My 2020 in Books

One of my goals for 2020, and really the only one I wholly succeeded in, was to read more than I had in 2019. I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku (and it did!).

Being a little more systematic about my reading plans certainly helped. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books (usually), which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in the order I stack them. For my first reading stack, I grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but since then I’ve added criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!).

Since I had success with my 2020 reading plan, I made a spreadsheet to track my reading more in depth, and see if there’s anything I can do to tweak it and make even more out of my 2021 reading year. I might add a new-to-me category to my tracking this year as well.

Here’s how 2020 went:

I cracked open 90 books, and finished 89 of them. I honestly thought I would’ve abandoned more books than that, but I’m still pretty stubborn about finishing what I start, book-wise. 30 of my books were rereads, and 36 were graphic novels, which inflates the number a bit, but I’m still totally counting them (especially during the trashfire that was 2020).

I read 10 books by BIPOC authors and 7 by authors I know to be LGBTQ2S+. I’d like to improve both of those numbers in 2021, but am still pretty happy that everything I read came off of my shelves and I spent most of a year hitting my to-read stack goals without having to order a new book or visit the library to make my stacks. I will likely have to prop up the home shelves with some new additions by the end of 2021 to keep this category going.

Only 29 of my books were by women, which doesn’t surprise me given the amount of old graphic novel rereads that were on the list. The ratio is a bit better when compared to my new reads for the year, but I’d hoped for closer to 50-50 parity, and will be aiming for an equal mix again in 2021.

I caught up on 8 books written by friends. Sorry it took me so long!

Only 5 non-fiction books were finished in 2020. I tend to read non-fiction much more slowly than fiction, as I often make notes to myself of things I’d like to remember, or things that give me story ideas, but I’d still hoped for more. At least this should be an easy goal to beat this year.

I read 12 roleplaying game handbooks in 2020, which means I probably read more RPGs than I played in game sessions. It was not a good year for gaming for me. What games I played were fun, but pandemic brain definitely caused me to step back from actual game sessions (and as good as Roll20 is at what it does, I vastly prefer to have my gaming take place in person).

Of the 90 books I cracked open in 2020, I liked 70 of them enough to recommend to others, and there were no real stinkers. Even the book I set down had some pretty admirable qualities, it just wasn’t for me.

Top Fiction Reads

  • Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
  • Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
  • The Bone Mother by David Demchuk
  • The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
  • Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
  • Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield

Top Non-Fiction Reads:

  • Story Genius by Lisa Cron
  • The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber

Top Graphic Novel Reads:

  • Heathen Vol. 1 by Natasha Alterici
  • Criminal: Bad Weekend by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
  • Criminal: Cruel Summer by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Top RPG Reads:

  • Spectaculars by Scratchpad Publishing
  • Vaesen by Free League

Everything I read in 2020:

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

Here’s what I read in November.

Here’s what I read in December.

And my first to-read stack of 2021:

The January 2021 to-read pile: Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, Mahu Surfer by Neil S. Plakcy, The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon, and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

I’ve already broken my five books rule! After choosing my first five for 2021, I remembered that I’d planned to kick off the year reading Hungover, and didn’t want to bounce anything off the list.

Here’s to a great year of reading in 2021! What’s on your nightstand, friends?

New Year, New Goals, 2021 Edition

What a dumpster fire 2020 was, eh, friends? I’ll say mine was better than some people’s and worse than other’s and leave it at that.

Here’s what I’d hoped to accomplish last year:

  • Decide what to do with Graveyard Mind and Graveyard Mind 2 and implement those plans.
  • Revise An Excuse for Whiskey.
  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed. As before, I would like to get at least six new stories out the door this year, but this year I’d also like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Finish revising my WIP novel and get it out on submission.
  • Restart the agent hunt.
  • Read more.

How unrealistic was that in hindsight? I even had a stretch goal!

  • If I get my WIP out on submission, and Sandra and I finish An Excuse for Whiskey by November, I’ll take a run at NaNoWriMo again.

Nothing much has changed since my July 2020 update in regards to Graveyard Mind plans, or An Excuse for Whiskey. I’m still hopeful that I’ll find Graveyard Mind a home with a new publisher, but there’s nothing to report yet. Until I find Graveyard Mind a new home, or choose to self publish a new edition, its in-progress sequel will remain lying fallow. My Excuse for Whiskey co-writer Sandra has her new fitness website and YouTube channel, and is doing the pandemic single-mom thing, so she’s got her hands full. (You should totally check out Sandra’s fitness programs, she really knows what she’s doing, and has offered me plenty of advice in the last couple years as I became more serious about losing some weight and getting into better shape.) I actually blew past my realistic goal and then past my unrealistic goal. I’m back to my twenty-one year old weight which I wouldn’t have believed possible even a short while ago.

As I said in an interview with Derek Newman-Stille, I gave up on the revisions I’d been working on in favour of trying to draft a new book in this strange pandemic moment. Currently, that book is stalled at 41000 words, which means probably about halfway to a finished discovery draft; 30000 words is when a draft usually starts to feel like a book to me, but this one isn’t quite to that feeling yet. I think I’ve figured out what I want the finale to be, but I’m uncertain of the best steps to get through the soggy middle to get there. I didn’t get the draft done by the end of the summer as hoped, due to a lot of factors. I hope I’ll get back to it in 2021 when things settle down a bit more.

I did finish one more short story I’d previously started before the year ended–and it sold! Still, I was far short of what I’d hoped to accomplish. I only finished and submitted one novelette and one short story, but that novelette was not for an anthology, which was at least another short story subgoal hit. I got close to a finished draft on a third story, but you know the thing about close (horseshoes, hand grenades, that old chestnut). I’m still waiting on the revision notes from the editor and the contract to be signed, so I won’t say anymore about that last short story sale now. I also sold a reprint of my short story “Red” to the anthology Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, my story “Cheating the Devil at Solitaire” was longlisted for the Sunburst Award, “All Cats Go to Valhalla” released in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas, and “Golden Goose” released in Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens.

About the only goal I consistently hit in 2020 was to read more, which is a good way of refilling the creative well, so hopefully that will bode well for 2021’s creative pursuits. I’ve been tracking my reading every month here on the blog, but I’ll write a reading roundup blog at a later date.

I’ve changed up a few process things that I used as motivators in the past. I used to keep all of my unfinished projects on a list near my desk, partly as motivation to finish, and partly to shame me into finishing, but that tactic stopped being useful. Last year I tried keeping only the five or so projects in various categories (novel, short story, novella) on the list, but new things kept creeping onto the list. Still, the two stories I did finish in 2020 had been on the to-do list for a long time, and I’m thrilled to have finally crossed them off. I’m limiting the category lists to three items this year. Obviously, it’s unlikely I’ll finish my three novels novels this year, but all three of those novels in progress are different goals, such as finish a first draft, edit a first draft, and revise and submit a final draft.

Looking forward at 2021 it’s hard to get excited for a new year when you know that it’s going to start off the same way the last one ended. Much of my early 2021 is likely to be filled with some of the uncertainty of 2020, so it’s unlikely I’ll get back to novel writing for many reasons. I’ll reassess my goals in July at my half year check in. That said, here’s what I hope to accomplish for 2021:

  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed: I’m only aiming for three new stories out the door this year, but again, I’d like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Draft and submit a novella.
  • Read more in general.
  • Read more short stories.

Happy New Year, and write on!

The 2020 Reading List: December

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

In 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in December!

December’s to-read pile: The Green Room by De La Mare, The Signalman by Dickens, Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Cowper, Silence of the Grave by Indriðason, Revenge by Ogawa, Armed in Her Fashion by Heartfield, The Skeleton Crew by Halper, Krampus by Brom.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa: A short story collection in translation. The characters seem connected by threads, which made me change my reading strategy from jumping around between reading a story or two here and there and reading the book as a whole item, even though that’s not my preferred method of consuming short stories. This was a fantastic read; one of my favourites of the year! Not gory, not scary, but definitely unsettling; full of small horrors. Would absolutely read more by this author.

Krampus the Yule Lord by Brom: A fun little holiday tale. Not so little, really. The hardcover edition feels weighty, even if it’s not overly long. I’m always down for Krampus content. I also appreciated all the ties to Norse mythology. I primarily know Brom from his Dungeons & Dragons inspired art, but I’ve enjoyed his illustrated novels too, especially The Plucker and The Devil’s Rose. Brom did some gorgeous colour plates of a lot of the characters in Krampus the Yule Lord as well, which are included in the book, and black and white illustrations to kick off each chapter. Story-wise it reminded me of something I might read by Joe R. Lansdale, but Brom’s prose isn’t quite on Lansdale’s level (but then, for me, few people’s prose is).

The Signalman by Charles Dickens: Another in the Haunted Bookshelf series of novellas featuring classic ghost stories for Christmas. Like The Green Room, The Signalman had nothing to do with the holidays, although this one worked a bit better for me. It was a little shorter, and I was able to consume it in a sitting, which helped with the growing suspense. Honestly not sure I’ve ever actually read any Dickens before this, and while The Signalman hardly seems to be a representative work, I did enjoy it. Despite, that, I’m not likely to rush out to read more Dickens, contemporary fiction just speaks to me more.

Armed in Her Fashion by Kate Heartfield: Super embarrassed not to have gotten to this by now as Kate is a phenomenal writer and great person. I loved this book so much! The characters of Margriet and Claude especially spoke to me, but it was wonderful the entire way through. Kate was caught up in the CZP fiasco as was I, and sadly Armed in Her Fashion is now out of print, but I’m sure it’ll find a new home eventually. It’s too good not to.

The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber: My non-fiction read of this stack. Halber covers how the internet has led to a rise in amateur sleuths attempting to solve cold cases. A pretty interesting read. I liked how she used a couple cases as through lines running across the entire book.

Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Frank Cowper: The last of my Haunted Bookshelf ghost stories for Christmas, and the last book left on my to-read stack. I think I enjoyed this one the most of the three, possibly because it’s actually set during Christmas, which was something I’d hoped for from the others, and because the setting evokes something from a recent short story I sold: a spooky abandoned boat. I’ll definitely look into picking up more of these novellas for next December.

Since I cleared the to-read stack, I decided to indulge in a couple of comfort nostalgia rereads I picked up from my friends at local bookseller, Whodunnit.

Elfshadow by Elaine Cunningham: The first in Cunningham’s stories of Arilyn Moonblade and Danilo Thann, and Cunningham’s first published novel. I made it through Elfshadow, but didn’t finish Thornhold until after the new year rang in, so you’ll have to wait on that one. I found Elfshadow a little rough in places, but I still enjoyed it. The familiarity was just what I needed after a long year.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Here’s what I read in March.

Here’s what I read in April.

Here’s what I read in May.

Here’s what I read in June.

Here’s what I read in July.

Here’s what I read in August.

Here’s what I read in September.

Here’s what I read in October.

Here’s what I read in November.