Reading, signal boosting, What I'm Reading

Book Review: Jade City

I’ve never done this before, but I guess there always has to be a first. I’m placing my Goodreads review of Jade City here, just so that more people can see that I found this book WONDERFUL and IMMERSIVE, and gave it a very, very rare 5 stars!

Jade City (The Green Bone Saga #1)
by Fonda Lee


Just wow. I don’t often give 5 stars, but this book deserves it!

In this secondary-world epic fantasy, a certain type of jade gives human beings superpowers–but only those with training and a built-up tolerance can wear it without becoming suicidal.

The jade supply is centered on tropical island, and the whole setting has a modern south-Asian feel that sinks into your bones as you read. The author does a magnificent job of setting the scenes, of giving us the feel of each place, of making you feel like you’re there, experiencing this place. She also delves into the minds of her numerous POV characters, none of whom are alike, some of whom we don’t think of as likable. And yet, each one acts in perfectly understandable, believable ways in the situations they’re placed in, and the whole plot moves forward in an inexorable push towards clan war, though most of the characters don’t want that.

Plot twists kept changing what I thought would happen in wonderful, unanticipated ways that were utterly spot-on and true to life. Perhaps most amazing is that, while the threat of impending warfare keeps the tone grim, there is also a lightness to enough of the scenes, especially in the building of familial bridges, that keeps the book from becoming too dark and depressing overall.

If you love epic fantasy, and political wranglings for power with magic, and have been looking (often in vain) for the next book/author to love, this one is for you. The whole thing is engrossing and wonderful, and you may find yourself wanting to curl up with the book to finish it in a single sitting!

One word of caution for the more timid reader: the opening chapter for me, while immersive and wonderfully voiced, was also one of the most violent. If you’re not a fan of on-page violence, just get through that and the rest will be worth it. I promise.

Magic of the Everyday, Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 10/25/17

Out the window: Clear blue skies, sunshine, and gorgeous coolness. Fall has landed with a thud on north central Florida. Last night the temps were in the low 50’s, tonight should plummet into the 40’s! That’s a far cry from the 90+ degrees of only a few days ago. And I’m soooooo glad.

On the desktop: Other than the plain green tea? A big old mess, quite honestly. Post-It notes trail off and sprawl everywhere, as I attempt to tame and structure a short story that’s had me flummoxed for over a year. I know the basic plot, and the story arc, but it’s still missing that certain spark that will lift it above “meh.” At least I found the obvious structural flaw that was killing it before, right?

Today’s Work-in-Progess:  The novel with the working title “Unspoken.” What with having been gone nearly 2 weeks (and this shortly after having started the novel), I thought I’d have a hard time diving back into the work. But honestly, I haven’t.

The first day back to writing (and yes, after traveling I took the weekend off to recuperate), I re-read the most recent 3,000 words, just to get back into the flow, and to find my protagonist’s voice and emotional state. Apparently it worked, because I wrote that next 1,000 word scene as easily as anything. And the following day, the next scene of 1800 words flew from my fingers onto the keyboard! It was a combat scene, so the action practically wrote itself, and I felt glorious, so accomplished and good!

Spousal Unit said, “Well, that’s because you stopped writing at a great point, leaving yourself an interesting place to dive into.” To which, I replied, “Well of course! Because it’s ALL interesting. I’m leaving the boring parts out of this one.”

Honestly, I’m trying really hard to conquer STRUCTURE on this novel, both on a macro and micro level. I want the final shape of the book to more than vaguely resemble the first draft, you see, because I’ve learned that nothing kills me deader than a really HUGE, HARD revision draft. (I feel tired and cranky just thinking of that!) Enervation seeps from my pours like a late August sweat at the prospect of such an edit. So, you see, I really needed to do something. Studying my craft (as usual) was the answer.

And Another Thing: How is Halloween just around the corner? If the weather cooperates, I’m going to dress up like a living scarecrow and flop on my porch swing to hand out the candy, freaking out (in a good way) all the kids that come by. So, hope and pray for good weather, okay? I’m feeling devilish! 🙂

research, Writing

Novel Thoughts

I’ve begun work on another novel, working titled Unspoken. This is a secondary world fantasy novel that has involved a fair share of behind-the-scenes world building, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. It also gave me an opportunity to create two entirely new species, one predator and one prey, which, OMG is just fascinating. Talk about your research rabbit holes! I could research critters’ biology and habits until the cows come home, until the power grid goes down, until…well, you get the point. I kinda likes that sort of thing. 😉

My process for this novel has changed from the previous ones, and those changed from the process I used before that. Basically, I’m moving from “pure pantster” to “whole lotta plotter.” This is not something I’d anticipated doing when I started writing seriously. It’s happened organically, and I’m happy with the changes so far, so… *shrugs.* Live and let live, right? Which also means to be willing to try something new if your old way just isn’t working for you anymore.

Unspoken has gone through three full levels of outlining–or outline editing, as I prefer to think of it. I’m thinking of each like a mini-draft of the novel itself, which let me get over the “just outlining” negativity. The first pass was simply taking the bits and bobs of story and imposing an order on them, then filling in the blanks. This was comparatively easy, as it’s how I started adding structure when I found pantsing wasn’t doing it for me. It’s fun. I saw the shape taking form, and it was thrilling (this was the only step I took for book one of Jess, btw).

The second editing level came next. I let the ideas simmer a week, then went back to the rough outline with a “Yes, But/No, And” checklist. The idea here is that every scene should have a protagonist with a goal, and for every scene I should ask “Did the goal get met?” The answer, of course, should never be “Yes” until the very end. It could be, “Yes, BUT…” and then something worse than the present situation came about. The answer could be “No, AND…” so that something worse came about. But always, things get worse, get more complicated, etc–even when some small victory is achieved, there is a setback.

That process drew my attention to where the story was fuzzy in my mind. Where the protagonist wasn’t fully on my mind, just the “really cool world building” or “here I’ll show how tough the desert is” and that kind of thing. Then came another cooling off period, a plot-breaking with others to see what was/wasn’t working, and my final round of editing: the scene/sequel process.

I found this bit at the old Jim Butcher LJ (scene bit here, and sequel bit here), and he’s carried the links to his new site, so honest, go read them! His “Scene” reiterates the “Yes, But/No, And” process, so for me, “Sequel” held the gold. I’ve always muddied my reactions, dallying too long around the emotions, etc. And even after the second edit of the outline, going through Unspoken scene by scene really let me zero in on the places where I was still dallying too long, or too unsure of what I was saying, or why. It was a frustrating process, but one that showed me–quite clearly and plainly–my own writing weaknesses.

And now I can’t imagine having written off that first draft of the outline! Nor do I want to imagine the process of trial and error to get three full written drafts to structural state this first draft will be–my mind simply boggles at the thought! That said, there are as many ways to write as there are writers who write. Do whatever works for you to get words on the page, and to feel good about them.

As for me and my writing style? I’m still a work in progress. My next novel will probably see yet another change in process. But that means I gotta get back to writing this one. So…*waves and disappears*

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, science, the dog, Travel, Writing

Mid-June Update

Things have been busy here, and I’m still in a bit of a whirl. Dasher is fully recovered, according to Monday’s liver enzyme test, which is the biggest news for me. And the best. He’s been acting fine, so it’s good to see it’s more than just a temporary reprieve.

He also got his shots yesterday, including a new one for the canine influenza that’s hit Florida. With his frequency of appearance at the UF Vet Med Hospital, which is a hotbed of diagnosis for this outbreak, I think it’s wise that he get all the protection a dog can get; after all, he’s had enough issues without adding one more. (Trupanion will probably thank me for this, too!)

Last week, spousal unit and I took a short trip north. Our first night we spent at a friend’s home in New Jersey, near where we used to live. The weather was cool and fine, and we got to harvest some of the last asparagus out of the garden! Oh, so delicious. I miss garden-fresh asparagus so much after tasting that lovely treat! The gardens were also a delight, with columbine, roses, iris, foxglove, and clematis. The long, cool spring held the blooms perfectly for our visit.

Afterwards, we traveled into New York City and absorbed city atmosphere and energy. We walked neighborhoods and parks, ate a a few favorite restaurants and tried a few new ones, took in some new sights as well as revisiting some old favorites. Can I admit that it was relaxing? Yes, NYC and relaxing don’t normally work together, but it was. Both of us just slowed down and enjoyed being on vacation. It was great.

Back home again, I’ve started to dive heavily into the research end of the literal “world building:” How long would the planet’s rotational period be? How about moons–could I have two, and what would their cycles in the night sky be? Could/should the planet have a great rift, like the one on Mars? How would that affect the story, or would it be located elsewhere? What are the different languages spoken by the various peoples, and how are they visually/aurally different? Etc…

Yes, it’s work, but it’s fun work. And it’s calling me, calling…

Bye for now. Time to research biology and form for a cool critter I’m making.

Today's Desk, Writing

Writers Desk 5/18/17

Hey! Lookit here–something new? Oh, what? No, it’s an old feature resurrected. Like a zombie, but with words.

Out the window: Heat and humidity have draped the sky in a colorless high overcast. Breezes gust occasionally, drying out the plants even more, and even the wind feels hot. Ugh. The newly planted gardenias are drooping terribly, and I’m really hoping the weekend brings ALL THE RAIN.

On the desktop: A cup of everyday green tea. Scads of notes and notebooks, both for this book and the next one, and the notes from my recent trip to Paradise Lost. 3 x 5 cards, some with writing, some still blank and waiting.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: Jessamin Stow, Book Three. Still.

I mean, yes, I love this. Honest, I do. but I’d hoped to be finished with it before Paradise Lost. Instead, due to so many things–Dasher and his ill health, my own ill health, home-life drama (let me tell you about the refrigerator dying suddenly, and the termites, and…)–well, I’m not done yet. And it’s making me crazy.

I’m kind of a stickler for making a schedule and sticking to it. None of this has gone to schedule, and it’s not a fun feeling. Which is only adding to my anxiety when it comes to sitting down to write, you know? (Ah, Impostor Syndrome, you know me so well.) The good news is that I’m so close to being done, I can practically taste it! Now to just do it.

And Another Thing: My next novel is all lined up and ready for me to get working on. I have a plot, and characters, and the basics of a world. I need to do more research on various things for world and culture building before I can get to writing the first draft, but OMG I am so excited at the prospect of this new novel!!!! It’s so shiny and fun and cool and I haven’t messed any of it up yet OH WOW!

But before that, I need to sip on some tea, calm down, and finish this novel before me. I got this.

Happy May, everyone.

goals, Paradise Lost, Writing Workshops, Year in Review

Welcome, 2017

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a lovely, peaceful holiday season, and are ready for the challenges and hopes of the coming year. Husband and I celebrated quietly, at home together–the first time we’ve done so in our adult lives. It was a marked change, and honestly, this year was a welcome one, as well.

In addition to celebrating the holidays, I kept writing, and I am pleased to announce that I met my goal of finishing Book Two of my YA urban fantasy trilogy on December 30th! Hurray! We celebrated by eating dinner out that night (more hurray!). Since then, I’ve taken a “vacation” from writing, simply enjoying long naps and late mornings, walking the dog and conversations with friends and family. Very nice. Even the weather has cooperated, staying partly sunny and above-average in warmth, so sitting outside feels perfect.

Later today, I start on Book Three, which is outlined and ready to go. And so am I! I’m excited to get on with Jess’s adventures, seeing and living the world through her eyes. She’s a witch, and one of my favorite parts is exploring her magic–how it works, what it does, how it feels. So much fun!

Once Book Three’s first draft is done, I get edit them all (as soon as I typed the final words on book two, my mind started thinking, “hmm, you know, I should really punch that up back there, and maybe over there, too. And if I only tweaked that, then this will really shine…”). And then, lo and behold…I’ll get to send them off to my editor, after which, I’ll edit again! 🙂 Eventually, though, they will be available–my goal is by the end of the year, but I’ll be sure to update you here before that point.

In addition to all this fun, I’ve started playing around with an idea for my next novel, a stand-alone secondary-world fantasy, currently using the working title of “Unspoken.” AND, I’ve registered for the Paradise Lost Writing Workshop, where I’ll not only see lots of writers I know from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox, but get to meet other writers while we all work on our books and stories. I get a lot of “creative energy” out of these things, and really hope that Paradise Lost will help me plot-break “Unspoken,” so it’s ready to begin once the Jessamin Stow books are finished.

I’ll make my annual year’s end summary and new-year’s goals posting soon–probably later this week. But for now, I’m easing back into a normal working life again. Which means I need to get writing.

But first, for the coming year I wish all of you comfort in your souls, strength in your wills, and health. Blessings on us all.

Personal Life, RIP, Writing

The Passing of a Great Influence

Sheri S. Tepper passed away over a week ago, at age 87. Many people came out immediately with eulogies and remarks on the influence she had on science fiction, and personally, but it’s taken me this long while to reconcile my thoughts on the matter. For your perusal, here they are.

Sheri Tepper was one of a handful of authors for whom simply seeing their name on a book’s cover made me buy/read it. She could have written the account of a day in the life of a common slug, and I’ve read it, and probably have been mesmerized by the accounting. By modern terms, that makes me “a true fan.”

But as a burgeoning writer myself, Ms Tepper was so much more. Her slim novel, The Gate to Women’s Country, was my formal introduction to hiding the key information in plain sight. Literally, I got to the end, read the big reveal, and thought to myself–no! you never did! You only implied that. So I skipped back to that section, and right there, plain as day, were the exact words spelled out so simply that a middle schooler could understand them. And my little brain exploded. Just a little, like a mini-nova in my synapses. Those echoes still linger, today.

(This isn’t to say that I can mimic such things. No, indeed not. It’s a skill I’m still trying to hone and accomplish even half as well as that early Tepper novel did. I’m a work in progress, at all times.)

After Gate, I found Grass. This novel was another revelation to me. While Gate could be conceived of–in my mind, at least–as a fantasy (yes, now we have the category of “post-apocalyptic” all too handy, but when I read it, I didn’t. So I filed it into my own mental bookshelf of “possible future Earth with a cool, fantasy vibe.” I wasn’t so much into SF at the time, so this made it “okay”), Grass made no bones about it: this was science fiction. And I’d thought I didn’t care much for science fiction.

But Grass revealed that I actually loved SF, even if I didn’t love most of the stuff I’d been finding before that. I loved the “soft SF” aspect, dealing with not just tech whiz-bangs, but how people and culture reacted to their environments, and all that tech stuff. And it had female protagonists who were smart, and accomplished, not simply window dressing, or leaning on the guys to save her.

Then the follow-up novel came along. Raising the Stones upped the ante even further, and cemented in my mind that Hey, that science fictions stuff sure is good, and Where can I get more like this? This led me to Joan D. Vinge, and to Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer series. And about that time as well, McCaffrey’s Pern novels showed their SF roots, wowing me completely all over again. And–yes, Tepper showed me that I loved not just a couple SF books here and there, but the whole thing. Science Fiction was all shades of awesome! That’s a debt that one can simply never repay. I can only hope that one day, I’ll pay it forward by encouraging and empowering someone else who reads my work.

In the wake of her death, Sheri Tepper has once again become a role model, in that I learned only now that her first novel was published when she was 54. That didn’t hold her back though, because at the time of her death, she had 40 novels to her name! These two facts are helping me counter the persistent, insistent brain weasel that’s constantly telling me that it’s too late, I’m too old, and I’ll never manage a decent body of work before I’m dead. Take that, brain weasel! Ha!

I never met Ms Tepper. That makes me a little sad (but not too much because I’m a terrible introvert and I’m sure I’d have said something utterly ridiculous and sounded embarrassingly feeble-minded). There is much you can tell about a writer from their works, though, and in my mind, we had much in common. We could, conceivably, have been friends–or at least friendly acquaintances–had we met. But her words? They were my friends and companions, and they still are. Her persistence will guide me, and her success encourage me, even though she herself is no longer with us. Thank you, Ms Tepper, for lighting that fire inside me, and so many others. May you rest in peace.

Links, What I'm Reading

Best Reads of 2015

Friend and fellow VP-17er John Wiswell invites folks to post their own versions of his BestReads2015, so here is my version of his posting.

Let me start by admitting that I didn’t read as much this year as I’d intended–far too many “life problems,” stresses, and such interfered with my best-laid plans (as they usually do). And yet, I had no end of good things to read. I managed to finish the 40 books I’d challenged myself to on Goodreads, but only by the skin of my teeth! (In previous years, a mere 40 books would’ve been simple.) I’ve purposefully winnowed my list down to my personal top five picks, but there is no way that I could put them in any sort of order.

So, here they are:

77773 To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

I found this book an utter delight! I’d listened to Willis’s The Doomsday Book, so I was familiar with her time-traveling scholars universe, but this book–well. It just wrapped me up in events mid-step and got both sillier and more endearing with each and every page. Her characters are so well-drawn and halfway through I felt that I’d known them all for ages, and could easily tell who was speaking without dialog tags. If you’re looking for a combination “light read” and “mental bop on the noggin,” then this is your book!

 

15819028The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker

A lovely story with wonderful period details of late 1800’s New York City, this book was both heart-rending and uplifting. Each and every character had a moral dilemma, and never have I so longed for a happy ending for the title characters as I did for these two poor souls–although their lack of mortal souls was half the point of the story. Bittersweet and immersive, I found it hard to put this one down.

 

 

23533039 Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

The third book in this series was the best yet! And that’s no mean feat, as I loved both Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. It was utterly impossible not to love the Presger Interpreter, by whatever name it chose to go by. The climax was a razor’s edge dance between the absurd and the utterly inevitable, and keep me laughing out loud–when I finished that chapter, I had to go read it aloud to my (poor, long-suffering) spouse simply because I loved it so much I just had to share that joy.

 

 

3428255Cyberabad Days, by Ian McDonald

This is a compilation of short stories set in a future India. Each story thrust the reader headlong into the future culture, combining elements of the ancient past, the present-day, and extrapolations into the future without tagging them or weighing the narrative down. It was a glorious ride, and each tale was a small gem. But instead of gobbling this book down as I so easily could have, I read each story on its own and treasured it for a bit before I went back and opened the book for the next. Yes, it was just that good.

 

270259 Slow River, by Nicola Griffith

A mystery, a romance, a tech-heavy near-future thriller, a slow portrayal of someone running from her past coming to terms with her present–and her future. All this and more was wrapped up in this slim volume. In one sentence, the utter beauty of language and place held sway. In the next, the total barbarity of the humans involved in the novel came through with shocking clarity. It was a gripping read that, for me, was over all too soon. And yet, it ended exactly where it needed to.