Have Book, Will Read #18

It’s April! Which should be all about that nice spring weather, but instead actually means it was snowing again just the other day… *sigh* Still, today there’s blue sky and the promise of higher temps just around the corner. So, in the spirit of weather-related optimism, here are some of my favorite reads from the tail-end of winter.

 

Recent Reads: All things magic…

I’ve been reading Myke Cole’s military fantasy work since his first novel came out. Siege Line is the final installment in the prequel trilogy to his Shadow Ops books. In this series finale, Jim Schweitzer, former Navy SEAL and now undead warrior, takes the fight to the far reaches of Canada in a desperate attempt to stop his enemy once and for all.

This was by far my favorite book in the trilogy, with Cole’s trademark high-octane action scenes, some great plot twists, and a wonderful new character, Sheriff Wilma ‘Mankiller’ Plante. An impressive end to the story that began in Gemini Cell with Jim’s death and resurrection, and now leaves us with all the groundwork for the Shadow Ops series, set a number of years later.

If you only pick up one YA book this year, I really don’t think you can go wrong with The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. This deliciously dark tale sits right on the line between fantasy and magical realism, and Albert has a wonderful writing voice, delivering great lines and crisp description.

The Hazel Wood is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice, granddaughter of the reclusive author of a fairytale book that became a cult classic. After her grandmother dies, the bad luck that has followed Alice and her mother all their lives threatens to swallow her whole once and for all. Unmissable.

Opal is a short story set in the world of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, taking place right after the end of the last book, The Raven King. It comes as a freebie at the end of the paperback of The Raven King, but you can buy it online on its own.

This one is only for those who have read the books; it doesn’t make sense without them. But for those who — like me — were smitten with Stiefvater’s world, this weird and wonderful tale of magic and families of choice told from the point of view of Ronan and Adam’s goat-legged dream daughter Opal is a precious gift.

(The photo above shows the adorably grumpy Opal tarot card I got with my signed copy of The Raven King. Thanks Maggie!)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor has been on my to-read list for a while, and finally I succumbed to temptation and borrowed it from my local library. It’s hard to know what to say about a book that has garnered so much praise and recognition, except to add that this book deserves every bit of it.

The story follows twelve-year-old Nigerian-American Sunny as she learns to set her latent magic free and to make it work for her, as she and her friends attempt to stop a serial killer who also happens to be a powerful magician. It took me back to my teenage years when I read Macunaíma, a classic of Brazilian Modernism written in 1928 by Mário de Andrade. Akata Witch really is excellent, and I thoroughly recommend it for readers of all ages.

Now Reading: The winds of war.

I’ve just started Stormcaster, the third book in Cinda Williams Chima’s Shattered Realms world, set a generation after her Seven Realms books, one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. Chima is a masterful storyteller, and this brand new release promises to keep me happy.

To Read: Fantastic festivals and space shenanigans…

I’ve been hanging onto an ARC for Legendary, the sequel to Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, so I should probably get going with that before it comes out in May!

Also, loaded up on my Kindle and ready to go, is First Interview by C.T. Grey. Vampires and secret agents in space, and a zombie apocalypse thrown in for good measure? Why not!

I hope you have plenty of good books lined up and nice places to read them. Here’s to warmer weather and a hammock in the shade!

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Friday’s snow may be gone, but I’m not getting that Spring feeling yet!

 

Wrangling the Sticky Bits

In the words of Max Gladstone, and of a dozen others in my private Inspiration folder on Pinterest, “First drafts suck.”

I know that. You probably know that, too. Most people who have finished a novel and gone back to revise know it — or should, anyway. But just because I know my first drafts are allowed to suck — are supposed to suck! — doesn’t make it any easier to push through the sticky bits.

The first ten or fifteen chapters are a delight to work on. My book world is brand new, and the ideas are positively gushing from the idea geyser in my brain. (Is there such a thing as an idea geyser? There should be. And someone should get right on that, bottling that stuff and selling it. Some days I’d pay good gold for a drink of pure unfiltered IDEA. Story gold, of course. I don’t actually own any real gold.)

The last ten chapters or so are also wonderful to work on. The end is in sight, all those pesky dominos have been set up by now, and you’re ready to knock them all down in one triumphant sweep of your author-hand. Or your keyboard. Or something. (Look, it’s been a long day. My metaphors and other stuffs are getting a bit unhinged.)

The problem is *waves hand* that stuff.

hiccup

Jim Butcher calls it the Great Swampy Middle. I like to refer to it as the sticky bits. Even if you have a great outline, and a fabulous plan for filling up the middle of your novel and convincing people to keep on going, this is still a tricky part to write. By now, if you’re anything like me, you have about a million notes, and scraps of paper, and post-its, with all these crucial story points and plot bunnies that need to be wrangled into something reasonable and stuffed into your work in progress before you can leap into your grand finale. Half of those notes aren’t even on paper, they’re just floating around in my head in neon pink letters that say random things like, ‘remember dagger’, or ‘more anger’.

The sticky bits are hard, even with a road map.

Some days I can push through and get my wordcount down. Other days I get frustrated and end up binge-watching Netflix shows instead. I know my middle doesn’t have to be perfect; after all, that’s what revisions and rewrites are for. And I know that, in order to revise, I have to get to the end first. But I call it ‘sticky’ for a reason: because it feels at times like I’m pushing through mud, or wet cement, or an entire people-sized tub of treacle.

I’ll get there, eventually. I just need to keep writing until I come out at the other side. And if I can do it, so can you. Just don’t let the sticky suck you down.

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Working on my sticky middle; notes finally organized!

Retreat, Regroup, Resume

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This morning’s view from my kitchen window

I sit here in my cozy kitchen looking through my manuscript notes as yet another nor’easter blasts my town with snow, and I’m content. Not only content, but downright happy. I don’t even care that it’s snowing AGAIN. I’m happy because the new story I’m working on has finally had its niggles worked out and its outline charted, and I’m ready to blast my way forward.

After getting my head stuck in boggy, swampy plot points for a good couple of weeks, I’m finally moving on. The main reason for my breakthrough is this: I was lucky enough to spend time this past weekend with friends in Vermont on an informal writing retreat.

We gathered for meals and coffee/tea breaks, and for post-lunch writing prompts, as well as evening readings and critique sessions. The rest of the time, I was able to dive into my work. No distractions of family, grocery lists, or laundry piles. No TV shows calling from my overflowing DVR. Nothing but my laptop, my notes, and a dog or two. I ended my weekend with:

  • 70 pages of revision
  • The makings of a much-needed new start to my work in progress

Now, I know not everyone can take a weekend off — there are many things going on in people’s lives, like small children or elderly parents, pets, or weekend jobs. Not everyone has a place to go, or knows someone with an awesome house in the snow (like me!), or can afford a hotel or a cabin rental. But there are other ways to break out of your routine if you’re stuck. Try spending a Saturday, or a weekday evening, writing someplace where you wouldn’t usually go, like your town’s library, or a welcoming coffee shop. Hide away at a friend’s house for a morning. Sneak away from your colleagues at lunchtime and find yourself a quiet corner. Get away from those everyday distractions, even if it’s for an hour or two.

Now, rather then just stick with your usual writing routine, label this a MINI RETREAT and set yourself some ground rules. Give yourself an internet allowance, and ignore the online world the rest of the time. If you manage to wrangle yourself an entire day or two, set break times, meal times, and times to relax. Start out with a clear idea of what you want to do. In my case, it was revise the work I had already done and adjust the plot points I’d changed so I could move forward. You can make this work for you, even on a 1hr lunch break: say, 15 mins to eat and browse the internet, 40 mins working on a chapter, developing a character arc, or mapping out a fight scene, and then 5 mins of free internet time at the end.

If you allow yourself to carve out this sacred space every now and then, and keep it fiercely for yourself, I hope you’ll find — like me — that it boosts your productivity and sharpens your focus. Retreat, regroup and then, with your ‘writer brain’ back on track, prepare to resume your regular writing schedule, full speed ahead.

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Retreat bliss: a peaceful writing corner

***

For my Blade Hunt fans: no, I haven’t forgotten you, I promise! I have a gazillion notes and a basic outline for Book 3, Star Blade, and will be jumping back into my Blade Hunt Chronicles world in April, as soon as this draft of my new project is ready for my beta readers’ eyes… More updates on Star Blade and King’s Blade (Book 4) coming soon!

Read For Pixels 2018 – International Women’s Day Edition

This year I’m once again giving books to The Pixel Project’s International Women’s Day fundraiser. Heart Blade and Night Blade will be among the many ‘perks’ you can choose from when you donate to the campaign.

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The Pixel Project is an international non profit organization that raises awareness to help end violence against women around the world. Their twice-yearly Read For Pixels campaign has free online hangouts with top authors, as well as books and other prizes that you can claim as ‘perks’ with your donation. They do a great and necessary job, so please do go and check out their site.

The author hangouts for 2018 begin on March 2nd, and you can find the full schedule and links here.

Here is the link to the donations page and the perks you can get for your money. My books are in a bundle by themselves, and also in a larger bundle with books by YA authors Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo. (USA only for these, sorry, but there are other international items, such as 1-1 Skype calls.)

You can read more about The Pixel Project’s work on SFFWorld.com, in my interview with founder Regina Yau.

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Boskone 55 Round-Up

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I’m back from Boskone, aka “New England’s longest running science fiction convention.” Boskone is big enough to bring in great guests/panel participants, and yet small enough so that it still feels relatively cozy. This was my fourth time at this event — second as panelist — and probably my favorite year so far.

A few thoughts about Boskone 55:

  • Being a panelist is fun! Last year, I was terrified at my first couple of panels. This year, I knew what to expect, and managed to relax and enjoy myself. Our moderators did a great job, and conversation flowed easily. If you’ve ever thought about being on a convention or conference panel, but weren’t sure if it was for you, here’s my advice: give it a try. Cons like Boskone are happy to mix up established and beginner writers, and to give a chance to new faces and voices. Keep an eye out for calls for participation. Boskone has a nice little survey you fill out, which lets you tick all sorts of boxes and tell them what you’re comfortable talking about.
  • Kaffeklatsches are still one of my favorite things to attend. Unfortunately, this year I only managed to go to one, with agent Joshua Bilmes. Joshua answered publishing and agenting questions, and gave the table all sorts of great advice.
  • I’m also sorry I only managed to get to one reading. I love having a chance to see an author engage with their own work. Jane Yolen’s reading was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and thoroughly enjoyable.
  • Informal conversations are definitely one of the highlights of going to events like this. I caught up with old friends, got to meet a couple of online friends in person, and made some new friends. Just perfect.
  • Dogs, dogs, everywhere. The Westin was full of furry companions this year. A shout out to the Mega Floof who sat politely through panels and was a very well-behaved con-goer.
  • From the Writing For Children panel: stories don’t necessarily need a happy ending, but they need a hopeful one. Also, a great debate on what to do with those pesky parents and other responsible adults in middle grade fiction…
  • From the Feminist Fairy Tales panel: a huge list of great book recommendations!
  • From the Marketing Uphill panel, lots of ‘don’ts’: Don’t overmarket; Don’t be boring; and many more… *gulp*
  • Downtime is crucial! At my first Boskone, I exhausted myself trying to cram in as many panels, readings, and events as I could. From the next year on, I realized it’s equally as important to take breathers, chat to people, and just enjoy the con atmosphere. Or maybe take an actual break from the whole thing and go for a walk or read a book in your room for a while. My husband and kids came along to get some use out of the hotel room and pool this year, and I think being able to step away from the con every now and then for family dinner or some much-needed downtime made a key difference.
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Grabbing some family time at Boston’s Seaport

SF/F conventions and writing conferences can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and talk to people, or try new things you wouldn’t usually do. If you haven’t been to one yet, you can always start small: look for local events and meet-ups, and ease your way in. But don’t let fear hold you back! Going to cons has brought me a whole new world of writing friends, including the lovelies who became my local critique group. Who knows what it will bring you?

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Making new friends! Author and bookseller Marc Vun Kannon, who stocked my books for the con…

 

 

 

The Last City

I have a short story out today in The Last City a brand new science fiction anthology by DUST. My own little murderous tale is called Blood Makes Noise. This was my first time playing around in a shared world, and it was a lot of fun!

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From the publisher:

Twelve outstanding authors come together to bring life to The Last City, a shared-universe anthology from Dust Publishing.

The City, built upon an asteroid, is the last stronghold of humanity in a star system ravaged by a long-ago war. Now, centuries after the apocalyptic conflict, the City thrives — a utopia for the rich, built on the labours of the poor.

From the home of five million souls come twelve stories of adventure, love and loss. Take a leap with Tinashe Arcaid, super-rich brat who thinks adventure is a trip to the dangerous lower levels; crawl through tunnels with Chthenia, a child ‘apprenticed’ to a scavenger who dwells deep beneath the City; or have a drink with Sam Nero, private investigator, dealing with gangsters on the mean streets.

Life in the City can be harsh, but the alternatives are far worse.

Contributing authors — Robert M Campbell — Jo Zebedee — Scott Moon — Juliana Spink Mills — Nathan Hystad — Jane Jago — E.M. Swift-Hook — Rosie Oliver — Chris Guillory — Samanda R. Primeau — Thaddeus White — Stewart Hotston

You can find The Last City on Amazon, and it’s at a special promo price of $0.99 until February 21st, 2018.

Book trailer here!

SFF World interview here!