The 2020 Reading List: September

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.

I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, 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 might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in the order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some 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!).

Here’s the to-read stack for September!

to read september

I’m hoping to make it through all of these due to Halloween-related reasons. I want to curate a spoopy reading list for October.

September:

Vaesen: A Wicked Secret by Free League: A companion book of four mysteries for use with the Vaesen Nordic Horror Roleplaying Game, also from Kickstarter. I really enjoyed reading each of the four mysteries. I think they’d all bring something interesting to the table. I typically don’t run modules when I run games, and because of that I think the book’s layout might cause me some consternation when I try to run these, but with a bit of extra prep, that’ll be a small issue. The mysteries cover a number of different locales and seasons, which is great. They’re all rural though, and I kind of wish there was at least one in the city where the players are supposed to be based.

Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara (translated by David Karashima): A short little crime adjacent book full of kind of shitty people who were very compelling to read about. Body modification is a big theme, the book’s title gets its Snakes from a character who split his tongue, and its narrator who’s obsessed with getting larger and larger plugs for her earrings, and later decides to pursue forking her own tongue. Pain and pleasure bleed together in this twisted story. If any of Kanehara’s other works are translate into English, I’d check them out.

Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley: The second book in Dudley’s Epikurean Epic novels. This one was sort of a reread, as I read the book back when it was in manuscript format. It was even funnier than I remembered! Anachronistic and punny in delicious way. While I’m sad there don’t seem to be any more books in her series, Dudley gives the beleaguered Pelops a good send off here, and it makes for a satisfying ending for the character.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice: I first encountered Waubgeshig Rice when he read from his story collection Midnight Sweatlodge at Winnipeg’s THIN AIR festival. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, ever since I saw Rice on a panel about the Indigenous post-apocalypse at a convention in Ottawa. This was a tough read at times, but worth it, I think. It hit home reading about a mysterious apocalypse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and while maybe not my smartest choice of reading material for these anxious days, I also found I couldn’t put it down. Really looking forward to reading more of Rice’s work.

We Don’t Need Another Hero by Sierra Dean: I’m most familiar with Dean’s Secret McQueen series, but this was a fun little one off. I burned through this one, and sorry-not-sorry for the pun considering the protagonist Rebecca “Bex” Beckett has fire control powers. This is a superhero story, and I’d like to see Dean play in this genre playground again even if she doesn’t return to these particular characters.

Hellboy Volume 2: Wake the Devil by Mike Mignola: This was a reread. I finished We Don’t Need Another Hero but wasn’t ready to start a new book right before going to sleep, but also wasn’t ready to go to sleep, so I grabbed one of the nearest graphic novels I could reach. This has long been one of my favourite arcs in the Hellboy series, and I’m pretty stoked about the upcoming Hellboy RPG, so this whim may have spurred a full series reread.

Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola and John Byrne: Another reread. “May have” indeed. Rereading the first Hellboy collection reminds me how much I loved Guillermo del Toro’s take on the character, how badly I wanted to see a third movie starring Ron Perlman, and how disappointed I was in the most recent cinematic outing. The story and Mignola’s art is definitely holding up better than my old paperback, which is starting to show its use!

Hellboy Volume 3: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories by Mike Mignola: Another reread. I think this is one of my favourite collections in the Hellboy series. I love the anthology style for a character like Hellboy, lots of short bursts of weirdness from various points in the character’s career. I also appreciate the little asides Mignola offers before each story about its origin.

Hellboy Volume 4: The Right Hand of Doom by Mike Mignola: Continuing my Hellboy reread. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the previous collection, but it does include what is probably my favourite three panel sequence in comics. Also, Hellboy falls through a lot more floors than I remembered.

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Hellboy Volume 5: The Conqueror Worm by Mike Mignola: Lobster Johnson! This volume was my first introduction to Mignola’s pulp-inspired hero. Characters like Lobster Johnson, the Shadow, and the Phantom are definitely my jam. One of the reasons I created my Midnight Man character for short stories was to dip my toes in that pool. A big turning point for Hellboy in this volume, which I really enjoyed revisiting.

Hellboy Volume 6: Strange Places by Mike Mignola: Another anthology of shorter tales, and one that also contains another of my favourite Hellboy panels. I think some of the stories in this one came out around the same time as the Hellboy movie, so Mignola wanted to get out ahead of it with some of the origin of his cosmic horror side of the ‘verse.

drinking with skeletons

Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories by Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, and Richard Corben: Another anthology of shorter tales, and the last one in my personal collection. Not my favourite Hellboy volume, even if I loved the titular story. I’ve found over the years I don’t enjoy reading Hellboy when it isn’t also illustrated by Mignola. Artist Duncan Fegredo comes closest for me, but this was the point where I stopped buying the book. Might have to check out further volumes again from the library down the road and get caught up.

The Science of Monsters: The Origins of the Creatures We Love to Fear by Matt Kaplan: I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting with this one, but it somehow didn’t fulfill those nebulous expectations. Kaplan organized it in a sort of chronological run through the human-monster experience, which led to a bit of my disappointment, as I didn’t particularly enjoy ending the book with a chapter on aliens. I understand the why, it just wasn’t what I wanted. Despite that issue, The Science of Monsters was an entertaining read (I particularly enjoyed the salty footnotes) but it didn’t make me wish to rush out to try Kaplan’s follow up, Science of the Magical. Maybe someday.

Atomic Robo Volume 1: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison, and Jeff Powell: Another reread started because I finished a book before I was ready to go to sleep. I can clearly see the line from my Hellboy reread to the start of my Atomic Robo reread. They share a lot of similar bones, and I think both heroes would get along, and enjoy using their violence on giant monsters, extradimensional threats, and undying Nazi scientists. Atomic Robo has a more science fiction feeling compared to the folklore and cosmic horror of Hellboy, and the humour is a little more in your face, but I love it.

Here’s what I’ve got on deck for October!

October to-read

You may notice there’s six books instead of my usual five, but I’ve reread A Night in the Lonesome October a chapter a night in October for the last several years, and 2020 isn’t taking that away from me. You may also notice a CZP title in there, and while I’ve severed ties with them, I purchased this before that went down and I don’t want to punish the author. David Demchuck got the rights back to the book, and I believe there’s a new edition pending, so check that one out if it intrigues and support another author who was taken advantage of by their publisher.

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.

Join The Fight, Make Comics!

The first Saturday in May is fast approaching, and that means: Free Comic Book Day!

I love comics. I have for as long as I can remember. Comic books were a huge part of my developing and maintaining a love of reading as a young boy. And while I haven’t made an effort at it since I’ve been concentrating on writing prose, I have always wanted to create my own comics. Unfortunately, I’ve been hamstrung by one very unfortunate fact:

I can’t draw.

Okay, that’s not the whole truth. I’ve done a fair amount of illustration in my time, and I can do passable, posed versions of my D&D characters or superheroes. Passable, but not great. And I never bothered to learn how to draw anything else. This is a bit of a problem. Regardless of whether you’re telling your story in our world, or one of your own creation, it needs to be populated by more than people posed heroically (and stiffly) on an otherwise blank page.

Which brings me to something I forgot to mention in my C4 Lit Fest Roundup. I promised GMB Chomichuk (author of Aurora Award nominated Imagination Manifesto and Raygun Gothic graphic novels) that I would “Join the fight, make comics!” after attending his “Words to Page” workshop about turning your novel into a comic book. It’s his workshop, so I won’t go into too much detail, other than to say that it was awesome. He’s a great teacher and really knows how to engage with his audience and students.

What I will reveal about the workshop is his Step #1 for turning your novel into a comic:

Don’t Do It.

That was kind of a relief, actually. It followed my instinct that comic book adaptations of novels tend to, and I’m being generous here (and also not naming names), suck. I’ve been told by more than a few people that there are comic book elements to Thunder Road, and that it would make a great graphic novel. I take this as a compliment. I’ve read so many superhero comics that it is completely unsurprising that it has bled into my fiction. But I don’t think I would be the right person to turn my book into a comic. I like it as a book. It was designed to be a book. But mostly because comics are collaborative, and Thunder Road is mine.

Not to say that I wouldn’t be open to telling new stories in that world with characters that were co-created with an artist, but what I really want is to tell a story that needs to be a comic, whether it’s set in the Thunder Road ‘verse or not. I have tons of stories that I want to tell someday (there is always that nebulous someday). I just need to find the right story and the right artist (and to learn how to actually script a comic).

I know how important that pairing of writer and artist can be. While I will read books just for the art, or just for the writing, there is something magical in just the right mixture of art and words that makes comics so perfect for telling stories. Pairings like Matt Fraction and David Aja on HawkeyeBrian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples on Saga, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener on Atomic RoboEd Brubaker and Sean Phillips on Fatale (and stretching back a great ways, to my formative years, Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s epic run on Uncanny X-Men) are current standouts for me. After reading the preview pages, I’m also anxiously awaiting the September release of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe Meg Dejmal, and John “Roc” Upchurch.

Lately, I’ve cut down my comic pull list to just those sorts of books, the ones that speak to me on both levels. It means I have had to bail from a lot of my Marvel and DC books, as long, character defining runs seem to no longer exist in the corporate comic book world. The usual best case scenario is getting one trade paperback collection of a pairing you really like these days. I think that by sticking only with the books that I love, I’ll find the comic story that I would love to tell.

I’ll be attending C4 Comic Con this year, hanging out in Artist’s Alley selling my books (Tombstone Blues will be out by then, yay!), but I’m also hoping to meet some fine folks and talk comics, and hopefully, talk about making comics. See you there.

Write on!