In January, I posted my reading and writing goals for 2023 and now I'm checking in to hold myself accountable. My reading list from 2023 is at the bottom and I'll share my favorites in another post!
Goal: Read 15,000 pages.
Reality: I read 19,608 pages!
Goal: >50% of the authors will be marginalized or different from me in a demographic way.
Reality: 50.9% were marginalized or different from me in a demographic way.
Goal: Read 9 indie books
Reality: I read 9 indie books (see reading list below)
Goal: Read 2 foundational scifi novels
Reality: I read 2 foundational scifi novels: Frankenstein and I, Robot
Goal: Read 4 scifi nominees/winners from the last two years
Reality: I read more than 4 award winners/nominess, though I'll admit they aren't all scifi, and not all nominated in the last two years: Chain-Gang All Stars (National Book Award 2023 nominee); Babel (Nebula winner 2023); Woman of Light (multiple award winner/nominee 2023); The Sixth Extinction (Pulitzer Prize 2015), All Systems Red (Nebula and Hugo 2018); Artificial Condition (Hugo 2019)
Goal: 5 debut novels
Reality: I read 7 debut novels: Woman of Light, Lessons in Chemistry, Please Report Your Bug Here, I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself, The Blood Trials, Camp Zero, and Chain-Gang All-Stars
Goal: Send >5 queries each month until I finish my potential agent list.
Reality: Because some agents never opened in the time period I was querying, I didn't finish the list. However, that's beyond my control, so because I did send more than 5 queries per month until my list ran dry, I am counting this as a success.
Goal: Finish the draft of my current WIP
Goal: Continue to attend my critique groups and keep up with pre-reading
Goal: Attend one writing workshop or conference
Reality: I attended the PNWA 2023 conference.
Goal: Get one short story selected for publication
Reality: Nope! I totally forgot this was a goal this year. I wrote a short story, but never shopped it around. Oops!
Overall, not bad. I only fell short on a couple goals.
Below is my reading list from the year. My most popular genre by far was fantasy, followed distantly by scifi. Three of these books were DNRs, but at least 100 pages of each counted toward my page goal.
Title Author Pub Type Genre Link
The Sixth Extinction Elizabeth Kolbert Trad Non-Fiction My Review
Woman of Light Kali Fajardo-Anstine Trad Historical My Review
Arsenic and Adobo Mia M. Manansala Trad Mystery My Review
Reminders of Him Colleen Hoover Trad Romance Podcast
All Systems Red Martha Wells Trad SciFi My Review
Chain of Thorns Cassandra Clare Trad Fantasy
Lessons in Chemistry Bonnie Garmus Trad Historical My Review
Anastasia Sophie Lark Indie Fantasy My Review
The Chemist Stephanie Meyer Trad Action Podcast
I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself Marisa Crane Indie Scifi/Literary My Review
Please Report Your Bug Here Josh Riedel Trad Scifi My Review
Fevered Star Rebecca Roanhorse Trad Fantasy
The Blood Trials N. E. Davenport Trad Fantasy My Review
Murder Your Employer Rupert Holmes Trad Mystery Podcast
Artificial Condition Martha Wells Trad SciFi
Bird by Bird Anne Lamott Trad Non-Fiction My Review
Babel R.F. Kuang Trad Fantasy My Review
Rogue Protocol Martha Wells Trad SciFi
Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo Trad Fantasy My Review
Story Genius Lisa Cron Trad Non-Fiction My Review
Crooked Kingdom Leigh Bardugo Trad Fantasy My Review
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi Shannon Chakraborty Trad Fantasy My Review
Charlotte: The Price of Vengance James Moore Pre-Pub Mystery Podcast
Camp Zero Michelle Min Sterling Trad Scifi My Review
The Power of Babel John McWhorter Trad Non-Fiction My Review
Putting the Fact in Fantasy Dan Kobolt et. al. Trad Non-Fiction My Review
Love, Theoretically Ali Hazelwood Trad Romance My Review
The Terraformers Annalee Newitz Trad Scifi My Review
The Legacy of Yangchen F. C. Yee Trad Fantasy
Toph Beifong's Metalbending Multiple Trad Fantasy
Fourth Wing Rebecca Yarros Trad Fantasy Podcast
Frankenstein Mary Shelley Trad SciFi My Review
The Mimiking of Known Successes Malka Older Trad Scifi/Mystery My Review
The Raider Bride Johanna Wittenberg Indie Fantasy
Starlet Sophie Lark Indie Historical/Mystery My Review
Throne of Glass Sarah J. Maas Trad Fantasy My Review
iRobot Isaac Asimov Trad SciFi My Review
Of Cinder and Bone Kyoko M. Indie SciFi
Poisoned Primrose Dahlia Donovan Indie Mystery My Review
Chalice of the Gods Rick Riordan Trad Fantasy My Review
Sun and the Star Rick Riordan/Mark Oshiro Trad Fantasy My Review
Crown of Midnight Sarah J. Maas Trad Fantasy
The Dictionary of Lost Words Pip Williams Trad Historical My Review
When We Left Cuba Chanel Kleetan Trad Historical My Review
Chain-Gang All-Stars Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Trad Fantasy My Review
My First and Only Love Sahar Khalifeh Trad Historical
The Savior's Champion Jenna Moreci Indie Fantasy
Iron Flame Rebecca Yarros Trad Fantasy Podcast coming soon!
The Throne of the Five Winds S.C. Emmett Trad Fantasy
Grunt Mary Roach Trad Non-Fiction
Heir of Fire Sarah J. Maas Trad Fantasy
Assassin's Blade Sarah J. Maas Trad Fantasy
We're All Monsters Here Amy Marsden Indie Fantasy My Review
Queen of Shadows Sarah J. Maas Trad Fantasy
The cover is giving me Carmen San Diego as a vampire, which is not a bad thing.
I needed to squeeze one more indie book in before the end of the year to hit my 2023 goals, and thankfully I found the novella We're All Monsters Here by Amy Marsden. At 99 ebook pages, I was able to finish it in one sitting. I'm so glad this is the book I picked up!
We're All Monsters Here is like Glass Onion (aka Knives Out 2) but with a vampire named Anna. She manipulated a corporate big wig into planning an exclusive executive getaway and inviting Anna, whose app he recently bought. It's basically a vampiric buffet. Anna's weekend even improves when she has a fling with one of the assistants, Saira. However, vampire hunters show up and Anna must navigate carefully to avoid being taken out.
This novella had a great voice and premise. Despite killing people, I really liked Anna--I mean, eat the rich, right? While I often complain novellas are too short, I thought the length of this one was just right.
The first half was a little too smooth for me. If nothing goes wrong for the characters, I start feeling like the story is too simple and maybe predictable. When things went downhill for Anna, it was much more fun. That being said, the voice and premise kept me going in the first half.
We're All Monsters Here is for you if you enjoyed Glass Onion, if you're looking for a sapphic urban fantasy, or if you want a quick read. It's not for you if your favorite part of fantasy is extensive worldbuilding, if you are looking for lots of twists and turns, or if you aren't able to handle blood and gore at the moment.
Have you read We're All Monsters Here? What was your favorite novella of 2023? Let's discuss in the comments!
The Amazon cover for the book features the green classic monster, not as described in the book.
Fall is spooky season and one of the main Halloween monsters is of course Frankenstein's monster, sometimes called Adam. Since it is a foundational text to scifi--the very first scifi, in fact--I decided to read the original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Rather than review it, I decided to write about what I learned about writing irom this classic novel (or really a novella, it was about 110 pages).
1) Don't be afraid of a unique story structure
Frankenstein is actually a letter written by a sea captain to his sister about meeting Dr. Frankenstein and that man's story. So the meat of the book is "story within a story" since you know in the end things will circle back to that boat captain. At one point, the story becomes the monster's story being told to Dr. Frankenstein being told to the captain. Like Russian nesting dolls. However, this complicated structure was made very clear and even acted as foreshadowing of excitement when the start of Dr. Frankenstein's tale got a little dry.
2) Don't overdo the backstory
While it may have been the style of the time, modern readers now don't need Dr. Frankenstein's life story to begin with his parents meeting. When I saw that was how the story began, I was dreading the rest. It didn't get interesting until Dr. Frankenstein left for college. So while it's good to read classics, keep in mind how very different the market is today, and don't accidentally pick up on very out of date style choices.
3) Build sympathy by showing what your characters wants most
We were all a little afraid of Frankenstein's monster after his first kill, naturally, because he's not on the page much to defend himself. However, he makes it clear exactly what he wants: a lover. He is so intensely lonely and in need of contact that after he explains it, you can't avoid sympathy. There is even some sympathy for Dr. Frankenstein when he just wants to protect others. Get your readers to choose sides by showing a deep want and explaining why--and why they can't have it (yet).
4) Keep up with the latest innovations
Mary Shelley was inspired by Galvanism and advances with electricity. If she'd only stayed aware of what was going on in the literary world, she wouldn't have run into the concepts that allowed her to conceive of Frankenstein. When looking for inspiration, look at innovations in fields that excite you: space, medicine, engineering, environmental science, oceanography, etc. Even keeping up with new historical finds in archaeology or anthropology, if you're more of a history/fantasy writer. You never know when you'll run into something that will inspire, so get out of your typical bubble.
Those are my big takeaways from Frankenstein for writers. I will admit I was very surprised that a lot of classic Frankenstein tropes weren't in the original book--no castle, no Igor, no villagers with pitchforks and torches. He literally made his monster in his dorm room. (Try explaining that mess to your R.A.) I think he was even described as yellow, not green. So the Hollywood-ization of Frankenstein has clearly overshadowed the original for my entire experience. Kind of wild!
Have you read Frankenstein? What were your writing (or reading) takeaways? What are some of your spooky season favorites? Let's discuss in the comments!
All Systems Red by Martha Wells is a scifi novella that starts the Murderbot Diaries series. Series is made of nine novels, novellas, and short stories. All Systems Red won the 2018 best novella Nebula and Hugo awards, the American Library Association's Alex award, and was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. It's also frequently cited on agent wish lists for its voice.
The main character of the series is a security unit (SecUnit) who calls herself Murderbot. She was able to disengage her governing programming which would essentially keep her obedient so that she can watch space soap operas in her free time. She's still excellent at her job though; she's in charge pf protecting a team of scientists and surveyors who are exploring part of a planet. However, when they realize their maps are missing data and they were lied to about the planet's dangers, things quickly take a turn.
I see why this novella won so many awards and is big for agents. The unique perspective of Murderbot was funny and snarky without coming off as mean. The world was well built and the action was super clear. It's exactly the kind of scifi that I hope I'm writing!
Downside was my complaint for every novella: I wanted more! It felt like it wrapped up so quickly and easily to fit into the size of a novella.
You'll like All Systems Red if you enjoy funny/quirky scifi like Scalzi, or if you enjoyed the voice in Gideon the Ninth. It's not for you if you are looking for a novel length read (although with so many other entries in the series, you could just read more).
Have you read any (or all!) of the Murderbot Diaries stories? Let's discuss in the chat!