(Belated!) Waiting on Wednesday!

Oops, late by a day! Without further ado:

embers of warThe warship Trouble Dog was build and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.

But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can.

Meanwhile, light years away, intelligence officer Ashton Childe is tasked with locating and saving the poet, Ona Sudak, who was aboard the missing ship, whatever the cost. In order to do this, he must reach out to the only person he considers a friend, even if he’s not sure she can be trusted. What Childe doesn’t know is that Sudak is not the person she appears to be.

Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous, as Trouble Dog, Konstanz and Childe, find themselves at the centre of a potential new conflict that could engulf not just mankind but the entire galaxy.

If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.

I’ve been reading a lot more science fiction than usual this year, because The Expanse set off a fire that cannot be quenched, and this seems right up my alley! Political intrigue, found family, a spaceship that is really the main character — bring it on!

Embers of War)

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Why Does Monday Keep Happening To Me?

Boy, is it ever Monday.

Which means, as always, that I’m sleep-deprived, grumpy, and hungry, as well as dreading the long stretch of week still ahead of me. I’m the only one to blame for my sleep deprivation — Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in The Expanse series, came out on 12/05, and I held off on reading it as long as I could, but now I’m devouring it every moment I get. Thank goodness for 40-minute bus rides, right?

Still: being so tired and grumpy doesn’t bode well for my plans to go home and write. I’ve spent the past week and a half either not writing at all (aside from morning pages), or picking at the same few beginning chapters of TVP. I made the mistake of asking my parents to read over the first few chapters (I know, I know, but I was getting itchy without feedback!), and my mom pointed out that my current first chapter didn’t grab her.

It’s a slow start, certainly, and my goal was to set the mood for this particular character’s plotline (I’m trying to avoid the standard prologue that seems to feature in 90% of the fantasy novels I read), but she does have a point — every scene, every sentence in a story needs to be pulling at least double-duty, and few more so than the first scene and the first sentence. They need to set the mood, and create a hook to grab the audience; later, my scenes/sentences need to build character, world-build, advance the plot — but none of that matters if I haven’t gotten anyone’s interest.

(To be fair, my dad liked the first chapter, and so did my best friend — my mom did too, but that bit of crit has put a bug in my ear.)

(And, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, if someone tells you something isn’t working, they’re usually right. If they tell you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.)

So I’ve been trying to write new material to fit around the old, to add tension and excitement and interest, and while I’ve written some bits I’m very fond of, nothing has felt quite right. A little voice has started whispering in my ear: it’s time to set aside the 70K+ words you’ve already written, and start fresh.

I’ve been writing long enough to know that that voice, however much it stings, is usually right. I should be able to salvage large parts of that first draft, but it’s time to start again. The plot is streamlined in my head, and I can cut away a lot of the dross, the fat, that kept the story from moving along.

No writing is ever wasted. Every word I write makes me a stronger writer for later, and I learn something every day I sit down at my laptop and get to work.

But — how can I create tension? Where’s my hook?

My current first sentence is:

Owen’s charges were still fast asleep when he swung through the attic window.

Which is all well and good, and the scene definitely goes on to set a nice moody, wintry tone, but nothing really happens. There’s no hook, no energy. Just a guy swinging through an attic window. I like it, and I can probably use the scene later, in a trimmed form, but I don’t think it really creates interest. It simply exists.

My new first sentence, the very first sentence of my new TVP draft?

Somewhere beyond the Anatomical Chapel, a child was crying.

Now that, to me, is a far better first sentence: you’ve got the crying kid (she’ll be fine!), which immediately sets the “something’s not right here” tone, which I can either play out or subvert as needed, but before that, we have the Anatomical Chapel. What is it? Who’s in there? And why is there a kid crying nearby?

Questions are good. If readers have questions, they’ll want to keep reading, in case they get answers. And the questions that keep readers reading all boil down to what happens next?

So: tonight, I will go home, eat french fries for dinner, pet my imperious and enormous cat, and then I will start fresh.

It feels weird to say it, but I’m excited!

 

 

Looking-Forward Fridays

Time to see if I can’t get another weekly post going! I really enjoyed doing the Waiting On Wednesday this week, so how about something along the same lines: Looking-Forward Fridays!

These will be about the books I’m planning to read, as of this Friday — though that may change if I hear about something I really want to move to the top of the to-read queue. As of this moment, however, I’ve got these books on deck:

  1. And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste
  2. Strange Dogs by James S.A. Corey
  3. Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

I’m a bit surprised that I’ve managed to keep going through my reading queue without bumping those two Expanse books to the forefront. But that Kiste book sounds fascinating — what a great title! — and I don’t read too many short stories (the only other one I can remember reading recently was Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life and Others, which was magnificent, as is all Ted Chiang’s work).

Then it’s all Expanse, all the time. Between the book I’m currently reading — Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson — and those three, I’ll only need three more to hit my goal of reading 60 books this year. I can do it!

Happy Friday!

Waiting On Wednesday: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Thanks to Books, Bones, & Buffy‘s inspiration (an excellent blook blog, by the way!), I’m going to try taking part in Waiting On Wednesday a little more regularly!

This week’s Waiting On Wednesday book is Semiosis, by Sue Burke (click through for the Goodreads page!).

semiosisIn this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance.

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools.

Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.

This is hitting so many of my favorite buttons — space exploration! Aliens! Issues with colonization! Creepy new worlds! And that cover looks amazing. I’ve had some great luck with stories that deal with new worlds being settled by humans (Children of Time, Planetfall) and some not-so-great luck (Noumenon), but this looks excellent.

Semiosis

NaNo 2017 Post-Mortem!

This was a wildly successful month, and because I am a giant nerd who loves talking about the writing process almost as much I love writing, I’ve been thinking about why.

I’ve won NaNo since 2013 (though I messed up my stats in 2015, so the word count for that year isn’t accurate), but this was the first year that it felt…not easy, but pleasurable. Most nights, I wanted to be writing, no matter how tired or stressed out I felt. And even when I didn’t want to write, I still gave it a try, and found that on most of those nights, I hit a certain point and wanted to keep writing.

Stats:

  • Words written: 68,161 (this includes cut text and to-be-used text, as well as what’s “story” text)
  • Most productive day: 11/04/17, 4,985 words
  • Least productive day: 11/27/17, 57 words
  • Average words per day: 2,272
  • Chapters written: Nine

I didn’t include my character notes, but if I had, that would have pushed me up over 70,000 words, easily (I don’t count my morning pages toward my word count either, though I will sometimes count hand-written story notes — just not for this month).

And now — on to the ramble!


I started out on November 1 with a very different idea for what I would do during NaNo: I was going to write a FenHawke Cinderella AU, starring Rhyssa Hawke and Fenris, and then go on to write as much of ALID as possible (hopefully finishing that fic).

Using NaNo 2016 to finish Gates of Summer worked out really well, and I found that working on one story for a whole month was a really rich, rewarding experience (I may have taken a break here and there to work on other stories, but nothing large-scale). By narrowing my focus to just GoS, I got so much depth out of those last few chapters — which they really needed! — in terms of character development, plot resolution, and writing quality. I was a bit haphazard in my when and how of writing during NaNo 2016, though; part of that was because GoS, by its end, was such a heavy, emotionally-draining fic to write that there were nights I just…couldn’t. So I had a really erratic month, overall — some days I’d write 5,000 words, and then nothing for the next three. It made me feel extremely stressed out by the end, and I was more relieved than happy to finish the fic, and I think that’s what led me to rush the GoS epilogue the way I did.

This year, I wanted to avoid that stress. Writing is supposed to be pleasurable, on some level, and while it’s also bloody, back-breaking work, we should love what we’re doing even as it’s difficult. To avoid that, I did The Artist’s Way again over the summer, and also gave myself the month of October to recharge. I knew I’d be traveling and hanging out with friends, and I gave myself permission to not do morning pages, and to just play video games and read a ton of books and knit and bask in being present with people I loved very much. By the time November 1 rolled around, I was ready to write. Bursting with story, pretty much!

I had been playing with the FenHawke Cinderella AU for a little while, and had about 5,000 words written by the time NaNo arrived. A couple of days before, I got the idea to write an original novel, which was going to be a quick little romance that I planned to polish and self-publish — emphasis on quick. 

(For someone who planned for TLS to be a standalone novel, and for Ghost to be seven chapters and 10,000 words long — you’d think I would have realized how doomed that idea was.)

But the more I thought about it, the more this romance took on its own life, and insisted on existing in its own world, and Fenris and Rhyssa became Owen the ex-assassin and Sirin the princess who really shouldn’t do karaoke, and their world blossomed around them.

It was about two days into NaNo this year that I knew I had A Problem, but it was the best kind of problem to have: the story exploded out of me.


My productivity for the past month is due to a few factors:

  • I had a project I really loved
  • I was dedicated to my writing routine
  • I plotted out a large chunk of the story before I started writing
  • I instituted a “no-thank-you helping” writing goal (more on that in a bit)

GoS represented a kind of leveling-up for me as a writer (I finished a complicated, multi-POV story that involved a lot of world-building, and finally felt confident in my ability to write individual voices for each POV character), and a lot of what I learned there has carried over into TVP. I have to admit that a lot of fandom stuff has been bumming me out lately, so my inspiration was running low, but TVP excites me, and it feels alive and vital when I’m writing it. So that made it really easy to sit down and write for two hours every night, and I usually ended up going over that time, because I wanted to finish a scene that badly (not a lot of sleep happened this month, believe me!).

As for my routine, I stuck to writing from 8pm-10pm (officially; usually that time ran more from 7:30pm-10:30pm, with my chapter/scene plotting and wind-down editing factored in) every week night (though I gave myself the option to take Friday nights off, so I wouldn’t burn out — I ended up wanting to write more often than not), and from 8:30am-12:30pm on weekend mornings, with an optional 8pm-10pm sprint on weekend nights. I found I averaged about 1300 words per hour, which got bumped up to about 1600 when I was at peak flow (for me), but I’d hit a wall at the four-hour mark, and not be able to get much done after that.

I’m usually a pantser — I’ll have an idea for an overarching plot, along with plot-goals to hit along the way, but that’s all I have for a shape. With TVP, I did a lot of plotting ahead of time, and gave the story a basic three-act structure:

  1. Establishing characters/culture/plot threads, bringing the two main characters together and establishing their relationship.
  2. The Worst Road Trip of All Time, which slowly becomes Oh No We Have To Pretend To Be Married and Other Disasters We Really Don’t Mind, Even Though Things Are Still Horrible.
  3. We’ve Got Our Act Together But We Still Have To Save Everybody Else, and We Might Not Make It In Time

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Act One (which is getting to the good parts, like UST, a heist gone way too right, and political intrigue). I’ve resisted doing large-scale editing so far, though if I feel like a scene isn’t working, I’ve cut it and started fresh. I’m a really extravagantly wasteful writer, so I have no scruples about throwing out 2,000+ words and writing a new version, as long as that new version is what the story needs. I haven’t had to do that too often (about half of my chapters so far exist in essentially their first-draft form, without anything cut), because in addition to my overall plotting, I took five minutes before I started writing to do a bare-bones summation of what needs to happen in each scene/chapter (something I picked up from Rachel Aaron, who has excellent writing advice). Even if my plan for a chapter changed, I still had a springboard, and all I was doing was finding a new way to the desired endpoint.

The “no-thank-you helping” comes from my childhood, when my parents would make us eat a smaller helping of a food we didn’t want. My siblings and I all had food we detested, but that was good for us, so Mom and Dad would give us the no-thank-you helping, and if we ate that without complaining, we could still have dessert. On the nights when I was really dragging and didn’t feel like writing, I’d set myself 45 minutes, and just try to write for that long. Usually I broke through within 20 minutes, and ended up doing my full 2+ hour sprint, but on the nights when I hit the end of the 45 minutes and I was still dragging, I stopped, no harm no foul, and did something fun. The only day this didn’t really work was this past Monday, but I was sick and super-tired, so I’m not bummed I only wrote 57 words the whole day.

I set myself a basic goal of 1,700 words per day, which would get me to 50,000 by the end of the month. My plan, if I fell behind on my word count, was not to add the previous day’s deficit to the 1,700 for the next, because that’s the quickest way for me to burn out. No matter how many words I wrote on a given day, I told myself (over and over and over), my goal was always going to be 1,700 words. The words didn’t matter, just the story.

It’s been hard, though, to write original fiction after focusing on fic for a couple years. I’ve been working on TLS since I went back to writing fic, but I’ve been lucky enough to get a wonderful amount of feedback on my fic writing — and now that I spent a month essentially writing in a vacuum, I’ve had to wrestle with a lot of insecurities. Is this story good? Is it painfully over-written? Is anyone going to like my heroine, except me? Basically, all the worries I have when I write fic got ramped up to 11, and it took a lot of effort not to be like HELLO FRIENDS PLEASE READ MY THING AND TELL ME IT’S OKAY, PLEASE TELL ME I SHOULD KEEP GOING.

…I did end up sending the first couple chapters to my parents, who liked them — but they’re my parents, so. 😛

This has gotten a lot longer than I expected, so I will wrap up with my new goals.

  1. Write 31,000 words
  2. Do my morning pages every day
  3. Finish part one
  4. Refine plot outline for part two
  5. Begin writing part two

My pie-in-the-sky goal is to have a finished first draft by the end of February. I think I may go back to writing some fic soon, but I really want to keep my momentum for TVP going as long as possible. I’ve been feeling pulled toward original fiction more and more lately, which is probably the underlying push for my success in NaNo — I’m in my own sandbox, and it is fantastic.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey

Thanks to Bones, Books, & Buffy, I’m now aware of Can’t Wait Wednesday — the gist of the idea is to gush about not-yet-released books, and boy howdy, am I down for that!

My love for The Expanse is well-known and well-documented (if you’ve known me for more than a day, I’ve probably yelled about it), and I am so excited for Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in the series.

Persepolis_Rising

Summary:

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

Well, that’s not ominous, is it?

I’ve enjoyed every book in the series so far, and I truly admire the authors’ ability to play the long game — but we’re into the final act now, and a part of me is terrified to see just how bad things will get before the end. There’s no doubt in my mind that every plot line will be resolved satisfactorily, if not tidily and simply (it’s too big and complex a universe for that), but I’ll be sad to leave these characters behind (especially Bobbie Draper!).

At least there are still two books after this, right?

Only three more weeks to go until this is in my hot little hands!

Goodreads | Amazon

Time to blow off the dust!

So much for blogging, huh? At least there’s no such thing as “oops, I missed my chance to start a blog where I talk about books and writing, like approximately eighteen million other people on the planet”.

But as I get more serious about writing (one might argue I have never been less than completely serious about writing, but you know), and as Tumblr — my main social media platform — turns into a snake eating its own young (aka: its user base; this is the gentlest metaphor I could come up with), I want to have a space just for myself, to ramble and rave and rant (and alliterate).

I sound like an utterly pretentious turd, when in reality I am often nervous, usually worried, and always tired. I just really, really like words, and I just really, really like books, and most of all, I like making words dance.

I like it when other people do the same.

To that end, I gave myself a goal at the beginning of the year: to read forty new-to-me books by the end of December 2017. I’ve upped that to sixty new-to-me books, though I’m not sure if I’ll make that new goal. But I have read some incredible things along the way, and discovered some fantastic new authors, namely:

  • Jeff VanderMeer, author of The Southern Reach Trilogy and Borne
  • Emma Newman, author of The Split Worlds and Planetfall series
  • Yoon Ha Lee, author of The Machineries of Empire series
  • Rachel Aaron/Rachel Bach, author of the Paradox trilogy
  • Max Gladstone, author of The Craft Sequence

I could go on (and on), but those five stand out as some of the most fun, risk-taking, adventurous, and ambitious authors I’ve encountered lately. And I wouldn’t have encountered any of them (except maybe Rachel Bach, since she was already on my radar after her great post about increasing your word count), if I hadn’t a) shifted my focus away from reading fanfic (still working through that fic backlog, though!), and b) dedicated myself to reading more women authors, more POC authors, and more LGBTQIA authors.

Roughly, I gave myself the goal of reading two or three books by non cishet straight white male authors for every book I did read by cishet straight white male authors. This isn’t a call for cookies, because I should have been reading diversely years before this, but I am beyond delighted with what I have gotten to read so far.

I still have to dig into Ann Leckie’s Provenance, as well as VanderMeer’s Acceptance, and basically every book on this list is calling my name. Not to mention Persepolis Rising, the seventh book in The Expanse series, which I will ride to hell and back for, any day of the week. Thank goodness for my Kindle, and for Overdrive!

From here on out, I’ll be posting book reviews here (and probably linking them to my Tumblr, since I am not yet angry enough to remove myself from its maw), and talking about my own writing. That will get its own post, however, since I will go on (and on — that’ll be a trend) about what I’m working on there.

But for now — it’s time for lunch, and that means reading and knitting. I’m halfway through The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which I’m enjoying immensely (I have a great fondness for alternate-Russia fantasies).

Till next time!