Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads! Ep. 6

Hey Blogland!

I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about March Goals and what needs to happen in April, but until then, enjoy another installment of Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads!

 

Talk at you soon!

 

BZ

 

Goals Summary 2020 – Wk #13

Hey Blogland,

It was a busy week of Staying Home, and Staying Safe. I’m starting to get restless, and really want the sun to come out so I can at least take the dog for a walk. But, there’s a lot of writerly things happening, so let’s get to it!

Last Week

  • Edit The Lament of Kivu Lacus
  • Finish listening to Tunnel of Bones
  • Write 800+ words

How’d I do?

  • Edit The Lament of Kivu Lacus
    • Yep. This round was a bit more productive as I recognized some superfluous lines and tightened things up a bit.
  • Finish listening to Tunnel of BonesTunnel of bones
    • Yep! I didn’t expect to have so many feelings about a poltergeist, but I sure did.
  • Write 800+ words
    • Oh, yes. Without even really meaning to.

Weekly Word Count: 2,314 

This was a very bookish, writerly week. I worked on some fanfic, edited my short story, read a bunch of Ashlords and finished listening to Tunnel of Bones. I released two episodes of Mrs. Harlow’s Quarantine Reads! I discovered and listened to all of the Ask the Bards podcast. It’s Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne talking all things writing and publishing, which is rad. I started Wonderbook, which I’m treating as a sort of class. I’m reading a chapter or two each week and doing the associated Writing Challenges. It’s fun, challenging, and is really kicking my brain into “Craft” gear. Which is good because, well, I did a thing.

I finally read the Tavi rough draft. You know, that Urban Fantasy novel I finished last spring? I’ve been avoiding it because revising novels has been a highly unpleasant experience so far. I was terrified that it would be even worse than I imagined and so just kept glancing at the printed manuscript on my desk like it might reach out and bite me.

But, on Friday, I decided to dive in. And, you know what? I loved it! It’s fun, and there are a lot of elements that I’m incredibly proud of. The pacing is generally good, I kept reading, not out of a sense of duty, but because I was genuinely enjoying my story. In fact, I couldn’t put it down. I read the entire thing in basically one sitting. From about 9am to 7pm, and was absolutely thrilled with it.

That’s not to say it’s perfect. There is definitely work to be done, but nothing so daunting that I’m hesitant to get started. I’m actually looking forward to spending time in this world and with these characters again. Crazy, right?

What’s Next?

  • Edit The Lament of Kivu Lacus
  • Finish reading Ashlordsashlords
  • Write 800+ words

This looks familiar on purpose. It’s worked for the last two weeks, so why mess with it? Especially when polishing and submitting Lament is my top priority right now. Finishing the rough draft of The Shadowboxer is priority number two. Once both of those are done I’ll start revising Tavi. I’m hoping to have it “done” before July. We’ll see how that goes.

And then I have a new novel idea. Which is a dangerous thing, but also a very motivating one. I can’t work on the new idea until all of the above is complete. And I really want to write the new thing, so I’d best get to work.

Speaking of work, I start working remotely this week. I still have no idea what that’s going to look like, so who knows if I’ll be able to keep this routine I’ve just established. I’m trying not to think about that too much just yet.

Be on the lookout for a couple more Quarantine Reads this week. I’ll have Ep. 5 up either this evening or tomorrow and then Ep. 6 later this week.

Until later, Bloggos!

 

BZ

New Year, Same Look

Hey Blogland.

It’s been a minute. As I mentioned last week, I faced some major burnout last fall and really the last half of the year was just me, derailed. Getting laid-off from a job you love sucks the big one. But, I’m feeling much more settled in the new job, and turns out, I super love it too. A nice lesson to learn, nothing is the end-all-be-all of your existence. We grow, adapt, change, and come to find fulfillment and success in a multitude of ways.

But, that lesson had a steep price, namely my discipline and work ethic when it came to my more creative endeavors. I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to attend to all my writing routines, so, in the interest of mental wellbeing, I didn’t attend to any of them. I allowed myself to take several steps back and only do what felt right or good. I think that helped me recover and get my head on straight once again.

So, three months late, let’s talk about 2019.

In 2019 I said I wanted to:

  • Finish the Tavi rough draft.
  • Finish Santa Sarita. 
  • Revise Cards.
  • Publish something!
  • Publish two blog posts a week.
  • Read 70 titles.

How’d I do?

  • Finish the Tavi rough draft.
    • YES! I finished the rough draft back in May and it was a huge, wonderful, exhausting accomplishment.
  • Finish Santa Sarita.
    • Nope. Not even a little bit. I don’t even think I wrote anything on this fic last year.
  • Revise Cards.
    • Nope. And, actually, I think I’ve finally accepted that this might be a trunk novel. Not that I think it’s bad, but it needs a lot of revision and basically an entire rewrite, and when I have time, energy and drive, I’ll come back to it. Until then, I’m taking it off the plate of possible projects.
  • Publish something!
    • Yes? I sold something, but it won’t be published until June 2020. It’s exciting and a big win for me, so I’m counting it as accomplished.
  • Publish two blog posts a week.
    • Nope. I published 90 posts, which honestly isn’t too shabby. It’s the second most I’ve ever posted on the blog since 2011, so I don’t feel as bad about this as I did earlier today.
  • Read 70 titles.
    • Nope. I reached 60 and pretty much ran out of gas. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t get anything to really grip me. I was in full on burnout mode by then and basically just gave up.

2019 Total Word Count: 122,187

Honorable Mentions

Even though there were several months in the summer and early fall where it just felt like I couldn’t get any writing done, I actually wrote a fair amount last year. Two flash pieces (under 500 words) and two longer short stories (both over 4k words), the last half of Tavi, and a ton of fanfic in November and December. In the moment it felt like nothing, but there was a lot of work happening in between all that nothing.

I went to a write-in thing hosted by Willamette Writers… I think it was in May. Anyway, that was fun and cool and I hope to go to more writerly events, once all this Covid stuff gets sorted.

I hiked a bunch last year which is always a good thing, and really found my *thing* outside of reading and writing books.

I read 15,104 pages across 60 books!Img bookstack 72

 

I’m trying not to feel so down about missing my reading goal last year. It’s the first year since 2015 that I haven’t reached my goal. Which felt like a big fat failure on my part. And yet… 60 titles is nothing to sneeze at. That number amazes a lot of people, even if it feels a little short to me. But, I read a lot last year and I shouldn’t feel bad just because it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped. I’m working on it.

Um… I think that’s it. You know, aside from that whole, got a new crazy job that absorbed my whole soul for awhile but turns out I super-duper love. So that’s cool too, I guess.

2019’s word was INTENT. I wanted to be purposeful in my actions and choices when it came to writing and reading. I don’t know how well it worked, but I do recall thinking of it a lot and letting it be the word that grounded me in moments of indecision. So, better than not having a word I suppose. Choosing a word for 2020 was one of the only New Year’s routines I didn’t ignore/avoid. The word for this year is…

REPLENISH.

Makes sense when you consider that I was recovering from the world’s worst case of burnout around the New Year. So, how will “Replenish” guide me in 2020? Well, I’ve decided to only do things that feel right, restorative in some way. For instance, my reading goal this year started at just 1 book. Once I read a few over that, I bumped it to 10. Now that I’m at ten, I bumped it to 20. I’m letting the year dictate the goals and learning to let go a little bit.

What does that mean for my writing? I’m not entirely sure. I think the idea is to stop feeling guilty for any perceived lack of progress. Letting my interests and energy take me where I need to go. Basically, relinquishing some of that all-important control. So far, I think it’s working.

So, if I’m not setting active, ambitious goals, what the heck will I do in 2020?

  • Revise Tavi
    • I think this is one that I absolutely have to do. I can’t let this novel sit for much longer, and honestly I don’t want to. I want to get back in this world I made and really make it shine.
  • Read!
    • That’s it. I just want to read whatever sounds interesting. I have a fat stack of fat books I’d been lusting over, but avoiding because of how long they would take me to read. This is the year I finally get to them.
  • Submit Two New Short Stories
    • I already have one that’s just about ready to go out. Maybe a few more rounds of editing to perfect it, and then it’s good. I’m working on a new short story now, but it feels pretty far from submission level. Good thing it’s only March!
  • Write Book Reviews
    • This is one thing that bummed me out about last year. I read a lot of good books at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, but I didn’t write reviews for them. And now it’s been too long for me to do them justice. I don’t want to do that anymore, so I’ll be trying to write reviews again!

I’ll be honest. I expect Tavi revisions to take up the majority of my year. All of my writing time will be on short stories or fanfic while I edit my novel. I want to get this right, because I really believe in this story and the world I’ve built. I want to get the first book right so I can jump into the second book for NaNoWriMo this year. So I need to get to work.

So, yeah. A different approach to 2020. A less regimented approach. I don’t know what the blog will look like this year. I might stick to my weekly format, I might not. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll do whatever feels good and useful without stressing me out. That’s the plan.

Talk at you soon, Bloggarts.

 

BZ

 

Book Review -The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Blogland,

I have a lot of feelings about this book, not all of them good. It took me a lot longer to get through than I expected and it was quite a bit of an uphill climb for about two thirds of the book. With that in mind, this review will have a different format than usual, simply because I really hate writing negative reviews and want to do my best to tell you what does work, in addition to what didn’t work for me.

My Goodreads Rating: 2/5 Stars

city in the middle of the night

First, the good. What worked, what I did like, and why.

  • Anders is a really great writer. Her prose is powerful, eloquent, and compelling. I didn’t find any lines where I stumbled or balked, but was frequently pleased with the lines I read, with their straightforward poetry and spartan beauty. I have no qualms with her writing, and plan to read more of her writing.
  • The world-building is high quality. Gradual, but without holding your hand. The book expects you to pay attention, but doesn’t punish you with an unduly steep learning curve. However, despite the title and the amount of time spent in the various cities on the book’s planet, I would not say that setting is the driving component of the book. It’s done well and with a subtle hand, but it is not the focus.
  • Tone. Anders wields atmospheric tension extremely well. There’s a consistent feeling of dread that steadily builds through the whole book, even in moments of relative peace.

So, what didn’t work? Prepare yourself for a bit of a rant and some mild spoilers.

The characters. This is written as a character driven novel with four major characters, all of whom are written as if you’re supposed to like them. Except… none of them are all that likable. Some of them are downright loathsome.

Now, I realize that’s a highly subjective statement. Characters I find interesting, likable, or relatable may leave you cold and disinterested. So take my comments with a grain of salt.

The main character is Sophie. Her story is told in the first person and she is a very meek, naive, and loving girl. So of course, she gets utterly used by Bianca who she supposedly loves.

Bianca is the worst and I hate her.

Mouth is the second “main” character, with a 3rd person narrative, and the only character I really liked in the whole book. But she gets treated like complete garbage by all the other characters, even Alyssa who seems to be her longtime girlfriend.

That was another gripe I had with the book. These four women all appear to be in committed lesbian relationships, but none of that is ever actually said. I assumed that Sophie’s expressions of love for Bianca were obviously romantic (they lay together spooning, Sophie tells Bianca that she loves her, that she’s loved in her arms… to me these are not platonic expressions or actions), but by the end of the book, when a memory exposes Sophie’s romantic feelings, Bianca freaks out and calls her perverted? What? What did you think was happening this whole time?

Image result for the city in the middle of the night cover
UK cover

And Mouth and Alyssa treat each other like crap the whole book, which is a trope I really don’t like. It’s so frequent in stories that members of long term relationships talk to each other with no respect because they’ve known each other for so long that it’s okay. It’s a personal pet peeve that I can’t stand, and even Anders shines a light on how bad their interactions were with Mouth’s persistent self-doubt and longing to leave her trauma behind her, as Alyssa suggests. As if it should be so simple.

So… Yeah. I had some problems with these characters. Their interactions and development (or lack thereof) made for a very bleak book. I read on, continuing to believe that by the end there would be some turn, some blossom of hope, but it never came. Instead, it just sort of ended without any real resolution, which makes me think there might be a sequel.

I don’t think I’ll be back for that.

My other criticism is the plot. It meanders, which jives with the whole atmospheric prose thing, and I should have expected it thanks to the blurb on the cover lauding Anders as “this generation’s Le Guin”.

(This is the part where I confess that I have yet to be able to finish one of Le Guin’s books… As a PNW SFF writer, I have just admitted an unforgivable sin. Sorry ’bout it.)

Image result for le gasp gif
The horror!

So, ultimately, maybe I’m not the best reader for this book. I tried really hard to like it. I refused to give up on it. I held on, determined to give The City in the Middle of the Night a fair shake. That’s all I can do.

According to Goodreads, this book seems pretty divisive. People love it, or people really don’t and apparently I’m in the latter camp.

I’ll be back later this week with a review for A Darker Shade of Magic, and I just started Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse today, so my reading is picking back up. Hooray!

Until then Bloggos,

 

BZ

Book Review – The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant #6) by Ben Aaronovitch

Blogland,

This is my first post written in the new WordPress editor. If you have tried it already and have any hints or suggestions, please let me know, because this is a trip. I think I like it. Image result for uncertain gifIt’s very clean, with less clutter to distract the eye. But that means I have to relearn how to navigate a system I’ve used religiously for like… seven years.

A/N: 108 words into the new editor and I already had to revert back to the Classic Editor. The new format handles content in blocks, which doesn’t really allow me to embed gifs and pictures the way I like to. Or at least, I wasn’t able to figure out how to do in a timely fashion. I’ll keep poking at it for awhile and see if I like it. As of this moment, it’s getting a thumbs down from me.

Additional A/N: Turns out, reverting back to the Classic Editor part way through royally screws with the formatting. I was unable to resolve it no matter how much I tried until I went back into the new editor and manually fixed every single error. I officially hate this “update” and I doubt I will be using it in the future.

After bouncing around the entire library consortium, I finally got my hands on the only copy of The Hanging Tree available in the whole Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service. It’s been a very popular book.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Peter Grant and company are back at it, this time investigating what seems to be a routine drug overdose. Except, the deceased shows evidence of thaumaturgical degradation (aka her brain was a bit gooey from exposure to magic). And, Lady Tyburn’s daughter was at the scene.

As if that isn’t a big enough pain in Peter’s backside, there’s a member of the demi-monde, known unironically as Reynard Fossman (etymologically speaking, Fox Foxman), has come to the Folly to offer Nightingale something he can’t refuse: Newton’s Third Scientific text, the Principia Chemica.

Alchemy. It was rumored that the genius had worked out the laws that governed transmutation and the like, but that the text was lost to mankind. Until Reynard waltzes in and tries to sell it to the highest bidder. Because, why would he only offer it to Nightingale?

And guess who else has his metaphorical eye on the prize? Yep! None other than the dastardly Faceless Man himself.

Which, it’s about stinking time! My biggest gripe about the last Peter Grant story I read was that there wasn’t enough substance in regards to the Faceless Man and Lesley. I wanted MORE! Well, this book delivered, let me tell you.

All the things I’ve come to expect from a Peter Grant book remained true for this one. Fantastic dialogue that begs to be read aloud, a wide and dynamic cast of characters, an intricate and compelling plot told in a voice that is self-deprecating, fun, and clever as hell.

All that being said, it took me longer to read than I would have expected, mainly because I’ve just been too tired to stay up and read lately. Which, as I’ve discussed, is really shit timing. Every book under the sun seems to have a release date this month, and here I am too swamped and too sleepy to do a darn thing about it.

36534574

One of those November releases is the next book in this series, the long anticipated Lies Sleeping. But, DO NOT read the synopsis for this book before you’ve read The Hanging Tree, otherwise you’re in for a giant spoiler.

I found that out the hard way while I conducted research to recommend the library purchase a copy of the newest book in the series. Whoops!

Also, my library doesn’t own any of the Peter Grant books, but several of the smaller libraries in our consortium own copies. But, none of them had purchased Lies Sleeping yet. Two weeks before the book is out and no one had bought it yet?Not acceptable. So, I recommended the purchase, and now I’m first in line on the hold list.

Image result for napoleon dynamite yes gif

So, in summary, this book was another solid entry in the Peter Grant series and the perfect book to read just a week or so before the newest installment is released here in the US. It’s nice to be caught up.

I’ve got a slew of books queued up for the rest of the year, which I mentioned in yesterday’s goals summary post. I’ll be a busy reading bee all the way through the new year.

Just the way I like it.

I’ll see you all again on Monday, maybe sooner if I have something to talk about. But we have a friendsgiving celebration on Saturday, so don’t expect much from me the rest of this week.

Until later, Bloggos.

BZ