Wednesday, February 13, 2019

DIYMFA #10: What's on Your Reading List?

Welcome to the DIYMFA book club. They've got a very active group over on Facebook. If you're interested in exploring these themes about your own writing, I highly recommend giving them a look! Today, we're asked about our reading lists. 

Reading is such an important part of my author's life! After all, I began as a reader, back when the book were tall and thin and I read them out loud with my mother. I'm not dogmatic about much when it comes to what an author MUST do, but I firmly believe that you can't be a good writer if you don't also read. You need to read a LOT: broadly, deeply, and constantly. There's no better school for writing.

The problem with my TBR (to be read) list is that I want to read EVERYTHING. People have been writing books for a long time, and I want to read all the old, good stuff, and all of the new, good stuff. I want to read all the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and even the plays. Starting in 2015, I set a Goodreads goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one per week and I've exceeded that every year, thanks to discovering audiobooks and how reading in this format can double or triple my reading time each day. 

I know I can't actually read everything. It's just not humanly possible. So there are a few things that guide my choices these days. 

#1 Book Clubs
#2 Writers I Know
#3 My Mood

I'm in two book clubs right now (besides the DIYMFA one). 

I help run the First Monday Classics Book Club at my local library. It was the brainchild of another local writer, James Maxey, who like me, was looking for a structure and support to encourage himself to read all those classic books he'd been meaning to get to all these years. The group has been meeting for four years and those who've been in from the beginning have read 50 books together. 

Upcoming in the next few months, we're tackling Fahrenheit 451, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Haunting of Hill House, The Master and Margarita, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and In Cold Blood

I really enjoy this book club, both for the impetus to fill in "holes" in my reading history and for the wonderful discussions about the works themselves and whether they deserve the moniker of "classic" or not. 

My other book club is much smaller, consisting of three other women who live in my neighborhood and me. We don't really have a theme. We just take turns suggesting books and then go have coffee and talk about them. We do seem to have a taste for nonfiction as a group, and I've read some great books with these women. Our next meeting is coming soon and we'll be talking about Hidden Figures, which really disappointed me, so I'm anxious to hear what everyone else thought. 

Many of my other book choices come from authors I know online or in real life. Sometimes, I have promised to read and review something for a writer I'm acquainted with because they need the boost. It's so hard to garner those first few reviews that get your work some traction! Other times, I'm just curious what these folks I talk on panels with and appear in anthologies alongside are up to. One of the best ways authors can support each other is by spreading the word about books they enjoy, and keeping up with the work by my talented and prolific colleagues could be a full time job in and of itself. 

Since I just signed with a new publisher, I've loaded up my kindle with works by the other writers among Falstaff Books' Island of Misfit Toys. I try to keep up with my colleagues in Broad Universe and the Pen and Cape Society

I'm also judging a women's fiction writing contest for the Women's Fiction Writers Association, so I've got three novels to read between now and April for that commitment. 

Familiarity with others' work is part of networking, and also a way to pay forward all the kindness and support that others have shown me over my writer's journey. 

So, with all these external forces choosing a lot of my reading for me, I also just sometimes pick a book because it sounds interesting. A lot of times, these are contrast books to whatever I've been reading "too much" of: comedies, escapism, something "different." 

My most recent read chosen by my mood was Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I follow Ms. Roanhorse on Twitter and had heard quite a bit of buzz about this book. I'm always looking to diversify my reading list, and Ms. Roanhorse is Native American and writes Young Adult, two categories my reading experience is short on. I'm so glad I read it! Maggie Hoskie is a delight of a main character, complicated, prickly, and so very wonderful. 

So, there's what I'll be reading for the foreseeable future. How about you? What's at the top of your TBR? I hope you'll give my books a shot (nudgenudge, know what I mean?) but there's a lot of good work out there. What's got your eye right now? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

DIYMFA #9: Trying a New Technique

Building a writing life is all about figuring out what works for you. It's also a lifelong learning experience because change happens: your life circumstances, your writing process, even you-yourself. So, I'm always seeking new things to try. Writing life "hacks" so to speak, despite the negative connotation of "hack" when it comes to writing.  Over the years, I've found some tools and ideas that have made me more efficient and effective, and I hope to keep on finding ways to grow as my career builds.

To that end, I've been slowly reading through DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build your Community by Gabriela Pereira, which is a good compilation of a variety of writing advice with a focus on building a process that will work for you career-long. I've also been participating in the DIYMFA book club.  They've got a very active group over on Facebook. If you're interested in exploring these themes about your own writing, I highly recommend giving them a look!

This week's prompt asked you to try a new technique and talk about how it went for you. The technique I tried was scene cards. I wrote about it previously on this blog here.

It's a form of outlining.

Now, I've never been an outliner. The story doesn't seem to come to me whole-cloth enough for that. I'm more of a quilter as I write, building pieces and then stitching them together afterwards.

But, I was really stuck on my WIP (Thursday's Children, YA, dystopian with shades of romance) last summer. So, I decided to give this a go during my yearly writer's retreat. At worst, it wouldn't work for me and I'd just be where I already was, right?

Story cards ask you to make a card for each scene in your novel, indicating the follow things:
  • a title for the scene
  • the major players
  • the action
  • the purpose (structurally)
That last bit (the purpose) turned out to be key for me. It helped me see what each scene was doing in the larger piece. The best scenes had more than one purpose: characterization plus plot reveal moment or conflict building with scene setting.

I did this is as a sort of mid-process mapping. I had already written some 30,000 words on the project. So, I mapped out what I had already written, analyzing it for these four things. I added a color coding element because the book balances three points of view (Kye'luh, Malcolm, and Jason) and I wanted to see if they were balancing, so I wrote the scene card on a different color post-it, depending on whose POV it was told in. I used a fourth color for random thoughts I didn't want to lose and left those off to the side. 

I've done digital version of this before, labeling the chapters in Scrivener with different symbols and using the summary cards there to detail what the content of each chapter was, but the paper version hanging on my wall worked much better for me visually. The day after I finished my descriptive outline of what I'd already written, I made a list of "holes" I needed to fill and ideas for how the story should move forward. Here, six months later, I'm still using this chart to guide my progress and the novel is nearing its end. 

I still don't think I can outline before I write. But as a way to move past my wall when I've run out of steam and need to find my direction again? This was really useful to me. As always, YMMV, because any creative endeavor is highly individual and we all work differently. But hey, if you're stuck, what can it hurt to try something?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

IWSG: Ch-ch-ch-changes

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! it's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 6, 2019 posting of the IWSG are Raimey Gallant, Natalie Aguirre, CV Grehan, and Michelle Wallace! Be sure to check them out today!

So tomorrow is a HUGE day in my writing life. It's the day my Menopausal Superheroes novels are re-released. They get ANOTHER book birthday. I'm so happy (and relieved) to be able to make this announcement so soon after I found it necessary to ask for my rights back from my previous publisher. (details here)

My blog image of the tightrope walker has never felt more appropriate than in the past few months, because this has definitely been a circus. (Though maybe a trapeze artist hanging in midair when we haven't seen if she will catch the other bar yet would be an even better image). 

Turns out, I don't like the circus. At least not when I have to perform in it. But now I can happily say, "not my monkeys, not my circus" and move on. Time for a fresh start. 

The Menopausal Superhero series will now be published by Falstaff Books of Charlotte, North Carolina. Check out my new covers! 

I really love the new look. They do a great job of capturing the heart of the series (superheroic women's fiction) and just look so good! 

I'm not letting myself get insecure right now, though transitions are always terrifying. Instead I'm focusing on the all the positives. After all, I'm the queen of second chances, having found a new lease on life in a second marriage, in a third state, in a ninth teaching job, and now with a second publisher. I got this, right? 

After all, I don't just write superhero, I am one. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Guest Post: Harding McFadden: Can We Chat for a While?

NOTE: To my regular readers, today I am pleased to bring you a guest post from Harding McFadden. I hope you enjoy his piece about his writer's journey! -SB

Can We Chat for a While?
by Harding McFadden

            I wrote my first “book” when I was about eight years old: a twelve-page beast of a thing with knights, evil kings, elves, robots, and a large red self-destruct button inspired by some old Iron Maiden album cover and watching the first Terminator at too young an age.  I was so proud of the thing.  I even begged my oldest sister to take it to school with her to type it up and print it out, so that I could proudly give copies over to everyone I knew, which amounted to family too polite to turn me down.  I look back on it now and cringe.  It’s terrible. 
            By the time I was seventeen I was submitting short stories to magazines.  This synced up perfectly with the worst bout of insomnia that I’ve ever had to deal with.  One, maybe two, hours of sleep a night, for weeks on end with one terrible weekend-long crash.  At the end of one of these, with the crash in sight and the room spinning, I decided to sit down in front of my typewriter and kick out a little story.  At two or three in the morning, as my folks later informed me.  The end result was a short story (less than a thousand pages) that I titled “Mr. Peabody and the Headless Boy,” which, I will test until the day I die, is the single best thing I’ve ever written. 
            Very proud of this little gem, I submitted it.  Much to my chagrin, no one was interested.  Fantasy and Science Fiction?  Nope.  Analog? Nada.  Weird Tales?  My personal favorite: “Bleak, incoherent, and hard to follow.”  I still have that rejection letter in a box in my attic. 
            Long story short: it hasn’t seen the light of day, unless you happen to be a good friend, or relative.  Until later this year, but more on that later.
            Like so many folks, I guess, I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since first putting pen to paper.  There’ve been plenty of false starts.  A crime novel that let me know inside of the first chapter just how little I know about law enforcement.  A horror western that I wrote a detailed outline for, along with the first two-fifths of, amounting to about 120 pages, and which I fully intend to finish one day.  But the novel, as a form of artistic expression, has forever eluded me.
            I think it was Koontz who said that agents dislike working with short story writers, as they see them as amateurs, unable to give them the 100,000 words that they are looking for.  So, that’s me: the perpetual amateur, with delusions of grandeur.  However, I will always defend those delusions, as what in the name of God are the good of delusions of mediocrity? 
            So, two hundred short stories, twelve sales, later, I am looking at the author’s proof of my second book.  How did I get here?
            About ten years back I decided to attempt an intellectual exercise: to outline a long story, with a defined beginning, middle, and end.  A science fiction epic for readers of all ages, full of action, adventure, heroes, villains, and concepts on a grand scale.  Much to my shock I spent the following decade doing just that: outlining.  The result?  A long story, told over many smaller volumes and related short stories, that in my head is called The Last War.
            When my friend Chester Haas—cowriter on the first volume of this long story—finished up our little book, we were proud of the finished product.  When those beta readers that we dropped it on went through the roof for it, our pride grew by leaps and bounds.  When I read it to my two awe inspiring daughters and they told me they liked it, I was through the roof.  But, as the old saying goes: pride goeth before the fall.
            No agent wanted to touch the thing.  “Too short,” and “too offensive” were phrases that were thrown our way.  I still don’t understand this last, but then again it takes a lot to offend me. 
            In my youth I was prone to depression and anxiety, at least in small bursts.  These feelings reared their ugly heads once again when it started to look like our work would amount to nothing, with family and close friends being the only folks to read something that I’d had a hand in writing, yet again.
            Enter Sarah A. Hoyt.
            A well-established and talented writer in her own right, Mrs. Hoyt did me the honor a few months back of accepting my friend request on Facebook (let this be a lesson to you folks out there: yes, writers are just people, but some are fine examples of humanity, and Mrs. Hoyt is one such).  Full disclosure: upon friending her, I’d yet to read one of her many works of fiction, having only been exposed to her articles in places like L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise.  Yet, those articles were so incredible that I found, and still find, myself sneaking them out with each and every new issue published.  So she’s a good writer, but here’s what’s made me a fan for life: when I sent her a message, she answered.
            I asked her, very selfishly I admit, if she had any advice for someone trying to get started, and in no time flat she got back to me offering many sage words of advice, arguably the most important of which were: “Go indie, young writer, go indie.”
            Such a simple thing, words given by a stranger that meant more than those given by most folks that I’ve known in the flesh much longer, and they changed the way I was looking at this.  Sure, it would be nice to be walking through a brick and mortar book store and see something that I’ve written up on the shelves, but that’s just ago.  The fine folks at my local library have taken pity on my need to feed the green-eyes monster and have everything that I’ve every had published up on their shelves, listed, not by editor, but by my name, so that I can drive down the M-rack whenever I want and bask in those few slim volumes whenever I’m feeling down.  So, brick and mortar be damned.
            And so, last November my first book, The Children’s War, was published on Amazon Kindle, with an absolutely incredible cover by Mrs. Katherine Derstein. 
            When I first held it in my ready little hands, I could have cried.  As has been pointed out to me endlessly: yes, it was self-published.  I am no less proud.  Couldn’t care less.  It’s out there, for the reading public to enjoy or hate to their heart’s content, as I’d always imagined it being. 
            One down.
            Coming up in late-February or mid-March will be the second book, The Great First Impressions Trip, again with an incredible cover, this one put together by the great Dr. Victor Koman, out of the kindness of his heart, and another great writer who happens also to be  a good fella.  Coming soon (another three or four months) will be The Judas Hymn, a collection of my published short stories, along with a dozen others (including the previously mentioned “Mr. Peabody and the Headless Boy”) featuring a downright off-putting cover by Xander Van Hawley.        After that?  Lord, lots more.
            You see, I’ve got a big story to tell, and it is my sincere wish to tell it well.   
            I guess it’s getting past time to wrap this up.  I’ve pimped the books to annoyance. I’ve thanked those folks that’ve helped me, when I in no way deserved their help (add to that list Samantha Bryant who, when I asked if I could write a guest blog for her said “Yes.”)  All that is left is to thank you, whoever took a few minutes out of your busy day to read these ramblings from a poor beggar, asking for your business.  I hope that you enjoyed our time together.

Check out The Children's War here!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

MLK: Poet of Justice

We had a school holiday on Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There are only a few Americans who stand high enough in our country's esteem to warrant a day away from work and I hope enough of us stop to consider the reason for the observation.

There's a lot to admire about this man and the lasting good he helped usher into our country.

It's worth remembering, too, what it cost him.

But when I think about Martin Luther King, Jr., it is his words that echo in my heart and mind.

When my daughter was in 5th grade, I went with her class on a trip to Washington DC. I've been several times to see that fair city, but I had never before visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

It does him proud. The statue is grand, and striking. Visually, the way the man seems to be emerging out of the unformed stone behind him speaks to strength and struggle, the unfinished nature of the work of justice, and of dignity.

The best part, though, is all the quotes.

The walls are lined with many of his words.

It was a joy to stand there listening to 5th graders reading them aloud to each other and nodding with the truths that echoed in their own hearts.

The man had wonderful ideas, but more important to his legacy, he expressed them well: memorably, poetically, powerfully.

Some of my favorites:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of convenience and comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

"True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice."

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Marketing for Introverts

Hi! I'm Samantha, and I'm an introvert. In fact, I'm really happy that we're having this little talk here on the Internet, where I don't have to actually talk to you.

It's not that I'm not friendly. I bet I'd even like you. It's that I'm still recuperating after participating in a fan convention this weekend for my writing life.

Being a writer might seem like a natural job choice for an introvert. In some ways, it's an excellent fit.

Doing the work requires spending copious amounts of time alone.

The work itself is usually pretty quiet (just some keyboard clicking or pen scritching noises).

You can do the work wherever you are most comfortable.

On the other hand, if you want to make a career of writing, you can't *just* write. You have to put your work out there for others to read.

Then, there's the marketing, that second job of garnering attention for your work and being discoverable. That can be pretty painful for a introverted person, but I'm here to tell you that it can be done.

At Illogicon last weekend, I participated in a wonderful panel on this very topic with some talented introverts: Gray Rinehart, Claire Wrenwood, Patrick Dugan, and Fraser Sherman. We all agreed that you can make a career as a writer without undergoing some kind of alchemy and becoming an extrovert, and that in some ways, introverts might be especially well suited to it.

So, here are a few things to consider if you're an introvert and trying to promote yourself and your work.

1. Take it slow: A lot of people seem to think that building a writing career and support network is a sudden quick movement, like sweeping the legs in a kickboxing match.

It's not.

Not even for extroverts.

Building contacts and relationships is the work of years, and luckily, it's the kind of work introverts are good at! We may not be comfortable standing behind the megaphone and calling for the attention of everyone in the room, but we're great one-on-one and when we get to know someone, we usually get to know them well. Our relationships are deep and strong and lasting.

When you are meeting new people, be reasonable in your expectations for yourself. I'm happy if I make one or two new initial contacts at any given event. I'm not trying to go home with my pockets bursting with business cards. I'm trying to make a few meaningful connections.

2. Pick your poison:  There are a lot of ways to put yourself out there as a writer. You can give readings, participate in discussion panels, teach workshops or classes, hand sell books from a table or booth at an event, make videos about your work, tweet cleverly, blog, etc.

Some of these things will scare the heck out of you, and some may only make you nervous. Pick something you feel like you can do and try it. You can push yourself a little at a time, and you don't have to put yourself out there on every possible platform.

Look at events carefully, think about your comfort levels, and plan accordingly. I enjoy doing fan conventions, for example, but I tend to stick to small and medium sized ones relatively near my home base.

I take my sister with me whenever I can because it's good to have someone more outgoing with you and someone who will help you take care of yourself when you need it. Even better if that someone loves you and understands your needs and limits.

I like panel discussions because they have a clear structure and don't require me to "make the first move" like approaching someone at a booth or table does. Someone will call on me when it's my turn to talk.

I ask convention organizers not to schedule me for late night programming because it's harder for me to be entertaining and clever and "on" when I get tired.

Over time, this has gotten more comfortable for me because I've gotten to know more and more people, so often attending an event means I'll be among as many friends as strangers. I find that VERY comforting.

Though Dragon Con is the BIG con near me, I have yet to apply, because I know how stressful I would find it to navigate the halls of such a large free-for-all event. Maybe I'll get there someday, or maybe I won't. We'll see.

For now, I'm feeling good about how much more comfortable I feel with what I'm doing now.

3. Self-Care! Everyone needs self care, but introverts may need to tend to themselves a little sooner and more specifically than other folks (I wouldn't know; I've never been one of those other folks).

For me, that means being as careful as I can be with my schedule: making sure there are adequate meal breaks and quiet time, packing some good snacks.

That might mean that I skip some networking opportunities and don't go to the bar with the other writers after an event, or decide to spend time alone in my hotel room instead of sitting at my table or booth for two more hours (even if I miss a chance to sell a book that way).

If I don't give myself space to recoup my energies, I'm not going to make a good impression or make good use of those opportunities anyway.

It also means that I try to give myself decompress time after an event.

I'm writing this on Monday night and I got home from a convention on Sunday night. I had three different social invitations this evening, but I turned them all down in favor of sitting here quietly at my laptop. It was the right choice, especially since I'll have to be "on" again next weekend for the college class I'm teaching.

So there are my thoughts on how to make a go of this if you're an introvert. By the way, that panel? It was the most laid back and polite panel I've ever been on. I don't think anyone talked over someone else or interrupted even once. And we left plenty of wait time for questions from our audience. :-)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Illogicon 2019!

I'm so excited about my first convention of 2019. Illogicon is my backyard con, so chock full of all my writing and fandom peoples from the area. Though it's growing, it's still small enough to feel intimate and friendly. It's panel driven and has been home to some of the best panel discussions I've ever participated in. So, if you live near Brier Creek, Raleigh, NC, you should totally come and have fun with us.

In case you can't make it, here's what I'll be up to. Looks like I'm in for a busy and exciting weekend.

4:00 Friday, 11 of January: Office Hours

This is something new the convention is doing and I like it. You could rent a table by the hour, rather than by the day, to have a temporary home from which to sell and sign books and talk to readers. I'll be there selling the remaining print copies of the Menopausal Superheroes series before my new editions are released by Falstaff Books as well as copies of anthologies. I'm also happy just to talk about writing life, so come by and say hello.

6:00 Friday, 11 of January: The Author Dating Game with hostess Joey Starnes, and authors Michael G Williams, William C Tracy, and Fraser Sherman

I've been a part of this panel at other conventions and it's always such fun! Authors role play as their characters, appearing on an old fashioned dating show. A lucky audience member gets to interview us and decide which character to take on a date, winning a free copy of the book in question. I haven't decided yet upon this writing, which of the Menopausal Superheroes to roleplay, but anyone would be lucky to take any of these heroes out!

9:00 p.m. Friday 11 of January: Writing Romance for People Who Can't Say Panties with Alexandra Christian, Emily Wolf, Michael G Williams, and Gail Z Martin

Love and romance come up when you're writing, even when you're not writing romance or erotica. But for some of us, it's not so easy to write.

Looking forward to talking about this with this group of witty and supportive people. I expect I'll giggle and blush a bit, but that's kind of the point, isn't it?

10:00 p.m. Friday 11 of January: Solo Reading

This is going to sound weird coming from an introvert like me, but I love doing readings. Even when only a couple of people come, it feels like a celebration, a moment to say "Look what I did!" Here's a short one from Conapalooza last year.

11:00 a.m. Saturday 12 of January: GrimDark Knight: Rises, with Alexander G. R. Gideon, Patrick Dugan, Jason Gilbert, and Darin Kennedy

We'll be discussing how the popularity of Urban Fantasy and Grimdark might have affected and influenced the rise in popularity of Comic Books and Superheroes movies.

1:00 p.m. Saturday 12 of January: Networking for Introverts with Michelle Iannantuono, Patrick Dugan, Fraser Sherman, Gray Rinehart

I'm moderating this panel and we'll talk about how to build your network when you would rather build a blanket fort.

5:00 p.m. Saturday 12 of January: Have you Gone Mad? with James P. McDonald, Samantha Bryant, JD Jordan, Bill Mulligan

We'll be talking about some of the most fascinating mad scientists in fact and fiction. Come, rule the world with us!

6:00 p.m. Saturday 12 of January: Office Hours: my second hour of table time. Come talk books, writing, and all things superhero with me.

1:00 p.m. Sunday 13 of January: When Strangers Attack: with Emily Wolf (RamenWitch), Alexander Gideon, Chris Shrewsbury, Jason Gilbert

In this "Defense Against the Dark Arts" seminar come learn some tips on how to deal with trolls and other social media monsters.

2:00 p.m. Sunday 13 of January: Prospective Press Authors Round Table with Jason Graves,  Gail Z. Martin, Jason Gilbert

Prospective Press published one of my stories this past year, and I'm writing a new Menopausal Superheroes short story for an upcoming anthology for them. Come here about these and all the other great new projects from this up and coming small press.

And that will bring my Illogicon to a close. Along the way, I hope to laugh a lot, have a few drinks and some food with friends, and remember what's great about hanging out with all the best geeks.