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Writing discipline and winter woes

It’s amazing how much of a difference discipline makes. If I write every day, I feel like I can write. If I skip a couple of days, I feel irritated and discouraged and completely depressed. It doesn’t have to be a lot of daily writing. In fact, I realized a sad fact about myself that I cannot produce pages upon pages of words a day. I write what is essentially the near-perfect draft, but it wrings me dry.

I have these lofty aspirations of sitting down and really banging out some story in one sitting, or making like fifty drawings in one stretch, but the truth is that the end result is probably going to be me making a sketch of something vague or writing 500 words and then feeling like my brain has been emptied.

Lofty aspirations are way too lofty, it seems.

I’ve always thought of myself as a morning person, but these days I can barely get out of bed. The idea of having some kind of work schedule is irritating because it is largely guided by other concerns rather than my own self. I am planning on taking a few days after Christmas off no matter what my traveling plans end up being. I need to not do what I do every day for at least a week.

This has not been about books so far, so for the sake of everyone who reads this blog because of books, let me mention a couple of latest YA reads: Sara Jaffe’s Dryland and Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’. Both are pretty good, although Dryland did not quite stay with me as much as Dumplin’ did. Jaffe made an interesting choice of not using quotes for any of the dialogue, and while it seems like a purely stylistic issue, it does give the narrative a more personal, diary-like feel. Dryland might be just one of many coming out stories, but the thing with coming out stories is that one cannot really have too many. Coming out still happens and is still important and is largely uncomfortable and painful for a lot of people.

Funny how I spent more time talking about the book that didn’t stay with me than about the one that did. Let me just say that everyone should go read Dumplin’. That book is everything that is right with YA these days.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to first opera and then Renaissance (William Byrd etc.) music. I think it did something to my brain. I’m going to go read some near-future thriller to bring me into the present time.

Readings: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I bet a lot of reviews of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On start with ‘I don’t really read fan fiction’. Well, neither do I, though not because I think it’s rubbish. Once upon a time I read fan fic, but I am no longer so deep into my fandoms that I seek extra stuff related to them. It’s also a time and reading online issue. I tend to forget about the fact that one can read things electronically. And so fan fiction needs to materialize as a real book for me to pick it up. Enter Rainbow Rowell with Carry On.

KRJF7220Carry On is a fascinating book because it’s sort of a self-aware, meta fan fiction. If you have read Fangirl, you will recognize the name Simon Snow, as he is the character in protagonist Cait’s fan fiction. Carry On does not hide the fact that it is fan fiction and in fact offers some interesting insights into its source (Harry Potter), as well as into main themes of said source (being the chosen one, prophecies, having a Scooby gang (sorry, mixing fandoms here) to help you save the world from evil dark things, and so on). Fan fiction gets all kinds of disdain from people who think it’s a low and silly form of literature, but let me be clear, Carry On is a good book regardless of its provenance. If I never read Harry Potter, I still would have loved Carry On. There are familiar Potterverse elements in it, but there are also differences and extras that give the book its own character (which is really what good fan fic and good books are all about).

Most of the reviews I’ve read stress this particular fact to convince the unbelievers – look, fan fic can be good! It can be published as a ‘real’ book! But there is a much more important side to Carry On. It fills the uncomfortable and very noticeable blank space that Harry Potter books have when it comes to queer characters. Sure, Dumbledore might be gay, but he was openly ‘outed’ after the fact, so to speak, and the only relationship of his mentioned in the books does not take place in front of our eyes. There are really no LGBTQ kids in the books (at least none I can think of), either out or rumored to be queer. I love Harry Potter, but LGBTQ characters is one of the few things so visibly missing from that universe. And so thank magic for Carry On, where queerness is very much there, in all its beauty and sweetness.

Blurbs, the gritty edition! I consume Abercrombie, Sternbergh, and Hurley

half-a-kingJoe Abercrombie’s new book is marketed as YA, I hear. In Abercrombie’s world, it seems the only difference is that there isn’t as much swearing. The first 30 pages seemed ordinary enough that I was starting to worry a bit, but no, Abercrombie did not disappoint in the matter of plot twists and well, plotting. Half a King could be the perfect gateway drug to fantasy for some unsuspecting teenager. It reminded me of my first foray into fantasy with Tad Williams’s Dragonbone Chair (I’m not counting Tolkien, oddly enough, as I got into him much later), though it is definitely grittier. You will have to wait a few months for this one, as it is not out till July.

shovelreadyShovel Ready wins the award for the Largest Number of One-Word Sentences in a Novel. It might also be the only book written about a garbageman, albeit a former one. Great narrator, fun read, but I can’t say it really stayed with me. I think it’s really my current overload with dystopian settings, though I did enjoy snappy narration (and I am normally not a fan of one-word sentences and one-sentence paragraphs) and noirish elements. It would probably be quite excellent as an audio book.

I came home one night after an absolutely exhausting work week. I got some bourbon (Bulleit, if you are wondering), and looked through my books. I picked up a couple of books: one turned out to be too depressing, another one turned out to be a lackluster version of something I had read years ago. Then I realized I’ve had God’s War sitting on my shelf ever since it came out, and I never got around to reading it.

godswarIn short: guys, it is not perfect, but it is complex and smart. It has kick-ass women. Oh, and everything runs on bugs. This includes all tech. Which makes certain kind of sense: there are a lot of insects, why not use them to produce fuel, or to heal (we are starting a bit smaller, see here about bacteria that can repair its own radiation damage). The book is also an interesting mix of both sci-fi (tech) and fantasy (people who have affinity for manipulating bugs are called magicians). Besides the world-building, what makes God’s War an example of great speculative fiction is its hard look at gender, religion, and the necessity (or lack thereof) of war.