Wednesday, May 4, 2022

My Rollercoaster of a Writing Life

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.

May 4 question - It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

The awesome co-hosts for the May 4 posting of the IWSG are Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon! Be sure to check out their posts as well as the rest of the blog hop when you're finished here!

Writing and publishing life can definitely be a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Sometimes it swings you around upside down, too, and you can either end up giddy or nauseated. 

But still, it's a ride I can't seem to stop getting back in line for. So, here's a few of my personal highs and lows so far. 

Having my work chosen is always a giant high. 

I've been fortunate to experience this on a few fronts: signing book contracts, getting good reviews, having my story selected for anthologies, getting mentioned in a good light in a review for an anthology, seeing my work mentioned in a list, meeting a reader who tells me my work mattered to them. 

A little praise and recognition goes a long way in helping you overcome self-doubt and persevere. It's a little light against the lonely darkness of rejection and criticism. 

It's even better when the happy little mention or opportunity comes from someone you don't know at all in real life. (That way the brain weasels can't convince you that they only like your work out of pity or friendship).  

On the flip side of that, is the feeling that you fell for something, bought the scam, believed the con.

Like when the first publishing house to publish me imploded, and I felt like a fool--like I should somehow have known.  

Or the time I spent money on an artist who never produced the promised work. Or events I planned or participated in that flopped. Or the time I paid for advertising that didn't net me any results. 

There's risk in trusting and sometimes the risk bites you.

Clairvoyance is not one of my gifts, so all I can do is make decisions with the data I have at the time, and hope I won't come to regret them later. And if I do, at least I can hope to learn from them, and turn them into amusing gallows-humor stories to share with my writing friends. 

Now those are both big public hills of the rollercoaster. Behind the scenes, in the quiet room where a girl sits in her office tapping away at her keyboard, there are plenty of highs and lows as well. 

There's the low that always seems to sneak up and smack me three-quarters of the way through a project, a sudden drop in momentum that makes it difficult to keep moving and makes the next section of writing feel like fighting a stiff wind that wants to blow you over.  

Those are not fun moments in the ride, and often I have only made it through out of a combination of personal stubbornness and the support of truly excellent friends who won't let me give up easily. 

Other times, it feels like I'm just a conduit, and the words flow through me as easily as water, each keystroke a touch of magic that only makes the rest seem easier. 

In those moments, I'm some kind of untouchable hero--I can do no wrong. I look at the me that was struggling the day before and wonder what the heck was wrong with that girl. 

But really, the lows are well worth it, and the highs more than compensate. And a bad day of writing? It's like bad pizza. It's still pretty okay, you know? 

So, what keeps you going when the going gets rough in your endeavors? What gives you the heart to go on? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

And, hey, if you've read anything I wrote, leave a review! Reviews don't have to be long to really help boost an author's visibility (and make their day!). Heck, they don't even have to be positive--critical reviews are useful, too. You can find most of my work here: 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

What I Read in April

April was a full month at la Casa Bryant. The youngest kid had a birthday, and so did I! There was home improvement in the form of carpet removal and wood floor installation. I had job interviews. 

But still, I made time for stories. And I scored this month. Everything I read was good!

Octavia Butler is an author I only learned about relatively recently, like in the past ten years or so. Her name just kept coming up, and I knew I had to try out her work. 

So far, I've read Kindred, Wild Seed, and Lilith's Brood and I intend to eventually read everything she wrote. Her work really speaks to me with its combination of grappling with large philosophical ideas and very individual, personal stories

Blood Child is a collection of some of Butler's short fiction. I hadn't yet read any of her shorter work and I really enjoyed these stories. The title story was heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time, which can be a hard balance to strike. Several of the other stories have stuck with me after the reading as well. 

Last month, I read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, and this month I jumped into Akata Warrior, the second book in the Nsibidi Scripts series. This book picked up not long after the end of book 1, and brought the same characters back into the fray. I enjoyed it a great deal and will be back for book 3 soon. 

My classic this month was The Invisible Man by HG Wells, a book I was rather surprised to realize I had never read before. 

I have a great fondness for the old movie adaptation and have enjoyed several other adaptations on the small and large screen. 

The most interesting part of the novel to me was how funny it was. Wells definitely appreciated the absurdity of the situation his main character had ended up in. 

Between the World and Me was a thoughtful and thought-provoking work. Written as a letter to his teenaged son, Coates crafted a narrative that places his own experience as a black man in America in the geography and history of the wider nation. 

Fevered Star, I technically finished in May, but I hadn't written this wrap-up post yet, so I'm going to count it :-) Fevered Star is the follow up to Black Sun, a novel I read last year and loved. In fact, I loved it so much that I had this one on pre-order and started reading it the day it dropped to my devices! And once again, I'm left with bated breath, anxious for the next book, but having to wait. Dang it. 

It's a sweet kind of frustration though and I love that feeling of really anticipating a good book. 

What did April bring to your reading life? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Another Year Older

It was my birthday a couple of days ago. On a Thursday. A workday. So, not the best day for celebration, but adult life, you know? It is what it is. 

I figured my 50th year on planet earth was going to be an exciting one. It's just one of those landmark years, you know, and here I am now, a few days on the other side. Fifty-one? Whoosh! (That's the sound of time passing at what feels like supersonic speed.)

Not today's treat, but you get the idea
The day itself, was pretty good. I let myself have a Bee One Thousand (cinnamon and honey concoction) skim latte, a country ham and cheddar biscuit, and a comic book from the Hillsborough Cup-a-Joe, even though that's a treat normally reserved for Fridays. 

I'm a great believer in small treats and pleasures as a way to keep your spirits up and getting out of bed had been a hard sell. 

When I got to school, I found that my Bulldog Buddy (a sort of year long Secret Santa) had left me a birthday bag on my chair with a beautiful cupcake on top and lots of great treats inside including a bookstore gift card! (I've got some suspicions about who my Buddy is, and some guilt because I'm not nearly as good at finding awesome things for MY Bulldog Buddy). 

Another teacher friend made sure to tell all the sixth graders that it was my birthday, so all day, kids stopped by my room and stuck notes and little pieces of art to my classroom door. Kids at their most charming and endearing :-)

This kid didn't even know how much I love frogs

After school, I picked up some fast food. It's not the meal I would have picked, but there was limited time between school and my hair appointment, and I get hangry if I don't see to those needs. 

Throughout the day, I received text and social media well wishes, and lots of silly memes and songs to make me smile. 

I spent the evening getting my locks colored and shaped at Syd's, which is a really charming hair shop in Carrboro that deals well with customers like me (middle aged ladies who want funky-colored hair and low fuss but awesome haircuts) and the younger kid (awesome but picky and prickly teenager). I've been a customer there off and on during all my time in North Carolina, and I appreciate the vibe as well as the hair expertise. 

Feeling pretty

Then I got home, finally ate that pretty cupcake and opened some gifts from my sister (extra sweet of her now that she lives further away and had to ship them to me), and caught up with my husband, dogs, and the kid still at home. 

It was a nice respite in what has felt like a whirlpool (of the Scylla and Charybdis variety) these past few weeks. 

I've been in the middle of a job hunt (leaving teaching for the corporate world for a different variety of stress, some flexibility, and more money). 

My eldest kid is about to graduate college. 

We've had some new health things to deal with as well as a home improvement project that we're still resettling the house after. 

It feels like everyone around me is facing heartache. Some friends lost their son. A student lost her father. A colleague is battling cancer. The youngest kid's best friend just lost their dog. 

So, my emotions have been seriously mixed. Celebrating my own good news can feel heartless when those around me are suffering. 

But a birthday is a natural time to look back at your life. My 50th year on planet earth was, in the scheme of things, pretty damn good. 

Personal: my health is good as in that of all my nearest and dearest, my life is stable, and I have lots of love around me. 16 years into marriage, I'm still stupidly happy. 22 years into motherhood and my kids are still the best ones in the world. Nearly a year into life with our new pups and they charm me daily. 

My family in our holiday PJs

I always tell folks that I love drama in my fiction, but I want a rather boring and serene life, and right now that's what I've got and I am grateful for that. 

Writing: It was a pretty good year for my writing life. I began my 50th year by entering the editing process on the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel, Be the Change, and seeing it through to publication.

Five of my short stories made it out there into the world, too. You can read four of them online here: 

The fifth one was in an anthology and came out on my 51st birthday, so that was a nice present :-)

I wrote a lot, too. From birthday to birthday, I wrote 379,046 words. I revised 179, 611 words. For 2022, I set a goal of submitting my writing 100 times and I've already hit 56 submissions at the 1/4 of the year mark. Not too shabby! Especially when you consider that I do this with a full time day job. 

All in all, quite a good year and my 51st year is already shaping up with some exciting adventures including a change of career and some travel! Keep an eye on this spot for the details. In the meantime, may this year be your best year yet and give you many reasons for joy. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Dangers of Revisiting Foundational Books

Some friends and I were talking the other day about books that we have loved since childhood/youth, and the trepidation that comes with re-reading them as adults. 

What is they're not as good as you remember? What if--even worse--they're not very good at all? Is it better to just let them glow in your memory rather than risk tainting that warm, happy place in your heart that they hold? 

What do you think? 

Some books I have revisited and how it went: 

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L'Engle. When I read this as a child, it was a game-changer for me. It was one of the first times I really saw myself in a protagonist. 

Meg wasn't pretty, perfect, sweet, or nice. But she was smart and fiercely loyal to those she loved. 

I read it again as an adult a couple of years ago, when my classics book club picked it. We tend to read a "children's classic" each December. 

Overall, it held up well. The witches are still wonderful, Meg is still grumpy and difficult and complicated, the Nothing is still terrifying, as are all those organized children bouncing balls in unison.

It was more overtly Christian than I had remembered, and that was a little off-putting, but otherwise, still good. I read it out loud to my teenager, who also really enjoyed it, so getting to share something that mattered to me with someone who matters to me was a nice bonus.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson was one of those moments when something I read in school really got to me. 

That didn't happen all that often. A lot of what I was asked to read in school was very safe, and kind of boring. 

But this short story was unnerving, disturbing, visceral and…I loved it. 

In fact, I fell in love with Shirley Jackson's work with that story and it led me to two of her novels in my school's library: The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 

Both of those remain among my favorite books to this day and I have read them both several times. Obviously, I must think these hold up well if I keep going back. Jackson's characters are complex and dark. She really highlights the horror in ordinary situations. 

Here lately, I've been reading some of her other work, stories that aren't horror-adjacent, and they're amazing in similar ways. Jackson always leaves me thinking. 

Another author I loved in my younger years was Ray Bradbury. And, in some ways I still do. Such creative imagery, such imagination. 

Again and again, he has amazed me and filled me with wonder and delight, especially in his short stories. 

But, recently I read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes

And, well…the women. 

Both of these books portray women with 1950s paternalism at best, with a pat on the head and a "sit over dear and don't worry your pretty head." 

At worst, it's outright misogyny. 

Mildred Montag, the wife of the main character in Fahrenheit 451, is a caricature of the most insulting nature…and yes, I'm aware that he's exaggerating on purpose to highlight how bad a world without books really can become. 

But no male character is portrayed with the same antipathy. No male character descends into such utter inanity. And plenty of other books from the same era (and even older!) do a better job with female characters, so I'm not giving him a pass for being an old guy either. Bradbury could have done better and should have. 

Clarisse, our most sympathetic female character, isn't much better. She is just shy of a manic pixie dream girl, only in the story as a catalyst to our male lead. In fact, after she inspires his insurrection, she is promptly killed off--practically fridged

Plus, she's seventeen, so there's a squick factor for me with the suggestion of romance between them. Reeks of those literary novels about aging professors who find their joy in life by screwing an undergrad. Yuck!

Gotta say, all that sailed over my head when I was a teenager, but it's much harder to see past now. 

Have you revisited any books that you loved in your youth? How did it go? Do they hold up? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Audiobook Struggles

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.

April 6 question - Have any of your books been made into audio books? If so, what is the main challenge in producing an audiobook?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 6 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise - Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi!

I do a LOT of my own reading in the form of audiobooks. 

I adore being able to read while I'm busy doing other things like the laundry--tasks that need doing but don't engage much of my brain because they're rote and uninteresting. 

Add an audiobook to a pile of unmatched socks and I'm much more willing to take on the task. 

So, of course, I want my own books released on audiobook. Menopausal Superheroes would definitely make doing the dishes more interesting. 

In fact, my publisher had gotten pretty far in the production of an audiobook for book one of the Menopausal Superhero series: Going Through the Change

He'd contracted with a recording artist who recorded it. She'd only ever done one audiobook before, but it had been well-received. We'd communicated about pronunciation details (Like Linda and David, two Hispanic characters being LEEN-dah and Dah-VEED, rather than the more anglo pronunciations). 

We were all happy and excited. I included promises of that coming audiobook in my newsletter and social media posts. 

Then began the waiting. The proposed delivery date kept getting extended: increased demands at the day job, health issues, etc. Even though this part took way longer than it should have, we were all trying to give each other grace during the pandemic, so I was patient and kept my frustrations mostly to myself. 

But, then, when the file was finally delivered, it didn't meet technical specifications. This part I don't know the details of (like, what, exactly was wrong--I've left this in the hands of my publisher), but I do know that the file could not be uploaded and used as is, and that attempts to address that by having other audio professionals worked on it did not help. 

So, here I am three years later, back at square one. No audiobook in sight. 

My last conversation with my publisher let me know that there's about a $1000 investment up front to get an audiobook produced, and, yes, he does plan to try again, but he can only do so many at a time, so it might be a while yet. 

So, sadly, I'm still waiting to hear my work as an audiobook. But I have faith we'll get there eventually. 

Are you an audiobook reader? Have you been a part of this process at any point? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments. 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

My March in Books

 March was a helluva month at la Casa Bryant. As I write this, on the last day of March, there are five men upstairs ripping out my carpet and installing beautiful new floors. All of March and part of February has been about getting ready for this moment--basically moving out of three rooms of our home without having any other rooms to move into because we still live here. 

No wonder I escaped into books as much as possible. And it was a good month for reading: 

I read ten books in March. 

I don't feel like rehashing the ones I didn't like, so I'll let you click over Goodreads via the links above if you want to know why I didn't like them. Let me gush a little about the good things. 

It was "women in horror" month, so a perfect moment to revisit Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors of all time, and Tananarive Due whose work I love more and more, the more of it I read. Both of these books were well worth the read. 

The Shirley Jackson collection wasn't all horror, but even when she's writing social commentary or domestic explorations with a literary bent, Shirley always sees through to the dark side of things. It had been years since I last read "The Lottery" and it was just as chilling as I remembered, but my favorite story in that collection is "Flower Garden" which captures what it's like to be an outsider in an insular community and how trapped even an insider can be by social pressure. 

Tananarive Due's book, similarly, did not at first seem like it was horror. A lot of the book feels like a domestic tale of a marriage on the rocks . . . but it gets steadily weirder. Jackson and Due pair well together, with their focus on domestic settings and the horror of seemingly ordinary moments. 

For full disclosure, the author of Amazing Grace is my publisher. That probably influenced my choice to read it, but I assure you that, when I read work by friends and colleagues, if I don't like it, I just don't comment at all. If I'm telling you about it here, then I liked it. In fact, I loved this one. I really enjoyed the main character Lila Grace, a middle-aged Southern woman with the ability to talk to ghosts. I liked the sparks of romance between her and the new sheriff and the way that what she knew about the community mattered as much as her abilities when it came to solving the central mystery. I hope John writes more with these characters. There's definite series potential. The poor man already writes several series though, so I might have to be patient to wait for him to get back to this one. 

I've read Sense and Sensibility more than once. Between reading it and watching the film with Kate

Winslet and Emma Thompson repeatedly, I was predisposed to loving this book. I'm not sure when I last read/watched it, but it was before I married my husband, so that's coming up on twenty years. In fact, I had completely forgotten that Elinor and Marianne had a younger sister (to be fair, she's really only in the beginning and end of the book).  It was just as good as I remembered, and remains my favorite of Jane Austen's work (yes, I set it higher than the acclaimed and beloved Pride and Prejudice). 
So those are the books I loved this March. I also quite liked: 

  • A Spindle Shattered by Alix E. Harrow (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a multiverse angle and a chronically ill main character)
  • The Boys Omnibus volume 1 by Garth Ennis (a darkly humorous, transgressive superhero series)
  • and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (a girl-meets-magic world series set in Nigeria among Leopard people)
What did you read this month? Anything I should have on my TBR? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Too "CW" For Me


Stargirl seems like it ought to be a show for me. Female protagonist, cool superpowers, giant robot/suit, family drama, and a small town setting. So much to love. 

But I don't love the show. I'm not even sure I like it. 

And I think I've figured out why. It's the same reason I don't love The Flash or Arrow, even though those shows ought to have been right up my alley, too. Both had strong starts with interesting characters, but I eventually just lost interest. 

It's the "CW" effect. 

When a show is handed over to CW (or WB), it immediately changes, and not for the better in my point of view. They *look* good, with pretty people in great costumes and decent-for-the-budget special effects, but they don't hold up well to scrutiny. 

They're . . .shallow. 

So often the plot relies on people avoiding a conversation, often that conversation wouldn't even be that difficult to have. Or ignoring an obvious application of the powered person's skills. Or strange caprices. Character motivations shift from episode to episode, so it's hard to even know if someone is behaving "out of character" because there is no consistency about what is "in character." 

Superhero stories tend be a bit plot-driven…cool action scenes and creative fights are part of what fans come for, me included! But, the best ones also really understand their characters and lead to strong emotional payoffs. 

WB shows seem to be all about short-term payoff and cool moments, and I'm pulled out of the story again and again because I can't understand why characters are doing what they're doing. 

I watched Season 1 of Stargirl and enjoyed seeing the team of heroes come together. I liked the generational take, with young people taking over for older heroes. I had high hopes for Stripes-the-stepdad-with-a-secret-history. But I wasn't drawn in enough to watch it quickly. I think it took me two years to watch the whole season. 

The continual shifting of tones lost me. Was Stripes to be taken seriously as a mentor or laughed off as inept comic relief? Am I supposed to keep cheering for a girl who shows herself over and over again as more self-interested than anything else? 

I'm starting to wonder if we just hand the story over to a completely new team of writers every other episode and that no one reads the other team's work to build naturally from what came before. 

When we moved to the second season, I watched one episode and I'm not sure I'll be back for any more.
The adults in the show are not making any sense. Mom and Dad were THERE in the first season: they were part of the fight with the bad guys. The superhero stuff isn't a secret from them. But, they behave as if they have no understanding of all of what's going on. It's like they just forgot everything that happened and stepped back in time to the original conflict of trying to keep the kid protected versus letting her step into her role as a hero. 

Maybe I'm just too old for this, but it seems like cheap manipulation rather than honestly-built suspense. 

How about you? Do you like the WB/CW superhero shows? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment.