reading and (w)riting, no ‘rithmetic

Last night, I wrote about my hope, my not-hope, and my forever-hope, all threaded through with the discouraging guanoshow that was 2016 A.D.

Today, I turn my mind and heart to lovelier things. When it came to reading and writing, 2016 was one of my best years ever. 🙂

On Reading in 2016

In 2016, I started reading 67 books, and I finished 64 of them. (The unfinished 3, I just couldn’t get into or enjoy, but I won’t mention them by title.) That’s 17 more books than I read in 2015, and I credit intentionality for the difference. Last year at this time, I purposed to read as many women authors as possible. At some point, my to-read list and to-read stack basically exploded. When the rumblings echoed away and the dust settled, I found a SMORGASBORD BOUNTY OF WOMEN’S VOICES, and I devoured them with vigor. YUMBLY IN MY READER TUMBLY.

This was the first time in my life I’ve read so many women in the space of a year, AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.

These voices rang fresh and clear in my mind. They reverberated with beauty and sorrow, disgust and joy. They spoke things I’d never before heard. They made me laugh and cry and think. They inspired me to write more. They inspired me to write more freely.

Reading these women, I found myself living the reality that I could write as they do, unbound by shackles.

HALLELUJAH I’M FREE

But more on my writing later. First, their writings.

Books I Read in 2016

Asterisks indicate particular favorites.

  1. The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath by Ishbelle Bee ***
  2. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke *
  3. Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse *
  4. Journey to America by Sonia Levitin
  5. Dark Beyond the Stars edited by David Gatewood *
  6. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1) by Sarah J. Maas *
  7. Servant of the Underworld (Obsidian and Blood, #1) by Aliette de Bodard
  8. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor *
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry *
  10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab *
  11. When the Silence Ends by Jade Kerrion
  12. In the Woods by Tana French *
  13. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin **
  14. Gateway to Reality (Reality Series #1) by Becca J. Campbell
  15. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel’s Legacy, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
  16. “The Father Hunt” (A Flawed Story) by Becca J. Campbell
  17. The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Kiera Cass
  18. The Likeness by Tana French *
  19. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel’s Legacy, #3) by Jacqueline Carey *
  20. Open Minds (Mindjack Saga, #1) by Susan Kaye Quinn *
  21. A Wind in the Door (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #2) by Madeleine L’Engle
  22. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) and short story “Glitches” by Marissa Meyer *
  23. The Haunting of Gillespie House by Darcy Coates
  24. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess **
  25. The Three by Sarah Lotz
  26. Blood Oranges by Caitlín R. Kiernan writing as Kathleen Tierney
  27. Hopeful Monsters by Hiromi Goto
  28. You by Caroline Kepnes **
  29. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  30. Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
  31. The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal
  32. Sword-Bound (The Sword-Dancer Saga, #7) by Jennifer Roberson
  33. The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
  34. The Wild Road (Book 3 of Karavans) by Jennifer Roberson
  35. Timebound (The Chronos Files, #1) by Rysa Walker *
  36. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  37. The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude *
  38. Just One Damn Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book 1) by Jodi Taylor *
  39. Of Bone and Steel and Other Soft Materials, a short story by Annie Bellet
  40. The Paper Magician (Paper Magician Series, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg *
  41. The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater **
  42. Tiny Bites: A Collection by Stacy Claflin
  43. Kindred by Octavia Butler *
  44. The Danish Way of Parenting by Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl *
  45. Asylum by Madeleine Roux
  46. The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
  47. Dead as a Doornail (Sookie Stackhouse, #5) by Charlaine Harris
  48. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  49. Toning the Sweep by Angela Johnson
  50. Candles Burning by Tabitha King and Michael McDowell
  51. Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
  52. The Christening Quest by Elizabeth Scarborough
  53. Ill Wind (Weather Warden, #1) by Rachel Caine *
  54. Trey of Swords by Andre Norton
  55. Uprooted by Naomi Novik **
  56. The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere, 1) by Meg Elison *
  57. The Fading Dusk (Smoke and Mirrors #1) by Melissa Giorgio
  58. The Leaving by Tara Altebrando *
  59. Jinian Footseer by Sheri S. Tepper
  60. The Kraken Sea by E. Katherine Tobler
  61. Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Madeleine Roux *
  62. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope *
  63. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness **
  64. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts *

Recalling these stories is like thinking back on the utter joy and satisfaction surrounding delectable holiday meals. Here’s hoping for even greater tastiness in 2017.

So…what *is* in store for 2017 A.D.’s To-Read List?

Well…lemme tell ya. The other day, during our family’s roadtrip back to Oklahoma from our Florida-panhandle Christmas, I decided to head a head start on my reading list for this year. I already had a few titles and authors in mind, but I hadn’t collected them all in one place yet. Here’s the tentative reading plan so far; the only order is “ladies first” again (with a single exception):

Currently reading: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Further reading
Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl
Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass 2
Aliette de Board, Obsidian & Glass 2
Lowry’s The Giver sequel
Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows
more from Kerrion’s Double Helix series?
Tana French on nightstand (that’s not the title, it’s where I’ve stacked the book)
Jemisin, 100k Kingdoms 2
Cass, The Selection 2
Quinn, Mindjack 2
L’Engle #3
Meyer, Cinder 2
Bloggess, Furiously Happy
Carrie Ryan 3
Walker, Timebound 2
Taylor, St. Mary’s 2
Holmberg, Paper Magician 2
Stiefvater, Raven Boys 2
Sookie Stackhouse #6
Caine, Weather Warden 2
Lilith Saintcrow, Night Shift
Delilah Dawson, Three Lives of Lydia
Ellison, Road to Nowhere 2
Harkness, Discovery of Witches 2
Kepnes, Hidden Bodies
St Crow, Strange Angels 2
The Power, Naomi Alderman
Slipping, Lauren Beukes
Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen
Fifth Season, Jemisin
Thin Air, Paver
Copper Promise, Williams
Crosstalk, Willis

Wendig: Aftermath, Invasive, Thunderbird
Nod, Adrian Barnes
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Hendrix
NOS4A2, Joe Hill
Versailles, Yannick Hill
Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones
Paper Menagerie, Liu
Lovecraft Country, Ruff

Well, then. There’s my 2017 reading list already more than halfway sorted, and the year isn’t even a day old yet. And so it goes.

On (W)riting in 2016

Compared to previous recent years, I accomplished quite a bit in 2016. Not as much as I’d planned — I published only one book instead of two — but I ain’t kicking myself over it.

Not too much, anyway. 😉

The Elevator

elevator_cvr_lrgIn tags list at the end of this post, please to be clicking “The Elevator” for more details about this novel. For now, I’ll just say that I consider The Elevator my best published work to-date. As of this writing, it has but one Amazon review to its name, which makes me sad for it. Completely objectively and also quite biasedly, I think the book deserves more. Apparently, others’ mileage varies. Oh well. Can’t make everypony happy, and I long ago decided not even to try. 😉

But come on. It’s a space fantasy adventure with a chaotic psychopath, a cross-dimensional traveler, a vampire, a mech-woman, and two adorable smartass street urchins, all tied up in the nature of Reality at the heart of the multiverse. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

*ahem*

Don’t answer that. Unless it’s with a resounding silence in which you fork over money for my book. In that case, BRING IT ON.

I…uh, what?

elvendeadThe Elven Dead & Other Legends of the Light-Walkers

Ohhhhh, did I ever have such plans to publish this anthology in 2016!

Alas and alack, ’twas not to be.

I just ran out of oomph, y’all. In its final eleventh, 2016 managed to plaster me with that guano I mentioned before, and I didn’t cleanse myself of the disgusting sludge in time to hit “publish.” The short story collection *is* complete, minus a couple of touch-ups. I even have the cover art, thanks to fabulously talented Sam Hunt. All that’s left is to put in some butt-to-chair time to get the book out into all y’all’s greedy little reader hands.

Come on, I know you want it. 😉

Soon, my inklings. SOON.

Writerly To-Dos for 2017

What’s next? Well, that’s an excellent question, dearies. In early December 2016, I counted up the number of projects I could possibly turn to next — after taking care of the pesky pubbing details I mentioned above, of course. The count numbered 9. I repeat, NINE.

Nine project ideas with equal potential for becoming my next completed work.

People ask writers where we get our ideas. The better question is how can we NOT get ideas, so that we have space and time enough to work with the ideas we do have.

When it comes to writers’ ideas, picture a closet with all the junk just shoved in and the door slammed shut, in which each junky-seeming object represents a story or character idea. Except that the closet is actually a warehouse the size of Montana.

That’s why we never need people to tell us *their* ideas for a story *we* “should” write. Our ideas warehouse is already filled to bursting at the seams. Dude. The roof has practically exploded off. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND TRUE AND WRITERLY IN THIS WORLD, DON’T STUFF ANYTHING ELSE IN THERE

*ahem* But I digress.

In trying to figure out what to work on next, I enumerated and described my options to my writer friend Becca. She listened and asked pointed questions. Simply through conversing about my dilemma and sifting through the story ideas in my mind, I realized that I kept coming back with excitement to one particular idea:

the story of Taeven Ravenhair.

Taeven makes a cameo appearance in The Dying of the Light (Legends of the Light-Walkers 3) and gets a mention in Rethana’s Trial (Legends of the Light-Walkers 2). I penned the first 12k words of her tale for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 — and promptly screeched to a halt because I had no clue which word should be number 12,001. The story’s been shelved ever since.

But in 12 years, Taeven has never left me alone. She’s not naturally a patient person, but she has exerted a monumental amount of self-control, waiting her turn. So, as I shared a bit of Taeven with a fellow writer, suddenly it all turned crystal clear:

2017 is the year in which Taeven finally gets a real voice.

Of course, as soon as I decided this, I frantically typed out four pages of notes and then started writing a completely different story.

And so it goes, right? Busy, busy, busy.

This new story, currently entitled The Flight of Elfled unBlessed isn’t part of my Legends of the Light-Walkers series, but it does take place in that universe. It promises to be a novella, so I’m hoping it won’t take up too much of early 2017. But more on it later.

Taeven’s story has gathered dust under the title The Bearers of the Stones. I never really liked it, so I tried to come up with something more suitable while I was taking those four pages of notes. As of a couple of weeks ago, Taeven’s story is entitled Sister of the Black Flame — subject to change at my writerly whim. AH THE POWER MUAH-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAAA

So. 2017 shall be:

  • pubbing Light-Walker shorts collection
  • first draft of Taeven’s story, hopefully final draft
  • Elfled’s story
  • getting paperbacks prepped and on sale pages for all the longer works

Plus LIFE.

And enough.

For now. 😉

a new hope (in the quiet, not in silence)

What a deceptive title.

One, because this post has nothing to do with Star Wars, at least not directly.
Two, because the hope I’m thinking of isn’t new in the conventional sense.

It’s more of a renewable hope. Or a continually-renewed hope.

I sit here in the final minutes of 2016 (it’s literally 5 minutes ’til midnight), typing on my laptop while the TV regales me with the blatherings of announcers, the poor enunciations of music artists, and the weird ramblings of a woman with green glitter lipstick worthy of Panem’s Capitol. I think of the illusory and foundationally meaningless construct of calendars and years’-ends. We humans get in such a tizzy at this time every year, never mind that flipping a calendar page from one month to the next or one year to the next has absolutely no connection to actual, tangible change.

I set my laptop aside to check windows for fireworks as 2017 A.D. rolls through the door.

The fireworks are audible from inside my living room, but I can’t see them from any of the windows. A quick call to my parents — one I make every year on January 1st at approximately 00:05am — sends love reverberating through the atmosphere. A good start to the new iteration of this particular human construct.

My husband went to bed at 22:35 (that’s 10:35pm); my four-year-old daughter trundled off to sleep at her usual time of 20:00. None of our friends were partying this year.

No one texts me.

This is probably the first time in 20 years that I’ve rung in the “new year” completely alone.

Shouldn’t this make me melancholy? I don’t know if it should (don’t should on me!), but it doesn’t. It’s kind of cozy, really. Until the timer turned them off a few minutes ago, the Christmas tree lights splashed a warm glow across my typing fingers; I’ve turned off the TV, so all is quiet, if not silence; I can hear my husband snoring, my clock ticking, my fridge chuckling. Sporadic fireworks still grace the night behind me, on the other side of the window.

I don’t type in silence, but I type in the quiet.

Ah. There’s the first ambulance siren of the year.

Peace. Peace for this year. Grace and mercy to those who aren’t starting 2017 in peace.

The clock is ticking.

The cat is sleeping under the darkened Christmas tree.

The year 2016 A.D. held so much grief.

Deaths of people I’ve long admired from great distances.
Death of confidence in the basic decency of humanity.
Death to idealism and optimism and other beneficent -isms — all of which are intimately connected with fellow humans-being.

I still like to think of myself as Eternal Optimist Woman, even though that belief has been sorely tried this year. I think the EOW has disintegrated into ash for the time being; I can only hope that, like the phoenix, she will rise from the ashes again.

She’s done it before.

And there’s that word again.

Hope.

I’ve pondered again and again whether or not I should wax political about the goings-on in the United States of America in 2016. And if I decided to wax that way, just what could or would or should (!) I say? But the emotional energy required take for such a blopgost (yes, blopgost) would be an expense I cannot afford.

The Babadook still lives in my basement*. He demands my intensive self-care, which includes not feeding my strength into something that won’t benefit anyone.

(*If this reference makes no sense to you, I recommend watching the movie The Babadook, which is basically a metaphor for depression.)

I will say this, since it relates to hope: I don’t hope for anything Good to come from the USA’s current president-elect. “I hope for no hope from him…poor clown,” as Amalthea told Molly Grue. (Although I know I’m doing Schmendrick an injustice; still, allow me my nerdy references, would you?) He has proven himself ridicule-worthy, dangerously unbalanced, selfish, self-absorbed, greedy, incapable of empathy, ableist, racist, misogynist, bigoted, prejudiced, childish, fiendish, and just plain gross.

If I were to put him into a novel, readers would mock me for writing such a parody of a villain. He’s so much Chaotic Evil as to be unbelievable. No one would read him.

(“He lied in every word, that hoary [emotional-]cripple with malicious eyes….”)

I cannot describe to you how much it cost me to write the preceding two paragraphs. I feel completely exhausted.

But.

The point is, I have no hope for the next year regarding the president-elect of the USA, his cabinet, his advisors, his family, his decisions, his intentions, his cronies, his sycophants. I have so little hope regarding any of those, it has passed zero and dropped squarely onto the negative side of the axis. And on the negative side, my hope moves ever more rapidly away from zero.

Thank God — literally — that the Reality which gives me hope is no human construct or human system.

When I was 19, my atheist friend said to me, “Courtney, I don’t care if you believe in God or not — but if you’re going to believe, you have to be able to tell me why.”

I had no answer for him then.

Nowadays, I have answers squooshing out of my ears, but that’s another tale and shall be told another time. 😉

My thought tonight is that because of my faith and in spite of the Chaotic Evil that has created a safe place for so many other evils to reveal themselves, I still have hope.

A renewable hope.

A continually-renewed hope.

What if we humans had a leader who cared? Who empathized? Who accepted us all, every one? Who wanted to build something beautiful and glorious and beneficial, instead of promising dread and fear and harm? What if we had a leader who actually did represent us and count us in and protect us and serve us and live for us and die for us? What if we had a leader truly “for the people” and “by the people”?

What if we humans had a leader truly made of Love?

I know of so many people who profess to follow this man named Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One (that’s what mashiach–“Messiah” and “Christ” mean) — and yet, they are so terrified of someone misleading “their country,” they actually believe that a human construct could “close the doors” of their churches.

(Fellow believers, how could you vote Chaotic Evil when you claim to follow the Perfect Lawfree Good, which never restricts freedom?)

The Good News is that no matter what any man-made system decides or does, the house being built by this Jesus of Nazareth will never close.

After all, He is a carpenter. He knows how to build a house with uncloseable doors.

But it’s not about the closing of doors. It’s about the closing of minds, the closing of hearts, the tearing-down of the differently-opinioned, the shutting-down of empathy, the removal of “with” from compassion (which leaves only passion, and of an undirected, malignant sort).

(Compassion, in case you didn’t know, means “suffering-with”; to have compassion on someone means to enter into their suffering, to become part of it and to make it part of you.)

And this closing off and shutting down is coming from those who profess to own the One who personifie(d)s opening up, feeling with, suffering with, building up, welcoming in.

My so-called fellow Jesus-followers rejected his example and his indwelling Lifespirit.

That, in my very subjective view, is the real tragedy of 2016 A.D., for it leads to the suffering of humanity, most especially including the impoverished and the unbelieving.
In regard to so-called Jesus-followers, this felt more like 1016 A.D.

They have forgotten their hope.

They have forgotten that their hope can be “new every morning”

(great is thy faithfulness).

Jesus the Anointed One, Son of God Most High and Head of His Body (the collective of Different Ones [definition of “saints”] in this world) — He is building a house.

His house has nothing to do with physical buildings ornamented with made-up names and stained-glass windows.

His house encompasses the universe itself.

He will build that house with or without those followers of his who happen to name themselves “American” (for you can be sure that *he* didn’t name them that). He will build his house with the people on the street corners, the ones who actually hear his words and listen to them and respond (Matthew 22). He doesn’t care where these people came from; they listen, and they come to him, and he loves them and takes them in.

They take his Hope and they eat it. They chew it. They swallow it whole.

And his Hope has no relation whatsoever to the construct of human politics or calendars.

In the vastness of the universe and the multi-directional eternity of history, human politics are less than a footnote. I’m not sure they’re even mentioned between the covers of the entire book.

I have hope.

Because I’m a stone in a wall that’s going to last forever. I am a stone in Reality.

That Reality behooves and encourages and enables me to feel-with and suffer-with those who feel deeply and suffer. And it’s the kind of suffering-with that leads to action. Compassion leads to getting my hands “dirty.”

I’m okay with that.

His hands were “dirtier” than mine ever can be.

I didn’t intend for this blopgost to turn into such a revelation about my beliefs. I wanted to keep it simple, really. But it just seemed like the words wanted to come out exactly as they did.

There goes the second set of sirens of the New Year.

No one wants to read a sermon first thing on January 1st (at least, I don’t know of anyone who does.)

Also, I’m tired and starting to fade toward sleep. And starting to type in my sleep; I’ve already had to delete two sentences because they made no sense. 😉 So I’ll wrap this up. There really should be some more thoughts here, but I don’t have any.

I’m too tired.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everypony!

Peace.