September 29, 2017

What's New

It's probably time for another revision update, and of course the update is once again that I'm still working my way through this draft. The new wrinkle is that I haven't been writing as much as usual due to real life demanding more time, as it so often does whenever the writing really gets flowing.

Fortunately, this real life intrusion is a happy and exciting one. Somewhat out of the blue, we've purchased a new house, and we're now in the process of arranging renovations before moving in. The new house is only a few miles from the old one, in the same Silicon Valley city, which is convenient, since I've been over there almost every day to meet with contractors and repair people, make decisions, and dream about how we'll set up our new home once it's ready.

I could craft some sort of extended metaphor comparing revision to remodeling, but let's just say they both tend to take longer than expected. We're almost to the point where the professionals are going to get to work turning our plans into reality while I get back to focusing on the manuscript, but this past month my attention has been more on the house than the words. I'm trying to do at least a little bit of writing every day, and that's sometimes successful and sometimes a reminder of how poorly I handle distractions.

The progress that's been happening, while slower than ever, is nonetheless good, satisfying progress. I'm continuing to make this novel so much better, because I'm constantly a better writer than I was before, which is a cool thing to realize. Eventually, the work will be done, and I'm confident it will all be worth the wait!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Melville House shares an essay from Elisabeth Jaquette on translating Basma Abdel Aziz's The Queue (which I read last year): "Much of a translator's work boils down to being a mediator. In the larger sense, we're mediators between languages, of course. But translating an entire novel also means mediating between cultures, histories, and readerships in ways that can present daunting -- and thrilling -- challenges."

September 11, 2017

August Reading Recap

These days I'm not reading as many books as before, but I'm pleased about continuing to experience an excellent variety of stories:

THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin: The Stillness is a land that's never still, where communities are designed around the earth's constant trembling and the threat of a shake large enough to bring disaster. The disaster that's just occurred is cataclysmic. One survivor, Essun, is simultaneously suffering a personal disaster, the murder of her young son by his own father. The boy was killed for displaying his power, the ability to move and calm the earth, which he inherited from Essun. She's kept her identity as an orogene secret for years, because orogenes are hated and feared, despite the protection they can provide. The best an orogene can hope for is to be taken in by the Fulcrum, trained to channel their power, and forced into a life of service, keeping the Stillness a little bit stiller.

Jemisin has created a fascinating world, based on extensive research into geology and an imagined history that stretches back millennia. Like any skilled writer, she presents only as much of this background as is needed and interesting, and exposition about how the Stillness, the orogenes, and the Fulcrum operate doesn't get in the way of the story's tension. The characters are as thoroughly developed as the world, by turns endearing, frustrating, and heartbreaking.

This book grows more and more intriguing and clever as it goes along and presents new revelations and mysteries. The secrets are only beginning to unfold by the end, so this first installation of the Broken Earth trilogy doesn't form a complete story on its own. Happily, the whole trilogy is available as of last month, and also happily, I will be glad to spend two more books with Essun and the others, exploring the Stillness.

CHEMISTRY by Weike Wang follows the thoughts of a woman under pressure. She's a PhD student who worries she'll never match the accomplishments of her lab mates. She's the child of immigrants who fears she'll never live up to her parents' expectations. And she's overwhelmed by the marriage proposal from her boyfriend, who has completed his PhD, grew up with parents who praised him constantly, and doesn't understand what she has to be afraid of.

This short novel is composed of brief passages that detail a moment, a memory, an emotion, a scientific fact, or any blend of these. The first-person narrative is written with both humor and insight. Imagining her future, the narrator says, "I don't see myself having kids... If I had one, I would want to have two, and if I had two, I would want to have zero." Of her father, she muses, "Such progress he's made in one generation that to progress beyond him, I feel as if I must leave America and colonize the moon."

The combined pieces tell a story about a difficult period in the protagonist's life, but it's a relatively -- and realistically -- uneventful story, concerned far more with character than plot. While I prefer a more even balance between these in my reading, I found CHEMISTRY a well-crafted, appealing version of this type of book.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At The Millions, Anna Solomon considers sexy backs, headless women, and evolving book cover trends: "Maybe the point isn't banishing the women from the covers. And maybe it's not even that the women should be more active and less sexualized--though there are still plenty of covers that shamelessly traffic in women's backs and belittle authors and their work. The bigger problem may be how the women on book covers are received, and not only by top review outlets that routinely cover men's books in egregious disproportion to those by women... but by women ourselves."