Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Introducing: The Newest Bryants

Friends and followers might remember that we lost our boy-o, O'Neill, back in February. He'd been part of our family for twelve years before cancer got her claws into him, and we were broken-hearted to lose him. 

Since then, we've been talking about when we might feel ready to open our hearts to a dog again. The kid-still-at-home was all for adopting a new dog immediately and funneling grief into love for a new dog, Sweetman needed longer to heal, and I was somewhere in the middle. 

But we finally agreed that July was good timing, since the kid and I will be mostly at home for several more weeks yet (until school starts) and can devote time to training and acclimating our newest family members. 

So, let me introduce you to Pumpkin and Ghost!

In the car for the ride to our new home!

These boys are about three and one half years old, both rescued from the same home, where an elderly woman had become overwhelmed by the work of caring for too many dogs. Before CARA (Carolina Animal Rescue and Adoption) came into their lives, they had never seen a vet. They had also never been house trained, leash trained, or learned to respond to names. 

O'Neill had also been a rescue dog, found wandering in the woods with his brother. We sometimes wondered if it might have been better if we had also adopted his brother when we took him in, so he would have had his brother when we couldn't be with him, so we decided to look for a pair of dogs to adopt together this time, if possible. 

Neither Sweetman nor I have ever had a small dog. These guys are both Jack Russell Terrier mixes (mixed with what? I dunno . . . other dogs?). Ghost is around 17 pounds, and Pumpkin around 20, which means the two of them together is still less poundage of dog than O'Neill had been. It's a different ballgame, having small dogs and having two dogs. But I think I'm going to love playing. 

They are quite playful and surprisingly comfortable with people overall, given their lack of previous socialization. They like women better than men so far, but I know Sweetman will win them over to full trust. They are also cuddly little guys, and it's definitely handy that I can just pick them up if I need to (without needing to visit the chiropractor afterwards). 

So, there they are: the two additions to our family. Wish us luck!

 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Flung Back Into the Universe

Wow! That was fast. I mean, after nearly eighteen months of hardly going anywhere and seeing only the people in my bubble, you'd think I'd be ready for some travel, some parties and gatherings, etc. But I feel like Wile E. Coyote just after the giant rubberband has snapped, realizing that I've got no control over my speed and trajectory: 


I know, I know. I'm in charge of me and I can say no, but it's not that easy to do. Can I really say no to all my family when they want to see the hubby and me and our kiddos in person at long last? Can I really turn down chances to get back out there at live-in-person author events building some momentum for my life's dream of living off my writing? 

I can . . . but I probably won't. 

That won't stop me from whining a little bit though. I was out of pocket 11 days in June and I'll be out another 9 in July by the end of things. Thankfully, the July stuff is a little more spread out and I'll get 13 days in a row of being close to home between things. 

The tricky bit for me is that I WANT to see all the people and take all the opportunities, but I also rely on time at home during these non-school months to make some serious progress on my writing goals during days with fewer commitments than school-year days. 

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I'm also finding that I'm seriously out of practice. I've always need a bit of introvert recovery time after a big get-together, but my recovery period is longer now, like my social muscles have atrophied. I had barely recovered from my mother's birthday party when it was time to hit the road again to welcome a new baby into my husband's family. 

Thank G-d for coffee. At least my drug of choice is legal. 

As always, I'm seeking balance, because the truth is that I want it ALL but there are only so many hours in each day and only so much Samantha to go around. 

So how are you guys managing the world opening back up? Is it a relief or a new kind of stress for you? 

I'd love to hear about how you're doing in the comments! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Never Going to Give It Up!

 


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.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

July 7 question - What would make you quit writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the July 7 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees, and Louise – Fundy Blue! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!
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About the only thing that could make me quit writing would be loss of cognitive function. Meaning, I would quit writing if I found I actually could no longer do the mental and physical work of it. It's too important to me to ever just let go entirely. Sometimes I feel like I'm incapable of understanding the world around me except by processing it in writing. It's how I see. 

Now, quitting publishing, on the other hand…that's a different kettle of fish. Publishing is not nearly as fulfilling or fun as writing. It's time consuming, whether you're working with traditional publishers or taking on all the work yourself as an indie writer. It can drag you up and down emotional roller coasters and leave you feeling bruised and sick. 

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But I persist. Writing itself is the most important part for me, but I also want an audience for my work. I wouldn't be content to leave all my words unshared. So publishing is part of the writing life for me, even when it is less than fun or takes an ugly turn. 

I'm a stubborn sort, so I wouldn't give it up easily. I'm not going to be that person who rage quits over a bad review or publishing politics or anything like that. I read threads all the time about someone who just chucks the whole thing when things go badly and I can't imagine making that decision. I'd just seek another way. 

My professional writing life has been pretty short. I've only been at it for six years. But in those few years, I've had a range of experiences with publishing from the affirming and joyful to the disheartening and upsetting. I had a publisher fold on me, I've collected quite a little pile of rejections, I've had bad reviews. I've also been recognized with an award, received money for my creations, and made some great friends who really understand this part of me. 

So, I expect to always be a writer and to always seek publication for my work. The good outweighs the bad. I'll remain the Rick Astley of the writing world, refusing to give it up. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June Reads: Short, but not Sweet

Here I am halfway through the year, and I've already nearly met my yearly reading challenge. I always plan to read 52 books: one per week. Generally, I read a bit more. This year I'm already at 41 books. 

I read nine books this month, though to be fair, they were mostly quite short. I found my attention scattered, what with end of school year burnout and a suddenly very crowded social calendar with family obligations and writer-life opportunities now that vaccination has re-opened some possibilities. I was out of pocket for 11 of June's 30 days which is quite a lot, especially after my homebody habits of pandemic life. 


I started with Colson Whitehead's Nickel Boys, a choice by my neighborhood book club. I had previously read his Underground Railroad, and liked it overall, but was a bit put off by the intermixing of fact and fantasy. This story was much more succinct and tight and I think that's part of what kept me engaged a bit more. Now that I've had a little time to think it over, I think I prefer Nickel Boys which stuck closer to actual historical events and realistically likely events. But it was a heartbreaker. 

So after having my heart broken, I picked up Un-Girls by Lauren Beukes. At some point Audible had offered me this book and others in the Disorder series for free or at low cost (I don't remember), and since I already admired Beukes's Broken Monsters, I accepted the offer. I found both these works horrifying and creative, taking angles I'd not seen before. Her body horror is shudder inducing. 

Having peeked into the series, I became curious about the other five books in the Disorder series and quickly read the rest of them: the twisty and ever-changing The Beckoning Fair One by Dan Chaon, the fascinating but inconclusive Loam by Scott Heim, an Edgar Allen Poe retelling in Will Williams by Namwali Serpell, the all too realistic Anonymous by Uzodinma Iweala, and the deeply sad Best Girls by Min Jin Lee with its echoes of Thomas Hardy. I recommend the entire series. Each is 1-2 hours long and each takes on horror from an unusual angle. 

After that horror, I was ready for something lighter so I chose The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by RA Dick (the pseudonym of Irish author Josephine Leslie). I already knew and loved this story from the 1947 movie edition.

I was happy to find that much of what I loved about the movie was also present in the novel and was especially touched by the plight of "poor Lucy" who had to learn to stand against that most difficult of obstacles to an independent life: people who love you.  

Quite a charming and romantic story which also has a lot to say about the importance of taking charge of one's own life. 

I finished with Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, a story I knew from the 1983 movie, but had never read. It, too, was a relatively short work I had purchased some time earlier and found waiting in my Audible library when I sought short books to read. 

I have really enjoyed a lot of Bradbury's short stories over the years, though some of them can feel "quaint" these days in that they are less cynical and less concerned with startling and unpredictable plot twists. His mild paternalistic misogyny can be annoying, but like Asimov, he mostly avoids the problem by having very few female characters and never focusing on them if he does have female characters. 

In trying to describe this one, I said: 

"This book is a celebration of that cusp moment of childhood into adolescence (particularly for young boys--one of Bradbury's consistent failings is creation of meaningful female characters). It's a meditation on aging and regret. It's nostalgia brewed into a fine tea that, while faintly bitter, still pleases the senses."
I finished the month with Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, which I have not yet finished, so I'll have to tell you about it next month. So far, I'll say that it holds up quite well and that much of what you know and love about these characters from all the movie and television adaptations came directly from Dumas's pen. 

How about you? What did you read this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Flirting with Feminism, 1940s Style

Coincidentally, I picked two movies that premiered in 1942 for my watching this week: Now, Voyager with Bette Davis and Woman of the Year with Katherine Hepburn. Both are striking for their exploration of roles of women, and both left me frustrated by not quite being willing to go all the way. 

In Now, Voyager, Bette Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a woman from a wealthy and respectable Boston family ("Oh, one of the *Boston* Vales"). When we meet her, she is thoroughly cowed by her overbearing mother and deeply unhappy, though her very frustration with her role points to a stronger spirit beneath than sometimes makes itself known. Her story is one of coming into herself. 

In contrast, Katherine Hepburn's Tess Harding in Woman of the Year is a woman very much in charge of her own life, sure of herself and cutting a wide swath in the world as an activist, columnist, and speaker on a variety of social and political issues. Her story is one of coming out of herself a bit. 

Both roles were well suited to these iconic actresses. Who better than Bette Davis to drown us in big, emotional eyes and delivery fiery lines with passion? Who better than Katherine Hepburn to hold tears in a tightly controlled face, resisting the revelations of self laying themselves before her? 

But neither story satisfied me. 

I am wary of stories that romanticize infidelity, due to my personal feelings about marital infidelity, so Now, Voyager had a hard row to hoe winning me over, since a central tenant of the story is the love between a married man and a woman who is not his wife. We're meant to sympathize with the man who made a bad match and is now "trapped" in a loveless marriage (though we never see that wife or marriage for ourselves). To his credit, he was never dishonest about the fact that he was married and had no intentions of abandoning his family and starting anew with our heroine. 

So, one could argue that our heroine knew what she was walking into. I found I had complex emotions, watching the way that they influenced each other while still maintaining separate lives: he returning to the work he loves with her encouragement, she finding confidence to stand up against her bullying mother with his support. Was he an obstacle to her finding happiness with someone else? Or was her own heart the true obstacle?

The story gives Charlotte the opportunity to marry someone else and she turns it down admitting to herself and her potential husband that she doesn't love him. 


What the story doesn't quite make clear is the line between self-sacrifice and self-determination. I could read her eventual care for her would-be-lover's daughter in either light. I've ordered the novel, hoping that I'll get a bit more of the interior life of the main character and understand better why she made the decisions she did. 

In the end, Charlotte made a life for herself that was truly independent, without a mother, husband, or even would-be-lover to tell her what to do, but she still seemed apologetic about it, and I guess I wanted her to embrace it fully. 

That ending line is a honey though, full of ambiguity and poetry.  


(And oh my, how sexy they make cigarettes. I wonder how much the tobacco industry paid for that placement). 

In Woman of the Year, I found myself wondering why two intelligent people like Tess Harding and Sam Craig could ever have believed a marriage partnership between them would work. Maybe it's intended as a lesson about how a sexual charge isn't enough to base a marriage on? (They do really sell that sexual charge, though): 


It's not as bad as Bringing Up Baby where I find myself screaming "Run!" at Cary Grant's Dr. Huxley, hoping he does not get eaten alive by Hepburn's manic pixie dream girl. 

But all the same, Spencer Tracy's Sam Craig seems to be a man who knows what he wants and all signs point clearly to danger! I don't buy that he didn't see it. 

Tess doesn't see him as an equal and shows him again and again that he is not first in her heart, or even second or third, but quite low down the list with things nice to have, but not truly necessary, like a pretty lamp or a pet poodle you pay someone else to walk for you because you don't have time. 

But he marries her anyway. And Hepburn gets her trademark self-realization moment, which she sells beautifully, but at the end I still don't really believe they're going to work as a couple. Honestly, the only thing that holds the romance together is the on-screen chemistry of Hepburn and Tracy, because it's not there in the story. 

While Tess is arguably a feminist character, having built an impressive brand as "Tess Harding," the story falls back on the old saw that ambitious women must feel the lack of love partnership in their lives. Certainly some women (me, for one) want both a husband and a career and manage to have both, but there's nothing in this movie to convince me that Tess ever felt the lack of a husband in her life or wanted to make significant changes to how she lives her life to make room for one. Other than possibly sexual spark, I never saw anything in the story to explain why she wanted him at all. 

One of the keys to traditional romance stories is that the reader/viewer should be cheering for the couple to get together, and I wasn't actually doing that in either of these films. Yet, I liked both main characters and hoped for their happiness. I guess they work for me as sort-of anti-romances. 

If you've seen these films, I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. Same if you have suggestions for other films of the 30-60s with strong female leads for me to check out!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Uninvited, Revisited

I haven't written about it much here, but I am a bit of an old movie buff, particularly films of the later 1930s to 1950s. Black and white. Classics. I inherited this interest from my mother and throughout my childhood, we watched lots of such films together, whenever they were on TV. 

Off and on for the past couple of years (interestingly: about the same amount of time I've been trying to write my own Gothic romance novel), I'd been thinking about the film The Uninvited, from 1944, with Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell.  

At first, I couldn't even figure out what movie I was remembering, or if I'd made some kind of amalgamation of several old films in my brain. I have watched and read more than a few things in this genre. 

I remembered that it was Gothic and scary, set in a stunning clifftop home, and some particular images and plot points. It took a bit of doing before I came up with the right search terms and learned the name of it. 

I requested it at my local Retro film series, but so far, they haven't shown it. And it's never on any of the streaming services, so I finally just bought a disk of it, the Criterion edition (a distinction other old movie fans will appreciate). 

I got Sweetman to watch it with me last night. 

I'm happy to report that it held up well. I fell in love with Windward House again, and so wish it were real and that I could go stay in it for a while, scary crashing waves at the foot of the rocks cliff and all. If you're a sucker for Gothic mansion settings like I am, this film is worth watching just for the house. 

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Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful use of shadows and reflections amped up the atmosphere, and the trick photography used to more fully materialize a ghost still looks classy and "real" if that's an adjective one can apply to a spirit created by camera trickery. 

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As one expects in Gothic tales of this sort, there's a terrible secret in the past and it threatens our young ingenue in the present. It's quite convoluted, and I found myself pausing to untangle the threads for my husband more than once (he's less steeped in this kind of fiction than I am). I won't spoil the story here, in case you want to seek this out, but it had all the right elements of betrayal and questionable motivations for this kind of story. 

If you speak Spanish, the fuller story breaks more quickly when our ingenue is briefly possessed by a Spanish-speaking ghost who tells us very directly what happened, but I'm quite sure the film-makers did not anticipate the audience understanding what the ghost actually said in that scene because it all comes out again more slowly. 

A secondary plot took me by surprise. It had probably gone over my head when I watched the film as a child, but really added a level of threat and upped the ante with a side character (Miss Holloway) determined to keep certain secrets buried, regardless of the cost to others because of her obsessive love for one of the deceased characters.  

Shades of Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, with room in the story that the feelings were mutual this time. Cornelia Otis Skinner's Miss Holloway was a different kind of threatening than Judith Anderson's Mrs. Danvers, but they might be sisters under the skin. 

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Implications of lesbian love were strong in that thread, and not portrayed as healthy and romantic. Holy subtext, Batman! More dangerous obsession, and dark secret sorts of themes.  

I'd love to write something playing in the backstory of this world, with the thwarted love, later love triangle and jealousies, and who exactly that missing father was, or what the grandfather did and didn't really know. The story did a lot with what it didn't tell us, even though it told us a lot. 

I'm also curious as heck about our outside interlopers, the brother and sister (Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald) who pooled their funds to buy the mansion together, only to become embroiled in a local tragedy and haunting. Neither of them married, neither of them seeming to have any particular ties in this world, and unusually close for adult siblings. What past tragedy had they survived together? 

Lastly, I was impressed by the mix of humor and horror. It's always a tricky balance to strike, and bringing in the wrong note at the wrong time can ruin a story, but The Uninvited beautifully blended lighthearted touches with a dark and troubling storyline.  Ray Milland was at his most Cary Grant-like, conveying a lot with a sideways glance or body language, revealing an inner little boy who wanted to run away from the scary things but was held in place by his sense of proper duty as a grown man. 

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The final minutes of the film wrapped everything up in a neat bow, delivering two impending marriages, happy pets (a dog and a cat), and every sign that the future will now be rosy for all involved now that the ghosts have been laid to rest. Practically Shakespearean in the rush to matrimony for all involved. It was charming how quickly everyone's future was settled now that we got that pesky troubled past dealt with. If only it were nearly that simple in real life. 

So, if you haven't watched it yet, go check out The Uninvited. It's well worth the watching. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Glamour

As glamorous as I've ever been
(and I'm wearing Converse under there)
Glamour is a lot of work, so I only consider it "worth it" for truly special occasions: weddings, graduations, ceremonies, theater dates. 

Even on those days, my routine pales compared to many of the women of my acquaintance. 

I fuss over my hair a bit, curling and arranging it or if we're going hardcore, hiring someone with a stronger skill set to do that for me. 

I select and wear jewelry. 

I don't own any makeup--I think it's itchy. 

But, I might wear shoes that aren't Converse sneakers, if there isn't going to be too much standing and walking at the event. 

In contrast, on an average summer morning when I arrive at the coffee shop wearing stretchy pants, looking as though my hair might be a wig that I put on sideways, I catch a fair amount of fish-eye from the the poshier women around me. 

I'll never be that lady described as "well-coifed", "elegant", or even "well put-together." Most of the

How I look on a day that ends in Y

time, I look like a six-year-old whose mother just called them inside from a morning's romp in the creek. 

Maybe it's a breed of impatience. 

I'm too anxious to DO things to wade through the processes of beauty before I go. Hence, I've never developed the requisite skills or collected the tools and equipment. 

I'm sure many people think I've "let myself go" but the truth is, that by this definition, I never "held myself" to begin with. 

The work of beauty does not interest me as much as learning new recipes, exploring new paths, writing another book, fighting with my garden, and reading. No matter how lovely the results might be. 

I live in the South, though, where I definitely seem grubby next to many of my neighbors with perfect highlights, manicured nails, and artfully applied makeup, especially women my own age or older. 

On the occasions when I do glam up, it's a revelation--a shining spotlight moment like the ugly duckling reveal in a 1980s "but she wears glasses" makeover moment. Lots of "oooooh." It's gratifying. But if you're glamorous every day, where do you go from there? How do you up the ante for something special? Tiaras? 

I don't judge women who focus more energy on beauty. Sometimes I envy them. It's a choice, like any, and as valid as any. I know many intelligent, vibrant, hardworking, and accomplished women who are also glamorous. 

It's not an either/or. 

Some friends treat it like armor. For others it's self-care, self-love, a way of boosting themselves. For some it's a game--a kind of play. I've only known a few that I worried might have raised it to a pathology. 

I'm being photographed this weekend. As a 50th birthday present to myself, I have hired a photographer to get some new author shots, a documentation of what I look like now. I thought about going fancy, but in the end, I decided I want photographs that look like me. 

No matter how much I sometimes wish I looked like Audrey Hepburn, that's just not who I am.