Alright, here we are, back for more reading recommendations from the long months between last May and now. I may or may not have been reading a LOT. And writing a lot. NaNoWriMo was in there somewhere, along with a move, starting a new career as a full time writer and educator, and so so so much more. Who knew staying home during a pandemic could be this busy?!
If you can’t find these in a library and want to buy a copy, I highly recommend ordering through Bookshop.org to help support independent booksellers during this time. It’s where I’m getting most of my physical copies of books now, though I’m reading more and more virtually (easier to read laying down for bed).
All of these books I found riveting, inspiring, and/or nerve-wracking. I’ve grouped them into categories roughly around where you’d find them in a library, but don’t let that stop you from picking any of these up. I enjoyed all of them immensely. Presented in no particular order:
- Pocket Workshop from Clarion West edited by Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans – a series of essays from Clarion West instructors past
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont – About the writing life, and exactly what I needed in the moment
- The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass – Talking about emotion in writing, beautifully done
- Monster She Wrote by Lisa Kroger – the history of female horror/speculative fiction authors
- The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – about working with octopuses and a lot of their biology; I may be on an octopus kick
- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty – about the cremation and funeral industry, absolutely fascinating
YA Speculative Fiction
- Updraft by Fran Wilde – truly unique fantasy
- Wilder Girls by Rory Power – fair warning, this is terrifying, at least for me
- A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow – about Black sirens, super fun
- A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney – a modern Black Alice in Wonderland gone punk
- The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin – If Robert Aspirin had written his MYTH series for kids
Other Speculative Fiction
- Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – high fantasy, without the elves and Tolkien influence
- Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb – and sequels, high fantasy
- All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – Almost surreal modern high fantasy (?) Hard to describe other than excellent
- Shadowrun Novellas by Jennifer Brozek – set in the TTRPG setting of Shadowrun and very fun
- Ordinary Magic series by Devon Monk – Lovely, light hearted urban fantasy
- Putting the Fun in Funeral by Diana Pharaoh Francis – slightly darker urban fantasy
Series I always return to
- Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs – I always pre-order these urban fantasy shifter books
- The Thief Knot and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford (of Greenglass House series) – I just adore these books set in the same magically-real smugglers town
- Come Tumbling Down and Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire – I never get tired of McGuire’s breadth and depth of skill; something for everyone in her various series
- Most recent in the Lizzie Grace series by Keri Arthur – fluffy popcorn urban fantasy, the best kind!
- Most recent in the Blood Trails series by Jennifer Blackstream – I am so invested in this witch urban fantasy series; I always preorder them
- The most recent in the Miss Fortune Mysteries series by Jana DeLeon – Okay, so, EVERYONE I recommend these to adores the crap out of them. 18 strong and counting. If you don’t pick up any other books from this list, go get Louisiana Longshot. I cry laughing reading them, and they are universally excellent. My husband was super skeptical. It took him a grand total of two weeks to read the first 17. Fluffy, funny, exciting, sexy, all of it, with a main character I can really connect with and two old ladies who I wish were my neighbors. Well, maybe a street over so when Gertie burns down her shed, again, I can enjoy the amusement, but not worry about property damage.
That’s it for now folks! I’ll come back with a roundup again sometime when I have the wherewithal to catalog my reading again. TTFN!
Luckily or not, I was sick for the first part of the Seattle social distancing. Probably the unmentionable, but not enough tests. So it goes. But once I’m almost upright again, I ask myself how I am going to entertain myself through the copious hours cooped up with husband and dogs. Catching up on art projects, sewing projects, writing (HAH, like i have the emotional energy for THAT right now), reading…and, oh yeah, my gathered list of things to read just passed 200 on the Amazon wishlist I keep specifically for that. So off to the Libby app to see what I can borrow from my library virtually. Turns out, most of the list. The expensive text books and out of print antiques I’ll save for another day. For now, I’m keeping my holds list maxed out and burning through as many of the list as possible.
Where does this list come from? I know you want to know. Mostly it comes from folks I teach writing to. I have several exercises that asks students–child, teen, and adult–what their favorite books are. And I write them down, or keep the post-its, or however I need to save them from class and then they get added to the list. Also topics I have a passing interest in, I’ll add a handful of “best representations.” Or authors I needed to catch up on Which meant my list to read had grown to absolutely absurd lengths and it was time to do something about it.
Thankfully, I already have a very specific process in place for allowing myself to stop reading a book when I am not enjoying it. I can stop reading at any point, BUT I must be able to explicitly state what it is about the book that just isn’t working for me. Reasons I have stopped reading books from this list so far:
- Choking on the toxic-masculine male gaze
- Very poor copy-editing
- Very poor writing ability
- Was trying to give a genre I don’t normally like a go, but find that it still puts me to sleep as its pacing and content is just not engaging for me
- Unintentional and unaddressed problematic content due to the author’s point of view
- And one notable book that gave me severe anxiety due to the way I identified with it, too much to handle right now
But for every three or four (or ten) books I return to the library started, but not finished, I find there’s one that draws me in and delights me. Those have been, in the reverse order to which I’ve encountered them as I scroll backwards through Libby:
- Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
- Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
- Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (good book about writing for younger writers)
- Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
- The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopikinson
- Greenglass House by Kate Milford
- The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
- Camp So-and-So by Mary McCoy
- A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
- In An Absent Dream and That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
- Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress
Okay, that was more than I had realized. Some of them, Like Greenglass House and The New Moon’s Arms I immediately went and placed a hold on more of their work, I enjoyed it that much. I currently have a maxed out holds list for ebooks ranging from “Available Soon” to “Available after 9 weeks,” 15 more on my “put on hold when I can” list, and 35 that aren’t available through ebook lending and I’ll either need to wait for the library to open, and yet more that I will have to purchase since the library doesn’t have them in physical form either. I’d say one day I’ll reach the end of this list but I just added 15 from the students I’m working with this week so…probably not!
Oh…wait…I forgot to count the 20+ physical books waiting for me on my to-read shelf out in the living room, too…
I have participated in NaNoWriMo six years now, and of those six, I’ve only “won” three times. 50% sure isn’t a bad finish rate, better than the average participant by a long shot, but there comes a time in November when you either know you’re going to make it, or you are not.
Today, I’m here to tell you that I’m not going to win NaNoWriMo, and that’s totally okay. The other years I’ve failed to hit the 50,000 word goal have been because I’ve had to move in the middle of November (never again!) but this year was a whole other string of unforeseen hurdles. Gremlins might be a more appropriate word.
Work went wahoonie shaped in a big way, requiring much more time and effort and stress than it normally does. I am headed to GeekGirl Con this weekend, and as a one-woman publishing house tabling AND moderating a panel requiring data crunching and a PowerPoint, and included a lot of interpersonal stress around people supposed to be around at the booth. And to top it all off, I am now hunting and pecking this post out on my keyboard because someone didn’t clean up after their dog and guess who fell in it. *Raises my sprained left wrist with wry defeat* Doesn’t help that this is the second time this has happened at my apartment complex…
So there’s no way on earth I’m able to type fast enough, think fast enough, breath well enough to power a story this November. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing though, far from it. It just means that this NaNoWriMo instead of coming out with 50k words of story, I’ll come out with maybe 25k words and some good coping mechanisms and a better idea of how to allocate my time…and how to delegate better. And just how much pressure I can handle in one autumn before I want to curl up into the fetal position. For now, I’ll sit here with my left arm in my sling and try to finish getting ready for the Con (thankfully I’m almost there!) and be glad my wonderful husband-creature will be available to lift the heavy boxes during set-up tomorrow.
If you happen to be around Seattle, you should stop by GeekGirl Con! It’s an amazing and wonderfully inclusive con for geeks of all kinds from science to science fiction and the maths of crafts to fantasy cosplay. We’ll be running the Mneme Press booth at booth number 620, and we’ll have lots of games, books for sale, and space for you to write if you’re doing NaNoWriMo.
Happy Writing! (or not!)
National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and, as usual, I’m not going the traditional route. I find this crazy hectic month of writing much more conducive to finishing up languishing projects, or focusing on a bunch of small ones. As such, I’m working on finishing up the first draft of Spirit of the Law, the full length play about Elsie Olmstead, wife of notorious rumrunner Roy Olmstead here in Seattle.
In the process of my year of research, I have reached out to and made friends with several different researchers and prohibition experts and authors, including people like Brad Holden, author of Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners & Graft in the Queen City. And now, when someone reaches out to them looking for information on the elusive 2nd Mrs. Olmstead, they punt the querent to me. And it’s…weird. Gratifying, but weird. I’m so used to working on speculative fiction that questions about good literature, diverse literature, writing tips, etc., are an everyday occurance and I delight in sharing the knowledge and tips I’ve gleaned over the years. But it’s different when you’re starting to be considered an authority on something more concrete. Something that happened in history and you’re the only person people can think of who has done the deep dive necessary to find out the small things. Things like she was so foul-mouthed she was teaching law-enforcement officers new cuss words.
It helps that Elsie is a vivacious and compelling character with even the little we know about her, and the tidbits that made it into writings about her husband Roy and his groundbreaking trial. If you don’t know, Roy was one of the very first people to be convicted based on wire-tapping evidence, and they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. But that very lack of knowledge seemed to be deliberate on her part, one way to set up a smokescreen to her real involvement, which is one of the reasons people are desperate to know more.
Once the play draft is complete, I plan to write up a scholarly article about her, with all the attendant source citing. Hopefully by sharing all the odd bits and pieces I’ve pulled out of dusty old court records buried in the bowels of federal archives will help inspire other people to go digging as well and maybe even find some interesting things I missed. And in the meantime, I’ll keep getting that happy little thrill when I get the message that someone else has fallen in love with this woman and wants to know more, just like I did a year ago.
It’s that time of year again! GeekGirl Con is just around the corner (Nov. 16th and 17th this year) and I’ve got two new novellas for your enjoyment. The first, Pit Stop, was previously only available in the Night Lights Anthology, and Wavefall which is a brand new adventure in the same universe. Literally the opposite side of the universe from Pit Stop, but same none-the-less.
Pit Stop is the story of Maevis, in self-imposed exile on a distant refueling station for Corporate. She finds herself helping out an injured juvenile hijacker and rethinking some of her choices.
In Wavefall, we meet Andrea and Brad on a mining asteroid hoping to survive a quantum event that is traveling through the universe and leaving a wake of missing and dead people.
Also don’t forget that the third in the Oz novellas series is out for consumption as well! Jason Morgado is working on the illustrations for the last two right now, and I hope to have the fourth and fifth out in the next year, so keep your eyes peeled.
All three stories are available in print through Amazon or your other favorite book vendor, as well as digitally through whichever form you prefer downloading books. And as a teaser, this NaNoWriMo, I’ll be editing another two books in this series, as well as finishing up writing the first draft for two others, including a followup to Wavefall. Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up to date on my writing progress!
And if you missed it, I’ll post the youtube link when it goes up! If you’re looking for some of the resources I talk about, there are links below. Hope you found it igniting!
- For worksheets to help spur your writing, visit my website.
- For information about volunteering with or bringing your kids to the Bureau of Fearless Ideas writing center in Greenwood, visit their website.
- Feeling motivated? Join millions of people as they try to write a novel in November! (The Seattle chapter mascot is the rubber duck!)
- Want writing classes for adults? Check your local community colleges, adult continuing education, and if you are local to Seattle, Hugo House has an excellent roster of classes.
So I was recently mugged by inspiration while touring Smith Tower here in Seattle (thanks for the tickets, Tiff!). For those of you who have no idea what Smith Tower is, it was once the tallest sky scraper west of the Mississippi (when it was build back in the 19-teens) and it has a lovely and eventful history, including housing an assortment of people associated with rumrunning and bootlegging back during prohibition. If you know much about prohibition in the west OR constitutional law, you probably know the name Roy Olmstead. He was a rumrunner up here in Seattle who was known for being anti-violence and being one of the area’s largest employers during that time period as well as being the first person to challenge wire tapping as a legal source of evidence at the supreme court. However, I am much more interested in his wife, Elise aka Elsie Caroline Parché aka Campbell who was a British WWI intelligence officer before marrying Roy. But when one goes to find information about the ladies of the time period, the research is thin on the ground.
As I was flailing around for resources, I ran across a book that is actually coming out next month: Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden. I promptly pre-ordered it, but didn’t want to wait a month to read it (oh the urgency of the muse /s) and instead reached out to Brad on his Instagram account where he posts Seattle relics. He happily agreed to send me over a PDF of his book which I promised to review in return for sending me the advance copy, so here we go! He did specify a completely HONEST review of the book, so I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like.
I wish there was more on Elise, but considering he was covering all of prohibition in a concise and easy to read book, I can’t be too hard on him for that. I could have also wished for more precise dates on some events as I laid out the timeline my work will cover, but again, not sure those are even available. And that’s the end of what I can complain about.
Holden has put together a beautifully researched and written book about the nature of Prohibition and its criminal element with copious photographs to bring the laundry list of names and events to life. His writing is lively and engaging, which I personally have had difficulty finding in non-fiction works. If you look through my list of reviews here, you’ll see I tend to stick heavily to speculative fiction, so actually enjoying a non-fiction book is something of a departure for me. Most of the other works I’ve found about this era are deadly boring and I find myself skimming and just looking for mentions of the names I am concerned with. Not so with H0lden’s work. It’s a masterfully woven tale that explores all the major players and events in Seattle during the 1920’s and early 30’s and how Prohibition entered and exited the scene.
The book has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the time period my story will be set in, and the events and people that will serve as a backdrop to the play. It was charming, eloquent, and had a rakish sense of humor, much like the people it featured. If you have a passing interest in Seattle, history, Prohibition, gentleman criminals, or a mix of the above, definitely pick this up for your to-read shelf. And this isn’t just me taking sugar from another local author, I whole-heartedly recommend this intriguing book.
- During my first period at 12 I passed out from the pain.
- During high school, my 7 day periods regularly soaked through six pads a day.
- During college I had to go on birth control because my cramps prevented me from going to class and my cycles would swing wildly between 15 and 45 days long.
- During grad school, I collapsed in a crosswalk in the middle of Boston from the pain and had to make the decision between taking Lupron for six months or having surgery. Surgery wasn’t an option because of work and class, so Lupron it was. It helped with the pain, but it was also six months of hormonal agony and has left a really nasty imprint on my biological systems. Never again.
- After going off Lupron we learned that estrogen was giving me heart arrhythmias, so I could no longer take birth control with any estrogen in.
- Progesterone only treatments didn’t seem to be effective, so I went onto the Skyla IUD (designed for women who haven’t had children, and lasts for three years).
- Two years into the Skyla, my cramps were so bad I was missing work and they were constant. No letup. I tried to keep it a few more months but ended up having it pulled six months early.
- Went back to progesterone only treatments. The low dose normal birth control pills did nothing.
- 5 mgs was hormonal agony.
- 2.5 is barely tolerable. My last period I bled for a month and a half. And I’ve had cramps daily for the last two months.
My husband picked up a book from the library, Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, and on the way home I read the back out of curiosity. The title, given what I know of the phrase, intrigued me, and the synopsis even more so. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about magical prostitutes?
Little is the newest girl to become a Glory on Sub Rosa, a street that doesn’t exist, full of houses and businesses that cater to live ones (us normie city folks) who need a respite and an experience full of joy to relieve the humdrum life they lead. It’s a novel that explores a lot of interesting topics from love to the importance of memory, and how people experience life and sex. It was riveting, and though there were a lot of racy scenes, none of them felt gratuitous, which is definitely rare. They were all an important part of the plot, and were written with tact and finesse, leaving your experience of them much like what I would expect from a Sub Rosa Glory herself.
The part that stuck most in my mind, though, was the theme of names through the novel. This was the second novel that I’ve read, in a row, where we do not know the protagonist’s given name until nearly the end of the story. Names and naming things plays a huge role in both Alif the Unseen and Sub Rosa and it got me thinking about my own reticence around names. I find myself avoiding using people’s names almost always, unless there is no other way to get their attention in a crowd or something similar, and I wonder why that is. Something to ponder; thanks for the push, Dawn!
Anyway, I highly recommend picking this up to read. It’s a beautiful and glorious word romp through some difficult topics and leaves you different at the end, just like any good trip to Sub Rosa.
I was having dinner with the wonderful founder of the Seattle Ladies’ Comic Book Club the other night and she recommended a book she had read recently, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was excited to get my hands on a spec fic work by a female Muslim author, so I dove right in. As a brief summary: Alif is a gray hat hacker in an unnamed middle eastern city state who has devoted his talents to helping anyone who wanted to stay one step ahead of their governments’ censorship on the net. Islamists, Feminists, Anarchists, he didn’t much care what your views were, he would help you be able to share them with less fear of persecution. Until one day it all comes toppling down on his head and he ends up begging for help from none other than a jinn living at the edge of the market.
Coming to this book after a long string of mediocre reading was a serious breath of fresh air. The writing is crisp and clear, the characters multi-dimensional, and the world understandable, even for a white-bread American girl like me. In fact, when I was about 2/3 of the way through the book, I actually downloaded a copy of the Quran so I can read some of the referenced stories and passages for myself when I am next in a scholarly mood. I was continuously impressed with Wilson’s handling of situations around things such as veils or other cultural differences as they never came across as alien or alienating. One of the main supporting characters, Dina, has chosen a veiled life for the sake of piety, and I felt like I understood the basic nuances of her choices, her family’s dismay at her choice, and felt she was all the stronger for having made it, which is an entirely foreign concept to me. Thus, impressed.
There was also an excellently executed commentary on political power, revolutions, gender dynamics, and belief woven delicately through the novel. If all you were looking to read was a rollicking magical/techno book, Wilson’s messages never got in the way. But if you were willing to look deeper into the text, there was a lot of fascinating discussion going on. I highly recommend picking this up or putting into your queue to read sometime in the near future. Now, please excuse me while I add all her other books (and comic books!) to my list to read.