2015: The List and the Lessons

desert palace 4I’ve made a pleasurable habit of reviewing the list of books I’ve read during the year and looking back over the biggest writing lessons I grokked along the way.

2015 was (for me) a year of people. Of networking with other authors who I never in my life would have imagined I would have met, much less shared a room with or gotten advice from.  Authors far more successful than I, who conduct themselves with grace and good humor and don’t seem to mind the slavering babble of an unknown neo-pro like me. And the distinctly odd experience of finally meeting so many other struggling writers face-to-face who I’ve only known on the internet, and the experience of feeling like we’re somehow more connected than people I’ve only known in the flesh. Perhaps it’s because they’re writers, and the bond is there because we’re all traveling the same road, but the feeling of family or tribe or whatever you want to call it, is real and cherished.

Managed to read just 50 books this year. Less than I wanted, but no less rich in the enjoyment.

Favorite anthology:  This year. it was an older anthology that appealed to me most. Mojo: Conjure Stories,  edited by Nalo Hopkinson, which introduced me to some terrific new-to-me authors (Barth Anderson  and Jarla Tangh were standouts for me).  I loved the tone of this anthology–very lush and textured. Hard to find, but worth the search.
Favorite new (to me) authors: A delightful plethora of new-to-me author books came to me this year.  Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor was by far my favorite read in 2015, and I recommended this book to just about anyone who would listen.  In his own, modest and quiet way, the main character, Maia, became a beloved and unforgettable character–and every bit a hero. Nominated for both the Hugo and the World Fantasy award, this book breaks many of the ‘rules’ of writing.  I absolutely adored this unique world and story, and dearly hope the author will continue with the storyline. The other new-to-me author this year was Paolo Bacigalupi. His world-building in The Windup Girl was a revelation, and absolutely believable on every level.  Loved the politics, the society and the unique and well-drwn characters, even as the world itself was harsh and brutal–and hit pretty close to home.  I absolutely believed in this version of the future, and found it disturbing and engrossing. And last, but not least, Andy Weir’s The Martian is simply my favorite hard science fiction novel.  Period. Yeah, it didn’t hurt that the movie was good too, but I flat loved the humanness of this story.  For me, hard-sci-fi is often a hard sell–the stories are more about the science than the characters, and Weir’s hero, Mark Watney is real and unforgettable. The story is so very plausible makes it hard to remember that it’s fiction.
Notable Classics: I am a long-time Tim Powers fan, but had not read The Drawing of the Dark until this year.  It is by far my favorite Powers novel, and one of my favorite novels of all time. I adored this retelling of the Fisher King legend through the eyes of a war-weary soldier-of-fortune-now-brewery-bouncer, Brian Duffy. I tell you, this world needs more books with alcoholic bouncers as the main character! Wonderful, wonderful storytelling. That I was able to meet the the author this year and get him to autograph my copy of the book makes it even more special to me.
Favorite Writing Book(s): Not exactly a book on craft, but Nick Stephenson’s Supercharge Your Kindle Sales did help me to understand categories and keywords much better. Not quite supercharged, but a measurable difference.
Favorite Books from Favorite Authors: Naomi Noviks’s Uprooted was an interesting change from her Temeraire series. I adore the Temeraire series, and I thought the characters in Uprooted lacked much of the emotional resonance I enjoy in her other books, but in terms of a fairy tale with teeth, this one satisfies. And Richard Kadrey’s The Getaway God, his sixth book in his enjoyable Sandman Slim series continued the adventures of the world’s greatest (or worst) anti-hero, James Stark with his usual hell-on-wheels abandon.

Lesson 1: I learned to stop apologizing for mixing/mashing genres and coloring outside the genre lines.  Maybe this is one of the reasons why I’m not seeing much love from editors or agents. YES, it does make it difficult to design covers of branding when the story (or author) is not just one note. Last year, I wrote a lot of science fiction; this year, almost everything I wrote was fantasy. Maybe it’s a matter of craft–like I don’t yet know HOW to stick to one genre (and once I learn the trick, I’ll be best-seller). Or, maybe it’s just how I write and it’s one of the things that makes my stories interesting.  I don’t know for sure, but I’m done apologizing. For me, the choice to color outside genre boundaries is done to serve the story. The story is what it is.  It’s up to the reader to decide if it works or not.

Lesson 2. I learned that I CAN start a novel without knowing how it will end. For a rigid outliner like me, this is a pretty big deal. It’s a matter of trusting that the magic will show up before I get  to the last couple of chapters.  And dang, it does!

Lesson 3. I learned that YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY. There is no one thing that defines success for me. No single mentor or teacher or class or award or big-name author or marketing campaign who can make me successful. Letting go of the idea that success is NOT defined by one meeting with editor X or winning award Y or making the Z best-seller list was a big lesson for me. I sat down and defined my specific vision of success (and yes, the bingo chart helps a lot), by focusing on actions I control (most of which involve writing more novels).

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