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.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

It's hard to believe that I haven't written a book review on my blog since I read Ken Liu's brilliant GRACE OF KINGS, but it took a pretty amazing book to break me out of those doldrums and one of the first wave of's novellas was the one to do it. THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS was an incredible book that just blew me out of the water. 

A few months back I read Wilson's short story "Super Bass" that was set in the same world as this book and was blown away by it. This book is just a continuation of that feeling and when I finished SORCERER, I just kept wondering where was more of this. There is so much to love in this book that I seriously had a hard time starting this review. 

First, the world. Jeez, I want more of this world. In the short space of a short story and a novella, Wilson has created a massively complicated and very real feeling fantasy world with an obvious history filled with a diverse population of peoples and cultures that are grounded in reality. I want more. I want a world book. I want more stories about Sea-john and Orolumi (spelling?). The world feels like a hodge-podge of things that Wilson wanted to include in his own corner of the fantasy universe and it works brilliantly where others have failed.

Wilson's use of language is amazing. I've never read something that so effectively uses dialect without being hacknied and cliched. His integration of a modern dialect into a fantasy setting is seemless, which goes back to the hodge-podge feeling of his world and how it works. At times some of the language in the narrative itself threw me, forcing me to reread passages to make sure I didn't miss something, but I blame myself for that, not the writing.

The magic system was okay and a little confusing at times, but I'm not a magic system guy, so it didn't slow me down in the least.

The characters are well done and where a less skilled writer might fall into cliche, Wilson plays with the tropes in a way that makes the characters fascinating. From our demigod main characters: Demane, a lost soul that makes the mistake of instantly falling in love with the equally divine Captain so hard that he's willing to follow him across the world while keeping their relationship a secret to he stoic and savage Captain that can only speak in song that is capable of great acts of violence and love to background characters like Wale, Xho Xho and Messed-up, that give us a taste of who they are and just how divesrse a world this is. 

The plot moves right along, taking what could be a simple caravan guard story and making it an infinitely more interesting story of good vs. evil on a far grander scale. There were hiccups for me in the way Wilson tells the story, but like the language, I blame myself and not Wilson's writing. 

THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS is clearly one of the best books I've read this year and I can't wait for more from Wilson.