Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Releases I'm Dying to Read: March/April edition

On the authorial front, it's the same song, same verse: Still revising The Labyrinth of Flame (just passed the 60K mark). Still no news yet on an official release date.  (Sorry, everyone! Publishing is sloooooow.)  I'm going to make a big push on the revision during April, which means I'll be around even less than usual.  I'll still respond to emails and @-replies on twitter, but other than that, it's gonna be all crickets all the time.

But before I vanish into the wilds of revision, I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the books releasing this year that I'm really excited about.  Mostly because half the novels I'm dying to read never seem to show up on the lists I see at high-traffic sites (like this Buzzfeed one, which covers a disappointingly narrow slice of fantasy).  In my small way, I want to give the books I'm anticipating some more love.  Originally I thought I'd do my own version of a full "books of 2014" list.  Then I started writing down all the novels I'm looking forward to, and realized the list was so long it'd take me days to write the post - days I'd much rather be spending on revision right now.  Instead, I decided to only post about novels releasing in the next month (or in this case, novels from both March and April), and just make it a recurring monthly feature.

So! What books releasing in March and April had I already pre-ordered and am using as rewards when I meet revision goals? 

1. Catherine Fisher's The Slanted Worlds (Chronoptika #2), release date March 18

The first in the series, Obsidian Mirror, was one of my favorite reads last year. Wildly imaginative YA that mixes tropes from science fiction (time travel! dystopian futures!) with fantasy (faeries and changelings!), and includes a whole range of characters who distrust each other yet are forced to make alliances - yeah, sign me up.  I pretty much devoured Slanted Worlds the moment it released (see my Goodreads review here). 

2. Elspeth Cooper's The Raven's Shadow (Wild Hunt #3), US release date March 11


I love epic fantasy, so Cooper's Wild Hunt series sits firmly in my sweet spot as a reader.  Lovely prose, diverse characters, plenty of magic - bring it on, I say.  First book is Songs of the Earth. 

3. Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor, release date April 1

Addison is a pen name for fantasy author Sarah Monette.  I've enjoyed what I've read of Monette's work, so I was already interested upon hearing she had a new novel coming out - and my interest has only grown after seeing several glowing reviews for the book.  I'm looking forward to seeing if I am as enraptured by it as others have been.

4. Elizabeth Bear's Steles of the Sky (Eternal Sky #3), release date April 8

The first two books in this epic fantasy series - Range of Ghosts and Shattered Pillars - were right up at the top of my favorite reads of the last two years, so it's no surpise I'm salivating for the conclusion to the trilogy.  Love the characters, love the Mongolian-inspired setting, and Bear has a deft hand with plot that keeps me guessing every time.  It kills me that this series hasn't gotten the massive level of attention it deserves.  Read it!  Read it now!     

That's it for my March/April pre-orders, though a few other books have also caught my eye: Glenda Larke's The Lascar's Dagger, Mark Smylie's The Barrow, and Jon Sprunk's Blood and Iron.  They've gone on the TBR list for the day I finish my revision and can indulge in a month-long reading binge. May that day come soon!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Holding Pattern

Yeah, it's been quiet around here.  Very, very quiet.  Revising Labyrinth of Flame remains my top priority, which doesn't leave much chance for blogging.  In case anyone wonders why the heck revision takes me so long, here's an sample of my process:

1) Take messy first-draft version of chapter and rewrite it to the point I'm willing to let my critique group read it.  This means cleaning up prose, but also rethinking action, character reactions, dialogue flow, sometimes even a blank-page rewrite if something's changed significantly in the story after rewrites of previous chapters.

2) Hand out chapter to critique group.  Get feedback pointing out issues (often relating to tension, pacing, or depth of emotional interaction).

3) Tear hair and gnash teeth trying to figure out a way to address problems.  Think of an idea, get halfway through rewriting scene, realize it still doesn't help.  Think more.  Despair.  Eat cupcake, or (preferably) do something outdoors.  A-ha!  Sugar or adrenaline rush leads to way better idea, one I can see immediately will address issues and make story 100% better.

4) Realize brilliant new idea means rewriting entire chapter from scratch (and maybe the one before it, too).  Weep copiously.  Save old scenes to "deleted scenes" file and go back to step 1.

Outdoor exercise and plenty of sleep do much to speed up steps 1 and 3.  Sadly, as a parent I don't get the chance for nearly as much as I'd like of either.  But: good news!  This weekend, I'll be enjoying both.  My awesome boss invited me and some other friends up to her house in ski country for a little "ladies ski weekend," and my equally awesome husband agreed to take off work and wrangle our son solo so I can spend Thurs-Sat in mountain heaven.  I don't know what's more exciting: the idea of skiing hard all day long in chutes and trees, or the idea of sleeping an entire night through without a little voice going "Mommy, I'm scared..." at 3am.  And yes, I'm bringing the ol' laptop and plan on getting some quality revising time in addition to the other fun.

The best aid to revision ever.  As long as you ski wearing a helmet (which I do). 
So wish me much powder and much progress, and may your weekend be as fun as mine promises to be!        


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

So you think not many women write epic fantasy/sword & sorcery?

I've been busy busy busy with revisions on The Labyrinth of Flame (now approaching the 50K revised mark!), a big day job project, and yes, more than a little skiing.  Yet amid all that, I haven't been ignoring the internet entirely.  So when Teresa Frohock posted on her blog about the challenges she's faced as a female author of SFF, and then Mark Lawrence ran a poll asking his readers whether their decision to buy his book would've been different if it'd said Mary Lawrence on the cover, not Mark, and then on Reddit's r/Fantasy forum a huge discussion sprang up about Mark's poll...I followed the conversation.  And after I saw about the fifth instance of someone saying, "Well, but not many women write epic fantasy..."  I couldn't take it anymore. 

I marched over to my bookshelves and scribbled down 40 books written by 40 different female authors that could be categorized as either epic fantasy or sword and sorcery, and posted the list in a thread on Reddit.  (Note: since people on Reddit appeared to be using a fairly broad definition of  "epic fantasy," so did I.  I included alternate histories with significant magical elements, though I did NOT include sword-and-planet SF, or dark/mythic fantasy, or YA fantasy). 

I was delighted at the response!  Hundreds of commenters added more names and said how excited they were to have new books to try.  I know it's a drop in the bucket of this weird invisibility that female-authored novels seem to have in online fandom, but it's a drop that makes me happy and renews my hope that things are changing. 

And speaking of reviews and visibility, my absolute favorite kind of reviews are long, detailed, thoughtful ones.  Like this one Tainted City recently got from Renay of Lady Business.  (The hilarious GIFs are just the icing on the cake!  Also, I am totally using the pull quote "Courtney Schafer is THE WORST." :D) The best part of all is that the comments continued the discussion.  It is surreal but also 100% awesome to see people analyzing my characters and story and discussing their reactions, no matter whether those reactions are positive or negative.)

And now, back to radio silence and revisions...


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday Adventure: Routeburn Track (Southern Alps, New Zealand)

The last weeks have been a bit difficult around here, thanks to illness and other trials.  The saddest thing was the death of my last remaining grandparent, my father's mother.  She was 91 and hadn't been in the best of health (she'd been suffering dementia for years) so it wasn't unexpected; but still.  I treasure my memories of summer weeks with her and my grandfather in their home in the Appalachian Mountains.  I adored my grandmother: she made terrific pancakes, let me watch whatever I wanted (I first saw Star Wars, The Black Stallion, and many other great movies at her house), and let me explore the woods behind their home with no companion but their Australian Shepherd (a dog that I fiercely loved, especially since my parents wouldn't let me have pets).  Scrambling around the steep, heavily forested valley behind their house was my first experience of exploring wilderness, and it was the foundation for my lifelong love of the mountains.

So in honor of my grandmother and the love she instilled in me, today I share one of my favorite mountain adventures of the last decade: walking the Routeburn Track over New Zealand's Southern Alps.  The Routeburn Track is a 32km trail that starts near the end of Lake Wakatipu, crosses a high saddle, and drops down the range's other side to end not far from Milford Sound.  My husband and I decided to do the Routeburn instead of its more famous cousin the Milford Track on our trip to New Zealand in 2006 because we'd heard the views were better and the track spends far more time in high alpine terrain (always a plus in our book).  Also, no sandflies: even bigger plus!

Robert and I and our good friend Catherine took a bus from Queenstown to the start of the track, enjoying gorgeous views of Lake Wakatipu along the way.

Lake Wakatipu
At the start of the track: Catherine, Robert, and me
The track starts in mossy forest, crossing a stream by means of a swing bridge.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Podcast fun, a revision update, and a taste of New Zealand

Happy 2014 to all! Hope the new year is going well.  It's been a bit stressful here, since mid-January is the deadline for Boulder's "open enrollment" lottery for the upcoming school year.  Like many other Boulder parents with a kindergartener-to-be, I've been going on countless school tours, fretting over enrollment lottery statistics, and spending way too much brainpower agonizing over what elementary school would be best for my son.  Choice is a wonderful thing - we're blessed to have so many excellent schools, both public and private, here - but boy, sometimes it's overwhelming.    

I haven't spent all my time fretting, though! My son just started his first real ski class (a season-long program at a local ski area), and I don't know who's more excited, him or me.  After all, while he's in his class, I get to ski trees and moguls to my heart's content.  I can't even tell you how wonderful that is after 4 years of barely skiing at all.  And after I ski my heart out on the steeps, I get to come back and ski green runs with my kiddo, and share in his excitement.  I tell you, there's no better way to spend a day.

My revision of The Labyrinth of Flame is chugging along - I've got 30K revised so far, probably about 1/5 of the book.  I'm still having a ton of fun doing it, too.  Revising may be challenging but it's oh so satisfying.

And I'm psyched to say that the podcast I recorded late last year with Renay of Lady Business is now live!  Renay was a great host; I had so much fun discussing all things SFF with her, from conventions to agents & publishing to gender and genre divides.  I also talk a bit about The Labyrinth of Flame, share some mountain stories, answer some reader questions, and recommend a whole lot of great books.  (I will apologize however for sounding like a valley girl on speed.  I blame the rather potent cough medicine I was taking.  I swear that on prior podcasts I didn't say "like" and "whatever" every third word.)

I know it's been ages since I did a Thursday Adventure post here on the blog, but after seeing all that gorgeous New Zealand scenery in the second Hobbit movie, I've been re-inspired.  Especially since I realized I never did an adventure post for the Routeburn Track, which was one of my favorite experiences on my own New Zealand trip.  So expect a post chock full of NZ mountain pics coming soon - in the meantime, have a little taste!

Mountain views on the Routeburn Track in New Zealand

Last but not least, you have got to check out this long and wonderful list of female SFF authors & their novels, by Andrea K. Höst at the BookSmugglers.  Looking through it, I spotted so many old favorites I haven't thought of in years - Ann Maxwell, anyone? - along with plenty of authors I've never heard of, and am excited to try.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Reads of 2013

This year I didn't read nearly so many books as usual - too busy struggling with my draft of The Labyrinth of Flame! - and when I did take time away from the computer, I did a lot of re-reading of old favorites.  (Nothing like sinking into the familiar world of a well-loved book to reduce stress.)  Even so, I still found some new books to love.  Here are my favorite reads of 2013, in no particular order (though I have separated out adult novels from YA).

Favorite adult reads:

Shattered Pillars, by Elizabeth Bear

The first novel in Bear's Eternal Sky trilogy, Range of Ghosts, was one of my favorite fantasy reads last year, and this sequel didn't disappoint.  Worldbuilding, characters, and plot are all complex and wonderful.  Can't wait to read the final novel in the trilogy, Steles of the Sky.

Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

I was so delighted when this one won the World Fantasy award.  A terrific mix of cyberpunk and urban fantasy set in the middle east and populated by a diverse range of characters; I loved every minute of it.  I particularly appreciated that the religious beliefs of the more devout characters were not condescended to or denigrated by the story, even when the protagonist held a different opinion.

Emperor of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

Powerful conclusion to one hell of a trilogy. Endings are hard, but Lawrence pulls his off with style - I came away feeling deeply satisfied, not just by this book, but with the trilogy as a whole. Like him or hate him, Jorg Ancrath is a character you'll never forget, and Lawrence succeeds in making the events of the story just as memorable and involving as his protagonist. Basically, if you've any taste for the darker side of fantasy, this is a series you don't want to miss.

Master of Whitestorm, by Janny Wurts

Excellent standalone fantasy adventure. I'm a sucker for prickly, difficult characters who wall themselves up in all kinds of emotional armor, and protagonist Korendir is a perfect example of the type. Plus, as a climber myself, how could I resist a book that mixes mountaineering and magic? Wurts writes some great heart-pounding scenes involving ice climbing and high alpine travel, not to mention some badass magical monsters. The book is a great read, and one I'd heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys adventure fantasy (especially if you liked the mountaineering bits in my own novels!).

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Deserves every bit of the raves it's been getting. Terrific, thought-provoking SF that explores questions of identity (both personal and cultural) and plays with gender assumptions in a very interesting way, all while telling a compelling story. (Gosh, I would love to see a comparison of Leckie's take on identity via the multipart awareness of her ship-AIs and their once-human ancillaries, and C.J. Cherryh's take with the tape-programmed azi in Cyteen.) 

The Thousand Names, by Django Wexler

Best military fantasy I've read in ages. The characters are engaging, their predicaments interesting, and the detailed realism of Wexler's portrayal of soldiers on campaign is spiced with a wry humor that keeps the story from ever bogging down. If you've any taste for epic fantasy - even if you're not sure that war stories are your thing - I recommend you give the book a try.

Cold Steel, by Kate Elliott

Great conclusion to Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy. Even while working through the filter of protagonist Cat's 1st-person narration, Elliott does a wonderful job providing satisfying closure to the fates of a large cast of characters. One of the things I like best about the series (besides the distinctive, memorable characters) is the way the story focuses on serious attempts to bring about social change, rather than (as is more typical in fantasy) struggling to maintain the status quo.

The Prince of Lies, by Anne Lyle

A rousing conclusion to Lyle's thoroughly enjoyable Night's Masque trilogy. Lyle ties up all the main threads nicely, but leaves enough about the characters' futures open that I can't help but hope she returns to write more one day. If you're looking for an alternate history with plenty of action combined with a vividly described setting and interesting characters, I definitely recommend giving the series a go.

The Curse of the Mistwraith, by Janny Wurts

First in Wurts's epic Wars of Light and Shadow series.  Complex, immersive, and I hear the series only gets deeper and more layered as it goes on.  This may sound strange, but I actually liked the first novel so much I forbade myself to keep going with the series until I finish writing The Labyrinth of Flame.  Not out of any similarities, but because I was afraid I'd get sucked into the (very long) series and spend all my scant free time reading and not writing!  Plus, with a nicely complex series like this, I want to have the brainpower available to really think over the books after I finish them - something I can't do when my mind's mostly absorbed in my own book.

Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone

An engaging debut featuring a clever female protagonist and a take on magic and gods that I don't think I've ever seen before.

Honorable mentions:
The Republic of Thieves (Scott Lynch)
Firebrand (Gillian Philip)
Rosemary and Rue (Seanan McGuire)
Thieves Quarry (D.B. Jackson)
NOS4A2 (Joe Hill)
Tymon's Flight (Mary Victoria)

Favorite YA reads:

Obsidian Mirror, by Catherine Fisher

Beautifully written, highly imaginative, with sharply drawn characters and a twisty plot - this book was my favorite YA read of the year. I don't think I've ever felt jealous of an author before, but damn, I feel jealous now - if I ever wrote YA, this is exactly the sort of novel I'd want to write. Not in terms of details of story, but of brilliance of execution. I love the way Fisher creates and maintains a sense of mystery, not just with the events of the story, but with the characters. Fisher gives you enough insight into their thoughts and emotions to make them feel like very real, flawed people, yet leaves enough unspoken that each character becomes a puzzle box, waiting for the reader to unlock the truths behind their motivations and reactions as the story unfolds. (I can see how some people might find this distancing, but me? I love books that challenge the reader a little, make you look between the lines of what's said on the page to uncover the real truth of what's happening.)

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

One word: AWESOME. You'd think with all the zillions of vampire novels on the shelves that the trope is totally played out, but you'd be wrong. It's not that Black's vampires are totally unique - though they are a nice return to the days when vampires were truly monsters - it's that her characters are drawn with consummate skill, her world is both interesting and extrapolates the use of social media in a frighteningly believable way, and the story is tense, creepy, at times horrific, and always wholly engaging.

The Raven Boys/The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater's standalone novel The Scorpio Races was one of my favorite YA reads last year, but I love this new series even more.  The fraught, complicated friendships between the characters are beautifully drawn and feel very real.  I also love that in The Dream Thieves she takes a character who was not all that likeable in The Raven Boys, and reveals the fears and secrets beneath his prickly, bitter exterior.  Can't wait for the next book.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

Some books catch you right away, others sneak up and ambush you. For me, this was one of the latter. Although I enjoyed the narrator's vivid voice in the opening chapters, I wasn't entirely engaged by the actual story being told...until I realized the clever tricks Wein was playing with the narrative and the depth that lay underneath. This was a bit of a slowly building revelation, but there was one scene (which I don't want to spoil) in which it all came together for me in one glorious burst, and I just about shouted out loud. (Think I actually said, "HA!") From then on I was totally, utterly hooked. (This type of cleverness on the part of the narrative reminds me of Dorothy Dunnett; my all-time favorite author, so that's high praise!) The emotional impact of the story increases steadily as the book goes on, and I confess I had a few teary-eyed moments toward the end.

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Sweet and heartfelt and affecting; Rowell has a lovely touch with characters. Both Eleanor and Park felt like very real teenagers to me, prickly and awkward and unsure, intense in their passions, desperately trying to navigate not only their budding relationship with each other but their changing relationships with their family members (which in Eleanor's case are heartbreaking). I'm usually pretty picky about novels with a strong focus on romance, but this one worked for me, hands down.  (Perhaps because my very first teenage crush was on a boy who rode my bus and read SFF, albeit novels and not comics as Park does.)  

The Naming, by Alison Croggon

Beautifully written traditional epic fantasy. The publisher seems to market the series as YA but I think it should appeal equally well to adult readers who enjoy the classic epic fantasy tropes. Yes, you have a young orphan protagonist learning to wield a magical gift, and she's prophesied to play a vital role in a struggle against dark forces...perhaps this all sounds very familiar. But for me the power of a tale is in the telling, and Croggon's lyrical prose and well-realized world made The Naming a thoroughly enjoyable variation of the classic coming-of-age saga. 

Planesrunner, by Ian McDonald

Oh, this one was so much fun. Inventive, richly detailed, and populated by some really memorable (and wonderfully diverse!) characters - I've already bought the sequel and am looking forward to continuing the adventure.

Honorable mentions:
Untold (Sarah Rees Brennan)
Larklight (Philip Reeve)
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy Holidays (and a revision update)

Happy Holidays to all! No white Christmas for us in Boulder this year - it's 50 degrees and last week's snow is long gone - but we've still been having a lovely (if busy!) time with family.  Plus, every night after everyone else goes to bed, I get to settle down with my Labyrinth of Flame draft and enjoy some quality revision time.  (I say "enjoy" without any sarcasm whatsoever.  I love the part where I take a raw mess of a scene and shape it into something that's actually good.  I am having so much fun with the book right now.)

More for myself than anyone else, I thought it'd be interesting to keep track of the revision process.  As of today (12/27) I have the first three chapters (about 56 manuscript pages) of The Labyrinth of Flame revised, and I'm working on a synopsis of the book for my agent's use.  (I haaaaaaaate writing synopses.  I confess I asked my agent, "Can't I just finish revising the entire book instead so you can submit the whole thing instead of a proposal package?"  Agent: "No.")  Looking forward to finishing the synopsis so I can get back to the fun writing.

I also took a quick break from revising to participate in a Mind Meld over at SF Signal talking about our favorite dragons in fantasy.  Check it out to find out what dragon books have influenced me as a fantasy reader (and why I think dragons have such enduring appeal in the genre).

Next week I plan on doing a year end wrap-up post that'll cover my favorite books read in 2013.  As an author I get a huge warm fuzzy every time I see a book of mine show up on that type of list.  I've been delighted and honored to see Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City get a few mentions this year:

Looking forward to sharing my own favorite reads of the year with you all!  In the meantime, back to that pesky synopsis...