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.