The work, which becomes a new genre itself, will be called…

You were threatened with squeeing. Fair warning.

I just finished Laika in Lisan, a fantasy(?) political thriller(?) about a mild-mannered(ish) scholar in a just-on-the-cusp-of-industrial-revolution world who gets sucked into an international conspiracy. It’s a story that sets up the machinery of a couple of fictional cultures, winds them up, and looks at the effects they have on the people who live in them. I love that sort of thing. LOVE it. And I rarely encounter it; I’m not sure whether it’s rare, I’m terrible at searching, or both.

Apart from being about non-magical people doing the best they can with the situation they’re in, it doesn’t have too much in common with the sort of stuff I write. (There’s a lot more plot and action in this book. This is a good thing.) But “non-magical people doing the best they can with the situation they’re in” is a sub-genre within fantasy that I wish I came across more, so this made me happy.

While this book fits reasonably well into “political intrigue” despite the lack of guns and running through airports (…I know nothing about thrillers, full disclosure), I still wish there were a neat genre label for fantasy stories that operate at the individual or national/cultural level. Not-epic, which is not sub-epic to me – because I refuse to believe that a story isn’t worth reading if the moon isn’t exploding or whatever.*

I know there’s a limited market for that sort of thing (…she said, totally un-bitterly), but there is a market! There are books I’d rather like to buy, if I knew where to find them.

Until then… here’s one such book. I enjoyed it. It ends on an ambiguous note and the sequel does not yet exist,  but I will keep an eye out for more.

* Moon-exploding stories are fine. I spent a non-trivial chunk of my adolescence playing Final Fantasy games. But I like variety.

August Reading: Arty plagues, hilariwrongness and the Romance Wanderer

I’m in the middle of a book right now that makes me gleeful, so I will squee all over the place when I’m done. First: August. My August reading ground to a halt for the first two weeks, after I caved into the temptation of buying one of the cutesy sim games I love. Ah well. It was a decision.

Fantasy, SF and Related Genres

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Everyone’s read it; I just got around to it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – This lives in roughly the same space as The Passage by Justin Cronin: set up a genre-type situation, but instead of focusing on action and how-to-survive logistics, explore how this upheaval affects the individuals living through it. Station Eleven follows a network of people, all connected through an aging actor, in the lead-up and aftermath of an extinction-level plague. Not remotely as bleak as The Road! Yay! (Few things are!)

It’s also about how art makes life worth living for some people; much of the action follows a traveling orchestra and Shakespearean drama troupe after the apocalypse, and the title refers to a self-published graphic novel written by one of the characters. This style is not for everyone. The combination of genre trope (plague/zombies/whatever!) and artypants (feelings! sentence fragments!) tends to infuriate people on both sides. For me, it is candy. Bring it on.

Unwritten, volume 3 – Continuing. It mocked me from my currently-reading queue in Goodreads. I read it at 1-2 a.m. while waiting out a bout of acid reflux, so I lack coherent opinions for reasons that are not the fault of the book.

My deep ambivalence with romance-reading continues. I swear there’s a subgenre that I will love out there somewhere, that isn’t gross about slut-shaming or “competition” between women and that doesn’t populate itself entirely with tired or insulting stereotypes. It’s the genre/form most concerned with characters’ motivations and feelings, and I care about those things and want to see them developed in stories. I am not giving up. I will rove at random through the halls of Romancelandia until I find that niche.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy – I do not understand titles, part 8,000. I feel like that title could be anything? What do I know. Anyway, I pre-ordered this because I loved Understatement of the Year and the rest of Sarina Bowen’s college hockey series. This one was fun. More rowdy and less angsty/sweet than UOTY, but along the same lines generally: oh no I’m in love with my best friend also there’s hockey (I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I understand it, which is more than I can say for most sports). The characters are a bit older than in UOTY, which helps, too.

Premiere: A Romance Writers of America® Collection by Various Authors, edited by Sylvia Day
I am still looking for more auto-buy romance authors, who fit styles/ideas that I like and whose catalogs I can go on and buy and read for ages. A sampler like this seemed like a good way to try out a bunch of stuff. And it is just that. It covers a range of popular subgenres, like urban fantasy, Regency and contemporary, although 90% of them star gorgeous straight white people with no real problems, and you could play a drinking game with interchangeable tiny blond heroines vs. interchangeable blue-eyed slabs of manchest. (There is one token inspirational, one token M/M, and one token “cute, but not model-hot” match, which I would have greatly enjoyed were it not for the rampant slut-shaming.)

Romance is what it is, I guess – they write what people want to read. I’m not saying it has to change; I’m saying this is not really what I’m looking for.

I have to say, though, what is with tongue-claiming? Tongues, OK, claiming, OK, but three or four times the authors refer to tongue-kissing as “claiming.” I was reminded of the face-rub cats do to smear their scent glands on things. Or I guess the 6-year-old’s gambit of “I licked the best cupcake, so it’s mine!!” Uh…not so hot. IMO.

Primarily, I was struck by my lack of buy-in with short-form romance. I like slow burns and character establishment over time, and there just isn’t room in a short to do either of those things. Several of them pulled it off, but some were more like “oh wait I love you smooch the end.” So that’s a thing I learned. I’d still recommend this as a sampler platter, because it covers a lot of ground between several subgenres and tones. My wandering continues, but I had a good time exploring the options here.

Writing & Publishing

How Not to Write a Novel – 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman – This is a book about plot structuring and prose style illustrated by humorously over-the-top examples – that’s its main selling point. Oh, the advice is good, but if you’re looking for a seriouspants discourse, you are in the wrong place. If you are looking for intentional badness and a kaleidoscope of send-ups in the service of making a bunch of good points, go here. (Side note: It assumes traditional publishing in its narration – “agents will pass your book by” etc. Self-publishing is brushed past in a sidebar. If you are offended by that angle, skip it.)

We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines – Borrowed from my husband, who is a slightly more classic ’80s-child nerd than me. Back to the Future was not my primary childhood jam. My primary childhood jam was The Last Unicorn. (Girl nerds: still a thing!) Still, BTTF is one of my dad’s favorite movies, so I watched it dozens of times as a kid.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechtel – Another impulse to try and keep up with the times. The haters are dumb, but we knew that. The book is good, troubling and bittersweet.

TBR at beginning of month: 139

TBR at end of month: 140

3 books bought in August that I have not read yet, though one is a reference book that I will probably skim at best.

Here’s the problem with trying to chip away at my TBR pile: my pattern of late has been “buy book, read book, buy another book, read it, continue to ignore TBR pile.” A good chunk of August consisted of books that weren’t even on my TBR list last month. The quest continues.

Editing. See: Pillage, burn and.

The Healertown Passage, a.k.a. The Healers’ Road 2, has passed the 50,000 word mark! Woohoo! I’m in the middle of what will be the last chapter of Act 1. That sounds as though it suggests a 150,000-word book. However, that 50K chunk includes:

2,091 words of intro that got me warmed up, but don’t really advance much plot; I’ve been planning to cut them ever since the story got moving

3,778 words of late-in-the story stuff that was written ahead and will be heavily rewritten when I catch up with myself

11,252 words of middle-of-the-story set piece that I thought would anchor the end of Act 1, but the tone of Act 1 shifted and the pace speeded up a tiny bit (OMG, who are you and what have you done with the original) , so it ended much earlier than planned. So I have this 11,252-word island of scene that no longer fits the tone of the story.

I smell a sequel starter. It’s like a sourdough starter, but with expat dinner parties and adorableness. Next up: Write an outline that will incorporate/justify this set of scenes in Book 3.

Total: 17,121 out of the 50,942, or a full third of what has been written so far. If we’re talking words that are likely to survive to Draft 2, the book has hit 33,821, suggesting a total length of about 100K.

This is why editing is very, very important and also magic.