A Bit of Essence: 1


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Journey to Kokoroe is the first book in the Essence of Galenia fantasy-adventure series.In this first entry of A Bit of Essence there is a summary of the book and then a passage to go with Minecraft builds from students at GamEd Academy. Enjoy!

Seeking out a way home, Hanna discovers a world being torn apart. Her curiosity takes her deeper into the mysteries of Galenia as she learns she possesses skills and abilities exceeding those around her. But the novelty of those skills will be put to the test as the dangers on Galenia become all too real and home becomes a dream.

Excerpt From Journey to Kokoroe Chapter 1: Cause and Concern


‘Hanna took in a deep breath. She could smell flowers and freshly cut grass. Imagining she must have fallen asleep in the woods behind her house, she was surprised when she opened her eyes and saw a peculiar ceiling above her. Often she had lain on her living room floor staring up at the ceiling, imagining shapes in the stucco. This ceiling, however, had thick wooden beams and wood slats across them. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head.

“You are awake! Thank goodness. You must be very thirsty; lie still for a moment and I will get you
some water.”

Hanna was puzzled. She had never met this person before yet she spoke to her like a concerned parent. As she watched her pour water from a jug, Hanna tried to think where she’d seen this lady before. Her hair was curly and her face had a pinkish hue. Confused and unsure where she was, Hanna tried to think of the last thing she could remember.

She recalled having another typical day at school, of noisy hallways and bright fluorescent lights that left her with yet another migraine to end her day. Following the nauseating bus ride home, the smell of sweat mixed in with perfumes and cologne, she had escaped civilization by hiding in the woods behind her house. She gazed up at the canopy of the trees as she lay on a bed of greenery. Taking in the refreshing smell of moss and pinecones, she twirled her hair around her fingers, unconcerned of the dried leaves and twigs that became entangled in it. Her daydreams were interrupted by a cracking sound, like a person walking on branches. She jumped to her feet and glanced around; perhaps twenty feet away, she saw her. Completely taken by surprise, Hanna was more curious than worried. She had never seen anyone in the woods before; today was the first. A lady with a kind face that had a pinkish hue was meandering through the bushes.

‘That’s it!’ Hanna thought. She recalled watching the woman taking cuttings off the bushes, then pick up a basket and begin walking in the opposite direction. Aside from being in the usually vacant woods, something seemed strange about this woman, but Hanna couldn’t really explain what it was. Her clothing was simple and dated looking, and although filling a basket with plants may not have been typical it wasn’t odd enough to warrant suspicion.

Still, Hanna was unable to contain her curiosity and followed her. The woman disappeared behind a tree. Hanna quietly moved in closer. When she peered around the tree there was no sign of the lady. Hanna scampered in a little further. She wondered how she could have lost her so easily. When there was still no sign of her, Hanna’s curiosity increased. She desperately wanted to talk with her and find out who she was; when her headache’s didn’t get the best of her, she tended to be a social creature.

Hanna caught a glimpse of her, only to lose her again behind another tree. Feeling as if she was being pulled, Hanna ran calling out to get the lady’s attention and proceeded to trip on the protruding root of a rather large tree. She flew into the air and, as luck would have it, hit her head on a rock. That was the last thing she remembered.’

This passage is what the students were given for their build:Kayu1

‘Hanna was pleased to find that instead of looking out onto a concrete world, she was surrounded by wooden houses and shops, grass and trees, benches and even a large, stone fountain. It reminded her of a Christmas village she had seen in a store window one December.’


Stories Alive!


What I love about movies is seeing worlds come alive. For the stories we read it is up to us to visualize what the author has created. I’m so excited to say that my readers can experience both! In my upcoming blog series A Bit of Essence, I will share excerpts or summaries of my trilogy accompanied with photos of Minecraft builds created by students of GamEd Academy.

Students were given build challenges of certain scenes from the books – I love what they have created! (The above photo is a Minecraft version of Jack and the Giant on the Beanstalk.)

What is GamEd Academy you may have asked? It’s where learning & gaming collide! Students learn about a subject such as 7 Wonders of the Ancient World or the Boston Tea Party and are then given build challenges that go with their learning. In the creative writing series they learned some writing techniques as well as doing a novel study. The year is broken down into 6 week sessions and each session focuses on a different novel: Journey to Kokoroe, Flight to the Citadel and Into the Valley. In addition to these fantasy adventure stories they also learned about Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland to name a few.

If you want more information about this amazing online school check out their website. For now, here’s a glimpse at some of the awesome builds students did in my first creative writing series Stories Alive. Some were builds depicting scenes from fairy-tales and others were from their favorite stories.

Here we have a pixel version of Alice in Wonderland, another Alice crying her eyes out, the Gingerbread Man, the Golden harp from Jack and the Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty on his wall, A Minion from Despicable Me (check out the laptop in the background from another story), and the Quidditch Pitch from Harry Potter complete with the characters on their broomsticks. What great creativity these kids have!

Top 5 Creative Writing Goals

Before I wrote my Essence of Galenia series, I wanted to be clear of what it was I wanted to achieve. What did I want to say or do that hadn’t been done many, many times before? It started with a list. I wrote down the names of stories that I loved, stories I was disappointed in and one’s that were in my genre. I then proceeded to jot down all the things I liked about them and what my pet peeves were. There were some interesting patterns that began to emerge and it gave me a way to make clear goals for what I wanted to achieve with my story; ways to make it unique and to avoid falling into the same patterns as many fantasy stories do.

  1. Likeable villains; Good guys with flaws
    • Sauron, Voldemort, The White Witch: all iconic villains. And they are all the epitome of evil.  They are the embodiment of all things dark and sinister; there is no doubt that they need to be destroyed. Yet, having doubt of whether or not someone really is evil or if they have a chance at redemption can make for an interesting or even likable villain. There are many tales of how the protagonist becomes a hero—in my story I wanted to include a believable journey of the villain; the tale of a normal character’s descent into darkness.
    • On the flip side, I wanted ‘good guys’ who weren’t so polished. Every well-written protagonist has some flaws that they struggle with or fears they must overcome, but typically you know that they are the heroes. I wasn’t interested in flipping everything and everyone on their heads, but I did want to create characters that caused the reader to question the very concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In RL people are both; even ‘nice guys’ can say or do things that are unpleasant. One of my favorite lines from the Harry Potter series is a quote from Sirius Black:
      • “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
    • My Goal: To blur the lines between good and evil; even the characters don't know what path they are truly on.
  2. Being Heroic Without having to Kill
    • Even in beloved children stories the heroes kill. From Snowwhite and Hansel and Gretal to The Harry Potter Series and The Hunger Games, killing is key. It is true that in some of these stories the hero indirectly gets the villain killed, but it seemed to me that in so many stories there is this unwritten theme of ‘bad guys’ killing = murder, ‘good guys’ killing = heroic. Very rarely do heroes have repercussions for their actions – usually because the story ends. In some fantasy books the heroes are constantly in battles and the death count on their hands is impressive —orc or not that’s got to get to you…While death and killing is not a theme nor the goal in my series, when the issue comes up I try to deal with it in a realistic manner and there are always consequences.
    • My Goal: Not every story ends with a war. You can be a hero without having to kill.
  3. Consequences of Choices
    • Another theme I found was the chosen hero. It is their destiny to be a savoir. Their coming has been prophesied—they will save the day. One of the things I loved about Lord of the Rings was that Frodo made the choice to be a ring bearer; Aragon chose to become King. To me, having choice makes the characters all the more heroic. The consequences of these choices—for better or worse—have a greater impact on who the character is. It is the difference between being told what to do and doing something of your own free will and, therefore, you are not only responsible for your actions, but accountable for the outcome.
    • I also wanted this kind of accountability for my protagonists. I love the Harry Potter stories, but again I will use Voldemort as an example. Tom Riddle (later to be named Voldemort) came from the Slytherin lineage (the only founder of Hogwarts to get kicked out for his controversial and morally unacceptable views). Tom was  abandoned by his father, had a somewhat psychotic mother, was raised in an orphanage where he was bullied, and pretty much never knew love. What choice did he have but to become a villain? Seriously, if you saw the movie, meeting young Tom Riddle through the aide of the pensive, the whole thing screams ‘I’m going to be a villain!!’ He tortured animals and people. Now you may say that Harry had also lost his parents, was raised by bullies, but he chose to be a nice guy, and I agree, he could have absolutely been a jerk. Had it not been for his friends and his good genes, then it’s likely he would have been Voldemort’s sidekick. My point is that Tom was pretty much denied that choice; he had nothing in his favor.
    • My Goal: To create heroes and villains with equal choices and opportunities. They are not destined to be saviors or corrupters they chose their path.
  4. The logic of Science vs  the convenience of Magic
    • Magic is easy. At least when you are writing about it. It can get you out of any circumstance. And many times when writers use magic they don’t even give themselves parameters. Need to get somewhere? Enchant a carpet. Don’t like someone? Turn them into stone. The trouble with magic is that the rules can be very unclear to authors and readers alike. YouTube has great tributes to these undeclared limits to powers. Why not just use the time turner to kill Tom Riddle before it all happened? Why not send the eagles in to mount doom to begin with? Of course, the point is not the magic, it is the journey of our protagonist. But if these powers come with some sort of  limit or clear-cut rules then we wouldn’t have to quietly suspend all plausibility when losing ourselves in the story.
    • Now I’m not suggesting it all has to be explained. Too much of that and not only do you take the fun out of it, but it would leave little left for the imagination. I’m also not suggesting that there is a right way or wrong way to add wizardry into a tale. Alice shrinking to the size of a mushroom or Percy Jackson having the ability to control water are wondrous, magical scenes that would lose their appeal if the writers gave us a full account of how it all happened. All I’m suggesting is that whatever guidelines, whatever limits these powers have, it’s important that the readers can come to understand them and that we as writers don’t abuse those powers.
    • So what has this got to do with science? Ancient people believed in magic. It was all around them. Fire, the Aurora Borealis, I’m sure even caterpillars becoming butterflies was miraculous. And of course it was. It was also explainable, they just didn’t have the knowledge or tools to work it out. When writing a story the readers can be swept away by the magic as much as they want, if the writer sets rules and parameters for these miracles and reveals them to the reader as needed then a trust can be built: the unwritten promise of being consistent.
    • My Goal: To apply the logic of Science to the Essence in my story.
  5. End on hope
    • I read the whole Hunger Games Trilogy just hoping and waiting for a rewarding victory—something that made all the darkness that I waded through to be worth it in the end. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I was mad. Okay, the book is about kids having to kill each other, what did I expect really? A Star Wars ending I suppose. I expected Lord Vader to redeem himself, the Emperor to die and the Han Solo to get the princess. Regardless of all the crap that the heroes had to endure, it would be worth it in the end. Without that, why would I even want to read the book? Life is full of disappointment, failures, deaths and misery that is out of our control. Stories can point that maybe we don’t have it so bad. They can also give us the encouragement to keep moving forward for the hope that it is worth it in the end. Of course, The Hunger Games is meant to be a tragedy and knowing that going in you know it just won’t end well. This realization made it clear that this was not the type of story I wanted to write.
    • My Goal: Victory or not, each book ends on hope, no matter how slight.

Book Reviews

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For all my devote followers out there, no I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth. So where, you might ask did Thoughts of the Season 7-12 go? Well, rest assured I had thoughts. Really great, fantastic ones. But my writing time over the rest of winter break was devoted to writing book 6. What can I say? I got hooked…sometimes when I get into writing my story I just can’t get out.

For those of you who feel cheated, let down by the missing Thoughts of the Season, I will give my bulleted short list here. Be prepared for mind blowing opinions.

Thought #7 – Board Games

One of my favorite thing to do over the holidays is get together with friends and family and game. Here’s my top choices for group games this year…okay, last year:

  1. Tribond
  2. The Game of Things
  3. Pit
  4. Ticket to Ride
  5. Rook
Thought #8 – Alone Time

Here’s my Top 5 list of my favorite things to do when I get a chance to do my own thing:

  1. Write (sitting on my couch, foot stool up, a hot cup of tea and some dark COVERchocolate…ahhh, good times.)
  2. Read (I just started Daughter of Shadow by Tyler Sehn, looking forward to really sinking my teeth in it as it were…once I can stop writing.)
  3. Warm Bubble bath (a really nice happy place to ease tired and sore muscles and relax for awhile.)
  4. Playing my drums (yep, you heard me. Crank the tunes and let me butcher the beat as I rock out.)
  5. Bingeing on Netflix (I love to spend 10 hours straight delving into story – Thank you Jessica Jones for this seasons binge.)


Thought #9 – Homemade Gifts

Every Christmas I make at least one gift. This year it was to my mom. Thanks Kelley for the inspiration. This bouquet is all paper flowers, origami style!

Thought #10 – Gifts Received

My family was very thoughtful this year from cowbells to board games. My most unique present? Scavenger lottery tickets! Santa put the first clue in my stocking and then I spent my morning searching for each clue attached with a scratch ticket. Here are 5 of my favorite locations that I found my clues:

  1. Treasure island book on my bookcase
  2. My own book – Journey to Kokoroe
  3. My jewellery box
  4. In the tree
  5. My sock drawer

Did someone say ‘More Cowbell?’ (Last one of the top 10)

Thought #11 – Best Chocolates of the Season

I love chocolate so here’s a thought dedicated to the ones I savor every year:

  1. Chocolate covered cherries
  2. After Eights
  3. Turtles
  4. Lindor Dark Chocolate
  5. Terry’s Chocolate Orange
Thought #12 – New Year’s Resolutions

How many times have you made the same resolution? I lost count…but I usually manage to stick to them for four or five months so it’s worth the thought 😉

  1. Eat less sugar (that’s a challenge…see thought #11)
  2. Build muscle (if I stock up on body building magazines, does that count?)
  3. Read one classic book  a month (this is on top of my regular reading)
  4. Finish Book 6 of the Essence of Galenia series (I’m halfway through the first draft so well on my way!)
  5. Publish Book 4 of the Essence of Galenia series  (yes I write two ahead of what I’m publishing – makes it easier to do foreshadowing and ensure continuity)

That’s it for my Thoughts of the Season, consider your mind blown!

12 Thoughts of the Season – #6

The holiday break allows us time to catch up on all our movie viewing, visit the box office for the new releases and snuggle under warm blankets at home to watch the classics. My Top 5 Holiday Movie list does have some Christmas classics, but it also contains any movie where the holidays come up. These are shows I tend to watch every season depending on what kind of mood I’m in. Be prepared: although I’ve included the fun there is also the sappy and the damn the man spirit (after a full day of crazy shopping malls and traffic jams sometimes you need a little dark humour…)

  1. Love Actually
    • Not a season goes by that I don’t watch this romantic, heart wrenching love story. It’s funny & honest. I cry, I laugh.
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
    • Dr. Seuss was a talented writer and could pass on meaningful life lessons in short and humorous stories. Of course when I watch this I look under my tree with the generous loot and feel a bit guilty knowing if it was empty I don’t think I’d be happy and singing…
  3. The Ref
    • Okay, here’s the dark comedy. This show isn’t meant for those who easily take offense and like their Christmas specials to be all carols and magic. Dennis Leary has a knack for stringing together a long list of profanities, but if you’re holidays (or your life for that matter) has ever been less than perfect or you’ve ever had the urge to tell someone to gag your mother, then you might get a kick out of this holiday movie.
  4. Sleepless In Seattle/When Harry Met Sally
    • I couldn’t chose between the two of these rom/coms. Even though neither of them are set exclusively at Christmas, I think of them every year with Meg Ryan singing ‘horses, horses, horse’ or dragging a tree down the road through the snow.
  5. Elf
    • Aside from the Grinch, this is one of those shows I watch with the kids every year. There are jokes for both kids and adults alike making it a great movie belonging on my holiday viewing list. How many movies can boast about singing a duet in a shower scene and show it in a kid-friendly way?

There are also those fantastic Epic Trilogies (or more) that my fellow binge watchers would agree are great escapes: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Godfather.

12 Thoughts of the Season – #5

Poor Emily was burdened with so many unpractical gifts (see yesterdays post), but did she even stop and think about how much her dear Edward had to fork over to lavish her with such oddities? The fact that she ended it with a lawyer shows a lack of empathy on her part; Edwards heart was in the right place, even if his head wasn’t. I think a return gift of some medical help would have been what a true love would do!

In reality, the carol itself dates back to around the 16th Century. Christmas was celebrated over twelve days and if living in a wealthy castle one could receive gifts on each day. If you think of the song taking place in the middle ages, in a castle, doesn’t this just sound like one heck of a party? Today it would end much more like Emily’s letters. With inflation, Edward would have to be very wealthy indeed. And those poor, hard working milk maids…they’d probably have to moonlight as ladies dancing!