Friday, April 26, 2013

Review: The Circle Series

Today it's about time for another book review, and I'm particularly excited to introduce today's book (or, more properly, series). I'll be reviewing Ted Dekker's Circle Series, which many people regard as a masterpiece of Christian literature. You'll see more of my thoughts below, so without further ado, here is my review!

Title: The Circle Series (Black, Red, White, Green)
Author: Ted Dekker
Page Count: 1,553 pages total

Stars: 4 of 5
4 = well-written and a good read

Teaser: After being chased by mysterious gunmen, Thomas Hunter wakes up in an "Other Earth" that he keeps returning to every time he falls asleep. This "Other Earth" at first resembles an unfallen Eden. Soon, however, evil and sin threatened the Other Earth. Bad as this may seem, these catastrophic events in the Other Earth are eclipsed by the threat of a deadly virus about to be unleashed on our Earth. Thomas Hunter gradually becomes a leader in both worlds as he attempts to avert both impending disasters.

Age level: 14+ (mid-teens)

Violence: 3 of 5
3 = definitely some gory portions, especially in Green, but nothing beyond PG-13 material

Romance: 2 of 5
2 = love and romance are a part of the story, in a restrained and godly manner

Language: 1 of 5
1 = a few instances of slight language

Christian worldview: Dekker, as a Christian author, writes an explicitly Gospel-centered novel series along the lines of C.S. Lewis. I admit I was a bit doubtful at first as to how the Gospel would tie into the story and whether it would feel over-spiritual or too allegorical. However, I think on the whole the series managed to reveal true Christianity as it might appear in both our earth and the "Other Earth" without being too cliche or trite. As such, I believe Dekker's Circle Series is a valuable addition to Christian literature.

My personal opinion: I love being able to dig into a long and satisfying series, and Dekker's Circle Series provides exactly that, with the bonus benefit of Christian themes. I was particularly impressed with Dekker's closure of the series and how it formed a sort of circle in and of itself. (I know some others found fault with this circular ending, but I thought it was clever and it resolved my unanswered questions well.)

So then why did I give the series only 4 stars? To be honest, I wasn't always too impressed with Dekker's characters and writing style. His plot, to be sure, is excellent. However, the word choice and sentence structure was occasionally clunky and overall seemed a bit plain and simplistic. The characters, too, didn't always feel alive and real, especially the female characters. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, the plot is truly original, the settings are splendidly crafted (especially his descriptions of "paradise"!) and I loved to hate the villains.

Overall, then, the Circle Series is an impressive work that I would urge any Christian interesting in writing fantasy to read. It's enjoyable, tense, action-packed, and a fascinating glimpse into Christian redemption viewed through the lens of a fantasy world.

Now your turn: have you read the Circle Series or any other Ted Dekker books? Do you like how he incorporates his faith into his stories? Any other comments on his work?

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Star Trek devotees started the fanficiton
craze with the magazine above 
I must confess to a recent obsession with fanfiction--not of the fantasy sort, but more along the lines of Jane Austen novels. The variations and the scope within even the seemingly limited world of Jane Austen have me amazed at every turn. This minor obsession has led me to wonder about writing fanfiction myself. In today's blog post, then, I'd like to explore some of the pros and cons of writing fanfiction, whether for fantasy or other stories.

Before I begin, though, let me mention that my first full-length story (ahem, first forty-page scribbled notebook story!) was a fanfiction of Nancy Rue's Josiah Hutchinson stories. I used to love the characters and conflicts of Josiah's life in Salem and, naturally, I wanted in on the action. Since completing that story, I've dabbled into fanfiction only once in a two-page story about Eragon that I began but very quickly abandoned. Now, however, I find myself rather tempted by the thought of exploring Jane Austen through fanfiction!

Which leads me to wonder...should I or shouldn't I? To help me decide, I'll be exploring the pros and cons of fanfiction in today's post.


  • Head start on the story: One of the greatest benefits of fanfiction is that the story contains already developed characters and a "storyworld"--or setting--that gives you a head start in your writing. You don't need to worry about what the characters look, act, or talk like; all you need to worry about is the plot.
  • Motivation: If you already love the stories and the world, then writing fanfiction may give you the right motivation to carry your story through to the end. You might not be motivated enough to write your own story, but a fanfiction of Lord of the Rings? Bring it on!
  • Fan base: A definite benefit of writing a story in a genre that has a fan base is that you have an instant audience for your story. A niche market for a particular type of fanfiction can provide your first readers and critiquers, who will eagerly devour and help improve your story.


  • Copyright issues: This is the main issue in writing fanfiction. Because of copyright issues, your work must remain private and non-commercial unless you write a fanfiction of an older story without copyright restrictions (such as Jane Austen's works). Thus, be aware that even if you write a stunning fanfiction, you might never be able to publish your work.
  • Lack of originality and freedom: When you write fanfiction, you don't have very much room to change characters or to develop the story in your own directions. You may feel a bit confined, particularly to the author's original writing style. While I of course realize that you want to respect the original author's works, I would recommend that you don't confine yourself to do exactly as the original author did. Otherwise, you risk being predictable. Instead, explore and push the limits, even in your fanfiction.
  • Perceived image: A risk of writing fanfiction is that you may end up looking like you're piggy-backing off of someone else's work. Readers may wonder whether your writing would stand up on its own, without the framework of someone else's story. Be prepared for questions and doubts, both of your own making and of your readers' making.
  • Restricted imagination: Personally, I believe making up your own characters and setting is a unique opportunity for your imagination to grow and develop. If you never branch out on your own, you may end up restricting your imagination (not to mention your confidence for future writing!). Make sure, therefore, to keep fanfiction in balance with works that come from your own imagination.

That brings us to the end of our pro-and-con evaluation. So, will I end up writing some Jane Austen fanfiction? I'm thinking, for now, I'll focus on writing my own stories. Perhaps someday, though, Austen's characters and stories will re-awaken to life under my pen!

What about everyone else? Have any of you written fanfiction? What are some pros or cons you've experienced?

Warning: One does not simply write fanfiction...without going a little bit insane.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Saying Goodbye

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," said Shakespeare. Well, he was wrong: saying goodbye is all sorrow and no sweet. The problem is, there are times in life when we as writers need to say goodbye, whether to people, places, stories, or fantasy worlds. I've been reminded of this idea lately because I'll soon be saying goodbye to Asia and moving to the US. There's another reason, too -- I finished my first novel Red Sun Blue Earth last month (you can get it here on Amazon), but that means the story is over. It's done. I need to move on with my writing to a different world populated by different characters.

But what I'm learning is that it's hard to say goodbye.

Now I certainly hope I'm not alone here. Most people have moved to a different house at least once or twice in their lives. Some have even moved to different sates or countries. So you know what I mean--saying goodbye to a beloved place or friend can be difficult.

As writers, though, it can be even more difficult to say goodbye to our favorite stories. When we write, the words and actions and places and people of the story consume us. Even when we finish a rough draft, there's still a lot of editing and revising to do. We have to go back and tinker with sentences or tweak character traits. We see the action in our heads and hear the voices of characters over and over. But, eventually, there comes a time when the story is done. Maybe it's as good as it'll ever be, or maybe you've realized you need to set it aside for now even if it isn't perfect. Maybe you decide there's another story you'd rather be writing. Either way, saying goodbye can be hard.

What can we do, then, as writers? Must our hearts be broken each time we move on to the next story? I think not. Below are some ways to cope with saying goodbye to a story.

1. Keep a list of your favorite quotes from the old story to inspire you and keep you from feeling discouraged at the problems that arise in your writing. You can even collect pictures in an album or on Pinterest and look through them occasionally to revisit the good old days. However, don't leave these out in a too-obvious place--you need to be reminded, but you don't want to compare your new project with the old one. Each project should be uniquely special to you.

2. Get excited about your new project. Write like mad, every day if you possibly can, and be inspired by new character voices and fantastic places. It's a lot easier to remember the old place fondly if you're having fun in the new place!

For me, I've been writing a fantasy story that is really bad in quality but amazing in quantity--in the past four weeks, I've written over 40,000 words/200 (notebook) pages! My philosophy is to focus on writing more pages and enjoying the story, not stressing about whether it's good. (In case anyone's interested, the story is set in modern Ireland/a parallel magical Ireland, and the main character, Kelsey Marx, must take part in political revolutions and act in saintly plays and fight Vikings.) So, all that to say: deeply involve yourself in your new project, and keep at it!

3. Always remember that you can go back. If you really want to, you could write a short story or a poem about those characters from that story. Even better, you can go back and read what you've written. However, your focus should not be on looking back but on looking ahead. Rest assured, greater things are yet to come so long as you keep on writing!

4. If all else fails, eat chocolate and do something un-writing-related (just do not laze around on the Internet!). Maybe buy an awesome 500-piece puzzle. Paint a picture. Play a board game. Take some photos. Then, once you start feeling better, get to work on your new project. And have fun with it! Don't pressure yourself to be perfect, just pressure yourself to enjoy your writing and your life!

So that's it, folks -- your trusty tips to overcoming post-writing-depression. Let me know in the comments if you've ever suffered from this peculiar illness or if you have any other tips on saying goodbye that you'd like to add.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Blackbringer

The past few weeks we've been discussing heavy issues like racism, bullying, and human trafficking and how to deal with those into our stories. This week, to give us a bit of a breather, I'm going to be reviewing one of my favorite fantasy books of all time, Blackbringer. Enjoy!

Title: Blackbringer
Author: Laini Taylor
Page Count: 448 pages

Stars: 5 of 5
  • 5 = An amazingly well-crafted story. Definitely one of my all-time favorites.

Teaser: When the ancient evil of the Blackbringer rises to unmake the world, only one determined faerie stands in its way. However, Magpie Windwitch, graddaughter of the West Wind, is not like other faeries. While her kind live in seclusion deep in the forests of Dreamdark, she's devoted her life to tracking down and recapturing devils escaped from their ancient bottles, just as her hero, the legendary Bellatrix, did 25,000 years ago. With her faithful gang of crows, she travels the world fighting where others would choose to flee. But when a devil escapes from a bottle sealed by the ancient Djinn King himself, she may be in over her head. How can a single faerie, even with the help of her friends, hope to defeat the impenetrable darkness of the Blackbringer?

Age level: Pre-teens and up (12+)

Violence: 2 of 5
  • 2 = PG-level violence that is significant in the story (other than one rather gruesome description of a devil, the violence is not severe)
Romance: 0 of 5

Language: 1 of 5
  • 1 = replacement swear words/made-up swear words

Christian worldview: The world in Blackbringer is "created" by several djinn, who at the time of the story have little or no involvement in the world. Obviously, this is a different view of creation than the Christian perspective. However, the djinn are not worshiped as God but seem to be reminiscent of Tolkien's Valar. As such, I didn't feel that the story significantly contradicted a Christian perspective. (Also, the story had an afterlife which I can't tell too much about to avoid spoilers. It wasn't a Christian view of heaven--God wasn't there--but it cohered with the rest of the fantasy world and as such didn't bother me.)

My thoughts: I picked this book up in the library for the first time over six years ago and fell completely in love. This is a flawless stand-alone fantasy book suitable for a wide audience. (Blackbringer does have a sequel, Silkslinger, which is very imaginative and sweet with a bit of romance in it. I don't like it quite as much, though, because it doesn't have the same grandeur or darkness that this book has in it.) 

Anyway, back to Blackbringer: it's got a spunky main character who is very tough and brave, with relatable strengths and weaknesses. The various side characters have fully developed personalities that are quite enjoyable and make me want to cheer them on. Plus, who can't love a story with diminutive faeries with wings?!

The setting is fantastic, too. The interaction between the human world and the faerie world is fascinating. Taylor's descriptions are quite vivid and easy to visualize. Oh, and did I mention that the author included beautiful illustrations of the main characters? It's totally fantastic.

But most of all, what I love about the story is that the villain is truly one of the best-crafted villains I've read. Scary, ominous, mysterious, dark, surprising...all of that and more. There are even a few "minor" villains scattered throughout to keep up the tension. The conclusion is dramatic and everything it should be. Really, I couldn't ask for a better story.

Comments, anyone? Have you read Blackbringer before? Or do you have any book recommendations for me?