The next chapter: October and November 2019 mega update


It’s been a while. Two months, to be precise. Let’s just get right to it 🙂

October in writing

Once more, I was busy with non-productive writing-related tasks. I was prepping for NaNoWriMo and my rewrite of Reality Bomb. Though I think I worked through most of the problematic bits of the story and had a good idea of the reworked outline, with plot points, etc., the writing took me in slightly different directions, as it does. More on that, below.

I continued my reread of Ascension and got half-way through Playing with Fire, book four of the series.

OctoberProgress

Writing-wise, I blogged 4,529 words of my 4,500-word goal, or 101%.

I also wrote 496 words of short fiction of my 2,000-word goal, or 25%.

And that was it for October.

November in writing

I won’t belabor things too much. If you’ve been watching my NaNo updates, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where I landed. I wrote 30,502 words of the revised RB, or 61% of my goal. At this rate, it will likely be the end of January before I’m finished with the rewrite.

The last week of November, during which I was training at work, was appropriately fatiguing, but I cracked 30k, which was a realistic goal I was happy to achieve.

I also wrote my latest Speculations column for DIY MFA. It should be coming out Tuesday. That came in at 1052 words of my 1,000-word goal, or 105%.

I had expected my weekly NaNo updates to be brief and predicted about 250 words each, or 1,000 words overall. I blogged 1,293 words, or 129% of goal.

NovemberProgress

Filling the well

In October, I went to Can-Con in Ottawa, which I first attended three years ago. This year’s attraction was that the Aurora Awards (the Canadian Hugos) were presented there. Well, they were off-site at Christchurch Cathedral, which was a lovely venue. I met up with a few friends from professional organizations and had a genuinely lovely time.

In November, Sudbury’s own Wordstock Literary festival took place and I attended what sessions I could given that I was also beginning NaNoWriMo and my 50th birthday party (!) took place that weekend. Still, I connected with writer friends and bought books (when do I not?).

What I’m watching and reading

On the viewing front, Phil and I finished watching the final season of Preacher. It was mostly satisfying. I read the graphic novels so long ago that I wasn’t able to remember well enough to know if the series was a faithful-ish adaptation. I have the feeling that it wasn’t. There were some significant logic issues that can probably be attributed to the graphic (like how they got the car overseas). Handwavium aside, it was enjoyable.

I finished watching the final season of The Santa Clarita Diet. Meh. I liked the characters and the actors, but the story was lacking.

Phil and I started watching the (third?) season of Ash vs. the Evil Dead and haven’t finished it. As with other shows of its ilk, it was playing the same tropes over and over.

Instead, we took in a delightful animated kids’ show, Three Below, which was created by Guillermo del Toro. We enjoyed the tale of a family of aliens stranded on Earth. There were tie-ins to The Troll Hunters.

We also watched the first season of Happy! It was all kinds of twisted and we just enjoyed the scenery-chewing antics of the cast 🙂

I finished off the last season of The Mortal Instruments. It was okay. I was mostly seeing it through for the sake of completeness.

Finally, Phil and I watched Raising Dion. We enjoyed it, and burned through it, more or less, but there were some problematic storytelling issues we took exception to. The first was that, in an attempt at attaining some realism, the writers gave time to the characters’ daily lives and struggles, even though they had little to nothing to do with the main plot.

**WARNING: HERE BE SPOILERS.**

Yes, Nicole deserves a life and interests of her own, but did it need so much screen time? Nicole gave up her dancing career when she was pregnant with Dion. Pertinent, but it’s a fact that can be stated and we can move on with the story. That she gets a job at the same dance theatre is good (‘cause she needs a job to support Dion) but then the job becomes the source of meaningless conflict, in which the owner continually makes Nicole choose between her job and her son’s wellbeing to the point of unreasonableness. And then there’s the potential relationship with hot dancer guy when it’s made abundantly clear that Nicole isn’t over her husband’s death yet. I was waiting for this whole subplot to tie in somehow, but I was disappointed.

Nicole’s sister is a no-nonsense doctor and seems only to be present to remind Nicole of what a failure she is, how delusional she is, and what a poor mother she is. Later in the series, when Nicole’s sister has to take Dion to the hospital because he’s spiking a fever and Nicole’s boss won’t let her leave work, Nicole is finally able to prove to her sister that she’s not crazy and Dion does have powers. But then the sister has to risk her career and medical licence to erase all evidence of Dion from the hospital’s systems. She does help Nicole get Dion away from Pat (see below) but then she drops out of the plot, her usefulness exhausted.

Even Dion’s friends and the bullying he experiences as the new kid in school are, at best, peripherally tied to the plot. But peripheral is better than pointless.

**HERE IT IS. THE BIG SPOILER. READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.**

And then, there’s Pat. Oh, Pat. I love Jason Ritter as an actor, but damn did the writers give him some shit to portray.

The series begins with Pat being the friend and coworker of Nicole’s dead husband, Mark, and godfather to Dion. They play games together, Dion tells Pat things he can’t tell his mom, and Pat is helpful, though it’s clear he’s crushing on Nicole.

Dion begins to exhibit powers and then he and Nicole witness strange ghosts that appear in a sudden storm, one of them, Dion’s dad. Then a man made of lightning, whom Dion names the crooked man, shows up and sucks all the ghosts back to him before disappearing.

Pat begins to help Nicole and Dion, being Dion’s “superhero mentor” and helping them to investigate Biona, where Pat still works, when Nicole discovers that Mark didn’t trust his employer.

During Dion’s health crisis, Pat even points out the way to save Dion, having learned what Mark discovered about his own changed physiology in the wake of the meteor shower that resulted in his developing powers.

Then, in a reveal so clumsy they had to include a retcon flashback, Pat goes from awkward family friend and geeky investigator to full-on incel and … the crooked man. There was so much WTF, I didn’t know what to do with it.

In the end, Pat/the crooked man is defeated by Nicole and Dion in a tag team effort, and there is a touching, if temporary family reunion, but the crooked man escapes and inhabits another young boy with powers much like Dion. This makes no sense as the crooked man “consumes” those with powers and Pat wanted Dion to heal him (of the crooked man, I assume), which would have killed Dion. There’s no precedent for this outcome in the series. Also, it presents the recurrent villain trope, in which Dion will again have to face the crooked man at the end of next season. Not promising.

I read a lot of books in the last couple of months. I’ll touch on them briefly, here.

I decided to check out Zen and the Art of Writing because it had long been on my TBR list and someone in my critique group mentioned that it was her go-to, feel-good, writing craft book. I liked it and Bradbury’s approach to writing but didn’t feel like I could adopt much of it for my own process.

Having just finished The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of the series’ third season, I nabbed The Testaments. Atwood made a wise decision in placing the events of The Testaments fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, giving the series room to breathe and become its own thing in between. The narration alternates between Aunt Lydia, at the end of a storied career, Agnes, June’s oldest daughter, raised in Gilead by a Commander and his wife, and Daisy, raised in Toronto, who eventually learns that she is “Baby Nicole,” June’s younger daughter. I won’t give anything away, but I liked The Testaments better than The Handmaid’s Tale. The three narrators, though still unreliable in their own ways, are not as unreliable as Offred/June was in the first book. Their stories, though still traumatic, are revealing in ways that June’s could not be.

Then, I read one of my favourite books of the last two months, Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir. It’s admittedly weird, as only a space opera set in a system with nine planets (ahem), each controlled by a necromantic house in service to the Emperor God necromancer can be. It’s a little off-putting that the main action is basically sword and sorcery—I found myself asking, why set this in space at all?—I’m sure there will be a payoff in the upcoming sequel Harrow the Ninth. It’s a wicked and charming character study, exposed through mystery and puzzle-solving, and the writing is just—forgive me—to die for.

Next, I turned to Cassandra Khaw’s novella, Hammers on Bone, which puts a Cthulian twist on the hard-boiled detective narrative. Interesting and brutal and satisfying.

Eden Robinson’s follow up to Son of a Trickster, Trickster Drift, continues Jared’s story. He travels to Vancouver to attend college, away from his mother’s protection, moves in with his mother’s estranged sister and her haunted apartment, is stalked by his mother’s vicious ex, David, who abused Jared when he was a child, and stalwartly attempts to have a normal life. Things, of course, do not go as planned.

A Brightness Long Ago is Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest alt-historical fantasy and like all his work, is lyrical and touching and nuanced. This is one novel I want you all to read for yourselves, so I’ll just say that I loved it.

The City in the Middle of the Night is Charlie Jane Anders’ second novel. For the most part, I loved it as much as All the Birds in the Sky, but the ending seemed rushed and the novel was ultimately unsatisfying for that reason. On a tidally locked planet, where humans can only survive in the thin band of twilight between the inferno of the light side and the frozen tomb of the dark, the reader follows Sophie, kind, gentle, naïve Sophie, as she learns that no matter where we go or what we do, humans are the absolute worst. At every turn they fail her and each other. It’s no wonder she turns toward the native species of the planet toward the end of the novel.

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. Like Anders’ novel, Bolander’s novella shows us how humans are doomed to make all the wrong choices. Elephants and women are the victims in this case. Why is it that we need a holocaust, or a nuclear bomb to remind us that “never again” is more than just words?

Finally got around to reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. While I enjoyed the book, I found, as others have, that Alina, the protagonist, doesn’t have a lot of agency in the novel. From the moment she evidences her grisha powers, Alina is taken, trained, manipulated, enslaved, and though she ultimately manages to win her freedom and the day, it felt that luck had as much a hand in it as Alina.

Next was P Djélì Clark’s Black God’s Drums. This novella is set in an alternate history in which both steam punk elements and African culture. It was entertaining and I loved the protagonist 🙂

Then, I read the third novel in A.M. Dellamonica’s Hidden Sea Tales, The Nature of a Pirate. These novels are basically police procedurals in a post-post-post-apocalyptic future. Sophie Hansa is transported into a world which is more ocean than land. Aside from living on islands, there is an armada/floating nation of ships. There is magic, but it works largely by inscription, which needs specific and often rare materials, and must be worked on a person, whose full name is required for the spell. One person can only be inscribed so much before they reach their individual capacity and then they start to suffer and may even die horribly. The world building is impeccable, the characters are endearing, and the mysteries are engaging.

My other non-fiction read of the month was Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s the tale of an indigenous woman finding her way back to her culture. It’s a beautiful, lyrical book, and because Kimmerer is a botanist, she weaves science in with her teachings. It’s an ecological tour de force.

I read Alyssa Wong’s short story, “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers.” Two sisters destroy the world again and again in an attempt to save one another.

I burned through Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk. I read several awesome books in the last couple of months (Muir’s, Kay’s, Kimmerer’s), but this has to be my absolute favourite. It delves into the lives of the Lynch brothers in the wake of The Raven Cycle. There are other dreamers in the world, and they’re being systematically hunted and killed by an organization that believes one of them will destroy the world. They’re closing in on Ronan, Declan is dating the living dream of another, and Matthew has just realized that he’s just like his mother, Aurora Lynch, and that his existence depends on Ronan. It’s twisted and juicy and everything I wanted. The ending was a little precipitous, but I know this is the beginning of a trilogy, so I’m willing to forgive Stiefvater for that. The cliffhanger, though—!

Finally, I read Chuck Wendig’s short story collection, Irregular Creatures. Some of the stories were endearing. Some of them were downright disturbing. A lot of douchecannoes got what they deserved.

And—whew!—that was the last two months in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The Next Chapter

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