Hacking the writing process

One of the things most writers learn early on is how they work best. What environment they need and how they need to approach a story to make progress on it. It’s something we learn through trial and error as we go, developing our process as we develop our skills at plotting, pacing, world building, and characterisation. When you read a lot of writing books, they talk about the importance of finding your process and sticking to it. They’ll advocate particular processes and extol the virtues, sometimes explaining (in detail) why their process is the only way to work.

Plotter. Pantser. Distraction-free environment. Free-writing. Coffee shop writing. Group writing. Solo writing. Detailed research. Research on the fly. Placeholders to do the research later. MICE quotient. Structure. No structure. Scene-sequel.

There are so many parts of the process we develop, and when we find one that works, we stick to it. Sometimes to a degree that’s ultimately unhelpful. Kameron Hurley talks about hacking her process on her blog: being unafraid to change it up and try something new. We can get stuck in a rut of “this is how we should write, because it’s what we do and it’s what has previously worked” and that can hold us back. It’s important to try new things, even try things we can’t imagine working, because it might lead us to something that works even better than what we were doing.

And ruts are usually a bad place to be, right?

I’ve always been a pantser. I’ll go in with, at most, the milestones on the way worked out and that’s it. The idea of outlining has always made me nervous because it hasn’t worked with me–I’ll write the outline and then I feel satisfied because I know how the story goes, and I can’t actually write the story. I’m starting to suspect this is a holdover from writing fanfic: you’re writing about characters you know so well already, often in settings you know (unless you’re writing an AU), and if you know them, the arcs they’ll take, and the detailed plot, what is left to discover? You need need to have something new to find as you write, or it becomes mechanical and passionless.

I guess one of the things I’ve realised is that I’m a discovery writer more than a true pantser. As I edited the book I finished earlier this year, I found that most of the big structural issues it had would have been caught and fixed before I ever began if I’d outlined it first. I went in with some research–characters sheets, some world-building, a really highlights-only idea of the plot direction–and I ended up with a mess. Most of the edits were dealing with the huge structural issues, the plot problems, and the missing character arcs–most of which could have been cut off at the pass with an outline.

My newest project (er, the one I’m tinkering with when I have spare time after my NaNo words) is different. The idea happened, I developed it, and I ended up with a one-page outline that felt fairly complete. All the major and minor plot points, right there on the page. I worked on it a bit more, added more details. When I set up the Scriv project, I set up chapter folders and added more details to the outline as I sketched in the chapter descriptions. I caught a few issues, found places that needed more thought and worked on them, and now I’ve got an outline that feels pretty solid. The main characters have arcs, the plot isn’t filled with logical inconsistencies or impossibilities. It’s an outline that, hopefully, won’t leave me with the level of mess I’ve been cleaning up for three months in my other book.

I’ll probably expand it as I go. Some of the chapters I outlined feel too full, so they’ll probably be turned into multiple chapters. An outline isn’t a line-by-line recipe, after all.

What I’ve learned is that for this book, with this outline, I’m still discovering it as I write. I’ve just finished the opening chapter, and I already feel like I’m finding out new things with each new scene. The outline is there, but it’s the details I’m discovering, so I’m still excited to find out what happens next.

Perhaps my old pantser ways only really work for the way I write fanfic, and my process for original fiction had to change. I’ll know better when I finish this book and see how it turns out. Hopefully it will be less fundamentally flawed and messy.

The other part of my process I’ve been playing with is environment. I’ve never been very particular about where I write–sometimes I’m at my desk, sometimes I’m on my iPad elsewhere in the house, or in a coffee shop, or in the lunchroom at work. It’s the reason Scriv for iOS has been so good–it’s fitting in with my habits really well. But for years, I’ve been writing in silence. No music. Having someone else’s words in my head made it impossible to hear my own words.

I’m also really easily distracted and I’ve been finding it difficult to get myself into the word space, which impacts on productivity. If I’m writing 50 words, checking twitter, writing 100, checking email, writing 25, checking twitter…you can see how that’s not really working, can’t you?

So I decided to try something. One evening, I downloaded a ton of classical stuff on Spotify and plugged in, and it’s working. No words, just orchestral–mainly violin or cello concertos, or symphonies–and suddenly, I’m actually getting a fair amount done each time I sit down. I get into the right wording zone and everything zooms along. At a certain stage, I stop hearing the music, but it’s okay because it’s become a background hum helping me to concentrate. It was the one part of my process I refused to consider changing for years, and it’s made a huge difference.

Finding a process that works for our writing is important, but so is trying new things. Sometimes, we need to hack our process and find a new way of working. It might not always work, a change you try might even sound counter-intuitive to everything we’re told by ‘experts’, but we should be open to experimenting.

You never know what you might learn and yourself and your writing.

Weekly reading, 27 July 2016

Last book finished: Hounded by Kevin Hearne. It’s the first part in his Iron Druid series and I found it a lot of fun. Not the best book I’ve read this year, but definitely entertaining and with enough promise to add the next one to my wishlist. Actually, it was a character introduced late in the book that really got me interested in continuing, but that’s because she grabbed me in a way the viewpoint character hasn’t (yet). I’d say it’s a fun distraction for an afternoon, particularly if you like your urban fantasy with some Celtic influences, but don’t go in expecting huge universal insights into humanity. This is strictly a magic and adventure book.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. I’m setting myself a deadline: must finish it before I go to England next month.

I’m onto the never-seen-before short stories in Rise, by Mira Grant, and OMG SQUEE. A story about Michael and Stacey Mason and suddenly they make so much more sense. I’m loving this. I also finally started Justice Calling by Annie Bellet, which was free a while ago and has been sitting on my Kindle ever since. It’s another fun distraction, on the short end for a novel, and I’m enjoying it more than I expected. If you’re an RPGer, particularly DnD, I suspect this book will be even more entertaining.

Next read: I have Imprudence by Gail Carriger sitting on my coffee table. My Hugo reading is almost done and I’ll have done my vote by the weekend. Yeah, I’m diving into steampunk joy next.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Scrivener for iOS: initial impressions

I’ve been waiting for this ever since I was converted to the Scrivener way a couple of years ago, so the last couple of days have been pretty damned exciting. If you somehow missed it, Scrivener for iOS was released yesterday morning, after a wait that has felt interminable to many.

I began using Scrivener on my desktop a couple of years ago, for a NaNoWriMo. Friends had been extolling it for years, but I’d been stubbornly clinging to Word. “I write linearly,” I’d say. “What use is Scrivener to a writer like me?”

I tried it for that NaNo, only really planning to use it for planning rather than writing, but somehow ended up using it for everything that year and haven’t looked back. Having all my notes on characters and locations, evolving outlines and research, all in one place for easy reference is wonderful. Being able to version each scene using snapshots, rather saving the entire document as a new version each time I make a change, makes my heart happy during editing. (It’s the day job software developer in me, I swear.) Using colours in labels to, for example, display which POV a scene or chapter is from really helps in a quick visual assessment of the balance in a story.

The only problem has been that I often use my iPad for writing. In coffee shops, when I’m travelling, or even just because I’m too lazy to boot up the desktop of an evening, I have a keyboard and I can churn out the words wherever I am. Without Scriv, though, I’ve been typing into Word and copying into Scriv later. Which is as exactly as frustrating and fiddly as it sounds, so finally getting Scrivener on my iPad is going to be a huge timesaver.

Now I’ve been using it for a couple of days, what do I think so far?

When Scrivener announced the iOS version was finally going to be a reality, I concluded these were the absolute, must-have, deal-breaker features that I needed for it to be functional:

  • Ability to open existing Scrivener projects and add new folders and text documents to the manuscript section of the binder.
  • Ability to add new words and edit in new and existing text documents.
  • Access to the research/character/location folders in a project, even if read-only.
  • Ability to assign labels and statuses.

That was it. My bare-bones list of deal-breakers. If I had those really basic features, it would already be better than my Word-copy-paste routine. I also had a list of features that I really hoped for, because it would make working much easier, but wouldn’t stop me buying if they were missing:

  • Dropbox syncing so the iPad didn’t have to be physically connected to a computer for file transfers.
  • Word count tracking.
  • Compile/export functionality into Word documents.
  • Corkboard view.
  • Ability to move text boxes and chapters around to reorder.
  • Write access to the research folders for making notes on the move.

So, how did Scrivener do?

Well, first up, I got my bare-bones and nice to have features. All of them, which I didn’t expect. Even the compile functionality–it’s bare-bones, no custom templates and no ePub files, but it outputs a Word or PDF file, and that’s enough to be perfectly usable for what I need. There will be an occasion this summer when I’ll be travelling and I need to email a draft of the story I’m working on, thanks to deadlines, and this will do it. YAY.

I got word count tracking for both the manuscript and the session. Corkboard. Moving folders and text boxes around. Creating new research folders and adding text and images to them. Creating new text documents and folders in the manuscript and editing existing ones. Updating labels and statuses–and being able to use labels to colour-code cards in the corkboard and folder entries in the binder, which was more than I expected!

Dropbox syncing that actually works. No, it doesn’t sync as I go the way the desktop does. You need to manually invoke a sync, but this is actually great: I can work offline with ease (and without any of the demands to turn off airplane mode Word gives me) and sync when I’m online again. And it won’t throw up a thousand errors when my wifi signal cuts out for a moment (Word, AGAIN) while I have the project open.

I can even create new Scrivener projects and throw them onto Dropbox, which was another thing I didn’t expect. It’s a really basic project, just the manuscript folder and a research folder, so all the fancy settings and front/back matter in the templates I’ve created aren’t there and will need setting up when I’m at my desktop. But again, for working on the go, being able to create a new project is huge. I can start building my research folders and making notes if an amazing idea hits that needs to be noted down before I forget all the details.

The only error I found so far is this, and it’s not really an error. More of a minor miscommunication issue. There were updates to the Windows and Mac versions of Scrivener earlier this week to upgrade them to be compatible with the iOS version. Specifically, you needed to apply the update and then open the projects you’ll be using in the iOS version to upgrade their format. I did that for one project I’m working and then plugged away at some new words before saving and closing. I had another project that I’d barely started (just an outline that I also have in Word and some brief character notes), so I opened that one to upgrade and closed it without having made any changes. In that second project, because I hadn’t made and saved any changes, the format upgrade didn’t stick and it wouldn’t open in iOS. The first project was fine. So my only tip would be to make sure you make a minor change (even just adding a comma) to your project on the desktop after upgrading it and save it, otherwise iOS won’t be able to open it. After that, everything should work.

Overall, I’m incredibly impressed. I got the first scene of a new project written yesterday–created a new project after I couldn’t open the original in iOS and it didn’t take me long to get labels and statuses set up and start working. I even added the outline to my research folder and set up a new character folder. Today I went back to the project I’m supposed to be working on (er, oops) and added some new words. It was a doddle, much smoother than working in Word, and the MS and session words tracked for both project perfectly.

The text editor defaults to only using around 2/3s of the screen width, so the binder can still be displayed down the left, but it can be expanded to a full screen view. Typewriter scrolling is easy to toggle on and off. All the features I rely on day-to-day are right there, and the workflow is similar enough to the desktop version that the learning curve is easy. It’s probably not as intuitive to anyone completely new to Scrivener, but that doesn’t surprise me: desktop Scrivener had a steep learning curve for me and the iOS version is modelled as closely on that as it can be.

There are tutorials built into the app, though, to help new users to work out how to use Scrivener, so you’re not left flailing in the dark. And the Scrivener forums are an endless source of useful information, too. I’d definitely say that it’s good to have the desktop version, too, because there are features in it that the iOS version can’t replicate. Specifically, the compile settings are very basic, and you’ll want the desktop version to do anything fancy on those lines. I have a bunch of custom compile settings and I’ll only be using the iOS compile when I need to compile a rough draft for backups or sending to first readers.

And backups is the other thing iOS doesn’t have. In the desktop version, there’s a button to create a zipped backup of every file in a project, and iOS doesn’t have that. Compiling and exporting your manuscript is the best you’ll be able to do, and that won’t include any of the research notes. It may due to the limitations of iOS, but if the zipped backups are doable, I hope Scrivener will have them on their to-do list for a future iteration. That’s a feature a lot of people would love, because backups are vital to writer sanity and paranoia.

In the meantime, I’m compiling my project before I hit sync, due to that writerly paranoia!

In summary, Scrivener for iOS is everything I’d hoped for and more. It’s already making me more productive, because I’m organising as I write instead of having to do a lot of organising and tidying later, and it’s going to make my summer of travelling and writing so much easier. If you were on the fence on whether Scrivener for iOS is worth it, then I can report that it absolutely is. The hype didn’t lie: this is the app we’ve all been waiting for to make writing on an iPad not just workable, but enjoyable and incredibly productive.

Weekly reading, 20 July 2016

I know, I didn’t post a report last week. It was a weird, busy week, and blogging slipped by me. I’m claiming the Hugo progress report the week before as that week’s weekly reading post, too. So this is the first “proper” report since…uh…June. Shockingly, I only seem to have finished one book since my Hugo binge. At least it was a good one!

Last book finished: Trade Me by Courtney Milan. I’m a big fan of her historical romances, but this is the first (and so far, only) contemporary she’s written, which may be why it sat unread for so long. I’ll pick a historical over a contemp every day, but I did finally get started on it (because it’s Courtney Milan)…and consumed it very fast as soon as I did. Milan’s trademarks are all here: fun, witty writing, protagonists who don’t fall into stereotypes, and a plot that isn’t just about their relationship. She did it in a modern setting, though, and she did it really well. Tina Chen is a wonderful heroine, clearly drawn from some of Milan’s own background, and I instantly liked her. Blake Reynolds was harder to like initially, but I began to have sympathy for him very quickly and could absolutely see why Tina fell for him. One thing I particularly liked is that for both of them, their issues stem from their parents and it would be very easy to have drawn their parents as unrelenting bad guys. It’s a popular trope. Milan examines those issues and relationships more closely, though, and I ended the book really liking all the characters even though I could also see how they had led to so many of the problems Tina and Blake have.

And speaking of problems, this is a book that deals with mental health issues and eating disorders. Not the ones you’re thinking, though. It’s Blake dealing with an eating disorder, and Milan writes it sensitively and beautifully. Tina can’t heal him on her own, any more than Blake can fix Tina’s problems, and I always appreciate a romance where sex isn’t the magical heal-all. This is a book that’s a lot of fun, a bit painful at times, and completely compelling. I stayed up way too late a couple of times because I couldn’t put it down, which shows how much I loved it.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. I read a page, though. An entire page. Maybe if I reach for it instead of my Kindle during my sessions of pacing around to relieve back pain…

I’m reading Rise by Mira Grant, but I’ve learned that zombies are definitely not good bedtime reading, so progress has been a little slow. I’m also most of the way through Hunted by Kevin Hearne. He’s coming to my local comic con in November, so it was clearly time to dig this out and read it. So far, it’s fun. Not the height of brilliance, but entertaining with a lot of promise, so I’ll probably be checking out more in the series.

Next read: I got a lot of Hugo reading done, but I still have a few short stories to dig into. Must get to those this week.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Thoughts on *that* Star Trek spoiler

I’m pretty sure there are dozens of think pieces out there already, but I’ve been thinking about it all day, and I have to write something down to stop it buzzing around my head.

Mostly, it’s about George Takei’s reaction to it. When the news crossed my Twitter feed yesterday, I was delighted. It’s never made sense to me that Star Trek, of all the SF shows out there, didn’t have a main character who was gay. I understood TOS not having one–that interracial kiss and the presence of two non-white characters on the bridge were ground-breaking enough–but the later shows having no LGBT representation was disappointing.

DS9 did give us mirror versions of some characters who were gay or bi, which was progressive for their time, but that’s not the same as permanent main characters being out.

George Takei usually delights me. His activism is inspiring, his love for the character of Sulu is wonderful, and I’d thought he would be more pleased than anyone. It was incredibly disappointing to read his reaction. Simon Pegg’s reaction and explanation for his choice put some of my thoughts into words beautifully.

If they introduced a new character who is LGBT, that’s what they would be known for. They would be “the gay character”; that would be the defining characteristic everyone would know. Any other aspects to their character would be irrelevant to many people, because they would be The LGBT Representative (TM).

More than that, writing in a new character specifically to be The LGBT Representative (TM) makes it too easy to dismiss or forget their presence. We remember the core, canon characters from each series. They’re the ones everyone recognises. New characters, bit parts, can be dismissed and washed away by fans because they’re not the core group.

And how would that even work? We rarely know much about the characters outside their role on the ship. Only the core characters are ever shown to have other parts to their lives, and that’s rare, so the new character would have to either make a really big point of saying “Hello, I am gay” (otherwise the audience won’t notice – everyone is assumed to be straight until stated otherwise, remember) or we’d need to see a big scene of their life and partner beyond the ship, which will also be about as subtle as a slap with a wet fish when we don’t see that for other, bigger characters.

From what John Cho and Simon Pegg have said, the reveal is small. It’s subtle. It’s clear that he’s Sulu’s partner and co-parent, not his BFF, but it’s also deliberately not A Big Teachable Moment (TM), which is what it would be with a new character. That’s what has made so many people so happy about this. It’s something Star Trek should have done a long time ago, they’re redressing the balance now, and they’re trying to do it without turning it into a Lifetime movie kind of thing.

As for the argument that Sulu has always been straight…um, not necessarily. Society defaults to assume that everyone is straight unless stated otherwise. And given how little we see of these character outside their work on the Enterprise, many of them could have entire worlds and families we’ve never seen. The core three got their flirt (and more) on during the course of some adventures, but Sulu? Chekov? Scotty? Uhura? Not so much. A good argument can be made that Sulu wasn’t closeted, it’s just never been something that came up on screen, because we never saw any of their home lives. He has a daughter, but the gender of his partner was never specified onscreen. Sulu doesn’t code as specifically straight to me, he never has. Finding out about this new dimension to the character, one we never saw before due to conservative networks and never seeing their lives at home, hasn’t fundamentally rewritten him for me. It’s made concrete something they never had the possibility of stating before, but was always a possibility.

(There’s also the argument that bisexuality exists, and thus, even Kirk’s history with women doesn’t necessarily mean he’s 100% straight. Just putting that out there to watch heads explode.)

All of that is why Takei’s comments were disappointing to me, because it shows he’s stuck, to some degree, in an outdated minds-set about this. And it’s why I’m choosing to ignore his disappointment.

If Gene Roddenberry were alive now, I think he’d be fuming that it took them so long to do this. It’s been possible to show that main characters on TV and film are gay for a long time. It’s not illegal any more. Star Trek had a record for pushing boundaries, and it ended up behind the times on this. I think Gene would be delighted that they’re finally getting there, and he’d be agitating for the new TV show to push some more boundaries. How about having a trans main character, for example?

After all, this show’s tagline is “To boldly go where no one/man has gone before”, and that’s what it needs to keep doing. Sulu being gay is the catch-up step. The next step should, and must, go somewhere further and bolder.

June writing round-up

Previously in monthly round-ups…

Total new words for June: 3,665

Yeah, you are not reading that number wrong. There were not many new words in June. My big plan to get the novel rewrites finished on the first weekend and then put it aside and play with fanfic did not happen.

Not that I didn’t work, but I’ve been rewriting and editing and rewriting so much of it. I’m one scene away from finishing all those edits and rewrites, at last. It’s the final scene of the book, which no longer fits with the rest of the book so needs a from-scratch rewrite. When you write a book with no firm outline and introduce a ton of problems with internal logic and weak character arcs, you get a mess. That’s my learning from this experience. At least the book that I’m getting at the end of this process is better than the vomit draft, but that doesn’t take much! Hopefully my first readers will be able to tell me where it still doesn’t work, because I’ve lost sight of it after all this.

The one concrete thing I did achieve from last month’s goals was editing and submitting a story to Lightspeed. Phew! That was the one I would have been annoyed with myself for not doing.

3k of my new words were on the fanfic project and the rest were a scene for the next book I want to write, jotted down to get the words out of my head. That’s…really not what I planned. And now I’m going to be rushing headlong to get the fanfic project done by my deadline, which has become the story of my summer over the last few years. Ah, well.

In an effort to make sure July doesn’t go totally off the rails despite Tour de France watching and a big visit from my sister, I’ve joined Camp NaNoWriMo. My goal is 25k, which would get me a long way towards writing that fanfic project.

That’s my goal this month. No other plans: 25k on the big fanfic project. Everything else takes second place in my priority list, even the edits.

How about you? How did June treat you, and what are your goals for July?

Hugo progress report 1

Earlier in the year, I vowed to at least attempt every work on the Hugo ballot that I could get my hands on (without paying, in the case of Puppy picks). And so far, I’m well on track to have sampled (at the least) everything in the fiction categories. I need to get working on the Campbell and related works, though, and I’ve got one film left to view. The short form dramas may not all get viewed, largely because the newest seasons of Grimm, Supernatural, and My Little Pony aren’t available on any of the streaming platforms I subscribe to yet, and they’re Puppy picks so I’m not paying for them. We’ll see how that goes, though. Maybe by the end of the month…

You want my category by category thoughts? Well, here you go.

Novels

I had already read three (Ancillary Mercy, The Cinder Spires, and Uprooted), so I was well ahead of the game here. I adored The Fifth Season, so much that I preordered the sequel the moment I finished it and I still can’t decide whether to put it or Uprooted (my nominee) at the top of my ballot.

Seveneves was less of a success for me. I ranted a bit about it here and I finally gave up at page 364. I made it past page 100, though, which was better than some Hugo finalists have been for me. It’s definitely getting the last slot on the ballot, although I can see why many people would have nominated it, so I won’t be using No Award in this category.

Novellas

I nominated Penric’s Demon, so I had four to read in this category. I finished Binti a few days ago and loved it – it’s currently vying for top of the ballot with Penric’s Demon.

Perfect State frustrated me because I usually like Brandon Sanderson’s work, and this was not one of his better pieces. It was an okay novella, but not brilliant, and Sanderson has definitely written much better stories than this.

I didn’t make it past page three of Slow Bullets. I tried, but torture disguised as miliSF does nothing for me. I’ve got The Builders on my Kindle, so I’ll probably tackle that one shortly.

Novelettes

I’ve only made it to two of these so far, but that’s largely because “Obits” was sent as  PDF and I need to sit down with my iPad to read it. And two novelettes are from the same anthology, so I need to sit down with my iPad for those, too.

Thankfully I was able to put .mobi copies of “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” and “Folding Beijing” on my Kindle, so I read those at the weekend. “Folding Beijing” reminded me a lot of The Three-Body Problem in style, which makes sense because Ken Liu was the translator for both. The ideas behind it were so creative that I’m currently favouring it over “And You Shall…” for top slot, but that may change. After all, Stephen King is one of the great writers of our time, so I have high hopes for “Obits”.

Short Stories

I nominated “Cat Pictures Please”, so again, I had four left to read. I’m still steeling myself for “If You Were an Award, My Love”, and “Seven Kill Tiger” is in the anthology that includes two nominated novelettes. “Asymmetrical Warfare” is another PDF-only that I need to sit down with my iPad for. Hopefully that will happen this weekend.

“Space Raptor Butt Invasion” was mercifully short and had fewer typos than anticipated. Uh, that’s all I can really say in its favour.

In conclusion…

The novels were definitely a stronger category than the shorter works. And so far, I’ve DNF-ed fewer than anticipated. Although, as the remainder are the ones I was least looking forward to, that may change. After all, I promised to try them all. I never promised to read past the first page of anything I judged truly atrocious.

Weekly reading, 29 June 2016

Last book finished: Out on Good Behaviour by Dahlia Adler. It’s wonderful. An f/f new adult romance that manages to be hot and sweet at the same time, which I think deserves applause. It doesn’t fall into the “BFFs with kissing” territory that some YA/NA f/f books can, but the sex isn’t hard core erotica, either. It’s exactly the balance that worked for me. The plot happily dives into the player/virgin trope in the best way possible and made me smile the whole way through, even during the slightly angsty parts. Although coming out is a part of the story, for Sam anyway, the real plot is about Frankie–the player–learning that being in love can be wonderful and doesn’t change who she is. I loved this book so much, and I can tell it’s going to be a happy comfort read for me.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. It got buried under a recipe book avalanche this week, so I need to do some tidying up and get reading on it!

I gave up on Seveneves. I made it further than I expected–page 364–but I just couldn’t do it to myself any more. So much over explaining. So little characterisation. Such awful pacing. I started to rant about it for the fiftieth time and realised that I was only reading due to bloody minded determination, so I put myself out of my memory. Onto the DNF pile it went!

I picked up Rise by Mira Grant instead, and it’s such a relief to be reading something with better writing. Grant knows how to get characterisation and pacing right, while writing compelling plots that are as scientifically rigorous as a zombie novel can be. And she does it without throwing every damn piece of research she’s ever done into the text.

I’m also reading Poison or Protect by Gail Carriger, which is pure joy and hilarity.

Next read: I’ve got to make some headway on the rest of the short Hugo works, so that’s going to be my task over the long weekend. Wish me luck.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

Weekly reading, 23 June 2016

Last book finished: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. It is a thing of joy that made me ridiculously happy and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The graphic novel portions were fantastic and entertaining, and made me wish Lovelace and Babbage had lived that life, but it’s the footnotes and endnotes that really made the book. Trust me, it’s wonderful.

I also read one of the Hugo-nominated novellas, Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. I expected a lot from this, because I usually really enjoy Sanderson’s work. His worldbuilding is always creative and his writing is compelling. This wasn’t a bad novella, but it wasn’t one of his best works by any stretch. Even Sanderson on an off-day is better than many writers, so I wouldn’t anti-rec it, but it’s definitely not the best work on the ballot or one of the highlights for the author.

Current read: Still working on Russian History: A Very Short Introduction. This will always be my status. Bribes still aren’t working. Maybe I need to put a reminder in my calendar, block out fifteen minutes a day for it.

My main physical book read is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. This wasn’t a book that I expected to love, I’ll admit, but I’ve been surprised before. I didn’t expect to like The Fifth Season, because I’ve previously bounced off Jemisin’s work, and it’s been one of the best things I read this year. Zombies are totally not my thing, but I fell in love with Mira Grant’s Newsflesh anyway. This is all to say, even if I go into a book with low expectations, I can be changed by good writing

Seveneves has elements that are usually right up my alley. Yes, I’m not hugely into Hard SF, but global disasters are completely my thing. I’m a disaster movie fan, and an SFnal disaster should be something I love. I’m about 140 pages in and I can say that, so far, the ideas are great but the execution is…not. Overwritten, way too much information about the background of every character and object, which all comes out in tangents that kill any attempt at pacing and tension. And despite all that background, the characters have the life and consistency of cardboard. A good disaster story relies on character to pull us in and keep us there, rooting for them, as the stakes go up. I really couldn’t care less about any of these people. Right now, I’m reading because I want to see how the next part of the plot works out, but it’s a slog. And at some point, I’m probably going to stop slogging, because 860 pages of this may be 600 pages too many. It’s currently at the bottom of my Hugo ballot and I don’t think it will rise higher.

My other read is Out on Good Behaviour by Dahlia Adler, which is exactly the fluffy F/F romance I need as an antidote to the turgid prose of Stephenson.

Next read: I’ve had a couple of preorders in over the last couple of weeks, so it will probably be one of those. Either zombies or dragons, they’re both vying equally right now. On the Kindle, I should probably get on with a couple more Hugo nominated novelettes and novellas.

What are you reading this week, and would you recommend it?

I don’t have a pre-order problem, really!

In a discussion on Twitter yesterday, a friend and I were cheerfully looking forward to the books we’ve pre-ordered and are expecting to have over the next month, and we decided to compare lists. And how better to share lists than through a terrifying blog post listing them?

Mine isn’t quite as bad as I imagined. Mostly, I suspect, because so many of my pre-ordered books were/are June releases. Heh.

  • A Study in Sable – Mercedes Lackey (June 2nd)
  • League of Dragons – Naomi Novik (June 14th)
  • Rise – Mira Grant (June 21st)
  • Poison or Protect – Gail Carriger (June 21st)
  • Imprudence – Gail Carriger (July 19th)
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal (August 16th)
  • The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemesin (August 16th)
  • Feedback – Mira Grant (October 4th)
  • Crosstalk – Connie Willis (October 4th)

And now that it’s all listed…huh, I don’t have any November or December preorders. That’s most unusual! Usually there’s at least a couple, because some authors are lovely and release books right around my birthday.

I’m the lack won’t last 🙂

So, which releases are you looking forward to this year?