Tag Archives: reading

The Great Book Cull of 2015

So the husband and I are moving into our New Chicago Condo this week. Moving sucks for everyone, but it really sucks when you’re a book lover. Seriously, if we didn’t have books we’d have ten boxes and a few couches to move. (Okay, that’s hyperbole, but you get the idea.) We ditched a lot of books when we made the move to the Second City, and I’ve culled even more during the moving process. It’s an odd feeling. Anyone who is a book lover can attest that books are friends. Lovers, even. They keep you company on cold nights and hot vacations. They open your mind–if you let them–and allow you to see the world in new ways. The good ones stick with you long after you’ve bid them good night. The great ones keep you up all night until you’ve finished.

Going through a book collection is akin to going through old diaries. Oh, this is from my Dean Koontz phase. Oh, Tess Gerritson–I read her when I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. Brust–ah, yes, Brust–I got into him when I first moved away from classic epic fantasy. This shelf is full of books written by friends. This one includes stories written by me. The collection a visual (and a heavy, pain-in-the-ass-to-move) representation of the my journey as a person, and more recently, as a writer. Some of them are easier to part with than others. Some I’ll never give away–the Harry Potter series, my Stephen King collection (including a copy of The Stand that has been read so much it’s falling apart) (yes, I know it has a duex ex machina ending, I don’t care, I love that fucking book so much), the Wheel of Time series. But the Tess Gerritsons, some of the Dean Koontzes, the Patricia Cornwells? Those are going in the donation pile.

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A New Adventure

So I’ve been invited to start a new writing gig (I’m going to stay quiet about just what that gig is until it’s offical and such) and I’m excited. I’m a bit stressed, too. While the pay is minimal, the potential exposure will be nice, and I’ll get to flex my critical-thinking-about-literature muscles. It’s one more thing on top of an already busy schedule, and that stresses me out a little. The nature of the content stresses me out, too, but we’ll get into that more once I make the gig public.

I want to say more but I don’t want to jinx the gig. You understand. Perhaps this should have been a “writer’s superstitions” post.

 

 

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Reading as a Writer

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that it’s tough for a writer to read books. It’s one of those job hazards that no one really talks about. It’s hard to turn off the writer brain long enough to appreciate the story. Like anything, it takes practice. After a while you get to where you can put aside the writer brain long enough to enjoy a book. Of course, the writer brain makes its presence known as soon as you close the book (or turn off the device, as the case may be).

I recently finished Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. It’s the story about two young women–I’m never exactly sure of their ages, perhaps late teens or early twenties, but since this is marketed as YA let’s call them late teens–fighting for England during World War II. One is a pilot and the other is a spy. The spy has been caught by the Gepesto; the first part of the book is her written confession. Queenie–the spy–writes at length about her friend Maddie. The second part of the book is written from Maddie’s point of view. The story is deceptively intricate. I assumed the first part had been written by an unreliable narrator; how truthful would a spy really be when caught by the enemy? This point was driven home once I read Maddie’s point of view. Queenie, already an exceptional character, becomes even more so. The story itself is good, but the unique structure brings out its nuances. This book works on a lot of different levels. I would like to see the movie if they could somehow keep the structure intact.

And the ending is truly heartbreaking. I’d heard about people crying at the end of this book, and I joined their ranks.

 

 

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The obligatory Game of Thrones post

Sooner or later a fantasy author is going to talk about Game of Thrones. Dear reader, today is that day.

Unless you’ve been living in solitary confinement, you know that George R. R. Martin’s wildly popular epic fantasy Song of Ice and Fire series–the first book of which is called Game of Thrones–has been made into an HBO series.  The series was wildly popular before the first frame of the show had been filmed in circles that read epic fantasy. That’s a relatively small circle. Then the HBO series made it Cool to Like Fantasy, and now I see a suit-and-tie twenty-somethings reading the series while riding the morning train. Epic Fantasy is trendy.

(We can argue that it’s been trendy since Harry Potter, or it that it had its heyday in the 1980’s, but that’s a discussion for another time).

I read GoT several years ago when I was on an epic fantasy kick and gobbled up Jordan, Feist, Goodkind, as well as Martin. I got a few books in before I burned out on epic fantasy in general. I’ve recently gotten turned on to the epics again–thanks, Beaulieu and Weeks–and so I was thinking about picking it up again. I decided watch the series instead of reading the books, mostly because it’s something Ken and I can do together. So far the series is really brilliant, and while I want to keep watching, it makes me want to read the books more. Which means I’ll be one of those trendy people on the train reading Game of Thrones. Except my book will have the older cover, and the spine will be broken, and it’ll be like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

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Haunted by the book I can’t read

My brother recently bought Neil Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  We were both really excited for this to come out, and my brother tore through it in a night, then loaned it to me.

I haven’t been able to get much past the part with the kitten and the guy in the car–oh, and the coins.  To explain would be to spoil, but if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s not that those parts really disturbed me (well okay, definitely the kitten), but the problem is three things.  First, I wasn’t expecting the book to be so creepy in parts.  Second, I just moved into a new house, and I’m still getting used to the place and its quirks, like the fact that there’s an old incinerator in the back of the basement, a place I’ve nicknamed the crematorium.  Probably shouldn’t have done that.  I’m working through my issues with living in an older house, but adding the Neil Gaiman book on top of that isn’t helping.  Third, I like to read at night before I go to sleep.  Now, combine a spooky book, an unfamiliar house, the crematorium thing, and Jaleigh reading right before she goes to sleep at night.

Yeah, you see the problem.  I’m having these insane nightmares.  So I’ve stopped reading the book for now.  I’m going to pick it up again, probably read it only in daylight hours, and thankfully it’s not that long, so the nightmare thing won’t last forever.  But I mean all this as a huge compliment to Neil Gaiman for crafting such an affecting book.  I WANT to read it so much, and yet it scares the heck out of me in a lot of ways.  That’s some serious writing chops.

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Cover art, geeks, and Red Aegis

This week I have three cool things to talk about.  The first is just a short note to say that I have seen the cover  for The Mark of the Dragonfly, and I hope to be able to share it soon.  Oh, and the release date on Amazon now says March 25th, 2014, so update accordingly, heh.

Second thing: this week I read Wil Wheaton’s book Just a Geek and loved it.  A lot of funny, poignant stories, beautifully written.  I also wasn’t expecting it to be a book for writers, but it is, and I’d recommend it for that reason alone, but it’s just an all around great read.

Third thing is a Kickstarter being run by Vorpal Games for the Red Aegis Roleplaying Game.  I’ll say up front that several of my friends and acquaintances are involved in this project, so I’m hopelessly biased here, but seriously, if you’re a fan of RPGs, you should check out this project.  Quoting the description on the Kickstarter page, “RED AEGIS is an epic, millennia-spanning, strategic roleplaying game where you claim your birthright, rally loyal followers to your cause, and forge a dynasty to stand the test of time.”  It gets more intriguing, though, as you will also “command successive generations of heroes from the setting’s ancient past to the far future.”  How cool is that?  I think they had me at that line, to be honest.

Anyway, I’m backing Red Aegis, and I encourage you to check it out, and while you’re doing so, scan the list of names involved in the project.  I think you’ll see some familiar and famous names in the RPG world.

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Mind-blowing book of the week

I’m thinking of making this a thing.  Every now and then, I’ll spotlight a book I’m reading that I think has some kind of mind-blowing quality about it.  To be clear, though, this would not be a traditional review.  I won’t be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of a book or giving a comprehensive analysis of the plot and characters.  What I will do is highlight a particular scene, character, plot point, world building element, etc. that I think works exceptionally well, and say why.  Since this is also from a writer’s perspective, it will focus on what I can learn from these elements in my own work.  I’ll try to include a variety of books: science fiction and fantasy, of course, but also romance, mystery, classic and contemporary works.

The book I’m reading this week is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America.  It’s the story of Steinbeck’s road trip across the interstates and back roads of America and his attempt to get re-acquainted with the country and its people.  Steinbeck makes this journey in his converted truck/camper–nicknamed Rocinante–with his poodle Charley along for company.

There’s a particular scene about halfway through the book where Steinbeck stops in Chicago to meet up with his wife, who is flying in to visit him after he’s been on the road for a few months.  He arrives at an upscale hotel at around 3:00 in the morning, and since his room isn’t ready, Steinbeck, exhausted, unshaven, and desperately craving a shower and a bed, makes an arrangement with the staff to temporarily occupy the room of a man who had to check out early.  Housekeeping hasn’t cleaned the room yet, but Steinbeck doesn’t mind.  All he wants is that hot shower and a few hours’ sleep.

He goes to the room, sits down, takes off one shoe…and suddenly, despite his exhaustion, his writer brain takes off and he’s captivated by the room and the man who occupied it before him.  Steinbeck nicknames the man Lonesome Harry, and as he walks through the hotel room, he constructs a portrait in his mind of who the man might be, who the woman is that joined him in his room and left lipstick on the glasses and the cigarette butts in the ashtray, and whether they were happy together or lonely.  In the wrong hands, this scene might read as creepy and voyeuristic at worst, or at best like a snippet from an episode of CSI.  But Steinbeck, in just a page of description, establishes a melancholy connection to this man he will never meet, yet who becomes a part of Steinbeck’s journey as vividly as if the two had chatted over coffee at a roadside diner.

What do I take from this?  The rooms we occupy in our lives–even the temporary ones–say a lot about us, even if we don’t realize it.  The traces we leave behind, Steinbeck says, are like ghosts, echoes that can be perceived by people who know how to look for them.  With the right description of a space, I can say so much about a character, even before he or she appears on the page.

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Reading time

I recently read yet another blog post about writing while working full time. I suppose I keep reading these because I’m looking for the secret to getting five hours of writing time while still working and having hobbies.

I do write fantasy, you know.

Of course it won’t happen. And I’ve got a pretty good writing schedule worked out. What I really want now is more reading time.

Before I started writing I read a book a week or more. As I got more serious and put more time in, I had less and less reading time. Not good.

This is one of the things behind my “books not blogs” goal for the year. There’s a lower threshold to opening up a blog reader than for opening up a novel, but I get a lot more out of the novel or a nonfiction book. I’ve been getting more reading done since I started that. When I have an urge to flip through my rss feeds or Instapaper, I open a book instead. I’ve been keeping one or two books on my iPod (now phone) and reading those instead of blog articles when I have a little downtime. I’ve also been doing pretty well with my reading before bed habit. It’s a great way to wind down. (And if I fall asleep reading one night, I will probably pick up something different the next night.)

I’ve been stifling the urge to set any sort of goals or limits on what I read–sewing books and business books aren’t going to do as much for my writing as fiction, though I do claim I’m going to write a cozy mystery about a sewing shop owner–and just going with whatever I feel ilke reading. I don’t think I’ll really feel like a reader again until I pick up the book I was reading back in 2002 when I stopped reading fiction at all for over a year. I think part of me is still afraid that if I touch that book, I’ll stop again. Probably not, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

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I love reading …

… but sometimes it takes a great book to remind me of that.

Let me explain a dirty little secret about writing that your junior-high English teacher doesn’t tell you when you pipe up in class “I want to be a writer!”: learning the craft of writing sucks a little bit of enjoyment out of reading. Folks could write dissertations about that topic–it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has–but I’m going to hit the high points here. Writers write because they 1. love to read, 2. they love to tell stories, and 3. they want to write down those stories so lots of people can read them. In order to make sure people, you know, *read* them, you have to get good at it. And in order to get good at it, you have to read a lot. Which isn’t a problem, right, because we love to read! But there’s a difference between reading for pleasure and reading critically, between enjoying a story and picking it apart to see why it works. Eventually it’s hard to enjoy a book because we see the plot twist coming, not because it’s trite or overdone, but because we see the seeds the author planted in chapter two. We see them because we’ve tried to plant them ourselves.

I read a lot of books, some of them by author-friends, and I enjoy the time I spend doing it. I appreciate their artistry, I giggle at the right places, I wish I could write as well as them. I still like reading, of course, but it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that’s kept me up at night.

Which brings me to what I’m reading now: Brent Week’s Way of Shadows. It’s an epic fantasy with an assassin and his apprentice at the core. The writing style is easy to read; the politics are complex but not overly so; it makes me root for a bad guy who isn’t a villain. It’s hitting all my trigger points, and it’s compulsively readable. I understand that what does it for me doesn’t do it for others, and that’s part of what makes the reading/writing gig so great; there’s something for everyone. But this book is reminding me why I love reading–and ultimately why I write–so damn much. It’s fun. It’s entertainment. It’s escape. It’s caring about what happens to people who don’t exist. And being a writer means bringing that joy to others.

Thanks, Mr. Weeks. You’ve reminded a discouraged writer why she shouldn’t give up.

 

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A reading!

Last night I read at Tuesday Funk, I reading series that takes place in the upstairs room of a bar in Chicago. I’ve read there before and so I knew going in what to expect: a great crowd, some really great stories, and a good meal afterwards. Add a little bit of Kahlua in my glass and I was all set.

I started off the evening by reading Vanessa McAvoy’s Statement, which appeared in the anthology Beast Within 2: Predator and Prey.   Then I got to do the listen-and-eating portion of the evening.

I love giving readings. My skills still need work, I think, but I’ve definitely improved over the past five years. Before my very first reading I was very nervous, and it was all I could do to get the words out without stumbling over them too much. Now I don’t concentrate on the “oh shit I’m reading my words” as much as “I have to entertain these people,” so that helps with the nerves. Shifting my focus from me to the audience really helps. Now I try to see it as more of a performance, and with each reading I try to become a better verbal storyteller. Because that’s what it’s all about. Sure, it’s promotional and all that, and it’s a chance to hang out with friends, but it all boils down to story.

Funny how that works out, huh?

 

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