For the sake of accountability, I’m going to be posting my goals on the blog for each month! Here’s my check-in for end of July/beginning of August:

July goals:

-Pre-schedule social media posts for the month: Check!

-Re-write part 1 of Twice Blessed: Nearly check, I might make it by the end of the month…

-Read and review at least 1 indie book: Check times two

-Beta-read for Tamara Shoemaker and Emily June Street: I got so wrapped up in other work, this one slipped by me, but I’m finishing it up this weekend, so soon-to-be check!

And looking ahead…

August goals:

-Update website to include press/interviews, more information about workshop/speaking booking

-Finish re-writing Twice Blessed

-Read and review at least 1 indie book

-Pre-schedule social media posts

-At least 1 vlog and 1 blog post

-Run Goodreads giveaway

-Move/start school again


Here’s hoping for a productive end to the summer!


Hey there, friends! Chances are if you’re here reading my website you are a fan of fantasy stories featuring magic and complex characters. If so, I have quite the treat for you today! The fantastically talented author, editor, formatter, and digital artist, Emily June Street was kind enough to stop by to discuss her newest release in the Tales of Blood and Light series, Mage and Source. Read on to explore self-annihilation in writing, learn a bit about the unique magic system  this series has to offer, and a bit about Emily’s process in designing her eye-catching covers.

TNK: One of the pitfalls of writing (and reading) fantasy is the dreaded “Mary-Sue.” However, your three heroines featured in the Tales of Blood and Light so far, Leila, the Cedna, and Sterling, are anything but clichéd. What steps do you take to write such well-rounded characters?

EJS: The short answer is that I torture my characters so much no one would ever imagine that I want to be them. I steal their children, imprison them, betray them, and play upon their weaknesses.

TNK: Ha! That’s one way to do it. I think we might share that propensity…

EJS: I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the dreaded Mary-Sue criticism in general. We all want to write sympathetic characters, and I guess the idea behind that criticism is that it is a delicate balance between empathy for a character and fantasy-wish-fulfillment? Or that a character doesn’t have enough weaknesses? (I admit I might consider the Mary-Sue criticism sometimes more indicative of the critic’s state of mind than the state of the writing. It seems to me that a critic who claims “Mary-Sue” is being rather presumptuous to claim he knows what an author’s wish-fulfillment fantasy might be…it’s kind of patronizing.

That said, I think the meat behind a Mary-Sue criticism boils down to a character not showing enough psychological depth, especially in terms of her weaknesses. I’ve never met a single person who doesn’t have insecurities, so every character must have them. Insecurities emerge from a complicated brew of past experiences, temperament, thought process, and training. So for every character I write, I try to have a psychological profile organized for them—what are their fears, what are their foibles, what are their blindspots, their skills, their hidden strengths.

There’s another aspect to this that I find hard to put into words. I write and read to lose myself, in a sort of Buddhist sense, a kind of annihilation. The whole fun of writing isn’t to inject my own self, my own desires and fantasies, onto my characters, but rather to explore differences—what would a person who thinks in a completely different way from me do in this particular sticky situation, how can I try to inhabit another mind as fully as possible?

TNK: The magic system in ToBaL is very unique. Can you describe it briefly, and discuss how you came up with such a different system involving “aetherlights” and magical “sources?”

EJS: Uh…uh…uh. This is hard. There wasn’t as much planning as there should have been. The entire concept of the magic system started with the two different cultures, Gante and Lethemia. I wanted to have the magical world be something real to both cultures, the way God is real for various religious faiths, but explained and defined in different ways.

So, the one irrefutable tenet of magic in this world is that magic has a cost, no matter what, but how Ganteans and Lethemians pay that cost is completely different. Ganteans pay with blood, Lethemians pay with aetherlight the “life/light energy” of living things—the mage expends it and then has to replenish it. I had mages replenish by taking aetherlight from others, which gave rise to the idea of a Source—a person who provides her own aetherlight to a mage after he has used up his own performing magic.

I guess the seed kernel idea for the idea of aetherlight was the New Age concept of auras. I do a very loose kind of meditation in which I have often conceived of people and the connections between them having specific color tones. I also have a meditation for pain that I do during my severe migraine attacks that involves colors and shapes, and so these visualizations may have formed the initial ideas for this particular magic system.

TNK: Do you have a favorite out of your books so far? Or even a favorite protagonist whose perspective you most enjoyed inhabiting?

EJS: I like each one the best as I write, read, and develop it. And then I let it go and never want to see it again! Laith (one of the narrators of Mage and Source has been quite fun to write. And write. And write. He’s very long-winded; he’s the kind of character who still pops lines into my head at inopportune times.

TNK: He’s also quite fun to read!

TNK: Are you a pantser or a plotter? Did you have an idea for the series direction when you began The Gantean, or did it all come together as you went along?

EJS: When it comes to Tales of Blood & Light, I am a pantser who must then go back and plot retroactively. It is exhausting. I’m trying to be more of a plotter for other books I am writing—but it doesn’t always work. My true writing comfort zone is probably pantsing.

TNK: Tell us about one of the characters in Mage and Source.

EJS: Well, I feel like I’ve discussed Laith more often and more thoroughly (he so loves the limelight) so I’ll tell you about Elena, who does not want the attention. Elena is my other narrator in Mage and Source. She’s the Source to Laith’s mage. She’s from the Eastern Empire, where life is dangerous because the Emperor is a bit of tyrant whose power is unchecked. She is a potion-master’s daughter, and she is sent to Lethemia on a mission to learn about the west’s magical power and to assassinate Lethemia’s King.

Elena has had bad experiences in the Empire, which is not a friendly place to grow up female. She carries those bad experiences with her, and part of her character arc is about coming to some kind of terms with them. She is largely driven by her fears. Elena is a bit harder to get to know than some of my other characters (ahem, cough, Laith) because her basic nature is extremely reserved, and she isn’t one to loudly express emotions or desires. All my narrators have an elemental theme. Elena’s is earth. She gets her power from steadiness, regularity, and living things. She wants to cultivate, not destroy, but the circumstances of her life make that difficult. She is a fairly turbulent character; her actions and beliefs don’t always line up, she may say one thing and do another. She’s a fierce mix of fears and courage.

TNK: You designed the cover for Mage and Source, as well as the other books in ToBaL. What is your process for creating such eye-catching covers?

EJS: I always start with a color—the aetherlight color of the narrator (or narrators). That has to be the basic background color for the cover, so I search through all kinds of images looking for the color I want, expressed in the way I want. I look for luminous backgrounds with strong light and glowy qualities. I look for interesting light textures. Then I go to stock sites and try to find a good portrait for the narrator. I went with portraits on my covers, even though I don’t always like to see a character’s face on a book cover, because ultimately, I feel like my books are portraits: they are character-driven stories. Once I have background and portrait images, I try to identify at least one “story element” to represent on the cover, and search for a good image of that. On Mage and Source’s cover, Laith and Elena got a flower that is supposed to represent the night queen bloom that plays a role in the story. Finally, I make a big composite image collage out of all those elements and add the text.

I really enjoy making the covers although I have no formal schooling in digital art, and I probably take the long way around on things that a pro could do in a heartbeat. Even so, I have fun, and that is what makes it all worthwhile to me. I’m always learning.

TNK: Check out all of Emily’s gorgeous covers on Amazon. She may not have formal schooling, but you wouldn’t know it looking at these.

TNK: What is next for you as an author?

EJS: I’ll keep plugging way at Tales of Blood & Light—three more books, all mostly drafted. I have two co-written books with Tamara Shoemaker that we’ll be pitching at a conference in New York in a couple of weeks. And I have a few other fantasy series bubbling and simmering. Now I just need more time to get all this done!

TNK: You can say that again! I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

The next world arrives in a shattering fall.

The Cedna is dead, and magic is broken. Laith Amar, a famous mage, must learn to live without his skill as all of Lethemia reels from the Fall. Fighting despair and skeptical colleagues, Laith seeks any solution that can return his talents.

From hidden sources, hope emerges.

Angered by losing the war against Lethemia, the Eastern Emperor dispatches Elena Rith, a trained potion-mistress, to assassinate the Lethemian King Costas Galatien and to learn what she can of the West’s fallen magic. Alone in a foreign country, Elena battles new hazards and old fears as an Eastern hunter tracks her.

A new alchemy ignites an old power.

After fate throws them together, Laith and Elena discover an intriguing method to revive magic that depends on them both. But when Elena’s foe finds her, can Laith save her from a past of pain and violation?

Only love can resurrect Laith’s faith and Elena’s hope, but darkness surrounds them as their enemies close in.

Magic’s restoration hangs in the balance.

Read Mage and Source here

Check out Emily’s complete published works here

You can also find her on Goodreads and twitter


Welcome back for another author feature! This time around, I’m thrilled to welcome Allison K. Garcia. A licensed professional counselor with a passion for writing, Allison is here to discuss her first novel, Vivir el Dream. Latina at heart, Allison has absorbed the love and culture of her friends, family, and hermanos en Cristo and has used her experiences to cast a glimpse into the journey of undocumented Christians. Find out more below!

TNK: Congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Vivir el Dream deals with some timely issues, including the experiences of undocumented immigrants. What inspired you to write this particular story?
AKG: I’ve had a lot of people that inspired me, particularly my hermanos at my church and their faith in times of struggle. I also went to several rallies and marches for the Dream Act and immigrant rights. I was really inspired by their courage to stand up to injustice. Also, I began the book not long after a friend from church was deported, seeing the injustice in this and wanting others to understand some of the things that push people to cross the border, all that people go through to come here, and what happens once they’re here.
TNK: How would you describe the tone of Vivir el Dream? Is it hopeful? Inspirational? Dark? Romantic?
AKG: Hmmm…I would say it is inspirational, realistic, culturally authentic, with bits of humor and romance thrown in.
TNK: Tell us about one of the characters from Vivir.
AKG: Linda Palacios is an undocumented college student who can’t seem to get ahead in life because of her lack of “papers.” She’s really smart, a good daughter, a hard worker, and sings in the church praise band. She gets frustrated at times by her mother’s choice to bring her across the border when she was 3 years old. Through a college essay, she learns about The Dream Act and has hope that she can have a future in the U.S.
TNK: While this is your first published novel, you have written a lot more. Can you tell us about some of these other projects? When can we expect to see them in print?
AKG: First, I plan to translate Vivir el Dream into Spanish. Then I have another Latino Christian fiction book called Finding Amor that is mostly complete but needs some extensive editing. I also wrote 6 out 8 books of a children’s fantasy series called Prince Miguel and His Journey Home. I’m hoping to complete the last 2 books during NaNoWriMo in November.
TNK: Besides being an author, you are also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Do your experiences in this field influence your writing at all, or do you keep these two spheres completely separate?
AKG: I think being a counselor has given me a real look into people like Linda’s mother, Juanita, who have experienced traumas. I think it has also helped me be more in-tune to how people feel and think, the beliefs they hold, their desperation, their faith, and their hopes and dreams.
TNK: And finally, the question I like to ask all visiting authors: What advice would you give aspiring writers—perhaps something you wished you’d known when starting out?
AKG: Find a group of other writers that live near you. I wrote alone for years and years and never did anything with it until I met a group of writerly friends, and now here I am, 5 years later, publishing a book!
Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wisdom, Allison! Read on below to learn more about Vivir el Dream.
Linda Palacios crossed the border at age three with her mother, Juanita, to escape their traumatic life in Mexico and to pursue the American dream. Years later, Linda nears college graduation. With little hope for the future as an undocumented immigrant, Linda wonders where her life is going.
Tim Draker, a long-unemployed businessman, has wondered the same thing. Overcome with despair, he decides to take his own life. Before he can carry out his plan, he changes course when he finds a job as a mechanic. Embarrassed about working at a garage in the barrio, he lies to his wife in hopes of finding something better.
After Juanita’s coworker gets deported, she takes in her friend’s son, Hector, whom her daughter Linda can’t stand, While Juanita deals with nightmares of her traumatic past, she loses her job and decides to go into business for herself.
Will the three of them allow God to guide them through the challenges to come, or will they let their own desires and goals get in the way of His path?
Follow Allison’s writing here:

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Tamara Shoemaker’s writing. She’s a talented writer, perceptive editor, and a fantastic friend. Which is why I could not wait to read her latest book, Unleash the Inferno. The final installment in her Heart of a Dragon trilogy, Unleash the Inferno is (in my opinion) the best one yet. Read on for an interview with the author, and if you’re curious as to whether you should give this series a shot, head over to my facebook page to view my “Five Reasons You Should Read the Heart of a Dragon series” vlog!

TNK: The Heart of a Dragon trilogy is your second completed YA fantasy series. Does finishing this saga feel different than finishing your Guardian of the Vale trilogy? Are you happy to be done, or do you wish you could still dive back into this world?

TS: When I finished my Guardian of the Vale trilogy, I had that heady sense of success that came with completing an actual trilogy. I didn’t really care what the books were about (well, I did—I love those books); I was just overwhelmed with the fact that I’d managed to do such a thing in the first place. Completing the Heart of a Dragon trilogy gave me some of the same thrill, but it wasn’t based around the idea of completion (’cause ya know, what’s another trilogy give or take one?) as it was thrill over taking what had been utter and complete drivel on paper during the outline phase into something that was truly a work of art. I’m so proud of those books, I could bust—particularly book three, Unleash the Inferno.

My editor’s note when she sent me back her developmental edits on my Unleash the Inferno manuscript said, in effect: “This is the rockiest writing I’ve seen from you yet.” It was true; I’d dashed out the manuscript in a mad rush during the month of November for NaNoWriMo, and it was awful when I passed it on to her. But the satisfaction I get now from the book is such a one-eighty. Because I knew it was a disaster, I worked even harder to make this into a masterpiece, and I truly believe I’ve succeeded. I wanted to create some incredibly detailed nuance in the characters, and based on reviews and feedback, I feel that I managed to do that and do it well. I’m super happy to be done with the trilogy, and I’m happy to set aside the world for now.

But there’s nothing that says I can’t come back with some companion novels set in the same world. 🙂


TNK: Without giving anything away, let’s just say you really develop King Sebastian’s character in this book. He’s still very much a villain, but it’s clear that he is far more complex than that. How did you go about creating such a conflicted character, and how did you walk the line between explaining Sebastian’s behaviors and justifying them?

TS: Wow! You don’t believe in asking easy questions, do you? 😉 It’s always driven me a little crazy when I read characters that are evil without some sort of understanding how they became that way. It doesn’t make sense to me: a child who is treated lovingly on all fronts will generally (unless there’s a mental issue) turn into a relatively well-adjusted adult. So tracing Sebastian’s roots back to his beginnings, the people who had shaped and influenced his early life, it was interesting to see what kind of actions of those close to him had motivated him to turn into who he was.

I’ve got to say, my favorite, favorite scene in Unleash the Inferno is in Sebastian’s final chapter in the book. It just—wrapped up everything so completely, and the scene that happened was poignant and heartfelt and actually made me cry. I cried over a bad guy, my own bad guy, even.

It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

TNK: One of my favorite arcs in the series has to do with Kinna coming to terms with her own previous complicity in a corrupt system. To me, she had to learn that thinking something was wrong wasn’t enough, but rather actions–even when they scared you–were what most mattered. Did you set out with this path for her in mind, or was that a lesson that grew organically along the way?

TS: I think Kinna’s character was fairly organic overall. When I began Kindle the Flame (book one), I had no idea it would go where it did. Well, I take that back. I had an end game in mind, and she eventually reached that end game, but my ideas for Kinna’s character were not nearly as nuanced in my original outline. As her character faced challenges, I found that I connected better with her when she struggled with them. Kinna was not perfect. She was even, as you said, complicit in a corrupt system, however unintentionally, but it was through that struggle, that realization that she wasn’t perfect and was taking part in the subjugation of a race of creatures that she found her strength. She could be a leader, because she knew what it was to be a follower, and I loved the fact that I could connect with her over that.

Heroes or heroines who have it all figured out make me want to pound my head against a wall. I want to know where this Fountain of Wisdom is that they’ve found, and why is it so easy for them to just… be cool? I love it when I find characters who are just a bit nerdy like me, who struggle a bit like me, and who overcome those struggles and find ways to be the hero or heroine in all their geeky glory.
TNK: Now that you’re a lean, not-at-all-mean, world-building machine, do you have any advice for wannabe fantasy writers?

TS: Advice: it’s the same every time. Don’t give up. I know the fantasy market is flooded right now. It’s just really hard to sell anything on such an overwhelmed market. But that’s no reason why anyone should be laying down their pen (or closing their laptop, in my case). Don’t worry about what agents are looking for or what audiences seem to like. Want to write about dragons? Write about dragons. Want to write about medieval warfare or elemental magic or kingdoms on the bottom of the sea? Do it. The story that’s in you can’t be told by anyone else, and publishing is just a side-concern anyway. Be a story-teller. If it’s inside you, let it out.
TNK: Do you think you will ever return to the realms of Lismaria, West Ashwynd, and/or Ongalia in a future book or series? I’m, uh, asking for a friend…

TS: Hahaha! Is your friend named… uh… Taryn, by any chance? 😉 You know, I’d love to write companion novels to the books I’ve already got out, so I’d say that it is a definite possibility that these worlds, creatures, and characters will make reappearances sometime in the next few years. I have a couple of books that have been burning holes in my brain that I think I need to get out first, but I do think it would be so fun to come back to some of these familiar worlds.
TNK: What’s next for Tamara Shoemaker, author and editor extraordinaire? Any hints to upcoming projects you’d like to share?

TS: If you love historical fiction, romance, and fantasy, keep an eye out for a couple of co-writes I’ve done with fellow fantasy-writer and friend, Emily June Street. River Running was our first work together: a book based on elemental magic, set in a parallel world to our Civil War era, taking place on a deep south plantation. The aromas and colors in this book! It’s just beautiful. We also finished up The Eighth Octave as well: a book based on musical magic and set in a parallel world to our 17th-century. It’s a European-style setting with steampunk touches where we feature music boxes and masques and court intrigue among composers and dukes.

And as I stated, I have another YA novel sizzling its signature into my brain, so I’d like to get that written this summer and released in the fall, hopefully. I’m also finishing up some freelance editing contracts I had taken on this spring.

I don’t think I’ll be bored anytime soon. 🙂

Unleash the Inferno is now available on Amazon

After the Battle at ClarenVale, Kinna Andrachen unites those who spurn King Sebastian’s tyrannical reign, mustering a rag-tag army of soldiers and creatures to face Sebastian’s far larger Lismarian army. Victory is elusive and allies are scarce, but Kinna’s tenacious spirit cannot succumb to injustice. Her fiery heart must learn to lead.

At last mastering control of the four Touches of the powerful Amulet, Ayden finds himself at the center of an epic struggle to destroy the corruption that has tainted the throne of Lismaria for centuries. As time runs out, his options for survival fade, surrendering him to a dark destiny.

Tied to a fate he does not want, Cedric Andrachen resists his inheritance, fleeing the lust for power it sparks in him. As war looms, Cedric faces his choices: will he turn his back on his throne and his kingdom? Or will he enter the struggle against tyranny, bringing the freedom his people have so long sought?

Sebastian sits, at last, on the Lismarian throne, stolen from him twenty years prior. But now the Rebellion, led against him by his niece and nephew, threatens his security from across the Channel, and the Amulet’s promise of power tempts him into even darker shadows. Ghosts of the past brutalize Sebastian’s present until the lines of reality blur with nightmare.

Flames of war ignite between nations. Peril threatens the Andrachen line.
Who will survive the inferno?

More about Tamara:

Tamara Shoemaker authored the Amazon best-selling Shadows in the Nursery Christian mystery series and Soul Survivor, another Christian mystery. Her fantasy books include the Heart of a Dragon trilogy: Kindle the Flame, Embrace the Fire, and Unleash the Inferno, as well her Guardian of the Vale trilogy: Mark of Four, Shadows of Uprising, and Guardian of the Vale. In her spare time, she freelances as an editor for other works of fiction, chases three children hither and yon, and tries hard to ignore the brownie mixes that inevitably show up in her cabinets.

Follow her on social media:

Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker




  1. You love the fantasy classics, but are looking for a fresh take on familiar elements

    Quests, visions, demigods, shape-shifting, a marriage proposal…many of the key plot points in Hex Breaker you’ve seen before. But I can promise you that you’ve never seen them quite like this. According to one amazon reviewer, “Hex Breaker is a vivid new take on a wolf-shifter story with a quest fantasy plot that twists and turns.” With a brand new magic system, wolf-shifters who are nothing like traditional werewolves, and twists you won’t see coming, it’s clear why people are calling Hex Breaker “new and different.”

  1. You like complex characters and nuanced villains

    Too many fantasy books fall short of their potential when they spend too much time on plot and world-building at the expense of crafting lifelike characters. This is not the case for Hex Breaker. Our heroes make mistakes and do not escape the consequences. Our villains are not simply evil for the sake of evil. They have human and understandable—if still reprehensible—motivations. Even non-fantasy readers can find themselves immersed in this world, thanks to the focus on relationships and character arcs to which we can all relate. As one reviewer wrote, “The author has created …a plethora of characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, or loathe for that matter.”

  1. You’re tired of stories dumbing down nonhuman animal characters

    This could be the anthrozoologist in me speaking, but I love it when fantasy stories include nonhuman animal characters. However, nothing is more frustrating than authors depicting those characters as stupid simply because they do not understand the world in the same way that humans do. In Hex Breaker, the wolf and dog characters are shown to be just as complex and thoughtful as their human counterparts, but still maintain their canine worldview. For more on writing nonhumans, subscribe to my newsletter and receive a helpful guide to writing realistic nonhuman characters.

  1. You like romance, but don’t want it to dominate the plot

    If you like a little romantic sizzle, but are tired of YA fantasy stories that focus on that element at the expense of the plot or the characters’ other motivations, this might be the book for you. Love is a key motivator in this story, but it comes in many forms, not limited to romantic love. As one reviewer said, there is a “hint of young-adult romance,” but it does not overshadow the other aspects.

  1. You want a heroine who isn’t a damsel in distress, but also isn’t a flawless warrior princess caricature

    Rayna, Hex Breaker’s heroine, is far from a damsel. As a six foot tall, muscular, mud-splattered huntress, she also breaks the annoying super-strong-yet-somehow-still-waifish-and-slender cliché found in so many young adult novels. She is strong enough to fight monsters and climb mountains, and she looks it, too. However, she also does not fall into the cliched warrior princess trap. Rayna makes mistakes. Sometimes major ones. She cries, learns when to fight and when to show restraint, she gets hurt and scarred. Rayna has her strengths and her vulnerabilities. In short, she’s human, and it’s that realism that makes her someone with a story worth following.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your copy on Amazon today!

All right, everyone, truth time. For the first time since this insane journey to publication began, I had a bit of a “moment” the night before release. Until then, even throughout the cover design, editing, formatting, and promoting processes, everything had felt sort of…far away. I knew March 21st was coming closer and closer, but it wasn’t until that night as I lay in bed, holding my final copy of Hex Breaker, thinking about all the pictures friends had sent me of them holding their own copies, that it hit me.

Hex Breaker, my first book, was done.

There was no more editing to be done, changes to be made. It was here, in the world, living inside other people’s minds as it had once lived only inside my own. And although there is plenty of marketing to do, it is time in many ways for me to let go.

It exists beyond me now, to be enjoyed or rejected as readers see fit. As a pre-published writer, I always imagined looking at my completed works on the shelf would give me similar feelings as when I looked at my well-loved and well-read stories by other authors. But my relationship to Hex Breaker is nothing like my relationship to Harry Potter or the Dark Tower series. I’ve known this story from its infancy, throughout its development, and now that it’s here in its final form, I realize that I will never experience it as a reader would, for the first time. I’m in many ways blinded by my history with the story, and can only hope that others will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So, I’d just like to take a moment to say goodbye to Hex Breaker, the secret project shared only with my closest friends, and hello to Hex Breaker, the book. My part in your life-cycle has passed. Who knows what the future holds, but for better or for worse, I’m glad that I created you.

It’s time now to turn my creative attention to your sequel, Twice Blessed, and the other projects I have waiting in the wings. But it’s comforting to know that while my time writing you is in the past, you’ll always be there on my shelf.


Well folks, 2016 is (finally) coming to a close. Every year around this time, I like to reflect back on the last twelve months and try to sum up the year in one word. For me, that word was transition. Between changing jobs, entering into the final portion of my Master’s program, readying my first book for publication, and preparing to move to a new city, a lot has changed this year. But I also like to look forward, and decide on a single word that represents my resolutions for the coming year. For 2017, that word is adventure. All too often, especially when things in the world and my personal life get stormy, I react by clinging to the familiar and the easy. That’s fine sometimes—everyone needs to recharge—but in 2017, I am determined to get out there and try new things more often. That’s why I made the list below of ideas that could fill every weekend in 2017!

Now, of course, I’m not going to have time (or cash) to go on all of these adventures in just one year, but I plan to check out as many as I can. So if like me you’re looking to shake up your routine in 2017, here’s a run-down on some weekend excursions. I’ve included ideas for every budget (including free!) as well as every comfort level (from the relaxing to the daring). Have you tried any of these? Have any ideas for adventurous weekends I didn’t put here? I’d love to hear about your own experiences and thoughts in the comments!

  1. Learn to scuba dive or go snorkeling($$$)– One of the pricier adventures on the list, this adventure could be the start of an exciting new hobby. Even if you don’t live near the ocean, you might be surprised about the local opportunities for diving when you research your local dive shop.

  2. Hike somewhere new (free-$)– Hiking is a perfect way to get some fresh air, take in amazing views, and get a new perspective on your area. I suggest trying a new trail, especially if you can find one with an extra special view or feature. One of my favorite hikes ever was Ice Glen in Great Barrington, MA. I lived in the area for years, but didn’t know it existed until I visited years later! So talk to your outdoorsy friends or do a little research—you never know what you might find.

  3. Volunteer at an animal shelter or other charity (free)– Want to combine adventure with doing some good? Look into local charities that need volunteers either on a regular basis or for special events. Animal shelters/rescues are my personal recommendation, but there are all types of ways to give back and have fun at the same time.

  4. Visit a roadside attraction ($)– Sure, they’re often cheesy and over-priced, but they can also be a ton of fun! If you’re a Virginian like me, I highly recommend Foamhenge (recently relocated to Fairfax, VA) or Dinosaurland. What they lack in historical accuracy, they more than make up with whimsical charm.

  5. Go on a ghost tour (or hunt!) ($)– These are offered in many cities/towns around Halloween, but some of the more “haunted” cities may have options available all year round. For the believers who want to go even deeper, try researching and connecting with the local paranormal research community to see if you can get involved with ghost hunting. I’ve done a bit of both, and just a tip: Savannah, GA is where I’ve had some of the spookiest encounters.

  6. Go kayaking ($-$$)– Or canoeing, rafting, whatever your preference. Kayaking is a great way to exercise and check out areas only accessible by water. Research options for special kayaking trips as well. Some of my favorites have included a bio-luminescence tour and a search for prothonatory warblers.

  7. Go birding (free-$$$)– Speaking of warblers, some of the craziest adventures I’ve gone on have been birding trips. Sound nerdy or old-fashioned? Maybe, but there’s nothing like the thrill of seeing a rare species, or even learning to identify what you see and hear. The best way to get started is to contact your local bird club, since it’s helpful to have an experienced birder on the trip to point out the best spots and help with identifications. If birds aren’t your thing, you can also try “herping” (i.e. looking for reptiles) or other naturalist excursions.

    pine warbler

  8. Go zip-lining ($)– Flying through the trees, speeding from platform to platform, the world nothing but a blur beneath your feet—does it get any better? Try out your own Tarzan scream for bonus points!

  9. Go monster hunting ($-$$$)– Okay, hear me out on this one. Skeptics and believers alike have searched for mythical beasts for centuries, sometimes with surprising results. Think you don’t have any creatures to search for in your area? You may be surprised with a little research. For my Virginians, check out Mr. L.B. Taylor’s book “Monsters of Virginia” for ideas. Just make sure to stay off private property (or get permission)!

  10. Go camping ($$)– There’s nothing like a tent, campfire, and s’mores to get you feeling like a kid again. Try combining a camping trip with some of the other ideas on this list to up your adventure factor.

  11. Visit an Escape Room ($$)- This is on the top of my list for the coming year! Who doesn’t want to connect with their inner Sherlock Holmes and sleuth their way out of a crazy situation? Attractions like this are popping up all over the country, but be sure to plan this adventure in advance as reservations are usually necessary.

  12. Try Geo-caching (free)- Here’s your chance to tap into your Indiana Jones fantasies and try some real-world “treasure hunting”. You can register with the official app to get started for free! I haven’t tried this one yet, so would love to hear about your experiences if you have.

  13. Plan/go on a scavenger hunt (free)– You can either get together with friends and create your own teams and challenges, or keep an eye out for scavenger hunt events in your area. I recently used the app traipse to go on a Harry Potter themed “Horcrux Hunt”, and had a blast (don’t worry—we found them all!).

  14. Visit a Historical Site (free-$)- No yawning allowed! History is filled with amazing stories, and it can be exciting to visit sites where such stories occurred. Again, research is your friend. My personal recommendation has to be Harper’s Ferry, the site of John Brown’s raid, but you can find fascinating bits of history just about anywhere you go.

  15. Go on a museum crawl (free-$$)– Have you ever watched the Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum? If you have, I don’t need to tell you how many different and unique museums there are out there, just waiting to be explored. Washington DC is obviously a great choice since the museums are mostly free and close-together, but you may have some amazing options much closer by.

  16. Go rock-climbing ($$)– Depending on your experience, you can either try an indoor wall or an outdoor climb. Either way, another fun way to combine exercise and adventure (lord knows my upper arms could use a little strength-training!).

  17. Visit a lake, river, or beach ($)– Another classic that can be especially adventurous when combined with other ideas.

  18. Experience a LARP or re-enactment ($-$$$)- LARP stands for Live Action Roleplay, events that let you unleash your inner warrior princess or wizard. Check out online groups or postings at your local comic book/game store for info. Not really the corset-wearing, staff-wielding type? Maybe a historical reenactment is more your scene!

  19. Go to a convention ($$)– Whatever it is that you love, whether it’s comic books, video games, rare coins, or films, there’s a convention (or ten!) out there for you. Keep an eye for ones coming nearby and remember to buy your tickets early, when they often have special pricing.

  20. Go horseback riding ($)- Whether you’re a novice or an experienced rider, there’s just something freeing about riding a horse. Beach rides, trail rides, or even simple lessons are a great way to spend some time with a four-legged companion.

  21. Learn archery ($-$$$)- Legolas, Hawkeye, Katniss… the list of awesome archers goes on. Granted it would take you more than a weekend to master this skill, but you can still learn the basics and see if this is a hobby you want to explore more.

    UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 01: "The Lord of the Rings: The fellowship of the ring" In United States In December, 2001-Orlando Bloom as Legolas. (Photo by 7831/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
    (Photo by 7831/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
  22. Take a self-defense course ($$$)– Part adventurous, part empowering, learn to protect yourself by participating in a self-defense workshop or longer course. While I hope you never have to use these skills, it never hurts to know what to do in a bad situation.

  23. Go to a shooting range ($-$$)– Another skill to file away in the “I hope you never have to use” section. We live in a country where there are more guns than people, so it isn’t a bad idea to at least learn basic gun safety/handling.

  24. Go to a jazz bar ($)– Jazz is all about improvisation, so no two nights at a jazzy joint will be the same. Dress up, enjoy a cocktail or two, and take in the local talent. Sing or play an instrument yourself? Why not look into options to perform yourself?

  25. Do karaoke ($)- One of my favorite TV shows ever, Angel, featured a karaoke bar frequented by demons and vampires. While your local bar will likely feature human clientele, there’s still something exciting about putting yourself out there and embracing your inner diva.

  26. Go dancing ($)– Salsa, tango, ballroom, clubbing—the options are endless!

  27. Go contra dancing (free-$)- For an extra dose of something different, check out contra dancing. Think Jane Austen-esque reels mixed with folk dancing. These family friendly events are a great way to try something new!

  28. Eat adventurously ($-$$)- You don’t have to go all “Bizarre Foods” on me (unless you want to), but sometimes eating something a little different can help get you in the spirit to try other new things.

  29. Get a psychic reading ($-$$)– Palmistry, tarot reading, pet psychic—whatever captures your fancy enough to suspend your disbelief and embrace the unknown.

  30. Run a themed 5K etc. ($)– Try a color run, obstacle course, or even a zombie run! A great way to get you moving and tap into your imagination.

  31. Investigate local legends (free)- Similar to the ideas about ghost or monster hunting, you might try looking into the local color that makes your town unique. You may gain new appreciation for places you pass every day, or learn of opportunities for continued research and exploration.

  32. Go hang-gliding, para-sailing, or skydiving ($$$)– Who doesn’t have that on their bucket list?

  33. Visit an ethical animal attraction (free-$)– It’s always an adventure to spend some time with furry (or scale-y) friends. Just make sure to do your research and only patronize well-regarded, ethical establishments that put the animals first.

  34. Climb a tree (free)- Hey, it may sound simple, but when was the last time you did it? Just be careful and wear appropriate shoes/clothes. Scraped knees are all part of the adventure, but I don’t want anyone hurting themselves seriously!

  35. Go spelunking or visit a cavern ($)– Another great way to reach your inner Indiana Jones. Though, hopefully, the caves you visit won’t be booby-trapped.


  36. Go snow-tubing, skiing, or snowboarding ($$-$$$)- Just because the temperature drops doesn’t mean your spirit of adventure has to as well. There are snow sport options for every skill level, so try whatever sounds the most fun to you.

  37. Go to a “haunted” house or trail ($)- Like ghost tours, these tend to pop up around Halloween. Nothing like a good jump scare to get you in the Halloween spirit!

  38. Make art or learn a craft ($-$$)- Draw, paint, sculpt, knit, needle felt…whatever calls to you. Think you’re not an artist? Try a guided event like a “sip-and-splash” (aka wine + painting) to learn more.

  39. Visit your local library or check out their programs (free)- Again, no laughing or yawning. I’m 100% serious here, and I’m not just saying this because my mom is a librarian. Despite the stereotypes, libraries are hubs for free speech and expression. Nowadays, some libraries offer a lot more than books, including maker spaces with access to art supplies, recording studios, or 3D printers, as well as a multitude of programs for all ages. In the past few months alone I’ve attended a Shakespearean ball (with free henna tattoos, fairy crowns, and personalized caricatures) and a screenwriting course, as well as hosted a nature walk. So take the great Wishbone’s advice and visit your local library today.

  40. Go treasure-hunting (free-$$$)- This might be the fact that I just marathonned season 1 of Expedition Unknown talking, but there are still many mysteries left to be solved, and treasures large and small left to find. And even if there are no stories of hidden gold in your town, you can check out local antique stores, thrift shops, and yard sales for special finds that might be worth more than you realize.

  41. Go on a weekend trip ($$$+)- Try saving on usual travel expenses by staying with friends (or checking out AirBnB). You can also keep an eye out for deals on plane, bus, or train tickets. This is one adventure that might require you to save-up a bit, but it is definitely worth it if you can. If you do stay with friends, make sure to offer to return the favor if they’re ever in your neck of the woods!

  42. Visit a nearby town you’ve never been to ($-$$)- Here’s an idea on how to travel without breaking the bank. You may be surprised at the interesting places and things to do just outside of your usual haunts, so why not take a day trip out of your comfort zone?

  43. Go to a Renaissance Fair or Celtic Festival ($-$$)- All the fun of going back in time without all the pesky complications of actual time-travel!

  44. Go to a concert (free-$$$)– Whether it’s a local band or someone a little bit bigger, the energy of concerts are hard to beat. Especially fun if you can find one at an interesting venue, like an arboretum or historical building.

  45. Go to a speakeasy ($)– Secret, unmarked doors, prohibition era cocktails, back rooms behind false walls—these are not just things of the past. See if you can learn about the secret spots hidden around your city!

  46. Visit a brewery, distillery, or winery ($$)- Support a local business or visit one of the larger manufacturers of your favorite libation, either way it’s a great way to learn and try new drinks.

  47. Go surfing, paddle-boarding, water-tubing, or boogie boarding ($$)- Just like snow sports, there are water sports for just about every level of skill or daring. Get out there chase those waves!

  48. Go paint-balling or laser-tagging ($)- Remember, humming the James Bond or Star Wars theme music to yourself makes it even cooler (but not too loudly—you don’t want to give away your position).

  49. Go biking (free-$)- Dust off your old ride, borrow a friend’s, or rent one for the day. Even if you haven’t ridden one in years, what’s that saying…?

  50. Go sledding or make a slip-and-slide (free-$$)- This adventure has options for both winter and summer, all you need now is a big hill!

  51. Make a short film ($-$$$)- Whether it’s a goofy movie shot on your cell phone just for fun, or a serious project you might be able to showcase, film-making isn’t just for the Hollywood elites. Check out local competitions or clubs to learn more.

  52. Make a radical change to your appearance ($-$$$)- Get a tattoo. Dye or cut your hair. Pierce something. Whatever it is, sometimes making an external change is a great way to build your confidence and inspire yourself to try other new things! Tip- there’s something magical about pink hair.

Those are my ideas–have any of your own? Please share below and let’s make 2017 the most adventurous year yet!