Holy Hiatus, Batman!

So, all of my plans for this blog fell by the wayside five months ago. Nothing big happened; there was no real inciting incident for why I stopped blogging. But, if I hadn’t stopped in February, I would have stopped somewhere along the way. In the past month alone, I finished a term of grad school, bought a house, got married, and went on my honeymoon. It was a lot. I barely read any non-required books during that time.

Thankfully, things seem to be winding down for me. Soon I might have enough time to blog about the books I did read in the past five months, as well as behind-the-scenes stuff about publishing. My role in the publishing world has changed since I last blogged (in a good way), and I’d like to document it here.

Here’s a recap of the books I’ve read since February:

  • The Hero of Ages, Brandon Sanderson
  • The Inheritance Trilogy, NK Jemisin
  • A History of Glitter and Blood, Hannah Moskowitz
  • Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone (in progress)

You can expect a review of at least one of these books in the coming weeks.

I won’t commit to a blogging schedule right now. In the next week, I’ll be flying back to Portland, unpacking the new house, and going for a quick jaunt down to California for my family-centered wedding reception—seriously, we’ll be there for less than forty-eight hours. I don’t know what my schedule looks like after that; I could be completely free save for my not-for-credit schoolwork, or I could happen to find employment between now and then. I do know that I have a lot of things to blog about, so I’ll be back. I promise.

Book Review: The Well of Ascension

I’ll jump right into it: Well of Ascension didn’t impress me like The Final Empire did. Sometimes, you have to wonder how serial authors muster the courage to release a book after producing such a hit. Well of Ascension was still early in Sanderson’s career, so it’s fathomable that Final Empire’s success had him (and his editors) a little starstruck. The timeline for Well of Ascension could have been shorter too; maybe it didn’t get the same editorial treatment Final Empire did. But regardless of the reason, the second installment of the Mistborn trilogy fell flat. (Spoilers ahead! Like, immediately ahead. Don’t read on if you’re not prepared.)

Unlike the first book, Well of Ascension focuses more on the politics of creating a kingdom (and eventual empire) and less on kicking obligator/Inquisitor tail. Compared to The Final Empire, this book could almost be described as a snoozefest. There’s so much political drama that I found myself wanting to get to the “good” parts—e.g., the action parts—of which there were disappointingly few. The few that are there, thankfully, are gripping and exciting, but the book toes the line between “this book is quieter than the last one, but still interesting” and “there’s not enough fightin’.”

Vin, who takes up the mantle as resident Mistborn in Luthadel after Kelsier’s death, has a distinct lack of agency in this book. To some extent, her lack of agency is a main and explicit struggle in the novel, but when she does reclaim her agency and her free will, she completely loses control. All of a sudden, doing things “her way” means killing dozens of people in near-cold blood. This is in no small part due to a rival Mistborn egging her on, but I wish she had shown more awareness. More propriety.

While Vin’s character arc doesn’t quite deliver, Elend’s is very well done. In book 1, Elend is little more than an unkempt philosopher; in book 3, Elend is a successful and frightening emperor. The transition between the two is well paced (Sanderson does a bit of hand holding during the process, eager to draw attention to Elend’s progress in the narration itself) and ultimately believable.

Also, I kept track of how many times the characters sighed in Well of Ascension. I didn’t manage to count them all; I grew bored about halfway through. But still, the characters racked up fifty sighs by the time I was at page 200. That’s way too many. I keep ragging on Sanderson for this admittedly minor flaw in his writing, but I’m honestly surprised that it escaped editors at Tor twice. (Three times, actually, since the characters in The Hero of Ages sigh a lot too.)

The Well of Ascension is an average book. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I’m sure there are many people content to read no further than The Final Empire. I don’t begrudge them for that choice. An average book gets an average score of 3/5 stars. Honestly, I’m not surprised that the second book isn’t as good as the first. It’s a well-known occurrence for volume 2 of a book series or TV series or movie series to lack that essential spark of the first volume, the thing that made people want a second installment in the first place. I just started rereading The Hero of Ages; look forward to my review of it by March!

February’s State of the Blog

I guess I went on an informal hiatus for the month of January. School started again, and then we had a huge snow storm and the whole city shut down for a week, and the class schedules got super messed up. Plus, it took me forever to finish Mistborn: Well of Ascension. So I apologize for the radio silence—er, web silence.

Blogging about the topics I wanted to cover had absolutely no effect on my blogging schedule, so I probably won’t do that anymore. However, I will tell you what books I intend to read during the month of February. It’s a shorter month and I got a late start, so I’m only committing to two books right now.

  • Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin

I realize also that I’m in a publishing program, and I should write about publishing things. And with that in mind, I’ll try to address two topics in publishing:

  • How a press acquires a manuscript
  • How to do a developmental edit of a manuscript

That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully tomorrow or Thursday I’ll post one (or two? Who knows?) posts from the above list, and will continue to blog through the term.

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

mistborn-coverWhen I first read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy six years ago, I spent an entire summer weekend reading in my room. I went through a book a day and only came out to say hello to my family, scrounge for food, and use the restroom. I’m not even sure I changed out of my pajamas that weekend. The Final Empire was my first Sanderson novel, and was actually one of the first adult fantasy books I’d ever read. (Alison Croggon’s The Naming was my first “adult” fantasy novel, but it always felt a little YA to me.)

Perhaps it’s because I read it in such a flurry that I keep returning to the Mistborn trilogy. I read it for a second time about two years ago, and picked it up once more over my winter break. I have a horrible memory for media, so I was surprised by much of the details—and even some plot points—in the first Mistborn book. I read it over the course of a week and, unlike the first or even second read-through, took the time to absorb the language and the characters. And it was absolutely enthralling.

Everything I want in a book is there: fleshed-out characters, intriguing magic, an active political landscape, fight scenes, a dash of romance. I love multi-POV books when done properly (in other words, when the narration is split between a few important characters), and The Final Empire keeps the POV shifts neat and limited to two principal characters—Vin and Kelsier—and the occasional odd character. Sanderson uses a gentle touch when worldbuilding Luthadel and the surrounding landscapes, and eased me into this new world and characters. In fact, it’s almost too gentle; the main characters are introduced slowly: “Then character X walked in, and he wore this and acted like this; and then character Y came in, and he wore this and acted like that…” I would have preferred a more dynamic introduction of some characters, something more seamless. Sazed’s introduction later in the novel seems close to effortless, which is a good thing.

One thing I wish Sanderson had done differently is the romance between Vin and Elend. Vin seems to fall in love with Elend rather quickly; I believe she only met with him a handful of times before realizing she loved him. And Sanderson could have made the reveal much more compelling if Vin had shown us her love for Elend rather than explicitly stating it. (Seriously, she thinks, “I love him,” and then runs off to save him. Not the best-written scene by any means—though I do appreciate the role reversal.)

My other, more minor, complaint is how often the characters sigh. It seems to happen in every conversation, even in some instances where characters are parsing out details on their own. Vin sighs nearly every time she’s on the page, and once you notice it, you can’t help but sigh yourself every time a character does. There are other ways for characters to express their displeasure, their tiredness, their loneliness. I’ll have to keep track of how many sighs occur in the other two books in the trilogy, or if Sanderson continues the trend in his later works, like the Stormlight Archive books.

Mistborn: The Final Empire was near perfect for a first installment. There were twists and surprises, and I found few gaps in logic or consistency of plot. That said, it does feel like a safe novel; where Mirror Empire was too ambitious, perhaps The Final Empire isn’t ambitious enough. Regardless, it’s guaranteed to please any high-fantasy lover, and is a great place for new readers of fantasy to start. 4/5.

Writing What You Don’t Know

Most writers have been told to “write what you know.” Meaning, start with your experience, your memories, your interests, your surroundings. Drawing from concrete details is so much easier than making everything up. But at some point, a writer years to try something else. They try writing what they don’t know.

(Fair warning: I’ll be brain-dumping on race, diversity, and privilege in the publishing world. I am ALWAYS open to having difficult conversations and being called out if I say something untrue or offensive. I hope to handle these subjects lightly, and certainly there are other bloggers who have more right to discuss them than I do. Next week, I’ll write about some awesome people on Twitter you should check out.)

I have super scattered thoughts on this subject, mostly because on Twitter, I follow two authors with very different views. One author—I’m paraphrasing here—believes writers should only write characters like themselves. Specifically, this author wants white authors to avoid writing about PoC because so many white authors have portrayed PoC stereotypically and/or problematically. And the authors that have been called out on it have been less than sympathetic or willing to hear the criticisms. White authors doing poor jobs of writing nonwhite characters already cause so many problems in the literary world. It would be better, this author claims, if white authors avoided writing about PoC altogether.

To some extent, I agree with her. Literature, and media in general, shapes culture and our perceptions of ourselves and each other. PoC already have it bad enough in America; they don’t need us perpetuating racism in literature. If we white authors can’t portray them accurately, we shouldn’t portray them at all.

But if I’m only allowed to write about what I know, then all my characters would be depressed white girls. I want to portray other cultures. I want to write stories with diverse casts. Moreover, I’m a fantasy writer. It’s hard for me not to explore other cultures. Impossible, even. Author 2 agrees, saying that a writer who can’t imagine characters outside himself is a bad writer.

There are more problems with white authors writing characters of color, though. White authors are often given a pat on the back for “diverse” work. Author 1 claims a book isn’t “diverse” unless it’s written by someone outside the white, “cishet” (cissexual and heterosexual), abled norm. Otherwise, the book merely reflects the real world—or in the case of speculative fiction, a world more likely than a white-only one. And I do feel that priority should be given to #ownvoices books: novels written by Muslims, about Muslims, for example. If a non-depressed person wrote a book about a depressed girl and got it wrong, I would be pretty upset. I could do better, surely—because I live that life and know what it’s like.

Still…. Maybe it’s my privilege showing. Maybe it’s the contrarian in me talking. Maybe I’m still ignorant, even after listening to authors discuss diversity in publishing for months. But I do still want to write diverse—or perhaps a better term would be realistic—characters. I want to try. And I’ll be damned if I don’t put in the effort to get a culture right. To accurately portray a marginalized individual. If my work ends up being problematic, I’ll go back and rework it until it’s not.

Author 1 says I should “stay in [my] lane” and stick to writing characters like me; it’s not my place to write PoC. But I disagree. Publishing—especially speculative fiction—is way too white, and if I can work towards making the industry more accommodating and respectful toward people of color, then I should at least try.

Book Review: The Mirror Empire

themirrorempire-144dpiThe Mirror Empire was one of those books that I grabbed on a whim at Powell’s and promptly forgot about. I’m glad I pulled it from the shelf, though, because it’s an extremely ambitious novel and, despite its shortcomings, and enjoyable read.

When I first started reading Mirror Empire, I yearned for a glossary. Luckily, it delivers with a twenty-page glossary on every unfamiliar term in the book. (I just wish I had found it sooner.) I experienced more than a bit of confusion with the beginning of the book; it throws you into the world of the Dhai face-first with a gripping prologue and several different points of view. Off the top of my head, I can list at least eight different narrators, which may have been a bit much—even for a 500+ page book. That said, each narrator adds a new dimension to the story and grants the reader another window through which to look at the world.

While the glossary helped my comprehension of the novel, the storyline is another matter. Not only does the word “Dhai” refer to a country, its people, and its language, it also refers to a different set of people in the book. The narrators learn about this other people over the course of the story, so the reader’s confusion is also the characters’ confusion; in that regard, it’s a clever way to identify with the characters. That said, I found the storyline a bit difficult to parse out. Well…maybe it was more how the different characters relate to each other. All the names were unfamiliar, but every character had several relations to other characters, and even with the glossary it was difficult to keep track of it all.

The world is one of the more intriguing worlds I’ve encountered. It took me a little while to understand (and I don’t know that I fully understand it, even after finishing the novel), but I do know that some people in this world are “gifted” with magic derived from the “satellites” of the world, and that one of them is rising for the first time in many centuries—I believe 2,000 years—which awakens latent magical potential in more than a few people. Architecture in this world is mostly living plants, shaped into buildings and living quarters by a particular group of mages. The plant life is…well, alive. Sentient. I wish the novel had delved more into the living plants, but there was already so much going on without it that it was better left alone. And the land has a rich political landscape, and interested me even though at times I felt in the dark.

All in all, The Mirror Empire is a great addition to fantasy literature. As many reviewers stated, its every facet is “epic.” I’ll have to reread the novel before leaping to the sequel due to all the confusion (and my lazy reading habits), so for me, the book scored a 3/5. But I imagine a more perceptive, intuitive reader could rate it higher.

Adopting my Cat

Before graduating college, my fiancé and I talked about adopting a cat. It was one of those “someday” things we’d think about when we needed a distraction from our studies. It was a daydream. Little did I know that a mere month after graduation, I would bring a furry friend into our apartment.

I’d always wanted a cat. My mom had cats when I was young, but they passed before I was even in kindergarten. In middle school, we owned a couple mice and then a few rats. Cats were strictly prohibited in my college dorms and the apartments I lived in while working toward my bachelor’s. That didn’t stop me from wanting one, though. Looking back, it makes sense that I would jump at the chance to own my own feline.

In June of 2015, I started looking. One of my housemates adopted her own cat a few months back, and I suppose I was a little jealous that she had a pet and I didn’t. I went to a nearby shelter two or three times to look at the available cats. One cat was a big, fluffy tabby that hid under the chair in the meet-and-greet room and grumbled until I left him alone. Another was a sleek black cat who was more interested in the windows than in me. But I finally found him. My cat. White with a few black splotches of fur, pink-and-black toe beans, and light green eyes. He let out the softest meows and rubbed against my legs. And he looked at me like he knew I wanted to take him home.

He was a bit of a handful for the shelter volunteers, so I was expecting a rambunctious cat when I brought him home. When I let him out of his cage to explore the bedroom, though, he went straight to the closet and hid behind my shoes. It took him a few days to come out and be comfortable with us, but it was worth the wait. I named him Finn.

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I’m not sure adopting Finn changed my life, but it certainly changed his. Prior to being at the shelter, he’d been a street kitty—a “trash cat,” as we called him. He tipped over our trash cans and fished out things like plastic bags and used Q-tips to play with. (Ew.) After being brought to the shelter, he stayed there for a few weeks. No one had shown interest in him. And then he won me over with his gentle meow and cute cat face. He eventually grew to cuddle with me while I read, lick my hands, sit on my lap while I play video games, and follow me around the house. In exchange for food, he gives me affection. It’s one of the best trades I’ve ever been a part of.

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Anyway, all this to say that shelter animals deserve a chance. They deserve your love. So much good comes from adopting an animal from a shelter: the shelter can stay open, the animal gets a loving home, and you get a great friend. I’m so happy that I made the decision to adopt Finn. He’s been the best pet I could ask for and I’m thrilled at the idea that he’ll be with me for the next ten years. And I like to think that he loves me for it.