devarae: (labyrinth)
I can tell that I am having a relatively good winter because I have not needed to go out and buy myself consolation tulips to remind myself that Spring is Coming. Though of course now that I've written that, I am consumed with the need to have tulips in the house. [Edit: And now I do. Lovely pink-and-white striped ones.]

But even so, I am really looking forward to April, when the first crocuses and squill start to push up through the snow!

In the meantime, here's what I've been up to in February:

~Writing~
I finished a draft of a NEW BOOK! NEW! Not a revision or a rewrite. NEW!

I am blissfully overusing caps because it feels SO GOOD! The last time I finished a first draft of a brand new book was in 2011 -- since then I've been rewriting and revising that book (which does not have a home yet, alas) and working on various false starts.

Of course, the new book is by no means a perfect book. In fact, I suspect it needs a significant amount of work. Especially the parts where I left behind notes to myself like "Insert major turning point here that will explain why X happens later."

So I spent the second half of the month working on a new outline, brainstorming, reading and re-reading craft articles and books on structure. One of my goals with this revision/rewrite is to really focus on staying true to my characters, and to ensure that the plot is driven by character choices and motivations.

And now that it's March, I'm diving back in again. Wish me luck!

~Reading~
2014 continues to be an excellent reading year for me -- not just the fact that I've been reading more, but the books have been awesome! I keep wanting to take pictures of my to-read pile because I am so excited about all the great books waiting for me.

Here's what I read in February:

Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
(Adult Biography) I found this fascinating, sad, inspiring, and disturbing. I have been a fan of Millay's poetry for years, but I never knew much about her life. This is a dense book, but filled with excerpts from letters and diaries. I found it particularly interesting to read accounts of how much of a... glamour... Millay seemed to possess, almost literally enchanting the men and women she encountered. But it was also a bit hard to read in places -- especially those where Millay was dealing with poverty, interpersonal drama, and addiction. Still, a fascinating and truly gifted person, who was fiercely dedicated to her art.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
(Adult Fiction) I loved several of these short stories (including the first two, which was what sucked me in!) and found the writing to be beautiful and evocative throughout. Several of them (the titular "Interpreter of Maladies", "A Real Durwan", "Mrs. Sen's") were a bit too bitter/unresolved for me to really *enjoy*, but they have continued to ripple through my thoughts, and I think perhaps I need a bit more time to fully decide how I feel about them. My overall favorites were "This Blessed House" and "The Third and Final Continent."

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
(MG Historical Fiction) I enjoyed this every bit as much as the first -- I very much hope there will be a third book! I love the Gaither Sisters!

The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet
(MG Fantasy) Magical, charming, quirky, lovely, and *beautifully* written. I especially loved Maya, who makes mistakes and has faults, but is strong and funny and wonderful. I ached over her worries, especially the ones about her mother. And the vicarious trip to Paris! Both the story and the writing style reminded me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (a Very Good Thing, for this reader).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(MG Fantasy) Deserving of all the accolades. One of my favorite Gaiman books so far. I loved the concept (an orphan being raised in a cemetery by ghosts), but I loved the characters even more.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
(Adult Historical Fiction) This had the feeling of some of my favorite comfort reads, though the WWI and post-war trauma elements added some considerably more uncomfortable moments (as they should). I found it interesting that while Maisie had to deal with a lot of adversity of situation, she is one of those characters (like Anne Shirley) who seem to be almost universally loved by the other characters in her world. Some readers might find this "unrealistic" but I didn't mind. I look forward to reading more in the series!

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
(YA Science Fiction) I enjoyed this even more than the first in the series-- I have a soft spot for "school" books and protags with math/science/tech leanings, and I enjoyed learning more about the world and political structure (even if some of it doesn't entirely make sense if I look at it too closely).

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
(YA Fiction) Amazing voice. The ending did not entirely work for me, but the rest of it made up for that and more.

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro
(Nonfiction/Memoir/Writing Life)
This book worked best for me when I could nibble it off in small bits. There were many essays that I loved and felt instantly true, and others that I found less applicable to my experience of the writing life, as they felt a more oriented toward someone who writes for a living (and does not have a day job, as I do).

~Playing~
One of the best things I did in last month was to spend several hours sliding and flying across a beautiful desert landscape toward a mysterious shining mountain, piecing together the story of a lost civilization, accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.

Otherwise known as playing the game Journey.

It was just as amazing as promised by those who recommended it. I kind of want to bring everyone into my living room and sit them down and make them play it now, too.

Admittedly, I don't play a lot of video games -- the only one I've completed recently is Sword & Sworcery, which I also loved. In fact I had a stronger personal emotional reaction to S&S (for spoilery reasons) than Journey. But Journey was just plain beautiful to play -- the music, the art, the atmosphere, the story. And in many places it evoked a sort of effervescent joy I never would have expected from a video game.

I don't want to give too much away, but if you have a Playstation and haven't tried Journey yet, or if you are just curious, there are some screenshots and movies on the website I linked above. And if you've already played Journey -- I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did you play it in the online mode? Did you play it more than once? (I kind of want to go through a second time now).

(Special thanks to Gavin and Jenn, who both raved about Journey on Facebook, and convinced me to try it out. Jenn also blogged about it here and here, with some fascinating links to articles about the game, storytelling, and the concept of "flow").
devarae: (labyrinth)
A miscellany of things that have gotten me through this often-cold, often-gray month:

Steampunk Fractals. Go look here!

Making patterns. I would love to see a live performance by this artist!

Knitting! I finally managed to dig out the hat I am working on and figure out how to read a chart (or at least this not-especially-complex chart). I haven't gotten to my first cable stitch, but I am on the way!

January was a really excellent reading month for me -- I managed to finish 11 books in a variety of genres and levels (1 picture book, 1 adult non-fiction, 2 graphic novels, 6 YA and 1 MG). I'd love to keep it up all year!

Two of my favorites this month both have "Summer" in the title, a fact I had not realized until I started typing up this blog post. Apparently my brain is eager for winter to be over! But they are also really good books, so I wanted to mention them here...

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Of everything I read in January, this is the one that has been staying with me most strongly. This MG historical juggles so many different elements: life in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the Black Panthers, family dynamics, sisterhood, art, poetry. But I think the reason I loved it most was the protag, Delphine. She's just plain awesome, from her fierce dedication to taking care of her two younger sisters (even when they don't want to be taken care of) to her sense of humor and wry observations, to her deep wounds and need to be an 11 year old girl. The only reason I'm not reading the sequel right now is that I'm saving it as a reward for my next writing milestone!

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
I loved Stork's earlier Marcelo in the Real World, but I think I might actually have liked this one even more. Pancho doesn't necessarily invite the reader to love him, and yet I did, no matter how prickly he was. And I appreciated the absence of false sentimentality, especially involving D.Q., the boy dying of cancer who could easily have been played purely as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Boy but was much more real.

January was also a good writing month, as evidenced by my latest stickers:



One sticker = 500 words. I'm on the downward slope with this draft, and hoping my momentum will propel me to a finish in February.

I hope January was kind to all of you, too!
devarae: (labyrinth)
I kept trying to put together a "Favorite Books of 2013" post but I just couldn't do it. It was a really good reading year and I read so many wonderful books. So instead, here's a few books I read and loved in the past month or so!

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
If I had to pick one favorite book of 2013 this would be my choice. I'm not sure it would work for everyone but it worked for me. The two things that initially drew me in were:
(1) the main character is an artificial intelligence that once controlled a space ship, as well as hundreds of "ancillaries" created from the bodies of people taken from planets annexed by a sprawling intergalactic empire. Now she's down to just one body, and is on a quest for revenge.
(2) the sprawling intergalactic empire doesn't differentiate for gender in either dress or language (although they do have a concept of male and female, and seem to be some far future version of humanity). This is represented by the main character using "she" and "her" to refer to everyone, except when speaking in a local language where gender is relevant.
I feel like reading this book made my mind bigger-- stretched it out in ways I hadn't even realized it could be stretched. But it was also just plain fun, and I really came to feel for Breq (as the spaceship calls herself in her single form). There's not a lot of big action, but I loved the tension as Breq slowly reveals the painful, heartbreaking events in her past that led to her present situation. This book tells a complete and satisfying story, but I am definitely going to be watching for Leckie's next book (coming later this year I believe), which will continue the story of these characters and their world.
[Adult Science Fiction]

Champion by Marie Lu
This was the third and final book in a trilogy (following Legend and Prodigy). I actually read all three in the past year, and loved them all very much. The two main characters June and Day have wonderfully distinct voices and perspectives (which can be a stumbling block in some dual POV books). I love how the entire series explores power and choice, and doesn't try to give any easy answers. And that while there is a quite lovely romance, it doesn't dominate the plot.
[YA Science Fiction]

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
This was a great year for third books! It is so hard to write a compelling book, let alone a compelling SERIES, but I adored every one of the Kat books, including this one. I love how Kat herself continues to develop -- growing older and wiser but still remaining as spunky and loyal and fierce and wonderful as she ever was. I especially loved how so many of the ongoing character threads were brought together in this book, and resolved in a way that was satisfying and believable. If I were queen of the world I would commission another three books about Kat and her sisters!
[Middle Grade Historical Fantasy]

These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
This one had a lot of buzz and for me it totally deserved it. I downloaded a sample to my ereader and immediately had to go buy the full book. Very readable! [YA Science Fiction]

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
I think my fairy book-mother was looking out for me on this one. I was in one of those states when you know you want a particular type of book but you aren't entirely sure what. I kind of wanted something light and fun, maybe a little like Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, or Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. And I found this, which ended up being perfect: a teen hearthrob boy meets a girl poet from a small, seaside Maine tourist town via a mistaken email about a pet pig, and they become friends (without actually knowing who each other are). Then boy tracks girl down, and hijinks ensue. [YA Contemporary Realistic]

What have you read lately and enjoyed? I still have some holiday gift certificates to spend! :-)
devarae: (labyrinth)
As Inigo says, there is too much, let me sum up.

The summer here in Maine is so beautiful I want to revel in it, make every moment count. (Actually, that statement applies to life in general, but is particularly evident when the weather is splendid). So in my non-dayjob and non-writing time, I've been kayaking, picking strawberries, visiting friends and family, swimming, walking in the woods, and glorying in the summer fruits and veggies.

I've also been reading a lot and accumulating a long list of things I want to tell people about (books, blog posts, podcasts). I'll save most of them for later posts, and focus on just three, because they are connected in that strange and wonderful way that things sometimes are. In life, as in writing (and mathematics!) I love it when unexpected patterns suddenly blaze out into significance. It's like I can suddenly hear a tiny bit of the song the universe is singing.

This most recent unexpected pattern sprang out of a sorrow. My grandmother passed away last month. She had a long and rich and happy life, and it was not unexpected, but it was still a hard thing. When I was packing for the trip to New York for the funeral, I decided to bring two books.

One was non-fiction, a collection of letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which I had discovered via the wonderful Brain Pickings blog. I'm still working my way through the collection, but I already knew I wanted to own a copy after the first few pages. Vincent (as she calls herself) is a fascinating character, coming so early into relative fame as a poet, traveling to Vassar for college, maintaining vibrant correspondence with other poets and her beloved mother and sisters. I have a particular interest in Millay as she grew up in Camden Maine (very near one of my own childhood homes, in Rockport Maine). I also discovered that one of my favorite modern poets, Mary Oliver, was deeply influenced by Millay and even helped organize her papers, as well as also attending Vassar for a time!

I had only learned about Brain Pickings because a friend had posted a link to this interview with Maria Popova, who writes Brain Pickings. And the quote that made me go subscribe to Brain Pickings was what Ms Popova says here:

Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.

That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession – it’s something that gives me enormous joy and stimulation, so I do it a great deal, but I don’t know if that constitutes expertise.


Drawing connections! Finding patterns!

The other book I brought with me was ROSE UNDER FIRE, a companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, which I read and loved last year. You don't have to read CNV to follow the story of RUF, though RUF does spoil certain plot points in CNV so if you've an interest in reading that, you should probably read it first. I ordered my UK copy from The Book Depository because I couldn't wait for the US release on September 10th!

And I loved it -- perhaps even more than I loved CNV. I found it a hard book to read, because of the honest depiction of human cruelty and brutality. But it is full of such wonderful characters, such love, such true friendships. RUF is the story of a young woman pilot (American, this time), helping the Allied war effort during World War II. Rose is a poet, and it is poetry that helps sustain her (and the other women she meets) during some horrible, harrowing times. Her own poetry, but also that of one of her favorite poets-- Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Then, at the funeral, my uncle asked me to read a poem as part of the service. A poem by Millay. In fact, one of the poems that is quoted in ROSE UNDER FIRE.

I know some patterns are actually probably just coincidences. But I still love them, especially at a time when I am all too aware of death and endings. I think drawing-- seeing, finding-- connections is one of the best things we can do as living, loving creatures. It's part of the reason I write. Because to me, telling stories is also about finding patterns, understanding connections.

So thank you, Grandma, for helping me find patterns. For helping me love the world a little more.

~~~

One of my favorite poems by Millay:


I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed will escape my door
But by a yard or two, and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand;
I shall be gone to what I understand
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung;
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.


~~~

And here's a question for the writers out there: if you're working on a draft of something, and you get maybe 75% done and then realize that you want to go back and substantially change some core element that may impact character motivations and subtle stuff (the WHY) in the last 25%, but won't necessarily change the actual events/plot points (the WHAT) do you power through and try to write the last 25% or do you go back and do the rewrite of the beginning first?
devarae: (Anne)
This has been an awesome reading year so far for me. That's partly good fortune, and partly because I've been doing a bunch of re-reading of old favorites (Anne of Green Gables, The Darkangel, The Blue Sword, and an ongoing re-read of the Brother Cadfael series). Actually I want to try to organize my thoughts on the pleasures and benefits of re-reading but I will save that for another post. Because this one is about new discoveries.

First up: I was lucky enough to get an early look at Amy Butler Greenfield's beautiful new YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS, which features musical magic, terrifying mind-flaying ravens, science and a determined heroine making her own destiny. I interviewed Amy about the book here on the Enchanted Inkpot. CHANTRESS just released yesterday and Amy shared a lovely, inspiring post about her writing journey on her own blog. If you are struggling with a creative project, go read it. If you like YA fantasy, English history, music, hard choices, and complicated, slow-burn romances, go read CHANTRESS.

Second, I just finished reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, which is a YA novel set in 1986, about two teen misfits who meet on the schoolbus and fall in love. I loved this, and not just because it features the music of my teendom (The Smiths, The Cure, U2, New Order) and X-Men comics. It reminded me of a John Hughes movie (in a good way). Eleanor is a smart, prickly, poor, fat (or at least, big enough that she gets bullied for it), white girl dealing with a really rough family life. Park is a quiet, music & comic-loving, half-Korean boy trying to live up to the expectations of his macho dad. It's not a perfect book (in particular, I need to think some more about the portrayal of Park's family, though I am so happy to see a hot Asian boy as the romantic lead in a popular novel). But it was perfect for me, and it might be perfect for you too!

One of my favorite quotes: “Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”

Note: ELEANOR & PARK does feature some pretty mature content and language. And a lot of dark stuff mixed in with the romance and funny bits. And the ending may not work for everyone (it worked for me though). Actually, I really want to talk about the ending with someone else who has read it! I am very curious what other folks think of it.

I know what I think the three words are. But I don't want to spoil anything more here...

Also, I am super-excited by the looks of Rainbow Rowell's next book, coming later this year: FANGIRL. It's got cover art by the fantastic Noelle Stevenson, which brings me to...

My third recent reading recommendation! This one is easy to check out because it is free and online: Noelle Stevenson's webcomic Nimona. It's about heros and villains, science, best friends who are now enemies. The titular main character is teen shapeshifter Nimona, who wants to be the side-kick of supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, who was once lawful before having been betrayed by his former best friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the golden boy of the kingdom.

It starts here.

Stevenson is also the artist behind the highly amusing Broship of the Ring.

There you are. Go forth and read!
devarae: (labyrinth)
There's still a few days left in 2012 so it's possible I might squeak in one last amazing book or movie (I still haven't seen Les Mis, for example), but I will risk it and post this anyway, in case one of you is looking for something to spend holiday gift $$ on!

~Six Excellent Books~
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
YA historical fiction. The story of two girls who are part of the British war effort during World War II. A fantastic portrayal of friendship, sacrifice, and finding humanity in the midst of brutality. I can't say too much about the plot because it is twisty and layered and there are surprises and reversals. But it starts out with one of the girls writing her "confession" to her Nazi captors. There is a wealth of historical detail which might be overwhelming to some, but I loved it. If this book works for you, it will rip your heart out and then give it back to you, a little broken but a little brighter, too.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
YA fantasy. A brilliant and gorgeous fantasy setting, with some of the best world-building I've read lately. The title character has a marvelous voice, telling her own story with humor and prickly charm. Some of the blurbs about this book give away a certain plot element you might want to discover on your own, so read them with care. The short version: Seraphina is a musician in a kingdom of humans who have had a long and conflicted history with a race of dragons. The dragons are almost Vulcan-like, valuing logic and science. But the dragons can also take human form, and in that way experience the span of messy, dangerous, fascinating human emotions. This makes for a marvelously rich and nuanced political setup, which Seraphina needs to navigate from her unique position, to try to preserve peace between the races and keep safe those she loves.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Adult Science Fiction. A giant love letter to video games and 80s pop culture. As a child of the 80s, I loved it. Wade Watts has to live up to his alliterated superhero name and find an Easter Egg hidden in the most popular virtual reality game in the world, to claim the enormous monetary prize, which he desperately needs to improve his own wretched life (and to keep an evil corporation from taking over the game). Fast-paced and funny.

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Nonfiction. Sooo dense, but worthwhile! It took me the better part of the year to get through this, but it was a fascinating exploration of happiness and finding satisfaction in your life. "Flow" is the author's term for the optimal experience of getting so absorbed in an activity that you lose your sense of time and gain a sense of being fully present and engaged in life in the moment. Some of the most interesting sections discuss how these "flow" activities are (surprisingly) not mindless entertainments, but active work: surgery, chess, mountain climbing, listening attentively to music, running, even daily chores.

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
MG historical fantasy. More of the delightful tale of Kat, a Regency-era girl with a large, lovably-flawed family and new-found magical powers. Full of humor and adventure, but also quite a lot of heart. I was especially impressed by how well this book worked as a sequel, reminding the reader what happened in the first book (Kat, Incorrigible).

American Primitive by Mary Oliver
Poetry. Simple, stunning, gorgeous. Most of these poems feature imagery from the natural world, but they also raise profound questions about humanity and how we live our lives.

I read many more books that I enjoyed this year, including a number of re-reads of old or recent favorites. I've avoided re-reading in the past, but decided this year that it would both be fun and also useful from a craft perspective to try to study how my favorite books do what they do. And I am glad I did!

My full 2012 reading list is here. I'm afraid there's not a lot of detail in my "reviews" but you can generally assume that if I finished it, I found something about it compelling!

~Six Songs~
Little Furnace by Jim Guthrie (Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies)
My love for this song is mixed up with my love for the video game it is featured in (see more on that below). There's something sad and sweet that gets me every time.

3326 by Olafur Arnalds (Eulogy for Evolution)
A shortened version of this song was featured on So You Think You Can Dance this year, which is where I first heard (and loved) it. Stark and emotional, even harsh in places, but beautiful.

Invocatio by Irfan (Seraphim)
Short but hauntingly beautiful. I love many songs by this Bulgarian group, which reminds me a lot of another favorite band, Dead Can Dance, and it has become a staple of my writing soundtrack for the book I've been working on for the past two years.

Infinite Legends by Two Steps from Hell (Invincible)
Listening to this makes anything you are doing more heroic and epic. Even chopping carrots or doing the dishes. The entire album is worth a listen if you like this one.

Starlight by Muse (Black Holes and Revelations)
This just grabs my heart.

In the End by Snow Patrol (Fallen Empires)
I seem to have a thing for slightly melancholy yet fast-paced songs. The video is quite cool too!

~Six Other Entertainments~
THE LEGEND OF KORRA
This animated series is the follow-up to what I currently feel is THE best television series I have ever watched, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The new series has the same glorious animation and complex Asian-inspired world as the original, with the added interest of being several decades in the future and thus now featuring more advanced technologies. I love Korra herself: strong, loyal, impulsive, (over) confident and yet still struggling with some of her Avatar powers and responsibilities. And I am so thrilled to see a character like Lin Beifong: a tough, middle-aged, metalbending woman in a position of authority (Chief of Police). The pacing is a bit too quick for my tastes, and it seemed to me that everything was wrapped up too easily and abruptly in the end. But I blame that on the network, which only ordered the single season at first. (Which seems crazy to me, given how popular the first series was! I wonder if it was due to concerns that a girl MC could not carry the show?). Thankfully they have now ordered three more "Books" of the story, so I hope that the creators will be able to slow things down a bit.

WRECK-IT RALPH
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this animated film about the "bad guy" from a video game trying to become a hero for just a little while, but it definitely exceeded my expectations, especially in the variety of female characters and themes. This post on The Mary Sue pretty much says everything I would, but much more coherently, so I will point you there.

THE GOOD WIFE
A show about lawyers and corrupt politicians isn't normally the sort of thing that calls out at me, but after reading a number of positive comments from friends, I did finally check this out. And I am so glad I did! The acting is top-notch, and the character interactions and relationships subtle and complex. And it explores so many fascinating questions about gender issues and ethics, and presents a number of diverse characters (including my favorite, Archie Panjabi's Kalinda Sharma, a fearless, intensely private, somewhat misanthropic investigator who breaks my heart when she does show the cracks in her fierce shell). Also, it's got Alan Cumming, who I would watch reading a phone book. Even if he has an American accent here!

THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES
A re-telling of Pride and Prejudice developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su, in the form of a video blog by modern grad student Lizzie Bennet. There are currently 75 short (3-5 min) videos, with more on the way about twice a week, as well as tumblrs, tweets and videos by other characters. For anyone familiar with the source material, these are so much fun! I love seeing how the story has been adapted to the modern times, and the acting is quite amazing (especially Ashley Clements, Julia Cho, Laura Spencer, and Mary Kate Wiles who play the four main characters, Lizzie, Charlotte, Jane and Lydia). I am really looking forward to how some of the remaining pivotal plot points are interpreted in this modern setting!

BOARD GAMES
There are so many more cool and fun board games available these days than I remember as a kid. I mean, I did love CLUE, and had fun playing Balderdash in college. But they are nothing like the cool (mostly German-made!) games I've discovered in the past few years. My parents and brother moved to Maine over the summer, and we've been getting together with them to play all sorts of new games: Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Agricola. We also just got Dominion and Risk, and are looking forward to trying those out.

SWORD & SWORCERY
Up until this year, I had not touched a video game in at least a decade, possibly two. As a kid I played ZORK on my grandpa's cassette loaded PC, Lode Runner on our AppleIIe, and occasionally a round of Street Fighter2 or Gauntlet. But then I got into LARPing and ended up focusing all my gaming energy into that. Then, this year, I read this post on the Mary Sue blog about a game called Sword & Sworcery. The suggestion of a faintly tragic storyline, the description of how atmospheric the game's art and music are, and the fact that the main character was a warrior woman known only as "The Scythian" all compelled me to check it out. Bob and I ended up playing the entire game together, alternating the role of mouse-clicker to send the Scythian exploring her lovely, magical world, fighting wolves and dark horrors, and learning more about her "woeful errand." And by the time we finished, I had somehow put a part of me into the game (I still am trying to figure out how that happened, since it is a quite simple game and you don't actually learn all that much about the characters). I was kind of useless for several days after finishing, poking around the internet for fan art and listening to certain songs over and over again. And there are even some elements of the game that have worked their way into my brainstorming for my next book project (more on that in a future post, perhaps).

The art is simple (the Scythian herself is a rather retro, pixelated little figure), but oddly compelling. Here's an example:

ScreenshotFromSwordAndSworcery [Click to embiggen]

So that's it!

And if any of you have your own favorites to suggest I would love to hear your recommendations (especially for fantasy/sf/YA books and atmospheric writing music. Bonus points if it's world-music inspired like Dead Can Dance!). I have some gift cards for bookstores and iTunes ready to go!
devarae: (Default)

I was chatting with some friends about reading, right around the new year when resolutions were in the air. “Read more” or “Read X books” seem to be goals for a bunch of folks, and it reminded me of the Dark Times.


As in, the years when I was not a Reader.


I started off as a Reader. My wonderful mom read me Tolkien on cross-country car trips, I got piles of wonderful books as gifts from relatives, and I visited the library constantly. My parents were extremely generous in letting me buy books too, and willingly carted me around to numerous used book stores in search of that one Sheri S. Tepper book I just couldn’t find anywhere else (Jinian Footseer! Has anyone else read those? Gosh I loved them…)


Then I went to college. And it was a wonderful place where I met some life-long friends and got to delve deep into all sorts of fascinating things like Topology and Chaucer and Arctic Studies. So I was reading, yes, but not nearly as much fiction, and not nearly as much for fun. And somewhere along the way I kind of forgot how to be a Reader. So once I was done with college and grad school, and off puttering around at my shiny new job, I didn’t really get back in the habit right away.


I still read, but probably only about ten books a year. And I know that sounds like a lot to some people, but it was a fraction of what I used to read. And worse, I wasn’t really excited by what I was reading.


Like I said, they were Dark Times.


It took a deliberate effort to remind myself how I used to read: voraciously, joyfully, widely, and deeply. And even more effort to take steps to change my reading habits and break out of the slump.


So, for anyone who wants to read more, and to enjoy reading more, here are ten things I did, that you can do:


1) Surround yourself with books. Literally. Keep books beside the bed. Take books in the car, in your purse or backback, on vacations. Keep a book on the coffee table so you can read during commercials while watching television. You’re not going to read if you don’t have books around you!


Here’s some of the books I’ve currently got surrounding me:


New books I've aquired lately


That’s a mix of books received as gifts, books purchased, library books and used books!


2) Take advantage of libraries. Get a library card at the most convenient library to you. I pay a yearly fee for a membership at the library in the town where I work my day-job, because I can walk over there at lunchtime to browse, and because that library has an excellent online interface (unlike my small, free, local library). Take out lots of books. Take out more than you think you can read. The point is to give yourself options! When you hear about a book that sounds interesting, request it (I have the library system website bookmarked so I can do this with just a few clicks). And with interlibrary loan, most every book I look for is available. Many libraries also now offer eBooks and online downloads of audiobooks!


3) Visit your local Bookstore. Not all bookstores are created equal, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore run by folks who really LOVE books, take advantage of it! Look for shelf talkers and “Staff Picks” notices. Ask the staff for suggestions. Check to see if there are frequent buyer programs. But please remember it’s not a library. If you want read the whole book, buy it!


4)Buy used books. I usually stick to buying used books by authors who are dead, because I want the money I actually spend on books to support the authors I love so that they can keep writing. But there’s also something magical about puttering around the cavernous halls crammed full of books. You never know when you’ll discover some hidden treasure! And if you are ever in Connecticut, do try to visit my favorite used book store. It’s amazing!


5) Ask friends what they’ve read and loved. One of the most challenging things for me in re-kindling my love of reading was finding good books I actually enjoyed reading. And asking for suggestions from friends has been, by far, my most reliable way of finding new books to read. Of course it works best if you have friends with similar tastes in reading!


6) Check out book blogs. As above, the goal here is to find out about great books. If you don’t have family or friends to make recommendations, try to find other folks who do. There are tons of wonderful, passionate readers online talking about books of all genres. For example, here’s a Sampler Set of kidlit-related blogs. Or you could try poking around the Book Blogger Directory or Kirkus’s Book Blogger Network.


7) Check out Awards and Lists. Again, this can be a great way to find new books. If you like a certain genre, go check out the awards and notable books lists for that genre. For Young Adult books there’s the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and Printz awards. Kirkus, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly all feature “Best of…” lists every year, in a variety of genres.


8. Try Shelfari/Goodreads/LibraryThing. Me, I use Goodreads. It can be a scary place for an author (I try my best to avoid actually looking at my own books) but for a reader, these online social reading sites can be a wonderful place to find new books and new reader friends. There are also discussion groups devoted to specific genres and authors, book giveaways, and more. I have to admit that the neurotic, achievement-oriented part of me also really likes being able to track how many books I’ve read each year!


9) Listen to Audiobooks. I always try to have one audiobook in my car, and one on my iPod, to listen to while driving, walking the dog, cooking, folding laundry, etc. It’s got to be the right sort of book — the kind you can enjoy even if it’s only ten minutes at a time. But it’s a great way to fit reading into a busy schedule! And if it’s a really good book, you might find you get a lot more chores done, heh.


10) Don’t be afraid to stop if you don’t like something. The fastest way for me to get into a reading slump is to get stuck on a book I’m just not enjoying. Because if I start to dread picking it up, I read less, and then I don’t move on to other books I might actually enjoy. Sometimes even a good book just isn’t the RIGHT book at a particular time. You can always come back to it later!


So there you go! Ten Steps to Reading More (And Hopefully Enjoying it!)


What about you guys? How do you stay out of reading slumps and keep yourself excited about reading?




April 2017

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