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A Few of One Hundred: 2017

Book textAs this stray 2017 gets flushed away by vodka tonics and nachos, I find myself reflecting back upon the year and all its greatness. Sure, it wasn’t always wonderful, but there were some aspects of this year that I was pretty damn happy about.

I mean, I read a lot of books. A LOT.

In this last week of the year, I finally managed to hit my 100 books for the year. As a fairly slow reader, this is a pretty nice accomplishment. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, dedicate time in the evenings to read, and just generally work hard to consume stories.

And some of them were quite good.

Books of My 2017

Following are some of my favorites of the year. They aren’t necessarily books that came out this year, but they’re books I READ this year. And I liked them.

  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – I loved this book, and it’s wonderful. I read it early 2017 and I still think about it from time to time.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – This is a beautifully written book full of Russian folklore. It was a pleasure to read, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel.
  • City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – This whole series is good. This is powerful fantasy deeply rooted in the issues of the day, but full of those stand-up-and-cheer moments that really only happen when you get really, truly involved with the characters.
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin – Another fantastic series. Deeply powerful books and for sure worth your time.
  • Guns of the Dawn by Adrien Tchaikovsky – I’ve read a bunch of Tchaikovsky’s work this year and Guns of the Dawn was my favorite. Such richly realized world and characters drew me and kept me going the whole way through. It’s long, but the audiobook is read by Emma Newman and she’s fantastic at pretty much everything.
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren- Picked this audiobook up randomly from the library’s Overdrive and was floored by it. Chapters alternate between rich, powerful descriptions of botany and the events of Hope Jahren’s life. It’s a wonderful book and, I mean, she’s a paleobotanist. Isn’t that just the best word?

There were many other great books, but hey I gotta draw the line somewhere, right? You can follow me on Goodreads if you’re really interested in tracking my reading as it happens.

Short Stories of My 2017

In addition to books, I spent a whole pile of time reading short stories. I’m working on improving my own short story writing, so one of the things I’ve done is crank my reading WAY up. This, actually, made the completion of my 100 book challenge a lot harder. I mean, I made it anyway, but it was tough.

Here are a few short stories I read that really had an impact for me. Some I’m using to teach my classes, while others are just cool.

Oh, and there’s so much more out there. My goal for next year is going to be 75 books and a whole lot more short fiction. There’s so much happening out there in the world of short stories, that I feel like I’m missing quite a bit.

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A Year in Review: 2017

This has been a busy, busy year for my writing, even if very little of it has been published. I’ve taken my first forays into teaching, sold piles of my self-published books, and attended conventions. In all, it’s been a fantastic time.

One piece find publication this year. This one took its time finding a home, partially because it’s so difficult to classify.

I don’t know if this thing is eligible for awards of any sort (not the big ones, since this isn’t a pro market), but this was the story that won a Silver Honorable Mention for me from the Writers of the Future Contest. I’m extremely pleased that this thing finally found a place out there in the publishing world. There are more short stories coming next year. Since I spent a good portion of this year writing short stories, I’ll hopefully start seeing some more successes in addition to what’s already scheduled.

Teaching has been a big deal for me this year. My workshop at the Rochester Public Library Artists and Writers Series on characterization taught me that all-day workshops are loads of fun to run. Preparation for it sunk a large percentage of my writing time, but it was worth it. In the process of putting together the material, I found ways to improve my own writing. I went on to teach  a Community Education class called Writing the Strange, which will repeat in April of the new year. I also have something coming this spring at The Loft Literary Center, which is going to be super cool. Stay tuned for that announcement.

Spent a lot of time writing novels. Novels are such a big, slow thing that they don’t come out for years, even when they do get picked up by a publisher. I haven’t had any deals fall into place in that space, so apart from writing a couple hundred thousand words, I don’t have a lot to show for that.

2017 was a busy, chaotic year. Writing was both a refuge for me and a way to express myself in this strange, strange world. I expect 2018 to be much of the same, and I hope you’re here with me for it.

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Book Review: Don’t Live for Your Obituary by John Scalzi

John Scalzi’s Don’t Live for Your Obituary is a collection of essays–blog entries really–formed into the loose structure of a book. If you’re familiar with his Whatever blog, you’ll probably recognize a lot of material. I’m not going to go into a lot of details on individual pieces. Scalzi is a great writer, and he, um, knows how to write.

The real question is: should you buy this book?

If you consider yourself a rabid Scalzi fan, then you’ve probably already bought the special edition of the book and made a place for it on your shrine next to your scrap of Hawaiian print fabric and your complete archive of John Scalzi film reviews from the Fresno Bee.

*slowly backs away*

The book is a treasure for writers. Scalzi has a strong background in financial advice, and he applies that advice to writing as a career. Yes, he makes way, WAY more than most writers will ever make, but he got there by starting with a strong understanding of money. In particular, he teaches the good lesson of valuing your work, and that’s something early-career writers absolutely need to hear.

This book also collects quite a few essays regarding the publishing industry. As a writer it’s fascinating to see how all the various gears fit together (or don’t) in publishing. That stuff will always be interesting to me, and Don’t Live for Your Obituary does a fantastic job of shining a light on those dark corners we don’t normally get to see and oh my god it’s dusty back there when was the last time anyone cleaned?

*ahem*

Part of the book is about various interactions with other authors and famous people. It’s fine. If you’re into that kind of thing, these stories are just as entertaining as you’d expect Scalzi’s stories to be. It’s not my thing, but if it’s yours, then I think you’ll be happy.

So should you buy it?

  • If you’re a writer: Look, if you spend the whole $35 on the special edition hardcover so that you can read about financial responsibility, that’s fine. That’s just fine. Maybe get it from the library, though?
  • If you have a friend or relative who is a writer: Buy it for them. A physical copy. They’ll like it. Or they’ll sell it and buy ramen noodles. Either way, you’re helping their writing career.
  • If you’re a reader: Look, this isn’t FICTION. I know you want another fiction book from Scalzi, and it’ll be here soon enough. But, this isn’t it. I don’t know, maybe head down to a bookstore and read a random essay. If you find it entertaining enough, then shell out the money. It’s a good book, and a fun read, but there’s no narrative cohesion here. It’s just a pile of (somewhat more polished) blog entries.

I reviewed a free copy of Don’t Live for Your Obituary from NetGalley.

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Macro Monday: Fuzzy Bee With Dust

Look, I know it’s cold out now and nobody cares about the dusty bees. I’m here to tell you that even though it’s not dusty bee season, those bees are still important. And that dust? Yeah, that’s pretty important, too.

So here are some pictures of some bees I got before the frost ruined everything. They’re nice, warm pictures, and I hope you like them.

In other news, my class is finished now, and it went so well that I’ve scheduled another one. My students were all fantastic and the stories they’re coming up with are getting really good. I’m looking forward to hearing more from them.

Oh, and I’m writing another novel. It never stops, right? Gotta get these stories onto paper. Digital paper. On the screen.

Anyway, here’s your stinkin’ bees:

 

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Review: The Trials of Solomon Parker

The Trials of Solomon Parker
The Trials of Solomon Parker

The Trials of Solomon Parker by Eric Scott Fischl is a “What would happen if you could go back and fix your mistakes?” book which succeeds when it breaks away from the expected pattern for such a book.

Which it does.

A lot.

It succeeds a lot.

Maybe it’s just me, but the book’s title character pulled me into this book. Sol is a hard-working guy with a good heart. He’s fiercely loyal to his fellow miners, even if they screw up. He doesn’t always make the right choices, but he’s close. Like, really close.

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Sol goes through some tough times. If you get attached to the guy like I did, you’re in for some tough spots. He has to make some tough choices, and he needs to take some risks. It’s not easy.

But it’s worth it.

This is historical speculative fiction, which I admit isn’t my usual thing. Butte, Montana circa 1916 is brought to life in this book in incredible detail. Turns out the different aspects of that town in that point in history are absolutely fascinating. With the boom brought on by the mines (wow, the mines were cool, too) Butte’s population shot up in no time at all-and had the growing pains to show it. Throw in some pivotal struggles to unionize the mine workers and you have a pretty damn interesting point in history.

Sometimes a book just nails the ending and I want spend time discussing it with someone.

But you haven’t read it yet.

So go read The Trials of Solomon Parker.

Plus, if buy the book, you’ll know that your money is going to a good place.

PURE, BRILLIANT  INNOVATION:

I read a free copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Macro Monday: Burdock

Burdock grasps out with its hook-claws, purply mass exploding in a flurry of velcro-like abominations.

Burdock flower

I like the photo, though. Almost makes my plague of burdock bearable.

*burrs claw at every surface of my body*

*burrs dig hooks deep into my soul*

*I am burrs*

In other news! My class is coming up soon, and there are still slots open. I’ve been putting together the material for Writing the Strange for a while now and things are really starting to look good. If you’re in the Rochester, MN area and want to come write short stories with me in October, HERE YOU GO.

 

 

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Macro Monday: Bees in Helsinki

Well, WorldCon was an incredible success. It was an exhausting, fun adventure that I look forward to repeating as long as it isn’t any time soon oh wow I’m really tired. I met some great people and ate some excellent food, including a super-fancy buffet where they just keep bringing you meat until you beg them to stop oh, please stop.

Anyway, got to hang out with some of those cool kids from Angry Robot (pic from Nick Tyler):

Fine folk from #worldcon75

A post shared by Nick Tyler (@captain.pigheart) on

Jet lag really punched me around this trip, and I don’t think I ever really adjusted to the time zone. It probably didn’t help that the hotel I stayed at had a coffee maker in the room but no coffee. Tired brain never really figured out how to solve that. Also, this may be my American bias, but the coffee they sell in Helsinki is tiny. Like, really tiny.

Once the convention was done, the wife and I went on some adventures. One of these was a trip to the Helsinki Botanical Garden.

Where we met some bees.