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Book Review: Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

A multigenerational epic about a Korean family in Japan.


Pachinko

Grand Central Publishing, 2017, 489 pages



Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.


A literary Korean soap opera.Collapse )




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I mentioned there were two or three threads in the manuscript that still needed to be properly tied, woven, and/or unraveled.

Those are done. I just gave my betas the theoretical final draft.

"Theoretical," because there is a bunch of new material that needs eyes on it, and no doubt will call for more revision. But, I feel like I've gotten to a satisfactory place with the general arc of the story and all subplots, and the structure as a whole. It's not impossible that further revision will result in additional removal, rearrangement, and/or insertion of chapters at this point, but I hope not, barring forceful recommendations from my betas.

(My betas don't usually make "forceful" recommendations. But they like or dislike things with varying degrees of forcefulness.)

I have mixed feelings about the size of this book. I've mentioned before how all my previous drafts were substantially reduced in size during editing. That really didn't happen with AQATWA. There were definitely some chunks that got cut (multiple chapters!). But new material more than made up for that. I haven't made every cut that was recommended, and there are definitely subplots that would be cut by a professional editor, if this were a published novel, because published novels don't get to be 1000 pages unless your name is Stephen King or Brandon Sanderson.

So, is AQATWA bloated? Has Inverarity "stopped listening to his editors"? I hope not, but it's up to y'all to judge.

What does it look like now?

59 chapters, 287,900 words. The usual estimate for published novels is 250-300 words per page, so AQATWA would be about 960-1150 pages if it were a paperback. :O

Maybe it will still be trimmed a bit before the done-done-actually-final draft. We'll see.

But to celebrate kinda sorta almost finishing, here's a word cloud based on the latest draft.

AQATWA Word Cloud

Book Review: Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson

The Last Starfighter flies with Battlestar Galactica.


Skyward

Delacorte Press, 2018, 510 pages



Spensa's world has been under attack for decades. Now pilots are the heroes of what's left of the human race, and becoming one has always been Spensa's dream. Since she was a little girl, she has imagined soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her fate is intertwined with her father's - a pilot himself who was killed years ago when he abruptly deserted his team, leaving Spensa's chances of attending flight school at slim to none.

No one will let Spensa forget what her father did, yet fate works in mysterious ways. Flight school might be a long shot, but she is determined to fly. And an accidental discovery in a long-forgotten cavern might just provide her with a way to claim the stars.


Sanderson pulls off a remarkably good YA SF novel.Collapse )

Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, Steelheart, The Way of Kings, and Warbreaker.




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Sigh. Yes, yes I do.

Besides speculating about my age, the folks on the AQ subreddit have produced some more fanworks.

First, more awesome illustrations by Amnevitah:


Abraham Thorn redo
by Amnevitah on DeviantArt


Alex and Charlie
by Amnevitah on DeviantArt

Second, veyatie has recorded Chapter One of Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle:

Alexandra Quick Fan Reading -- Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle, Chapter One

As someone who listens to a lot of audiobooks, this was quite a treat.

I can only hope after all this anticipation and excitement, AQATWA lives up to expectations.

Yeah, yeah, but how close to done are you?!

Well, I thought I had a mostly final draft, just needed some polish, some judicious cuts, proper editing, maybe a few tweaks here and there...

In fact, the rewriting of this draft has been more extensive than any of my previous books. It has been a grueling process for myself, and my betas, as I've gone back and forth on several plot points, and written multiple alternate versions for certain portions of the story. None of my previous AQ books had so many chapters written and rewritten. It's been a lot of work, and many, many darlings have been murdered. And ironically, after all my efforts to trim unnecessary and bloated chapters, the result has been a larger draft, thanks to several inserted and expanded scenes. More scenes may yet be cut, added, and rewritten, but for those who track these things, the current manuscript size is 287K words — yes, that's up by about 7000 words (two whole chapters!) since last progress report.

I am still hoping to finish the final draft and start posting by the end of the summer. That is, again, not a promise, but I still consider it quite doable and I think I'll get there. Fingers crossed.

Book Review: Imajica, by Clive Barker

The Earth is one of five Dominions, and a wizard wants to Reconcile them, which may or may not be apocalyptic.


Imajica

HarperCollins, 1991, 824 pages



Imajica is an epic beyond compare: vast in conception, obsessively detailed in execution, and apocalyptic in its resolution. At its heart lies the sensualist and master art forger Gentle, whose life unravels when he encounters Judith Odell, whose power to influence the destinies of men is vaster than she knows, and Pie "oh" pah, an alien assassin who comes from a hidden dimension.

That dimension is one of five in the great system called Imajica. They are worlds that are utterly unlike our own but are ruled, peopled, and haunted by species whose lives are intricately connected with ours. As Gentle, Judith, and Pie "oh" pah travel the Imajica, they uncover a trail of crimes and intimate betrayals, leading them to a revelation so startling that it changes reality forever.


A weird, sprawling epic of parallel worlds, bizarre creatures, unpronouncable names, and really bad sex.Collapse )




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In Memoriam: Suzette Haden Elgin

Suzette Haden Elgin

For some reason, I don't recall ever hearing the news that Suzette Haden Elgin passed away a few years ago.

I cannot say I was surprised, when I looked up her activities for the first time in several years, and found her obituary. The last I knew (circa 2013), she had succumbed to Alzheimer's. Still, I feel like it should have taken me less than four years to notice that an author who left as great an impression on me as she did had passed.

I wrote a lengthy review of her Ozark Trilogy back in 2013, in which I talked a lot about her writings and how they influenced me. Specifically, how I "borrowed" her Ozarkers for my Alexandra Quick series. Not just the idea of Ozarkers as a magical subculture, but much of the lore you have already seen in AQ — the rhymes, the Hollers, the Grannies, Troublesome and Responsible, and more stuff you will see in AQATWA, I totally and shamelessly lifted wholesale from Elgin's books.

They are pretty goofy books, and while I think they're worth reading, I wouldn't exactly recommend them as must-read SF classics. But something about them enchanted me and captured my imagination, and so for all of you who have said Constance and Forbearance are among your favorite AQ characters, you have Suzette Haden Elgin to thank for inspiring them.

The Ozark trilogy wasn't actually the first series I read by her. Her Native Tongue trilogy is better known. I picked up the first book while I was studying linguistics myself, and thought an entire novel about xenolinguistics, in which linguists were the protagonists, sounded cool.

And, reading it in the late 80s, I thought, "Wow, this is some crazy shit."

Native Tongue

Native Tongue came out a year before Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, but clearly tapped into the same Reagan-era angst over women's rights. Both of them present a dystopian vision of a future U.S. where women have lost all rights, but where The Handmaid's Tale was written as a political allegory, Native Tongue was pure "speculative fiction" (as Atwood might say) and "thought experiment" (as Elgin might say), being set in the 22nd century and involving pure SF concepts like space travel and aliens.

The Judas Rose

I can't say it's an injustice to Elgin that her series never became a blockbuster TV series; frankly, Atwood was a better writer, and while book one of the Native Tongue series was interesting and imaginative in the best way, it was also a nonsensical polemic in the worst way. Book two was worse, and book three was practically incoherent. My recollection of Earthsong was that it was less a novel than a collection of vignettes revolving around a few interesting ideas and only vaguely related to the plot of the first two books.

Earthsong

Elgin also wrote books about her conlang, Láadan, and I still have my copy of her A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan.

A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan

Looking over her bibliography, I actually own and have read almost everything she wrote, including non-fiction. Was she my favorite author? No. I enjoyed all her novels, but they were all, well, very much products of her era and a little goofy at times.

Star-Anchored, Star-Angered

Her Coyote Jones series, for example, is very, very 70s sci-fi. At times she seemed to be writing almost as an anti-Heinlein. And when she wrote a cross-over between her Ozarker series and her Coyote Jones series, well, it was kind of a mess, if a sweet, enjoyable mess.

I may sound like I am damning with faint praise. Suzette Haden Elgin was a brilliant and accomplished woman, but her books were not everyone's cup of tea and she was writing for a very select audience. Not many readers, especially mainstream SF fans, "got" her. I am not sure I did, but she surely left an impression on me. Enough of an impression that I feel obliged to write a memorial for her, even though she died in 2015.
First contact, and humans fired first.


Transpecial

Musa Books, 2013, 238 pages



A ship has vanished in the dark, in the very outer reaches of Earth's solar system. Alien invaders sweep through the void, destroying outposts and threatening humanity. The truth is known only to a few: We fired first. We fired on aliens whose very appearance and body language sent all humans into a flying rage. All but a few. Now a brilliant, autistic woman from Mars and an alien diplomat seek peace...while some on both sides desire only conflict. Suza McRae and Haniyar must bridge the gap between their species, or risk a war that will destroy everything and everyone in its path.


Lots of ideas, could have been a SF classic, but it's a really rough first novel.Collapse )




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Now that's fan art

I wish I had print versions of my books, because I feel like I should send someone an autographed copy.

Y'all I got an AQ inspired tattoo. It's Charlie! from r/AlexandraQuick





fruitsnacky, if you send me an email at inverarity.author at gmail dot com, I will give you a tiny AQATWA spoiler (if you want one). ;)
This will be a ramble about writing.


It's me
It's me.


The betaing is... not quite done, but they've all finished the book and sent all their chapter comments and overall suggestions. When I finish the revised draft, I will probably ask them to look at some specific parts that have undergone significant changes, but not reread the entire manuscript.

I've seen some professional writers sneer at the idea of "beta-readers." The term itself originates in fanfiction, but authors have always had trusted friends (and professionals we call "editors") read their manuscripts and comment. Some authors never do that (except for the editor part, and even there, with some authors, you wonder...).

In the Old Days, of course, most authors just finished a manuscript and sent it off to the publisher. An editor would do some stuff with it, and then it would get published. Nowadays, I think even in professional circles, it's much more common to have a circle of what we amateurs call "beta-readers" critique their WIPs. There are old-fashioned terms for this, like "writers' circles" and "critique groups," but it's all basically beta-reading in one form or another.

There can be a danger in getting too many opinions. Most of my previous manuscripts had two beta-readers. I had three this time, which I think is the limit. A hundred people can read your manuscript and have a hundred different opinions about what should be changed, and most of those opinions will be correct, or at least valid. But that is not unlike self-editing: I can reread any given chapter a hundred times myself, and every time I can find something to change. This is a common trap writers are warned about; the temptation to revise and revise and revise some more, until you are just endlessly pushing words around and never actually finishing the damn thing. At some point, you have to get it out the door.

My betas are very detail-oriented, and they all have opinions about style, punctuation, characterization, and plotting. If all three say the same thing, it's a pretty easy decision for me to make a change: they have spotted a weakness or a plot hole. But a lot of suggestions aren't as clear-cut: everyone has different opinions about how realistic a particular gambit is, how much description is necessary in a given scene, how much I can or should keep hidden from the reader, how often I need to show Alexandra's thought processes and emotions. And those are all micro-changes. On a macro level, entire subplots have been added and removed (and sometimes re-removed and/or re-added, and a couple I am deliberating over re-re-removing/adding...), and there are still open questions about whether certain elements need to be introduced earlier in the story, how relevant some subplots are (and whether I can cut some of it), etc.

Each of my beta-readers sends chapter-by-chapter comments, all marked up with red. They do a heroic level of proofreading. But they only catch a fairly small number of clear grammatical errors and typos — because speaking frankly, I don't make that many. I definitely make some. And even in the final draft, proofread multiple times by multiple people including myself, I have no doubt there will remain typos all of us missed. That even happens in published novels. But I think my beta-readers will agree that I produce pretty clean drafts from the start, so a lot of the comments are about use of conjunctions, participles, dialog tags, em-dashes or semicolons, whether to add or remove a comma, etc.



It's still me.


It actually takes me a lot of time to go through each set of chapter comments (though not as much time as it takes the betas to write them!). So for the past few months, I've probably spent nearly as much time revising as I did writing the book in the first place. (In terms of hours at the keyboard — I am obviously not talking about the seven years it took me to actually put in those hours...) All to polish and hone the words.

Most of that is done.

Not all of the comments were just about punctuation and participles, of course. We had a lot of discussion about plot holes. About emotional impact. About characterization. About wands and monsters. About whether or not Alexandra has reached Peak Asshole. About whether or not I should cut the penis joke.

A lot of times I immediately make whatever change a betareader suggests. Sometimes this is easy — I will read through their comments and say "Yup, yup, yeah, that comma doesn't belong there; yes, that word is better; yes, you're right, that entire sentence is unnecessary." Sometimes I have to stop and think, especially when there isn't an objectively correct answer. Maybe it's a stylistic preference. Maybe it's a word they don't like, but I do. Sometimes one of my readers is confused by something I wrote, and tells me it doesn't make sense, and I look back at the preceding chapter and think, "But... but... it's all right there!" And I am not sure if my writing was unclear, if the story flows differently in my head than in theirs, or if the reader just missed something. All three are possible!

Then there are character decisions and interactions about which we all had lots of discussions about. My beta-readers have some feelings about some stuff that goes down. Not always the same feelings. They come at the story from different perspectives, different levels of investment in Alexandra, and different political views. (I never originally thought of AQ as an overtly political story per se — that is, I never intended it as an allegory — but I won't deny that politics, including allusions to real-world politics, enters into it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of allegories snuck in there. Some people have stronger feelings about this than they do about who Alex gets shipped with...)

So where am I?

57 chapters, 280,200 words.

Still the biggest book yet, and it might end up being bigger before I'm done. I admit that I have made fewer cuts than were recommended, so if the final draft is bloated, that's on me. As much as possible, I have tried not to cling to a scene just because I liked it (and thus I have made a number of rather painful cuts). But some scenes and conversations that one or more beta-readers thought were expendable, I did not. In fairness, a couple of those were because of things that won't happen until the next book.

There are two (counts on fingers...) no, three things I need to add to the story. They involve some significant plotting impacting multiple chapters, and there are timing issues and potential plot holes opened up no matter how I handle these changes. So while three things might not sound like much, I've been rewriting nonstop for weeks now, and I need to take a short break while I ponder them. I'll be back at it soon, and once I've made the fixes, I'll ask my valiant betas to look them over. There will probably be yet another round of back-and-forths and then I'll deliberate over everything all over again. And I'll still reread every chapter and probably make minor tweaks my betas haven't seen before uploading each one.

My basic target date has not changed: I am still planning to post the first chapter by the end of the summer.

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