2019 reading roundup!

It is nearly the end of January 2020 and I am still frantically catching up on my 2019 reading! Here is my (still growing) list of favorites, grouped by length in case you’re the award-nominating sort.

Novels:

Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney. Beautiful and strange, in the way I always want faerie stories to be beautiful and strange. I wish it had been longer.

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley. A timey-wimey military scifi. The end comes together so satisfyingly I literally did a finger kiss.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s on everyone’s list AND WITH REASON. Come for the skeleton memes, stay for the surprisingly emotional character arcs and well-fleshed cast (pun intended).

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow. A late nineteenth century portal fantasy, and story about stories, and story about family, and colonialism!

Novellas:

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather. It’s about an order of nuns in space and it holds SO much heart, just read it, all right??

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Another one that’s everywhere with good reason. Two agents on opposing sides of a time war…fall in loooorve.

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh. Very quiet and sweet. The Wild Man of Greenhollow has to reckon with his past when the land’s new owner arrives.

Novelettes:

“Blood, Bone, Seed, Spark” by Aimee Ogden. A scientist in a fantasy world intent on eradicating death goes to extreme lengths for her next discovery. In Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Short Stories:

“We Are Here to Be Held” by Eugenia Triantafyllou. All I have to say is: “The first time your mother swallows you whole you don’t really see it coming.” In Strange Horizons.

“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo. In which the owner of an inn that serves the living and the dead is trying to get rid of a difficult customer. In Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien. A super cute superhero story AND ALSO an entertaining unreliable narrator story. In Fireside Magazine.

“The Lie Misses You” by John Wiswell. A story about a family secret, told from the point-of-view of the Lie itself. YEAH I CRIED. In Cast of Wonders.

“The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir” by Christine Tyler. In a village where every girl chooses her own death from the blossoms of an Ævilok tree, Helga finds nothing but horrible options. In PodCastle.

samtastic reads january-april 2019

Back in January I started a reading hashtag on Twitter (#samtasticreads), to keep track of some of the books, short stories, and other works I come across throughout the year. And it just now occurred to me I should collect those onto the blog as well! Then perhaps I will be more organized by nominating season next time, though this first batch contains a lot of 2018 I was hastily catching up on. >_>

I seem to have heavily emphasized short stories and nonfiction so far this year? Well, that has got to change! OFF TO THE SFF NOVEL TBR PILE!

NOVELLAS

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield – A time-traveling highwaywoman! A war over how to redirect History! The sequel just came out in November, so I’ll be snapping that up soon.

Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor – I finally finished the Binti novellas, and greatly enjoyed this weird little ride.

NOVELETTES

“Murders Fell From Our Wombs” by Tlotlo Tsamaase in Apex Magazine – weird and dark in the best way

“The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births” by Jose Pablo Iriarte in Lightspeed Magazine – Murder and reincarnation and comeuppance!

SHORT STORIES

“The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum” by Marissa Lingen in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – A quiet, gorgeously written tale of guilt and repentance, and I am 100% always obsessed with guilt and repentance.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt in Clarkesworld – A uniquely narrated and surprisingly hopeful look at a seemingly hopeless future. I loled at some archivist humor.

“Rust and Bone” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – A lovely story 100% tailored to my love of complex multigenerational female relationships. Moms and grandmas all day, okay!

“Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting” by Mary Robinette Kowal in Shimmer – Yep, an older one, because Shimmer has a dastardly “see more like this” feature and I went down a rabbit-hole.

“Due By the End of the Week” by Brandon O’Brien in Fireside – This one starts off as a super cute superhero story and then ALSO becomes an entertaining unreliable narrator story. Both!

“The Blanched Bones, the Tyrant Wind” by Karen Osborne in Fireside – Short, lyrical, and a perfect *finger kiss* of an ending. I do love me a twist on a good dragon story.

“Why Aren’t Millennials Continuing Traditional Worship of the Elder Dark?” by Matt Dovey in Diabolical Plots – This is exactly what it says in the title, a raunchy send-up of my least favorite type of clickbait!

“Boiled Bones and Black Eggs” by Nghi Vo in Beneath Ceaseless Skies – This one, about the owner of an inn that serves the living and dead and is trying to get rid of a difficult customer, made me HUNGRY. Seriously, great writing, fun plot, delicious descriptions. Muah!

NONFICTION

Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig – Insightful and entertaining, with an emphasis on good storytelling over plot templates. Also: so readable! Too many writing guides read like textbooks, which makes me question the advice. This one was damn fine.

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin – This is another writing book that is actually imbued with its own techniques, so you can actually feel its advice at work as you read it.

Meaty by Samantha Irby – A collection of essays about the author’s messy childhood, messy adulthood, and even messier struggles with Crohn’s disease. I spent most of it giggling, and some of it CRYING, so I have to rec anything that makes me do both.

Agorafabulous! Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa – A startlingly funny memoir about struggling with agoraphobia. And, uh, I felt the Catholic guilt on a cellular level.

The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee – A really harrowing and illuminating autobiography about exactly what it says on the tin. I was on the verge of stress tears throughout, especially when she went back for her mother and brother. ;_;

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou – Um I powered through this in two days for my book club, and WHAT and WHY and HOW?! This account of a billion-dollar company peddling a blood testing gadget that NEVER ACTUALLY WORKED, hoodwinking major donors and retailers along the way, is a wild ride from start to finish.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Bitch Planet v. 2 President Bitch – The series is beginning to pick up steam, and, dare I say it, are we finally about to take over Bitch Planet??

Lumberjanes v. 3 A Terrible Plan – Yeah it’s for children but I’m saving them up for MY children, because this series is adorable and excellent.

2018 reading recs and eligibility post!

Award season is upon us!

Eligible Short Story:

Strange Waters,” published in Strange Horizons April 2, 2018. A time-traveling fisherwoman is lost and trying to get home to her children.

It’s made some best-month-list and best-of-year lists! (SFF Reviews, Quick Sips 1and 2, Barnes & Noble). And it’s been longlisted for the British Science Fiction Association’s short fiction award. Exciting!!

Campbell Award Eligibility:

I have officially entered my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award! What!! I know!!

Now, on to my favorite reads for the year!

Recommendations:

Novels:

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland [YA, where that factors in]

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi [YA, where that factors in]

 

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

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

 

Novelettes:

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births by José Pablo Iriarte in Lightspeed

Murders Fell From Our Wombs by Tlotlo Tsamaase in Apex Magazine

 

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

“The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” by Phenderson Djèlí Clark in Fireside

“Don’t Pack Hope” by Emma Osborne in Nightmare Magazine

“It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog” by Maria Haskins in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Flow” by Marissa Lingen in Fireside

“Mother Jones and the Nasty Eclipse” by Cherie Priest in Apex Magazine

“The Chariots, the Horsemen” by Stephanie Malia Morris in Apex Magazine

“Asphalt, River, Mother, Child” by Isabel Yap in Strange Horizons

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.

hello 2018

Well, well, well. It’s the year two thousand eighteen, and everything surrounding my life is chaos, but everything IN my life is beginning to take shape. I’m fretting for my country and I’ll probably gnaw my arms off come November, but as far as personal goals go I’m feeling pretty good!

I don’t want to make compleeeetely  outlandish New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to challenge myself. I’m feeling UNREALISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC right now, because, you guys… MY BABY SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Okay, I had to pat her down once, but I didn’t pick her up, and that practically feels like sleep.

This slight amount of extra energy has me bouncing off the walls. I did yard work! I made banana bread! I promptly had a caffeine crash because I attempted too much, too fast! Work hard, play hard, collapse hard! That’s the samtastic way!

So bear all of this in mind as I lay out my goals for the year.

LIFE

My boy will be turning 3 and my girl will be turning 1, so fill in all the appropriate milestones and setbacks you’d expect me to be engaging with this year. Scurry off to my Twitter account for the self-deprecating jokes that mask my tears!

Goal: Survive.

Mr. Sam and I also have a very vague goal of tentatively beginning to maybe look for a Settle Down House in 2019, which means 2018 needs to be the year of Fixing All the Dumb Little Things That Were Wrong When *We* Bought This Place. Goodbye, savings account.

READING

Nothing fancy here. I want to hit my usual book-a-week , but I’m not going to go wild trying to outstrip that because of the other pulls on my free time. I do want to read more strategically though, because those 52 selections seem to whiz by and leave me wailing at my TBR pile. Goal: Read more SFF new releases and finish the series I started over the last couple of years for goodness’ sake.

Additional goal: Read more short fiction! This year I really committed to reading SFF magazines and I did not regret it. So! Much! Good! Stuff!

WRITING

This is where I go overboard, fail to meet my goals, and rend my garments/gnash my teeth/shake people by the shoulders yelling, “I could have done so much more!”

So let’s be reasonable, Sam.

Goal: Finish editing my 2017 book. It should have been done by now but OH WELL, instead it ought to be done by the end of January, which isn’t the worst.

Goal: Write my 2018 book. Not too crazy, I do tend to finish a book each year. And if I stick with the one I was planning to do next, it should fall more in the 80K range than the 100K range because it’s a more literary kind of fantasy.

Goal: Put at least two more short stories on submission. I won’t make publication the goal, because that isn’t in my control and in that direction lurks self-recrimination. So I’ll make submission the goal, with publication being the obvious desire.

Goal: Put my 2016 book on submission! Ahhh! This is what I was supposed to do in 2017, but ah, life. The extra year gave me excellent time to research, reflect, and refine my approach. Again, I’ll make submission itself the goal and if all else fails I can be proud of the effort, then take everything I learned and apply it to the next book.

Or, you know, it could happen??

So there you have it. I have other intentions as well (join a writing group! spring cleaning! family activities! holiday plans!) but these are my core 2018 wishes and wants.

Wish me luck!

Nay!

Wish me persistence!

so long 2017

Wow, talk about a blur. A year ago I was three months pregnant, juggling work and a toddler, planning our first family vacation, and determinedly putting together a spreadsheet of my top 80 SFF literary agents.

That feels like an eternity ago. Instead of doing a bunch of separate, bloated posts on my reading/writing/daily life in 2017, I’m going to touch on everything at once. LUCKY YOU.

So, what happened in 2017?

IMG_3142

I’d say this sums it up

LIFE

I had a second baby! Her birth was a nightmare, but we survived! She’s six months old already and she’s super mellow and sweet, but even the mellowest, sweetest baby is a slog in the early months and I HAVEN’T SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT SINCE JUNE!!! So when considering everything else in this post, please take my sleep deprivation into account.

I left my beloved day job in June. I had grand plans for how I would spend the rest of the year, because I’m an IDIOT and baby amnesia convinced me I could handle a toddler and an infant and still put a book or two on submission. SPOILER ALERT: I could not. SPOILER ALERT: staying at home with babies is way harder than my day job was, though to be fair, now when I feel like crap I can sit around in my pajamas glaring at the walls instead of getting dressed and smiling at library patrons.

 

imag1220

I’m nowhere near done with these

READING

I did it. Barely. I read my 52 books in 2017, and I only had to cheat a little bit with graphic novels/collections at the end. I’m moderately satisfied with this. I still have a towering TBR pile leftover from last year, plus new books trickling in from the holidays. There are SO MANY good books coming out this year, I have no idea how I’ll keep up.

But this year I started regularly reading SFF magazines, partly for research and partly because DANG there is some amazing short SFF coming out these days. I’ve been trying to read short stories while breastfeeding, in particular, rather than scrolling Twitter and feeding my baby rage-infused terror milk.

RECOMMENDATIONS: too many!! Let’s break it down:

Nonfiction: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah; any science humor by Mary Roach (this year I read Grunt and Packing for Mars)

Short story collections: Stories of Your Life, and Others by Ted Chiang; Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks

Novellas: All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells; Hammers on Bone and A Song For Quiet by Cassandra Khaw; River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey

Novels: City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (end of a trilogy, all great!); The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente; The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden; Red Sister by Mark Lawrence; The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey; A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

IMAG1382

But it’s haaaard

WRITING

Clearly I didn’t live up to my grand pre-baby expectations. HOWEVER, when life forcibly slowed me down it actually turned out better for my long-term plans.

I’ve spent the latter half of the year reading industry blogs, following Manuscript Wish List on Twitter, digging deeper into my agent research, and really refining my career goals. When I do wade into the query trenches (IN 2018 I MEAN IT THIS TIME) I’ll be even more prepared for the process, and much clearer about what I’m looking for in representation.

While I am LIVID over the fact that I didn’t finish editing my 2017 book yet (I’m so…close…), the cause was a different kind of productivity: I wrote a small stack of short stories in between editing sprints. They’re the best I’ve ever done. And two of them will be coming out in professional SFF magazines in 2018! Woohoo! It was a bit of much needed validation this year. It’ll also mean I can attach writing credits to my novel queries. And one more pro sale makes me eligible for membership in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America), so hey, more traditional legitimacy.

I wrote about 96,000 words. Galling after 2016’s 180K. I couldn’t even hit 100K? FOUR THOUSAND WORDS OFF, THAT’S NOTHING!! Heck, only 41K of that word count was before the baby was born. Once I got my brain unscrambled in July I added the remaining 55K. Like I said, galling.

The real culprit was editing. According to my fab writing spreadsheet, I worked on 224 days this year (~ 2 out of 3, not bad considering baby), and 125 of them were editing days. The editing was a mix of book editing and short story editing, some of the latter based on professional notes. I also took a month to study and practice writing queries.

What does all that tell me? Well, that my rough drafting speed is great, but my editing speed is atrocious. Time-wise, I’ve basically written my 2017 book twice. The book is a hell of a lot better following the additional drafts, but. Yikes. If I don’t finish it in January I’m gonna blow a gasket. To be fair, it’s incredibly hard to get into an editing mindset for 20-60 minutes at a time, during infant naps, while keeping an eye on a toddler. Luckily, I’m past the worst of it. My writing conditions will drastically improve over the course of the next year.

So that was 2017! Now, as for 2018–

Oh. The baby’s waking up. I better hit “publish” and run.