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.

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.

the hall of good relationships!

I’ve previously discussed my love of academic action heroes and lady action heroes. Today I’d like to talk about a different character type entirely. Or should that be characters? Because these are my favorite romantic couples across the media hemispheres, and I probably should have saved this post for February but WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT KIND OF FORWARD PLANNING.

As I put this together, I realized I was much more likely to find happy, healthy couples in series (book series, TV shows, movies with sequels) than one-off stories, which tend to focus on the first blush of romance and fail to follow through on life after the HEA. Or else they find their story conflict in relationship conflict, and I don’t have time for toxicity, no matter how much drama fodder it provides. Final observation: There is a lamentable dearth of healthy long-term LGBT+ couples in the media I consume. Part of that, I’m sure, is me not casting a wide enough net (I live mostly in the action/adventure and scifi/fantasy genres). Another part of it, I’m even more sure, is a failure OF the media I consume. But I digress.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: The Hall of Good Relationships!

Hal and Lois Wilkerson – Malcolm in the Middle

hal and loisHal and Lois might be my favorite TV parents. In large part that’s due to their subversion of the usual sitcom dynamic, which tends to pit overbearing Mom against beleaguered Dad for some “haha women are nags, men are clueless idiots” humor. Which, need I say, I loathe. In Malcolm in the Middle, Lois is overbearing, and Hal is beleaguered, but instead of battling each other they are battling their nightmare children. Hal and Lois manage their house and fight their kids as a united front, and their continued passion for one another is a frequent plot point. I can actually believe they’ve stayed married because they love and support one another, whereas in most family comedies I can’t imagine the passive aggressive snipery leading anywhere but divorce.

Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson – the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile sandbankAmelia and Emerson are my favorite married couple in ALL LITERARY HISTORY. They are turn-of-the-century Egyptologists who accidentally get caught up in a murder mystery every year. Like you do! Emerson is gruff and Amelia is exceedingly practical, and after butting heads on their first adventure together (naturally) they fall madly in love, get married, have one (FABULOUS) child, and continue to excavate artifacts and solve mysteries together henceforward. There are no plots about them getting into fights over stupid misunderstandings and then making up again. They remain madly in love for decades and face everything together AND I LOVE THEM.

Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon – the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

soullessIn a steampunk/paranormal Victorian England, Alexia is a soulless preternatural, capable of nullifying the supernatural nature of vampires and werewolves with physical contact. Conall Maccon is a werewolf and head of the Woolsey pack. They get together in book one of the five-book series, and remain a dedicated couple through that and subsequent related series (minus one ‘misunderstanding’ plot, I will forgive ONE and ONLY ONE). I got about halfway through the first book  before realizing that the reason I loved Alexia and Connall so much is that they are a paranormal Amelia and Emerson. Exceedingly practical woman in her mid-30s assumes she is destined for spinsterhood, meets a gruff passionate man who madly adores her, they settle into a life of adventure, and they win my heart forever. Apparently, I have a type.

Zoe and Hoban Washburne – Firefly

zoe and washShe’s a tough-as-nails military veteran, he’s a goofball pilot with zero combat skills, they are ADORABLE, and in my head canon she carries him to safety and they have three babies and Wash does most of the childcare while Zoe continues to run dangerous smuggling missions, and you CANNOT TAKE THIS FROM ME. I like to see relationships where the characters appreciate each other’s strengths, especially if those strengths aren’t the stereotypical tough-guy/smart-damsel dynamic.

Evie and Rick O’Connell – The Mummy

evie and rickAnother adorable couple who face adversity together and play to one another’s strengths, and the finest example of tough-guy/smart-damsel I know. Because Rick might be the tough guy in terms of being the fighter, but he’s also funny, and reluctant to go into danger for no reason, and basically not a macho jerk is what I’m saying. And Evie may be kidnapped at one point, but her smart is more important than her damsel. She’s the one who saves the day through the powers of Egyptology, and it doesn’t challenge Rick’s manliness to have his ass saved by hieroglyphic translation.

All the main couples – Parks and Recreation

parks and rec“I love you, and I like you.” Just watch, okay? This show proves you can have long-term relationships in a TV show and generate a ton of comedy without resorting to some stupid battle of the sexes. EVERYBODY LIKES AND SUPPORTS ONE ANOTHER AND I LOVE THEM.

Marge and Norm Gunderson – Fargo

marge and normAre Marge and Norm my favorite married couple in cinema? Possibly. It may seem like an odd choice, but just watch Fargo again and try to tell me that isn’t where you want to be in ten or fifteen years. Marge is the chief of police, Norm is an artist, and they are both extremely loving and proud of one another in a completely sweet, understated way. From Norm getting up in the wee hours to make Marge breakfast, to Marge giving Norm a pep talk when his painting is only picked up for the 3 cent stamp, they have one of the nicest relationships in Hollywood.

Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil – Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey

kushiels dartShe’s a holy courtesan who specializes in S&M! He’s a warrior priest in a brotherhood that requires a vow of chastity! LET THE DRAMA AND SEXUAL TENSION UNFOLD. Okay, so here is an example of a relationship that begins with some primo your-lifestyle-is-anathema-to-me kind of drama, but since it’s a series we get to follow them after they get together. And, once again, I love me some people who accept each other wholeheartedly even if they have radically different points of view. In this case, we watch them work through their issues and actively decide that love means acceptance. Does Phèdre give up her calling? Psh hell no. Does Joscelin suddenly give up his stoic values and become a sexaholic? Also no, though he does get booted from his brotherhood, you can’t win them all.

Xena and Gabrielle – Xena: Warrior Princess

What are they doing here, you ask? Let Past Sam educate you on the wonders of Xena and her galpal Gabrielle. It’s called subtext, people!!

xena and gabrielle

So there you go, love one another, people. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed!


10/26/17 ETA:

Gomez and Morticia AddamsThe Addams Family and Addams Family Values

gomez and morticiaHow could I forget Gomez and Morticia?? I’m talking the first two movies here because they’re the version I know best, but I believe the dynamic was the same in the show (and the jokes darker and a bit different in the comics). They’re another great example of a couple who are 100% supportive of one another and extremely passionate years into their marriage. The best thing about Gomez and Morticia is how nice they are to everyone around them. They’re creepy and they’re kooky, but they aren’t mean or cruel. They’re content and confident and their philosophy is: just be yourself and never miss an opportunity to show your spouse how much you adore them.

100 days

P1030262Pop the corks and ignite the fireworks, cuz we just survived the Hundred Days of Darkness!

Okay, so the first three months of a new baby aren’t ALL bad, but it is definitely a special kind of abyss. Around-the-clock feedings, constant head support, and lots of bewildered crying as the baby learns how to fall asleep. I don’t mean sleep through the night. I mean fall asleep.

It isn’t sunshine and rainbows after three months, but there is a sudden and marked shift when you realize: oh hey, she’s paying attention to stuff. She’s smiling and trying to laugh. She’s sort of maybe kinda got a predictable nap thing going, and if you spot the cues fast enough there’s no meltdown on the way to bed. Unless you’re dad. Then there’s probably still a meltdown.

So! Time for an update! In fact, time for all the updates!

100 Days of Recovery

100 days ago, I was in agony! 90 days ago, I could still barely get in and out of bed! 80 days ago, I was acknowledging that I would, in fact, survive my c-section, but that I’ll see you all in hell before I do that again. Where am I now? Well, my scar is settling down to pink instead of purple. The flesh is tender/numb but not painful, and pretty itchy on one side as it heals and feeling comes back. Oh, and parts of my ass are still numb from the epidural. You hadn’t heard of that one before? Yeah you get numb ass.

100 Days of Infant

What are we at, then? I’ve put her to bed between 400 and 500 times, breastfed about 700 times (and changed a comparable number of diapers), oh and of course gotten up 1-3 times a night for well over 100 nights, since that bullshit starts when you’re still pregnant. AM I AWAKE OR ASLEEP RIGHT NOW? NOBODY KNOWS.

At first a baby is all work and no reward, but gradually they start noticing you exist and providing positive feedback in the form of smiles and coos, and then it’s all right. For the first month she did nothing but eat-cry-sleep, eat-cry-sleep, and even in her sleep she would make so much noise it’d keep me up the rest of the night. But now all of a sudden she’s a great baby. Easy to put to bed, entertained by all the little toys her brother disdained, and taking like a champ all the things that made him hysterical (changing tables, doctor visits, facing forward, and so on). Uh, good job, baby!

100 Days of Big Brother

I barely glanced away, and all of a sudden my 2-year-old is making conversation, counting (somewhat accurately!), singing songs, and building increasingly elaborate block monsters to re-enact episodes of Little Einsteins. Thank goodness he hasn’t exhibited any jealousy or resentment toward the baby (maybe just a little toward dad for finally working a day shift). After months of prepping him with a baby doll, he was excited to help take care of a real baby. FOR ONCE, MY PLAN WORKED! Now I just have to keep an eye out to make sure he doesn’t “help” too hard.

100 Days of Reading

I had a hard time reading at first (shocking!) because with my first kid I’d just prop a book up while breastfeeding for 30-40 minutes at a go, but this time around I’ve got a talkative toddler at my elbow and a lightning-fast eater who only takes 10-15 minutes. But then! I reconfigured my approach. I started reading online SFF magazines for short reads while breastfeeding, and I started borrowing ebooks from the library to read on my phone while walking around or patting a baby to sleep. Now my physical books are for after kid-bedtime– a luxury. And it’s working! I’m powering through stuff, and it’s all so good! WHY IS THERE SO MUCH GOOD STUFF COMING OUT?

100 Days of Writing

I can be a little dramatic when I don’t get writing time. (I can sense my husband reading this, muttering, “A little?”) It was only a few weeks after giving birth that I would cry in sleep-deprived despair, “I’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO WRITE AGAIN!!” And then a few weeks after that I adjusted to my new kid-load and started writing again. I won’t lie, it’s tougher, but it isn’t impossible. I’ve knocked out a few short stories to get back in the mental swing of things. I’ve agonized over my decision to wait a few months to start the agent submission process, but it’s the right one. Now I’ve got last spring’s rough draft manuscript glaring angrily at me, waiting for edits. Maybe it’ll be done within the next hundred days…

100 Days of Support Network

What…is…social life? I didn’t leave the house at all other than doctor’s appointments for a month. But I think it took longer the first time, so that’s an improvement! Anyway, big thanks to all my family and friends for patiently awaiting my return to society. I’ll almost definitely go to the next nighttime book club. There are also holidays coming, and I will be there. And maybe one day I’ll go out with my husband again, and it will be somewhere more exciting than Target.

Forward march!