Hugo 2020 Reading – January

I did not realize that the rules for nominating Hugos has changed. Instead of a Worldcon membership allowing you to nominate for three years (the year before, that year, and the year after) it now only allows you to nominate for two years (that year and the year after). So, I will not be able to submit my picks for this year. Ah well. I’m still going to be writing these posts to help me study how I can break into these markets though. 🙂

Fairy Tail: 100 Years Quest volumes 1 & 2 by Hiro Mashima and Atsuo Ueda
2 graphic stories published by Kodansha Comics

Fairy Tail has meant a lot to me in the last year and a half since I was introduced to it. The characters really pulled me through some tough times. So of course I grabbed the continuing series when I saw the original author still had a hand in crafting the story. These volumes were fun, though not spectacular. A lot of swimsuit fanservice (for fans other than me). I did wonder at Gemini suddenly gaining new powers. But I rode with it, because the magic in Fairy Tail has generally not made a whole lot of sense. We meet interesting new characters, and I am interested in seeing where the story goes.


Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson
a novel published by Century

My husband has a rule of thumb when it comes to Star Wars books – if it takes place in multiple locations, it’s good. If it takes place on only one, it doesn’t measure up. Besides initial setup chapters, this novel only takes place in one location. But I expected that going in, and I found it good pulpy fun. As Vi goes through town, some interactions definitely felt like they existed to showcase stores that existed in Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyworld/Disneyland. Still, I really cared about the characters. I appreciated that even with medpacks, trauma from injuries lasted beyond the initial impact. I also liked that stormtrooper armor in this book actually worked and the characters had to keep that in mind during fights *cough*UnlikeEpisodeIX*cough*. Overall, a decent romp, and I’m looking forward to my next trip to Disneyworld.


The Terrible Oath” by Ashok K. Banker
a novelette published by Lightspeed

I did not care for the plot archetype of this story – king meets girl, falls instantly in love, then goes to great lengths to obtain permission to wed her. I don’t like falling in love at first sight. I didn’t feel like the girl Jilana had much agency, though the story said she did. And I felt like the price her father asked for was stupidly high. I did appreciate everyone’s reaction when Vrath offers the asked for price, so at least it ended on a good note.


I am Fire; I am Tears” by Wendy Nikel
a short story published by PodCastle

This story seems to be inspired by the fairy tale Tatterhood as far as there are twin sisters, one ugly and the other beautiful, born because the queen couldn’t help herself from taking a second bite of the flower. But there the similarities end as these sisters have a very different story to tell. It still has a fairy tale tone, and I enjoyed the surprises as Dania reaches out and Ulykke changes. I didn’t give it five stars only because I didn’t become completely immersed in the story. Part of that could be due to fragmented listening to the podcast. I still recommend it if fairy tale stories is your thing.


And Now His Lordship is Laughing” by Shiv Ramdas
a short story published by Strange Horizons

Unlike Anaea Lay, I don’t enjoy revenge stories. I did appreciate the immersion of this story. Though I am half-British, I appreciate seeing the harmful consequences of the British Empire. And I can appreciate how well laid the revenge was so the British officers were hoisted by their own petards.

Immortal Judgment v 2 is Done!

This draft involved tossing half the story and rebuilding it from scratch. The scenes I had before did not build much tension at all. My antagonist mostly faded into the background, and the climax was too much of a robotic logical battle.

And then halfway through this draft, I unearthed a new theme for the story – logic vs emotions. So I need to go back and reinforce that theme in the beginning of the story. Once I’ve done that, and filled out the scenes that I skimped on, I’ll send it back out to beta readers to find out how well I did in addressing the problems they found.

Stats:

  • Started December 4, 2019
  • Finished January 16, 2020
  • 5,844 words (139% of v1)
  • 9 scenes (100% of v1. 4 deleted from v1)

Hugo 2020 Reading – December

I hardly got any writing done last month, due to all the chaos around the holidays. I did get some new books, a couple of which I review below. The rest are added to my large to-read pile. I think I need to start making a “read 20 minutes every day” goal or something so I can actually make a dent in it.

Said of Angels” by Eric Del Carlo
a novelette published by Clarkesworld

I like the idea of exploring religion and prophecy that spans across galaxies. However, I found this story too slow and philosophical for my taste.


“Yellow Submarine” by Rebecca Moesta
a short story published in Writers of the Future vol 35

The underwater world was whimsical. However, I found it hard to connect to either main character. I have never had any interest in cars, so André’s insistence on a nice looking submarine didn’t click. And his mom’s letting him have so much control over negotiation seemed odd. And the prose felt dry – serviceable, but not compelling.


“An Itch” by Christopher Baker
a short story published in Writers of the Future vol 35

I liked looking at how magic ripped this family apart. The final scene felt off to me, though. The scene preceding felt like an ending on its own, and the prose switched from past tense to present. And it seemed to wrap things up without Claire having done anything.


(5 stars) Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
a novel published by Delacorte Press

I stayed up until 1am reading this book. Since my health dictates that I value my sleep, that REALLY speaks to how much this book sucked me in. I love the characters. I love the humor. The tension was great. I did feel like the setup of the plot was a bit too coincidental, but watching Spensa handle the challenges before her was quite satisfying.


(5 stars) The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed by Rich Burlew
a graphic story published by Giant in the Playground

As I’d read almost all of these comics online, I didn’t expect to get as drawn into the dead-tree version as I did. I loved the new art upgrade. The story became more epic as the gods intervened more directly in debating the fate of the world. I loved the twists. I loved meeting Durkon’s family. As a writer, I found the commentary about how Burlew planned the story fascinating. Very enjoyable.

Goals for 2020

As I make my plans for the next year, time to decide what I want to do with stories in progress.

Soulmates – short story

I started revising this story, but ended up feeling like it was just a hot mess. I couldn’t get around that there were deep flaws in the story and characters. So, I moved on to something that had a better chance.

Status: retiring


Drone of a Fal’Cie – short story

The situation with this story is similar to “Soulmates”, although the mess wasn’t quite as hot. The ending battle had logic problems to it that I realized I hadn’t solved as I approached it. This one has a better chance of being revisited later, but I’m not as interested in it as I once was.

Status: retiring


Guardian Spirit – short story

This is a story that’s been hard to nail down. Well, the plot’s been essentially the same, but I’ve had to develop the POV character to help people connect. Still don’t feel like I’ve done it, but I’m up for some more editing.

Status: revising


Immortal Judgment – short story

I am currently deep in revision with this story after ripping out half of it. I’m excited for it, even though it will need lots of polish after I’ve got the new scenes written.

Status: revising


The Mermaid’s Voice – short story

I gave this a quick edit after getting some good personal feedback, and now this story is back on the market. I have high hopes. Let’s see if anything comes from it.

Status: on submission


For Such a Time – short story

I submitted this to Mormon Lit Blitz, and it got rejected. It was a bit preachy, so I can understand why. I don’t know of any other markets that would be interested in it, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be confident enough to send it.

Status: retiring


Fallen Star – novella

I haven’t put this story up on a fanfiction site yet because I wanted to do a polish with it. I’ve had one reader give me feedback so far, and I’m open to more until I start edits. I’m not feeling the need for a comfort project though, like I was at the beginning of the year. Maybe I’ll get to it after “Guardian Spirit” and “Immortal Judgment.”

Status: open beta


Refusing the Call – short story

I got multiple personal rejections saying they loved the subject matter of this story. They just wanted to see it explored in a larger piece. I understand that. Schizophrenia is a big thing, and would have a big effect on a hero’s journey that I barely even touched on in my flash piece. I don’t have the tools to handle all those nuances though. So, until I do, I’m setting this aside.

Status: retiring


Changestone – short story

After 2+ years at the same magazine, I finally got a rejection. That magazine was the bottom of my list of markets, and since its been so long, I’m sure my writing has improved since then. I actually haven’t gone back to read this again to check. Either way, I don’t want to do anything with it anymore.

Status: retiring


Rejections & Submissions

Wiping my plate clean this year due to depression and few spoons gave me lots of time to ponder what is best for my writing development right now. It seems to me the reason I haven’t had a pro publication is not because I haven’t been submitting. It’s because my work isn’t high enough quality yet. So again, for 2020, I’m not going to have a rejection or submission goal (Except for Mormon Lit Blitz, because I have a story idea for that I’m excited for). My focus is going to be on doing everything I can to make my stories quality, without being limited by arbitrary deadlines.


To Sum Up

In 2020, I want to:

  • Revise “Guardian Spirit”
  • Revise “Immortal Judgment”
  • Revise & publish “Fallen Star”
  • Write new story for Mormon Lit Blitz

and we’ll see if I get hit by inspiration for anything new.

Accomplishments of 2019

When I made my goals for this year, I was deep in depression. I had started to recognize that and so I pared back my expectations. Which is good, because even though I climbed out of it, I still had to deal with side effects from changing meds for ITP. So a lot of what happened this year was more of a surprise.

What I Did That I Planned

  • Revise “If I Perish, I Perish” (now “For Such a Time”)
  • Revise “Leo’s Human Diary” (now “Fallen Star”)

What I Didn’t Do That I Planned

  • Publish “Fallen Star” (I don’t count putting it on google docs. I’d meant on a fanfic website. I haven’t done that yet, because I want another edit first.)
  • Revise “Soulmates” (As I looked over the edits necessary, I decided it was too much work)
  • Revise “Drone of a Fal’Cie” (I started a revision, and then realized that I didn’t have a plan for fixing the part that most people had a problem with – the ending. Since I had a new idea to work on instead, I trunked this one)
  • Write timetravel/shapeshifter novel (Never got started)

What I Did Instead

  • 4 drafts “Guardian Spirit”
  • 3 drafts “The Mermaid’s Voice”
  • 2 drafts “Immortal Judgment”
  • 17 rejections
  • 1 publication – “Tattered Flower

Hugo 2020 Reading – November

This month, instead of NaNoWriMo, I focused on doing writing exercises. I had meant to only take 20-30 minutes a day with them, but some took my entire writing time. It was quite instructive. I haven’t focused much on exercises before, because my writing time was so scarce, I thought I couldn’t afford to give time to a “warmup.” I don’t know when I would focus on exercises again, but it is definitely something I’ll consider in the future.

Anyway, here’s what I read this month.

Professor Strong and the Brass Boys” by Amal Singh
a short story published by Apex Magazine

The podcast of this story was worth listening to. They added music to the background, which complemented the story as the androids learned how to play instruments in pursuit of leisure. There were a few moments where I wasn’t sure if Professor Strong felt like a robot, and while I can believe a robot can learn to play violin faster than a human, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that Professor Strong could immediately switch from guitar to violin with no practice. Yet, when we got to the end, I cared about rim, and I really felt the emotion as rhe set about defying the humans.


A Song for the Leadwood Tree” by Aimee Ogden
a short story published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I had a hard time paying attention to this story as I was listening. It could have been other distractions as well as listening to it in chunks. I missed the time transitions so was often confused when scenes were taking place. This is also a secondary world that doesn’t have any speculative elements except that it’s not on earth, which is not my favorite. The prose is beautifully written though, full of emotion.


Remember to Breathe” by Matt Dovey
a short story published by Cast of Wonders

The gay romance in this story is sweet. The post apocalyptic feel was well-done, too. I did feel like some of the character changes were a bit sudden, though ultimately believable.


“Dark Equations of the Heart” by David Cleden
a novelette published in Writers of the Future vol 35

I had a hard time suspending my disbelief that mathematical proofs could send people into ecstasy. I also am not fond of stories about addicts, so this story was not for me. I also didn’t like the treatment of Isobel, the one female, as she was victimized multiple times and really didn’t use agency. The prose itself was well written.


(5 stars) “This is Not My Adventure” by Karlo Yeager Rodríguez
a short story published by Uncanny

Several people were raving about this story on Twitter, so I decided to give it a try. It hit me so hard, I was crying, and I don’t cry easily. As someone who has struggled with depression, I found this depiction very true to life – the numbness, the lack of desire to do anything. And then to have the companions from a long ago Narnia-like adventure come and help, it was so sweet.

Hugo 2020 Reading – October

Besides the following short stories, this month I also read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for book club. Funny thing is that I didn’t know it was fantasy when I started reading. I quite enjoyed it. Now I’ve got Phasma and Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson from the library to prepare for our trip to Galaxy’s Edge next year. These are actually the first Star Wars book I’ve read (my husband has read several) so I’m interested in seeing how much I enjoy them after all the “hit or miss” reviews I’ve heard for Star Wars books in general.

But now, the short fiction.

White Sand 3 by Brandon Sanderson and Rik Hoskin
A graphic story published by Dynamite Entertainment

Perhaps its because it’s been so long since I’ve read the previous volumes, but I wasn’t as drawn into this. Revelations didn’t have as much impact since I was thinking “who were you again?”

I think also that the visual aspect of the magic system doesn’t draw me in like the descriptions in Sanderson’s novels. I like to see the character’s thought process as they work out how to use the limitations to their advantage. So during the sandmaster duel, I couldn’t see how Kenton was able to outskill Drile.

This did explore interesting aspects of the world, and how being on a tidally locked planet would affect the people. It does wrap up the trilogy, while opening new doors to explore in the future.


Release from Service” by Rustin Lovewell
a novelette published in Writers of the Future vol 35

The only speculative element of this story is that it’s in a society with a different setup than on earth. No magic, and no special technology. There is a strict caste system, with one of the highest being assassins. It was an intriguing setup, but in the climax, things fell apart for me. We got revelations that there were plots within plots, and new characters were introduced and I felt a bit lost.


(5 stars) “Life Sentence” by Matthew Baker
a novelette published by Lightspeed

With my writing of “Immortal Judgment” I’ve been intrigued by how other authors have treated justice in speculative ways. I thought this treatment – where punishment was measured in memories erased, was quite innovative, and explored really well. Not only was there the effect it had on Wash and his family, but there was also exploration on nature vs nurture in how behavior is shaped by memories. I was disappointed at the end that I didn’t know for sure what Wash chose to do with the research, but the final sentences fit the theme better than cementing Wash’s decision.


Elegy for a Slaughtered Swine” by Rafaela Ferraz
a short story published by Podcastle

I’m not a big fan of werewolf stories, or tragedies, and this was both. There is a rich dark tone to it, full of longing and guilt. Just wasn’t for me.


This is How” by Marie Brennan
a short story published by Strange Horizons

(Note: Can’t double check the link due to site outage, which also means I’m reviewing from memory instead of referring to the text to cement my first impressions)

The valravens were interesting creatures – shapeshifters that kill those it comes across. It’s told in a factual tone, which makes sense, because it’s hard to have sympathy for a killer, but it also meant I wasn’t as invested when it had remorse and tried to figure out how to change.


A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde
a short story published by Uncanny

This story has some beautiful and almost whimsical descriptions of weather and storms. And through it all is a tale of grief, shown through the eyes of those left behind when sacrifices herself for the greater good. While I admire the craft of this story, it was too slow for my taste.


Heal Thyself” by Joshua Alexander
a short story published by The Arcanist

For some reason, I thought this was a zombie story when it started, so it took me a moment to reassert that thinking in my mind. It was a mostly believable post-apocalyptic story. I did wonder why Davis wasn’t put into quarantine when he arrived at the tower, and why Davis was the only one to not fall ill when exposed to the plague. At least only half guessed the ending.


(5 stars) “Brick-red Love” by Dawn Vogel
a short story published by The Arcanist

This portal story may fall into the category of “it’s been done before.” I did like that it wasn’t a portal to an alternate universe, but back home to family, and that her choice was between her parents & extended family and her fiancée. It felt real to me.


Vending Machine” by Jeff Gard
a short story published by The Arcanist

I’m not particularly fond of zombie stories as it is, and in this one, it was hard to see how far away the zombies were, or why they were so slow to come attack the kids. I was also confused about how the mom had died previously. It almost sounded like she also died in front of this same vending machine when they tried to get food. I also don’t like stories with characters who say “Kill me before I turn into a monster.”


Apologies for Any Inconvenience” by Jennifer Milne
a short story published by The Arcanist

From the beginning, I could guess how the narrator’s situation of accidentally being filed as dead was going to be rectified. Still, it was humorous, if a bit drawn out.

Guardian Spirits v 3 is Done!

When this story received a straight rejection, I was a little despondent. But when I sent it to critters, it was nice to see such a clear reason for it – things (especially the beginning) were too confusing. I backed up a bit at the beginning to set things up better, so it feels that issue has been solved.

I’m still not that happy with it. I love the theme of the story, but I need Aleron to be a more engaging character. I really do need to sit down and structure this story to hit the beats better, which will enhance Aleron’s inner/outer conflict. Right now, Verdell’s just too interesting of a character and takes over. 🙂

Stats:

  • Started: October 21
  • Finished October 23
  • 1,753 words (127% the size of v 2)

Immortal Judgment v 1 is Done!

I’m pretty pleased with this draft. Instead of cutting or combining anything, I ended up fleshing things out. Now it’s much stronger. It’s got better description, and stronger character moments.

I still have notes for several things I want to tweak before sending it to beta readers, but I don’t anticipate that taking too long. Some were new ideas that I got after I had passed that point in writing. Others were because I was taking too long to come up with a specific item or action, so I just noted it and moved on.

Stats:

  • Started September 23
  • Finished October 9
  • 4,196 words (135% size of v0)
  • 9 scenes (100% size of v0)
  • 6 research pages (new ones: Belgian palace, Belgian royalty)

Hugo 2020 Reading – September

Wow. Now that kids are back in school, my time has been freed up so much. Not only do I get uninterrupted time to write, I get uninterrupted time to listen to podcasts while I do chores. Plus my health has been improving, so I’ve been going through stories at a much faster pace. Here’s what I got to this month.

The Catfish” by Earnest Nadim
a short story published by The Arcanist

This was a cute story about an orc online dating a hag, who each thought the other was an elf. It was a bit predictable. My biggest complaint though, was the callousness of Ziv and Sleepy. There was no reason given for why the orc needed to die except for the fact that he was an orc.


How the Trick is Done” by A.C. Wise
a short story published by Uncanny

This was an interesting story – about the nameless magician who manipulates love triangles for his gain, and how those he manipulates got revenge on him. It’s a dark tale, with shifting times and points of view, but never confusing. The only reason I didn’t give it five stars is because horror isn’t my jam, but I do appreciate the artistry in this story.


N-coin” by Tobias S. Buckell
a short story published by Apex Magazine

Content warning: suicidal ideation

This story had an intriguing idea – cryptocurrency as a way for blacks to receive reparations. I didn’t understand how the cryptocurrency worked, but it was hard for me to feel sorry for the guy when it looked like he bought into what looked like a scam. Telling it by a guy on the verge of jumping off a building made me a bit squeamish as well.


When Sirens Sing of Roses and of Delegated Power” by Nin Harris
a short story published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I chose this story because I was working on “The Mermaid’s Voice” at the time. This has a lot of beautiful imagery, though the pace felt slow at times. Especially for a magical heist gone wrong. It wasn’t so much about outwitting, as it was coming to understanding, which is ok. I just wanted more heistiness though.


Blame it on the Bees” by Rachel Menard
a short story published by Cast of Wonders

This story was full of emotion as Dee deals with the death of her lover. The speculative element didn’t come up until half-way through the story, which is why it’s not a five star, but it was fun when it did appear.


The Second Nanny” by Djuna
a novelette published by Clarkesworld

As I was listening to this story, I felt lost in who each scene was focusing on and keeping straight if we were in flashback or not. I would probably have handled it better if I were reading. It was an interesting far-future world, with an intriguing problem & solution. I just wish I was engaged enough to feel the full impact.