Favorite Reads of 2018

Since it’s getting down to the wire – I’m not down with “Best of” lists that show up in October – I figured now was the time to give a shout out to my favorite books from 2018. Two important notes: (1) these are favorites, not necessarily bests or whatever; I just loved them, and (2) the key phrase is “that I read in 2018,” so it includes books from before 2018. With that said, here we go (in no particular order) . . .

Nemesis Games (2015)

Nemesis

I’ve basically been keeping one book ahead of where the TV version of The Expanse is, but with the next season on Amazon taking parts from both the fourth (Cibola Burn) and fifth (this one) books, I figured I had to get a little more down the road with this series. I read Cibola Burn this year, too, and while I got the criticisms some people had with it, I didn’t think it was this bad. In comparison to Nemesis Games, however, it was a wet patch on the road. To say “things change” in Nemesis Games is to severely undersell it. That the writing hive mind that is James S.A. Corey managed to explode the cast, sending them off in different directions before pulling them back together, is no small feat, either.

Saga, Vol. 9 (2018)

Saga9

Oh, boy, that last twist. The good news is that after nine volumes Saga continues to be inventive, thrilling, thoughtful, and capable of numerous gut punches. The bad news is that writer Bryan K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples are taking “at least” a year off from the series before getting back to work on it. Part of me thinks that’s a good idea, but part of me worries if this shunts Saga into the realm of great, unfinished stories. Given the way this one ended, I sure hope not.

If you’re not reading Saga yet, here’s why I think you should.

The Field of Blood: Violence In Congress and the Road to Civil War (2018)

FieldofBlood

Many people know that, in the run up to the Civil War, Senator Charles Sumner was beaten by one of his Southern colleagues with a cane, providing the perfect metaphor for the turmoil that would soon rip the nation apart. What most folks don’t know is that, while Sumner’s beating stood out for its brutality, it was merely different in degree, rather than in kind, from numerous other incidents of Congressional violence. One Congressman even died in a duel (not on the House floor, to be fair). Not just a colorful “you were there” history, The Field of Blood looks back at another time when the political norms broke down and things sound frighteningly familiar to modern ears.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (2009)

JohannesCabal

Pure fun. Well, pure darkly humorous fun, at the very least. Johannes Cabal sold his soul to the devil. To get it back, he’s have to deal in bulk, gathering 100 souls for the devil to replace his own, all while running a demonic travelling circus right out of the darker portions of Ray Bradbury’s psyche. This was probably the most fun I had with a book this year, partly because of what I’d just read before (see below), but also because there’s a sharp, dark wit that runs all the way through it.

Shattered Earth trilogy (2015-2017)

Broken

N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy – The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky – made history early this year when it won the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row, an unprecedented achievement. Is it that good? Absolutely. The Fifth Season, in particular, is a structural high-wire act that shouldn’t work, but completely does and leaves the reader knowing precisely why it was done. The other two books don’t quite reach that level, but the overall arc of the story and the characters that drive it is brilliant. Pretty heavy (I needed Johannes Cabal . . . to brighten me up a bit), but completely worth it.

I’ve written before about these books here and here.

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist (2018)

CadaverKing

I wrote a review of this one here, so I won’t say much more. If you want to get really pissed off about what “justice” looks like in this country (and you should), this is the book for you.

Neuromancer  (1984)

Neuromancer

Yeah, I know, very late to the party on this one. My college roommate read it and, for some reason, I let it get away from me. Does it hold up? Pretty much, although it’s clearly a product of its time. As a foundational text for cyberpunk it’s something every sci-fi fan and writer should check out. That it continues to tell a gripping story while introducing a lot of ideas we now take for granted is icing on the cake.

Children of Time (2015)

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I gushed about this one right after I read it, so check out the details here. Suffice to say, any book that can make you care about the macro evolutionary development of sentient spiders is an achievement.

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Come See Me! Learn From Me(?)

I wanted to let folks know about a couple upcoming appearances I’ll be making – getting out of the office and into the bright light (hopefully) of day!

First, on October 26 and 27 I’ll be at the West Virginia Book Festival at the newly renovated Charleston Convention Center (formerly known as the Civic Center). I’ll be in the marketplace both days (11:30 to 6:30 on Friday, 8 to 5 on Saturday) selling books, signing them, and just generally chatting people up. In addition to the marketplace there’s the annual used book sale, lots of workshops and such, and loads of great authors. Come check it out.

2010_Bookfest_Logo

Then, on November 17, I’ll be part of the West Virginia Writers fall conference in Flatwoods, West Virginia. I’ll be doing a pair of workshops:

Lines in the Speculative Sand – When Genre Matters in Fantasy & Science Fiction (and When It Doesn’t): Is my story fantasy? Is it science fiction? Does it even matter? Dive into the weird world of speculative fiction and learn some of the rules of the road (so you can go break them if you want).

Law 101 for Writers – Getting It Right When Your Character Goes to Court: Into every character’s life a little law must fall. Even if you’re not writing legal thrillers, there’s lots of reasons for characters to wind up in court. Learn some tips and discover some valuable resources to make your legal writing feel real.

There will be lots of other workshops, too, from marketing on the cheap to short play writing to ekphrastic poetry (I had to look it up, too). Something for just about every writer, in other words. Find out how to register at the WVWI website.

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At Long Last, the Entire Saga of The Water Road In One Handy Package

Very happy to announce that how, instead of buying three separate books to digest the entire story of Antrey, Strefer, and The Water Road, you can now get them in one convenient package. Presenting The Complete Water Road Trilogy box set:

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This is the series readers have called “magnificent,” “excellent,” “exciting,” and “engrossing.”

This version is only available in eBook format. And for April, it’s on sale for just 99 cents! Get one in your preferred format at the links below.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Scribd

In Praise of Not Finishing Books

As a writer, the idea of people starting to read a book but not finishing it intuitively honks me off. After all, the author went through the trouble to create an entire package that, at least on some level, appealed to you – give them a chance to redeem whatever fault you’ve found in the end! But if I’m honest, as a reader, I’d push back against that – hard.

I wouldn’t be alone. A few years ago eBook platform Kobo (on which all my books are available, by the way), released some data that compared their best seller list with the list of books that readers most often finished. Not surprisingly, some of the best sellers were also some of the least finished. I love the cynical take on this from The Guardian, with respect to Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch (2014’s Pulitzer Prize winner: 37th best selling, only finished by 44% of readers):

Most-unfinished book of the year isn’t a title anyone would hope to win. But her core fans probably read the book to the end, as did a whole raft of new readers, which propelled her up the bestseller charts. And those readers who didn’t finish it still paid for it, so Donna Tartt can mop up those tears with crisp tenners, which will surely ease the pain.

Still, it’s a bit disheartening to know that so many people couldn’t even finish what you’ve written.

Alas, I occasionally find myself in that category as a reader. Even though I see every book I read (or listen to) as a learning experience when it comes to writing, sometimes I still can’t stick it out to the end (witness my “unfinished” shelf at Goodreads, to which I just had to add Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass, alas). Thus I’m on board with this piece over at Electric Literature that, without shame, promotes non finishing books:

There are many factors that go into whether or when a reader finishes a book. I imagine many people’s reading habits are, like mine, scattered. I have at least a dozen in-progress books on my nightstand — and several more on my phone and e-reader. Readers stop reading a book they enjoy when they put it down and forget to come back. Readers finish books they hate when they are assigned it for book clubs or else they want to hate-read and laugh about with their friends. (Certainly a large percentage of Fifty Shades readers fall into that second category.) Just as a half-read book isn’t necessarily a failure, a completed book is not necessarily a success.

This makes a lot of sense. I said before, in other contexts, that reaction to art is inherently personal. What rocks one person to the core of the their soul will make another yawn. That’s neither right nor wrong, it’s just the way things work. So there’s really no reason to expect everybody to love a book so much that everyone who starts it finishes it. As the saying (attributed to James Joyce) goes:

LifeTooShort

Ultimately, the job of keeping a reader engaged with a book is the author’s. It’s a responsibility we should take seriously. But we shouldn’t forget that readers come to our works in all kinds of ways and for all sorts of reasons. No book is going to connect with all of them, just like some books you’ve read didn’t connect with you. We have to accept that sometimes saying “this isn’t for me” and moving on is best for everybody involved.

Remember the lesson of the WOPR:

WOPR

It applies to books, too.

All 99-cents All Month!

To celebrate the successful end of NaNoWriMo, and in an attempt to spread a little bit of holiday cheer, I’ve lowered prices on all my books to 99 cents across all platorms for the entire month of December!

That includes Moore Hollow, the entire The Water Road trilogy, and even my short story collection, The Last Ereph and Other Stories.

Get ‘em for a friend, get ‘em for yourself!

Come See Me – Twice!

The next couple of weekends I’ll be out and about, taking part in a couple of events in the Charleston area.

First up, this weekend, is the third year (after its revival) of the West Virginia Book Festival.

2010_Bookfest_Logo

In addition to a terrific list of speakers (including R.L. Stine and Joe Hill) and workshops, there will be an entire marketplace full of writers hawking their wares – including me! It runs Friday and Saturday (October 27 & 28) at the Civic Center in Charleston, with the marketplace open 11-7 on Friday and 9-5 on Saturday (admission is free). Also, don’t miss out on the Kanawha County Public Library’s annual sale – it’s always full of neat finds!

Then next weekend, I’ll be taking part (for the first time) in the Mountain State Pop Expo.

PopExpoPoster

The Expo is a celebration of all things pop culture and looks like it should have something that appeals to just about everybody – including fans of fantasy fiction. The Expo is Saturday and Sunday (November 4 & 5), from 10 to 6 at the Holiday Inns & Suites in South Charleston (admission $10 – all proceeds go to Children’s Home Society of West Virginia).

PopExpoMe

Come to either, come to both – but be sure to stop by and say hi!

100 Books – Only 99 Cents Each – This Weekend Only

If you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy and are looking for your next favorite read, head right on over here:

PattyJansenOct2017Promo

That’s right, 100 books, just 99 cents each. Many (including The Water Road) are available across multiple platforms, including Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. There’s something for every taste, from space opera and steampunk to epic fantasy and horror. There’s even a collection of sci-fi and fantasy for younger readers.

This deal only lasts until the end of this weekend – so get over there and get clicking!

The River (and Hollow and Ereph) Is Wide

Well have I got some news for you, dear readers.

For the past couple of years the eBook versions of all my books have been available exclusively through Amazon (including via Kindle Unlimited). I’ve decided to try something different and expand my reach a bit, so I’m happy to announce that starting right now, everything – The Water Road trilogy, Moore Hollow, even The Last Ereph and Other Stories – is now available all across the Internet at places like Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Scribd.

So if you’re a non-Kindle eBook fan, here’s where to get everything:

The Water Road Trilogy

The Water Road

Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Inktera
Scribd
Playster

The Endless Hills

Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Inktera
Scribd
Playster

The Bay of Sins

Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Inktera
Scribd
Playster

Moore Hollow

Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Inktera
Scribd
Playster

The Last Ereph and Other Stories

Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Inktera
Scribd
Playster

In addition, if you buy any of my books in paperback, you’ll get a Kindle version absolutely free!

As for the inspiration for the title of this post – take it away Nick!

What I’ve Been Up To

Hey folks. It’s been quiet ‘round these parts the past few weeks, but I assure you I am being a productive creative person! Guess it’s time for an update on what I’ve been up to:

  • As I said a couple of weeks back, editing continues on The Bay of Sins, though at a slower pace than I had initially hoped. No worries – release in early 2017 is for certain and that will bring The Water Road trilogy to a close.
  • Apex Magazine has resuscitated their flash fiction competition. It’s tied to a particular holiday, this one being Valentine’s Day and all that entails. Since people were allowed to submit up to three (250-word) stories, I came up with a kind of matched set of fantasy stories that hit the beginning, middle, and end of relationships. If none of them wind up appearing in Apex, I’ll post them here on Valentine’s Day for your reading pleasure. Apex, by the way, is a really cool magazine and could use your readership and support. Go check them out.
  • Earlier this month I had a chance to sit down with author Eliot Parker on his local TV show Chapters to talk about writing and such. Look for it now on Armstrong Cable if you’re in the Huntington area. I’ll pass along a YouTube link when it shows up there.
  • Next Saturday (December 10), I’ll be at Empire Books & News in Huntington for their big Holiday Open House and Author Showcase. It runs from 1-4, so stop by and get some great books by great local authors – including yours truly!

empire-promo

  • I have a short story about halfway finished, called “To the Sound of Birds.” It’s a good example of the answer to the “where do your ideas come from” question, as it sprang from noise I heard between runs at an autocross. Everything else is pure fiction (of course). Hope to have it done by the end of the year.
  • Beyond all that, with the end of the The Water Road on the horizon, I’ve started to turn my attention to figuring out what my next big project is going to be. Honestly – I haven’t a clue. I’ve got several ideas floating around, some for standalone books and others for potential series, but nothing’s reached out and commanded me to write it yet. Hopefully by the new year something wriggles to the top of the pile.

See? I’m keeping myself busy!

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Water Road Wednesday: Hirrek of Clan Dost

First contact is usually a story that plays out in science fiction stories, but it’s just as likely to pop up in fantasy or other genres, too. As you can see from the third excerpt from The Water Road, it’s got a kind of first contact story, when Antrey, after years of living among Altrerians in Tolenor, first encounters the Neldathi from Clan Dost.

The Dost roam an area squished in between the Kelly Range to the north and west , the Levin Mountains to the west, and the sea on the east. It’s not the largest of the Neldathi clans. The area its great circuit covers is one of the smallest, in fact. But it’s in a particular location, about as close to the Triumvirate as you can get, that makes it especially important.

Yet, when Antrey makes first contact with the Dost (by accident, it has to be said), it isn’t with a thek or a war leader, but with a hunter. After all, a clan has to eat to keep moving.

The one who put the elk out of its misery was Hirrek, Master of the Hunt of Clan Dost. Not only does he hold an exalted position in the clan, but he comes from an important family within the clan. His mother, Ushan, is thek of Clan Dost. His father, Kajtan, is war leader. Although most Neldathi clans, including the Dost, work on a democratic level when it comes to selecting a thek, being the son of such powerful parents should go a long way.

Needless to say, Hirrek is a little suspicious of Antrey. She’s a complete stranger, for starters. But more than that, once his mother begins to listen to Antrey’s story, Hirrek is able to see that his world is about to be up ended. Neldathi life was always changing – it’s the nature of being nomads. But at least Hirrek has some idea of the path his life was going to take. His world was his clan and that was it.

Then he gets roped into something bigger than himself, bigger than his clan, and bigger than his imagination ever could conceive.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon – just 99 cents for the rest of June!