Thursday, March 31, 2016

I won a Jacquis Award!

I'm so proud to announce that my debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel, has received a Jaquis Award from Legendary Women. 
"The Jacquis is an award nominated by feminist readers and given to feminist authors — stellar penwomen who capture the lives of women in their pages. Women of all colors, creeds and backgrounds."
You can click here to see the announcement from Legendary Women and the amazing writers I am being honored alongside.

Obviously I'm pleased beyond all reason. The origins of this novel are in my own feminist ideals and frustrations, and to be honored on that platform is the best way to end my first year as a published novelist I could imagine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

They Call it Spring Break for a Reason

When most folks think about spring break, they are probably thinking break in the sense of a respite and a rest. And that's definitely part of what Spring Break is for teachers.

But each year, when I get to this point in the year, I can't help think about other kinds of break: as in break-downs, broken spirits, rifts and fissures.

As the countdown to spring break begins, you can see it in the bent backs of the educators, drifting through the halls with glazed eyes and a death grip on their coffee cups in those few quiet moments before the chaos we call children descend upon us. There are fissures in our vision, too many things we've tried that didn't work, too many obstacles, too much vitriol instead of fuel. The cracks spread across our souls the way they spread across glass--that little crack in your cell phone screen that slowly takes over the entire view.

So these few days are all about doing what you need to so that you can heal and repair, then come back in swinging for the last few weeks before testing season drops down over us like a plastic dome cutting off the oxygen. You hear different terms for it: filling the well, retreat, vacation. Really, it's self-care, so it's different for everyone. For some, it's a change of venue. For some, it's just sleep or time in the outdoors. For some, it's reading or time on creative pursuits. For some, it's physical activity. For some, it's junk television. For some, it's organizing your cabinets.

For me, it's all these things. Even summer break is no longer long enough to leave me fully recharged, not after twenty years of wear and tear on my teaching muscles. So with just one week to pull it together, I'm trying to do a little bit of all the things that recharge me: I took a short trip to the mountains (family, travel and outdoors). I've been sleeping late (by woman with kids standards, anyway). I did a metric ton of laundry and feel caught up. And I started a new writing project.

And I still have a few more days :-) Maybe I'll come out of this unbroken after all.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A to Z: Theme Reveal

I'm very excited to be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge again this year. This will be my third time, and I always find it to be a wonderful ride. It feels like a real accomplishment when you make it all the way to Z.  It's an opportunity to connect with other bloggers, and to explore a theme that is close to your heart.

For me, that's going to be superheroes. 

If you know me, you're probably going, "Hello Megan!"
It's a completely obvious theme for me. I love superheroes. They are some of the stories that touch closest to the heart of me. The combination of "what if" with strong character arcs and moral quandaries makes me squee like the fangirl I am at heart. I even have my own superhero series (Menopausal Heroes) going, the second book of which (Change of Life) comes out in April!

So, I'll be writing about my favorite superheroes and why I love them. Here's what I have in mind, though, as a woman and a writer, I reserve the right to change my mind along the way.  

A is for Antman
B is for Buffy
C is for Cyborg
D is for Daredevil
E is for Elastigirl
F is for Flash Gordon
G is for Gamora
H is for Hawkgirl
I is for Ironman
J is for James Bond
K is for Kid Flash
L is for Leonardo
M is for Ms. Marvel
N is for Nick Fury
O is for Obi-Wan Kenobi
P is for Phantom
Q is for Quicksilver
R is for Red Sonja
S is for Swamp Thing
T is for The Tick
U is for Underdog
V is for Velma
W is for Wolverine
X is for Professor X
Y is for Gertrude Yorkes
Z is for Zorro

I'm excited just reading my own list, because it includes so many imaginary people that are dear to me for one reason or another. I can't wait to share them with you. You can also check out my offerings from 2015: My Writing/Publishing Journey and 2014: Evocative Words here on my blog. 

If you would like to play along or just see what other bloggers out there are doing with this challenge, please check out the Blogging from A to Z Challenge webpage or this linky for theme reveals.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Going to the Theater

I love tickets, especially tickets to the theater.

And 2016 has been a great year for going to the theater so far.

There's something about a live performance, even a bad one, that resonates with me. Sure, I love the movies, but LIVE, in person is a one-time thing. No one on any other day will ever see exactly the show that I just saw, even if the same cast is in the same venue. It's like the moment when a dolphin leaps out of the sea. You only see it if you are there. No pause, no rewind.

My first show of 2016 was Ragtime by NC Theatre at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Groupon was selling inexpensive tickets on a day when I had a few dollars, so I snatched some up and dragged my husband off with me.

We were seated so close we could watch the actors sweat under the lights. It's really a rather awkward show, using a mechanic where the actors stop and soliloquize in third person about themselves to the audience. Oddly for a musical, there were no "catchy" songs. Though performances were solid and even, at times, stunning, there was no song I walked away remembering.

Our conversation over dinner afterwards though was about striking moments, and our curiosity about which elements were true to history and which were fictional. I admired the difficulty of the writing task to present such a story. My husband admired some of the staging decisions to highlight the contrasts between the different social groups represented. We talked about how the play might have accomplished the narration it needed less awkwardly. So, even a play I don't love brings me joy in the talking about it afterwards.

The second trip to the theater was Matilda at DPAC. We bought the youngest Bryant tickets as a holiday gift. She already loved the book. It's always exciting to see these local versions of the Broadway show, even if it makes me a little sad to imagine all these actors working so hard to recreate a performance first created by someone else instead of getting to make a character their own. But still, we loved the clever staging and several of the songs. I got the double-joy of discussing it with my daughter afterwards, talking about what changes they made from the book and whether those were effective or not. She might be my kid :-)

Not too long afterwards, I got a Shakespeare date! (Those tickets were my holiday gift from the hubby). We saw an experimental production of Twelfth Night by Filter Theatre at Reynolds Industries Theater. In a lot of ways, the show was fun, with audience interactive elements and improvisation. In other ways, it was tedious (like when a game they played with balls went on far too long) or just plain confusing (when they had one woman play both twins, making the identity mix-up more puzzling than amazing or comical). Because my husband and I are Shakespeare geeks, we've seen this play more than once together, so we got to talk about how this production compared to other ones we've seen on stage and screen, recounting favorite moments and how different actors and actresses interpreted the roles.

Then, a few days later we got to go the Carolina, one of my favorite venues. This time it was a family date, though the elder daughter had to back out at the last minute due to homework overload. Tao: Seventeen Samurai is a diverse and exciting show intermixing Taiko drumming with choreography, stagecraft, and creative costuming. At one point or another, each of us gasped with delight from the sheer spectacle and impressive feats of the performers.

The conversation in the car on the way home was all "did you see it when" recounting and our cheeks hurt from smiling.

So, three shows in three months, way above average for what my pocketbook will usually allow. The eldest got some theater as well, seeing The Cabaret talent show her school put on and a high school production of Beauty and the Beast in which a friend played Belle.

Each show is a treasure in its own right, a moment in time, shared with those you brought with you and those who just also showed up. Someday, when I'm fabulously wealthy, I'll go to every show in my area. It's wonderful living in the twenty-first century, a time when performers from all around the world can come to my corner of the planet and let me watch them work. Lucky, lucky girl!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Classic Reads: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness is a book that I've meant to read for a long time. But it kept shuffling back down the TBR pile over the years since I first heard of it. Maybe I was intimidated by it. Or just wasn't sure if I really wanted to delve into the heart of darkness. Darkness is frightening enough just around the edges. 

I knew about it already in the way that book people know about books they haven't read just from breathing the air around other books and other readers. I knew it was set in Africa, that people weren't sure if it was racist or not, that it had a theme of madness, and that people love the language.
When my library's First Monday Classics Book Club selected the novella for the March discussion, I was happy to have the impetus to read the darn thing at last and decide for myself. I ended up both listening to it as an audiobook (A Signature performance by Kenneth Brannagh) and reading it as an e-book on my phone.

Plot-wise, it's an odd sort of book. A man named Marlow is in a boat with some other men and he tells them a story. The story is about his years in Africa as a younger man, and his fascination with another man called Kurtz. With that frame, the whole thing is really a story about a man telling a story about another man. Though it often feels very immediate in the telling, the reader is not really there, in the moment, at any time. Instead all events are narrated at a geographical and temporal distance. 

But not all stories are really about what happens. This one isn't. 

So, what is it about? 

Colonialism and imperialism are certainly a major theme. The murky politics of what's right and moral in the predatory relationship of those who profit off the labor or misfortune of others. What's taking advantage, and what's playing fair? What's being practical and what's letting things slip? Where are the lines and how many can you cross before you've gone too far? 

Which leads almost directly to madness, another major theme. The narrator, Marlow, becomes fascinated with a man that he only barely gets to meet. Just from his legend. Kurtz. His obsession grew as he grabbed onto every little tidbit he could learn about the man. What he'd done, who he was, the stories he told. This was the part that really grabbed me. Did Marlow see the man he wanted to be? The man he feared he might become? 

Marlow wanted to see himself as a man set apart. It's a vision of masculinity I first encountered in the works of Ernest Hemingway. It's an uncomfortable one, tense like a spring that you know will eventually pop. It's one I've seen men try to live up to, and hope our culture is allowing them to step away from. 

The prose is gorgeous, the tone is ominous, and, in the end, I'm not sure even Marlow knows what the point of his story was. He's still looking for answers. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

#IWSG: Hang on Tight and Learn to Say No

I feel like I'm insecure about the same thing every month here lately: balance and time. That little girl in this picture looks excited and scared, and that's just how I feel, too.
The past few months, I've been SO BUSY as a writer. And that's wonderful! It means I'm successful. But "successful" at this stage is an interesting predicament. I'm successful in that my work is getting out there and I'm getting paid for it. But I'm not successful enough that I can afford to stop doing the other things I do to make money (i.e.: teaching middle school). So it all comes down to time.
I keep hearing that part of the They Might Be Giants Theme Song where one of the Johns says: "make the merry-go-round go faster so that everyone needs to hang on tighter just to avoid being thrown to the wolves." I'm not sure what I think the "wolves" are exactly, other than not being allowed to do this anymore.
I guess that's a good sign: that it matters that much to me. I'm working hard all the time, making sure I make my deadlines, and take all the opportunities that come my way: guest posting, speaking, teaching, etc. The *all* in that sentence is probably the problem. I'm taking on too many things.
So, I'm learning to say no, judiciously. The judiciously is the hard part. And every time I say no, I'm worried it means I will never be asked again. But there are only so many hours in each day, and even fewer that I can devote to writing and writing business.
How do you decide which opportunities to say no to? 
This posting is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To check out other posts by writers in a variety of places in their careers, check out the participant list. This group is one of the most open and supportive groups of people I have ever been associated with. If you write, you should check them out!