How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Interview with the Artist

I was thrilled to have the talented E. Kaiser Writes illustrate my book The Road to Bremen. As I was writing this story and beginning to imagine it illustrated, I could think of only one artist to ask because of her illustrating experience and her special expertise in depicting animals. I was so glad that she agreed to work with me, and I couldn’t be happier with her contribution to my book. It wouldn’t be the same without her!

Check out her website!

Welcome, Elizabeth! Let’s begin at the beginning. When did you start drawing, and who was the first illustrator to capture your attention and imagination? 

Being homeschooled, I learned how to draw by first learning how to doodle, and I learned that at about four years old, sitting around the kitchen table with my older siblings when we were supposed to be doing our schoolwork. I got myself into it: I begged Mom to give me schoolwork so I could join the “big kids”…but soon was as bored as they, and discovered they held doodling competitions when Mom was out of the room. I joined in, and it just went from there!

As kids, Mom and Dad used to read aloud to us in the evenings, and one winter they read the Little House books. I remember marveling at the illustrations by Garth Williams, and that’s definitely one of my early “boy, I could never be as good as that!” moments! 

My family was largely artistic, and encouraged that all the time, so growing up I always had an eye toward refining what skills I possessed. But I really didn’t “get serious” about my art until I was in my twenties, and I never anticipated ending up as an actual illustrator. That was an unexpected twist in my story, and one that I really do love! 

That’s so neat! I know at least one person who has seen your illustrations for my book compared you to Garth Williams. What are a few other books you have illustrated? 

I’ve been blessed to work with quite a few wonderful folks who really have supplied great fodder for my artistic imagination…especially fantasy/fairytale type tales. Love the opportunity those give to meld actual historic details into art that is unrestrained by any limitation, so that’s a wonderful playground to explore. I like to make my illustrations as chock-full of meaningful details as possible, and borrowing from history is such a fun way to do that. 

Another fun project I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of is illustrating for Bible stories, and those are particularly up my alley because there is such a wealth of actual data that can be accessed, from which to draw on any point in Biblical times…and yet there’s a great lack of really nailed-down details, so there’s really a wide array of possible angles to take any of the elements, so it’s fun to do the research and then interpret all of that as artistically as possible. And hopefully hit upon an apt representation of the rich flavor of ancient life. 

I love that you put so much enthusiastic research into each project. Can you tell us a few of the details that you dug up while researching the German animals, flowers, and landscapes and used in The Road to Bremen? 

Yes! That is the fun part! I believe illustrations can add so much to the reader’s experience of the story, and it’s a place where so much can be learned. So my goal is to put as much authentic detail in as possible.  

So Kelsey and I talked about the location (which is a real place in Germany!) and the era for the clothes and buildings the story takes place amongst. Having a real location with pictorial access was a big help; we found local breeds of farm animals, and were able to feature area-accurate flowers in nearly all of the pieces. 

The kind of donkeys Germany seems to have were just the usual ones, but they were still easy to make adorably quirky. We got really lucky with the dog, because there’s an old fashioned breed called the Deutsche Bracke, so I was able to model directly off of that! Then for Rüdiger the rooster, we used a Bergische Kräher…which translated means “Farm Crower,” noted for its lengthy crowing ability! Which was perfect for Rüdiger, since he prides himself on his voice. 

So it was a lot of fun to delve into details like that…we incorporated a famous statue in the town of Bremen, and used real German landscapes whenever possible. I always like to learn something from any illustration project, and I hope that viewers will also pick up new things from them, too! 

In all, it’s usually great fun to work with an author on their vision for the story, and you were so prepared, Kelsey, with lots of inspiration already pinned, that it was a delightful process!!

Aw, I’m glad to hear that! It was a delightful process for me, too, and you were so easy to work with. I love your work. What is your favorite type of thing to draw? 

I love animals because they’re so expressive and so often they get neglected by other artists, so it makes me happy to contribute to the “gap” that surrounds them in art. And there are a wealth of expressions that can be brought across with them, so they’re always fun.

The other thing I get excited about is architecture, and trying to estimate accurately for whatever sort of period the setting is. I’m more fluid and free-flowing in my art than strictly structured, so architecture is a challenge for me, but it’s a fun challenge that I love to research out and then compose building details for illustrations, which I think can add so much to the feel of a piece. 

That’s really cool! And what media do you work in? 

I do a lot of pencil: black and white and shading…that’s mostly interior art, and so that makes up the bulk of any project, for the most part. I’ve done line art, with pen, for coloring books, etc. and that is also fun and brings its own challenges.

For color, I’m a real mixed-media fan, and may start with watercolor style washes and then move on to acrylics for some intense pops of color, and then add the precision of colored pencil into the smorgasbord… I really just feel my way forward and try to “herd the process in the right direction.” I’m very unscientific, during the actual art stages… I get very detailed and demanding of my research, and become frustrated if I can’t find the exact thing I’m looking for, but once we leave the planning stage and move to the creative ones, I’m completely nonlinear. 

You’ve illustrated your own books as well. Which is harder, doing it for yourself or for others? 

Oh, for myself, by far!!! I’m my own worst critic and am constantly belittling my work, so it’s quite a struggle to know when to listen to the “inner editor,” so to speak, and when to toss it outside, shut the door and lock it fast!  

I’ve been tremendously blessed to work with folks who are vastly more encouraging about my results than I myself am: so that’s a huge, huge gift that I’m always very grateful to receive. And in trade I’m able to give shape to their dreams, which they aren’t capable of at this stage, and that’s a wonderful synergy there!

And the completed projects are always so fun to see…  

Yes, indeed! Tell us about the coloring book you recently released. I’m really excited to get my hands on a copy of it.
Folks had been telling me for years that I should make my art into a coloring book, so I started with a horse-based theme that got interrupted by a real-life move of the ranch operation from one state to another. That swallowed about two years, during which I could only peck at various creative projects, but late 2018 felt like there was a little bit of release of pressure from the aftermath of that upheaval, and we buckled down in earnest to pushing that past the tipping point and into reality.

So “Horses of the Elements” Adult (or Advanced, as I like to frame it) Coloring Book was finally born, and we’re hoping to bring out a few more in not too long. Hopefully much less time between start to finish on upcoming ones!

But horses are really such “darlings of the art world”; when you think about it, they’ve been portrayed in nearly every culture whose art has impacted our current impression of art history…back to the caves at Lascaux, there are horses on the walls. They embody so many aspects of our emotion, so I wanted to take that train of thought and really give it wings, so to speak, and allow them to sort of translate the feeling of various elements that aren’t simple to sum up, but complex and vivid entities in our awareness.

So like Thunder and Lightning, Forest Fire, Sea, Volcano… We made winged horses for Air, and Typhoon, and Snow; we did unicorns for each season, just really setting the stage for colorists to let their imaginations take flight, and it’s all based on the universally appealing, and endlessly changeable facets of horsedom in all its forms. From foals to drafts, ponies to hotbloods, we explored the spectrum of equines and their dynamic temperaments! 

Our images run from wildly dynamic forces of nature to the placid, calm side; from showcasing the variety of equine breed types to quiet moments of peaceful friendship.

The one constant is they are all beautiful, and should be fun for anyone to bring to life with color. 

I had a sneak peek at most of the pictures for this coloring book, and I got to color one with watercolor pencils and coaching from a horse expert. Here’s a photo:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Origin of The Road to Bremen

Etzel the donkey just couldn’t face walking to the mill this morning. His knees and back ached as if the heavy sacks of grain or flour he often carried were already on his back. His master, Herr Hofmann, stood at the doorway to Etzel’s stall, clucking his tongue like an angry woodpecker.
Ach! Are you coming or not, you insolent, lazy beast?”
Etzel gazed at him. He wouldn’t set foot from his stall, not for all the hay in the field. Well, maybe for that he would. But he certainly wouldn’t go out if Herr Hofmann expected him to make a trip to the mill.
These are the opening lines to my newest book, The Road to Bremen, which released this month. It’s quite different than anything else I’ve published before. It’s a fairy tale retelling, thus fitting under the label of fantasy. It’s 100,000 words shorter than my shortest novel, measuring in at just under 20,000. And it’s written with children in mind, though I attempted to write like my favorite children’s books authors, whose stories don’t talk down to their readers and are therefore appreciated by older audiences, too.

When I started writing The Road to Bremen, I wasn’t sure I would publish it. As my author bio relates, “Bogged down during the crafting of a much longer book, Kelsey started writing a retelling of one of her favorite fairy tales, ‘The Bremen Town Musicians,’ to resuscitate her creativity. She rather liked the result.” I wrote it for fun, and as I wrote, the idea that it would be a nice book to have illustrated began to take shape. I even knew who I’d ask. (Check back for her interview!) Well, that meant publishing, right?

The rest is history, and here we are at the present day. The Road to Bremen is available as a paperback and an e-book.

The Grimms’ fairy tale “The Bremen Town Musicians” is about four elderly animals who have outlived their usefulness, according to their owners. I set my retelling in mid-1600s Germany. Etzel the donkey can’t haul grain like he used to and just wants to rest. Jäger the dog is almost deaf and can no longer hunt or guard his master’s house. Katarina isn’t a good mouser anymore. Rüdiger, being replaced by younger cocks, is destined for dinner. But instead of accepting their fate and concluding that they are indeed useless, these old farm animals set off on a new adventure to pursue a dream: becoming musicians in the grand city of Bremen. But of course the journey is far from easy and far from what they expect.

We have been very honorable in pursuing this music-making and doing such a noble thing with our lives. It is only to be expected that our lives are in danger.”
Rüdiger the rooster

My favorite aspect of writing the story was the characters. Etzel is a humble and visionary leader, yet proud of being a donkey. Jäger is a droopy, lovable hound dog who follows along and tries not to cause trouble. Katarina is a spunky spitfire of a cat who can’t help but be annoyed by Rüdiger the rooster. Rüdiger is an intelligent creature who values dignity and honor and quotes Aesop. Together, they make a band of musicians . . . and more important, a band of friends and heroes.

My illustrator, E. Kaiser Writes, did a phenomenal job of bringing the animals’ images to life on the page. I’m excited to be interviewing her in a couple of days! And I hope you’ll join these animals on their quest if you’re in the mood for a heart-warming read.

See on Amazon

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Jane Austen Inspired Giveaway

Jane Austen. There's no one quite like her. She continues to inspire us all these years later. This Valentine's Day, I and a few authors came together to bring a special sale and giveaway. 

Twelve books are on sale for $2.99 or less from February 14 to 18. Most of the books take the beloved classics and retell them in a new setting. Books like Tracking Ruby and Water Princess, Fire Prince feature characters who adore and quote Jane Austen's stories. Each book is clean and perfect for those who want a little touch of Jane Austen and romance for this Valentine's Day.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, February 11, 2019

My Upcoming Release and Cover Reveal

Almost two years after my last book, I'm excited to announce that I have a new release! I'm launching into the territory of a different genre with this one: children's fairy tale retelling. And what's more, it's illustrated. Illustrated! I always dreamed of authoring an illustrated book. The incredibly talented E. Kaiser Writes did the artwork for both the cover and the interior.

And now for the cover!

Their lives are saved by a dream. But only friendship can make that dream a reality.

Once upon a time...

Etzel the donkey is getting old, but he works hard on his farm—until the day Herr Hoffman decides he is no longer worth keeping. With no choice but to escape, Etzel sets off on the road to Bremen to seek his fortune as a musician. On the way, he rescues three other animals—a dog, a cat, and a rooster—who are also old and destined for death.

Will these four new friends find their success and worth as musicians in Bremen? Or does the road hold something better?

Based on “The Bremen Town Musicians” from the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Ideal for kids from 7 to 11 years old, but great for all those young at heart.

The e-book releases February 22 and is available for pre-order now! It's on sale for $1.99, but the price will go up to $2.99 soon after the official release. For those of you who prefer paperback, it's available right now.

What readers are saying:

Delightful and fun, with a lovable cast of unforgettable animals! A marvelous retelling ofThe Bremen Town Musicians.'" – Rebekah Stargazer, Writer

Utterly charming! A tale full of heart." – Deborah O'Carroll, Writer and Blogger

“Kelsey Bryant's storytelling skills freshened and bolstered this inspiring tale." – Grant P. Ferguson, Author of Cliftopolis SERIES 

Stay tuned for more fun details and tidbits in the coming weeks. I'll have tales to tell about my inspirations and how I wrote this book, as well as an interview with my wonderful illustrator. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Five Gems Spotlight and Giveaway

In honor of the release of her third book in the Five Gems series, author E. Kaiser Writes is doing a blog tour and giveaway with Silver Dagger Book Tours! She's one of my favorite indie authors, so I encourage you to take a look at her books and have fun with the tour. You'll find a link to the main post at the end, which will also take you to the giveaway and schedule.

Jeweler's Apprentice
Five Gems Book 1
by E. Kaiser Writes
Genre: YA Fantasy Adventure

On her first visit to the palace, sixteen-year-old Fia stumbles upon a court intrigue. To keep the secret safe, the Chancellor sends her off as apprentice to a famous, reclusive, mountain jeweler...
...And straight into adventure.
Discovering gems with deep secrets and new friends with the same, Fia learns a whole lot more than just making jewelry: when to trust a stranger, and when not to, why not to try stealing from gem thieves; what heroism is; what royalty ought to be; and that the mountains themselves can sometimes be the greatest danger of all.
Is the legend of the Sunlight Stone true?
Will peace ever come to the war-torn neighboring kingdom?
And what is the stable boy hiding...?

**Only .99 cents!**

Traitor's Knife
Five Gems Book 2

Secrets. Sabotage. Murder. With Olayin House temporarily turned into a weapons factory, Fia is confronted with the care of three refugee children, an ill-timed visitor, a perplexingly brash messenger that she isn't quite sure what to think of, all while trying to keep her friend’s secrets safe. But when dangerous accidents start to happen, the young apprentice begins to tread a fine line of suspicion. Are saboteurs out to nix the weapons works... and is the incognito crown prince in mortal peril? Winter in the mountain house isn’t as cozy as her apprenticeship was expected to be. 

**Only .99 cents!**

King's Ward
Five Gems Book 3

With her wealth of loyalist secrets, Fia’s position at Olayin House is compromised. Now a potential danger to two countries, she is made a ward of the king and sent away yet again; this time into the grassland kingdom of Erlandia, but her journey amongst the horse folk takes unexpected turns.
Trapped under siege, she faces two men from her past... one she fears might murder her, and the other may die of plague unless she wins the battle for his life.
And with the Sunlight Stone traded for troops, how long will Erlandia’s peace last?

About the Author
E. Kaiser Writes was born into a family of readers, and got started on storytelling around the age of four when her older siblings prompted her into recounting an absolutely ridiculous account of a parallel childhood. It was good for the family's general entertainment, and she discovered the thrill of making people laugh.
At the age of seven her mother read the Hobbit aloud, and a fascination with beautiful fantasy was born. At nine she came to the decision that she wanted to be a writer, and set to reading rabidly to learn the art. At thirteen she attempted her first novel, and it was eaten in a computer's demise.
Afterward, during her teenage years she tried very hard at various times to stop writing all together.
Not succeeding, she at last gave in to her addiction, and wrote
for fun."

Her first novel, Jeweler's Apprentice, is a light-fantasy adventure for teens. The shy, bookish heroine is thrust out on the first step toward the adventure that awaits, and growing up. More books in this series are expected.  

- King's Ward Prize Pack – 1 winner
- Five Gems Prize Pack – 1 winner
- sticker & magnet prize pack – 2 winners
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Top Books of 2018

I know I haven’t been keeping up with my blog lately (I hope to be here more this year), but I couldn’t miss out on my annual top books post, especially when I’ve enjoyed reading several other bloggers’ great lists. For my 2018 countdown of books that impacted me the most out of all those I read, I’m doing the top 13 plus some honorable mentions. I read 66 books, short stories, plays, and editing manuscripts this year.

First, the honorable mentions: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and MacBeth, Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, and Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

And now the countdown: 
And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie

This pulse-pounding mystery made it to the list of America’s 100 best-loved novels, according to the Great American Read put on by PBS. It was eerie in a psychological, character-driven sort of way, and like everyone else who reads it, I asked myself in every chapter, “Who will be next? Will there be anyone left at the end?” Definitely a memorable whodunit that satisfied my thirst for a thought-provoking mystery. 
Celia’s House
D. E. Stevenson

I was introduced to a new-to-me author this year, D. E. Stevenson, a niece of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her books are light, cozy, and heart-warming, the types of novels you picture reading with a cup of tea in a British cottage garden. Celia’s House focuses on a growing family who inherits an estate in the Scottish Border Country from their aunt Celia in the early 1900s. It follows them as the children are born, grow up, and have adventures, all the while emphasizing the importance of family ties. 
The Not-Quite States of America
Doug Mack

Few of us who live in the States often think about the U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This book was enlightening and entertaining as it delved into the history and current conditions of the five territories. I found value in being informed about these far-flung islands and discovering what we share. (Warning: language in a few chapters.) 
Anna and the King of Siam
Margaret Landon

A semi-fictionalized biography, this tells the story of Anna Leonowens, an amazing Englishwoman who taught for five years in the Siamese court in the 1860s. Beloved movies were based off this book. I was inspired by Mrs. Leonowens’s faith in God and courageous perseverance to make a difference, and I was fascinated by the glimpse into this exotic country I knew little about. 
Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus
Lois Tverberg

The Jewish roots of Christianity are very important to me, and I found this book to be an accessible study of the Jewish understanding of the Bible and how it seamlessly fits Jesus’ worldview. Tverberg excels at explaining Hebraisms and making them relevant to Christians, enriching our reading of the Bible and reigniting our excitement for God’s truth. Read my review here. 
Jerusalem: The Biography
Simon Sebag Montefiore

Admittedly, this book was hard to get through at times, between being graphic and pessimistic. I gave it only 3.5 stars because of that. But I was impressed with the author’s objectivity and thoroughness. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others throughout the centuries and millennia), Jerusalem is the most important city in the world, and I love learning about it, even if it’s impossible to cover every detail of its history. This book did a fine job and filled in the many holes in my historical knowledge. Read my review here. 
Charlotte Brontë

Shirley is a very different novel from Jane Eyre, but they both demonstrate Charlotte Brontë’s genius and make her one of the classic novelists I admire the most. Shirley is full of richly developed characters and complicated relationships set against a backdrop of early nineteenth-century England, when the Napoleonic wars raged abroad and conflicts between mill owners and mill workers raged at home. My favorite part of the book, however, was the friendship between vivacious landowner Shirley Keeldar and gentle minister’s niece Caroline Helstone. It’s one of the best literary female friendships I’ve ever read. Read my review here. 
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Although it may not be as respected now as it has been over the past century and a half, I saw a lot of great things in this book. Before slavery was abolished, when half of America supported it and hardly any white person considered black people as equals, Uncle Tom’s Cabin entered the scene and became the best-selling novel of the 19th century. It profoundly moved the United States. It was one of the first novels to put African Americans in heroic positions, and though there was still a long road ahead and we’re still working on race relations now, this book was groundbreaking. Uncle Tom’s faith in God and his life witness were inspiring. 
Catherine Marshall

I read this book for the first time about ten years ago and found it influential as I struggled with my faith and what it means to follow God. This year, the second time through was almost as rich and affected me in slightly different ways. Above all, I found conviction and encouragement to live and love selflessly. Catherine Marshall’s writing is mature and beautiful as she word-paints images you can experience with the senses of your mind and creates characters you can know and understand. 
Bleak House
Charles Dickens

Dickens always amazes me. In every novel, he creates a whole world—full of intriguing fictional characters as individual and quirky as real people; situations that seem disparate but intertwine as the story progresses, revealing mysteries and tying characters together in satisfying endings; and details that make everything come alive. Bleak House is no exception, but the best part in my opinion is Esther Summerson. I learned valuable lessons from her sweet, unconscious humility and charity. In fact, every single character and puzzle piece of this book was interesting to me. It's sad, funny, intriguing, and inspirational by turns. It could have been longer and I wouldn't have minded. Read my review here. 
He’s Making Diamonds
S. G. Willoughby

The title says it all. God uses our suffering to make us into diamonds. None of us choose to go through hard circumstances, but we can choose how we cope and nurture our relationship with God in the midst of them. This book is geared toward teens who are chronically ill, but any Christian can read it and benefit. Sara Willoughby is the perfect person to write it, as she is a teenager who suffers from Lyme disease and other health issues. She shares how to navigate chronic illness with a healthy perspective fixed firmly on God, demonstrating how trials like that can bring us closer to Him. 
Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis

This spiritual classic has been on my to-read list for years, and I was not disappointed when I finally read it this year. From the existence of God to the rationale for morality to the root of sin, it wades deep (but not too deep) into the beautiful mysteries of Christianity. Not only a logical defense for belief, it’s compelling and convicting, inspiring love and awe for God and the desire to be a better follower of His. This is worth reading over and over. 
The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

Corrie ten Boom is one of my heroes. This well-written book (which I read for the second time) tells the story of how she and her family, in obedience to God, risked their lives in the Dutch resistance, saving the lives of His people the Jews when the Nazis sought to destroy them. Her story is incredibly faith-building as she tells how the Lord worked during those excruciatingly difficult years. She and her family learned many lessons—love for enemies, joy in the little mercies, faith that God knows what He’s doing and will bring His children triumphantly through trials they could never survive on their own.

Have you read any of these books? What are your top reads of 2018?