Monday, January 30, 2023

Who I Stalk and Why: An Open Book Blog Post

image of a hillside under a cloudy sky with a tree at the top with the logo for the Open Book Blog Hop.

 

Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

Are there other writers you ‘stalk’ on social media? Who and why?

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In this day and age, I'm not sure 'stalk' is really a word that applies in these situations. I'm not some creeper lurking in bushes, after all, but a person who clicked "follow" on an open forum to see what someone is posting publicly. But semantics aside, I definitely do take an interest in what other writers are doing!

I follow a lot of writers. I especially enjoy following writers and creators I have a personal connections with. This makes up the bulk of my social media feeds. I get invested in the work and careers of people I've met and interacted with way more than complete strangers.  Here's a few you might also enjoy: 

Natania Barron is SO into clothing. Her thread talks are really interesting, even if historical clothing is not one of your core obsessions. She also posts with great openness about her writing life, her struggles with ADHD, and life in general. She's such a genuine and authentic person, even while on Twitter, and I am always glad I've read what she posts. (we share a publisher for some of our work)


Nicole Givens Kurtz is the mastermind behind Mocha Memoirs Press. I was a fan of Nicole-the-person and Nicole-the-writer (her horror gives me long-lasting shivers), even before she published one of my stories in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. Of course, I only like her better now. She's a great source for diverse speculative fiction. I learn something every time I talk to Nicole, and there's no one better to be on a panel with at a convention. 


Rachel Brune is the head honcho over at Crone Girls Press, known for feminist horror. She writes a variety of urban fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction and put together one of the best anthologies I've read in a long time: A Woman Unbecoming (and I don't just say that because I'm in it). And she does all of this while also raising kids and doing crazy things like earning another degree at the same time.  


And if you're looking for literary and writing-life related humor, you can't do better than Tara Wine-Queen Writes. She's got a go-getter, positive energy I find irresistible. Plus, she can be relied upon to reference Pride and Prejudice frequently. 



I follow my fair share of celebrity authors, too. But they don't need me to tout them--they're already super-famous. How about you? Who do you follow and why? I'd love some new suggestions to reinvigorate my social media life. 

And, hey, if you want to stalk me a little in that not-so-creepy way, you can find me in lots of places!


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Monday, January 23, 2023

Easter Eggs and Inside Jokes: An Open Book blog post

Image of a white bowl full of pastel jelly beans and the slogan: Open Book Blog Hop

Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.
Do you include any inside jokes or Easter eggs in your work?
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Character naming is one of the ways that I celebrate my family, writing friends, and other supporters. Throughout the Menopausal Superhero series, you'll run across names of people near and dear to me. 

two images side by side. on the left is a large reptilian woman flexing her muscles. on the right is a dog.
Patricia O'Neill and the dog she was named after: O'Neill

For years, my most consistent writing support was my dog, O'Neill. He kept me company as I wrote, and was great at reminding me of the importance of getting up and moving around from time to time. So, I named Patricia "The Lizard Woman of Springfield" O'Neill after him. The fourth book, the one I was writing when he passed away, is dedicated to him. 

Most of my critique partners have popped up in the series in one way or another as well, as have some of my writer-friends, and even one of my children. Using their names is a little thank-you for all the support they've offered me. 
Robin as portrayed by Burt Ward in the 1960s Batman live action TV show. He's posed with his arms folded over his chest.
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On a less personal level, I also use names that reference celebrities and characters from other works. Suzie Grayson, for example, Patricia's assistant in book 1: Going Through the Change, was named after Dick Grayson. You might also know him as Robin. Suzie knows a thing or two about being a sidekick. You can read a short story featuring her ("Underestimated") in Through Thick and Thin, a collection of Menopausal Superheroes short stories, or in Agents of Change, which also includes the novellas. 

And Sally Ann Rogers got that last name because of Steve Rogers, or Captain America. Like Steve, Sally Ann is the moral compass of her group of heroes. A straight shooter, with amazing fighting skills. 

So, yes, besides all the accidental confessions I've probably made through my fiction, I've also planted references to my friends and characters I've loved. Do you plant hints like that in your work? Do you enjoy finding them as a reader? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Monday, January 16, 2023

If Only I had Known: An Open Book blog hop post



Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

What is one thing that you wish you’d known about writing before you started?

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It's been quite a journey. Writing has been a part of my life since before I could write. I was always telling stories: out loud to my mother, in drawings, to my toys, in my own head. Once I learned to write, it was my solace, my best form of expression, my way of understanding the world. 

a quote on a golden background with an old fashioned pen in the corner. The quote reads: The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. Gustave Flaubert.
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None of that has changed, but along the way, writing also became a vocation. I wanted readers, an audience, and maybe some recognition and money for my work. 

So, since I can't remember any "before you started," I'll try to tackle this as "before you started trying to do this professionally." 

As I look back on it, I wish I'd understood sooner that I'd have to MAKE time for writing. I let a lot of years slip by in which I wrote very little, or started things I never finished. It's easy, when you're young, to feel like you've got all the time in the world. Like the song says, "I was young and foolish then, I feel old and foolish now." 


For many years, my creative energy went into my teaching, into mothering, into baking--all things that served others. I don't regret that--much good came out of all that work--but I could have had a little balance, maybe. 

It took me a long time to develop a little healthy selfishness and insist on some space in my life for something just my own--my life of words. 

I'm not one to waste too much emotional energy on "what might have been," but I do lament that I didn't focus and finish things a little sooner in my life. 

How about you? In writing or in life in general, what do you wish you'd known? 

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Monday, January 9, 2023

Cooking Disasters: An Open Book Blog Hop Post

photo of a loaf of homemade bread beside the "Open Book Blog Hop" title


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

Have you or any of your characters experienced cooking disasters?
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Among my Menopausal Superheroes, there's a variety of cooking prowess.

Patricia "The Lizard Woman" O'Neill doesn't cook. She totally could, but she doesn't. It's takeout and restaurants for her and she's proud to have gotten to a point where she can afford that. 

Helen "Flamethrower" Braeburn burnt down her apartment in book one, and has been incarcerated here lately, so she hasn't had much opportunity to cook. She was never enamored of the culinary arts, but she was competent, once upon a time. 

a blue and red striped banner with cartoon versions of the Menopausal Superheroes posed in front

Linda/Leonel "Fuerte" Alvarez is a wizard in the kitchen, and feeding people is their love language. I so want to be able to have dinner with the Alvarez family! Their tamales are divine and their tres leches cake can soothe a savage beast. 

Jessica "Flygirl" Roark, on the other hand, never learned to cook, though she has a gorgeous, fancy kitchen. In book two, she tries to impress her new boyfriend, Walter, by cooking for him. I don't know if I'd call it a real disaster, but they did end up going out for pizza. 


As for the author? Well, I have a mixed kitchen history. I've always loved baking, but didn't have much interest in cooking as a young woman. My first husband, starting when he was my boyfriend, did all the cooking for us and I happily let him. I baked bread and sweets, but not the day to day foods. 

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There was only one memorable disaster from that phase of my life: the time I made garlic bread without understanding the difference between "clove" and "head" of garlic. Let's just say we were safe from vampires. 

The Better Homes and Gardens cookbook from the 1970s, with the red and white checkered cover
After we divorced, I moved back in with Mom and Dad for a while, and I quickly got frustrated with their boxes-and-cans style of cooking, so I picked up my mom's old Better Home and Gardens cookbook and started teaching myself to cook. 

It's a good learners' cookbook--straightforward, well-explained, and with the steps in logical order. After a few months, I considered myself pretty kitchen-competent. 

My then-boyfriend, now-husband was a more adventurous eater, so when I started cooking with and for him, I stretched to try new things. 

The most memorable cooking disaster from that phase of my life involved not understanding the difference between different kinds of peppers at the grocery store. My dad doesn't eat peppers in any form, so I didn't have any cooking experience with them. 

I picked habaƱeros because they were pretty and nearly melted both our mouths off with an otherwise pretty good curry. Sweetman gamely kept going until he was visibly sweating, poor boy. I couldn't convince him it was okay not to eat it. 

the scoville scale for heat of peppers

I've gotten better, and learned to do my research since then. (JalepeƱos would have been more appropriate for that recipe). 

All my other disasters have been less dramatic--things like undercooked chicken because the recipe estimate for cook time was too short, or cutting myself when I tried to chop too quickly, bread that didn't rise properly, etc. 

How about you? Any memorable cooking disasters in your life or in any books you've written or read? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! 

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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

IWSG: The Word of the Year is "Finish"





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: Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevardi, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin!


January 4 question - Do you have a word of the year? Is there one word that sums up what you need to work on or change in the coming year?
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I love the idea of having a focus word each year, something to come back to and remind you of what you want to accomplish, and what's truly important. 

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I didn't plan that way for 2022. 

After 2020 and 2021 (which just felt like 2020 kept going, rather than its own separate year), I didn't start 2022 with that kind of energy. 

I felt more kind of wary, like it was better to peek at 2022 from behind a door and poke at it gently with a stick to see if was going to attack me or not. If I had a phrase for 2022, it was "proceed with caution." 

2022 didn't attack me, at least not personally. There was plenty about it to scare and upset me, but it didn't get personal at least. Thank G-d for that. 

In writing life, I finished 2022 with a good push of momentum on the fifth and final Menopausal Superhero novel after nearly two years of fits and starts and struggles. 

So I'm headed into 2023 with a little more of my usual optimism and "get stuff done" attitude. 

So 2023's word is going to be "Finish." I've got a lot of in-progress work. Too many things simmering on back burners for too long. I'm going to try not to start anything new, but to finish some of the things I've already begun. 

So I'll start by finishing that series closer, then I'm hoping to pick up and finish several other projects that have been simmering--my Gothic romance, my collection of weird short stories. (This applies to some household things, too). 

Wish me luck! 

Monday, January 2, 2023

Cover Reveals as Publicity: An Open Book Blog Hop Post

 


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.
Does anyone do cover reveals as part of your publicity for a new book? Do they work anymore?

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I'm still quite fond of cover reveals, but I'm probably not the most "on trend" author you'll ever meet. After all, I'm still blogging here, and I started back when blogging was more hip and cool--2009. So maybe I'm old-fashioned. 

Still, if I stay old-fashioned long enough I become retro and cool again, right? 

image source

Book covers are still the best opportunity authors have to succinctly let readers know what their books are about. In that instant of seeing an image, you can get so much information. A picture really is worth a thousand words! 

By color palette, font selection, and type of image, a reader can instantly gauge if a book is more dark or light, what genre umbrella it might fit under, and sometimes a hint at the plot. Honestly, it's a lot of pressure on a piece of art, to convey all of that. 

I'm always excited when I get to the book cover part of the process. So far, I'm traditionally published (meaning I work with a publishing company, rather than putting out my work myself in an independent capacity), so the cover part comes later in the process. I know a lot of indies who start with the cover and use the cover as inspiration and pre-publication publicity. 

But in traditional publishing (at least in my corner of it), the cover comes after the book is accepted and going through editing. My publishing house uses a mixture of in-house and freelance artists and does a GREAT job branding so that books of a feather flock together well. 


Here's what they've done for my Menopausal Superhero series so far. The top row are the novels and the bottom row are the novellas and shorts. Both use the silhouettes with pops of color. In the novels, we've using more vibrant colors as we've moved through the series, and choosing positions for the heroines to show where they are in their journeys. The comic book feeling stripes on the short works are one of my favorite features. 

Each time I got a new cover, I'd share it first with friends and family, and get feedback to see if we want to request tweaks or changes, then I'd share it with my newsletter subscribers and social media followers trying to build up some excitement, especially if I can announce the release date, too, or share a pre-order link. Then I use the image in all my publicity. 

They say people have to see an image seven times before it sticks with them, so I put it out there a lot. 

Does any of this help my sales? Heck if I know. I'm not spending my time crunching numbers or evaluating statistics to figure that out. What it does do is keep up my enthusiasm and excitement. In short, it brings me joy, and that's at the heart of why I do this at all. So hurray for cover reveals! 

Are you fond of cover reveals? Do they help you decide what to read? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

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Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Year in Books: What I read in 2022

 

A big box showing the covers for 55 books.

Every year, I set a goal to read 52 books: one per week. Even alongside a full-time day job and a writing life, I can generally manage that, especially if I choose a few short ones, and do a lot of reading via audiobook. I mostly read ebook and audiobook intermixed (I buy both versions and move back and forth between them), but I did read two graphic novels in paper and three books that were just ebooks (no audio). My arthritis and my vision make paper harder to handle with each year, so I'm grateful to have so many ways to access literature. 

This year, I read 55 books. I expect to finish a couple more in the next day or two, but the calendar will have flipped by then, so they'll go into the count for 2023. Goodreads very helpfully tells me that I've read 14,730 pages this year, the shortest book come in at 38 pages (Emergency Skin by NK Jemisin) and the longest at 964 (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy). The most-shelved book I read this year was Animal Farm by George Orwell and the least The Princess and the Peonies by Lucy Blue. My average rating was 4.1, which means I did a darn fine job finding Samantha-pleasing books this year. 

If you've been reading my blog for a while, then you already know that I help run the First Monday Classics book club at my library, so some 9-11 choices (depending on whether the library is open on the First Monday) each year are books for that. Since we've been reading together for five or six years now, our definition of classic has shifted depending on who is attending the meetings and we try to find wider representation across gender and ethnicity. Generally, though, we're looking for books that are at least 20 years old and that have demonstrated staying power or influence. 

a book shelf of leather bound books with a text box saying "what makes a classic"
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This year, we revisited authors we had already read another book by: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (counted on 2021 reading challenge, since I finished in December 2021), Another Country by James Baldwin, Tess of the d'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Invisible Man by HG Wells, Animal Farm by George Orwell, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie. 

I found all of them worth reading, though if you check out the reviews, you'll see that there were some frustrations as well. I probably enjoyed The Invisible Man the most--it was more comedic than I expected. Six of them were re-reads for me, and it's always interesting to see how your view of a books changes when read in different eras of your life. I liked Mrs. Dalloway better than I did as a young woman, and thought quite differently of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility

The words "book club" written on books pines with a coffee cup in front
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Because I'm a bit of a book club junkie, I also have a neighborhood book club with three other women. Our picks are a lot more random, and our meetings are less regular. After we finish talking about a book, we just sit there talking about books until we agree on the next one. This year, we read: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson, The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict (a did-not-finish for me), Weep, Woman, Weep by Marie DeBlassie, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. 

As a group, we tend to like social justice nonfiction, contemporary works from other cultures, and historical fiction, so hit me up with your suggestions for what we should read next year!

Now for the hard part: favorites! 

books covers for all 6 volumes in the Murderbot Diaries series

I've been hearing about Martha Wells's Murderbot Diary series for a couple of years now and I finally read them and can finally understand why they garner such praise! If you're going to read them, I recommend going in order, though each one is read-able as a stand alone. Start with All Systems Red and read all six! They are mostly novellas, so they go quickly. 

So, Martha was my new find this year, but I also revisited several authors who had pleased me in past years. 
  • Rebecca Roanhorse Tread of Angels (Weird wild west, with demons and angels. Also check out her Between Earth and Sky series--Black Sun and Fevered Star--and her young adult post-apocalyptic The Sixth World Series--Trail of Lightning, Storms of Locusts. I've read all of those and loved them).
  • Lucy Blue The Princess and the Peonies (1920s murder mystery-romance. I ADORE this series: The Stella Hart Romantic Mysteries). 
  • NK Jemisin Emergency Skin (Short story, quite fun. Definitely also check out her Broken Earth series)
  • Lydia Kang The Half Life of Ruby Fielding (historical espionage. I also loved several of her other novels: A Beautiful Poison, Opium and Absinthe, and The Impossible Girl). 
  • Octavia Butler Unexpected Stories (a novella and a short story. I also loved her Xenogenesis series, Kindred, Wild Seed, and Blood Child and Other Stories. I plan to read all of her work)
  • John Hartness Amazing Grace (cozy mystery/romance with ghosts. I also love his Quincy Harker series and have enjoyed Bubba, the Monster Hunter). 
  • Mary Robinette Kowal The Spare Man (described very well as "Thin Man" in space. Definitely also read her Lady Astronaut Universe. I'm hoping to check out her Glamourist Histories series soon. 
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia The Beautiful Ones (historical with a big of magic. If you didn't read her Mexican Gothic yet, you totally should). 
  • Nnedi Okorafor Nsibidi Scripts series, 1-3 (Girl meets magical world, Nigerian style. Much lighter than Who Fears Death. I also picked up one of her short stories this year: Remote Control). 
  • Grady Hendrix The Final Girls Support Group (1980s horror tropes for a contemporary crowd. Also loved: My Best Friend's Exorcism). 
Of course, there are more books on my list that I didn't talk about here. Did we read anything in common? What were some of your favorite reads this year? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!