Sunday, March 26, 2017


I don't, in general, think that I'm a very funny person.

Part of it is anxiety--being funny, to me, is a very spontaneous thing, and I am so bad at being spontaneous in conversation. I like to know and--to a degree--rehearse what I'm going to say before I say it. It's a trait that makes me pretty good at giving presentations, a fair actor, and handy to have around in a situation that requires intense listening and digesting information.

But love-of-God, don't rely on me for a witty observation.

Even though I'm not particularly funny, I do think I have a decent sense of humor. I love to laugh, and I appreciate a well-executed joke.

And I really enjoy quips.

Banter between characters is one of my favorite things in narratives. When I play a video game (which, for me, essentially means when I play either a Dragon Age game or a Mass Effect game), I spend a lot of time wandering around aimlessly just to hear the extra conversations the writers put in for the characters. I love the extra bits of backstory I get from these exchanges, the little quirks of character relationships that aren't dealt with in the main narrative.

And I love it when characters snipe at each other or share quick jokes. A fast-paced exchange between sharp-witted characters is one of my favorite types of dialogue.

That being said, when I watch TV--particularly when I watch sitcoms--I get a sense of...let's call it quiplash.

 Every media maker that I talk to--authors and publishers, playwrights, screenwriters, everyone--talks about how little time there is to catch a consumer's attention. It seems like I've been hearing about people's (and my generation's, specifically) shrinking attention spans for years.

I get it. There's a lot of consumable media out there, and we can get to most of it at a push of a button. There are so many options that, if something doesn't grab us right off the bat, we've got a dozen other things to try that might be more interesting. I understand the pressure to show off what you can do as soon as you can.

So you fill the first five minutes with jokes at a mile-a-minute pace to prove that you've got a ton of them. No danger of running out of funny here.

Maybe this works for some folks. But for me, it feels like being pummeled. There's no room to breath, no time for a joke to settle. The next quip has come and gone before I've had time to realize that I was supposed to be laughing at the first.

To me, it comes off as a little try-too-hard. Sort of like when I try to work a million ideas into one story.

I do that when I'm afraid I'll never have another solid story idea. Maybe sitcom writers line up the jokes like this because they're afraid they won't have another chance to tell them? I guess I can understand that.

But there's something to be said for letting a joke breathe. Giving your audience a chance to appreciate the moment. Or for letting a joke build--working up to a well-earned punch line. Letting a joke repeat while upping the stakes each time (the comedic rule of three is a beautiful thing). There's so much that a joke can accomplish if it's just allowed to take its time.

There's something to be said for being able to laugh without feeling like someone is trying to slap you around with a joke book.

But then, I'm not really funny, so what do I know?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Switching Gears

I did more or less what I predicted I would do last week. I took some time off. I played some games and read some books.

But I also spent a lot of time with Project 2016, going over it just one more time before I put it away (for now).

I'm trying to ease back into a normal schedule by doing some day job work today. This hasn't been fun, exactly, but the transition has been smooth. What's weird is the shift I'm having to manage in my writing work.

I made it through the draft of Project 2016. It's time to let it sit and to work on something different. And it's not like I'm lacking other things to work on: a part from two more books set in the same universe as Project 2016, I've got a short story with an April deadline that's only about halfway done.

I've got a pretty clear plan of what I've got to do. The story has to come next. I've done the outline and some of the work. Also, you know, there's an actual deadline by which a publisher wants it. It's super clear what I need to do.

But I'm having a hard time pulling myself out of the world of Project 2016 to focus on a different world and a different set of characters. It's not that I don't like the story--I was jazzed enough about it to successfully pitch it, and I wrote the first half of it pretty quickly. It's a good story. Or it has the potential to be, at least.

The problem--such as it is; I imagine I'll work my way out of this funk soon enough--might be that I've spent so much time in the Project 2016 universe. It's been more than a year since I started revamping the project. I've taken breaks here and there, but it's been most of what I've written in the past year. And that universe and those characters are going to be at the center of my next two major projects. Project 2016 lives in every crevice of my brain all of the time. Shifting my focus, even for a month, to work on something totally unrelated is daunting.

I can do it. I've done it before. And, to be fair, I need to shake things up--to get away from the big project for a while so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

It's always rough to move to something new after so much time devoted to a project. I'm not so good at making the shift, but I'll manage.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


This week, I plan to be lazy.

Lazy is relative. I'll still be working--both paid labor at the day job and the unpaid (and seemingly unending) labor of polishing the manuscript. But I'm going to take it easier than usual.

Two of the three schools that I work for are on Spring Break this week. I have maybe two hours worth of prep work to do, rather than the usual five or six. There's no writers' group meeting this week. My spouse doesn't have a show this coming weekend. In comparison to my usual schedule, this week is practically a vacation. I plan to make the most of it.

I'm not very good at the whole work-life balance thing. When I'm describing this characteristic of mine in job interviews, I usually call it "being self-motivated." In the middle of the week, when I'm lamenting the fact that I have to teach a six-class course load to live comfortably, I call it "desperation." I don't mind work. I understand that achieving goals requires a combination of sweat and kismet. But it's hard to keep the pace that I have to.

So, I'm trying to actually take some time from working this week. I've set aside two books that I want to read (I'm about a quarter of the way through the first). I'm checking out times for movie showings. I've figured out where I put my copies of the Mass Effect trilogy so that I'm ready to go when the next installment comes out (there's a lady Turian in the trailer--I'm already in love).

I'm probably being too optimistic with my leisure plans. I've met me. I'll likely find some way to spend hours grading or obsessively scrolling through my work email. I know I won't be able to leave the manuscript be this week. And I still have a project due in April that's not quite done.

But I'm going to take a comparative break. I'm going to be lazy.

And it's going to be awesome.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Best* Books of 2016*

Two months and five days into 2017 sees me trying to catch up on my reading goals. For the second year in a row, I'm participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. The idea is that you set a goal for the number of books you want to read during the year, and Goodreads keeps track (provided that you've input your reading into the site). This is a bit difficult for someone like me who holds three jobs and is, depending on the point in time, trying to write or trying to get representation, but I managed my goal of 25 books last year.

I have plans for some of the books that I want to get to this year, and I think, even though I'm already behind, I should be able to make this year's goal--30 books this time. For today's post, though, I wanted to focus on some of the books I read last year.

I titled this post Best Books of 2016, but that comes with a couple of caveats. The first is that, when I say best, all that really means is that these books are the ones I enjoyed the best. Tastes in books are subjective, but if you've been reading this blog for this long, it's fair to guess there might be some overlap in your tastes and mine. The second is the "of 2016" bit. Only three of the five books on my list released in 2016, but I read them all during 2016, so close enough.

Here's my list, in no particular order:

(Also, I'm including Amazon links to all these books, in case you want to do some reading of your own.)

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is not the type of book I normally pick up. I tend to shy away from books that take place over the course of centuries because I tend to get lost in the historical details and miss the individual characters and their stories. Gyasi managed to weave together multiple stories in such a way that, even though each character really only gets one chapter, they lived and breathed. Aside from the storytelling itself being riveting, Gyasi's prose is some of the most beautiful that I've ever read.

Other fun facts: Gyasi is roughly my age and grew up in the same town I did, so that's pretty cool.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This book was recommended to me by one of the beta readers for Project 2016. I was familiar with Chambers's work at The Mary Sue, and I'm pretty much always looking for good soft science fiction that stars women, so this book was a hit with me. Chambers does a great job giving you a sense of the different species that inhabit her universe, and she takes the time to show the different social arrangements of other species in such a way that it explains their actions and motivations. This book is the first in a trilogy, and I've already preordered book two, which comes out this month.

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

It probably comes as no surprise that I am a big fan of Matilda--both the Roald Dahl book and the 1996 movie. I follow Wilson on Twitter, so I caught the announcement of her book of essays pretty early on and knew immediately that I had to get my hands on it. Wilson's sense of humor is sparkling, and she addresses issues of loss, childhood, and mental health with remarkable deftness. I'm not a crier in general, but this book hit me hard a couple of times. It was easily one of my favorite reads last year.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I missed this book when it first came out in 2013. I was in graduate school, and if it wasn't one of the books that I had to read for my classes, I pretty much missed every novel that came out. I finally got around to reading Fangirl in December and tore through it in a couple of days. As someone who's dealt with levels of social anxiety that range from inconvenient to incapacitating, Cath resonated with me. Books like Fangirl are why I will always read YA. I'm ten to twelve years removed from the "target" audience of this book, but I cared so much about the characters and their struggles--they felt familiar and honest in a way that sometimes Adult novels don't.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I'm sort of cheating twice with this one. I read the paperback version of Nimona last year, but I originally read it in twice-weekly installments when Stevenson originally posted it online a few years before. This is also not a novel in the traditional sense. Nimona is a graphic novel--a comic. The thing that I admire most about Stevenson's writing is her ability to pace a story. Some of this might be by virtue of the medium: the mechanics are different when you're using the combination of images and words and panel shape and size to communicate than when you're using words exclusively. Even so, there's never a moment where you feel like you're spinning your wheels, waiting for the story to pick up. Stevenson's characters are also captivating and complex--she's able to explore morally grey areas without falling into the trap of being aggressively grim-dark.

And that's my list for 2016! I didn't set out to create a list that only included books by women, though I'm sort of pleased that the list worked out that way. One of my goals for 2016 was to read more books by women--I looked at my shelves and saw rows and rows of men's names, so I made a conscious effort last year to pick up more work by women. I'm trying to continue the trend this year--reading more women and, especially, more women of color. We'll see how well I do with that next year. In hindsight, I'm so glad I made the effort to seek out more books by women--otherwise, I could have missed one of these amazing books.