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Monday, October 16, 2017

A Comprehensive Guide to NaNoWriMo

NaNoWrio official promo graphics ©NaNoWriMo

Hello, my lovelies!!

It’s almost November!! It is for those of us who are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, anyway (though, if you’re like me, you’ve been geared up for this since December 1st of last year).

Or there’s a good chance you’re scratching your head right now wondering why on earth I’m jumping up and down excited for what looks like some weird jumble of letters that make no sense.

What is NaNoWriMo?
According to the official websiteNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. 
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

In order to participate, all you need to do is create an account, fill out the information about your novel, and then when November 1st comes you sit down and start writing. Then over the course of the month you keep writing and writing and writing until you write 50,000 words that month.

Crazy, I know.

Why 50,000?
Any work that is 50,000 words or over is officially considered a novel. Anything under 50,000 words falls either into the novella or the short story category depending on the word count. So it’s 50,000 words because it’s National Novel Writing Month, not National Short Story Month or National Novella Month.

Why Do It?
In the end you write about 1,666 words a day. Which is a lot of words. And writing an entire novel in a month isn’t anything to sneeze at. So why do it?

There are a lot of reasons actually, each person who participates most likely has a slightly different reason. But some common reasons are that people find the deadline appealing- it pushes you to keep writing and keeps you from over-editing as you write- and the competition- while anyone who reaches 50,000 is a winner there is still that same feeling of competition any challenge has, even if that competition is really only with yourself in this case.

It’s also just really nice to know there are so many people around the world writing at the same time as you and trying to accomplish the same goal.

So Is It Right For Me?
I don’t know. I know a lot of people who love it- I’m one of those people- and I know a lot of people who will never, ever do it again or who flat-out refuse to even try it in the first place. It’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of a deal and there are a lot of things to consider before you just jump in.

If you want to determine if it’s right for you or not, ask yourself these questions:

Do You Write Well Under Pressure?
I like deadlines and write better when I have a goal that is forcing me to sit down and write a certain amount of words per day. If I don’t have a set word count I end up writing about a hundred words and then calling it a day because I’m tired or I have something else to do or I just don’t feel like it.

NaNoWriMo makes me focus and forces me to write. It also helps me to recognize what are actual priorities and what are nothing but excuses not to write.

Other writers find that the pressure of NaNoWriMo doesn’t fit their writing style. Some writers work better writing slowly, editing as they go. Some have a limited amount of time and don’t like to be told how many words they need to write in that small window. Some find the word count makes them focus too hard on quantity rather than quality to the point of making the story almost ineditable.

Do You Struggle with Over-Editing While You Write?
Do you tend to get hung up on editing as you write to the point that it keeps you from moving forward? Do you find your “inner editor” brings crippling self-doubt that causes you to get discouraged and give up?

NaNoWriMo forces you to keep the “just keep writing” mentality. You don’t have time to edit and you don’t have time to ask too many questions about your story. So what if that one line isn’t perfect? So what is that scene isn’t quite right? So what if that one part of your plot might need tweaking? Just. Keep. Writing. You can always edit it later.

And a lot of times I end up finding that the things I hated while I was writing them aren’t so bad when I read them over again a month or two later. Sometimes all you need is to keep writing and edit later and NaNoWriMo forces you to do that.

Other writers find they work better writing a polished first draft, editing as they go. So something that is forcing them to write fast and edit later just doesn’t work. For NaNoWriMo there is a daily word count to meet each day and if you don’t meet your word count the count for the next day just goes up in order for you to stay on track. When you write better polishing as you write, having the pressure of doing that while also meeting a high word count each day can be the death of your novel and your creativity.

Do You Like to Explore as You Write or Outline Every Last Detail?
Part of what I love about writing is exploring as I write. I like solving problems on the fly and figuring out where I need to go in the moment. Since I have a word count to meet each day, NaNoWriMo forces me to make decisions in my story or just keep writing through the plot holes. This keeps me from overanalyzing the story as I write and questioning every single action.

Without a push to keep writing I would give up stories because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do or I would put off actually taking the time to work through the problems. This way I have a deadline and I don’t have an excuse to keep from fixing what needs fixed right now.

Similarly, NaNoWriMo also works well for people who outline extensively in advance and need a push to actually sit down and get the words on the page. If you have a plan you’re confident in but just want an added push to help you execute it, this might be the thing for you. The story is all planned out from start to finish, you just need to actually sit down and write it. NaNoWriMo can help you do that.

NaNoWriMo doesn’t tend to work for those who like to explore as they write but also do well with taking their time in solving problems. Some writers might work on their stories daily, but only do actual writing every few days or so. In between they might be outlining what’s to come, polishing what came before, and figuring out their characters and the direction their story is taking.

So Is It Right For Me?
Only you can decide that. You know yourself and what works for you and what doesn’t. Only you know if NaNoWriMo will help your writing or harm it.

But my advice would be that if you work better at your own pace and thrive by making your own schedule, then I would suggest skipping this. Better to stick with what works for you than risk hurting your novel. Because most people I know who have done NaNoWriMo and discovered it wasn’t right for them, they tend to wind up trashing the novel they wrote that month because they feel that it was ruined.

But if the intensive pressure and competition sound like something that might be good for you and your writing, I would highly recommend giving it a try.

First, create an account on the NaNoWriMo website. From there you’ll be given instructions on how to do things like create your novel (tell the world what you’ll be writing), join the forums (connect with writers from all over the world), and join a local region (connect with writers in your area). I haven’t interacted on the forums before but I attended a couple of local things last year and would highly recommend them.

What Do I Do Before November?
Anything but write.

The weeks leading up to November are great for planning as much as you want. I usually make a Pinterest board to use for inspiration when I get stuck, a playlist to listen to while I write or to keep my creative juices flowing when I’m not writing, and do whatever research I know I’m going to need to do for this story.

You can also use these months for character sketches, any outlining you might want to do, those sorts of things. If you are a planner, get planning now.

These weeks are also really good to take things off your schedule that you might be able to ahead of time- for instance, I’m trying to use them to get some blog posts written ahead of time so I have more time to devote to novel writing. Obviously you can’t put your life on hold for a novel but if there are things you can take care of now instead of later, these next few weeks are the time to do that.

And What Do I Do In November?

Sit down at your computer or pull out your notebook and pen/pencil and write. And just keep writing until you hit 50,000 words. Then if there’s more story left to do, keep on writing that. Write until the book is done.

So What Do I Do After November?
We’ll talk about that when November is over ;)

NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone. But if the fast-paced frenzy of the month sounds like something you’d be interested in, be sure to check out the official NaNoWriMo website for more information.

I’m excited to be participating this year and I hope you’ll be joining me. Or, I hope you’re wise enough to recognize that this isn’t for you and you find another way to boost your creativity. Whatever the case, I hope November is a productive month for you.

If you have any further questions about NaNoWriMo be sure to drop them in the comments and I would be happy to answer them!

I’ll be back on Friday with yet another book in the Princess Tales. Until the next time we meet, don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s Chat! Who else is excited for NaNoWriMo? What story are you planning to work on?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cinderellis and the Glass Hill: A Review

Hello, my lovelies!

I’m back for Book 4 of The Princess Tales!

Cinderellis and the Glass Hill by Gail Carson Levine
5 Stars
In this unusual spin on an old favorite, Cinderella is a boy! He's Cinderellis, and he has two unfriendly brothers and no fairy godmother to help him out. Luckily, he does have magical powders, and he intends to use them to win the hand of his Princess Charming-- that is, Marigold. The only problem is-- Marigold thinks Cinderellis is a monster!
-From Goodreads

I knew there was a reason I was holding off on deeming The Princess Test my favorite! Having actually finished reading all of them now, this one definitely takes that title (though the last two are also great and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming weeks).

This is a fun spin not only on the timeless Cinderella tale but also the lesser known Glass Hill fairy tale. I think there might even be another fairy tale mixed in that I’m missing. The stories mix well and I enjoyed the classic elements as well as the new twists the author put on them.

What I Liked:
Everything. What I liked about this book was everything. It was a fun tale with good characters, a solid plot, and the great narration I’ve been talking about since my review of the first book.

Cinderellis is such an endearing character, strong and brave and clever but also sweet and gentle and kind. He’s exactly what you would expect of a Cinderella character but in a nice, well-developed sort of way. I also adore the love interest, Princess Marigold. She’s the kind of character you wish you could just climb into the book and hug and hug and hug until every one of her broken pieces are put back together.

Together the two of them are one of the sweetest couples in this series (and it has a lot of sweet couples). I love them together and their relationship is great (though in keeping with the rest of the series, it’s written in a way you could read to younger kids without a problem).

The twists on the original tales was so fun! The “evil stepsisters” are Cinderellis’ two brothers who more ignore or barely notice Cinderellis than anything else. Most of his motivation throughout the story is to impress them, the little brother desiring for his older brothers to notice him and accept him as one of their own.

I also love the way the author manages to get inside so many characters’ heads in such a short book in such an effective way. Sometimes it’s the most random of characters (like the horses) but it adds something to the story when in so many other books the same thing takes away something. It’s just really good writing.

What I Didn’t Like:
Okay, so maybe I didn’t quite like everything. But I didn’t even dislike this enough to knock even a portion of a star off the rating, so it’s not even really worth mentioning. Except that it really annoyed me.

This started in Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep (Book Three) but for some reason all the kings and queens in this story have the same name now. In The Princess Test they were named King Humphry and Queen Hermione. In Princess Sonora they were named King Humphry II and Queen Hermione II. In this book they were named King Humphry III and Queen Hermione III. It continues into books four and five as well and every time I saw it, it would just make me mad. It just doesn’t make sense to me and I don’t understand it and I would have liked the author to make a different choice on that.

But like I said, it’s not even a huge deal. I just needed to rant.

As stated, this is my favorite book in the series. I adored it so incredibly much and I’m so excited to share it with you. It’s a fun, lighthearted read that I plowed through in a day. It’s quick and simple but full of so many wonderful things. And I actually read this one out loud so I can say with certainty that it is in fact a great read-aloud book. I’m excited to have kids to read it to someday.

I started putting the series playlist together! Excited to share it with you in a few weeks.

Continuing along the theme of favorites, I’ll be back on Monday to share one of my favorite things with you! I hope to see you then. Until the next time we meet, don’t forget to live happily ever after <3

~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess 

P.S. Let's Chat! What's your favorite lesser know fairy tale you'd love to see retold? What common fairy tales do you think it would mix well with?

Monday, October 9, 2017

How to Write Women: A Guide

Hello, my lovelies!!

Several weeks ago I was talking to a young woman I have had the pleasure of seeing grow up. She’s still young- in high school- but she has come so far and grown so much and I am so proud of the woman she is growing into.

I want nothing but the best for her. She is an incredible young woman who is going to go so far and do all sorts of amazing things. She’s talented, has the sweetest heart, and is so very insightful.

So you can imagine my concern when she expressed to me that she’s been struggling with the way girls are portrayed in media. Because while she’s smart enough to say “That’s not how I’m supposed to be” there are so many girls who don’t have that wisdom.

The Tests:
It has been the curse of females everywhere to read novels and see a cast of strong, well-written men, to watch movies with deep portrayals of male protagonists, and then when we look for stories with similarly written females we come up short.

In the writing/literary world we have this thing called the Bechdel test. The requirements for a story to pass this test are simple enough- the story must have two female characters, both of whom are named, and they need to have at least one conversation with each other about something other than a man.

It really should be easy for stories to pass this test, but it’s actually so hard that the writing world has come up with another easier test- the Sexy Lamp test. In order to administer this test, you need to imagine the female in the story is replaced with an inanimate object. It fails if the story is still largely the same even though one of its major characters has been all but removed.

The Tropes:
Why? For a world with a huge number of female writers why is it so hard to find women who are well-written? Why do little girls have to find themselves gravitating to male characters as favorites not because they just happen to prefer that character but because the females put in front of them are confusing and frustrating?

For years the majority of girls in stories were reduced to the love interest or damsel in distress in the story. In classics if the protagonist is a male there is a good chance the girl’s role will be to help the main character in his own growth and spiritual awakening but she herself is nothing more than a symbol.

In later years there has been a new wave of females written specifically to counteract these portrayals of old. They are the “strong,” “independent” females who have trouble making friends with other women because these other girls are too silly or immature or girly for them and the extent of their character development at the start of their story is to say as often as they can, “I don’t want to get married.”

Because the desire to be married, obviously, makes you far from strong or independent.

The Mixed Messages:
The Mama Bear trope is often considered to be the pinnacle of fierceness. And yet in stories we’re told that getting married and having babies makes you weak. How does that make sense?

The things we see in the world around us- the good, beautiful, inspiring things- are the ones we’re told in stories are bad, bad things. We’re told we’re weak for wanting a relationship, companionship, and that not only can I never be a strong independent female for wanting those things but no other strong independent female will ever want to be my friend if I want them.

We teach girls to either compete with each other for man’s affection or to isolate ourselves from other girls because we’re too good for them. Our ideals are so much more enlightened than theirs that we can’t even stoop to talk to them, that’s how far beneath us they are.

We constantly tout the idea that violence isn't the answer but a female who isn't a warrior- who can't wield a sword or hold her own in a fist fight- is said to be weak, isn't a role model or someone to be admired. A female who is diplomatic is considered weak or the writers feel the need to also throw in that while she mostly uses her words she can still definitely take you down if you cross her.

We counteract stories that teach girls to compete with each other with stories that tell girls to be loners. We feed into the idea of girls being petty, manipulative, and drama-seekers instead of encouraging girls to cultivate friendships with the women around them. To learn from them. To seek relationships that aren’t romantic, pure and innocent and healthy relationships.

So how are we supposed to write women, you ask?

Write People:
Stop writing “women” and start writing “people.”

The problem with most female characters isn’t that they want to get married or they don’t. The problem is that their character development begins and ends there. We have reduced females in stories to sexy lamps who have no purpose save to look pretty or friendless parrots who say the same thing over and over again because people think that’s what we need and want to hear.

But what we really want and need is for our gender to no longer be used in stories to prove a point or serve as an example or symbol for us as a whole.

Women are all different- we're lawyers and soldiers and housewives and warriors. Some of us are soft and gentle and could never use a weapon if we tried. Some of us were practically born with us a weapon in our hands. Some of us are good with our words and want to use them to change the world. Some of us are called to fight for our country and what we believe in. Some of us are different mixes of those things.

Even if you believe in gender roles and women having a certain position in the world that doesn’t make them all the same. We’re individuals who want to be treated as such. When we read a story we don’t want to read about a cardboard cutout of what someone things we ought to be. We want to read about an individual person who might be vastly different than us but feels real and complex. We’ve been reading about guys for years, after all, so reading about women who are different from us isn’t going to be that much of a shock to our systems.

What Makes the Tick?
See there is actually nothing wrong with the damsel in distress or the girl who states over and over again that she doesn’t want to get married. There are women in this world who are those ways and there is nothing wrong with having characters like that in a story.

But make them people. Why is the damsel in distress the way she is? I would actually love to see a story where this trope is done without it being a trope. I would love to see a damsel in distress who feels like a real, honest individual with hopes and insecurities and dreams and weaknesses.

Or the woman who doesn’t want to get married. Why does she feel that way? Because she is modern and enlightened isn’t an actual reason. A modern and enlightened woman can also be a stay-at-home mom- the two are not mutually exclusive. Or maybe this character does just simply not have that desire. But what desires does she have? What are her strengths? What are her weaknesses?

Give Them a Balance:
Oftentimes, to counteract the portrayals of women as weak nobodies, these female characters who are portrayed as strong and independent don’t have weaknesses. They are shown almost as if they are the pinnacle of womanhood. They’re strong and fierce and don’t need anyone to do anything for them and they aren’t ever weak or insecure and have no flaws whatsoever.

Which basically is just taking the male adventure hero trope that people like to complain about, changing the character from a male to a female, and rebranding it as a good thing.

Write women with weaknesses. Write women with flaws. Write women who are insecure and vulnerable and frail. Write women who are strong. Independent. Fierce. But make them a believable balance of the positive and negative.

I want a woman who is fierce but flawed. Independent but insecure. Strong in some places but weak in others.

But also remember that not every women is an exact balance. Making her a happily married woman who also knows how to hold her own in a fighting arena is also just a trope if she's not developed. And again, there are different definitions of strength so while you can make your woman a warrior also consider there are a lot of women out there who have strengths in other places.

Again, Write People:
Forget tropes and start writing people like people. Make your characters real with hopes and aspirations, flaws and insecurities. Give them a history. Give them dreams for the future. Give them friends or make them lonely. Give them friends and make them lonely at the same time.

Look at the world around you, at all the intricate layers of humanity. Look at how detailed every individual’s personality is and then take a long, hard look at your own characters. Can they be replaced with an inanimate object or are they too complex to be compare with something like a lamp?

Male or female remember that your characters are people before they are anything else. They aren’t a symbol or a stereotype or a standard for everyone else.

So write them as such.

If you need some help with where to start with this, be sure to check out my post about outlining characters.

I hope to see you on Friday for my latest review! And until the next time we meet, don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s chat! What are some problems you see with the way women are written? Who are some of your favorite female characters or female characters you think are written the best?

Friday, October 6, 2017

ABC's Still Star-Crossed: A Review

Still Star-Crossed official promo graphic ©ABC Studios

Hello, my lovelies!!

Taking a break this week from the Princess Tales to bring you a review of a show I watched recently.

Still Star-Crossed from ABC

4 Stars
Based on the book by Melinda Taub, ABC’s Still Star-Crossed is a sequel to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The couple’s two families are still reeling from their children’s deaths and seeking closure. They are moving toward armistice at the command of their prince but neither side necessarily wants that.

At the heart of it all are Rosalind Capulet and Benvolio Montague- cousins of Juliet and Romeo respectively. As a show of good faith between the two houses they’ve been ordered to marry, but neither of them much likes that idea. Added to that is a whole lot of intrigue, engaging characters, and plot and wit Shakespeare himself would be proud of.

I utterly adored this show. I knew I was going to love it from the moment I watched the trailer and each episode was consumed with the fear that something was going to happen to completely ruin it for me. But that never happened and here we are, with me getting to share this beautiful little gem with you.

What I Liked:

Rosalind and Benvolio: I put these two together but feel I should address them separately first. These two characters, as individuals, are amazing. The actors who play them do so to perfection and they are written as interesting and dynamic people. They have lives beyond each other- indeed, they want nothing to do with each other- and they feel real and honest and true. I am not going to lie- I have a major crush on Benvolio. And Rosalind is just the sort of practical and levelheaded person I would love to be best friends with.

But then together, they’re amazing. They have wonderful chemistry but their relationship builds based off mutual respect and understanding. Theirs isn’t a physical relationship- indeed, they spend a good portion of the show trying to figure out how to keep from getting married to each other. Their bickering too is great because it builds from the two of them challenging the other and pointing out a side of things the other doesn’t understand. While their words might be hurtful at times it comes from their own hurt and not a desire to merely tear down the other.

And there is so much more than bickering. They work together- since their marriage is supposed to bring peace and they figure if they can bring peace before their marriage there will be no need for it- and they do so beautifully. The show could have botched everything else but kept them the same and I would have still loved it for them alone. Though, thankfully, it didn’t botch the rest of it and did so much that was right.

Also the way Benvolio consistently calls Rosalind “Capulet” is one of the cutest things ever. Just sayin’…

Juliet’s Parents: The way Juliet’s parents deal with their grief over the loss of their daughter is worthy of a Shakespearean drama. I don’t want to say too much because of spoilers, but I did love it. Their confusion over what happened, their anger, their torment, are all worthy of Macbeth or Hamlet or Julius Caesar. It was brilliantly written and I loved it.

The Set and Costumes: I love period dramas for their visuals and this show did not disappoint. The costumes and scenery are exquisite- vibrant and lush. I don’t know much about costumes from that time so I have no idea if they were historically accurate. But they fit the story and the rest of the show and I loved them for that. I hope to cosplay Rosalind and her gorgeous blue gown and cape someday.

The Plot: Oh goodness there was so much plot. It kept twisting and turning and surprised me several times. And even the stuff I did see coming it wasn’t in a “Yeah, called that, whatever” sort of way but was more like that small window immediately before a car crash- the realization hitting about what is going to happen and the implications of what that means and the damage it can bring but there’s nothing you can do to stop it. So you watch with horror, unable to look away but also dreading every second of it (which, in a story like this one, is a good thing).

The General Shakespeare Feel: I’ve mentioned it several times before but I feel it bears repeating in it’s own point- This show felt like Shakespeare. While the dialogue wasn’t in the language we’ve come to associate with Shakespeare’s works, it had the wit of Shakespeare. It also had the intrigue, the drama, the comedy. It felt like watching a movie of a Shakespeare play and it brought me all the same feelings I’ve come to associate with his works. Rosalind and Benvolio reminds me a lot of Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing and their relationship has all the feelings of a Shakespearean Comedy. But as I said, there is also the drama side of things, the darker intrigue, the themes of torment and shame and regret and obsession and it’s beautiful.

Already said it but I’ll say it again- I think Shakespeare would like what has been done here.

All the Strong Females: Oh my word there are so many strong females in this show- some good, some evil, some you really aren’t sure about. This too is in keeping with Shakespeare’s portrayal of the strong female and as each one comes into their own in their own special way it’s amazing- and sometimes heartbreaking- to watch.

I won’t say more because I’d like to avoid spoiling anything but I promise it's wonderful.

Content: Or rather, the lack of it. Aside from something I’ll discuss in the “What I Didn’t Like” part this show was surprisingly clean. There’s some talk here and there (for instance, every time Benvolio objects to marrying Rosalind his uncle tells him he just needs to wed her and produce an heir- then he can go sleep with whomever he wants). And while a good bit of what is said isn’t something I approve of I would rather they make their brief comments- which you’ll find in Shakespeare’s works themselves- than to actually have everyone sleeping together left and right. It was so refreshing not to find that in a story for once.

I fully expected to have to stop watching at some point based on content but it never went that far. I will address my one complaint later but honestly, for the most part, it was a good show that relied on good characters and strong plot to make it appealing rather than sex and other such content ever other second.

The Acting: Every time Benvolio would get really emotional about something he would get these tears running down his face and it. broke. my. heart. Every. single. time. And there were so many other little things like this that just made this show even more perfect.

I can't say enough good things about the acting. The people they cast did an amazing job and I wouldn’t replace them with anyone else for the world.

Just This Show, Okay? I just loved this show. As soon as I finished it I wanted to watch it again. And again. And again. (I’ve still only seen it the one time but I plan to remedy that soon…) I just can’t say enough good things about it.

What I Didn’t Like:

The Ending (No spoilers, I promise!!): This show ends on a cliffhanger. I won’t say what, just that while I was fulfilled with some parts of the storyline, there were major threads that weren’t tied up. And while I have yet to see an actual announcement from ABC announcing its cancelation, the numbers and ratings make it seem highly unlikely that the show is going to continue. So be warned that while some things will end satisfyingly a good portion of it won’t and there’s a fair chance you’ll need to also read the book to find the closure you're looking for (or do what I did and read the end of the book to tide you over until you get the chance to read the entire thing- which I still haven't done yet).

Episode Five (SPOILERS): Okay so this part will have some spoilers in it, though I will try to keep them at a minimum. I just really feel I need to say something since this and this alone is the only reason this show has a four star rating and not five stars.

Basically one of the plotlines of episode five is someone trying to get someone else to sleep with them in exchange for not causing a whole lot of trouble for everyone. Spoiler- she finds a way to get out of doing it- but not before there’s a ton of weird sexual talk and even when they aren’t talking sex there’s still this whole weird vibe about the whole thing. I felt gross and weird after watching it and honestly would just skip the entire thing if watching it with anyone else. Skipping it doesn’t really change the plot all that much and so if that sort of thing bothers you please don’t let this keep you from watching the show. Episode five still has other plot threads but by the time you get to the episode you’ll know which character this particular thread is about- just skip the scenes with her and you’ll be good.

The Love Triangle: If you read my review of The Clockwork Scarab you already know how I feel about love triangles. This one is no different. I wanted Rosalind and Benvolio together just from watching the trailer and nothing will change that. So throwing in a rival, someone Rosalind genuinely loves, made things tricky. There’s a good deal of will they?/won’t they? and I didn’t like it. SHE’S SUPPOSED TO BE WITH BENVOLIO!! I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks. I want her with Benvolio. And I don’t like authors playing with my heart that way- present me with one solid relationship I can root for and stop confusing me with all these tangled threads. I made up my mind and no one- not even the author- is going to change that for me…


I love this show. Love it. So much love. The first episode was a little slow getting into, since I was under the impression that it picked up where Romeo and Juliet left off. But instead the first half of the first episode is dedicated to fast-forwarding through the original tale. According to Shakespeare the story is supposed to take 2 hours to tell. Instead, we get it in about 20 minutes.

And yet, once I realized what they were doing, I liked it. It was nice to get to see this version of Romeo and Juliet, though we know them too briefly. It added to the tragedy, for me, since I wished I could have known them better but knew they couldn’t return since they were dead. Which, on the basest of levels, is how death works- the sorrow of not having the time to spend with someone that you wish to have.

I had such a hard time writing this review because I wanted to squeal and cry and talk about every single moment of each episode in great detail. But I also don’t want to spoil everything so you get this instead. Hopefully I said enough to pique your interest. Because you should go check this show out. You really, really should.

If you have a Hulu account, it’s on Hulu (as of 10.06.17) and is also available for purchase digitally from a variety of different sites. And I think it’s well worth the money. I’ll probably be buying it at some point soon (right now that seems frivolous since I pay for Hulu and it’s on there…).

If you want a little extra encouragement, here’s the trailer for your enjoyment:

And, as always, I have a playlist for you!! This one was a lot of fun to make (and listen to, which I've been doing on shuffle since I finished the show) and it sparked a Romeo and Juliet playlist that you can find here if you’re interested.

I’ll see you on Monday with another writing post. Until the next time we meet don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s Chat! Which of Shakespeare’s plays do you think begs for a sequel? What is something you would like to see in a sequel of Romeo and Juliet?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Coffee Shop Musings

Hello my lovelies!

I went to write at a coffee shop for the first time in August and then I recently went and wrote with a friend at the Panera Bread in our local mall.

I’m not going to lie- the experience was a strange one for me. I have written in many different places before, scattered throughout my house, at parks, at other friends’ houses. But I’ve never gone somewhere so public and worked on something so personal. 

I didn’t realize that I held my writing so close until I started delving into its world somewhere other than a friend’s living room or the bedroom I pretend doubles as my office; even the libraries I've written at felt different because of the homey connection I have to them. It was so weird to take my main character with me somewhere that wasn’t “safe.”

I sat in the Panera Bread and watched people walking by- people who I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. They were in their own little worlds; rushing to tasks they hoped to complete, chatting easily with those with them, happy, sad, indifferent. And there I was, trying to write the scene in which Cinderella does in fact get to go to the ball but trying to make it fit into the science fiction setting I had already established for this world.

It was then that I realized how vulnerable I am when I write. How personal the very act of writing is for me. I can talk about my stories to anyone who wants to listen- and even some who don’t, like my poor parents at times- but I don’t often write in the presence of people I don’t know. And for me, that act was a growing experience I didn’t know I needed.

I’m an introvert. While I strive to not let that word define me I make no secret of the fact that being in public drains me. And to add to that working on something so personal was an added layer of something I wasn’t quite prepared for.

And it got me thinking. Someday this story isn’t going to be just mine anymore. I won’t be able to control who reads it, to limit it to the one trusted friend who is kind enough not to point out its flaws because I’m not ready to hear them yet.

But someday I have to be. I want to share this book with the world and I can’t even handle writing it somewhere other than my bedroom. I want people to read it and love it but I realized I’m really, really scared of people hating it.

This is my baby. This is a story born out of a game I played as a child, alone in my basement with a broken electronic typewriter and a wild imagination. It’s a story I set aside as nothing more than a game until last January I realized I could make it something more.

It was then that it turned into a Cinderella retelling, the premise and characters given a plot that actually made sense and included more than just the main character jamming buttons on the radio yelling important information; though that did make it into this version, in case you’re wondering. I finished the rough draft by the end of February and started editing it in July. At the end of August I figured out some major changes I needed to make and started draft three this September.

My characters have grown and changed throughout these edits. El has become more complex than I could have ever imagined, growing into her own person rather than a version of myself I created for the purpose of play. The supporting characters have also all taken on lives of their own- the captain, the pilot, the medic, the security officer. I didn’t even originally plan on some of them being a part of this story but they grew into it naturally, created to fit roles as they appeared.

My plot has expanded into one I actually find exciting (and my plot-driven bestie even approves of!) and the politics of my world are messy and complicated in all the right ways- an area I always struggle with.

I’m proud of this world. Proud of this plot. Proud of these incredible people who call themselves my characters.

I feel like this might be the one. This draft might actually be good enough to let other writers read and critique. From there I might actually hire someone to edit it and then work toward publishing it. This could be it. By this time next year I could be tracking my sales to see how many copies of this book I’ve sold.

And I don’t even want to write it somewhere unfamiliar.

I don’t like being vulnerable. I know what people see when they look at my writing; I am an idealist and a romantic and it shines through so brightly in my stories. Are people going to judge me for that?

I let my own insecurities hold me back. I judge myself so I assume everyone else will judge me too. I feel like people can read my mind, can see inside of me to my weakest, ugliest parts. My mask slips when I write. Things show through that I never meant to let people see. My writing and I are one, my stories an extension of myself, my insecurities, and my dreams.

I want people to read my stories without seeing that. I want them to see fiction and disregard the facts. I don’t want people to judge me. Or, if they are going to see something personal, I want people to read it and see the heart of the little girl who played in the basement with her big, big imagination and see how far she’s come. I want this book to be as special to other people as it is to me.

But it can’t be. It shouldn’t be. No one else is that little girl in the basement and so this story can never mean the same things to them that it does to me. It has to mean something different, something unique to them and their own experiences.

And that’s okay. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s okay if people come at my story from different perspectives and view it through their own lenses.

I think I’m ready. Ready enough to push past my vulnerability and prepare to share this story with the world. I can only hope the world is ready for it. But if not, that’s okay too. And it isn’t a judgement on me. My job is to put my stories into the world and trust there’s a plan for whatever happens to them that I don’t need to be in control of.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Cinderella retelling to write.

I hope to see you on Friday for another review. I'll be taking a break from the Princess Tales series to share something special with you and I hope you'll check it out. Until the next time we meet, don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s chat! What are some ways in which you feel vulnerable with your writing? What are some ways you have of dealing with these insecurities?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep: A Review

Hello, my lovelies!

Back for Book Three! (Read the reviews for books One and Two)

Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep by Gail Carson Levine
3.5 Stars
A spiteful fairy. A beautiful princess. An outstretched finger. A spindle. A hundred-year snooze. A charming prince. A kiss. All the familiar ingredients.
But wait! Where did that extra prince come from? And those fairy gifts that were never there before? And what does a flock of balding sheep have to do with anything?
Gail Carson Levine has waved her magic wand over the old standby of "Sleeping Beauty" and presto! It reappears, transformed, sparkling and hilarious. Chuckles and giggles are guaranteed.
~From Amazon

I’m not going to lie, this one was harder to get through than the others- perhaps because I started reading it immediately after The Princess Test, which I enjoyed immensely.

But after getting through some rough patches at the beginning (which I’ll talk about later) I actually really started to enjoy this one. It certainly didn’t threaten Book Two’s spot as my favorite but is by no means a bad book.

What I Liked:
This was one interesting story. The author delves into things I’ve never seen before in a Sleeping Beauty retelling and explores themes I was really excited to find.

Sonora (our Sleeping Beauty) is cursed at birth to prick her finger on the spindle and die. She had been given the gift of being ten times smarter than everyone else earlier that day and so even though she’s still a baby she is fully aware of what’s going on when this happens. The fairy also never says when exactly this curse will take place. I haven’t seen either of these things done before and certainly never together.

Because of these events, Sonora spends a good deal of the story afraid of sleep and dreading the day when the curse comes. I’ve never seen that before and it was a really heavy subject handled very well. It really got me thinking about what it must be like to know something is going to happen yet being powerless to change it.

And while I’m not sure if the author was going for this or not (it’s quite possible I just read into it way too much) the story does seem to deal with the idea of what happens when we force our kids to be the way we want them to be. At Sonora’s birth she’s gifted with a loving heart. She then spends several different points in the book wondering if she loves someone because she loves them or because she’s forced too.

And beyond that, the gifts she was given often make her unlikeable- her being so much smarter than everyone else is more a curse than a blessing. So too it is with Prince Melvin XX. He’s so many things- brave, traditional, tall, honest, and strong, to name a few- and because of these things people find him hard to spend time with. These gifts often make them more awkward than anything and don’t enhance their place in society but rather make them fit into it even less.

Again, I’m not sure that’s what the author was going for and she was quite possibly just poking fun at a traditional fairy tale trope. But it made me think a lot and I enjoy it when books make me think so I wanted to include it.

There are also some very cute characters in this story. Elbert the shepherd and his family are such a fun addition to the story and Prince Christopher is the sweetest character (as we fangirls say- he is a cinnamon roll, too pure for this world).

What I Didn’t Like:
I'm going to try and keep this short and concise because I don’t want to keep anyone from reading this book. It really was a cute story, I just had issues with it. Mostly because there were a lot of places that were just plain illogical. I think the author was just trying to be humorous but it fell flat for me because of the jokes she was making.

Sonora is ten times as smart as everyone else and we’re told that even as a baby she thinks and acts as much like an adult as she’s able too- as she’s still a baby she still has to crawl and the like, but she can think and converse on a very mature level. She’s so smart that even as a kid, she never acts like a kid. She finds no use for toys and can’t play games with the other kids because she always finds problems with them. This bothered me because even highly intelligent children still act like children sometimes. Kids are still kids and they still have things that make them kids. But not so with Sonora!

But then, Sonora also spends a whole lot of time reading and studying and then sharing this knowledge with the world. And one of the things she likes to do is tell people what the purpose of things are. Except the purpose of things are more childish than factual.

For instance, she says that the purpose of winter is to produce ice so that people can eat flavored ice in the summer. Except that isn’t the purpose of winter, as someone who reads every book she can get her hands on would know. And it’s not like she can’t get her hands on a lot of books because she’s a princess who lives in a castle with the very well-stocked library.

Basically I just struggled with the inconstancy of whether or not Sonora was capable of acting childish. I felt like it kept me from really knowing her and that made me feel disconnected from her. A book can be really hard to read when you feel disconnected from the main character.

As I said, I’m sure it was just the author trying to keep the same light-hearted, comical tone of the other books, but in this story it fell short for me.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad book; not my favorite but I’m also pleased to have reread it again. It’s an interesting take on Sleeping Beauty and one that certainly has a lot of merit. And as with the others, it’s a fun, light-hearted story that could easily be read aloud even to a younger audience.

Looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

I’ll be back Monday with some musings on my own writing and I hope to see you then. Until the next time we meet don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s Chat! What are some of your favorite Sleeping Beauty retellings? What’s something you’d like to see happen in a Sleeping Beauty retelling someday?

Monday, September 25, 2017

How to Connect With Non-Writers: A Guide

This post is dedicated to all the people in my life who aren’t writers but put up with me and my craziness anyway: 
Most importantly- Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. You are appreciated more than you will know. And Danielle and Stephie, you too are appreciated beyond words.

Hello, my lovelies!

Last week I talked to non-writers about how to talk to writers and this week I wanted to flip that around and discuss how writers can talk to people who don’t write.

As I mentioned last week we writers are a strange bunch. We’re full of quirks and idiosyncrasies, our mind working in ways that are complicated and confusing. We live in so many different worlds and stories and characters are as part of us as our childhood home or our church. We’re connected to fictional people and places and we create worlds and control lives with nothing but words.

So when the time comes to pull ourselves from those fictional places and we’re forced to interact with “normal” people, how do we do that? How do we talk to someone who doesn’t understand us and can’t even begin to?

Get Rid of That Attitude:
First and foremost, set aside the idea that someone who doesn’t write can’t understand you. Obviously the way your brain is wired is different than the brain of someone who isn’t a writer; that doesn’t mean your brain is more complex than theirs or more interesting.

One of my closest friends laughed at me and told me “no” when I told her she had a really good idea and she should write a book. She has no interest in being a writer and has no intention of changing her mind anytime soon.

I still love her to pieces. She lets me ramble to her about my stories and tells me to go write when I tell her I haven’t made my word count for the day. She teases me and coaxes me and bribes me to write. She gets excited for me when I reach a major milestone and is there for me when I’m stuck and need someone to commiserate with me.

She might not be a writer, but she’s there. She has made an effort to understand me and make my life a part of hers.

And then, as I mentioned in the dedication, my parents and sister have gone out of their way to let me be who I am, to understand me, to keep up with the way my brain works, and to not only tolerate but encourage my writing to thrive. So don’t ever think your brain is too special or weird for other people to understand. It’s not and you are so much better off for it.

Stop Making Writing Your Identity:
My brother-in-law isn’t a writer. But he codes like nobody’s business and understands the language of computers on a level I will never even begin to understand. He understands math and science when those things just make my head spin.

That doesn’t mean one of us has a better brain and that doesn’t mean that one of us is superior to the other. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t understand each other. I might not understand his coding just as he might not understand my writing. But neither of those things is who we are. Those are merely things we do.

It’s really easy for us as people to take on labels and make them our identity. But while I might be a daughter, a writer, a teacher, and a friend none of those things is my sole purpose or identity. While I might have different hobbies or interests, none of those things define me indefinitely.

It’s really easy to hide behind your writing identity- I say this as someone who is insecure and likes to hide behind anything I can get my hands on. So it’s easy to use your writing as a shield to keep everyone else at bay, to put a level of fantasy between yourself and reality.

But in the end, just like anything else, that box becomes so constricting and it will keep you from meaningful relationships.

Get Rid of the “Us” and “Them” Mentality:
I spend a lot of time with writers. They are “my people” and being with them I feel accepted and understood. In last week’s post I mentioned the judgement that often comes from the questions of non-writers and being around people who you know aren’t going to ask you those same questions is refreshing. You can be yourself- your strange, quirky self- and not have to worry about people judging you.

But guess what? People who don’t write are strange too. She insists she’s normal, but let me tell you, my sister is as quirky as they come (I mean that in the best way possible). She has all those little things about her that make her who she is and it’s wonderful.

But too often as writers we get so excited about the acceptance we find within our own “tribe” that we write off (no pun intended) relationships with people who don’t write, people who aren’t like us, because going out on that limb and making those connections is hard.

Life isn’t about finding our tribe. It’s about meeting people where they are and appreciating the unique perspective they bring to life. It would be super weird if the only reason my dad and I were able to have a relationship was because I worked that one summer at the same mortgage company as him. Or how out-there would it be if my mom’s only friends were other crossing guards?

My mom and I, we’re wired very differently and because of that she helps me see things I never would have otherwise. She keeps me grounded and brings strength to my weaknesses. She’s able to look at certain things more objectively than I am and I need her to offer that perspective.

Remember People Can’t Read Your Mind:
I asked some non-writers in my life about what they might want us writers to understand or keep in mind when talking to them. And there seemed to be a common theme in their answers.

Remember that people aren’t inside your head. When you start talking about a story the person you’re talking to doesn’t automatically know what story that’s from. And if you don’t specify that a character is fictional, people might even think you’re talking about a real person!

I tend to jump around from story to story when I’m writing and I just assume my family can keep up. But unfortunately, for all his amazing efforts to do so, my dad can’t if I tell him Thursday evening about the story I’m working and then switch to another story Friday morning without warning. When I start talking about the new story on Friday evening, he has no idea that I switched. He wasn’t there in my brain that morning or reading over my shoulder all day- thankfully- and so in his mind we’re still on the story from Thursday evening.

Same goes for fictional characters- just because you told your sister about that one character that one time, when you start talking about Sarah two weeks later she isn’t going to know who you’re talking about. And she’s quite possibly going to assume you’re talking about a mutual acquaintance with that name or that Sarah is someone you met recently. And just because she askes “Who’s Sarah???” in that tone that says she has no idea what you’re talking about, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. It means she’s confused because she can’t read your mind. She doesn’t know Sarah isn’t a real person. She doesn’t know Sarah is yet another one of your characters in a very long line of your characters.

So just remember people can’t read your mind. Nor do they have any way of keeping up with it if you don’t explain things to them. It just takes a little extra mindfulness on your part and maybe an extra sentence or two. “So I switched stories I’m working on. I’m writing a sci-fi about cats who live on Mars. [Proceed into whatever you wanted to say]” or “You might remember me telling you about my character Sarah- she lives during the Great Depression and she and her brother are trying to find their father. [Proceed with whatever you wanted to say about her]”

In the End, Remember Life Isn’t About Writing:
A lot of my life revolves around writing- besides my own writing I also teach writing, blog about writing, read books to review so I dissect them on how they were written, and assist other with their own stories and writing. And when I’m not doing those things I’m consuming media and looking for the story in it just because that’s how my brain is wired- books, movies, shows, music, even television commercials.

But in the midst of all that God has been working in me to remind me that all those things that mean so much to me aren’t always the most important thing in the world. Not every situation needs me to analyze it from a literary angle and I don’t always need to equate everything to something that happens to one of my own characters or some other fictional character I love.

Sometimes my stories get in the way. Sometimes I get so caught up in fiction and the lives and problems of fictional people that I forget to be invested in the moment. I forget to look at the people in front of me- to really look at them and see them as something more than inspiration.

Remember to hit pause on your stories sometimes. Remember to hit play on life. Instead of going into conversations afraid of being judged, look for opportunities to learn about the people in front of you. Who are they, besides someone who has decided opinions about your chosen career or hobby? What makes them tick? What are their passions? What makes them laugh? What did they struggle with this week? What are they dreading or looking forward to in the week to come?

Look for opportunities to connect with people. If they were a fictional character you’d be all over getting to know them. Take that same interest in the people around you and you might actually find that they’re just as complex and intriguing as fiction. They too have stories to tell, if you only listen.

I hope to see you all on Friday for another review. Until the next time we meet, don’t forget to live happily ever after <3
~Jennifer Sauer, the Ivory Palace Princess

P.S. Let’s Chat! As a non-writer, what are some things you wish writers would understand? Or, as a writer, what are some things you’ve been learning lately about interacting with people?