Friday, August 12, 2022

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

Hello, my name is Sarah, and I no longer know what I am . . . at least when it comes to the planning vs. pantsing debate. For those who haven't heard these terms before, they refer to how one approaches the process of writing a story. A planner is usually characterized as putting in a lot of time preparing before writing a word in the actual manuscript; they'll make outlines (sometimes extraordinarily detailed ones), fill out character profiles, do ALL the worldbuilding, and more. A pantser, or seat-of-the-pants writer, generally prefers some variation on winging it, or figuring it out as they go along. In between are the plantsers, those who do some combination of the two, which is the category I usually put myself. However, for some of my more recent novels, I've found myself doing more and more actual planning, specifically outlining, not necessarily because it's my natural inclination, but because it seems necessary for the stories I'm writing. So, because of that shift — and because I recently read a rather interesting planning vs. pantsing article from the lovely folks at Tor Publishing that got me thinking about the topic — I'm going to take today to share some thoughts on planning, pantsing, and the space in between.

Thoughts from a Reluctant (Possible) Plotter

(Because this is still a thing people talk about, right?)

  1. Even at my most pantser-ish, I don't write without some kind of plan. Not anymore, at least. I generally do want at least a rough idea of where I'm starting, where I'm going, and where I might pause along the way. I might not always write it down — for short stories, I rarely do any planning outside my head — but I can't sit down with a concept and a first chapter and go for it. Well, I could. But I probably wouldn't — if nothing else, because if all I have a concept and a starting point, I probably got the idea yesterday, and all the ideas I've been chewing on for months or years take precedence.
  2. More planning means less time stuck . . . sometimes. You would think that the more detailed the outline, the more you build your characters and the world, the more likely it is that the actual writing would go smoothly. But for myself, there tends to be a point at which "time spent planning" and "time spent stuck" cease to have any kind of correlation. I actually have an idea of why this is . . .
  3. It's easier to diagnose — and fix — story problems during writing than outlining. I've been dealing with this recently, and it's the reason why I just had to start BDPI#4 over from the outline. I had a solid outline with, for me, quite a bit of detail. I'd put a good bit of thought into the outline. But it wasn't until I actually started writing that I started to realize that my story in its current form had some problems. I think this is often why I like working with looser outlines; they give me more space to fix issues without throwing everything out of whack.
  4. The more detailed the outline, the more likely it is I'll have to redo the outline. Ok, I don't have a ton of data points for this, and I know that there are stories I've written with very loose outlines that I ended up having to rewrite the story itself from more or less the ground up. But I can say with reasonable confidence that I've only rewritten two outlines (Gilded in Ice and BDPI#4), and both were pretty detailed. I can also say with considerable confidence that the more detailed the original outline, the more annoyed I'll be about going back to the drawing board.
  5. My last point actually comes half from that Tor article I referenced earlier (which you should read, by the way): planning and pantsing really are just two different ways of doing the same thing (feeling out a story and a world), and which one is preferable may depend on story as much as author. The reason I'm planning more might be that I'm getting more comfortable with outlines and that I have to write my books faster . . . but it's also because I'm writing different types of stories. Between Two Worlds, which had a very loose outline, was a fantasy adventure that was primarily character-driven. It needed to be flexible enough to accommodate moments when the cast did something unexpected. My Bastian Dennel books, on the other hand, are very plot-centric. Characters need to be in the right places at the right times; they need to discover the right clues in the right order. That demands a more detailed outline, if only so you can make sure you know what they need to find and where they need to be before you point your characters in its direction. So, even if I'm currently writing a lot of detailed outlines, there's no guarantee that'll always be the case — it'll depend on what stories I'm telling.

What are your thoughts on plotting, planning, and plantsing? Do you notice a difference in what kind of outlines you make for different types of stories? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 29, 2022

July 2022 Doings!

 

This was SUCH a good month, y'all. It was also a very busy month, which meant I spent a fair bit of it stressed, but still, SO GOOD. Am I partially saying that because I just got back from Realm Makers and I'm still really happy about how it went? Sure. But there were plenty of other reasons to be pleased with my July as well. That said, we're going to do things a little out of order and start with the Life section, since that's where all the exciting news is.

Life!

  • REALM MAKERS!
  • But first . . .
  • This month was kind of interesting in that I had something going on pretty much every weekend (and also that I didn't have a single full workweek all month). Oddly enough, Independence Day weekend was the quietest weekend of the month. I spent most of it working on various crafting projects in preparation for Realm Makers, though I did get a break Friday evening to watch our town's fireworks. They were being set off from the park right behind our house, so we just walked down the road until we found a spot where the treeline was a little lower and watched from there without having to deal with crowds.
  • The next weekend, my grandpa came down to visit for the weekend, which was fun, and we had the first of a series of livestream-related tech issues at work, which was objectively not. (Side note, if anyone has any idea what could cause a livestreaming system to automatically start streaming with no outside input and with no stream having been scheduled, I would dearly love to know.) Still, it was a good weekend on the whole.
  • Then we got down to one-week-out-from-Realm Makers, and everything kicked into high gear as I finished all my final prep, in between D&D sessions (featuring one party's inability to roll anywhere in the double-digits on persuasion) and my sister's roommate coming over for board games and ginger beer, and another set of livestreaming problem spread over the course of the week. I did not get as much sleep that week as I probably should've, but I did get everything finished, and I even managed to do some writing.
  • And then.
  • And then.
  • REALM MAKERS!
  • So, yeah. Realm Makers was such a great experience, even if there was a hiccup or two in there. I roomed with the lovely Wyn Estelle Owens, which was a pleasure, and also made part of the trip up and back with her, and I got to meet Kendra E. Ardnek and several other Arista Challenge authors and other writers who I know online in person. (Side note: Kendra in real life is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from her online persona, just slightly shorter.) Wyn and Kendra also introduced me to some of their friends, and through friends of friends I discovered that there's a group of Realmies who live near me and occasionally meet up, so that's awesome. And, of course, I was able to meet some of the authors whose work I've read and loved and who, in some respects, were part of the reason I started writing and writing the type of stories I do in the first place — people like Wayne Thomas Batson, Jill Williamson, and Gillian Bronte Adams, all three of whom were absolutely lovely and kind and just . . . I don't know how else to say it except that, talking to them, you can tell why they write what they do and specifically why they write the types of characters they do. It was all very wonderful and encouraging, and I figured out pretty fast why the first keynote speaker (Tosca Lee!) emphasized a lot the relationships you build at events like this and elsewhere. As it turns out, the real treasure really is the friends you make along the way.
  • (Also, the very first night we were there, while we were eating dinner, I was watching the line at the counter and freaking out because! there's Gillian Bronte Adams! there's Jill Williamson! there's Nadine Brandes! ahhhhhhhhhh! the cool authors are here! And then I ended up in front of Gillian while waiting in line for the Awards Banquet, though by that point I'd met her a couple of times already with varying levels of excitement versus coherent intelligence on my part.)
  • It wasn't just meeting people that made Realm Makers so cool, though. I very much enjoyed the actual sessions, and I feel like I learned a lot — or, at least, I learned what I needed to in order to make the stories I'm currently writing and the ones that I'm going to write better. I picked Donald Maass's The Emotional Craft of Fiction series for my Continuing Sessions track (three 2-hour sessions spread over two days), and I think that was a very good choice; his advice, combined with some of what Tosca Lee said in her talk on keeping readers reading past midnight will, I think, help me get out of the little bit of a slump I'd run into with my current draft. I also got to sit in on both of Carla Hoch's classes, which were super fun . . . though I did get a little frustrated with some of her comments related to particular historical clothing items and whether or not you could move or fight in them. She reminds me of Marisha Ray, in a good way.
  • I did manage to cosplay two of the three days of the conference. We got checked in too late for me to throw on the cosplay I had planned for the first evening, which was probably just as well — it involved collapsing daggers, and I learned after arrival that the no-weapons ban was actually nothing-that-looks-like-weapons, so . . . yeah. But I spent Friday dressed as Petra from the Rizkaland Legends, and then for the Awards Banquet, I changed into my take on Ailsa from The Dark King's Curse. I was very pleased with how both of those cosplays came off, though I'm not sure anyone but their authors recognized them. Then, on Saturday, I did a very low-key cosplay of Pet from The City Between, which did get recognized by one person and commented on by a few others. I think next time I go, I'll skip the daytime cosplay and just do something for the Awards Banquet and maybe the Book Festival, but it was fun to do this year.
  • Speaking of the Awards Banquet, that was very cool. It was rather loud, which made conversation hard, but I enjoyed seeing everyone in their various costumes and cosplays. And, of course, it was exciting to see the Realm Awards get presented. I was delighted when Gillian won Book of the Year, and I was also super excited that H.L. Burke won an award (especially since I'd just started reading the series that the winning book was in). And then after the Banquet, Wyn, Kendra, and I headed off to the Hospitality Suite, where I got to eat more food (though not much more — the Banquet food was fancy, but it was also quite filling), meet a couple of Texan Realmies and a UK Realmie, and discover the game of Guillotine, in which you play as executioners in the French Revolution trying to get the most high-profile executions. That was fun.
  • And then, of course, Sunday came, and everyone had to head back home. That drive was a bit more tiring than the one up, for some reason — maybe because I was already tired? In any case, I was glad of my decision to take Monday off so I'd have some recovery time.
  • But now things are quiet again, and I'm settling into preparations for newsletter and Stewardship and more signage stuff at work and trying to get all the lingering tech issues sorted out, and I can get my focus back on writing my stories. Speaking of . . .

Writing!

  • I don't remember where I left off on Bastian Dennel, PI #4, but at the moment, I'm finishing up Chapter 8 and about to start Chapter 9. Progress is slow, but steady, and given that I've been balancing SO MUCH this month, I'm happy with that.
  • I do think I'm going to have to do something more to make Bastian's life difficult, though. I thought what I had planned would be enough, but . . . honestly, he's taking it too easily. I'm not entirely sure what that's going to look like but I'll figure it out. Hopefully it won't require that I go back and rewrite all I've done, though I suppose if I'm going to scrap things, it'd be better that I do it sooner than later . . . We'll figure it out.
  • On the Through a Shattered Glass side, I've received most of the feedback I was expecting, and I've gone through it and gotten an idea what I need to adjust. In general, everyone seems to like it, so that's good.
  • All Realm Makers swag came out pretty well, though I didn't give away half as much as I wanted to. I'm trying to decide what I want to do with the remainder — I could send it out by mail, or I could just save it for another event. I'm not sure.

Reading!

  • This was a somewhat eclectic reading month: one part mood-read, one part reading for summer reading programs, and one part reading based on particular occasions.
  • The highlight of the month was the release of Castle & Key, the latest (and possibly last) of W.R. Gingell's Two Monarchies series. This one was very much in the vein of Masque, blending Gothic fiction like Jane Eyre with the tale of Bluebeard, and while I didn't love it quite as much as Masque, it was still excellent. Susan is thoroughly practical, pleasantly determined, and unrelentingly inquisitive, and I love her.
  • Other bright spots: Fool Moon, the second Dresden Chronicles mystery, was a decided improvement over Storm Front, and it had less Content, though there were still a couple pages I had to skip over. My reread of Castaways of the Flying Dutchman and The Angel's Command was also fun, though I think my opinion of which I prefer has flipped — Angel used to be my favorite of the trilogy, but I think it might be Castaways now. And I finally started reading H.L. Burke's Supervillain Rehabilitation Project series because I wanted to read a Realmie book at Realm Makers, and I'm thoroughly enjoying that. It's the superhero blend of action and slice-of-life we've always wanted.
  • I also read another volume of Fullmetal Alchemist, in which I got a few answers but also many more questions. (I also met a friend's second-favorite character, though, so that's cool.)
  • Things I Learned from Knitting is another Stephanie Pearl-McPhee memoir. I definitely preferred Free-Range Knitter, but this one was good too.
  • The disappointment of the month was The Blue Salt Road, which I picked up on a whim because of selkies and lyrical writing on the first page, but ended up frustrated with because the ending leans more bitter than sweet. It's not a bad book, and others may like it better than I, but yeah.

Watching!

  • So, if I had a nickle for every time my family has spent Independence Day watching a movie about Russian or Russian-adjacent Jews that involves a pogrom and a metaphorically and/or narratively resonant fiddle, I'd have two nickles. Which isn't a lot, but it's kind of weird that it happened twice.
  • This year's movie was Fiddler on the Roof, which was very good, but won't be making my favorites list. I'm glad I watched it once, but I don't expect I'll watch it again in the near future.
  • I didn't have a lot of time to watch stuff on my own, but I did watch a bit more of Critical Role Campaign 2 (I'm two-thirds of the way through Episode 78, still enjoying it) and the Familiar Problem one-shot (because I was hoping to run my own Familiar Problem session at Realm Makers; alas, I didn't finish my prep for that in time). I also got in another couple episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and I can see why people rave about the show. (I also got to have a nice long conversation with Wyn about FMA, both anime and manga, on the way up to Realm Makers, so that was fun.)
  • (Oh, and my family watched Singing in the Rain and Hello Dolly while my grandpa was here, but my thoughts haven't changed on either movie, so this note is mostly for reference by future-me.)

August Plans

  • I don't have a lot of plans for August, but I hope it's a quiet month. I know that we're thinking that we'll visit some family at one point during August, but otherwise, I don't know of anything big happening.
  • I know that I need to make some serious progress on both Bastian Dennel #4 and TaSG edits, so I expect that those projects will take up most of my free time. I'd also like to get back on track with exercise — that was one of the many things I kind of let slip over the last few months.
  • And I want to make sure I get in at least one more game of Sentinels with my sister before she heads back to college in the second half of the month.
  • But yeah. I'm also hoping and praying for no more tech issues at work — I've had my fill in July!

How was your July? Any exciting plans for August? Were you at Realm Makers (and if so, what was your favorite part)? What do you think I should do with my leftover book swag? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 8, 2022

Mid-Year Book Celebration 2022

Hey'a, all! As a reminder, I will be on blogging hiatus for most of July . . . but! I can't have a July without a Mid-Year Book Celebration, even if that would make my life much easier. So, here we are! As per the usual, I'll post the short-and-sweet Best of 2022 (so far) over on Light and Shadows. But if you want all the different categories . . . read on!

Of course, we can't have a book celebration without statistics. I've read 63 books (or 64, depending if you count my copy of both Alice books in one volume as one book or two) and 16,267 pages so far in 2022, which means I'm well over halfway to my goal of 99 books. Interestingly, while this is almost 20 more books than I'd read at this time last year, but it's only about 700 more pages. My average rating is about the same as it was this time last year: 4.3 stars. While every book hasn't been a winner, most have been, plus I've been rereading a lot.

Now for some more specific reading goals . . .

  • I have successfully tracked my reads beyond just using Goodreads. I switched over to using a Google form based on the one Kendra E. Ardnek uses (literally; she let me copy hers, and then I modified some questions). It's much easier than the spreadsheet, though there are still some things I want to adjust. (For instance, my decision to track particular tropes was . . . frankly unnecessary. I'll finish it this year, but I don't think I'll do it again next year.)
  • Towards 12 books published before 1975, I have read seven books. Three of them are Narnia; two are Lewis Carroll. But the other two are Chesterton and medieval poetry, so it's not all rereads. Plus, I'm in the progress of reading Dracula via email subscription.
  • Of my goal of 15 non-speculative fiction books, I've read either seven or nine, depending on whether or not you count books of poetry. That puts me at either halfway through or a bit over halfway through, so I think that's pretty solid.
  • As far as catching up with the Tor.com Wheel of Time reading series . . . I have managed maybe two chapters of The Great Hunt? It's a very frustrating book. I can probably still meet my goal if I really get with it, but honestly? I will be pretty pleased with myself if I just finish this one book by the end of the year.
  • And finally, we have my effort to read more poetry. This has had mixed results? I haven't quite managed once a week like I originally intended, but I've made up the weeks I've missed with some weeks in which I read a whole book of poetry. Most of what I've read has been out of a book of George Herbert's poems that I got for a class at Cedarville, but I've also read one of the Ticket to Write anthologies, Tolkien's translation of Gawain the Green Knight, and some miscellaneous poems by Poe, thanks to another email subscription.

All right! Overall, I think most of my numbers are looking shiny . . . but not as shiny as the books, so let's get on with it.

1. Best book you've read so far in 2022:

 

A lot of my reads this year have been rereads . . . but even if they weren't, the answer to this category would probably still be a tie between Cinderella Must Die (W.R. Gingell) and The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). These books are vastly different; one is a Cinderella retelling featuring a villainous Cinderella, a very clever pair of stepsisters, an indomitable aunt, and some very clever magic. The other is one part epic, one part political intrigue, one part mystery, one part character drama, and, inexplicably, one part feel-good fantasy even though it should not, by all rights, be as heartening as it is. But they're both excellent, and I love them immensely.

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2022:

We have another tie here, this time between My Soul to Take (Bryan Davis) and Crown and Cinder (Kendra E. Ardnek). Again, these are vastly different books, but both very good. My Soul to Take is a worldhopping post-apocalyptic fantasy that leans a bit dark, but also has some wonderful family themes and an uncrushable hope. And Crown and Cinder is what happens when Pride and Prejudice and Cinderella mutually derail each other, plus fire magic and Kendra E. Ardnek's signature humor and style — I would argue that it's one of her best books yet.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

There are so many that could fit this category. I am doing terribly at keeping up with new releases. But the specific ones I'll call out are Of Fire and Ash by Gillian Bronte Adams (which I did buy in hardcover earlier this year, so there's that!), The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman (which I've kept getting distracted from reading), and The Dream Runners by Shveta Thakrar (which just came out, so I think I have an excuse.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:

I mean, I'm hoping to get Through a Shattered Glass out this year . . . and I hear Wyn Estelle Owens is working on another book . . .
 
 
But if we want a book with an actual cover? The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson. I'm super excited to return to Scadrial and the adventures of Wax and Wayne. Plus, it sounds like we're getting a lot more Cosmere connections with Marasi! So much to look forward to!

5. Biggest disappointment:

I don't know why I finished A Wild Winter Swan (Gregory Maguire). Probably because I was procrastinating on something. But it was deeply frustrating. Not as much so as some other books I can think of, but still . . . not great.

6. Biggest surprise:

 
I picked up Stolen Mayfly Bride (Sarah K. L. Wilson) with low, low expectations. The other book in the collection I'd read was, to be frank, a candidate for the last question I answered. But once I got into the book, I was entranced. Wilson knows how to write fae, she knows how to write romance, and the writing style was marvelous and poetic. This was a KU read, but honestly, I think I'm probably going to end up buying a copy.

7. Newest favorite character:

While I've met a lot of great characters so far this year, there's no question who my new top favorite is: Maia Drazhar (The Goblin Emperor). I love him so much, y'all. He starts out the book awkward and anxious, a cast-off, half-foreign emperor's son who's grown up far from the court and without many people to love him, who wants only to avoid offending or causing trouble for anyone and who's so genuinely and helplessly kind and caring. And he grows into an emperor who truly wants to serve his subjects, who learns to stand up for himself and others, who uses his position and power to help those he can (even those who would be overlooked). He's just wonderful.
 
And on the topic of The Goblin Emperor . . . while I don't love them quite as much as Maia, several other characters also make the favorites list, specifically Csevet, Cala, Beschelar, and Csethiro.

8. A book that made you cry:

I don't think there were any actual tears, but The Goblin Emperor did produce a lot of Emotions, so . . . there's that?

9. A book that made you happy:

 
 
Search for the Astral Dragon (Bryan Davis) didn't quite make my "favorite book" choice . . . but it felt a lot like Davis's Dragons in Our Midst series, which meant that, in a way, it also felt like coming home.

10. Favorite post you've done so far this year:

I am very pleased with my "Writing Tips and Tricks (That Shouldn't Work as Well as They Do)" post that I put up back in March. (I'm toying with the idea of doing more posts about writing craft . . . thoughts, anyone?)

11. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

All of them, haha. But specifically . . . several Wheel of Time novels, The Untold Story, The Lost Metal, and Bryan Davis's Song of the Ovulum series (as a reread). Will I get to any of them? Who knows. I certainly don't.
 
Well, that's my celebration! How about you? What were the highs and lows of your last six months, reading-wise? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 1, 2022

June 2022 Doings!

Hello, y'all! June is ended, July is here, and I have another month's worth of Doings to report! But first, a quick bit of housekeeping: I'll be taking a blogging break for most of the month of July, both because I want the extra bit of attention to focus on Bastian Dennel, PI #4 and because Realm Makers, writing, work, and family stuff mean I'll likely be pretty busy. I will still post my Mid-Year Book Celebration/Book Roundup next Friday as usual, and I'll be on the socials, but otherwise, things will be quiet for the month. I haven't yet decided what to do about the On the Taleweaver's Desk update, but I may push it off until early August, since it would normally go up the same weekend as Realm Makers. We'll see.

Writing!

  • Writing-wise, this month's focus has mostly been on Bastian Dennel, PI #4, which is currently title-less. In contrast to Through a Shattered Glass, which I wrote very rapidly, this one is coming along quite slowly. I spent almost a week working through the initial outline until I got stuck, at which point I decided — y'know what? I know who did the murder. I know why they did it. I know what clues I need to lay and some red herrings to slip in. Let's just get this story started.
  • (Realistically, I think this was the best option. The problem was one that wouldn't be easy to solve without knowing the story better than I did at the time, so hopefully things will come together once I get closer in the actual draft.)
  • On the Through a Shattered Glass front, the book went out to beta readers early in the month, and I've been slowly getting feedback from various people. I haven't really read most of that feedback because I've been focused on BDPI#4, but I look forward to doing so.
  • And on the D&D side of things, I did just enough prep to cover the two times we met over the course of the month, plus the start of our next session (whenever that ends up being). The first of those two sessions went about how I expected it. The second . . . well, I didn't really know how my players would react to the situation, but I don't think I was expecting what actually happened? In a good way, though. I also figured out how I think I want to approach large-scale combat, which is good, because that's coming up pretty quick.
  • Oh, and I got to have some fun designing author swag (business cards, stickers, and bookplates) in preparation for Realm Makers! That was exciting, though also stressful once I realized how expensive sticker singles can be. I eventually figured stuff out, though, and everything so far has looked very nice.

Reading!

  • I expected that this would be a month full of rereads. That said, only about a third of them were the rereads I expected.
  • I started the month by finishing up my Jackaby reread. That went well, though I don't think I liked the second half of the series (the last book especially) as much on the reread as I did the first time around, particularly since I've grown more familiar with one of the central myths and am now annoyed at how Ritter handled said myth.
  • The other main rereads of the month were about half the Chronicles of Narnia, sparked by the fact that we watched the movie version of Prince Caspian and that made me want to read the actual book. And then I figured I might as well reread some of the other books that I've been thinking of revisiting . . . Lewis's style is a major shift from most of what I've been reading lately, but it's been fun to go back to these old favorites.
  • In between the rereads, we had three new-to-me books. The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is a collection of short stories from the world of Algaesia, and it was . . . fine? To be honest, I feel like it's the least interesting out of everything I read this month.
  • The other two new reads are much more exciting and were both last-minute impulse reads. Free-Range Knitter was something I picked up on a whim at the library and ended up quite enjoying. It very much falls into the genre of "Unexpectedly popular 2000s blogger memoirs," but, hey, it was an enjoyable read, and it had some nice observations about knitting and life and people.
  • And then there's The Goblin Emperor, which abruptly shot up from somewhere in the depths of my TBR list after I saw a dozen-odd fanart pieces on a friend's social and realized that I needed to read this book immediately. It was, let me tell you, one of the best decisions I made all month, because this book is so good. It's not particularly fast-paced, and it's mostly concerned with the main character figuring out how to be emperor and navigate an unfamiliar and not particularly friendly court and grow into the person he's meant to be, and yet I stayed up long past midnight one night reading it. There's intrigue and mystery and occasional assassination attempts, but most of the book is very character-focused, and . . . I just love it, ok? Possibly because I really love the main character, Maia, who is an absolute sweetheart. He was never supposed to be emperor, but now that he is, he's trying his best to be a good one and to not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. (I'm also very disappointed that there's not a true sequel — the other books in the world are about a side character and don't really have anything to do with this story.)
  • Oh, and I'm still reading Dracula via Dracula Daily . . . and I may have signed up for a bunch of similar serial story e-newsletters. I have no regrets, but I may when they all start at once in six months.

Watching!

  • Glory hallelujah, we are done with the Reani episodes of Critical Role. I'm sorry; I recognize that the player was trying to do something interesting, but I just did not vibe with her. I am pleased with my decision to go back to Campaign 2 instead of pushing on with Campaign 3, though. It's been fun to be back with the Mighty Nein. I'm currently halfway through Episode 69, and I've enjoyed the last few episodes, particularly the developments with Fjord.
  • Aside from Critical Role, I watched a couple movies this month: a rewatch of Prince Caspian, as I already mentioned, and Jurassic Park, which I had never seen before except for clips and snippets. My roommate enjoys JP, though, so I was excited to see it. I liked it, though I did end up hiding behind a pillow during a few moments when I suspected there was going to be something particularly gorey on the screen. I can definitely see why it became such a cultural phenomenon.
  • I also started watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, though I'm only a couple episodes in. A friend helpfully pointed me towards the best place to watch it, and I'm trying to get through it in relatively quick fashion. It's nice to have something to watch where the commitment is 20 minutes plus ads instead of an hour or better. I will have to get used to the voices, though, as there's exactly one character who sounds like I imagined him. Colonel Mustang and Al are the two who throw me off the most, though. (You would think Mustang would be the one who I expected, since I knew Travis Willingham voiced him, but nope! Every time he says anything, I'm like "Wait. What? Oh, right." I'll get used to it, I suppose.)

Life!

  • The main themes of this month have been "Sarah makes stuff!" and "absolutely NOTHING happens when it's supposed to unless we paid in advance for it." It's fine.
  • I actually did a fair bit of baking this month. I started June with my first sourdough loaf using fresh herbs from the ones we planted in May, and that turned out very well, though I probably should've chopped the herbs a little smaller. Then, a bit later in the month, I gave focaccia a whirl and was pretty pleased with the result. (I also made some regular rolls, but, y'know, I've made those a dozen times before.)
  • I intended to get a lot of cosplay prep done in June as well. Unfortunately, that didn't go quite as well. I did finish my flowy-sleeved top (it's far from perfect, but it'll do what I want it to do), and I found a few of the other items I needed, but I didn't make as much progress on either dress as I wanted to. Apparently, purple is not an "in" color right now (so I haven't been able to find any purple dresses in stores, let alone ones with pockets), and I kept hitting a particular delay on the dress I'm making — specifically, I needed my sister to help me drape a pattern, and she was continually not available at the same time I could do work. On the upside, we did eventually resolve that, so I have a pattern. Now I just need to cut everything . . . and sew everything . . . and make adjustments . . . and embroider things . . . yeah. There's a lot left to do. At least this weekend is a long one.
  • One of the highlights of the month, though, was just last weekend, when my sister and I got together with a friend to do an escape room! This one was a little harder than the one we did last summer, but I actually feel like it went somewhat better — if nothing else, we got out with more time to spare, probably because everyone had at least a little experience with how these kinds of puzzles work.
  • At work, things have alternately been super quiet (because half the office is out) or comfortably busy. We have made progress on some of the big projects, though, so that's good. They're going slowly, but so do most things that involve change.
  • Oh! D&D news! The group I play in had our first really big boss fight, which was super exciting. We were taking on our warlock/fighter's patron (an aberrant dragon), which involved gathering reinforcements and traveling to another plane and all sorts of stuff. It was pretty epic, especially the final fight — especially since the boss ended up having, figuratively speaking, two health bars. But we survived! With minimal insanity! And leveled up twice! And we got our first-ever legendary item!
  • I think that about covers it. June was definitely a much quieter month than May, but you know? That's far from a bad thing.

July Plans

  • REALM MAKERS! We're now in the month of, and I am SO HYPED. There's still a lot left to do — cosplay prep, finishing up some of the swag that I didn't complete last month, figuring out some final logistics, figuring out if I need to pre-sign books (since Kendra E. Ardnek will be selling my books alongside hers) and so on — but it's going to be good. I'm excited to learn, but I'm arguably more looking forward to the opportunity to meet others in the writing/author community.
  • Most of my plans revolve around Realm Makers, but aside from it . . . we'll have family visiting midway through the month, which should be nice. I'm looking forward to that.
  • Work will probably continue to be quiet, since we'll have people out on either mission trips or vacation.
  • Writing-wise, I'll be splitting my time between Through a Shattered Glass edits and Bastian Dennel, PI #4 drafting. I don't know yet what that split will look like, but I'll figure it out once I see how much editing needs to be done.
  • And on the reading front, most of my book choices will probably be influenced by the various adult summer reading programs I'm doing through local library systems. At the moment, I'm attempting to essentially do three challenges (two systems, two variations within one of those systems) with no overlap, but I may put in some retroactive overlap if we get towards the end of the summer and it looks like I'm not going to make one or more of them.
  • That seems to be everything. There may be something I'm forgetting about, but if there is, oh well. I'll remember it tomorrow night, probably.

How was your June? Any exciting plans for July? Will you be at Realm Makers (either virtually or in person)? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 24, 2022

Summer 2022 Reads

Well, it's very much summer now. We've passed the solstice, the library reading programs have begun (and I'm delighted that there's an adult version as well as a kid version), and this year's crop of summer reads has started to appear! Realistically, it's anyone's guess how many of these I'll actually read this season (or even this year), but . . . I can be excited anyway? Right? Right.

 

Summer 2022 Reads

1. The Wolf's Daughter by Kendra E. Ardnek (June 15). This is the first in a new series of short stories Kendra's releasing: fairy tales turned on their heads, with heroes and villains switched. I've already read it, but I wanted to spotlight it because it really is a cool take on the story. I can't say much more about why I like the twist . . . but the title should give you a clue.

2. Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty (June 28). Fantasy mystery! I'll be honest, between the cover and the fact that the blurb is hinting at a love triangle, I'm kinda giving this one a little bit of a side-eye. But on the other hand, I can't resist a good fantasy mystery, so I'll be watching the reviews to see how things look.

3. The Dream Runners by Shveta Thakrar (June 28). I read an excerpt of this on the Tor blog, and it was entrancing, so I'm excited! We've got Indian fantasy, dream magic, an amnesia plotline . . . it definitely has potential to be awesome, and it's a standalone — no getting suckered into a series. (And, of course, the cover is super pretty.)

4. Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury (July 7). It's a modern Hades and Persephone retelling! This particular myth is getting a lot of attention in the last few years, and I've seen some fabulous takes on the story, so this definitely has a lot of potential. It's not at the top of my reading list, but still, potential.

 


5. Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell (July 15). New Two Monarchies! About Susan! Who is Isabella's sister and is just as prone to mischief and poking her nose into things as Isabella herself, and therefore has all the makings of a new favorite character once I get five pages of her POV. Plus, this is a Bluebeard retelling, which promises a DELIGHTFULLY murdery mystery. I've already preordered the book, and there's very good odds I'll read it the day it comes out.

6. The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope (August 9). It's a Jazz Age historical fantasy, y'all! Not only that, but it's a heist narrative! I don't know about the rest of y'all, but I love a good fantasy heist almost as much as I love a good fantasy mystery, and the particular setting of this one just makes it even better.

7. The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (August 16). Speaking of heist stories . . . this one involves Welsh mythology, so of course I'm super excited for that. The main character apparently has water-based magic and is trying to bring down the evil prince she used to work for. The blurb hints at fae involvement and also promises, and I quote, "a corgi that may or may not be a spy," so . . . yeah. I'm definitely going to pick this one up!

8. Beguiled by Cyla Panin (August 23). This story is giving me Rumplestiltskin vibes, and that's not a fairy tale you see retold very often, so I'm interested simply because of that. But we've also got elements of Celtic folklore (yesssss), so that's two reasons to keep an eye on this release.

What book releases are you excited for this summer? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Books I Love to Reread

I was going to start this post by saying that I feel like I've been rereading a lot lately, but then I realized . . . there has never been a time when I didn't reread quite a bit. Because here's the deal: my to-be-read list may be tall enough to reach the International Space Station and weighty enough to bring said space station crashing down to earth, but that will not stop me when I feel like rereading an old favorite. Or, in some cases, an old semi-favorite. Or just a book that's been on my mind lately. But, you know, the mark of a great book is that you can read it over and over again and never love it less, so . . . maybe it just speaks to the quality of the books I've read? There definitely are certain books I tend to come back to more than others or that are just a special treat to reread, and today, I'm spotlighting a few of those.


Books I Love to Reread

  1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. This has got to be one of the most rereadable series I know of. If you've read the Queen's Thief book, you know that these are subtle, marvelously plotted stories and that Turner is a master of foreshadowing and perfectly prepared twists. This becomes even more clear on the reread, when you can pick up all kinds of clues you missed the first time around. In fact, I'd argue that you have to reread them at least once for the full experience. This is balanced by the fact that they're just the right length to be easy to pick up and reread — you can get through them fairly quickly without feeling guilty about taking a full month away from your library books and to-be-read list. (Plus, it's physically impossible to not love the characters more every time you read their stories.)
  2. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Speaking of falling in love with characters all over again . . . every time I reread Howl's Moving Castle, I find new reasons to love this story and these characters. That said, the bigger reason why it's on this list is that it's very much a comfort read for me, and it has been from the first. If I'm stressed or upset and need to be very quickly cheered up and pulled out of my troubles, and if whatever I'm currently reading doesn't seem like it'll do the trick for whatever reason (or if I'm not currently reading anything), this is my first choice of what to pick up. Even a few chapters are often enough to get me perked back up, thinking reasonably, and able to deal with whatever has me in a tizzy.
  3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, LOTR has to make the list! For several years, I did a yearly or bi-yearly reread of this series, usually scheduled around either my birthday or half-birthday (since I read the trilogy for the first time within days of when I turned either twelve or thirteen, if I recall correctly). That dropped off, but I did recently reread these books, and they were just so lovely to come back to — even better than I remembered, since you really do notice new facets of the story each time. The only reason it's not at the top of the list is that the length does make this a bit more of a time commitment than some other books. (Technically, the Queen's Thief series may be longer in total, but each book is a quicker read.)
  4. The All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot (especially the first book). Like Howl, this is very much a comfort read, but of a somewhat different kind. It's a wonderfully steadying, heartwarming in the realest possible sense. I reach for Howl when stress and frustration reach a boiling point, and it makes me laugh and forget my problems for an hour or two. I reach for All Creatures when my world feels uncertain, and it helps me remember that everything will be ok in the end (because, even if Herriot never alludes to God or anything particularly spiritual, many of these stories come out to the lesson of the sparrows). Of course, I don't only pick it up in times of emotional turmoil; it's a lovely read any time I need something comparatively low-stakes and optimistic and sincere and funny.
  5. Entwined by Heather Dixon Wallwork. This is both one of my favorite fairy tale retellings and a Christmas read, thereby giving me two excuses to pick it up over and over again. While I don't tend to notice new things about this story as much as I do other stories on this list, it's always a pleasure to rediscover moments I'd forgotten or reexperience the best bits and to come out of the story feeling immensely cheered and pleased.

Do you like rereading books? What are your favorite books to reread? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, June 3, 2022

May 2022 Doings!

Hello hello hello! I am, at the moment of writing this, quite tired (for reasons unknown), and as per the usual, I have no idea where this month went. But I shall do my best in this post to figure out the answer to that very question.

Writing!

  • I spent most of the month doing the first rewrite/edit of Through a Shattered Glass, which went well. This book is on a very extended timeline, which means I get to test different feedback configurations — namely, I had Wyn Owens (a good friend, fellow Arista Challenge author, and beta reader on most of my past books) alpha reading the book. That was super helpful in terms of keeping me motivated and having someone to talk through things with.
  • On a related note, I am looking for beta readers for Through a Shattered Glass. If you're interested, check out my post on it.
  • I also finished the front cover for Through a Shattered Glass! I was originally going to hire someone, but while procrastinating, I managed to find a picture that looked like my main character and fit the vibe, so I messed with it . . . and kept messing with it . . . and almost gave up and went back to the "hire someone" plan . . . and then went back to it one more time and figured out how to make it into something I quite like! So, you know, that's a relief.
  • On the D&D side of things, one of my campaigns didn't get to meet at all this month, but the one I run did get together for one session. The party spent most of the session talking to horses and setting up camp, but we had fun, and not having to worry about writing session material did mean more free time for working on TaSG.

Reading!

  • Lots of rereads this month! I finished my Dragons in Our Midst/Oracles of Fire reread, which I posted about last week. And conversations with Wyn about (A) her WIP and (B) Welsh myth made me decide to reread The Dark King's Curse (even better the second time around! also I love Laisren so much) and the Jackaby series (also delightful; I'm currently about halfway through).
  • In between all that, my copies of Fullmetal Alchemist volumes 5–7 came due at the library, so I hastily read those before I had to return them. I'm still enjoying the series, and I really need to request the next several! (I'm also thinking of watching the show, though I need to figure out where/how to do that.)
  • And we have a couple miscellaneous reads. Dawnsong is a novella by Bryn Shutt, and it was fairly enjoyable. I'll probably pick up the rest of the series when it releases, as I'm curious about the characters. Stolen Midsummer Bride is a Midsummer Night's Dream retelling by Tara Grayce, and I was pretty excited about it . . . and then pretty disappointed in how it turned out. I didn't vibe with the characters and wasn't impressed with the author's treatment of fae. It wasn't bad? It just also really wasn't great. It's possible other people would like it more, though — romantic fantasy is not my primary subgenre!

Watching!

  • So, I have more or less given up on Critical Role Campaign 3 for the moment and gone back to Campaign 2 — I miss Caleb and Jester and Fjord, and I don't have the same attachment to the new crew. I managed to get through C2 Episode 66 and halfway through Episode 67 — I've been looking forward to 67 for a while for several reasons. While I still don't love Reani, and I'll be glad when she's gone, it's nice to be back with the rest of the Mighty Nein.
  • Otherwise, I really haven't watched anything this month. Not really surprising.

Life!

  • Honestly, this has been a fun month, but also a very busy one — we've had something going on pretty much every weekend.
  • It started with two things I'd been looking forward to for a while: my sister getting home from college and our Bible study's retreat at White Sulphur Springs. Those actually happened at the same time — which is to say, my parents went straight from Ohio (where they were retrieving my sister) to WSS, where I met them after driving up on my own on Friday.
  • The retreat went quite well on the whole. It was nice to have some time to relax and time to spend with friends, though some of the other study families had to back out at the last minute. We spent a good bit of Saturday playing card and board games, which was delightful. And, of course, the food at WSS is pretty much always delicious.
  • The next weekend would've been fairly quiet . . . except that my sister and I found out that there was going to be a Viking Festival about twenty minutes from our house, and obviously we had to go check it out. As it turns out, "Viking Festival" translates as "very specifically themed mini Renaissance Festival," so we got to see a replica Viking longship, hear some Celtic music, and browse the various vendors. I may have spent a little more than I intended at those vendors . . . but the items I bought were all either practical (a new hairstick that will work a little better for the current state of my hair) or things I needed for Realm Makers cosplay, so it's fine.
  • The weekend after that was a little bit quieter, thankfully. But we did still have some excitement in the form of a cheese-and-board games party with a friend — I had bought a bunch of slightly fancy cheese (which is to say, not regular grocery store block cheeses) for a photograph earlier in the week, and I needed help to eat them. Whether or not the photograph was 50% an excuse to buy cheese remains a mystery . . . but the cheese was tasty, the games were fun, and some of my D&D group joined the final game of the evening via video chat, so it was a good time all round.
  • And that brings us up to Memorial Day weekend, when my family decided to go visit my grandpa. We'd originally planned to visit around Father's Day, but since that would have to be such a short trip, we decided to go up for the long weekend.

  • In between all this, I've been doing some crafting — not as much as intended because of all the other stuff, but still. To be specific, I attempted to make a flowy-sleeved top, which failed because I forgot to multiply the central measurement by two, and gave embroidery a whirl, which I consider to have been a success. I've done two samplers so far, one of which is shown above, covering most (if not all) of the major stitches, and I'm genuinely enjoying it! It also goes much faster than I expected, which is the opposite of most of the handcrafts I try, so, y'know, that's nice.
  • Work has been going about as usual — this is a quieter season, after the chaos of Lent and Easter but before summer programming starts up. (Also, big projects keep getting delayed because we had several weeks of either one pastor or the other being out of the office.) I did successfully update my how-to-do-my-job documentation, and I printed out a copy to keep at my desk, so if anything ever comes out where I have to be out on short notice, it'll be easier for someone else to temporarily pick up the essential tasks. (Not that I anticipate that happening . . . but after being out for most of a month last year, I don't want to take any risks.)
  • Oh, and I have finally embarked on a project that I've been intending to start for ages, which is revamping the playlists on my main music streaming app so they reflect my current taste in music and are a little more tailored than just dumping every album that's sort of a particular mood or genre onto a particular list.

June Plans

  • I expect that June will be a quieter month than May, but I really don't know.
  • My main writing goals for this month are to get Through a Shattered Glass out to beta readers (info here if you want to know more) and to start drafting the fourth Bastian Dennel, PI book. I've been looking into this installment in the BDPI cases for a fair while, and I'm excited to write it — I can't say too much yet, but it's going to be a murder mystery, and Bastian and Kona will be the main POV characters again.
  • I also plan to keep working on cosplay and other crafting projects. I want to retry the flowy-sleeved shirt with different fabric (and with correct measurements), plus I have a medieval-ish overdress and some props to make. I also need to find a purple dress with pockets somewhere, which is proving more difficult than anticipated. I need everything done in time for Realm Makers in June, so not much time to waste!
  • On the reading front, I don't really have many plans. I have some rereads that I want to continue (namely Jackaby and Legends of Karac Tor — and, ideally, The Great Hunt), and I need to read The Shepherd's Crown so I can officially finish with the Discworld series. But I don't have any ARCs at the moment, so mostly I can just mood read without guilt or pressure.
  • Otherwise . . . I don't think I have much planned? Yeah. Hopefully, it'll be a peaceful month.

How was your May? Any exciting plans for June? Have you done any fun rereads lately? How do you feel about sewing and embroidery? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Want to Beta Read Through a Shattered Glass?

If there's one thing you absolutely have to do before you publish a book . . . well, you can't pick just one. But among the most essential items on the list is making sure that there are other eyes besides yours on your book. Making sure your story gets in front of people who will read it and point out what works and what needs to be better.

I've been blessed with a great team of beta readers who I love dearly. However, general life stuff on both my end and theirs means that some slots on the team are opening up. So, I have a question for y'all . . .

Do you want to beta-read Through a Shattered Glass?

Through a Shattered Glass is a dark-ish portal fantasy remix of The Snow Queen with Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Lookingglass. It's about 30,000 words long. I'll send out the Word Doc, probably via email, on June 7, and I would need comments back by July 9.

What kind of comments? In general, I'm looking for suggestions of how to make the story better that don't start with "So, you'd have to totally rewrite the story to implement this, but . . ." More specifically, I'm looking for the following:

  • Feedback on both technical and stylistic elements of the actual writing (aka, "did I use words the right way?" and "does this sound good?").
  • Thoughts on elements (character choices, worldbuilding, plot progression) that may need to be clarified or areas where the themes of the story could be strengthened. 
  • General reactions to the story, characters, and writing.

If you're interested, click here to sign up. I would prefer it if you've read at least one of my previous books so you have an idea of my usual style, but it's not a requirement — especially since, if you read this blog, you probably already know something about my writing.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop those in the comments.

Thanks in advance for your help making Through a Shattered Glass the best it can be!

Friday, May 27, 2022

On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

My favorites list, whether speaking of authors or series, has changed quite a few times since I first got into fantasy. Wayne Thomas Batson, once in my top three favorite authors, now doesn't even make the top ten. J.R.R. Tolkien stood alone at the highest rank — until Anne Elisabeth Stengl and Brandon Sanderson proved themselves worthy to join him. I spent a heady six months obsessing over Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, only for it to fall dramatically out of favor when I tried to reread it a few years later.

But amid all this, there are some authors and books that have consistently remained — well, if not in my top three, at least in my top ten. Chief among them (aside from Tolkien again) is Bryan Davis, particularly with his Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series. These were two of the first non-classic fantasy series I fell in love with — and I think it's fair to say that I was really, really into them. I reread them multiple times; I even memorized some of the poetry. And about seven months ago, I decided to return to the two series, reread them, and see how they stood up to the test of time. For the results, well, read on.

 

On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

  1. Most of it is as good as I remembered . . . and some bits are better. I'm not going to claim that this series is the pinnacle of literary art, but it remains a genuinely enjoyable, exciting story with a lot of emphasis on family and some very deep, powerful themes. The things about the book that I loved originally, I still love. I also found that I could appreciate some elements of the book that I didn't really get (or didn't love) when I was younger. This is particularly evident in The Candlestone and Enoch's Ghost, which used to be my least favorite books in the double-series and are now . . . well, neither one is my new favorite (I still love Circles of Seven best), but they're both several places higher on the list because I finally get what the author was trying to say with them.
  2. There's so much less angst and edginess than there could've been. I didn't appreciate this enough as a preteen/teen originally reading the series — but, of course, then I didn't have all the experience with other YA (particularly secular YA) to compare it to. Davis gives quite a few members of his cast enough tragic backstory to make the edgiest D&D rogue's story look like a comedy, so he'd be well within his right to make them equally angsty, and he just . . . doesn't. Is there introspection? Emotion? Of course! Do characters hit some pretty low lows? Absolutely. But it doesn't saturate the characters or the narrative, which is really nice, and the characters who would have the most reason for angst (namely, Bonnie, Sapphira, and Elam) end up the exact opposite character type. Granted, that can be frustrating for different reasons, but it's less frustrating than the alternative.
  3. It's really fun to go back to a series that's so family-focused. Very family-focused indeed, actually, given that DiOM/OoF give Kendra E. Ardnek's Rizkaland Legends a run for their money with how large a percentage of major characters are related. And whatever else you say about this series, you have to appreciate how Davis makes a point of writing active, healthy parent-kid relationships into the story and having multiple generations taking on adventures, challenges, and battles together.
  4. Bryan Davis really just does what he wants, doesn't he? This was less evident when I initially read the series, since (A) the YA fantasy genre and its conventions were still somewhat being established and (B) I hadn't read enough to really be aware of what conventions there were. But on rereading the series, it becomes very clear that Davis is a man who looked at trends, said "Nah," and proceeded to make a career out of writing what he thought would be cool. And so, in this series — You have dragons and King Arthur in the modern day. You have multiple variations of an afterlife and interdimensional travel between them, along with so many resurrections. You have sci-fi-ish stuff like Ashley's inventions and her supercomputer/AI, as well as (arguably) two different completely unrelated variations on people being grown in plants. You have everything about Abaddon's lair. And you know what? It works. And it's wonderful. (I would even argue that it works because everything is so all-over, but if I get into that, this point will end up being its own blog post.)
  5. This is, if possible, even more spiritually in-your-face than I remembered. No one can deny that the way Christian fantasy is written has changed since the 2000s when these books were published. Even if you look exclusively at Davis's books, you'll see that over time, the stories lean less into allegory and get more and more subtle with their spiritual messages. So, going back to Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire, two series which I remembered as being extremely heavy on the Scripture and spiritual stuff even compared to the series' contemporaries, was a bit of an interesting experience. On one hand, the heavy-handedness of some sections and elements (and the emphasis on purity) can pull you out of the story . . . but on the other hand, it was honestly refreshing to read something that's so up-front about being based in Christianity and so saturated in Spiritual truth.

Whew! That was a bit longer than I intended. I had fun both returning to an old favorite and analyzing how I feel about it now, though. If you're still reading, please tell me in the comments what your favorite Bryan Davis book or series is (or which of his works you think looks most interesting). Also tell me if you'd be interested in that blog post about why I think the way Davis mixes so many different elements into his story works so well; I kinda want to get more into this now.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, May 20, 2022

Non-European Fantasy Favorites

I have mixed feelings about a lot of recent trends in fantasy and speculative fiction . . . but one trend that I absolutely love is the move towards settings based in locations and cultures other than medieval, Edwardian, or Victorian European ones (specifically those from northern and western Europe). While I will always appreciate the classics when they're well done, it's nice to get some variety. And since I've never actually compiled a list of my favorite non-European fantasy stories, I thought I should remedy that this week! Not all of these are recent releases — actually, most of them have been out for a while, since I'm SUPER behind on any recent books that I didn't agree to review — but they're well-loved by me and well worth a read!

(Please note that I'm not including any urban/contemporary fantasy on this list — while my love of the City Between and Dragons in Our Midst series is deep and well-documented, these genres aren't as overwhelmingly Europe-based as many other fantasy genres are.)

 


Non-European Fantasy Favorites

1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I debated a lot about whether or not I could include this series because, you know, it's heavily inspired by ancient Greece (with a side trip in one book to ancient Persia), and Greece is technically European? But it's very much not your standard medieval European fantasy, and that's evident in everything from the lore and mythology to the food to the architecture to the landscape to the language and names. It's so great.
Bonus Greek-inspired fantasy recommendation: Coiled by H.L. Burke.

2. Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I would like to be very clear that the only reason this isn't first on the list is that it's the seventh book in the series — it's a gorgeous Asian-inspired fantasy epic (and, realistically, you could pick it up without having read any of the other Goldstone Wood novels, though there are certain elements whose significance you might not pick up on). As in the Queen's Thief books, this isn't just a standard fantasy novel with an "exotic" aesthetic tacked on — the location informs the culture, which informs the characters and storyline, and everything just comes together so well.
Bonus Asian-inspired fantasy recommendation: The Dragon's Flower by Wyn Estelle Owens

3. The Books of the Infinite trilogy by R. J. Larson. Arguably the least like traditional European fantasy out of everything on this list and everything that I considered putting on this list, the Books of the Infinite take place in a world much like Israel and its neighbors in the second half of the Old Testament. It's a story of prophets and kings, of signs and miracles and mercy and judgment, and it's generally well worth a read.
Bonus Biblical fantasy recommendation: Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy

4. Horseman by Kyle Robert Shultz. This Wild West-inspired tale takes place in Shultz's Afterverse, and while I don't love it quite as much as the original Beaumont and Beasley series, it's still a lot of fun. You've got classic Wild West and fantasy tropes, plus the kind of colorful assortment of characters you can only get in this type of setting, plus reimaginings of American folklore — it's great.
Bonus Wild West fantasy recommendation: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale

5. Jackaby by William Ritter. Storms, I haven't read these books in ages, though the last one has been on my mind lately because of some of the myths and folklore I've been reading. Anyway, this historical fantasy-mystery series is set somewhere in New England in the late 1800s — the author doesn't specify which state, which I can't entirely blame him for. And it does feel pretty American, particularly leaning on the idea of America at the time as a blending of people (and, in this case, magical beings) immigrated from other cultures and countries.
Bonus American fantasy-mystery recommendation: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

What are your favorite non-European fantasy reads, whether recent or not? Please tell me in the comments; I can always use more recs!
Thanks for reading!