For the last several years, I’ve made a goal for myself with regards to reading. After Stephen King wrote in his wonderful book On Writing about how many books he reads per year, I’ve thought that having a reading goal every year sounded like a good idea. For the past couple of years, my goal has been to read 75 books per year, but I haven’t quite made it, yet. I finished 64 books this year, and although I do not want to offer a critique of each one, I thought I’d offer a list of the ones I found most noteworthy.
· Favorite new author / series (also Favorite Dragon): Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon and Throne of Jade (Temeraire Series). I’d had the first three volumes of this series sitting in the ‘to read’ pile for over a year (I’d been focusing my efforts on Urban Fantasy authors). I’m not a big fan of military fiction, and the very first sentence of the first volume had me thinking it was another boring war story, but by the end of the first page, you couldn’t pry the book out of my fingers. I loved everything about these first two books; and found myself rereading passages because they moved me so much. I fell in love with these characters, and hated all the troubles that the author put them through. When I finished the first volume in the series, I was hesitant about starting the second, but Ms. Novik sucked me right in again, reassuring me that she wasn’t about to let me or Laurence or dear Temeraire down. I’m starting the third volume, Black Powder War today. I love this series, and I love this author. As I read it, I wished my father were still alive, since I’m certain he would have loved it as much as I do. That’s the sign of good writing. No holds barred, I’m a loyal new fan.
· Favorite (new to me) Urban Fantasy series: Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series (Skinwalker, Blood Cross, Mercy Blade) Don’t let the cover art fool you, this series stands out in a crowded field. It’s got everything we love in Urban Fantasy: a terrific urban setting, plenty of action, lots of the usual bad guys that look good and bad boy good guys. Until I read Naomi Novik, Faith’s writing was my favorite of the year. I’m a new fan, and plan to read all her other series as well next year.
· Favorite Horror: Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box. Really scary. Really satisfying.
· Favorite Werewolf: Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf. Bloody, gory, gruesome. It worked for me on a lot of levels. Duncan’s gritty vision of werewolves was long overdue, and to my mind, he did a delightful job. He had me squirming in my chair at times, but I couldn’t put it down.
· Favorite New World: Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City. Never been to the ghettoes of South Africa before, and I hafta say, I enjoyed the trip. The plot resolution of the story itself didn’t really work for me, but I really liked the voice, the characters and setting, and will try her again.
· Favorite New Books from a Favorite Author that didn’t let me down: I enjoyed both of Jim Butcher’s Changes and Ghost Story.
· New to me Notables: She’s been around for a long time, but I hadn’t read any of her stuff before. I’m talking about Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (Moon Called, Blood Bound, Iron Kissed, Bone Crossed, Silver Borne). Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus held me enthralled from the poetic beginning to the satisfying end. Christopher Moore’s Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me were all loads of quirky fun.
· Favorite Nonfiction Writing Book(s): Too close to pick just one.
o I LOVED How to Write Magical Words, the anthology of blog posts from the Magical Words website, edited by Edmund Schubert. Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, David Coe and their friends have compiled a truly helpful group of essays on writing and the business of writing.
o Elizabeth Lyons’ Manuscript Makeover is the best book on editing and revisions that I’ve read so far.
o Steven Harper’s Writing the Paranormal Novel came to me at exactly the right time. Both helpful and inspirational at a time when I sorely needed both.
· Biggest Disappointment / Overhype: A tie between Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Russell’s stuff at least had one character that was interesting enough to follow; I can’t say the same for any of Grossman’s unlikable characters or derivative storyline.
The Lesson: I read the work of more than 20 different Urban Fantasy authors this year. I think I have a pretty good feel for the marketplace that I didn’t have before. I read a LOT of really forgettable (and bad) Urban Fantasy, and I’ve had two agents tell me to my face that breaking into the Urban Fantasy genre is really a tough market for a newbie. Good writing isn’t enough; you’ve got to have something unique and different. I’ve read similar comments from agents giving feedback on websites such as Miss Snark and Query Shark. Its good advice, and the most important writing lesson I’ve learned this year. Until recently, I’d been using my favorite quote to inspire me: The writing speaks for itself. But now I know that good writing alone isn’t enough. I put a lot of thought into giving GLAMOUR a new world and a different sort of protagonist and set of conflicts than what I’ve seen. Will it be enough? Stay tuned.