Fave Reads of 2019!

Of course I have a blog. Look at all the blogging I do! Shut up!

Good morning and hello, welcome to my round up of the books I read in 2019 that I loved the most and convenient excuse to use GIFs about books.

You want book recs? I have book recs. CATCH!

A note about GoodReads: I have linked all these books back to their GoodReads page so if you are interested in the title you can go there and get more details and then buy it from whatever store you like. GoodReads feels like neutral ground for readers, even though it isn’t. (Hello, Amazon!) But it’s as neutral a place as we have in this vast and compromised Internet we use, so here we are.

Neither do these link back to personal reviews of the book. I don’t do that. Before GoodReads, I was keeping track of what I read and what I thought about each book in a journal. Specifically what I could learn from it. When I made the switch to GoodReads (because everyone was on GoodReads), I stopped making those notes to myself. Stopped doing the actual useful-for-me bit! And, worse, GoodReads was starting to feel performative in ways I didn’t like. (Sounds like the Internet, actually.) So I nuked the account, and went back to tracking it the old fashioned way. No regrets.

We shall not discuss the state of my to be read pile.

I am taking no questions at this time.

How many books on the list? Don’t know yet. Why are you getting ahead of yourself, or me for that matter? I’m finding out as we go, same as you. While I wish I was able to keep on top of all the cool new releases, I can’t. Not with this TBR pile. (We said we shall not discuss it!)

If you’re impatient and want to skip to the recipe — er, my list of favorite books for 2019, skip to the end. You monster.

On The Jellicoe Road

Melina Marchetta. (2006) This book was a recommendation read and a great start to 2019. It’s an award-winning, Australian boarding school story that will mess you up in the way a great book should. It is magical and weird and sad and beautiful, and I wish I had been writing down my thoughts immediately after reading it because this book deserves studying.

My Sister the Serial Killer

Oyinkan Braithwaite. (2018) I forget how I found out about this book, but I did and I’m grateful. What do you do when your sister kills in self-defense? You help her. What if it’s self-defence number three? What if she’s set her eyes on the man you want? This was a page-turner, and ends perfectly. The relationship between the sisters is this terrific pull-push of love and envy.

Woman World

Aminder Dhaliwal. (2018) This graphic novel kicked off a comic/graphic novel binge this year. Absolutely lives up to the buzz it got. Originally released on Instagram and then collected and expanded, this webcomic tells the story of what happens to our world when all the men die. It’s funny, it’s serious, it’s everything. Highly recommend.

On The Come Up

Angie Thomas. (2019) I had heard a lot of good things about her first book, The Hate U Give (which I read later in the year) so when Thomas came to town are part of book tour for her newest release, I tagged along with a friend. This is a fall in deep, head under the water kind of book. Once you start reading, you don’t stop. Also perfection in how it shows the bonds of family — how weird, how particular they are. Masterclass in details.

A Head Full of Ghosts

Paul Tremblay. (2015) Haunted houses, unreliable narrators, and a camera crew. What’s not to love? Told with a framing story by the daughter years later, this novel takes a bucket each of the Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Ghost Hunters onto a dysfunctional family on the brink of economic ruin. Scary, sad, it pulls you along until it’s final revelation.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

Grady Hendrix. (2016) When you see a book in more than one place, turning up over and over again, the universe is giving you a nudge. Both set in and is homage to the ’80s, this book delivered real scares and a real pair of emotionally entangled best friends. If you liked AHS: 1984, you’ll dig this. Also, check out the original cover, a glorious video game/VHS rental case. Now that’s some graphic design!

The City in the Middle of the Night

Charlie Jane Anders. (2019) I really liked this one. Great premise — a locked planet with no day/night rotation, leaving a thin sliver along the circumference as “habitable” — and great characters who have their lives exploded on the micro and the macro levels. The tone of the book and its interests are unapologetically modern in outlook, but does so with the bones of classic, New Wave SF underneath.

Enterprising Women

Camille Bacon-Smith. (1991) I came across this title as part of the Tumblr discourse on fanfiction. It’s an ethnography of female fandom in the 1980s, particularly of fanfiction writers — a thing that had 1990s anthropology-me come across might have changed my life trajectory! Brain-exploding joy describes me reading this book. So many things that I’d long felt or sensed were validated here and I longed for past-me to have found and embraced fandom as a teenager, and not sneered at it for years because I thought I knew better. The conventions we think are modern have much older roots in analog fandom, and it’s this work that’s gone on to influence the massive cultural changes we’re seeing in fandom today. (Oh, is that the rabbit hole of Cultural Studies and academia on fandom? Bottoms up!)

The Dragon Republic

R.F. Kuang. (2019) This series is one of those that gets to the top of the TBR pile as soon as it gets released. The second book follows The Poppy War‘s (anti)heroine Rei into the world of what happens after you “win.” Spoilers: you never win a war. Excellent second book, I loved it just as much as the first and I am counting the days until I can be personally devastated once more when the final volume comes out, sometime next fall. (I cannot yet pre-order it and it is stressing me out.)

Because Internet

Gretchen McCulloch. (2019) I never got to delve deep into linguistics in university (course offerings just weren’t available) but it’s a fascinating subject. Language changes over time, s’fact. But the Internet is changing global languages faster than any other event in human history. (Yeah, I’m calling you out, Printing Press.) Internet users are creating new visual and linguistic grammars, superimposing new contexts and meanings almost faster than it can be studied. And to explain how that’s happening, the book delineates the four waves of Internet users as they came to the world wide web. This is a critical book. Don’t miss it.

Making Comics

Lynda Barry. (2019) I am a Lynda Barry fangirl and it’s all because of Syllabus. An internet article and an impulse buy later, Syllabus rang all the bells in my head. I’ve since hunted down her other books on writing and art, and this year Making Comics was released. For those who have been reading Barry’s other work, this will be half new material and visual essays, and half refinement of a process that she’s been building collaboratively with her students for years. For me, writing and art have always been intertwined; her books, and Making Comics in particular, will explain how.

Nimona

Noelle Stevenson. (2015) Yup, that Noelle, of Lumberjanes and more recently (and to wider audiences) She-Ra and the Princesses of Power! I love her stuff, her style, and Nimona was one of those things I had meant to get to and then finally did. I wish there was more after this volume, but the threads of the story questions she asks, and her fantastic way of blending genres and tones, lives on in her current work.

Bonus Books!

Two more books. Consider them mental fibre for your creative life: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (2018) and The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll (2018).

Because, hey, we all want to do stuff. Might be writing, might be art, might be any number of things. But how do you do? How do you start? How do you determine you are doing the thing you want to do? One book will help you figure out how to do the thing you want to do, and the other book will help you make sure you do it. It’s a one-two punch that will level you up for 2020. Promise.


The List

you monster

You want the list, Impatient So-and-So? Fine. No, I’m not mad, just disappointed in you. Here it is:

So go forth, feast your eyes and brains on good writing, and may your TBR pile not kill you in the morning. Here’s to 2020!

He’s not dancing, he’s running in terror.

Unexpected Gifts: Art for ‘By The Hand That Casts It’ by Mimi Simon

Back in the fall I got an email from an art student in Pennsylvania, asking permission to create illustrations for my story, By The Hand That Casts It.

Though incredulous tears, I read the email again. And again.

Mimi Simon is an artist pursuing illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (holy cats!). As part of her BFA, she wanted to use my story as inspiration for work that would count as credit towards her degree (holy cats!) Of course I said yes — because omg, holy cats! You can see her work on her Instagram account at @elwainen_art and on her website at mimisimon.com. Check out her galleries, they are fantastic, full stop.

Mimi sent me preliminary sketches after our first email exchange — which I loved and squeed about in private, just dying to tell the world. She’s just finished the paintings, four illustrations that are gorgeous and perfect. I can’t stop looking at them.

You guys … someone loved my work enough to make art from it. Art. I’m nearly crying now.

So, ta-da! Here they are! I’ve put them in chronological order as they happen in the story, except one.

This, below, is my favorite. Her sketch of this beat took my breath away when I first saw it, and the painting is even better. This is Briar’s pivotal moment in the story. That look in her eye, right now? She’s tired of you not paying attention and she’s ready to remind you that this rose still has its thorns.

Thank you, thank you, Mimi. This is such a gift, you have no idea. ❤️

Lovely Surprises

January’s been a bit of a month.

Had to contend with the post-novel blues, having successfully finished the from-scratch, page one rewrite during a fantastic blitz that were my winter holidays. I dived into the yearly Codex board “Weekend Warrior” contest (where you write five flash pieces over the course of the first five weekends of the year). My goal was to keep up my writing streak with the context, as well as adding some “for fun” free-writing to keep the pen and words flowing between contest entries.

But I hit a point in the second half of the month where I realized I hadn’t actually sat down and planned out the year ahead except in the most vague of terms. “Write every day.” “Revise the book.” I had about four things that I identified as goals for the year, but no steps breaking them down, no actions I could schedule and complete. And the Codex contest, instead of being the utter joy it was for me last year, started to feel like I was adding more work to an already towering pile of raw draft short stories in need of revision so I can start subbing them. Never mind the novel’s revision that are coming up next — which is the clear priority. If I close 2019 with that book not revised, not being sent out to agents, I will be mightily pissed at myself.

So I wasn’t in the best of places when, upon waking on a Friday morning and checking my Slack notifications that I found out some great news: I was on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2018. Further proof that I was obliviously deep in Rewrite Landia, I missed entirely that the story had been positively reviewed in the December 2018 issue of Locus. Stephanie, you goose! What are you even doing??

(There was a lot of me asking, “What are you even doing?” this January.)

So there I was, still in bed, face smooshed into a pillow, replying with a “wut” on the Slack. Then I scrolled through the Locus list and found my name on it for my Shimmer story, By The Hand That Casts It.

(Action shot of the writer’s mental state at time of receiving the news.)

So, that happened! I’m super flattered. I love that little story.

But it’s was important reminder: I wrote that story after Taos, when my head was so full of shoulds and musts, when I was afraid that maybe I couldn’t do it at all, this writing thing. That it was too hard for me.

I wrote this story entirely for me, for fun, to play with an idea that had started to gleam. When finished, I was pleased with it in an unquestioning way. And thanks — mighty, vast thanks — to managing editor, E. Catherine Tobler, who liked the story I sent her but wanted more. In the end, I doubled the word count, creating a story I can’t believe is mine.

(Vital aside: have you see the A Hugo for Elise article by Matt Dovey? I direct you there forthwith, because Elise has been the guiding hand for one of the industry’s most compelling editorial visions. To be Shimmery is something so many of us aspired to, and the term will be with us for a very long time, I think. We need more Shimmery things.)

Anyway, the lesson I learned writing that story is the lesson I needed to be reminded of right now — that I must not just do for the sake of doing, for saying a thing was done. What is the purpose behind the thing? Why am I doing it?

Does it please me? Does it challenge me? Does it say something I feel is true? Entwining play with craft, leaving space to breathe and rest, making something I love and feel excited about sharing. That’s the goal. That’s it.

I forget these things, sometimes, when I’m low, or when I’m focused on the pellet dispenser of filling in a spreadsheet instead of the thing I am trying to make. Don’t get me wrong. You have to show up, regularly, commit to the process, but it’s not one or the other. It can’t be. Carrie Vaughn has said, “the habits will save you,” and they will. But don’t let them shackle you, either. Be thoughtful about what you want to do, and then do it.

And find joy in that.

My Fave Reads of 2018!

It’s that time of year again when I get out my virtual bullhorn and sandwich board to tell you what were my favorite books of the past year. I challenged myself to read 50 books and nailed that handedly (sitting pretty at 66) with a mixture of novels, short fiction for the Hugos, manga, and non-fiction. I’m not going to provide links to the books in this list — Google is your friend, and so is your local bookseller.

Without further ado, these are the books I think you shouldn’t have missed!

The Beautiful Ones

Written by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones came out in the fall of 2017 and was a terrific way to start 2018. What I love about Moreno-Garcia’s fiction is her absolute skill with voice, and how different each book is from the next. Every book she puts out is an absolute diamond. This secondary world historical romance with magical elements is perfect and not to be missed. There was so much squeeing.

Amatka

Karin Tidbeck is a writer whose voice I fell in love with the moment I sat down and started reading her short fiction collection, Jagannath, given to be me by my writing friend Andy Taylor who was sure I would love it. He was right. Amatka takes all that weird, that allegory, and her haunting, deeply natural rhythm and turns it into a fine book. The kind that crawls into your brain. Had I read it the year before when it was released, I would have banged on my two kitchen pots for months to get it on awards nomination lists.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss is an absolute, glorious romp. The Athena Club is one of those rare series I start where I just want the whole thing, all of it, right now, because these characters are fabulous. Watching them argue and support each other is a blast. The only reason I haven’t read the sequel was that I had purchased the trade paperback and want the sequel to match. (It comes to my grabby hands in April!)

Spinning Silver

I loved Naomi Novak’s first entry into her standalone fairytale reimagining series, and I loved Spinner Silver no less. Novak takes the story of Rumpelstiltskin and completely transforms and deepens it, giving us a compelling trio of heroines in the process, including a Fem!Rumplestiltskin. Bending or inverting tropes? I am here for that. I don’t as a rule buy hardcovers — long live the ebook or trade paperback! — but these books are exceptions.

The Power

Holy hell. This was my first introduction to Naomi Alderman’s work. After more than a year of hearing everyone talk about The Power, I grabbed a copy from the library to see what the fuss was about. A deft hand with voices, Alderman gives you several narrators that are too compelling to put down and a world setting itself on fire. A gripping, thought-provoking read, and my own copy (in trade paperback!) will be arriving next week.

Trail of Lightning

Another book who’s sequel I have preordered. What is happening to me? I don’t like series! But Rebecca Roanhorse’s first book in her Sixth World series is an absolute stunner. Trail of Lightning is a post-apocalyptic fantasy that does everything right, and that last scene left me in big, gulping tears. Maggie is my favorite kind of heroine. Fresh, vivid, and snarky. *chef’s kiss* Don’t miss this one.

The Poppy War

This book by R. F. Kuang is one you can’t put down. You might, every so often, have to, because any fantasy novel that’s based on the Nanjing Massacre will be a hard thing to read. But keep reading The Poppy War. There is some incredible worldbuilding here, and a cast of characters you rant at, pray for, and champion. Rin is a stellar heroine and I cannot wait for the sequel, due out in 2019, even though the story is only going to get harder from here on out.

Moon of the Crusted Snow

Have I mentioned how much I like post-apocalyptic fiction? I do, and this is a stunning, stark entry into the field. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice was a title I randomly came across on Twitter. The book tells the story of an isolated Anishinaabe community who must survive in the aftermath of a (province-wide? nation-wide? world-wide?) infrastructure collapse during a harsh winter, as well as fending off southern invaders. Pick this one up, and CBC, if you are listening, this is exactly the kind of Canadian content you should be bringing to the screen.

How Long ’til Black Future Month

I’m nearly halfway through this collection, having saved N. K. Jemisin’s 2018 release for my holiday break. Jemisin’s books have become auto-buys for me and have never disappointed. How Long ’til Black Future Month collects twenty-two of her short stories and shows off her undisputed skill. I’m not likely to finish the collection before 2019, but I will be damned if I don’t tell you to go out and buy it now! Jemisin’s books are hug-to-your-chest reads, and this collection is no exception.


And that’s it from me! Nine books for 2018 … well, dang it all if that doesn’t bork a perfectly fine bit of symmetry. Let’s throw in one more to make it an even ten: find Ways of Seeing, a non-fiction book by John Beger. A short, but paradigm-kicking read.

Hope to see you reading in 2019! What was your favorite book this year?

Award Eligibility Thingawhahoosit

Well this is a fun blog post to write! Also terrifying.

I have two stories that came out this year that I love and are awards-eligible.

Hmm, I suppose I love all my stories, but these two, these babies, yeah. One I waited years to write, the other felt like it wrote itself in a mad rush to be made. There are pieces of me lodged like shrapnel in both of them, though I suppose that’s the goal when writing to begin with.

Okay, so . . . (links in the headings!)

My Heart The Bullet in the Chamber

This was my first pro sale. Code-named Mother’s Gun while writing, this story came from an image I’d had for years that really excited me (it’s the one that opens the story) but never wrote. Then the the writing group I was in decided to do a three-month, short story writing intensive based on genre, and the Western was one of them. Alice’s voice is like a klaxon call; I have to write about her and her world again. The story appears in Podcastle’s Artemis Rising 4 special event this past March. You can read it or you can listen to it!. (Do try the audio! My editor, Setsu Uzume, in awesomeness, landed Robin McLeavy, from the television show Hell On Wheels to narrative. Listening to it gives me chills. (When I’m not freaking out that someone is reading my work out loud, that is!) 

By The Hand That Casts It

This story, which was code-named Florist Assassin while I was writing it (because titles are hard), was the first piece I wrote whole-cloth after Taos Toolbox. It appears in the penultimate issue of Shimmer, issue #45, in September. I wrote it literally as a way to destress about my writing, and pulled in bits and bobs of things that had been on my mind — customer service work, career paths not taken, and the very idea of floriography, a Victorian way of communicating secret messages through flowers. (A real thing!) I worried it was too silly, too fluffy, but there’s some steel under it all, just like Briar herself, and the world is too fun to just let go with one story.. Thanks muchly to Elise Tobler, my fantastic editor, who told me in gentle yet in no uncertain terms that we had to have a duel. It’s a fuller story because of her. 

If you liked these stories, maybe nominate them? 2018 was a pretty spectacular year for fiction, short and long and everything in between, so there’s tons of great stuff out there to choose from. Nominate! For me or whoever. It’s all good. 😃

Okay, now where is a paper bag I can breathe into?

New Fiction & Novel Rewrites

Hey hey! I’ve got a new story out, one I love to pieces — By The Hand That Casts It (more details in the pull down) came out this month in Shimmer magazine! It was the first thing I wrote after Taos, when I came home completely overwhelmed and wanted to work on something with zero stress. It worked! How much murder, snark and regret can you get into 5,000 words?  A lot, turns out. I hope you like it.

What have I been up to since last I blogged?

July was irritatingly stop and go. I’d hit that 25,000-30,000 word “wall” on the book — and I was doing just about everything I could except try to scale the wall. Forgetting, more importantly, that there was even a wall I could hit. Wall? What’s a wall? I don’t see any wall. Clearly, clearly, this is just me being a total sham and incompetent. (I also applied to the SFWA Mentorship program during this time and did revisions and copy edits on the Shimmer story.)

By the end of July, I was annoyed with myself and hiding from the book. I decided a challenge was the thing I needed. Alongside a couple of well-timed pep-talks from writer-friend T.S. Bazelli, I committed to writing 500 words a day for 30 days. And did it, too! Got over the wall, got a good chunk of words under me, and got my confidence back.

And what did I decide to cap it off with? A banana-gonzo writing intensive where I would shoot for 5,000-6,000 words a day for three days straight in a tweaked version of the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest.

giphy

Leading up the  weekend, during the last week of August I knew I was hitting the end of the material I had had pre-thought out/sorta-planned for the novel. I needed to sit down and consult/construct the map, not keep driving. So when the time came to write even more? Yeah, car went straight off the road. Boom.

But instead of bringing out the hair shirt, I just took the long weekend off. Called it early, no regrets, no punishment. I fiddled with the scene I was working on, watched some scary movies, and then finally started mine-mapping the next scene. It’s working. I can see the road ahead and I’ve started up the car.

Current status: I’m 50% through the novel rewrite and even with my ups and downs, this book feels so much more together, the characters deeper, and spookier (I hope!) than my first version. I would love to get this rewrite done by the end of November (and can if I can follow the 500 words per day system) but right now, I need to be planning and not just cranking. Not going to worry about the numbers just yet. Am I working on it every day? That’s the goal. And if I do that, the work will take care of itself.

(Though I may revise a few flash pieces. Just because. Just for kicks.)

 

Some Background Noise

I feel like I’ve gotten really bad at blogging lately, but so has the rest of the Internet? Everything’s all locked under Patreons, paywalled behind Medium, or sent out like dandelion seeds onto Twitter never to be seen again. My own RSS feed is dustbowl-dry these days. Alas.

You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio (Radio)
Queen – RADIO GA GA (listen here)

But everything can’t be a constant stream; there’s still purpose in the static, the stationary.  Streams flow minnow-quick, there and gone. All that movement washes away your banks, eroding you. You need a rock, sometimes, where you can get out of the river to dry off. Even for just a moment.

Been writing around my life and around the cat. (Like, right now around the cat. I’m not even kidding. You try writing around seventeen pounds of angry, weaponized marmalade and see how far you get.)

Writing, and writing news! (Which, you know, if you follow my Twitter, in between all the cat pictures, political retweets and weirdness, you may have already read about.)

I sold a story to Shimmer Magazine! It’s due out this fall in the September issue and to say I am chuffed/pleased/excited/squeaky about it would be a disservice to my emotions. Is “over the moon” too over the top? Probably, yet here we are. It was the first thing new thing I wrote after coming back from Taos Toolbox (which is starting this week, today, as I am writing this). I wrote it for fun, and I love it to pieces. It’s much lighter than my Artemis 4 story yet there’s still murder, sooooooo, that’s something for me to think about.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I made a list! Check it out: On Gardner Dozois, Short Fiction, and 150 “New” Writers For Your Consideration over on Tor.com. Me and my Artemis Rising 4 TOC mates made the list! And through that article I discovered I have my very own entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database! Isn’t that wild? That’s wild!

I also have some of the best buds around. Look what they got me to celebrate my first professional sale:


Thank you Kathy, Julianne and Emily. ❤

Meanwhile, what I’ve been focusing on is the book. The rewrite of the book. The spooky book that turns out not so spooky but has a lot to say about grief, death, time, and the afterlife of those still here. I had grand designs of getting it all done in a three-month stretch. Then I strapped on all the bad habits and unreasonable expectations, forgetting all the strides I’d made since coming back from Taos and wondering why I was so miserable and unproductive.

It’s been sobering, it’s been humbling, and it’s been hard. I resent not being able to treat the process like a process — one that can be controlled with buttons and levers, that can be measured by the inch or mile. I resent, I suppose, that I am not a process, controlled and measured.

I’m trying to keep that in mind, and keep coming to the page day after day. It’s slow going right now, but it’s going and that’s nothing to turn my nose up at.

So that’s me here on this shimmery little rock in the river. Just for a moment. Just to dry off.