Favorite Books of 2015

Now that we are into December, I wanted to blog about some of my favorite books of 2015. What we read really does affect our ability to write and write well – though sometimes reading can be a distraction from writing. It often is for me. That said, I feel most inspired to write after reading a really wonderful story or a story that had a really good idea but was poorly executed. Those two experiences are a bit opposite, I know. A really good story inspires for the obvious reasons. Faith is restored, and you want to go out and wrangle your newest work into something to compete with that title, with the way it made you feel. I think a lot of writers and readers feel this way, the desire to press forward into newer, more brilliant worlds. It can be done, and you want to be the one to do it next.

The bad stories – I say bad stories, but that’s not quite what I mean – inspire me to do better. There are two kinds of bad stories, to clarify. The first kind is your traditional story that just doesn’t do anything for you. These are few and far between for me, mostly because I’m pretty choosy about what I will crack open these days. I don’t give myself the chance to be exposed. But a few slip through, occasionally, and I find myself yawning or irritated. The book may be good for someone else, but it’s not good for me. That’s a really bad story, one that doesn’t really leave me with anything. I usually close the book and it goes to gather dust somewhere. Like I said, we should assume that most stories I open up are probably not this kind.

Bad story type number two is actually my favorite writing inspiration, because I am the most productive after. This is a story that has some really cool ideas – cool enough that I hang on despite poor execution or other aspects which irritate me. It has something that hooks me, I can see the potential, but it just doesn’t quite stick the landing. Sometimes, it actually crashes and burns utterly. If I really liked that hook, though, I read through it avidly, deconstruct it, and take out the things I like. I spend days afterwards day-dreaming alternate plots and endings, firming up characters or settings. Sometimes, those plots make it into my current Work In Progress. Sometimes they go into a notebook for future novels. To paraphrase Picasso, a good artist steals.

In any case, you wont find any bad stories in this list, either Type I or Type II. The good stories below range from the fun to the deep and dark, but I enjoyed them all immensely. Disclaimer: not all of them came out in 2015 and they are not in any particular order. To that end, here are my top ten!

Ancillary Justice/Ancillary Sword/Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie

I list these two books together because I’m pretty sure I read Ancillary Justice this year as well. It was one of my library books so I’m not 100% sure, because I read so much that sometimes it’s hard to keep track. In either case, this is probably one of my favorite series I’ve read in a while in terms of making me think. Ancillary Mercy came out in October and I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but I can’t wait to get around to it. Read this book if you like fascinating futuristic societies that explore issues of equality and redefine gender expectations.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin is a rising author right now, adding some much needed diversity to the epic fantasy genre. I am in love with the world of The Fifth Season, for all that it’s a pretty cruel and terrible one. Essun is a fascinatingly complex character, which doesn’t hurt. Read this book if you like totally original fantasy settings, contemplations on slavery and racism, and awesome telekinetic powers.

Dune – Frank Herbert

Yes, this is an oldie, but I hadn’t ever gotten around to reading it before this summer. My partner actually downloaded this book on Audible – notable because he actually doesn’t like SFF that much – and was totally entranced. If you’re looking for an audiobook, this is a great one. The story itself is good, the setting is brilliant, the writing style of course masterful. I was a little sad that our human nature was defined so narrowly in terms of gender constructs, but for the times I feel like Dune was pretty groundbreaking, and it didn’t totally lack for rounded, interesting female characters. Read this if you are trying to brush up on your classics, love strong setting and characterization in your stories, and are looking for a really good audiobook.

Of Sorrow and Such – Angela Slatter

This is actually a novela. And it is amazing. It’s a bit of your typical witch story, in the sense that there are some women born into power who are then hunted or cast out from their society. That’s totally okay, in this case. Slatter’s writing is tight, her characters are fascinating, and her setting is solid. Read this if you like tales of witches, lyrical prose, and morally gray heroines.

Maplecroft – Cherie Priest

This novel is written almost entirely in the form of letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings. A retelling of the Lizzie Borden story set in the U.S. in the 1800s, the book combines Lovecraftian horror with subtle steampunk science and action. I always enjoy Priest’s work because of the amount of research she obviously puts into building her setting. Read this if you like steampunk, scary sea monsters that may be demonic in nature, or have an interest in U.S. based alternate history.

Karen Memory – Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear is one of my heroes. Her Edda of Burdens, specifically All the Windwracked Stars, is one of my favorite books. Karen Memory is a total change in pace from that book, though, and from her well-known Eternal Sky Trilogy. If you are looking for those things, look to her other works. This book is a rollicking steampunk adventure that has all of the best elements of the genre. It also offers a refreshing representation of women who do sex work/did sex work in the time period. Read this if you like steampunk, diverse characters of all stripes, and unlikely heroes. Also, there is a giant robotic kraken.

Tales of the Raksura, Volumes I & II

I had to include these books, but since they are part of a series they go together as one item. This is cheating a little bit, but eh, you’ll survive. The Raksura books contain one of my all-time favorite characters, Moon, an orphaned shape-shifter who turns into an awesome flying lizard-dude. Moon is the best. That is all I can say. These two short story collections include some extra scenes in his life both pre- and post-series. Read this is you like Raksura, Martha Wells, original worlds full of strange creatures, and gender-bending.

Silence – Michelle Sagara

I’ve read a lot of Michelle Sagara’s work, as Michelle West and Michelle Sagara West. I’m really looking forward to Cast in Honor when I get around to reading it. She has an interesting, very intuitive take on her magic systems, and her characters are always powerful and compassionate. In fact, their power comes from their compassion. Reading them is a healing experience, which may seem strange to say but is the best I can describe it, and I cry during almost every book. Silence was no exception. Read this if you love people, intriguing theories on the afterlife, and spoiled rottweilers.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series and InCryptid Series

If I was cheating before I’m definitely cheating now. Including the October Daye series in here, since I started it years ago, is maybe not fair. However, I have read the last seven of them within the past few months after a long hiatus. This series started off slow for me, but once I hit the third book I was off running. And when I finished up to the current release of Red Rose Chain I couldn’t deal with the lack of new books, so I went looking around at Seanan’s other work and found Discount Armageddon, which is an absolutely delightful, fast-paced urban fantasy with strong romance themes. Read Seanan’s books if you like things that go bump in the night, Shakespeare, and women who kick ass.

Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series

Last but not least, I discovered this series and consumed it this year. I call my Kindle the Devourer of Books. The name is not wrong. I knocked the entire Kate Daniels series out this summer in a matter of weeks. One of my favorite things about these books besides the unique post-apocalyptic overtones is the fact that the antagonist of the series is such an interesting lady. Kate took me a little to get used to, but her tension with her biological father and the hostility of her environment kept me engaged. I wouldn’t say the writing of this series is as strong as some of the other books on here, but the imagination and fast-paced action totally pull me in. Plus who doesn’t like a girl with a sword? Read this if you like fascinating apocalypses, mythological gods and beasts, and lots of slicing and dicing.

Writing a sequel

Some of you may know that I began writing the sequel to Mother of Creation in August. If you follow my Twitter, you know that I am a little over 20,000 words in and that, between my full-time job, the things in life that keep me sane like friends and family and reading, and all the other obligations of adulthood, I have been making somewhat halting progress. My word count will lunge forward one week, and then plod the next two. This is, I’m sure, normal.

(At least, I tell myself it is normal. If it isn’t then there isn’t much I can do about it, in any case.)

Writing the sequel has been an interesting challenge for a lot of reasons. I wrote Mother of Creation four years ago. While I have certainly continued editing and working through the text since then, I have changed as a person since I wrote the first book. My relationship with the characters has also changed. That said, I have a pretty clear idea of the overall plot of the Creation Saga. The devil is, as they say, in the details. Getting from point A to point B is a bit like driving down a mountain road drunk. You know where you’re going and how to get there, but you’re not sure how much control you have over the vehicle, and you might wreck and die. Also, the brakes are failing.

When writing the first book, I didn’t have these panicky feelings of “oh I’m going to fuck this up.” Part of that is because it’s hard to hit my stride with this book. And that is because, over the course of the four years that I have been working my way back around to the Creation Saga, I have written several very vivid scenes from all over the timeline for this second installment. Like I said, my views on the characters and their responses have changed a little bit in the interim, and whenever I hit one of these scenes I have to stop, backtrack, and figure out a few things. Does the scene still fit? Usually, this is a yes, but it might need some heavy chopping or a change in POV or some tweaking in language to make it to conform to previous chapters I’ve written more recently.

I know this challenge is making me a better writer. I’m certainly not worried about finishing this book, and I’m confident it will be a great one. But in the interim, writing this is a little more like pulling teeth than usual.

But hey, I’m like a fifth of the way through.

For the love of the craft

There has been a lot of upheaval in the writing world recently, especially in science fiction and fantasy.

Me, I’m a fan. Let me get that out there now. I am a fan of change, of expanding and pressing boundaries, of engaging critically with our roots, our history, our ways of seeing the world. I think that the things that attracted me to SFF were always these things. Even as a child, reading Tolkien, the narrative that I grasped, that I clung to, was not a narrative of convention. How can you read Tolkien and take away from it “be like everyone else, think like everyone else?” Neither Frodo nor Bilbo fit into the boxes of their conservative Hobbit society. Both Frodo and Bilbo, one perhaps more willingly than the other, leave their tiny lives and set out to see a broader, more vast world, full of cultures and ideas they had never conceived of.

I start with Tolkien because for me that is where SFF started. This is not to say that is the same place someone else might start. People come into this genre from all directions. There has been some form of SFF around for a long damn time. Fairytales in England, mythologies of men and women with terrible powers in Greece, time travel and spirits in Japan. The imagination of humankind is wild. It runs amok. Speculative stories, speculative fiction, is not a new thing, only an evolving one. But I digress. The point is, people come at SFF from all sorts of ways because it is vast. It contains multitudes. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be SFF.

So I am a fan of diversifying fiction. I want new stories, new ideas. This is why I read what I read and write what I write. But we all know it can get sticky. It can get hard to know when you are being supportive and when you are absconding with a story someone else would tell better. And it can be hard to look back at those writers that you loved as a child, at their stories, and realize that those writers may not quite be such great people. That their stories might have flaws, might not be accessible for others. That the world isn’t black and white, but muddled all through with gray.

Look, for example, at the controversy with Lovecraft. No one argues that Lovecraft wrote poorly when they critique him, of course. We all know he was a master of horror (I know it so well I don’t read him because I don’t want to get nightmares, but his influence on pop culture is undeniable). The problem is that when an artist becomes famous, it becomes impossible to separate their ethics from their works. When we admire the man without acknowledging his flaws and issues with vast swaths of our community, when we honor him at the expense of that community, when we ignore the shadows and stains in favor of an altered view of history, in favor of erasure – that is the problem.

How we avoid that is a political issue, of course. It’s a decision we all have to make together, through negotiating and civility and protest and all the other ways a community works towards a decision. But the need for avoiding glossing over the hurtful views expressed by Lovecraft is not predominantly political, but ethical. When we do not acknowledge darkness in our lives and in ourselves, we give it the power to continue existing and growing. Our stories become less when they don’t shine a light in the dark places. I certainly don’t think Tolkien would disagree with that sentiment, would he?

 

Launch

Hello everyone!

This is the first post of the blog I will be keeping on my official author website! I cannot promise that posts will be the most regular (I also post on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, so for more regular information please check those out). However, I hope to document major events in the writing process. Subscribe to keep in the loop with current projects, new reviews, and other fun information about my books.

I first published in February 2013, so this website is a long time coming. Following the publishing of my initial standalone novel, Child of Brii, I enrolled in a graduate school program. This put a bit of a damper in my productivity. My second book, Mother of Creation, came out during this two year program. You can find out about both books here. They are available on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords, and you can also read Part I of Child of Brii on Wattpad.

The website itself is likely to go through some changes in the next few months. As a preliminary design I feel good about it, but I would like to personalize some aspects of it more. Don’t be surprised if you come back to a face-lift of the site sometime this winter! I’m looking forward to having a more concrete home for my material on the internet.

Until the next post!