Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Disney+ Project: Part 7: later 1950s into 1960s


More Disney! (See our earlier thoughts hereherehereherehere, and here)

At last our Disney+ Project has come to the heart of the films that I remember and love best from my own childhood. All of these were still made before I was born, but there are also all films that I've seen repeatedly, on the big and small screens, on VHS, on DVD, as a child, an adult, and a mother. Lady and the Tramp is one of my earliest favorites, softie that I am for dogs, and Jungle Book was my oldest daughter's favorite--practically all she watched for nearly an entire year when she about two years old.

My youngest daughter had seen Sleeping Beauty, but none of the others.

In fact, until we started this project, she's always been kind of anti-Disney, at least the princesses. When we moved into this house, the room that was hers was lined with a Disney Princess border presumably chosen by another little girl who lived there before her. She was more of a Ninja Turtles girl at the time, and she always hated that border. Although she did have a dress up dress or two that came from the Disney collection, she just never got into the princess culture. She's a rebel that way--liking to find things to like that people are surprised by. (Does that mean she's a hipster?)

Makes her a fun viewing companion for sure.

So, our short-takes on these films:

Lady and the Tramp: Still charming! The spaghetti scene is totally adorable and you knew Tramp was a goner when he nosed that meatball over to Lady. I still cried when Trusty was seemingly dead--even though I knew he wasn't really.

My daughter overall liked it, too, enjoying the neighbor dogs and getting angry at the Auntie who muzzled and chained Lady because she was a cat person and didn't get it. She was also completely charmed by the spaghetti scene.

The Siamese cats are pretty horrifying in the same way the crows from Dumbo were--full of outmoded racial stereotypes. In a movie where all the other animals talk perfectly well, they speak a pigeon English, that coupled with the faux Asian music is truly cringe-worthy.

The 50s definitely left their stamp on the gender dynamics at play. The female is there to tame and civilize the male who will settle down now that he's had time to "sow his wild oats." (insert gagging sound). At least they both do seem genuinely happy at the end, leaving you with a feeling that theirs is a romance that will last. I wonder what Tramp's midlife crisis will look like?



Sleeping Beauty didn't hold up as well story-wise.

Animation-wise, it was really interesting--maybe the most interesting in that regard of this batch of movies. There's a scene where Aurora is laid out after touching the spindle where the blanket and draperies in the room look so real you can touch them, even though the characters themselves don't look any more realistic than past animated humans. "Illuminated manuscript" touches throughout make it a stunner visually (Aurora's hair in some scenes!), and Maleficent in dragon form is still scary!

But there's a lot of too-stupid-to-live going on. Neither my daughter nor I like stories where, in the name of protecting some young female character, we keep her ignorant and isolated. Well, duh! If you don't teach her anything about the dangers surrounding her, of course she's going to fall for it!

Rather than destroying all spinning wheels, how about we teach her about them and directly tell her that it's a bad idea for her to touch one?

Instead of sending her off into the woods to live with three sweet, but incompetent fairies, how about her parents get to raise the child they wanted so very badly? My daughter in particular found that ridiculous. They never actually get to be parents--their child is sent away as an infant and comes back a bride.

If we know her 16th birthday was the danger day, then why on earth was she alone for even a single second on that day? She's a princess, for goodness sake! There are any number of servants, guards, knights, and other kinds of workers that might have intervened.

On the other hand, it was nice that she and her prince met without knowing who each other was and fell in love. Very romantic in that "meant to be" kind of way so appealing in fairy tales.

The three fairies were cute as heck and sometimes very clever (when they weren't being too stupid to live--like going from no magic to spewing magic lights out the chimney while they argued about dress color).

Maleficent is magnificent. (I still haven't watched the live action movies, BTW, because I like Maleficent being evil without explanation; I don't have any desire to learn and empathize with causes or to see her redeemed--sometimes it's good to just have a straight-up, old-fashioned villainous villain!) Eleanor Audley's voicework was stunning--and the kiddo noticed it was the same actress who'd done Cinderella's stepmother. Good ear!

After Sleeping Beauty, it was back to the dogs with 101 Dalmatians.

This might be our favorite of the group, at least for story. From Pongo's match-making beginning to the cross country adventure to save the puppies pulling in an entire network of canines, we were absolutely charmed. How nice that the dogs helped Roger and Anita find one another. The wet handkerchief laughter is such a "meet cute" memory.

And Cruella de Vil? Only the best villain of all time. She totally deserved her song!

This was the first time the credits were interesting. That animated Dalmatian spot grooving to a hot jazz sound? And the best fiction in the whole thing? That after selling one hit song, Roger can afford a country house to keep 101 dogs in!

The Sword and the Stone was our least favorite of the set. My daughter rated it "B for boring." Wart's scratchy voice irritated her, too, and she thought Merlin was worse than useless--actively harmful to the boy he was supposedly teaching.

I liked it more than my daughter did, but I see her point about Merlin. Given that he's supposed to be mentoring the king who became the heart of England, the tutoring lessons seem to only play for comedy with no build-up of any kind of insight or new skill that might help a boy become a powerful leader. I guess he learned that owls are more reliable than old men if you get in a bind? I think he was supposed to learning to use his mind instead of fighting with brawn, but really he just got in trouble and was rescued.

Wart himself suffers from a very sanitized version of poverty and servitude, where despite being worked very hard and mistreated by his foster family, he still buys into their life completely and never becomes angry or resentful about his lot in life. A perfect "grateful orphan" I suppose--the kind one finds in fiction only, because in real life traumatic experiences affect us and a child faced with an entire room full of dishes to scrub doesn't greet them with peaceful acceptance.

There were lots of fun and funny moments, but in the end, it felt like a string of moments and not a cohesive story with character arcs.

It's hard for me to judge The Jungle Book with any kind of objectivity because it was a favorite of mine twice--once in my own childhood and again with my older daughter, who was absolutely obsessed with it as a toddler.

Sometimes, when I am walking around I catch myself humming the tune to the "fetching the water song" at the very end.

My daughter agrees that this was miles above any Disney film so far for the music. Long before we began this project, she was already in love with Louis Prima's "I Wanna Be Like You" which is right up her musical alley. "The Bare Necessities" is irresistible and Phil Harris is one of my favorite voice actors ever. So looking forward to getting to Thomas O'Malley and Little John in upcoming films!

"We're Your Friends" with the vultures is full of lines with double meaning and dark humor that are absolutely delightful.

The movie is a visual treat, too, combining realistic animal movement and gorgeous scenery with slapstick comedy and anthropomorphism at its comedic best.

I guess I still love it . . .though that little girl at the end is awfully grown up for age 9 or so, and enticing the boy back human village life with a pair of long eyelashes had the girl and I rolling our eyes. Hmmmm…looking forward to seeing what she think of Tarzan when we get there. Another man's world vs. animal world with a character who crosses between.

Revisiting all these old movies and experiencing them with my daughter--a total 21st century girl--is an education and a delight. Looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

IWSG: Writing From Art


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.

The awesome co-hosts for the February 5 posting of the IWSG are Lee Lowery, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Jennifer Hawes, Cathrina Constantine, and Tyrean Martinson! I hope you'll check out their blogs as well as some of the others on this blog hop after you see what I have to say.

February 5 question - Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?
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I write from photo/art prompts with some frequency. Each October, I play along with Bliss Morgan's Nightmare Fuel project, writing a daily piece of flash fiction based on a creepy art piece. I've also really enjoyed Andy Brokaw's Wording Wednesday, a challenge she holds every couple of months.

Mostly, I use prompt writing just to have fun. Since I changed my hobby of writing into a side-hustle, I've had to take it more seriously, so there's a balance to be struck between fun and productive work and I use prompt writing for fun.

That's not to say that I never go back and finish that work, honing those pieces into something more complete.

In fact, a piece of fiction that started as a picture prompt is about to be included in a horror anthology later this year ("The Cleaning Lady" in Stories We Tell After Midnight from Crone Girls Press).

I've had a couple of others grow into something that has or might yet be published.

But that's not the point for me--the point is reconnecting with the playfulness. Working from a prompt makes it feel like a game again, something I'm playing at because it's fun, and it's important to hold onto that joy.

Looking forward to hearing other stories from my #IWSG colleagues today. Thanks for coming by!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Disney+ Project: Part 6, the early 1950s

More Disney! (See our earlier thoughts here, here, here, here, and here)

To put these in perspective for my daughter, I told her that these films were new when Grandma and Grandpa were little. I'm glad we're finally back in feature length films. The shorter pieces collected in anthologies were not my jam in the same way. Most of this next slew of films I actually remember pretty well from childhood.



Even though I'm not as old as these films, they all had theatrical re-releases and at one point or another, I (or my parents) have owned them on VHS or DVD. So, since our last report, the littlest Bryant and I have watched: Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953).

My daughter thought she would like Alice, but was lukewarm on Cinderella and Peter going in. I remembered Cinderella the most fondly.

Surprisingly, Cinderella was the one we both liked best. The character gets a bad rap in some ways, being lumped in with other, more passive princesses waiting for their prince to come and rescue them.

But this version of Cinderella is a hard-working girl. In fact, you get the feeling that, even had her father lived and protected her from the harsh treatment of her stepmother, she would still have been an industrious young woman, using her positive energy to make a difference in the world.

She doesn't waste time bemoaning her lot. It's the mice who complain on her behalf (in song, of course).

Even when she expresses a wish to go to the ball, it's not about changing her lot in life permanently. As my daughter said, "She didn't ask for a prince. She just wanted to put on a pretty dress and go to a party."

The part of the story that's always been hard for me to believe is that a beloved little rich girl who is demoted to housemaid in her own home harbors no resentment or ill will towards those who abuse her. That impossibly kind "heart of gold" element was helped a little in this version.

After the stepsisters tear up the gown the mice made for our heroine, she weeps in the garden and you learn that her positive attitude has been a conscious choice, one that she's now having trouble maintaining in the face of another disappointment. That's a very real set of emotions and won the respect of two Bryant women watching. We hope the prince proves worthy of her.

Alice, on the other hand, was not very interesting at all. The cartoon still charms, with its presentation of a cast of madcap characters and crazy scenarios, but Alice herself?

Meh.

She's petulant and mostly passive, just pushed along by the world she falls into. My daughter liked this one better than I did, but her focus was on the animation--things like the playing card soldiers, the disappearing cheshire cat, and the size changing experiments.

Honestly, Alice herself is rather incidental to the story.

Still Alice was a model of fortitude and feminism in comparison with all the characters in Peter Pan. Oh my! The racism and sexism was rampant.

The over-riding view of girls in the story is that they're here to serve boys. They are petty and jealous, squabbling with each other over the affections of boys because that's all that apparently matters--not what the girls themselves might want, but who can win the attention of the best boy.

Peter himself, well, he's a jerk.

I don't understand why anyone would want him, and my daughter felt the same way. He's a show-off, and only cares about garnering attention for himself. Even his Lost Boys only seem to hold value for him as an audience for his exploits. The kiddo does say that there are several boys with this kind of self-aggrandizing attitude in seventh grade, and she hopes that they grow out of it. I hope so too! She'll have to work with those people someday.

The element that had her gasping with dismay though was the part with Tiger Lily and the "Indians." From pigeon-English to stereotypes of dress, it was horrifyingly racist.

I guess I can be glad that these kinds of depictions are shocking to younger audiences.

That shows some progress.

When my parents were children, kids commonly played "Cowboys and Indians" using these types of characters thoughtlessly. 

Even when I was a kid, in the 1970s, we didn't think anything of calling someone an "Indian Giver" or by the use of actual contemporary people as mascots for athletic teams.

The lyrics to "What Makes the Red Man Red" combine racism and sexism into one ugly little tune. Yikes! I'm kind of surprised that Disney airs this one. I wonder why Peter Pan doesn't get the censure that Song of the South does?

About the only saving grace to the film was the Darling family. The children's affection for one another, the push and pull of the wife and husband, the dog who served as a nanny. All lovely and charming. We liked when dad decided that Wendy didn't have to grow up so fast after all. It was nice that he got to end the story remembering the fun and magic of his own childhood, something he had apparently not held onto as he grew up.

Lady and the Tramp is up next! Looking forward to that one. I hope it's still as charming and romantic as I remember it!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Disney+ Project: Part 5, the later 40s

If you've been reading these posts, you already know my husband got us a subscription to Disney Plus, so my daughter (age 12) and I have taken on a project of watching all the Disney animated features in order. I'm writing about the movies and our reactions here on the blog.

Snow White and Pinocchio, late 1930s
Fantasia, 1940
The Reluctant Dragon, 1941
The early 1940s: Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, and The Three Caballeros

Since the United States was kind of busy in the 1940s, thanks to WWII, Disney produced mostly collections of short animations during this period. Even though the release dates are largely post-war, the artists must have working on these pieces during some tumultuous times, and the Disney studio did a lot of government propaganda work, leaving less time to develop popular features.

The compilation/anthology movies don't appeal to me as much as the more extended movies that tell a single story. My daughter doesn't mind though. She's a bigger animation fan in general, though, seeking out animators on YouTube in her spare time and drawing still images in the various styles she sees there. So, she enjoyed these more than I did.

The next one on our list was Make Mine Music (1946), and I was disappointed to find that it wasn't on Disney Plus. I know I've seen it because when I read the description on wikipedia, I remembered Casey at the Bat, Peter and the Wolf, Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet, and that one with the singing whale. I'll check back for it in the future. Maybe there's a distribution rights problem or something.

On the other hand, I wasn't at all surprised that Song of the South (1946) wasn't there. That one already felt weird in terms of race depictions in the 1970s when I was a little kid. It would probably be even stranger now.

I told my daughter about it, and we both wished we could have watched it for the animation study, to see if the integration of live action and animation had gotten any better after The Three Cabelleros in 1944. I remember thinking it was pretty amazing at the time, but then I wasn't the animation connoisseur she is.

Having learned about Uncle Remus stories, though, my daughter had an a-ha moment about the reference her dad and I sometimes make to being thrown in the Briar Patch, so hey--educational moment :-)

So, we jumped to 1947 with Fun and Fancy Free, which features several famous names of the era alongside two cartoons: Bongo and Mickey and the Beanstalk. I didn't remember Bongo at all, though I remembered Mickey and the Beanstalk quite well. The retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk has been released in other forms and shown on television over the years, though, so it's entirely possibly that I really never had seen Bongo.

My daughter and I both enjoyed Dinah Shore's reading and singing of Bongo, but were more than a little perplexed at the whole "Bears Say I Love You With a Slap" thing. My daughter's reaction was pretty much: Wait? What? Still, it was a fairly charming story and we enjoyed it, even if we didn't find anything especially memorable about it. We both enjoyed seeing Jiminy Cricket again. He's a charmer, that little bug.


Edgar Bergen introduced Mickey with his dummies Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Now I've never found Bergen's schtick funny, but I tried to hold my tongue and let my girl decide what she thought uninfluenced by me. I guess she's my kiddo, after all, because she also wished they would just hush up with the creepy dolls and staged conversations and get back to the story.

Mickey and the Beanstalk was a charming telling and does a good job integrating the normal personalities of Mickey, Donald, and Goofy into the familiar fairy tale. The giant was such a goofball that he wasn't scary at all. We were happy to see him again at the end, pulling the roof off Edgar Bergen's house and then stomping off into the city to put on the Brown Derby restaurant as a hat.

Next we made it to 1948 and Melody Time, which was a string of music-centered stories: Once Upon a Wintertime, Bumble Boogie, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot, Trees, Blame it on the Samba, and Pecos Bill. I remembered Johnny Appleseed and Little Toot from childhood, and was happy to recognize The Andrews Sisters and Roy Rogers among the narrators.

My daughter knew Johnny Appleseed, too--having had a babysitter in her preschool years who showed that cartoon alongside lots of Veggie Tales to the children when she needed a break. And I'm proud to say that she knows who The Andrews Sisters were, too. She's a fan of an electro-swing rendition of Mr. Sandman, which sent her down a historical music rabbit hole, so she's now probably the only twelve-year-fan of a musical group her great-grandmother used to love.



Among the other stories, we were both mostly just annoyed by Once Upon a Wintertime and couldn't figure out why in the world Jenny and Joe were all cuddly at the end when their disastrous ice skating date should have taught them both that they are ill suited for one another. The music didn't really go with the animation either. It looked slapstick and sounded melodramatically romantic.

Bumble Boogie was fun visually and would have been at home in Fantasia, but it's good that it's short.

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed was way more overtly Christian than I remembered, but still managed to be pretty charming, even though both of us don't usually enjoy art that proselytizes too much. Johnny was just so earnest and grateful for his blessings that it's hard not to like him.

 Little Toot definitely benefitted from the Andrews Sisters' talents, because the story is a bit of a muddle. My daughter that Little Toot's parents were the ones were needed a talking to, maybe something about age-appropriate expectations and child supervision.

Trees was really pretty to look at onscreen. According to wikipedia, "To preserve the look of the original story sketches, layout artist Ken O'Connor came up with the idea of using frosted cels and render the pastel images right onto the cel. Before being photographed each cel was laminated in clear lacquer to protect the pastel. The result was a look that had never been seen in animation before." It truly was striking visually! We oohed and ahed over that one, but again we were glad it was short because the poem wasn't very interesting and there wasn't really a narrative hook.

Blame it on the Samba was a repeat of The Three Caballeros in that Donald Duck and José Carioca are panting over beautiful human women again. Eye-rolling 1940s sexism. Dullest bit in the film. Who knew Donald was such a horn-dog?

Pecos Bill was the silliest piece. A tall tale story you might hear alongside something about Paul Bunyan or John Henry, it told the story of a cowboy who had been raised by coyotes, wrestled cyclones, and fell in love with a cowgirl named Slue Foot Sue.

We giggled quite a bit during this section, but its silly-ness really brought out how all over the map the tones were in this collection. It was very much a kitchen-sink production, probably having something for everyone since we threw everything in willy-nilly.

Next should have been So Dear to My Heart, 1948, but it too was unavailable on Disney +.  So onward we went to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, 1949. Neither of us was sure why these two stories were paired for release. There's really nothing to connect them, though both are fun in their own way. I remembered both stories with some fondness from childhood. My daughter had never seen either one.

Mr. Toad is about, well, Mr. Toad. He's a madcap frog with an enthusiasm for speed and adventure that gets him into trouble. The portrayal of Toad's mania with the hypno-spinning-wheel eyes was entertaining, as was the whole frog running around the countryside dressed as a country gentleman from the turn of the century.

It was a light and entertaining story and we both enjoyed it, but thought it rather forgettable. (The introduction by Basil Rathbone delighted me, but unfortunately my daughter doesn't know who he is, so we'll have to try some old school Sherlock Holmes on her soon.)

Ichabod was a delight. Bing Crosby was perfect and we were both delighted by the portrayal of Ichabod (already a familiar character to both of us) as socially graceful despite his gangly appearance. The scene where he's dancing with Katrina at the party and stuffing himself with pie without ever missing a step and Brom is trying and failing to switch partners so he can squire Katrina around the dance floor? Priceless. So many moving parts in that scene and all so deftly handled. Brilliant.

Talking afterwards we wondered if Katrina's ploy worked and made Brom work harder to win her heart or not. We hoped that Ichabod found a warm hearth and good food in another town. He was a man of simple enough wants after all.

We're both glad to be done with the anthology pieces now. Check back soon to see what we think of Disney in the 1950s. I'm anxious to see how Cinderella holds up!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

IWSG: Setting Sail on the Literary Seas



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.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 8 posting of the IWSG are T. Powell Coltrin, Victoria Marie Lees, Stephen Tremp, Renee Scattergood, and J.H. Moncrieff! I hope you'll check out their blogs as well as some of the others on this blog hop after you see what I have to say. 

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January 8 question - What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just "know" suddenly you wanted to write?

My first inklings (ha!) that I might be a writer came very early.

First grade. I had this teacher (so many great stories start that way, don't they?): Mrs. Asdorf or maybe Alsdorf.  I remember thinking she had a weird name.

To my memory, she was very short. She had to be because she didn't seem tall to me, and I was in first grade! 

I also thought she was very old.  I have no idea if she actually was or not. This is a kid's eye view after all.

When I try to picture her, her face is all mixed up with my great-grandmother's face, in the way that many childhood memories are mixed up and distorted. She might have been all of thirty. She might have been eighty. I don't know.

Mrs. Asdorf loved poetry. We had this project where we copied poems neatly (we were still learning the mechanics of writing after all), and made illustrations for them, then collected them in a folder made out of wallpaper scraps.  My first blank book.

I loved this project.  I'd always been drawn to poetry. Before I even went to school, I memorized my Mother Goose book and, thanks to my mother and all our hours in the library, had a love for Amelia Bedelia and Dr. Suess, children's books in love with the sounds of words.

I loved writing. I liked the feel of the pen or pencil on paper. I'd get this urge I thought of as "itchy fingers" and have to draw or copy something. (It still happens, though now, mostly I type).

At some point, Mrs. Asdorf came by to check my work. I'd picked poems by William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson and was dutifully copying them down.

I don't remember exactly what she said, but I walked away with the realization that I could write poems myself, that it was okay to make up your own! So, I did.  I wrote a little set of rhymed couplets about Beauty (capital B Beauty; very high-concept). Here are the ones I remember:

Beauty is in the great, tall trees
Bending over in the breeze
Beauty is in each butterfly
That just happens to flutter by

It ended with one about "smile" and "while" that I can't remember fully anymore.  It was very well received and I began my first career as an occasional poet.   I wrote poems for birthdays, holidays, seasons, thank yous.  They were published in little school newsletters and once or twice in the teeny tiny local newspaper. I read them over the announcements for the school to hear.

After that I always wrote. I kept journals. I wrote poems and stories. After reading Little Women, I thought I could be Jo March and earn money to help my family with my stories. Of course, no one pays children for their stories, but I did get lots of positive attention. In high school, I even wrote most of a novel about a tennis team romance.

By college though, I had been doused with enough realism to know that I needed to do something else for a living. So, I trained to become a teacher. 

English of course. And Spanish. 

I still wrote. I just didn't think that writing was something I could do for a living. Especially not since my form of choice was poetry. I figured I could still be a writer, on the side.

Then I was off into the world, making my way as a teacher, learning what it meant to be an adult, finding new people, places and things to love.

As many women do, I hit a lull in my public writing when I became a mother.  My first daughter was absorbing and most of the writing I did at that time was about her.  Teaching and mothering were my top priorities, so writing took a decided backseat, though I still managed to create a few essays and poems and even see them published. Life went on, as it does. I divorced, moved, lost people I loved, moved, remarried, moved, became a mother again, moved.

I wrote my way through all of it.   The writing was all very personal.  It was how I worked my way through whatever I was working my way through.  How I made decisions. How I cherished things. How I grieved and how I celebrated. It was how I found out what I was feeling and thinking. The thoughts and feelings just whirled around unformed until I recorded them, sorting them out, pinning them down and analyzing them.

Then, after the birth of my second child, when I was going through postpartum depression, my husband encouraged me to reconnect to my writing and I joined a group of writers.  All of them were writing novels, so I decided to give it a try.  It was hard, writing something so long.  In fact, it took me four years (not counting the abandoned first novel) to write the first draft of my first novel, another year after that to shape it into something readable, a few months after that to make it good.

That book is not published, though I'm hoping it will be someday. Currently, it's shelved for revisions. I've learned a lot since then, so I know I can make it better and then I'll shop it around again.

But I've written more since then. Three of them have been published. You can get them at bookstores and everything! I'm writing another one right now.


I am a woman who writes every day, who sees the world through the filter of her art, who doesn't know what she thinks until she processes it in words. I'm making a writing life, and my work is published and read. I'm working towards someday earning my living from my words alone.

So, thanks, Mrs. Alsdorf. In a way, this was all your idea. I'm so lucky to have had you as my teacher. Your nudge took :-)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2019: Most Popular Blog Posts

I blog mostly as a form of reflection, a kind of public journaling, where I record the details of my writing life and can look back on my journey.

That said, I still love it when other people read what I write. What writer doesn't?

Some of my blogging friends, like the fabulous Lidy Wilks have been doing recaps of their year in blogging, and I quite like the idea, so I'm stealing it. And hey John Scalzi does it, too. So, here's a quick recap of my most popular posts of 2019.

#10, with 138 views: Favorite Fierce Fictional Mothers, my Mother's Day post.


#9, Flash fiction written as part of Andy Brokaw's Wording Wednesday Prompt Challenge made up three of my most popular entires. "Left Turn at Alburquerque" (142 views)  #8 "Mornings With Helene" (147 views) and #2 "A Happy Life" (362 views). I'm happy to see my flash fiction attracting some attention. I mostly write it to play, to have the chance to remember what it was like when writing was something I did only because it was fun. 


#7 (158 views) and #4 (236 views) were posts for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, a blog hop I participate in each month. I'm always so glad I did. They are such a kind and supportive group and there's such relief in finding out you're not alone in whatever weirdness your writing life has become. "Taking Myself By Surprise" is about the joys of being a pantser. "When Part-Time is Not Enough" is about my frustrations of having opportunities to fill a full-time writing life, but not the matching income or time. 


#6 (182 views) was my theme reveal for the A to Z blogging challenge. I always love participating in this challenge and last year I wrote letters to favorite dead authors. It was a great excuse to revisit beloved books and authors and express my gratitude for the place those works have in my heart. 


#5 (221 views) was my summary post about the September Submission Challenge, in which author Ray Daley challenged his friends in the writing community submit one piece of writing every day for a month. He's doing another one right now, BTW, in January 2020. I'm playing along again. Wish me luck!



#3 (242 views) was a guest post by friend and colleague Diane Burton, who was celebrating a new release. I know I appreciate the signal boost writer friends have given me, so I try to return the favor when I can. 



And (drumroll please)…………………
#1 (421 views) Beginnings and Endings: My Curiosity Quills Story, the story of the end of my first publishing relationship. Don't worry, though. It has a happy ending. I was quickly signed by another publisher who is doing well by me and my work so far!


All in all, I wrote 87 blog posts in 2019, which means I exceeded my once-a-week goal. I'm finding that I really enjoy the camaraderie of participating in blog hops and challenges, so you can expect to see more of that from me in the future. 

Thanks so much to everyone who follows and reads my rants and meanders. I'm so happy to have your company on this journey! Let's hope 2020 is one exciting ride. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019: My Year in Words

It's that time of year again, when a flip of the calendar has me looking back at what Ive accomplished and what I want to accomplish before it happens again. For me, that's my cue to examine my writing life. So, here's what my life of words was like in 2019:

I'm fighting feeling disappointed in myself because I didn't get a book-length work out there this year. I know I worked hard, and I know that on my schedule alongside a full time day job and an active family, it takes me roughly a year to draft a novel. But since I started my career with a book a year trajectory and haven't released another since 2017, I feel that as a failure.

I let go a novel I'd worked on for most of 2018, finding I wasn't in a good mental place to write dystopian fiction and started a gothic novel which I'm still loving, but don't yet have a complete draft of. So, no new book-length releases for Samantha for the second year in a row. Sadness.

So, it's a good idea to look back at what I *did* accomplish and remind myself that I made real progress even when it doesn't feel like enough to me. I know myself. It never feels like enough. I'm still learning to be reasonable with myself.

Publications are the most public measure of success. So, let's start there. The big thing to happen this year was the re-release of my novels. My first publisher fell apart and I jumped ship. After regaining my rights, I signed with Falstaff Books out of Charlotte, North Carolina and couldn't be more pleased with the treatment of my book babies.

They got new covers emphasizing their heroic elements and the publishing house has given me great support in finding a wider audience. There's an audiobook in progress and I'm now contracted for three more novellas and two more novels in the series. So exciting! My audience and sales are slowly building, too.


It wasn't my strongest year ever for other publications, but I did have short stories included in two anthologies, and two magazines. 

One of these (Christmas Lites) was a charity project supporting the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "Margaret Lets Her Self Go" my cosmic horror story found a home in Hinnom Magazine (for a nicer-than-average paycheck, too!), "The Gleewoman of Preservation" my clown-themed horror story was included in Deadman Humour, and my Rod Serling style weird tale "Breakfast at the Twilight Café" found a home with Tell-Tale Press. All of these were new venues for me, working with new people, which is a positive for building a sustainable career. 


For those interested in stats, I submitted my work 72 times in 2019, a pretty good increase from 2018 when I only submitted 44 times and so much better than 2017 when I only submitted 6 times. I keep telling myself that I need to devote more time to submitting my shorter work. No one is going to publish my stories if I don't give it to them to look at, after all. But it's always a time-balance struggle to fit in time for promotion of already published work, creation of new work, and playing the submission game. 

In September, I participated in a submission challenge for which I submitted a piece of writing every day. So far, only one of those has led to publication, but I had several kind and personal rejections and several pieces are still under consideration, so I consider it worth my while. I'm planning to play along again in January as a way to kick start my year. 

My biggest disappointment was my failure to get my collection of short stories out in October. Self-
publishing is an expensive venture, at least the way I'm trying to do it. I want to feel good about my product!

So, I hired outside editing, hired a cover made, bought formatting software and taught it to myself. I got really close, but in the end there were two many life expenses and time crunches in October, so I didn't release the book, not wanting to release one that wasn't ready and unable to spare the dollars to buy my ISBNs.

Since it's a book with an obvious Halloween connection, I'm planning to hold off, taking my time to make sure its as near-perfect as I can and try again in October 2020. So look for Stories from Shadow Hill in October 2020!

Promotion: I devoted a fair amount of time to promotional activities. I attended conventions, gave readings, did signings, gave interviews, and in general tried to help my books find a broader audience out there in the world.

I went back to some events I'd enjoyed participating in before: Illogicon, Free Comic Book Day at Atomic Empire, teaching for CCCC Pittsboro, ConCarolinas, hosting the First Monday Classics Book Club, ConGregate, The Hillsborough Local Authors Book Fair, and Conapalooza. I did a couple of new things, taking a vendors table on Con-Tagion, participating in the first ever Hillsborough Comics Fair, reading as part of the Books and Beer series, and holding a signing at Dog-Eared Books.

I really enjoy the opportunity to do things like this. It makes the whole "I'm a writer now!" thing feel *really real*. Spending time with other creatives is educational and inspiring, and well, just plain fun. No one understands a writing life like someone else living one, after all.

That said, I'm looking at all events with a ROI eye in 2020. So far, writing has been a losing proposition, at least in the dollars and cents accounting. I spend more than I make--on travel, lodging, food, swag, copies of my books, etc.

So, I'm looking for more events that cost me less to participate in or where I can be more assured of making some sales while I'm there. That makes me feel rather mercenary, but it is a business, and since teaching in North Carolina is unlikely to afford me a comfortable retirement, I'll need other income streams in my old age :-)

So far, I'm only committed to two conventions in 2020, both new to me: MarsCon and JordanCon. I've applied to two others at which I would be a return guest, but haven't heard back yet. JordanCon will be more expensive to participate in, since it's further away, but it's a city I haven't visited yet and will introduce me to readers I haven't met yet. So, I'm hopeful.

Productivity: Even though I didn't finish a novel in 2019, I wrote a heck of a lot. I have a daily writing chain of more than six years now! 2,286 days recorded on the Magic Spreadsheet as of the last day of 2019 with a grand total of 2,848,826 over those years.

I track my work on Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker, too, a spreadsheet tool I love for its versatility in letting you set and track goals in up to ten projects at a time. (She sells this amazing tool for $10, BTW. Quite a bargain! And she doesn't pay me or even ask me to say so; that's just my opinion.)

My numbers there shows that I wrote 463,737 words this year and revised 202,443. Not too shabby!

I also kept my promise to myself and blogged at least once a week. In fact, I overdid it. 88 posts this year, as well as posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You might think that social media wouldn't count as productivity, but it's an important part of a writing life in the twenty-first century and I definitely count work spent on providing content on those platforms as part of my job.

My focus for 2020 is to be more disciplined about where my writing time goes. I have a March deadline for a novella and a novel to turn in on January 1, 2021…and I really want to finish my Gothic romance and my dystopian, and get back to several other backburnered projects, while building my publications for short stories, too. I know, I don't ask for much, right?

There's a reason my blog is called Balancing Act. Here's hoping 2020 comes with perfect vision!



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