2018 reading recs and eligibility post!

Award season is coming! I’ll be updating this post as I speed-read through everyone else’s recommendations.

Eligibility:

Short Story: “Strange Waters,” in Strange Horizons April 2, 2018. A time-traveling fisherwoman is lost and trying to get home to her children. It got some love when it came out! (SFF Reviews, Quick Sips, Barnes & Noble)

 

Recommendations:

Novels:

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

 

Novellas:

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

 

Novelettes:

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

 

Short Stories:

“Bride Before You” by Stephanie Malia Morris in Nightmare Magazine

“Mother Tongues” by S. Qiouyi Lu in Asimov’s and Escape Pod

“And Yet” by A.T. Greenblatt in Uncanny Magazine

“Your Slaughterhouse, Your Killing Floor” by Sunny Moraine in Uncanny Magazine

“She Who Hungers, She Who Waits” by Cassandra Khaw in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“The House of Illusionists” by Vanessa Fogg in Liminal Stories

2018 reading and writing progress report!

I didn’t want to write a mid-year progress report in June because I knew I was wildly off my game this year, but I’ve come to accept the shift in what I consider productive work, so why not touch base while there’s still a quarter of the year left?

READING

Ayyyiii I still have a chance at reading my 52 books for the year. I’m currently sitting at 34 with two books in progress. (A physical book to settle in with at night and an ebook to read on my phone while patting the baby to sleep.) I’ve got nearly 16 weeks left to read 18 books! I can do it!!

And the stuff I’ve been reading this year is SO GOOD. New authors I’ve tried and loved: Cassandra Khaw, JY Yang, Kelly Robson, Aliette de Bodard, Rebecca Roanhorse, Justina Ireland, April Daniels, R.F. Kuang. Authors I already read and continue to love: Catherynne M. Valente, Mark Lawrence, Naomi Novik, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robert Jackson Bennett.

I’ve been lagging in books because I’ve been reading more short fiction. It’s really easy to lose a half hour here and there reading chunky fantasy shorts, and I don’t have an exorbitant amount of reading time to begin with. But it’s a form I love to read and a form I am trying to get better at writing, so I think I’m striking a good balance.

WRITING

Here is where my productivity spreadsheet has gone off the rails. My biggest resolution at the beginning of the year was to learn some patience. I took it to heart, GALLING though it may be. And that means I have spent way more days editing than writing new material.

I also added short story AND novel submissions to my workload, and it takes an enormous amount of time to research markets/agents, craft a submission package, and then format those submissions.

My word count for the year is riding low at about 46,000 words. So far, I have spent 218 days working, only 132 of which increased my word count. And, most GALLING OF ALL: only 43 of those days were writing NEW short stories, and exactly ZERO were spent writing a new book. ;_;

So what the hell is all that daily activity? Thorough overhaul and edit of my 2016 book; thorough edit of my 2017 book (I’m hitting the halfway mark today); editing and submitting short stories I finished late 2017; writing and editing a submission package for my 2016 book; beginning a submission package for my 2017 book; researching agents for both; sending out submissions for 2016 book.

So I knowww I’ve been busy. I knowww it is all necessary work, and that a long-term career means juggling shorts and novels, writing and editing, research and submission.

But owww, it stings that I won’t have a 2018 book, especially because it is all my fault for letting so many rough drafts pile up. The next book I want to write has been waiting in the wings since 2015, because I knew it needed a lot of extra care and research to do the concept justice. So instead of rushing through it in three months for the sake of a spreadsheet that matters to exactly one person in the world (me!!), I’m going to follow my own advice:

Patience, Sam.

LIFE

Bonus life update, because this is the other reason my free time has been spread so thin, and it’s important to remind myself that life is always a factor, and that is okay:

I have a toddler. I also have a baby. She just stopped breastfeeding and she just started walking, so my daily life next year will look absolutely nothing like my daily life did this year. That’s okay.

We’re trying to move. I have spent the last two months packing, doing minor household maintenance that fell to the wayside during baby year, and constantly cleaning my home for showings. That’s okay.

The holidays are coming, and I ALWAYS overestimate what I will accomplish between October and December, and I ALWAYS fail to meet those marks. So this year, I’m trying to be more realistic about what I can do. I usually go overboard for Thanksgiving (like, weeks of preparation and themed decoration and costuming) but this year I don’t even know where I’ll be living, and my kids are getting old enough to want to do Halloween right before that, and there are 30ish family members to start planning Christmas for, and–

BREATHE, SAM, BREATHE! THAT IS OKAY.

That’s my 2018 so far. I’ll see you on the flip side.

reading roundup!

We’re already three months through 2018! How about one of my inconsistent, semiannual reading roundups?

I’ve read eighteen books/novellas/graphic collections so far. There are SO MANY great things going on in SFF right now that it pains me not to be able to go faster. My TBR pile is a TBR mountain. But the core tragedy of writing is this: you write because you love-love-love to read, but if you write, you won’t have nearly as much time to read. I can either read thirty pages or write one, them’s the breaks.

I’m not the only one in this boat, which is probably why novellas are making such a splashy return to the field. They’re shorter, more direct, but in the right hands pack just as powerful a punch. What’s not to love?

Last year I powered through works by Martha Wells (the Murderbot Diaries), Cassandra Khaw (Persons Non Grata), and Sarah Gailey (River of Teeth). This year I’m going to continue following those projects, and I’ve also discovered JY Yang (Tensorate series) and Brooke Bolander (The Only Harmless Great Thing). You see how the mountain grows…and grows…

In novels: I finally finished the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik! Somebody make my Napoleonic War dragon movies statttt, why is this taking so long? I also zoomed through the Darker Shade of Magic books by V.E. Schwab (fun!).

I’ve even been reining in my fickle, fiction-loving attention span to include some nonfiction books on writing and the industry. So, expect my Reading 2018 list to explode with all the works of Donald Maass. I’ve also got Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward queued up.

Pour it all into my brain, I’m ready.

2017 reading update!

Last time I had a baby I powered through a ton of books during my maternity leave. Breastfeeding: it’s constant and it’s kinda boring!. This time around I prepped my TBR pile in advance, greedily envisioning the months of fiction absorption ahead of me. Remember the Christmas haul?

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sweet, sweeeeet Christmas haul

I’ve made progress! But not anything like last time! Granted, I’m only 2.5 weeks into these early baby months, but I can already tell that my time isn’t going to be spent in nearly the same way as it was before. That’s partly due to the presence of my toddler, who proooobably won’t tolerate me reading and dozing in a rocking chair for an hour at a time once his dad goes back to work. It’s partly due to my inability to stop buying new books (but… book club! new releases! all those damn recommendations from the Barnes & Noble scifi blog!). As of right now I’m up to number 27 on my Reading 2017 list and way too many of those titles are not from the Christmas haul.

But there is another, far more exhilarating factor, and it is this:

My brain. It isn’t 100% mush.

!!!!

Last time I power-watched the entirety of Parks and Recreation plus a bunch of Netflix shows (Daredevil! Sense8! Orange is the New Black! The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!) and still read a ton of books. Baby was asleep? I was vegging in front of a show. Baby woke up? I was reading while breastfeeding. My brain couldn’t handle anything more.

This time around the newborn transition hasn’t been nearly so debilitating. I’ve already adjusted my daily life around having a kid, so there’s no culture shock to my routine. And I’ve already been sleeping in cruddy, non-consecutive increments for the last two years, so I’m as tired as I ever was, but now I have two years of coping mechanisms in place!

[Ask me again how those coping mechanisms are working in a couple weeks, when my husband goes back to work. This could very well be the delirious optimism of a woman who gets to take mid-morning naps.]

All of which is a long way to say: I’m not just reading and watching TV this time. I’m actually writing again already. Not a mind-boggling amount, but I’m editing the book I finished this spring, and submitting some short stories, and brainstorming some new ideas (though lord knows when I’ll have time to work on them). I’m feeling really good! Except between the hours of 3 and 5 a.m., when this baby likes to groan continuously in her sleep, and the cats start fighting, and the sun rises way too early and perks me up…

This post was supposed to be a reading update, so let’s move along with the recommendations now.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: A very humorously written prose retelling of some core Norse myths. I read the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda in college and loved them. They’re some of my favorite bizarre pre-modern stories. My only caveat would be that Gaiman captures the humor of Norse myth but not the fatalism. For me, part of the allure of Norse storytelling is its humor in the face of pending doom–Ragnarok is coming, nobody can stop it, and they’re all going to die. But hey in the meantime let’s laugh at Loki for getting impregnated by a horse.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: A book club pick. It was a little dry but very detailed, and I love reading about civil rights and people carving out spaces for themselves against the status quo, especially not in the 1960s. The 1960s had a lot going on, but according to Hollywood everything was perfectly stable through 1959 and then all of a sudden out of nowhere everything changed in the 1960s. That isn’t how history works! This stuff was brewing for decades! So anyway, you can imagine my discontent when the movie adaptation rearranged everything and shoehorned the women’s stories into the 1960s. And then made it seem like their coworkers were all racist assholes. Like, you’re actively denying these women recognition for earning the respect of their colleagues in the 1940s and 1950s, ignoring the legacy of WWII on the civil service workforce, and failing to give the scientific community credit for being more progressive than the society surrounding it, just to tell the same civil rights story you’ve told in a hundred other movies…

Moving on.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah: Another book club pick. Apparently, I didn’t know nearly as much about apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa as I thought I did! Also, it was really funny! Also, it made me cry! Also, I’m a sucker for stories about people who love their mothers!

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett: The final volume of the Divine Cities trilogy. It was just as good as the first two (City of Stairs and City of Blades). The end made me very sad. Anyway, that’s a terrible blurb but trust me, go read them.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells: The first novella of The Murderbot Diaries. I’m suddenly reading and loving novellas, after long considering them a weird useless length in between short story and novel. This one was very entertaining. A security bot has become self-aware but keeps going about its normal duties so as not to frighten the people on the science team it works for. Oh and other people are trying to kill them.

Grunt and Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: Extremely entertaining non-fiction by a popular science writer. The first is the science of warfare (everything but weaponry) and the second looks at the incredibly detailed planning of the space program. I was absolutely convinced I had read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and loved it, so I put these on my wishlist. Anyway, it’s a good thing these were great, because it turns out I never read Stiff! I read a different humorous book about death and cadavers: The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson, also highly recommended. Anyway I guess now I’ve got to buy Stiff.

The last two Fairyland books, The Refrigerator Monologues, and The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: Just read everything by Catherynne M. Valente.

2016 in review: reading edition

It definitely feels like cheating to spend the entire month of January reflecting on the previous year.

But let’s continue!

So. Life is a balancing act. There are a limited number of conscious, capable hours in each day, a limited number of days per week. Where one priority rises, another must yield. The sun rises and it sets. The tide ebbs and flows. The–

Okay, this is a really obnoxious way of acknowledging the fact that my startling productivity in 2016 writing word count corresponded with a regrettable drop in reading time. Something must yield! I always start off striking a good balance (say, naptime is for writing, bedtime is for reading), and then my workaholic zeal takes over and EVERY FREE MOMENT MUST BE THE WIP! COME BACK WITH YOUR WIP OR ON IT!

My goal is 52 books per year. One story absorbed into the noggin per week. It’s an eyebrow-raising goal if you’re not into reading, but exceedingly modest in the world of voracious SFF fans. It’d be plain laughable in the even more voracious world of romance. But, as I said, I try to strike a balance. I need the bulk of my free hours devoted to writing, but reading is the reason I write! 52 times a year I get an opportunity to pick apart something unsatisfying and figure out why it didn’t work for me, or to rage in good-natured jealousy at something superb and try to figure out how to steal their magic tricks.

I even give myself cheats. The goal is stories, not page count, so I include graphic novels and some novellas right alongside my doorstop fantasy tomes.

On to the analysis! In the menu you’ll find my complete list of books by year under the READING tab.

I made my goal in 2015 with 54 books read. Funnily enough, the condition that dashed my word count that year (the horrors of newborn baby care) gave me ample time to read. When you’re breastfeeding for half an hour every three hours all day every day, you keep a stack of books on your boob supply shelf and power right through them!

In 2016, on the other hand…ehhh. 45 books. And that was with a post-Christmas graphic novel cram session cheat. That’s nearly two months of not reading! And you know what? Those months were November and December. Wowza but they wrecked my stats. I always kind of admire the tenacity of NaNoWriMo writers, because November is my absolute most unproductive month of the year. More power to you!

Some highlights from the 2016 book pile!

I came very late in the game to the Hellblazer comics this year, and very much want to continue reading them. I’m always strapped for comic cash, so they will now grow agonizingly slowly on my shelves along with Hellboy. I really need to start finishing series before I start new ones.

It was a year of great essay and memoir, including Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day, Yes Please by Amy Pohler, and Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley.

I also began or continued some very fine fantasy series, with installments including City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (the conclusion is coming out this year WOOHOO), Updraft by Fran Wilde, The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin, and The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, I discovered the comic series Bitch Planet, which everybody knew about but me, and why didn’t anybody tell me before?! It’s a glorious mashup of 80s apocalyptic action movies (think Running Man) and 70s badass bitch exploitation movies. I need mooooaaar!

Except, oops, I’ve got 44 books on my TBR pile to get through first.

Happy reading, 2017!

ALCHEMY TO YAMADA: the 2016 book haul is here!!

They’re here! THEY’RE ALL FINALLY HERE!

By which of course I mean my birthday/Christmas book haul, the most important haul of them all! This really is my favorite part of the new year: stacking up my new books and daydreaming that I’ll have time to read them all before next January.

And this year I–haha, heehee, hoohoo. Oh my.

Between direct gifts and gift money, I acquired 44 new books.

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BUT AREN’T THEY BEAUTIFUL??

Believe it or not, I showed remarkable restraint! I combined nearly all of my gift cards and gift cash, yes yes, BUT I also had a big Target gift card, and even though Target sells books I used that for desperately needed winter wear, which I’ve needed for two months but kept putting off in favor of buying books.

“See?” I told my husband, “See how much money this will save us all year?? Now I only need to buy book club selections and also a few things I have on pre-order!”

I’ve gotten really good about reading from my existing TBR pile, so I only had 3 or 4 left from before. Close call! I nearly ran out! Considering I’m lucky if I have time to read 50 books in a year right now, and considering the aforementioned book club and pre-order situation, there is a crow’s throw’s chance in hell I’m finishing these in 12 months. It’s really tragic. I need to have another baby and pack in that primo boring breastfeeding time. “Husband! Feed our toddler! I have to breastfeed yet again and finish this chapter.”

Another option would be to convince my book club to pick things off my pile, I guess.

Anyway, what exactly is in these glorious stacks? Take a gander, look some of them up, and read along with me this year!

Fantasy/Scifi (stand-alone)

  • Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine
  • The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
  • Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Fantasy/Scifi (series)

  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • The Thousand Names by Django Wexler
  • The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler
  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Kushiel’s Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
  • Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
  • City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik
  • Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik
  • Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
  • League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
  • The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
  • Rebel Angel by Libba Bray
  • The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Fantasy/Scifi (short story collections)

  • Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson
  • The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
  • Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks
  • Classic Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson

Comics/Graphic Novels

  • Meanwhile by Jason Shiga
  • Astonishing X-Men vol. 1: Gifted
  • Batman: Year One
  • Bitch Planet book 1: Extraordinary Machine
  • Lumberjanes vol. 2: Friendship to the Max

Other Fiction

  • Overqualified by Joey Comeau
  • Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America by Leslie Knope
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Nonfiction

  • The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  • Grunt by Mary Roach
  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

 

*hyperventilates*

This is not a drill, you guys. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

Okay, my writing blog is going to be ESPECIALLY writing-y until I settle down into my next long-slog project, because at that point it would be too boring to blog “yup, wrote more words, still got a lot to go.”

Until then, deal with my flailing panic because I’m even more of a nervous over-thinker between projects than I am during one. (I’m a wonderful person to live with, I assure you.)

I recently finished the rough draft of my western fantasy about ghosts and mermaids and a wild land that definitely takes sides. I set it aside to cool because lemme tell you… the first draft was a hot mess. The second draft drastically improved matters, but I’ve got a couple more tweaks to work on before I send it to my long-suffering beta readers.

To take my mind off the western, I outlined my next book (a third world fantasy about the rise and fall of a winged mecha-warrior in a city where the gods may or may not be gods). It’s the easiest I have ever outlined anything in my life. I know the structure and basic action of every chapter. And hallelujah I even learned my lesson from the last couple books and planned out the plot reveals instead of assuming I’d figure it out on the way.

(Silly Sam. You never figure it out on the way.)

I wrote the first chapter and loved it. THEN I got suspicious. Why so easy? I better let the outline cool off a bit and look at it with a critical eye, just to make sure I’m not missing something.

To take my mind off the western rough draft and the mecha-warrior outline, I wrote a short story (a scifi bit about a first contact mission going wrong, and also about the regrettable lack of female crewmembers in classic scifi). It might be good but it also might be a mess, as you can imagine at this point I’m just throwing my hands in the air because I need some sleep!

Okay but that’s not the end of my mania. I’m going to clean up the short story because editing 10 or 15 pages isn’t so bad. And I am on the verge of conquering the western edits, so I feel good about that.

But to take my mind off the western rough draft and the mecha-warrior outline and the scifi short, I paused to read a book this week. A recent award-winning book by an author whose other books I have greatly enjoyed.

And.

You guys.

The structure is alarmingly similar to the book I just outlined (following multiple timelines, when the main character is younger and training versus older and jaded). And the character naming convention is similar (based on your location and work). And one of the relationships is similar to that of my secondary characters.

*HYPERVENTILATES*
*FALLS OVER*
*TELL MY SON HIS MOTHER MEANT WELL*

There are obviously major differences in the character building, plot, setting, and themes. And the latter couple things are superficial enough. But I keep agonizing over those structural similarities because as a reader I would go “uh huh, somebody really liked Book Title by A. Better Author.”

I know it’s silly to compare. There are loads of books with dual timelines (though most seem to be historical fiction and therefore timelines about separate characters, according to my Googling). I think the first one I read was IT by Stephen King and it blew my 11-year-old mind. And that’s a whole cast of characters embarking on a parallel nightmarish mission as children and as adults, so yeah, it’s doing the “follow the same people before and after” thing.

Which is all to say: I’m calming down. I’ll write the book anyway, because I really want to and I think it says a lot. It was just bad timing that I read this one this week. In the very slim hypothetical future in which I sell the book and readers draw comparisons, I will cringe but still be happy I sold it. If nothing else, I’ll console myself with the fact that, in terms of the themes and styles that are currently top of the SFF market, I’m only a step or two behind the big leagues. In the end, it all boils down to execution anyway.

*BREATHING SLOWS*
*WISDOM PREVAILS*

Now. Back to edits.