Friday, January 29, 2016

January Round-up

I'm trying something new here - we'll see if it works. Here's looking back on January 2016, as we get ready to begin February (already!).

Words written: 4,482 on one project (Paranormal Investigations)
Things accomplished in fiction: Alison returns to work, She and Jonathan start the will-they won't-they dance, and something seems a about Shawn.
Writer-ly things accomplished: Spent some time sorting through outline notes and updating my draft, figuring out which scenes need to be moved and what needs to be added; feel like I'm in a better spot for moving forward.
New books read: The Scorpion Rules (started in December, YA dystopia, beginning of a potentially awesome trilogy/series); Heaps of Pearl (short story set in the October Daye universe, fun and a little sad); A History of Civilization in 50 Disasters (started in December, light, bordering on a listicle, but points out some unexpected consequences of natural and human-driven disasters); How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun (another light non-fiction, conversational, gives some background on the creation/discovery of different foods and food-related inventions)
Old books re-read: Books 2-5 of the Parasol Protectorate (the middle series of Gail Carriger's books, in anticipation of a new book coming out in the later series); Libriomancer (first book in the Magic Ex Libris series, in anticipation of a new book coming out next week); Poison Study and Assassin Study (books one and 1.5 of the Study series, in anticipation of a new book that came out this week).

Monday, January 25, 2016

When You Have Nothing to Say

I am pretty bad at social media, and I freely own up to this. The bulk of my tweets and Facebook posts are links back to this blog, and I go days at a time without even looking at either thread, much less updating them. Blogging here has been something I've been trying to do more often, if for no other reason than because it gives me more opportunities to write. But about what?

My biggest issue with social media specifically, and writing in general, is that I don't feel like I have anything to say. Maybe it's the generation I grew up in - the idea of posting pictures of my food for every meal seems pointless to me. Telling everyone every thing that goes through my head seems like the quick path to having no friends. In general, I have a hard time believing that anyone actually cares about any of that, even when I know that posts are narrowed down to just my friends and family.

I'm much more likely to post about my cats' health than my own, because let's face it, cats rule the internet. It's also much easier to say that the two older ones have hyperthyroidism, but we have medication and they're being treated, than it is to say that I hurt. Maybe it's just because I hurt all the time, so it doesn't seem like it's news to me.

There's a fine line between whining and reaching out for help, and I'm afraid I've never known where that line is. I always assume I'm on the side of the whining, so I don't say anything. It's not healthy, I know, but it's hard to convince myself that people, who have their own lives and problems, would want to spend the time and energy to care about my life and problems.

At any rate, I enjoy watching how other people use social media, and I love reading what's going on in everyone elses' lives. I'm trying to be better about reaching out when I need to, but it's an uphill battle. So if you are reading this post, thank you.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Series Review - Incryptid by Seanan McGuire

I've been a fan of Seanan McGuire for quite some time, and when I learned she was doing a new urban fantasy series, I was tremendously excited. I had already read and loved her October Daye series, but I admit that it does have its moments of being really flipping dark, so I was looking forward to a lighter series. Plus, there are monsters!

The first book in the series, Discount Armageddon, introduces the family of Prices, who are cryptozoologists that make it their mission to study and, when they need to, protect cryptids, which are essentially the stuff of myths and legends. Sasquatches, dragons, gorgons, etc. - all of them exist, and most of them have integrated into society, though in hiding.

The main character of the books changes throughout the series - we start with
Verity, then move on to her brother Alex. There are several short stories available for free on Seanan's website, and they give a better sense of background for the family as a whole, as well as the society in which they grew up.

I'm not saying that everything is peaches and roses for everyone - there are several heartbreaking moments that come up, and it's to Seanan's credit that you care about the characters, even when they only appear in a short story. The novels tend to be a little lighter than the short stories, but they all build a rich world and characters that are worth investing in.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How Do You Read?

So, anyone who is friends with me on Goodreads (incidentally, feel free to friend me!) will know that my Currently Reading shelf tends to get a little crowded. I know a lot of people prefer to read one book at a time, but that's never been my preferred method of reading.

For me, I usually have at least three books going at any given time: some sort of anthology or other type of bite-sized reading (currently, A History of Civilization in 50 Disasters and The Science of Discworld fill this niche), some series that I'm re-reading (usually in anticipation of a new book coming out - right now, that's Poison Study and Libriomancer), and something new to me that was recommended (City of Stairs and Knots and Crosses fill this niche). There are also other random things that I've picked up along the way (that would be ReflectionsPrudence and Night Owls), but that part varies.

I read certain kinds of books faster than others, so some books may take me significantly longer to finish than others. I also try to cull the herd on occasion, and move books that I've started but not picked up again to the On Hold shelf - if it's there, it usually means that I want to pick it up again, just not right now.

Over the years, I've become more comfortable with flat giving up on a book. For a very long time, I felt that if I had committed to spending the money on the book, then I needed to finish it (or at least keep it with the intention of finishing it someday). Now, after some truly rough books, I've finally become willing to walk away from a book without finishing it. It's still difficult, and I still tend to give a bad book more of a chance than I probably should, but life is too short for bad books.

So, what about you? What kinds of books do you find yourself reading more regularly? Is there a method to your reading madness, or do you just start on whatever happens to be nearby?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Over the years, I've found that I enjoy books in various formats. I've been a member of Audible for many years (disclaimer: I work for, which is the parent company for Audible), and the eBook revolution has definitely made an impact in my reading habits. The more I like a book, the more different formats I'll end up buying it. Based on that alone, my all-time favorite book must be A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

I grew up with parents who read, particularly my father. Everyone in our house tended to wander around with books in hand, which meant the question "Where's my book?" was asked on a regular basis. My dad was the one who was big on science fiction and fantasy, along with military fiction, and his enthusiasm spilled into my reading choices. A Wrinkle in Time was the first science fiction book I remember reading, and it was pivotal for me.

It wasn't until years later that I realized just how the book had affected me. It has a female protagonist - something unique in the world of speculative fiction of the 1970's - and she's realistic. Let's be honest, Meg Murray isn't exactly what most girls would aspire to be - she's unattractive, obnoxious, scared, whiny, and something of a brat. At the same time, she does what needs to be done, even if she fights it along the way. She wants to save her father and her little brother, and make her life as close to normal as it ever was. It's something that most teenagers can relate to, even if the various worlds and space travel that she takes to get there are a little outside of most people's experiences.

This is the kind of book that holds up well over the years, and I find myself rereading it on a regular basis. I definitely recommend it, particularly as an introduction to science fiction.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Writing Weakness: Dialogue

Every writer has a few things that they know they are good at, and a few things that they know could use improvement. I frequently have a hard time coming up with things that fit into the former category, but boy howdy, can I fill up the latter. They're the things that I know I need to improve upon in order to make my writing better, but they're also things that are almost painful to work on, because I know it's just not good.

The biggest weakness I can think of in my own writing is dialogue. I've never been particularly gifted in the realm of conversation, even when I'm speaking in my own voice. To speak in the voices of my characters is even more difficult. I've noticed that they tend to start sounding the same (which is to say, like me, only more so), which makes distinguishing them difficult.

I also have the problem that many people of my generation deal with - that dreaded word 'like.' People have had filler words and sounds, like um, uh, er, and so on, for ages, but for some reason, around the late 80's and early 90's, 'like' took the place of those filler words for a lot of us. It's an incredibly hard habit to break, and for the most part, I'm able to avoid using it for every gap in a sentence*. However, I'm afraid I fall victim to using 'like' to switch between people when describing a scene out loud. For instance: "I'm reading this message from a publisher, and she's like, you can't publish this! And I'm like, then show me why, because otherwise it's getting published." It's...not pretty.

So, ways to fix the problem. Obviously, writing more dialogue, because practice makes perfect and all that. I've found in the past (and it's something I need to do more often) that interviewing my characters gives me a better sense of their voices, as well as giving me an opportunity to learn about aspects that wouldn't necessarily come up on the page. I also find myself getting rid of nearly ever instance of the word 'like' that comes up in my work, but that's probably specific to me. Do you guys have any suggestions, or things that work well for you?

*It could be ever so much worse. In a college Spanish literature course I was in, one of the girls would use 'like' as a filler word while speaking Spanish. As Spanish wasn't her native language, she needed the filler word much more often than she did in English. It was jarring, to say the least.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Series Review - Finishing School by Gail Carriger

I've recently been re-reading some of my favorite books, in part to get myself ready to read the most recent book in the series. It's one of my biggest habits as a reader, and one that I'm actually trying to work on - I'm trying to make sure that I'm reading more new books than re-reading old books in a year, and that can be difficult when all I want to do is curl up with an old favorite. At any rate, a series I recently finished was the Finishing School series (first book is Etiquette & Espionage) by Gail Carriger.

I had previously read the Parasol Protectorate series by the same author, so when I found out that she was writing a prequel, young adult series, I was very excited. It was lovely to see how some of the characters in the Parasol Protectorate books started out, and getting a better sense of where they came from makes re-reading the later books take on a new meaning.

The series are set in an alternate Victorian England, in which vampires and werewolves have been integrated into society. Sophronia is the main character of the Finishing School series, and she is a young lady who has been sent off to, well, a finishing school. She is under the impression that it will be the standard type of schooling, teaching her how to behave in society and hopefully marry well; however, she quickly learns that she will be learning very different skills, in addition to the standards.

Following young women in the early 19th century as they learn how to set up a household and also spy for Queen and country (or hive, or pack, or some other service) is a joy to behold. The characters grow over the course of the books, while still behaving believably as teenagers would. The language is appropriate for the time period, but doesn't hit you over the head with dialect.

Overall, I found the series highly entertaining, and light enough to make for a good afternoon's read while still tackling some difficult issues. I definitely recommend all of the series by this author.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Hello, 2016!

Well, it's four days into the new year, and I've already written more than I did in the first three months of last year. I've been using Habitica to help me keep up with writing on a regular basis, and it's truly amazing how easy it is for me to get tricked into doing things, if it means keeping my character hale and hearty (and feeding my pets, of course). I'm hoping that the last couple of weeks will be indicative of how the next year will go.

I try to avoid making resolutions, because I feel like I'm just setting myself up for failure. There's something about saying "I'm going to [X]" that makes me feel like it's not going to happen. And no, I don't understand it myself. Either way, I just try to figure out something I want to aim for. This year, I will try to:

  • Write regularly
  • Finish writing and editing something
  • Continue doing things that will make me feel better
It doesn't seem like much, I know, but just putting it down helps. With luck, my next blog post won't just be a bunch of looking back or looking forward. (Yes, there may actually be content of some sort. I know, I'm just as shocked as you are.)

Here's to 2016. Here's hoping it will be more fruitful and less violent than 2015.