Tuesday, December 31, 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)

Saturday, December 28, 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...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In defense of the hobbyist author

So Chuck Wendig wrote a post recently on Writing vs. Publishing (Or: "No More Half-Measures, Walter").  Chuck's a clever, articulate guy, and I agree with much of the post, which discusses the difference between writing for fun and writing for publication.  But one thing he says makes me uncomfortable, and it's a thing I've seen many of my fellow authors say: professional writing is not a hobby.

I understand the sentiment behind it.  They're saying, hey, if you're putting your work out in the world with the expectation that people are going to pay for it, then by God, you'd better take the quality of that work seriously.  Don't just shove it out there, do your best to make it the absolute best it can be.  I agree 100% with that idea.  But you know what?

I am a traditionally published, agented, "professional" author (as in, I get paid for what I write), and yet I firmly consider writing my hobby.  I have zero intent of trying to turn it into a career.  Engineering is my career.  This is my passion.  I consider the money I earn as "bonus money" - great if I get it, oh well if I don't.

I know I'm lucky to be in a position where I can afford to think that way.  I know many other authors aren't.  I know still more are hugely excited to make writing their career - they dream of the day when writing can be their sole source of income.  But to anyone out there who reads all these blog posts about how you've got to treat writing as a business and get serious about your career, and has a gut response of but I don't WANT to make writing my career!... I want you to know that doesn't mean authorhood isn't for you.  You can be an author who is serious about producing quality work while still writing for fun.

Honestly, hobbyist authordom provides a lot of psychological advantages.  Publishing is a crazy stressful industry, especially because so many of the ingredients of commercial success are out of an author's control.  But as a hobbyist, I don't have to obsess over my sales rankings.  I can shrug when my publisher is months late in paying me.  I only do marketing and promotional activities I find fun.  I can cheer for author-friends who receive awards and make top-10 lists without the least shred of envy.  I can write what I like without worrying over marketability.  The best advantage of all is that when I'm faced with a publishing decision where my head and my heart are in conflict, I have the freedom to go with my heart.

Freedom doesn't come without cost.  I may not reach as many readers as my more driven peers, or publish as many books.  But that's a trade-off I'm willing to make.  One of my favorite t-shirts has a picture of two climbers carrying skis up a mountain, with the caption, "Let Someone Else Climb the Corporate Ladder."  That's my motto, all the way.  I treasure the freedom to make joy in writing (and in life overall) my highest priority.  It doesn't mean I ever compromise on the quality of my work; or that I think creators shouldn't be compensated for their efforts.  It just means I make decisions with a different focus than a "career" author.

So to my peers who consider authorhood their career: I salute you! Takes a lot of tenacity and guts.  Just remember that authors who choose differently aren't necessarily doing it wrong.  And to writers who want to share their stories with others but recoil from the thought of becoming entrepreneurs: that's okay.  There's room for you in publishing, too.

Monday, December 2, 2013

First draft of The Labyrinth of Flame is finished!

Hope those of you in the US had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday (and those of you elsewhere had a lovely weekend too).  I sure did: partially because we just enjoyed an awesome few days in Utah's canyon country, but mostly because late one night in our Moab hotel room while my husband and son snored, I wrote the final scene of the first draft of The Labyrinth of Flame.  This after writing 56,345 words during November: hooray for NaNoWriMo, and all the encouragement and support I've gotten from fellow writers in the trenches!  I am so thrilled to have a complete draft of the book, I can't even tell you.  

Lest any readers get too eager, I must point out that this is a rough draft.  Very, very rough.  Way more rough than my first draft of The Tainted City was when I finished that one.  For The Tainted City, I worked in kind of a spiraling process, revising old chapters at the same time I was writing new ones.  I tried this initially with Labyrinth, but it didn't work; I kept getting sucked into the revision trap.  So instead, I went back to the method I used for The Whitefire Crossing: get the story down, worry about making it pretty later.  That worked, but oh man, the draft is very definitely not pretty.  It's a sprawling mess of a document, full of bracketed notes to myself and backtracking and horrible prose and basically I would never, EVER show it to anyone else, not even my closest friend.

But!  For all those caveats, the arc of the story is now solidly in place.  No more mistiness and uncertainty: I know the full sequence of events, and all the character motivations behind them.

The breathtaking span of Landscape Arch, revealed in the fog.
And now at last I get to do my favorite part of writing: revising.  I love taking the bare-bones idea of a scene, paring away all the mess of the first draft, and fleshing it out into something rich and tense and real.  They say the devil's in the details, but for me, that's where joy lies as well.

Canyon sandstone: from a distance, it looks smooth, but get close, and you see all kinds of fascinating, intricate details
I don't know how long this revision will take me; my best guess right now is 5-6 months.  I also don't know yet what'll happen when the book is finished for real: will it go through traditional publication, or will I release it myself?  Some parts of the future are still hidden in the fog.  But I promise the moment I have news about the book's release, I'll post it.  In the meantime, I'm rolling up my sleeves and launching gleefully into revision.

Friday, November 22, 2013

NaNo Update, and a few book recs

It's a cold, snowy day outside, which means I'm spending way too much time staring out the window and dreaming of winter adventures...

My husband Robert skiing powder in Snowbird's Mineral Basin
Me preparing to jump a cornice at Arapahoe Basin
Me and Robert after hiking up to Highlands Bowl, at Aspen Highlands.  Skiing down, you get to enjoy some of the steepest in-bounds terrain in the state.  Great stuff.
But I'm not spending all my time fantasizing about skiing deep powder.  I'm up to 36,446 words written for the month, well on my way to 50K, with only about 9 more scenes to go to finish my first draft of The Labyrinth of Flame.  Woo hoo!

And hey, f you're looking for something to read while you wait for me to finish Labyrinth, I've got a few suggestions:

  • Master of Whitestorm, by Janny Wurts.  This one's a backlist title that's newly available on Kindle and other ebook formats.  I haven't read it yet myself, but I'm about to: I hear it has ice climbing!  Plus I know from reading some of Janny's many other excellent novels that a story of hers won't disappoint.  
Also, if you're in the UK, today's the release date for Mazarkis Williams's Tower Broken, third in the Tower and Knife trilogy.  I am so jealous of you UK folks; word is Tower Broken won't release here until fall 2014.  Having enjoyed the first two novels in the series, I shall be anxiously awaiting!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The German edition of The Tainted City (Stadt der Magier) has a cover & release date!

Halfway through NaNoWriMo, and I'm right around 25K words written for the month so far.  24,553, to be exact, though that number will increase further after tonight's writing session.  I'm quite pleased, especially considering I've managed it even while taking my son to visit family in Alabama, followed by coming down with a horrendous virus that knocked me flat for three straight days.  Fortunately, I've been striving for 2K per day, so when I had two days of 0 wordcount during my illness, it didn't set me back too badly!  Right now I'm at the point where I can actually count scenes until the end of my Labyrinth of Flame draft, which is pretty exciting.  Really looking forward to finishing this rough draft so I can start serious revision, the part I love most.

In other good news, the German edition of The Tainted City is officially up on Amazon.de, ready for pre-order.  Complete with new cover art and title, of course!  Die Chroniken von Ninavel: Stadt der Magier, a.k.a The Chronicles of Ninavel: City of Mages (or perhaps, City of the Mages).  Release date is May 16, 2014.  Check out the new cover!

Very atmospheric, even if the desert looks more Sahara-like than Mojave-like. For those who haven't been to the Owens Valley in California, which was my inspiration for Ninavel's environs, here's a picture:

The Mojave desert in the Owens Valley.  Lots of sagebrush and prickly pear cactus, not so many sand dunes.
But the thing about covers is, they're not meant to be exact depictions of the world within the book.  They're meant to SELL the book.  So I'm quite happy with the German cover - I think it looks intriguing and evocative, and goes quite nicely with their cover for the first book.  I hope German readers agree!

And now, back to the word mines. The end of Labyrinth is in sight...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Good luck to my fellow NaNoWriMo-ers!

Six years ago today (six?! holy crap...) I sat down to write the very first words of The Whitefire Crossing as an eager but nervous first-time NaNoWriMo participant. (That first line actually remains exactly the same as I first wrote it Nov 1 2007, oddly enough. Practically all the other words got rewritten before publication, but not the opening sentence.)  Now, six years later, I'm embarking on NaNoWriMo once more - this time hoping to close in on the end of the first draft of The Labyrinth of Flame, the final chapter in Dev and Kiran's story.

I've even signed up for NaNo officially.  (I didn't in 2007; my friends and I just aimed for 50K on our own).  This time I figure the camaraderie of the full NaNo experience could be fun - so if you're one of the dedicated souls trying to pump out 50K this month, you can find me there as ColoradoGirl.

As a published author, the first day of NaNo this time just feels like any other writing day.  I'd already upped my pace to 2,000 words a day over this last week of October, so if I can keep that pace up, I'll be in fine shape.  And 50K is likely to be less than a third of the novel, since I write long-ish books!  (The Tainted City was 176K as published.)  But that said, I can't help but be carried along on the excitement of everyone participating, both newbies and long-time veterans.  The real point of NaNo is to make your book a priority; to put aside distractions and all the criticism of your inner editor and let the story flow.  It's a wonderful experience, whatever your goals.  So good luck to everyone participating this year - may we all reach 50K and beyond!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Got a question you want to hear me answer "live"? Now's your chance to ask...

I'm in full-on head-down-work-on-the-book mode, which should be good news for those of you anxiously awaiting The Labyrinth of Flame.  Scene outlining is continuing to work well for me, and I'm quite happy with my progress on the draft (hooray!).  I even have little fantasies of finishing this first draft by the end of November...but I know all too well how life can throw nasty curveballs into optimistic plans, so I hesitate to say it's anything more than a fantasy.  I do think I've an excellent chance of finishing the first draft by the end of the year, which has been my goal all along.  Reeeeallly looking forward to the part where I start revising, as that's my favorite type of writing.

My Labyrinth of Flame draft even got a little test drive this past weekend, as I read a section from Chapter 2 at MileHiCon.  I thought maybe nobody would show, as my timeslot was at the very end of the convention - but nope, some die-hard souls attended.  (Including the always-awesome Ian Tregillis - who earlier in the con read from his upcoming novel Something More Than Night, which looks to be terrific.  No surprise there; if you haven't read Ian's earlier Milkweed Triptych, you are seriously missing out. His skill with plotting is incredible.)  It's always tricky to read a section of a book 3 to an audience who hasn't read any of the previous books in the series, but I think it went okay.  (I get so hugely nervous before readings that I consider it a win if a) I don't faint or throw up, and b) nobody either falls asleep or leaves the room in disgust.)

Other highlights of the con included: sharing my own NaNoWriMo experience at the NaNo panel and seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of those who hope to try NaNo for the first time; expanding my TBR list by leaps and bounds upon hearing all the intriguing books mentioned by my fellow panelists at the "Fodor's Guide to Fairyland" panel; sitting next to Paolo Bacigalupi at the group author signing and hearing him discuss everything from the evolution of Chinese science fiction to how to get boys excited about reading.  Not to mention all the lovely conversations I had with other writers and SFF fans in hallways, at dinners, and between panels.  I'd try to mention names but I just know I'd accidentally leave someone out.  Suffice it to say the con was full of wonderful people!

Last but not least, I've been invited to be a guest on the Lady Business+ podcast - and the host (Renay) is taking questions in advance.  So if you've got any questions you'd love to hear me answer "live" - about my books, or anything else - now's your chance!  Email questions to thisisladybusiness (at) gmail (dot) com.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

MileHiCon Schedule

This coming weekend I'll be at MileHiCon, which is a terrific local SF con here in Denver.  Seriously, it's loads of fun: if you're in the Denver area, you should come.  One of the things I like best about it is the engagement of the fans - seems like panels are not only packed, but people are eager to interact and ask questions of the panelists.  The guests of honor are always great, too: this year they've got Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire (a.k.a. Mira Grant), plus Ian Tregillis as toastmaster.

I'm doing a signing, two panels, and a reading:

Fri Oct 18, 8pm: "Autograph Alley" signing

Sat Oct 19, 4pm: The What, When, How, and Why of NaNoWriMo, Wind River B

Sun Oct 20, 2pm: Fodor's Guide to Fairyland, Mesa Verde B

Sun Oct 20, 4pm-5pm: Reading (shared slot with Dana Bell)

I'm thinking I may read a short section from my draft of The Labyrinth of Flame at the reading.  Haha, I'm not sure if I'm sad that the reading is in the very last time slot of the convention or not.  On the one hand, always awkward to read to an empty room.  On the other hand, that way there's no reason to be nervous!

Oh yes, and while I'm at it, The Tainted City got two new lovely reviews:

And last but not least, I just have to say I was ridiculously thrilled to see both Sheri S. Tepper's Grass and Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale on John Scalzi's list of 10 SFF books that meant the most to him.  Both are ciminally under-read by SFF fans (though Winter's Tale at least got huge mainstream sales and acclaim, as Helprin is considered a mainstream literary writer).  What Scalzi says about both books is pretty close to how I feel (except on the subject of Winter's Tale, I could go on for PAGES about how stunning Helprin's prose is).  If you haven't read them, you should.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hooray for scene outlining

So last week I said I was going to try outlining scenes before writing them in an effort to increase my writing speed.  I'm delighted to report that so far it's worked really, really well.  Since Monday of last week I've written over 10,000 words on Labyrinth of Flame - more than I managed all last month! - and this even though I was sick for several of the days and running on very little sleep.

Granted, these words are pretty rough in quality.  But they're not completely unusable, either - the flow of the story feels decent, and I find myself excited to keep pushing ahead (rather than dying to stop and revise).  I'm delighted that I seem to have at last found a balance between speed and quality that'll work for me in this first rough draft.

The funny part is, I'd tried this technique before back during the days I was slaving away on Tainted City, and it didn't work at all for me then.  I think because I hadn't found the right approach to the outline - I would either take so long to come up with a detailed one that I felt I might as well have just started writing the scene straight out, or else I'd write a list too vague to be useful.  The key that's made it work for me now is to outline only the part I know I'll find most difficult to write (usually either dialogue or details of action).  If I think through that first, then all the rest (description, etc) is easy to fill in when I sit down to tackle the scene.

Yet again, proof that every writer -  heck, even every book! - is different; and you've got to fiddle around and adapt and discover what works for you in the moment.

In other news, I'm looking forward to attending MileHiCon here in Denver the weekend after next (I'll post my schedule in a few days).  But here's the best news of all: some of the roads from Boulder up into the mountains have re-opened!  (Everything's been closed for ages due to flood damage.)  I'm totally thinking of ditching the keyboard for a hike this weekend.  Sadly, the fall color season in the high country is already over...but in honor of beautiful fall days in the mountains, I'll leave you with a couple pics from a previous Colorado autumn.  

Aspen near Brainard Lake (red aspen are my favorite!)

Aspen along the Peak-to-peak Highway west of Boulder

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Writing Faster, Writing Better

Weekend before last, I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference.  It was my 6th year in a row attending, and just like the previous years, I had an excellent experience.  Haha, this year, I even managed to attend some actual panels instead of spending all my time in the lobby socializing! The best and most motivating of the panels for me was one on "Writing Faster, Writing Better" - something I felt in desperate need of advice on, as I've been struggling to make progress on The Labyrinth of Flame while having less time to write than I ever did on the previous 2 books.  (Damn do I miss the days when my son took a nice 1.5-hour afternoon nap!)

I'm happy to say I came away from the panel with a whole new slew of tricks to try.  Many of them are psychological - everything from picking a simple ritual to perform before every writing session (lighting a candle, listening to a single song, etc), to using a 20-min timer for writing spurts.  Others involve actual adjustments of your writing process.  I've decided to try one of these - the "scene outlining" approach.  (Author Rachel Aaron describes this in her "2K to 10K" approach.)  

Usually by the time I get to a scene, I know pretty much what I want to happen, so I've never tried outlining it in any detail before I write.  I just sit down and start typing, and work through the details of dialogue and action as I go.  Yet I've noticed recently I've been stopping a whole lot while writing to stare at the screen and think about those very details.  They *need* to be thought through, no question; if I just force myself to plow onward willy-nilly, then sure, I pump out words, but then they have to be completely rewritten later because the details are so far from right. Whereas if I sit down and work out all those details in advance of actually setting fingers to keyboard, I'm hoping I can write a far more useful draft version of the scene in far less time. 

I'm not entirely sure how much time this will save me.  Yes, if I work out details in outline form, I'm not trying to write them in prose that other people would read, so that obviously saves a bit of typing-deleting-retyping.  Maybe I can also save time if I think through the scene during other moments of the day (driving to/from work, eating, etc).  But the "thinking" part is always the part that takes me longest, and often I don't have a good grasp of how best to handle a scene until I've actually tried to write the prose and found it doesn't work the way I was originally thinking.  So we'll see!  But I'm a big proponent of "If something's not working, then make a change."  My current writing process isn't letting me make the progress I want.  Time to switch it up.

As part of that, I've decided to make a big wordcount push on Labyrinth of Flame in Oct & Nov.  Full speed ahead, no revision, always moving forward (while using scene outlining, etc, to try and keep the words I put down somewhat useful).  So consider this a heads-up: I'll be a bit scarce around these parts.  I'll post my schedule for MileHiCon when I get it, and I'm thinking of doing a brief post every Monday for my own benefit, to tally progress and see how things are working (and decide if I need to try different tricks out of the workshop bag).  But other than that, it's gonna be nose to grindstone, fingers to keyboard.  

I don't expect this push to let me reach the end of the draft - I'll probably need at least another month or two afterward - but I want to get much, MUCH closer than I am right now.  I remember how awesome it felt to write THE END on the first draft of The Tainted City.  It can be summed up pretty much like this:

Sticking the landing on my final axel while competing at Adult Nationals a few years back. I'd fallen on that jump a million times (nothing harder than landing a jump at the very end of your program, when your legs are exhausted).  That time I made it - and won gold.  (Woo hoo!)
So here's hoping I can move the happy day for The Labyrinth of Flame a whole lot closer.  Fingers crossed!  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My take on author-blogger interaction

Today I'm over at BookSworn, talking about author/blogger interaction, and why it's good for authors to think very very carefully before joining in discussion of their own work:

If you were on Twitter yesterday, likely you saw the firestorm of debate generated by a column at Strange Horizons: “You Got Your Industry In My Fanwork” by SFF blogger Renay of Lady Business.  If you haven’t read the column and its comments, you should; but as a short summary, Renay discusses her discomfort with authors jumping into fannish discussions of their work without an explicit invitation.
My first thought upon reading the article was to remember a conversation I had not long after my first novel The Whitefire Crossing came out in 2011.  One  of my co-workers, a huge SFF fan and active participant on a major SFF forum, came by my cube to chat...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Boulder's Aquapocalypse, and other news

The rain rain rain came down down down, in rushing rising rivulets... That's exactly what we got in Boulder this last week. Nonstop rain, much of it heavy, oversaturating the soil and raising the creeks to gargantuan levels until on Wednesday night into Thursday we got the infamous "100-year flood" that Boulder officials have been muttering dark warnings about for years.

Boulder Creek in flood.  I took this pic on Friday, so water levels are already far less than they were at the height of the flood!
Thankfully, when we bought our house in Boulder we made sure to buy out of the city's multiple flood plains, so Casa Schafer was spared serious flooding. That said, thanks to a leaky foundation and supersaturated soil, we did get water trickling (and sometimes pouring!) into our underground storage area through various cracks. The sump pump kept it more or less under control, though, so we never suffered more than a few inches.  We did get a nice lake in our backyard:

My husband and son standing in the newly-created Lake Schafer
But nothing like the neighborhoods near the various creeks, some of which got slammed:

Parking lot of Boulder's main library on Friday: check out the mostly-submerged bench on the right!
Looking down from a bridge at a flooded bike path on Friday
Really, Boulder was fortunate: the damage here was nothing like the devastation in Lyons and some of the mountain towns, where roads and gas lines got completely ripped out, leaving people stranded without heat and power.  But watching the creek roar past from the surviving bridges is yet another stark reminder of how fragile we are in comparison to nature.

In happier news, look what showed up on my doorstep mere hours before the flood sirens went off:

Author copies of the German edition of The Whitefire Crossing (a.k.a. Die Chroniken von Ninavel: Die Blutmagier)! 
Holding a foreign edition of The Whitefire Crossing in my hands is definitely another mindblowingly cool authorial moment.  Hooray for my German publisher, Bastei Lübbe!  

A few other authorial bits of news:

  • Want to see a back-cover-copy style summary of The Labyrinth of Flame?  Then check out Fantastical Imaginations's "Upcoming Fantasy Novels in 2014, Part 2" in which I and a bunch of other authors discuss our upcoming releases.  (But beware spoilers if you haven't read the earlier books in the series; the summary does have spoilers for both Whitefire Crossing and Tainted City.)
  • Whitefire Crossing got used as a (good!) example in author Violette Malan's post at Black Gate about how to gracefully handle exposition. How cool is that?

Oh yes, and since this came up on Twitter - for anyone interested in getting signed copies of The Whitefire Crossing and/or The Tainted City, I bought up a bunch of the books back when I thought Night Shade might go to bankruptcy court (I figured better safe than sorry!).  I'm happy to sell signed copies direct to readers until I run out.  Email me (courtney (at) courtneyschafer (dot) com) for details.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My WorldCon in Pictures

Oh gosh, I had such a great time at WorldCon.  Since the con, I've seen a lot of thought-provoking discussion about the aging of WorldCon.  I've heard many authors say that other cons offer better promotional opportunities and chances to connect with newer/younger readers.  But I don't actually go to cons to sell my books.  I go to cons to get inspired and meet awesome people, and in that respect WorldCon kicks ass.  (Though I do very much believe the lack of diversity at WorldCon is a bad thing, and one I hope the con will address.  Just think of how many *more* awesome people there'd be to meet if a greater variety of people came.)

I had countless great conversations with friends, met a whole host of fascinating new folks, and came back all fired up to work even harder on Labyrinth of Flame.  (Which is why this post is so late.  As I dig my way out from the mountain of day-job and real-life tasks that piled up while I was gone, when I do get spare time, all I want to do is write more of Dev and Kiran's story, not blog posts!)

I'm not even going to try and name all the wonderful people I met and hung out with, or give you a detailed day-to-day con report.  After all, Labyrinth of Flame calls!  But I do have some fun pictures and links to share from my various unofficial events.

First up: the BookSworn open suite party, which I co-hosted along with a whole gang of author-friends on the first night of the con.  SO MUCH FUN.  

The BookSworn & Friends party gang.  Front row: Zack Jernigan, Martha Wells, Doug Hulick.  Middle row: Stina Leicht, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Katy Stauber.  Back row: John Hornor Jacobs, Brad Beaulieu, and a photo-bombing Sam Morgon of JABberwocky Lit agency.

I also had a wonderful time at the group signing that fellow author Mike Martinez organized at The Twig bookstore.  We ended up with 9 authors: Kevin Hearne, Drew Karpyshyn, Mike Martinez, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Brian McClellan, Kay Kenyon, Scott Lynch, and Myke Cole.  I sold & signed some books - met some wonderful fans who came all the way out to the signing specially for me (wow!).  Though my favorite was the young girl walking past with her family who stopped and begged her dad to buy Whitefire Crossing for her - it seems she'd read Tainted City but not book 1 in the series.  Of course I also had fun chatting with my fellow authors; it was a particular thrill to meet Kay Kenyon and Scott Lynch, whose books I've loved for years.  Kay has a new book out (A Thousand Perfect Things) that I'm really excited to read, and of course I'm counting down the days until Scott's release of The Republic of Thieves.

At our table outside the bookstore (which was right beside a popular farmer's market): Mike Martinez, Betsy Dornbusch, me, Brian McClellan.  
Looking down the table: Betsy, Mike, Kevin Hearne, Drew Karpyshyn
Kay Kenyon and Scott Lynch talking to readers
Signing books for Cheryl, an absolutely lovely reader I'd corresponded with on Twitter
Back at the con, I had some particularly great conversations at the Reddit r/Fantasy fan table, and even did a "live" AMA (Ask Me Anything) - click here to read it!  r/Fantasy moderator Steve Drew and the rest of the Redditors who came to WorldCon did a spectacular job on short notice; the fan table was THE place to hang out in the dealer's room, and Steve & the gang came up with a bunch of neat ideas to involve fans unable to attend the con.  (If you've never checked out the r/Fantasy forum, I highly recommend it.  Lots of author-reader interaction & interesting discussion.)  

r/Fantasy moderator Steve Drew and author Stina Leicht at the r/Fantasy fan table.  (Author Wesley Chu sitting behind the table, frantically typing away for his live AMA.)  Sorry for the light flares - all I had was my cell phone camera!

Stina tries on the Helm - a piece that Steve Drew brought & had authors sign, which will be auctioned for charity.
Steve Drew was also one of the co-organizers of the con's biggest unofficial event: the Drinks With Authors party, along with the ever-awesome Justin Landon of Staffer's Book Review and author Myke Cole.  Talk about a great party!  Tons of people came - and since they were smart enough to hold it off-site in a bar with far more space than any hotel suite could provide, we even had room to breathe while talking. :)  Steve's got the best pics of the event, but here are a few I snapped:

Redditors Dave Wohlreich and Ian Everett guard the books.  So many were donated by publishers & authors they had to give them away in lots.  
The party's back room. (The front area by the bar was even more packed.)

Reviewer Justin Landon and author Wesley Chu hold an impromptu handstand competition.  (Wes won.)
Last but very definitely not least, WorldCon was awesome because I got to hang out with my brother Matt.  (He reviews SFF books both on his own site and for Strange Horizons, and there's nobody better at detailed, thoughtful analysis.)  We don't get to see each other that often, and since we both love SFF, what better venue for some quality sibling interaction?

Matt by a seriously huge prickly pear cactus during our visit to the Alamo. 
So, yeah.  Good times. Next year WorldCon is in London, and alas, I cannot go.  (Aside from the expense, my son starts kindergarten right around the time of the con.)  I may give Dragon*Con a try instead - I've been a little leery of attending the bigger media cons, thinking it might be a bit too overwhelming for an introvert like me - but hey, always good to step outside your comfort zone.  Still, I'm pretty sure that when WorldCon returns to the US in 2015 (Spokane won the bid), I'll be back.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My WorldCon Schedule

I am so looking forward to going to WorldCon in San Antonio next week. Four straight days of hanging out with author-friends and fellow SFF fans is awesome enough, but as a parent I can't help but drool over the chance for FIVE WHOLE NIGHTS of blissful, uninterrupted sleep.  Even if that sleep starts at 3am after I leave the parties.  Because y'all, I can sleep in.  I...I think I've forgotten what that feels like!  

Better yet is the chance for uninterrupted writing time. Yeah, I'm at the con to be social, but I totally plan on locking myself in my hotel room for at least a short while each day to write.  It's amazing how much progress you can make when you've got the chance to sit down and really focus (again, without any cries of "Mommy!").

I'll have plenty of time for both socializing and writing, since this year the programming committee didn't assign me to any panels, readings or signings.  That's the way it goes with big cons; some years you're loaded up (at last year's WorldCon I was on a whole slew of panels), some years you get nada.  But despite the lack of official programming, I've still got a few planned events:

8pm Thurs Aug 29, Rivercenter hotel Suite #3436: The BookSworn & Friends Party

Those of us from BookSworn have ganged up with a bunch of other SFF author friends to host a truly awesome open suite party.  Free booze, free food, and LOTS of free books & other swag!  Well okay, you want a free book, you gotta eat a bug.  They're not alive, and they're heavily flavored - it's no sweat, I promise. Even if you cringe at the thought of bug-eating, come for the awesome company and conversation, because it's gonna be a blast.  Check out our official poster (design by the insanely talented John Hornor Jacobs):

11am-1pm Saturday Aug 31: group signing at The Twig bookstore

I'm joining fellow authors Scott Lynch, Myke Cole, Brian McClellan, Betsy Dornbusch, Mike Martinez, Kevin Hearne, and Drew Carpyshyn for a group signing at local independent bookstore The Twig.  The store's a short distance away from the con hotel, right in the middle of the San Antonio farmers market, so it should be a fun time.

7pm Saturday Aug 31: Drinks With Authors

The ever-awesome team of Justin Landon of Staffer's Book Review, Steve Drew of Reddit's r/Fantasy, and author Myke Cole put this event together.  I'm just one of many, many authors participating - I think it'll be standing room only, and you should see the stacks of free books Justin's already accumulated to give away!  Trust me, you don't want to miss out.

That's it for the official stuff!  Otherwise, I'll be hanging around, attending panels, maybe doing an impromptu AMA over at the Reddit r/Fantasy fan table, and having a generally terrific time.  If you're at WorldCon and you see me in the hall, please, say hi! I love meeting new friends.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag zu den Chroniken von Ninavel!

I may not have a book releasing this year in the US, but I've got a "book birthday" coming up tomorrow in Germany!  August 16 is the official release day for The Whitefire Crossing's German edition, a.k.a. Die Chroniken von Ninavel: Die Blutmagier.  My fingers are crossed that German  fantasy readers will enjoy Dev and Kiran's adventures!  Just yesterday I officially signed and sent back the contract for the German edition of The Tainted City, and I hear the publisher also wants to see The Labyrinth of Flame as soon as I finish it, so I have every hope the entire trilogy will be available auf Deutsch before too long.

Haha, and for any readers who wince at Dev's profanity in the Shattered Sigil books - you can always give the German versions a try!  When I took a peek at the preview my German publisher made available through Google books, I discovered to my combined surprise and amusement that all of Dev's f-bombs have been carefully translated out.  ("You've got to be fucking kidding me" => "Boy, you've got to be kidding me"; "Fuck you, Cara" => "Don't you talk, Cara"; etc.)  I've no idea of the publisher's reasons - maybe they want to aim for a younger readership, or maybe German fantasy readers are more bothered by profanity?  While it's true Dev's foul mouth was a deliberate choice on my part, I'm not upset over the change, since I figure the Germans know their market best.  (Besides, the English versions of the books are still exactly as I wrote them.  No harm, no foul...so to speak. :)  It does make me wonder if other foul-mouthed fantasies (e.g. Joe Abercrombie's) have been cleaned up in translation.  Perhaps I will dust off my rusty German and go read some to find out!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Hardest Lesson in Publishing

Been suffering from a nasty cold these last few days, ugh.  On the up side, my virus-related misery has been mitigated by reading some awesome books: namely, the conclusion to Mark Lawrence's excellent Broken Empire trilogy, Emperor of Thorns (link to my brief goodreads review here) and Catherine Fisher's Obsidian Mirror (my favorite YA read of the year so far! Link to my brief yet gushing goodreads review is here).

I have to say, looking at other people's goodreads reviews of Obsidian Mirror brought home to me once again just how subjective reader taste is.  To me, Fisher's writing is everything I want in a YA novel.  Haunting, tense, dark, compelling, with characters I'm dying to figure out, plenty of adventure and action, and no angsty teen romance - I flat out loved the book, same as I did Fisher's earlier novel Incarceron.  Yet plenty of other readers apparently read the very same pages and go "meh."

Which just goes to illustrate the hardest lesson of all in publishing: you can write the story of your heart, and craft it to near perfection; other people (agents, editors, readers) can love it too - yet unless that story happens to be the story of a LOT of other people's hearts, it's not going to sell in big numbers (no matter how much those readers who adore it wish it would).  Whereas a story that has all kinds of craft flaws yet strikes the right chord with a large number of people will sell like crazy.

The real kicker is that you as an author can only write what's in your own heart; try to write a story that you're not passionate about yourself, and readers will notice the lack.  Plus, for all that publishers try to predict what will speak best to people's hearts, nobody really knows until the book gets into readers' hands.  Every author deals with this uncertainty in their own way.  Me, I like to keep my expectations low.  If my book reaches even one other person's heart, then writing the story was worth every moment at the keyboard.  (I'm well aware this is far easier to say when writing is a well-loved hobby, not a means of putting food on the table. Reason #1,001 why I have no dreams of giving up my day job.)

But really, doesn't matter what your coping strategy is, so long as it lets you a) keep writing and b) have fun along the way.  I'll admit, some of my fun comes from things like this:

But mostly I love the joy and challenge of writing a story unique to my own heart.  In honor of that, I'll finish off with a picture that'd go well with the chapter I'm currently working on for The Labyrinth of Flame:

Near the junction of Buckskin and Paria Canyons.  Picture doesn't do the grandeur and beauty of the slot justice.  Flash flood's a serious risk, but at least (unlike Dev and Kiran!) canyoneers don't have to worry about demons or blood magic.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Illustrated Guide to Writing A Novel (Grand Canyon edition)

I was realizing the other day that while I've shown off plenty of pics here of the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, even Utah's canyon country, I've neglected one of my other favorite haunts: the Grand Canyon.  Ever since I first hiked rim to river and back on one memorable February day back in the early 1990s, I've been returning to backpack the canyon's many trails and explore its majesty.  I did something like eight backpacking trips there during the years before my son was born, but my favorite adventure of all was a 3.5 week rafting trip in which we floated the entire length of the canyon, rollicking through North America's largest navigable rapids and scrambling up scores of rugged side canyons along the way.

It occurred to me that writing a novel is a lot like that rafting trip.  You start out typing your story all perky and excited, knowing the journey will be long and arduous but confident you have the strength to make it.

Day 1 of our Grand Canyon raft trip: wheee, rowing is fun!
  Gradually, you become aware the boat you're rowing is really damn heavy.  Also, there's a headwind.  The perkiness fades, replaced by determination.

Day 3: rowing is hard work.
You pause, take a look at the bigger picture...and realize exactly how far you have yet to travel.

Looking down the Colorado River from the Nankoweap overlook.
Then you hit the rapids. They are bigger than you imagined.  You master your fear and face them head on.

Helloooooo, big rapids.

Sometimes you fall out of the boat and get a bit more of a ride than you bargained for.

Swimming the rapids of the Little Colorado River. (This, we were doing for fun. I don't have any pics of the people who fell out of the raft in the real rapids, because we were too busy rescuing them.)

Other times, you take a detour and end up someplace surprising.

Me exploring a lovely little side canyon.
There are other people on the same journey who understand the trials, tribulations, and joys.  If you feel a little overwhelmed, you can always get silly with them.

River guides pretending they are scuba mice. (Long story. You had to be there.)
No matter how arduous the journey, there are times when you're overcome by its beauty.  

Gorgeous Grand Canyon landscape.
And so, day after day, you forge on.  Knowing that even when this journey comes to an end, there will always be another story waiting for you to explore it.

The Little Colorado River beckons.