Every Day a Hay Day

hay_day_logo_600_464Common phrases found in the Toy House:

“I love you.”

“No barking.”

“How’s your book?”

“Who has to go potty?”

“How’s the farm?”

…No, we don’t own a farm (nor farm animals; we have three dogs, hence the barking and potty), but we do own an app on our ipad that acts as though it’s as important as maintaining a real farm for profit.

Sigh. It’s called Hay Day. And it’s taken over my life.

It’s this dumb little game that keeps you locked in like an incredibly engrossing book, only you neglect it at your own peril. If you don’t collect the milk from the cows then you can’t make cheese from the dairy and if you don’t do that, then you can’t fill up the orders that neighboring towns are asking from you, and you don’t get experience points nor coins to buy more cows to make more cheese to fill in more orders…

It’s ridiculous.

And ridiculously addicting.

It’s Giga Pets on steroids. Remember those?

If you’ve read my blog for a while you might be under the impression that I am some super-Christian who reads crazy amounts of Biblical texts when I wake up in the mornings.

Not so.

When I rise early, my thoughts are rarely geared toward thanking God for another glorious day.

Instead, my first thoughts are, “Where’s the ipad? I’ve got to milk the goats!”

After all, the virtual church is asking for virtual cheese

-and I’m a virtual mess.

Maybe you’re a virtual mess as well. Maybe it’s not some free app you downloaded onto your ipad. Maybe it’s too much time thinking about your finances, or how you’re going to spend the weekend, or what sales are coming up at Target that are waiting to be taken advantage of.

Or maybe it’s something more serious. Maybe the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning is your pills, your drugs, your porn. Maybe you shop too much, eat too much, drink too much.

Allow me to direct your attention to a piece of literature about a man who struggled with the same sort of problem. Not with drugs or alcohol, but with a cardboard box.

It was the one thing standing between him and his wife, and his chances of ever becoming the father he once dreamed of being. But then, there was so much unfinished business in Reveloin. He still hadn’t found the castle on the ocean, and…

No! Life inside the box wasn’t real. Even if it were, nothing about it or from it would aid him in being a better man here, in the real world. The point was, it wouldn’t be fair to Rosalynn or the kids if he kept the box around because there was no way he could resist the temptation of going back every time.

Robbie, who is constantly drawn back to a fantasy world he had discovered inside the box just cannot seem to tear himself away from it, and it’s hurting his family – and his whole life.

Download a free copy of The Man in the Box for your Kindle today (the last day to do so … and did I mention it’s free?), here on Amazon.

Oh, and I’d better warn you, it’s pretty addicting.

You can also get a hardcopy mailed to your house on Amazon.

Here’s what people are saying about The Man in the Box, and when you finish it, a review from you on Amazon or Goodreads would mean the world to me and my family and help boost sales. 

“Expect dinosaurs and giant creepy-crawlies. And if that kind of thing scares you, then you’re like me, which means you’ll go ahead and read the book anyway, with no one to blame but yourself for all the flinching you’ll do … There was no going to bed until I’d reached the end. The suspense had me on the edge of my seat with worry about how everyone was going to get out of this, heart thumping out of control the whole time, except for that one minute where it almost stopped.”

-Danielle E. Shipley, author and blogger

“Andrew Toy has created a unique and interesting story that spans several genres from mystery and adventure to fantasy … Toy’s debut novel will leave readers talking and will make them instant fans of his storytelling abilities. This will surely be a must-read for every adult that once created a world of their own when they were young, just by using their imaginations.”

-Nicole McManus, reviewer and blogger

Read more reviews here. Or, just get it already, you know you want to see what happens!

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A Reluctant Book Recommendation

lifeWhen a meteor hits the moon and knocks it closer in orbit to the earth, nothing will ever be the same.

Worldwide tidal waves.

Earthquakes.

Volcanic eruptions.

And that’s just the beginning.

So is the premise for a young adult novel I just finished reading. No apocalyptic-nut can resist a book that has that as its description. Maybe it was because of The Hunger Games that made me feel like I’m not too old to be reading this teen book. Or maybe I just like really, really good stories about the end of the world. Either way, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer didn’t disappoint.

To be sure, it disappointed in a few ways, but not the way I expected. I’ll get to that in a minute. The story flowed smoothly, the characters were likable and believable, and it was one of those fictional books that got into my head – like, really got in there. To the point where I was nervous about the refrigerator being left open for too long the other night because of how important it was to keep our food rations fresh.

Written in the style of Anne Frank, the book felt real, and intense, and sometimes scary. Yes, it had me planning ahead for what would happen if the moon did get knocked closer to the earth. Good news is, according to this book, my wife and I will be safe in Kentucky. You Floridians and Californians will mostly be wiped out. Good bye New England and parts of India. Gone.

But the reason I’m reluctant to recommend this book to teens is because of the unnecessary political and religious agenda that the author spews out onto its pages, soiling this otherwise flawless book.

Pfeffer spends a good deal of the first part of the book bashing President Bush, making one of the main characters, a mother, yell at him whenever he’s on the TV calling him an idiot and saying she hates him. What else are the mother’s kids to do but laugh and agree? To be fair, I wouldn’t think it would be necessary for an author to pull the same stunt against Obama or Clinton or Carter. I just hate to see such outright political propaganda spelled out so clearly in a teen fiction book.

(This book was selected for the ALA Best Book for Young Adults amongst many other prestigious honors, by the way.)

But praise be to Pfeffer, her writing style and suspenseful plot was just enough to keep me from throwing the book away. It has a few bad words throughout, but nothing overt or out of proper context. Though it doesn’t feature Twilight-type sex-praising, it does feature teens making out a few times.

But the saddest part about the book for me was the author’s apparent bump-ins with Christians in her life. It reads clearly that she has a deep disdain for Christians and our beliefs. Judging by the book, I feel like she’s only met the type of Christians who’s only answer to every terrible crisis in life is to pray about it and be happy – always happy. The Christians featured in her book are shallow and naive, on purpose, I’m sure.

One Christian teenager the author portrays in the book starves herself because she feels it is God’s will for her life. If only Pfeffer knew that the Bible does not condone such awful behavior and any Christian who would do that would be/ought to be condemned by the church. A reverend comes across as a holier-than-thou jerk, who turns out to be hoarding his congregation’s food during the famine. His answer to everyone’s plea was always, “I’ll pray for you.” Luther would have had a hay day with this guy.

In fact, her “Christians” portray the exact people Jesus spent much of His ministry rebuking. At least this book can be an eye-opener for some of us as to how the world may perceive us, and may we change our ways.

I never want to avoid recommending a book because of any author’s beliefs, just like I would hate it if people refused to read my book because of my beliefs. But I do want to make readers aware of them, and help people to read (and write) regardless of their personal agendas. Art is art, and this book is a work of beauty, at least in a secular sense.

I hear there are two others in the series, and I’ll be grabbing them soon, and I’m sure I’ll be reveling every page – well, most of them, anyway.

Purchase it here on Amazon.

Follow what else I’m reading on Goodreads.

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Storytelling Part 1: Motivation

no_motivationCindy struggled in the chair she was bound to with ropes. She yelled out at her captor, “Why do you hate me so much? Why do you want me dead?”

Her captor, a tall, leggy woman in spandex tauntingly caulked her gun and said with a smile, “Because you destroyed my one chance of being the greatest runner in the world. Because you stole my gold medal. And now, you will pay.”

Really? Never mind whether this is good storytelling or not… is it at all realistic? Would someone really murder their sports competitor? Doubtful. Would you be driven to threaten someone who bested you at an event? I truly hope not.

When it comes to writing and developing characters, you need always to keep one word in mind: motivation.

Motivation is helpful in two fronts. Motivation:

a) defines characters, and

b) pushes the story along

Think about it. In order for the beautiful harmonizing of a solid story and lovable characters to occur, several things must happen, but the main thing is motivation.

Think Lord of the Rings. Not only is the story itself driven by the motivation to destroy the ring, but the characters are defined so clearly because of that motivation.

Think Finding Nemo. The title itself is the motivation behind the story and the characters. 

Motivation is nearly everything in a story. Why am I writing this? Why is the bad guy bad? Why did my protagonist just do that?

Motivation.

But the catch is, the motivation must be believable. Now, this is where it gets a little subjective. Certain members of my household like the show Once Upon a Time. I don’t. (Though I do recommend it as clean and safe family viewing.) And the sole reason is because the motivations behind the characters is, to me, completely unbelievable.

The Queen wants to curse the whole fairy tale world because Snow White got her prince? That’s like saying the girl whom you detested in high school got married before you, therefore you’re going to go on a shooting rampage at the mall.

Folks, writers – don’t make your characters bad just to be bad. Don’t dwell on it, but give your readers a reason why they’re bad. The Toy Story franchise does this best with their antagonists (need I say more than Lotso/Daisy?).

Likewise, give your readers a reason to believe that your protagonists really are good, and ask yourself the question: Why is my protagonist good?

Another trick: To help keep your story on track, ask yourself at the end of each scene, Why? Why did this scene just happen? Why did my character just say/do that? You ought to be able to answer confidently with the ending in mind so that you’re always heading in that direction.

When I wrote The Man in the Box, I was always prepared to answer someone who might ask me, “Why did you write this book?”

You should be too.

Let me be your writing coach or editor. Click here for more information.

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It’s Finally Here!

“Andrew Toy has created a unique and interesting story that spans several genres from mystery and adventure to fantasy … Toy’s debut novel will leave readers talking and will make them instant fans of his storytelling abilities. This will surely be a must-read for every adult that once created a world of their own when they were young, just by using their imaginations.”

-Nicole McManus, reviewer and blogger

My publisher handed me several copies of my book, The Man in the Box, yesterday in a … well, box. To many, it may seem like I’ve accomplished my dream of publishing a book. But that wasn’t my dream. As elated as I was to finally see my book in print, I still can’t ignore the ultimate goal. My occupational dream is to become a full-time author, and there’s still miles to go before I get there.

I know no amount of begging or coercing can get unwilling people to buy my book. I cannot even make promises that you will absolutely love it (though there’s little doubt that you will). But I can share facts, and throughout history facts have caused decisions to be made which might not have otherwise been made, stubborn minds to shift, and cold hearts to thaw. Here are some facts about my book, The Man in the Box, that I hope will persuade skeptics to look into purchasing a copy.

1. I spent three years writing this book, pouring over plot points, struggling with story lines, and not once being satisfied with nothing but the best possible results. I labored ruthlessly to develop something that is unique, unpredictable, and that appeals to all audiences in some way or another. I believe with this book, I have done just that. I invite you to be the judge.

2. Purchasing a copy of my book will help Sarabeth and me to get one step closer to adopting a child. That’s what this site is all about, isn’t it? Sharing our story and raising support to help bring a parentless child into our home. If you purchase The Man in the Box, not only are you investing in a good read, but you are helping us to become the foster-to-adopt parents we long to be. If you want to go an extra step for our cause, review my book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, any place that lets you.

3. I’ve selected six people with impressive platforms to read and review my book. I expected two to not ever get back to me, and at least one to not even like it. All six spoke very highly of it, and would (and do) recommend it to people. They were all breathless in suspense, and also recognized the core themes of the book, which are meant to cause readers to ponder the deeper things in life. You can read some of the reviews here.

4. Alright, I can’t help it. I’ve got to say it. You will LOVE this book! It’s truly got something in it for everyone. If you liked Jurassic Park, The Hunger Games, King Kong, zombies, jungle adventures, family sagas, inspiration, then this book is for you. I’m urging you to get it as soon as you can, because it is my goal to have it become a best seller. Wouldn’t it be fun to say you were one of the first to read it? And remember, Christmas is coming soon, so if you know of anyone who is always looking for their next favorite book, this book is it. They’ll thank you for it.

You can order your copy of The Man in the Box from any of the links below. You won’t regret it.

AmazonBarnes and NobleBlackwyrm. Or, add it to your goodreads bookshelf. And get it on your Kindle here.

“Expect dinosaurs and giant creepy-crawlies. And if that kind of thing scares you, then you’re like me, which means you’ll go ahead and read the book anyway, with no one to blame but yourself for all the flinching you’ll do … There was no going to bed until I’d reached the end. The suspense had me on the edge of my seat with worry about how everyone was going to get out of this, heart thumping out of control the whole time, except for that one minute where it almost stopped.”

-Danielle E. Shipley, author and blogger

Read Chapter Three here.

Fiction is Truth in Disguise

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life, or if you are in need of a great and exciting read, my book, The Man in the Box is available for pre-order on Amazon. You can also order it here.

With less than a week before my book’s official release, little else is being talked about in the Toy household – with the exception of Christmas list items and what is to become of John Bates (can we really wait until January?).

There will be other articles circulating around the Net about my book, but I just wanted to take a moment to address my loyal blog followers personally about why I wrote The Man in the Box, and hopefully persuade some skeptics to give it a read.

The idea for The Man in the Box stemmed from my deep fascination of stories about people finding magical worlds. But then I realized, most of those stories, at least the timeless ones, were all written for kids. Whether walking through a wardrobe or falling from a cyclone or touring a chocolate factory, all of the explorers in these stories are kids themselves. And most adults today, were kids when we first read those stories.

But there is clearly a part of all of us that wants to hold on to those worlds. That’s why we’re so fascinated with updates of the world of Oz, and we tune into shows like Once Upon a Time.

But in all of those great classic stories we just can’t seem to let go of (nor should we), they focus on protagonists who have an unknown future laid out before them. But hardly any of them have a life full of regrets and hardships to contend with that we, as a grown generation can relate to.

Robbie Lake, the protagonist in The Man in the Box has difficulty in his life. He is trying to juggle his faltering job, with two kids who barely like him, and a wife. Life has proven to be dull for him at best, and unbearable at worst. Have you ever found yourself feeling that way? Like there’s just no way out of your current situation? That you’re just doomed to suffer day in and day out? Haven’t you ever wished for an “out”?

Robbie Lake finds his “out” in a very unlikely place – a cardboard box. This is his wardrobe, if you will, his second star to the right, his looking glass. And it proves to be more trouble than it may be worth. You see, the kids in those classic storybooks didn’t have to give up much to explore their magic worlds, but Robbie is required to give up everything to dabble in his secret affairs, and his family is left with a very cantankerous, unreasonable, absent father-figure.

Robbie doesn’t want to be this way, of course. But isn’t that what our secret sins do to us? They change us for the worse, don’t they?

So there you have it, readers and book lovers. A fairy tale for grown ups. One that you will relate to. The Man in the Box is not without its fair share of adventure and white-knuckle moments, let me assure you. You will have plenty of fun in Robbie’s world, the island of Reveloin. But as one reviewer puts it:

“Anxious as I felt during some of the Reveloin scenes, though, it was the parts of the book that took place outside of the box that absorbed me the most; the parts where he struggled to connect with his kids, be there for his wife … and deal with his estranged father.”

Adventure lovers, thrill seekers, average family people, this book is for you. I believe Sam Williamson, Founding Director of Beliefs of the Heart summed The Man in the Box up best:

“Be prepared for the peaks and valleys of adventure, fantasy, real life, and war.”

The Man in the Box comes out Friday, November 30. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and my publisher. Please review it on any or all of these sites if you would like to recommend it to others.

Click here for more reviews.

Our Fear of What is to Come

I just finished quite possibly, one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read. Now, I’m not one to seek out scary books or movies, but this one isn’t scary in the traditional sense. There’s no zombies or blood-sucking monsters in it. In fact, there really aren’t even any scary parts. But this book messed with me psychologically.

When people would ask me what my biggest fear is, my answer was always snakes. But as of the reading of this book, One Second After by William Forstchen, I now will have to change my answer to EMP weapons.

I would be remiss if I didn’t confess that this book caused me to sin by worrying about the future. More than once while reading it, I laid awake in bed wondering out loud how we will prepare for this inevitable strike on our country. “After all,” I’d say to my poor, tired wife, “everything points to this happening. The military’s being cut back, the president’s got his own little agenda of uniting the whole world and not defending us from our enemies…” And then I would go into this barrage of ways we can stockpile on canned goods, save up plenty of paper cash, and even trade our cars in for old junkers.

What is an EMP weapon? It’s an electromagnetic pulse weapon that, when shot above any particular region, it explodes high up in the atmosphere and the fallout destroys – absolutely obliterates – any electrical circuit and devise. That means computers get shut off, most (if not all) cars made after 1970 shut down, planes die midair and crash.

But that’s not the scariest part. We’re the most spoiled, pampered nation in the history of the world, which means that without the electricity we daily rely on, we will literally not know how to function, which means, if this weapon is fired on us, within a matter of mere months, we will be sent back to the dark ages.

But while reading this book, I couldn’t help but recall Matthew 20:16 where Jesus says, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” Suddenly, according to the prophetic vision in this book, the richest people in our nation were poorer than mud, and the poorest people (those who have lived off the land) were suddenly the richest, with their skills and street-smart expertise.

It’s just too bad I never gave thought to Matthew 6:25 (“Therefore I tell you, do not worry…”). I’m going to have to really remember that one when I’m on a plane next week.

One Second After chronicles the story of a widowed father of two daughters who is just trying to keep his family alive. There were some parts that are emotional, and the author does a great job capturing the emotions of the characters. The problem I did have with the book was the dialogue. A lot of times it came across as though the modern-day characters were speaking like people from the Bible or Lord of the Rings.

Why would I suggest this book if it caused me so much worry? Because I believe there’s something to be said for being prepared for the future. Of course, we don’t know what the future holds, but men, it is our number one responsibility to protect and defend our families. We don’t quadruple-lock our doors, but we still lock them. In the same way I’m not saying we need to be become like those extreme couponers and hoard the market’s canned goods.

I guess what I’m saying is, don’t get too comfortable with life as it is. Because whether we are struck with an EMP weapon, an atomic bomb, or suffer any other type of catastrophe, there will be a day when Jesus Christ and His Kingdom will come and rest itself here on earth, and we will live forever in a world unhindered by sin, death, fear, or anything else that keeps us awake at night. For we who belong to Christ, are aliens in this destructive world. But while we’re here, we must be prepared to protect what has been given us, starting with the Gospel message, then our families, and our friends and neighbors.

The book contains some strong language.

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The 101 Dalmatians – It’s a Book!

You’ve likely seen Walt Disney’s movie version, but I bet you didn’t know it was based off a book.

The One Hundred One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith is epic in its own way. Though the book is about a pair of dogs as the protagonists, the author does not treat them like canines, but actual people, with real feelings and intellectual thoughts and concerns for what gown up humans show much care about – their kids.

It is the same as the movie version (I’ve only seen the cartoon), but it differs vastly in many ways that will keep even the most familiar Dalmatians viewer on the edge of their seat.

Though we’ve both read it before, we just started reading it together for our cozy autumn/winter novel. And it really is the perfect book to read this time of year. It’s not exactly a Christmas tale (although it takes place near Christmas), but it is a red carpet leading you delightfully into the winter season with a smile on your face and a notion that great fiction is still out there… if you just dig deep enough.

I highly recommend this book, whether you know the movie(s) or not, to anyone and everyone. It’s a great mystery, fun adventure, and a moving tale of two parents’ dedication to saving their puppies, thus reuniting – and growing – their family. Bet you never thought of this story being adoption-themed… they rescue orphans! I mean, really, how much cooler can you get!

Read a great review of this novel here.