some of you realized that there was an option to turn off cookies for this website. And you jumped on your chance to do so. Well, turns out that cookies let me know how many people visit my site. And since I know my viewership didn't jump from 350 people a week to 8 people a week, I'm guessing that 342 of you turned off your cookies.
There is a very kind woman up at the University of Iowa who's one of my main Beta readers. I actually mentioned her in Where the Clouds Catch Fire as one of the two people whose written critiques were especially helpful to me. This morning when, as part of my morning routine, I checked my emails, I saw that she'd gotten back to me with comments on Where I Stand.
Nerves and excitement tangled together within me. I opened up the Word document with all her comments. In the first book, most of her comments were constructive. "You shouldn't change the point of view like this," one of her comments said. "The opening paragraph has too many adjectives," said another. And she was right. But in this book, most of the comments were things she'd liked about the story.
"You write the payoffs quite nicely, and mostly inverted--in other words, the closer to the beginning of the book a problem is introduced, the closer to the end it gets resolved." I did not do that on purpose. But I'm very glad it worked out. "You have good control over sentence length." Finally, all those writing lessons in middle school paid off! That's one of the things I was taught in my homeschool co-op.
Now there are quite a few points that she's brought up to my consideration. One was a scene that I didn't realize was affected by another scene I changed. Most of her suggestions include changing more modern words and concepts, and one of them involves the fact that Lukas gets to swear (in Latin!) but the surly fisherman Rothgeir doesn't. But Jen mentions more good things and fewer bad things than she did in the first book, and I think I know why.
Every time you do something, you learn. You learn what works and what doesn't work. If you're smart, you'll learn and do better next time. If you're super smart, you'll learn from other people and their successes (and failures). Students, you learn which studying methods work best for you. Fast food workers learn the fastest method of washing dishes. Athletes learn tactics to use against opponents. Even children learn to say certain things to get their way.
I'll go so far as to say that it's impossible, or nearly so, to practice something repeatedly and not get better at it.
To be honest, Where the Clouds Catch Fire isn't the first book I've written. I wrote another book and a half, plus several short stories that probably totaled close to 200,000 words before I even set foot on St. Anne's Cleft. And most of those 200,000 words were terrible.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone gives others permission to turn off cookies and makes embarrassing type-o's and says stupid things. But it's our ability to learn from those mistakes that makes us better people.
What's something you've put a lot of practice into? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Leif laughed. “You couldn’t find a man to row anyway, not with Althing coming up. We’re hosting this year.”
Caitriona muttered something under her breath—whether it was a prayer or a profanity Alynn couldn’t tell, but the latter was unlikely. She kicked at the rushes that covered the dirt floor, then took a breath and collected herself. “Can we plan on leavin’ the moment Althing ends?”
“As soon as possible. I promise.”
“Perfect. Now give me somethin’ to do before I go mad with worry.”
“I might have you stay here for the week, act as hostess if you’re willing,” Leif said. “And say a prayer. Neither Drostan nor I are officially going to be the chief of this island until one of us sacrifices to Odin—unless something changes. And blast it, we need something to change.”
“We’ll be prayin’,” Caitriona promised.
“Isn’t Althing rather powerful for a meetin’ of tribes?” Alynn asked.
“It’s a parliament, not just a meeting, so it demands power,” Leif said. “I’m surprised they haven’t killed us for converting to Christianity.”
“They wouldn’t have done anything after the Battle of Faith,” Drostan insisted. “Alynn would have disbanded Althing singlehandedly.”
Alynn blushed. She debated punching Drostan’s shoulder, but finally decided to lean against him and close her eyes. “You’d have helped me, just as you did on the battlefield,” she said.
“You don’t need help,” Drostan insisted. “You’re a berserker, for Thor’s sake. Or do Irish girls tend to fight fiercer than Norse madmen?”
“Drostan, don’t even think that she’s a berserker, and Alynn, sit up,” Caitriona ordered. Alynn sighed and straightened, but not without a caustic glance at her mother. Caitriona returned it.
“Master Leif, will you be needing anything else this evening?” Valdis asked. She was combing her hair that barely passed her shoulders—hardly longer than Leif’s or Drostan’s.
“No, thank you. Go on to bed,” Leif said. “Cait, we can think more in the morning. I’m exhausted.”
Caitriona laughed. “I can’t believe I’m still standin’ up. Where can I sleep?”
Leif gestured to the raised platforms that lined either side of the longhouse. “Pick a bed, any bed. Or the closet, whichever you prefer.”
“I’ve always hated that closet.”
Drostan nodded towards the bedcloset—a paneled-in section of bench that was more like a human-sized dresser drawer than anything else. “Do you want the closet, Alynn, or would you rather I take it?”
“I’ll take it. It doesn’t bother me.”
“Don’t forget to lock the latch,” Caitriona cautioned.
Drostan snatched a few sheepskins and a blanket and tossed them into the closet. “Have a good night.”
After glancing up to see his smile, Alynn returned the gentle embrace he offered. She buried her face in his tunic. Drostan pressed her head against his chest, and she could hear his heartbeat. He smelled of wood and sea and hard work, stained with a medley of scents from the midsummer forest. She smiled.
Thank You, Lord, for Drostan.
He kissed her forehead before leaving for his own bed. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” he said, raking his hand through his hair and making it even wilder than before.
Alynn smiled. “Goodnight, love.”
Alynn crawled awkwardly into the bedcloset and rearranged the sheepskins before she shut and latched the door. In the complete absence of light, the only sounds those of her family readying for bed, Alynn found a call to pray.
“Be with Tarin, Lord, if he’s not with You and Father already,” she murmured before drifting to sleep. “And if he is...please tell him I said hello.”
Alright. This time, I have a good excuse as to why I didn’t post my blog on Monday. I was out of town. And more than that, I was at Barnes & Noble.
My family and I were driving around town, heading towards a restaurant where we were meeting a friend of Dad’s for Second Breakfast, and I saw a Barnes & Noble off the side of the road. “Mom, Dad, can we go to Barnes & Noble?” I asked.
My sister scoffed. “Why go there when you’re not going to buy anything?”
Now, I had two decent reasons to go to Barnes & Noble, the first one being that we don’t have one near us in Texas. The closest one is about forty-five minutes south from where we live. I’ve been there exactly twice, both times to exchange a defective Nook which I ended up trading for an iPod Touch. We do have a bookstore—Books-a-Million—but it’s smaller and, honestly, not as cool. Secondly, there was only one other place I’d asked to go on our trip—Culver’s, a fast food restaurant that we don’t have in Texas
Mom, however, came up with a third reason. “We’re going to Barnes & Noble because it’s fun,” she said. And sure enough, as soon as we finished up at the restaurant, we went to the bookstore.
Oh, glory. So many books. So many words. I was in heaven.
The first rack—new releases. Hardcovers. I touched their jackets, gazed at the reviews on the back, read the blurb on the inside jacket cover. I thumbed through the pages and inhaled the glorious scent of ink. I searched for the price tag—twenty-five dollars for a book? No, thank you.
The second table was even more glorious. Five-dollar classics—big, thick books, too big for the average purse but perfect for the average bookshelf. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, works by Tolstoy and Bronte and some Russian dude whose name I can neither pronounce nor remember. This deal was too good to pass up. Seriously considering The Art of War, I instead picked up a collection of Sherlock Holmes books. I’m currently two hundred pages in.
But then I kept going. Immediately to my left were some Bibles and Christian nonfiction. I did a quick search for C.S. Lewis—I’d just ordered three of his books online, so I knew I wasn’t about to buy any of them—but I found Of Stories, a collection of his views on literature and storytelling. I read just enough to learn that he, like me, thought George Orwell’s Animal Farm was better than 1984. I confess that I haven’t finished the latter, and I’m not sure if I can. It’s both boring and frightening.
“Can I help you find anything?” a clerk asked me.
“Nope,” I said. “I’m just browsing.”
Oh, and browse I did. I wanted to spin through the aisles, touching every book, stroking every soft cover. I lingered over a table of $25 classic editions of books, their covers ornate and gilded. I gave half a glance at the children’s section, but I found a special surprise with the board games: hnefatafl, a Viking cross between chess and checkers. I gave a
“Did you have fun?” Mom asked my sister and I as we got back in the car. We were off to see my uncle. My reaction was unnecessary; everyone knew I’d enjoyed myself. My sister, however, gave a smile that was quite unexpected.
“I got to make fun of the politicians,” she said.
Which bookstore do you live by? Which one’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!
Hello, dear readers! I've decided to do something a bit different this week, and I've made a video blog instead of a normal blog. If it loads, that is...it's taking forever...
There we go. Enjoy it!
Just as the sun’s dying afterglow disappeared into the clouded dark of night, Alynn and Honor cantered into a small Norse village. Honor was covered in lather despite the chill wind, and Alynn’s excitement had faded with her need for sleep. She rode down the wood-paved main road to a longhouse at the center of town, tethered Honor to a hitching-post near the front door, and knocked.
No one answered. Alynn could hear her mother’s voice and the crisp Norse accent that belonged to her uncle Leif, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. She knocked louder.
“...stay awake, son, we need your help,” Leif’s voice said as the hired girl opened the door. Alynn hugged her quickly, and Leif finally caught eye of the visitor. “Alynn!” he boomed, finding a tired smile within him. “Come inside, have a seat! Try to keep Drostan awake while you’re at it.”
Alynn hugged Leif and glanced at his seventeen-year-old son, Drostan. He was sitting on the edge of a sleeping bench, leaning against a column that supported the roof, idly moving the pieces to a board game. Tafl, he’d said she could call it, since its true name of hnefatafl was too large of a mouthful for her. His hair looked like a rat had tried to nest in it.
Alynn smiled. “Hard day?”
Drostan’s head moved half an inch in her direction, and he shoved the game board aside so she could sit next to him. “Felling trees and carting timber, all day,” he groaned, his eyes glassy with sleep. “What have you been doing since I last saw you this morning?”
“I found out my brother’s alive,” she smiled. She slipped her fingers under Drostan’s warm hand, realizing how cold her own was.
“Good Lord, your hands are like ice!” Drostan exclaimed.
“I know. The wind doesn’t realize ‘tis June.”
A bit of life came into Drostan’s eyes, and he took a sheepskin from the bed behind them. He draped it around Alynn. His arm rested on her thin shoulder, his leather vambrace cool as she leaned against it.
“Thank you,” she said.
“For goodness’ sake, ye’re sittin’ too close together,” Caitriona scolded. She pulled Alynn two feet away from Drostan and wrapped the sheepskin tighter around her. “Try to stay awake. Ye can poke each other if ye start to nod off.”
“Aye, Mum,” both Alynn and Drostan answered.
“Now, for the last time, Drostan, do you have a ship we could use?”
“We’re working on one right now—lovely Karve, if you can wait a week to use her,” Drostan replied, brushing his red hair from his eyes. “We just sold our last Longship. It would be fastest. You could make the trip in a lifeboat if the currents were right.”
“When are we leaving?” Alynn asked.
“We’re not sure at the moment,” Caitriona said. “The winds are contrary, or some such nonsense—”
“The winds are perfect if you’re traveling to Iceland,” Leif interrupted.
“What about rowing?” Alynn asked.
“If you feel like taking five days instead of two to get to Scotland, then I suppose it’s doable,” Drostan said. He stabbed Alynn with his index finger.
“Your mother said I could poke you.”
Alynn shoved his shoulder. “Save it for mornin’. I’m knackered.”
Caitriona studied the flames of the fireplace. “Are there men who would row for money?” she asked. “It isn’t gold, but—Rowan would want me to—” She tugged at a goldtone ring that was reluctant to come off her left hand. Voice trembling, she asked, “How much is this worth?”
“Mistress, don’t do anything daft—that you’ll regret, I mean,” the hired girl interjected. She blushed and bowed her head. “My apologies.”
“Not at all. You’re right, Valdis,” Leif said, fingering the simple ring on his own hand. “Not your wedding band, Caitriona. I wouldn’t give mine up, either, not for the world, and certainly not to save a few days’ waiting time. The winds will change soon enough. I promise. And I’ll pay the sailors.”
“You’re a good man, Leif.”
Leif chuckled. “It’s what brothers do—at least in a functional family. Valdis, you had a normal family once, didn’t you?”
The hired girl’s blonde head dipped again. “Depends on what you’d call normal, sir.”
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.