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Weekly Musing: 2018 Goals

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Happy New Year, everyone! We’ve entered the time of year when everyone sits down to write out resolutions. While I dislike the term resolution, I prefer goal, I am not immune to the desire to reflect upon who I am currently and who I want to be as I go forward. As I ponder what kind of person I’d like to be, I have also been reflecting upon what kind of writer I’d like to be. A theme which emerged both in my personal and professional goals is a desire to heal myself and be kinder to myself. It is my hope that as I become more comfortable with myself I will become more comfortable as a writer.

Once again, I feel my goals are rather modest and achievable. I’m sure like last year’s goals priorities could change.

Finish rough draft of current manuscript and do at least one rewrite: I am hopeful I can finish a rough draft of my WIP either by the end of this month or early February. It’s been a struggle to get the words down. It always is and more so when my research wasn’t complete before I started the rough draft. But, that was a conscious decision because I wanted to focus more on the story rather than the historical background. Before I can tackle a rewrite, though, I will need to do more research. I’ve been writing notes to myself about specific things I’ll need to look up. Again, this is all in an effort to not overdo the research and torpedo myself in irrelevant details.

Rethinking my blog: In addition to changing the visual look of my blog, which I hope you are enjoying, I am looking to cut back on the number of blog posts. I started doing this about midway through last year and found it was something which freed up my time to concentrate more on novel writing. It can be taxing to come up with an idea for each week and while I do have a list of possible blog topics, some topics require research. I also want the flexibility to post when I have the time and inclination. At a minimum I think I’ll have at least 2 posts each month and they’ll still come out on Saturdays.

I am also officially eliminating my monthly book review. I don’t know how value added it was.

Another thing I’m hoping to do is experiment more with adding in pictures, probably a combination of stock photos and my own, that have some kind of connection with content.

New writers group: Very recently I discovered there is finally a writers group which meets at my local library. Before I used to attend a group located in the city I live next to which at times was a bit of a drive.

I haven’t attended any meetings yet as all December meetings were cancelled due to the holiday. I am interested to see how it goes. The biggest factor to me for how comfortable I am in a group is the combination of people. Is there a variety of skill level or is everyone about equal? What are the personality types? Do people give constructive feedback? Will the group prove to be useful for my development?

Letting myself go on the page: This goes back to my overall desire to be more comfortable with myself. I don’t want to be afraid anymore of having characters go to dark places or light places. I don’t want to worry about if what I’m writing fits a trend or will make people 100% comfortable and unoffended. Writing is an expression of thoughts and feelings. Honestly, I feel like when I was writing more for myself and writing something I wanted to personally read, the muse was present, and the writing was more relaxed. I’d like to get back to that.

Having an organized book reading list: This one is also a personal goal. In addition to having a target number of books I’d like to read, I decided to look at my bookshelves and pick out books I’ve had for years, but have never read. I also wrote down a few books I’ve being wanting to read, but keep forgetting to pick up.

Below is the list of books I absolutely want to read in 2018. I tried to give myself a mixture of classics in addition to genre books.

The Works of Oscar Wilde

1984 by George Orwell (this is a re-read)

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (this is a re-read)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dicks

House of Cards by Michael Dobson

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

The Tchaikovsky Finale by Darin Kennedy

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Winter World by Ken Follett

Column of Fire by Ken Follett

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

Artemis by Andy Weir

The Iron King by Maurice Druon

The Works of H.P. Lovecraft

 

It’ll be interesting to see how many of these goals I’ll accomplish. Like everyone else who makes a list, I’m hopeful I can meet them. Good luck to every writer out there in achieving your goals this year!

 

 

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Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: 2017 Reflections

While 2017 was a better year than 2016 in many respects, when it came to my writing it was a rather stagnant year. In looking over my goals for this year, I see I did not meet a lot of them. None of the goals were lofty and unachievable. In fact, I believed these all to be reasonable and something any writer would put on their own list. As the year went along, I determined some weren’t really a goal I wanted to work on after all as my own philosophy began to change.

Historical Fiction Book: Honestly, this has been a story which has often been the bane of my existence. I love it, then dislike it. I’ve certainly banged by head against the wall more than once while I’ve worked on it on and off over the years. I have re-written and changed it so many times it barely resembles my original idea. For example, it was going to be multiple POVs. Then I cut it down to two before cutting to one POV. This was due in large part because over the years I have realized I am most comfortable with writing one POV.

While I am once again back to feeling this may be a project to put on the shelf semi-permanently, it did teach me a lot. It taught me just how contradictory research can be and how at the end of the day errors will be made no matter how diligent my research is. I also learned there is such a thing as too much research which crowds out my ability to focus on the fiction aspect of historical fiction.

In terms of actual storytelling, I learned I need to really rein in my ideas. I suspect this will always be an area which will be a work in progress. The more I write the better I should get at recognizing what does and doesn’t make sense.

I also learned I need to trust myself when it comes to the characters. I found myself backing off having characters do things which would make them to unlikeable at times. This is a silly way of thinking. People aren’t always one way or another.

Submitting More: I thought after taking some time off due to personal reasons from submitting due I would want to get back to it. It’s been awesome getting those acceptance emails and seeing my work in both print and online. Those published works make up for the dozens of rejections and the hours spent cleaning up work to make it suitable for submission.

But I have learned this year my heart does not lie in short stories and spending hours writing them. I’ve enjoyed the new ideas and research done. However, since my primary goal has always been to write and publish novels, I need to devote as many hours as I can to that. I’ve always been a novel reader and still am. Novels take plenty of work and with my deliberate pace and lack of desire to write short stories, something had to give.

I don’t know if this will ultimately backfire for me career wise. One of the big things I heard over and over when I began writing more seriously is it is important for beginning writers to try and get as many short stories published as possible in order to help them to get a novel published. The more I write and the more I think about this the more I question if it ultimately matters. Writers should seek publication because they believe in their story. Not to build a resume.

Going forward the only kind of submitting I want to focus on is sending out book manuscripts. I’d also want to consider self-publishing and the work involved with that.

Advice: One of my resolutions was to scale back the amount of writing advice I read. This took some time, but I decided to unsubscribe to many of my favorite blogs. I know I’ve had a couple of posts of blog recommendations. I still stand by those people and believe they produce a lot of helpful content. For me personally, I need to stay away from noise. Also, things always change. Information which was fresh a couple of years ago may very well be outdated.

I realized, too, I should only go after information as it applies to a particular stage in my career. For example, it makes no sense to learn about query letters or approaching an agent when I’m not at that point. As I get to those stages between my Writers Digests, countless writing books, and blogs, I’m confident I can find information on any subject I want when I want it.

Writing Conference: This goal was made before I determined it was a good idea to move because my husband and I wanted to be closer to our friends. It was also made before we decided to go on a couple of vacations.

But not fulfilling this goal did not bother me. Much like the advice thing, I realized I should only attend conferences and workshops which I feel apply to me. When I look around and see the programs, I see a lot of the same topics pop up, none of which excite me or are applicable. Why should I potentially waste time and money to not learn much?

2017 NaNoWriMo: This is one goal I am truly proud of achieving. For the longest time I wasn’t sure I would participate. Then a new idea came to me and November was a great time to get a good start on it. It felt good and I even found a possible new writers group because of participating. I got what I wanted out of it and for that I am extremely glad I participated.

Letting Myself Go on the Page: This is one of those goals which I think will always be a work in progress. In 2017 I still found myself holding back on the page. Actually, I was holding the characters back on the page something which goes against my own philosophy. Once again, I will definitely be putting this goal on my list in the hopes I will figure out a way to relax and let go.

 

2017 was a mixed bag for my goals. That’s okay as sometimes we don’t achieve want we want. Oddly enough I have not beaten myself up for it. Not yet, anyway. I do wonder if this year will wind up being one of those years I reflect upon and realize it was a transition year into becoming the writer I’d like to be.

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Weekly Musing: Delightful Reads of 2017

Last week I went my least favorite books of 2017. This week I go over the books which really transported me to another time and place. These were the kind of books which every reader dreams of because they remind us why we love reading so much.

Thankfully, this list is longer than last week’s which is always a good thing. Enjoy and it’s probably not too late to get any of these in time for Christmas!

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers: I read this book way back in January and the corresponding book review can be found here.

Clover by Dori Sanders: Another book I read earlier in the year and its corresponding book review can be found here.

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Lawrence Schoen: This book, as well as the next three, were all books I read for the geek book club I’m in. Stay with me as I describe what each of the books are about since we read sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Barsk is centered around a group of anthropomorphic elephants with Jorl, a historian, as the main protagonist. The heart of the story is about Jorl and his relationship with the son of his dead friend, Pizlo. Pizlo isn’t like the other elephants as he is undersized, doesn’t feel pain, is a different color, and seems to have a mystical connection with the universe. Throughout the book, the reader gets a mystery as to why elephants at the end of their lives are being taken away from the scared place all elephants go to die. Eventually, there is evidence it is connected to a drug called koph and a nefarious organization trying to control the production and distribution of the drug.

What I really liked the most about Barsk is just how out there the book is. It is easy for the reader to get over the premise of anthropomorphic animals inhabiting an entire universe of planets. This isn’t the first book by a long shot to feature an entire cast of animals acting as humans. Schoen does a great job as the animals in the book feel like fully fleshed out characters that at times you forget they are animals until a description about a tail or trunk catches your attention. They are just like you and I as there are good and bad guys, complicated relationships, and different cultures.

The next thing I really enjoyed about the book are the characters. My favorite is Jorl because he is a historian and I have a soft spot for history. I also like him because he is sensitive and the type of character who doesn’t seek glory; he only wants to look out for and protect his friend’s son. He’s a quiet hero. I also enjoyed Pizlo because I sympathize with his ostracization from society for being different. At times he can be creepy, but that is because of his other worldly connection with the universe. The supporting characters offer a unique range of antagonists. There are some true villains and there is one morally grey characters who must decide what is the right thing to do.

The overall world building is first rate. Again, as a reader I forgot I was reading about animals as cultures of the elephants and other species are well-developed with their own lore, legends, and religion.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: Another book which was unlike anything I’ve read before is Sleeping Giants. It’s another one of those books with an out there concept, but because it was so well-written with interesting characters, it works.

Sleeping Giants is about robots. Specifically, one robot composed of pieces found all over the world. The first piece is accidentally discovered by Rose, who is riding her bike when she falls through the ground. When she is discovered, she is being cradled in a giant metal hand with unknown symbols carved into it. Flash forward seventeen years and Rose is now a physicist intent upon discovering the who, what, where, how, and why of the hand’s origins. She heads a motley team and together they discover other parts around the world. Eventually this leads to it being put together. When they realize it can be turned on, they now have a giant alien robot.

I really enjoyed this book because of the uniqueness of its premise. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about robots, let alone alien robots. It is the first in a series, what else is new for sci-fi and fantasy, and Sleeping Giants is the first in the series. Don’t expect to get all the answers to all your questions. I do want to know what happens next and what the discovery ultimately means for humanity.

The search around the world for the pieces intrigued me. I liked that the pieces weren’t all found in America as I get tired of America being the center of books. This scattering of pieces clearly indicates something caused the robot to explode. Or did it self-destruct? It brings up many more questions beyond the basics.

Rose and her team are interesting characters. At times Rose isn’t a very nice person and I like seeing that in a protagonist. In fact, none of the people on her team are sympathetic all the time. You feel bad for them as these people have committed themselves to isolation from the outside world to protect the secrecy of the project. It’s no wonder they can get pissy.

The structure of Sleeping Giants works. The story is told through journal entries and interviews an unnamed character conducts with each member. This could have very well become boring and formulaic, but Neuvel makes it work. He is able to give the reader character development and the story progresses smoothly with a complete arc and subplot. I’m sure if Sleeping Giants had been written in a more traditional style the story would still work. But I think telling it via journal entries and interviews adds to its uniqueness.

 The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden: In The Prey of Gods fifty years into the future in South Africa robots are part of everyday life. However, the demigoddesses, one good and one very much bad, are not. This multi-viewpoint story follows five people as they discover they have powers who must work together to stop a deranged demigoddess from ruining the world. They also learn who truly are as people.

I feel like a broken record saying what makes this novel work are the characters, but it is true. Drayden is able to successfully write from a diverse background of characters from a young child to a gay teen to a pop star to a transgender government official and finally, to the deranged demigoddess. Drayden knows these characters and can capture their diverse backgrounds from the very poorest of the poor to a rich pop star. Certainly, some characters enjoy more spotlight than others, but by the end of the book their lives collide and work well together.

I also enjoyed reading this book because of how the personal robot component worked. In Drayden’s South African future, anyone who can afford a robot has one and they do all kinds of basic day-to-day things. For some they also provide an odd kind of friendship for some. The robots also have unique personalities which comes into play later in the story. The reader sees how one treats his or her robot affects that personality. Never does Drayden use the term AI, and I’m not sure the person robots were designed to develop unique personalities. For example, Kuzi treats his robot as if it were human by “talking” to it. Meanwhile his best friend, and crush, treats his like crap. This difference in treatment later becomes key for the story when everyone’s personal robots rise up.

I loved the blend of ancient myths with futuristic technology. This is something which could have been clunky and awkward, but I think because of the diversity of the characters it allows for the mash up to flow. A lot is crammed into the story. Luckily the pacing doesn’t suffer, and the book isn’t longer than it needs to be.

I also think the action sequences were well-done. Sometimes in books I have a hard time following along with heavily involved and complex action sequences. Sometimes an author drags them out and it becomes tedious. Drayden does a great job of keeping the action followable, the right amount, and exciting. Perhaps because she does keep it simple even when she switches the action to different viewpoints.

 

Overall, the books I read in 2017 had one major theme and that was they each represent something different. Not only from each other, but what I might not normally read or hear about. I’m hopeful 2018 will see my reading continue to expand while still incorporating genres and authors I enjoy.