Weekly Ramble Six: I'm Really Back This Time, I Swear

Hey loyal readers (if you exist)! I know it's not Friday, and I know I've been gone for nearly a month without updating, but I'm back today with a weekly ramble, out of time, and probably short, but I want to get you up to date, and I didn't want to wait until this Friday to do it, since you've already waited so long.

So! What happened? Well, I got sick, first with a cold, then with a sinus infection, then with bronchitis. I'm still not entirely over the bronchitis, but close enough. Also, one of my lovely cats broke his tail, and had to get it amputated. He's fine now, if grumpy because of the cone he has to wear. November (and the start of December) was just generally miserable, and I got very little writing done, both fiction and nonfiction. I did, however, do a lot of decision making? Plotting? Picking away at things? Thinking? Things that aren't writing, but are necessary to doing writing in the future, so I don't feel like November and December were complete wastes.

So, here's what's going on:

Sea Witch has been put on the back burner while I do some thinking and researching about the plot & revolutions. I wrote myself into a corner in November, cut some stuff, and then realized that I'd reached a point where I really wasn't sure what should be going on big-picture-wise, and I need to figure that out before I continue. Its current wordcount is 18,742.

This isn't a problem, though, because I started reading through my first draft of Mendenhall (which I'm in the process of retitling as well) on the first of December, and on Saturday afternoon while I was inputting some notes into Scrivener, the changes that I need to make to the structure overall just clicked into place, and I rewrote the whole outline in about 45 minutes. Bad news is that this is going to necessitate a nearly complete rewrite of the book, but the good news is that I'm feeling really good and invigorated about the whole thing, so it's full steam ahead for the good ship Mendenhall. Yesterday, my first day of the rewrite, I wrote 623 words, and the total overall wordcount is 57,986.

I've also been super lax about book reviews, so out of all the time I missed, you only get 4 book reviews. Still, they're good ones.

Witchmark by C. L. Polk

Witchmark is the kind of book where the romance is sweet, the plot is full of the right kind of tension, and the characters are so real and vulnerable that you can't help but love them and worry about them. I also really enjoyed the fact that this wasn't just another cookie-cutter fantasy England; Polk has really thought through the ways that magic relates with society in her world, and the effects that it has on her characters are both nuanced and impactful. I'm so glad that I pre-ordered this one on a whim; it's one of the most fun books that I read this year, and I can't wait for the next book set in this world!

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

It's hard to write about Spinning Silver without talking about the other book in this "series," Uprooted, much as it's hard to read Spinning Silver after reading Uprooted without comparing the two. These books are not, however, related in anything more than the way that they continuously subvert fairytale tropes. Spinning Silver is a retelling of Rumplestiltskin where Uprooted was a retelling of some tropes without being a retelling of a particular identifiable fairy story, but both have the same relentless rate of reveal that changes your understanding of the story that you're reading every couple of chapters, and a strong focus on female friendship, that I loved so much in Uprooted. I particularly enjoyed the tensions at the start of the book, which centered so much around the ways that the jewish family at the center of the book are othered in their own hometown. The story didn't appeal to me quite as much when it moved into a larger good vs. evil narrative that was still engaging, but not quite as nuanced and personal as the first part of the book. I feel like Uprooted did a better job of keeping things nuanced and personal throughout in a way that Spinning Silver didn't, but that more because Uprooted is a work of genius than because this book is bad. In fact, this book is still really, really good, and I would recommend it if you enjoyed Uprooted. It would also probably be a good winter/holiday read since there is so. much. snow.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

While this book may have at least some of the outward trappings of a "native american mad max" (all things that I'm into, and how it was sold to me on twitter), it is definitely more fantasy than science fiction, and is less about institutional power and more about vulnerability and working through trauma. Not that I have anything against that, and it's definitely a story that needs telling, but I definitely came into it expecting one thing, and got something that looking similar on the surface, but was completely different underneath.

All of that being said, this book is solidly written, the characters are deep and the sort of flawed and vulnerable in the ways that only make you like them more. There's a little bit of romance, a lot of action, and plenty of grit, so if you want all of that in one package, this is the book for you. Plus the premise is wonderful and totally worth your time. Definitely check this one out.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss

Look, I'm not much into Victorian or steampunk stories lately--nothing against them, it just hasn't been what I've had a taste for lately. However, if I had to read a story set in Victorian England, I'm glad it was this one. I love the premise of all the characters being monstrous women, and I love their diverse talents, and the ways that they support themselves in a world that doesn't accept them. The style is unique, with all of the characters piping up to comment on the narrative, but strange as that sounds, it works. Definitely would recommend if monstrous women, Victorian England, or Sherlock Holmes is your thing.

Weekly Ramble Five: Return from Sinus-and-Ear-Infection Hell

Oh man you guys, I have been so sick. Not like, life and death sick? But definitely the nastiest cold followed by a combined sinus-and-ear infection that I can ever remember getting. I'm on the mend now, but took more than a few days off of writing while I vegged out on the couch, spewed mucus from way too many places, and watched all of seasons 1 and 2 of the good place and all of Noelle Stephenson's new She-Ra show on Netflix. Both, by the way, make for excellent sick-viewing. The Good Place is as good as everyone kept telling me it was, and She-Ra was just so amazingly queer. I'm not usually good at watching TV quickly, but being sick makes a lot of time where I was too tired to do research or read, but awake enough to be potentially bored out of my mind. Perfect TV watching time.

In the past two weeks I've added 5,352 words to Sea Witch for a total of 27,984.

Reviews:

The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us by Diane Ackerman

While this book purports to be about 'the ways that humans are working with nature to try to save the planet,' a more realistic description of the contents of this book might read, 'speculation about the outcomes of very preliminary research and projects that would help humans work with nature to save the planet.' That isn't to say that I didn't get a lot out of this book; it's just more science-fictional nonfiction than it is concrete nonfiction. Ackerman definitely starts from projects that are going on right now, but the majority of the book is her speculation about how those projects and findings could go forward, and what they could mean. This book was beautifully written, but if you're looking for just what's going on right now and nothing else, this may not be the right book for you, as it was not for me. I'm giving it four stars because it is well-written, even if I misjudged what it was about.

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden

This is one of those books that I added to my to-read list because it has just too many interesting sounding parts for me to ignore it. Set in South Africa? Dealing with ancient demi-goddesses, AI-uprisings, super-power granting drugs, and plenty of queer characters? Not the kind of thing I'm likely to pass up. And The Prey of Gods delivered on all of its promises. It's genre-bending and queer, plus the writing is solid and the characters all nicely fleshed out. If you like genre-bending, or are just looking for something a little different, check this one out.

Weekly Ramble Four: Embroidery and (not doing) NaNoWriMo

Late update today, but better late than never, right? Things have been a little hectic at my day job this week, so I haven't had a lot of time for book reviews. I have, however, been pretty consistent with my writing, even if my word count per day has been a little low, though I'm not sure if I should blame that on my day job or the stage I'm at with Sea Witch. I've done a lot of what I think of as embroidering this week; there were a couple of sections that I'd already written that needed a little something extra to feel done, so I allowed myself to go back and add a paragraph here, some new characters (including an enby merperson) with backstory there, just so the world that my main characters were living in would feel a little more populated. After all, the story is sort of about belonging and communities and outsiders as much as it is about lesbian revolution, so it felt necessary. That sort of work is a little slower, though, than just barging straight ahead, and while I probably could have left the embroidery until the second draft, I feel better having done it. I also feel like I'm done with it for now, and can go ahead with the barging straight ahead, thought towards what, I'm really not sure. The happy ending that I envisioned seems to retreat at nearly the same pace that I'm writing, and to be honest, I'm beginning to worry that this might be another novel. Whoops?

Anyway, stats. I added 3,215 words to Sea Witch this week, for a total wordcount of 22,632. Not bad!

Some other small business: This seems as good a place as any to announce that I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I've done it in the past, and have learned through those tries that I am a marathoner rather than a sprinter of a novelist. I don't like to take breaks of longer than a couple of days, but I also have an upper limit of how much writing I can do in a regular day without breaking down. Yes, there are those rare, beautiful, frenzied days where I get 1,500 words down on a page in one day, but most days my output is somewhere between 500 and 800, and that's just what works for me.

Best of luck to you who are sprinters, or can be sprinters at need, and are doing NaNo. I have the greatest respect for you, and will be cheering you on all the way to the finish line.

I only have one review for this week, but it's a review of a quality book that you should definitely check out.

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

This is exactly the kind of epic fantasy that I was hoping it would be. It's grim, and it's bloody; it's weird as fuck and it subverts expectations in some really interesting ways. Most importantly, in my book at least, is the protagonist at it's center. Rin is a war orphan with the grit, intelligence, and willpower to ace the test that gets her into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, and then to stay there after her classmates and teachers make it abundantly clear that she is not wanted there because of how she looks, how she talks, where she comes from, and how little money she brought with her. I cannot say how much I love Rin's sheer determination in the face of everything that's stacked against her; with the political climate as it is, and seeing the long struggle on just about every front that we have ahead of us to make the world less awful than it is right now, it's... not comforting, not inspiring, but just heartening to see a character come up against immense odds, both from her peers and her nation's enemies, and just continue to fight, and never give up, never give in to despair, no matter how bad it gets, and just survive to the end, even if she didn't win, even if the changes that she made were incremental. There's a sort of power of solidarity in reading this book that I really appreciated. And yeah, the case can be made that this is a sort of 'villain origin story' with Rin as the villain--but with everything that she's come up against, I can't help but be on Rin's side, even if she doesn't always make the 'good' decision.

If you want a little solidarity in these dark times, or if you're a fan of the grim, the gritty, the bloody, and the weird, definitely read this book.

Weekly Ramble One: Change in Format, and a Vacation

I didn't like devoting this blog entirely to book reviews, and I also didn't like posting the reviews separately since they're so very short, so I'm going to try out a little change in format. I'm going to start doing a weekly check-in post here on the blog; it'll update you on what I've been up to, how my writing is going, and what books I've reviewed in the past week.

I lost a couple of writing days this week to a short vacation that my partner and I took to Chicago. I did some writing on the plane out, but as per usual, didn't manage to get any writing done while I was in Chicago, or on the way back. I could make excuses about how I was tired and busy and there wasn't time but lets be honest, my current project is "fun" until I get to start the second draft of my novel (start date: November 1). I finished the first draft of a novel this year. It's well within my rights to take a couple of days off and really enjoy being back in Chicago, my favorite city in the world. So there.

Anyway, we got back on Tuesday and while I did a little bit of writing on Wednesday, I didn't really feel like I got back into the swing of things until Thursday. This "short project" is really starting to stretch as I get deeper and deeper into the details of the world, but I really do hope to keep it at novella length. Fingers crossed, folks. I added 2,699 to the current project's word count this week, for a total wordcount of 12,332. Here's hoping I can wrap it up before 40,000! (But seriously, though, Ursula and Ariel haven't even met yet, what am I doing, HELP.)

Something else I've been thinking about: do I want keep the names Ursula and Ariel? In the Andersen original they're just "The Sea Witch" and "The Little Mermaid" so really I could name them whatever I want, and I do want to make it clear that this is not Disney's The Little Mermaid. It probably would be smart to change their names.

In any case, here are the books I reviewed this week (Not the books I read this week, because I'm suuuuuper behind on book reviews. I'm trying to do a review a weekday until I'm caught up.):

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

One of the best books I've ever read, and more than deserving of the Hugo that it received. N.K. Jemisin is a genius writer, and tackles both big themes and unique POV shifts while making the book seem like it was easy to write, and I can guarantee it was not, even though it may be easy to read--easy in that it's easy to understand, not easy emotionally. Every book in this series has hit me right in the feels, and messed me up a ton. If you've read the other books in this series, you know what you're in for; if you haven't yet, you absolutely should, because you're missing out.

Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

This book was not my thing, but I can't fault the book. It is well-written with some well-thought-out, if slightly predictable, worldbuilding, and some less predictable (and much more interesting) moral questions regarding genetic engineering and sports. I have to admit that I skimmed the fight scenes; I tend to lose interest during action scenes in movies too, so pure action just really isn't my thing. Plus the predictable (again) love story did nothing for me. Again, though, heterosexual love stories haven't been doing it for me recently. Sue me.

To be honest, this book was a little too predictable and safe for my taste. I can't fault it, though, because that's a me thing, not a this book thing. If boxing in space with genetic engineering & late teenage romance sounds fun to you, give it a shot. It's well-written and good fun. If you've been spoiled and hunger for something a little stranger like me, pass this one by.

Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger

I have a couple of friends who have been on my to read something by Gail Garriger for a while now, and having read Romancing the Inventor, I can say without a doubt that they were right, this was exactly to my taste. I read this in a single day while on vacation, and it was possibly the perfect vacation book for me. Sweet and short and super queer, with an adorable little happy ending to wrap it up. I'll definitely be saving Gail Carriger for the next time I need something relaxing and sweet.