Thursday, September 10, 2020

Writing Short Stories, or the Joys of Anthologies

I've had sort of an odd trajectory in my writing life, having started as a poet, and jumped from there to  novel-writing. Maybe it would have made more sense to start with shorter fiction, but that's not what happened for me. I didn't really start writing short fiction until after my first novel was accepted for publication. 

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Short fiction is like novel writing…and it's completely different. Structurally, a novel and a story need similar elements, but they use them in different proportions and levels of complexity. Some novelists are able to write short stories easily, and others struggle with the shorter form. 

For a long time, when I sat down to write something, I'd have no idea how big it was going to be until the project was well underway. 

I've started novels that turned out not to have enough to them to fulfill that form, so they became novellas or short stories. More often, I've tried to write a short story only to have the story grow and grow and grow, until I have another novel on my hands (or *another* series-length idea: sometimes I just want the idea to stay small!).

I'm getting better at gauging the length I'll need to do a story justice these days. It happens less often that I'm surprised by the length the work ends up being. Experience is useful in that way. 

Here's the thing: novels take a long time to write

Generally, I need between six months and a year to write a novel of 85K or so (the length most of my novels seem to come out at, at least so far). The longest I've spent on a novel was four years, but it was also my first one, so it makes sense it would take longer. 

Short stories, on the other hand, can sometimes be drafted in a single writing session. And that feeling

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of FINISHING is such a rush! I can see how a person could become addicted to short stories just for the feeling of having finished a complete piece of writing in a relatively short timespan. 

Making a living from short story writing is even more challenging than from novels though. You can sell them to magazines or to anthologies mostly, and the pay ranges from "exposure" to lovely by-the-word prices. 

Anthologies probably help your career more if you also have some longer works to sell, allowing you to attract new readers with that short work and guide them to your longer work. 

What I love about writing for anthologies is the opportunity to experiment with something new on the page without the large-scale commitment represented by a novel. 

This is my fifth year as a professional writer, a moniker I started applying to myself when my first novel was published in 2015. In that time, I've had work included in sixteen anthologies. So, yeah, I might like this :-)

Nonfiction essays, in-universe stories for the Menopausal Superheroes, accidental apocalypse, fairy tale, ghost, Lovecraftian clowns, demon lovers, aliens, romance, retribution, SO MUCH FUN

I've got at least two more anthology stories coming out this year, and two more on the horizon with not-yet-set release dates. Check out these books coming out in October! (and click on the covers to visit the pre-order links, while you're at it--authors need love…and reviews!). 

Coming October 1: 

As a deadly scourge overwhelms the continent, four survivors race to find a last exit out of Australia.

Up in the attic, a bedtime story outlives its storyteller.

A city boy visits his country cousins and stumbles on a terrifying family secret.

From a film set in the Arizona desert, to an overgrown rambling old house in the Florida swamps, to the dusty streets of a small Mexican town, the stories in this volume plunge the reader into the shadows of a world almost forgotten by modern fables of cold science and bright sunlight. They are the brushed over voices who call a warning to those who would comfort themselves in the thought that monsters aren’t real, and those things can’t happen here. Stories We Tell After Midnight Volume 2 offers up tales of revenge, of hunger, and of the horror that stalks you just beyond the glow of your cell phone light, but only to those who dare turn the page…

Coming October 13: 

Mocha Memoirs Press is proud to present SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire — a revolutionary anthology celebrating vampires of the African Diaspora. SLAY is a groundbreaking unique collection and will be a must-have for vampire lovers all over the world. SLAY aims to be the first anthology of its kind. Few creatures in contemporary horror are as compelling as the vampire, who manages to captivate us in a simultaneous state of fear and desire. Drawing from a variety of cultural and mythological backgrounds, SLAY dares to imagine a world of horror and wonder where Black protagonists take center stage — as vampires, as hunters, as heroes. From immortal African deities to resistance fighters; matriarchal vampire broods to monster hunting fathers; coming of age stories to end of life stories, SLAY is a groundbreaking Afrocentric vampire anthology celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the African Diaspora.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

IWSG: Seeing the Weird in the Ordinary

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.

September 2 question - If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, J Lenni Dorner, Deniz Bevan, Kim Lajevardi, Natalie Aguirre, and Louise - Fundy Blue!

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I've been fascinated with Shirley Jackson's work since I first encountered her book We Have Always Lived in the Castle in my library when I was weird thirteen year old kid. 

I've returned to her work over and over since then, revisiting her work once a decade or so--re-reading favorites and finding new pieces I've missed. Even though my own writing is not disturbing in the same vein as Shirley's, I feel a connection to her, as if she speaks something inarticulate from deep inside my own consciousness. 

Recently, I watched the quasi-biopic of her, based on the novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, and that feeling of connection was only strengthened. (The book/movie isn't accurate in a biographical sense, BTW, but it evokes a feel that I believed). 

Like Shirley, I am ill-suited to be a housewife, even though I love my husband, my home, and our children and sometimes revel in taking care of them--and sometimes wish they weren't there, so I could focus on my life of words. We'd have that push and pull in common. 

I, too,  have a creative bent, and though I look pretty darn normal on the outside, it's more than a little weird inside my brain. Sometimes my mundane life and the worlds within my mind don't mesh well.

It's probably why her horror works so well for me. We both see the weird in the seemingly ordinary.

Luckily, I'm living my adult years in a different era than she did--she died six years before I was born. The expectation that I would marry and devote my life to only the work of household and children still lingers in the corners of my experience with other misogynist mumbo-jumbo, but no one is terribly shocked to learn that I work full time, or that I write. Those limiting views of femininity and a woman's role in the world have lost cachet and are no longer the norm, at least not that in my peer group. 

I don't face social censure for the kinds of things that I write either. Not like she did. I also have a better husband than she did (at least as far as you can judge someone else's husband from what you see from the outside of the relationship).

I don't know that Shirley would have liked my work. She might accuse me of being too light or fluffy. But I suspect that if I could thicken my skin enough to take her criticism, my work would be the better for it. She would call me on it when I try to pull back from hard emotional moments or take it too easy on characters I've grown attached to, even more than my real-life critique partners do (and they don't really pull any punches--especially not Rebecca). 

Would Shirley want or respect my opinion on her work? Maybe? I do have a lot of practice, as a middle school teacher, giving constructive criticism kindly and with support and compassion interlaced. And my admiration is sincere. I would mean the praise I offered. 

Given the chance, I'd sit on the veranda with her and talk about the life of words, even if I had to put up with her cigarette smoke to do it. I like to think we'd get each other. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

What I Read in August


It look like I didn't read much in August. Only five books…and I'm cheating a little to claim the fifth. I still have a couple more hours on Look Homeward, Angel. But, in reality, I read a lot! It's just that one of the books to fill my August hours was more of a tome. 

Also, school started, which really crimped my style when it came to reading time. Since school is an entirely online endeavor right now, I'm suffering from screentime overload, which makes me avoid reading on Kindle--which is usually my go-to format! The good news is that I can listen to audiobooks without looking at a screen, so anything waiting in my Audible and Chirp libraries is moving up the TBR pile a little faster. 

You'll see that first three of my reads this month were more how-to sorts of things. I'm diving hard back into drafting the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel and I'm always looking for ways to increase my output speed, making the first drafts better so it doesn't take as many drafts to have a reader-worthy manuscript. So, The Emotion Thesaurus and Emotion Amplifiers are great quick reference when I'm finding myself hiding behind too many filter words, or drowning in "was." Maybe I didn't exactly "read" these, but I used them enough to be able to attest to their usefulness. 

If life lets me, I'm planning to release my first fully indie project this October, so I checked in Danielle Ackley-McPhail's Build-a-Book-Workshop for some tips and advice. It turned out to be a little more basic than I was looking for, but I will still make use of her checklists as I work my way through the project, making sure I put out the best product I can. The book seems like an excellent introduction to the business of publishing your own work and I wish I'd started with it instead of picking up everything I knew piecemeal over the past few years. 

The only book on the list that was purely a pleasure read was Maplecroft by Cherie Priest. What if Lizzie Borden killed her parents because something Lovecraftian was going on? 

That's the beginning premise of the book, which follow Lizzie, her sister, her actress girlfriend, and the local doctor into a fight against monsters trying to take over their town, and struggling to keep their sanity at the same time. 

I ran across this book because Speculative Chic (a lovely magazine that recently hosted me for a guest post) had a book club discussion about Lovecraft Country, and this book came up as a recommended read in the same vein. 

I'd read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest some time ago and really loved the post-apocalyptic steampunk alternate-history mixture, so I was excited to see what the author could do with Lovecraftian horror intermixed with historical fiction.

It didn't disappoint. It was only a shortage of funds at the moment that stopped me from buying the sequel immediately. Today's payday, so guess who's getting a new book? 

The last book of August is Look Homeward, Angel, which is actually going to be a book of September, too because I'm not quite done yet. It's the October selection for my First Monday Classics Book Club (we don't meet in September because the first Monday is Labor Day). I had mixed feelings going in. Some people I've talked to LOVE this book; others, well…hate is a strong word, but…. 

I had heard from James Maxey (the founder and other host of our club) that the book was rather plotless. That's not always a good sign for my enjoyment. This is the story of a man's life…and it started several years before he was born and I was 20% into the book before he made it to puberty. But, I haven't been bored. Even though it's a bit of a meander of a book, I still care about Eugene and his strange and quirky family. 

It's an interesting walk through the region (the book is set in Asheville, NC, mostly) and through history, peppered with all the racism and sexism you'd expect from anything telling the truth about 1929 (when it was published) in the South. 

The last book of this sort I read was Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides, maybe less regarded as a "classic" but still widely read and touted as representative of something true about the South. I didn't like it nearly as much, and I worried that this book, too, would suffer from "woe is me" whining and annoy me. 

Good news! It didn't (at least not so far and I'm at 90% on the Kindle edition--been reading it as a combination of audiobook/kindle). 

Though the main character, Eugene, does complain about his lot in life sometimes, the book doesn't feel like only navel gazing. It feels more like a bildungsroman--and I think he's actually going to grow up and not stay an annoying boy-man. I'll let you know next month, when I've made it to the end!

So, August had some good reads for me, but not as many as I wanted. How about you? What did you read this August? 

Did you read my latest? If you did, toss a girl some stars and a few words of review. Even if you can't squee because you didn't LOVE it that much, reviews are a writer's best ticket to a wider audience and a chance to make some kind of a living, so they are *always* appreciated.  (end of PSA). 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Book Birthday! Through Thick and Thin


Today is my book birthday! The sixth release in the Menopausal Superhero series made her debut today. Through Thick and Thin is a collection of short stories, featuring Flygirl, Fuerte, and The Lizard Woman of Springfield in both their costumed and civilian identities. We've got an impending wedding, a daring escape, superpowered rescue, and heartfelt friendship moments, all within a slender volume you could read in an afternoon. 

The older I get, the less excited I am about actual birthdays…but book birthdays? They're awesome! Projects come to fruition and out there in the world looking for an audience are WAY more exciting than merely surviving to be another year older. 

But, I still like cake, and you can be sure I celebrate each and every book birthday with chocolate :-)

Check out this back-of-the-book blurb. 

Hidden in the space between chapters lurk other stories. What came before and after, and meanwhile. The other side of the story, including the part our heroines didn’t know. This collection peeks around those corners of the Menopausal Superhero series.

Through Thick and Thin will get you up close and personal with your favorites. Fuerte wasn't always Fuerte - or male. It’s confession time in "Coming Out as Leonel." Join Patricia, the Lizard Woman, as she unravels the puzzle of Dr. Cindy Liu's disappearance in "The Right Thing," then see her softer side (and her "better half," Suzie) in "Underestimated." Get ready for a wedding, and a heroic rescue, in "Flygirl's Second Chance."

These aren’t your father’s superheroes. Whether you’re already a fan or are just meeting these characters for the first time, the menopausal superhero series explores what it means to be a hero at any age or stage of life.

If you've been meaning to check out my series, this short story collection is a great introduction to the characters and concepts as well as my writing style and the drama-dy (part drama/part comedy) tone of the books. And it's available through Kindle Unlimited if that's how you roll. Paper copies will be available in the next few days. 

Can't wait to bring you more of these characters in 2021, but for now, please check out the series, and if you've read them, leave a review! Reviews are even better than cake. 

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). 

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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!

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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. 

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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!

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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
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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.