2018 Challenges

My friend Kate and I are doing an exciting 2018 challenge: using up all our journals and pens. And not buying any new ones. This is going to be tough for me, but the gods know I own enough to get through. So in a year’s time I’ll be posting a pic of my empties and a stack of my filled notebooks. Join us!

My friend Katie also challenged me to not read any books about writing this year. This I’m not sure I can do, mainly because I own a hell of a lot that I haven’t read yet and I’m excited to try, like Linda Barry’s Syllabus. Or Views From the Loft. Or Words Overflown By Stars. But I’m going to stay away from all the generic titles promising to teach me how to Write Your Best Seller Without Getting Out Of Bed, of which I have inhaled far too many in the last 36 months. And I can definitely not buy any writing books this year. And I’m absolutely not reading ANY time management, anti-procrastination, motivation, or self-management books this year.

And yes, after failing yet again to do the 2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge (because reasons), I’m trying the 2018 reading challenge. I can do it this time!

But most importantly, my focus for 2018 is writing and releasing books. That’s it. That’s all that matters.

2017 Reading Challenge

My 2016 Pop Sugar Challenge died mid-year, for reasons. I’m still annoyed at myself for not completing it, but as one of my intentions this year is to be kinder to myself, I’m working at forgiveness. But this year I will do it! My challenge page is on Goodreads here.

For practical reason I am imposing  limit on myself. Instead of Buy No Books June, I’m doing Buy No Books 2017.

a) I want to save money because I have an exciting but expensive plan for October, and

b) I own an embarrassment of unfulfilled books. I have books I bought in 2004 and have yet to read. I have entire bookshelves I haven’t read.

books at the Hague Centre, Pascal Maramis, Flickr CC.jpg
These are not my unread books. Mine are more numerous. Photo by Pascal Maramis on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

So I’m basically going to complete the 2017 challenge using library books (thanks to the awesome Auckland public library system), Kindle loans, and what I already own.

Now, I’m not being a complete minimalist. I will buy a few books this year. For Christmas a dear and kind friend gave me an incredibly generous USD$50 Amazon gift card. This is my BUT I HAVE TO HAVE THAT BOOK OR I’LL DIE, GAAAAAAAH! fund.

The full 2017 Pop Sugar reading challenge is

1. A book recommended by a librarian
2. A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
3. A book of letters
4. An audiobook
5. A book by a person of color
6. A book with one of the four seasons in the title
7. A book that is a story within a story
8. A book with multiple authors
9. An espionage thriller
10. A book with a cat on the cover
11. A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read
13. A book by or about a person who has a disability
14. A book involving travel: 28 Jan: The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World. Fascinating. 4 stars.
15. A book with a subtitle: upcoming To Say Nothing of the Dog (or How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last) by Connie Willis (Thanks, Chris)
16. A book that’s published in 2017: Upcoming: Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, by Kyo Maclear, published Jan 3 2017
17. A book involving a mythical creature
18. A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
19. A book about food
20. A book with career advice. 7 Jan: My first book of the challenge was a total disappointment: Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, by Josh Linkner. 2 stars. And I paid for this. In hardback! Gah!
21. A book from a nonhuman perspective.
22. A steampunk novel
23. A book with a red spine
24. A book set in the wilderness
25. A book you loved as a child
26. A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited: I’m thinking some Chinese sci-fi for this one

27. A book with a title that’s a character’s name: upcoming: Tinker by Wen Spencer (Thanks, Chris!)
28. A novel set during wartime
29. A book with an unreliable narrator
30. A book with pictures: 20 Jan. Show Your Work:10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DIscovered. 4 stars.
31. A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
32. A book about an interesting woman: upcoming – A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird (1873) on Project Gutenberg
33. A book set in two different time periods
34. A book with a month or day of the week in the title
35. A book set in a hotel
36. A book written by someone you admire
37. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017: upcoming – American Assassin: A Thriller, by Vince Flynn, movie set for release later this year. You get bonus points for knowing why I picked this one.

38. A book set around a holiday other than Christmas
39. The first book in a series you haven’t read before
40. A book you bought on a trip. 12 Feb. Get Your Sh*t Together. 4 stars. Not a long trip, but I bought this with Gillian St Kevern when we went to The Booklover in Milford to track down a copy of The Sellout.
41. A book recommended by an author you love: upcoming – The Devourers, by Indra Das, recommended by SF Strange author Jason Sanford

42. A bestseller from 2016. 20 Jan:  Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (#38 on the B&N top 100 for 2016). Wow. ALL THE STARS. Utterly magnificent. Read this.

43. A book with a family member term in the title

44. A book that takes place over a character’s life span

45. A book about an immigrant or refugee
46. A book from a genre/subgenre you’ve never heard of
47. A book with an eccentric character. 13 Feb. The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet. 5 stars. Because Kizzy. (I definitely recommend this space opera, FWIW)
48. A book that’s more than 800 pages
49. A book you got from a used book sale

50. A book that’s been mentioned in another book. 16 Jan: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey, mentioned in a hundred different personal development books I’ve read. 2 stars. hard to get through. Very dry and quite pompous. Not a winner, and not recommended. I’m releasing this, along with the workbook, at my local cafe.

51. A book about a difficult topic
52. A book based on mythology

If you decide to do it too link me to your challenge page in the comments so I can follow your progress. And if you have any recommendations for books to match any of these categories, shout out.

“But an extra drink fixes that!”

I’m home again.

I had to come home by Sunday so I could take my grandmother out, and if I hadn’t I would have missed this gem from their weekly creative writing session. They choose a prompt pic and the staff write down the story they spin. Yes, the dementia patients at my grandmother’s facility write flash fic. And it’s awesome.

A far away look crosses Angeline’s face as she thinks of her lover who lives in a distant land. She will have a long wait for his next visit! So she drinks a lot! And thinks about another drink as she remembers her husband working hard in the mines down the road. He will be late home tonight and Angeline is a little more than mixed up today. But an extra drink fixes that! What a long wait! “Perhaps I will go and look for another lover who lives nearby,” she says to herself. She has one for the road and sets off.

Please, universe, let me still be writing when I’m 90.

angeline's long wait.jpg




I’m planning to corrupt as-yet-unborn humans

When I moved in 2014 somehow I lost volume 3 of Totally Captivated. I like to think one of the movers opened it by accident, had a epiphany about the awesomeness of manwha with gay sex, and pocketed it. I understand. Education and self-discovery is always a good cause.

Volume 3 is pretty important to the character arcs: Jiho discovers his ex Ewon and his gangster boyfriend Mookyul are having dubiously-consensual sex, and we start to learn about Mookyul’s and Ewon’s tragic, angsty backstories. Then we get hurt/comfort, followed by semi-violent possessiveness. The volume is vital to the story as a whole.


So although I don’t know if I’ll ever read the series again, I finally got around to ordering a replacement copy this week. Because I’m planning to leave my curated paperback yaoi collection within arms reach of my entirely non-existent grandchildren.

Megan Harris showed me my first porn magazine when I was twelve. It was her father’s.

Mr. Harris kept bees. Sometimes, when I went to Megan’s place to play, he’d be harvesting honey. I watched with eyes like saucers as he scraped the wax off the combs. When he slid the frames into the extractor he’d let me turn the handle to spin them. Bees crawled lazily over the filled jars lined up on the stained rimu kitchen table. Tacky wax lingered on my fingers for days.

Looking at Mr. Harris’s magazine was like watching a car wreck. Everything was so red. And shiny. The men’s glistening cocks were swollen purple spears, mouthed at by women with frosted makeup and tired eyes.

It all looked painful.

I hadn’t known this is what I was supposed to be.

I went home and cried.

I wish I’d had someone to slip me a bootleg copy of Little Butterfly instead. Rich but neglected teenager Nakahara coaches his boyfriend Kojima to exam success so they can attend the same high school. The Omnibus is going on the lowest shelf.

On the shelf above will be Cool/Uncool. Takashi freaks out when his high school boyfriend Yukihisa starts to grow taller than him. Luckily he learns to deconstruct the misogynistic hegemony of culturally-constructed sexual dimorphism.

The Finder series will be on the top shelf. I’m a grown-ass adult and I’m still not sure I was ready for what happened to that roll of film in Target in the Viewfinder. Totally Captivated will be somewhere in-between, right next to U Don’t Know Me.

I’ll also leave bookmarks for MangaFox on my unsecured desktop. And for Tumblr. And AO3. When my descendents’ schoolmates show them hardcore gonzo porn (which is probably going to be when they’re about eight, god help them) I want my grandkids to know they have alternatives. With a plot. And gentle angst. And a lot of love. And no frosted makeup at all.

Philtre. Aglet. Caul. Stagflation. Quillon.

I absolutely love words. Verbiage. Mote. Tong. Calyx. Fescue. My favorite graphical literary character of all time is Archibald Haddock, not just because I ship him hard, but also because he sent me scampering to the dictionary as a child to find out exactly what a bashi-bazouk is (a non-uniformed solider in the Ottoman army). Writing gives me a chance to use captivating words, and to learn new ones, but I had a collection of thesauri long before I crafted a line of fiction.

If you are a word nerd too, here are my favorite thesauri and dictionaries. I rec them all.


Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary

Marc McCutcheon

McCutcheon gives categories like weapons, weather, electronics, finance, language, anatomy, music, religions etc and lists a bunch of words and their meanings related to each area. Did you know a skean is a type of Irish dagger? Or that social Darwinism is the belief that genetically superior people rise to the top of a social group? It also includes lists of WWII slang (a gilligen hitch is an imaginary knot in a rope) and 40 pages of “Words you should know”; e.g. what ‘according to Hoyle’ or ‘catch-22’ mean, and what a Cassandra is.



Robert McFarlane

A magical, engrossing book exploring words relating to landscapes. Words like blinter: a cold dazzle, as of ice splinters catching low light. Warning: McFarlane will have you adding travel and landscape books to your to-be-read pile at a treacherous rate.

word menu.jpg

Random House Word Menu

Stephen Glazier

Much like the Descriptionary, this collects words in thematic categories, but includes topics like drug abuse, violence, the occult, and death. Don’t make me choose between them. I won’t do it. You can only buy this second hand. It’s worth tracking down a copy.

DK visual.jpg

The Dorling Kindlersley Ultimate Visual Dictionary

I’m on my third hardback copy of this one. The edition with the illustration of a dissected human head on the cover? My daughter read that to rags. She was the only kid in first grade who knew whales fed using baleen, and what a pediment was.


The Horologicon

Mark Forsyth

Every single word in here needs to be used daily. Currently in Auckland we are at quafftide: the time of drinking. You know when you spend too long in the bath and your fingers get wrinkly? They’re quobbled. A large, red, angry pimple, the kind you want to pop? A pimginnit. It is our duty to pull these terms from the lost word office and cherish them like foster-puppies.


Actions: The Actors’ Thesarus

Marina Calderone & Maggie Lloyd-Williams

This one totally is for writing. It’s verbs. Just verbs. The book is designed – and this will be no surprise – for actors. The introductory text explains, “Start by clarifying what your character wants: their objective. Then choose a transitive verb for each sentence which helps the character achieve that objective . . . . try the action out. Drop your action in, speak your line now invested with your action.” Replace acting with writing. I use this all the time to help me determine what my characters want to achieve, and how I can write the actions of the scene to help them communicate this to the reader. When I feel stuck, reading it gives me a jump start into the purpose of the scene. Hahahaha, I write that like I have a clue about writing. I don’t. I ‘m just learning. But still, this helps.


Roget’s Super Thesaurus

Marc McCutcheon

I only this second realized this is edited by the author of The Descriptionary. No wonder I love it. It’s my go-to thesaurus. I also own a regular Roget and a Penguin Pocket Thesarus, but this is my baby and it lives on my desk. I have bought many copies as gifts because people borrow it and never want to return it. I’m not letting it out of my sticky hands again.

Have I missed any? What’s your favorite word book I should check out?

As always, there are no affiliate links on my blog. If I recommend a book it’s because I love it and I want to share my compulsion to fill every cranny of my home with dead trees. It’s a virus. Or maybe it’s closer to a symbiotic bacterium, because all of these enrich my life.

Happy reading.


Rules, glorious rules

We drive on the left in New Zealand too, but we don’t have any signs reminding tourists. Perhaps we prefer unspoken rules.

I do this thing each year called Buy No Books June. Partly it’s to give myself a chance to read through my existing toppling towers of books, but mostly it’s because I relish the discipline and challenge of arbitrary rules. True story: when I was 13 I lied to my mom about having to do a school assignment to not watch television so I had an excuse to not watch television.

It’s like flash fiction. There’s nothing harder than being told you can write anything, but given a prompt pic and a mere hundred words suddenly it’s much easier.

So it’s not that I don’t already read a wide range of books, but this year, for fun, I’m doing a modified version of the PopSugar 2016 Reading Challenge.

I say modified, because going from PopSugar’s featured articles they expect their readers to communicate with other humans in meat space on a daily basis. Whereas I, and possibly the majority of my Goodreads friends, are more the kind of people whose vocal chords atrophy between Friday and Monday.

Where PopSugar tells you to read, “a book recommended by someone you just met,” book-reading introverts (with or without optional autism *takes a bow*) say, “You meet people?” and “You meet people and discuss books?”

Who are these alleged people I’m supposed to be meeting, and how will they respond when I heartily recommend the book where the MC has to be gang-raped by virus-infected super-soldiers or he’ll die?  (To be clear, I totally rec this book.)

So here’s the challenge:

1. A book based on a fairy tale

2. A National Book Award nominee (or your equivalent national book awards)
3. A YA bestseller
4. A book you haven’t read since high school
5. A book set in your home state (or country)
6. A book translated to English (or from English into your first language)
7. A romance set in the future
8. A book set in Europe (if you live in Europe, substitute with a book set in another continent)
9. A book that’s under 150 pages
10. A New York Times bestseller
11. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2016 (either shot or released)
12. A book recommended by any person, reviewer, or service, who doesn’t know your taste in books
13. A non-fiction book you learn something new from (include self-help)
14. A book you can finish in a day
15. A book written by a celebrity i.e. a person of eminence, distinction, or note. Interpret that however you desire.
16. A memoir
17. A book at least 100 years older than you
18. A book that’s more than 600 pages
19. A book from Oprah’s Book Club
20. A science fiction novel
21. A book recommended by a family member or friend (or course GR friends count)
22. A graphic novel
23. A book published in 2016
24. A book with a protagonist that has your occupation (or an occupation you have had in the past)
25. A book that takes place during summer
26. A book and its prequel
27. A murder mystery
28. A book written by a comedian
29. A dystopian novel
30. A book with a blue cover
31. A book of poetry
32. The first book you see in a bookstore (can be a 2nd hand bookstore, or an online bookstore)
33. A classic from the 20th century
34. A borrowed book (from a library, a family member, a kindle loan etc)
35. A biography
36. A book about a road trip
37. A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
38. A satirical book
39. A book that takes place on an island
40. A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy


I finished my first book yesterday: Seven Japanese Tales by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, for #6, a book translated into English. I own Tanazaki’s In Praise of Shadows, which is a marvellous non fiction essay about the charms of the dim, the poorly lit, and the ambiguous, but I’d never read any of his fiction. What was unexpected – and I adored – was the way his fiction is full of shadows too. The narrators are unreliable. You cannot trust any of the underlit ‘facts’ of the story. Their shapes change and deform as you pass through the narrative. And although I’ve owned Seven Japanese Tales for a while I wouldn’t have found the impetus to start it if it weren’t for the challenge. That’s the hidden beauty of rules. Narrow walls can guide you to unexpected places.

If you feel inclined to give the challenge a go you could even come join us in this challenge thread on Goodreads (you need to join the group to see the thread, but it’s a mere formality designed to keep out the occasional random homophobe).

Please drop by the blog and let me know when you find a great and unexpected book, and the rules that led you there.