Wednesday, December 26, 2018

My Year in Words

2018 was the first year since I launched my author life in earnest in which I did not publish a novel. I think that's why, here at year's end, I feel like I'm waiting for something. That could also be because I'm also literally waiting for something though. :-) (See November for what we're waiting for).

Here's a look back at 2018 in Samantha's Writing Life: the author events, the words written and revised, the works released, and the books read and reviewed. Given that it was also a year in which my daughter graduated high school, my husband changed jobs, my other daughter started middle school, two people I cared about died, and I took on a new course in my already jam-packed teaching day…I feel pretty good about these stats.

Events: Illogicon, Taught "Write Your Novel, Part I" for Central Carolina Community College.
Wrote: 35,410 words
Revised: 34,099 words
Read and Reviewed: 2 books

January feels so long ago now that it's a dim memory. I do know though, that I had picked back up in earnest on my WIP: Thursday's Children, a young adult near-future dystopian. That New Year's rush of enthusiasm and commitment kept me going at a good pace for a while.

This book has taken me longer to write than I expected (I'm still working on it in December, which means it's been about 18 months). I'd been spoiled by how much quicker it can be to continue with an established world in a series rather than creating a whole new one, but I'm still happy to be creating something new. Staying on one project too long can be stultifying.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of War and Peace, Mysticon
Wrote:  27,266 words
Revised:  24,733 words
Read and Reviewed:  3 books

Mid-way through February I lost momentum on the novel. I still wrote every day, but I was cheating on my novel with short stories and blog posts and things that I could complete with a slightly scattered focus.

Conventions are great fun, and a great way to get the word out there about your work, but they do also take a fair bit of time: prepping for your panels and events, social media promotion, and the three days of the convention itself are a pull from whatever else you might have used that time for.

This could also have something to do with the fact that I was the cookie mom for my daughter's Girl Scout troop and February is the height of cookie season…

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Wrote:  28,475 words
Revised:  17,834 words
Read and Reviewed:  5 books

I read a lot in March. It was a "filling the well" sort of month. My momentum on the novel was low. Really, I only tinkered with it, revising a few thousand words and only adding 274 new ones across the entire month.

My publisher was imploding and I was worried about what this meant for my Menopausal Superhero series. I was dreading the confrontation that was coming about breach of contract and rights. I got the flu and part of me wonders if I got it in part because of the emotional stress weakening my reserves.

My support groups were so important in March! They kept me moving forward because I had commitments to uphold: promised chapters, stories, critiques, reviews, or blog posts. When you hit a rough patch, it's good to have friends and colleagues to keep you going.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Catch-22, Ravencon
Wrote:  25,791words
Revised:  20,856 words
Read and Reviewed:  8 books

Another month where I started strong on the novel, but fizzled on momentum halfway through the month.  The month included a convention (see above: TIME) and there was a lot of personal life to balance with my writing life: one of my daughters and I both have April birthdays.

When I look back on what I got done in April, I see that my structures served me well. I had planning meetings, networking events, and critique sessions booked in advance and there's nothing like "But I promised" to get me working even when I don't feel like it. I'm very much a "keep your commitments" girl (Thanks, Mom and Dad), so I still wrote every day. It's obvious I was still hiding from the work though when you look at how many books I read.

Ravencon was a highlight. It's a well organized convention and I've enjoyed both my sojourns there as an author guest. This year, Chuck Wendig was there as a the author guest of honor. I managed to introduce myself without making a total ass of myself and we even had a nice conversation about parenting. His munchkin is still quite little, whereas I was preparing to send one to college, so we talked about how weird that is.

Releases: Pen and Cape Society's The Good Fight 4: The Homefront
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of  True Grit,  Free Comic Book Day at Atomic Empire
Wrote:  29,955 words
Revised: 11,139  words
Read and Reviewed:  7 books

May is always hard on schoolteachers. Testing begins and all the work of the past year is called into account. Everyone is exhausted and a little mean, especially the other adults. (see my thoughts on why May should be optional)

Add to that a daughter taking four AP classes and two Honors classes who is about to graduate high school and is managing college and scholarship paperwork alongside a part time job and you have an idea of the tenor of our home life in May. My poor husband! (He's still here in December, so he must really love us).

The new release helped. "Coming Out as Leonel" is one of my favorite Menopausal Superhero shorts that I have written and I was happy to have a chance to get it out to a new audience. (You can get it for free by signing up for my newsletter, BTW). Leonel is a crowd favorite character. Seeing your work in print is always validating and motivating, too.

I made NO HEADWAY on the novel at all in May. 300 words revised one afternoon. I guess so I could still tell myself I was working on it?

I did, however, write a new short story that had been on my backburner for a good long while, and was really pleased with how it came out. "Late Bloomer" is one of my Shadow Hill stories (a series I work on between larger projects, weird stories that all take place in the same suburban neighborhood, suspiciously like the one I live in). The story is out on submission right now, so we'll see if it finds a good home.

I also did a fair amount of journal writing, which is useful to me when I'm going through rougher times. Getting it on paper (on into a document) seems to let me set it aside and focus where I want to.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of A Wrinkle in TimeConCarolinas
Wrote:  24,485 words
Revised:  29,360 words
Read and Reviewed:  4 books

So, I survived and made it to summer break. The girl graduated. The other girl became a middle schooler.

I enjoyed that side step into short stories in May, so I stayed there all of June as well, revising old stories and writing new ones. By the end of the month, I had written 7,128 new words of fiction in short stories and revised another 29,360. That feeling of finishing things is addictive, I think. It's definitely one of the appeals of writing shorter things.

Working with a friend, I built a database of what was available for submission with the intention of getting my work back out there in submission. After all, no one will publish stories that just sit on my hard drive. You've got to submit work to see it published!

That meant that I still stayed stuck on the novel though. I didn't check in on it at all during June. Not even a token afternoon of editing like I'd done in May.

ConCarolinas was contentious in 2018, and I waffled until the last minute about whether or not to keep my commitment to go after some controversy surrounding one of the scheduled guests and his behavior towards other panelists and con go-ers. He ended up not attending, and I ended up having a great con, both in terms of sales and networking, and the controversy remained low-key, at least in my presence.

I was on several panels with Seanan McGuire, the author guest of honor, an experience which only deepened my admiration of her work. I gifted her the last print copy of Going Through the Change I had with me when she expressed interest, and I'm hopeful that she might even read it someday :-)

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of The Good Earth, Con-Gregate, my yearly Writers Retreat
Wrote:  34,832 words
Revised:  15,303 words
Read and Reviewed:  2 books

Thank goodness for writer's retreats! My critique group has, for the past few years, scheduled a few days away from home in July for writing. We rent a house together, share meal planning and prep, and write and talk about writing, enjoying the respite from our other responsibilities.

This year, we went to Pelican House at the Trinity Center in Morehead City, NC, a place where I have taken writing retreats solo before. I love it because the meals are prepared for me and there's a lot of lovely setting to explore when you need to clear your head.

This is where I found my footing in my novel again. I'd been reading Gabiela Pereira's DIY MFA, which is a great collection and analysis of a variety of advice surrounding writing process and productivity. There's a technique she suggests called scene cards. I've never been an outliner, but I thought it couldn't hurt and might help, so I gave it a go. I wrote about it more detail in this blog post. But the TL;DR is: it worked! I started moving forward in the story again.

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of The Grifters
Wrote:  21,201 words
Revised:  16,286 words
Read and Reviewed:  2 books

So, 21,201 might not look that impressive when I just said that I found my footing in the novel again, but 3,225 new words and 16,186 revised words on a project that had all but stalled felt wonderful! I worked on it steadily, too. A little each day, with real progress on over half the days of the month. Thursday's Children was back on the road to becoming a completed novel.

August also came with a bit of an ego bump, just when I needed it. A magazine found me and sought me out for an author interview. That "out of the blue" stuff is the best! I definitely appreciate it when friends and colleagues notice and promote my work, but part of me thinks they only do it because they like me, as a person. So, it's personal rather than professional recognition. When it's a stranger, it's easier to believe that they honestly admire the work.

Events: Ravencon 13.5
Wrote:  26,512 words
Revised:  13,355 words
Read and Reviewed: 6 books

Spring 2018 had been rough in terms of time management and I decided that going forward, I would do fewer spring events and show a little respect for the demands of my day job and family as well as my own physical and emotional limits. So, I was thrilled when Ravencon added a .5 event, a smaller convention in September. I signed up right away and had a wonderful time! 

Since some of the bigger name authors who travel the same convention circuit I do weren't there, I got to feel like a bigger fish in the pond than is typical. The whole convention had an intimate feel that was right for my comfort levels as an introvert faking comfort with public events.

September was also good for forward momentum on Thursday's Children, with another 2,378 in new words added and 13,355 in revisions. Revisions in my case often means serious expansion of a skeletal scene or structural re-arrangement, so those 13K words are not to be sneezed at as window dressing or surface edits. They are real progress.

Releases: "The Girl in the Pool" a daylight ghost story in Off the Beaten Path 3; "Ashes" a southern gothic demon lover tale in Beyond the Pane
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Les Misérables, Conapalooza, Real Life Ghost Stories
Wrote:  36,444 words
Revised:  0 words
Read and Reviewed:  3 books

I didn't work on my novel in October.

The difference was that it was intentional.

A friend of mine does a flash fiction challenge each October called Nightmare Fuel. She provides visual prompts and the participants write flash fiction to go with each. I've participated for a couple of years now and I find that the story-a-day format is a great refresher, a sort of vacation from the work of writing to remember that it's fun by playing with work that I'm not applying as much pressure on. (You can view the stories I wrote for the challenge here).

More than once, these play-pieces I've begun for Nightmare Fuel have grown into something I saw published, which goes to show that leaving yourself space to play can be good for your work.

I also wrote 31 blog posts here at Balancing Act in October, each celebrating an aspect of Halloween. Once in a while, it's nice to just let my inner fan girl squee about the things she loves, you know.

Conapalooza was fun, if light on sales. They're new, in an area of the country where there aren't that many conventions and geek-centric events, so I think they'll continue to see growth in upcoming years. A highlight was hearing my sister do her first public reading of her work. Yep, writing is contagious y'all. Watch out, or you might catch it, too!

The big news was that the tension with my publisher resolved. I asked for and received my rights back without struggle or animosity. I'm so relieved!

Events: First Monday Classics discussion of To the Lighthouse, Local Authors Book Fair
Wrote:  27,828 words
Revised:  28,723 words
Read and Reviewed: 2 books

I jumped back into Thursday's Children with both feet on November first and made steady progress all month, adding 7,162 new words and revising 20,723.

I also made a big push on submitting all those short stories I worked on earlier in the year, which including a bit of revision time on those as well. All in all, I made 17 submissions in the month of November. For comparison, I submitted 0-1 pieces all the other months in 2018.

The Local Authors Book Fair held by my local Friends of the Public Library was a great success. I sold a fair number of books, made some new writer friends, and had a great day.

I signed with a new publisher! The Menopausal Superhero series will soon be re-released and carried by Falstaff Books, of Charlotte, NC. I'm so pleased to have signed with Falstaff. Everything I know of them is positive, and I expect to be treated fairly and expand my readership under their auspices. I'll share publication dates and information as soon as I have it!

Knowing that my books are in a stable home has me excited about the series again and I expect to get back to that long-stalled fourth book in the series in 2019.

December: (numbers as of December 21)
Releases: Tracing the Trails: A Constant Reader's Reflections on the Work of Stephen King
Events: First Monday Classics discussion of Little House in the Big Woods
Wrote:  23,172 words
Revised:  8,756 words
Read and Reviewed:  4 books

December has continued the positive trends started in November, with steady progress on the novel and continuing to get my work out there on submission. A few rejections came back and I just immediately turned those puppies around and sent them seeking a home somewhere else. 

A writing partner, Nicole Givens Kurtz, and I have sent out proposals for our nonfiction teaching book On Teaching Speculative Fiction and I'm feeling hopeful that we'll find a good home for our work. 

A nonfiction essay I wrote about Stephen King's collection of short stories, Nightmares and Dreamscapes (especially Dolan's Cadillac) was published in Tracing the Trails a labor of love from a long-time writing friend and my nemesis on the Magic Spreadsheet, Chad A. Clark

I feel as though I'm ending 2018 on a positive and productive note that will carry me into 2019 full of hope and energy. So despite the rollercoaster feeling of the year, I'm glad I got on the ride!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

What I Read in 2018

A lot of the things I read in 2018 weren't written in 2018 or even in the 2000s or 1900s at all. I help facilitate the First Monday Classics Book Club at my library with another author-friend, James Maxey, so some of the older reads on this list stem from that group, though not all of them. We read a lot of good stuff this year. The one that will probably linger with me longest is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, though I also loved reading A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and revisiting A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle.

My neighborhood book club seems to select a lot of nonfiction, which I really appreciate because, while I usually find I enjoy nonfiction, I seldom choose it for myself. Our most recent read was Educated by Tara Westover, which I found fascinating for its insight into a world I usually only see in the aftermath on the news. My favorite, though, was Isaac's Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Storm in History by Erik Larson. It was especially apropos in a year when two hurricanes swept my home state of North Carolina.

There are a few things here I read to support other authors, friends and colleagues or just people I agreed to help out with reviews for whatever reason. My favorite of these was Transference by Kate Jonuska. It's a superhero novel, similar to my own in that acquiring superpowers is not necessarily regarded as a boon, but more as something the character now has to deal with.

Others are just things I've been meaning to read for a long time. I spent a bit of reading time this year on gothic romance and horror because the next book tapping on my shoulder to write is a gothic romance and I wanted to steep myself in that lovely dark brew in preparation.

 The Woman in Black by Susan Hill was FABULOUS. It was amazing how the tropes were turned on their ears simply by casting our ghost-seeing-character as a Victorian man rather than a woman.

Among general fiction, things I picked up just because I wanted to, I enjoyed Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series 1 and 2 the best. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet has been described by some as "rainbows and unicorns space opera", which I think they mean as an insult.  The series definitely has a very positive outlook rather than the usual angsty grimdark we see in space opera, so it's different, which I think is the best thing about it. I enjoyed it for the exploration of cultural dissonances that would naturally arise when different kinds of aliens live and work together. The sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, is an exploration of what constitutes life, through the eyes of an AI character. Thought provoking, and still, in the end, about love and friendship.

Goodreads says I've read 59 as of today (I'm writing this in the first half of December), but it's looks like they are counting Kill the Farm Boy, which was a DNF (did not finish) for me (it felt like it was trying too hard to me, and I didn't find it funny as I had hoped), so we'll say 58. I've got one in progress I'll finish soon, and two more I expect to finish in December. So, I'll probably finish my year at 61 books read. I set my goal at 52, one per week, and usually can exceed it, without having to pile up on short reads at the last minute, thanks to the magic of audiobooks that let me read while I handle the mindless minutiae of domestic life.

So, the count:

Classics: 17 
(I count classics of speculative fiction as well as literary fiction here)

Nonfiction/Memoir: 12 
(Frederick Douglass, I counted as classic memoir, so counts twice)

Fiction: 30

Not bad for the crazy-busy year I've had. How was your year in books? What did you read that I should? Did we read anything in common this year? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Slowing Down for Snow Days

Time, it seems, has sped faster with each year of my life. Most days are so stuffed that at the end, I fall onto the sofa feeling like I've been run over. It gets to me after a while, even when the things my day is stuffed with are all pleasant and fun. 

I get frazzled and grumpy if I don't get to slow down, appreciate, and reflect often enough. 

Writing is good for that. It's a quiet, solo activity, reflective and thoughtful. But there are times when even that is not enough to reset my equilibrium. 

But, as I write this, I'm on my second snow day, with the possibility of yet another one coming. The timing couldn't be better. Thank you, Mother Nature! 

My house was well stocked with yummy things thanks to our Chanukah preparations. Our power
stayed on, so we could enjoy the full gamut of entertainment options we've gathered over the years. We had enough wood for fires and all four Bryants were already at home when the weather hit. 

As a group, the Bryants finished some lingering projects for school, cleaned up, caught up on laundry, baked, slept extra, played games, read, played in the snow, petted the dog and told him he's pretty, and just sat and talked beside a fire with cocoa. 

Even the husband who still had to work, because his work can be done from home, got to sleep later, avoid driving, eat warm food prepared with love, and enjoy better breaks during his day. 

We didn't run any errands, do any shopping (except maybe the clicky kind: online), visit anyone outside of walking distance, or attend any events. 

I'm glad the weather forced us into a little quiet time just as we needed it. All of us are the better for the lull. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

IWSG: Five Objects in Your Writing Space

It's the first Wednesday of the month which 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 and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the December 5 posting of the IWSG are J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey! Be sure to check out what they have to say, too!

December 5 question - What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?

So, I had to laugh when I saw the question this month because I literally just posted about making a writing space for myself LAST WEEK. I'm so excited about having a "room of my own" at long last! I totally don't mind talking about this some more.

Our house didn't really have an available space that I could claim solely for writing until the beginning of this school year, when the eldest left for college. Since then, I've been transforming the room that had been the youngest child's bedroom into an office for me.

It'll be a slow go. Remodeling takes time and money, two things I am perennially short on, since the two things I do for a living (teaching and writing) both pay rather poorly, at least in dollars.

But I am already using the space in its transitional phase and am thrilled to show you five objects from my writing space.

First, there are plants. I've never been particularly good at raising house plants, but I love having pieces of nature around me, so I'm trying to raise some house plants in my new space. I can breathe better when I'm among plants (literally and figuratively). They calm me with their silent beauty.

The room has a large window with good light and so far my three botanical guests are thriving. I have some purple Wandering Jew transplanted from my outdoor plant before the frost killed it. Since I'm vaguely Jewish myself, and a bit of a wanderer, this purple leaved beauty seemed a natural choice.

On her last visit, my mom got me a Christmas cactus. It's beautiful! And hard to kill, or so I'm told.

Lastly, I have a red begonia purchased from the kids in the gardening club at my middle school. Our science teacher is a wonder with plants and I get the benefit of that with inexpensive plants that our shared students have had a hand in. 

The view out the window right now is of a back yard full of fallen and falling leaves and winter-baring branches, so I've got a taste of Mother Nature out there, too. Sitting in here the other night when it was raining was an absolute joy.

Second, is Franklin. He's my compart-amus: a hippopotamus foot stool, with a hidden compartment.

He holds my tea on his flat back, my post-it notes and pens inside, and sometimes my poor achy feet at the end of the work day.

Occasionally my dog has been known to cuddle up to him, too.

I spotted him online and knew he was the right blend of useful and whimsical to make my office feel like my own space. Isn't he cute?

Next is my Irish shawl. I'm at that phase of life where my temperature gauge is unreliable. I go from hot to cold and back again in endless cycles that can make it hard to stay physically comfortable and focused on my words.

I'm a fan of shawls rather than jackets or sweaters. They are flexible, letting me cover whatever part of me might need covering at any given moment. They're beautiful and soft, making me feel feminine and glamorous even if I'm wearing my Punisher tee shirt and holey sweatpants underneath.

When I was earning my Master's from Bread Loaf School of English, I was fortunate in that I was able to spend a summer semester at Oxford. I admired shawls like this one, but didn't have the budget to buy one.

But my mom--champion of thrift and yard sale shopping--found one for me at an estate sale, which I have treasured and cuddled ever since. 

Fourth is my planning chart. After reading parts of the DIY-MFA book by Gabriela Pereira earlier this year, this lifelong pantser decided to try a kind of outlining.  (Gasp! Shock!)

Ms. Pereira calls this technique "scene cards." For each scene, you make a card (I used color coded post-it notes: orange for Kye'luh; green for Jason; and gold for Malcolm, my three POV characters; and pink ones for revision or other random thoughts I don't want to lose) and record four pieces of information for each scene/chapter:

  • a title for the scene
  • the major players
  • the action
  • the purpose (structurally)
I gave this a go at a summer writing retreat, making a descriptive outline of what I had already written by the seat of my pants, and using it to identify holes and make plans for the rest of the book. I was stuck big time, and I figured it couldn't hurt. 

It's really helping me visualize the work. And finally having a wall of my own that's not in the middle of family traffic is a delight because I can hang my chicken-scratch mess up and not feel bad about leaving an eyesore for others. 

Lastly:  my lamp. 

Another great thing about having my own writing space is having control over the light. 

I like soft, warm light, generally not blaring down on me from above. I get enough bright, painful lighting at school, thanks. 

This lamp is a creation of my Mom and Dad's. He wired the metal tropical fern sculpture for electricity and she affixed the Tiffany-esque light fixture atop, combining several of my favorite things into one unique piece to light my writing space and remind me of the love and support my family gives me in these endeavors.

So even though I still have remnants of the Disney princess border, an odd pink stripe that was left when I removed the moulding, ugly carpet that came with the house, and cutesy flowered wallpaper, the room already feels welcoming and right. I've found renewed productivity having my own space. 

What's in the space where you create? What do you wish you could have? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.