Author Interview: Mirriam Neal

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There are some bloggers who are simply unmistakable and unforgettable. Mirriam Neal is such a blogger. The first time I read one of her posts, I felt her storytelling seep into my soul. So much, that it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t forgotten the first post I read on her blog. I stumbled on her writing by following a rabbit trail of three or four other blogs, but hers is the only one in that trail I still read consistently. Mirriam writes with such eloquence and depth, but also whimsy and humor. Today, we’re celebrating the recent debut of her novel, Paper Crowns. (Which I desperately need to read. Curse homework for interfering with my reading habits.)

Until I can read the full novel, below is a little preview of Paper Crowns: 

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Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Pages of Wonder

 

Doesn’t it sound magical? Be sure to check out the Paper Crowns Good Reads page for more. Before you rush off, though, pour a cup of mocha coffee and join me for a chat with Paper Crowns’ author Mirriam Neal. She graciously answered over a dozen of my questions, and her answers are as fabulous as I expected from her. They also make me even more eager to read Paper Crowns. 

  1. What does the beginning of your storytelling process look like? Do you outline, free write, etc.?
    The beginning always looks the same, but with different ingredients: I’ve had enough of said ingredients simmering around that I finally realize I can make something, as soon as I figure out exactly how. I’m a seventy-percent free writer and a thirty-percent plotter. I like to have a vague idea of how I want the book to end, and probably three major things I want to happen. Just enough pins to keep the whole thing from falling apart, and I take it from there.
  2. What was the most difficult part of writing Paper Crowns?
    Editing and revising, really. I wrote it in a month, so the whole thing was kind of a slapdash mess. It still is! I’m working on a couple more tweaks since a few scattered minor mistakes were found – it’s a process.
  3. Let’s play favorites! Without spoilers, who is your favorite character in Paper Crowns and why?
    This is phrased in a very tricky way, Sarah. Very tricky. Hmm. My favorite character to write? The character I’d most like to hang out with? WHICH ONE? Well, my favorite character to write was probably Azrael. He was the easiest. He wanted to be written (he’s pushy that way). The character I’d most like to hang out with is probably Hal. I’d have endless questions.
  4. What is your recipe for creativity?
    It depends, really. Sometimes it means a constant diet of reading, movies, shows, dramas, and music. Other times I need to step away for a while and not read anything but non-fiction. Usually it’s a good mix of both – but I try to immerse myself in stories and music pertinent to what I’m writing. I also try to get out and spend time in towns and cities as frequently as possible, and write in places other than my room or my house. Shaking things up a little often knocks something loose.
  5. Tea time! What’s your beverage of choice, if any, when writing?
    Black coffee is always my beverage of choice. Anytime, anywhere. (Although I’m a fan of many beverages and won’t turn down anything from tea to kombucha.)
  6. What is one thing most people wouldn’t guess about your writing?
    How hard it is, probably. Even the easy novels like the Paper series. They’re the hardest things I ever do. I get told my writing feels effortless much of the time, which is often a large compliment but sometimes feels a little confusing – is that good or bad? I don’t want people to think that writing is easy, or that I do it because I’m lazy. It’s real work. It stresses me and pushes me just like any job.
  7. What has been a defining moment for you as an author?
    My mother was reading one of my novels and was so physically revolted that she had to stop eating lunch. She asked how I could write something so horrible, and I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything horrible – I just wrote it so that her brain would fill in the gaps. She went back and re-read it, and told me, astonished, that I was right. This was a huge leap forward for me, both in style and in my personal confidence.
  8. If you could visit any fictional land, where would you travel?
    I would absolutely travel to Middle-Earth. #Basic, I know, but it was my first otherworld love and continues to be the strongest.
  9. What makes a good villain?
    I think the scariest villains are the ones who might actually do something good, or who show a human side to their villainy. In ‘Dragon Blade,’ Tiberius blinds his young brother with acid, but he weeps as he does it. He knows the pain he’s causing, and it pains him in turn – but he does it anyway. That’s terrifying.
  10. If you could have lunch with any author or artist, who would you choose?
    I would have lunch with John Howe. It’s still surreal to be able to say ‘I’m friends with John Howe,’ but it’s true – yet he lives in Switzerland, so we’ve never met. Having lunch with him would be a dream come true.
  11. Are there any quotes that inspire your creativity?
    Many quotes inspire me, but a consistent favorite is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger.’ It’s an important mindset, I think, and one I try to live by.
  12. Choose a superpower just for today.
    Flight. Every time.
  13. Would you rather have a pet dragon or unicorn? Why?
    A dragon. Unicorns are beautiful and often have healing powers, but dragons are more battle-fit, they can breathe fire (and often have other talents, like shape-shifting or voice mimicry) and they’re shrewd PLUS they can fly.
  14. Would you be most at home among hobbits, elves or dwarves?
    Elves. I think I would be happiest there. The history, the architecture, the art, the music, the war-skills, the aesthetics – the conversations I could have!
  15. Thank you for making an appearance at On Another Note today! Is there anything else you would like to share? The spotlight is yours!
    You have the ability to make an impact on everyone you meet. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah!

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About the Author: 

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

Visit Mirriam’s blog, Wishful Thinking at mirriamneal.com or send a note to the­shieldmaiden@hotmail.com

Also check out the other stops on the Paper Crowns blog tour – you can view a complete list here.

Paper Crowns is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now scoot, go get a copy.

Happy reading!

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The Time That Is Given Us

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One hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many days it’s been since my last post. I’ll spare the usual exclamations about how quickly time is flying by. (But seriously. How is it possible this year is close to halfway over?)

I only counted out the days because it feels like forever and I was curious as to how long forever really is. How do you measure the moments that make a life?

The weeks that have gone by have felt mostly the same. I went to work five times a week, church two or sometimes three times, met homework deadlines (some by thin margins), and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. Thanks to my English coursework, I did more writing than I had in a long while, though it’s not visible on the blog.

Within that pattern, though, change broke through. In the midst of to-do lists and deadlines came defining moments. While I was busy submitting assignments and filing paperwork for five months, my life changed in a few defining moments.

According to dictionary.com, a defining moment is “a point at which the essential nature of a character or person is revealed or identified.”

In storytelling, defining moments are no accident. Characters are positioned, trips arranged and stages set long before the moment occurs. If you’re truly perceptive, sometimes you can guess what’s coming before it grandly arrives. My favorite scenarios, though, are when the author is masterful enough to completely surprise me. A common rule is that defining moments should be both inevitable and unexpected. When we look back, we should see how everything led to this point, but when it initially occurs, we should feel a bit stunned.

One of the early defining moments of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is when Frodo is bequeathed the One Ring from his uncle. At first glance, this doesn’t seem terribly significant. Eccentric old uncle Bilbo leaves all his possessions to his nephew and decides to become a hermit and an author. Suddenly inheriting a home in Bag End shouldn’t rearrange Frodo’s life too terribly; after all, it’s his uncle Bilbo setting off for the unknown. As anyone vaguely familiar with the Lord of the Rings can tell you, though, this moment means more for Frodo than for Bilbo.

Frodo goes from leading an ordinary, rather unadventurous life to taking on a quest with earthshaking repercussions. His calm existence is derailed by a single object… a defining moment. The consequences of this moment are drastic, leading to many other defining moments and later causing Frodo to say, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” Gandalf replies. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) 

The time that is given us… whether that is a time of upheaval or unexciting activities.

Maybe it’s not a moment we want. Perhaps it’s one where we feel stuck and it seems like the opposite of a grand, defining moment. Maybe this instant hurts, and feels like it’s going to hurt until the end of time.

Perhaps this is a big moment and it’s terrifying. Maybe this is a decision we don’t want to make. Maybe this is a change we never asked to face.

No matter what is happening, this is the time that is given us. We don’t get to choose our own time. For better or worse, this moment is all we have to live in. This is where God has placed us. All we have to decide… Is what to do with the time that is given us.

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A Year in Review: Book Reviews

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Hello, booklings!
I didn’t want to carry any reviews from last year into this one, but the stack of books on my desk forces me to differ. So in the name of closing out 2015 (a month into 2016!), here are some review wrap-ups. 🙂

The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky

the chaseIt’s been a few years since I gave up reading books about dating and relationships. After a while, they’re either all the same, or they all contradict one another. When I first heard of The Chase, though, it captured my attention. Written by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky, it was refreshing to read a book about relationships from a younger couple’s perspective. Their love for one another shines through, but even more evident is their love for God. The Chase doesn’t focus merely on romantic relationships, as I initially expected. Rather, it speaks about chasing after God, first and foremost; the true lover of our souls. When we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place- even falling in love. After all, “God cares about your deepest desires, your hopes and dreams.” (from the Chase.)

I loved that this book didn’t offer any official guidelines. Too many books about relationships are built on checklists and leave no room for individuality or considering unique situations. Granted, there are some non-negotiable principles in the Bible, but much else is left to conjecture. The Chase isn’t written to be a rule book, but a handbook. It’s more of a guide than an instruction sheet. Instead of listing do’s and don’t’s for an earthly relationship, the book encourages young people to pursue God before pursuing another person.

I tend to be a bit cynical about relationship books, but the Chase is a sweet, uplifting read. It encouraged me to focus on falling in love with Jesus, and it also reminded my skeptical side that true love actually does exist outside of Disney movies. The writing style made me feel like I was sharing coffee with a trusted mentor and friend. The book is written mostly through stories, and throughout, there is bound to be something each reader connects to. This would be a wonderful book to read with a small group, or for personal study.

In Good Company by Jen Turano

From the Back Cover

in good company 1After growing up as an orphan, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm aren’t always well-received and she finds herself dismissed from yet another position.

Everett Mulberry has quite unexpectedly become guardian to three children that scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.

At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges, Everett focuses on achieving the coveted societal status of the upper echelons. But as he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the children’s parents, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?

In Good Company certainly does come with good company. The first thing I noticed about the book was how quirky and lovable Jen Turano’s heroine is. Millie Longfellow isn’t your conventional protagonist. She’s not especially gifted, doesn’t have any unique advantages, and isn’t known for having good luck or the best ideas. Yet in spite of all her shortcomings, she’s a character I quickly came to love. She has the greatest of intentions, a generous amount of spunk, a hearty dose of patience, a creative perspective, and a genuinely kind heart. It’s these traits that made me cheer for her, even when she did something exasperating, and made me empathize with her when she faced yet another struggle.
In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Everett is the perfect contrast to the scattered, energetic, bubbly Miss Longfellow. Reserved, successful and in control, a feisty nanny is the last thing Everett needs in his life. But since Millie is exactly what Everett’s young charges need, he’s forced to endure her unconventional ways and the occasional tumult she causes. Along the way, both Everett and Millie must confront their differences. Can two people from opposite worlds ever share their own world?
The supporting cast also features some delightful characters, some of whom I’m looking forward to meeting with in one of the author’s future stories.
In Good Company is a lighthearted read, which manages to be zany, amusing, romantic and even a little mysterious. The mentions of classic literature were a delightful addition, and Jen’s writing style makes it easy to read multiple chapters in a single sitting. I typically prefer heavier books, with more suspense and higher stakes, but I truly enjoyed this one for what it is.
If you’re looking for a fun novel, featuring lovable characters, a few laughs and a pinch of mystery, you can find it… In Good Company. 

The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)

the time gardenA coloring craze has splashed the world. No longer is this hobby confined to kindergarten classrooms. Now adults can enjoy the art and relaxation of coloring, too! (Without being reduced to a Sesame Street coloring book.)

The Time Garden is laid out as a story book. Intricate pictures show one little girl’s journey through the land of time. Daria Song’s artwork is absolutely beautiful. The amount of detail astonished me. Each page is stunning, from the tree blossoms on the front cover all the way to the starry back flap. Adult coloring is supposed to help you pause and relax, forcing you to slow down and focus on one tiny section at a time. The Time Garden would allow you to do this for hours. There are so many little nuances to color, there is no room for rushing. Even if you only work on a corner at a time, this book invites you to sit down, take your time, breathe and create.

I also love how elegant the pictures are. I lack in artistic ability, but coloring in one of Daria Song’s masterpieces instantly makes me feel creative.

The quality of the book itself is lovely. Each page is printed on thick, high-quality paper. I used colored pencils in mine, but if you wanted to use marker, the paper is sturdy enough to handle the ink. The dust jacket can be colored, too, and it unfolds to reveal a gorgeous constellation on the reverse side.

Since the adult coloring trend began, I’ve flipped through my fair share of these books. The Time Garden, though, is one of the most sophisticated, unique and visually pleasing that I have found. Order a copy for yourself, or one for a friend… Or both, and enjoy your own journey through The Time Garden. 

I received these books for free in exchange for my honest reviews. 

In case you missed them, here are links to the other books I reviewed in 2015:

Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren // A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau // To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander // The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas // The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Now that I’ve tied up 2015’s loose book ends, I’m free to start my 2016 list! What have you read so far this year? What were your favorite books in 2015?

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Resurgam

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There are some years that stand out more than others. For me, 2015 was such a year. I suspect that even several years from now, I’ll point to that one and remember how much it strained, shattered, and slowly remade me.

And now it’s come to an end. There were days when I had no idea who or where I would be by this point. Yet here I am, officially calling it “last year” and looking ahead to the untouched days of “this year.”

Since grade school, I’ve been a resolution person. I like making lists and dreaming big. New Year’s holds such promise, and that energy always inspires me to make a bunch of my own promises.

Drink more water, eat less sugar, get in shape, stick to a sleep schedule and a budget. Track everything in a planner, be consistent with blogging, develop my skills at writing. Keep in touch with friends and relatives, send handwritten letters, create more opportunities for ministry, develop stronger leadership skills. Study music, earn a high GPA, build websites, find time for hobbies. Prioritize my relationship with God, read the Bible in a year, pray daily, fast weekly. 

That list has looped through my brain since December.  Just looking at it makes me feel like I’ve failed. Every single thing on it is important. Accomplishing them would be beneficial. Yet if I already feel overwhelmed, an hour into the New Year, how am I going to feel by the end of January?

So although I would love to conquer each of those goals, I’m making a different choice for 2016. I’m summing up my intentions with a single word instead of bullet points or bulky paragraphs.

As I was journaling last week, well past midnight, I stumbled into the word that will be my mantra for this year. I was struggling against the weight of an entire year, and I felt God whisper that word into my mind.

Resurgam. It’s a Latin phrase, but the meaning is simple: I will rise again. 

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After 2015 exhausting me in almost every way, I want 2016 to be about one thing. Rising again; above everything that’s happened, and everything that may yet happen. So my resolution this year isn’t defined by what I accomplish, and how many things I check off that endless list. I’m not going to “fail” my goals this year, because my focus makes “failure” irrelevant.

When I fall, for fall I will, I haven’t failed. I can rise again. And again. As many times as it takes. The grace of Jesus means that as long as I have breath, I have a chance. I can take the nail-scarred hand He offers me and stand up, no matter how hard I fall.

When I struggle to pray, I will remember “resurgam,” and try again.
When I make a wrong choice, I will tell myself “resurgam.”
When I feel overwhelmed, I will be reminded of “resurgam.”

I wish I could say that I won’t experience low points in 2016 the way I did in 2015. But I can’t. I don’t know what awaits me in the next 365 days. A new year doesn’t guarantee a perfect, or even completely good, one. All it guarantees is a chance to reflect, and reset. A chance to declare “resurgam.”

I’ll take that chance. And into 2016, I will rise again.

Do you have resolutions or a specific word for your year? 

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Book Release: The Bureau of Time by Brett Michael Orr

Hello my dear friends! Apologies for nearly two months of silence. I could write an entire post about the last several weeks, but let’s save that for another day. Today I have something far more exciting to share!

Drum roll please…

This week, the talented Brett Michael Orr released his highly anticipated debut novel, The Bureau of Time! I’ve been following this book’s progress for a while, and I’ve been waiting impatiently to read it, thanks to Brett Michael’s teasers on Twitter.

When he sent me the official blurb and the cover, I jumped at the chance to share it with you. Read on, and you’ll see why.

The Bureau of Time

You can not change fate.

Cassandra Wright is a Timewalker – a teenager with a genetic mutation that allows her to manipulate the flow of time. But her inexplicable powers have made her a target for Adjusters – monstrous assassins from a parallel universe.

Saved from almost certain death, Cassie is pulled into a secret agency sworn to defend our timeline against these threats: the Bureau of Temporal Integrity, Monitoring, and Execution. Cassie’s life soon becomes entwined with Shaun Briars – a reckless Timewalker with an alluring smile and dark suspicions about the Bureau itself.

When Cassie and Shaun cross into the parallel universe, they discover a world in the grips of nuclear winter, with a new war threatening to spill over into our universe. With time running out, they must learn the true history of Timewalkers, confront the unforgivable crimes of their future selves, and defy their own fate to save two worlds.

Join the Conversation: #TheBureauOfTime

Doesn’t this sound intriguing? I’m also really impressed with the acronym for TIME. Calling it now, this is totally going to become a summer blockbuster film.

I always say you’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, yet I always do exactly that. Feel free to judge The Bureau of Time by its cover, though, because the cover is awesome.

Gaze upon it!

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THE BUREAU OF TIME is the debut YA SF/thriller novel from Brett Michael Orr, available early 2016 on all digital reading platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, iBookstore, and more. Stay up-to-date with The Bureau of Time by following @BrettMichaelOrr on Twitter!

Ready for the best part? You don’t have to wait another minute to read The Bureau of Time! It’s available now for Kindle through Amazon. It will also be coming soon to iBookstore, Kobo, and other major digital reading platforms. Be sure to check out the official hashtag #TheBureauOfTime on Twitter for the latest news.

Also, take a look at what my writer friend Annie has to say about the release, on her lovely blog, the Curious Wren.

Until next time (get it? Okay. Sorry. I’ll stop now.)

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