Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: A Year in Review

This has been an eventful year. I graduated. I performed a senior recital. I got a job. I drove part way to Minnesota. I went on a cruise with my extended family. And, I finished a 60-chapter fantasy novel.

Here were the goals I made for myself at the beginning of 2015 and their degree of completion:

1. Read the entire Bible.
I think I got into Isaiah and then stopped.

2. Graduate with good grades.
I did graduate! And I did have pretty good grades. I'm not a straight A student and probably never will be, but I don't think I've ever gotten worse than a C, so I'm content.

3. Extensively plan and plot the fantasy story I wrote in 2014.
While I didn't "extensively plan and plot" my fantasy story, I did re-plot the story and re-write it this year. I finished the second draft in November and have been taking a much-needed break from the story. I let my dad read it and he enjoyed it. Now, I'm waiting for my mom to read it so that she can give me some feedback. Hurry up, Mom! I'm getting antsy to start working on this book again!

4. Write the final two Daniel and Varina novels.
After finishing my fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo last month, I still had about 15,000 words to get to the prescribed 50,000. I decided to finish writing the fourth Daniel and Varina book which I had started (and abandoned) in April.
In November, though I had only 5,000 words left to get to 50,000, and I only needed to write one more scene for Daniel and Varina's story to be complete, I couldn't goad myself to finishing NaNoWriMo this year. Yesterday, however, I sat down with the intention of writing the final scene in Daniel and Varina's novel, and I did!
So, the goal to finish their series was half completed. I've realized that I need to step back from Daniel and Varina's story for a bit and re-think the premise and the villain before I can continue to write about them.

5. Read 100 books.
Haha, no. I read 66 books this year. 50 were new to me, while 13 were rereads. 1984 by George Orwell had the least amount of stars with 4/10. Most of my 10/10 star ratings were for favorites that I revisited. I did give ten stars to one new book: Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before. A Visual History. This book commemorated Star Trek's 30th anniversary in the 1990s. I hope they come out with a similar book to celebrate Star Trek's 50th anniversary next year!

6. Implement my Book Challenge.
I think I had too many reading challenges this year. One was to read the entire Bible. Another was to re-read and review every self-published book on my shelf. I failed miserably at this. Someday I will review them all, but, as Aragorn says, "Today is not that day!"
The biggest challenge I gave myself this past year was my 2015 reading challenge, where I tried to read a classic and a modern book in six different genres and then review each book. I did very well with the reading part, excepting last three books. I didn't get The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, Dracula by Bram Stoker, or Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury read. Let's not even discuss how awful my reviewing schedule was. I have a few reviews/notes in my drafts folder, so I will most likely publish those at some point in the future.
Even though I failed at my challenge, I read several books that I normally would not have read and discovered several new authors whose books I enjoy!

7. Get a job, join a non-highschool choir, research colleges, and generally keep busy and not become a hermit once I graduate.
I have not become a hermit, you may be pleased to know. I did get a job, but I did not join a choir or research colleges.

8. Continue with my music. Take a music theory class. Have a FANTASTIC senior recital in May.
Although I didn't take a music theory class, I have continued with my piano and voice lessons. My senior recital in May was FANTASTIC, and you can watch it on Youtube HERE.

9. Exercise more.
Sporadically throughout the year, I did exercise more than usual.

10. Read one nonfiction a month.
I read seven nonfiction books this year.

11. Write every day of the year.
Haha, this definitely did NOT happen.

Here are my goals for 2016:

1. Perform in a musical.

2. Get a piano student.

3. Write one nonfiction piece of writing a week in January.

4. Spend 40 minutes a day reading instructional nonfiction.

5. Rewrite my fantasy story for the second time.

6. Host a Dutch-themed dinner party for my friends (and cook the entire meal myself).

7. Figure out college and LIFE.

8. Practice voice at least five out of seven days a week.

9. Memorize and perform Sinding's Rustle of Spring on the piano.

10. Read the books on my 2016 book-themed calendar and take part it THIS reading challenge sent to me by my aunt.

11. Grow closer to God through daily devotions. Put more emphasis on persistent prayer.

12. Eat less sugar because it makes me feel sick.

13. Exercise more.

14. Implement and stick to my new schedule in order to spend less time on irrelevant activities.

What are you goals for 2016?

Live long and prosper!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Christmasy Poem by Abbey

I don't know about you, but I've already attended two white elephant gift exchanges this December. To the first one I brought a monkey hat that sang the theme tune to the Monkees TV show ("Hey hey we're the Monkees! And people say we monkey around. But we're too busy singing to put anybody down..."), but to the second one I decided to be more creative. My mom and I went to the thrift store and bought three gray elephant stuffed animals of varying sizes (and a bag of mini chocolate bars) and I wrote the following poem to accompany the plushies:

A time of lights and snow
Of parties and go go go.
One specific gathering cannot be escaped
Though it is rather half-baked:
A white elephant gift exchange
Harder to avoid than mange.
It started with the king of Siam.
No, he didn't give his courtiers lambs.
He burdened them with white elephants—
But that is quite irrelevant.
My point is about discrimination.
Hopefully we are not in stagnation.
White elephants are well and good,
But gray are left out of the brotherhood.
It say: take your Twix and Milky Way
But don't forget your ashen friends from Family Elephantidae.
African, Asian, gray, or albino,
All elephants have floppy ears, trunks, and tusks not unlike a rhino.
So stop being exclusive;
It's rather abusive.
Include all elephants
In your gift exchange presents.

I wanted that last line to say "You ungrateful peasants!" but I thought that wasn't really compatible with the holiday spirit. :P

Merry Christmas everybody!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Eleven Books of Christmas

As I was telling a friend earlier, Autumn started and I hit a reading slump. I lost interest in everything I was reading. I've only managed to finish three books since September. My family and I have been preparing to visit the grandparents, though, and what better place to read than the back seat of the car on a twenty-four hour road trip?
Here are the books I am taking along:

The top four are audiobooks and the bottom seven are actual books.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. Every time we drive more than four hours away from home, we take this audiobook and its sequel (see the Second Book of Christmas) with us. A Long Way From Chicago is one of the best books I have ever read. It's a collection of connected short stories set during the Great Depression. Each story takes place in a successive summer where two Chicago children go to visit their grandma in small-town America. As a reader, we get to watch Joey and Mary-Alice grow up and grow to adore their quirky, trigger-happy Grama Dowdel. These stories are expertly written with great characters and hilarious storylines (for instance: what happens when Grama Dowdel decides to hold a wake in her living room for a criminal? Or, what happens when she steals the sheriff's boat to go illegal catfish hunting?). I highly recommend this book (and it's sequels) to any fan or student of good writing. Everyone should read this collection at least once in their life.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. This is the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago. Like it's predecessor, this book takes place in episodic chapters. Instead of each story taking place in a different summer, however, these stories follow Mary-Alice as she moves in with Grama Dowdel for a year.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck. This book takes place about ten years after A Year Down Yonder and follows a young preacher's kid and his family as they move in next door to Grama Dowdel. I'm really looking forwards to listening to this one again because—unlike the first two books, which we have listening to and read countless times—we've only listening to it once before!

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
I Am Lavina Cumming by Susan Lowell. This is one of my favorite childhood books. Once upon a time, we used to get it out on cassette tape (what are those?) from the library all the time. We ended up buying the tapes from the library when the library was incorporated into a bigger branch. Fast forward many years and we finally had them converted to CD. I can't wait to listen to this story again! In this book, a young girl named Lavina moves away from her father's ranch in Arizona Territory to live with her aunt in San Francisco, shortly before the San Francisco earthquake.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I first heard of this book last year when it came out. All the "Booktubers" were including it in their book hauls. Since the description says that the book is about a nomadic group of Shakespearean actors, I was obviously interested. Some friends read this book over the summer and enjoyed it. I finally picked it up the other day when I saw it at the library. Sadly, I don't think I'll get to this one before it has to be returned.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
The Martian by Andy Weir. I have heard only good things about this book and the movie based off of it. If you didn't know, it's about a man who is trapped on Mars after his team leaves, thinking that he's dead. The book is written in a series of log entries, which is epic! I love stories that are told through unconventional means such as diary entries, letters, or code. Also, the author has made the book very scientifically accurate, which is pretty impressive! I hope to start this book as soon as I finish two or three of the books I'm currently reading.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Murder for Christmas, an anthology of Christmas-related crime stories. I picked up this book at a thrift store a few years ago and decided to read it this Christmas. So far, I'm really enjoying it! This anthology includes Christmas themed mystery stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, and Baroness Orczy, among others. I'm taking notes as I read, so expect a review before the end of the year! I hope to finish this in the car on the way to Minnesota.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Winter by Marissa Meyer. My friends and I went to the launch party of this final book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. It was so much fun! Our books are even signed by the author! This young adult series is basically Star Wars mixed with fairytales. If you're looking for something light, fun, creative, and romantic, then you might want to pick up the Lunar Chronicles! After the launch party, I avidly started to read Winter, but then hit my reading slump and lost interest halfway through. I'm hoping to pick this one up again when I'm in Minnesota. Maybe after I finish Murder for Christmas.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothee de Fombelle. This is the sequel to a book called Vango, which I read last month. This story is like Tintin in novel form. The main character, Vango, has a mysterious backstory like Tintin, and the story jumps from place to place like Tintin. Poor Vango is being chased all over the pre-World War II world by several different groups of people, and he doesn't even know why. This is a very enjoyable story filled with lovely characters and exciting destinations and zeppelins. My only complaint is that the author tends to tell instead of show, and he does jump around from place to place and from time to time very quickly. Although, that might be the fault of the translator, as this book was originally published in French.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. This is my favorite Jane Austen book. I decided to re-read it after re-reading Sense and Sensibility in September. You can read my previous review HERE. I'm hoping to finish this one in the car, as I do not have much left to read.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson. This is a nonfictional biography of the composer Shostakovich, who is one of my favorites. This book is marketed as young adult nonfiction, which is interesting to me as I wouldn't say that Shostakovich is incredible popular with today's teens. I'm hoping that, since this book is young adult, it won't be dry, but will hold my attention to the end (something, unfortunately, many nonfiction books don't do). It has pictures, so that should help! If a book has pictures, I will automatically enjoy it more than a book that has no pictures. I'm hoping to start this one on the trip home from Minnesota, after I (hopefully) finish Murder for Christmas, A Prince Without a Kingdom, and Mansfield Park.

What are YOU reading this Christmas? Have you read any of the books I mentioned above? Do you think you'll check any of them out because of this post?

Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Seven Facts

Jenelle Leanne Schmidt tagged me with the One Lovely Blog award (thanks, Jenelle!)! Basically, I have to share seven random facts and then tag fifteen people. If you're so inclined, then please do this tag!
Because it's December, I'm going to share seven Christmasy facts about myself:

1. Last year, I made a Star Trek themed Christmas jumper.

2. My two favorite Christmas movies are Eloise at Christmastime and White Christmas.

3. Here's a Christmas confession... I am secretly very fond of the Christmas songs that everyone loves to hate. You know... Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Santa Baby, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Blue Christmas, Last Christmas (I gave you my heart, but the very next day, you gave it away...)... Here's one of my favorites:

4. One of my least favorite Christmas songs is Do You Hear What I Hear? because I hear it EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME.

5. I'm also not that fond of Josh Groban's version of O Holy Night because our local radio station plays it about ten times a day.

6. It's been four years since Michael Buble's Christmas CD first debuted, which is so hard to believe! I remember being SO excited for it to come out and listening to it on repeat that Christmas and next. It's still one of my favorites.

7. In our house, everything bought after November 1st is liable to get wrapped and put under the tree, whether it's a present or not. I just like seeing presents under the tree. It's so festive!

What are some of YOUR favorite things about Christmas?

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

What's Next?

December is often a time for reflection. The year is ending, so it is time to take stock of the last twelve month's inventory of activities. It is also a time to look ahead. What's the next adventure? This is something I have been asking myself for the past year, but before I can delve into "what's next," I have to look back. Waaaay back.

1996: I am born.

Okay, not that far back.

Forget normal careers like ballerina, veterinarian, or president. When I was a child, I wanted to be a paleontologist. That is, until I started learning about the Egyptians in history. After that, I wanted nothing more than to be an Archaeologist. I'm not sure if watching Indiana Jones fueled this passion or destroyed it (I'm not too keen on being run over by giant rocks, having my heart pulled from my chest, falling into train cars full of snakes, or meeting weird crystalline aliens).
As a child, I dictated stories to my parents. When I learned to write myself, I started writing "books," which consisted of paper stapled together. When I was about twelve, I decided that the only viable career option would be an author.
I started singing on our church worship team when I was fifteen and quickly decided that I was meant to be a worship leader. This was followed by the urge to become a youth leader so that I could reach out to the shy kids (like myself at the time) and make them feel like they belong and were loved.
The dream of becoming a youth leader lived for several years: up until August of 2014. That's when the hardest year-and-a-half of my life so far started.
Our only female youth leader in our mostly-female youth group left with her husband to pastor a church in Hawaii and no one stepped up to fill the void. Myself and one of the other girls in youth group decided to lead a girl's Bible study. I quickly discovered that I was not meant to be the friend-to-all, secret-keeper, shoulder-to-cry-on type of youth leader that I had dreamed of being. Some women are capable of being a mentor to many emotional teenagers at once. I am not. I probably could be if I dedicated my entire being to youth ministry; but if I did that, what would happen to my music and writing? That's the question I faced last August. After much thinking, I realized that I'm not meant to go into full-time ministry. At least, not in the foreseeable future.
This realization has been very hard to come to terms with.
After all, since I was fifteen, I had been planning on going into full-time ministry in some capacity. Also, I had to realize that "writer" isn't a less righteous career than "youth leader." God doesn't care whether I'm picking up trash for a living (*cough cough* what I'm doing now *cough cough*) or if I'm entering seminary to become the next Billy Graham. God only cares that I'm doing everything to the best of my ability for His glory (see Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 1 Corinthians 10:31).

I'm still reeling from the realization that I'm not meant to go into full-time ministry. If you'd asked me last September what the next year-and-a-half of my life would look like, I would have said: Get great grades in my AP classes, have a fantastic senior recital, have a fantastic graduation, and go to college in the Fall. Eventually, this would lead to having many great friends, amazing grades, a husband, some amazingly well-behaved and homeschooled children, and a house with a white picket fence (okay, maybe not... but it was quite utopian in my brain).

Without the goal of becoming a youth leader, my whole future fell apart. What was I supposed to do with my life? Write, perhaps, but I wasn't getting much of that done at the beginning of 2015. My two AP (Advanced Placement) courses and preparation for my senior recital were so exhausting that every spare moment was spent on either Netflix or Youtube. On Fridays, I had choir, and on Sundays, I had church, but other than that, I didn't really go out of the house. This fueled a feeling that has been a persistent fiend since I became a teenager: the feeling of aloneness. The feeling that I will never have a Frodo to my Sam, a Geordi to my Data, a Sherlock to my John; that I will never have someone who shares my interests, encourages my passions; someone that I can share intimate struggles with and who will have deep discussions with me; someone who will let me into their life as deeply as I want to let someone into mine.
This has been my secret dream since I was thirteen. After six years, I've still not made that deep, cerebral connection that I seek. I don't even know if that kind of closeness is possible. Maybe it's manufactured and exaggerated for entertainment purposes in movies, TV, books, and Youtube personalities.

An unclear direction in life, loneliness, and being swamped with studies led to some depression earlier this year. It still returns sometimes when I start thinking too closely about my life. I suppose it has reappeared a bit in the last few weeks. I finished my fantasy story, which left a void in my life. I've been filling that void with unproductive things. Every few hours I return to the same question: "What's next? Where can I go from here? What should I do?"

I have a list of options ranging from quitting my job to becoming a full-time writer/hermit to going on a mission trip. The most logical answer, however, would be to go to college. In college, I can learn more about God through Biblical studies (something I feel I need), learn more about subjects that interest me (music, music history, writing, literature), and maybe make those deep friendships that I've been longing for.
Only one problem: FEAR.
Most of the reason I didn't attend college this Fall was because I was scared. Scared to leave the protection of my family and friends. Scared to meet new people. Scared of bad grades. Scared of being an adult.
Most of the reason I am still shying away from college is because I am scared of all the above, and also researching colleges, visiting colleges, figuring out applications and scholarships, and retaking the SAT to see if I can get a higher math score. That's a lot of work and a lot of research that I have no clue how to even start doing!

So, what's next?

I don't know.

But I do know that the Bible says such things as:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 29:11)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:33-34)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. (Psalm 139:13)

Surely someone who created my inmost being has a plan for me. I find comfort in that.

Here's an applicable Newsboys song to end this post:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Regarding Rewriting and Reading

Instead of writing short stories set in my fantasy world for NaNoWriMo, I have ended up using November thus far to finish re-writing my fantasy novel. As it so happens, I am only ONE chapter away from finishing! Most likely, I will finish the first rewrite of this novel TOMORROW.
When I wrote the first draft, I was so fed up with all the plot changes that had occurred (and, let's face it, I was wiped out from handwriting 60,000 words during NaNoWriMo) that I didn't even write the ending; I only summarized it. Writing the ending has been wonderful, but, at the same time, I'm sad that's it's nearly over. I've been working on this story for nearly two years (I had to the first idea for this book in December 2013).
Yet, I know I need to step back from the story for a few months. I know there are countless character, world, plot, and prose problems to fix, but I can't pinpoint anything because I'm too close right now. I don't see problems and remedies—I see: AKSDKHAKLHASDJFLA.
It's like having the lens on your camera zoomed in too close. When you look through the view-finder, everything is blurry and you are left saying, "Huh? What am I looking at?" As soon as you zoom out and distance yourself from the picture, you say, "Ohhhh! So THAT'S what I was seeing!" I'm at the "Huh?" stage and it will take a few months to get to the "Ohhhh!" stage. Because I'm not sure what my novel looks like at this point, I'm going to postpone letting people (other than my parents) read it for awhile.

So what's next on the writing horizon after I finish this rewrite? Well, I've been asking myself a lot of writing-related questions lately, such as:
-"How much of writing is inherent talent, and how much of writing is learned skill?"
-"How much editing is too much?"
-"If I nitpick every detail to make sure that everything is textbook perfect, will the story be too formal to be enjoyable?"
-"Are books like Harry Potter so consistent in detail because of copious planning and brilliant editing, or because the author is a highly-organized writer, a genius of his trade?"
-"What makes two people into a 'ship*'?"
-"How can I present important information without dumping it into my reader's heads via a boring, page-long block of text?"
-"How do I describe perfume?"
I'm going to take the Sleeping Beauty retelling I wrote in June for the Five Magic Spindles contest and experiment with it, attempting to answer some of the above questions (especially the ones dealing with editing). It's important in a story for each scene to either advance the plot or the character arc*, so I'm going to take each scene in my Sleeping Beauty story and analyze whether it achieves that goal. I'm also going to work on evoking emotions in the reader by writing my characters a certain way (for instance, writing my two main characters in a way that makes the audience "ship" them), and I'm going to work on creating a comprehensive and descriptive world so that the reader can clearly picture what I write about.
I'm hoping that, through this experiment, I can refine my editing techniques so that, when I start working on the plot, character, and worldbuilding issues in my fantasy novel, I can have some idea of what I'm doing, instead of aimlessly blundering about.

So, what have I been reading lately, you may ask, glancing back at the title of this post.
Good question. I've been reading a plethora of fiction, though I haven't finished a lot of it. For instance, I started the final book in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, but I couldn't get into it (I feel my friend glaring at me through the computer; sorry TMG!). Then, I started reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien because for the past few years, I've always read it in November or December in preparation for the movie coming out in theater. I couldn't get into that either and put it down.
I read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen a few weeks ago and started Mansfield Park by the same author. I've read both books before, but Jane Austen is worth a reread. I've gotten more than halfway through Mansfield Park, but the going is slow.
I'm also reading Winter by Marissa Meyer. Winter is the final book in The Lunar Chronicles, a Young Adult sci-fi/fairytale retelling that is very good (though each book gets steadily more romantic and the novella, Fairest, can be skipped entirely, in my opinion). My friends and I went to the Winter release party a few weeks ago since it was nearby. That was really fun, and we all ended up buying signed copies of the book! Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet Marissa Meyer because the line was too long.
Finally, I'm reading Vango by Timothee de Fombelle. (Jack made me do it!) This book takes place in pre-World War II Europe and is so random and crazy and wonderful. It has chases and escapes, pirates and a zeppelin (unfortunately, the pirates don't fly the zeppelin, like in a certain implausible series), and a very mysterious, very Tintin-like main character. It's fun, too, because it was translated from French and, occasionally, there is a really weird metaphor or a really weird, random sentence that makes me think that something was lost in translation. Overall, it's a fabulous book. And it has a gorgeous cover.
My reading challenge was going well until October when I had to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I didn't get very far in, partly because I found out how it ended and I really don't see the purpose of reading a huge book written in a style I ABHOR (this is the style where every sentence is so beautiful and poetic that it would be really profound if I could figure out what it meant. Can someone hand me my metaphor-cracker and symbolism-index please?) only to have all the characters... well, for spoilers sake I won't say. I don't particularly care for World War II stories anyway, so I decided to put it off indefinitely. The last two books in my challenge are from the horror genre and, at the moment, I'm just not feeling like reading that. Maybe some day I'll get to Dracula and Something Wicked This Way Comes, but today is not that day!

So, what are YOU reading? If you are a writer, have you ever asked any of the questions that I have been asking myself? Do you have any answers for me?
Live long and prosper

*Ship: Fangirl language for two people that are either in a relationship, or are wished together by the fans.
* Character arc: How a character grows and changes over the course of a story.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Beautiful Books—The Writing Process

Beautiful People (Or, Beautiful Books during NaNoWriMo) is a linkup hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In. You can learn more about it on their blogs, but the general idea is to answer ten questions about your writing.

Here are this month's questions with my answers (dealing with my fantasy novel):

1. Is the book turning out how you thought it would be, or is it defying your expectations?
I'm not even sure any more. Half the time I love the story and the characters and half the time I despise the story and the characters because I don't think I'll ever be able to write them right. I suppose I thought that, by the second draft, I'd be a little more settled in the story so, in that way, it's defying gravity—I mean, defying my expectations.

2. What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?
Once upon a time, there was a Wicked Witch. Like most Witches of the evil persuasion, this Witch had big plans to take over the world. Only one simple question stood in her way: How? The other Witches and warlocks in her village by the seaside didn’t approve of her evil inclinations (having inclinations of their own, both Wicked and benign) and wouldn’t help her, so the Wicked Witch left them to search for power on her own.
Little did the Witch know, that her quest could have ended with the power provided by Energizer.
3. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you ever tried both methods and how did it turn out?
I used to be a pantser when I was younger, but my stories never got past the first chapter. It took a novel-writing class to show me that I could plan out my stories and know exactly where to take them. Since then, I have been a plotter, though I do leave things vague-ish so that if inspiration sends me a whimsy, I can follow it.
4. What do you reward yourself with after meeting a goal?
Usually with an episode of one of my favorite TV shows.
5. What do you look for in a name? Do you have themes and where do you find your names?
Whenever I see or hear a cool name, I write it down. Oddly enough, I usually find names on worship music when I'm on the worship team at church. There are some really weird musician names out there. If a new character shows up, I don't usually spend a lot of time searching for names, but instead pull one out of my brain that I think would fit the character. Sometimes I look on baby name sites.
6. What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?
I think I most like to write the middle of stories because that's where all the action happens. I'm always worried that my beginnings will be too slow. As for endings, I'm just terrible at writing those because I always leave things open-ended just in case I ever want to write a sequel in the future.
7. Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?
Ugh. I'm tired of them all.
Well, maybe Finn. I had the HARDEST time writing him both in the first draft and the first half of the second draft. Then, I changed one tiny detail about his life and he's become so much easier to write! Funny how that happens. He used to be one of my least favorites because I had no clue how to write him, but now I'm really enjoying his character.
8. What kind of things have you researched for this project, and how do you go about researching? (What’s the weirdest thing you’ve researched?!)
I've researched various mythical beasts for this story—mostly sirens and alkonosts and another mythical bird-like creatures. I'm a terrible researcher, so my method is usually typing whatever I need into Google and reading the Wikipedia page on it.
9. Do you write better alone or with others? Do you share your work or prefer to keep it to yourself?
Definitely alone. I hate sharing my work with others until I know that it's semi-decent.
10. What are your writing habits? Is there a specific snack you eat? Do you listen to music? What time of day do you write best? Feel free to show us a picture of your writing space!
Hmm... I don't know if I have any writing habits. Or a specific snack that I eat. I drink a lot of water (and, as a result, have to get up to go to the bathroom a lot, which is annoying. Actually, half the time I just bring my laptop with me so I can continue to write... but you didn't need to know that).
I always listen to music while I write. Lately, I've been listening to Gustav Holst's "The Planets" and musical theater songs.
I'm not sure what time of day I write best either. Maybe early afternoon? Or the evening? Or maybe the morning? Any time I'm feeling productive, I suppose.
Feel free to answer these questions yourself and link up on Cait's blog!
Live long and prosper.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Dutch Braid for Addy

My friends and I are going to a fancy dress party on Tuesday and, since one of my friends has incredibly long hair, I jumped at the opportunity to give her a fancy up do to match her dress. Of course, I have to practice before Tuesday. So, out came the dolls!

First step: take out the braids in Addy's hair.

Second step: Dutch braid it. A Dutch braid is a normal braid, except instead of braiding the strands over top of each other, you braid them underneath each other. You also add in strands like a French braid. If that made no sense, here's a Youtube tutorial (if the lovely people who did this tutorial ever see this post: thank you SO much for teaching me how to Dutch braid!):

Third step: Stand back and admire your work.

For this particular hairdo, I did something called a "Dutch flower braid." Again, apply to Youtube for further instructions.
I hope you enjoyed!

Live long and prosper.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Obligatory pre-NaNoWriMo Post

Don't tell anyone, but this year, for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I'm not actually writing a novel.
I'm going to finish rewriting the fantasy story that I have been working on all year (and all of last year, too) and, then, with the time left over, I'm going to write several short stories set in the same world, expanding on some of the characters.

This year, I've seen a lot of blog posts presenting tips on how to succeed at NaNoWriMo. I thought I'd add my own advice. Here are some things that have helped me in the past and are helping me currently:

1. Turn OFF the Internet.
If you're like me, the Internet is a huge distraction. It's so easy to stop writing to check email or Facebook or Twitter (or, if you're a weird music geek, to look up the biography of the composer or band that you're listening to). These things may only take five minutes (or, half an hour as you find out that Jeff Lynne, leader of the group ELO—whom you are currently listening to—was the one who played "Something" with Dhani Harrison at the Beatles 50 Years in America concert which means, of course, that you have to go and watch that video, which thus inspires you to do a Google search of what Dhani Harrison is up to these days, which then leads you back to Youtube to listen to some of his music, which then leads to five minutes of wondering whether Dhani Harrison is George Harrison's son or George Harrison's clone), but that's five minutes that you could have spent writing.
In addition, when I'm constantly interrupting my writing, it's harder for me to get back into the story.
A few weeks ago, I unchecked the little box on my computer that says "connect [to the Internet] automatically," so that, when I want to go online, I have to manually click "connect." This tiny change has made such a huge difference in my writing. With the Internet turned off, I have found that the temptation to go browsing has almost completely disappeared. I've written about 35,000 words in the past two weeks during the time that I normally would have wasted on email, social media, Youtube, and Netflix!

2. Reward yourself.
After I get significant writing done (which, right now, is rewriting at least one chapter a day), I allow myself to turn on the Internet as a reward. I can answer emails, read blogs, look at Twitter, or watch videos on Youtube or Netflix.
A second reward that I'm instituting in honor of NaNoWriMo is a candy reward. For every 1,000 words that I write, I may eat one mini Kit Kat. This is also a lesson in self-control.
Rewards can be anything from a piece of candy every x-amount of words (I would suggest every 500 or 1,000 words) to a thirty minute TV show after the finish of each chapter (that's what I did for a past NaNoWriMo).

3. Hide the chocolate.
I've learned not to leave my chocolate lying around the house because, sooner, rather than later, it will disappear. So, I've taken to hiding my Kit Kat reward in my bedroom where I know prying fingers won't find it.
Hiding the chocolate can be beneficial not only because it keeps it from being stolen from its rightful eater, but also because it forces one to get up to go an fetch it. During NaNoWriMo (and a writer's career in general), it is all too easy to become a stagnant extension of your chair. Keeping your reward across the house forces you to rise (though not necessarily shine) and stretch your legs every once in a while.

4. Write even when you don't want to.
Sometimes, especially toward the end of NaNoWriMo, it's hard to keep writing. By this time, your story has probably become a quagmire of inane babble. Your characters resemble a wet piece of cardboard more than people. Your plot... wait, what plot? The best thing to do during these trying times are to keep writing. Who cares if your sentences aren't correct, if your characters are soggy, and if your plot is nonexistent? That's what editing (at a later date, not during NaNoWriMo) is for. Even when you're tired, and even when you're feeling like your story is a hopeless mess, just keep writing. When you have a completed manuscript at the end of November, you'll be glad that you persevered.

5. Have some extra words written, just in case.
Nearly every Thanksgiving, my family escapes into Canada to visit relatives. And who wants to seclude themselves in a cold, back bedroom to write when there is family around? Not me, certainly! So, I always make sure I have a few thousand extra words stored up for when I go away, or if I'm too tired to write, or if my day is so packed full that I don't have time to pound out my daily word count. Usually, I end up writing these extra words on the weekends, when I'm not doing anything else.

6. Get involved.
Grab a friend and have a Word War—see who can write the most words in a set amount of time!
Or, go on Twitter and participate in Word Sprints (@NaNoWordSprints). For the past few years, even though I didn't have a Twitter account, NaNoWordSprints has been my best friend during November. I actually joined Twitter (@agwerff) a few weeks ago just so that I could Tweet along with the other Word Sprinters this year.
If you are brave, find out what your local region has planned for November. I live near a big city, so there are always events at libraries and coffee shops where my fellow Wrimos gather to write. I went to one two years ago and got a free sticker.
For those who live too far away to participate in live events (or, for those who only leave their hermitages every few years to attend Hermits United meetings), never fear! There are Virtual Write-Ins every week on NaNoWriMo's Youtube Channel.

7. Have fun!
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to exit November with a 50,000 word novel under your belt (or, on your hard drive). But another, perhaps more important, goal is to have fun writing a novel!

Do any of you have NaNoWriMo tips to share? If so, comment below!

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

My Thoughts on Harry Potter

There is a corner of Youtube called "Booktube," where people vlog (video blog) about books. I have been watching Booktube videos for months now and have debated whether or not to start my own channel. Well, I have. I don't know how active it will be, but it's nice to have a secondary outlet (in addition to my blog) where I can ramble about books! The channel's name is A.G.Werff ReadsandWrites.
My first video on this new channel (which is linked with my email address) is all about my thoughts on Harry Potter. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Adventure of the Chocolate Cake

Step one: Get chocolate cake and chocolate frosting mix from your garage where it has sat in a plastic bag for who knows long (and hope that your mother wasn't saving it for something... Not that you can ask her, because she is over 1,000 miles away visiting your grandparents).

Step two: Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Step three: Crack two eggs into a bowl.

Step four: Add some coconut oil (after deciding that the recipe didn't mean olive oil or car oil, and desperately hoping that it will work the same as cooking oil, which you are out of) and water and whisk it all together.

Step five: Add the cake mix and continue whisking.

Step six: Pour into buttered pan.

Step six-and-a-half: Lick utensils (this is very important).

Step seven: Bake cake for twenty-five minutes. While the cake bakes, make frosting. Wait an immeasurable amount of time for cake to cool before applying frosting.

Step eight: JUST EAT IT (*epic Michael Jackson guitar riff*).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cruising, Part 2

You've seen what we did when the boat docked in port... but what did we do on the cruise ship?

One day, we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park to see some glaciers. The scenery in Glacier Bay really boasts of God's creative power.

Chunks of glacier in the water.
The Margerie Glacier; the largest glacier we saw.

It extended far back into the mountains.

Looks like a bird to me.

   On board ship, there was lots to do:

  Read. Play games. Swim. Soak in the hot tub.

Whale watch
Go to the bar. Go to the casino. Go to the spa. Listen to the jazz band, the classical duet, the BB King band, the piano man, or go to the nightly performance.

Hang out on deck
Play ping pong. Play Nintendo DS with your cousin.

Admire the towel animals the staff left in our rooms each night
And, of course, EAT! Along with the all-day buffet, the ship had a formal dining room. We had two tables reserved for us for dinnertime. It was so nice to eat all as a family! And, my, was it fancy! The servers pulled out your chair for you and scooted you in (speaking as a woman, it made me feel special) and then laid your napkin on your lap. Then, they would hand you the menu and you would have to pick an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. They would bring each course one at a time.
Chicken stew and biscuits.

Some sort of zucchini and cheese appetizer.

A fancy strawberry dessert.
The ship even had formal nights where you couldn't enter the dining room unless you passed the dress code. It was fun to see all the different patrons in their fancy dresses and collared shirts and the servers in their dress uniforms.


But the best part of being on board the ship? Spending time with my family!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cruising, Part 1

My grandma recently took my dad's side of the family on a seven day cruise to Alaska. My cousin and I, as the youngest grandchildren, were allowed to come, too. We had a blast!
The fun started before we even boarded the boat. Our boat left from Vancouver, BC, and the very building where we had to check in was also home to an anime conference that day! I don't know too much about anime so I didn't recognize a lot of the costumes, but I did spot a few familiar faces.


A fabulous Jack Skellington (from the movie Nightmare Before Christmas) and the black blob-creature from the movie Spirited Away. I also saw the Tenth Doctor, and I saw The Joker and The Riddler having a fight (with Jesus in the audience, go figure).

As we left Vancouver, we sailed passed Stanley Park. It was beautiful.

Vancouver's skyline and a corner of Stanley Park
We sailed with Holland America lines (what else would you expect from a family of Dutchmen [and women]?). Our boat was called the "Noordam," which, coincidently, is the same name of the boat that carried some of my ancestors on my maternal side from Holland to America over a hundred years ago!

There were three staircases on the boat and on each landing there was a picture or a piece of art. This painting depicts the Noordam that my ancestors sailed on to come to America in the early 1900s!
Our Noordam looked very different.

Our boat, along with one of the tender boats that brought us ashore to Juneau, Alaska.
All of Holland America's boats are registered in Holland; our boat had a Dutch captain and several Dutch officers. It was nice to hear the familiar Dutch brogue over the loudspeakers each morning, even if it was only to tell us the weather and our current position in the water. It was also cool to see all the Dutch touches... Dutch flags, pictures and busts of Dutch royalty, Dutch tea in the afternoon, Dutch breakfasts on the menu, and Dutch pea soup the day we visited Glacier Bay. Perhaps the best Dutch touch were the servers in the formal dining room singing "Lang Zal Ze Leven," the Dutch birthday song, every night to those who had birthdays. It was especially funny because all of the servers were most definitely not Dutch, but of all different ethnicities.

Our boat stopped in three places: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan. We also sailed into Glacier Bay and spent the day admiring God's fabulous creation. At each stop, we had the opportunity to go on excursions, though most of us did not. Instead, we walked around the towns. It's amazing how many jewelry stores there are in the cities that cruise boats stop at! At least every other store sells jewelry.
In Juneau, I walked with several uncles and aunts and my cousin around the town. We found a Starbucks, which was a like coming home for me since there is a Starbucks on nearly every corner where I live. We also went to two bookstores.

In Skagway, my grandma, aunt, uncle, cousin, and I took the train up to White Pass. By far, this was my favorite part of the trip. I LOVE trains. They are my favorite mode of travel. This train took us up into the Alaskan mountains. It was stunning.


If you noticed the thin trail snaking through the left side of the picture, that is the trail that men seeking their fortune in the gold rush rode to get wherever they were going.



I spent most of my time outside the train car on a little platform, snapping pictures.

There were supposed to be three cruise ships docking in Skagway, but we were the only ones that made it into the bay, because of stormy seas. The store owners were expecting over 10,000 tourists, but ended up with only our meager 1,800.
The night we left Skagway, the wind was blowing harder than my mother (who grew up in the plains of Minnesota) had ever felt it before. Two tug boats escorted us outside the bay, just in case we needed help. Thankfully, we made it to Ketchikan with no mishaps.
Once there, we walked around town again. Most people go to jewelry stores or clothing stores or trinket stores when they go to Alaska. We went to the thrift store. We also walked around Creek Street. It is aptly named, seeing that there is a river instead of a road in the middle of the street. We happened to be in Alaska during salmon spawning time, so the lovely aroma of dead mother salmon followed us around Creek Street.
I loved seeing all of the different t-shirts Alaska had to offer:

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na Batmoose!

I have to admit, this one is my favorite. It makes me chuckle.

May the forest be with you

There were four other cruise ships docked in Ketchikan with us, including our sister ship, the Westerdam.

Next time... learn about our trip to Glacier Bay, and the other activities we enjoyed on board the Noordam!

Live long and prosper.