Monday, December 30, 2013

Books Read in 2013


71 books read this year, including kids' books I read to-- or listened to with-- The Son, book club books, and graphic novels.


Juvenile Fiction

A Hero for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
Roman Mysteries: Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence
Roman Mysteries: The Secrets of Vesuvius by Caroline Lawrence
Roman Mysteries: The Pirates of Pompeii by Caroline Lawrence
Roman Mysteries: Assassins of Rome by Caroline Lawrence
Alanna by Tamora Pierce
Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eoin Colfer
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
Roman Mysteries: The Dolphins of Laurentum by Caroline Lawrence
Roman Mysteries: The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina by Caroline Lawrence
The Serpent’s Shadow by Rick Riordan
Roman Mysteries: Enemies of Jupiter by Caroline Lawrence
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
Pharaoh's Daughter by Julius Lester
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Magic by the Lake by Edward Eager
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
The Time Garden by Edward Eager
The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The Edge Chronicles: Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart
The Roman Mysteries: The Gladiators from Capua by Caroline Lawrence


Young Adult

Voices by Ursula K. LeGuin
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Coen and David Levithan
The Safe-Keeper’s Secret by Sharon Shinn
Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
The Truth-Teller’s Tale by Sharon Shinn
Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier
Reached by Ally Condie
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Steverner
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn
The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarity
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier


Adult Fiction

The Help by Kathryn Sockett
Second Glances by Jodi Picoult
Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
Ilium by Dan Simmons
Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Cotterill
The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atikinson
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Love Songs From a Shallow Grave by Colin Cotterill
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan


Non-Fiction

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Unearthing Atlantis by Charles Pellegrino
Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
At Home: a Brief History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. Mackenzie


Graphic Novels

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Sin City, Vol. I: The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller
The Good Neighbors: Kin by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh
The Good Neighbors: Kith by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
The Vicar Woman by Emma Rendel
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell


Hits and misses by category:

Juvenile: 

Hit: This is the toughest category to pick just one favorite, since I read so much outstanding children's fiction this year, including the Roman Mysteries series, the Kane Chronicles trilogy, the second book of the WondLa trilogy, the New Olympians series, and the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. But if you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick just one "best" book, it would have to be The Golden Compass, a truly remarkable book that deserves to be considered a modern classic of children's literature.

Miss: I already blogged about my disappointment with Alanna, so I'm going with The Edge Chronicles: Beyond the Deepwoods. The worldbuilding was cool, but you're never given a reason to care about the protagonist beyond the fact that he's the protagonist and you're supposed to care about him. There was no plot, no story goal-- just this whiney little shit stumbling from one disaster to the next. And there was not one but TWO unrelated grotesquely obese female villains, which rubbed me the wrong way, AND one scene had perhaps the most offensive extended metaphor for menstruation (and female maturation in general) that I've ever heard. I was literally yelling at the CD player: "My GOD! Ten-year-old boys are going to read this stuff, you know!"


 Young Adult:

Hit: Sorcery and Cecelia. I didn't care for the sequel, but this first book was just an utter delight. Honorable mention to Voices, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Fangirl.

Miss: Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue, and Emerald Green. I have no idea why I read the whole trilogy. It was really dumb, and the protagonist got on my tits in a major way.


Adult:

Hit: The Rook. It's like The Bourne Identity meets Men in Black, with a little James Bond and Hitchhiker's Guide thrown in for extra flavor. Oh, and a female protagonist. So, so good. Honorable mentions: Ilium, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Miss: Timbuktu. Pretentious twaddle.


Non-Fiction:

Hit: At Home. Brilliant.

Miss: I feel bad choosing The Last Lecture, so I'll just say I certainly didn't think it was bad or anything, but nor did I find it as full of wisdom as everyone else seems to.


Graphic Novel:

Hit: Gunnerkrigg Court. I wasn't sure whether to include this on my list at all, since I'm reading it online, but I think of it as a graphic novel and not "just" a comic. The art is gorgeous, the worldbuilding is full of Lost-worthy mysteries, and the story is complex and constantly evolving as the characters age and mature. Bonus points for many strong female characters who are all strong in different ways. More bonus points for fearlessly melding Science Fiction and Fantasy elements. Super-duper bonus points for creating a SF/Fantasy series about teenagers in an English boarding school that is in no way reminiscent of Harry Potter. It's right below Sandman as my favorite comic of all time, and that's pretty much the highest praise I can give it.

Miss: Sin City. I knew it was dark, but I didn't know it was THAT dark. It was just bleak and hopeless and crazy-mega-violent, and I felt like I needed some kind of ritual cleansing when I was done with it. It's not a bad graphic novel, but it still counts as a miss for me.

That's the year in review! Any questions, counter-arguments, "me too!"'s?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The 2013 Shelf-Sitter Challenge Wraps Up

Regular readers (hi, Sharon!) will recall that the Shelf-Sitter Challenge originated because I had twenty-five books on my shelves that I had never read. My goal was to read them all-- or, at the very least, read enough to reject them. Since my usual yearly reading goal is 40 books, I figured I had plenty of wiggle room to get the shelf-sitters out of the way. If I wanted to read anything off-challenge, I had to take it out of the library-- no buying more books (except book club books) until I'd read all the ones I already owned.

So, how'd it go?

The bad news: despite reading 70(!) books this year (I'll post the full list tomorrow), I did not complete the challenge and still have seven books unread on my shelves that were there on January 1st.

I also must shamefacedly confess that I had a little book-buying slip a few months back. I took some books to the used bookstore, and like an idiot went looking in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I was like, "Well, the only things I'd consider buying are the Samaria novels I don't already own, and they never have any Sharon Shinn..." and lo and behold, there were the three books I was missing, for $3 apiece. I had a moment of weakness.

The good news: I read/rejected 17.5 of the challenge books (I'm halfway through book 18, which is Cryptonomicon, a mammoth tome by genius/sadist Neal Stephenson), some of which had been making me feel like a slacker for years. I finished eight of the books (and will finish Cryptonomicon-- it is awesome), and chose not to finish nine of them.

I also learned two valuable reading lessons this year:

1) I slog through way too many books that are a waste of my time.
If a book isn't completely terribly written and/or personally offensive to me, I feel weirdly obligated to keep reading it. Ditto reading later books of a trilogy or series even if I've lost interest in it. This challenge has made me much more discerning; if I'm not invested after reading 20% of the book, I can put it aside and move on to the next thing. There are too many amazing books out there to spend my time on stories I feel meh about.

2) I buy a lot of books that I should be taking out of the library.
I was a hugely insatiable reader as a kid, but for some reason my parents never brought me to the library. My father had this whole "books don't count as buying you something" philosophy-- he would take me to a bookstore and let me pick out literally as much as I wanted. As a result, I developed an acquisitive attitude toward books, which is odd since in every other area I am pretty non-materialistic and don't get attached to things, or care much about the quantity or quality of the stuff I do have. But it can be physically painful to keep the books to a reasonable number (where reasonable = <1,000). I've already gotten in the habit of taking The Son's books out of the library, but this year I took a LOT of books out for myself that I would have bought if I hadn't imposed the buying limit on myself. I've discovered that there are only a few instances in which I truly want to own the book: 1) the book is a reference book that I believe I'll use for many years; 2) the book is by one of the 4-5 authors whose work I "collect"; or, 3) the book is part of a trilogy or series I am actively engaged in and already own all the previous books of.

Where do I go from here?

I've decided to keep myself to no more than ten shelf-sitters. Including the challenge books I didn't read, the illicitly-purchased Shinn books, and the books I got for Christmas, I currently have 15 shelf-sitters, which means I need to read at least 5 of these books before I can buy myself anything else (no more browsing in the used book store!). But with my embarrassingly late-in-life library revelation, it could be quite a while before I feel the need to buy a book!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Consistency

The good news is that I survived the week o' term papers for all my tutoring students, and I am totally on top of Christmas-- like, presents wrapped, cookies baked and delivered, packages mailed. The bad news is that I haven't been writing. December is always a tough month with lots of other demands on my time. I'm making "finishing the goddamn draft already" my JanNoWriMo goal; for now, I've signed up for a "December Consistency Challenge" at the JanNo site. The idea is to set a goal you know you can reach no matter what else is going on, and then write that amount every single day no matter what else is going on. I did 250, which is enough to keep the story percolating until I have more time to focus on it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sidetracked

I got sucked into QueryShark last night, and wound up getting sidetracked into working on my query pitch all. day. Not the most productive use of my time perhaps, but I thought I should strike while the nitpicky iron was hot. This shit is hard, yo.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Act III is Launched

Despite all the distraction in my life right now, over the course of three days I managed to complete the dialogue for the first scene in Act III. It's the last big conflict between Willa and Akenam, and I'm happy with it. Now I've backed up and am writing the long description/exposition opening to the scene.    I have a not-terrible version from the first draft, but it's still taking me a long time to edit it. It's a jump in a time, and to a new location, and I feel like I need to get it just right so the reader comes along with me.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bah

This week has been a bust. The Husband's been having health troubles again and wound up in the hospital today. Tomorrow my day is jam-packed with everything I've had to put off all week in order to deal with the more immediate problem. It may Monday before I get the chance to work on TOB again.

Dammit.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Milestone-a-palooza

With 22 minutes left in November, I finished the scene, chapter 19, and Act II.

I haven't written at all since Tuesday. I was teaching, cooking Thanksgiving dinner, dealing with family emergencies. But I pulled it together and worked on it tonight. The scene went on further than where I'd planned to end it, because I realized I needed more thrills, and bit more narrow of an escape.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Allllllmost...

Yesterday The Husband had a car emergency that ate up most of my afternoon. I did make some progress though! Inching toward the end of the scene/chapter/Act, in between teaching, tutoring, grading essays, and getting reading for Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Almost

Well, it's Monday and Act II isn't done. It is, however, almost done. Story of my life.

I'm killing time in the lounge of the Math building before I teach my class. After class, I need to clean my kitchen, and then do my Thanksgiving shopping. Later in the afternoon I have The Son's parent-teacher conference, but somewhere in the midst of all that I should be able to find enough time to finish the chapter. I really am almost there-- just one more bro to tase, two sets of wings to sprout, and two jumps from a cliff.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mini-Goal

One more scene to go to finish up Act II. Next week I'm teaching an intensive SAT prep course AND cooking Thanksgiving dinner for seven, so I'm not anticipating getting any much writing done. So my mini-goal is to finish Act II by Monday, so I can leave off for the holiday with a sense of accomplishment.

Friday, November 15, 2013

11/15 Check-In

I edited the dialogue for the big da-da-DUM! reveal of plot point two. Lemmetellya, that was SO MUCH EASIER than having to make shit up. Still left to do to finish Act II:

1) fill in the attributives/description/introspection to break up the dialogue I wrote today Finally finished this.
2) go back and stitch in some of that thread I dropped Edited the picnic scene to include this.
3) write the last action-y bit of chapter 19

I feel like crappy crap today (post-migraine hangover), and tomorrow is The Son's birthday party, so I'm not counting on getting any writing done for the next 48 hours or so.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Eighteen

Eighteen chapters done!

Since I've already written the last chapter, that means I have eight more to finish the book. Whew!

Dropped a Stitch

I read over the dialogue for plot point two last night, and stumbled across a thread I completely dropped after Act I. Oops. This is one of the consequences of taking 47 years to write a book: you are inevitably going to forget some of what you're doing. It'll only take a few hundred words to fix, but first I need to figure what what to say and where to drop it, and that could take a while since at the moment I can't remember what my original intentions were. I've decided to write to the end of the chapter first, since I have a pretty clear idea of how it's going to go and I don't want to lose that momentum.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On the Map

I finished up the scenes leading up to the one-two punch of plot point two. Act II is almost done, kids.

Even better (like, so exciting I can hardly contain myself): every remaining scene in the book is an edit. These last few chapters have been written from scratch, to the point that I started feeling like I was writing a whole new damn book. But from here on out it's Edit City. To be fair, some scenes need so much editing that I'm not sure they'll be any easier than just writing from scratch, but that's not the point. The point is, we are on the map again!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

75%, For Realz

I decided to stop being a baby and calculate my percentages based on the projected final length of TOB. I'm at 81,000, which google calculator informs me is 75% of 108,000. It's a little disheartening to feel like I've made no progress the last week and a half, but at at least I know I'm really three-quarters done now.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 16

Book 16 of the shelf-sitter challenge is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Two different book-friends have been aghast when I admitted to not having read this yet, and now I see why. It's wonderful. It's rare that I read a genre book that I think deserves to be considered a classic, but this Juvenile Fantasy book qualifies. I am humbled by its greatness, truly.

I kind of cheated by listening to this on audiobook. This is a shelf-sitter challenge, after all, and I do have the dead-tree version of this book sitting on my shelf right now... but I'm short on time and motivation for finishing this challenge by the end of the year, and I thought The Son might enjoy this one, so I made it our car-audiobook. It was a magnificent performance: Pullman himself read the narration, with a cast of actors doing the character voices. Pullman is a terrific reader in addition to being a terrific writer; it makes me forgive him for being such a little bitch about everything in his essays.

The plot in twenty words: Oxford-raised "orphan" girl teams up with river gypsies and a sentient polar bear to stop evil church-sponsored experiments on children. There were three scenes with adults discussing Lyra and how important and special she is that I thought were completely unnecessary and threw me out of the flow of Lyra's POV, but other than that it is basically perfect. The Son loved it, too, even though parts of it were truly wrenching. This is a kid with an extremely high tolerance for peril, tension, conflict, violence, and tragedy in stories, but there was one scene in The Golden Compass that upset him enough that I suggested not continuing with the book-- a suggestion he fiercely rejected.

Are the next two books of the trilogy as good as this one? I read the blurb for The Subtle Knife and it sounded meh.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gut Punch Dialogue

I finished chapter 17, hurrah, hurrah.

The next two chapters are going to be dark and depressing, culminating with the all-is-lost moment and plot point two. Chapter 18 opens with a few paragraphs of Willa being like, well this sure sucks, followed by a shortish but intense confrontation with Akenam. This is kind of a new scene; I've always known this conflict between them needs to happen, but I wasn't sure where exactly in the story it needs to be or what exactly needs to be said. In the first draft they clash over the same stuff in at least two different scenes, and it kind of goes on and on. So the first order of business is to copy and paste all that dialogue into a separate file and whittle it down to the bone. It needs to be short but impactful (not a word, I know), like a punch to the gut.

Monday, November 4, 2013

11/4 Check-In

I just finished the dialogue for the next scene, and after a short break for a word from our sponsors, I'm plunging back in. I'm pleased at how relatively easy it was to write, since big showdown dialogue can be eye-rollingly overwrought if you don't keep reining yourself in. I think this is a good one, though: anger, hurt, conflicting agendas, respect, and desire all tangled together.

I'd love to get the scene-- and thus the chapter-- finished today.

Friday, November 1, 2013

New Month, New Goals

I didn't quite get all I wanted done in October. I wrote about 17,000 words, and did not finish Act II. But I've passed the three-quarters mark, which is a huge mental relief. In an ideal November, I would write 25,000 words and end the month with only the two climax scenes to revise, so I guess that's my goal! However, The Son's birthday, Thanksgiving, and the week-long intensive SAT prep course I'm teaching might all take a bite out of that goal.

I finished the first section of chapter 17 today. Now I've got maybe 4-5 paragraphs of exposition followed by a whole other brand-new scene. Willa has to confront someone who's done her wrong, but it's not a straightforward conflict, since he's still trying to win her over to his side. He's going to tempt her with her heart's desire, and in order for the temptation to be a genuine obstacle I have to really show how much easier and tidier it would be for her to accept his offer.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

10/30 Check-In

Finally finished chapter sixteen-- it wound up being 800 more words than I estimated. *gulp* The end has a nice little heart-fluttery romantic bit that I enjoyed writing.

Chapter seventeen opens by continuing the same wicked long scene and immediately shooting down the nice little romantic moment.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

75%

The second draft of The Owl Bearer is three-quarters done. O glorious world that has brought me to this day.

This is probably as good a time as any to mention that I am certain that this draft will be longer than my originally projected 100,000 words-- probably between 105,000-110,000. But I don't care! I'll call it 105% when I get there! I'm 75% done. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Goal for Today

As usual, the weekend has not been kind to the writing. Yesterday, I slipped on our insanely treacherous walkway steps and twisted my ankle, and today I'm hobbling around like Quasimodo. I have no tutoring students today, and had planned to run a whole mess of errands in strip mall land, but that's out of the question now. I'm not sure I can even empty the dishwasher. So since it looks like I'll be sitting on my ass all day, I'm going to try to finish chapter 16. I'm not sure how many words that's going to turn out to be, since the dialogue is written and the rest is all attributives, beats, description, and introspection, but it may be enough to break 75%.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Plotting for Funsies

My only writing goal for the day was to finally finish the dialogue in this monster talkapalooza scene, and I did it. But I was feeling a little down after three days of painful revelations and angst, so I decided to take a little walk on the wild side and see if I could plot a novel from scratch in twenty minutes.

I've blogged about these storytelling archetype cards before; I first heard about them through Joely, and I've found them useful for adding dimension to character; they help me access a less linear, more subconscious-driven part of my storybrain. But I've never used them to create a story out of nothing.

I began by drawing seven single cards to represent the seven key scenes of the story: opening, first encounter, plot point one, mid-point, plot point two, climax, and closing. I wound up with:

Opening: The Festival
First Encounter: The Poet
Plot Point One: The Knight
Mid-Point: Terminus
Plot Point Two: Alchemist
Climax: Terminus
Closing: Water

How cool is it that I got the same card for the mid-point reversal and the climax??

Next, I looked at the profile of each card and chose one of the plot suggestions by instinct. Now I have:


Opening: The Festival. A Street Fair.
First Encounter: The Poet. Traveling Acting Troupe.
Plot Point One: The Knight. A new friend shows unexpected loyalty.
Mid-Point: Terminus. Drafted for a lost cause.
Plot Point Two: Alchemist. Search revealed to be as important as the goal.
Climax: Terminus. Hunted by an assassin.
Closing: Water. Romance.

I'm thinking the climax and closing plot threads run throughout the book and find their resolution in these two scenes. So now I know I have an assassin antagonist, and a romantic subplot. It seems obvious that the opening and first encounter will be either the same scene or back to back, and that one of my lovers will be a resident of the town where there the street fair is taking place, and the other will be a member of the traveling acting troupe. And then in plot point one, one of them saves the other and they set off on a quest together. That's all I've got so far.

Then I looked at the cards again and chose one of the suggested objects to include in each scene:

Opening: The Festival. A Street Fair. Statue.
First Encounter: The Poet. Traveling Acting Troupe. Spider's web.
Plot Point One: The Knight. A new friend shows unexpected loyalty. Horse.
Mid-Point: Terminus. Drafted for a lost cause. Last will and testament.
Plot Point Two: Alchemist. Search revealed to be as important as the goal. Book.
Climax: Terminus. Hunted by an assassin. Dead leaves.
Closing: Water. Romance. Cup.

Ah-- the street fair is in a town square, at the center of which is a statue. The picture on The Poet card shows a girl looking through a spider's web, so I will have my female main character (FMC) catch her first sight of the male main character (MMC) through a web. In plot point one, the FMC and MMC escape on horseback. The dead leaves of the climax imply the passage of time for the story: a street fair would probably take place in the summer, but by the end of the story it is autumn. And the cup in the closing is a symbolic cup in a wedding ceremony. Happily ever after ahoy!

Now time to learn a little about our FMC, MMC, and antagonist. For these I did the two-card character spreads.

First the FMC:
How the world sees her: The Noble
How she sees herself: The Widow

Hmmm, a noble widow. Until this point I'd assumed the FMC would be the one who was in the acting troupe, but I guess not. She's not only from the town, she's at the top of the town's ladder. And she's been married before? Not necessarily-- the card says it represents great personal loss. I don't think she's a literal widow, but she's lost someone very important to her, and now she's alone. And one of the objects listed for The Widow is a statue! Okay, the statue in the town square is of her father; he was all the family she had, and a respected leader. He's died within the past few years, and she isn't over it yet. Ooh, and she notices a spiderweb on it, and is noting with disapproval that no one cleaned the statue before the fair, when through the strands of the web she first notices MMC. 

But who is he?

How the world sees him: The Architect
How he sees himself: The Engine

Okay, with two cards like that, this guy is not an actor. He builds things-- mechanical things. I'm guessing he's a set designer, and probably makes amazing ahead-of-his-time devices allowing the actors to fly and stuff. The Architect card describes him as "intently peering at his own creation", so I think that's just what he's doing when FMC first sees him: he's working on one of his fantastic machines.

What about the antagonist?

How the world sees him/her: Childhood
How he/she sees him/herelf: The Beast

Yowsa. All right, since this is an assassin, I'm not going with the most obvious interpretation of childhood. The card talks about the ability to play like a child, to lose oneself in imagination, so I think this is an actor in the troupe. Ooooohhhh, lots of potential for conflict there. Who is he (I've chosen a he) to MMC? And now the antagonist can also be present in our opening/first encounter scene. The Beast has interesting possibilities too-- is he cursed somehow?

For the next level of character development, I looked at all the suggested objects for both of each character's cards, and chose the ones that seemed to make the most sense. These will be the symbolic objects for each character:

FMC: red rose
MMC: a machine
Antagonist: a sword

The sword is kind of a duh for an assassin, although I probably need some backstory for it. 

The machine is also kind of a duh-- we see MMC tinkering with it when we first meet him. But if it's going to be his symbolic object, it needs to be small enough for him to take with him on horseback later. And whatever it is, I don't think it's just a piece of set design. It means more to him than that. I'm reading The Golden Compass right now, so I'm thinking of the alethiometer. Maybe he's built something with mystical abilities?

As for the rose, it can't be a literal flower, since it has to last the entire story. So I'm saying it's a brooch in the shape of a rose, set with red stones. But I want it to symbolize power rather than beauty, so it's the symbol of her House, worn for generations by the current head of the family and ruler of the town. It passed to her when her father died.

Now let's find out what motivates these people. For FMC and MMC, I drew two cards for each: one for what they want, the other for what they need.

FMC:
Want: The Shepherd
Need: The Price

The Shepherd tells me that FMC's goal is to protect her people. Her need is more complicated to interpret-- the card talks about "paying a Karmic debt". But whose debt? Her father's, I bet. Maybe there are things about him she doesn't know, things he's done that have led to someone using an assassin to try to eliminate her House altogether-- things she has to put right. The last will and testament in the mid-point must be dad's, and is sure to contain shocking revelations.

MMC:
Want: The Void
Need: The Poet

Whoa. Who the hell wants the void?? This guy sees himself as an engine, and his goal is to feel absolutely nothing. He's like a Vulcan, man. Gotta be some effed-up shizz in his backstory. What he needs is meaning, and beauty-- and because The Poet was also the card for the First Encounter with FMC-- love. Duh squared.

For the antagonist, I just did one card for WHY? Why is he an assassin? Why is he trying to kill FMC? I got Fortune's Wheel, which basically tells me that this is his fate. In order to find out what that means I'd have to understand the cultural/religious context for his belief in that fate and obedience to it.

What else do I know?

This seems to be a Fantasy/Alternate History kinda world with a slightly steampunk feel and probably a little mystical magical stuff, and a strong romantic subplot.

So there you go. It literally took me twice as long to type this up as it took me to plot all that. I had a blast doing it, and am feeling energized to fight the TOB fight anew tomorrow. I'm not planning to actually write this story or anything... although... Nanowrimo is starting up next week...

Kidding, kidding! No wrimos of any description until I finish. this. book.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Happened in Darnythigan?

That's the question I need to work on today.

I'm at 1,044 for the day so far, and have reached the part of the conversation in which Akenam's Big Trauma is revealed. The problem: I'm not sure exactly what that is, beyond the fact that it happened in a O'Neil-style space habitat called the Darnythigan. I know what this experience meant to Akenam and how it continues to affect him now... but, um, I never really worked the details of what actually happened. Which is a problem now that it's time for the big reveal.

Time to crack out the computer paper and colored felt-tip pens and do some brainstorming.

Dreaming of Blue

I worked on dialogue a bit this weekend, but only made a few hundred words of progress. We had a full schedule of tennis lessons, errands, pumpkin picking, a cub scout hike, a baby shower for my friend C., and work for me. I also had an article due today, so any free time I did have was spent working on that. I just submitted it, though-- yay!-- and plan to hit the library in about an hour and get 1,000 words today. My characters are spending the day on a very odd ship floating in the Coral Sea, so I'll be spending this orange and brown New England fall day dreaming of hot sun, blue sky, turquoise water, and a rainbow of fish.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Talky Bits

I just finished a scene/section; it was one of those "show the passage of time" sections that I love reading when they are well done, but find tricky to write myself. I think this one was the best I've ever written, though. I'm pretty happy with it.

Now I'm on to the second and last section of the chapter. It's going to be long, and basically all dialogue. Like the last section, it's entirely new; this scene does not exist in the first draft. I was able to copy and paste chunks of dialogue from different scenes in the first draft that now belong here, but it's really just to remind me of the topics that need to be discussed. The dialogue itself will have to be so aggressively rewritten I might as well be starting from scratch.

It's been a while since I've used the "write the dialogue first" trick, but I think that's the way I'm going to go here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

10/12 Check-In

Yesterday was kind of a bust: The Son had the day off from school, and between work, play dates, the house being painted, and a late night out at the town bonfire, I didn't get much done. I made some notes, but no real progress.

Today The Parent is visiting, so I slipped off to the library while The Son got in some grandmother time. I got just over 900 words and am sitting at 69,000 on the nose. Willa's been trying to solve a mystery from her past, and I'm about to drop another piece of the puzzle into place.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

10/10 Check-In

I added about 300 words in details and hints to earlier chapters. Somehow, the "mere sentences" left in chapter 15 expanded to fill the rest of the day's word count. I stumbled across some first draft infodumpy bits that I had cut from an earlier scene, and realized that they belong in this one.

So I'm still on chapter 15. But this time it really is mere sentences left! (I think.)

One-third of the way through the month, and on track to finish Act 3 (of 4) by Halloween!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Just Call Me Streakbreaker

I broke my streak yesterday, and made only 300 words of progress for the day. *sigh* In my defense, I wrote closer to 600 words, but I've hit a section that was much wordier in the first draft than it needed to be, and so I've cut more than I've added.

Oh, well. Today I have less demands on my time. Although... we're having our house painted at the moment, and it is a little distracting to have guys hovering in the windows and blasting the radio.

I'm still in chapter 15, although I have mere sentences to go before I'm done with it. First order of business today is to go back and add a few lines to earlier chapters. I realized one of the antagonists is missing her symbolic object in the mid-point, simply because I forgot to mention it. And I'm about to pick up a thread from Akenam's backstory, but I've failed to drop enough hints and teasers about it, so the whole revelation's going to come out of left field if I don't fix that.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

65%

I was stuck around the middle for so long it feels almost surreal to be well and truly into the second half of the book.

I should finish up chapter 15 tomorrow. I'm pretty pleased with it; I deviated from the outline and added a new mini-scene, but I think the changes make the chapter much stronger than it was in the first draft.

The next two chapters are comprised of entirely new scenes. There's nothing to edit; it all has to be written from scratch. This part of the book-- the bit between the mid-point reversal and the action-y scenes leading into plot point two-- is the last to come into focus for me. The first draft version was filled with poorly-conceived plot elements (remember that flybike crash in the jungle that I totally pantsed?) that had nothing to do with anything. I'm 98% sure I've got it all straightened out.

Now I just have to write it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

So Far So Good

850 words every day in October so far! So, um, three days.

Last night I took a look at the chapter break outline I made way back when, and tweaked it to better represent the book as it is now. I've dropped from 29 chapters to 27, which for some unfathomable reason sounds infinitely more accomplishable to me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Out of the Murk

I finished the Big Murky Scene today. I'm still not completely happy with it, but considering where I started from I'm proud of the work I've put in these past few days. Fourteen chapters done! I have a lot of good ideas outlined for chapter fifteen.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Autumn of Not Sucking

700 words again yesterday, and I'm going for 800 today. About halfway there now. The scene is slow going, but not as painful as I feared. It's tough to pull off a dramatic confrontation without it descending into cheezy Lifetime movie dialogue. Also, from Willa's perspective, the antagnonist's actions are shocking and make no sense at all. I think I need to back up do a little freewriting about from his perspective-- his wants, his needs, what he's trying to accomlish here-- before I move on. As Joely says, every character is the star of his own story.

I am wary of making any pronouncements or setting any challenges (since we all know how well THAT'S gone lately), but I would like very much to make this the Autumn of Not Sucking. I've figured out that if I write 850 words a day, I could be finished with the draft by the end of November-- and that includes a few days off to host Thanksgiving. There's not really going to be a better time than this to make a push for the end: The Son is in school full-day and my tutoring schedule is light right now, which means there is no reason in the world I can't write 850 words on weekdays. Weekends are more challenging, but not impossible. I have an article deadline coming up, but it's a pretty straightforward article. I want to paint our downstairs bathroom, but we're having some work done on the exterior of the house in October so I wouldn't do it until after then anyway.

Now is the time.

Of course, I could totally blow it. At this point in the blog, it would be folly to pretend this isn't a possibility. But I'm going to give it a try: 850 words a day, with the goal of finishing the second draft by Nov. 30.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Obscura

700 words.

Today I finished a scene that was a total "candy bar" scene for me: a fun, romantic little scene that I've had it in my head as clear as a DVD since early in the planning process.

Now I need to move on to its Bizarro World counterpart: a scene so hazy to me that I just outlined it in it the first draft, and the only scene for which I do not have a scene card. I swear I made one, but the writing gods took it to use as a bookmark or something.

I know this scene belongs here. I know what needs to happen. But it takes place in this weird space that's not a dream but not quite reality, and one character has to betray another in front of a cast of hundreds, and there's all this shifty political stuff going on just beneath the surface that I need to hint at for foreshadowing purposes. Every past attempt I've made at the dialogue has been laughably awful.

I can do this. I'm finally getting myself back on track. This scene will not derail me.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 15

I am making a bold move. I am not reading book 15, which is The Uplift War by David Brin.

More than ten years ago, I read this book to almost the midpoint before I lost interest and set it aside. I have decided to trust that Past Me knew what she was talking about and not re-tread old ground. Part of my reasoning is practical: it's a long book, the end of the year is looming, and I have a lot left to read for the challenge. But there's more to it than that.

I have a long, complicated relationship with David Brin's work. Fifteen years ago, when I was still educating myself about Science Fiction as a genre, I took a fantastic book out of the library: a collection of novellas set in SF worlds that had multiple novels written about them. I remember I took it out because one of the novellas was by Ursula K. LeGuin (set in her Ekumen world); I had read it already, but figured its inclusion was a good sign.

One of the novellas was by David Brin, set in his Uplift Universe, and it completely blew my mind. The Uplift Universe posits that there was one original intelligent species that "lifted up" other races, engineering them into sentience. Those races then uplifted other races, and so on. On Earth, humans have uplifted chimps and dolphins. The novella, the title of which escapes me, took place on a spaceship with a nearly all-dolphin crew.

I know. It sounds like the dumbest thing ever, like a skit from The Muppet Show. Dolphins! In! Spaaaaaaace! But it was brilliantly done. Brin had obviously done a ton of research about dolphins and a lot of deep thinking about how a sentient dolphin would think, talk, use tools, perceive the world around him/her, and relate to humans, chimps, and other dolphins. I was awed by it, and excited to read the rest of the series.

The first book, Sundiver, didn't grab me the way the novella had, but I finished it. I moved onto the second book and lost interest halfway through. I tried the third (that's Uplift War) and fourth books, and stalled out on both of them as well. Finally, as an experiment, I tried reading Glory Season, one of Brin's non-Uplift novels. The premise of Glory Season could not be more tailor-made to my interests and preferences... and yet, I didn't make it past the halfway mark.

In each case, the worldbuilding was masterful and the stories started strong, but somehow I got lost in the Valley of the Shadow of the Middle. I think it's some combination of failing to connect with the characters and becoming bored with what seem to me to be predictable plots.

So, despite our promising start, the time has come for me to bid farewell to David Brin. He has a lot going for him as a writer, and I wish him the best in all his future endeavors. But I need to accept that his books are just Not For Me.

Sucking Slightly Less

350 words.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 14

Book 14 of the challenge is Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon, and it's another DNF. Should I hang my head? Again, part of the issue is that this is the first book of a series, and I am just not interested enough in the character or the story to continue through multiple books.

Sheepfarmer's Daughter is the story of Paks, a tall, robust peasant girl in a quasi-Medieval world, who escapes her father's plans to marry her off and joins the army instead. In a refreshing twist, she does not disguise herself as a man; in this world, women are allowed serve in the military, although not many choose to do so.

The story opens with Paks in mid-confrontation with her father, dramatically wielding a sword to fight her way out of his house. That is my kind of opening! Unfortunately, that is basically all the gumption Paks shows for the first 100 pages. From the moment she reaches the army recruiting tent, she stops having goals or making choices, and becomes entirely passive. She learns to march, makes some friends, avoids a couple of sexist dickwads who are out to get her, learns to use a sword, and generally adjusts to military life. We see nothing of her interior life. She's hardworking, humble, and has a long fuse; those are great qualities for a protagonist, but without insight into her fears, doubts, struggles, and flaws, she comes off as a Mary Sue.

At the end of Act I, she's the victim of an attack/set-up by the sexist dickwads-- but again she's passive, and the villains have no depth at all. I would have found it all more interesting if her own personality or choices had in some way triggered or exacerabated the situation, or if she had at least had a hand in resolving the conflict and seeking justice for the attackers. Instead, the whole thing is cleared up for her by the benevolent male commanding officers while she's recovering off-scene, which I found unsatisfying on a story-level, and also bizarrely disempowering for a series the author probably considers a feminist epic.

This challenge is making me a much tougher critic.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

No Shock

I haven't written a word since The Son got out of camp back at the beginning of August. I've been tutoring every evening and swept up in redoing The Son's room and back-to-school preparations.

I am very annoyed with myself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Blues

We've had some good times this summer: two weeks on Cape Cod, a day trip to a theme park, half-day camp for The Son, lots of swimming play dates with friends, a trip to Maine coming up.

But it's also been a hard summer. My young cousin passed away in a shocking tragedy. The Husband's grandmother is dying, which while not a shocking tragedy is still an enormous stress on his family as they manage her care. My uncle had surgery on his back, which at his age can be a risky endeavor. I have a bad chest cold. And last week, our beloved indoor kitty got out of the house and went missing, probably forever.

I know I shouldn't let the hard, sad things keep me from writing... but I do. All last week I spent every free moment searching for the cat (and probably gave myself the cold in the process), and walked around with a heart that felt like it was made of lead. I opened the TOB file every day, but only wrote a total of maybe 200 words.

Yesterday, knowing that I would have to tutor and run errands today, I spent almost the entire day in bed, trying to kick the cold. And with the pressure to work on or worry about anything else removed, I wound up writing almost an entire scene. Maybe that will be the turning point that pulls me out of this writing and life funk.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shelf Sitter Challenge: Book 13

Thirteen was not lucky: yet another DNF. Soul Mountain by Gou Xingjian. The Parent gave this to me-- probably for Christmas-- at least 4 years ago. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, which makes me feel all the more uncultured for rejecting it in favor of a stack of YA Fantasy from the library.

I'm blaming it on the translation. Every other sentence had a comma splice, and one paragraph went on for four pages-- and not in a cool, experimental way. More of a "I forgot to hit 'return'" way. I might be able to forgive this if the story was fascinating, but so far it's like the Chinese version of a Beat novel: man in the grips of a mid-life crisis flees his relatively privileged but stifling existence in Beijing to wander the southern provinces, searching for meaning and authenticity. Lots of descriptions of depressing little towns, lots of brief encounters with yokels, a few long conversations that don't seem to go anywhere. Maybe it all comes together and is Nobel Prize brilliant in the end, but I'm not wading through all those comma splices to find out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 12

Another DNF. Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. As the Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge wears on, I am becoming increasingly ruthless about setting aside a book simply because it hasn't won me over enough to want to continue with it, which I previously wouldn't have considered a good enough reason to stop reading.

This book was passed on to me by one of The Parent's best longtime friends, a lovely seventysomething lady who is like an aunt to me, and with whom I share a large area of reading taste overlap. She gave the book to The Parent to give to me, I assumed because she enjoyed it and thought I would too-- we're both big fans of Card's Ender series. However, when I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago, she said that she'd quit the book halfway through and wanted to see what my take was on it. That probably soured me a bit before I even began.

I have to say, this is in no way a terrible book. The worldbuilding is interesting, the writing is mostly servicable with occasional flashes of very good, and there's a cool "is this Fantasy or Science Fiction?" element to keep you turning pages. However, there are also two things about it that are annoying me. On their own, these things seem like petty reasons to stop reading a book, and if this was a 300-page stand-alone novel, they wouldn't stop me from finishing it. But this is a 650-page book that is the first in a trilogy/series, and I don't care to be annoyed for ~1,500 pages.

Annoying thing #1: The Tone. The two main characters are 13-year-old boys from a podunk hill-people village in the mountains, and they are just way too mature and wise and witty to be believable. This is also my complaint about the Ender stories: the kids seem just way too old for how old he wants them to be. In Ender I can let it go because the kids are all hand-picked freaky geniuses. Running across it again in Pathfinder makes me start to think that this isn't actually being done for effect at all, that Card really does have no idea what kids are actually like-- or, more likely, that he portrays young boys the way he remembers feeling about himself at the same age. And everyone remembers themselves as how mature and cool they felt, not as how they appeared to others. This is why people over 25 are generally horrified to encounter teenagers: because they are SO YOUNG, and you remember yourself being far older than that at age 15.

But I digress. There is a logical explanation for why Rigg is so better educated than he should be, and I'm sure he'll turn out to be some chosen-one type genius... but that doesn't explain why Umbo also sounds about 20 most of the time, with the Whedon-esque banter. If you want to give your 13-year-old boy characters "mature" characteristics, then for heaven's sake divvy those characteristics between them. One kid can speak four languages and have a grad-school level education he got from his father while they were trapping animals in the woods, but if you make that same kid bold and level-headed in a crisis AND a master of witty banter, AND you have a second 13-year-old boy who is also a master of executive function skills and witty retorts... well, then I start rolling my eyes. Maybe it's the seven years of teaching middle school talking here, but this book reads like Card made his characters 13 so Rigg would look even more precocious and impressive, and not because he had the least interest in exploring the emotional reality of early adolescence.

Annoying thing #2: The Over-Explication. There's a time-travel element to the story, and every time they do it or even consider doing it there's much discussion of the possible ramifications, and whether their current self needs to learn something so the future self can go back in time and warn the past self or whether blah blah blah. I get that when you write about time travel you need to work out some of this for the reader so he or she knows you're not just totally winging it, but I checked out the goodreads reviews and several people said that there are many, many dull and baffling conversations like this throughout the book.

So there you have it. Two minor, petty complaints, and yet for me they toppled the tower.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Saadia

I just wrote a great dialogue scene between Willa and Saadia. Ah, Saadia. She's not a major character in The Owl Bearer by any means, but she's also a secondary character in Eleven Names, which means I can't just make willy-nilly decisions about her because I have to live with those decisions when I get back to writing EN. I know who Saadia is in EN, but TOB is her distant past, so I had to figure out where she comes from. She's been through three MAJOR revisions since I started working on TOB: from an undercover (male) anthropologist who gets to know Willa while wearing a "field work" body; to the young and oppressed wife of one of Willa's fellow envoys; to an older woman who is herself the envoy and has her own agenda to pursue.

What's interesting is that snippets of dialogue from the first draft of the scene were still usable, even though Saadia is completely different person. For example, there's a bit in which Saadia complains about the restrictions of marriage that became, in this draft, Willa and Saadia discussing their mothers' lives and how they wanted their own lives to be different.

In a way, the first version I wrote is Saadia in another hundred years, and the second version is Saadia fifty-five years ago, at 17, so having put the time into them doesn't feel like a total waste.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Still Alive, Still Writing

Sorry for the silence. I've been working pretty consistently (although not always meeting my goal in terms of word count), but I haven't felt like I have much to say right now. I'm in the middle of the book, which can be a muddled, wearying place to be. I feel good about what I'm getting; just a little dismayed at how much further there still is to go.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Goal (Makes Me Feel Fine)

School got out last Wednesday, the solstice and my birthday have passed, and The Son began camp this morning. My summer has officially begun.

I've been doing 300 a day for the last few weeks, with the goal of making it to the halfway mark by 6/26. Now I'm bumping that up to 500/day for the 9 weeks of summer vacation. That's not enough to finish the draft by Aug. 28 (the official end of my summer), but it's enough to put me deep into the final Act with the end in sight.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Halfway There!

I'm 50% done with the second draft!

From now on, I will have more of the draft behind me than I have still to write.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Out of the Weeds

I've got a few weeks of daily writing under my belt, and so am no longer concerned about jinxing myself by announcing that I am truly back in the swing of things, with Goals and Plans and word counts and little plot-related notes scrawled on index cards. It feels really, really good.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 11

The eleventh book for my Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, and, sadly, it is another DNF. I really thought I would love this book. But 200 pages into a 1,006 page tome, I have no desire to continue with it.

I've been having a hard time putting my finger on what exactly is not working for me here. I really enjoyed the first few chapters-- the style, the subtle humor, the slowly unfolding mystery of the magic. But then the action shifted abruptly, leaving behind all the characters I was interested and invested in, and followed the path of the one I cared about the least. I've been waiting for Jonathan Strange to make his entrance, hoping that when he did he'd take the story by the balls and make it go somewhere, but now I feel that 200 pages is more than enough time to introduce a character with a goal, and I no longer trust that Clarke understands what a plot is.

I'm very conflicted about quitting on this one-- similar to how I felt about Outlander. I expected to enjoy this book, I respect the author's writing skills, and loads of smart people seem to love love LOVE it. And I certainly COULD finish it, if I set my mind to it. But is it worth the effort? If I'm going to slog through a thousand pages, shouldn't all that work be for an actual classic?

In an effort to achieve peace with my decision, I read a bunch of reviews of JS&MN on Amazon and Goodreads. What I found was that people either loved this book or hated it-- lots of 1-, 4-, and 5-star reviews, with very little in between. The 5-star reviews mainly praised the style and tone and tour de force-iness of the book (while remaining suspiciously silent on the actual story), and often included a smugly snide remark along the lines that such a long and challenging book isn't for everyone, so if you're not smart enough to get it perhaps you should go reread Harry Potter instead. The 4-star reviews tended to admit that the reviewer hadn't enjoyed the book while they were reading it, but now, looking back, they believed it was a good book. The 1-star reviews assured me that the story doesn't pick up, and that no one comes along to grab it by the balls.

So I'm letting it go, with one last pissy retort to the snide 5-star-ers: The length and style of this book are not "too challenging" for me. I regularly read 800+ page books, and I've read many of the authors whose style Clarke is imitating here. I was not wowed by the footnotes (I've seen it done much better), but nor was my tiny mind confuzzled by them. If this story had a relatable protagonist with a clearly motivated goal and an obstacle to achieving that goal, I would continue reading it. But I'm not reading 1,006 pages just because the writing is period-appropriate and footnotes = cool.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Review x2

Sharon and I are co-reviewing the YA Fantasy novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone over at her fabulous review site. Check it out!

The Things I Do for Fiction

I had to write a few bars of a mildly bawdy drinking song for a scene in TOB.

"I met a girl across the sea
Her hair was fair and bright.
And though she spent the day with me
She would not spend the night.
Liddle-lee-lee and liddle-lee-lo
And diddle-dee-die-de-lay!
I went back down to my ship
And sadly sailed away."

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Goal, Minus the Capital G

I have set a small, time-specific word count goal. And so far, I am meeting it.

That's all I'm going to say about it for now. My ability to write has been such an elusive and tenuous thing these past few months. I don't want to jinx anything.

But the story is unfolding again.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

250 Done

That's something, at least.

I've been all over the place all this spring. It's not just writing; I've been having trouble staying focused on anything. I can't tell you how many movies I've begun and abandoned 30 minutes in.

I even went rogue on the Shelf-Sitter Challenge and read a whole bunch of stuff off-list-- all from the library, so not technically breaking the rules of the challenge, but still. I've got 14 more books to get through, and a few of them are monsters!

A'right...

Enough of this start-and-stop crap.

250 words a day.

Starting today.

Starting now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 10

The tenth book for the shelf-sitter reading challenge is Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold, part of the Miles Vorkosigan series. If you're a fan of Science Fiction at all-- if you even suspect you might be, given the right circumstances-- then you must read the Miles Vorkosigan books. I suppose they're most properly described as Space Opera, but while there's plenty of space ships and swashbuckling and blasters and exotic planets (no aliens, though), it's just so much more intelligent than I think of Space Opera being-- perhaps because the central character is up there with Sherlock Holmes as one of fiction's most believable geniuses.

Lord Miles Vorkosigan (a.k.a. Admiral Miles Naismith) is born into an extremely powerful, aristocratic family on a planet ruled by the military caste. Due to an assassination attempt on his parents while he is still in utero, Miles is born a brittle-boned, hunchbacked dwarf. This is an enormous problem in his culture, which harbors a Spartan-like horror of disability. Fortunately, Miles is also extremely bright, and by the age of 17 has conned his way into leading a mercenary army in space. Action, adventure, romance, mystery, and hilarity ensue.

I compared Miles to Sherlock Holmes, but there's an important difference between them: people skills. Miles is a whiz at strategy and scheming, but his true genius lies in commanding others. Miles' crew is filled with people who are absolutely loyal to him, and you see how he builds those relationships-- partly through mostly benign manipulation, and partly because he himself is incredibly and demonstrably loyal to those he feels responsible for. In one of my favorite Miles stories, Borders of Infinity, Miles is dumped stark naked into a dome-covered POW camp where he knows absolutely no one. 48 hours later, he's running the place-- and you completely believe it.

I started Brothers in Arms over a year ago, but got sidetracked early on. I realized it was an evil-clone, mistaken-identity type story, and that is one of my least favorite tropes. It just sounded annoying, like sitcom-level conflict. But I worried needlessly; Bujold can do no wrong. The story arc I expected took like three chapters, and then the story moved on in interesting directions. And like all Miles stories, it was thought-provoking and witty and just fun.

Have I gushed enough? I am a Bujold fangirl, it's true.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 9

The ninth book I've read for my shelf-sitter reading challenge is Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson. It was a Christmas present-- one of the last books to make it on the shelf-sitter list. I'd never heard of Ronson, and frankly, it was one of the books I was sort of dreading having to read. Then I stumbled across a TED talk by Ronson, and realized that he wrote The Psychopath Test (which I heard about on This American Life), and that he's a pretty interesting guy. The book jumped to the top of my TBR list, and I felt like a brat for feeling put-upon by getting a cool book for Christmas.

Lost at Sea is a collection of articles (mostly written for The Guardian) that are all loosely connected by the theme of self-deception. Ronson interviews people who believe in weird stuff (indigo children, alien abductions), people who try to sell their beliefs to others (evangelical Christians, self-help gurus, psychics), people who have managed to rationalize the way they hurt others (pedophiles, credit card companies), and people whose self-deception has led to tragedy.

I thought half the articles were brilliantly done-- by turns amusing and chilling, depending on the subject. The other half weren't bad, certainly. Just less successful. Some felt too short and/or too glib. A few weren't effective examples of self-deception, and seemed out of place in the book. And a couple felt like the kind of article you write when your interview shits the bed and you wind up with nothing substantial to say, so you just write the hell out of it and hope no one notices the big pile of nothing in the center. Even in my own exceedingly piddly journalistic career, I've been there. It happens. But why put it in a book?

Also, there were too many copy editing errors. My own definition of Too Many is more than two in a book. I probably noticed five or six in Lost at Sea. This is obviously not Ronson's fault, since he is not a copy editor, but I did notice it and it did annoy me.

These quibbles aside, I recommend this if you're in the market for interesting, short non-fiction pieces about total wackos. And I'm adding The Psychopath Test to my TBR list.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Checking In

The train is going, but it's been jerking down the track at the rate of two or three sentences a day. The Husband started back at work Monday after nearly a month on disability, and I guess I expected my attention span and ability to convey thoughts with written language to instantly snap back to normal, pre-crisis settings. That expectation probably made this week more frustrating and dismaying than it had to be. But seriously, guys-- tick tock! The two-year anniversary of TOB fast approacheth, and I'm not even halfway through the second draft!

Thankfully, today it started to come back, and I wrote three pages (so, maybe 900 words?). I was able to work for a while in the library of the boarding school where I tutor, which has the added bonus of no internet connection. I think that for now, I need the library to work. Tomorrow is my first day of The Son in school until 3:00 coupled with no appointments for The Husband in I don't even know how long, and I am going to get the hell out of this house and work at the library for at least two hours. I may even get myself a study room.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 8

The eighth book I've read for my 2013 Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge is Ilium, by Dan Simmons. I read Simmons' Hyperion Quartet in 2011, and I count it among my favorite SF series EVAH. When I saw a new SF duology by Simmons in the used book store, I squealed a little. But then I doubted. Like the Hyperion novels, these books were long. And the blurb made it sound pretty wacky: Greek gods on Mars? Resurrected warriors reenacting the Iliad? I dunno about this. Could I really love another Simmons series as much as I loved Hyperion?

Silly rabbit. Of course I could.

The thing about Simmons is that I have no idea whether to recommend him or not. You and I could have significant overlap in our reading tastes, and you could still hate Simmons. I can definitely see that he's not everyone's cup of tea. These are long and sometimes ponderous epics, and he shoves everything in there he can make fit: multiple story lines, wild-ass science, philosophical musings, space travel, disgustingly graphic violence, friendship, romance, monsters, robots, the end of the world, and weighty literary analysis.

Given all that, his books are difficult to describe, which is what makes them sound kind of dumb on the blurb. But I'll give it a try. Ilium is a braid of three story lines: in the first, a twentieth-century classics professor has been somehow reanimated by supremely powerful beings in the form of the Greek gods, and is tasked with observing their reenactment of the Trojan war and reporting any deviations from Homer's account; in the second, four utopia-dwelling humans go on a quest and discover some of what humanity has lost; in the third, two autonomous, sentient robot friends from the Jovian moons deal with the aftermath of a mission gone wrong.

All the Simmons novels I've read have a deep interest in Great Literature underlaying them. (Hyperion was modeled after Canterbury Tales.) In this book, the Iliad is obviously a key work, constantly referenced as the events are retold (and invented, as the war eventually takes a different course than Homer's version). But there is also discussion of Shakespeare's sonnets, The Tempest, and Proust's Remembrance.

Actually, I think the easiest way to sum up why I loved this book so hard is a description from the Dramatis Personae page of the character of Orphu:

8-ton, 6-meter-long, crab-shaped, heavily armored hard-vac moravec who works in the sulfur-torus of Io; Proust enthusiast.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shoveling the Coal...

...to get the train moving again.

In the past two weeks, I've opened TOB every day, and probably only added words to the file four of those days. I am terribly, horribly, hopelessly behind.

I really do think my brain was just fried from stress. Usually when I blow off working on the novel for more than a day, it's because the story's gone cold. But that's not the case now: I'm thoroughly immersed in Willa and Akenam right now, daydreaming about their story, listening to their soundtrack, trying out dialogue in my mind. It seems like all I can write for the moment is images and dialogue; I can't seem to string sentences of introspection and description together make paragraphs. Last night I stopped beating my head against the wall with the (already outlined and everything!) apology scene and started writing the dialogue and images for a scene in the second half of Act II, because it was playing in my head like a DVD, and before I knew it I had 500 words of fairly detailed scene outline and a complete set of dialogue.

This morning, I got an unexpected chunk of quiet time when a student didn't show up for our session, so I tried tackling the apology scene again. I started with the last 3/4 of the scene, which is mainly dialogue that I've already written-- all I had to do was connect the lines of dialogue with a few sentences of action and introspection here and there. I'm about 3/4 done with it. Then I'll go back and write the first 1/4 of the scene, in which Willa is sitting around brooding about how spectacularly she's managed to fuck up on her first day of being envoy.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April:3, Lianna:0

You win again, April.

I did manage to do a full scene workup yesterday. But my brain is like a caffeinated hamster scrabbling around inside my skull right now. I can't seem to get out of crisis-mode. I had scads of time to write today, but I spent all of it trying to chill the fuck out.

Related aside, to be filed under "weird things about me": you know what I enjoy waaaaaay more than I should? Reading ranty book reviews. In my chill-the-fuck-out attempts, I've been watching a lot of movies of the PG-13 summer blockbuster oeuvre, but it turns out I should have been reading mercilessly sardonic reviews of poorly written books instead.

I don't know what it is about them-- you'd think that, as an aspiring novelist, I'd be horrified to see an author's work savaged until it limps away clutching its genitals, but it cracks my shit up. And the effect is cumulative: the more ranty reviews I read, the funnier they become, until I am cackling like a crazy person with tears rolling down my cheeks. I know I'm setting myself up for all kinds of horrible future review karma by enjoying them so much, but right now I don't care, because after working my way through all the 1, 2, and 3 reviews at Books I Done Read, I feel like I spent the afternoon getting a pedicure and sipping on a drink with a little pink umbrella.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 7

The seventh book I've read for my shelf-sitter reading challenge is Unearthing Atlantis: An Archaeological Odyssey by Charles Pellegrino. The Parent gave me this book years ago; she's spent her retirement thus far taking classes at Harvard on the Roman and Egyptian empires, so it's fair to classify her as a bit of an ancient history buff. I'm more of a fair-weather history friend: I love it as long as it doesn't make me work too hard. This book was on the verge of making me work too hard.

Pellegrino uses the lenses of history, archaeology, paleontology, geology, and even theology, to examine the volcanic eruption in 1600 BCE of the Greek island now known as Thera (which means "fear"). Thera was the center of the mysterious and impressive Minoan civilization (dude, they had flush toilets!), and is almost certainly the basis for the story of Atlantis. Along the way, he discusses everything from deep sea exploration to the extinction of the dinosaurs to the biblical story of Moses.

I would describe this as popular science crossed with LitFic. Pellegrino takes an experimental, non-linear approach to his subject, jumping around in time and between academic disciplines to tell the story of Thera. It was an interesting book, but I couldn't read more than 30 or so pages at a time without needing a break from it. And by the end, I felt like he was repeating himself; the book was 300 pages and easily could have been shorter by a third without losing any content. I'm glad I read it, though: it was well-written and I learned a lot.

Recommended for those with an interest in archaeology and ancient history, who don't mind their popular science writing on the challenging side of "popular".

Some Good News For a Change

The summit scene is done. 3,200 words. Whew!

The next scene is much shorter, with only two characters, and will close the chapter.

Friday, April 26, 2013

5 Signs You've Spent Too Much Time at the Hospital Lately

1) When you're checking in, instead of verifying your name, address, and insurance information, the receptionist says, "Nothing's changed since yesterday, right?"

2) You recognize some of the people in the promotional posters hanging in the waiting room. "Look-- it's Dr. M! And isn't that the nurse that...?"

3) You know to request the paper tape for the I.V. Regular tape is for suckers!

4) When the person you're waiting for emerges from what was supposed to be a one-hour procedure 2.5 hours late, you say, "Wow, that's it? You're done already?"

5) You can't remember where in the parking garage you parked the car. Level 5, on the uphill side? No, that was last time. Dammit.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cloudy, With a Chance of Crisis

Sadly, I did not have a crisis-free day. The saga of The Husband's current health drain-circling continues. I didn't finish the scene today. But I did write more than I have any other day this week.

Diving Back In

Okay. The Husband is back at work. The Son is in school for the morning. The article of doom is written and submitted. I'm not tutoring until late this afternoon. I have no excuse to not finish the summit scene today.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Not Awesome

April has been kicking my ass. This morning I had to bring The Husband to the ER for the third time in two weeks. None of it is life-threatening stuff, but it sucks up so much of my time and energy.

My brain only seems to be functioning on input these days; output is close to nil, and storage and processing aren't that hot either. I've been reading a ton, and watching a lot of movies, but only managing to write ~100 words a day. I'm still inching through the first day of summit talks; I've written the end of the scene, which makes it feel less daunting to work on the middle.

I need a day with no crises to re-charge my brain so I can THINK again.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 6

Book 6 is another DNF: Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It won the Hugo for best novel in 1968, and the premise is fascinating: human settlers on an alien planet use science to mold their society after Hindu mythology. Awesome, right? After all, that's what Sharon Shinn did with Christian mythology in the Samaria books, and I'm a big fan of those. And it won a Hugo!

But.

The writing-- egad. It is so, so stilted. I can only describe it as a white American guy in 1968 trying really hard to sound like a Hindu god. And the tone is consistent: every single character so far speaks in the same stilted way as the narration. If it was just one character speaking like this, it would be fine-- amusing, even. But after 45 pages it looks like the whole book is going to be this way. The few things that have actually happened are interesting, but they are buried beneath tediously vague conversations about Being Wary of the Unnamed Forces Against Us, and tediously long philosophical speeches that sound to me like hippie-dippy pseudo-"Eastern" BS.

I am sorely disappointed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 5

It's been a crazy week of school vacations, a mild illness for The Son, and two hospitalizations for The Husband, so I've been doing far more reading than writing, I'm afraid. Book 5 of the challenge is also book 5 of a series: Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony by Eion Colfer.

I ripped my way through the first three Artemis Fowl books several years ago, then saw books 4 and 5 for ridiculously cheap at a library book sale and snatched them up. But for whatever reason, #4 (The Opal Deception) left me cold, and it's taken me well over a year and this challenge to get me to pick up the next one. In fact, if I hadn't already bought The Lost Colony, I would have abandoned the series.

Well, hooray for buying ahead and hooray for reading challenges, because I enjoyed this one just as much as the first three. There's not a lot to say about it; it's an Artemis Fowl book, which means child geniuses, clandestine operations, high-tech weapons, fairies and other magical creatures, a small dose of potty humor (to delight the twelve-year-old boys), and a rather larger dose of wry Irish humor (because Colfer is a wry Irishman and can't help himself).

Now I'm wondering what the hell my problem was with Opal Deception. I can't remember it that clearly, although I do recall finding the character of Opal annoying, and that it just seemed lackluster, like going through the motions of an Artemis Fowl story. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood to read it.

I was in the right mood this time. And I've added book 6 to my TBR list.