December Reading + The 2018 List

Read in December:

  • City of Miracles (Robert Jackson Bennett)
  • Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator (Oleg V. Khlevniuk)
  • Laurus (Evgenij Vodolazkin)
  • The People in the Trees (Hanya Yanagihara)
  • The Rival Queens: Catherine de Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom (Nancy Goldstone)

December travel to visit family usually means I get an extra few books in, but this year I took long books on the trip, so I only finished two. Still, the overall count for the year is 67, which is respectable, given that my goal for the year was 50. Bumping my goal up to 75 for 2018.

Currently reading:

  • Free Food For Millionaires (Min Jin Lee)
  • Sarmada (Fadi Azzam)
  • Samurai and Ninja: The Real Story Behind the Japanese Warrior Myth that Shatters the Bushido Mystique (Antony Cummins)
  • The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Ernst H. Kantorowicz)

I will probably not finish The King’s Two Bodies in its entirety (it’s a political theology text from 1954) and Samurai and Ninja has very little to recommend it, but it’s my gym reading.

Behind the cut, find my complete list of books read this year, with my recommendations marked with a double asterisk (**). Movies seen this year, with recommendations, to follow tomorrow.

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Sub Day and End of Year Status

I did finish that last draft for a 12/31 deadline, yay. Got it out to a small anthology market today; it’s for the Guilds and Glaives call at this list of calls for submissions. It’s a fairly small story on a quick turnaround, like the one I submitted a few days ago. I’m pleased that I’m getting better at writing more tightly and finishing drafts quickly, instead of working myself into a panic.

I also sent off a submission yesterday to the winter open call from Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores. That one got a story that’s been making the rounds since early fall; I wrote it for an anthology call this summer and it didn’t make the cut, so I’ve been trying it in different places. Sometimes stories intended for a specific call can be more flexible like that, and other times they just really don’t work outside of their originally intended context. I probably need to dig in and rewrite/reshape those ones, I just haven’t quite worked up to that yet, so they hang out in the appropriate folder just waiting.

Looking over my spreadsheet, I have six stories out for consideration at the end of 2017. Not bad. I have two calls I want to submit stories for in January (one for reprints, one for new stories) and two in February, as well as some magazines I’m keeping an eye on for when they open up for submissions again.

Next week I’ll write up my book and movie lists for the year, with notes for recommendations. I’m excited about that, it’s one of my favorite parts of the new year rush.

Sub Day, Subs I Didn’t Log, and Looking Back

I submitted a story last night to the Book Smugglers’ 2018 short story call, which has a theme of “Awakenings.” The story I put together for it is short and, I think, pretty fun, with a punchline ending. I don’t do punchline endings very often, but they’re a guilty pleasure of mine.

I submitted two stories over the last few weeks that I didn’t log here, because I haven’t quite gotten my habits nailed down yet. Both of them were rejected in fairly short turnaround, but both rejections came with personalized notes instead of boilerplate, which was nice. Close consideration and almost making the cut, but not quite, with encouragement to submit again in the future.

These aren’t the only rejections of that type I received this year. I had two stories passed from slush readers to editorial consideration at digital magazines, which was a great feeling. All four of these stories have kept or will keep circulating to appropriate markets as I find them. The sales will come when they come; positive editorial feedback is encouragement to keep working at it.

I have one more story I want to get out the door in 2017, for an anthology call that closes December 31, and I have a few deadlines on my list for January. I have another post coming up soon with more detailed goals for 2018; I feel good about my plans and am looking forward to getting them in motion.

Movies I’ve Seen Lately – No Spoilers

In the last month or so I’ve seen the following movies:

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • God’s Own Country
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Call Me by Your Name

It’s an interesting combination! I’ve been trying to draw lines between them and find common threads, since they’re all bouncing around together in my head and pinging off each other. In that vein:

  • GOC and CMBYN are m/m love stories
  • Three Billboards and GOC have a strong thread about rurality and how that shapes people
  • CMBYN and Three Billboards have threads about parenting, but wow do they end up in different places
  • The Last Jedi and Three Billboards have threads about what the cocktails of rage/revenge/guilt/grief, in all combinations, can do to a person
  • GOC and The Last Jedi have very cute animals

All of these movies are deeply flawed in some ways and incredibly strong in others. I recommend all of them, but all of the recs come with caveats.

  • Three Billboards has incredible acting, and you can see what it was trying to do with race but it wildly missed the mark
  • God’s Own Country also has strong acting, and a sweet story with a happy ending (important for queer romances to do regularly!), but there are also some racial/ethnic issues that didn’t get unpacked
  • The Last Jedi is sprawling and epic and a power fantasy for groups that don’t typically get those on film**, but it needed another pass or seven on the script in terms of dialogue and tight plotting
  • Call Me by Your Name is beautifully shot and breathlessly captures the mood of its protagonist, but ended up taking beats from the book it’s based on without the grounding content around them and inadvertently introducing more consent issues than the book had with its age-gap central couple

I have more to say about The Last Jedi at some point, I think, and how much Rey means to my heart as a lifelong Star Wars fan, but I’m really glad I balanced out my Thor/Last Jedi blockbuster run at the end of this year with smaller, quieter movies. The contrast is good for different parts of my fiction-digestion, and also it’s fun and, I think, creatively useful to use the smaller movies that are clearer about their threads to look for pieces and parallels inside the big ones.


** There is a sequence of shots of people of color and white women at the beginning of the movie that I personally took as “Hi, here you are, here is your place in the broader Star Wars universe, we’re sorry we missed you before” and that I’m sure other people saw as a dismissive checklist.

The Divine Cities: Characters

Over the weekend I finished reading the third book in the Divine Cities trilogy by Robert Jackson Bennett. I haven’t plowed through a series like that in a few years (the last one was Richard K. Morgan’s A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy, which I’m tempted to compare/contrast with the Divine Cities, but I would need to do a refresher read first).

I started reading this series not sure I was going to get very far into it; just from the summary of book one (City of Stairs), I could tell this was going to be a look at the impact and aftermath of imperialism and colonialism, and in 2017 of all years I wasn’t sure I was up to grappling with more political horror in my downtime.

I loved City of Stairs, though, and City of Blades, the second book. There was a library back-up for book three (City of Miracles), which caused me great impatience, and once I had it in hand I got through it in a few days, including staying up past my bedtime to finish it. (Something I haven’t done in years; thanks for the trip back to pre-responsible adulthood, Mr. Bennett.)

Ultimately I would recommend the series, without really any caveats, but it’s not a go out of my way, shout it from the rooftops rec. The writing and plotting are strong, and all three books stick their landings, which is my major peeve with fiction these days. The characters are what grabbed me in the first two books, though, and City of Miracles is weaker on that front.

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November Reading (And a Nice Rejection)

First, the nice rejection; whether it’s boilerplate or not, rejections that include something like this one’s “Your story reached the highest level of consideration, but we’ve decided not to accept it. We’d love to see more stories from you in the future” are nice to receive. I can choose to believe it’s not boilerplate, and it makes me smile. Onward to the next market.

November reading!

  • Basketball (And Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated) (Shea Serrano)
  • Standard Deviation (Katherine Heiny)
  • Call Me By Your Name (Andre Aciman)
  • The Visual and the Visionary: Art and Female Spirituality in Late Medieval Germany (Jeffrey F. Hamburger)

Two fiction, two nonfiction. The Hamburger book is a big academic text, so it took longer to get through than most.

Currently reading:

  • Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator (Oleg V. Khlevniuk)
  • City of Miracles (Robert Jackson Bennett)

Still working on the Stalin; since I only read it at the gym, it’s slower to make progress.

City of Miracles is the third book in Bennett’s The Divine Cities series; I enjoyed the first two books a lot and I like this one so far, though I’m pretty sure I’ve already identified the final twist. I’m going to do a writeup on the series as a whole when I finish this one.

  • Next up: Laurus (Eugene Vodolazkin)

I’m promised “Love, faith, and a quest for atonement are the driving themes of an epic, prizewinning Russian novel that, while set in the medieval era, takes a contemporary look at the meaning of time,” per Kirkus, so I’m pretty excited.