May flowers and other nice things

Woosh! Another month is gone, leaving behind only allergies and promises of a sticky summer.  May was a busy, hectic, tumultuous month around the Suri household.  Here’s a run-down on the good, bad, and ugly:

1. I wrote approximately 14,000 words on the first draft of ABSENT, my archaeology time-travel novel. Yay!  This is good progress from April and also means I’ve entered the final 1/3 of the novel.  Home stretch, baby!

2. I’ve got 5 short stories making the rounds out there.  Meanwhile, BLOOD RED SUN is still waiting on a response from Angry Robot.  Queried 3 more agents this month as well.

3. Critiques were relatively slow this month; I completed 6 for my various writing groups.

4. World-building on my urban fantasy series (book 1 tentatively titled CONSUMED) is coming along.  I’ve had a few writing buddies take a look at what I’ve got so far and their suggestions have been very helpful in terms of developing my ideas for this series.

5. Books, books, books.  I read 4 this month, including “In the Garden of Iden” by Kage Baker, “Native Star” by M.K. Hobson, “The Diamond Age” by Neal Stephenson, and “Hounded” by Kevin Hearne.  Nothing compared to the 11 books I tore through last month, but not too shabby.

6. Probably the biggest news, and thing that has most been hindering my writing progress this month, is that the hubs and I are in the process of attempting to buy our first ever home (a 3-bedroom apartment in Park Slope).  Squee! (also: terror). Hopefully more concrete news to follow next month.

7. I finished out the spring semester at Queens College, administering both a second midterm and a final exam this month.  I thus wrote and graded 240 exams this month.  Though I love, love, love my day job, I’m not going to miss the long commute.  Adios until the fall, Queens!

8. Along with friend and writing buddy George Galuschak, I attended a reading at the New York Public Library, featuring John Scalzi, Cat Valente, Scott Westerfeld, and Lev Grossman.  It was awesome.

9. No travel this month, though I am departing for a short trip to Miami today, so I guess I snuck a little travel in under the radar.  You know, dear Readers, how I like to do that 🙂

10. Finally, my poor, benighted exercise regime.  Since I tore my hamstring I’ve visited various orthopedists and learned I have some minor spine issues that are causing weak back and leg muscles.  I’ve begun physical therapy (with a super-serious Eastern European trainer who likes to sternly tell me “It vil be fine” whenever I whinge about something hurting).  I must say, I feel MUCH better already and will hopefully be back to running before the summer is too far gone.

So, that’s May in a nutshell for me.  What did you get done this month?  What are your goals for June?

Writer’s Workspace: 5/28

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  One of my big goals for this month was to lay down some serious pipe on the first draft of ABSENT, my archaeological time-travel novel.  I’ve been zipping the characters from one near disaster to another and now they’re settling in for the final act – searching for a cuneiform tablet on an archaeological expedition in 1925 Iraq.

Snippet from the screen: “Emily glanced up the dusty slope towards the ziggurat.  The others had nearly crested the rise where the temple quarter excavations lay.  Reid strode close to Dr. Pendleton, turning towards him in animated conversation.  Lucy Everton had taken Reid’s arm for support.  She looked quite picturesque with the rising sun glinting off her pale blonde waves of hair.”

On the iTunes: for inspiration on this novel, I’ve downloaded bunches of great jazz and big band music from the 1920’s.  Right now Art Landry and his orchestra are serenading me with “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”

Keeping me company: since we got two new chairs for the living room, Mr. Ramses has been utterly useless (shocking, I realize).  He just lolls about in them all day like a Roman Emperor waiting to be entertained with wine and bloodshed.

Out the window: early summer has slipped up on us here in Brooklyn.  This might sound like a good thing…unless you rely on window A/C units to keep your workspace cool. Ugh. I now remember why I spent so much time working in cafes last summer…

In my mug: I’m embarrassed by how much tea I’ve been drinking, I really am.  Let’s just say, I got three boxes of Numi’s Aged Earl Grey what seems like just days ago.  Two bags remain.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  who am I kidding?  Of course it does.  The internet has been my enemy lately, tempting me away from my work with a never-ceasing death-spiral of links to follow, and follow, and follow.  I can’t bring myself to contribute to your destruction as well.  Pop into the comments to tell me about your current writing projects, then go work on them!

Book Review: In the Garden of Iden

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (1997, 329 pages, Science/Historical Fiction)

Well, I must say, this book was not at all what I was expecting.  The cover and blurb on the back imply time-traveling science fiction with immortal cyborgs.  The story delivers that, plus a Jane Austen-esque romance married to a Charlotte Bronte-esque tragedy mingled with a heavy dose of philosophizing on religion and the human condition.  It was the strangest, loveliest mash-up; wholly unexpected and very hard to set aside.

The story follows Mendoza, a child plucked from the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition by the Company, a group of immortals bent on saving the world’s treasures from the rest of us “ugly monkeys.”  We follow her adventures as she too is transformed and then plopped down in rainy, tumultuous sixteenth century England to complete her first Company assignment.  Though iced over with a veneer of Sci Fi, this story boils down to a romance – part Darcy and Elizabeth’s delicious verbal fencing and part steamy bodice-ripper, all shadowed over with the looming efforts of doomed Mary Tudor to re-Catholicize England.

Such a crazy combination of styles and stories would result in an awkward narrative in less skillful hands, but Kage Baker fits it all together like a Rubik’s cube and hands it to you with an unsettling smile.

Blast from the (not so distant) past

Dear Readers,

It is officially the 202 day anniversary of my blog.  Happy randomly selected day of celebration to me!

In honor of this auspicious event, I’ve decided to put up links to my personal favorite posts since the blog’s inception.  Those of you who are newer readers can delight in posts you missed out on the first time around and faithful readers from Day 1 can wander down that beloved path known as Memory Lane.  It’ll be fun, I promise!

Soooo, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my 5 favorite posts from the last 202 days:

1. A golden oldie from my first month blogging, in which I ponder the age old writer’s dilemma between experience and imagination.  What’s the right balance, especially when writing speculative fiction?

2. My first ever post, a discussion of the role of realism in fantasy writing.  How much gritty, true-to-life detail do we want in our fiction?  Do we prefer George R.R. Martin’s misery, blood, and betrayal or would we rather hang out with Tolkein’s noble heroes and misty elves?

3. My reflections on the handicaps (and advantages) of writing fiction when you come from an academic background.  The post title says it all (sort of): the curse of academia.

4. My musings on the pleasures to be had in re-reading old favorites.  I know why I love to do this.  Why do you?

5. Finally, here’s one from a few months ago that generated rather a lot of comments and discussion:  how we respond to critiques of our writing.

Enjoy, and feel free to share links to your favorite posts from your own blogs (or, hell, share ones from the blogs of total strangers!) in the comments.

And, because you can never say it enough, many thanks to YOU for making me feel like I’m not just flinging my thoughts out into a dark and empty void.  I love you all.

Nebula award winners

SFWA has their announcement up for the Nebula award winners following this weekend’s ceremony.  Here’s the link.  Though I had my fingers crossed for Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (one of my favorite reads in recent memory), Connie Willis (the novel winner with Blackout/All Clear) is pretty darn awesome too.  Congrats to the winners, as well as all those nominated!


Most days I like to think I’m pretty damn good at keeping all my juggler’s balls in the air.  Home life.  Work life.  Writing life.  Social life.  Most writers, even successfully published ones, have day jobs they must structure their writing around.  Many of us have families.  All of us have unexpected joys and tragedies to deal with.  It’s part of life.

Those of us who’ve decided to make our writing a priority have devised ways to work it into to our daily lives, carving out spaces and times that we try to keep inviolate.  For some it’s a set time each morning or night, hewed from the dark hours before or after kids and spouses and pets and chores and day jobs claim our attention.  For others it’s a set word count for each day or week, or an office no one else can enter while we’re working, or a cafe we can slip away to.  In the usual ebb and flow of life, these strategies tend to work.

But what about when the unexpected happens?  A baby enters your life.  Someone close to you dies.  You get bad news about your health.  You move houses, or jobs, or spouses.

What do you do when the Big Life Decisions intervene, when that carefully constructed scaffolding gets bumped and comes tumbling down in a shower of ill-fitting pipes and jagged-edged 2x4s?  How do you keep up with your writing then?

Finding the time to write isn’t the only problem here.  So is focus, creativity, and space to think.  When you’re consumed by important things happening in your life (good or bad), how do you summon the mental discipline to focus on fictional worlds and characters, on the struggles of people you’ve given creative life to, but who – quite frankly – will still be there when your personal situation settles down?  Sometimes I can channel whatever is consuming me personally into my writing, other times all I do is hit a wall my mind flatly refuses to find a door through.

I don’t have answers here, just questions.  But I’d be willing to bet nearly every writer I know has faced these same problems at one time or another.  If anyone has insights or advice to share, I sure would welcome them!

And now…I’m off to use my mind lasers to cut a way through this damn wall and WRITE.

Book Review: Native Star

Native Star by M.K. Hobson (Fantasy/Steampunk, 2010, 387 pages)

Native Star recounts the adventures of Emily Edwards, a witch from a backwater, wild west town.  Headstrong and opinionated–yet still rather naive–Emily is swept off on a cross-country quest when she inadvertently bonds with an unstable chunk of magical stone (the titular native star).  Joined by snobby, uptight warlock, Dreadnought Stanton (no, I’m not making that up), she finds herself racing against time and a host of devious bad guys who want nothing more than to get their hands on the stone–whether or not it’s still embedded in Emily’s hand.  There’s plenty of high stakes action, romance, and magic to keep the reader well entertained.

I was impressed with the way Hobson unfolded the plot of Native Star.  In particular, the author does a great job of pacing and upping the stakes throughout the story.  Each time you feel you have a handle on what Emily and Dreadnought will do to save themselves, Hobson changes the stakes and moves the plot in a believable but not wholly expected direction.  This kept my interest and made it hard to put the book down.  The character development is also fairly well done.  Emily and Dreadnought both have likable and unlikable qualities and both grow and change in ways that are consistent with their backgrounds and the things they experience during their journey.

A few small nits are worth mentioning – first, the novel really only has minor streampunk elements (most notably a pretty darn cool biomechanical flying machine), but aside from a prosaic steam engine train, these elements are largely unnecessary to the plot; the story could have been told just as well without them.  There are also moments where the narration style vacillates unexpectedly.  For much of the story I felt I wasn’t meant to take anything too seriously — it was all just a fun romp.  Then an odd, deeply serious mood would fall over certain passages and I felt I had wandered into a wholly different story.  This isn’t really a bad thing, but I did find it a bit jarring.

In sum, though, Native Star is a fast, fun read with interesting characters and a cool setting (I’ve always been a sucker for early American history).  The story is a stand-alone with a proper well-wrapped-up ending, but it does seem to leave the door open for a sequel.

Anyone else read this one?  Thoughts?

Writer’s Workspace: 5/10

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: my little fingers are tap-tap-tapping as I labor to increase my word count on the first draft of ABSENT, my time-travel novel (currently at about 38,000 words).  In today’s installment, our intrepid heroine visits the 1920’s excavations at Ur, Iraq for the first time.

Snippet from the screen:Emily stood at the edge of the great excavation trench and shielded her eyes from the sun.  The ziggurat towered to the east, casting a long shadow behind them.  Beyond, mid-afternoon light lanced across the desert, bleaching color and washing everything to a faded, dusty taupe.  Iraqis draped in robes and headscarves labored in the trench, shoveling, lugging dirt, and calling out to one another.  The edges of an ancient mortar wall were beginning to emerge from the chaos of sand, picks, and men.”

In my mug: this morning I’m guzzling down multiple mugfuls of an organic Indian Darjeeling handpicked by virgins, flown to the States on the wings of cherubim, and sold in bulk by the faux-hippies at the Park Slope Food Co-op (okay, only the last part of that is true).  As my 2 1/2 year old niece Lyla would say: “it’s nummy, Aunty Mimi!”

Keeping me company:  everyone’s favorite fuzz-monster is is trying to seduce me away from my work with his most winsome and plaintive expression.  Devious, he is, but I will not weaken.

On the iTunes:  Tiny Dancer by Elton John.

Out the window:  we are finally, finally, finally getting some gorgeous spring weather here in Brooklyn.  It’s sunny and 65.  Marvel, dear Reader, at my willpower as I resist the urge to wander away from my computer and eat ice cream in the park.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: first off, go check out fellow VP alum Nicky Drayden’s new short story collections.  Aptly titled “Delightfully Twisted Tales,” the collections showcase her sharp, witty prose.  Over at TalktoYoUniverse there’s an interesting post on re-envisioning a scene without totally rewriting it, mostly by focusing how your characters respond to each other and feel about the unfolding action.  Finally, in conjunction with the announcement of her first published story, “Luck be a Lady”, Amy Sundberg blogs about the role of luck in our lives.

In closing today, I ask not only what YOU are doing this fine morning, but also request you share any wonderful procrastinatory links you might have up your sleeves (favorite blogs, cool videos, new publications you want to pimp…) – come on, what corners of the internet do you like to hide in?  Tell all.

Old School mysteries rock

Of late I have found myself hungry for the delights of old school mystery writing.  Cracking the pages of some of these classic works, I feel I’ve discovered something perhaps many of you already knew: they really ROCK.

In the last month or so, I’ve read Agatha Christie (Murder in Mesopotamia and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (Hound of the Baskervilles), and I’ve got more of both, plus a Dorothy Sayers novel, waiting on the nightstand.

Here are a few reasons I think these books have stood the test of time and remained engaging (even refreshing) after so long:

Crime and murder doesn’t equal depravity and gore. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a good blood-soaked, psychological thriller as much as the next girl, but damn is there something lovely about reading a mystery that manages to convey dread and suspense without showing every lurid detail and making every villian into a sociopathic monster who would rape his own mother.  These books rely on good writing, the creation of atmosphere and mood, and deft and clever characterization to do their work — and they are the richer for it.

Who dunnit?  *bites nails in suspense*

“Who dunnit” is a good question when it comes to old school mysteries.  Christie and Doyle knew how to keep us guessing until the very last page – bringing each character under the light of suspicion in turn.  In a lot of contemporary crime novels we learn the villian’s identity relatively early and the plot revolves around a sort of dance (classic ‘battle of wills’) between the evil antagonist and the heroic protagonist.  In old school mystery writing, there’s a lot more grey area — everyone has something to hide, which makes it much harder to pin down the bad guy (or gal).

My dear Watson

Too right, Holmes — these classic authors of mystery really knew how to create memorable characters.  Holmes is an obnoxious bore of a know-it-all and Watson his long-sufferingly loyal compassionate everyman.  They are the perfect team, their partnership as endearing as it is enduring.  The same can be said for Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fussy, delightful, always enigmatic but never-wrong inspector.  As readers we can count on these characters to take us through the darkness and into the light, and to always throw in a few good surprises along the way.

In short, old school mysteries are wonderful comfort food of the kind I suspect I will forever-after be hungry for.

So, to help me feed my new addiction, I beg not only your thoughts on the delights of old school mysteries, but also the generous sharing of your favorite, not-to-be-missed titles.

Happy reading (and detecting!) 🙂

Some nifty for you

A short entry today, and just to share the link to a rather useful new blog series.  Agents Suzie Townsend and Joanne Volpe have started posting their analysis/response to the first pages of manuscripts.  They’re calling it “First Page Shooter” and, I must say, it’s quite interesting to see the range of material being sent to agents, not to mention their feedback about that material.

That is all.