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

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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

nervous-anime

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

guitar

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

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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.