Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Fiction Books I Read in 2014

I'm excited about a lot of things for 2015, one among them being starting a new Goodreads challenge because BOOKS, amirite?

This last year, I had the pleasure of reading some really fabulous ones. I'd like to mention them here. Because when you read a great book, it's good to tell others about it! Then other people read it and soon everyone's reading great books and the world is a happier place. *rubs face on books*

Note: The following books were not strictly books written in 2014, or anything like that, just ones that I read in 2014. You can find my reviews of each on Goodreads. I'm also limiting this list to fiction books; I'll post an honorable mentions for nonfiction below, as I read a great deal of that, too.

So here we go!

TOP TEN FICTION BOOKS I READ IN 2014 (in as close to an order as I can get them, but really they're all enjoyable and numbered lists are stupid and just read them okay?)

#10. Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt
#9. Dragon Age: Last Flight by Liane Merciel
#8. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
#7. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
#6. The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, translated by Jesse L. Byock
#5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
#4. Wife Number Seven by Melissa Brown
#3. World War Z by Max Brooks
#2. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
#1. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

HONORABLE NONFICTION MENTIONS (in no particular order because HAHA no)

The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin
Dangerous to Know: Women, Crime, and Notoriety in the Early Republic by Susan Branson
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen by Susan Bordo
Tough Towns: True Tales from the Gritty Streets of the Old West by Robert Barr Smith
Love and Death in Renaissance Italy by Thomas V. Cohen
Women in Old Norse Society by Jenny Jochens
Hen Frigates: Passion and Peril, Nineteenth Century Women at Sea by Joan Druett

How about you? Read any good books this year? If you have, post their titles in the comments section below! Seriously. Inquiring readers want to know.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Writers, Do the Things That Scare You

Over the weekend, I went with my family to Disneyland and California Adventure.

(Yes, I'll give you a moment to be jealous . . . Okay, moment's over. Back to reading.)

Most of you are familiar with the rides at Disneyland; they're all fun, kid-friendly attractions. Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, etc. Being a Disney park, California Adventure is also family-friendly, but it has a few rides that are geared more toward adults. Or at least children that are way less chicken than I was at their age (or height).

Not pictured here: me as a little girl, looking as though I'm about to be murdered coming down Splash Mountain.
One of California Adventure's thrill rides is called The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. For those of you who aren't familiar with the ride, it's a drop tower. It brings you waaaay up, drops you, brings you back up, drops you again. It does this a couple times, and it's a blast. Seriously, I love this ride. It's possibly my favorite between the two parks.

I am also terrified of going on it basically every time. There's a lot of suspense to the ride, as you wind your way through the hotel lobby, enter a room that plays a Twilight Zone-esque video, then wind your way through the hotel boiler room, and then even once you're seated in the service elevator itself, there's more theatre. Even the cast members are dressed like hotel concierges and speak in a spooky way. Disney doesn't do things half-way. Everything looks and feels authentic to the setting.

It's great! But the suspense just kills me. Every time, I think, "eh, maybe I'll just skip it." Because it's easier than dealing with the nerves while standing in line.

This last time I went on the ride, it occurred to me that my response to the Tower of Terror is similar to the response of many writers on their path to publication.

You know you want to be published; you know it's going to be Awesome with a capital A.

You know what's involved on the journey to get there: query, agent, editors, etc. You're not Lewis and Clark going West. Many have gone before you, and can offer advice and tell you how it works.

But it's still terrifying, right?

So much could go wrong! Your query could suck; an agent might not be able to sell your book; no editor will take you; the ride might malfunction, causing the service elevator to shoot through the roof, thus crushing you to paste while other park guests watch, their faces framed with horror! OH THE HUMANITY.

Er, ignore that last one.

You might think to yourself, How much easier would it be to just keep my stories here, in the safety of my computer? After all, Google Docs won't judge that vampire sci-fi you've been working on. Better not to try than to fail horribly, right?

I'm going to tell you something now, and I want you to hear me. (This goes out to future!Me, too. Don't think I don't see you shuffling your feet and making excuses, future!Me. I know us too well.)

As writers, we have to do the things that scare us.

Maybe that means taking a chance on a plot or a character, even when you're not sure you can do it justice. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you have a completed, polished manuscript that's just languishing away in the digital recesses of your computer because you're too afraid to put it out there where an agent can see it. DO IT ANYWAY. Maybe you're already a published author, worried about what some family members will think about X in your next story. WRITE IT ANYWAY.

To be an artist is to be at war with fear. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear even of self, of what you might uncover as you rifle through your subconscious, hunting for honest emotion. But you can't let fear stop you from doing what you love. You can't use fear as an excuse.

To paraphrase the immortal Captain Jack Sparrow, "If you were waiting for a sign, this is it, mate."

Consider this your call to action.

And if we ever go to California Adventure together, I expect to see you in line with me for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

But not for those Silly Symphony swings. Let's not get crazy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sit with me, friends, and I will tell you the tale of a woman who believed she could write a 50,000 word novel at the same time she was finishing her college degree. Yes, right there is comfortable. No, don't touch the fine china. I don't have any fine china? Oh, then I guess you can touch it. I don't know whose that is.

You see, this woman believed in this novel, as many who begin such a journey do. The characters compelled her to write, and who was she to deny them a chance to tell their story? However, a 20-25 page final research paper loomed over November like a vulture over weakening prey. It knew its time would come. And as the writer neared the final third of the month, mentally fatigued, staggering through scenes in a daze, it could wait for its meal no longer!

Basically, I'm saying I lost NaNoWriMo.

But I didn't lose. And neither did you! If you embarked on this same crazy month of literary abandon, if you threw caution to the wind, if you let yourself dream a little bigger, a little harder (no, not like that, you naughty thing), then congratulate yourself! You've done something many are afraid to do. You tried. You looked fear of failure right in its ugly face and stuck your tongue out.

No, my friend. We did not lose. We only gained. Maybe you gained insight into a genre you've been meaning to try for a long time. Maybe you met a new character who made you smile or laugh or cry. Maybe you only wrote 5,000 words, but those words are the genesis of a story that will one day take the world by storm! Maybe you wrote 49,000 words, and there are some sentences or plot points in there waiting to be excavated from the mess and put to good use in a different novel.

You don't know. Not unless you keep going. NaNoWriMo might be over, but you still have a novel to write. You still have a story to tell, characters to breathe to life. Writing 50k in a month is an arbitrary goal. A fine, impressive, motivating goalbut arbitrary. It is okay if you cannot do that. Let me say that again. IT IS OKAY IF YOU CANNOT WRITE THAT MANY WORDS THAT QUICKLY. Not many writers can. It does not reflect your ability to tell a damn good story. It does not mean you are not or cannot be a damn fine writer.

What does determine that is whether you finish what you started.

Look at your story.

Now back at me.

Now back at your story.

Your story is now tickets to that thing you really love! Or it will be! One day! With edits and hard work and determination, it could be your ticket into the publishing industry. More importantly, your ticket into the hearts and minds of readers. Your story could be just what someone out there needs to read.

I know what you're thinking. This is an old joke. Does anyone even remember the Old Spice Guy commercials? But, Hayley, it's such a bad story. The plot is falling apart. The characters aren't showing active agency. The voice is ALL wrong. You don't even KNOW.

You're right. I don't know. I also don't care. Finish it.

Remember why you started, and finish it. Every great book today started out as a bad book. Don't give up. I believe in you. It's hard, but as my Grandma told my Mom who always tells me, "Just because something is hard doesn't mean it isn't worth doing."

Let's get 'er done!