Wednesday, August 3, 2022

IWSG: You Can't Always Get What You Want




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. The awesome co-hosts for the August 3 posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery! Be sure to stop by and see what they have to say when you finish here. 

August 3 question - When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

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Trying to give readers what they want is a dangerous game. For one thing, figuring out what that is can be darn tricky. For another thing, take any two readers, and you might get conflicting desires. 

Really, when I'm deciding where a story should go, it's not the readers I look to, but the story. What does the story need? What's the right tone, plot twist, narrator, setting, or ending for this story? 

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Sometimes doing that means that even I, as the writer, don't necessarily get what I want. After all, I love my characters and I want them to end up well, but fictional people don't get off that easily--they have to face conflict, danger, challenges, and change. Otherwise, they're just not interesting enough for the page. 

But when you get it right--it's like magic. The stars align, music plays, and you just feel it in the center of your being.  That's what I'm looking for: what the story needs. And once I've found that, it might not be what I thought I wanted, but I'm always glad it's what I got. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Travels in Ireland

Two years ago, we had a plan. Mom, my sister, my aunt, and I were going to Ireland to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday…but of course, we all remember what happened two years ago. So, obviously, that didn't happen. 

So, we were going to go again in 2021, when "things open back again." But darn it, that didn't happen either. 

Before we knew it, it was 2022. 

And we gathered at Mom's house, passports and vaccination cards in hand, holding our breath, and hoping the borders stayed open, the planes still flew, and we all stayed healthy long enough to get there. 

And we did! 

All four of us, on the road to Kylemore Abbey.

Since none of us had ever been to Ireland before, and one of us is vegan (always a challenge when traveling), we did a purchased tour through Brendan Tours "The Enchanting Emerald Isle Tour." It had a great itinerary that hit lots of bucket list places as well as places we didn't know that much about. 

  • Dublin
  • Strokestown
  • Carrick on Shannon
  • Ballina
  • Westport
  • Kylemore Abbey
  • Galway
  • Dunguaire Castle
  • Cliffs of Moher
  • Killarney
  • Ring of Kerry
  • Blarney Castle
  • Newtown Jerpoint
  • Kilkenny
  • and back to Dublin

I didn't do much research. I wanted to just be open to what came. 

Magic light in the gardens of Strokestown Park

I'll be processing for a long time--the pictures, the keepsakes, the memories. There are good things and bad things about being on an organized tour. 

Our tour guide was charming. No one had to learn to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. We got a lot of great experiences at lower cost than we could have arranged them for ourselves. Someone else managed our luggage. My sister had vegan food at all provided meals. 

We weren't in charge of our own schedule, and often I wished for more time in a location than I could have. I felt harried at times. Bus is not my favorite mode of transport. We were thrust among companions we didn't choose. 

So, good and bad, just like everything :-)

I wasn't even home yet before I started plotting to go back. Heck--I'd emigrate given the chance, which is funny, given that some of my ancestors left those shores to come to mine. Maybe they'd be pleased at the idea of me coming back home, or maybe they'd just shake their heads and laugh at the irony. 

I won't try to recount my journey for you here, though I'd be thrilled to talk Ireland with anyone anytime! In the meantime, I'll leave you with this collage of me and my first novel posing our way across the Irish landscape (and a couple in JFK airport). 


And this one of the mortal terror on my face when I learned that kissing the Blarney stone involves hanging upside down from the top of a castle. That gift of gab better be worth it!



Wednesday, July 6, 2022

IWSG: Finding my New Normal



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. The awesome co-hosts for the July 6 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Janet Alcorn, PJ Colando, Jenni Enzor, and Diane Burton!

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In late May, I made a major life change that was a long time coming: I left teaching (check my leaving teaching blog post for details). I have an entirely new day job: a content writing job in corporate. Overnight, my stress dropped by half, so I'm feeling sure it was the right decision. But, it's quite a change after 27 years of teaching. 

What I haven't figured out yet is how my writing life fits into the parameters of the new job. 

I had a pretty good pattern going these past few years, writing evenings and taking advantage of the cyclical nature of teaching to give writing fuller focus during the times of year when school wasn't in session. 

But I haven't made any progress on my latest novel since the job change. 

Maybe that's just the transition phase. There's a lot to learn in the new job, after all. 

And I've had other curve balls, like taking a long-awaited trip to Ireland, seeing my daughter through college graduation, and getting the other kid going on driving lessons. Life has had my attention focused elsewhere. 

But I suspect that I'll need to re-set completely, that these life changes are going to require revamping my writing schedule and approaches, because come evening, I am screenburnt after all the zooming and it's hard to get myself to sit behind a screen again in the evening, even for fun stuff like playing with my imaginary friends. 

Will I need to become a morning writer? Someone who writes on their lunch hour? Do I need to start writing on paper and transferring to computer later? I don't know!


It's weird to be seven years along a path and feel like you've lost the trail, but I'm trying to stay positive and tell myself that it's exciting to have the chance to start fresh and try new approaches. 

Have any of you had to change how you fit your creative ventures into your life after a big change? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, July 3, 2022

What I Read in June

I only read four books in June, but all of them were good. I spent a goodly portion of June traveling (a long awaited trip to Ireland with my mom, sister, and aunt--I'll post about it soon). So here's a quick peek into my summer reading life. 


I started the month already in the middle of an audiobook which I finished in the first day or two: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. I'm becoming a bit of a Grady Hendrix fan girl. He won me over with My Best Friend's Exorcism, which was pretty much liquid nostalgia for me--channeling both the teenager I was, and the books I read at the age. 

The Final Girl Support Group scratched that nostalgia itch again, and gave me a wonderful story of women's friendship and the ways we help one another survive. You might not expect a book about the survivors of horrific violence to have such a heart of empathy and kindness, but it absolutely did and I loved it. 

After that, I picked up George Orwell's Animal Farm, which was the June pick for my First Monday Classics Book Club. I read it as Kindle/Audiobook, going back and forth between the two, which I often do with Classic reads. 

I'd read it before, as a teenager, and it really helped me understand Russian communism--I've always apprehended history better through fiction. Re-reading it as an adult, I was struck by the deep-seated cynicism. Sure, it's a story about the failure of the Russian attempt communism. But more than that, it's a fable about the inability of humanity to build a system that doesn't rely on the exploitation of someone, regardless of the best of intentions. Depressing. But, he's not wrong. 


Next for me was The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, which I enjoyed as an audiobook read by the author. It's probably no surprise that a woman who writes a feminist superhero series of her own has an interest in Wonder Woman. 

I picked the book based on title alone, so I didn't know what to expect really. What I got was a really intriguing history of the social movements of the early 20th century and of William Moulton Marston, the man who created the character. 

Fascinating stuff, even if it took a long time to get Wonder Woman. It's sort of academic in tone, but I don't find that off-putting. I'm a bit academic myself. It's one of those books that extended my TBR again, because now there are so many topics I want to read more about!

The last book I finished in June was Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor. I started it in May, then set it aside (it was on Kindle and I was feeling screenburnt) and picked it back up for airplane entertainment on my way back from Ireland. 

It's the third and final in the Nsibidi Scripts trilogy, in which we meet Sunny Nwazue when she finds out that she is a Leopard Person (Nigerian magical person) and we watch her grow into herself and her powers while building powerful friendships with three other young people. 

I really enjoyed the series, which felt positive and light and had a sense of wonder and joy in the magic. Definitely more optimistic than grimdark. Highly recommended. 

So that was my month in books. I finished the month with a good start on David Copperfield, the August pick for my classics book club, and I'm poking at a cool horror anthology I'll tell you about at the end of the month. How about you? What did you read this month? 

And here's your reminder to review what you read! Especially if it was by a less-famous writer like me. Your reviews, no matter how brief really help with the visibility of our work.  

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Leaving Teaching

I've been a teacher my whole life. Just ask my cousins and my poor little sister about the days when I forced them to play school with me in the basement, when I was five and they were still toddlers. I even had school desks and a chalkboard. I made worksheets for them and corrected their letters. 

Admittedly, I was a bossy little thing, and that probably had something to do with it, but it's also about sharing an enthusiasm for learning. What can I say? I LOVE school.  Learning and books are part of my soul. 


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I was probably only six or seven when I started telling people that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I was also going to be a witch, a dancer, a veterinarian, a reporter, a writer, and an astronaut…only some of those stuck. 

Unlike most people I know who changed their minds multiple times about what to be as they grew up, I stuck to that childhood plan of becoming a teacher. The only thing that changed was what level I thought I wanted to teach (elementary, middle, high, college). 

I went to college and earned a degree in English education with minors in Spanish, Creative Writing, and a sort of Humanities add-on they called "Honors." Other than a minor gig with my college public radio station and a brief secretarial job, all my work life was teaching or education adjacent. I tutored, served as a classroom aide, subbed, and taught in my own public school classroom, in summer programs, and on college campuses. 

The work was never easy, but it was worth it. There's such power in being there at the moment of elucidation or new comprehension or boundaries being stretched and helping people gain the tools they need to make their goals and improve their lives. I felt useful, important…like I made a difference. 

Even now, after 27 classroom years, I still believe public education is the most important idea to rise out of American democracy: the idea that ALL citizens have the right to education was and is ground-breaking and represents all that is best about my country. (we can talk another day about the forces trying to kill that from within). 


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You knew there would be a but, right? 

The realities of choosing a teaching life can be pretty grim. Nearly always, it means sacrifice in other aspects of your life. 
  • You'll always earn a low salary, especially considering the education required, the importance of the work, and the stress and danger involved. 
  • It's the only profession I know of where people who have never attempted the work themselves (or worse yet: FAILED at it) are in charge of the system, and the whole world thinks they know better than the trained professionals how to do the work. (Well, maybe mothering--that also came with a TON of irrelevant, hateful, and unwanted "feedback" from people who don't know a darn thing about it--we can talk another time about misogyny and the value of women's work). 
  • You might as well change your middle name to scapegoat, because you'll collect ALL the blame and none of the credit.
  • The stress levels are sky-high and self-care is just two words people like to say, about as useful as sending "thoughts and prayers" during a tragedy. No one means it; no one cares. 
  • It's physically dangerous. More schoolkids than police officers have been killed in our country this year by gun violence, and their teachers die trying to save them. Between school violence, stress-related health damage, unsafe and poorly maintained work environments (school buildings), and contagious illnesses, teachers die from the work every day. Your life is on the line. 
  • You'll be overworked every single day. Schools are underfunded, which leads to being understaffed, which leads to one person shouldering a work load more appropriate for three to five people. 
  • People will call you a hero, but it's lip service they pay to avoid paying you in respect, support, or dollars (you know: things that MATTER and might make a difference). It's disingenuous at best, and often far darker than that. 
  • You'll feel helpless a lot because you can see the problems and what needs to be done, but you don't have the tools, time, or resources to fix things. It'll break your heart a little bit every day…and can eventually make you shut down out of self-protection. 

It's not sustainable. The system was built on the backs of women--something we allowed at a historical moment when it was hard for a woman to get paying work of any kind at all and have been stuck with ever since. When the entire system is predicated on the exploitation of the workers, there's something wrong. 

It's even worse in states like North Carolina: "Right to Work" states they call them. Anti-union is probably a step more honest. No protection for the worker--not even the basic protection I'd enjoyed in other states like a guaranteed lunch break every day or due process if I got fired. 

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I've thought about leaving lots of times. 

  • Sometimes I stayed out of passion--to try and make change from the inside.
  • Sometimes I stayed because I'd been gaslighted so much that I'd internalized the idea that the problems were about me instead of about the work conditions.
  • Sometimes I stayed out of exhaustion--too tired to put in the footwork to find something else. 
It was like having an abusive spouse in a lot of ways. You convince yourself that it's not as bad as it is. You stay "for the kids." Fear and manipulation reign over all. 

Well, reader, I left him: that abusive spouse I called a teaching career. 

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my last group of students and walked out into the sunlight. I'm corporate Samantha now, working as a content strategist for a large financial firm. I've had my new job for all of nine days as I write this, and it's already a world of difference in terms of stress and work-life balance. 

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It's telling, I think, that my primary emotion, intermixed with the sadness of leaving the children and some of my colleagues, was relief. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

IWSG: A Day Late and a Dollar Short


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. This month's co-hosts are: SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!

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Well, technically, that was yesterday. But when you start a new job on a Tuesday because of a Monday holiday, chances are you'll be a little mixed up about what day of the week it is. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. 

So, here I am sharing my writing insecurities a day late. 

Honestly, I'm not really writing right now. I hit a wall in my novel a couple of months ago. At around the same time, I started moving hard on changing day jobs, leaving a 27 year career in teaching for a whole new adventure as a content creator for a big financial company. 

I'm trying to trust to the process. I've been through ebbs and flows in my writing life before and the words always eventually flow again, but I still get this spikes of panic from time to time, feeling like it's over, just seven years in. 

Besides the change of career and the extra pressure of trying to write a last-in-series, I also had a helluva May, including seeing one kid through college graduation, and will have a helluva June with a long anticipated trip to Ireland upcoming. 

So, here's hoping July gets me settled into my new career and schedule and back on track with the novel. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you've got on the docket this summer. Please tell me what you're up to in the comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

May Reads

 

May brought me two books I'd been looking forward to, a fun ride, and a book I'd never heard of but really enjoyed. I'm finishing the month with two more in progress, but not-quite-done, so I guess I'll tell you about those next month!

As always, the links will take you to my fuller reviews on Goodreads. 

First on the list was Better Luck Next Time by Julie Claiborne Johnson, which I read as an audiobook. My neighborhood book club friends suggested it since we were looking for something lighter for our first summer read.  I quite enjoyed it. Set on a divorce ranch in Reno in the 1930s and following a hired hand through his relationships with some of the divorcing women, the story filled in a bit of history I knew little about (divorce ranches) and charmed me thoroughly. 

You Get What You Steal by RJ Burchett and Ron L. Lahr, which I read on Kindle, is also a light read, but in a completely different vein, taking the form of a space adventure a la Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). It is in turns witty, clever, and outright silly, as well as zany and absurd. 

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding by Lydia Kang, which I read as an audiobook, was one of the books I'd been looking forward to. I'm a fan of Kang's work--she writes books that are part-mystery, part-romance, part-historical and I've enjoyed them all, so I'd had this one on my radar and pounced on it almost on publication day. It didn't disappoint, though it also doesn't displace my favorite of Kang's books, The Impossible Girl


And Stella's getting married! If you've read my blog before, you already know I'm a fan of Lucy Blue's Stella Hart Romantic Mysteries series, which follows the titular character and her fella through 1930s England and America, into Hollywood and many other interesting settings. I had this book on pre-order. It's a novella, and I tried to read slowly to make it last because I know it'll be a while till Blue releases the next one, but I couldn't help it, I gobbled it. The Princess and the Peonies (which I read on Kindle) was lighter on mystery and heavier on romance/family relationships, but if you've read the rest, you'll be happy with the culmination of the other books that comes about in this one. And if you haven't read the rest, I recommend reading them in order. They make sense as stand-alones, but there's better payoff for some moments if you let the stories build for you in order. 

How was your month in books? Find anything wonderful? Read any of mine? I'd love to hear about in the comments, and don't forget to leave reviews! They're an author's best way to raise discoverability of their work.