Monday, April 30, 2012

Book Review: Trials of Fire (Divine Order Saga)

Back in November, I purchased Trials of Fire by Richard Hein for $.99 on Amazon. The author had put it on sale, and it looked pretty cool. I downloaded the book to my Kindle and began the long, ADD-laden journey of finishing it. I'm easily distracted.

Trials of Fire is the first in the Divine Order Saga. If I remember correctly, the book will soon be available in print as well. It's a fantasy novel with its roots in the steampunk genre.

The story begins with the graduation of a few twentysomethings from their training for the religious Order, after which they are able to basically act as the will of the gods that they worship, armed with swords. They're a little like the Jedi, only the swords are your basic magic weapons. The main characters set out on what seems to be a routine investigation into some local disturbance, and along the way pick up and shelter a girl who appears to be on the run from the law. There's magic, battles, and all that good stuff. I won't spoil it for you.

But this is a book review, so I must critique. While an interesting concept, the book probably could have used a second eye during the editing process. There were many places where easy-to-catch typos just ran rampant. It seems that find and replace was employed with one of the interesting wording choices, because it was consistent but didn't fit quite right, which leads me to believe that it was a mistake, rather than quirky in-story dialogue. There were often times in the end of the book where "there/their" mistakes, and similar, appeared. A few times, whole verbs were absent from the story. Instances where characters "seemed" to do this or "seemed" to feel that way just occurred too frequently.  As a reader, I found these things pretty distracting, and that's never good.

As far as story, it was solidly plotted and does leave some questions open at the end, welcoming a next installment in the series. I did notice that the author took great care, several times and very conspicuously, to mention that there hadn't been a war in a long time. It was a little ham-fisted. I didn't find the descriptions of battle very interesting, but this probably rests with me. I'm not a fan of reading about sword-fights. It's too much like watching something in slow motion, and often I'm lost simply because I know almost nothing about swords or using them in combat. Admittedly, this is a bit of a nitpick.

If you want a nicely plotted steampunk homage to Star Wars, you'll probably like this book. It wasn't quite my cup of tea, but with some tidying up in the grammar department, it would be pretty decent.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reflections of a Future Terrible Parent, Part 2

Continuing from Part 1

I'd never really labeled myself as anything beyond being a Christian. I went to a Baptist church back then. We started going because my cousin would go to Awana with her friend, who went to that church. I started going to Awana, and it just naturally happened that we started attending, because my dad grew up there. His parents had become Christians in the 1960s and that was the home church they chose. They still go there. The church also basically ran my school, but I was never aware of it beyond simply knowing. They felt separate and as a result, I never really felt that close to the church. I went on Wednesday nights, and later we'd start going more regularly on Sundays, and I did get involved more in high school. That was pretty fun. But I never labeled myself a fundamentalist. My clothing was decidedly unmodest (my shorts went mid-thigh and I wore a bathing suit to a mixed swimming pool) and my family wasn't that big into hymns. For awhile, I only believed in the King James Version of the Bible, but for no other reason that I had been told it was the best. I don't believe that anymore, and I'm ashamed to say that I made that declaration without any sort of backing or research, checking around, or even reading it  much for myself. Despite all this, I was still pretty normal, and I was never a fundamentalist.

My reading tastes varied, as I mentioned before. I didn't delve into the classics, though. I read teen lit, and a lot of it. I'm sure that a lot of it was vapid and shallow, and I know some of my friends would raise an eyebrow and issue an intellectual disclaimer that the movie version was cute, but sort of silly. All this to say, I didn't grow up reading Pride and Prejudice voraciously. Fine if you do. I more enjoyed Treasure Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth. To this day, I still haven't read it. I might. Pride and Prejudice came with my Kindle app, and I own the 2005 movie (which I did like quite a bit. But it, alas, has "too much drama." Or something.) I still read a lot of YA lit. I liked Twilight (sorry to block your potshots here, but that doesn't make me unintelligent either.) I think part of the reason I do like the genre is because my local library didn't have a lot of it to offer that I liked then, and I was often too embarrassed to venture into the children's section. I'm writing a YA novel. Jane Eyre, as I understand the story, freaks me out a little. I mean, ew, the guy locks his schizo wife up in the attic and starts skirt-chasing a 20 year old, who likes it. That's officially grosser than Twilight right there.

So I won't make my sons or daughters read the classics because they're "good for them." I will train them to make the right decisions and to analyze everything, just like I do, and just like my fiance does. I didn't need ten thousand rules growing up because my parents taught me to think.

I said before that my mom went back to work once I was old enough to babysit my brother in the afternoons. I never got paid; it was just something normal that I did, every day, because my mom sacrificed a lot so we could have a private education. By no means did we live outrageously; our household was a frugal one. There were plenty of summer vacations, because building those memories is so important to my family, even today.

My junior year at BJU, I had this roommate who was mostly a very sweet person, but very sheltered. She was engaged to a man (and they're married now) who very much considered himself an authority in her life, in such instances as not letting her speak to any of her male friends. (I won't even touch on that. Make of it what you will.) Well, somehow there was some discussion or other in the room one day, between me and her and my two freshman roommates, about women working in WWII. (My great-grandmother was one such woman. I'm very proud of that.) I don't remember much about what happened through most of the conversation, but at the end, the older roommate said "But I believe women should have just stayed home after the war" in a condescending tone.*

And now, I can only think how spoiled rotten she was. She wasn't alone either. I know myself that stay-at-home moms do stuff, all day, especially if the kids are very young. It's a hard job. But I have known so many people who hold a quiet judgment for women like both my grandmothers, at least one of my great-grandmothers, and my mom. In a crowd of tenth generation Christian future homemakers and preachers' kids, I know I stood out, having come from a long line of women who worked and sacrificed a lot to give to their families.

So I will not hesitate to work if it means that my children will otherwise not eat or not have decent clothes.

That brings me to another point. See, growing up in a regular school, even if it was a private school, helped me understand people. Now, that's one thing that's not so unique at my alma mater, but there still are a lot of people in this country who are homeschooled. The US is pretty cool about that sort of thing, and I'm glad. But I'm also happy that I was never homeschooled, and it's very likely something I won't be doing.

I can hear the resounding "whys" now. I've actually been asked that, and in a confrontational manner. As if I hadn't thought it through. As if I had no idea what I was talking about.

But I have thought it through, and I have several reasons for not wanting to homeschool my children. For one, I don't want them to get a lopsided education. I only studied chemistry in college for one year, and, spoiler alert, I wasn't good at it. Same goes for math. Now, if there's something concrete I can focus on, like learning by doing stuff hands-on, then I'm good. That's why Physics was easier for me than Chemistry. Not easy, just easier. I still struggled, but I understood it better. I'm even convinced that Calculus could be conquered if one uses objects instead of concepts. But see, I don't know that my kids will learn the same way I do. They might, they might not. I don't want them to get an education so heavy in history and literature that they miss out on math and science and lose any opportunity for a calling. Even if I were to be a stay-at-home mom, my future husband, who is good at math and science, would be at work all day. I wouldn't be satisfied having my kids learn from a DVD. If it's obvious that one of my kids will love math or science, but has no way of learning past the most basic concepts, then there is a failure somewhere. Not everyone can major in English and love it. I sure wouldn't. Props to y'all who do. I believe an actual teacher needs to be there to help where I couldn't. If times are tough from a monetary perspective, I will work too. I've been told that there are bad influences in schools. And that all goes back to raising your child right.

So, I say again, I also will most likely not be homeschooling my children.

What I don't look forward to is the quiet judgment. I already know someone who looked quite surprised, and somewhat unpleasantly so, that I'm a whole two months older than my fiance, because "the husband should be older." Too late, I guess.

I'm not trying to insult anyone with the things I believe and the things I will do; I simply ask that the favor is returned. I'm not horribly altered because my life didn't have fresh baked muffins**, classes at home, and crappy old literature all the time, every day. I had a normal childhood and a normal adolescence. Yet still, I've had people, even friends, tell me the same thing a few times: "I didn't think you'd be a nice person until I got to know you." I don't even know what to say to that.

There's probably lots of other ways I'll manage to be a terrible parent, but I don't care. I learned from the awesomest. Cheers to "terrible" parenting.

*She also, for some reason, thought that my Dad's parents did not have a big wedding because they weren't church-going people at the time, and that it just wasn't important to them. My grandparents were poor. They couldn't afford a fancy old-money wedding, and were married by a minister in his office at his church. Same goes for my Mom's parents, who did attend church regularly. Tsk. Spoiled.

**I can bake the heck out of a chocolate chip cookie, though. Just sayin'. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflections of a Future Terrible Parent, Part 1

When I decided in the spring of 2005, on a whim, to apply to and attend Bob Jones University, I had no idea what I'd be getting myself into. I was a little familiar with the school, mostly through some of the textbooks my Christian school used (there were some historical inaccuracies and brushovers) and the students who visited from the school (way too smiley.) But, for some reason that wasn't at the time at all obvious to me, I knew that I needed to be at that college in the fall of 2005. When I decided that, I was at a senior retreat for my class. I didn't know then that the man I'll be marrying in a few months was sitting in the same room, with his senior class. Later that year, because of a conversation with a good friend who also went to BJU (the only other person in my class to do so,) I met my now-fiance. It was more than I ever could have thought I'd receive simply for following an impression upon my soul. I never expected to even have many friends, as I'm not outgoing. But I have those too, thank God.

Everyone knows Bob Jones University is not without its flaws. It's become quite infamous lately, for what I think are grand missteps in judgement. It's also a place with many rules. Those I don't care about. I'm not here to really talk about Bob Jones University. It's the attitudes within a few in my generation (and older) that I encountered both at the school and outside of it that really cemented in my mind certain things I will not do when I am a parent.

I grew up in the 90s, as a normal kid. We moved around town a few times, but because I went to a private Christian school, I never had to change where I went. It was always the same place. Other than having to wear dresses every day to school, my childhood was not at all different than most other kids that grew up then. I devoured the Goosebumps book series, as well as The Babysitters Club. I don't think I owned many of the latter, and only one of the former. I also read the American Girl books (the ones that went with the dolls), but I didn't own many of them. The Bookmobile coming every 3 weeks was my own private Christmas; we didn't even have to go to the library, because it came to us. I loved that. I got my fill of BSC and Goosebumps, as well as other scary books for kids. I liked the spooky stuff. Seriously, the 90s was a great time to be nine years old. Before we got cable, a weekend trip to my Gramma's house in Virginia was a treat, because she did have cable, and therefore, we could watch SNICK on Saturday night. My favorite was the still-scary Are You Afraid of the Dark. I loved that show.
Until I was about eleven years old, my mom stayed home to take care of my little brother. When he went to kindergarten, she went back to work (she's a nurse.) This left me with the responsibility of us kids staying home alone every day, which was fine. We watched Kids WB and Fox 50 Kids. Animaniacs was an extraordinary show. I watched three straight incarnations of Power Rangers, as well as this show with some knights in Ireland. I freaking loved Mystic Knights. That show rocked. And none of it was educational. Saturday mornings were much the same, because ABC had all the best shows by then. (CBS had my heart for a while, though, as did Fox, which played Peter Pan and the Pirates.) Disney's Doug wasn't as good as the original, which aired on Nickelodeon. Still watched it, though. My best friend (who also went to my school) lived up the street, around the corner, and up this insane hill that probably wouldn't be so bad if I gave it a whirl at th age of 25. I biked everywhere in my neighborhood, exploring every nook and cranny to my hearts content. I finished 6th grade, started shaving my legs, and started junior high. I remember being a Britney Spears fan, back before she sorta lost it. Seventh grade was marvelously awkward for me. After that year, my best friend moved away, and we moved out of our neighborhood and across town. Another friend transferred, and the only link was a phone number (we didn't get internet until later that year), and a dude whom I'd known since 5th grade and whom I had declared to be my mortal enemy. Sort of. (Same dude was the friend who went to BJU. Funny how things turn out, ain't it?) It was a lonely year.

High school was better. Actually, it was pretty great. I was still an introvert, so I was the quiet one, but who cared if I could get away with stuff in my school. 9/11/2001 was at the beginning of my freshman year, and it was pretty scary because North Carolina has its good share of military bases. At some point in that time frame, I transitioned from my rather conservative peach eyeshadow and pink lipstick to smudged eyeliner in blue, green, or purple, and dark lipstick in red, purple, and sometimes silver. Blush was not something I was a fan of. Pallor was my friend. I liked books and stuff with bows and arrows in them, but I was also a girly-girl. The US invaded Iraq in 2003. 2004 brought Green Day's American Idiot, so that was awesome, but we also worried about the draft starting up again, and whether women would be drafted as well, if it came to that. I graduated in 2005, at the age of eighteen, and started preparing to go away to college.

I was not prepared for what I'd face from other Christians, since my upbringing in a Christian home had been so so very regular.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

So Far...

If you found your way here via a link from another site, then it is entirely possible that you already know about Weirdly Awesome NC, a really cool blog that's just recently started up. I only wish it had existed when I was about eleven years old, 'cause seriously yall, I would have eaten all that stuff up. I'm promoting it here today because the writer has been so kind as to link to my site from hers, specifically to my pictures of the whirligigs. Follow Weirdly Awesome NC on Twitter @WeirdAwesomeNC.

So I've been pretty busy lately. About a month after we lost Minnie, I adopted a new puppy, by the name of Pippa. She's a handful, and so full of energy, but it actually makes me glad I don't have to change diapers or deal with little hands grabbing for stuff. But I do like to believe that a puppy is practice for parenthood. I believe this because I remember my own childhood, and my brother's. One single instance involved a bottle of baby powder and making it "snow" in one of our bedrooms. Hint: it wasn't me declaring an indoor snowday.

I've also been pretty hard at work on my book, and I'm experimenting with digital publishing first. Horror Vacui is my first attempt at such. Marketing is really what worries me, once I get everything finished and ready to go. I hear tales of authors spending in the thousands for marketing. I'm gonna see what I can do with Twitter and things. I do like having this desk job, because it helps me get things done when there's downtime at work. The book's come a long way since I was fifteen years old and the text was based heavily on The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I know looking back that it wouldn't have ever been ready to publish then. Not even three years later. It needed a ten-year slow cook for every influence in my life to add flavor. I avoid directly taking things. Elves for instance. I have no elves in my story. I don't want them there, frankly.

I'd rather have guns. I've found myself wondering if my story can be truly considered fantasy. There are no fairy godmothers or prophecies from elven seers in times past, but there's also little to no modern technology after a certain point. Broadswords and bows are few. Discussing this with my fiance was a little inconclusive. I didn't grow up reading the numerous mediocre clones of J.R.R. Tolkien. His epic work was the only one of its type I've enjoyed. There are other books with swords and bows and arrows that I couldn't finish. If it can't be called a fantasy novel, then what?

I can't figure it out, that's for sure. Everything I write is in some way flavored by my entire life, not just the books I've read in the past three, five, or ten years. I did not destroy the book's original foundation. I just changed what was built on it.

Unlike many of my friends, I grew up reading Goosebumps and The Babysitter's Club. (Many friends of mine went to college with me, and more often than not, adult students of Bob Jones University had more sheltered childhoods. I like to imagine that many of my fellow students at BJU had stay-at-home moms. My mom chose to work so that my brother and I could attend a private Christian school. I have been judged and probably pitied for it, but I've never felt anything but grateful.) I read many YA books, including ones that the pseudo-intellectuals of my generation now deny they ever read. Yeah, I read shallow, vapid books. Recently, I enjoyed Twilight. Twice. I watch TV as well as lots and lots of movies. Zombieland was kinda gross but pretty funny. Legally Blond was hilarious and I still enjoy it. My brother, when he was young, kept the movie Back to the Future on loop, just about. I've seen the original Star Wars more times than I can count, and I really get a kick out of Dumb & Dumber.

Mash all of this together, and all of it, along with my personality, temperament, beliefs, and personal convictions are what make me. It will very naturally bleed into the things I create.

I refuse to label myself. Why limit my work?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Horror Vacui: Short Story Collection I Wrote

And here I present a short story collection that I've written. Most of it was practice, from dialog rolling around in my head. It's more character centric, though it is sci-fi. I suppose you could say it's about interactions that fill the empty spaces.

The picture is a link, but if you have some trouble with it, click here to get to the book. It's only 99 cents on Kindle, and the Kindle app is free to download. I hope you enjoy it.