Sunday, December 22, 2013

Character Interview: Alexa Bryant

Hey ya'll, it's only a few days before Christmas! I can't believe our celebration of Christ's birth is so near once again. It seems as if last Christmas was yesterday, but I guess that's what happens when you live a very busy life. Thankfully Christmas is a time for celebration and family so I'll be getting to see my grandparents and maybe even some of my cousins. I'm really excited about that, but I'm absolutely thrilled about something else. Drum roll please.

*insert suspenseful music*

Defenders of the Word will be finished by the end of the year! I can't believe that final chapter is so near. This has been the never ending novel and it's been a crazy but blessed six weeks of writing. The story has grown so much and it continues to grow. I'm curious to see what happens with book two over the next couple of months.

Since I'm packing up to go visit my grandparent I'll end with an interview. Meet Alexa Bryant, the main protagonist of the Rebelution Trilogy. I'm hoping to do a series of interviews with her as she grows with the books, so hopefully you'll get to see them all one day.


Alexa Bryant

So, Alexa tell me a bit about yourself. What is your life like, who do you live with, are you happy with where you're at? 
I'm the eldest daughter of Joshua Bryant the secretly famous Christian leader within United NOW. My life used to be very privileged. Since my dad was Councilman Daniel's senior officer, I went to the best schools and was engaged to a rising political star, but now everything has changed. Now I live in the Bunker with four other Christian rebels, which is much better than being dead.

What's your personality like? 
I'm not really sure anymore. Loosing my parents to United NOW and knowing Allie is probably being beaten in one of the Wards has changed me. I'm more determined now, and often I find myself taking the lead. John-Luke and I don't always agree about the rebellion and I find myself pulling away. I just don't know who I am anymore.

Can you describe your personal appearance for us? 
Let's see. I'm short and slender, with long and wavy brown hair. My eyes are blue with a little bit of gray. I'm not really strong, or fast, but I'm good at hiding and slipping into small corners. Sometimes I worry John-Luke because I'm so pale, but I've always been that way.

What is your favorite color? 
Pink, but a pale pink like sunset, not this silly 'hot' pink that was a current fad this year. I hated that color, but my dorm mate insisted on decorating with it. Not that I have to worry about it anymore...

Describe your family.
Dead and about to die. Wait, did I just say that? Apparently I've spent too much time in the same room as Julia. Let's see, Daddy was always strong. He was a secret leader in the first rebellion, and had spent the last eighteen years working to move Christians to save havens around the world. He never thought of the danger he put himself in and rose in United NOW ranks...he was the bravest person I ever knew. Mom stayed at home most of the time, she loved music and taught lessons. When we were home alone she would sing her favorite songs from before United NOW deemed them illegal. Some of them I can't remember, but the tunes still stuck with me. Allie, my baby sister was the one who held our family together. When there was an argument she was always the one who helped make peace. She never thought of herself, only of others. Now I'm not even sure if she's still alive.

Who is your best friend? Why? 
Stephen. He's like a little brother to me, but he knows what it feels like to worry about a sibling. He knows what it's like to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. I would say the same for John-Luke, but he's still mad at me about the stunt I pulled at the Capitol. I think I lost my best friend status with him.

Which do you prefer, coffee or tea? 
Coffee, just like Daddy. We both hated it, but it's one of the only things that gets me through John-Luke's strategy meetings.

If you could have three wishes what would you wish for? 
Sadly three wishes don't exist so I'd rather not think about them.

What is your very first childhood memory? 
It would have to be the clearing where the crosses are, where so many of our parents are buried. I remember that it was a beautiful summer day and I kept getting distracted by the butterflies that fluttered in the flowers. They were the same flowers I placed on the graves of John-Luke's parents a few years later. Daddy said it was Pastor Blake's fiance's funeral, but I don't ever remember meeting her.

What is your favorite song?
"What Child is This?" would be my favorite. Mom always sang it, even if it wasn't Christmas. She said that it reminded her of Christ's sacrifice.

What was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? 
Allie. She's pretty on the outside, but on the inside she's the most beautiful person you would ever meet. She's everything that I'm not. Her personality and heart is the very thing that United NOW hates. She's passionate, funny, smart, insecure, bold, and full of concern and love for others. I think she's one of Jesus's brightest lighthouses and that's what scared me about her being in the Wards. I'm worried that they'll make that light dim, and by doing so they'll take a little more light out of the world. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Breaking Shadows: BOLD {Release Party Tour}

Hey ya'll today I'm doing something a little different. Yesterday a "Go Teen Writers" friend, Hannah Stewart just released her first book BOLD, which is the first book within the Breaking Shadows Project. The book is a fantastic speculative Christian, dystopian novel and you can find it here. I totally recommend it, the book is completely revolutionary!

Breaking Shadows: Bold

"Rains will flood the earth,
Fires burn the hearth,
Blood be spilled like wine.
I'll loose what once was mine,
But flowers still will grow,
Light burst through shadow,
So child, sleep tonight,
My child, sleep tonight.

Raven Falls is a dark place, a harsh place filled with destruction. But from the shadows, a revolution is rising. In a torn country lead by a corrupted, militaristic government, fear pervades every nook, every crack. It fills every broken heart, and chases the hopes and dreams from the people. But in the midst of it all, Jesse and her brother have taken a stand. Just two kids, they’ll have to rebuild their parents’ army if they ever hope to justify their deaths. A battle is coming, whether they’re ready or not. Their only hope is to be BOLD." ~~~
Alrightly, well Hannah asked me if I would talk a little bit about the symbolism in BOLD. I'm a soon to be English major and I love symbolism and the way it allows you to read deeper into a story. BOLD was just the kind of  book for this kind of reading. I could go on and on about the symbolism and the different topics they cover, but since the main theme of the book is hope I'll focus on some symbolism that portray hope and a future.  Even if you're not into symbolism and finding the underlying meaning of a story you can't miss the fact that BOLD is a story of hope. It's such a beautiful concept, but when you dig deeper you see hope portrayed in so many different lights. 

Raven Falls is a very dark and depressing place. It seems to always be raining, leaving the town covered in muck and mud. Nothing seems too hopeful about gray mist, or at least when you're looking at things in the wrong light, but what if it never rained? After all rain will make the flowers grow. There might only be mud at the moment, but one day with the help of rain beautiful things will take root and grow. It's the same thing with someone's life. Your past might look dreary, your present circumstances might be surrounded by muck, but your future can always be bright, it can always be better, because one day the sun will come out and shine.  

Jesse, the main character of BOLD seems to always let the words of some song slip past her lips. At times it is when she's happy, but more often than not it is when all hope seems lost. The songs seem to wrap around the rebels and knit them together. That's the magic of music, it slips deep inside and stirs the emotions. A song can be comforting, it can move a nation to rebellion, it can heal a broken heart. Words. The written word -poetry, fiction, the Bible- will never end, even under the oppression of government and tyrants. Words voiced or scrawled on paper can carry a message more powerful than anything. They carry the truth when you're being fed lies, they give strength when you're weak, and they speak then you have no voice.   

Jude, the physically scarred, but very important rebel is the very living emblem of hope. It might be a twisted hope, but hope isn't always beautiful and neither is the future. One might be marred with scars, a country can be riddled with flaws, but those are the very things that drive you forward, You hope one day that things will be better, that a nation will rise up against its foes, and you believe that it will because you've already seen so much. Having been broken allows your hope to be stronger, since it becomes the one thing that holds you together. It becomes your way of life and a belief system, but when that happens sometimes hope becomes dangerous.

Well, I could go on and on, but I'm really trying to stay away from spoilers and keep things pretty open. It was so hard choosing just three things that struck me as "hope" in disguise and there was so much more than these. I loved them all so much, but you'll have to buy and read the book to find out what they are!


Character Interview

Hannah was also wonderful enough to let us have an interview with Luke, one of her rebel characters!

So, Luke tell me a bit about yourself. What is your life like, who do you live with, are you happy with where you're at? 

There’s not all that much to say, really. I live in the Tunnel with a couple other rebels. It’s the safest place for a man like me – safer than the streets anyways. I’ve been with Ben and Jesse for five years now, acting as one of their advisors, leading a team of rebels. No one’s really happy here, not in Raven Falls. We’re working to change that, but our kind of work takes its toll, and I’ve been at it longer than most.

What's your personality like? 

Well, most of the rebels would tell you I’m dry and stoic, and I guess they’d be right. I was once considered the life of the party… but that was a very long time ago. Truthfully, I’m not even sure I have much of a personality anymore. They wiped me of it, took myself away from me. They tried to break me, and for a long time they were successful. I’m not a free man and I never will be, even if that’s what I’m fighting for. 
I guess the closest thing to a personality I have left is my determination. I’ve nothing left except the hope that somehow my efforts here might make a difference, and that’s what keeps me going. 
Some call me a patriot, but I’m just a patriotic shell. 

Can you describe your personal appearance for us? 

Again, I’m nothing special, especially not to look at. I’m of average height, but built like a square, so I tend to look shorter. I’ve got dark hair and a short beard, both of which have been graying since I was a young man and shown the dark side of this world. My eyes are light blue, but in Raven Falls they seem to have turned a murky gray as well – I guess the town has that effect on everyone. 

What is your favorite color? 

Color? Colors aren’t of much importance to me. Besides, all I really see anymore are shades of red and gray. I suppose it would be nice to see a fresh sprig of green sometime, though. 

Describe your family.

I don’t have one. Not anymore. Not for a long time. The rebels are my family now – the closest I’ll ever come to one, anyways. 

Who is your best friend? Why? 

Friends are weaknesses. Sometimes they’re worth it, but I know I’m not, and I won’t let anyone else take that risk for the likes of me. Ben and Jon understand me more than the rest, so I guess you could call them my “best friends,” but I refuse to be their kryptonite. 

Which do you prefer, coffee or tea?

Coffee, black and hot. 

What is the last thing you think about at night? 

Preferably, nothing. 

If you could have three wishes what would you wish for? 

What’s the use of wishing? Nothing can change what I’ve done, and I’ve given up trying. My only “wish” is that this rebellion makes some kind of difference, and keeps anyone else from ending up like me. 

What is your very first childhood memory? 

Remembering my childhood is not a habit of mine, and for good reason. It was all yelling, cursing, pain and loneliness. Why should I pass that burden on to you?

What is your favorite song? 

I would say music is as useless to me as color, but that would be a lie. Music has always been important to us rebels… it unites us. I guess my favorite song would be “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – a strange one, maybe, but I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. 

What was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? 

Once upon a time, I would have said my family laughing together, but now… I don’t really know. There isn’t much of beauty in this world for me. It’s just war.


And there you have it folks, Luke from Breaking Shadows: BOLD. Thanks for joining us and if you want to learn more about the Breaking Shadows Project and its first book "BOLD" then check out the other release tour dates!

Hannah has also put together some awesome contests to give everyone a chance to get excited about the book release! Check them out and make sure you spread the word. 

Holy Apple Crisps! Giveaway 
Two winners will receive a copy of Breaking Shadows: Bold for 70% off.
In order to enter all you have to do is post about the Bold release on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #HolyAppleCrisps (which is Jesse's humorous catch phrase that follows her throughout the entire book) There's no limit to the number of entries per person, so get out there a spread the news! All entries must be in by midnight, December 29th and the winner will be dawn at random on the 30th on The Breaking Shadows Project.

You and Your BOLD self Contest 
One special winner will receive a signed copy of Breaking Shadows: Bold for free. First read the following scene (which by the way is hilarious) from Chapter 2 of Bold, and come up with your own artistic interpretation. Drawings, videos, audio recordings, written responses...any for of art will qualify you! Entries need to be sent to by midnight, December 29th. Just like the giveaway there is no limit to number of entries per person, so working on those creative pieces!
The top ten entries will be posted at the Breaking Shadows site on December 10th for voting. The entry with the most votes will be announced on January 6th.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lessons Learned from NaNo

Since last year I've thought of myself as a veteran NaNoer. I've been doing it since freshman year of highschool and this is the middle of my senior year. That's four NaNoWriMo's and seven or eight Camp NaNo's, most of which I've won. 

However, with each new year NaNo never fails to teach me something new about my writing, my stories, and most importantly myself. I think this is the reason I love it so much. Win or lose there is so much to be gained from the experience. With that, I give you four lessons I learned this year during NaNo. 

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo 

No amount of plotting will prepare you for the story within the story. 

          This was my first year plotting and planning my NaNo novel. I had the works: outlines for the story, chapters,  and scenes. I had plot models, character sketches, and backgrounds. I'd even spent two weeks creating a detailed 20 year timeline for my futuristic global government. There were pages upon pages of government proceedings, military branches, everything you could think of. I even mapped out the voting process of how government officials came into power. 
I bought into the lie that plotting make things "easy" because about two weeks into NaNo I hit a brick wall that lasted until the end of NaNo. All the character interviews and chats in the world couldn't prepare me for the twists they constantly threw at me every single day. 

The truth is writing- good writing- is never easy. All the plotting in the world can't prepare you for the unexpected and wonderful surprises that crop up when you're pouring your heart into your plot and characters. As every story develops on the page there is a story within the story, and that is something you can never put in a chart or outline. It is the thrill of writing; it is what makes your story special. 

You can't compare your first draft to someone's second draft.

This year I had the opportunity to write with many wonderfully accomplished writers that I greatly admire and respect. Still, I couldn't help but compare my horribly tangled story to their stunningly woven tales. About halfway through NaNo I was editing a chapter of my story (a big no-no for NaNo) and all I could think was "this looks like baby babble compared to what they write." It wasn't just discouraging, but it also made me wonder if I was really cut out to be a writer. My story didn't feel 'together' or 'magnificent'. 

Then I realized that they had been working on their stories for months, if not years. The stories I had been reading were second drafts, third drafts, sometimes even the finished product. I was comparing something that had been in the works for two weeks to something that had been picked over, re-worked, and polished. 

The think is, every first draft needs work. Sure, for some senior writers the first draft might not be as cringe worthy as mine, but there will always be flaws and mistakes. The good thing is that those can be re-worked. You can pick and choose your favorite bits, strengthen the plot, and dig deeper inside the character's head. 

The first draft is about getting those ideas and thoughts on paper. Everything else can come later; and one day after lots of hard work you will be able to look at your finished piece and see how far it has come. 

Everyone has a voice, don't be afraid of yours. 

One of my biggest struggles is accepting that I have my own special voice. Every writer does. Sure, some might be similar, but everyone has something that sets them apart in the world of words. That's one of the special things about being a writer. 

Only I find myself looking at these successful writers and I start thinking, "I wish I sounded like them. They're so talented, their stories are so good, why can't I write like them?" 

Toward the end of NaNo a friend commented on my voice, telling me she hadn't heard anything like it before. My first reaction was "this is horrible, I don't sound like them." I was of course referring to the popular story tellers of my favorite genres. But a moment later it was added that my voice was special; that I had a way of brining across simple scenes that dealt with complex issues. 

I had been so focused on other author's voices that I hadn't stopped to consider the merits of my own voice. Think about it, wouldn't the world of books be boring if everyone wrote the same? What if the writers world was full of only Charles Dickens write-alikes? There would be a lot of people not reading. (Actually I really love Dickens...but that's beside the point.) 

The point is that everyone was gifted with their own special voice. Don't be afraid to embrace it because that voice is what makes you unique. It is what makes you stand out in a sea of other authors. It is what defines your ideas and your stories. It deserves to be loved.  

Sharing your work won't kill you.

Eyes? Human eyes reading over my work? Excuse me while I cower in the corner with my manuscript. Really though, to some this might seem like a silly fear, but it is perfectly logical. You've poured your heart and soul into that story. You've lost sleep, rode the emotional roller-coaster, labored over the perfect sentence, and cried with the effort of finding that one elusive word that will (hopefully) complete the chapter. 

It's hard work, but most of all it's your work. Why on earth would you hand it over to the critical eye of others? Even worse, why would you allow another writer to even take a quick peak at the front cover? Just thinking about it makes me want to grab my binders and run. 

This NaNo that is exactly what I did, but as I ran I also tossed out sentences, scenes, and even complete chapters to be picked up by those chasing me from behind. Funny thing is, once I stopped running and let my racing heart slow nothing came to kill me. I shared some of my work and I didn't die. Best of all those who had read my words weren't trying to gouge out their eyes or erase their memories. Alright, that might be a bit over dramatic, but still completely reasonable. 

Actually, it turns out that my critics wanted more. I went from barely being able to let go of mere sentences to passing around series of chapters. I still cringe inwardly as I hit 'send', but the end results are worth it. Critiques aren't always the horrid monsters your mind makes them out to be. On the other hand they're typically very encouraging and constructive. And trust me there's no better feeling than having someone beg to read more. 

Well there you have it: the top four lessons learned from NaNoWriMo 2013. I learned other things too. For instance my writing makes NO sense when I'm going off of two hours of sleep. You can also drink more than eight cups of tea in one day...although that does become an expensive habit. Also parents typically aren't amused when they find you've been up till four in the morning working on a scene. They're also not amused after sitting outside the library for several hours waiting for you to finish your write-in...apparently writers cannot tell time. They still love me anyways. 

What are some special lessons you learned this year from NaNo?  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Character Interview: Julia Ross

Today I'm giving you an interview from one of the favorite characters in the Rebelution Trilogy. First off let me tell you she's far from my favorite. In fact during the early stages of planning "Defenders of the Word" she was a rather hated character. That was until I started sending out clips to friends. I was expecting fanfare over Alexa and John-Luke, my main characters, and their pretty epic stories. Instead I was faced with many long winded messages about my sassy, slightly sadistic, very damaged, and secretive shadow of a character. On that note I give you Julia Ross.

So, Julia tell me a bit about yourself. What is your life like, who do you live with, are you happy with where you're at? 

My life...why is it people always what to know about my life? But if I have to answer you could say its a lot better than what my life was like when I lived in the Wards. The Bunker isn't too bad, but it used to be nicer before I had to share my room. John-Luke and the twins aren't too bad and they're a million times better than the RSS guards I used to deal with. Alexa isn't exactly a ray of sunshine, but neither am I so I guess we're even. And happy? That's cute. I don't know what happy is, but if it means I'm safe then yes I'm happy enough.

What's your personality like? 
I've never really been laid back, even when I was younger things made me tense, but I was always able to keep my head. After I went into the Wards things changed. The Wards always change you, and I'm not going to lie and say they make you better. I'm sort of a loner now...people rub me the wrong way...which brings out my sarcastic side. A lot of people think I'm mean and unfeeling, but most of the time I'm just scared that United NOW will send the RSS after me. Sometimes I get confused in the head and that makes people think I'm crazy. I don't know, maybe I am. But I'm also a rebel and I'm strong. I don't like seeing United NOW hurt people I love, so I'm willing to risk anything to keep them safe.

Can you describe your personal appearance for us? 
Sure. I'm a little taller than most girls at 5'9. My eyes are a brownish green, they're not really unique or stunning, but I've never really seen anyone with the same shade before. I have strait blond hair that hits above my shoulders, it won't curl for anything either. John-Luke still says I'm too skinny, but I blame that on the Wards.

What is your favorite color? 
Green. It reminds me of the woods and the woods mean freedom.

Describe your family.
In one word? Dead. No, really? Lets see, Dad was quiet and he never really said much, but when he spoke everyone stopped to listen. Mom was funny. I remember she used to laugh all the time, she was even laughing before she died. They were both really brave and they loved the Lord. That was why they died. I don't really think about them hurts too much.

Who is your best friend? Why? 
John-Luke is my best friend. I don't know why he puts up with me, but I can always count on him to be there. Sometimes at night he even comes and checks on me just to make sure the nightmares aren't keeping me up. He's a really sweet guy.

Which do you prefer, coffee or tea? 
Coffee, but only if Pastor Blake or Alexa make it. John-Luke can't make good coffee to save his life.

If you could have three wishes what would you wish for? 
First, that United NOW hadn't come into power or that Christians weren't persecuted.
Second, that my parents were still alive.
Third, that I had never been taken to the Wards.

What is your very first childhood memory? 
It was when I was about three or parents where always shocked I even remembered it. But it was in the middle of winter and the RSS came and searched our apartment building. At the time my parents were smuggling Bibles into the country and then shipping them out to churches. We had just gotten in a new shipment and I remember playing in some of the boxes. Dad had hid the Bibles in a secret panel in the wall. We stayed up all night praying silently that the RSS wouldn't come to our door. They never least not that time.

What is your favorite song? It's illegal of course, but all we listen to at the Bunker is Christian music. My favorite would have to be "God's Not Dead" by the Newsboys. Its old, back from when my mom was a kid, but we don't exactly have any new music out there at the moment.

What was the most beautiful thing you've ever seen? 
Once in the Wards there was this girl who was a few years younger than me. We were out running the fence line and it started snowing, but our guard wouldn't let us stop. The girl had a hard time breathing...and the cold was just too much for her. We had reached the far corner and she collapsed. When I picked her up she was so cold, didn't even have a jacket, but she kept smiling and laughing even though she could hardly breath. I still remember her last words, "I want to die here, away from the Wards, I want to die in freedom" I don't know, I just thought that what she said was kind of beautiful..."I want to die in freedom".


Well there you have it, an interview with Julia Ross, rebel, revolutionary, and character of "The Rebelution Trilogy". Next week I hope you drop by to hear from Alexa Bryant, the main character of "Defenders of the Word".

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Victory Lap

Ah, it's December 1st. Usually this is the day when everyone informs me that it's twenty-five days till Christmas. However, this year has broken that habit. I officially dub this the 'Ask Sierra about NaNo Day'. Even people who I hadn't even talked to this month took it upon themselves to ask me about the month of literary abandonment. I figured I would go ahead and answer those questions on my blog as well.

Yes, NaNoWriMo ended yesterday. Excuse me while I cry. Now I'll have to wait a whole entire year until I get to see all my wrimo friends, attend unproductive write-ins, and spend hours wasting time on the NaNo forums. Then again I get to look forward to Camp NaNoWriMo and all the fun I can have with my cabin buddies.

Yes, I did reach 50,000 words. I even finished a day ahead, which really wasn't my best, but about half-way through NaNo I hit a brick wall and for a little while though I wouldn't even finish.

No, "Defenders of the Word" isn't finished. It isn't even close. My guess it that the first draft will probably break 80,000 words, which will also make it my longest book yet. The goal is to finish the manuscript by Christmas, so you'll probably see quite a bit about the book in December. After that I'll take six-eight weeks to write the first draft of  "Defenders of the Cross and then another six-ten weeks to write "Defenders of the Weak". *cringes* then come the long months of going back to edit and re-write each book who knows how many times. Which brings us to the last answer: I have no idea when the "Rebelution Trilogy" will be finished.

And now it's time to thank everyone for their wonderful support this month. I often think people don't realize that writing a book isn't a one person job. Yes, there's the person who puts the words to paper, but there are also the people who help collaborate, critique, offer advice and encouragement, and even step up to tell you when enough is enough. It might be a simple "hey, how's the novel going?" or a fangirly message about  your favorite characters, but trust me they help. Even the simplest gesture of bringing in a hot cup of tea can be just the thing to get the writer in your life over a hard spot. Thank you.