Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Year in Review: The Reading

Well, 2017 was an amazing reading year for me. I cranked out book after book this year and I have a lot to talk about. I planned on reading 70 books in 2017. I read 154. No, seriously. 154 books. Pretty amazing, huh? Of the 8 books that I really wanted to read this year, I read 4 of the 8. One wasn't released and the other I got out of the library multiple times, but never got around to reading it. I've been doing microreviews of everything I read over on Twitter if you want a full recap using the hashtag: 150in31. I'll be done with them tomorrow.

So, let's talk some data first. (Hey, I'm a teacher, we need data, right?) Here's a breakdown of what I read:

  • Novels: 65
  • Graphic Novels: 58
  • Writing Books: 14
  • Nonfiction: 8
  • Art/Design Books: 4
  • Biographies/Autobiographies/Memoirs: 2
  • Plays: 2
  • Picture Books: 1
Phew. That was a lot of reading. And it felt like it. So, here's what you really read this edition of the blog for: my year end best of list. 
  • ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts: Probably my favorite read of the year mostly because I tried to write something just like it and can see all my mistakes because Shvarts does everything nearly flawlessly from characters to the world building to the all important voice. It's brilliant and earned the top spot of 2017. On a side note, this book got me through a very tough time in my life since I started reading it right after our house fire, so thanks Andrew for giving me a needed distraction as I dealt with my entire life crumbled around me. (Or singed around me.)
  • RIVER OF TEETH by Sarah Gailey: The only competition that ROYAL BASTARDS had for top read of 2017 was this book. Hippo riding cowboys, riverboat casinos and a thrilling caper...excuse me...operation make this book an instant classic. 
  • MARCH: BOOK ONE by John Lewis: Moving and appropriate at this time in our history as Congressman John Lewis looks back at his involvement in the Civil Rights movement. We are a better place because of men like Mr. Lewis. 
  • LUSTLOCKED and PRIDE'S SPELL by Matt Wallace: I love this series. It's flawless. Utterly perfect. Great characters, fascinating world, terrific plots and amazing voice. I'm going to finish this series this year. 
  • WHITE TRASH by Nancy Isenberg: Put a terrific spin on this last election: the promise to "white, working class voters" of taking back a country that was never theirs to begin with. Fascinating and enlightening. 
  • THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness: A few years old, but just the brilliant execution of a brilliant concept with the right amount of emotional moments. What happens to the kids in the background of the YA fantasy/dystopia novels and movies we know and love? Their lives are just as epic. 
  • THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak: An fun YA book loaded with tons of nostalgia for someone like me. Part romance, part coming of age, part heist novel, it does things you don't expect it to at all the right spots. 
  • THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP by Katie A Nelson: A great retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY with enough of it's own to not make it a straight retelling of THE GREAT GATSBY. 
  • SEARCHING FOR JOHN HUGHES by Jason Diamond: Remember when we could love what we love and not just defend what we love? That's this book. The things we love are important to us and they drive us.
  • A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT by Sabaa Tahir: Everything that is good and right in YA fantasy. Great execution of a great idea with great characters and interesting world building. 
  • SOUTHERN BASTARDS by Jason Aaron: Blew me away. Just an amazing, moving story about the deep south. Just unputdownable. 
  • BULL by David Elliott: The story of Theseus told in rhyme. Reminded me of HAMILTON in its presentation. Loved it. 
  • THE LEGEND OF ROCK PAPER SCISSORS by Drew Daywalt: An instant classic that takes the simple game of Rock, Paper, Scissors and turns it into an epic tale of champions seeking to prove themselves. Just delightful!
  • MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane: An older book that just shook me to the core. Amazing, brilliant and a study in 3rd person omniscient among other things. 

I'm not doing disappointments this year. We need more positivity and I'm not going to do that.

So, what about 2018? I know I'd like to read more. Well, if you read my writing post...and why wouldn't you'll know that I'm not setting specific number goals this year, so maybe I only set a vague number that I can adjust. Here's some random musings:
  • Read some more epic fantasy and study what makes it work. I say this every year and fail at it. Maybe this year is the year that I finally do it. I'm going to set a goal of 25 total epic fantasy books in 2018.
  • I want to read more middle grade. I'm going to set a goal of 2 MG books a month, so 24 MG books by year's end. 
  • Read more nonfiction with a goal of one NF book a month, so 12 NF books this year. 
So, by those raw numbers alone, I'm looking at 61 books. I tend to read a ton of graphic novels each year and also find other YA books that pique my interest while getting the occasional ARC to read along the way, plus I listen to a ton of books during my commute, so I'm going to set a goal of 90 books this year. As I read, I'll adjust accordingly. 

What did you read? What was your best of 2017? What are you looking forward to in 2018?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: A Year In Review: The Writing

This was a weird year writing. The best word I could come up with to describe it was impotent. I just never felt like I could get moving on something and at times I was completely schizo in deciding what I was going to do. My buddy Mike, always the port in my writing storms, can usually talk me down and get me in the right state of mind with sound, practical advice. But even then I struggled in focusing on one thing as my mind raced from here to there. It's really got me thinking about my approach and the way that I do things. Or it could be that I've been reading a lot of books on writing lately. So, let's look at 2017 as far as writing is concerned.

I set out to accomplish the following:
  • Write the first draft of MAGICAL GATSBY
  • Write the GENDER SWAPPED ARAGORN epic fantasy
  • Write 360k total words.
What I did accomplish:
  • Finish first draft of THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH (34k)
  • Started FRESH TRACKS (7k)
  • Rewrite of WINTER'S DISCORD (135k)
  • Started GIRL IN THE PICTURE (55k)
  • Started a rewrite of LOST SCIONS (24k)
  • Started CHLOE (3k)
So, as you can see, schizo. Too many plates. I fell well short of my 1k a day word count goal. Rather than lament about my lack of discipline or need for a routine, I'm looking at each of these projects and what to do with them. I need to make a run at finishing something again, so, what are these projects?

BROOCH: Prequel to SCIONS. It needs another pass and it may be what I need to fix what I see as the issues with SCIONS.

TRACKS: I was just rereading what I wrote of this while writing this blog and I like it a lot. It's kind of voice-y (something I desperately need to work on) and I think there's something there, I just have to find it.

DISCORD: Done. Forever and ever. Until someone buys it, I'm not doing any more with that-at least for a while.

PICTURE: This was a story I fell in love with out the gate and threw out all my normal practices as I wrote this. And that became part of the problem. I didn't know what I was writing and tried pantsing the book. It didn't exactly work. It turned into two different books fighting one another. On one hand it wanted to be a procedural-esque mystery like MYSTIC RIVER (which I was reading at the time) or a supernatural thriller. I feel like I have to decide on one and pull the trigger on it.

SCIONS: I still believe in this project. I'm working on paring it down into something less meandering and tighter.

CHLOE: A working title. A MG/chap book idea that I'm writing for my daughter. Very early in this project and I need to study a bit as I plan this. 

The aim for 2018 is focus. Focus on skill, focus on execution. Mike preaches these things and I need to listen to him. He's not just saying these things because he likes hearing them, he's being the good teacher that he is. So, goals? I don't know. I don't know if I want to set goals for myself in terms of what I intend to write. I've never achieved them. Not even close. My tastes and moods change. My interest in projects wane. Inspiration comes from strange places (see PICTURE) and I have to learn to run with it.

So, maybe be a little less word county and concentrate more on my skill as a writer. What does that mean? Write every day. No matter what. At least an hour. As my friend Brian Fay does: 3 pages a day. It's not so ambitious. I can do this. And then at the end of year I can take an inventory of what I accomplished. I'm a planner as far as my work is concerned, but I'm not going to lock myself down to any plan. I'm going to write what comes to me as it comes.

Also, unrelated to my writing (or maybe related to my writing), I'm going to work on being healthy and happy, two things I've neglected frequently in my life. It's come to a head recently. I'm a lucky man and sometimes I forget to enjoy that happiness. And I need to take care of myself. I have too much good in my life not to.