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Posts Tagged ‘novels’

Well, hello again! I’ve been taking a break from blogging after struggling with health issues post-car accident, but it is time to talk about books. I cannot miss an opportunity to talk about books with you all!

Here are this year’s stats. I’ve read 52 books this year, a little bit down from last year. (My usual goal is 60, and I’m hoping I’ll get closer to that number by the end of the year.)  About a third of those books were adult speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy), which is in line with my usual reading habits. I read a lot less YA than normal, which makes sense given I was writing a novel that wasn’t YA. I read a lot more romance than usual, mostly fueled by my fondness for Georgette Heyer, who I definitely recommend reading while recovering from a brain injury. 79% of my reading was written by women, the same as last year, and 25% of my reading was written by writers of color, also similar to last year.

My Favorite Volume of Poetry:

Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong

I haven’t read much modern poetry, but this volume made me want to read more. I like his sense of language and the emotionality of his poems.

My Favorite Romances:

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

Honestly it’s between this one and Frederica for my favorite Georgette Heyer Regency romance thus far. Why Georgette Heyer? Because she does some serious world building and in general doesn’t go in for weird modernizations for a historical. She does jump the shark occasionally plot-wise, but these two novels, if I remember correctly, are particularly solid in that regard. And swoon-worthy, which is what I want from a good romance.

The Undateable, by Sarah Title

After falling in love with Heyer’s work, I tried to find a modern romance writer I also liked. And finally after mostly despairing I stumbled upon this title. The female protagonist is a feminist librarian who likes little dogs so basically this book was written for me.

My Favorite Literary Titles:

These three works are as different as different can be, but all blew me away.

The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

This novel is quite weird and effective in its weirdness. If you want something uncomfortable and surreal that makes you think, give it a try.

Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster

I found this classic about social conventions and mores and gender dynamics in turn-of-the-century (that’s 19th to 20th century, mind you) England to be surprisingly fascinating. I got so uncomfortable in the middle, and so sure my lovely protagonist was going to make a terrible and unsupportable error that I wanted to stop reading. I’m glad I didn’t.

Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay

What can I say about this short story collection? Well, Roxane Gay has become one of my favorite writers, largely based on these stories. I kept sending my friend excerpts and links to various stories because I had to share them with someone as I read them. Roxane Gay has a clear eye for revealing poignant, painful, and uncomfortable truths through her fiction. Highly recommended.

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Do not be distracted by the little dog sleeping in the background.

My Favorite YA Novels:

Landscape with Invisible Hand, by M.T. Anderson

I love M.T. Anderson’s Feed so I was excited to try his newest science fiction YA novel, and while I didn’t love it as passionately as Feed, it was thought-provoking and well drawn, showing the personal effects of an alien invasion on one teenager, including the detrimental economic consequences. This novel has a small, mostly quiet scope that creeps up and knocks your socks off.

Jane Unlimited, by Kristin Cashore

This is one of my top three reads of the year (along with Roxane Gay’s collection and a science fiction novel we haven’t gotten to yet). Its structure is fascinating and  allows Kristin Cashore to play with several different genres (some speculative) in a way that really worked for me. I was worried she wouldn’t have an overall progression/arc across the entire novel, but she managed to do it. This book was crafted with such attention to detail, it stuns me to contemplate. If you enjoy parallel universes, art and being an artist, capers, spy shenanigans, really creepy shit, devoted dogs, and/or magical houses, you might enjoy this book. Or, you know, if you just want to read something brilliant.

My Favorite SF/F Novels/Novellas:

Mostly science fiction this year (except for The Stone Sky), which is very exciting!

The Stone Sky, by N.K. Jemisin

I was a little nervous beginning this because the stakes felt high to me–would N.K. Jemisin land the ending to this fascinating trilogy? The answer is yes. She manages to tie all the threads together. Probably the must-read fantasy trilogy of this decade.

Six Wakes, by Mur Lafferty

This clone generation ship murder mystery was a fun frolic; very entertaining and exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it.

Star’s End, by Cassandra Rose Clarke

There is some great character work in this science fiction novel about a woman poised to take over a powerful corporation from her ailing father. It asks important questions like: how much does your family inform who you are, and can you avoid their mistakes? How much does the past and your past choices inform who you are? What does it mean to make compromises for the greater good? What responsibility do we bear for other people’s past mistakes? How can we make amends to people we have betrayed or is that even possible? Ah, such a good book. It also involves terraforming and corporate espionage and first contact and clones (and oh how I love clone stories!)

Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem, by Yoon Ha Lee

The first two of a…trilogy, I assume?…of military science fiction fantasy, these books blasted into my life, full of originality and freshness. There was a certain curve figuring out what was happening in the first novel as I grew to understand the world, but the effort was well worth making.

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

This page-turning novella featuring a “Murderbot” trying to protect her clients is almost painfully charming. The plotting and world building is top-notch here in a fun mystery-action adventure, but it is the inwardly misanthropic yet deeply caring android protagonist that steals the show and makes me love this story. And I got a sneak peek at the next two installments in the series, both due out in 2018, and they’re excellent as well!

The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks

And now we come to the third of my three favorite books of the year, and the last of the Culture series. I heard this book being recommended as an uplifting novel, which seemed like something I could do with this year, and then I heard it was Iain Banks’s last novel and he wrote it when he knew he was dying (I am not certain this is true, by the way, but it informed my decision to read it). And oh, this book. It deals with questions of death and the meaning of lives and entire cultures and species, and the anxiety of considering what comes after life as we know it.

I will say that overall this book didn’t get great reviews. It was long and a bit meandering and not a page-turner, and there were some holes and oversights. It is a flawed novel, yes. But for me it also managed to hit some relevant and powerful truths that made it very worthwhile for me. And I have to admit I have a weakness for Culture Ships, musicians who aren’t quite sure of their way, and questions of immortality. So it is a definite Amy book.

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And that completes my list. I’m glad I got to read so many interesting books this year, and as always I’m looking forward to MORE BOOKS. Feel free to tell me what you read that you most enjoyed this year; I’d love to hear your favorites!

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I tend to be a very organized person. I like to plan. I enjoy the process of planning, and then I enjoy having everything be smooth and fun and efficient because I planned well. I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter. In college, if I stayed up all night, it was either because I had insomnia or because I was having a good time. The good time often involved playing bridge or hanging out with a cute boy. Both seemed totally worth the sleep deprivation.

I even plan when I’m not going to plan. If you plan that you’re going to be spontaneous, are you still being spontaneous? I’m not sure, but that is totally me. When I purposefully have no plan, I lower my expectations instead, and then it usually all works out very nicely. I’m also usually aware ahead of time of backup plans and which plans are super important versus which plans can be changed without it being a big deal. I don’t even do these things on purpose a lot of the time; my brain does them automatically.

Enter the Creative Process.

There are many parts of the creative process I can plan too. I can plan uninterrupted writing time. I can make daily word count goals, or scene revision goals, or what-have-you. I can make lists and notes and world building sheets. I can outline until the cows come home. I almost always know within a week or two when I’m going to finish a draft. I know what scene I’m going to write tomorrow.

But to my infinite discomfort, there are aspects of my creative process that I cannot plan. Novels, it turns out, are complicated; they consist of many interlocking parts, and sometimes the parts don’t interlock the way I think they’re going to. Sometimes either my planning or my execution is imperfect, and things aren’t set up properly the way they were supposed to be. Sometimes I come up with an idea that is ten times better than what I originally planned to do.

And sometimes ideas simply aren’t ripe. This sounds kind of woo-woo, and that annoys me, but for now, for me, it also seems to be true. Some ideas aren’t ready to go when I want them to be ready. They have pieces missing, and I can sit and think and think and think, and the pieces don’t always fall into place. And then I can’t write the rough draft because I don’t understand the novel well enough to start putting down words. I don’t know who all the POV characters are, or I don’t really understand what I’m trying to say, or I don’t have a solid structure to hang everything from, or my world doesn’t make sense yet.

And then suddenly, in its own damned time, a piece or two or three will fall into place, and the novel idea is ripe, and I can contemplate writing it and maybe even make an actual plan.

I find this both annoying and exhilarating. Annoying because I want to be able to plan further ahead, and more reliably, and I want my ideas to always cooperate with me. Exhilarating because there is nothing like that feeling when a few pieces DO fall into place, and suddenly I’ve got something where before I had nothing at all.

Anyway, I’ve been pounding my head against a novel idea for the past few months, and it wasn’t budging. So finally I turned my head to a different, older idea, and a few pieces fell into place, and maybe I’ve found my novel project for 2016. I certainly hope so.

Because I’m usually happiest when I have a plan, and I can work towards it.

This is an otter. It is very cute and otherwise has nothing to do with this blog post.

This is an otter. It is very cute and has nothing to do with this blog post.

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Today you are reading one of my (relatively) rare writing posts, in which I am mostly going to share intelligent things that other people have said about writing. I admit that I am somewhat motivated by the selfish reason of wanting these articles available in the future for my own easy reference. But I’m also motivated because I’ve been thinking more about short stories lately because I’m critiquing three of them for WorldCon’s writing workshop, which takes place later this week.

First off, Goodreads did a survey on why people stop reading books. I’m fascinated by how many people don’t stop reading in the middle of a book because “as a rule, I like to finish things”: 36.6%! I’m so interested because I stop reading books all the time. I always have so many books in queue that I either should read or want to read that I’ll stop for any number of reasons: I’m not in the right mood, there’s another book I want to read more, the book doesn’t grab me, I can tell it’s not to my taste, etc.

But probably the most interesting number from that survey is that the single biggest reason why people stop reading a novel is because they find it BORING. From what I’ve heard, this is also one of the biggest reasons why slush readers stop reading novels and stories. So if you’re a writer, wanting to learn how to not be boring is a legitimate concern.

Photo Credit: Esellee via Compfight cc

Rahul Kanakia, otherwise known as my favorite blogger, shares some thoughts about the difference between short stories and novels in the boredom department. Rahul was a slush reader for Strange Horizons and now teaches writing to unsuspecting undergrad students at John Hopkins, so he knows that of which he speaks. He talks about having the “So what?” reaction to short stories, which is one I often have as well, and how to work towards inspiring a stronger reaction.

(Incidentally, it’s really interesting to think about the different things that a reader tends to want from a short story vs. from a novel. There definitely seem to be things you can get away with more easily in a novel than a short story, and vice versa.)

Ann Leckie, who edits GigaNotoSaurus, among other things, writes about a problem she often sees in her slush pile: namely, that much of the work she reads is not very original and involve ideas that haven’t been thought all the way through. Which results in what exactly? You guessed it: BORING stories.

Finally, I think anyone involved in narrative storytelling should check out this article, which I first read more than three years ago and still refer back to. (I expect to be referring back to it thirty years from now.) James Van Pelt wrote an outline of a talk he was going to give about writing a great ending. I am such a stickler for stories and novels landing the ending, and this blog post is the best discussion of how to achieve this that I’ve come across so far.

Have you stumbled across any great writing resources or articles lately? Been thinking about any aspect of writing in particular? Feel free to share in the comments!

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