Writer Reading

I have noted before how I’m a slow reader. I read each word and then I re-read as I go because, as a writer, I can’t help it. Despite my slowness, I have managed to read more by making reading a priority. If I consider myself a serious writer I have to spend time writing, and reading.

What to read?

As widely as I can. I know, that sounds more like a ‘how’ rather than a ‘what’ question but really it is about what to read.

How wide is wide?

This is a question about genre. How many genres or sub-genres is only part of the equation. I see Format as part of widening a genre. Short stories, novellas, and serials, even within a genre, provide a rich and varied set of voices.

The same is true with publishers. The Big Five and their imprints are fine but small presses and small magazines are publishing some of the best, and award winning fiction. The best things I read recently came from small presses like Small Beer Press and small magazines such as Shimmer.

Readers seem to be embracing the diversity of format and sources given the success of novellas and serials recently. I’m excited to see this trend because as a writer it provides me with more ways to reach an audience. More chances for an acceptance letter.

It also means I need to read in the emerging wider world and I’m happy with that.


Best Novels Read in 2017

Here is my short list of favorite novels read in 2017, provided in no particular order.

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay. In my mind this is a modern fantasy classic.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. In addition to reading this wonderful book I met David Mitchell at the World Fantasy Convention this year and I was fascinated and inspired by our all-too-short conversation.

The Non-Existent Knight & The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino. Not a recent title but a recent find for me.

The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan

Best Short Reading 2017

I put an emphasis on reading short stories this year, and keeping track of the best ones. Here they are, in no particular order.


  • Tender: stories by Sofia Samatar. This collection is among the two best things I read all year. Each is a truly immersive fantasy and effortless prose.
  • Three Messages and a Warning edited by Eduardo Jimenez-May & Chris N. Brown. Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. This book was a give-away for my purchase of Tender at the Small Beer Press booth at the World Fantasy Convention this year. It was an unexpected gem filled with so many talented Mexican authors.
  • Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories by Beth Cato. The Souls of Horses captured me with its humanness and its ‘horseness.’ I think the author would know what I mean as would any reader.
  • Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip. Patricia McKillip makes writing feel simple and elegant at the same time. The stories are full of imagination.

Uncollected Stories:


For Character Driven Fantasy, Start With World-building

Filed under notes to self.
During my planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel it occurred to me I have developed a process for honing in on characters, and it starts with world-building.
Create a physical world: whether it is the real world, a secondary world, or a nebulous astral plane, knowing what the large physical constraints are helps define what kinds of societies evolve. This might be where I introduce any magic inherent in the world, particularly any magic based on nature.
Define the time period of the world: when in the world is the story happening?
Describe societies: with physical boundaries in place and any natural magics defined, and knowing when the story is happening, I can start to see what sorts of societies might have developed. Is there an isolated society, or one where water is scare, or seafaring versus landlocked? This is where ideas for characters really start to emerge. Knowing how societies order themselves through social norms, politics, traditions, religion, commerce, etc. I can see roles within those societies. These roles start to suggest important players, not always POV characters but characters to move the story.
I should note this is often where a plot, if I don’t have much of one, starts to be revealed. To me, plots are about conflict and on the epic scale, conflict is about power; who has it, who doesn’t.
List who best to tell the story: again I’m initially talking about roles, not specific characters, but as the roles get defined the focus narrows to individual voices.
Identify the voices to tell the story: by this point most of the POV characters have been revealed. I know who needs to tell the story, the ones who need to shed light on an important role character who is not a POV. Most importantly, I know the characters who’s voices need to be heard. They already beginning to speak and make me take notice of them.
Detail the characters: is the final step. Dig deep into who they are, how they came to be who they are, and who they might be at the end of the story.
This is by no means a unique process but it’s the one that works for me. This is my sixth novel/series and just as the process has evolved to this point, it will no doubt continue to evolve. This is also not definitive. There are times when I’ll have an idea for a character and no world in which to put them in. That’s a thought for another day.

Distracted Reading

Ode to My Distracted Reading
I make lists of books to read,
I arrange my lists into categories,
I place my books into piles according to my lists,
I pick up a book that is not in a pile, nor on a list