Friday, July 31, 2020

July Reads

I'm honestly surprised to find that there are eight books in the list of what I read in July. The month felt relentless, especially when you consider that it's my month "off" from teaching life. But, teaching life has garnered way more of my attention than I usually give it in July, as there is so much to figure out about how school will operate come fall. 

I didn't feel as if I had any time to read, but looks like I still managed to read a few things, after all. 

The Hobbit, I actually mostly read in June. It's just that I finished it in July. It was a selection for the First Monday Classics Book Club, a group I help facilitate alongside author and friend James Maxey for Orange County Public Library. 

I had a little PTSD from the last time I read Tolkien, which coincided with the release of the beloved films, so I wasn't looking forward to reading The Hobbit. My memory of reading Tolkien was that I loved the world, but that the storytelling wasn't character-driven and therefore didn't really engage me. So it was lovely to be surprised by The Hobbit, which turned out to have a very personable narrative style and strong characters that popped on the page for me. Of course, I had last read The Hobbit when I was about ten years old, so I might be forgiven for not remembering that. 

The other First Monday selection I read this month was Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. I had read this one before as well, probably when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old, in an edition that was titled Ten Little Indians. Racist considerations changed the title of this one twice--the original title used a racist slur for black people. And Then There Were None is, in my opinion, a better title anyway. Luckily, I didn't remember the plot all that well, so only figured out whodunit a few pages before the book would have told me anyway. Reading Christie isn't as much fun if you already know the answer to the mystery. 
You might notice that one of the books I read in July was my own book. Starting in June, I re-read all the Menopausal Superhero series in preparation for writing novel number 4 (working title: Be the Change). I'm still proud of Face the Change, and re-reading the series helped jumpstart my process for that fourth book, which I've now got got around 12,000 words written for. 

I read Nighthawks by Jeremy Flagg because I recently found a new group of writing colleagues in the group at I'm planning to work my way across the group reading their books. I like to support other writers, but for me that process has to include reading their work myself. No matter how much I like another author personally, I only cross promote with people whose work I have direct experience with and deem worthy. Jeremy's book really grabbed me with an interesting world and diverse cast of characters. I can easily see myself heading back for more!

Similarly, I read AJ Hartley's new book, Impervious, in part because we share a publisher. We're also both educators. I already knew a bit of the backstory on why AJ wrote this book going in, and I won't tell you about it here because it's a story better read blindly--letting the book reveal what it is as you go through rather than spoiling it with too much description. I will say that it handled difficult topics with grace and I highly recommend it. 

Silver Moon also came to my attention because of a professional connection. Catherine Lundoff offered a class on Book Marketing that I sat in on, and of course I became curious about her menopausal werewolves, since I also write about power and change in midlife for women. I enjoy werewolf and shifter stories, and this one took a unique spin on some of the tropes. 

I guess that only leaves two books that I read without ulterior motives, but just because I wanted to read them. Interestingly, both are also the third books in a series that I enjoyed the other two volumes of. 

Becky Chambers's Wayfarer series is such a positive, optimistic vision of humanity that it should be offered as a vaccine for all the ugly underbelly 2020 has revealed. Record of a Spaceborn Few was just the jolt of optimism I needed. 

On the surface, the Lady Astronaut series isn't as optimistic, but it's also a series that gives me hope when things seem dark. The series created an alternate history in which Earth was impacted by a catastrophic meteor strike that necessitated a whole new kind of space race and the formation of off world colonies. We follow the stories of women in the new society this creates and I love how Kowal is able to imagine how a group of impressive women would have broken boundaries if something like this had really happened and present these stories in a way that feel accurate to that bygone era and the roles women would have been juggling at the time. 

So, what did July bring me? Hobbits, Murderers, Superheroes, Werewolves, and Pioneers. What a month! No wonder I'm tired :-) I'd love to hear about what you've been reading. Despite the fact that my TBR will outlast my life already, I'm always up to learn about new books to love!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Importance of Momentum

So, I recently had to take a hard pivot in my writing life. 

I was chugging along on a Gothic romance and loving it, when it hit me that I only had six months left to write the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel and I'd better get that puppy going. I'm grateful that I have a publisher waiting for my work, and accept that having that comfortable situation comes with costs, such as deadlines. But it wasn't easy to switch gears. 

Getting back to the Menopausal Superheroes came with some extra challenges as well. While I'd worked through edits over the past year for two new novella releases in the series (third one coming in August!), which kept a hand in, I hadn't written anything new for these characters in more than two years. There's some emotional baggage with that, including a bad breakup with a publisher

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So, I started by reading my own books. Re-immersing myself in the world and making notes about little character details that had grown fuzzy in the two years I wrote other stuff. 

Re-reading your own work is a fraught process. If things are going well, you're growing and learning, so looking back at your old work can be painful. You're like, "Dang, I could do this so much better now." 

And I did experience a bit of that, but I found that I still love my characters and my world, which is good news since I've promised to write at least two more of these!

I guess I thought that as soon as I'd selected a couple of threads to pick up, I'd sit down and the words would just flow. 

But that isn't what happened. I struggled. Heck, sometimes I chose to work on peeling off old wallpaper in my office rather than tussle with my imagination. 

You'd think I'd know by now, but I'd entirely forgotten the role of momentum in writing. 

In some ways, I have a lot of momentum going. I write every single day, come hell or high water, whether or not G-d is willing or the creek rises. My daily writing chain is approaching seven years in length. In that sense, at least, I've got discipline at this point. 

That's some serious momentum. 

But it's not momentum on this project. The Menopausal Superheroes lost momentum in the struggles with that first publisher and the transfer of rights, then on-boarding with the new publisher. 

In the scheme of things, I did that quickly and smoothly compared to how badly it can go, but still, momentum was lost, not just with readers, but with me, the writer! I took on other writing projects and let the superheroes sit, waiting for their moment. 

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So, of course, when their moment arrived, it wasn't instantly beautiful again. Hopefully it doesn't sound too crazy to suggest that I had to work with the characters a bit again, to get them to trust me again and start talking to me. 

But here we are one month into working on the new book, and I've hit a good stride. 

I know I'll hit more walls and have ups and downs as the process continues. After all, this isn't my first rodeo anymore. Hopefully that will keep me going when the going gets rough again. 

But, for now, I'm happy to have made the first little hill on the rollercoaster. I'm strapping in, knowing the ride will get bumpy, but all so ready for the journey! Wish me luck. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Making a Room of My Own, the 2020 edition

I've technically had a "room of my own" for a couple of years now. When the eldest daughter went off to college, the younger daughter moved into the larger bedroom, leaving the smaller one available to be transformed into an office for me. 

But the transformation has been slow. Having a room to use didn't give me time and money to make it into what I wanted it to be in one fell swoop, but now I'm on a steady trajectory to let the butterfly out of the chrysalis and I can hardly wait. 

The room when I inherited it was ten foot by ten foot with two solid walls, one wall that is mostly closet, and a fourth wall which is mostly window. The first thing I did was take off all the window coverings and put up shelves across the windows (a design my father and mother came up with for me) and fill them with plants and glass objects that the light shines through. 

When I first wrote about my dreams for this room back in 2017, plants were high on the list of what it would take to make the room *mine*.  

By 2018, I had collected a few objects that will be permanent: a comic book spinner rack, a lamp my parents made for me, a footstool that resembles a hippopotamus and hides a storage compartment, some antique school desks that have been mine since childhood, a cool round shelf/table Mom found for me, that holds the lamp and my Alexa device for music, lighting control, and contact with the rest of the house. 
But in 2019, the room still housed a lot of things that don't belong there and I hadn't made any changes to the walls or floor, other than a half-hearted attempt to peel off the little girl wallpaper (white with pink flowers against a pale pink wall, with a Disney princess border). I was stuck because we had to finish another household project first (the attic game storage room) in order to be able to move some things out of my office and get room to maneuver. 

Luckily? (somehow that doesn't seem like quite the right word), I've had a lot of time at home since March. No conventions. No travel. No movie dates. The upside of all that "no" was lots of time at home and energy to invest in finishing house projects. So the attic project got done, and now I'm free to take on my own room!

First was a sofa. There's nothing like spending quarantine sitting on a crappy used sofa to make you think that maybe it's not that bad to spend a lot of money on a comfy seat. 

It's a great sofa for the way I like to sit and write. The arms are quite tall and comfortable to sit leaning into without or with throw pillows. It's got only one cushion, so there's no "between the cushions." If I sit with my back against an arm, it's just the right length for me to stretch my legs out towards the other corner. It's also quite lightweight, letting me move it around by myself should I need to rearrange to film a reading or host a meeting or something. 

Those curtains behind it, hiding the closet still full of random household goods, were once in my elder daughter's bedroom. I took them as a stop-gap, but I might keep them. They make me pretty happy. I like leafy patterns. 

And finally, just this week, I got to start the walls! There was a lot to do--finishing removing the wallpaper, repairing the damage to the wall from peeling off the wallpaper, sanding, cleaning, taping, priming, re-priming, painting, touch-up, and smudging the glaze. 

The end result isn't quite what I pictured, but it's pretty! So I'm calling this a win, as in "I tried something new and didn't screw it up!" I think for the next wall, I'm going to try blending it less well so it looks patchier and if that doesn't work, I'll consider buying a different shade, something that contrasts a little more. 

I'm really loving that I'm doing all this work myself. It makes it that much more a room of my own! 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG: When Smaller is Better

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.

July 1 question - There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

The awesome co-hosts for the July 1 posting of the IWSG are Jenni Enzor, Beth Camp, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox!

In most of aspects of life, I'm a believer in the power of the small. I shop small businesses, live in a
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small town, and teach in a small school. I look for small beauties in daily life and take small steps toward my goals. I don't like crowds or high pressure socializing. I lack good small talk. I'm impatient with slick insincerity. 

I've come to believe that the fewer rings in the circus, the more likely it is that the performance will hold together. 

When I began seeking publication though, I looked "big" to begin with: The Big Six publishers (now the Big Five), agent representation, publicists, etc. I'd bought into the idea that you had to do it that way--that you weren't a "real writer" if you didn't. 

It didn't take long to learn that I wasn't well suited to that rarified atmosphere. 

I became impatient with the glacial pace of giant companies and agencies that can take six months to a year just to send a nonspecific rejection. I lost faith that having an agent would actually benefit my career, having watched several colleagues share their small incomes with an agent in hopes of "hitting it big" only to find that it didn't really bring them any opportunities they couldn't have garnered on their own. I learned that profit share was often not that high, even if you hit it big. 

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I still dream big, imagining my books being picked up and turned into a movie or a Netflix series: who wouldn't like to see more attention for their work and more money in their pockets? 

But, I'm not sure I have the schmooze in me to handle the glad-handing, networking, and PR machinations. I'm not sure it's worth developing those skills if I feel like I lose myself in the process. 

When it comes to publishing? I've stopped spending energy on trying to get an agent or leaving manuscripts languishing in big house slushpiles for years at a time. 

Instead, I've looked small: small publishing in particular. 

While I am working on my first independent publishing project, in hopes of getting it together by October of this year, I'm not ready to make it as an author-preneur.  I do this part time, in addition to full time teaching work and there are only 24 hours in the day. I need help. 

So, that means traditional publishing is for me! 

I want a situation where a lot of the work of bringing a book to readers is handled by someone besides me: arranging for editing, designing a cover, deciding on production details, laying out and designing the book, arranging for distribution, finding reviewers, etc. 

Sure, as an author whose writing is published by a small press, some of this work comes back around to me (and I'm grateful that my input is sought and considered), but I get the advantage of having a team behind me that can fill in the skills I don't have and teach me what I need to learn to move forward. 

My main job in my writing life is to write, not to become an expert in SEO and maximizing social media. 

So, for myself anyway, I'd like to see the industry get smaller. 

Bigger is not always better. The personal is lost. Creativity can become stunted when its forced to fit into boxes--and big business doesn't like to take risks. They like *known* quantities. 

That's why so many big Hollywood movies feel just like every other big Hollywood movie, why "bestselling" novels often bore me to tears and are entirely predictable from page one. Big gets big and stays big by making safe choices, and as a creative and as a consumer of media, I want risk, surprise, and nuance. 

If that means I stay small, so be it. At least I'll be happy.