Writer’s Workspace: 2/29

Good morning!  It’s Leap Day!

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

What I’m working on: Today I’m putting the finishing touches on the first three chapters of my newest novel, a secret project involving viruses, magic, and murder.  This 8k sample will be my submission for a writing workshop I’m attending in Dallas in March.  Here’s a sneak peak from Chapter One:

Snippet from the screen:  Aaron Rooney’s eyes bulged with dislike.  “You keep your mouth shut, you little freak, or I’ll have you up on charges.”

I was getting all ready to snarl back when Daniel settled his hand on my leg.  Time was I would have opened my veins right there, bathed the pickup with my blood, persuaded it to turn into a monster, and sent it chasing Sherriff Aaron Rooney all the way down to the Port Townsend ferry.  But that was before I’d met Daniel.  I took a deep breath.  

“Apologies, Sherriff.”  I tried to smile winsomely.  Problem was, I hadn’t felt winsome in about three years.

In my mug: It’s an English Breakfast type of morning, so naturally I’ve got a cold mug of green tea with honey.  Sigh.

On the iTunes: my playlist this morning features an eclectic mix of moody tunes.  Right now Solomon Burke is crooning “Cry to Me”; next up, “Losing my Religion” as sung by Dia Frampton.

Keeping me company: His Royal Highness, Sir Ramses the Displeased, has parked his majestic behind on my desk.  He insists on sitting on top of my mouse pad and mouse and biting me every time I attempt to dislodge him.  Please send help.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: an interesting read here, from Jody Hedlund’s blog, on the importance of story over perfection, the latest podcast from Writing Excuses, and three pudding recipes that are sure to make you fat (and happy).

How are YOU taking advantage of our temporal bonus this year?  What’s on tap for your Leap Day?

July is a saucy Minx

July is a flirt.  She flipped her skirt up at me, promised a wild ride, and then snuck out the back door when I wasn’t looking.  Now it’s August and I’m feeling dazed and not a little exhausted.

Two big things happened in July, both of which were great and neither of which helped my writing a jot.  First, I traveled to Honduras to help get my archaeological field project set up and running.  Second, my husband and I bought and moved into a new apartment – the first home we can truly call our own.  In between, I took a trip to Boston for Readercon.

Amidst all this travel, I did manage to squeeze in a little work, though not as much as I would have liked.

1. I made only wee bits of progress on ABSENT, my archaeological time travel novel.  I’m pretty close to finishing the rough draft, but most of what I accomplished in July was editing.  I took a hard copy of the manuscript to Honduras and marked it up in my spare time.

2. BLOOD RED SUN is still out to market, though I did recently get a partial request from an agent I’d be beyond thrilled to work with.  Even if she passes, I’m happy the query excited her interest.  All of my short stories are waiting on decisions at various magazines.

3. I Beta read a novel for a writing buddy (a real door-stopper at over 120K, but a fun read).

4. I did quite a lot of reading (much of it on my lovely new Nook).  This included “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ranson Riggs, “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness, “Hammered” by Kevin Hearne, “Magic Slays” by Ilona Andrews, “The Forever War” by John Haldeman, and “Grave Dance” and “Grave Witch” by Kalayna Price.

All in all, a good month.  August looks to be a little less hectic, but that’s probably just when viewed from afar.  I’ve got a trip to Seattle coming up, in which I plan to do a little research for the dark Urban Fantasy novel I’m working on (I’m tentatively thinking to set it in Port Townsend and Seattle).  I also intend (no, VOW) to finish the rough draft of ABSENT before I leave for Seattle.  That means it will be done by Thursday.  No Matter What.  I’m also facing down quite a bit of course prep, as the new semester begins at the end of the month.

What were your big accomplishments and adventures in July?  What have you got on tap for August?  Do share, dear Reader!

Book Report: Three worth a look

Today I wanted to share some book recommendations.  Between the time I spend on the subway (thank you, MTA, for my 2 hour commute) and at the gym, I generally plow through a book every week or so.  Some are mind candy, fluff enjoyed and forgotten.  Some are interesting, if not entirely successful.  Some prove a slog and lie abandoned on my bedside table.  Some are awesome.

Here are three that I found interesting or awesome enough to want to share:

Acacia by David Anthony Durham. Genre: fantasy. 753 pages (and the first in a series).

It should be said upfront that I’m a fan of epic fantasy, especially the kind that dwells in rich, believable worlds where “good” and “evil” are relative, complex concepts and elves and dwarves have little place.  Acacia hits all these marks, and then some.  Following the struggles of four royal children scattered and in hiding after their father’s kingdom is conquered, Acacia is (in my view) about the relationship between compromise and power.  The characters are all sketched with deft lines and are both sympathetic and unsympathetic, strong and weak.  The “villains” are frequently humanized and the “heroes” sometimes make cruel or foolish choices.  Best of all, Durham’s background as an historian grounds the epic sweep of this tale in details that feel real.  You almost believe the kingdom of Acacia existed and the wars waged over it truly happened.  More please.

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. Genre: Urban Fantasy. 346 pages (and the first in a series)

I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy until lately.  Frankly, I thought it was all werewolf or vampire porn.  But, it seems I was wrongly conflating Urban Fantasy with Paranormal Romance, and the ghost-infested world of Downside in Stacia’s Kane’s books has made me a convert.  Unholy Ghosts (and the follow-up novels) are urgent, gritty, ugly, and addictive.  There was some controversy about the book when it first came out, largely because Kane’s protagonist, Chess, is a drug addict.  Here’s a good summary of the controversy.  As others have pointed out, the flawed protagonist is one of the novel’s great strengths.  Chess’s addiction isn’t a side feature of her character, but (as it would in real life) steers her choices (usually bad ones) as she tries to balance her job debunking haunting claims for the Church of Real Truth with her life in the gangland underbelly of Downside.  Awesome characters abound and Chess herself is as often frustrating as she is heroic.

Finch by Jeff Vandermeer. Genre: Steampunk? Urban Fantasy? Fantasy thriller? I really have no idea.  334 pages, (and a stand alone novel).

This is probably one of the weirdest, most compelling books I’ve read in a long time.  I’m not sure how to describe it, or if I even liked it.  But the world Vandermeer created is unforgettable.  The story takes place in the ruins of the city of Ambergris after it has slowly been consumed by the invasion of a fungal species.  These “gray caps” have taken control, colonizing not only the streets and buildings with new fungal structures, but also the city’s human inhabitants.  Revolution smolders, despair blankets everything.  Our hero is John Finch, a Detective grudgingly working for the gray caps.  As he tries to solve a murder, he is drawn further into the conspiracies and mysteries surrounding the city’s past and future, as well as his own.  The complex threads of the plot didn’t ultimately cohere for me, but the world and characters were so fantastic that it really didn’t matter.

Okay, that’s three from me.  How about you?  What books have you read lately and loved?  Share!