Random Things

I didn’t really have any intention of posting today, but since I was scheduling a post for tomorrow, I thought I’d at least let you know what I’m reading.

The Book of Apex: Volume 4 edited by Lynne M. Thomas

Black Bottle by Anthony Huso

Both are insanely good and I’m having trouble sticking with one and keep going back and forth which means reading is taking forever, but it’s so enjoyable.

Tell me, what are you reading today?

The Book of Apex Volume 4

Black Bottle

Books I will be reading

In 2013, I read The Last Page by Anthony Huso which came highly recommended by Elizabeth at Darkcargo. She said it was one of her favorites and I now know why. It’s so good that it’s really hard to describe so you should just go read it. It’ll be easier on everyone that way.

So, as it turns out, Huso wrote a sequel to The Last Page, which I have — Black Bottle. I’m hesitating with this one. You know when you read a book and you love it so hard that all you want to do is read the next book in the series and jump back into the world but you can’t because you’re afraid that it might not meet your high expectations and you’re all what do I do!?

I’ll now take one for the team and read this and let you know what happens.

The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine. Here’s more.  Don’t you want it too?! You do. I’ll be reading and posting about this in February. Get excited. I’m reading this now and it’s amazing.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This book has been on my shelf since the day it came out, the same day I ran to my favorite neighborhood bookstore and bought a copy that I’m pretty sure I hugged all the way home. I started the book and gave up on it. I was sad but another person revealed to me that she too quit, not being in the right state of mind for it. She had something with that statement; I shrugged off guilt and put it back on the shelf. It’s now time.

I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall way back. I finished it; I didn’t love it. Everyone seemed to though. So what do I do? I buy the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, because not liking the first is the perfect reason to buy the second. I’m going to read this one. I won’t promise to like this one  but I’m going to read this one. I’m beginning to sound like I’m torturing myself but I’m not. I love all thing Anne Boylen and I’m promised heads rolling. Hello, the title — Bring Up the Bodies.

I’m taking another online course starting in February and this time the focus is fantasy and science fiction. The class on historical fiction was great, you’ll be getting some reviews on those books soon too, and I’m looking forward to this one. I’ve already read several of the books listed on the syllabus but that doesn’t mean I can’t re-read a few. Come on Dracula and Frankenstein, bring on Wells, Bradbury, and LeGuin!

There will be more…

My Best Reads of 2013

Each year, I dread the coming of December 31st. No, it’s not the ending of another year, or the fact that I’m one year older. It’s the simple act of picking favorites! I have many, too many. So, as I’ve done before, I’m picking my favorites by month. It makes the list long but it’s the only way. This only way I tell you!

Let’s get this underway, shall we.

January

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss: I love, love, love this series. If you haven’t read Rothfuss yet, you need to fix that in 2014.

Hellboy: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola: I seriously love Hellboy. I do.

February

Faithful Place by Tana French: Honestly, anytime this woman writes anything, I’m going to read it. She’s that good.

The Shunned House by H.P. Lovecraft: My first foray into the world of Lovecraft and it was a success for me.

The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck: I went on an old school kick with vampires and loved it.

March

Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell: I’m enjoying the series and need to pick it back up again in 2014 because a new book is coming out and I need to catch up. I’m too far behind for my liking.

Clockwork Phoenix 4 edited by Mike Allen: An amazing collection of speculative, fantasy, and science fiction by some master storytellers. I know I’ll be picking these stories up again and again.

April

Palisades Park by Alan Brennert: What feels like a simple tale of everyday life is really a fantastic story full of the dreams that make life wonderful. Every part of this story feels very close to home thanks to some incredible characters.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: Mythical creatures trying to fit into 1880s New York City become of a reflection of the immigrants around them.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish: If you want new fantasy, this is the book for you. There’s a sequel coming and I can’t wait for it!

May

Advent by James Treadwell: I wasn’t so sure about this book but then I got to the end and immediately wanted more. I’ll be looking for the sequel next year.

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht: Oh. My. God. Seriously. It’s brutal and amazing. I want more and will be getting it.

The Black Country: A Novel of Scotland’s Murder Squad by Alex Grecian: A cup of tea, this book, and a dark stormy night. All you need.

June

Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson: A suspense filled historical mystery, and when you throw in a complicated relationship and some murder, you have a great story.

Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones: Why did I wait so long to read this!?

The Last Page by Anthony Huso: I have the second book and am holding off reading it. This book was so amazing that I’m afraid I set my expectations to high. I’ll soon see.

July

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: Wow. Mr. Gaiman is the master. Every time I pick up one of his books I’m amazed by his ability; he weaves words like no other.

Kindred by Octavia Butler: Another why did I wait so long book. Amazing.

August

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon: I’m putting this on the list because it was a good first novel and I want more the crazy world she created. I think she’s going to grow with the second book.

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin: I held off because I didn’t love the forth book as much as I wanted to but this one made up for all the wrongs of the last one.

Sabriel by Garth Nix: So, so good.

September

The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen: I admired the collection he put together in Clockwork Phoenix 4 and I was curious about his personal writing. He tells one dark, twisted, and amazingly satisfying story. I’m looking forward to his second book.

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen: I didn’t think it was possible to be a bigger fan but Mrs. Poe did it for me. Lynn Cullen tells one entertaining and slightly dark story that is amazing to the last page.

October

This House is Haunted by John Boyne: All the creepy!

Four Summoner’s Tales by Kelley Armstrong, Christopher Golden, David Liss, and Jonathan Maberry: I didn’t get a chance to talk about this one at all this year but these tales were dark, depressing, and perfect reads for October.

The Love Artist by Jane Alison: I read this for a class on historical fiction and it was everything I expected and more.

November

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: I’ve read a few of her books now and she’s one I’d recommend to people wanting interesting historical fiction.

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green: An old school mystery worth a look.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: The third book in the Gentleman Bastards series and it was so worth the wait. If you aren’t familiar with the series, start with The Lies of Locke Lamora and you’ll soon find out why Lynch fans are so loyal.

Fever by Mary Beth Keane: A fictional characterization of the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary. A sad story in many ways but I never felt sorry for the characters who were so feisty you wanted to see them fight to the bitter end.

December

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo: A story of the afterlife told from the perspective of a not yet dead young woman faced with heartbreaking decisions. A truly fabulous story.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield: A long awaited book after The Thirteenth Tale which I absolutely loved. This was also a satisfying read.

Vampires Don’t Sparkle edited Michael West: The Little Red Reviewer reviewed this one and I immediately bought it and read it. It’s so marvelous and if you want your vampires to be, well, real vampires, this is for you. It’s a great collection.

The Descent by Alma Katsu: I’m cheating with this one a bit because I probably won’t finish it by the end of the year but I’ve been looking forward to the final book in this series for a long time. It officially comes out in January and if you’ve read the first two books, you’ll want to read this one too.

That’s all for 2013. Read anything good you want to share? I have a whole calendar to fill for 2014.

Reading on the train

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and yesterday was no different. I decide that to make my life easier, I’d take the train to a meeting in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, a winter storm made east coast travel difficult so I spent the afternoon waiting in line but ultimately got on the coveted train. It was crowded but I found an open seat, right next to a person who was reading a very big book. It was a pleasant ride to Philadelphia, snow and all.

Defying all logic, I decided to see if I could hop an early train home instead of spending the night, as a rational person would. Obviously, I enjoy unpleasant travel situations. Once more, I found a seat next to a reader. He was reading on a tablet, but hey, he was reading.

You may notice a pattern — yes, I actively search for people reading when looking for a seat on the train. I find they make better company. No offense to anyone but I’m not one for small talk in tight spaces.

On the final leg of the trip from Baltimore to DC, the conductor in my car smiled at me and said, “You see a lot of people reading, but not real books anymore. It’s all those fancy ebooks now.”

I smiled back and said, “I have a soft spot for the paper kind.”

“Nothing beats the feel of a real book in your hands,” she said.

We nodded and smiled. She was so right.

My book of choice was Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield. I’m enjoying it. It’s very different from The Thirteenth Tale, which I loved, but I’m remembering what a great storyteller she is with this one.

I’m also slowly making my way through Doctor Who: The Essential Guide which was a great birthday gift.

Now that my class is over, I’m planning to start dwindling the TBR and writing some reviews. Yes, I have lots to write about.

Quiet on the reading front

The last week’s been busy, and while much was started, nothing was accomplished. This includes a few blog posts as well…

I started an online course on historical fiction this week and somehow managed to not finish reading one thing even though the reading was interesting. A few articles and chapters here and there were perused but nothing was finished. I find this so frustrating. The good thing is that the required books for the course look very interesting so I’m looking forward to starting those.

One thing that I know is going to get me out of this funk is The Republic of Thieves Read Along.  If you’re not familiar with Scott Lynch go now and read The Lies of Locke Lamora and then Red Seas Under Red Skies. Once you finish those two books, The Republic of Thieves will be waiting for you. I have this book queued up and plan to start it later today, damn that class reading. (Actually, I plan to finish that reading too; that’s the kind of rebel I am.)

Reviews have been sorta non-existent for a bit here but I do have one to share — This House of Haunted by John Boyne. My review is over at The BookReporter. It’s a good ghost story for October (hint, hint).

I’ve been doing this yoga challenge that requires me to get myself out of bed for a 7am class several times a week. I’m not (NOT) a morning person but I have been very relaxed of late which is maybe why my lack of reading focus isn’t bothering me so much. It’ll be interesting to see how November turns out with all the traveling we have planned. The good thing about those cross country flights is that they provide several hours of uninterrupted reading time. Looks like I’ll have time to catch up on a few things, next month.

Now, I have to go buy a pumpkin.

Sunday

I thought I’d do a re-cap of recent posts and throw in some links for fun.

First, I had the chance to interview Barbara Friend Ish, an author and independent publisher. We talked about creativity and the writing process, the business of writing, and books (of course we did!): part 1, part 2, and part 3.

I reviewed The Black Fire Concerto by Mike Allen. A great read for October. A snippet:

A post-apocalyptic place unlike the world we know. Where people eat the flesh of ghouls under the misguided belief it will prolong their lives. Where magic, light and dark, exist. Where machines are a thing of the past but knowledge of their misuse has shaped the sad state of the present. A place where humans hide not wanting to live out a half-dead fate if bitten by a ghoul. A place ruined by storms that scorched the land and transformed its people. A place where music can shape destiny. A place of creatures shaped by magic. A place full of fantastical landscapes. A place to instill wonder and fear.

My review of Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen appeared over at The Book Reporter. Another snippet:

Frances Osgood’s life is already complicated when she meets Edgar Allan Poe. Admiration, quickly followed by deep attraction, sends the two on a strange journey. Knowing they can’t have what their hearts both want, they deny their love and yet find themselves in a very complicated relationship that neither knows how to get out of — or if they even want out.

I also spoke to The Book Reporter about the National Book Festival which I attended a few weeks ago. My thoughts. Hint: I liked it.

On Tuesday, I’m starting a new class on historical fiction called, Plagues, Witches, and War. I’m getting excited about it so don’t be surprised to see posts about all the strange things I come across.

Have a good one readers.

Part three of my interview with Barbara

Today is part three of my interview with Barbara Friend Ish and we’re discussing the future and some books. Part one of this interview is here and part two is here.

Amy: Barbara and I discussed this first question a bit in this post, which actually led to this interview.

Amy: As we’ve chatted about briefly in blog comments, change is never easy but a necessary part of life. What are you looking forward to most in 2014?

Barbara: To finally having a healthy creative life. If I very nearly broke my creativity over the past few years, the experiences I’ve had and the things I’ve learned have taught me so much about the business that I no longer feel I must bring the business stuff into my creative space. I don’t worry about those things any more; they’re a job I know how to do. And after so many years of putting the needs of others ahead of my own creative work, whether as a parent or as a publisher, I finally have the opportunity to put making art in the center of my days.

I’m also looking forward to increasing creative work with my most recent business partner and creative collaborator, Rachael Murasaki Ish. By 2014, all the work we do will be our individual projects, joint projects, or the business stuff involved in bringing our creative work to market. We’ve spent the past several years getting the kinks out of our professional relationship; now we’re ready to have fun.

Amy: I love sneaking a peek at people’s bookshelves. What are you reading right now and is there a book you can’t wait to get to?

Barbara: I just finished reading Scott Anderson’s brilliant Lawrence in Arabia, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. As a public-school kid I got far too little 20th century historical education, and it has made clear a lot of things that were fuzzy to me. That has led me to pick up T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which is much richer for that context.

As for reading I can’t wait to get to: I missed out on a lot of fiction, particularly genre fiction, during the past few years. There just wasn’t time for pleasure reading. I am very much looking forward to the leisure to read for pleasure again.

Amy: OK, I can’t let you leave here without asking a most important question. What is your favorite book? And yes, it can be more than one.

Barbara: Oh my! So many favorites. Novels that are special to me include Patricia McKillip’s lovely Riddle of Stars series, which finally came back into print a couple years ago; Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, in part because Pynchon sees your genre definitions and just doesn’t care; and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion. I remain in love with my personal memory of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, because I read it when I was still a young enough reader that it couldn’t make Editor Brain twitchy. As so often happens, my memory of that series is more pleasant than the experience of re-reading.

Nonfiction that lights me up includes Campbell’s venerable The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Hughes’ Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, and Fred Allen Wolfe’s Parallel Universes. Really, I could go on. Are we friends on Goodreads? You can find me here

Thank you so, so much for inviting me to chat! It’s always such a treat to talk with you.

Amy: And thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for me. It’s been so much fun working with you on this little project. Now, I have to go find my copy of Lawrence of Arabia on my shelf, google a few books…if you need me, I’ll be reading. 🙂

Talking with Barbara, Part Two

Today is part two of my interview with Barbara Friend Ish, author of The Way of the Gods series and publisher over at Mercury Retrograde Press. Today, we’ll be talking about her books. Part one of this interview where we talked about the writing process, is here.

Amy:  I enjoyed The Shadow of the Sun immensely and I’m looking forward to the second book in The Way of the Gods series. Can you tell us a bit about The Heart of Darkness? Anything interesting we have to look forward to? What’s Ellion up to, or should I say, what kind of trouble is he in now?

Barbara: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the ride, and it’s truly kind of you to say. The Heart of Darkness picks up roughly an hour after the end of The Shadow of the Sun, and all hell breaks loose in short order. This time there are four points of view: Ellion, Iminor, Letitia, and a new character, Leahy. Ellion is still arguing with—well, pretty much everyone. Iminor is unbelievably mad at Letitia. Along the way we’ll encounter traders, pirates, wizards and a variety of unsanctioned practitioners of magic, smiths, priests, shapechangers, and gods: some of whom we’ll meet in the underworld. And Nechton, of course.

You may be surprised by the number of people trying to kill Ellion. Then again, you’ve met him, so you may not. 🙂

Amy: Can I just say, PIRATES! I can’t wait. Thanks for sharing that tidbit. 🙂

Amy:  The first book in The Way of the Gods series is a very vivid story — characters and landscapes that I picture very clearly. Have you ever thought about making it into a graphic novel?

Barbara: I think that would be a really fun project! But I’m not particularly handy with a pencil, so someone else would have to do the drawing. I get the sense from artists I’ve spoken with that a graphic novel is such a huge enterprise from the visual side that anyone capable of drawing one would rather be drawing her own work. Maybe I just haven’t encountered the right artist yet… 

Amy: The business of writing. I hear people say this a lot, some in respect to the habit of writing itself (writing as if it were a job) and the actual business stuff that goes along with writing, like taxes, etc. For you, it’s been a much different journey, especially in your role as an independent publisher. Can you talk about the experience of being a writer and a publisher and what led to your starting Mercury Retrograde Press and the decision to close the press in 2014?

Barbara: Writing is a business—but first it’s an art. I think showing up in the study every day is an important practice because it keeps the creative juices flowing, but to expect to hold an artist to production schedules is destructive, and results in lousy art.

That being said, once a project is in the can, it is a product, and selling it is a business. Also, and I am far from the first person to say this, an artist is a brand. (Ugh. But it’s true.) And that brand must be managed and promoted, and those too are business activities. These activities on the business side of the writing life absolutely should be managed as business; it’s appropriate to set goals (though for your sanity and the sake of your creative life, it’s important to set goals that are within your sphere of influence) and schedules and budgets. But it’s important to do all of it with the understanding that, when those business practices come to have negative impact on the creative side of the operation, the business is slitting open the golden goose.

Where did this albatross around my neck come from? Ahem.

You’re right, though: I’ve had a different business journey in this area than most writers. For years I was a writer and an editor—first as a freelancer, then as one half of the consulting team of Be Mused Author Services, a company dedicated to providing education and services to self-publishing authors and small press publishers. Be Mused was a long time ago: before Kindle and CreateSpace and Smashwords had even been conceived. We all still thought Amazon was a benevolent entity. Independent publishing was a wilderness, and my business partner and I spent a lot of time trying to teach publishers and self-publishing writers how not to make a complete hash of what they were attempting. And I spent a lot of time editing novels over which I had no control, because I was just an independent contractor.

It used to make me crazy. Anybody who has seen a Mercury Retrograde Press book knows my standards are, um, high. And here were all these self-publishing authors pulling the plug on the editorial process long before those books were ready for market, whether because they were tired of the editorial process or for reasons I can’t imagine. I still shudder to think of my name being associated with some of those projects.

Meanwhile, of course, I had long since become convinced that independent publishing was the future; watching mainstream publishing implode in the nineties and analyzing what had gone wrong made it clear to me that the only way to do art was at smaller scale. I had reluctantly concluded that there was not likely to be a match between the work I wanted to do as a writer and the sort of risks big publishers could afford to take for years, possibly decades, to come. So the question of what my ideal publishing house looked like was already rolling around in my head.

Finally these two sets of frustrations came together: I realized the only way I was ever going to be satisfied by the work I was doing as an editor would be if I was the publisher as well: if I was the one who got to say when a work was or was not ready for the world; if I got to say when I was prepared to put my own name on it.

It was far from my first start-up business; it wasn’t even the first time I’d been one of the principals. It was, however, the first time the vision of an enterprise was wholly mine.

I never doubted that the work I was doing mattered. Mercury Retrograde became a safe port for high-risk projects and writers, and I was happy and proud to create that haven. Throughout Mercury Retrograde’s life I was continually engaged in troubleshooting the problems of small press publishing for participants on both sides of the desk—and the problems of artists trying to operate in a business setting. Year by year we improved what we were doing; by this year I had absolutely cracked the code on how to operate a publishing business that could be healthy for everyone involved, in a way that could be sustainable long-term. The only flaw in the plan was that it required a full-time publisher, not a part-time one. And I knew I couldn’t live that life, because I am a writer first.

It made me very sad to realize I needed to shut Mercury Retrograde down. And it also saved my life. Artists can’t thrive if they can’t do their best art. Running the best publishing house in the world is doubtless someone’s best art, but as passionately as I loved the idea, it wasn’t mine.

Amy:  What was your most memorable moment as a publisher? What will you take away from the whole experience?

Barbara: Oddly, my most memorable moment as a publisher had to do with the publication of my own work: the day we started taking wholesale orders for my novel. The two halves of my professional life had collided in those orders coming off the fax: as a publisher, I had a book that was exceeding expectations before launch; and the book in question was mine. It blew my mind.

There are so many lessons and blessings I will take away from my Mercury Retrograde years; I’m profoundly grateful for the experience, and for the support of the people—notably my husband and family—who made it possible. All the things I learned from Mercury Retrograde will make it possible for me to move forward with the business side of my writing life with confidence, and they have made me a better editor as well. More than anything else I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made on the journey. I know so many writers who go to conventions and book festivals to work. I get to go see my friends. I may work my tail off while I’m there and come home exhausted, but I do it in the context of a community to which I belong. Any geek can understand how profound that experience feels.

Amy: Join us on Sunday the 29th as we wrap up part three of this interview with some talk about the future, and of course, books.