Books on my Christmas wish list

So, yes, I did just post about having too many books to read and not enough time. But, really… is it even possible to have too many books? I don’t think so.

Of course I asked for books for Christmas. Some were included on my “Santa Mom” wish list. Some I put on my TBTB Secret Santa wish list. Most I don’t really *need* right now, but I there are just so many books I want to read. I can’t help it! These are the books I wished for this year:

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Comics…

  • Saga vol 1 comic trade — Everyone loves this series and I want to see what all the fuss is about…
  • Monstress Volume 1: Awakening — This art-deco/steam punk art looks so gorgeous, and the story sounds intriguing…

Sequels or companion books…

  • One Was a Solider and Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer Fleming — The final two books (I think) in this Adirondak mystery series that I’ve been enjoying during my summer vacations at Camp for several years now.
  • A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers — The follow up to Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet, which I really enjoyed and might even make it into my top five books read in 2016…
  • The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2: Fandemonium vol 2 comic trade — I enjoyed the first volume and want to know what happens next…
  • Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen — I haven’t even read the first two books yet, but I will definitely be binge-reading them before the movie comes out…
  • Book Smugglers Quarterly Almanac vol 2 — I really enjoyed their first Quarterly Almanac. So, I plan on continuing to pick these up as they are released.

New releases…

  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith — This book about the “alien consciousness” of the octopus looks absolutely fascinating and is possibly the non-fiction book I am most looking forward to reading
  • Revenger by Alastair Reynolds — I am really excited about this new book by one of my favorite sci-fi authors!
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake — I’ve heard such great things about this book, I can’t wait to read it!
  • Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante — Because I write and I am enjoying her Neapolitan series, I thought I might enjoy this “behind the scenes” book about her writing.
  • The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst — This book looks so good.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi — This has been getting great reviews…

Not-so-new fiction…

  • Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Hossain — Looks good, can’t get it on Kindle from the library…
  • Slade House by David Mitchell — Really enjoyed Bone Clocks and this is a companion to that book…
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Brenna Yovanoff, Tessa Gratton, and Maggie Stiefvater — I’ve wanted this one for a LONG time, but keep forgetting to put it on my wish list… stories by these authors, plus commentary on the creative process!
  • Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson — This looks awesome, even though I don’t often read books of short stories, a review of this caught my eye, and the blurb that says the author has “an imagination that most of us would kill for” sold me on it…
  • Kraken by China Miéville — This looks awesome… and I’ve not read anything by him yet…

And some non-fiction…

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — A classic book on writing that’s been recommended to me multiple times, but I still haven’t read it yet…
  • Automate the Boring Stuff by Al Sweigart — I’ve been trying to learn to code in Python and this combines that plus the fact that, in my day job, I spend way too much time in spreadsheets doing stuff that really should be automated…
  • Song for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina — Another one that I’ve been wanting to read for a LONG time because I’m fascinated with the ocean…
  • The Edge of the Sea by Rachel Carson — Same as above… I really don’t *need* either of these, yet… but I don’t want to lose track of them, either…
  • Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg — Something about this made me want to read it… maybe the fact that it was a husband/wife team doing a business together… something that my husband and I talk about a lot.

So, there you go. Way more books than I’d ever get around to reading in the next year. Some new, some really old. Some comics, some short stories. A little bit of everything.

Anything on here that you’ve already read and think I should move to the top of my list? Anything you also put on your list? Let me know in the comments!🙂

My December TBR is out of control

I didn’t finish any books in November. I tried to read a little bit, but between NaNoWriMo and the election, I just couldn’t make much progress reading anything except Twitter. As a result, I have quite a bit of catching up to do if I hope to meet my 2016 Goodreads challenge goal of 50 books.

Current status:

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I have 6 books to go, and I’m 2 books behind schedule. And let’s just ignore the fact that some of those 44 books read have actually been novellas and comics trade volumes. For some purists, those wouldn’t even really count. But, I’m counting them. And, with Christmas vacation coming up, I think I’ll be able to achieve my 50 book goal.

However, I’ve definitely given up on my other 2016 reading goal, the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge. It’s just not happening. I wasn’t officially participating this year, anyway. So, no big disappointment there.

What have I learned from all this? Oh yeah, the same thing I learned last year. No. More. Reading. Challenges.

But, I mean it this time. Seriously.

Well… except I will maybe still do the Goodreads Challenge next year… but I’m dialing my goal back to 3 books per month, average. More on that when I post about my 2017 goals.

This post was supposed to be about my December TBR. So, let’s get back to that.

It should come as no surprise that I have an enormous TBR pile at this point. There are SO MANY books that I really want to be reading right now. I made myself narrow that list down to 12. There is no way I’ll read that many books in December, so I’ve prioritized them into two batches.

These 6 are at the top of my list:

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  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — I started this book, loved the first chapters, then had to put it down to do other stuff. I am dying to get back to it, and I am determined for that to happen before the end of this year.
  • Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin — I’ve not done my “best of 2016” list year, but I think it’s safe to say that book one in this series is definitely going to be on my top 5 list for books I read this year. I am so excited to dive into this next book.
  • Alterations by Stephanie Scott — This one just released today, and it’s a modern, YA re-telling of the movie Sabrina. I love that movie (the original more than the re-do), and I can’t wait to read this book. Plus, I know the author from Twitter, and she seems super cool.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi — I’ve wanted to read this book for a while, but it’s recently been moved to the top of my list due to reasons that shall be explained later…
  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman — I am rediculously, crazy excited for season 2 of The Magicians on the SyFy channel (starts in January). If you liked this series and aren’t watching that show, you should be. I’m determined to at least read book 2 before season 2 starts, even though I think there are major deviations between the books and the show (in a good way).
  • Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff — This is the sequel to Illuminaewhich I loved. I pre-ordered this one, and I’ve had it for almost two months now, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Because of how the story is told (through found documents, same as the first book), I bought the hardcover edition (again, same as the first book). But (like the first book) the hardcover is enormous, and I haven’t wanted to drag it with me on the bus. So, it’s coming with me on Christmas vacation instead.

As if that wasn’t enough end-of-year reading, I also really want to read these:

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  • The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan — a Christmas themed novella featuring the hero and heroine from her novel Trade Me that I read earlier this year and highly recommend.
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton — I’ve owned this for months and it’s been on my TBR even longer. It’s a dance book. I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo — This went on sale recently, and I bought it. I still haven’t read her first series, but I’ve heard such great things about this book, I may start here.
  • Nuts by Alice Clayton — I grabbed this one when it was on sale after hearing great things about it. Seems like a fun diversion.
  • Bedmates by Nichole Chase — I loved her Suddenly Royal series, and I’ve heard good things about this first book in her new series.
  • Rebel’s Honor by Gwynn White — There’s a really long story behind this one… Short version is, this is by the wife of Andrew St. Pierre White of Overland Expo and 4xOverland fame. My husband is a big fan of Andrew’s videos, and we met Andrew and Gwynn back in April. I am really curious to read this book because it’s a strange coincidence Gwynn and I apparently write in the same genre.

But before I do any of that, I need to finish the book I’m currently reading:

NovReading Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho — I started this in November, but haven’t made much progress. It’s good, but it’s just not capturing my attention the way I thought it would. I can completely understand why this book is getting so much attention. It’s good. It deserves all the praise it’s getting. It’s just not quite what I’m looking for right at this moment. But, I’m enjoying it, and it’s on loan from the library (I had to renew it). So, I’m going to finish it before moving on.

Beyond all those, I still have the remaining stack of books that I either pre-ordered this year, or that I received from my Indiespensible subscription, but haven’t read yet:

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  • Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds — This is the third and final book in this series that I am really enjoying
  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas — This is book five in this series. Normally I would have devoured this one already, but early reviews were less than gushing. So, I’ve been letting it sit for a while.
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg — This book is enormous. I got it from my Indiespensible subscription box and probably wouldn’t have otherwise picked it up.
  • Best Boy and The Boy Who Went Away by Eli Gottlieb — Both of these also came from Indiespensible and probably weren’t ones I’d have picked up otherwise.
  • Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg — Also from Indiespensible and also something I probably wouldn’t have selected on my own, but the blurb and reviews have piqued my interest.
  • Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt — Another Indiespensible selection, but one I am really looking forward to reading.
  • A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin — More Indiespensible that I probably wouldn’t have noticed but the blurb and interview with the author make me really want to read it.
  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee — I’ve heard this one is really hard to get into, but every review I’ve read puts this squarely into my sci-fi wheelhouse. So, I’m determined to give it a shot.
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx — Recieved this from Indiespensible and my husband grabbed it to read. I think he’s only halfway through, but enjoying it.
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer — Another Indiespensible pick. I worried this was yet another “white guy literary book,” but the blurb and the reviews have me thinking that may not be the case. So, I’m tentatively interested.
  • Hold Me by Courtney Milan — This is the second book in this series and everything I’ve heard about it so far makes me really want to read it. I just haven’t had a chance to get to it yet.

So, yeah. I need more reading time. And I probably need to stop buying new books. To that end, I’ve canceled my Indiespensible subscription. It made me sad to do it, but I just can’t keep up (clearly). I do have some books on my Christmas list (more about that in a future blog post). But I’m going to try even harder next year to stick to reading what I have or getting books from the library.

Given that I have so much to choose from here — and really, this only scratches the surface of what I have unread on my Kindle — is there anything jumping out at you? Anything you’ve already read that you’d highly recommend me pushing to the top of my list? Anything you want me to read so I can report back and let you know if it’s any good?

If you have thoughts, let me know in the comments…

My #NaNoWriMo month in review

Well… I did it!

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Through sheer force of will and determination, I made it to 50k. On the days I wrote, I wrote like the wind. By the end of the month I was easily averaging over 1k words per hour. But there were days in there where I just couldn’t write, and it had nothing to do with the story.

Even though almost everything seemed to be conspiring against me to throw roadblocks in my way, I pushed through. Because, when it came down to it, I had been looking forward to NaNoWriMo all year. I freaking love NaNoWriMo. I know its not for everyone, but it works really well for me. I wasn’t about to let the election and everything else take my November novel writing tradition away from me. Sheer stubbornness does come in handy some times.

So, I made it to 50k and I did it one day early. I still have probably about 30k to go in order to finish the first draft of this novel, but for once I’m not coming out of the month drained. I’m invigorated and pumped to keep going. Right now I’m planning on writing ~1k per day through December so I can have this first draft done before the end of the year.

So, I suppose I could tell you a little about my novel now. Nothing too specific, yet. I am still working on it, after all, and I don’t like talking about projects before the first draft is done. But, basically, it’s a space opera influenced by a Jane Austen novel and by basically all my favorite sci-fi novels and movies. I don’t have any ideas for a title yet. So far, I’ve just been calling it “MPiS.”

I know that’s not much to go on, but stick around. Assuming I finish with the first draft as planned, I’ll probably be looking for beta readers who are available in January/February. And, before I (officially) ask for beta readers, I’ll at least have a blurb written so people can learn more about the story before signing up to read and provide feedback. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll likely focus on fun post through the end of the year, including my usual “best of” posts, my year end summary, and my goals for next year. If you know of an Instagram photo challenge, or a book blogger challenge that you think I might like, let me know in the comments.

Happy Holidays!

#NaNoWriMo mid-point update

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For those curious about my NaNoWriMo progress, we’re halfway through the month, and (as of this writing) I have just over 27k words. That puts me slightly ahead of the “peanut butter” schedule (1667 words/day). But, I’m about 10k behind the “reverse NaNo” schedule I’d intended to follow.

I had been doing really well on the reverse NaNo program, hitting most of my daily word count goals and catching back up if I missed the mark for a day. Then the election happened, and I couldn’t write. Last week was a rough week for writing. I wrote about 5400 words total last week and most of those were on Saturday and Sunday.

But, (knock on wood) I seem to be back on track now. I probably won’t hit my goal of finishing at the Night of Writing Dangerously coming up on Sunday. But I *might* be able to hit 50k before Thanksgiving. Even if I don’t, I’m still in a way better position at this point than I was last year — after which, I took a massive nose dive and had to claw my way to a win. I’m just hoping this post doesn’t jinx me like last year’s mid-point post did.

Regardless of when I hit 50k, I won’t be able to stop there. Right now, I’ve only written about a third of what I’ve outlined. I’m still building to the big drama at the mid-point. If I do the math, that puts the forecasted length of this book at 80k words, which sounds about right.

Which reminds me… I should really stop wasting word count on blog posts and get back to the word mines…🙂

Happy Writing!

#TopTenTuesday: ten books I’ve added to my TBR list lately

While I’m busy adding words to my NaNoWriMo project, enjoy this Top Ten Tuesday post featuring a list of the ten books I’ve added to my TBR most recently…

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  1. Thick as Thieves (The Queen’s Thief, #5) by Megan Whalen Turner — YAY! We’re getting another book in this fantastic series! But, we’re not getting it until May of next year… in the meantime, I went out and bought the existing books on Kindle so that I can re-read them. It’s been a while, but this is one of my favorite series.
  2. A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev — I still haven’t read her second book yet (Bollywood Bride), but I loved the first one so much, and the premise for this one sounds like there might be some magical realism involved. I’m intrigued.
  3. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman — Neil Gaiman plus any type of mythology is pretty much my kryptonite. Neil Gaiman plus Norse mythology has me basically just standing here with a fist full of money trying to decide between Kindle and hardcover. At least I have a little time to decide because it doesn’t come out until February…
  4. Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple — I loved her first book (Where’d You Go Bernadette). So, of course this one immediately went on my TBR list. It sounds like it will be very similar, but that’s okay by me.
  5. Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2) by Seanan McGuire — I have to wait until June for this one… it’s a follow-up to one of my favorite novellas I’ve read this year (Every Heart a Doorway). I am so excited for this book!
  6. Revenger by Alastair Reynolds — One of my favorite sci-fi authors wrote a sorta, kinda (according to some people) YA sci-fi novel! If that’s supposed to turn me off on this book, it did not work. I think Alastair Reynolds writing YA is a great idea, and I can’t wait to read this one!
  7. Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns, #1) by Kendare Blake — I keep hearing great things about this book, and the premise (three sisters who have to fight to the death to become queen) has me super curious. This one is high on my list for my post-NaNo reading binge.
  8. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2) by Becky Chambers — This one is a follow up to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, but this time we get a deep dive on the AI stuff… this was one area where I felt like the first book fell a bit flat for me. So, I’m interested to see where they go with this… but, I’m thinking I’ll get it from my library instead of buying it.
  9. Kraken by China Miéville — I can’t even remember anymore where I heard about this book. I think it was on one of the podcasts I listen to… Anyway, myth plus magic plus London plus a giant squid sounded so freaking amazing that I just had to add it to my TBR. I’ve never read anything by him, but I’ve been meaning to for some time now. I’m hoping this is a good place to start.
  10. The Queen of Blood: Book One of The Queens of Renthia by Sarah Beth Durst — This is another one that I can’t remember how I found out about. I think maybe it was the comparisons to Uprooted and Name of the Wind that got my attention, but the premise sounds just different enough than all the other fantasy I keep seeing over and over again out there, that I added it to my TBR. Something about this book makes me think I might enjoy it more in paperback, but we’ll see.

If you’ve read any of these, or have any thoughts you’d like to share, leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

#NaNoWriMo reverse word count tracker, #BuJo style

In order to write 50k words in November, the standard practice is to divide 50,000 by 30 days and give yourself a daily word count goal of ~1667 words per day.

This year, I think I’m going to try something a little different… It’s called “Reverse NaNo,” and it looks like this:

The idea is to capitalize on initial early excitement and momentum and get ahead of your word count early. I really like this idea for a number of reasons. So, I created a word count tracker in my notebook, and I’m going to give it a try. If all goes well, I might even be done with my 50k words before the Thanksgiving holiday! Another added bonus is that, if I stick to this plan and meet these word count goals, I might have a real shot at ringing that bell at the Night of Writing Dangerously.

You see, if you finish your 50k words during the event, you get to go to the front of the ballroom and ring this very loud bell. Everyone cheers for you. It’s pretty awesome. I was nowhere near 50k last year during NoWD, and I had no idea about this particular tradition. This year, I’m going to be ready.

Oh, and yeah… That picture of my notebook is also revealing my weak attempt at trying out the whole Bullet Journal craze… I’m trying to decide if I like this free-form planner concept, or if I want to continue my tradition of buying (and only sort-of using) my usual weekly planner from Moleskine…

So far, I haven’t quite figured out a format that works quite right. Of course, my weekly planner isn’t perfect either, and I do like the flexibility that the “BuJo” method offers. I’ve got a couple months left to mess around with both options before I have to decide if I need to buy a 2017 planner. So, we’ll see.

Do you use a bullet journal? What resources did you find most helpful when you were very first getting started?

#WriterTag responses and more #NaNoWriMo prep

I saw this tag on Jenna Moreci‘s vlog and thought the questions also worked well for a NaNoWriMo prep blog post.

WRITER TAG QUESTIONS:

  1. What do you eat or drink while writing? I drink green tea and lots of it. When I’m in a rush or feeling lazy, I drink Stash organic green tea in bags that I buy in bulk. Or, I drink loose leaf in my teapot if I’m feeling fancy. As for snacks, I haven’t quite figured out how to snack and write at the same time since both things require using my hands. I find that if I’m snacking, I’m not typing. So, I save the snacking for rewards. Recently, I’ve discovered that I really like plain popcorn with just salt as a writing break reward. I also reward myself with dark chocolate. In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’m making sure that I’m fully stocked up on all my favorites.
  2. What do you listen to while writing? I prefer to listen to music with no words when I write. Classical music is okay, but I prefer movie score soundtracks or electronic music. For soundtracks, I love the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, and I just discovered the Children of Dune soundtrack. Both of these are “comfort food” movies for me, which means they work great as soundtracks for highly emotional scenes. As for electronic music, I like dubstep. I have a tendency to enjoy the bro-iest and most intense stuff (Knife Party/Pendulum, Skrillex, and deadmau5, as examples). The beat is motivating for typing fast, and I can tune out the words because they’re kind of repetitive. For this type of thing I like Amazon Music’s playlists. Devastating Dubstep Drops is usually pretty good for the intense stuff, and Electronic Beats for Work is good when I don’t want a lot of lyrics. In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I’ve made sure that all these go-to soundtracks and playlists are available on my phone and on my laptop when they are both in “off-line” mode. If you’re wondering why I need them available when I’m off-line, see my response to the next question…
  3. What is your biggest distraction while you’re writing? THE INTERNET! Seriously. I have to turn off the wi-fi on my laptop and put my phone on “do not disturb” so it doesn’t beep if I get a message. During the month of November, I’ll probably only be online when I’m at work, or as a reward if I happen to be killing my word count goals and tracking ahead of schedule.
  4. What is the worst thing that has happened to you while writing? My computer went nuts one time and started deleting a chunk of text I’d just edited. It was like the delete key got stuck or something. I couldn’t stop it and had to just close Scrivener and restart it. Luckily, I had back-ups of the file. I’m usually pretty good about back-ups. I haven’t decided on my back-up strategy for NaNoWriMo this year. I’ll probably export the compiled doc from Scrivener and save it in multiple places before I go to bed each writing day. Or, I may post chapters to Google Docs so I can share them with some of my “alpha readers” to get feedback as I’m writing. Or both. You can never have too many back-ups.
  5. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you while writing? I finished a novel. And then I did it again. And then I did it one more time. Finishing a novel (even though it just means you have a pile of editing to look forward to), is such a rush. I’m looking forward to doing it again.
  6. Who do you communicate with while you’re writing? When I have a new idea for a novel I don’t really talk about it in detail with anyone, even my husband, even critique partners. In the early stages of an idea it always feels so tentative, like if I say too much the idea will just fizzle and go away. Or, sometimes the idea is so big and vague I don’t really have words to describe what I want to do, it’s just a feeling or an image in my head. If I try to explain anything to anyone at that stage, I’ll just sound like a crazy person. I’m most comfortable talking about what I’m working on when I’m about half to two-thirds done with the first draft. At that point I’m committed and I have a pretty good idea what I’m doing. So, after I finish my 50k words for NaNoWriMo, I’ll be happy to tell you more about my project. Until then, you’ll just have to wait.🙂
  7. What is your secret to success and your biggest writing flaw? Secret to success is definitely discipline combined with persistence, two skills I learned from competitive swimming and coxing crew. My biggest writing flaw is neglecting character development in favor of plot and world-building. Oh, and beginnings. I hate trying to write amazing first chapters, and first sentences are the absolute worst. One of the reasons NaNoWriMo works so well for me is because it’s all about discipline combined with persistence. And I give myself the freedom to write a completely crappy beginning because I know I can always make it better later.
  8. What is your inspiration? What makes you productive? I’m inspired by professional writers like Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, and Courtney Milan. Even though they’ve each reached some level of success, they haven’t lost their hustle. They treat their writing career like a business and they still write great books. They inspire me. This is super dorky, but when I was in the middle of editing during Pitch to Publication earlier this year, my husband printed out a copy of one of Victoria Schwab’s photos of her desk (for that day). It’s basically just a table with a laptop, a cup of tea, a notebook, and some headphones. But, it’s become my visual reminder that those writers are just like me. They put on their pants one leg at a time the same way we all do. They put their butts in their seats and their hands on the keyboard and write the words. To quote Victoria Schwab, “One word at a time. One page at a time. One scene at a time. One chapter at a time. One book at a time.” That’s how it’s done, and that’s going to be my NaNoWriMo mantra.
  9. What is one thing that you do or that other writers do that is super annoying? Compare myself to others. I’m competitive. I try to find healthy ways to compete (like in the pool, for example). But when I’m beating myself up because I don’t think I’ve been as productive as I “should be,” I have an annoying tendency to start comparing myself to others. I’ve gotten better at catching myself doing this, taking a huge step back (and usually off the internet), and focusing my eyes on my own paper. When I’m producing new words (like during NaNoWriMo), this isn’t a problem. When I’m stuck (aka, not writing), it’s easy to find myself falling into the competitive death spiral.
  10. Are you willing to share something you’ve written? Oh, sure. Why not. In celebration of NaNoWriMo, I’ll post an excerpt from my very first NaNoWriMo novel (un-edited) for your reading pleasure. This is from 2007, and it’s the first time I’ve opened this file in almost that many years. The novel is pretty bad. But because you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward. So, I’ve posted a (somewhat) embarrassing excerpt on my NaNoWriMo author dashboard. You can read it here.

Before I sign off, thanks to Jenna Moreci (who I don’t know, but is another writer who inspires me) for the idea for this post. You can watch her answer these same questions in the video below.

If there are any other writers out there reading this blog, I’d love to hear your responses! Post a link to your blog post (or vlog post) in the comments if you do a response to the “writer tag.”

NaNoWriMo Prep Time

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Hooray! NaNoWriMo is just 22 days away! I love the space theme this year, and it’s especially fitting because the story I’m planning to write is a relationship driven sci-fi novel that takes place (mostly) on Mars.

I’m psyched to start writing, but I can’t officially start until November 1st. In the meantime, I’ve been working on novel prep. For those of you who are curious, I thought I’d share a little about what I’m doing.

First, a caveat — every time I do this, my process is a little different. Last year, for example, I mostly worked from a rough outline and a beat sheet and did minimal prep work. In previous years, I did even less prep work. Back in 2013, I completely pantsed my novel with no outline or prep work. Going into November the year after that, I think I knew exactly one scene that I wanted to write, but that scene didn’t take place until nearly two thirds of the way through the novel. So, I wrote down some “way points” that would get me to that scene. Then I started writing and pantsed my way from point to point until I ultimately got to that scene.

What I’m saying is, there are a lot of different ways to “win” NaNoWriMo, and there is no “right way.” Do what works for you.

This year, I’m trying to take a little more time and be a little more organized with my prep, mostly because the story I want to write is a little more complicated than what I’ve done in the past. I’m attempting a “re-telling,” but I want it to feel like an entirely new story while still being true to the emotional and plot beats of the original.

I’ve started by thinking about which story elements I’ll be including in my novel (primarily Relationship with sides of Wonder, Drama, Issue, and Ensemble, I think). Now I’m working on fleshing out each of the four story building blocks:

  1. Character
  2. Plot
  3. Setting
  4. Conflict

My characters and my plot are both drawn from the original story. How they differ from the original will depend a lot on the setting I’m planning. So, I’m starting with world-building. Once I’ve got the world figured out, I can tweak my characters and my plot to fit seamlessly into my world. In the process, I’ll be adding a whole new layer of conflict that didn’t exist in the original story.

So far, I’ve mostly been doing research for my world, but it’s getting to the point now where I think research is really just a procrastination excuse because I’m not exactly sure *how* I want to organize my world-building. I’ve been searching for writing tools that might help, but I think this may work best if I just start free-writing my thoughts in a notebook the way I’ve always done. I’ve built five completely different worlds for the five novels I’ve written, so far. I’ve never used any writing tools for world-building before, and world-building has always been an area of strength for me. So, I’m pretty sure I’m completely over-thinking this part.

Once I tackle the world-building, the characters and plot will be much easier. I already have good tools for these areas. I’ll probably use character sheets to define each of the main characters’ motivations, objectives, sensibilities, etc. Then I’ll map out my emotional and plot beats and modify them to fit the setting. After all that, conflict *should* be pretty obvious, but I may just make some more specific notes on that so I don’t forget what I’d originally planned once I start writing.

For the record, I’m just getting started, and it feels like I have no idea what I’m doing, even though this will be my 6th time writing a first draft of a novel. Perhaps this first draft thing never gets any easier… What’s keeping me motivated is my vision for this story and the knowledge that, if I can make this work, it’s going to be awesome.

Now it’s time to stop procrastinating and dive into world-building.

Oh! But, before I go… I’m only $38 away from hitting my fundraising goal to support the non-profit that runs NaNoWriMo, plus many other excellent creative writing programs for children and adults. If you haven’t already donated, please have a look at my fundraising page and consider a donation.

For those who have donated: Thank you for supporting me in my novel-writing quest, and for helping National Novel Writing Month create a more engaged and inspiring world. You’re awesome!

October TBR

I took a long, hard look at the books on my Kindle, and the TBR pile on my bookshelf, and had to make some hard decisions about what I wanted to make sure I read before the end of this year.

The priority for October is to finish the two books I want to read in preparation for NaNoWriMo this year. The rest of my October reading list is made up of books that I’ve shuffled to the top of my TBR for a variety of reasons.

I’m not planning on doing much, if any, reading in November. So, whatever I don’t read this month will probably end up getting pushed to December.

October2016TBR

  • Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku (paperback) — I just bought this one to do a little pop science research for my sci-fi WIP that I’m planning to write in November. Not sure if it will help, but it looks promising.
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly (paperback) — I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now for writing research. Now time is running out and I need to read it before November.
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (Kindle) — I bought this a while ago (July?), and lately everywhere I look there is a glowing review about this book. It’s time. I need to read it before the end of this year. And then I need to read the sequel.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Hardcover, signed special edition) — I still haven’t been able to find time to read this book. This is what happens when I have a hardcover and I do most of my reading on my Kindle during my commute.
  • The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Kindle, library) — I may or may not get to this one this month, but I do want to read it before the TV series starts up again in January.
  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — This is another one that my have to get pushed to post-NaNoWriMo. I wanted to read this right away when it came out, but writing is the priority for October and November. So, as much as I want to dig into this and read it before everyone else has and spoilers have invaded the internet, this may have to wait.

September in Review

September did not exactly go as planned. This is the first time in a long time that’s happened. I’d created some fairly ambitious goals for September, and I accomplished ~3/5, barely.

You may not be able to tell from this blog, but I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard this year. It’s gone beyond “burning the candle at both ends.” Between work stuff, writing stuff, and personal stuff (swimming, reading, social, etc.), it feels like I’ve cut the candle into a bunch of smaller pieces so I could burn each of those at both ends. As a result, this month I may finally have snapped.

Mid-month, I decided to dial it way back and re-set my expectations about what I want to accomplish for the rest of this year. More on that (maybe) in a future blog post. This one is just meant to be a September wrap-up.

Let’s recap each of my goals (since I posted them for ya’ll to see…)…

1. SWIM at least 4 x 3300 yards per week

This would have resulted in ~52.8k yards swum in September. I actually ended up swimming 15 days for a total of 53k yards. So, I did okay on the yardage, but 15 days isn’t quite 4x per week. Still, I’m considering this one accomplished, but just barely.

2. READ at least 1 book per week on average

There were four weeks plus three days in September, and I read three novels, one short non-fiction book, one comic trade, and one “quarterly almanac” of short stories and book/movie reviews. So, I’m calling this one accomplished as well, but also just barely.

Here’s what I read this month (links take you to my Goodreads reviews):

September2016

 

  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — Supposedly this is VES in her “YA” mode. It’s the first of her “YA” books I’ve read. That said, it didn’t really feel much more “YA” than her Shades of Magic series. This may have something to do with the fact that it had that gritty almost-real-world feel to the world-building, plus the dark complexity around what makes someone a hero vs. a villian that Vicious did. So, yeah. I loved it and want more, please.
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Kindle) — This book is like if you took the anthropological world building of an Ursula Le Guin book and crossed it with the TV show Firefly. I had a few small quibbles with parts of this book when I thought about it critically (see my Goodreads review for more on this, if you’re curious). But, overall, I loved it and I can’t wait to read more stories set in this world. Apparently, there is a new one coming out in October! Woo hoo!
  • A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab (Kindle, library) — Book two in the series, and it ends on a massive cliff-hanger. Most of this story takes place around VES’s equivalent of the “tri-wizard tournament” in Harry Potter. In the process, we get to know our main characters better, and we learn a little more about magic in this world. I’m looking forward to the final book in this series, and I’m bummed that I have to wait until next year for its release. NOTE: my Goodreads review contains spoilers. Don’t click on the link above if you don’t want to be spoiled.
  • Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates (trade paper) — I know nothing about Black Panther except that he was in the latest Captain America movie. I do know that I really like Mr. Coates’s writing (I took note of his articles in The Atlantic and started following him long before Between the World and Me). This comic was really dense and satisfying because of that. There is definitely a much more complex story building here than I feel like you usually get in most Marvel comics. This feels more like volume one of Bitch Planet or The Wicked & The Divine than any of the recent X-Men volumes I’ve been consuming. This is a good thing. Our superhero stories could use more depth.
  • Making It Right: Product Management For A Startup World by  Rian Van Der Merwe (Safari Books Online) — I’ve been thinking about my day-job a lot and realizing more and more that what I really want is to get closer to the engineering side of the world. I should have been a software engineer. I may still, someday, become a software engineer. But, in the meantime, I wanted to learn a little more about the difference between Program Managers and Product Managers. This book did a great job explaining what makes a great Product Manager and what great Product Managers do to ship great products. Highly recommend this one if you are considering becoming a Product Manager.
  • The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac: June 2016 edited by The Book Smugglers (Kindle) — This collection had a “superhero” theme. It included some excellent reviews for some books I want to read and some superhero movies (one I saw and one I skipped). Plus, there were a few short stories and essays. All were very good, a few were fantastic. The only hang-up I had was the copy editing. For some reason there were a ton of copy edit errors in my Kindle version.

3. NaNoWriMo Prep

Well, I picked which project I’m going to work on. But I didn’t write a plot synopsis for any of the ideas I was considering. So, I should maybe just get partial credit for this goal. I’m pretty excited about this idea though… and I’m excited to dive into prep and research in October. It feels good to be back in “creation” mode again after months and months and months of editing.

I’ve also been working hard on getting my region ready for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been scheduling write-ins and the kick-off and TGIO parties. I’m working on prizes and prep sessions. I’ve already hit my first fundraising goal, and now I’m trying to see if I can raise a little more so I can bring a guest. I’m probably completely over-committing, but I’d rather start strong and see how it goes. I think I can make it work. It’s just a month. How bad could it be? (Famous last words…)

4. Re-read “Falling” and decide next steps

I didn’t even try to do this. I had too much else going on and decided that I didn’t want to try to push another project through before NaNoWriMo starts. I decided that I needed a break. So, all non-NaNoWriMo writing projects are officially on hold until January.

5. “Good clean living…” (no sweets, no alcohol except for one “cheat day” per week)

Yeah…. this did not happen. I bailed on this one pretty early. I don’t know what I was thinking. September is my husband’s birthday month, and if he was eating pie and drinking a beer, I certainly wasn’t going to just sit there and watch him! Plus, I had no real solid motivating factor here to keep me on the wagon. It’s not like I’m trying to lose weight or anything. This activity is best reserved for January as a post-holiday “cleanse” of sorts.

Oh, and this wasn’t exactly in my goals, but I totally bailed on that Instagram challenge (#IGAuthorLifeSept) that I said I was going to do in September.

Still, for a month where nothing seemed to be going as planned, I got the important stuff done. And, I definitely learned my lesson. Sometimes you just need a month to relax and re-group. I’m making a note of this and mentally scheduling December as my next “relax and re-group” month. After NaNoWriMo, I have a feeling I’ll need it!