Sunday, May 31, 2020

May Reads

Reading has always been my escape, well, as long as I can remember anyway. But like a lot of readers I've talked to recently, falling into a story has been harder than usual for me during quarantine. 

That got worse here at the end of May with police violence leading to protests that became riots. My low-level restless anxiety and imagination full of what-ifs whipped into something larger and harder to ignore. I know a lot of creatives are struggling similarly, with creation as well as consumption of art. I'm managing slow forward progress on my writing still, and am hopeful I can pick up my pace again when the school year ends here in a couple of weeks. 

Despite my struggles, I still read eight books in May, and I really liked six of them. 

I read three books written by friends and colleagues: Gidion's Hunt by Bill Blume, Chasing the Dragon: A Sherlock Holmes Romantic Mystery by Alexandra Christian, and The Reckoning by DM Taylor. 

I've read other books by Alexandra, and I know from being there for some of her readings that her work is clever, sexy, and spiked with humor. Chasing the Dragon: A Sherlock Holmes Romantic Mystery was no exception. Her imagined love story for Sherlock Holmes plays beautifully in the known world of those stories while bringing Alexandra's strengths into play. I hope she writes more in this universe! 

Bill and I have been on panels together at conventions for a few years now, but I hadn't yet read any of his work. Gidion's Hunt  was sweet in a wholesome sort of way, especially considering that it's a story about a teenaged vampire hunter. I loved the family relationships and it looks like Bill has a great foundation for future books in the series in this first volume. 

DM Taylor is a writer I know from Instagram. The Reckoning is a time travel thriller with elements of women's fiction. I enjoyed it quite a bit! It took me a little longer to read this one because I read it as a Kindle edition, and I'm suffering from screen-time overload right now, which is making me prefer paper and audiobook reading to ebooks. 

I also read three graphic novels this month. Graphic novels can be read quickly, often in a single sitting, and the combination of art with narrative really works to suck me in when my attention is scattered. The Sixth Gun, Volume 3: Bound really pleased me. I read the first two in this series last month and loved the way this volume took the focus to Gord and deepened his backstory. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series!

Newprints and Endgames by Ru Xu were passed my way by my thirteen-year-old daughter who loved them. She's a huge fan of Blue, the main character, and I can see why--she's so forthright, scrappy, and determined. Unfortunately, the storytelling disappointed me in that the narration pulled back from hard emotional moments, avoiding conflict that the story really needed. 

The second volume in particular felt rushed, like two books worth of story had been crammed into only one. Still, it evokes a Little Orphan Annie feel in a wonderful steampunk setting and there's a lot to recommend them, especially to younger readers. 

My last two reads were disappointments. I'd been looking forward to reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I loved the cover and the premise of a secret society surrounding story and books intrigued me. I had positive memories of The Night Circus, so thought I might enjoy another book by the same author, but it really just didn't grab me at all. All atmosphere (gorgeous, beautifully rendered atmosphere) and no substance. Too light on plot and characterization to keep me, especially under current circumstances. 

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse was my First Monday Classics Book Club choice for the month and it was a slog for me. I kind of had a feeling it was going to be, just remembering the kinds of people who touted its praises back in my undergrad years--almost exclusively entitled young men I didn't like all that much. But, still, I tried to go in without bias and give it a go. 

I found some beauty and insight in the text, but was left with the overall yucky feeling that I get from reading literary representations of male academics having midlife crises which they overcome by having affairs with far younger women. 

There's nothing for me in a story like that. I can't sympathize with the main character, and often can't sympathize with the young woman either because she's a manic pixie dream girl or a complete cypher. Maybe this one was the first novel of this type? I don't know. But it didn't feel innovative or interesting. I've seen this story many times and it's irritated me every time. 

Luckily I'm finishing May in the middle of two good books I'll tell you about in June: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey and The Haunting of the Tenth Avenue Theater by Alex Matsuo. 

What did you read in May? What's next on your list? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Art is Essential: Shakespeare in Quarantine

Critical Read put out a call recently for short nonfiction posts about art that is seeing you through the pandemic. They rejected my submission, but were kind about it and invited me to submit something else, with a focus on an American artist. I probably will. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out the posts on their site (and, of course, mine below).

Shakespeare in Quarantine

I often turn to poetry when my soul is troubled, especially older, metered poetry. The rhythm soothes me while the language pulls me out of my here and now and transports me to another time and place. This time, it’s Shakespeare seeing me through the quarantine.

Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23, is also the day that my husband and I had our first date, on which we watched a movie production of one of the Bard’s plays, 10 Things I Hate About You. We’ve made a tradition of celebrating our anniversary with a Shakespearean performance every year since as near to the day as we can manage, live when possible, recorded when not.

So, it seems apropos that it is Shakespeare in a thoroughly modern context that is pulling me through right now. Each day, I wait for Patrick Stewart to upload his daily sonnet video to social media and I find a quiet space to sit and listen alone, just me and Sir Patrick and the day’s verse. As I write this, he’s been recording a sonnet a day for nearly two months.

He began with Sonnet 116 “Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments” which of course, I already loved. I fell in love with it when I first read it as an undergrad, and again when Kate Winslet’s Marianne of Sense and Sensibility quoted it breathlessly, and yet again when Sir Patrick Stewart read it to his wife who held a phone to record the moment for us.

Words written more than four hundred years ago are performed for me by a spaceship captain in the privacy of my own home. What a gift!


What art is seeing you through quarantine? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Publishing in Quarantine: My New Releases

Publishing is always weird. There are so many moving parts in this business, and whether you have a traditional publisher who navigates some of it with and for you or you do it all independently STUFF HAPPENS!

image source
Luckily, improvisation and creativity go together, so we find new ways to move forward.

When conventions had to cancel for quarantine, content was moved online.

When book launch celebrations and events couldn't be held in person, social media and digital meeting spaces grew to fill that need.

When production and delivery delays occur, we learned to roll with it and be grateful for readers that will support us even when there are snags.

So far, quarantine has meant that two conventions I was scheduled to be a part of were cancelled. One of them has moved a fair amount of the content online, which helps, but it's not the same kind of charge I get from doing it "live and in person" even if online means potentially a broader audience because you're not limited by time and space.

I had TWO book releases under quarantine so far. I don't actually know how they are doing sales-wise yet, since there's lag between information on sales going to my publisher and being conveyed to me. I'm trying not to worry over it. The nice thing about books is that they don't "spoil"--you can read them a long time after they were released and still enjoy them. I'm lucky in that my creations have a long "shelf life" in that way.

It's *still* exciting! Even when I can't have an in-person launch party or sell my books from an author table at a book fair or convention, I still get a jolt just knowing that my book babies made it out there into the world. Look at the set now! There are five sisters in the Menopausal Superheroes family now!

Personally, I'm buying more books than usual, but I know that books are on the inessential list for families that are struggling financially. We're lucky in la Casa Bryant, with both parents still able to work full time, from home. My mortgage payment doesn't rely on my book money. I teach, too, so I'll make it even if the quarantine means fewer sales.

I'm glad my publisher put book one in the series on longterm sale. It's a good time for escapist fiction, and 99¢ is within most budgets, even on lockdown. (BTW: Falstaff Books has *all* their first-in-series books on 99¢ sale for the time being)

Take care of yourselves out there. These are strange times, indeed, and more strange times are likely on the horizon. Remember that heroism comes in all shapes and sizes. May you find the strength you need for whatever battles you must fight!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

IWSG: Writing Rituals

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.

This month's question: Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?

The awesome co-hosts for the May 6 posting of the IWSG are Feather Stone, Beverly Stowe McClure, Mary Aalgaard, Kim Lajevardi, and Chemist Ken!

Two years ago my eldest daughter left for college, and for the first time in many years, I gained a writing room in the room-switching comedy that followed. I finally understand the value of that "room of one's own" that Virginia Woolf was always touting.

It's heaven, guys, even though it's half-remodeled and half still a storage room for the rest of the house. I have a window full of houseplants and a view into a tree-filled backyard, a door I can close (even if still has ninja turtle stickers on it), and an electric teakettle. I could stay here forever.

My ritual is pretty simple:

  • escape to my writing room (usually early evening)
  • turn on the teakettle
  • water my houseplants and talk to them for a moment or two
  • make a cuppa (usually Tension Tamer herbal tea, because I don't usually get to write until late in the day)
  • then pull up my document, read the bit where I left off yesterday and go

I usually leave myself an ALL CAPS NOTE at the end of a writing session with some thoughts about where to go next, which really helps me jump back in quickly. If it goes really well, my tea gets cold before I can drink it and I have to heat it back up.

If it doesn't go well, I write something else for one session (a blog post, a journal entry, a "play piece" bit of sidewriting), but I'm strict with myself about getting right back on the main task in the next session to stay moving forward. And I always at least get to enjoy the tea.

How about you? How do you cue your creative side that it's time to take over? I'd love to hear what works for you in the comments!