Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Uninvited, Revisited

I haven't written about it much here, but I am a bit of an old movie buff, particularly films of the later 1930s to 1950s. Black and white. Classics. I inherited this interest from my mother and throughout my childhood, we watched lots of such films together, whenever they were on TV. 

Off and on for the past couple of years (interestingly: about the same amount of time I've been trying to write my own Gothic romance novel), I'd been thinking about the film The Uninvited, from 1944, with Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell.  

At first, I couldn't even figure out what movie I was remembering, or if I'd made some kind of amalgamation of several old films in my brain. I have watched and read more than a few things in this genre. 

I remembered that it was Gothic and scary, set in a stunning clifftop home, and some particular images and plot points. It took a bit of doing before I came up with the right search terms and learned the name of it. 

I requested it at my local Retro film series, but so far, they haven't shown it. And it's never on any of the streaming services, so I finally just bought a disk of it, the Criterion edition (a distinction other old movie fans will appreciate). 

I got Sweetman to watch it with me last night. 

I'm happy to report that it held up well. I fell in love with Windward House again, and so wish it were real and that I could go stay in it for a while, scary crashing waves at the foot of the rocks cliff and all. If you're a sucker for Gothic mansion settings like I am, this film is worth watching just for the house. 

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Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful use of shadows and reflections amped up the atmosphere, and the trick photography used to more fully materialize a ghost still looks classy and "real" if that's an adjective one can apply to a spirit created by camera trickery. 

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As one expects in Gothic tales of this sort, there's a terrible secret in the past and it threatens our young ingenue in the present. It's quite convoluted, and I found myself pausing to untangle the threads for my husband more than once (he's less steeped in this kind of fiction than I am). I won't spoil the story here, in case you want to seek this out, but it had all the right elements of betrayal and questionable motivations for this kind of story. 

If you speak Spanish, the fuller story breaks more quickly when our ingenue is briefly possessed by a Spanish-speaking ghost who tells us very directly what happened, but I'm quite sure the film-makers did not anticipate the audience understanding what the ghost actually said in that scene because it all comes out again more slowly. 

A secondary plot took me by surprise. It had probably gone over my head when I watched the film as a child, but really added a level of threat and upped the ante with a side character (Miss Holloway) determined to keep certain secrets buried, regardless of the cost to others because of her obsessive love for one of the deceased characters.  

Shades of Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, with room in the story that the feelings were mutual this time. Cornelia Otis Skinner's Miss Holloway was a different kind of threatening than Judith Anderson's Mrs. Danvers, but they might be sisters under the skin. 

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Implications of lesbian love were strong in that thread, and not portrayed as healthy and romantic. Holy subtext, Batman! More dangerous obsession, and dark secret sorts of themes.  

I'd love to write something playing in the backstory of this world, with the thwarted love, later love triangle and jealousies, and who exactly that missing father was, or what the grandfather did and didn't really know. The story did a lot with what it didn't tell us, even though it told us a lot. 

I'm also curious as heck about our outside interlopers, the brother and sister (Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald) who pooled their funds to buy the mansion together, only to become embroiled in a local tragedy and haunting. Neither of them married, neither of them seeming to have any particular ties in this world, and unusually close for adult siblings. What past tragedy had they survived together? 

Lastly, I was impressed by the mix of humor and horror. It's always a tricky balance to strike, and bringing in the wrong note at the wrong time can ruin a story, but The Uninvited beautifully blended lighthearted touches with a dark and troubling storyline.  Ray Milland was at his most Cary Grant-like, conveying a lot with a sideways glance or body language, revealing an inner little boy who wanted to run away from the scary things but was held in place by his sense of proper duty as a grown man. 

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The final minutes of the film wrapped everything up in a neat bow, delivering two impending marriages, happy pets (a dog and a cat), and every sign that the future will now be rosy for all involved now that the ghosts have been laid to rest. Practically Shakespearean in the rush to matrimony for all involved. It was charming how quickly everyone's future was settled now that we got that pesky troubled past dealt with. If only it were nearly that simple in real life. 

So, if you haven't watched it yet, go check out The Uninvited. It's well worth the watching. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


As glamorous as I've ever been
(and I'm wearing Converse under there)
Glamour is a lot of work, so I only consider it "worth it" for truly special occasions: weddings, graduations, ceremonies, theater dates. 

Even on those days, my routine pales compared to many of the women of my acquaintance. 

I fuss over my hair a bit, curling and arranging it or if we're going hardcore, hiring someone with a stronger skill set to do that for me. 

I select and wear jewelry. 

I don't own any makeup--I think it's itchy. 

But, I might wear shoes that aren't Converse sneakers, if there isn't going to be too much standing and walking at the event. 

In contrast, on an average summer morning when I arrive at the coffee shop wearing stretchy pants, looking as though my hair might be a wig that I put on sideways, I catch a fair amount of fish-eye from the the poshier women around me. 

I'll never be that lady described as "well-coifed", "elegant", or even "well put-together." Most of the

How I look on a day that ends in Y

time, I look like a six-year-old whose mother just called them inside from a morning's romp in the creek. 

Maybe it's a breed of impatience. 

I'm too anxious to DO things to wade through the processes of beauty before I go. Hence, I've never developed the requisite skills or collected the tools and equipment. 

I'm sure many people think I've "let myself go" but the truth is, that by this definition, I never "held myself" to begin with. 

The work of beauty does not interest me as much as learning new recipes, exploring new paths, writing another book, fighting with my garden, and reading. No matter how lovely the results might be. 

I live in the South, though, where I definitely seem grubby next to many of my neighbors with perfect highlights, manicured nails, and artfully applied makeup, especially women my own age or older. 

On the occasions when I do glam up, it's a revelation--a shining spotlight moment like the ugly duckling reveal in a 1980s "but she wears glasses" makeover moment. Lots of "oooooh." It's gratifying. But if you're glamorous every day, where do you go from there? How do you up the ante for something special? Tiaras? 

I don't judge women who focus more energy on beauty. Sometimes I envy them. It's a choice, like any, and as valid as any. I know many intelligent, vibrant, hardworking, and accomplished women who are also glamorous. 

It's not an either/or. 

Some friends treat it like armor. For others it's self-care, self-love, a way of boosting themselves. For some it's a game--a kind of play. I've only known a few that I worried might have raised it to a pathology. 

I'm being photographed this weekend. As a 50th birthday present to myself, I have hired a photographer to get some new author shots, a documentation of what I look like now. I thought about going fancy, but in the end, I decided I want photographs that look like me. 

No matter how much I sometimes wish I looked like Audrey Hepburn, that's just not who I am. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Teacher Who Writes, or a Writer Who Teaches?

I began my dual career path as a teacher-who-writes twenty-six years ago, give or take.  Honestly, trying to do both meant I didn't write all that often or all that much. Teaching, especially when you're new at it, will swallow all of you, if you let it--demanding your time, your energy, and your love and leaving you depleted. Not the best recipe for a creative life. 

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Like most teachers who survive in the field long enough to be called veterans, I did eventually learn to set some boundaries and work on that ephemeral dream we call a "work-life-balance." 

That required being strict with myself, some compartmentalizing, and fighting off the guilt goblins barnacled to my soul. Not easy for a someone with an empathetic soul with a strong drive to help--you know, the kind of people who becomes teachers. 

But, creative life aside, it's essential to avoid burnout and make teaching a sustainable career choice. 

Failure to do so is how you win teacher of the year, but it's also how you end up quitting the career after only a few years. 

Even after I'd established some boundaries and limited how many hours a day my teaching life got, my writing life still came in fourth most of the time, after teaching, family, and community. 

Writing, after all, is solitary, just for me, and that seemed selfish. There are healthy forms of selfishness, but I was raised a lower middle class American woman in a blue collar family AND became a teacher, so finding a healthy level of selfishness and accepting the idea that self-care is not immoral . . .well, that took some time. 

Until I was in my mid-thirties or so, writing was something reserved for moments of passion or crisis--a way of processing and coping, or expressing feelings so strong they could not simply be sublimated into other kinds of work. 

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Then, after my second marriage when my second child was born, I had a bout of post-partum depression. I'd never dealt with the more clinical, longer-lasting side of depression, and honestly, I wasn't doing very well. I didn't understand why I wasn't happy when I "ought to be." 

Sweetman, ever observant and kind, had noticed in our courtship and marriage what a solace writing was for me. He pushed me to make regular space for it in my life, even helping me find a local critique group so I'd have a schedule. (It's like he *knows* me :P).  

It worked, at least in terms of the post-partum. As it had always been, writing was a solace and I felt so much more balanced when I gave time to my voice and my heart's truths in this way. 

And I started writing more regularly--still in fits and starts in the corners of my life, but SO much more often than I had ever done before. And my new writing community made my writing better than it had ever been before. 

I might have stayed there--a happy hobbyist--the rest of my life if not for the next moment of crisis. 

I turned 42. 

Now, as all readers of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy know, 42 is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Even though turning 30 and 40 had not phased me, turning 42 did. 

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So far as midlife crises go, mine was mild. A haircut, some new clothes, lots of fantasizing about exotic travels. I didn't run off and join the circus, adopt up any new addictions, or take up with a younger man. 

I did, however, wallow in a feeling of dissatisfaction and low-key restless anger (mostly directed at myself) for a bit. 

That's when I decided to make a commitment to my writing life. To give it a *real* go. So, what did that mean? 

1. I stopped teaching English and become solely a Spanish teacher. Most of my jobs up to that point had been some combination of the two. The feedback load and external scrutiny for English teachers is crushing AND the literature and writing work pulls from the same energy as my writing life, so doing both was more than I could handle. 

Spanish is an elective, and at the beginning levels, where I teach, feedback on writing amounts to reading a few sentences and assessing whether the kid said what they meant to say. MUCH simpler. 

2. I laid claim to more time. We had a family meeting. By this time, my kids were older: 14 and 7, so they didn't need me at the same levels they had when they were younger. They were able to take on a little more independence, and it turned out they were willing to do so, because a happy mommy who is sometimes unavailable was preferable to a grumpy mommy, even if she was there all the time. 

Since it was hard for me to get enough separation and focus at home, I went elsewhere to write. Coffee shops, the library, the park, even just sitting in my car. When my own discipline got better, I started being able to work at home, even without an office. I shot for 250 words a day at first. 

It worked! I began to finish things, polish them, submit me, and see them accepted and published! I collected external validations like books contracts and royalties . . .even an award!  Over the next few years, I noticed the shift. 

I was now a writer-who-teaches, instead of a teacher-who-writes. 

My core identity centered around writing instead of teaching. When I met new people, I mentioned writing first. I've now written every single day for more than seven years. 

I still love teaching, and I still invest in my students and their success, but I no longer base my own feelings of success and worth on it. Too much of it is beyond my control, and making it the center of my identity was eating me. Teaching has always been both a calling and a job, but I've decided it should not also be my identity. 

Writing, on the other hand, is mine. And whether anyone ever accepts another piece of work for publication or not, I will still be a writer and I will still have all my creations, and what they have meant to me.

So, as I move into summer and shift gears into my yearly couple of months of being *just* a writer while I'm on summer hiatus from teaching, I feel a joy akin to coming home after a long journey. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

IWSG: Jumping into Revision When You're Not Quite Ready

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.

June 2 question - For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

The awesome co-hosts for the June 2 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

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Taking time to step away from your work can be a valuable part of the writing process--giving you a little distance and space from the work you just completed and letting you come to it with fresh eyes and a little more objectivity. 

Given my druthers, I would always step away for at least a month, maybe longer if the writing the piece took a lot out of me emotionally. 

But, that's not always possible. 

If you work with publishers, editors, or even with a critique group, your schedule might not always be completely your own. I know I've had some tight turnarounds in my writing life, where I finished the first draft only to find that  the submission deadline was looming large, forcing me to jump back into editing and revision sooner than I prefer.

So, if I can't take a big break, I still try to get a little space, even just a day or two. I take a day to work on something else. Then, if I'm time-crunched and HAVE to jump right back in I have a few tricks to make it feel fresh to me. 

1. Change format:  if you've been working on screen up till now, consider printing out a paper copy to work with, or at least changing the font choice and size. 

2. Go somewhere else: work on it somewhere different than you usually do. Go to a park, a coffeeshop, the library, a different room in your home or even just a different chair. 

3. Outline what's there:  I'm a pantser, so I don't generally work from an outline for my novels, but sometimes I find it helps to do a post-production outline, creating a list of scenes as if I'm going to have to write a report or pass a test over the book. I LOVE the scene cards technique from the DIY-MFA book by Gabriela Pereira which asks you to list for each scene:
  • a title for the scene
  • the major players
  • the action
  • the purpose (structurally)
This has saved my bacon more than once, helping me spot continuity errors (like the same character is in two places at the same time!) and identify scenes that aren't moving the story forward as much as they could be. 

So, if I can't have the breathing space I'd like between drafts, that's what I do to try and freshen my perspective. 

I also find the feedback of valued writing friends useful at this stage and will ask other writers to brainstorm with me, or just give me a reaction to a section I'm stuck on.  A lot of times, it isn't that the other writer solves my problem for me, but that they say something that sparks my own realization. I feel like I get there faster in discussion with writer-friends than I would on my own. 

How about you, writing and creative friends? How do you find fresh eyes when it's time to revise or revisit your work? 

Monday, May 31, 2021

May Reading


I felt as though I had no time for reading in May, but I did manage to finish six books. Now to be fair, three of them were quite short, as in one-hour-or-less time investment. But sometimes short and sweet (or short and kickass, the in the case of Carol Danvers) is just what I need. 

I started with The Iceman Always Comes on Tuesday by James Masse. It was suggested to me by a friend who is also an audiobook enthusiast and I welcomed it. Quick, and heart-string pulling, with an old movie kind of feel about it, about a literally ice man (as in the guy who delivers ice to keep your icebox cold) and his quest for justice. Especially nice if you're a fan of underdog heroes. 

After that I dived into Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, the book my First Monday Classics Book Club will be discussing next Monday. At the beginning, I thought I was going to love it, but in the end, I was ambivalent. Some moments that shone and a lot that started to feel like a slog. The main character was, in the end, too passive for my liking. 

I picked up Rift by Nancy E. Dunne because she and I will be sharing a table at ConCarolinas here in a few days, and I like to know something about the work of authors I'm going to be working with. I really enjoyed her take on "what if the game is real" and will definitely be checking out more of her work in the future!

The short works helped keep me going during a tough month, with ENDLESS end-of-grade testing in the day job (we have to give each test 3 times this year because of restrictions in place for the pandemic).  The Sprite and the Gardener and The Reluctant Dragon both pleased me for their kindhearted sweetness. 

I revisted Carol Danvers, AKA Captain Marvel recently for a panel discussion about the character, and re-reading Higher, Further, Faster, More put me in the mood for more of this character as written by DeConnick, so I bought myself volume 2: Stay Fly.  Really delighted me. Perfect for my mood. 

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

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Fifteen Years and We're Just Getting Started


A month or two ago, on the beach

So, it's been fifteen years since I married this guy. That seems at the same time, very reasonable and completely implausible. Time is a slippery beast, and I swear it feels like only a few days ago that we skipped down the stairs together at Duke Gardens. At the same time, they've been some very full years, and sometimes I can't believe it's only been fifteen years. 

15 years ago--look at those cute kids!

We got married in the middle of May, at a ceremony we invited fewer than twenty people to. The day was overcast and intermittently rainy, which could have been bad news for an outdoor event involving a white dress, but we were lucky and the sun came right right when we needed it to, bathing us in gorgeous light and keeping our friends and family dry. 

We've always been proof that timing is everything. 

When I met Sweetman, I was already engaged to someone else. He says he had an unrequited crush on me in the intervening years, but I suspect him of flattery and revisionist memory. What we did have though, was an ongoing friendship, the kind where we always made a point of seeing one another whenever we were in the same town. Over those years, I married and had a child and he dated, but had never settled down. 

Twelve years later, I got divorced, probably about four years later than I should have . . .we hadn't been right together in quite some time. I sent out that big group email like you do, letting anyone who might care know about the changes and where I would be living and all that *fun* (sarcasm) stuff. Sweetman was one of the friends I told. 

As luck would have it, he was also free. Timing is everything. 

I worried that I was going to ruin a friendship by jumping into a romance too soon. I didn't want my good friend to become my rebound guy.  He worried that he was taking advantage of me in an emotionally fragile moment. In the end, it worked out, and we still worry about each other to this day, but now we have a little more power to do something about it. 

So Happy Anniversary to me and Sweetman. We celebrated by taking a garden tour and having Thai for lunch, since our first official date included Thai food and flowers. I wore my Bride sneakers, the ones I commissioned for our wedding. He wore a pale blue Havana style shirt and a Panama hat, because he know I love how he looks in them. 

So, there we are fifteen years into this marriage. If the next fifteen go as fast, I'll be back tomorrow to tell you how dapper he looks with that new walking stick.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Return to the Public Part of My 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.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, PJ Colando, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

I'm heading to a convention the first weekend in June. That used to be something I did six to eight times a year, but 2020 and 2021 has seen event after event cancelled or altered to become a digital event. Undoubtedly, it was the right thing to do. Stuffing hundreds of geeky folk into meeting rooms in hotels for music, merriment, performance, and discussion during the pandemic would have been foolhardy and irresponsible. 

But I'm headed to a scaled-back ConCarolinas and I'm *so* excited to be easing back into the public part of a writing life. Participation in conventions has been one of the poles holding up this rickety circus tent I call a writing career. 

At conventions, I have readings, participated in panel discussions, hand-sold books, networked with publishers and other writers, and interacted with readers. All this sharing, helped build my name as an author, sold some books, built relationships, and kept me motivated when things were hard. 

Not having conventions has left a hole in my writing life. 

During the past year, I sought out some video and online activities, and some of them were great! A panel held over zoom takes away some of the limits on geography and let me work with people three time zones over from me, or even in other countries all together. People I might never have gotten to work with otherwise. (You can check out a lot of that work on ConTinual's YouTube channel or on my own). 

But there's a serendipity factor in live events that is hard to recreate virtually. I never just wandered through the halls and ended up in a great conversation because I was attracted by the laughter at a virtual event. Zoom meetings don't give you the chance to peek into other rooms and see what's going on. Damn, but I've missed that. 

Now that I'm immunized, I feel a lot safer about venturing into communal grounds again and I'm so happy that I'll be starting with ConCarolinas, a con that has always treated me kindly and made me feel welcome. 

How about you? Are you easing back into the world yet? What kinds of public events have you been missing lo these many months? 

Friday, April 30, 2021

April Reads

 I only read three books this month, but they were all wonderful! I listened to all three as audiobooks, though I also went back and forth with Kindle for the Gaskell. 

I first found Tananarive Due through her work in The Apocalypse Triptych, an ambitious set of three anthologies where authors imagined life before, during, and after an apocalypse through three interlinked stories. I remembered her name and when I got a good deal on an audiobook of My Soul to Keep, I nabbed it. 

Great slow build horror that went in very different directions than I expected. I'm with Stephen King on this one. Fascinating!

Haven't watched the miniseries yet,
 but it's on my list now!

After that I turned my attention to North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, the May selection for my First Monday Classics Book Club. I'd heard Gaskell's name many times, mostly as a writer whose influence could be seen on other writers, but I'd never read any of her work. 
In the first chapter, I thought I was going to hate it because it opened with a drawing room scene full of superficial chitchat about dresses and fabrics and such, but it quickly became clear that we'd been given that scene as contrast as we followed our heroine into a trying period of her life and into the most unexpected journey to a happy marriage. 

I'm so looking forward to the discussion next week! And will definitely make room for more Gaskell in my reading life. 

I finished my month with Becky Chambers. Chambers is one of my no-questions-asked authors, who works are on preorder as soon as I hear about them. I've read all four of her Wayfarer series books and loved all them. The Galaxy and the Ground Within returned to all the themes that draw me to Chambers's work: optimism, unexpected friendship, kindness and acceptance, found families. For a book ostensibly about aliens (only one human character active in this story, and she had a bit part), there's a lot to consider about humanity in these pages. 

So, that's my reading month. I began a few other books, and hope to finish them soon, so I'll tell you about them next month. 

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Big Five-Oh: The Face I Deserve

I turned 50 today. 

It's very strange to consider. 

I mean, I don't feel fifty. 

Okay, well SOMETIMES I feel fifty, like when I squat to put away dishes and my hip doesn't want to let me get back up, or when I get winded climbing a big hill. I tell myself it's not the years, it's the mileage (and maybe a bit the baggage as well). It makes me feel more like Indiana Jones and less like Miss Marple. 

But mostly, I don't even feel like a real grownup yet…yet here we are. Fifty. 

Coco Chanel famously said that when we are fifty, we get the face we deserve. So, here's the face I deserve, picture taken first thing this morning when my hair was still shower-wet and I hadn't yet had any caffeine. 

So far as faces go, it's fine. Neither glamorous nor off-putting. Pleasant, and sometimes quite pretty, in the right light. 

The lines and creases don't bother me much, and any age spots just blend in with the freckles that were already there. I've started to get a little gray around the crown of my head which I confess I find a little startling when I notice, but otherwise, I still just look like me, a little rounder than I would maybe choose, given all the options, and way more like my Grandma Liz than I expected, given how much I always thought I looked more like my dad. 

So, do I deserve this face? 

When I look at this face, I see bright curiosity and a spark of adventure, a curve at the corner of the mouth that comes from laughing a lot and a squinty-ness about the eyes that comes from spending time smiling in the sun (and maybe from time behind a screen). The teeth are a little yellow from drinking lots of tea while reading and the jawline reveals a fondness for cookies. The woman in that picture looks like a lady who knows surprising things and has a kind heart. 

If I didn't know me, I think I'd be willing to talk to me, based on this face. 

It'll do. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Six Years In: My Writing Career

Though I have been a writer all my life, I consider April 23, 2015 my birthday as a professional writer, since that's the date my debut novel was published. So, this seems like a good day for a little trip down memory lane, now that Writer Samantha is 6 years old :-)

Samantha's Professional Writing Career (So Far)

I finished my first novel on June 20, 2012. It was called His Other Mother, and is best categorized as women's issues fiction. It took me four years to write that first draft, and about another year to complete the revision to get it submission-ready. It was a dark story, and it took a lot out of me to write it, but it also proved that I could finish a novel. I'm still proud of me for getting that far. 

So far, His Other Mother is not published. It got close a few times, but no publisher took it on, and after a while, I shelved it, chalking it up as the book I wrote to learn how to write a book. Maybe I'll revisit it someday and revise it again, improving it with everything I've learned since, but right now, I'm content to leave it alone. I've got newer projects I'm more passionate about right now.

Finishing His Other Mother was hard enough that I bribed myself through the end of the process, promising myself that I could "write something fun" if I just finished this project. That's where Going Through the Change comes in--what could be more fun than Menopausal Superheroes? 

I finished the revision of that book in December 2013 which shows I got faster. From idea to submission-ready in only one year! My commitment to a daily writing habit was paying off. By August of 2014, I had signed my first book contract!

I had an exciting eight months or so of edits, cover approval, proofreading, mood swings, marketing ploys, etc. (while I also worked on the second book in the series) And then in April of 2015, just a few days before my forty-forth birthday, my book-baby was born! 

And here I am with my first box of my own books ever. That smile says it all. 

I worked hard to get to the word out about that book, querying book bloggers, arranging for review copies, writing 26 blog posts about it for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. and planning a book release party at Flyleaf Books that still glows in my memory as one of the best days of my life. 

My family and friends were there, including my writing community in the form of critique group and other generous souls who helped me on my journey. My mother-in-law made beautiful fancy cookies for the guests. An author-friend Nathan Kotecki made the very generous offer to serve as my "Phil Donahue." He interviewed me and facilitated a question and answer session that made me feel so very famous. 

I'd had a taste of the author life I'd always dreamed of and I grabbed on with both hands! I started attending conventions (Atomacon 2015 was my very first one) and serving as a panelist and author guest. I won an award for that first book!

I worked my butt off to get books two and three in the Menopausal Superheroes series out in 2016 and 2017 and wrote a between-the-novels novella for a special collection. I suffered through the first ever bookless book-launch party for book 2.  I survived the dreaded revise-and-resubmit process for book 3. 

At the same time, I kept writing short stories and tried to squeeze in some time to work on my other ideas and projects. And then . . . I hit my first serious snag: my publisher :-(

It's an old story, especially with small publishers: things fall apart. I won't dwell on the story here, since I'm happy with where I've ended up, but you can read this details in this blog post if you're curious. 

I was so deflated . . .but I was also very lucky. I got my rights back without much trouble. Because I'd been building contacts and relationships with writing colleagues along the way, I was able to make the leap to a different publisher and get all three novels re-released with a couple of months. 

Since then, the Menopausal Superhero Universe has expanded and been re-released with gorgeous new covers. Three novels, two novellas, a set of short stories, and a collection of all those shorter works in a single volume. 

Novel number 4 (working title: Be the Change) is with the editing team now, with a planned release for late 2021. I'm contracted for a fifth novel in the series for 2022. I still LOVE this characters and have a wonderful time telling their stories. 

So six years in, I'm loving my writing life. The community, the creativity, the small-scale fame and fortune. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunities I've seen so far and can't wait to see what the future brings!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

IWSG: Calculated Risks

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.

April 7 question - Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 7 posting of the IWSG are PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

So, am I a risk-taker in my writing? Well…kind of. 

I'm trying to build a writing career, one that will eventually financially support me. So, when I make choices about what to write next and where to focus my energy in this moment, I'm considering marketability and cross-pollination with my other published work as one of the factors. So, sometimes that means putting down one project that doesn't have a publisher waiting on it, so I can work on one that does--selecting what to work on when based on slightly more mercenary criteria rather than merely following my artistic whims. 

But I don't let that make me play it completely safe. While I don't seek out controversy for its own sake, I don't pull back from it if it arises naturally in my work. My novels address some pretty serious issues: ageism, sexism, misogyny, violence, trust. I don't pull my metaphorical punches any more than my heroines pull their physical ones. If the story needs to take on something potentially controversial, then it will. 

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On the other hand, I also LOVE trying new things as a writer. So, there's a balance to be struck between moving forward where I've had success and in experimentation and growth. I use short fiction for this. So, while I'm continuing to write The Menopausal Superhero series, I also slip in a little time to write in my first-love genre of horror stories and to try on other sub-genres of speculative fiction. 

It lets me try out different approaches, narrative styles, and forms without the time commitment required by a novel. 

My favorite way to challenge myself is to write for anthologies. When I hear about a themed call that captures my imagination, I jump in. Even better if it's something I've never written before, like that time I wrote a vampire story for Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, even though I'd never written a vampire story before, just because I LOVED the premise of the anthology so very much and wanted to be a part of it. 

It's always a risk to try writing something new, but I'd argue it's a risk to never try writing anything new, too--stagnation is real, and can cost your passion as well as your opportunity to build a career. 

So, I'm a planned risk-taker, I guess, willing to try something new, but only when the time is right. How about you, fellow creatives? How do you balance risk in your creative life? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

March Reads, 2021


March was a mood around here. I had no idea what I wanted most of the time, so maybe that's why my reading list looks like a surprise grab bag. I've got young adult, classics, nonfiction, romance, mystery-horror, and I'm not at all sure what to call My Best Friend's Exorcism (other than awesome). 

I finished 7 books this month, and as I write this on the first day of April, I'm in the middle of 4 books. I tend to be reading at least three at any given time: one in paper, one on Kindle, and one in audiobook form. That way, I have something to read regardless of where I am and how screenburnt I am. 

I had pretty good success with this month's choices. I at least *liked* everything I read, and I loved two books. 

So, here's the run down: 

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. S├ínchez. As the title suggests, this is a young adult novel about a young Mexican-American woman navigating her bilingual, multi-cultural life. I appreciated how much Julia felt like a real teenager to me, and the empathy brought to all characters. The book avoided the YA pitfall of making all adults clueless or heartless by making the adults in Julia's life into real people, too. 

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My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. My favorite read of the month came to me in a roundabout way. I'm part of an online community hosted by Sarah Gailey, and there's often a book-of-the-month up for discussion. The cover and title of this one intrigued me, reminding me so much of my teenaged years, and that makes sense since it is mostly set in 1989, the same year I graduated high school. This hit the 80s nostalgia vibes hard, while winning me over with an engaging story of a friend who refuses to give up on a friend, even when it gets really really hard. 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I read this one for my First Monday Classics Book Club and I'm really looking forward to the discussion on Monday!  I've read it before, but I was a teenager then, and it's quite a different experience reading it as an adult. Surprisingly engaging for a book with a meandering plot and wandering character arcs, full of slice of life anecdotes and beautiful philosophical meditations on life, poverty, and immigration. Definitely not as difficult to read in terms of language and sensibility as some classics. The very definition of bittersweet. 

Six Nights in Paradise by Ashley Cade. I know Ashley on Instagram, and I bought this book when it first came out to support her career, but I haven't been in the mood for a romance. I'm kind of a picky romance reader, in that I don't read straight romances (as in books that are ONLY romances) very often, and I can't binge read them like some people do or I get fed up with the tropes. I very much enjoyed this story though of two young people getting a second chance at romance with one another. I even got into the contrived situation of going on a Honeymoon trip together so as not to waste the trip money when the wedding falls through. The characters had great chemistry and I was cheering them on. What more can you wish for in a romance? 

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. This book has been ALL OVER Instagram, and since my children were both fans of her work for younger readers, I decided to give it a try. There was quite a bit to enjoy, but it didn't prove my cup of tea overall--we stayed too much on the surface, letting plot rather than character drive the story, and that's not my jam. I'm starting to think I'm a hard sell for Faerie stories, since I've found so few I loved. Tell me in the comments if you know of a great one I should try. 

Odd Thomas: You Are Destined to be Together Forever by Dean Koontz. I've gotten a habit of looking for the shortest books in my Audible and Chirp libraries when I'm not sure what I feel like reading to see what Past Me thought looked interesting. This time, I found Odd Thomas, as character I've heard of, and watched a movie about, but hadn't read any of. This was just a short story, but it did its job and intrigued me enough that I am likely to seek out more of the series at a later date. Supernatural-paranormal intermixed with mystery is a favorite combination for me. 

I picked up Dan Rather: Stories of a Lifetime for the same reason. Well, that, and the fact that his longer book is sitting in my Kindle waiting for me to choose it, and I thought this might be a way to gauge my interest in that longer book. Good news: I liked it. Rather is a personable storyteller and I found parts of it quite touching. I'm a sucker for a married man who loves and appreciates his partner, and Dan clearly recognizes his good fortune in his marriage. I also liked seeing the man freed from the constraints of maintaining objectivity now that he's retired, and being allowed to speak his own mind on political subjects. Heads up: he's anti-Trump, so if you're not, you probably won't like this one. 

So what did you read in March? Find anything wonderful? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

He Was the Best Boy-o

We lost our pup last week. He was almost 13, in a breed that usually lives 12-14 years, and I am so grateful he spent all his years with us. Still I wish we'd had yet more time. It's unfair that dogs live their lives so much faster than us and that the puppy I cradled in my lap became older than me, in a sense. It's one of the hardest things about giving your heart to them.

We don't know anything about his birth. He was found wandering in some local woods when he was six months old and came to us through an animal rescue agency. He was Australian shepherd, and "shrug"--as in "we don't know what else he was." 

I used to say his breed was O'Neill because he was one of a kind. He had the sweetest, most expressive butterscotch eyebrows, and when he trotted ahead of me on the leash, his ears bounced like the wings of a bird struggling to take flight, and I half-expected his them to lift off his head and take off into the sky like some sort of Terry Gilliam animation. 

When he was young, he was an amazing Frisbee dog, with a startling vertical leap. If he'd been human, people would have paid to watch him high jump, or slam dunk. It was like gravity had no hold over him. 

Even as he got older, he was still such a stellar athlete--when I took up running (when I was 46 and he was 10 or 70, depending on how you count), he went with me, making me feel safe about running isolated trails "alone" because no one would dare approach me without permission and keeping me going even though I hate running, because I didn't want to deprive him of the joy. A perfect running coach--his joy was infectious and almost made me understand why others love running. 

He took his job as protector of the family extremely seriously, even though we didn't always make it easy on him. We just wouldn't all stay in one place--which made it much harder to herd us. 
Right before the pandemic hit, O'Neill did the dog-equivalent of tearing his ACL when he leapt at a squirrel, and we opted not to put him through surgery, but just to try and limit his movement so he didn't re-injure himself.  Accepting physical limitations was hard on him--he's stubborn like me. 

We mostly succeeded in keeping him from hurting himself, since three of his Bryants were home with him for most of 2020 and the start of 2021. We could see that his doggy dreams had come true--all he'd ever wanted for us not to leave for work and school, but stay with him all day, where he could watch over and protect us. The best thing to come out of the pandemic has to be that my loving boy-o got to spend his last year with his family around him all the time.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, when he had another round of digestive distress (something that had been coming and going in a cycle for some months), and was clearly feeling miserable, we had an ultrasound done and found out that he had multiple tumors throughout his system, including his pancreas.

It didn't make sense to put our elderly boy-o through chemotherapy and make the end of his time with us a misery, so we took him home, knowing we were basically moving into hospice. Over those last couple of weeks, he had a lot of good days. Extra attention, including visits from big sis off to college, and his Auntie and Uncle, all the blankets and treats. My husband even found a way to play "tugger" with him and slow speed chase whenever he felt good enough to want to play. 

Feeding him chicken and rice rather than dog food was something we did because he seemed to do better with it digestively, but he regarded each meal of "people food" as a massive treat. I hope he felt spoiled with love and small pleasures. 

On his last day, we took him for a longer walk in the woods--something he has always loved, but hadn't been able to enjoy since his leg injury--it left him shaky and sore and ruining the rest of his day didn't seem worth it for a few minutes of joy. 

But, on his last day, it didn't matter if he got tired and his legs were shaky afterwards. He was going to get a good long rest. His smile that day was a joy to behold. And he about wagged his own tail off.

We bought him his very own cheeseburger as his final treat. The vet said we could give him anything he might love, since it would not affect the ease of his passing, and we knew he'd been coveting all the hamburgers he's watched us eat all these years. His family surrounding him, and petting him, and telling him what a good boy he was, he was allowed to go to sleep and just not wake up. Time for him to rest.

I think it was the right thing to do, even if it was the hardest thing. I'll miss him forever, but I'm lucky to have had him in my life. Goodbye, Bud-bud, O-Neill-zebub, Sweetie Pup, Trouble-dog-Bryant. You really were the best boy-o.  

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

IWSG: Omnivorous Reading

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.

March 3 question - Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

The awesome co-hosts for the March 3 posting of the IWSG are Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen Jacqui Murray, Chemist Ken, Victoria Marie Lees, Natalie Aguirre, and JQ Rose! Be sure to check out what they have to say, and visit other writers in the blog hop!

I'm an omnivore when it comes to reading: I'll read anything :-). 

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I'll give most types of books a chance and I often really enjoy myself when I read something outside of my usual genre choices. I'll pick up a book for a variety of reasons: 
  • past good experience with that author
  • never heard of the author before and am curious about their work
  • cover caught my eye
  • a friend recommended it
  • a friend wrote it
  • my daughter read it and wanted me to read it, too
  • I said I would (book clubs, review requests, supporting colleagues)
  • I've heard a lot of about it (buzz)
  • I think I should have read it 
  • it was short when I wasn't in the mood for something long
  • I've read something similar and liked it
  • I've not read anything like it before
  • it seemed like it would fit my mood
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To write this post, I went through my 2020 Reading Challenge on Goodreads, trying to get a list of my preferred genres together and I realized I have a taste for books that cross categories and genres. 

Lots of the things I read in 2020 should have two or three word mashup genre classifications like horror-mystery-science fiction or romance-mystery-fantasy. 

I definitely lean more heavily towards speculative fiction (by which I mean: fiction that includes a "speculative" element, something non-realistic like magic, monsters, superheroes, ghosts, future technology, etc.). That includes those uber-broad categories like "science fiction" and "fantasy."  

But I also read nonfiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, realistic fiction, poetry, mystery, romance, humor, pulp, classics, and things I don't know how to classify. 

I read in genres I have written in, but also in genres I'm not that interested in writing in myself. 

I generally set a goal of 52 books a year, or one a week, but I usually end up reading more than that. And you know what? I wish I could read more. Reading is one the great joys of my life, and I love finding work that surprises, amazes, inspires, frightens, or awes me. 

How about you? What do you tend to read? Why? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Short Month, Short Reads


How was your month for reading? 

I started strong with The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, a wonderful portal fantasy story. 

But then started to suffer from short attention span--probably due to the stress of my school district suddenly changing the plan and sending me back into the classroom six weeks earlier than planned, and four days before I had the chance to get immunized. (I'd roll my eyes, but I've been doing that so much, they might fall out). 

I hate that when I'm under stress, it gets harder to enjoy my favorite escape . . .just when I need it most. So, I decided to try listening to some of the shorter works in my Audible collection that I hadn't listened to yet. 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle was a delight. I've read some Sherlock Holmes before and have enjoyed modern interpretations of the famous detective in film and television, so I was happy when my First Monday Classics book club chose this one, and handed me the impetus to revisit the characters in their original form. It made me want to read other ones, and also scratched my Gothic romance itch with the fantastic description of Baskerville Hall and the surrounding moors. 

I picked up I Hate Men because I was curious where that provocative title might take me. As a fifty year old woman, I didn't find much in it I hadn't considered before . . .but I did think it thoughtful and articulate on issues of gender and equality. Unfortunately, the title means that the author will only be preaching to the choir.

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Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World
by Michael Pollan was a fascinating read, covering caffeine's development, especially as tied to tea and coffee, and effect on society, as well as some exploration of the physiological effects. It didn't convince me to cut myself off, but it did make me more cognizant of keeping control of my habit. 

A Mind of Her Own by Paula McLain was my most disappointing read of the month. In trying to straddle fiction and nonfiction, it ended up pleasing me on neither front. I recommend The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson instead if you're interested in learning more about Madame Curie. 

Authentically Mexican: A Family History in Six Dishes by JP Brammer was a quiet memoir about a man who grew up straddling two cultures: white and Mexican. 

I'd heard of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, but didn't really know much about it. I was surprised by the passion and anger of the essay, written in second person, addressed to "you: a white tourist." Highly recommended!

Sherman Alexie is on my list of disappointing men who got a little power and privilege and used to abuse women, so I probably wouldn't have read his book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, except that my daughter was assigned it for class and she wanted me to read it with her so I could help her if she got stuck on the schoolwork. It really is quite a good book, touching and honest-feeling (and thankfully not full of nasty attitudes about women). Great voice. 

A Theft Most Fowl by Nicole Givens Kurtz is the second in the Kingdom of Aves series. I LOVE this creative speculative mystery series, set among bird-people and following Hawk Tasifa, our detective who is literally a hawk-person, able to see what is not seen. I look forward to more in the series. 

The last book I finished in February was The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. I'm really becoming quite a fan of her work! (I also loved Magic for Liars) I actually don't want to tell you much about it because I think it's better to go in blind and just enjoy the ride in this one, but I will say that it left me thinking and got me in the feels on more than one front. 

The Echo Wife wasn't a short-short like most of what I read this month, so maybe I'm over my short-attention-span problems for the time being. Hoping so! 

So, what did you read this month? Tell me about it in the comments below!