J. Grace Pennington

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You Know You’re a Real Author When…

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…someone writes fanfiction of your series.

Okay, so it was my sister who write the fanfiction, but hey! Still! I have my very own fanfic!

She showed this to me back when she wrote it, and recently posted it on her website. I really enjoyed giving it another read-through. I’m a big, well, fan of fanfiction, so to have some of my own is pretty darn brilliant.

It’s on the long side, but worth a read if you enjoy my Firmament series and want to see more of Andi and the rest. Non-canon, of course, but she did a great job capturing everybody.

Thanks, Hope, for being such a fan!

Now I Know Everything

I love libraries. One of my favorite parts of living in the big city is that there are so many of them so nearby. Once I have a library card, I can check out everything from romance movies to classic sci-fi short story collections to the latest Maze Runner novel. Interestingly though, I rarely check out fictional material. Much as I love novels, short stories, and movies, I’m much more likely to check out how-to or self-help books. I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m just compelled to use this opportunity as productively as possible.

Over the past year, I’ve checked out at least half a dozen books about writing. Everything from Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy to a handy dandy tome entitled Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish. Also, presented with an opportunity to download a couple of The Great Courses for very cheap, one that I picked was Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques.

It wasn’t until I finished reading the plot book and started listening to the course that it dawned on me. I couldn’t remember the last time that I learned something new by reading or listening to these things. Every time I go into the book or the lecture expecting to savor some new revelation that will bring my prose, plotting, and personalities from good to great. I’m always trying to garner that missing puzzle piece that will snap it all together into the complete picture of the perfect story.

But thinking back, I had to face the truth. I used to learn so much about writing. Whether it be from books or speakers or writing curricula, I was always finding out new ways to spice up my storytelling. But then, about a year or two ago, I plateaued. What was the last new writing principle that I learned? I think it was something in 2013 about including specific details.

I never seem to hear any writing advice I haven’t heard before.

In short, I now know everything.

Why, then, has my writing not reached the New York Times bestseller list? Why am I making $30 a month on my books instead of $3000? Why do I still get two- and one-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads?

Okay, so even many of the most brilliant authors get negative reviews and don’t hit the bestseller lists, but still. Why is my writing not yet perfect, now that I know all the rules?

Well, does knowing all the rules of football make me a player that every team in the NFL is clamoring to sign onto their team? No. Does knowing all the rules of chess make me win every time? Not quite. How about having read the entire Bible multiple times? Does that make me a perfect Christian? By no means!

The distance between knowledge and action seems much farther than I would like to believe. There may be few writing principles I have left to learn, but I’m realizing I still need an incredible amount of practice before I can become the best that I can be.

So I guess it’s time to spend a little less energy on reading books about writing, and do more of the actual sitting down and churning out words.

A Firmament Fan’s Look at Doctor Lloyd

Another guest post from my awesome sister and fellow writer Hope of The Epic Place! This time she’s looking at my very favorite character from the Firmament series, Doctor Gerard Lloyd. Let’s hear her observations…

A Firmament Fan’s Look At Doctor Lloyd

Hello again, people-who-are-likely-not-big-enough-fans-of-the-Firmament-series. This is Hope Pennington, AKA Firmament’s biggest fan, here to analyze the series’s gruff but charming Dr Lloyd.

As before in my look at Andi I’m going to cover four attributes of character study:

– Character Type

– Relationships

– Habits and Quirks

– Character Arc

Dr. Lloyd (AKA “The Doctor”) is undoubtedly the coolest dad character I’ve ever read in a book or seen in a movie while still being believably dad-ish. So without further ado, let’s dive in to the brilliance that is The Doctor.

– Character Type

He’s that gruff-on-the-outside-kind-on-the-inside type of guy but the thing that’s cool about the way he’s written is that it’s not super over the top or comedic. It’s more subtle, which makes it easier to believe in. He’s a practical, matter-of-fact person overall, with an underlying sensitivity that when you see it is really extremely tender. His past, only hinted at so far, is shown to be both heartbreaking in the sense of loosing loved ones and difficult financially, suggesting he had to work from the bottom up. This seems to have given him a wall of sorts to his emotions which would develop over time yet at the same time he’s not shut off. He shows a lot of love and gratitude in his own subtle way for his family, friends, and job which would also have come from not always having those things.

– Relationships

His existing relationships suggest that Dr Lloyd isn’t one to go at anything half-heartedly. In his day-to-day you see a rational, wise, and steady attitude, but the small subtle glimpses you do get of his care for Andi, Crash and even Captain Trent and Guilders show someone who forms loyal and compassionate relationships with all of his friends. It takes awhile to get on his “friend list” but when you’re there be sure you’re there for life. One REALLY admirable thing about the Doctor is that while he’s an ardent Christian and the Captain and Guilders are not, he doesn’t let that bother him or distance him from the two of them. They seem at peace with their differences and even discuss them in slightly annoyed but mostly light-hearted terms–and you know the Doctor would never turn on or abandon either of them no matter what they’d done. You get the feeling that you could threaten to kill him and he’d stay with you, praying with you and assuring you that wasn’t the real you.

– Habits and Quirks

The Doctor likes things the way they used to be. He doesn’t like trying new things or change in general. Whenever there’s an upgrade in uniforms, medical equipment, or even the lunch menu he’s frustrated and asks what was wrong with the way things were before.

His likes and dislikes are strong even though he’s not largely outspoken about them.

While most people in this future only read electronic books he continues to read the Bible as a “real” or “traditional” book.

– Character Arc

We haven’t seen a ton of change in Dr. Lloyd in the series so far, which makes sense with him being a lot older than, say, Andi.

Some things were touched on in book 1–when he was under the effect of a device, he rambled pathetically about how he didn’t want Andi to leave him like everyone else had, which we is just a deeper look into what a hard past he’s had.

The bond he and Andi have is very strong, sometimes making Andi seem younger then she is because of her strong love and respect for her dad; something that usually changes a lot around the teen years.

It’s actually very beautiful to see a father and daughter as close as Andi and The Doctor are, but it makes you wonder how the Doctor would react if he were to lose Andi or believe that he had for a long while.

Again not much of this has been explored more than subtly, but I think it will be fascinating to see where their relationship goes in the future.

This has been A Firmament Fan’s Look at Doctor Lloyd! Join me next week for part 3 where I take a look at Eagle Crash!

Hope author photoHope Pennington is a homeschooled manga artist and sci-fi fan who blogs at TheEpicPlace.com, and the author of the soon-to-be-released YA novel Fairytale. In her spare time she enjoys coffee, YouTube, and making new friends ^_^

We Only Care For Faces, Part 2

Recently, I wrote about how it was hard to conjure a lot of deep emotion for the victims of the Orlando attack, or really any other mass tragedy. Who could have guessed that circumstances would arise so soon that presented the other side of the coin so tragically?

Also in Orlando, a two-year-old little boy was pulled into the water by an alligator. He was just playing in the lagoon at a Disney resort. The happiest place on earth. Who would have thought what danger awaited him? One moment he was playing, the next his father was trying desperately to wrench him from the beast’s jaws, to no avail. Little Lane Graves died tragically.

I heard the story in detail on a news podcast on my commute to work one day. And I cried.

A few days later, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I saw some posts from the Star Trek Instagram asking followers’ thoughts and prayers to be with the family and friends of Anton Yelchin, the young actor who plays Pavel Chekov in the new movies. Curious, I googled for more information, and found he had died just that morning. How? His friends found him pinned between his car and his brick mailbox. They say he left the car running in the driveway, got out, and the car rolled back and trapped him. He wasn’t much older than me.

I read the story in news articles online and I cried. My heart remained heavy throughout the day.

These are terrible tragedies. It’s hard to imagine many worse, more unexpected horrors. But only two people died. In the shooting at the Orlando nightclub, fifty did. Why does my heart ache more for one toddler and one actor than fifty humans?

It’s like I said. Fifty is too many. It’s a mass of unnamed humanity. Lane Graves has a face. I’ve seen it in pictures, his precious baby smile as he was cuddled in his mother’s arms. He has a father who fought to drag him from danger and failed. Anton Yelchin has a face. Millions have seen it up on a screen and felt they knew him.

I wish I could look into the eyes of every victim of the mass shooting, to learn their name, their loves, even their favorite food. But if I could, my heart would break with pain. I’m finite. My love has limits. It’s like there are dozens of concentric circles–I care for all the people of the world in theory, I care for the people of my country by association, I care for the people of my city through shared culture, I care for the people that I know by allowing the barest details of their lives to enter into mine, I care for my friends more closely, my family more closely still, and those closest to my heart I love intimately. Because in truth, we cannot love what we do not know. The more we know, the better we can love.

I may not know the faces, names, joys, sorrows, pasts, loves, and pain of each and every person killed by the shooter in Orlando, but there is Someone who knit each of them together in the womb, who knows their every heartbeat. My sorrow over Lane Graves and Anton Yelchin may fade as I forget their faces in the sea of others, but He counts the hairs of their heads and His thoughts towards them are without number. And even those closest to me, boyfriend, family, dearest friends, times come when there are things I cannot know, and therefore things I cannot love even if I was purely selfless.

But to Him, every heart is an open book, one that He never stops reading.

To Him, we all have faces.

We Only Care for Faces

Something terrible happened this past weekend. A man burst into a nightclub in Orlando and killed at least fifty people and wounded fifty more. He just walked in and mass-murdered or maimed over one hundred human beings. They say the floor was covered in blood.

To call it a tragedy is an understatement.

I say “that’s so sad” and I mean it. It’s terribly sad. It’s sad that a person could do that to other people. It’s sad that so many lost their lives and that so many more may be scarred for life. It’s sad that so many others lost friends and loved ones.

But can I tell you a secret?

I don’t really care.

I feel so guilty about that. I hear everyone talk about how shocked they are by it and how saddened they are. And I’m sad too, in theory. But how much does it affect my life? It doesn’t. How many times a day do I stop and think about those victims and ache for them? Not too often. I’m not as sad as I should be. Or am I?

As a race I think that humans truly only care for faces. It’s hard to care about the nameless masses. It’s hard to wrap our minds around the individuality in a group of hundreds. It’s why one picture of a child washed up on shore elicits a more emotional response than the abstract idea of hundreds of Syrian refugees. It’s why we’ll shed a thousand times more tears over the death of a sibling than over the death of thousands in war. I want to hurt for the victims in Orlando. I want to be affected by the thought of a hundred people’s tragedy. But without knowing someone by name, without being there to see the blood and the lifeless bodies, without putting faces to the scenario–it’s still only numbers and ideas in my head.

And like the politically-bent who exploit the situation to defend their own views on gun control or Islam, I shape my thoughts about this tragedy to my own interests. As a writer, this led me to consider how we portray tragedy in our own stories, particularly those of an epic nature. I think this principle, the selfishness of human hearts, is why I dislike most battle scenes. They’re too big. I see a thousand people killing each other, and it doesn’t affect me as much as I wish it would. I hate it. It’s terrible. But there are too many of them. I don’t know any of them. I don’t really care if they die. Much as I may wish I did, I just don’t.

But give me a person I know, a character I’ve grown to love, and kill him–then I care. Because in our self-involvement, that’s all the capacity we have. There are too many people out there to be cared for. A single heart can only care for so many. It’s one of our many limitations. Trying to care deeply about every terrible thing that happened everywhere in the world all the time would make us go insane or kill ourselves with despair. We are not God. We don’t have infinite love or infinite ability to know each person’s heart and mind. We need faces.

As a writer, I want to give my readers faces to care for in the midst of any tragedy I write. As a human being, I want to pray for the victims of the Orlando attack and their families, and to not feel guilty for my lack of emotion–to trust to an omnipotent Father the responsibility to care for them and bring people into each of their lives who do.

Myself, I have many faces of my own that He has given me to care for.