How I Learned to Write (Pretty Much) Every Day- On Creating Regular Writing Habits- Part One

One of the biggest tips that you hear from people when it comes to writing is the advice to “write every day.” This makes a lot of sense. I find that the quality of my writing goes up when I’m writing on a regular basis. Also, it just makes it a lot easier to accomplish something when you’re committing time to it every day.

I’ve gotten pretty good at creating a steady writing habit over the past few years, even if I fall short of writing every day. Since I know it’s something that a lot of people struggle with, I thought I’d share what works for me. The key words there being “what works for me.” Everyone approaches their writing differently. I don’t claim this to be a full proof method. All I can claim as that’s it’s made me a hell of a lot more efficient as a writer. And it mostly breaks down to being prepared, being specific, and being realistic.

Tip #1- Decide that You’re Going to Make Writing A Priority- This one may sound unnecessary. If you’ve decided that you want to write every day (or at least on a regular schedule), haven’t you already done that? To me, there’s a very big difference between saying “I’m going to write more” and “I’m going to make writing a priority” and the key word there is “a priority.” By mentally preparing myself in advance by setting up this specific goal, it ends up being a great way of dealing with distractions. Say I feel the urge to spend time clicking around on the internet during writing time. The second I pull up my browser, I hear a little voice saying “but Nancy, writing is supposed to be a priority.” Maybe there’s a book I really want to read, or TV show I want to watch? “No, writing is a priority.” But I want more sleep! “Nope. Priority.”

Of course, there are things in your life that are going to take priority even over writing (or at least should). You probably shouldn’t neglect your kids for example. And while it’s one thing to fight the urge to sleep in, neglecting your need for sleep for an extended period of time just doesn’t work. But creating this goal has really helped me stay focused in times when I would otherwise be distracted. We’ll get more into dealing with distractions in Part Two!

Tip #2- Pick a Project That You’re Excited About, and Prepared to Dive Into- This was something a concept introduced to me in Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k (a great book about writing), and one that’s worked well for me. Each year, I do NaNoWriMo. The years that I enter NaNoWriMo with a project that I’m really excited about, and well prepared for, are years that I’m a lot more productive. And by “prepared,” I don’t necessarily mean having a detailed outline written out in advance (although that may work for you!). Instead, I make sure that I when I sit down at my computer, I know what I want to write that day. Beyond that, I have a really solid idea of what I want to do for the next few chapters, and a vague idea of what I want to do for the rest of the book. This allows me to stay true to my discovery writer roots, without having to worry about my flow getting derailed by simply not knowing what to do next.

As far as excitement goes, I think it’s natural to become frustrated with a project during certain points of the writing project. But for me, the better prepared I am, I’m less likely to find myself dissatisfied on a regular basis. So that’s another example where a certain level of preparation can help.

This process works a little differently while editing (which is what I’m working on now), but I find that it still helps to go into the day excited about your project, and with a really solid idea of what you’re going to do next.

Tip #3- Pick and Time to Write, And Stick to It- One of the biggest tips I see when talking about setting up New Year’s Resolutions, or any kind of goals, is to make sure that they are specific and within your control. So, instead of saying “I’m going to lose weight this year!” you say “I am going to work out for at least a half hour, five times a week.” The second goal is focused around daily tasks that you can do, rather than some general goal you want to do sometime during the next year. Another benefit that comes when setting goals like this is it helps to break down something large, into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s why during NaNoWriMo, you’re more likely to succeed if you think “I need to write 1667 words today” not “holy hell, I only have a month to write a whole book!”

When it comes to writing on a regular basis, I find it’s best to set aside a specific time that you can write every day. Ideally, this will be the same time every day. For me, that’s an hour before I go to work every day. As my work schedule fluctuates from day to day (but is pretty stagnant week to week), this means I have to be a little flexible. Still, for the most part, my mornings go like this- wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for the day, write.

Of course, my path isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe you’re a baker, and have to be at work at some ungodly hour in the morning. Maybe your work schedule fluctuates from week to week. It’s why, before actually sitting down to write, I recommend taking a good look at the limitations of your actual schedule. This may mean that you don’t find time to write every day. Maybe your weekends are just too full. Maybe your weekdays are too full, but you can find a nice chunk of time on Saturday and Sunday. The point with these tips isn’t to find an ideal situation, but to find something sustainable.

Cause that’s the point, isn’t it? To create a pattern. To make your way steadily toward a goal, step by step, through creating daily habits that you can stick with.

And speaking of step by step, this is turning out a lot longer then I suspected it to be. So as a result, I’m breaking this post into two parts. This is the end of Part One. Please check back for next week’s post for Part Two!

Everything I Read in January, 2017

January was a really good month for reading, so I thought I’d chat about it for a bit. I’ve broken down what I’ve read into three categories: books and audioboks. graphic novels, and single issue comics. First off, books~

Books/Audiobooks
1. Calamity by Brandon Sanderson
2. The Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty
3. The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron
4. The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin
5. Batgirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

Clearly, my book reading in January was all about knocking a few books off of my 2017 TBR, and that seemed to work out well. Calamity was the third and final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series. I liked it quite a bit, even if I feel like the book didn’t quite live up to the (admitted sky high) level of quality I came to expect from the first two books- Steelheart, and Firefight. Ghost Train to New Orleans is the second (and so far, last) urban fantasy novel in Laffery’s Shambling Guide series. I felt like the book did a nice job expanding the mythology of the series, even if the overall plot line wasn’t quite as interesting as the first book’s- which focused on Zoe becoming an editor for travel guides for the supernatural community. The Spirit Thief was the first book in Rachel Aaron’e Eli Monpress series, and it was a really fun read, albeit not as strongly written as some of Aaron’s later works. I’ve heard the author describe the series as a fighting anime in book form, and The Spirit Thief totally nails that motif. So if you’re a fan or Naruto or Bleach, make sure you check this one out.

The Obelisk Gate is the second book in The Broken Earth Trilogy, and delivered the same high quality writing and characterization that I’ve come to expect from NK Jemisin after seven novels. It was a pretty dark book though, so I took a mental break by delving into the latest book in the DC Superhero Girls series (Batgirl at Superhero High). This was another charming installment to this fun middle grade series, although I didn’t like it nearly as much as I did the first two. I’m somewhat concerned that the books (all which have focused on a new student finding their place at Superhero High) are becoming a little formulaic.

Graphic Novels
1. Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead by Greg Rucka
2. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers by Various
3. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 4: I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North/Erica Henderson
4. Wonder Woman, vol 9: Resurrection by Meredith Finch/David Finch
5. Wonder Woman: Missions End by Greg Rucka

For graphic novels this month, it was all about Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. The two works by Greg Rucka (Land of the Dad and Mission’s End) finished off Rucka’s fabulous run on Wonder Woman from about 10 years back. Mission’s End was a bit of a step down, as Rucka needed to weave in larger crossover elements into his own storylines, but, all things considered, I thought he handled that challenge better than most. I also read the final volume in Meredith Finch’s run (Resurrection), and through it was the strongest volume of her run yet. Unfortunately, the Finch run on Wonder Woman was plagued by problems from the beginning to the end, and I can’t honestly say how many of these issues were due to decisions by the creative team, and how many were due to those by DC at large. As a result, I’m quite glad to see them pass the torch to another team (which includes Greg Rucka again, ironically).

The Squirrel Girl graphic novels, on the other hand, were like friggen night and day. Volume 4 of the Ryan North/Erica Henerson run (I Kissed a Squirrel and I Liked It) was just as clever and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect from this creative team. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers collection on the other hand was um… not. Don’t get me wrong, this volume, which collects Doreen’s pre-North/Henderson adventures has some good stuff, but those good comics have already been collected in OTHER Squirrel Girl trade paperbacks, as bonus comics. The remaining comics would have been better left forgotten. It’s also contains content that’s pretty adult (lots of violence, gore, and humor with a real cruel streak) which made me wonder why the hell they gave the collection such a kid-friendly cover. Very glad I went the library route with this one.

Comic Books
Black Widow #7
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 #30
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 11 #1
Lazarus #24
Lazarus #25
Paper Girls #8
Paper Girls #9
Paper Girls #10
Saga #37
Saga #38
Saga #39
Serenity: No Power in the Verse #1

January comic book reading was all about catching up on my single issues. And well… we’re not there yet. Maybe someday!

My 2017 To-Be-Read Pile

I read quite a bit last year (125 books between traditional books, graphic novels, audiobooks, and manga), but have once again found myself fallen behind on some of my favorite authors. To make up for this, I’ve decided to make a list of the books I want to make top priority in 2017.

The lists can be found below. I’ve separated it out into books that I own, published books that I don’t own, and some of my most anticipated releases of 2017.

Books That I Already Own
The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron (read 01/17)
Betrayals by Kelley Armstrong
Otherworld Chills by Kelley Armstrong
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
Imprudence by Gail Carriger
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
The Obelisk Gate by NK Jemisin (read 01/17)
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty (read 01/17)
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin
Calamity by Brandon Sanderson (read 01/17)

Books that Have Already been Released (pre 2017)
In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan
Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson
The Days of Tao by Wesley Chu
The Rise of Io by Wesley Chu
Rise: A Newsflesh Collection by Mira Grant
Feedback by Mira Grant
False Hearts by Laura Lam
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

Most Anticipated 2017 Releases
Heartstrikers: Book 4 by Rachel Aaron*
A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong
Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale
The Stone Sky by NK Jemisin
Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire
The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan
White Trash Zombie Unchained by Diana Rowland
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson*
Dawn Study by Maria V. Snyder
Batgirl at Superhero High by Lisa Yee (read 01/17)

Genre Breakdown
Fantasy- 14
Sci-Fi- 8
Paranormal- 7
Superhero- 2
Thriller- 2

The two books in the “most anticipated” section are starred due to the fact that they do not have a solid release date. They ARE supposed to come out in 2017 though!

So those are my top priority books of 2017. Obviously, I’m going to read more than just those, but these are the ones I really want to get to (or at least try out. If a book doesn’t work for me, I’m unlikely to force myself to finish unless I’m a huge fan of the writer/series). Also, as we’re a ways into 2017 already, I’ve actually already dug into a few of these. I’ll be doing regular posts on the books I’ve been reading, so expect to hear my thoughts about those soon!

Updated Feb to reflect January reads

On New Years Resolutions, and Writing Goals

I’m a sucker for new years resolutions. I usually make too many, and don’t always stick to them as well as I should, but I’ve always liked the fresh new start that comes with a new year. The idea that bad habits can be left behind, and better ones can be forged. And sure, I get the argument that New Years Resolutions can be viewed as useless, especially when you look at people who sign up for gym memberships, but never show up, but I think there’s a lot of value in setting goals, and taking time to refocus. You’re going to fall off the horse every now and then, but if you continue to make time to think about what you want, and plan how that can be achieved, you’re in a helluva better place then you were if you never paused to make the resolutions in the first place.

For example, if I had never sat down and said, “I’m going to make writing a daily habit” I probably wouldn’t have written anything at all. And instead, I’ve written and revised three whole novels that have taught me a lot about writing (even though they will never be published). And now, I find myself working on new projects, and new ideas that I hope to make strides on in 2017.

So, without further ado, here are my writing projects and resolutions for 2017!

Project #1- Red and Black
Red and Black is a superhero novel (the first in a planned series) that I put MANY hours into over the past year and a half. I’ve brought the book from a broken, partial rough draft (the result of a very strange, often disappointing/frustrating NaNoWriMo in 2014) to a full manuscript, workshopped it with my wonderful writing group, brought it through multiple rounds of revisions, and have now sent it off to no less than a half dozens first readers (two of whom have already gotten back to me with encouraging comments and helpful suggestions!). This year, I hope to bring Red and Black through its final revisions and begin sending it out to agents during the spring. From that point, its future will bet out of my hands, so I try not to stress about it too much (of course, I don’t always succeed).

Project #2- Black and Blue
Black and Blue is the sequel to Red and Black. I wrote it during a very successful NaNoWriMo this past November (not only did I manage to “win” NaNoWriMo, but I also finished the damn book before the month was up!). Since the beginning of the New Year, I’ve been working on my first round of revisions. And I must admit… it’s going surprisingly well. Normally this part of the revising process is hugely painful. Like, “Dear God! I’ve managed to regress as a writer without realizing it! Time to throw in the towel! Abort! Abort!” Of course, the book has flaws- in abundance- but I’ve been able to figure out how to fix most of them. Thinking back on the rough draft, I have a pretty good idea where this smooth sailing will start to get choppy, but I’m going to enjoy the ride while it lasts. I hope to spend most of my writing time in 2017 revising Black and Blue, then workshopping it with my oh-so-helpful writing group.

And if you’re thinking “gee, Nancy, isn’t working on a sequel to a book before it’s technically done, like, a really bad idea?” The answer is… probably, but right now this is the project I’m the most excited about, so I’m just going to embrace that. My books go through a lot of changes in my revision process. Maybe I’ll just have to make a few more then planned as a result of Red and Black’s final revisions.

I plan on accomplishing these goals through daily writing. I try to go for at least an hour every day, and that’s been going well so far. Some days, time gets away from me and I just can’t get that full hour, but I can get in a half hour, and make up the lost time down the line. To prevent burning out, I will be working on my writing in chunks of about 30k. Once I reach the end of a chunk, I’ll take a little time off from writing (maybe a few days, maybe a full week. It depends on how I’m feeling, and my other responsibilities). I’ve become a big believer in taking planned breaks (with set end dates, rather than just skipping days here and there) from writing, In fact, I’m thinking about writing a blog entry on it.

As for other writing-related goals, I do hope to get back to updating this much neglected blog more often, as well as continuing to contribute regularly to Speculative Chic. As a result, I’m going to try to update here about once a week. At Speculative Chic, I have my big monthly entry, but I also contribute to group posts. It may be tricky to find a balance between my writing, SpecChic, and this blog, but I suspect I’ll be able to figure it out with some trial and error.

Does anyone else have any writing-related resolutions? Are you a fan of New Year’s Resolutions too, or consider them to be a waste of time?

Top 10 of 2016: Random Favorites

Just when you thought I couldn’t drag this party out any further, here are my top 10 random favorites of 2016!

While I enjoy things like music, and podcasts, I just don’t have enough of them that I really loved from 2016 to make a proper 10 ten list. So, I figured I’d gather then all into a list of random favorites. Unlike the previous lists, this isn’t a countdown. Instead, the items are grouped by category.

So if you’d like to hear about the other things (besides movies, TV shows, books, and comics) taking up my headspace in 2016, then read on for more!

Music
Hamilton– 2016 was the year I bit the bullet and jumped on the Hamilton train.The reason I had held off for so long? I’m not really a hip-hop fan, and felt that I would judge the show based on musical preference, rather than the quality of the work itself. Fortunately, Hamilton is just one of those musicals that transcends genre. As someone who’s a fan of the American Revolution, I couldn’t help but fall in love with it: the characters, the songs, everything. Hamilton is proof that sometimes you’ll come across a work that truly is worth all of the hype it receives. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. I hope that one day, I’ll get to see it on stage.

Lindsey Stirling– Inspired by a post in Speculative Chic, in 2016 I really delved into the work of Lindsey Stirling, a crazy-talented violinist, composer, and dancer. Now, I own and love all three of her albums (my favorite one is constantly changing), have watched the DVD of her London concert, have seen most of her music videos (there are a lot of them!) and have read and enjoyed her memoir. Lindsey Stirling’s music is enjoyable on multiple levels. The more dance focused tracks can really get me energized, and because her songs are mostly instrumentals, I find them to be perfect background noise while reading. I know that she typically releases a new album every two years, but I really hopes that she breaks tradition and releases one next year. After gorging myself on all of her music at once, waiting for something new is just torturous! 

Utada Hikaru- Fantome Sometimes the best albums aren’t the one that grab you right off the bat, but the growers. This is the perfect description for Utada Hikaru’s long awaited 6th Japanese album. The songs themselves are deceptive. With the exception of the opening track, “Michi,” they’re not the catchy electronic-fueled tunes that Hikki has become known for. Instead, Fantome is an emotionally complex album, written in the wake of great tragedy (the suicide of a mother), and cause for celebration (the birth of a son). Fantome shows that despite her years away from the spotlight, Hikki continues to grow and develop as an artist. And the results are as high quality as always.

Podcasts
Writing Excuses– I’ve been a big fan of the Writing Excuses Podcast for years, but last year they brought things to a whole new level with their “Elements of Genre” series. This series did a fantastic job of breaking down genres to their basest elements and figuring out what made them tick. If you’re a fiction writer and haven’t listened to Writing Excuses yet, do yourself a favor and check out this series. You’ll have to go all the way back until January of 2016 to start, but from then you’ll have a year’s worth of helpful podcasts to dive right into.

Dear Hank and John- When it comes to the podcast I listen to, I ultimately want to laugh, be informed, and spend time listening to likable people. This is something that Dear Hank and John excels at on every level. This “comedy podcast about death” is put out by John and Hank Green, the masterminds behind vlogbrothers and oodles of other youtube channels. If you enjoy vlogbrothers, or any of those other channels, you are going to love this podcast. Highly recommend. 

Pokemon Go Radio– I’ll get more into the mobile ap that has consumed my heart and soul since August this year in a bit. Until then, let’s go into my favorite Pokemon Go podcast. Much Like Dear Hank and John, Pokemon Go Radio is put out by two brothers, and is incredibly funny. The podcast succeeds in both being a fun community show, a great place to learn about the latest updates to the ap, as well as a place to trade tips and tricks for gym battles. You can play Pokemon Go just fine without listening to this show, but if you want to play smart, then listen to Pokemon Go Radio

YouTubers
BlackNerdComedy- There’s a lot of great nerd-focused content on youtube. From SuperCarlinBrothers and their love for everything Disney/Pixar, to EmergencyAwesome‘s great coverage of comic book TV. But Andre from BlackNerdComedy has to be my favorite. He just brings this wonderful sense of genuine enthusiasm to the topic at hand. It doesn’t matter whether he’s talking about the latest big comic book movie trailer, or the so-bad-its-good movie Nine Lives (seriously, watch this video, it’s one of my favorites), but Andre’s nerdy/nostalgia fueled content is always a joy to watch. I look forward to see what he releases in 2017.

MyGreenCloset- I’m a bit of a sucker for beauty/fashion vloggers, but am not a fan of the excess that can come along with the genre. The perfect cure for this is Verena Erin’s MyGreenCloset. This minimalist shows that you can be excited about beauty without posting a single haul video, and care about fashion without sacrificing your ethics. Verena has recently upped the amount of videos that creates, and I enjoy watching every single one she posts. There’s just something so wonderfully calming about the way she speaks.

Etc.
Pokemon Go– I know this is showing up on a lot of “worst of the year” lists if because of how many people have jumped ship. But I’m still here! Despite the fact that it can get pretty buggy, I am OBSESSED with Pokemon Go. It’s gotten me out of my house, and forced me explore new parts of my community Hell, I even bought a new phone so I could play (RIP Nancy’s old iphone 4). Months later, I am still completely on board with this game, and have 125 Pokemon in my Pokedex. The question is now, will I be able to complete my North America Pokedex before gen 2 is launched? The race against time is on!

Speculative Chic– This one is a little self serving, but Speculative Chic isn’t a project that I would be committing too, week after week if I wasn’t really excited about it. Speculative Chis is a fanzine that I, and several other awesome geeky ladies contribute to. We review books, discuss the latest movies, as well as make posts about TV shows. comics, video games, music and more. This year, I wrote several columns about comic books and superheroes, edited a weekly column called “My Favorite Things,” and contributed to many great group posts. You can find an archive of all of my posts here. Going forward, I will be sharing my posts here on Picking up the Pen as well (I’m thinking about doing an “in review” type post at the end of each month), but there are plenty of great posts that I have 100% nothing to do with. So do yourself a favor and check out Speculative Chic in the meantime. Even if I wasn’t a columnist, I would still be a fan.

Honorable Mentions: instagram (ap), Garnier Miceller Cleansing Water (skin care), Sword and Laser (podcast)

And that’s it! I’m closing the door on 2016. Doing these were a lot of fun, and helped to motivate me to dig into this blog again. I promise not to abandon you for several months again. One of my 2017 goals is to blog here at least once a week, after all. As far as the rest of those goals, well that’s going to be a future post. See you then!

Top 10 of 2016: Comics and Graphic Novels

This is part four in a series of top ten lists. For movies, television shows, and books, check out their respective posts.

Out of all of the lists I made, this was the trickiest, because my comic book reading is pretty much all over the place. I read single issues, graphic novels, and the occasional manga series. Oftentimes, I read current releases, but I also dig into older runs. As a result, this list is kinda chaotic. I’ll try to be as honest about what I actually read without diving into information overload.

Without further ado, here are my top ten comics and graphic novels of 2016, leading up to my number one favorite.

10. Daredevil. Written by Mark Waid. Illustrated by Chris Samnee– This year I finished off the longest run on Daredevil by reading the final two trades, and even those last few issues were pretty freakin’ fabulous. The Waid/Samnee run on Daredevil was exciting, and fun, but not afraid to get serious as well (they gave Foggy Nelson CANCER!). The artwork was dynamic and unique, and the characters were oh-so-lovable. I have yet to dive into the Charles Soule run, which follows this, but it has some sizable shoes to fill.

9. The Private Eye. Written by Brian K Vaughan. Illustrated by Marcos Martin– The Private Eye is a self published webcomic by Vaughan and Martin that has been collected into this ENORMOUS hardcover collection. And I don’t necessarily mean enormous page count. The panels here are some of the largest I’ve seen. The Private Eye has a singularly unique concept. In the future, The Cloud bursts, sending everyone’s private information out to the wild. To protect themselves, everyone takes on a secret identity, complete with costumes and masks. Take this cool worldbuilding and combine it with a noir-esque storyline and you have a comic that’s really worth your attention.

8. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. Written and Illustrated by Jill Thompson– In this graphic novel, Jill Thompson re-imagines the Wonder Woman origin story in a rather surprising way. Sure, it involves amazons, and ends with Diana leaving Themyscira, but it also suggest that maybe growing up as a spoiled princess had some… adverse effects on Diana’s personality. As a result, Wonder Woman: The True Amazon is less about Diana discovering her powers, as much as it’s about what inspired her to become a good person. What brings this to the next level is the fact that the hand-painted style artwork is so gorgeous, almost more like a storybook then a comic. Not all existing fans will appreciate this portrayal of Wonder Woman, but if you’re looking for a good place to start with the character, then this would be a great choice.

7. Monstress. Written by Marjorie Liu. Illustrated by Sana TakedaMonstress is a grimdark fantasy that takes place in a gorgeously illustrated matriarchal fantasy world, involving Lovecraftian level horrors, and chibi-style sidekicks. And if that description sounds like your type of book, seriously, why haven’t you read this yet? Writer Marjorie Liu has really hit her sweet spot with this one, and Sana Takeda is one of the best artists currently making comics. I’ve only read the first trade, but I am so ready for volume two.

6. Saga. Written by Brian K. Vaughan. Illustrated by Fiona Staples– This is one of the comics I read in single issue form- although I am a couple issues behind due to holiday shenanigans. It says a lot about the quality of Saga given that this year produced the storyline that I’ve been the least fond of (the prison storyline) yet it’s still this high on on my list. So instead of falling in love with every issue, I merely enjoyed the crap out if it. Saga remains the perfect place to go for a wonderfully weird sci-fi adventure that’s not afraid to step on your heart every now and then. I’m really looking forward to catching up on this one.

5. Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat. Written by Kathe Leth. Illustrated by Brittney Williams– I’m also reading this one in single issue format, although it couldn’t be any more different than Saga if it tried. Patsy is a wonderfully relatable protagonist. She’s trying to help out people with superpowers who don’t necessarily want to become superheroes or villains, AND juggle her complicated past, while dealing with the crazy machinations of the Marvel universe. The fact that this comic feels so grounded while totally embracing the crazy-cakes backstory of the protagonists is a real testament to the writer, Kathe Leth. This is a great selection for those looking for a light, fun read, starring a female superhero.

4. Ms. Marvel. Written by G. Willow Wilson. Illustrated by Adrian Alphona. This year, I read the 4th and 5th trades for G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and damn it’s still good. Kamala Khan is everything I want my superheroes to be. Admirable, yet flawed. Well intentioned, yet still learning about herself. This year, Kamala dealt with her newfound fame as Ms. Marvel as well as the massive crossover event, Civil War II. As someone who usually despises crossover events, I’d like to hold up the Ms. Marvel comics as an example for how to incorporate crossover events while still keeping the storyline personal. Too often, crossovers feel like useless filler that detract from the protagonist’s current journey, but that was not felt here. Civil War II brought some massive changes to Kamala’s life, and I can’t wait to see what happens to her next.

3. Attack on Titan. Written and Illustrated by Hajime Isayama. This year, I’ve been keeping up with the manga, Attack on Titan, reading volumes 17-19, as well as the spin off, No Regrets. Last year, the manga, while still good, was caught up in a political arc that didn’t always play to Isayama’s strengths. Now, the emphasis is on character drama and action, which is where Attack on Titan shines the most. Attack on Titan is one of those series that 100% worth all the hype it gets. The spin off, No Regrets, which focuses on Levi’s backstory, is also really great, despite the fact that it wasn’t written by Hajime Isayama. I am both excited (and dreading) to learn what will happen to our cast of characters next.

2. Wonder Woman. Written by Greg Rucka. Illustrated by various. Now this is going to be the most confusing item on my list, because while everyone else is reading Greg Rucka’s current run on Wonder Woman, I’m reading the one he wrote ten years back. And why am I doing that? Because it’s awesome. I still have a few more issues to go, but time and time again, I have been impressed at how well Rucka manages to capture Diana. Wonder Woman is a peacekeeper, but also a warrior. A diplomat, but also someone that will kill when necessary. A woman who isn’t bound by traditional women’s roles, despite being from an ancient society. It can be difficult to capture a character who wears so many hats, and is seemingly full of conflicts, but Rucka always portrays her with dignity and grace. I can see why they invited him back for a second run.

1. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Written by Ryan North. Illustrated by Erica Henderson– Please. You know me. What else could I pick for my number one? I only wrote an entire column praising Squirrel Girl, and this run specifically. There’s just something so lovable, so perfect, about Doreen Green. She’s feisty, strong, smart, and compassionate. The artwork by Erica Henderson is just suits the story so well. And it’s so nice, that in a world where humor is so often devalued and looked upon as lesser, that you have a comic that’s not afraid to put the lighthearted first, and is pretty much universally praised for it. Squirrel Girl is my favorite superhero of 2016, and my favorite comic book (I’m reading it in trade paperback form). I can’t wait to see what she gets into next.

Honorable Mentions: Wonder Woman (Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang Run- last two trades), Paper Girls (current issues), Lazarus (current issues), Black Widow (Mark Waid/Chis Samnee run- current issues)

Anything I miss? I’d love to hear what everyone else has been reading for comics this year.

Next, for my final top 10 list, I’ll be talking about my random favorites. Think music, podcasts and anything else that didn’t fit into the previous categories. Hope to get that up soon!

Top 10 of 2016: Books

With movies and television taken care of, it’s time to tackle the category that is probably the nearest and dearest to my heart- books!

This list includes my favorite books of 2016. To simplify things, I’m only including books I experienced for the first time in the past year (as much as I enjoyed rereading the Glamourist Histories). Not all of these books are 2016 releases, but some of them are. Interestingly, I couldn’t help but noticing that as I was compiling this list, I ended up picking quite a few nonfiction titles. And while I certainly read more nonfiction this year then I have in the past, it didn’t make up THAT much of my reading, proportionally. Perhaps I just ended up choosing really good nonfiction titles!

Same as my last two lists, this is a countdown! So the number one book IS my number one book of the year.

10. The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin– Clearly, the world agrees with my on The Fifth Season‘s awesomeness, as it won the Hugo Award this year! The Fifth Season works for me for three reasons. The characters are complex, the world building is fascinating, and the way the book is structured is fascinating for me as a writer. I have no excuse for having not read the sequel (The Obelisk Gate) yet. Don’t worry, I feel the shame.

9. The House of Hades by Rick Riordan– One of the things I tried to do this year is catch up on Rick Riordan’s Mythology books. And I did great, until The Hammer of Thor was published, and now I’m behind again (d’oh!). My favorite of them all was The House of Hades, which brought our characters into new and interesting directions, my favorite being Percy and Annabeth’s journey through Tartarus, where they must face their slain enemies. Really good stuff.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer– I actually read all four books in The Lunar Chronicles this year (plus the spin off novella Fairest. The short story collection, Stars Above, is still in my TBR). I felt like the strongest was the first book Cinder. It’s not that the later books were bad. I just prefer the smaller, more personal focus of the earlier books. Cinder does a fantastic job of retelling the Cinderella story in a sci-fi setting. I’m impressed at how well Meyer took a fairytale lead particularly lacking in agency and crafted a really satisfying protagonist out of her. The romance was also top notch.

7. The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard- The Story of Stuff is a fascinating look into the lifespan of the things we own, from how the raw materials are gathered, up until after it’s been thrown away. Throughout this process, The Story of Stuff takes a close look on its impact on the environment, and the people who live it. The Story of Stuff will dramatically change how you look at the stuff in you life, from the cotton t-shirt on your back, to the cellphone in your pocket, and it manages to deliver an immense amount of information in a way that both informative and highly entertaining. This book should be required reading in high schools.

6. Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold– I read a few of the Vorkosigan books during 2016 but my favorite- by far- was Borders of Infinity. This collection of three very different novellas tells three satisfying Miles Vorkosigan stories, tied together by unrelated framing story. This is a wonderful addition to an already wonderful series. I suspect it will be satisfying to both new and existing fans of the series. I fangirled about this one over at Speculative Chic this fall. 

5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah– I’ve read my fair share of comedic memoirs, but Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime completely changed how I view the genre as a whole. On top of being funny, Born a Crime is also chock full of information about horrors of apartheid and its aftermath. The level of poverty the now cheerful host of The Daily Show experienced in his youth will be unfathomable to the vast majority of the book’s western audience. We talk a lot about checking your privilege nowadays, and that’s so important, especially when it comes to realizing what privilege really means in the context of the wider world. Born a Crime is a book that often left me in tears, which doesn’t happen all that often. I highly recommend reading this, even if you don’t watch The Daily Show.

4. The Supergirls by Mike Madrid- I write a lot about superheroes over at Speculative Chic. In preparation for that, I decided to brush up on my background reading. I started off with The Supergirls, by Mike Madrid, which is all about the history of female characters in comics. I had no idea that on top of being informative, that it would be such a page turner as well. Madrid clearly cares about the women he writes about here, and his enthusiasm comes through on every page. This is 100% recommended to anyone with any kind of interest in the role that female characters have played in comics from the Golden Age to the early 2000s.

3. City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong– I’ve been a big fan of Kelley Armstrong since I first picked up Bitten when I was in college, so the fact that she continues to wow me with great material, ten years later, really says a lot. City of the Lost is a fantastic thriller/murder mystery that takes things the next level thanks to its unique setting (focusing on a small community of people who live off the grid), tough-as-nails lead (have I mentioned recently that I have a weakness for awesome lady cops in my fiction?), and steamy romance (I thought I was going to hate it, but I was so on board by the end). I am chomping at the bit for the second Casey Duncan book A Darkness Absolute, which is supposed to be released this February. 

2. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda– A behind the scenes look at Hamilton, this tome-sized book chronicles the evolution of the musical from its initial inception up and through its runaway Broadway success. To fans of Hamilton, I could not recommend this book more. It’s like someone has handed you all of the hidden secrets of the musical. The fact that it contains the entire script (with footnotes from LMM!), and gorgeous photos is a wonderful bonus. If you’re a Hamilton fan and haven’t read Hamilton: The Revolution, do yourself a favor and hit up your local library.

1. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished by Rachel Aaron– And now we get to my favorite book of the year, the newest book in my favorite series, The Heartstrikers. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished continues the story of Julian Heartstriker, the one nice dragon of a clan of greedy dragons, trying to get by in a post apocalyptic world. No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished has a distinctly political air, and the fact that I found is so enjoyable during a year when real-life politics thoroughly depressed me, says a lot about the quality of Rachel Aaron’s writing. I know that she’s currently hard at work at the fourth book, and I can’t wait to dig into it. 

Honorable Mentions: Imago by Octavia Butler, A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

So those were my favorite reads of 2016. I’d love to hear how everyone else’s reading year went.

Next up, comics and graphic novels!