amergina: (reading)
Sometimes life is synchronous.

On the same day, I saw a topic over on the Absolute Write Forums about Francine Prose's Reading like a Writer and Nicole Peeler asked two questions on twitter:

Do you think it's important for readers of genre fiction to be proficient at reading, especially close reading?

Kay, do you think people who want to be WRITERS of genre fiction should be proficient readers?

During my last term in Seton Hill's MFA for Popular Fiction, I read Reading Like a Writer as part of a class I took on reading YA literature.

Prose's book is pretty much all about close reading. This got long )
amergina: (seton hill)
I now have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University!

I started the journey toward this end back in January of 2008, and back then I was aiming for a Masters of Arts. In July of 2009, the program switched from an MA to an MFA. I chose to switch to the MFA and take an additional five classes and one term writing project toward that end. It took an extra year than the MA (though the program, if you are entering now, is only 2 and a half years, rather than three.)

I wrote and polished an 107,000-word fantasy novel, which I am now querying. I also started two other novels, and am about 2/3rds of the way finished one of those projects.

I now have a writing community, critique partners, life-long friendships, and professional colleagues along with that MFA. And I am much much more confident about meeting people in the industry. I'm still shy, but I can get over it. ;-)

Monday night was my thesis defense -- I thanked folks, talked a bit about why I wrote my thesis, read two chapters (from the middle of the novel) and answered questions. People keep asking me how it went. I tell them to ask someone who was there... people say I did well, so I guess I did. :)

I don't mind reading my work out loud or even talking about it, but the thank yous nearly had me in tears when I got to thanking my family, since they were sitting in the first row.

In the end, it was well worth the time and money to do. And now my tassel goes to 11.

The numbers

Jan. 4th, 2011 04:21 pm
amergina: (seton hill)
Three days until Residency begins.

Six days until my thesis reading.

Eight days until I graduate with an MFA.

Nearly. There. After three years.
amergina: (snow)
I enter my thirty-ninth year on the planet tomorrow. It's been a good ride so far.

I have passed the last of my classes for my MFA. All that's left is the thesis reading and the actual graduation ceremony. The latter happens in a month.

Because I was so very focused on finishing my classes, I had not written in a month. I spent about two days re-reading my WIP so far. You know what? I still like it. It's both different and similar to my thesis novel. It's set some 300 years before, but has some cross-over characters. It's been interesting to see how they were back then, knowing who they become. And a bit wistful, since one of the characters is very much dead by the thesis novel, and I've discovered that I like him, even if he's a bit on the broken side. And will only become more broken as the year progress. He tried so very hard to make the world right.


The last two classes were Writing about Popular Fiction and Readings in the Genre: YA. I specifically took the YA class because I am woefully under-read in YA. It was a good class and a nice survey of current YA fiction. We also read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, which is a nice book about studying fiction from a writer's perspective, rather than a literary or cultural studies point of view.

Writing about Popular Fiction was a hard, but very useful class. We explored author platforms (online presence, bios, and the like) and the pros and cons of being a very internet-available author. We also looked at para-academic writing, book reviewing, and the like. In the end, I produced quite a lot of writing for the class, much of which will serve me well in the future. It also made me think about how I want to handle online things, should I be published. I also produced two pieces I'm rather fond of--one is a review of Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer, and the other is an essay that explains the place of my thesis novel in my genre. There's something rather geeky about analyzing your own work... but I had fun with it, since my thesis statement was that I rammed a high fantasy into the body of an urban fantasy. Only time will tell if it worked...

Speaking of the novel... I have submissions out. I do need to query more. The actual number of queries I've sent is on the low side, really.

The other parts of my life continue. Work was somewhat stressful around Thanksgiving. The sun-room addition is complete and wonderful. I am slowly unpacking the stuff I inherited from my grandmother's place. And I am slowly getting rid of things I don't need.

I am also starting to dig into my TBR pile. There's nothing quite so humbling as reading someone else's work and thinking "Oh my. I am such a beginner." It also makes me work harder, because I want to be better than I am.

I am hoping for an excuse to take off of work tomorrow. Like snow. I have a white almond cake to eat, and hot coco to drink. And a novel to write. That sounds like a perfect birthday to me.
amergina: (seton hill)
Two articles from the Tribune Review about the program I'm in at Seton Hill:

Student travels from Russia to Greensburg for love of writing -- About one of my classmates and her long commute. :)

Mystery solver (second article in the link) -- About the evening lecture with mystery writer S J Rozan during our Residency.
amergina: (seton hill)
My fifth Writing Popular Fiction residency is over. I had a great time. I can't really explain how close we all get, despite only seeing each other for a week twice a year. Nor can I explain the sheer amount of strangeness that can develop when 80 writers are packed into a small space.

This was the residency in which I should have graduated, but the program switched from an MA to an MFA and we were given the chance to switch to the MFA. It means an extra year of coursework, but hey, MFA.

But to graduate next January, this term I'm taking a term writing project to write between 80-100 pages (since the thesis novel is DONE) and two online classes. It's going to be a busy term.

One is Readings in the Genre: Classic Fantasy. We'll be reading:

Fantasy: The Liberation of the Imagination (selected readings) -- Richard Mathews
Alice in Wonderland -- Lewis Carrol
Titus Groan -- Mervyn Peake
The Last Unicorn -- Peter S. Beagle
The Princess Bride -- William Golding
A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. LeGuin
Thomas the Rhymer-- Ellen Kushner

I'm also taking a class called Teaching Popular Fiction and Writing. The main texts for that are:

The Writing Workshop Notebook by Alan Ziegler
Mastering the Techniques of Teaching by Joseph Lowman
Released Into Language: Options for Teaching Creative Writing by Wendy Bishop
A Practical Guide to Teaching Adults Technical Subjects by Henry Morse

And a piece of fiction:

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett
amergina: (reading)
(Another book I read for the reading course in recent Fantasy and Science Fiction for my MFA)

Magic for Beginners Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An imaginative collection of short stories. Link had a vivid sense of story-telling in that these pieces pull you in and keep you on your toes. You never know quite were they're going, or what will happen next. It keeps you reading up to the end.

The themes are highly creative, the writing vivid an evocative.

However, because Link strays far from the normal modes of story-telling, the pieces just...end. There aren't any endings, the stories stop. It's up to the reader to provide closure and meaning, if you can.

I admire her obvious gift for creating new worlds, new images. But I missed greatly the closure that comes with stories that wrap up in some form.

I suspect that I'm just the wrong audience for her work.

View all my reviews >>
amergina: (seton hill)
First things: I'm 166/596 on my thesis revision. I've hacked off about 5000 words. It feels great. I'm really liking the process of uncovering the story nearly as much as I liked discovering it.

Second: Been thinking of a sequel or sequels. Need to ponder more.

Third: Desperately need to work on my 12 and 25 word pitches. People at Pennsic kept asking me what my book was about and I could not tell them. Because Lo! I am Lame. And not gold and glittery.

Fourth: Read Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. As part of the Genre Reading course I'm taking, I had to write up two journal essays about it. I'm going to stick them here under cuts.

Without a doubt, spoilers.

Story framing: Seducing the reader via two narrative angles )

Of MICE and Moths )

My "did I like it or not" review of PSS is over here at Goodreads.

Fifth: I had had had to read Cast in Silence by Michelle Sagara before I started the next genre read book. Swallowed it whole in two days. Loved it. Except for the grimaces. My fangirl review is here at Goodreads, too. I CANNOT wait for the next book. Well, I can, because I know (now) how hard it is to churn one out.

Sixth: Started reading Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Great book so far. But I'm way behind on posting about it. I need to do that tomorrow.
amergina: (reading)
Note: Another GoodReads review. I'm trying to catch up on the books I've read, but never did post about.

Thirteen Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was the common reading book for the June 09 residency of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction Masters of Arts (now Masters of Fine Arts) program, as a study in Young Adult fiction.

There were painful things about this book, as it is all about high school and what kids do to each other therein. It's also about a young woman's decent into depression and suicide. Hannah Baker, a girl from Clay Jenson's school has committed suicide. She leaves behind a set of old cassette tapes on which she has recorded 13 reasons why she killed herself and each person on the tapes receives the box of them in sequence.

It's Clay's turn.

I wavered between 3 stars and 4. I can't say I liked the book, per se, but it is a well written and clever book. It alternates between the present view point of Clay Jensen, a nice kid, and Hannah's taped monologues as Clay listens to them. It pulls you in quickly and keeps you there. It's also a very fast read. You want to know who did what, as each indecent gets worse. And where is Clay on the tapes? What did he do?

So from the technical aspect of the book, it shines. It does all the things a book should do.

But as an adult, it had me curling my toes. Partly because I remember the casual cruelty of teens and there's a bit of a visceral reaction to that. Partly because poor Clay would have to live with knowing all of these things for the rest of his life.

If he were a real kid, I'd hope he talk to his parents eventually and get some therapy. Thankfully, he's just fiction.

The positive side of this book is that I do think it causes kids to stop and *think* about how what they say and do affects those around them.

The negative side was that in the end, I didn't believe Hannah's story. Oh, I think the events happened, but I didn't believe all of her reactions to them. She was the quintessential unreliable narrator. And I think what she did (especially close to the end) was horrible and selfish. She took no responsibility for her actions and shifted the blame... *all the blame* on everyone else. Did they play a part in what happened? Yes, but so did she.

If I could give it 3.5 stars I would.

I do completely get why teens would love this book, however. It's full of angst and taps so very well into the high school experience.

View all my reviews >>
amergina: (reading)
Book: Characters & Viewpoint
Author: Orson Scott Card
182 Pages

This was the how-to book I chose for this term. This is a long entry. Beware. )
In summary: Lots of useful information. A good basic reference on characters that touches on POV.
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Cipher: A novel of Crosspointe
Author: Diana Pharaoh Francis (also [ profile] difrancis)
432 Pages

Short Thoughts: Reasonable read. Great opening line. Love the resistance to explaining.
From the cover:
A member of the royal Rampling family, Lucy Trenton possesses a most unique talent: the ability to detect majick and those who wield it. She has kept her ability secret all her life to avoid bringing scandal to her family, but lately Lucy has grown careless. When she recklessly uses her gift to locate a valuable and treacherous magickal cipher, she finds herself embroiled in a dangerous intrigue that threatens her life--and the life of every person in Crosspointe.

And to make her troubles worse, she's also kept her secret from a most persistent suitor, dashing and mysterious ship captain Martin Thorpe. And now she desperately needs his help...
Here there be spoilers. No, really. )

This is the first in a series of books about Crosspointe, but I believe that each book is supposed to stand alone.

Interestingly, I read some reviews that commented that the romance seemed flat and that's why they didn't like the book, and that's true. The romance is flat. As a subplot, it could almost be removed and the book would still work. However, I think those reviewers were looking at The Cipher as a romance first and a fantasy second, and despite the male/female POV, the book is a fantasy. The romantic sub-plot is just a vehicle, not the heart of the book.

I have to wonder, though. Are all books that have a male and female POV automatically read as romances? I have issues with my own romantic sub-plot (which is going to be toned down a lot a lot a lot, as it's not supposed to be the heart of the story, but kind of takes over for a while), but I really like alternating my two main character POVs. How many people will be cranky when they read a fantasy that isn't really a romance? Something to ponder.
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Hero of Ages
Author: Brandon Sanderson (also [ profile] mistborn)
576 Pages

Short Thoughts: A satisfying ending to an epic fantasy trilogy.
From the cover:
To end the Final Empire and restore freedom, Vin killed the Lord Ruler. But as a result, the Deepness---the lethal form of the ubiquitous mists---is back, along with increasingly heavy ashfalls and ever more powerful earthquakes. Humanity appears to be doomed.

Having escaped death at the climax of The Well of Ascension only by becoming a Mistborn himself, Emperor Elend Venture hopes to find clues left behind by the Lord Ruler that will allow him to save the world. Vin is consumed with guilt at having been tricked into releasing the mystic force known as Ruin from the Well. Ruin wants to end the world, and its near omniscience and ability to warp reality make stopping it seem impossible. She can’t even discuss it with Elend lest Ruin learn their plans!

I've also reviewed the first novel Mistborn and the second novel The Well of Ascension. This is the second of my genre readings this term for the Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program I'm in.
Big honking spoilers )
amergina: (reading)
Book: A Darkness Forged in Fire
Author: Chris Evans (also [ profile] chris_r_evans)
432 Pages

Short Thoughts: Elves, guns, and colonialism. Not a bad first book.
From the cover:
Konowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire's elite Iron Elves, is looked upon as anything but ordinary. He's murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and finally been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most -- the forest.

Now, all he wants is to be left alone with his misery...but for Konowa, nothing is ever that simple. The mysterious and alluring Visyna Tekoy, the highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor, seeks him out in the dangerous wild with a royal decree that he resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty's Imperial Army, effective immediately.

For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a magic long vanished from the earth. Rebellion grows within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself -- even if the entire affair appears doomed to be a suicide mission... and that the soldiers recruited for the task are not at all what he expects.

And worse, his key adversary in the perilous race for the Star is the dreaded Shadow Monarch -- a legendary elf-witch whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine....

This is the first of my genre reads of the term for the Writing Popular Fiction masters program.
Elves and Gunpowder )
I do have to say that all in all, it is a good first book. It could have been tighter, but I know that comes with practice. I'll probably pick up the next one, to see what happens, but I might wait for the paperback. I think it will greatly depend on the amount of Evil Font in the next book.
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Rhetorics of Fantasy
Author: Farah Mendlesohn ([ profile] fjm)
272 Pages

Yet another critical read that isn't for the feint of heart. It certainly isn't for the casual reading by people not interested in Rhetorics. long review ahoy! )
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer
Author: Sandra Scofield
242 Pages

Short Thoughts: Great little book on writing scenes. Will come in handy when I start to revise.

This was my craft book for Seton Hill )
It's a very useful book and I recommend the it if you have issues with meandering scenes or scenes that just seem... flat. There's a lot of good advice on how to deal with those issues.
amergina: (reading)
Book: Flesh and Spirit
Author: Carol Berg
488 Pages

Short Thoughts: Starts very slowly, but captures you so much in the end that you must immediately read the next book.
From the cover:
In a land torn apart by civil war, pestilence, and shaky alliances, a man branded a traitor may be the world's only hope...

The rebellious son of a long line of purebred cartographers and diviners, Valen has spent most of his life trying to escape what society--and his family--ordained for him. His own mother has predicted that he will meet his end in water and blood and ice. And her divination seems fulfilled when a comrade abandons Valen, half dead, in a rainy wilderness, addicted to an enchantment that converts pain to pleasure and possessing only a stolen book of maps.

Offered sanctuary in a nearby monastery, Valen discovers that his book--rumored to lead men into the realm of angels--gains him entry into a world of secret societies, doomsayers, monks, princes, and madmen, all seeking to unlock the mystery of the coming dark age. Now, to preserve the lands of Navronne, Valen must face what he fled so long ago. For the key to Navronne's doom is buried in half-forgotten myth--and in the secrets of his own past...

This was the last of my genre reads of the term for the Writing Popular Fiction masters program.

I nearly gave up on this book... )
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Well of Ascension: Book Two of Mistborn
Author: Brandon Sanderson (also [ profile] mistborn)
816 Pages

Short Thoughts: Middle book of the Mistborn Trilogy, and not really stand-alone. A good book, and it sets the stage well for book three.
From the cover:
Evil has been defeated. The war has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

This is another one of the genre reads for the Writing Popular Fiction Master's program I'm in.

Spoilers Ho! )

Brandon Sanderson will be in Pittsburgh on November 11th for a book-signing in support of the third book of the Trilogy. Yes, I'll be there. Anyone want to join me?
amergina: (reading)
Book: Magic Lost, Trouble Found
Author: Lisa Shearin
345 Pages

Short Thoughts: Kind of a blending of urban fantasy, high fantasy, and chick lit, if you can believe that...
From the cover:
Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine finds herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they're after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it take possession of her

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine--but is the resume enhancement worth her soul?

I found myself conflicted by this book.... )

I want to note that while this is my 14th review, this is my 21st book read this year. I should do some mico reviews to catch up.
amergina: (reading)
Book: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
752 Pages

Short Thoughts: Fantastic world building. I loved it up to a point, but then didn't.
From the cover:
In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part Robin Hood, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling.…

An orphan’s life is harsh–and often short–in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains–a man who is neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans–a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful–and more ambitious–than Locke has yet imagined.

Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men–and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game–or die trying.…

This was the genre read book for the Masters in Writing Popular Fiction program this past term. Each term, everyone reads the same book, picked from one genre. The genre this past term was fantasy. The term before was romance. This term is mystery. It seems to be tradition that the genre pick is always loved and hated with equal passion. This book was no exception.

Oh Locke Lamora...(spoilers) )
I do have to say, there are many people on my friends list who would LOVE this book. Please don't let my review deter you from picking it up. If you like action-adventure in your fantasy, and cocky thieves-as-heroes, you'll like this.

Most of my disappointment in the book stems from not loving it when I wanted to love it to pieces. It's not you, Locke. It's me. Let's just be friends.