What I Read in 2014

I’ll be taking an online writing course next month, from Odyssey. On the pre-course questionnaire, which made me feel guilty about how much more writing I should be doing, I had to say how many books I read in a year. I didn’t know, so I guessed ten or fifteen books and about three hundred short stories. After I sent that form off, I started thinking about my answer. What did I read last year?

My focus was on Young Adult books, but I read as young as Middle Grade, up through the range of YA and into New Adult, and when I read adult books, I preferred those with young protagonists. As always, I leaned towards Science Fiction, with a smattering of Fantasy.

I did a fair bit of reading this year. Some stuff because it was recommended to me, some because I met the author and wanted to see what they had done. I chose some of my first books for 2014 at Cons, or because of them.

At the C4 Lit Fest, I met Julie Kagawa and bought autographed copies of the first two books of her Blood of Eden series for my wife, because Vampires. I had no real intention of reading them myself, but Julie’s take on vampires in dystopia is crazy and original, and her protagonist is a street kid who has to become what she hates the most. The final novel of the trilogy came out just as I was finishing the second, so I bought it (in hardcover!) for myself.

I also picked up a few other books from local authors at the C4 LIt Fest dealer room. I think that’s where I bought a couple of Ronald J. Hore‘s books: Housetrap and Dial M for Mudder. These are tongue in cheek detective noir stories set in a universe (or at least a solar system) populated by fantastic creatures and characters. Points for calling a spaceship The Rat Queen. Ronald’s more recent work is more serious fantasy, I think, but I haven’t read The Dark Lady yet. This is also where I got Sierra Dean‘s Something Secret This Way Comes, the first of her Secret McQueen series. It’s also vampires, but I enjoyed it for it’s sassy style and occasional puns, like, “Your Secret’s safe with me”. There was a strong teaser for the second book, but I just wasn’t looking to read a whole series of New Adult vampire-slayer stories.

I read Robert J. Sawyer‘s “WWW” series: Wake, Watch, and Wonder. I’ve read a handful of his other books, (and taken a workshop by him), and these have my favourite characters so far, so it was Wake that I got autographed at KeyCon. I told him that Caitlin really was “made of awesome”. Part of the appeal of this series for me was that it is as close as Rob comes to writing Young Adult, although it’s more of an adult book with a youthful protagonist.

Naturally, I headed into the dealer room at KeyCon to say hi to Samantha Beiko, who is my freelance editor. I had already read her The Lake and the Library as an e-book to size up her skills before hiring her. Her skills are fine; I don’t think she knew yet, but she was short-listed for an Aurora award for it. I should have bought a print copy and had her autograph it. It’s kind of a ghost story, but it’s the deft handling of her protagonist’s muddled teenage feelings and behavior that makes the book.

Sam was sharing a table with Clare C. Marshall, so I picked her Stars in Her Eyes, which is a cool story about a bright young student who gets into an exclusive university run by people with an agenda of their own. Alien people.

Round the corner from them I bought LT Getty‘s Tower of Obsidian. It’s got dragons, but in a very original way. Not were-dragons, exactly, but cursed shape-shifters. Some wonderful strong female characters, too.

This may have also been where I bought Brandon Sanderson‘s The Rithmatist. I was actively seeking some Middle-Grade books to see if my own work belongs on that shelf. The Rithmatist is a hoot, and I love how the protagonist is an utter underdog in a school full of magical prodigies.

Around this time, I also picked up Soman Chainani‘s The School for Good and Evil. This book takes the most subversive look at fairy tales I have ever seen; gender stereotyping comes under heavy fire. Applause, please.

Because I knew some of the authors, I took a look at this years Prix Aurora Award Nominees. In addition to the previously mentioned The Lake and the Library, I read Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues, a noir detective story set on Mars. He had fun writing it, you can tell. Enjoyed Amanda Sun‘s Ink, too. Paranormal Romance is usually wasted on me, but the view of Japan through the eyes of an exchange student is brimming with verisimilitude. It feels like you are there, and even like you are her. Out of Time is by D. G. Laderoute, who is from Thunder Bay, which makes him practically a neighbour. I liked his cleverly crafted story about a disaffected modern boy who slips into a past populated only by Native North Americans – and spirits.

I think it was this year that I read David Weber‘s A Beautiful Friendship and Fire Season, on my brother’s recommendation. Mr. Weber is best known for his Honor Harrington series, and this is his Young Adult series set in the same universe. Loved his eleven-year-old protagonist Stephanie Harrington, but not her use of handguns.

Sometime during the summer, my brother also recommended John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War, and the sequels: The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale. Usually, Military SF just makes me shake my head. John Scalzi’s makes me shake my head and chuckle. Best thing about this series is the voice of John Perry. Mr. Scalzi sees some of the same potential for nanite medicine that I do, which startled me. Given the publication dates, he thought of it first.

Sherry Peter‘s Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf came out in August. An axe-throwing bearded protagonist that just happens to be female. Fantasy feminism, yay! I met Sherry through her huge behind the scenes role in KeyCon 30.

Once I decided to attend Can-Con in Ottawa in the fall, I wanted to read something by Jo Walton, the author Guest of Honour. I chose her Among Others, partly because of all the awards and acclaim, but also because it has her youngest protagonist. Once I read it, attending Jo’s workshop at the con became a priority.

I read Veronica Roth‘s Divergent and Insurgent. For me, the strength of these novels is in how Beatrice rebuilds herself into the daring Tris. I lost interest halfway through Allegiant because the focus seemed to be shifting away from that.

Speaking of sequels, my last book of the year was Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil #2: A World Without Princes. Wow. If the first one was about gender stereotyping, the second is about gender issues. This book will probably ruffle some feathers, but I hope it gets very widely read.

Scanning back through this post, I see that rather than the ten or fifteen novels I thought I might have read, I read twenty eight, give or take a couple. One or two might have been read in 2013, and I might have missed something.

On top of these novels, I read hundreds and hundreds of short stories, always with a special interest in opening lines. I read old anthologies from my local used  bookstore, plus Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Antipodean SF and much more.

While it’s good for a writer to read, I think I need to do more writing and perhaps less reading. With that in mind, I will be focusing on my Odyssey course in January and there will be no new posts on this blog until February. If you want something to read, check out some of the authors and titles listed above!

C4 Lit Fest

C4 is the Central Canada Comic Convention in Winnipeg. The C4 Lit Fest is a separate, smaller event that focuses on writing. Check out  #C4Litfest on Twitter if you like. People there are really approachable; not just the Winnipeg writers and publishers who form the core of the event, but the visiting guest authors, too. This is my second year and I just got home last night.  The first time, I went because I had finished my book and wanted to know ‘what now?’ Wow. I thought the writing was the bigger part of the job and getting published, although not as much fun, was a chore that had to be completed when you were done. Writing is work, but it can be a labour of love, like cooking for your family. Getting published is a different kind of work, more like catering for a crowd. A hungry but picky crowd who want food now but don’t like your menu and don’t care how busy it is in the kitchen. So I left last year’s event feeling overwhelmed. But I’m a sucker for punishment, and I’m determined to do this, so I went back for more this year.

I entered the short story contest. I already had some other irons in the fire elsewhere but I was intrigued to notice that the rules of this year’s contest called for entries of between 500 and 2000 words. That is short. My stories tend to run 2500 words and up. I set about seeing what I could do in less. To simplify the process, I indulged in ‘licking the spoon’, by using the world-building foundation from my novel and writing a short prequel story, almost like a prologue. I was just getting warmed up when I realized that the line I had just written was hard to follow, because it had more impact than anything I had planned to add. Facing a choice of toning it down and writing on, or ending the story there, I went for the latter, and ended the story at about 525 words. Did it win?  No, it did not, although one of the judges was kind enough to say that it was in her top three.

This year I was more ready to hear what a struggle it is to get published, so I sat and paid attention to the panels. I asked questions. I talked to authors – not only the pros, who were unanimously gracious and generous with their time, but the others like me, in the audience chairs. I think I made some friends, and I know I got to share in a sense of common purpose, which is not available to a writer in the same way it is to, say, a hockey player.

I learned much, not just about writing, but also about writing as a business. I’ve been busy with the opening moves on that front for many of the last twenty-five hours. Most of the remainder were spent corresponding with other writers and exchanging stories. I have a new beta reader for my novel, one who reads tons of SF with a discerning eye. Shoe on other foot department: I’ve been trying to help other writers by critiquing. I am not very experienced at this. It’s easy to be critical; it’s harder to be constructive. A strange benefit of this, because it’s easier to spot someone else’s mistake than your own, even when the mistake is the same, is that it will help me improve my own writing.  Plus it’s nice to read different voices and styles.

In a word, invaluable. In three words, I’ll be back.