Hello, fellow writers. Happy Sunday!
Regular readers of the Weekend Edition may have noticed that my last few Saturday posts have been missing their second half – the overview of what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing, great blog posts from around the web, and other miscellaneous “shareworthy” items. Today, I bring you a massive catch up on all the linky goodness that I’ve been collecting since before the holidays.
Ready? Let’s do this.
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BOOKS I’VE READ RECENTLY:
The Christmas holiday afforded me the luxury of several long afternoons of quiet solitude, so – of course – I took the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned reading binge. I felt like a kid – curled happily on my couch with my cats, a mug of tea, and a pile of library books. What could be better?
.I began my armchair journey with a book that has been on my To Read list for a very long time: Stephen King’s memoir on the craft, On Writing. I know, I know – what took me so long? I have no good excuse. Although I have huge respect for King, I’ve never been a fan of his books because – quite frankly – they are too scary for me. (I tried reading It when I was a teen, and wound up with such terrible nightmares that I not only had to stop reading, I had to remove the book from the house.)
Now that I’ve finally read On Writing, I recommend it wholeheartedly. King’s advice is excellent, and his tone is a perfect mix of pragmatism and encouragement. He manages to be the voice of experience and reason without being at all pretentious or pedantic. In fact, the entire book is so damn readable that I found myself staying up quite late into the evening, reading.
I do still take some issue with King’s opinion on plotting. He calls himself a “situational” writer – someone who takes a character, puts him or her in a situation, and then stands back to see what happens next. While I agree that the “what it?” approach is an excellent way to start a story, I can’t quite bring myself to abandon the idea of story structure in favor of discovery writing. Though King may be able to craft stories without the aid of an outline or other planning device, I think this is mostly due to his innate sense of story.
Despite our differences on that point, I not only found this book extremely valuable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – cover-to-cover.
Next up was a collection of stories by A.S. Byatt called Little Black Book of Stories. This was my first time reading Byatt, who is probably best known for her novel, Possession. The spine of the book caught my eye as I was wandering through the fiction section of my library – a gothic-style cover with gold leaf embellishments and a rather mysterious air about it.
The stories contained within sparkle darkly with images and ideas that have stayed with me. Though each tale is unique from the others, together they weave a sense that there is more to the world than meets the eye. They manage to create this feeling without compromising the feeling that Byatt’s characters are as real as you or me. And, of course, the language is beautiful. I will definitely be seeking out more of this author’s work.
After such a serious and dark read, I switched gears to something lighter. Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold is another book that called to me from the library shelves. I had to stand on tip-toe to reach it, and was immediately intrigued the minute I read Charles deLint’s glowing cover blurb.
From the Goodreads synopsis: “When that world’s Emperor was overthrown, the Thirteen Orphans fled to our earth and hid their magic system in the game of mah-jong. Each Orphan represents an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. Brenda’s father is the Rat. And her polished, former child-star aunt, Pearl—that eminent lady is the Tiger.
Only a handful of Orphans remain to stand against their enemies. The Tiger, the Rooster, the Dog, the Rabbit . . . and Brenda Morris. Not quite the Rat, but not quite human either.”
I was nearly two-thirds of the way through this book before similarities in writing style and plot made me realize that I’d read another book by Lindskold, Changer. I liked Thirteen Orphans better than Changer. I found it easier to identify with the Orphans characters and their plight, and I also found the entire team of “good guys” quite likable. There’s a good chance that I’ll eventually read the other books in this series. I’d like to see Aunt Pearl kick some more ass.
My last holiday read was Valour and Vanity, the fourth novel in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. This was the first time I’ve read one of Kowal’s novels, though I’ve been a huge fan of her for ages because of her work on the best-ever writing podcast, Writing Excuses.
In the promotional blurbs, Valour and Vanity is described as “a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.” The setting is a historically accurate Regency setting except for one, small detail – magic is real, in the form of “glamour.” Valour and Vanity is a heist novel that involves deception on many levels and two teams of conspirators who play out their game in the city of Murano, Italy. This was an entertaining and well-written read that was perfect for a quiet winter afternoon.
With the holiday break behind us, I have less time to devote to long reading sessions, so I’m re-reading (via audio book) the second book in Lev Grossman’s magicians trilogy. I had forgotten just how much I love these book. I love the way Grossman combines magic and other worlds with a modern sensibility that’s full of sharp wit, cynicism, and a delightful sense of sarcasm.
I’m re-reading this one in preparation for reading the final installment of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land. I borrowed it from the library earlier this week, and am just itching to crack it open.
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BLOG POSTS WORTH SHARING
While being bumped out of my usual routine temporarily handicapped my blog consumption, I think I’m pretty much all caught up now. Thank goodness many bloggers slowed things down a bit over the holidays, or I’d probably still be digging my way out!
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OTHER SHAREWORTHY ITEMS
Awesome New Image Collection
A Mother Jones post tipped me off on the fact that the New York Public Library recently made 180,000 digital images available for free. This is great news for bloggers who are always looking for interesting and unique images that don’t smack of stock photography.
You can access the images via the NYPL’s website, and here is a post about their public domain collections. These images are available, “No permission required. No restrictions on use.” Wheeeee!!!
Sound Apps to Keep You Focused on Your Writing
A couple years ago I discovered a nifty little app called Coffitivity, an elegantly simple, scientifically inspired, and oh-so-fun online app that streams a soundtrack of ambient coffee shop sounds through your computer speakers. If you like, you can mix the Coffitivity soundtrack with the music stream of your choice. I use the app quite frequently, mostly when my daughter is home and work requires that I block out distracting noises.
I recently came across a similar app called brain.fm. According to their website, brain.fm “converts auditory neuroscience into personalized brainwave training programs” that help you focus, relax, and sleep. Unlike Coffitivity, there isn’t a long-term free version of the app. You can, however, do a free trial that allows you something like seven listening sessions to try out the different sounds. I have only tried one of the “focus” sounds, but the concept of soundscapes scientifically optimized to induce particular mind states is pretty fascinating. Worth a try.
The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge
I’ve thought about participating in the Short Story Challenge before, but have never managed to take the plunge. Maybe, though, 2016 is the year. Per the website, this is how it works:
The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge is a creative writing competition open to writers around the world. There are 3 rounds of competition. In the 1st Round (January 22-30, 2016), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment. Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words. The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 17-20, 2016) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story. Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 29-30, 2016). A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected. Sound like fun? Join the competition below and get ready for January 22nd!
Sound like fun? The deadline to register is January 21st, and the entry fee is $45. Even if you don’t enter, you can read winning stories from past competitions on the website.
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Finally, a great quote from Mr. Alan Rickman, another wonderful artist whom we lost this past week. For millions around the world, he will always be Professor Snape, but his body of work and his depth of compassion for humanity extends far beyond that single role. He understood the importance of art and of stories.
Thanks for sharing part of your weekend with me. Happy reading, happy writing, happy exploring and creating.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.