Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Winter Reading List

Updates first... soon (I haven't a date yet, but April sometime) I will be sharing a guest post by the incomparable Wendy Foulke. I have been blessed to meet her about five or six years ago, and she and her family were such a blessing to my family. Wendy and the Women of the Word have a lovely blog for ministering at Re:flect-I. She also recently spoke at the Re:gardingHIM Conference which I was privileged to attend this past weekend.
The conference topic was on friendship, something I find that many of us take for granted. There are many kinds of friendships, and not every relationship we build is as easy as pie. I was encouraged by the speakers and their instruction from the Word. The musical choices were also heartwarming, familiar hymns I could sing in my sleep but also a few new ones, all sung with fresh voices and given with cheerful smiles. Not quite as important as the ministry, but also of worthy mention was that the decorations were adorable. There were fluffy pink and white paper balls strategically placed to help you find the restroom, bookstore, and workshop rooms, plus sweet pink mugs with baby's breath and fronds in them. The food (including the millions of homemade cookies) was also scrumptious.


Photo credit: Elizabeth Koetsier, taken at Fredrick Meijer Gardens last spring. 

And now, in lieu of the first day of spring (which I am aware I am not posting exactly on, but whatever), here is my Winter Reading List!

*side note: if you noticed I did not say Spring Reading List, good for you. I sincerely dislike making "to read" lists for myself, as it takes all the fun out of reading for me. It makes it feel more like a task or assignment. Plus, I prefer choosing my books based on my mood at the moment.

*side note #2 I apologize for the boring-ness of this reading list. I am fully aware that there are very few "fun" books on it. Let's just say I've had a crazy fall, an even crazier winter, and sping is looking up to be a new kind of crazy so I'm just holing my seat belt right now and learning to just let God.

So, at last I present to you, my Winter Reading List. That is, books I read this winter.

Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell. I confess, I have not yet finished this book. But it's one of those kinds of books you keep near you and reference often. Written concisely and clearly, it's one of the most helpful but also engaging "how to" books I've read on writing. (Often "how to" books are very dry. JS Bell has a knack for wit and relevancy.) Alongside this, I also have gone through The Usborne Creative Writing Book, which I purchased from Usborne Books and More with Patti. It has some really helpful pages that I copied for character development, as well as some plot development tips and exercises. What's nice about it is that it also is easy to read for a variety of ages, I would even recommend it to any homeschooling moms out there!
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Calm My Anxious Heart, by Linda Dillow
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My absolutely favorite read this winter was A Time to Rise, by Nadine Brandes. Five stars. Go read it. Now. It is the last installment of the YA dystopian trilogy that entwines faith and adventure to engage and inspire readers, essentially calling them to action while considering if you knew your time of death, how would it change your life? If you have read it, please pop on over to Amazon and rate the first two books, A Time to Die and A Time to Speak. While both are still available for Kindle, they are no longer available in paperback- the only way I read! (I know, I'm very behind the times and I'm perfectly happy reading this way.) Voting will help bring them back to us the way we hard-core readers love to read best: the old-fashioned way.
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Legacy of Faith, by Lydia Brownback
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For devotions I am currently reading The Triune God (various authors), which was given to me at the Philedelphia Reformed Theological Conference last year. Although not as "flowery" as Dillow or Brownback, it is very solid and I'm taking my time in reading it alternately between finishing John (since I didn't do this earlier in the year). By the by, I am going back to the Conference this year and very much looking forward to it. Check out the link if you're interested! There is one held in (actual) Philedelphia, and another in Byron Center, Michigan.
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I am also currently reading The Chaos of Stars, by Kiersten White.
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I started reading Unblemished by Sara Ella but was slow in getting through it and had to return it to the library before I'd finished it. So perhaps it doesn't count as a Winter Read, but I'm putting it on here anyway so someone can hold me accountable to finish it. (If you don't see it on my Spring Reading List, someone please send me frowning emojis. That's really the worst punishment I can come up with right now.)
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What books have you all read this winter so far? Any recommendations? Did any of you attend the RegardingHIM Conference or will you be at the Philedelphia one? I look forward to hearing from you, readers!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fredrick Meijer Butterfly Season

Fredrick Meijer is one of my favorite places, and I had to share with you one of the reasons why! I was privileged to visit there this weekend, at the beginning of the butterfly season. Here are some photos, old and new I've collected from their greenhouse.

This taste of summer at the end of still-winter season is always so welcome, and a wonderful reminder of God's creativity and attention to detail.


This butterfly below is one of the favorites inside the greenhouse. At first glance you might not quite understand why. Although it has such lovely patterns on the outside of its wings, it isn't a very eye-catching color...




...but if you wait for it to open it's wings, it glimmers an incredible, iridescent blue inside. It is called a Blue Morpho. 



Would you ever have guessed? Here one is waking from its slumber with fancy new wings just drying off.


If I may be just a little cliche for a second, this butterfly reminds me of the little saying, "Never judge a book by its cover." 


This one made me smile; it so seemed to enjoy basking in the glorious sunlight. 



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Organizing Ideas

*Warning: I really love organizing stuff, not even making this up. Cleaning? Okay, it's part of life, I do it, but organizing is sooooo. much. fun.

For some reason, the subject or organization seems to be popping up a lot around me. Several friends have ventured into different techniques and types of organizing routines, and I think it is wonderful that there's so many sources for this. Yet it is often much harder in practice than in thought. It's easy for me to do it because I love to do it, but that doesn't mean all of my stuff is perfectly arranged (oh, I do so wish it was).

I'm one of those artistic people who has tabs upon tabs open in their brain constantly. The weird thing about it, though, is that I don't see myself as ADD, or at least, not very much. I know what ADD is, and ADD people describe what it's like to me, yet I do not fully comprehend it. If there are too many people and too much noise I notice everything and nothing at the same time, and just panic, but it's not ADD. Usually, I end up hyper-focusing because there's too much going on, and then I don't notice everything I'm supposed to while all that's unimportant is suddenly taking up 100% of my brain power. (Yes I realize that sentence was a bit needlessly lengthy.) It is completely normal for me, when I begin a task, to not be able to focus on anything else. I don't see anything else in the room but that task, and depending on it's level of intensity, I often cannot even verbalize anything beyond what I am accomplishing. This is nice for writing, it makes thinking creatively come as naturally as breathing, but it is not okay when you have several tasks to complete. Therefore, I've had to find ways to scratch down ideas to at least get them off my mind without worrying about forgetting them. Once they are scratched out on numerous pieces of paper or notebooks, I have to decide what to do with them.

What didn't work
College-age me had a basket that I dumped random scraps of paper into. Maybe twice a year I would go through this basket and read all the notes, trying to decide if I could remember why I wrote weird things like colors + made-up names + words like "furling" and "clandestine". Pieces of poetry that was awful, a half a Bible verse, dates, and Sindarin words all littered the basket. If I could remember what it was for, I would keep it. If I couldn't, I threw it, unless I liked how it sounded (even if I didn't know why). This got to be a problem, because by the end of the day I might have thrown out only three pieces of paper. I didn't know what to do with this stuff except organize it by little piles by associations I might understand, but no one else would. Slowly, over time, I've learned better ways to keep these things a bit more organized (though not perfectly so). I thought I would share, because many of my ideas came from others who also were searching for ways to organize creativity or even just tasks in life.

The Everything Notebook
The Everything Notebook is something I came up with on my own. Into it goes notes from articles I read, mythology I find intriguing, things I want to do or see, ideas to write about, characters I may want to explore today. I keep it readily available to jotting down anything I want, because it is exactly what it is called. It is for everything, in no particular order. I do date the pages and cite information when I copy it. My favorite type of notebook for this is a spiral-bound one, with the perforated edges. This way pages can be easily and neatly torn out and clamped into three-ring binders or stashed neatly in folders if I need to organize them further. I might keep a three-ring binder for story ideas, another three-ring binder for recipes, and still another for magazine articles. The beauty of this is that it eliminated a lot of scraps in a basket, and made it easy to organize later.

Journal
How I journal has changed tremendously in the last few years. In my youth, it was only a journal. More recently I've found that by journaling my devotions side-by-side with my life it becomes easier to think of these two things as one. I used to write in my journal here or there when time allowed or when important things happened. My devotional notebook was kept just to answer questions from books or study-guides; sometimes I copied down a verse I really loved. Then one day I recognized that while one held my beliefs, the other showed my practices. I needed to practice what I believed, but instead I used to journal to vent where I thought it was safe to vent. It wasn't gossip, and it wasn't complaining to anyone, but it was still complaining. It occurred to me that that if I wrote out my prayers my mind wouldn't wander as much praying silently. I'd be able to use the small snatches of time I had instead of complaining about how I let things distract me. The "journaling" has become more prayer-like because instead of venting, I'm thanking and then petitioning God. It also focuses me to think of Him first before I start journaling.
I've also combined into this journal some to-do lists. This was because a friend shared with me her Bullet Journaling (which is brilliant, and for ADD people it is probably a life-saver). It have found it's sort of nice to be able to look back on a to-do list I had from a few weeks ago and see all I've accomplished. Sometimes it's just a nice sense of accomplishment, or to remind me of something else I need to do. I had tried adding a calendar to mine (most Bullet Journaling suggestions include one) but I've found that I like having my calendar separate. I myself do not use a bullet journal, but I encourage you to look it up and check out the different kinds there are if you're looking for ways to organize or keep track of things.
I usually purchase notebooks that I really like for this, or save the prettiest ones that people gift to me for this. The pens I use for it are also important to my organization. Organizationally, I think in color [or even alphabetically, or associations only my brain connects but that I can't explain- never numbers] (does that sound weird?) so I purchased pens I really love in different colors, and assigned the colors to specific types of notes in my journal. (Ex: black are my daily notes, blue is for to-do lists, purple is for literature I'm reading, red for ideas that pop up as I'm journaling. I jot it down and go back to what I was doing before.) Using colors helps me when I'm flipping through the journal trying to recall something or find a note I made to myself.

Sticky Notes (or mini pocket notebooks)
A must-have, for those creatively-manic people like myself. they are great because they are small and sticky. I can jot stuff down while I'm on the move and slap it on a coffee mug until I get back a chance to shove it into my journal. When I get home I can stick them elsewhere, or just throw them away when I can't remember what "Favorite pens" was for (why did I feel the need to list favorite brand names of pens?). This is nice for on-the-go but it a pain to organize later sometimes, so I use it only at work now since I don't have the option to drag a notebook around with me while cleaning.

*As a side note, I do prefer sticky notes to scrap paper because, well, they are sticky and can't be lost as easily. They can also be attached in some kind of order to notebook pages so I can pretend they're in order instead of stuffed in a pocket or folder somewhere.

Sermon Notes
I use notebooks that fit into my purse for this, and I also use the same notebook for lectures at theological events (like the Philadelphia Theological Reformed Conference or Logos). These I do not typically save once they are full. I confess, I only take notes in order to pay attention. I cannot pay attention unless my fingers are moving or I'm holding onto a pen. So if you catch me drawing in church, I'm not distracted, I'm trying to pay attention.

I learned also about a technique which I have yet to try, but would like to, called Pomodoro Technique. It's meant to help people who have trouble focusing; I wondered if it might help me focus better when writing because it teaches you to focus fast. (Most of my trouble with focusing on writing is simply because I have no where distraction-free to write, so I'm trying to learn to write with it.) Supposedly this technique works by setting a timer for yourself, and working without stopping for an allotted time. (I had initially read 25 minutes, but I've also heard variations since then). You can take a 3-5 minute break with the timer goes off, and jot down one tally mark. This is repeated until you have four tally-marks, and then you take a longer break and start over. If anyone has ever used this, let me know how it worked for you. Was it helpful? Did you finish your tasks better with it?

Do you have any other thoughts on organizing your ideas? What do you do with them? Are you a paper-saver like me and are you still trying to find the "perfect" solution to organizing and storing them? I'd love to hear all your thoughts on this!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Interview with Lyla

Updates first, interview second!
1. Blog updates: So, I have updated the blog again (obviously), but less obvious is that I have also added the ability to subscribe to my posts via email. You can find the subscription button on the right sidebar, at the very bottom under all the other necessary nonsense I've included on the blog.
2. Writing update: I've been very bad about writing lately. I have too many reasons why and I'm not going to bore you with a list. Mostly I just can't seem to reach that "beyond this very second" level of thought in the last week. Tonight (I actually mean Wednesday night, because I'm editing this and adding to it tonight so all I have to do tomorrow is hit "publish" because I am weird about planning things like this sorry about the rambling) I am enjoying calming camomile tea while thinking about how grateful I am that it is already Wednesday, and I have only four more days until I can rest on the Sabbath. What a great gift it is.

For now, here is the awaited interview!


Interview with Lyla


Lyla was kind enough to grace us with her presence today! I hope that you will enjoy this interview with her and are able to get to know her a little better. Lyla's quite a different sort of character than I've done before, so I'm just getting to know her, too.
What is this?
Will you please not touch the keyboard.
Why?
Don't hit that button.
How does it work?
I don't know, Lyla. Can we please continue?
It doesn't interest you to know how this thing that you use to write letters to others works?
No, but I thoroughly appreciate that it does work, and those who do understand how it works. Did Fallyn arrange your hair today? It is very nice.
Fallyn is quite artistically talented.
Are you ready to start? We're starting anyway, whether you like it or not.
*glowers at me*

What's your full name?
Lyla Fox.

Are you married?
Why are you asking me this, you should know.
Lyla, they don't know it. Talk to them.
Oh.
Your smile is a little sinister. Loosen up a little. Much better.

*clears throat*

What country would you most like to visit?
I would never leave England, but I suppose Rome, Italy.


What country would you conquer?
Conquering countries is of no concern to me. I have my own things to keep me busy, but if I must answer, America. Who is asking this question anyway?
Lyla. Seriously. I know this is very out of place for you, but please try not to make it too difficult.


Do you have a favorite color? 
Lime green- it is exquisite, and matches my eyes. 


What is the first thing you remember building?
I made things with my father. Together we assembled mechanical mice, which frightened my mother but also made her laugh. *Smiles sadly*


Cat or dog person?
 This is a rediculous question.
Answer it anyway, Lyla.
Cat.
Why am I not surprised?
What did you just mutter about me?
Nothing, Continue.

What do you think has been the biggest influence in your life?
My father. My mother. Oh, that there could be a way to bring them back. Then Henry, whom I hope never to speak to again. Oh yes- and Rex, of course.


What is your favorite time of day?
Night, when I am most alive with my inventions.

Have you ever broken a bone?
I have only broken a toe, when running down the street and tripping over someone's dropped hat boxes.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I would love to eradicate the strange, unexplained criminal activity off the streets of London, and find some answers to my parents death, if they yet exist. Once this is accomplished, I could marry a decent fellow who is not necessarily wealthy but can at least afford me one lime-green silk gown and allow me to fill our home with curious inventions of my own making.

Chocolate or vanilla?
Do you have to ask? Chocolate, for it is the most decadent thing I've ever tasted in my life.

Name a memorable holiday dish you won't soon forget.
I was once invited to a lovely holiday meal where they served a plum pudding. What fantastic fun it was to set it alight with fire first! I did rather enjoy the roast, too.

Thank you, Lyla. That was very nice, we truly appreciated your presence with us tonight. Short but sweet, just as I promised to you. 
I hope the rest of you enjoyed this short interview with Lyla! She's so fun to write, and I hope you had as much fun listening in as I did writing this. 
Happy Thursday!

Friday, January 27, 2017

What is a Leader?

I have been thinking a lot over the last few weeks on leadership. I think it's an important question, and one that I believe a lot of people do not have a proper understanding of. What sparked my thoughts on this subject was a note on a white board at work where someone wrote the question "Is following the new leading?" and drew a box around it to draw attention to it. The question has been up for months now, and every time I see it I find my self considering what is meant by it. I thought often of why there needed to be a distinction between leading and following many years ago when on the job-hunt and filling out an application. The application asked if I was a follower or leader, and I was completely stumped. I am not a leader- I dislike being in charge and am soft-spoken and not confident or bossy. Yet I don't follow, either. I have always done my own thing. Obviously, in a situation where morals needed to be taken in consideration, that certainly has always swayed my choice in leading or following. In considering the question "Is following the new leading?", I brought it up to a few co-workers and there blossomed a thoughtful discussion.

What defines a leader? 
In a more obvious, outward sense, we recognize leaders as people who stand out. They are people who speak openly and take charge and take on responsibilities. I think it is admirable to have a voice in public, and to have people listen to you, but I do think that a leader is defined more precisely and much more deeply than by his or her outward appearance or actions.

What a leader is not. 
I do not believe that a leader is simply someone who delegates tasks or shares facts clearly. I do not believe that you are made a leader by your status, or by how many people follow you. A lot of people have followers, but they're not necessarily leaders. I have follows do lead, too. I do not believe that just because you are aggressive or competitive you are a leader. I don't agree that women can never lead. (I'm not feminist, I do believe men are made to lead, but it doesn't mean women can't also be a different kind of leader.) Leaders are not always born to be leaders. Having money or being nice doesn't make you a leader. Most of us can agree that there are many people who have leading positions but they do not handle their responsibilities quite the way a true leader should. Maybe you think that you should be a leader, because you have lots of opinions to fix this false leader's problem, but having great ideas doesn't necessarily make you a leader. So then, what makes a true leader?

What a true leader is. 
Simply put, a leader is someone twho sets a good example. When my co-workers and I tried to think of people we thought who were great leaders, we settled on the greatest example: Jesus. While Jesus did speak and share the gospel publicly, that wasn't the only thing He did that drew people to Him. People came to Jesus because He lead by His example. He had suffered in His lifetime, was tempted, was hurt, was humiliated but never sinned. There is no better leader than one that you know has been where you've been. Leaders we are magnetized to are the ones that we relate to. They don't just delegate tasks and speak honestly, but they are also kind. I can name many introverted women in my life who do not see themselves as leaders, but they most certainly are. They have beautiful hearts and have experienced great pain; they are soft-spoken and kind, but they are also firm. I call them leaders because they are people I want to be like one day. They have lead by their daily examples. Jesus is someone we want to be like because we respect and love Him. We follow Him, leading others in our role as fishers of men, because of His example. In light of that, I think that you could also answer the question "Is following the new leading?" with the reverse of the question: "Is leading the new following?" because if you are following Christ, then you are also called to be a leader. This means you must follow His example so that you can be an example for others.


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As for Lyla's interview, I would like to have it up on the blog by February 9th. This is four days from Lyla's birthdate, if you were wondering (February 13th). There is still time to send any fun questions you can think of, either here or on my Facebook page. (See thumbnails on the top right panel for links.)

Thank you also to any of you who participated in the quick, impromptu poll on the Facebook wall. Your answers were great! I am slowly learning new things daily to improve my writing for you all. Part of that is also understanding who I am writing to! Such a simple, but very complicated question. I'm realizing that I need to write for you to to you. 

If you were curious, these were the results I received. (Voters could choose more than 1 category, so this is not per person but per votes.)

VOTERS     GENRE      
2                   Like (thumb's up)= Sci-fi              
5                   Heart= Fantasy             
3                   Laughing= Christian/ inpirational        
5                   Wow= Theological                                          
2                   Sad=  Different genre                  
4                   Historical Fiction                                                                
1                   Classics                                                                              
3                   Biographies & autobiographies                            
1                   Legal Fiction                                                        
1                   Medical                                                              
1                   Realistic fiction (Probably similar to inspirational?)    
1                   Kid's books                                                        
1                   Suspense                                                            
2                   Mysteries                                                              

If I were voting, I would have picked Fantasy (my favorite one), and sometimes these genres too: Sci-fi, Theological (do devotionals count?), Historical Fiction (I looooove Jane Grey & Elizabeth I), and Classics on a rare occasion.
Knowing these results is not going to change what I write about (because I already know who my ideal sort of reader is), but it did help me understand who is listening. Naturally, since Fantasy is my favorite genre, it's what I write the most of.
Thank you, everyone!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Beautiful Books Link-up


I've decided to join in the Beautiful Books link-up! It looked like too much fun! 

1. What were your writing achievements last year? 
Last year I had only one goal: write. I had hoped to write one page a day (week days only). I think I did alright, but I could have done better. My achievements throughout the year were more in learning the process than accomplishing goals. I learned that it's okay to let go of pieces of work at any time and it is okay to take a break from them. Sometimes it is needed.

2. What's on your writerly "to-do list" for 2017? 
I would like to accomplish at least 500 words a day and finish a first draft of something. I planned in November to buckle down on Lyla's story, and this month I've gotten side-tracked with a new one. I think this was a result of stress, so I'm not going to fight it this time (I used to) but ride it out and see what becomes of Ember's story. 

3. Tell us about your top priority writing projects this year!
Lyla: Lyla's story is slightly steampunk; it is Victorian but involves mythological creatures (I've an interest in Celtic mythology) and one other character who is... other (*wink wink* can't say what). Exploring themes and morals is something I really enjoy in the writing process, so I'd like Lyla to learn about loyalty and trust. 
Ember: Ember appears to be leaning towards dystopian in tone, and think she needs to learn forgiveness and that change can be alright. 
Blogging: Finally, I'd like to keep up with producing blog posts regularly that are both edifying to God and intriguing to you all. 

4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017? 
I hope to learn more about blogging and using social media wisely, but I also hope to learn more about structuring a story and how to balance my fly-the-seat-of-your-pants urge in writing with better structure. Proof of that success will be if I can finish a first draft of either Ember or Lyla's story.

5. Describe your general editing process. 
Weeeelll... This is sort of something new to me! Sort of. Typically, when I sit down to write I back up a few paragraphs or a page to catch up to where I left off and I end up editing that as I "get into the mode". This is not any major kind of edit, but often I find that in the moment I write so quickly that my ideas don't come off as clearly as I meant or even awkwardly. 
In the past I've made the mistake of editing my drafts over and over and then becoming frustrated with how it was not working out and how I'm never finishing anything. I have been learning that I need to pull back, and follow my writing instinct more strongly instead of allowing that trained Editor in my creep in. We're taught to revise and edit all the time in school and college, and it is hard to break away from that. It can actually halt or bruise the creative process if it gets too out of hand. 
Lyla is my practice for using structure. I'm holding back pieces in this work, and restraining my emotions on it to build it up from it's "blue print." 
Ember is less edited, with absolutely no prior structure created. I'm not ready to share her publicly because I've been pouring more emotion into her and I also don't know what direction her story will go. 

6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out? 
So far? Um... 5. Hard to say. I know *I* like what I'm writing but I have that fear that just because I like it doesn't mean readers will. 

7. What aspect of your draft needs the most work? 
All of it. Haha. 

8. What do you like most about your draft? 
Lyla- The sass, of course, and Simon. I love writing scenes with them together, they are nothing alike. It's great fun to put two juxtaposed characters in a room together and see how they interact. 
Ember- I see a lot of colors in my mind when I'm writing Ember. I like her perseverance. Ember is brave. 

9. What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hold forever? 
Many of those, actually: finish first draft, edit, find beta readers, unsure about self-publishing or finding a publisher yet, but I won't be hiding them in a dark hole forever. 

10. What's your top piece fo advice for those just finished writing a first draft? 
Keep writing and make friends with writers you admire and like. I'm learning that friendships in the writing world are vital to making it through any process of writing. They are a wonderful source of encouragement and mutual learning. I cannot say how thankful I am that my writing friends and I can pray for one another. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ask Lyla Questions!

I am planning to do an interview of sorts with my character Lyla so that you can all get to know her a little better. I don't have an exact date for when I will do this, but it will be sometime in February.

In order to pull this together, I will need your help! Send me questions you'd like to ask Lyla. Ask about her favorites, things she's done or would like to do, all within reason of course. (I will not answer things that ask for spoilers, such as "Who is Rex?" or other such questions that give away the story. It's also too soon for me to give out too much while the story is still so new.)

Comment on the blog here, or on my Facebook page, to submit questions! I need a lot of them, so ask away!