Mini Review: Into Other Lands

Even writing my last post on inspiration, it still took me until last night to realize that if I wanted to stop moaning about not writing, all I needed to do was clear off my desk, make a cup of tea, open Scrivener, and write. Funny how the brain works. I can give the exact same piece of advice to my billions of readers (ha) without actually applying it to myself. Reflexivity is important, kids.

It’s been a while since I did a mini book review, but I recently read a book so electric that it made me remember I write book reviews. Without further ado….

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Reading Into Other Lands, it was as if Sarah Rees Brennan was staring directly into my soul while writing and crafted a book For Me. What is there to love about this book?

  • The snarkiest main character I’ve ever read. I’m talking snarkier than Artemis Fowl, snarkier than Merlin (BBC), snarkier than…than a character whose dialogue tags regularly end in “they snarked.”
  • A critical view of what it means for a main character to be, actually, a complete asshole.
  • A narrative that follows the three main characters yearly from 13-17.
  • Did I mention it’s about a boy who is chosen to go to diplomat school in another land while summering in our world? And his best friends are a Badass Elf and a Typical Hero?
  • Goes from humorous inversion of stereotypes to nuanced deconstruction of societal value systems as the characters age.
  • Gut-bustingly funny. Gut. Bustingly.
  • Oh yeah, and queer. But you probably should have assumed that.
  • Dips from lighthearted parody into intense cultural critique like a sine wave.
  • A romp reminiscent of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. The spirit of the book, that is, not the plot.
  • Mermaids.

This is one of those books that, half-way through, I realized would probably be put on my “all-time-faves” list, which is a rare thing. In the future, I will likely purchase a copy to keep and stare at and stroke lovingly. In short, it’s a good book.

Writing Inspiration

Did I completely forget about this blog in the chaos of quitting jobs, starting jobs, and wrestling with grad school planning? Yes. Yes I did. Whoops.

I’ve been feeling pretty drained in regards to writing lately in light of the above. Most of what I’m working on lately is drafts of my statement of intent. I could really use some inspiration, so…I’ve decided to make a post about inspiration!

What are my sources or modes of inspiration?

  • Music. I have a gigantic playlist composed of all the songs I’ve ever downloaded, and when I need to get in touch with a story I put it on shuffle and see if the songs that play match the story/theme/characters/etc.
  • Art. I keep an inspiration tag on my Tumblr, and it’s mostly art and photography that inspires me, either that relates to something I’m writing or that I could easily see myself working into a story of its own.
  • Sleep. Sometimes, a lack of inspiration or motivation is exhaustion. That’s certainly been true for me in the last few weeks. If inspiration can’t come, or it comes but you can’t follow it through, try just sleeping. (This wisdom comes paraphrased from my best friend.)
  • Museums. I believe in serendipity. When I walk museums (of all kinds) I see things that slot naturally into story webs, or even start weaving their own.
  • Re-reading. I am a big believer in re-reading (or re-listening). I am currently re-reading The Raven Cycle on audio book because it is October and I heard the narrator’s voice in my head. I just re-listened to The Goblin Prince, re-read the Virals series, and I am constantly re-listening to my favorite podcast, Dames and Dragons. Fresh input is necessary to keep the creative springwater fresh, but remembering and loving favorites is just as important.
  • Talking to friends. If you can stand the mortifying ordeal of being known, talk to your friends — this includes but is not limited to other writers. If you have problems, they might have answers. Those answers will likely be automatically wrong, but this will get the story-churning gears grinding and you will often find the answer you’re looking for anyway.
  • Write something entirely new. Bust out of your usual genre. It’ll build character at the very least.
  • Tea. A cup of tea in my hand will induce me to write if I make the cup of tea with the intention of writing while I drink it. Tie your ability to create to a physical impetus, there’s no way it’ll go wrong.

Sources of inspiration are innumerable, elusive, and changeable. But if you can nail down some constants, you’ll have something to turn to in times of drought.

 

Bookmarks Book Festival

During my Spanish conversation group on Friday, my friend mentioned she was going to Winston-Salem over the weekend to see VE Schwab. “WHAT?” I demanded. “VE SCHWAB? 1.5 HRS FROM ME?”

It was true. 1.5 hours from me, VE Schwab, along with Becky Chambers, Dhonielle Clayton, Ibi Zoboi, and many others, would be at the Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors. Any other plans for my weekend evaporated on the spot.

Saturday was a bit of a dream. I heard VE Schwab and Dhonielle Clayton speak at the “Monsters, Magic, and Warrior Women” panel, got a copy of A Darker Shade of Magic signed, saw Becky Chambers speak at two panels, and generally had a fantastic time. My friend drove in to meet me, and I think she had a good time too, despite it being a bit out of her wheelhouse!

Oh yeah, and the festival had an amazing opportunity called “Slush Pile Live,” where three editors gave feedback on 300 words of submitted writing (if they got to yours in time). I was incredibly nervous: both for them to either not read mine, or for them to read mine and absolutely tear it apart. Luckily, neither happened! Mine was read, and I’m a bit proud to say it’s one of the only ones that they didn’t have any major critique of, other than one slight wording change : )

The festival was such an impromptu, incredibly valuable experience. I came out of it with a list of books to read (of course) and some awesome writing advice. Here are some of the best quotable tidbits (paraphrased), from the “Monsters, Magic, and Warrior Women” panel, which included Cinda Williams Chima, Dhonielle Claton, VE Schwab, and Megan Shepherd:

  • Everyone should be allowed to take up space at the center of narrative, not at the fringes. As much as a reader should be able to see themselves in a narrative, of equal importance is the narrative seeing you. — VE Schwab
  • Books/narratives are both mirrors and windows. –Dhonielle Clayton
  • In regards to advice to young authors: figure out how you’ll make a living to support yourself aside from writing, so that you won’t value your work based on weather you can sell it. –Cinda Williams Chima
  • There are no tricks to getting published, only writing a very good book. –Megan Shepherd

I’ll save a discussion of advice regarding the actual writing process for another post 🙂

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Wonderbook Reflections (thus far)

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I’ve been thinking more about craft in the last two weeks than I probably ever have, on a variety of levels. I’ve both been investigating the intersections of creative writing and ethnography (anthropological writing) and powering through Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer, an amazing tome on writing SFF.

It lives up to its name. Full of interviews, guest essays, art, and diagrams, it’s a fascinating and exceedingly useful read on the organism called a story. It’s also making me realize that even though I’ve been reading fairly nonstop since I acquired the ability, I have a long way to go! My to-read list grows with every piece of writing Vandermeer dissects. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wonderbook comes with built-in writing exercises that prompt you to interrogate things like structure, tone, characterization, etc. It’s a blast. My primary viewpoint while reading  has been my goblin novel (henceforth referred to as “Wynn”), of which I have a first draft and am wrestling with the actualization of a second. In a way, Wonderbook came to me at just the right time, because I’ve been facing some conundrums concerning just those things Vandermeer deciphers (characterization, pacing, structure, penguins with guns, etc.).

Some of the most interesting thoughts Wonderbook has provoked for me are matters of time and urgency:  when to cut things, when to introduce elements of conflict. Vandermeer suggests experimenting with opening and ending a story closer and closer to critical points: how close to the climax can you end your story? How close to the inciting incident can you start it? What happens when you move things up in a story that you had planned to happen down the road? These are some of the thoughts I’m taking with me into the second draft of Wynn.

Writing and writing and writing

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^^^ Was given a Star Trek mug at the cafe this morning…an extremely good sign.

I totally thought this post would be a week late, but it turns out that’s just because I was so relaxed and productive the last two weeks it felt like longer! I spent my vacation hanging with family, reading seven books, and, oh yeah, WRITING LIKE THE WIND.

I wrote four drafts of my queer minotaur retelling feat. Theseus’ lesbian sister Aristomache back to back. As in, I finished one, opened another document, and started to tell it again. I’ve never had a story seize me like that, like “no rest til perfection” intense, like Aristomache herself would leap from the screen and beat me over the head if I didn’t get it right. After a week and a half of non-stop drafts, I finally arrived at something close to the best version. My initial issue had been a question of tone: to go formal or casual. I wrote both of them, then wrote another combining their best points. Then I sent it to people to read and haven’t so much as glanced at it.

Then, though my soul called for me to write yet another draft, I cut myself off and started worldbuilding for the first scifi story I’ve ever written. I can still hardly believe it’s happening–it’s SO much fun. Something clicked for me when I read the Binti series by Nnedi Okorafor a few months ago, and this world has been percolating ever since. It takes place in the year 2639, includes a way cool gender system, satellite nations orbiting the earth, and a lot of fun wordplay. It takes place in Venice, which obviously means I must go to Venice for research, right? Right.

To all the writers out there, I wish you an equal surge of productivity and inspiration!

(Also, I’ve made an instagram @evgiaconia if you’d like to see a billion pictures of my computer and tea.)

Beach Writing :)

How to have a good time in Florida: sleep all day. savor hour long thunderstorms hovering directly over house. exhaust self in ocean 2 hrs per day. find two dead fish in swimsuit (RIP me). oh yeah, and write a lot because wrist has recovered from tendinitis!!!

And remember how capitalization and punctuation works, I guess. Vacation is a wonderful time to write because there is little else to do. (Having already finished the books I brought, The Killing Moon and The Fifth Season, both mind-blowing.) I’m working on a short story reinterpretation of the myth of the Minotaur, feat. Theseus’ older sister Aristomache. She’s a badass bringer of justice who’s also a bit of a womanizer. Themes include motherhood, monstrosity, and women’s agency in myth. The first draft was just a bit of a hot mess and I’ve been having a great time smoothing things out.

The biggest decision I need to make about it is the prose. I wrote the first draft formally and removed, trying to evoke a bit of a mythicized, dramatic feel. But as my friend pointed out, it does a disservice to the narrative at times, makes it hard to show emotion. I’m thinking I’ll write two versions and see which one does a better job.

There are also a whole lot of names involved in myths. And a lot of them sound similar: Meta and Medea, Asterion and Ariadne, Phaedra and Pasiphae. There are several scenes just crowded with names, and a challenge has been keeping things clean.

Anyone else out there feel like sharing some bumps in your current WIP? Feel free to respond in the comments : ) Happy writing!

 

Queer SFF Rec Database!

Nothing takes the wind out of second-draft-sails like severe tendonitis. I’ve been relying on talk-to-text for the past few weeks, and things just don’t come out the same way. Brain-to-voice output is so different from brain-to-fingers that it’s startling. Luckily, I’m recovering at a good pace, so I don’t have to get used to it!

With that in mind, it’s a short post today. My friend just sent me this awesome database of Queer SciFi and Fantasy Book Recommendations! It has a ton of tag search options, including “ends with queer protagonists alive” (bless) and “contains: world without homophobia,” two tags I’ll definitely be making use of! It’s got tags for intersecting identities, length, genre, etc. Check it out! I’m already getting sidetracked by all the books I need to add to my to-read list….

Also, I recently made a twitter, if you’d like to follow me @evgiaconia. I’ve tweeted exactly four things so far in the past like three weeks. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Expect a longer post next time, and send my wrist some healing thoughts!

Book Review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens

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It’s only June and I’ve already finished the 5 must-read books on my 2019 Reading Resolutions List! I’ve actually read 46 books this year already, which is rapid even for me. And I’m happy to report that out of those 46, and even out of last year’s reads, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju stands out as one of the absolute best.

The story follows Nima, queer high schooler in a small town dealing with her mother’s absence and her crush on her straight friend. Nima longs for something electrifying to break her out of her lackluster routine. That something comes in the form of her entrance into the drag scene, complete with fabulous and out-loud new friends. As she navigates this world while trying to balance her long-time relationships, Nima explores what happens when you let go of inhibitions, trust in deep relationships, and bridge worlds.

Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens is simply one of the most joyous books I’ve ever read. Things get tough for Nima, but even in when she despairs the narrative buoys her back up. It’s a serious book that is steadfastly lighthearted. I felt an unquenchable fondness for Nima and her friends. I was laughing aloud every other page.

This book spoke to me in a way that contemporary fiction normally does not. The spirit of it threw me right back to the coming-of-age middle grade contemporary novels I read over and over in when I was younger, such as Wild Girls and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. While Boteju’s novel is definitely YA, as I read it I felt like I was reading a familiar, beloved story.

Like many queer novels, the story takes place in a small town. Unlike many YA queer novels, this small town is absolutely magical. Minor characters and settings are believable and loveable, serving as both rich worldbuilding and characterization for Nima and her friends. Not an element or person of the town is wasted, and reading it felt like I was biking down the streets with Nima to go work at the gnome-and-garden store. Everything about the book is vivid and colorful, from Nima’s mundane routine to the incredible drag performances. (And it’s a book about drag written by a former drag king, so I would hope so.)

Normally in my reviews I have some sticking points, but I honestly don’t have any for this book. All I can say is that I intermittently set the book down, looked around at my apartment in awe, and exclaimed to my walls: “This is a good book!”

So, to the reader out there: this is a good book. Do yourself a favor and experience it for yourself : )

When to Just Write

How do you know when it’s time to start a second draft? For me, unlike gearing up to write a first draft, there’s a lot more ambiguity with a second. Once I’ve taken a critical look at everything that needs to change between drafts, the path from point A to point B involves a lot of restructuring, background work, and seemingly-endless unforeseen considerations. In terms of my goblin story, I’ve been bulking up the worldbuilding for several months now, and there’s always something else to develop.

But two days ago I was poking and prodding at one of my protag’s childhood narratives, and suddenly a feeling overcame me: this is fine. I sat there with the thought for a few minutes, opened up a fresh scrivener page, and began to write the second draft.

It was a really interesting moment, because it illuminated part of what it means to be committed to writing a novel: not getting waylayed by perfectionism. Just like for the first draft, there comes a time when background work becomes procrastination. This is, of course, different for everyone. Most of the time I am aware of when I am fiddling around with unnecessary detail when that detail could be more productively be explored in the process of actually writing the story.

So when I realized that the backstory was not perfect, and missing a few things, but overall fine, I knew I had enough to begin the next draft, and the missing pieces would come more organically as I did so. I’m curious as to whether anyone else experiences this boundary so clearly, or if it’s harder to distinguish when ceasing background work would be more deleterious or productive.

This is kind of a special moment for me, actually, because this is the first novel since The Book of the Dead (the one I’m trying to get published) that has gotten to this stage. I’ve got half a dozen miscellaneous first drafts, but this is the first one I can see as a real book. And that’s super exciting!

 

Writing to Worldbuild

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I’ve been writing many vastly different modes of being recently. It’s been an awesome way of stretching myself in terms of writing and worldbuilding, largely because the writing is a way to worldbuild for two different stories.

Worldbuilding is equal parts dull and thrilling work. In my goblin story, it’s as much thinking through the ramifications of having no milk as it is setting boundaries on types of magic. But a lot of the dull things can become effortless when you’re writing to worldbuild, ie writing narrative with the intention of using the process to flesh out cultural details.

In my goblin story, there is a character who was thrown in a river minutes after birth. I decided to write his story from birth to present, and so I was presented with the challenge: in what way do goblins develop consciousness? I used the story to explore this challenge, deciding as I wrote on a limited consciousness emerging at the moment of drowning. From this moment, then, the story traced the rapid cognitive development of goblin infants.

As I wrote, I fleshed out my initial idea that goblins learn rapidly but must be taught everything for the first time. Therefore, beginning when the child was rescued from the river, it fell upon his new caretaker to begin narrating the world for him, narration that begins as a jumble of disorganized information and soon becomes a rapid learning process. This method of worldbuilding not only gave me a strong insight into goblins as a species, but also conceptions of morality, ability, and specifically this character as a protagonist.

Today, I worked on a story wherein people transform into different animal species. Specifically, the main character transforms into a squirrel. This morning I wrote about the first time she made the change, a scene I’ve been putting off for a bit because I was unsure of what her state of mind as a squirrel would look like. I still didn’t really know, which is why I decided to just start writing. In the process of just writing, I was able to identify points of significance for her squirrel mind, such as body movement, heartbeat, and physical scale, which grounded the entire scene and made it a lot of fun to explore.

Writing from the point of view of a squirrel and an alien species seem on the surface daunting tasks, because they’re easy things to over- or under-work at the expense of the story. I haven’t found the exact answers: in fact, I’ll probably revisit the squirrel scene three or four more times. But by just writing anyway, in both scenarios, I was able to identify interesting ideas, critical points of cognitive difference or similarity, and elements that capture the overall feeling of the stories themselves. And it’s a far cry more fun than meticulously mapping out the ramifications of a milk-less society.