Books I Read, Published, or Wrote in 2023

For most years over the last seven years (since I started blogging at the tail end of the blogging bubble — good timing on my part), I have shared the books that I’ve read in a given year. This is that list for 2023.

I have an entirely subject 4-star rating system, based mostly on how much I enjoyed a book. I have noted over the years that for books I’ve read more than once, the ratings are not consistent from one reading to the next.

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (second reading, link) — I anticipate a third reading in a few years — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman (link) — I will definitely be reading more of his books in the future — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Upgrade by Blake Crouch (link) — I’ll read everything he writes for the foreseeable future — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (link) — I really hope there are more books coming in this series — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Mistborn: The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson (link) — a good finale to the second half of the series — ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
  • Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo (link) — Bardugo is another author currently on my “read everything they publish” list — ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
  • The Expanse: Abaddon’s Gate by James S. A. Corey (link) — I loved this finale to the first trilogy of the series — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Fairy Tale by Stephen King (link) — between this book, Billy Summers, and The Institute, I have really enjoyed the run that King has been on lately — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Murderbot Diaries: Network Effect by Martha Wells (link) — ⭐⭐⭐
  • Raylan by Elmore Leonard (link) — Leonard is one of the great stories tellers; I love how he captures the essence of a particular people and place — ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (link) — I re-read this one because I was using elements of the structure for my forthcoming novel Watch Party, which I’ve described as a mash-up between this book and Cast Away — ⭐⭐⭐
  • The Originals by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal — ⭐⭐⭐
  • The Noise by James Patterson and J. D. Barker (link) — ⭐⭐⭐
  • Killing Floor by Lee Childs (link) — Thrillers aren’t really my jam, but I was giving them a shot this year; I came to the conclusion that I’m just not the intended audience — ⭐⭐⭐
  • The Deep by Alma Katsu (link) — ⭐⭐⭐
  • A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (link) — I had never read any of her books before, but now I want to read all of them — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang (link) — There were parts of this book that I really liked, but I had some hangups with it too — ⭐⭐⭐
  • The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (link) — ⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake (link) — ⭐⭐⭐
  • The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (link) — ⭐⭐⭐
  • Murderbot Diaries: Exit Strategy by Martha Wells (link) — ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (link) — I really loved this story the first time I read it several years ago; less so this time through — ⭐⭐⭐
  • Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree (link) — ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
  • Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros (link) — I was definitely not the intended audience for this one — ⭐⭐ 1/2
  • Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (link) — This is the last book I’ll finish for the year and was a great one to end on — ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In other news, my fourth novel, Casual Business with Fairies (link), came out in 2023. And I wrote my fifth novel, Watch Party (pre-order link), which is scheduled for release on April 9, 2024.

Announcing My Fifth Novel, Watch Party

My first novel, Vulcan Rising, was born out of a particularly strange and vivid dream about a trio of men kidnapping a pegasus. So when it came time to write my first non-fantasy novel, it was only fitting that it’s genesis was a post-apocalyptic dream in which a friend and I found a pile of watches that had been deserted on a beach at the end of the world. Watch Party is a suspense/mystery novel that took a very different turn than the dream that catalyzed it.

Watch Party is scheduled for publication on April 9, 2024. Stay tuned for when it becomes available for pre-order in early 2024.

Watch Party J. W. Judge April 9 2024 They survived a plane crash, only to disappear on a deserted island

Creative Brain Burnout and Recovery

A few weeks ago, I posted that I had burned up a lot of creative energy in June and July with pushing hard to finish and revise Novel No. 5. I can now confirm that I discovered myself to have burned through not only my readily-available creative energy stores, but the reserves as well, resulting in creative brain burnout.

J. W. Judge Creative Brain Burnout and Recovery

Contributions to Creative Burnout

A couple of factors contributed to the burnout I began experiencing. Work has been extraordinarily busy since may, a trend that looks like it will continue for another few months.

In mid-July, I began querying Novel No. 5 to literary agents. As with most things I do, I researched many agents before deciding to whom I wanted to query. Over the last month, I have continued to add to the list and submit the novel to more agencies as I find good fits. The querying process isn’t something I’ve enjoyed. To do it effectively — and maybe that’s not the correct word since there are no guarantees of any eventual success — it takes a lot of time. So much time. Time that I would rather be spending doing other things … like writing Novel No. 6. But there was a problem with that too.

By the time August rolled around, I found it difficult to decide which project to write next. I had two in mind. I had written the first couple of chapters of each, and since I couldn’t reach any sort of conclusion, I sent them to my Alpha Reader to provide some guidance. She told me her preference, and that’s what I’ve gone with for Novel No. 6.

Equal Parts Writing and Not Writing

Even then, though, I had a tough time finding my writing energy. I got up at the same early hour and sat in the same spot I always do, but the creativity necessary to write wasn’t there. For the first time this year, August has seen nearly as many days of me not writing as the contrary. Here’s what that has looked like:

  • 8/1-5: 0 words
  • 8/6: 383 words, writing my early August update for this site
  • 8/7-9: 819 words in Chapter 2 of Novel No. 6
  • 8/10: 0 words
  • 8/11-13: 1372 words in Chapters 2 & 3 of Novel No. 6
  • 8/14-16: 0 words
  • 8/17-20: 2101 words in Chapters 3-5 of Novel No. 6

You can pretty clearly see that I’ve been making progress in an ongoing series of starts and stops. Even writing this is a form of procrastination, because I don’t have the mental energy to fully immerse myself in my novel yet.

Recognizing that, I’m trying to give myself time to recover while still feeling productive so that once work slows down and the brain drain passes, I will restocked my reserves of creative energy and be prepared to write Novel No. 6.

Recent Episodes of The Write Approach

Here are some episodes of my podcast, The Write Approach, that we’ve put out in the last few weeks. Each of these is on your preferred podcast app and on our YouTube channel.

Recapping July and Prognosticating August

I finished the first draft of my fifth novel at the end of June, so I spent the next three weeks doing three rounds of editing on it. Everyone’s editing process looks different, but here’s my system.

For the first round, I print it off double spaced and double sided. Then I take a red pen and let it bleed all over every page. I’m adding and subtracting and changing language. Creating more depth to the story, and looking for things that are obnoxious.

Once I’ve finished with that, I take those pages and implement the changes into the manuscript on Scrivener. I don’t usually make the changes wholesale; instead, they continue to evolve from how I hand-wrote them to what ends up in the software. Then I begin the extensive process of copy-editing everything in ProWritingAid before sending it off to my alpha reader, who’s also been reading the manuscript in chunks as I’ve written it and helped me in developing the story. Usually after that, it’s ready for a final proofread.

That process took up most of July. But for the last third of the month, I wrote the opening chapters to two different novels, trying to figure out one to write next. One is a family crime drama that starts in the immediate aftermath of my short story, The Murder Tree (which you can read for free on Kindle Unlimited or buy for $0.99). The other is a fantasy novel involving three friends who decide to hatch a dragon egg; calamity ensues. I still haven’t entirely decided which it will be.

Because July mostly involved editing rather than drafting, I only wrote 5400 words in July. That brings my total for the year to 84,100. With that, I should pretty easily surpass 100,000 words for the year again.

We’re nearly a week into August, and this is the first non-work-related thing I’ve written. There are a couple of reasons for that. Work has been totally chaotic for a while now. And I burned through a whole lot of creative energy writing 20,000 words in June to finish the fifth novel and doing three rounds of editing in July. I think my brain needed some recovery time, but we are nearing the time to re-engage it and write the sixth novel.

June Was Extraordinarily Productive

My goal when I started writing Novel No. 5 on January 1 was to finish it in 6 months. Going into June, I did not think I would hit that goal. There was so much of the story left to write, that it looked like it would carry over into July.

More importantly than finishing the book is how it came out. I am so pleased with how Novel No. 5 came together. It is a suspense/murder-mystery novel that really delivers. Despite my extraordinarily thorough spreadsheet that I created for the story to outline the story and keep up with the various elements, the novel was in a constant state of evolution. I’ve sent the rough draft to my Alpha Reader, who has given me great feedback. I can’t wait to really make it shine in the editing process.

For some context on my productivity, here’s a month-by-month breakdown of how much of the story I wrote:

  • January — 11 chapters
  • February — 5 chapters
  • March — 11 chapters
  • April — 8 chapters
  • May — 9 chapters
  • June — 16 chapters

I had such strong finishing energy in June. Those 16 chapters amounted to 20,928 words for the month. I’ve only had one other month (November 2020) when I’ve written more words.

That brought my to 78,700 words for the year so far. I’ll pretty easily eclipse 100,000 for the year … as long as I can decide what my next novel will be. As it stands, I’m waffling between another fantasy novel or something that follows up on my short story, The Murder Tree.

J. W. Judge June Was Extraordinarily Productive

Also in June, Barbara Hinske and I released three new episodes of The Write Approach. Here are the links to the podcast website, but you can also find the interviews on your favorite podcast app or our YouTube channel.

July has in store for me a great deal of editing. So much editing. In fact, I’ve already started the first round of edits and have gone through the first 6 chapters making revisions.

For some recreation in June, I bought a kayak, which the kiddos and I have gone fishing in a couple of times.

May Madness and Some Flash Fiction

May was a wildly busy month. I worked more than fifty hours a week in my law practice. We released three episodes of The Write Approach:

And I wrote more than 10,000 of my fifth novel. I’m currently writing the last chapter of the Act II and plan to finish the novel in July. I’ll then do several rounds of editing and start querying agents.

In the meantime, here’s some flash fiction based on a conversation that occurred in a hotel room lobby.


Interracial Interaction in a Hotel Lobby

“Howdy,” he said to the woman making her coffee at the station next to the hotel’s breakfast bar.

“Morning.” She returned the greeting. “I’ll be done in a minute.”

He smiled at her. “I’m in no rush.”

She paused stirring her artificial sweetener into the coffee that that creamer had turned blonde. “You must be from the South.”

His corners of his lips turned up. “Originally from Texas, but I’ve lived most of my adult life in Birmingham.”

She nodded as if taking a moment to appreciate what she already knew about her own powers of observation and assessment about folks.

He asked, “Was it the howdy that gave me away?”

She shook her head and returned her attention to her coffee. “Nah. Nothing like that.” She put the lid on her paper cup and made a gesture that the station was all his.

Before she turned to go, he said, “I’m curious how you knew where I was from.”

She looked him directly in the eyes. “I’m a truck driver from Jackson. It’s only when meet white people from the South that they talk to black folks. Everybody everywhere else?” She shook her head again and frowned. “Nothing.”

“Really?”

“That’s a fact.” She turned an ambled off toward the table where her breakfast waited on her.

Mid-May(hem)

I’ve written more than 5,000 words of Novel No. 5 in the first half of May. That has topped me over 47,000 words and put me at approximately the 2/3 mark for the novel. While the framework has stayed in place, many of the particulars of what I think are going to happen in a given scene between conception and conclusion. I continue to be excited about this project and have no doubt it will be my most commercially successful novel.

On May 2, my fourth novel, Casual Business with Fairies, released. You can buy it on Amazon or any other online bookstore. Here’s an early reader review.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

End of April Writing Update

If my writing in April were a landscape, it would definitely be a mountain range. So many peaks and valleys. But not the Rockies. Probably the Smoky Mountains, because the peaks weren’t all that high. I had four days in which I didn’t do any writing, and there wasn’t a single day that I hit more than a thousand words.

Still, including this update, I’ve written more than 10,000 words in April and hit some significant milestones in the writing of my fifth novel. I went over 40,000 words in the book and put it over the halfway point. In fact, this morning, I finished the third chapter in the second half of the book.

I sent the first half to my Alpha Reader a couple of weeks ago. They read it all in one sitting and provided some great feedback. I’m feeling really good about this murder-mystery. Of course, that’s subject to change without warning, because that is just the nature of writing. I reserve my right to hate everything tomorrow.


In other creative pursuits, my fourth dark fantasy novel, Casual Business with Fairies releases on Tuesday. The protagonist in that book is an insurance lawyer, who more closely resembles many aspects of my nature than any other character I’ve written. You can order it from your favorite online bookstore.

If you’re interested in the origin story of my debut novel, Vulcan Rising, I made a video about it. Available on YouTube. I plan to do similar accounts of my other novels as well.

We also had great interviews with some really impressive guests on the podcast I co-host with Barbara Hinske, The Write Approach:

Strong Showing in March

While there was a LOT going on in February and I didn’t put nearly as many words on the page (or into my Scrivener app, if we want to be more accurate) as I would have liked, the same is not true of March. The third month of year was super productive.

For the suspense/contemporary mystery novel I’m currently writing, I typed out just over 15,000 words in March (coming in a couple hundred words shy of what I did in January), which amounts to ten full chapters. The project is currently sitting at roughly 32,000 words, and the halfway point is on the horizon.

Just this week, I had my Alpha Reader (who’s worked with me on all my novels) read the first 100 pages. She read it all in one sitting (!) and gave me some great feedback.

Unrelated: I wrote an article on this blog about “What a New Story Idea Feels Like“.


On the publishing front

My fourth fantasy novel Casual Business with Fairies is now available for pre-order in all formats from your preferred online bookstores: Buy your copy now.

Casual Business with Fairies J. W. Judge not all fairy tales end with happily ever after

The Write Approach in March

Barbara Hinske and I released some really good episodes of The Write Approach in March. Our podcast downloads and YouTube views continue to grow month-over-month.

Our April episodes are lining up to deliver equally good content for listeners. Make sure to subscribe on your preferred platform so you don’t miss anything.

What a New Story Idea Feels Like

Several months ago, we released an episode of The Write Approach called “Where Do Story Ideas Come From?” in which Barbara Hinske and I talked about the various sources inspiration that had been the catalyst for novels. For my own writing, novels have arisen out of dreams and nightmares (Vulcan Rising) and from conversations with other people (Casual Business with Fairies). Even a throw-away line spoken by someone on a podcast I was listening to has sparked a short story (The Murder Tree).

But what we didn’t talk about is what a new story idea feels like when it hits you. For my daily devotional this morning, I was reading in the book of Job. In the fourth chapter, one of Job’s friends is speaking to him, and says, “A word was brought to me in secret; my ears caught a whisper of it.” Job 4:12.

Very often for me, that is what a new story idea feels like — something that I caught a whisper of. And I have to write it down before it dissipates on the wind and is lost forever. That applies not only to story ideas in whole, but to lines of dialog and particular phrases within the stories themselves. Story ideas are such fragile things until we build a house of words around them.

Now, I need to get back to writing my fifth novel. I have some ideas for the current chapter, including a couple of particular lines of dialog I’ve already jotted down, because I didn’t want the whisper of them to be carried off.