July Reading Log

  • Circe (Madeline Miller)
  • The Liars’ Gospel (Naomi Alderman)
  • The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards (Kristopher Jansma)
  • Disobedience (Naomi Alderman)
  • The Dove’s Necklace (Raja Alem)
  • The Flamethrowers (Rachel Kushner)

Rough month for reading. None of these were home runs for me; the highest are probably the first two with a B- each. Circe was beautifully written and got me working on some ideas of my own related to Greek mythology—but it didn’t really do anything new or innovative with the Greek mythology fanfiction approach. Circe’s path and desires in the novel were very predictable and conventional.

I would probably have gotten more out of The Liars’ Gospel if I had a deeper personal grounding in Biblical stories around Jesus, or Talmudic stories that Jesus’ own theology grew out of. These are gaps in my own knowledge.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards was clever but deeply frustrating; very textbook clever-young-white-guy-wrote-this.

Disobedience made me furious about all the things the movie version (which I saw first) changed; also the same lack of understanding of Judaism.

The Dove’s Necklace was very long, very dense, and I lacked understanding of Arab culture and Muslim theology. My own gaps and biases were killing me all over the place.

By the time I got to The Flamethrowers, I was very mentally tired, and did not have enough in me to lift a mid-70s-set story about sex, art, and attempted revolutions. Maybe I would have liked it more in another time; maybe there really just wasn’t a lot there.


I don’t have any currently-reading; I definitely need a break for something lighter. I might pick Barbarian Days up again and put some quicker, lighter reads on request at the library. I have some library books that will probably go back unread as too heavy for right now, and a giant stack of purchases that need reading but also are too heavy for the moment.

I’ll probably put in some pop-history or pop-cultural nonfiction as a palate cleanser before I dive back into novels.

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Writing by Not Writing

I finished my first weaving project yesterday, and while working on it, I covered a lot of mental ground in brainstorming a new story, thinking through some blocks in another one, and telling myself other ones that won’t ever be written down but are great fun and the kind of free-flowing creativity that keeps the storytelling impulse alive at all.

Somehow I always forget how much of the raw mental work of writing (the not actually stringing words together parts) I get done while doing fiber crafts (weaving, knitting, cross-stitch). It uses the hand-eye coordination parts of my brain but leaves the creative and instinctive bits completely free to play. Some of my internal editor seems to get distracted by the physical actions, too, giving even more freedom.

I get a similar effect from playing web Tetris, actually; still hand-eye while the rest of the mind is free. Fiber crafts have the benefit of getting me away from staring at a lit screen, though.

Walking my dog also works to some degree, though there are more distractions there (traffic, squirrels, stopping her from eating trash) and less of an option to grab a pen and paper and jot some notes. Though honestly, my favorite free-associating writing without writing stuff is when I tell myself an entire story and then let it go into the back of my mind, never to be set down solidly, becoming part of the mental and creative soil that other things can grow from.

Another Tilt at Project Planning

I want to establish some concrete writing goals for the rest of 2018. One that I’ve had standing all year is to finish another novel draft; I was making good progress the first quarter of the year or so on the hockey mystery and then fell off. I want to re-prioritize that project moving forward.

However, I do have a few more short projects on my radar as well, so I think I’m going to set mini-deadlines for myself and knock those out, then turn the last months of the year to finishing the mystery draft.

Short projects to complete:

  • Two essays on different aspects of the Anne of Green Gables series (these require a reread with note-taking). I have a novel idea related to this, as well, so hopefully the essays can lay groundwork for that future project.
  • An essay on female characters in the Star Wars movies (also will require re-viewing with notes)
  • A story for the Punk Rock Future anthology call
  • Two sub-1000 word (flash) stories for calls

And of course I have at least a dozen short stories at various stages between concept and completion that could use words on any given day. Unfortunately, working on whatever story strikes my fancy on a given day leads to good wordcount but nothing ever getting completed. I need to get more focused and targeted.

So, current plan: knocking out drafts of all the above projects by the end of Q3 2018, and starting in October, focusing on finishing the mystery draft by the end of the year. Based on where I currently am in the draft, that’s doable.

Q1 of 2019 will be (ONCE AGAIN, argh) finishing revising/rewriting Where the Bands Are. I know I can finish that rewrite and get it where I want. Having a completed draft of something else, as proof to myself that I can finish something else novel-length, will be helpful in dealing with the mental stumbling blocks around revising and rewriting this one, I think. I hope!

A lot to keep in mind! I’m going to go add some pseudo-due dates to my calendar.

Research: Codebreaking

One of the fantasy novel ideas on my list right now involves cryptography. There was a stretch in my early teens where I read a bunch of books about codebreaking, mostly around World War II, so that’s probably a well I’ll go back to when I’m fleshing out that idea.

The book I remember most strongly is Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks. I was trying to remember the coding method involved with the “silk” of the title, and found the Poem Code page on Wikipedia. A short synopsis: “To encrypt a message, the agent would select words from the poem as the key. Every poem code message commenced with an indicator-group of five letters, which showed which five words of an agent’s poem had been used to encrypt the message.”

Marks’ efforts made the coding more secure by using randomized sets instead of words from poems: “Worked-out Keys (WOKs) was the first major improvement – an invention of Marks. WOKs are pre-arranged transposition keys given to the agents and which made the poem unnecessary. Each message would be encrypted on one key, which was written on special silk. The key was disposed of, by tearing a piece off the silk, when the message was sent.”

While the technology level will be different for my fantasy setting, I think this should still be pretty usable with some modifications.

I do need to do research on cryptography in earlier eras, though. Next step.

Monthly Reading for June

  • Priestdaddy: A Memoir  (Patricia Lockwood)
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad (Ahmed Saadawi)
  • Lost Empress (Sergio de la Pava)
  • The Rooster Bar (John Grisham)
  • In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler’s Tale (Amitav Ghosh)
  • Miss Burma (Charmaine Craig)
  • Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff)

Categories for this month’s books:

Bold ambitions, mixed execution: Lost Empress, Fates and Furies

More modest ambitions, successful execution: Miss Burma, Priestdaddy, Frankenstein in Baghdad

What you see is what you get, with successful execution: In an Antique Land

What on earth is even going on here: The Rooster Bar


Currently reading:

  • Circe (Madeline Miller)
  • Ice (Ulla-Lena Lundberg)
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (William Finnegan)

When I’m in another country I like to buy a book by an author from that country and read it on my way home. Ice is a sprawling dramatic saga set in the Finnish islands after World War II. Unfortunately I didn’t finish it on the flight and I have a library deadline on Circe before I can get back to it. But Circe is also very good thus far, so I’m not complaining.

Back to Work

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I had a great trip to Helsinki. Saw lots of monuments and buildings and took dramatic photos of them, as above. Did a lot of reading and writing and brainstorming, and I’m excited to move forward with those ideas. I need a strong plan for the rest of 2018 and some actionable steps to get there, so over the next few days I’ll be trying to pull those together and log them here for accountability.

And, of course, June’s reading log, the most important thing!