Back to Reading Genre Fiction

I spent the last few months of 2020 speeding through the backlog of music biographies I had in Spare Oom, and before that I’d been catching up on a few comics (which I also did at the end of the year and start of this one, reading the entire Giant Days run by John Allison), so it’s been an absurdly long time since I last read genre fiction.

I’m trying to put a bit more thought into what I read this year. I’ve said earlier that I want to read more self-published and indie work — you know, to give my fellow writers a boost and all that. I also want to keep up with the pace I’ve been reading at as well. I’ve been finishing most smaller books in a few days, and the bigger ones usually take about a week. [Noted: I’m currently reading Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn and it’s a long one, but it’s quite a fun and excellent read so I’m zipping through at a reasonably good clip.] My current GoodReads challenge is at 80 books this year.

Thankfully I don’t have any current writing projects that need Yet Another Revision Read any time soon, so I can get ahead on clearing my To Be Read pile and not have new titles kicking around for months on end. I mean, I might reread the Bridgetown Trilogy at some point, just so I can get some inspiration and ideas for MU4, but other than that, I’ve got all the books to read and, finally, the time to read them!

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

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Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

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I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

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I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

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Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

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…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

A bit of reading

I’ve been on a reading kick lately, digging through various sections of my To Be Read list. Right now I’m cleaning out my Music Bio shelf and blasting through a number of them; Chrissie Hynde’s Reckless (ridiculous and funny), Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band (no f*cks given), Pat Benatar’s Between a Heart and a Rock Place (badass fun) Ani DiFranco’s No Walls and the Recurring Dream (a bit cringe for varying reasons and could not finish), Chris Frantz’s Remain in Love (fun and endearingly wholesome), and Graham Nash’s Wild Tales (quite the drug-happy horndog back in the day) are just a few recent reads, with more to go. I’m devouring those just as fast as I devour manga tankobon, so I should be able to hit my GoodReads year-end goal pretty easily.

It occurs to me that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I probably should read more of that genre. I mean, aside from rereading my own stuff for revision purposes! Heh. Seriously, I’ve been kind of lazy in checking out new titles over the last couple of years, and maybe a bit too choosy as well. Although I have been tempering that by catching up on a few older titles never got around to until recently (Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books are absolutely amazing!), I really need to open my eyes to new stuff again.

I guess part of that is because I’ve been feeling a bit distanced from my own genre as of late. I still love writing in it, still like coming up with some great ideas, but when the only genre titles I’ve been reading are my own, then I end up in an echo chamber of my own making, and that’s not good. I need to look out there and see what’s going on, what other writers are talking about. Oftentimes I’ll be inspired, whether directly or indirectly, and I feel like I’ve been missing that.

I mean, not that I need more books in this house. But still.

Looking for fresh inspiration

Source: Read Or Die

I’ve been having this itch to do a major book purge. I mean, I’ve done quite a few of these over the years, so this is nothing new. I’ll get rid of books I haven’t read in ages, ones I’m no longer interested in, ones I’ve had for years but never cracked open. Do I need to have these in my life? As I’ve said before, the books are donated to the library and it opens up spaces for new books. Win-win!

I’ve also been having this itch to find new inspiration for my writing. This happens now and again, especially if I spend far too long reading my own stuff for revision purposes — which I’ve been doing the last few months with Diwa & Kaffi. I’ve finished that part of the project, however, so now it’s time for me to read new things again.

But what? My tastes have definitely changed over the years, to the point where I’m not entirely sure what I’m interested in reading at the moment. There’s the manga: the intriguing and unique storytelling such as Nagabe’s Siúil, a Rún: The Girl from the Other Side or Paru Itagaki’s Beastars. There’s the countless music biographies and histories I can catch up on, such as Ed Ward’s The History of Rock and Roll Vol II (the first volume was much more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be), or Prince’s The Beautiful Ones.

But I’m also at a loss when it comes to new titles. I used to find them via Publisher’s Weekly, but I let that subscription lapse some time ago. Sometimes it’s word of mouth, sometimes it’s just a book store browse. But I haven’t really looked for anything completely new in a while now. I’m not sure if I’m just dithering or if I’m just lacking inspiration. Not much is really jumping out at me lately.

I know it’s not the titles themselves or the current trends. I’m just out of the loop and not being very active about my search. I’ve been busy with a lot of things. But now I’m not as busy, and I’m looking for something new.

And I feel like I’m no longer resonating with a lot of my old collection, either. I gave up a lot of titles some time ago, but I think it’s time for another go-round. A KonMari level purging this time: if I’m not going to read it within the next six months, chances are good I won’t be reading it at all. Time for it to go.

It’s time to open up more space on these shelves again. Time to find new inspiration. Time to find new books that will refresh and reinvigorate my creativity.

Time for something new.

Magazines

Time was when I used to subscribe to a number of writing and genre magazines. I didn’t always get around to reading them in a timely manner, and I quite often had a large collection of them that collected dust somewhere for a few years, but I did my best. They kept me busy, informed and entertained.

I subscribed to all the ones you’d expect: The Writer, Poet & Writer, Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, Locus, Asimov’s, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and so on. WD is probably the longest one I’ve stuck with, going back to high school.

Nowadays, however, I find myself never quite getting around to reading any of them, so I’ve let them all lapse. It’s not that I’ve gotten sick of reading them, or felt I’m no longer in need of them…just that I don’t have the time for them. I’ll end up with four or five issues piled up on my printer waiting to be read, and then I’ll spend a Sunday afternoon flying through them all at once. If I feel like resubscribing, I can certainly do so.

I will say that most of those writing magazines did help me tremendously over the years, especially in the 90s when I was learning the craft. I knew it wouldn’t teach me everything — a lot of this craft is about learning by experience and especially by finding what works for me in particular — but they always steered me in the right direction. And I still have a lot to learn, now that I’m making a concerted effort to return to the professional submission process rather than self-publishing. A lot of that is going to be learned via doing it rather than prepping for it with help from magazines.

I definitely suggest reading as many of these as you can, especially if you’re first starting out; they’ll become a stable anchor point for you while you figure out your style, your process, and your dedication level. And they’re also a great way to connect with other writers and readers too!

Reading and Rereading (Not My Own Work This Time)

I’ve been going through a bit of a spell where I’m having trouble sticking with some of the books I’m reading. They haven’t been terrible or anything (although there have been a few that were enjoyable but glacial). Maybe I’m just going through a phase where nothing is all that inspiring to me lately. It could also be that I’ve been doing a TON of rereading my own stuff for revision/revisit purposes; I would not be surprised if that might indeed be the case.

So it occurred to me that, even though I have my TBR pile under reasonable control, perhaps it’s time for me to finally reread older favorites? It’s been ages since I’ve reread anything, actually…I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that. Maybe the Harry Potter books three or four years ago? Either way, maybe it’s time for me to return to the Spare Oom Library and pick out a few titles.

Which is what I did the other day…with the Jack McKinney Robotech series! Yes, I know, odd choice but why the hell not? The last time I read the first couple of books in that series was back in 1995, and I never got past the third book! I’m sure there’s going to be all kinds of bonkers things going on that I’ve forgotten about…and some I do, such as Minmei singing for human troop morale (and Zentraedi pain…?) during a massive space battle:

…yeah, that’s one of those moments you don’t forget. Absolutely brilliant plot twist and completely wuuuuuut at the same time.

ANYWAY! I figure, why not? Let’s have some fun reading some light entertainment and old favorites for a bit. I don’t need to read the latest and greatest right this second. (I’ll still buy them close to the release because that helps the author’s numbers, sure! They’ll just be added to the TBR pile.)

And besides, it’ll be kind of fun to revisit some of these titles and remember why I enjoyed them so much. Like the Robotech series being good pulpy SF fun. Like the Carlucci books by Richard Paul Russo being great hard-boiled cyberpunk. Like Akira being so visually amazing it made me rethink my own writing style. I’m sure some of it may not have aged well, but on the other hand, I’m not too worried about that…right now it’s just about reading for the fun of it.

Do Writers Read Their Own Books?

It’s an honest question. Do we read our own books after they’re out there in the wild? After spending all those hours slaving away at it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, wondering if anyone else out there is ever going to read it…do we want to pick it up again after we call it complete?

We most definitely do, for various reasons. I can’t say if other writers read their own books for the fun of it, but I would not be surprised if some of us do. After all, a good portion of us write these things because these are the kinds of stories we like to read.

Over this past weekend, inspired by finishing off my cleaning and sorting of the Mendaihu Universe papers, I uploaded an epub copy of A Division of Souls to my Nook and started reading it during our relaxing weekend down in Monterey. I haven’t picked up that particular book since I self-published it back in 2015.

I’ve distanced myself from the Bridgetown Trilogy since then, by choice. The major reason being that I had a few unrelated stories I wanted to write and release first. I also wanted that distance so I could look at it with a fresh viewpoint, that way I could reconnect with certain parts of it for the potential Book Four.

I’m already picking up things I’d like to change with it, of course. Perhaps a bit more editing. A few formatting issues that might have gotten missed. Quicken the pacing a bit more, especially in those first few chapters. But other than that, I’m surprised at how solid it all is despite that. Spending so many years on a single project can sometimes become a desperate fall into a rabbit hole, but I can see I managed to avoid that. It’s very heavy immersion, I’ll grant that. This was my Epic Urban Fantasy project and written that way on purpose. Just like Meet the Lidwells! and In My Blue World were written fast and compact on purpose. Just like Diwa and Kaffi was written in a deliberately even and relaxed pace.

And I’ve reread those books as well! I read MtL for the fun of it because it was such an enjoyable and quick project. I reread IMBW because I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it, a few months after I released it. And I’ve been rereading D&K over and over again lately for revision purposes. A common piece of advice that many authors (and agents and publishers) give is that you’ve got to be able to reread your own work countless times and not get sick of it, and I totally get that.

I’m not planning on doing a New and Improved Edition of the Bridgetown Trilogy because of this current reread. At least not yet, anyway. (I might eventually do one to fix the few very minor issues that I catch, but that’s not going to happen right away. Right now, all I want to do is reread the trilogy and see how it sits with me, and what I can glean from it for later books in the Universe.

Still, it is kind of fun to read these things and get that occasional feeling of pleasant surprise and pride: I wrote this? Daaang! Heh.

Cross-Post: From Alice Grove to xkcd: A Sampling of Webcomics

Hi, all! Yesterday I moderated a fun panel at BayCon about webcomics, how much fun they are to read, and what a great platform it is for creators. Between myself, Amanda, Ctein and Jacob Fisk, we came up with a great starter list of some of our favorite titles out there.

As my name is probably a little easier to remember than the URL for this one, I told the audience I’d post it over at Walk in Silence. I’m posting the link here just for completeness’ sake. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

https://jonchaisson.com/2019/05/27/baycon-from-alice-grove-to-xkcd-a-sampling-of-webcomics/

Trading Old Books for New (and Used)

book shelf

Every couple of months or so, a spot next to the love seat in Spare Oom starts collecting a pile of books.  These are books that A. and I have finished reading and don’t plan on keeping for whatever reason.  We may have enjoyed them, but have no reason or inclination to read them again.  I mean, there’s a finite amount of space in this apartment, and as much as we’d like, we can’t keep it all.

Besides, we live right down the street from Green Apple Books, which is a Very Dangerous Place Indeed.  We often need space for newer purchases.

Whenever that spot on the floor collects three or four stacks about shin-high, I start putting them into boxes.  Then on a nice weekend, I’ll drive them down to the Friends of the SF Public Library Bookstore down at Fort Mason in the Marina for donation.  Sure, I could probably bring them to Green Apple and get credit for future purchases, but to be honest, I like donating better.

The Friends of the SFPL have a Big Book Sale a few times a year in one of the HUGE warehouses at Fort Mason.  We’re talking football field huge.  Book donations brought to any of their drop-off sites that don’t get sold at their in-library stores get brought here, and it’s quite an event.  Books, videos, dvds, cds, all sorts of media are sold super cheap, often as low as a dollar.  You can literally fill a shopping cart (we often do) and spend maybe twenty bucks total.  It’s a good deal, and it goes to a great group.  And my old books get into new hands, which is even cooler.

[As an aside: yes, I have in fact seen my own donations on the table at these book sales, which I find quite amusing.]

They’ll have their next Big Book Sale next week, and A and I are planning on going.  Which is good timing, because I just brought the last pile of books in last weekend!

49th annual Big Book Sale
Friends of the SF Public Library’s Big Book Sale down in the Marina.

Refining My Reading

book-reading-words-flying-by-animated-gif

I’ve been putting a lot more books in my Did Not Finish pile on GoodReads lately, and to be honest, I’m not feeling too worried about it.  It’s not that the books are bad (though there have been a few), it’s more that they’re just not my thing.

I’ve found that for me, one of the most common reasons for not finishing a novel is that trying to get through it is a chore.  They’re either far too verbose, far too infodumpy, or just in a really irritating style.  There are also the Everything/Everyone Is Horrible novels that I really don’t have time for in my life right now.

When I was a teenager it used to irritate me that I would lose interest in a book.  Granted, a good handful of the assigned reading when I was in high school was dry as a bone (George Eliot’s Silas Marner remains one of my least favorite books for its desert-level dryness); others were Written to Make a Point (like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which dropped metaphors on you like Acme™ anvils).  Both are my least favorite styles of writing.  It actually put me off reading for entertainment for quite some time.

Yes, this, coming from a writer, right?  This is why I focused more on storytelling in different mediums, like comics, movies and television.  It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I figured it was time to actually read novels for entertainment again.  Once I got back into the swing of it, my personal library expanded exponentially.

Thing is, I found that I was trying to read everything, whether it was enjoyable or not.  There were very few books that I wrote off as DNF; I kept a hold of them for years, trying to read them again at a later time.

Nowadays I go by my book ownership rules:

  1. If I just bought it new, it needs to be read within the year.
  2. If I’ve bought it but haven’t started reading it in over a year, I push it to the top of my To Be Read queue.  If I don’t think I’ll get to it anytime soon, however, it goes to the donation pile.
  3. If I’ve owned it for ages and enjoyed it in the past but don’t think I’ll be reading it again, it goes in the donation pile.
  4. If I’ve gotten a quarter of the way in and it’s just not doing anything for me, or if it’s more irritating than enjoyable, it’s not worth finishing. [Note: This is not to say I toss books at the slightest irritation.  It takes a lot for me to give up on a book, so I give it a serious go before giving up.]

I donate the books to the Friends of the SF Public Library at their book store over in Fort Mason.  I’m totally fine with not making any money back, because these end up getting sold at their store or at their Big Honkin’ Book Sale they have a few times a year.  I might not have liked the book, but hey, someone else might!

I’ve found that sticking to these four rules works out really well, as it helps me get through my towering To Be Read pile quickly. Time’s too short to force myself through novels that are more of a chore than a joy.  Plus it leaves me more time to check out new writers!