recommended reading: heart of iron

Heart of Iron, by Ekaterina Sedia.

I should preface this by saying I’m only thirty pages along, with nearly three hundred to go; at the same time I’ve so far been impressed.

Beautiful, beautiful writing and turn of phrase. It’s set in an alternate history steampunk setting, and the world building is impressive. More than that, though, there is a subtle delicacy to Sedia’s representation of politics and society that really hits home. She could still disappoint me later, but I’m hopeful.



… Why are the writers with the best prose so often also the writers with the worst plot? Pacing, Ms. Sedia, pacing! And stop making all your minor characters secretly bright intellectuals, pretty please?

starting to suspect my steampunk is ya…

Maxwell felt as if he had gone to hell. A hell with cows.

Though it’s… quirky at best.

The only ‘rules’ that I’ve been able to find for deciding between young adult and adult fiction tends to be 1) the protagonist’s age, 2) the style of writing, and 3) the length of the book. But surely, there must be more to it than that?

The project is something of an action/adventure maypole dance– I’m aiming for something light, fast, clever, and complicated. Probably much longer than my last book (which is short for a fantasy). I have teen characters, I have middle age characters, I have old characters. No absolute protagonists. My last book was dark and serious– this one is funny and forgiving. Victorian-esc expectations and manners, so quite clean as well.

Is there a reason to aim for YA over adult, or vice versa? It probably won’t make much of a difference, but I’ve started eyeing agents for the previous novel, and I’m wondering about the advantages or disadvantages once The Artificer’s Angels gets a little further on.

a literary confession

I have never read anything by China Mieville.

He’s been recommended to me for years, actually. I remember… three years ago a fellow I knew raved about it for several minutes. Blogs praise him, word of mouth loves him, authors that I love love him. But I have never read anything by China Mieville.

As it turned out, the Sandpoint library had a copy of Perdido Street Station. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

anyone know any good steampunk fantasy?

It’s been established that I’m going to be working on a magical-steampunk sort of setting for NaNo. And I’m really excited– I love the style, the ideas, the flavor I’ve got in mind…

… But it occurs to me now that I don’t read much steampunk.

In fact, the only steampunk that I’m really familiar with are in webcomics. Namely, Girl Genius (great, fun comic, though its creators use the term ‘Gaslamp Fantasy’), and the more serious, violent Freak Angels, which is post-apocalyptic steampunk. The Phoenix Requiem is Victorian-style fantasy, but not at all ‘punk’, so though it’s a great story, I don’t think that it counts (obviously we need more mad science). Some of the Final Fantasy games also fall into this category, though loosely.

So. In an effort to delve a little more into the genre, does anyone know any really good steampunk novels that they’d like to recommend? Plot and humor-wise, Girl Genius is very suited to my tastes. I know my plans bastardize the genre a little as I also have a magic system.

a book recommendation

I can’t really review my latest read, as I’m only just a third of the way through it. So I thought that I’d heap some glowing praise for what I have finished. It’s just that good.

The Blade Itself The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie

This is one of those novels that I can’t actually read through in a day. Not for its length (though it is a good five hundred page long book), but because I have to put the book down at least once a chapter to digest it.

Wonderful characters. Amazing violence. Fantastic intrigue. And sortof funny, in a way that makes my perverse heart squee with joy. If anything can take the edge of of my Martin kick, it’s this guy.

Here’s hoping it ends well.

… Or not.

(No spoilers in the comments, please!)

reading block

Sorry for the lack of updates lately… for the last month or so, I’ve been hit with a really severe reading block.

Not really a writing block (though I haven’t done much of that, either). It’s more of a sick listlessness that I get when I pick up a book. Part pessimism, part weariness, part complete lack of attention span. I’m not sure why. It might be the season. It might be that the snowcrete (snow partially melted, then frozen to a rock-hard shell) and isolation have kept me indoors and the lack of exercise and sunlight are getting to me… Maybe depression, maybe stress, maybe literary burn-out. Maybe everything combined.

Have you ever had a dream in college where you suddenly realized that you had signed up for one extra class, but then forgot about it, and never attended and it’s almost time for the final? I’ve been having that dream in reverse. I dream that there was one other class that I was supposed to teach, but forgot all about, and my students have been without an instructor for weeks.

Anyway, this blog may go into hibernation mode until that changes.


and now, for something completely different

I now live in a town between a lake and several mountains, with a booming, thriving population of under seven thousand. Having grown up in Seattle, this is a bit of a change, though welcome. The little town has some very… interesting aspects. The Seattle-ite in me is aghast that there is no recycling service. The tomboy in me delights that wearing my nice, long skirt with combat boots is an entirely respectable choice. My internal weapon enthusiast noted that the thrift shops sold gun racks in their entryways. And the bookworm in me is amazed that pulling into the library mid-morning, we were pressed to find a parking space. I’ve never seen a busier library.

Granted, the selection of books isn’t huge, but there’s plenty of interesting things to read. I’ve taken to finishing a book a day recently, and after three days of three different fantasy novels, I decided to take a short break from the genre. My manic, unreasonable side presses that it would be fun to start at the end of the fiction section and work my way up the ranks, so that I might someday say that I’ve read every book in the library (it will never happen; you have my full permission to point and laugh). I picked up the last book, a contemporary novel: The Other Shulman, by Alan Zweibel. I opened it, read the first two chapters there, checked it out and brought it home.

My mother had decided to make the trip with me, as she also wanted to visit the library. In her case, it’s partly for books, partly because of some design work she’s doing. My mother reads nonfiction, and prefers biographies.

Still, I couldn’t help but read a few lines of my book to her, and mention that to get myself out of the fantasy groove, this book is about an overweight middle-aged guy trying to redefine himself by running a marathon. She liked the lines. I read a few more, when an especially good part came up. The novel really is hysterically funny, real and casual enough that she was certain that it was nonfiction before I pointed out the big ‘fiction’ tag on the spine. I went to go avoid working on my NaNo writing, curled up on the carpet, and continued my book.

Around page forty-five, there is a section about this poor man, trying to gasp in air, somehow recover his breath in the second session of his marathon-training program, walking, walking, taking longer strides… and then a girl jogger passes him, a young, cute blond with a tattoo just above her pant line. And he takes off like a creature possessed, trying, striving in a euphoria of vivid, poetic, and humor-streaked language describing his attempt to pace her, just so he can see more of that tattoo. I began snickering, shaking, and then fell over on the carpet laughing so hard that tears squeezed out of my eyes and my mascara ran onto my cheeks.

“Don’t do that. I’m warning you.” My mother was reading a cookbook, watching me intently through her reading glasses.

I had another mental image of the events from another angle. I couldn’t reply; my throat had almost closed up, my chest ached.

She pounced. “Back! Back! I’m reading this now! Don’t you have writing? Go! Go! Do your writing! It’s my book now!”

“Mom!” I accompanied my wail with poorly executed attempts at snatching the book back. My martial arts instructor would be ashamed.

“I’m reading this. You’re on page forty-six.” And my mom curls up on the carpet where I had been crouching and turns back to the first chapter. “Look, I’m already enjoying it. Go write your book.”

This, I think, is the peril of having a very young artist-mother who also enjoys books. From experience, this is going to result in having my library book go mysteriously missing every few days, only to wind up perched inside a sofa cushion, or inside my mom’s sock drawer. I’ll come back from the restroom, only to find that in the middle of the climax, my mother has gone back to chapter five and is again snickering about the marathon-trainee sprinting desperately after the woman with the tattoo.

end of my writing-hiatus

When I finished my novel, I decided to take a week-long break before I began working on the third draft. I finished my book on the early hours of last Wednesday morning, making this the last day of my writing-hiatus.

So in the meantime, I thought I’d take my mind off of the story with other things:

  • I saw the new Producers movie. It was entertaining. It even made me twitch during some of the scenes, and the end of the movie is different from the first.
  • I also watched V for Vendetta. I had not seen it before, but I have decided before the movie was even finished that I adored it. The only downside was that I couldn’t help but wonder how similar it was to my own book. Just a few plot elements– anarchy, revenge, plague, politics, men in masks– but it made me a little uneasy for a short while before I dismissed it. They’re different enough.
  • I started reading Roger Zelazny’s “Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming”. As much as I loved some of his other work, I ended up putting it down halfway through. I’m simply not the sort of person that can stomach satire.
  • I started reading one of the Forgotten Realms ‘Drow’ novels– Dissolution. I probably will finish that book (a good friend gave it to me, and I use the drow in gaming), but I can’t help but roll my eyes at the characters. In some four story lines so far, there’s only one I even remotely care about. I despise how D&D novels handle magic, I really do. There’s no art, no logical systems, no consistency to it. And this book in particular has an annoying habit of describing someone’s emotional reaction to something before mentioning what just happened. And the POV characters have this ‘magical’ insight as to what other characters are thinking, but don’t say how. ‘By their expression’ is not good enough. Stop being vague, you idiot writer. Give me details! And stop putting people out of character to attempt an omnipresent viewpoint!

… I’m done now. But it is true. Read bad books. They can be more helpful than a good book.

I also picked up three more crit partners in the last week. I think I’ll keep two of them; one is an older woman who has written forty first drafts, but never has published anything. I don’t think she knows about rewriting, or if she has, she’s dismissed it. There is a good reason not to stay on a first draft.