Monday, May 2, 2016

Month In Review: April 2016

April, the month where my writing and reading, as Eddie Izzard might say, slowly fell apart like a flan in a cupboard. After the relatively torrid pace set in March, I hit a wall in April. Part of that was some upheaval in my writing world that I'll talk about at some point, but not now and that took away significant writing time. In addition, my students' research project was over and handed in, so I had grading to do and was back in front of the class with some direct instruction. So, here's what's happening.

WRITING: Said upheaval completely took me off the tracks. I managed to scrape together 12k on FALCON, so it wasn't the terrible month that February was, but it wasn't the 32k that was March. The sad part is that I am still in love with the story I'm writing. It's doing so many things that I want it to do that I'm happy with it. I've done some story editing as I write and I managed to cull some fat from the outline and I'm looking at it being closer to 75k and not 82k, which is kind of where I wanted it to be anyway. I figured out some plot issues that I'll fix with the next draft, but if I can get back on track, I should be able to finish by the end of this week.

After that, I'm not sure. I'm piecing together this new YA fantasy idea bit by bit but I'm beginning to realize I'm not ready to write it yet. It's not a hard YA like SEASONS or SCION is, meaning my target audience is clearly YA. I'm looking closer to a tween audience on this project and feel like I need to do some more research on it, but I'll talk more about that in the READING section. What I'm thinking about doing is writing a little dystopian piece with my students. We're doing a unit on dystopia and for the final project, I'm having them write a creative piece of some length (I'll share next week when I assign it) about a dystopia of their creation. So I'm going to write one along with them over the three weeks of may. A novella maybe. Then I'll work on the fantasy piece. Then maybe come back to contemporary and do my prank war story.

One of my goals for May is to increase productivity. Try to hit about 40-45k for the month and then average that for the Summer, depending on employment situation.

READING: Read 3 books and they were meh, seen it before and amazing. No reviews this month. Read a diet and fitness book that I'd read before and learned nothing new from. I read "A World Without Heroes" by Brandon Mull and walked away feeling meh. I think the 13 year old in me might have enjoyed it, but the me now was just meh. I'm trying to find things that will thrill the 13 year old in me, so I'm starting my reread of the second "Dragonlance" book to try and figure out what thrilled the thirteen year old in me about it. I'm also reading a few other tween books to see if I can figure out how they tick.

The best book I read last month was "The Day The Crayons Came Home" by Drew Daywalt. This is a work of genius. I had a chance to read this book to my daughter's class and did it cold. There were jokes in it that made me laugh out loud while completely disrupting myself as I read. (There was an allusion to the expression, "Does a bear shit in woods?" that completely unhinged me in the middle of reading that the entire class of 2nd graders were baffled by my giggles.) It's another early leader for best reads of 2016.

WATCHING: Did a lot of watching this month. Here's some highlights:

Dune: The Lynch version. What a freaking mess of a movie this is and it is glorious for it. It's still not the best Dune movie. That honor belongs to the documentary JODOROWSKY'S DUNE.

The Walking Dead: I don't watch this show often, but I understand the appeal of it. My problem is the lazy writing. People make bad decisions, but having characters make the same bad decisions over and over again for the sake of the narrative is lazy writing.

WALL-E: Just amazing story telling and writing with almost no dialogue. Smart, funny and sweet. When Pixar is on, they are so good and this was damn near as good as it gets.

Jurassic World: What a silly but fun movie. I mean when Star Lord leads out the pack of raptors to fight the mutant dinosaur, it was pretty bad ass. The thing the movie was missing was the sense of wonder and awe that Jurassic Park had.

All Things Must Pass: A documentary about Tower Records. I love a good documentary and this was well done. The heavy 70s vibe was again speaking to me as it has been a lot lately. Plus, I love walking around book stores and seeing what's on the shelf. I miss those days when it comes to the record store.

Varsity Blues: My friend Mike Winchell and I have very differing views about this movie. I really like it and I'm pretty sure he thinks it's a abhorent piece of garbage. Sure the ending is hackneyed and rediculously silly, but it's a fun, over the top movie about high school sports. Tweeder kills me every time.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: I had to talk about this. I love Indy and I'm not one of those people that thinks this mars his legacy. The most frustrating part of the entire movie is that the potential for this to be a very good entry in the series. The chemistry between Indy and Marion is still there. Cate Blanchette just chews scenery. The action scenes are pretty good. But the freaking ant scene. The monkey scene. Shia LeBouf. The ending. Shia LeBouf. It becomes a mess.

I'll be honest, I think this was a movie that they should've just recast the character. Not a reboot, just recast the character and continue stories that take place in the original era. I'd be very happy with that.

So, that was April. For May? Writing. Maybe some actual constructive blogging where I actually have something to say. And finishing up the school year.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Month In Review: March

In like a lion, out like a...lion? I heard thunder this morning and the dull ache in the front of my skull suggests that the air pressure's a-changing again, so the mild weather of the last few days is likely to be answered with some no-so mild weather. March has pretty much been a lion like month for me, so here goes with the recap:

WRITING: I set a goal of 30k and finished the month with 32k...probably more. I decided to do something I haven't done in a while and made an Excel file to track my writing. From March 12th to March 31st I wrote 32k. Who knows how much more before that. I didn't write any words five of the days, so I averaged about 2k a day, which is perfect. I hit a real groove and had three days where I wrote more than 3500 words. I haven't done that in a long, long time.

The best part about it is that the words are good words. Really good words. I sent some pages to a good friend, who raved about how good FALCON is.

FALCON has become a weird project. Their are off hand references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Bourne movies and even Kirk fu. If you don't know what Kirk fu, go Google it. It's funny and I'm very happy with what the story is doing. Every surprise that the story has thrown me has been handled with a degree of ease and made sense within the narrative. I think this has a chance to be a great book.

This leaves FALCON at about 57k and is pacing out at about 82k. I'm setting a goal of April 10th to finish this project. Then I'm going to work on a rewrite of LABORS and a new project I've been toying with. It's not the traditional epic fantasy I was talking about but a tween epic fantasy, younger than WINTER or SCION. I'm going to work out the world building and stuff while I'm revising. I'm going to do some research into "younger" epic fantasies to check the tone. I also think that if I stay productive I might be able to work on that prank war idea I've been messing with this summer. Hard to believe that the summer is right around the corner.

READING: Seven books, including two picture books that I read to my son, for the month and some interestingly mixed results.

  • All Fall Down by Ally Carter: A quick read that I really enjoyed. Put me in totally the right place to write the thriller/spy/YA Bourne thing I've been reading. I can't say enough about how good this book was. Good characters, great setting and worldbuilding and terrific hints at what else is to come. I need to longform this over on Goodreads for sure. 
  • Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace: What a shocking and hilarious surprise this novella was. Man, is killing it with these novellas. I'm ordering the next one this weekend, but this was a terrifically weird and brilliant book that I'm "Sharpie-ing" for the end of year best list. It's a Food Network show by way of the SciFi channel. Great characters, terrifying worldbuilding that fits and a completely wacked out plot that I didn't want to put down and thought about when I wasn't reading it. I'll longform this one too.
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley: I picked this up based on the title and loved it. It's the story of a story and I wished I could've written something like this when I was the MC's age. I should've taken writing more seriously as a youth. Oh well.
  • Sleeping Beauty by Ross MacDonald: A noir tale of Los Angeles in the 1960s, it's a tight, twisting tale of missing persons, murder and family drama. I liked it better than other noir in that it focuses on what these crimes do to the people and how they touch more than just the victim and perpetrator. I want to read more Macdonald but then again, I want to read more period.
  • The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan: This grimdark fantasy is kind of a mess. I've never read any of Morgan's other stuff, but spent a bunch of time reading threads about these books and there is a lot of dissenting opinions about the book. I read the first book in the series and I really enjoyed it. That being said, half of this book is filler and I'm wondering if the first book was the same. I feel like Morgan probably could've told this whole trilogy in one book by cutting out the filler (I haven't read book 3 yet but there's a precedent, I suppose). Nothing really happends in the first half of the book and when it does, it feels a little rushed, like Morgan wanted to shock us a little with the first half of the book before actually getting to a story. It reminds me, in a lot of ways, of Greg Keyes's Kingdoms of Bone and Thorn, which I loved, in that it seems like there are long stretches of the story where the author is bored with what they are writing. I'm going to give The Dark Defiles (book 3) a shot this month.
Presently, I'm reading:
  • A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull: Part of my tween fantasy study. Nothing exceptional so far, but it's not bad either. 
WATCHING: I had a pretty active month of watching things. 

  • The Kingsman: Secret Service: Holy crap. Have you seen this? What a fun, completely batshit crazy movie. It fit some of the stuff I'm doing with THE FALCON AND THE CROW perfectly and was just a joy to watch, which happened on accident. I was going to bed and it came on, hooking me from moment one. 
  • Fletch/Fletch Lives: There are some movies that, when they come on, I put the remote down and watch, every time they are on. Usually they are movies that I have a personal attachment with, remind me of someone or something or they are are something that inspired me to be a writer. The Fletch movies are two of those movies. They are just great. I seriously think there's a YA Fletch story in me somewhere, I just have to find it.
  • Krull: Formative. Holds up pretty well for a 30 year old movie and had loads of potential. One of the few completely original epic fantasy stories created in our lifetimes and I'm glad for it. 
  • Last Knights: Loved this movie. Original epic fantasy. Seriously. Game of Thrones Lite. I would seriously write in this world in a heartbeat. It reminded me so much of my SCION world in the way they structured it and set it up. 
  • The Summer of Sam/Zodiac: I get caught up in decades sometimes. A few summers ago it was the early 80s. Last summer it was the late 80s/early 90s. Right now it's the 70s. I got pulled into the underrated "The Summer of Sam" movie a few weeks ago and stayed up later than I should have watching it. Then last week, I got hooked into the serial killer movie "Zodiac." Both movies are great and between them and "Vinyl," I feel like someone is telling me I need to write something that takes place in the 70s.
  • The People vs. OJ Simpson: I'm working on a longform post on this because my recollection of June 18, 1994 is in question. But I got hooked on this and it is brilliant on so many levels that I can't recommend it enough, especially to anyone my age that lived through it. It's just reinforcing my belief that I need to write the two late 80, early 90s idea I have kicking around.
  • South Park: The Black Friday Trilogy: I actually watched this in January but I'm just getting around to writing about it. There's a point where biting satire can become something on it's own at some point and South Park has well surpassed that point. But this was a revelation of genius story telling heaped on top of satire. I contend that the South Park universe is one of the best examples of worldbuilding out there, surpassing a lot of fantasy works and should be studied by those that engage in any kind of building of worlds. Seriously. The Black Friday Trilogy not only parodies everything that is Game of Thrones mania but rivals it (yes, I believe that) with it's own epic scope and storytelling. Take time to watch this. You will not regret it. 
  • Man of Steel/Winter Soldier: Man of Steel is a mess. It doesn't know what it wants to be and completely fumbles on even the origins of Superman. I have a problem when Supe's first foe is, in canon, Zod, someone that is one of Supe's most dangerous adversaries. Compare it to Winter Soldier, which isn't just a great comic book movie, but a great movie, and Man of Steel looks embarrassingly bad. And for everything that Age of Ultron did wrong for Black Widow, Winter Soldier does right. I am more excited about Civil War then I am about BvS, though I'm sure I'll see both.
  • The Ten Commandments: Live Tweeting this movie when it is shown on ABC has become an Easter tradition to me and I missed the beginning. An epic film at a time when Hollywood made epic films, this movie has everything, including hackneyed writing, ham fisted acting and pretty decent special effects, all things considered. 
  • The NCAA Tournament: LETS GO ORANGE!!!!!!
DID: Not much. Students are finishing up research projects and then we are sliding into dystopia lit circles then short film making. I'm getting back into the gym slowly and starting to set goals in that area as well. 

I'm going to try to blog a little more. I have some book reviews I want to write, some commentaries based on Krull and Last Knights and a few online essays I'd like to tackle. Well, back to FALCON!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Month In Review: February 2016

This should've been an amazing month and it fizzled. I just could get traction on any of my projects, and to be honest, it kind of bums me out. Here's the review:

WRITING: A paltry 8,000 words. That's embarrassing for someone with some aspirations of being an author AND an entire week off from work to write. I was sick for about two weeks, Winter break included, and just couldn't get any traction on the project. The frustrating part is that I think there is a ton of potential in FALCON and I just need to figure it out. I'm contemplating a little break to look at some books that I think will share shelf space with FALCON. As it stands now, it's about 23k, so I'm still about 57k from what I'm imagining being the end. I'm going to slow down and not put so much pressure on myself about it. The rest of March is relatively free, so maybe setting a goal of 30k is achievable. Only 1k a day. I think I can manage that, though I think I can nail about 50-60k if I focus. All I know is that I want June 1 to be the starting point of this big new project I'm thinking about.

READING: Slowed down the reading this month. I finished six books:

  • Insurgent: Very good follow up to Divergent and Roth writes terrific action scenes. 
  • Allegiant: This books vexed me. It felt like she was under intense pressure to finish the trilogy and just didn't quite stick the landing at all. Roth didn't have an ending, so she just rewrote the first two books while mixing in three viewpoints (Tris, Four and Tris's mother) in a condensed volume. Disappointing to the point that I'm thinking hard about endings for everything I write. 
  • The Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Brilliant. My daughter picked up my Kindle and fell in love. 
  • Black Widow: Forever Red: Very good, though I wasn't sure which canon the story belonged to. 
  • Steelheart: Disappointing to say the least. It's hard to make a sociopath a hero, but Sanderson sure tries. Steelheart is only the second Sanderson book I've read and I have to admit that I'm kind of "meh" on him so far. 
  • American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America: Fantasy writers...this is a must read for all of you if you want to see how culture molds a nation just as much as geography. It was an incredible read that makes me look at the US in a whole new way. And has me thinking about all different ways I can apply this stuff to my own writing. 
Presently I'm reading:

  • All Fall Down by Ally Carter (Research for the thriller)
  • Sleeping Beauty by Ross MacDonald (My pseudo-obsession with noir continues.)
  • The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley (The title of this graphic novel did it for me)
  • Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Chipping away)
WATCHING: Just started streaming VIKINGS, so I'll talk about that next month, but this month here's some of what I've watched:
  • Nebraska: A b&w movie featuring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk that I had to turn off the first time because it was late and I knew I couldn't stay up until 1:30 to watch it. A melancholy road story that's all about a man's relationship with his family. It was terrific.
  • King Kong (2005): There are some movies, when they are on, I put the remote down and watch every time. Peter Jackson's epic take on the giant gorilla is one of them. And yes, I will watch the entire 3 plus hours of the movie when I can. I'm going to do a blog on it at some point. 
  • Law and Order: SVU: On Super Bowl Sunday, the wife and I literally sat around on the couch and watched a marathon of old school SVU episodes. That was a great show. Don't get me started on what happened to the show after they ripped its heart out: Elliot Stabler. 
  • Vinyl: If you have HBO. Watch it. It's epic. (I've been on a 70s kick lately that I may talk about at some point.)
  • The Walking Dead Mid Season Premier: Everything that is wrong and right about that show in one episode. I don't watch the show all the time, but I'll poke my head in here and there. I was on the edge of my seat but the writer part of my brain was just disappointed with some of the laziness that the show did. 
  • The Good Dinosaur: Just brilliant. I didn't think I was going to like it but I ruined dinner that night because I was so engrossed. I'll do a review of it at some point. (I seem to be making a lot of demands on my blogging workload.)
DID: Celebrated my 43rd birthday. Still struggling to maintain a workout schedule. Not much else. It is winter. Oh, well. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Month In Review: January 2016

Trying something new for the blog: I'm going to review each month to see what I wrote, read, watched and did. So here goes.

January. The phoenix of the months. The time to start a new. But it never quite works out for me that way. It's actually kind of a metaphor for any activity I engage in: I stumble at the start, having to motivate my self to be consistent. Then I hit a stride and I'm real good in the middle. And the end...well let's just say I need a good eighth and ninth inning guy. So, here's what's up:

WRITING: Went pretty well. Not the ambitious 40k I imagined but a respectable 15k on THE FALCON AND THE CROW. Part of the delay was a check with the agent to make sure he thought the project was salable. It is and that makes me very happy. It needs some work. He wants me to think about the McGuffin a little more to make it sound more plausible, though for now I'm just sort of concentrating on the story. Plan for February: I've got FALCON planned at about 80k, so for February, factoring in Winter break, I'm hoping to make a real push at getting close to 50k done so I can finish it in March. If I use an old SAT style analogy to express March as a teacher: March:Teaching::August::Baseball. Plus my students will be engaging in a college level research paper, so I might not have as much time to write as I'd like but I hope to have FALCON done by then so I can work on revising LABORS and planning a new, very big project. But I'll talk more about March at the end of February.

READING: I read like gangbusters and my intent is to do some microreviews of January's reading. I read 10 books:

  • Fit After 40
  • Dreamland
  • The Wicked and The Divine
  • Saga Volumes 3-5
  • Batman: Hush
  • Star Wars: Before the Awakening
  • Radio Golf
  • Divergent (audiobook)
Presently I am reading:

  • Lord of Chaos 
  • Insurgent (audiobook)
I'm going to review Dreamland, Saga, Hush and Before the Awakening. I'm going to wait on Divergent until I finish listening to the entire trilogy. I have a lot to say about it. I'm planning a dystopia unit, so I'll be reading a lot of those in the coming weeks.

WATCHED: I'm only scratching the surface of streaming shows and the list is getting longer. I didn't watch much of those, but I did watch the following:

  • Godfather Epic: Still haven't made it through all 8 hours, but what I watched is just amazing.
  • The Expanse: If you aren't watching this,'ll wait. 
  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron: Meh. Had moments but it was just kind of a run of the mill superhero movie, though it did plant some seeds that weren't awful.
  • Grease Live: Fun. Not as great as The Wiz, but worth a couple of hours of time to watch.
  • NBA on ABC: It's nice to see something that isn't football on a major network. I'm not a huge NBA guy, but LeBron and Steph Curry are fun to watch. 
  • SNL: Funny in spurts. The Rhonda Rousey episode was funny in spots and the second Selena Gomez song left me feeling weird after watching it. But I'm a SNL nut and will continue to watch. SNL writer is still a dream job for me. 
The list of stuff I want to watch is long. We'll see what happens in February.

DID: Not much. Starting lifting again in earnest. More to come.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Some Random Mini-Movie Reviews

Snow day! Means I spent the morning lounging, the afternoon in the snow and now relaxing a little bit in front of the fire...okay, not in front of the fire, but in the quiet of my living room...before the kiddos get baths then bed and then some words for me. The exciting life of a writer. The new project- THE FALCON AND THE CROW- is going swimmingly. I've found a great little groove and I'm digging the story I'm telling. It's outlined and I'm really working hard at a solid five week deadline to hammer out the first draft. I'm 11k in out of about 75-80k, so 65-70k in 5 weeks? We'll see. Anyway, for some reason I've been on a real movie kick lately, mostly old, so I thought I would do a few micro-movie and television reviews, so here goes :

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: I'm saving this for an individual blog post after I see it again. Short answer: it wasn't perfect, but it was damn near close and entertaining as anything I've seen in a long time. Hating on TFA has become the "I am vegan/I do crossfit/I am gluten free" of movies right now. Does it have plot holes? Sure. But so does EVERY Star Wars movie. Anyway, save that for a later post. (9.5/10)

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU: I watched this movie on accident. It was over Christmas break (it may have actually been late Christmas night after we came home from the festivities) and I turned it on because I still had Adam Driver on my mind from TFA (more on that in a minute). But that wasn't all. I love Jason Bateman and think he's our generations great straight man a la Jack Lemmon. I imagine him when I write Thomas Grange in my SEASONS books. I also have a thing for Tina Fey. so I was drawn to it. And I LOVED it. Bittersweet, genuinely funny in spots and very real. It was an adult movie and it worked for me on that level. It tells the story of a family greiving the death of their father by sitting Shiva (his dying wish) even though they aren't Jewish. The cast is amazing and the chemistry is palpable as they tweak, mock, prod, poke and cope in their own ways as they honor their father's last request. If you know me as a person or as a writer, you know that father-child relationships are very important to me and this is fascinating as it shows the way people cope with the loss of a parent. Like I said, it's an adult movie. Adam Driver's Phillip reminded me of my brother, it was kind of scary. And if they were to make a movie where someone had to play "me," I'd want it to be Jason Bateman. (9/10)

THE INTERN: Robert DeNiro not actually playing Robert DeNiro. It's more of a novelty than you think these days. I liked this more than I thought I would. Anne Hathaway is charming, as always, and you root for her in everything she's in, even as Catwoman (even though they never call her that). But DeNiro is the star here. Playing understated is always where DeNiro shines because it's never what we expect, though he was amazing in CAPE FEAR playing against type. Robert DeNiro reminds me of my grandfather and I kind of saw bits of my grandfather in the character he played. The three dudebros in the movie were just funny enough that they were fleshed out, but the confusing message of the movie at times kind of threw me at times (things were better in the past except for the women being in charge thing) but the movie was an enjoyable couple of hours. (7/10)

CREED: To be honest, I only watched bits and pieces. It hit all the boxing movie cliches along the way and didn't do them particularly well. Michael B. Jordan is going to be a star. He's got charisma to spare and can morph himself into any role. Sly Stallone is good as the sick Rocky and the fight scenes are thrilling, but that doesn't save the movie from being just okay. (5/10)

A BRIDGE TOO FAR: An old WW2 movie that was a spectacle for it's time and still is. Look it up. The cast is massive and all HUGE names for its time. It'd take a special project to do that now. It's completely enjoyable as a film but relies entirely too much on cliches and tropes that just miss the mark. You follow my reviews, you know that I love a good trope-y filled story, but this missed the mark. I hung with it because it worked in the big moments and built the right amount of tension that it needed to when it did. It didn't shy away from the fact the Operation Market Garden was an epic clusterfrak but I felt that other things did it better, but for a movie that was made in 1977, it was amazing to watch that did manage to capture the horrors of war. Characterization was paper thin and that didn't make me care about the characters the way you need to in a war movie. I ordered the book from my library because I want to read it in prep for a few new projects. (7.5/10)

WRATH OF KHAN: Do I need to even? The best Star Trek movie and if it weren't a Star Trek movie it would've made a great science fiction movie. The battle in the nebula still holds up as one of the most tense space battles in movie history. (8/10)

THE EXPANSE: Holy shit! I don't like swearing but damn this was amazing. The first two episodes were so well done. I read the book, loved it and this was so perfect. I DVRed a bunch of episodes and will probably talk the shit out of this when I catch up. It's hard because the kids are up with me (take after me and are night owls) but I will catch up. But you need to watch, now. Seriously. Go. (10/10)

INTO THE BADLANDS: We need more of this: ORIGINAL SFF. There's not enough. Martial arts. A familair dystopic setting with martial art. This was a genre mash-up of epic proportions and you all know how much I love me some genre mash-ups. I hope there's a second season coming. In the same token I caught part of a movie called LAST KNIGHTS that looks right up my alley, but I haven't watched it all and will review when I do. (8/10)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Holy Mary Mother of God. I know I'm late to this party, but my God, this movie...this movie was everything. I can't contain it in this small a space. I want to write a ton about this movie. I loved it that much. First, can we all just admit that this wasn't really a Mad Max movie, right? I mean it's got Max and he kicks ass like Max, but we know that this movie doesn't get made unless they put Max in it...and that sucks. We suck for that being a thing...wait, stop, a post for another time. I've seen it twice and will watch it every time it's on. I'll post about it after the next view.

So there's my mini-movie/TV reviews. Feel free to discuss.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: A Year of Reading and Writing In Review

Break out the champagne and pop the corks, ladies and gentlemen, this here is my 100th blog post. From the inane to the profane, I've been blogging on and off on Blogger for a little over four years now and it's appropriate that my 100th blog post be a year in review post. Usually I wait until the 31st to do my year in review, but I decided that today is as good a day as any. So, how was my 2015? Chaotic on many levels and redundant on others.The Mets made the World Series. YAY! Star Wars came out. YAY! I didn't get a book deal. BOO! Either way, it's over and I'm already looking forward to 2016. So, let's review:

Part One: The Reading

I challenged myself to read 75 books this year and on January 31st I will have hit that goal. It will be the first time that I completed my reading challenge in the last few years. The funny thing is that looking back at my year, the start was mediocre at best but really picked up towards the end. So what were my favorites? Here we go:

  • THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu: Far and away my favorite book of the year. Ken told an epic story about friendship, love, war, nationalism, mysticism, advancing technology effect on the world, breaking traditions and tax codes that I'm not likely going to forget in the near future. His use of the "epic voice" turned what could've been tedious pages long passages into compact but effective paragraphs while focusing on the smaller moments that other epic fantasy greats would gloss over. Still gives me the tingles.
  • HALF THE WORLD by Joe Abercrombie: The EMPIRE of his "Shattered Seas" trilogy, WORLD was the best of the three books, though all were good. Where HALF A KING gave us basically a YA Viking Tyrion Lannister (and it worked so well), WORLD gives us a broader view of the world via dueling POV characters Thorn and Brand. Two stellar characters that are everything that is great Abercrombie and great YA. I liked but didn't love book 3 (HALF A WAR) as much, but after two great characters like Thorn and Brand, it was a tough row to hoe.
  • COURT OF FIVES by Kate Elliott: Everything that good YA fantasy should be. It plays with all the tropes brilliantly. In a lesser hand, it would be cliched. The world building is some of the best I've read and the action scenes pop off the page. And Jessamy...seriously...2015 was a great year for action heroines. 
  • THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS by Kai Ashante Wilson: Beautiful language combined with great action and world building that leaves me wanting more. Like KINGS above, WILDEEPS was a different kind of epic and it worked so much for me. Where KINGS was a huge sprawling story that was a condensed version of an even more sprawling story, WILDEEPS was a concentrated epic story confined to novella length. I'm still thinking about it weeks later.
  • SUNSET MANTLE by Alter S. Reiss: Imagine choosing to fight a war because of an article of clothing. That's basically the premise of this story and it shows the crazy things we find worth fighting for. The said mantle becomes a metaphor for the reasons we fight and, like WILDEEPS, it concentrates a massively epic story into a small space. Another books I want to see more of that world.
  • THE BUILDERS by Daniel Polansky: Holy Christ, this was probably my second favorite book of the year. I can't think of one thing I didn't like about it. I still have to write a full review on it, but I loved it. REDWALL meets THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, it does everything right from both of them. I went to the zoo shortly after finishing it and I can tell you, it's a very different experience after reading the book. 
  • THE WHISPER by Aaron Starmer: A fantasy portal story that's way darker than any portal story I'd ever read before and it works. It asks hard questions and gives hard answers. I'm still reeling from the ending of the book. I can't say enough good things about this book. Publishing was the real winner this year. As was Saga Press. 

Honorable Mentions: THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, COURT by Cat Patrick, HALF A WAR by Joe Abercrombie, A NEW HOPE: THE PRINCESS, THE SCOUNDREL AND THE FARM BOY by Alexandra Bracken.

Disappointments: ASHES LIKE SNOW by Sarah Raasch, CLASH OF EAGLES by Alan Smale, ORPHANS OF THE SKY by Robert Heinlein, STAR WARS: AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig. 

Last year I touted it as the "EPIC" year, well I decided to do the same this year. Instead of 75 books, I'm aiming for 50 books because I am tackling a few epic fantasy series this year. My schedule as of now is: 
  • Wheel of Time, books 6-14
  • The Crown of Stars, books 1-7
  • The Dagger and the Coin, books 1-5
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles, books 1-2
  • Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, books 1-3
  • A Land Fit For Heroes, books 2-3
  • The Abhorsen Trilogy, books 1-3
  • The Prince of Thorns, books 1-3
  • The Swans War, books 1-3
  • The Dark Tower, books 1-7
  • The Throne of Glass, books 3-4
  • The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, book 1-3
It's ambitious, but certainly not written in stone. I'm also going to attempt to read one nonfiction book a month.

Part Two: The Writing

Well, barring some miracle 2015 won't be the year of the deal, so I have to believe that 2016 is going to be the year. I have a good feeling about it. Let's look back at the year that was.

My goals for this year, according to last year's end of year post was as follows: 
  • Finish the first draft of LABORS
  • Complete a super detailed outline of the NEW SUMMER'S GLORY/SACRIFICE, the last book in the SEASONS series.
  • Write short THE OFFICIAL VISIT
  • Write some shorter works
What I actually did:
  • Finished first draft of LABORS (75k)
  • Finished a rewrite of LOST SCION, formerly SISTERS OF KHODA, 4th draft (116k)
  • Finished a rewrite/recovery draft of SPRING'S TEMPEST, 4th draft (131k)
  • Finished another rewrite of LOST SCION, 5th draft (119k)
  • Worked on PENSIONER'S BROOCH, a novelette (6k)
  • Worked on, FROM THE DEEP, a MG horror (6k)
  • Started and backburnered THE GREAT NORTHPOINTE-SILVER PINES WAR, a YA coming of age prank war novel (3k)
  • Started FALCON AND THE CROW, a YA political thriller (4k)
So it was sort of a productive year for me. I still feel like I'm spinning wheels a little bit since I've been working on the same handful of projects for the last few years but I guess that's the nature of the business, isn't it. I've got some good ideas but I need to just to figure out how to execute them properly.

What's out there for me? WINTER'S DISCORD is still out with a few editors and I'm hoping the new year will bring something new for SEASONS OF DESTINY. If it doesn't I want to have a talk with my agent about possibly releasing it ourselves. But we're not there yet. THE LOST SCION goes out after the new year. So there's that hope.

What about 2016? What do I want to do? Well, here's the plan:
  • Finish the first draft of FALCON.
  • Finish a second draft of LABORS.
  • Finish a first draft of FROM THE DEEP or NORTHPOINTE
  • Work on SUMMER'S GLORY/SACRIFICE/STRIFE/whatever the hell I'm going to call it.
So that's the year in review. Here's to 2015. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: Sunset Mantle

Imagine choosing to make a stand against hopeless odds because of an article of clothing. Sounds absurd, doesn't it....but Reiss makes it work brilliantly as a metaphor for the sometimes mundane reasons people fight. A rollicking fantasy adventure with epic implications, Sunset Mantle is one of my favorite books of the year.

Cete is a veteran mercenary with a strict sense of honor, but that is actually part of the world building, which I'll get to in a second. Cete's bravery, loyalty to his men and honor get him in trouble, a redundant theme in fantasy today. Call it the Ned Stark effect. But where Ned was consciously making his decisions, Cete didn't but still suffered the consequences of his action. Cete is a great character that stands out among some cardboard characters. He's well rounded with a deep history that's sketched out to where it's not overwhelming but given to us in nice, bite-sized chunks. His relationship with Marelle is sweet and well done. Her strength is what drives Cete and changes him in very subtle ways. The other characters aren't as well drawn and a little cardboard-y, but it almost feels a necessity for something at novella length and it works. We get enough about the stock characters to round them out enough to make them interesting even though we recognize them as stock characters.

The plot is well done. Nothing terribly creative but the writing is sharp, descriptive without being overbearing so it was a very quick, rollicking read that reminded me of a old fashioned sword and sorcery story, minus the sword and sorcery. Reiss has used the tropes of a "last stand" story with deft skill . A lesser writer would've fallen into cliche but not once does the story cross over.

The worldbuilding is great. Like WILDEEPS before it, I want more of this world. There's enough built into the world for there to be plenty more stories. It was a little confusing at time with armies, tribes militias, etc, but there was enough to muddle through without slowing down too much. The colonial motifs were interesting and again made me feeling like I wanted more. There is a blank slate to the world, so to speak, culturally, that lets the reader decide what these characters might look like that I really enjoyed. I kept imagining Idris Elba as Cete as I read. Publishing is nailing it and I'm all in on these books.