Have Book, Will Read #22

It’s freezing in Connecticut, and perfect book-and-blanket weather! Although I must confess that I’ve slowed down on the reading in November — I’m using NaNoWriMo to give my novel rewrite a boost, so have eased off on other people’s words to focus on my own. I have, however, managed to make a nice dent in my to-read list over the past few months, so here are a few favorites from that particular pile…

Recent Reads: A bit of this, a bit of that…

I’ve had Peter McLean’s Priest of Bones languishing on my Kindle for a while, and I’m so glad that I finally got around to it. This is a really good read in the grand old ‘Grimdark Fantasy’ tradition, with a fun cast of characters and some very nice worldbuilding. It follows soldier and field priest Tomas Piety as he heads home from war to reclaim the crime empire he left behind, and soon turns into a game of strategy and intrigue when national politics stick grubby paws into Piety’s business. I absolutely recommend it for fans of this style of fantasy.

My daughter’s been telling me for months that I should have a look at Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns, and guess what? She was right. You don’t need to have read Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology or her Shadow and Bone trilogy for this, though a working knowledge of her Grishaverse is helpful. However, I’d recommend at least Six of Crows, which is a fabulous heist story in the style of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora books. Thorns itself is a collection of folktales, some original and others clear retellings of known stories, written in a variety of styles that match the different nations in Bardugo’s expanded world. Lyrical and also surprisingly funny at times, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

When I heard that Disney’s upcoming Hawkeye TV show was going to be loosely based on the Matt Fraction Hawkeye comics, I decided to take a look. I’m not much of a graphic novel person, but the little I saw online intrigued me, and I was lucky enough that my local library had the first volumes in one neat omnibus edition. Honestly, this is so good! I’ve always liked Barton’s character in the Avengers movies, but this took things to a new level. Great characterization, and I can’t wait to see how they handle Clint and Kate’s interactions on-screen. Also, I need to read the rest of the series now, especially the one in ASL, which I hear is fabulous.

Both my daughter and I are fans of Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid novels, and the latest in the series, That Ain’t Witchcraft, certainly lives up to the very high bar set by the previous books. We’re once again in Antimony Price’s point of view, as she investigates a little ghost trouble in New England and ends up taking on the Crossroads itself. Annie and Sam are adorable as usual, and the whole ensemble cast is perfect. My only complaint? Now I need a family reunion novella with the entire dysfunctional Price crew united and under one roof, significant others and all… If you like urban fantasy and haven’t yet tried InCryptid, please do! I love these books — they take every one of my boxes, tick them neatly, and hand them back gift-wrapped and beribboned.

Now Reading: “We use it to light things from far away,” I said. “You know,” Tom said, “things you have to light from far away probably shouldn’t be lit at all.” – The Blackthorn Key.

I picked up The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands a while back, and am now on the third book, The Assassin’s Curse. This middle grade historical adventure series is absolutely fantastic! The books center around an apothecary’s apprentice, Christopher Rowe, and his friends, and are set against the backdrop of 1660s England complete with threats of the plague and of political conspiracies galore. The series is fun, well-written, and full of code-breaking, apothecary secrets, and twisty plots. It’s written for kids, but honestly, there’s plenty in them that will appeal to adults, too. Good stuff.

To Read: Old friends, new beginnings.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was one of my favorite books of 2018! Now I have the ARC for the sequel in hand, and can’t wait to get started. The Night Country releases on January 7th 2020, and returns us to the magic and darkness of Albert’s Hinterland. If you haven’t read the first book yet, give this wonderful blend of fantasy and magical realism a try.

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater just landed in our mailbox in all its big hardcover glory, signed bookplate and all. Can you tell that we’re fans in this house? This is the long-awaited sequel to the Raven Cycle series, and focuses on Ronan Lynch, my absolute favorite of all Stiefvater’s Raven Boys. To get in gear for this brand new release, both my daughter and I reread the four original Raven Cycle books; now we’re all fired up and ready for more Ronan and Adam, and to meet all the new characters that Stiefvater has promised us for this series.

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Have Book, Will Read #21

It’s 2019! Well, it’s actually been 2019 for a while now, but I haven’t done a book round-up since 2018 so does that mean I get to celebrate New Year’s all over again? No? Ah, well, it was worth a try. *discreetly shoves champagne glass and party streamers under the table*

I actually followed my New Year’s resolution and made a good dent in my to-read list. Okay, who are we kidding, that thing is huge! But I have upped my reading game this year, and it feels good to be back! Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple of months.

Recent Reads: A world tour of mythology.

I’d heard good things about City of Brass, so when I spotted it in my local library, I immediately picked it up. S.A. Chakraborty’s lush fantasy tale starts in the streets of 18th century Cairo and travels to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, home to the djinn. Beautifully written, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their feet, I swept through this in a day and a half, absolutely enchanted. 

Another 2018 release that plays with different world mythologies is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Set after a future climate apocalypse has ravaged the USA and the Navajo people have created the magically protected land of Dinétah, the story follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie on the trail of dark witchcraft and ancient legends reborn. Roanhorse’s prose is swift and fierce, and Maggie is a wonderful character — at the same time flawed and fragile, yet strong as stone.

This next one is a relative oldie compared to the other books in this post, but I’d been wanting to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater for a while. I love Stiefvater’s writing style in the Raven Cycle series, and this one has a similar atmospheric allure. However, instead of dusty Virginia roads and rolling hills, we have bracing winds and sea-salt spray, tough island grass and even tougher island people. It plays loosely with the Celtic myth of the water horse, using it to tell a tale of resilience and determination. Very nice.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black may well end up being one of my favorite books of the year. This dark fairytale has underlying themes of abuse and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. The story of a mortal girl, brought up in the land of Faerie among the members of the Royal Court and caught up in the violence and political intrigue that accompanies the fight for the throne, it’s a breathtaking read and I absolutely raced through the pages.

Now Reading: The end of the Shattered Realms.

I’ve only just started Deathcaster by Cinda Williams Chima, last book in the Shattered Realms quartet, but I’m already mourning the end of this series. I was thrilled when, back in 2016, Chima gave readers the chance to dive back into her Seven Realms world with a new quartet of novels, set a generation after The Crimson Crown concluded. It’s been wonderful meeting a whole new cast of characters while enjoying the setting she so beautifully delivered in the previous series.

To Read: It’s all about those sequels…

I have two sequels on my reading list, and I’d like to get to them soon while the previous books are fresh in my mind. Both are the second-in-series of books mentioned above: The Wicked King by Holly Black, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m looking forward to jumping back into Black and Chakraborty’s worlds!

How has your reading been so far this year? Any good sci fi or fantasy suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

Swords and Swans

Book news! Well, anthology news, actually. Tomorrow my short story King Swan comes out in a brand new collection — Gorgon: Stories of Emergence (Pantheon Magazine).

From the official blurb: “Be changed. GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.”

I’ve had a peek at some of the stories and they’re awesome! You can buy Gorgon on Amazon in ebook and paperback, starting tomorrow…

Also…

It’s been two years today since HEART BLADE was published! Happy bookversary to the Blade Hunt Chronicles!

Boskone 56 Schedule

It’s almost February, and that means it’s getting close to Boskone time! I absolutely love this friendly New England Con, and I’m glad to be returning. If you like science fiction and/or fantasy, and live anywhere near Boston, why not drop by to check it out?

This year brings a couple of firsts for me: my first time as a panel moderator at Boskone, and my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe group. Besides my own program items, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and hopefully making a few new ones; watching a couple of panels (see full program here); and maybe attending a reading. Let’s see how much I can cram into the two days I’ll be there!

If you’re planning to attend, here’s my schedule:

Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor III

Fantasy often makes use of prophecy. But when a protagonist is the prophesied one, how can they experience true conflict, risk — or agency? They can’t fail, right? Shouldn’t this deflate the reader’s interest? What happens when you have conflicting prophecies? And if we’re in a mechanistic universe, governed by the laws of physics, where is free will?

Juliana Spink Mills (M), Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, M. C. DeMarco

Broad Universe Group Reading

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 21:00 – 21:50, Griffin

Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Readers will include Terri Bruce, Trisha Wooldridge, L. J. Cohen, Roberta Rogow, Juliana Spinks Mills, Joanna Weston, and others. Moderated by Elaine Isaak.

Now, That’s a Great Action Scene!

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 11:00 – 11:50, Burroughs

Fight scenes are not all created equal. Action scenes can make or break a story: drawing readers in, or shattering the suspension of their disbelief. Let’s look at some of the best action scenes and sequences to see how it’s done right — and why some scenes are just wrong. How do you keep the energy up without confusing the readers with a flurry of movements that only martial arts enthusiasts can follow — or care to?

Errick Nunnally (M), S L Huang, Bracken MacLeod, Juliana Spink Mills, Vincent O’Neil

The Middle Book Syndrome

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 4

The first book of your series was amazing: solid story; compelling characters; great reception by publisher, critics, and fans. Now, the hard part: living up to all the high expectations. Or maybe the first book had a less receptive reception, but you still need to produce that second volume? Plus there’s the rhythm problem — first book, thrilling beginnings; last book, satisfying conclusions; middle book, recaps and repetitions … How do you deal with the pressures of a multi-book contract and impatient fans?

Fran Wilde (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee

Happy New Year!

Misty says, “Have a great year!” She also says, “Keep reading! Bring treats!!”

You should…probably do what she says.

With All Your Heart

Adapted from a guest blog I originally wrote for fantasy romance author Suzanne Jackson.

Anyone who’s been hanging around the Twittersphere lately will have seen writers sharing their ‘rules for writing’. Now, I’m not that big on ‘rules’ (what works for one person might backfire splendidly for another!), but here are a few things I figured out early on and which keep me going. Hopefully, they’ll help you too!

Three things I’ve learned about writing:

1. Take Your Time. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When I started writing ‘for real’, one of the first things I did was read a lot of bios and websites of authors I admired. To my surprise, there were very few true ‘overnight success’ stories. One author took ten years to be published, another five. Another more than that combined. Some writers didn’t become household names until their third, or fifth, or seventh book.

Beginner-writer-me found this hugely reassuring. If other people could do it, so could I. If I had to put in the time to learn the craft and get it right, then so be it. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to take a deep breath and tell myself, “As long as it takes.” I knew this was something I loved, and that I was prepared to be in it for the long haul. I just had to jump in, and keep going.

2. Make Mistakes. Also known as: you have nothing to prove. When I was younger, I’d always planned on becoming a writer ‘someday’. Perhaps when I ‘grew up’. But somehow, I never got around to it. Probably because I had this weird notion that writers sat down at their perfect writing desks and dashed out the Next Big Classic all in one go. Yes, I really was that naive! I knew nothing about messy first drafts, or that it takes rewrites, revisions, and a whole lot of elbow grease to produce something halfway decent. So of course, with that sort of self-inflicted pressure, inevitably I was terrified of starting and failing.

When I figured out that the writing business was a long-distance event (see number 1), this led to the realization that nothing had to be perfect right away. I could allow myself time to work things out, to back my story into corners and fall into plot holes. I could get it wrong, and dust myself off, and rewrite, and get it wrong again, as many times as necessary. The only thing I couldn’t do, was let the fear of failure hold me back from trying.

3. Have Fun!  Along with realization number 2, came the awareness that I didn’t actually want to write the Next Big Classic. I wasn’t fussed about literary immortality, or having my books on required reading lists. I couldn’t care less whether my prose was gorgeously poetic. Instead, I wanted to enjoy my writing. I wanted to fill my pages with fight scenes, and daring escapes, and fireballs. Maybe a breathless first kiss or two. I was an 80’s teen, and all those hours spent watching the likes of Star Wars, Die Hard, Back to the Future, and The Goonies had to impact my writer’s soul somehow. Once I figured out the sort of things I enjoyed writing, the stories took off and the words just flowed. I was having fun, and I never ever wanted to stop.

Of course, these discoveries may have worked for me, but may not work for you. Find the small bits of wisdom that inspire you, personally, and use them to keep going on the dark days. We all have those days – beginner writer or seasoned pro – and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of why and how you got started in the first place. And then get up, dust yourself off, and jump back in with all your heart.

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.

 

Summer 2018 Updates

We’re already halfway through 2018 — where did all the months go? Seriously, someone needs to get working on that time-turner technology, and fast! So, what have I been up to this year?

Short stories! I made one of those infamous New Year’s promises to myself that I would submit a short story every month in 2018. So far, I’ve managed to (just about!) keep that promise. Of course, it doesn’t mean every submission has been accepted. But it’s been a good push to keep writing and — just as importantly — to keep sending my work out, even if it gets rejected. And taking a chance also means the occasional success!

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In February, my sci-fi detective tale Blood Makes Noise came out in The Last City anthology (DUST, 2018). This was a really fun initiative, with a shared-world premise that led to plenty of pre-publication discussion in our collaborator Facebook group. Check out our joint author interview in SFF World.

My angel love story Dawn Chorus was published in Kraxon Magazine in March, another happy moment. Kraxon always has great stories (free, go take a peek!) and I have a soft spot for the magazine, as it gave me my first ever paid writing sale, back in 2015. I also just handed in my contribution for an upcoming all-female-writers’ science fiction anthology: a teen time travel romance set in 1985. And I had a short story accepted for another anthology — I will have to wait for the official announcement to say more on this one, but I’m thrilled to be in it as competition was apparently pretty fierce, and the list of participating authors is amazing.

Novels! I spent most of the first part of the year finishing and revising a YA science fiction thriller. It’s completely different from my Blade Hunt Chronicles series, although my critique group says it’s still ‘very me’, which is hopefully a good thing? I’m really excited about this one! After a long querying hiatus, while I fulfilled my contracts for Heart Blade and Night Blade, I now have something brand new and have begun once again looking for an agent. Wish me luck…

And no, I haven’t forgotten my Blade Hunt readers. I’m taking a writing break in July, to visit my family in Brazil, but when I get back it’s all about books 3 and 4. Yes, the plan is to write the last two books in the series together, and hopefully have them done by the end of the year. I love my characters and story, and have promised myself (and a few of you as well) to finish the Blade Hunt Chronicles and give Del, Ash, Raze and co. the ending they deserve.

Appearances! I was once again a panelist at Boskone this February, and it definitely made a difference knowing what to expect this time around. I found that I managed to relax and enjoy my panels, and I ended up having a blast! A lot of this, of course, is due to the great moderators I had. I also took part in my local library’s Author Festival, speaking on the Teen Author panel. Out theme was Inspiration, and it was a great evening and a really good conversation.

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Photo credit Avon Free Public Library

All in all, it’s been a productive year for me so far. With plans to finish the last two Blade Hunt novels in the second semester, and to keep on writing and submitting short stories, it looks like it will get even busier once August arrives.

I’ll leave you with a link to a terrific interview I gave in January on Peat Long’s blog, with bonus Deadpool-riding-on-a-Lego-dinosaur pic. Because why not? Happy summer!

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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!

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.