Over the last few years I’ve wanted to get back into reading classics (“back into” referring to high school and college lit classes), but…it’s a struggle. I’ve DNFed pretty much all the classic novels I’ve tried to read — Oliver Twist, Madame Bovary, War & Peace, and Scaramouche, among others. What I suspect is probably at fault here: my fiction tastes skew heavily toward genre (primarily sf&f with occasional forays into mystery and thrillers), with realistic/literary fiction (basically all those aforementioned classics falling into this category) usually boring me out of my mind. Not entirely sure what to do about it yet, other than to try reading something like Dracula to see if the same thing happens.
Also, from the flip side of the coin: I’ve been reading a fair amount of more contemporary sf&f lately (the last several years) and goodness, there’s a lot of great fantasy and science fiction being published these days.
Over on r/Fantasy, they recently ran a poll to rank the top self-published books. It’s admittedly limited to the books read by those who frequent r/Fantasy, but it’s still a handy guide if you’re interested in self-published fantasy fiction: the results.
(I’ve only read a couple so far, but generally I’ve liked them a lot. Right now I’m halfway through Sufficiently Advanced Magic, the first Arcane Ascension novel, and it’s great.)
I recently came across this quote from Daryl Gregory on the difference between fantasy and science fiction:
Readers will read something as science fiction if the characters are engaged in the process of science. In fantasy there’s no fiddling with the rules. You pull a sword out of a stone, and that makes you King of England. There’s no, ‘But what if I put a sword into the stone?’ In a science fiction novel, everybody would be trying to figure out how to make more kings by inserting more sharp objects into rocks! A fantasy novel is almost distinguished by not asking those fundamental questions about what is going on. A science fiction novel, no matter what the rules, is always asking those questions.
Part of me likes this, but part of me disagrees completely — Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novels, for example, ask those questions and have their characters engaged in what fundamentally is science, albeit focused on magic. And yet the books are clearly fantasy.
For the past two months I’ve been working on a fantasy novel, The Edge of Magic, and I’ve recently decided to serialize it on my site (reasons below).
The first three chapters are up. Every Friday from now on I’ll post an installment — one to three chapters, which comes to around 2,500–3,500 words per installment. On that page readers can also subscribe to updates via RSS or email.
I’ve released fiction on the web before, of course, but this is the first time I’ve done it without being able to edit the whole piece in advance. It’s terrifying. I do have an outline as a security blanket, and I’ve already written the first eight chapters, but writing a novel in public (more or less) makes me feel even more naked and vulnerable than I expected.
My main reason for doing this somewhat unprudent thing: I have a bad habit of endlessly tweaking the beginnings of my novels and never getting past that point. By putting the chapters online as I write them, I’ll feel forced to resist that urge and finish the book. A psychological gimmick, sure, but I think it’ll work.
The secondary reason: writers generally need to write a few bad novels before they can write good ones. While I hope The Edge of Magic isn’t too terrible, getting reader feedback earlier on — with analytics to see where people stop reading, etc. — will help me learn faster. Consider this an open beta.
Once the novel is finished, I’ll do another editing pass and put it on the Kindle store for a couple bucks, with the free version remaining available on my site as well. I plan to serialize another couple novels after that, then try my hand at the traditional publishing route. I’m not going to submit these serialized novels to any publishers, though, since they’ll have already been published.
Whew. To be honest, I’m still surprised I’m actually moving forward with this — the past few weeks have been a blur of incessant insecurities and fears. But sometimes scary risks are good for the soul. Here we go…
I recently came across a post about reading goals that got me itching to go and do likewise. I’ve had numeric goals in the past — read X books this year — but I’ve realized I’m less interested in the total number of books read and more interested in the types of books I read. (It’s also a grudging acknowledgement that this mortal life is finite and there’s no way I’ll be able to read all the books I want to. Such a sad thought. But there are massive libraries in heaven, right? I’m banking on that.)
Here, then, are my reading goals for 2015:
Read more books I wouldn’t ordinarily be interested in. Basically, expand my horizons, both in fiction and nonfiction.
Read more science fiction and fantasy classics. I did read the Foundation books in 2012–2013, but most of the time I tend to read newer stuff. (I guess I did also read The Stars My Destination earlier this year. I didn’t like it at all.)
Read more literary classics. Specifically, I want to read at least War and Peace and Dante’s Divine Comedy, and hopefully the Dostoevsky novels I haven’t yet read. Yes, I know, this isn’t the first time I’ve made a goal to read War and Peace. But this is the first year I’m going to actually do it, so help me. (I’ve read enough 1000-page epic fantasy novels by now that I can handle the length just fine.)
Read more nonfiction. Specifically, more history and biography. I’ve been reading more nonfiction this past year (Rubicon, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Food Rules, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, Stuff Matters, etc.) and it’s been quite enjoyable. Right now I’m reading and loving Edmund Morris’s Rise of Roosevelt, the first of a three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and Blake Harris’s Console Wars, a history of Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s.
Any of you have reading goals or happen to be reading something particularly interesting?
As promised, “Queen of the Cruel Sea” is finished and available for reading on the web and in EPUB, Kindle, and PDF. I hope y’all enjoy it. (FYI, the background cover art is Seastorm, a piece I painted a few years ago.)
I’m still waking up early every morning to write, which is the only reason this story is finished instead of having fallen by the wayside like so many other stories and novels I’ve begun. So that’s good — I’m finally getting the hang of this writing thing. Expect many more stories and poems and novels in the years to come.