Ten Books

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Yes, I know there are only eight books in this photo!

A writer friend tagged me on Facebook the other day for something that’s been doing the rounds called ’10 books in 10 days’. I thought I’d write it up as a blog post instead… Cue LOTS of angsting to choose just ten out of the many books that I’ve fallen in love with over the years! Anyway, here are my picks, in no order whatsoever. Not all of them are science fiction or fantasy, even though I have a long-lasting love of speculative fiction. But all of them were read over and over and have been a big part of my life.

What ten books have left their mark on you? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Aka, the one that started it all. I blame my love of fantasy (and portal novels) on Lucy and her siblings. This actually isn’t my favorite book in the series; that’s a two-way tie between The Horse and His Boy and The Silver Chair. But it was the first one I ever picked up, and the first one that Lewis wrote. Why do I love it? A classic portal fantasy tale, with just enough ‘real world’ to anchor it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I love pretty much all of Austen’s books, but the misadventures of Lizzy Bennet will always have a special place in my heart. I discovered Pride and Prejudice in my teens and have reread it countless times over the years. Why do I love it? Lizzy is one of my favorite female characters ever!

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. This was another pearl from my parents’ small but thorough library. This collection of short fiction contains the story where Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics first appeared and serves as a great introduction to his work. Why do I love it?Stories that make you think, in bite-sized short format.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Riordan was three books into his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series when I stumbled upon The Lightning Thief in the wake of the less-than-stellar movie adaptation. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan, and have read everything that followed. Why do I love it? Riordan’s fun storytelling style and excellent use of first person point of view.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. My dad handed me a copy when I was a teenager — I read the first page three times and then laughed like a loon and promptly devoured the rest of the book. Why do I love it? The Guide taught me that fiction doesn’t have to take itself seriously all the time.

The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie. My mother had a huge collection of Christie’s work, and I reread them all several times each. Miss Marple was my favorite out of her sleuths, and this collection of short stories about the amateur detective marks her earliest appearance. Why do I love it? Christie shines in her short stories, and these are excellent.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. I discovered Chima’s work three or four years ago and her Seven Realms series promptly became a favorite. It has everything an epic fantasy fan could wish for: magic, adventure, heroics, and a really great plot. Why do I love it? The perfect teen characters and a swoon-worthy romance! 

The Danger by Dick Francis. One of my biggest regrets is leaving my Dick Francis collection behind when we moved to the USA. I absolutely love his horse racing thrillers — the pacing is perfect, and the plots exciting and just intricate enough to entertain without too much effort. This particular book is one of my faves. Why do I love it? Francis wrote relatively ordinary characters that went above and beyond to solve mysteries and crimes. I think what I love best is this relatability.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher. Although this is absolutely NOT my favorite of Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, it is the first, and served as my introduction to a little something called Urban Fantasy, a subgenre I hadn’t come across before. Why do I love it? I love the snarky pop-culture-riddled dialogue.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. The Stormlight Archive is my new Lord of the Rings. The books have all the elements I loved in Tolkien’s classic, with the addition of great female characters, something LOTR sorely lacks. Why do I love it? Impeccable worldbuilding and truly wonderful character arcs.

 

LGBTQ Characters in SF/F

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Happy Pride from Lix, Ben, and Camille.

It’s Pride Month, and I thought I’d do a round-up of some of my favorite LGBTQ characters in science fiction and fantasy. I have a few in my own work; in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, my half-demon Camille is pansexual. My thief-witch Ben, who appears in Night Blade (Book 2), is gay, and so is his crewmate Lix.

YA fiction is probably a good place to start if you’re looking for LGBTQ characters. One of my current darlings is sharpshooter and thief Jesper Fahey, from the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. Jesper is bisexual (and a terrible flirt, too), and his romance with Wylan Van Eck is absolutely adorable.

Another YA character that I adore is Pen Khan from the Skyscraper Throne trilogy by Tom Pollock. In Book 2, The Glass Republic, Pen travels to London-Under-Glass and meets Espel; the two girls team up to save mirror London and steal each other’s hearts along the way.

I’m a huge fan of the Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, and Ronan Lynch was my top character from the start. I loved his slow-burn romance with Adam Parrish (oh, the pining!!!), and I’m so happy that Stiefvater is working on a new Ronan-based trilogy.

Moving away from YA, a great fantasy read from an indie press is The Art of Forgetting duology by Joanne Hall. In the first book, Rider, we meet Rhodri and watch him fall in love with one of his fellow soldiers. In the sequel, Nomad, Rhodri meets and marries a woman from a distant nomadic nation. His bisexuality is nicely handled, and his marriage does not in any way erase the legitimacy of his first relationship in the narrative.

How about love in space? One of my fave characters in Jo Zebedee’s Inheritance Trilogy is the main protagonist’s brother-in-law, Lichio le Payne. Even in space, it isn’t easy being bisexual while having an important military role, and Zebedee does a good job of helping us understand what Lichio goes through.

There are a lot of other great LGBTQ characters around in speculative fiction; Rhy Maresh, a bisexual prince in V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy comes to mind, as well as Rick Riordan’s genderfluid character Alex Fierro from the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard books. Why not share some of your own personal favorites in the comments?

*The awesome Blade Hunt Chronicles character art is by Corinna Marie. She takes commissions and is a lovely person!

Have Book, Will Read #19

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May was a mad rush of manuscript revisions, other work, and life being, well, life. The laundry doesn’t do itself just because you’re busy rewriting Chapter 11, though what a neat trick that would be… But in the middle of all that busy, I still managed time to read. Here are a few of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Recent Reads: Tricks and Trips.

I FINALLY READ CROOKED KINGDOM! I’ve been promising myself for a while now that I’d read the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, and I actually got around to it this time. Worth the wait!

As Kaz and company strive to right the wrongs committed against them they get sucked down into a deepening spiral of subterfuge, trickery, and intrigue. Beautifully written, the story is well-paced and has enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes the entire time. And the romances are lovely!

I’ve been wanting to read Holly Black’s work for a while now, and I started out easy with the Magisterium series she’s co-writing with Cassandra Clare. Although I found the books in my library’s teen room, they’re really middle grade, and I think I read the first four in under a week.

The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key, and The Silver Mask bring a neat little twist to the ‘teen discovers they have magic and goes to magic school’ formula. I’m not going to say much because #spoilers, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction the tale took from the end of Book 1, and this was a refreshing departure from the theme. This is a great series, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion in The Golden Tower, out September 2018.

There’s nothing better than a new InCryptid book, so when I realized that the most recent title in Seanan McGuire’s series, Tricks for Free, was out, I rushed to buy it. We get more of Antimony’s point of view in this one, and plenty more Sam, which made me a very happy person as Sam is adorable.

I absolutely love this series. It’s fun, fast-paced, and light-hearted while tackling some pretty big issues, and McGuire’s world is full of amazing cryptids and characters that keep you invested from page one. If you like urban fantasy and haven’t yet discovered these books, give the first one a try. You won’t regret it, I promise you!

Kelly Robson’s The Human Stain recently won the Nebula award for best novelette, and as I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, this was the perfect moment. The story takes us to a remote castle in Germany, following a British expat who is hired to care for her friend’s nephew.

This gothic horror tale is perfect for a shivery afternoon read (or a nighttime one, if you dare!). Robson’s elegant prose contrasts nicely with the growing darkness of the story, which has an ending that will definitely leave you off-kilter for a good while.

Now Reading: A ghostly conspiracy…

I just started an ARC for Afterimage by Naomi Hughes, out in September 2018. I’m not very far in, but I love the concept and am excited to read on. The story begins with an explosion that leaves the only survivor racing to find out who is behind it all. And the only person she can turn to is a transparent boy who she’s not sure is a ghost or a hallucination.

To Read: Stormy waters, suspense, and insurgence.

Thanks to the Penguin Children’s Fall preview I attended last month, I have a lovely big pile of middle grade and YA ARCs to read. I’m thinking of starting with Seafire, by Natalie C. Parker, the story of an all-female pirate crew. The book has been described as Wonder Woman meets Mad Max: Fury Road, so yes, please!

Another one from the ARC pile that I’m looking forward to getting into The Sacrifice Box, a horror novel by Martin Stewart set in the 1980s, and that sounds like a cross between Stephen King and Stranger Things.

On my to-read list is Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint, which came out in February but I haven’t had a chance to read yet. This is Cole’s first fantasy series, a little bit of a departure from his Shadow Ops world. I love Myke’s writing style, so this is definitely one I can’t miss out on.

I have a LOT of other things on my to-read list, but luckily summer is just ahead. The downside to school vacation is that I’m not sure how much writing I’ll get done. The upside, of course, is books, books, books. What’s on your summer reading list?

Poconos Retreat, Part II

(Continued from Part I)

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Our last day dawned soft and gray, drizzle misting in from the hills around us. Luckily the weather had no impact on everyone’s enthusiasm, and after another amazing breakfast (seriously, Highlights, do you not want us to ever leave?), we gathered once again in the main room in the Barn to watch the faculty talk us through some of the (anonymous) first pages and illustrations that attendees had sent in. I’m always fascinated at these events to find out just what an experienced editor will pick out of a fragment of text.

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Mealtimes at the Barn

We broke up into workshops after this, and I chose to hear agent Kira Watson talk us through scene development. We looked at the difference between ‘core’ scenes and ‘bridge’ scenes, and how to avoid the so-called ‘fluff’ scenes. Kira told us that each scene should make a difference, even if it’s a bridge scene, and not just be there to fill space. I’m looking forward to trying her flashcard exercise!

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Kira Watson talks us through scene essentials

The final keynote was given by picture book author Tara Lazar. Tara’s speech was joyous and uplifting, even when talking about personal obstacles, and was just right for sending us home all fired up to get back to creating. She both began and ended her talk by reminding us that “there is no divide”, and that authors are just people like anyone else.

We sat down for a last lunch (with a huge round of applause for chef Amanda and her staff), and then said our goodbyes to all our new (and old) friends, and then it was time to take off my name tag, grab my bags, and drive the three hours back to Connecticut.

 

Our printed schedule ended with Master Yoda’s words: “That which you seek inside you will find.” That may be true, but all of us at the 2018 Poconos Retreat found plenty in each other, too, and in the inspiring words of our weekend mentors.

 

 

High points for the weekend:

  • Location, location, location. And did I mention location?
  • Star Wars references everywhere!
  • Great faculty choices: everyone was kind, generous, and friendly, full of wisdom to share.
  • Good attendee vibes. Everywhere I turned I was met with a smile and a friendly face. I returned home with lots of nice memories, and plenty of new Twitter and Instagram contacts, too.
  • My awesome roommate, Tina Holt. I was a little worried about sharing a cabin with a stranger, but Tina was a star. #TeamCabin20
  • Okay, I won’t mention the food again, but I loved the ‘help yourself’ hot/cold drinks stations set up all over the place. And the baskets of snacks, too. (Oops, did I just mention food?)
  • The Eastern PA SCBWI crew: Kim Briggs, Alison Green Myers, Lindsay Bandy, and Virginia Manning. You all rock, thanks for organizing this tremendous weekend.

 

Running Wild — when characters misbehave

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Post-it notes! Trying to organize my characters…

The other day I was chatting to my daughter about my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I have this headcanon about one of my characters.

Daughter: You DO realize you’re the author?

Daughter: And anything you decide about a character is actually canon?

It made me laugh at the time. But that little snippet of conversation stayed with me. It suggests that writers are in charge of their characters and keep them on a tight leash at all moments. Which… isn’t really the case at all. How often do we read online posts where authors jokingly complain that their characters won’t do what they’re told? That they downright refuse the plans their creators had for them, sometimes with a big Hell No? WHY ARE ALL THESE CHARACTERS RUNNING AMOK?!!

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I can’t speak for other writers, but I’m a plotter. I like my outlines, and knowing where my story is heading. Of course, I leave room for detours and surprises, but my plots tend to mostly behave. When it comes to characters, however, I like to wing it. I start out with a rough idea of what they look like and how they act, but their personalities develop as I write my first draft. That leaves a lot of space for ‘misbehavior’.

Planned romances sometimes go in the opposite direction, while others turn up where I least expect them. ‘Strong’ characters break down in tears that make sense when I write them but were nowhere in my original outline, bullies turn vulnerable, and quiet throwaway characters stand up and demand page space, taking charge. It’s a wonderful crazy voyage of discovery, where I’m surprised over and over again, and often it isn’t until I reach those final pages that I truly know who my characters are.

Going back to that conversation with my daughter, I think I’ll stick to calling my character theories ‘headcanons’. Because once I get to writing them down, who knows what my characters will have to say about them? And that’s just part of the fun.

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!

 

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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