Chatting · Reading Recs

2023 TBR (And Reminding Myself of the Obvious)

I hit burnout last year, and I hit it hard. Over the summer, I desperately wanted to finish the 3rd draft of runaways, but struggled to muster the energy and focus needed to even read through the document. During NaNoWriMo, I got back into editing, but I treated it like another assignment. Words got done more because of willpower than because of inspiration because I was already in that crunch time mental state. In the process of writing the largest of the developmental changes, I realized this book probably needs two more POVs than I originally anticipated, turning it into a much larger and more complex project, and bringing with it a sense of dread that I will never finish, never publish, and never have anything to show for this work. Looking ahead at the year, seeing so much traveling, moving, graduating, starting a new job, and other major life upheavals, I’m already exhausted just glancing over the calendar.

I’ve hit writer’s block now, too. Travelling to visit my grandparents over break, I had to be in the car for a grand total of 10 hours round trip. I should have been fully awake, undistracted by the internet, and immensely productive, as I’ve been in years past. The objective: finish, edit, and post a new short story for my mailing list about a sorceress who stole the sun, and the seamstress that brought it back. Despite having a rough outline for the story, and inspiration aplenty, I hit a wall of creative block trying to make the lore consistent, then the words wouldn’t come when I tried to force myself to focus on the blank page, and I managed a total of 90 words. Pathetic.

The worst part is: I know exactly what caused this problem, and how to fix it, but I haven’t let myself do what I need to fix the problem.

Burnout happens when you over-commit and work yourself too hard for too long without breaks. It’s very easy to trap yourself in a cycle of “Oh, I’m so behind, if I only work harder, I can take a break.” But working harder only makes you more burnt out, more inefficient, and more behind, and so the vicious cycle continues. For me, this build-up occurs most frequently during the semester, and then I promptly get sick as soon as finals are over. But a side effect is this: in my shreds of free time, I refuse to rest. I spend so much time being an engineer that when I have the opportunity to work on my creative pursuits, I prioritize creating, instead of sitting down to do the things that refresh my creative well. I brag about how I go months without turning on the TV. I only read by listening to audiobooks on my commute to work, or while doing tedious lab tests, which means I work through my TBR at an astonishingly slow pace. And even there – I naturally refer to reading as “work” and talk about my “pace” as if I’m on an assembly line, and not as if its an activity I love, that inspires me, and makes up part of my identity.

You need to breathe in to breathe out.

I got so caught up in telling stories that I forgot what inspired me to write in the first place. I was a bookworm as a kid. Mom punished me, not by restricting access to the TV or video games, but by hiding my books out of reach and confiscating the flashlight. I’m struggling to put words to page because I’ve forgotten how to string together eloquent prose in the torrent of academic papers written in past test passive voice. I used to scoff at boring adults who never frequented the library, but as an adult, I’ve found myself daunted by the idea of setting aside so much time to finish the books I check out between visits. But I miss that and I need to make it a priority again—not only because reading books is something I *should* do, but because it’s something I *want* to do.

I’ve been holding my breath, and this year, I ran out of air.

The first year I ran this blog, I was pretty good about having a reading rec post on a monthly basis, which meant I read or reread at least 12 things a year, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. This year, I’ll be bringing back that post format, as well as author biographies, because as writers, I think it’s important to know about the people behind our favorite stories. History is a special interest of mine, and so I think it would be an interesting exercise to research more about the literary movements and influences that came before, and how learning more about the past can help us contextualize our fiction in terms of the present, and the future. If there are any English majors out there laughing at me, please understand my brain has been thoroughly fried by four years of differential equations and I’m sure you’ve noticed the atrocious amount of passive voice past tense grammar leaking into my prose from the lab reports.

Let’s talk about prose too. I’ve never been one to worry much about my writing style. As a beginner, I read that there’s no way to force a particular style into your writing and that one would develop with time and practice. In my experience, this is true, and when you’re just trying to reach The End on your first manuscript, getting words down is more important that fretting about eloquence. I’m not on first drafts anymore, though. All my projects are in various stages of editing, and in line editing, sentences matter. They’re the brushstrokes that make up the whole painting. The ingredients that make up the layers in a decadent cake, or the richness of the flavor in a savory meal. The prose you consume will bleed into your style, and the publishing industry holds genres to certain standards. This is why it’s important to read both a broad variety of topics and authors to expose yourself to many styles and voices, and why it’s important to read in your target genre, to understand the conventional expectations.

I can’t tell an entertaining story if the only thing I’m reading is academic papers. It’s impossible to prepare a banquet with the literary equivalents of hardtack. (I should also probably knock it off with the food metaphors and go make myself dinner.)

ANYHOW. Onto the part of the post you probably care about:

The TBR:

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman: This book is one I preordered months ago and I’ve actually already finished it. I really enjoyed this story and it totally lived up to the hype, so stay tuned for a full review and an interview with the author!!!

Pyreflies by Lynette Bacon-Nguyen: This is an ARC from an author in one of my fandom discord servers and next up on the reading list! You can also expect a review on this blog soon.

Howl by Katie Koontz: This is a werewolf novel by one of my best friends on tumblr and I know she’s been working really hard on it so I’m excited to read the finished version after seeing so many snippets on her blog!

A Rival Most Vial and Aspens Guide to Growing Your Grove by R.K. Ashwick: Another writeblr bestie! I’ve read her debut novel The Stray Spirit as an ARC and you can find my review here (I loved it) and my interview with her here, so I’m super excited to see her next book come out. This is a new series, called Side Quest Row, and I’ve been following the development of this book since it was first-draft and spawning pirate and spy AUs, so I’m very excited to see it in all its finished splendor.

Other People’s Heartache by Vanessa Roades: This author is a friend of mine on Instagram and I’ve had it sitting around in my email for a WHILE now as I signed up for a bunch of newsletters all around the same time for the free stories. I’m intrigued by the premise and need to get around to catching up on the backlog of ebooks I have downloaded!

Whatever Happened to Madline Hail by Arista Holmes: Another Instagram author friend, and another newsletter freebie that I’ve got in my ebook library folder!

The Brandon Sanderson Secret Novels: If you follow publishing news in the fantasy spaces, you’re probably familiar with BrandoSandos insane quarantine hobby and mind-boggling Kickstarter from last year. If you don’t know the backstory, this prolific author of the Mistborn Trilogy and the Stormlight Archive used to travel 1/3 of the time pre-lockdown, which severely cut into his writing time, and when COVID struck in 2020, he just… casually wrote an extra five books in his newly acquired free time. He started a Kickstarter to have them published in A Year of Sanderson, putting out the books every quarter, along with lots of exclusive merch and subscription boxes, which immediately broke the record for the fastest funded campaign and the record for the most amount of money ever raised on Kickstarter EVER. He donated a lot of this money to other publishing kickstarters as a way of giving back to the community, and continued putting out the regularly scheduled books, like a glorious madman, and the first of these secret novels released on January 1st. I’m already behind on the rest of the Cosmere, but what’s another stack of books on the list I guess?

Short Stories from the Tor Newsletter: Brandon Sanderson’s publisher puts out a newsletter on a regular basis that always contains a number of interesting articles about the industry and fantasy news, as well as an original short story from one of their authors. I discovered that these are a fantastic easy way to fill up your Goodreads book goal with fast reads, and they’re in a genre that I really enjoy, so they’re a solid option for quick commutes on the bus, or between study breaks at school. I have links to them saved so I can go back to the ones I miss, and I want to keep up with them this year to discover new authors and continuously read short fiction so I learn more about how to write those types of stories!

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: I’ve wanted to get into the Discworld series for ages, and I’ve read Mort already, but haven’t been able to find many of the books. One of my best friends was moving house earlier this year and didn’t want her copy, so she let me steal it, and I’m determined to get through some of the unread physical books sitting on my shelf lol

Way Too Many Email Substacks: Back when Dracula Daily was consistently trending #1 on tumblr, a bunch of lovely people set up email substacks for other classic works of literature, and I, full of hubris, subscribed to ALL of them. I’m now several weeks behind on Great Expecations, A Study in Scarlett, Moby Dick, Les Mis, and a modern fantasy story that’s also being done in a serialized format called “Last Light” by A. Lawrence. I’m determined to binge read the archive to catch up and then stay caught up, preferably before the substacks actually end.


Thanks for reading! What are your TBRs for the year? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Interviews

Indie Author Interview: R.K. Ashwick

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of The Stray Spirit which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. RK writes character-focused fantasy books with a cozy feel. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!


Welcome! Let’s start off at the beginning: How did you come up with the concept for The Stray Spirit?

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: The Stray Spirit by R.K. Ashwick

There are very few things in this world as satisfying as reading a book – A REAL ACTUAL PUBLISHED BOOK – by one of my writer friends. I am unbelievably proud of our very own, one and only, R.K. Ashwick for reaching this amazing milestone! I’ve been following its development through the taglist on tumblr for… I don’t know, maybe over a year now? It’s been truly gratifying to watch the characters and story grow (hah), and I am absolutely overjoyed that come August, I’ll be able to hold it in my hands. The following review is my honest opinion, which I promised to share after receiving an advanced reader copy of the book. I’m going to keep this mostly spoiler free because it hasn’t come out yet, though in the future I may write a spoilers-filled review as well, so I can freely dig into all the interesting bits of this book. So without further ado…

Overall Impression: 5/5, Next Book Now Please?

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character

Overall Impression

5/5 craft book with an easily accessible style that gave my poor frazzled engineering brain a much needed break from academic drivel, extremely useful summaries that made writing his article about 1,000,000x easier, and rock solid advice I will immedietly be adapting into my ever-expanding Storge excel outline.

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Reading Rec: Terebinth Tree Chronicles

Hello everyone and welcome back to another reading rec! This month I want to talk about an author that I’ve enjoyed for quite a while now: Faye Fite. I found her blog back in high school when she still wrote under her other name, and the perspective she shared in her writing advice inspired me to get serious about my writing. Her books introduced me to the indie publishing space and the worlds of possibilities that open when you can control the content of your stories. Faye writes Christian speculative fiction that isn’t preachy and features badass disabled characters.

The Terebinth Tree Chronicles is a series of high fantasy short stories that share the backstories of Wanderer, Jayel, and Ailith – the future protagonists of an epic who are on a mission to assassinate the dark lord that’s plagued their world and ruined their families. Currently, three books have been released in this series: Colors of Fear, Flames of Courage, and Sounds of Deceit, but there are more on the way! Faye also has a few standalone books, including Skies of Dripping Gold, and So I Accidentally Killed the Chosen One, which are both part of the same expanded story-world as the Terebinth Tree Chronicles, called the “Torn Universe.” I’m not sure how they all connect yet, but it’s a really cool concept! Faye is also a member of the Phoenix Fiction Writers, and has published three short stories in their anthologies.

I can wholeheartedly recommend all of her writing, but today I especially want to focus on the characters in the Chronicles and how their arcs are set up to have satisfying conclusions within each backstory book, but leave enough open-ended questions for the rest of the series to continue building.

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Chatting

Best Ways to Support Indie Authors and Booksellers

With holiday season coming up, I know many of us are frantically scrambling to put our lists together. But there’s no time like Christmas to spread a little cheer in the book community! Holiday season means survival time for many small businesses, who both rely on the shopping spree to make their sales for the year, and are forced to compete with huge retailers for people’s business. If you’re buying for a bookish friend or family member, or you are the friend or family member receiving books as gifts (because lets be real, if you’re reading this that’s probably the case), here are some ideas on how to support your favorite indie authors and local bookstores!

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Chatting · Interviews

Author Interview: Hyba Ouazzani & Apartment

Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my good writing friend and inspiration, Hyba! I’ve mentioned her before on this blog: specifically to promote her podcast in my writing resources post, and to leave a glowing review of her novel, Apartment, in my last goals recap. I’m thrilled to have her on the blog to talk about how she developed her book, and I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

Etta: Can you start by telling us about yourself and what you write?

Hyba: My name is Hyba Ouazzani, and I’m a Muslim author, podcaster, and blogger based somewhere on the vast continent that is Africa.

I enjoy writing in a range of genres. Apartment is my psychological thriller, and I’m currently working on a murder mystery called Marie/Elise, a high fantasy novel called The Pirates of Sissa, a futuristic sci-fi called Neon Vape: A Vaporwave Odyssey, a horror novel called An Entity in Your Midst, a GameLit serial fiction called The Beast of Ildenwood, an epistolary Gothic tale called Letters to Adam, and many, many more! Sometimes, I write poetry and short stories. In short, I enjoy writing in all kinds of formats and genres. If the story and concept idea are good enough for me, then that’s all that matters.

That being said, I am most interested in writing pieces that make certain statements about society and humanity at large. Pieces like Apartment are meant to challenge the reader, make them ask questions about the darker aspects of human nature and the world we live in. The Pirates of Sissa deals with justice, conflict resolution, and the lasting effects of imperialism. Neon Vape takes a hard look at the extent to which companies are willing to go to make a profit and be market leaders—in other words, the dark side of capitalism. I’m working on a short story that challenges the impossible beauty perceptions and other expectations pushed upon women. Anywhere there’s a good discussion to be had is where I want my books to be!

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Chatting · Interviews

Mythology, Fantasy, and Adaptations – an interview with Karkki

Welcome everyone! In June, I focused on the topic of tropes and adaptations, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview one of my writer friends about her area of expertise! I’ve been following Karkki’s The Shield-Maiden Saga and other WIPs over on tumblr for about two years. It’s always a blast to see the new updates and lore, so I was happy for the excuse to host a Q&A, and honored to share the results with you! Thank you Karkki for agreeing to do this! I’m super excited to share her creativity with you all today. For this interview, my parts and questions are in the headings, and their responses are everything written below.

Question 1 – First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?

Thank you so much for inviting me to be interviewed! I’m Karkki, a Finnish architecture student in my mid-twenties. Other than writing I paint, sew, pet my cat and hike. I’ve been writing since I was around ten. At first it was just scenes of my OCs (I had a whole cinematic universe of them), but the first book form story I started to write, I did around 14, I think. Nowadays I write mostly adult dark fantasy, often smashed together with various different genres 😀

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Chatting · Interviews

January Special: An Interview with Katelynn Koontz

Welcome to January’s Special Feature! Today I’m talking with one of my great writer friends about how she writes complex and compelling character arcs! Katie is an accomplished author who writes across several genres including Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror, Poetry, and Contemporary summer reads. She also does art, and drew the illustration of her OC, Bolte, for this post’s header/preview image. Katie is active in the writing community on tumblr and is one of the nicest people I’ve met there, so I’m happy to be able to share her fantastic personality and advice with you today!

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Interviews

Starting an Author’s Platform: An Interview with Max Gray

Welcome to my first interview post! *celebration trumpet sounds*

I had the honor of working with Max Gray to talk about how he got started with his author’s platform and how he approaches engagement in the community. Max is a trans writer (using he/him pronouns) who writes contemporary works, almost always with some kind of queer romance involved. He is currently planning a surrealism novel called Plant Life, and is drafting a fanfiction called Superkids.

You can find him on his Website, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @maxgraybooks, and on his Youtube channel!

Question 1: Why did you first start posting your writing online – not just for your current WIP but where did you get your start? The first step is a big one, so I want to hear about how you came to take it.

Max: Well, I actually started out on Wattpad with my girlfriend at the time. I’ve been writing since I was in first grade, but it was always off and on, until my girlfriend at the time and I started writing together, and we posted all of our books on Wattpad. I think the main reason was probably just because we had fun with them, and wanted to talk to other people about the stories and characters. For both Plant Life and Superkids, I started posting about them pretty much as soon as I got the idea. If I didn’t have people actively waiting to read Superkids, and excited for it, I probably would have given up on the story a while ago.

Etta: It’s really cool that you were able to find your community so quickly, and that they’ve been so encouraging to your writing process!

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