Admitting Defeat

There are no defeats—only temporary obstacles.
–Admiral Alexander Kolchak

Almost a year ago now (I’m embarrassed to even type that), I started reading Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The White Guard in Russian. As I write this right now, I still haven’t finished The White Guard. I haven’t even made it halfway. In fact, I’ve decided to give up on it for now.

I feel bad giving up on it because I like Bulgakov. His magnum opus, The Master and Margarita, is amazing. We read that during second semester of my advanced Russian class. It’s fabulous and fantastic and I can’t say enough in praise of it.

I did not feel this way about The White Guard. I found most of the story plodding and the characters tiresome. I may have been able to power through that, though, if I had a better Russian vocabulary. I felt like I was looking up every other word. Bulgakov writes a lot of complicated sentences, too, so once I’d looked up all the words I didn’t know, I’d have to figure out the sentence structure. By the time I figured out the sentence structure, I would have forgotten some of the words already. Imagine this repeating with every page I read. It was enough to drive one mad!

So that is why I must bid до свидания (goodbye) to this book. I’m not saying I’ll never give it another try. After all, my lack of Russian vocabulary is just a temporary obstacle, right? For now, I’m going to read something else. What that something else is, I don’t know. Suggestions are welcome in the comments—either contemporary literature, nonfiction, or the classics. I’m open to suggestions.


Diving Right In

Ten days ago, I finished the third draft of a novel. I’d been working on it for… far too long, considering the end product. Including my time outlining, I was occupied with the thing for over a year. (I started outlining in December 2016.) And I’m not even close to being done with it. I know it needs a lot of editing, starting with some cuts in the beginning. The first act of the story, which should be approximately the first quarter of the book, is a tad on the long side. Plus I’m considering redoing the entire book in third person rather than first. First person is really, really, really hard to write well, in my opinion. (I will point you to the many mediocre first-person novels out there. There are a ton of them.) I’m not sure if this book really requires first person, the more I think about it, so a rewrite may be in store.

I don’t like to edit immediately after finishing something, though, so I put that manuscript aside. The day after I finished it, I started editing something else. It’s another manuscript I finished back in 2015, meant to edit, but then never got around to it. A writer’s work is never done, you guys. Anthony Trollope the prolific (and financially successful!) Victorian novelist wrote every day—even if he finished something. As in, if he still had time left to write after finishing, he started on his next project that very same day. Brandon Sanderson, a modern novelist who is very, very successful (he writes fantasy and supports his family with his writing, which is basically my dream), wrote thirteen or so novels before he got published. And it wasn’t the thirteenth one that was published first. It was the sixth or seventh that managed to spark an editor’s interest and launch his writing career.

Now, I don’t want to jinx anything or get ahead of myself… but that manuscript I mentioned above, the one I finished in 2015 that I’m editing now? I actually sort of like it. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot in it I have to fix. I’m reading through it now and have almost five pages of notes already. But I feel like it has actual potential. I’d love to get it into a state where I actually feel comfortable pitching it. Because I’ve never pitched a novel before and that’s something I want to do this year.

Ivan Bunin

While reading the weekly roundup of Imperial Russia-related news over at Royal Russia News this weekend, I found this great quote about Russian author Ivan Bunin, a White émigré, fervent anti-Bolshevik—and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

[Cursed Days] is regarded as one of the very few anti-Bolshevik diaries to be preserved from the time of the Russian Revolution and civil war.

His scathing account of his last days in Russia recreates events with graphic and gripping intimacy. His criticism of Bolshevik leaders is unparalleled, referring to them as “pitiful, dull, mangy-looking creatures”.

On hearing of the death of the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, in January 1924, Bunin gave an emotional speech in Paris, in which he dubbed Lenin a degenerate by birth, who committed the monstrous crime of crashing the world’s most powerful nation and killing several million people


Bunin was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1933). He was revered among White emigres for his anti-Bolshevik views, and regarded him as a true heir to the tradition of realism in Russian literature established by Tolstoy and Chekhov.

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin died in Paris on 8 November 1953.

I’ve wanted to read Cursed Days for years, but still haven’t got around to it. However, that little excerpt I quoted above makes me want to read it even more. I have so many Russian books on my to-read list, it’s ridiculous. And I take forever to read in Russian, so I often avoid doing it. Meanwhile, the list grows and grows and grows… That’s just the Russian to-read list, by the way. I have a to-read list of English books, too.

Sigh. So many books, so little time.

About That Weird Twitter Email

Back in January I—and probably every Twitter user ever—received a very odd email from our favorite microblogging service. (Is Twitter considered microblogging? I’m going to assume it is, but I’m not actually sure which services qualify as microblogging services…) Here’s the email in its entirety.

Dear Natalie K.,

As part of our recent work to understand Russian-linked activities on Twitter during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we identified and suspended a number of accounts that were potentially connected to a propaganda effort by a Russian government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency.

Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing you because we have reason to believe that you either followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked content from these accounts during the election period. This is purely for your own information purposes, and is not related to a security concern for your account.

We are sharing this information so that you can learn more about these accounts and the nature of the Russian propaganda effort. You can see examples of content from these suspended accounts on our blog if you’re interested.
Continue reading “About That Weird Twitter Email”

January 2018 Writing Report

I don’t actually write with quills, thank goodness!

You know, January was a halfway decent month for writing. I wrote a total of 18,640 words, which is an average of 601 words per day. My goal was to write 600 words per day and I just barely made that. But just barely does count, so that’s good! I only missed 13 days of writing.

I’m happy to say that I’ve started February off strong. I’ve almost finished writing the third draft of my current novel! I anticipate finishing that up this weekend, if not sooner. After that, I’ll be working on some editing. I’m still trying to come up with a way to track editing. Should it be tracked by the hour? By number of words written? Some combination of both? I’m still figuring that out.

A Year of Nonfiction?

Last year, I read almost exclusively fiction. Now, I haven’t actually gone back and calculated, but it feels like I read a higher percentage of fiction last year than in prior years. I did read some nonfiction, but those books were few and far between.

Ever since the start of 2018, I’ve had an insatiable appetite for nonfiction. Now, I have read some fiction—by my count, three out of the ten books I’ve completed so far have been novels—but by and large, nonfiction has been holding my interest. Two of the books I’m currently working on are nonfiction, as are most on my to-read list.

I’m not saying I’ll never read fiction again. I’m looking forward to a certain novel’s release later this year (Thrawn: Alliances), so much so that I’m actually counting down the days. But I do wonder what a year of (mostly) nonfiction would be like. Maybe I’d be all nonfiction-ed out by December—though I certainly would have learned a lot, that’s for sure.

2017: My Year In Books

I meant to write this post ages ago, like at the end of December so it could be scheduled and published towards the beginning of January, but that didn’t happen. Still, it’s better late than never, so I figured I’d write about my favorite (and least favorite) reads of 2017.

First off, I read a fair amount of books in 2017. 105, to be exact. That is fewer than the 2016 number of 126, thank goodness. Reading-wise, 2016 felt very stuffed to me. I didn’t like feeling stuffed. Books are good, but reading to the exclusion of other fun things, like knitting, is not good. If you’re interested, I wrote a post about my 2016 reads last year.

But back to 2017. Goodreads has a nice little summary of everything I read that you can access here. (Note: if you’re a Goodreads user and you want to share your own summary, you have to use the share links at the top right. Don’t just copy the URL because that URL doesn’t have your unique user ID and therefore people will not be able to see your unique summary!)

If the books I read in 2017 had a theme, I’d have to say it was very much a science fiction and fantasy theme. I haven’t actually gone back and counted, but I feel like I read a ton of fiction in general, especially science fiction and fantasy. I don’t think I read much nonfiction at all. In fact, I think I’ve read more nonfiction so far this month than I did all of 2017. I’m not sure why that happened—I didn’t deliberately plan that!

Anyway, to get into the details: out of everything I read, here’s what stood out, both good and bad.

Best general fiction

I think this one has to go to Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester. I rarely buy brand-new books, but I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it in the book store because I am a Jane Eyre enthusiast. It did not disappoint. I think you have to read Jane Eyre first to fully appreciate it… but if you haven’t read Jane Eyre, what are you waiting for?!

Best science fiction

If you don’t know my answer to this, you probably haven’t been reading this blog for very long! 🙂 Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn was by far the best science fiction of the year. It’s one of my favorite books, period. And there is a sequel coming out that I’ve posted about (and have a countdown for on this blog—only four more months to go!), so go read this book if you haven’t already.

Best historical fiction

This book, Mary Doria Russell’s Doc, was a surprise hit for me. I thought it was just going to be okay. It was fantastic. It focuses on one year in Doc Holliday’s life (though it mentions a lot of other parts of his life as background) and the quality of the writing is fantastic. I finished it months ago and sometimes I still think about it. To me, that’s the mark of a good book. I’d never heard of the author before I picked it up, but I will have to read more of her work.

Most disappointing

Thus far, I’ve talked about books I like. Now I’m going to be a little less positive. One book I was really looking forward to reading was Sean Danker’s Admiral. The title is awesome, the cover is awesome, and the summary sounded awesome. Unfortunately, the book itself is not awesome. It starts off decently enough, but then devolves into an uninspired tale of first contact. The book is a first in a series and I don’t think I’ll be reading the other two books (I think it’s a trilogy but I’m not sure) because of my disappointment with this one. If you haven’t read it—well, let me just say there are better works of science fiction out there.

Best nonfiction

I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, so the last book I’ll spotlight is best nonfiction. As I said, I didn’t read much nonfiction in 2017, so this book didn’t have much competition… but even in a year where I read solely nonfiction, I think this one would come out on top. I’m talking about John Laughland’s Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice. You know when you read a book and sometimes you have to go back and read things because they’re so amazing? And you learn so much from even just one sentence? And then as you read the book, you realize that the author is basically a genius and no matter what you do, you’ll never be able to come up with all the original thoughts and connections he (or she) has? That’s what happened to me when I read this book. Laughland is brilliant, there’s no question about that. I’ve been following Balkan history and politics for about ten years now and I have a very contrarian view. Laughland does as well, and his book makes you think.

So, that’s my year in books! What books did you like (or dislike) in 2017? What books are you looking forward to in 2018?