Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 in Retrospect: Writing and Books

After yesterday's big announcement, I thought it was time to take a break from huge angsty life decisions and instead share some more mundane highlights of my 2017.

Writing-wise, I'm gonna be honest: this was not my most productive year. Moving overseas is a ton of work, both before and after the move happens. I will spare you from a giant list of logistical and bureaucratic tasks accomplished. Suffice it to say that even now, I'm still working on a thousand things related to making our move permanent, and I feel like the end of the task list will never arrive.

As always, it's really a matter of priorities. A lot of time I could have spent writing, I was skiing and hiking and biking and exploring various cool New Zealand places with my husband and son. I have zero regrets about that. Life is for living.

Yet I did write! Just at the speed of an aged sloth. Still, I've got some accomplishments to celebrate:

1) I finished a rough half-outline, half-horribly-messy-draft of a new fantasy novel, tentatively titled The Dreaming Sea. Right now I'm working on turning the mess of words and ideas into an actual readable draft. I just sent the first chapter to my former critique group. Onward ho...

2) I finished a Shattered Sigil novella, The Outrider's Challenge, that tells the story of Dev's first (and near-disastrous) convoy trip. This was one of the stories I owed to a kickstarter backer who got my "Ultimate Fan" reward. The backer says he intends to share the novella with everyone via his blog sometime in the next few months. I'm really excited for that! I had a lot of fun writing the story, and I think those of you who loved the Shattered Sigil books will thoroughly enjoy the read.

3) I finished a draft of another Shattered Sigil novella, The White Serpent, that tells the story of Cara's attempt to climb the highest peak in the Whitefires. But after getting feedback on the first two parts from my critique group, I had an idea for how to make the story a whole lot better--but it requires rewriting most of the novella. I decided I wanted to finish my brand new book before diving into the novella rewrite. (Publishing is slooooooow. Once I finish a decent draft of The Dreaming Sea, while my agent tries selling it I'll have tons of time to work on the Cara novella and the two other Shattered Sigil short stories I had planned out.)

4) My Lizaveta short story "A Game of Mages" was published in Adrian Collins's Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology, and got some very nice mentions in reviews. Hooray!

As for reading, I had a really weird year. Usually I have no trouble finding tons of new books to love. This year, many of my reads never got beyond the "meh" level, and some of my most anticipated books I found disappointing. I've never quite had this kind of reading slump before. It was extra frustrating because reading has always been my great comfort in times of stress, and boy was 2017 a time of stress. My difficulty in finding good reads did ensure I treasured all the more the few books that fully captured my heart, standing out like brilliant mountain peaks above a sea of gloomy cloud. I already talked in an earlier post about Curt Craddock's wonderful An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, which I was so delighted to see hit the shelves at last. Here's the rest of the books I loved this year:

All Systems Red, by Martha Wells

Terrific novella about a cranky, snarky cyborg/AI who's sneakily subverted its corporate programming yet just wants to be left alone so it can watch entertainment videos. If only its new crew would stop treating it like an actual perosn! Wells nails the narrator's voice, infuses the story with lovely dry humor, and pulls off some beautiful affecting moments. I can't wait for the second installment of the Murderbot Diaries.

All the Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

This is magical realism set in 1960s desert southeastern Colorado, in a tiny community founded by a Mexican family with the power to work miracles. The prose was so powerful and lyrical and beautiful it made me despair of my own authorial abilities. (Some books you read and think, "Maybe one day I'll write a story as good as this!" Some books you read and think, "Holy shit, I could never in a million years write like that.") I see from reviews not everybody feels like I do about the book; some people couldn't get into it. Maybe it worked so well for me because I love the high desert. All I can say is that while I've liked some of Stiefvater's previous work, particularly the Scorpio Races, this book is the first of hers I've loved.

Guns of the Dawn, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This one starts off feeling like a Jane Austen novel, but then transitions into a grimly realistic battlefield war story somewhat reminiscent of the better Vietnam novels I've read (albeit in a Napoleonic-era secondary world setting, and with a female protagonist). I loved the practical determination of the protagonist, and thought her emotional journey was handled quite well. If all Tchaikovsky's many novels are this good, I need to read them.

Weave a Circle Round, by Kari Maaren

I bought this YA fantasy after seeing a review recommending it particularly to fans of Diana Wynne Jones, and oh gosh yes yes YES! This book was quirky and warm-hearted and wildly imaginative and wonderful in all the best Jonesian ways. Complex time travel shenanigans, Norse legends, prickly family dynamics, dryly humorous juxtaposition of the mundane with the magical, oooh, this is just the sort of YA novel I love best to read.

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

This novella had intrigued me ever since I heard its premise. A school for children who've been kicked out of the magical worlds they once found? As someone who always found the idea of outgrowing Neverland monstrously unfair, I wanted to see how McGuire would tackle this. Yet the hefty ebook price for a novella made me hesitate, albeit guiltily. I know how much time and heart authors put into their stories. Yet as a fast reader, I do have to watch my book budget, lest I put us out on the streets. Happily, the novella eventually went on sale. I snatched it up, and loved the dark fairy-tale feel of the story so much that I immediately bought the sequel, hell with the price. So yes, publishers, nice low sale prices on a first book do work to increase your profits.

The Eternal Kingdom, Ben Peek

A worthy finish to Peek's dark and excellently unique epic fantasy trilogy. This is literary-style fantasy, with a focus on theme as much as character or plot, but still with plenty of awe-inspiring magic and bloody battles to go with the questions of power and religion. It's the sort of read that leaves you chewing over thoughts and implications for quite some time afterward. One of Peek's great strengths is the realism he brings to the complex tapestry of his world's cultures and political relations. But what I loved best about the trilogy was the sheer glorious variety of characters, all of whom feel like real people struggling to navigate a world as messy and difficult as our own.

Winter of Ice and Iron, Rachel Neumeier

Ever since I read and adored Neumeier's House of Shadows, I've been buying everything she puts out. Yet while I have enjoyed her other novels, they didn't quite reach similar heights for me...until this one. The weird part is that I can't quite put my finger on why the story so captivated me. Winter of Ice and Iron contains story elements that I usually don't like (for instance, a romance where a woman's calm "goodness" is lauded as the key to controlling a man's savage impulses).  Yet I enjoyed the character conflict and intriguing magic so much that I didn't care one bit about tropes or flaws. Fair warning: this book is darker than Neumeier's other work. She's never graphic, but the story does include sexual abuse and torture. It's not grimdark at all, though; the main characters are honorable people working for the good of their respective peoples.

Red Sister, by Mark Lawrence

Red Sister surely hits the sweet spot for a whole lot of fantasy readers. I've seen it described as Arya Stark (a badass yet likable/sympathetic character) gets to go to magic school and make interesting friends and grow up into even more of a stone-cold badass. All of this told with Lawrence's gift for sharply poetic turns of phrase, with some hints of intriguing worldbuilding added in to spice things up. Anyway, if you're allergic to school stories and training sequences, steer clear and try one of Lawrence's other series instead. But if you're like me and enjoy some classic fantasy tropes with a bit of a modern twist, jump on in.

Destiny's Conflict, by Janny Wurts

I haven't actually read this one yet, although I bought the book the instant it released in late 2017. It's the conclusion to the fourth arc of Janny's beautifully rich and complex Wars of Light and Shadow series (only one more book to go to complete her 12-book magnum opus!). These are dense, layered, ornate books that beg to be read when I have a proper swath of time to savor them. I use them as rewards for completing writing milestones; this one, I'll read (along with a re-read of its predecessor) once I reach the halfway point of my current draft. I highlight it here anyway in my 2017 post because the series is such a monumental achievement, it's a shame so few fantasy fans have heard about it.

I make no further promises for 2018. I don't have any lofty lists of goals for writing or reading. I plan to take the year as it comes, achieving whatever I can, enjoying as much as I can.


  1. Yay for writing, and by the way, the Lizabeta story was great! And ooh, a Dev story? :-D I'm so looking forward to that.

    Thanks for posting book thoughts! :-) I loved ALL SYSTEMS RED and EVERY HEART A DOORWAY. And you've reminded me I need to read Ben Peek's THE GODLESS and Curt Craddock's AN ALCHEMY... in my copious free time (hah!).

    1. Glad you liked the Lizaveta tale! And yes, definitely read the Peek and Craddock books. (Peek and Craddock, hmmm...if I ever need a bar or a law firm in a future story, I think I have a name...)