12 December 2020

A Reading Project Begins!

Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

Hello folks and happy December! I hope you're holding up well enough in these strange times. 

You last heard from me in October when I mentioned being a panelist at the Japan Writer's Conference. Well, how did that go? I learned about crafting villains with Charles Kowalski, plotting formulas with Melinda Falgoust, and structuring with Michael Pronko, all of which were panels I hoped would help me with my writing journey with Son of the Siren (they certainly gave me plenty to think about!). 

And of course, I did a panel on what it's like to get an MFA in creative writing. I talked about my experiences with Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program...and I also had technical difficulties with Zoom and some issues with my nerves where I rambled a bit 😓 so I wouldn't count my personal performance as all that successful, but my fellow panelists and moderator John Gribble all spoke well and were very helpful and I think our attendees got a lot of good information out of it. 

November came and went like a blur. I honestly don't remember what happened that month. Obviously nothing exciting or important enough to mention here. 

And then lately, I've hit a hump with my writing where I'm really stuck with a major secondary character and what to do with them; I'm finding my plot isn't working too well; and I can't seem to get from point A to point B. I knew how my book would start and I know 90% how it should end (I know what the hero and the major secondary character do; I do not know how to resolve the villain's part of the story).  

I've officially entered the dreaded writer's block section of drafting, waaah. The thing is, I plotted this baby out in full -- the first time I'd done so with a book, and I had some help using The Novel Factory software -- but as I wrote I kept thinking about all these potential problems, then plot holes, then silly contrivances that I was laying down, and then I realized I had created people with not enough to do, or giving them things to do with no real reason for it. I need more plot! 

To try and help calm my brain down, I'm taking a breather and doing something I haven't done in a long time: read books. 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash
This has been a problem for me long before pandemic brain set in. I've mentioned, or at least alluded to, that I suffer from mental illness. My brain has changed over the years. When I was much younger, basically the entirety of my school years and partway into college, I read books all the time, and fast, too. I could finish a book in a day and start the next one and actually retain and process what I'd read.

Then bipolar disorder hit in my early 20s and my attention span and ability to focus went out the window. I lost my ability and the perseverance it takes to make it through a standard novel. Books just didn't hold my attention anymore and they became something that took effort that exhausted me. In short, they were not longer fun, but a chore to be endured. This tragedy has lasted for years (don't even ask me how I managed grad school; I still don't know how I made it). 

The one benefit during this troubling period of my life was that I discovered the joy of reading graphic novels and comics, mainly manga and manhwa (Japanese and Korean comics) and web comics, with some modern classics thrown in (like Saga, for example).  Then in 2015 Tor.com started publishing novellas, which were a slow reintroduction to reading fiction again. The stories were manageably sized, often fast-paced, and easier for my brain to digest. I highly recommend them. 

Enter 2020, where pandemic brain added another layer to my decades-long brain funk, and the progress I made reading actual books halted. 

Stephen King has said, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."  And two more quotes from King for you: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write" and "reading is the creative center of a writer's life... you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you."

I can't say that I haven't been reading at all -- I've got years of a wide range of comics under my belt -- but I am someone who writes novels, and to not read novels means I'm not utilizing the tools at my disposal.  

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
I needed to re-educate myself in the ways of writing. And Son of the Siren is YA fantasy, so I decided once I hit writer's block with my book to just start reading as many YA fantasies I could get my hands on. Primarily I sought out YA fantasy that played with or adapted fairytales since that's what my own book is doing, but I didn't brush off any novels that didn't fit that category. If it is fantasy meant for young readers, I'm lapping it up.

This reading project is a very recent endeavor, so I don't have a lot of books under my belt. And where I used to be able to read one book a day, it takes a week or more to get through a book, depending on how the prose and pacing are. And I am trying my best not to DNF anything I picked out for this project, choosing to take it as a learning experience.

Here's what I've read so far, with descriptions of the book sourced from the publisher. 

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland―the infamous Queen of Hearts―she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

In her first stand-alone teen novel, the New York Times-bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles dazzles us with a prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Emeline's quiet village has three important rules:

Don't look at the shadows.

Don't cross the river.

And don't enter the forest.

An illustrated fantasy filled with beauty and power, Between the Water and the Woods sweeps you into a world where forests are hungry; knights fight with whips; the king is dying; and a peasant girl's magic will decide the future of the realm . . .

When Emeline's little brother breaks all three of their village's rules, she is forced to use her family's forbidden magic to rescue him from the dark things he awakens, the Ithin. Now that the Ithin are afoot in the land, she must, by law, travel to the royal court and warn the king. But the only way she and her family can make the journey to the capital is with the protection of a sour magister and a handsome, whip-wielding Lash Knight. Will Emeline survive in a city where conspiracies swirl like smoke and her magic is all but outlawed?

Seven full-page black-and-white illustrations accompany Between the Water and the Woods, a lush, fairy-tale-style fantasy perfect for readers of Karen Cushman and Shannon Hale.

She survived the curse. Now she must survive the throne.

All Ekata wants is to stay alive—and the chance to prove herself as a scholar. Once Ekata's brother is finally named heir to the dukedom of Kylma Above, there will be nothing to keep her at home with her murderous family. Not her books or her experiments, not her family's icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness, and no one can find a cure.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother's captivating warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love . . . or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family's magic and power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield them both.

The Winter Duke is an enchanted tale of intrigue by Claire Eliza Bartlett, author of the acclaimed young adult fantasy novel We Rule the Night.

Three books doesn't seem like a lot, but I have continued to read manga and comics (Given, Dungeon Critters) and sneak in some horror (Pet Semetary, The Hunger) and nonfiction (Ghosts of the Tsunami) during this project. 

I'll continue to write little updates here and there to show you the progress with this project. I hope from studying the craft of these novels I can see what's happening in the genre and the market and break through my writer's block. 

See you next time!