Wednesday, January 13, 2021

On Adaptation: Anne, Jo, and Percy

Talking to readers about adaptations of books they loved is like walking through a minefield where anything might blow up, depending on who steps on it. 

Sometimes if I really love a book, I'll avoid seeing a movie or television series made about it because I'm worried they'll ruin it. 

Image Source
And sometimes they have. 

Destroyed it. 

Gotten it SOOOOO wrong it hurts. 

I'm looking at you Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Then again, I've really enjoyed some adaptations that make significant changes from the source material. 

Two in particular stood out for me recently: 

1. Anne with an E, a series on Netflix from creator Moira Walley-Beckett which was based on the novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott adapted for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig. 

Neither of these adaptations were religiously true to the source material, yet both of them felt more true to me than other arguably more faithful adaptations.  So, what's the difference? 

Why did changes to Percy Jackson's storyline horrify and offend me, but the addition of entire characters and plot lines to Anne with an E and the out of chronology telling of Little Women feel not only comfortable, but right? 

My theory is that it has to do with finding the heart of a work. What's the emotional core of the piece and of the characters? If an adaptation finds that, then even significant changes are not going to upset me. 

It's a trend I'm seeing in storytelling of this kind, a new kind of line creators are riding where they pay homage to something they love, but also bring it forward to a different or wider audience by changing significant details like time and place, race or background of characters, and even plot. 

Anne Shirley and Jo March are iconic characters, important to many a grown woman who consumed their stories when young. Similar in being women out of their time: headstrong, free-thinking, determined, and passionate. So many women I know aspire in their hearts to be Anne and Jo. And that's the core of any adaptation of these works: does the adaptation convey the heart of the character? 

In both of these pieces, I'd say yes! resoundingly yes! While I have enjoyed other adaptations of these books, this was the first time that I felt fully connected to the characters. The writers who adapted these works clearly loved the books and characters in the same way I do. 

Anne, Jo, and Percy: Yes! Yes! and…Nope.

Anne always was a social justice warrior, fighting for fair treatment for herself and for those around her. In Anne with an E, that becomes a step more overt, with less parlor-talk pussy-footing and more taking action. That meant adding entire plotlines, but I was completely fine with that, because they'd captured MY Anne. 

Jo, too, was fiercely loyal, and struggled with the part she was expected to play in society--docile, obedient, and feminine. She strained at those bonds and sought a life less ordinary, something that fulfilled her and brought her joy--writing!  Gerwig's version of Jo explored her story out of order--juxtaposing moments of childhood against moments of her budding adult life to show us the woman she became that much sooner. (Bonus points, too, for working in the ending Louisa May Alcott really wanted, but couldn't get her publisher to agree to). 

Poor Percy, on the other hand, was transformed in the script from a good-hearted kid who fought feelings of inadequacy into a badass just barely in hiding, needing barely a blink to turn into a heart-throb hero. Sure, that character might have interest for some, but the heart of the boy I'd enjoyed getting to know in Rick Riordan's books didn't make it onto the screen. I don't know who that boy was, but he wasn't Percy Jackson. 

One can only hope that, should I ever be so lucky as to see my work adapted for movie or television, that the show-runners understand the heart of my work and love my characters enough to do right by them. 

How about you? What makes you love or hate an adaptation? Are you a stickler for faithfulness to the original? How do reinterpretations and changes of setting play in your world? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

IWSG: Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

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.

January 6 question - Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6th posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise - Fundy Blue! Be sure to check out their posts as well as some of the other fabulous posts in this blog hop after you see what I've got to say:


Becoming a writer can be hard on your reading life. Once you know "how the sausage is made" it can be harder to just lose yourself in a story. You find yourself noticing the structure, turning pages back to figure out how the writer elicited that effect, etc. Reading like a writer can make it harder to just relax and read without analyzing. At this point, I'm extra thrilled when I can fall into a book and become so immersed that I stop looking at the structure and skill and just hold on for the ride. 

I had good luck in 2020, reading way more good books than bad ones. Maybe I've gotten better at figuring out which books are really for me. 

Still, I'll give even a flawed book a fair shot. If the characters are strong and the plot compelling, I'll keep going in the face of poor editing or small continuity errors. I can even forgive a bit of clunky expository dialogue. But I do have some deal-breakers. It's not IMPOSSIBLE for me to enjoy a book that does one of these, but it is definitely far less likely. 

So here they are: the Seven Deadly Sins of writing, at least if you want me to read your work: 

Samantha's 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

  1. Sexism: Nothing will pull me out of a book faster than outdated, patriarchal, or condescending treatment of female characters. (The same goes for other isms: racism, classism, ablism, homophobia, etc. I will give *some* slack to very old books if there are other compelling reasons to keep reading)
  2. Outright Preachiness: Characters can have points of view and politics, of course, and I'm fine with authors exploring issues through their fiction, but when it starts to feel like the book might actually be a political or religious tract? I'm out. 
  3. Rape: I'm so tired of rape as a character motivator or backstory element. Double yuck if the rape of a female character only happens for its effect on a male character. Overused, and usually just plain lazy. There are TONS of ways to traumatize a fictional person. Why must we always go here? 
  4. Obvious Thinly Disguised Biography: We're all in our characters, but if you want to write memoir, write memoir. Don't just change the names and call it fiction. If we don't know each other and I can STILL tell that you're working out your daddy issues on the page? Yikes. 
  5. Big continuity problems: As a writer of a series myself, I know that it's hard to keep track of all the small details, but if the continuity errors are too big and glaring, you're asking me to do the writer's job when I just came here to read. Throws me right out of the story and makes it hard to fall back in.
  6. Unbelievable coincidences: Writer-convenience-itis is a terrible disease. The most egregious kind is when a character suddenly gains knowledge or abilities that the story has offered no hint about before the moment that it solves the problem. Not fair. Feels like cheating. 
  7. Characters Acting Out of Character: If you've created a fictional person I've started to believe in, then have them do something that character just wouldn't ever do, I feel as if I've been lied to, so in the donation pile your book goes. 
So, how about you? Any deal-breakers for you? Of course, it all comes down to personal taste--and my poison might be your perfume. That's the beauty of it--so much to read out there, there's bound to be something perfect for you. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

I Read 75 Books This Year!

IKR? Guess all that extra time at home had me scrambling for travel via literature. Each year, I set a goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one per week. I include in that paper reads, digital reads, and audiobooks, but not the unpublished beta reads I do. 

More and more of my reading these days leans to the audiobook format. Of the 75 books I read this year (Goodreads says 80, but it looks like it counted some books more than once), about 40 were audiobooks, 12 were e-books, 15 were paper (the other 8, I honestly can't remember). 

I read a lot fewer e-books this year than is usual for me, probably due to my zoom life. When it was time to read, I just didn't want to spent yet more time on screen. But audiobooks were great for my nervous energy in that I could read while I matched socks and handled the mundanities of life. 

I've fallen into a comfortable pattern in my reading, reading some things for book clubs, some things because I'm curious about the buzz surrounding them, some things because I know the authors, and some just because they caught my interest.

For my classics books club this year, I read ten books. (There was an 11th selection I didn't manage to fit in). 

Of these, I'd read three before: Wide Sargasso Sea, The Hobbit, and And Then There Were None. It's always interesting to read something again, and see how the experience changes for you over time. 

The rest were new to me. I got impatient with some of them--too much slow storytelling, outdated attitudes, etc.--but I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I wish Anne Brontë had lived longer and had the opportunity to continue to grow as a writer. She would have earned her spot beside her more famous sisters. Reading classic literature is a sideways view into history--teaching you as much about the context the author created in as about the stories themselves. 

Looking back over the rest of my list, here are some standouts: 

I found Lydia Kang at the end of the year. I fell hard for the mixture of romance and mystery, with historical settings and exploring social classes. She's likely to stay on my watch list as a favorite author. 

Earlier this year, I fell equally hard for Cherie Priest's Borden Dispatches. Yes, that Borden, alongside Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Looks like my sweet spot as a reader this year intermixed violence and history, with a touch of romance.

In that vein, I also loved these four books. 

Captured by the Alien Vampire Highlander is an unapologetic romp through romance tropes and a delightful confection. Perfect if you need an escape. 

The Sixth Gun series of graphic novels fits firmly in the "weird wild west" subgenre, following six mystical guns that grant special abilities to those who carry them. 

Chasing the Dragon takes place in the Sherlock Holmes universe, creating a romance that fits in the holes left in the original work. Alexandra Christian is GENIUS with this era, and brings such spark and humor to her dialogue. 

Kill Three Birds created an original speculative fiction world, featuring bird-people in a wonderful tight little mystery story. I'm looking forward to more in this series. 

I also continued some series and genres I'd been reading in the past few years: 

Carmilla is a classic vampire novel I had missed hearing about until recently--it predates Stoker's more famous work Dracula, and it's easy to see the influences on that story in this one. I listened to it as a wonderfully produced Audible original and was enthralled throughout. Highly recommended for fans of classic European vampires (if you want edgier, less familiar vampires, try Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. I have a retelling of the Passover story in there that will startle you, and the other stories are blowing me away!). 

In An Absent Dream is part of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, which follows children who find portals into magical worlds. Though I recommend that entire series, it's not necessary to read the others to enjoy this one thoroughly. Of all I've read so far, this one is my favorite. 

The Relentless Moon continues Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut series, following a secondary character from previous books into a locked room mystery set on a fledgling moon colony. Satisfyingly thorough realistic science seen through very human stories. I love this series so much!

Record of a Spaceborn Few is part of Becky Chambers's Wayfarer series, an optimistic vision of the future, exploring inter-species relations through aliens and AI characters, alongside humans. I continue to love the way Chambers explores epic sagas by focusing on small, slice-of-life stories. Not quite as tense and exciting as the previous entries in the series, but still moving and well worth the read. 

I could talk for days about good books, but I'll stop there. I'm happy that I found so many good reads this year, and I'm grateful to all the authors who provided me comfort, escape, and inspiration during a very hard year.  Art is so important when times are hard. 

I'd love to hear about what books you read and loved this year, so hit me up in the comments! And if you like my reviews, you can follow me on Goodreads or check out my year in books there to see what else I read.  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

My Publishing Year: A Horror Show with Unexpected Heroism

2020, man. Whew. Don't those numbers just wear you out every time you see them? Between the pandemic, the social unrest, and the politics, I've never been so happy to see a year end. 

Oddly, it was an excellent publishing year for me, though. I guess there's balance in that? 

Seriously, though. I had eight works published in books this year! Holy-freaking-cow, that's a lot. 

Since time was this weird warped thing this year where days could last for years and months go by in a blink, I didn't really realize so much of my work had made it out there into the universe until I took a moment to look back and reflect. 

I am greatly amused to realize that I published 4 super-heroic works and 4 works of horror. That's 2020 in a nutshell isn't it--a horror show with unexpected heroism. 

Long time readers might remember that I had some publishing turmoil in late 2018, early 2019, when I had to reclaim my rights from a failing publisher and seek a new home for my work. The story has a happy continuation though, in that my Menopausal Superhero work is now housed with Falstaff Books, a thriving mid-size publisher out of Charlotte, North Carolina, full of the "Misfit Toys of Fiction.

Because their publishing schedule didn't allow for seeing a fourth Menopausal Superhero novel into print until 2021, we decided to release short works in the series this year. Friend or Foe, a novella that bridges book 1 (Going Through the Change) and book 2 (Change of Life) came out in March of 2020. 

The Good Will Tour, a stand-alone adventure for Flygirl and Fuerte came out in May. 

And Through Thick and Thin, a collection of short stories set in the Menopausal Superheroes universe came out in August. 

Finally, all the short works were collected into an omnibus edition in Agents of Change, which includes all these works in a single volume and came out in November. 

While all this was happening, I was busy writing Be the Change, the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel. I'm in the last of my self-edits/revisions right now, with plans to send the finished book to Falstaff by January 1st. I think you're going to love this one--I know I fell in love with my character all over again writing their stories here. 

Then came the horror! Although horror was one of my first loves as a reader, I didn't start out writing it. In the past few years, though, more and more of my short work has leaned toward the weird and frightening, and this year, four of my horror short stories made it into anthologies. 

Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 2 from Crone Girls Press has been described as traditional horror. These are the kinds of horror stories that drew me into the genre in my youth--stories that give you a good shiver and might make it a little harder to fall asleep at night. That's not to say that they are staid, boring or without humor and innovation. My story, "The Cleaning Lady," began as part of a Halloween flash fiction challenge proposed by writing-friend Bliss Morgan and might have been influenced by the fact that I was watching Downton Abbey at the time and thinking about servant-master relationships. 

Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire from Mocha Memoirs Press asked for vampire and vampire-slayer stories set in the African diaspora and featuring black characters. My daring little tale, "His Destroyer", is a retelling of the Passover story, about the 10th plague of Egypt during which the first-borns of Egyptians households were slaughtered. The story as I learned it never specified who exactly His Destroyer was, and how exactly the children were killed. So, I wrote this story imagining those details for myself. I gave myself the chills, so hopefully you'll get them, too, if you read it. This is a giant collection--with 29 stories of HUGE variety. I'm so excited to have my work included among such giants of the genre. 

Hindsight's 2020 came about when a group of writers who used to share a publisher came together as a support and recovery group for each other (yes, *that* publisher--see link above). Our theme was regret, or hindsight, and I wrote a wonderfully creepy little thing called "I Should Have Known" set in the Victorian era about love, sacrifice, and monstrosity. So much fun to write! 

Outsiders Within from Abstruse Press just came out yesterday! It's a collection of cosmic horror stories and you might enjoy your trip through madness with Margaret in my story, "Margaret Lets Her Self Go." This is the same press that published Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown in late 2019, which includes my bit of Lovecraftian horror, "The Gleewoman of Preservation." 

And if that's not enough of my work yet, you can also support the Kickstarter for Ravencon to read my story, "If the Moon is Real." Hear an excerpt here, on YouTube. 

Since Ravencon, a small Virginian convention close to my heart, had to cancel the 2020 and 2021 live events, they've put together this collection of short stories featuring corvids--a class of birds that includes the eponymous Raven of Ravencon. 

The hope is that the Kickstarter will earn enough money to keep the organization afloat and "in the black" until we can gather again as an unkindness or conspiracy of ravens in person. 

Because support has been so strong, they're already working on a stretch goal to create a second volume of the anthology! The Table of Contents includes some pretty impressive names as well as some new writers just establishing a foothold in the industry. Well worth the few dollars, AND you get to support a small convention at the same time. 

I've already got a few more works in the pipeline for 2021, so despite the weirdness of this year, I'm feeling pretty successful on the publishing front. If you've read any of these works, please drop a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Even just a few words is enough to help the visibility of my work. Just "I liked it" or "that woman writes some crazy stuff, yo!" is the best gift you could give me. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Repost: "We Value Teachers" and Other Lies

Note: This post first appeared on my teaching blog a week ago, but I felt strongly enough to seek a wider audience for these thoughts. Apologies to anyone who follows me both places. 

Image source

I lost another colleague yesterday. Thankfully not to death (though I worry about this daily now), but to retirement. That makes three already this year and I don't blame them a bit. I've looked at retirement myself, though it's complicated for me because I don't have the optimum number of years (having spread my career across four states) to get full benefits yet and I'm too young. The calculus of life vs. livelihood is complex when you have others to support by your work. 

Besides the three who retired, I know of one who is leaving the profession and another seeking a transfer, in hopes that another school will value her work and treat her better. I've thought about both of those options, too. I love teaching, but I also love being able to protect myself and those I love from infection and death. 

Lots of us are in the crisis decision moment right now, as our district is sending staff back to the buildings on Monday and students back in January (don't get me started on the lack of faith in us this shows). I expect to see more and more talented educators making the hard choice to leave the work they love. 

I keep getting messages from my district, my state, and my country playing lip service to the idea that they value teachers. But I don't see it. Saying thank you is easy; showing actual support and appreciation is much more difficult. 

If we were valued, our voices would be at the forefront of conversations about how to handle education under the current crisis. Instead, there's barely even performative attempts to include teachers--the workers with the most expertise and most at risk--in the conversation at all. 

I fill out all the surveys I am sent and participate in all the meetings, but there's no evidence so far that it is worth my time. The results send a clear message, one that is ignored in favor of what's easier for the institution. Though we allow our students' families to choose to stay home and continue virtual education, teachers will not be afforded the same right, even though we are more at risk than our students, especially the veterans. You don't become an experienced teacher without getting old, and you rarely get old without developing some underlying conditions that put you at additional risk.  

If we were valued, the communication from above would show that those above me in the hierarchy know what I am doing and are looking for ways to make it easier and more sustainable. Even though I work in a small school district, where you would think it would be easier to keep track of who is here and what we're doing, there's little sign that anyone who isn't a direct parallel colleague understands what I actually do. It's like being a baker whose supervisor last used an oven when you had to stoke an actual fire inside to bake.   

And this is America, after all, so if we were valued, our country would put their money where their mouth is. Money would have flowed towards resources to make safe education from home tenable--providing infrastructure and tools as well as paying attractive salaries to bring our country's brightest and best to the fight. Internet access would have become free and fast for any household with a student in it. You can always tell what a capitalist REALLY values, by looking at the bottom line, and education is far too near the bottom across the board. 

So, thanks for saying you value me and my work. But if you really do, then prove it. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

IWSG: Writing, In and Out of Season


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.

December 2 question - Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why? 

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Sylvia Ney, Liesbet @ Roaming About Cathrina Constantine, and Natalie Aguirre! Be sure to check out their posts as well as some of the other fabulous posts in this blog hop after you see what I've got to say:

I pair my writing endeavors with a teaching career, so there is definitely a feeling of seasons about my focus, trying to make regular progress in small bursts in some times of the year, and having the chance to luxuriate in longer writing sessions during others. 

During the school year, writing is shunted into a couple of hours a day at most. I still write--my daily writing chain is now over 7 years long--but I move slowly, producing somewhere between 250 and 800 words a day on average. Definitely my turtle time of year (vs. the hare). 

I made a video about this on my author YouTube recently. You can check it out here: 

Generally, when school is out, I go full-time on my writing life, devoting five or six hours a day. I still have other things to balance, of course, but even all my family, friendship, and life demands don't add up to the demands of a school day and, most of the time, I can get a couple of writing sessions a day. 

It's been a little different this year, thanks to COVID--meaning I couldn't send my youngest daughter to a friend's house or off to camp--but I still got a good four hours a day last summer by taking my writing time while she was still asleep (teenagers sleep late if you let them) and that felt like heaven. 

I look forward to being a full time writer someday, but for now, this seasonal swing works for me. It might even be the secret of my success at the moment. 

image source
I look forward to my months (and holiday weeks) of being *only* a writer, and my enthusiasm and anticipation probably contribute to my ability to make good use of the time. I save up ideas and promise myself I'll get to do certain projects when my writing season arrives. 

I appreciate those hours all the more because I don't have them any old day. They're a gift. Something special. 

How about you? How does your yearly flow go for your creative endeavors? 

Friday, November 27, 2020

November Reads


I started November on deadline, so I wasn't reading much. But once I submitted my novel to my critique group, I found a little breathing room and picked up a few reads. I finished four books this month, and two of them were long. I started two others, that I'm not sure I'll finish in the next few days…so I'll write about them next month. 

First was Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. I've read two other books by Roanhorse: Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts, books and 2 of her The Sixth World series. I LOVED both of those, so when I saw she had a new release at the same time that I got my monthly Audible credit, I was on that sucker. 

Black Sun
is not much like the Sixth World books, but that didn't matter after a few pages. I loved it.  An epic fantasy story pulling from Native cultures for its lore, with fascinating characters, and an interesting world. Even though I'm not generally one for "court intrigue" kinds of stories, this one attached all the plotting and machination to huge emotional stakes, and I was riveted. 
Robinson Crusoe was the selection of my First Monday Classics Book Club through my library, a group I help facilitate with James Maxey, another local writer and friend. It's one of those books that I feel I ought to know, but had never actually read. I knew the broad strokes of the heavily-referenced book and had gathered that it was steeped in British imperialist racism, so I had some clue what I was in for. I went back and forth between an audiobook and a kindle edition for this one. 

I actually found less cringe-inducing racism than I expected . . .maybe because the character spends three-quarters of the books alone. Friday doesn't enter on the scene until about that point. Until then, the book is a quiet exploration of what it might take to survive and a bit of reflection on the meaning of life. I'm still not sure how much I'd recommend it. I found the last quarter-to-third of the book frustrating since as soon as the narrator reconnected with broader society, he seems to have forgotten every "lesson" he learned on the beach and become the same shallow, self-serving idiot who got himself into that mess in the first place. 

Reading the book did put me an adventurous mood though, and I picked up King Solomon's Mines next, a pulpy story, largely considered to be the first "lost world" story. One thing that always fascinates me about reading older books is the secondary story--the story of the author and the era in which they are writing. Racial and societal attitudes permeate the pages, revealing the common beliefs of the time in a way that even nonfiction does not capture the same way. 

H. Rider Haggard, I learned, spent a great deal of time in Africa, and it showed in his depictions of the lands and peoples. Three African characters featured among the main cast, and they were more than just a collection of stereotypes and assumptions. Allan Quartermain, our narrator and main character, was a more nuanced character than I'm accustomed to in pulp as well. I'll probably go on and read more of this series. 

I started Allie Brosh's Solutions and Other Problems a few weeks ago, then set it aside, then picked it back up. I was reading it on kindle, which is not ideal for a book featuring so much art, requiring "pinch and zoom" to view some parts. But I don't buy books in print as much as I used to--I'm running out of house to store the books in!

It was a strange sort of book. Part self-help, part memoir, part comedy essay. And also kind of a graphic  novel. I alternately laughed, sighed in recognition, and squirmed in discomfort from chapter to chapter, but I walked away feeling soothed and seen (in a good way), so I'll probably read more by Brosh, too.

Overall, not a bad reading month. I read four books, loved one of them, and like three. 

As the month comes to a close, I'm in the middle of two more books.  Sarah J. Maas's House of Earth and Blood: Crescent City is an urban fantasy book I've been hearing quite a bit of buzz about. I spent an Audible credit to pick it up some time ago, but hadn't yet read it. I'm 12 hours into a 27 hour listen and am finding it hard to put down now, though I wasn't sure it was going to grab me at the beginning. I'll let you know next month what I think. 

Kill Three Birds is part of a new series from Nicole Givens Kurtz, a friend and colleague. I started reading it when it was newly released (a couple of months ago), but set it aside to meet that my writing deadline. It's a creative fantasy world where the people are birds, at least spiritually, connecting to different aspects of avian creatures. Coming from Nicole, I'm not surprised that it's also a mystery and a bit of a thriller, because those are her playgrounds.  I suspect I'm going to love this one. 

How about you? What did you read in November? Anything you think I'd love? There's always room in my TBR…though at this point, I'm going to need to find an elixir of immortality to have time to read it all. :-)