Sunday, December 10, 2017

Favorite Reads from 2017

There are still a few weeks left in it, but I can safely say that 2017 has been a hell of a year. One positive thing that's come out of what's otherwise been pretty much a dumpster fire of a year is that I spent more time reading.

I've loved reading since I learned how, but it's been tough to make it a priority in recent years, between college, graduate school, work, and my own writing. But I've found that if I consider it part of my writing work--you can't write well unless you read, and you can't know the business of publishing unless you keep up with it--I put more effort toward it.

I set a conservative reading goal this year: 30 books from January 1 to December 31. I'm sitting at about 47 right now, and I'll likely make it to 50 before the year's out. That's still about half of where I'd like to be, but it's a start.

Around this time last year, I posted a list of my five favorite reads from 2016. I wanted to do the same this year, especially since I'd read so much more. This is that list.

I don't have very many rules for inclusion, but I do want to give some insight into how I built this particular list.

Books on this list don't have to have been published in 2017 (though many of the books I read this year were--following literary agents on Twitter definitely helps me keep up with new releases); I just have to have read them in 2017. I limit my list to one book per author, which came in handy this year, since I discovered a new favorite author and read a couple whole series this year. This list is for single books and not series, so, for series that I want to have represented, I pick one to represent the entire series.

I don't have a quota for what I read, but I do try to read across age groups and genres. I also make an effort to read underrepresented voices. This doesn't mean that I avoid books by white guys, but I try to make sure that they don't make up all of my reading list. This year, I came pretty close to gender parity. My specific goal for this year was to read more books by women of color, and I think I did that pretty well.

So, all that in mind, here's my list of favorite reads from 2017, in no particular order. And, as always, buy links are provided.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 This is maybe an obvious choice, but there was no way this book wasn't going to be on my list. Angie Thomas's debut novel spent the better part of this year sitting at the top of the NYT Best Seller list. The Hate U Give follows Starr Carter a teenage girl who has to navigate the world of the mostly-white private school she attends and the mostly black urban neighborhood she where she lives. Her worlds collide when her childhood friend, Kahlil is the victim of a police shooting. Thomas creates characters that the reader becomes immediately attached to, and she gives a face and a point of connection to a larger social problem. Apart from being an emotional and entertaining read,  The Hate U Give provides an opportunity to build empathy. I started putting this book in other people's hands as soon as I finished reading it. I can't recommend this book enough.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony is actually the third book in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, all of which (except for the sixth and final book which I haven't been able to get my hands on) I read this year. Humans have built colonies in space, but they're not the only species vying for territory. Where the first two installments of this series are more concerned with battles in space, The Last Colony focuses on the struggle of keeping a colony afloat amid galactic conflict and under the thumb of a manipulative governing body. I recommend the entire series (or, you know, the five I've read), but this was my favorite of them.

 Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I'm way behind the curve on this one. Bad Feminist came out in 2014, and Gay has published several books and stories since this one. I also read a collection of her short stories this year (Difficult Women), but this essay collection hit me hard. Gay writes about feminism from an intersectional perspective, discussing the ways that class, race, appearance, and sexuality all complicate the experience of womanhood and feminism. She writes about mass media and issues of representation, about the treacherous world women have to navigate, and about the internal struggles of feminist movements. Gay's style is forthright and personal, and she doesn't flinch away from difficult topics. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Want by Cindy Pon

This was another of the new releases I picked up this year after hearing about it from lit agents. Want is set in a near-future Taipei, where air pollution has hit levels that make it dangerous to go outside without a special climate controlled suit. But those suits aren't free, so the rich buy them up while the poor suffer and die from illnesses related to the pollution levels. Jason Zhou and his friends have a plan to change the status quo, but it involves Zhou going undercover as one of the wealthy elites he despises. Want hits a lot of my buttons: a hero that's willing to take questionable actions to achieve their goals (but who's also not immune to the emotional consequences of those actions); shady corporate actions; the relationship between quality and length of life and access to resources (can't get away from the sociology, I guess). Want is powerful and atmospheric, with elements of scifi and some pretty neat heists.

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

So, in a discussion with an agent at a conference, I mentioned that I wanted to write across age groups, to which the agent said, "Like Victoria Schwab?"

I said, "Yes, exactly!" And then decided that I should, you know, maybe read some of her stuff.

As of right now, I've read eight and a half (I'm not quite through The Near Witch) of her works since October, and I've loved each one. But her Monsters of Verity duology were my favorites. This Savage Song is the first in that duology. The story follows Kate Harker and August Flynn, a human and a monster who are on opposite sides of conflict in the city of Verity. Kate's the daughter of a crime boss who uses his influence to protect anyone who can pay from the monsters that roam the city. August is a powerful monster who's been raised by the man trying to make the city safe for everyone. Schwab's prose is beautiful, and this pair of books checks so many of my favorite-thing boxes. This Savage Song is the only book that I read twice this year. I loved this series so much; I think I'm gonna get a t-shirt made that just says "Talk to me about Monsters of Verity."

And that's my 2017 list. It's more YA-heavy than last years, but I don't think that's a bad thing.

What were some of your favorite reads this year? Let me know in the comments.


 

 


 

 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Light at the End

November turned out to be productive, but not as productive as I wanted. The novella is finished--or at least the first draft has been turned in to the publisher. The Downtown Writers anthology is out (you can get it here; proceeds go to the library). Revisions on Project 2016 are moving along, though it's slower going than I'd like. I plan to have revisions finished by the end of the year so that I can start querying again in January.

And also get started on my next manuscript. As much as I love Project 2016, I am ready for a change of pace.

This means I have quite a bit of work ahead of me. We're talking roughly three weeks to complete revisions on thirteen chapters, some of which have to be rewritten from scratch. Which means that I won't be able to devote the time to write the type of lengthy process posts that are the main content for this blog.

I'm not going completely silent, though. I'll take the weekends of Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve off, but there will be new posts the next two weeks.

It's December, which means the time is right for some year-end wrap-ups. Next week, I'll write about my five favorite reads of 2017. I had the chance to do a lot more reading this year than last and read things by authors I'd never read before, so I'm looking forward to delving into what books stole my heart this year and why.

After that, I'll have a post about my year in writing. There were some pretty big moments for me this year. Hopefully, I'll be able to announce some upcoming work. Even outside of publication, this was a big year for me as a writer. I did some good work, took some new chances, and became part of a larger writing community in ways I really hadn't been brave enough to before. I'll be looking back over what successes I had and trying to pin down the areas where I still need improvement.

For now, though, I have to get back to the grind. After all, the year's not over yet, and there's still so much to do.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Radio Silence

November is my least favorite month of the year. The days get shorter, so my mood loses its buoyancy. End-of-semester fatigue drags me down. A few painful anniversaries steal my energy.

In spite of all that, November is usually my most productive writing month. One of my coping mechanisms is to throw myself into work. This isn't always healthy, necessarily, but it does let me get shit done. And I'm in a position now where I really need to get shit done.

I'm a little behind on my writing goals for the year. I wanted to have my contract novella wrapped up by now. I wanted to be through revisions for the first book of project 2016. I wanted to be well on my way to a completed first draft of my next manuscript. I'm not there yet on any of those goals.

Not being where I want to be always gets my imposter syndrome working overtime, telling me that I'm not where I need to be--that I'll never be where I need to be.

It's easy to forget that I was here last year, too: behind on my goals, floundering to finish the fist draft of a project for myself and to get the work done on projects for other people.

I've managed before. I'll be able to manage again.

But it will mean have to rearrange my priorities.

This blog is important to me. It represents my personal commitment to my writing--a promise that I'm going to treat writing as a job, as a commitment rather than just working "when I feel like it." It's also the longest I've ever blogged with any kind of regularity. This weekly commitment is part of how I've kept my writing work habitual.

I'm at a point right now, though, where I need to use the time I spend on this blog doing other things. I love writing these posts, but I'm not gonna get paid if I don't finish my projects.

So, Practice and Procrastination is going to go silent for a while. Not long--hopefully only through the month of November, but possibly until the end of the semester in the middle of December.

I've still got a couple of interviews and guest posts pending. If those come along during my break, I'll get them posted. Otherwise, I've got to be in the writing/editing cave until I get the work done.

If you start to really miss me during the break, you can always find me elsewhere on the internet. My website will still be updated with appearances and announcements (I've got a couple of projects that should be seeing the light of day in the next few months), I'll pop by the Facebook page and Twitter now and then, and you can find some updates (and lots of cat and dog pictures) on my instagram.

Thanks for sticking with me. See you in December.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Anthology

Coming soon! An anthology of retellings of Grimms' Fairytales.

I've mentioned before that I've been participating in a local writers' group. In the past few months, we've been working on a story anthology. This anthology is due for release by the end of the year and will be available for purchase via Amazon and the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library.

Proceeds from this anthology will benefit the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. There will be a release even in conjunction with the library's NaNoWriMo events, so watch this space for details!

My short story, "Red Snow, PI" is included in the anthology, so if you want to read more of my work and help a local library, this is a great opportunity.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Author Interview with Bria Lexor

This week's interview is with YA author Bria Lexor, whose Gargoyle Redemption trilogy has just released.


·         Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a YA Urban Fantasy Author and my Series: The Gargoyle Redemption Trilogy released on September 25th!

·         What type of books/stories do you write?
I have written about vampires, gargoyle shifters, aliens, Angels and Fallen Angels, a game book, and a female wrestling book so far.


·         What does the start of a project look like for you? (Where do your ideas come from, what prep work do you do before starting a new project, any writing rituals, planner or pantser, etc.?)
I write down all the names of characters I want to use and the story outline. My ideas come from whatever pops into my head at that particular moment in time and I write it down before I forget it. I start writing the book after I get the characters into place as I picture them in my mind. No, I just sit at the computer and start writing away.

·         What did your path to publication look like?
It’s a hot mess! I have found the worst publishers who are out there, excluding a couple. It’s been a struggle for me to have to refind my audience after signing with Foundations, LLC, who is amazing by the way! I’m hoping this time around my books will finally reach the right audience and will be on the Best Sellers list one day soon!

·         Is there anything that you’ve learned through the process that you wish you’d known at the beginning?
Gosh yes! Not to sign with any publisher who is super pushy and ends up treating you badly to the point where doing what I love isn’t fun anymore.

·         Do you have any tips/tricks/resources you’d like to share with other writers?
Just keep writing and you will find the right publisher for your work one day. Never give up on that!

·         What part of the writing process do you find most exciting?
Starting a new series is always exciting for me because I have fresh characters to show everyone who reads and enjoys my work in the future. It’s an awesome feeling inside!

·         What part of the writing process do you find most challenging?
Right now it has to be making a grid for my new series. I just haven’t figured out why I can’t do something so easy. That is challenging for me.

·         Any new work from you we should be watching for?
Absolutely! I have 4 new book series to look for in the future: My Fallen Angels series, my Sports Fiction series, My Alien series and my Game book series are all going to be unique and fresh from me!

·         What’s one piece of advice you’d give new writers?
Keep writing. No matter how long it takes to finish writing that first book, keep at it. You will get there. I promise.


Thanks, Bria! If you want to find Bria, check these links:


You can find Bria's work here. Be sure to check her out.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Author Interview with T.K. Lawyer

Today, we have paranormal romance author T. K. Lawyer visiting us for a chat about her books and her writing process.


·         Tell us a little about yourself.

I have always had an interest in the strange and unusual and I’m a romantic by heart.  So how did I come into writing, you ask?  Well, I stumbled into it.  Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened.  I never pictured myself as a writer but sometime in 2011, craving some kind of excitement and adventure in my life; I jotted down a few notes for a book idea and never looked back.  Funny part is, the notes I wrote never became a book, instead I took on subjects as wolf-shifters and angels and created their worlds and I have loved every minute of it. 

I write passion-filled paranormal romance- weaving tales of alpha males willing to do anything for the one feisty, curvaceous, strong-willed woman who has won their heart.  They will go to any length to please their mate, in and out of the bed.

·         What type of books/stories do you write?

I write Paranormal Erotic Romance and Contemporary Romance.  My male characters can be wolf shifters or Guardian Angels and they are all loving, protective, strong, alpha males.



·         What does the start of a project look like for you? (Where do your ideas come from, what prep work do you do before starting a new project, any writing rituals, planner or pantser, etc.?)

I am a pantser.  I get a general idea for a book or a series and I go from there.  When I sit and write it is because I got inspiration for a particular scene in a book.  This inspiration can come from anything:  something I hear on the radio, an event that happened to me before, or even sometimes, a dream I had that would make a great scene in a book.  I start writing these scenes down, placing them where I think they would be best in the book and then one by one, they start falling into place and a book magically appears.  It’s really amazing how it all comes together and just from my thoughts and ideas.

·         What did your path to publication look like?

Well, I never pictured myself as an author.  Frankly, I figured writing was a hobby and never considered it a career but when my full-time job became tedious, writing took me away to new adventures.  It tapped into the buried passion I have inside of me and unleashed it into words, sentences, paragraphs and eventually published books.  I sent my first book, Nightfall, to publishers and agents without a hit and then I shelved it until a year later, I tried again and landed a publishing contract within days of inquiring.  Opening my e-mail to find a reader who not only enjoyed my work but loved it enough to offer me a publishing contact was amazing!



·         Is there anything that you’ve learned through the process that you wish you’d known at the beginning?

I wished I had the opportunity to have a mentor.  There is so much to learn as an aspiring writer that no one teaches you.  With a mentor, they can show you the basics and advise you so you can find and build on what works for you, faster. 

·         Do you have any tips/tricks/resources you’d like to share with other writers?

Marketing is key.  If you find something that works, stick with it.  There will be times when you might have tried a blog tour or a review site and you come away feeling like you wasted your money.  That’s okay.  It was a learning experience.  Try another site or company and keep moving on until you have a list that works for you.



·         What part of the writing process do you find most exciting?

When I can actually sit down and write, it’s a lot of fun for me.  After writing for a while, I find the characters amuse me and I will find myself laughing at their quips or antics that I write down.  What started as an outlined scene in my head changes as I write sentence after sentence.  It’s quite thrilling how this occurs and the final product is always better than I imagined.

·         What part of the writing process do you find most challenging?
Finding that extra time and having the energy to write.  I have a full time job and several family responsibilities that take up a lot of my free time including weekends. As a result, I am drained most of the time and it’s a process of “psyching” myself up to sit down and write a new scene.

·         Any new work from you we should be watching for?

My next book in the Guardian League Series, Aeron, Book 4, is expected to be released in October 2017.  I am currently writing Book 5- Orion and hope to have this published sometime next year.



·         What’s one piece of advice you’d give new writers?

 If you want to write, go ahead and do it.  Don’t let anything stop you from pursuing your dreams.

Thanks, T.K.!

If you want to find out more about T.K. Lawyer, you can check out her website. She's also on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

You can find her work for sale on the Foundations Books website, or through these links:

Jasper (The Guardian League, book 1)
Centurion (The Guardian League, book 2)
Apollo (The Guardian League, book 3)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guest Post: Planning with J. Ross

Today's guest post is from indie author J. Ross, who wants to give us some insight into planning a story.



Have you ever tried writing while having a full time job? If you haven’t, let me be the first to tell you that it is one of the hardest things that you can ever do.
This is my second year teaching elementary school, and to call the job demanding would be an understatement. Grading papers, writing lesson plans, filling out paperwork, meetings before, during, and after school all take most of your time and energy; and I haven’t even mentioned the time it takes to answer all of the emails and texts from parents! One of the biggest blessings, however, is that I am the Reading/English Language Arts teacher. Which means that my focus is on teaching the writing skills that I use in my (for the moment) side gig as a novelist.
I loved teaching my fifth graders my favorite part of the writing process: the planning process. As I taught, I was hit by the realization that if I want writing to be my full-time job I needed to really put some time and effort into the planning process. The book that I published over the summer, General Leila, is one that I actually wrote in 2009. For that book, as well as much of my writing since then, I’d relied largely on the “write when you’re inspired” model of writing. I realized, as an adult with a full time job, I’d need a more structured approach to writing in order to spend what little time I do have to write productively.
Teaching my fifth graders last year really allowed me to see how important having a plan was. Especially considering that I usually have a million story fragments and ideas floating around in my heads. Actually seeing the words on the page helps to make sure I focus on the one story that I’m working on. I had my students start with several ideas, then choose one idea to work on, and from there,create a plan of action. Since my students were only writing short stories, a five-paragraph essay format was a good enough plan for them.
With that thought in mind, my first step was to decide how I was going to do my plan. Was I going to write out a detailed chapter outline? Write bullet points? Do character sketches? Was I going to put all of this into a separate document on my computer?
After some consideration, I decided to use a hybrid method. I basically wrote out an outline of the story on paper, with blurbs of the major plot events.



This way, I was able to cross off what was done, as well as add details or new plot points as I needed them. Mapping out the plot like this allowed me to quickly see holes that needed filling or if certain characters needed more fleshing out. Having the paper beside me as I write also makes it easier than clicking back and forth between documents on my computer.

One of the things that I had to help my students with was actually using the outline to figure out what was important to add in the story. They always wanted to just jump into writing, which invariably ended up with them writing a disjointed story rather than an outline. Forcing them to slow down and really plan made a huge difference in their drafts.
By the same token, I had just been inspired with a new story when I decided to use this process, so I was anxious to start writing. But I forced myself to slow down and really focus on having a solid plan for what I was going to write. I wrote character names, background information, specific details, all in a rough plot map.
It definitely paid off.
Using this method, I wrote 20,000 words in about two weeks, something I had never done before. Normally I had to wait on sudden bursts of inspiration to write three or four pages, and then I might struggle for weeks to continue. I was extremely excited, and I can’t wait to see where else this story will go!
Now that the first two weeks of school are over, and both myself and the students have adjusted to the new school schedule, I’m going to pick up my computer and my notepad and get back to work. With my plan in hand, I’m confident that I’ll have another book ready to go in the next year or so!
If you’d like to find out more about me and my work, feel free to find me on Facebook! My novel GENERAL LEILA is available on Amazon and CreateSpace.com.