Posts Tagged ‘yir’

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!

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!

Revitalized

01
January
2014

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!

2012 Highlights: Everything Else

28
December
2012

I already posted some of my favorite books, songs and other entertainments of 2012, but here are a few other notable things from 2012.

~Six Self-Improvements~
WALKING TO WORK
My original 2012 goals included “Bike to work at least 10 times.” At the time, my dayjob office was five miles away from my house. I really don’t have any excuse for not biking more often, except that mornings are my writing time, so I’d tend to justify driving as a way to have more writing time. BUT! Earlier this year I found out our office was moving at the end of September: right down the street, less than half a mile from my house. So since the move I’ve been walking to work every day, and also home at lunch several days a week, to walk the dog. It’s only a small bit of exercise, but I love seeing more of my hometown, in all sorts of weather and season.

STANDING DESK
On a related note: since we were going to be moving to a new office, I requested that my desk be raised up (it’s in a cubical, so it is adjustable) so that I can work standing up. This has been a great change! I spend 8 hours at my dayjob, and it’s practically all on a computer (I develop mapping software), on top of the ~3 hours writing at home in the morning (more on weekends). That’s a LOT of sitting, and given how unhealthy sitting seems to be, I really wanted to find a way to change it. I really love standing at work. I do have a bar stool (wooden, with a back) that I lean against probably about half the time. Very occasionally I will actually sit in it — if I’ve just come back from a long lunchtime walk or once when I was sick and worn out. I didn’t find any bad side-effects, though I do think I am a bit more antsy now at movies or other places where I can’t move around or switch positions easily.

SKETCHING
I’ve been wanting to spend more time being creative in non-writing ways, so I got out my sketchpad and pencils, and have done about 20 sketches since July or so. I encourage myself by using clippings from National Geographic magazine, stapling them into the book and then trying to sketch the people or animals in the photo. I’ve also done some sketches of Charlie (my dog) from life, which was fun and which I am glad to have. I really want to keep this up! I think it’s a good way to slow down and really consider what the world looks like, and what defines a face or a posture — very helpful to writing!

KNITTING
I started knitting this year! I have previously taught myself to crochet but knitting always seemed more complex and intimidating. And it was, at first (and continues to be, when I try some new technique!). But I’ve really enjoyed the satisfaction of watching my first scarf grow (and grow, and grow– I made it a little too wide, I think!). I am looking forward to trying some new projects, and learning more. I also joined Ravelry, which is endlessly distracting… If you are a member too, feel free to find me there (devafagan).

RESCUE TIME
I installed RescueTime about two months ago, and it’s been fascinating to see how much time I spend on different activities. I’d really like to make a spreadsheet of the time I spend each week in Word, and the actual words I write, to see how it changes over time. My biggest distractions seem to be GoogleReader and Facebook (which is amusing since I don’t actually post on FB all that much, but I like catching up on what everyone else is doing). My productivity is above the average user level, but there’s definitely room for improvement!

NO REVIEWS/SELF-GOOGLING
Also in July, I made a pledge to stop reading online reviews, googling myself, checking my Goodreads and Amazon rankings, and looking at Bookscan numbers. I’ve tried this before, and always ended up giving in and looking at something. But this time I have managed to stay clean for almost 6 months now, and the longer it goes, the easier it is. And it is SO nice to not be obsessing over that stuff. There are some folks who can use that data productively, but I am not one of them. A bad review (or even a negative line in an average review) can drain my energy for days, and it’s just not worth it. Of course this also means I don’t see good stuff, but the positive reviews usually just flit out of my mind after a few minutes, while I can *still* quote the first horrible review of my debut novel almost word for word. I really hope I can keep this up!

~Six Favorite Experiences~
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S TOTEM
Bob and I went down to Boston to see this show (and to visit some of our Bosten-area friends!) this past summer, and had a fantastic time. I think I enjoyed the last Cirque show we saw (Ovo) a tiny bit better, but this was still amazing. Cirque du Soleil is one performing group I am totally willing to shell out the $$ to see live (much as I’ve enjoyed the videos). There’s just such a magical energy from the live show!

HIKING BOURTON-ON-THE-HILL TO SEZINCOTE
Our entire trip to England was a highlight of 2012, but if I had to pick one single experience in the Cotswolds portion of the trip that I loved, it was this short hike through beautiful green meadows, with the adorable village of Bourton-on-the-Hill behind me. And then, emerging through the groves of trees, and finding this:

From England 2012

BRITISH MUSEUM
It was overwhelming to wander the enormous halls full of art and artifacts with such historic weight. One of the most incredible was the 13000 year old carved Swimming Reindeer. I am still not sure my brain can really process that.

LONDON THEATER
What’s better than seeing a favorite musical theater production (WICKED) live in London? Deciding on the spur of the moment to see a second show (LES MISERABLES) later that night! This gloriously indulgent day was a highlight of the London portion of our trip.

CAMDEN MARKET
I could have wandered through the twisty, atmospheric, glittering, faintly ominous halls of the Stables Market for another day or two, I think. Though it would have been even better had I enough extra $$ to buy all the fabulous clothing/shoes/jewelry/food on sale!

NATALIE MACMASTER
We saw this Cape Breton fiddler two years ago, when she was 8 months pregnant and still had more energy than five of me, dancing around the stage, bow and fingers flying. So when I discovered she was coming to Maine again for another Christmas concert I bought tickets as soon as I could get to a computer. And it was so worth it. She’s just… sparkling. She’s one of those performers who gives you energy, so you leave her concert ready to take on the world.

~Writing-Related Things~
Okay, there aren’t six of these. I spent the bulk of this past year doing one thing: revising (and significantly re-writing) my current writing project. I’ve been in a period of transition with my writing for the past two years. I wrote and sold each of my first three books very quickly (in publishing terms). And all three of those books are fast-paced, humorous adventure stories. Which I love! I am so glad I got to write them, and that they’ve been able to go out into the world and find readers. But I realized that I wanted to push myself further, to write something that was more complex, a book that was more like my own “Ideal Book”: featuring rich, complicated characters who have interesting and conflicted relationships, that makes me think & feel strong emotions. I also really wanted to write a love story– a slow-burn, against-the-odds love story like those I love best. So I started working on a new project, at the beginning of 2011. And I sent the most recent revision off to my agent just before Christmas. It hasn’t sold (yet!). And I’ve definitely struggled with the frustration and fear of spending so long on a project without knowing whether it has a future outside my laptop. But I firmly believe that it was the best thing for me to work on these past two years. I know I have learned things, and pushed myself, and that it is all part of me now, and will help me with the next book I write, whatever that is.

I just tallied my word counts for the year and discovered I wrote about 115K words this year, many more than I actually expected. About 60K of those were on three different potential new projects (and most of those are going to be trunked — I tend to write about 20-30K of something to figure out the characters, then end up ditching that and restarting). The rest were words added during my rewrite/revision (to replace some significant cuts).

But that’s how writing is. Sometimes, to get a book right, you have to be willing to cut. A lot. And start over. Maybe once, maybe twice. Maybe seven times. Whatever it takes to find the real story you really want to tell. It helped to read posts by other authors I respect talking about the long process of creating a book.

That said, I am definitely excited to start working on something new! But more on that in another post…

2012 Highlights: Books, Movies, TV, etc

27
December
2012

There’s still a few days left in 2012 so it’s possible I might squeak in one last amazing book or movie (I still haven’t seen Les Mis, for example), but I will risk it and post this anyway, in case one of you is looking for something to spend holiday gift $$ on!

~Six Excellent Books~
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
YA historical fiction. The story of two girls who are part of the British war effort during World War II. A fantastic portrayal of friendship, sacrifice, and finding humanity in the midst of brutality. I can’t say too much about the plot because it is twisty and layered and there are surprises and reversals. But it starts out with one of the girls writing her “confession” to her Nazi captors. There is a wealth of historical detail which might be overwhelming to some, but I loved it. If this book works for you, it will rip your heart out and then give it back to you, a little broken but a little brighter, too.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
YA fantasy. A brilliant and gorgeous fantasy setting, with some of the best world-building I’ve read lately. The title character has a marvelous voice, telling her own story with humor and prickly charm. Some of the blurbs about this book give away a certain plot element you might want to discover on your own, so read them with care. The short version: Seraphina is a musician in a kingdom of humans who have had a long and conflicted history with a race of dragons. The dragons are almost Vulcan-like, valuing logic and science. But the dragons can also take human form, and in that way experience the span of messy, dangerous, fascinating human emotions. This makes for a marvelously rich and nuanced political setup, which Seraphina needs to navigate from her unique position, to try to preserve peace between the races and keep safe those she loves.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Adult Science Fiction. A giant love letter to video games and 80s pop culture. As a child of the 80s, I loved it. Wade Watts has to live up to his alliterated superhero name and find an Easter Egg hidden in the most popular virtual reality game in the world, to claim the enormous monetary prize, which he desperately needs to improve his own wretched life (and to keep an evil corporation from taking over the game). Fast-paced and funny.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Nonfiction. Sooo dense, but worthwhile! It took me the better part of the year to get through this, but it was a fascinating exploration of happiness and finding satisfaction in your life. “Flow” is the author’s term for the optimal experience of getting so absorbed in an activity that you lose your sense of time and gain a sense of being fully present and engaged in life in the moment. Some of the most interesting sections discuss how these “flow” activities are (surprisingly) not mindless entertainments, but active work: surgery, chess, mountain climbing, listening attentively to music, running, even daily chores.

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
MG historical fantasy. More of the delightful tale of Kat, a Regency-era girl with a large, lovably-flawed family and new-found magical powers. Full of humor and adventure, but also quite a lot of heart. I was especially impressed by how well this book worked as a sequel, reminding the reader what happened in the first book (Kat, Incorrigible).

American Primitive by Mary Oliver
Poetry. Simple, stunning, gorgeous. Most of these poems feature imagery from the natural world, but they also raise profound questions about humanity and how we live our lives.

I read many more books that I enjoyed this year, including a number of re-reads of old or recent favorites. I’ve avoided re-reading in the past, but decided this year that it would both be fun and also useful from a craft perspective to try to study how my favorite books do what they do. And I am glad I did!

My full 2012 reading list is here. I’m afraid there’s not a lot of detail in my “reviews” but you can generally assume that if I finished it, I found something about it compelling!

~Six Songs~
Little Furnace by Jim Guthrie (Sword & Sworcery LP – The Ballad of the Space Babies)
My love for this song is mixed up with my love for the video game it is featured in (see more on that below). There’s something sad and sweet that gets me every time.

3326 by Olafur Arnalds (Eulogy for Evolution)
A shortened version of this song was featured on So You Think You Can Dance this year, which is where I first heard (and loved) it. Stark and emotional, even harsh in places, but beautiful.

Invocatio by Irfan (Seraphim)
Short but hauntingly beautiful. I love many songs by this Bulgarian group, which reminds me a lot of another favorite band, Dead Can Dance, and it has become a staple of my writing soundtrack for the book I’ve been working on for the past two years.

Infinite Legends by Two Steps from Hell (Invincible)
Listening to this makes anything you are doing more heroic and epic. Even chopping carrots or doing the dishes. The entire album is worth a listen if you like this one.

Starlight by Muse (Black Holes and Revelations)
This just grabs my heart.

In the End by Snow Patrol (Fallen Empires)
I seem to have a thing for slightly melancholy yet fast-paced songs. The video is quite cool too!

~Six Other Entertainments~
THE LEGEND OF KORRA
This animated series is the follow-up to what I currently feel is THE best television series I have ever watched, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The new series has the same glorious animation and complex Asian-inspired world as the original, with the added interest of being several decades in the future and thus now featuring more advanced technologies. I love Korra herself: strong, loyal, impulsive, (over) confident and yet still struggling with some of her Avatar powers and responsibilities. And I am so thrilled to see a character like Lin Beifong: a tough, middle-aged, metalbending woman in a position of authority (Chief of Police). The pacing is a bit too quick for my tastes, and it seemed to me that everything was wrapped up too easily and abruptly in the end. But I blame that on the network, which only ordered the single season at first. (Which seems crazy to me, given how popular the first series was! I wonder if it was due to concerns that a girl MC could not carry the show?). Thankfully they have now ordered three more “Books” of the story, so I hope that the creators will be able to slow things down a bit.

WRECK-IT RALPH
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this animated film about the “bad guy” from a video game trying to become a hero for just a little while, but it definitely exceeded my expectations, especially in the variety of female characters and themes. This post on The Mary Sue pretty much says everything I would, but much more coherently, so I will point you there.

THE GOOD WIFE
A show about lawyers and corrupt politicians isn’t normally the sort of thing that calls out at me, but after reading a number of positive comments from friends, I did finally check this out. And I am so glad I did! The acting is top-notch, and the character interactions and relationships subtle and complex. And it explores so many fascinating questions about gender issues and ethics, and presents a number of diverse characters (including my favorite, Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda Sharma, a fearless, intensely private, somewhat misanthropic investigator who breaks my heart when she does show the cracks in her fierce shell). Also, it’s got Alan Cumming, who I would watch reading a phone book. Even if he has an American accent here!

THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES
A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, in the form of a video blog by modern grad student Lizzie Bennet. There are currently 75 short (3-5 min) videos, with more on the way about twice a week, as well as tumblrs, tweets and videos by other characters. For anyone familiar with the source material, these are so much fun! I love seeing how the story has been adapted to the modern times, and the acting is quite amazing (especially Ashley Clements, Julia Cho, Laura Spencer, and Mary Kate Wiles who play the four main characters, Lizzie, Charlotte, Jane and Lydia). I am really looking forward to how some of the remaining pivotal plot points are interpreted in this modern setting!

BOARD GAMES
There are so many more cool and fun board games available these days than I remember as a kid. I mean, I did love CLUE, and had fun playing Balderdash in college. But they are nothing like the cool (mostly German-made!) games I’ve discovered in the past few years. My parents and brother moved to Maine over the summer, and we’ve been getting together with them to play all sorts of new games: Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola. We also just got Dominion and Risk, and are looking forward to trying those out.

SWORD & SWORCERY
Up until this year, I had not touched a video game in at least a decade, possibly two. As a kid I played ZORK on my grandpa’s cassette loaded PC, Lode Runner on our AppleIIe, and occasionally a round of Street Fighter2 or Gauntlet. But then I got into LARPing and ended up focusing all my gaming energy into that. Then, this year, I read this post on the Mary Sue blog about a game called Sword & Sworcery. The suggestion of a faintly tragic storyline, the description of how atmospheric the game’s art and music are, and the fact that the main character was a warrior woman known only as “The Scythian” all compelled me to check it out. Bob and I ended up playing the entire game together, alternating the role of mouse-clicker to send the Scythian exploring her lovely, magical world, fighting wolves and dark horrors, and learning more about her “woeful errand.” And by the time we finished, I had somehow put a part of me into the game (I still am trying to figure out how that happened, since it is a quite simple game and you don’t actually learn all that much about the characters). I was kind of useless for several days after finishing, poking around the internet for fan art and listening to certain songs over and over again. And there are even some elements of the game that have worked their way into my brainstorming for my next book project (more on that in a future post, perhaps).

The art is simple (the Scythian herself is a rather retro, pixelated little figure), but oddly compelling. Here’s an example:

ScreenshotFromSwordAndSworcery [Click to embiggen]

So that’s it!

And if any of you have your own favorites to suggest I would love to hear your recommendations (especially for fantasy/sf/YA books and atmospheric writing music. Bonus points if it’s world-music inspired like Dead Can Dance!). I have some gift cards for bookstores and iTunes ready to go!

2011 into 2012

31
December
2011

One of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite books (Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace) is when Betsy and her friend Tib stay up all night on New Year’s Eve (to ring in 1908) making resolutions to be different. Betsy wants to become Dramatic and Mysterious, and thus compounds a list of things such as “Start signing your name Betsye” and “Don’t laugh so much” and “Use only Jockey Club perfume… be lavish with it.”

As Betsy (Betsye!) says:

“Jockey Club is perfect!” Betsy doused her flannel night gown rapturously. “And Tib, I’ve read that women of the kind I’m going to be always match their eyes in clothes and jewels. So I’m going to start wearing green.”

“Your eyes are hazel,” Tib objected. “And blue is your best color, Betsy. Always has been.”

“Blue!” scoffed Betsy. “It’s namby pamby. And there’s lots of green in my eyes. Green for jealousy,” she cried in a thrilling voice, resuming her stroll around the room.

“Whom are you jealous of?”

“Oh, nobody! I just like the sound of it.”

Hee! It’s a wonderfully funny and sweet and painful book — because I think many of us have felt that same desperate yearning to change ourselves. I won’t give away the ending to those who haven’t read it, but (as you might expect) Betsy’s plans to be Dramatic and Mysterious don’t quite work out as she plans. I love it! Especially because once-upon-a-time I made similar resolutions, trying to change essential things about myself.

[I may even have gone through a phase myself-- long ago-- during which I signed my name Diva. To be Dramatic and Mysterious.]

But! I am reasonably happy with who I am now. Not that I don’t have flaws (I do! Plenty of them!) but New Year’s Eve is (to me) more about setting defined goals that will push me in the directions I want to go with my life.

2011 was a transitional, inward-looking year for me, especially in terms of writing. I worked on something brand new and different, and I poured my heart into it. I started working with a new literary agent I adore. I tried to re-focus on what really matters to me: writing the best books I can, and making connections to other writers/readers/book-people. It was a quiet year, but rich with friends and good entertainment and delicious food and hikes and pine trees and strawberry-picking and adorable tail-wagging dogs.

That said, I have high hopes for 2012! And new things I want to push myself to try. Here are my goals:

  • Write a brand new book. Do my best to make it better than anything else I’ve already written.
  • If I sell my new YA romantic fantasy by spring, then go on a vacation to London and the Cotswolds in the fall.
  • Get together with friends to play music, céilidh-style, at least once.
  • Try at least five new soup/stew/curry or salad recipes. (I have no problem finding motivation to try new pastry recipes!)
  • Invite at least two people over to dinner whom we’ve never had over before.
  • Listen to an audio book or podcast on meditation.
  • Bike to work at least 10 times. (I only live 5 miles from my day job! It’s shameful that I never once biked to work this year!)
  • When reading, make a point to flag the passages and lines I love most, to try to analyze just why I love them, and what I can learn from them. (I have a brand new pack of Post-Its ready and waiting!)

I’m pretty happy with these goals! I met almost all my goals for 2011, and I think these ones are doable, if I pay attention.

Do you make goals or resolutions? And do you keep them?

Five Fives of 2010

28
December
2010

Here’s my 2010, in 5 x 5 list form…

Five Books I Loved:

  • PTOLEMY’S GATE by Jonathan Stroud. My favorite of the year. The ending blew me away. I couldn’t really enjoy reading anything else for the next few days.
  • REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly. Not a flawless book, but one that made me think and twisted my heart and stayed in my brain. And it has the line that, of anything I’ve read this year, has most resonated with me: “The world goes on stupid and brutal, but I do not. Can’t you see? I do not.”
  • CHARLES AND EMMA: THE DARWIN’S LEAP OF FAITH by Deborah Heligman. This book truly brought these historical figures to life for me, from the big questions they grappled with, to the little details of their family life.
  • DOGSBODY by Diana Wynne Jones. A reread of a beloved childhood favorite, and it still held up marvelously. The ending still chokes me up, with sadness, hope, and love for the characters.
  • CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems and Jon J Muth. Okay, so part of the reason I loved this is that the dog in it reminds me of my dog Charlie. And I really don’t know how actual little kids would like it, especially as it’s a bit sad/bittersweet. But I loved it.

Note: this was such a good reading year, and thus harder than ever to narrow this down. Nothing makes me feel more truly rich than a big pile of excellent books, and this year I was wealthy beyond measure. There were many other books I read that I absolutely adored, and still more that I admired even if they weren’t exactly my kind of book. Here’s my full reading list for the year on goodreads.

Five Experiences:

  • Seeing the Cirque du Soleil’s OVO in Boston. Phenomenal!
  • Driving along the Slea Head Drive in Dingle Ireland. So gorgeous.
  • Meeting my friend in the cold, dark, snowy morning for our scheduled run. We’re both getting back to it sloooowly via the Couch-to-5K plan, and we felt so good about actually making ourselves get out there that day!
  • Seeing Natalie MacMaster perform live, with truly boundless and inspiring energy (especially considering she was 8 months pregnant).
  • Hearing Dr Maya Angelou speak. What a remarkable human being she is.

Five Foods:

  • The BBB (brown sugar, brown butter, brownie bit) Ice cream from Toscanini’s. I almost considered trying to convince Bob to stop in Boston on our drive back from NY through the blizzard the Monday after Christmas, just to get some more!
  • Dried Mango (unsulphered, unsweetened) from Trader Joe’s (I ate an entire bag of this as my dinner one day and I don’t regret it one bit).
  • The freshfreshfresh open-faced roasted chicken sandwich on brown bread from the Stone House in Ventry, Ireland. Best thing I ate on that trip. Nomnomnom.
  • The ice cream sandwiches from Slate’s Bakery: homemade vanilla ice cream + homemade chocolate chip cookies.
  • The grilled turkey, gruyere, arugula sandwich with blueberry chutney from North Creek Farm that we proceeded to recreate at home for at least six days running until we overdosed!

Five New Things:

  • Zumba. The first exercise I have honest-to-goodness enjoyed while actually doing it (as opposed to, say, running, which I mostly enjoy after the fact). I love the music, I love the cargo pants, I love that everyone in my class seems to be having so much FUN.
  • Merlin. Love the relationship between Merlin and Arthur, love Guinevere, love seeing how they’ve mixed up the mythology. I am so looking forward to season 2, coming to DVD in just a few weeks!
  • Vampire Diaries. Our most recent household tv obsession. Complicated characters, family relationships, supernatural hijinks, and more. Addictive!
  • Prophecy 3: Into the Mists. When Bob and I ran the first Prophecy LARP we never ever thought we’d see a third campaign. I am so pleased and proud that folks have embraced the philosophy and style, and so excited to see the ideas and directions being brought by the new directors, and the new players who have joined the community. Also, I am ridiculously happy to be running a plot that involves a magical library and story-telling magic.
  • Bob’s new job! I was so so proud of and happy for him when he finally quit his soul-killing, time-devouring previous job and took a new part-time position at our city library, doing something he can feel good about.

Five Writing Highlights

  • The publication of my second middle grade fantasy, THE MAGICAL MISADVENTURES OF PRUNELLA BOGTHISTLE. I went through some serious challenges writing this book: throwing out the entire first draft, rewriting it from a different character’s POV, completely changing the plot, etc. So it was a real thrill to see Prunella finally out in the world!
  • Going to ALA Midwinter. Wow. It’s probably a good thing I went to the “smaller” one first, because I expect the full summer conference would blow my mind. So many books! So many book-lovers! So many awesome authors!
  • My new (as of March) lovely purple writing space. Also my new MacBook — I have never really warmed to Scrivener, but I do love having a laptop. And wifi!
  • Meeting more amazing, inspiring writers online, and even getting to meet a few of them in person. It’s such a solitary endeavor… so having connections to other folks who understand that is truly invaluable.
  • Seeing a proto-cover for my third book, CIRCUS GALACTICUS (coming in Fall 2011) and also the art I commissioned personally for my website (sketches of ten of the characters). I am SO EXCITED about this book. But that’s a story for 2011!

Thank you, 2010!

Five Fives of 2009

30
December
2009

It’s that time of the year: time to take stock of what’s been and look ahead to what may be. And since I love lists, I’m recapping 2009 in a series of five lists of five, starting with…

Five books/authors/series I discovered in 2009:

  • INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher: [This is coming out in the US in 2010, but it's been out in the UK for a while now]. I really enjoyed this, most especially for the worldbuilding (a sentient prison world!), but also for Claudia (the warden’s daughter) and her subtle and bittersweet friendship with her tutor Jared. The sequel, SAPPHIQUE, has been on my wishlist for awhile now!
  • MY LIFE IN FRANCE by Julia Child: Julia Child is now one of my heroes. She is one of those people who seems to have figured out that elusive question: how to be happy and have a full and meaningful life.
  • THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE by Laurie King: Even listening to a scratchy, occasionally garbled, obviously-much-played library cassette recording of this couldn’t stop me from loving this book. It’s just the sort of book I like to read for pure pleasure, for interesting characters doing clever and amusing things. The dynamic between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes could have gone terribly wrong in the hands of another writer, but King handled it perfectly.
  • FREDERICA by Georgette Heyer: I’ve heard so many good things about Georgette Heyer from so many people who share my tastes in books that I don’t know why I put off reading her for so long. I was absolutely delighted by the wit, banter, humor, and rich historical detail of this book. More, please!
  • NINE COACHES WAITING by Mary Stewart: I read Mary Stewart’s Arthurian series many many years ago (in fact, so long ago I should probably re-read them as I have forgotten so much) but I had never before tried her suspense-romances. I am so glad I finally did! I am actually still in the middle of this one, but I am loving it. The prose is lovely and lyrical, the characters intriguing, and the sense of place incredible.

    Five highlights of my writing year:

    • The publication of FORTUNE’S FOLLY, my first novel. Words can’t express what this means. It was truly the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
    • Seeing the cover of my second book, THE MAGICAL MISADVENTURES OF PRUNELLA BOGTHISTLE. I got thrills! I am so pleased with the alligator, with the running, with the creepy swamp and firefly lights. I love it!
    • Finishing my submission draft of my third book CIRCUS GALACTICUS. This was by far the most fun book I’ve ever written, the one that has stayed with me, haunting my brain, and the one I’m most proud of. This is the first time that writing a book was a bigger thrill for me than selling it.
    • Sharing my debut year with the rest of the 2009 Debs. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would have gone off the deep end without them. The debs have brought me laughter, comfort, and much-valued friendship.
    • My very first library visit, where I got to meet strangers who had read my book, and discovered that I actually kind of enjoy speaking in public and doing presentations.

    Five entertainment discoveries:

    • Big Bang Theory: A show about science geeks who love gaming, comic books, and takeout food, and who are all hilariously funny.
    • Project Runway: My husband and I got addicted to this near the end of the year and have now watched seasons two through five. I generally don’t get into “reality tv” but I absolutely love this show, and not just for Tim Gunn. It’s fascinating to watch the challenges themselves, but I think my favorite part is seeing creative people striving to achieve their dreams. And it’s pretty nifty to see how many parallels you can draw between fashion and writing.
    • Last.fm: I have actually used this website in the past, but this year I actually took advantage of more of the customizable radio station options to find new music. My greatest success was in finding a host of moody, atmospheric world-music groups to listen to when I’ve exhausted my Dead Can Dance collection. Some of my favorites: Irfan, Stellamara, and Azam Ali.
    • Blaqk Audio: Discovered via Maggie Stiefvater. I listened to Semiotic Love over and over again while dreaming about CIRCUS. It reminds me of the Depeche Mode I loved in high school.
    • Lady GaGa: Every single one of her songs that I’ve heard has ended up stuck in my head on repeat for about a week. But aside from the catchy beat, I love her over-the-top stage presence, her gutsy attitude, her willingness to go out there and wear a dress made of muppets or a ginormous freaky hairdo. And she really can sing. Go listen to the live performance on the Ellen show and you’ll see. Another big inspiration for CIRCUS.

    Five favorite new foods:

    • Hot chocolate at Florian’s in Venice
    • Ricotta Brown Sugar gelato from The Gelato Fiasco
    • The Special Raman from Ippudo in NYC
    • Chocolate-filled Cornetto from Scudieri’s in Florence
    • Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Cut in half, daub with olive oil, and roast until crisp and brown. My favorite vegetable of the year!

    Five Moments of Pure Happiness:

    • Stepping out of the train station and seeing Venice for the first time
    • Listening to the chants at San Antimo Abbey in Tuscany
    • Biking to work along the Kennebec under a brilliant blue sky
    • Seeing Charlie racing around joyfully at the off-leash park
    • Sitting cozily upstairs drinking tea and reading in our newly painted library, watching the sun highlight the books on the shelves and the bright purple walls.

    All-in-all an excellent year!

Year in Review: Writing

31
December
2008

This was an odd year in many ways. I started it off with two books sold and moving along the route to publication, but I knew neither was going to actually come out in 2008. There were some downs, especially as I struggled to write Mirable Chalice. I had to scrap my first version entirely, after realizing that the characters just weren’t working. That was probably the toughest part of my writing year, but it’s also helped me to understand my own writing process better, so it will be good in the long run.

There were a lot of really exciting, wonderful things too. Overall this was most definitely an “up” year! Some hightlights:

  • Going to copy-editing with Fortune’s Folly, and getting a sharp-eyed copyeditor who found at least one mistake that would have made me feel very stupid if it had not been corrected
  • Seeing the wonderful website my designer and friend Lauren created for my books. It’s everything I hoped it would be!
  • Hearing back from my steadfast friend Geoff, who read early parts of my second go at MC, and kept my hopes alive by telling me he liked it.
  • Getting good feedback on the second version of MC from my other readers.
  • Hearing back from my agent on the second version of MC, and finding out that she liked it much better than the first.
  • Hearing back from my editor on the second version of MC (she was not subjected to the first version, thankfully) and hearing that she liked it. Whew!
  • Seeing my page proofs for Fortune’s Folly. It looked like the insides of a real book!
  • Seeing my beautiful cover for Fortune’s Folly. Thank you Monica Lee for the artwork!). It looked like the outside of a real book!
  • Holding the bound galleys (ARCs) in my hands.
  • Participating in the Feast of Awesome that is the Debut 2009 community. I didn’t just get to celebrate all my own little victories this year — I got to celebrate with thirtyodd other first-time writers. It was worth more than I can say to have that community, especially when I was confused/anxious/stressed. I am very, very grateful for my writer friends.
  • Starting work on a brand new project, with all the excitement that entails!

I am (of course!) looking forward to 2009, since it is the year Fortune’s Folly finally goes out into the world. I am so excited that other people will get to meet Fortunata and the rest of her world! And also a little terrified. I hope people enjoy her story!

It will also be exciting to see Mirable Chalice progress further toward becoming a real book. And I am having a ton of fun with my new project so I am eager to continue working on that. I intend to finish the new draft in early 2009 and then see where it goes from there. It would be lovely to sell something else in 2009 but right now my priority is making my stories the best they can be, and continuing to have fun working on them.

Year in Review: Books

31
December
2008

This year I discovered Goodreads, so I won’t bother posting a list of what I read here. If anyone is curious they can check out my 2008 bookshelf over there.

I felt very happy about my reading this year. A LOT of good books! I think Goodreads helped with this, because I found it very easy to add books to my to-read stack there when I happened upon intriguing mentions of them elsewhere. So when I needed something to read, I had a nice list of ideas just sitting there. I’m also pleased that I read as much as I did: over one book a week!

I will spotlight my favorites for the year, however. I read a LOT of very good books, but these are the ones that clicked with me in the right way, appealing to my personal preferences and tastes, and thus they stand out as my favorites for the year.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This year I also finally read (and loved!) the Girl Genius comics, which you can read online starting here

Looking ahead to 2009 I already have a HUGE list of books I am looking forward to, most especially all the fabulous-sounding books coming out from my fellow 2009 Debs over at the Feast of Awesome. I will be spotlighting these as they are released, so you will hear a lot more about them in the coming year!