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. 

image source

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.