Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting There From Here

As I write this today, I'm on a train on my way to NYC with my husband and my youngest kiddo to see a Broadway play. A couple of firsts for me in there--going to NYC, seeing a Broadway play, and being on a train in the United States (I've been on one in Spain and England). 

I won't post this until I'm back home, of course, because I know better than to tell the Internet that I'm not at my house :-)

When I was young, I had HUGE wanderlust. I mean, I still do, but I'm also a pragmatist, and I picked up a really expensive hobby along the way (children), so it's been a while since I took a trip that wasn't with the grandparents or to visit family. When I was younger, I'd go almost anywhere if I could afford the gas or get someone else to chip in for. So many road trips! 

I took a fair number of road trips when my husband and I were dating, too, because we had a distance relationship and found it fun to choose locations halfway between his grad school and my then-home so that we could explore new places together while falling more deeply in love. 

But after we married and had a second child, we had to let a lot of that kind of thing go--not enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank. Kids, like I said, are an expensive hobby, especially if you want to spoil them like we do. 

So, it's REALLT nice to be traveling again, even if I have to keep a mask on the whole time. Traveling by train is enjoyable (so far…ask again in 6 hours). I have a table and wifi, and it's okay that I didn't pack all that compactly because there's a little room to sprawl. 

Across my life, I've taken a lot of modes of transport. And it's interesting how the method of transportation affects a journey. 

Day to day to I mostly travel in the little bubble of my own car, which allows me to treat it like a little house on wheels, loading it up with all the things that bring me small comfort, like a bottle of water, a plastic box full of tictacs, charging cables for all my devices, and tethers to keep my dogs from crawling over me while I drive. 

I have my first-ever brand new car now, and it seems very posh to me--with technology that all functions and some fancy stuff like heated seats and a back up camera. 

When I travel in my car, I'm in complete charge of the trip (well, except for things like highway traffic speed or delays). I choose the route, the departure time, the stops, what plays on the audio system, and what's allowed in the vehicle with me. What luxury!

We also have a decent public bus system in our area which I've used from time to time when my independence of movement felt less important or I didn't want to have to deal with parking when I arrived at my destination or I knew I could travel light (not much to carry). 

You never know who is getting on the bus with you…and cleanliness really varies from system to system. But the ride is short, so even if it's less than stellar, it's okay. 

I've only done the cross-country bus a couple of times, generally a charter bus full of kids traveling together--going to Disney with the band when I was a teenager, being a field-trip Mom for my kiddo on a class trip to Washington, DC, that sort of thing. Charter busses offer a little more room and luxuries like tables, and on-bus bathroom access, so they can feel fancy compared to a public bus or a school bus. I've yet to do the Greyhound experience so far. 

I've also flown in planes of various size, from a four-seater bush plane in Alaska to a grand trans-Atlantic monstrosity, though I was eighteen before I ever rode in one. My years in Alaska meant that I flew quite a bit, since I tended to keep living in places that weren't accessible by road. 

Smaller planes are noisier, but more comfortable in some ways. They tend to be cleaner, actually, maybe

because they're owned by individuals who care instead of being maintained by corporations who try to do the least they can to maximize profits. 

Once I rode in a helicopter, too, and I hated that. I guess I don't have much of a future as a rescue pilot. Noisy and airsickness inducing, at least for me.

Trains, on the other hand, are like busses in that you don't know who you're going to have to share space with and that cleanliness can really vary, but it can be lovely to just sit back and let someone else worry about getting you there.

Looking out the windows at trees turned into streams of green by speed until it feels like you're hurtling through an impressionist painting. Fields, houses, and city blocks go by in a blink. It reminds me of being little and riding in the back of the car, just staring out the windows while my parents drove me to Grandma's house. 

Traveling by train in Spain scared me a bit, but then I was young--20 or so--and my Spanish wasn't that great, and people kept scaring me about all the bad things that could happen to a young woman traveling alone. My fear probably wasn't really about the train. 

In England, when I was 30 and finishing grad school, I LOVED traveling by train. A nice lady came around and brought me tea and sold me snacks and I could do my work while we traveled, and my mum went with to be my Granny-Nanny for my elder kiddo. 

The train I'm currently on is a lot like that, except I'll have to walk over the café car if I want any food or snacks. 

I have yet to travel on a train that looks or feels like the Hogwarts Express or the Orient Express, but that's probably for the best. I'm not ready for candy frogs that hop away from me while I try to eat them, or dead people in the car behind mine. 

Exciting transportation is fine for books and movies, but I'll keep my real-life travel a little on the safe and boring side, please. 

Do subways count as trains? That's going to be another first for me on this journey: a NYC subway ride. I've only done The Underground or The Tube and the The Metro, both of which were lovely and convenient, if a little nerve-wracking the first time.

I haven't had the opportunity to travel by boat much. Some few-hour excursions when I was at the beach, a few ferries (including the 12 hour long ferry ride from mainland Alaska to Kodiak). 

I don't think I'm much interested in taking a cruise on one of those giant floating hotels, but I'd love the chance to move among islands in a sailboat or something like that. 

When I have been out on the sea, I find it impossible to feel sad--the wind in my face seems to blow all my worries out my ears, and the miles and miles and miles of open water is soothing. Not to mention the likelihood of seeing something cool a landlubber like me doesn't usually get to see like a whale or a pelican. 

We used to go river canoeing or kayaking for my dad's birthday each year when I was an older kid/teenager, and I loved that. 

The combination of slow and fast, meandering miles of water with sudden exciting bits where you had to work to keep your little stick of a boat going the direction you wanted. It made me feel strong and capable like I'd really DONE something when I got to where I was going, even if there was a guide in the other boat prepared to pull me out of the water if I did something foolish. 

So, what do you like? Planes, trains, or automobiles? Boats? Public commuter transport or individual arrangements? I'd love to hear about your travel/transportation experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

IWSG: Drawing the Line


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.

October 6 question -In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

There are definitely places I haven't gone in my writing, but I haven't drawn any conscious lines. I believe in giving each story what it needs, so I wouldn't rule anything out so far as subject matter or language. It all depends on what that story needs. 

I have, however, stopped writing a story because it was taking me down a dark road I didn't have the wherewithal to travel at that time. Thursday's Children was a dystopian fantasy I was writing a few years ago, which I finally shelved because the real world was feeling too dystopian for me just then and I needed to go somewhere else in my fiction. 

I hope to get back to it someday though, so that's more about timing than about a hard no. I'll put myself through emotional struggle for the sake of a story, but there are limits. 

image source

I have more limits as a reader, because I'm reading for my personal entertainment and enlightenment, and I'm not interested in reading anything that drags me down or fills me with fruitless anger. 

I have made exceptions, but it's hard for me to read Holocaust or Slavery literature anymore. I've read a lot of it over the years, and no matter how good a books is, it's a hard sell for me if it's set in American Slavery times or during the Holocaust. 

I also don't like to read books that include rape anymore. I've read too many where it was handled badly, with no respect or sensitivity for victims or revealing limited thinking about what might traumatize a character or motivate other characters who love them. So, if I know going in that a story features rape as part of the storyline, I'm looking for a lot of reassurance that it's handled well, and doesn't venture into glorifying violence (which is probably part of my problem with a lot of Holocaust and Slavery literature, too). 

I would *never* suggest that my personal preference means that other people shouldn't read or write those kinds of stories. You should do what you need and want. I just might not agree to travel some roads by your side. 

Part of why I write is because story is how I process the world, and it can be helpful to me to write stories about things that worry, frighten, or anger me, so I will always leave the door open to consider writing anything that tugs on my soul to be written . . .but I'll also protect me from me, when necessary and say "Well, not today, perhaps." 

How about you? Are there things you won't write or read about? Topics that are taboo or at least hard sells? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

September Reads

Generally, I try to read a book every week. Of course, it doesn't always line up that way. Sometimes a book takes me longer than a week to read, but it generally balances out to help me meet my goal of 52 books a year. 

That was definitely the case this month. I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo in early August and only finally finished that sucker last night!  

For those unfamiliar with this classic by Alexandre Dumas, it's a VERY long book. 1200-1600 pages depending on what edition you're reading, or 52+ hours as an audiobook. It's got an intricate plot and some really fun moments, but is, in my opinion, three times as long as it needed to be to tell the story effectively. 

A few months ago, I read The Three Musketeers also by Dumas, and liked it much better. Finishing Monte Cristo felt like an accomplishment though. One of those books that ought to earn me some kind of trophy, like when I read Les Miserables or War and Peace. These tomes are the reader's equivalent of running a marathon. 

Despite its length, though, Monte Cristo reads well. The prose feels modern and it's engaging, but I think it's one of those books I'm glad I read, but would never read again. Once is good. :-)

Because Monte Cristo took so long to read, I didn't get to read much else at all!

I finished only two other books, both short. 

Domino: Hotshots is trade collection of a run of comics. My coffeeshop carries comic books and I often buy one with my Friday treat coffee.  I got the first issue of this one and LOVED it, so I bought the rest of the story. I wasn't already all that familiar with Domino, but I still was drawn right into this story of unlikely allies learning to work together to defeat the big bad. Bonus points for a story that shows a young woman learning to accept and use her own power. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) makes a guest appearance and really facilitates a nice mentoring/meeting your heroes arc. 

2,000 to 10,000 is a practical writing advice book that had been recommended to me several times, when I complain that I am a slow writer and would like to be faster. I appreciated the friendly, encouraging tone of the book and am planning to try some of the advice when I begin my next book (I'm too superstitious to change tactics in the middle of the book I'm writing now). I'll report back as to whether it works for me. 

Given that I write alongside a full time job, I probably won't get to 10,000 words a day, but I would settle for moving faster than my typical 250-800 words a day and be happy about it! 

How about you? Did you read anything wonderful in September? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. And of course, if you read anything *I* wrote, then I love you even more :-) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

9 years of writing every day

I hit a new milestone in my writing life today: 9 years of writing every single day, at least 250 words. 

That may not sound like much, but the results have been nothing to sneeze at. At that slow and steady rate, I've completed several novels and seen them out into the world. 

All my life, I've both needed and resisted structure. 

I guess I'm contrarian that way. 

But whether I'd like to admit it or not, every time I've succeeded at anything important, there's been a daily practice involved. And, for me, it has to be daily. I can't do something on Mondays and Thursdays, or every other day, and get the same results. 

Even though my creative side decries fences, saying it wants to run free, all evidence shows that I'm actually a lot more creative when I have some constraints. So my entire writing life has been a push-and-pull between these conflicting ideas. I might chafe at rules (even when I'm the one who made them), but I have to begrudgingly admit that they're effective on me. 

My rule is that I have to write every single day, come hell or high water. 

I set the bar for what counts as having written relatively low: 250 words. One page. Because even on a horrible day, when I have a fever or when some crisis hits, I can write at least that much. Because even with arthritis, I can write that much by hand on the back of receipts if my technology fails or I'm trapped in traffic or other disasters strike. 

One key to making your goals is setting achievable, realistic goals. Of course, I want more than 250 words each day (and I often get them), but I can *always* get 250 words, so I'm setting myself up for success. 

When I started trying to write 250 words a day, it was difficult. It sometimes took me hours…and I struggled to get those hours. My kids were young, my dog was impatient, and I had tremendous guilt about taking that time away from other ways I could be of use to my family and the world. But, if I was going to realize my dream of being a writer at any level, I was going to have to make a commitment and stick to it. 

So I did. 

As writing 250 words a day became easier over the years (I've done it in as few as 15 minutes on a good night), I raised the bar a little, shooting for 800 words on school days and 2000 words on non-school days. But that's the stretch goal. As long as I write 250 words, the daily writing chain continues to grow. 

These days, I make 800 pretty regularly. On nights where I have to settle for *only* the 250, it feels like settling, and leaves me more determined to make more words the next day. 

The longer the chain became, the less likely it became that I would break it. After nine years, if I get to bedtime and haven't written, it's like some kind of alarm going off in the back of my brain. I won't be able to sleep until I do it. 

Plenty of nights the words are no good. Often, when I come back the next day, I start by throwing out the garbage I wrote the night before and starting fresh. But, there's the magic. You can improve on bad writing, but there has to be something *there* before you can work on making it something good. 

My writing record (I use Jamie Raintree's spreadsheet)

So, here I am nine years later, and writing every day is a given, up there with brushing my teeth. It's brain hygiene :-) So far in 2021, I've written 283,796 words (not counting the ones I'm writing right now).  That includes work on two novels, several short stories, book reviews, blog posts, and other hard-to-categorize things.  Remind me, when I'm feeling like I didn't do that much this year, will you? 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

How Do I Know When I've Succeeded?

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.

September 1 question
 - How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are  Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

I've had some great successes in my writing life so far. There are plenty of moments in my career that feel like accomplishments and achievements. It's important to remind myself of that from time to time, because success is an ever-moving target and it's easy to feel like a failure and dismiss all the successes you've already had getting this far. 

image source

So, in the spirit of remembering my successes while I strive for new ones, here are some of my highlights (the brag book!)
So, by a lot of standards, I've already been pretty successful as a writer. But I'm an ambitious gal. I want more! 

I want to make my living (enough to pay the bills) from my writing. I want to see my work translated into other languages. I'd love to see my work picked up for television or movies (and to receive the paycheck that goes with that). I'd like to finish the book I'm working on now, and the several other projects languishing on my back burners, and do all those stories and characters justice. 

So, I think that's the trick with success. 

We're always succeeding, with each teeny tiny baby step we take toward meeting our goals. But we're also always failing, because if you accomplish a goal, you tend to set a new one, further out on the horizon and start striving all over again. 

image source

Just remember that there are MANY definitions of success, and you need to define it for yourself. Don't worry about what other people are doing--they're not you, and comparing yourself to other writers and their careers can be maddening. 

How do you define success for yourself? What do you do to remind yourself of all you've already accomplished? 

Monday, August 30, 2021

August Reads

School started in mid August for me, so that really put a dent in my reading time. Still, I managed to finish a few books: 

A little romance, a little horror, some supernatural happenings, a heist or two, and a health dose of wit and humor. Really, quite a good month for reading. 

I started with Eleanor and the Egret, a graphic novel by John Layman and Sam Kieth. My local coffee shop keeps a spinner rack stocked with a variety of comics and when I buy my "hurray! It's Friday!" treat of a pastry and a fancy coffee, I also often buy myself a comic. That's how I found the first issue of Eleanor and the Egret and I loved it so much, I ordered the trade. 

I'm so glad to have run across this bizarre and good hearted story of a young woman and an egret who become art thieves together. 

Alexandra Christian and I share a publisher, and I got her new book, Dr. Watson and the Ladies' Club Coven, as soon as it released in May 2021, but I hadn't read it yet! Wanting something short that I already knew I would love, I put this book next in my e-book queue. Like her previous Shadow Council Archives novella, The Ghost and Dr. Watson, this novella features Dr. John Watson after Sherlock Holmes has died in a world where supernatural happenings don't turn out to be phosphorescent paint and humans with ill intent, but the real deal. Highly recommended for fans of Sherlock Holmes and the supernatural. 

Earlier this summer, I read Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson, a sort of annotated bibliography of works of speculative fiction by women across history. In that book, I learned that Edith Wharton, an author I knew from her literary, historical classics like The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome had also written a number of Gothic tales. So when I was offered a good deal on a collection of her Gothic tales from Chirpbooks (a discount audiobook company), I jumped on it. The Wharton Gothics included stories with real ghosts alongside atmospheric tales in which the dread came from natural instead of supernatural causes. 

Meanwhile, over on my Kindle, I pounced on the next of Lucy Blue's Stella Hart Romantic mysteries, just released in July. You might remember that I read two of them last month and enjoyed them immensely. The third one, The Baronet Unleashed, was just as much fun. This one took us into old Hollywood which was a fun setting, and kept all the witty dialogue and charming romance going. I'm already looking forward to the next in the series!

Sad that I couldn't immediately read another Stella Hart, I dug through my Kindle library for something else that might scratch that particular itch and found the first of the Miss Fisher's Mysteries series by Kerry Greenwood, Cocaine Blues. I bought it some time ago, when I was watching (and LOVING) the television series, but I hadn't read it yet. 

Like Stella Hart, Phryne Fisher is a firecracker of a woman, though she's more adventurous and less concerned about what other's might think of her than Stella. I quite enjoyed this introductory adventure with Miss Fisher and will definitely be back to read more of them. 

So that was my August in books. Right now, I'm in the middle of two books: The Count of Monte Cristo, which I'm reading for my first Monday Classics book club and quite enjoying as an audiobook and 2,000 to 10,000: How to Write Faster, Write Better, and Write More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron, a very practical book I'm hoping will help speed my process as a writer. In paper, I'm mostly reading comics right now. 

How about you? Read anything fabulous this August? I'd love to hear about in the comments! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Not a Superhero

They probably meant well. 

It seems flattering at first blush, being called a superhero. 

It implies that I'm special, someone who handles work that an ordinary human would not be able to do--jobs that require super-human strength, endurance and effort. 

But the problem with that overblown, hyperbolic, and manipulative rhetoric is that teachers aren't superheroes. We're people. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm an amazing person. I can do more with 90 non-supervisory minutes a day than some people do in entire eight hour work days. I'm a master of efficiency, and surprisingly good at improv, too, given how often the rug is pulled out from under me mid-stride. Many of the teachers I work with are as amazing as me. Some are even MORE amazing. 

But, they're not superheroes. Neither am I. I'm just a middle-aged woman who's fed up with this particular method of dodging discussion of real issues. 

I know superhero imagery is appealing, and has become a favorite metaphor for lots of overworked, underpaid public servant sorts of work. But a lot of the people using this comparison don't know superheroes. 

I, do, though. I read, watch, and write superheroes. I know them well. 

And here's something we all need to remember: 

Superheroes are fictional.

Real heroes exist. Some of them are teachers. But superheroes are imaginary. 

Only imaginary heroes can shoulder the load alone, out of the goodness of their hearts, with no thought of reward or rest. Superheroes don't need help from ordinary folk. They don't need things like reasonable workloads, safe working environments, a living wage, or even our respect. 

But if society can cast teachers as superheroes, it lets the rest of the people off the hook. We don't have to make any sacrifices for the public good, like paying higher taxes so that students can learn in buildings that aren't falling apart, or paying teachers enough money that young, passionate, talented people might be attracted to this line of work. 

When I am called a superhero, I remember James Jonah Jameson, editor of the Daily Bugle, the angry spittle-flinging man ranting about the ineptitude and untrustworthy nature of the very superheroes who continue to save his butt and the butts of all the ungrateful citizens of imaginary New York and the world beyond.

Superheroes *do* get thanked from time to time, mostly in moments of crisis like alien invasions and such. 

Real heroes get thanked under similar circumstances, like a teacher throwing herself in the literal line of fire when another problem society ignored too long walks through the front door with a gun, or dying during the pandemic because they went to work in person despite the risk "for the kids." 

Remember those five minutes at the start of the pandemic when parents all over America realized what a teacher's job actually was and expressed gratitude? 

Yeah, that was over as soon as it went on "too long." When the superheroes were revealed as all too humanly vulnerable. A grateful public turns into a resentful public very quickly when the superheroes stop saving them. 

If teachers stumble--regardless of why (or even if they don't stumble, but someone manages to spin the story just right)--those teachers we were just praising as superheroes are suddenly on the front page again, but this time as the recipients of blame, anger, and ire. We're called selfish or incompetent, accused of indoctrinating students when we try to teach them to think for themselves. All from people who have never done our jobs (and honestly probably couldn't handle the job if we got them to try it). 

So, instead of throwing empty compliments like "superhero" at teachers, how about working to increase the likelihood of success? Remember that teachers are ordinary human with ordinary limits. If the job truly requires a superhero, no wonder we're going through a giant teacher shortage. Superheroes don't exist and ordinary people trying to be superheroes can die trying. 

I don't need flattery, and I'm not accepting more than my share of the blame. Instead, I want to see a world where success is possible and the work is sustainable. It's possible . . .it's just expensive. America has gotten off cheap on education so far, and we're starting to see the truth in "you get what you pay for." 

But, for now, what I really want to say is: take that cape and shove it.