I’m a Happy Planner

I’ve always enjoyed organization and taking notes. The place where I really shone was school, because I was great at tracking many things at once. I worked my way through college with a highly detailed system that kept me up on my classes, assignments, work schedule, piano lessons, LARPing, hanging out with friends and a boyfriend, and I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo.

(Looking back, I wonder how I did it all, because I didn’t even drink caffeinated beverages at the time. I don’t miss that level of activity at all.)

My Happy Planner

Today, I don’t have much of a social life or college classes, but I do have a family and a home to help take care of. I have doctor’s appointments and physical therapy exercises. And of course, I have my writing along with everything that comes with running my own business as a self-published author. I want to keep track of everything so it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

Tracking my word count during NaWriMo

I’ve tried a variety of planners, schedule books, and bullet journals over the years. The one that got me through school was the Unplanner. Two years ago, I bought a Happy Planner and loved it. My first one filled up, so I just got my second. Guess what design I picked?

It’s a magical unicorn!

What I love is that it has lots of space and it’s flexible to use for different things. I have the big picture in the monthly calendar so I can schedule future dates, and I have weekly spreads to track each day at a glance. I like to fill mine with stickers and decorations to make it bright and colorful.

A monthly spread from Camp Nano

I have too many stickers. Some of them have been in my collection since I was a kid. I really need to use some of them instead of hoarding them (or throwing them out when they get old and wrinkled). So a planner with stickers was a great choice for me. Of course, this was also a ploy to buy more stickers. Some of them I get from the craft store, some of them I downloaded online and printed, and some of them I designed myself.

Planner stickers!

For a while I spent so much time on the stickers that I wasn’t getting to all of the things I actually planned to do. These days, I try to keep it quick and simple. Enough to see everything at a glance but not spending hours on a layout.

This week in my planner (before the pen)

Even when a week has passed, it’s fun to look back and see what I did, so it’s like a record of my life. I’ll keep the old one for the memories. And I can’t wait until July when I can start to fill up my new planner.

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Review: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power follows Adora, an orphan raised by the Horde. This evil army is led by Hordak, who rules the planet Etheria with an iron fist. One day, after getting lost in the woods, Adora finds a magic sword that transforms her into the titular Princess of Power, She-Ra. After realizing the suffering that the Horde has inflicted on Etheria and its inhabitants, Adora joins the Resistance in the fight against the Horde through rebuilding the Princess Alliance, a group of other magical girls that once all opposed Hordak. Adora’s newfound allegiance to the Resistance pits her against her former best friend Catra, whose sense of abandonment, malicious ambitions, and the disappearance of her former friend enables her to rise in the ranks of the Horde to become the new heroine’s mortal enemy.

Genre: Action/Adventure, Magical Girl, Science Fantasy, Children’s Cartoon
Where to Watch: Netflix
Rating: 5/5 stars

I love cartoons, especially ones that feature cute characters like magical girls. I was a child of the 80s and obsessed over many of the big “merchandise cartoons” that were designed to sell toys, like Rainbow Brite, My Little Pony, and Lovely Lady Locks. But I never watched the original She-Ra.

Why not? It just never appealed to me. The characters looked too old and “sexy”, like they were designed for boys, especially since I knew it was a spin-off of the He-Man series (which I didn’t watch, either). I didn’t have any friends who watched it or collected the toys, so there was no one encouraging me to check it out. I may have given it a try at some point, but I don’t remember ever liking it.

But the moment I saw the new designs for She-Ra, I knew it was going to be right up my alley.

She’s cute and she’s strong. The other princesses show a great range of diversity, from skin colors and body types to the variety of outfits and abilities they have. I don’t have any nostalgia for the originals, so I can’t really weigh in on that controversy, but I love these new character designs. I think they have a modern look for kids today and reflect some of the diversity of our own society. They’re so appealing that if there were dolls available today, I would be out buying them right now.

And you guys, they’re so very, very gay.

I ship it.

If you know one thing about me, it’s that I love LGBT characters. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is exploding with rainbows and queerness. I can’t help but squeal over how adorable the whole thing is.

Also, a flying unicorn! Awesome voice actors! Hilarious jokes! Emotional arcs that will make you laugh and cry! Sparkles!

I realize this isn’t a very objective review, but I don’t care. I love She-Ra. My only complaint is that the second season only felt like a half, because of the smaller amount of episodes and the fact that it just ends without a real finale. I really hope Netflix doesn’t make us wait another year before giving us more episodes.

I recommend She-Ra to anyone who loves magical girl cartoons but especially Sailor Moon, Madoka Magica, and Steven Universe. If you’re looking for a copy of the original 80s show, this isn’t that. But you might still enjoy it as something totally new.

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Cover Reveal: Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts!

Time for a makeover! I’m working with a new designer, MiblArt, who is creating all-new covers for my Divine Warriors series. Today, I’m revealing the first one, for Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts!

Wow, is that stunning, or what? I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the next one! They’re working on “Amena’s Rise to Stardom” and Riwenne & the Bionic Witches right now!

They also made me a snazzy new logo which will guide my new website design:

And to top it all off, I’m giving Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts a brand new blurb. Let me know what you think about the new look!

A good friend saves you a seat. A great friend helps you save the day!

Fifteen-year-old Riwenne relies on her best friend Nexita to keep her on track, and she’d do anything to repay her. On Choosing Day, she hopes they’ll both become priestesses, the most important job in the floating capital city. But when they’re separated, they can’t make it alone. Riwenne can’t handle responsibility and Nexita is too shy.

Then a talking bird from the sea goddess warns Riwenne that Nexita is in danger, and her life is changed forever. She must become a divine warrior and save her best friend—and the city—from mechanical beasts!

Armed with the goddess’s magic, Riwenne will learn to fight. Between warrior training at night and priestess duties in the day, she can’t let herself get distracted by things like book sales, pop concerts, or her pretty new roommate. To find other warriors and unravel the mystery behind the machine attacks, she must decide who is a friend or an enemy—but can she trust her heart?

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Happy Mother’s Day

I owe a lot to my mom, especially as a writer. She was the first person to encourage me and she’s my biggest fan. I wouldn’t be the author I am today without her.

My mom loves to read and she passed her love of books on to me. She read many great books to me, even when I was old enough to read for myself. We took weekly trips to the library and always came home with big stacks of books. She played books on tape for long car rides and to help me get to sleep at night.

She also told me stories that she made up and she encouraged me to make up my own. She would write them down for me and I would draw the pictures. Later, when I was eight, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and she gave me my first notebook, which was blue with a unicorn on the front. I carried that notebook everywhere. She bought me creative writing books so I could learn the craft.

She was my teacher and homeschooled me, so she let me choose many of my school assignments. She encouraged my curiosity and told me to ask lots of questions. She joined homeschooling groups so we could go on lots of field trips to interesting places like museums, concerts, aquariums, and other cool things to learn about.

My mom never told me that it was too hard to get published or I wouldn’t make a living as an author. She still enjoys reading all of my stories and she makes thoughtful comments about them. I’m always excited to tell her when I have another book finished for her to see.

Another person who has encouraged me is my grandmother, my mom’s mom. She also encouraged me as a child and today. My grandmother used to have an entire room full of books in her house, which was my favorite spot when I visited her. When she cleaned out her house a few years ago to move into a retirement home, she let me go into her library and choose as many books as I wanted. Now she doesn’t have much space for books in her room but she has a shelf dedicated to my books that I’ve published. She always asks when the next one is coming.

My late mother-in-law also used to read my books. She especially liked Small Town Witch and I regret that I didn’t finish the series before she passed away.

This Mother’s Day, I am grateful for all the women who have helped me, especially my mom. I hope you all have someone who supports your dreams. Having someone like that goes a long way to helping you achieve them.

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Review: Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors (Nyssa Glass #1)

Nyssa Glass is a reformed cat burglar turned electrician’s apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself forced into one last job. No one has entered Professor Dalhart’s secluded mansion in almost a decade, at least not and returned to tell the tale. If Nyssa wants to ensure her freedom, she’ll brave the booby-trapped halls and mechanized maids. Nyssa has skills, but this house has more than its share of secrets. As she steps into the cobwebbed halls lined with dusty mirrors, she has to wonder. Is the House of Mirrors really abandoned?

Goodreads Link: Nyssa Glass & the House of Mirrors
Author: H. L. Burke
Genre: YA Steampunk/Gaslamp Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars

Steampunk is a hot genre but it’s a little hard to define. Is it a sub-genre of sci-fi, fantasy, or its own thing? It gets trickier because a lot of books seem to just slap “steampunk” in the description and maybe paste a few gears onto the cover. There might be an airship or robot somewhere in the story, but otherwise, you could be reading any generic adventure novel. I’m pleased to say that this is not one of those books.

It starts with the eponymous character, Nyssa, who is already familiar with technology from her time as a cat burglar and an electrician’s apprentice. She’s not just wearing goggles as a fashion statement, they’re a tool that she uses with the rest of her kit. Nyssa is one kind of heroine I love, spunky and practical. She’s running from a dark past but she won’t give up.

Now add the mysterious setting: a spooky mansion full of dangerous technology. The story takes a few liberties by making much of the “steampunk” tech analogous to more modern technology with computers and cars, but this is similar to the more fantastical end of the steampunk spectrum and it’s not done outrageously. It helps that Nyssa is able to explore and understand some of what’s going on rather than just being baffled. She’s quick on her feet to get around the various traps and figure out the real secret at the heart of the mansion.

It’s a quick, entertaining read and I basically finished it in one sitting. I wanted more. Luckily, the ending sets up a bigger series, and the later books expand the world with more characters and fun settings. I enjoyed all of them from start to the satisfying conclusion. It’s a little sad that the series is complete, but it did reach a logical end.

I recommend this book and the rest of the series to fans of Tamora Pierce, Andre Norton, and Jules Verne.

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I Graduated from Physical Therapy!

After two months of appointments and daily exercises, my physical therapist told me today that I’ve graduated from physical therapy! I’ll have to continue doing my stretches and exercises at home, but I won’t need to go to more appointments.

I’ve reduced most of my pain and regained a lot of strength in my hands and wrists. Using the computer isn’t difficult or painful so long as I watch my posture and take breaks. It’s also been easier to do other activities like cooking, opening jars, writing by hand, and sewing. The big thing I haven’t tried yet is crochet but I’m looking into ergonomic crochet hooks so I can try it.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me well-wishes for my health and recovery. Your support means a lot. Just knowing that there are still readers who are waiting for my stories has encouraged me to keep working.

I am hard at work on editing right now and so excited to share new things soon. Thank you for waiting. And also, thank you to everyone who has been sharing their reviews for Riwenne & the Mechanical Beasts! It’s great to hear that you are all enjoying the book and want to read the sequel!

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

One of the most important parts of bringing a story to life for me is to start with a map. I always get excited when I open a new book and find a detailed map inside. Getting a sense of the location helps orient me in the story. I want my own stories to have beautiful, detailed maps to guide my readers.

But I’m bad at drawing and even worse as a graphic artist. I make rough sketches for myself but they’re not ready for publishing.

I have experimented with mapmaking programs in the past but it’s difficult to get things looking the way I like. For Wyld Magic, I fell back on doing it by hand in Photoshop and, well, you may have already seen the result.

Map of Seirenia

At least it’s mostly readable, if a little busy with the amount of texture I stuck all over it. But it needs work, and I plan on redoing it again someday.

I wanted more for the Empire of Arkia, the setting for the Divine Warriors series. So back to experimenting. I’ve been trying out a new program called Wonderdraft that’s pretty easy. I’m still learning all of the options.

But first, who wants embarrassing old sketches of Chelynne (the world), Arkia (the continent), and Lyndamon (the province)? I’ve been working on this world for over twenty years so I have a lot of old notes. They’re going to be a little blurry, sorry for taking pictures on my phone instead of properly scanning them.

Chelynne (historical)

A map of the world, about 15 years old. This is traced from an older map that I can’t find right now. The continents and the major cities are labeled. It represents an older period in the world’s history. For example, some of the names changed over time.

Chelynne (recent history)

This map was drawn around the same time. I never finished putting it the labels. The planet is rotated so Arkia is in the middle. Also note that one of the continents is gone, replaced by “The Emptiness.” This relates to an old plot point that I’m not sure about revisiting now.

Map of Arkia, color-coded

Here’s a map of Lyndamon that I was color-coding by region. The main cities are all filled in. You may notice that the provinces used to be in different locations. Lyndamon was in the south and its temple was dedicated to Xiso. I swapped it because I decided that Sawycha was more interesting for the start of the story.


A map of just Lyndamon. Uses the same regional colors as the one above. The most detailed because all of the towns are marked along with the major roads connecting them. The darker swirls are supposed to show how far each temple’s influence reaches into the outlying settlements.

Sketch of Damon Temple

This is an old version of Damon Temple, the capital of Lyndamon. It was originally a much more rural setting, on top of a mountain. Later, I switched to a city and discarded this. However, I did use this temple layout for a set of old ruins that Riwenne and her friends explore in book 2. They’ll learn something important in those caves leading from the main temple.

You may also notice that I used a lot more Arqan words on my map. I have a fairly detailed language for Arkia, but I realized it was too confusing to read when so many made-up words filled the story. For example, “chal” is the title for the head priestess, “san” is an assistant to the head priestess, “parsy” is senior priestess, “iksa” is a junior priestess, and “haben” is a novice. Imagine trying to keep all of those titles straight!

New map of Arkia

At last, here is the map I’ve been working on over the last weekend. I love all of the colors. It’s still a work in progress (I know that the text could be more readable, for example) but I’m pretty happy with how it’s coming along. For now, I’ve only labeled the capital cities for each region.

I’ll keep making adjustments and then I’ll drill down into regional maps, starting with the Central Province. I’ll also make a city map for Lyndamon. Look for a final version soon.

I hope you enjoyed seeing some of the evolution of my map and a sneak peek of what’s to come!

Categories: Blog, World Building | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Review: Unicorn Store (movie)

A woman named Kit receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams.

IMDB Link: Unicorn Store (2019 film)
Director: Brie Larson
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Rating: 5/5 stars

I’m a long-time fan of Brie Larson, so when I heard she was directing her first movie and the word “unicorn” was in the title, I was already excited. And this movie, which just came out on Netflix, was better than I imagined.

The story is about a young woman named Kit who just got kicked out of art school. She’s an adult but she’s always loved bright colors, glitter, cute things and most of all, unicorns. Her art teacher wanted something more serious and abstract, like a stick in a box. So she ends up living in her parents’ basement, surrounded by all of her old childhood toys and artwork, trying to find a new direction for her life.

But then she gets a letter offering her a chance to get the one thing she’s always wanted. She enters a strange place called simply The Store, where she meets Samuel L. Jackson in his most fabulous role ever. (Seriously, I love his pink suit and the way he just wraps tinsel in his hair.) The Salesman promises her a unicorn.

The Salesman and Kit

Of course, Kit can’t just take home a unicorn that first day. She has to prove she’s ready and make changes in her life. The movie is about her journey to earn her unicorn. Now, I got worried about halfway that the unicorn might just be a metaphor for believing in herself or something, and I was ready to be very disappointed. But without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that I was happy. And I cried. And I had to go hug one of my unicorn stuffed animals after.

The whole movie is colorful and fun, with great fashion and art. It inspired creativity and has a strong message of being yourself no matter what anyone else thinks. It also says that we don’t have to grow up on society’s terms. To say that I related to Kit would be an understatement. (I noticed details like Kit had original Care Bears, not the new toys, and also Our Generation dolls in one scene. Missed opportunity to show one of several OG unicorn sets– I have them all!)

A little comparison. When she was little, Kit had an imaginary unicorn friend named Steve. Here’s a picture she drew:

Steve the unicorn

When I was little, I had an imaginary unicorn friend named Alice. I don’t have any of my original pictures (my mom might have some lying around), but here is a ceramic unicorn I made. Some pieces have broken off over the years. (Of course she has wings. Alice lives on the far side of the Moon and flies to Earth at night under cover of darkness. My mom used to tell me stories about my adventures with Alice at bedtime, and she got quite an elaborate backstory.)

Alice the unicorn

If you like unicorns and creativity, still feel like a child at heart, or just want to see Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson hanging out together again (after Captain Marvel), you should watch Unicorn Store!

Categories: Blog, Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Writing Wednesday: Camp NaNo helped me finish a draft!

I’m so happy to announce that I’ve finished the first draft of Riwenne 2! This has been more than a year in the works, which has been difficult because of health issues. But during Camp NaNoWriMo, I not only met my word goal, I finally got to write “the end!”

I’m not ready to name a release date just yet. I will start editing soon and I’m already talking to a designer about the cover, so I hope to have a date and a preorder ready soon. I’m very excited about how this book is shaping up and I can’t wait to share it with you!

I have also gone back to the long-promised prequel, Amena’s Rise to Stardom. The ending still needs a lot of work to iron out some details and then a final edit, but it will also be coming up soon. I plan to publish it for sale on Amazon and also give it as a free gift to my newsletter subscribers. (Right now, the newsletter gets Witch Test from Fae of Calaveras and The Duke’s Daughter from Wyld Magic for free, so there would be one free prequel for each of my main series.)

Third, I have the rights back to “The Girl who Talked to Birds” from the fairy tale anthology last year. So I can publish my own copy. That got me thinking, though, could I write more short stories that tie into the Divine Warriors series and eventually make my own collection? Something to play around with!

There’s lots of exciting things coming soon! I’m just glad to finally be writing again. I have taken breaks in the past because of personal issues and I always feel unhappy when I’m not writing. It’s satisfying to finish something again.

How about we finish with an excerpt?

I opened the front door of the temple sanctuary of Damon. The vaulted hall was full of sunlight, almost blindingly bright. The stained glass windows lining the walls filtered in light in every color of the rainbow, but the clear glass at the peak of the roof let in shining, pure light, washing out the decorated temple with white. I blinked, trying to adjust my eyes, and looked up. The sun was directly overhead. This must be why we didn’t normally come into the sanctuary at high noon—it was bright enough at the ceremonies for dawn and sunset.

I started to walk forward, but then I saw that the temple wasn’t empty. A group of people stood before the altar in red robes.

Don’t let them see you, a voice whispered in my mind. Keep to the shadows.

I darted to the side and slipped behind a pillar, and my eyes immediately felt better out of that overwhelming light. I blinked for a moment, then looked back to the altar. The red robes stood out against the white marble. Junior priestesses wore red, but the color looked wrong somehow, a darker shade almost tinging on maroon. And why would a bunch of junior priestesses be gathering alone? I craned my head, trying to get a closer look at their faces, but they were all strangely wearing hoods. Priestesses always went with their heads uncovered and their hair hanging loose, something that I’d struggled with as a novice, trying to keep my long, curly pink locks untangled.

Then another figure stepped from behind the altar, and I immediately recognized her distinctive robe. White at the shoulders, flowing down into red, and ending in black at her feet, only the head priestess, Mother Lyda, could wear something so elaborate. And her head was uncovered, clearly showing her youthful face and her dark red hair that hung well past her waist.

Categories: Blog, Writing | Tags: , , , , , ,

Meet the Author: My Toy Collection

I’m not just a fantasy author. That’s my favorite thing and my lifelong dream, and even when I’m not writing, I do spend a lot of time thinking about writing, reading books about writing as well as fiction, and talking about my books to anyone who will listen. But I have some hobbies that I enjoy and I thought I would share some other things about me.

I collect dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys. Some of these, I’ve had since I was a kid, preserving my childhood favorites. But I also continue to buy them for myself as an adult. I never grew out of loving toys and my family is supportive of my collection (even if they admit that sometimes it’s creepy to have so many things looking at them).

I used to be embarrassed about being an adult collector and try to hide it. But I don’t think it hurts anyone, so what’s wrong with it? I do have to be careful about making sure I have the space to store things and don’t spend too much money on things I can’t afford. Anyone should be able to spend their money on things that make them happy. Having my toys makes me happy and I’m still a responsible adult in other ways, so I won’t be ashamed anymore. No doubt some people will make fun of me, but I don’t care about their opinions.

You can probably guess some of my favorites or you may have seen them before. As a lover of fantasy, of course I have my share of dragons, unicorns, and fairies. I have pirate stuff and Disney stuff, especially The Little Mermaid. Sharks and other ocean animals, horses, and cats. And of course, my dolls.

My favorite dolls are 18” like American Girl, although I have some smaller ones as well. I enjoy taking pictures of these dolls and setting up scenes like a story. Sometimes I take them out in public and even on vacation for photos in fun locations. I do get weird looks and the occasional comment, but I’ve never regretted bringing a doll with me and I always smile when I see the pictures. My family gets tired of me taking too many pictures of them, but I can put a doll in any pose and take as many pictures as I want!

Here’s a picture of some of my doll shelves to give you an idea:

My doll shelves

If you want to see more pictures, I have a doll and craft blog (Sailor Ariel’s Dolls) and a separate Instagram account (@minimouseears). That way only the people who are interested can see my dolls. Check it out if you’re curious (but not if you just want to criticize me).

I’ve also been making a smaller felt doll which is lighter and easier to carry around for photos. I’m calling her Witchling. You may see her pop up in more of my writing photos soon. She doesn’t represent a specific character, she’s sort of a cross between Rosamunde and Riwenne but also her own person. She’s waiting for more clothes.

Witchling felt doll
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