New Year, New Reading List: Books for Your 2021 TBR

Happy 2021! The year took off with a bang suitable for the heels of 2020, but I remain hopeful about the months ahead. Not everything will be roses and sunshine immediately. We need to work for better times. I do believe, however, that despite notable chaos, we can turn things around. And I’m starting with my reading list. I want to focus on reading more broadly and discovering a few new authors that I love.

Child lying on a bed reading a book, surrounded by more open books.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I read quite a bit in 2020, but I still have a tall pile of books I meant to get to. It’s always the case. But I refuse to deny myself the pleasure of upcoming releases just because I’m behind. I will dive into this new year of books with gusto. How about you? If you’re like me, you’re looking forward to new titles by favorite authors and new discoveries as well. So this week I’m offering up links to some lists of books on the horizon, as well as a wrap up of things read in 2020, both recent and old. Whatever your take on reading in the new year, I hope you find some new favorites and a lot of inspiration. Happy reading!

This week’s links:

A Year in Reading: 2020. – One of my favorite features at The Millions is their annual year in reading series. Dozens of writers weigh in with brief reflections on their readings for the past year, sometimes a whole list and others one or two notable choices. The master list links to all of this past year’s contributors.

43 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2021. – A wonderful list of upcoming releases.

7 Historical Romances to Read After Binge-Watching Bridgerton. – For those of you with a holiday hangover from the Netflix series, here are some great romances to keep you in that romantic mood.

The Astrology Book Club: What to Read This Month Based on Your Sign. – Fun and a little fluffy, but the book choices are great and varied. Fast readers might want to pick up a bunch.

The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2021. – A year’s worth of crime novels on the horizon, with enough coming out each month to keep you pretty busy.

I Will Never Watch “Children of Men” the Same Way Again. – A writer looks back on the dystopian film in the wake of recent events. Please note that the novel, by P.D. James, came first, and is well worth a read if you haven’t checked it out previously.

24-in-48 Readathon. – My favorite readathon is back this February in a slightly pared down version. I love this event, which challenges you to read for up to 24 hours out of a 48-hour period. No pressure, though. You can drop in for an hour or two and enjoy the social media bookishness, or hang in until the bitter end. Chat is about books read and loved, what snacks are best for a reading weekend, and other bookish joy. Go sign up.

Mini Prompts for the December Writing Challenge

Finding it difficult to steal time for your current writing project? Or maybe you can find the time, but your brain refuses to cooperate. I know it can be difficult to focus when so many other things are going on. The world continues to spin at a slightly wonky angle, and now all the holiday fuss piles on top.

Photo by Katie Az on Unsplash

Sometimes all you need is a little nudge or a fresh idea to keep you writing. I’m not suggesting you toss out your current project, but maybe you need a little break. Instead of skipping a writing day, try working on a fun mini project that can keep your creativity flowing. Here are a few little ideas to get you started.

Mini Prompts:

  • Think of a holiday from your childhood when things went wrong, and write up a few pages to save for posterity. Did the dog get the turkey? Did a storm knock out the power? Were family members fighting? Remember what it felt like from your perspective at the time, whatever age you were.
  • What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Write up a description and why you love it that would help someone from a different culture appreciate why it’s special to you.
  • Plan your holiday for this time next year, once people have been vaccinated and we can get together once more safely. What would make a perfect occasion? Write about it.
  • Think of your favorite holiday movie. What do you like about it? Now imagine how you could change it for a fresh version, whether that means a gender swap or a modern take or something entirely different. Write up some notes for it, and if you like the concept, add it to the future projects file.
  • Consider things historically considered important at this time of year: light, warmth, food, family, comfort, hope. Pick one or two and write some thoughts about how those things matter in the 21st century.

Go grab yourself a cozy warm drink and some paper or your laptop, and give yourself a few thoughtful moments to write from the heart. Not every project has to be the next great novel or something to pitch. Find a peaceful corner, and remember why you love to write. Consider it a little holiday gift to yourself. Enjoy!

Friday Links for a Bookish Weekend

I try to bring you a shopping guide this time of year, suggesting gifts for writers. This year, between the number of people staying home for the holidays and the overall stress of the pandemic, I’ve gone back and forth on whether to do one. Gifts are lovely, but getting them to people is difficult. Particularly when you consider the slowness of the post in recent months. So instead of suggesting all sorts of presents that require purchase and shipping, I’m just going to include some bookish links today, to go with the ones last week. Remember that you can call indie bookstores near your loved ones and arrange gifts through them. Or you can send gift cards, either by email or tucked into a holiday card. Bookshop.org now offers gift cards, so you can still support indie booksellers. Give the gift of something cozy to read.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Gift-giving aside, don’t forget the December Writing Challenge is still in full swing. It’s a low key year, but with everything going on, try to prioritize your own interests a bit. Schedule time to work on your current project. You don’t need to hit a certain word count or number of pages. Just sit with it and keep your brain tuned in so you don’t lose momentum. And if you do find yourself on a writing roll, by all means take advantage of it!

Wishing you a great weekend, filled with some holiday music and stories and a bit of writing time for yourself!

This week’s links:

16 Authors Share the Best Books They Read in 2020. – A nice list of recs from authors through the folks at Bookish.

Our 65 Favorite Books of the Year. – This roundup, from Lit Hub, offers a good cross section of genres and titles less frequently discussed.

The Twelve Days of Christmas. – For Austenites and fans of Regency life/writing, a look into Christmas life of that era, brought to you by the staff at Jane Austen’s house. Includes bits of Austen’s letters, recipes, illustrations, and some short readings courtesy of Emma Thompson.

The Talented Ms. Calloway. – An intriguing look into the world of a certain sort of publishing, and what it means to self-promote and to publish oneself in a very literal manner.

Electric Lit’s Favorite Novels of 2020. – As it says. A nice selection for reading/gift-giving inspiration.

The 50 Greatest Apocalypse Novels. – For those of you thusly inclined. Given the state of 2020, once I saw this, I felt I had to include it.

The Power of Poetry: A Prescription for Creative Inspiration

Mid-pandemic, we all seek reassurance. We want to know the world will return to normal, that our friends and family will be able to gather, that we can once again go to a movie theater. But writers look for more than the personal. On the creative side, writers seek assurances that their ideas will continue to flow. That the nature of their talent and career won’t be fundamentally altered by this weird time in our lives.

I can’t offer guarantees, other than to say we are not the first generations to go through a world-changing experience such as this. There have been wars and pandemics and shifts in power before. Creatives came through those other events, often with fresh perspectives and new outlooks. It will likely happen again.

Part of holding this year’s December Writing Challenge is offering the reassurances I can give you. The brain is a marvelous, resilient thing, capable of amazing feats. Try giving it free rein this week. See what  you come up with. But don’t forget to feed it, too. Read something a bit different, find a new playlist online, search out some virtual art exhibits. Or do a puzzle. Cook something. And then sit down at the page and figure out where your head is in that moment.

When in doubt, I offer up poetry. Not the romantic or epic sort we read back in school, although that has its merits, too. Find something funny. Something recent. Get inside the language. Don’t worry about the “right” reading of it. See what it says to you.

For inspiration, I’m posting the video below, which celebrates poetry for every occasion. For sadness, for feeling different. Even for Brexit. I hope it gives you some fresh creative energy. Enjoy, and happy writing.

 

Friday Links: How Is It December? Edition

Where did December come from? We’re four days into my December Writing Challenge, yet still, the month surprises me. So much of this year snailed along, but we hit Labor Day and zip, zip! Not that I will miss 2020, but it’s still a shock to realize how quickly this last part of the year has gone.

Photo by Guneet Jassal on Unsplash

Today I bring links, but first, a bit of chatty business. As mentioned above, I’m holding my annual writing challenge this month. You can find all the rules and the kick-off post earlier this week. Please join in, even if you missed the start. I try to keep the challenge encouraging and low key, particularly this year with the pressures of the pandemic. Come for a bit of inspiration, some pep talks, the occasional prompt or writing sprint. Posts will appear hear, and I’m tweeting daily as well. So, come write. The more the merrier.

We’ve entered end-of-year booklist territory. Yes, some of them are ridiculous. There are far too many. And yet, I love them. I’ve included some below, to help with holiday shopping or holiday reading of your own. There also might be some soon-to-come booklists, just to mix it up. But there’s no real theme to this week’s links. We’re very casual around here in December. Kick off your shoes, grab a mug of something hot, and stay a while. Wishing you a great weekend, and happy writing!

This week’s links:

NPR’s Book Concierge 2020. – A wonderful roundup of recommended books that came out this year, with the added ability to search by genre, audience, and more. Previous years’ lists are also available. By far my favorite year-end booklist, just due to sheer volume.

19 Books by Northeast Indian Authors. – As the article says, so good you’ll be adding them to your reading list ASAP. I know I’ve added a few to mine.

BookExpo and BookCon Are No More. – The announcement that these events, cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, will not be returning in their previous form.

Jason Reynolds bought up all his own books from local DC bookstores and gave them to readers. – The generous act of an author on Giving Tuesday.

8 Books about Feminist Folklore. – An intriguing set of titles both for pleasure reading and for research.

32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021. – A list of upcoming books to keep on your radar.

This Holiday Season, Support These 8 Charities that Hand Out Books. – A great list of organizations that donate books to those that need them. Consider one (or more) for your year-end charitable contribution.

The Hidden Literary Heritage of Harriet the Spy. – An intriguing look into the history of this beloved literary character.

Finding Reasons to Be Thankful

I ignore Thanksgiving most years. I find it difficult to get behind a holiday linked to so many troubling aspects of our history. But that said, I still believe in taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in my life. This year in particular calls for gratitude.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

At its core, Thanksgiving in the United States revolves (supposedly) around being thankful for survival in the midst of adversity. It’s evolved to be about family and food and excess, but those weren’t the initial intentions. I think a pandemic that has killed more than 260,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 13 million Americans counts as a time of adversity. We’ve lost so much this year.

I tend to be a glass-half-empty person. It’s how my brain works. I see the negatives because I want to fix things. Things that work don’t require as much attention. But focusing on the bad can wear you down, so today I’m ignoring the projects and the politics and the pandemic (while staying home, very much by myself). Today, I’m thankful not to be ill. I’m thankful for food in my kitchen and my mother still on the other end of the phone line. For friends around the world who are healthy, and for those who are not but still manage to hang on. I am so grateful for my lovely co-workers and clients. For the existence of books in the world, and music and streaming TV and the delightful pen pals who fill my mail with something other than bills. I’m especially thankful for a few glimmers of hope that maybe, possibly, we can pull ourselves together and do better in the new year.

Wishing you all a day to be thankful for.

Friday Links: Tricks and Treats Edition

Happy Halloween Eve! The week got away from me, as I’ve been catching up after last week’s virtual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. I started out Monday with a pile of backlog and a brain buzzing about writing structure, saggy middles, handling timelines, and more. Even agents pick up great tips at writing conferences.

Image by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay

So here we are, on the cusp of Halloween, plus a new month and the start of NaNoWriMo. I thought I’d offer a mix of writerly and seasonal links to kick things off. Whether you plan to watch horror movies, dress up, or just settle down with a good book and bowl of candy, I wish you a fun, safe Halloween, and a stellar start to NaNo. Don’t forget to set your clocks back Saturday night. You get an extra hour of writing time on Sunday. Sounds like a treat to me!

This week’s links:

‘I spooked myself right before bedtime:’ Authors on Their Scariest Creations. – A little Halloween inspiration to put you in the mood.

The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark. – A peek at some lesser known works of the author that fit right into the season.

Tana French: Hope in Hard Times. – The thriller writer discusses her latest manuscript, which she has the great fortune to hand in shortly before COVID-19 shut downs ramped up, as well as other aspects of her writing on the latest episode of The Secret Library Podcast.

Where to Start with Shirley Jackson. – The author’s work seems to be undergoing a resurgence on screen, but what about actually reading her stories? Here’s a guide to how  you might approach them.

When Is It Okay to Write About Someone Else’s Culture or Experience? – Part of Charlie Jane Anders’ ongoing project to write a book about story craft, which Tor.com has been publishing in installments. Great information here about what we mean when we refer to #OwnVoices writing.

How Not to Be All About What It’s Not All About: Further Thoughts on Writing About Someone Else’s Culture and Experience. – A terrific follow up to the above from Nisi Shawl.

Dissecting Suspense in Rebecca. – In light of the new adapation on Netflix (which I advise you to skip; stick to the Hitchcock version), I urge you to read or reread Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel and see for yourself all the ways suspense can build. Terrific lesson, no matter what sort of fiction you write.

Friday Links: A NaNoWriMo Inspiration Edition

Happy Friday, and welcome to the middle of October. For the many writers, October serves as the countdown to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. In today’s selection of links, I offer up a bit of inspiration to help you get into the writing groove. Check out how other writers tackle their projects, or learn about new twists on older ideas. Be sure to visit the official NaNo site for additional tips on getting ready.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Before I delve into this week’s links, I want to remind you that I reopen to queries on Monday the 19th. I updated my wishlist here on the blog, but for anyone looking for a quick genre overview:

At this time, I’ll be looking to take on women’s contemporary or historical fiction; contemporary or historical single-title romance; magical realism; young adult contemporary, mystery, or historical fiction.

I will continue to adjust what genres I’m accepting every few months, based on current market needs, my reading interests, and what I’ve recently signed on. Please do not attempt to query outside of the requested genres, as I will auto-reject without reading.

Without further ado, I give you a mishmash of links to explore this weekend. I hope they inspire you to try new things in your own writing, or push yourself in whatever ways you need. Happy writing!

This week’s links:

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Stories & Ideas. – Initially, The LA Times postponed this year’s festival due to COVID-19. Eventually, they decided to go virtual. Register now for free panels starting this weekend and running into mid-November.

15 of the best first lines in fiction. – Having trouble kicking off your book? Check out these stand-out first lines for some creative sparks.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Writing a More Authentic Mexico. – The author chats with Maris Kreizman on her podcast on how she approached depicting a more realistic version of Mexico for readers more familiar with clichés.

On Learning of My Autism While Trying to Finish a Novel. – Madeleine Ryan discusses neurodiversity and how she now thinks of her own characters.

A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s. – Ever wonder about those partial letters between characters? This edition includes physical copies, fleshed out based on clues from the text.

NaNoWriMo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide. – This blog post provides a great breakdown of tips for getting reading for NaNo.

Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative: Ethan Hawke via Ted Talks

Ethan Hawke puts himself out there. Whether he is acting, playing music, or putting pen to paper, he throws his full effort behind the task. In his recent Ted Talk from quarantine, he shares some sound advice and demonstrates the honesty behind his craft. Even if you’re not a fan, you should give it a watch. I particularly recommend it for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome, or struggling due to the pandemic.

Friday Links: Falling into Autumn Edition

Somehow, despite the global pandemic and the west coast burning and what has often felt like the slowest year on record, we’ve reached October. Autumn in SoCal is nebulous at the best of times. Predictably, I’m writing this in the midst of a heatwave. No hot tea or cozy sweaters for me. More like ice cream and air conditioning. But fall still brings to mind school supplies and productivity, and I am way past due for an update.

Things on the horizon:

Utmost in most of your minds, no doubt, is when I plan to open again to submissions. The answer is, in a couple of weeks. I haven’t set a firm date yet as I’m tinkering with a few things. I’m also making decisions on some lingering projects in my inbox. Right now I plan to make a more formal announcement late next week.

That said, there will be some changes in what I’m looking for in terms of new material. I’m not making any huge shifts in what I represent, but I will no longer be accepting queries for all of those genres at the same time. I can’t keep up with the influx. I will update my wish list both here and on the agency site, and my QueryManager page will offer a much more limited list of genres I am accepting.

Please note that I will be changing which genres I’m accepting queries for from time to time, based on the balance of my client list, the market, and what I am most interested in reading. So if I’m not accepting projects in the genre you write, that does not mean I won’t be taking them again in a few months. But please, do not try to sneak your query to me by labeling it under some inappropriate genre or emailing it directly. It will be rejected unread in the first instance, and deleted in the second.

I realize some of you will be frustrated by this, and I am sorry. All I can say is, like many people, I have found my state of mind profoundly affected by world events, particularly the pandemic, and the result is my reading interests and ability to focus have shifted. I bounce off books I should adore. I sink into things that previously would not have interested me. Fighting it doesn’t do anyone any good.

So that’s where things stand on the business front. Now on to the fun stuff. I’ve a mishmash of links for you this week, and I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Wishing you all a lovely weekend and happy writing!

This week’s links:

So What’s the Difference Between a Myth, a Fairytale, and a Legend? – An interesting look at three similar types of story and their definitions.

Word Matters. – The new-ish podcast brought to you by Merriam-Webster focusing on grammar, word origins, and other word-related things.

With His New Mystery Novel, John Banville Kills Off a Pen Name. – An entertaining history of the Irish writer’s relationship to his alter ego, and why he needs to live on in Spain.

Why Goodreads Is Bad for Books. – A review of the site’s history and stagnant existence, plus an intriguing peek at a new potential alternative.

Susanna Clarke’s Fantasy World of Interiors. – A lovely interview with the author, discussing the long break between her books and the mysterious ailment affecting her ability to work.

Are We Running Out of Monster Metaphors for the Disasters of the Real World? – Looking at the ways in which we cope with our real-world fears through fictional threats.

Up Close: A 1574 Map of London. – Take a look at the city’s layout during Shakespeare’s lifetime.