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10 Books…

I was tagged on Facebook with one of those “List some information, then tag other people” memes… I don’t usually do them, mostly because I don’t see them until well after the fact. This one, though, I saw early enough to respond, even if I’m not doing it directly on Fb… you’ll see why in a moment.

The basic meme: “List 10 books that have stayed with you…just ones that touched you.”

Asking a writer to do anything involving books is…difficult. Hell, just looking at my reading list for the past decade, several of them stand out – granted, some more memorable than others, for various reasons. In several instances, the first things that struck me were several books or a series by the same author… So I’m going to cheat a bit… and provide a little explanation for each (hence, why I’m putting this here, instead of on Fb)… So, in no particular order:

Neil Gaiman: This one is likely the biggest cheat on the list. Of all his prose work, I’ve not read anything that I didn’t like. Between his novels and short story collections, there are too many to list individually. There are two novels that stand out for me, though. Neverwhere is a subtle book, in my opinion, that, even though it’s been labeled as “Magical Realism,” it smack very much of early Urban Fantasy – before it was taken over by vampires, werewolves, etc, etc. American Gods is a book about mythology that, as soon as I finished it, my first thought was, “Damn, that’s something I wish I’d been able to write.”

The Hobbit: JRR Tolkien: I have said it several times before…this was the work that started me down the path toward SF/Fantasy fandom (mostly due to the animated movie, back in the early 80s). This was the first book I ever checked out from a public library.

Charles Stross: Another cheat here, since there are two series involved, but… Glasshouse – a study in gender identity [available technology allows for any outward presentation one might desire] wrapped in a tight little thriller. The Merchant Princes (series) – world-walking and the world-building of multiple time streams. The Laundry Files (series) – UF with shades of Cthulu, what I would consider my first readings in that genre.

The Harry Potter Series: JK Rowling: The first time I read book 1, I devoured it in a day, then plowed through books 2-4 in short order. Books 5-7 were the first that I pursued pre-ordering, instead of simply waiting until they were released.

Neil Peart: Two books, loosely related by title and context, but worlds apart for content. Masked Rider – about his bike tour adventures around parts of Africa. I shouldn’t have been surprised that such tours were a travel option, but this was the first stories I’d ever read/”been told” about such an experience. Ghost Rider…was a book that gave me perspective and guided me through a journey before I found myself thrust along it.

Call the Midwife: Jennifer Worth: I’ve actually mentioned this one fairly recently. It’s been a few weeks, but those effects still pop to mind every so often.

Ready Player One: Earnest Cline: A combination of SF and pop culture references that I lived through. Like American Gods, it’s one of those, “Damn, I wish I’d written that” books.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Her Glamourist Histories (“Jane Austen with magic”), although as of this writing I’ve only finished the first three books, and am currently in the fourth. I was subjected to the reading of Pride & Prejudice for my freshman English class in high school, and loathed it (as, I suspect, most 14-year old boys might). Kowal’s series, while deliberately steeped in the Regency language and style of Austen*, blends contemporary ideas with historical events. Likely the most craft-centric entry on this list, she’s also given me pause to consider revisiting Austen.

The Dresden Files: Jim Butcher. I’ve only completed the first two books in the series, but it’s that blend of mystery/PI with a fantasy spin that smacks of the “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” It’s also a series that has directly affected a project I have in development, and forced me to reconsider and rethink most of it, so as to be “similar, yet different.”

* I have a short story written around the time I was reading Shades of Milk and Honey that became unintentionally influenced by that style. In that sense, it can be said that Mary had a more profound and lasting affect. Not a thing I will object to having happened.


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Wheaton vs Voldomort

Those that know me should not be too surprised by the fact that I read Wil Wheaton’s blog. I have, for years, actually. He recently gave a talk at the University of Miami-Ohio, and shared the text… it’s worth reading, sharing, even carving on clay tablets if that’s your thing.

Here’s a snippet:

We’re all in this together, you guys, and I want you all to be the most awesome hero you can be in your own story … and I don’t want you to be the villain in someone else’s.

Life’s too short to be Voldemort.

Now go read the rest. You can thank me for pointing you there later.

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Traveler Notebooks (Rough Review)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I picked up a couple of refills to try out… while I’ve not actually written in them yet (don’t judge), I have finally opened them, and given at least a cursory inspection. Here, then, are my initial thoughts on the two I’m most likely to use…

Refill 01: Lined (Regular) 64 pages

  • About 30-31 lines per page, depending on implementation (could squeeze to 32 lines, using the hint of extra white-space at the bottom of the page, depending on penmanship).Spacing seems about comparable to a college-ruled, but having just looked at them, I’ve not been able to confirm.
  • It feels like it’s about the same as regular printer paper – thicker than a regular notepad or spiral-bound notebook paper. Hopefully that means a better bleed control from a fountain pen…

Refill 13: Unlined “Thin” (Lightweight) – 128 pages

  • Very thin pages – it’s suggested that the paper is comparable to Tomoe (Tomoegawa) River Paper, which is supposed to be very good with fountain pen inks (read: minimal to non-existant bleed-through).
  • Being unlined, unless your penmanship is very good (mine is not), or plans include a lot of free-style rendering, you may want to consider some kind of lined template to keep you honest.
  • MOAR pages! Yes, this is the ONLY refill available from the company with more than 64 pages. Even with the (subjective) need for a line stencil, still a viable option just for that.

I’m still on the fence, to be honest. What drew me to these is their flexibility (read: thin/able to carry several at one time). The idea would be to keep separate notebooks for project development – a different one for each project – then use a thicker volume for the actual drafting. Right now, with 2-3 projects in various stages of development, I’m prone to carry around the equivalent of a mid-size hardcover (or two) – just for notes, that’s not even considering once I am actually drafting.

I could do the same thing with a cheaper spiral-bound, but there is something to be said for the clean lines (and lack of a deformed metal spiral) of these notebooks, and the flexibility of the system.

More on these once I start filling them with ink…

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Hug Your Kids…

MC and I have friends and, being the age that we are, most of them have at least one child. One of them, unfortunately, no longer does. Wednesday night, they put their two-month old to bed, and during the night he managed to roll over. He never rolled back.

To have all of that routine – the sounds and laughter, play and discovery – surrounding a child suddenly stopped… I just can’t fathom what they might be going through.

Our own eldest was similar, preferring to sleep on his stomach (much like his father), and this was a constant fear we had, only magnified when the twins arrived…

For those of you with that have them, hug your kids every chance you get, even if they’re moody teens or grumpy middle-agers, but especially if they are really young. Give them all the love you can.


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Losing the Other George…

I generally live in a hole, insofar as my exposure to the news goes… having three kids at/younger than 4 doesn’t help that.(For instance, I hadn’t heard Nancy Reagan had died until last night, and that happened 6 March.)


One item of news that made it through in a timely fashion was regarding the death of George Martin. Not “RR”, but the George Martin…the man more-or-less behind the Beatles. In Beatles’s terms, he was the other George.

As of this writing, there are only two bands that I will maintain physical copies of their output: Rush, and the Beatles.I’ve always been a Beatles person.Martin’s specific involvement in their music, listed only as “Producer,” contributed to my…fandom seems odd to use, but appreciation? Continued enjoyment? And for that, I can only be grateful.

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A few months ago, back in the fall, I stumbled across a product called a “Traveler’s Notebook.” I was impressed by both the simplicity and versatility of the design. As a writer, it definitely piqued my interest, especially checking the all-important “highly portable” box in the list of desirable qualities. (I’m currently running with a 9×6″ spiral notebook for the longhand draft of pages for the current WIP, and use slightly smaller journals for notes & world-building for other projects, but that could mean carrying multiple volumes at any given time… which can get…unwieldy, especially if working on more than one project.)

But I was reluctant to order one, wanting to make sure it would be something that I could commit to using. It’s a writer thing, I think… there’s an “ooh, shiny” factor to cool loking journals and notebooks, but I have plenty on my shelf that need to be filled before I can justify adding more. So, instead of getting the set-up, I picked up a few of the refills a month ago, hoping to give them a test run for future blog posting. They are, sadly, still in their packaging.

In the meantime, here’s a Youtube review that helped me understand the “system,” yet appealed to the minimalist sensibilities that I’m trying to foster.

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Four Years On…

Yesterday, the eldest turned four. Four. Four! It is equal parts amazing and confounding – to see how much he’s grown in so short a time. and yet how quickly that time has slipped by. We marked this milestone in an unusual fashion for us, for reasons. Instead of celebrating on his actual birthday, we took him – and only him (no brothers*) – to one of his favorite restaurants with most of the extended family, to celebreate. (The first picture, with the candle.) On his actual birthday? Recovering from all of the early mornings and playtime with grandmothers.

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The Importance of “Said”

The Eldest is almost four. He’s not quite at the “read-by-myself” stage, but he isat the point where he can take a story, turn the pages, and tell – verbally tell – the story by what’s in the pictures. Or, if he’s heard it enough, he can actually repeat most of what’s on the page.

One of his current favorite stories to read is “Uncle Scrooge Christmas” [Mickey Mouse Christmas Carol]. Last night, he read it to me. There are a variety of different dialogue tags in the story – growled, yelled, etc. 99% of them, he simply used “said” instead.

Intuitive understanding of simplicity in dialogue tags. I hope he remembers that as he gets older, especially if he follows me onto this crazy writing roller coaster.

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Giving Voice to Yourself…

Slight meander ahead…

The guest speaker for my first MFA Residency was Donald Maass. Most of his program-members-only presentation in the afternoon was focused around his book The Fire in Fiction (something I wasn’t fully aware of at the time, but others discussed after the session). Being the green writer that I was, with a few thousand words written of what would develop into my thesis and no idea where the story would go beyond them, I took copious notes. A means of of trying to internalize those questions by both combining both aural and mechanical exposure. Worst case, they would be things I could refer back to.

Jump forward a few terms. I was entering solidly into revision-mode for the thesis, and decided to use Maass’s Fire in Fiction for my craft book  for that term. I read through the text, taking notes (a practice I’d not been in the habit of doing). Despite all the notes and advice in the book, the ultimate boil-down, take-away nugget is hat the fire in fiction is the individual writer.

Which brings me to my true reason for this post: In making my daily rounds, checking the regular handful of writers and blogs that I follow, I landed on this related post by Mary Robinette Kowal. Go read the full thing (using puppetry to explain Voice)

For writers, those individual choices come from your background, your lived experience, your taste and interests. I can teach mechanical and aesthetic voice, but I can’t teach personal voice. That personal voice though, that thing that is absolutely unique to you as a writer is why you must write.

No one else can write the things you will write in the way that you write them. You have a voice. Use it.

So, yes, that cool story may have been told eleventy-seven times already, but not how you might assemble the fleshy word-bits. There’s a reason why one of the root pieces of  wisdom given to beginning/early writers always seems to be some variation of write for yourself, first, before worrying about what’s in the market. Doing so nurtus the development of that voice.

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Perspectives From a Midwife…

I’ve been listening to the audiobook for Call the Midwife. It’s one of the hardest books, emotionally, that I’ve gone through.I’m curious if it’s because of the actual text, or from the impact of the performance…but it’s no doubt also due to a shift in perspective.

I can’t properly describe why I have been so affected without some degree of spoilering, so here’s the warning. Look below the cut to see more… Read the rest of this entry »

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