Saturday, December 31, 2016

16 Things I'm Glad I Read in 2016

I wanted to do something a little different than a "Best Books of the Year" post, since I read so many fabulous books. Instead, I picked the 16 things I am most glad I read in 2016, and limited myself to a sentence explaining why.

Honorable mention to the outstanding things I read that were continuations of series I love: The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy (Family Fletcher series); Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Imperial Radch series); I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking From Among the Bones, "The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse", and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, all by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce series); The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison (Inheritance trilogy); Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (Vorkospigan Saga series); Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion series); plus comics-- Rat Queens, Saga, Gunnerkrigg Court, Stand Still Stay Silent. I'm glad I read them all, but I wanted the official list to be new discoveries.

So, in no particular order, but divided by category, and including books in a series as one item:

Middle Grade:

1) Doll Bones by Holly Black, for deftly using a quest story structure and atmospheric horror to explore the fraught transition between childhood and adolescence, and for assuring kids that no matter what some adults may try to tell you, you do not need to give up your imagination and love of stories in order to grow up.

2) The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, for launching a whole new series in one of my favorite fictional worlds, and for making a fallen god such a delightful narrator.

Young Adult:

3) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, for achieving the near-impossible: a novel that riffs off Harry Potter while still being very much its own thing, that blithely pretends that it's the last book of a long-running series, and that portrays a male/male romance that echoes the best moments of slash fanfiction but rises above its more problematic tropes.

4) Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, for fearlessly pulling off a narrative style that could have come off as gimmicky, and for using it to craft a story that is at once a thrill-a-minute Sci-Fi/Horror/YA Romance festival-of-awesome and a searing indictment of corporate crime.

5) The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson, for being a slavery story unlike any I've ever read before, set in a college in Colonial Boston.

6) The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, for laying the usual YA dystopian cards on the table in the first third of the story, and then tossing them all in the air for a game of trope-subverting 52 pick-up.

7) The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily Lily Blue, and The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater, for being the most refreshingly original series, YA or otherwise, I've read in a long time.

8) Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, for a gritty, dark Fantasy city I believed in utterly and would go back to in a heartbeat, and a diverse, flawed cast I rooted for even while they were making bad choices.


9) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, for being simply the most beautiful book I read this year.

10) Among Others by Jo Walton, for challenging my ideas of what a successful story has to be and do, and for introducing me to Walton as a writer.

11) Wrapt in Crystal and Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn, for the wonderful sinking-into-a-warm-bath sensation of reading a book that feels like it was written just for me.

12) A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, for reminding me of the simple truth that every person I meet has depths about which I know nothing, but must have faith are there.

Short Stories:

13) "Kindred Spirits" by Rainbow Rowell, for being perhaps the only romantic short story in existence that includes both Star Wars puns and a running joke about the heroine having peed in a cup in an alley.


14) After Man: A Zoology of the Future by Dougal Dixon, for being everything I remember from when I used to flip through my boyfriend's copy in 1988, and for still inspiring the same awe and wonder in me nearly 30 years later.

15) One Summer by Bill Bryson, for reminding me that the U.S. has overcome hatred and survived incompetent leaders before, and that although it sometimes doesn't feel like it, we have made progress in the last 90 years toward a more just and noble society.

Web Comics:

16) Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, for being just an utter delight that illustrates the power of sports to build bonds between people without much else in common-- and maybe even to help build a better world that embraces diversity.

Things I Read in 2016

I don't think I'm going to finish anything I have in-progress by midnight, so here's the list of everything I read this year: 122 things, which is a record for me, and one I'll probably never break.

I'll list my favorite reads in a separate post later today.

Middle Grade: 15

Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan
Smek For President by Adam Rex
Timmy Failure: We Meet Again by Stephan Pastis
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
Demigods and Magicians by Rick Riordan
The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island by Dana Alison Levy
The Fairy-Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley
This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thomas

Young Adult: 30

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Beastly Bones by William Ritter
This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek by Seth Rudetsky
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Clariel by Garth Nix
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Adult: 30

Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orphan Train by Christina Kline Baker
The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney
Tell No One by Harlan Coban
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
Among Others by Jo Walton
We’ll Always Have Paris by Ray Bradbury
Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Wrapt in Crystal by Sharon Shinn
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (re-read)
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simion
The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold
To Weave a Web of Magic by Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Patricia A. McKillip, and Sharon Shinn
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Still Life With Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemison
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
I Love Dick by Chris Krause
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Short Stories: 4

“The Map” by William Ritter
“Happy Again” by Jennifer E. Smith
“The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse” by Alan Bradley
“Kindred Spirits” by Rainbow Rowell

Nonfiction: 10

2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron
Finding the Core of Your Story by Jordan Smith
Writing Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
After Man: A Zoology of the Future by Dougal Dixon
One Summer by Bill Bryson
Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist— the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England by Daniel Pool
Another Bad Dog Book by Joni Cole

Graphic Novels: 27

Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler
The Sign of the Black Rock by Scott Chantler
The Captive Prince by Scott Chantler
The King’s Dragon by Scott Chantler
Pirates of the Silver Coast by Scott Chantler
Rat Queens Vol. 3 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tess Fowler
Broxo by Zack Giallongo
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzacchelli
The Dark Island by Scott Chantler
Amulet: Firelight by Kazu Kibuishi
Stormbreaker by Antony Johnson, Kanako Damerum, and Yuzuru Takasaki
Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Know It’s True by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
Giant Days Vol.1 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
Giant Days Vol.2 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North and Erica     Henderson
The Silver Six by A.J. Lieberman and Darren Rawlings
Ms. Marvel: The Last Days by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Jedi Academy: A New Class by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson
Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Saga Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Giant Days Vol. 3 by John Allison and Lissa Treiman

Web Comics: 6

Vattu by Evan Dahm
Stand Still. Stay Silent. by Minna Sundberg
Dicebox by Jenn Manley Lee
Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Namesake by Isabelle Melancon and Megan Lavey-Heaton

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mid-Month Check-In

Let's make a pact. Next year, when I again announce big ambitious writing plans for the month of December, slap me. Then remind me that I say this every year, and it never works out. The period between mid-November and New Year's Eve is crazy for me, and I never accomplish great writing things during it. That's the whole reason I pushed to finish the draft of Mender before mid-November! I don't know why I never learn.

So, yeah. No way am I doing 60 hours of writing this month. I've done like 12. I have shipped TOB out to ten more agents, so halfway to that goal. And I'm halfway through a line edit reread of Mender. I tried to work on the YA series a little, but realized pretty quickly that it's not done marinating in my brain yet. I have another idea for an adult Sci-Fi stand-alone that is much closer to being ready to write, but I'm not feeling enthused to work on it just now.

So I am downshifting. Still planning to submit TOB to 10 more agents by December 31. Also planning to finish my line edit notes on my printout of Mender by then. January will be about pulling together all the pieces for the next draft of Mender. Depending on how much work it needs, I might be submitting to agents by February. We shall see!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

New Month, New Goals

The past few weeks have been crazy, guys. I managed to get a hideous fever-and-wet-hacking-cough illness the same week I had to host Thanksgiving dinner and teach/manage an intensive week-long test-prep course for international boarding students. On Monday-- the first day the course was over-- I slept for 16 hours.

While I'm still not 100%, I am feeling much better, and excited about the new month, the Christmas season, and getting back to writing. I'm going to go for 60 hours again this month. And what will I be doing with those hours? Some combo of the following:

1) Tension-building exercise for Mender. This one comes from Donald Maass-- I think he pushes it in all three books. The exercise is simple: flip to a random page in your MS, let your finger drop down onto the page, and increase the tension in the sentence you picked. If that sentence is already bursting with tension, do the next one. Rinse and Repeat 350 times. Literally. That's what the directions say. I've printed out the latest version of the MS and put it in a 3-ring binder, and I'm going to try to do 10 of these a day for the month of December.

2) Submit TOB to 20 more agents. I was feeling very discouraged about my 30ish rejections, and then got a "Girl, that's nothin'!" pep talk from one of my beta readers (she got something like 80 rejections before finding her agent). I've been meaning to do this for months but am also dreading it. I'm making it a firm goal for December, and also counting the hours it will take toward my hours writing this month.

3) Process beta feedback as it comes in. For each set of feedback I need to read it, absorb it for a few days, make notes about it, make any easy changes to the printout of the MS, and start formulating a plan for addressing trickier issues. I'm assuming my betas will probably get back to me some time this month, so my plan is to do the third draft of Mender in January.

4) Start story building work on the next book. I won't write book two of The Sacred Talents unless I sell Mender, so for now I'm going to start something totally new. I've been pondering what to work on, and I think I've settled on book 1 of YA Sci-Fi series. Series name is Terra Astra so far, and the heart of the story is a character I've been thinking about for a long time. I feel like I finally understand what his story is supposed to be-- he belongs in an ensemble piece. I've changed his name because this is YA Sci-Fi and I think Ezra is now too strongly associated with The Illuminae Files. So (for now) he is Jay, and he has a cohort of other teen characters named Emmy, Liev, Koa, and Isabeau. I still don't know what the Big Thing of the plot is, but that's fine-- I never do until fairly deep into the story building process. I also don't know how many books this will be or what the structure is, and that's a bigger deal to me. Right now I'm thinking trilogy, but for me there has to be a reason WHY it's three books and not two or four.

So that's the state of the writing as we enter this last month of 2016. I'll do a one-third check-in if I don't have anything to say before that!