Friday, January 22, 2021

#ReadingMagic 30-day challenge, part 1

Ben Fife, Brad Swift, and I have been taking part in this fun challenge where we answer questions about our childhood reading memories, with the hopes of sparking discussions and encouraging the young and not-as-young to discover (or rediscover) the magic of a great book.

I've been posting my challenge answers daily on Facebook and Instagram, but Ben has been posting his on his website blog and I thought that would be a good idea. That being said, my answers are usually shorter and less involved than his, so instead of doing a separate post for each day, every Friday of the challenge, I'll collect all of the past week's posts into a single blog post.

Here's week 1!

Day 1: "What was your favorite book(s) growing up?"

I had a lot of favorite books growing up, so it's hard to pick favorites! As a kid, I always loved the Dinotopia books. I thought the whole concept was so fantastic, backed up by the author's masterful illustrations. James Gurney was one of my huge inspirations for becoming so interested in worldbuilding.

In 9th grade, I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings for the first time, and those definitely became my favorite books as a teenager. I read them back-to-back, and once I finished, I re-read both of them again. Twice. I had become a Tolkien fan for life.

Day 2: "What was your favorite animal book or story and why?"

Dinotopia counts as an animal book, right? 🙂

If you haven't figured out by now... I love dinosaurs. A lot. It started when I was probably about a year old and my mom gave me a plastic dinosaur toy she got with her Icee at 7-Eleven.

But, I don't like when dinosaurs are portrayed as antagonistic monsters. (cough Jurassic Park cough) Dinosaurs are cool. I want to be friends with them. So an entire imaginary island where sapient dinosaurs live in harmony with humans? It's like Dinotopia was written just for me.

Day 3: "Who are your favorite authors of children and young adult stories and why?"

One middle-grade/YA author I really admire and appreciate is Bruce Coville. I absolutely devoured his work growing up, and I loved that he was prolific (he has written over 100 books) and covered such a wide variety of fantasy and sci-fi topics and subgenres, from aliens to dragons to unicorns to even a bit of supernatural. 

Now that I am an author myself, I can see how Coville has been an inspiration for my own career. I don't want to pigeonhole myself into a single genre; I want to be prolific and provide readers with a large body of work to feast their minds upon; and I want to try to make every book unique, original, engaging, and fun.

Also, I am counting Tolkien as a children's author because (despite controversy which I do not fully understand), The Hobbit is definitely a children's book. It was originally told as a bedtime story to Tolkien's young sons. The first reviewer was the publisher's 10-year-old son (who loved it). I fully plan on reading it to my nieces when they reach the age where they have an attention span of more than 30 seconds. (And can sit still for more than 30 seconds.)

Day 4: "What author would you love to meet either in person or live via Zoom?"

You didn't say they had to be still alive, so... Tolkien! From what I know, not only was he an extremely intelligent and creative person, he was also very kind and wise and a great Christian. He is definitely someone I think I would enjoy meeting and benefit greatly from the experience.

Day 5: "How many times have you thought about one day writing a book?"

Maybe somewhat oddly for most writers, I didn't ever think about writing books until after college. But I think my career path is a good example of how, if you keep pursuing what you love doing, eventually you'll find your niche.

Growing up, I loved good stories in any format: books, movies, TV shows, theatrical productions, even video games. And I loved coming up with stories. But I tended to express those stories more through visual media than writing, because it takes much less time to sketch a picture than to write a chapter. My old sketchbooks are filled with character designs and brief notes about plot ideas that I never really brought to fruition. 

By high school, I decided I wanted to be a graphic novelist, which seemed like the best of both writing and illustrating worlds... until I tried it, and realized just how much work actually goes into telling a story through that medium, especially if you have a team of one.

So in college, that idea went out the window and I focused on animation, another fun way to tell a story visually. What I was really aiming for with my degree was being on the directing side of animation production. I had the stories--I just needed help executing them, unless I wanted to spend like a year producing an animated short by myself.

As my college education progressed, I realized the animation industry might not be the best fit for me, either. You don't exactly graduate from college, call Disney or Dreamworks, and say "hey, need any film directors?" You're expected to work your way up the ranks, be productive in an actual animating capacity, and wait for an opportunity before you can take on any leadership roles. 

And from what I saw from my professional animator peers, I wasn't really fond of that idea. I knew one person in particular who had been working in animation for some years, and had to keep working on projects she hated on a personal level because, well, a job was a job.

That definitely did not appeal to my independent spirit, so I knew industry animation was out. So after college, I became a freelance illustrator. Although it didn't have much to do with telling my own stories, I preferred that work because I felt in control of what projects I took on (instead of having to resign myself to whatever the producers tossed on my desk) and could negotiate directly with my clients to create something we were both satisfied with.

In the meantime, I had actually discovered the joys of writing for fun through the magic of fanfiction. I had a friend in college who wrote a lot of fanfiction, and she encouraged me to try it as well. Before long I had several fics to my name, and writing was like an addiction--I couldn't stop making up stories, especially since now I had the confidence and the growing skill to be able to execute them through writing.

Fanfic also helped me to see the advantages of writing when you prefer to work independently. I don't have to rely on a team for the bulk of my writing. I have two editors - a story editor and a proofreader - and they provide maybe 10% of the overall workload that goes into a novel. I love being responsible for the other 90% (including the cover art). 

Plus, writing is actually pretty much the fastest way to produce a story by yourself (especially if you're a workaholic and a fast typist). I can produce an entire novel, start to finish, in a matter of months, as opposed to how much longer it would have taken me to tell the same story by myself through something like a graphic novel or animation.

So in 2013, I finally decided to take the leap from fanfic to original novels, and published Skydwellers. While it was not the overnight hit that I wished it was, just producing it was so invigorating and exhilarating that I wanted to keep going down this route. I felt like I had found my niche.

(That being said, I'd still love to return to film/animation someday. But as a director or a consultant on a film adaptation of one of my novels. I aim high.)

Day 6: "When did you first discover that reading for pleasure could be fun?"

Sometime in infancy. Not that I can actually remember that far back, but my mom tells me that she read to me frequently when I was a baby. As I got older, she would line the walls of our home with books, and I apparently loved just sitting down, opening them up, and looking at them, even if I couldn't read them. Eventually, when my mom was expecting my sister, she had to rest in bed and couldn't read to me like I wanted her to, so she taught me phonics and soon I was the one reading to her instead. 🙂

So I seem to have always enjoyed reading!

Day 7: "How have you been able to encourage your kids to read for pleasure more?"

Ever since my nieces were babies, I've bought them books and read to them at every opportunity. I'm hoping as they grow older they'll come to appreciate the value of a good story, told well.

When one of my nieces was younger, I bought her a children's board book adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. It swiftly became one of her favorite books. One morning, her mom asked her what she wanted to eat for breakfast, and my niece said, "Pride & Prejutoast!"

This year, for her kindergarten's "Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character Day", she went as Elizabeth Bennett.

I couldn't be prouder.

Day 8: "If you could be any character you read about as a child, which character would you become for a day?"

I'd love to be Aslan for a day. I'd get to spend the day doing good, defeating evil, helping people, and maybe creating a world while I'm at it. 🙂


  1. Sounds to me lik your niece needs to read Jane Austen's Dragons. Or listen to the audiobooks. My 8 year old consumed them, reading them faster than any 8 year old has a right to read. After she read the set, I gave her the real thing to read. She read 6 chapters and was bored because there weren't any dragons.

    1. I think my niece would LOVE Jane Austen's Dragons! I'll have to mention it to my sister one of these days.

      I tend to have the same problem as your 8-year-old when it comes to realistic fiction. Not enough dragons. :)