I’m quite certain I’m not the only one feeling a bit astounded that we’ve already chewed our way through the first month of 2023. It’s been fairly productive out here in my corner of the universe, both on the reading/writing side of things and just for life in general, though I’ve a sneaking suspicion that February might take a hit on that front, despite my best intentions. We’ll see!
It’s kinda fudging it to say that I read four books in January– though only just. Because while I finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s new book Tress of the Emerald Sea today, I read most of it last month. So I’m going to say that counts. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it, from the vaguely fairy tale feel to the fantastic worldbuilding to the whimsical snarkiness throughout.
Other completed books were The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Stuart Turton), Harrow the Ninth, and Nona the Ninth (books two and three of Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series). I already posted up a blog (rant) regarding my thoughts about The 7 1/2 Deaths, so I won’t rehash that here. As for Harrow and Nona, I’m thoroughly enjoying those and have joined the ranks of those waiting in eager anticipation for the upcoming release of book four. It’s probably the… weirdest series I’ve read in quite a while, and it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (bowl of soup?), but I’m well and truly hooked.
Writing, while going at a slower pace than reading, is still falling back into more of a rhythm than I’ve had in quite a while, which is really nice. So far it’s mostly been on smaller projects as I knock the rust off of the skills needed to actually structure a story, but writing is writing, and it’s happening more often. As evidenced in part by the short story that posted up yesterday! Ha!
Technically, The Path wasn’t the story I planned on posting up last month. But life went a little unexpected this last week, and the story I was diligently chipping away at… didn’t get finished. And was going well enough that it deserved far more than a rushed ending that couldn’t do it any kind of justice. So, the plan is to finish that and post it up for February. The plan is also to keep working at various Tanner and Miranda stories, but those will likely take longer to see on the blog.
Anyway! That’s it for updates from the last month. Check in next week for more rambling nonsense and writing related musings!
It was a scent in the air, blowing in off the hayfields hidden behind the trees. It was the harmony of birdsong and insect chatter, all chorusing together. It was the way the wind brushed her skin; in all the years she’d been gone, in all the places she had traveled, she had never felt a breeze like the ones here.
And now she was back. Almost. The main road had taken her as close as it could. The last leg would take her down the narrow path that appeared now, branching away into the woods.
She touched the reins. Her horse stopped. A thought grew from some crack in the darkest corners of her mind: it wasn’t too late. She could turn around and ride away. No one needed to know how close she had come to returning home. No one needed to know she wasn’t just one of the nameless missing.
A soft laugh broke loose from somewhere deep inside, a sound that she knew to be frantic and desperate and a truer window to the state of her soul than she would have admitted to anyone but her own self. She should feel like a hero. That was what everyone had said. The comrades-in-arms whose lives she had saved. The commander who had presented her with the ornate and beautiful sword that hung, even now, from the scabbard at her left hip. Even the king when he had offered her a place at his side.
Perhaps she should have accepted it. Perhaps her polite refusal, born of the lurking, rotting feeling that she did not, could not belong in such circles, was not so based in reality as she had made herself believe. It could hardly have made her feel any more alien and uncomfortable than she did now, standing here at the edge of what should have been the most familiar place in all the worlds.
She hadn’t felt this way through all the long journey back. Not as the small group of those she had traveled with split off in ones and twos and threes as they each reached their own homes. Not as the mountains shrank into the distances and the hills grew softer and greener and ever more gentle. Not even as some of the others had, in the quiet and thoughtful moments that gathered around their campfire in the dark, wondered if they would recognize the places they returned to, and if those places in turn would recognize them.
They weren’t the sort of questions that had wanted answers.
She had been grateful, in her own quiet arrogance, that these were not the thoughts that plagued her own mind when it was meant to be at rest. Perhaps she had just been better than her companions at avoiding the silence that allowed them to grow. Until now.
And so, here she was. Caught alone with the things that prowled in the darkest, emptiest corners of her own soul. Listening as they whispered, reminding her that all could never be just as it was.
Her horse whickered and shifted his weight from leg to leg. Impatient. She reached down and patted his neck, offering this poor substitute for a stall and good hay to buy a few more moments to indulge her own fears. He accepted the bribe.
It was strange. She couldn’t say what it was she was afraid of. It wasn’t that she didn’t know; would that it were so easy. Would that she couldn’t tell that the answer was there, buried carefully and hidden away with all the other things she couldn’t bring herself to examine—like why she had been so quick to leave in the first place.
A thirst for adventure. That was the most flattering way to explain it. The most acceptable, to herself, to her family, to those she met along the way. And yet it would have been just as accurate, or even more so, to use a different phrase instead. A fear of the mundane.
She snorted, despite herself. A sudden sound, startling both to her and her horse; he grunted and threw his head up high, tossing his mane and taking a few steps further down the path. She touched the reins again and whispered soothing words to buy herself a few minutes more.
For all the good it would do.
She cursed, once, a single word hissed under her breath. Temptation welled up in her chest, urging her to keep to the main road, to travel on and bow to the deceptive simplicity of that choice. All she had to do was touch her heels to her horse’s sides. She didn’t know what would happen after that. She didn’t know, and that was the allure.
Strange, that she could say the same of what would happen if instead she turned her horse’s head down that familiar, narrow road. Strange how much easier it was to face the untouched and unfamiliar than it was to return to what might have changed. Strange how she had thought, until that moment, that she had known what courage was.
So she waited. She breathed. She felt the beating of her heart and the thrumming of the world. And when her horse next pawed the ground in his grumpy, fitful way, she made her choice.
Or, for an alternate title, Why ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ Annoyed Me.
First off, apologies to anyone who particularly enjoyed the aforementioned book. I don’t at all mean to offend, I’m glad you found it wonderful, and more power to you. I also don’t mean to argue that it’s a bad book, just that I didn’t like it as much as some others and ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out why that was. (And for those of you who have not read it, be warned that there are spoilers to follow.)
Part of it is that I just didn’t like the narrator. Especially not at the beginning. For myself, there are a lot of mild annoyances and frustrations in a story that are easy to overlook if I enjoy the characters and the narrator. The flip side of that, though, is that I will struggle to enjoy a solid and interesting story if the characters annoy me or if I can’t relate to them. Having the narrator not know who he was definitely added to that as well; it is extraordinarily difficult to write a compelling character when they don’t know who they are. More so when who they are keeps changing.
And that, I think, leads into what annoyed me the most: there was nothing that I, as the reader, could latch onto as an accepted fact. The rules would change. I couldn’t trust what the characters saw or said, because the next go ’round would have me believe that the exact opposite was true. I realize this makes me sound petulant. Part of the whole appeal of a mystery story is the fact that everything isn’t what it seems, but this is where I keep getting stuck. Not only was nothing as it seemed, but I also didn’t have the information I needed to make educated guesses about what was going on. All while the Plague Doctor is lurking about here and there making ominous statements and being generally unhelpful.
It’s similar to the difference between the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and Sherlock Holmes stories. Both are mysteries, certainly, but with Wimsey the clues are all carefully laid out one by one and while there are absolutely false leads and dead ends, the information you as the reader receive is enough to bring you to an educated guess. With Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, the clues are all there, but they are often such that no one but Holmes himself could suss them out. And it’s probably why, as a whole, I prefer Dorothy Sayers’ gentleman sleuth to the legendary Mr. Holmes.
But back to Evelyn Hardcastle.
By the time I got to the end of the book, I found a story that felt like I should have enjoyed more than I did. The twists were interesting. And the characters’ final choices were the sort of thing that seemed like they should have landed with more of an emotional punch. And here I think the fact that there wasn’t a clear path leading to what was actually going on did the book a disservice. It felt less like the clues had been there but so cleverly disguised that I couldn’t see them except in retrospect, and more like they had been hidden altogether while I was deliberately led in the wrong direction.
So, maybe I’m just mad about getting tricked. I told you I was feeling a little petulant.
But the more I think about it, that’s it: I have no problem getting to the end of a book and admitting that I in no way saw the ending coming. Heck, that’s half the fun. The other half is looking back and seeing all the things that now seem like bright red flags marking what was actually going on and getting to see everything with the benefit of hindsight because it opens up an entirely new dimension that you couldn’t have seen before.
It’s just that that’s not how I felt when I got to the end of Evelyn Hardcastle. It wasn’t that there had been clues all along the way that I just hadn’t noticed, hadn’t picked up on, it was that there was no way I could have come to the correct conclusion with the facts I was given. Or even gotten to the general vicinity of the correct conclusion.
But maybe that’s just me. What about you? If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it? Were there really a whole bunch of hints and clues that I missed because I was too busy being annoyed? Let me know in the comments!
I’m terrified of reading my own stories out loud to an audience. Any audience. Well. Maybe not any audience; I think I could handle putting on a performance for one of the cats. But to a human audience? Even the thought is unnerving.
Which is funny, given that generally speaking I love reading out loud. I mean, I haven’t quite figured out how to do the voices, and sometimes I’ll lose my place in the text (who doesn’t?) but overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience and something I’d honestly like to do more often. But translating that over to reading, specifically, something that I have written? Nope: instant onset of something the feels a whole lot like panic.
And I’m really not sure why.
I’ve got some theories– writing anything, including (especially?) fiction is inherently revealing, and the effect isn’t going to be lessened by the author lending their literal voice to the words. Yet I don’t hesitate when posting them up in public, and in fact I rather hope people read them and enjoy them. It could also have something to do with the fact that it’s more “demanding” on the audience’s attention: if you run across a random story on the internet and don’t find it interesting you can just click away, whereas if I asked you to sit and listen while I read something I’d written out loud, you might feel significantly more pressured to stay and listen regardless of how you felt. And if you didn’t enjoy it, I’d feel terrible for taking your time.
Yet I find that, more and more, I would really like to try and share my work that way. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Or, maybe, actually trying it will come with more benefits than the handful I’ve already thought of. I suppose there’s really only one way to find out.
. I missed the snow. Maybe it’s because I grew up with four full seasons. Maybe it’s just because there’s something innately peaceful about the proverbial blanket of white. Maybe I’m just one of those people who thrives in winter weather, far preferring the cold to the heat. Whatever the reason, please enjoy these pictures from a recent walk. Or, if you’re more interested in a writing update, scroll down and read on below!
News from the Writer’s Den —
In typical fashion, I’m currently bouncing back and forth between three or four different writing projects (most of which are short stories, so there’s that). That being said, switching gears to smaller stories after being either bogged down in something novel length or just plain out of practice is really nice. If nothing else, being able to focus on the smaller medium makes it so much easier to see progress!
Yesterday’s writing session in particular went pretty well. Nothing super flashy, just slow and steady, but slow and steady means I got a couple hundred words on a new Tanner and Miranda story as well as about the same amount on a short story set in the same world as last November’s NaNo project. I’ve got a pretty good idea for where I’m going to have both stories go, and at least one of them is earmarked to go up on the blog either this month or next. Woo!
Seeing as it’s January of brand new year (how did that happen?) it seems like as good a time as any– and perhaps better than average, even– to give an update on the blog in general, the status of All The Writing Projects, and also to give a general idea of what my hopes are for the site in the coming year, if only because actually stating it outright means I have that extra layer of accountability. Yay!
So, first! The blog. Last June marked the five year mark of the site going online, and so the fact that I’ve managed to keep it updated relatively steadily for all that time is definitely a point of pride for me. Particularly since my other attempt(s) at something similar have generally petered out with a rather embarrassing rapidity. And the plan is to keep at it!
In fact, after entirely too long spent on a reduced schedule, I’m switching back to the once-a-week posting schedule I started out with. Because I’m out of excuses, and what was originally intended to be a temporary rest while I used my limited brain power on more pressing things has become something a bit more like laziness. The brain power is still severely limited (isn’t it always?) but I’m at the point where my routine is stable enough and I’ve got enough to work with that the discipline of blogging every week is going to be more beneficial than eking out a few extra hours of spare time.
Which leads me to the next thing I want to mention/use-you-all-to-keep-me-honest-about. Way back in 2017 when I started this thing, I was actually putting up short stories every month. Two a month, actually, for a short stretch. I’m comfortable enough with my own limitations at this point to say there’s no way I can do two short stories every month right now. Not if I want them to be any good or to be able to keep up with it for any length of time without burning right out. But one a month? That I think I can do. So, consider this the official announcement that there will be a new short story going up on the blog on the last Monday of every month. Starting this month, so keep an eye out for that!
Speaking of writing, despite how quiet it’s been on that front, I have been picking away at some stuff behind the scenes. Picking is, unfortunately, about as much as it’s been, but it’s certainly better than nothing. Tanner and Miranda are at the top of the list, of course. I’m a little stuck with how I want to move the action along in the second of the nine stories that are going to make up the first collection, but the latest bits I’ve put together are feeling a little closer to the mark. The other projects (NaNo21 and NaNo22) are mostly stuck in the more conceptual stage as I work out what I liked about them when working on them and what just didn’t come together the way I’d hoped. What I really need to do is just sit down and hash some things out until I get stuck again and it can simmer in the back of my mind for another few months and see what comes of it.
I’m also thinking the site itself might need some tweaking, but that might just be some proactive procrastination talking. We’ll have to see. Heh.
With all this talk of plans, I feel obligated to note that it could all change; as they say: man plans, God laughs. Last year was full of so much change, including that big interstate move and everything it entailed, but there’s every chance this new one will be just as protean it in its own right. If nothing else, I suspect that time is going to become an even more precious resource than it is now, which means I’m going to have to get really good at managing it if I want to even have half a chance of keeping up with any of this. Good thing I’m a sucker for a challenge.
But for now, that’s the state of things! I’m really excited for the possibilities this year, not to mention looking forward to getting back into a more stable writing routine.
Well! According to Goodreads, I did it! As of yesterday, my official read count for the year of 2022 is sitting right at seventy five books. (And honestly, there’s every chance I’m going to finish at least one more before the year’s completely out, if only so that I feel less like I’ve cheated by including one that’s technically a short story.)
And now, because I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, a few statistics.
Of those seventy five:
21 were rereads
9 were non-fiction
48 were SF/F (surprise, surprise)
7 were audiobooks/read out loud
51 were ebooks*
9 were library books
Now, for my favorite part. Or rather, my favorite books from the year in several categories because overall favorites are for people who, unlike me, can make that kind of decision. New read just means new to me. No reviews this time, but I’m more than happy to get into discussions about them in the comments. Ha!
Favorite New Reads (Fantasy): The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Favorite New Read (Science Fiction): Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
Favorite New Read (Classic) Persuasion by Jane Austen
Favorite New Read (Bonus!) A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling
Favorite Re-read: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Favorite Non-fiction: The Puma Years by Laura Coleman
What about the rest of you? Any books you particularly enjoyed reading this past year? Any you’re looking forward to next year? Me, the next book of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series is due out later this year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. If the last one is any indication, it’s going to absolutely wreck me, but that’s the price we pay, no?
Keep an eye out for another blog post in the next few days– now that my real life schedule is settling down into something fairly stable I’m looking forward to putting a bit more time an attention into writing. Details to come! Until then, I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful holiday season.
* Ebooks are convenient. I have never denied this. And despite the fact that more than two thirds of my reading this year was done in that format, that should in no way be taken to mean that I think they’re “better” than their physical counterparts. And no, moving halfway across the country with more than a dozen boxes of the aforementioned physical books stuffed into my car did nothing to change my mind. Harrumph.
Well, look at that. Another November has come and gone, and a whole bunch of writers have emerged once more from their caves and coffee shops to blink owlishly and try to remember what life is like without an aggressively looming deadline. And, if they’re anything like me, they’re also feeling a heady mix of relief and something a little like sadness that it’s all over.
According to the NaNoWriMo website, this was my thirteenth time participating and my twelfth time reaching the 50K goal, so there’s clearly something about this event that keeps me coming back. Mostly, it’s probably the fact that it gives you “permission” to write some truly terrible prose in an effort to get enough words down on the page to do something with them later, which is something that I struggle with during the rest of the year. Also, the look on people’s faces when I cackle softly to myself and mutter something about writing alllll the words is pretty fun, too.
Generally speaking, I’ve tended pretty strongly towards pantsing it that whole time, too, with last year being the notable exception/paradigm shift in my writing strategy generally. So, naturally, I’d hoped to plan again this year; I even had my beautiful blank outlines all set up!
And then I ran out of time. And the first day of November was here. And my outline was most emphatically not.
Which leads me to the rest of this post and what new things I’ve learned about myself as a writer.
Now that I’ve tried it, I much prefer working with a plan than without one.
This one surprises me a bit. Because for years, I gleefully embraced the chaos of writing with No Plan and only the faintest inkling of where to go. Characters made decisions and caused trouble. Plots spiraled and careened and dead-ended and reappeared out of nowhere like squirrels that got into a big bag of espresso beans. I felt free to write whatever the heck I wanted with absolutely no concern as to whether it made sense or not.
If pressed, I can still do that. That’s basically what I did this year, though with admittedly a bit more of a roadmap to go off of than some of my other projects. I knew the themes I want for this particular story, and I had several solid scene ideas that I wanted to get down. But the overarching movement of the story? Not so much. Which, on a related note, is probably why my 50K devolved very quickly into a bunch of random scenes and descriptions with little to no linear cohesion.
But for the whole month, I had to fight the feeling that I didn’t have a story so much as a setting. NaNo always feels like something that gets you a Draft Zero– something that’s such a wild jumble that other rough drafts look at it and squeak in dismay. After having my last project at least follow some semblance of a plot, that feeling was even stronger for this one, which was actually rather disheartening.
Frustrating as it was, it was also helpful to write without a plan.
The biggest trouble/pitfall/danger of writing with a careful outline is that it can be really, really easy to lean into a bunch of lazy clichés in order to tick off all the boxes that You’re Supposed To. And if you’re coming at it from the outline first, before you even start writing, the temptation is only going to be stronger. At least, that’s what I’ve found for myself: “Ah, yes, it’s the end of Act II and time for the all-is-lost moment. Clearly I must kill off my main character’s best friend.”
But what I found when I had to just write without having those pivotal plot points already mapped out was that some of the ideas that fell out onto the screen were better than anything I was going to come up with while staring at a blank outline that needed filling in. They still need tweaking and a lot of work (and probably a ruthless editor) to get them as good as I want them to be, but the bones are good, I think. Really good. Good enough that I’m really excited about the possibilities.
I’m not burned out on the story.
This one. Huh. I can’t remember ever getting to the end of November and not just wanting to set the document (and all its backups) on fire. Or at least to close it and pretend it doesn’t exist for a month or two. And really, I don’t know if this is a side effect of free-styling it or just where my head is at the moment, but the fact remains that I am legitimately excited to go back now that I have the luxury of time and work on fitting the raw material I wrote in November into the outline I didn’t manage to make beforehand.
Because I think there’s a chance that it’s going to be even better than if I did it the other way ’round.
Outlining last year changed the way I write without an outline.
I think the best way to explain this is to say that planning or outlining or whatever you want to call it is another tool in the writing chest, and I can get at least some of the benefits even without going whole hog on it. The exercise of writing and (more or less) sticking to an outline last year got me thinking about structure and writing in a way I hadn’t practiced, and that’s made it easier to see where the random scenes that spilled out last month might fit into a cohesive whole.
I think– I hope– that that means I’m a better writer. A more focused one, at least. More experienced. And that’s pretty cool.
If you participated, how did your NaNo projects go? Really well? Not so well? Really… different? Feel free to drop a line in the comments! In the meantime, I’m gonna go try to get some work done on any of my at least half a dozen neglected writing projects. Like Tanner and Miranda.
Hello friends! Not much to report this time around. It’s November 9 and I am, predictably, knee-deep (or possibly neck-deep) in NaNoWriMo. It’s going well so far! Well. As well as NaNo ever does, which is to say the words that are gushing into my document are disjointed and confused but occasionally good enough that I can convince myself that I might, actually, know what I’m doing. I am regretting the fact that I didn’t have time to plan this one out like I did last year’s project, as I suspect it would be making a number of things significantly easier, but the little bit I had structured out in my head is holding pretty steady, and I’m liking a lot of the possibilities with this project. So yay!
So, apparently, November begins in less than a week. Goodness.
Naturally (read: Faith is addicted and can’t really help herself), this means that I have less than a week to get herself in a passable headspace for NaNoWriMo. The good news is that I do know what project I will be working on, and I have at least a modicum of planning done to help me through. The bad(?) news is that between… everything, but especially starting a new job in a new state and all that, I haven’t done nearly the amount of planning I did for last year’s NaNo.
Which maybe isn’t entirely bad?
I still love what planning out a novel in advance can bring to the table. And it’s not like I’m going into this completely blind– in fact, I’ve got a decent idea what I want the main beats for the story to look like. But aside from that? It’s all a blank page. And that’s an excitement all its own.