November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day

 I wrote this a while back for my sister to make into a song. I wish I had the ability to post it here so you could listen to it... but I don't. I love how she can take words and turn them into music, it just amazes me. Anyway, I thought it fitting, considering the date, to post the lyrics today:

 Don't Rob Us of Our Heroes
Just take a look around you, do you think this all came cheap?

It cost a lot in good men’s blood for us become free.
Now it’s said we shouldn’t have been there, out across the sea
Helping men and women like us, how selfish should we be?

Don’t rob us of our heroes
Don’t tarnish their names
They may not have flown like Superman
But they’re heroes just the same.

They gave up all the comforts that you and I afford
To sacrifice, lay down their lives, heroes to the core.
Don’t tell me they didn’t believe in what they’re fighting for
Here back home it’s our job to lift them to the Lord.

A freedom’s flag now waves aloft in far and distant lands
Placed there by some who gave their all with strong and steady hands.
Respect the love they freely gave, those brave men with their guns
Before faulting them remember: that is my neighbor’s son.

Beloved of their families
Lifted up in prayer
Let us bow our heads and thank the Lord
For our soldiers everywhere.

They’re our heroes....

~Jenelle Schmidt

To all those who have served and are currently serving our country in the military: Thank You. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all days, but today in particular. You are our heroes.

November 10, 2010

It's been a while

Sorry it's been a while. Though I think all of 2 people actually read this.

Updates on the editing/rewriting process:

- I have 40 pages to go on the major rewrite. Yay!
- I am working very hard to be finished with the rewrite by Christmas
- Once the rewrite is done, I still have to go through the polishing notes my editor is sending me on the rewrite
- Polishing is never as hard or labor-intensive, so I have high hopes of having it done quickly
- Goal 1: to have the ability to enter the new and improved "Dragon's Eye" - aka - "King's Warrior" into the 2011 ABNA contest (I will keep you updated on what all is going on with that once they send out information about it. As of right now, I don't know what the deadline for entering is, but I'm pretty sure it will be end of January/beginning of February like it was last year)

- Goal 2: get someone to design a new cover for "King's Warrior"
- Goal 3: republish with new text and new cover through createspace
- Goal 4: set up some book signings at bookstores/libraries with re-designed and re-written "King's Warrior"
- Goal 5: Win the ABNA (well... it's good to have goals... right?)
- Goal 6: find an agent or publisher willing to take on "King's Warrior" (if I don't win the ABNA) ;)

October 31, 2010

Sammy and His Shepherd - Great Read

Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt, is a bit longer than most of the books I have reviewed thus far, although I would still consider it a “children’s” book. It is based on the 23rd Psalm and each 1-3 page chapter’s title comes from one of the lines of the 23rd Psalm. The story is about Samuel (called “Sammy” for short) who has a good shepherd. One day, Sammy meets an unnamed sheep who has a lazy, uncaring shepherd. Sammy calls this sheep “My Friend,” and they compare stories about their shepherds. Sammy keeps an eye out for “My Friend” and one day, when “My Friend” gets into trouble, he starts bleating and running around until his shepherd becomes aware of what has happened. The good shepherd buys “My Friend” and renames her, “Precious.”

It takes Precious a while to come to trust her new shepherd, but with time and Sammy’s help, she begins to realize that she has been bought by a shepherd who will take good care of her, lead her beside still waters, allow her to lie down in green pastures, and keep away their enemies. She also learns how to get along with other sheep who even annoy her sometimes because Sammy reminds her that every sheep in their flock has been bought by their shepherd and is precious to their shepherd, and that they should try to get along if only for their good shepherd’s sake.

This is a touching story that parallels the 23rd Psalm in a way that young children can understand. It has a set of questions at the end of the book for each chapter so you can discuss the book with you child(ren). The pictures of the sheep are a touch cartoony, but  they are also beautiful with lots of bright colors and beautiful scenery.

My two year old doesn’t have the patience to listen to the whole story at once (as it’s 43 pages long), but she does enjoy reading a few pages at a time. This will definitely be one of our “read it again” books.

Many thanks to Reformation Trust Publishers for providing this book for my review. They did not ask for a positive review, merely an honest one.

October 18, 2010

Book Give-Away

I have 3 copies of Dawn of the Dragon's Eye, in hardcover, to give away!

Contest Deadline: November 17th, 2010
How to enter for your chance to win one of these (3) free copies:

1) Post about my books on your facebook or your blog
2) Get 5 people to "like" my author fanpage

Then: come over to my fan page and leave me a comment with (a) information on your post (and the link to your blog if you posted there) or (b) the names of the people who you invited to "like" my fanpage.

The winners of the contest will be decided by a random drawing of all the names entered.

October 12, 2010

Creation Curriculum: "God Made the World & Me" Review

What is even more exciting right now than getting free books? Getting free educational materials! This book, God Made the World & Me by David and Helen Haidle and Susan Laurita is a 13 lesson curriculum unit on the Creation Story. It goes hand in hand with the book I reviewed a few weeks ago: The Creation Story for Children. You can read my review for that book in the post before this one.

Anyway - I have read through this curriculum and I will definitely be using it. Though most of the material is preschool-oriented, I may even use some of the ideas now with my 2-year old. And I felt that the material would scale well - you could use this with older kids (not tons older, but definitely anywhere in the 3-7 range), which would be nice if you had two children in that age range and wanted to use the same curriculum for both of them.

-Cross curriculum activities. For example, each lesson has ideas for a Physical Center, Science Center,  and Art Center. Each lesson has songs that you can sing with the kids, a memory verse, and quite a few game ideas. Each lesson also has at least one Older Children idea and one idea for Younger Children, which helps to make the curriculum scale well depending on the age of your children.

-There is a parent note for each lesson if you were to be using this in a larger classroom as a teacher.

-There are discussion questions for each lesson.

-There are extras for each lesson as well if the other ideas aren't enough to keep you busy.

-I like that they have large group vs. individual instructions for some of the activities. I also like that there are often multiple options for the same type of activity (e.g. two art options in Lesson 2, two physical options in Lesson 3).

-The only thing that I found to be a con was that there was a graph that the kids were supposed to make during the week for Lesson 2, and I thought it would have been nice if the curriculum had a sample graph for the kids/parents to look at. I know that it would be an easy thing to figure out, but I'm so very visual and graphs are not my strong suit.

Overall, this seems like a great, hands-on, curriculum that is very cross-curricular. It's not just a set of science lesson plans, it also includes art and music, PE, critical thinking, some writing, and it is not at all just a workbook. It is very home-school oriented, but I like that it would also be very easy to use in a classroom full of kids. This is definitely something I will use with my children.

Many thanks to New Leaf Publishing Group for providing this curriculum for review. The FTC requires that I inform you that NLPG did not ask for a positive review, merely an honest one. Therefore, I like NLPG more than I like the FTC... but I also like not being fined... so I include the disclaimer as ordered.

September 29, 2010

The Creation Story for Children by David and Helen Haidle - Great Read!

The Creation Story for Children by Helen and David Haidle is a simply told and beautifully illustrated retelling of the creation story. Each page encompasses one day of the creation. Each page begins with the verses from Genesis and then has a short paragraph that retells those verses in more of a story-form.

-The verses are taken from the King James Version, which some might consider a con, but as an English major, I appreciated. I don't think children and younger generations get enough exposure to the sort of beautiful language that can be found in the King James Version of the Bible.

-The illustrations: every page has a beautiful depiction of what was created on each day. I really enjoyed the inclusion of dinosaurs in the illustrations.

-The last few pages after the story of creation talk about how God specially created and cares for each person from conception through our entire lives, how He thinks about us, how He has plans for us, etc.

-The story ends at the end of day 7 of the creation, before the fall. After thinking about it for a while, I actually am listing this as a pro. After all, the book is called: The Creation Story.
-I can't think of any.

-This is a great book. I loved how it used the actual Bible verses in the retelling of the story, it kept me from feeling as though the authors were "adding" or "changing" the Bible story. I really can't say enough about the illustrations, they are gorgeous. The text of the book is a bit advanced (a lot of words per page) for my 2 year old daughter, but she loves the pictures, and if I just read the Bible verses or just read the story part to  her she can pay attention for the whole story. Her favorite part? The day where God created fish and whales, of course! :)

The FTC demands that I inform you that I received this book for free. New Leaf Publishing Group, however, demanded nothing from me. They did not ask for a positive review, just an honest one.

September 24, 2010

A Christmas Prayer by Amy Parker - Good Read

Always ready to add to our Christmas book collection, I requested this book to review from booksneeze. I was not at all disappointed. This story is a very cute retelling of the Christmas story. A child, surrounded by parents and small sibling, acts out the Christmas story and thanks God for the various characters in the Christmas Story - calling them each "precious Christmas gifts" to all of us. The story ends with the child thanking God for Jesus, the "perfect Christmas gift."

With uncomplicated, yet very cute illustrations, this retelling of the Christmas story in rhyming verses from a child's perspective is simply adorable. I enjoyed the inclusion of all the characters from the story, and I especially loved how the story includes the Wise Men, without improperly placing them at the stable in Bethlehem. I also loved how the story emphasizes the true reason for the season of Christmas on the first page, where the child says, “So this, my Christmas prayer, is not for toys and dolls - it’s thanking You for Christmas gifts, You’ve given to us all.”

My two-year old also approves of this book and it will definitely be one of the stories we pull out at Christmas-time for years to come.

The FTC demands that I disclose the following information:
Many thanks to Tommy Nelson for providing this book to me for free. They did not ask for a positive review, merely an honest one.

September 23, 2010

Free Books? Sign me up!

  • Ok, so I've gotten sucked in. My friend, Shannon, has been signing up to review books for various publishing companies (they send you the book for free and in return, you review the book on your blog for them, they do not require a positive review, just an honest one). After hearing about all the free books she is getting, and realizing that I can get children's books for free through these programs... I have decided to jump on the bandwagon... so, I'm sorry, you're gonna have to put up with reading some book reviews every now and then. I am only planning on requesting/reviewing children's books though, b/c they require a smaller time commitment. Hopefully those of you who read this blog and are parents will find some of those reviews helpful. :)

    Hey... free books? I mean, why not?

September 14, 2010

Yet Another Story Idea

A few months back, my brother sent me an idea for a story. I have it rolling around in the back of my head and am looking forward to expanding on it. I thought I'd let you take a sneak peek at it.


     The whole world looked muffled.  If you’ve ever lived within a University dormitory and had to put your head under your pillow to try and get sleep or if you’ve ever heard a conversation through a wall you would know the feeling.  However, Devlin blinking hard at the hazy surroundings, noted that the world did not sound muffled, it looked muffled.
    Devlin was perplexed.  He was standing in the middle of an open space.  A foreign and unknown open space.  Yet not a moment ago he had known exactly where he had been.  He had been in his hotel room getting ready for the last leg of what had already been an overlong journey home. 
    Slowly, it seemed his eyes were adjusting.  The fog that was either filling this space or filling his head seemed to dissipate.  And yet he remained motionless.  Frozen to the spot in which he had been standing.   It was as if he had woken up only to realize he was still dreaming.  He had been awake he thought to himself. 
    “You’re not dreaming you know.”

September 08, 2010

The Skin Map Review

When I heard Stephen Lawhead was writing a new book, I was thrilled. When I learned the title of the new book was The Skin Map, I was confused. It didn’t sound very ... well... Lawhead-y. However, as I began reading this beginning to a brand new series, I swiftly became engrossed in the story.

Filled with descriptions that beguile all five senses and all the beauty and charm of the language I have come to expect from Lawhead, this book is a fascinating blend of fantasy and sci-fi. In the world of The Skin Map, there is an Omni-verse, a universe filled with alternate realities that are easily accessible to those who know where to look via roads known as “ley lines.” These alternate realities are also located in different “time zones” as it were, and thus jumping from one reality to the next also inevitably includes a certain amount of time travel.

The book follows the stories of several different characters: Kit Livingstone a young man from modern-day London, who encounters his great grandfather and is shown how to ley travel; Wilhelmina, Kit’s girlfriend, who, when Kit tries to prove to her that ley travel is real, gets trapped in 17th century Prague; Cosimo (Kit’s great grandfather) and Sir Henry, ley line adventurers who wish to use the ley lines for the betterment of science and humanity; Lord Burleigh, the villain of the story, whose motivations seem to stem from greed; and Arthur Flinders-Petrie, the “Ernest Shackleton” of the ley line adventurers who mapped out the ley lines and had them tattooed on his body so they could never be stolen or lost.

Something I love about this book is the masterful way Lawhead subtly uses his characters to point to Christ. He never beats his audience about the head with his beliefs, despite publishing with a Christian publishing house. Instead, he allows his books to unfold the message of his faith - either through characters whose faith is an integral part of who they are (such as Etzel), or through characters who don’t know what they believe and the conversations they have with other characters about questions they have (such as Kit and Lady Faythe). As always, Lawhead is unique in that he is not a writer of Christian Fiction. Rather, he is a Christian Author who writes Fiction.

On the flip side of this rave review I do have a couple of negatives to mention. First, is that I have to wait until next September to read the second book in the series. Second, don’t read this book expecting to have any questions answered. I was about 10 pages from the end when I realized that the book was leading me to a cliff-hanger ending, and I was going to have to wait for the rest of the series to find out what happens. Since Lawhead is delving back into sci-fi with this series, this first book was mainly an introduction to the characters, the concept of ley travel, and a tantalizing glimpse at the story this series will become.

Overall, I would say I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good blend of sci-fi, fantasy, and history as well as the idea of time travel and being able to mess with historical events.

Technically, nobody ever asked me for anything, but I'm sure that the FTC would like me to explain that I received this book for free but was not required by the publisher to give it a good review.

September 06, 2010

A new adventure

Hey all, thought I'd share the prologue to the new story I'm writing. Let me know what you think!


    Firelight flickered across the man’s face, shadows making his wrinkles seem deep, deeper than they were. The room was small and nearly empty, bare of decoration. There was a small rug, woven in threads of blue and gray, in front of the hearth and the wooden chair in which the old man sat staring into the dying fire. Three walls of the small garret room were lined with bookshelves and every shelf was filled with large, ancient, hard-bound books, dusty from disuse. In the middle of the room was a small, square table with two mismatched chairs. Against the one wall that had no shelves was a small counter with a sink that allowed running water, an odd luxury for so poor a dwelling. A cabinet held a few pieces of pottery, presumably for holding food, and further down the wall was an old cot with a straw mattress.
    The old man sat hunched over, wrapped in an old cloak. His white beard hung nearly to his waist. In a different time he had kept his beard shorter and neatly combed, but what, really, was the point anymore? Closer inspection would have revealed that the tattered, gray cloak the man had pulled about his shoulders had once been very fine. It had once been a royal blue in color, with fabric as soft as a newborn chick and as waterproof as a duck’s feathers. It was lined with gray silk and trimmed with silver cords. But there was no one around to examine the cloak, none left to wonder how such a fine cloak had come into the possession of this old man living in this poor tower room.
    The fire in the hearth had burned down to a handful of glowing embers and the room began to grow chilly. The man sighed and shifted, looking into the hearth and then glancing out the one window above the wash-basin at the rising silver moon. He could get more firewood easily, now that it was dark, and restarting the fire itself would require little effort at all, and yet there he sat, as immobile as carved stone, his face filled with bitter sorrow. What was the point? What point in keeping the fire burning? What point in keeping his post. All was well, all had been well, all would most likely continue to be well. For two hundred years, nothing had needed his attention. Perhaps allowing himself to slip into oblivion would not be a desertion of his duties after all. He long to sleep, to be reunited with his brothers. He glanced guiltily at the table as though to reassure himself, as though afraid that his very thoughts might cause some change. The orb, however, did not flicker.
    The orb was the only decorative piece in the room: a small, round, glass ball no larger than an apple, made of what looked like blown glass and so delicate that a breath might cause it to shatter. It sat wrapped in the open jaws of a silver statue carved to look like a dragon in flight. the orb glowed a steady, pure blue and the man sighed again, a sound that was filled with both relief and weariness. If all was not well, the orb would become streaked with orange and red, but there would still be time, time to stop the darkness. If the streaks grew until the orb was overwhelmed... the old man shook his head, not liking to think about what that would mean.
    It would not happen, it could not, he had seen to that. He pulled his cloak tighter and snapped his fingers, expending very little energy, but more than it would have taken to actually go get the wood from the nearby forest. The fire in the hearth blazed up, warming the room and chasing back the shadows that had risen up and threatened to overwhelm him. Dalmir blinked back tears at the sudden memories and scowled into the fire.

August 31, 2010


I just sat down to do some editing, and hit a brick wall. I came to a part I had completely forgotten about and now don't know what to do with. I need to discuss with my Editor. My knee-jerk reaction is to cut the entire section (about 6 pages worth of story), but I'm not sure.


Well, I guess I'll go read something instead.

August 30, 2010

Clash of the Titans

It's been a while since I reviewed a movie here. So, here goes:

Last week... I don't remember what day... Derek and I watched the new "Clash of the Titans." Now, I went into this movie expecting it to be singularly ridiculous, somewhat amusing, fairly lacking in content, and pretty much laughable. I believed it would be entertaining, but what I did not expect, was that I was going to love it.

Very rarely do I watch a movie (especially a movie that I didn't expect anything from) and wish that I had seen it in the theater. Possibly this is because I am pretty picky about the movies I go see (and am getting pickier as theater prices sky-rocket to ludicrous heights), or possibly it is because we watched the movie on my laptop, but either way, as we watched "Clash of the Titans" I found myself wishing that I had gone to see this movie when it was in theaters.

The visuals and special effects are fantastic. The monsters are realistic and frightening (but not horrifying to look at). The action is well-choreographed and intense, but not gory. The characters are likeable and heroic (as it should be in the retelling of a Greek myth), and they are none of them cowards.

The plot is pretty simplistic, which Derek listed as a con, but I list as a pro. You see, I am a student of mythology... being an English major and all... and the movie is pretty true to the story of Perseus. If you read Bullfinch's Mythology, which is one of the best compilations of Greek and Roman myths that is out there, you will see the problem with turning any of them into a full-length movie: the longest story in the book is probably about 6 pages long and some of them are as short as a paragraph or two. Also, most of the stories are interconnected, so as to make it difficult to pick one out to tell without leaving your modern audience completely confused. Thus, the fact that the movie stuck closely to the storyline of the myth without becoming too tangled and confusing was, to me, a major bonus. The story was told with artful simplicity and although it strayed in a few places from the original myth which you can read if you click on that link... it did not do so by too many extraordinary leaps, and the leaps it did make gave the movie a focus and direction that is lacking in many of the myths and would make them hard to turn into movies (they tend to meander around a bit).

A few things I noticed while watching that did sort of bother me. In the movie, Queen Cassiopeia says that her daughter, Andromeda, is more beautiful than the gods. However, in the myth, Cassiopeia compares her own beauty to that of the gods, which is the vanity she is punished for and the reason that the gods demand her daughter as a sacrifice to the sea monster. Also, the movie has a Kraken threaten the city of Argos, instead of the sea monster Cetus. Now, I understand that, "Release the Kraken." is much cooler to say than, "Release Cetus," and it was probably one of those points that Liam Neeson's agent negotiated for... however... the Kraken is from Norse mythology, while Cetus was from Greek mythology and is the creature that actually attacks Argos in the Perseus myth... so that kind of annoyed me. The other points where the plot strayed from the original myth were fairly minor and didn't impact the overall story too much.

However, those two points were pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. There were no scantily clad people running around, I noticed one swear... mostly because it was so obviously out of place in the language of the time/place... and no sex scenes, for which I was thankful and quite impressed.

Overall, if you're looking for something fun to watch on a Friday night, go ahead and rent this one. There's action, adventure, great special effects, a rather fantastic soundtrack, good characters, and even a little bit of a plot, and nothing offensive to jar your senses as you watch the movie. It's not a "thinking" movie, it's not one that I'll probably own. But it is one I'd be willing to watch again, because it was fun.

August 26, 2010

Getting closer

77 pages left in my rewrite (out of 251)!

August 17, 2010

A Dream Realized

One of my dreams as a writer has always been to see my book(s) on a library shelf. I love libraries. The books, the smell, the quietness, the peace, did I mention the books?

Today, a dear friend sent me this picture. He and his family were at the Evansville Library, one of the oldest libraries in Indiana, and he was perusing the young adult fiction section, when this caught his eye. He took a picture and sent it to me... and it made my day... for obvious reasons :)

August 10, 2010


Hey all, sorry it's been a while since my last post. Summertime is crazy and busy for me, and to top it all off everyone in my family has gotten sick in the past week, and now the cold has hit me as well. Yech.

Anyway, just wanted to apologize for my lack of posting. I'm still trying to decide whether or not I like blogger or if I want to do something else with my writing blog: what do you think?

Be on the lookout for an upcoming book giveaway - details to come soon!

Also, be on the lookout for updates on "The Dragon's Eye" I am down to about 90 pages left in my re-writing process!

That's all I've got for now. Thanks for your patience.

July 27, 2010

Random Trivia

I would like to announce that my author fanpage now has 126 members!!

Also, I just discovered today that since Oct. 2009 I have sold 49 copies of my books. (The publisher I originally went with from 2005-2009 got merged with CreateSpace and I don't have easy access to the records of how many books I sold before the merger - I know it was upwards of 200 total - 2 books).

I am over half-way through the editing/re-writing process of "The Dragon's Eye."

I am exploring ideas of how to merge this blog and my personal blog into one big, happy family... but I'm not sure of the best way to go about it. Ideas? Thoughts? Anyone?

Also, if I do merge the two blogs, I'd like to port my old posts over to the new blog (my personal blog is xanga-based, and this one is, of course, blogger), anyone know how to do that or which format would support that sort of thing?

I'm also open to running a "Name the New Blog" contest... or just accepting name ideas here. Any ideas?

July 22, 2010

Author Questions

Here are the questions they asked me (and every author who is chosen for the book of the week... which eventually will be every author who is a fan):

Breakout Books

1. How long have you been writing?
2. What, if anything, inspired this book?
3. How long did it take you to write this book?
4. Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?
5. Who is your favorite author, and does he/she inspire you?
6. What is your favorite part of writing? Least favorite?
7. Any exciting news for your book, big or small?

My Answers:

1. I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I think I started my first "novel writing experience" in 3rd or 4th grade. I never finished that book, but I think it's still around somewhere.
2. My dad told me that if I wanted to be a writer, I should be writing. The summer after my freshman year of college he challenged me to write 10 pages a day - a story he could read out loud to the whole family every night. He said he'd pay me $1 per page and a $1000 bonus if I finished the book before school started again.
3. The book took 3 months to write (give or take a week).
4. Some of the characters are based on people I know in real life. For example, Brant is based on a combination of my dad and one of my brothers, aspects of Kiernan's character are based on my other brother, and Kamarie is very much the person I wish I could be. Other characters started out archetypical and sort of expanded, and several are pure imagination.
5. I can't pick a favorite author, but I am inspired by quite a few: Timothy Zahn (I aspire to write the way he does, have more than one "style" and "world" that I write about), Terry Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Stephen R. Lawhead, and my Grandma - Gwen Walker. She died when I was eight, but she left behind a lot of poetry and one of my favorite novels. I hope that one day I can get it published for her.
6. My favorite part of writing is the actual writing of the story... I love how it sometimes surprises me where the story goes, even if I have a pretty comprehensive outline. Sometimes the characters just decide they want to say or do something other than what I had planned, and that is really fun. My least favorite part of writing ... I don't know if I have a least favorite. Probably writer's block... or having hundreds of ideas and nowhere near enough time to write them all down...
7. Being the book of the week here at Breakout Books is pretty exciting! :) I am in the middle of a major edit/rewrite of this book and have been working on query letters and a synopsis. I am halfway done with my edit and have already received a rejection letter or two... maybe it's weird that that's exciting... ;)

July 16, 2010

Book of the Week

Hey everyone! If you have time, go check out Breakout Books where "The Dragon's Eye" is book of the week! Pretty exciting stuff! :)

July 12, 2010

The Last Airbender - Movie Review

While on vacation in the Smoky Mountains, Derek and I decided to go see "The Last Airbender." Now, when I first began seeing trailers for this movie I was uninterested for 2 reasons.

First, the title just made me giggle. Think about it for a minute... if you can't figure it out, well, then, you just weren't blessed with the Walker sense of humor.

Second, it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie. After sitting through the debacle that was "The Happening" - a movie not worth the film it was shot on - I had pretty much made up my mind that I was never going to watch another Shy-o-melly-o-man (as Evan pronounces it) movie again.

However... Derek was curious, and so he started doing some research on this movie. As it turns out, the movie is based on a 3 season children's cartoon that aired from 2005-2008. I still wasn't sold, seeing as how I haven't been a fan of any cartoon that aired after the 90s, but Derek discovered that the cartoon was available on Netflix's "watch it now" feature (if you are unfamiliar with netflix, "watch it now" means that you can stream some of their selection straight to your computer without waiting for a DVD (or to your television, if you're like us and have a Wii)).

So, we started watching the cartoon. It didn't take long to get us all hooked. The cartoon is called: "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and Leiana refers to it as "Alatar!" :) The cartoon is very well done. The script is fun, the characters are lovable and compelling, and the story is a well-written arc that moves the plot along from start to finish without many "throw away" episodes in between, which is pretty different for a kid's show. After watching the last episode, I was ready to see the movie, although I did tell Derek that I was pretty sure it would be hard for the actors to live up to the characters I had fallen in love with during the cartoon.

The basic story goes like this: there are 4 nations - The Fire Nation, The Water Tribes, the Air Nomads, and the Earth Kingdoms. In each of the nations there are people who are able to "bend" or manipulate their people's basic element. There is one soul in the world who is capable of bending all four elements. This soul (the Avatar) is reincarnated throughout the ages. However, 100 years ago, he went missing and the Fire Nation took the opportunity to attack the rest of the world in an attempt to conquer the rest of the nations and become all-powerful. Two water tribe teen-agers: Kitara and her older brother Sokka discover the new Avatar at the South Pole frozen in a block of ice. They release him and discover that he is the Avatar and that he ran away from the air temple before he could learn the other three elements. He is shocked to discover he's been in the ice for 100 years, to him it has seemed only like a few days. The world has changed and they must get Aang (rhymes with "rang") teachers in the other three elements (water, earth, and fire) so that he can stand up to Fire Lord Ozai and free the world from the oppression of the Fire Nation.

Enter the movie. The first installment in a planned trilogy (to mirror the 3 seasons of the show).

I'll start with the things I liked about the movie. The visuals were absolutely stellar. The sets (most likely a lot of CGI) were perfect real-life replicas of the scenery from the cartoon. The CGI was almost impossible to spot. Most of the story-line followed the story of the cartoon, often making it feel as if the cartoon had simply been transferred over to real-life acting. I really can't say enough about the visuals. The actors they picked looked the part and most of the non-verbal acting was quite excellent.

Moving on...

The things I didn't like... I think most of what I didn't like can be summed up by saying that "The Last Airbender" simply suffered from bad directing... but I'll go into specifics for you:
1. This is a tiny little thing, but it really annoys me when they can't get pronunciation of names right in movies. ESPECIALLY when said movie is based off of a cartoon or another movie... it's not like in a book where there might be some leeway for how a name was supposed to be pronounced. They mispronounced "Aang," "Hiro," and "Sokka" three of the MAIN characters' names, they mispronounced "Avatar" at least half the time. (It's kind of like whenever anyone in a movie or a TV show mispronounces the word "nuclear" - it just grates on my nerves).

2. The delivery of lines was very wooden. There wasn't much in the way of well-delivered lines, except perhaps during one of the final scenes in the movie between Ue and Sokka (I don't want to give away a major point for anyone who isn't familiar with the story), but I felt that in that scene, Sokka really delivered his lines well. I chalk this up to a bad director. (sorry, M. Night) Because except for line delivery, I thought that the actual acting was pretty good... at least until anyone opened his or her mouth.

3. The bending. In the cartoon, the bending of any element is like someone holding a weapon. The martial art-esque movements manipulate each element as though it is an extension of the bender. In the movie, however, the bending requires an interpretive dance that is at least 5-10 moves long before they can get their elements to do ANYTHING. This was frustrating, and again, I chalk it up to a director's choice (correct me if I'm wrong about that, John). It felt as though they knew they had 2 more movies to make, and they didn't want to pull out all the stops in the first movie, and so they held back. I felt that this holding back hurt the movie more than anything else.

4. Kitara's narration. While she does narrate the opening sequence to every episode in the show, every time she interrupted the story to narrate what was going on or to show that time had passed during the movie, it jarred me out of the moment. It was like M. Night kept slapping me across the face and yelling, "HEY! You're watching a movie!!!!" It really broke up the flow of the story for me and made it hard to just watch.

5. The final part of the battle between Aang and the Fire Nation when they are attacking the Northern Water Kingdom. So that I don't spoil it for you, what he does in the movie is NOT what he does in the cartoon, and the pacifistic agenda annoyed me.

6. How long it took for them to decide what they were doing. In the first half of the movie, the three main characters seem to be wandering around aimlessly. This, again, I believe we can chalk up to the writer/director, good ol' M. Night again. Unfortunately, this one may not be his fault. See, if you think about the movies that M has directed, they almost all have an "aha!" moment at the end of them. They're psychological thrillers and deep, poignant, mysteries (with the exception of "The Happening"... what was he thinking?), but they are definitely not fantasy adventure quests. The story of "Avatar: the Last Airbender" is a classic quest/adventure story. Now remember, the cartoon did fairly well, and it's fairly new. A large percentage of the audience in the movie theaters, I have got to believe have either seen the cartoon or are familiar with the story (at least, that was the case for our theater, I could tell by the conversations I overheard afterwards). Throughout the movie, it felt like the story was trying to "surprise" me. There was the big moment when Aang reveals he is the Avatar! (Oh wait... even if you didn't see the movie, that much, at least, you could infer from the trailers). There is the moment when they decide they have to find Aang a water bending teacher! (Oh wait... duh!) Then there is the moment when Zhuko reveals why he cannot go home and why he has to capture the Avatar! (Oh wait... this moment occurs three quarters of the way through the movie, and if you hadn't figured out most of his story by then, you really weren't paying attention... even if you hadn't seen the cartoon and already knew his story). There was the big moment when Aang goes into the spirit world (Oh wait... he does that several times throughout the movie and really doesn't accomplish much by doing so).

All in all, I actually did enjoy the movie... but I walked away from it equating it with movies like: "The Seeker," "The Spiderwick Chronicles," the new "Prince Caspian," and "Percy Jackson" - it was good, I enjoyed it, I might even be willing to watch it again, but it simply did not live up to my highest expectations. Here's hoping they get a different director... or M. Night learns his lesson and does a better job on the sequel.

July 08, 2010

Regarding the state of the union...

Because... why not?
I was having an email conversation with my dad about his home-building business. As we chatted, I felt that his thoughts on the subject were something that others should hear, so I took it upon myself to (with permission) use his words to write the following blog post on the state of small-business owners (because it's not just the builders who are struggling) and the state of our world in general. So, without further ado:

Almost All Builders are struggling.

Very Few Homeowners are buying.

When the Banks qualify the few Homeowners who are willing to proceed, to help the Builders stop struggling, the Banks then scrutinize the struggling Builders and tell them that their Homeowners can help them stop struggling when the builders stop struggling on their own.  Once the Builders have stopped struggling due to the lack of customers, then the banks will allow those people who want to build homes to become customers.

However, the Builders must first build financial strength without building for customers.  Once the Builders can demonstrate that they no longer need customers, then the banks will allow them to work with the customers they no longer need.

As Jack Sparrow would say, "You're not making any sense at all, man."
However, that is the Building Market in a "nutshell."

And, actually, the economy as a whole. And possibly, our President's agenda.

I think I could become a spokesman for the Obama Administration, convincing the American People that all of the absurd and purposefully damaging policies to the United States that are in the process of being implemented are indeed meant to be damaging as this is the only way to help the American People become damaged. If the American People are damaged thoroughly enough then they will no longer be vulnerable to damaging policies.  Once the American People have become fully damaged and in fact not the American People any longer, then the President can come in and "rescue" the people that he has destroyed by creating an Un-American Country and then claim all credit for rescuing the World from the American People that he despises.

 At least something to think about... no?

July 01, 2010

School Reading

I was just perusing facebook and a status update caught my eye. It concerned "Summer Reading" for high schoolers and the change from 10-15 years ago. Summer reading when I was in high school consisted of such books as:

Dracula - Bram Stoker
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
Farenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

And so on and so forth.

Today, apparently, we have authors such as Nicholas Sparks (gag me), Tom Clancy, Jodi Picoult, and John Grisham on the summer reading list.

Now, I'm not saying that one is better than the other (although I am a tad bit biased against Nick... sorry. Romance just isn't my preferred reading genre... and I really hated The Notebook (movie version)).

The question that all this raises, however, is not the one you may think it is. The question is: who makes the decision that certain books are "better" than others for academic reading? Why do we place such importance on a book like The Scarlet Letter or The Hobbit or even Romeo and Juliet?

Having been an English teacher, where I had the ability to write my own curriculum a few times, I know what the criteria was for the books I picked for my students to read. They had to be well-written. They had to be age-level appropriate. They had to have good themes to discuss. They had to be good examples of literature. They had to be books I enjoyed reading (because I wasn't about to ask my students to read and discuss a book I found boring or obscene). But what is the criteria that makes something a school "Standard"? Why are some books just taken for granted to be on the reading list and others not? Especially in public high schools? I can understand a Christian school choosing books that have themes of morality and ethics, but in a society where we want to kick God out of the schools, we can't have it both ways. We can't say, "No pledge of allegiance or prayer in schools" and then choose a book like "The Scarlet Letter" because it addresses the sin of adultery (well, without God, what makes adultery a sin?) that's a double standard. That's saying that we want God gone, but we want to keep some of His rules.

Er. Ahem. Tangent.

So, back to my question: what makes some books acceptable and not others? Because if Nick Sparks is allowable, then that means Stephanie Meyers is not far behind... and while I liked the Twilight books,  I don't think they're academically viable options. The big problem that I face with this whole question is... I'd LOVE to teach a course on Fantasy fiction. I think there are books out there that are academically sound.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien
The Death Gate Cycle - Weis and Hickman
Perelandra - C.S. Lewis
The Icarus Hunt - Timothy Zahn
The Giver - Lois Lowry
Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
The King Raven Trilogy - Stephen R. Lawhead
Inkheart - Cornelia Funke
The Princess Bride - William Goldman
Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton (more sci-fi than fantasy, I'll grant you)

and of course, those are just a few. But even when we add "popular fiction" to the list of school reading material, these books are not considered. These books are what my jr. English teacher would have referred to as "high class trash." Why? Because they're "genre fiction." Genre fiction is getting a bad rap and has gotten a bad rap for years. Why? Because it's actually something people enjoy reading? Because it deals with fictional settings and creatures? If that were the case then we wouldn't teach mythology in English classes either. Only a few authors (Lewis and Tolkien) have managed to break through the hoity-toity English teachers' association and onto the school reading lists. While I knee jerk away from anything on the NY Times best seller list, I also don't think popularity is a good reason not to read a book.

So, if the standard for high school reading is that they only read the classics, and "classics" are defined as being popular only after the author is long dead then Shakespeare and Dickens definitely shouldn't be allowed in the classroom. If having literary merit is the definition, then I don't believe Jodi Picoult should be on the list (her being the only author on the previous list that I've read, I can't speak to the other three). And if telling a good story in a new and different way is the only standard then why do we revolve around the 10 books or so that seem to be the only books that are ever on the list (Dickens, Bronte, Austen, Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Twain)? Are they really the only authors who have managed to tell a compelling story in a new and different way while intertwining literary genius into their stories? Dickens (and for that matter, Shakespeare) weren't even really novelists - how does that affect the standard? Especially when we start teaching their writings as "books" in the classroom? What is the criteria? What should the criteria be? Should we even consider *gasp* whether or not a student may want to read the book? Should promoting a love of reading be on the list of criteria? I think it should. I don't think it should be the only criteria though. And I don't think that, plus being on the NY Times bestseller list should bump a book to the reading list either. But what should the criteria be? English, being a subjective subject already, is hard to pin down, hard to define. What makes something a good book and therefore worth reading, especially for academic reading, may be even harder to define...

Questions? Comments? Smart Remarks?

Anybody have an opinion?

June 25, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Having read reviews from places like pluggedinonline and screenit (two very valuable resources if you have no interest in being surprised by anything offensive in your movies) I knew that there would be zero foul language and no offensive scenes. They told me that the movie was based off of a video game (which never bodes well), and they told me that there would be a lot of violence. What both sites failed to tell me, however, was that this was going to be a movie that I would absolutely love.

The movie opens with an Aladdin-esque chase through the streets of Persia (they may have given a town name, but I don’t remember it). As the child who becomes the hero of the movie races through the streets eluding the king’s guards, you may feel a strange compulsion to press ‘A’ ‘circle’ ‘square’ ‘square’ ‘X’ on your game controller... only to realize that you don’t have one. However, this does not mean that the movie is not well done, it simply means that some of the action and stunts are the sort of things you would see in a video game. The further into the movie you get, the more you begin to forget that this was based on a video game, because the story draws you in and sets you on the edge of your seat hoping that everything will work out in the end.

As the story unfolds, you grow to love the main characters. Dastan: an orphan who was adopted by a king, is utterly heroic and full of life, humor, and nobility. Tamina: a princess with a sacred duty, is completely dedicated to her responsibility, capable, and still perfectly feminine without having any need to prove herself (as so many modern female characters are unfortunately written). In a fight, she’s not really much help, which makes her believable, but neither is she brainless, helpless, hopeless, or unemployed in Greenland... (to paraphrase slightly and take a bit of a tangent).

The movie is obviously the work of the same people who created Pirates of the Caribbean, and there were several places where I felt that one of the lines said about Jack Sparrow would have been appropriate for Dastan as well, “Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?” Although there is no rigging to swing from nor masts to run across while being sucked into a whirlpool - the streets and walls of  Persia are every bit as precarious and the main characters traverse them with thrillingly light-footed ease. And while Dastan is not as charismatic as Capt. Sparrow, he is every bit as likeable, every bit as compelling, and every bit as fun.

What I'm trying to say, is that if you want to see a movie that contains characters who are compelling and heroic, is good swashbuckling fun that hearkens back to past movies like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, and contains a well-written, fun, witty script - then I would highly recommend you go see Prince of Persia. You will not be disappointed. Also, although I believed that Jake Gyllenhall (no idea how to spell his last name) had played his "perfect" role already (October Sky), I realized watching this movie that he has been missing his calling these past 10-15 years. He was born to play this part :)

However... if you're deathly afraid of snakes... well, there are some parts that you might want to close your eyes for. ;)

June 04, 2010

Vacation Hold

I know I never posted anything new this week. I apologize. However, I don't think many people read this... :)

I am currently working on a plan to get my books into the public library system here in Raleigh. I am also currently working on the idea of a book signing at the library. (John Flannigan, author of the Ranger's Apprentice series just recently did a Q&A/book signing at the public library here and that got me thinking about it)

Anyway, that's what's in the works... we'll see what happens!

I will be on vacation and so may or may not post a blog entry next week. Have a lovely first week of June.

May 27, 2010

Alternate Ending

(I posted this on my personal blog, but figured it makes for entertaining reading, at least, to me, so I'm posting it over here too)

I've been reading up on various people's responses to the Lost finale. Everything I read has made me dislike the finale even more than I did when we finished it (and that was quite a bit...) and I've come to the following conclusion: I'm sick of people rationalizing for the show and "apologizing" for it. I enjoyed watching the show. I liked the show. I think I may even go back and rewatch the first five seasons at some point. However, it wasn't my favorite show in the world, and it has not rocked my world that it ended badly. Disappointed? Sure.

However, despite all that, I am moving on. In the past, when I've read a book that ended in a dis-satisfactory way, or watched a movie that left me feeling like, "Seriously? What?" I have had no problem with coming up with my own alternate ending and then pretending that was the way it really ended. (Always the overactive imagination... that's me).

Thus, without further ado, this is how I would have ended LOST:

Skip the whole sixth season and it's alternate-reality/purgatory thing... the bomb goes off, jumps our characters to their correct place in time, kills Juliet, and leaves Sawyer grief-stricken. Then, the ending would have gone something like this: We would have discovered that Jacob's motives were pure and that immortality is quite taxing and he has held the evil that is the smoke monster (which in my ending is a demonic/alien force caged on the island due to the island's electromagnetic uniqueness) at bay for as long as he can. He is tired and has run out of new things to try and feels that his control of the situation is slipping and he needs fresh blood and a new perspective to take his place. Jin and Sun would make it back to the mainland and live happily ever after with their daughter. Claire was actually dead and Kate would have to return to the mainland to be with Aaron. Jack and Locke would have a much cooler, far more impressive show-down, (along with a "real" storm) in which they both ended up dying. Sawyer becomes the island's new protector (because, really, what else does he have to do? And besides, he's been my favorite character since episode 1) and spends his days jumping the island through time (because the protector can do that) in order to keep Ben from getting loose on the world ever again because Ben becomes the new force of evil on the island (because there always has to be a balance and you can't destroy evil, you can weaken it, you can cage it, but you can't destroy the balance). And Hurley... well, Hurley goes home in peace because the island doesn't need him anymore and he gets to live out his life as the lucky guy to whom nothing bad ever happens - and is never plagued by ghost numbers ever again. In the final scene, we would see Ben and Sawyer sitting on the beach while a group of strange aliens build a four toed statue in the background and Ben turns to Sawyer (his eyes gleaming red) and says, "Do you have any idea how much I want to kill you?" And Sawyer just smiles and shakes his head and goes back to reading his book (some classic... maybe A Tale of Two Cities)... because he's cool like that.

The end.

May 26, 2010

A New Contest

Just found out about this new contest, when I was over at ABNA checking out who the top 6 finalists are in that contest. As I was poking around, I came across a link to this other contest, apparently the deadline is today...

The "Dear Lucky Agent" contest. I am submitting my work into the contest, we'll see what happens. The top three submissions get a free review of their first 10 pages and a free one-year subscription to

You can see more about the contest and the details of the contest here:

May 10, 2010

A true story

 This is a short story I wrote for the class I took a couple of summers ago.

    “Jenelle, wake up!”
    My roommate’s voice yanks me out of sleep and into a groggy semi-awareness. I jump, hitting my head on something hard. I raise my hand to my head and look at the clock: 6:30am.
    “Ellie, I’ve only been asleep for an hour! What’s wrong?”
    “I don’t know where we are, I need your help.”
    I frown and rub my eyes. They feel as though I've been scraping sandpaper across them. I open my eyes wider and stare at my roommate, trying to see past the blurriness of sleep. Then I look out through the window of the truck and stare up at the buildings surrounding us.
    “What do you mean, you don’t know where we are?”
    “Our road ran out, it just ended. I was driving along and our road ran out, and I had to go through a tunnel or over a bridge or something and they charged me six whole dollars. There’s nowhere to park and I don’t know where we are.”
    “Calm down,” I am starting to wake up now. I pull out the old, wrinkled atlas that we’ve been using and open it up to the Pennsylvania page.
    “Alright, I went to sleep about an hour or so ago and we were just outside of Harrisburg, if you’ve been going about sixty miles per hour since then we can’t be any further than New Jersey. Do you know what street we’re on?”
    “No,” Ellie grips the steering wheel tightly with both hands, her eyes wide.
    “Ok, we just need to ask someone where we are, and we probably shouldn’t just keep driving. Can you find a place to park? What’s open at this hour?”
    We drive past a few more buildings, their windows reflecting the pale red of the sunrise. My tiredness has been replaced by adrenaline, I can hear my heart beating loudly in my ears. I spot a yellow sign that says, “24 hours.”
    “There!” I point, “A twenty-four hour McDonald’s, and there’s a parking spot right there on our side of the street, pull over, pull over.”
    Ellie follows my orders and parks the truck and we both get out. I stand on the sidewalk clutching the atlas and staring up at the skyscrapers, they are taller than they seemed from inside the truck. Ellie joins me and we walk down the street to the McDonald’s. The air is cold and I shiver, pulling my jacket tighter around my neck. My skin tingles as a gust of wind whips down the street and plays with my already unruly hair. I stomp my feet as we walk, trying to regain some feeling in them. I hate to think what we must look like, how unkempt we appear.
    We enter the McDonald’s and an assortment of smells assails my nose. Aromas of sausages and bacon waft from the kitchen, mingled with the floury smell of biscuits. Ellie sniffs appreciatively but I am on a mission. A man behind the counter smiles at us.
    “What can I get for you?”
    “I need directions,” I hold out the atlas, opening it slightly like a peace offering. “Can you tell me where we are?”
    “Sure,” he has an easy smile, bright teeth in his dark face. His earring distracts me for a moment and then I make eye-contact again as he continues. “We’re on the corner of Twenty-Fourth and Fulton.”
    I blink, something about his words seems alien. I shake my head, “No, I mean... what state are we in?”
    His eyes widen and his grin falters a bit, “Girl, you’re in Manhattan.”

May 04, 2010

Writing Exercises

I have always enjoyed various writing exercises. So this exercise is one in describing a "mood." The goal is to use vivid imagery and all 5 senses to give the reader an accurate "feel" for the emotions of the character. The following three snippets are each describing a different emotion... see if you can figure out what each paragraph is trying to convey:

1)    The sun was warm on her head and shoulders as she stood on the front lawn holding the hose. The water hissed and sputtered at the spigot where it leaked out in every direction. The leaky spigot did not keep the water from gushing through the hose, however, and as she held the nozzle in her hand and pressed the rubber lever a steady stream of water sprayed out over the lawn. Drops of water began to slowly collect on the long, green blades of grass. The thatch that had been dug up earlier by the slit-seeder began to change color from light tan to a darker brown as the water from the hose rained down upon it. Water began to pool in the patches of dirt where the old grass had died off and the new grass seed had been planted. And still the sun beat down. Although the air itself was mild, the warmth of the sun on her shoulders began to grow increasingly hot. Her shoulders and ears began to burn. She passed the spray of water back and forth across the grass; at her feet, the water that dripped down from the leaking spigot began to pool and the cold water brushed up against her toes causing her to jump slightly. She could feel beads of sweat beginning to form on her face and so she moved down the lawn into the shade of the tree that stood at the corner of her house. Even as she walked she held the lever of the hose nozzle compressed so that the water would continue to spray out over the lawn, activating the new grass seed and causing it to begin to grow. The fingers on her right hand began to cramp and she switched the nozzle to her left hand while she flexed the fingers of her right hand and then shook it out. She put her right hand in the stream of the cold water and felt the muscles begin to relax.

2)    A soft wind swept through the trees, across the field and down the hill to the frozen lake, brushing up the powdery top layer of snow as it passed and causing the tiny crystals of snow to dance through the air on shadowy legs. The silver moon gazed down over the landscape, its brightness magnified by the whiteness of the snow. Stars, like brightly glowing snowflakes peered down from the clear black sky, their light not competing with the brightness of the moon and yet still starkly visible against the dark canvas in which they had been painted. At the edge of the field stood a grove of trees. Crystalline branches covered in ice sparkled in the moonlight. The wind whispered across the snow, a soft voice, so quiet that one would have to strain hard in order to make sense of the words. The ice-coated branhes clinked together as the wind passed over and around them. A set of footprints crossed the field, winding from the trees down to the frozen lake. Pools of shadow lay at the bottom of each print because the snow was so deep. Whoever had passed by had been forced to trudge through snow that was nearly knee deep. Despite the whispering of the wind and the clinking of the branches, a quiet seemed to fill the air, a silence so thick and heavy that it lay over the top of the snow like a down-filled blanket. No animals ventured out of their warm burrows or hiding places this chilly night, no howls or chirps disturbed the silence of the darkness.

3)    While the kitchen was still as colorless and austere as the rest of the palace, it was the only place where smiles were seen and laughter was heard; not often, but it did happen every now and then. Gregoire had grown up in very solitary circumstances. The other servant-children did not laugh or joke; in fact they hardly even talked. They were a quiet lot, and they kept to themselves. In the kitchen, however austere the decoration, at least there was noise and color. All was clanging of pots and loud-voiced cooks and hustling here and scurrying there. Where everything else was strict, orderly, tidy, and sterile, the kitchen was a place of life and seeming chaos. Sauces were stirred briskly and batters were whisked. Eggs were beaten and meat and vegetables were chopped into tiny pieces and thrown together in steaming skillets. Cooks moved about the kitchen as if performing a dance, white aprons whirling as they moved from counter to stove and back again. Smells of all kinds of different foods wafted up from various stoves and mingled together, creating smells that would make anyone’s stomach rumble loudly. In the morning, the smell of bacon could always be identified, along with the crackling and popping of grease in the pans on top of the stoves. Some mornings would find the kitchen rich with the smell of cinnamon if one of the cooks had decided to make a coffee cake instead of the usual bacon and eggs. In the warmth of the afternoons there was always some sort of brightly colored fruit salad to go with whatever the main course was to be. The cool evenings often brought the scents of spiced meats and warm aromas of different sauces that would be poured thickly over bowls of pasta or rice.

Have fun!

April 26, 2010

Forgive me

I am sorry I never got around to posting last week. It has been a bit crazy around here what with everyone getting sick, me joining a new aerobics class (a first for me! so far I love it), and weaning my 18month old from her pacifier... a truly horrifying experience for a few days. In all the hubbub, the blog completely slipped my mind.

Of course, I have my doubts as to whether or not anyone actually reads this, but I suppose it's the principle of the thing, right? I said I'd post at least once a week, and last week got forgotten. Sorry.

Let's see, in the past few weeks I have been furiously re-modeling my first book. As it is the first in the series, it is the one that needs the most work. I feel as though it is mirroring the bathroom remodel that is also currently underway at my house... I'm leaving the walls in place, and the original sink and tub, but I'm re-tiling, re-painting, and putting in new up-to-date fixtures in. :) Like the metaphor?

I think I'm pretty much done with the first 3 chapters. I am now moving into the "meat" of the story. I also have an editor reading over my story as I refurbish and fine-tuning a lot of what I've edited/re-written. It is a fun process, because I'm doing the big stuff, while my editor is looking for all the nit-picky little details like when I've been redundant or where I've said something twice just in different ways... like I just did there... did YOU catch it? He's also looking through for small discrepancies between stories, making sure all my characters stay IN character, and tightening up spots where I've used 3-5 "weaker" words when one "strong"one would be plenty.

So, if anyone actually reads this... what sorts of things would you like to see posted here? What are you curious about? What would you like to know? What would make you come back to check for updates or even... perchance... make you recommend this blog to a friend? Comments are welcome!

Hope you are having a lovely week.

April 13, 2010

Clean Fantasy

Let's face it: the ability to describe a book or movie as "clean" and/or "decent" is becoming rarer and rarer. In an age where those two words are almost said with distaste or as though they are synonymous with "boring" or "corny," a writer who desires to enchant her audience without sex, cuss words, or excessive violence must work two to three times harder than the competition, especially if they want to venture into the world of fantasy. However, as evidenced by such writers as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and more currently Stephen R. Lawhead and even Terry Brooks have proven that it can be done. Perhaps this post will be seen as "unfair" or "narrow-minded" on my part, but I have always thought that authors who resort to using expletives and sex in their works are falling into laziness in their writing. Sure, you'll get a reaction from people, sure, you'll get some shock value, but after that wears off, you have left your reader dissatisfied because your story was not good enough to carry itself without such tactics.

On the flip side of this arguments is the fact that there is an appalling amount of "bad" writing in the Christian fiction section of the book-store. When a friend of mine was asked why I do not write "Christian fiction" or have an overwhelming desire to go with a "Christian Publisher" my friend told me she was tempted to respond by saying, "Because Jenelle is a good writer." While at the time, this made me laugh, thinking back on it makes me sad. It should not be thus. Shouldn't Christian authors be held to a higher standard than the rest of the world? I admit, just because something is "clean" doesn't necessarily mean that it is well-written. I do not believe that Christians should write just for other Christians (and here is the heart of why I will not necessarily go with a Christian publisher), because your sphere of influence is very limited and while it may be "kingdom focused" it is not "kingdom expanding." If you limit your target audience to 14-18 year old Christians, that is the audience you will get. Your books will be sanctioned by Christian parents and their children will read them because you are a Christian author, and they may love them, but their non-Christian friends may never give you, as an author, a chance. I do not think this is the answer any more than resorting to writing "edgy" fiction.

Colossians 3:17, 23 - And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Mark 16:15 - He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."

2Corinthians 6:3, 4a, 5b - We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great hard work... in purity..."

As a Christian, I am more moved when I see/read/hear God's truth coming from an unexpected source. When I hear a country song on a secular radio station that talks about Jesus, when I read a fantasy fiction book (that I picked up somewhere other than Lifeway) that is well-written and portrays some aspect of the Good News (whether on purpose or accidentally), and when I watch a movie that inadvertently points to Christ, I always come away feeling amazed at how God works through the most unlikely of sources to point to Himself and Truth. I always think, "Wow. Think of how many unsaved people are probably listening to, reading, or watching this! And they are hearing God's Truth." I'm not saying that Christian radio stations, movies made by churches, or Christian authors going through Christian publishers are bad things. I think they're great! I just have to wonder sometimes, if that's really "Going into all the world..." or if it's merely "settling." Settling for a smaller audience, a friendly audience, a receptive audience, an audience who will more often than not overlook poor quality if your book/CD/movie mentions Jesus in any way on the back cover.

So, what do I think is the answer? I think we need to throw out both approaches. I think Christian artists should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. I think Christians should LEAD the way when it comes to well-written books, quality music, and blockbuster movies. I have always had a problem with Christian artists following the trend. I once went to a ... I'm not sure what it was, actually, we walked into the auditorium and discovered that some kind of, apparently free, event was being held there... but there was a huge audience and the whole point of the presentation seemed to be playing clips of Christian music that were "alternatives" to whatever was "hip" at the moment. I walked away from that with a really bad taste in my mouth. If the music out there isn't worth listening to, then why should Christians be trying to make "clean" or "alternative" versions of it?

As a Christian and a lover of the fantasy genre, I am committed to writing stories that are both filled with adventure and excitement without also being filled with worldly "smut," for lack of a better term. I want to write books that inspire, that excite, that send the imagination soaring. I also want to write fantasy that parents can approve of for their teens to read, and fantasy that the parents may want to read as well! I hope that my readers will hold me not just to the standard of Christian-principles, but also to the standard of excellent writing.

April 05, 2010

A response

I have so far sent queries to two agencies. I have heard back from both of them. The first one just sent me an email that said they had stopped responding to queries they are uninterested in, and so if I haven't heard from them again in 30 days to assume they don't like me. Ok, it actually said to assume that they weren't currently interested in my manuscript. However, this morning I heard back from the second agent I queried and she asked for the first 5 pages of my book. Now, either she was intrigued by my query, or she asks EVERYONE for their first 5 pages. I don't know which it is. Either way, it's exciting to be asked for pages.

I have been editing and polishing The Dragon's Eye out of existence er, until it shines. Based on the reviews I got from the ABNA contest (you can read what they had to say here), I have rearranged the first three chapters, cut entire paragraphs, and added a few bits of dialogue here and there. I am amazed at how much my writing style has changed in just a few short years! I am excited to get The Dragon's Eye up to snuff. As I have been chopping my manuscript into sawdust sanding the rough edges off my first book (well, technically my third book... but the first in this series), it has been fun to be able to be brutally honest with myself about where it is obvious I simply had no idea what I was doing when I wrote this book.

I have never enjoyed editing this much before. It's fantastic! This is probably because instead of focusing on the tiny errors such as commas and semi-colons and spelling mishaps... (although, I'm not ignoring those mistakes either, don't worry), I am re-writing a lot of plot and dialogue and straight-up story. It's like going through my book with a machete.

Stay tuned! I'll let you know if I hear anything more from the agent.

March 29, 2010

Things this contest has taught me

1. Blessings really do sometimes come in disguise.
I was very bummed and disappointed about not making it to round three. However, I was determined to accept it without complaining, whining, or feeling sorry for myself. I think that this has really helped me move into a new level of maturity when it comes to my writing and accepting criticism.

2. Hard work pays off.
Since entering this contest, I have done more to promote my books than ever before and I've made 4 sales in the past month (which is more than I sold all last year combined!)

3. I'm not as bad at describing my books as I think.
Making it to round two was such a confidence booster for me. One of my hesitations to writing query letters and synopses has always been a lack of confidence when it comes to "explaining what my books are about." When people ask me this question, I tend to go blank. I stammer out something about a princess and dragons and then change the subject. However, since the first round of judging was based solely on a 300 word description of what my book is about, and I made it through, I have suddenly become far more confident and have sent out my very first 2 queries in the week since getting the "bad" news.

4. Writing is fun.
Most importantly, entering this contest, "talking" on the discussion boards with other authors/writers, and getting feedback from strangers on my story has really reinvigorated my love of writing. It has lit a "fire" under me and given me the desire to edit and polish my manuscript until it shines (and is up to the standards of my most recent work: The Minstrel). I am excited about the prospect of finding an agent and subsequently a publisher. I am excited about editing. And most importantly, I am excited to continue writing new stories as they unfold from my mind onto the page. I have even started two whole new stories, as different from my Dragon's Eye series as Star Wars is from the Wheel of Time.

So, thank you, ABNA, for all you've taught me. And thank you, Lord, for not letting me slide through this contest with ease. It's way more fun this way.

March 23, 2010

Down, but not for the count

Well friends, the news finally came in around 10pm EST, and my excerpt didn't make the cut. Yes, I'm disappointed. Yes, I'm feeling a bit down and subdued tonight. But...

"... he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Cor. 12:9

I am pressed, but not crushed. I am perplexed, but I am not in despair. I feel a bit persecuted, but I know I am not abandoned. I am down, but I am not destroyed. (Paraphrase 2Cor. 4:8-9)

Tomorrow there will be editing, working on polishing that query letter, and the hunt for an agent or publisher will begin in earnest, but tonight, just for a little, there will be a sigh, maybe a tear, and the resting of my head in my heavenly Father's arms.

March 19, 2010

Writing Fiction

It all began with a door:

     It never seemed fair to me that so much could be imagined and yet unattainable. As a child, I had an over-active imagination. My favorite thing to do was to play “make-believe” with just about anyone who would deign to join me. The title of this simple-sounding game encompassed worlds of opportunities, because the parameters of the game were as limitless as our imaginations. The game often involved components such as: pretending to be someone else; pretending to live somewhere interesting and unique, such as a sailboat or in a jungle; or pretending to have the ability to travel to other worlds. In the mind of a child, a bed can become a houseboat, a lilac bush is easily turned into a horse, and a fallen branch from a willow tree can serve for several days as a palace, a forest, a jungle, or a pirate ship, depending on the mood of its occupants. However, it was the times that we spent in Narnia that I will remember the most fondly.
    I have read extensively throughout my life. Mostly I read adventure stories about fantastical worlds in which bigger-than-life heroes battle dragons for their beautiful princesses. I attribute much of my deep love for the written word to my parents. My parents used to read books out loud to me every night before bed. It was through my mother’s voice that I played with Laura Ingalls Wilder, and through my father’s voice that I entered into Lewis’ fascinating world called Narnia. It was not long before Narnia became a central figure in my games of “make-believe.” The adventures to Narnia began on a fairly average summer’s day.
    “We can get to Narnia, I know it!” My cousin, Gayle, insisted. Kim looked a little suspicious, but I didn’t doubt it for a second.
    “How?” Wendy asked.
    I don’t remember how the conversation began. We had all recently become acquainted with The Chronicles of Narnia, and we were bound to begin discussing the stories at some point. It was about time for a round of make-believe to begin. We had already gone wading in the creek, “accidentally on purpose” as my cousins are fond of saying, played capture the flag, and pretended to be orphans (the basement had quite nicely accommodated our visions of a creepy orphanage and its various methods of torturing the inhabitants: being made to sleep on hard wooden shelves, getting locked in the “dungeon” otherwise known as the root cellar, etc). Now we had moved on to a new idea, one that was even more intriguing than the “evil orphan keeper” game. We were all fascinated by the idea of getting into a different world through something as ordinary as a wardrobe, and we had agreed that we should try to get into Narnia ourselves. However, our only problem lay in the fact that we did not have a wardrobe.
    “Look, we don’t really need a wardrobe,” Gayle said convincingly, “all we really need is a door.”
    “But a door to where?” Wendy asked.
    “A door that doesn’t lead anywhere,” I piped in. My cousins all stared at me as though I had suggested we run over to the Himalayas and attempt to scale Everest. But then a light appeared in Kim’s eyes.
    “I know what door we need!” She exclaimed triumphantly. Leading the way, Kim took us up to the loft and started tugging on her bunk bed. “Help me move this away from the wall,” she said.
    Mystified, we all helped and eventually got the bunk bed a sufficient distance away from the wall. There it was: the door. It was little more than a board that covered a hole that led into the unused attic space, but it could have been covered in diamonds and rubies by the way we gazed at it.
    “It’s perfect,” someone breathed reverently.
    Solemnly we slid the board open and stepped through into a different world.
    My adventures in the world of the imagination have been many. Those times are some of my favorite memories. Some might question my sanity as a child, some might wonder if so much time spent in imaginary worlds could possibly be quite healthy, and some might even wonder if my time could have been spent in better or more productive ways. Well, perhaps. But then again I believe that spending so much time in my games of “make-believe” made me a more independent, more creative person. Because of the constant exercising of my imagination I was hardly ever bored. When I could not have friends over I did not resort to watching television or playing video games, but rather I traveled to Narnia or Care-a-Lot or Middle Earth; and when none of those places appealed to my mood I would make up my own world and act out my own fairy tale. Many of my adventures caused me to spend time outdoors, exercising my body as well as my mind. The time I spent cultivating my imagination is what helps me write. When people ask me how I come up with ideas for my stories the answer is simple: I have been making up stories my whole life.
    I sometimes think that writing is my way of making up for the fact that I never really did go to Narnia. By creating new stories, new worlds that I hope will fascinate other children like me, perhaps I feel that I can even out the score a little. Maybe there are other worlds, fairy mists that we cannot penetrate, it is more likely that such ideas simply spring from our human way of trying to explain heaven’s existence, but whether they exist or not, the imagination can make them real for a time at least. I suppose I never truly believed that I had journeyed through those mists into another land. I could never really banish the persistent illusion of the world around me. But in my imagination, tall buildings and reality were mere hurdles.
    Was it wrong of me to spend so much time in the imaginary? Even now, as I set aside time to delve into the world of fiction, both reading it and writing it, I wonder if it is altogether healthy. Then I look towards my Creator and I realize that it was His imagination that dreamed up everything I see, everything I am. My imagination was created in the image of His and I should use it to glorify Him. He is the greatest author of all time, and though we perceive it to be non-fiction, perhaps it is merely fantasy after all. And why should this life not be fiction? The Bible often insists that the “real” world is the one that we cannot see, the one that is hidden from our view except through our imaginations. One day, perhaps, we will find the right door and gain a glimpse of what is to come, or perhaps that door can only be found at the very end of life when we step out of this world and into the next one.
    I believe that a story is one of the essential parts of life. Every moment is a story, whether it is spoken, written, or simply experienced. A story, then, is one of the greatest gifts that one person can give to another. The greatest gift that God ever gave us was this story, the one that we each live, and the hope and promise of a reality beyond the imagination that he made us capable of. To inspire that imagination is to open a door, like the one that my cousins and I slid open so many years ago, a door to new worlds ripe for exploration.

March 15, 2010

Enter now for your chance to win a free book

I thought it might be fun to hold a little contest of my own here, since I entered The Dragon's Eye into the ABNA and the second round of judging should be over soon here. (March 23rd)

You may enter my contest in one of four ways:

A) Suggest a new title for The Dragon's Eye (or any of the other 3 books, if you wish)
B) Suggest a name for the entire 4-book series other than "The Tellurae Aquaous Series"
C) Write a one-paragraph (or 300 word) summary of an idea you have for a story
D) Just enter your name by commenting either here or on my facebook fan page

The winner of the contest will be determined by a random drawing on March 31st. The winner of the contest will receive a signed paperback copy of The Dragon's Eye (unless you already have that and would prefer a signed copy of Dawn of the Dragon's Eye, I'm flexible) :)

The contest is now open.

March 08, 2010

300 Word Pitch

Just in case you were curious, here is the 300 word pitch that I submitted to the ABNA that kept me in the running:
Many hundreds of years ago the land of Aom-igh was in grave danger from the Dark Country across the Stained Sea; in their danger King Llian sought out the help of the dragons and the myth-folk. Graldon, King of the Dragons, granted the human king with a gift that would help him defeat his enemies. Graldon also promised King Llian that the dragons would come to the humans’ aid should Aom-igh ever be in such deadly danger again.
Years passed, and Aom-igh remained safe and isolated from its enemies. The dragons slowly disappeared and faded into legend and myth. Magic seemed to flee from the land and people began to forget that it had ever existed.
When her kingdom is threatened by an unknown enemy, the headstrong Princess Kamarie must set off on a quest to find the one man who may be able to save them all: the former King’s Warrior. With her travel two companions: a maid named Darby who has been her nurse since Kamarie was very young, and a squire named Oraeyn who would rather be on the front lines when the enemy arrives and resents his charge to travel with and protect the princess. However, finding this legendary hero proves to be the least of their worries. Together the companions encounter more than they ever bargained for: a beautiful gatekeeper, a sword fashioned by dragons, dark warriors who pursue them relentlessly and hound them at every turn, and an underground world full of mythical creatures are just the beginning of their adventures. As they search for the answers to mystifying prophecies and seek a way to save everything that they hold dear the comrades will learn a little about courage, a lot about truth, and more about themselves than they ever imagined.

What do you think? I was surprised I made it, but then again, "Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26.

Accepting critiques of my pitch now. Do you think I should revise it for my query letter? How would you describe my book in 300 words or less? This is the part of writing that is hardest for me: narrowing it down into a concise explanation of what the book is about, so I'm honestly looking for tips, ideas, or even criticisms here.

March 04, 2010

Fan Page

Hello friends and fans,

Sorry I have been absent from this blog for so long. I am finally back. Today's post won't be long, I just wanted to draw your attention to a few things (anyone who actually peruses this blog anymore).

First: I have created a facebook fan-page for my writing. I update it every couple of days or at least once a week. If you'd like to swing by, you can click on the following link:!/pages/Raleigh-NC/Jenelle-Leanne-Schmidt/282216172260?ref=nf

Second: I entered my first book, The Dragon's Eye, into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and made it past the first round of cuts! I am super psyched. You can read about the contest here:

Third: I created a place where you can read a preview of my book and leave feedback here:

Thanks for swinging by. I will be updating much more frequently now.