Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 in Review: Reading

Welcome to the last post of 2021, a year that most of us probably can't wait to end. Here's hoping we'll all be doing better by this time next year. 

At the end of every year, I like to look back at the books I've read. Here's my list on Goodreads. I track only books I finish, not those I start. (This is why I don't always record the date I start a book, but I am better at recording when I finish.) Goodreads counts everything from short stories to multi-volume sets as a single book, so I do my best to track my reading accordingly. My initial goal for 2020 was 150 books, but I adjusted my goal a couple of times for a final goal of 140 books. Goodreads says I read 144 books this year, but I can only account for 143. (I think one of them may have been counted twice.) With a little push, I might add one more book before midnight tomorrow. Considering two of my books were actually three-book collections but still counted as a single item, I came pretty close to reaching my original goal. Reading Swann's Way didn't help.

My breakdown by genre is listed below:

Fantasy: 40

Science Fiction: 10

Mystery (cozy or otherwise): 52

Other Fiction: 9

Non-Fiction: 32

This might be the first time that mystery, not fantasy, has been my top category. (Many of the cozy mysteries I like have paranormal elements, but I still count them under mystery instead of fantasy.) Since I'm working on a cozy mystery series, naturally I need to learn more about this genre, though I was reading it before I decided to write it. Some of my other reading goals this year were to read ten books on writing, five physical books from my To Be Read pile, and 40 non-fiction books. I came close with the non-fiction, but I only read four books on writing and nothing from the TBR pile. I have a feeling many of those books will never be read, alas. EBooks outnumber paper books 91 to 52. Although my library was closed for a couple of months due to COVID-19, I still managed to check out quite a few paper books along with eBooks.


Here are a few recommendations from the year:

The Bird Way


21 Lessons for the 21st Century

The Heroine's Journey

Midnight Bargain

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

The Precipice

Dread Nation

Oona Out of Order



The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe

The Ten Thousand Doors of January


I'm not sure yet what reading goals I want to set for 2021, but I'll try to make them more realistic.

What was your favorite book this year? Feel free to share it in the comments.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 in Review: Writing

Welcome to my penultimate post of 2020, where I discuss how my writing plans, like everything else this year, didn't go the way I thought they would. Nevertheless, I did manage to accomplish some useful things.

At the beginning of 2020, my main goal was to finish my urban fantasy series about a dryad living on the UW-Madison campus. I not only need to finish the final book of the trilogy, but I need to revise the first two books. I still continue to struggle with this series. One of my main issues is that the focus of the series has shifted from my heroine to her love interest. I need to do a better job of balancing their stories so I can complete both of them. The other issue is that I keep abandoning this series to focus on shiny new projects. Even when I set goals for myself to write a certain number of words on this series, it doesn't happen. I guess I need to ask myself some hard questions about this series to see if I still want to finish it when I have so many other stories competing for my attention.

Even though I didn't accomplish much on the dryads trilogy, I still finished or started several other projects. They include the first draft of the first book of a cozy mystery series, about half of the second cozy mystery book in that series, a fantasy short story (a pandemic version of the Seven Swans fairy tale) that I'm currently trying to sell, the first draft of a novelette in the Seasons Avatars universe, and another fantasy short story targeted for an anthology that closes next week. The final story isn't quite done as I write this blog post on Sunday, so hopefully I'll have the first draft done before this post goes live.

I didn't indie-publish anything this year, but my short story "A Shawl for Janice" was published in a solarpunk anthology in January. One of my publishing goals for this year was to sell (not just give away) 100 books. It's a modest goal, certainly not more than coffee-level money, but at least I managed to meet it. I sold about 112 books across almost all platforms (I haven't checked Google Play lately.) One publishing thing I did this year was stop relying on distributors like Draft2Digital and publish directly to Kobo, Google, Barnes and Noble, and Apple. This is supposed to give me better control of marketing and promotions, but I still have a lot to learn about working with these platforms.

Given how easily my plans go awry, is it worth setting goals for 2021? I still think so, though I probably need to focus more on my goals and try not to let new projects distract me. Before I can set goals for specific projects, I need to decide how much time I want to give to cozy mysteries and how much time I want to give to my science fiction/fantasy. I think the cozy mysteries offer more market potential, but I still want to write in the Season Avatars universe and revisit other worlds I've created. How to juggle all that along with my job, family, and other personal projects continues to be a challenge.

Happy Holidays to everyone! Next week, I'll discuss reading in 2020. For now, feel free to share how your writing went this year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Mid-Month Mysteries: Knitting and Crochet

Since I'm spending so much time reading and writing cozy mysteries, I figured it's time I added a monthly feature about them to my blog. After umpteen years of blogging, I need to find more topics to blog about.

Cozy mysteries often feature protagonists who either knit or crochet as a hobby (such as Pamela Paterson in the Knit and Nibble series by Peggy Ehrhart) or run a yarn shop, such as Lucy Swift in the Vampire Knitting Club series by Nancy Warren. However, the majority of stories seem to feature knitters, not crocheters or "hookers." The only series I know of featuring crochet is Betty Hechtman's A Crochet Mystery series. (I started reading this series so long ago I was buying it in paperback, but it's been a while since I've bought any books in this series.) I'm not quite sure why knitting is more popular than crochet in this genre. I thought perhaps more people knit than crochet, but according to this website, that doesn't seem to be the case. (I'm not sure how this breaks down on Ravelry.) Knitting is older than crochet; according to Wikipedia, crochet as we know it developed in the nineteenth century. 

One reason knitting is featured in cozy mysteries could be the tools used. Knitting needles, which are pointed, are deadlier than blunt crochet hooks. In my opinion, yarn makes a better murder weapon. Yarn can be used to strangle someone, but it could also be used to create a tripping hazard at the top of a staircase. Yarn could also be dyed with toxic chemicals, like the Victorian-era green dye that contained arsenic. (As a side note, my fantasy Season Avatars series features characters who wear colors associated with the deity they're linked to. This includes colors like yellow and green. Fortunately, my characters have magic which helps them realize the health risk of certain dyes and create safer ones.) Both knitters and hookers might carry scissors with them, along with stitch counters, small balls of unused yarn, and other potential items that could choke a victim.

No matter whether the heroine knits or crochets, she may meet with other people who share her interest. These people can be victims, assistant investigators, or even murderers. The projects they work on can be sweaters (very appropriate for a cozy!), but they can be other types of clothing or even stuffed animals. Items can be gifted or donated to charity. I think it would be interesting to see these crafts used in other ways. For example, yarn bombing might be used to leave messages or clues. Although I know at least one person who spins and dyes yarn, I don't think I've seen a heroine do that in a series. It would be interesting to learn more about those textile arts.

Although Abigail Ritter, the heroine of my Magic Lake Mysteries series, isn't a knitter or hooker at first, she will discover as the series progresses that knitting needles, crochet hooks, and other tools for women's work have played an important role in her town's history. In particular, amigurumi will be featured in this series. I'm still editing the first book in the series, which will be called Murder in Magic Lake. Hopefully I can publish it next year.

Finally, I should discuss my own experience with crochet. My mother used to crochet when I was a teenager, but since I'm left-handed, she didn't know how to teach me. When I was in my twenties, I taught myself how to do it from books. (This was long before YouTube, and I crochet right-handed because everything was shown that way.) Among other projects, I made a ringbearer pillow for my wedding and a layette set for my son. (Here's a photo.) Of course, once my son was born, I didn't have much time for hobbies. However, I rediscovered crochet when I made a couple of pussy hats for the Women's March of 2017. When my husband gave me a kit for making Star Wars characters, I made a lot of them, sold them to friends, and donated part of the proceeds to charity. I tried some bigger projects in 2020, but they didn't work out very well. (No surprise there, I guess.) Although cozy mysteries have inspired me to try knitting, I haven't gotten the hang of it. Heck, I'm still not sure if I should do it right-handed or left-handed!

What are your favorite mystery books featuring knitting or crochet? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Winning Whamageddon

 Last Christmas, I thought I might win, but on the way home, a tune did me in.... I'm talking about Whamageddon, the online game where people try to go from December 1st to midnight on December 24th without hearing George Michael's version of "Last Christmas." I like the song, but I also enjoy playing along with Whamageddon. Most years, I'm able to win, but last year I heard the song on the radio as I was driving home. Here are a few strategies I use to avoid hearing the song:

1. At home, I listen to my normal Pandora stations instead of holiday ones until a couple of days before Christmas. When I do listen to Christmas music, I select traditional carols instead of popular songs.

2. On December 8th, in memory of John Lennon, I listen to Beatles songs and his solo work. I also start my annual Beatles marathon, where I listen to all of their albums in chronological order.  This usually takes several days if I only listen to a couple of albums in the evenings.

3. I avoid going to stores as much as possible (a little easier this year since my husband does most of our shopping).

4. Instead of listening to the radio when I drive, I'll probably listen to one of my lecture series on Audible. 

5. To celebrate the winter solstice, I'll listen to Sting's If On a Winter's Night album on the 21st.

6. Assuming I do make it to Christmas without hearing "Last Christmas," I'll listen to it on YouTube.


How do you feel about holiday music? Do you have any favorite carols or popular songs? Here's hoping you're not sent to Whamhalla early!

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

IWSG: Writing Seasons

 Welcome to December, a.k.a. the Boss Level of 2020. I hope you're staying safe this season. Here's to the last Insecure Writer's Support Group post of 2020! You can learn more about the IWSG on their website, Facebook group, or Twitter feed.

Our hosts this month are Pat Garcia, Sylvia Ney, Liesbet at Roaming About, Cathrina Constantine, and Natalie Aguirre.

Here's our question for December: Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?

 I'm not consistent with keeping a writing journal, but there are definitely times of the year when there are a lot of other activities that cut into my writing time. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a good example. There's buying and wrapping presents, baking (my husband and I will have six types of cookies, a fudge, and truffles done by the end of Sunday, when I'm writing this post, and I may have more done before this post goes live), decorating, card designing, social obligations, and cooking for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Once I'm past Christmas, though, I usually have some time off before New Year's Day. I tend to use that time to update my website and eBook back matter in addition to writing. In general, fall and winter feel more like prime writing time to me. When the weather is nice, it's tempting to be outside. 

What's your best writing season? Feel free to share in the comments.


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