Reading Round Up – April 2019

What a busy reading month! Now that I’m back to just the one job, my productivity in all areas has greatly improved. At this rate, I might finally catch up with my 2019 reading goal!

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)a darker shade of magic audio cover
Author: V.E. Schwab
Format: Digital Audio
Narrator: Steven Crossley
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: Uh… I freaking loved it. Like, a lot. You should probably just do us all a favor and read my review so I don’t lapse into obsessive squealing right here and now.
Recommend: Hell yeah! I’m basically screaming about it to anyone who will listen to me. And to some who don’t. I’m just screaming, all right?

Title: The City in the Middle of the Nightcity in the middle of the night
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Format: Hardback
Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars
Thoughts: Anders is a very good writer. This book has received a lot of great press and did several things very successfully. That said, I did not like it for some very key reasons. Extremely flawed (unlikeable) characters and a meandering plot were a couple of them. For more details, both good and not so much, check out my review.
Recommend: Meh? It seems like mileage varies with this one. Some folks loved it, others really didn’t. Maybe read some reviews first?

Title: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)a gathering of shadows
Author: V.E. Schwab
Format: Digital Audio
Narrator(s): Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: I loved this one almost as much as the first one. This one had less of a sense of wonder, but there was so much more time with the characters and so much tension building up over the course of the book that I kept yelling at the audiobook when things happened. Lots and lots of squealing could be heard in my house. For more details, be sure to check out my full review.
Recommend: Oh my goodness yes!

Title: Trail of Lightning (Sixth World #1)trail of lightning
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: Hardback
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: An incredible first book in a new series. I love Urban Fantasy and this one did an awesome job of fitting in the genre while carving out a healthy circle of all new ideas and and style. I loved the breakneck quality of the plot and the dialogue was really natural; I could hear everyone. I can’t wait for the sequel! Don’t forget to read my review for full details.
Recommend: Absolutely! If you like Urban Fantasy at all, I’d mark it as required reading.

Title: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)a-conjuring-of-light
Author: V.E. Schwab
Format: Hardback
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: So many. So many thoughts. So many feelings. I loved every moment of this book, even as it tore my heart out and stomped it into the dirt. Kell really comes into his own in this book. Hell, so does everybody. Rhy, Alucard, Lila, even Holland. Everyone has to sacrifice something, and they come out stronger for it. This book was both a sprint and a marathon. Every chapter felt dashing, rushed, I read so quickly I’d have to reread it because I’d missed something. But the book kept going, relentless and tearing me to pieces even as it made me laugh. Get all the details in my review.
Recommend: Yes. A thousand times yes.

Title: The Light Brigadethe light brigade
Author: Kameron Hurley
Format: Hardback
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: This book is a trip. It hits hard, doesn’t pull any punches, and keeps coming at you. Aggressive is a good descriptor. I personally thought the themes could have been a little more subtle, but I think the frankness and in your face quality of the book more than make up for it. The plot is very compelling. I couldn’t put the book down. I had to keep reading because I HAD to know how everything came together. I don’t often find that Time Travel is well handled in fiction. I struggle with it in television and movies often, but this book blew me away with the unpredictability of any given moment. Read my review for more details.
Recommend: Totally. It’s a standalone, whirlwind ride that makes you think and doesn’t give you all the answers. What’s not to love?

Title: Elevationelevation
Author: Stephen King
Format: Digital Audio
Narrator(s): Stephen King
Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
Thoughts: I liked the concept, a man loses weight without manifesting any physical signs that he’s doing so, but the execution was… strange. It was oddly political, with an us vs. them theme of Liberals versus the rest of the conservative town. It hinged on a married couple, both women, who were shunned and reviled by the town, but whom the main character strove befriend. It felt very forced and not actually all that compelling. After Elevation there is a short story called “Laurie”, about a recently widowed retiree and the puppy his sister gave him, against his wishes. That was much better and I loved it.
Recommend: Not on audio. King’s narration isn’t very good (imo), and sadly “Laurie” isn’t included in the physical copy. Not sure I’d suggest this unless you’re an unwavering King fan.

Title: The Luminous Deadthe luminous dead
Author: Caitlin Starling
Format: Trade Paperback ARC
Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Thoughts: Holy shit. This book scared me. I haven’t been scared by a book since I was in Junior High. Not since I read The Library Policeman by Stephen King when I was 14. Are you afraid of heights? Drowning? The Dark? Monsters? Ghosts? Losing your mind? Tight spaces? Because this book has all of those things. And the tension just ratchets up over and over and over, until you’re left as drained and exhausted as the characters. This book gave me nightmares of being hunted and seeing faces in the dark. That’s how GOOD it is. Get all the details in my full review!
Recommend: If you want to be creeped the hell out, hell yeah. It’s terrifyingly good.

Title: “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”N.K. Jemisin.jpg
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Collection: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?
Editor(s): N/A
Format: Digital Audio
Narrator: Robin Ray Eller
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: I listened to this driving to work with a migraine, so I didn’t absorb it as much as I’d like. It’s an interesting story, told in a first person, direct monologue, where the narrator is speaking or writing to a “Friend”. She tells of an alternate version of our world where a utopia actually exists and describes it in great detail. The narration actually reminded me a lot of a character from Anthem, Sentinel Brin. Their speech patterns were very similar. I should have expected the unconventional narrative choice, since Jemisin’s use of second person point of view in The Fifth Season is why I chose to read that book in the first place.
Recommend: Sure. It’s a pretty story that I’m sure hits heavier when you’re not barely conscious. It is a lot different than other things I’ve read of Jemisin, but not unpleasantly so.

Title: “What Maya Found There”Daniel Jose Older.jpeg
Author: Daniel José Older
Collection: A People’s Future of the United States
Editor(s): Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: A look at weaponized science in an age when science is vilified. I liked a lot about this story, particularly the character driven lens. There’s enough tech sprinkled in, enough implied body horror to keep me interested, but ultimately I didn’t find it as resonant as some of the other stories I’ve read from this collection.
Recommend: Sure. It’s a perfectly good story, and you might get more out of it than I did.

Title: “The Petals Abide”benjanun.jpeg
Author: Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Collection: Transcendent: the Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction
Editor(s): K.M. Szpara
Format: Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: Interesting. Blends SF elements with a Fantasy tone, about an AI(?) who sculpts organic people into other beings. There’s romance and longing, and really I can’t boil it down into anything more than feelings, than a sense of what was happening. Everything felt shrouded, like I never really saw it, but that was okay.
Recommend: Yes. It’s a very beautifully written story with an intriguing concept.

Title: “Kenneth: A User’s Manual”sam j. miller
Author: Sam J. Miller
Collection: N/A
Editor(s): N/A
Original Publication: Strange Horizons, December 2014
Format: Live Reading
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: The story is exactly what it sounds like: A User’s Manual for a sculpted, gorgeous, ripped dancing machine. Kenneth is made for fun, but he’ll make you beg for it. The format is strange, intriguing in its lack of conventional plot, but no less effective for it. I like the story because it reminds me that stories can be told in all sorts of ways.
Recommend: Yes. At just over 1000 words, this story takes only a few minute to read and should get at least a few chuckles out of you. Cheeky is a good word to describe it.

Title: “Harvest”roanhorse
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Collection: New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
Editor(s): Nisi Shawl
Format: Live Reading, Trade Paperback
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: Never fall in love with a deer woman. This story tells of the dangerous affair of one man(?) and the legendary Deer Woman who seeks vengeance for all the deaths of her family. The way this story balances the sensual and grotesque is really powerful and riveting. I wanted to hear more, even when I was blushing. I had to finish reading it once we got back home.
Recommend: Yes! This story really displays Roanhorse’s range. You get a strong sense of her prowess in this one.

Title: “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™”roanhorse 2.jpg
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Collection: N/A
Editor(s): N/A
Original Publication: Apex Magazine, August 2017
Format: Live Reading, Digital Publication
Goodreads Rating: N/A
Thoughts: This story shows a different set of Roanhorse’s strengths. She uses humor to tell an important story of identity that resonates no matter your particular circumstances. Set in Sedona, with plenty of regional nods that made me laugh out loud, I couldn’t get enough of this story. But by the end things get serious, and suddenly there’s a twist and damn if Rebecca Roanhorse isn’t a genius!
Recommend: Yes! This story was nominated for and won several awards for a reason. You have to give it a try!

SFWA Reading in Portland!

SFWA reading april 2019.png

Last night’s  reading was wonderful! I always have so much anxiety leading up to any sort of writing event that my brain convinces me that I will have a terrible time. Surely, I will embarrass myself beyond any hope of repair. I will somehow literally drool on someone. I will trip and/or fall, breaking something (inanimate or otherwise) and drawing every eye in the building. I will, once face to face with the author I like, be suddenly incapable of forming a coherent sentence as simple as “Hi, I really like your book. Will you sign it for me?” That, in my nervousness, I will gulp alcohol and get tipsy and then be forever remembered as “That drunk chick at the reading.”

I am proud to report that I did not drool on anyone. I did not get drunk, although I did enjoy three very delicious beers from Lucky Labrador Brewing, where the reading took place. Though my hands were basically made of lava thanks to how anxious I was, I was able to introduce myself to all three readers (and Caitlin Starling who was in attendance as a fan!), and shake their hands. I said my name to all of them, I complimented their readings, spoke about their work and thanked them for coming to see us in Portland.

I had normal human interactions with four writers I respect very much!

SFWA swagAnd, I won a bag of ARCs via the SFWA’s raffle! I maybe hit a pretty high pitch when I raised my hand and said, “That’s ME!” But I NEVER win anything and I’d had such a wonderful time that I was understandably pumped.

Sam J. Miller, author of The Art of Starving and Blackfish City, read first. He read his short story “Kenneth: A User’s Manual” and an excerpt from Blackfish City. He did a wonderful job, and the short story was pretty funny. It was nice to hear one of his stories I hadn’t read yet. I bought a copy of Blackfish City while we were there and got Sam to sign the book! And guys, I’m striving for transparency here, mortifying as it is, and I really love Sam’s writing. So, when he asked my name I told him to just write BZ, and then he looked up at me and said, “do we interact on twitter?”Sam J Miller autograph.jpg

Y’all. I about died. While every cell in my body screamed with joy, I smiled and said, “Yeah!” Cool as as a cucumber you left out on the counter. He shook my hand and said it was nice to meet me, and then finished signing the book. I walked back to my seat ready to just float away. It was such a brief, delightful interaction. AND I WASN’T A WEIRDO!

Kari Maaren went next and she gave an outstanding reading from her YA novel Weave a Circle Round. Her performance was really wonderful, so vibrant and real. I felt those characters, from an entire beer hall away. I made a point to tell her how much I loved her reading, and she confessed she has a background in performance, so that’s why she was so delightful!

Note to self: start practicing reading now! If I wait until I actually have one booked, I’ll be a complete doofus in front of a crowd.

Last came Rebecca Roanhorse. If you don’t know, she wrote Trail of Lightning, which has been nominated for this year’s Hugo for best novela slew of short stories, and her sequel Storm of Locusts just released this week! GO BUY IT! I’d planned to buy her books at the event, but they were already sold out once we got there. Wah-wah.

She read the first half of her story “Harvest” which is in the new anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color edited by Nisi Shawl, and an excerpt from her multiple award winning story “Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience”. Her voice is fantastic. I don’t know how to describe it. She speaks with clarity and strength, her voice carried through the room and commanded attention, even when it was soft and whispering of the Deer Woman. She has range when she reads, her voice moving up and down, hitting the beats of her stories with precision.

Contents from my bag of swag! See anything you like?

It was spectacular. Even Trevor, my notoriously non-reader husband was blown away by her reading. He closed his eyes and absorbed her words, let them wash over and through him, and I was blessed with being able to watch him experience her work in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I maybe teared up a little. Shhhhhusssssh. Don’t tell him. He’ll never go to a reading with me again.

When she was done, he turned to me and said, “we need to buy her books. If we buy them, I’ll read them.” So yeah, I’d say he was impressed.

Next was a Q&A session which I always loathe. I never have a question. I can never think of anything I want to know badly enough to single myself out and ask someone I admire to talk to me. I don’t want the attention. I don’t want the focus of not only the authors, but the whole crowd. So, I sit and I listen and generally smile a lot because I’m happy to be surrounded by book people.

But, last night I asked a question. It was a meaty one, about how to twist and mold existing places into dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings. I apologized afterward because it was a large ask, but they all did such a great job answering! And Sam even said it was a “great question”! So there, self-conscious, anxiety-ridden self! You asked a question and you didn’t die!

After the reading, Trev and I stayed to have dinner with Kat and Obadiah (of The Audient Void) who were also in attendance. It was a really nice evening, one that I’m eager to repeat. Hopefully I won’t be a nervous wreck next time.

Or, at least less of one.

Until Monday, Bloggos!

 

BZ

 

What’s in a Pen Name?

I’ve seen some discussion on Twitter about pseudonyms lately, largely wondering why authors choose to use a pen name or not. Now, maybe you guessed, but (technically) I use a pen name. B. Zelkovich is not my legal name. I know, shocking, right? So, what made me decide to use a pseudonym and how did I choose it?

I didn’t start out writing under a pseudonym. Way back in my college days I wrote under my, then, legal name, Brittany Zelkovich, and had some small successes. My first four General Fiction stories were published under that name, as well as my Caladria stories.

But then I went and did a silly thing. I got married! My whole life I counted down the days until I could jump up the alphabet by taking someone else’s last name, but once the time finally came, I hesitated. It took me six months and quite a bit of inner-turmoil to finally go to the Social Security office and change my name. And only then because I’d decided to continue writing and publishing under Zelkovich.

Image result for pseudonym gif

But I didn’t decide to drop to my first initial until last year. I don’t distinctly remember what inspired me to do it, other than a vague sense of dissatisfaction with how my name sounded when read aloud. “Brittany Zelkovich” just sounded… juvenile? The first name really dates me as someone born between 1985-1993, which is true, but that doesn’t mean I want the whole world to know that before they’ve even read my work.

Plus, I’ll do just about anything to avoid the Britney Spears jokes. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. At least three times.

So then I started experimenting. Britt Zelkovich? No… Still doesn’t sound right. Plus, that’s a nickname I reserve for family and close friends. What about my middle name? Sarchet Zelkovich? That’s unique, at least. But could you imagine having to tell everyone how to pronounce it for the rest of my life? No thanks. What about my initials? B.S. Zelk — oh, that’s hilarious. B.S. Zelkovich? Bullshit Zelkovich? PASS.Image result for pen name gif

Which left me with B. Zelkovich. Androgynous, professional sounding, with the last name as the focus which is important since that’s the bit all my books will be filed under. Plus, plenty of people in my life call me B., but it isn’t something exclusive to close friends and family. Just about anybody can get away with calling me that.

So, that’s how I got here. I wanted to avoid sounding young and possibly foolish. I wanted to avoid the inevitable mental image of shaved heads and that awful school girl outfit. And I wanted to keep my super unique last name. Because, and I mean this with 100% honesty, if you ever meet a Zelkovich in the United States, they are related to me by blood or marriage. I may not know them, but somewhere up the family tree we have relatives in common.

But what are some reasons already published authors decide to take up a pseudonym? The most common one is that an author is trying to sell a book that is outside of their already established genre. J.K. Rowling escaped YA Fiction by writing her Mystery Fiction as Robert Galbraith. Delilah S. Dawson writes YA and Science Fiction under her legal name, but writes Fantasy as Lila Bowen and Erotica as Ava Lovelace.

Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman for awhile because he wrote novels faster than his publisher would release them. Joe Hill is the pen name for King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King, who wanted to try his hand at Horror Fiction without competing (or probably being burdened) with his father’s legacy.

Image result for pen name gif
Apparently Parks and Rec has a GIF for my every pseudonym need.

Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oats, and on and on and on, all used pseudonyms at some point in their careers. Whether to write freely in a new genre, to test that their writing still held up and they weren’t just selling novels because of their name, or for any number of other reasons, many authors decide to use a pen name.

What are your thoughts on the matter? As a reader, does the author’s name really factor into your decision to try a book? If you find out it’s not their real name, does that matter to you? As a writer, would you ever use a pen name? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I should be back soon with the review for City in the Middle of the Night, so be on the lookout for that.

Until then, Bloggos.

 

BZ

 

 

 

An Introduction, of Sorts

I realized last night, as I read The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman (highly recommend, btw) that it had been a really long time since I’d talked about who I am and what exactly this blog is for.

Like. A really long time. Like, maybe never. When this blog started, way back in 2011, I had a viewership of zero and expected it to remain that way. I also had no experience or expectations to guide my posts and the content I shared. 2011 was truly the Wild West of this site. I was 21 and still coming to grips with the reality that I wanted to write fiction for living. I was young, in so many respects. So, so young.

Now, almost ten years later, allow me to introduce myself.

Hofbrau Pretzel
Ah, Munich. I miss you and your pretzels.

Hi! My name is Brittany, but if we’re friends you probably call me B or BZ, and this site is my home in the virtual cosmos of the internet. I created my WordPress blog back in 2011 after a guest speaker visited my Planning and Structuring the Novel class. He suggested that having an online presence would make us more visible to agents and editors, help keep us accountable to our goals, and that having consistent blog posts where we discussed our writing could help protect us from potential plagiarism and theft.

Just as I do now, I thought the plagiarism bit was kind of funny, because that implies someone has read my work and liked it enough to steal it. But I liked the sound of all the other bits. Visibility? Accountability? Sounds great, sign me up!

Almost a decade later and I’m still here, and I can tell you that you’ll only get out of your blog what you’re willing to put into it. Like so much else in life, time and energy are the keys to making anything successful. Maintaining a blog is no different.

So, what does this blog do? A lot of things actually. Mainly, it holds me accountable. I talk about the things I want to do, the goals and dreams I’m striving for, and then I either get to tell you how I succeeded or how I failed. Guess what? It’s a WAY better day when I can say that I’ve succeeded. And that’s motivating as heck. If you’ve been a reader here for long, then you’ve noticed the weekly, monthly, and yearly Goals posts, where I talk at length about my various projects and how I intend to complete them. It took years to get to this level of routine and habit, but I think I’ve finally found a system that works.

april whiteboard
My whiteboard is the linchpin of all of my productivity, and the blog is my virtual whiteboard.

The blog is also a place where I can write down my thoughts when they get to be a little overwhelming. This happens less and less as the years go by, thankfully, but occasionally I just need a way to clear my head, and writing has always been there for me.

I also share book reviews and my observations on writing, editing, and publishing. I’ll admit, the latter posts are fairly few and far between, mainly because I’m not sure I have much authority on the matter. I’m in the thick of it, learning and growing with every experience, and that’s what I share here on this site. I’m building a writing career, slowly but surely, and I’m documenting every step along the way on this blog.

If you want to know more about me, or to contact me, you can click on any of the links in the upper right-hand corner of this site to find my various social media pages. You can also find these links and my official author bio on the About page of this site.

Thank you so much for stopping by. After all this time, it was really nice to meet you.

 

BZ

Editing, or How I Decide to Drive Myself Crazy

Ask any author, and they’ll tell you how much they loathe editing. Brandon Sanderson has to bribe himself, though he calls it a reward system. For every x amount of pages, he buys a pack of magic cards. Otherwise he would never edit.

I’m curious to know how you guys feel about editing. Because I love it! Writing can be hard, because I’m not particularly good at outlining. So, I have a general idea as I write, but the details are vague, and the story tends to go its own way.

Editing is the time when I’m actually in control. I can step away from the creation, which tends to give me mega-tunnel vision, and look at the whole piece. And then I can tear it apart and make it better.

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I wanted to talk a little about my actual editing process. At least what I know of it. I’ve never edited an entire novel before, so the process may change as I go. Learning and what not.

Usually I begin by reading the chapter through, and taking as little notes as possible. If I do take notes they’re broad, like “A little vague here” or “clean up POV”. Large tasks that affect the tone of the chapter.

Once that initial read through is done I put three things at the top of the front page:

was:
ly:
as:

Then I read it again, circling any “was”, “as”, or “-ly” adverbs. Once they’re all circled, I count them, and put the corresponding numbers in their place at the top. I do this because “was”, “as”, and “-ly” adverbs are indications of weak and passive writing. Having them circled lets me hone in on where I can immediately start strengthening paragraphs.

Not too bad for the rough draft!
Not too bad for the rough draft!

After fixing these sentences I’ll consider word choice. I’ll look for repetitive words and sentence structures. This is the part that’s like a puzzle. Finding what’s wrong with a chapter and removing it, then replacing it with something better.

In the past I’ve been editing short fiction. The prime directive in short fiction is to be as concise as possible, and to cut anything not absolutely crucial to the plot. Every sentence should characterize, world-build, and move the plot along. And yes, writing a novel should be that way too.

But, going into editing ‘Vessels’ I knew there was a lot of content that needed added. So, for the first time in my writing career, I have notes of scenes that need added into chapters during the editing process. It’s weird. And, I’m not sure how I’m going to tackle that just yet.

It’s these early chapters that are the most difficult. The plot didn’t really exist yet, so there were no hints of impending action, and characters that come to play late in the story need introductions in earlier chapters. A lot of adding new scenes in these chapters. Which I’m excited about!

But, it makes editing them a lot harder.

Anyway, once the line editing is done, you know, word choice and all that, I’m going to start working on the additions. Also, everything I edit gets written straight on the page, and then gets inputted in the computer later.

See?
See?

Once a round of editing is done I’ll make a note of it at the top of the front page. I’ll put the date of completion, which draft number it is, and the phrase, “Ready for Retype”. That way, if I don’t get to retyping right away, I can come back and know which edit it is, when it was completed, and that it’s ready to move on.

For short fiction I could retype, print it, and then continue editing. I could keep tweaking and perfecting for ages, until I really didn’t think it could get any better. But, with the novel, I’m going to treat it as a whole. Chapter 1 has been edited and retyped, meaning that it is officially on Draft 2. When all the chapters are at that stage I will reprint and start editing all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Until I think it’s ‘done’.

This is going to take awhile…

I think editing is daunting to a lot of writers. It’s not as fun as creation. The sense of wonder is gone. You already know what happens and now it’s the mechanics of the thing. Magic-less.

I get that. But, you can’t say it isn’t challenging. And I love a good challenge.

Anyway, enough ramblings here. It’s time to get to work!

 

BZ