Let the #TomeTopple Begin!

It’s Tome Topple time!

Well… technically, Tome Topple started about seven hours ago in my time zone, but I was sleeping… But now I’m up and ready to start my first “tome.”

Once again, these are the books on my Tome Topple TBR:

I’ve decided that I’m starting with Strange The Dreamer and probably moving on to Empire of Storms once I’m done. After that, who knows…

Are you participating in Tome Topple? What are you reading?

March reading summary and April TBR

March has gone by in a blur, filled mostly with work, but also with visits from friends, some editing, and a lot of reading.

Here is what I read in March with my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

 

  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Kindle, library) — This was a short and entertaining read — exactly what I’d expect from master storyteller, Neil Gaiman.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Kindle, pre-order) — The voice, the characters, the family dynamic… everything about this book was amazing, and I LOVED it. Highly recommend.
  • The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (Kindle) — Every once in a while you find a book/series that you just love so much that you want to shove it into everyone’s hands and make them read it because you want everyone to love it as much as you do. That’s me with this series.
  • The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Kindle, library) — I know I said I was giving up on this series, but I forgot to release my hold at the library. Lucky for me, I liked this final book in the series much better than the first two books.
  • Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey (Overdrive, library) — On a whim, I decided to re-read this favorite from my teenage years. The story definitely holds up, but the prose felt surprisingly old-fashioned at times.
  • A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — I’m glad I held off on starting this until I could savor it. Even though I ended up spreading out my reading over a full week, it still ended too soon (but in a very satisfying way). I’m going to miss this world.

I’d thought I’d have time to read A Crown of Wishes as well, but this week has been a blur of activity with very little time left for reading. So, that will be the first book I read in April, instead of the last book I read in March. As for the rest of my April TBR…

I wasn’t going to create a TBR for April because I’m planning on participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s a more casual version of the real thing where you set your own word count goal for the month. I’m setting a goal of 30k words, which I think should allow me to finish the first draft of the novel I started back in November.

Writing 1k words/day on average isn’t that hard for me, once I get going. On a good day, that’s only about an hour of writing. So, I’m hoping I’ll still have time to read this month. The problem is, once I let myself start thinking about what I wanted to read, my TBR got a little out of hand…

Before I get into my list, let me reassure you, I have absolutely zero intention of reading ALL of these books in April. I fully expect that a lot of these will be flowing over into next month’s TBR. I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to use the #TomeTopple Readathon (books over 500 pages read during 4/7 thru 4/20, midnight to midnight in your timezone) and the 2017 Read Harder Challenge task list to help me bust some of my Kindle backlist.

Here’s what I put on my TBR for April (links go to Goodreads):

  • #TomeTopple TBR (listed from longest to shortest):
    • Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Kindle) — This book has been on my TBR forever. Seriously. I bought it on 7/30/2013. But guys… it’s over 1050 pages long. This book alone is equivalent to 2 Tome Topple books. It could take me the entire time just to read this one book, and there are so many others in this section that I really want to read. I’m not sure if I start with this one or save it until after I’ve read one or two of the others…
    • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle) — I pre-ordered this and then never had a chance to read it. I started it and got a little frustrated because I was struggling to remember who everyone was (so many new names I’d forgotten!), and I set it aside. I plan to tackle it during Tome Topple, and maybe resort to Wikipedia if my memory doesn’t kick in and remind me who’s who after the first few chapters…
    • Gemina by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff (hardcover) — This is another that I’d pre-ordered and never got around to reading, mostly because
    • Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds (Kindle) — Oh, hey! Another pre-order that I didn’t ever read when it came out. (This is partly why I made new rules about buying books this year.)
    • Kraken by China Miéville (Kindle) — I got this one for Christmas from “Santa Mom.” I’m hoping I have time to get to it, but it’s definitely in the second half of my list for this Readathon. So, it may roll over into next month.
    • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Kindle) — I pre-ordered this, but it came out the same day as A Crown of Wishes, and I had to make a choice. So, I decided to save this one for Tome Topple.
  • Books for the Read Harder Challenge:
    • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (Kindle) — For the “Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative” task.
    • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Kindle) — For the “Read a book about sports” task.
    • Hold Me by Courtney Milan (Kindle) — For the “Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel” task.
    • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Kindle) — For the “Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location” task.
    • Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Kindle) — For the “Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author” task.
    • George by Alex Gino (Kindle) — For the “Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+” task.

The books I’ve selected for the Read Harder Challenge are all ones that I already own (some that I purchased a LONG time ago). They’re all ones that I really want to read, and many come highly recommended, but I’m not 100% sure which to start with, yet. To that end, if there are any on that list that you think I should start with because they are your absolute favorite and you think I’ll love it, please let me know in the comments.

And that’s it for March. Bring on the spring!

In which I gush about @MadcapRetreats

It’s been a month since I attended Madcap Retreats Creating Worlds workshop with Tessa Gratton and Roshani Chokshi. I’ve been working on this post on and off since then, trying to find just the right words to explain how much I loved this writing retreat and how much I love the people I met there. Mostly, when I try to put my feelings about this experience into words, I just end up gushing and flailing and making incoherent noises that don’t translate well into a blog post. But here goes…

Back in November, I applied to attend both their Creating Worlds workshop and their Writing Cross Culturally workshop. When I got the email that I’d been accepted, I actually started crying. I’m not even kidding. I was so excited to be attending that I think I emailed them back to accept my spot almost immediately.

I ended up getting accepted to both. Unfortunately, I could only attend one workshop due to budget and vacation constraints. So, I picked the Creating Worlds workshop. It was a little smaller, and I admit that I was a little intimidated about the idea of being in a house with 60 people I didn’t know.

As the anticipation built, I started getting really nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I knew a couple of people from Twitter who had attended previously, but they hadn’t said much about it. About a month before the workshop, I connected with a handful of people who would be attending and we chatted about what to bring and coordinated on rides from the airport. A lot of people who were attending with me had already been to one of these workshops. I took that as a good sign. I should have realized then that this was going to be a world-changer for me.

I’m here to report, Madcap Retreats exceeded my expectations in every single way.

My perch for soaking up all the #MadcapRT awesomeness… #amworldbuilding #amwriting #writerlife

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I attempted to try to make a list of all of the awesome things about this retreat. I’m sure I’ll forget something, but here are 10 things I loved about this Madcap Retreat:

  1. Natalie and Tessa — Any list of things to love about Madcap has to start with these two, but especially with Natalie. Natalie Parker is the organizer of everything and mastermind behind Madcap. Tessa Gratton is an excellent teacher and rabid social justice pixie in the very best and most inspiring way. I have to admit, of everyone on this faculty list, I knew the least about these two going in. What a travesty! How did I not already know about these two amazing individuals?
  2. The faculty — The other authors who were there to offer their knowledge were also fantastic. Roshani Chokshi is kind, generous, and can take the most boring story detail and make it magical. Dhonielle Clayton is a really fun, tiny, fierce human packed full will a wealth of publishing knowledge. Tara Hudson and Julie Murphy, who also joined us for a couple days, were generous with their industry knowledge, really fun to hang out with, and so encouraging.
  3. The writers I met — A few of the attendees already had agents and/or published books. Most of us did not. We got to hear a lot about the novels everyone was working on, and there was not a single one that I wasn’t excited about reading. Every single one of them sounded fantastic, and I wished they were available to read right now. The level of talent attending was both inspiring and a little intimidating (in a good way). I made new friends, and I got to talk about writing with writers in real life. Making writer friends over Twitter is great, but hanging out with writer friends in person is the best.
  4. The content — The workshop I attended was focused around “Creating Worlds,” something I thought I knew a thing or two about before I got on that plane to Florida. World-building is one of my absolute favorite things about writing sci-fi and fantasy and something I usually get compliments on from CPs and beta readers. But, this workshop gave me so many more things to think about! I took so many notes and got so many ideas. Seriously, I left feeling like I’ve only been scratching the surface of what’s possible, but ready to dive in to improve all the worlds I’ve created.
  5. The location — So, I associate Florida with the absolute worst sunburn I ever got in my life. Plus, Orange Beach is not the easiest place to get to from San Francisco. But, it turns out that Orange Beach is not actually located in Florida. It’s technically in Alabama. And, hey! This location was AWESOME. Excellent house. Right on the beach. Wildlife just outside (cranes, dolphins, elusive beach mice). Spectacular sunrises and sunsets, both somehow magically happening over the ocean. Warm weather. It was basically the best. I would do it all over again next weekend if I could, even though it meant spending nearly an entire day in transit both directions. That’s how good it was. (more location photos in this photo album)
  6. The format — We had three pretty intense days, but they were broken up in a way that gave you time to absorb what you were learning, or decompress if you needed a break. We got started around 9am and went pretty much straight through until noon with a few 10 minute breaks. Then we had about an hour for lunch. Then we had another session after lunch. Then a big break in the afternoon. After dinner, there was a “fireside chat” (optional) in the evening. I got up at about 6:30 every morning because that’s actually “sleeping in” for me, and I love watching the sunrise over the ocean. And I stayed up way past my usual bedtime, going to sleep around midnight every night. I could have gone to bed earlier or slept in later, but I didn’t want to miss a moment, and I liked working on the world-building exercises we were learning first thing in the morning when the house was quiet. It was intense and a little exhausting, but totally worth it.
  7. The new writing tools — Holy 9-box convert, Batman! There were several writing exercises that I am definitely adding to my prep work for all my novels, but this character/plot arc tool was one of two things that really helped me figure out what needed revising in the novel I brought to work on at this workshop. The other enlightening thing happened as a side-effect from a writing exercise in Tessa’s class. I’ll talk more about that one in a future post. For now I’ll just say, I’ve taken writing classes and read a fair amount of writing craft books, and I still learned so many mind-blowingly useful new things.
  8. Learning from #OwnVoices — As anyone who’s been paying any attention to YA “book Twitter” knows, it is very easy to mess things up when you’re creating worlds, be they contemporary or fantasy. I am always trying to educate myself about this stuff because I know enough to know there’s always so much more to learn. That’s one of the reasons why I signed up for this workshop in the first place. Learning from #OwnVoices faculty and fellow workshop participants helped me flag a few new potential blind spots and feel a little more articulate about some of the things I’d already figured out on my own.
  9. The food — Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much here. Basically, I assumed they’d have some, and I’m not a particularly picky eater. So, I assumed I’d eat some. I was fairly certain I wouldn’t starve. Oh how wrong I was. I think I came home several pounds heavier than I left. Natalie did most of the cooking, and everything was fantastic. Plus, the kitchen was basically in the same space as the presentation area. So, the delicious food smells meant I was always hungry. There were also a ton of snacks that I normally never eat. I made bad food choices. I regret nothing. 🙂
  10. Talking about my novel with other writers — This was possibly the one thing I didn’t even consider before attending but now don’t know how I managed to function without. Critique groups, my usual outlet for talking IRL with other writers, are usually for absorbing feedback about whatever section of work you submitted. Brainstorming and talking through your plot issues with other writers is a whole different beast, and I loved it! At first it was really strange talking about my novel out loud like I would talk about the plot and/or characters of any published book. But, talking through it with this group during the 9-Box exercise, and during my 1:1 critique session with Tessa and Roshani, was SO HELPFUL! I have no idea how I’ve functioned so long without having a writing buddy to brainstorm with IRL.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend Madcap Retreats highly enough. If you’re serious about writing and on the fence about attending one of these workshops, go. Apply and go. You won’t regret it.

One last sunrise walk on the beach before heading home… #MadcapRT

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This photo makes me a little sad. I miss my new writer friends and am already thinking about when I’m going to do this again. I will definitely be back.

Considering Uber and “boys will be boys” workplace culture

I don’t talk about “work stuff” on my blog much. On purpose. But, I’m going to make an exception to talk about sexism in the technology industry. If you aren’t aware of some of the recent sexual harassment drama at Uber, I’ll give you a moment to catch up before adding my own thoughts.

I read Susan’s post shortly after it came out, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since (note: I don’t know her or any of these people). Her experience made me angry. It brought up memories of similar experiences I’d had. It underscored the fact that I’d had a bad feeling about that company from the first time I started hearing about it, and I was right to trust my instincts.

Then there was the response from a woman inside, largely agreeing with Susan, but pointing out that it wasn’t all bad there. There’s always at least one. The poster woman. She reminded me a little of myself, back before I got mad.

Then, this week, there was another post, describing an experience similar to Susan’s. That’s when I remembered, and went back to dig up, an essay I wrote about this for a creative writing class back in March 2013 — almost exactly four years and one employer ago. I re-read the essay and was amused to see the thought process of little baby feminist me taking shape. I was less amused to see how little has changed in the industry, and to realize how much this has blown up in the past four years.

There’s a lot I’d change about how that essay was written, but I’ve decided to post it here, unedited, to show you one example of what it looks like when a clueless, privileged, Midwestern girl, starts to wake up.

I’ll also note, things have not gone smoothly for me since I wrote that essay and made the first tentative steps toward standing up for myself and others. There have been so many times I’ve wished I’d just kept my mouth shut, and times I have kept my mouth shut against my better judgement. But, every time, I keep coming back to the same conclusion, the one I arrive at, finally, at the end of this essay.

I’m lucky to work at an employer who cares about this stuff and is taking real steps to make changes. Everything they do isn’t perfect, but it’s miles beyond paying lip service to the importance of women in tech while making no policy changes and continuing to promote and reward the perpetrators of the exact behavior that keep those numbers low. It’s made my work life much less stressful, and for that I am grateful. But, I know this has a lot to do with the size of my employer. Start-ups are still the “wild-west.” If you’re a woman working in a start-up, you’re definitely on the front lines in this war, and you have my sympathies.

___________________________________________________________

“Boys Will Be Boys” — written March 2013 for a UC Berkeley Extension class in creative writing

You know those “happy birthday” email threads you get at work? Someone with an enviable memory for dates sends out an email to “Joe Whitecollar” wishing him a happy birthday and copying the entire team and everyone in the surrounding area on the email, guilting everyone into replying-all to join in the chorus of “happy birthday” wishes. Of course someone chimes in that they brought a cake and arrangements are made to make short work of it sometime after lunch. It’s all fun and games… until the joking escalates and someone responds with “… a lap dance has been arranged. I did some practice yesterday. You can choose me or Matt or Frank…”

Or does that part only happen in my office?

I’ve always been proud to be a woman considered “one of the guys.” Early on, before I even entered the workforce, I developed an unconscious ability to become more or less invisible when hanging out with, being on a team with, or working with, an entirely male group. I’ve found that this “invisibility” means accepting, laughing at, and to some extent even making, what more-enlightened individuals might consider to be “sexist jokes.” After all, it’s all just fun and games, right? Of course, by the time I get sick of these jokes, or the guys begin to push past my above-average tolerance level, I’m already guilty by association.

When I started at my current job, I was the only woman on a team of over twenty men. I was the only woman on any of the teams that our team worked with on a regular basis. I was often the only woman in every meeting I attended. Sometimes, I went for entire days without speaking to anyone of the same sex at work. Well, except for the project managers.

In technology, project manager is about the only role largely dominated by women. To make matters worse, the role of “PM” plays right into female stereotypes. They are the soccer moms of engineering, keeping track of who is doing what, making sure everything gets done, and nagging everyone until they finish their “homework.” In order to be taken seriously at my job, I try hard not to be confused with a PM, which just further alienates me from the other females I work with.

Most people seem to think the best way to get rid of the “boys club” culture in science and technology is to get more women into these fields. Everywhere you look, there are initiatives to increase the level of female participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies. No one seems to have a handle on why it is that women, beginning as early as middle school, exhibit decreasing interest in pursuing these fields. Studies have shown women have at least as high an aptitude for STEM fields as men. So what gives? Could it be that the “boys club” culture is actually what’s making these pursuits unattractive to women? Maybe, at some point, women are deciding that sales and finance are just more welcoming environments, roles in which they will be subjected to fewer dick and fart jokes they must smile through on a daily basis.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but, until recently, I never gave this issue much thought. As a woman who chose to pursue a career in a STEM discipline, I’ve been thriving in a male dominated field for my entire adult life. I like the work, I naturally have a foul mouth and a raunchy sense of humor, and I love guys. But, the older I get, the more I notice the research. I am beginning to worry about the future of women in technology. Recently, link-bait articles with provocative headlines like “Can Women Have it All?” that appear regularly in the press have become infuriating. Each one wants an easy answer and fails to recognize the complexity of the issue.

In the past few months, as these articles have been focusing more and more on prominent figures at technology companies in the Bay Area, I have found myself very close to the epicenter of this controversy. Most recently, I’ve been fascinated by the backlash against Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for having the nerve, in her new book, Lean In, to suggest that women shouldn’t back away from pursuing their goals. Then I found out last week that a woman was fired from her job as a developer at a technology company for, presumably, calling out sexist behavior at a programming conference I had just attended. As much as I’ve tried to avoid taking sides in this controversy, I feel it has become unavoidable.

Adria Richards’ experience illustrates beautifully the complexities at play. Ms. Richards “called out” some men sitting near her at a Python coding conference, PyCon, for making what she felt to be inappropriate jokes of a sexually demeaning nature. She explained later that she was not bothered by these jokes. However, the idea that the jock mentality and associated “harmless” sexist jokes would continue to keep women from feeling comfortable in this male dominated culture made her speak up. She tweeted about it. She posted her thoughts on her blog.

In response, she has been publicly ridiculed, called offensive names online, suffered a denial of service attack on her website, and been fired from her job. To be fair, I don’t know her or any of the parties involved, and this is a complicated example in which I’m not sure we could possibly have all the facts. Still, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say she didn’t deserve the response she received. The attacks were pretty horrific, and the threats were female-specific and wished violent harm upon her person.

Sadly, the name calling and the ridicule don’t really surprise me. I’ve come to expect that this is what happens when you speak up about something that many want to write off as “just a joke.” What shocked me most was that she was fired from her job, and that her employer stated he felt that because of this incident she would be unable to effectively perform her job. Even if there were other circumstances that may have given her employer cause to let her go, this action is bound to send the message that it’s better to shut up than speak up if you want to remain employed, and employable.

Article after article has been written analyzing if or how Ms. Richards should have confronted these men. How she might have handled the situation differently. Why she was right or wrong in doing what she did. Almost everyone seems to have an opinion. I find myself agreeing with at least half of almost every article I read about the situation — even when the articles completely disagree about the right thing to do. At the same time, I am reminded of my first brush with “workplace harassment.”

I moved to St. Louis for the summer after my sophomore year in college to complete my first internship at McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace company. I arrived armed with my very first wardrobe of business clothes. I brought suit jackets, skirts, dress pants, and silk blouses to wear underneath the jackets. With the clothes to complement my education, I felt as prepared as I could be for my first summer as a woman in manufacturing management. What can I say? I was young. Naive.

St. Louis is hot and sticky in the summer, but the office had air conditioning. One particularly warm day, I had removed my jacket and hung it on the back of my chair in the cubicle I was sharing with a middle-aged guy on my team. While standing in the cubicle doorway, attempting to have a conversation with this man about some work topic, he decided to make a comment about how “it must be cold” in the office. I was immediately embarrassed, horrified, and completely at a loss as to what to do. I made a quick decision to blow off the comment, put my jacket back on, and find something outside the cubicle that needed to be done right at that moment. (I’ve never been particularly skilled at the art of the snappy comeback.)

Every woman handles these situations differently. I was never one to rock the boat. I guess I always hoped that the man’s common decency would assert itself once he realized his comments did not have the desired effect (unless his desired effect was to make me uncomfortable…). I assumed he, too, would be embarrassed, and maybe in the future he would not make the same inappropriate remarks. However, was that enough? What if he wasn’t embarrassed at all, but thought it was okay because I didn’t say anything? What if he said that to other women, other interns, all because I didn’t speak up and say something? If I had said something, would I have still been given a glowing review and asked to return the following summer? Or would I have been labeled a “trouble maker” or a “drama queen.”

Sixteen years later, I am still working in an environment where jokes like this are the norm. I’ve sat through mandatory harassment briefings at all but my most recent employer, and said to myself (only once out loud), “but what if it doesn’t bother me?” The answer, I’m told, is that it doesn’t matter. Regardless of my above-average tolerance level, others may be offended. The rational minds in Human Resources suggest that the best course of action is to speak up and say, “hey, that’s inappropriate.” Clearly these well-intentioned HR people have never worked in the environments they warn us about. Because, as we find time and again, if you call someone out as being inappropriate, you immediately become a target. A stick-in-the-mud at best. A heinous, man-hating bitch, at worst. Or maybe not worst, maybe worst are the threats of a physical attack.

I’ve been banging my head against this wall for my entire adult life because I chose to work in a male-dominated field. Have I done everything right? Hell no. Would I go back and change things? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I speak up if I found myself in the same situation as Adria Richards? I’d like to think I would, but clearly I’ve been in those situations before and remained silent. Would I react differently now? I honestly don’t know.

“Boys will be boys.” We hear that all the time in our culture. The phrase is as frequently used to describe children as adults. Most often it is used to explain away behavior that, if exhibited by the opposite sex, might be considered inappropriate or unacceptable. Even in our enlightened age, there are still many things that are socially acceptable for men, but not for women, to do and say.

In American culture, it is socially acceptable for men to: go bald, let their hair go grey, sport a pot belly that hangs over their belt, yell, swear, and drink excessively, and yet still be considered successful and even distinguished. It is entirely acceptable for men to sleep around, remain unmarried, decide not to have children, put their career first, exaggerate their accomplishments, be insensitive, and play hardball. Can you tell me what the female equivalent of “cocky” is?

Of course you can probably think of exceptions to these assertions. Of course you want to tell me that it is perfectly acceptable in this day and age for women to remain unmarried or to decide not to have children, or to put their career first. I will tell you, as a married woman who has decided not to have children, I have watched nearly all my male coworkers squirm under the desire to ask me when/if I will have children while knowing that they are forbidden by HR to do so. It is ridiculous that I should feel as though I need to put their mind at ease by explaining that I will not be running to their office in a matter of months requesting maternity leave.

So, for a start, let’s be honest about where we are as a culture. I want to live in a society where it’s socially acceptable for women to be aggressive, even cocky. I also want to live in a society where it’s okay for men to not have to be those things in order to be successful. Because this is where I think the gender issue begins to fail — when it becomes women against men. Us against them. It’s more or less a 50 / 50 split along those lines, and before you know it we end up in the same deadlock that our American political system is in. We retreat to our respective sides, call each other names, and progress is stalled. When, in reality, we all benefit from gender equality. Meanwhile, young women think, “I don’t want to deal with that mess,” and move into other pursuits. Bye-bye, STEM.

Women and men of my generation, and younger generations, are doing much to eliminate, or at least dramatically reduce the ideas and environments that reinforce the “male, macho, technologically inclined” stereotype as much as the “female, delicate, emotionally inclined” stereotype. We grew up trying to fit ourselves into these uncomfortable and limiting boxes and are actively trying to break down those barriers for today’s youth.

I have two nieces. I want them, and all little girls, to grow up in a world where it is socially acceptable for them to be aggressive, assertive, mechanically competent, strong, and proud of their accomplishments. I hope they never have to confront someone who tells them that as long as they’re beautiful, it’s okay if they’re not smart.

I have one nephew. I want him, and all little boys, to grow up in a world where it is socially acceptable for them to be delicate, gentle, artistic, sensitive, thoughtful, and kind. I hope he never has to confront someone who tells him he shouldn’t do something or wear something because “it’s gay.”

I hope someday, if they ever read this, they will wonder why everyone made such a fuss about sexism and gender stereotypes because, of course we’re all equal, and of course we each have our own interests, and these have nothing to do with our sexual orientation. I hope that’s all they know because that’s just how it is, how it should be. If that means it’s time for me to start speaking up, I guess a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

February reading summary and March TBR

I read (almost) everything on my February TBR! And I went to a writing workshop, plus edited a huge chunk of my novel… AND I started a new job (same company) this month! So, overall February was a major win for me.

Here is what I read in February with my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

February2017

  • Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and CynthiaWard (kindle) — excellent tips and writing exercises, highly recommend this for all writers
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (hardcover, signed special edition) — sweeping multi-generation saga with fantastic writing, definitely lives up to the hype
  • Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor  (kindle) — starts off a little slow, but gets really interesting when Binti gets into the deep desert, left me wanting more
  • The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac: Volume 2 edited by The Book Smugglers (kindle) — this is so full of excellent essays and short stories all relating to the theme of amazing, powerful, and diverse women, highly recommend buying this
  • Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison (kindle) — insightful and thought provoking literary critique on the role of African Americans in “classic” American Literature

Next month I’m planning on catching up with new books and pre-orders. I have one roll-over from February, two that I bought last month but didn’t get a chance to read, one new book out on library loan, and two pre-orders that will show up at the end of March.

Here’s what’s on my TBR for March (links go to Goodreads):

March2017TBR

  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N. K. Jemisin (kindle, pre-order) — My one hold over from my February TBR. I switched gears from reading to writing after the writing workshop, and before I knew it, the month was over. I am dying to read this, but I really want a chunk of uninterrupted time to read so I can immerse myself in this world I love.
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (kindle, library) — Somehow I managed to get this from the library within weeks of its release date, on kindle. I’m slightly shocked. I haven’t started it yet, but I’m not about to let this opportunity slip out of my hands. However, I definitely need to read this before the end of March due to some incoming pre-orders that will require my kindle to be off airplane mode.
  • A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) by V. E. Schwab (kindle, pre-order) — It’s the last book in this series! Book 2 ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, so I’m anxious to see what happens. It took all my willpower not to just dive right in, but I really want to savor this one. So, I’m making myself wait until I’m done with my edits…
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (kindle, pre-order) — I’ve been following this author and book since she got her agent. I am so excited to read this book that I think I will likely dive into this one before all the others.
  • Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1) by Laini Taylor (kindle, pre-order) — I just talked about this one in my Mar/Apr pre-order post, so all I’ll say here is that I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time, but I still might hold off a few days so I can devour it in one go over the weekend. If I do, that will technically roll this to my April TBR, but whatever.
  • A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen, #2) by Roshani Chokshi (kindle, pre-order) — I also talked about this one in my Mar/Apr pre-order post. This happens to come out on the same day as Laini Taylor’s book, which is going to make for some hard decisions for me… BUT, I think I may dive into this one first. I have a feeling this is going to be one I won’t want to put down, which means I’ll probably be reading on the sly on my phone when I’m supposed to be working. Shhh…

Against my better judgement, I’m getting a little ambitious with my TBR this month. Realistically, I’m never going to have enough free time to read all these books before the end of March. Maybe I would if all I wanted to do is read (which is sometimes the case). But, I finally had a break-through on something that was bugging me about one of my novels after getting feedback from a freelance editor. Now I’m in the middle of frantically revising, trying to finish before I lose the thread. That alone will likely take most of my free-time in March. I also have two other writing projects I want to work on, plus I’m in the middle of ramping up on my new position in my day job. So, yeah. March is going to be a busy month, but reading (and swimming) is what keeps me sane. So, as usual, I’ll find (make) time for everything.

New books I’ve pre-ordered for March and April 2017

 

I looked over my list of pre-orders for March and April and it was pretty small. Are there really just not that many new SFF books coming out in the next two months? What did I miss?

While I try to figure that out, I’ll share with you the new books that I am excited about and have pre-ordered (either thru Amazon or my local library):

PreOrders-MarApr2017

  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi — Technically, this is supposed to be a post about books I pre-ordered. And technically, I have not only NOT pre-ordered this, I’ve also not yet added it to my hold list at the library (I did recommend they get the ebook, though). Anyway… I’m including it here because I am cautiously excited about this book. I really like John Scalzi (the person, or at least how he appears on the internet), and I really love space opera. But, (and I know this is maybe going to sound terrible to some people) lately I’m just not that excited about SFF written by white dudes, and maybe especially not space opera written by white dudes. They just seem to be lacking in creativity. Or maybe N. K. Jemisin ruined me forever. Regardless, I know Scalzi is a politically/socially aware white dude. This is why I say I’m “cautiously excited” about this book. I definitely want to read it at some point this year, but I don’t think I’m going to drop everything to do it in the next month. It’s okay. He’ll have plenty of sales. He doesn’t need my money. 🙂
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor — This one, on the other hand, I think I’ve had pre-ordered for over a year. Laini Taylor is an “auto-buy” author for me. When I saw she had a new series coming out, I didn’t even read the blurb, I just hit the pre-order button. But I’m pretty sure that the publication date must have slipped or something. Still, given how much I loved Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, I have high expectations for this new novel and a good feeling that I will not be disappointed.
  • A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi — Okay, I’m a little biased here because I got to meet, learn from, and hang out with Roshani at the writing workshop I attended last weekend (more on that in a future post). This is will be her second book, and if the blurb hint about “poisonous courtesans” has anything to do with the main character from her short story (published in Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac vol 1) called “The Vishakanya’s Choice,” I seriously can not wait to read this one.
  • Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves — This is the one you probably haven’t heard of, but if you like YA Fantasy, you should probably add to your TBR. The blurb on Goodreads sounds very promising, just maybe don’t read the ARC reviews… I’ve been excited about this one for a while because I follow the author on Twitter and she seems pretty fantastic. Technically, I didn’t pre-order this one, but I did request it from my library.

And that’s it for my March/April pre-orders. I had to restrain myself from adding a book I’ve already pre-ordered that comes out on 2 May… I am so excited about it that I really tried to justify how to add it to this list. Here’s a hint to hold you over until my next pre-order post: the author is one of my “problematic faves” and a powerhouse in YA fantasy.

If I missed an awesome book coming out in March or April that you think I’d love, please add your recommendations in the comments. I always enjoy learning about new books that should be on my reader radar.

Pop update: culture consumed week of 6 February

I had pretty much decided to stop doing these posts, but I consumed a lot of really good culture this week. So, I decided to make a summary post, if just for my own personal reference.

I finished three excellent books: Homegoing, Writing the Other, and Home (Binti #2). I’ll write more about these when I do my February wrap-up post, but the links there will take you to my reviews on Goodreads if you don’t want to wait until then.

I also listened to a bunch of podcasts. Two of my favorites had episodes talking about this year’s Oscar nominated documentaries: Code Switch and Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Listening to those episodes made me want to watch I Am Not Your Negro, 13th, and (to a lesser extent because I didn’t even pay much attention to it at the time) the OJ documentary series. So far, I’ve only had a chance to watch 13th (because it’s on Netflix). Next up is probably at least a few episodes of OJ (because it’s also on Netflix).

Everyone seems to be saying that I Am Not Your Negro is the favorite for this category, but I gotta say, 13th is SO GOOD. Seriously, you need to go watch this documentary. After I watched the film, I started watching a bunch of interviews with the director. She’s pretty great. Oh, and, she’s directing the film version of A Wrinkle in Time (one of my favorite childhood novels). After seeing 13th, I’m even more excited to see what she does with A Wrinkle in Time

I also should mention that the Code Switch episode got me listening to “Road to Zion” by Damien Marley, featuring Naz. It’s catchy. I usually don’t like reggae, but I’ve had this song stuck in my head all week. I’ve listened to it more times than I can count, and I’m still not sick of it yet. Make of that what you will.

If that’s not out of character enough for me, I also read Libba Bray’s “Womanifesto” blog post this week that was making the rounds on “book Twitter.” My husband (who I passed this on to after reading it) pointed out that it’s basically a poem. I suppose he’s right. I hadn’t noticed. But, I don’t read a lot (almost any) of poetry. It’s not usually my jam, but this I enjoyed.

If I keep this up, the next thing you know I’m going to become a fan of musicals and start listening to jazz… That reminds me of another big name movie that’s getting a lot of Oscar buzz… but, nah… there’s no way you’re getting me to watch La La Land. Not gonna happen.

I should also mention, I’m caught up on season 4 of The 100 now. So far, it appears to be off to a slow start, but I’m going to stick with it for now. On the other hand, I am LOVING season 2 of The Magicians (even though a thing that I knew was going to have to happen finally happened this week and that makes me a little sad… I’d say more, but spoilers…).

Oh! I also want to mention this one post on Tor.com about political structures in fantasy novels vs. sci-fi novels that I found to be thought provoking. I hadn’t even really realized it, but the author makes a good point — most fantasy novels are about restoring monarchies, which is a little odd when you consider that sci-fi is almost never about restoring monarchies. Sci-fi is usually about toppling dictators or evil empires, and establishing republics. I mean, the author doesn’t have data to support this, but these are tropes of the respective genres, which means that these themes are prevalent enough to have become a trope.

That article has me thinking about my own writing and considering if I’ve unconsciously fallen in line with the established tropes in my novels, or if I’ve done something a little different. In at least one of my fantasy novels, I think I’ve done something a little different. In that novel, there is no monarchy to re-establish in the first place. There is a family who holds power at the start of the story, but the power dynamic at the end is different than it is at the start (no spoilers…). My sci-fi novel, however, may fit the bill for what’s expected re: toppling dictators and establishing republics…

See? I told you. Lots of really good culture consumed this week… and I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting. As always, if you have thoughts on any of this stuff, or recommendations for stuff I should check out, let me know in the comments.

January reading summary and February TBR

I only managed to read 4 books in January, and one of them was a novella. But, it’s not bad for a month where my brain was highly preoccupied with work/life decisions and politics.

January2017

Here is my very brief assessment of each (links go to Goodreads):

  • Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (kindle) — I am such a sucker for books set in the dance world, and this did not disappoint. If you also love books about dancers, and/or YA psychological thrillers, you’ll probably also enjoy this book.
  • Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire (kindle) — This one wasn’t really my jam, but if you like ghosts and witches, you may really love this novella.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (kindle) — I enjoyed this one and read it really quickly. But, it contained a few elements that aren’t really my favorite. I’m not a big fan of “underworld” settings, and I’m not a big fan of the fantasy trope where the hero is keeping a great big secret that he can’t tell the heroine and she just has to trust him (like Beauty and the Beast). If you’re into those types of stories, you’ll probably really love this book.
  • Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski (kindle, library) — This is the book that they should use as a reference text in sex ed classes. I was a little bummed by the fact that it’s very much a “pop” science book. I probably would have enjoyed slightly less “pop” and slightly more “science,” but there are footnotes galore for anyone looking to follow up and get more science. Overall, I think this is a very important book (even if you think you know everything about your body and your sex life is great) that more people need to know about.

What I plan to read in February…

February2017TBR

I’ve decided to include as many books by black authors as much as possible on my February TBR in honor of Black History Month. Here are the books I’ve selected to read this month (links go to Goodreads):

  • Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward (kindle) — This is an essay based on a 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop that I’m reading in preparation for the world-building workshop I’m attending this month. So excited!
  • Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison (kindle) — This is another short non-fiction work I’m reading in preparation for the world-building workshop I’m attending this month. So excited!
  • Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor (kindle) — This one just came out on Tuesday. I had it pre-ordered, but I had to wait until I’d finished my (overdue) library loan before I could turn my Kindle off airplane mode and pull down this novella.
  • The Book Smugglers’ Quarterly Almanac: Volume 2 by various authors (kindle) — I started this over Christmas break, and I’ve been skipping around, reading the various essays and reviews. I haven’t got to the short fiction yet, but so far everything is top notch. Just like the first volume.
  • The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N. K. Jemisin (kindle) — I’m so excited to read this follow up to what ended up being my favorite book I read in 2016.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gaasi (hardcover) — I’ve had this on my TBR for WAY too long. Months ago, I got about 50 pages in and had to put it down. Yesterday, I re-started it from the beginning. Now I’m about 1/3 of the way done with it, and I plan to finish this by the end of this week. My delay in reading this has nothing to do with how much I like it. It’s purely a form-factor thing. I just have limited time available for reading hardcover books.

Since several of these are shorter length pieces, I think this is a totally do-able TBR for February. And, since I’m working on setting more realistic goals for myself, that’s a good thing. Maybe more on that in a future post… Until then, Happy Groundhog’s Day! I hope you have plenty of good books to read to get you through the six more weeks of winter predicted by that lovable, marmot mascot, Phil! 🙂

Pop update: what’s making me happy this week

The news is dire and it just keeps coming. I am refusing the urge to ignore it. Instead, I’ve made a commitment to myself to stay engaged and take action where I can (like calling my representatives). But every once in a while I need a break from the madness (see also: “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind“).

This week, those breaks have mostly been in the form of TV and movies.

I watched Hell or High Water. Very entertaining, tense at times, but good cinematography and great acting. Plus, Chris Pine is damn fine.

I adored the first episode of the second season of The Magicians, and I’m so excited for the next episode. I really like how they’ve adapted the source material. The changes they’ve made make the story SO MUCH BETTER.

And I enjoyed this little Vlogbrothers video “On Motivation.” Sometimes you just need an inspirational quote.

That’s what’s making me happy this week. I’m planning to do a January wrap-up post in a few days where I talk about the books I read this month and how I did on my goals for this month.

Until then: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Pop Update: culture consumed week of 16 January 2017

Here is my summary of this week’s culture consumed:

  • Books read:
    • I finished Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day… it wasn’t my favorite, but it was good. I’m just not a big fan of witches and ghosts. I knew that going in and tried it anyway. But I never really got into it and there were some world-building and plot things that I got hung up on. I still love her Wayward Children series and am looking forward to Down Among the Sticks and Bones scheduled to come out this summer. This one just wasn’t for me.
    • Other than that, my reading has been pretty scattered this week… I’ve been struggling to stay focused enough to read, which is very uncharacteristic for me, but understandable in the context of this past week.
  • Podcast episodes:
    • I really enjoyed the final two episodes of Code Switch‘s series on Obama’s legacy
    • I listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour‘s episode discussing Hidden Figures the day after I watched the movie, and I’m really glad I did. It was nearly like getting to gush about this movie with friends.
    • I also listened to episodes from Smart Podcast Trashy Books, Reading The End, and a few others I subscribe to, but Code Switch and PCHH are the episodes that really stuck with me this week.
  • Magazines and other news:
    • As planned, I sort of avoided the news this week…
  • Movies and TV:
    • We watched the Sherlock season finale on Monday. This was a REALLY tense and uncomfortable episode to watch for me… Not my favorite. I liked episode 2 WAY better. Plus, this really feels like a *series* finale instead of just a *season* finale, which makes me a little sad…
    • I devoured the remaining episodes of The Crown on Netflix. I really love this series, and I’m still thinking about it. Sounds like we might get season 2 in November? I can’t wait.
  • YouTube:
    • I watched Oprah’s full interview with Michelle Obama, but now I can’t find anything but little clips of it. It was inspiring, and I loved it.
    • I also caught up on some of the videos from channels I subscribe to and watched a few more fan theory videos about The Force Awakens.

Queued up next…

  • From my TBR: I don’t really know… I may just have to drop everything that I’m currently reading and start The Star-Touched Queen
  • On my podcast app: Other than Writing Excuses, I may go light on the podcasts this week… Lately, podcast time has been during commute time, and I think this week I may want to focus more on using that time for reading rather than podcasts.
  • Streaming on video: I’m so excited that The Magicians returns next week for season 2 on the SyFy channel! (I’ll be watching online)

If you have thoughts on any of the above, or recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!