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When you’re obsessed —

If you like cooking and love good food, but are consumed by the need to write a lot of pages without stopping, what do you do?

Sometimes I have a very tight deadline (Books II and III of the Griffin Mage trilogy, I’m looking at you) or sometimes  I’m just working hard to put lots of words in a row.  But I don’t want to eat nothing but ramen noodles and apples for weeks or months, either.

Last week, when I was writing at pretty close to my top speed, I was also on a Thai kick.

I tried four different recipes for pad thai.  As long as you have shrimp and cubed pork already thawed, you can cook the shrimp and pork while the rice noodles soak.  You’ll also have time to make and slice the omelet, slice the scallions, get the bean sprouts out of the fridge, mince the ginger and garlic, and find the fish sauce, chili paste, and tamarind (third shelf of the pantry, NOT the second where you thought it was).  By the time the noodles are ready to toss in the skillet, everything else will be ready to go, too.  Time to make dinner:  25 minutes.  You can read over the five pages you just wrote while you eat (because that’s what you do when you’re obsessed).

I also made a sort of Thai-Chinese fusion fried rice, with jasmine rice, Chinese sausage, shrimp, pineapple, bean sprouts, and fish sauce and soy sauce.  Very tasty.  Wish I had more Chinese sausages in the freezer.  Time to cook the rice — doesn’t count because I cooked the rice in the morning and stuck it in the fridge to chill until time for dinner.  Time to make dinner:  10 minutes.

Fastest of all:  cellophane noodles with Thai peanut sauce.  I made the sauce from scratch, thank you.  It’s not like it’s hard.  And I simmered the cellophane noodles in chicken broth because I think that makes a big difference in flavor.  Canned, because that’s fine for this use.  Time to make dinner:  5 minutes.

No fussing over desserts because (sigh) it’ll still be nice to ONE DAY lose those extra five pounds.  Fruit, therefore.  At least I really like frozen grapes.

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There goes spring break . . .

And did I get all the seeds planted?  All the dead stalks of last year’s perennials trimmed back?  All the dogs bathed?

Did I take Pippa to town every day and remind her, around real distractions, of the obedience work we haven’t practiced for two years?  No, I did not, even though she will be in the ring again at last in just two weeks.  (I did take her out once, and she did great but does need to practice the stand for exam.)

Did I read the rest of the books by Nina Kiriki Hoffman that I just bought and have been dying to get to?  Watch the three seasons of Battlestar Galactica which I have owned for years?  No, not that either.

What I did instead was write 114 pp of my newest work-in-progress.  In eight days.  Bringing the total number of pages to 202.  For me, 14 pages a day is very good indeed and reason to be smug, even though I now have to catch up on all the other things I let slide.  Plus, I think I have a vague inkling of how the book will end!  Maybe.

Here’s the way it starts:

*   *   *
Chapter One

The day Erest’s brother Kevi was stolen, that was the same day Erest climbed over the wall for the second time.

The first time he had not known what he was doing.  That had been ten years ago, almost.  He’d only been five, an independent, unpredictable toddler with more curiosity than any ten cats – his mother, Elise, put it like that when she was telling one of her embarrassingly cute baby stories about him.  She laughed when she said it, but she meant it, too.  She seemed to have twice as many stories about Erest as about any of his brothers or his sister.  Although that story was not cute, and anyway it wasn’t really about Erest.  It was about his father.

Erest had got of the house and all the way through the back pasture, where luckily the red bull, lying in the shade of the cottonwoods by the river, had not noticed him.  He had clambered over the wall at a low place where one of the big stones that braced the wall had cracked straight through and where some of the flat red rocks laid across the top had fallen.  The miniature rockslide had left an irresistible gap for any five year old, and never mind all that about the cats.

“How any five-year-old baby could get all that way and then keep right on going up the mountain, one little foot after another!  But that’s Erest,” his mother always said when she reached this part of the story.  “Once he gets started, he won’t turn back halfway.”

He had been wearing a blue shirt that day.  The dye had streaked, that was why his mother had got it cheap from the peddler, but it was a good bright blue, like a flake off the sky.  That was why his father had spotted him, already high up on the mountain’s shoulder.

It was the only mountain in all of Whetsee.  It was not really a proper mountain, Erest’s brother Davud said.  Davud worked for Master Paulin, who was a dyer and traveled all over the world arranging for the production and trade of the rarest and most expensive dyes and fixatives, and the best cloth, too.  Davud had been not only to Carst and Illium but even to Markand, all the way south and east to where real mountains, he said, stabbed upward like knives aimed at the heart of heaven.

Davud did not come home very often, but the last time, having been pestered almost to death by his younger brothers on his previous visits, he’d brought a series of sketches to show everyone.  He’d been proud of his sketches of busy Illian markets and girls drawing water from fountains, of Markand palaces and temples with pointed upswept roofs and smiling girls with flowers in their hands and in their hair.

Little Tom, who was sixteen then, and Kert, who was fourteen, liked the sketches of the girls best.  They spread those sketches out on the scarred work table in the kitchen because it was the largest table in the house, and then they argued about which girl was prettiest and teased Davud and said that he should bring a girl home instead of just a drawing.  Alise – she was eighteen then, and being seriously courted by two different town boys – had just rolled her eyes, but Davud blushed and glanced sidelong at their mother, and said maybe someday he would.  Elise had just smiled, so it was hard to decide what she thought about Davud maybe bringing a foreign girl home.

Erest had been twelve.  He had privately thought Davud had spent more than enough of his time drawing girls, but he loved the other drawings.  The last one, the one he liked best, showed the mountains of eastern Markand.  “A drawing like this doesn’t do the job,” Davud had said apologetically.  “No ink could do it right – there’s not that much paper in the world.  It’s like the whole horizon rears up to touch the sky.  It’s like the world ends right there.  You feel if you climbed up to the top and looked over, there wouldn’t be anything on the other side but sky, going on forever.”

Erest had tried to imagine this.  He had decided right then  that his brothers could have the farm – that someday he, too, would be a travel like Davud.  His trade didn’t matter, so long as he got to travel.  He didn’t care much about dyes, but he wondered if his brother’s master might want another apprentice.  But when he asked Davud later, his brother said Master Paulin was getting ready to settle down and devote himself to building up a decent clientele someplace civilized, maybe in Illium somewhere, and if he took another apprentice it would probably be an Illian boy.  But he gave Erest the sketch of the mountains for his own.

The Kieba’s mountain wasn’t like the ones from Davud’s drawing.  It wasn’t so huge or so grand.  It was rounded at the top, and lumpy where it trailed off into a series of square-ish bumps on the western side.  Like the desert below, it was all red sandstone and dry sun-bleached grasses, with here and there stunted scrub oaks and pines clinging to the stone.  But it was mountain enough to stand out starkly enough from the flat surrounding grasslands and desert.  And, of course, it had the wall all the way around it, miles and miles of wall, which no other mountain in the world had.  The wall was because the Kieba lived at the top and she liked her privacy.  The wall was only elbow high on a grown man.  It wasn’t meant to enforce the Kieba’s preferences.  She did that herself.  It was only to mark the boundary of the mountain she claimed as her own.

Erest had no memory of what his five-year-old self had been thinking when he found the gap in the wall and climbed over the tumbled stones and started up the mountain.  Maybe he had just made his way through the pasture and across the wall because such a venture was forbidden.  Maybe somebody had been telling stories about the Kieba and he had actually and deliberately decided to go up the mountain to look for her.   Either way, he had found her.  That was his father’s part of the story.

Erest’s father was a big, broad man with shoulders like one of the plow horses and immensely strong calloused hands and a deep, deep voice that had slammed down like a sledgehammer against his wife’s attempt to run after her son, whose blue shirt had been just visible against the red stone of the mountain.  Tomren had gone himself, across the pasture and over the wall and up the mountain.  He had found his son a bowshot on the other side of the wall, eagerly showing the Kieba a large pebble he had found on her mountain, round and hollow and filled with glittering purple crystals.

It was obviously much too late to snatch up his little son, rush back down the mountain, and pretend as hard and thoroughly as possible that no one had ever trespassed past the Kieba’s boundaries.  So Tomren had walked forward instead, set one big hand on Erest’s shoulder, dropped heavily to his knees, and begged the Kieba’s pardon for his son’s trespass and for his own.  Erest remembered that part.  He remembered how shocked he had been when he understood his big, unshakable father was afraid.

“I don’t hold babies to account when they flout my law,” the Kieba had answered.  Erest remembered her saying that, or thought he did:  maybe he only remembered his father’s story about it.  He thought he remembered that the Kieba had looked to him like any normal woman.  Old, maybe his mother’s age.  Not really special, except there was something strange about the way she moved, though he couldn’t have explained what exactly was strange about it.  But she looked like she was used to having men kneel to her.  Erest was almost sure he remembered that.

Her tone had been sardonic when she spoke to Tomren:  not exactly angry, but severe, like Erest’s mother when she was pointing out a badly done chore that she was going to make you do over.  Erest had been shocked again to hear the Kieba speak to his father in that tone.  She had added, “I hold their parents to account for that.”

“That’s right.  That’s just,” Tomren had agreed immediately.  His deep voice was not suited to any swift tumble of words, but this time he spoke quickly, as though he wanted to get the words out before the Kieba changed her mind.  He said, “I know there’s a price to pay.  I’ll pay it.  But let me take him down, give him to his mother.  Then I’ll come back.  I swear I will come back.  But let me take the boy to his mother first.”

The Kieba had just looked at him for a long moment.  Tomren had stared back at her, waiting.  Erest had not understood, then, what his father meant.  But he must have understood something because he hadn’t tried to shake off his father’s grip, even though it was hard enough to bruise his arm.

At last the Kieba had said, “You’re a good neighbor, Tomren.  You and all your family.  I don’t mind your farm here.  You’ve wondered about that, haven’t you?  But I don’t mind it.  I like to look down at its neat order.  I like to see your family prosper.  I like to see your happiness.  Take your son back across the wall.  Teach him to respect my boundaries.  That will satisfy me.”

Then she had looked at Erest.  “That’s called a geode, that hollow rock,” she had told him.  “The crystals are amethysts.  Keep it, if you like.  Some people think geodes are lucky.  Perhaps that one will bring you luck.  You’ll need luck, if you go on as you’ve started.”  Then she’d just turned and walked away, up the mountain and around a curve of stone, and was gone.

*  *   *

I like it so far!  But I have to add, it’s the girl character who appeared in Chapter Three who stole my heart!  I didn’t see her coming at all until suddenly there she was, hiding under a chair to listen in on a discussion she was NOT supposed to overhear . . .

Now a break to catch up on house-garden-dog-related chores!  I will probably figure out the ending to this book over the next month and finish the first draft in May, after the semester ends and Bree’s puppies arrive.

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The Book Smugglers are in my corner

And this is a very good thing.

The Book Smugglers, Ana and Thea, run a beautifully organized book review site with frequent, thoughtful posts and lots of giveaways — the kind of site that can garner a hundred or more comments on a single post.

So I’m delighted at their joint review of The City in the Lake, which they timed to post just as the book came out in paperback.

I thought they’d like CITY.  And I was right.

Drop by thebooksmugglers.com and read the whole thing, but here are some of the bits I most appreciated:

Thea:  “Jaw-droppingly awesome.”

Ana:  “I was so not prepared for how awesome this book is.”

And then at the end —

Thea’s concluding comments:  I cannot believe I had not heard of this book earlier, and it’s a damn shame how unacknowledged it is. From opening sentence to bittersweet farewell, I loved The City in the Lake and recommend it to readers young and old alike. For fans of Juliet Marillier, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Sharon Shinn, looking for that next fix of luscious, romantic, flawless fantasy? Look no further – Rachel Neumeier’s The City in the Lake is for you. Easily, one of the best books I have read in 2011 and in the running for my year end top 10.

Ana’s concluding comments:   I can’t believe I never heard about this book before and I wish more people would read it. I don’t think I have read a YA Fantasy as good as this in ages and wouldn’t be surprised if it made my top 10 as well.

So, yes, that was very satisfying.  Didn’t even take a bribe.  Honest.

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And another one hits the shelves!

The new paperback edition of THE CITY IN THE LAKE —

Available any minute now.  Well, technically, on March 8th, but I just got my first copy in the mail, so it feels real to me right now.

Pretty cover, isn’t it?  I think Timou looks perfect.

Keep an eye out at The Book Smugglers — they’ll be reviewing CITY on March 11th.  CITY is more of a fairy tale, whereas my other books are more adventure stories, so I’m really interested to see what The Book Smugglers think of it.

Now, on a different subject — I wish I could remember who recommended Nina Kiriki Hoffman to me.  Somebody at the World Fantasy Convention last year?  Whoever it was, thanks!  She’s my new favorite author!

So far I’ve read The Silent Strength of Stones, A Fistful of Sky, and The Thread That Binds the Bones.  Loved all three.  I’ve ordered Hoffman’s entire backlist and they’ve started arriving, so lots of great books ahead of me in the near future.  Can’t wait to break up a block of Callebaut 70% dark chocolate and settle down with the next one.

I’ve also just read Structure in Action:  The Making of a Durable Dog (by Pat Hastings).  Lots and lots of photos of dogs with correct and incorrect structure.  The publisher sent it to me so I could write a book review for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club bulletin — it’s a good addition to your library if you’re serious about breeding beautiful, sound dogs, but I don’t imagine it’ll be of interest to most fans of fantasy and other genre fiction.

But look!  While we’re on the subject of breeding, take a look at this boy here!

This is CKCSC and AKC Ch. Truluv Kiss N Tell of Jayba, winning one of his Specialty Best in Shows.  He is also going to be the father of my Bree’s next litter of puppies.  If all goes well, they’ll be born in May.  Can’t wait!

And, yes, I am working on a new project of my own.  I’ll post an excerpt one of these days . . . but soon . . .

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Hitting the Shelves Today!

Complete with a starred review from Kirkus!

Kirkus says:

“Intelligent, richly detailed fantasy featuring two young cousins battered by losses, personal passions, and larger events.

“Shy, inarticulate, recently orphaned and newly arrived in the aptly named Floating Islands, Trei is transformed by the rare chance to strap on a pair of feathered wings and join the legendary corps of soaring kajaraihi.  For his fiercely intense cousin Areane, constraints on women are but annoying obstacles to be overcome in pursuing first the forbidden (to women) culinary arts and then the magical abilities that well up in her, all unbidden, in the wake of a family tragedy of her own.

“The arrival of an expanding empire’s invasion fleet, augmented by a new, mechanically powered magic, propels Trei and Araene into actions that test their courage, loyalties and cleverness to the utmost.

“The author delineates complex characters, geographies and societies alike with a dab hand, deftly weaves them all — along with dragons of several sorts, mouthwatering kitchen talk, flashes of humor, and a late-blooming romance — into a suspenseful plot and delivers an outstanding tale that is self-contained but full of promise for sequels.”

There!  Doesn’t get much better than that!

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Four snow days . . .

. . . means a six-day weekend!  Whew!  That was really long enough.  About a half-inch of ice, then a little snow on the top, then another five inches of snow on top of that.

Weather like this is a great excuse to take dogs for walks in the snow (once there was all the snow to improve the footing) and then cook a lot of chili to warm up.  I made two kinds:  one with tiny bits of minced pork shoulder and pork sausage, one with black beans and the last of the butternut squashes I picked last fall.  Tons of chipotle in both, though otherwise they were very different.  Both very good.

I also made bagels for the first time ever, using the recipe in Reinhart’s The Bread-Baker’s Apprentice.  Worked beautifully.  I sprinkled my bagels with za’atar.  Yum.  Snow days are very helpful for Reinhart’s recipes, as many of them take hours and hours while you wait for dough to proof.  I want to try the Portuguese sweet bread next, but I need a weekend or another snow day before I can make that because it takes about seven hours.  Most of it unattended, but you have to do things to the dough now and then, so not a workday project.

I also polished up the first 50 pp or so of three different potential mss. and sent them off to Caitlin.  I hope she will like them all, but what I really want is for her to say enthusiastic, flattering things about one or another.  That’s a splendid impetus to get me in writer-mode.

One of them is set in a kind of alternate Ottoman Empire.  I’ve done tons of reading for that, starting with scholarly works I borrowed from my brother and ending with the fabulous Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey, by Lewis.  That book worked perfectly for me, especially since this is an ALTERNATE empire, not really the Ottoman Empire, so I can invent whatever details I like that have the right kind of feel.  A lot of different cool ideas came together for this story — the Ottoman-ish Empire and underground cities and tiny dragons and a woman who was a spy when she was a little girl . . . I’ve got some great scenes in mind and maybe 1/3 of the plot in my head.

Then the second is totally different.  It’s a YA, set in a world where there were massive disasters involving plagues in the distant past and, well, it’s a little hard to describe.  There’s a powerful sorceress who used to be a good guy and now might be something of a bad guy (not sure about that), and a threatened war, and well, we’ll see.  I actually have about 2/3 of the plot in my head, which is quite a lot more than usual.

The third is also a YA, probably, meant to be more fairy-tale-ish and less of a straight adventure story.  I think I know a fair bit of the plot, but the characters have sort of multiplied out of control and either they’ll have to sort themselves out and become useful or some of them will have to vanish from the script.  Won’t know which until I start really working on it.

I kind of like all of ’em, so any one Caitlin picks is fine with me.

Recent reading:  After getting that done, I had time to read books!  So I got out the really good chocolate and settled down with the crowd of critters and read Joe Abercrombie’s series, The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings.  At first I hated two of the main characters and thought, Well, not likely I’ll finish these.  But then the torturer (Glotka) started to grow on me (somehow), and I saw that that idiot Jezal was probably going to improve, and I already liked Logen.

So even though Abercrombie insists on spelling “All right” as one word, which I DETEST WITH A FIERY WHITE HOT FURY, I finished the series.  And I liked it quite a bit, although I was pretty shocked and a bit dismayed by some aspects of the ending.  I think I’ll read his fourth book, though, and hope that the part I disliked most about that ending resolves in a more satisfactory way.

I also read this interesting Literary novel:  The King’s Last Song, by Ryman.  Never read anything by him before, but it was one of the free books handed out at last year’s World Fantasy Convention.  It’s about Cambodia and it has a lovely cover.  Turned out to be beautifully written and haunting.  Loved how Ryman interwove modern Cambodia with history.

Also, for something completely different, I read the first three Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews.  The Book Smugglers reviews were responsible for this series winding up on my To Read Soon pile.  Urban paranormals are so dime-a-dozen right now I can’t imagine how to pick one out of the herd without a trustworthy review.  I thought the first book was only average, the second an improvement, and the third book really good — so I’m glad I kept going.  I ordered the fourth book this morning and I’m looking forward to getting it in the mail!

Now just waiting to hear back from Caitlin.  No rush (really!).  I have plenty of dark chocolate left, and I’m looking forward to a few more days off to whittle down my To Read Soon pile down a little more!

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Ice tomorrow!

They sound pretty sure about it.  An inch of ice and then a foot of snow, that’s the prediction.  Here’s hoping that, if this is true, the ice comes down as sleet and not an ice glaze that will coat roads and pull down trees — our fantastic 150-year-old oak lost three or four big branches in the last bad ice storm in November 2007.  It’s too bad to lose power, but the power will come back on eventually, you know?  But you’ll never get your trees back.

I bought a bunch more YA fantasies over the last week; they’re all downstairs in the Get To This Someday stacks.  Haven’t read any of them yet, and with this weather forecast, it may take awhile to get to them.  That’s because, if I’m going to be stuck at home for two or three or five days, I’ll probably start working on projects of my own.  Projects, plural, ’cause I need to polish up and smooth out different stories I’ve got beginnings for.  I’ll see if I can actually write semi-complete-ish outlines for any of them and then send them to Caitlin.  So that’ll keep me busy for a little while.

But I have read some pretty amazing books lately, though, even if I don’t expect to read nearly as many in February.

I finally got to The Bards of Bone Plain.  It was very good, of course, which I expected — I mean, McKillip, after all.  But it didn’t sing for me the way The Bell at Sealey Head did.  Don’t know why. I did like it very much, but it’s not in my top ten list for McKillip.

Also read The Gaslight Dogs (Lowachee).  I really didn’t like it anything like as much as I’d hoped to.  The male main character was so passive and kind of a jerk.  Until the end, when he turns evil.  Not my kind of thing, don’t care what happens in the sequel.

Also!  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin).  Now THAT was outstanding.  I love the way Jemisin plays with time and perspective.  Amazing book, wonderful characters, beautiful writing, great plot — yes, one can see the ending coming, but not exactly how Jemisin is going to get there, so that’s okay.  Loved it, glad I moved it to the top of the Get To It pile in time to nominate it for the Nebula and I hope it wins.  The sequel (The Broken Kingdoms) is also very good.

Also, yes, I made it to the show this past weekend and All Was Well.  Despite the horrible filthy parking lots, which are not helpful when showing dogs with white feet, let me tell you.  Both my puppies won their classes both days, and on Sunday little Kenya got Winners and her first championship point.  Go, Kenya!  My friend Deb talked me into getting a win photo for her.  Both of my youngsters also finished off their first Rally titles, even though I did a pretty terrible job of handling so their scores were pretty embarrassing.  AND we got home in time to make some really outstanding bread, like so:

2 tsp instant yeast

3 1/2 C flour

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cardamom

1/4 C. crushed crystallized ginger

1 1/8 C warm water

1/4 C butter

1 egg

Put everything in bread machine and let the machine take care of the kneading and the first rise.  Remove the dough and divide into thirds.  Form each third into a long rope and braid the ropes together.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  If you have enough self-discipline, cool completely before slicing and eating.

This was based on a recipe I got from somewhere, but I added the crystallized ginger because I had some that had dried out into little chips, like sweet zingy potato chips.  Plus I upped the cardamom a whole lot (the original recipe called for 1/4 tsp) because I love cardamom and making Indian food has taught me not to be afraid of spices.  Also, I only used water instead of milk because I was out of milk.  But the bread was wonderful and I will certainly make it again, especially if I have more crystallized ginger to use up, which is likely since making more crystallized ginger is on my list of things to do if we get iced in for several days.

Glad we have a generator!  Let the ice come down!  But preferably NOT the trees.

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Nebula nominations and other recent reading

Getting on toward the end of January, and to my surprise I’ve actually read quite a few books — even though I’ve been working on projects of my own, too.  (More about that later.)  There are several things that led me whittling down my immense Get To It Someday pile o’ books:

I wanted to read some YA because I’m tossing around ideas for starting another YA novel.  Books read:

Thirteenth Child (Patricia Wrede) — very nice, if a little predictable.  Wonderful writing and characterization, of course, and I particularly enjoyed the steam dragons, even though we barely saw one.  What a neat idea!

Graceling (Kristin Cashore) — kind of a disappointment.  I think it had been built up too much by everybody talking about it and so my expectations were too high.  I had a hard time believing in the characters or the situations.  Loved the climb through the pass, though.

The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson) — whoa. I see why THIS one go so much attention.  *These* are characters you can believe in.  Such a strong voice for the main character!  I’d be so jealous, except I’d never have written a book like this anyway.  Amazing treatment of grief, but actually not a downer at all because of the great ending. All that AND a fantastic title, too.

Birth of the Firebringer (Meredith Pierce) — sorry, but though I hoped to like this and expected to like it, I just didn’t.  The impulsive bratty heir to the throne thing?  Doesn’t do it for me.  I finished it, but only because it was short.

And I’m re-reading The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynn Jones, but I don’t know if that counts because I’ve read it before.

Also, just about time to send in Nebula nominations!  First time I’m nominating anything because at this point last year I’d hardly read anything from 2009.  But this year I’ve read quite a few books from 2010, plus I’m reading a few more that I had on my Get To It pile just in case I want to nominate them.

The Warded Man (Peter Brett) — I liked it, but not enough to nominate it for the Nebula.  Nice setting, good writing, good pacing — I really did enjoy it.  But the main character is kind of an obsessive idiot and twice I wanted to pound on the table and shout:  WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU IDIOT? and I hate that.  Even when I get that the character is flawed in ways that lead to moments like that, I still hate it and wonder if the author could have handled things a little differently.

The Black Prism (Brent Weeks) — Now, this one I’m nominating.  The author’s Night Angel trilogy was a little dark for me, but though this book isn’t exactly light and fluffy and pink unicorns everywhere, it didn’t go quite as far with the physical and mental torture and worked for me much better.

I loved the magic system, so unusual, and Weeks handles it beautifully. And the characters are excellent.  And the plot twist halfway through?  I so didn’t see it coming.  Wow.  It *was* foreshadowed, the author was playing fair, but I didn’t see it coming anyway.  I love that.  I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book.  Really nice job.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dragon Keeper / Dragon Haven (Robin Hobb) — I enjoyed these a lot, even though for me the main dragon character was totally unsympathetic. I just hated her.  I really liked the human characters, though, and the author really kept me guessing about how some of the plot threads involving minor characters would work out.  Not the main characters, though, everything there was pretty predictable.  And I absolutely expected that little plot twist right at the end, after the barge gets stuck.  I hope that wasn’t supposed to be a surprise.

The pace of the books was pretty slow, but actually I enjoy that if the worldbuilding is cool and detailed, which it was here.  These were the first books I’ve ever read by by this author, and I think I’ll look up some of the others set in the same world.

Next up —

I really need to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by Jemisin.  And the second book, too, that’s on my pile also and it also came out in 2010, so I need to get to it right away.  I’ve heard good things about this series and it would be great to have another book to put on the nomination form.  I’ll read that this week.  Or next week at the VERY LATEST.  I really need to finish writing at least one more scene of the book I’m working on myself, though, and preferably right now while it’s flowing well.  In two to four days I should be done with that and ready for these.

In the YA category, by the way, I’m nominating A Conspiracy of Kings (Turner) and I Am Not A Serial Killer (Wells).  The former is just wonderful in every way, the fourth book of an utterly fantastic series; and the latter is really good, really interesting, and has the most unusual protagonist basically ever.

I’m not nominating Mockingjay because I’m sure lots of other people will and I really want to see the other two books land on the ballot.

And that’s it for nominations for me.  I don’t read enough short stories or novelettes or novellas to have anything there.

AND!  In other news:  Keep an eye out at your neighborhood bookstore!  Or go check out Amazon!  Because THE FLOATING ISLANDS is so close to landing on shelves I can hardly stand it!

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It’s 3 degrees out there . . .

It must be January!

School’s started, the students are back in droves, and so I’m busy busy busy.  Or as busy as I ever get, since after all, still part time.

Still,  a dog show’s coming up Jan 29 and 30.  Naturally it’s insane to enter dog shows in January when you have so very excellent a chance of being snowed out.  The shows don’t get canceled if there’s a ice storm:  you just stay home and lose your entry fees.

So naturally I’ve entered two youngsters both in the breed ring — it’ll be a small show, but any points will do for either of them, they’re not looking for majors yet — and in the Rally Novice ring.  If we actually make it to the show, they should both be able to finish their Novice titles!  Eve got her second qualification at six months and two days old, with a score of 97 and a first place ribbon.  That’ll be hard to top, but we’ll try.

Eve at eight weeks old

Now she’s eight months — how time flies.  I think she could qualify tomorrow with no extra training, but probably I should remind her about the fast heel and slow heel and left turns and that she can stay lying down while I walk around her in a circle.  Kenya’s more challenging to show, but she’ll do fine.  I’m pretty sure.

I am writing, too, but sort of casually.  I’ve started a new book — the setting is loosely based on sixteenth-century Istanbul (my city is called Kamehaji) and also on Cappadocia Turkey.   It’s an extraordinarily neat setting, because I’m using the (real) underground cities of Cappadocia as a jumping-off point for my version.

The main character, Sakami, is a young woman who has the gift of tongues and who, as a child, was used by her uncle as a spy.  When the story opens, she’s in Kamehaji, not exactly willingly, and her childhood skills are about to become very useful to her.

Maybe I’ll post an excerpt later.  But, see, before deciding what to work on seriously, I’ll work out the beginnings for a couple of new books, see what I can do in the way of outlines (nothing too firm, generally), and send them to my wonderful agent.  She can pick one and we’ll go from there.  I should have a new project picked out by, say February sometime, and then I’ll post an except of whatever I’ll actually be working on.

Also, yes, I have finished Black Dog, my first venture into Urban.  It was pretty quick and easy to write, it’s a fun world.  Caitlin said she found it “claustrophobically intense” which is a great term and sounds promising!  I think it’s come out pretty well, so now we’ll see if it finds a home immediately.  That’d get the new year off to a fine start!  It’d also influence my plans, ’cause I have a sequel in mind for it and it’d be nice to have to put that first.

In the meantime, since I’m not too involved with big projects, I do have time to read a book or two.

First book of the year:  The Lightning Thief.  It was kind of disappointment.  (Sorry!)  The main character was kind of an idiot (Sorry!  It’s true!).  In fact, all of the main characters were pretty dim, including the daughter of Athena, whom you’d think . . . well, never mind.  I know it’s a Middle Grade book, but I thought too many of the supposed plot twists were way too obvious.  And there was nothing particularly thrilling about the writing or the story or, well, I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

One I liked much better:  The Warded Man, by Peter Brett.  Very nice!  Excellent writing, great story, great characters.  If you like Brent Weeks, you’d probably like this.  If Brent Weeks is a touch too dark for you (I personally just glided lightly over some of the torture scenes), then you’ll probably like Peter Brett better.  His characters don’t have it too easy, but the things that happen to them aren’t as graphic and horrible as the things that happen to Weeks’ characters.  I’ll definitely pick up the sequel.

Next up for me:  The Bards of Bone Plain.  The year’s off to a great start, with a new Patricia McKillip waiting for me . . .

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Winding up 2010

It’s the end of 2010.  And you know what’s new and different this year? Besides the fact that The Griffin Mage trilogy is on bookstore shelves everywhere, which is very nice, of course?

This is the first year I have ever kept track of the books I’ve read.

Here’s some interesting trivia to start with:  On March 1st, when I finished Book 3 of the trilogy and sent it off to Devi Pillai at Orbit (exactly on the deadline), I had 76 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

And now, having read 87 books this year (not counting anything I re-read) . . . NOW I have . . . sigh . . . 89 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

This is what is sometimes known as “backwards progress”, I guess.

Here’s what I read in 2010:

6 Nonfiction [I’m pretty sure I’m not remembering everything]
Europe’s Steppe Frontier (William McNeal)
Sea of Faith (Stephen O’Shea)
The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross)
[You can probably guess I’ve been doing research on the         Ottoman Empire]

Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose)
From Where You Dream (Robern Butler)
The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)
[I really recommend the one by Prose, btw)

7 Romances
Born in Fire (Nora Roberts)
Born in Ice
Born in Shame
Dance Upon the Air
Heaven and Earth
Face the Fire
[They were okay, but honestly, does every leading man  HAVE to be a brilliant, handsome multimillionaire?]

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
[Never read such a badly copy-edited book in my life]

1 Classic
The Marquise of O- (Heinrich von Kleist)

8 Mysteries
The Cater Street Hangman (Anne Perry)
Callander Square
Paragon Walk
Ninth Daughter (Barbara “Hamilton”, aka Barbara Hambly)
Still Life (Louise Penny)
The Pericles Commission (Gary Corby)
My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
The Janissary Tree (Jason Goodwin)

1 Mainstream Literary novel
The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver)

1 Difficult to Classify
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

9 Science Fiction
Ender in Exile (Orson Scott Card)
A War of Gifts
Deceiver(CJ Cherryh)
Fledgling (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)
Saltation
The Breach (Patrick Lee)
Touched By An Alien (Gini Koch)
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Unit (Terry Dehart)

5 YA Science Fiction
Life As We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer)
Dead and Gone

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Catching Fire
Mockingjay

26 Fantasy
Black Jewels trilogy (Anne Bishop)
Dreams Made Flesh
Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik)
Masque (Patricia Briggs)
In Great Waters (Kit Whitfield)
Oath of Fealty (Elizabeth Moon)
Blood of Ambrose (James Enge)
Magic Street (Orson Scott Card)
Enchantment
Mystic and Rider (Sharon Shinn)
The Thirteenth House
Dark Moon Defender
Reader and Raelyx
Fortune and Fate
The City and The City (China Mieville)
Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Celestial Matters (Richard Garfinkle)
Betsy the Vampire Queen (MaryJanice Davidson)
Silver Borne (Patricia Briggs)
Bone Crossed
Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Jennifer Rardin)
Tempest Rising (Nichole Peeler)
Devlin’s Luck (Patricia Bray)
Melusine (Sarah Monette)

23 YA Fantasy
The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings
Plain Kate (Erin Bow)
Beka Cooper:  Terrier (Tamora Pierce)
Beka Cooper:  Bloodhound
A Certain Slant of Light (Laura Whitcomb)
Alchemy (Margaret Mahy)
The Winter Prince (Elizabeth Wein)
A Coalition of Lions
The Sunbird
The Lion Hunter
The Empty Kingdom
Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
Blood and Chocolate (Annette Curtis Klause)
A Crack in the Line (Michael Lawrence)
The Sherwood Ring (Elizabeth Pope)
Midnight is a Place (Joan Aiken)
The Magic Thief (Sarah Prineas)
The Deathday Letter (Shaun Hutchinson)
I Am Not A Serial Killer (Dan Wells)
Mr Murder

So I thought, given all those, it would be fun to pick a Top Five!  What in this list is an Absolute MUST Read?  Now, most of the time, I favor fantasy over SF and I prefer YA and Adult to Middle Grade, so those preferences color this list.

In no particular order:

A Certain Slant of Light (Whitcomb).  This YA is beautifully written, with wonderful characterization, an unpredictable plot, a lovely ending . . . this book is practically perfect.  I immediately ordered The Fetch, by the same author, and added it to my TBR shelves.  It’ll be perfect to curl up with one day.  Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the anticipation.

The Queen’s Thief (Attolia) series (Turner).  The Series That Has It All. If it’s not flawless, it comes close.  You’ll want to read the series in order, though, or else you’ll encounter serious spoiliers.

The Sunbird series (Wein).  WONDERFUL stories, if you can handle some fairly brutal plot twists.

The Hunger Games trilogy (Collins).  Amazing dystopian trilogy that isn’t a total downer but certainly isn’t a perky, lighthearted romp either.

Under Heaven (Kay).  Amazing worldbuilding, lovely writing.  Truncated ending, really needed to be a duology, but don’t let that stop you.

It also occurs to me that a lot of these books would also serve as a writing course for aspiring writers, so if you’re interested, here’s what they offer:

For studying points-of-view and 1st vs 3rd person, Turner’s Attolia series and Kay’s Under Heaven.

For amazing work with “voice” and a truly extraordinary protagonist, Wells’ I Am Not A serial Killer.  Compare to Tal Diamond in City of Diamond (Jane Emerson).

For YA for boys (people are always complaining that YA is almost always meant for girls, and they’re right) — I Am Not A Serial Killer, Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter, Alchemy by Mahy, the Sunbird series by Wein (start with The Sunbird).  And, actually, maybe Magic Street by Card, though I wouldn’t actually say that’s YA.

For amazing worldbuilding, The Sunbird series and Pegasus by McKinley and Under Heaven by Kay and the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce.

For historical fantasy, Under Heaven by Kay and In Deep Waters by Whitfield and The Sunbird series by Wein.  And, actually, Midnight Is A Place by Aiken, but that’s for younger readers.

For really remarkable settings, The City and The City by Mieville and Celestial Matters by Garfinkle.

For pushing the envelope in YA, The Hunger Games trilogy by Collins and The Sunbird series by Wein.

Now, the next project is to fit all those books I’ve been reading onto the already-full shelves in my library.  Sorting out what to keep, what to discard, and what to store out of sight may take about as long as reading them in the first place . . .

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