Finding What to Read (Part 2)

Last time I talked about my “To Read” list, but I didn’t get to the gist of what I wanted to talk about, which is: How do you decide what goes on your reading list?  How do you find books you want to read?  How do you learn about new authors?

For myself, the books on my list have ended up there through any number of circuitous paths.  The George R. R. Martin books, for instance, I’d been hearing good things about for years before I finally bought a copy of the first four at a used book store.  I think I first heard about them on a forum I used to frequent at an RPG community site, where those books came up often in favorites lists.  Brandon Sanderson, meanwhile, I became aware of when he was chosen to finish “The Wheel of Time” after Robert Jordan’s untimely passing.  (Jordan’s books, on the other hand, entered my consciousness mainly because my parents bought them when I was younger). 

Most of the books on my list, however, came to this list over the last couple years, and especially after I started this blog.  I started collecting links to the websites and blogs of different authors.  Continue reading

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

Missed One

As I was doing a quick bit of “research” on my personal writing history – to make sure I got some of the details right on my right on my recent posts of the same topic – I made a discovery in my notebook.  When I wrote up my entry about my various novel and story projects, I’d missed a potential “back-burner” item for a novel concept I came up with following some of my personal set-backs.  I’ve amended the “Note on Novel Nomenclature” entry with the missing project, called “Book of C”.

“Book of C”, like most of the other back-burner projects, currently exists only as an entry of approximately 500 to 1000 words or so in my notebook.  That’s the same state that you’ll find “Book of J” in.  “Book of M” differentiates itself by having about a half-dozen such entries at this point (which is barely anything at all compared to more than a hundred entries in my journal about “Project SOA”).

I describe “Book of C” as a genre mash-up, in a sense.  Part of the idea behind it is to combine tropes and conventions from multiple genres.  Unlike “Book of M” and “Book of J”, which are conceptually stand-alones (at least for now), “Book of C” is conceptually the first in a trilogy.  It centers on three  characters who are brought together in unlikely circumstances in spite of their “differences”, and find they must rely on each other if they’re to escape the powers that hunt them.  In all honesty, though, I’ve not fleshed this one out significantly, even as compared to “Book of J” (which had the benefit of having most of its major plot points laid out for me in a dream).

Still, the initial idea seemed fun, so I’ll definitely be giving it thought in the future to see if I can put some meat on its bones, someday.

A Note on Novel Nomenclature

So, I’ve written in the past about “the novel that I’ve been working on since forever” (and also often used the term “blather” when referring to it) and I’ve mentioned the new novel that I intend to start writing (just as soon as I have time to write).

I’ve come to find these long descriptive phrases to be unwieldy.  And, from the perspective of you, the reader, they’re not entirely useful or meaningful.  Because those long, unwieldy descriptions don’t tell you anything about the book itself but instead tell you about my temporal relationship with the book.

This ends now.  Inasmuch as I may continue to refer to either or both of these books – or even inasmuch as I might refer to any of my writing projects – I intend to start referring to those works and projects either by their titles (in the fullness of time) or by code-titles (in the beginning).  Eventually, therefore, I may be able to add word count meters and write in blog posts about my various projects and what I’m doing in them, and it will be easier to you, the reader, to understand what I mean rather than having to parse some long-and-not-altogether-useful-phrase like “that novel that I’ve been working on since forever”.

So, let’s get started. Continue reading

Choose Your Own Adventure…

Dear Wife and I were talking the other day about books, and about reading.  We’re both pretty avid readers.  But whereas I read almost exclusively in the speculative fiction genres, and venture outside those boundaries only rarely (if you’re going to read for enjoyment, you might as well read what you enjoy, and so I do), Dear Wife reads widely across many different genres, including non-fiction.  As we were talking, Dear Wife commented that she didn’t want B.T. to read only fantasy and science fiction.

“Didn’t you read anything else, when you were a kid?” she asked.  “Like, the Hardy Boys or something?” Continue reading

First Hint of a Novel

I was a bit excited about this, so I wanted to share it with you all.

I’d been struggling for some time with the notion that maybe I”m not quite ready to write that novel I’ve been working on since forever.  Anyway, I’m focusing on short stories for now, because that’s all I can fit in the little slices of time I currently have.  But what I really want to write is  novels.

And when it comes to writing novels, there’s that epic novel I’ve been working on since forever, as previously alluded to.

But I love the idea of that novel too much to leave it in the hands of the unskilled self that I am now.  I want that novel to be something great.  But I cannot write great fiction, as yet.  I need to know first that I can even write very good fiction.  But I can write something else.

So, at some point in the recent past (and I may have mentioned here) I decided to shift gears.  I decided that when I get into writing a novel, I will not start by writing this epic behemoth of a thing.  I will write something else instead.  After all, I had three or four different ideas for very different, other novels to write.  So I thought about the ideas, and I felt out which one I felt I could actually start to develop.  And one of them I kept coming back to as the idea that just felt right.

I’ll admit, though, I was afraid.  What if I could only do that one novel idea, the one I’d been working on since forever already?  What if I didn’t have what it takes to even attempt to write something else?  What if I couldn’t think of enough good ideas – to flesh out characters and world and plot – to make this other idea work?

I don’t know why I worried so much.  All I had to do was think about it for a while.  And I did.  And as I did, ideas started popping up in my head.  Oh, well, this is what happens in the first chapter.  But then this happens in the second.  This is the inciting incident, the thing that gets the main character started on her journey.

I only have the barest of details yet figured out.  Some of the first bases of the world-building that I sketched out a few years ago when the idea first came to me.  The first sketches of a few characters.  And now the first sketches of how the story opens.  I’m still working on the plot – as in, what is the overarching plot, and what does the main character want, and what is the course of the overall journey?  But I was delighted to find myself adding a couple new handwritten entries in my little notebook (I call it my Book of Ideas), and that these new entries, their not just for the same old book I’ve been working on since forever.  They’re for a new book idea.

The former book, I’ll still be working on it.  I can’t abandon it.  I’ll still write ideas for it down.  I’ll build up my little project file on my computer with notes and articles and ideas and worldbuilding and characters. But my overall focus, slowly, is going to shift in this new direction.

Happy writing.

Go Big or Go Home?

On Blockbuster Books, Pseudonyms, and Platforms

A couple weeks ago, in David Farland’s Daily Kick, he suggested something that I thought was provocative, with regards to the careers of new writers. He basically suggests that, unless a new writer can launch their first novel in a big way, his or her career will not last.

As a result of [a lot of changes to the book industry], it has become imperative that an author “launch big.” You need to sell your first book in hardcover. You need to write a book that is aimed at the market, that takes current tastes in literature into account, and that more than satisfies your publisher’s expectations. Indeed, we’re seeing more and more publishers launching first-time authors as best-sellers.
~David Farland

My reaction was: really? Really, that’s the only way? I’ll concede that we’ve reach a post “long-tail” reality. But to suggest that our only hope is to go big or go home, to my mind, is not so much encouragement as, well, the opposite of encouragement. (It’s called discouragement.) Because most of us who write, as it is, are unlikely to win a publishing contract for our books. Few enough of those will ever succeed at the “go big or go home” strategy.

He goes on to say something more that makes me a little suspicious, though:

Typically, the publisher will pay anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 for a novel that they intend to launch big, and they’ll offer to launch it in hardcover.

I don’t know about the offer to launch in hardcover, but those advances are way out of whack with statistical evidence on the issue of first advances.  Author Tobias Buckell’s survey may not precisely be scientific, but it does show that the frequency of very high (6-digit) advances is very rare with respect to the population of writers as a whole (out of 108 speculative fiction authors who took his survey, he doesn’t find a single 6-figure advance for first-time novels, suggesting that the real likelihood of that eventuality is significantly less than 1%).

So, I’m not so sure about the validity of Farland’s claims on this question. Certainly, many of us dream of striking it big, just so, but, at least at present, there still seems to be plenty of room on the “midlists”.

Farland later suggests that if we fail to achieve this blockbuster opener on our first novel, that all is not lost:

So your only option is to take your money and—quite probably—start over. Write another potential blockbuster under another name. Do it enough, and eventually you’ll get the push that you deserve.

This got me thinking about the topic of pseudonyms. It sounds like Farland is suggesting an ever-revolving door of pseudonyms until we find a novel that sticks in the blockbuster status. This made me reflect back to an interview author Jim C. Hines did with a writer who’s basically doing just that.  This made me wonder about the role of pseudonyms in an author’s career, especially as concerns myself, personally.  I write this blog under my real name, and I’ve commented before that I have a rather common name.  And I’ve wondered whether that will present a challenge for me in the future, when I try in earnest to break in.  So, I’ve considered the possibility of a pseudonym… And I’ve come full circle.

Several years ago, I was already considering this issue, and had picked out for myself a pseudonym.  But I was struggling with the issue.  Then, one friend asked why, rather than agonize over what to use as a pseudonym, why don’t I just use my real name.  That question rekindled in me the pride I had in my name.  Since then, I’d planned to use my real name as my writing name… and so that’s what you see here on this blog.

But when I consider the challenges inherent in trying to brand myself while using so common a name, I am forced to consider that a pseudonym might be a necessary tool in my writing arsenal.  (Though, in a bit of irony, the pseudonym I had picked out for myself turns out to be uncomfortably close to the name of another, established science fiction author.  So, back to the drawing board, as it were.)  And now I’m back to considering: if I must have a pseudonym, what will it be?

And if I do have a pseudonym, can I keep it open?  By that, I mean, must I necessarily keep it a secret (as the writer Benjamin Tate, the one interviewed by Jim Hines, is doing)?  Or can it be a known fact that “Mr. Nom-de-plume” is, in fact, me.  I wonder about this because, it seems to me, building an audience – and a platform – is no easy feat.  And to have to start from scratch every time I have to take a “new” name seems to me to be a terrible waste of the potential resource of an existing fan-base.  If you have a few fans, wouldn’t it be better to transfer that fandom to your new name?  And wouldn’t the easiest and cleanest way to do that be to say to them: “Hey, if you like my stuff, you might want to check out the stuff written as ‘Author X’ – my new nom-de-plume!”

Then, related to this, is another article I read, recently, on the subject of self-promotion, on the Writer’s Beware blog, which asks the question: can you start self-promoting and building your “platform” too soon?  That particular article suggests that, perhaps, starting to build your network and platform several years before the launch of your novel is, just maybe, too soon.  Which gave me pause.  At this time in my “career” I’m intending on focusing on short stories, because I know I don’t have time to devote to novel writing.  Consequently, I know it will be several years before I even finish writing a full novel draft.  Then, shopping it around, waiting for responses, and doing all the rest will mean years more before I’ll be a published novelist.

Have I started this blog too soon?  Do I stand something to lose by blogging now, when all I have to show for myself are a handful of mediocre-quality short stories?  Will potential readers happen upon me and, finding nothing exciting, give a collective “meh“, and move on with their lives?  It’s a legitimate question, and one that has me thinking.

Ultimately, though, I feel alright about this.  I’ve started this journey.  Heck, I started this journey years ago, long before the idea for this blog, or any other blog, entered into my mind.  And now that I’m here, I’m here.  And I’m going to keep going, trudging onward in the direction of my dream.

Happy writing.