Posts Tagged ‘writing’

2016/2017

02
January
2017

OVERALL
2016 was a low year for me. Nothing truly horrible or tragic occurred in my immediate family, but there were personal uncertainties and medical worries that took a toll physically, financially and mentally. I spent significant portions of the year struggling with low-level anxiety and depression, and am still working on dealing with that.

There were plenty of highlights though, and those are what I am trying to focus on and take with me moving forward.

In September Bob and I spent a wonderful week in Edinburgh, Scotland. I haven’t managed to type up my travel notes but there are photos here with comments documenting the trip. I would love to return to Scotland and spend more time out in the countryside– my biggest regret about the trip is not taking a few more days and visiting the Isle of Skye! As usual, the vacation left me full of enthusiasm to plan another trip. I don’t know if we’ll manage to get out of the country in 2017, but the dream trip I’m currently planning is a return to Venice and a visit to Rome and Pompeii.

Another highlight of 2016 was reuniting with a bunch of good friends to plan and run the first weekend event of a new fantasy live-action roleplaying game Evensong, in early December. After struggling with burnout for many years it was so much fun to be able to work on a collaborative creative project with awesome people. I’m really happy with the response we had to the first event and eager to see how the storylines and world develop as we continue in 2017.

Bob and I also started running a tabletop D&D game for a few of our friends this fall that we’ve been having a lot of fun with. The characters are all woodland creatures in a fantasy woodland. One of my favorite Christmas gifts were these two adorable felted critters made by my friend Beth:

One of my main NPCs is a skunk, and her PC is a star-nosed mole. :-)

READING
In 2016 I read a total of 44 things , including both novels, nonfiction,
audiobooks, graphic novels and picture books, but not including the ~8 manuscripts I read for critique partners.

That’s by far my lowest yearly total in ages. I suspect this is linked
to my struggles with depression throughout the year (see above). That said, I really did enjoy my reading this year! To spotlight just a few of my favorites:

Unusual Chickens for Exceptional Poultry Farmers by Kelly Jones [MG Contemporary/Fantasy]
Ms. Marvel, Vol 5: Superfamous by G. Willow Wilson [Comic]
Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton [YA Contemporary]
Ruin & Risingby Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson [Adult Speculative]
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes [Nonfiction]

Because I love reading statistics, here’s some further details:
30 were novels
9 were graphic novels
3 were nonfiction books
2 were picture books

16 (36%) were by diverse authors. There were others that featured diverse main characters but I’ve determined it’s really most useful for me to track books by diverse authors at this point, since that’s what I really want to make sure I am reading more of.

27 were from the library, 17 were books I owned.
24 were physical books, 18 were ebooks, 2 were audiobooks.

The graphic novels/comics inflates the “physical” number since I don’t have a good ereader for comics. At this point I much prefer ereading for anything that is all text.

Of the novels: 17 YA, 10 Adult, 3 MG

Of the novels: 10 were fantasy, 9 were contemporary, 6 were mystery, 2 were romance, 2 were speculative, 1 was historical, with some overlap– some of the mysteries are historical too, etc.

Looking forward to 2017, I want to push to get back to my more normal 70-100 items read per year. I also want to read even more #ownvoices books (books about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group). I’d love to read a bit more nonfiction and a bit more middle grade, but I’m also going to try to listen to my instincts and follow my whims, since that’s what got me out of my latest slump.

WRITING
I wrote 138K new words of fiction in 2016, somewhat less than the past two years. I also did not complete anything brand new, though I substantially revised– effectively rewrote– the YA fantasy I finished at the end of 2015. Twice. Unfortunately it’s still not working, so I am now literally rewriting it with brand new characters & plot & stakes! I still really love the world and premise of this story, and I feel a solid core of enthusiasm for writing it. But it was pretty disheartening to keep banging my head against it only to realize I was going in the wrong direction (mostly because the protag just wasn’t working). But hey, at least now I’ve proven what doesn’t work!

I also started (about 25% written) a new MG fantasy adventure for the first time in ages, and I have lots of other ideas that I am really excited about if I can just get all the pieces to click into place.

In 2017, my current goals (subject to change at the whim of my creative impulse and/or the publishing industry) are to finish drafts of both the new rewrite of the YA fantasy and the MG fantasy adventure. I’m also hoping to keep up my writing journal (where I write about how I’m feeling about my writing, so when I start feeling like everything is terrible I can look back and see that I always have those feelings and they do go away eventually) and to spend at least an hour every week poking at/playing with some of my back-burner ideas to keep them working.

So I better go get to work! Happy New Year!

April, May, June

02
July
2016

Honestly, April and May were rough. There is a reason I’m not posting this until July. The short version is: I was in a lot of physical pain due to ongoing back issues, there were scary medical things affecting people I love, while various other less-serious-but-stressful things were also all happening at once. Happily, much of that is now all better or tending-to-better.

So here I am now, trying to catch up!

GAMING
When I was deep in the throes of pain and stress, there was pretty much one thing I could do that distracted me. It was hard to read, hard to write, hard to watch television. But I could play video games. Specifically, I played Dragon Age Inquisition. Twice.

I am a huge fan of the Mass Effect trilogy, also by BioWare, and enjoyed the first Dragon Age game a lot (in fact, I think the Alistair romance in that game is my current all-time favorite video-game romance). But I didn’t love Dragon Age 2, so I’d been a little leery of Inquisition, the third in the series. I’d heard it was a bigger, more sprawling game with a lot of side-quests and I was afraid my completionist nature would drive me up the wall. And I did have to fight the urge to do everything. But I had SO MUCH FUN. I loved all the different new regions of the world: running through an endless moonlit desert, tramping through a sorrowful, beautiful enchanted forest, chasing after cute big-eared foxes on my way to adventure. And I loved the characters and the story, the funny moments that made me laugh out loud and the stirring, passionate moments of bravery and loss.

I’m just so grateful I found this game when I needed it. (And I really REALLY hope there is going to be a Dragon Age 4 now.)

Here’s my canonical elven mage Inquisitor (who romanced Solas, for those who understand what that means…)

Screenshot from Dragon Age Inquisition of a white-haired, brown-skinned elven woman.

READING
Archie, Vol. 1: The New Riverdale by Mark Waid, Fiona Staples, Annie Wu, Veronica Fish [YA Comic]
Archie was the first comic I read as a kid, and I can still remember several of the stories vividly. So I was excited to hear that a new version was being produced, with some updated backstories and new spins on several of the main characters. In general I really loved this (especially the art by Fiona Staples in the first few issues). I loved how Archie and Betty had a complicated backstory, and how Jughead’s character finally made sense to me. I’m not sure I love it so much I’m going to keep reading, but this was a fun and nostalgic read.

The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee [YA Historical Mystery]
I’ve been working my way through this ongoing YA historical mystery series with great enjoyment. My favorite part is Mary Quinn herself, the Victorian-era teenage spy who goes undercover as a maid, who struggles with her own complicated origins and history, who is so capable and clear-sighted.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks [Adult Graphic Novel]
I’d heard a podcast about the Harlem Hellfighters on Stuff You Missed in History Class that intrigued me, so I ended up taking this somewhat fictionalized graphic novel out of the library to learn more about these Black soldiers fighting overseas during WWI, fighting fiercely, earning medals and acclaim, in spite of racism and discrimination. Sobering, informative, inspiring, and infuriating.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng [Adult Mystery]
The premise of this hooked me: the slow unraveling of the mystery behind a teen girl’s death, seen through the eyes of her family. I am not entirely satisfied by the ending, but I think perhaps I’m not supposed to be…

The Secret Place by Tana French [Adult Mystery]
I’ve loved the other two Tana French novels I’ve read (The Likeness and Faithful Place) and this one was in some ways my favorite of all. The writing is absolutely brilliant and gorgeous, and the structure unfolds in a tremendously compelling way: alternating chapters in the present, from the point of view of the detective investigating the murder of a young man on the grounds of a fancy girl’s boarding school, and chapters in the past, from the points of view of four girls at the school, leading up to the murder itself.

Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in WWII by Bruce Myles [Adult Non Fiction]
This was another read inspired by Stuff You Missed in History Class, and I’m so glad I sought it out. A fascinating, if dense and occasionally hard-to-follow account of the Soviet women who served as fighter pilots and bombers during WW2. I found the topic so fascinating I’ve already started reading another book about these women. Some of my favorite parts were the small details about the lives of these women, like how they would dye the white silk caps they wore under their helmet pretty colors, or how they pooled their rations to bake cakes for one girl’s birthday (or, in another case, carved a watermelon when there were no supplies for cake). This was one of those books that really made history come vividly alive for me.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
by Shonda Rhimes [Adult Non Fiction/Memoir]
Inspiring and thought-provoking. Also, it made me start watching Grey’s Anatomy!

WRITING
I’m revising my most recent project again. It’s hard, but I feel like I’m making it better. Onward!

RAMBLES
Once the glorious Maine weather started to feel more summery, I got out on some escapades:

To the Coastal Botanical Garden to see the rhododendrons:
Photo of Deva standing by a pink rhododendron

To Rockport Harbor, where I took lots of photos of boats with funny names (there was another small red boat I called The Red Herring!):
Photo of a boat called For Pete's Sake moored in a sunny harbor

And to Camden Harbor, to sit in the beautiful waterside park:
Photo of a harbor on a sunny day, taken by Deva as she's laying in the grassy park along the shore, with her feet in the foreground

March Diversions

03
April
2016

What I was up to last month. Aspirational fabrics, fabulous books, food obsessions…

READING
Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead [MG Contemporary]
I enjoyed this even more than Stead’s Newbery-winning When You Reach Me. I loved the characters, how believable and messy and wonderful their relationships were, and how perfectly Stead captured the middle-school balance between being a kid and being a teen. So many small perfect details all came into play, and there is a very cool use of second-person POV in a set of chapters interspersed with the main plotline (that of course end up weaving into the main story by the end). Also, this book introduced me to the dizzying world of YouTube hair tutorials…

How I found it: I’d heard about it in passing, but what really made me go and look for it was the SLJ Battle of the Kid’s Books.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson [YA Contemporary]
I was in the mood for a contemporary novel about friendship and home and life and choices, and this fit that perfectly, with bonus exploration of gentrification and racism. I requested it from the library along with a whole bunch of other titles I was interested in, and the voice just caught me and didn’t let me go.

How I found it: I don’t recall where I first saw this referenced, but it’s popped up in enough lists of recommended books, diverse reading lists, and friends’ recommendations that I had it on my radar.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely [YA Contemporary]
A powerful exploration of modern race relations in the US, told in duel POV (a black boy who is beaten by a cop, and a white boy who witnesses the beating, who both attend the same school and have friends in common). Both voices were so powerful. I really appreciated how this book took a topic we see far too often in the headlines and really dug in and explored it on a personal level.

How I found it: Another one that is all around the blogosphere. And with good reason! It was actually a thought-provoking post by author Zetta Elliott that praised much of the book but was critical of one aspect (the lack of black female voices) that really pushed me to go get a copy.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard [YA Speculative]
I don’t know if I could give a thoughtful critique of this book: it basically just compelled me to read it as fast as possible (which, given that I was listening to an audio book, was a challenge! It was a good thing I started it when I was on vacation and spending a lot of time in the car!). I’m not even sure I really liked the characters. I just HAD TO KNOW what was going to happen next!
How I found it: It’s a NYT bestseller, optioned for film, talked-about everywhere.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
I loved this, and was deeply impressed by it, especially as a writer. Five different points of view that all felt distinct and necessary, amazing characterization full of shades of gray and mysteries and secrets, incredibly rich worldbuilding, AND a complicated, engaging plot. But really, my favorite part (the reason I am desperate for book 2) was Kaz and Inej. Individually, but especially together.
How I found it: I read and loved Bardugo’s first trilogy, set in the same world as this new duology. And I loved the idea of a magical heist novel!

Just So Happens by Fumio Obata [Adult Contemporary Graphic Novel]
Beautiful artwork that swept me into a subtle, bittersweet meditation on choice and grief (which makes this sound like a depressing book, but it’s not).
How I found it: I saw an image of the cover in a blog post somewhere, and the subtle, beautiful quality of the art made me go look it up!

WRITING
Still on hiatus from actual hands-to-keyboard writing, but doing a lot of mulling of possible projects, until last week when I started reading an awesome nonfiction history book and thought: “I really wish someone would write a novel about this!”

followed by: “Maybe I could?”

followed by: “But it wouldn’t work because of all the pesky FACTS and also I can’t afford a research trip and I wouldn’t do justice to it.”

and then finally: “But what if I made it a fantasy. Then I could add [REDACTED]! [REDACTED] make everything better!”

And now my brain is spinning merrily on that new idea.

(Bonus points for anyone who can guess what [REDACTED] is…)

CRAFTING
I started my first felting project. Charlie is dubious:

[Photo of my hand holding a blue-green felted blob as it is sniffed by a cute black-and-white dog]

I’ve also been preparing for some future crafting. My dad donated all of this beautiful fabric, which I am going to use to make some costuming for a new Live Action Role-Playing game I’m working on.

[Photo of an array of brightly colored printed fabrics, mostly in shades of red, yellow, green, cream.]

And in the process of looking at fabric online I fell down a rabbit hole and somehow managed with these two beauties showing up in my mailbox last week:

[Photo of two fabrics, one printed like a blue sky with puffy clouds, the other a blue background with black octopi]

Yes, I am going to attempt my first non-costume sewing. Like, real skirts with zippers that I might wear to work. Updates to come…

OOO, SHINY
This month I discovered that these exist:

[Photo of a vase of orange tulips, with a package of Cadbury Creme Egg cookies in the foreground.]

(The cookies, that is. I was already aware of the existence of tulips). And they are DELICIOUS (well, if you like Cadbury Creme Eggs to begin with, which apparently not everyone does for some inexplicable reason). It is possible there may be several more boxes of them in my freezer now, since they are limited edition. (Very limited, based on my current rate of consumption…)

Also, I am inordinately delighted that someone out there came up with this (link goes to a tumblr image that you may also find amusing if you, like me, enjoy both Waterhouse’s painting Lady of Shalott and puns).

February Diversions

19
March
2016

What I was up to last month:

READING
The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan [MG Fantasy]
I quite enjoyed this. It was exactly what I was in the mood for when I read it: a humorous middle-grade adventure that made me laugh and kept me turning pages.
How I found it: I was in the mood for a middle-grade adventure and it was available via the library ebook lending program, and then the first chapter hooked me!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas [YA Fantasy]
I will admit I was dubious about this, especially as I was reading the first several chapters. And I am sure there are other readers who find the main character unlikable, particularly at the start. But that’s actually one of the reasons I enjoyed this and am already on the library wait-list for book 2. I kind of love that Celaena is unapologetically selfish and vain and proud (she’s also loyal and kind and brave in turns). In any case, this was, for me, a fun and fast read.
How I found it: It’s a hugely popular YA fantasy series…

Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]
I continue to enjoy the Miss Fisher novels very much! I am taking a break so I don’t inhale them all at once, which I might otherwise be tempted to do.
How I found it: Ongoing series…

WRITING
I got back some really helpful feedback from my amazing and generous critique partners, then dove into a revision that consumed most of my spare energy this month (thus the comparatively small size of my reading list for February — and the fact that they were all read at the beginning of the month).

I tend to find revision more mentally all-consuming than drafting (except in the end-stages of drafting when I want to just write all the time to get the book finished). When drafting I will usually do my work for the day and stop and feel satisfied, whereas with revision I generally feel twitchy and guilty if I am not working on the revision ALL THE TIME. But now it’s done, and off, and I’m dedicating a good chunk of time to reading and gaming and letting myself brainstorm and muse and mull and research for new projects!

GAMING
Lara Croft GO: I played this on my tablet and found it both visually beautiful and addictive. The puzzles were just hard enough to make my brain twist, but rewarding enough to keep me coming back.

Monument Valley: Another tablet game! This one was also amazingly beautiful. It has a sort of mystical, surreal quality that I love; I think if you (like me) are a fan of the aesthetics of the game JOURNEY you might enjoy Monument Valley purely for the visuals. The puzzle aspect was also engaging, though not brain-twistingly challenging. But I think my favorite part of this game is that it gave me the feeling that I was walking around in an M. C. Escher painting.

Here’s the trailer, which gives a good overview of the amazing art:

WATCHING
UnREAL: I have never been interested in watching any of the “dating” reality shows (I prefer Project Runway, Face Off and The Great British Baking Show. And my late, lamented The Quest!). But this isn’t an actual reality show. It’s a drama about the people producing and competing in a fictional reality show. I found it incredibly compelling (and also kind of horrifying). The characters do terrible, terrible, hurtful, and outright evil things, and yet I understood why they did them, and the show manages to confront and examine so many interesting and important issues, particularly those related to the experiences of women working in a male-dominated industry. I’m eager for season 2, especially having heard that they’re going to be having a black bachelor on the show-within-the-show (something that the actual real-world Bachelor has never done in 20 seasons).

The Fall: I will admit I started watching this for pretty much one reason: Gillian Anderson. And it’s worth watching for her portrayal of a cool, capable Irish detective with a seemingly-endless supply of beautiful silk blouses, who is tracking a serial killer. But it’s also got a compelling story, and an intriguing setup in which we start off the very first episode knowing who the killer is; the tension is in watching his story and the detective’s story weave back and forth, closer and closer. If you are looking for a more eloquent review that delves into some of the feminist aspects of the show, you can also read this article over at the Atlantic.

January Diversions

04
February
2016

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo [YA Fantasy]
This is the final book in the Grisha trilogy, set in a fantasy land inspired by Russia. I actually read the second book in this series in December but missed it in my summary last month. I read them almost back-to-back because book two ends in a very unsettled place and I was eager to know how it would all turn out. Overall I really enjoyed both! I was particularly impressed by how the plot twists actually surprised me, and yet felt utterly believable. Ultimately I really just loved the world and the way everything came together so compellingly and perfectly in the end — so often a trilogy falls apart in the end, but this one only got stronger and stronger!

How I found it: I had read the first book in this series a while ago, then got distracted by other books and never kept going. But I’ve been hearing such good things about the author’s new series that I decided to go back and finish the earlier one (they take place in the same world). Also, the new book, SIX OF CROWS, had a loooooooong wait list at the library whereas the second and third books in this first series were available right away as ebooks. Also, I love these covers. A superficial motivation, but there it is!

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson [YA Comics]
This series just keeps digging deeper and getting more rich and rewarding. I love Kamala!

How I found it: Ongoing series…

Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick [Adult Comics]
The bound edition of the first several issues of an adult science fiction comic about a harsh and terrifying future Earth ruled by a literal patriarchy, where women can be convicted and sent to an off-world prison for being too loud, fat, queer, angry, feminist, or otherwise “non-compliant.” It made me both rage, and also punch the air in triumph. I loved the characters, especially Penny Rolle and Kamau Kogo. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

How I found it: I think the first place I heard about this was on The Mary Sue blog, in an article about people getting “non compliant” tattoos inspired by the comic. Once I heard the premise, I knew I had to check it out.

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

and

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood [Adult Mystery]

Reading a Miss Fisher book is like sitting down in a beautiful palm-fringed parlour with a cup of tea and a cake and lounging around chatting with a delightful friend. They are quite short, and I am sure if I let myself I would inhale them all in one go, but I am trying to space them out, for when I really need a comforting, dependable sort of book. I will say, though, that there are a few problematic elements related to exoticism and a few other narrative choices I found questionable — I can’t ignore them, and I am hoping that maybe future books will not go in that direction.

How I found it: Ongoing series…

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley [Adult Historical]
I enjoyed this, though I think perhaps I wasn’t in quite the right mood for it and so it seemed to take me a long time to get through. I appreciate Kearsley’s ability to weave together a modern and a historical storyline, and engage me in both.

How I found it: I’ve read most of Kearsley’s other books and enjoyed them (especially with the lovely Sourcebooks covers).

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates [Nonfiction]
Illuminating and distressing, written as a set of letters to Coates’ son, in large part about the experience of being black in America (and oversees, too). Every time I think I am starting to understand my own privilege, I read something like this and realize just how much I don’t understand. The stories about the murder of Coates’ college friend (by cops) was particularly wrenching. This was a dense read that took some attention and effort, but I am glad to have read it.

How I found it: I’ve read numerous articles by Coates and appreciated his insights, so when I started hearing all the positive buzz about this book I wanted to make a point to read it.

WRITING
I finished my first revision pass on my new book!

(Image of manuscript in progress, blurred to protect you all from first-draft prose and lots of all-caps notes to myself. Also, that’s my silly little map that I finally drew after I figured out the geography I needed for the story to make sense…)

CRAFTING
My excellent aunt sent me more yarn, similar to the stuff I used to make my last hat. I am already making a second hat for my mom, and now apparently I can make SIX MORE. Knitting has been a nice form of meditation for me lately so this is a good thing. As long as I can find people to give all these hats to.

GAMING
In my quest to play all the BioWare games ever, I started in on Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, playing a Scout named Vala Jast (I think I spent like a half hour in the name generator). It’s definitely a little clunky compared to Mass Effect and Dragon Age, but I’m enjoying it! Meeting Twi’leks and Wookies and thwarting Sith and gaining Light Side points. Except that then I hit the part where I have to shoot enemy fighters and sadly I am no Finn. So right now I am stuck dying over and over again, because of my bad aim and/or inability to manipulate my mouse. Hopefully I can figure it out (or find a friend who can come get through this fight for me) so that Vala can achieve her Jedi potential!

December Diversions

03
January
2016

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
I didn’t plan it this way, but all my reading this month was comfort reading. All are excellent books that stand on their own, but they are also exactly the kinds of books that are the literary equivalent of a cozy afternoon sitting by the fireside drinking tea and eating toast with a good friend. At least, for me! Lots of warm, complicated friendships and families, delicious food descriptions, a dash of adventure and intrigue, humor, and richly detailed worlds.

Tiled book cover images for December Reading

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
I loved this! It was rather short, but fortunately there are over a dozen more in the series. There are some substantial differences from the television series but so far the books have been packed with just as many rich female friendships, gorgeous fashion, clever dialog and witty observations.

How I found it: I was already a fan of the television series so I had been wanting to check out the books that inspired it! I had actually tried reading the first few pages once before and had bounced off them for some reason, but this time everything clicked!

Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace
I’m slowly going through a re-read of one of my favorite series of all time, the Betsy-Tacy books. I do love this particular book, though it’s got a scene that is one of the hardest for me to read in the entire series (Margaret’s party). I just adore these characters so much, even when they are making mistakes.

How I found it: This is a long-standing favorite series that I have already re-read several times.

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay
I continue to be in awe of McKay’s ability to create compelling characters and to make them seem so immediately REAL. And to make me love the Casson family so much, flawed as they are.

How I found it: The same friend who first recommended this series posted about this “prequel”, so of course I had to run out and request it from the library, since I’ve loved all the others in the series.

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
Another delightful mystery set in the 1930s, this time riffing off Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Hazel is such a wonderful narrator, and I loved getting to finally meet her father Mr Wong, and to see how her confidence and sense of self continues to grow as the series progresses.

How I found it: I’d read the first two in the series and enjoyed them so much I have been ordering the UK editions so I can (A) get them months earlier and (B) get paperback copies with the delightful UK cover art.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
I didn’t originally think that I needed a sequel to To All the Boys I Loved Before. I was wrong. Lara Jean continues to be a distinctive and adorable and refreshing character I just love spending time with.

How I found it: I read and loved the first in this series, and it was available via my library’s ebook lending program.

CRAFTING
I finished my new hat! The colors and the slouchiness make me happy every time I wear it!

Deva wearing a colorful knitted hat

WATCHING

STAR WARS STAR WARS STAR WARS!

COOKING
About 85% of my photos from December have something to do with food. And there was a lot of homemade deliciousness going on.

Starting with these amazing cranberry-orange morning rolls:
cranberry-orange rolls

Continuing with a cookie-baking marathon of which these are only a tiny portion:
Two full baking sheets of gingerbread cookies

To our traditional Christmas dinner of homemade Indian food, including my favorite, the samosas. This is Bob and I doing the less-exciting work of rolling out the dough and stuffing them. I am only smiling like that because I am anticipating eating them!
Deva and Bob making the samosas

And finally, my best friend Maureen and I were inspired by the Great British Baking Show and decided to tackle the challenge of the Prinsesstarta, not being at all put off by the fact that it requires an entire dozen eggs, two pints of cream, almost a pound of ground almonds, and more than a pound of sugar. Unlike the contestants on the show who had less than three hours, we gave ourselves an entire day to work on it (and boy did we need it).

From Princesstarta

(Click to go to a whole set of photos documenting our endeavor)

WRITING
I finished the first draft of a new book (YA Fantasy) just before the end of the year! It’s messy and I figured out a big chunk of it about half-way through and I already have a list of at least a dozen things to revise and it’s probably too short and the ending needs to change but it is DONE. And I am taking a break now to read and mull and play a bunch of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.

The owls tracking my progress, including the traditional end-of-draft flurry:

Calender page from December with lots of owl stickers

November Diversions

06
December
2015

What I’ve been up to in the last month:

READING
Serpentine by Cindy Pon [YA Fantasy]
Lushly detailed, immersive, and romantic! I especially loved the main character’s struggles with identity and agency, and the complicated and rich female friendship. There’s a bit of a cliff-hanger in the end, so I am eager for book 2!

How I found it: I’ve known Cindy since we both had our first novels debut the same year (back in 2009). She’s amazing and super hard-working and multi-talented, and I loved her first duology, full of epic action, fierce ladies, delicious foods, and cute boys.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu [YA Fantasy]
I am a sucker for super-hero stories, and this one has the added benefit of being set in a fantasy version of Venice!

How I found it: I was a fan of Lu’s first trilogy, starting with LEGEND, and loved the notion of a story about a girl “villain” inspired by Darth Vader.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han [YA Contemp]
I loved this — it had a bit of the feel of some of my favorite comfort reads, with the strongly rendered and complicated family at the center of the story. I loved all the little details of Lara Jean’s life, her relationships with her older and younger sisters.

How I found it: I’d been peripherally aware of it for a while, as it’s popped up on various blogs and such that I follow, and the premise was compelling (girl writes secret love letters to every boy she falls in love with, and then one day they all get accidentally mailed). I made the leap to actually reading it when I saw my library had an e-copy available.

Jem and the Holograms: Showtime by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell [YA Graphic Novel]
This was indeed truly, truly outrageous, in a good way. I grew up watching the original Jem cartoon and I love how this new comic interpretation takes the best elements of the source material– the female friendships, the secret identity hijinx, the rival girl bands, the awesomely colorful clothing– and reinterprets it, with an added helping of diversity.

How I found it: I think I first heard about the new comic via The Mary Sue.

WATCHING

How To Get Away With Murder
It only took one episode of this to completely hook both my husband and me. I’m still not entirely sure if I actually *like* any of the characters, but they are certainly engaging and compelling! I was slightly dissatisfied by the resolution of the overarching mystery, but I am still eager to continue with season 2.

The Crimson Field
One of my favorite of the recent batch of British period dramas, depicting the lives of nurses serving at a hospital camp in France during WWI. I’m very sad it wasn’t renewed! There was so much great material to work with, and fantastic acting. At least the final episode left things in a reasonable spot, and I can invent my own endings for the various characters.

Dark Matter
I loved this! And am very glad to hear that it was renewed. It combines a fantastic premise (six people wake from stasis on a starship with no memories and have to figure out who they are, what they were doing, and how they will define themselves now) with a fairly diverse cast and fun, scifi action. I think I was especially partial to it as it reminded me so strongly of Mass Effect, aesthetically.

CRAFTING
Late fall seemed like the perfect time to break out some colorful, glittery yarn and start a new hat:

WRITING
I’m drafting away on a new project. Unfortunately, I hit a block in the middle of the month, just after hitting 45K, and sunk into a small pit of despair. Fortunately, I started keeping a writing journal last year, and in the midst of my misery I thought to look back and see how I was doing while working on the first draft of my last book. I discovered I hit a terrible block on that one too… just after hitting 45K. It didn’t necessarily help me figure out the block (that took a lot of banging of head against outline and some backtracking) but it did make me less angstful. So much about writing is just learning to recognize your own creative patterns and processes!

BLOOMING
Both my African Violets are blooming, and (for the first time in at least 15 years!) so is my Purple Passion Plant (the fuzzy orange blobs in the background of the below photo). I’d like to think the PPP blooms are a good omen, but they kind of smell like something rotting, so maybe I should actually be worried? :-)

2014 In Review

01
January
2015

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!

Motivation

23
September
2014

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!

January Updates

05
February
2014

A miscellany of things that have gotten me through this often-cold, often-gray month:

Steampunk Fractals. Go look here!

Making patterns. I would love to see a live performance by this artist!

Knitting! I finally managed to dig out the hat I am working on and figure out how to read a chart (or at least this not-especially-complex chart). I haven’t gotten to my first cable stitch, but I am on the way!

January was a really excellent reading month for me — I managed to finish 11 books in a variety of genres and levels (1 picture book, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 graphic novels, 6 YA and 1 MG). I’d love to keep it up all year!

Two of my favorites this month both have “Summer” in the title, a fact I had not realized until I started typing up this blog post. Apparently my brain is eager for winter to be over! But they are also really good books, so I wanted to mention them here…

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Of everything I read in January, this is the one that has been staying with me most strongly. This MG historical juggles so many different elements: life in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, family dynamics, sisterhood, art, poetry. But I think the reason I loved it most was the protag, Delphine. She’s just plain awesome, from her fierce dedication to taking care of her two younger sisters (even when they don’t want to be taken care of) to her sense of humor and wry observations, to her deep wounds and need to be an 11 year old girl. The only reason I’m not reading the sequel right now is that I’m saving it as a reward for my next writing milestone!

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
I loved Stork’s earlier Marcelo in the Real World, but I think I might actually have liked this one even more. Pancho doesn’t necessarily invite the reader to love him, and yet I did, no matter how prickly he was. And I appreciated the absence of false sentimentality, especially involving D.Q., the boy dying of cancer who could easily have been played purely as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Boy but was much more real.

January was also a good writing month, as evidenced by my latest stickers:

One sticker = 500 words. I’m on the downward slope with this draft, and hoping my momentum will propel me to a finish in February.

I hope January was kind to all of you, too!