Three Months of Books: January, February & March

Uf. Been awhile since I’ve done one of these (again) and it’s also been awhile since I, er, read some of these (way back in January!). So, because there are so many, and because I’m growing fuzzy on some of the details, this is more a roundup with a few short thoughts than it is a review post.

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty: Ah! The end of the trilogy! I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while. While I felt the beginning was a tad uneven, it’s a solid, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that nicely comes full-circle. Do recommend.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold: As always, an absolute delight. And, amusingly, set in between previous novellas, which will make the omnibus binding interesting…

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Technically a reread. A coworker of mine started reading the series and wanted to talk about it, but it’d been awhile since I’d read Harrow so I reread (it’s a…complex book). Once again, struck by the artistry and craft of what Muir is doing. And how absolutely, delightfully bonkers it all is.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Creepy, evocative, and very much gothic, with quite a few interesting twists I wasn’t expecting (and a few I was—but probably because I saw parallels between it and another book in a different genre that played with similar concepts). It lends itself to Hollywood, methinks, and I won’t be a bit surprised if there’s a movie deal for it in the making.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell: Space opera romance with political shenanigans! A combo I very much enjoy. Interesting backstory for this one, but it was originally offered on AO3 as a serialized original fic, and it incorporates hallmark fanfiction tropes alongside that “I must read the next chapter.” Looking forward to the next installment.

Take a Look at the Five and Ten by Connie Willis: Recommended by a coworker and thoroughly charming. Devoured it in a sitting.

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher: Ah! Another installment in her delightful paladin romance series! And, even better, it’s one of the few examples of a romantic couple who are over the age of 35 with a heroine who’s plus-sized and tall and a hero who is of a similar build. They both complain so rightfully about how things are just not sized for them. Like chairs. And door lintels. Heartily recommend.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: This was excellent, and a brilliant follow up to A Memory Called Empire. And very much unexpected, and I’m so very pleased that the end was the end I didn’t dare hope for, completely convinced it would go the other way. Also, I see a mushroom trend going on in my reading as of late… But no matter. I absolutely can’t wait to see how this concludes in the next book. Both A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace are hefty books, concept- and character-wise, and are the kinds of books that sit with you for days after as you mull over the implications and the meaning.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass: Another conclusion to a trilogy, though the way it concluded, I do hope there’s, if not another in the series, then at least a follow-up standalone or duology to explore some of the concepts introduced here. ‘Cause they’ve piqued my interests and, as a reader, I am not yet satisfied with the answers. But! The heist is, as always, entertaining and wonderfully convoluted. If this is truly the last Chimera volume…well, I’ll be content, though foresee rereading in my future.

And that concludes my quick three month roundup!

When You Accidentally Start Writing the Wrong Novel

So I hit my self-imposed goal of 30,000 words by January 25th. Yes, I realize now in looking over my 2021 Goals post that I’d said 20,000, but proceeded to then forget the actual number and went with what I vaguely remembered—30k.

The other…interesting hiccup is that this…isn’t the novel I started with. See, I was about 15k into a different novel, then this thing came along and blindsided me. Words were coming slow for the 15k one, so I decided, on a lark, I’d try my hand at fanfiction just to shake things up.

The attempt last less than a day. I categorically failed at writing fanfiction.

What I did succeed at, though, was starting a completely different book, a book that I humored for the first 1,000 words. Then the second. Then the third. And by the time I hit 10k in less than a week, I had to admit to myself that, er, this was the new book, not the other.

Essentially, I’ve written 30,000 words in three weeks. That’s probably the most productive I’ve been in sheer word count since undergrad. Huh.

In retrospect, I tried to pull the other one out of the proofing drawer too soon, and while it looked risen at first, the more I tried to knead it, the more I realized it hadn’t built up the gluten. This thing is more like the baking equivalent of three ingredient no-knead bread.*

It’s also an absolute blast to write. I’m currently sitting at 32K and honestly, my output has only slowed because grad school started this week and I’m still acclimating to that.

This is not the novel I intended to write, but it is the novel that’s getting written. Which is…interesting, to say the least. In many respects, this is the first novel I’ve worked on without a formal outline planned. Yes, I know where it’s going, but because it’s rather more linear that my previous ones and, so far, has just the one viewpoint character, it seems to require less pre-writing, less balancing of story threads, so I can fall back more on plain-old play. “Oooh, if I introduce this complication, what’ll happen? Oooh, if it instead jinks to the left here instead of the right, where does that lead?”

It’s also rather refreshing to tackle a project that’s rather finite and, hm, constrained. It’ll probably be a duology, but only because it’d be impractical, size-wise, as one book, but it is one story. There are no standalone components. And, as it’s just the one viewpoint character doing the one thing, I have to juggle fewer future timelines and reveals because, er, it’s rather simple in its structure.

Which brings me to the grand reveal: it’s Chosen One fantasy.

I swore I’d never write Chosen One fantasy. It’s boring, it’s familiar ground, it’s been written to death. And yet…exploring it, directly engaging with it, balancing homage with subversion, has been a fascinating sandbox in which to play.

Also, I really enjoy the idea of a chosen one who’s fast approaching middle age and is, essentially, a level 1 hero but a level 50 quartermaster; all his skills are with numbers, ledger books, and logistics, not with waving swords around and challenging gods. And I’m having far, far too much fun with a character who is ethnically from a certain land, but culturally from another, and struggling to adapt in the land supposedly his homeland when his heart belongs to a completely different place, one that, frankly, is more often the aggressor…

I realize this is incredibly vague. I tend to do that. So! In light of vagueness, I instead present—drumroll, please—concept art!

Because why not riding dinosaurs? No color version yet, but their feather crests are almost macaw-bright, with the rest of their scaly selves more alligator/crocodile in coloration and texture. And with this one, fantastical change, suddenly, I have so much freedom with designing the local flora and fauna. So far, it’s limited to the dinos and a sort of cross between a ring-tailed lemur and a skunk, but I expect this to continue, because why not? Because if I’m going to explore such familiar territory as the Chosen One, I might as well go completely ham with everything else. At the very least, it’ll push my creature-design skills to their limits.

As a challenge, I aim to finish this draft within the year. Step up my production schedule, ’cause three years for a novel is rather long, just in the scheme of making this a career. So! 120K by January 2022.

That’s the goal, at least. We’ll see how this goes.


* Have I been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show? …maybe.

2020 Year in Review/2021 Writerly Resolutions

Although, if I’m to be honest, “resolutions” seems so chiseled in stone and imposing than just “goals” so perhaps we’ll just go with “goals.”

Anyway.

Last year I made a resolutions plan for 2020, some of which I’ve accomplished, some of which I have not. Like the goal of 60 submissions. I don’t think I even made 40 (*cough* 28, according to the Grinder) in 2020 but, erm, there was the whole plague and quarantine that happened, and I lost easily six months of potential writing productivity to just a general sense of hopelessness and defeat. But, hey! Three acceptances! Same as last year, so fewer submissions but same rate of acceptance. Go figure.

I did, however, hit every one of those goals for Dead God’s Bones. I finished the editing pass, then did another, found betas, got feedback, did more editing, found more betas, did more editing, and got my submission packet together. Then decided, er, might be better to wait till 2021 for this. Querying in 2020 didn’t seem either wise nor feasible, so I mostly researched agents, put together my list of who to send it to, and just generally did prep work. I did write at least five short stories (five exactly) and I also started the next book (more on that later—possibly more on that in a separate blog entry). I also did a bit of painting, so there’s that?

I didn’t end up querying In Blood another 20 times; I think I did five or six more then retired it. I thought I’d be absolutely heartbroken but a year of distance between querying it and three years of distance from writing it, and I can see its flaws more clearly. It’s not a bad book, and there are elements of it that I still love, but I’m all right with it just being for me. The component parts don’t fit together as seamlessly as DGB or the new book, and I’d like to think I’ve leveled up as a writer.

So I suppose that’s 2020. The most surprising things this past year mostly happened around my day job. I was promoted, realized I’ve reached the ceiling for advancement/pay without a degree in the field, so applied, was accepted, and am now going back for yet more college.

Moving on to that handy bulleted list I used last year.

2021 Resolutions Goals:

  • Hit 40 submissions again. I need to get back into the habit.
  • Start querying Dead God’s Bones with intent. I have my list, I have my packet, all that remains is to do the legwork. So far, my agent list is about 15 agents strong at this point, but for DGB, I’m going for more targeted querying than I did with In Blood. We’ll see how that works out.
  • Continue working on the new book (more on this in its own dedicated blog post). I’d like to get 20k words in by the time I start school, and while I’d love to have the draft done by this time next year, not sure how feasible that is with grad school looming. I’d be happy with halfway by January of 2022. Anything else is extra credit.
  • Go to school. Again. This time, though, instead of a degree in writing, I’ll be working on a degree in libraries. In my day job under another name, I’m the Assistant Head of Circulation. My goal, however, is to specialize and become either an Outreach Librarian and/or a Reference Librarian.
  • Write 5 new short stories.

Onward to 2021!

Many, Many Months of Books: July-November

Well, it’s been a while. A long while. So long, in fact, that instead of the regular list of books, I’m instead doing a sort of book-collage, particularly since many of the books are technically rereads. Some I’ve featured on here before, some were books I read as a teenager and I decided to come back and read them again as an adult (which has been a rather interesting experience).

So without further ado, the collage:

That’s a lot of books. In short, most of these are rereads, and most of those are comfort-rereads. Covid has hit my TBR pile hard; though I have a teetering stack of books to read, all I’ve wanted to do instead is retread old, familiar ground. And that’s…perfectly fine.

I did want to highlight A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher and The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison as being utter delights that I desperately needed at the time of reading them. Personally, I feel Goodreads is being quite unfair to The Angel of the Crows by saying that it wasn’t “new” enough–I argue that I didn’t WANT new, I didn’t want things turned on their heads. I wanted a sweet retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes with a twist, and that is EXACTLY what I got. It promised what I wanted and followed through entirely and I appreciated the gift of it. I highly recommend it especially if you find yourself entirely overwhelmed by the constant threat of Covid and just want something sweet and familiar and comfortable, and love a good Sherlock Holmes retelling.

Lastly, it was interesting to reread Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah trilogy, which I remember having read somewhere around 14-15 and being disappointed by the third book. 14-15-year-old me didn’t get it. 27-almost-28-year-old me did. In many ways, it hasn’t aged well (20 years is…20 years). In other ways, it was fascinating to read certain details (like not breathing on food and the one culture’s preoccupation with cleanliness and avoiding corruption) in this time of Covid and infection. Just…huh. But teenage me really didn’t understand the concept of merging identities and personalities, of multiple people contained within one, multiple worlds, and the central theme of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Teenage me took it entirely at face-value and was thoroughly confuzzled by the third book (and bored to tears by the second). Adult me appreciates it, and adult writer me found myself endlessly occupied with analyzing the craft side. In many ways, it’s a rough precursor to Berg’s later work, and in that roughness, it’s easier to see the building blocks, the individual components, because the edges aren’t so seamless. And, hoo, the emotional rollercoaster of the third book. Just…damn.

Anyway. Next time around, this won’t be an overwhelming collage-block. Next time, A Month of Books shall return to its usual format.