Friday, December 31, 2021

2021, huh?

So, that was weird. 2021, I mean. 

Time is always weird, of course. But it's gotten weirder lately. 

I was looking at a family picture today because Shutterfly sent it to me as a "remember this day" ad, and I do indeed remember the day very clearly. 

It's my mother's family, all of us except for one cousin and one aunt who couldn't come. It was a fundraiser my high school band was holding and we took the opportunity to get a family photo of ALL of us. The photographer had trouble getting us all in frame…maybe in part because we ranged in height from three foot to six and a half feet, or maybe because there were just so darn many of us. But it was a fun evening. We laughed so much, which is maybe why it's actually a pretty good picture with some genuine smiles in it. 

Two of my uncles, one of my aunts, and both of my grandparents are now gone, and I'm wondering how that can be, since I can remember this day so clearly, as if it were last week instead of three-going-on-four decades ago. 

2021 felt that way, too. As I write this, there's one more day in the year, and that doesn't seem right. 2021 never really felt like it started; it was more like 2020 just kept on going. So if 2021 never started, how can it be ending? 

So, I'm looking back at the year, because that's what we do at this time of year, right? Or maybe it's because I just read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, a book about nostalgia, at least in part. Or maybe it's because one of the things I did in 2021 was turn 50, and that's what us middle-aged ladies do. I don't know. 

But here's my year that was: 

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Teaching:
I started 2021 teaching from home. My middle school had gone virtual starting in March 2020, like so many did. And we stayed that way until February 2021. 

It was a time of mixed blessings. I worried about my students, but was grateful for a way to keep teaching and still feel safe, in those pre-vaccine days. 

I had the best work-life balance I've ever had, and was really there for my family more completely than I've ever been able to manage before. Being home meant that my dog, O'Neill, who was losing a cancer battle, got to end his life with all of us at home to love him and care for him. 

I've always been a teacher who enjoys using tech tools to support my practice, but I became extra adept with learning management systems, video lesson presentation, and teaching via Zoom. Learning was different than it had been before, but it still happened, and some kids thrived on it. 

February-June 2021 were the hardest months of my teaching career (and I've been at this for 27 years in a variety of places and settings). I never considered quitting as often I did during the months where I did two jobs at the same time (as an online teacher and in-the-classroom teacher at the same time), under constant stress of uncertainty and threat of severe illness. Everyone who taught during this time should get double credit towards retirement. 

When the school year ended, everyone lost their minds panicking over "learning loss" (as if you only get one chance in life to learn 7th grade math concepts and the world will end if you didn't get it on the usual time table) and teachers were strong-armed, pressured, and bribed into working various summer programs. 

I knew how burnt-out I was, so I didn't take that work. I'm still glad I didn't, though the extra money would have been nice. Because when school started up in August, I hadn't recovered from the 2020-2021 school year yet. I was still crispy around the edges. It's rough to start a school year only a step away from burnt out. 

This school year has been strange in all new ways. So many people quit. So what felt like half the staff was new, and throughout these first four months (August-December 2021), lots more people have quit, taken early retirement, or suffered medical consequences that kept them out on leave. 

We had two teaching positions at my school that went unfilled until early December and were covered by long-term subs. Often, when a teacher was absent, there was no sub available to cover their classes, so safety precautions and policies were thrown the wind, putting two classes in together and giving up all possibility of social distancing, or taking non-teaching staff (librarians, counselors, teacher's aides, etc.) and taking them out of their own work to cover absent teachers. 

At least I work somewhere that is trying to find a balance between safety and learning. Some of colleagues have not been as fortunate. I'd have to quit if they didn't. But they have a vaccine mandate for staff, mask requirements for everyone, and keep us stocked in air filters and disinfectant spray. So far, I've stayed healthy, despite having one to five students a week who go on isolation or quarantine.   

I've found some joy with my students in person again, even with all the restrictions we have to work within, and most of them, now that they've seen what school is when it's not in-person, are cooperative and grateful and trying hard. But it's still challenging, given that kids disappear for days and weeks at a time and information sharing is sketchy, making it hard to know when to give grace and when to push for productivity (not that it's ever easy to know). 

I haven't quit yet, but I have submitted some resumes for non-teaching jobs. We'll see what happens in 2022. 

Writing
: I began 2021 with a big deadline: the fourth Menopausal Superhero Novel, Be the Change (which released on December 16, 2021), was due to my publisher on January 1, 2021. 

I missed that deadline, the first time I've missed a deadline in my writing life. I turned it in on February 1. Considering how screen-burnt I was in 2020 and how difficult it was to write during that time, I'm proud that I finished the book even CLOSE to on time. 

As soon as I turned it in, I turned my attention back to the Gothic Romance I've been working on these past two years (working title: The Architect and the Heir). I was hoping to finish it by the end of summer, before I had to put it aside to work on the fifth and final Menopausal Superheroes novel, due (under renegotiated deadline) in April 2022.

I didn't finish it in time. I've always been a slow writer, compared to many of my friends and colleagues, and that became a serious frustration in 2021. 

Now, as we finish the year, I've got 20,000 words in on that fifth (as yet untitled) novel. It's proving difficult to write. Since I intend it to the be the last, there's a lot I need to wrap up from the entire series, while still making sure the book has an individual story of its own. 

Because teaching life left me so crispy I'd be a hit at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I didn't have a burst of productivity in my writing life over the break like I usually do. I'm hoping that the rest I gave myself during these two weeks will allow me to begin seeing good progress again in January. 

Still, it was not a year to sneeze at for new words written: According to my writing tracker (I use Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker and highly recommend it), I wrote 394,333 words in 2021 (on various projects) and revised 278,544 words. My daily writing chain is now eight years long. 

I had two short stories published in paying markets. "Poison" in Enchanted Conversation and "Boy Chick" in Apex & Abyss. I saw another novel through publication. It wasn't the kind of success that lets a girl quit her day job and write full time, but it wasn't bupkis either. 

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Getting Out Into the World: 
In 2020, I dug into life as a Hobbit, and came to appreciate going slower and being home. 

But in 2021, vaccinated and caffeinated, I ventured forth again, taking some opportunities for my writing life, and taking a couple of small trips. Not as many, and with more caution than before, but I got out there. 

In 2020, I attended one convention, MarsCon in January, before conventions started shutting down, cancelling, or even folding. After building up a schedule of appearances and events over the past few years, it was weird to suddenly stop doing that. 

Since my day job involved so much screen time, I wasn't thrilled about zoom events for my writing life, but I did a few. (Con-Tinual gave us all a chance to connect with readers that way, as did Strong Women, Strange Worlds. A pretty complete list of my video appearances can be found here.) Video appearances are easier in some ways--no travel, mitigates geographic distance, potential wider audience--but they are not the same as the energy of an in-person room and the kinds of connections made that way. 



In summer 2021, convention life opened up a bit again, and I attended Con-Carolinas, Con-Gregate, Galaxy Con, and a library Pop-Con. It was really good to see my writing friends again in person. I'd missed them terribly. I have become more cautious about my energy, though, and plan to do fewer conventions and more single-day events in 2022. 


I also managed a visit to Kentucky for my mother's birthday, and she and my dad managed a visit down here for mine. Sweetman took me on a trip to the mountains to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. My long-time writing critique group (which had moved to Zoom), began meeting in person again after we were all vaccinated, and we took a short retreat to Lake Gaston in the fall. 


The big trip was a visit to New York City in October, when Broadway re-opened. I had never been and really enjoyed my few days there, though it solidified my understanding of myself as a rural girl at heart. 

We ate lots of good food, saw iconic sights, and really enjoyed the production of Six: The Musical. We haven't had that many cool travel opportunities with our youngest child, so it was great to spoil them with this trip. 

Throughout it all, I continued to walk in the woods, finding stress relief and solace in walking among the trees. 

Starting in July, two new friends joined me for those walks, when we adopted two new rescue dogs: Ghost and Pumpkin. 

They are wildly different than O'Neill was, but they have brought a great deal of joy to our lives. 

Our holidays were quiet, but lovely and we took our time away from school and work restfully and gave ourselves time to recuperate and recharge. 

So, that's my year that was. Not bad for my fiftieth one on the planet. I hope 2021 brought you joy as well, and that 2022 will give us all more reasons to smile. 


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Finding my Holly Jolly This Year

 Normally, it's pretty easy for me to build up a head of steam and some excitement about Christmas. What's not to like? Pretty lights, time off of work with people and dogs I love, an excuse to spoil those people and dogs with gifts and food. It sounds lovely.

But when you're the mom of the family, it also sounds like a lot of work--those lights, gifts, and special moments don't happen without some preparation and planning and this year . . .well, I'm pretty darn crispy. 

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See, last school year, I worked two jobs at the same time because my school district decided that one teacher could teach both children physically in the room and children attending class from home via zoom at the same time, with no change in pay or other responsibilities. People left the profession in hoards. 

But I didn't. I'm back in the classroom this year, but I'm a shell of my self and struggle with energy and empathy exhaustion. 

I did my best to give myself recovery time. I didn't take any summer teaching work despite HUGE pressure to do so, and I kept my writing life low-commitment, too. But seven weeks off didn't do it, and I started the school year still burnt-out from last year. 

So, as holidays approached, my feeling about them was more exhausted-before-I began than excited. 

Chanukah helped. 

Years ago, we decided that instead of nightly gifts, we'd do nightly family activities, sitting by our candles and remembering what we do this for.  The eldest was able to join us for first and eighth night this year, quite a coup in her final year of college crazy-times. We baked, drew, listened to music, played games, and watched movies. One night though, we had to declare "introvert night" where we spent time ignoring one another and going to our separate corners. 

My latkes were perfect this year, and we started a new tradition of JFC (Japanese fried chicken). The prayers and candles still brought me a peaceful contentment. 

Then, we started making the shift into Christmas, and . . . I just wasn't feeling it. Even as I ticked things off my list in anticipation of all the good times (Christmas Eve pajamas, stocking stuffers, once-a-year treats), it felt like stress management more than joy. 

So I decided to turn to books to save me. Up until Christmas, I'm reading only holiday-themed books. Here's what I've read so far: a mix of nonfiction, classics, and romance. 


A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry was perfection itself, and on a scale of zero to holly jolly, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon gave me all the right feels. The light romance approach of The Dreidel Spin made me feel like I'd just watched two deserving friends find one another, and the magic of food and kindness made the Moonglow books a delight. There are seven of those, and if I don't fit more of them in this year, I'll come back for them next Christmas. 

I'm in the middle of two more right now: 


A Christmas murder and some sweet morality tales. Quite a contrast.  Still in my Kindle are a few Christmas reads written by friends and colleagues as well that I'm hoping to read before the 25th arrives: 


I'm grateful that my winter break starts a few days ahead of Christmas this year, giving me time to sit by the fire reading and continuing to try to stoke the fire of my holiday spirit, so I can really enjoy the gifts the season brings. I'm grateful, too, that my family understands how tired and crispy I am and doesn't expect me to travel or host guests, but just to rest and recoup. 

Are there any stories or activities that help put you in the holiday spirit, even when your candles are burning low? Tell me about them in the comments! I'd love to know. 


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

IWSG: The Delight and Dismay of a Writing Life


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.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

This month's optional question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

The awesome co-hosts for the December 1 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise – Fundy Blue, Natalie Aguirre, and Jacqui Murray! Be sure to check out what they have to say when you're finished here: 
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Writing is central to who I am as a human, but it's really hard to explain to other people. From the outside, it definitely doesn't look like fun. I sit alone, wrestling with imaginary friends, giving myself anxiety and angst over fictional people, places, and situations…and I call this fun? 

Articulating the experience for outsiders feels impossible, and I end up shuffling my feet and looking uncomfortable. 

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Oddly enough, I think I like it because it's hard, so I guess I take delight in the dismaying part. Make of that what you will. 

Sure, it doesn't exactly feel good in the moments when you're struggling to straighten out a tangled plot or understand the secret motivations of a uncooperative character, but when you do it--when you come out on the other side victorious, it feels like you really *did* something. And even in the moments of struggle, part of me is enjoying it--the delving deeper, the striving to understand the part of myself making itself known on the page, the brainwork. 

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It's a highly individual challenge, too. I have a strong support network and love the heck out of my writing community, but there's only so much they can do for me. In the end, it's me and blank page locked into battle and I have to win or lose on my own. 

Then, if you hand that story over to someone else and they *get* it--they pick up what you were laying down, they laugh and cry at the right moments, they get angry at the injustices . . .well, that's a whole second level of wonder and delight. Because as much as I love writing, I'm not sure I'd keep going without readers. I need an audience to finish the circuit. Otherwise, all that gorgeous energy would spin in a circle until it just burned out. I'm not Emily Dickinson, satisfied only to have captured the moment for myself. I want to share it. 

There's nothing else in my life that gives me this feeling. 

When I was a kid writing poetry, I'd call the urge to write "itchy fingers." It was this strange little urge, this feeling of dissatisfaction that could only by soothed by wordsmithing. These days, I feel like the itch is someplace deeper than my fingertips, maybe in my brain itself. But there's a nervous energy that overtakes me when I don't get enough writing time. 

I'm sure a therapist could analyze it for me, but I'm not looking to be cured. It's worth every moment of misery along the way for ecstasy that comes when I've had a breakthrough in a story. 

So, fellow IWSGers, how does it work for you? Can you explain why you love it to someone who doesn't write? 

If you don't write, is there something like this in your life, something you love because it's challenging? 

I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

Monday, November 29, 2021

What I Read in November

 


A little romance, a little war, a little nostalgia, a little nonfiction advice, and gorgeous heartbreaking prose. November was a good reading month in la Casa Bryant. 


I picked up Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson mostly because I've long been a fan of the movie featuring Christopher Reeve. I listened to it as an audiobook, read beautifully by Scott Brick, who got the breathless desperation so key to the story. 

As always seems to happen in these cases, my reading was all about comparing the movie, which I already loved, to the book. 

Luckily, everything I loved about the movie was there in the book: time travel by sheer stubbornness, star-crossed lovers, gorgeous setting, sparkling chemistry, and unapologetically sappy romance. There were some new layers, lending more ambiguity to whether the events happened or were a flight of fancy, and I liked that a lot. 

At the same time (because I'm crazy like that and often read multiple books at the same time), I was reading Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach on Kindle. I picked this one up mostly because I read a book of writing advice by the same author, and wanted to see what kind of work she's able to create using her system. For a book with a lot of military and hand to hand combat scenes, there was a surprising amount of romance in this one. Although this genre isn't my typical cup of tea, I found I really enjoyed it. Enough so, that I was frustrated by the reversal at the end. 

The only thing that stopped me from immediately buying book 2 to see what happens next was sticker shock. I'm a hard sell for ebooks over $5. After all, I don't get a physical object at all. 

I read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell in audiobook/ebook combination, moving back and forth between the two editions.  It's the December pick for my First Monday Classics Book Club, and I'm looking forward to the discussion. I read it with wide-eyed wonder when I was a child, and still found it pretty affecting with my more cynical adult brain. I hadn't realized the full range of politics surrounding care of horses. 

Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland was suggested by a friend when I mentioned I wanted to try and learn to outline to see if that might speed my writing process. I found some good food for thought within its pages, but didn't get as many a-ha moments as I'd hoped for. Where's my magic bullet, darn it? Reading writing advice books at this stage is often dodgy as most of them are aimed at absolute beginners and I'm a little further along in my path than that, though I still have plenty to learn. 

Everything We Left Unsaid by Ashley Cade is the second volume in a romance series by a woman I know on Instagram. I read and enjoyed the first book, Something That Could Last, last year. While I still ended up cheering for our hero and heroine to get to their Happily Ever After, this one was a little less up my alley, with a large part of the early plot relying on delayed communication. Not my favorite trope. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, and enjoyed watching the next stage of this romance develop. 

I finished my reading month on a high note, like an operatic, break the wine-glass on the table note. So good! 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell explored an imagined version of Shakespeare's marriage and the death of his son.  The prose was gorgeous, and the narration in my audiobook version by Ell Potter was perfect for the story--calm, unhurried, but with deep currents running beneath. 

This one is in the running for the best book I've read this year. 

So how was your November life in books? Anything wonderful make to the top of your TBR? I'd love to hear about in the comments!


Friday, November 26, 2021

On Headaches

My first husband didn't believe me when it came to my headaches. I guess he thought I was exaggerating to get out doing things I didn't want to do. He didn't really get headaches, lucky bastard. 

I was never lying though. No, "not today, honey, I have a headache" games from me. Just waves of pain and a need for quiet stillness in the dark. 

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I've always been susceptible to them. Sinus headaches, allergy headaches, stress headaches, migraines. I manage a lot of life through the haze of some kind of headache or another because if I gave in and went to bed every time I had a headache, I'd be there more often than not. 

People who don't suffer from headaches really can't understand what the pain is like, much the way people who've never broken a bone or never birthed a child cannot truly understand what a sufferer is suffering. 

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I woke with a doozy this morning. Felt like a hot piece of steal was piercing the left side of my head, with a point of impact feeling on the forehead, and something else in the middle of my skull, like a hot golf ball swelling and trying to burst its way out though my cheek. 

Waking with a headache is especially terrible. Like the day has pounced before you were even alert enough to defend yourself. Unfair. Dirty pool, old boy. 

I tried vacating the bedroom and going through the morning motions--letting the dogs out to pee, feeding them, making a cup of tea. Sometimes moving makes things better. I'm a medication-avoider. I don't like to take pills, even basic pain-killers, if there's something else I can do and feel better. 

Not this time, though. The pain kept increasing, making me worry I was going to vomit and giving me heat waves, even after I caved and took a sinus pill, so I had to wake Sweetman on his holiday and get him to take over dog duty so I could work on finding some relief. It took a range of things: that sinus pill, a nasal rinse, a shower (for the steam), lots of nose-blowing, a defensive sleep nap with the pillow shoved against my aching cheek to apply counter pressure. 

But I woke with only the residual ache and a cautious feeling. Whew! I'm relieved it ended after only a couple of hours, and that my head chose a day off to attack me on, so I didn't have to try and create sub lesson plans through that pain. My best guess is that my head was angry about the amount of dust I got into yesterday cleaning up to host Thanksgiving. I hadn't done anything else that usually triggers a pain wave like this. 

Any other headache sufferers out there? What do you do to find relief, besides medication? 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Celebrating a Book Birthday with Patricia Josephine

 

Book Birthdays are the best. Even better when they coincide with your actual birthday! I'm celebrating today with Patricia Josephine. She's having a scavenger hunt to celebrate! Keep reading to learn more about her newest release, and watch for the word highlighted in red--it's part of the prize! 

Simply head over to https://www.patriciajosephine.com/blog for the list of other participants and visit the other blogs to collect 5 prize words. When you've collected the words, leave a comment on her "Happy Birthday AND Anniversary" post to be entered in the giveaway. 

Savannah and Evan thought they were safe on earth. They were wrong.

Savannah Janowitz had everything: Popularity. Caring parents. A boy she had loved all her life. It all vanished when she went missing. When she reappears a year later with no memory and strange, new abilities, she struggles to fit back into her life.

Evan Sullivan never believed aliens existed until he and Savannah were abducted. Experimented and mutated by them, he is forced to hide in the shadows and watch Savannah rebuild her life without him. But no matter how hard he tries, he can’t stay away from her.

Reunited with Evan, Savannah sees a glimmer of her old life finally return. As they face what was done to them together, they discover aliens aren’t the only danger to them. Someone closer to home is watching, waiting for the order to take out the ‘alien threat’.

Abducted Life is a sci-fi romance about true love over coming all the odds.
Steam rating: Warm (Moderately explicit sensuality.)

AVAILABLE FOR $3.99 AT AMAZON OR READ FOR FREE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED!
Add to Goodreads

Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Good Day Off, Samantha-style

I've got a day off today. Thank you Veterans! Generally, I take one particular veteran to lunch, but my sister just moved to the opposite coast, so that's a little harder than usual to do, so I donated to a couple of veteran-related charities instead. 

My work-life balance is a mess again--tilted way too far over on the work side, and leaving the life side flapping feebly in the wind, so today is about trying to rebalance that a little, and getting to enjoy the small pleasures of life that get trampled in the hurry-hurry pressure cooker I call a day job. 

So, first I went to breakfast with Sweetman. As a middle school teacher, my day starts hella stupid early, so generally, I've left for work without even seeing his face or hearing his voice.

Starting with coffee and hot bar breakfast at Weaver Street Market, surrounding by trees at the height of fall color was perfect. We talked and just enjoyed seeing each other before five o'clock at night. 

Then, I took the boys for an extra-long walk. We went to Riverwalk and included the extra loop around Gold Park. There was a brisk fall wind, and I was wearing a flannel shirt my dad left here the last time he visited (there's still something special about wearing your dad's shirt, even at age 50) and it felt so good to take time to get out into the air and light. 

Daylight savings time has been leaving me in the dark most of the time and making it much harder to get a walk, since it's already getting dark when I get home from school now and I cannot get up early enough to walk before school--I'm not naturally a morning person at all, though I've learned to manage because I have to, as a teacher. Walks are the number one thing I do for my health: physical and mental, so it's painful when I can't get enough of them. 

Home from that, I spent some time on my computer, writing this post, responding to emails, and checking in on social media. 

Yes, I probably should have devoted that time to working on my novel (I'm drafting the fifth Menopausal Superhero novel for NaNoWriMo), but I craved a slow start to my day, and this balanced "productivity" with relaxation in a way that works for me. 

Next, I'm on lunch duty, followed by early afternoon errands: taking the kiddo to two appointments. We try hard to avoid missing school both for the kid and for me, but we still need get to all the health care people that matter to our lives. So generally a day off school has a couple of appointments in it. 

Today it's the orthodontist and the eye doctor because the poor kid has two parents with glasses who needed braces. There were no good eyes or teeth to inherit. 

I'll lug my laptop with me and squeeze some words in while I'm sitting in waiting rooms. This evening, I'll work in a little more writing alongside dinner time, dog care, and maybe a little TV watching with my family. 

Of course, since I'm the mom, there will also be some dishwashing, laundry, etc., but it's all made a little easier by having room for it in the day instead of shoving EVERYTHING I do besides teach into 3-4 waking hours at home after school. 

Maybe it's not exciting, but it's a very good sort of day off for me. When you get a single day off from your daily grind, how do you use it? 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Dreaded Blurb: An IWSG post


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.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

This month's optional question:
What's harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb?

The awesome co-hosts for the November 3 posting of the IWSG are Kim Lajevardi, Victoria Marie Lees, Joylene Nowell Butler, Erika Beebe, and Lee Lowery! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!
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My title probably gave me away. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, do I struggle with writing a blurb. Even the word gives me the shivers. 


Sounds like the name of some kind of scourge from another planet that would show up to chase teenagers in a 1950s monster flick. 


via GIPHY

The thing that fills me with dread about writing a blurb is trying to boil down my 80,000 plus word book baby into effective marketing text. It's a summary and a sales pitch at the same time, all in a few sentences and a good or bad one can make all the difference in the likelihood that someone will give your work a chance. There's so many things you're trying to get these two paragraphs to do for you. 

So, no pressure, right? No big whoop?


via GIPHY

Like a lot of writers of my acquaintance, I LOVE writing, but hate selling . . . or at least hate being a salesperson. So, writing that back of the book blurb can feel like a nightmare and bring every insecurity you have screaming to the forefront. 

So, what do we do about it? Seek help! As you build your personal writing community, you can ask for help with this bit. That's definitely what I do. I draft something (no matter how bad--because you have to have something to use as a starting point) and I run it by writer and reader friends, soliciting feedback. Bit by painful bit, we build those paragraphs into something that does the job.

Then we send it off and begin the work of blocking the memory until we have to do it again for the next book! 

If you're a writer, what advice do you have to make blurb writing less painful? If you're a reader, does the blurb decide whether or not you'll read a book? What turns you on or off in a blurb? I'd love to read your comments! 

Friday, October 29, 2021

October Reads

 October was all about books for me…though oddly, I didn't read that many. 

I decided to take on a little project in October. I do this a lot. There's something about the combination of cooler weather and the advent of "spooky season" that bubbles up in my creativity. 

In other years, I've indulged in spooky movie marathons, participated in blog hops like Wording Wednesdays and October Frights,  or flash fiction challenges like Nightmare Fuel. One year, I wrote 31 blog posts, about 31 things I love about Halloween and all things creepy. 

This year I did 31 days of spooky reads videos over on my YouTube channel, highlighting 31 spooky/scary/creepy/eerie books that I have read and loved. 


I talked about a range of books and stories, from the terrifying to the merely odd, published as recently as last year, and as long ago as 1764.  I'd love it if you checked them out! 

Preparing those videos meant re-reading parts of 31 books, but I didn't re-read any of them in their entirety, so I don't count them as part of my reading challenge. (Now at 62 books, out of a goal of 52). 

So, outside of those, I only read three books this month: 


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was a choice by my neighborhood book club for September. I didn't get it read it in time for our meeting (because The Count of Monte Cristo was kicking my butt), but I was intrigued enough to go ahead and read it afterward. It's a quiet book in some senses, but very intriguing and full of interesting insights about teaching, learning, growing up, relationships, and betrayal. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, I really liked. Like Beloved by Toni Morrison (one of my spooky reads picks!), it follows a family dealing with intergenerational fallout from past trauma--the death of a son at the hands of a white neighbor, time in incarceration, and cancer. It intermixes this very realistic family drama with ghosts and witchcraft to great effect. Heartrending and beautiful. 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was a re-read for me. I was revisiting it because it's the next book for my First Monday Classics Book Club. The ideas of the book are still fascinating, and a little scary in their seeming accuracy, but the book lacks a lot on other fronts: two-dimensional characters, weak plot, jerky pacing. There's a better book in there somewhere, but Huxley didn't write it. Still, I'd recommend it if you've never read it, if only for the ideas. 

What did you read this month? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Friday, October 15, 2021

Getting There From Here

As I write this today, I'm on a train on my way to NYC with my husband and my youngest kiddo to see a Broadway play. A couple of firsts for me in there--going to NYC, seeing a Broadway play, and being on a train in the United States (I've been on one in Spain and England). 

I won't post this until I'm back home, of course, because I know better than to tell the Internet that I'm not at my house :-)

When I was young, I had HUGE wanderlust. I mean, I still do, but I'm also a pragmatist, and I picked up a really expensive hobby along the way (children), so it's been a while since I took a trip that wasn't with the grandparents or to visit family. When I was younger, I'd go almost anywhere if I could afford the gas or get someone else to chip in for. So many road trips! 

I took a fair number of road trips when my husband and I were dating, too, because we had a distance relationship and found it fun to choose locations halfway between his grad school and my then-home so that we could explore new places together while falling more deeply in love. 

But after we married and had a second child, we had to let a lot of that kind of thing go--not enough hours in the day or dollars in the bank. Kids, like I said, are an expensive hobby, especially if you want to spoil them like we do. 

So, it's REALLT nice to be traveling again, even if I have to keep a mask on the whole time. Traveling by train is enjoyable (so far…ask again in 6 hours). I have a table and wifi, and it's okay that I didn't pack all that compactly because there's a little room to sprawl. 

Across my life, I've taken a lot of modes of transport. And it's interesting how the method of transportation affects a journey. 

Day to day to I mostly travel in the little bubble of my own car, which allows me to treat it like a little house on wheels, loading it up with all the things that bring me small comfort, like a bottle of water, a plastic box full of tictacs, charging cables for all my devices, and tethers to keep my dogs from crawling over me while I drive. 

I have my first-ever brand new car now, and it seems very posh to me--with technology that all functions and some fancy stuff like heated seats and a back up camera. 

When I travel in my car, I'm in complete charge of the trip (well, except for things like highway traffic speed or delays). I choose the route, the departure time, the stops, what plays on the audio system, and what's allowed in the vehicle with me. What luxury!

We also have a decent public bus system in our area which I've used from time to time when my independence of movement felt less important or I didn't want to have to deal with parking when I arrived at my destination or I knew I could travel light (not much to carry). 

You never know who is getting on the bus with you…and cleanliness really varies from system to system. But the ride is short, so even if it's less than stellar, it's okay. 

I've only done the cross-country bus a couple of times, generally a charter bus full of kids traveling together--going to Disney with the band when I was a teenager, being a field-trip Mom for my kiddo on a class trip to Washington, DC, that sort of thing. Charter busses offer a little more room and luxuries like tables, and on-bus bathroom access, so they can feel fancy compared to a public bus or a school bus. I've yet to do the Greyhound experience so far. 

I've also flown in planes of various size, from a four-seater bush plane in Alaska to a grand trans-Atlantic monstrosity, though I was eighteen before I ever rode in one. My years in Alaska meant that I flew quite a bit, since I tended to keep living in places that weren't accessible by road. 

Smaller planes are noisier, but more comfortable in some ways. They tend to be cleaner, actually, maybe


because they're owned by individuals who care instead of being maintained by corporations who try to do the least they can to maximize profits. 

Once I rode in a helicopter, too, and I hated that. I guess I don't have much of a future as a rescue pilot. Noisy and airsickness inducing, at least for me.

Trains, on the other hand, are like busses in that you don't know who you're going to have to share space with and that cleanliness can really vary, but it can be lovely to just sit back and let someone else worry about getting you there.

Looking out the windows at trees turned into streams of green by speed until it feels like you're hurtling through an impressionist painting. Fields, houses, and city blocks go by in a blink. It reminds me of being little and riding in the back of the car, just staring out the windows while my parents drove me to Grandma's house. 

Traveling by train in Spain scared me a bit, but then I was young--20 or so--and my Spanish wasn't that great, and people kept scaring me about all the bad things that could happen to a young woman traveling alone. My fear probably wasn't really about the train. 

In England, when I was 30 and finishing grad school, I LOVED traveling by train. A nice lady came around and brought me tea and sold me snacks and I could do my work while we traveled, and my mum went with to be my Granny-Nanny for my elder kiddo. 

The train I'm currently on is a lot like that, except I'll have to walk over the cafĂ© car if I want any food or snacks. 

I have yet to travel on a train that looks or feels like the Hogwarts Express or the Orient Express, but that's probably for the best. I'm not ready for candy frogs that hop away from me while I try to eat them, or dead people in the car behind mine. 

Exciting transportation is fine for books and movies, but I'll keep my real-life travel a little on the safe and boring side, please. 

Do subways count as trains? That's going to be another first for me on this journey: a NYC subway ride. I've only done The Underground or The Tube and the The Metro, both of which were lovely and convenient, if a little nerve-wracking the first time.

I haven't had the opportunity to travel by boat much. Some few-hour excursions when I was at the beach, a few ferries (including the 12 hour long ferry ride from mainland Alaska to Kodiak). 

I don't think I'm much interested in taking a cruise on one of those giant floating hotels, but I'd love the chance to move among islands in a sailboat or something like that. 

When I have been out on the sea, I find it impossible to feel sad--the wind in my face seems to blow all my worries out my ears, and the miles and miles and miles of open water is soothing. Not to mention the likelihood of seeing something cool a landlubber like me doesn't usually get to see like a whale or a pelican. 

We used to go river canoeing or kayaking for my dad's birthday each year when I was an older kid/teenager, and I loved that. 

The combination of slow and fast, meandering miles of water with sudden exciting bits where you had to work to keep your little stick of a boat going the direction you wanted. It made me feel strong and capable like I'd really DONE something when I got to where I was going, even if there was a guide in the other boat prepared to pull me out of the water if I did something foolish. 

So, what do you like? Planes, trains, or automobiles? Boats? Public commuter transport or individual arrangements? I'd love to hear about your travel/transportation experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

IWSG: Drawing the Line

 

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.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

October 6 question -In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The awesome co-hosts for the October 6 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pitt, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!
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There are definitely places I haven't gone in my writing, but I haven't drawn any conscious lines. I believe in giving each story what it needs, so I wouldn't rule anything out so far as subject matter or language. It all depends on what that story needs. 

I have, however, stopped writing a story because it was taking me down a dark road I didn't have the wherewithal to travel at that time. Thursday's Children was a dystopian fantasy I was writing a few years ago, which I finally shelved because the real world was feeling too dystopian for me just then and I needed to go somewhere else in my fiction. 

I hope to get back to it someday though, so that's more about timing than about a hard no. I'll put myself through emotional struggle for the sake of a story, but there are limits. 

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I have more limits as a reader, because I'm reading for my personal entertainment and enlightenment, and I'm not interested in reading anything that drags me down or fills me with fruitless anger. 

I have made exceptions, but it's hard for me to read Holocaust or Slavery literature anymore. I've read a lot of it over the years, and no matter how good a books is, it's a hard sell for me if it's set in American Slavery times or during the Holocaust. 

I also don't like to read books that include rape anymore. I've read too many where it was handled badly, with no respect or sensitivity for victims or revealing limited thinking about what might traumatize a character or motivate other characters who love them. So, if I know going in that a story features rape as part of the storyline, I'm looking for a lot of reassurance that it's handled well, and doesn't venture into glorifying violence (which is probably part of my problem with a lot of Holocaust and Slavery literature, too). 

I would *never* suggest that my personal preference means that other people shouldn't read or write those kinds of stories. You should do what you need and want. I just might not agree to travel some roads by your side. 

Part of why I write is because story is how I process the world, and it can be helpful to me to write stories about things that worry, frighten, or anger me, so I will always leave the door open to consider writing anything that tugs on my soul to be written . . .but I'll also protect me from me, when necessary and say "Well, not today, perhaps." 

How about you? Are there things you won't write or read about? Topics that are taboo or at least hard sells? I'd love to hear about them in the comments. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

September Reads

Generally, I try to read a book every week. Of course, it doesn't always line up that way. Sometimes a book takes me longer than a week to read, but it generally balances out to help me meet my goal of 52 books a year. 


That was definitely the case this month. I started reading The Count of Monte Cristo in early August and only finally finished that sucker last night!  

For those unfamiliar with this classic by Alexandre Dumas, it's a VERY long book. 1200-1600 pages depending on what edition you're reading, or 52+ hours as an audiobook. It's got an intricate plot and some really fun moments, but is, in my opinion, three times as long as it needed to be to tell the story effectively. 

A few months ago, I read The Three Musketeers also by Dumas, and liked it much better. Finishing Monte Cristo felt like an accomplishment though. One of those books that ought to earn me some kind of trophy, like when I read Les Miserables or War and Peace. These tomes are the reader's equivalent of running a marathon. 

Despite its length, though, Monte Cristo reads well. The prose feels modern and it's engaging, but I think it's one of those books I'm glad I read, but would never read again. Once is good. :-)

Because Monte Cristo took so long to read, I didn't get to read much else at all!


I finished only two other books, both short. 

Domino: Hotshots is trade collection of a run of comics. My coffeeshop carries comic books and I often buy one with my Friday treat coffee.  I got the first issue of this one and LOVED it, so I bought the rest of the story. I wasn't already all that familiar with Domino, but I still was drawn right into this story of unlikely allies learning to work together to defeat the big bad. Bonus points for a story that shows a young woman learning to accept and use her own power. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) makes a guest appearance and really facilitates a nice mentoring/meeting your heroes arc. 

2,000 to 10,000 is a practical writing advice book that had been recommended to me several times, when I complain that I am a slow writer and would like to be faster. I appreciated the friendly, encouraging tone of the book and am planning to try some of the advice when I begin my next book (I'm too superstitious to change tactics in the middle of the book I'm writing now). I'll report back as to whether it works for me. 

Given that I write alongside a full time job, I probably won't get to 10,000 words a day, but I would settle for moving faster than my typical 250-800 words a day and be happy about it! 

How about you? Did you read anything wonderful in September? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. And of course, if you read anything *I* wrote, then I love you even more :-) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

9 years of writing every day

I hit a new milestone in my writing life today: 9 years of writing every single day, at least 250 words. 

That may not sound like much, but the results have been nothing to sneeze at. At that slow and steady rate, I've completed several novels and seen them out into the world. 

All my life, I've both needed and resisted structure. 

I guess I'm contrarian that way. 

But whether I'd like to admit it or not, every time I've succeeded at anything important, there's been a daily practice involved. And, for me, it has to be daily. I can't do something on Mondays and Thursdays, or every other day, and get the same results. 

Even though my creative side decries fences, saying it wants to run free, all evidence shows that I'm actually a lot more creative when I have some constraints. So my entire writing life has been a push-and-pull between these conflicting ideas. I might chafe at rules (even when I'm the one who made them), but I have to begrudgingly admit that they're effective on me. 

My rule is that I have to write every single day, come hell or high water. 

I set the bar for what counts as having written relatively low: 250 words. One page. Because even on a horrible day, when I have a fever or when some crisis hits, I can write at least that much. Because even with arthritis, I can write that much by hand on the back of receipts if my technology fails or I'm trapped in traffic or other disasters strike. 

One key to making your goals is setting achievable, realistic goals. Of course, I want more than 250 words each day (and I often get them), but I can *always* get 250 words, so I'm setting myself up for success. 

When I started trying to write 250 words a day, it was difficult. It sometimes took me hours…and I struggled to get those hours. My kids were young, my dog was impatient, and I had tremendous guilt about taking that time away from other ways I could be of use to my family and the world. But, if I was going to realize my dream of being a writer at any level, I was going to have to make a commitment and stick to it. 

So I did. 

As writing 250 words a day became easier over the years (I've done it in as few as 15 minutes on a good night), I raised the bar a little, shooting for 800 words on school days and 2000 words on non-school days. But that's the stretch goal. As long as I write 250 words, the daily writing chain continues to grow. 

These days, I make 800 pretty regularly. On nights where I have to settle for *only* the 250, it feels like settling, and leaves me more determined to make more words the next day. 

The longer the chain became, the less likely it became that I would break it. After nine years, if I get to bedtime and haven't written, it's like some kind of alarm going off in the back of my brain. I won't be able to sleep until I do it. 

Plenty of nights the words are no good. Often, when I come back the next day, I start by throwing out the garbage I wrote the night before and starting fresh. But, there's the magic. You can improve on bad writing, but there has to be something *there* before you can work on making it something good. 

My writing record (I use Jamie Raintree's spreadsheet)



So, here I am nine years later, and writing every day is a given, up there with brushing my teeth. It's brain hygiene :-) So far in 2021, I've written 283,796 words (not counting the ones I'm writing right now).  That includes work on two novels, several short stories, book reviews, blog posts, and other hard-to-categorize things.  Remind me, when I'm feeling like I didn't do that much this year, will you? 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

How Do I Know When I've Succeeded?

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.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

September 1 question
 - How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

The awesome co-hosts for the August 4 posting of the IWSG are  Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!
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I've had some great successes in my writing life so far. There are plenty of moments in my career that feel like accomplishments and achievements. It's important to remind myself of that from time to time, because success is an ever-moving target and it's easy to feel like a failure and dismiss all the successes you've already had getting this far. 

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So, in the spirit of remembering my successes while I strive for new ones, here are some of my highlights (the brag book!)
So, by a lot of standards, I've already been pretty successful as a writer. But I'm an ambitious gal. I want more! 

I want to make my living (enough to pay the bills) from my writing. I want to see my work translated into other languages. I'd love to see my work picked up for television or movies (and to receive the paycheck that goes with that). I'd like to finish the book I'm working on now, and the several other projects languishing on my back burners, and do all those stories and characters justice. 

So, I think that's the trick with success. 

We're always succeeding, with each teeny tiny baby step we take toward meeting our goals. But we're also always failing, because if you accomplish a goal, you tend to set a new one, further out on the horizon and start striving all over again. 

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Just remember that there are MANY definitions of success, and you need to define it for yourself. Don't worry about what other people are doing--they're not you, and comparing yourself to other writers and their careers can be maddening. 

How do you define success for yourself? What do you do to remind yourself of all you've already accomplished?