Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Siren, Rewritten and Re-released

I’m sure you’ve heard about this (because I can’t shut up about it), but one of my favorite YA authors, Kiera Cass, released a rewrite of her first novel, The Siren. This is a pretty big deal for her. She self-published The Siren six years ago, and since then, she’s had a ton of success with her series, The Selection. It completely makes sense that she should re-release The Siren with her publisher. It even makes a little sense why it might undergo a bit of editing or revising.

What doesn’t make sense is why she changed everything so that it’s barely recognizable.

I’ve read a couple reviews (and an interview with Cass) that say you simply have to treat it as a separate novel. I have two problems with that. First, if that were true, she should have changed the characters’ names and the title of the novel. Second, I’m infatuated with the first novel, so I cannot objectively read it without first filtering it through that lens. I recognize my bias, and I accept it. However, in order to try to maintain a facade of objectivity, I will not list anything as “good” or “bad”; I will simply explain what was kept and what was lost as a result of the rewrite.

What we kept

  • The characters’ names. Kahlen and Akinli are still there, as well as Ben, Julie, Aisling, Miaka, and Elizabeth. 
  • Most of the characters’ backstories. We actually gain more of Kahlen’s backstory. I didn’t mind seeing how her journey as a siren began, although the way it happened was definitely different. Miaka’s story is still there, and Ifama’s is told in memory, not as if we were witnessing it with Kahlen. Same with Marilyn. She’s never actually in the book, just mentioned as a memory. 
  • Kahlen and Akinli’s love for each other. It felt underdeveloped this time around, but you could still see how deeply their hearts were knit together. 
  • The sirens’ job description. Their role in serving the Ocean didn’t change. 
What we gained
  • A new siren. Padma is a brand-new character with her own backstory, and her story drives part of the plot. 
  • Akinli’s man bun. I can’t help you process this. 
  • A more concise novel. There was more action and few lapses with mere description. This was both a good and a bad thing. But I cannot deny that it was pared down. 
  • A completely different ending. The climax and resolution are based around an event that never went down in the first book. 
  • The Ocean’s own words. She never speaks in the first book; we only know her thoughts by what Kahlen relays. It was interesting to read her own dialogue. 
What we lost
  • The central relationship of the story. In the original, the love between Kahlen and the Ocean was the driving force behind every decision. In the rewrite, the Ocean comes across as clueless at best and vengeful at worst. We never see why the Ocean has a special affection for Kahlen, and we miss out on the years Kahlen spent at the Ocean’s side alone. 
  • Aisling’s sacrifice. The secret of Aisling’s past is revealed immediately in the rewrite. There is no climax where she is able to step in and save Kahlen. 
  • Character development. Miaka and Elizabeth seem hard and unfriendly in the rewrite. There is no time to know them and understand why Kahlen loves them. Likewise, we have almost no time with Julie and Ben. 
  • Akinli’s past relationship. I’m okay with this loss. I don’t think knowing about his past relationship in the original helped the story. 
  • Jillian and Kahlen's work as a teacher for the deaf. It was perhaps extraneous in the original novel, but this relationship and plot point helped us understand Kahlen's depths of feelings more, but it was left out because it wasn't needed to drive Kahlen to Akinli.
  • The Giving Tree. In the acknowledgements of the original novel, Cass writes, “Thanks to Shel Silverstein for writing a book that made me decide to become best friends with a tree in the first grade.” This explained so much about befriending the Ocean, but this book has no mention in the rewrite. 
  • The decision between judgment and mercy. Like I said earlier, the climax is completely different. There is no battle to see grace given or judgment doled out. 
  • The beautiful descriptions in writing. The first novel is so filled with amazing words that I have copious pages highlighted in my nook. For example, Cass describes the Ocean as “a shade of blue I’d never encountered. It was the color of ice and honey and sky and rain mixed together into a sheet of flawless glass with broken frothy edges that tickled my feet at the shoreline.” 
I first read The Siren in a time when I felt far from God. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Him; I did, and I was faithfully following Him. But I struggled to depend on Him alone. I couldn’t imagine that He could love me as much as the Bible said He did.

And then I read this book. Kahlen’s words so mirrored my own. She hated being alone, and she ached to be loved. When she finally gives herself over to the Ocean, she realizes the depths of Her love, and she says, “I sat then and wept openly in Her arms. She let Her waves rush over me, and for the first time they didn’t feel like chains. It truly felt like an embrace.”

I read that, and I cried out to God to feel that way with Him. I had my earbuds in, and the first song that came up on iTunes radio was a new song I had never heard before called “Oceans” by Hillsong. I blogged about that night soon after. 

The original cover

You see why this book felt so special to me. My daughter Kaelyn was so named because of this Kahlen. I wanted her name to have a special meaning of one who “trusts without borders” like Kahlen learned how to do in The Siren.

The original book isn’t readily available. It’s going for lots of money on ebay, it seems. I only have a digital copy, and I’m kicking myself for that now. But I’ll continue to read it, year after year, and lose myself in Kahlen’s world.

The rewrite? I’m going to pretend it never happened.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dauntless Grace: The Backstory

Almost a year ago (fine, it was March 10, but who’s keeping track?), I received a rejection letter from Thomas Nelson publishers telling me that I had not made it into Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love launch team.

If you’re new here, I’m a little obsessed with Jen Hatmaker. Hashtag understatement. Maybe two years ago I convinced my friend to drive me to Wichita and stay at a stranger’s house so that I could go to a JHat conference. Maybe I screenshot every time Jen retweets me. It’s fine.
The first time I met Jen (but not the last)
Wichita, 2014

I was rejected from her launch team. And the friend who only knew about her because I made her drive me to Wichita? She got in. (I made her apply, so I ain’t even mad about it.)

But the rejection hurt more than it should have. It hit the deepest levels of pain in me, and I sobbed. Like, sitting on the edge of my bed, hair in my face, clutching my blanket, sobbed. Over a rejection email that was sent to 4500 women (at random) because Jen is uber popular and 5000 people applied for 500 spots.

Maybe that pain was about more than not getting an advanced copy of a book.

In a Twitterstorm of activity following all the emails, I saw a tweet that referred to those of us who didn’t make it as #the4500. That hashtag took off, and a group was formed on Facebook for all of us who still wanted to support Jen’s launch.

I reluctantly joined this group, still upset but ready to see what this new group would be about. I’ve been in large Facebook groups from the onset before, and I knew it would take several weeks for the chaos of introductions and remembering people’s names to settle down. Instead of trying to wade through the confusion of a brand-new group, I decided to get real with the girls in #the4500. I began asking questions of the women that required them to be vulnerable and honest with themselves.

Eventually, our threads began clouding up the newsfeed, so I moved a bunch of us to a new group where we could get down and deep with each other. It was amazing to see the raw, open stories of some of these women. The very nature of social media is to put up a veneer, yet we chose to strip it off and get real with each other.

God began moving.

Because of the willingness of these women to be authentic and bare, we began to see healing. Women shed long-time insecurities and gained new confidence. The women began fiercely praying for each other’s marriages and families. Lifelong friendships formed.

But I stayed in the background of my own group.

You see, I was still dealing with the pain of rejection. The pain of feeling like I wasn’t wanted by Jen or her publishers in the “real” group. And I realized that I was also finally coming to grips with some rejection issues I had pushed aside in my real life.

I was down. I don’t know another way to put it. I wasn’t depressed, but I couldn’t lift my head. It didn’t feel like a familiar battle. I told a friend that I felt like I was standing on the edge of something, and I could either jump to what God had, or I was going to fall into something I wouldn’t be able to get out of. She looked me in the eyes and told me a whole lot of hard things. She said it was time that I acknowledged my healing. She said that God had a new way of living for me where I needed to be ready to minister healing to others. And that was a conversation that tipped the scales.

I jumped.

I knew God had something special planned for the women in this group I had formed. I didn’t believe it was an accident, and I knew He wanted us to take all the good, hard things we had been experiencing into the big, wide world. He wanted us to share our stories. He told me to start a ministry based on this concept.

I had immediately connected with a girl named Julie. I told her my vision, and I told her I wanted her by my side. We spent several days thinking of a name, texting synonyms of great words back and forth, and eventually, in joint effort, we stumbled upon it: Dauntless Grace Ministries.

For a long time, perhaps months, I followed His plan hesitantly. I never asked for my own ministry. I’m a writer. I like to hang out behind the scenes. I like to support the dreams of others. I never asked to lead something public.

But God asked me to. And He planted a dream in me that I never knew I had.

Right now, Dauntless Grace is still an infant. We are still figuring out where it’s going long-term and what the best route is to get there. What we do know is that it will be sister organizations with Shine Movement because the two ministries share a similar vision of bringing God’s truth to the hearts of women and girls.

I have an amazing staff in place to oversee a weekly blog, monthly newsletter, active accounts on Facebook and Instagram (@dauntlessgraceministries), and even small home groups. I have dreams of publishing curriculum, books, devotionals, and Bible studies. I have a dream of a conference where we equip women with the tools for freedom and healing. I have a dream of podcasts, videos, and other multimedia in order to spread the message of truth to our culture.

What we are doing and what we will do is only by the grace of God. We are looking to Him to direct the path for this ministry because we are only in it for His glory.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My Top Ten Books of 2015

You'd think this is the first blog post I've written in a year. You would be wrong. Now, however, I write over at Dauntless Grace Ministries, so I haven't been posting to my personal blog as much. But this post? This one needs to be published under my own name. Because books are so very near and dear to my nerdy little heart.

I had a lot on my plate this year, so I didn't read as much as I did in 2014. I only read 155 books this past year, 35 under what I accomplished the year before. However, about 90% of my reads this year were new, so it felt like I read a lot more. Re-reads go much more quickly, and they were scarce this time around. Of course, I re-read my all-time favorite book, The Siren, by Kiera Cass.

Without further rambling from me, here is my countdown for my top ten new reads in 2015.

Honorable Mention: Nor Forsake by Julie Presley
This didn't make the list simply because it hasn't been published yet. I was privileged to read an advance copy of this cutting-edge Christian romance novel. I love the way Presley brings characters to life, and she has a way of writing romantic tension unlike any other Christian author I've seen! These books are real and raw. If you're looking for some light-hearted, saccharine Christian romance, this isn't it. It's much better. If you want to read this book, click the link above and help donate to the publishing fund! It's worth it, I promise.

10. The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans
This is a five-book adult contemporary Christian series. It captured me because the main character is a man, and I don't often read books with a male protagonist. Alan loses everything and sets off on a cross-country walk where he finds out what's important in life. I love the way Evans brings to life the unique quirks of small-town America through Alan's journey.

9. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This is a YA book that is part mystery, part twist ending, and all captivating. Two city kids receive a mysterious note and attempt to prevent a murder that may have already happened...I read this last January, so I'm fuzzy on the details, but I immediately added it to my "best of" board. I'll be re-reading this again, for sure!

8. The Testing trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau
I didn't think there were any new YA dystopian trilogies out there that I hadn't read, and then I stumbled upon The Testing. This trilogy incorporates the plot of Divergent with the suspense of The Hunger Games and the beautiful writing of Matched. In short, it's probably one of my favorites in all. And unlike most of these trilogies, it has a satisfying final book and conclusion to the story.

7. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Who doesn't love books about books? As a literary nerd, I adored this book that esteemed so many other novels and authors. Plus, the premise of the book is to solve riddles and puzzles, so it was right up my alley. I am excited to read this book with my class of middle school students this spring.

6. Undaunted by Christine Caine
How had I never heard of Caine before this year? She's from the original Hillsong church in Australia, and she has an amazing personal journey that she writes about in this book. She also founded A21, which is a ministry that rescues women out of sex trafficking in western Europe. This book spoke to my identity and how to truly find it in the person of Jesus.

5. Michael Vey series by Richard Paul Evans
I hate that I have another series by the same author on this list, but I can't help it. As far as I know, Michael Vey is the first attempt of Evans into YA, and he does a slam-dunk job. There are currently five books out in this series, and I am on pins and needles anticipating the next. It's a realistic science fiction series about children who have electric powers and get called on to save the world from destruction at the hands of one of the most evil characters I've ever read about. My explanation doesn't do this series justice. Go read it.

4. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
I realize this book is several years old, but I swore I would never read another King novel after accidentally reading Carrie in high school. My dad is who finally convinced me to, and I tore through this 800plus page novel rapidly. What if the JFK assassination had never happened? How would the world change? Jake finds a way to travel back through time and attempts to stop it. It's eerie but not the horror book the world has come to expect from King, although there are some graphically violent scenes and language. Historical fiction buffs would love this.

3. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
This series ended up being a big hit with my middle school girls. This series can only be described as sci-fi/fantasy fairy tales, but that's a description that had I read it, I would have stayed as far away as possible. It's so much better than that. The characterization, the settings, the plot, the details... I loved every part of it.

2. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
This was one of those YA books that stick with you for awhile. After a classmate commits suicide, Clay finds a series of cassette tapes left behind that outline her reasons for taking her own life. Beautifully written and haunting, it is definitely more for older teens. I wouldn't hand it to my 7th graders, although the lessons about kindness, bullying, and the ripple effect of our actions reach beyond ages.

1. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
Normally I wouldn't have a nonfiction book take my number one spot. But nothing defined this year for me more than this book by Bessey. Don't let the title scare you; this is not a bra-burning, man-hating book. This book is written tenderly, reaching into the heart of women and showing how Jesus valued and esteemed women throughout the Bible. Some parts could be considered controversial in certain circles, especially as she talks about the role of women in the church and equality in marriage, but I found her writing refreshing and beautiful. It helps that she is able to articulate in these chapters my very belief system about women and what God has for us in that very nature. If you read nothing else in 2016, pick up this book, and be soothed by the balm of her words.

If you read any of these based on my recommendation, let me know below! If you've already read some of these, what did you think?