goodbye 2020

I began this year on airplanes. In bookstores and in theatres, meeting hundreds and hundreds of lovely people and signing so very many copies of The Starless Sea. Drinking post-event Cabernet and trying to remember what day it was or what city I was in, pausing too briefly in hotel room after hotel room and the whole time I had a head cold and I joked that I didn’t want to leave my house for the spring and then I didn’t.

I didn’t leave my house in the spring or the summer or the fall and now the snow is falling again.

Things that were happy-making in a long dark year:

Jeni’s ice cream. The fire pit we got for the backyard. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab perfume oils (particularly Candy Apple Smut, Baby’s First Ballista & Venus Genetrix). My new camera that takes very good photos of birds and kittens. Getting a towel from my perfect husband for my 42nd birthday (he also gave me a sword). This Ethan M. Aldridge illustration. S’mores made with turmeric cardamom black pepper caramelized coconut mylk chocolate. Taylor Swift’s folklore on vinyl. Chasing Vesper around the library while she chased a mouse. Blood Milk’s Sacred Heart of Hecate ring. Knitting with Malabrigo Rasta yarn. The Alex Eckman-Lawn paperback cover for The Starless Sea. Flailing about Dragon Age 4 teases with people on the internet. The El Goliath Tarot. Catching cherry blossoms in Animal Crossing. Becoming long-distance friends with the extraordinary Dani Carr. This cast iron roast chicken recipe. And Todd Doughty’s happy-making posts on Instagram.

I didn’t read much this year at all. I’m always a slow reader and I never get through as many books as I would like but this year was particularly bad for my attention span. I did procure a lot of books so I am well-stocked for 2021 and beyond.

Of the handful of things I did manage to read this year, these were my favorites:

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, the witchy 80’s Massachusetts field hockey novel I never knew I always wanted.
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh, who is a genius. I laughed, I cried, I laughed until I cried, all while our power was out, reading by flashlight.
The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained by Colin Dickey. I adored Ghostland and this is just as fascinating. One of the things I love about Colin’s work is how much of it is about the stories that we tell.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. In many ways this book is to The Starless Sea what Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is to The Night Circus, which baffles and delights me. It is a treasure.
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings, like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter had an Australian baby. It is moody and dark and has sharp teeth like the best of fairy tales.
Beowulf translated by Maria Dahvana Headley is a luscious, lyrical gift of language that feels old and new at the same time.

This year I started writing a book that will very likely end up being the new book. It has been a file filled with notes for awhile but now there are pages of prose and characters who haven’t found their names yet and bits of impermanent imaginary architecture. It is a long way from being a book but it is more than it was at this time last year, a million years ago.

In the meantime The Starless Sea came out in paperback in August of this year which already seems like ages ago. You could purchase it or any number of other wonderful books (everything in the pile above is highly recommended!) from an independent bookstore near or far, might I suggest Print: A Bookstore or Gibson’s Concord or Odyssey Bookshop or Oblong Books & Music

I played a lot of games this year. No, more than that.

My game of the year is a fairly even tie between Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hades. I bought pink rain boots because I liked my Animal Crossing ones so much. Hades made me realize I’m actually pretty good at the kind of game I sometimes find intimidating. (Current record clear time is 19:39.55)

Ghost of Tsushima was epic and stunning and the end of Act II made me cry more than any single moment in a video game ever.

I love a good visual puzzle game and Superliminal was just what I wanted, quirky and smart and beautiful.

I finished A Short Hike in one day and I still think about it, it is a perfect little story game. It is, as the name implies, very short. “a little exploration game about hiking up a mountain.”

I replayed a lot of things this year for purposes of comfort and familiarity including BioShock 2 (I had never done the Minerva’s Den DLC and it’s marvelous) and Horizon Zero Dawn and I am currently in the middle of my fourth replay of Dragon Age: Inquisition which is of course my most favorite game. I am taking my time with it but afterwards I am probably going to replay Origins & Dragon Age II as well, because it’s been that kind of year.

I’ve just started Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity and so far I like it a lot, it’s like smashy smashy Breath of the Wild.

Also recently acquired the Annapurna Interactive Deluxe Limited Edition collection, I’ve played and loved some of these games already (particularly What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoa) and I am very much looking forward to the rest of them.

In related gaming news I still don’t have a PS5 despite trying several times to get one (I blame our comparatively slow internet speed) and right now my main goal is to get one before Horizon Forbidden West comes out.

I barely watched any tv this year but I did rewatch all of Adventure Time including the final seasons which I’d never seen and I sobbed my way through the final episode which was bananapants and perfect. I might need “Will Happen Happening Happens” embroidered on something.

We’ve been getting into Critical Role this year, we’re 30-something episodes into the second campaign and I love it, my attention span for watching anything has been terrible but with Critical Role I can sit and knit or whatnot and still follow fascinating complex narratives and it has been soothing in a chaotic sort of way. And there is so very much of it! We are like two years and a bazillion hours behind! It’s kind of nice to have so much catching up to do especially since we don’t leave the house and it is helping me sort of understand Dungeons & Dragons finally. I’ve never played! Everyone always thinks I have! I haven’t! But I’m learning! (Once in awhile someone tags me on twitter about doing campaigns based on my books and whether or not I mind and of course I don’t mind I am flattered beyond belief please please have all the role-playing fun with them!)

This year sounded like the Hades soundtrack and Nothing But Thieves and The Amazing Devil and London Grammar’s Californian Soil and BMO singing about how time is an illusion but mostly it sounded like folklore (& evermore) on repeat and I am grateful to Taylor Swift for these sounds and these words that were in the background of this year like a blanket. I have other favorite tracks but when I told myself to pick a single one for this post as is New Year’s Post tradition, it had to be this one.

Happy New Year, darlings. We can be pirates.

2019

This year was so many things. It was book finishing and book tour and head colds (so many head colds) and BookExpo and San Diego ComicCon and so much traveling and new friends and I am exhausted and happy and glad to be home for a little while, with the snow falling outside.

Adam and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and his 40th birthday and my 41st birthday and Vesper’s 1st birthday and there was a book birthday in there, too. It was a very celebratory year. There was a great deal of sparkling wine. It felt like multiple years rolled into one, book tour alone was a bazillion years long and so many countries and cities and wonderful people. (Tour will continue a bit in January, too.)

This was the year of The Starless Sea in so many ways. It’s still hard for me to believe that it’s out in the world but it is and it is finding its readers and having a life of its own and for me it is strange and lovely and bittersweet. So much gratitude to InkWell and Doubleday and Harvill Secker for sending it out into the world in such tremendous style.

I didn’t read quite as much as I’d thought I would this year mostly due to exhaustion and head colds but when I went to make my favorites list it was actually quite hard, I really enjoyed most of what I read this year so these are the ultimate favorites among a great deal of competition. (Note: these are all personal favorites. I have developed an aversion to calling such lists “Bests” because these are just my opinions and I cannot deem bestness because I cannot read All the Books.)

Favorite Books That I Read in 2019

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger. I met Paul serendipitously at San Diego ComicCon and after cocktail-drenched California adventures we’re friends now, he has to deal with that. So I was nervous starting this book because I really wanted to at least like it but oh, I loved it, so much. It’s bright and bold and has so much heart and it made me cry in that oh-no-the-book-is-over way, where you miss being in it as soon as the last page is turned.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. I’d been meaning to read Robin Hobb for ages but I think the fact that this year was the 25th anniversary of Assassin’s Apprentice bumped it up on my list. This was my tour book that lived in my carry-on and I read bits in different states and countries and it was like having a familiar place to return to. I am so, so delighted that are many more volumes in this series and I found editions in the UK that I loved so much I ordered them when I got home.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow At some point in the last few years Alix and I apparently shared a brain because this book is a perfect complement to The Starless Sea and vice versa. It is Doors and Keys and Books and Vermont and star-crossed everything and so, so beautiful. I will be in conversation with Alix at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, Kentucky on Saturday, January 11th and I am excited about it.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. This book got me out of a reading slump where I was picking up things and putting them down after a few pages because nothing was really doing it for me but this one sucked me right in. A gorgeous, compelling suburban courtroom drama that is the very definition of a page-turner.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep. At the American Bookseller Association Winter Institute in January I asked booksellers what I should pick up from the advance copies table and this was their instant recommendation. They were right, of course. Like true crime and literary history had a book baby.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I was lucky enough to read this book early because Colson is a fellow Doubleday author and a reminder of the extraordinary author company I’m in there. In retrospect Nickel Boys feels more like something that really happened that I remember someone telling me about in great detail than a book that I read and somehow that feels appropriate.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid which comes out TODAY, go get it! Go! It is a testament to the fact that all of those “Best books of [YEAR]” lists should be posted in January of the following year because it should be on the lists. It is real and raw and sharp and funny. Please tell everyone to just pretend it came out in 2020 and put it on all of the lists, thank you.

And possibly my very favorite thing I read this year that I am OBSESSED with comes out on February 11th 2020: The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet. It is a big, delicious fantasy to sink into and it is divine. Much like Steel Crow Saga I missed the world and the characters as soon as it was over and I’m going to re-read it soon. Also I have been keeping my post-tour February-May calendar as empty as possible but I am making a single exception for Kelly: we will be discussing The Unwilling with Oblong Books on Tuesday, February 18th.

Bonus honorable mention to Wanderers by Chuck Wendig which I read last year but it came out this year on an auspicious date! It is brilliant and epic.

Favorite Games I Played in 2019

I spent a good part of the year working my way through Assassin’s Creed Odyssey which I enjoyed immensely but there was also a lot of it. Though now I find myself wishing I could Sparta kick people off cliffs in other games.

Untitled Goose Game is, of course, an unbridled delight. (HONK.)

Gris is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Vesper liked it, too.

I have only just started Baba is You but it is genius. I’ve also only played a bit of Link’s Awakening but I’m looking forward to playing it more.

I spent lots of travel time replaying Skyrim on my Switch. And at home I started my third replay of Dragon Age: Inquisition mostly for anxiety soothing purposes. Playing a rogue this time and it is very satisfying to be able to unlock things myself.

(I also spent a good amount of head cold time watching Adam play Jedi: Fallen Order which was excellent and BD-1 is now my most favorite droid.)

Seeing out the decade with a sidecar, no sugar, waiting to see what adventures and cocktails the ’20s will bring. I started the decade unhappy and not knowing what I wanted and I’m ending it with two published novels, sitting in a house that I own with the best husband and the best cat, surrounded by snow-covered woods.

I always pick a song for the year and though I’ve had Toss a Coin to Your Witcher stuck in my head for over a week (it’s still there) and by the way I love the show SO MUCH (tv favorites this year are basically just The Witcher and honorable mention to Baby Yoda) I wanted to pick something that felt like The Starless Sea because this year was all Starless Sea, all the time. Awhile back I mentioned on twitter that in a perfect world the Starless Sea playlist would include a Ramin Djawadi Westworld-style cover of the Legend of Zelda theme, but for now it does include this, which is also appropriate.

Happy New Year, darlings. Keep your hearts safe.

2018

This year felt like it was a million years long. This was the year I finally finished The Starless Sea, or very nearly finished since I’m about to hand in reviewed copyedits (note to publishers: January 2nd due dates are mean) and I’ll have one more final pass sometime after that and then it will be gone and grown-up and book-shaped and wrapped up pretty for November. Which is still a million years away if 2019 ends up anywhere near as long-feeling as 2018.

This year we had foxes who lived in our yard and I spent my 40th birthday in a decommissioned helicopter and did I mention that I finished the new book? Because I finished the new book and I’m still not quite certain I believe it.

And then there is the kitten. We’ve only had Vesper since September but she is the most wonderful kitten and she fits right in. (Though there was one week when she decided that the ceiling fan was terrifying so I took her into the guest room to get away from the scary fan and there was a flock of wild turkeys outside the window. She hid behind my legs for awhile. Poor thing.)

I normally do media review but truthfully this year was a blur of mostly writing so this is a short version.

My favorite books that I actually got around to were Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, Jane Mount’s Bibliophile and also Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers which will be out in July of 2019. Honorable mentions to The Ink House by Rory Dobner because it is a gorgeous delight and The Aviary Cocktail Book that my dear Kim Liggett gave me for the holidays which is a work of art.

I’m hoping I’ll have more time for the ever-expanding to-read pile next year, I feel like I’ve fallen behind on books and media and the world and so much more trying to finish writing this particular book in this particular time.

Adam gave me a Nintendo Switch and a kitten for my birthday so he clearly both knows and loves me deeply and also never wants me to get anything done ever again. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is just as amazing and wonderful as everyone said it was. I’m nearing the end but I still need to catch more fish to upgrade my stealth pants which is not a sentence I ever thought I would type. (After I properly finish the book I get to replay Dragon Age: Inquisition because that has been my book-finishing reward to self for literal years.)

I always do a song for the year but there wasn’t a single song for this year, there were a lot of songs and I’m looking forward to finalizing the Starless Sea official playlist but for this year I’ll leave you with the sounds that filled my office most of the time. It’s long, which seems appropriate.

Here we go, into 2019. It should be an adventure.



2017

Oh, 2017. You were a year.

I’m not even sure where 2017 went. It seems like it was just snowing and now it’s snowing again. Perpetual winter though I’m pretty sure there was a summer in between.

The still-new house is more house-like, more us and more lived in. There are still places missing furniture and oh so many cardboard boxes in the basement with the mice but it is cozy and currently there is a fire burning in the fireplace and cocktails on the coffee table and snow outside and stars and it is a wonderful, wonder-filled place to be.

It was a mostly-at-home year but also this year I floated in a perfect sunset-lit pool in Florida and stood in complete cave darkness in Virginia and went on a very cold perfect date night in Toronto.

I got a haunted pencil.

I watched an eclipse and made friends with a butterfly and finally bought a bottle of Yellow Chartreuse.

I finished yet another draft (two, actually) of this thing that will someday be a book. Someday.

It’s getting there. I think. I hope. I sort of know. Insert metaphor about baking or sailing dark seas or something else here. It has been a forward motion year even though I spent most of it standing still, staring at computer screens and trying to make the words work. January will be a locked away in that world month and then I’ll see what happens on the other side.

2018 should be interesting.

Annual review of media things, 2017 edition

Books

This was a writing year more than a reading year but I did manage an eclectic list of favorites:

Blood, Sweat & Pixels – Jason Schreier

Modern Tarot – Michelle Tea

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Her Body and Other PartiesCarmen Maria Machado

Sourdough – Robin Sloan

The Child Finder – Rene Denfeld

The Night Ocean – Paul La Farge

My Favorite Thing is Monsters Vol. I – Emil Ferris

Games

Horizon: Zero Dawn

I love this game with a love that is pure & true and knows no bounds. (Adam gave me a Funko Aloy for Yule which is my first & only Funko.) Still haven’t played the Frozen Wilds DLC, saving it for a snow day treat but I’m sure we’ll be in for a lot of snow days in the coming months.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I still think about moments in this relatively short game months after we played through it. It’s full of brilliant gaming moments and brilliant storytelling moments and I’m waiting to revisit and replay it.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Only about halfway through this one but loving it so far.  I’m not usually an Assassin’s Creed person but I’ve had a thing for ancient Egypt ever since I was little (thank you, The Egypt Game) so even just running around this gorgeous game is a delight plus it has everything I love about an open world and I get to shoot hippos.

Also when had a terrible cold I played Cat Quest on my iPad and it made me feel better.

Movies/TV

We still don’t have proper cable or internet so this category is light as usual. Favorite movies I saw this year were Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi & Get Out.

I’m still anxiously awaiting a chance to see The Shape of Water. Hopefully soon.

The only TV I’ve been watching is The Great British Bake Off, over and over and over again. That probably says something about my 2017 mental state. It’s soothing and full of things I can’t eat and I love it.

Music

This year I listened to Vaults and Arcade Fire and ODESZA and the Baby Driver soundtrack and the new Taylor Swift but with Look What You Made Me Do edited out. I’ve also kept the Skyrim Atmospheres track from the Skyrim soundtrack on repeat as background in my office a lot lately.

This is the other song I had on repeat this year. Not sure why, it just sounded right.

last day of 2016

2016bestnine

This was a year.

Good things first: I have a house. More than just a house I have a space that is mine and a place that is ours and I am such an introvert homebody Cancerian moon child that this brings me a good deal of joy.

Also within that house I am currently sitting in my new office which was supposed to be finished in October and it was not. It’s still not, but it’s finished enough for me to start moving my boxes and my books and my statues of bunnies into.

I finished a draft of the new book. I think I’m going to change the vast majority of it, but hey, it’s a draft. It still counts.

I drank a lot of sparkling wine with several truly lovely people and I turned 38 years old and celebrated my 2nd wedding anniversary and I ran around in the snow in my own yard in October when we got the first of what appears to be quite a lot of snow.

There were some good things.

And there were a lot of other things.

I feel like I don’t have words for things a lot of the time which makes me feel like a failure as a writer but I just don’t. The words aren’t there, not for blogs or tweets, not the right ones to capture the gamut of emotions from disappointment to anger to sadness to fear that seem to be on constant rotation this year in no particular order.

That’s not the way my brain works. I can’t say how I’m feeling or react to the world in the moment because combinations of 26 letters never sound right the first time, in the sharpness of the here and now. I’m a rewriter more than I’m a writer. I have to keep trying until I get it right. So my words for this emotional storm cloud of a year are going to slowly find their ways into fiction instead.

The world feels different now, or maybe it’s that the world is not yet the place I had wanted to believe it already was. I feel different now and so the book needs to be different, too.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been having so much trouble with it, because it is and always was a book that was somewhere in the future and things are different now and it had to wait for me to catch up to it.

Maybe I’m at the place in space and time this story needs me to be in, finally.

I don’t know yet. I’m still figuring it out.

I do know it is a winter book, though, so it helps to be covered in snow.

And I do have a lot of snow.

snow

 

Two end of 2016 thoughts that probably would have been tweets if I were on Twitter more:

  • I am not moving to Canada even though I actually have the ability to, I am staying right here.
  • I want you to know that I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table.

 

A request of sorts:

I turned off my website email because I can’t keep up. I know there are technically other ways on the internet to attempt to reach me but I can’t keep up with Tumblr/Instagram/etc messages either. Especially when they’re often flooded with people asking google-able questions about The Night Circus that seem to be part of homework assignments? Google is your friend. I would like to be friendly, too, but I only have so much time and even less energy.

Please be patient with me. The last few years have been really, really hard. Not just this one. Trying to write a book in the middle of all of it has been hard. I am doing better than I was while also realizing I had not been doing nearly as well as I had thought I was before. I am trying to be patient with myself, too.

I have to get where I’m going one step at a time and I have no idea how many steps there are.

That was a metaphor about how I can’t tell you when this book is going to be out because I don’t know when it’s going to be finished, and trust me, you won’t want to read it until it’s finished. It wouldn’t have an ending for one thing, and there would be pages missing in the middle and then the bees might get out and oh, now I’ve said too much.

 

Annual review of media things, 2016 version

Books

2016-book-stack

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

I had somehow managed to never read this until now and I regret it immensely. Easily a new very favorite. Such pitch-perfect voice and tone and everything. I recently picked up the new Shirley Jackson biography by Ruth Franklin & I’m looking forward to that, too.

milk and honey – Rupi Kaur

I’ve been trying to read more poetry lately and this volume is brimming with tiny, truth-stuffed gems. (Though I admit my favorite part of this particular edition is the forward that begins with “i don’t feel like the girl who wrote milk and honey anymore” because oh, I feel that feeling.)

The Secret Place – Tana French

I adore Tana French and when I saw she had a new book out this year (The Trespasser) I realized I was behind so I read The Secret Place to catch up. It might very well be my favorite of the bunch so far. The structure is brilliant and it nails a particular teenage girl-ness that I haven’t seen done so well before. Any Tana French is my go-to detective/crime recommendation lately.

Death by Video Game – Simon Parkin

This is an excellent book about games & gaming that is not quite as dire as the title might suggest. I read bits of it aloud to Adam in the car this summer while we were waiting for our movie to start at the drive-in theatre, an environment that sharpened the observation that video games are still such a comparatively young art form. (I read several different books on gaming/game history this year and this was my favorite.)

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places – Colin Dickey

I’m not even finished with this one yet but it has to go on the bests list. It’s what you might expect from the title and more: a thoughtful look at the stories behind the ghosts and the times/places that created them. I have a thing for haunted spaces and I’m learning things that I didn’t know about places that I’d already been aware of and finding out about new ones. (Also I used to live within walking distance of the Haunted Place in Chapter 1.)

Atlas Obscura – Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras

I have loved Atlas Obscura via the internet for ages and now I get to have them on my coffee table and it is delicious. Perfect book for opening to a random page and learning something nifty. Here, I’ll find a random one for you, and I really did just flip the book open to see what came up, bibliomancy style: Page 333. Cincinnati’s Lost Subway. Apparently there is an never completed subway system beneath Cincinnati. (Aside to the bibliomancy gods: I see what you did there.)

 

Games

Preface because I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before: we currently have something like five different game systems in our house but the PS4 is the go-to. It is my favorite, to the point where the dulcet tones of the home screen might very well be my Proust questionnaire answer for “What sound or noise do you love?” (but in a three-way tie with the crackling sound of a spoon breaking into a crème brûlée and also Nick Offerman’s giggle).

If you are not a game person but you are a book person or a story person please give Firewatch a try. It is beautiful and thoughtful and funny and touching and I still think about it months and months after first playing it. It’s not challenging and it’s not very long and it feels like a playable story. I might replay it next year. I never did find that turtle.

We haven’t finished Rise of the Tomb Raider yet but I love it, especially the way it does this turn-a-corner-and-see-something-amazing thing with the environments. I’m a sucker for a good exploration game and I like puzzles and while I liked the previous Tomb Raider a lot so far this one is balancing its different elements a little better. Looking forward to playing more of it.

I have been escaping into remastered Skyrim since November. I played the original back when it came out and the remaster is gorgeous. It has been kind of meditative, taking long meandering walks from Solitude to Riften and throwing fireballs at the occasional mudcrab. Meditative and therapeutic. And it allows me to say things aloud like “Why do these vampires have so many cabbages?”

 

Movies

Arrival was probably my favorite thing I saw in the theatre this year and I was delighted to find the Ted Chiang short story it was based on in Adam’s extensive SFF collection when we got home.

I will not admit how many times I have watched Zootopia already but I will probably watch it more and then again and possibly one more time after that and I will probably watch Moana just as much when I can.

 

TV

I don’t have cable or internet right now so I don’t really get to watch TV.  Sometimes I’m sad about it. Mostly I’m not.

(I did enjoy Stranger Things even though I had some issues with it. Dustin is my favorite because of course he is.)

(Every year I do this it becomes more and more obvious that I am a books/games/music person more than I am a movies/tv person.)

 

Music

New-to-me artists I discovered this year and love to little bits: Oh Wonder, Kaleo, Perfume, Aurora.

New albums by artists I already loved: Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool & Birdy’s Beautiful Lies.

I always pick a song of the year and I had too many to choose from this year, too many tracks on repeat (Bon Iver’s “33 ‘GOD’” & Sia’s “Alive” & Kaleo’s “Way Down We Go”) and then I thought about how I always post a video to go with my now traditional New Year’s Eve blog and this came to mind and is another one of those songs I listened to over and over again and the first time I saw this video for it I couldn’t stop smiling.

I think that’s probably a good thing to say goodbye to this year with.