Thursday, December 24, 2020

I Read 75 Books This Year!

IKR? Guess all that extra time at home had me scrambling for travel via literature. Each year, I set a goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one per week. I include in that paper reads, digital reads, and audiobooks, but not the unpublished beta reads I do. 

More and more of my reading these days leans to the audiobook format. Of the 75 books I read this year (Goodreads says 80, but it looks like it counted some books more than once), about 40 were audiobooks, 12 were e-books, 15 were paper (the other 8, I honestly can't remember). 

I read a lot fewer e-books this year than is usual for me, probably due to my zoom life. When it was time to read, I just didn't want to spent yet more time on screen. But audiobooks were great for my nervous energy in that I could read while I matched socks and handled the mundanities of life. 

I've fallen into a comfortable pattern in my reading, reading some things for book clubs, some things because I'm curious about the buzz surrounding them, some things because I know the authors, and some just because they caught my interest.

For my classics books club this year, I read ten books. (There was an 11th selection I didn't manage to fit in). 

Of these, I'd read three before: Wide Sargasso Sea, The Hobbit, and And Then There Were None. It's always interesting to read something again, and see how the experience changes for you over time. 

The rest were new to me. I got impatient with some of them--too much slow storytelling, outdated attitudes, etc.--but I loved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I wish Anne Brontë had lived longer and had the opportunity to continue to grow as a writer. She would have earned her spot beside her more famous sisters. Reading classic literature is a sideways view into history--teaching you as much about the context the author created in as about the stories themselves. 

Looking back over the rest of my list, here are some standouts: 

I found Lydia Kang at the end of the year. I fell hard for the mixture of romance and mystery, with historical settings and exploring social classes. She's likely to stay on my watch list as a favorite author. 

Earlier this year, I fell equally hard for Cherie Priest's Borden Dispatches. Yes, that Borden, alongside Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Looks like my sweet spot as a reader this year intermixed violence and history, with a touch of romance.

In that vein, I also loved these four books. 

Captured by the Alien Vampire Highlander is an unapologetic romp through romance tropes and a delightful confection. Perfect if you need an escape. 

The Sixth Gun series of graphic novels fits firmly in the "weird wild west" subgenre, following six mystical guns that grant special abilities to those who carry them. 

Chasing the Dragon takes place in the Sherlock Holmes universe, creating a romance that fits in the holes left in the original work. Alexandra Christian is GENIUS with this era, and brings such spark and humor to her dialogue. 

Kill Three Birds created an original speculative fiction world, featuring bird-people in a wonderful tight little mystery story. I'm looking forward to more in this series. 

I also continued some series and genres I'd been reading in the past few years: 

Carmilla is a classic vampire novel I had missed hearing about until recently--it predates Stoker's more famous work Dracula, and it's easy to see the influences on that story in this one. I listened to it as a wonderfully produced Audible original and was enthralled throughout. Highly recommended for fans of classic European vampires (if you want edgier, less familiar vampires, try Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. I have a retelling of the Passover story in there that will startle you, and the other stories are blowing me away!). 

In An Absent Dream is part of Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, which follows children who find portals into magical worlds. Though I recommend that entire series, it's not necessary to read the others to enjoy this one thoroughly. Of all I've read so far, this one is my favorite. 

The Relentless Moon continues Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut series, following a secondary character from previous books into a locked room mystery set on a fledgling moon colony. Satisfyingly thorough realistic science seen through very human stories. I love this series so much!

Record of a Spaceborn Few is part of Becky Chambers's Wayfarer series, an optimistic vision of the future, exploring inter-species relations through aliens and AI characters, alongside humans. I continue to love the way Chambers explores epic sagas by focusing on small, slice-of-life stories. Not quite as tense and exciting as the previous entries in the series, but still moving and well worth the read. 

I could talk for days about good books, but I'll stop there. I'm happy that I found so many good reads this year, and I'm grateful to all the authors who provided me comfort, escape, and inspiration during a very hard year.  Art is so important when times are hard. 

I'd love to hear about what books you read and loved this year, so hit me up in the comments! And if you like my reviews, you can follow me on Goodreads or check out my year in books there to see what else I read.  

Saturday, December 19, 2020

My Publishing Year: A Horror Show with Unexpected Heroism

2020, man. Whew. Don't those numbers just wear you out every time you see them? Between the pandemic, the social unrest, and the politics, I've never been so happy to see a year end. 

Oddly, it was an excellent publishing year for me, though. I guess there's balance in that? 

Seriously, though. I had eight works published in books this year! Holy-freaking-cow, that's a lot. 

Since time was this weird warped thing this year where days could last for years and months go by in a blink, I didn't really realize so much of my work had made it out there into the universe until I took a moment to look back and reflect. 

I am greatly amused to realize that I published 4 super-heroic works and 4 works of horror. That's 2020 in a nutshell isn't it--a horror show with unexpected heroism. 

Long time readers might remember that I had some publishing turmoil in late 2018, early 2019, when I had to reclaim my rights from a failing publisher and seek a new home for my work. The story has a happy continuation though, in that my Menopausal Superhero work is now housed with Falstaff Books, a thriving mid-size publisher out of Charlotte, North Carolina, full of the "Misfit Toys of Fiction.

Because their publishing schedule didn't allow for seeing a fourth Menopausal Superhero novel into print until 2021, we decided to release short works in the series this year. Friend or Foe, a novella that bridges book 1 (Going Through the Change) and book 2 (Change of Life) came out in March of 2020. 

The Good Will Tour, a stand-alone adventure for Flygirl and Fuerte came out in May. 

And Through Thick and Thin, a collection of short stories set in the Menopausal Superheroes universe came out in August. 

Finally, all the short works were collected into an omnibus edition in Agents of Change, which includes all these works in a single volume and came out in November. 

While all this was happening, I was busy writing Be the Change, the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel. I'm in the last of my self-edits/revisions right now, with plans to send the finished book to Falstaff by January 1st. I think you're going to love this one--I know I fell in love with my character all over again writing their stories here. 

Then came the horror! Although horror was one of my first loves as a reader, I didn't start out writing it. In the past few years, though, more and more of my short work has leaned toward the weird and frightening, and this year, four of my horror short stories made it into anthologies. 

Stories We Tell After Midnight, Volume 2 from Crone Girls Press has been described as traditional horror. These are the kinds of horror stories that drew me into the genre in my youth--stories that give you a good shiver and might make it a little harder to fall asleep at night. That's not to say that they are staid, boring or without humor and innovation. My story, "The Cleaning Lady," began as part of a Halloween flash fiction challenge proposed by writing-friend Bliss Morgan and might have been influenced by the fact that I was watching Downton Abbey at the time and thinking about servant-master relationships. 

Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire from Mocha Memoirs Press asked for vampire and vampire-slayer stories set in the African diaspora and featuring black characters. My daring little tale, "His Destroyer", is a retelling of the Passover story, about the 10th plague of Egypt during which the first-borns of Egyptians households were slaughtered. The story as I learned it never specified who exactly His Destroyer was, and how exactly the children were killed. So, I wrote this story imagining those details for myself. I gave myself the chills, so hopefully you'll get them, too, if you read it. This is a giant collection--with 29 stories of HUGE variety. I'm so excited to have my work included among such giants of the genre. 

Hindsight's 2020 came about when a group of writers who used to share a publisher came together as a support and recovery group for each other (yes, *that* publisher--see link above). Our theme was regret, or hindsight, and I wrote a wonderfully creepy little thing called "I Should Have Known" set in the Victorian era about love, sacrifice, and monstrosity. So much fun to write! 

Outsiders Within from Abstruse Press just came out yesterday! It's a collection of cosmic horror stories and you might enjoy your trip through madness with Margaret in my story, "Margaret Lets Her Self Go." This is the same press that published Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown in late 2019, which includes my bit of Lovecraftian horror, "The Gleewoman of Preservation." 

And if that's not enough of my work yet, you can also support the Kickstarter for Ravencon to read my story, "If the Moon is Real." Hear an excerpt here, on YouTube. 

Since Ravencon, a small Virginian convention close to my heart, had to cancel the 2020 and 2021 live events, they've put together this collection of short stories featuring corvids--a class of birds that includes the eponymous Raven of Ravencon. 

The hope is that the Kickstarter will earn enough money to keep the organization afloat and "in the black" until we can gather again as an unkindness or conspiracy of ravens in person. 

Because support has been so strong, they're already working on a stretch goal to create a second volume of the anthology! The Table of Contents includes some pretty impressive names as well as some new writers just establishing a foothold in the industry. Well worth the few dollars, AND you get to support a small convention at the same time. 

I've already got a few more works in the pipeline for 2021, so despite the weirdness of this year, I'm feeling pretty successful on the publishing front. If you've read any of these works, please drop a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Even just a few words is enough to help the visibility of my work. Just "I liked it" or "that woman writes some crazy stuff, yo!" is the best gift you could give me. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Repost: "We Value Teachers" and Other Lies

Note: This post first appeared on my teaching blog a week ago, but I felt strongly enough to seek a wider audience for these thoughts. Apologies to anyone who follows me both places. 

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I lost another colleague yesterday. Thankfully not to death (though I worry about this daily now), but to retirement. That makes three already this year and I don't blame them a bit. I've looked at retirement myself, though it's complicated for me because I don't have the optimum number of years (having spread my career across four states) to get full benefits yet and I'm too young. The calculus of life vs. livelihood is complex when you have others to support by your work. 

Besides the three who retired, I know of one who is leaving the profession and another seeking a transfer, in hopes that another school will value her work and treat her better. I've thought about both of those options, too. I love teaching, but I also love being able to protect myself and those I love from infection and death. 

Lots of us are in the crisis decision moment right now, as our district is sending staff back to the buildings on Monday and students back in January (don't get me started on the lack of faith in us this shows). I expect to see more and more talented educators making the hard choice to leave the work they love. 

I keep getting messages from my district, my state, and my country playing lip service to the idea that they value teachers. But I don't see it. Saying thank you is easy; showing actual support and appreciation is much more difficult. 

If we were valued, our voices would be at the forefront of conversations about how to handle education under the current crisis. Instead, there's barely even performative attempts to include teachers--the workers with the most expertise and most at risk--in the conversation at all. 

I fill out all the surveys I am sent and participate in all the meetings, but there's no evidence so far that it is worth my time. The results send a clear message, one that is ignored in favor of what's easier for the institution. Though we allow our students' families to choose to stay home and continue virtual education, teachers will not be afforded the same right, even though we are more at risk than our students, especially the veterans. You don't become an experienced teacher without getting old, and you rarely get old without developing some underlying conditions that put you at additional risk.  

If we were valued, the communication from above would show that those above me in the hierarchy know what I am doing and are looking for ways to make it easier and more sustainable. Even though I work in a small school district, where you would think it would be easier to keep track of who is here and what we're doing, there's little sign that anyone who isn't a direct parallel colleague understands what I actually do. It's like being a baker whose supervisor last used an oven when you had to stoke an actual fire inside to bake.   

And this is America, after all, so if we were valued, our country would put their money where their mouth is. Money would have flowed towards resources to make safe education from home tenable--providing infrastructure and tools as well as paying attractive salaries to bring our country's brightest and best to the fight. Internet access would have become free and fast for any household with a student in it. You can always tell what a capitalist REALLY values, by looking at the bottom line, and education is far too near the bottom across the board. 

So, thanks for saying you value me and my work. But if you really do, then prove it. 

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?