2014: Mid(ish) Year Review

Well… that middle-of-the-year point has come and passed, and that means it’s time for me to take a look back at the first half of 2014, and measure myself up to what I’d hoped to accomplish for the year.  Public accountability and all that.  So I’ll go through my 2014 goals one-by-one and say a word or two on them.  Feel free to, you know, move along until I post something of actual interest to you, but hey, I wouldn’t mind you sticking around and commenting at the end to help keep all of us honest!

 

2014 Goals

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: This was a goal well-met, which wasn’t surprising, but was a welcome milestone.  I can’t be sure of the exact number of words I read through July 1st, because I hadn’t recorded an updated on the progress of the novel I was reading at the time for several weeks, but I believe it was somewhere in the neighborhood 600,000 words to 630,000 words.  Not too shabby.  If I set the goal of reading 400,000 words in the second half of the year, I’ll surpass 1,000,000 words of fiction read in 2014 easily.  So, that’s what I’m going with.  One Million: here we come.

(Click on down to read the rest of the goals…)

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2014: Goals, Plans, Dreams

On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year.  I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come.  How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with?  However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish.  So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams.  The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.

Thinking About Long-term Goals

My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year.  Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.

I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here.  The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past.  (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now.  Older and wiser.  Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.)  But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.

2014 Goals

In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts.  This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.

1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt.  I’d like to think I could do that again.  But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again.  Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year.  I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014.  Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.

2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me.  In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals.  Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule.  So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one.  This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule.  While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different.  I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.

If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year.  If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.

3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent.  If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V).  Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories.  In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends.  But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative.  That’s the idea, anyway.  But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.

4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit.  Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.

5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog.  Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal.  The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about.  I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.

This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization.  It’s to set up a plan to do so.  That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.

6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging.  I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.

7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing.  I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.

There.  That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months.  How do you plan to spend all that time?

2013 In Review: Goals, Books, and Writing

The fact that I didn’t find the time to post my goals for 2013 until February should have been a clue, early in the year, that this was not a promising year for achieving such goals.

Those goals, in brief, numbered 4: first, read at least 750,000 words of fiction, second, write at least 1,750 words of fiction per week (with a few caveats), third, complete the first drafts for at least two short stories and, third, to submit one completed draft in to a publishing market.

Perhaps one out of four ain’t bad, considering the year it’s been at the Casa Chez Watkins.  The short rundown of whether I met my goals: Yes, No, No, and No.

Yes, I read over 750,000 words of fiction.  In fact, I read over one million words this year.  The things I have read in 2013: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, The Hundred Thousdand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, and most of the first four books of the “Fablehaven” series by Brandon Mull, those being Fablehaven, Rise of the Evening Star, Grip of the Shadow Plague, and about 70% of Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary.  Every book I’ve touched in 2013 has been a pleasure to read, and each enjoys my hearty recommendation.  Plus, I joined Goodreads in 2013 (feel free to friend me) in spite of my reservations on their being purchased by Amazon.

No, I did not write 1,750 words per week in 2013.  Not even close.  In truth, out of 52 weeks in the year, I actually wrote more than 0 words of fiction in only 5 of them.  Of those five weeks, only one week came even close to my stated goal.  Four of those five writing days occurred in the first quarter of the year.  This will prove to be a relevant detail. My total wordcount for the year: roughly in the neighborhood of 4,600 words total.

Consequent to the last, no, I did not complete any short stories and no I submitted nothing to any publishing markets for consideration.

So what did I do in 2013 besides read and nothing?  Allow me to reflect on the themes that the year presented to me.

V.R.

Yes it really is that simple.  No I don’t mean “Virtual Reality”.  I mean my second little tyke.

Fatherhood, of course, was it’s own challenging transition.  When I first started this blog lo these many 4 years ago, I already knew that Fatherhood was an imminent facet of my future.  The blog was, at the time, an outlet for the internal pressures inside me striving to find release in the medium of creative writing at a time when life was already fairly busy.

I had thought, when we began to prepare for our second child, that being the father of two wouldn’t be substantially more demanding of me than being a father of one.  More demanding, yes, but not lots more.

I was… mistaken.

Since the advent of our second precious little one early in 2013, I can now count on one hand, to some approximation, the number of nights in which I have had a full night of uninterrupted sleep. (Remember how I said that the fact that most of the writing I’d done this year was in the first quarter was a relevant detail? This is how it is relevant.)  I find myself chronically sleep-deprived and both emotionally and intellectually drained.  What wherewithal I have has been devoted to trying to be a good husband and parent and to doing my best to have an outstanding year in my dayjob.  Being mostly – but not always entirely – successful in these endeavors has come at the cost of virtually no writing progress whatsoever in any of the several writing projects I am theoretically juggling.  (“Theoretically” because in practical reality those balls have been lying gathering dust this year, and hardly a one has been picked up or dusted off this year.)

So why, in all this, was I able to do so well in reading? Two reasons, I think: first, while reading is an intellectually engaging activity, it is markedly less cognitively demanding than writing and composition.  Second, relating to my writing head-space and proclivities and how that contrasts with reading: I can read in very short bursts (though I prefer not to be forced into shorter bursts) of as little as a page or two or a few minutes at a time.  Any progress made during that time is still progress toward any quantifiable reading goal. For writing, it’s not so simple for me. You’ll find lots of advice out there suggesting that one should make use of every available free minute to write, be they five minutes here or ten there. Except I can’t actually do that, or at least I’ve not yet found it in myself to do so.  I need enough free time and space, chunked together, to allow me to get into the story I’m producing, to delve into the characters and to feel the beats and rhythms of the plot.  If I have only five minutes in which to do this, any words I write, however few in number they may be, are more likely than not going to need to be deleted later, in which case the writing becomes a game of one step forward and at least as many steps back.  Not a terribly successful formula for progress.  All this while simultaneously draining still more from my already meager and dwindling cognitive reserves.  (A sad milestone for me this year: I believe 2013 is perhaps the first year I know of in which I felt stupider at the end than I did going in.)

Writing didn’t happen.  Reading did happen.  And something else happened in 2013.  I did lots of fathery-type stuff. For all that my mental resources felt drained, I still have a lovely and happy family, and I’m reasonable certain that all the members of that family – both little boys as well as wife and, yes, probably even the dog – are happy to have me as part of their lives.  Little V.R. may not sleep with anything remotely resembling consistency at night, but when he’s awake at the same time as the sun is up, he’s a genuinely joyful and adventuresome soul with a keen passion for the zest in life.  And let’s not forget B.T., who continues to grow and develop in delightful ways, proving at every turn that he’s gifted with a bright and inquisitive mind, a sensitive and loving heart, and a strong desire to make sense of the world around him.  Between the two, my own heart is so full of proud daddy emotions that the organ has undoubtedly had to increase in size somewhat dramatically in order to encompass it all.

I’m sad that I’ve had a poor year with respect to my writing – I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But I think it is equally true that the joy B.T. and V.R. have brought me in return this year has been fairly just compensation of another kind.

I’ll update with a review of my year in blogging at a later date, but here’s a sneak preview: The life-altering consequences of adding a second child to our home was felt not only in the realm of fiction writing.

So that’s the year looking back, for me.  How was your 2013?

2013: Goals, Plans, Dreams

I’m more than a few weeks late, at this point, in getting to talking about my goals and plans for the new year.  I’ve already lost five out of the fifty-two weeks this year.  But that still leaves forty-seven weeks, which is still plenty of time to plan ahead for.

I wanted to follow along in the same vein as my goals post from last year.  Give a list of specific, actionable and measureable goals by which I can check myself throughout the year.  (I defined “SMART” goals in my post last year.)

But before I get to those, I wanted to take a moment to muse about my long-term goals and dreams.  What is it, exactly, that I want to achieve?

Thinking About Long-term Goals

I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams.  I talked about them in last year’s goal post, for instance.  And it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”.  By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write (however slow I am at writing, I am writing), but that I aspire for my writing to be published.  Of course, now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux. 

Of course, when I say I want to be “published” part of what I mean is that I want to be read – that is to say, that I think others will like what I write, and that it’s worth their time to read it.  (A pretty audacious thing to say, I know.)  And, once upon a time, the most sure-fire way to get your words in front of people who might be interested in reading them was to go the “traditional” publishing route: get your book picked up by a big-name publisher, or your story printed in a big-name magazine.  Sure, you could self-publish your book, but save for a few exceptions, that way lay madness (and, too frequently, financial ruin, especially if you went the way of the Vanity Press).  Without the distribution muscle of an established publisher, it was nearly impossible to get your work into bookstores.

We all know now that the world has changed.  Thanks to technological disintermediation, we have a viable alternative to the old traditional way of doing things with Digital Self-Publishing.  Today we have concrete examples of authors who’ve made it big bucking the old system and taking their books directly (and digitally) to the people: illustrious success stories like those of Amanda Hocking and E. L. James and Hugh Howey and so on.  It’s a new golden age, a publishing bonanza!  But then, when you dig right down into it, you find that the bloom is already off the rose, and amazing success (or even modest, work-a-day living success) is harder to achieve than many initially thought.

On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model.  I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and  how those problems negatively impact authors.  So, for me, it seems I could go either way.  There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road. 

But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.  (This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers… although I have been fairly critical of both roads to publication, I think on balance I’ve been slightly more critical of the Digital Self-publishing reovolution.)  However, inspired by a recent post from Jo Eberhardt’s Happy Logophile, I find myself asking… why?

Why?

I’ve spent some time thinking, and it’s a question that I’ve found harder to answer than it should be.  The answer – the honest answer – seems, at first, to be a shallow response.

A first pass: As a child, I never dreamed of getting my book digitally published; I dreamed of having real, physical copies of my books available on bookstore shelves.  Riposte: So what? Times, and the world, have changed.   If you want a career as a writer, you’ve got to go where the money is.  Counterclaim: But there’s still too much money on the table in the Physicl Print world… why would I voluntarily give up as many as half of my potential sales.  Besides, going-it-alone is essentially a crapshoot: there’s no sure-fire way of rising above selling a small handful of e-books to achieving real success, and there’s no objective or consistently-reliable way of discerning or differentiating high-quality self-published e-books from uninspired pablum.  And besides again: I can’t afford the editing and cover-artwork and design and whatnot I’d need to make the thing at least marginally presentable, and I’m insufficiently skilled (and insufficiently endowed with the free time needed to gain the skills) to do it myself.

When you dig down into it, then, my reasoning is at least a little better than merely shallow.  As a practical matter, I’m focused on traditional publishing because that’s what my current resources best allow.  That’s not an insignificant matter.  I have all the (non-free) time in the world to wait on editorial response and the machinery of publishing to do its thing.  But I don’t have the free time needed to make self-publishing work. 

But the real reason is more than mere practicality, I think.  I want to be successful.  Given my resources, I can’t be successful at self-publishing.  But more than that, I suspect that even if I had the right resources, I still wouldn’t be as successful at self-publishing as I believe I would be in the traditional publishing world.  The fact is… I really want to get rich off of my writing.  And all things considered I still feel I have a better shot at getting rich in the traditional path.

I’m sounding shallow again.  But the reality is… it’s not about the money.  It’s about what the money buys.  As a husband and father, financial success in publishing gains me security for my family and a true legacy to pass on to my children.  And, as an author, it buys me artistic freedom to pursue the projects I want to work on without worrying about whether the next thing I do will be a home-run or just a modest base-hit (or, for that matter, a ball or even a strike, if I’m going to keep using this whole baseball metaphor thing that I’m really ill-equipped to use).

But why would I worry about being successful at writing if I’m decently capable of being successful at a more regular career – like what I’m doing in my day job?

Don’t get me wrong: I like my day job a lot.  But when it comes down to it… I never wanted to be an analytical genuis growing up.  I never really wanted to be a corporate executive.  And I surely didn’t want to be a mid-level manager.  I’m practical, and my idea of a practical and achievable career goal has changed over time.  But in my heart-of-hearts, deep down, the practical is a cage.  There’s only one thread that has been constant throughout my life.  Writing.  If you ask me not what I am or what I do for a living, but who I am, there is only one answer, and it is an answer that has not changed since my earliest childhood: I am a writer. 

As to why, then?  It all comes back around to this.  I am a writer.  And I want to be who I was born to be and do what I was born to do.  And I want to be able to do that and still be a good provider for my family and for the future.

2013 Goals

That’s the long and short of why, so now I’d like to get back to the more traditional version of a goal-setting post: the actual, concrete, measureable goals I’ve set for myself for the (not so) new (anymore) year.  I’ll start with the easy one.

1) Read at least 750,000 words worth of fiction in 2013:  I wanted to set a goal that was a stretch for me – compared to last year – but which was also firmly achievable.  My goal last year was to read 550,000 words of fiction, but I blew that goal away, reading over 950,000 words of novels and fiction.  Since last year was the first time I’ve ever tracked the volume of my reading, I don’t have a track record: I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little for me.  So I set my goal much higher than my 2012 goal, but lower than what I actually achieved.  That way, I know 750,000 is achievable, but it’s still a higher expectation.  I’m looking forward to

2) Write at least 1,750 words of new fiction per week* in 2013:  This one is a little more challenging.  In 2012 I’d set a goal of 2,000 words per week.  I didn’t even come close.  My average per week, when I wrote, was around 1,400 words… if you take my average for every week in 2012, the picture is even bleaker: only 940 words per week.  That’s because I only wrote anything at all on about two out of every three weeks.  I want to do better than that in 2013… but I also want to be realistic.  I’m not going to do 2,000 words per week in 2013.  Not gonna’ happen.  That’s just being honest.  2012 was a busy year with a lot of stuff going on.  2013 will be much the same: different things going on (the old “Home Project” that ate up significant chunks of 2012 is mostly complete now) but still just as busy with new, time-annihilating things (I’m sure you’ll hear more about V.R. in the coming months ahead). 

So, why 1,750?  I approached it from two directions.  I wanted to write more per week than I did in 2012.  More specifically… I wanted to write an average of, or close to, two chapters in “The Book of M” per month (except for months when I’ll be working on short stories and other writing projects).  So far, with 7 chapters in the bag, the chapters are averaging around 3,700 words.  At 1,750 words per week, I would be writing approximately 2 chapters’ worth per month.  Now, those words I’ve planned are project-agnostic: they may be from “Book of M” or from some short stories, or even from some SF&F-related non-fiction if such writing opportunities come avaialble.

You’ll note the asterisk up there in the statement of my goal.  That represents a caveat. Last year, I’d intended to write a certain number of words per week, but I had enough foresight to see that some weeks things would come up.  So I gave myself an escape clause, allowing me to write nothing in seven of the fifty-two weeks.  In reality I spent 18 weeks writing nothing.  I want to do better this year, but stay realistic.  So I’m giving myself 14** weeks off, this year.

My summary assessment: this will be a difficult stretch goal for me to achieve in 2013.  But I think it’s possible.

3) Complete first drafts for at least 2 short stories having less than 8,000 words apiece: This is a duplicate goal from last year.  I didn’t achieve it.  I got 2/3rds to 3/4ths of one short story written last year.  I’m going to try to finish it and write one more.

4) Submit at least 1 completed and revised work to a professional market: Because I’m never going to get anything published if I don’t submit anything to a publisher.  So this year, I want to try to do that.  Unlikely I’ll have anythign accepted for publication this year.  But I really ought to try if I really want to make a career out of  this.

So… those are my goals for the year.  They’re measureable and consistent with my overall goals and dreams for the future. 

Well, then.  Tell me about you.  Did you set some goals for yourself in 2013, related to writing, or reading, or anything else in your life?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link back to a blog post if you’ve already blogged it.  And good luck in 2013!  Good luck to us all!

 

________

**After some contemplation about the things I expect to take place through 2013, I had to change my expected “0-word weeks” caveat from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.  I think that will be, frankly, more realistic.

2012 In Review: The Books I’ve Read

Near the start of the year in 2012, I set about some goals for myself.

Now that we’ve put 2012 to bed, it’s time for me to look back at what I accomplished and what I failed to accomplish, and also to look forward and plan for the next year.

To kick off my 2012 retrospective, I wanted to take a look at the books I’ve read.

Reading a certain number of books was a popular goal that many people set for themselves in 2012.  I wanted to do the same: the first year in which I would set such a goal for myself.  But there was a problem.  The unit of “a book” is not universal.  I can put two books side-by-side and they will not have the same salient features that determine how long it might take me to read.  A book might be anywhere for 75,000 words (or even fewer) to 400,000 words long.  The word itself, really, is the more salient measure (and considered en masse, is a more consistent unit of measurement).  So instead of looking to read a certain number of books, I set out to read a certain wordcount worth of books.

The goal I set for myself?  550,000 words worth in 2012 – or about 5 books at an arbitrarily-picked 110,000-word average length.

How did I do?

I blew that goal out of the water, by my own reckoning.

In 2012, I read approximately 977,000 words, give or take.  I read five whole books and parts of three others.  Here’s the run-down:

I read the entire “Hunger Games” trilogy this year, starting with The Hunger Games at the beginning of the year, then later catching up with Catching Fire and finally Mockingjay as my last book of the year.  Those three books accounted for over 300,000 words.  I read the last two-thirds of The Children of Amarid, which I had started in 2011, and I read about 12% from the middle of A Clash of Kings.  (The latter has been difficult for me to get through, and I’m still not done.)  I also read the debut novels of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss – Elantris and The Name of the Wind, respectively.  Both of those left me with quite a lot of something or other to chew on and think about with respect to my own writing.  Finally, I read almost half of the first Steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.  (I couldn’t read the whole thing because I ran out of “renewals” at the library; I’ll be checking it back out sometime to read a few of the other stories in that volume.)

You want a gut-level insta-reaction or review of each of the above titles?  No detailed reviews, here, but some thoughts:

“The Hunger Games”: I’m probably the last person to read it (because time, she has not been my friend), but I really enjoyed these books, and would recommend them.  On the other hand, you probably already know whether you want to read “The Hunger Games” trilogy and in fact have probably already read them if you’re going to.  Be that as it may: very good books with very few caveats.

The Children of Amarid: was entertaining but not particularly ground-breaking or original.  It was a debut novel, so that says something: it was good enough to get someone (in this case David B. Coe) the attention they needed to get published in the first place.  But on a purely critical level, I found it mostly predictable.  (For example, there were red herrings thrown in to try to hide the villain of the story, but I found it easy to figure out the difference between a red herring and a real villain.)  On the fourth or fifth hand, I felt bad about not liking the book more, because I personally like the author himself (whom I have met). 

A Clash of Kings: I think I’ve discussed my general reaction to Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” before, but if not, I’ll not belabor the point here.  Again, this is a super-popular mega-epic where most of you know whether you like it or not already, so my opinion won’t change things much.

Steampunk: My reactions to the stories I read was highly variable, ranging from “WTF was that?” to “That’s pretty good… but…”  Overall, the stories I did read (from roughly the first half of the book) were not as good as I wanted them to be.  The non-fiction essays were more interesting.  But there was a lot of really great imagery in those stories.

Elantris: was good and yet… disappointing.  This was the first pure Brandon Sanderson book I’ve read, after having read two books co-authored by Sanderson and the late Robert Jordan (The Gathering Storm and The Towers of Midnight, of the “Wheel of Time” saga).  Those two books were fantastic (IMO) and really breathed new life into a series I loved but which had, let’s be honest, grown a little long in the tooth.  Given how strong those books were, I had pretty high expectations for my first all-Brandon book… not sky-high, as I knew this was his first published book, but still pretty high.  And it was pretty good.  But it didn’t rise to the level of my expectations.  And there were noticeable, problematic flaws with the book.  I think I could go on about my thoughts on this book and so… assuming there’s time I intend to dive a little deeper into this one in a future “Interrogating the Text” post.

The Name of the Wind: Mostly lived up to its hype.  It was an enjoyable read that felt fast and well-paced despite it’s potentially intimidating length.  (I say “potentially” because, to a reader like me, a book this long isn’t intimidating at all… it’s practically par-for-the-course.  But I realize that to many readers, it’s very long.)  Most interesting to me was the way in which this book tackled some of its key themes, a few of which are themes that have been tumbling around in my head for a long time, and are similar to things I wan to write about in my own fiction.  Apparently Patrick Rothfuss got there first, and he did it very well.  There’s enough in that book that I think it’s also worth a future “Interrogating the Text” post.

So that’s it: what I read and the short version of what I thought about it in 2012.

What did you read in 2012?  Any surprises, stand-outs, or disappointments?  Did you take any writing lessons from the books you read?  Please share (or share a link back to a post on your own blogs where you discuss those things, if you’d like).

Interrogating the Text #5: The Hunger Games

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

In the second post in my in this occasional series (what was actually a three part post), I tackled a novel I had just finished.  Having recently finished Suzanne Collins‘ widely-acclaimed The Hunger Games, I thought now was a good time to similarly analyze this book – the recent release of the film notwithstanding.  (Note that Dear Wife and I have not seen it, yet, but intend to.  Getting a babysitter on short notice is not generally easy – especially when all your stand-by babysitters are themselves going out that same weekend to watch the same movie.)

Obviously, now, no links to the book – but if you haven’t read it you can probably obtain a copy from your local library, and a nearby bookstore is almost certain to have a copy.

I picked up The Hunger Games on the recommendation of Dear Wife, who picked it up on the recommendation of other friends.  She read it a couple years ago while I was still in Grad School and thus unable to read it myself at the time.  But with the movie coming out this year, I was determined to give it a read before seeing the film.  (And in fact I finished the book about a month ago… I just hadn’t had time to write this up, yet.)

I will say, right off, that I didn’t have the same conflicted relationship with this book that I had with the last novel that I analyzed in this blog (the aforelinked The Magicians).  Whereas I found the ending of that book problematic, I found the ending of this book mostly to be quite satisfying.  That said, I don’t come to this analysis without some criticism for The Hunger Games.  But criticism aside, it’s a good book and well-worth the read.  It doesn’t have the same lyrical narrative flare and style that some of the other works I’ve analyzed have.  But that’s of necessity, being in the first person perspective of the protagonist.  Obviously, though, the book has become a phenomenon for a reason, and that reason is valid.

By now you’re likely familiar with the book and its plot.  But here’s a short run-down anyway (and my usual warning: There will be spoilers): it’s the dystopian future, and what was once North America has given way to the oppressive regime of Panem, as ruled from the Capitol. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #4: Jay Lake takes a “Long Walk Home”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

Today, I want to talk about a story I read recently by author Jay Lake called “A Long Walk Home“, which you can read for free at the website of Subterranean Press.  “A Long Walk Home” is the first science fictional story I’ll review and analyze for this series.  As with all the stories/novels I’ve discussed so far, I definitely enjoyed reading Jay Lake’s “A Long Walk Home”.  There were, however, some things about the story that disappointed me, which I shall get to in due course.  To follow along, you might want to go check the story out first, then hop on back here, as there will be spoilers in my analysis.

“A Long Walk Home” starts pretty strongly, as we’re introduced to protagonist Aeschylus Sforza, thereafter referred to as Ask.  The year is 2977 – the distant future – and Ask is an enhanced human.  These technological enhancements give him increased strength and durability, longevity (and presumably immortality, as we shall see), a perfect memory, and a direct neural connection to whatever information network exists in the future.  Except Ask is cut off from the network, deep underground exploring the strange and mysterious caverns on an alien planet called Redghost – a planet that has been colonized by humans and looks faintly like a far-future version of the American Frontier of yore. Continue reading

Book Monster

It occurs to me that some of you may not fully appreciate what I meant when I said, recently, that Dear Wife and I had created a monster.

I submit, for your consideration, the following:

B.T. Reading Brandon Sanderson's "The Way of Kings"
B.T. Reading Brandon Sanderson’s “The Way of Kings”

It is my supposition that B.T.can’t actually read the book he pulled off of my shelf.  But that’s not going to stop him from trying!

All he knows for sure is that what he’s picked up is a book, and if there’s one thing he loves, it’s books.

Some related facts about B.T. and books:

  • The first thing B.T. asks for when he wakes every morning is a book.  Literally. When either Dear Wife or I go in to get him in the morning, he smiles, jumps up for us to pick him up, and then says “Book?”
  • The second-to-last thing B.T. wants every night before going to sleep is, you guessed it, to sit on Mommy or Daddy’s lap and read a book.  (The very last thing he asks for? A song.  Or two, or three.  One thing he loves as much as books is music.)
  • On any given day, Dear Wife and I may read between 5 and 50 books to B.T.  (More on weekends, naturally, when he’s around us the whole day.)
  • It is not unheard of, when Dear Wife brings B.T. home from daycare, for B.T. to instruct Dear Wife as follows: “Call Daddy.  Daddy read book.”  His intention is clear to us.  He wants Dear Wife to call me and tell me to come home so I can read him a book.  Typically, he will accept Mommy reading a book or ten to him in the interim.
  • I had an old Economics textbook sitting around, leftover from my recent stint in an evening MBA program.  Having no further use for it, it was time to clear it out.  B.T. cried when I took it out of the house.  He’d grown fond of it, despite the fact that it had very few pictures.

2012: Goals, Plans, Dreams

It is customary, as the old year slips into the new, to make resolutions regarding the accomplishments one hopes to achieve in the coming year.  Since January 1st, I’ve been thinking over my own goals and resolutions for 2012.  The month is nearly half-over, now, so this may not seem timely.  But a good plan for the year shouldn’t be taken so lightly.

 2012 promised to bring many changes and opportunities for me and my family.  Many of these are private matters, of course, and suffice to say Dear Wife and I have a few important changes and goals in mind for the year to come.  But there are some big changes that are pretty clear.  2012, for instance, will be the first full year in which I will not have any MBA classes, owing to my graduation from the program last May. 

This being the blog of an aspiring author, though, most of what I want to talk about, with regards to my goals, plans, and dreams for 2012, concern my writing.

One thing I want to clear up: 2012 is not the year that Stephen A. Watkins gets published.  First, as a technical matter, that year was 2011, anyway.  But I don’t anticipate repeating that success in 2012.  It could happen, but I’m not planning on it.  And how could I?  It’s not exactly in my control.  Which gets to the point of how I want to think about my writing goals and plans for 2012.  I want SMART goals. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #2: Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” – The Lessons

At first I was a little embarrassed that I was going to write three entries to run a full analysis of lessons learned from Lev Grossman’s novel, The Magicians.  I was able to contain a short review, analysis, and lessons learned of the short story discussed in my first “Interrogating the Text” series in a single post.  And then I realized: waitaminit… a novel is a lot longer than a short story, and there’s a lot more depth to what’s going on in a novel.  It only makes sense that a complete textual analysis for a novel is going to be longer than for a short story.  Heck… I’m probably missing a lot even confining it to three overlong posts.

That said, to get the full benefit of this post, you’ll probably want to check out the prior two posts discussing my reading of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians: here and here.  The first is a relatively spoiler-free review that discusses my initial reactions to the book.  The second is a deeper and more thorough (and far more spoilery) analysis of why I had the reaction I had.  Now, I want to bring it all together to talk about the lessons I think I can take away from all of that.

The short version, then, is that I enjoyed reading the book.  The reason I enjoyed it was, mostly, for the high-quality prose, style and voice of the book, first of all, and for the clever twists and tweaks on common and sometimes-cherished, sometimes-maligned fantasy (and YA fantasy, especially) tropes. Continue reading