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Today I sold my third short story this week. I also had a revision request from an editor I work well with and have done revisions with in the past; while a sale is never guaranteed in those circumstances, it’s certainly better than a rejection. Two of the stories I’ve sold, I wrote this summer; the third I co-wrote with Alec Austin in early 2013. I mentioned this on social media, and my kind friends are congratulating me. That’s really nice of them, and I do feel proud of the work I’m doing.

Here’s the thing: before this month, the last time I sold a story was April. And before that January. One of the most important things that would-be writers should know is that this business is completely sporadic–but even people who know that can I think have difficulty with the phenomenon of comparing other people’s highlight reels to their own uncut footage. This week I am the superstar who sold three stories in a week. Last week I was in a drought lasting a third of a year. Same writer, same writing.

So you hear wry quotes about how intermittent reinforcement drives lab rats crazy. I have a solution to that. Do not let sales be your main positive reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong–selling stories is great. If I didn’t want to sell stories, I would write them and throw them in a drawer; it’s not like attaching files to emails and web forms and keeping track of who has seen what is deeply entertaining. But if I was relying on sales to be the reason I love this work, I would be miserable.

The work is the work. The work is its own reward. And if you’re finding that the creative work you’re doing is not its own reward–whether you’re a person who likes to write or likes to have written–then it may be time to assess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You cannot sell something every day, or even every week–even the most prolific writer just does not have that consistency of response. (Or probably that many markets, unless they’re writing a huge variety as well as a huge amount of fiction.) The editor who is going to love this particular piece might be on vacation this week. They might have a family emergency. They might, God forbid, have left the magazine. Or there might not even be an editor working yet who will like this particular piece–you might have to keep sending it around and being patient.

Look: a friend with a geology degree posted to Facebook a meme claiming that a career in geology sounds so much cooler if you talk about it like a six-year-old. It’s true. But: there is approximately no way to talk about my work and sound any older than that. “I make up stories about magic and the future and different worlds.” How cool is that.

So yes, we get happy about sales. We celebrate the sales. But it’s far easier to avoid getting anxious and wrung out if the main enjoyment is in making the thing you wanted to make. People are saying things to me like, “You’re on a roll!” And in fact I am. But not just for the reasons they’re thinking. I’m on a roll doing the things that will make another week like this next month or next year. Doing the things that will sit for weeks, months, without any thought of being published. It’s a good writing time for me. It’s really nice that it’s a good sale time, too. But if I attached too much to that, it would interfere with the good writing time. And we can’t have that.

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In Defense of Closings

One of my college friends linked to this article from her Facebook, excoriating people who use the email closing, “Best.” The article is full of hyperbole. (“It seems harmless enough,” says the author in the beginning, and then writes an entire article that fails to even suggest any actual harm done to any person, animal, plant, or ecosystem by closing an email with “Best.”) The author’s main objections to “Best” seem to be that it is rote and bland, and worse–oh, so much worse–she suggests just not closing your emails at all, in imitation of text/IM.

People. People. That is what is worst about text/IM as a medium. You can be chattering away with someone you like and then–no more chatter. Are they done? Are they just taking a minute to think? If you wander off, will they have more to say on this subject that they will say to an empty room, or will you be the one sitting there thinking, “…I guess we’re done here? maybe?” Obviously this is not true of “leaving the house be there in 10” or similar texts/IMs. But actual conversations–“goodbye” messages, closings of various kinds, give you very valuable information. “I am going away now. Do not expect more of me here. We’re done for the moment. I like you, but no more words now.”

At my house, “good night” doesn’t always mean “I am going to sleep this very minute.” It means “I’m done being sociable for the day, you don’t have to think about whether you’ve started the dishwasher inconveniently, etc.” It is a polite and affectionate “done now.” And it is very useful to know when the person you’re talking to is done for the day. (The more so if their sleep and your sleep don’t nearly line up, so you can’t just guess that now is the time when everyone is tired.)

So…does this have to be heartfelt every time? Sometimes you have a heartfelt “Thanks.” Sometimes you really do mean, “Love.” Great times, those. But “This email did not get cut off accidentally” is also valuable information, and “DONE NOW” is really not considered appropriate for business communications. Rote and bland are the goal here. Rote and bland are what you’re going for. “–30–” would be fine if it would be accepted. “Mris out.” Whatever. “This is my acceptable business closing, Marissa.” Fine–if it would work, no reason not to.

So yeah, the least I’m going to do is sign it “m.” Unless we’re going back and forth with emails quite quickly, I generally want to sign it. I want some indication: yes, I meant to be done. And further–suggesting that people just not sign things doesn’t really feel functional if you’re getting formally structured, signed emails from the other party–so then you’re kicked back to “what do I use to sign it?” And really–we have an obsession with creativity and deep sincerity in every aspect of our lives that is just completely misplaced. Sometimes you can greet people with “hey” or “morning” even if you did not come up with this heartfelt greeting just for them, just for this morning. Spending your time trying to come up with yet another “howdy” variant will leave you cribbing from Woody Guthrie and still not making a heartfelt and unique entrance every time. Sometimes the done thing is the thing to do. Dialog can be marked with “said.” Emails can be closed with “thanks” or “best” or “cheers” even if you do not literally wish to express heartfelt gratitude, you only wish the receiver some of your best, and you would not raise a glass to them given the opportunity. It’s okay. Really it is. Just give the necessary information, indicate that you’re done, and move on.

When I was talking to Tim about this the other night, he said, “I often close with, ‘here’s what I want to happen.'” That feels more like a last paragraph than a closing to me, but more power to you if you’ve got it. It also made me giggle thinking of doing this in chatty emails with friends: “Here’s what I want to happen: you feel like your friend [me] cares about you and you have a good time of it until I talk to you again, and also maybe you think some more about whether the structure of this series requires the books to be slow-paced now, let me know.”

In the middle of writing this post, I got an email from a friend that their phone had cut off in the middle. And it was not signed, and this friend signs their emails, so I knew there was more coming. And there was. SEE? Yes. That.

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Worthy causes: arts version

Because of all the Langston Hughes posts I made around the RNC, one of my friends sent me this information about a fundraiser to preserve Langston Hughes’s brownstone for an arts collective. Interesting stuff, and I thought some of you  might want to know too.

It reminded me that some of you don’t know we’re trying to get an arts center and various other arts events/programming here in the south suburbs of Minneapolis, through the group Art Works Eagan. They’re still working on the building plan, but in the meantime they’re holding events like stilting demonstrations at the farmer’s market and who knows what kind of installation in early September–it will be a surprise to me, but they have the artist lined up. They’re always looking for volunteers and support.

Three is a good number, right? So while you’ve probably seen it, I’ll put this here: Pamela Dean is starting a Patreon to help her keep the lights on and the cats fed and vacuumed while she writes more of the things we’ve loved from her over the years. I’ve read parts of the books she’s getting into production with this project, and I want them. So all the help we can give will be useful.

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Books read, early August

A ton of books, many of them not book-length but on my Kindle so I keep track all the same…so you can tell that I was traveling in this fortnight, and indeed I was.

Nathan Ballingrud, North American Lake Monsters. The friend who recommended this collection said it was dark, and it is. It may be the darkest thing I’ve finished. I have no idea why Maureen McHugh’s blurb describes it as Lovecraftian, because there’s very little unfathomable horror here: most of the horror is entirely fathomable. It is substantially characterization horror–while there are elements of supernatural, the tone is consistent throughout the stories, never a moment where you’re surprised that the supernatural thing is not a sparkly friendly unicorn for these nice happy people. It’s also a very blue collar set of stories, and I am having feelings about how easy it appears to be to find a horror writer who wants to write about blue collar people as opposed to an optimistic science fiction writer. I think it’s probably easier to write about a broad spectrum of people than to change fundamentally what metaphysics your stories have, so I am not upset with Ballingrud about this, but…still. Many feelings in other directions.

Chaz Brenchley, The Crater Girls in Camp. Kindle. While I wait for enough of the serial to stack up that I can read it, this is a stand-alone from the same project. It has the “school story/camp story” nature, but set on Mars, so if you read that kind of thing as a kid, it’s quick and fun and full of spunky girls.

Marie Brennan, The Bottle Tree. Kindle. A motivating prequel story, a “how they got there” for her Chains and Memory/Lies and Prophecy universe. I think it works better for having read the books than it would on its own, but since the books are available, that’s entirely possible.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Penric and the Shaman. Kindle. This is another in the Chalion universe, a sequel to the earlier novella Penric’s Demon. This features ghosts and hedge shamans and trying to figure out which gods will want which souls. It doesn’t have the personal/interpersonal depth of Paladin of Souls, but it’s a fun read all the same, and that’s a pretty high bar to expect to clear. If you liked that universe and want more, here’s some.

A.S. Byatt, Possession. Reread. This was one of the first things I read of Byatt’s. Looking back having read pretty nearly everything of hers, I find the passionate fight for one’s own proper work to thread through it, and it’s definitely here, both in the flashbacks and in the contemporary chapters. I’m also fascinated with how this book was written, in what order, because of all the pieces of Victorian-esque poetry and prose she had to do for it. I’m a non-linear writer myself, and I’m looking at the construction of it, trying to turn up the hems to see how they’re sewn.

Blake Charlton, Spellbreaker. Discussed elsewhere.

Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson, eds., Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. This was a series of essays that was purportedly about ecology and SF. And…I think how you feel about this book is going to depend on how you feel SF, as a genre, is doing at dealing with the environment, climate change, ecologies, etc. Do you feel that it’s doing a bang-up job and nothing more could really be asked? If so, the self-congratulation of this collection (“yay! someone is dealing with any kind of ecology at all ever!”) will probably not grate on you. And the stretches the critics in it require to make connections with ecology will not, and the moments where they let gigantic social movements outside the field go completely unmentioned when relevant. Yeah. All that will be fine, if you think that environmental SF is in a state that’s just peachy keen and doing all that could ever be asked of it. So.

Jan Golinski, The Experimental Self: Humphry Davy and the Making of a Man of Science. This is not a traditional biography so much as a character study. It goes through different personae Davy may have been considered to have adopted or had thrust upon him, in the context of what his era made available–“scientist,” for example, was not something young Humphry knew about to aspire to or shun. Remarkably, it goes into quite a lot of gender identity and sexuality for its era, and does so without imposing on Davy any modern identities that his writings don’t support him taking on personally. So go team on interesting and useful context that doesn’t push farther than the documentation.

Bill B. Hayes, Five Quarts: A Natural and Personal History of Blood. I found this book unexpectedly touching. There were interesting facts about the way that blood has been studied and known and considered–I expected that. I didn’t entirely expect how much there would be personal stories from Hayes about his family and his partner, and they were sweet without being treacly. It’s a quick read, and, well, heart-warming.

Kat Howard, Roses and Rot. A modern Tam Lin story with sisters, both artists, daughters of an abusive mother. One is a dancer and the other, the protag, is a writer. The main weak spot for me was that Kat Howard is a better writer than her protagonist, so whenever we saw flashes of Imogen’s work, I didn’t really buy that it was supposed to be wonderful. The other art, described but not shown, was far more interesting, as were the discussions of people’s varying attitudes toward their art, its inspiration, and its influences.

Ayize Jama-Everett, The Liminal People. An American superhero in Africa and London, in a not-at-all-typical situation but possibly a much more realistic one…until the last third, where the structure becomes a lot more formulaic/predictable. I was interested in this very very non-Justice League superhero and not so disappointed with the ending that I wouldn’t recommend it, but it gets dark, considering that the main character works for a warlord. Heads up. Still worth the time if you’re in the mood for it.

Eeva Kilpi, A Landscape Blossoms Within Me. Kindle. A wry, witty, earthy Finnish poet. This volume gave the poems in Finnish and English, first the one and then the other. Some of the shortest poems were the best. I could have read dozens more if there had been more here. Runs a large emotional range.

Robin Kimmerer, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Does what it says on the tin. Kimmerer, while a trained scientist who is talking a lot about moss science, is not shy about acknowledging that she has emotional and personal reactions to moss as well, which is refreshing considering that most scientists do. Lots of variety, lots of interest here, ends if anything too soon.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers. Discussed elsewhere.

Leena Krohn, Tainaron: Mail from Another City. Kindle. This is a series of letters describing life in a city of bugs. It’s weird and fanciful and probably would get tedious if it was longer, but it isn’t longer, so it’s just the right length of stay in Tainaron.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, eds., Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue 34. Kindle. I liked the poetry in this. I liked the first Hazel Crowley poem, the one about the patron saint of sunken ships. I liked Molly Gloss’s “Superman, Sleepless,” and I liked Holly Day’s “People in Boxes.” I don’t know if the proportion of poetry is typical of LCRW. But it was time well spent.

Sonia Shah, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. Read this book and get mad at Aaron Burr all over again, for screwing over the New York water system for half a century and several cholera epidemics. There’s also a bunch of other stuff, most of which I already knew and you might too or maybe not. I don’t know, it’s really hard for me to gauge what the general cholera knowledge is. For a cholera book it’s only middle of the pack. But the stuff about Aaron Burr will make you steam.

Vandana Singh, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet. Beautiful science fiction stories rooted both in place and in genre. This is in some ways the opposite of what I was talking about Gerald Vizenor doing in Treaty Shirts earlier: this is the concerns of traditional science fiction, all the genre furniture, but in a context and culture that traditional science fiction ignored. I want both things. I want more of both things. I want this, though, definitely this.

Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Carolyn Nowak, and Maarta Laiho (et al), Lumberjanes: A Terrible Plan. This rambled, and I did not care. I love the Lumberjanes and their failure to earn cake decorating badges and their run-ins with the bear woman and everything. I hope it doesn’t keep rambling indefinitely. But a little ramble? Yes please gimme. Usually I don’t need an identification character. Everyone in this series is my identification character. Everyone. Even the bear woman.

Anthony Trollope, Miss Mackenzie. Kindle. I started reading this in Sweden, back in May, and it’s taken me this long to finish it partly because I don’t preferentially read on my Kindle (at all) and partly because Trollope makes me exceptionally nervous. Oh so nervous. And this book is no exception. He keeps talking about money right out loud. This is terrifying. What if the title character ends up poor and/or with a mother-in-law she hates? This happens to my friends all the time, and it’s scary stuff. My friends are pretty low-risk on the bitten by werewolves front, but poor and fighting with their mothers-in-law? Terrifying. So I basically read Trollope through the cracks in my fingers. I think the ending of this book–and in fact the structure of several key events–was far more surprising to me than it ought to have been because I share so few values with Trollope. But I liked the central character a lot.

Genevieve Valentine, Icon. This is a sequel that very much needs the book before it: you want Persona first. But if you’ve read Persona, this is just as fast-paced, just as hard-driving. Maybe more so. It takes on the aftermath of the events of that book and brings them to a logical conclusion that is not in any way formulaic. Politics, media, interpersonal questions…it’s all here, all systems go.

Gerald Vizenor, Griever: An American Monkey King in China. This is semi-autobiographical: Vizenor really is a Native American professor who went to live in China very early in the time when Americans were able to do so. That he then recast himself in a Chinese epic role…well. It’s a very, very different book from Treaty Shirts. Sometimes the intersection of American imperialism and Chinese imperialism, American exceptionalism and Chinese exceptionalism, is staggering. Vizenor’s Griever is (and sees himself as even more of) an outsider to American culture, and yet even more of an outsider to Chinese culture. Weird, weird book. Having read two of his, I have no idea what to expect of a third. Trickster myths? maybe, sure. Maybe not. Who knows.

Jo Walton, The King’s Peace. Reread. Years and years later, now that I am friends with Jo and she has written and published all sorts of things (none of which was true the first time I read this)…this still feels like a very natural book. It has a flow, a comfort level with the material. It’s been years since I voluntarily reached for an Arthurian retelling, and I think having Arthur at the remove of Urdo instead, having everyone with different names, is important to my enjoyment here, because Jo can do slightly different things–I can think, “Oh, right, that’s who Fishface is,” but I can feel that she will have her own shape of story around him, her own outcomes, where using the familiar names would close off those possibilities. Some possibilities, of course, are outside the light cone completely.

Kai Ashante Wilson, Sorcerer of the Wildeeps. This is like a Silver Age military science fantasy, if one of those had been built without the prejudices they’re generally steeped in. If you really love that sort of story and hate being slapped in the face with racism, sexism, homophobia, here’s Wilson doing it without internalizing those things–his characters are not perfect but are called on their flaws, concisely and to the point.

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Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Ginger Stuyvesant is an American medium serving the British army in WWI. In secret, she takes reports from recent casualties about the circumstances of their deaths and dispatches the information back to the front so that the survivors can adjust to where the Germans have moved their guns and troops, where danger is coming from where it has just been.

She and her fiance, Ben, discover evidence that the Germans have found out the Spirit Corps’ existence, a closely held secret–and what’s worse, it looks like a traitor within their own ranks is the source of the information. Ginger can talk to the dead and read auras, but knowing that the people around her feel angry, sad, guilty, or confused doesn’t tell her why they feel that way–so she and her allies have to embark on a great deal of painful and dangerous detective work for the sake of the war effort–and their own needs. Because it swiftly gets very personal–of course it does.

This was a fast read, very smoothly written. Ginger’s encounters with the misogyny of her time don’t make it a happy romp through an early twentieth century that never was, but anyone who writes a happy romp of the Great War is probably not paying attention. Ghost Talkers is doing things with Spiritualism and the Great War that I haven’t seen done elsewhere, and it’s a major interest of mine. Worth the time.

Please consider using our link to buy Ghost Talkers from Amazon.

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Not writing the phone book

I often hear people say of actors they particularly like, “Oh, I could watch them read the phone book.” You never hear that about writers, “I would read it if they wrote the phone book.” And there’s a reason for that. A major part of being a good writer is the judgment about what to write. When people are saying that about an actor, they mean that their voice, their face, their body language, everything is very expressive and interesting. And there is a common writerly impulse to take any statement of “I find [thing] boring” as a challenge, to make it interesting. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good impulse; writing interesting stories is hard enough without being belligerent about things that bore your reader friends.

Recently a friend of mine started reading a fantasy piece with rogues in it, and it started with two annoying characters boasting to each other. “If [bestselling author friend] or [other bestselling auth–oh, fine, she said Scott Lynch and Steve Brust] had written this, they could have pulled it off, they could have made it funny, they could have undermined the annoying characters and shown what jerks they were,” she said, and I said, “Okay, but part of what makes Steve and Scott as successful as they are is that they generally choose not to do that.” They choose not to lead from a disadvantage that’s a boring disadvantage–not “can I make my reader sympathize with this intriguing villain” but “can I make my reader sympathize with a guy who’s like the annoying co-worker they’re glad they left in their last job.” Sure, someone with writing chops is in a better position than a beginner to pull that off. But it’s writing the phone book. It’s challenging for no particularly good reason.

I can’t remember where I read the review that suggested that Lois McMaster Bujold could write another novella between the two recent Penric novellas, in her Chalion universe, that would basically be a training sequence for the protagonist. And…okay, so there is an adage in physics that I think has a parallel here. If a respected, award-winning senior physicist tells you that something is impossible, she may or may not be right; if she tells you that something is possible, listen. In writing, it’s this: if one of the most decorated writers of her genre of all time chooses to do one of the top ten most cliched narratives of her genre, she may or may not have a good reason for it. Genre conventions sink into us all, just as the sense of constraint does in physics. But if she chooses not to do one of the top ten most cliched narratives, to skip over that bit and on to the next, pay attention, there was probably a really good reason why she didn’t find that part interesting enough to focus her time on it. And that’s worth learning from.

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Take my advice. Or don’t, there are other options.

I am a sucker for advice columns.

Usually I describe this as: I want to see what people who think of themselves as normal think of as their problems. I want to see what people feel are insoluble problems, or at least problems for which they really need outside perspective. I know what I think is hard, and what I think is a lot of work but straightforward, and what I think is just plain all-around easy. But no one’s skills and strengths are universal, and seeing where people run into a wall and ask for help–and how they ask for that help–is fascinating to me.

This does not explain why I like this new project my friend Rose is doing, Story Hospital. Because Story Hospital is for writers with a particular kind of broken relationship: the relationship with one particular story or with their work in general. So: people who think of themselves as normal are pretty much right out the window, then, we are talking about the sort of people with entire imaginary casts in their heads. This project stemmed from a story-fixing panel at Readercon, and you can write in with whatever feels like it needs a fix, in whatever detail you want to give.

I guess this still fits the “other people’s problems” field, though. Gives you perspective on your own–of various kinds. And I think that Story Hospital will not get very many of my least favorite kind of advice column questions: “Other person is doing a thing in their own life that doesn’t affect me much, but it looks like a problem from here. How do I make them fix it?” (“My sister-in-law raises her children in the following non-abusive way. How can I make her stop?” “My adult child’s non-abusive romantic relationships or lack of same are disappointing to me. How can I make my adult child live my life instead of their own?” etc. This happens all the time in regular advice columns. I think it will not in Story Hospital.

I don’t know, maybe I’ll see my own problems solved in other people’s questions, but I think much more likely it will be a companionable feeling, like working side by side with people who are doing different things but in a congenial way. And one of the things I like about general advice columns that I think will be even more true here is that, unlike people who have modes of pressure to bring to bear on the person asking, an advice columnist really can’t. You can ask, they can answer, and if you don’t like their answer, reacting against it provides its own useful answer in some way. “That totally won’t work because what I really need is–” can be its own flavor of useful in creative projects. I’ll be interested to find out.

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Spellbreaker, by Blake Charlton

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

I know that there are readers who don’t like series to be indefinite, and this one is not. This is, technically, the third in its trilogy: series over! For those who want to wait and be sure that a trilogy is not five books, eight, twelve: it is not. Go ahead. But I also feel that Spellbreaker stands on its own quite well. You may want to go read Spellwright and Spellbound after having read it, but “after” is a perfectly good time to do so.

So what have we got here? We’ve got a world in which text is really, really crucial to magic–and in which learning disabilities as both advantage and disadvantage in that system have been clearly thought through. We’ve got an author with medical training who is using it in the books a lot. We’ve got gods that can aggregate, so you can stick humans together with more than one god at once, with each god having demands to make on the system. We’ve got an archipelago system–ships and kayaks galore, hardly a horse to be seen. Traders and shark gods, yes. Tough Guide to Fantasyland travelers making stew, hardly.

This is an adventure fantasy on multiple levels. Empire, interpersonal, intrapersonal, autoimmune. On some levels it’s “if you want a one of those, it’s a one of those.” On others–I can’t really think of another one of those that works quite like this one. People who are made partly of texts, partly of gods, partly of dragons…there’s a lot of stuff going on here, and it goes by pretty fast. There’s not something for everyone. But there’s something for quite a few people.

Please consider using our link to buy Spellbreaker from Amazon.

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Books read, late July

Liz Duffy Adams, Delia Sherman, Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Robins, Barbara Samuels, and Sarah Smith, Whitehall. Discussed elsewhere.

Max Gladstone, Four Roads Cross. Discussed elsewhere.

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. This one I discussed in several places throughout the week I was reading it: here, here, here, here, and here. After the first introductory post, those are by decade of poems in the book, with the 1950s and ’60s lumped together.

Carrie Jones, Flying. Discussed elsewhere.

Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters. This is the last Kelly Link collection I had to catch up on. It had some overlap with Magic for Beginners, but the overlap was in some of my favorite stories, so I suppose I’m glad they’re available to more people. Still definitely glad that I decided to pick up reading Link after years of not, and from here I’ll probably stay caught up.

Pat Schmatz, Lizard Radio. I think one thing that adults reading middle grade and YA need to remember is that everything is somebody’s first time encountering a concept. For people in my immediate social circles, Lizard Radio‘s protagonist not being transgender but not fitting the expectations her culture has of girls either will not be revolutionary. The handful of portmanteau words used by the characters in this future setting will not be shocking. But if you go over to GoodReads, you’ll find people–many of them quite young–who are struggling through these ideas for the first time. And many of them don’t care that the ending is a little loosely formed–they’re just caught up in Kivali’s story. Sometimes it’s good to remember that people who have been utterly steeped in inside-baseball genre politics for more than a decade are not the only or even the main audience for most books, and let it be what it is: a coming of age story against a dystopian backdrop, with gender politics that shouldn’t be notable but I guess we all know still are, at least for a lot of people.

Paul Schneider, Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History. This is like sitting in the bar at a convention with some guy who likes all the same books as you like, even though his own book is kind of a mess. Schneider rambles wherever he wants to–instead of writing about the Mississippi proper, which would have been enough for a book, he wanders throughout the entire Mississippi watershed and beyond. I suspect that he included the Ohio River section of the watershed in this book just so he could talk about Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War, which puts me in great sympathy with him, because I talk about Crucible of War at the drop of a hat, I terrified someone at a birthday party once talking on and on about Crucible of War. (That poor woman. She seemed nice.) And John McPhee, he loves John McPhee, I love John McPhee, hurray. So this was reasonably good fun to read, but I resent it a little, because it will fill the space where a history of the Mississippi goes, and there’s quite a lot to be said there. And also if you hadn’t read McPhee going in, I am not at all sure that Schneider is coherent about the perils of the Lower Mississippi. So really go read Anderson and McPhee and try to find me and this Paul Schneider in the bar at a convention sometime, that’s my actual recommendation. (Note: I have no indication that he would even consider attending a convention.)

Leonie Swann, Three Bags Full. This is a murder mystery from the perspective of a flock of sheep trying to figure out who killed their shepherd. To some extent it succeeds for me based on how much primate stuff the sheep never really do understand. But then again, its general lightness and sly jokes are not really entirely in keeping with how things turn out, so…it’s a mixed bag full, this book.