Tag Archives: Books

Best Worst Writing Retreat Ever!

Last week I didn’t write any blog posts, on purpose! You see every once in a while my Mom and I pack all our writing supplies and head off to a cabin Casino in the woods and write for a few days. It’s cool because the rooms are dirt cheap mid-week in the dead of winter, there’s free soda all the time, there are shiny things to distract us when we’ve been sitting at our computers for too many hours, I have a pool to jump into when I’m fed up with everything, we don’t have to argue about eating because there’s a buffet or three, and generally all kinds of good things.

This time we headed up to Black Bear, which is a beautiful building with really decent food located in one of my favorite places on earth (Lake Superior, specifically about 25 minutes outside Duluth, MN). If the people there had been a little more welcoming I would have been in hog heaven, but they were all a bit… unfriendly and it was an issue.

I can’t write in places where I feel unwelcome. It’s why I stick to coffee shops and libraries and my apartment for writing times. I pay to be in those places, whether through rent or taxes or by buying overpriced tea, so I have every right to be there. On the other hand, I can’t write at my parents’ house or Maddy’s family farm because I am a guest there, no matter that I’m family. The Erins that  are guests in other people’s homes are not the Erins who do the writing. Maybe they will be someday, but the Erins who write are still pretty sensitive artistic types and fear rejection from friends and family. That feeling of unwelcome made me less-than-disposed to write on my writing retreat, so I did what any good writer would: I started reading.

I read my own novel-in-progress, Steamstress, which was sometimes awful, sometimes good and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Then the next day I went for breakfast with the plan of reading Tim Buckley’s Great Games Bowl novella* after which I was exiled from the room by housekeeping so I wandered the resort, looking unsuccessfully for a place to work. In the end I wound up in the lobby, reading the Steampunk! anthlogy on my Kindle and pretending it was work (I’m writing steampunk, it kind of was) then I was sucked into it and then the third Soul Screamers* book came in at the library (oh Kindle library lending, how I do love thee, how I do love thy ability to deliver books to my Kindle anywhere) and then… I read the next three books in the series, plus the two novellas. Then my Kindle died, just as I was tweeting the completion of my sixth book of the day. I got a bit done the next day, but obviously not the glorious burst through the finish line bout of writing I’d been expecting on the outset.

So, was it a waste? Should I have stayed home?

No. Because as I was falling into bed last night I was thinking about the things that bugged me in the protagonists of the last two YA series I’ve inhaled (Soul Screamers and Jessica), namely that they proved competent time and again, but would revert to hiding behind their boyfriends until it became necessary to be competent again. That’s overstating it a bit for Soul Screamers, Jessica hangs a lantern on the problem and both resolve it in a way that I find acceptable, but I realized I’d done the same thing in my book, unintentionally. That’s not the story I want to tell and that sure as hell is not my grumpy protagonist (I love my grumpy protagonist).

In the midst of this epiphany/breakdown last night I realized (and affirmed said realization as not crazy with two sources) that I would have to excise large tracts of delightful gooey romance from the book. It not only allowed Grumpy Protagonist to learn things without earning that knowledge, because the Honorable Love Interest would tell her, but also was way too easy on the Honorable Love Interest. Things happened more or less according to his plan and as we all know, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, especially when the enemy is Grumpy Protagonist (also, I, as a writer, am morally obligated to make things as hard as possible for my favorite character, especially when he’s the Honorable Love Interest, those are my achilles heel) . So, that’s a lot of editing to do and some major changes to make, including new characters to add (Grumpy Protagonist gets a BFF whether she wants it or not! BFF is awesome and comes with Polar Bears!) all of which will make the novel much stronger because I no longer have an improbable romance dragging down my character progress.

It’s a major improvement to the novel, and I would never have spotted it if I hadn’t spent my writing retreat reading.

*This is the third comic I’ve seen branch into prose fiction in the last few years and I must say that it holds its own against the Fables and Girl Genius novels.

**Loved the series, entertaining as hell, fun, really great take on the paranormal YA thing. I was describing it to a 15-year-old boy and he wanted to try them out. I think the covers might scare him, but I may find a copy of the first book, “give” it to his sister and tell him to check it out.

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Adrenaline-Fueled Super Powers

I may have mentioned once or twice that I read pretty fast. This is true, partially because I genuinely read pretty fast and partially because I read obsessively. I don’t stop, I forget to eat, every part of me that is not reading pretty much shuts down. I try to savor books, to appreciate the finer details on the first read, but I can’t. I cannot stop myself and the out-of-control train that is my brain when I’m reading a book. It only stops when it runs out of track, either because I have to interact with the world or I run out of book. You can see the obsessive nature in my audiobook listening, that’s a regulated speed, but I still get through books much faster than the average person or even the average reader. I can’t help myself.

And then there’s books I’m excited about.

There’s a handfull of them, past and present: Wheel of Time, obviously, Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, any Brandon Sanderson book, Seanan McGuire books. Those books are the ones where I obsess, count down to the release date and clear my schedule in order to read all the more speedily. Something more happens to me when I read them. I get this rush from finally having the book in my hands and then…. the book’s over. In far less time than should have been possible. I don’t know how it happens, maybe I was bitten by an irradiated book at one of the Harry Potter release parties.

Today my powers kicked in good and strong. Why?

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise Part 1 (Avatar: The Last Airbender Book Four) came out today (in comic book stores, it’ll hit bookstores February 7). I’m hearing about sell outs all over. Which means that hardly any of my friends have read it while I read it twice before 1pm. And that sucks.

It sucks because the book continues Aang’s story after the end of the TV series and it’s perfect and wonderful and everything I could possibly hope it could be (except long enough).

Since no one seems to have read a copy of this except me, I’m gonna say what I can without going  into spoilers. I believed every word coming out of the characters’ mouths. They sounded actually, perfectly right. The new characters, jokes, and  antagonists feel like a logical extension of the world as we know it. The art (as you’d expect from Gurihiru) is gorgeous and translates the characters from animation to comics wonderfully. Appa and Momo appear and are important. We get the rest of that Zuko “Where is my mother?” scene.

The book was good. Very good. So good that I’m ready to call it best comic book adaptation of a TV show, ever. Better than the Buffy, Firefly, or Dr. Horrible comics (which are some damn good comics). Miles better than the Heroes comics. Better even than the All Robins issue of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic (an issue that was in last year’s top 10). The Promise Vol. 1 was everything I loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender brought to life by people who seem to love it as much as I do. They expanded and grew the world in a way that made sense and kept me turning pages with that freakish speed I only experience on the rare occasions when anticipation meets quality.

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A Tale of Two Series

I haven’t written about what an amazing experience it was to be a supporting member of Renovation last year, to vote in my first Hugos and to get a chance to experience my first Hugo voter’s packet. Honestly, I’m still reading through it, but I made it though enough of four of the novels to be sure about my decision. Which then lost, as did my second choice. Looking back, though, I wish I could have told past!me that I want people to read our second choice book more than I do our first.

Let’s rewind the clock back six months, to late July when I was pondering my choices for the Best Novel Hugo. This one means the most to me and I had narrowed my final choice down to two exceptional novels: Feed by Mira Grant (Bloggers fight corruption, disease, and zombies in pursuit of the truth) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemesin (A princess from the far flung edges of an empire is suddenly in the running for empress, with all the God-controlling powers that come with it). I absolutely loved both of these books, I was lucky enough to get my hands on copies on the sequels of both, both of which were actually better than the first entries in the series. I thought all of the books were innovative and welcome additions to the genre, but I could only give my first place vote* to one book and in the end my vote went to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because it read to me like fanfiction. I mean that not in derision, but because it took attitudes I kinda hate in the fanfic context, like “Oh everyone totally sleeps with everyone else all the time and we’re all okay with that,” gave them an in-world reason for working, and made me enjoy the hell out of it. On top of that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is diverse and well written without trying too hard. I love it, but a big part of that love, for me, comes from a place of being in Fandom and I talk to people about books who, well, aren’t. This is a specifically me thing, but it means that I won’t be hounding people to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms unless I think they fit in that narrow Fandom slice of my life.

And then there’s Feed. What can I say about Feed?

Feed is flawless.
I hear Feed’s virology is insured for $10,000
I hear Feed does car commercials… in Alaska.
Feed’s favorite move is Dawn of the Dead.
One time Feed met Publisher’s Weekly on a plane…
–and it told Feed it was “gripping, thrilling and brutal.”
One time Feed punched me in the heartstrings with a rusty hacksaw. It was awesome.

Yeah, I liked Feed. A lot. So why didn’t I vote for it back then? Well I had some reserations about the writing during my first read. I thought it came off as preachy. However, I have since discovered that preachiness comes partially from the narrator, not from the author or the world. It’s an important distinction, because Georgia, the main character, is a little preachy about the importance of honest journalism and I love that about her character. If it was bias on the authorial level other narrators would participate in that preachiness, but they don’t. It’s something you don’t notice at first because Georgia narrates the bulk of Feed with only short interludes from others. The other reason took some research to track down. Reading backstory on Feed (because I am a nerd, I love to read author blogs,and Seanan McGuire’s** blog is really good) I found out she started working on it in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That makes a world of difference, because the blog was the be all and end all of communicating with the world back then. Nowadays I get 75 hits on my blog on the best days and over 1,000 people see every one of my tweets. Technology outstripped the publishing process and that’s okay. Resolving those two things really killed off my reservations about Feed, leaving behind only a desire to make everyone I know read it.

In my second impassioned plea in as many days, I now ask you all to please go read Feed and then come back here and squee about it with me. I need to squee about Feed like I get to do about comic books or Doctor Who or Sherlock or musicals or the million other things I squee about on a regular basis.

*Hugo voting is a little confusing, but here’s basically how it works. You rank the nominated books in your order of preference, then the votes are counted. If no work has a clear majority the book with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and its votes are redistributed to the next eligible book on the voter’s ballot. This continues until one book has a majority. It’s cool because your second and third and fourth choice matters. You want to have read as much of the material as possible, so you can make an informed choice.

**Mira Grant is a pen name for Seanan McGuire, who writes other, excellent, books under her own name. I like pen names, especially how they’re used by genre authors skipping around genres. I will probably tell you about the Seanan/Mira thing if you get me talking about Feed. No Twitter Nat teases me about it.

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Quick Book Reviews

Howdy all!

So this thing happened where I was on writing retreat and then I suddenly had to drive to New York and then it was Christmas.  I’m gonna try to catch you up on what I’ve been doing (hint: not writing! Bad aspiring author!) starting with the books I’ve read.  I also posted these reviews to my Goodreads profile, so sorry to those of you who are seeing them twice!

Crogan’s Vengeance

by Chris Schweizer

I read this book quite a while ago, but never added it to Goodreads, so I did a quick review from memory when I reviewed the second book in the series.

The only thing I liked more than Crogan’s Vengence is the concept of the series: a man with a very extensive family tree telling the stories of his adventurous family to his kids. There’s a definite “moral” or “lesson” in this book, and I’d assume it follows in the later volumes of the series (note from the future: it does), but it was handled well without being too heavy-handed.

Crogan’s Vengence specifically concerns one of the earliest members of the Crogan family, the pirate Catfoot Crogan, who never wanted to be a pirate in the first place, as he sails the Spanish Main. I would have aimed this series at middle grade due to the ages of the modern-day Crogan kids, but looking at a couple reviews to refresh my memory it seems the recommendations skew a bit older. Definitely recommended!

Crogan’s March

by Chris Schweizer

I loved this volume of the Crogan Adventures! While Crogan’s Vengeance didn’t teach me much, since I have a pretty good working knowledge of pirates and no memory about the moral of the story, Crogan’s March, focusing on a member of the French Foreign Legion brought a new location into my head along with a thoughtful discussion about our perceptions about other people and how our actions affect them. Schweizer absolutely upped the ante in this book and I cannot wait for the next volume (American Revolution)!

The Civil War: A Narrative Volume 1, Fort Sumpter to Perryville

by Shelby Foote

I’d previously stayed away from this series because of a bias in the “lost cause” direction. That is definitely present, but it’s not as bad as I would have thought and in a series focused on the tides of battle an early volume would necessarily have to paint the South in a better light, because of the successes during that period. I’m reserving judgment on the question as a whole until I’ve read further volumes.

Apart from the bias issue, I generally enjoyed the book. The narrative format worked very well and I enjoyed all the little vignettes, especially those about Grant and Sherman.

I was listening to the audio edition and it had all the rumored lack of audio quality. However, the auio weirdness didn’t really effect my enjoyment of the book.

A quick break to note that I got a Kindle for Christmas! So I read these last two books on my new Kindle! Woohoo!

Stupid American History

by I don’t care enough to check

Yes, very stupid. Potentially or blatantly incorrect in several places, but it was free and I had a new Kindle to play with.

This was free for Kindle when I bought it, but it’s not free anymore and I do not recommend it.

 

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

by Charles Yu

I read this book because it was the pick for Sword and Laser, I’m excited that I finally got to participate in real-ish time!

The best thing about this book was reading a Science Fiction novel on my new Kindle. That is to say that this book with it’s whole “here is the minutiae of my life in a science fiction universe, focusing on a history of my dysfunctional family” thing is not my cup of tea. Granted, I haven’t read a “not my cup of tea” book in a while, so the experience was novel. However, I never cared at all about the protagonist or his family and I spent the bulk of the book wishing something would happen, because on the rare occasions that something did happen I actually enjoyed the book. The other enjoyable part of this book was all of the characters that didn’t actually exist, because they were fantastic.

While I wouldn’t recommend How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, I also wouldn’t tell anyone to stay away.

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Books and Tweets in Large Quantities

Before I get to a discussion of what I am reading I’d like to mark a momentous achievement: I have just posted my 10,000th tweet. It’s sappy but I’m excessively proud of it. Twitter has been such a force for good for me that I really like to mark the big moments like this.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way onto the important matters: What I have read so far this week, because being unemployed does wonders for your reading (warning, some of what I read is Jane Austen, my lingo may get all Regency on you, I apologize in advance).

First off, I scored the last copy of Alcatraz vs. the Shattered Lens (the fourth book in Brandon Sanderson’s epically charming Alcatraz series) from my local Barnes and Noble.  I know that I am a bad fan for doing this, that I should have pre-ordered it so there would still be a copy on the shelves to enchant some serendipitous child, but I’m lazy and it was sitting right there.  Alcatraz vs. the Shattered Lens was everything you expect from the series, laugh out loud humor, lots of action, a good heart, and crazy awesome magic.  This book has giant robots dressed as librarians, 13 year old girls with silver hair and giant swords, and bad math, magically bad math. However, since the last book both the main character and the writer have grown and matured.  Shattered Lens starts opening Alcatraz’s eyes to the fact that “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters” and Sanderson handles it beautifully. The first person narration also got a bit more believable, not that it was ever bad, but it felt much more in character and also gave away a couple of secrets about the future.  It’s stuff that future Alcatraz probably wouldn’t think twice about writing, but that I as a reader was glad to hear.

Of course, that’s not the only thing I read since I last wrote briefly, I slammed my way through a gem from the most recent Audible $4.95 sale, Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve read it several times, watched the BBC/A&E/Colin Firth mini-series even more times, but somehow I had never listened to it before and in all the previous Audible sales the Pride and Prejudice was read by the narrator of my favorite edition of Jane Eyre and I couldn’t take hearing Elizabeth in what I hear as Jane’s voice.

As so often happens when I reread something in Audio the book was a completely new experience to me. I found myself identifying with Elizabeth less than usual.  I noticed her flaws more clearly than I had before, mainly her overreactions to events in the world around her. That sounds much harsher than I mean it to be, she develops decided (one might say, prejudiced) opinions about everything on the spot and holds to them doggedly until their incorrectness is flaunted in her face.  It’s something we all do. I know I react the same way to bad news, because I did so this evening and got it thrown in my face directly. I hope that by noticing it in Lizzie and myself, I’m growing past that way of thinking, like I have grown past her in age.

It didn’t bother me as much the last time I read Pride and Prejudice, but on this reread I was very conscious of being older than Elizabeth. It’s strange, because I feel like the same person I’ve always been, but I have gone beyond the Elizabeth stage. I graduated from College, got a job, moved out of my parents’ house and, shudder, grew up a bit (obviously not all the way, the first book I reviewed in this post is meant for 8-12 year olds). I still adore the book, but now the reflection I see of myself in the characters looks like a past me rather than the present me.

All of that introspection made me really want to reread Persuasion, which I have now started after downloading it from the ever-wonderful Hennepin County Library, but at first I tried to read something that’s been sitting in my Audible library for a few months now, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire. I’ve already read the Mistborn trilogy once, but I like to reread Sanderson’s books with his annotations, which are like a mix of writing master class and DVD commentary and The Final Empire has elements of Regency romance, so it felt thematically right.

I mentioned that regency element on twitter and had a bit of a chat with Laura Fitzgerald (she works for Tor, so you know she’s awesome) about other fantasy books in that vein.  She brought up Shades of Milk and Honey, which I’ve been hesitant to pick up, probably because Pride and Prejudice and Zombies left a pretty awful taste in my mouth in some respects then I get home last night and the Hugo Award winning author of Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal, had tweeted at me about my concerns about the book, eventually using etymology to prove that she knew her stuff from a historical accuracy point of view. 1) This is just so cool. I totally appreciated her taking the time to tweet at me. 2) Of course I immediately reserved a copy of the book from the library (what? I’m still wary/chary about the book, and if I like it I’ll buy a copy to keep). 3) This is more or less my favorite thing about twitter, how the things you say resonate across the cacophony and reach people who want to hear them.

That’s enough from me for now, I have a bunch more to say about Austen, but I’ll save that for tomorrow because it’s long and, I think, far more self contained than this mess of a post could ever hope to be.

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