01
January
2015

Hello 2015!

And now that I’ve reviewed 2014, I’m looking ahead to 2015. I like to set goals even if they end up shifting and changing, because they remind me of what I am shooting for (kind of like the outlines for my writing projects).

So here are five of my goals for 2015:

~Finish my current writing project (the Space Opera) and revise it. Start something new!

~Read at least 70 books, and increase my reading percentages for Middle Grade, and for diverse books (especially books by diverse authors). I’d like to maintain my percentage of nonfiction.

~Post ratings/reviews for books I love not just on Goodreads, but on Amazon, which is where so many folks go to research, if not to buy.

~Finish the free Elementary French I course I am taking on the Online Learning Initiative (I am currently on Week 4 of 15, having started in November). This is assuming it stays up and active!

~Knit my first pair of socks!

~Learn 12 more songs on my violin to the point where I can play them without looking at the score.

Bonus: five books I am really looking forward to, in 2015!
(I could easily have chosen 15, but I am trying not to turn this post into a monster…)

LOVE, LUCY by April Lindner (YA Contemporary/Retelling, January)
Because I loved her previous re-imaginings of Jane Eyre (JANE) and Wuthering Heights (CATHERINE). How can I not be excited about a re-imagined A Room With a View?

GONE CRAZY IN ALABAMA by Rita Williams-Garcia (MG Historical, April)
Because it’s the Gaither sisters! This is historical fiction at its best, by an author who can make me think and feel at the same time. And also laugh!

NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson (Graphic Novel, May)
Because I’ve already read the webcomic version of this story and loved it, and am eager to see the updated art (and maybe an epilogue, I hopehopehope?) in this new release.

SERPENTINE by Cindy Pon (YA fantasy, September)
Because I have been wishing for more of her Xia-empire fantasies ever since reading her first two books, with their strong ladies, epic magic, and beautiful (and often tasty) imagery.

CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell (YA– or perhaps New Adult?– Fantasy, October)
A novel based on the fictional fan-fiction from her book FANGIRL, which I loved. And it’s fantasy! I am so excited for this!

Happy New Year, everyone!

01
January
2015

2014 In Review

2014 was a good year for me. There were ups and downs but overall I feel like I accomplished a lot, learned new things, and stayed true to myself. I didn’t meet all my goals for the year, but I made some new ones along the way that I did stick to.

~Writing~
I wrote a total of 250K words this year, which may be a personal record. I’m happy with this, not because high wordcount == good writing (in fact, over half those words got trunked) but because I managed to stay focused on the actual writing, I explored new ideas, and I tried some new things (even if some didn’t work out).

I finished two novel drafts. One got trunked. The other got revised and revised again, and is now out in the world trying to find a home. I started several new projects, most of which eventually died or got set aside as not-yet-ready-for-drafting. But I am tremendously excited about my current work in progress. It started out as one of those projects that I feared had died, until I had the notion of switching the genre from epic fantasy to space opera, and it suddenly took off.

I started keeping a paper writing journal this year, which I’ve found surprisingly helpful at keeping me on an even keel. It’s become part of my morning writing routine: I jot down notes about how I am feeling about writing in general, my hopes for the day, any anxieties or angst. I think it helps clear my head, and also is providing a nice resource for those days when everything is horrible and I need a reminder that it will pass.

I continue to be grateful beyond words to my wonderful agent (who I was lucky enough to meet in person this year!) and writing buddies, for their support.

~Reading~
This was a fantastic reading year– I read more than ever, and so much of it was really, really good. I already posted my reading stats separately, but I wanted to spotlight a few favorites here. I don’t finish books I am not getting anything positive out of, so pretty much everything on my list of 2014 reads is something I would recommend to the right reader. It’s hard to pick standouts, but I am going to try to pick ten.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia (MG Historical)
Because it made me laugh and feel and think. The sequel is pretty wonderful too!

THE MOZART SEASON by Virginia Euwer Wolff (MG Contemporary)
Because of the love of music. How everything came together. How it still resonates with me months later.

BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle (MG Contemporary)
Such a fantastic voice. Funny, but so true and real and heartwrenching/warming. Plus, musical theater!

CUCKOO SONG by Frances Hardinge (YA/MG Historical Fantasy)
This may be my absolute favorite book of the year. I just loved it so much — it was the book that made me feel most strongly about the characters, but also kept me wondering, plot-wise, and made me think about what a monster really is, and what love and family really mean.

THE WORLDS WE MAKE by Megan Crewe (YA SF)
The last book in a compelling series, that made bold choices and hit me with an ending I didn’t quite expect but was so perfect once it was there.

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St John Mandel (Adult SF)
A pre- and post-apocalyptic tale that manages to be uplifting and illuminating. I loved how all the threads came together in a believable, organic way. I loved the fact that the story does not assume that a devastating disaster will always bring out the worst in humanity…

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING by Ruth Ozeki (Adult Contemporary with SFnal elements)
This one took time and attention but it was so worthwhile. I especially adored the excerpts from the diary of Nao, the Japanese teenager. The book deals with some brutal and terrible things (depression, suicide, sexual violence, bullying, natural disasters, war) but with grace and thought. Another book where I marvel at how everything comes together, without being too neat and pat.

SAVAGE BEAUTY: THE LIFE OF EDNA ST VINCENT MILLAY by Nancy Milford (Adult Biography)
A detailed exploration of a fascinating life. I already loved Millay’s poetry, but this book gave so many insights into her as a person (gifted, flawed, wonderful, terrible, joyful and tragic). I also appreciated the glimpse of the literary scene of an earlier era.

THE PILLOW BOOK by Sei Shonagon (Adult Autobiography?)
Similar to the above: a detailed exploration of a fascinating life! Albeit one from many, many years earlier. I will admit that not all of this book held my attention — there are some quite dry bits– but I adored other parts so much I have to mention it. This reads a bit like a tumblr– a scattering of lists, images, poetry, scenes of life in the Japanese Court of the Heian era. What I love best, though, is the strength with which Sei Shonagon comes through across time: her vivid, intelligent, petty, witty, passionate character. I tried both the Morris and McKinney translations, and ultimately preferred the latter (though the footnotes in Morris were very good).

THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE MONGOL QUEENS: HOW THE DAUGHTERS OF GENGHIS KHAN RESCUED HIS EMPIRE by Jack Weatherford (Adult Nonfiction)
I will give a warning up front that this one contains accounts of some terrible, terrible things. Torture and mutilation and war that touches even the youngest and most innocent. But in between all that is an utterly fascinating account of life among the Mongols during and after the rule of the famous Genghis. I had so many preconceptions about the Mongols and this book revealed so much I didn’t know, about their spiritual practices, daily life, social interactions, and effect on other Asian nations.

~Other Entertainments~
Some other entertainments I loved in 2014:

Journey (Videogame)
Amazing and breathtaking in terms of art, music and story. I am already looking forward to playing this again, in the same way I would re-read a favorite book. It is hard to identify how a game (especially one in which you play a silent, nearly featureless cloaked figure) can make you feel so strongly, but it does.

Portal 2 (Videogame)
I played through the individual version, and am currently going through the co-op version with my brother. Snarky, clever, mind-bending, and so very atmospheric.

THE WALKING DEAD (Television)
I watched the entire series up to the current episodes for the first time this year. It’s not perfect, but it sure is compelling, and I love so many characters (Michonne, Glen, Daryl & Carol especially)! I probably don’t need to say more about this since most folks already know about it! (I do hide my eyes during the especially gory bits).

THE MISS FISHER MURDER MYSTERIES (Television)
I would watch this just for the clothing (absolutely gorgeous 1920s finery) but it’s got so much more than that. Wonderful characters, especially bold, smart, sexy, compassionate, feminist, devilish Phryne Fisher herself. The mysteries range from satisfying to somewhat silly, but the acting and the production values are always top notch.

PERSON OF INTEREST (Television)
We’ve watched the first season so far and are really enjoying this. It’s not necessarily ground-shaking, but there’s something compelling about it (not just Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson and Taraji Henson, though they are all wonderful here). I think much of what I love is in the premise: that these characters know someone is going to be in trouble (or cause trouble) and they stop the bad stuff from happening, because it’s THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Sometimes I just want to watch people being self-sacrificing and noble and kicking evil’s butt. I do wish there were more characters of color and women, but it looks like that will be improving in the future seasons somewhat.

EMMA APPROVED (Webseries)
I was a big fan of the original offering by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the marvelous Lizzy Bennet Diaries. I haven’t warmed to all of their other projects, but Emma Approved hooked me from the first moment I saw Joanna Sotomura as Emma and Brent Bailey as Knightly. They are perfect! I thought this was a clever and entertaining reinterpretation of the original Jane Austen novel EMMA, and I waited for each new episode impatiently. It’s complete now, so you can watch it all yourself if you are so inclined.

~Everything Else~
Some other highlights of 2014:

I finished another knitting project (my first hat!) slowly but surely.

I wrote up my travel journal for our 2013 trip to Paris (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

I started playing my violin regularly in November, and have learned about a dozen new songs (focusing on Irish jigs and reels).

I started studying French online, using Memrise (Learn Basic French) and the awesome free online courses at the Open Learning Initiative (Elementary French I). Both are free, though you need to create a membership. Memrise is more of a supplement, as it focuses on memorizing vocabulary, but I have found using both these sites together (plus writing down lists of verb conjugations and vocab to review) has worked very well and been a lot of fun.

I attended a retreat with my awesome literary agency in the spring, and met so many wonderful people.

I ate lots of delicious food, especially my meals at Tao Yuan, Salt Water Farm Cafe, and Frontier, the u-pick organic strawberries from Sheepscot Farms, and the heirloom apple farmshare from Out on a Limb.

And best of all, I spent time with the people and creatures I love. Thank you, 2014, you were good to me!

31
December
2014

Reading Stats 2014

I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my own reading habits over the past few years, and in particular to read more broadly and diversely, both in the sense of reading works by diverse authors and about diverse characters, as well as genres and stories that are outside my comfort zone.

This year, as part of that, I kept track of my reading, and looked at the results. For my own reference, and because I find other folks’ reading statistics fascinating, here are mine:

Total Things Read: 117

This doesn’t count the six novels I read for crit partners (some of them more than once). It does count novellas, picture books and graphic novels as well as full length books and essay/short story collections. The full list, if you’re curious, is here on Goodreads.

Breaking that down (roughly, rounded, probably with errors):

BY FORMAT AND SOURCE

26 Hardcopy Owned 22%
30 Hardcopy Library 26%
34 Ebooks Owned 29%
12 Ebooks Library 10%
1 Audiobook Owned 1%
14 Audiobook Library 12%

which is:

56% Hardcopy
39% Ebooks
13% Audio

or:

52% Owned
48% Library

Comments: I have been surprised by how much I read on my ereader! I actually think I may need to cut back, especially right before bed (it is just so easy to read that way, tapping the edge of the screen, huddled under the covers). My husband just got me a clip on reading light so I am hoping to do a bit more paper-reading! I made an effort to listen to more audiobooks this year — especially nonfiction, which I find hard to focus on otherwise. And I love (and am so grateful for) my local library!

BY DIVERSITY

67 Non-Diverse 57%
50 Diverse 43%

Or (as best I can tell)

86 by non-Diverse Authors 73%
31 by Diverse Authors 27%

Comments: I exceeded my goal of 25%! And read a TON of wonderful, fantastic books. But I am hoping to increase that number next year, and in particular to read more books by diverse authors, not just about diverse characters.

BY AGE BRACKET

45 Adult 38%
45 YA 38%
24 MG 21%
3 Child 3%

Comments: I didn’t expect to read so many adult books. But I am happy with this balance. I would like to read a bit more MG next year…

BY TYPE

80 Novels 68%
15 Nonfiction 13%
15 Graphic Novel 13%
3 PB 3%
2 Novella 2%
1 Short Story collection 1%
1 Essay Collection 1%

Comments: I’m happy with this breakdown, and would love to hit something similar next year.

BY # READS

105 First Time 90%
12 Re-reads 10%

Comments: I actually intended to re-read more, but I kept finding cool new books to distract me!

BY AUTHOR GENDER

93 Women 79%
24 Men 21%

Comments: Most of the male authors seem to be for graphic novels and nonfiction. I’m not necessarily concerned I’m reading “too many women authors” but this makes me think I might want to seek out more nonfiction by women and more fiction by men!

Hopefully I will get my act together to post about my favorite reads of the year, and what I am most anticipating in 2015!

Happy New Year! May 2015 bring you many good things, especially good books to read!

06
December
2014

Silence and Speaking

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of my New Year’s intentions for 2014 was to avoid watching and reading bad news that “had no redeeming qualities.” I think, if I were to restate that now, I’d say, rather, that “I want to avoid reading bad news that does not challenge me to change, or demand that I bear witness to it.”

Because some things do demand to be witnessed. To be reflected on. To engender anger, and hope, and a desire for change. To not pass silently, as if they will just go away if people pretend they don’t exist.

So this is a post to say: I am watching, and listening. I have been reading the news from Ferguson, from New York City, from Cleveland. I have been trying to learn from the many intelligent and thoughtful people talking about issues of race and justice.

I think the system is broken, if it allows the sort of things to happen that we have seen in the past few weeks (months) (years).

Black lives matter. Racial bias exists. We can’t change things when we refuse to recognize the problems. So I am trying to listen to the leaders and the thinkers, and to not be afraid to admit my own privilege, challenge my assumptions, or protest injustice.

Edited to add: I was uncertain I should even post this entry in the first place, because my voice really isn’t the important one right now — what is more important is to listen to and promote the voices of those who have suffered and continue to suffer. So I encourage anyone who (like me) is coming from a position of privilege to go out and find, read, and listen to those stories. There are far, far too many of them. Including the one shared in the first comment on this entry…

Edited (again) to add: And if you are looking for something proactive to DO, I will point you toward an organization that is working for change at perhaps the most fundamental level: giving kids a better chance at empowering themselves with a vision of a world in which all lives are important: The We Need Diverse Books campaign.

04
November
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part III of III

A continuation from Part I and Part II. And once again, the full photo album is here.

Day 7 Monday, 30 September: Marais and Père Lachaise Cemetery
I slept late today: 8:30! It felt good though. I think I am finally hitting the limits of my frenetic vacation-inspired energy.

Recalling how delicious the last goodies from Boulangerie Julien were, I headed back again for more. I ate my warm (!) croissant in the Luxembourg Gardens, where most everyone else seemed to be exercising — a large group was doing Tai Chi. I dropped off the other goodies at home, then headed out to pick up some souvenirs: cookies from Poliane, tea, chocolate and jam from Mariage Frères, a delightful French picture book for a young friend. Along the way I wandered through the Saint-Germain neighborhood, exploring more of the narrow streets and reveling in the small beauties of a twisted iron railing or a bit of whimsical street art.

(more…)

30
October
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part II of III

A continuation from Part 1:

Day 4 Friday, 27 September: Chartres
This was the day I was most nervous about! As I had been warned by various travel sites, Gare Montparnasse was rather overwhelming! It took us some time to find the ticket selling booths, but once we finally tracked them down the lines were not long, and there was an attendant who spoke English (we looked for the British flag on the window). We got three round-trip tickets with open returns, 90 Euros total. The attendant also kindly gave us a paper schedule with the return times. After that we just had to find the right track!

We waited beside the giant screen, waiting for the display to tell us where to go. Voie 24! We found our train, started to settle in, then realized we were in a first class car (ooops!). Thankfully there were plenty of seats in second class. Then I remembered something about validating tickets– so Bob took our three tickets out and tried to validate them at one of the yellow machines we saw other folks using. It didn’t seem to work but a kind conductor wrote the validation on them instead. Whew! Finally we could relax and enjoy our trip.

I found myself getting quite antsy on the train ride, after being in Paris where I could be constantly on the move. But it was only about an hour, and then we were disembarking at the considerably less imposing station in Chartres. It was easy to find the Cathedral, following the distinctive mismatched spires!

(more…)

27
October
2014

Paris Trip Report, Part I of III

I wrote this up some time ago but am only now getting my act together to post it. I really love traveling, in all its phases: planning, actuality, and reflection. And part of my routine each day is to spend some time in the morning, writing up notes (old-school pen-and-paper style!) about the previous day’s activities, which I can later type up. I do this partly for myself and my traveling companions, so that we have details recorded for future reference and enjoyment, and partly for other travelers who may find them helpful in planning their own trips. So hopefully folks out there will find these (in some cases obsessive) details useful and/or entertaining.

The entire report is quite long so I am splitting it into three parts, and putting it behind a cut.

I will include a few pictures here, but I also have an entire album here.

(more…)

23
September
2014

Motivation

I’ve been on a writing break since finishing a revision of my most recent project at the beginning of this month, and sending it off on its next adventure.

It’s been a lovely break so far. I’m participating in an heirloom apple CSA and so far it is the best CSA I’ve been a part of! I always felt guilty and anxious over vegetable CSAs, uncertain I could use them all, but with apples, no problem! Fresh, crisp eating apples, delicious melty baking apples filling the house with the scent of cinnamon. Mmm. (For those of you in Maine, if you are interested in signing up next year, you can subscribe to emails via their website.)

I’ve also been reading a LOT, with the sort of book-hunger I remember from childhood, when I would wake up early to read for hours before school, and stay up late reading even more. I’ll try to spotlight some of my favorites in another post.

But I am starting to feel that itch that I always feel when I’m not writing regularly.

And I know if it goes on too long I will start to hear what Jay Smooth calls “The Little Hater”:

“I’m sure there are people who wake up every day feeling confident that the entire world wants to look at their face and listen to them talk, but I’m not one of those people. When I’m in the groove, and getting work done, and I feel like I’m making the connection with you guys out there… it feels natural to keep showing up and maintaining that connection. But if I go too long without putting work in, and it feels like that connection is broken, there’s a little voice inside my head that starts playing tricks on me, and trying to convince me that the connection was never really there.”

Except as a writer, it’s more the connection to the ocean of stories, the sensation that you are a conduit for some vivid, living, vibrant world of deeper meaning.

Anyways, I figure it is about time I try to get back on the wagon and beat off the Little Hater. To help motivate me, I’ve rearranged my home workspace to create a make-shift standing desk (I use one at my day job and much prefer it now). I also put up some new inspirational artwork: a selection of postcards and images from my collection.

So now when I stand here with the laptop open, I have Eowen regarding me with steely determination, challenging me to stop messing around on the internet and WRITE!

So off I go!

15
July
2014

Books, Flowers, Strawberries

I am trying to force myself not to touch the newly-finished draft, which is difficult when my heart keeps insisting that I am being lazylazylazy to take a week off (my mind knows better). So what better way to distract myself than by sharing my most recent book-loves:

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim [Adult]
I adored this! It reminded me of many of my favorite comfort books, especially Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm. Four British women escape for a month to a villa in Italy, where they grow and change in interesting ways. It’s delightful and uplifting and charming, with gorgeous descriptions of the villa and gardens, and wickedly funny observations about human nature. The only problem is that now I want to run away to Italy for a month! This was first published in the 1920s and is free via Project Gutenberg. It was also adapted into an equally delightful movie in 1991. I found that the movie, while lacking the lovely details and insights of the book, actually provided a more satisfactory resolution to Lady Catherine’s situation.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Leun Yang [Adult/Teen Historical]
A two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion in China. It does not shy away from the brutality of that event, nor does it provide any easy answers. The characters are beautifully flawed, and seeing the events unfolding through the eyes of characters on both sides of the conflict only makes it all the more tragic. I am glad I read Boxers first, then Saints, as I think it makes for a more compelling experience. But oh how my heart broke for these characters, especially Vibania, the protagonist of Saints.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge [YA Historical Fantasy]
This is currently my favorite read of the year so far. It’s a twisty, beautifully written story about a girl who is ill, who has holes in her memory, who is trying so hard to understand what has happened to her and her family. And her little sister, who she hates and loves and doesn’t understand. I don’t think I’ve felt so strongly for characters in a long while. The fantastical elements build in a sort of slow wave, as you fall deeper and deeper into a folklore-infused world. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“Believe me, I do understand that. And let me tell you – from one monster to another – that just because somebody tells you you’re a monster, it doesn’t mean you are.”

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle [MG Contemporary]
Nate is a middle-school kid with dreams of Broadway, stuck in a town (and family) that don’t understand him at all. So of course he concocts a desperate plan with his best friend and fellow music-theater lover to run away to New York City to audition for the new musical based on ET (yes, the movie about the alien who wants to go home). In spite of the wacky premise, this felt utterly real — especially Nate’s struggles with his own self-image, and his absolute JOY in music theater. The voice was wonderful– self-deprecating and funny and kind. I kept stopping to read bits out loud to my husband!

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford [Adult Nonfiction]
Absolutely fascinating! My favorite bits were those that revealed some of the personality and character of the historical figures (especially the excerpts from historical documents) and the details about Mongolian culture from the time of Genghis Khan onward. This book also revealed to me how very little I actually knew about the history of Mongolia and the areas that became part of the Mongolian Empire, and about Genghis Khan himself. He was a much more moderate and wise fellow than I ever realized, with some quite enlightened attitudes and laws regarding women (according to this author, at least). I should note for the squeamish that there are some pretty horrific descriptions of torture at various points throughout.

I’ve also been keeping busy doing fun summer stuff like…

Enjoying my sky-blue delphiniums:

Picking strawberries (and eating them!):

Visiting some new favorite places, like the hike up Beech Hill in Rockport, to this old stone cottage with a view of the sea (next time I want to bring a picnic!):

And old favorites, like the Coastal Botanical Garden:


(Aren’t these adorable? They’re like muppet flowers…)


(I am a sucker for blue flowers)


(Hanging out with the rock-whales, cooling down in the spray)


(So. Much. Color.)


(Hens and Chicks)


(This dahlia had BLACK leaves!)

10
July
2014

Two Finished Things

I finished two things this week. This is one of them:

(My first hat! My first cable stitches!)

This is the other:

(Blurred for Spoilers, and because first drafts are not meant for Mortal Eyes)

With both the hat and the novel, I found that I started going faster and faster as I approached the ending, and that has led to the last bits of both projects being a bit messy and wild. Fortunately I can revise the novel, and the top of that hat doesn’t really show when I am wearing it, unless I happen to be around enormously tall people.

[Tangent question for my knitter-friends: is it sensible to assume that if the leftover yarn I have weighs more than the finished hat, I could knit another one with it?]

In other news:

My husband and I went to see Cirque du Soleil last month when they were in Boston. The show was Amaluna, and I loved it. The underlying story was loosely based on The Tempest, but with a mostly-female cast (Prospera played a mean electric cello, and had an all-girl backup band and a host of Amazon warriors).

One of my favorite acts of the entire show was “The Balance Goddess”: one performer, holding the entire audience captive as she built an enormous structure of carefully balanced wooden ribs. There was a bit of music to start, but eventually it all fell to silence, until all that was left was her breathing. It was absolutely mesmerizing!

This TED video doesn’t capture the beauty and power of the live performance, and the performer is not the woman that we saw in Boston, but it’s still pretty magical and stunning:


And now I am off to wander around listlessly in post-novel ennui for a bit.