Reading List: The Grand Catch-Up

First, it’s still Friday. Have some chipper flute-and-guitar action, from the re-orchestrated soundtrack from a video game from 1998.

For those who have read THR, this was the song in my playlist for the introduction of the Golden Caravan. It’s kind of cheesy, but I still love it. And that title: “Everyday is a Carnival ~ The Even More Glorious, Beautiful Golden City”. Awesome. Tilde and all. (Though the song just ends mid-phrase; it’s not this video. Same on the CD.)

It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with books I’ve read, so this will be an unusually long one. But I have read a lot of Book 1s so far this year.

Side note: I don’t do affiliate links. These are just links.

Fantasy / Science Fiction & Related Genres

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin – Epic-scale in that it largely concerns gods trapped in mortal form and the human dynasty they use/are used by. Gloriously weird climax.

Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews – Urban fantasy/romance-flavored. I don’t read a lot of UF, so I wanted to try more.

Kei’s Gift, Ann Somerville – Fantasy, the type with armies massing and complicated cultural clashes and politics and such. Also crosses over to m/m romance. With angst. So it was a long whiff of catnip for me.

A Call to Arms, Shiriluna Nott – Epic fantasy, YA, m/m romance. Very cute. And the next volume should be out this year!

Pocket Apocalypse, Seanan McGuire – Urban fantasy, book 4 of the InCryptid series. InCryptid is the one urban fantasy series that I follow rabidly of my own accord (not because everyone else I know is reading it, and I need to stay current in order to keep up with everyday conversation). Why? Well, its protagonists are unpowered mortals who train and study their faces off to get the badass skills they wield; and it revolves around cryptids and other mythological/paranormal creatures.

Scrapplings, Amelia Smith – An unusual take on epic fantasy. The characters are quite young, and they don’t seem to realize that they’re in the prologue to an epic fantasy. They act and think as though they’re in a Dickensian street-urchin hardscrabble novel – which they are – but there are also prophecies and secret royal heirs and magic powers breathing down all of their necks, which they either take for granted or ignore. It’s an interesting combination of factors.

Romance

My story with the Romance genre is that I came to it late in life, and I’m now playing catch-up. I don’t have clear favorite subgenres yet, so I’ve been trying different things and mostly navigating by trope (I like stories like this, not so much like that).

While It Was Snowing, Elyssa Patrick – Contemporary novella. I’d seen it recommended as a non-alpha-male m/f romance, and I am always up for one of those. I swear this book existed, but it seems to be gone now. Collector’s item!

The Duchess War and The Heiress Effect, Courtney Milan – Historical (Victorian). I am really under-acquainted with historicals; my Kindle is still stuffed with Regencies that I haven’t read yet. These make up part of the Brothers Sinister series. I quite liked them, but wanted to switch gears for a bit before finishing the series. Especially since the third hero is a Victorian-era scientist; in other words, I’m saving dessert.

The Understatement of the Year, Sarina Bowen – Contemporary new-adult. It’s the third in a series, but each of them works separately too. I may have mentioned this one in my last book post, back on Tumblr. But I reread it. Within a couple months of reading it the first time. I must have been having a bad week. So yes, this is about the first out gay college hockey player and his torturously closeted high school sweetheart. On re-read, I was  more mellow about Graham’s self-sabotaging moves/attitude.

Trade Me, Courtney Milan – Contemporary new-adult.  I’d picked this up when it was new based on the “billionaire story for people who don’t like billionaire stories” verdict out in blogland. I have yet to try a billionaire story in my catching-up phase, because the concept has never appealed to me. But I started reading after hearing an interview with the author about some of the themes/ideas. So all those romance novel billionaires – when do they ever actually do any work, and what do their companies DO, and what about capital gains tax? Plus, she had a self-imposed rule that the hero would not shower the heroine with gifts. If I hadn’t already been sold, I’d be sold. And it did not disappoint.

Trust the Focus, Megan Erickson – Contemporary new-adult. “I’m secretly in love with my best friend and we’re on a road trip” SOLD! And there’s a heartfelt grief subplot SOLD! Also, neither of them is an alpha jerk SOLD TWICE IF I COULD! …that’s what I mean by navigating by trope.

Other Genres

World of Trouble, Ben H. Winters – The conclusion to The Last Policeman trilogy. I don’t normally go for mysteries/police procedurals, and I’m an occasional apocalyptic reader at best, but I happened to glom onto this (pre-)apocalyptic police mystery.

Books About Writing/Publishing

Rise of the Spider Goddess, Jim C. Hines – An amusingly annotated version of an early novel. I admit that I skimmed a lot of the novel itself to get to the commentary.

The Indie Author Power Pack, a box set consisting of:
Write. Publish. Repeat., Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Let’s Get Digital, David Gaughran
How to Market a Book, Joanna Penn
I read these right after releasing my first book, and got a brain-blast of information that I don’t think I fully absorbed. I’ll have to reread all of them now that I’ve had some time to digest what I’ve learned since.

2,000 to 10,000 (or 2k to 10k), Rachel Aaron – How to organize and approach a writing session in order to create the conditions amenable to getting a lot done. I love the approach that it should be fun and exciting to work on your story, and if you aren’t feeling it, the problem may be that the scene is wonky – not that you’re a lazy/terrible writer, my usual frustrated assumption. This is not the main point of the book, but it still had a big effect on me.

Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F, an essay anthology –  I felt a bit like I am not the target audience for this anthology, since I already think that representation is important. I felt as though I were being convinced of something that I already believe. However, if this is an unfamiliar concept to you, I really recommend it.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King – I saw this highly recommended around the indiesphere, and I have to pass along the recommendation. I look forward to cracking this open again when I dive into the next round of editing.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King – A classic. I found some parts of it frustrating, but all of it entertaining.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk – Plugged all over On Writing; I realized I hadn’t gone through it in a decade or two.

Reader Magnets, Nick Stephenson – Also plugged everywhere, and I  grabbed it because it was free. Turns out its major advice is… offering stuff for free. OK, it’s more complex than that, but I was amused.

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing, Libbie Hawker – People who write without first making an outline are said to “write by the seat of their pants”, or call themselves “pantsers” for short. So there’s the title. As a person who really wants to outline but never quite got the hang of it, I was intrigued. It is a very character-centric approach, which I appreciate.


So that’s my reading list for 2015 so far. Next time: update more often.

Edit to add: Updated my personal Goodreads account for the first time in about 2 years. TBR pile: 117. That’s not as bad as I thought it was. Good news.

Friday playlist: Welcome to the road

My personal rule is to listen to this song only

1) before 10 a.m.
2) while moving (on foot or in a vehicle)

…but I’ll make an exception today.

One more day for the THR sale! And welcome to anyone who’s here because they’ve finished the book this week. The next book is not out yet. Working on it. Like you do. There’s a mailing list signup form to the right if you’d like to get an email when it’s out.

Sale’s here!

Here we are: The Healers’ Road is on sale for 0.99 from now through Saturday, 3/21, in the US & UK.

The paperback is due within the next couple of weeks. If by some chance you’re at Tekko, Pittsburgh’s anime convention, in a month —drop by the Able Sisters booth in Artists’ Alley and we’ll have it on paper, too. (We will have 99% plushies and 1% books, but still.)

I’d like to pause for a moment to wax effusive about ebook technology, literacy levels, and the Industrial Revolution. THR takes place at a technological level in which books are printed with movable type, but they are still printed and bound by hand, and as a result they’re quite expensive. The characters spend most of the story borrowing books from the local bookseller to feed their habits, because investing in a new book to own is a big deal.

And of course, a lot of people are in a situation like that in the real world today. Let’s hear it for libraries, first of all. But knowledge and stories are so much more readily available than they used to be, literacy is higher, and I know I sometimes take that for granted.

Friday playlist: Flashback and back to the present

In working on the prequel, I realize I’m not used to writing from teenagers’ POVs (anymore). It’s kind of aggravating and kind of fun. Certainly a change of pace from THR2, which is more in the “late 20s, time to Do Something With My Life oh crap” phase.

But I’ve been listening to a lot of music that comes from the era in which I was the characters’ age (12-16). Not exactly what I listened to at that age — I can only take so many plays of Violator now, apart from “Enjoy the Silence” — but roughly of that era. Lots of Smashing Pumpkins. That throws me right into the overdramatic high-school mode.

Now I need a break, and so we have today’s playlist entry.

Proof. And yarn

thrproofphoto The first proof of THR, with some grievous formatting errors in the last 6-7 chapters (my fault, hence sticky notes, will address).

Also amigurumi, to make this even slightly entertaining. In a detail that both vexes and amuses me, Keifon’s pins and necklace are non-canonical / inaccurate; those were just the materials that I happened to have. (I’m not even super jazzed about his hair or exact skin tone, which means that basically nothing about that one is on model. I hope to improve my amigurumi hair skills as I continue.)

But anyway. I made these two to celebrate the end of the last draft. They’re a cozy thing to have on my desk.

I’m not writing this against you: What fantasy means to me

First, the source: Ursula K. LeGuin’s review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which I saw linked at The Passive Voice (good comments there, too).

As a reader of both “genre” and “literary” fiction at times, this  discussion makes me embarrassed and uncomfortable. And that’s probably a good thing, because it’s worth considering.

I’m just starting out in the world, so allow me to say this right up front: I don’t think one genre is superior to others. Even if I write one genre more than another. Even if I read more of one genre than another. Quality is judged story by story or line by line, and even then, quality isn’t the objective be-all end-all. It’s something I strive for, but I also see the value in slipshoddily written stories that grab people by the face and don’t let go.

I tend to write a mishmash of fantasy, domestic drama, and what publishing calls “women’s fiction” (like fiction, but about women! I can’t say I’m fully comfortable with the label, but that is what it’s called). I don’t do this because I have an existential grudge against dragons, swords and elves. I don’t do this because I think myself above the fantasy genre. I don’t intend to defend my nerd bona fides, because I dislike the overarching idea of “most nerdy equals right.” But yes, I like the fantasy genre. That’s safe to say.

I admit to a streak of contrariness when it comes to a few dynamics common (though not required) in the fantasy genre, which has led to some of the underpinnings of my series.  I don’t intend to write Chosen One stories; I prefer the ordinary-person-rises-to-the-challenge trope. I don’t intend to write “you’re either born with magic or you aren’t” stories. (Agna and the priests of Tufar practiced very hard to develop their healing art, thank you. And Marliet and Grim practiced very hard to learn earthmoving, as you’ll see when their book comes out.) But that doesn’t make those tropes any more worthy than their alternatives. They are not a mandate or a referendum.

I write this mishmash because that’s a kind of story that I want to tell. I am not the only one who does this; it’s neither unique nor highfalutin. It’s just a kind of story. I leave aside the fantasy fandom’s occasional inferiority complex, and ignore anyone who claims that genre fiction has nothing to say. They’re simply wrong.

If you think my books are fantasy because they don’t take place on Earth and because some of the characters can heal broken bones or cause earthquakes with a touch, then sure, it’s fantasy. If you think my books aren’t fantasy because of their domestic scale, their world-is-not-in-danger low stakes or a fatal lack of monsters, then I disagree, but shelve them however you like. They are what they are.