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! 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Car Dates

 One of the casualties of pandemic life at la casa Bryant has been date nights. As people who have never been married without children (I already had a daughter when I married Sweetman), date night has been essential to us from the get-go. We work to make sure we get some quality us-two time alongside work and family responsibilities, even when we can't afford anything fancy.

We have a teenager still at home, and while we do all try to give each other some space here during the pandemic, we've only been home without her about three nights in the past year (when she had a sleepover with her college-student-sister). It's not an option to send her on a sleepover, or even just to a friend's house for the afternoon like we're used to. 

Most of our favorite dating options, such as movies, restaurants, and theater outings have either been unavailable, or have not be available in a way that we feel safe about utilizing. So, what's a couple to do?

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Sweetman and I value our date time, and though we try to capture a bit of it at home by getting special takeout and watching movies at home, playing games together, and banishing the teenager to her room for a while so we can feel alone, it's not the same. 

We're both bad at separating from the to-do lists and practicalities when we're at home, so it's hard for us to capture a sense of fun and romance without going somewhere. 

Some months ago, though, we came up with the car date. 

Basically, we pick something to go see, and a scenic route to get there, hop in the car and drive (leaving the teenager home with the dog to YouTube unfettered for a a few hours). 

Along the way we talk, play songs for each other, hold hands over the gear shift and seek new experiences together. 

While we have a destination, it's generally something we found on Atlas Obscura, involving driving by something or getting out and looking at an oddity, not something with tickets and timetables, so it's okay if we stop anywhere along the way just because we saw something interesting or if we fail to find the thing we were looking for. 

If the weather is nice, we get some takeout and find a place to picnic. If it's too cold or rained too recently, we get some takeout at the end of things, and take it back home to enjoy. 

This week's date took us on a lovely sunlit drive through muddy storm-bedraggled countryside to Shangri-La…the miniature stone village built by a retired farmer and available to admire and explore for free. It's adorable! A series of small buildings made of stone and brick, arranged in a tiny village. Toys strewn throughout add to the whimsy and crocus sprouts were just poking out their heads, so I intend to come back soon to see them in bloom. 

We were both completely charmed by the project and the results. Along our drive we found a local cider producer we didn't know about and found out where exactly a nature area I'd heard about was located. So future small adventures are afoot!

How about you, people of the internet? How do you keep a little romance in your lives under current circumstances? 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Whiplash and Tire Tracks on My Back: Teaching During the Pandemic

 In my day job, I teach middle school Spanish. My school, like many in the United States, closed its doors in March 2020, expecting that we'd all stay home for a couple of weeks while the wave of Covid-19 rolled over the country and that we'd be back to finish the school year. That's not what happened, of course. It didn't go away in a couple of weeks. 

We finished the 2019-2020 school year from home, with an ineffective program cobbled together in six minutes with no clear expectations and guidelines for teachers or students. We had some things in our favor since my school district already provided laptops to students, so we could at least guarantee that students had a device to use to access school materials, but we had no plan for offering instruction without the in-person element.  

Teachers were told that they were not allowed to teach new material, nor give any grades, and kids quickly figured out that there would be no consequences for failure to perform, so they disappeared in droves. I doubt that much learning of significance happened for anyone between March and June 2020.

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During this first bit of school-from-home public rhetoric was full of realizations of how difficult teaching really is. We were called heroes. Parents talked about how much they admired us for handling this every day and praised our creativity in finding ways for our students to keep learning.  

That lasted a month or two, then parents began to feel the wear of providing educational support and supervision for their children while trying to juggle their work responsibilities. 

So they began to throw teachers under the bus. The public rhetoric shifted to how teachers were overcautious at best, selfish for worrying about their own survival instead of what's "best for kids." 

NCAE and other teacher groups fighting for basic precautions and accommodations for teachers with underlying conditions putting them at high risk began to be accused of trying to get paid for "nothing" even as teachers worked harder than they ever had before to try to make learning possible despite huge obstacles. 

My personal favorites are the people who argue that teacher need to suck it up because other people did--the same argument people use to argue against student loan forgiveness and other social programs, like we can only be united by suffering the same fate, instead of learning from what happens to one group and preventing suffering for others. Now *that* my friends, is a particularly bitter brand of selfishness. 

Come 2020-2021 school year, and we BEGAN the school year at home. It was better though, at least in my neck of the woods. 

We had worked on a program all summer, and we had a plan involving scheduled and required live zoom classes, online asynchronous learning opportunities, and even offering limited in-person learning centers for kids/families in high need. Work would again be graded, giving back that traditional tool of accountability and measure of participation and effort. 

It hasn't been perfect, but it's been functional. My students mostly show up to live zoom class, or communicate about why they can't. I have about the same percentages of kids struggling and excelling that I always have had (I've been doing this for 26 years, and though I try to reach every kid, I'm enough of a realist to know that isn't realistic). My 6th graders, who had never attended middle school in person struggled the most, and my 8th graders, veterans of our school, handled it the best. Some kids have truly thrived, loving the release from bullying situations and uncomfortable social pressure.

The district found creative ways to bridge technology access problems. They provided wifi hotspots to families in rural areas or who didn't have regular internet access at home. They transformed school busses into rolling wifi stations and drove into high need neighborhoods and parked during agreed upon hours, so kids could use that access. The foods programs kicked into high gear, trying to make sure that no one went hungry and making it as easy as possible to get meal boxes for our families. The librarian arranged for curbside book pickup and drop off. In a lot of ways, it was working. 

So, of course, we can't just enjoy the fruits of our labor and stick with the system a little longer. Because the people who lost the earlier argument keep coming back and leadership folds because their decisions are based on external pressure rather than any independent analysis of facts and consideration of what's actually best for the students and teachers. Jelly for backbones. 

My district has changed plans so many times now that I've lost track. I feel like I've been watching high speed tennis and got whiplash in the process. 

I remember that, at first, we were due to come back to a sort of in-person school in January, but the pushback was HUGE, especially given that that the projected return date wasn't even 2 weeks past Christmas--which was the epicenter of a new spike of cases across the country. We won, and the return date was set for April--after Spring Break, and after the date we expect that teachers will have been offered the chance to be immunized. I was so relieved, I felt like my shoulders dipped below my ears for the first time in months. 

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That brings us to now: 

Teachers, even teachers with ADA accommodations like me, are being forced back into the classroom next week in my school district, thanks to a legislative push that our governor opposes but is not expected to veto. So, my first day back in the classroom with kids will be February 22 (just in time for the Superbowl spike of cases). It's either that or quit--four years too early for retirement, with a kid in college to support. 

February 22 is an arbitrary selection that ignores all the safety measures we've been discussing for months. The immunization becomes available for teachers in my state on February 24, and the new HEPA air filters are scheduled to be installed in mid-March, but we're being shoved back in the classroom early, which I find especially frustrating when immunizations and filtered air are both right there just barely over the horizon. What do two weeks matter in the face of a safer transition? 

There I am, back under the bus again. 

It's not that my district isn't doing anything. They do have clear mask policies and requirements with zero tolerance for noncompliance. They do ask the questions and take the temperatures of anyone entering the building, so we at least have the performative security measures like taking off your shoes at airport security. 

But my BIG question right now is: what do we gain from this that is worth what we lose? 

Here's what in-person instruction will look like at my school: 

Roughly 50% of my students will continue to learn-from-home because that is what their families have selected--parents get the right to select based on nothing more than personal assessment of comfort/safety, but staff is not afforded the same consideration. The other 50% has been divided into group A and B, which will attend school from 8:30-2:00 four days a week on alternating weeks. 

So, if you're a parent hoping for day care help, you get 4 shorter-than-usual days every other week with no options for pre or post-care. Not sure how helpful that will be for your own work concerns. 

The students will be masked and kept 6 feet apart at all times, including while walking through halls, waiting in line, using the bathroom, etc. They will get very little of the social benefit of time spent with other kids because they are not allowed any close contact and will have to eat their lunches in silence because they are limited to 15 minutes with masks off and may not speak during that time because of concerns of germ spread. They cannot play their instrument in band or sing in chorus, and the rules seem to change by the moment for physical education.

So, if you're a parent hoping this will give your kiddos the benefits of social interaction, you're not really getting that either. 

I will be pinned to my desk because I have to offer instruction to the 1/4 of my students IN the room, and the 3/4 of my students NOT in the room at the same time. This means that the kids in my room, will still pretty much just be getting a zoom class. Also, I'm not allowed any nearer to them than 6 feet. Also, I will be stressed out and frazzled by managing all that at the same time and probably much shorter tempered than I ever allow myself to be in the classroom. 

So, if you're a parent hoping this will give your student the benefits of in-class live-teaching experience, you won't really get that either because the teacher's focus is divided and physical distancing limits our interactions with the people present with us. 

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Meanwhile, people will get infected. 

Maybe we'll be lucky. Maybe our cases will be mild. 

Maybe your kid and your kid's teacher won't be the one who dies or suffers lifelong health implications. 

But many among the staff and students will spend a fair amount of mental energy worrying about it and anticipating disaster, and that takes a mental health toll in and of itself. 

Teachers will quit. 

Many already have--left teaching, taken early retirement. Classes will be supervised by substitutes while the teacher quarantines after exposure, which means they'll still be taking zoom classes or participating in asynchronous learning, but now they'll also be worried about their teacher and getting limited feedback. 

So, I'll let you know how it goes, but my prediction: poorly. And if I die from Covid because my district wouldn't wait two weeks to get me immunized? Y'all better pray ghosts aren't real, because I'll be back to haunt with a vengeance. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021


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Wanderlust fills me with a restless urgency sometimes. If I were a woman of means, I'm not sure I would even have a permanent home--instead I might have great luggage, a mind full of sunsets over distant horizons, and a storage facility where I send my keepsakes. 

But I'm not a woman of means, so I've not had nearly the amount of travel I'd like. I managed to see a few places when I was younger--Spain, England, the Bahamas, wide swaths of the United States and Canada, but it's been more than a decade since I've taken a significant trip--one with airplanes and customs I don't understand and languages I can't speak. I'm feeling the tug of the road hard these days. 

Usually, I can tamp it back down--stave it off with a small adventure that fits into my life responsibilities and pocketbook--but I have a hunger for serious travel in my heart of hearts, a deep-seated desire to explore new places, see them not just in photography and film, but with my own eyes and senses. The hunger has gone too long unfed and I'm getting hangry. 

When the pandemic descended upon us, I was planning a trip to Ireland with my mother and my sister. It was supposed to be for Mom's birthday last summer, but by spring, it was clear that none of us were going anywhere. I go back and forth on whether I should be letting myself hold out hope for this summer either. Vaccine--yay! Noncompliance keeping Americans on no-travel lists--boo!

So, it's been nearly a year, and I haven't been further than an hour from home with only one exception in all that time. Dang, but my feet itch. This is not my favorite sort of unrequited love. 

Here's to travel. May we all have the chance to visit far horizons again soon. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Blogging with Friends: 21st century Calling Cards

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.

February 3 question - Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?
The awesome co-hosts for the February 3 posting of the IWSG are Louise - Fundy Blue , Jennifer Lane, Mary Aalgaard, Patsy Collins at Womagwriter, and Nancy Gideon! 

Be sure to check out their insights next!

Blogging can be a great way to connect with other writers and creatives. Participating in blog hops like this one and the A to Z Blogging Challenge in April has introduced me to so many interesting people over the years. 

There are people I still follow that I first found by clicking through links in a list of participants and others that have wandered through my life for a few months then wandered back out again, but all of them have taught me something. 

If you follow someone for years, you can watch them change and grow--see aspiring writers become award-winning, multi-published authors with book deals and exciting projects. Heck, I even enjoy looking back through the archives of my *own* blog sometimes in that light--too see how far I've come and how my goals have changed over time. 

I learn about opportunities that way too--there's always something to be gained by taking a moment to step into someone else's world for a moment and look around. In that way, blogging can be a form of networking and research as well as community-building and friendship. 

Living a creative life is easier with community, and blogging can be a great way to build that community, if you're willing to put in the work. 

And there is work, or at least time investment. There's an expectation of reciprocity, rather like leaving a calling card in an 18th century novel: I visited you, and you should return that favor. We invest in each other, giving our time and attention. 

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I rather enjoy it myself--it's a genteel sort of obligation that leaves me feeling fancy, like the digital equivalent of visiting day for one of Jane Austen's heroines. So leave me your calling card, in the comments below, and invite me to your digital house. I'd love to see what you're up to. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

January Reads

I had a bit of a rough start to 2021, as did many of us, I'd imagine. I was caught in all the same whirlpools and eddies that had kept me spinning in circles for most of 2020, so the month didn't have that "fresh start" feeling that it sometimes can. (It got a little better late in the month). 

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I was even STILL working on the fourth Menopausal Superheroes novel, a project that should have been finished and sent to my publisher on January 1, but which I finally handed in on January 31. This is officially the latest I have ever been on a deadline of any sort, and definitely the first time I've been that late on a publishing deadline. Those who know me IRL can probably imagine the tizzy that had me in. 

I shut down nearly everything I do for entertainment during January: almost no TV, very little gaming, even less socializing than usual. But I didn't give up reading. 

In fact, I had a great reading month! I read five books and really enjoyed all five. 

I started with a biography of Bruce Lee by Matthew Polly, which I enjoyed as an audiobook. I already knew enough about Bruce Lee to know the man had led a fascinating, if all too brief life, so it's no surprise that the details and controversies of his life made for good material. But I've read more than one biography that managed to make an amazing person into boring reading, so I'm happy to report that this telling of Bruce Lee's life story was thoroughly engaging, and struck a balanced tone that painted the man neither as a blameless paragon nor a villain, but as the driven performer and ambitious person he was. 

When I can find time for it, this book made me want to have a personal Bruce Lee film festival, hunting down as much of his work as I can and watching it. Coincidentally, right after I read this book, I found the TV Show Warrior, a project Bruce Lee dreamed of bringing to fruition and which has now finally been produced for television. My husband and have watched a few episodes now and it's powerfully done. I only wish Lee could have seen it made in his lifetime and taken the starring role he'd planned for himself. 

At the same time, I was reading Charles W. Chesnutt's The House Behind the Cedars on Kindle for my First Monday Classics Book Club. I'd never heard of this book before, so I was so glad my book club brought it to my attention. A study on the idea of "passing" racially, the story centers around a bi-racial light-skinned woman just after the Civil War and her ill-fated romance. The ending upset me, even if it might have been the right one for the story, and I still find myself thinking about the book weeks after I finished it. It deserves to be better known!

Chesnutt's explorations of race led naturally into Kindred by Octavia Butler, a book that had been on my TBR list for ages, but which I had not yet read. It's a very unusual time travel story, in that no time is spent on the mechanics of time travel. Instead, being pulled back in time is just something that happens to Dana, the main character, a woman from the 1970s who finds herself among her ancestors in the antebellum south, seeing first-hand the fraught relationships and lasting damage the institution of slavery wrought. I read this one moving back and forth between an audiobook and the kindle edition and found it fascinating. It's taken over the "favorite" spot for me of books by Butler, though I have not yet read everything she wrote. 

Circe by Madeline Miller was all over Instagram a few months back and I decided now was a good time to dive into it and I'm so very glad I did. It hit so many positive notes for me: fierce and difficult protagonist, complicated love story, reinterpreting and reimagining known mythologies. I have a feeling this one will be on my "best of" list when I get to the other end of 2021. 

The last book I finished in January was The Butterfly by Lucy Blue, a romance/mystery in the Sherlock Holmes universe. I loved this interpretation of Holmes, and hope that Blue will consider writing more stories like this one in the future. In the meantime, I've downloaded her Stella Hart series of romance mysteries that I've been hearing good things about. They sound right up my alley. 

As the month ended, I was in the middle of two more books that are both wonderful so far. Check back in February and I'll let you know what I thought! In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you in the comments. What did you read this January? Any favorite authors I ought to check out? 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

On Adaptation: Anne, Jo, and Percy

Talking to readers about adaptations of books they loved is like walking through a minefield where anything might blow up, depending on who steps on it. 

Sometimes if I really love a book, I'll avoid seeing a movie or television series made about it because I'm worried they'll ruin it. 

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And sometimes they have. 

Destroyed it. 

Gotten it SOOOOO wrong it hurts. 

I'm looking at you Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

Then again, I've really enjoyed some adaptations that make significant changes from the source material. 

Two in particular stood out for me recently: 

1. Anne with an E, a series on Netflix from creator Moira Walley-Beckett which was based on the novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott adapted for the screen and directed by Greta Gerwig. 

Neither of these adaptations were religiously true to the source material, yet both of them felt more true to me than other arguably more faithful adaptations.  So, what's the difference? 

Why did changes to Percy Jackson's storyline horrify and offend me, but the addition of entire characters and plot lines to Anne with an E and the out of chronology telling of Little Women feel not only comfortable, but right? 

My theory is that it has to do with finding the heart of a work. What's the emotional core of the piece and of the characters? If an adaptation finds that, then even significant changes are not going to upset me. 

It's a trend I'm seeing in storytelling of this kind, a new kind of line creators are riding where they pay homage to something they love, but also bring it forward to a different or wider audience by changing significant details like time and place, race or background of characters, and even plot. 

Anne Shirley and Jo March are iconic characters, important to many a grown woman who consumed their stories when young. Similar in being women out of their time: headstrong, free-thinking, determined, and passionate. So many women I know aspire in their hearts to be Anne and Jo. And that's the core of any adaptation of these works: does the adaptation convey the heart of the character? 

In both of these pieces, I'd say yes! resoundingly yes! While I have enjoyed other adaptations of these books, this was the first time that I felt fully connected to the characters. The writers who adapted these works clearly loved the books and characters in the same way I do. 

Anne, Jo, and Percy: Yes! Yes! and…Nope.

Anne always was a social justice warrior, fighting for fair treatment for herself and for those around her. In Anne with an E, that becomes a step more overt, with less parlor-talk pussy-footing and more taking action. That meant adding entire plotlines, but I was completely fine with that, because they'd captured MY Anne. 

Jo, too, was fiercely loyal, and struggled with the part she was expected to play in society--docile, obedient, and feminine. She strained at those bonds and sought a life less ordinary, something that fulfilled her and brought her joy--writing!  Gerwig's version of Jo explored her story out of order--juxtaposing moments of childhood against moments of her budding adult life to show us the woman she became that much sooner. (Bonus points, too, for working in the ending Louisa May Alcott really wanted, but couldn't get her publisher to agree to). 

Poor Percy, on the other hand, was transformed in the script from a good-hearted kid who fought feelings of inadequacy into a badass just barely in hiding, needing barely a blink to turn into a heart-throb hero. Sure, that character might have interest for some, but the heart of the boy I'd enjoyed getting to know in Rick Riordan's books didn't make it onto the screen. I don't know who that boy was, but he wasn't Percy Jackson. 

One can only hope that, should I ever be so lucky as to see my work adapted for movie or television, that the show-runners understand the heart of my work and love my characters enough to do right by them. 

How about you? What makes you love or hate an adaptation? Are you a stickler for faithfulness to the original? How do reinterpretations and changes of setting play in your world? I'd love to hear from you in the comments. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

IWSG: Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

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.

January 6 question - Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 6th posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren , J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise - Fundy Blue! Be sure to check out their posts as well as some of the other fabulous posts in this blog hop after you see what I've got to say:


Becoming a writer can be hard on your reading life. Once you know "how the sausage is made" it can be harder to just lose yourself in a story. You find yourself noticing the structure, turning pages back to figure out how the writer elicited that effect, etc. Reading like a writer can make it harder to just relax and read without analyzing. At this point, I'm extra thrilled when I can fall into a book and become so immersed that I stop looking at the structure and skill and just hold on for the ride. 

I had good luck in 2020, reading way more good books than bad ones. Maybe I've gotten better at figuring out which books are really for me. 

Still, I'll give even a flawed book a fair shot. If the characters are strong and the plot compelling, I'll keep going in the face of poor editing or small continuity errors. I can even forgive a bit of clunky expository dialogue. But I do have some deal-breakers. It's not IMPOSSIBLE for me to enjoy a book that does one of these, but it is definitely far less likely. 

So here they are: the Seven Deadly Sins of writing, at least if you want me to read your work: 

Samantha's 7 Deadly Sins of Writing

  1. Sexism: Nothing will pull me out of a book faster than outdated, patriarchal, or condescending treatment of female characters. (The same goes for other isms: racism, classism, ablism, homophobia, etc. I will give *some* slack to very old books if there are other compelling reasons to keep reading)
  2. Outright Preachiness: Characters can have points of view and politics, of course, and I'm fine with authors exploring issues through their fiction, but when it starts to feel like the book might actually be a political or religious tract? I'm out. 
  3. Rape: I'm so tired of rape as a character motivator or backstory element. Double yuck if the rape of a female character only happens for its effect on a male character. Overused, and usually just plain lazy. There are TONS of ways to traumatize a fictional person. Why must we always go here? 
  4. Obvious Thinly Disguised Biography: We're all in our characters, but if you want to write memoir, write memoir. Don't just change the names and call it fiction. If we don't know each other and I can STILL tell that you're working out your daddy issues on the page? Yikes. 
  5. Big continuity problems: As a writer of a series myself, I know that it's hard to keep track of all the small details, but if the continuity errors are too big and glaring, you're asking me to do the writer's job when I just came here to read. Throws me right out of the story and makes it hard to fall back in.
  6. Unbelievable coincidences: Writer-convenience-itis is a terrible disease. The most egregious kind is when a character suddenly gains knowledge or abilities that the story has offered no hint about before the moment that it solves the problem. Not fair. Feels like cheating. 
  7. Characters Acting Out of Character: If you've created a fictional person I've started to believe in, then have them do something that character just wouldn't ever do, I feel as if I've been lied to, so in the donation pile your book goes. 
So, how about you? Any deal-breakers for you? Of course, it all comes down to personal taste--and my poison might be your perfume. That's the beauty of it--so much to read out there, there's bound to be something perfect for you.