2016 Books of Awesome, Part One

It’s that time of year again! Time to look back at the books I read and share with you the ones I enjoyed the most – the ones I would recommend or the ones that just struck me deeply.

It’s always interesting to me to look back at what I’ve read, because it gives a broad picture of what I was up to, what interested me, and where I ended up. It’s a more subjective measure of my year than anything I could come up with on my own.

This year I only read 31 books. Life kind of… happened. Between learning a new job, struggling to write, three months of total exhaustion, moving across the country, having a baby, and then struggling to write again while also juggling said baby (not literally, of course – I’m not a monster), I found it difficult to fit in as much reading as I once could.

Taken in a different light, I should really be saying – wow! Somehow I read 31 books! But that doesn’t please the perfectionist in me, so we’re just going to skirt around numbers and dive straight in to the best part: talking about books.

I made a goal at the beginning of the year to read mostly women, mostly fantasy, and especially aim for voices outside the mainstream white, straight, & male. I did end up with a few of those, but otherwise I stuck to my goal, even if I didn’t finish my 2016 TBR list. And interestingly enough, although I “only” read 31 books – a far cry from last year’s 52 and the prior year’s 70 – they were top notch. I loved almost all of them, which is why even though I read less this year, I still have ten awesome books to share with ya’ll.

Without further ado, here are my 2016 Books of Awesome, Part One:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

“Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. For his crew, he pulls together: a convict with a thirst for revenge; sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; and a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction — if they don’t kill each other first.”

I loved that the world in this book was so heavily Slavic. It made for a nice change of pace. Speaking of pace, it’s a bit breakneck which made it very, very difficult to put down. I read this in two days. It’s so much fun and I never saw what was coming next. Even better, it’s a complete story in itself, but enough threads were left open for a sequel – which is definitely on my TBR list.

 

The Accidental Terrorist by William Shunn

“Nineteen-year-old Bill Shunn is a man on a mission—a Mormon mission, that is, trolling for converts door-to-door a thousand miles from home. This riveting memoir—by turns hilarious, provocative, and thrilling—traces his accidental journey from that humble beginning to hunted fugitive and international terrorist.”

I love me some funny yet poignant memoirs occasionally, and this one did not disappoint. This was a delightful and informative look into the world of Mormon missions and just what those pairs of well-dressed young men are doing in your neighborhood. Interwoven is the story of Joseph Smith, the man & the myth behind Mormonism. I learned way more than I’d expected and had a fun time at it, high praise in my book.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

“Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep the Wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.”

I picked this up based entirely on the idea of a dragon preying on a small village that wasn’t actually a dragon. I loved this because of the cranky wizard at its heart and the actually-quite-terrifying Wood. The MC is plucky and equally cranky and the story runs ahead at equal amounts trot and gallop. There’s even a kick-ass best friend to help balance out the romance.  This is the kind of fairytale for grown ups that I adore.

 

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

“January 29, 2035.

That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one. Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter near their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

Then a last-minute encounter leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship that’s scheduled to leave Earth behind and colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But each passenger must have a practical skill to contribute. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?”

Ooooh, I love Duyvis’ writing so much. First her magnificent YA fantasy, Otherbound, and now an apocalyptic YA with both equal amounts terror and grace. But the terror is all in who is considered useful enough to live post-apocalypse and who gets to decide. When the marginalized have a hard enough time in daily society, what happens during the end of the world?

For an apocalyptic story, it was surprisingly hopeful. I loved how Duyvis never focused on chaos and anarchy, and instead drew more than enough tension from mundane questions, which in turn made the worldbuilding feel especially realistic.

 

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else. But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.”

As usual, Seanan spins the creepiest, most entertaining yarns. I always love how she’ll take a particularly common cliché and worry at it until she’s completely turned it on its head, yet it still remains achingly familiar. This knack shines brightest with fairytales, her forte, and here she is, exploring the inevitable, yet unexplored, consequences of all those tales: what happens to the children who come back?

There’s much more to the story than just that question – like murder and mystery and a self-identified ace main character- and it’s all somehow wrapped up within the confines of a novella.

 

To be continued!

My Not-So-Meandering Path Towards Publication

It’s cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be an author. I tried to find another, better paying career path – I did, really – but nothing held my attention like writing. My eclectic employment situations over the past ten years holds the truth of that. I bounced from retail to foreclosure to secretary to data entry to property assessment to web training development. The only consistency over the years is that at every job I wrote on my lunch and breaks. Daily.

Persistence. It’s another tired but true cliché that stubborn, consistent persistence is how you break into the publishing industry. That, and a little bit of luck. My wife will the be first to tell you I am stubborn af*. And I’ll be the second.

Since graduating college, I’ve averaged writing a book every 1.5 years. Of course, some of those were rewrites – and re-rewrites – of old stories. And after a few years, I started querying. At first, it was more just to see what would happen. I made all of the beginner’s mistakes and received only form rejections.

Then I had a mini mid-life crisis. I was years out of college with nothing to show for it. It was not too late to go back to school, it was not too late to find a Real Career Path(TM)**. But if I did, if I committed to extra education and a Job That Mattered, I wouldn’t have the time or the mental energy leftover to write. I had to decide.

It was a surprisingly hard choice. I love writing, but every successive year that I had nothing to show for all the hours I put into it I felt like more of a failure. Where would I be if it never went anywhere? What would I tell people when they asked me what I did? Who was I to think that out of the thousands, millions of aspiring authors, I could be one of the few made it?

But then again, if I didn’t try, if I didn’t throw everything I had at it – I would never know.

I chose to put writing at the center of my life and treat it like a profession – because it was. I made plans and set deadlines and from there devised daily word count goals to meet those deadlines. I frequently sailed right past my personal deadlines, of course, but I was rarely more than a month off.

I set up a system of writing, rewriting, editing, beta-ing, and querying, each stage with its own expected timeframe and deadline. I returned to the metaphorical drawing board for querying, researched the heck out of it, read Query Shark’s entire archive (twice [thrice]) and revamped my approach.

My queries improved and I got a few personal rejections. I kept writing. I kept querying. And then I took everything I had learned, wrote TIC, and queried again. After two months and many rejections, quite literally one week after I had decided to let TIC go and write something new, I received an offer of representation from my now Awesome Possum agent.

I’m writing all this not to say, hey lookit what I got, but hey lookit what I did. The cliché is tired because it’s true: persistence is key***. It’s important. So is trying new things and continually (constantly) learning. Write. Rewrite. Query. And then look critically at what you wrote and move on to the next project. No word or sentence or paragraph or novel written is ever wasted, because you are constantly learning from what you’ve done.

Some writers sell their first book. Most don’t. I sold my third****. Others sell their fifth or eighth or nth. Keep going. Practice. Read. Write. Repeat.

 

* AF = as foretold, or at least that’s what the Kids These Days(TM) tell me.

** I.E. Microbiology, like my wife, or accounting – which I might have (definitely) considered.

*** Necessary caveat is necessary: the privilege & luck of having the time to write is equally important.

**** Third distinct and separate novel that I wrote as an adult and consider Whole and Complete.

 

Assassins of Ghadid has been Acquired by Tor

cz2ntzzw8aamrvbYes! I can finally shout it from the rooftops! My book, the Impossible Contract* – which is about assassins and camels and magic and queer romance – has been acquired by Tor! Not only that, but they also acquired two more books to make it a solid three! If you don’t believe me or think that I photoshopped the above (which is fair, I’m still not sure if it’s real!) you can find the original Publisher’s Weekly blurb here.

This means that not only do I get to share the world and characters of TIC with you, I also get to go back and write two more books in the same world. TIC will actually be the second book, so right now I’m hard at working writing the first one. The three stories will each feature a different character and stand on their own, but work together as a greater story. I’m so excited to be back in the TIC world!

Here I come, Winter 2019!

 

* As always, titles are apt to change. But I think for consistency’s sake it’ll be easier to keep referring to Book Two as The Impossible Contract, aka TIC.

NaNoWriMo with a Baby

If you’ve ever had a baby or been near someone who had a baby then you’ve probably heard the phrase sleep when baby sleeps. Sounds simple. Almost sounds luxurious when you think of how much a baby sleeps.

Which is all well and good, except there comes a point when you want to do something human and prove to yourself (and your cats) that you’re more than just a baby feeder/diaperer/sleeping apparatus. So I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I have a novel to write, that doesn’t want to wait for me or baby, and I can finally write again, so why not? I should have plenty of time.

Ahahahahaha.

See, the thing about newborns is that they’re deceptive little creatures with powers over time. One moment you’re feeding baby and it’s 7am. The next you’re still trying to get baby to sleep an it’s 9am. Where did those two hours go? You have no clue. Then it’s 9.30am and baby’s asleep and you think, finally I can write!

Except: you really need to pee, you haven’t eaten in six hours, you’re dehydrated, the cats are dying from hunger, and omg is that smell you?

If you’re lucky, you have a snack at hand, a water bottle, and someone else to feed the cats. The shower can wait. You can get some writing in!

If you’re unlucky, you scramble to meet your basic requirements of survival and then it’s 10.30am and, oh shit, baby’s eyes just flew open.

Occasionally, you get a longer stretch. And then it comes down to a different choice because, remember, you’ve been repeating this same 2-3 hour cycle for weeks now and you. are. beyond. exhausted.

Sleep when baby sleeps? Or… write when baby sleeps?

It’s a fine balancing act. Too much sleep and you start to think you’re a normal human being again. And, well, you don’t get any writing done. Too much writing and you don’t get enough sleep, but the hallucinations from sleep deprivation fuel your creativity and plot. They also fuel your loved one’s reasons for an intervention.

So each time the baby sleeps, I have to choose. Sometimes it’s an easy choice, sometimes it’s not. But no matter which I choose, I’ve had to lower my expectations. Just like I will probably not get more than five hours of accumulated sleep  each day, I will probably not reach 50k this month. But that’s okay – 5 hours is better than 4, 3, 2, or 1 and whatever amount of words I write will be better than nothing.

Has anyone else tried to write with a newborn? Succeeded? Failed? I’d love to hear your tips!

Missing Limbs: Writing While Pregnant

I’ve been pretty quiet about writing around here.

And that’s mostly because I learned as a kid that if you got nothing good to say, you’d better say nothing.

So I’ve said nothing, because I was also afraid of what was going on. Only now, on the other side of what I can now confidently call my longest bout of real, honest-to-God, writer’s block, I feel comfortable enough to admit I didn’t – couldn’t – write while I was pregnant. Quite literally from week 3 until week 40.

And it was terrible.

Not that I didn’t try. Oh, how I tried. The number of hours I spent forcibly typing word after word, only to realize I had written maybe 50 words in two hours and none of them felt right. The number of times I put on music and went for a run, but instead of dreaming up more plot, I dreamed up… well nothing. The daydreaming had stopped. I could only think about my present reality.

There was certainly enough to think about. The exhaustion, the food aversions, the nausea, the fear that something could go wrong, and on top of that my wife was applying for and interviewing for and – finally – getting a job in another state, which then necessitated that we find a new home and arrange a cross-country move, all while projects came due at work and we had family to visit and a wedding to attend –

Oof. Just typing it all out makes me tired.

But the thing is, I’ve had busy and hectic points in my life before, and I was still able to carve out time to write. Yet here I was, overwhelmed even further by the undeniable fact that every time I tried to write, nothing happened.

It was as if someone had chopped off my imagination. A phantom limb that I could still feel, that I could swear was working, uncurling my fingers and reaching out to grasp a cup – only to touch nothing. That cup stubbornly refused to move and the words stubbornly refused to come.

I’ve always, perhaps naively, believed that writer’s block was something one could force their way through. I now humbly accept otherwise. I tried every trick in the book and yet, nothing.

Then I despaired. What if it lasted forever? What if this was the end of writing for me? I had completely lost the urge to write, the ability to dream. For once, I knew what it must be like for the majority of people without that driving need to create, to expand, to explore. And I thought, this isn’t so bad.

Just shy of three weeks from my due date, I finally accepted the loss.

One week after Baby Doore arrived, I was writing again.

I can’t even begin to describe the relief.

Nor the realization of how much shame I had carried with me for those ten months. I swore I would never use pregnancy as an excuse to be anything less than 100%, but that’s impossible. And I hope that by sharing this now, I might help someone else wondering if they will ever be creative again. Not every pregnant person will experience the same thing – I’ve read that some lucky few experience a boost in their creativity – but for those who do, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Take the advice I should have taken: be kind to yourself. ❤

Updates and Sundry

Fall foliage
Autumnal!

Quite a maelstrom of change has swept through the Doore household since I last updated. I announced that I was pregnant, mentioned we were moving to Michigan, waxed poetic about the Sonoran desert and then – disappeared. You can probably guess what has happened in the meantime.

Now we’re settled in Michigan and have survived the first few, bootcamp-esque weeks of life with a newborn. Life is not so much calming down, but more finding a new rhythm, and that rhythm includes 3am blog posts and writing sessions. So be it.

I’ll have quite a bit to explore here soon – there’s a new story brewing, new research to be shared, and a whole lot of thoughts about creativity and pregnancy. But in the mean time, I hope a cute baby pic will suffice.

Baby Doore Reads

Desert Appreciation: This Ridiculous Heat

Apparently even the national news has picked up on how friggin hot Arizona is right now. I mean, it’s typical for June to see temps above 105, even 110, but we just broke a record: 115, making yesterday the third hottest day on record.

Go us.

But for real, though: as atrocious as this heat is, it makes the rest of the year that much sweeter, and turns the arrival of monsoon season into a welcome relief instead of a humid slog. June is a harsh month, when the temps can jump from 80 to 90 to 110 within a few days and stepping outside is equivalent to stepping into an oven. But it’s only a month.

Without June, we wouldn’t have monsoons. I’m not 100% sure how the meteorology works, but the building heat somehow draws in the moisture that turns into thunderclouds and rain in July. It helps knowing this, as well as knowing we only have to endure for a few more weeks. Staying inside and running the a/c also helps. Keeping a sense of humor about the whole thing makes it even easier.

For this particularly hot day, I decided it was time to take advantage of the heat. I also wanted to bake, but without having to use our oven in the middle of the day. Why not use the heat for baking? Thus, car-broiled cookies were born.

 

Four: It’s A Dry Heat

 

Carbroiled Cookies
Step 1) Take your average chocolate chip cookie recipe and spice it up with a rainbow of colors.

 

Carbroiled Cookies
Step 2) Insert cookie dough into pre-heated car.

 

<Carbroiled Cookies
Step 3) Let bake for 3-4 hours.

 

Carbroiled Cookies
Step 4) Remove (with oven mitts!!) and enjoy! Inside. Preferably.
 

Desert Appreciation: Monsoon

I grew up in Florida. I know about thunderstorms. Throughout the summer, we’d get them every day around 3-5pm like clockwork. Small bursts that would congregate and dispense rain like sudden, divine punishment before slipping away to the next block. You could look out one side of the house and see sunlight and blue sky, only to go to another side and find darkness and rain. Larger storms that would stretch into the night, rain drumming louder than a rock concert.

Then there were, of course, the hurricanes. Tropical depressions, tropical storms, cat 1, cat 2, and time-to-evacuate cat 3.

I thought I was ready for monsoon season. Rain? Check. Heavy rain? Check check. Rain so thick you can’t see the hand in front of your face? Checkity check check. Gimme some hail and some close calls with lightning and it’ll feel just like home.

I was ready – for the rain. But not for the desert side of things. The way you could watch a storm approach from miles and miles away. The way clouds bubbled and boiled and burst above the mountains before spilling over in a frightening rage. The way the riverbed, always dry, suddenly filled with churning water, sweeping along anything and everything in its path. The way day turned to night and lightning streaked from one side of the horizon to the other.

And the aftermath. When a Florida storm passes, it leaves little more than wet concrete and steaming asphalt. When a desert storm passes, the world is changed. The oppressive heat is broken, cut down from its dizzying heights to something more livable, breathable. The desert perks up, cacti swelling with the rain and brush bursting with green. The crisp, tangy smells of ozone and creosote permeates everything. Toads quark loudly in the mud, emerging from their months-long hibernation only for the rain.

In Florida, rain is at worst a nuisance, at best a time to set your watch. In the desert, rain is at worst a flash flood that rips down streets and drowns cars, at best – life. The only way this barren, dusty landscape becomes livable.

 

Three: The Majesty of Monsoon

 

Microburst over Oro Valley

 

Afternoon sunshower

 

Rain on glass

 

Gathering storm

 

Monsoon over mountains and hills

 

Monsoon, Part: Approaching from Over the Lake

 

Storm rolling across mountains

 

During the storm

 

Water under Campbell Bridge

 

Water in the Rillito

 

Rainbows after a storm

 

Stormy Sunset

Desert Appreciation: Bats

When we moved to the desert, we picked an apartment on the waterless river within walking distance of a grocery store. It was perfect. We could walk along the river path to the store, cross under a bridge for a busy road, and never having to wait at lights or attempt a game of live-action Frogger.

Because we arrived in summer, the best time to hit up the grocery store was in the evening, when the blisteringly hot sun was finally going down. So it was no surprise that we quickly found out that the bridge was harboring a secret: bats upon bats. We had inadvertently picked a home near the busiest, battiest bridge in all of Tucson.

I love it. The bats are semi-migratory, so there are far fewer in winter than summer, making Watching the Bats Come Out one of the few reasons to venture outside when it’s 110+ degrees. I will remember many a sticky night spent swatting mosquitoes, sweat streaming down my back, leaning over a metal rail, and watching the bats swarm and dart and finally flow free.

 

Two: The Splendor of a Bat Explosion

 

Campbell Bridge Bats

 

DITL May 17th

 

 

DITL May 17th

 

DITL May 17th

 

DITL May 17th

 

DITL May 17th

 

An Eruption of Bats

 

A Snake of Bats

Desert Appreciation: Spring Blooms

As we near both the bleakness of summer and our move-outta-town date (oh yeah, did I mention we’re moving to Michigan??), I’m going to do a series of photo posts about the desert, Arizona, and our time here. It has truly been worldview-shifting and an amazing experience that I never could have anticipated. To be honest, when we were making the choice between grad schools way back six years ago, I really wanted to move to Oregon. But I am so, so glad we came here instead.

Let me count the ways.

 

One: The Glory That is a Desert Spring

 

april-25

I grew up in Florida and never really experienced spring. Because it never quite froze during the winter, plants kept their leaves and weren’t rushed to bud and bloom as soon as it warmed up. After all, they had 11 months to do all that.

 

Spring Blooms in the Desert

Then we moved to Seattle and I watched the leaves fluoresce orange, yellow, red, before giving way to cold and dark and brittleness, and then suddenly blossoming again with bright-bright green buds come spring. My favorite part were the daffodils and crocuses that popped out of the snow, brilliant bits of color in an otherwise stark landscape.

 

may-97

But Seattle has nothing on the desert.

For about two months out of the year, the drab brown is awash in yellow and orange and pink and white. Mostly yellow: the palo verdes go to town, blanketing streets and backyards in yellow blossoms and pollen. An allergy-sufferer’s nightmare, true, but worth it.

 

Spring Flowers

The plants don’t have much time to get in as much growing/blossoming as possible before the temp spikes over a hundred and what little moisture we got over the winter is all gone. So they go all out and it’s epic.

 

Spring Flowers

 

Ocotillo Blossom

 

april-6

 

april-2

I’m definitely going to miss this time of ecstatic bloom.