May reading summary and June TBR

Lately, I feel like all I can think about, all I want to think about, is books and writing. Seriously. I’ve become a bit obsessed.

Here are the books I read in May (links go to Goodreads):

  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — I hate to say it, but I was really disappointed in this book. I had a LOT of issues with the first book in this series. I LOVED the second book in this series. And this one, the third book (but, oh no, not the last… why not? why do we need more? ugh.) disappointed me. I never felt like any of the characters were in any real danger. There wasn’t a lot of tension. The plot was incredibly linear with no real surprises. Even the “surprise betrayal” at the end wasn’t really a betrayal, or even a surprise. I don’t know. I think I’m just done with SJM for a while. She does what she does well, but I’m just not that into what she does anymore, and I think there are others out there who may be doing it better, or at least taking this type of story in new directions. I think it’s time for me to go find those books.
  • Act Like It by Lucy Parker (Kindle, library) — This one took me a while to get into. The voice is very British (it’s set in the London theater scene and the characters are British), which I enjoyed, but it took me a minute to adapt. Also, I know almost nothing about the theater, so all theater references were completely lost on me. Still, this is a really well written romance novel and, once I got into it, I devoured it and really enjoyed it.
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Kindle, library) — Oh, man did I ever love this book. I loved it more than I thought that I would, and it gave me the worst “book hangover” after I finished it. All I wanted to read was more books with these characters set in this world and that doesn’t yet exist, which completely bummed me out. In case you were wondering, (unsurprisingly) Kiva Lagos is my favorite character. And, if you’ve read the book and loved it, you should check out this “fan-casting” post for an excellent take on who should play what part in the inevitable movie version of this book.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Kindle) — I am so late to the party on this book. I’ve had it forever, but never got around to reading it. I still haven’t read her Shadow and Bone series that came before this and is set in the same world. It was a good choice to follow The Collapsing Empire and helped pull me out of my “book hangover” because it’s a very good heist novel and adventure story with excellent characters. I immediately reserved the companion book from the library so I could find out what happens next.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (Kindle, library) — I really, really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. There’s so much to enjoy here, the characters are well crafted, the setting is vivid and unique. But one thing I was particularly pleased by was the swimming. I’m always nervous reading books that feature characters who are swimmers. But, I have to say, as a competitive swimmer through high school who now participates in Masters Swimming, the author did a GREAT job with the swimming stuff.

I certainly crammed a lot of reading into this month. Over 2,200 pages, if you count my in-progress books. Nice work, me!

I will say that having a relaxing beach vacation in there with no internet connectivity and a hammock in the shade really helped. Alas, I have no beach vacations planned for June. Oh well.

At least having several days without internet helped ween me off my obsessive Twitter addiction. The downside is that I am feeling like I have no idea what’s going on in the world. The upside is that I don’t really mind taking a bit of a break from knowing what’s going on in the world… and also, more reading time.

Assuming that I can continue to steer clear of internet distractions, I’d really like to check off some more of my 2017 Read Harder challenge task list in June. Plus there are so many awesome new releases that I’d like to read. But, rather than list all the books I *might* read in June, I tried to narrow my TBR down to just the books I think it’s very likely that I’ll read in June.

So far, these are the books on my June TBR (links go to Goodreads):

  • Kraken by China Miéville (Kindle) — I started this for #TomeTopple back in April, and I’ve been chipping away at it since then. I’m enjoying it, but it is NOT a fast read.
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo (Kindle, library) — I started this but didn’t have time to finish this before the end of May. It’s a library loan, so I need to finish it before Our Dark Duet comes out on 6/13 or else I won’t be able to take my Kindle off airplane mode to get my pre-order on release day. (#ReaderProblems)
  • Lux and Lies by Meg Collett (paperback) — I met Meg at Madcap earlier this year. She’s awesome, and I’m so excited to read this first book in her new series that just released in May. It’s being pitched as “Mr. Robot meets UnReal in a story of celebrities and anarchists,” and it sounds fantastic. I’m hoping I have time to sneak this in between Crooked Kingdom and Our Dark Duet.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi (Kindle, library) — I requested this from my library, but I’m not sure if I’m going to get it this month or not. If I don’t get a notification soon, I may just break down and buy a copy because I really, REALLY want to read this book.
  • Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (Kindle, pre-order) — This one is going to be a “drop everything and read immediately” book. I am SO excited for this companion book to This Savage Song, which was one of my favorite books I read last year. Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, it’s written by one of my favorite authors.
  • Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Trade paper) — I’ve been waiting FOREVER for volume 2 of this comic. I *think* it’s finally going to ship this time. Fingers crossed, it arrives on 6 June. Woo hoo!

Basically, June looks like it’s going to be a big month for new releases. There are a few more that I haven’t even listed here that I’ve requested at the library. I’m hoping that I get them, but I won’t know if they ordered them or not until after release day. Somewhere in here I also have to squeeze in some more backlist books to check off Read Harder tasks. I could seriously make a full time job of reading. And writing. 🙂

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Recommendations needed for what to read from books on my ebook TBR

One of my reading goals for 2017 was to stop buying more books (especially ebooks on sale) and put a dent in the backlist of books already on my Kindle.

So far, I’m doing pretty well with the book buying ban. Of the 16 ebooks I’ve purchased this year, only 5 are unread. One is a new release that I’ll probably read in June. The other four I bought on sale, but will almost definitely read this year.

But, because I’ve been reading (and buying) a lot of new releases, I haven’t put much of a dent in my backlist of ebooks. I’ve been pulling from my backlist wherever possible to meet my 2017 Read Harder Challenge tasks. A few of the books below are ones I plan to read for to-be-completed tasks, but there are still almost 100 fiction books on my Kindle TBR.

So, I’m putting the question to you, dear readers. What do you see below that is jumping out at you? What’s on here that, knowing what you know about me from my blog (or IRL), you can’t believe I haven’t read yet and absolutely need to read next? What am I going to love?

Comment below (or respond on Twitter) and tell me your thoughts on what I should read next and/or what I should put onto my upcoming vacation TBR. Alternatively… tell me which ones I can skip without feeling bad. 😉

How to share a lane when lap swimming

If you happen to arrive at your pool for lap swim and find an empty lane, count yourself lucky and enjoy it while you can. As the sport of swimming (and especially triathlons) becomes more and more popular, you’ll probably find your pool getting more and more crowded during lap swim. This means at some point you’re going to have to share a lane.

Regardless if you’re the first one there and someone is joining you, or if you’re the one trying to join in an already occupied lane, sharing a lane is less fun than having a lane all to yourself. But, everyone paid the same amount of money to enjoy the pool. So, be a good pool citizen and don’t be a dick about sharing lanes.

There’s an etiquette to lane sharing that, once you know it and use it, can make everyone a lot happier. It’s not as good as having your own lane, nothing is, but it makes sharing a lane suck less. So, follow the lane-sharing tips I provide below, and I promise it will make the experience less awful for everyone.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think this advice applies equally to newbie lap swimmers and folks who have been swimming laps for a while and think they got this (spoiler: unless you are/were a competitive swimmer, you probably don’t “got this”…). I feel compelled to write this post because I’ve had three separate run-ins this week with folks who are regular swimmers at the pool I go to and who seem to be unaware of this etiquette to joining an already occupied lane. They’re not new to lap swimming, but they each violated one of the “don’t do this” bullets I’ve included below.

So, you, dear blog readers, get the joy of reading this blog post instead of my usual posts on writing and books…

My advice for joining an already occupied lane in a lap swimming pool:

It should go without saying, but if you are attempting to join a lane occupied by another person, it must mean that all the available lap swimming lanes are currently occupied by at least one person. If there is an empty lane, take it! If not, ideally try to find a lane with a lap swimmer who is swimming about the same speed as you. This will help immensely if the pool gets really crowded and you have to absorb a third swimmer into your lane and (horror!) begin circle swimming.

Once you’ve picked your lane to join, you have two options:

Option 1: If the person already swimming happens to stop at the wall, get their attention and let them know you’d like to share their lane. They may be in the middle of a set. So, they may not have time to stop and talk, but they will likely nod, spit out a few words of response, and move over to one side before resuming their workout. You can now jump in, take the other side, and start swimming.

If they don’t stop, or you can’t get their attention, don’t worry, just proceed to option 2…

Option 2: The person swimming may be in the middle of a long set, or just “in the zone.” Don’t worry, they aren’t (likely) ignoring you on purpose. Once you have all your gear on and are ready to get into the pool, wait for them to be headed toward you, then jump in and stand (or float vertically, holding onto the wall) at the end of the lane. This will make you visible to the other swimmer and they will either stop to acknowledge you and welcome you to the lane, or move over and just keep swimming. Either way, once they’ve made their turn at the wall and moved over, you’re free to start swimming, even if they didn’t stop to talk. (Note: you may want to give them a bit of room and wait a few seconds before you start swimming to space things out a bit so you’re not swimming right next to them.)

Now, a word of caution… For the love of the water PLEASE DO NOT do any of the following:

  • DO NOT jump in and start swimming toward someone who can’t see you. If you jump in and start swimming, and I’m not facing you, I can’t see you. If your body is horizontal in the water and so is mine, we’re both probably looking at the bottom of the pool which means that it’s harder to see you. Stay vertical at the end of the lane until you’re sure that the other swimmer sees you. If you don’t, you’re risking a head on collision at full speed and someone’s going to get hurt. Don’t do it.
  • In general, lap swimming rules specify NO DIVING. So, this one is simple. DON’T DIVE IN. I don’t care if you think it’s clear, or if you’re in the deep end, or if you’re a great diver. It doesn’t matter. The rule is “no diving” for a reason. If there is already someone in the lane, IT’S NOT SAFE. Diving in doesn’t alert the person in the water to your presence until you’re already in the water and swimming. You might miscalculate and accidentally dive on top of them. You might start swimming toward them and end up in a head on collision. Just DON’T DIVE IN. It’s simple.
  • Please try to avoid submerging a kick board vertically at the end of the lane and waving it back and forth to get the swimmer’s attention and make them stop swimming. For most competitive (and previously competitive) swimmers, this signals STOP! EMERGENCY! It gives them a minor fear-based adrenaline rush when they see that kick board waving. They expect you’re going to tell them to clear (get out of) the pool for an emergency. Joining a lane isn’t an emergency. Just follow Option 2 above and you’ll be fine. I promise. No kick board necessary.

One last word of advice… if all the lap lanes already have 2 people splitting the lane, you’re going to have to be patient and you’re probably going to have to circle swim (counter-clockwise, always, right-hand rule, like driving). Find a lane with a pair of swimmers that appear to be swimming about the same speed as you (this is critical for happy circle swimming), and wait until one or both of them have stopped. Let them know that you’d like to join them. Ask if they are comfortable circle swimming.

This is slightly more complicated to coordinate, so it’s better if you can be patient and wait for someone to stop swimming and talk to you. But, if you’re in a hurry, initiate Option 2. Getting into the lane and waiting patiently at the wall will let them know you’re there. Still wait for them to stop and coordinate before you try to start swimming. Even in this instance, you don’t need to resort to waving the kick board in the water unless it’s a real emergency.

And now… back to our regularly scheduled program of blog posts on books and writing. Hope this helped (or at least entertained) any lap swimmers who may be reading my blog. Now, if I could just find a way to send this to all the folks who swim laps at my local pool…

Birthday book haul

Check out all the lovely books I got for my birthday!

In case you can’t tell from the picture, I got the Penguin Galaxy special editions of Dune and The Left Hand of Darkness, both books that I’ve read and LOVED (Dune is one of my top five favorite books. The addition of this volume means I now own 2 hardcovers, 1 paperback, and 1 Kindle version of this book). Both have introductions written by Neil Gaimen and just look at them! They’re beautiful! I love them, and now I have an excuse to re-read them. 🙂

Also by Ursula Le Guin, author of The Left Hand of Darkness and a writer who I admire very much, is the classic writing book Steering the Craft. I’ve always wanted this one and now I have it! Hooray!

I also got the rest of the Saga comic trade volumes because, after reading the first volume, I fell in love with this story and had to have the rest.

I’ve been told by so many people now that Paper Girls (also written by Brian Vaughan) is really good. So, I put that on my wishlist as well and the birthday fairy (Mom) granted my wish.

Plus, just for fun and maybe some additional inspiration on days I’m feeling less than motivated to get my butt to the pool, I got this cute little book called The Joy of Swimming which features a bunch of fun swimming facts and pretty watercolor illustrations.

And, because I can’t resist (look at them! they’re so pretty!) Here’s another shot of the stack…

(Side note: Yes, the printing on the spines of the Penguin Galaxy books is upside down and backwards. I don’t know why. I’m assuming there’s a reason they made it that way? If you know the answer, post it in the comments, please!)

Thanks, Mom!

April reading summary and May TBR

April started off great and then went downhill fast at the end of the month. I got really sick last week, and I haven’t had energy for reading or writing or pretty much anything. I’m still recovering and that means my birthday month is not off to a great start. More on that in a bit. First, let’s recap what I did manage to read before everything went sideways.

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

 

  • A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi (Kindle, pre-order) — I liked this even more than her first book. I think that is because I liked the hero and the heroine more (their banter is great) and because I’m a sucker for a good quest/adventure story. As always, Roshani’s world-building is magical and her writing full of lush descriptions.
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Kindle, pre-order) — I love, love, loved this book. Laini Taylor is #WritingGoals for me when it comes to world-building and telling stories that play with that grey area between “gods” and “monsters” (aka: what you think is good vs. what you think is evil).
  • Gemina by by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Hardcover) — I finally got around to reading (devouring, more like) this sequel to Illuminae. I liked it at least as much as the first book, if not more. I really enjoyed the characters in this one, and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!
  • George by Alex Gino (Kindle) — Middle grade books are not my jam, but I really wanted to read this one to learn more about the experience of transgender kids (I’m pretty sure it’s written by #OwnVoices). I’m also using this one to count for my Read Harder challenge for the “read a frequently banned or challenged” book task.

I have several more in-progress books that I’d planned to finish last week. Now that I’m starting to feel better, I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to finish them. But, other than finishing in-progress (and library loan) books, I’ve decided that I’m not making a TBR for May. Instead, I’m planning on reading exactly what I feel like reading this month, when I feel like reading it.

So far, these are the books I’m interested in reading/finishing in May (links go to Goodreads):

 

  • Kraken by China Miéville (Kindle) — I started this one during Tome Topple, thought I’d finish it in April, but then I got sick. Now I’m planning on finishing this one in May. It’s different than what I usually read, which is good, and I’m enjoying it so far.
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Kindle, library) — I meant to start this one last week (after I finished Kraken), but that didn’t happen. Since it’s on loan from the library, I’d really like to finish this before I have to return it.
  • Act Like It by Lucy Parker (Kindle, library) — I requested that my library purchase this on Kindle, and they just notified me that they did and my loan is ready to read. I wasn’t really expecting that, but I think this will be a light, fun, fast read, just the sort of thing to read when you’re not feeling well.
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (Kindle, pre-order) — I’ve been looking forward to this book, even though SJM has been squarely in my “problematic faves” category of authors since at least ACoTaR, if not before. I could write an entire essay on my issues with her books (and it’s why I’ve been putting off reading Empire of Storms), but I really want to know what happens in this series. So, I’m reading this, but I’m definitely not pre-ordering any more of her books.

Here’s hoping that May starts to get better soon. I think the universe may be telling me that I need to just chill a bit more. I’m planning on taking the hint and taking it easy this month.

New books I’ve pre-ordered for May and June 2017

There are SO MANY excellent books coming out in May and June. Most of them are books that I’ve been waiting for FOREVER.

Here are the new books that I’m impatient to get my hands on and have pre-ordered (either thru Amazon or my local library, links go to Goodreads):

 

  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (2 May) — I had some serious issues with ACoTaR (and the TOG series, tbh…), but I loved ACoMaF which ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. So, I’m very excited to get back to this world/story and see what happens next.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (9 May) — When I read the description and found out that one of the main characters is a swimmer and swimming laps was important enough to the story that it made it into the blurb, I knew I had to read this book. Plus, Julie Murphy is AWESOME, and I’ll read anything she writes.
  • Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (16 May) — I’ve waited so long for another book set in the Queen’s Thief world by MWT, and now it’s here! This is one of my all time favorite fantasy series.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (30 May) — I’ve heard nothing but great things about this book. It’s set in SF at a coding camp and the romance sounds super sweet. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (13 June) — This one is a sequel of sorts to Every Heart A Doorway, and I’ve been waiting for it eagerly ever since I noticed that they put a “#1” series designator on EHaD. This one features two of my favorite characters from the novel. I can’t wait.
  • Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (13 June) — The first book in this series was possibly my favorite YA book I read last year, and if you read this blog regularly, you probably already know how much I love everything VES writes (though Vicious is still always my favorite, and you’ll be able to hear my squeeing from miles away when the sequel finally comes out). I love these characters, and I can’t wait to dive back into this world.

May is going to be the best birthday month ever.

If I missed an awesome book coming out in May or June 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.

#TomeTopple Recap: books read, challenges completed

Books read: 2.2

(such nice blue covers…)

Total pages read: 1,305

Challenges completed: 2.2/5
1. Read more than 1 tome — DONE!

2. Read a graphic novel — nope 😦
3. Read a tome that’s part of a series — DONE! (Gemina)
4. Buddy read a tome (use goodreads and twitter to find buddies!) — nope 😦
5. Read an adult novel — Started… (Kraken)

I’ve never participated in a readathon before, and I’m so glad that I decided to do this! It was REALLY fun!

Did anyone else out there participate? If so, what did you read? Feel free to link your blog post or recap video in the comments below. I’d love to check it out.

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.