Thinkin’ About: 2018, A Year of Rereads

I have recently found myself looking at my bookshelves and thinking longingly to myself, “I wish I could read some of those books again.” Which is silly. Of course I can read those books again! What’s stopping me??

The only thing that’s stopping me is myself, by telling myself I need to read “new” books.

So I’ve decided that 2018 is going to be my Year of Rereads. I won’t actively avoid new books—and there are some books coming out in 2018 that I’m looking forward to reading, so I will certainly pick those up as they’re released—but I am going to actively go through my favorite books and read as many of them again as I can.

There are two reasons for this exercise. 1) I like those books! I like those stories, and I want to enjoy them again. 2) I want to pay attention to the craft that went into them. I don’t always notice the craft of writing when I’m reading something for the first time, and as I’m beginning to write more myself, I’m feeling the need to continue my education, even if it’s solo this time around.

So I have a list. A slightly obsessively organized list. The list is 92 books long: that’s 23 different authors, and only 15 books that have yet to be published. (And 8 books I haven’t read yet but are part of a series, so I might as well read them too.) That’s my reading list for 2018. Since I read faster when I’ve read something before than I do when I’m reading it for the first time, I think a slightly higher number of books for the year is manageable. Things keep getting added as I remember more and more books that I love that I want to read again, so the final number might be higher. I find myself hoping it will be. I’m not sure how much more I’ll be able to fit into the year—like any of the other books that are still on my To Be Read list—but we’ll see I suppose.

(I expect that this will mean that 2018 will have a limited number of book reviews here, but I do have a bunch that I need to catch up on, so I might try to squeeze those in. Somehow. Somewhere.)

So that’s my 2018 Reading Challenge. What are your reading plans for the new year?

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Best Books I Read in 2017

How is this year almost over? Wasn’t it April yesterday? This year has positively flown by. 2017 has been… well, let’s say “hit or miss” for a lot of people. But, just like last year, this year was pretty good to me. Last year I had moved, started a new job, gotten engaged… Lots of great things. This year, I started a new new job, got married, adopted a kitten, and wrote 27,357 words for NaNoWriMo. 2018 has a lot to live up to if it wants to top all that. And in the midst of all that, I read some amazing books too. As always, these aren’t necessarily books that were published this past year (although some of them are) and are listed in the order I read them.

A Season of Spells by Sylvia Izzo Hunter
      Three years after taking up residence at the University of Din Edin, Sophie and Gray return to London, escorting the heiress of Alba to meet the British prince to whom she is betrothed. Sparks fail to fly between the pragmatic Lucia of Alba and the romantic Prince Roland, and the marriage alliance is cast into further doubt when the men who tried to poison King Henry are discovered to have escaped from prison.
      Gray sets off to track the fugitives abroad, while Sophie tries to spark a connection between the bride and groom by enlisting them in her scheme to reopen a long-shuttered women’s college at Oxford. Though a vocal contingent believes that educating women spells ruin, what Sophie and her friends discover in the decaying college library may hold the key to protecting everything they hold dear—as well as a dark secret that could destroy it all.

I really loved this series, and books two and three were almost both on this list. But book three won out. Even though they seem to spend an awful lot of time apart in these books, Sophie and Gray continue to be exactly the sort of loving couple I love reading about. If you like historical fantasy or… almost-alternate history fantasy, you should probably do yourself a favor and read these books. Now I really want a trilogy about ladies studying magick at a women’s magickal college. And having adventures while doing it, obviously.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Witness the fate of beloved heroes—and enemies.

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell—once assumed to be the last surviving Antari—begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace—but never common—thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Oh hey, all three books in this trilogy were on my “Best Of” lists. Gosh, I must really like these books. Schwab excels at hitting her readers right in the feels, but I felt like this book raised what were already impossibly high stakes even higher, and she definitely didn’t pull any of her emotional punches. I was thrilled that this book wrapped up just about everything she set in motion in the first two books, since even the end of a series can often leave the reader hanging. While it’s always sad to get to the end of a series, this was finale was great. And, since the author has already said she’ll be returning to this world, I’m of course looking forward to reading it.

A Court of Wings and RuinE by Sarah J.

      Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
      Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
      As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
      In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

The theme of this year’s list seems to be “Series Endings.” It’s hard to be too sad about the endings when they end so well, and given that this author has also announced that she’ll be returning to this world in forthcoming books. At the same time, it’s always sad to say goodbye to the characters we’ve come to love. The climax of this book just kept amping up the tension—seriously, you think she’s turning it up to eleven, only to realize she’s not stopping there—and somehow never managed to tip me over the edge too soon. It was a delicate balancing act and Maas seemed to handle it easily. While her other series is set to wrap up in 2018 (and I fully expect that book to end up on 2018’s Best Of list) I can’t wait to read the next books Maas adds to this world.

Within the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan
      After nearly five decades (and, indeed, the same number of volumes), one might think they were well-acquainted with the Lady Isabella Trent—dragon naturalist, scandalous explorer, and perhaps as infamous for her company and feats of daring as she is famous for her discoveries and additions to the scientific field.
      And yet—after her initial adventure in the mountains of Vystrana, and her exploits in the depths of war-torn Eriga, to the high seas aboard The Basilisk, and then to the inhospitable deserts of Akhia—the Lady Trent has captivated hearts along with fierce minds. This concluding volume will finally reveal the truths behind her most notorious adventure—scaling the tallest peak in the world, buried behind the territory of Scirland’s enemies—and what she discovered there, within the Sanctuary of Wings.

Another ending of a series. This book felt like the natural conclusion to the series, like everything else had been leading here. At the same time, once we get there it doesn’t go quite how we might have imagined. I was skeptical about this series when it first came out, but Lady Trent’s unwillingness to be told what to do and how she should act quickly won me over. And also, you know, dragons. In a genre that is full of friendly talking dragons, I absolutely loved that the dragons of Lady Trent’s world were wild and dangerous. This conclusion bridges that gap a little, and while there is probably a whole lot more to explore in Lady Trent’s world, Isabella herself is done writing about her adventures. I haven’t read anything else by Marie Brennan, but I’m looking forward to doing so.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock
      In a world of soaring continents and bottomless skies, where a burgeoning new science lifts skyships into the cloud-strewn heights and ancient blood-borne sorceries cling to a fading glory, Princess Isabelle des Zephyrs is about to be married to a man she has barely heard of, the second son of a dying king in an empire collapsing into civil war.
      Born without the sorcery that is her birthright but with a perspicacious intellect, Isabelle believes her marriage will stave off disastrous conflict and bring her opportunity and influence. But the last two women betrothed to this prince were murdered, and a sorcerer-assassin is bent on making Isabelle the third. Aided and defended by her loyal musketeer, Jean-Claude, Isabelle plunges into a great maze of prophecy, intrigue, and betrayal, where everyone wears masks of glamour and lies. Step by dangerous step, she unravels the lies of her enemies and discovers a truth more perilous than any deception.

Do you know, while I was initially interested in this book’s summary, when I actually started reading it I was suddenly worried I wasn’t going to like it much. I thought, “Oh dear, this might go someplace I’m not sure I’m interested in.” But it went to all the right places. This is the beginning of a series, which is good because the ending sure left a lot open for future books. If you like court intrigue, princes in disguise, musketeers, and smart as hell princesses, this book should be at the top of your TBR pile. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
      Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
      But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
      Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

I read this on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m so glad I did. How this book ended up being one of my favorite books of the year is still a little baffling to me, particularly given that for most of the book I didn’t much like the main character. Or at least, I sympathized with Percy in sometimes wanting to strangle him. I like to think that was intentional on the author’s part, because it made the end that much more satisfying. Monty grew and changed, and that’s always satisfying to read. I believe that there is more coming from this author and in this world—even possibly with these characters—and I’m curious to see where Monty and Percy go next.

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire
      For once, everything in October “Toby” Daye’s life seems to be going right. There have been no murders or declarations of war for her to deal with, and apart from the looming specter of her Fetch planning her bachelorette party, she’s had no real problems for days. Maybe things are getting better.
      Maybe not.
      Because suddenly Toby’s mother, Amandine the Liar, appears on her doorstep and demands that Toby find her missing sister, August. But August has been missing for over a hundred years and there are no leads to follow. And Toby really doesn’t owe her mother any favors.
      Then Amandine starts taking hostages, and refusal ceases to be an option.

October Daye returns! McGuire herself has said that the more recent books have a lot of payouts for things she set up earlier in the series. And this book, more so than the previous few, does just that (while at the same time still setting up things for future books). It’s a really impressive feat of writing, especially given that this is book 11 in this series, and just thinking about the planning involved makes me want to applaud. You can really feel McGuire getting ready for Big Things in future books, and I can’t wait.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
      Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
      Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
      Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

I devoured this book. If I could have read it all at once, I probably would have (but instead I was a responsible adult and went to sleep at a mostly reasonable time, and then finished the book at work the next day). By now, it’s probably obvious that I love books about faeries and all the trouble that can be gotten into when a mortal gets involved. This book had a refreshing twist on the “becomes the Queen of Faerie” ending, and I won’t say more than that, but suffice to say that I was both thrilled with this book and devastated that it was only a standalone novel.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
      Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

Sequel to a book on last year’s list. (Is anyone even surprised anymore?) If you’re a person who is easily made cold, I would recommend reading this book in warm weather, or with the heat turned all the way up. I got sucked in immediately, and once again the coldness of the Russian winter seemed to seep out of the page. This book builds beautifully on the first book, and I loved getting to see Vasilisa as a little more grown up. I’m really looking forward to the third book—which, according to Goodreads, thankfully should be hitting shelves while it’s still warm. For more of my thoughts about this book, you can read my review here.

A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron
      To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
      Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.

The action in this book is non-stop. Seriously. I felt like I hit the ground running, and for the entire book I never stopped running. There’s so much action, so many things that are all happening all at once, so many threads of the story beginning to come together. All your favorite characters are back—yes, I mean all and for those who have been reading this series, you’ll know that for some of those characters coming back seemed… unlikely—and they are kicking so much butt. This is the penultimate book in this series, and you can tell that Rachel Aaron is ramping everything up for what’s likely to be an action-filled finale, and I absolutely cannot wait.

The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera
      Even gods can be slain…
      The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.
      Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.
      This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O-Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

Even though multiple friends around the internet had said this book was great, the thing that finally pushed me into reading it was a random blurb about this book being the canon lesbians one reader had always wanted. And it is, it absolutely is, but this book is more than that. This book is a love letter—literally. It’s an epistolary book, written as a letter from one woman to the other, recounting their story. There’s still so much left to do in the world K. Arsenault Rivera has imagined—there’s still a Big Bad to slay after all—but I’m looking forward to seeing how the author will write the second book, given that the same epistolary style might not work a second time given where she left it. Book 2 should hit shelves next year, and I’ll definitely be getting my hands on it asap.

You can find all my “Best Of” lists here. Enjoy!

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Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

After I reviewed the first book, Katherine Arden’s publisher reached out and asked if I wanted to review this one as well. Of course I jumped at the chance! The Bear and the Nightingale was one of my favorite books last year, so I fully expected The Girl in the Tower would at least live up to that one. And wow, did it do all that and more.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I made the mistake of beginning this book on the first really cold of the season. If I hadn’t waited so long, I could have read this book while the weather was still mild, even nice. Instead, I waited until I was cold—and then this book made me colder. Such is the power of Katherine Arden’s words and story.

Of course, the real reason I shouldn’t have waited so long to read this book is because it’s so good. Whenever I paused, and I read most of this book while I was at work so there were frequent pauses, I found myself asking, “But how?” How is this book so beautifully written? And how can I write something like this someday?

The first book was set in the snowy forest and a small town in the wintery and perpetually cold landscape of medieval Russia, and Vasilisa was a small girl. This book has its fair share of freezing forests, but it also takes the reader to Moscow in that day, a metropolitan city. Moscow is a place where women are kept in towers, away from the men, and Vasilisa struggles to come to terms with the wildness in her heart in a society that would rather burn her as a witch than let her ride a horse. She handles this by, as the blurb says, disguising herself as a boy and living as she wants. The tone of this book doesn’t suit the “wacky hijinks” that sort of scenario might normally come with, and but it works and is well done all the same.

One of my favorite things about the first book is also back in the new book: the continuing romance between Vasilisa and Morozko, the death god and frost demon. I’m usually all about the gratification—the moment when it all pays off, when they finally both know how the other feels and when they can finally be together—but the slow burn (heh) of this romance is really delightful. Neither of them really knows what to do with the other, given that neither of them falls into the traditional roles of the time and place. Even as they come to realize their feelings, there is still so much going on—outside of their relationship as well as in—that they aren’t given an opportunity for that “climax.” Arden even uses the reader’s expectations of a romance against them at some points, and wow do I need that third book asap.

Finally, this book answers some questions that were left over from the first book—who was Vasilisa’s grandmother?—but also asks new ones—now that we know how her grandmother’s story ended, how did it begin? What I liked best about those questions and answers were how they integrated with the rest of the plot. Her grandmother’s fate has always been a large part of what set Vasilisa on her path, and how that plays out is really well written. I’m already speculating on how the new questions will be answered in the next book.

The Girl in the Tower is written by Katherine Arden and was published by Del Rey Books on December 5, 2017. It is the second book in The Winternight Trilogy. My review for the first book can be found here.

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 4 Progress + Wrap Up

The end of November is always hard to get through. There’s Thanksgiving, and some time off work, and all I really want to do is curl up on the couch with my cats and my husband, and not have to use my brain too much. I did get some words in towards the beginning of beginning/beginning-middle of this week, but then I hit 25k words and… stopped. My novel wasn’t done, but that was good enough, wasn’t it? I’d hit that goal, so I could stop now, right?

Obviously I needed to redirect my brain for a little bit. I read a whole book (all in one day, that was a good book), I helped my husband clean our apartment (although let’s be real, he did most of the work because he’s amazing like that), and played Guild Wars 2 because I love my game and I don’t get to play it as often as I’d like (which, if left to my own devices, would probably be all the time).

I gave myself permission to think about things that weren’t my novel and it was fantastic and much needed. Still… my novel was also the thing I fell asleep every night thinking about.

When my long weekend had passed, I went back to it. But… I found it hard to get back into it as much as I wanted to. Part of that was probably the breaks I had taken—after all, I’d had momentum on my side before I took those breaks. But another part of it was that I was encountering large holes in the story that I hadn’t considered and didn’t know how to bridge while I was in the middle of writing.

And that’s the problem I encountered with doing a more general plan and letting the details fall into place as I went. Those details turned out to be larger than I thought. My word counts on the last two days could have been much higher—but I realized I hadn’t done enough work on some of the relevant history of my world. When I had laid out my general plan, I hadn’t known that the history was going to be as large a part of the story as it turned out to be. When I think about it, that’s also one of the problems with the only other novel I’ve finished: the main storyline is pretty strong, but the backstory and the history and the things that have led the characters to where they are is much weaker, because I hadn’t planned for it until I was in the thick of writing. I knew where my novel needed to end, and most of the large plot points I needed to hit between beginning and end, but the middle turned out to be more involved than I had accounted for.

However, at 27,357 words, this is the farthest I’ve ever gotten during a NaNoWriMo. I’m really, really proud of that. It’s also more than I’ve written probably since I finished that other novel in 2013, so that’s something to be proud of too. Even better, I have a solid base to work with as I continue with this story.

In December, I’m going to take a step back. I’ve been down in the trees this last month, but now I need to see the forest. I need to know where the holes are before I can start figuring out how to fill them. I’ll go back to the planning phase now that I know the shape of this story a little, and fill things in. I hope that in the new year, having done a little more planning, I can jump back into this story and write it to its completion.

Overall, this was a really great NaNoWriMo for me. I went to write-ins—I even hosted a weekly one at the coffee shop in my apartment building. And I made some friends, friends who are interested in continuing to meet and write and talk about our writing. And, of course, I wrote a bunch of words. Now, I’m armed with a plan to move forward, and I hope that in the coming year I can write a whole bunch more words.

How was your NaNoWriMo 2017? And what’s your plan of attack for 2018?

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 22: 0 (20,295)
Day 23: 0 (20,295)
Day 24: 2,098 (22,393)
Day 25: 1,552 (23,945)
Day 26: 1,147 (25,092)
Day 27: 0 (25,092)
Day 28: 0 (25,092)
Day 29: 859 (25,951)
Day 30: 1,406 (27,357)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 3 Progress

This week was a little crazy, and I missed my Wednesday update. So I’m catching up now, and let’s just pretend I adjusted it on purpose because the last week of November is always slightly too long for an update and a wrap up… or something.

This week I broke 20k! That’s pretty exciting. This was also the week where I accepted that I wasn’t going to make it to 50,000 words before the month ended. It was possible, but there were some struggles I was having (more on that in a minute) and I probably didn’t have time to do the work that would allow me to boost my word counts as much as I would have needed every day to make it.

Well, I thought to myself, that’s ok. This is still more than I’ve written in years, and I’m happy with that. My new goal will to be to write more this year than I’ve ever written during a NaNoWriMo before. That was about 24k, I thought, and since I had just hit 19k, I was sure that was pretty doable. But I went and checked the stats that NaNoWriMo so helpfully provides for its users. It was not 24K as I had previously thought; it was 14k. I had already blown that goal right out of the water without knowing it. So I readjusted again. I’m aiming for 30k as the more challenging number, but if I only get to 25k, that will be ok too.

My challenge for this week, and thus also the coming week, is this. As I began to move forward in my story, I realized I knew basically what was going to happen, but I didn’t necessarily know how those larger plot points were all connected. I knew what was going to happen, but not what was going to happen next. And yes, I can write those big things, those big exciting and fun events, but then what would happen when I ran out of those to write? I got desperate enough that I started making a map, something I swore I was never going to do again.

Maybe it was a crisis of confidence—after all, I’d written a novel before simply by asking myself, “What next?” and that had been enough to propel the story forward—but every novel is different. I’ve been struggling to get even to 1,000 words in a day. Maybe I don’t know enough yet about my world and my characters and my plot to get to the end of this novel.

Well, that’s ok for now, though it’s going to make for a really interesting editing/rewriting process. For now, I’ll write my big scenes, the exciting and fun ones that sprung fully formed into my head and what make me excited about this book, and I’ll get as many words out of them as I can.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 15: 671 (13,834)
Day 16: 1,344 (15,178)
Day 17: 0 (15,178)
Day 18: 2,143 (17,321)
Day 19: 1,700 (19,021)
Day 20: 0 (19,021)
Day 21: 1,274 (20,295)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 2 Progress

This whole year has flown by, so it’s not exactly surprising that November is doing the same thing. At the same time, I find myself looking around and wondering where the time is going. How can we be halfway through it already? How is Thanksgiving already next week and the beginning of December the week after that? Are we entirely sure that someone out there isn’t messing with the timeline?? (Can you tell I’m getting a little silly-brained?)

I’m still behind the official NaNoWriMo word count, but I’m still chugging along, still writing, and that’s a personal victory for me. I’ve written more for NaNoWriMo this year than I have for a NaNoWriMo since 2009, and while I might not “win,” this novel feels like something I could actually finish, which I haven’t done since 2013. So I’m calling it a win anyway.

This week’s challenge was finding the forward momentum in my story. I actually wrote a little during October: I had an idea for a scene, and I decided to just write the scene rather than outlining it, because I’m a rebel, and I just wouldn’t include those words in my official word count. But I knew when I was writing it, that the scene took place right before the main action of the story starts, but not at the beginning of the book. I would need to write all the things that led up to that scene, as well as the things that came after it, which was where most of the action would happen.

But I kept thinking of more and more things that needed to go in before it. I kept adding more and more backstory, set up, even characters who would likely never reappear. Instead of moving forward, I kept moving backwards. Yes, I was adding to my word count, but I wasn’t moving the story forward, I was just continuously setting up for the action.

I had to figure out how to move forward.

So I sat down and thought about what scenes needed to go right before the one that I had written pre-NaNoWriMo. What was actually important to that specific plot point. And then I wrote (well, am still writing) those scenes. Maybe I’ll also write one or two more scenes that go before that, but only if they are important for moving forwards.

Because there are two challenges of NaNoWriMo. First, and more obvious, is writing 50,000 words in 30 days. But the secondary challenge is writing a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without those things, you don’t really have a story. You just have 50,000 words.

So here’s this week’s takeaway for me: There will always be more backstory and more world building you can do. But those things aren’t your story, they aren’t the action and the plot and the characters running around getting things done. Make your story move forward, make your characters move forward. Don’t get lost in the foundations.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 8: 941 (5,345)
Day 9: 2,020 (7,365)
Day 10: 1,889 (9,254)
Day 11: 0 (9,254)
Day 12: 1,729 (10,983)
Day 13: 729 (11,712)
Day 14: 1,451 (13,163)

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NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 1 Progress

Well, here we are, a whole week into NaNoWriMo. And here’s how my week went.

I started out strong. I set a personal goal of 2,000 words per day, with a 1,700 minimum, so I would always be over the official count. The first two days, I made those goals, and was thus ahead of the game. (I also went to write-ins both those days, which probably helped. So note to self: that resolution was a good call. Go to more write-ins.) But then three things happened: 1) I got sick, 2) I hit a section I didn’t want to write, and 3) it was the weekend.

I stayed home sick from work on Friday, and managed a few measly words, but otherwise I queitly fell off the NaNoWriMo bus for that long weekend. I knew weekends would likely be slower days because that’s when my husband and I are both home and actually try to spend that time together—something I wasn’t sure I was willing to give up even for NaNoWriMo. But being sick meant that I wrapped myself up in PJs and a fuzzy blanket, and the two of us played through the entirety of Halo 4. Fun? Yes. Productive? Not exactly.

After the weekend, with only a little sniffle to show I had previously been sick, I pulled up my Scrivener doc, and stared at my project. I knew exactly what needed to go next: a nice little piece of verse, something in the vein of a ballad or an epic poem. Despite my college poetry classes, verse isn’t my favorite thing. Staring at my project document, I started to consider abandoning NaNoWriMo altogether.

Yeah, you read that right. All because of a few lines of verse, I was prepared to call it quits, even before the first week wrapped up.

Well, I didn’t. Instead, I formed a plan. Step one: write some shitty verse that I didn’t have to care about right now. Step two: wrap up that scene extra quick, because I hated everything about it. Step three (and this is the important one): MOVE ON. Yes, part of NaNoWriMo is about “forcing” out the words, but it’s important to remember that there are still appropriate times to bail out. Scenes that you actively hate and that make you even consider quitting? BAIL OUT NOW. I decided that I just did not have time during NaNoWriMo to write scenes that I hate.

So here’s my current advice: When you’re stuck, write the scenes you love, write the scenes that made you want to write this novel in the first place. Fall back in love with your novel.

This Week’s Word Counts
Day 1: 1,713 (1,713)
Day 2: 2,013 (3,726)
Day 3: 101 (3,827)
Day 4: 0 (3,827)
Day 5: 0 (3,827)
Day 6: 288 (4,115)
Day 7: 289 (4,404)

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Thinkin’ About: NaNoWriMo ’17.

It’s that time again. (Or, almost that time again?) It’s that time of year when thousands of writers all around the globe start thinking about putting as many words down as they can during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month. So, predictably, I’m thinking about it too.

Last year was a total bust. There were just too many things going on in my life, and I think I wrote less than 500 words that whole month. But I think I have a real shot this year. There are three main things that I am doing differently this November in my latest attempt to win NaNoWriMo—and, more importantly, write a novel.

First: Unlike last year, when I had a new job, a visiting friend, and Thanksgiving and its associated travels to contend with, this year I have nothing but time. (Well, of course there’s still Thanksgiving and travel for that, but that’s normal.) This year I’m working a different job, one that affords me plenty of free time in front of a computer—time I’m hoping to use as dedicated NaNoWriMo-ing time. Even if I can’t turn off the internet (which I need for work), I’m making a NaNo Resolution™ to ignore social media (at least until after I’ve hit my daily wordcount) and I might even go so far as to delete the apps from my phone.

Second: I’m doing a lot more planning this year. I always say I’m going to plan, but then I don’t. So this October, I’m working on that. I’m not going so far as to write an outline (hah, have you met me?), but I am creating character sketches (not actual artwork, though that would be a really cool way to prep) and even briefly jotting down scenes. Hopefully this means I’ll at least have things like names for these characters and a general starting point by the time I start writing…

Third: Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t have anyone to talk to about writing—mine, or theirs. Writing can be a solitary endeavor, but it also doesn’t have to be. Talking about my writing really helps me to work out ideas, to figure out things that will work or realize that some things won’t. So this coming November I’m going to go to as many write-ins as I can. This is both an attempt to make some friends—something I haven’t really done since moving to Colorado over a year ago because hello social anxiety—and an attempt to find some people who I can write with, and talk about writing with.

So far that’s my plan. Even better, so far I have been sticking to it.

What are you doing for NaNoWriMo prep?

(Wow, this post has a lot of parentheses in it…)

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Review: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

I’ve written about how much I love Patricia A. McKillip’s writing on this blog before and that sentiment only grows stronger with every book of hers I read. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was originally published in 1974, and though it has been widely available to me for years (I distinctly remember seeing a copy of it in my high school library) this was my first time reading it. Of course, by the time I was done, I was wondering what took me so long?

The powerful young wizard Sybel requires the company of no man. In her exquisite stone abode, she is attended by exotic, magical beasts: Riddle-master Cyrin the boar; the treasure-starved dragon Gyld; Gules the Lyon, tawny master of the Southern Deserts; Ter, the fiercely vengeful falcon; Moriah, feline Lady of the Night. To complete her menagerie, Sybel only desires the mysterious Liralen, which eludes even her strongest enchantments.

Sybel’s solitude is shattered when a desperate soldier arrives with an endangered child. Soon she will discover that the world of men is full of love, deceit, and the temptations of vast power.

People sometimes talk about urgency in a story. The feeling of something imminent that pulls the story along. But this story moves slowly, like a slow winding stream that moves purposefully towards its destination, but doesn’t rush. Some people might prefer the tension that almost automatically comes with urgency, but there is something to be said for the story that moves forward not because it’s being pulled along by the plot, but because it is just moving that way itself.

These words can’t quite describe the tone of this book, but they might give another reader an idea of what to expect. This story moves forward because the characters are moving forward themselves, not because they are being pulled along by the plot.

One thing I noticed about this story is where it started. When I was in college, I took a screenwriting class where the teacher told us that the beginning of a story is right before everything changed. This doesn’t just apply to scripts, and really helped me with my prose writing as well. This starting just before the catalyst as it were, allows that same sense of urgency to help a writer pull a reader in. Obviously this isn’t a hard and fast rule; it’s a guideline that can help writers. This book doesn’t use that rule at all, which helps dispense with the urgency that might be found in other books, and lends itself instead to the previously mentioned slow and easy tone of the story.

In some ways this book seemed less “strange” than her other books. Other books of hers have had some sort of strangeness to them, an otherworldly air, while this book was almost mainstream by comparison. As this book was one of her first books published, it’s easy to imagine that it was also one of the first ones she wrote. I can see how she was still coming into what I, years later, think of as her style. There were also elements of other characters from other books in the characters of this book, parallels that I kept drawing in my head.

None of this should be taken to mean this book isn’t amazing. I loved this book, and read it in one sitting, gulping it down when it absolutely deserved to be savored. In fact, this book will likely make the list of the best books I read in 2017, a lesser honor than the World Fantasy Award it already won after its original publication. It definitely made me want to read some of my favorite McKillip books again—particularly the ones that may have grown out of this one.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is written by Patricia A. McKillip and will be published by Tachyon Publications on September 19, 2017.

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Thinkin’ About: Rekindling A Love Affair With Paper Books

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to rekindle my love affair with books. Not books, as in “things that we read,” but as in, “the actual physical paper artifact.” And I say trying because I’m not sure it’s working out as well as I might have hoped.

I’ve read almost exclusively on an ereader (specifically Kindles, although I’ve had three of them as new models come out) for the last several years. But recently I’ve been unable to get my hands on e-copies of some books, so I went to my local library—a building I have lived four blocks away from since last October—and got myself a library card. (My love/dismay relationship with libraries is probably a whole other post…) The library was able to get me the books I was looking for, but they were, of course, paper.

I love books. But that statement apparently has to be broken down further, to distinguish from “things we read” and “physical paper thing.” Because I do love actual paper books, but I love them as artifacts. I love the covers that artists produce for them, I love taking them to authors and having them signed, I love supporting the authors whose works I love. But. I don’t love reading on paper anymore.

Yes, there is something to be said for the convenience of an ereader, of being able to carry around hundreds of books in such a small package. But more than that, it’s a different physical experience. And for me, it’s a more comfortable experience. Books are hard to balance, they can be large and unwieldy, require two hands to turn pages and a light to read by, and they can be physically damaged by the very act of our opening them carelessly. My Kindle is small, has a page turn button right where I hold the device anyway, and has a backlight so I can read into the wee hours of the night while my husband sensibly sleeps.

In a way it’s hard to get my head around the idea that I might not love actual books as much as I used to, particularly since I own so many of them, and want to continue to expand that collection. A goodly chunk of them are signed, some of them are books I’ve owned for many, many years and have fond memories attached. On the other hand, the convenience of the Kindle is hard to beat. What does that say about the practicality of owning those physical artifacts?

So here’s my (potentially) unpopular opinion: I don’t love reading paper books. I love reading on my Kindle.

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