Random Thoughts

about reading, writing, and anything else that interests me

Well, I finally finished it!

This morning I finally finished Shadow and Claw. After I wrote about it a few days ago, I made myself pick it up and push ahead. And I found I was enjoying it! That didn’t last real long, though. Wolfe includes a story that the hero reads to a friend and, later, the script of a play that they performed. In the end, though, I slugged through it. And when I got to the end, I didn’t feel like I knew much more than I had at the beginning.

I am sure that all the people who have praised this book know what they are taking about, but it sure didn’t work for me. So don’t let my bad experience keep you from reading this book if you are so inclined. But if it strikes you the same way it did me, you will have to admit that you were warned!

 

Another month gone!

The second month of my writing habit development program has ended, and the results have been mixed. Here goes:

On a positive note, I wrote every single day. That, after all, is the primary goal, so I am happy. I know there were several days when I only wrote because I had made that commitment to myself. It would have been so much easier to read a book or play a game or do nothing at all. But I forced myself to open up the computer and write. And I am glad I did. It has been a long time since I can say I have written every day for what is not two months.

My other goals for the month were:

  • write 2000 words every day
  • finish second draft of the second book
  • get third book up from it’s current 3000 words to 30,000
  • continue to develop the blog for the books

Here I was not so successful. While I wrote every day, I only made 2000 words once. Most days I didn’t even make 1000 words! In part I think that is due to the fact that I am early into the third book, and the story isn’t flowing like I would like it to be yet. I know writing is the way to get the story flowing, but I haven’t been as successful with that as I would have liked. As a result, I am nowhere near 30,000 words on the third book. But I have almost tripled its length. And the story is starting to come together more in my mind, so hopefully this next month will be better.

I finished the second draft of the second book, and I am very pleased with how it is going. For the time being, I have kind of put it aside, but I may get back to it before this next month is over. I added almost 5000 words to it last month.

I have added to the blog for these books, too. There is still more that could be done and I hope to work on it more this next month, too.

So now the question is what will my goals be for this next month. This is what I am thinking:

  • write 1000 words every day
  • get third book up from it’s current 8900 words to 35,000

That sounds pretty lame even to me, but I think these are more realistic goals for me than last month’s were. Let’s see if I am right!

 

 

I’m struggling!

So I downloaded the Tor.com ebook selection, Shadow and Claw. I don’t know when I have struggled so much with a book! I kept wanting to put it down. But I kept going, thinking that he had to get to the story eventually. Finally, I finished the first part of it, The Shadow of the Torturer. And again, I debated whether or not I wanted to continue.

I picked it up to start the second part, The Claw of the Conciliator and was immediately back to wondering why I was trying so hard to read it. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better. At least not for me. I will keep trying, but I am not at all convinced that I will eventually finish it. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

I know that I should like the book. It won awards. Amazon is full of praise for the book.

“Arguably the finest piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced [is] the four-volume Book of the New Sun.” – Chicago Sun Times

“The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within . . . once into it, there is no stopping.”–The New York Times Book Review

So what is it that doesn’t work for me? I am not sure, even after half the book. When I read the NYT blurb above, I think it must be the Spenserian allegory that doesn’t appeal to me. And maybe I am not catching the satire. I am not sure. I think, mainly, it is that the story is almost lost in all that other stuff.  At least that seems to me to be the problem. If I had to tell you what the book was about, other than saying it is about a torturer who is exiled from the Torturer’s Guild, I wouldn’t have much to tell you. It’s too convoluted for me to say anything coherent.

I think that this is just not my kind of fantasy. I am, as I have mentioned before, a new reader of fantasy. And this is maybe just too hard core for me. But I have a feeling that I will continue to pick it up and pick away at it until I finally finish the book. I wonder if I’ll feel any differently then. I hope so!

More from George Saunders

Another great interview with George Saunders on The Rumpus.net. He says this:

You probably can’t change your innate level of imaginative-ness, but I think it’s the persistence in the activity that burns through your lame answers until you make space for an answer that seems original. That’s consoling because that means you just have to work.

I loved that! My writing is still so full of lame answers that I am embarrassed. But if I am willing to put in the work, maybe there is hope!

I’ve always felt I wasn’t very imaginative. That always made the possibility of writing fiction seem so daunting. But if work can make up for some of that, maybe I can produce good writing anyway.

Saunders’ responses to questions in this interview and the article in The Guardian have both been extremely encouraging. His approach to revision is one I had already begun to embrace, and I think I understand more clearly what it is I am trying to do now. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

 

This month’s book

I finally remembered to remind you about Tor.com’s free ebook during the time you can actually download it! This month’s title is Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe. It is available until March 13.

I admit to knowing nothing about the book, but the fact that it is published by Tor and that they are offering it as their selection this month pretty well convince me that I will love the book.

Looking on Amazon, I see that this is the first two books in the four-part The Book of the New Sun. The second half is published as Sword and Citadel. It sounds really good from the reviews there. Not everyone who read it, or started to read it, loved it, though. So we’ll see.

Anyway, check it out. It’s free from Tor, so if it sounds even possibly interesting, why not check it out?

 

 

 

An article you might want to read

The Guardian has an excellent article by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, entitled What Writers Really Do When They Write.

He describes the work of an artist:

What does an artist do, mostly? She tweaks that which she’s already done. There are those moments when we sit before a blank page, but mostly we’re adjusting that which is already there. The writer revises, the painter touches up, the director edits, the musician overdubs.

The piece discusses that tweaking, that revision at length. This, for me, was the really interesting part. As I am working on revision of our second book, I see that I am already doing some of what he talks about. But I got a better understanding for how to do it and  why it is important from reading this.

He goes on to say:

Any work of art quickly reveals itself to be a linked system of problems.

I hadn’t really thought about my writing in that way. I can see, though, that there is a seemingly endless system of problems — or maybe questions is a better word: How does he do that? Why does he do that? What would happen if he did this instead?  And I think that the more questions I ask and answer, the better the story will be.

I am probably never going to be the kind of writer Saunders is. OK, who am I kidding? There is no question about it. I WILL NEVER be the kind of writer he is.  But I believe that  I better understand what it is I am trying to do now. And that should make me a better writer eventually. I hope so!

All in all, I thought it was a fascinating article. I hope you will, too!

February Reading

I managed to get a fair amount of reading done last month — not nearly as much as some times, but not bad, either.

I read one non-fiction book, as usual. This one was The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground by Michael Harris. It was fascinating. I knew very little about this period of our history, and I am glad that I now know at least a little more — even though what I learned isn’t pretty. Harris served in the Army and lived through about a dozen H-bomb tests in the Pacific in 1955-56. Finally, 50 years later, wrote about the experience. I am glad I read the book.

I read three mysteries:

  • The Thirteenth Room by Adam Croft is the fourth book in Croft’s Kempston Hardwick series. I think it was my favorite. Kempston and Ellis are really working well as a team now, and it is a joy to read. The mystery is a good one, although it is a little difficult to believe the police would think the murders are suicides — especially after the second one! But I enjoyed this book a lot. I hope Croft will write more in this series. The characters are delightful and the mysteries are always interesting.
  • Don’t Mess With Mrs. Sedgewick by Marie F. Martin was a fun read. The idea of four “old” friends selling their houses and moving into adjoining condos was a hoot. (If you were thinking about this as a life plan, let me tell you that it wasn’t necessarily always as much fun as the ladies had hoped!) The women all have secrets, and a maid is determined to profit from them. I have a difficult time believing the women got hooked up with the maid in the first place and that she is able to discover the long-help secrets so quickly and easily, but getting past that, the story was good.
  • Blood Silence by Roger Stelljes is a Mac McRyan story, and a very good one at that. On a personal level, Mac’s life is working out quite nicely, but a new “case” seems determined to change that. This series is one I really and truly love. The characters are multi-faceted. The stories are complex. If you don’t read Stelljes yet, please start now!

I read four pieces of speculative fiction:

 

  • Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake is billed as a “Science Fiction Romance” by the author. Ruby Lionsdrake is the pen name of one of my favorite authors, so I knew I would love this one before I started it. It is a romance, but there is a lot of space adventure thrown in, too! I think you might like it!
  • The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross was the tor.com ebook club selection for February. It was wonderful! It is the first two books in the Merchant Princes series. It involves three interconnected worlds and the people who have the ability to travel between them. I started out wondering what the speculative part of this book was going to be because it started off in our world in a very normal way — someone losing her job because she was looking into something her bosses didn’t want her investigating. It didn’t take long, though, for the other worlds to enter into the picture. It was a great story, and I hope to read the rest of the series.
  • The Ghost and The Graveyard by Genevieve Jack was another romance — paranormal this time. A girl is given a chance to live rent-free in a house her father inherited. Great, huh? It borders on a cemetery, which is a real negative as far as she is concerned. But the caretaker at the cemetery isn’t bad, so… This is a fun read.
  • Encrypted is by Lindsay Buroker, so you know I loved it, right? This series takes place in the same world but prior to her Emperor’s Edge series.  The two main characters are really smart, and that makes the book a joy to read. This is fantasy with some romance thrown in for good measure. (There seems to be a strong element of romance in almost everything I read last month.  Hmm…. Maybe I can blame it on Valentine’s Day.)

I read two pieces of historical fiction:

  • The Fourth Horseman by Sarah Woodbury is another of her Gareth and Gwen (I always say Gwen and Gareth, but she lists them the other way!) mysteries. The story was good. The characters are interesting. I liked it a lot. There are 10 books in the series, and I have only made it through the first 4 so far. I plan to get to all of them eventually.
  • Arthur Britannicus by Paul Bannister is the first book in the series and the last one for me to read. I have enjoyed the entire series, and I have to say reading this one last did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of it. Bannister has other series, and I think I will give them a try.

 

I also read two shorter works of fiction:

  • The Bard’s Daughter by Sarah Woodbury is another in the Gareth and Gwen series of mysteries. It is actually a prequel to the series. I loved it! Woodbury writes well and te66lls good stories. Her
  • A Mother’s Day Murder by Dee Ernst was one that really kept me guessing. I never saw the killer coming — just like the victim, I suppose.It was a good story and seemed much longer (in a good way!) than the 35,000 words Amazon says it is. I recommend it if you want a fun, quick cozy mystery.

So that’s it: 12 books in February. Let’s see how I do in March!

 

I’d forgotten

I had really forgotten how much I loved Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge world and the stories she sets in it. I just finished Encrypted in the Forgotten Ages series and loved it.

Buroker has been one of my favorite authors for some time now, and I am starting to wonder why I haven’t read all her stuff yet. Well, part of the reason is because she has so many books out; I’d be broke if I tried to buy them all. But it is definitely time for me to bite the bullet and buy a few more. They will be worth every penny!

If you don’t know her work and enjoy fantasy and science fiction, check some of her books out. You won’t be sorry you did!

I know it is too late, but

I meant to remind you about the Tor ebook club while this month’s book was still available, but I didn’t. So now I am reminding you about it so you can get signed up in plenty of time for next month.

I cannot recommend the books offered through this club enough. I have loved every single one I have read. This month’s book, The Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross, was no exception.

If you aren’t sure how you feel about science fiction or fantasy, I would really encourage you to check this out. The books that are offered are among the very best in those genres, I think.

If you know you love science fiction and fantasy, there is absolutely no excuse for not signing up and getting these books. As long as you live in the US or Canada, they are free. No one checks up to make sure you read them or asks for a book report. What do you have to lose?

My writing

Last month I read Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox and as I did, I set myself some writing goals. One of them was to check back in with myself one month later to see how I was doing with the goals and, more importantly, whether or not I was still writing.

My goals involved writing at certain times of the day (7-8:30 am) and a certain number of words per day (2000). I was going to finish editing our first book by 2/15 and be be well on my way to finishing the first drat of the second book.

Well, it didn’t exactly work out like that. I have written a few days from 7-8:30, but not many. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to stress about that goal. I am still usually writing in the morning, but if that doesn’t happen, I write in the afternoon. The important thing, as far as I am concerned, is that I have written every single day since January 19. It has been a long time since I have written every day, and it feels good to be back in the groove.

I also failed pretty big on the word count goal. I only wrote 200o words on 8 days. But, in 30 days I have written over 35,000 words. Not a record, by any means, but I am happy with it.

Part of my problem with word count was the fact that I actually exceeded  one goal. I finished the first draft of the second book on February 1, not March 15 as I had thought I would. Once I didn’t have that bog project to work on, writing 200 words a day got harder. I started on the third book but am just writing scenes. I think I could probably start writing more on it, and I prob ably will this next month.

The first book hasn’t moved ahead hardly at all, and it should have been completely finished by now. I am a little bummed about that but not overly so. I think that having the second one ready to go and being able to publish two books almost at once is a good idea.

So what are my goals for this next month? I want to:

  • write 2000 words every day
  • finish second draft of the second book
  • get third book up from it’s current 3000 words to 30,000
  • continue to develop the blog for the books

That should be doable if I set my mind to it. Starting in April I will be busy teaching again, so I need to get as much done before then as I can.

I am not setting goals about finalizing the first book because it still requires input from my son. I have no control over that right now, so why stress. I am also not setting time of day goals. It just doesn’t work.

I’ll try to remember to come back next month and let you know how I’m doing. Hopefully, it will be good!

 

 

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