Books Read in October

1. Songs of the Earth – Elspeth Cooper (fantasy, epic fantasy)

2. The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling (contemporary, England, drugs, local politics)

3. The Holders – Julianna Scott (fantasy, ya, strange chemistry, Ireland)

4. Bossypants – Tina Fey (humour, memoir, audiobook, pop culture)

5. Unspoken – Sarah Rees Brennan (fantasy, ya, England, witchcraft)

6. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor (fantasy, ya, angels, re-read)

7. The Stars my Destination – Alfred Bester (book club, science fiction, favourites, re-read)

8. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (science fiction, favourites, re-read)


76 books

24,879 pages

Lana Wachowski’s Speech

I’m sure most people have seen this now, but if you haven’t, you need to listen to this speech by Lana Wachowski, one of the directors of The Matrix and the forthcoming Cloud Atlas. It is moving, brave, heartwarming, and just wonderful.

Some choice quotes:

“All of us are conscious of the fact that not only will it be Andy and my first public appearance in a long time, but it will also be the first time that I speak publicly since my transition. Parenthetically this is a word that has very complicated subject for me because of its complicity in a binary gender narrative that I am not particularly comfortable with. Yet I realize the moment I go on camera, that act will be subject to projections that are both personal and political.”

“And this moment fulfilling the cathartic arc of rejection to acceptance without ever interrogating the pathology of a society that refuses to acknowledge the spectrum of gender in the exact same blind way they have refused to see a spectrum of race or sexuality.”

“We’re alternating perspectives quite conscious of the fact that we have just made a film about this subject — about the responsibilities us humans have to one another, that our lives are not entirely our own. There is dialogue from the film merging easily with the discussion and I find myself repeating a line from a character who I was very attached to who speaks about her own decision to come out. She says, “If I had remained invisible, the truth would have remained hidden and I couldn’t allow that.””

“Early on I am told to get in line after a morning bell, girls in one line, boys in another. I walk past the girls feeling this strange, powerful gravity of association. Yet some part of me knows I have to keep walking. As soon as I look towards the other line, though, I feel a feeling of differentiation that confuses me. I don’t belong there, either.”

“Years later I find the courage to admit that I am transgender and this doesn’t mean that I am unlovable.”

“Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgender this is not simply a philosophical conundrum — it can be the difference between life and death.”

“I am here because Mr. Henderson taught me that there are some things we do for ourselves, but there are some things we do for others. I am here because when I was young, I wanted very badly to be a writer, I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I couldn’t find anyone like me in the world and it felt like my dreams were foreclosed simply because my gender was less typical than others.

If I can be that person for someone else [pause, applause] then the sacrifice of my private civic life may have value. I know I am also here because of the strength and courage and love that I am blessed to receive from my wife, my family and my friends. And in this way I hope to offer their love in the form of my materiality to a project like this one started by the HRC, so that this world that we imagine in this room might be used to gain access to other rooms, to other worlds previously unimaginable.”

Recommended Read: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I’ve become tired of dragons in fiction. Most of the time, they’re pretty similar. They’re loyal companions, a la Anne McCaffrey’s Pern dragons. They’re lofty ones who see humans are being to use and tolerate, a la Tintaglia from Robin Hobb’s books. Or they’re savage beasts that can lay waste to the land and must be vanquished. Seraphina’s initial premise therefore appealed to me—dragons that could take human form out of a vague fascination with petty human lives. Dragons in Hartman’s world are like the Vulcans of science fiction—emotion is dangerous, and the dangerous of all emotions is love. Goredd was once at war with the dragons, but they now have an unsteady treaty and a tentative peace that could easily turn into an all-out war.

Seraphina is a half-human, half-dragon offspring of one such forbidden relationship. She looks human aside from the band of scales about her waist and on her forearms, which she keeps covered at all times. She’s a court musician, incredibly talented and passionate about music. She has a strained relationship with her father, a wealthy man who feels guilty at the death of his wife, and has a mentor in her draconic uncle Orma.

A member of the royal family is murdered, possibly by a dragon. Seraphina becomes caught up in the politics of Goredd, working with the bastard Prince Lucien and dancing a political dance with royalty and searching for a rouge dragon—who happens to be related to her by blood. At the same time, she learns that the strange people in her head that she’s protected herself from might actually be real and have something in common with her. And at all times, she must try to keep her secret safe, for fear that she will be shunned by humans and dragons alike.

Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy books in recent years. Its prose is lush, its worldbuilding superb. Seraphina is a sympathetic character, and every character is richly fleshed out. While the book started a little slow for me as the world is introduced and layered, by halfway through I was smitten enough that I stayed up until 3.30 in the morning to finish, even though I had work the next day. This is a book I’ll re-read several times, and will buy the sequel the day it comes out. Very much recommended to people who like rich, secondary world fantasy with dragons that are different from the norm.

New Blurb, New Reviews, Giveaway Reminder!

I have things to report!

1. I received a beautiful blurb from Malinda Lo, author of Ash, Huntress, and newly-released Adaption. She says:

“Set in a vividly imagined world with wonderful steampunk touches, Pantomime is a fable-like story as beautifully unique as its main character.” – Malinda Lo

I am tickled pink, as I really enjoyed Ash and have Huntress and Adaption firmly on my TBR list.

2. I’ve received some equally lovely early reviews on two blogs in addition to the review I linked to in my last post. Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm says: “The atmosphere of R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is everything that I have been missing in other circus reads of late . . . It’s a brave book and one that deserves to be read by a wide audience.”

Joanne of Once Upon a Bookcase says: “For both characters, Pantomime is very much about being true to yourself, and working out just exactly who that is. It’s about fighting against being pigeon-holed – especially when you, a square peg, are being forced into a round hole. These characters are brilliant, and they’re unlike any other characters I’ve read before . . . Pantomime is not only an amazing story, but an important one . . . [Micah and Gene’s] is a story that needs to be told, and that everyone should read. A completely eye-opening, enthralling debut.”

Words can’t even express how beautiful I find those reviews.

3. Lastly, the Goodreads giveaway ends tomorrow. For a chance to win 1 of 3 copies of an ARC of Pantomime, please go here. As of this posting, 2,200 people have entered. And all I can say to that is WOW!

Yeah, I’m pinching myself.

A Farewell to Pantomime

Today I had my first review of my book from someone I didn’t really know. It’s another milestone—and phew, it was a very lovely review! But it made me realise that my time of more or less controlling my readers is now at an end. Not everyone is going to leave a glowing review—and that’s perfectly fine. ARCs have gone out on their merry way. I have no idea who has them, unless they’ve tweeted me a photo. I’ll be on Netgalley in a few weeks. And in less than 4 months, anyone who wants to can get a hold of my book and start reading.

It’s something I’ve dreamed of, but it’s also a little strange. Obviously, I’ll get used to it, but it’s that initial disconnect. I spent so long on those words, that if you plucked out a quote I would be able to tell you what chapter it’s in. I’ve read it 20 or more times. It’s the first book I finished and submitted and soon it’ll be out in the world.

And it’s amazing!

It also feels like a farewell. I’m letting go. The book will now stand on its own. It will mean very different things to readers than it means to me. I’m done editing that book, and though I’ve flipped through my ARC, I’ll never be reading it again with the intent to change anything, unless I proof it one more time. Now, I’m focusing on the sequel, which I should finish the first draft of shortly. I’m also planning and poking at other books, books not set in Ellada or that star the same characters. Every book I write will be special to me, but Pantomime was my first love. I wrote it having absolutely no idea if it’d ever be published, where I had that innocence and burning, fierce hope that someone would like it enough to let it see the light of day.

So, off you go into the world, little Pantomime. Fly, me lovely!

From the Vaults: Synaesthesia Sestina

I took my first poetry class when I was 19. One of our assignments was to write a sestina, which, if you’re not familiar with, is a poem with six stanzas and a mini end-stanza called an envoi that have repeating endwords in a certain pattern. It’s a puzzle! Of words!

Anyway, I spent a lot of time on this one and loved it. I’ve been really fascinated by synaesthesia since I was 15 and first read The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester. I’ve written three sestinas (the other two are about eating disorders and a science fiction one about a prisoner on the moon…only slightly dissimilar topics), but this one might still be my favourite. I entered it into my university’s poetry contest and won second place and $100. Until my book deal this year, it was the only money I’d made from my writing.

I was looking at my Facebook from my author page to see how visible it looks to strangers (answer: more visible than I thought, SHOCK AND SURPRISE, Facebook and your sneakiness), and saw the post I made about it. I thought, since rather few people have that volume of Occam’s Razor, the university magazine it was published in, that I would put it up here.

I feel a bit nervous doing so. Poetry is subjective, and it was my first sestina. But I’m still very fond of it (read: please be nice). I also cheated and varied my end words. As long as it related to the sense, I could use it–e.g. sight/see, hear/sound, touch/feel. So here it is–the first bit of writing that was published and gave me hope that I’d have more published one day.

Synaesthesia Sestina

Laura Lam

I stand looking at the sea.
The feral roar of the surf is all I hear.
The sting of the bitter salt is the taste
of solitude. I reach out and touch
the breeze, its smell
bringing the subtle scent of roses.

Senses fracture. From the shards first rise
The five shades of sight.
Each color has a distinct scent;
red is apple blossoms. I turn and hear
orange explode across the horizon. I touch
fuzzy velvet violet and flavor

the five shadows of taste.
Light marches across the rows
of my taste buds. The touch
of flavors lets me see
into myself. I love the sound
of burnt sugar, like broken promises. I love the smell

of rain. Life is the scent
of chimney smoke. Its sweet and bitter taste
is acrid on the tongue. Here,
no one can smell the new rose
of the promises I make to myself by the sea.
I miss your touch,

I miss how it made me feel,
and how you smelled
always of coffee and dawn. Yet I saw
the texture of your fear. I could taste
it in the back of my throat, a burnt rose,
the lightning in your eyes all I could hear.

Now I no longer hear
any one. Silence touches
my world with soft fingers. I watch the sun rise
in a fury of music, sight, and smell,
the icy smoothness of serenity a taste
on the air. By the sea,

I can hear the sights and see the sounds,
I can feel the taste and taste the touch,
and I can sense the scent of honey in the shadow of the rose.

Dunottar Castle

My work had an outing, where we hiked through the woods in Stonehaven, visited Dunnottar Castle, and then came back for dinner in the village. It was a gorgeous day and I took some pictures. Dunnottar Castle is one of the first castles I visited when I came to Scotland over the summer of 2005, and it’s still one of my favourites. It’s in ruins, and its starkness makes it feel more real and historic compared to some of the castles that are frozen in the Victorian era.

Yes, I realise my photography skills are not the greatest. The horizon is definitely not level in a couple of these photos.

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The Next Big Thing

I was tagged by the loverly Kim Curran to do The Next Big thing meme that’s been making the rounds. It was a lot harder than I thought it’d be!

What is the working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started a book with an adult Micah Grey, but was having trouble writing such a jaded, adult character and a mystery. I decided to write a short story about my character’s teenage years in a circus. I tapped into that voice right away and fell in love with the story.

What genre does your book fall under?

Young Adult/Fantasy/Gaslight Fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

This is really hard!

For Gene, Saoirse Ronan:

Aenea: Anna Popplewell

For Drystan: Maybe Alex Pettyfer. (Note: have not actually seen him act in anything)

Ringmaster of R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic: Javier Bardem, though he needs a bushy, waxed mustache and a pudgy belly. I think he’d be great at capturing Bil’s character.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A daughter of a noble family and a runaway trapeze artist in R.H. Ragona’s Circus of magic have a secret that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

15 months. :-X I didn’t write consistently and worked on other projects as well.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Oh, man. This is hard. Take one part Water for Elephants, add Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s books, and swirl together with a secondary Victoriana world with some Scott Lynchian elements. I guess that sort of works.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Smooshing together a lot of my favourite interests and settings, and celebrating diversity in YA in a hopefully non-preachy manner. (It is diverse, despite how white-centric the main cast is, unfortunately. At that time period of the world, there wasn’t as much immigration between islands of the Archipelago due to strained tensions between them.)

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

In addition to the usual thrills of a circus, I have a possible phantom, a clockwork head, some kissing, crossdressing galore, and a pantomime play interwoven throughout the circus in iambic pentameter.

And I now duly tag:

Wesley Chu, my book brother, author of The Lives of Tao (Angry Robot, May 2013)

One of the new members of Anxious Appliances, Steven Poore, currently waiting in the Open Door trenches for the verdict on Heir to the North.

Ingrid Jonach, contender for sweetest girl alive and book-with-the-coolest-title, author of When The World Was Flat (And We Were In Love), (Strange Chemistry in 2013).

Books Read in September

1. Poltergeeks – Sean Cummings (YA, fantasy, witches, strange chemistry)

2. Harpy’s Flight – Megan Lindholm (fantasy, harpies, revenge, favourite)

3. Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal (fantasy, regency, glamour, magic)

4. Art and Artifice: And Other Essays of Illusion – Jim Steinmeyer (nonfiction, magic, essays, book research)

5. Seven Wonders – Adam Christopher (science fiction, superheroes)

6. The Wingsingers – Megan Lindholm (fantasy, wizards, favourite)

Totals this year:

68 books

22,066 pages