Mastering the “Glance”

I’ve experienced plenty of writing revelations worthy of the forehead smack. Adverbs slow down the action and should be used sparingly? Thanks for that info. I shouldn’t use passive verbs like “was” more than once or twice per page? Glad you told me.

But one of my most smack-worthy moments came last week, when I realized I do something that I hate and have proclaimed to scissor out of the writing of all my peers who ask for critiques. I am the culprit. I am the fiend who hits readers over the head with a blunt object when I ought to brush them with a feather.

I state what should be implied. I give them a full-on intrusive creeper stare instead of the more appropriate “glance.”

Maybe I’m doing it right now. Maybe I should pore back over everything I’ve ever written.

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I believe everyone who’s not naturally cryptic and hopes to reach a wide audience struggles with this in some capacity. The mistake takes innumerable forms. Here are a few made-up and slightly exaggerated examples of the types I’ve noticed:

1. Explaining the Nature of a Commonplace Thing

Otherwise known as assuming your readers have not experienced life.

Ex. A: The walls of our red brick house stood firm, offering my family shelter from all manner of dangers such as storms, intruders and the like. (OK, I more than slightly exaggerated. The next one will be more realistic.)

Ex. B: I felt nauseated, like I was going to throw up.

2. The Unneeded Summary

A sort of inverted version of ENCT (see above). Instead of giving all the details when only one word or phrase is needed, we slap an obvious tag onto the details, still assuming our readers wear their arses for hats.

Ex:

Aragorn: “We can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron’s eye fixed upon us…keep him blind to all else that moves.”

Legolas:

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Legolas means Sherlock in Elvish.

A solution: Resist the urge to put a bow on it. (Ha. I didn’t even plan that Legolas pun.)

3. Going Austen in a Van Damme movie (Words vs Action) 

Disclaimer: Never in my life would I insult the Magic Queen Unicorn of Wordland. This is just about words wet-blanketing action, stating emotions or circumstances rather than letting your characters react to stimuli in order to reveal them. Often referred to as “telling instead of showing” but we’re tryna be different over here.

Ex: My dad, acting the peacemaker, convinced my brothers to get off my back. Ben and Mike still looked angry, but at least the yelling was over.

A solution: Describe. Flesh out.

“Calm down, boys,” my dad said, forcing my brothers to cram together on the couch. A vein in Ben’s neck pulsed and Mike gave me a look that could bring snow to the Amazon, but at least there was no spit flying in my face.

But lest we flesh things out too much, let’s avoid…

4. Adjective Gluttony  

Like you, I could eat adjectives for breakfast. How could you just choose one and let the others get cold on your plate only to eventually go in the trash, unappreciated?

Ex: The pungent, heady, cloying scent of chintzy perfume pervaded the brisk air.

On second thought, trash ‘em.

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But the glance.

Graceful and poignant, the glance is the antithesis of all these things. Describing the glance is difficult; indeed by its very nature it is a thing that cannot be described, like a color or the Force.

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The stories that I love the most have this piecemeal way of unfolding that speaks of patience, trust in the reader/viewer and the input of so much thought. This is something I want to actively work on in my writing. Do I want to simply state that this character comes from a family hovering just above the poverty line? Or would I rather show her sitting on a threadbare couch, hearing snippets of a vaguely money-related fight between her parents? Do I want to reveal at the beginning of this story that this man is still in love with an elusive woman who reenters his life, or do I trust my audience to catch a wistful look here and a reference to the day she left there?

In the country of artful, camping in the perfect climate of subtle but not too subtle, you will find the glance. Don’t even get me started on the wink:

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Yeats, Chaos and Courage.

Yesterday I spent more hours than I care to admit crafting. I don’t know how anyone finds time to do this. The result of my labors is this stained piece of wood with Yeats’ “To his heart, bidding it have no fear” stenciled in sloping letters. Some of us just don’t have the gift….

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The beauty of the verse is so sublime, I don’t feel that my downhill slant can disgrace it.

I love the poet’s respect for phenomena beyond his control. While he has no speck of power over the flame and the flood and the winds and the heavens, he has power over his response to the unknown, tumultuous, wild, extravagant universe. Feeling stripped of any sense of control is what drives me to get in touch with this bare and remarkable idea of courage.

While some may read into this poem a sense of invincibility in the vein of “I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul,” I think it’s impossible to approach these words with any hint of arrogance.

I stumbled across evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkin’s short recitation and admired that he tied the poem into a “sense of scientific wonder.” (I also admire his voice.)

The Writer’s Rocky Road: A Journey in Gifs

You’re tired and bored on a Wednesday in advanced French grammar, regarding Monsieur Brunot’s bushy eyebrows with trepidation. The idea for your novel comes from nowhere and strikes like a union of oppressed workers. This idea must have germinated in your mind, but it feels more like a lucky little golden butterfly landing on your shoulder because it mistook you for a flower.

You overcome the awe of how your brain just nonchalantly handed you the best idea of your life. You begin plotting.

Months. Years. You work hard. In spurts. Dorm life distracts you because there’s always someone to play with. But after graduation, you hole up like a hermit and write until you finish. YOU FINISH.

You edit! You research! Time to query!

You’re not. You receive your inevitable first rejection from your dream agent and pull your pathetic little claws out of that fantasy that you will somehow bypass the mess of disappointments every writer ever has to face.

You get a few more.

You brush yourself off. You polish your query, join a writers group, get a critique partner, pitch at a conference despite crippling social anxieties. When did you get so serious about this?

So serious that you begin to actually use social media. Which means you spend every day fighting the urge to compare yourself to hundreds of other writers.

And in the meantime you scrounge up whatever writing-related gigs you can find to get your name out there.

But since you work at home in sweatpants, some people like to ask you if you really do anything at all. Sometimes you rattle off an angry list. Other times you just…

But some people are impressed by the words “writer” and “novels,” and you want to kiss them for it.

Still, you definitely face moments where you wonder if maybe you should have majored in engineering or business (because THAT would have gone well)

And one day, after much prayer and petition and what feels like years of querying and waiting (it’s been a few months, chill out), you get your FIRST REQUEST from an awesome agent. You and your CP are like

And you get a few more! The trickling random rejections in your inbox are inconsequential now.

So you send off your manuscript like Baby Moses down the Nile.

And you definitely DON’T get impatient. Not even a little bit.

You just want what comes next, whatever it may be…

Here’s hoping the next gif will be a repeat of Neil Patrick Harris and Elmo!

Are You Willing to Risk Failure?

I tried a few new things this week. Graphic design. Trout fishing. HTML. Listening to a song that’s been in my library for 5 years that I’ve never actually played once (Boogie Down – MGMT). Following other people’s new experiences via 40 Days of Dating (Interesting. Check it out).

Some of these new things only require interest, while others require years of education and practice. I don’t enjoy untangling my line because I didn’t weight it enough or because I set the drag too loose. I don’t enjoy cracking my toenail on a rock while looking for a good fishing spot. I don’t enjoy having to operate on what little knowledge I have from fishing as a kid and the crash course my dad gave me the night before I left for Oklahoma. But mostly, I don’t enjoy being frustrated and looking like a fool.

Unfortunately, the fish can tell when you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’m naturally sort-of good at many things, and very good at too few. Because my French is rusty nowadays, the only talent I feel I can truly claim with gusto is a talent for words. Everything else is merely worthy of dabbling. This could have something to do with my quitter tendencies. I quit soccer right before I reached the age where it became selective. I quit guitar lessons when I had to stop memorizing Eleanor Rigby and Kashmir and delve into theory instead. I only bake occasionally because 1/4 of the time my creations could be featured in Pinterest Gone Wrong (my last dessert tasted like cornbread). I lost interest in photography because other talented people were willing to invest all of their money and time into the craft, while I wasn’t confident enough to take sole responsibility for anyone’s wedding memories.

…lest they turn out like this

I am such a dabbler. But what this reflects more than anything is not my complacent quitter tendencies. It reflects that I’m afraid of failure — the way it feels and the way it looks. Competitive or not, everyone relates to that. Many people would rather not try, or not try too hard, then give everything and fail.

I was recently perusing Twitter and found a link to a post on a author’s blog called something like “Writing in this day and age: This isn’t what I signed up for.” I didn’t feel the need to read this post. I knew exactly what it would say and I knew I would commiserate.

It’s a good thing (for people like me who get embarrassed easily) that sometimes we aren’t given the option to back down and choose safety over risk/failure/possible success. I’m glad that God gave me a passion so strong that I don’t even remember making a decision to pursue it. Writing pursued me. It wooed me from the shadows of my self-consciousness and made me stand stark naked in the light, waiting for acceptance, bracing myself for failure, hoping for success, and deep down knowing all of these factors were irrelevant to the actual deep longing to arrange words on an empty space.

So that is my life. Knowing that — when it comes to things so inherent that I cannot refuse when they beg of my heart and my time and my sweat — the cost of failure is nowhere near comparable to the cost of refusing to try.

I’m thankful that becoming more like Christ is not optional for those who claim him. I would certainly back down, bow out gracefully the way I do with nearly everything else. I would choose safety over failure, over hypocrisy, over springing up for a high jump and looking like an idiot when I catch the bar and take it down with me.

The fear of failure can cripple. It can cause indecision. It can destroy opportunities. No one demonstrates that better than the Israelites as they scope out the promised land. God promised to bring them to a land of peace and abundance after they were delivered from captivity in Egypt. But when they finally reach Canaan, they doubt that God can lead them to conquer it. Two of the spies report that the land is exactly as they imagined, but the others focus on its inhabitants and claim they will all die by the sword if they attempt to take it. Fear spreads, and the Israelites disobey God and refuse to take the land he has given them. God forgives them, but punishes the disobedient by making them wander in the desert until the last of the unfaithful generation has died off and their children can enter the land. (Numbers 13-14)

Sometimes we weigh the cost of possible embarrassing, obvious failure against the cost of disobedience. We hear God speak – once, in a moment of immaculate contact with divinity – and then we enter the dark. We guard ourselves against hope with doubts and calluses that come from wandering in the desert toward promises that now seem vague. We doubt what he said or that we even heard his voice. But God is no less faithful or powerful than he was when he made those promises and we began to obey.

Israel’s fatal flaw was not fear. It’s fine to feel intimidated or disappointed by circumstances that are not what you imagined. The Israelites knew Moses was leading them to an abundant land, and didn’t know the abundant land would be inhabited by powerful people. Where they messed up was dwelling on that disappointment and fear and refusing to rely on the character and power of God, who could have wiped their enemies away with a breath — and would have if the Israelites had remembered his wonders and believed.

“When a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not; faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One who is leading.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

One Year Ago Today

So I know I jump around between posts about YA fiction and faith. When I have a real website I’ll make them separate pages so that people wanting to read faith posts don’t get thwarted by fangirling and book reviews.

Since I’m a Christian writer, you might think by “I journal nearly every day” I mean that I sit in a wooded glen and write about the beauty of God’s creation or craft letters to my future husband. I don’t. I just record whatever I read or hear–whether from the Word, literature, blog posts (Beth Moore is the queen of blogging about exactly what I need to hear), or sermons–that enriches my thirsty spirit.

When I say that a lot has happened in the past year, I kind of wish I meant that I moved to a foreign country, learned a new skill, and wrote a series of seven books that got adapted into a TV series. Alas, no. What I mean is that my internal lanscape has changed so much I barely even recognize myself, even though my external life hasn’t undergone much shifting.

Since I’ve almost filled up a journal that I started last June, I’ve been looking back through my early entries and seeing how predictive they are. The same spiritual pep talk that I received on a particular day in 2012 might be exactly what I need right now, though maybe for a different reason.

You wouldn’t anticipate a book called Lamentations providing much in the way of comfort. But the following passage I recorded a year ago is replete with it. Not out-of-context comfort that promises that all of your desires will be obtained. This comfort is honest about things in life that are lamentable, but also filled with praise and the truth that no matter what God will redeem his children and restore joy to the broken and destitute.

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”



The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust–there may yet be hope. Let him offer his cheek to the one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. 

- Lamentations 3: 19-33

I hope that no matter what specific pain wearies you right now, you take comfort in knowing God’s love is unfailing, and he is called Redeemer for a reason.

 (I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4: 12b-13)

Team Review: Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore

Amy Goodnight knows that the world isn’t as simple as it seems—she grew up surrounded by household spells and benevolent ghosts. But she also understands that “normal” doesn’t mix with magic, and she’s worked hard to build a wall between the two worlds. Not only to protect any hope of ever having a normal life.

Ranch-sitting for her aunt in Texas should be exactly that. Good old ordinary, uneventful hard work. Only, Amy and her sister, Phin, aren’t alone. There’s someone in the house with them—and it’s not the living, breathing, amazingly hot cowboy from the ranch next door.

It’s a ghost, and it’s more powerful than the Goodnights and all their protective spells combined. It wants something from Amy, and none of her carefully built defenses can hold it back.


This is the summer when the wall between Amy’s worlds is going to come crashing down.


Hannah: I’ll be honest: the first few pages were rough for me for a couple reasons: 1) I was too excited about the witches and cowboys mentioned in the cover copy to read it properly and realize the book was not based in the 1800s, and would not involve rough-and-tumble outlaws, whiskey, corsets, saloons, and the like. And 2) I had just bought it and was reading while clothes shopping with my mom, which aside from the mom part could be used to torture me for information (“OK, I’ll tell you where the super secret files are, please, please don’t make me go to Kohl’s”). However, once I located a chair in the fitting room and hit a reference to William Wallace, Texas Gothic wooed me fast and hard. 


Amy believes herself to be all that stands between the judgmental world and her weird family, the Goodnights, among whom she is the closest thing to normal. This immediately sets her up as loving and protective, yet practical. Her voice is effortlessly hilarious, smart, and relatable. Her sister Phin is also a charmer in such an offbeat way. Our introduction to her begins with, “Her strawberry-blond hair was coming loose from her ponytail,” and I thought here we go, bring on the typical popular older sister and all the jealousy issues her perfection provokesBut that clause was succeeded by, “possibly because she was wearing what appeared to be a miner’s headlamp. ‘I’m doing an experiment.’” And for the rest of the book my enchantment with this matter-of-fact researcher of paranormal physics did not fade one bit. She is flaky, brilliant, oblivious to sarcasm, and represents all of the Goodnight magic cooky-ness that Amy is unwilling to participate in and would rather keep in the peripherals of her life. 


Sarah: It might’ve taken a Braveheart reference to hook Hannah, but Clement-Moore had me when Amy described Phin as “Galadriel in an SUV.” Be still, my nerdy heart. I loved Amy’s POV so much. Fun fact: Ben McCulloch was the name of a real Texas Ranger who lived in the 1800s, but here he’s the cowboy-next-door. And for those who are sick of instalove, I’d like to point out that Amy and Ben “meet cute” and then immediately dislike each other. It occurred to me that their relationship is reminiscent of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett’s in Pride and Prejudice. Both guys are like “I think your family is nuts and you’re too opinionated and you make me angry but I want to wrestle you down and kiss you breathless anyway.” If you like your fictional couple to engage in some verbal sparring before they get to the kissing part, you’ll enjoy the romance in Texas Gothic. 


As far at the plot goes: don’t fret, faint-hearted readers. I was a tiny bit worried the book would veer toward the horror side of things. I’m not sure why. Maybe the darkish title and the (gorgeous) kind of intense cover? But I can honestly say I was never scared reading this book. Intrigued, curious, and interested? Yes. Freaked out? Never. The mystery Amy and her friends are trying to solve reminded me of an old Scooby Doo episode, minus the rubber masks and the “I would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for those meddling kids!” I don’t mean that in a bad way, though. The mystery of what’s going on with the Mad Monk wasn’t the main attraction for me. It was the characters, and the search for answers about possible buried treasure and vengeful ghosts was just icing on the cake.


Hannah: A high point for me was the authentic portrayal of the Texan city girl by a Texan. We say y’all. We drink sweet tea. We two-step when country-er folk force us to. Some of us (including me) live in close proximity to cows and horses. But we are not hicks, rednecks or cowgirls. Our hair does not reach Guadalupe Peak elevation. And I’m with Sarah on the gorgeous cover and on the book being just fun. I didn’t expect it to be so funny yet heartfelt – and I had no idea I was really aching for that kind of read in the midst of all the epic fiction I gulp down. In part thanks to Texas Gothic, I’m realizing that there may be a broader spectrum of novels for me to enjoy. I’m very much looking forward to reading Clement-Moore’s more recent titles next. 


Check out Sarah’s review blog at sarahsyablog.blogspot.com 

Delivering the Push

I don’t hate when God humbles me. But it’s before the fall, when he snaps the rickety chair legs beneath me one by one, that I grow angry and panic.

First chair leg: last week my brother Doug told me I was becoming too critical. This was disconcerting coming from the person who pretty much trademarked the sardonic tone of voice heard often in the West household. My reaction: What? I’m the forgiving one, the one who always sees both sides of an argument, the Holder of the Scales. I am not the purveyor of acerbic wit or snap judgments! It wasn’t a good sign, but I didn’t think much about it, considering that in the same breath he accused me of being weird for having a phobia of heights.

Second chair leg: As the week progressed, I started to remark my overly critical tendencies.

Subjectivity is beautiful. Individual interpretations are beautiful. But with the maturity of opinions and self-actualization that I’ve developed as a (new) adult comes the tendency to think that my artistic preferences parallel a general standard. We all do it: wear our opinions like a cloak of rightness.

Third chair leg: I realized my suppressed judgments were becoming mean. Unnecessary. And I didn’t even reach that conclusion on my own — a friend had to point it out to me. One point for writerly accountability. This is why 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take captive every thought for Christ. Because what begins as an observation can become merciless judgment in the throes of a bad mood. Which I was in, by the way — also humbling, since I consider myself generally pretty stoic. Do you hear that loud cracking? That’s the splintering wood of my pride chair.

Fourth chair leg (and yes, I do know that a chair cannot stand on one leg. Pretend it’s weighted like a monopod):

I remembered I am broken.

Writers are constantly humbled, but must cling to the most tenacious, vigorous bit of grit inside us. We have to develop thick skin. We have to believe — no, we have to know — that there is value in our work. We have to cleave to our opinions like they are gospel in the face of apathy and form rejections. Sometimes it’s scarier when good things begin to happen; you look down knowing that smacking the concrete from a three-story window is worse than being pushed off the front porch.

But seeing your opinions as fact in the name of self-preservation and determination can, unfortunately, turn to pride. Remembering it began with brokenness rather than arrogance helped me also remember that I’m small. That I’m sensitive. That having a critical eye does not have to be synonymous with being judgmental.

But my tough lesson wasn’t finished, even though I’d already admitted defeat.

I crawled into bed with the most random read: The Battle for Middle Earth by Fleming Rutledge, which uses moments from The Lord of the Rings to teach Christian lessons. I also opened it at random (slash not at all random) to a passage called “A Tragic Failure.” It discusses a moment in which Sam, who treats Gollum with merciless and shortsighted distrust, verges on realizing that even though there is evil in Gollum there might also be goodness. But his widening perception snaps shut, and he is uncomprehending once more. While Sam understands that Gollum has a divided self, he does not understand that there is a play of goodness in opposition to villainousness — something that he himself struggles with unknowingly. He gives Gollum’s two selves the names Slinker and Stinker. And then the passage discusses the pivotal moment when Gollum reaches out hesitantly to touch Frodo’s knee while he is sleeping to say “nice master,” as if reaching out to a fragile remnant of his humanity. Sam wakes up and “vehemently and mercillesly rejects Gollum.” And then “the fleeting moment has passed, beyond recall.” It’s after this that Gollum decides to betray them and take them to Shelob’s lair.

Rutledge uses the word “logizomai,” the Greek word for “to reckon.” To speak something into being. It refers to calling something by a name, thereby making it so. Sam has no grasp of logizomai in any positive sense. If he had chosen to give Gollum a different name, Gollum would have become something different. Rutledge asks: “How many millions upon millions of such moments occur in the lives of people who are hovering on the brink until some word or action pushes them over, for good or ill! Or, even more likely, how many moments have occurred in which the ‘naming’ that would have liberated them was withheld. How many times have we ourselves been the ones to deliver that push or withhold that gracious new name because of impatience, or anger, or incomprehension?”

Ouch, conviction! Oh, how it burned. This goes so far beyond “entertaining angels unawares.” This is the crux of the Christian faith. Because of Christ alone, God spoke his redemption over us. We have been graciously, absolutely, undeservedly reckoned pure.

Failing to understand logizomai in the redemptive sense is not simply a “misunderstanding.” Even if we are uncomprehending of the weight of our assessment, speaking our judgment over someone or withholding grace from them is still called a tragic failure. Sam did not mean to do harm. He was calling things as he saw them. But in doing so, he snatched away a chance for redemption.

Well this is the point where I just got overwhelmed and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning with a sense of relief that God had brought this dangerous flaw to my attention, but I still felt bare and guilty.
However, Psalm 18 reminded me of God’s reckoning of grace, that while I was more than undeserving he spoke redemption over me: “…he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Not because I’m useful, wise, brave, kind, merciful, fair, or in any way worthy. He will make me those things over the course of my life because he reckoned me his.



When God humbles me, when the rickety chair legs splinter, I panic, fearing it will hurt. But the landing is always soft as light. He always reminds us that in spite of everything — in spite of the frequent battle we have to fight to avoid criticizing others disparagingly — we are his. And we owe one another a gracious name.

In Defense of the Pitch-Dark and Paranormal

A few days ago I was telling my critique partner how I’m glad that the love interests in my novels aren’t set up to fuel desires for unattainable romance. Not that I don’t love reading about angels à la Daughter of Smoke and Bone, or Nephilim in The Infernal Devices. And that’s definitely not to say I didn’t swoon over Forks vampires as an 18-year-old (and the setting. Can we agree that the setting of the Twilight novels is swoon-worthy, or do I just think so because the best of my childhood years belong to Issaquah, WA? Those years were the PB & J between slices of dry Texas toast). Of course, just because my guys are humans rather than angels or vampires or bogarts or death personified doesn’t necessarily make them realistic, but their qualities aren’t impossible, or really even implausible.

My comment prompted my CP (who manages an awesome review blog and finds time to write despite having three vivacious kids) to point me to this post called “Waiting for the Right Monster to Come Along: On Twilight, Abusive Relationships, and YA Saves.”

I hadn’t heard about the YA Saves controversy before then — probably because Twitter and I hadn’t yet become frenemies and were merely eyeing each other across a vast expanse of virtual space. So I apologize now for being two years behind on the whole thing. It’s still relevant, actually, so no apologies.

Two years ago Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote this article criticizing the darkness of YA lit, which sparked a debate over dark YA, parental “gatekeeping” (censorship), and the effect both of these have on teens for better or worse. After reading a few different articles cited in the #YAsaves controversy, I’ve decided that I agree with some of Cox Gurdon’s views on how a YA market completely overrun with dark subject matter can be detrimental. But I also firmly believe that portraying darkness without qualm is essential in literature, that it’s life, that it does save — it saves because all stories show light capable of dispelling darkness. Even if the light never manifests explicitly in the story itself. Even the darkest novel in which the characters are afforded no redemption can bring hopeless readers a sense of community. Or it makes us grateful that the deepest darknesses of our lives are lesser than those we’re reading about. Or it can validate pain, regret, and grief, acting as balm to healing wounds. And if a message is pointlessly dark, tailspinning into utter hopelessness without the paltriest ray of redemption, readers can regard it as untruth and take one step closer to knowing what truth really is. I think writers and parents must trust that readers will find their way through the murky waters, rather than act as lifeguards who won’t let them swim at all.

All that said, I do think that there is room for healthy concern for pervasive darkness in YA lit as a gimmick or selling point. Darkness is necessary, but it shouldn’t be heavy handed or inescapable among products marketed to a sensitive audience. And it’s not the honest darkness I fear, but the darkness masquerading as light, the kind that lends itself to unhelpful or counterintuitive interpretations. This is often sneaky, underplayed, and sometimes in the works we would not consider dark at all. And lest I go down that road, which would constitute an entirely separate post, I’m going to wipe some sweat off my brow, resist the urge to quote Sherman Alexie and other amazing opinionated writers about both sides of this issue, and move on to what I meant to write this post about:

Paranormal romance.

Again, I’ll point to “Waiting for the Right Monster to Come Along,” which I mentioned 80 years ago when I started this post. (You ask: “You’re STILL talking about Twilight?” To which I will offer a Snape-ish “Always.” Like it, hate it, or avoid it entirely, the series helped put YA fiction, especially works written specifically with a young female audience in mind, on the map in a way it hadn’t been previously.) Rachel Stark asserts that while she had her doubts about Cox Gurdon’s statements that dark YA lit normalizes self-destructive behavior, Twilight “normalizes — no, glorifies — unhealthy relationships.” Stark says, “No matter how many times Edward saves Bella’s life over the course of the series, that will never change the fact that, on their first date, he tells Bella he may not be able to stop himself from killing her. It doesn’t change the fact that he follows her, threatens her, makes all of her decisions for her, cuts her off from her friends and family emotionally and physically, instills her with the belief that his murderous impulses are her fault  (she “has to be good” and not lose control of her urges when they kiss, so as not to tempt him), and attacks her when she says she’s not afraid of him, just to make sure that she learns to be.” 

Stark goes on to say that she would never suggest the banning of these books just because they exhibit a trend she finds scary, and she says some great things about trusting readers to judge for themselves whether or not the relationship represented is healthy.

I respect the conclusion she reaches regarding having faith in the maturity of the audience. But as far as the list of Edward’s offenses, it’s like naming off all the sins a child commits in the course of stealing a pie — trespassing, kicking a dog, breaking a priceless vase — without taking into account that the kid was starving. When you take Edward’s actions out of context…um, yeah, they will sound pretty messed up. Because he is undead, wracked with nearly irresistible evil impulses, and subsists on blood. 

YA has definitely bridled the paranormal. Demons, vampires, and reapers that are supposed to be the stuff of nightmares have become doting, protective, and sweet, falling epically in love with ordinary 16-year-olds with names like Whisper Conley and December Reynolds. And sci-fi isn’t exempt. “Dark they Were, and Golden-Eyed” will soon become “Tan they were, and Sculpted.”

But paranormal should be scary. I am a fan of good, old-fashioned Halloween-ish creeptasticness. After reading two YA paranormal romances in a row, I  recently reread Dracula and cherished the way the suspense leading up to Jonathan’s introduction to the count made me pull my covers tighter. Poe did not cuddle with the black cat. Lucy Westenra did not open her window and invite a bushy-browed undead creature into her bedroom. Because dem jerks be scary. Heck, even Cathy’s ghost freaked me out a little in the PBS adaptation of Wuthering Heights. When it comes to being an immortal demon, Edward is actually kind of lame. He needs some LeStat lessons.

Maybe after reading Twilight, some unstable fans went off in search of stalker-types willing to watch them sleep. I think this was the same minority of fans who started fistfights at movie premieres. Far from facing dangerous levels of devotion, the majority of young women in unhealthy relationships face the indifference of the young men they are dating, who don’t understand who they are or what they’re capable of. If anything, in the height of its popularity, the series made girls wish “vampires were real” not because they wanted to be treated like helpless fragile dolls unable to make intelligent decisions regarding their own well-beings, but because they just wanted to be genuinely cared about by pretty, strong dudes. I see nothing wrong with that.

So let’s all give Steph Meyer a break. Personally, I would go for a hot-headed Gale Hawthorne or an oft-grumpy and clueless Ron Weasley over a “perfect” paranormal gentleman friend. But we have to look at books like Twilight for what they are: Paranormal. Romance. As far as illustrating a fictional romance between a human and a creature traditionally viewed as lustful, sadistic, and murderous, it’s actually pretty healthy.

In case anyone misinterprets my attitude toward this subject within this particular work of fiction as dismissive, know that I take the impact of fiction on reader’s lives and on culture beyond seriously. “It’s just fiction” is not a phrase that my ears register — because nothing ever contains so little of real truth to be accused of being “just fiction.” Every work mimics life’s chiaroscuro.

As far as action goes, censorship of darkness is not the answer. The answer is to heed the summons to balance any futile and truly damaging darkness with light — not with glossed-over, fearful, faux realities strung together in naiveté, but with hardy hope that knows danger, gloom, futility, pain, and stands unabashed and unconquered. For me, it’s a personal summons to portray realistic evil and True Good as  its conqueror.

“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour.”

- J.R.R. Tolkien 

At the Corner of Humility & Hope

I just had to force myself to pause Supernatural long enough to write a post. If I die an untimely and 60 Minutes-worthy death, I want Jensen Ackles to throw on a wig and reenact what went down because his facial expressions alone would make my demise so much better. And now my wishes are in writing so they must be honored.

Before I get to the heart of this post, I will point you to the tabs on the right which will lead you to samples of my fiction in the form of short stories and the intros to my novels. It would take me an hour to figure out how to make the links more noticeable, hence the announcement.

The reason I haven’t written in a while is not for lack of time. It is for lack of inspiration. And my lack of inspiration has given me inspiration in the sense that I am going to write about being drained.

What it comes down to is being weary of the phase of life that I’m in. I have spent the last two years undergoing internal growth, so much that at times I freak myself out because I don’t recognize my outlook, my desires in life, or my sense of humor. But my external circumstances haven’t changed much. I’ve done a lot of waiting and praying and knowing that they will, but the calm before the change is unsettling and sometimes discouraging. I have minor revising to do on a fantasy novel, a sequel to write, a middle grade novel idea that I want to jot down so I can get to it someday. There is always article-ing, blogging, and querying that can be done. And yet for the past week I’ve been watching Netflix, downing unholy amounts of unsweet tea, jogging in the midday Texas heat, and working on a screenplay for a miniseries. Where the last came from, I have no idea. I think this may be procrastination at its most devious. It’s easier to focus on the unimportant things right now because I’m at the tipping point when it comes to the important things, and it scares me.

The partial and full manuscripts I have floating around in the agent-verse right now could be emphatic yes’s. Or they could be a round of no’s. But in the waiting phase, they are silence. And that just wears on any decent person a little. I know everyone has weeks like this, of utter lethargy. And not the cat-like kind where you just pick a spot on the carpet in the sunshine and enjoy it. The scared kind. You put off thinking about what’s around the river bend because you’re afraid you’re not going to like whatever it is. You hope it’s not a waterfall, but you hope even more that it’s not just more of the same river and marriage to Kocoum.

What I do like about phases of drained-ness and feeling like I can’t wait on God anymore is that he shows himself so mighty in retrospect. I am sitting in the library and a woman just exclaimed, “Isn’t it amazing how God works? I am so excited for you. That is so amazing, God is so amazing.” She was talking to a friend who got a job. Preach it! If Friend Who Got a Job hadn’t gone through a phase of humility and discouragement, there would be no reason to celebrate. There would be no victory, no sense of blessedness.

Walgreens commercials all have a little montra that says “At the Corner of Happy & Healthy.” That’s cute. Wouldn’t it be swell to just completely skip the phase where you sit down on the side of the road during a jog, sweaty and tired inside and out, and beg God to work in awesome ways? A few weeks ago I prayed “God, I’m scraping at the dregs. I’m tired of being nearly-empty. I’m ready to be full. Please fill me so full, pour such blessings over me, that I don’t even have to worry about the next time I will be empty again, even though it will come.” Apparently near-heat strokes are conducive to holy realizations, because yesterday I was jogging again and sat down in the gravel and looked up to find I was at a crossing place. Literally, I was right next to a railroad crossing sign. And God laid the words humility and hope on my heart.

We cannot magically hover on the corner of happy and healthy, eternally soaking in Vitamin D blessings. Otherwise, we would not be prepared to appreciate them, to give both pain and joy over to Christ, allowing God to be glorified in our every circumstance.

Blessings come when we find ourselves on the corner of humility and hope — of being in a place of simultaneous weary desperation and unshakable faith. Humility and hope prepare us to be the people we need to be to handle blessings with grace, thankfulness, and wisdom when we receive them.

This week I started reading Ezekiel, which is a a vivid illustration of God’s sovereignty and his willingness to humble his people Israel in such painful ways that they never stray from him again to their own demise. And in the same day I read Matthew 10: 29-31: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 

These verses are an illustration of what God does, the seemingly contrary roles he holds in solution. He humbles and gives hope. I will pray this week that you will see him at work in you, bringing you to the place where you can enjoy blessings not for their own sake, but for the sake of the one who gives them.

11 Underrated Acts of Fictional Bad-Awesomery

The three posts I’ve written thus far have been on the lesson-y side. But I enjoy fangirling over the Catching Fire trailer and giggling over a good Gif about the friendship between wine and single twenty-somethings as much as the next blogger. And to prove it, I’m about to waste your time…

…with my 11 Underrated Acts of Fictional Bad-Awesomery. In no particular order.

Fred and George Weasley’s Grand Exit (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

I will never forget the audacity, the glory, the fist-pumpyness of Fred and George’s rebellion after months of Dolores Umbridge’s poisoned honey personality and evil dictatorial control of Hogwarts. Umbridge was the warm-up for Joffrey Baratheon in that she taught me how to hate a hatable character without punching a book of 250, 000 words, which would probably have broken my hand. In honor of the Weasley twins’ defiance, I move to add “Give her hell for us, Peeves!” to HP mugs and posters everywhere.

Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness (Parks and Rec)

While coaching a kids’ basketball team, the deadpan, mustache-toting, breakfast food-admiring Ron reveals the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. His nuggets of wisdom include “Teamwork: very important. Equally important: selfishness.” And my personal favorite,”CRYING: acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.”




Arya’s List (Game of Thrones)

A little girl disguised as a boy possesses only a sword named Needle and a hit list of everyone who has viciously wronged her family – which she recites like a lullaby every night before sleepy time. This is a recipe for revenge sweet and satisfying.

The Last Two Minutes of Green Street Hooligans

At the beginning of our tale, Matt Buckner is a milquetoast who, thanks to his wealthy roommate, gets expelled from Harvard. His dreams of journalistic glory are squelched. Commence trip to England, where Matt is introduced to the violent world of football hooliganism. He learns about friendship. He learns about courage. And he learns how to punch out teeth. After the movie’s avalanche of feels, Matt comes home and confronts his jerkface former roommate, pretending to be the same milquetoast he once was…and then pulls out his new moves. He almost punches him, decides the guy’s not worth it, and walks off singing “Forever Blowing Bubbles.”

Boromir’s Sacrifice for the Hobbits (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)

Boromir is one of my favorite Middle Earth dwellers. Why don’t more people understand how awesome he is? Can you really not forgive him for letting the Ring seduce him, the One Ring that is powerful enough to destroy the world? I’m pretty sure you would be seduced, too, only you wouldn’t make up for it by sacrificing your life to save two hobbits from a horde of Uruk-hai, and I bet you wouldn’t keep fighting after taking three arrows to the torso.

Boromir is valiant and good. Maybe the fans who dislike him stopped watching in the last ten minutes. And never saw his backstory in the sequels or read the books. And are pretty much just ill-informed.

The Sundance Kid and His Teacher Lady (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

The first time I ever watched this scene, I was worried Robert Redford would turn out to be a sicko. A pretty, modest woman walks into her house and begins to undress, only to be startled by a man sitting in the dark. You know he is a wanted outlaw. You know he is the fastest gun in the West. But you don’t know what kind of person he is yet, so when he cocks his gun and says “Keep goin’, Teacher Lady,” you start to get a little uneasy. Frightened, the woman reluctantly obeys and stands there in her little western under-dress while Sundance leers. Just when you decide he’s a nasty predator and wonder why you’re watching a movie that hails him as a hero…she scolds him for being late.

*Sigh of relief* Oh, she’s his wife, or whatever. Phew. Well, that’s kind of cute.


Annie Punches the Giant Cookie (Bridesmaids)

Everything has gone south for Annie. And south-er. At her best friend’s over-the-top Parisian wedding shower, she finally snaps and tells everyone off, fights a losing battle with a giant heart-shaped cookie, and tries to push over a ginormous chocolate fountain. I may not aspire to such antics, but I have to admire her for rolling with an epic emotional breakdown instead of suppressing it like most people do when it comes to weddings and fights with best friends.

Holmes Reads Watson’s Thoughts (The Adventure of the Cardboard Box)

Since there are many more exciting occasions on which Holmes reveals his techniques, it’s easy to overlook this one. At the beginning of the story, Watson is standing across the room from Holmes, doing no more than looking out the window, glancing at a newspaper, pacing, and finally sitting in his chair. We’ve been privy to his train of thought for a few minutes when suddenly Holmes comments on Watson’s latest unspoken musing. Watson agrees with him before realizing what just happened, and then demands to know how Holmes “echoed the inmost thought of his soul.”

Holmes’ response?

“You remember,” said he, “that some little time ago when I read the passage in one of Poe’s sketches in which a close reasoner follows the unspoken thoughts of his companion, you were inclined to treat the matter as a mere tour-de-force of the author. On my remarking that I was constantly in the habit of doing the same thing you expressed incredulity.”


Princess Leia Rescuing Han (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)

After Solo’s response of “I know” to her confession of love, Leia didn’t get pouty and refuse to text him for a few days. No, she helped come up with a plan to save his carbonite-covered butt with thermal detonators and a bounty hunter disguise. I must have been too busy idolizing Solo’s devil-may-care attitude or trying to summon objects with the force to realize who my real childhood hero was.


Katniss Killing You-Know-Who ****SPOILER ALERT**** (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)

This one’s not so much underrated as it is kept quiet for the sake of everyone who is invested in the movies but hasn’t read the the books. This moment should be a surprise for you when you experience it. But if you have read the third book, you know how shocking and awesome this moment is: the enemy who’s killed thousands of people without flinching, the man responsible for all the trauma our heroine has endured, has been stripped of his power and awaits a personal execution from one Miss Katniss Everdeen. But Katniss, despite her hatred of President Snow, has the presence of mind to know who the true danger is – President Coin. So in the coolest act of self-control since ever, she kills the supposedly heroic Coin instead.

Khan (Not underrated, but exudes too much bad-awesomery to ignore) 

Enough said. No, not enough said. That chilling voice. That moment of rage when Kirk asks him if the Federation wanted to exploit his intelligence and he corrects him by saying it wanted to exploit his savagery. Just the way he says the word “savagery” was so cool I started to root for him. Benedict Cumberbatch sir, I know you are now a star but if you get in the mood to do some audiobook acting for a few of my favorite YA titles, I will not complain. But then we wouldn’t get to see your transfixing glare. So yeah, stick to screen acting.