December 19, 2014

a very Harry Potter Christmas

Inspired by the Harry Potter Christmas tree created by Jen at Epbot, I decided to make my own. She has several tutorials of how to decorate your own Harry Potter tree, like how to create snitch ornaments and how to make your own Hogwarts Express. As I don't have nearly as much time on my hands (and a tiny pair of baby hands that like to meddle), I decided to only do one major craft project and just try to find everything else already made.

Here is the finished tree in all its magical glory!

Jen's tree and mine have only two things in common: a cauldron base and the floating candles. Everything in between is totally and awesomely different!

I chose to have the Sorting Hat as my tree topper, with a wand perched against it. I found some glittery floral thingies at my local craft store and stuck that through the wand to be all magicky.

I followed Jen's tutorial for the floating candles, using hot glue to mimic wax drippings. The candles I found were a bit different than the ones she used, so I had to be a bit creative with the "wax" so that the screw-in lids wouldn't show. I also added some waxy bits to the bottom of the candle to hide the shape of the plastic. And then I just painted a few coats of Antique White acrylic paint to cover the glue.

To hang them from the ceiling, I twisted 8 lb. fishing line between the top of the candle and the lid, and then screwed the lid down to keep the line in place. Then I stapled the fishing line to the ceiling, which was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and there are a bunch of rogue staples just hanging out among the popcorn texture where I missed.

For the rest of the tree, I shopped around for a few different things.

I found this stuffed owl and perched him in the tree with a pair of round glasses. I wanted to display the glasses, and this was the only way they really stood out among the rest of the decorations. Black framed glasses against a green tree don't really do much. I did try painting the lenses of one pair, but that didn't work either. They just looked like two white circles from a distance. Good thing I bought a box of eight.

Jen created her own broomstick ornaments using twigs and craft tape, but I knew I didn't have the time or patience to do that, so I bought some miniature brooms instead. You can find them here. The brooms I received are much darker, as you can see. I thought I was going to have to paint the bristles darker, but luckily, I didn't have to.

I found a red bird ornament at Target that I knew would make a perfect phoenix. All I had to do was brush some bronze paint onto its feathers.

I knew I wanted to have the doe Patronus on the tree, but I had a hard time finding the right doe ornament among the Christmas selection at the local department stores. I could only find stags, or does covered in glitter and bows and mistletoe. So I ended up purchasing a little plastic doe doll and painted a few coats of white paint on it. I couldn't figure out how to hang it up on the tree though, so I improvised and twisted some gold thread around its neck and used an ornament hook to attach it to the tree. I'll probably figure out something better later.

These lovely little cauldrons are nothing more than plastic party favors with a rainbow color-changing tea light and some polyfill stuffed inside. They look spectacular when they're all lit up on the tree.

As you can see from the full-tree pictures, there's a witch's broom stuffed into the lower branches. I thought it was a nice addition and adds visual interest. Also, more of the same sparkly twisty things spouting from the wand are tucked into the top part of the tree.

And finally, the cauldron. Jen made her own out of a plastic planter, some cardboard, duct tape, and paper mache, but again, I didn't want to spend time making something if I could find a suitable alternative, and lo! I found this pot at Home Depot that was cauldrony enough that I thought it would work. My husband made a new tree stand to fit inside (similar to the one Jen's husband made). Once the tree was in, I stuffed some polyfill in the top, hid some yellow tealights, and I was done!

I have never been so excited to decorate for Christmas. So a big Thank You! to Jen at Epbot for the inspiration.

Anyway, a big Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays and/or Winter Celebration of Your Choice! I hope you all have a spectacular end to the year!


A Very Harry Potter Christmas Tree
Overall cost: ~$200

Tree: $30
Lights: $35
Witch's broom: $9
Owl: $10
Glasses: $8 (for a set of 8)
Phoenix: $6
Doe: $4
Tiny brooms: $10
Tiny cauldrons: $7
Tealights: $10
Wand: $4
Sparkly bits: $11
Tinsel: $15
Cauldron: $25
Sorting Hat: $17 (but I already owned it)

What's nice is that most of this can be reused for Halloween, or other things, and some of it is going to decorate my office once Christmas is over. Some items were a bit more expensive than I would have liked, but I was determined to have a Harry Potter themed tree, so I spent it anyway, and considering that the total cost was about the same price as most pre-lit Christmas trees, I think I did all right.

October 5, 2014

what i've learned...

It’s funny to realize how much I’ve grown as a writer over the last few years.

I used to think I knew everything about writing, that the "rules" were golden and never to be broken. I used to think that it was my duty to point out everyone else's "wrongdoing", to correct their mistakes, to criticize anything and everything I thought might could be improved.

I used to compare myself to this author and that author, wondering if I would ever be as talented as them, if I could ever reach their writing level. I used to fear that because I had yet to find my success that I would never amount to anything, that my writing was garbage, that I was garbage (though, admittedly, I go through phases of this still).

I used to look down on other writers, whether it was because of the genre they were writing in, their lack of talent, their uninformed rule-breaking, or their seeming lack of commitment.

It’s funny how someone can both think they're superior to other writers and yet suffer such debilitating doubt at the same time.

And in the last few years, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that things I thought were true and absolute are a lot more wibbly-wobbly than the black-and-white picture I’d constructed in my head.

I’ve learned that the "rules" aren't golden. Grammar, mechanics, and such, yes, those should be followed, but in fiction, style trumps all. It’s not my place to point out someone else's mistakes unless they ask me to. Unsolicited negativity gets you nowhere in life.

I’ve learned that comparing myself to other authors, whether it's comparing myself to their voice, their style, their talent, their creativity, or to their successes and failures, is a waste of my time. That's time I should be spending cultivating my voice, my style, my talent, my creativity... time I should be spending working toward my success and learning from my failures.

I’ve learned that it's okay to aspire to someone else's ability to tell a story, as long as I don't lose focus on what makes my fiction mine. I’ll never write like Terry Pratchett. I’ll never write like Tolkien or J.K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman or Rick Riordan or Diana Wynne Jones or the lovely Rae Carson. I just won't. I can't. I’m not them.

But I will write like Brooke Johnson.

I’ve learned that it's okay to feel a little jealous at someone else's success, but ultimately, someone else's success in the writing business is my success. Their success means people are reading. And to me, that's a good thing, regardless of the book.

I’ve learned that success will come to me if I keep trying. I’m not garbage, just an undiscovered gem that needs a lot of polishing and shaping.

I’ve learned that every writer starts somewhere, that everyone has the potential for a great story in them. It takes work, and it takes practice, but I shouldn't look down on someone because they don't approach writing the same way that I do. I shouldn't look down on someone who is earlier in their writing journey than I am, because of what genre they write, their lack of a daily word count or reliance on a muse, or because I don't much like their style of writing. That’s petty and rude. And the world has enough petty and rude people.

Like I said: I’ve learned a lot in the last few years.

And I know I have a lot more to learn, about writing, about storytelling. it's humbling in a way, to recognize how far I’ve come and still see how far I have to go before I’ll really know what the hell I’m doing.

But I’ll learn.

September 10, 2014

a big announcement!

I have some big news today!

I am happy to announce that I have signed a three-book deal with Harper Voyager Impulse, the digital-first imprint of HarperCollins’ Science Fiction and Fantasy division!

As part of the contract, Harper Voyager Impulse will be republishing the first book in my steampunk series, The Clockwork Giant, and my associated novella, The Mechanical Theater, (tentatively titled), as well as publishing a sequel, with an option for a third novel.

This would be why, if you happened to notice, I removed my books from the market a couple of months ago and once again joined the ranks of the unpublished. I wanted so badly to tell everyone what was going on (especially those of you who asked!), but I had to keep everything hush-hush until the contract was finalized. Well, after months of negotiations and contract revisions, the contract has been signed, and I’ve been given the go-ahead to announce.

August 1, 2014

a slightly depressing update

Well, August is here—already?—and I still don't have The Wizard's Heart ready for publication, even though I last said it would be ready no later than July. Well, it's not even remotely close to being ready. Beta-reader feedback was mixed, and I have since been working to address all of the issues they had with the book—everything from characterization to plot and everything between. It's been a labor of angst, frustration, tears, and cursing, but I am making progress, if slowly.

However, as a result of all this, I really do not know when the book will release. Once I finish the current draft, I'll have to read through the whole manuscript and make additional changes for clarity and consistency, and then I plan to send the book out for a second beta-read. It will likely be months from now before I receive feedback from a second round of betas, no sooner than the end of September. At earliest (assuming that I actually have a better book after this draft), I might—might—have the book ready by December. Maybe. Gosh, that's depressing. But it is what it is.

In other good news, I will soon be able to make a super awesome announcement regarding a super amazing thing happening next year. But until then, we can all be sad about the delayed release for The Wizard's Heart.

In other other news, Dark Lord in Training is coming along nicely. I'm really enjoying the change of pace and coming up with ridiculous situations to put my characters through. It is a nice distraction from the seriousness of The Wizard's Heart, and it's a lot of fun to write. If you want, you can read snippets week to week on Google+ at the #DarkLordinTraining hashtag.

July 11, 2014

a little bit about Dark Lord in Training

I was tagged in a little questionnaire exercise, and I thought why not? Something fun to do in an otherwise dull and unproductive week.

Because I’m not really in the mood to talk about The Wizard’s Heart right now—edits are beyond exhausting right now and me and the book are just not on good terms at the moment—I’m going to answer questions about Dark Lord in Training, the middle-grade fantasy that I am oh-so-slowly drafting.

1.    What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Alden Millard. Fictional.

2.    When and where is the story set?

The story is set in the Kingdom of Erilea, but most of the story takes place inside the Evil Lair of Ryxik Hathmor the Blackhearted. It’s a standard fantasy setting, upgraded slightly, because apparently they have decent plumbing and gas stoves. So, I don’t know. Maybe it’s like a weird mid-1800s tech-level fantasy world. That works, I suppose.