Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lulls and Valleys

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I'm pretty good at using momentum in my writing life. It took me a while to get there, but now I've got laser focus and discipline when I've got deadlines to meet. What's harder for me now is when I have short lulls. 

I'm in one right now. My critique group has my next novel, Be the Change, Book 4 of the Menopausal Superheroes series. I'm trying not to muck about with it until *after* get their feedback for two reasons: 

1. I don't want to negate their work by having changed things before I even hear what they think of what I sent them

2. I think it's good to walk away from a project between drafts, so you can come back to them with fresh eyes and enthusiasm. 

So, then the question becomes, what do I do while I wait? 

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It's only three weeks between having sent the novel and getting the feedback, and then I'll be right back on that horse, so it doesn't make sense to me to pull out any of my lingering long-term projects and dive back in just yet. I found it painful when I had to pull up short on The Architect and the Heir this summer and change my focus to write Be the Change, so I am not anxious to repeat that experience. I'll wait until Be the Change is with the publisher before I change gears again.  

But I have a seven-year-long daily writing chain, and I'm not letting it lapse just because I don't have a big project to focus on right now. It's weird, going to my Writing Oasis and finding the time is not assigned . . .that I could write whatever I want. 

My current struggle is striking the balance between burnout and losing momentum. 

So, I've written articles and guest posts, revised and submitted short stories, journaled a bit. Still two more weeks until I hear back from my critique partners, and I'm getting antsy.

Even though it leaves me a little restless, it's good for me to have this respite, this time without high pressure on producing work quickly. I'm letting myself take minimal days, where instead of my usual goal of 800 words on a school day and 2000 words on a non-school day, I let myself off the hook with only 300 or 400 words. Hopefully I'll make it to the other side of this lull refreshed and raring to go, ready to take on that revision in December!

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Book Birthday! Agents of Change

Look guys! We've got another sister in the Menopausal Superheroes series! Actually, this one is sort of triplets :-) 

If you've been following along this year, then you already saw the two novellas and collection of short stories released this year: 

Agents of Change gathers all three of these into a single collection. It's a great choice for new readers coming to my work who want to find out what the universe is all about and get a glimpse of the characters without committing to an entire series just yet. 

It's also got a few Easter Eggs for those already in the know :-)

And, if you love it, it's a great time to start reading the series of novels, since book 4, Be the Change, is on the docket for 2021! 

I can't wait for you guys to meet Patricia's mother and find out about the latest trouble to hit Springfield! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

What is it about superheroes, anyway?

I was talking with some superhero-writer-friends online recently (my colleagues at are the bomb!--you should totally check out their work). 

We were trying to identify the essence of the appeal of superhero stories. Superhero fans can be pretty hardcore--consuming all the superhero stories the world offers gluttonously and still wishing for more. 

So, why is that?

Is it just the wish fulfillment? The wonder of imagining other possibilities for humans beyond what it's actually possible for us to do?

That's certainly part of it, but I don't think that's the heart of it. At least not for me. 

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When I try to find the core of my attraction to superhero stories, I find it wrapped around feeling small and powerless as a child and longing to be able to do something big--something that would really make a difference. 

When I found Peter Parker, I felt like I had found myself. 

Underdogs for the win! 

Like young me, Peter was physically small, smart, kind of shy, and from a family that struggled just at the border of poverty, but loved each other and took a "we're in this together" "can-do" attitude to the lemons life threw them, without becoming completely saccharine. 

He also had a heart to help and an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. He might as well have been raised a Dunaway!

The things that drew me to Spiderman, and, to a lesser degree to other superheroes, are the same parts of myself that drew me to teaching as a career choice, where I have the opportunity for quiet heroics every day, making a difference for hundreds of children. 

As I've gotten older, I've remained interested in and excited by superheroes, though the type of hero that appeals to me has shifted. 

I find I'm drawn to reluctant heroes these days--heroes who say they just want to be left alone, but someone still get pulled into the fray just in time to save the day. This probably shows my own struggles with remaining engaged and hopeful in a world that gives me a lot of reasons to become cynical and disengaged. 

Fighting burnout is half the struggle of this stage of adulthood for me--keeping going even when I can't see the difference my actions make. 

Maybe that's why Patricia took the driver's seat in the latest Menopausal Superhero novel. 

I just finished a draft of Be the Change, which will become the fourth novel in the series, coming out in 2021. 

Right now, it's with my critique partners. 

The part of me that comes out in Patricia is the part that fights off burnout by staying connected with young people, being inspired by them (and sometimes being grumpy about that). 

Check out this excerpt: 
"Suzie made her want to be a better woman, to find her inner hero and do the right thing, even when it hurt. Suzie had been the impetus for her first foray into heroic action, pushing her to save the beauty queen at the mall. She’d also been a large part of the reason Patricia had agreed to sign on with the Department and work with the UCU.

Even coming to Indiana had been as much to please Suzie as out of worry for her missing mother. Would she even be here right now if not for her? Maybe not. That was the awful thing about young people—they cared. And they thought you should care, too. Exhausting."

Maybe that's the heart of superhero for me: they are characters that keep going, even when the going gets tough, the pay is bad, and the results might be unpopular. They fight for right, and I'm always up stories about that kind of heroism. 

How about you? What kinds of superheroes speak to you? Is there a type of story or character that you're always up for? 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

IWSG: Why Do I Write What I Write?

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.
November 4 question - Albert Camus once said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Flannery O’Conner said, “I write to discover what I know.” Authors across time and distance have had many reasons to write. Why do you write what you write?

The awesome co-hosts for the November 4 posting of the IWSG are Jemi Fraser, Kim Lajevardi, L.G Keltner, Tyrean Martinson, and Rachna Chhabria! Be sure to check out their posts as well as some of the other fabulous posts in this blog hop after you see what I've got to say: 

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I began my writing career as a poet. Of course, I was six, so "career" meant that I wrote poetry for my friends who paid me in candy and "poet" meant that I understood rhyme better than the other kids in my class. 

Maybe because I started with poetry, which stems from strong emotions, I've always used writing as a coping mechanism, sorting out my feelings in verse and personal journaling.

I stuck with poetry with occasional forays into nonfiction essay and short stories until I was in my thirties. 

It never stopped being an outlet for me for tough emotions and a way for me to sort out for myself what I thought and felt, but I hadn't really moved toward making writing into something more of a vocation than a hobby. 

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Though I read things like horror, science fiction, Gothic romance, and mystery, I had this idea that I was "supposed to" write more literary things. 

It was a kind of snobbery against my own taste, like unrealistic stories were somehow less worthy

Maybe it came from my college education, or maybe it's some weird mind game I played with myself to make sure that being a "real writer" remained something unattainable. 

I don't know. It's funny to think about that now, but it was true. What I liked to read was not what I wrote because I looked down on what I truly loved. 

In my thirties, suffering from postpartum depression, I sought out and joined a writing critique group. 

At the time, I was after companionship, support, and some outside pressure to motivate me: a feeling of having a deadline. The group I found was a novel-writing group. I'm still with a version of that group today, by the way, though the membership has changed over the years. 

I had never written a novel, but thought I might like to, so I did. And four years later, I had abandoned two novels and finished my first one, a women's issues fiction book called His Other Mother (unpublished) and ta-da! I was a novelist. 

I found I loved the longer form, the way of connecting with characters longer term and riding alongside them on their journeys for a longer chunk of the trip. So, I immediately started writing another one. This time, though, I promised myself that it would be fun. 

Don't get me wrong! I wouldn't take back the experience of writing His Other Mother and everything it taught me about writing and about myself, but it was a slog a lot of the time. I wallowed in dark places to write that one and it took a toll on me. I'm proud of having written it, and may yet go back and revise it into publishing shape in the future, but one thing it wasn't was FUN.  

Somewhere along the way, I met another writer: James Maxey. He was teaching writing workshops at my public library and I signed up for a few. Through him, I learned about superhero fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy that I had no idea existed: superhero stories in prose novel form rather than comic book form. James has a great book (Nobody Gets the Girl) in that genre, and has since written several follow-ups. 

I've always loved superhero stories, starting with Spidey on the Electric Company and Mighty Mouse and Underdog. I got excited about writing one of my own, and a series was born: The Menopausal Superhero series. 

The biggest lesson I learned is the value of writing what you love, not what you think you *should* be writing. 

These days, I write anything I want, my only restrictions coming from time and keeping up with deadlines for commitments I've made. 

I've been published in a rage of genres and subgenres including superhero, horror, romance, science fiction, fairy tale, nonfiction, vampire, and ghost. 

I've dabbled in post-apocalyptic, Gothic, historical, and paranormal. I plan to try a lot more kinds of stories before I'm done because part of the fun is trying something new. That's what makes it feel like playing. 

So, why do I write what I write? Because I love it!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

October Reads

October was all about writing for me--I had two short story releases in anthologies to promote and a novel to finish, so I stole every moment I could get at my computer. Plus it was October--my favorite time of year for watching scary movies :-)

All that is to say that I didn't read much this month. But I don't feel bad about it or deprived in some way this time. I still got my share of story in my life--it's just that I was writing it or watching it this month. 

Since I had really enjoyed my foray into short Audible productions last month, I continued that trend, listening to The Machine Stops by EM Forster,  A Grown Up Guide to Dinosaurs, and In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire. I enjoyed all three for different reasons. 

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The Machine Stops is maybe a little "on the nose" by contemporary standards. A little blunt and obvious in its moralizing, but when you realize it was published in 1909, it begins to feel a little more prescient. 

The short story takes place in a nonspecific future year, when the earth, having experienced some kind of unspecified human-caused disaster that left the surface uninhabitable. Our characters live completely underground in near-complete isolation from each other with all their needs attended to by a giant complex of machines. 

I know, right? What could go wrong? 

Since I knew EM Forster as the author of period pieces about relationship difficulties and the oppression of early twentieth century moral strictures--you know the types of stories Merchant made sun-drenched costume dramas about--this story was definitely a bit of a surprise. I had no idea the man had dabbled in science fiction. 

A Grown Up Guide to Dinosaurs delivered just what it promised: a program of adults enthusiastically fan-peopling over dinosaurs. The work encourages us to remember our childhood dinosaur obsessions and gives us the chance to catch up on some of the latest thinking is about what dinosaurs really were and how they ended up as chickens. 

In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire is the fourth story in a series called Wayward Children. I've also read the first one, Every Heart a Doorway but none of the rest. That didn't matter. Book 4 stands alone quite well. Quite, quite well, indeed. I loved it. The premise of the series is that there are portals in the forms of magical doorways throughout the world and that sometimes children go through them and are changed in ways that won't let them rejoin ordinary life. In this one, Lundy finds such a doorway and ends up in the Goblin Market. Gorgeous story with some wonderful life advice wrapped in its pages, like the best of fairy tales. 

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Blue Highways
 was the single long work I read this month. I read it as a combination of audiobook and kindle edition, moving back and forth between the two. This one was the selection for my Classics Book Club at my library…if it wasn't for the commitment I made to the group, I might not have finished it. Too meandering for me. Pointless. There were some lovely, lyrical moments, but in the end it felt like I'd listened to some guy natter on for hours and hadn't learned anything, gained any insight, or even come to like the guy. 

So, there's my short reading list from October. How about you? What did you read? Got any good ones I should add to my TBR? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 


Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Haunting of Bly Manor: some thoughts

Just finished watching The Haunting of Bly Manor, a series from Netflix and the folks who brought us The Haunting of Hill House in 2018. I loved it. I loved Hill House, too, when I watched it.

Both of these series were based off of classic works: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, two of my favorite scary stories of all time. 

But neither is a telling of the story as you might know it from the books. Instead, each is a brand new story, a kind of riff on a theme. There are echoes of the originals, but there is also completely new material and interpretations not present in the old works at all.

I've long had an interest in side and backdoor stories that come into a work I already love from another angle. Things like Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea which dared to ask who Rochester's first wife from Jane Eyre really was, or Gregory Maguire's Wicked which retold The Wizard of Oz through the eyes of the witch. I love the fresh take on a story I already love--it has a feeling of talking with other fans, and loving the original together. 

These two series are not quite those, but there's a similarity.

Both series changed the time frame, moving Hill House from 1950 to 1992 and Bly Manor/Turn of the Screw from the 1890s to 1987, a change which opens up story possibilities and also makes some parts more difficult. 

Both stories require some serious isolation so that the events can go unobserved/uninterrupted for a while, and that kind of isolation is harder to come by in 2020. I rather thought we only went as far forward as 1992 to keep smart devices and cell phones from encroaching on the story too far. 

Both stories take place in gorgeous old homes. The houses themselves are practically characters in the story--more obviously in Hill House (which is just as Shirley Jackson wrote it, in that respect), but still true in Bly Manor

Hill House changed the premise--no longer bringing together a group of would-be ghost hunters into a known haunted house hoping for a paranormal experience as happened in the book, but instead bringing a family of house flippers into the gorgeous old mansion to try and save it and resell it. Bly Manor stuck with the original premise more closely: a nanny is hired to take care of two troubled orphaned children in an isolated mansion and paranormal shenanigans ensue.

What I loved in Bly Manor was all the new material. Henry James's story is not forthcoming about the nanny herself. We don't know her history or why she might have decided to take on a job like this one. We don't know exactly what happened to Miles and Flora's parents, other than that they died. We don't know what Miles did at boarding school that got him kicked out or why the kids' uncle is so strangely detached, not wanting even to be informed about what is going on with the children. We certainly don't know what the ghosts want, exactly.

Mike Flanagan set about answering all those questions and I LOVED the answers. They fit into the story as told by James seamlessly. Along the way, he created a whole secondary mythology of the ghost activity at Bly Manor. The imagery isn't quite as terrifying as that of Hill House (the broke neck lady is way more frightening than the blank faced ghosts, at least for this viewer), but the tension is high. 

Perhaps surprisingly for horror stories, both of these series end up being primarily about grief and surviving loss. Both manage to end on bittersweet hopeful notes. Gorgeous really. Beautiful, haunting in a completely different sense of the word. I hope Flanagan finds another story to explore this way. I'll be there with my popcorn on opening night if he does.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Horror as Comfort

 A lot of people I know don't read or watch horror, and they're surprised to find out that I do. Even more surprised when they learn that I sometimes write it. 

Actual quotes from conversations along these lines: 

  • "You don't seem like someone who would write that stuff." 
    • I guess? I mean, is horror only for people wearing dark eyeliner and capes? Or just for men? LOL. Some of the scariest stuff happens in mundane settings to people just trying to live their lives--you know: people like me. 
  • "It's so dark." 
    • It's hopeful and optimistic sometimes. And dark makes contrast, allowing you see the light. 
  • "I just can't handle the gore." 
    • Not all horror is a slasher film, you know. Some of my horror favorites don't involve any blood and guts at all.
  • "The characters make stupid choices." 
    • You could say that about ANY genre. If characters don't make ANY stupid choices, there's no conflict and the story is boring. Plus people do stupid things all the time in real life. 
  • "They're so stressful." 
    • Maybe? I find horror stress-relieving. And tension is kind of necessary for any sort of story. 

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It's not that horror doesn't scare me--it totally does! 

Ask my sister about the time I threw the popcorn during a jump scare during a really terrible, not-that-scary vampire movie. Or check out the mangled pillows on the sofa after I squeeze them while I watch something scary. When I was a kid and teenager, I used to read my Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and horror comics sitting at the top of the stairs with my back against the wall, so I could see anything that might be coming for me. 

But, the things is: the story ends. 

I close the book, or leave the cinema, or turn off the TV. And I am safe. I got that heart-racing excitement, but at no actual risk, other than perhaps the risk of being disappointed by a story that doesn't do it for me. Vicarious experience of the highest order.

And the stories, at least the ones I like best, are stories of resilience and hope. The heroes are not passively watching their lives go by them and wishing things would change--they take action to try to save themselves and others. 

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They *try something.* 

They take steps. Stupid ones sometimes. Foolhardy maybe. But life is risk and that's the heart of horror for me. 

There's something comforting in active characters trying something, especially if I really connected with the characters. 

It's still comforting even when they lose, falling into the zombie hoard after a heroic attempt. They died "with their boots on" so to speak, didn't they? They didn't just melt away on the sofa cushions hoping someone would save them. Those are characters worth admiring! 

What about you? Do you read/watch horror? What are your favorites? 

Wanna check out my horror writing? I had TWO horror stories published this month. 

"The Cleaning Lady" in Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 2 grew from a story prompt for the Nightmare Fuel Project and dares to ask who is going to clean up this mess. Dark humor can be so much fun to write!

"His Destroyer" in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire revisits the Passover story from another perspective, wondering who exactly served G-d's justice on the first-born sons of Egypt during the time of the Ten Plagues. This one gave me chills to write and I hope it will do the same for you when you read it.