Books I read in 2014

2014 reading list post

I’m a couple months late in posting this, but I finally had time to jot down what I read in 2014. Unfortunately at some point during the year I lost the index card on which I kept track of what I read, but I think I was able to remember most of them. So here are the books I read in 2014, in no particular order.

Favorite Authors

My surprise find of the year was Sharon Cameron. Her steampunk novel The Dark Unwinding was imaginative and brilliantly worded. Her turn of phrase on some occasions and ways she flipped the character’s expectations were thrilling to read. She also had a great blend of that creepy feeling often found in classic gothic novels, similar to Kenneth Oppel in This Dark Endeavor. (Side note: I adore those two titles.)

After being introduced to Brandon Sanderson in 2013 with his Mistborn trilogy, I continue to be amazed at his writing on so many levels. He is ridiculously prolific and imaginative with his magic systems (they are all completely different and detailed). The highlight of his books, though, are the characters. Nowhere was this more evident than in The Way of Kings. Each character has such a deep emotional journey, and the payoff at the end is jaw-dropping. And this only the first book in a 10-part series! I’ve never committed to a massive, multi-part series before but I am definitely going to keep reading the Stormlight Archives.

James S.A. Corey wrote an exciting series of books starting with Leviathan Wakes. I think the first book is the strongest, but the whole series is adventurous and does a great job at expanding the story beyond what you thought it was going to be.

Lastly, Frank Peretti nailed it with his latest book Illusion. I’ve been a Peretti fan since ninth grade when I was finally allowed to read The Oath, but his recent books haven’t engaged me the same. Illusion turned out to be a fantastic book, and very moving in parts.

Books for 2015

This year looks like it will mostly be filled with sequels and new books from favorite authors. Sharon Cameron has a new book coming out called Rook, and Rachel Hartman, who wrote Seraphina, one of my favorite books of 2013, just released Shadow Scale. These two women are excellent writers, and I’m excited to see what they’ve come up with.

Other sequels are Sarah Maas’s Crown of Midnight and of course Words of Radiance, book two of Sanderson’s series. (He also has a follow-up to Steelheart. How does he make time for all of this?!)

I’ve also decided to read through the Harry Potter series. I wrote several years ago about why I didn’t finish them, but I think I’m ready to. So far the first two books have been great and I’m excited to finally finish the series.

Alrighty, enough talk. Let’s read. If you have any book suggestions, let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

A Change of Intake

New Sites

For the past several years my nightly web surfing consisted of visiting the following websites:

  1. Shawnblanc.net, a blog about Apple, tech, and design.
  2. Marco.org, a blog about iOS app development and tech
  3. Loopinsight.com, a blog about Apple, iOS app development, and tech
  4. The Verge, a site about all things tech and pop culture

Here’s the thing: I am involved in a lot of creative environments, film and fiction writing being foremost. But iOS app development has never been one of them. Yet every night I would spend time looking at all these tech sites unrelated to both my job and the projects I did on the side.

I knew these things were outside of my regular sphere, but I shrugged it off as a guilty indulgence. I do find the Apple/tech world intriguing so after a while I just went with it. I would listen to podcasts like Accidental Tech Podcast, which is all about development. I would sketch app ideas and even considered learning how to code apps. But in the end it was just a side hobby. Actually, not really a hobby. More like a vague interest.

At the start of 2015, I decided to change things up. What if I spent my time reading websites that wrote about the things I’m directly involved in? It’s only been a couple months into this experiment and I am loving it.

Here are a few sites I’m trying out:

  1. Fifty Foot Shadows, thoughts on life and photography
  2. Analog Senses, thoughts on life and photography
  3. Prolost, thoughts on and products for film
  4. The Dissolve, film editorials and reviews—great content here!
  5. Jamie Todd Rubin, the writing life
  6. Janice Hardy’s Fiction University, consistently insightful writing advice
  7. Backchannel, a new addition with well-written, in-depth tech articles
  8. Suggestion of Motion, in-depth articles about film, specifically the Panasonic GH4, which I own
  9. Garrett Koepke’s blog—my brother is writing some great stuff about travel, with beautiful photographs
  10. The Music Bed Community—at first just a stock music site, TMB have become so much more

This is a longer list than I used to check, but that is offset by the fact that they post less frequently. Instead the pieces are more focused on really thinking about a topic. It’s a slower pace that I’ve come to appreciate. And yes, there is still a tech website on there. That’s because Steven Levy writes some of most insightful, engaging, and well-written articles about tech I’ve found.

After just a couple months of changing the websites I read, I’m already feeling a difference. Reading Fifty Foot Shadows and Analog Senses has inspired me to get a film camera and try my hand at slower paced, more focused photography. The editorials by The Dissolve and Stu’s writing at Prolost is helping me be more thoughtful about my filmmaking—a category to which I’m excited to add The Music Bed.

The point is, I’m reading good writing about the topics I daily interact with. The content is encouraging and inspiring me in the things that I create, and I’m really thankful that I made the change.

Dealing with Creative Frustration

Improv Short Film shoot
Actors Heather Rodriguez and Joshua Willis, with camera operator Ben Edwards

Last weekend I made a short film. The whole thing was improvised; all we had when we started was a location and three actors. There were moments of standing around as we talked, and I tried not to get too stressed. It was a new experience, making up a story on the fly, and I felt like I needed to give answers quickly—something I don’t normally do. Thinking about it later, I realized another part of my anxiousness was because there was something I was reaching for that I couldn’t think fast enough to grasp.

I have that feeling often. An image doesn’t look quite right, or a sentence doesn’t ring with the right note. I know the right thing—the best thing—is out there but it dances just out of sight. I feel frustrated that I can’t catch it. But I reach and I reach, fingers ever empty, heart ever hungry. Because I know it’s there. I see it in films by Paul Greengrass, Rian Johnson, David O. Russell, and Terrence Mallick. I read it in books by Brandon Sanderson, Stephen Lawhead, Kenneth Oppel, and Christine Fletcher. There! my mind screams, as I try to drink it in, as I try to digest what I have seen or read or heard, and felt. There is where I want to be!

Ira Glass calls this desire the Gap—the distance between my current skill and my taste.

When I saw this video for the first time, it gave words to what I was reaching for. Processing it again now, I think there are two aspects to the desire to be “There”:

  • The desire keeps us reaching. The great artists I love became great because they didn’t stop reaching to be better, nor did they stop stretching themselves. They expanded their ideas of what was possible by looking at great work and then tried to do the same with their own projects. Like Ira said, they were willing to put in hours and months and years—and now we all see the payoff. For myself, I am encouraged that some day I will get there. It probably won’t be the next book I write, or the next film I direct, but if I keep reaching one day I will be “There”.
  • The desire can become unthankfulness. When I look at the work of great artists, it is so easy to fall into the trap of comparison. It’s easy to think that I could never measure up to that. When that thought comes, I start to wonder if I really am an artist, if maybe I should think of a plan B career. I start to focus on what I’m not, rather than appreciated what I am able to do. I can also lose sight of the fact that every great artist I love was once in my position, reaching for something their skill didn’t yet match.

So I think I need to walk my artist’s journey with patience and thankfulness clasped between my hands. When I’m frustrated that my skill isn’t reaching my taste, I need to remind myself that it’s possible to close that gap if I just keep learning and making. When lifting my eyes up to the greatness of the works around me I need to not judge myself inadequate by comparison, but rather see it as encouragement that I can grow through time and dedication.

Clarification: What I wrote about here has nothing to do with the people I worked with. They all were fantastic and I really enjoyed working with them. The frustration is with myself, in reaching for something that I can’t yet attain. But hopefully with practice I’ll be able to grow and close the gap between my taste and my skill.

A Way of Revision

With a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and an oatmeal-dried cherry cookie in the other, I read through the first draft of my new short story today. I just finished it on Friday (I think?), and so this is my first step toward revising it. Unfortunately I’ve never been one of those people who reads it once without taking notes to “really experience the story”. I tried it in college, and I tried it today, but I just can’t help myself. I am compelled to take notes.

short story revision

This is a test run, in actuality. On February 1st I’m going to start revising my first full-length novel and this short story seemed like a good testing ground for how I’m going to do it. My plan thus far, in loose order, is:

  • Read first draft in iBooks on the iPad
  • Highlight character names and locations
  • Highlight any story points I think may be helpful
  • Develop character and location descriptions based on previous list
  • Clarify character motivations using previous descriptions
  • Critique the story points and structure with character motivations in mind
  • Write second draft

I had a hard time staying awake while working on the first couple steps today. I’m not sure if that’s a sign of a bad strategy or just lack of sleep. I’m hoping for the latter (he says as he writes at 1:51 AM). But I do think this will be a good strategy.

iBooks in particular is going to prove helpful, I think. Highlights can be added as I read, along with any notes I want to jot down pertaining to the highlighted words. The list of notations can then be exported in a list and emailed to myself; colors, highlighted text, and chapter location are retained. That will prove useful, I think.

There is a lot of thinking and hoping going on here, probably because this is an unproven workflow. But again, that’s why I’m glad I have this short story to try it on before jumping into the novel.

So tomorrow I’ll start the character and location descriptions (or possibly Monday, since on Sunday I’m going to church, shooting an improv short film, meeting with a client to talk about freelance videos, and hanging out with friends. Boy that day filled up quickly). I’m looking forward to it.

A QUICK WORD ABOUT THIS POST

Before writing this, I had a thought about using my blog differently this year. I was looking for a website that talked about fiction writing and its process, along with a thoughtful look at life and stories. While I’m sure there is something like that out there, I couldn’t think of any, so I thought, why not write it myself? As such, this post is a little more stream of consciousness with random asides. We’ll see how it goes.