what I've been reading and what they're doing right (#SFWApro)

Last Thursday, I finished my latest work, Cygnet Moon, and shipped the novel and its accompanying submission package off to my agent. Writing a novel is an immersive business for me, especially when I get into the final quarter and during edits. I don't read anything but the story that I'm working on. I do this so that I don't accidentally pick up someone else's voice during my final round of edits.

I restrict my reading to blog posts and research, then once I'm done, I go on an absolute binge of reading. Here are a few books that I've found worth my while:

Preternatural by G.S. Anderson

I once had an agent who offered up a unique challenge: Anyone, he posited, can tell you what is wrong with a story. The challenge is in telling someone what is RIGHT with a story. Find what works, and you can discover writing secrets, which you can then apply to your own writing. That suggestion has remained with me all these years, so when I find myself enjoying an author's work, I start looking for what that particular author is doing right.

Anderson tells twelve unique stories in this little volume, and I had to read it twice to find out what she was doing right, because her writing is so smooth and enjoyable, I found myself reading for fun the first time through.

What she did right: smooth storytelling with skillful prose made me forget to study fiction and simply enjoy stories for fun. Anderson's writing reminded me Stephen King's Joyland. Skillful storytelling with a cool Twilight Zone twist hidden within each tale. I read it quickly--too quickly--and read it again. My favorite story was "The Unicorn" and I hope that Anderson will give us more shorts such as these. If you're looking for something perfect to while away an afternoon, I highly suggest you check out Preternatural.

Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House by Christopher Buehlman.

Over the winter, I read Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires. I enjoyed his story and writing style so much that when my daughter gave me a B&N gift card for my birthday, I ordered his other two novels: Those Across the River and The Necromancer's House.

Of the two, I found myself enjoying the Those Across the River more than The Necromancer's House, but I believe that was more to do with my mindset. Both stories are well worth your time, though, especially if you love horror.

I read Those Across the River in two days. The story is set in post-World War I Georgia when Frank Nichols and his wife Eudora move to Whitbrow, Georgia and learn of the town's disturbing history. Once a month, the town sends a gift of two pigs across the river where the old Savoyard plantation once stood, but the Great Depression is hitting all of the farmers hard, and the town votes to stop wasting its livestock in a ritual that only a few want to maintain. However, it isn't long before those across the river return to take what is no longer freely given.

What is right about this book: everything. The pacing moves at a breakneck speed and Buehlman has a talent for dark fiction, knowing just how much to weave into the story to keep the reader hooked without going overboard into the dreaded school of over-writing. The story is lean, quick, and cuts like a knife.

Unlike Those Across the River, The Necromancer's House jumped between different points of view, which jarred me at times. I had a little trouble getting into the story and the characters, but once there, I really found myself enjoying this twisted take on Baba Yaga. Buehlman's climax and ending were superb.

What he does right: Buehlman takes the time to research his stories, and he puts just enough of that research into the work to give his story authenticity. The balance is absolutely perfect. I'll be watching for more of Buehlman's work.

The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer.

This is the second book in Schafer's Shattered Sigil series and I am currently reading it. I love Schafer's storytelling.

What she does right: Likable characters woven into a good, old-fashioned adventure story with lots of twists and betrayals. Kiran is my favorite character in this story, and Dev is back with style.

I'll be back with a full review when I'm done, but Tainted City is my last fun read before I start work on a new novella.

If you've got a minute and you're reading something good, leave it in the comments. Let us know what you find right about the author's work.

feeding the imagination (#SFWApro)

During 2013, I didn't have a lot of time to read due to writing and all the other things that I talked about in my year end wrap-up. I intend to rectify that in 2014. In addition to my annual business plan, I've decided to develop a definitive reading plan as well. Nonfiction is always a given for me due to the necessity for research; however, I think that having a good plan for reading fiction is just as vital.

More than once, I have arrived at plot or characterization solutions by allowing my imagination to free-roam through another's work, whether it be a short-story, a novel, or a movie. The experience is very difficult to explain, but often a word or a phrase will trigger the solution to an entirely different problem that I am having with my work. Fiction excites the imagination, and the old adage about drawing from an empty well is entirely apropos in any artistic endeavor.

Therefore, I will feed my imagination more this year. I've crafted a partial plan for 2014:

Colder Greyer Stones by Tanith Lee. I have long been a fan of Tanith Lee's works, especially her short stories. I am already halfway through this collection and I am savoring it to make it last. Lee's prose is haunting and lyrical and her imagery remains in my mind long after I've put her stories down.

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman. I'm in the dead middle of this novel now and I will finish it during the first part of the year. If you love knights, angelology, and horror, you are in for a major treat.

Tainted City by Courtney Schafer. I always try to keep up with my friends and their works, not just out of the feeling of mutual support, but also because I always find something to enjoy in their novels. Courtney has created two very memorable characters with Dev and Kiran, and she knows how to write an adventure novel. I absolutely loved The Whitefire Crossing, and I am really looking forward to digging into the sequel.

A Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman. This book has earned nothing but praise from the book bloggers who I trust, so this will be my starting point for C.S. Friedman's works.

The Tower Broken by Mazarkis Williams. Having already finished The Emperor's Knife and Knife Sworn, I can't wait to see how Williams ends the saga. This novel is already available in the U.K. I'm waiting for it to hit the U.S.

Iron Night by M.L. Brennan. Generation V was the last book that I finished in 2013, and if you're looking for a fun romp filled with vampires and kitsune and all kinds of yummy action, this is the book for you. Meanwhile, Brennan continues Fort's adventures with Iron Night, and I hear there are some really interesting plot developments in store for the vampires and kitsune alike.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. Here is another author whose work I've been dying to read. I just love Ilona's voice and the snippets she posts on her blog, so I have this as one of my must-reads for 2014. Everyone, absolutely everyone, seems to love this series, so I will finally meet Kate Daniels in 2014.

There is a mix here of horror, fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance, and there is a reason for that. For me, reading a diverse selection of literature helps me grow as a writer. I love seeing authors use different techniques and methods to tell their stories.

In addition to the books that I've listed here, I will probably read some thrillers and literary fiction and romances too. I'm also trolling other authors and bloggers to see what they're reading. Whenever one of our librarians comes to me and says, read this, you will love it, I don't question either of them. I read the book, because even if I don't love the book, I will have broadened my reading experience and fed my imagination a little more.

So if you have a minute, tell me what is on your to-read pile in 2014? How will you feed your imagination? And in what genres?