Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Our Disney+ Project: the 1990s

Disney released sooooo many animated features in the 1990s. It took us a while to make our way through! Check out the list! (we've been using the wikipedia article listing Disney's theatrical animated features in order as our watch list). 

Information/Image Source

There were a lot of these I was looking forward to sharing with my daughter and others that didn't remember as fondly. This is definitely the era where Disney musical movies started to feel more Broadway. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan all have such memorable songs and that comfortable rhythm of meeting a character who wants "something more" or "something different" than what they have and watching them reach out for it. 
  • Belle wants much more than this provincial life
  • Aladdin wants to stay one jump ahead
  • Jack wants a cure for ennui in the form of a new challenge
  • Simba wants to be king (or at least he thinks he does)
  • Pocahontas wants to know what's around the river bend
  • Quasimodo wants to go out there
  • Hercules wants to prove he can go the distance
  • Mulan wants to like who she sees in the mirror
You'd think we'd weary of the formula, but you know what? We don't. It pulls on our heartstrings every single time. No surprise then that the other thing we loved during this same time span was Hamilton. So glad to have finally seen that show!

Image source

Tarzan stood out among the musicals as the only one when the music was separate from the characters--as in, there was a lot of music, but with the exception of the lullaby, the characters didn't sing it. Instead the songs felt like voiceovers in a way--letting us in on what the characters were thinking and feeling. It worked, too. "You'll Be My Heart" is still an insidious little earworm. 

Our least favorite movies in this least were the ones that didn't really feel like movies, but more like extended versions of television cartoons. We *love* Duck Tales the cartoon series, but the movie was a bit blah. A Goofy Movie tried too hard…which I guess is true to character for Goofy, at least. And Doug's 1st Movie we had to bribe ourselves to finish. 

My daughter surprised me by being down on the Toy Story movies. She really didn't like the animation style, and I do still get the wiggins a little myself with the uncanny valley issues in that series, so I see what she means. Still, I like the friendships among the toy characters. Maybe some of the joy of it is lost on her because the voice actors are not familiar and beloved by her like they are by me. 

Image source

James and the Giant Peach proved again that Roald Dahl is so very weird in all the best ways. We both liked it better once we moved into the animated world inside the peach. Tim Burton was probably exactly the right person to bring that one to the screen, and we enjoyed Jack's cameo as the sunken pirate. 

I didn't remember A Bug's Life all that well. In fact, I had conflated it in my memory with the far less entertaining Antz. So, it was a pleasant and charming surprise in the list. 

All in all, the 90s were an enjoyable era of Disney, even if the sheer number of films was a bit overwhelming and a few offerings were underwhelming. Do you have favorites from this era of Disney? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

If you're interested in seeing what we thought of other eras of Disney, check out these related posts:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

IWSG: Recovering from Writer Burnout

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. This month you get two posts in one: It's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop AND it's the blog tour for Chrys Fey's Keep Writing with Fey

The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey! Please check out their posts and others in the IWSG blog hop when you finish here!

Image source
When writer's burnout hit me, it came as a real shock. Up until that moment, writing had been how I coped with other kinds of burnout, how I found my fun and kept in contact with my creative spark. While I had felt burnt out in many other aspects of my life (parenting, teaching, housekeeping, adulting) I had *never* lost the joy in writing. But that's exactly what happened to me in 2018. 

The direct cause was publisher trouble. I won't rehash the details here, but you can read about it in this old blog post if you're interested. Other causes were more internal--I'd put a lot of pressure on myself to produce a book every year, and I'd done it, releasing a book in 2015, 2016, and 2017. But come 2018, I faltered, my confidence shaken.  

I felt exhausted at a soul level. I had to fight anger and pessimism within myself as never before--I am usually, by nature, an optimist with a good layer of scotch guard that lets bad moments wash over me without sticking. But I took any small setback to heart, and started to feel like I'd overestimated myself. The self-talk got ugly and damaging sometimes. Doubt is mean. 

I tried a lot of things during this time:
  • pomodoros instead of word count to track my progress
  • crying
  • switching up my projects often
  • going for more walks
  • taking a hiatus from my critique group
  • coloring
  • journaling
  • chocolate
  • doing more "play writing" in the form of writing prompts
Despite my good fortune in making a relatively smooth transition from one publisher to another, I felt like my writing career had barely gotten started and then got the wind kicked out of it, I felt desperate to make progress…and we all know how attractive desperation is. 

Still, I did start to come out of it after a few months. 

The most important thing I did was to talk to other writers, sharing what I was feeling and listening to
image source
their stories and advice in turn. Across the board, they assured me that everything I was feeling was normal, that burnout happens even in work that brings you joy. They told me about what they liked about my work, reassuring me that my work had value and interest to the world. 

In short, they were good friends. Offering me counsel, support, a listening ear, and chocolate, in whatever proportions were needed. They cared about me and pulled me through to the other side. They reminded me to give myself the patience, grace, and compassion I would have offered to anyone else in the same situation. 

One of those writing friends was Chrys Fey. And now she's collected some of her experiences and advice on coming back from burnout in a new book!  

Catch the sparks you need to conquer writer’s block, depression, and burnout!

When Chrys Fey shared her story about depression and burnout, it struck a chord with other writers. That put into perspective for her how desperate writers are to hear they aren’t alone. Many creative types experience these challenges, battling to recover. Let Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer's Block, Depression, and Burnout guide you through:


        Writer's block


        Writer's burnout

        What a writer doesn’t need to succeed

        Finding creativity boosts


With these sparks, you can begin your journey of rediscovering your creativity and get back to what you love - writing.





Amazon / Nook / iTunes / Kobo




Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

Friday, July 31, 2020

July Reads

I'm honestly surprised to find that there are eight books in the list of what I read in July. The month felt relentless, especially when you consider that it's my month "off" from teaching life. But, teaching life has garnered way more of my attention than I usually give it in July, as there is so much to figure out about how school will operate come fall. 

I didn't feel as if I had any time to read, but looks like I still managed to read a few things, after all. 

The Hobbit, I actually mostly read in June. It's just that I finished it in July. It was a selection for the First Monday Classics Book Club, a group I help facilitate alongside author and friend James Maxey for Orange County Public Library. 

I had a little PTSD from the last time I read Tolkien, which coincided with the release of the beloved films, so I wasn't looking forward to reading The Hobbit. My memory of reading Tolkien was that I loved the world, but that the storytelling wasn't character-driven and therefore didn't really engage me. So it was lovely to be surprised by The Hobbit, which turned out to have a very personable narrative style and strong characters that popped on the page for me. Of course, I had last read The Hobbit when I was about ten years old, so I might be forgiven for not remembering that. 

The other First Monday selection I read this month was Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. I had read this one before as well, probably when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, in an edition that was titled Ten Little Indians. Racist considerations changed the title of this one twice--the original title used a racist slur for black people. And Then There Were None is, in my opinion, a better title anyway. Luckily, I didn't remember the plot all that well, so only figured out whodunit a few pages before the book would have told me anyway. Reading Christie isn't as much fun if you already know the answer to the mystery. 
You might notice that one of the books I read in July was my own book. Starting in June, I re-read all the Menopausal Superhero series in preparation for writing novel number 4 (working title: Be the Change). I'm still proud of Face the Change, and re-reading the series helped jumpstart my process for that fourth book, which I've now got got around 12,000 words written for. 

I read Nighthawks by Jeremy Flagg because I recently found a new group of writing colleagues in the group at I'm planning to work my way across the group reading their books. I like to support other writers, but for me that process has to include reading their work myself. No matter how much I like another author personally, I only cross promote with people whose work I have direct experience with and deem worthy. Jeremy's book really grabbed me with an interesting world and diverse cast of characters. I can easily see myself heading back for more!

Similarly, I read AJ Hartley's new book, Impervious, in part because we share a publisher. We're also both educators. I already knew a bit of the backstory on why AJ wrote this book going in, and I won't tell you about it here because it's a story better read blindly--letting the book reveal what it is as you go through rather than spoiling it with too much description. I will say that it handled difficult topics with grace and I highly recommend it. 

Silver Moon also came to my attention because of a professional connection. Catherine Lundoff offered a class on Book Marketing that I sat in on, and of course I became curious about her menopausal werewolves, since I also write about power and change in midlife for women. I enjoy werewolf and shifter stories, and this one took a unique spin on some of the tropes. 

I guess that only leaves two books that I read without ulterior motives, but just because I wanted to read them. Interestingly, both are also the third books in a series that I enjoyed the other two volumes of. 

Becky Chambers's Wayfarer series is such a positive, optimistic vision of humanity that it should be offered as a vaccine for all the ugly underbelly 2020 has revealed. Record of a Spaceborn Few was just the jolt of optimism I needed. 

On the surface, the Lady Astronaut series isn't as optimistic, but it's also a series that gives me hope when things seem dark. The series created an alternate history in which Earth was impacted by a catastrophic meteor strike that necessitated a whole new kind of space race and the formation of off world colonies. We follow the stories of women in the new society this creates and I love how Kowal is able to imagine how a group of impressive women would have broken boundaries if something like this had really happened and present these stories in a way that feel accurate to that bygone era and the roles women would have been juggling at the time. 

So, what did July bring me? Hobbits, Murderers, Superheroes, Werewolves, and Pioneers. What a month! No wonder I'm tired :-) I'd love to hear about what you've been reading. Despite the fact that my TBR will outlast my life already, I'm always up to learn about new books to love!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Importance of Momentum

So, I recently had to take a hard pivot in my writing life. 

I was chugging along on a Gothic romance and loving it, when it hit me that I only had six months left to write the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel and I'd better get that puppy going. I'm grateful that I have a publisher waiting for my work, and accept that having that comfortable situation comes with costs, such as deadlines. But it wasn't easy to switch gears. 

Getting back to the Menopausal Superheroes came with some extra challenges as well. While I'd worked through edits over the past year for two new novella releases in the series (third one coming in August!), which kept a hand in, I hadn't written anything new for these characters in more than two years. There's some emotional baggage with that, including a bad breakup with a publisher

image source
So, I started by reading my own books. Re-immersing myself in the world and making notes about little character details that had grown fuzzy in the two years I wrote other stuff. 

Re-reading your own work is a fraught process. If things are going well, you're growing and learning, so looking back at your old work can be painful. You're like, "Dang, I could do this so much better now." 

And I did experience a bit of that, but I found that I still love my characters and my world, which is good news since I've promised to write at least two more of these!

I guess I thought that as soon as I'd selected a couple of threads to pick up, I'd sit down and the words would just flow. 

But that isn't what happened. I struggled. Heck, sometimes I chose to work on peeling off old wallpaper in my office rather than tussle with my imagination. 

You'd think I'd know by now, but I'd entirely forgotten the role of momentum in writing. 

In some ways, I have a lot of momentum going. I write every single day, come hell or high water, whether or not G-d is willing or the creek rises. My daily writing chain is approaching seven years in length. In that sense, at least, I've got discipline at this point. 

That's some serious momentum. 

But it's not momentum on this project. The Menopausal Superheroes lost momentum in the struggles with that first publisher and the transfer of rights, then on-boarding with the new publisher. 

In the scheme of things, I did that quickly and smoothly compared to how badly it can go, but still, momentum was lost, not just with readers, but with me, the writer! I took on other writing projects and let the superheroes sit, waiting for their moment. 

image source
So, of course, when their moment arrived, it wasn't instantly beautiful again. Hopefully it doesn't sound too crazy to suggest that I had to work with the characters a bit again, to get them to trust me again and start talking to me. 

But here we are one month into working on the new book, and I've hit a good stride. 

I know I'll hit more walls and have ups and downs as the process continues. After all, this isn't my first rodeo anymore. Hopefully that will keep me going when the going gets rough again. 

But, for now, I'm happy to have made the first little hill on the rollercoaster. I'm strapping in, knowing the ride will get bumpy, but all so ready for the journey! Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Making a Room of My Own, the 2020 edition

I've technically had a "room of my own" for a couple of years now. When the eldest daughter went off to college, the younger daughter moved into the larger bedroom, leaving the smaller one available to be transformed into an office for me. 

But the transformation has been slow. Having a room to use didn't give me time and money to make it into what I wanted it to be in one fell swoop, but now I'm on a steady trajectory to let the butterfly out of the chrysalis and I can hardly wait. 

The room when I inherited it was ten foot by ten foot with two solid walls, one wall that is mostly closet, and a fourth wall which is mostly window. The first thing I did was take off all the window coverings and put up shelves across the windows (a design my father and mother came up with for me) and fill them with plants and glass objects that the light shines through. 

When I first wrote about my dreams for this room back in 2017, plants were high on the list of what it would take to make the room *mine*.  

By 2018, I had collected a few objects that will be permanent: a comic book spinner rack, a lamp my parents made for me, a footstool that resembles a hippopotamus and hides a storage compartment, some antique school desks that have been mine since childhood, a cool round shelf/table Mom found for me, that holds the lamp and my Alexa device for music, lighting control, and contact with the rest of the house. 
But in 2019, the room still housed a lot of things that don't belong there and I hadn't made any changes to the walls or floor, other than a half-hearted attempt to peel off the little girl wallpaper (white with pink flowers against a pale pink wall, with a Disney princess border). I was stuck because we had to finish another household project first (the attic game storage room) in order to be able to move some things out of my office and get room to maneuver. 

Luckily? (somehow that doesn't seem like quite the right word), I've had a lot of time at home since March. No conventions. No travel. No movie dates. The upside of all that "no" was lots of time at home and energy to invest in finishing house projects. So the attic project got done, and now I'm free to take on my own room!

First was a sofa. There's nothing like spending quarantine sitting on a crappy used sofa to make you think that maybe it's not that bad to spend a lot of money on a comfy seat. 

It's a great sofa for the way I like to sit and write. The arms are quite tall and comfortable to sit leaning into without or with throw pillows. It's got only one cushion, so there's no "between the cushions." If I sit with my back against an arm, it's just the right length for me to stretch my legs out towards the other corner. It's also quite lightweight, letting me move it around by myself should I need to rearrange to film a reading or host a meeting or something. 

Those curtains behind it, hiding the closet still full of random household goods, were once in my elder daughter's bedroom. I took them as a stop-gap, but I might keep them. They make me pretty happy. I like leafy patterns. 

And finally, just this week, I got to start the walls! There was a lot to do--finishing removing the wallpaper, repairing the damage to the wall from peeling off the wallpaper, sanding, cleaning, taping, priming, re-priming, painting, touch-up, and smudging the glaze. 

The end result isn't quite what I pictured, but it's pretty! So I'm calling this a win, as in "I tried something new and didn't screw it up!" I think for the next wall, I'm going to try blending it less well so it looks patchier and if that doesn't work, I'll consider buying a different shade, something that contrasts a little more. 

I'm really loving that I'm doing all this work myself. It makes it that much more a room of my own! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG: When Smaller is Better

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.

July 1 question - There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

The awesome co-hosts for the July 1 posting of the IWSG are Jenni Enzor, Beth Camp, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox!

In most of aspects of life, I'm a believer in the power of the small. I shop small businesses, live in a
image source
small town, and teach in a small school. I look for small beauties in daily life and take small steps toward my goals. I don't like crowds or high pressure socializing. I lack good small talk. I'm impatient with slick insincerity. 

I've come to believe that the fewer rings in the circus, the more likely it is that the performance will hold together. 

When I began seeking publication though, I looked "big" to begin with: The Big Six publishers (now the Big Five), agent representation, publicists, etc. I'd bought into the idea that you had to do it that way--that you weren't a "real writer" if you didn't. 

It didn't take long to learn that I wasn't well suited to that rarified atmosphere. 

I became impatient with the glacial pace of giant companies and agencies that can take six months to a year just to send a nonspecific rejection. I lost faith that having an agent would actually benefit my career, having watched several colleagues share their small incomes with an agent in hopes of "hitting it big" only to find that it didn't really bring them any opportunities they couldn't have garnered on their own. I learned that profit share was often not that high, even if you hit it big. 

image source
I still dream big, imagining my books being picked up and turned into a movie or a Netflix series: who wouldn't like to see more attention for their work and more money in their pockets? 

But, I'm not sure I have the schmooze in me to handle the glad-handing, networking, and PR machinations. I'm not sure it's worth developing those skills if I feel like I lose myself in the process. 

When it comes to publishing? I've stopped spending energy on trying to get an agent or leaving manuscripts languishing in big house slushpiles for years at a time. 

Instead, I've looked small: small publishing in particular. 

While I am working on my first independent publishing project, in hopes of getting it together by October of this year, I'm not ready to make it as an author-preneur.  I do this part time, in addition to full time teaching work and there are only 24 hours in the day. I need help. 

So, that means traditional publishing is for me! 

I want a situation where a lot of the work of bringing a book to readers is handled by someone besides me: arranging for editing, designing a cover, deciding on production details, laying out and designing the book, arranging for distribution, finding reviewers, etc. 

Sure, as an author whose writing is published by a small press, some of this work comes back around to me (and I'm grateful that my input is sought and considered), but I get the advantage of having a team behind me that can fill in the skills I don't have and teach me what I need to learn to move forward. 

My main job in my writing life is to write, not to become an expert in SEO and maximizing social media. 

So, for myself anyway, I'd like to see the industry get smaller. 

Bigger is not always better. The personal is lost. Creativity can become stunted when its forced to fit into boxes--and big business doesn't like to take risks. They like *known* quantities. 

That's why so many big Hollywood movies feel just like every other big Hollywood movie, why "bestselling" novels often bore me to tears and are entirely predictable from page one. Big gets big and stays big by making safe choices, and as a creative and as a consumer of media, I want risk, surprise, and nuance. 

If that means I stay small, so be it. At least I'll be happy. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June Reads

I'm pretty far ahead on my yearly reading challenge now. I aim at 52 books a year: one a week. As I write this, I've finished 37 books, which Goodreads tells me is 12 books ahead of schedule. 

I read seven books in June and only two of them were novellas, so I think I may finally be past my reading slump. Maybe it's because school ended, alleviating some of my stress and anxiety, at least in the short term. 

I still don't know what teaching will look like come fall, and I'm still worried about my students--especially the ones I didn't hear from often enough during our weird quarantine school-from-home situation--but I *usually* don't hear from them in June, so that doesn't constantly bump against my consciousness like it did in March, April and May. 

Or maybe I've adjusted to the low-level anxiety all the time now, enough to be able to read through it. 

I read quite a variety this month: 

We've got comedy, cyberpunk science fiction, magical fantasy, nonfiction supernatural study, and my own superhero novels. (I'm re-reading my own books because it's been two years since I wrote new material in this series and I'm refreshing my feel for the world before I dive back into writing book four). 

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey is a book I'd heard a bit of buzz about and when a friend proposed we discuss it as part of a book club he was starting, I jumped in. If you're a fan of distinct narrative voice, then you'll love this one, about a non-magical woman working to solve a crime in a magical school, where her magical twin sister teaches. So much relationship healing and moving forward through pain, along with romance and a fabulous setting. 

image source
Someone once describe the Shingles series to me as "if Goosebumps had been written for adults." That seems spot on to me. Slow Ride was written by my publisher, John Hartness, and others in the series are written by his friends from Authors and Dragons. This is the first of these comedy-horror novellas I've read, but I have a feeling it won't be the last. I giggle-snorted my way through it.  

Altered Carbon has been on my list for a while. I watched the first season of the TV show with my husband, which spoiled the book for me a little (much of the plot is similar), but I still really enjoyed the world. I loved the intermixing of cyberpunk and noir tropes, even if I was also annoyed by the adolescent casual misogyny. 

Like Mulder of X-Files fame, I want to believe. Though in my case, it's ghosts more than aliens I want
image source
to believe in. For that reason, I found Alex Matsuo's book about her paranormal investigation of a purportedly haunted theater intriguing. Really interesting for learning how such investigations are done without the sheen of hysteria and exaggeration that often surrounds "ghosthunter" books and programming. 

I won't comment here on my own books other than to say that I am happy to report that these works by past-Samantha do not embarrass me. I still think they're solid--entertaining, thought-provoking, and fun all in one package. Can't wait to see where the next book in the Menopausal Superhero series takes me!

How did your reading month go? What kinds of books are you seeking out during these strange times? I'd love to hear you thoughts in the comments!