Tag Archives: reading

How Do You Read?

I met yesterday with my real life writers’ group, and after doing some critiques, we—as we usually do—chatted a bit about what we’re watching and reading.  And one of the interesting things to me was how differently some of us function as writers and readers.

When I’m actively writing a book or novella, I struggle to read. When I do read then, I usually read outside of genre. I can read mystery or romance or non-fiction…but reading fantasy just doesn’t work.

The thing that I struggle with is my internal editor. My brain, as it’s reading, wants to restructure every sentence, swap paragraphs four and seven, and change all the dialog tags. And after a time, I’m not reading the story any longer…I’m only looking at words. And then I stop caring about the story. It’s weird.

(There are rare exceptions to this. I can, for example, read an author whose style is wildly different from mine—let’s say, Ben Aaronovitch—and for some reason, the internal editor turns off.)

Because of this, I usually build up a bunch of reading to do between projects. So I’ll finish writing a book and then read voraciously for a while before turning back to writing again. I usually schedule time for that.

One of my writer friends, however, said that she has no problem reading while she’s writing. She’s a very disciplined reader, and tackles a poem, a short story, and a bit of novel reading every day. WOW!

And a third threw in the point that she doesn’t re-read things…whereas I can reread books over again and again. (I also have no problem with spoilers in movies or TV, which may be related.)

I always find it fascinating that writers have such different approaches to reading, so I thought I would see if there were other opinions out there. Here are a few questions:

  1. Do you reread books?
  2. Do you read in a disciplined manner? Or do you read in a haphazard, on-and-off, when-the-mood-takes-you fashion?
  3. Do you read exclusively within genre? Or do you read outside genres?
  4. Do you read the newest stuff immediately? Do you read only some authors immediately? Or are you, like me, constantly behind the reading curve?
  5. Do you binge read?
  6. And for writers: Is there a difference in reading habits between when you’re actively writing and when you’re not?

Bonus question: How big IS your TBR pile? (photos welcome)


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A Good Book, Ruined: Reading Like a Writer

I have a couple of writer-friends who cannot critique a manuscript to save their lives, nor can they analyze what they are responding to in a work they admire.  Why?  Because they have not yet learned how to read like a writer.  Instead, they tend to plunge right in and get involved in the story, no matter what (even if the prose is uneven and the work doesn’t hang together).  They often describe this experience as being like watching the movie unfold inside their minds.

In order to hone the craft of writing, it’s important to learn to stop enjoying books. Or perhaps I should say, when to stop merely enjoying the reading experience, and start understanding it, and analyzing why you respond to a work the way that you do.  This will help you improve your own work, deliver better critiques for your writing buddies, and appreciate how the authors you admire craft their prose to best effect.

So, how do you ruin your reading experience?  Don’t worry, I’m here to help.  And I find, ultimately, that reading like a writer provides a different, but no less enjoyable experience.  The goal is to bifurcate your reading brain, so that, as you react to the work, you are also aware of the reasons for that reaction–in essence, you are observing yourself reading.  The approach is similar to techniques used in counseling or meditation, when you make note of your behaviors and responses, so that you can modify them later as needed.

A work of fiction exists on several levels: the one we tend to focus on is the macro level (the story, the characters, the plot overall), but the micro level is where the action really happens (the words, sentences, paragraphs and structures that create the on-going movie of the prose).

In order to understand the macro level of a work, one thing that helps me to break the movie is listening to the audio book, especially while I am engaged in some other activity–driving, house-painting, or what-have-you.  The physical activity means you can’t fully invest in the “reading”, and the fact that you are listening tends to blur the focus on individual scenes or moments, and instead give an overview of the work, the rhythm of scenes and sequels, the structure of the plot.

But when you want to understand what’s really going on, you’ll need to dig deeper–and this is what will also make you a great critique partner.  Reader reaction, especially to character, is often based on small word choices that build into the complete image.  If the wrong word or phrasing choices are made, the impression the reader receives could be completely different from what the author intended.  Placing two ideas close to each other in the text leads the reader to link them, regardless of what the author had in mind.  As the reader in this scenario, you need to be able to articulate what you are responding to in the text, as the writer, you need to act as a sleuth and discover the small details that are triggering your reader’s response.

Sometimes, it can come down to a single word.  The word “sneer” for instance is overwhelmingly negative.  If you intend for a character to be sympathetic, use of that single word could undercut the entire effect.

To hone this kind of close reading, I recommend re-typing passages from published works.  Sit with the book open in front of you, and simply type out what you see.  If you are simply reading the words, you may not pay attention to the sentence structure, word order, or accumulation of detail that creates scene and character.  Typing the words forces you to slow down–to freeze-frame the movie–and look at each comma, each word choice, and think about how they work together.  This can be a great way to learn from the authors you wish you could be.  The idea isn’t to copy them into your own prose, the idea is to understand how they do what they do, and think about how you can better use your own small choices as a result.  Learn from the masters–and also from the not-so-masterful.  If a book isn’t working for you, analyzing *why* it doesn’t work can be just as important.  While re-typing passages, I have found which authors are master of metaphor, and which are making lazy verb choices.

When you return to your own manuscript (or to your friend’s), apply the same kind of macro and micro analysis.  What is the overall effect of the prose?  What small choices add up to create that effect?

Thanks, E. C., for ruining reading for me. . .well, as I said, I find this kind of reading to have its own joys, including the thrill of discovery when you can see the mechanics of the magic–you can be inside the secrets of prose.  And if I do find myself sinking through the words, into the movie, then I know I have found a true master.  What techniques do you use to separate writer’s mind and reader’s?

In the meantime, you’re welcome.

7 Reasons why Readers Should Check Out Hamilton

Hello, internet! Last week I had the absurd luck and pleasure to win lottery tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway. I was already a big fan, and getting to be In The Room Where It Happens took my appreciation to  whole new level. I’ve already been spreading the love of Hamilton, so here are 7 reasons why Readers should check out Hamilton:


1. It’s all about passion

Wait for It - The One Thing I Life I Can Control

So many readers I know, myself included, respond to passionate leads, to characters who push the story forward. Hamilton is all about Alexander Hamilton’s ambition to raise above his station, to make a difference, to leave a Legacy. He makes enemies every step of the way, and the show highlights several crisis points for Hamilton, as well as the other leads (Aaron Burr, Eliza Hamilton, Angelica Schuyler), expressing their conflict through music.


2. Hamilton is a wordsmith of the first order

Hip-hop and especially rap, as musical genres, are all about the writing and the lyrics. Flow, imagery, rhyming. The rap and hip-hop of Hamilton is generally incredibly easy to follow, especially when you bring in the fantastic resource that is the Genius Annotations for the show. As the creator of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda says,

“It’s a story of someone who rises and falls on the strength of their facility with words,” says Miranda. “So to me, this was a hip-hop story.”


3. Repetition and Emphasis

My Shot

If you like reading for theme, if you get chills when someone says “Winter is coming” or “Orlando the Axe was following the fox,” or like how phrases come back several times in a book, taking on new meanings, then Hamilton is the show for you. Hamilton and the other leads have lines they come back to, lines they live by, lines they die by. Many of the songs reprise in full songs or as themes in later shows, and “Non-Stop,” the Act One finale, folds basically the entire first act back in, while hinting at the danger that is coming.


4. You Want character arc? We got character arcs.


Wait for It

Hamilton and Burr, the two male leads of the show, have truly impressive and complicated character arcs throughout the show, as they pursue their ambitions, as their friendly rivalry becomes enmity and more. It’s the story of Hamilton’s rise, his fall, and of his lasting legacy. Hamilton in his death scene is miles from the boy of 19 he is in the first number.


5. Hilarious comedy

Fully-amred battalion

Jonathan Groff (of GLEE fame) plays King George, who appears several times throughout the show, is utterly hilarious, even just on the soundtrack. It’s even better in person (Groff is a great physical comedian), but even in the soundtrack, you get the King’s warnings and exhortations to the colonies framed in terms of poppy breakup songs, and it is hilarious.

In addition, Daveed Diggs as Marquis du Lafayette and then Thomas Jefferson is a whirlwind of awesomeness. His reactions and fills enhance every scene he’s a part of.


6. It’s an AP History unit in 2 amazing hours

Hamilton was created in part to serve as as an education in the history of the revolution and the founding of our democracy, and it does a more than adequate job, especially for people whose history classes were boring, or even if they were just a number of years ago. Reading can be a great education, and this show is just as informative as any number of books. It’s inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton, so if you want to go directly to the source, you can immerse yourself in the 800+ page tome.


7. Share the squee

One of the best things about reading, for me, is getting to talk about the books I love with people. And it’s no different with Hamilton. Sharing in excitement about the show online has been one of the best things about getting in on the Hamilton phenomenon.



So if I’ve piqued your interest, there are few better places to start than this YouTube video of Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2009 performing an early version of the first number at a White House poetry event.




Michael R. Underwood is the author of eight books, including Geekomancy, Shield and Crocus, and Genrenauts. His latest work is The Absconded Ambassador: Genrenauts Episode 2.

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5 Books that Surprised Me in 2015

Hi folks, Mike here – As we move solidly into December, I’m looking back at books I read in 2015, like so many other folks in the bookish internet. For this round-up, I wanted to focus on books that surprised me in some way – made me laugh when I didn’t expect it, caught me with a gut-punch, and so on.

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Vectors: What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Leslie Williams

profile-photo-lesleywilliams-96x96Our first guest, Leslie Williams, when thwarted in her original career goal of hustling at Jeopardy tournaments, decided to cash it all in for the high stakes, rollercoaster world of library science. She spends most of her time at the Evanston Public Library soothing terrified 7th graders whose laptops died the night before their final research papers were due, and vainly trying to convince them that encyclopedias existed prior to Wikipedia. Mild mannered, power shusher by day, Lesley dabbles in the dark art of musical theatre as a member of her synagogue’s Purim Players, where she has essayed major roles in such unforgettable productions as West Side Tsuris, Bally Chai, and Camelplotz. She lives in Evanston, Illinois, where she was voted Most Likely to Blow a Gasket Over Inadequate Source Citation for three consecutive years

imagesSo here are my criteria for a supernatural pet: it should be friendly, enjoy humans (but not as snacks), offer some kind of bonus feature, (magical protection or splendiferous wealth are always good choices), and fit comfortably into a 2 bedroom suburban condo.

My gut reaction was, “Dragon!” No more carrying pepper spray or lumbering around in cumbersome body armor: ain’t nobody gonna mess with a dragon owner. Then there’s that gold hoarding feature, which would definitely come in handy if the beast could be persuaded to share. Or invest.

However, upon further reflection, (and remembering how I dread simple kitchen burns), it occurred to me that a dragon, even a teensy one with limited firepower, might be an overly incendiary choice. And ours is a non-smoking building.

I considered a buffalito, (from my good friend Lawrence Schoen’s “Buffalito Destiny” series.) Buffalitos are cute, cuddly little pups, very affectionate, and non-carnivorous. The only slight problem is that they will eat you out of house and home…literally. Having previously shared space with destructive alien life forms that consume 10 times their weight, (i.e. our teenage babysitter) the last thing I need is a pet that can happily chow down on the bathroom fixtures.

The babelfish has possibilities: think of the renumerative scam possibilities of understanding every known human language! Yet the companionate animal function is sadly lacking; one can hardly snuggle with a slimy creature residing in one’s ear canal. Delete.

No, the clear choice is a phoenix. They live for 500 years, strike fear into the hearts of the impure, (take THAT creepy delivery guy in my alley), are recyclable, and even though this does involve perennial self immolation, their healing tears would counteract any resultant 3rd degree injuries. And no litter box!

Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson headshotOur second guest is Canadian author Matthew Johnson. Matthew lives in Ottawa, Ontario with his wife and their two sons. His work has been published in places such as Asimov’s Science FictionThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, and has been included in several Year’s Best anthologies and translated into Danish, Russian and Czech. A collection of his short stories, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, was published in June by ChiZine Publications. When he’s not writing or practicing full-contact parenting he works at MediaSmarts, Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy, where he writes lesson plans, articles and educational computer games, does public appearances and media interviews, and occasionally does pirate voices in both English and French. He blogs  at www.irregularverbs.ca and is on Twitter as @irregularverbal.

Hiero'sJourneyI’m tempted to say “tribbles,” but I’m pretty sure the bylaws where I live don’t allow more than five of them per household within city limits. Like any child of the ’80s, of course, I went through a period of wishing I could adopt Lockheed the dragon from X-Men, but since Lockheed was basically a flying cat who could breathe fire I’m not sure how he would get along with the two cats I already have.

In the end I think I have to pick Klootz the mutant moose from Sterling E. Lanier’s Hiero’s Journey and its sequel The Unforsaken Hiero. As well as being bigger and smarter than a present-day moose Klotz is telepathic, which makes him an ideal mount and companion for the titular hero as he has a variety of bizarre adventures in post-apocalyptic Canada. I owe this book a lot, having encountered it at a formative age; it was the first vaguely interesting book I had ever encountered that was set in my own country, for instance, and its gleeful, unapologetic cheesiness (one Goodreads commenter described it as “like a milkshake made out of Burt Reynolds’ chest hair and the skeleton of a Brontosaurus”) helped to give me the courage to embrace genre cliches in the hopes of making them my own.

Mostly, though, I’d like Klootz for a pet because I ride my bike to work. Ottawa’s a pretty bikeable city, but there are definitely parts of it where drivers need to be reminded to share the road: two tons of psychic warmoose might just do the trick.

Lawrence M. Schoen

WingedMonkeyThis was a tough question for me, particularly as I’ve committed nearly half a million words writing about buffalo dogs (aka buffalitos), alien creatures that resemble miniaturized versions of the American bison, but with the ability to consume virtually any matter and transform it all into flatulence of pure oxygen. But that’s be taking the easy way out.

My Klingon background pushes me in the direction of tribbles, the cooing, furry ovoids from Iota Geminorum IV that are born pregnant and make kudzu seem harmless, but again, no, that would be too simple.

I think I have to go with a winged monkey. You know, the blue-furred ones from THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. Not only would one be a great companion animal, but it could fetch things for you (hey, monkey, I just called in a pizza; it’ll be ready in 30 minutes, go get it!), is presumably house-broken, and gets to wear a cute little hat (and vest too, if you go by the 1939 film). I have a sneaking suspicion that it would probably smell really bad, but that just means I’d have to build a monkey aerie on my roof. And oh, the fun we’d have terrorizing other neighborhood pets, as my winged monkey plunges from the sky and snatches them up (all in innocent play, of course).

Beth Cato

StarliteI have two clear favorites.

I was four when I became obsessed with the cartoon Rainbow Brite. For me, the allure wasn’t Rainbow herself or rainbows or the fumbling villainy of Murky and Lurky… it was her horse, Starlite. I already had a strong interest in horses and Starlite cemented that. My Little Pony never appealing to me as much–it was too cutesy. I wanted a real horse. A talking, magical real horse in particular. I collected Breyer horses. I read every horse book I could. If total strangers knew one fact about me, it was that I loved horses.

At about age eleven, I realized that my family was poor and I would never have a horse of my own. Even so, that love has never gone away. Earlier this year, I resumed riding lessons for the first time as an adult. My desire for magical horses still works into my writing, especially my poetry (see “Seeds” at Mythic Delirium and “What We Carry” at inkscrawl).

On a completely different note, I love Dragon Quest slimes.

Dragon Quest is a huge role-playing game franchise that started on 8-bit Nintendo. It paved the way for Final Fantasy and everything that’s come since. The games are still popular in Japan, though their marketing in the rest of the world has always been inconsistent. The most iconic character from the game is the blue slime. It’s the first monster you encounter in most every game. I adore slimes. There’s something glorious about those bright, smiling faces, even as you pummel them to death.

ReadingtoBigBlue_sm (1)For a number of years, I was a major importer of DQ goods–manga, doujinshi (fan-made comics), shitajiki (pencil boards), bandanas, figurines, etc, with slimes figuring most prominently. I still own over a hundred plush slimes, ranging in size from cell phone fobs to Big Blue the bean bag chair slime, as shown. Heck, I even have a slime Zippo lighter and a slime derby board game. Amongst my friends, I became known as the Queen of Slimes.

Give me a magical talking horse and an army of slime minions, and I’ll be happy

Steve Bein

imageI’m a dog person, so I’m going with a cave troll.

The one they pick on in Fellowship of the Ring is so misunderstood. He’s a perfectly nice guy—just a big dope who fell in with the wrong crowd, really. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to fight. They have to drag him in on a chain. I don’t know where he got the big hammer, but he probably just uses it to whack stuff. Kind of like throwing snowballs at trees or whatever. It’s just what you

It’s not his fault that a bunch of little pesky people shoot him with arrows. That would piss anyone off. You don’t let your kid yank a strange dog’s tail, and you don’t let your kid shoot trolls with arrows. It’s just common sense.

Trolls don’t shed. They’re not explicitly forbidden in any lease agreements or rental contracts. They’re loyal, they’re easily housebroken, and they’re smart enough that you can teach them tricks. What dog can throw the Frisbee back to you? And what dog can throw it 500 yards?

They do require a little bit of extra living space, but it’s worth the investment, considering the fact that a cave troll is the ultimate home security system.

The only real trouble is that you need an in-home darkroom, or else you need to board up your garage so tightly that no sunlight can get in. It would be awful to come home and find your pet has turned to stone.

Ken Liu

images (1)I’m going to have to go with Cassiopeia from Michael Ende’s Momo. Cassiopeia is a tortoise who can talk by displaying words on her shell and who can see thirty minutes into the future. A theme in Momo is that the time you “save” by working harder in the relentless pursuit of efficiency is actually time you lose to the Men in Grey, and Cassiopeia, moving slowly and steadily through life, has all the time in the world. She could teach me a lot.

Fran Wilde

tumblr_mtlkecW4U91sjro9ko1_500Stitch. “Is little and broken, but still good.”

Tina Connolly

6a00d8345169e469e201287611ee6d970cI was pretty thoroughly sold on Anne McCaffrey’s fire lizards growing up. Sure, the full-size dragons were mighty and magnificent and telepathic and all that jazz. But the fire lizards were darling, and Menolly had like 9 or 25 of them or something like that. All different colors, too.

So it’s probably no surprise that I wanted to write something with a tiny dragon in it. My next book, SILVERBLIND, has steamy, silver, forest-dwelling wyverns–and we meet several of their kitten-sized babies. Now unlike fire lizards, baby wyverns — woglets — don’t tend to go around imprinting on humans. So Dorie’s pretty shocked to find out she’s in charge of one. They’re cranky and hissy and they spit steam (baby steam, at first.) Worse, they yodel. They’re reportedly cousins to the legendary basilisks, and they can fascinate themselves a meal . . . but they don’t do anything useful like teleporting messages all over the countryside. Still, Dorie grows rather attached to her inconvenient woglet, and so did I.

Michael R. Underwood

Hiccup-Toothless-how-to-train-your-dragon-9626230-2000-850Do I have to stick with just one? I can’t have my own fantastic menagerie, with a Mabari hound from Dragon Age, a Gold Dragon mount from Dragonlance, and a Kaiju BFF?

If not, then I want a Night Fury as friendly and loyal as Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Smart, maneuverable, perfect size for a not-large human to ride, and capable of laying explosive waste to my enemies!

What’s not to like?


What fantasy creature would you like most as a pet?

Vectors: What book character do you most strongly identify with?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What book character do you most strongly identify with?

Steve Bein

imagenI’ve got to go with Hank Devereaux.

Devereaux is an English professor, and the protagonist of Richard Russo’s Straight Man. Russo was a professor himself, so he knows whereof he speaks. I’m a professor too, so I can testify first-hand to the fun house mirror universe that is academia. Don’t get me wrong: the fun house really is fun. But to any reader who thinks Russo is being unrealistic when he has Devereaux threaten to execute a goose on television, I’ll say this: Dante himself could not envision a world so outlandish as the modern American university.

I haven’t carried out any public goose executions myself, and neither have any of my colleagues—at least not that I know of—but I have seen some equally wacky things in my time. Some day I’ll write a book about them, but in the meantime, I can sympathize with Devereaux.

He’s at his most sympathetic when he is mired in departmental politics. His colleagues are lunatics. Many of mine have been lunatics too, though in fairness, they’re the first ones to identify themselves this way.

Here’s the thing: if you’re a professor, you’re a weirdo. This isn’t an insult; it’s a necessary precondition. You need to be nerdy enough to attempt to walk the path, introverted enough to bury yourself in your research, extroverted enough to speak in front of hundreds of strangers, bullheaded enough to finish a dissertation, opinionated enough to try to publish it, and charismatic enough to keep students interested in your subject. That means the average department meeting is an attempt to reach agreement between obstinate, opinionated nerds who are gregarious and withdrawn in equal measure. Good luck with that.

It’s a strange world we academics live in. Russo gets it, and that’s why I feel for Hank Devereaux.

J. Kathleen Cheney

images (1)I’ve always liked Fred Cassidy from Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand. Like Fred, I was a bit of an eternal college student although I didn’t reach 13 years like he did (7.5 years the first time, then an additional 2 years later). I even had a professor accuse me of being a dilettante at one point. And also like Fred, I often found myself in the middle of things and didn’t know how I got there.Seriously, out of all the college students I knew, I was by far the most likely to accidentally absorb an alien sentience. Charv and Ragma would be exactly the sort of helpers I got.

I think that was why I most related to Fred. He wasn’t a Big Hero. He’s just trying to get through the whole thing alive, which I think a lot of us are doing in college.

Beth Cato

Farthest-AwayMountainI’m going to harken back to a book I’ve loved since age 11. The Farthest-Away Mountain by Lynne Reid Banks (yes, the author of the much more famous Indian in the Cupboard series) is an epic quest novel for the middle grade set. Fourteen-year-old Dakin lives in her quiet village until one day a distant mountain calls to her. She ends up dealing with monsters, an ogre, a colorful witch, a frog, and a host of other vibrant characters on her journey.

One of the most memorable things about the book is a comment she makes early on in regards to decorative gargoyles, that they aren’t really scary, but sad. She’s scorned for that opinion. Later on, she meets gargoyles. They are deeply touched by her compassion. It was such a simple subplot, but it had an impact on me–that this wonderful heroine is surviving by her wits, but her compassion is also one of her greatest assets. I wanted to be like her at age 11. I still do.

Lawrence M. Schoen

downloadI don’t know that I “strongly identify” with any particular character in fiction but I can relate to the character of Miles Vorkosigan in his role as Imperial Auditor, which begins near the end of Lois MaMaster Bujold’s novel Memory and continues on for several more books. The job requires a combination of skills and disciplines, and really draws home the point that one can achieve remarkable insight by looking at a problem using multiple sets of vastly different tools at the same time. I’ve always thought that some of our best discoveries have come about from someone outside a field looking at it with different perspectives, different metaphors. That’s only a very small part of what these books are about, but it always pleases me to see a protagonist who wins the day (and the girl!) by being smart in clever ways.

Tina Connolly

Matilda1Well, Sorrel from Streatfeild’s Theatre Shoes for your obscure reference of the day. Otherwise I’ll have to go with Roald Dahl’s Matilda (especially as drawn by the incomparable Quentin Blake!) A little pointy-chinned girl with brown hair amid toppling piles of books? All I needed was her superpower and I was ready to take on any Trunchbulls that might come around.

Michael R. Underwood

RedwallFor many years, I ate up traditional fantasy rags-to-riches narratives like they were candy. And of those narratives, the one that was probably most powerful for me was Matthias, the humble hero of Redwall, the first of Brian Jacques’ series. Matthias is clever, loyal, and seems to succeed as much for his diligence as his Chosen Hero cred.

When I read those books, I’d been recently bullied, and started learning martial arts. And like many kids who’d learned a little about martial arts, I wanted a chance to use them righteously, to stand up for people the way I was learning to stand up for myself. And I saw all of that and more in Matthias, hoping that I could see it in myself


What book character do you most strongly identify with?


Arianne “Tex” Thomspon’s debut novel, One Night in Sixes, is out today!

One Night in Sixes

The border town called Sixes is quiet in the heat of the day. Still, Appaloosa Elim has heard the stories about what wakes at sunset: gunslingers and shapeshifters and ancient animal gods whose human faces never outlast the daylight.

And the daylight is running out. Elim’s so-called ‘partner’ – that lily-white lordling Sil Halfwick – has disappeared inside the old adobe walls, hell-bent on making a name for himself among Sixes’ notorious black-market traders. Elim, whose worldly station is written in the bastard browns and whites of his cow-spotted face, doesn’t dare show up home without him.

If he ever wants to go home again, he’d better find his missing partner fast. But if he’s caught out after dark, Elim risks succumbing to the old and sinister truth in his own flesh – and discovering just how far he’ll go to survive the night.


One Night in Sixes available for pre-order here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s 

Vectors: What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Shallee McArthur

ESShallee20Edit_head_large2Our guest todayShallee McArthuroriginally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and two children. Her YA sci fi novel, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE, debuts from Sky Pony Press Nov. 4, 2014.


68428Food in literature fascinates me, partially because I took a mythology and culture class in college that focused a lot on the place food has in culture. One of my favorite foods in one of my favorite books are baywraps in the Mistborn books by Brandon Sanderson, because they’re so reflective of the culture. They’re a simple food made by the skaa (read: oppressed peasant/slave class). Basically, baywraps are barley and vegetables wrapped in flatbread.

Skaa are poor. They don’t have access to fancy or expensive food like meat. But barley, veggies, flatbread…these are cheap, easily accessible, and simple to put together. It’s easy to vary what goes in the baywrap based on what you have on hand. It’s something that can be eaten quickly or on the go, since skaa don’t spend an awful lot of time sitting around a table, eating and relaxing. I was so fascinated by how much of skaa culture was evident in a simple food, that it became one of my favorite examples of literary food! And, if you happened to be interested in trying one, there’s a fab recipe right here!

Fran Wilde

ancillary-justiceThis is a really hard question for me to answer because I talk to other authors about food in fiction a lot with Cooking the Books. (Including Novelocity members Mike and Kathleen, and more to come.) — and it’s hard to pick a favorite.

My favorite literary food varies by season and mood — right now, I love the teas in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and the savory foods from Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series. Other times, fun fictional food is what I want: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice and Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Lawrence M. Schoen

RoaldDahl-CatCFLike Fran, I’m always asking writers to tell me about their most memorable meals in my weekly blog Eating Authors. That, and for more than a decade I’ve been writing short and long fiction with a protagonist who’s a gourmand, as an excuse to conjure up alien banquets and interstellar food trucks. And it probably doesn’t hurt that my wife used to be a chef.

But because I’m so late to the (dinner) table, I’ll keep it short and simple. I’ll go with the three course meal gum that still needs a bit of work before going to market from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Sure, Dahl’s a bit heavy-handed with the moralism, and poor Violet Beauregarde has to be rolled offstage and be “de-juiced,” none of that dampened the science fictional allure of the gum for me. It was just a step away from the promised food pills of the future. Hmm… and that glass elevator does have some resemblance to a flying car in the end…

Tina Connolly

marypoppinsWell, Butter Pies from Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City. But I already raved those simultaneously hot/cold ice creamy treats in another post. Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which turned out to be depressingly not that great when I had it in real life.)  Beth’s post reminds me of all the good food in the Little House books, particularly in Farmer Boy, where a good deal of Almanzo’s thoughts center on what he gets to eat (bird’s nest pudding with cream, and stacked pancakes, and fried doughnuts. . . .) There’s a bunch of delightful-sounding things in the Mary Poppins books, too, including Gingerbread Stars (not to mention Mrs. Corry breaking off some barley-sugar fingers for Jane and Michael!) Really, children’s books often have the best food. . . . 

M.K. Hutchins

7996Talking about fiction and food inevitably leads me to the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. These books are a gateway into epic fantasy. Big, fatty volumes with lots of adventure. And also lots of feasts. Redwall books always make me salivate, whether they’re describing homey bread or deeper ‘n ever pie. There is more than one website dedicated to recreating Redwall food, but the one I know best is The Redwall Kitchen. It’s been around for fifteen years.

I didn’t know it when I picked them up, but these stories were originally written for children attending the Royal Wavertree School of the Blind. Jacques certainly crafted books rich in senses other than sight. I read and reread these books in middle school, especially. I love that someone had created books that didn’t talk down to me — that swept me up into a long, ripping yarn of a tale. Sometimes childhood favorites don’t hold up to the test of time, but I recently reread The Long Patrol and was pleasantly surprised to find Redwall the same magical, delicious-smelling place that I remembered.

Beth Cato

imagesFor me, the most memorable food isn’t from a specific book but from a genre. Starting at about age 8, I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder and from there I read into historical fiction on the pioneer west, the Oregon Trail, and the Civil War. There are period details across those books that, when I started to write (and never finish) my own epic fantasy efforts at age 12, I consciously utilized. It was kind of a light bulb moment for me, that realization that, “Hey, these historical fiction books I read are totally different, but I this makes perfect sense to use in this medieval world of my own creation.” My characters traveled with dry meat, corn pone, and hard tack, and if they stayed put long enough they could fix some camp beans, They worried about the purity of water in a spring. Even if they were kids, they could set simple snares and cook over a campfire.

It’s funny to think of how that base knowledge has carried over to The Clockwork Dagger. My main character, Octavia, is a farm girl, but she can set snares, tuck away rolls and hard cheese, and use enchantments to make sure the water is safe. Camp beans are still on the menu–plus, now I have a nonfiction book on the Civil War medicine and camp life to provide specific direction on how it was done. The food isn’t gourmet by any means, but when people are trying to kill you and your stomach is near empty, most any meal tastes divine.

What’s your favorite literary food or meal?

Vectors: What are your two favorite non-fiction books?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? What are your two favorite non-fiction books?


5967962-MMy favorites tend to shift around based on what I’m researching at the moment, so a little volume called Devils, Drugs and Doctors holds a place close to my heart for inspiring me to write Elisha Barber. However the Oxford English Dictionary remains an eternal fave. An author/librarian friend of mine knew I wanted one and snatched it up when someone donated a compact edition (minus the magnifying glass) to her library’s book sale. I love being able to look up the trail of word origins and roots, not to mention confirming when a word was first written down (give or take a hundred years, for my period). My editor has one, too, and if he gets there first, he points out things like “blackguard” not being used until 1537–even granted earlier spoken use, way outside by timeframe, alas.

And the other one has to be Science and Civilization in China, which was proposed by Joseph Needham (himself an extraordinary character) as a single volume history, and has ballooned into a many-volume work which incorporates virtually all fields of science and technology. If I have to narrow it down, I’ll go for Volume 4, which covers Chinese engineering and is a primary reference work for my current project. For the curious generalist, I highly recommend Simon Winchester’s The Man Who Loved China–a biography of Needham and discussion of the circumstances surrounding his research project. In his exuberant embrace of the research, and going perhaps a little too far, he kinda reminded me of me.

J. Kathleen Cheney

100_2092I love facts–charts, graphs, diagrams–so I’m a huge fan of handbooks. Here are two of my favorites. On bottom, we have a 1901 Baedeker for Spain and Portugal. It has maps of major tourist cities, charts of exchange rates, how much your cab fare should be, the best hotels, eateries and sights. When I was writing The Shores of Spain, this quickly became my favorite because my characters were travelling by train across Iberia, and this told me everything they would have known back then.

The larger book is the 1926 Handbook for the Medical Soldier (U.S.Army). It’s an amazing book that tells a young medic everything he (because it would have been HE) needed to know about his place and duties in the U. S. Army. Not only is there first aid, but mathematical conversions, instructions for packing medicine when getting ready to move out, and–my favorite–how to harness up the horses. (There is also a section on Motor Vehicles. 1926 wasn’t the dark ages.) But I’ve wanted to write a novel with an army medic in it, and this book tells me everything. Favorite quote? AVOID VENEREAL DISEASE. It’s in all caps. Because apparently that needed lots of reinforcement. ::rolls eyes::

Beth Cato

ChildrenofKaliIt’s hard to choose, but my job is made easier because several of my favorites have already been mentioned. Like Steve, I have two of Suzuki’s books on Zen Buddhism. I also share Ken’s appreciation of Mary Roach’s work. I love Stiff and Packing for Mars.

Therefore, I’ll mention two books that have come in very handy in my novel research.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum is about poison, Prohibition, and the start of forensic medical research in 1920s New York. It’s morbid, gripping, and tragic. After reading about the radium girls, the benign act of licking a paintbrush to a fine point will never again look the same.

A very recent read was Children of Kali by Kevin Rushby. It’s an engrossing book that carries parallel stories: that of the fabled Thuggee cult with its boasted fatalities of upward of a million people, and a modern travelogue of India as Rushby searches for the truth behind the British propaganda on Thuggees. It’s deep stuff, and it changed my entire concept of how I used Thuggees within my new steampunk book.

Tex Thompson

imagesnWell, the first title that comes to mind for me is one that’s never been “practically” useful, in that I have no plans to use it for any kind of writing project. But let me tell you, The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi blew me away.

Fukuzawa himself was an amazing writer, innovator, and statesman – you might call him the Japanese Ben Franklin – who came of age just as Japan was opening to the West, and who lived to see the feudal society of his birth radically transformed into an industrial empire. The book, though, is something special. For example, he tells the story about striding out onto the schoolhouse roof naked to frighten away the maids lounging up there, so that he and his fellow students can enjoy an open-air carouse. And then there’s the one about the students arranging to translate a rare Portuguese book in shifts, collectively working on it 24 hours a day, so that not a minute with the precious book would be wasted. And I feel like these are the kind of intimate, lovely details that we could never find on Wikipedia or in a historian’s biography, because they’re details that show not only a narrative of important moments and accomplishments, but a whole life, and the special, temporary, incredibly specific time and place in which it bloomed.

This is one of many, MANY reasons why what Ken said about the importance of primary sources is spot-on – not just for book-research, but for, like… Pokevolving your empathy and humanity. (And I’m going to stop here, because I’ve used so many words talking about this one book that I have no space to start in on another one. I am all right with that.)

Fran Wilde

78Annals of the Former World by John McPhee – it’s a book about geologic history, as seen in road-cuts along American highways. I read it when it came out, then took it with me on my next roadtrip and was delighted to see that I could reproduce the experiment, at least in part. The writing is gorgeous. Another recent favorite is Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox – about the people who dedicated their lives to cracking Linear B, a written language from the Bronze Age.

I don’t usually have favorite non-fiction books as much as I do authors, including Richard Preston (First Light, The Wild Trees) and David Quammen (Song of the Dodo, Monster of God).

M.K. Hutchins

9780500285534_p0_v1_s260x420One of the most important nonfiction books in my life has been Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone. I picked this book up in high school and devoured it. The book is designed not for the scholar, but for an everyday reader. The formatting, the writing, and the drawings all made it easy to dig into. I loved how the artistic and linguistic twined together and illuminated tidbits of the historical and cultural. As everyone else has noted, primary sources are amazing. There’s something magical, to me, about reading words carved into stone or painted onto pottery over a thousand years ago. From here, I decided to study archaeology, which in turn has shaped my fiction writing. Michael D. Coe has written several other highly-accessible book, and there are other volumes on the classic Maya that I love, but this one will always be my favorite.

Ken Liu

imageskI don’t have favorite non-fiction books, but I have favorite non-fiction authors. I like almost everything by Mary Roach and Annie Dillard.

Mary Roach’s books deal with topics that at first seem gross or pedestrian, but turn out to be full of fascinating connections with history, science, and complexities of the modern world. Whether it’s cadavers, the alimentary canal, or toilets in space, she manages to make the reader share her enthusiasm for the subject and to construct out of found facts a narrative that is funny and poignant.

Annie Dillard’s non-fiction has had a profound influence on me. Weaving together history, memory, and personal insight, her books are beautiful, searing visions of the world. The associative logic she employs seems to echo the way my mind works, and I’ve always tried to emulate that effect in my own writing. Indeed, I suspect that I owe more of my style to her than to writers of fiction.

What are your favorite non-fiction resources?

Vectors: Who’s your favorite nonhuman character in fiction?

Our question for the Novelociraptors this week? Who’s your favorite nonhuman character in fiction?

Beth Cato

UrbanShamanI can’t help but think of my first and favorite urban fantasy series, The Walker Papers, by C. E. Murphy. The books start with Urban Shaman. The lead character, Jo, is a cop with a big chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t connect with people easily, but she loves cars, and she really loves her car, a ’69 Mustang named Petite.

Despite all the magical mayhem that Jo endures, Petite never evolves to the level of KITT in Knight Rider. Petite is… a car. The normalcy of Petite is a major stabilizing force for Jo and it becomes a running gag through the books about how no one else can touch Petite or drive it.

I really don’t like cars that much. I didn’t even get my license until my late 20s. But I totally get the relationship of Jo and Petite. Petite is her brave white charger. There are brilliant Petite moments throughout the series, including one in Mountain Echoes where I cheered out loud. It’s a car yet so much more.

E. C. Ambrose

ScannersLiveInVainByCordwainerSmith565Anybody else remember this one? Possibly not–but I was thinking of some of the characters in Cordwainer Smith’s lexicon–humanoids who were developed from dogs and cats, and retain some of their characteristics, while seeming, mostly, usually human.I haven’t read them for a long time, but they made an impression with their near-humanity. His most famous work is probably “Scanners Live in Vain”.

If you haven’t heard of him, don’t feel bad–he’s also the guy that the Cordwainer Smith Re-discovery Award is named for. It’s given to honor an author who should not have been forgotten, but is–and includes publication of one or more new editions of the author and panels at Readercon about them. So you can find Smith in new editions from NESFA press, and you can read some excerpts here: http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/rediscovery.htm

Tex Thompson

puddleglumI couldn’t possibly pick one favorite, but I can easily point to my first. Even with all the other wonderful creatures and talking animals in Narnia, Puddleglum thrilled me right away. I remember being hugely fascinated by the idea of this tall, amphibious scarecrow-looking man – and by the novelty of a character who isn’t any of the things we usually expect of a mentor figure. Gandalf and Obi-Wan and the rest could be stern or scary, but always had that same aura of power and benevolence and wisdom. By contrast, Puddleglum is morose, pessimistic (hilariously so), and often no more knowledgeable than the children he accompanies – but always honest with them, even when the truth is unpleasant. He’s a strange kind of advertisement for adulthood, but one still resonates with me, especially now that I’m on the far side of adolescence myself. (And if the mereaux in my books are half as cool as the marsh-wiggles in Narnia, I will be pleased indeed!)

Fran Wilde

378I’ve been thinking about this answer all week. I very much like the spiders in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky, and the skroderiders and tines from A Fire Upon the Deep. There’s Sam, from Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy. And Maya from Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor. I love the Culture from Ian M. Banks’ books. And Wintermute, because Gibson.

But I think when all is said and done, I love Fortinbras, from Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series and Tock from Phantom Tollbooth best.

Steve Bein

Tough question, but I’m going with Yoda.

I mean the real Yoda, the puppet from the real Star Wars movies, not Yoda’s weird CGI brother who appears in the prequels. I assume these aren’t the same person at all, but rather two brothers, because the CG evil twin doesn’t share any of the qualities I like best about the real Yoda.

Around the time he created Yoda, George Lucas was speaking with the mythographer Joseph Campbell, who knew something of Asian religions. That was what they talked about, and from that conversation Yoda was born. He’s a bodhisattva and a Taoist master rolled up in one.

It’s all right there in the name, actually. His home planet, Dagobah, is named for a Buddhist reliquary shrine. This is why Yoda doesn’t own a lightsaber: as an enlightened being, he’s beyond the fear of death and he’s the ultimate pacifist. It’s also why his evil CGI brother is such a disappointment. 900 years old and still this jackass needs to resort to violence to solve his problems? Where’s the wisdom in that?

Here’s the fight I’d like to have seen: Bad guy draws lightsaber on Yoda. Yoda waves a hand toward it and crushes it like tinfoil. Bad guy looks down at the crumpled metallic raisin in his hand and understands what Yoda really meant when he said, “the Force is my ally” and, “your weapons, you will not need them.”

Yoda’s most famous quote sounds like it came directly out of the Tao Te Ching: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” They didn’t miss this in China. When The Empire Strikes Back reached Chinese theaters, “Yoda” was transliterated as 有徳, literally “Having Te,” te being the virtuous power in the title of the Tao Te Ching, the founding text of classical Taoism.

This is why Yoda is my favorite: he is simultaneously the ultimate badass and the ultimate pacifist, and he achieves both by doing, not trying.

J. Kathleen Cheney

CherryhExilesGateCoverMorgaine, from any of the Morgaine books by C. J. Cherryh.

That’s a bit of a cheat. She confesses to being half human at one point in the books, but her father came from an ancient race that built a series of gates that allowed travel between worlds now populated by humans and a race known as the qhal. She actually looks like one of the qhal, and they often make the mistake of trusting her on those grounds, not realizing that she’s working to her own ends all the time.

She is never the point-of-view character. Instead we only see her through the eyes of her servant, Nhi Vanye, who starts off reluctant and terrified, but over the course of the four books comes to understand his half-human master and her mission.