Ode to ElfQuest

For those of you who follow me on Twitter (or anywhere, really) you’ve probably heard me gush about ElfQuest at some point or another. While I’m not quite a super-fan, Wendy and Richard Pini’s cult graphic novel series ElfQuest was my first fandom, and in some ways has been my most enduring. So when I realized that 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of the long-running series (just last week, in fact!) I knew I had to write a post about the impact it’s had on my life, and all the love I still carry for Cutter Kinseeker’s epic journey.

Created by Wendy and Richard Pini in the late ’70’s, the basic story goes like this:

Image belongs to the Pinis

Scattered across the primitive World of Two Moons, a race of telepathic elves struggle to survive and coexist. When the Wolfriders–a tribe of hunter-gatherer elves sharing a unique bond with wolves and led by a young chieftain named Cutter–are driven from their forest Holt by hostile humans, they set off to find a new home. But instead, they stumble upon a village of elves known as the Sun Folk, a peaceful, agrarian tribe who tell of the mythical High Ones, the powerful ancestors of all elves. Determined to reunite all the scattered elf tribes, Cutter sets off across the World of Two Moons in search of the legendary Palace of the High Ones.

I came across the series when I was very young–6 years old, maybe 7. My mom got the first volume out of the library for my teenaged brother, who took one look at the lush illustrations and fantastical setting and pronounced it “girly stuff.” Even though I couldn’t read or comprehend much of the dialogue, I spent hours looking at the art and piecing together the story. Later, I obsessively read and reread the graphic novels. My paperback copies of the Original Quest became tattered from over-use, the bindings breaking and the pages falling out. And when I wasn’t reading ElfQuest, I was playing ElfQuest. My younger siblings and I used to stick butter knives in our belts and spend hours climbing trees, pretending to be Wolfriders.

So what makes the series so great? I’m so glad you asked! *clears throat* *pats seat*

Image belongs to the Pinis

First of all, the artwork is incredible. Sometimes delicate and fey, other times brutal and blood-soaked, Wendy Pini’s art is always entrancing. It’s not perfect, of course–the first volume starts out a little rocky art-wise (hey, that’s what first books are for!) and in the latter volumes it took on some questionable ’80’s aesthetic flair, but that just means it’s never static. Fluid but not fickle, the artwork evolves with the elves’ epic journey and reflects the changes the characters themselves undergo.

Moreover, ElfQuest was diverse before it was cool. The series features an incredibly racially varied cast of male, female and arguably non-binary characters, and even though the graphic novels nominally follow Cutter, a male elf chieftain, there is an undeniable thread of feminism threading through the story. Although each of the elf tribes has different social mores, for the most part the female elves are free to be whomever they choose and do whatever they choose. Some are fierce warriors, like Go-Back chief Kahvi, or agile hunters, like Nightfall. Others are peaceful spiritualists, like ancient Savah, or gentle healers, like powerful and beautiful Leetah. They are both vivacious lovers and dedicated mothers; female sexuality is considered a natural and beautiful part of elfin life, never something to be ashamed of.

Winnowill Cover
Image belongs to the Pinis

And finally, ElfQuest explores perhaps its most powerful theme, and one that is so very important in this day and age: racial prejudice and the arbitrary boundaries separating otherwise similar groups. When the elves first arrive on the World of Two Moons, they are labeled as demons by the native humans and savagely persecuted. Due to this treatment, elves deeply mistrust and hate humans. Similarly, a race of earth-dwelling trolls resent the elves for what they see as elitist and arrogant attitudes. But throughout the series the Pinis show us that the things that bind these disparate races as well as the divisions within the races are greater than the things separating them. And ultimately, the greatest evil and threat to the elves arises from within their own ranks, in the form of the corrupting influence of the wicked Winnowill.

The final volume of the Final Quest comes out this year to mark the end of an incredible 40 year journey! Will you be reading the end to Cutter’s quest? I know I will.


AMBER & DUSK Cover Reveal!

Gentle readers, the day has finally come! After nearly three years of plotting, drafting, rewriting, revising, rewriting, rewriting, oh and a little more rewriting, AMBER & DUSK is finally turning into a real book! With just about nine months to go until release, I wanted to share the official (and, if I may say, glorious) cover with the world! Scroll down to enjoy a short synopsis of the novel as well as an exclusive excerpt and, of course, the final cover!


Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it promises her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies.

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to assume what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

A vivid, extraordinary YA debut.


I wasn’t highborn. Or if I was, whoever sired me disowned me, dumping me in the shadows at the edge of the world like I was worthless. The thought stoked the ember of rage burning always within me, a bright kernel hard and polished as a ruby.

When I opened my hands illusions spilled out, beautiful and terrible and impossible to control.

Trees of kembric, draped in garlands of jewels.

Bouquets of skyflowers.

Bracelets of stars.

I wasn’t worthless. I wasn’t an aberration, a freak, a monster. I was a legacy.

I ran away from the Temple of the Scion because I knew I deserved better than merely being tolerated. Much as I’d tried to follow in their footsteps when I was young, I had never belonged with the Sisters, and they had certainly never loved me. They had taught me many things: that to laugh too loudly in the presence of the Scion was a sin, and that the bruises and scrapes inflicted by the ignorant village kids were my own fault, and that dreaming of anything outside the dank walls of the temple was too dangerous to be allowed.

They had taught me that being alive was not the same thing as living.

They had tried to stop me from leaving, when I finally fled. They had burned the Imperial Insignia and tried to lock me in my room, panic churning their studied tranquility into chaos. But I’d escaped. Jagged satisfaction tinged with guilt burned through me when I remembered how I’d repaid a lifetime of their indifference.

But I deserved the chance to find where I belonged. To find a world where my gift — my legacy — did not frighten superstitious Sisters or enrage cruel children. To find a world forged in sunlight and honed on dreams, as perilous and intoxicating as the colors spilling jewel-bright from my fingertips.


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The Perks of Being a Writer

Ah yes, the glamorous life of an author. Isolation. Too much coffee. Waking up in the middle of the night with incoherent plot ideas and then not being able to fall asleep again. Google searches not fit to be seen by anyone, ever, including (or maybe especially?) the FBI. Pajamas all day, and not in a cute way. So why, you might ask, do any of us do it?

Excellent question, my friend. Since you didn’t ask, here are some (only mildly sarcastic) reasons why you too might consider joining the venerable ranks of writers everywhere.

It’s child’s play

200…In the most literal sense you can think of. Did you ever make up elaborate dramatic scenarios for your model horses? Play Barbies, except Barbie was an exiled warrior princess and Ken was her evil uncle? Act out ElfQuest scenes in the trees behind your house using butter-knives as swords?

If so, you’re in luck! Your inner child might be able to channel all that imagination into an adult occupation crafting something other people will want to read.

We’re all mad here

Worried your parents/significant other/coworkers will be a little concerned that you stayed up all night inventing place names for a world that doesn’t exist? Never fear, the writing community is here!

Whether it’s to whinge, swagger, brainstorm, or just commiserate about life, writing communities are ace. I’ve met so many amazing humans, both online and in person, who understand from experience what it is to have villains monologuing over coffee and imaginary romances interrupting dinner. Who dream in technicolor and then turn those dreams into something real.

You’ll get lost

2001We live in an era of GPS, of Siri and background location monitoring and having the news pushed directly to your phone. Our lives are on display on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. We always know where we are. Where the closest sushi restaurant is. Hell, we even know where our friends are in relation to where we are!

Don’t you ever want to get lost? Here’s a thought–open a book. Better yet, open your mind. Let go of the real world and get lost in a world you create. There is fragility here, but there is also infinite possibility. And the best part? You can always find your way home.

You’ll live forever

Mortality is relentless, unyielding, inexorable. Part of being alive is the unforgiving fact that we all must someday die. But writing–writing! Think of all the cramped, dusty bookstores you’ve wandered. Did you ever pick out an ancient paperback, flipping through the pages and finding some word or phrase that called to you? Did you buy that book, read it, without recognizing the author’s name or knowing anything about their life?

With your words, you rage against the dying of the light. With your words, you outlive yourself. With your words, you have the chance to live forever.

Just kidding, I was actually referring to Edward Cullen.

You’ll be rich!

2002Oh, did you think I meant real money? LOL I say. LOL all day.

But you will be wealthy. Reach out and touch the gold of sunlight along a river you just invented. The bright silver of treachery–an unexpected knife in the dim. Jewels of worlds wink at you from the void–they belong only to you unless you choose to share them. This is real currency: getting  so deep inside yourself you find something you did not know was there.

What are your reasons to write? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Bypassing Writer’s Block

FullSizeRender-2I got it bad. And I’m not talking about that Usher song from 2001 (hello yes old). I’m talking about the dreaded writer’s block.

Every writer I’ve ever known has a different take on writer’s block. It’s actually something we Scribes have discussed a number of times on this very blog. Some suffer from it it; others don’t. Some claim it doesn’t even exist. (I claim they’re lying). Some say the only way to get over it is to work through it, which is pretty solid advice. Others recommend refilling the well by revisiting beloved books and movies. Some say you should give in to your instincts and just lie in front of the TV watching bad Christmas movies and crying into your wine until the literary gods finally take pity on you and send you a decent sentence or two. (What’s that you say? Oh, that’s just me?)

Honestly though, it sucks to feel like your “muse,” or whatever you want to call it, has deserted you. For better or for worse, it’s easy as a writer to let your sense of self-worth get all tangled up in your creativity, your productivity, and the pace at which you create art. And that’s kind of where I’m at. This fall has been tough for me. Between ongoing edits of my forthcoming novel, a big move accompanied by a lifestyle shift, and a death in the family, I haven’t had much time for new projects, and even when I have tried for new words, I’ve been deeply disappointed in the results. Which makes me even more anxious about writing, or not writing, aaaaand the cycle continues.

IMG_1969And then I picked up a book on a whim at my local indie. Riding on the recent trend of hygge–a Scandinavian-inspired cozy lifestyle–the book includes a number of fairly accessible craft ideas. Now, my adventures into crafting have historically followed this pattern: 1) I get really freaking excited about a craft, 2) I impulse-buy all the supplies for said craft, 3) I spend like one hour actually making the craft, 4) I realize that crafting is hard, and 5) I never touch said craft ever again. But this particular book included some information that I hadn’t realized before.

Apparently, scientific research is beginning to find that creative activities can lead to relaxation or a meditation-like response similar to that induced by yoga, while also raising neurotransmitters associated with elevated mood. This news wasn’t so surprising once I thought about it–my own anecdotal experiences with past art projects backed this up. So I bought a decent amount of supplies, figuring that if I wasn’t writing I would at least be creating pretty things to hang around the house during the holidays.

IMG_1970I’ll skip right to the end here, folks. This experiment has been a resounding success. I mean, I’m laughably bad at crocheting, I have paper-cuts from Danish origami, and my wreaths look like they were made by children, but I have ideas again. Something about having my hands and front-brain occupied seems to leave my creative brain free to float wherever it pleases. It does, in fact, feel very zen to just zone out and let my hands work until bam! An idea strikes and I’m running for the closest pen and paper.

That’s all I’ve got so far–scribbled notes and half-finished crafts. But even if that’s all this experiment nets me, it’s worth it just to have something new in the arsenal to banish that dreaded writer’s block.

(Slightly) Creepy Halloween Reads

2420467-main_imageBlack trees swathed in cloaks of red and gold sway in a sudden chilly breeze. Lit pumpkins leer from stoops and porches. A distant fluttering, like the wings of bats or the shaking hands of some dead thing. Disembodied footsteps just outside the door. Who’s there?

Aaaand that’s about as creepy as I can stand, folks. I am a total wuss when it comes to scary things. I think I can safely blame a babysitter I had when I was about 7 or 8. Somehow, she hadn’t been briefed on my parents’ blanket ban on all things violent, scary, or in anyway gory, and proceeded to tell me every murder story, ghostly tale, and urban legend she could think of. Suffice it to say, I was traumatized. I spent the next few years utterly convinced that I would be violently murdered in my bed by any number of supernatural or banal intruders, and even after growing up and gaining a little perspective, I’ve still never been a fan of horror movies or scary books.

But it’s Hallowe’en. And that means even I can be convinced to push my boundaries a little bit. And since we all know where to find Stephen King, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the shelves, here are some new ideas for eerie reads. So lock the doors, pull the covers tight, and let one of these spooky-ish books stand your hair on end.

enhanced-buzz-9426-1380902047-31Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Even though this book is classed as a middle grade novel, I found it to be delightfully dark and unexpectedly unsettling: in other words, classic Neil Gaiman. When Coraline Jones goes through a door that shouldn’t be there, she discovers another apartment in another house that seems exactly like her own, but with better food and cooler toys. But then she meets the other mother and other father, and they don’t want to let her go home.

Quote: She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

In a world where evil deeds and violence breed actual monsters, sometimes we fail to recognize the monsters within. A thrilling page turner, tense with terror in the darkness and chilling rhymes and unexpected betrayals.

Quote: “Violence breeds. Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

Slade House, by David Mitchell

While this is technically a companion to The Bone Clocks, it stands perfectly well on its own. If you know where to look, Slade House can be found down a nondescript alley in a working-class neighborhood in London. Sometimes. Saying too much about this book amounts to a spoiler, but I’ll admit it gave me nightmares.

Quote: “Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever.”

Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo

A collection of short stories set in the Grisha-verse, this book isn’t strictly scary, although a few verge on creepy. But these haunting vignettes live where all proper fairy-tales do–on the edge of the woods, where the dark trees whisper secrets and we fear what humans have always feared: if we go in, will we ever come out? And is what’s lurking in the darkness worse than what’s lurking in our hearts?

Quote: “This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”


Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Mary has been taught her whole life that there’s nothing beyond the village, only the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the relentless Unconsecrated. But when the fence is breached, Mary has to choose between the village, life, and love in this heart-pounding twist on a zombie novel.

Quote: “There is a child – a baby – who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn’t old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food. For flesh.”

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

Still wearing the blood-stained dress she was brutally murdered in, ghostly Anna kills everyone who sets foot in the deserted Victorian house she once called home. Full of spooky atmosphere with a compelling protagonist and just enough cheeky humor, this book sucked me in and didn’t completely turn my hair white.

Quote: “I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.”

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Full disclosure: I couldn’t finish this one. It was just too sinister and gory for me. (I told you I was a lightweight!) That said, I’ve heard only fantastic reviews from people braver than me, so if you enjoy historical paranormal fantasy featuring a diverse cast and elements of horror, then this might be for you.

Quote: “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”

Have you read any of these, or do you have any favorite Hallowe’en books of your own? Share yours in the comment section below!


The Merits of Changing Things Up

I’ve found that one of the most crucial aspects of becoming and being a successful creative (successful in the sense that you actually create) is routine. That may seem incredibly counter-intuitive to some people, including myself when I first started out. “But Lyra,” you’re probably saying to yourself. “Didn’t P G Wodehouse famously say routine is the death of heroism? Didn’t you just look up a whole plethora of quotes by famous people to find that everyone agrees that routine is basically where creativity goes to die?” Yes, he did, and yes, I did. But bear with me for a second.

giphy1Every writer and artist I know has a routine. These vary from setting a timer for 30 minutes before going to their day jobs to rolling out of bed and working straight through to bedtime. The routine is almost like the scaffolding of a house being built–it holds things in place so the building doesn’t collapse before it’s even started. And everyone’s is different. Write for two hours in the morning, then fingerpaint for the rest of the day? Awesome. Dance naked under the moonlight at midnight then scribble until dawn? You do you. Find a routine that works best for you, and your creative process. But find a routine.

But. (C’mon, you knew there would be a but.)

Routine can definitely get the better of you. My husband and I recently moved, and in order to combat the insane upheaval of lifestyle that inevitably causes, I’ve been clinging to other routines like nobody’s business. I try to write at designated times. I practice my instrument. I read books in my genre as work and I read frothy lighthearted books outside of it for pleasure. After dinner I watch a few episodes from a rotating selection of TV shows, or maybe a silly romcom.

giphyBut for some reason I’ve been blocked. It doesn’t help that most of my writing work recently has been copyedits, which is frankly a pretty banal slog. But for whatever reason, I’ve hit a wall. A few foundering short stories, a half-baked outline for a really ambitious space opera, and…that’s it. But the other night as I queued up yet another episode of Reign (don’t you judge me) I got a text from my sister. She was rewatching an old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movie we used to love when we were kids, and was loving the costumes and snappy dialogue.

Now I used to watch a ton of old movies, either rented from the library or later–when my parents got cable–on TCM. But for the past few years, the combination of black and white film, square aspect, and casual sexism has made the genre feel a little inaccessible and undesirable to me. But I took a chance, jumped on Amazon, and rented it digitally. And a delightful hour and a half later–my head now full of gamine showgirls, mistaken identities, and a love-hate flirtation for the ages–I had a new idea for a book. Something wildly different from what I usually write, but something I’m excited about nonetheless. Nanowrimo–here I come!

giphy2So I’m just here to say this: don’t nail yourself to your desk. Read a book you think you’ll hate, watch a movie someone told you was boring, taste a dish you loathed when you were a kid. Because you never know where that shiny new idea might be hiding.

On Persistence

Those of you who know me or follow me on social media have probably heard my good news by now. (Okay, you’re probably already tired of hearing about my good news.) For those of you who don’t, I’m incredibly pleased to say that my YA fantasy Amber & Dusk was acquired by Scholastic for publication! *cue happy dance forever*

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I don’t want to talk about what the book is about or what inspired it or what it means to me. Today I kind of want to talk about something else, something that I’m not sure is discussed enough in this glorious complicated frustrating industry. I want to talk about an important–if not crucial–lesson that I learned very slowly, and with much difficulty, over the course of a number of sometimes soul-bruising years. The name of that lesson is persistence.


I didn’t start writing seriously until six years ago, almost exactly. I’d written all my life–from incredibly detailed diaries to elaborate illustrated short stories to painstakingly-typed royal histories–but it had never really occurred to me that I could be a writer. But when the opportunity to really take a stab at writing presented itself, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping into a black roiling sea of rejection with no floaties and oh yeah, there were sharks.

No lie, I thought I was going to write a glorious first novel, make a million dollars, and I don’t know like move to a castle and surround myself with adoring fans. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Looking back on my first query letters is seriously cringe-worthy–they’re full of awkward self-deprecating jokes, vague stakes, and rhetorical questions. SO MANY rhetorical questions. I was so naive, and so inexperienced. And when most of my query letters were summarily rejected with form letters–or, worse, not responded to at all–I was crushed.

I’m not sure whether it was pride or shame or competitiveness or some internal strength that made me soldier on. But I wrote a second book. And then rewrote that book in a different setting with a different main character. And then I queried that book. And when that one received four rounds of rejections, I wrote another. And after querying that one I finally got into PitchWars, an amazing pitch contest hosted by Brenda Drake. And I got an agent! I finally made it!

HAHAHA gotcha. No way. No siree. Try another three rounds of revisions, and going on submission with editors only to hear another mountain of pure unadulterated NOPE. And then writing another book and a half. And then going on sub again.

True story: three weeks before finally getting an offer on A&D, I literally broke down and finally quit. I remember sitting with my sisters on the floor of my niece’s playroom and sobbing into my wine. I was done, I was finished with hearing no. Writing isn’t just a job; it’s pouring something of my soul out into the world, and having industry professionals read that art, recognize that as art, and then still tell me it wasn’t good enough had started to break my heart.

All’s well that ends well.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no illusions. I’m still learning this lesson: persistence isn’t the end game–it’s the name of the game. And listen–my goals aren’t and shouldn’t be everyone’s goals. But having my book published traditionally has been my dream, and despite the above paragraph, I’m usually not a quitter. So while it feels amazing to have taken a step forward in this crazy journey, I still have a thousand miles to walk. But I’m not going to worry too much about that now.

I’ll just try to remember to be persistent.