read it: dread nation

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a book quite as much as I enjoyed this one.

Dread Nation is an alternate history novel set in the Civil War era, but the War Between the States has been interrupted by the rise of zombies. It has a combat school, an ass-kicking heroine who isn’t afraid of kicking ass (and isn’t apologetic about it), and a running joke about corsets. And on top of all that, it delves into power systems, racism, and exploitation.

Things I totally love:

  • The characters are so well done. Jane, our heroine, is compelling and flawed. Her voice is strong and unique. She is unapologetic about what she thinks needs to be done, and she has strong loyalties to those she cares about (even if she doesn’t always want to admit she cares about them).
  • Throughout the story, Jane’s relationships to the (really excellent) side characters changes and strengthens. There’s no artificial conflict or breaking apart of allies for the sake of drama.
  • The chapter titles are a hilarious bit of subtext, and each chapter begins with excerpts from letters written by Jane or her mother.

The plot is very much tied to and driven by the characters, and it propels you forward. I read around a third of it before bed a couple nights ago and then finished it yesterday morning. Just couldn’t stop reading.

Right now, it seems like everything being published is some kind of trilogy or series, so this is the first of one of those. Some really interesting questions were raised (Gideon? Jane’s mother? Ida? Miss Duncan?), so I’m going to be on the look out for book two.

tor ebook club: black tides of heaven

If you don’t already know about it, Tor’s eBook club is well worth checking out and joining. Each month, you get a SFF book download (for the price of your email address, which we all know you just throw around willy-nilly all over the internet anyway) courtesy of Tor.com. This month, it’s The Black Tides of Heaven by Jy Yang, a book that has been burning a hole on my to-read list — I’ve heard basically nothing but good things.

Here’s the description from Tor:

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?

The book is available now through Nov 16th, if you’re interested. And you should be. Because basically-free excellent SFF books.

repeat repeat repeat

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

– Neil Gaiman, NaNoWriMo author pep talk

writing recap 2018: w45

First full week of NaNoWriMo down. It is going much more smoothly and consistently this year than last year.

I’ve been putting in my slightly-above-2000 words per day and feel no qualms or apologies whatsoever about taking Sunday off. I used to feel weirdly guilty when I wasn’t writing more and more each day, but I’ve largely been able to let that go (there are occasional flare-ups of guilt where I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I’m working on it).

I’ve come to appreciate more how much the time I spend not writing contributes to my writing. Because when I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. Or walking. Or sewing. And I’m recognizing now that background brain processes are still thinking about my writing and working on little problems that my conscious brain was struggling with. So now, I don’t (usually) begrudge myself time off for baking or reading or doing something else (this doesn’t include Netflix binging (that does not look like the gerund of binge) because that is just a bottomless time suck for me — your mileage may vary (though I haven’t found anyone who binges Netflix productively) (how’s that for nested parentheses)).

As long as I get the words in of course. Butt in chair, and all that, as they say.

In other news, it’s almost cookie season, and I have some GRAND and possibly OVERAMBITIOUS plans.

Word count total: 20,780

algorithms are weird

I log my reading pretty excessively. Originally, I started with the spreadsheet and the bullet journal. But then I was also trying out Airtable for it, and I couldn’t decide if I like Airtable better for it or the spreadsheet so I started using both. So now the logging goes into my bullet journal (in the form of a list and also small notes I make to myself), an Airtable, a Google Sheet, and Goodreads.

…I’m not obsessive, you are.

Anyway, the point of this aside is not to tell you about my excessive book logging habits. It’s to tell you about the weirdest Goodreads book recommendation I’ve gotten so far.

I actually laughed (well, chortled) out loud at this:

Capture.PNG

Nothing about Nine Goblins says that I should read Game of Thrones in German. (I can only assume Die Herren von Winterfell translates to something like The Men? of Winterfell — I don’t speak German, but from context and a lifelong interest in languages, I can guess with some confidence that Das Lied von Eis und Feuer means The Song of Ice and Fire.)

I logged Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher not too long ago. It’s an excellent little fantasy novella about a goblin squadron, an elf veterinarian, a war, and creepy magic. It has a high degree of both slapstick personality and appropriately horrific depictions of war/death. It is very T. Kingfisher slash Ursula Vernon (who is a favorite).

It is nothing like Game of Thrones. Like not even really a little bit. The two are not related. I would not go up to someone who really enjoyed Game of Thrones and was looking for book recommendations and say “Hey, you like epic fantasy that reads vaguely historical, have you tried this little novella? A unicorn gives birth in it and there’s a funny and graphic description of that process.” And  I wouldn’t do it vice versa either (although in my experience, it works a little better in the latter direction).

The reason I wouldn’t cross-recommend these things is because, well, it doesn’t make any sense. Unless your recommendations are purely just, you like this one super broad category so here’s another book that fits in that category even though it doesn’t have anything else in common with the first. It’s like if you told me you liked Dune, and I told you to go read a book about deserts. They are both interesting and good and have a lot of sand, but liking one doesn’t mean you have any interest in the other.

I probably wouldn’t even find this recommendation so funny knowing the fallibility of algorithms save for the “View all books similar to Nine Goblins” at the bottom. Hm. I should click that link and see what else it thinks…

intuition

You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

vote

If you’re in the US, go vote today.

I could give you lines and lines why, but you already know why, don’t you? So I’ll give you this instead:

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

writing recap 2018: w44

This week was rather eventful on the writing front.

I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.

I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.

The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.

My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.

My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.

I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.

The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).

But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.

(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)

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