Book Review! “A Brother’s Price”

I thought it’d be fun to do some reviews of books that have inspired me. One of my absolute favorite stand-alone novels is A Brother’s Price, by Wen Spencer. It really helped keep me going on my current manuscript, even though Somnolence is very different in style and setting. I think what really did it was just the fact that this book gleefully disregards all of the rigid norms that govern gender roles and relationships in western society, and I dig that. I love that this author just went for it, and made a really sweet and engaging story at the same time.

A Brother’s Price is set in a world where men are vastly outnumbered by women. It’s kind of a steampunk wild west type setting, and all the cowboys are badass women. Because the men are so few, they’re incredibly valuable and vulnerable to being snatched, so they have to be protected. This means a complete reversal of conventional gender roles. Our main character, Jerin, is a young man who has reached the age at which men generally marry. The title comes in because the husband price is a huge aspect of marriage in this world, and because the man’s sisters generally decide who he marries and make the arrangements.

Jerin’s huge family of sisters is pretty cute, and he’s a sweetie. I love reading about a man who is not just allowed, but encouraged, to be pretty and gentle and nurturing. Adventures ensue when he falls for a dashing lady, and she for him, but of course, it’s never that easy.

It is also one of the few good polyamorous love stories I’ve ever read. Men in Spencer’s world generally have a bunch of wives, but not at all in the way that polygamy usually entails. If you’re into, or at least tolerant of, loving more than one person at a time, you may really love this book.

Content warnings: rape, emotional abuse, mentions of incest, much fighting and some gory violence. Think wild west, but without the really offensive native american tropes. I don’t remember much explicit racial diversity, unfortunately. Everybody is pretty white.

Another New Year

I spent New Year’s Eve celebrating with my family in California, although the traditional cucumber and salmon sandwiches were a bit beyond my reach. I’m the screen in the middle.

I’m going to do my damnedest to get Somnolence published this year.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. A growing number of people who are smarter than I have argued that they’re not the best way to change habits or set goals. Sharing a resolution can actually make people less likely to accomplish it, because it gives a false sense of progress or completion. Just talking about it tricks the brain into thinking the work is already being done. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a short Ted Talk on the subject.

That said, it’s not always that simple. In this case, posting and talking about my work is an actual required step towards the completion of my goal. I’m just going to have to keep the phenomenon in mind, because I tend to procrastinate till the last minute on projects, and a novel just isn’t something you can hammer out the night before it’s due.

I suspect, just from what I HAVE seen so far of the process, that I am taking on something much bigger than I know. I’m going to hit snags, and things will always take longer than I expect because I’m a really unrealistic optimist. I finished my (very) rough draft last New Year’s Eve. Yeah, I actually did the last chunk of work the night before it was due. In my defense, it did get done.

Over the past year, I spent a lot of time editing, but in a rather haphazard fashion. This year, I’m going to have to be a lot more disciplined to get where I want to be.

Word Count Again, Because I Got a Little Lost.

It’s up to about 64,000 words, now. I’ve stopped trying to rearrange in little chunks and have just started rewriting the whole thing from top to bottom, filling in description and background as I go. I’ve read that this has to be done a number of times before a manuscript develops any kind of polish, so I’m plowing through. It’s surprisingly meditative and peaceful. Scrivener makes it nice and easy to place two documents next to each other and just go, which means I’m mostly copying, except in places where major tweaks are needed.

I’m also enjoying one of those brief shining moments where I don’t think my work completely sucks, as I’m reading through it. It won’t last, but those are always pleasant.

Word Count

Even though it isn’t super practical to measure progress by word count, it’s still pretty satisfying to check it occasionally. Last I checked, at the beginning of December, it was at about 57,000.

I’m definitely an underwriter. I tend to skimp on setting and background in my early drafts, unlike a lot of writers who get absolutely lost in the world building aspect of the process. I’m a bit jealous of these people, but it means that my editing process involves adding a lot of new content rather than mostly deleting the dead-weight, although there’s a lot of that as well. It’s all new to me, still, so I’m learning a lot about the process as I go.

The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve been trying out the Pomodoro Technique for productivity. It’s interesting, although I’m finding that the 25 minute working periods are a bit too short for me. I tend to work through my short breaks because they seem too small to bother with, and I’m usually engrossed in whatever’s in front of me by the time I’ve spent 25 minutes on it. It is handy, though. It makes big tasks seem less intimidating to tackle, since I know that if I need it, I can take a break in a short while. Setting a timer works well as a way to dive in and get past that initial resistance.

I’ve also been doing some interesting research about European feudal societies. It’s… Very dirty. So much dirt. It seriously brings to mind that Monty Python bit about the peasants farming muck. More on that, later.


An Update

So, my novel, Somnolence, is still in progress. I’ve had some trouble with motivation, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that writing is just hard. It’s not bad, just difficult. I’ve always had this insidious idea that things should feel easy if I’m doing them right, or if I’m skilled enough. But, that’s pretty much just nonsense. It’s just not easy to write a novel, and even though I’ve been working on this one for over three years, it took me till now to really get that.

Writing was never a hobby for me when I was younger, in part because I’m a weird sort of perfectionist. I never let myself write anything because looking at my own words, out there in the real world, scared me to death. If I’m not good at something, or my personal standards are just too high, I still have a lot of trouble sticking with it. Part of putting myself together has been learning to let myself suck at things because that’s the only way to improve. It’s a struggle, but I’m still moving forward.

Fortunately, I have these two clowns to keep me company while I laboriously figure out basic facts about the nature of art and life and stuff.

Depression Dragons


This is my first post, and I really wasn’t sure what to say, but I’ve written myself into a sort of stupor today, so I guess I’ll just say something.

I’ve lived with major depression for most of my life. I can’t remember a time when my baseline emotional state wasn’t some level of self loathing, worry, and confusion. So I’m having the strangest experience right now, because I’m not depressed. I feel fine. I’ve felt fine for weeks. More than a month, even. It’s weird. It’s like suddenly hearing silence after living with a buzzing in your ears for as long as you can remember.

My first novel deals with the subject of mental illness. It’s also a fantasy story, but it is very much built on my experiences with depression and anxiety. It’s a scary subject, and an important one, and I hope that I can do it justice. I was at a really low point when I started writing this book a few years ago, and just as I finished my first real draft, it began to lift a little. It’s been a few months and I can honestly say I’m not depressed right now. I’m not going to go into any of the things that may have contributed to this. They’re kind of irrelevant to this post, and the truth is that I really don’t know what did it. It might be a random fluctuation of hormones, for all I know. It’ll probably come back. That’s just how it works.

Ongoing or intermittent, depression is a fact of life for many people. I don’t think I’m alone in the experience of wishing for something to fight to make it better. We often reach for something solid to grapple with when our minds turn on us. You can’t exactly fight the thoughts in your head, and trying to do so can even make things worse. In fantasy, there’s more freedom from these realistic constraints, and it is usually possible to fight the things that plague and haunt us.

So, that’s it. This is who I am, what I’m going through right now, and the thing I am making. In a minute I’m going to go back to editing until my eyes bleed and I hate what I’ve made a little bit.