Wednesday, December 2, 2020

IWSG: Writing, In and Out of Season


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.

December 2 question - Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why? 

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, Sylvia Ney, Liesbet @ Roaming About Cathrina Constantine, and Natalie Aguirre! 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:

I pair my writing endeavors with a teaching career, so there is definitely a feeling of seasons about my focus, trying to make regular progress in small bursts in some times of the year, and having the chance to luxuriate in longer writing sessions during others. 

During the school year, writing is shunted into a couple of hours a day at most. I still write--my daily writing chain is now over 7 years long--but I move slowly, producing somewhere between 250 and 800 words a day on average. Definitely my turtle time of year (vs. the hare). 

I made a video about this on my author YouTube recently. You can check it out here: 

Generally, when school is out, I go full-time on my writing life, devoting five or six hours a day. I still have other things to balance, of course, but even all my family, friendship, and life demands don't add up to the demands of a school day and, most of the time, I can get a couple of writing sessions a day. 

It's been a little different this year, thanks to COVID--meaning I couldn't send my youngest daughter to a friend's house or off to camp--but I still got a good four hours a day last summer by taking my writing time while she was still asleep (teenagers sleep late if you let them) and that felt like heaven. 

I look forward to being a full time writer someday, but for now, this seasonal swing works for me. It might even be the secret of my success at the moment. 

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I look forward to my months (and holiday weeks) of being *only* a writer, and my enthusiasm and anticipation probably contribute to my ability to make good use of the time. I save up ideas and promise myself I'll get to do certain projects when my writing season arrives. 

I appreciate those hours all the more because I don't have them any old day. They're a gift. Something special. 

How about you? How does your yearly flow go for your creative endeavors? 

Friday, November 27, 2020

November Reads


I started November on deadline, so I wasn't reading much. But once I submitted my novel to my critique group, I found a little breathing room and picked up a few reads. I finished four books this month, and two of them were long. I started two others, that I'm not sure I'll finish in the next few days…so I'll write about them next month. 

First was Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. I've read two other books by Roanhorse: Trail of Lightning and Storm of Locusts, books and 2 of her The Sixth World series. I LOVED both of those, so when I saw she had a new release at the same time that I got my monthly Audible credit, I was on that sucker. 

Black Sun
is not much like the Sixth World books, but that didn't matter after a few pages. I loved it.  An epic fantasy story pulling from Native cultures for its lore, with fascinating characters, and an interesting world. Even though I'm not generally one for "court intrigue" kinds of stories, this one attached all the plotting and machination to huge emotional stakes, and I was riveted. 
Robinson Crusoe was the selection of my First Monday Classics Book Club through my library, a group I help facilitate with James Maxey, another local writer and friend. It's one of those books that I feel I ought to know, but had never actually read. I knew the broad strokes of the heavily-referenced book and had gathered that it was steeped in British imperialist racism, so I had some clue what I was in for. I went back and forth between an audiobook and a kindle edition for this one. 

I actually found less cringe-inducing racism than I expected . . .maybe because the character spends three-quarters of the books alone. Friday doesn't enter on the scene until about that point. Until then, the book is a quiet exploration of what it might take to survive and a bit of reflection on the meaning of life. I'm still not sure how much I'd recommend it. I found the last quarter-to-third of the book frustrating since as soon as the narrator reconnected with broader society, he seems to have forgotten every "lesson" he learned on the beach and become the same shallow, self-serving idiot who got himself into that mess in the first place. 

Reading the book did put me an adventurous mood though, and I picked up King Solomon's Mines next, a pulpy story, largely considered to be the first "lost world" story. One thing that always fascinates me about reading older books is the secondary story--the story of the author and the era in which they are writing. Racial and societal attitudes permeate the pages, revealing the common beliefs of the time in a way that even nonfiction does not capture the same way. 

H. Rider Haggard, I learned, spent a great deal of time in Africa, and it showed in his depictions of the lands and peoples. Three African characters featured among the main cast, and they were more than just a collection of stereotypes and assumptions. Allan Quartermain, our narrator and main character, was a more nuanced character than I'm accustomed to in pulp as well. I'll probably go on and read more of this series. 

I started Allie Brosh's Solutions and Other Problems a few weeks ago, then set it aside, then picked it back up. I was reading it on kindle, which is not ideal for a book featuring so much art, requiring "pinch and zoom" to view some parts. But I don't buy books in print as much as I used to--I'm running out of house to store the books in!

It was a strange sort of book. Part self-help, part memoir, part comedy essay. And also kind of a graphic  novel. I alternately laughed, sighed in recognition, and squirmed in discomfort from chapter to chapter, but I walked away feeling soothed and seen (in a good way), so I'll probably read more by Brosh, too.

Overall, not a bad reading month. I read four books, loved one of them, and like three. 

As the month comes to a close, I'm in the middle of two more books.  Sarah J. Maas's House of Earth and Blood: Crescent City is an urban fantasy book I've been hearing quite a bit of buzz about. I spent an Audible credit to pick it up some time ago, but hadn't yet read it. I'm 12 hours into a 27 hour listen and am finding it hard to put down now, though I wasn't sure it was going to grab me at the beginning. I'll let you know next month what I think. 

Kill Three Birds is part of a new series from Nicole Givens Kurtz, a friend and colleague. I started reading it when it was newly released (a couple of months ago), but set it aside to meet that my writing deadline. It's a creative fantasy world where the people are birds, at least spiritually, connecting to different aspects of avian creatures. Coming from Nicole, I'm not surprised that it's also a mystery and a bit of a thriller, because those are her playgrounds.  I suspect I'm going to love this one. 

How about you? What did you read in November? Anything you think I'd love? There's always room in my TBR…though at this point, I'm going to need to find an elixir of immortality to have time to read it all. :-) 

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. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Scary Movie Time: October Movie Watching

If I could spare the time, I'd probably watch a movie a day in October, using Halloween as my excuse to cuddle up on the sofa with Sweetman and my daughters, re-watching old favorites and discovering new ones, while I stuff my face with popcorn. 

Alas, I must keep us in house and home, so a movie a day is not a reasonable thing. 

Still, I do tend to stuff in as many scary stories as I can in October. My daughter, age 13, is a budding horror aficionado, so I have a willing playmate when I decide to try and scare myself silly . . . and I get the bonus of sharing old favorites with my girl. So, here's what I've managed to watch so far this October: 

We kicked off our spooky season watching with The Ring, 2002. It was three of us on the sofa for this one. My husband and I had both seen it, but I don't think we'd watched it together before. The teenager knew quite a bit about the film from seeing it referenced in other social media, but hadn't seen it herself. 

What I remembered was the imagery--who could forget all that horrible hair? And the moment when the evil just crawls out of a television set and into the living room with its victim? When I saw it the first time, I'd hadn't seen much Asian or Asian-influenced horror, so the style was all new to me. This time, that imagery and style felt more familiar, but it was still quite spooky and I still think Naomi Watts is brilliant as the skeptic who becomes a believer and young David Dorfman and Daveigh Chase rocked the eerie child vibe in two very different but equally effective ways. 

The special effects held up pretty decently on re-watch, especially since that feeling of images not quite fitting in the world they are in actually worked for the story. After the movie, we watched the extras, and I have to say that all the cut scenes belonged cut. The story is all the more frightening for NOT explaining things too thoroughly. 

The Others, 2001, is one of those movies with a big twist, and I wondered if it would have good re-play value since I already knew the twist. (No spoilers: I won't reveal the twist here, in case you haven't yet seen this one). 

I'm happy to report that even when you know what's coming, there's still excellent tension. I watched for clues throughout leading to the ending and I found them, but I also found plenty of red herrings that lead the viewer to consider several interpretations of the events they are seeing. My daughter, watching for the first time, gave me no fewer than ten theories about what was happening before we got to the big reveal (none of them correct, BTW). 

Nicole Kidman's portrayal of the fragile-yet-powerful Grace Stewart is the lynchpin on which the movie rotates, but all the performances are strong. I especially loved Alakina Mann as Anne, the elder child, full of big sister bullying, boundary pushing, and a wonderful stubbornness. 

And Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Mills stole nearly every scene she was in with her quiet, mysterious manner. Chris Eccleston broke my heart as Charles Stewart, who meeting his wife in a foggy wood tells her in a painfully haunted voice, "Sometimes I bleed." (shiver)

Wonderfully atmospheric and still riveting on rewatch for sure. 

Then, my husband and I watched The Haunting, 1963, together. It's a telling of Shirley Jackson's famous book, The Haunting of Hill House . . .which is not be confused with The House on Haunted Hill, another fabulous old movie featuring Vincent Price, despite the similarity in title (maybe I'll see if I can squeeze that one in this month, too!).  

It's a bit slow as a movie, maybe because it's so exceedingly faithful to the novel, including lots of voiceovers for Julie Harris as Eleanor to show us her fragile and excitable mental state. While I enjoyed the recent Haunting of Hill House television series, 2018, that wasn't a direct telling of the book, but more an update and homage to original work. This older film is for the most part extremely true to the novel--so if you love the novel like I do, you'll appreciate it for that. 

The set was AMAZING, really making use of weird angles and shadows to up the spook factor at every turn. Well worth it just for some of the imagery and creative camera work. 

Finally, the girl and I had a mini movie marathon, watching Poltergeist, 1982, and Hush, 2016 back to back. It's been forever since I watched two movies in a row, and that, in itself, felt decadent. 

My daughter didn't find Poltergeist nearly as frightening as I did when I was a child. Ah, jaded youth.

She hated the "false ending" and I had to agree with her that it wasn't as justified as it had been in The Ring, where the investigator thought she'd gotten to the bottom of the mystery and found there was more to discover. In Poltergeist, we get Carole Ann back and things are calm long enough for the family to pack up a moving truck and then Boom! We're back in the thick of things with no indication of what caused the escalation. You could argue, I suppose, that paranormal happenings don't have to follow logic, but it still made for less satisfying story-telling.

As for me, I'm like, WTF parents? They let their bloodied and traumatized son who had just been swallowed by a monster tree wander the house alone while the parents and teenaged daughter ALL THREE ran around panicking over the missing baby? No wonder he had middle child syndrome. He *really* was invisible, poor boy. 

Hush caught our eye as we scanned movie choices on Netflix with its interesting premise: a deaf/mute woman is being hunted by a killer. The fact that she is deaf is both what helps her survive and what puts her more at risk. She isn't unnerved by some of the killer's attempts to rattle her because they rely on her hearing the creepy sounds, which of course, she doesn't. It was kind of neat, the way the film let the audience hear the sounds, then toggled to a muted version to give the impression of NOT hearing the same thing. 

Both of us felt the film was longer than it needed to be though. It was hard to hold tension for a full movie length when all you basically had happening was a man with a crossbow circling a house and woman cowering within. Maybe it would have packed more tension in a short-film version. We also were both disappointed to never get any kind of motivation explanation for the rando killer who showed up, though we thought he was interestingly chill for a character of his sort. 

I'm hoping to work in some classic monster and a couple of scary films I haven't seen yet. Are you a scary movie fan? What kind do you like? I'd love to see your suggestions in the comments! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

IWSG: When I became a "Working Writer"


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.

October 7 question - When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Beth Camp, Beverly Stowe McClure, and Gwen Gardner!
I've always been a writer (like since I could hold a writing utensil), but I've only considered myself a "working writer"for about five years, starting with the publication of my first novel. Before that I was a semi-serious hobbyist: I *did* care about finishing and polishing my work and I *did* seek publication, but it was casual, with very little pressure (internal or external) to do so at any particular speed, so I did very little, collecting maybe 1-3 small scale publication credits a year at most.
When writing became part of my day every day, when I started thinking about it terms of career and not just in the momentary challenge of the piece of writing in front of me, that's when I made the shift. 
Of course, I'm still part time. I write alongside a teaching career, so my writing life is allocated to 1-2 hours a day most days, during which I write new material, handle any business there is to handle, and work on promotional activities for the work I've already produced. 
Image Source

It's not enough time, but until the writing pays enough in dollars to support my end of the family finances, it's what I'll do. At this point, I'm near enough retiring from teaching that I think I'll remain a part timer until then. It seems wise to hold onto the greater financial security that day job gives me, even if it slows my progress on my writing career.  

Even doing it part time, though, it's different than it was. Maybe the shifts are mostly internal, but those internal shifts have made external changes as well: lengthening my list of works on Amazon because it's easier to sell *finished* work, leading to opportunities to share/speak/teach about building a writing life, and being invited to submit work based on the strength of past work (which is WAAAAY nicer than the cold call submission process when it happens). 

Defining the lines between hobby and work is individual. What matters, I think, is how it feels to you. I'd love to hear from other creatives who have or are considering crossing that line from "for fun" into "as work." What does the link look like from whichever side you're looking at it from?

Friday, October 2, 2020

September Reads

In August, I didn't ready very many books. Now, partly, this was because one of the books I *did* read was Look Homeward, Angel, which clocks in at more than 600 pages or 26 listening hours (I read that one by moving back and forth between audiobook and Kindle editions). In fact, I didn't really even finish the Wolfe novel until a day or two into September. 

So, I promised myself options in September. Sometimes I pin myself in with promises--agreeing to read and review certain books or signing on for discussions that mean I have to read a book on a certain timeframe. As much as I enjoy the book clubs, sometimes the obligation takes the joy out of it. 

So, I started with two books that I had a strong desire to read based on what I'd heard about them: 

This was my third read by Cherie Priest. I first found her novel Boneshaker a couple of years ago. I enjoyed it, and I do intend to go back for more in the series, but I haven't made it yet. 

After I read Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, I had a hankering for more Lovecraftian horror and ran across Maplecroft, which blends alternate history with Lovecraftian mythos through the character of Lizzie Borden. Right up three of my favorite alleys! I devoured that one last month. 

Chapelwood is a second book in the series, picking up some thirty years after the events of the first book, with a now-elderly, but still formidable Lizzie Borden traveling to Alabama to face another dark threat to humanity. I loved it almost as much as the first one, so it started off my September happily. 

My Dark Vanessa was not nearly as fun. That's not to say it wasn't good. It was terribly good, the kind of book that lingers with you a long time, but the subject matter is awfully real and dark and heavy and September 2020 was maybe not the right time for me to take on that kind of book. I found it un-put-downable, and also wished I had never picked it up. While I thought it was wonderful, I'm not sure I'd recommend it without a series of trigger warnings. My short take is: Lolita, as told by Lolita instead of Humbert Humbert. Complex, riveting, and…harrowing.

My Dark Vanessa was also quite long. So, I decided to choose my next few books based on a different criteria: length! 

I wanted short books. Things I could read in one to three days. Short-term commitments. Luckily, I already had a bunch of such things waiting for me from past purchases on my Kindle and in my Audible collection. 

Hero by Susan Hill, a short story intended to introduce readers to Simon Serrailler, a police detective character featured in a ten book series. Hill's writing was stellar, but I think I'd walked in expecting something like The Woman in Black, a book by Susan Hill that enraptured me, and I found instead a quiet, thoughtful policeman's tale. Good, but not my favorite sort of book.

The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderston was an Audible original I picked up sometime when it was free with my membership because I thought I'd like to know more about Marie Curie. I definitely got my wish in this fabulous performance of a play featuring Kate Mulgrew and Francesca Faridany. In fact, I have a new woman scientist to look into: Hertha Ayrton.

Pluck & Cover and Hide & Chic, two novellas of the Zombie Cosmetologist series by JD Blackrose. Light and fun, a truly original take on zombies (not mindless shamblers or brain-hungry monsters, but something entirely different).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. While there is truth in this self-help book for creatives, it's buried in a lot of tough talk that feels a lot like bullying. Turned me off. 

Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy. I picked it up for inspiration, especially since our government has me dipping between disappointment and despair these day. Unfortunately, it left me feeling depressed at the vast chasm between politicians of the past and the self-serving rich assholes we're stuck with these days. I have a hard time believing anyone currently in power would risk their own position or sacrifice their power to make a stand on a moral decision in 2020. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I'd heard of this book, but had only the vaguest idea what it was about. It ended up being a very personal story of grief and survival. My summary: "Heart-rending. A little self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing here and there, but worth it for those incandescently honest moments laid bare and shared by anyone who has ever lost someone they loved dearly."

Conversations with RBG by Jeffrey Rosen. Now *this* was what I was hoping for from the Kennedy. I picked it up because I wanted to remember how wonderful and important Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been, fresh from the surprisingly personal feeling of loss that struck me when I learned of her death. I was already in love with this woman, and I only love her more after reading these interviews and understanding the massive restraint, forethought, and gentle persuasion that cut a swath through our country's legal system and made it tolerable to be female in America. I can only pray her legacy will live on in the hearts of the women she has inspired and lead to a better tomorrow. 

Certain Woman of an Age by Margaret Trudeau. Another Audible original I picked up for free some time ago. I'd describe it as sort of half-standup-act, half Ted-talk. I found I enjoyed myself, even though the book detailed her experiences in learning to live as a bi-polar woman. It was good to see someone come out on the other side of a mental health struggle with humor and confidence. 

So, in number of books, I more than made up for my meager August pile. In fact, I've now met my yearly goal. I always set a goal of 52 books a year, or one a week. Some years, that's hard to reach. 

This year, it's looks like I'm going to demolish it, and I don't feel too guilty about "cheating" by reading so many short books. 

That shorter commitment of 1-3 days per read was exactly what my brain wanted this month, while I dealt with the stress and worry about learning to teach effectively in an all-digital environment and keep moving forward in my own writing. I got that gold-star feeling of accomplishment over and over again, while giving a lot of things I've been meaning to read a chance. I'll call this a win!

I'd love to hear about what you've been reading and how your COVID life has affected your choices in reading material. Tell me about it in the comments below! 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

New Release Day: Stories We Tell After Midnight, Vol. 2


My first love as a reader and a writer was horror. Though I'm not primarily a horror writer now--I'm best known for my dram-edy (half comedy/half drama) Menopausal Superhero series--I still love to read and write scary, creepy little tales. I love nothing so much as giving myself (and maybe a reader or two) a good shiver. 

And today, I'm proud to announce that Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 2 is released! It includes my flash fiction horror story, "The Cleaning Lady" which came about from my participation in the Nightmare Fuel Project while I was also watching Downton Abbey. The combination left me wondering what the human servants of a creature of darkness might think and say about their employers behind their backs. 

Here's the blurb: 

As a deadly scourge overwhelms the continent, four survivors race to find a last exit out of Australia. Up in the attic, a bedtime story outlives its storyteller. A city boy visits his country cousins and stumbles on a terrifying family secret. From a film set in the Arizona desert, to an overgrown rambling old house in the Florida swamps, to the dusty streets of a small Mexican town, the stories in this volume plunge the reader into the shadows of a world almost forgotten by modern fables of cold science and bright sunlight. They are the brushed over voices who call a warning to those who would comfort themselves in the thought that monsters aren’t real, and those things can’t happen here. Stories We Tell After Midnight Volume 2 offers up tales of revenge, of hunger, and of the horror that stalks you just beyond the glow of your cell phone light, but only to those who dare turn the page.

I'm so pleased to have my work included and hope that you will check out this collection of spooky stories, out just in time for your Halloween reading pleasure. May it give you a good shiver and make you examine the shadows in the corners more closely. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Frozen Crimes

We're celebrating a book birthday on Balancing Act today, helping Chrys Fey welcome her latest book Frozen Crimes into the world. More on that in a moment. 

Chrys asked me: 

Whom would you want to be stuck with during a blizzard, and what would you do?

Considering this scenario, my mind was instantly transported to a dilapidated cabin in the Yukon wilderness, something Jack London might have written about or where Charlie Chaplin ate a shoe in one of his films. Gaps in the walls, holey blankets stuffed in the cracks, and the tiniest of flames in the wind-tortured fireplace.

Image source

But, hey, if I get to imagine being stuck with someone during a blizzard, surely I get to imagine where, too, right? Let's make this posh. 

So, I'm going to be stranded in a gorgeously appointed chalet in the scenic mountains of Colorado with a group of writer-friends and a fully stocked kitchen and walk-in freezer (and a generator to power it all, even the hot tub on the veranda). Free of our responsibilities (because we can't drive down the mountain in this, now can we?), we'll spend our days writing and our nights stuffing our faces and talking about our fictional friends in front of a blazing fire. 

Now, that's my kind of snow day! How about you? 

Hop around to the other participants to read their answers: Frozen Crimes Blog Hop   

When disasters strike around every corner, is it possible to have a happily-ever-after?

BLURB: Beth and Donovan are expecting their first child. Life couldn’t get any better…until a stalker makes his presence known. This person sends disturbing messages and unsettling items, but it isn’t long before his menacing goes too far.

Hoping for a peaceful Christmas, Donovan takes Beth to Michigan. Days into their trip, a winter storm named Nemesis moves in with the goal of burying the state. Snowdrifts surround their house, and the temperature drops below freezing.

Except, the storm isn’t the only nemesis they must face. Everyone’s lives are at stake—especially that of their unborn child. Will they survive, or will they become a frozen crime?

BUY LINKS: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iTunes


The crunch of the shovel pounding into the snow and ice filled his ears. It was all he could hear. The rest of the street was silent beneath its wintry blanket. Breathing was difficult with the icy air clogging his lungs. His nose burned. His throat was dry and on fire. But he ignored it, focusing on his task.

Crack, crack, crack.

He jabbed the shovel into a hunk of snow. On the third hit, it shattered into several pieces. He scooped them up and flung them to the side. He surveyed what remained. There was one big ball in the middle of the path that needed to be dealt with next. He moved over to it and struck it. That one impact had it severing in two. He was about to hit it again when something crashed into the back of his head.

Explosions of white light danced over his vision. Pain enveloped his skull. 

The shovel slipped from his fingers. Blackness cloaked his mind, coaxing him into its depths.

Beth. Her name was a whisper in his head, as if his thoughts were being sucked into a wormhole.

His legs collapsed under his weight.

Cold. It seeped into him, consuming him. And then his consciousness fled down that same void that ate his thoughts.



Prizes: 4 eBooks (Disaster Crimes 1-4: Hurricane Crimes, Seismic Crimes, Tsunami Crimes, Flaming Crimes) + Girl Boss Magnets (4), Inflatable Cup Holder (1), Adventure Fuel To-Go Cups (2), Anchor Fashion Scarf (1), Mermaid Nail Clippers (2), Citrus and Sea Salt Scented Candle (1), Snowflake Handmade Bookmark (1), Insulated Cooler Bag (1)

Eligibility: International

Number of Winners: One

Giveaway Ends: October 30, 2020 12:00am EST

LINK:a Rafflecopter giveaway


To get the exclusive prequel to the Disaster Crimes series, sign up for Chrys’ newsletter. By signing up, you agree to receive Chrys Fey’s newsletter. After you confirm subscription, you will receive an email (so check your inbox and spam folder) with directions on where to snag your eBook copy of THE CRIME BEFORE THE STORM.

Click here to sign up and get The Crime Before the Storm FREE!




Chrys Fey is author of the Disaster Crimes Series, a unique concept that blends disasters, crimes, and romance. She runs the Insecure Writer’s Support Group Book Club on Goodreads and edits for Dancing Lemur Press.

Author Links:

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