Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books Read in 2014

Time for my annual roundup! I read 103... things... this year, including a few comics and short stories I hesitate to count as a "book". 

103. That blows my mind, man. When I started this blog, my goal was 25 books a year.

First I'll list everything by category and then yammer a bit about my favorite reads of the year. 


Middle Grade Fiction (read with The Son): 20

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan
The Demigod Diaries by Rick Riordan
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The Roman Mysteries: The Colossus of Rhodes by Caroline Lawrence
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood
Beowulf adapted by Robert Nye
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger
The Battle for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

The Secret of the Fortune Wookie by Tom Angleberger
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
The Story of King Arthur and His Knights retold by Howard Pyle
The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy
A Samurai Never Fears Death by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Young Adult Fiction: 8

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Vintage Veronica by Erica Perl
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Powers by Ursula K. LeGuin
Feed by M.T.Anderson

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Adult Fiction: 34

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Call by Yannick Murphy
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach
Long Shots by Christine d'Abo
Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach
Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Lexicon by Max BarryHeaven's Queen by Rachel Bach
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey
Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
The Billionaire Submissive by Joely Sue Burkhart
Dear Sir, I'm Yours by Joely Sue Burkhart
Hurt Me So Good by Joely Sue Burkhart
Yours to Take by Joely Sue Burkhart

Non-Fiction (including books read for professional development): 12

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Complications by Atul Gawande
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Writing the Fiction Series by Karen S. Wiesner
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill
Twelve Assignments Every Middle School Student Should Write by Gary B. Chadwell
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I Read It, But I Don't Get It by Cris Tovani

Elements of Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

Comics/Graphic Novels: 27

Saga Vol. I by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Saga Vol. II by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Zahra's Paradise by Amir and Khalil
Saga Vol. III by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key: Clockworks by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Locke & Key: Alpha and Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Legend of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Impostor's Daughter by Laurie Sandell
Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Rat Queens, Vol. I by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

Sex Criminals, Vol. I by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Explorer: The Lost Islands edited by Kazu Kibiushi
Explorer: The Hidden Doors edited by Kazu Kibiushi
Amulet: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibiushi
Amulet: The Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibiushi
Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibiushi
Amulet: The Last Council by Kazu Kibiushi
Amulet: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibiushi
Gunnergrigg Court by Tom Siddell

Short Stories: 2
"Hunting Monsters" by S.L. Huang
"Enoch" by Robert Bloch


Instead of Doing Hits and Misses, I'll just do recs for each category. And anyway, I have have way fewer Misses now that I have thrown off the chains of the "Must Finish All the Books" tyranny.

Middle Grade:
Book Everyone Should Read Immediately: The True Meaning of Smekday
Book Destined to Be a Classic: The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (books 2 and 3 of the His Dark Materials Trilogy)
Book That's Just FUN, Dammit: The Lost Hero (Book 1 of the Heroes of Olympus Series, and the debut of my new book boyfriend, Leo Valdez)

Young Adult:
Book Everyone Should Read Immediately: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Book Destined to Be a Classic: Feed
Book That Challenged my Genre Expectations: Graceling
Book of Jaw-Dropping Mastery: Powers (Ditto for the first two books in the Annals of the Western Shore Trilogy)

Book Everyone Should Read Immediately: Bel Canto
Book That Challenged my Genre Expectations: Mystic and Rider
Book That Turned my Brain Inside Out: Lexicon
Book of Jaw-Dropping Mastery: Cryptonomicon
Book That's Just FUN, Dammit: Fortune's Pawn, Honor's Knight, and Heaven's Queen (Paradox Trilogy)

Book Everyone Should Read Immediately: Nothing to Envy
Book That Made Me Grow the Most as a Teacher: I Read It, But I Don't Get It
Book That Made Me Grow the Most as a Writer: Wonderbook
Book That's Just FUN, Dammit: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Graphic Novels:
Book Everyone Should Read Immediately: Saga
Book That Turned my Brain Inside Out:  Locke & Key
Book That's Just FUN, Dammit: Rat Queens

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Arcs Completed (Mostly)

The Political Intrigue arc is long and complicated, yo.

The good news, part 1: I think the first half of the book is 95% sound. There's one scene I'll need to chuck, and will need to tweak and add little clues and misdirections here and there.

The good news, part 2: the last quarter of the book is about 75% sound. A few scenes will need to be shifted and overhauled, but other than that the same basic sequence of events occurs.

The bad news, part 1: the third quarter of the book is going to need a more extensive overhaul. Most scenes will need work, some will be cut, and a few totally new scenes will have to be added.

The bad news, part 2: I still have a few plot holes in my Political Intrigue arc. Just a few steps I've starred because I know what needs to happen, but I don't yet know how to make it make sense. My goal for tomorrow is to make some progress on those stars.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Arc Plotting for Fun and Profit

One tip from Writing 21st Century Fiction: if your story is two or three or four different kinds of stories threaded together, plot out each story arc individually to make sure it is rich enough (and makes enough sense) to be a story on its own. 

I have three story arcs in TOB: a Political Intrigue arc, a Coming-of-Age arc, and a Romance arc. Today I mapped out the Coming-of-Age and Romance arcs, and was pleased to see that aside from a little Act III shuffling I already knew I'd have to do, both arcs are pretty sound already. I think the Political Intrigue arc is going to need some real rethinking, though. I have some logic holes going on there. We'll see when I get to work on it tomorrow.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

At Least I've Figured Out the Problems

I'm not gonna try to put a pretty face on it: the second half of 2014 has been a big fat noveling fail, and I am thoroughly disgusted with myself.

January has typically been a month of great forward momentum for me. I'd like to capitalize on that, but  before I try to move forward I need to understand what's been holding me back. I think I've narrowed it down to four basic problems:

1) Lack of time. Since June, I've been working more weekly hours than I have since The Son was born. I am blown away that so many people manage to finish books while having full-time jobs. My sense of dedication to my art and willingness to sacrifice downtime have clearly not been up to snuff.

SOLUTION: There is no solution that will magically add hours to my day. However, I can commit to an hour a day. That will be my goal for January-- no page or word count goals. If I wind up just staring at the screen for an hour, so be it, but that's all I'm allowed to do for that hour.

2) My embarrassing magical-thinking problem I talked about in my last post. The less said about that the better.

SOLUTION: Take the pressure off to go back to work on EN the instant TOB is done. Also, stop being a weirdo. You do not have magical powers.

3) Shiny new story idea. They always strike when you're fed up with your current project, and I got a doozy back in the fall. I've been fighting it for a while, but then all these separate story ideas I had floating around in my head, but have tried to ignore because they don't fit with the Science Fiction world of EN and TOB, suddenly clicked together to make a whole new story world, with a four-part series just waiting to be written. Alternate Historical crossed with Fantasy crossed with Polyamorous Romance. For about six weeks, it was all I could think about.

SOLUTION: This was a risky move, but I decided to just go with it for a while. I started doing character work for my quartet of protagonists, and took books on 19th century manners and Abenaki Indian culture out of the library. I also started outlining the first book, the first quarter of which was unfolding effortlessly in my mind, like watching a movie. It was SO FUN. It's been a long time since I had fun working on TOB, since I worked on it because that's what I'd most like to do with my free time and not because oh god, I've been working on this book forever and every month I don't finish it makes me that much more of a loser.

Like I said: risky, 'cause I've already bailed on a book for a Shiny New Idea once. But I had a hunch that wouldn't happen here. The future project, which we shall call T for now, is a complicated high-concept premise that will take a lot of intricate plotting and some serious research to pull off. I knew that eventually it would get hard, and the rose would lose some of its bloom. And that's just what happened. So I set it aside, and now have a nice start to return to some day.

4) Issues in TOB itself. I so hate to say this, but it's no coincidence that I ran out of steam editing Act III. That Act has always been the trickiest to figure out, and it still has issues. Not scrap-the-whole-Act issues, but may-need-a-serious-shuffle issues.

SOLUTION: While I was Christmas shopping, I bought myself a copy of Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass. I have Maass's two previous books and have found them to be among the most insightful and valuable writing guides I have ever read (and I have read many). This one seems to have been written exactly for me at the moment I find myself in with this book. It's all about transcending genre, connecting emotionally with your work, and taking a less predictable path to the end. I've realized I have some plot points that are formulaic, and I need to be willing to shake that up, even if it means more rewrite work for me. The books has reminded me that I don't want to just write a passable soft Sci-Fi novel; I want to write something awesome. TOB can be awesome, and the Maass book has me fired up to make it so.

So that's the state of the writing, on the brink of 2015.