World building is one of those topics speculative writers can’t seem to get enough of. Probably because the topic is so broad, spanning astronomy, biology, politics, culture, and more (or less, depending on the type of story one envisions).

We can learn a lot by examining the stories that have gone before, unearthing nuggets of inspiration wherever our reading eyes go. So today, I’d like to do just that by focusing on the unique qualities of the aliens featured in Annie Douglass Lima’s heartwarming YA sci-fi, Heartsong.


For as many good alien stories out there (movies included), one can probably find as many or more examples of alien clichés. Let’s face it. Because it’s easier to write what we know, we humans have a tendency to invent either animalistic aliens (very similar to earth species) or humanesque ones (with cultures too much like our own).


As to the former, I can think of some truly unique examples that stand out. How about the sandworms in Frank Herbert’s Dune? Or—one of my personal favorites—James Cameron’s Aliens.

Acid for blood is fun, to be sure, but what considerations arise when the aliens are more civilized—less animalistic? In my opinion, creating intelligent fictional life requires a whole new depth of development: Not just environment—but culture. Not just biology—but personality. And the last thing we want to do is reinvent the human. On second thought—Just make ’em blue!

Aliens Anonymous


I guess there’s no hiding the fact—I’m an alien.

So, let’s take a look at Annie Douglass Lima’s Somavians to see what inspiration can we glean.

Language and Speech

Anyone who’s studied foreign languages probably knows that sentences are structured differently in different languages (e.g., English: “I like aliens” = Subject-Verb-Object vs. Japanese: “I aliens like” = Subject-Object-Verb). They also know that adjectives have different placements (“the blue alien” in English would read “the alien blue” in Spanish). And why should we naturally assume that adding an “s” to an alien word should designate plurality (when not even the English language consistently follows that rule)?

I don’t know about yous guys, but Mooses are one of my favorite animals.


Blue alien mooses, especially.

Clearly, from these examples, there’s much room for creativity in cultivating fictional alien speech. Certainly, an understanding of different languages can help, as I’m sure it did for Heartsong‘s author. According to her bio, “Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy.”

In this case, “write what you know” turned out beautifully, as the Somavian language Annie created bears a tonal quality like the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan. (Learn more about tonal languages here:

Here are a few quotes for more language inspiration (and to convince you to read this book, I hope):


Yellow saw me looking at his planet. Pointing at it, he said something in his musical language, some notes higher than I knew my voice could reach, others at the very bottom of my range.

“Are you telling me about the planet? My people call it Somavia.”

Yellow pointed again and spoke just one word this time, slowly and clearly. Then he repeated it. It sounded like hu-a-bi, three syllables with three musical notes. He pointed to me, and I got the idea he wanted me to say it. So I tried to repeat the word, singing it more or less the way he had. He fluttered his elbows. I wondered if that meant he was pleased with me for trying to pronounce the name of his world or annoyed that I hadn’t said it quite right.

Gestures & Other Extralinguistic Communications

What is communication exactly? When we interpret what someone says, heaven forbid we should restrict ourselves to words. We’re not robots—and even animals show emotions in the form of body language.

Consider the cat, for example—hair standing on end, tail raised, dancing sideways. Yikes! How about a cowering dog or a tiger ready to pounce? Both have their heads drawn down, but the underlying message is different. I daresay we can see it in their eyes.


But what if we couldn’t—what then?

Consider this description of the Somavians:

Just like Forerunner’s pictures had shown, they were covered in fur. The one on the left had pale yellow fur, and the one on the right was dark red.


They were roughly humanoid, with what seemed to be mostly the same basic body parts as humans—except for the extra set of arms at waist level. Their faces were different, too: bulging black insect-like eyes at the sides of their heads, tiny rounded ears set just behind the eyes, flat noses with two little slits for nostrils. Their mouths were huge, stretching almost all the way across the front of their faces.

Wait. No eyebrows or eyelids?

Think for a moment how much meaning is conveyed by those two tiny features. It would’ve been far easier for the author to give the Somavians the ability to narrow their eyes—to smile or frown—but that’s not what she did. Instead, she limited their facial expressivity and created a unique range of gestures to serve that purpose.

Fluttering elbows—oh, what does it mean? I guess you’ll just have to read the story to find out. (Hint, hint: It’s not a chicken dance.)

Physiological Differences

Humans rely heavily on their vision. We use computers with screens. We create art with splashes of color. But what if our vision worked differently? Or if we relied more on other senses?

How often, for example, do we focus on texture?


“Do you like my home?” Mountain gestured around the little apartment.

“Sure. I mean, it’s pretty different than houses on Earth, but it’s cute and cozy.”

“What is different about it?”

“Well, where I come from, people don’t live underground, and most houses are bigger than this.” I glanced at the empty walls. “And humans like to decorate their walls with art.”

“I have decorated my walls with art.”

I looked at her to see if she was joking. “What do you mean? Your walls are plain gray. They just look like rock.”

“You do not notice the art?”

“Um, no.” Wondering if you had to have Somavian eyes to see whatever was on there, I stepped closer and peered at the nearest wall. Then I realized there actually was something on the wall, though it was almost invisible. Tiny ridges and grooves barely showed up in its surface.


Mountain followed me over, translator in hand. “You will not notice it easily by looking. You must touch it.” She brushed the palm of her hand across the wall.

When I did the same, I realized that section of the wall had far more texture than I had thought.

This same consideration alters their designs of technology, but I’ll leave those details as a surprise for future readers.

Traditions, Habits, and Customs—oh my!

In some cultures, people eat with their hands. In other cultures, cutting off ones fingers is a way of showing grief. All this variety is born of the human mind and linked with human abilities—which need not be the same as the aliens inhabiting your fictional world.

Creating unique habits is good. Linking them to physical differences is better.

I was surrounded by more of the massive, colorful aliens. Some stood looking into the truck, some crouched in it beside me, and the air was filled with their musical language. Buggy eyes stared at me. Leathery hands reached out to touch my arms and hair and face.


I shrank back. “Stop touching me!”

The hands pulled away, but the conversations continued. These Somavians seemed to have no concept of personal space. They were all right there, some only inches away from me, their fur brushing against each other. Most had placed their hands on each other’s arms or shoulders, and with four arms each, that was a lot of fellow-aliens to be in physical contact with. At least they weren’t doing anything to hurt me, but this was just weird. What’s up with all the touchy-feely stuff?

What’s up with it, indeed. I won’t give you the answer, but I will say I loved the concept—especially how it added depth to the themes.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what unique factors you’ve built into your own alien creations. Or, what’s one novel or a movie you enjoyed that boosts your alien inspiration?

By the way, did you find the hidden image? If not, you might want to take a second look at the pictures and check out the scavenger hunt instructions here.

About Heartsong


Two alien worlds.
One teen emissary.
No reality she can trust.

Thirteen-year-old Liz Smith has been ripped away from one foster family after another for years, so the idea of a permanent home is tantalizing. Who cares if that home is a colony sixty-five thousand light-years from Earth? The friends in her trusty e-reader will keep her company just fine on her interstellar relocation.

But when the adventure of a lifetime turns into the disaster of the cosmos, Liz can only retreat so far into the books that have always sheltered her from loneliness and loss. Trapped in half-truths and secrets that leave her questioning reality, can one orphaned bookworm find a way to stop two races from destroying each other … and somehow write a happy ending to her own story?

If you like books about space travel, aliens, or cross-cultural transitions, you’ll love this poignant science fiction adventure. Get your copy of Heartsong now to start the journey today!

About the Author


Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published eighteen books in a wide variety of genres (science fiction, fantasy, YA action and adventure novels, a puppet script, anthologies of her students’ poetry, and a Bible verse coloring and activity book). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with her here:

Did you find the hidden image?



Guess what. It’s my birthday.

And today, I have a special treat for you. A sneak peek into Yaasha Moriah’s amazing novella, Wings Beneath Water. Two whole chapters! Because why wouldn’t someone who’s passionate about stories want to share one of their favorite reads of all time on their birthday???


In my Goodreads review, I said this about Wings Beneath Water: “[It’s a] poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” If you know me at all, then you know I don’t say such things lightly. Honestly, I can think of no better birthday present than for you to read to the end of this preview and tell me what you most enjoyed.

And of course I would be doubly ecstatic if you loved these two chapters enough to buy the book. But I think I’ve already said enough. Read the blurb or not—it doesn’t matter. The beginning speaks for itself.

Back-Cover Blurb

“They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live.”

CoverBrother. Ever since Risha was found on the shores of the river and adopted into the tribe, he and his brother Uraun have been inseparable. But when a neighboring tribe ignites war, killing the boys’ father, their lives start on a path that begins to divide them.

Siyeen. As the tribe goes to war, Risha’s gift awakens. He is the Siyeen, capable of reading a person’s true nature—and in Uraun’s nature, he reads only vengeance.

Fearing that his gift will endanger Uraun, Risha flees to the marshes. To save his brother’s soul, Risha must learn the secrets of the first Siyeen and seek the redemption that will grant his brother a second chance.

In this detail-rich tribal fantasy, author Yaasha Moriah asks questions about the nature of truth, brotherhood, and redemption.



They say if you see wings beneath the water, you get a second chance to live. If that is true, I may live yet. If it is not true, my blood will stain these waters within moments.

The marsh mists swirl around me like transparent hands, chilling the sweat on my forehead as my footsteps explode through the murky waters. I pause, catch a gnarled branch, and lean gasping over it.

The surface of the dark waters shows the face of a boy, with round cheeks and frightened purple eyes. Will the Karagi have mercy if they see me as a child?

No. They know what I am, and they will not waver. They will remain at a safe distance, and shoot to kill. They are master bowmen. I should know. They trained me.

That was before they knew what I am.

According to the wise woman, some say it only happens when you are born in the marshes on a moonless night. Others say that it begins when a child looks into the waters and, unknown to him, the Siyeen looks back at him from beneath the surface of the waters. Still others say it is a gift given to the one who seeks truth above all else.

If a gift results in your death, is it not a curse instead?


I have lingered too long. Even as I move, some instinctive twitch saves me, for a death-breeze fans my chin and a crimson ribbon opens across my collar-bone, the warning of a razor-sharp arrowhead.

I turn, and they are there, emerging like ghosts from the mist, their long dark hair loose around their lean faces, their leather vests leaving bare their muscled shoulders. Emotions stab my stomach, for Uraun leads them, the scar upon his right cheek lit in silver by the wavering moon.

“A child?” one hunter asks, glancing quickly at the foremost of the men.

“It is an illusion,” Uraun says darkly, and draws his shaft to the corner of his lips.

I cannot outrun his arrow. I have watched too many times the stumble of a woodland buck, stricken while in mid-flight by Uraun’s skill. I am also tired, too tired. This hunt has taken all my strength, all my heart.

How do you run away from someone you love?


“Uraun.” My voice carries across the waters. “Please.”

So long as he holds his breath, he will not shoot. Experienced archers release only at the exhalation.

I stand upon a small hillock of marsh weeds. The waters beyond my feet ripple like black silk, for I have come to the edge of the deeper waters, where the bottom is invisible and the feet find no purchase. Many things that have been lost to the deep marshes.

“Uraun,” I say again. The corner of my vision snags upon something, a glimmer in the water, like light reflecting upon an outstretched wing.

It is here.

Then Uraun’s jaw tightens, and, plunging, I give myself to the waters. The arrow’s shaft pierces my side and my instinctive gasp fills my mouth with liquid darkness.

Something smooth slides beneath my grasping fingers, then jaws clamp around my ankle and pull me downward, deep. I struggle, panic-stricken. Have I misunderstood? Did I see a wing, or only the glitter of a marsh eel’s serpentine body?

I spiral downward until my mind becomes as dark as the waters around me and my breath burns and explodes in my head. Then light births, broadens, shimmers, and I rush toward it. Am I swimming down? Or up? I cannot tell.

That is when I see the face staring back at me from the other side of the water.

My face.

I know it is my face because only I among the Karagi possess eyes the color of wild irises. It is the mark of my separation.




I turn from the water’s edge where I have laid my woven trap under the surface. Strange. I thought I saw a face in the waters, my own face, but leaner and more angular, an adult face clouded with scarlet from a wounded side.

“Risha!” My mother calls. “Come say goodbye to your father.”

I do not want to say goodbye to my father, but goodbyes are inevitable.

I wade ashore and jog barefooted from the tributary, up the hill, past our dome-shaped hut of woven wood and dried river clay and descend the rocky slope. My father waits by the glass-gray river near the long boat, in which other men have already taken up their paddles and await the last of their companions to join them.

My father goes to trade upriver with the neighboring tribes, a gesture of goodwill. It is a journey made only a few times a year, and it keeps a tenuous peace amongst the People of the River. My father kneels to kiss Uraun’s forehead, then mine.

“Take care of your brother,” he tells each of us. I do not need telling. Uraun and I are inseparable, and have been since the day my mother found me as an infant at the edge of the marshes, abandoned. Were it not for my eyes, Uraun and I could be twins, for we have the same raven hair and brown skin.


My father steps into the long boat with the sure-footedness of a man long acquainted with the roll of the water. He sits with the other traders, and raises a long paddle that dips soundlessly, then rises silver from the waters, then dips again, as the craft glides into the current and toils upriver. Two other Karagi longboats join his, staggered a little behind in a V formation like the migrating geese of autumn.

My father lifts his hand, touching two fingers to his heart, his lips, his forehead, then raising them in the traditional farewell. It is the sign of truth, truth buried in the heart, spoken from the lips, treasured in the mind. It is the sign of our people.

My father’s deep voice carries over the water. “Seek truth always.”

“And the truth will preserve you,” the watching families reply as one.

That is when I see it, a vision that jars me from reality. In the marred reflection, every man in the boats lies dead, twisted limbs dangling over the sides, half-closed eyes frozen. Even my father.


My gaze startles up from the waters. The men in the longboats are living, but the men in the reflection remain dead.

I do not know what to do, so I am silent, but my flesh quivers.

Uraun thinks that I am weeping and touches my shoulder. I turn my face from him, for if he sees my horror, he will ask questions I do not know how to answer.

Five days later, the river returns our men.

Every one of them has been slain, and some still carry Sarudi arrows in their bodies. When Uraun and I hear the ululating wails of the women, we abandon our quest for duck eggs in the shallows and scramble toward the faster water. But father’s brother sees us and runs toward us.

“No!” he says in a tone that slaps us both across the face. “Go to your hut.”

He sees the protest in our faces, but his stance is firm, his tearless eyes smoldering, and he is an elder. We go to the hut, our skin rippling with fear and do not speak.

We know.

We learn later that every warrior’s face has been slit from ear to lip, a sign of a warrior utterly defeated. For the living, it is a permanent mark of shame and no feats of bravery can wipe away the stigma of that disfigurement of defeat. For the dead, it is a mark of an enemy’s utter contempt to dishonor a warrior’s valiant acts in life by smearing his honor after death. Such a cowardly act is beyond comprehension among the People of the River. The Sarudi have not only become bold, but they have lost their honor. An enemy without honor is a fearsome thing.


It is customary for the grieving to wash their hands and faces, and to paint black at their hearts, their lips, and their foreheads. When I bend over the water bucket to wash my hands after Uraun, I see my father’s face in the reflection, his eyes glazed in death, and behind him, indistinct with smoke and overshadowed by a sky like blood, I see the People of the River at war.

I have to close my eyes to complete the ritual of mourning.

The weak Peace of the River is broken.

The Sarudi, we learn, demanded a toll for passage through their waters, and our traders, knowing that the river is no one’s to claim, refused to pay. The Sarudi replied with arrows and spears.

Such a clear excuse for war demands answer, so the remaining Karagi men arm themselves and go to war with the Sarudi. The women and the old and the sick remain with a few choice warriors for defense.

My mother kneels by the grave of my father day and night, and eats little, too exhausted to weep, too broken to live. Her older brother offers us a home with his family, and his wife cares for my mother and coaxes her patiently to drink a little soup every day. Uraun and I cannot speak for weeks, and our cousins leave us be. No Karagi interferes with another’s sorrow, except, as in the case of my mother, to preserve life.


I often find Uraun by the river’s edge, the wind lifting his long black hair like an outstretched raven’s wing. His eyes are filled with pain. I cannot bear to look at him, and spend many days in the marshes, fishing with a net I have woven and knotted from long roots. The marshes are my solace. Some see only the skeletons of trees and the cloudiness of the water. I see the life of geese and ducks and frogs, and the scattered reflection of a limitless sky.

The Karagi wait, breathless and tense, until their warriors return from the battle with the Sarudi, victorious but with many dead. An uncle and two of my cousins are gone, slain in battle. The few prisoners that the Sarudi took during the battle float back to our village, mutilated horrifically.

After the funeral rites, a restless peace settles over the river like a damp mist. We know that the war is not over and some from the Karagi journey to ask the Haveddi for aid. Such negotiations can take months, we know, but secretly we all wonder if the messengers have been caught by the Sarudi. We visit the river’s edge every day to see if the Sarudi have sent their bodies back to us.

The war sleeps, but we know it will wake again soon.

Buy the book to read more! It’s available in digital form direct from Yaasha’s webpage here.

Book Trailer

About the Author

Yaasha Moriah writes speculative fiction stories that incorporate the painful, the beautiful, and the numinous, following the pattern of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of which C. S. Lewis said: “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. Here is a book which will break your heart.”


Connect with Yaasha here:


Visual Scavenger Hunt, Winter 2018


On November 2nd of this year, I hosted my first ever Facebook party, and one of my best ideas from that night (in my opinion) was to hide the image of a spider silhouette in one of the many graphics as a fun game. (See if you cam spy it among these images.)

Incidentally, this graphic scavenger hunt game reminds me of time spent at my Grandma’s house, searching for hidden graphics within the pages of Country Magazine and Birds & Blooms

All of this to say I thought it would be fun to host a scavenger hunt on my blog site. Which means what?


In each article linked below, I’ve hidden one holiday or season-themed graphic. Consider, for example, what kind of graphics you associate with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and—ahem—birthdays. What about winter and Christmas? I’m hoping to hide more graphics in a few upcoming articles before the year is out. But for now, here are a few links to get you started:


Of course, every game has rules. Please don’t tell anyone what the images are or where they’re hidden. If you find one, feel free to post in the comments that you found it, how easy or difficult you thought it was to find, how much you enjoyed the hunt—whatever. But please don’t state anything too revealing.

And you know what they say about this time of year… Tis the season of giving!


So, if I can drum up enough interest in the hunt between now and the new year (that is to say, emailed entries from at least 20 separate individuals), I’ll host a drawing on the first of 2019 for winner’s choice of one of the following:

  1. $10 gift card to any business that sells online cards (and seems legit). Open to all regardless of country unless some bizarre restriction or security issue becomes apparent during attempted acquisition.
  2. $10 donation to your charity of choice (assuming it can be paid online and it doesn’t conflict with my personal values).
  3. One paperback or e-copy of any book mentioned in any of the articles I’ve written since my blog started in April 2018. (That’s a scavenger hunt in it’s own right!) Note: in the case of sequels, the reader may choose, instead, an earlier book in series if so desired. Also, physical items needing to be shipped are open to US residents only.

To enter the draw, email me a description of the hidden graphics you found in each of the three articles above. Please spread the word as well, and consider perusing the articles for ideas on what to read next. Oh, yeah. Don’t forget to stay tuned for more articles (see below) and the corresponding graphics hidden within. Each additional graphic you find—above and beyond the first three—will count as an extra entry for the giveaway.

Happy Hunting—er—Holidays!

Want an example of what to look for?


See if you can find my picture (shown above) hidden in the snowman image below. This should give you some idea of how sneaky I was in hiding the scavenger hunt images.


Additional Scavenger Hunt Articles (coming soon)

Mineralogy & Petrology of Terrene


Today I have the honor of hosting a guest post by RJ Metcalf, author of the Stones of Terrene Fantasy-Steampunk Chronicles, which just released its second book in the series less than two weeks ago!

Here’s a quick summary of the new release before we get to the post.

Void Born

The bloodstone has been stolen.

Although the barrier remains, its stability is at risk. And if it falls, all of southern Terrene will be forfeit.

After the tragedies in Doldra, the valiant crew of the Sapphire struggles to regain their footing. Jade returns to Lucrum with the escort of Prince Weston only to find herself cornered by Lord Everett’s political maneuvering. With her freedom at stake, Jade is faced with a choice: give up her dreams for the future, or watch as those closest to her die.

Ben hunts down Victor and his mysterious Void Born with the help of Finn and his granddaughter Raine. The longer they are together, the harder Ben falls for the enigmatic swordswoman. But mad sages and ruthless assassins aren’t all he needs to fear—if Ben’s friends find out his secret, he could lose everything.

With Terrene at stake, they cannot lose sight of their goals.

Even with the past and the future pulling at them.

Void BornGet it today on Amazon | Renegade Skyfarer: Amazon or B&N

Mineralogy and Petrology? Say what?

Mineralogy is the study of minerals. Petrology is the study of rocks.

That’s the subject of RJ’s post and—given my background in geology—I couldn’t think of a better world-building topic to guest host. So, without further delay, let’s learn a little more about the actual stones that give this series its name!

Take it away, RJ!


So the name of the series is the Stones of Terrene. But what’s so special about these stones?

Much like our own rocks here on earth, the stones are naturally made in different ways, but unlike our own world, the stones of Terrene are used for more than just paving roads and making gardens pretty. I’ll focus on four specific types, as these are mentioned enough in the first book to be memorable.

Gravity Stones

gravity stone

Anyone who’s read Renegade Skyfarer or Void Born has likely caught on to the fact that the best airships use gravity stones for their lift and even some propulsion, and they may have caught on to the detail that these gravity stones are now rare. That’s because the gravity stones were first found and mined in the mountain region north of High Doldra, where the Barrier now resides. Once the Barrier went up, the free-floating stones typically found in the caverns of the mountains were inaccessible to either side, and new tech was needed for airships, thus resulting in the steam-powered airships, “steamies.” I honestly can’t even remember where this particular idea originated from. It’s just always been!

Lightning Stones

Lightning stones

Okay, I confess that lightning stones were instigated by Stardust and the lightning harvesting. Mike and I had this sudden idea of: “What if lightning could be harvested in something as compact as a stone? How insane would that be?” Thus the lightning stones were born, and they have proven to be immensely useful in several walks of life. With the right application and necessary skill, doctors use lightning stones to jump start a patient’s heart. Dragon hunters use lightning stones with specific weapons to stun and/or kill their prey. And some have used lightning stones to stun fish in small lakes as a youthful hazing ritual despite many voices of wisdom cautioning against such foolishness. The stone itself is unremarkable when mined from the Sparkling Hills of Columbine, but dozens of these simple stones, when tied to lightning rods, quickly charge with lightning power and are sold for a fairly decent amount of lut. But these stones do need to be charged every few years, so they aren’t as valuable as the seemingly-endlessly charged gravity stones.

Healing Stones


Then there’s healing stones, which are not at all innately magical to any degree. These stones are rumored to have been discovered by accident by one of the sages of old, whose names has been lost to time. Whatever happened, someone figured out that a sage could use their own gift of bending elements to literally bend time into the stone, and if they were truly skilled, they’d be able to even bind traces of different healing properties. Some sages being more skilled in reducing inflammation could tie that into the stone, or others could make the rock absorb numbing qualities. It would depend on what the sage’s particular gifts were, and how adept they were in harnessing and pouring that into the rock. Sages of such skill are not necessarily rare, but the volume of what they produce isn’t exactly grandiose. To have any type of healing stones is a sign of wealth, having the right friends, or a simple fact of royalty. As for how they came about…well, I’m a mom of two boys. Wishful thinking!

Luminary Crystals


And then there’re the luminary crystals. Full confession: Every time I see a rock-salt lamp, I think of these and I wish so desperately they were actually stones that weren’t based off electricity! Luminary stones are hands down, my favorite. They are just so pretty! Luminary crystals are popular in the entire nation of Doldra, and they are harvested in caverns close to Loore’s Landing and the western ocean. These gorgeous, shimmering crystals come in a wide variety of colors, and can be used for anything as simple and soft as a nightlight to something as bright and warm as a chandelier in a throne room. The lighter colored gems are much more plentiful than the deep, almost dark crystals. In wealthy places like the palace, there are full patterns of the deeper, gem-tone colors in the floor of the throne room. Balls and evening events take on a magical feel in Doldra with their plentiful amount of these beauties.

I hope that was a fun little bit of the worldbuilding! Which stone is your favorite? Do you have any fun ideas for stones that you wish were in the books?

About the Author


During the day, Becky is a stay at home mom of two active little boys. When she has ‘free time’, she enjoys reading, writing, baking and sewing.

After many years of creative writing classes, writing fanfiction drabbles and daydreaming, it was high time to start writing her husband Mike’s story. She dove into the world of Terrene and hasn’t looked back—except for when she runs out of dark chocolate.

Any free time not spent in Terrene is typically expended on hosting dinner and game nights, running amok with the two little monkeys or watching nerdy movies with Mike.

New to this series? Start here:

If you haven’t read the first book, you should check out the blog tour links here:

And be sure to check out my contribution to the first tour.

Here’s the Void Born Blog Tour Line-Up:

November 9 – Becky Gaines – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

November 12 – Lauren Salisbury – Fly Into The Unknown Blog Hop (Instagram)

November 13 – Jamie Foley – Character Feature

November 16 – Laurie Lucking – Character Feature

November 17 – Sadie Slater – Book Review

November 18 – Anthony Avina – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

November 19 – Laura A. Grace – Fly Into The Unknown Blog Hop

November 20 – Lara Hitchcock – World Building Feature

November 21 – Amy Grace – Book Spotlight (Instagram)

Quote 2

“Driven to the Hilt III” : A Review


Driven to the Hilt: Tempered Steel. What is this book about?

In my own words…

Joshua didn’t ask to be kidnapped and transported to a faraway planet most people believe is a myth, but now that he’s there, now that he’s forged solid friendships and qualified to train as team leader—also known as “Assassin”—there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to keep his mates safe. With over a year of intense training under his belt, Joshua knows graduating as “Assassin” will be hard enough… But now someone is trying to take him out, sabotaging his team in the process. The question is: can he keep them safe while wearing a target on his back?


A Little Disclaimer

This could very well be the trickiest review I’ve ever written. Not because the story isn’t good, but because I read a draft, a diamond in the rough (as all drafts tend to be). I know changes will be made before this shining jewel sees the light of day, but I’m not exactly sure what they are.

So, today, I paint an impressionistic review… giving you the broad brushstrokes—and maybe a few little dots and daubs here and there—to impart impressions of what I most enjoyed.


Bold streaks of color: The Action Scenes

Let me tell you, this book has some truly epic action scenes. The cards are stacked against our hero, but he rises to the occasion, ready to sacrifice for his friends. Why should his bittersweet setbacks throb in our hearts with such painful pleasure? Are we sadists, eager to witness our hero’s suffering? Or perhaps his nobility inspires us—with a character kind enough to sacrifice for his friends… if that’s what it comes to.


Joshua is a humble leader. Uncertain as any young teen, but not without skills. And readers enjoy a hero who’s truly good at something. When forces come against him, what do silent witnesses say?

“I see why the [Drill Instructors] refer to him as a gameday player. His capabilities come out under pressure. Not just fast, but very precise in his movements. He took out two Combine trained opponents before being blindsided. Presumably, he has now learned the dangers of target fixation and won’t soon make that mistake again.”

Irregular splotches of paint: Teen Awkwardness


Maybe it’s just me, but those of us old enough to have survived our teens might be more qualified than any youth to appreciate a good coming-of-age. Why should I find Joshua’s teen awkwardness so endearing? Maybe because he’s guileless and sincere, just the kind of boy any girl ought to like.

So how do the girls react to him—and he to them?

A playful curve formed in one corner of her mouth, “Sounds as if you’re determined to surpass my father’s record one day, what with all the records you’re breaking. Leading the highest rated Recruit team from JQuad, beating the previously undefeated Recruit sparring champion, destroying The Tube record…” She let the teasing implication hang off her lifted brow.


Joshua blinked twice before focusing on turning his tall tea glass, “Ah, well, you know, it’s always a team effort and…” He could almost hear the blush creeping up his neck and desperately searched for something else to talk about.

But that’s not the end of the matter. Here’s a little excerpt of our hero’s awkwardness in training:

“You were only killed three times on that attempt, Mr. Joshua.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“I was not complimenting you, Mr. Joshua. Being dead three times rather than five times is not something to celebrate.”

Black Shadows: Emotion & Depth

Beneath all the bright colors—variegated dots and daubs—there exist dark shadows… dim translucent brushstrokes undergirding the whole with depth and emotion.

Joshua looked forward just as they emerged into the Junction. He was totally unprepared for slowtime to kick in, bringing their progression to a crawl, deepening the hum of the steel wheels on the rails, his eyes drawn to where the tracks led straight on… The mouth of the waiting tunnel was an ominous pool of black that pulled the train towards its dark maw, eager to be fed. Joshua sat frozen, helpless to stop them from being devoured by their unknown future, the inky half circle growing ever larger…


Final Thoughts

There’s certainly more I could say about this third novel from DG Lamb. The new skills the Recruits learned piqued my interest—adding to the omnivision and tiny tell practices of book 2, the acting classes and alcohol tolerance—all aspects of what future covert missions might entail. I enjoyed discovering a little more of Joshua’s world. The descriptions inside the mines, in particular, took me back to my days of caving and satisfied, in the same way, that burning desire for exploration: Where does this dark passage go?

Besides that, what else can I say? I dare not commit the forbidden literary trespass of describing how it all ends… except to say, the book’s conclusion is powerful. In three words, it’s Raw. Electric. Energy.

So I’ll merely close with another excerpt:

Large red eyes locked onto him with ravenous intent before they slid under the surface, followed by a thick glistening sinuous tubular body that peaked in a ridge on the back, topped with a long continuous dorsal fin that cut a V into the glassy top of the black water. Finally, a flat wedge of a tail lifted and signaled the end of monster. It slipped out of view, but the silent roiling gleams of inky water marked the powerful push the tail provided, propelling the creature to where? Joshua shivered. The Water Dragon’s appearance had been startling, but its disappearance caused a gut-wrenching panic to rise and Joshua’s eyes began darting after every shimmering ripple—it could be anywhere!


“Mr. Joshua?”

He knew that voice from somewhere and he knew he needed to respond, but Joshua could not pull his eyes from the now quiet body of dark water before him. There was also something else that was missing, something that belonged with this evil predator. The voice became more insistent.

Mr. Joshua?

Certain the Water Dragon was going to rise up to devour him the moment he looked away, Joshua turned his head toward the voice, but his eyes would not leave the water.



Drayev’s question broke the spell. He snapped away from The Swamp and was back in The Combine. With the transition came the answer to what had been missing – the stench of Stink Blossoms. With a small shudder, he looked at his large friend before refocusing on DI Betzee.

“Yes, Ma’am?”

“Are you alright?”

The DI’s loose blonde hair was a halo, backlit by one of the low-intensity lamps providing a minimum of illumination to the staging area in front of The Deep Six. Even though Joshua could not see her heavily shadowed face, he heard the concern in her voice. A low comment followed by a soft patter of laughter drew his gaze to the cluster of Students that was P-333. Perfect. I have to pull a psycho before the Aquatics capstone test and our first head-to-head with the Top Team on the board.

“Yes, Ma’am.”


He locked eyes with Lorll, who stood two steps in front of her Team in the Assassin’s position. Unlike the rest of P-333, she was not smiling. In fact, she had been regarding him with almost the same predatory intent as the imaginary Water Dragon from Cypress Grove. Her body relaxed and she eased back into parade rest with a small knowing smile that held just a tinge of sympathy.

Her attempt to rattle him further made his steel inner core vibrate. Might as well own it. “Sorry, Ma’am. I was just having a little flashback to the formative days of my youth.” He regarded Team P-333, whose murmurs and laughter rose in volume.

“The reminder of having survived so many brushes with death is somewhat comforting, actually.”


In the sudden silence, he saw Lorll’s eyes first widen a touch and then narrow in response to the hardness of his stare… “I’m ready to go.”

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About Tempered Steel

Driven3-coverKidnapped and brought to an unknown planet, Joshua Vernon must lead a team of diverse teens in training for deeply covert missions. As the strains of head-to-head competitions rise for the team, the risks become extreme, stretching his leadership skills to their limits.

All the while, mysterious antagonists maneuver from the shadows, some manipulating outcomes for their own sinister goals, others seeking to eliminate young Joshua altogether. Even with the help of his new friends Drayev and Sawyer, and the support of Dr. Calyse and Hobo, can Joshua survive this new adventurous world and its perilous threats? The demands will eventually exact a heavy price.

About the Author


Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.


Learn more here:

“Driven to the Hilt II” : A Review

What follows is a shortened version of the review I published on Goodreads for “Driven to the Hilt II: Forging the Blade.” Some sections of the original review have been excluded. I also added in an excerpt, where appropriate, that wasn’t included in the original review. If you’re not familiar with DG Lamb’s “Driven to the Hilt” sci-fi series, I hope this post whets your appetite with the desire to dig right in! Bon appetit!

Goodreads Review

36434282Driven to the Hilt: Forging the Blade by D.G. Lamb


My rating: 4 of 5 stars


There’s nothing more satisfying than a fully-realized hero with heart and depth. For me, Joshua Vernon is that character. In this sequel, in spite of personal setbacks, Joshua nurtures the seeds of virtue and basic decency planted by his parents. I loved him in the first book, and—in the sequel as well—he’s a boy you love to love.


Thrust into a new situation, (view spoiler on Goodreads or peruse the visual tour), Joshua struggles against the ghosts of the past while battling present doubts and new enemies. I thoroughly enjoyed his inventive solutions to problems… his interactions with others… his self discovery on the road from boy toward man.

Joshua’s sense of inadequacy was heart rending. And yet, the pain doesn’t come without satisfaction. New friendships are forged—as well as new skills… My heart leapt when he reached a victory he hadn’t expected. In my opinion, the author does an excellent job of balancing the emotional highs and lows. If readers had been left too long in the doldrums, the story would’ve been oppressive, but it’s not. I love the emotion; I love the sense of hope even more. I love the way this story feels like something that’s never quite been done before.

“Forging the Blade’s” psychological depth alone is intriguing, but the creativity of world building details elevates it to a whole new level. I loved the vivid descriptions of The Grotto in particular…


“Welcome to The Grotto… what you see suspended at the other end are the Skyways for the Interconnectivity Mall!   Or as most people call it, The Rainbow Web.”

The Team was overwhelmed by the spectacle of the multiple interlocking bridges spanning the far end of the cavern, each supported by innumerable cables twinkling in complex rhythms of flowing different colored lights.”

It’s clear the author has given his world much thought… Bottom line: I love this story, I’m invested in Joshua as a character, and you better believe I’ll be following this series to the end! I sincerely hope you’ll check it out.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review. My opinions are my own.

If you missed the Visual Tour, you can find it here.

DRIVEN 3-book GIVEAWAY | Fall GIVEAWAYS |Blog Tour Schedule (by category) | Facebook Party

forging-the-blade-coverAn inscrutable stranger offers him a deal that seems too good to be true. And it is. Joshua soon faces new challenges to survive in a place he had not believed was even real.

Having successfully evaded the colony’s underworld and corrupt police, Joshua finds himself trapped alone in a sterile white room. But it is no ordinary room, changing and shifting in response to his reactions and behaviors. Ultimately, he will have to make a choice… one that will forever change the direction of his life.

DG Lamb creates a dynamic world full of new challenges and lessons for an endearing young hero. Lamb’s extensive experience as a clinical neuropsychologist and his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms injects psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua and a host of engaging new characters.

About the first book:


Already a social outcast because of his father’s alleged betrayal, young Joshua finds himself trapped outside the mining colony on the planet of Cypress Grove. He faces a murky rainforest infested with a creature so deadly, it has kept all humans confined inside their only settlement for decades. If he can manage to escape these alien wilds, he must then brave the even darker dangers of the colony’s underworld.

It is a tale of survival, a premature coming of age in an environment demanding resiliency, inventiveness, and self-reliance. But when teetering on the sharp edge of stark choices, decisions of life or death, can Joshua afford to consider questions of right and wrong, or does expediency rule the day?

About the Author


Debut author D G Lamb, a clinical neuropsychologist, uses his understanding of posttraumatic stress symptoms to inject psychological authenticity and complexity into Joshua’s personality, creating a wounded, but endearing central character.

What fans are saying…

“…a debut novel that brilliantly introduces a series with huge promise of entertainment.” – R Oserio (Readers Favorite)

“…one of the most original and well-told stories I’ve ever read.” – S Cahan

“Author D.G. Lamb navigates Joshua’s trauma with a sense of surrealism that’s both poignant and true to life.” – CL Farley (Readers Favorite)

“It is emotionally intense and it is hard not to feel for the protagonist …watching him grow through the challenges is delightful.” – R Oserio

“Lamb does an outstanding job of displaying Joshua’s evolving worldliness while still maintaining a childlike sense of innocence about the character.” – CL Farley

“First-time author D.G. Lamb has established himself as a new talent in young adult novels with this first effort…” – S Cahan

“This book is not what I expected, but wow.” – Lara Storm Hitchcock | Article 1: Characterization | Article 2: Setting

On Amazon: Book 1 | Book 2 | Book 3 Preorder and cover reveal coming soon!

Fall Giveaways

Leading up to the Facebook Party I’m co-hosting on November 2, I’m offering several fall giveaways in the hopes of generating interest for the party and for the authors in general. Over the course of my blog’s lifespan, it’s been my great honor to feature the works of many talented authors, several of whose books will be included in these giveaways.

Yaasha Moriah   |   RJ Conte   |   DG Lamb   |   J Andersen   |   Kerry Nietz

My Rationale

Though it might not appear so at first, there’s a connection between the authors attending the Driven III Facebook Party and the authors of the Fall Giveaway books:

  • Each one had a novel featured in Sci-fi September.
  • Each one writes relatively clean novels with deeper themes.
  • Each one is Christian, though some of the stories are less overtly Christian than others.

The specific books I’m offering in the pre-party giveaway also have in common that they’re either novels I’ve featured previously on my blog or ones I’ve rated highly in a review… and/or intend to feature on my blog in the future: Yes, Wings Beneath Water, I’m looking at you.

So, if you have an interest in the giveaways, I hope you’ll also make time to attend the Upcoming Launch Party with even more giveaways!


But before we get to the pre-party giveaways, here’s a quick little teaser about each of the Facebook Launch Party authors:

Kerry Nietz

51woleooewl-_sy346_Kerry’s novel A Star Curiously Singing won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal Award for Christian Science Fiction and is notable for its dystopian, cyberpunk vibe in a world under sharia law. It is often mentioned on “Best of” lists. (From the author’s bio.)

By the way, this one’s free on kindle and it’s A-MA-ZING!

J Andersen

I haven’t had a chance to read J Andersen’s books yet, but they look incredible. Follow the link here for a spotlight on her Destiny by Design Series. The author has an intriguing personal story as well:


From “My Writing History,” on J Andersen’s website:

Me: Hey, God, if you really want me to write a book, you need to give me a topic.

God: How about abortion?

Me: Ummmmm… That’s a little heavy, don’t you think? I mean, I am writing for teens, after all.

God: Nah, it’s perfect. That’s what I want you to write about.

DG Lamb


Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut recently won the TOP prize for Science Fiction from Independent Author’s Network for 2018!


Besides that, DG Lamb is also a clinical neuropsychologist who’s managed to write a psychologically-compelling main character.

Note: The author is hosting a separate giveaway for the entire published series (books 1-3 so far); it closes on October 31.

As for my own prizes, I’ve divided the swag and books into three separate giveaways, all of which can be entered in the same way (described below):

Giveaway 1: Romantic comedy with a religious twist.

New signed paperback of My Fault by RJ Conte + religious-themed magnetic page markers.

Premise: Quirky Cleo Stanton has a problem: she’s falling for the guy she ran over with her car when she should not have been driving… (Read more here.)

My review: If you like romance and need a little facelift—as in the corners of your mouth—consider reading this witty rom-com. But Beware! “My Fault” by RJ Conte is one of those books with the power to suck readers in. In that respect, it works as a weight lift too because this book is hard to put down! (Read more here.)

My blog article: I loved so many aspects of this book it’s hard to know where to start. How about… An Awesome Premise… (Read more here.)

Giveaway 2: Sacrificial love and truth.

New signed paperbacks (Wings Beneath Water and Lucent Sylph) + “In Christ you are…” magnet and Colossians 1:15 bookmark + colorful bag/purse.

What do Wings Beneath Water and Lucent Sylph have in common?

“Bittersweet and beautiful, Lucent Sylph is a short story about sacrificial love.” (Read my full review here.)

Wings Beneath Water is “A poignant story about truth, sacrifice, and brotherly love. Absolutely amazing: 5+ stars.” (Read my full review here.)

If you’re looking for a little spiritual inspiration in the form of fiction, look no further. If these books don’t move you, I’m not sure what will. (By the way, Lucent Sylph is free on kindle!)

And let’s not forget the swag (magnet and bookmark + bag):


Giveaway 3: On Becoming RESOLUTE!

New signed paperback of DG Lamb’s Driven to the Hilt: The Deepest Cut + two gently-used hardback picture books and a used copy of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

DG Lamb’s debut novel isn’t outwardly religious and there is some mild language. In that sense, it’s good for a general audience. However, the questions he poses in this novel delve deep into issues of right and wrong. Furthermore, author and neuropsychologist DG Lamb designed Protagonist Joshua with one major lesson in mind: No matter what we face, we all have choices. Like hero Joshua, we too can actively steer our lives rather than passively submitting to every threat. We too can become… RESOLUTE.

My Review: This book is not what I expected, but wow. The back cover blurb, which I remembered only vaguely when I started reading the novel is accurate, but the sword on the cover threw my expectations: In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “this is a fantasy.” Truth be told, this book is unlike any I’ve ever read. (Link to the full blog article review.)

Yaasha Moriah also wrote a pretty spectacular review, chocked full of useful information. For more Interviews, Reviews, and Guest Posts—Oh my!—check out the full Blog Tour Schedule (by date or by category).

>>> Enter the Fall Giveaway Here <<<

And be sure to sign up to attend the Facebook Launch party!