November 30, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 recap

For the fifth year in a row, I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and for the second year in a row, I wrote fewer than 50K words in November. In fact, I wrote fewer words than last year's 30K. This year was particularly disappointing because I thought that 20K words was a realistic target, but I didn't even reach that goal. :-(

As you may be able to tell from the chart above, most of my progress came on the weekends. My word count barely budged during the work week. I attribute it to a particularly hectic month at my day job. On top of that, Thanksgiving weekend, usually the time I catch up if I'm falling behind in NaNoWriMo, was also busier than I thought it would be. It all added up to a woeful output of 18,907 words.

Excuses aside, I'm not completely dissatisfied with what I accomplished this month. Adding 18K+ words to my manuscript in 30 days is nothing to sneeze at, and it was more than what I wrote from June to October. My WIP is also now about three quarters complete by my estimation, giving me hope that I'll finish the first draft early next year. Overall, although I didn't make as much progress during NaNoWriMo as I'd liked, it still gave me a much needed boost. For that reason alone, NaNoWriMo was worth doing again this year, even if it meant I didn't receive the shining badge for reaching 50K (or 25K) words.

October 27, 2018

Preparing for NaNoWriMo 2018

It's almost November, which means NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. I've participated in NaNoWriMo the past four years, reaching the 50,000 word count goal my first three years before falling short last year.

This year, I plan to participate again but with a twist. Whereas I had always started working on a new novel for NaNoWriMo, I'm in the midst of a novel now and want to use the event to finish the first draft if I can. It's the thriller that I eluded to back in June, but between June and October, I only wrote 15,000 words. My hope is that NaNoWriMo will be what I need to kick myself in gear.

Last year, I fretted about not being able to write 50,000 words in November, but I'm not worried anymore this year. My day job has gotten even busier this year, and there's less likelihood of my winning NaNoWriMo next month, but last year taught me that I don't need to hit 50,000 words. Just participating is good enough. There's something about NaNoWriMo that gives my writing productivity a boost, and that's what I need right now.

Is anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

October 6, 2018

I'm an anti-rainmaker

This post has nothing to do with books or writing, but I thought it'd be interesting to share some random news about me. I think I have a superpower: I can make it not rain wherever I am. I'm an anti-rainmaker.

Let me explain. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we've received little rain for the past ten years, leading to drought conditions. All this time, I thought it was because of global warming or other weather patterns. Then, I had to take a business trip to Houston last week. It had been raining every day in Houston the week before my trip (I know because I was watching the weather in order to prepare), and the meteorologists predicted rain every day I was to be in Houston. I was worried about how the rain would affect my plans.

On the day I arrived in Houston, I was surprised and relieved to find that it wasn't raining. My flight was largely uneventful due to the nice weather. However, the forecast that night was for rain all day long the next day. I woke up to a sunny morning, and it didn't rain at all. The forecast that day called for rain the following day. Again, there was no rain. This pattern of rain in the forecast followed by no actual rain continued for all four days I was in the city. On the day that I left, as my plane was leaving the terminal, it finally rained.

There are probably other explanations for what I experienced, but I like to think that the change in weather from forecasted rain to sunny skies was because of some formerly unknown superpower of mine. It would also explain the lack of rain here in California.

If this is true, then I could use my superpower for lots of good deeds. Planning an outdoor wedding or social event that you don't want to have ruined by rain? Call me. Worried about making that driving trip on slippery, wet roads? The anti-rainmaker can help with that.

Let me know how my anti-rainmaking powers can help you.

September 8, 2018

I can see why B&N is in trouble

It's no secret that Barnes & Noble is in big trouble. Lower sales, a declining stock, employee layoffs, and CEO troubles have plagued the company. It's a shame to see this once vibrant book chain in the state that it is now. There used to be a Barnes & Noble bookstore in my town, but it closed a few years ago. It was my go-to place to browse and to buy books because of their large selection. Even compared with the new Amazon brick-and-mortar bookstores, I prefer shopping at Barnes & Noble because I can find almost anything I want at B&N, while Amazon's physical bookstore selection is sorely lacking. During my last two experiences with Barnes & Noble though, I can see why it's losing out to Amazon.

The first experience was in store. I went on a weekend afternoon, and the store was empty, of both customers and employees. While I was browsing, I checked their website for a book I wanted to buy and found that it was available at this location. However, when I saw the book on the shelf, the price was significantly higher than the cost on the website. I waited in line and asked the cashier (yes, the cashier, because there was only one working at the time) how I could get the price on their website instead. She referred me to the Customer Service desk. When I arrived at the desk, it was unmanned. I waited over five minutes before someone showed up. I asked my question about price-matching again, and the Customer Service person said I needed to place an order via the website for pickup at the store if I wanted the website price. The reason, he explained, was that the website and physical locations weren't integrated. Big red alert! So I spent more time placing the order from my phone. Did I get the book then? Of course not! It took another twenty minutes for the order to be routed from the website to the store. Finally, after half an hour wasted, I was finally able to get the book I wanted. You can bet I'm never going through that again. If I see that a book is cheaper online than in the store, I'm walking out, even if I already have the book in my hand and am ready to pay for it. Sorry, B&N, that's a lost sale right there.

More recently, I placed an order through the B&N website for four books, this time to be delivered to my home. For some reason, despite ordering all of the books at the same time, B&N shipped one book right away and delayed sending out the rest. There was no indication that the other three books were out of stock, so I don't know why it took so much longer to receive them. If I had known that I would be receiving the books so far apart from each other, I may have chosen different books.

I relay my experiences not to bash Barnes & Noble but to point out a couple of examples of why I understand its decline. It seems that in the two decades that the retailer has had to compete against Amazon, it still hasn't figured out (1) how to integrate its online and physical stores and (2) how to offer an online buying experience as painless as Amazon's. It really is unfortunate because B&N had the time and money to still be the leader in book-selling, but I can see why it continues to lose customers.

August 4, 2018

Why I love libraries

In the last week and a half, I've seen several articles talking about the value of libraries. It started when the author of a now-retracted Forbes article claimed that we'd be better off if Amazon replaced our local libraries. I'm not going to go into the absurdity of that claim, nor will I reiterate the many good arguments I've read since about why our library tax dollars are worth every penny. (I also won't dive into the many beautiful libraries that can be found around the world, but that would be a nice topic for a future date.) Instead, I wanted to reflect on my own experiences with my local libraries and why I love them so much.

  • I owe my love of reading (and writing) in part to libraries. The first public library I remember going to as a child had so many interesting books that I wanted to read them all. I didn't come close to doing it, but I was exposed to a variety of books, many of them great and even classics, and many which I never would have read if not for the library.
  • Nowadays, I read one or two books a week. From a purely financial perspective, if not for the library, I'd be broke just from buying books.
  • There is no longer a bookstore near where I live. The Barnes & Noble and Borders that used to be in my town closed down years ago. Where does a book lover go to immerse himself in books or to see what the latest releases are if there are no bookstores? The library, of course!
  • I don't go to the library just for paper books. At one point or another, I've checked out e-books, audio books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs. Yes, you can satisfy all of your entertainment needs in one place!
  • Libraries also have some handy reference materials that you can read there. Among books I've used in the reference section are encyclopedias, study prep books, job aids, and stock guides.
  • There have been times when I used the internet at the library when my connection at home wasn't working or wasn't available (back in the days before wi-fi routers). And our library has better wi-fi than Starbucks.
  • The library is a quiet place for working, studying, or just relaxing. What other public place can you hang out for hours where the people around you are also quietly working?
  • When my kids were younger, we had a family tradition of going to the library every Saturday morning. Sometimes there was story time. Sometimes, the library provided other kid-friendly programs. Even when nothing special was going on, my kids borrowed lots of books and DVDs during their childhood.
  • Our library has a summer reading program where you can earn prizes just for reading. Getting rewarded for reading? Sign me up!
  • A public library that I used to go to held book sales. I could buy paperbacks for a quarter and hardcover books for a dollar. Those sales have definitely contributed to my current book collection. :-)
  • This may be unique to my local library, but it's located next to a large park. There's a room with floor-to-ceiling windows that faces the park, and if I want to relax, I can sit in one of the chairs that face out toward the trees and grass and watch the ducks and geese as I read. There aren't many better ways to spend a weekend morning than that.

The best part is, all of the things I mentioned above are free! So why aren't you taking advantage of your local library?

July 7, 2018

My favorite series

I recently finished reading Obsidio and Only Human, the final books in the Illuminae Files and Themis Files series, respectively. Both series were great, which got me to thinking about what my all-time favorites are. So I tried to determine that in a somewhat scientific way by going through my Goodreads ratings to determine which series had the highest average ratings across all of the books in the series. There were several (including Illuminae Files and Themis Files) where I rated all of the books 5.0, and some where the average rating was 4.67 or above.

I picked the top ten for the list below, and they are sorted alphabetically by the name of the series. If you're looking for something to read, it can't hurt to start with one of the books below. You can't go wrong with any of them!

  • Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor - The writing is beautiful, and the story is creative. Laini Taylor is a master story-teller.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - How could any favorite series list not include Harry Potter?? Not only did I think the series was great, but these books have influenced reading habits around the world like no other series I know of.
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - Possibly my favorite YA series of all time, and the one that kicked off the YA dystopian wave of the last decade.
  • The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - I'm not sure if it's because I just finished it, but of all the series listed here, this might well be my favorite. A must read for everyone!
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer - This series is not only the best set of fairy re-tellings I've ever read, they're also really good books.
  • Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson - I'm only counting the first trilogy that tells of Vin's and Elend's story, but from what I've read of the second trilogy so far, I don't expect the quality to suffer.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan - A great series for middle school readers to adults, and my favorite of Rick Riordan's mythology-based MG books.
  • Razorland by Ann Aguirre - This was a rare trilogy where, not only were all three books great, but they got better as the series progressed.
  • Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry - Even if you don't like zombies, you've got to read this series. This was one of the few series where I wished it wouldn't end because I liked the characters and the universe so much.
  • Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel - A great trilogy for sci-fi fans, and if you happen to like giant robots like I do, you'll love it even more.

June 23, 2018

About that series I was planning to write...

In February of 2017, I posted that I was starting on a new YA Fantasy series. Some of you may be wondering how it's going. (And others of you may be wondering how you stumbled upon this blog in the first place and how you can leave, but that's a different story.)

I spent a good part of last spring and summer working on the first book in the series. I finished about 15,000 words but couldn't get any further. I tried writing a different part of the story line, revising my series outline, and taking a break to write other stories. None of it worked, and I was stuck. I'm still stuck.

The good news is that one of the other stories I wrote instead of working on the series became Beneath the Earth, which was published last month. However, the YA Fantasy series is unfortunately dead in the water for the time being. It's possible that I'll come back to it later, or a better idea for another YA series will come to mind.

I haven't completely given up the idea of writing a series though. I've actually been working on an adult thriller series this year. I've mentioned before that thrillers are my second-favorite genre after YA, and I once wrote a thriller for NaNoWriMo, although it was never published. The thriller series is coming along better so far. I've already completed 20,000 words and hope to finish the first draft this year. If things work out, the first book in the series could see the light of day next year!