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.

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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.

Hey, that thing I wrote — it’s here!

pc514

I just can’t really tell you how excited I am about this story and about this market. Articulate my thoughts? PSHAW. I have no idea what you’re talking about. You can read it or listen to it here. Robin McLeavy is fantastic; there’s no better voice for the narrator. It’s spooky and wonderful. I hope you like it. ❤ (Thanks, Matt Dovey, for sending a high-res version of this title graphic!)

This story came to me with the image in that first paragraph, a baby for a gun. Then Alice, so angry, so hungry for revenge, and then bits and pieces of Founding, where the story kicks off. The first paragraph was written during an online writing workshop I was taken and then tucked away for at least a year or two.

At the beginning of 2017, I was part of a writing group that was going through a Short Story Intensive. Designed for everyone to stretch their creative muscles and get writing outside of our favorite genres. It was a brutal four months, where we wrote one story in a week, critiqued it, revised and re-critiqued it, and then did again until we had six short stories. (Won’t lie — I was hella burnt out after.)

The second week, the assigned genre was the Western.

Alice was waiting, and she had things to say.

This story dovetails with a book I want to write. It only has a code name so far (which I won’t share, because it’s dumb), three characters and one antagonist, a whole heck of a lot of mood and a lot more weird than appeared in the story. We’ll see, but it’s down the road a while yet.

Because after making some final revisions on a piece and turning it in (cross your fingers for me), the next three months is going to be my own personal intensive: novel revisions!

I’ve been afraid of this book, and the revisions. It’s been too long. But I’m done being disappointed with myself and I’ve gained some much-needed confidence in the last six months.

So I’m going deep! Immersing myself in all things charlatans and parapsychology, pseudoscience and horror tropes, angst and moody English estates. I reworked the beginning, rewriting several chapters, and gotten feedback on that first 10K that’s super encouraging. I know that three months of solid, single-focus work, I can make some serious progress. I’m excited again, and that counts for a lot.

Best run with it while I can!

 

 

Boop.

So hey, look at this blog thing. *poke poke*

giphy (3)

Definitely it’s taken a back seat to, well, everything lately, and since I’m no great essayist, I’ve long felt that I shouldn’t be posting unless I’ve got something to say. News to share. That kind of thing.

And I guess I do! (Which, if you follow me on teh Twitters, you’ve likely heard about  already but this post makes it extra official-like.)

I sold a story last fall, my first pro story, to PodcastleMy Heart the Bullet in the Chamber, a weird western, will appear in this month’s Artemis Rising 4 issue, with my story available on March 20. You can read the story on their website or listen to the audio recording. (Listen to audio by an actress from the show Hell On Wheels, Robin McLeavy! How cool is that???)  Immediately after getting the contract, I applied to be an Associate Member of SFWA. This is a milestone for me, something I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve also joined a new online critique group and while it’s early days I’m feeling really good about it.

I’m still submitting (Anyone want a historical horror novelette? Anyone? Beuller?), and I’m nearly finished an R&R for a flirty short story about assassins that I wrote after coming back from Taos.  But once that’s done, the next three months I’m doing a novel revision deep dive. Full emersion. Live and breathe it, and then after that get some betas on it. It’s been sitting too damn long, and that’s down to me being afraid of it. No longer.

I may also upload a deluge-post about a recent read, Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. Loved this book. I’m trying not to blog-splat it like I did with my Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ramblings, but we’ll see.

I’ll be back next Tuesday with direct links, more thoughts, and probably a lot of feels. I love this story, and I hope you will too.

(But seriously, go read Amatka. And then The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theadora Goss, while you’re at it. Spoilers: they will both be on my Best Books for 2018 post.)

My Favorite Reads of 2017

Long and rambling post ahead — you’ve been warned!

Boy, that 2017. Amirite? 

/me pours a drink from her fanciest liquor bottle because why the hell not. 

If you want my politics, you can find them on Twitter. I want to talk about this year not in terms of the Orange in Chief, or the increasingly tremulous global-political Faberge egg we’re living inside, but in terms of the books that I read.

Books, after all and if nothing else naturally does so (family, school, friends), can teach empathy as well as broaden the mind and console the weary.

Because in 2017, I think all of us are weary. Amirite?

/me takes another swig, dispensing with the glass entirely.

I wasn’t sure I was going to make my 50 Book Challenge on GoodReads. A squeaker, to be sure, but I made it. That goal wasn’t helped by a few monster-length books, or those I started and abandoned after getting about 50 pages in. You can only argue with a book so much before you realize you have better things to do and better books to read. All in all, I think I powered through too many books that I didn’t connect with and DNF three books, including the third book in a series I had started reading in the mid-2000s. (God, REMEMBER THE MID-2000s? #wistfulsigh) Read and loved, talked about, shared, and then bought the third book and held on for the right time only to discover that its time had passed me by. Alas.

There was also one additional conceptual hurdle I had to jump over right at the beginning of 2017: the Christmas Gift Book Trap.

Books, for me, are personal. I don’t like giving them, and I don’t like getting them, unless. (There’s always an unless, and I play it by ear.) In particular, novels can be a total crap shoot for the receiver. And while personally I am comfortable (sort of, the hives are completely under control) letting a book I pick up doesn’t work for me, it’s different with a gift. There’s an obligation, even if unintended. One gift was in a genre I don’t read, and the other was non-fiction, and one that had special significance to the giver. I wasn’t in the mood for non-fiction at the beginning of the year, but the gift giver asked what I thought about it and so I felt pressured to read. (I liked it well enough, it was just bad timing.)

Never mind the towering, tippy, leaning tower of books that will crush me to death if I so much as sneeze in my tiny apartment. They will come for me, sooner or later.

/me takes another drink from the nearly empty bottle, and sighs.

So fifty-two weeks and fifty books. Normally I clear that goal earlier than the week before and usually with a nice cushion. Counting six issues of Yona of the Dawn mangas didn’t hurt, as well as the the nearly 1,000-page Revolutionary Girl Utena manga omnibus. I wouldn’t normally count manga, but I love these series deeply.

The one book I didn’t get to, and that I normally reserve for my holiday reading, is the next volume in the collected short fiction and essays of Roger Zelazny. I’m on book four of the set, and I think I will make that my pet project for January. Add to that, the Holy Grail of quests — TO CLEAR OUT MY TBR PILE. Which has only just entered triple digits.

Stop looking at me like that.

too-many-books-so-little-time

Anyway, while in the middle of 2017, it felt like a lousy year for books but I think that had more to do with the overwhelming mood of the year than the books themselves. Because when I look back at last year’s list, I read some amazing books, ones that sucked me in or moved me deeply — and I want to talk about those books here.

So in the order that I read them (more or less), here are my favorite books of 2017!

Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: Home was a terrific second installment in her refreshing space opera series. Binti really works for me as a series of novellas. I’ve read a good number of the Tor novella offerings and I find that usually there is a pacing issue — the story skips over major sections, or doesn’t deliver enough world building, and I am left frustrated even if there’s a lot to enjoy. Binti, both the first book and the second, don’t have this problem. I could see all three being a single book, but they stand on their own beautifully.  The complex relationship between Binti and her alien enemy-turned-friend Okwu is fascinating to watch, as well as how Binti herself must navigate between the two worlds of her home culture and the University, part of both and yet not.  Binti: The Night Masquerade, the finale, is already pre-ordered.

A few other novellas that really worked for me this year:

  • Passing Strange by Ellen Klages was my first introduction to her work after hearing a lot of praise. It’s sweet, romantic, and just shimmers with the teensiest bit of magic around the edges. Good stuff.
  • A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, second in his science-fictional fantasy series and which should have won all the awards. I enjoyed the first in this series, but this one I adored and wept over.
  • Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw is a tightly packed, creepy story with Lovecraftian edges. I devoured this on the train ride to Seattle, and need to dive into its sequel.
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson was wow from start to finish, a feminist Lovecraftian travelogue. Her style is so welcoming and assured. I would follow Vellitt, and Kij, anywhere.
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells was one that I felt could have used a tiny bit more meat to it, but on the whole I really liked. A great protagonist. Will check out the sequel.

Okay, back to books.

Goth by Otsuichi (translated Andrew Cunningham and Jocelyne Allen) was a book I’d picked up years ago at a convention (possibly at Sasquan in 2016). My first exposure to Japanese horror came from the Fatal Frame franchise for the Playstation way back in 2001. (REMEMBER THE 2000s???) What works for me in Japanese horror is that I don’t have the visual and storytelling framework to be able to know what’s coming next. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, slasher flicks, supernatural thrillers — I’m familiar with the North American form. I know what to expect, I know what the rules are. With Japanese horror, I don’t know the ending or how we’ll get there, so watching, reading or playing something that has those elements both creeps me the fuck out and keeps me hooked, even if I am squirming the whole way. Goth is a series of novelettes about the same protagonist encountering and stopping other psychopathic people all while saving his best friend for himself to kill later. It’s creepy and quiet and compelling.

Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia was very different from her first book, Signal To Noise, which I loved, but it’s just as strong and comes with an entirely original spin on the allegedly tired vampire mythos. There’s no such thing as a dead trope — only people not paying attention when someone gives it a real, genre-defying twist. This would make a fabulous movie, do you hear me Hollywood? Moreno-Garcia feels like one of those old-school writers — not in terms of her style or her stories but that she’s writing whatever the fuck she wants. I don’t know from book to book what I am going to get but  I know I will keep buying her books.

I fell hard down the rabbit hole of The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, having discovered mid-year that this 2014 release was actually about (spoilers) zombies! I love zombies in both fiction and film, so being able to read the book and then watch the adaptation, penned by Carey themselves, was a treat. Neither was perfect, but it was fascinating to watch how the stories unfolded in slightly different ways. I would strongly recommend that anyone who has read the book hunt down the secret final chapter.

And in a further late to the party style, I finally got my hands on The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, published in 2013. It was perfection page to page. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s been optioned for adaptation, but Google tells me that was years ago and the latest news is that the director of recent SF film (and highly criticized) Passengers may be the one to do it. Here’s hoping they pull it off.

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer was a book I came to both excited and trepidatious. I loved the Southern Reach trilogy. (The adaptation of the first book, Annihilation, comes out soon!) We’re talking fangirl, muppet-flailing, inarticulate joy. But would that mean his next book would, too? Reader, it was. I love this kind of sideways universe, a style that manages the realistic yet lives and breathes the utterly fantastical.

The Refrigerator Monologues by Cat Valente is quite different from her recent stuff and I enjoyed the change. Lyrical, highly wrought language makes way here for a sharp skewering of the traditional fate of female comic book characters, be they love interests or heroines in their own right. Figuring out which character mapped to which mainstream superhero was half the fun, but Valente ends up with a composite universe that’s just as interesting as the originals. I hope we see more of it.

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin completes her Broken Earth trilogy with such skill, such emotion, such pure and perfect craft, that it has to be among my favorite series of all time. Jemisin does amazing world-building, no question — a science fictional fantasy with armageddon at its core and exploring the effects of colonialism, conquest, and survival. It’s big sweeping stuff, but her characters that take the abstract and make it deeply personal. I am looking forward to whatever she does next.

Lastly, and one of my favorite books of 2017, was Hild by Nicola Griffith. It took me a while to finish, because this isn’t a book you can barrel through. You have to take it one page at a time, slowly, as each sentence unwinds in your mind and ensorcels you to Griffith’s version of Hild’s world. I’ve seen criticism about the book being overly detailed, laboriously slow, but this is entirely a function of point of view. Hild is a seer by trade, yet it’s not magic she wields but a keen understanding of the patterns of the world. Every scene, besides being beautiful, weaves Hild’s world for us and for her as we follow her from about the age of three to eighteen. The patterns must be shown before they can be understood. And all the way there is this line of tension, even in the quiet scenes. It’s a beautiful, brilliant book.

Ah, to a good year after all!

/me takes the final sip and sets the empty bottle down.

But wait! Runner up, Miss Congeniality, or whatever you want to call it, I need to plug my ongoing favorite manga series (again): Yona of the Dawn. I feel in love with the anime adaptation in 2016. It’s a reverse harem story set in a fantasy Japan and I love everything about it. The world-building, the political struggles, the heroism, the humor, the romance. *swoon* While the anime is only 24 episodes (and likely won’t be continued) of a much bigger story, the manga has been translated for the North American market. This year, we hit territory the anime hasn’t covered, so the swooning continues! Where is my swooning couch?

So that’s it, my year in books and the best of the 50 books I read. Are you still with me?

My god, why? I’ve given you a list of terrific books, so what are you still doing here?

Go read something.