Quick and Dirty Review: THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z by Natalie Blitt

http://www.amazon.com/The-Distance-A-Natalie-Blitt-ebook/dp/B00WELVQSI

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So, I’m supposed to be finishing line edits, right now. I’m supposed to be neck deep in removing all the extra commas from my manuscript (I have an addiction. I admit it — My name is Stacey and I use WAY too much punctuation.) HOWEVER, that being said, I took a night off last night.  My agent-mate, the lovely Natalie Blitt, had a book birthday yesterday with the release of her Teen Romance, THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, so I took a few hours off to read it.

And it was fantastic.

But since I have to get back to those commas I’m going to do a quick and dirty review — five things I loved about this book about a girl who travels away from home to immerse herself in the culture that she loves — to get away from the family that drives her crazy — only to find love in a most unexpected boy.

#5 – Abby and Alice. The friendship between these two is perfectly real. Both are flawed, both are strong in their own way. They have fights and make up over real things. Their friendship drew me into this book right away.

#4 – French and Baseball. Full transparency — I don’t speak French and I don’t really like baseball. We’re an NFL family, around these parts. But the immersion of the French language and the baseball — all the baseball — made these characters real. The French language and the baseball references become a part of the story. They become characters unto themselves. And they are great fun.

#3 – Trivia as Foreplay. Here’s the thing — I am a sucker for a good nerd love story, and Abby is a nerd that I can totally get behind. She is smart and funny, geeking out on all things France and the beauty of words. (You know I’m all about that.) She’s got a head full of baseball facts and all kinds of family baggage and is trying to find her place in the world. And any book that uses a trivia competition as the first real set-up to romance gets an A+ from me.

#2 – CONSENT! Zeke is a jock. He’s the exact kind of guy you would expect to push back, if a girl says, “No.” But instead, Natalie Blitt has given us a story that at its heart is about consent and that, way more than his shaggy blond locks or his easy smile, is what made me love Zeke.

#1 – Instant Gratification. The e-book is available right now. Right here. Or here. And it’s $1.99! And it is a quick, happy read that made me smile. It was lovely and I’d recommend that you use a few hours of the time you’re supposed to be doing something else to fall into it, too!

Book Review – THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley

There was a lot of pressure, riding on the shoulders of this book. Hype surrounding it was everywhere, on all of the review blogs that I follow, on Twitter, on podcasts–pretty much everywhere. And I was worried. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t make it through GOD’S WAR, by Kameron Hurley. Maybe I was a different reader, then. Maybe I didn’t give it a chance. Or maybe it just wasn’t for me, but I just couldn’t get into it.

THE MIRROR EMPIRE felt different, right from the first page. And I don’t just mean different from GOD’S WAR, which it obviously is (SF vs. Epic Fantasy, etc.). No. I mean that this book was different from anything I have ever read, before. The world was truly (TRULY) unique, the sociological aspects were incredibly diverse and fresh, the characters were unlike any that I’ve ever read, before. Except, of course, that they weren’t. What Hurley does with gender and the flip that she does to genre tropes is nothing short of astonishing. It is breathtaking. It is brilliant. It is… a bit daunting.

To be honest, I couldn’t have gotten through this book, even a year ago. I am a better educated reader than I was, then. I couldn’t have gotten through this book, before I read “We Have Always Fought,” Hurley’s Hugo Award-Winning Essay about gender in narratives. I couldn’t have gotten through this book before I read ANCILLARY JUSTICE. I’m still, even now, digesting the depth and breadth of what Hurley has done, here, with THE MIRROR EMPIRE, and maybe I will be, for a long, long time.

And maybe that’s the point.

The story–at it’s very heart–isn’t one that we haven’t heard, before. An orphan must become the Chosen One. A stern, military hero must soften, and find their heart. A person, unsuited to rule, must do just that. These are things that we have seen, and read, countless times, before. But Hurley makes you question everything you know about this story. She makes you doubt your memory of those narratives. She makes you want better.

Are there things that I’d change about this book? Yes. I found it dense, and in some places, confusing. I (ridiculously) didn’t like some of the names, and I had a hard time keeping them straight. I could remember their actions and their story line, but for me, their names didn’t fit. That’s a personal, stupid thing that I didn’t give any bearing to, in this review, because that’s my brain, working against the story line. I’d have liked more of some story lines, and less of others–but again, all personal tastes.

What I wouldn’t change–what I found amazingly fresh and inventive and beautiful–was the world building. I just want to wallow in Hurley’s notebooks, where she’s plotting out the plant-based public transit, developing the carnivorous species of plants that walk the forests, laying out the many genders and societies and governments and religions. I want to flip through the card file with the information about the different worlds that mirror the one that most of the story is told in. I want more, because it is clear that Kameron Hurley has been living in this world for a good, long while, and she must have volumes of glorious, intricate detail. I wouldn’t change the uncomfortable scenes of sexual dominance, where our militaristic, matriarchal character literally “manhandles” her kept husband–a man who is pampered so that he’ll remain soft and desirable. A man who is later treated quite horrifically, in ways that we have seen female characters treated innumerable times. I wouldn’t change the physically disabled protagonist, who despite her body, uses her mind to solve dilemma after dilemma. I wouldn’t change the relationships and the tenderness, the violence and the betrayal, and I wouldn’t change the feeling that I had at the end–

Which is to say, “There must be more, and I want it, now.”

This book isn’t for the faint at heart, and it isn’t for the occasional fantasy reader. This book is hard core, but it is beautiful in its hardness, and it is well worth the time and effort and occasionally feeling as if you are stupider than everyone else in the world, as you work your way through it. And for what its worth, if she hasn’t won the award, already, I’m voting for Kameron Hurley for smartest person in the room.

Next up, I’m reading CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett.

Book Review – HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne

I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy, and as such, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. HOUNDED might have spoiled me, since it was absolutely hilarious. A fun, quick, incredibly engaging and entertaining read, I devoured it in about a day and a half. 

Atticus is old–21 centuries old, in fact. But he looks like a 21-year-old hipster playing at magic in his occult bookstore. Seriously, that might be the best, simplest premise I’ve ever heard. Add to it his Irish Wolfhound who is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a healthy dose of pop culture references, and some pissed off Celtic gods and you have a story that sucks you in and keeps you reading.

I liked everything about this book–the depth of the setting, the obvious research that Hearne put into it, the humor and juxtaposition between Old World and New-all of it. EXCEPT I didn’t love Hearne’s treatment of his female characters, and that kept me from giving HOUNDED five stars. I felt as though every woman (mortal or not) got the “super sexy movie star” treatment, and that Atticus had a hard time concentrating when they spoke because all he wanted to do was jump their bones. We’re talking about seriously powerful women, who can manipulate your perceptions of them. Why would they all choose sex as their manipulation of choice–Why not intimidation? Why not terror? Why not groveling respect? I’ve got no problem with a sexy female character, but I felt like it was a little one-noted.

I look forward to reading more of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, as the story was clever and funny and greatly entertaining, and I hope that Mr. Hearne has found a way to flesh out his female characters in later volumes.

Next Up: THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley. You know I’m excited about this one. 🙂

Book Review – ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb

 

 

In an effort to broaden my horizons in Fantasy, I have been keeping my ears open for recommendations from authors that I respect and admire. A few months ago, Chuck Wendig posted on Twitter that ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE was a must read, and (I’m paraphrasing) a beautiful, brutal book. If you’ve read anything by Wendig, you’ll be interested to know what he sees as brutal. So, I put it on my to-read list and (when I couldn’t find it locally) ordered it online. 

In the meantime, several other authors and reviewers that I follow brought up the glory that is ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, and I learned more about Robin Hobb. Here’s the thing–I love Fantasy. I think it, and write it, and breathe it, and worship the very ground that it bleeds on. But I didn’t find it until I was an adult, really. So I am behind the times. This book–I should have read it almost 20 years ago. I should have, by this time, been wrapped up in an obsession with this series, and the others that follow it, for most of my adult life. I should have already been as obsessed with this world as I am with Westeros. Hell–even GRRM blurbed about ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, “Fantasy as it ought to be written.”

Those are great big words from a great big author, and I doubt that I have anything to add that others haven’t already said, but I’ll try.

The first thing that drew me into this book was the age of the protagonist, Fitz, at the opening of the novel. He is six years old. I have a six year old, and as Fitz went about some truly life-altering experiences, in my mind, he was my little guy. And that’s where the brutality of this book lies. Fitz, throughout this first book, is a child. This is not the gruesome, bloody savagery of Martin’s Westeros. This is the terrible alone-ness of a little boy, thrust into a world that will only ever see him as a tool.

Hobb is brilliant in her weaving of the tale. Not too gentle, yet not too barbaric. We are dipped, lovingly, into the Six Duchies. Cradled in the warmth of the stables, drawn out, into the intrigues of Buckkeep. We, as readers, are granted the indulgence of seeing the adult characters through adult eyes, while simultaneously viewing them through the hooded, shadowed lenses that Fitz sees them through. Fitz is a remarkable child–observant and kind, intelligent and gifted. But he is also a child. We are given the gift of seeing those around him as he cannot–the silent, secretive protectors, the adroit handlers that do all that they can, including risking themselves, for the love of Fitz’s father who cannot acknowledge his bastard son.

Because I know, so intimately, a six year old boy–I instantly fell in love with Fitz. As he grew, in my mind, he became my older son (now twelve) and full of his own ideas of what a man is. Fitz is flawed in only the way a child can be–beautifully. Brutally. 

In the end, the story left me gasping for more–so clearly is there so much more to tell, and I am infinitely grateful that the next books are readily available. This is a hero’s quest, flawed and damaged as our hero may be, and it has become clear to me that I have only scratched the surface. Robin Hobb has done something stunningly complex–building a man from the skin and bones of a tiny boy. Fitz comes to life, on the pages. Her words breathe into him the stuff of life. Not just the heroics, the kindness and the brilliance, but also the failings, the weaknesses, the hubris. 

I also ADORE the gentle gender-politics that play out, throughout its pages. Certainly there are women that are mistreated and abused, dismissed and ignored. But also, there are men, just as maligned. Beautifully entwined, are women of power and strength. There are leaders among them, there are teachers and masters and Queens. There are petty women, women of integrity, and every sort of women in between. Just like the men. And not a damsel in distress among them.

There was truth to what Wendig said. The book is beautiful and brutal, but it is much more than that. It is not the grim darkness that we’ve come to expect from Martin and Abercrombie, nor the bantering heroics of Rothfuss. It is something different. Something special, a vicious hopefulness. With this book, I have come to understand why Robin Hobb’s name is spoken amongst the greats of Fantasy. She has certainly, in my estimation, earned every fair word.

Book Review – Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Sometimes you go to rate a book on Goodreads and it makes you rethink every book that you’ve ever rated, before. RED COUNTRY was that book, for me.

When I started reading RED COUNTRY, I did not know that it takes place in the same world as the FIRST LAW TRILOGY. I had read Abercrombie’s short story from DANGEROUS WOMEN, so I was familiar (a bit) with Shy South, but there was no telltale clues that Shy’s world and the world of Bayaz, Glokta, Logen and Ferro were the same. Discovering that A.) This was the same world and B.) That there were some spillover characters–was like receiving a late birthday present. I was giddy.

RED COUNTRY is to epic fantasy what toe nails are to hair–It’s slightly related, but it isn’t really the same thing, at all. This is a western, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and, ironically, Mark Millar’s brilliant comic, OLD MAN LOGAN.

It is the wagon train and the hardscrabble, sinew-and-bone frontier folk. It is dusty and exhausting and wear-through-your-boots toiling. It is not pretty–no courtly meetings or feasts with the nobles. It is the very definition of the word ‘gritty’–and yet, it is also a freshening of a world that we’ve spent more than a thousand pages exploring.

Here, in RED COUNTRY, we see new, deeper sides of characters we thought we knew. We scrape away all of the magic and the spirits and the politics and the city and we encounter a raw, bare-skinned tale of a family. They are broken and battered and not always very kind to one another. They don’t even share blood. But make no mistake, this is a family saga, and it is beautifully rendered, even in its brutality.

I have contended, previously, that Abercrombie’s strengths lie in the exquisite characters that he creates, and RED COUNTRY is no exception. I am repeatedly drawn to, and amazed by, his dexterous handling of “gray” characters. Each and every one of the people that populate this book is deeply flawed. They are cowards, bastards, murderers, thieves–monsters. They are beautiful, horrible monsters, and he makes us love them, in spite of their weaknesses, despite their failings. He is so successful in doing this because he shows us the contradictions within them–the murderess that fights for her siblings, the coward that wants desperately to be brave, the savage killer that sings his children to sleep. Over and over, I find myself drawn to his characterizations because they have the stink of real people on them. No one is perfect. We are all flawed–tiny, monstrous failings, fracture each of us.

There are a handful of scenes in this book that, due to avoiding spoilers, I will not further discuss. However, I would like to say that I was moved by this book in a way that THE FIRST LAW books did not emotionally move me. There are scenes and events within RED COUNTRY that made me cry, that made me laugh, that made me hold my breath in fear. There is a myth in THE FIRST LAW world, of a nine-fingered Northman–bloody, barbaric songs are sung about him–The Bloody Nine.

This book, for what it’s worth, made me a believer.

*** I am very eager to now read Abercrombie’s other books–THE HEROES and BEST SERVED COLD–both of which also take place in the FIRST LAW world.***

Stuff and Things (and Guardians of the Galaxy)

So, let’s get this out of the way, first thing. If you enjoy comic book films–Go see Guardians of the Galaxy. If you enjoy witty banter and raucous adventure–Go see GotG. If you are a fan of 1970’s easy listening–Go see GotG. If you enjoy fuzzy raccoons with a bad attitude–Go see GotG. If you like to laugh–Go see GotG. If you don’t enjoy laughter–Go see GotG (It will change your mind).

This movie, hands down, was the most fun I’ve had at the movie theater in years. Hilarious, action packed, sentimental but not sappy, engaging at every turn. It was a giant ice cream sundae, before dinner–and I don’t even feel guilty.

Chris Pratt does an excellent job of playing Peter Quill–a man/boy trying to find his way alone in the universe. His moral compass is a bit unfixed, his put-downs a staple of any twelve-year-old’s vocabulary, and his heart is covered up by bravado, but not absent. Bradley Cooper delivers laugh after laugh as Rocket–a genetically enhanced “raccoon” who is one part genius and one part Conan the Barbarian.  Dave Bautista is incredible as the well-spoken but brutal Drax the Destroyer, and Vin Diesel stole my heart as the short-on-words Groot.

But it was Zoe Saldana that, for me, made this film amazing. Saldana’s Gamora is a bad-ass–stronger, smarter, more agile, and more capable than anyone else in the room, and for the first time, I really felt like Marvel handed the reins to their female star and said, “Go ahead. Knock their socks off.” This is the heroine I wanted to see when Black Widow showed up–and we’ve seen glimpses, as Scarlett Johannson out-tricked the trickster and interrogated a mark, while tied up. In Gamora, I see a female comic character that isn’t sexualized, that isn’t marginalized, who truly contributes to the team and adds depth and heart to the group. (And–thank the Gods–we weren’t subjected to a Winter Soldier style scene shot from between the heroine’s legs, because–well, let’s hope that will be the end of that.)

Seriously. Go see it. You’ll be glad that you did.

In other must mentions, I’m going to link to a couple of very fine articles–

The first is a discussion of rape as it is portrayed in media, today, and especially in SFF. A very interesting look at the “realism” of sexual assault on women, and why don’t we see more rape of male characters in film and fiction. It’s worth a think, or two, and the numbers presented may surprise you.

The second is a couple of links to possible ways to get your hands on the Hugo Award-nominated essay “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Personally, I’d love to see this essay be required reading for the human race, but since that seems unlikely, I’ll just throw it out as a suggestion.

You can download Hurley’s essay collection here for free until 8/17, or you can listen to Hurley read the title essay on a podcast, here.  I highly recommend either–she’ll make you think about the way that you see the women characters in the stories that you love, and for me, she has really made me question the way that I write female characters, which I feel is contributing to a richer, deeper understanding of the characters I create, and the world in which they live.

Also, I would add that Kameron Hurley has a new novel, THE MIRROR EMPIRE, coming out on August 26th, which is getting stunningly good reviews.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.

Books, Books, and More Books

So, for those of you that don’t have young children, you may not know that March is Reading Month. We kicked off the annual word-fest with Dr. Seuss’ Birthday on March 2nd, and both the Elementary kids and the Middle Schooler have their own special reading calendar that they are supposed to follow, with special school-wide activities and fun dress up days.

Around here, every month is reading month, but we’ve been spending some extra time on it, what with all of the extra assignments, and it is really quite exciting to watch the kids really start to get it. Our 6th grade son has a map of the U.S. with 50 different assignments to accomplish, throughout the month. Some are as straightforward as “Read a Fantasy Novel” or “Use no screens, except for homework, for one day.” Others are a little more in-depth, such as “Follow a recipe and bring in samples for the class” or “Memorize a poem and recite it to your teacher.” Yesterday, he had to write a fan letter to his favorite author and send it, after showing his teacher.  What was really cool? It has just come to my attention that his favorite author is one of my favorite authors: Brandon Sanderson. I love him for his Mistborn books, finishing The Wheel of Time series, and The Stormlight Archives (Words of Radiance just came out! Hooray! And it is 1100 pages long! Hooray!) My son loves him for Steelheart and Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians and the Infinity Blade books, but I hear the things that he enjoys about them, and I know that someday soon, he’ll be reading the books that I love. He has never been much of a reader, up until recently, and I really love that he has found someone who speaks to him. It pleases me.

Our eldest has always been a big reader, and she has found an adoration for all things John Green. I can totally relate to this, as I think that he is a stunningly accurate, honest writer of teenagers. He gets them, and they love him for it. We are both dreading and looking forward to the release of The Fault in Our Stars when it hits theaters in June. Like so many others, we’ve both shed a few tears over that one. She’s reading An Abundance of Katherines right now, and I look forward to her review.

Our nine-year-old has just graduated from Magic Tree House books to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Three times, today, I caught her reading when she was mid-painting on a project, in the middle of a t.v. show, and just now, when I checked on her in bed. I cannot begin to express the joy that finding them stealth reading gives to me.

Our youngest, a kindergartener, is just finding his way in the world of words. We are reading Redwall aloud, at night, and every once in a while, over my shoulder, he will find a sentence that he can read. Tonight, it was “Try to be brave like your mum and dad.” I wasn’t even to that point on the page, yet, but he was looking, finding meaning, and discovering, all on his own. And, I’m not going to lie–the fact that he is fully absorbed and engrossed in a book about sword wielding mice and badgers with cudgels pleases me like a kid on Christmas morning.

As for the grown-ups–my long-suffering husband is slogging his way through my second novel’s manuscript and doing his best to put up with my inability to accept criticism. I am reading Before They Were Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, which is the second book of The First Law series. I’m finding that I really, REALLY enjoy his books–mostly because they are such excellent character studies. You really come to understand the psyche of his characters, none of which are clearly in the good or bad category. He writes an ensemble of gray protagonists, often gritty, often brutal, but you really get to understand their motivations in a way that many books don’t give you. It isn’t rainbows-and-unicorns type fluffy fantasy, but it is fantastic in its ability to make you believe that the characters he writes are real, even if you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley.

Writing-wise, I finished the first, revised draft of Whirlwind and have since sent it off to my beta readers. This is the tough place, anxiety-wise, for me. While I wait for feedback, I definitely start to second guess myself and develop a pretty good case of Imposter Syndrome. All will be well, though. That’s what revisions are for, right? I’m also working on a re-write of A Sown Wind, as well as beginning the outlining, brainstorming stage for book three, which I am thinking of entitling, When Gods Toss Dice.

In non-wordy stuff, I cannot recommend “True Detective” and “Black Sails,” enough. Both shows have really drawn me in, and I was sad to see the season finale of “True Detective” come so soon. We are also cruising through the last four episodes of “How I Met Your Mother,” and looking forward to the return of “Game of Thrones,” next month.

How about you? What are you reading? What are you watching? Where do you get your inspiration, and what stories speak to you? Enquiring minds want to know.

Achievement Unlocked

About 427 days ago, give or take a few hours, I sat down at my computer. I had a story in my head–a story that some friends and I had been telling each other for years, and I had some new, crazy ideas to go with it. So I sat down at the computer, and I started to type.

At first, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I deleted just about as much as I kept. I was excited when I hit ten pages, really excited when I hit fifty pages, and six weeks later, when I typed the last words of the Epilogue (at about 400 pages), I thought I would fall over dead from the joy of having accomplished the thing that I had set out to do. I had written a book.

Now, here’s the thing. I did, in January and the first half of February, 2013, write a book. It wasn’t yet a full book, and it wasn’t even close to a good book, but I wrote a book. And that, in and of itself, felt like a win. But I’d been bitten, and I knew that it wasn’t good enough.

So I kept typing, kept revising, kept fidgeting. I *gasp* gave it to people whose opinions I trusted and asked what they thought. I fought with my husband when he quite rightly showed me the enormous plot holes that I had woven myself into. I rewrote, some more. I got more advice, found a critique partner, revised, reworked, and rewrote. In a word, I was humbled. The task was a great deal harder than I had at first imagined. I revised, and rewrote until I couldn’t see a way to change it, and then I set A SOWN WIND aside.

Now, this first book was always intended to be the first in a series, and so when I put it aside, thinking, “It’s done,” I started hacking out the first bits of book #2, WHIRLWIND. And at first, that went well. The first 150 pages, or so, were a breeze, and I thought, “I’ve totally got this.” I started querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed.

But here’s the thing. As a human being, I am always learning. I am always evolving, and as I sat there, staring at the first bits of WHIRLWIND, I began to see that I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe we never know what we are doing. Maybe those authors that I admire, whose books I cannot get enough of–maybe they have no idea what they are doing, either.

I don’t know.

The truth of it was, my craft needed work. My craft still needs work. Probably, my craft will always need work.

I finally managed to type the last words in a revised first draft of WHIRLWIND, yesterday. After fighting my way past a point where I wasn’t sure if the story was capable of surviving, after pushing past a bout of, maybe not writer’s block, but at least writer’s doubt, after months of staring at this thing… I have a finished story. It isn’t a complete story. It’s probably not even a good story, yet. But I am willing to do the work to make it better. I feel the pull to fix and change it, to breathe life into it.

As of yesterday afternoon,  I can now say that, truly, I am writing an epic fantasy series. I have written two books, both of which are still in different stages of revision. It isn’t ready for the light of day in the world at large, but every day, it gets a little closer. Every day, my craft gets a little stronger, and a little tighter. I am learning something about storytelling, every day.

So, I consider this an achievement unlocked. It isn’t as if I’ve beaten the whole game–but I’ve gotten to a bonus level. I have found that determination, humility, and the willingness to accept criticism and make change are crucial, if I want to really, REALLY, in the great, wide world, be a writer. Because, sure, I can call myself a novelist, right now. I can do that, and there isn’t really anyone who could argue with me.

But this isn’t good enough. Not anymore. I want to see my name on the spine of a book. I want to see my novel on the shelves of a bookstore. I want all the success–and who’re we kidding? Who doesn’t? I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling or GRRM. But if I don’t believe that I can achieve publication, if I don’t strive, every day to make it so, then I don’t deserve it.

I could call myself a novelist, right now. But I am not going to. I’ve written a couple of books. I am still writing those couple of books. I’d feel confident calling myself a revisionist, perhaps aspiring author. I’d be happy to say I’m a writer. But I am not a novelist, yet.

But I will be, someday.

Weekly Recap and Germs, Be Gone!

What I am Reading: Still working on The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. I am still enjoying it, and it is reminding me of the in-depth world building of GRRM in Song of Ice and Fire. My favorite scenes center on Logen Ninefingers, right now, and I am interested to see how the separate groups of characters will come to interact.

What I am Reading to My Kids: We are still chugging through Charlotte’s Web and Pippi Longstocking, although I expect to finish both, this weekend. We plan to read Because of Winn Dixie and The Mouse and The Motorcycle, next.

What I’ve been watching: In order to force myself back onto the treadmill, I’ve guided myself back to my first season obsession with Once Upon a Time. Catching up on season 2 on Netflix… It’s not as good. BUT… it’s enough to get me onto the torture machine, so I guess it is worth it. My husband and I have just started watching True Detective (HBO) and Black Sails (Starz). Both are really good. True Detective has given me some honest respect for Matthew McConaughey’s acting chops, and Black Sails (while occasionally falling into the GoT gratuitous sex scene trap) has drawn me in, in two episodes, more than Agents of Shield has in half a season. I’m looking forward to these two shows’ next episodes more than I am the return of Walking Dead, for what that’s worth.

Where I am at, writing-wise: Alas, I am not much further along than I was, last Friday. The knights screwed everything up, and I had to do some edits to fix the paradoxes that they had created. Ugh. But I have done some other cool writing related stuff, this week (see below).

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I figure that if the best I can do is set aside the period between packing five lunches at 6:30 a.m. and driving the smallest heathens to school at 8:20 a.m., every Friday morning, for blogging– well, so be it. So here you have it, the second weekly recap. Ta-da! Aren’t you impressed? Thank you… thank you.

But seriously… it has been madness around here. We are all at the point where we just want to throw the windows open to get rid of the germs and the winter blahs with a little fresh air, but the wind chill is -20, right now, so fresh air = frozen flesh. Not really what they’re depicting in the sales brochure. Our five-year-old was home sick with a cold for a couple of days this week, and every one has that drug out, sort of “winter overdose” look on their faces. The snow piles next to our driveway are taller than the minivan, though, so it’ll probably be June before it is all gone.

In Valentine’s Day preparations, we are busy putting together goodie bags and the 3rd grader has to design and assemble her own Valentine mailbox. Have I mentioned how the 3rd grader is my overachiever? This process has involved blueprints (yup… blueprints), two trips to the craft store, and use of the oven on two different occasions. I’ll post results, next week when it is finished, but this is clearly not an amateur project. (Meanwhile, the kindergartner could not care less about any of it. Go figure.)

The two big kids are in the midst of mid-winter chaos, too. Our 15-year-old is on the tech crew of The Crucible, which is showing this weekend, as well as preparing for the forensics team. I think she will be home for a total of about 12 hours, this weekend, hopefully some of which she’ll spend sleeping. Sixth grade son is busy with basketball, and he has spent a great deal of time figuring out EXACTLY how many games they can still lose and make the playoffs. Its high stake stuff, here.

Speaking of playoffs, let us never speak of that Super Bowl, again, shall we? It wasn’t just that the Broncos lost… it was how truly, disgustingly awful they played. That was the single most boring game of football I have ever watched, and frankly, I was just relieved by the time it was over.

In word related news, I am excited to be heading to Art Hop, tonight. My youngest daughter and I are planning a special date to go see a show of college artists who have illustrated some pieces by local writers (one or two of which *might* have been written by yours truly). It should be fun, and I haven’t seen the artwork, at all, so I am interested to see how they interpreted my pieces.

Also this week, I participated in my first Twitter pitch party. For those of you not on Twitter, or not familiar with the process of trying to get published, a brief explanation: Once an hour, you can post a “pitch” for your book. It has to fit in 140 characters (which is about as painful as childbirth, but without the drugs), and agents and editors will peruse the posts. If they are interested in seeing more of your project, they can “favorite” your pitch, which is sort of an invitation to query them, with the added bonus that you get to say, “You WANTED to see this… Like me! Like me!” It was a fun and interesting experience, and I received two requests from agents and two from editors, so we shall see where this goes. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience, figuring out how to describe my book in such a short space and how to hook the reader, with such limited word count. I’d love to think that an agent is on the horizon, but if not… I’ll definitely do another one of these. Reading other authors’ pitches was incredibly helpful, and there are a great many books out there that sound really interesting and fun. I wish all of those that participated in #adpit, good luck.

Beyond that, I am very excited to get back to our tradition of Saturdays spent playing RPG’s, which has been on hiatus since Christmas (Stupid winter.), a weekend full of art and time with my kiddos (Except for the big one. Soon, I’ll forget what she looks like.), and a full day, today, dedicated completely to working on Whirlwind. It is like my birthday and Christmas and the county fair, all rolled into one! Happy Friday!