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I recently happened across a discussion of the old "Appendix N" from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, published in 1979. The appendix is a list of recommended reading from Gary Gygax, particularly books that inspired the game. I realized that while some of the inclusions on the list are authors I cut my fantasy teeth on (Norton, Tolkien), others I've never read, and still others I wonder about holding up to my current taste for fantasy.

I tried to create a checklist from one of the various list internet sites already populated with books, and many of these titles weren't included--which may say something about their lifespan. Barring a handy checklist, here's the listing.
  • Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
  • Brackett, Leigh
  • Brown, Frederic
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series; Mars series; Venus series
  • Carter, Lin: "World's End" series
  • de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
  • de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
  • Derleth, August
  • Dunsany, Lord
  • Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series; et al
  • Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series; "Kyrik" series; et al
  • Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series
  • Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY
  • Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series; et al
  • Lovecraft, H. P.
  • Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the first three books)
  • Norton, Andre
  • Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
  • Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
  • Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
  • Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy"
  • Weinbaum, Stanley
  • Wellman, Manley Wade
  • Williamson, Jack
  • Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series; et al
How many have you read? How many of those would you still recommend? What books would you recommend in their places?

I think one of the series that most heavily impacted my D&D style of play was definitely Tamora Pierce's "Lioness Quartet." Possibly also Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. I'd include those on any list of recommended fantasy for role playing gamers.
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The second week in January is almost over, and I haven't posted my annual reading report yet! To remedy that, here it is... following the exciting news for 2017. This year, I'll have a short story featured Sisterhood of the Blade, a Dumas-inspired collection of stories about three women who defy gender norms to become the personal musketeers for Queen Anne of France. It successfully funded on Kickstarter in January, and the publishers are looking at an August release, so stay tuned!

On to the reading report! Like last year, I tracked a number of different statistics. I looked at gender and ethnicity of authors, the genre, and the format (digital or print) of all my non-review titles. I only counted picture books that I read if they were for review, so there's a whole slew of picture books not on my list. Many of them went on Fish's "1000 Books before Kindergarten" spreadsheet, though, if I ever need to remember the titles! It's also worth noting that my record-keeping this year was not my best, so there may be some error in the numbers, but I present them here in good faith.

So for 2016, I came in at 173 books total, 6 fewer than last year. Of those, 93 were review titles, which is an increase, so that means I actually read almost 30 fewer books that I chose this year. (But I also invoiced out more for my review work, which is a nice accomplishment.)

  • The digital vs. print divide: I read more in digital at 54.75 books, with only 29.25 in print. Several books I read partially in print and partially on my phone through my library's Overdrive, hence the decimal points.

  • SFF novels hit an all-time low for me at only 36.

  • But that's because Romance bounced very high this year at 39.

  • I didn't track YA or review books in with the kids books this year, which brought those down to 14. I may track YA separately this year, because I think it's a more dominant category than I'd realized.

  • I only read 6 graphic novels, but those included two in the New EU for Star Wars and I enjoyed them very much, as well as two volumes of Amulet, which is excellent and I need to finish it this year.

  • Nonfiction hit 1, a fabulous book of poetry, Milk & Honey, by Rupi Kaur.

  • Suprisingly I only had 4 rereads this year.

  • My TBR goal was far out of reach: I always try for 15, but I only hit 3 (same as last year).

  • I successfully read 1 out of 2 non-genre books from my goal; the success was Whitehall, a Serial Box serial that is historical fiction.

  • Actually, I had three Serial Box full seasons on my list this year; although each episode is novelette length, I've only counted the season when it's complete.

  • I worked with Daniel José Older on the autobio project and read his Shadowshaper, which I highly recommend, fulfilling my goal to read 1 book by an autobio author.

I tried something new this year and tracked how many unique authors I read, because I went on binges reading a bunch of books by Kate Noble (also an autobio author, but I had read her before) and Vicki Lewis Thompson. I thought that since I had several authors appearing multiple times on the list, that meant I was accurately tracking the number of books I read by authors of various genders and ethnicities, but it meant that if I looked at all the authors I read this year, I wouldn't see what percentage of my authors were female or people of color. But that got complicated as well, because I read a couple of anthologies where I had a huge number of unique authors, even though they were only contributors. For example, Valor, a graphic novel anthology, had 24 unique authors and artists for my list, but it's only a single book.

So over the course of the year, from as best as I could identify:

  • I read works by 82 unique authors.

  • Of the books I read, 105 white authors were represented, with only 18 authors of color.

  • Of the books I read, 99 female authors were represented versus 26 male.

I'm thinking this year I may only track the author stats for each unique occurence, but I'm not sure whether that accomplishes what I want. I think ultimately what I'd like to see is that my book list features more diversity (105 vs. 18 is not very diverse, nor is 99 vs. 26; at least my genre breakdown was closer this year!). So perhaps tracking unique authors isn't as valuable as I thought.

Some of my favorite books this year, that I haven't already mentioned above, included:

  • Bookburners,by Max Gladstone, Margaret  Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery, Andrea Phillips, and Amal El-Mohtar; season 1 is coming out in print later this month!

  • Magic Binds and One Fell Sweep, both by llona Andrews.

  • Devon Monk's Hell Bent and Stone Cold, which are spun off of her Allie Beckstrom series. That world never stopped being awesome.

  • Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (also an autobio author I've read before); this was a reread, but I loved how powerful this set is just as much this time as when I first read them.

  • Ursula Vernon's Hamster Princess 1: Harriet the Invincible, which I read aloud with Bug. I think when you find an author the whole family loves, you know you've found someone special.

  • Frogs and Kisses, a return to Shanna Swendson's Enchanted Inc. series. It was such fun to return to those characters!

What are the best books you read in 2016? What are your reading goals for 2017?
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There's big news here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, the biggest of which is the release date for Regaining Home: January 26, 2016. You can see the page at Smashwords or check out the book trailer (designed by artist Lindsay Archer with music from Common Shiner).

But more on that as it happens. In the meantime, I have a reading report for you! I tracked a bunch of different factors this year just to see how diverse a group of authors I really read.

Including my review books (many of which are picture book length), but not including picture books I read with my kids, my total tally for last year was 179 books. Of those, 77 were review titles, 116 (the vast majority, including most of my review books) were for kids or YA.

  • SFF titles came in at 91

  • Romance came in at only 3 last year

  • Graphic novels hit 25

  • Nonfiction came in at 3 (greater than my goal of 1)

  • Rereads hit 13

  • Only 3 of my TBR books came out of the pile

  • I achieved 0 out of a goal of 2 non-SFF/romance/YA/kids novels

  • And while I picked up a title from an autobio author I hadn't read before (always one of my goals), the author I solicited didn't end up participating in the project, so I'm not entirely sure how to count that one.

My digital and print totals were closer this year: 80.5 for digital and 97.5 for print. (I read one book half on my phone and half in print.)

I didn't track author demographics for any of the review titles, and I only tracked demographics when I was pretty sure I could identify gender and ethnicity. My male/female split was pretty close: 53 male authored titles to 56 female authored titles. I did an Ilona Andrews reread during the year, so a number of books counted in both categories (as Ilona Andrews is actually a husband/wife team). Ethnicity was harder to determine, but for what I could figure out, I read 10 books by authors of color vs. 67 by white authors. Some of those also counted twice when there was an author/artist team for the graphic novels I read.

Now that I'm a little more aware of my reading habits, I'll be interested in seeing if I can intentionally better diversify the list this year--not just with authors, but also hitting those out-of-genre goals.

I hope everyone had a great reading year in 2015!
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Happy New Year! It's been some time since I posted; it was a busy year at Casa Abbott for non-writing reasons. We've welcomed baby Fish into our family, joining his sister Bug, Three-stripe, cats Jack and Tollers, and I as members of our household. But while I'm behind on many things, I've continued to read a lot! Since I posted last year and the year before about my reading goals, I wanted to post last year's results and this year's goals before 2015 progressed too far!

This year, I did not count all the picture books I read, but I did count all my review picture books individually. For the year, I totalled 163 books, which is up from last year's 129 (probably in part due to counting all the review books individually). There was a method to my madness, however: I wanted to see what percentage of titles were review books as compared to non-review books. Here's some of the interesting breakdown:

  • 89 titles were review books

  • 106 were children's or YA books

  • Only 12 were graphic novels, which is rather low

  • I read 7 romance, 69 SFF, and 2 nonfiction

I did reasonably well on my goals. The 2 nonfiction titles beat my goal to read just 1. I read 13 out of the 15 novels from my TBR pile I'd hoped to read, 4 titles by autobio writers, 6 rereads (out of a goal of 3), and read one non-genre novel.

The most interesting statistic I kept last year was print vs. digital. I surprised myself by reading 91 books in paper and 72 digitally. I thought I skewed toward e-books, so it's interesting to me that I'm not even at 50% digital reading. Some of this is due to reading for the MFAs. I rely heavily on the library to provide me with MFA reading, and though some are available as e-books, most are more readily available in print.

Highlights of the year?
  • Rereading Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead--and seeing it make the MFA finalists list--was great fun. It's been especially fun to read more of the Craft books, both post-publishing and in mss format, in combination with playing Max's Craftverse game Choice of the Deathless. Without the books being required for the game and vice versa, they work so well in conjunction!

  • Finishing Devon Monk's "Allie Beckstrom" series was bittersweet, but starting the "House Immortal" books makes me confident there's more excellent reading to come.

  • I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Gene Luen Yang for the autobio project, and I read The Shadow Hero and Boxers and Saints in preparation for that. They were both some of my favorite reading for the year, for very different reasons. I'd recommend The Shadow Hero to anyone, but especially readers who have a fondness for Golden Age superheroes. Boxers and Saints is a fabulous moral and ethical investigation of a historical period with a lot of magical realism thrown in, and I found it both enjoyable and tremendously moving.

  • The biggest surprise read was probably Eleven by Tom Rogers. It's a book about 9/11, mostly from the perspective of a boy who's just turned 11, and it's fantastic both as an exploration of the event through fiction for middle graders and as a coming of age story. It was also pretty wild to realize that 9/11 happened before the middle grade age group was born--so it qualifies, on some level, as historical fiction.

  • I'd also recommend without reservation the Super Lexi middle grade books by Emma Lesko. Lexi is neurologically and developmentally different from her peers, which makes her a fascinating POV character, and Lesko's commitment to neuro-diversity in children's books shows in how beautifully she captures Lexi and makes her so easy to empathize with.

  • I loved finally finishing Shanna Swendson's "Enchanted, Inc." series, which for ages looked like it wouldn't get to continue beyond book four. (I'd still read more books in that world!)

  • I'm also really eager to see where the "Kate Daniels" (Ilona Andrews) and "Safehold" (David Weber) books end up next!

There were, of course, a lot of other great books, but listing them all would be fodder for TLDR (if I haven't already hit that point).

I was pretty happy with this year's goals, so I'm planning to keep them the same. Here's to another year of good reading!
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So, the 2014 Hugo finalists came out. And the usual furor ensued about which authors are pushing which agendas--which is always an interesting conversation. Over at, Liz Bourke posted "Sleeps with Monsters: How about Those Hugos?," and I found the comments section to be an interesting cross-section of SFF fans. I found one of Liz's responses to a reader, who claimed one author promoted no agenda in his work, telling. She wrote: "You don't see the message, perhaps, because you agree with it. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, nor that it doesn't alienate as many readers as it entertains."

Best novel nominee Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, which has been recommended to me a ridiculous number of times, and which I'm looking forward to reading.

There are a lot of accusations about how nominees for the Hugos are selected because they promote certain PC agendas. These usually come from readers who enjoy traditional SFF elements, in novels which are frequently led by a white-cis-male protagonist. Disclosure: I like a lot of traditional SFF stuff myself, and I'm a fan of shared-world fantasy, which tends to revisit a lot of the old tropes over and over again. (Sometimes in new and interesting ways, but that's a conversation for another post.)

I also like books with female protagonists. I like books that show different cultures and different worldviews, and I like books in which the diversity of opinions and worldviews and ethnicities reflects the same sort of complex world we live in, rather than assuming one unified cultural identity. I have sometimes surprised myself by liking books that stray outside my normal relationship comfort zones. (Triptych by J. M. Frey was one of the novels that most impressed me in 2011. If it hadn't been recommended to me, I might not have read it, as I'd have thought it wasn't my sort of thing--and I'd really have missed out.)

I think that what people who talk about "diversity checklists" may not realize is that people don't nominate those books because they promote a certain agenda (though that might be part of it). People nominate those books because they like them. They enjoy reading that type of story. Those books provide the same level of entertainment and emotional arc for readers who like that sort of thing as traditional novels do for readers who like that sort of thing. And for people who are bored of the white-cis-male-led stories, there are still plenty of people who enjoy those books, and there's not anything wrong with that (so long as those books aren't the only thing being published).

People like what they like. As long as the world continues to be a diverse place, we're probably going to keep disagreeing about what we like and what's good. And as long as we can disagree respectfully, I think that's okay.
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For awhile, I was burned out on vampires. I'm still not 100% back in the fold; as I told editor Rose Fox back when I was reviewing for PW, I'm running out of things to appreciate about vampire novels in paranormal romance and urban fantasy. (Which is not to say that the appearance of a vampire is enough to irk me; I don't mind vampires, but I've stopped picking up vampire novels, if that makes sense.)

Vampires are problematic. Even at their most civilized, they're either predators or parasites on humanity, and a good vampire novel should give me some cool insight into that, or insight into what it means to be a predator or parasite (if told from the vampire's point of view). That's what I'm looking for, anyway. I know the whole smexy vamp scene works for some, but there's nothing inherently cool about fangs or blood that draws me.

Unless the story is going back to vampires older than Stoker's popular Dracula icon. What prompted this post today is that I was reading a kids' folklore book about vampires for SLJ and I remembered a YA vampire novel I'd really loved--because it was based on older-than-Vlad-III Eastern European folklore. But I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the title, and since I read it before I started my book log spreadsheet, I didn't have a record to check. After some searching, I found this excellent review by Christina Chavez over at CSUF YA Book Reviews of Marcus Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing. This, my friends, is the book whose title I keep forgetting, and it is an excellent and scary modern novel based on some of the spookiest vampires I've read. These walking corpses are out to kill the family members they left behind. Tricks like crossing water to prevent being chased, or throwing millet seeds because vampires can't help but stop and pick them up, feel fresh, not because they're new ideas, but because they're not as frequently used as so many other elements in vampire lore. The story is ultimately about the relationship between teen hero Peter and his father, rather than about the relationship between Peter and vampires, and I think that's part of the strength behind this book in a genre that so often identifies with the monsters instead of fighting them.

A friend posted on facebook recently about how much horror (mostly talking about film) has changed since the pre-90s creature features fell out of style. I noted that because a lot of horror and urban fantasy novels use the point of view of the monsters, the stories tend to focus on different themes:

  • identity politics (esp. for vamps and weres--what does it mean to have a secret identity as something despised by humanity?)

  • coming to terms with the drudgery of modern life (because how many of us have had jobs where we're "office zombies"?)

  • embracing/taming the violent sides of ourselves (mostly weres)

  • humans can be more monstrous to each other than any horror monsters

I love exploring those themes (and I'm sure there are others), but sometimes it's nice to sit back and watch humans be the heroes, and legitimately scary monsters be the villains. Sedgwick's My Swordhand Is Singing is satisfying for that reason, for its really excellent use of folkloric elements, and for creating a sense of historical period that feels concrete. I highly recommend it--and I hope I won't forget the title again!
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What a year in books! As always, my book list is dominated by science fiction and fantasy (in part because of the long nominations list every year in the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, which I love being on the jury for) with a healthy smattering of romance and comics. I'm facing a couple of big changes in 2014, the biggest of which is that I'm no longer reviewing SFF or comics for Publishers Weekly. My editors and I were all sad about the circumstances that led to this change, and I'm glad for things like Facebook and Twitter that will enable me to keep in touch when I'm not getting regular book shipments from them! Instead, I'm reading more titles for Kirkus, all self-published and many of them picture and chapter books, which suits my reading time with Bug (who is an excellent second opinion when reviewing such titles).

A portion of my still-ridiculous TBR pile
A small portion of my still ridiculous TBR pile

I read twelve fewer books in 2013 than in 2012 (in part because I count the picture book reviews in batches rather than individually), but my total was still 129 books for the year, an average of almost 2 1/2 books per week. A friend asked about the best book I read in 2013, and I said I'd have to consult my spreadsheet -- I forget in what year I've read what books! But here are some of my favorite picks for 2013:

  • Wrecked by Shiloh Walker, a very fun contemporary romance

  • Merrie Haskell's The Princess Curse

  • The manuscript for Max Gladstone's Full Fathom Five, which will be out this coming July; even in manuscript form, this is -- so far -- my favorite of the Craft sequence

  • A Man Above Reproach, a delightfully silly regency romance by Evelyn Price, which was so fun that I didn't even care if there were anachronisms

  • Digger by Ursula Vernon, which won the MFA in the adult category this year, and which I reviewed at Black Gate back in October

  • RASL by Jeff Smith, which I didn't love as much as Bone, but was good in a very different way

  • Vessel (the MFA winner for the children's category) and Conjured, both by Sarah Beth Durst, and both very different books, but equally good

  • Graveminder by Melissa Marr, which I think appealed to me particularly because my father is a funeral director

  • Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, by Barry Deutsch, which I'd been meaning to read for ages and finally picked up

  • Sidekicked by John David Anderson, which I already reviewed here

  • If I Fall by Kate Noble, which may be the best romance novel I've read

  • Sleepless Knights by Mark Williams, a comedic Arthurian novel that's my favorite Arthuriana in awhile

I also caught up on some series reading that I enjoyed:

  • Allison Pang's "Heart of the Dreaming" series

  • Devon Monk's first three "Age of Steam" books (and I can't wait for more of those!)

  • I always compulsively buy whatever novel in Nalini Singh's "Psy/Changeling" or Ilona Andrews's "Kate Daniels" series comes out, so I'm happily caught up there

  • After falling behind on Jennifer Estep's "Mythos Academy" books, I read three in a row, and I'm excited for the (soon to be out) final book in the series

  • I read the final books in Karen Mahoney's "Iron Witch" trilogy, Ally Carter's "Gallagher Girls" series, and Nicole Peeler's "Jane True" series, all of which were fitting conclusions

  • I'm still catching up on the Sartorias-Deles books by Sherwood Smith (because they're such a vast span), but I did read and enjoy her 2012 YA The Spy Princess.

  • I am finally almost caught up with "Safehold" by David Weber, but I find sometimes I need to take a break in the middle of them to get away from religious warfare; Weber writes it very well, but it can be so heart-wrenching in the middle that I put the book down and come back to it later.

There are several more titles I could mention -- I read a lot of good books this year, and several that earned a "great" or "great!" or "holy crap awesome!" ratings in my spreadsheet. As for my goals... I didn't quite make them. Let's check in:

  • 1 new to me nonfiction book Yeah, this one didn't happen. This goal is staying on my list for 2014, though; I think reading nonfiction, beyond articles at Cracked is important, and I should do more of it, even though I'm dreadfully slow.

  • 2 novels not SFF, romance, or YA Didn't even touch this one. Again, reading outside my genres is important, and I don't do enough of it. Keeping this goal the same for 2014.

  • 1 novel by an autobio author who I haven't read before Technically, this one's a no-go, too, but I did read some people this year and, because I enjoyed their work, subsequently invite them to the project. So I'll give this one a C for effort. Same goal next year.

  • 3 rereads I made 2 rereads, but I have this vague recollection of binging on the "Kate Daniels" books by Ilona Andrews right after reading the newest one. No record of it, so I can't count it. I'm pretty sure I can hit the 3 count next year.

  • 1 new graphic novel not a review book I aced this one -- I read 12. So, um, this goal is coming off the list. I don't need incentive to read comics apparently. I'm also buying some books in single issues (Saga!) from Comixology, which I count like webcomics (which is to day, I don't write them down).

  • 15 TBR books Another abject failure. I only read 3. I realized though that from March until June I didn't read a single book that wasn't for a review or for the MFA list, so it makes a little sense that I fell behind in pleasure reading. Especially as we move onto the next one...

  • 4 kids books not for the MFAs A bunch of pleasure reading apparently happened here instead. I read 16 kids books last year. Again, this goal is coming down -- no incentive needed here.

  • And though this one's not a goal, my reviews totalled out to 74 books. According to my January recap of reading last year, I read 80 review books in 2012. So that number looks to be holding just about steady.

What books did you read last year that you'd recommend? What reading goals have you set?
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November Namesake meetup in New York
Meetup for Namesake in New York; L to R around the table: Michelle, Meg, James, Alyssa, Judy, Yamino, Sarah, Derek

I've been busy at work on Choice of Pirate, my next game for Choice of Games, and the rewrites on Regaining Home, so there hasn't been much time to keep up on blogging. (Except, of course, on Questia, where I just got to write about Wonder Woman and the Bechdel Test, and Cengage Brain, where I wrote about the Beatles new bootleg track releases and Amazon's future drone delivery service. You won't find anything about what's going on with me over there, but I do get to write about interesting stuff!)

I was, however, on Twitter fairly regularly at the beginning of the month, promoting the (now over and unfunded) Kickstarter for Noble Beast's classics line, which will reappear in a different form next year. Since I am not frequently on Twitter, it was completely random that I caught this post by friend of the blog Seanan McGuire:

seanan tweet

Seanan wrote about how, at Disneyland, you're going to see people of all shapes and sizes, but that while she craved being a part of fandom, much like Disney's Little Mermaid wanted to be with humans, "Then I got there, and people were nicer to me when I wore short shorts and tight shirts and pretended not to notice where their eyes went. Because yeah, maybe I sold my voice a little bit to be a part of that world, and maybe I thought it was worth it." Seanan is among SFF creators calling for fandom to be more accepting, particularly to women and People of Color. My social media circle is filled with people who are highly critical of the exclusionary feel of some areas of fandom, out of love for fandom and a desire to make us "better than we are," in Seanan's words.

I appreciate these crusaders, because I think they're improving fandom by making it more welcoming. Sometimes it seems easy to get bogged down in what's going wrong in fandom, though, so I thought I'd share some anecdotes of fandom experiences that got it right -- which are, possibly, due to the efforts of people like Seanan.Read more... )

We don't get everything right in fandom. We've got a lot of work to do to make everyone who loves what we love feel included. But there are these great moments when we get it right, and those are worth celebrating.
alanajoli: (mini me)
So, the world didn't end in December. That's just the start of the good things on my list as we're entering 2013.

Yesterday, first day of the year, I got a (small) royalty check from the sales of Into the Reach and Departure, which is a great way to start a new year off right! I checked my sales report today, and the 99 cent sale definitely encouraged people to buy the books. So hurrah for that! I'm leaving the sale open through this weekend, and after that will be putting the books up at $2.99, which is the price point that I, as a reader, will impulse buy. At any rate, I'm thrilled with the uptick in sales and am glad that people are out there reading the novels!

In addition, people have been saying nice things about Choice of Kung Fu. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that it would get covered in reviews, but I was surprised a few days after its release to see a lot of app reviews up on Google and iTunes -- by people I don't know. And most of them were nice! There were two really insightful reviews by bloggers that I thought I'd link to here: Dora at Casual Gameplay called the game "a rich, compelling narrative set against the backdrop of mystical ancient China" in her review. Tof Eklund of TouchArcade really got some of what the game was trying to do beyond just martial arts adventure; he wrote "what amazed me was seeing the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian strains of thought, complete with their conflicts (but never categorical oppositions) that play out in the game, and seeing the opportunity to play according to those philosophies, or reject them all." I can't say how excited I am to see someone not only recognize my efforts in that direction, but to think I pulled it off.

Beyond reviews, my buddy Brian LeTendre wrote up a really nice piece about me and my work at his blog See Brian Write. I've really been enjoying Brian's web comic MoStache, and I've just (belatedly) purchased his novel Courting the King in Yellow, which promises to be full of Lovecraftian goodness. Knowing Brian as a gamer as well as a reviewer and podcaster, I know he tells a great story in person, so I'm looking forward to reading his prose!

In other news, 2012 was not an entire success: I did not make my reading goals for last year. Although I did read one non-work related nonfiction book (John "jaQ" Andrews's Quicklet on Castle Season 3, a novel by an autobio writer (The Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley, plus several David Weber novels), three rereads, several new graphic novels that weren't review books, and four kids books that weren't for MythSoc, I only read one novel outside my genres (The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley), and only drew down my physical TBR pile by two books instead of twelve.

This year, I'm setting that TBR goal higher, and repeating most of the other goals. Interestingly, out of 141 books I read (sometimes grouping together kids books and graphic novels), around 80 of those were for review for the various publications I write for. Which explains to me why maybe I missed a few of those goals I'd set for myself. To good reading in 2013!
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I admit, I have largely stopped doing volunteer writing. When I first started doing game-writing, I worked for free, or worked for product credit. To me, this was doing time: eventually, by doing enough volunteer work, I'd get some writing gigs. And largely, that process worked. Which meant that I stopped volunteering.

Ah, but Alana, you say. You blog. You write reviews you don't get paid for. You guest blog. You post free fiction from time to time. How does that gel with your aforementioned mercenary disposition?

In truth, it doesn't always gel, and that's why a lot of those free projects get pushed aside for contract work. But while I don't have a great answer to that question, I thought that Ilona Andrews did a fine job describing the free vs. paid conundrum here. She (or, really, they -- Ilona Andrews is a husband/wife team) are currently publishing a free serial (link on the cover image), which eventually they'll turn into an e-book for pay, but in the meantime are doing it for-the-love.

Here's where I think this works in their favor. When I get free stuff from a writer, and I like their stuff, I'm far more likely to shell out for their books, e-books, heck even t-shirts based on their work. I think a lot of free writing (blogs included) creates a sense of community, ownership, and loyalty. This is absolutely true of Web comics -- just look at the Kickstarter success of Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick -- and I think it works for fiction writers, and even publishers (look at, as well.

At any rate, the Andrews's thoughts are quite insightful. Clearly the topic has been discussed whenever Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day comes around (link is to James Patrick Kelly's Asimov's article on the debate), but with all the interesting ways of getting content to readers that are growing and changing (crowdfunding, donation-driven, free, traditionally paid), I think it's a conversation that continues to be worth having.
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Seems to me that there was a time, not so long ago, that I used to keep up with dozens of bloggers, who I liked and felt a kinship with. That also used to be the time when I updated my own blog with some regularity. Clearly, that time has passed.

It was a very busy, and fantastic, summer here in Connecticut (and surroundings -- this summer marked my first ever trip to the Bronx Zoo!).

Tiger, Tiger

There has not been a whole lot to report writing-wise. I am currently at work on a project for Choice of Games, featuring a kung fu theme. Considering I am also preparing for my black belt test in kempo (to take place in November), I have a lot of martial arts on the brain. I've been meaning to write about the process of creating a text-based interactive novel game, but I have been spending more time writing than writing-about-writing. (And also learning how to balance my work-from-home time as Bug is deciding that naps are no longer a guaranteed part of the day.)

Here is the news in a nutshell:
My newest article for Dragon magazine, "Songs of Sorcery," is out in the current issue. As usual, it's myth based, but it's also got a lot of silly lyrics that I wrote to common tunes. Quite a lot of it ended up being cut from my original draft, and some additional fun lyrics got added by the designers (I suspect developer Tanis O'Connor should be credited with some of the new work!), which makes it feel (to me) like a fun collaborative effort. I'm quite pleased with the final result (though I am a little sad that the hero theme song to the tune of "Funiculì, Funiculà" didn't make the cut).

This summer has included several book birthdays of those blogging writers I used to keep up with. I'm pleased to be entirely caught up on three current urban-fantasy series (instead of the most recent installments sitting on my TBR pile): Ilona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, which had Gunmetal Magic come out in July; Devon Monk's "Age of Steam" series (July's release was second installment Tin Swift; and Kalayna Price's Alex Craft series, which also had a July release (Grave Memory).

I'm also really excited about the launch of three new series:

Since I am at the moment one step ahead of my paid-review pile (I do have several books for unpaid lounging around the office), I'm trying to catch up on both review books and books I just really want to read. I'm currently at 116 books read in 2012 -- three short of last year's total -- but in order to make my specific reading goals I posted on January 1, I've got sixteen non-review titles to choose and read before the end of the year. Four moths to do it in? No problem.

If anyone has a recommendation for a non-SFFH, non-romance, adult fiction book they read this year and would endorse without hesitation, I'm all ears. I made it a goal to read two books outside my genres this year, and while I've picked one, I'm still undecided about the other.
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Remember how I mentioned doing author interviews for PW and Kirkus? Well, both of my most recent author interviews are up online. The first, for Kirkus, was with Arthur Mokin, a documentary writer who has published a tale of the Exodus in Meribah. The book uses a main character who is an Egyptian, and whose outsider view allows him to give commentary on the Hebrews in exile. I think it's a pretty insightful book, and Mokin was a lot of fun to interview.

For PW, I interviewed Kij Johnson, whose short story "Ponies," which blew me away when I read it on, is featured in her new collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees. The print portion of the interview is here, but it's probably behind the paywall until next week. The rest, and longer, portion of the interview is over on Genreville. Kij is one of those writers who, when I read her, I thought, How have I not read her work before? Her back list isn't terribly long, but it's one I look forward to fitting into my schedule.

Speaking of PW and Kirkus, both of which I review for, I am still inundated with review books at the moment, with three graphic novels due on Friday, another two due next week, and two more novels for July, as well as a pile of books I've been meaning to review for Flames Rising and an ARC for Black Gate. Whew! It's a good thing I read quickly!


May. 5th, 2012 02:00 pm
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These links have been keeping tabs open in my browser until I wrote about them, so here's me clearing off my desktop:

  • My review of Grave Dance by Kalayna Price is up over at Black Gate. Spoiler: I loved it.

  • Target has decided that selling Amazon's kindle is a conflict of interest, Bryan Bishop reported over at The Verge. So, what's going on between Amazon and Target? I suppose we'll known in a few weeks – or it'll fade from the news and we won't figure it out.

  • Penelope Trunk wrote a really interesting post on Venture Beat on "Why Smart Authors Are Cutting Amazon Out." She's advocating what ends up being even more self-publishing than I usually see: effectively, be your own publisher and bookstore. I'm not sure I'm 100% behind her sentiment, but I do think it's a well-written and well-reasoned argument.

  • Tor/Forge e-books are getting rid of DRM, as announced on and at PW. Thank you, Tor! I'd not actually noticed your DRM before, so at least you made it the kind that wasn't annoying previously. But I appreciate that you're getting rid of it entirely! (Especially as it's in time for me to buy Safehold 5 when it drops to mm price this fall, and, of course, Three Parts Dead, which is not yet listed as a nook book, but I'm assured will be.)

  • The success of Fifty Shades of Grey (the slightly-edited-to-not-be-Twilight-fanfic bestseller) is somewhat baffling to me -- PW reports that it was the top fiction seller in the country the last week of April. Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell posted with other recommendations over at Kirkus, and one of her comments made me suspect something: Fifty Shades of Grey may well be appealing to people who don't usually read or didn't previously read romance. I was reminded how I was relatively unimpressed with The Da Vinci Code when it came out, but it had huge, widespread appeal, perhaps also among people who were not typical readers or book buyers. I've nothing to back that up other than its just being a random thought. I've not read, nor do I intend to read, Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • PW also reported that B&N has just gotten into bed with Microsoft for their digital initiatives. If this means I will eventually be able to play Jade Empire on my nook (rather than my X-box), I am completely doomed.

  • Speaking of B&N, the nook's new advertising campaign (reported on by Lauren Indvik on mashable) is amusing.

  • And last, PW's coverage of the upcoming ruling on Authors Guild v. Google.
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Discussion on yesterday's post has been fun -- I need to go reply -- and thus I wanted to follow up just a little bit with some thoughts on the currently-under-fire agency model. To begin: writer buddy Max Gladstone (you can preorder his book here) confirmed that ebook royalty percentage is higher, but that doesn't mean that the royalty payout is higher; there's much complicated math involved in that equation (as the series of emails in our thread has shown). That thread led me to cite a figure [ profile] jeff_duntemann has offered before (once here in the comments on my blog) -- he estimates that ebooks cost half as much to produce as print books, and thus should cost consumers half as much. Based on the figures my writer friend was throwing out there, I wonder if this is truer for smaller publishers: big publishers have a lot more overhead, just by nature of having much larger staffing, needing a greater number of people supporting that staff, warehousing, etc., etc. Looking for Jeff's breakdown (which I did not find -- Jeff, if you're reading this and you've done a breakdown, we'd love to see it!), I stumbled on a few more recent entries of Jeff's defending the Agency Model.

You may have noticed that I've not had much to say in favor of the Agency Model, so that Jeff -- who has a better grasp of how the industry works than almost anyone I know -- was supporting it made me stop and take a look at his points. And here's what I discovered: I have been looking at the Agency Model issue first as a consumer, and second from the perspective of an e-book only retailer. As a consumer, it may not be super convenient for me to have to go poking around for different prices at different places, but if I bargain shop at several stores, I know I'm getting the best deal. I used to do that a lot pre-Agency Model. When the Agency Model came on the scene, I largely stopped shopping at Books on Board and Kobo Books, because most of the titles I'd been buying from them were now on the Agency Model, so I might as well buy them from Barnes and Noble and get them delivered wirelessly to my nook.

(I still shop at DriveThru Fiction, where my own books are sold, for a different niche of books. Fictionwise, Smashwords, and Bookview Cafe still had the kind of self-published stuff -- usually short stories or backlist titles from writers I knew had content there -- that they remained worth checking, but for different content than I'd purchase at B&N anyway.)

So, the Agency model drove me away from non-chain e-book retailers on the Web. It made it impossible for me to use coupons or to receive incentives from retailers -- something I've become accustomed to as a book buyer even at indie bricks and mortar stores over the years. Customer loyalty initiatives no longer worked for e-books for a large enough percentage of what I was buying that I quit shopping around.

Worse yet, the Agency Model didn't actually seem good for the publishers! My writer buddy reminded me of this post from Nathan Bransford from back in March 2011 about how Agency pricing works, which shows that publishers often make less money on Agency Model books. So it was looking to me like this: the consumer loses because the prices are higher and they get no incentives. The indie e-book retailers lose, because customers like me stop bothering to shop there. The publishers lose because they make less money per sale.

But hold the phone. Jeff (whose latest book, published by his publishing house, you can buy here) points out that the big publishers make less money per sale. Once you take out some of the risk factors (like print run size), publishers that publish e-books, either exclusively or as the majority of their business, have an incredible opportunity with the Agency Model. He writes: "An online ebook store’s capacity is essentially unlimited, and any number of publishers can play. If there are a million publishers and 999,900 of them sell products at lower prices than you do, your control of pricing is less than it was in the era when it was tough to get your books into stores and a relatively few large publishers dominated the market."

Scott Turow laments the potential loss of the Agency Model for its probable impact on bricks and mortar bookstores -- and it turns out that places like Barnes and Noble have done really well under the Agency Model, so even my preferred chain will be impacted if the DoJ does win the suit against Apple, Macmillan, and Penguin. So there are additional factors I'd not been considering in my previous assessment of the Agency Model.

As for now, however, I'm back to shopping around for good prices on ebooks. If you have a favorite indie ebook etailer I haven't mentioned already, I'm always up for a new place to price check!
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Haunted just got a great review from Charisma Bonus, a site I'm so glad I discovered! It's a blog that talks about being a female gamer -- mostly table top, from what it looks like. So, not only was the review good, but the site is cool, too!

In other news 'round the internet, Stacia Kane is having a super cool contest for readers to win a pill box necklace like the one worn by Chess Putnam from her Downside series. Her newest title, Sacrificial Magic, releases at the end of this month, and I'm hoping she'll be stopping by Myth the Universe and Everything to talk a little bit about it!

In the meantime, I am up to my eyeballs in review books. What are you all reading lately?
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I happened upon some fun history this week (though some was published awhile ago). According to the Guardian, a collection of fairy tales by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth was just discovered in Germany after being archived for some 150 years. The fairy tales are not the polished versions of the Brothers Grimm (as evidenced by this excerpt):

A young prince lost his way in the forest and came to a cave. He passed the night there, and when he awoke there stood next to him an old woman with a bear and a dog. The old witch seemed very beautiful and wished that the prince would stay with her and marry her. He could not endure her, yet could not leave that place.

You can reread the story in full here. It's worth taking a look, and then trying to reconstruct it as a narrative that would stand alone, instead of relying on interpretation based on other previously read and studied fairy stories.

On a different note, rogueclassicist over at rogueclassicism posted (back in February) about just how much the book shopping experience in Ancient Rome is mirrored by book shopping today. He quotes an article, written a few years ago, by Mary Beard, which reported:

For those who did go in, there was usually a place to sit and read. With slaves on hand to summon up refreshments, it would have been not unlike the coffee shop in a modern Borders.

Of course, a good copy of a 500 line work cost about the same as what it would cost to feed a family of four for a year. So some things are not quite the same.

On a more personal note, I was checking in with my reading goals today and realized that I'd made one! I've already reread three books this year -- one of them by surprise, because it was on my TBR pile, and I hadn't realized until I'd started it that I'd already read it. And then, of course, since I'd started it, I might as well finish!

I'm into the Mythsoc long lists now, as well, so I'm reading a lot of good quality fantasy. And the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards are coming up, so I'll have a small pile of YA titles to read for that. There will be no shortage of reading material for me in the next month!
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A few years ago, the Glamazombies (my nickname for fans of writer Mark Henry, also known as [ profile] mdhenry) hosted a 52 book challenge on Mark's mailing list. Since then, I've been tracking the number of books I read, including juvenile literature (nothing shorter than a Roald Dahl chapter book) and graphic novels (I did credit myself for going through all of the archives of Schlock Mercenary last year, but am not giving myself credit for keeping up with the daily reading). I made it to 119 books in 2011, and finished my first read of 2012 this afternoon.

I thought, hey, why not set some goals for next year? I've really just been tracking them and not setting any goals for myself, but I thought maybe I could diversify my reading a little more this year. So along with the goal of hitting the even 120 in 2012, I'm setting the following goals:

  • 1 new-to-me nonfiction book not related to work

  • 2 novels that are not SFF or romance

  • 1 novel by an author who I've worked with on the autobio project, but haven't read before

  • 3 rereads of books I've previously loved

  • 1 new graphic novel that is not a review book

  • 12 books from my as-of-2011 TBR pile (which will only start to make a dent; it keeps growing and I keep not gaining ground)

  • 4 kids books beyond the ones on the list for the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominations list

My reading challenge to all of you: set one goal for what you will read next year, whether it's in quantity, diversity, or quality. I'd love to hear what they are!
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A couple of topics have been sitting in my inbox, waiting for me to blog about them, so I can once again reach mailbox success. In an effort to get ever closer to that goal, I bring you: Links of Awesome!

First reader Arielle alerted me to a very cool celebration of reading happening this month. It's called All Hallows Read, and the idea is sharing a scary book with someone. Arielle was specifically looking for YA recommendations of scary books for a friend, and two of the scariest books I read in the YA category in the past few years are In the Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, a post-apocalypse zombie novel that is brilliant and terrifying (but which ended up in my "worthy" category rather than in my "enjoyed it" category), and Prom Dates from Hell and its sequels by Rosemary Clement Moore, which I found deliciously scary, with wonderful mythic resonance, and I recommend without reservation.

I probably read a lot more adult novels in the horror/scary book category and could recommend a great number, but instead I'll just mention one series I've been enjoying that have been on an e-book super sale since the end of August. They're the Downside books by Stacia Kane, who's here on livejournal as [ profile] stacia_kane. The series starts with Unholy Ghosts, on sale for only 99 cents. The two sequels are priced at $4.99, so you can get all three for $11 (or less than two mass market paperbacks).

Of course, you could also give someone the gift of Haunted, (because I'm not above just a little self promotion!).

But definitely do yourself a favor this Halloween and share a scary book, whether as a gift, a recommendation, or reading a new title yourself!
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This is my last day to post about my experience reading the MFA nominees this year before the winners are announced, so I figured I'd better do a write up quickly!

I have to say that this year's finalist lists were a real joy for me. Usually, there's at least one book in the finalists that I detest, or appreciate but slog through. Sometimes there's one that I just don't get. This year, I'm happy to say that, whether or not I feel they're the best choice for the award, I enjoyed all of the books on the finalist lists for both the adult MFA and children's MFA.

Children's List

The awards finally got me to finish Megan Whelan Turner's "The Queen's Thief" series. I'd started The Thief some time ago and hadn't really enjoyed the style; when I got to the end of that book, however, I realized what all the fuss was about, and why it was an award winner. The rest of the series really won me over, and I'm very glad to have read them. Polly Schulman's The Grimm Legacy was a great discovery, and I thought Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson was a great recasting of a Grimm fairy tale in a non-Western setting.

Adult List

The best discovery on this list for me was, without a doubt, Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. Based on a Senagalese folk story, this short novel grabbed me and didn't let go, and I was very pleased to see it make it from the long list to the finalists. I was also tremendously excited that Devon Monk's collection A Cup of Normal made the finalists; Devon's been a great inspiration for me a number of times, from both her blog and her fiction, and I'm tickled to see her recognized. Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven is another excellent contender, and definitely shows how the definition of mythopoeic can expand to include epics outside of a Western comfort zone. There's always a lot of conversation on the jury lists about what it means for a book to be mythopoeic; Kay's novel uses a different cultural language, by being set in China, than the usual candidates, and it's not directly tied to a folktale the way Lord's novel is. And yet, magic and the supernatural are always just on the other side of a boundary from Kay's characters -- sometimes crossing over it directly but other times only hinting at the presence of Other nearby. It worked for me not only on the fantasy fiction level, but also on a mythopoeic level, and I'd highly recommend it ([ profile] lyster, this means you, although I'll be surprised if you hadn't discovered it already *g*).

That said, I'd recommend all of the finalists this year, even the ones I didn't directly point out here. I enjoyed all of them, some of them to my own surprise, and some of them just as I expected. (I can't think of the last time I didn't enjoy one of Terry Pratchett's novels, for example, and it's never a surprise to see him on the finalists list. Speaking of Pratchett, Genreville linked to a cool discussion about gender in Discworld this week, which is worth checking out.) So, if you're looking for something good to read, pop by the MythSoc Awards list and you'll have ten good things to put on your to-be-read pile. The winner will be announced at the Mythcon 42 banquet tonight!
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I read a lot of books. As of today, I've read 74 books so far this year, including children's books and graphic novels (though I weigh some graphic novels differently than others -- it usually takes two volumes of manga to count as one book on my list, for example). I've been thinking of how to do a recommendation of what I've read so far this year that I think pretty much everyone should pick up if they haven't already read them, but haven't really gotten my thoughts thoroughly together on that. So, it being Friday once again, I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of my favorite discoveries of the year: Triptych by J. M. Frey. It's a time travel novel, a story about aliens trying to integrate into their new homes (while their perspectives continue to remain completely foreign), and a tale of the trouble societies have making changes in worldview to accommodate new ideas.

When people leave one land or world to come to another, they bring their stories with them, and those stories reveal a lot about their culture. The way the listeners receive the stories says a lot, as well. This section is from more than midway through the book, and so that I don't reveal too much, I'm only including a very small part of the retelling of a legend, from the perspective of the main alien, Kalp. It describes why romantic family units on his planet come in threes. I think it captures a bit of the novel's tone -- and I hope it'll whet your appetite to pick up the novel in full. It's very much worth reading.


"In a place that is not here," he starts. Kalp's parents had told it like this. All parents did, where he was from. They started their stories differently on the other continent, but neither was better than the other. It was just a preference. Tradition.

"In a place that is not here," Kalp repeats, because the start is the most important part and bears repeating, "There was Vren."

"Who's Vren?" Basil asks, sinking into the sofa on the other side of Gwen, clutching his mug of tea like a lifeline, like he always does.

"Shut up," Gwen says.

"Vren was tall," Kalp said. "And his eyes were very yellow."

"Is that usual?" Basil asked. "Yellow eyes, I mean? Or is it a... a, yunno, a signifier? A symbol?"

Gwen elbows him. "Shut up, Baz."

Kalp does not lift his head. The story is for the baby, not Basil, and Basil's questions will wait for later.

"Vren had long strong arms and a long strong body and a long strong mind."

"How can a mind be long?" Basil asks. A glare from Gwen and Kalp both makes him roll his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, shut up Basil," he says.

"Vren was not wealthy. He was not High Status. He was not renowned for any particular trade. He was, however, completely and devotedly happy, and in those days, that was rare."

"Why rare? Yes, yes, shut up Basil. I gettit."

[Note from Alana: the myth goes on, but, to avoid spoilers, we'll skip to the ending]

"Is it true?" Basil asks, ever the empirical scientist.

Kalp performs the shrugging motion. "Does it truly matter if it is?"

"No, don't suppose," Basil allows.

"We call those myths," Gwen says. "Histories that are fantasy."

"Myths," Kalp repeats, committing the new word to memory.


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Alana Joli Abbott

March 2019

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