Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Writing Life: My Highlight Reel, 2016

2016 was a rough year in a lot of ways. In the news, at work, in my personal life. The winds of change can be cold and harsh. Here at the end of it, I feel a little wind burnt.

So, I thought I'd take a minute to remember the good things, the blessings, the progress.

2016 was a good one for writing life.

Publications: My second novel (Change of Life) was published, a novella was published in an anthology (Indomitable Ten), two short stories came out in other anthologies (The Seven Story House and Theme-Thology: Mad Science).  Going Through the Change, my debut novel, won an award!

There's some good lead in to 2017 with the third novel and two anthologies already on the docket, with talk of another novella, too. Seeing a line of books that you actual have to scroll across on my Amazon page never fails to thrill me. I'm doing this for reals, y'all!

Appearances: I was accepted as a guest at a few Southern cons: Illogicon, Con-Gregate, and Atomacon; I'll be back at Illogicon in 2017, and will get to attend Mysticon and Ravencon as well. I don't know about my year beyond April yet, but I've got some applications in and hope to be busy during the summer cons, too. Attending cons is one of the things that makes this all very real. Plus, participating in panels is a great way to connect with other authors and just get to talk geeky bookish fun!

Productivity: Readers of this blog will already know that I am big fan of the Magic Spreadsheet for tracking my word count and motivating myself to keep on keeping on, even when I don't feel like writing. I've written about it a few times on this blog. It's a gamification system that rewards you with points and levels for having written consistently. The part that really works for me is the idea of the chain. My chain of days written in a row is 1,186 days long as I write this. Even when I'm sick or exhausted, that keeps me motivated. I *always* write at least the minimum of 250 words now, and, as a result, I see steady and consistent progress on my projects. I don't lose the thread and have to flounder for hours finding it. When I sit down to write, I fall back into my projects easily because it's only been a day since I was last there. Best. Thing. Ever. (for me, anyway)

This year, I began using Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker. It doesn't award me points, but it does let me categorize my writing, set monthly goals, and track both writing and revision (on Magic Spreadsheet, I play math games to credit myself with revision time, counting in pomodoros or giving myself 10% of wordcount edited). It's been a really good tool for me, letting me make sure that, not only am I writing, but I am writing the right things, in order to finish in time for deadlines. Now that I have multiple irons in the fire all the time, staying on track means more than just writing. It means keeping focus and not getting distracted by side projects while the main one languishes.

Whether these tools or my own determination deserve credit, I don't know, but either way I'm proud of these numbers. As of December 26, I wrote 248,529 new words in 2016 and revised 584,267. Especially when you consider that I do this while holding down a demanding day job (middle school teaching) and keeping a household of five (hubby, two daughters, and a dog) going, I think I'm amaze-balls!

So, there you go: my year in words. And it was a good one! Lots to celebrate and lots to look forward to. It's a wonderful thing, doing what you love. May 2017 bring all of you the chance to do the same.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What I Read in 2016

Each year, I do a reading challenge on Goodreads. I usually set a goal of 52 books a year, one per week and most recent years I haven't been able to make it. There have been times in my life when I've read more than that, but here in the middle of what my mom calls "the busy years" (careers, kids, house, etc.), one a week is more than I can do sometimes. Reading is a sanity saver for me, a solace, a balm, inspiration, escape. When I don't get enough story time, I'm a serious cranky pants.

In 2016, I read seventy-one books!

That number is slightly inflated because I counted books I read out loud with my fourth grader (in past years I haven't counted those), but I still feel proud of myself.

So, what did I read?

I read eleven indie books. My favorites of those I read this year were The Cogsmith's Daughter by Kate Colby and Ithaka Rising by LJ Cohen. But several others were really good as well. Indie books are the Rodney Dangerfields of the publishing industry in a lot of ways in that they "get no respect." But indie authors are passionate, hardworking, and often creative and risk-taking in ways that more traditionally published authors aren't. If you're feeling in a rut in your reading life, I recommend indie books. Take time to read some reviews to weed out the unprofessional books and you'll find some real gems!

I read twenty-eight audio books. Audiobooks were a big part of why I managed to read so much this year. I can listen to an audiobook while hanging laundry, cooking dinner, driving my car, or many other mundane things that suck up my daylight. A good reading can make a good book even better. I loved Behemoth by Scott Westerfield and West With the Night by Beryl Markham, The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon and Doc by Mary Doria Russell, and I think all four of those were enhanced by the audio experience.

I was all over the genre map this year. I read classic science fiction like Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke and The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin. I read superhero novels (including my own book!), graphic novels, literary fiction, women's fiction, steampunk, nonfiction, memoir, historical fiction, paranormal fantasy, and horror. Looking back on my year in books is like making a list of friends I've made or journeys I've taken. I am the richer for the experiences.

2016 was rough in a lot of ways. But it was a good year for reading at least! What did you read this year? What do you want to read next year?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Deja Vu: How Being a Teacher Makes Me a Better Writer

DL Hammond has brought together a few blogging friends for the Déja Vu Blogfest. The idea is to revisit a blogpost you made at some point during the year. So here's one I wrote at the beginning of 2016. I still like it, and I hope you do, too.

I've been a teacher for twenty years. That's a wonderful and horrifying statistic in itself. In fact, I've not done much of anything else in the way of paid work. I had a brief run as librarian and a secretary in small town Alaska. Otherwise, I've spent my entire working life in the classroom.
There are occupational hazards in being a teacher. You tend to take over in group settings, trying to organize everyone (which is not always appreciated by your adult family and friends). You tend to over-explain, assuming that the listener will need to hear it multiple ways to get it. You correct people's errors, even when it would be more polite not to do so. You're chronically busy, stressed, and under-slept, which can make you a cranky-pants.

But as I've moved to being a teacher and an author, I've found out that there's a lot I've learned from my teaching life that serves me well in my writing life.

Comfort with public speaking. A roomful of people who voluntarily walked into your panel or book talk or reading is a far easier audience than a roomful of middle school children who are required to be there. But that doesn't mean they aren't intimidating. I'm grateful that stage fright is not an issue for me.

A lack of dignity. Sometimes you really have to be a clown to engage children. I've worn crazy hats, let people put pies in my face or dunk me in a booth, and done some pretty amazing role plays as a teacher. So far, I haven't been asked to go to those extremes as an author, but it does make it easier to put myself out there as part of an event. I'm difficult to embarrass.

Diplomacy. I deal with a lot of stupidity as a teacher, and I've learned to do so with kindness. It won't help most situations to make someone (a student, another teacher, a parent, an administrator) feel bad about whatever way they've just put their foot in it. As a writer, I have had to deflect weird responses and questions from interviewers or readers, too, and defend my artistic choices to beta readers and editors who seemed to just not get it. Not to mention participating in a critique group, where I need to kindly point out the flaws in someone's heart's work. Good thing I've got a lot of practice.

Ability to Work Alone, Unsupervised. As a teacher, I have a supervisor in the for of a school principal.
But she or he sees very little of what I actually do. In some cases, I could probably have read a book or shown movies for weeks at a time without my supervisor finding out. Luckily for my students, I have high standards for myself and a strong personal work ethic. As a writer, I am even less well-supervised. In fact, I often don't even have a clear deadline to finish by or any directions at all about what I'm supposed to be creating. Without that self-starter attitude, I could easily just play solitaire and watch Firefly again instead of actually ever writing anything.

Able to Think on My Feet: No plan survives contact with the enemy. That includes lesson plans. No matter how well I think I've planned, I always have to adjust on the fly. And I'm good at that after all these years. Turns out, that happens on the page, too. No matter how well I've planned out my story, change will come. Characters will surprise me. A plot twist will blindside me. And I can roll with it, follow it where it goes and trust to revision to smooth it out for the end product. In the classroom and on the page, I've built more than one silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Listening: Any teacher will tell you how important it is to listen to your students. As much as state legislators and pundits want to make education into a nice, clean, easily measured objective process, it really isn't. It's a very messy, human process, as much about relationships as it is about expertise and technique. And you build relationships by listening. You also get a lot of writing material that way.

So, who knew I'd been in training all these years. Too bad teaching didn't make me insightful about marketing. Then I could afford to give up teaching!

Want more deja vu? Check out the linky for more second chances:

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why I'm a Book Club Girl

I love reading for lots of reasons. But top of the list might be: because it's a solo activity.

I don't need to make arrangements with anyone else to get to read. I don't need a partner. Given how much reading material is already in my house, I don't even need money. I can do it anywhere, any time. Especially in the twenty-first century, where my kindle app coordinates across devices and even syncs up with the audiobook version in some cases.

But once I've read something, especially something I loved, I long to share it with someone. I want to find the other people that read the book, too and gush over it for a while, sharing favorite lines or talking about great character moments. For that, I do need a partner, or even a group.

That's why I'm a bookclub girl.

Book clubs aren't for everyone, not even for everyone who loves to read. I get that. Some people don't want to have to read something they didn't choose. Some people worry about conflict and disagreement, when others have a different view of a book. Maybe others just want to savor the book privately.

But that connecting over a book moment is an experience I crave. And I'll give up things like complete freedom of choice in my reading material and take on a little time pressure stress for the guaranteed chance to talk with other passionate readers regularly.

Over the years, I've been in a lot of kinds of book clubs. Neighborhood ones. Groups of colleagues. Book studies. Library sponsored. Online. Asynchronous. Even one where we didn't all read the same book, but just got together and told each other about what we've been reading lately.

Every one of them fed a hunger in me. Not just for books, but for thoughtful conversation, divergent thinking, and challenge. In short, for book people.

I'm in two book clubs right now.

First Monday Classics at my local library meets once a month to talk about a classic novel. We've been together as a group for two years now, and just settled our 2017 reading list. Besides the great books (we're reading Vonnegut, du Maurier, Baldwin and Eliot, among others in the upcoming months), I also get to interact with a group of people I might not have encountered otherwise through this group. The group was started by a writer friend (James Maxey, speculative fiction writer and former Piedmont Laureate) because he wanted to read some classics himself and was looking for company on that journey. Now, I count several of the members among my personal friends.

My other reading group is a very small one. Just four of us, all liberal leaning women who live in the
same neighborhood. We take turns choosing the books and meet at a local food co-op (Weaver Street) for treats and talk roughly once a month. We probably talk about our lives as much as the books, but it was books that brought us together and books that we turn to for solace, distraction, and ideas.

Both groups feed my soul in different ways, and I'm grateful for their place in my life.

How about you? Are you a book club person? Or a solitary reader? What kinds of book clubs have you enjoyed or hated? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

#IWSG: Getting There From Here

This week IWSG asks: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

So, here's what I see:

That's me: the woman standing in a patch of sunlight just in front of the dark cave she just traversed. She's alone, but in a self-reliant rather than lonely way, because even if you are lucky enough to have support (which I am), in the end you have to rely on yourself and take the walk yourself. Your cheerleaders can't walk it for you.

I like this picture because of the darkness opening into light and because there's still so much that you can't yet see. The as-yet unseen possibilities.

Right now, I am firmly on my journey towards my end goal of making my living as a writer only. I've had some success: finished things, had some work accepted, got some kudos and gushy reviews, won an award. I've learned a lot. I've been touched by the light, and enjoyed the warmth on my skin and I covet more of that. But I haven't arrived yet. (I suspect I'll never feel like I've "arrived" . . .that's the way of epic journeys and life quests; they just lead to other journeys).

So, before you make a face like Queen Gertrude annoyed with Polonius, here's the "more matter, less art version."

In 2013, I committed to a daily writing habit, which was a complete gamechanger for me. I took myself seriously as a writer, and finally started to get somewhere after playing around for most of my life.

In 2013, I made it to the end of a novel for the first time (an under the bed book, which may or may not ever get revised and published), and in 2014, a second time (it turned out to be my debut: Going Through the Change).

In 2014, I got my first book contract, and in 2015 my first book came out.  2016 saw my second book on the shelves and a few anthology stories under my belt. 2017 looks promising so far, with two anthologies and one novel already expected and scheduled.

Somewhere along the line, I latched onto the number FIVE as a magic and talismanic number. It's a number that seems to come up a lot when people talk about making a career as a writer. More than one writer on a panel I've attended or in an essay I've read has said that they didn't start to make a living at it until their fifth book.

I'm sure it's not that simple, but that's been my target: five books. One a year. So, if I can keep up that pace, I'll have my fifth book out in 2019. Right now, I'm pushing my menopausal superheroes series, because it's what I've gotten traction with, but I'm trying to get the wheels spinning on some other projects, too.

So, in five years? Wishes/hopes/goals: By 2021:

  • My Menopausal Superheroes series is finished, published and selling well. In fact, someone in TV or movies is looking at it. 
  • I've finished my heart's project that keeps getting back-burnered right now, a historical fiction trilogy that's really a love story to my great grandmother, Lena and have seen it to publication.
  • I've made enough money from writing three months in a row to pay the mortgage with. 
  • I've been the literary guest of honor at at least one con. 
  • I've been able to drop to a part time day job
  • I'm a member of SFWA, having gotten several of my short stories published in the markets that garner you that honor
How will I get there? The same way I've gotten this far: doggedness, hard work, and remaining open to what there is to learn. 

So how about you, fellow IWSGers (and other readers)? Where can I find you in five years? What's your pie-in-the-sky version and your more practical one? I'd love to hear your stories. 

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In This For the Long Haul

I've been running two kinds of races in November. In a way, both of them are against time, so I will eventually lose, but I'm still going anyway. I'm stubborn like that.

The first one is a writing race: to complete my revise and resubmit by November 30th. That's been an emotional ride that ought to have a soundtrack like Rocky.

  • First, there's the part where the hero (that's me!) feels defeated and wounded after receiving the request for a revise and resubmit instead of a new contract. We're not sure she can come back from this. It's a punch to the gut and she feels sick. 
  • Second, there's the part with a mentors who helps her find her inner fire and fight again (thanks, writing community!).  Lots of commiseration and advice. Lots of good listeners. Lots of people helping me see the actionable items in the comments and make a plan. Helping me see this as an opportunity instead of a failure. 
  • Third, there's the work itself, a montage of typing furiously, deleting furiously, banging my head against a wall, pulling my hair, staring into space not seeming to do anything at all, typing furiously again, drinking tea, nodding and laughing, drawing maps and timelines, rubbing my wrists and flexing my fingers, making lists, printing things out and marking them up in highlights and red pen. (good luck, film-makers, making that active enough to be visually interesting: it's actually a lot of butt in chair time).
  • Finally, there's the sending of the email, and the waiting to see if I made muster or not. (We're hoping this one ends with my hand tugged into the air, and someone waving a new contract; but if not, we'll just film a sequel. We're not quitters around here). 

Obviously, that's all very stressful.

So, at the same time I took on a new exercise program. I'm trying the couch to 5K. I should preface that by saying that I hate running. It's not my idea of fun at all. Unfortunately, that's true of most forms of exercise…and that's taking a toll on my body. Besides feeling like a tubby lunchbox most of the time, I'm also worried about my energy, my joints, and my longevity on this planet. So, it was time to take action. I'm going to need a lot of years to get done everything I want.

Running has the advantage of not requiring a particular location or much in the way of gear. I also know a lot of chubby women who've become less so by doing a program like this one. I downloaded one of the gazillion apps out there that will "ding" at you and tell when to switch from running to walking and such and set out.

I just finished my 10th run as I write this. It was two miles long in 28 minutes. 2.5 minutes running to .5 minutes walking. It was awful. I failed in that I walked through the last running segment. I still don't like running. But there are some advantages I'm finding.

  • Guaranteed "me" time. When I say I'm going for a run, everyone else in the house nods and waves. No one (except the dog) wants to go with me, so it gives me a half hour completely to myself, three times a week. That's really rare in the stage of life I'm in right now, with a day job involving 135 children a day, two kids of my own, a husband, writing group, book clubs, stuff for the kiddos, the occasional date or social gathering, and a dog. It's guilt-free me time, too, because I'm doing something generally regarded as a healthy and wise choice.
  • The healing power of trees. O'Neill and I have been going down to the Speedway for our runs. That's an old race track here in Hillsborough, NC. It's a wide, flat, measured path surrounded by woods. It does my heart immeasurable good in the metaphorical as well as physical sense to run in such a peaceful place, surrounded by the sounds of wind in the trees and the view of light shining through fall-colored leaves. 
  • My happy dog. O'Neill is a rescue dog. An Australian shepherd, which dog-lovers know is a high strung breed. That makes him a nervous Nelly to say the least. He loves us very much, but in some ways, we're not the right family for him. He could really benefit from a lot more physical activity than living with us usually gives him. Taking O'Neill with me, besides removing any safety anxieties I have, keeps me going even when I'm chanting "I hate this" with every step. His joy is an inspiration. Today, he ran out ahead of me, then came back and licked my knee just to say, "Isn't this awesome, Mom? Thank you for taking me!"
  • The quiet. Thinking time is so essential for writing. I don't listen to music or books when I run. At first this was because I was frustrated by trying to keep headphones in my ears while I bounce awkwardly down the path. But now, it's because I get some good plotting, planning, and thinking done while I run. I plan the fight scenes, imagine dialogue, or just drift and find strange inspiration I wasn't expecting. 
So, yeah. This is terrible (both running and writing). But I'm going to keep going anyway. Because it's also wonderful. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving at la casa Bryant

A traditional Thanksgiving is a lot of work. (I know: #firstworldproblems) Even in families that divide the cooking and hosting labor, there are still many many tasks on that to-do list to do it up "right." We don't live near our extended families, so that's not possible for us.

As much as I love Thanksgiving foods and having a lovely meal with my loved ones, I don't love the work. Especially not at the end of November, when middle school teachers like me feel like they might drown in the to-do list at school, if the drama doesn't kill us first.

It definitely doesn't feel like a holiday to me to take the primary cook (me) and make her cook more. So, a few years ago, when I was overextended and making myself crazy, we agreed to take it down a notch. We order Thanksgiving from Weaver Street Market. The food is good. It's still beautiful and festive, but the time and stress is cut in half or maybe even less. I've never regretted that decision (and if my family does, they are kind enough not to say so).

Now, when I sit down at the table, I don't fall asleep in the mashed potatoes. Instead, I have energy for making hand turkeys with the kids (yes, we make the teenager do it, too), and watching really cheesy fun movies and playing board games. I get to jump in the leaf piles because I'm not hovering over something delicate in the kitchen.

That's some giving (in the give and take sense) and I am thankful yet again for my family. May this holiday (if you celebrate) bring you joy and relaxation as well as yummy treats.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Nostalgia Nights: Rewatching Buffy

When my daughter was but a wee thing, and I was in recovery from a yucky medical experience, we watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series together. M was an unusually fierce child, and unfazed by monster makeup (only one monster on it ever scared little her: The Queller Demon). She loved that the main character was a pretty girl who kicked serious butt. She even had a special credits dance that involved a lot of arm flailing and acrobatic leaping. Luckily for her, I do not have video of that dance, but it lives in my memory with all my most joyous visions.

We've been re-watching the series this fall, now that she's all but grown (college in on our near horizon now). In the intervening years, we've watched an episode here and there and memorized the soundtrack to the musical episode, but we've never watched it all again. It's a double nostalgia treat for me, remembering and enjoying again both the series itself and the girls' night bonding of watching it with my girl. We're in Season 2 currently, and plan to watch the whole thing again.

Stuff we love this go round:

  • Whedon dialogue. We're especially enjoying all the random musing on words. We're word nerds ourselves, so we also wonder why you can't be gruntled, but you can be disgruntled or if sore thumbs really stick out or why it's the "whole nine yards." Nine yards of what?

  • Oz. He's our geeky, fully self-actualized dreamboat. Watching the romance build up with Willow is even better when you already know it's coming. "Who is that girl?" (It's also kind of worse when you already know what's coming after that). 
  • The Music: when the show was on, I didn't know most of this music, but now half the songs being played at the Bronze are songs I can sing along with. 
  • Cordelia. She's a fuller and more interesting character from the get-go than I previously gave her credit for (even in previous watchings of the show). She doesn't put her head in the sand and pretend there are no monsters. Like any good rich girl, she wants a professional to take care of it for her. Like any independent woman, she also wants to supervise, and might even help sometimes. 
  • The clothes. Especially Willow's. 
  • Giles. The reveal in season 2 of his history as "Ripper." What a great build and unexpected treat that was!
  • The monsters. The insect woman, the bug man, the cowboy Vampire brothers, Ted, Spike and Dru, the Incan Mummy girl, the big tentacled thing with the egg babies . . .and I remember there are still more to come!
Any other Buffy fans out there? What do you love about it? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

If Wishes Were Horses

I've been doing a lot of wishing here lately. It's something I do when I'm frustrated or worried, and there's been plenty of that to go around in 2016. So, rather than kvetching about what I'm worried and frustrated about, I'll talk about what I wish (though my wishes probably reveal my worries).
  • I wish they'd find a real cure for cancer. Not just treatment options that leave you sicker than the sickness itself, if you're lucky. 
  • I wish our education system was tenable, sustainable, and adequately funded. 
  • I wish I could vote FOR someone, instead of always just voting AGAINST the option that scare me most.
  • I wish empathy was more common. 
  • I wish I could afford to give up my day job to pursue my dreams. 
  • I wish I could let my husband give up his day job to pursue his dreams. 
  • I wish college wasn't going to bankrupt our family here in a couple more years. 
  • I wish weight loss was a simple straightforward process instead of a minefield full of sinkholes and traps. 
  • I wish cars didn't break down and have to be replaced.
  • I wish for a miracle discovery success story that bankrolls my life from here on out.
  • I wish I could afford to travel again.
  • I wish the universe would smile kindly on those I love instead of ripping the rug out from beneath them as it so often seems to do.
  • I wish "mean girls" was just a movie title. 
  • I would wish for time . . .but I'm superstitious about doing that. 
As I come to the end of 2016, I realize that it was a rough year on many fronts. But I also realize I've had a lot to be grateful for. So, November is all about finding my heart of gratitude again. 
Going Through the Change is on sale today: the Kindle edition is 99¢. If you've read and enjoyed it, please spread the word. If you've been meaning to have a look, here's your chance to do so at low financial risk. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#IWSG: When R&R Doesn't Stand for Rest and Relaxation

Ah! I'm late posting today . . . which is maybe a sign of how much I need this group today, because I'm more than a little overwhelmed in my writing life. You see, I've got an R&R.

If you've not suffered this particular sling or arrow of outrageous fortune, let me explain. R&R, unfortunately, does not stand for "rest and relaxation." Instead, it is a "revise and resubmit." In short, you sent your book baby out there, thinking it was ready to go, and the publisher disagrees. Not enough to reject it; just enough to say: please take this back and make it better and try again.

For me, at least, it was a heartbreaker. I'd busted my bunions to get this book (the third of the Menopausal Superheroes series) in by the deadline I needed to meet to keep a 2017 release date. Since my heart was broken, I've been avoiding thinking about it for a few weeks, using the excuse of other writing deadlines to let it sit for a bit. But those deadlines all passed as of yesterday, and I'm out of procrastination excuses without getting really silly about it. Plus, if I don't start I won't finish by the NEW deadline (November 30).

The good thing, though, about those few weeks of knowing I had to do this but not doing anything about it yet, was that the sting has worn off a bit. Yesterday, I sat down with the beta comments and could read them more objectively, and look at how they might be right, instead of shaking my tiny fist at the heavens and swearing that it can't be so.

In the end, I know the book will be much better for this revision. It's just painful right now, trying to find the right road to get there, and on a short schedule. Probably, I should be thanking my publisher for not taking work that isn't really ready and pushing me to do my very best, even if it takes longer. I don't think I'm quite ready to break out the monogrammed stationery just yet though; there's still a lot of work to do and stress to chew through before then. 

I am grateful though, for their willingness to work with and keep my release date. I was trying to work faster than I ever have before, and, in my heart, I do know that the book needs something. In fact, I'm pretty sure I know what it needs, so that's a good place to be in. 

How about you, writing friends? How do you move through the stages of grief when your work is criticized and get to the revision frame of mind? How long do you stay stuck in "denial"? 


If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

The monthly question for November was: What's your favorite aspect of being a writer?

For me, it's connecting with readers. When you hear (via a review, or an email, or a conversation) that someone read your book and really "got"it--saw in it all you'd intended--that's the best feeling in the world. That's when you know that you succeeded in realizing your vision.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

31 Spooky Things I Love

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It doesn't come with the baggage that the emotional family ones or religious ones come with. It has candy, costumes, and creepy stuff. Three of my favorite things. So, in celebration, here are thirty one things (one for each day of October) that please my ghoulish little heart. It'll be a media heavy list, because, well, I like media. In no particular order.

#1:  Wednesday Addams. In all her iterations. I *loved* the black and white television series. I loved Cristina Ricci's version of her in the movies. And I love Adult Wednesday Addams on YouTube. Wednesday Addams might be my spirit animal.

#2: Vincent Price. House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill have been two of my favorites (Hmmm, what is about houses and Vincent?). Then, later when he did the voice for the Thriller video when I was a teenager…and his part in Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price is the voice and face of that cheesy short of scary that is the fun kind.

#3 Living Dead dolls. My older daughter collected these when she was little and I loved the combination of chubby little girl cuteness with ghoulishness. Plus dolls are inherently creepy. Just ask Karen Black.

#4 The Walking Dead television series. I'm in season 6 right now. I know, I'm behind. The series makes good use of zombies to scare me, but it also knows that sometimes the real monsters are the other humans. Sometimes, I get so tense, I have to press pause and walk around before I can finish watching. That's some good TV.

#5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I re-watch at least part of this series every year. I'm back in Season One this year, and enjoying watching the dynamics of the Scoobies develop and, of course, the monsters. Cordelia is more interesting than I remembered.

#6: The Creature from the Black Lagoon has been a favorite monster movie of mine as long as I can remember. I probably watched in on late night television with my mother when I was a child. The parts filmed underwater always made me sympathize with the creature.

#7: Graveyards. Seriously, especially old ones. I haven't yet gotten to take a ghost tour in one, but it's on my list. Walking through a historic graveyard always give me a shiver and my imagination loves to make up stories there. It's an inspiring place.

#8: The Thing. 1982 version. Kurt Russell and those crazy slimy special effects. Fast moving
creatures on the floor that make me want to pull my feet up into the sofa, just in case there's one beneath it.

#9: Fog. Especially at twilight. Even better if there are unexpected headlights shining through it.

#10: Sweeney Todd. Not so much the recent movie. I mean, it was okay, but it left some of my favorite bits out, and Helena Bonham Carter is no Angela Lansbury, who sang the part on the CD I fell in love with in college. Talk about a tale of dark vengeance. "There's no place like London." Indeed.

#11: Zombieland. Because I like horror mixed with humor. Runner-up: Shaun of the Dead. Ask me again in an hour and I might flip flop those. Or pick An American Werewolf in London instead. All of them are really well done and play on a variety of emotions as you watch.

#12: Spiders. They fascinate me, and completely wig me out. At the same time.

#13: The Bad Seed. Creepy children always get to me. The sweet face cover cold evil gives me a shiver every time.

#14: When you wake up in the middle of the night and your daughter is standing next to the bed, looming over you half asleep herself, face glowing in lamplight. Yeah. Real children are creepy, too.

#15: Betrayal at House on the Hill. It's a board game. A really great one, where the players work cooperatively to try to survive the horrors a haunted house throws at you. There are still a lot of scenarios we haven't tried.

#16: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978.  Good Lord, but this one creeps me out. The half-formed body of Jeff Goldblum in the bathhouse scene. Leonard Nimoy's gaslighting the people who feel like their husbands and wives have become someone else…and I'm pretty sure that was when he was still human.

#17: Jaws. I know this one isn't exactly a horror movie, in the traditional sense. But it sure scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kiddo. I didn't even want to take a bath by myself just in case of sharks.

#18: Poltergeist. This one doesn't hold up that well. I saw it again recently…and it didn't get under my skin the same way. But when I was a kid, I stayed up all night talking it through with my mother because I was so disturbed.

#19: Hitchhiker ghost stories. You know, the one where a guy picks up a girl and lends her his jacket, then finds it draped over a tombstone? I LOVE that one. In all its iterations.

#21: Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Possibly the first gothic novel I ever read. And definitely feeding into my interest in scary children. Plus ghosts. And garden globes.

#22: The Cask of Amontillado or maybe The Tell-Tale Heart. Oooh. Or The House of Usher. The Masque of the Red Death. The Pit and the Pendulum. Dang, it's hard to pick. Edgar Allan Poe really knew the darkness.

#23: Gloom, the cardgame. You get a family--a weird one, like of circus freaks or misfits or misanthropes--and you're trying to kill them off by giving them the worst life possible. There's a lot of humor in the cards, and the fun part, IMHO is telling the story of Poor Angel, the Starry-Eyed Serial Killer who was pursued by poodles, written out of the will, and was driven to drink before she was finally devoured by weasels.

#24: Frankenstein. The original book, many of the movie versions, many of the times the story was retold as an episode of a TV show. I find mad scientists fascinating and compelling, so there's Victor, but Mary wrote such a sympathetic creature as well. It's a story that pulls at the heart from so many angles, and horrifies without showing much.

#25: Speaking of mad scientists: The Fly. The 1986 version. Hmmm . . .that puts Jeff on this list twice. But yeah, wonderful for the body horror of it. (Shudder)

#26: Jack-o-Lanterns. Thanks to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and just some very talented pumpkin carvers, I've seen a lot of good ones. They both make me smile and creep me out a bit.

#27: Night noises in an unfamiliar house, especially an old one. They're harder to explain away. Rational's got nothing to do with it.

#28: Stephen King and Joe Hill. I know! Two of them in one family. And they've both creeped me out muchly with their words. The Shining. Heart-Shaped Box. Pet Sematary. Locke and Key. When I was in middle school, I made the mistake of reading something of King's when I was alone at home. I had to sit at the top of the stairs with my back against the wall while I finished just in case something found me. I think it was Salem's Lot.

#29: Halloween lights. I'm especially fond of the purple and green ones. They're pretty, but also just a bit creepy.

#30: Dead flowers. They're just sad, all brown and crispy.

#31: The Univinted. A ghost story favorite. Or The Others. Or The Innocents. A Tale of Two Sisters. Oh heck, I can't pick. GHOSTS!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I LIke the Dark

I was talking with someone recently. A colleague. A sunny sort of woman dressed in draping sparkly things. She's kind and intelligent and I like her quite a bit, but you wouldn't have to look further than our wardrobes to see that we don't have much in common. 

We were talking about books, as us reading-folk are likely to do. I'm a pretty eclectic reader, and I'll give almost any kind of book a shot, but Sparkle and I couldn't find a single title in common in our recently reads or TBR lists. 

You see, I like the dark. 

In real life, I try to stay in the sun, in the sense that I'm looking for the up-side, the silver lining, the half-full glass. 

But when I read, watch television or movies, write, draw, play video games, or even listen to music, I skew dark. I'm drawn to pessimistic characters, wounded birds with vengeful hearts. I'm not really interested in the happy, glossy stuff and I distrust completely happy endings. They feel false to me. 

Maybe it's like Papa Tolstoy said:

Maybe in spite of my can-do attitude and belief that hard work can get you out of almost anything, my deepest darkest heart takes, well, a darker view. Am I a cynic at the core? 

I'm not sure. I mean, I am a skeptic. But like Mulder, I want to believe. I don't think it's just morbid fascination. It's not that I like pain and suffering, even on the page. It's more like I value the coming out on the other side. The hard won truths. If it comes too easily, I doubt the value. 

I'd like to think it comes from personal high standards. I'm the type of person who pushes herself--looking for the crucible that transforms me into the best version of me. I want to be challenged, to prove myself. 

And I'm looking for stories that do that, too: test the limits of the heart, the body, the mind. Confrontation reveals the best of us (and sometimes the worst). The dark night of the soul of the hero's journey. 

Maybe that's it. I explore the darkness, the better to live in the light. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop: Guest, Mary Schmidt

Hi, I’m Samantha Bryant, author of the Menopausal Superheroes series, among other things, and I’m your host for this stop in the Hunt. For my regular readers, please note that this is a special guest post as part of the Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop.

If you would like to find out more about the Hunt, please click here -

Somewhere on this page is a hidden number. Collect all the numbers from all the authors’ posts, and then add them up. Once you’ve added all the numbers, and if I am your last author, please head to the official website and click on the ENTER HERE page to find the entry form. Only entries will the correct number will qualify to win.

The author I’m pleased to be hosting for Virtual FantasyCon’s Blog Hop Hunt today is Author Mary Schmidt

Hi I’m the author of “When Angels Fly”, and seven other books, and I’m your guest for this stop in the tour. My husband and I write under the pen names of S. Jackson and A. Raymond.

S. Jackson is a retired registered nurse; a member of the Catholic Church, and has taught kindergarten Catechism; she has worked in various capacities for The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, (son, Noah, is an Eagle Scout), and sponsored trips for high school children music. She loves all 49 forms of art but mostly focuses on the visual arts; as amateur photography, traditional, and graphic art (especially fantasy works and book cover) as her disabilities allow.

A Raymond is a member of the Catholic Church, and has helped his wife with The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, and sponsored children alongside his wife on music trips. He devotes his spare time to fishing, reading, playing poker, Jeeping, and travel adventures with his wife. Keep on reading until you find our give-a-way!

Our first book, ‘When Angels Fly’, is a touching memoir, and it is a memoir, survival fraught with tragedy that will hold your soul. In utter sadness, great hope and faith grows. This is the inspirational story about a woman who was able to rise above an extremely abusive childhood and later marriage, to learn faith, love, and motherhood from her own son’s courageous fight with cancer. It provides an illuminating example of how women who are in physically, mentally and emotionally abusive relationships can successfully escape even in the most challenging of times. It also warns of how the actions of medical professionals can be a soothing balm or a deadly arrow. The story draws the reader into the life of a mother and her wonderful little boy who is strong beyond his years and who leaves a lasting impression on all who knew him.


Excellent read. Tragic story of a woman and the abuse she suffered growing up and later in marriage. This book shows the struggles she faced while in an abusive marriage, losing two children, and one child's battle with cancer. She tells of hospital life while sitting by her son’s bed and having to be two hundred and thirty miles away from her other child. And how she finds true love and a man to love, cherish, help her through, and spend the rest of her life with. ~ Janese Base, RN, BSN
Tissues are a must. A true story about pain and suffering, life is not the same for anyone, and in this case it is so very tragic. A heart-warming story and I don't want to give anything away, but once you sit down to read it, you won't put it down. This is a must read book and a must share when you are done. I highly recommend When Angel Fly. ~ Susan Vance, Author, Eyes Like Mine

I was fortunate enough to be given this book as a gift, and I am so grateful to my friend for giving me this to read... it was truly inspiring. I can honestly say that no book that I have read in recent times has had the emotional impact on me that this book has had. I rode right alongside this mother from the first diagnosis of her child's illness, right through to the conclusion. Even before her child's illness, I had to keep asking myself; are there really parents out there who treat their children as horrifically as this woman's mother and her family had treated her? She went from an abused child, to a loveless marriage filled with physical, mental and sexual abuse, to losing her first child to a stillborn birth and then finally reaping the rewards with two beautiful young boys. Life was finally looking up for her before little Eli was struck down with cancer. We follow his journey, step by step as the young mother attempts to keep her sanity, split her time between one child in the hospital and one two hundred and fifty miles away. You can really feel her anguish and pain in every page. All the while, the very people who should have been helping to ease her burden; her mother, her siblings and her soon to be ex-husband were so busy plotting and planning on how they could benefit from this turn of events, she was left to struggle along with support only from some special friends.

This book is a harrowing read, make no mistake, but it is also incredibly rewarding. To anyone who has ever complained about how hard their life is - I say; read "When Angels Fly". To anyone who has ever said their life sucked - I say; read "When Angels Fly". When you have seen the courage, the fortitude and the immense challenges that this woman and her beautiful son faced you can't help but be uplifted and reminded just how much we all have to be grateful for.

This book reveals our indomitable human spirit in such a powerful and uplifting way. The book is in a large part a daily journal of Eli's time in hospital but I totally understand the need the author felt to document every day - every day with her son was so very precious. This book had a powerful impact on me as a reader. I was truly moved by and genuinely felt everything this poor woman had to endure... mostly alone. There was no way I could not give this book five stars. The memories of Sarah, Noah and Eli will live in my memory well after I've consigned this book to the "read" shelf. I feel privileged to have shared Sarah's harrowing journey. When Angels Fly does exactly what it sets out to do I believe - it reminds us that "There but for the grace of God, go I". I recommend this book to all.... it will make you cry, but it will also uplift you. Well done.
~ Grant Leishman, Author, The Second Coming

We have a picture book out which contains forty works of art from the M Schmidt Photography Gallery for others to enjoy. Mediums used include photography, traditional watercolor and oil paintings, as well as digital works and fantasy pieces mostly using bamboo, watercolor and/or ink stains. Please enjoy our selection of surreal works, which include fantasy, dark, sensual, and supernatural pieces.

We also use our real backyard squirrels, along with their funny antics, as inspiration for our visually creative comics, geared for young and old alike. We think that our funny squirrels mixed with old costumes and scrap art pieces will have readers laughing for a long time. Prop illustrations/graphics belong to our children and are used for educational purposes. One of our squirrel books is educational, and promotes all of the United States National Parks.

Lastly, we have an educational children’s book series in the works with two books published so far. The first, How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends, is about how one small dog, a baby squirrel and his mama squirrel become best friends. A baby squirrel is lost and found safely. This story book helps children to learn how to be safe when they are outside their home and illustrates that children always need to keep the adults in their lives aware of where they play and how to stay safe.

Review: “How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends” was an enjoyable read from the first page. One would never think that a dog would not only befriend a squirrel but help him. I was reading with a smile on my face. I will certainly read this story to my grandchildren and buy as a gift for others. This would make a wonderful children's story for my church. Thank you for your efforts in making this a lovely book. The graphics are awesome..." Susan Vance, Author, Forever My Sister

Connect here: @MaryLSchmidt

Your chance to be chosen to receive one of five fantasy book covers / art pieces that I will give-a-way!!! I will post ten designs and five lucky winners will each receive a free one!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#IWSG: How do you know your story is ready?

So, the prompt for this month's IWSG is right down the dark alley of my insecurities: How do you know your story is ready?

I have a history of mild overconfidence and it has definitely bitten me in the butt before--embarrassing me by having my work in front of people when it wasn't really ready. When the kind-hearted publisher or editor has to say something diplomatic like, "Maybe you should go through this manuscript one more time to clean up the inconsistencies."

Then again, constantly waffling and second-guessing yourself isn't going to "get 'er done" either. You can easily devote your entire life to a single piece that way.

So, like everything, it's finding a balance. Perfection is the enemy of the good. And if you want to make a career of writing, as I do, you have to finish things--and you can't take ten years per project either. We need something between slapdash and OCD. 

What's been working for me is a two-pronged tactic: utilizing first readers, and knowing when to put it down and walk away for a while.

When I'm writing something new, I LOVE it! I think it's the best thing ever…until I hit the first snag. Then I think it's all garbage. Un-rescuable. A stupid idea in the first place. 

Then, I find my way past the snag and I love it again…until I hit the next snag. But I've learned to persevere. That the most important thing about a draft is finishing it. Making it good is what second, third, and fourth drafts are for. 

My first readers (I use a few different groups of people, depending on what I'm doing, where I am, and how much time I have to get it write: online writer friends, real life critique group with a schedule, the husband and older daughter, etc.) are often there for me in the middle of that process. Helping me see the things that are good in something I might only be able to see the flaws in. Letting me bounce ideas off them or pissing me off by being right. I'm so lucky to have them!

The "walking away" advice is some of the best I've ever gotten. You don't do yourself any good banging your head against the wall. You do stupid things in that mindset, like deleting whole manuscripts or slashing and burning indiscriminately. So, when a piece of writing really isn't working for me, I put it down. I take a walk. I write something else (because I write every day… even on days that I can't make progress on my main project). I call my mom. I watch bad TV (it really helps: I know at least that my writing isn't *that* bad). 

So, how do I know when it's "ready"? 

I read it again after a pause of at least a few days…longer if the piece is really personal. If it still mostly feels good and right, it's time to stick a fork in it and call her done. If it doesn't, I'm usually calm and distant enough after that pause to be a little dispassionate and manage to throw out the nasty bath water without also losing the baby. 

If I can't find the problems for myself, I go to some of those first readers and see what they have to say. Often, it's not that they tell me what to do, but something in the conversation will be the click that puts the gears back on track and I get my A-ha! moment and fling myself back at the keyboard with gusto. 

I often wish writing was more like baking, where you could literally poke it with a toothpick and know that if it comes out clean, you're ready for primetime. But these are the best tests I've found. It's still a game I play by feel. 

What works for you? Whether it's writing or some other creative endeavor, how do you know when you're done? 
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Find Out What They Don't Want You to Know: Read a Banned Book!

Click the picture to check out the ALA information on Banned Books Week

Someday I hope to see my books banned. Given the caliber of literature that attracts this kind of ire, I would be in excellent company. Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Harper Lee, JD Salinger, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck. It's quite a list of literary luminaries.

If my books were to be banned, it would mean I wrote something that truly mattered--that scared certain kinds of people with the power of the words and ideas. It would mean I shook the establishment. That would be quite a measure of success!

This is Banned Books Week, which is always a great opportunity to see what "they" didn't want you to read. So, to celebrate,  here are some thoughts on the top five Banned and Challenged Classics on the ALA list. It turns out I've read them all, because I'm a rebel, Dottie.

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Well, of course, they don't want you to read this one. It might give you the impression that rich people are not infallible bastions of society out there to protect the common people with their good sense and practical decision making. You might come away thinking that money can't buy happiness and that there are dangers in trying to be something you're not. G-d forbid!

2. The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger. 

Another dangerous, subversive book. A person reading this might come to think that there is beauty even in a flawed world or a flawed person. They might come to value sincerity and honesty. A reader might feel less alienated by connecting with a character who feels even more alienated than she does. Can't have that now, can we?

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

Bad things happen in this book. Good people come to harm. And they don't just roll over and take it. They keep moving, they fight back, they endure. Despite their seeming powerlessness against big bankers and the one-percenters of their day, the Joads have a nobility. You might just walk away from these pages thinking that there is such a thing as righteous anger and that respect is worth fighting for. I'm surprised they let this one stay in print. That's some dangerous stuff there.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Atticus Finch has gotten a bad rep here lately, thanks to another book. But he was a voice of reason for generations, and I think he still deserves his reputation for patience and calm, clear thinking. The novel allows for plenty of shades of gray when it comes to big moral issues. There is no black and white, even in a story that is largely about the relationship between blacks and whites. Truth is messy. Kindness and empathy are keys to understanding that many forget they have in their pockets, especially during a presidential election. So, yeah. Obviously this book is the devil.

5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This one is a triple threat. The main characters are poor, black women. Three things a lot of America doesn't want to talk about, especially not when they pile up into one person like that. Life has not been easy for Celie and Shug, and the story doesn't pull any punches about that. It's not a diatribe or a rant. It's a moving story, one that lets you in on realities that are not pleasant or easy to stomach. So, if we're to keep denying that racism, poverty, and misogyny are problems in this great nation, then this book must be stopped!

So, there you have it.

I'll never understand the impulse to ban a book. If you're not ready to have your horizons stretched or your assumptions questioned, then, fine, keep reading only the things that feed your own egocentric world view. But, it's really not your business what other people read.

When someone tries to tell you that a book is dangerous, I recommend you rush out and read it immediately. Because your mind is your own. You should look at things for yourself and decide their worth. Otherwise, what's your brain for?

Happy Banned Books Week! Read something they'd rather you didn't.