The Infamous TBR List

As a writer I am most definitely a reader as well and as such I typically receive a fairly hearty pile of books for Christmas and birthday gifts. But once all the wrapping is discarded and the new and wonderful books sit piled high next to my desk the real trouble begins. Where do I start?

In all reality I’m making this a bigger deal than it is, but still…

Aside from finishing whatever book I’m currently reading, how do I pick the next one? Should I go with the one I’ve wanted the longest or the newest release that looks incredibly enticing?

Like most readers I have a running To Be Read List (TBR) that is longer than a skyscraper is tall. It’s a list that is never ending and grows longer more than it shrinks. Some books have been on the list for years and others only a few months or less. Do I pick up where I left off? Or pick up something different too keep things from getting tedious?

Back sometime last year I decided I was going to try and read an entire series (16 books) beginning to end. Haha, yeah. That didn’t last. Maybe the reason I stopped was me, maybe it was the series. Maybe someday I’ll go back and revisit that question along with the remaining 14 books. But nevertheless, I made it 4 books into that series and was distracted by a new flashy title away from books that (although I wanted to read – and still do) I planned to read. With that task abandoned I am back at square one.

This year I received a couple of classics, a couple of graphic novels, and a couple of newer releases I’ve been waiting to get my hands on. So, as I am about halfway through one of those newer releases I couldn’t wait to get my hands on I’m already itching to pick up another of the shiny new covers from the TBR.

Sometimes I think about actually creating an all encompassing TBR instead of the mental one I currently have so that when I can’t decide what to read next I can literally just throw darts and TADA!

Until then, I’ll just continue to look over the top of my current read, eye-balling the pile, already ruminating over where I’ll let me mind travel next.

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Goals vs Resolutions

Since I began taking my writing more seriously a few years ago I have made more “resolutions” than ever before. But this year in particular I have seen more comments/posts/blogs/etc about not making resolutions and instead making goals. I have decided to follow suit.

When searching the resolutions in Google one of the definitions given is “a firm decision to do or not to something.” Trying the search again, but this time for goal, one answer is “the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.” A resolution seems pretty cut and dry. If I may borrow from Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Goals, on the other hand give a little more leeway.

The more I’ve thought about it, when it comes to writing, the term “goals” just seems more appropriate. Partially, for me, because it is little more fluid. I’m setting my sights on a few specific tasks and going to put forth the effort to reach said desired result.

My biggest goal for 2018 is to see my novel, in print, in my hand by Christmas. I will be ecstatic if this comes true, but there are so many factors that go into this becoming a reality that I feel like making it a resolution leaves me either a success or a failure. Either it happens or it doesn’t. By making this a goal, even if I’m close, but not there, in the desired timeline, I will count it as a win, a success.

There are many parts of being a writer that are cut and dry like resolutions. A story was accepted for publication. It was rejected. A story was finished by the deadline. The deadline passed and the project was not completed.

I’m hoping that by looking at my aims and goals with a little less stringent set of guidelines I will remain committed, encouraged, and excited for everything I can accomplish in 2018.

Book of the Year (2017)

A few weeks ago for the last episode of The Geek Awakens we went around and discussed a few of the things that we remembered most about 2017.

On air I spoke about how Wonder Woman was probably the geek highlight of the year for me. And as far as movies go, I maintain that stance. There was little about it wasn’t phenomenal and exciting. But I would be remiss if I didn’t add to my choice from the show.

While I was thrilled with myself and my ability to read the books I did during the year there was one in particular that stood out to me. A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau. A title produced by Inkshares (a crowdfunded publisher of sorts), blew me away. The book was exciting, haunting and profound. The book begins with the capture and arrest of a serial killer that has been terrorizing a small Canadian town for eighteen years. That’s how it starts! And it goes downhill from there. Secrets that should have remained buried are unearthed. A killer behind bars, but people continue to disappear and a creepy circus sets up camp on the edge of town. There are touches of Lovecraft, King, and Barker, all blended together magnificently with some thriller and crime novel aspects woven in as well.

Simply put, this is a book for anyone that enjoys any of those genres. (One small note, there is some gore, but if nothing out of the ordinary for fans of King or Barker.)

Two years in a row now, my favorite book has been one I’ve discovered through Inkshares. Like with all publishers, there will be some that stand heads above the rest, but two in a row is good enough odds for me to dig through their upcoming titles and read another.

Halloween Treat

Over the last couple of months I’ve tried my hand a few pieces of “micro-fiction”. Super short, usually less than 250 words. The challenge is obviously telling a cohesive story in such a minimal amount of words. Below is one I submitted to a Halloween themed contest. The story wasn’t picked, but since I’ve lapsed in blogging lately I thought I would share this one as  a special Halloween treat from me to you! Thanks for reading.

Trick or Treat

The old, crumbling, rotted house appeared to have been carved out of coal. Windows often represent eyes, and these were asleep, if not dead. Only the red light from the setting sun spattering through dying trees kept the house from disappearing into the darkness.

Charles nudged Fred forward. “Go on.”

Fred hesitated.

“Fine. We’ll go together. But Damian did it alone last year.”

“Well, Damian was dumb enough to shoot his eye out with a firecracker,” said Fred, unconvinced of Damian’s moxie.

The two traipsed up to the porch and the large, orange, plastic candy bowl. Inside lay two fake eyeballs. One brown, one blue.

“One for each of you, my dears.” The crone materialized in front of them and cackled.

 

Rebirth or Legacy

Marvel’s X-Men (the 90’s cartoon) is the reason I love superheroes, but my dad is the reason I read comics. During junior high we started regularly visiting a local comic book shop. And at the time I was under the impression that you were either DC or Marvel. It was as cut and dry as Cubs/Cardinals. With my dad being into DC and my affinity for X-Men I sided with Marvel without hesitation.

A few years ago I was drawn back into comics because of The Walking Dead on AMC. Once I find out a movie or show is based on a book/story/comic I’m a sucker for the original content. I want to know the fun little tidbits that don’t translate from one medium to another. I want to be able to pick out the Easter eggs (the homages to the source material). After 3 seasons of TWD I dove headfirst into TWD Compendiums Vol 1 and 2. I burned through them in less than 2 weeks. I wanted more.

Needless to say I quickly found myself at the local comic book store itching for each new issue. While I waited the weeks between TWD I worked my way back into other comics starting, of course, with Marvel. Now, the way the local comic book store presents the new issues Marvel and DC sit on the top shelves. It was easy to wander from what I knew into uncharted territory with DC titles literally right next to each other, besides, who doesn’t love Batman.

Apparently I picked the right time to begin discovering DC comics. Not long after I started reading Batman and went back and read the last few years worth of Justice League, DC began their Rebirth. I jumped on the boat along with a lot of other people. I picked up the one-shot Rebirth and read it that night. It is very much centered on Wally West as The Flash, a superhero and character I knew very little about, but his struggle to return to the world he knew and my desire to know where he went and who sent him away hooked me immediately. The icing on the Rebirth cake was (SPOILER) the last page that tied Alan Moore’s Watchmen in with the rest of the DC comic book universe. (Like I said, I’m a sucker for the source material.) As it currently stands I am waiting on the edge of my seat for the upcoming event that will answer questions and expose the threads tying everything together.

As Rebirth was slowly pulling in more of my interest Marvel announced their own back to basics reboot, Legacy. Instantly I feared this was a matter of seeing DC’s success and trying to hop on board, a feeling of which I quickly discovered I was not alone. Last week, Legacy hit shelves. I tempered my expectations as I read the issue that night. While even a week after release, I am not as excited about the upcoming revelations and reveals as I was with Rebirth, I am very interested to see how Marvel plays their cards. (I’ll withhold spoilers since the comic only released a week ago.)

While DC used their event to bring back a lone key character, Legacy has reintroduced (or teased) multiple. All of which, will have to find their place in the comic book universe amongst some drastic changes from their last incarnation. And similar to Rebirth, Legacy indicated that there are forces at play, twisting and toying with the lives of certain characters, that are bigger than any or all of them could have imagined.

My hope is that Legacy will find a strong footing to drive their universe forward as Rebirth seems to have done for DC. While I may be currently straying towards the DC side of the argument, I can’t help but desire for Marvel to do something to wow me and yank me back.

Drawing Inspiration

Everyone’s creative process is different.

If asked to sit down and write a short story each person would begin in a different way. You could begin with setting, or a character, or a situation, maybe even a theme or idea you want to try and express. There isn’t one right way. But assuming that someone else going about the task a different way is wrong.

A lot my recent thinking on this came from a text message I received a few weeks ago. A friend’s child’s class had been working on how author’s create their books/stories. The class was informed that most writers draw pictures to determine what they will write. My initial reaction to this was a strong “no.” I’m lucky to draw stick figures that are proportionally correct. The chance of drawing something as complex as the stories/characters/settings I write would be impossible.

I didn’t ask other writers, but my understanding is that most have a similar feeling toward graphically producing their thoughts. (There are always exceptions – I do know of a couple authors who sketch out their characters as a way to reinforce what they are mentally picturing.) I tend to think that most writers/authors paint pictures with words because we can’t do so with other media.

Another reason I don’t draw (aside from lack of skill) is that when I am working on a story or characters it is often more than one scene, more than one drawing or bigger than the moment in time captured in a piece of art. Graphic novels might be the answer to my narrow view, but far outside of the scope of my skills.

But the more I thought about this question the more I came around to a possible understanding of what the teacher was trying to do. First, while I don’t draw pictures of anything I write, I do spend a fair amount of time “spacing out” imagining what my characters looks like, how they react to particular situations, and the settings in which my stories take place. Second, children can have a harder time than adults when trying to express, through words, what it is they are thinking. As such, I could see this exercise as a way for the kids to visualize aspects of their story. This is of course speculation since I don’t know the teacher and am unable to ask what their thought process was.

So, I guess, in a literal sense, based on the way the question was asked of me, I would disagree that most writers draw what they will in turn write. But thinking beyond I see how having kids use their own drawings to encourage them to write what they are imagining relates to my own creative process. Again, when it comes to the creative process there is no wrong way. I write differently than Stephen King who writes differently than George R.R. Martin, etc., etc. Whatever your process, if you are creating and you are happy with your final product no one should judge the road you took to get there.

Start to Finish

Starting this week I’m trying something new. I’m going to read a series of books beginning with the first and continuing until I have reached the end of the most recently published novel. This is a task I’ve never done. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read full series before, just never one after another after another until finished.

Two things set me on this course. First, my wife has been tearing through a detective series she recently discovered. And second, I wanted to read something I knew was fun and an easier read, but can’t remember where I left off in the series. So, I figured why not start over from the beginning to refresh my memory.

Because of the flawed reasoning of my much younger self there are a couple series I have thoroughly enjoyed the beginnings of, but never completed. For some reason I thought that if I continued reading a series (longer than a trilogy) that before I got all the way through I would be tired of the characters and the world, so instead of finishing the series it would be forever abandoned.

Needless to say, as I’ve grown in my writing I’ve come to see the flawed logic in this. If I did ever read a series and get bored with characters or such it wouldn’t be a knock on my reading stamina, but more so the abilities of the writer. That should be part of the fun for a writer embarking upon a series. Not only should the characters grow and change as the books continue, but there should be things that both the reader and writer discover about the characters past and personality as the series moves forward. This is definitely something I need to ponder and scratch out as I begin toying with the ideas for what I hope to be a forthcoming (not likely anytime soon) fantasy series.

But for now, back to reading and using this read-through as enjoyment and research. Besides, if this read through goes well, it looks like I have added (or re-added) a few books to my constantly expanding TBR List. Part of me feels like I should have started this project with a series shorter than 16 books, but then again, I’m not starting the Wheel of Time.

Is Captain America Back?

Each Thursday night I get the opportunity to sit down with a few friends and geek out over some of the fun, interesting, and noteworthy news stories related to pretty much anything geeky, nerdy, or the like. As I looked at my pull list for the comic book shop this week I was reminded about the culmination of the annual Marvel comic-universe altering event. This year focused on Captain America and his foray to the dark side, Hydra. As much as this turn has been a topic of conversation for more than a year I felt it necessary to catch up and finish the last issue before we went on air tonight. Over the last 2 days I caught up and completed Secret Empire.

(There will be spoilers regarding the ending of the event past this point! Read at your own risk.)

I am going to stay away from the hot button topic of Cap’s turn and other political-type issues because I want to focus on the fact that as far as Marvel’s comic events have gone over the last couple of years I felt like this one actually had a fairly satisfactory ending. I don’t feel as if Nick Spencer (the writer of the event) got to the last 2 or 3 issues and suddenly realized he’d built this too big and had to hurry to tie it all up into a neat little package. In a lot of ways, I agree with a review I read earlier today stating that the final issue was a better ending than the series deserved. The Hydra empire fell, Hydra Cap was destroyed, the timeline restored, and Steve Rogers is back (wait, what?).

The crux of the story was that Kobik (a cosmic cube) had rewritten Steve Rogers history so that he’d always been a secret Hydra agent waiting for the right time to take over the country. When Kobik saw what she had created, after having been misled by Red Skull, she ran and hid. Only when the memory of the proper Steve Rogers/Captain America find her hidden in a strange dream-like reality is she enticed to return and fix what she had led astray. The final battle of Hydra Cap versus the idealistic recreation of Captain America is odd, yet satisfying.

Is the real Steve Rogers dead? And how can this memory reincarnation of Captain America be real? I guess that’s the fun of writing and creating a story around a cosmic cube whose sole purpose is to fiddle with the universe, history, and reality.

Probably my favorite part of this event was that Secret Empire made mention of previous events. Secret Wars, Civil War, and Civil War II. Those events played a role in the characters actions and reactions throughout Secret Empire. It even gave a hint as to the current Marvel Generations comics with past and present versions of particular superheroes.

Was Secret Empire perfect? No. But at least it wasn’t the convoluted mess that was Secret Wars or the limp unsatisfying Civil War II.

Piles of Ideas

Pretty much any writer will tell you, if you sit still long enough, about the wealth of story ideas constantly running around in their brain. At any one time I have 2-5 stories (probably a modest estimate) in one state of being or another. This could be from the seedling stage all the way to final edits and I won’t even count stories that are either submitted for consideration or parked in a documents folder on my computer waiting or another chance at glory.

For everything I constantly have in progress I have a terrible habit of scrolling through emails and Facebook and stumbling across calls for submissions that get the wheels turning. As I finished up a story for submission at the end of July I had no less than 5 possibilities for anthologies that wanted stories between August 1 and September 30. It wasn’t easy, but I set 3 of those aside at the beginning of August to focus on the other 2. One I just submitted earlier tonight and another I continue to fight with.

I still have a novel that I’m trying to work through revising my first draft, but there is something about the mental exercise of taking a nugget of an idea for a story and molding and shaping it into something new, exciting, and interesting that constantly pulls me back in. (I am making some progress on the novel, by the way, but it’s rough and needs serious work.)

I know a few author’s that won’t submit to anthologies or themed magazines unless they have something already finished that fits the bill. As I continue to write I’m getting to the point where I will have a few of those to dish out, but I love the challenge of twisting a prompt or a theme into a coherent polished story.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to the list of story nuggets I have jotted down across dozens of notebooks and they’ll all get written. Or maybe I’ll continue to stretch my creative muscles by tackling new and intriguing themes and styles. For now, I’ll go back to hammering out a sci-fi/apocalyptic/western story that centers around a train heist.

 

Same Words, Different Book

As a sociology student in college it was engrained in our heads that who you are and how you act/react is largely a product of your upbringing and circumstances. Despite being an English major and seeing firsthand how different people discovered different truths I never truly thought to apply that to casual reading. I made that realization based on a recent read.

On a recommendation from a friend I recently loaned the ebook of Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I loved it. It was awesome. I highly recommend anyone who has ever read and enjoyed anything science fiction to pick it up. While I was reading it, we chatted about a few highlights throughout the book and I mentioned a few scenes that caught my attention. But, what really struck me was after I finished she mentioned what was what she took from the book as a whole, "it's just full of great messages about gender equality and sexual identity and consent and acceptance."

Her assessment is completely true, and an excellent lesson to take from an incredibly well written book, but it wasn't the message I took from the book. In fact, I wasn't looking for a greater overall theme or meaning. After completing the book I was in awe of Chambers ability to build the world and the characters in such a detailed manner without weighing down the book and feeling like I was reading a report of fictionalized alien races and worlds.

I'm not likely to sit and contemplate other viewpoints of future fiction I read, but the recent discussion with my friend has reminded me that while we may all read the same words we each read a different book. Something to keep in mind as I dive further into my own writing.