Recent Reads

I kept trying to put together a “Favorite Books of 2013″ post but I just couldn’t do it. It was a really good reading year and I read so many wonderful books. So instead, here’s a few books I read and loved in the past month or so!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
If I had to pick one favorite book of 2013 this would be my choice. I’m not sure it would work for everyone but it worked for me. The two things that initially drew me in were:
(1) the main character is an artificial intelligence that once controlled a space ship, as well as hundreds of “ancillaries” created from the bodies of people taken from planets annexed by a sprawling intergalactic empire. Now she’s down to just one body, and is on a quest for revenge.
(2) the sprawling intergalactic empire doesn’t differentiate for gender in either dress or language (although they do have a concept of male and female, and seem to be some far future version of humanity). This is represented by the main character using “she” and “her” to refer to everyone, except when speaking in a local language where gender is relevant.
I feel like reading this book made my mind bigger– stretched it out in ways I hadn’t even realized it could be stretched. But it was also just plain fun, and I really came to feel for Breq (as the spaceship calls herself in her single form). There’s not a lot of big action, but I loved the tension as Breq slowly reveals the painful, heartbreaking events in her past that led to her present situation. This book tells a complete and satisfying story, but I am definitely going to be watching for Leckie’s next book (coming later this year I believe), which will continue the story of these characters and their world.
[Adult Science Fiction]

Champion by Marie Lu
This was the third and final book in a trilogy (following Legend and Prodigy). I actually read all three in the past year, and loved them all very much. The two main characters June and Day have wonderfully distinct voices and perspectives (which can be a stumbling block in some dual POV books). I love how the entire series explores power and choice, and doesn’t try to give any easy answers. And that while there is a quite lovely romance, it doesn’t dominate the plot.
[YA Science Fiction]

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
This was a great year for third books! It is so hard to write a compelling book, let alone a compelling SERIES, but I adored every one of the Kat books, including this one. I love how Kat herself continues to develop — growing older and wiser but still remaining as spunky and loyal and fierce and wonderful as she ever was. I especially loved how so many of the ongoing character threads were brought together in this book, and resolved in a way that was satisfying and believable. If I were queen of the world I would commission another three books about Kat and her sisters!
[Middle Grade Historical Fantasy]

These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
This one had a lot of buzz and for me it totally deserved it. I downloaded a sample to my ereader and immediately had to go buy the full book. Very readable! [YA Science Fiction]

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
I think my fairy book-mother was looking out for me on this one. I was in one of those states when you know you want a particular type of book but you aren’t entirely sure what. I kind of wanted something light and fun, maybe a little like Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, or Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. And I found this, which ended up being perfect: a teen hearthrob boy meets a girl poet from a small, seaside Maine tourist town via a mistaken email about a pet pig, and they become friends (without actually knowing who each other are). Then boy tracks girl down, and hijinks ensue. [YA Contemporary Realistic]

What have you read lately and enjoyed? I still have some holiday gift certificates to spend! :-)


2013 Reading Stats

This was the year I really fell in love with reading ebooks. I do still love paper books. (Reading in the bathtub is one of my favorite indulgences and I am not quite brave or foolish enough to read my tablet when submerged in gallons of slippery, soapy hot water). But it’s just so convenient to be able to read my tablet in bed without a light, especially if I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep. I find myself avoiding large, heavy hardbacks and fat fantasy novels that I have on my to-read shelf, partly because I just don’t like having to balance them awkwardly in my hand.

I knew I had passed some sort of threshold when I was trying to read a physical book this fall, and I tried to tap the right edge of the page to make it turn.

There are things I don’t like about ebooks: that my library is spread across five different reading apps, that sometimes the formatting is wonky, that I can’t lend most of them. But overall, I expect I will continue to buy more ebooks in 2014, and save my physical book-buying for nonfiction, books with pictures and particular favorites.

Some overall reading stats for 2013:

Total books read: 73 Books (not including a half-dozen manuscripts for critique).

Breakdown by Source/Type:
25 owned physical (14 of these were re-reads)
23 owned ebook
22 library physical
1 library ebook
2 audiobooks
1 ARC (advanced reader copy)

Breakdown by Type:
44 YA Fiction
15 Adult Fiction
6 Middle Grade Fiction
4 Graphic Novel (various age levels)
2 Non-Fiction
1 Picture Book Fiction
1 Poetry

My full reading list for 2013 is over on Goodreads.

This was a really enjoyable reading year. I read more of what I wanted. I re-read a lot of beloved favorites. And I think I found more books I really loved because I did a TON of ebook sampling on my Nexus tablet first.

About 20% of the books I read this year were by diverse authors or featured prominant diverse characters. This is comparable to last year, but not as high as I want it to be. I want to make more of an effort in 2014 to seek out diverse books, and especially books by authors who are diverse. I also want to make an effort to read more Middle Grade fiction in 2014. And I want to continue to re-read. I really enjoyed the chance to revisit some of my favorites, and I think the best books reward you over and over again.



I love reading other folks’ year-end reviews and plans for the new year ahead, so here’s mine!

I think the best word to describe 2013 for me is “revitalizing.”

I started off 2013 in kind of a low place, feeling as if I was flailing in many ways. I was struggling with ongoing anxiety and depression, and sad that I was in a publishing dry spell. But I finally sought treatment for the anxiety/depression (and I am telling you all this in the hopes that it will encourage other folks to do the same, if you are hesitating). It took time and effort, but by the middle of the year I was actually enjoying life again.

The second half of 2013 was excellent! I went on a lovely writing retreat with one of my long-time critique partners where I got to hang out with a bunch of other awesome writers, swim in a lake formed by a meteor, and spend my days writing. Bob and I visited both our extended families in Minnesota. I explored more of Maine, picked strawberries with my best friend, went sea-kayaking with my brother, and started playing a new LARP campaign with a crew of amazing people. And I got to go back to my beloved Paris for ten days, with my husband and my mom, where I ate all the pastries, saw heaps of beautiful things, and spent hours wandering magical streets.

From Paris 2013

By the end of the year I think (hope!) I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t have any new books under contract. It helps to read posts like this one, by Jessica Spotswood (author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles, the third book of which I am dying to read after gobbling up the first two this summer), and be reminded that the only thing I can really control is the writing itself, and that the best reward is the joy that comes from falling in love with a story and trying to record it as faithfully and truly as I can.

It also helped that the end of 2013 brought me some of the coolest reader feedback on my published books I’ve had so far, including my first actual paper fan mail. Circus Galacticus is on the Sunshine State list in Florida, and I’ve had some lovely correspondence with readers and teachers and librarians there. I am truly grateful that I do have books out there in the world, and that they are reaching readers.

I wrote 135K new words this year on fiction, a little more than last year. Some of them were on a revision of a book that is searching for a home, but most of them were on something new (still in progress, after a number of false starts). The past two months have been especially good, possibly due to the fact that I started motivating myself with cute stickers:

Hopefully I can keep it up in 2014. I have plenty of stickers!

I wish you all a wonderful New Year!


Science + Art

One of my not-so-pet peeves is when people present science and art as being somehow at war with one another, especially when the implication is that science does not involve creativity and imagination, or that art is not a useful way of making sense of our world.

So I was delighted by two different podcasts I listened to, recently, that both delved into aspects of art and science and how they are both creative and help us make sense of the world.

The first was this episode of On Being, an interview with physicist S. James Gates. That link will take you to a transcript, or you can listen to the full podcast via a link on the upper right.

The entire show was fascinating (and delves into pattern-finding as an essential part of human nature, which is a topic dear to my heart) but the part I especially loved was this:

Dr. Gates: It feels as though one makes a discovery of something that was already there. It often feels that way. It’s almost like the equations are trying to tell you a story. It’s a little bit what I hear about when authors discuss how they work, that when you write a character, then the character at some point begins to take over and begin to determine …

Ms. Tippett: Right. They come to life.

Dr. Gates: Right, come to life, and then gets you to tell the story that the character wants to tell. This sense of finding the mathematics that was already there is very similar to that, I think. That we discover these things, but there’s something that seems to be pushing often. I mean, when you do the calculations, it’s as if there’s an imperative to follow a path and that this path then tells you the deeper story that the equations are trying to get out for us.

I love that notion! That in a way, physicists (and other scientists) are doing something similar to writers (and other artists): using their language to find and reveal truth.

One of my favorite parts of writing are those moments when I feel like the story is alive, that it is telling itself TO ME, rather than me being the one in control and telling it. That it exists independently in some way, with its own truth.

I would be curious what my fellow writers/artists and scientists think of this — do you feel like the story/pattern is out there already, and you are searching for it, in order to… bear witness to it, in a way?

The other podcast is this one on Musical Language from Radiolab. In particular, the section starting at around 27:30 that asks the question “How does music make us feel things?” and goes on to talk about Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which caused riots when it was first performed (not because people loved it, but because it was so dissonant!) but later went on to become beloved and acclaimed.

The part that I found especially intriguing is the notion that we are discomfited by sounds that are unfamiliar, that our brains are not used to processing and can’t make sense of (find patterns in). But that over time our brains can adapt, and find the patterns, and those unfamiliar things can become beautiful. I can’t really do justice to the story here (especially the absolutely adorable voices of neurons trying to make sense of what they are hearing). So if you have any interest in this, please listen to the podcast!

Bringing this back to story-telling, I love it when I find positive characters in fiction who do have an interest in math/science. And I am wondering if any of you folks can recommend any books (esp YA or MG) that features such characters. Bonus points if anyone can suggest a book with a character who is adept at/interested in math/science and is ALSO creative and artistic (musician, writer, poet, painter, etc)!


Rose and Vincent

As Inigo says, there is too much, let me sum up.

The summer here in Maine is so beautiful I want to revel in it, make every moment count. (Actually, that statement applies to life in general, but is particularly evident when the weather is splendid). So in my non-dayjob and non-writing time, I’ve been kayaking, picking strawberries, visiting friends and family, swimming, walking in the woods, and glorying in the summer fruits and veggies.

I’ve also been reading a lot and accumulating a long list of things I want to tell people about (books, blog posts, podcasts). I’ll save most of them for later posts, and focus on just three, because they are connected in that strange and wonderful way that things sometimes are. In life, as in writing (and mathematics!) I love it when unexpected patterns suddenly blaze out into significance. It’s like I can suddenly hear a tiny bit of the song the universe is singing.

This most recent unexpected pattern sprang out of a sorrow. My grandmother passed away last month. She had a long and rich and happy life, and it was not unexpected, but it was still a hard thing. When I was packing for the trip to New York for the funeral, I decided to bring two books.

One was non-fiction, a collection of letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which I had discovered via the wonderful Brain Pickings blog. I’m still working my way through the collection, but I already knew I wanted to own a copy after the first few pages. Vincent (as she calls herself) is a fascinating character, coming so early into relative fame as a poet, traveling to Vassar for college, maintaining vibrant correspondence with other poets and her beloved mother and sisters. I have a particular interest in Millay as she grew up in Camden Maine (very near one of my own childhood homes, in Rockport Maine). I also discovered that one of my favorite modern poets, Mary Oliver, was deeply influenced by Millay and even helped organize her papers, as well as also attending Vassar for a time!

I had only learned about Brain Pickings because a friend had posted a link to this interview with Maria Popova, who writes Brain Pickings. And the quote that made me go subscribe to Brain Pickings was what Ms Popova says here:

Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.

That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession – it’s something that gives me enormous joy and stimulation, so I do it a great deal, but I don’t know if that constitutes expertise.

Drawing connections! Finding patterns!

The other book I brought with me was ROSE UNDER FIRE, a companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, which I read and loved last year. You don’t have to read CNV to follow the story of RUF, though RUF does spoil certain plot points in CNV so if you’ve an interest in reading that, you should probably read it first. I ordered my UK copy from The Book Depository because I couldn’t wait for the US release on September 10th!

And I loved it — perhaps even more than I loved CNV. I found it a hard book to read, because of the honest depiction of human cruelty and brutality. But it is full of such wonderful characters, such love, such true friendships. RUF is the story of a young woman pilot (American, this time), helping the Allied war effort during World War II. Rose is a poet, and it is poetry that helps sustain her (and the other women she meets) during some horrible, harrowing times. Her own poetry, but also that of one of her favorite poets– Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Then, at the funeral, my uncle asked me to read a poem as part of the service. A poem by Millay. In fact, one of the poems that is quoted in ROSE UNDER FIRE.

I know some patterns are actually probably just coincidences. But I still love them, especially at a time when I am all too aware of death and endings. I think drawing– seeing, finding– connections is one of the best things we can do as living, loving creatures. It’s part of the reason I write. Because to me, telling stories is also about finding patterns, understanding connections.

So thank you, Grandma, for helping me find patterns. For helping me love the world a little more.


One of my favorite poems by Millay:

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed will escape my door
But by a yard or two, and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand;
I shall be gone to what I understand
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung;
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.


And here’s a question for the writers out there: if you’re working on a draft of something, and you get maybe 75% done and then realize that you want to go back and substantially change some core element that may impact character motivations and subtle stuff (the WHY) in the last 25%, but won’t necessarily change the actual events/plot points (the WHAT) do you power through and try to write the last 25% or do you go back and do the rewrite of the beginning first?


Recent Reads

This has been an awesome reading year so far for me. That’s partly good fortune, and partly because I’ve been doing a bunch of re-reading of old favorites (Anne of Green Gables, The Darkangel, The Blue Sword, and an ongoing re-read of the Brother Cadfael series). Actually I want to try to organize my thoughts on the pleasures and benefits of re-reading but I will save that for another post. Because this one is about new discoveries.

First up: I was lucky enough to get an early look at Amy Butler Greenfield’s beautiful new YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS, which features musical magic, terrifying mind-flaying ravens, science and a determined heroine making her own destiny. I interviewed Amy about the book here on the Enchanted Inkpot. CHANTRESS just released yesterday and Amy shared a lovely, inspiring post about her writing journey on her own blog. If you are struggling with a creative project, go read it. If you like YA fantasy, English history, music, hard choices, and complicated, slow-burn romances, go read CHANTRESS.

Second, I just finished reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, which is a YA novel set in 1986, about two teen misfits who meet on the schoolbus and fall in love. I loved this, and not just because it features the music of my teendom (The Smiths, The Cure, U2, New Order) and X-Men comics. It reminded me of a John Hughes movie (in a good way). Eleanor is a smart, prickly, poor, fat (or at least, big enough that she gets bullied for it), white girl dealing with a really rough family life. Park is a quiet, music & comic-loving, half-Korean boy trying to live up to the expectations of his macho dad. It’s not a perfect book (in particular, I need to think some more about the portrayal of Park’s family, though I am so happy to see a hot Asian boy as the romantic lead in a popular novel). But it was perfect for me, and it might be perfect for you too!

One of my favorite quotes: “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

Note: ELEANOR & PARK does feature some pretty mature content and language. And a lot of dark stuff mixed in with the romance and funny bits. And the ending may not work for everyone (it worked for me though). Actually, I really want to talk about the ending with someone else who has read it! I am very curious what other folks think of it.

I know what I think the three words are. But I don’t want to spoil anything more here…

Also, I am super-excited by the looks of Rainbow Rowell’s next book, coming later this year: FANGIRL. It’s got cover art by the fantastic Noelle Stevenson, which brings me to…

My third recent reading recommendation! This one is easy to check out because it is free and online: Noelle Stevenson’s webcomic Nimona. It’s about heros and villains, science, best friends who are now enemies. The titular main character is teen shapeshifter Nimona, who wants to be the side-kick of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, who was once lawful before having been betrayed by his former best friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the golden boy of the kingdom.

It starts here.

Stevenson is also the artist behind the highly amusing Broship of the Ring.

There you are. Go forth and read!


How knitting is like writing

I started learning to knit just about a year ago. I spent most of last year working on a scarf. A looooong scarf. That involved the same series of stitches, over and over again. So when I finally finished that I wanted to work on something “more interesting.”

Have you noticed how “more interesting” so often translates to “Aaaa! How did I ever think I could possibly be capable of THIS???”

But I wanted to learn something new. Like using double pointed needles. Like doing increases and decreases. I wanted to understand arcane invocations like “ssk” and “k2tog” and “pick up one stitch to close the gap.”

It is possible I was slightly over-ambitious. But I fumbled through it, with a lot of help from YouTube and Ravelry. I got almost to the end — I could see the lovely pattern emmerging, I could actually put the thing on my hand and see where the hole for my thumb was and everything. Unfortunately, I could also see all the mistakes. The places where I had created ladders. The uneven sizing. The fact that the glove was just TOO BIG.

I stared at that glove for a long time. I thought about how I was so close to finishing. I asked myself if I could live with those imperfections, knowing I could do better now that I had learned more.

I taught myself another new bit of knitting terminology:

FROGGING: When you undo a bunch of work (or an entire piece). Because you “rip it” and move on.

I started over. I adjusted the pattern to fit my smaller hand. I used what I had learned from the last time. And finally, I ended up with this:

From Misc

Now I just need to knit the other one. Hopefully before fall!

Over the past few years I’ve been working on another project. A book. I have frogged it (in part or in full) a frightening number of times. Yesterday I finished my most recent revision, which involved a pretty significant rewrite of the first few chapters. Yet again.

But I don’t regret it. Each time I learn something. Each time I get closer to the perfect ur-book in my mind.

And hopefully each time I move on to something more interesting!

(Like maybe this?)


Signs of Spring

Today when I walked my dog Charlie up in the woods, we heard peepers. So I know it is finally, FINALLY, spring here in Maine.

Also, there are these:

From Gardens

Considering my last post here was about being frozen, it seems like an appropriate time to come back. Though thankfully I haven’t actually been frozen all this time. I’ve been writing, moving forward bit by bit on my new project. And putting off writing here on my blog, thinking I should wait until I “have time” to do it properly. I should know better, by now. Because usually “the right time” ends up as “never.”

So, I will plunge back in. My current writing project is a bit too close to my heart to talk about right now; instead I’ll mention a few things I have loved in the past few weeks:

1) Getting to attend the Maine Reading Round Up last week, hanging out with hundreds of fabulous Maine librarians and writers. I was honored to be on a panel with Terry Farish, Maria Padian, and Sarah L Thomson, moderated by Megan Frazer Blakemore, talking about writing strong heroines. We had the audience shout out words they associated with the word “strength.” Some of my favorites: “quiet”, “tenacious”, “can feel lonely”, “authentic”, and “hippo.” :-)

2) As part of the Reading Round Up, having the chance to listen to Kate Messner‘s wonderful keynote speech. She talked about so many inspiring things, but my favorite part was when she talked about different kinds of fear: the fear that actually keeps you from danger, and the kind that tells you you are pushing yourself. And the notion that sometimes our fear of failure prevents us from doing the things we need to do most, to grow and learn. As she asked, “What would you do, if failure was impossible?”

3) Have you ever wanted to draw celtic knots? Here’s a very cool little tutorial on a simple triskele.

4) I was floundering this week, trying to find the right book to read. I knew I wanted something very specific, but my brain proved exceedingly unhelpful in actually identifying what it that was. Magic? Twisty plot? Gardening? Comfort reading? Tears? But the nice thing about surrounding yourself with a lot of bookish people (virtually and in person) is that you are always well-supplied with recommendations. So I went through a number of my “must try that out some day because Person X adored it” books, found one at the library, and adored it. The book was Saffy’s Angel, by Hilary McKay. It’s middle grade contemporary, but it’s one of those bewitching stories that captures a sort of real-life magic, in the lives of the complicated, colorful Casson family. And even though it touches on some serious issues, it’s got this sort of… irrepressible charm and wonder that left me feeling just plain happy. The funny thing is, I know I picked it up at least once before, and only got a few pages in. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place for a book to find you!

5) And lastly, check out these gorgeous photos of the turquoise ice shards jutting out of Lake Baikul (the same lake from the photo in my last post on being Frozen). Our world is a pretty awesome place!



I am wrestling with the beginning of a new story right now. For me, this is the hardest part of writing. There are so many different possibilities. And I often need to try out several of them, before I can find one that will sustain the story I want to tell. And even then, I will likely come back later and have to change it all, because the story I think I want to tell isn’t always the story I need to tell.

When I think about it too much, I freeze. I stare at the blank screen, thinking-thinking-thinking, convincing myself that I need to get it right, that there must be some way to find that perfect beginning that will make it all fall into place.

I need to remember that sometimes (a lot of times) I need to explore. I need those false starts to be able to recognize the true one. And I am not going to find it if I sit here, frozen.

So off I go.

Image of a horse and rider crossing a frozen lake
That photo is Ice Rider by Matthieu Paley.


While I am off getting un-frozen, here are a few other things:

If you are plugged into the online writing community you have probably already seen author Jo Knowles marvelous and inspiring post on living life. But just in case you haven’t I will point you to it again. Do try to watch the video she includes, which is an interview with Maurice Sendak. It is sad, but I found it uplifting as well.

Here’s a thought-provoking article from the NY Times on the nature of story-telling and how it is changing with the rise of visual media.

And lastly, if you need soothing or cheering, there is a brand new litter of puppies on the Explore Service Puppy Cam. They are just starting to walk! Once they are older, they will be trained as service dogs to help disabled veterans.


2013 Goals & Plans

I love the energy of the new year. It’s partly because, as Anne Shirley says, “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.” 2013 is fresh, open with possibilities. So it’s this time of year when I’m thinking about what I want to do with that potential. As in, setting goals: concrete things I have to potential to accomplish (as opposed to more general resolutions).

Of course sometimes one has to be willing to fail and make mistakes, in order to learn and grow. So when I make goals, I do so knowing that in some cases I am going to fail — especially if I push myself a little beyond my comfort zone.

Here are my 2013 goals:

1) FINISH A NEW BOOK DRAFT. I just (re) started a new YA fantasy project, and am only a few thousand words into it. I’ve been taking a little “reading break,” but come Jan 1st, I am sitting down and getting to work again!

2) CRAFT THE ONE RING. Well, not really. But this is my next knitting project. It’s going to require a couple new techniques, so I think it will be a good next step.

3) GO TO PARIS. I’ve been once before, back in 2006, for a week. I’ve wanted to return ever since the day I left. But with so many other fantastic places to visit, it’s been hard to justify returning. This year (hopefully in September) we will finally get the chance. It’s possible we might split the trip with another destination, maybe Amsterdam, or somewhere else in France? Any suggestions? Ideally somewhere reachable by train.

4) READ THOSE BOOKS. The ones that I’ve had on my to-read list for ages, by authors I have never read but that so many of my friends sing the praises of. Specifically, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers, The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett, and Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigred Undset. I may not actually end up finishing them, but I want to make a good faith effort to read each!

5) SHARE THE LOVE. Send email to the author of any book I read and really love (the ones I give five stars to on Goodreads) this year, telling them how much I enjoyed it. Also post a recommendation here!

6) PICK STRAWBERRIES. I am always sad when I miss the too-short local strawberry season, since they are one of my favorite fruits. So although this is a small thing, I am making it a goal this year: to get out there to one of the local upick places and fill up my freezer!

That’s it! I might add a few more when I re-evaluate in July.

Anyone else setting goals? Do you find them motivational?