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!

Herding Cats

I had a good writing day today. Not NaNoWriMo rapid, but creative. I’ve been struggling with the opening pages of my sequel for some time now. At one time, I thought Bandits of Celadon would go twice as fast as Avians of Celadon, because I have more experience and all the world-building and character development is done. Wrong. I kept getting lost in recaps and going off on tangents. Yesterday I had a revelation while I was driving to Winnipeg for Samantha Beiko’s seminar/blue pencil at the Manitoba Writer’s Guild. Excellent, by the way, I came back feeling re-energized. Oh, yeah, the revelation. The characters are fighting me. It’s not that they want to stray from their nature, it’s that they won’t follow the script. I want them to accomplish certain things in certain scenes. I need Corby to reveal that Raven is being monitored by the Converts. She won’t do it. She doesn’t trust Raven’s young friends with such dangerous information, and she is more concerned with the object Raven brought back from her perilous journey – a leather flying jacket from a long-lost friend. Is the friend trying to send her a message? Or is someone else? So all my previous attempts went awry, disintegrating into meaningless dialogue and treading over what amounts (for the reader) to old ground. Multiple points of view were used in Avians so that the reader could learn of separate events in different places. Now some of the principal characters need to compare notes and combine their efforts. I have to create the right stresses to get them to interact in the ways I require. Today, I made progress on that, writing an opening scene that has a decent opening line, new conflict, and propels the plot forward. It speaks to the goal of the protagonist and suggests what the resolution must be. It fits the themes. It has anger!

I feel so much better now. All my cats are running in the same direction.

A Downer and a Conundrum

When I started this blog, I was looking forward to charting the ups and downs of a nascent writing career. I should have considered that there were likely to be more downs than ups!

Last week’s Downer. I see on Submittable.com that a potential publisher has declined my novel manuscript. It’s been that way for a week now, so it doesn’t look like I’m getting an email rejection at all. It would be wonderful to get a hint as to why this novel ‘is not for them,’ but I know publishers are not in the business of critiquing hundreds of novels a week. Decisions have to be made. Yes or no. No.

This week’s Conundrum. I had high hopes for a short story I sent to Apex Magazine. On September 14th, I got an encouraging email informing me that my submission had been forwarded to Editor Sigrid Ellis “for further consideration”. That sounded promising, and I was keeping my fingers crossed. But I see on Apex’s submission page that the Editor-in-Chief is now Jason Sizemore. Uh-oh. An entry by him on the magazine’s blog dated September 18th informs me that he took over four days after my story landed on Ms. Ellis’ desk. He will be honouring Sigrid’s commitments. Sadly, I have no such commitment. Although the whole process is electronic, I cannot help but envision a large cardboard box full of stories that Ms. Ellis was supposed to read going in the dumpster as Mr. Sizemore rearranges the office. I’d guess my chances of hearing anything further on that one are slim. So how long do I wait before sending it somewhere else? Sigh.

This morning’s mini-downer. My entry in Apex’s “Steal the Spotlight” contest didn’t win. Well, duh. They had nearly three hundred entries in my category. Mine was dashed off in under an hour, a wonderful frenzy of writing that had me leap off the couch when the final pre-writing concept gelled in my head. I’m not a horror kind of guy, but my tongue-in-cheek micro-story about mind-controlling lab rats was a hoot to write, and I was surprised to find I was doing it entirely in dialogue. Normally, I’m sparing with dialogue, but it seemed to fit the tale. Normally I’m sparing with hyphens, too, but I see a sentence there that’s practically a hyphoon!

Coming up soon, the Secret Agent Contest, which will see the first 250 words of my novel subjected to an acid test. Also, I learned to write a logline, a one or two sentence summary of a novel intended for the eyes of an editor or agent. That makes it very different from the kind of blurb you might use to tempt readers. Despite my ongoing doubts about whether my book will appeal more to adults or kids, I am entering it as Middle-Grade.

In the next week or so, I hope to hear back from my youngest Beta-reader on whether Avians is the kind of thing his classmates would want to read. Looking forward to hearing from him, but I wonder what he will make of the fact that most of my characters are female. Will he feel alienated or intrigued?

After that, a blue-pencil session with my freelance editor Samantha Beiko, courtesy of the Manitoba Writers Guild. I’m torn. I could take her the first pages of my sequel novel. I’m still messing with them, so some direction might be helpful. Or I could take her the story that is MIA at Apex, and get her ideas on how to tune it up before submitting it somewhere else.

I may be down, but I’m not out!