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Trying Softer

Trying Softer

Something I’ve been struggling with lately has been finishing the books that I start reading. This summer, as I’ve tried to take advantage of my free time to do more “for fun” reading that I can’t do in the school year, I’ve repeatedly run into the issue of stalling out on new books on my TBR list. Whether its because I can’t get into the world-building, or the tone is too severe, or I can’t keep track of all the characters (and yes, I know what that sounds like coming from me), lately I just haven’t been able to finish any books. In one particularly dreadful case, I was reading a book that I actually was starting to feel immersed in, only to have the book throw in a graphic attempted rape as nothing more than blocking in an action sequence. (I guess some writers are still pulling that kind of shit in the year 2018, huh?) Needless to say, I didn’t bother to finish that one.

artistic interpretation of my whole situation these past several months

It’s been a frustrating endeavor, and one that seems to have generally reflected a phenomenon in my life this year that I like to call “The Harder I Try, the Worse the Outcome”. Obviously I’m being melodramatic, but in a number of aspects of my life these past few months (except for finances, thank goodness), I’ve felt that the more time and effort I put into anything, the more unsuccessful I end up being at the thing.

Spring term in my graduate book publishing program really stood out as an example, where I had one Problem Class that required an excessive amount of effort compared to my other two classes, even though the work was not fundamentally more difficult (there were just a lot of busywork assignments that were poorly explained). I ended up dedicating probably something like thrice as much effort to the Problem Class than my other classes, at times even severely procrastinating or just not doing assigned work in my other classes to keep up with the Problem Class. And yet, at the end of the term, my lowest grade was in the class that I had shrugged off my other classes for.

That general pattern has followed many of my endeavors this year, and it’s frustrating because when I encounter obstacles, my instinct is to try to work through them. When the obstacle itself seems to be caused by me working harder, then working harder-er isn’t going to be the solution. And while I’m not hugely inclined to abandon things I’ve committed to (especially when other people are present to witness my commitment), I am inclined to refrain entirely from committing to new things if I think I won’t be astonishingly successful in them on my first try. And this is where my reading habits come in to this pattern.

I was already annoyed with repeatedly hitting walls with every new book I tried to pick up, so much so that after that particularly bad example mentioned above, I was ready to just give up on reading for a while. However, when I was recently listening to an episode of the podcast Print Run (hosted by my agent Laura Zats and her fellow agent Erik Hane), they offered a writing tip that gave me a kick in the pants to get back into reading.

Erik’s advise: “Read way more than you write.”

This has historically been my approach (reading takes way less time than writing, after all), but hearing it said out loud gave me the push I needed to try to get back into reading. But when trying had been the very issue, I knew I had to come up with a solution that required not more effort, but a different approach.

So, instead of trying harder, I decided to try softer. I decided to reboot my reading motivation by picking up a book that I knew I could finish, because I had before. Something that wouldn’t necessarily offer new perspectives or insight into current publishing trends, but something easy and familiar. And short.

I decided to revisit a fantasy romance that I had enjoyed a few years ago, Alexey Dyed in Red by A.M. Valenza, which is a darling, delightful, magical book with an atmosphere that elegantly straddles the line between serene and sinister, and it also includes that elusive asexual representation. Incidentally, while we’re here, I highly recommend this book (there is a tad bit of cannibalism in it, though, so watch out for that).

As I had hoped, revisiting Alexey Dyed in Red (and its sequel, Breakfire’s Glass) helped refocus my approach to reading. Instead of going into the books with the pre-frustrated expectation that I would struggle to finish them, I began with an excitement to dip back in to a familiar story, and my nostalgia made it easier for me to sink into the book and just enjoy the read. Although I know it’s important as an author to keep up on newer books, taking a chance to just slow down and go back to something familiar simply for the joy of it really helped put me in the mind of reading for reading’s own sake, which got lost somewhere amid all the frustration.

(As to where that frustration started, I again blame that Problem Class, which was so profoundly bad that it kind of made me hate books a little bit? You can see how this would be a problem for me.)

Anyway, I’m feeling much more confident in my reading habits again and a little more assured about my “The Harder I Try, the Worse the Outcome” problem. I’m hoping now I’ll be able to hop back into some of those books I stalled on and give them another go. The downside to this happy ending, of course, is that summer is almost over and soon my reading list will again be beholden to my classes’ assigned reading. Regardless, revisiting a favorite was a great joy and, if nothing else, put me in a better headspace.


If you want to check out Alexey Dyed in Red and Breakfire’s Glass (again, highly recommended for anyone looking for cute, mildly creepy fantasy romance with delightful asexual and polyamorous representation), here are some links for you:

A.M. Valenza’s website

Alexey Dyed in Red

Breakfire’s Glass

 

I also recommend Print Run for those interested in podcasts about the inner workings of the publishing industry. You can find their site here.

Summer Reading Report

Summer Reading Report

Summer’s almost over for me, so I figured it would be good to review some of my reading escapades before I get slammed with grad school and copyedits and have no time for any books except those that I am directly involved in producing. So! Here’s a look back on my summer reads this year.

Last year, in my lumbering effort to catch up on Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings universe, I read through the Liveship Trader trilogy, which was a worthwhile effort but, damn, those books are heavy. In all senses of the term. This year, I wanted to focus on books that are a little more light-hearted or at least was more “creepy because zombies” and less “creepy because prevalent systematic sexual violence”. I also wanted to expand my reading to incorporate more men of color, since up until this point, the number of fantasy books written by MOC that I’ve read has been tragically tiny. Here are the books I’ve read this summer:

Half-Resurrection Blues and Midnight Taxi Tango by Daniel José Older. The first two books in Older’s Bone Street Rumba series, a creepy urban fantasy series set in New York about an undead man named Carlos Delacruz who works as a sort of freelance MIB agent but, like, for ghosts instead of aliens. Both books focus on Carlos becoming entangled in the mechanisms of sinister supernatural groups who endanger both the humans and the ghosts of New York. These books were great fun, and Carlos is an incredible jackass of a main character who’s just sensitive enough to be sympathetic. The various types of ghosts and zombies and cultists made Oogey Boogey-style out of bugs bring a great fantasy element to the authenticity of the bustling New York setting (I assume, I’ve never been to New York, but Older sure makes it feel realistic). Midnight Taxi Tango was especially stand-out to me as Older expands the point of view characters to include Kia, Carlos’ teen friend who gains the ability to see ghosts after she gets caught in the crossfires of supernatural conspiracies, and Reza, a butch lesbian gangster who likewise becomes entangled. Older’s talent for character voice, which was already apparent in the first book with just Carlos’ PoV, is really showcased once he expands the main cast of the series. The third book, Battle Hill Bolero, is on my to-read list, so here’s hoping I can make some time for it before next summer rolls around.

Kojiki by Keith Yatsuhashi. This book has been on my to-read list since I first got in talks with Angry Robot about Moonshine. While I was researching them, the cover of Kojiki’s sequel, Kokoro, really caught my eye. I haven’t yet read Kokoro, but Kojiki was definitely worth the ride. I will admit: I learned in the course of reading this book that my stamina for long battle sequences is not what it used to be, and that slowed me down quite a bit. But if epic, landscape-destroying clashes between gods and their minions is your speed, this book should be very enjoyable. It follow Keiko Yamada as she travels to Japan to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and encounters an old ally of his, a kami named Yui. Yui introduces Keiko to a conflict among the kami surrounding the kami of fire threatening to destroy the world in pursuit of his obsession over the kami of water. The story does end up focusing quite a bit more heavily on the kami than I was expecting, and I would have liked to have seen more of Keiko herself, but the conflict between the embodiments of the elements does make for some very vivid scenes and sort of cinematic battle sequences.

Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart. This was an exception to my search for MOC authors, and I picked it up more because after reading through the above books, despite my immense enjoyment of them, I was really just feeling some high fantasy, and this was another book whose cover caught my attention as I was signing on with Angry Robot. Silent Hall follows five teens who are the sole survivors of an island cursed by a god, who then fall in with a mysterious wizard as they attempt to rebuild their lives on the mainland among the warring followers of various gods. The book follows them through a series of sometimes loosely-connected adventures which gave the story a very Earthsea-esque flow that I was really feeling. The five main characters were all excellent–realistically flawed but very easy to root for, which is exactly what one would hope for with a cast of frightened, desperate teens. It was only Hunter who came off a little weaker than the others in the first half of the book, but this was largely the result of his general stoicism and he grew into himself as the story went on. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Narky as the traditional roguish scoundrel who shined a little brighter to me than the others (plus, greatest naming of a fantasy character ever?), but they all had strong personalities that harkened to but didn’t rely too heavily standard fantasy archetypes. (Although, again, Narky’s adherence to archetypes really only bolstered my opinion of him, since he is very much My Type in terms of fantasy characters.) It’s a great, mythological sort of story that brings all of high fantasy’s good stuff to the table without having all that Good Ol’ Boy fantasy nonsense of its genre predecessors from the 90s and early 2000s.

As for what I’m reading now, I’m working on one print book and one ebook: Among the Fallen by N.S. Dolkart, the sequel to Silent Hall, and Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broaddus, a steampunk novella about a Jamaican ex-spy on the run with a young boy wanted by multiple political factions (this is yet another book that has wooed me largely by the sheer beauty of its cover, but while the premise is pretty straightforward, the execution has been lovely.) I’m loving both so far, and while I might be able to finish up Buffalo Soldier in my last week of summer, I don’t know if I’ll get far enough into Among the Fallen before school starts to really count it as a “summer read.”

Overall, while I couldn’t get through as much recreational reading as I wanted, I made some solid choices with what I was able to get into. For those of you with more spare time to read than I have, I highly recommend any of these titles. In the meantime, despite my soon-to-be-limited free time, I’m hoping to carve out enough reading time this fall to finish Among the Fallen and get into Jeannette Ng’s upcoming Under the Pendulum Sun and Linsey Miller’s recently released Mask of Shadows.