Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Yesterday I posted about my writing accomplishments in January. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, and I’ll write about this year’s challenges in an upcoming post. (I also need to write up a post about how I did with my reading challenges for 2016, but first I have to find the word doc in which I crunched all those numbers…) For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Locke and Key Vol 1.: Welcome To Lovecraft, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while, and finally got around to it because my nephew Brandon forced it into my hands during a December visit. I’m glad he did. Really enjoyed the set-up, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon.
  2. Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rhumba #3) by Daniel Jose Older.  I love urban fantasy. If you love urban fantasy, and you’re not reading Older’s NYC-set story of ghosts, magic, and political machinations … well, why not? This third book closes out the Rhumba series, but I’m sure Older isn’t done with these characters or this world. And his writing has a musicality to it I can’t remember feeling with anything else I’ve read.
  3. Lily, by Michael Thomas Ford, with illustrations by Staven Andersen.  Classic fairy-tale tropes (Baba Yaga, hidden villages, a girl with a power she doesn’t understand, adults who try to suppress that power) come together in a modern setting. Some types of stories stay true no matter when they’re set, and Ford does a great job of balancing the fantastical with modern realities. And Andersen’s illustrations are disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
  4. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. McGuire publishes a lot of stand-alone short stories from her various fictional series worlds on her website and her Patreon page. This one details how two secondary characters from the October Daye series, Patrick and Dianda, first met. It takes place prior to book one of the series but is probably best read after book 9. And what a meet-cute it is.
  5. Lightspeed Magazine #80 (January, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. I’m the proofreader for the Kindle ebook edition of Lightspeed, so it’s the one magazine I read front-to-back every month. The eight stories and one novella in each issue also account for 9 of the short stories I read every month. (See below for brief thoughts on those.)
  6. Lumberjanes Volume 5: Band Together, by Shannon Waters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Carolyn Nowak.  My good friends Kay Holt and Bart Leib introduced me to the Lumberjanes collected volumes on a visit to Boston last year, and I’ve eagerly awaited each new volume (since I don’t buy individual monthly comics anymore for a variety of reasons). I love the characters, the mystery, and the pacing. I have to admit that the change to the art in the run of issues collected here didn’t quite work for me: some of the characters barely looked like themselves for me. The art’s not bad, it just took some getting used to. But the story is a lot of fun.
  7. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire. Another short story in McGuire’s October Daye universe, this time telling a tale of romance and secrets involving everyone’s favorite sea-witch, The Luideag. I know, I know: “romance” and “the Luideag” are not words one expects to hear in the same sentence. Best read after book five of the October Daye series.
  8. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. A new novella from McGuire that doesn’t seem to connect to any of her other existing series (although I can see it connecting to her novel Sparrow Hill Road in some ways). There’s some great world-building around a main character whose voice clicked with me right away, making me want to know more about her and the characters around her. A very satisfying “done in one” story.

So: eight books read in January, and Goodreads tells me that means I’m “on track” for my yearly goal.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too:

The first 9 stories come from the January 2017 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. The first 8 are available to read for free on the magazine’s website, while the 9th story is only available as part of the ebook edition.

  1. Rate of Change by James S.A. Corey. A look at a future where brain/spinal transplants have become the norm — how does that affect our basic humanity.
  2. The Whole Crew Hates Me by Adam-Troy Castro. First person narrative about why the title of the story may be true. As soon as I finished reading it, I thought “man, this would make a fantastic acting monologue!” Great, is-he-paranoid-or-not voice.
  3. Tracker by Mary Rosenblum. Intriguing future (?) world where seeming gods control the weather, population, etc., and the title character is trapped in the middle of a power struggle.
  4. Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer. What happens when your husband is replaced by an alien intelligence just as you’re getting ready to divorce him. There’s a bit of comedy and tragedy mixed together here.
  5. Seven Salt Tears by Kat Howard. Another moving, very personal story from Howard, this one about how childhood stories involving the ocean impact a woman’s life.
  6. Daddy Long-Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford. I read this one years ago, was completely creeped out by it, and am happy to say the reread was just as creepy. Urban legend about a boy whose brain is infested by a spider.
  7. The West Topeka Triangle by Jeremiah Tolbert. This one really brought back middle school memories, even though I didn’t grow up anywhere near Kansas nor in any urban setting. I love that lingering question as to whether anything supernatural is really happening, a tone Tolbert expertly keeps up throughout the story.
  8. Nine by Kima Jones. Fantasy trappings on a real-world setting: Tanner, Jessie and Flo run a motel for blacks moving west after the Civil War, but even the three proprietors are running from something that seems destined to catch up with them. Heart-breaking and full of love at the same time.
  9. Awakening by Judith Berman. Aleya wakes in a dungeon full of corpses, unsure how she got there. This story takes more twists than a D&D campaign, and each one is layered brilliantly onto the previous. It kept me guessing throughout as to how it would end.
  10. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, a really cute story about how Patrick and Dianda met. It has the feel of a screwball rom-com.
  11. Stage of Fools by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) A story of Tybalt, the King of Cats, during his days in London, long before Toby Daye was even born. The first of three connected stories about how Tybalt re-opened his court after a long period of being alone.
  12. The Voice of Lions by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) The second connected story about Tybalt reopening his court in London, with some interesting political intrigue thrown in.
  13. Lunching with the Sphinxes by Richard Bowes. (from Grendelsong magazine, issue #2). A story set in Bowes’ Big Arena (NYC) future-history. Political intrigue from the perspective of a person who never thought she’d be a politician. I’d not read this when it first came out, but it seems a bit prescient in light of recent political events here in the US.
  14. Singing Wings by Keffy R.M. Kehrli. (from Fireside magazine #27). Aduaa is about to go through her species’ natural transformation, which means saying goodbye to those she’ll no longer be able to interact with. Kehrli really sucker-punches you with a depth of emotion we all recognize when life forces us to move on.
  15. Bones at the Door by John Wiswell (from Fireside magazine #27). Mandy starts discovering animal bones left at her front door, which leads to life changes she never could have expected. Eerie and disturbing.
  16. The Closest Thing To Animals by Sofia Samatar (from Fireside magazine #27). The narrator discloses a history of  her failing relationships in a city closed off from the rest of the world due to a plague that doesn’t kill. Great world-building, interesting story structure.
  17. The Acts of Hares by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page). The third of the connected Tybalt stories, this one about how he finally finds that last reason to re-open his court to other cats, putting him further on the road to being the Tybalt we know in the current Toby Daye books.
  18. Beks and the Second Note by Bruce Arthurs. (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine). Appearances are deceiving and not every case is as simple as it seems, as Detective Beks discovers investing a case of a good gun-carrying citizen killing a bank robber.
  19. Whatever It Takes by Lawrence Block (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine)  An old, previously-unpublished Block tale of a group of cops trying to get a man to turn informant against a big time, almost-untouchable gangster, and the lengths to which they’ll go. The dialogue-heavy story structure makes it an even more fun read.
  20. Through This House by Seanan McGuire (from the anthology Home Improvement: Undead Edition). Another story set in McGuire’s Toby Daye universe, but in modern times compared to the others read this month. Toby, May, Quentin and Danny must figure out how to reopen the sealed fairie Knowe of Goldengreen before it kills them. It’s  bit of a haunted house adventure, with all the creeping shadows and jump-scares one would expect.
  21. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, this one is set prior to the first novel of the Toby Daye series and doesn’t involve Toby herself. But it’s a great love story, slowly and carefully told.

So: 21 stories read in January, which means I’m 10 stories behind on my “read 365 stories this year” goal. But I suspect I’ll be catching up soon. One of my problems is I keep buying short story anthologies and then setting them aside for when I have time to read “the whole thing.” Which rarely seems to happen. So I’m making a sub-challenge for myself that each time I buy a new anthology, I will read at least one story the day I buy it. That might help with this a bit.

 

Clearly, between books and stories this has been a Seanan McGuire heavy month. She is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been working towards finally reading all of the stories connected to her main novel series. So there’ll be another batch of McGuire reviews in the wrap-up post for February’s reading as well.

 

 

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Midnight Blue-Light Special

MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL, the second novel in Seanan McGuire’s INCRYPTID series, launched today. I’ve read the first chapters and the book gets off to a rollickin’ start — no surprise for any adventure featuring Verity Price nor for any book coming from Seanan’s pen. As always, I’m honored to have Seanan stop by and spend a few minutes answering questions.

ANTHONY:  Let’s start out with an easy one: where does MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL pick up in relation to the previous book, DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON?  Can new readers jump right in with this volume, or do they need to read the books in order?

SEANAN: It’s always best to read things in order.  I try to provide enough information to let new readers find their way in without feeling shut out,  but the introductions all happened in the first book.  MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL picks up a few months after the events of DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON, and focuses on the same central cast.

ANTHONY: What interesting new Cryptids are we introduced to this time around?

SEANAN: Hey, now.  That would be telling.

ANTHONY: You can’t blame a guy for trying! Has your approach to writing Verity changed at all now that she has a full novel behind her?

SEANAN: Nope!  If there’s something tall, she’ll try to jump off it; if there’s something that needs to be shot, she’ll shoot it; if there’s a dance floor available, she’ll be on it.  She’s matured as a character–I feel like that’s inevitable–and she’ll continue to grow and learn, but the core of Verity Price remains the same, which means that writing her is fun and familiar.

ANTHONY: You’ve also written a number of short stories about the Healy-Price clan, three of which detail how Jonathan Healy and Frances Brown met in 1928. Will the Jonathan-Fran stories get collected in print form at some point?

SEANAN: I hope so?  Honestly, that’s not something that’s easily within my control.  If the main series keeps selling well, I’ll hopefully be able to convince DAW that we should do a collection of the Jonathan and Fran stories.  I’ll have to write enough to make a volume first, so…

ANTHONY: I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as I really enjoyed those stories. There’s also so much more family history to explore — Alex and Enid Healy leaving The Covenant and the generation between Jonathan & Fran and Verity and her siblings, for two examples — so I have to ask: will we be seeing other stories that fill in the InCryptid backstory any time soon?

SEANAN: Yes, but.  I tend to give those stories away for free, to say “thank you” to my fans for reading, and that means that they have to come after paying work.  I eventually want to work all the way through Jonathan and Fran to Alice and Thomas, because Alice and Thomas are really the relationship that defined the current generation.  It’s going to take me a while to get there, since again, I can’t always drop everything for another InCryptid short.  I feel like it’s going to add a lot of depth to the later books in the series, though, so I keep pressing forward.

ANTHONY: Of all the holidays celebrated by the Aeslin  Mice, what is your favorite?

SEANAN: It varies, but I’m very fond of the Sacred Rite of What the Hell is That Thing, I Don’t Know, We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Gun.

ANTHONY: The last time we chatted, I asked about your favorite book and you discussed IT and 2012 being the latest in Pennywise The Clown’s cycle. Now that 2012 is over — was Pennywise’s latest rampage everything you hoped it would be?

SEANAN: It was, it really, really was.  I went to Maine and spent time with Cat Valente, whom I adore, and we tramped all over Bangor, and it was glorious.  I’m so glad I’m a geek.

ANTHONY: Oh, I wish I could have been along on that trip! Finally, any other upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?

SEANAN: Right now, I’m working on the eighth Toby Daye book and the third InCryptid book.  Coming out in the next year, I have MIDNIGHT BLUE-LIGHT SPECIAL–naturally–as well as the seventh Toby book, CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, which I’m very proud of.  There’s a new Mira Grant coming up, PARASITE, which doesn’t have a release day yet.  And then there’s VELVETEEN VS. THE MULTI-VERSE, which wraps up the first Velveteen vs. cycle.  It’s going to be a busy year!

You can keep up with Seanan’s news, learn more about the InCryptid universe, and find two of the InCryptid stories referenced above by visiting Seanan’s website, and you can also follow her on Twitter @seananmcguire.

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Mira Grant is the author of the NEWSFLESH trilogy (comprised of FEED, DEADLINE and the recently-released BLACKOUT). Per the bio from her website:

Mira Grant

Mira Grant was born and raised in Northern California, where she has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the “Swamp Cannibals” scenario remains unchallenged. Currently, Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

In her guise as mild-mannered urban fantasy authorSeanan McGuire, Mira was the recipient of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can find her works as both Mira and Seanan at her main bibliography page. Seanan’s website is the best place to find information on where both she and Mira will be appearing.

Both Feed and Deadline have been nominated for Hugo Awards, as has “Countdown,” the first novella in the Newsflesh universe.

 

ANTHONY: So, Mira, how does it feel to have the final book in the Newsflesh Trilogy finally in the hands of readers?

MIRA: It’s a huge relief.  It’s also terrifying, because the series is closed now: it’s over.  If everyone hated BLACKOUT, there would be nothing I could do.  Luckily, the book has been pretty well received so far, but it’s been a really nerve-wracking experience.

ANTHONY: In reviews, I’ve described FEED as “a political thriller set against the zombie apocalypse” and DEADLINE as “a medical thriller set against the zombie apocalypse.” I think BLACKOUT is going to get tagged as an “end of the world thriller set against the zombie apocalypse.” Did you intend each book to have a different genre feel, or am I imagining things?

MIRA: They were all very different stories–in fact, that’s why DEADLINE ended when it did.  It ended at the moment that the genre transitioned from medical thriller to fringe science/conspiracy thriller.  The fact that this came in the midst of a lot of stuff exploding was sort of secondary to pursuing the themes I wanted to pursue.

ANTHONY: Newsflesh was always intended as a tightly-written trilogy, correct?  Now that all is said and done, do you wish it was an open-ended series, or are you truly done with Shaun and Georgia Mason and their friends and foes?

MIRA: No, I don’t: I’m glad to have written a closed world, because now the survivors get to go off and lead their lives without me.  I’ll still do things in that universe, but unless something changes dramatically, I’m genuinely done with those people.  They’ve earned it.

BLACKOUT

ANTHONY: You’ve written several short stories linked to the trilogy. “Countdown” details the events leading up to the advent of the Kellis-Amberlee virus. I found that reading this story while already being aware of what the world is like post-KA only increased my sense of horror. Do you think that’s a prime part of effective horror, letting the reader know things the characters themselves don’t know?

MIRA: Yes, often.

ANTHONY: Even though the book trilogy is completed, you have plans to release further Newsflesh-related short stories, correct? When can we look forward to seeing those? And where can readers find the stories that have already been published?

MIRA: Well, “Everglades” was published in THE LIVING DEAD 2, and is available from Night Shade Books.  “Countdown” is available as an e-book from the Orbit Short Fiction Program, and will be available as a gorgeous limited edition hardcover from Subterranean Press this October.  “San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats” will be published electronically by the Orbit Short Fiction Program on July 11th, 2012.

ANTHONY: Outside of the world of Newsflesh, what else are you working on, and when can we look forward to seeing it?

MIRA: I’m working on two books under my real name, Seanan McGuire–CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, in the October Daye series, and HALF-OFF RAGNAROK, in the InCryptid series–and one book as Mira Grant, PARASITE, which kicks off the Forced Evolutions duology.  All three will be released over the course of the next two years.

ANTHONY: Some authors hate this question, but it seems appropriate in this context: if the Newflesh Trilogy were optioned for film (or better yet, for HBO), who do you picture filling the roles of Shaun, Georgia, Mahir, Buffy, and the rest?

MIRA: They have been optioned for film, and I can’t wait to see who gets cast!

ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

MIRA: My favorite book in all the world is IT, by Stephen King.  I think it may be the best book about childhood, and adulthood, and growing up, that’s ever been written.  Also, much of what I say will make more sense if you read this book.  Seriously.

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This week I welcome the lovely and talented, and occasionally just a little bit — okay, occasionally a lot — scary Seanan McGuire.

Seanan McGuire

 

Seanan is the author of the October Daye series of urban fantasies, the first seven of which have been purchased by DAW Books; the InCryptid series of urban fantasies, the first two of which have been purchased by DAW Books; and the Newsflesh trilogy, published by Orbit under the pseudonym “Mira Grant.” She’s working on several other books, just to make sure she never runs out of things to edit. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple anthologies, and she was a 2010 Universe Author for The Edge of Propinquity. Seanan was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her novel Feed was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2010. In her spare time, Seanan writes and records original music. She has three CDs currently available (see the Albums page for additional details). She is also a cartoonist, and draws an irregularly posted autobiographical web comic, “With Friends Like These…”.

 

ANTHONY: Seanan, thanks for taking the time out of your absolutely insane writing schedule to chat with me. How many different series do you have running at the moment?

SEANAN: It’s either three or four (or possibly five, depending on how you count), it’s hard to say–I have one series on the way out, the Newsflesh books as Mira, but I still have one book yet to be published.  At the same time, I’m working on the next Mira Grant project, which isn’t even properly announced yet.  So the number is sort of squiggly.

ANTHONY: Do you find any significant differences in your work ethic or habits from one series to another?

SEANAN:  Nope.  I am a very efficient little Halloween girl, and I approach everything with the same set of checklists, research habits, and absolutely rigorous schedules.  It’s how my brain naturally functions.  Now, I do tend to listen to different music depending on what I’m doing, but that’s all part of setting the proper mood.

 
ANTHONY: Let’s talk about your newest series, INCRYPTID. Where are we at the beginning of the series and who are the main characters, both heroic and villainous?

SEANAN:  At the beginning of the series we’re following Verity Price, the latest in a long line of cryptozoologists, as she undertakes her journeyman studies in Manhattan and tries to get to know the local cryptid community.  Her family–now the Prices, formerly the Healys–split off from an organization called the Covenant of St. George about four generations ago.  The Covenant hunts monsters.  The Prices protect them.  Conflict is inevitable.

 
Verity’s family currently consists of her parents, Kevin and Evelyn, her siblings, Alexander and Antimony, her Aunt Jane and Uncle Ted and their kids (Arthur and Elsinore), and assorted grandparents.  She also has her adopted cousin, Sarah Zellaby, a telepathic mathematician who looks human but actually evolved from a species of parasitic wasp.  It’s complicated.  I am super excited.

 
ANTHONY:  Fantasy, horror and SF seem to move in ways — we’ve been riding the vampire/werewolf/zombie wave for a while, angels seem to have peaked recently … cryptids seem to be the upcoming thing. In a world that seems to grow smaller and more interconnected by the day, with less unexplored/”dark” places to capture our imagination, why do you think the concept of cryptids is more interesting than ever? I mean, we even have shows like “Bigfoot Hunters” on cable television, “reality” rather than scripted dramas.

SEANAN:  Because the smaller the world gets, the more things we’re discovering in the shadows.  Twenty years ago, the giant squid was barely a real thing, and now it’s not even the biggest thing in the ocean.  Ten years ago, we were just discovering that the tree lobster–a stick insect the size of your hand–wasn’t extinct.  Every time we say “that’s it, we know everything,” we find something else.  Cryptids represent a mystery that might actually be something we can solve.  And they’re a part of our cultural makeup.  No matter where you go, there are cryptids, ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night.

Discount Armageddon, the first INCRYPTID book

ANTHONY: Without risking any spoilers, what can we expect for Verity Price and the rest of the characters moving forward?

SEANAN:  You know.  Stuff.  More books, hopefully.  I’ve finished the second volume, Midnight Blue-Light Special, and I’m itching to get to work on the third.  There are talking mice.  The usual.

ANTHONY: One question I always hate to get is “which of your characters is your favorite?” (Followed quickly by “Who would win in a fight…”) So I won’t ask you either of those, but it’s natural to want to compare all of your strong female leads. So: what do you admire most about Toby, Verity, etc.?

SEANAN:  Toby has more than her fair share of stubborn.  She could be stubborn on an Olympic level, and once she says she’ll do something, she will.  Not.  Give.  Up.  Verity is fearless when she’s defending her friends or the people (and cryptids) she cares about, and while she knows she’s mortal, she really doesn’t give a shit.  Velveteen is more powerful than she thinks she is.  And Rose Marshall is all about doing the right thing, no matter how much she whines.

ANTHONY:  The Field Guide to Cryptids on your site really whetted my interest in the book, perhaps moreso than reading the descriptive blurb on various bookstore websites. Who did the illustrations, and will we be seeing those in the book itself?

SEANAN:  The Field Guide illustrations were done by the amazing Kory Bing, who is just incredible to work with, and does a fabulous web comic called “Skin Deep” that you should totally check out.  I’m so excited to be working with her, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.  The illustrations won’t be in the book; it’s not that kind of book.  But maybe we’ll do a picture book or something somewhere down the line…

ANTHONY:  How much fun was it cataloging and categorizing the various extant and extinct Cryptids of North America?

 
SEANAN:  So much fun.  Sooooooo much fun.  And there’s so much more to come.

 
ANTHONY:  And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

My favorite book in the whole history of all the books ever written, ever, is IT by Stephen King.  And you should read it because every twenty-seven years Pennywise the Dancing Clown kills a bunch of people, and now that it’s 2012, the twenty-seven year cycle is starting again, and you want to know how not to wind up on his dance card.

 

You  can follow Seanan on Twitter as @seananmcguire. You can become a Fan of hers on Goodreads. You  can friend her on Facebook,  follow her adventures on her livejournal and check out all of her books on her own website.

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