Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference) Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 3 of 3)

Wherein I shall conclude the elucidation of the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Today’s post will conclude with my thoughts on the last two panels, including the marquee “JordanCon’s Got Talent”, and I’ll wrap up with my main take-away lesson from this whole experience.

Rewriting History

This was the panel that was probably of least interest to me – primarily because I write very little alternate history.  It was still an enjoyable panel – with a fun discussion about whether or not it’s okay to write historically real people in such a way as to portray them very differently than what we understand to be the historical truth of those people.  Can you, for instance, write a story in which Abraham Lincoln is a lying bastard?  Is that any worse than writing a story in which Abraham Lincoln is a Vampire Hunter?  If so, why?

We never really answered the question definitively.  But it was an enjoyable aside.  I sort of came away from this part thinking of alternate histories as “fan fiction for real-world history”…

For my part, I did ask a question in this panel: this time in reference to my story, “PFTETD”.  When I had my first rewritten draft out to readers (all two of them) in early 2010, the feedback I got was strangely consistent: the readers were intrigued by the world I had created.  The world was, basically, real world modern-day but with a certain fantastical element inserted, which element has been with humanity for all of its history.  Sort of the basic premise of half of urban fantasy.  (Although, I don’t consider it an urban fantasy – there’s no “urban” to it, as it takes place in a rural setting – so I call it “contemporary fantasy” instead, meaning it takes place in a contemporary setting.  At least Wikipedia recognizes that as the genre in which Urban Fantasy is contained, but I rarely see reference to it out in the wild.)  What my readers wanted was to see more of this world, and learn more about how this fantastical element has changed the course of human history, making this world simultaneously familiar and different.

Except, the problem was, this was meant to be a short story that had already ballooned to novelette length. Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 2 of 3)

Wherein I shall continue to elucidate the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011Part 1 here.  Part 3 forthcoming.

Today I’m going to continue sharing my experiences and thoughts on the various Writing Track panels I attended.  I attended all of them, though some of them I was a little late to, for various reasons.  Saturday had already been off to a great start, but then I was ambushed by Lunch Time.

Keeping a Long Series Fresh

Jana Oliver headlined the next panel, after Saturday’s lunch, to which I was late.  She advocated keeping a “story bible” to keep all the details and events straight when working on a long series – “because otherwise you will forget important details”.  This was something I was already doing, thankfully.  I have a story bible for “Project SOA”, and I’ve recently started working on one for “Book of M”.  What goes in the story bible: a bit of everything.  Descriptions of the character both physical and internal, notes about the history of the world, geography, the plot outline – you name it, I’ll put an entry for it in the project bible.  Right now the bible for “Book of M” is in its nascency, with only a handful of unfinished entries.  I’ve mentioned my project bible before, I believe, and I won’t go into too much detail about it for now.

The purpose of the bible, as she explained it, was to help keep everything straight.  But  you could also keep new notes and bits of inspiration there as you happen upon them, to help you inject some of that much-needed freshness. Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 1 of 3)

Wherein I share and elucidate the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011.

The main panelists for the writing track were Guest of Honor David B. Coe, Eugie Foster, Jana Oliver, and Brandon Sanderson.  (The details of who taught what are in my blow-by-blow account linked above.)  Attending the writing track was definitely valuable for me, as an aspiring fantasy author.  But what was surprising, in some ways, was how little I learned about the craft of writing as compared to what else I learned by attending these panels. 

Which is not to say I didn’t learn quite a lot about writing during these panels.  I suppose I was expecting to learn more about the craft.  But what I did learn, I believe, will be enough to push me up another level – or so I hope.  But let me save the big, revelatory take-aways for the end, and let’s start with an account of what I learned along the way.  Which is a long account, so expect this to go on for several posts – this is considerably more detailed and thorough than my pictorial blow-by-blow.

Writing for Younger Readers

The first bit of craft advice I learned when I ducked into the Writing for Young Readers panel a little late.  The panelists agreed that you should write your protagonist at an age one or two years older than your target audience – specifically when targeting younger readers.  This is because younger readers are aspirational – they are interested in what people older than they are think and do.  However, the older YA readers tend to read more and more like adults, so the lines get blurred considerably.  They also pointed out that mushy stuff like romance: kids totally go in for that, whatever you may think.  Yes, even the boys.  Continue reading

JordanCon 2011 – A Pictorial Blow-by-blow

Well, JordanCon was certainly a fun time.  I definitely recommend attending a con to other budding speculative fiction writers – if for no other reason than the fact that you will enjoy yourself!

The jungle in the hotel lobby where JordanCon III was held

The jungle in the hotel lobby where JordanCon III was held

Before I go into detail about what I learned about writing during this convention, I wanted to do a short recap of what I did – complete with pictures!  (Alas, I am in none of the pictures, as I always faced my camera away from myself, not thinking that it would be good to be in them.)

The hotel where JordanCon was held this year was pretty swanky.  As evidence of my assertion I offer a picture of the hotel lobby.  I’ve been in a few very nice hotels before.  None of them have had a jungle in their lobbies.  This is my new measure of what it means to be a swanky hotel.  Obviously, it impressed me enough to warrant taking a picture, and I offer this in lieu of a “view from the hotel room”.

Signing with Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal at JordanCon 2011

Signing with Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal at JordanCon 2011

My first stop on Friday was a signing with author Brandon Sanderson and editor Harriet McDougal.  Brandon Sanderson, as most by now know, is the author chosen to finish highly popular “The Wheel of Time” series that was begun by Robert Jordan but left unfinished by his untimely passing.  Harriet was his editor at Tor Books, and his wife.  Brandon has done a fantastic job with the final volumes in Jordan’s books.  And of course, in part thanks to this assignment and in part thanks to his own talents and skills, Brandon has become one of the Big Names in the field of fantasy fiction – especially Epic Fantasy, of course. Continue reading

Convention, Convocation, Conference & Me

To date, I’ve never been to a con, before.  I always figured, things being what they are, that they’d be a bit out of reach for me: the cost of attendance, travel-time, possibly time off of work as they usually spill over from the weekend on Fridays or Mondays.  Plus, of course, time away from the family.  So, honestly… while I know the potential value of going to conventions (Or does “con” stand for “conference”?  “Convocation”?  Whatever, you know what I mean.) I’d almost written off my ability to go to them, at least in the near-term.  Someday, I figured, I’d go to them, but it wouldn’t be soon.  I hadn’t even mentioned the possibility to Dear Wife.

Well, I’m graduating soon, aren’t I, and it is a time of festivity! 

Still, imagine my surprise when Dear Wife decides to give me, as a gift, attendance at an upcoming convention!  I was so flabbergasted that, well, my excited face didn’t work right.

So, a week from today, I’ll be attending JordanCon, my first convention, ever.  Continue reading