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!

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


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!

Influences and Impressions

bookworm monterey
The SF room, Book Worm Bookstore, Monterey CA

With the recent passing of genre giant Ursula K Le Guin, and the hundreds of remembrances of fans and fellow authors who were introduced to science fiction and fantasy via her novels and short stories, I got to thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever read any of her work!  I do now own one of her recent short story collections, The Unreal and the Real, that I’ve yet to crack open.  I’m well familiar with the titles, of course.  She’s one of the list of authors I will almost always find in bulk at used book stores.

So what did I read when I was first starting out as a teenage writer?  Well, that’s a good question.  I tried and failed at reading The Lord of the Rings in junior high because I had little patience for it.  I read some YA here and there, a lot of music books and magazines.  Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine was one of the few reading assignments I adored.  My freshman year I devoured Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.  I went through a short spell reading Vonnegut and Asimov.  Some comics.  But that was about it.  I spent more time enthralled by radio and records, as well as visual outlets like MTV, Miami Vice and the various movies we’d rent on the weekends.

And it kind of stayed that way, to be honest.  I read books here and there, but not nearly as voraciously as I do now.  I went through a Stephen King spell in the early 90s, maybe a few other authors here and there.  Douglas Coupland was probably the only mainstay for me then.  Instead I watched a lot of movies (and anime, whenever I could find it).  It wasn’t until maybe the late 90s, right about the same time that I started taking my writing a hell of a lot more seriously, that I decided that maybe I should start reading more, especially in my genre.

Occasionally I’d head to a book store and pick up one or two paperbacks.  By 2000 (right about the time I switched jobs and started the trilogy), my visits to Barnes & Noble and other book stores were becoming more frequent.  For a good couple of years I’d do a run to Leominster (about 30 miles east of my home town) that started at Newbury Comics for a cd run, and ended with a three-hour browse at the B&N up the road.  That was when I finally started finding my own literary influences; Kate Elliott, CJ Cherryh, Richard Paul Russo, Lyda Morehouse, Anne McCaffrey, and so on.  Interestingly, a lot of female genre writers and not that many male writers.  I looked for writers that jumped out at me, that did something unique that fascinated me in some way.

I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until around 2007, to be honest.  And I finally read Neuromancer around the same time.  I still don’t think I’ve read any Philip K Dick, Alfred Bester, Harlan Ellison, Brian Aldiss or many of the old-school classics, many of whom had movies made from their books by that time.  Some, but not nearly that many as others.

Still, I’ve found my influences in my own way to get where I am today, and I’m still discovering more.  Haruki Murakami is a big current favorite of mine, for instance.  I’m fascinated by storytelling from different angles and avenues, different cultures and points of view.  Just like my avid movie watching back in the day, it’s all about a story that makes me stop in my tracks and think two things: How the hell did they make that work?, and Okay, I need to get back to my computer RIGHT NOW and start writing!  Whether it’s a movie, a book, a manga or an anime, if it moves me just the right way, I’m hooked and inspired.

On Public Speaking


Thankfully, I’m a bit prepared for it.  I say a bit, because I’m talking about the Voice and Articulation and Public Speaking classes I had to take at Emerson College — twenty-plus years ago.  I know how to project my voice when need be (and I’ll admit I don’t do it nearly as much as I should when we’re in loud and crowded places).  I know how to lift the tone of my voice just a tad so it’s clear and not a droning mumble.  And I’m comfortable talking in front of a crowd.

But man, I’ll be honest right now — when I do that reading and that panel at FOGcon in early March, I’m gonna be a bit nervous anyway, because I’m not just talking about writing or reading my novel.  I’m trying to sell the damn thing.  And I am TOTALLY a n00b at that.

Still, I gotta start somewhere, right?

I’ve of course been given the suggestion that I should record myself reading to hear how I sound, but I’m my own worst critic when I do that.  I hate hearing myself talk on tape.  [I can deal with my own singing, but that’s a different avenue entirely.]  I’d be more inclined to prepare myself for talking in front of a crowd by making sure I know what I’m going to say (or read).  I rarely prepare for this sort of thing; I’m someone who feels more comfortable winging it when the time comes.  My preparation for the reading won’t be how I sound but on the pacing and the time it takes.  And I’m already thinking about points I’d like to make on the panel I’ll be on.

I’ve still got a few weeks to prepare for this, so I’m sure my nerves will be calm by then.  Hopefully…!

Fresh Perspectives


One of the first things I chose to do the day after The Balance of Light was released was to set one of my guitars to an alternate tuning.

No, really.  All my guitars have been in the usual standard EADGBE tuning for years, and over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I’ve been playing the same damn chord progressions and melodies for far too long.  I love writing new songs, but I haven’t been inspired enough to come up with that many new riffs that I haven’t already used elsewhere.  I figured it was high time to change it up.

My six-string Taylor acoustic is now in the DADGAD alternate tuning.  This is for two reasons:  one, so I’ll finally force myself to learn how to play it that way, and two, so I’ll pick up that guitar more often.  My sister’s a big proponent of this tuning as she loves the versatility it provides.  I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and now that I have the time, I made the move to get started on it.


So what does this have to do with writing, anyway?  Why am I posting this here and not at Walk in Silence?  Well, mainly because I’m doing the same exact thing with my writing, now that I have the time to dedicate.  After years of focusing on the Mendaihu Universe and everything that goes along with it, I suddenly find my brain with a lot of extra processing power again.

So this means that I’ve decided to take some steps that I’ve been wanting to take for quite some time now.  The pre-writing work for Meet the Lidwells! has included a full outline — something I’ve nearly always avoided in the past.  I’m also playing around with the post-production work early on, since I already have a good idea of how it’ll look and where I think it might sell.

I’ve been reading a lot of different authors and genres lately.  I’ve been picking up on the varying styles and moods.  I’ve been figuring out how to write a much smaller standalone book with a much smaller cast.  I’ve been paying attention to how different races and genders are written.  Part of this is so when it comes time for me to write something similar, I’ll do it correctly.  Part of it is also because of my fascination in how stories are told from different cultural perspectives; I’m so overly familiar with how Americans tell stories that my own start to sound a bit…bland, so I’d like to try writing my stories from a slightly different perspective.

[Noted, I’m sure someone somewhere will complain that I’m falling into SJW territory, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I won’t write my novels purely for political reasons, because I already know I’ll fail miserably and they’ll read like crap.  The only reason I want to write from different perspectives is because I want to.  End of story.]

What else do I plan on doing to freshen up my outlook?  That’s a good question.  The Day Job does kind of keep me from playing around with my writing schedule, though there’s still room for shaking it up a bit.  I wake up early on the weekends whether I like to or not, so perhaps instead of draining my phone battery trawling the internet or watching several repeat cycles of the local news, perhaps I could use that time for creative endeavors.

I’ve also been extremely lax on my artwork, especially over the last year or so!  I’ve got some fresh pencils and pens that I’d love to start using again.  The art process has always been an enjoyable and calming one for me and I don’t utilize it nearly as much as I’d like.  I’d also like to be a better artist than I currently am, to be honest.  I’m okay, but I could be a hell of a lot better at it.  Same with my photography.

Will any of this end up in my future novels?  Sure, why not?  My reading a crapton of music biographies inspired the interview format for Lidwells.  My immersion in music inspired a fresh outlook on my writing.  My photography is sneaking into my side project of creating book covers.  And my knowledge of art has definitely helped me visualize scenes when writing.

Now that I have more time, I’m really looking forward these new perspectives.

HARK! I will be at FogCon 7!

YAY!  I will be at FOGcon 7 this year!

I know it’s super last minute announcement, but I’d been hedging about whether or not I’d be able to go, for various reasons.  However, thanks to personal plans (and Major Editing Projects) coming together with perfect timing, I’ll be able to make an appearance.  I may have even signed up to be on a few panels and may even do a reading…!

Which means I have one month to do some serious homework and preparation for this, my first official con as a participating author instead of just an attendee fan.

This should be quite interesting.

FOGcon 7 will be in Walnut Creek, CA, on March 10 – 12, at the Walnut Creek Marriott.


Hope to see you there! 🙂

Reading and Writing Other Genres

Combo TBR and Have Read Pile.  I’m currently working on that lower shelf.

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fantasy/SF books lately.  It’s partly because I have quite the To Be Read pile next to my bed, and I figured it was high time to dig through some of the titles that have been there for quite some time.  There’s a goodly amount of SFF in there, but there’s also a lot of non-genre, and I felt it was time to take a different path for a bit.

I mean, isn’t that what they always say?  Read anything and everything.  In among the SF I see in that picture, there’s also a Love and Rockets collection, a collection of Chinese Literature, a few mystery novels, some poetry, and a lot of Japanese literature as well.

Recently I finished reading Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I adored, but also fascinated me due to Fowler’s wonderful use of language.  And currently I’m reading Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China.   Then there’s the various mangas, the music biographies, and the couple of history books (Alwyn Turner has a great triad of books about Britain from the 70s through to the 90s, if you’re interested) that seem to make their way to my TBR pile.  Such is the fate of living down the street from Green Apple Books and their excellent selection!

I don’t think I’ve burned myself out on genre fiction as much as I think I’ve oversaturated myself with it.  I can usually tell when I get to that point when a few things happen: the plot points start crossing over to different novels, I start comparing the characters and personality traits between different books far too much, and I start guessing the ending of the story way too early.   That’s when it’s time to back away and do something different for a bit.

My usual go-to with this is Asian literature.  I love how the pace and voice of the novel is equally as important as the plot itself.  I love reading characters whose motives are often culturally different from my own.  It makes me think about my own writing, how to approach storylines from different perspectives.

I admit I don’t enjoy too much litfic out there, but there are a few mainstream fiction authors I’ll pick up regardless.  Douglas Coupland and Mark Danielewski are two of them.  And of course I’ll pick up any music biography that catches my eye, especially if it’s a well-researched history of a particular genre.  I’ll pick up anything by Mark Lewisohn, Greil Marcus or Simon Reynolds.

Point being…as a writer, I have to remind myself that I need to read as often as I write, if not more, and I need to keep the scope of the material pretty wide if I’m going to learn from it.  I may read things simply for the pleasure of it, but even with those silly graphic novels and manga tankobon, I’m still picking up on the different ways to tell a story.

Hidden Stories

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy, book 3 in the Imperial Radch series.
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, book 3 in the Imperial Radch series.

A. and I were talking about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy last night (she’d read it the day it came out, I’m about three-quarters finished), specifically about how we really enjoyed the many and varying characters in the series. One thing that came up was that we were both fascinated by a specific twenty-year gap in the lead character’s history that happens early on in the first book (Ancillary Justice). What happened between the fade-out and the fade-in?  Where did she acquire the certain things she now owned?  Do we ever find out?  Is it important to the main story arc, or is it simply a passage of time between important moments?

I’ll tell you a writer’s secret:  us authors love doing that.

There are many and varied reasons for it.  Sometimes a rose is just a rose:  the character lived their life doing things that had no important bearing on the story. Maybe they just needed to lie low for a while.  Sometimes it’s a big secret: it’s a specific gap of time that the narrative will return to much later on, when it’s important to the story.  Sometimes we never find out exactly why.

Me?  I love doing it because it’s part of my world building process.  For me, it gives the character space to breathe in their own privacy for a bit.  In A Division of Souls, there’s a space of five years between the time Caren and Denni’s parents are killed in action and the present time of the book itself.  I did this for two reasons: for the two sisters to come to terms with what happened, and to show that the current events actually started manifesting themselves a lot earlier than anyone thought.

I call these gaps hidden stories.  The main arc doesn’t focus on these events, doesn’t need to.  But just the same, they’re part of the framework of the whole.  There’s usually a solid reason for this time gap (such as in Ancillary Justice, where Breq is basically keeping off someone’s radar), and it can be extremely useful and malleable.  This is where the writer can say “this is what happened between [Novel X] and [Novel Y].”  Another good example of that is the previous Naruto movie The Last, which takes place between the time gap between the final chapters of the series, 699 and 700.  We find that there’s a gap of time that we can use as a bit of a playground for new and/or related stories if we so choose to write them.

Which, of course, means that the seventy years between The Balance of Light and the new (and still untitled) Mendaihu Universe story is chock full of mystery!  A lot could happen in an average human life span.  I’ve given myself quite a bit of space for hidden stories in that stretch of time.

Maybe sometime down the road I’ll tell you a few. 🙂

On Reading: Be Not Afraid

I just finished reading AM Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea last night, and absolutely loved it.  It’s one of those books where you end up staying up past your bedtime so you can finish it up.  Fast-paced and fun, it straddles between YA and adult fantasy, following a girl named Sophie Hansa as she travels — first accidentally then purposely — to an alternate world full of magic, seafaring piracy, and family intrigue.

I mention this because I think it ties in nicely with a recent blog post by writer Shannon Hale called “No Boys Allowed: School visits as a woman writer”.  She talks of her tours of schools to talk about her Princess Academy books, specifically the problems she has at some schools where her audience is all (or nearly all) girls, with nary a boy in sight.  More to the point: the fact that the boys weren’t invited, or needing permission to join in.  It wasn’t just expected that boys would have no interest in a writer who writes about princesses…even if it was unintentional, they’ve also reinforced the idea that boys shouldn’t have an interest in stories about princesses.  It’s just not a manly thing to read, even if you’re 10.

This reminded me of an event in seventh grade, between myself and the school librarian.  [I mention it briefly in the comments section of Hale’s entry.]  They had this special event every month or so where kids could buy cheap paperbacks from a bookseller; they were your typical MG and YA novels, maybe some comic collections and kids magazines, that sort of thing.

I took an interest in that partly because my dad and I had started taking road trips on weekends to Northampton or elsewhere to stop at bookstores, and I’d pick up something to read every now and then.  This book club was an easy way for me to find more things to check out.

At the time, I was interested in a lot of YA novels from Apple Paperbacks and other publishers; the covers may have been kind of dorky and the stories somewhat simple (strangers following you, problems with your friends, having weird yet really cool magical abilities), but they were fun reads.  I knew pretty early on that I wasn’t that interested in stories about sports, or men of action, or any of those other typical boy-centric stories.  The reason was simple: I like a good story, regardless of the gender of the main character…but the subject has to interest me.  I wasn’t going to waste time reading about a kid trying to make the baseball team when I had no interest in baseball and sucked at it anyway.

Mind you, this was also the time where I’d started becoming interested in writing fiction.  The Infamous War Novel I started in 1984 was the first one I completed, but I’d had at least a dozen or so incomplete ideas dating back at least a few years earlier than that.  This had little to do with passive reading.  I was gravitating to what I knew I enjoyed and wanted to write.

So when I’d ordered a few of these Apple Paperbacks (including Willo Davis Roberts’ The Girl with the Silver Eyes — one of my first forays into the SF genre, come to think of it!), I was excited to start reading these things.  However…

However, the school librarian had side-eyed my choice in reading.  In fact, if I remember correctly she actually pulled me aside.  “Are you sure you want to read books like this?” she’d asked.  “Don’t you want to read about sports or spy novels?”  I stood my ground and kept reading these things, but there was something in the back of my mind that nagged at me: was I reading the wrong things?  Was it wrong for me to like books with female leads?  I shrugged that off just as quickly as it came, but that was probably the moment where I realized I would not be able to confide in this particular librarian.  After all, she was also the one who had seen me pick up a copy of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer in the school’s library and asked if I would really ever get around to finishing it, considering it’s over five hundred pages long.  And now I had it in my head:  Would other boys think I was a fag (and I mean that in that wonderful 80s teen way) because I liked books about girls?  Did I have to keep these books to myself now, for fear that others would side-eye me as well?

She apparently had my number well before I had it myself.

The sad thing is, this was also right about the time where my attention span had started to wane.  Not out of any emotional or mental deficiency, but because I was starting to get bored.  I didn’t figure it out until many years later that my grades really started slipping right around that time because I’d lost interest.  I’d rather be listening to music or writing (yes, even then at 13…especially then) than reading some assigned book that I just didn’t want to deal with.  The end result was that I would end up with my first failing grade in my entire school career.  I got an F.  In English, of all things!  I wanted to be a writer and I loved reading!  What had happened?

Thankfully, I turned it around and managed to squeak by with a C- by the end of the semester and didn’t have to stay behind or take summer school. I knew I wasn’t dumb, I just needed to make a concerted effort to get the work done.  It was a slog and I did a half-assed job most of the time, but I did well enough to graduate with the rest of my class.

But the damage really had been done in junior high.  I don’t blame that librarian…she was of an older generation and was safe in her Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Girls world.  My bad grades were my own damn fault.  But if it wasn’t for my 7th grade English teacher assigning us Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (one of my all-time favorite novels), my mission to write and finish a novel, and a stubborn will to read what I wanted, I’d probably have done worse.  I remained a B- student pretty much all the way until I graduated college.  And I barely picked up a book for pure entertainment purposes, even though I was still attempting to be a writer…that wouldn’t happen until around 1995.

I know it sounds petty, but this is what happens when you throw preconceived expectations on kids of that age.  Let me explain — I know you mean well, and I can see where you’re coming from (even when the gender segregation is a dumbass thing to do).  You’re giving them anchors and guidelines, something for them to base their life experiences on.  You’re trying to train them to see potential roads they should follow for future education, and that’s a good thing.  But at the same time, you’re not paying attention to how the kids are processing it.  A. and I have similar tastes in some things, but wildly different tastes in others.  I don’t even have the same path of logic as she does half the time.  We should learn how to think critically, but we also have to remember that each person thinks, lives and reacts differently.

I like what I like, and I choose not to be afraid of admitting that.

This is also partly why I chose to put Denni and Caren Johnson as the most important characters of the Bridgetown Trilogy — I remembered those Apple Paperbacks (and I was reading Kate Elliott’s Jaran series at the time) and enjoyed reading female lead characters.  I had no other reason, political or feminist or what have you, for centering the story around them.  They. Are. Important. Characters.  And they were not extensions of me.  That’s all.

I know this is kind of a long diatribe, but I felt it was important to share.  I’d like to believe that the boundaries we should teach kids are not external such as gender roles or conformity, but internal, such as respect and awareness.  Read what you want to read.  Write what you want to write.  Learn what needs learning.  And don’t edit your reading preferences because of someone else’s opinions.

Be not afraid.