Saturday, June 11, 2022

Leaving Teaching

I've been a teacher my whole life. Just ask my cousins and my poor little sister about the days when I forced them to play school with me in the basement, when I was five and they were still toddlers. I even had school desks and a chalkboard. I made worksheets for them and corrected their letters. 

Admittedly, I was a bossy little thing, and that probably had something to do with it, but it's also about sharing an enthusiasm for learning. What can I say? I LOVE school.  Learning and books are part of my soul. 


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I was probably only six or seven when I started telling people that I was going to be a teacher when I grew up. I was also going to be a witch, a dancer, a veterinarian, a reporter, a writer, and an astronaut…only some of those stuck. 

Unlike most people I know who changed their minds multiple times about what to be as they grew up, I stuck to that childhood plan of becoming a teacher. The only thing that changed was what level I thought I wanted to teach (elementary, middle, high, college). 

I went to college and earned a degree in English education with minors in Spanish, Creative Writing, and a sort of Humanities add-on they called "Honors." Other than a minor gig with my college public radio station and a brief secretarial job, all my work life was teaching or education adjacent. I tutored, served as a classroom aide, subbed, and taught in my own public school classroom, in summer programs, and on college campuses. 

The work was never easy, but it was worth it. There's such power in being there at the moment of elucidation or new comprehension or boundaries being stretched and helping people gain the tools they need to make their goals and improve their lives. I felt useful, important…like I made a difference. 

Even now, after 27 classroom years, I still believe public education is the most important idea to rise out of American democracy: the idea that ALL citizens have the right to education was and is ground-breaking and represents all that is best about my country. (we can talk another day about the forces trying to kill that from within). 


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You knew there would be a but, right? 

The realities of choosing a teaching life can be pretty grim. Nearly always, it means sacrifice in other aspects of your life. 
  • You'll always earn a low salary, especially considering the education required, the importance of the work, and the stress and danger involved. 
  • It's the only profession I know of where people who have never attempted the work themselves (or worse yet: FAILED at it) are in charge of the system, and the whole world thinks they know better than the trained professionals how to do the work. (Well, maybe mothering--that also came with a TON of irrelevant, hateful, and unwanted "feedback" from people who don't know a darn thing about it--we can talk another time about misogyny and the value of women's work). 
  • You might as well change your middle name to scapegoat, because you'll collect ALL the blame and none of the credit.
  • The stress levels are sky-high and self-care is just two words people like to say, about as useful as sending "thoughts and prayers" during a tragedy. No one means it; no one cares. 
  • It's physically dangerous. More schoolkids than police officers have been killed in our country this year by gun violence, and their teachers die trying to save them. Between school violence, stress-related health damage, unsafe and poorly maintained work environments (school buildings), and contagious illnesses, teachers die from the work every day. Your life is on the line. 
  • You'll be overworked every single day. Schools are underfunded, which leads to being understaffed, which leads to one person shouldering a work load more appropriate for three to five people. 
  • People will call you a hero, but it's lip service they pay to avoid paying you in respect, support, or dollars (you know: things that MATTER and might make a difference). It's disingenuous at best, and often far darker than that. 
  • You'll feel helpless a lot because you can see the problems and what needs to be done, but you don't have the tools, time, or resources to fix things. It'll break your heart a little bit every day…and can eventually make you shut down out of self-protection. 

It's not sustainable. The system was built on the backs of women--something we allowed at a historical moment when it was hard for a woman to get paying work of any kind at all and have been stuck with ever since. When the entire system is predicated on the exploitation of the workers, there's something wrong. 

It's even worse in states like North Carolina: "Right to Work" states they call them. Anti-union is probably a step more honest. No protection for the worker--not even the basic protection I'd enjoyed in other states like a guaranteed lunch break every day or due process if I got fired. 

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I've thought about leaving lots of times. 

  • Sometimes I stayed out of passion--to try and make change from the inside.
  • Sometimes I stayed because I'd been gaslighted so much that I'd internalized the idea that the problems were about me instead of about the work conditions.
  • Sometimes I stayed out of exhaustion--too tired to put in the footwork to find something else. 
It was like having an abusive spouse in a lot of ways. You convince yourself that it's not as bad as it is. You stay "for the kids." Fear and manipulation reign over all. 

Well, reader, I left him: that abusive spouse I called a teaching career. 

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my last group of students and walked out into the sunlight. I'm corporate Samantha now, working as a content strategist for a large financial firm. I've had my new job for all of nine days as I write this, and it's already a world of difference in terms of stress and work-life balance. 

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It's telling, I think, that my primary emotion, intermixed with the sadness of leaving the children and some of my colleagues, was relief. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

IWSG: A Day Late and a Dollar Short


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. This month's co-hosts are: SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray!

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Well, technically, that was yesterday. But when you start a new job on a Tuesday because of a Monday holiday, chances are you'll be a little mixed up about what day of the week it is. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. 

So, here I am sharing my writing insecurities a day late. 

Honestly, I'm not really writing right now. I hit a wall in my novel a couple of months ago. At around the same time, I started moving hard on changing day jobs, leaving a 27 year career in teaching for a whole new adventure as a content creator for a big financial company. 

I'm trying to trust to the process. I've been through ebbs and flows in my writing life before and the words always eventually flow again, but I still get this spikes of panic from time to time, feeling like it's over, just seven years in. 

Besides the change of career and the extra pressure of trying to write a last-in-series, I also had a helluva May, including seeing one kid through college graduation, and will have a helluva June with a long anticipated trip to Ireland upcoming. 

So, here's hoping July gets me settled into my new career and schedule and back on track with the novel. In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you've got on the docket this summer. Please tell me what you're up to in the comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

May Reads

 

May brought me two books I'd been looking forward to, a fun ride, and a book I'd never heard of but really enjoyed. I'm finishing the month with two more in progress, but not-quite-done, so I guess I'll tell you about those next month!

As always, the links will take you to my fuller reviews on Goodreads. 

First on the list was Better Luck Next Time by Julie Claiborne Johnson, which I read as an audiobook. My neighborhood book club friends suggested it since we were looking for something lighter for our first summer read.  I quite enjoyed it. Set on a divorce ranch in Reno in the 1930s and following a hired hand through his relationships with some of the divorcing women, the story filled in a bit of history I knew little about (divorce ranches) and charmed me thoroughly. 

You Get What You Steal by RJ Burchett and Ron L. Lahr, which I read on Kindle, is also a light read, but in a completely different vein, taking the form of a space adventure a la Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). It is in turns witty, clever, and outright silly, as well as zany and absurd. 

The Half-Life of Ruby Fielding by Lydia Kang, which I read as an audiobook, was one of the books I'd been looking forward to. I'm a fan of Kang's work--she writes books that are part-mystery, part-romance, part-historical and I've enjoyed them all, so I'd had this one on my radar and pounced on it almost on publication day. It didn't disappoint, though it also doesn't displace my favorite of Kang's books, The Impossible Girl


And Stella's getting married! If you've read my blog before, you already know I'm a fan of Lucy Blue's Stella Hart Romantic Mysteries series, which follows the titular character and her fella through 1930s England and America, into Hollywood and many other interesting settings. I had this book on pre-order. It's a novella, and I tried to read slowly to make it last because I know it'll be a while till Blue releases the next one, but I couldn't help it, I gobbled it. The Princess and the Peonies (which I read on Kindle) was lighter on mystery and heavier on romance/family relationships, but if you've read the rest, you'll be happy with the culmination of the other books that comes about in this one. And if you haven't read the rest, I recommend reading them in order. They make sense as stand-alones, but there's better payoff for some moments if you let the stories build for you in order. 

How was your month in books? Find anything wonderful? Read any of mine? I'd love to hear about in the comments, and don't forget to leave reviews! They're an author's best way to raise discoverability of their work. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2022

My Rollercoaster of a Writing Life


Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

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

May 4 question - It's the best of times; it's the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

The awesome co-hosts for the May 4 posting of the IWSG are Kim Elliott, Melissa Maygrove, Chemist Ken, Lee Lowery, and Nancy Gideon! Be sure to check out their posts as well as the rest of the blog hop when you're finished here!
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Writing and publishing life can definitely be a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Sometimes it swings you around upside down, too, and you can either end up giddy or nauseated. 

But still, it's a ride I can't seem to stop getting back in line for. So, here's a few of my personal highs and lows so far. 

Having my work chosen is always a giant high. 

I've been fortunate to experience this on a few fronts: signing book contracts, getting good reviews, having my story selected for anthologies, getting mentioned in a good light in a review for an anthology, seeing my work mentioned in a list, meeting a reader who tells me my work mattered to them. 

A little praise and recognition goes a long way in helping you overcome self-doubt and persevere. It's a little light against the lonely darkness of rejection and criticism. 

It's even better when the happy little mention or opportunity comes from someone you don't know at all in real life. (That way the brain weasels can't convince you that they only like your work out of pity or friendship).  

On the flip side of that, is the feeling that you fell for something, bought the scam, believed the con.

Like when the first publishing house to publish me imploded, and I felt like a fool--like I should somehow have known.  

Or the time I spent money on an artist who never produced the promised work. Or events I planned or participated in that flopped. Or the time I paid for advertising that didn't net me any results. 

There's risk in trusting and sometimes the risk bites you.

Clairvoyance is not one of my gifts, so all I can do is make decisions with the data I have at the time, and hope I won't come to regret them later. And if I do, at least I can hope to learn from them, and turn them into amusing gallows-humor stories to share with my writing friends. 

Now those are both big public hills of the rollercoaster. Behind the scenes, in the quiet room where a girl sits in her office tapping away at her keyboard, there are plenty of highs and lows as well. 

There's the low that always seems to sneak up and smack me three-quarters of the way through a project, a sudden drop in momentum that makes it difficult to keep moving and makes the next section of writing feel like fighting a stiff wind that wants to blow you over.  

Those are not fun moments in the ride, and often I have only made it through out of a combination of personal stubbornness and the support of truly excellent friends who won't let me give up easily. 

Other times, it feels like I'm just a conduit, and the words flow through me as easily as water, each keystroke a touch of magic that only makes the rest seem easier. 

In those moments, I'm some kind of untouchable hero--I can do no wrong. I look at the me that was struggling the day before and wonder what the heck was wrong with that girl. 


But really, the lows are well worth it, and the highs more than compensate. And a bad day of writing? It's like bad pizza. It's still pretty okay, you know? 

So, what keeps you going when the going gets rough in your endeavors? What gives you the heart to go on? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

And, hey, if you've read anything I wrote, leave a review! Reviews don't have to be long to really help boost an author's visibility (and make their day!). Heck, they don't even have to be positive--critical reviews are useful, too. You can find most of my work here: http://bit.ly/SamanthaBryant 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

What I Read in April

April was a full month at la Casa Bryant. The youngest kid had a birthday, and so did I! There was home improvement in the form of carpet removal and wood floor installation. I had job interviews. 

But still, I made time for stories. And I scored this month. Everything I read was good!

Octavia Butler is an author I only learned about relatively recently, like in the past ten years or so. Her name just kept coming up, and I knew I had to try out her work. 

So far, I've read Kindred, Wild Seed, and Lilith's Brood and I intend to eventually read everything she wrote. Her work really speaks to me with its combination of grappling with large philosophical ideas and very individual, personal stories

Blood Child is a collection of some of Butler's short fiction. I hadn't yet read any of her shorter work and I really enjoyed these stories. The title story was heartbreaking and horrifying at the same time, which can be a hard balance to strike. Several of the other stories have stuck with me after the reading as well. 

Last month, I read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, and this month I jumped into Akata Warrior, the second book in the Nsibidi Scripts series. This book picked up not long after the end of book 1, and brought the same characters back into the fray. I enjoyed it a great deal and will be back for book 3 soon. 

My classic this month was The Invisible Man by HG Wells, a book I was rather surprised to realize I had never read before. 

I have a great fondness for the old movie adaptation and have enjoyed several other adaptations on the small and large screen. 

The most interesting part of the novel to me was how funny it was. Wells definitely appreciated the absurdity of the situation his main character had ended up in. 

Between the World and Me was a thoughtful and thought-provoking work. Written as a letter to his teenaged son, Coates crafted a narrative that places his own experience as a black man in America in the geography and history of the wider nation. 

Fevered Star, I technically finished in May, but I hadn't written this wrap-up post yet, so I'm going to count it :-) Fevered Star is the follow up to Black Sun, a novel I read last year and loved. In fact, I loved it so much that I had this one on pre-order and started reading it the day it dropped to my devices! And once again, I'm left with bated breath, anxious for the next book, but having to wait. Dang it. 

It's a sweet kind of frustration though and I love that feeling of really anticipating a good book. 

What did April bring to your reading life? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Another Year Older

It was my birthday a couple of days ago. On a Thursday. A workday. So, not the best day for celebration, but adult life, you know? It is what it is. 

I figured my 50th year on planet earth was going to be an exciting one. It's just one of those landmark years, you know, and here I am now, a few days on the other side. Fifty-one? Whoosh! (That's the sound of time passing at what feels like supersonic speed.)

Not today's treat, but you get the idea
The day itself, was pretty good. I let myself have a Bee One Thousand (cinnamon and honey concoction) skim latte, a country ham and cheddar biscuit, and a comic book from the Hillsborough Cup-a-Joe, even though that's a treat normally reserved for Fridays. 

I'm a great believer in small treats and pleasures as a way to keep your spirits up and getting out of bed had been a hard sell. 

When I got to school, I found that my Bulldog Buddy (a sort of year long Secret Santa) had left me a birthday bag on my chair with a beautiful cupcake on top and lots of great treats inside including a bookstore gift card! (I've got some suspicions about who my Buddy is, and some guilt because I'm not nearly as good at finding awesome things for MY Bulldog Buddy). 

Another teacher friend made sure to tell all the sixth graders that it was my birthday, so all day, kids stopped by my room and stuck notes and little pieces of art to my classroom door. Kids at their most charming and endearing :-)

This kid didn't even know how much I love frogs

After school, I picked up some fast food. It's not the meal I would have picked, but there was limited time between school and my hair appointment, and I get hangry if I don't see to those needs. 

Throughout the day, I received text and social media well wishes, and lots of silly memes and songs to make me smile. 

I spent the evening getting my locks colored and shaped at Syd's, which is a really charming hair shop in Carrboro that deals well with customers like me (middle aged ladies who want funky-colored hair and low fuss but awesome haircuts) and the younger kid (awesome but picky and prickly teenager). I've been a customer there off and on during all my time in North Carolina, and I appreciate the vibe as well as the hair expertise. 

Feeling pretty

Then I got home, finally ate that pretty cupcake and opened some gifts from my sister (extra sweet of her now that she lives further away and had to ship them to me), and caught up with my husband, dogs, and the kid still at home. 

It was a nice respite in what has felt like a whirlpool (of the Scylla and Charybdis variety) these past few weeks. 

I've been in the middle of a job hunt (leaving teaching for the corporate world for a different variety of stress, some flexibility, and more money). 

My eldest kid is about to graduate college. 

We've had some new health things to deal with as well as a home improvement project that we're still resettling the house after. 

It feels like everyone around me is facing heartache. Some friends lost their son. A student lost her father. A colleague is battling cancer. The youngest kid's best friend just lost their dog. 

So, my emotions have been seriously mixed. Celebrating my own good news can feel heartless when those around me are suffering. 

But a birthday is a natural time to look back at your life. My 50th year on planet earth was, in the scheme of things, pretty damn good. 

Personal: my health is good as in that of all my nearest and dearest, my life is stable, and I have lots of love around me. 16 years into marriage, I'm still stupidly happy. 22 years into motherhood and my kids are still the best ones in the world. Nearly a year into life with our new pups and they charm me daily. 

My family in our holiday PJs



I always tell folks that I love drama in my fiction, but I want a rather boring and serene life, and right now that's what I've got and I am grateful for that. 

Writing: It was a pretty good year for my writing life. I began my 50th year by entering the editing process on the fourth Menopausal Superhero novel, Be the Change, and seeing it through to publication.

Five of my short stories made it out there into the world, too. You can read four of them online here: 

The fifth one was in an anthology and came out on my 51st birthday, so that was a nice present :-)



I wrote a lot, too. From birthday to birthday, I wrote 379,046 words. I revised 179, 611 words. For 2022, I set a goal of submitting my writing 100 times and I've already hit 56 submissions at the 1/4 of the year mark. Not too shabby! Especially when you consider that I do this with a full time day job. 

All in all, quite a good year and my 51st year is already shaping up with some exciting adventures including a change of career and some travel! Keep an eye on this spot for the details. In the meantime, may this year be your best year yet and give you many reasons for joy. 



Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Dangers of Revisiting Foundational Books

Some friends and I were talking the other day about books that we have loved since childhood/youth, and the trepidation that comes with re-reading them as adults. 

What is they're not as good as you remember? What if--even worse--they're not very good at all? Is it better to just let them glow in your memory rather than risk tainting that warm, happy place in your heart that they hold? 

What do you think? 

Some books I have revisited and how it went: 


A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeline L'Engle. When I read this as a child, it was a game-changer for me. It was one of the first times I really saw myself in a protagonist. 

Meg wasn't pretty, perfect, sweet, or nice. But she was smart and fiercely loyal to those she loved. 

I read it again as an adult a couple of years ago, when my classics book club picked it. We tend to read a "children's classic" each December. 

Overall, it held up well. The witches are still wonderful, Meg is still grumpy and difficult and complicated, the Nothing is still terrifying, as are all those organized children bouncing balls in unison.

It was more overtly Christian than I had remembered, and that was a little off-putting, but otherwise, still good. I read it out loud to my teenager, who also really enjoyed it, so getting to share something that mattered to me with someone who matters to me was a nice bonus.

"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson was one of those moments when something I read in school really got to me. 

That didn't happen all that often. A lot of what I was asked to read in school was very safe, and kind of boring. 

But this short story was unnerving, disturbing, visceral and…I loved it. 

In fact, I fell in love with Shirley Jackson's work with that story and it led me to two of her novels in my school's library: The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 

Both of those remain among my favorite books to this day and I have read them both several times. Obviously, I must think these hold up well if I keep going back. Jackson's characters are complex and dark. She really highlights the horror in ordinary situations. 

Here lately, I've been reading some of her other work, stories that aren't horror-adjacent, and they're amazing in similar ways. Jackson always leaves me thinking. 

Another author I loved in my younger years was Ray Bradbury. And, in some ways I still do. Such creative imagery, such imagination. 

Again and again, he has amazed me and filled me with wonder and delight, especially in his short stories. 

But, recently I read Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes

And, well…the women. 

Both of these books portray women with 1950s paternalism at best, with a pat on the head and a "sit over dear and don't worry your pretty head." 

At worst, it's outright misogyny. 

Mildred Montag, the wife of the main character in Fahrenheit 451, is a caricature of the most insulting nature…and yes, I'm aware that he's exaggerating on purpose to highlight how bad a world without books really can become. 

But no male character is portrayed with the same antipathy. No male character descends into such utter inanity. And plenty of other books from the same era (and even older!) do a better job with female characters, so I'm not giving him a pass for being an old guy either. Bradbury could have done better and should have. 

Clarisse, our most sympathetic female character, isn't much better. She is just shy of a manic pixie dream girl, only in the story as a catalyst to our male lead. In fact, after she inspires his insurrection, she is promptly killed off--practically fridged

Plus, she's seventeen, so there's a squick factor for me with the suggestion of romance between them. Reeks of those literary novels about aging professors who find their joy in life by screwing an undergrad. Yuck!

Gotta say, all that sailed over my head when I was a teenager, but it's much harder to see past now. 

Have you revisited any books that you loved in your youth? How did it go? Do they hold up? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Audiobook Struggles


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 6 question - Have any of your books been made into audio books? If so, what is the main challenge in producing an audiobook?

The awesome co-hosts for the April 6 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jemima Pett, Patricia Josephine, Louise - Fundy Blue, and Kim Lajevardi!
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I do a LOT of my own reading in the form of audiobooks. 

I adore being able to read while I'm busy doing other things like the laundry--tasks that need doing but don't engage much of my brain because they're rote and uninteresting. 

Add an audiobook to a pile of unmatched socks and I'm much more willing to take on the task. 

So, of course, I want my own books released on audiobook. Menopausal Superheroes would definitely make doing the dishes more interesting. 

In fact, my publisher had gotten pretty far in the production of an audiobook for book one of the Menopausal Superhero series: Going Through the Change

He'd contracted with a recording artist who recorded it. She'd only ever done one audiobook before, but it had been well-received. We'd communicated about pronunciation details (Like Linda and David, two Hispanic characters being LEEN-dah and Dah-VEED, rather than the more anglo pronunciations). 

We were all happy and excited. I included promises of that coming audiobook in my newsletter and social media posts. 

Then began the waiting. The proposed delivery date kept getting extended: increased demands at the day job, health issues, etc. Even though this part took way longer than it should have, we were all trying to give each other grace during the pandemic, so I was patient and kept my frustrations mostly to myself. 

But, then, when the file was finally delivered, it didn't meet technical specifications. This part I don't know the details of (like, what, exactly was wrong--I've left this in the hands of my publisher), but I do know that the file could not be uploaded and used as is, and that attempts to address that by having other audio professionals worked on it did not help. 

So, here I am three years later, back at square one. No audiobook in sight. 

My last conversation with my publisher let me know that there's about a $1000 investment up front to get an audiobook produced, and, yes, he does plan to try again, but he can only do so many at a time, so it might be a while yet. 


So, sadly, I'm still waiting to hear my work as an audiobook. But I have faith we'll get there eventually. 

Are you an audiobook reader? Have you been a part of this process at any point? I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments. 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

My March in Books

 March was a helluva month at la Casa Bryant. As I write this, on the last day of March, there are five men upstairs ripping out my carpet and installing beautiful new floors. All of March and part of February has been about getting ready for this moment--basically moving out of three rooms of our home without having any other rooms to move into because we still live here. 

No wonder I escaped into books as much as possible. And it was a good month for reading: 


I read ten books in March. 

I don't feel like rehashing the ones I didn't like, so I'll let you click over Goodreads via the links above if you want to know why I didn't like them. Let me gush a little about the good things. 


It was "women in horror" month, so a perfect moment to revisit Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors of all time, and Tananarive Due whose work I love more and more, the more of it I read. Both of these books were well worth the read. 

The Shirley Jackson collection wasn't all horror, but even when she's writing social commentary or domestic explorations with a literary bent, Shirley always sees through to the dark side of things. It had been years since I last read "The Lottery" and it was just as chilling as I remembered, but my favorite story in that collection is "Flower Garden" which captures what it's like to be an outsider in an insular community and how trapped even an insider can be by social pressure. 

Tananarive Due's book, similarly, did not at first seem like it was horror. A lot of the book feels like a domestic tale of a marriage on the rocks . . . but it gets steadily weirder. Jackson and Due pair well together, with their focus on domestic settings and the horror of seemingly ordinary moments. 


For full disclosure, the author of Amazing Grace is my publisher. That probably influenced my choice to read it, but I assure you that, when I read work by friends and colleagues, if I don't like it, I just don't comment at all. If I'm telling you about it here, then I liked it. In fact, I loved this one. I really enjoyed the main character Lila Grace, a middle-aged Southern woman with the ability to talk to ghosts. I liked the sparks of romance between her and the new sheriff and the way that what she knew about the community mattered as much as her abilities when it came to solving the central mystery. I hope John writes more with these characters. There's definite series potential. The poor man already writes several series though, so I might have to be patient to wait for him to get back to this one. 

I've read Sense and Sensibility more than once. Between reading it and watching the film with Kate

Winslet and Emma Thompson repeatedly, I was predisposed to loving this book. I'm not sure when I last read/watched it, but it was before I married my husband, so that's coming up on twenty years. In fact, I had completely forgotten that Elinor and Marianne had a younger sister (to be fair, she's really only in the beginning and end of the book).  It was just as good as I remembered, and remains my favorite of Jane Austen's work (yes, I set it higher than the acclaimed and beloved Pride and Prejudice). 
So those are the books I loved this March. I also quite liked: 

  • A Spindle Shattered by Alix E. Harrow (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a multiverse angle and a chronically ill main character)
  • The Boys Omnibus volume 1 by Garth Ennis (a darkly humorous, transgressive superhero series)
  • and Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (a girl-meets-magic world series set in Nigeria among Leopard people)
What did you read this month? Anything I should have on my TBR? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! 


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Too "CW" For Me

 


Stargirl seems like it ought to be a show for me. Female protagonist, cool superpowers, giant robot/suit, family drama, and a small town setting. So much to love. 

But I don't love the show. I'm not even sure I like it. 

And I think I've figured out why. It's the same reason I don't love The Flash or Arrow, even though those shows ought to have been right up my alley, too. Both had strong starts with interesting characters, but I eventually just lost interest. 

It's the "CW" effect. 

When a show is handed over to CW (or WB), it immediately changes, and not for the better in my point of view. They *look* good, with pretty people in great costumes and decent-for-the-budget special effects, but they don't hold up well to scrutiny. 

They're . . .shallow. 

So often the plot relies on people avoiding a conversation, often that conversation wouldn't even be that difficult to have. Or ignoring an obvious application of the powered person's skills. Or strange caprices. Character motivations shift from episode to episode, so it's hard to even know if someone is behaving "out of character" because there is no consistency about what is "in character." 

Superhero stories tend be a bit plot-driven…cool action scenes and creative fights are part of what fans come for, me included! But, the best ones also really understand their characters and lead to strong emotional payoffs. 

WB shows seem to be all about short-term payoff and cool moments, and I'm pulled out of the story again and again because I can't understand why characters are doing what they're doing. 

I watched Season 1 of Stargirl and enjoyed seeing the team of heroes come together. I liked the generational take, with young people taking over for older heroes. I had high hopes for Stripes-the-stepdad-with-a-secret-history. But I wasn't drawn in enough to watch it quickly. I think it took me two years to watch the whole season. 

The continual shifting of tones lost me. Was Stripes to be taken seriously as a mentor or laughed off as inept comic relief? Am I supposed to keep cheering for a girl who shows herself over and over again as more self-interested than anything else? 

I'm starting to wonder if we just hand the story over to a completely new team of writers every other episode and that no one reads the other team's work to build naturally from what came before. 

When we moved to the second season, I watched one episode and I'm not sure I'll be back for any more.
 
The adults in the show are not making any sense. Mom and Dad were THERE in the first season: they were part of the fight with the bad guys. The superhero stuff isn't a secret from them. But, they behave as if they have no understanding of all of what's going on. It's like they just forgot everything that happened and stepped back in time to the original conflict of trying to keep the kid protected versus letting her step into her role as a hero. 

Maybe I'm just too old for this, but it seems like cheap manipulation rather than honestly-built suspense. 

How about you? Do you like the WB/CW superhero shows? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Sticking the Landing


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 March 2 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, Pat Garcia, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon Lawrence!
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I'm trying to write the final book in my Menopausal Superhero series right now, and it's kicking my butt. It seems ridiculous, feeling frozen after four novels, 2 novellas, and a selection of shorts. 

Maybe it's the finality of it. 

This is the end, my chance to wrap it all up, and bring it together in a satisfying way, freeing myself to work on all the other projects that have been calling my name while I forced my focus down this one path to see it through to this moment. 


And now that I'm here, I'm suddenly full of doubt. 

What if I can't stick the landing? What if I took myself and my readers on this wild ride only to write that ending fails? 

It's silly really. My publisher wouldn't let that happen. If I turn in a draft that doesn't do the job, they'll help me with some development edits. But first I have to give them something to edit, and that's where I'm stuck. 

So my questions for the IWSG community today: 

1. If you've finished writing a series, how did you wrap up it up? Any advice to make sure it satisfies?
2. What series have you read where you either LOVED the ending or were frustrated by it? Why? What makes a good series ending? 

Or if you don't have any advice, sympathy is also appreciated! It's a good problem to have, I know, but I still need to solve it. 

Monday, February 28, 2022

February Reads

I seem to be reading more slowly so far this year. I'm not sure if it's me, or that I'm picking longer books or what. But in February, I only finished 4 books, and two of those I'd mostly read in January, but finished in February. Still, there were all well worth reading, so at least I know my time was well spent. 


I started reading Another Country in January, as it was the February pick for my First Monday Classics Books Club, the book club I help facilitate with another author friend for our local public library. This is only the second work by James Baldwin I've read. I read Go Tell It on the Mountain a few years back. 

Structurally, Another Country was messy. The plot meandered, which suited the narrative at times, set as it was among a group of New York literati in the late 1950s. But that meandering feeling annoyed me as a reader at other times. There was a lot to chew on in terms of theme: race, relationships, sexuality. It was interesting that, in a book with so much openness about race and sexuality, misogyny still oozed from the pages like pus from a sore. The assumptions about what it means to be a woman definitely show when the book was written, and by whom. 

So, not a light or casual read, and problematic in some ways, but still deep and thought-provoking. Well worth the read. 


After our book club discussion, I sought out I Am Not Your Negro on the recommendation of another reader and was so glad I did. Baldwin was a powerful public speaker and I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in watching. It's on Netflix, if you're interested (or at least in was in February 2022). 

I also started reading Katherine Johnson's memoir My Remarkable Life in January and finished it just as February began. I loved it. Johnson (of Hidden Figures fame) had such a straightforward storytelling style, neither self-aggrandizing nor downplaying her skills and talents. It ended up being a different view than I'd ever seen before of the Civil Rights Movement through its effects on one ambitious woman of the time. 

Next for me was The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig. When I was doing my Spooky Reads series on YouTube last year, I realized that I haven't been reading as much horror as I used to, and since I really love horror, that seemed like a shame, so I've promised myself the chance to read more horror this year. 

The Book of Accidents had some great imagery and a creative plot. I won't tell you too much about it because it's more fun if you go in knowing very little and let the story surprise you, but I enjoyed it!

And just today, I finished Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the March selection for my First Monday Classics. This was a re-read for me, so I knew what was coming, but I still wanted to punch more than one character (sometimes that included Tess). A nuanced story with complicated characters and a lot to say about social mores, education of women, and agrarian English life. 

So, that's what I managed in February. How about you? What did you read this month? I'd love to hear about your favorite reads in the comments. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Things I should do (writing life edition)

image source


Write 3 morning pages first thing

    Write at the time of day that my brain works best

Write at the same time daily

    Write every day

Don't write every day

    Talk with other about what I'm writing

Don't talk about what I'm writing until its done

    Share writing in progress

Never share writing in progress

    Seek feedback early

Eschew feedback entirely

    Outline and plan every aspect before beginning a draft

Just write and trust to the future to shake out the details

    Don't worry about correctness as I write

Obsess over correctness as I write

    Write what I feel passionate about

Research trends and write to market

    Read everything in the genre I'm writing

Don't read in the genre I'm writing

    Think about my audience

Don't think about an audience

    Write descriptively

Write without adjectives or adverbs

    Drink (coffee, wine, water . . .I'm not sure)

Don't drink


I tell you, it's enough to drive a girl to drink. Luckily I'm old enough not to worry too much about what others think I should do. I'll do it my way. You do it yours. We'll all get there in the end. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Submission Challenge, January 2022

There's a lot of work in a writing life that isn't exactly writing. There's networking and promotion, research and reading, thinking. But the worst part for me? Submitting my work. 

At this point, it's not really about fear of rejection any more for me. 

I've longed learned not to take that too personally. Whether or not a venue accepts my work is not solely about its quality. 

Sometimes, it's as mundane as length (longer or shorter than they have room for), or bad luck in subject matter (they just accepted another writer's work on a similar theme). Or maybe *that* editor doesn't like my story--it doesn't mean another editor won't like it, or even that the same editor won't accept a different story from me. 

So, no. I'm not angsty about the submission process. I just get frustrated by how much time it takes! 

There's research involved to find reputable places. There's tracking, to make sure you don't send the same place a story they've already rejected. There's formatting, to comply with various submission guidelines (blind submissions, preferred fonts and formatting, file type preferred, etc.). None of this brings joy to my heart, so it gets bumped down my to-do list by tasks I enjoy more, which is no way to build a catalogue of published work! 

Luckily, in 2019, I ran across Ray Daley and his Submission Challenge. The idea was that he'd provide a list of venues he had already vetted for speculative fiction submissions, and that those of us who decided to participate would send a piece of writing to one venue every day for the whole month. 



I really appreciated the feeling of support and camaraderie in that challenge and considered the event a great success when I participated back then. I ended up with two publications from that bout of submissions, and learned about some great magazines and publishers I hadn't yet heard about. 

I've tried to participate again a few times, but never quite had the time/energy/focus on the right timeing again until this year. 

So, end stats: 

  • 37 submissions in total (If the story had a quick rejection, I sent it right back out to a new venue)
  • 27 different stories
  • Revised/finished: 3 stories
  • 14 rejections
  • 2 acceptances!
  • Not bad, and there's still hope that some of these submissions will still lead to more acceptances yet. I'm especially pleased because one of those acceptances was for a piece that has been near and dear to me since I wrote it, but that I've had no luck placing for publication. My records (I use Duotrope to track) showed that this was the 11th time I'd submitted that story, so persistence paid off!

    I've set a goal of submitting my work 100 times this year, and I've made a good dent in that already, thanks to the challenge. Plus, participating in this challenge gave me a push to finish and revise a couple of stories that had languished in my hard drive for a while and get them out there. 

    I also wrote a new story for an anthology I heard about during the challenge. (They're not open for submissions yet, but when they open, I'll be ready!) 

    And bonus! It gave me meaningful work that will further my career while I work my way through the next novel. I LOVE writing short fiction because it gives me a chance to experiment at lower commitment on a smaller scale. It's playful for me in a way that novel writing isn't. 

    I look forward to sharing my stories with you when pub day comes! 

    Wednesday, February 2, 2022

    My First Writing Friend


    Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

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

    This month's optional question: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn't around anymore? Anyone you miss?

    The awesome co-hosts for the February 2 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jacqui Murray, Sandra Cox, and Lee Lowery!
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    I'm fifty years old. Generally speaking a person doesn't get to live this long and NOT lose some important people in their lives. I've run out of grandparents, though I am fortunate to still have both my parents. I've lost too many friends, uncles, cousins, dogs, and students (because really, any at all is too many). 

    But when I consider this question in terms of my writing life, I instantly thought about Jean, my first writing friend that I met outside a classroom. Writing friends are different than other friends--there's a special connection that comes from that shared passion. 

    Jean was a little bit older than me, how much exactly I'm not sure. I was twenty-two when I met her, having just moved to Kodiak, Alaska after my college graduation. 

    When we became friends, Jean seemed like a real grownup to me, especially when I still felt like I was faking it. (I'm still faking it by the way--I can't believe people think I'm a real adult). 

    I met her through the public library, which is, of course, a fantastic place to meet people--it's where the readers are! Jean put up a flyer on the bulletin board about a creative writing group she wanted to put together and I jumped at the chance. I was a poet, then, and craved the community and support I'd found in my creative writing program in college. 

    I don't really remember that first meeting that well now, but I remember the feeling of all our long, rambling conversations about everything under the sun. I remember how much and how widely she read, and how strong and sure she was in her opinions. She didn't shave her legs and felt like happiness was more important than being skinny, and I longed to care less what people thought and to do what I felt good about like her. (I'm almost there, thirty years later). 

    I remember her warmth most of all, her absolute faith in all of us in that little writing group she created. She just knew we had the ability to create work worth reading, and she made sure we knew it, too. 

    It would have been easy to let writing slip away in those years, to write it off as a plaything from my youth, and funnel all my energy into my job. But my relationship with Jean kept writing central to my life, both for my own self-expression and in my ambitions for publication and finding readers. 

    Submitting my work to poetry magazines back then meant printing out copies of my poems and mailing them in envelopes with stamped-self-addressed envelopes folded inside so that the journal could respond without cost to them. 

    We spent weekend afternoons and late evenings together perusing Poets and Writers Magazine and Writers Market books from our library and goading each other to submit our words for consideration. 

    She'd point out a market and tell me that I should send that poem about fog to this one, or ask me if I'd considered expanding that essay about the pillboxes at Fort Ambercrombie because maybe We Alaskans would like it. (She was right--they did! It was my first post-college publication). 

    Her own poetry had such range. Funny sometimes. Sardonic. Witty. Shades of Dorothy Parker. Other times enraged, sometimes sad and lyrical. But always always always with such beauty of language and such surprising insight and observation. 

    I didn't keep up with her very well after I left Kodiak. I'm really a terrible friend in that way--I always get so swept up in life where I am, that I don't send letters, make phone calls, or go back and visit often enough. But we'd touch base every so often over the years, sending news when one of us had a life change. We never met again in person, and I regret that. 

    In her last years, Jean was fighting cancer, but when we talked on Facebook, it was still about the people we love (real and fictional) and the words we would write. 

    I was lucky to find her. 

    Sometimes when I'm talking about a life of words, I can still hear her laughing.