Monthly Archives: August 2014

Writing Wednesdays: Writing Longhand


And we round out August with Writing Wednesdays. I’m not sure I’m going to continue this as a hugely regular feature–it may end up being something I just come back to once in awhile. But for now, let’s talk about writing longhand.

Used to be, I would sit in my room for hours and fill up spiral notebook after spiral notebook with “novels”–long, complex epics that move from black ink to blue ink to purple ink in one long, continuous chain. (As you can I’m sure guess, I was a hugely popular teen). We were late getting a computer, so for years I would write everything longhand and then transcribe it all into my mom’s electric typewriter. In a way that I didn’t understand at the time, it really connected me with the words coming out of my brain.

I lost that when I started writing on the computer. Not at first–at first the computer was this amazing new tool, where I could finally write fast enough to keep up with my brain. But a lot of what I was writing started to feel empty. Flat. And then that cursor started blinking at me, and sometimes, for the first time, I couldn’t find any words at all.

Recently, I’ve started writing longhand once again. At first it was just notes, character lists, random lines and title ideas. But then I started writing full scenes. And then I started writing flash fictions. And it’s turned out to be pretty amazing. The physical act of writing down words has helped me focus again. The act of transcribing helps me edit. And getting stuck with my nose in a composition notebook (side note–how come they don’t make real composition notebooks anymore? All I can find are cheapo glued ones with weird, decorative covers) means that I don’t get on the internet every five seconds to check Twitter or fall down the Wikipedia black hole. It’s fantastic. I don’t know if I’ll have the patience to write a full length story out longhand anytime soon, but I’m currently using my notebooks to write up a storm, and I love it.

So: longhand or typed? Do you have a preference? Do you think in different ways if its a pen in your hand, or a keyboard under your fingers? And do you know where I can get my hands on a composition notebook?


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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read but Don’t Own Yet


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet.

OK, first off, people, go the fuck to the library.

Now, that’s out of the way. Of course, being a book lover, there are some books I just have to own. Almost all books I read through the library first, but I do have some insta-buy authors and books I just want to have all to myself. Most of these, alas, aren’t out yet. The rest I’m waiting for paperbacks or affordable ebooks. (I know, I know, I’m the worst, but I absolutely cannot justify spending 10 dollars on an ebook. Unless I get a gift card, it ain’t happening.)











1. David Mitchell- The Bone Clocks

2. N. K. Jemisin- The Fifth Season











3. Marissa Meyer- Cress

4. Tana French- The Secret Place










5. Rainbow Rowell- Fangirl (a few paychecks down the road, I plan to go on a Rainbow Rowell buying spree)

6. Jim C. Hines- Codex Born

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7. Jhumpa Lahiri- The Lowland

8. Jeff Vandermeer- Acceptance

9. Justin Cronin- The City of Mirrors

10. George R. R. Martin- The Winds of Winter. (When, George? WHEN?)


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Tough Travel- Shapeshifiting


Every Thursday, the Fantasy Review Barn is taking us on a journey through Fantasyland with their Tough Travel Guide. Today’s topic is shapeshifting.

SHAPESHIFTING is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a WOLF, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls, and cats are common too. In all cases the rule is that the shapeshifter cannont stay too long in animal form without actually becoming that animal.

My list doesn’t quite fit those requirements exactly, but these are the ones that occured to me:

8586681. Mercy Thompson (the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs)
Are we counting urban fantasy? I’m counting urban fantasy, because Mercy was the first character I thought of. She hangs out with a bunch of werewolves, as per usual in urban fantasyland, but she’s actually whats known as a skinwalker–she shapeshifts into a coyote.

2. Daine Sarrasri (the Immortals series by Tamora Pierce)

Here is where I commence to feeling awful, because this was one of the formative book series’ for me, and I’m not even sure I’m remembering it right (to the reread shelf!). Daine is able to communicate with all animals, and *if* I am remembering properly, she learns how to enter their minds and see through their eyes, but when she does so is in danger of getting stuck there.

3. Seregil & Alec (the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling)

Not properly shapeshifters at all, but I can’t include a list without my dear Nightrunners. The Oreska wizards have an inner nature spell that changes the subject, briefly, into the animal that matches their inner nature–Seregil is an otter, and Alec a stag. It’s the basis of the cutest scene in book one, and then turns around into one of the most heartwrenching scenes in book two.

And finally,

4. The Stark kids (ASoIaF, George R. R. Martin)

This one has been a slow, slow burn, and as per usual in Martin’s world a lot is left unsaid, but I think its generally agreed upon by this point that all those Stark kids are wargs. Bran’s the one really learning about it, hanging around beyond the Wall turning into his own direwolf, but they all have a quasi-mystical connection with their wolves (even Sansa, who’s wolf is dead.) By the end of book 6, Arya’s training to become a Faceless Man and Jon Snow has warged into Ghost, so yeah: they’re all wargs.


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Writing Wednesdays: Outlines


There was a time when I hated the idea of outlines. Surely, writing is an organic process, and will come out all in the right order because of my natural talent. Right? Right?

Then I realized that a project I had been tinkering on on and off for years, that I thought was fairly well developed on paper because it is in my head, had five different beginnings and had never even heard of such a thing as a middle.

So, outlines.

I’m still trying to work out the best outlining process for me. I write out detailed character and worldbuilding information, but plot is always hard for me, and its especially difficult to set it all down in something approaching order, even if I give myself permission to change that order. But one of the best things I have ever discovered is the power of the notecard and the empty wall.

I love it in detective stories when they make the evidence wall–you know, all those newspaper clippings and photographs and bits of paper, all connected with colored string. I’m not generally a very visual thinker, but I love the way those storyboards work, so why couldn’t I make it work for me?


This is the wall (OK, doors), for the Big Project. What I ended up doing is writing down all the different scenes I wanted to include, in what mostly works out to chapter increments (I didn’t intend that, but writing it down made me see the shape of things). Then I put them in the order I envision. And because of my problem with endless beginings, I made sure to split them into three distinct sections, so that I can start to see an arc. But because it’s just tape and cards, I can do any shifting I have to. On the other side of the wall are important characters, lines I want to remember verbatim, and bits of worldbuilding. It’s like a big old Pinterest board right in my spare room. (I also have discovered the joy of Pinterest- less for outlining, more for inspiration boards.)

Next time, I think I need to get colored index cards.

There are all kinds of ways to outline. So far, this one really seems to be working for me, but I definitely want to experiment more. What are your preferred ways of outlining? Do you stick to it, or do you tear it all to shreds by the end?

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Writing Wednesdays: Settle Down


I can’t settle on one story.

This isn’t anything new. Whenever I run into problems with a story, or run out of steam, I tend to let a project hibernate while I work on something new. Usually I’m running 7 or 8 projects in various stages at once.

But since my surgery, it’s gotten to be a really noticable problem. For awhile I had what  I called “swiss cheese brain”–nothing was sticking in there. And while that’s gotten a lot better over the past few months, I’m still having trouble focusing, and more importantly, settling.

I’ll write a paragraph in one story. Delete half of it and write it over again. Go to another story and write two lines of dialogue. Write a random paragraph for story 3 without having a concrete scene to attach it to. Go back to story 1. Stare at the blinking cursor for awhile. Suddenly remember and reboot an idea I had 10 years ago. Stare at the blinking cursor some more. It’s not block, really. I don’t much believe in writer’s block. I think it comes down to a lack of patience, and a lack of discipline.

So, how to deal with it? Do I pick just one project and force myself through it in one or two sittings? Do I continue to word vomit until each separate story finally takes shape? Get a change of scenery, or a change of writing habits? Writers, how do you put all of your focus behind one project at a time? (Or do you at all?)

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I’m Not Sure I Want to Read


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books I’m Not Sure I Want to Read. I own these but am ‘meh’ on all of them for one reason or another. But here’s your chance to convince me to take the plunge!

109641. Diana Gabaldon- Outlander (it’s just. so. LONG. I’m already neck deep in ASoIaF over here, I need another long-booked series like a hole in the head.)

2. Abraham Verghese- Cutting for Stone

3. Scott Lynch- The Lies of Locke Lamora

4. Laini Taylor- Daughter of Smoke and Bone (I can never resist a good remainders sale)

5. Deborah Harkness- A Discovery of Witches (ditto)

6. Marilynne Robinson- Housekeeping11577576

7. D. B. Jackson- Thieftaker (confession: I totally DNFed this, and had it ready to go in my library donations bag, but then I saw Jackson on some panels at a con and thought I should give it another try.)

13528340 8. Jenny Lawson- Let’s Pretend this Never Happened

9. Connie Willis- To Say Nothing of the Dog

10. Various- Athena’s Daughters (I backed this Kickstarter…and then by the time it was over, I’d lost interest for some bizarre reason.)

So, any of these worth cracking into?


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Writing Wednesdays: Community


I’m trying a little something new today. I’ve decided that I need to get out of my own head once in awhile when it comes to my creative writing. Since I’m not in school anymore, and don’t have a writing group, I do a lot of over-analyzing and self-doubting (I’d do those things with a class or a writing group, too, but it gets a bit claustrophobic in my own head). So I’m creating this feature, Writing Wednesdays, to talk a little about my writing, and the challenges and problems and techniques that go along with it. Let me know what you think, dear readers. I promise that if it gets too whiny or angsty I will stop doing it. More than anything, I guess what I’m trying to do is create a dialogue with other writers, because I haven’t had a “community” in a long time, and sometimes it feels like I’m writing into a vacuum, which is something I need to change.

So for my first topic, lets address exactly that: community. I’ve been wondering lately how anyone cultivates a group of readers, specifically beta readers and people to get real feedback from. Since getting out of school, I’ve been itching for someone to critique with regularly. I’ve tried doing things like NaNoWriMo, I’ve tried connecting with friends who write, but nothing seems to fit or stick. Right now, when I need eyes on my work, I have a few friends I can rely on to tell me, bare bones, whether it reads well or not. That’s great, but I want depth. I want to find people who can help me dismantle a story, and then help me rebuild it. I want people to discuss craft with, and I want to put my otherwise useless editing degree to work and actually edit others’ work.

To that end, I think it’s really time for me to find a face-to-face writing group. But I’m not so good with strangers. Interactions on the internet terrifies me. A face-to-face group might make me bust out in a panic attack.

It’s a definite goal, though, because to get better I can’t write solely for myself. It took me years to get over the hurdle to actually submit something, and once I did it I actually managed to get some things published. So maybe if I force myself to get over this hurdle, I can manage to make my work better. Which is ultimately all that matters to me.

So, questions for writers out there. What do you look for in a first reader of your work? Do just you have readers look at grammar and formatting, or do you have readers who go deeper than that? At what stage are you ready to share your projects? Are there any online communities out there I should know about? (assume I know nothing, because it’s probably true.) How do you find/connect with people? That has always been a problem for me, and I’m sure it always will be to some degree, but I’m ready to face it down.



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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Gateways Into Historical Romance


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten books I’d give to readers who’ve never read X. Thinking about how to fill the topic got me thinking about what genres are kind of new to me as a reader. One is mystery/thriller–but I’m really only reading two or three specific authors right now. The other is romance–I’m rediscovering how much I used to enjoy the crazysauce that is the bodice ripper. So these are ten books I’d give to readers who’ve never read historical romance. But only a few clearly fit in the “romance” tag, others are fantasy or literary or whatever you might want to classify them as. They are all stories where I think the romance is as important as the historical setting, though, and I think are good gateways into the genre.

134899221. Courtney Milan- The Heiress Effect Every time I get my hands on a new Courtney Milan book, I just squee and generally flail. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be The Heiress Effect. Oliver and Jane are cute, sure, but it’s the background characters and their relationships that make it work for me. Milan’s writing is fun and sparkling, but she’s not afraid to address serious issues, and the history is as important as the romance. There’s also some serious trope dismantling going on.


2. Mary Robinette Kowal- Shades of Milk and Honey 8697507Alternate history totally counts. In the most basic sense, this book is a Jane Austen novel with magic, but it definitely rises above the potentially silly premise. Jane and Vincent’s romance is subdued, especially in this first volume of the series, because they are subdued people, but it’s fascinating to watch their relationship grow and mature. Anyone who loves Jane Austen will love this, even if you don’t think you like fantasy.





3. Erin Lindsay McCabe- I Shall Be Near to You This is a fantastic Civil War drama that explores the roles of women in the war through one courageous character. But the central romance is also really potent.



4. Elizabeth Hoyt- Notorious Pleasures 8597949 I started reading Elizabeth Hoyt because I was about to be stuck on an airplane without a book, and Duke of Midnight was literally the only thing I could find in the airport bookstore that looked remotely interesting (He’s Batman, guys. Regency romance Batman.) Anyway, I really dig her writing style and I’m currently making my way through her Maiden Lane series. I’m actually learning a lot of things I didn’t know anything about, because her characters go to some unusual places for regency romance. And so far Notorious Pleasures has been my favorite, because I just loved the characters.

130561595. Laura Moriarty- The Chaperone moving on to the 20th century, The Chaperone is a great peek into turn of the century life in the Midwest, and life in 1920s New York. The romance (or, I guess, romances) at the center are definitely unconventional, which I quite enjoyed. It gives way to sap at the end, but some people like sap.


6. Helene Wecker- The Golem and the Jinni 15819028If you haven’t read this book: YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. Just magical and wonderful and beautiful. On the historical side, it really captures the many facets of turn-of-the-century New York City. On the romance side is one of the most unexpected and heartwrenching relationships I’ve ever read.



7. Rainbow Rowell- Eleanor & Park On the one hand, it really hurts to classify a book set when I was a toddler as “historical romance”. But on the other hand: yeah, I’m an old fart, and yeah, the 80s actually were a really long time ago, so there. As good as Rainbow Rowell is at swoony romance (and she is. Reading these characters fall in love, I feel like I’m in love), she’s also really great at conveying a sense of time, through music and movies and clothes.

8. Anna Lee Huber- The Anatomist’s Wife 13542496Much, much more mystery than romance, but it’s really the romance that keeps me with this series. Currently Kiera and Gage are stuck in an endless will-they-won’t-they, which is definitely my personal catnip. There’s lots of neat insights to 19th century “forensics,” too.






9. Judith McNaught- Something Wonderful Oddly enough I can’t stand Judith McNaught, except for this book. I’ve tried a few others, and they’ve left me anywhere from ‘meh’ to ‘RAGE’. But something about this one is so dramatic and insane and ridiculous that I just love it. It’s like a template of what people think of when they think historical romance. Crossdressing heroines and random deadly danger and all kinds of insane stuff.

10. E. M. Forster- Maurce 3103Even though Maurice was written in 1913, making it roughly contemporary to the subject matter, it wasn’t published until the seventies, so I’m totally counting it as historical fiction. It’s the story of a young, average, middle-class man confronting his homosexuality, as he is torn between idealistic, platonic love and true passion with someone who is outside his class. It’s gorgeously written, and most important (and revolutionary, for the time), Maurice and Scudder get a happy ending. The movie is fantastic too, one of my all time favorites.


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Review: The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction vol. 2

18596555Title: The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction vol. 2

Author: various, ed. by Gordon Van Gelder

Rating: 3 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You’re probably tired of me giving story collections 3 stars. I know, I am to. But I’m hard pressed to find a better rating for a collection such as this. When there are many different authors, I have many different reactions to the stories, and some I will like a whole lot more than others. So, middle of the road. Three it is.

I picked up The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Volume Two in part because I want to educate myself about the origins of the genre. I know early authors by reputation, but very seldom by actual representations of their work, and as usual I also feel really undereducated in the science fiction side of the genre. Fantasy & Science Fiction is one of those old bulwarks that it can be intimidating to approach; coming in, I was only familiar with one of these stories (the Liu). So I figured it was worth a try.

As with any compilation, best of or otherwise, the stories vary in quality and the way they appeal to me as a reader. There are 27 stories included here, and I’d say about 6 or 7 really rose above the rest for me. A couple I really, really disliked, and a couple just left me scratching my head. But the great thing is that they cover such a variety of subgenres that everyone will find something.

One thing that surprised me is that the older stories, dated references aside, often read like they could have been written yesterday. (I swear, you replace the “miniature television” of “The Prize of Peril” with a smartphone, and you’d have a scathing critique of modern reality tv). I liked them better than a lot of the later stories, too. The examples from the 80s and 90s covered a lot of cyberpunk and stuff that didn’t really appeal to me, and stories that were published 60 years ago felt fresher than stories published 20 years ago.

Women and authors of color are severely underrepresented. I understand that when going back to the 50s and 60s, ratios will be off, but I was still quite disappointed by it. But I was exposed to some new writers, and learned a little history of the genre, and for the most part I enjoyed the collection.

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Reading Detox

Post-surgery, I was really excited when I was able to start reading books again (I had grand plans. I was going to write an entire novel during my convalescence, and use the time off work to read all my TBR books. I didn’t count on what anasthesia, pain medicine, kidney failure, and just plain pain would do to my brain. I couldn’t read for over a month). But very quickly, that excitement has turned to dread, as I started to feel all this weird guilt. I’m not reading fast enough, I’m not reading as many books as I should, I have x amount of reviews to get through, I’m hoarding too many library books.


translation: I’m weird.

Thing is, I know it’s ridiculous to feel guilt over reading. It’s not exactly a destructive behavior. But I need to take a break, first to see if I even can take a break, and second so I pay more attention to other parts of my life and get back into balance.

So from August 4th to 10th, no books and no short stories. My TBR pile is overflowing, but I’m going to do my best to ignore it. I don’t know if it will last. The hardest part is going to be at work, which is literally a building full of books. But I’m going to try. And maybe, just maybe, at the end of the week reading will start to feel like a joy again instead of a guilty chore.


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