Monday, September 26, 2022

I'm Not Saying it's Aliens: Open Book Blog Hop

 

Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

Today's question: Do you want science to find aliens or find that we are alone in the universe? Does it scare you to think there are likely other beings out there?

I very much like the idea of aliens. I've enjoyed the utopian version of things like Star Trek, where we all work together. I've enjoyed the monster-movie version of things like Aliens where it becomes survival. 

Authors have used "aliens" as an inroad into a lot of difficult topics: racism, colonialism, culture clash, etc. It's an opportunity to use an "outsider" lens to look back at ourselves, imagining how aliens might do things differently and what they might think of how we do things here. 

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I kind of doubt that a real life encounter with aliens would prove as cinematic and dramatic as the stories I've enjoyed though. 

It might look a lot more like immigration, with a new kind of people meeting with the usual xenophobia followed by slow integration and acceptance. I don't see any particular reason to expect that aliens, if they show up on Earth, will want to eat, enslave, or conquer us. 

But it's fun to imagine the possibilities, life forms that are really physically different than humans or animals that we know. Beings that communicate, eat, and breathe differently. If you're looking for some positive alien-human interaction stories, I'll recommend Becky Chambers's Wayfarer series of books and novellas. I LOVE her work. 

I've got a couple of alien stories in the works myself and hope to be able to tell you where you can read them soon! In the meantime, what do you think of aliens? How do imagine an extraterrestrial encounter would fall out? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 


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Monday, September 19, 2022

World Building: An Open Book Blog Hop Post

 


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. This week, we're talking about world-building.  I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

When I think about worldbuilding, I drop straight into fantasy: made up peoples, places, governments, and systems. Something like Dune, where Frank Herbert literally built a world. Arrakis, home of sandworms, spice, and political intrigue. 

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But the truth is that worldbuilding is part of the work for any writer--even if your work is set in "the real world."  There are still things the reader needs to understand about the limits and constraints of the characters' lives. 

Details of character like age, socio-economic status, upbringing, geography, workplace, relationship status, race, gender, and so much more make all the difference in a story. A simple scene like a confrontation with the boss takes on entirely different hues, depending on all the subtext. Who is older? What's the power dynamic between these characters? What's the "culture" in the workplace? Saying "no" has completely different resonance fully in the setting. 

I've written stories set in worlds very different from my own--on other planets, in the far future, or in the distant past, but I'm always world-building, even when the story is set yesterday at 2:00 in the town I live in. 

The Menopausal Superhero novels are in a gray area--set in a world very much like the one I actually inhabit, but where superpowers are a reality. So, Flygirl still has to worry about her children's schooling, but also literally flies into action in her work with the Unusual Cases Unit. 

It's always tricky, balancing world building with the other needs of the story, moving forward the plot, characters, themes, etc. The best world building is integrated and natural, introducing information as it matters, rather than burying the reader in pages of backstory, or making them "study first" by slogging through an info-dump of a prologue.  The key is making it easy for the reader, and when it's done very well, those world-building details are a spark of interest and delight. 

What kinds of details of worldbuilding make or break a story for you? 

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Fame and Fortune Await: An Open Book Blog Hop Post

 


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. This week, we're talking about what would happen if our books took off tomorrow, with enormous worldwide interest and sales.  I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post. 

That's a favorite daydream of mine. Somehow someone with a huge following stumbles across my work, falls in love with it, and uses that big megaphone of theirs to proclaim to the universe how witty, inspiring, entertaining, and life-changing my Menopausal Superhero novels are and boom! I'm there! 

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Now the question today asks if I'm prepared for that dream to come true. And honestly, probably not. I've spent my life somewhere between poverty and middle class with dips back and forth. I've never had "big bucks" in my life and have known very few people who do in any kind of personal way. 

But you know what? I can learn. 

I've managed being a "Greaser" among "Socs" before--I was that one public school scion among private school graduates in grad school. I stuck it out in the Chapel Hill Mom's club for nearly a year, even though they didn't know what to do with a mom with a day job and no nanny. 

The key is pretending that it's not that you can't afford better, it's that you choose what you have. No, I don't have a beach house, but it's because I like visiting different beaches every time I go. No, I don't wear designer brands, but it's because I'm socially conscious and won't wear brands that use exploitative labor practices. 

See? I can fake it! 

Could I handle the "fame"? I think, yes! Being a famous author isn't like being an actress or politician. Very few people know what their favorite authors look like or where they live. There are only a handful of living writers I would recognize if we passed one another on the street.  

Unless I start behaving badly and tweeting obnoxious things to get myself cancelled, I could quietly enjoy the bigger royalty checks, slip away from my day job, spoil my children a little, and travel more. 

So, yeah. I think I can take it. So feel free, people of the Internet, to spread the word and make me a social media darling. I promise to do more good than evil with the money, and keep on writing books!


Want to see how other writers feel about fame and fortune on the horizon? Check out the other posts in this blog hop at this link: 

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Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Not the Genre for Me: An Insecure Writers Support Group Post

 


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

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. The awesome co-hosts for the September 7 posting of the IWSG are Kim Lajevardi, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguirre, Olga Godim, Michelle Wallace, and Louise - Fundy Blue! Be sure to stop by and see what they have to say when you finish here.

September 7 question - What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?
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I like trying on new genres. Trying something I've never done before is part of the joy of writing for me. It's part of why I love writing for anthologies: it's like being invited to play a new game.

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Mostly, I like to stay under the speculative fiction umbrella, writing something with unrealistic elements--creatures, magic, made-up technologies, superpowers, wild settings, etc. 

I guess I don't like limiting my imagination to just what is actually possible. Part of the joy of playing with my imaginary friends is asking: "What if?" And I like to leave a broad range of answers open. 

I've tried a lot of the subgenres that more broadly are known as science fiction and fantasy. 

In fact, when I look at this list of subgenres, there are only a few I haven't at least dabbled in. And the others are things I am likely still to try in the future. 

Maybe not military or space opera? I don't read much of it or watch much of it, but you never know. I didn't expect to write horror, but now I have more horror stories out there than superhero ones. 

I haven't written a mystery yet, but I had an idea for one recently. 

I think the genre I am least likely to take on at this point is literary fiction. 

Although…

I do have a realistic historical novel on the back burner, just waiting for me to make research time so I can finish it, so maybe even that isn't a solid no. 

Hmmm. Maybe the truth is that there isn't anything out there under the writing sky that is a hard no for me. I'm open to the stories that come to me, whatever they turn out to be. Some would require some more learning than others, but I'm open to growth to building new skill sets to be able to do justice to a new concept that inspires me.

How about you? As a writer, and as a reader, are there genres that you're not drawn to? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, September 5, 2022

An Interview with the Sidekick: an Open Book Blog hop post


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. This week, we're interviewing some of our "minor" characters.  I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post. 

So, let me introduce you to Suzie Grayson, from my Menopausal Superhero series. Suzie is the youngest character in the series who isn't someone's child, and one of the few non-powered characters in the main circle of heroes. 

Series Book Covers, by arrangement with the publisher


She entered the story as Patricia O'Neill's intern in book 1 Going Through the Change, and was there when Patricia's powers erupted and by her side as she built her hero's life as The Lizard Woman of Springfield. Some might call her a sidekick, but Suzie would object to that portrayal. 

Me: Hello, Suzie, Thanks for joining us here on Balancing Act today.
Suzie: My pleasure. It's not every day I get a private audience with our author.
Me: I hope you don't feel neglected.
Suzie: No worries. I've got surprises in store for you yet!
Me: (laughing nervously) Let's get to it. I know that people tend to underestimate you. I love writing those moments when they find out that they should have given a little more thought to the cute blonde. Do you have any favorite moment like that in our books?
Suzie: Well, of course my favorite is the short story about me: Underestimated.
Me: That is a good one! I really loved it when you turned off the generator by throwing your shoe into it. Quick thinking!
Suzie: That was a good moment, though I was more proud of the way I escaped from the chair they had tied me to.
Me: Classic sidekick moment. Though, of course, you didn't sit around waiting to be rescued. 
Suzie: No way. Patricia needed me. 
Me: You guys have a special relationship. 
Suzie: (laughing) Sure. You could call it that. There's nobody like her. But let's just call it what it is: she's my girlfriend. 
Me: What's that like? Working with your significant other?
Suzie: Well, it's never easy to work with Patricia, and it hasn't gotten easier since we started dating. But she's learning that I don't need protecting any more than she does. I'm really excited to see what you settle on for us in the next book!
Me: (sigh) Me, too. It's been hard, writing the series ender. 
Suzie: (winking) We can always come back for side stories later. It doesn't have to be good-bye!
Me: (brightening) You're right! 
Suzie: Of course. I almost always am. 

So glad you had the chance to meet Suzie, a feisty, determined, and brilliant young woman who is a delight to work with on the page. You can find her spotlight story in my Menopausal Superheroes short story collection: Through Thick and Thin. 

book cover by arrangement with the publisher


Now that you've met Suzie, click on the Inlinkz party below to meet some other great characters in my colleagues' work. 

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Monday, August 29, 2022

Open Book Blog Hop: Writing Short Stories

 


Welcome to Monday! I'm trying something new this week: the Open Book Blog Hop. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. This week, we're talking about short stories: 

Do you ever write short stories? What do you see as the biggest difference in the writing process between a short story and a full-length book?

Though my primary work is novels, The Menopausal Superhero series and some other as-yet-unfinished and unpublished works, I also LOVE writing short stories. 


Novels are not small endeavors. I'm a writer with a day job, stuffing my writing life into a couple of hours a day most of the time, so drafting a novel is the work of a year or more for me. Writing a series of novels means living in the same imaginary universe for multiple years. I've been writing my Menopausal Superheroes since 2014. 

Even though writing is always a labor of love for me, staying on track and meeting publishing deadlines for my novels can start to feel more like work than play. 

When I need a break from the current novel, I cheat on her with short stories. 

Short stories give me an opportunity to try on something new without the same level of commitment that a novel requires. I can explore new characters, new worlds, new situations. I can play around in new genre sandboxes. I can finish a draft of a short story quickly, sometimes in only one or two writing sessions. That feeling of finishing things is addictive. 

For me, short fiction is all about play. They are key for keeping me connected to the joy of a writing life, even when it feels like my novel is trying to kill me. It's my chance to say, "I've never tried that! Let's go!" 

Interestingly, a lot of my short fiction comes out dark. 


It's quite a contrast, because my novel series is light, dramedy in tone, intermixing comedic elements with action, with a heavy focus on women's friendship. 

I think it's because I'm usually writing short fiction when I'm feeling frustrated with longer fiction, so I walk into it in a darker mood. Plus, honestly, I just have a taste for the creepy. 

My first loves as a child were Grimm's fairy tales and Tanakh, as recounted for me by my mother and grandmothers, who didn't pull any punches about the scary bits. No Disney-fication for little Samantha. I tell people that I might look more like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but inside? It's all Wednesday Addams. 

My most recent publication is a horror story. "How Does Your Garden Grow?" is featured in A Woman Unbecoming, a new charity anthology in support of reproductive rights from Crone Girls Press. 


If you like horror, or are just horrified by the most recent attacks on women's health and rights in the United States, I hope you'll check it out.

And after you do, please check out the posts from my fine colleagues below: 

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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

IWSG: You Can't Always Get What You Want




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 August 3 posting of the IWSG are Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery! Be sure to stop by and see what they have to say when you finish here. 

August 3 question - When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

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Trying to give readers what they want is a dangerous game. For one thing, figuring out what that is can be darn tricky. For another thing, take any two readers, and you might get conflicting desires. 

Really, when I'm deciding where a story should go, it's not the readers I look to, but the story. What does the story need? What's the right tone, plot twist, narrator, setting, or ending for this story? 

image source

Sometimes doing that means that even I, as the writer, don't necessarily get what I want. After all, I love my characters and I want them to end up well, but fictional people don't get off that easily--they have to face conflict, danger, challenges, and change. Otherwise, they're just not interesting enough for the page. 

But when you get it right--it's like magic. The stars align, music plays, and you just feel it in the center of your being.  That's what I'm looking for: what the story needs. And once I've found that, it might not be what I thought I wanted, but I'm always glad it's what I got. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Travels in Ireland

Two years ago, we had a plan. Mom, my sister, my aunt, and I were going to Ireland to celebrate my mother's 70th birthday…but of course, we all remember what happened two years ago. So, obviously, that didn't happen. 

So, we were going to go again in 2021, when "things open back again." But darn it, that didn't happen either. 

Before we knew it, it was 2022. 

And we gathered at Mom's house, passports and vaccination cards in hand, holding our breath, and hoping the borders stayed open, the planes still flew, and we all stayed healthy long enough to get there. 

And we did! 

All four of us, on the road to Kylemore Abbey.

Since none of us had ever been to Ireland before, and one of us is vegan (always a challenge when traveling), we did a purchased tour through Brendan Tours "The Enchanting Emerald Isle Tour." It had a great itinerary that hit lots of bucket list places as well as places we didn't know that much about. 

  • Dublin
  • Strokestown
  • Carrick on Shannon
  • Ballina
  • Westport
  • Kylemore Abbey
  • Galway
  • Dunguaire Castle
  • Cliffs of Moher
  • Killarney
  • Ring of Kerry
  • Blarney Castle
  • Newtown Jerpoint
  • Kilkenny
  • and back to Dublin

I didn't do much research. I wanted to just be open to what came. 

Magic light in the gardens of Strokestown Park

I'll be processing for a long time--the pictures, the keepsakes, the memories. There are good things and bad things about being on an organized tour. 

Our tour guide was charming. No one had to learn to drive on the "wrong" side of the road. We got a lot of great experiences at lower cost than we could have arranged them for ourselves. Someone else managed our luggage. My sister had vegan food at all provided meals. 

We weren't in charge of our own schedule, and often I wished for more time in a location than I could have. I felt harried at times. Bus is not my favorite mode of transport. We were thrust among companions we didn't choose. 

So, good and bad, just like everything :-)

I wasn't even home yet before I started plotting to go back. Heck--I'd emigrate given the chance, which is funny, given that some of my ancestors left those shores to come to mine. Maybe they'd be pleased at the idea of me coming back home, or maybe they'd just shake their heads and laugh at the irony. 

I won't try to recount my journey for you here, though I'd be thrilled to talk Ireland with anyone anytime! In the meantime, I'll leave you with this collage of me and my first novel posing our way across the Irish landscape (and a couple in JFK airport). 


And this one of the mortal terror on my face when I learned that kissing the Blarney stone involves hanging upside down from the top of a castle. That gift of gab better be worth it!



Wednesday, July 6, 2022

IWSG: Finding my New Normal



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 July 6 posting of the IWSG are J Lenni Dorner, Janet Alcorn, PJ Colando, Jenni Enzor, and Diane Burton!

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In late May, I made a major life change that was a long time coming: I left teaching (check my leaving teaching blog post for details). I have an entirely new day job: a content writing job in corporate. Overnight, my stress dropped by half, so I'm feeling sure it was the right decision. But, it's quite a change after 27 years of teaching. 

What I haven't figured out yet is how my writing life fits into the parameters of the new job. 

I had a pretty good pattern going these past few years, writing evenings and taking advantage of the cyclical nature of teaching to give writing fuller focus during the times of year when school wasn't in session. 

But I haven't made any progress on my latest novel since the job change. 

Maybe that's just the transition phase. There's a lot to learn in the new job, after all. 

And I've had other curve balls, like taking a long-awaited trip to Ireland, seeing my daughter through college graduation, and getting the other kid going on driving lessons. Life has had my attention focused elsewhere. 

But I suspect that I'll need to re-set completely, that these life changes are going to require revamping my writing schedule and approaches, because come evening, I am screenburnt after all the zooming and it's hard to get myself to sit behind a screen again in the evening, even for fun stuff like playing with my imaginary friends. 

Will I need to become a morning writer? Someone who writes on their lunch hour? Do I need to start writing on paper and transferring to computer later? I don't know!


It's weird to be seven years along a path and feel like you've lost the trail, but I'm trying to stay positive and tell myself that it's exciting to have the chance to start fresh and try new approaches. 

Have any of you had to change how you fit your creative ventures into your life after a big change? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Sunday, July 3, 2022

What I Read in June

I only read four books in June, but all of them were good. I spent a goodly portion of June traveling (a long awaited trip to Ireland with my mom, sister, and aunt--I'll post about it soon). So here's a quick peek into my summer reading life. 


I started the month already in the middle of an audiobook which I finished in the first day or two: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. I'm becoming a bit of a Grady Hendrix fan girl. He won me over with My Best Friend's Exorcism, which was pretty much liquid nostalgia for me--channeling both the teenager I was, and the books I read at the age. 

The Final Girl Support Group scratched that nostalgia itch again, and gave me a wonderful story of women's friendship and the ways we help one another survive. You might not expect a book about the survivors of horrific violence to have such a heart of empathy and kindness, but it absolutely did and I loved it. 

After that, I picked up George Orwell's Animal Farm, which was the June pick for my First Monday Classics Book Club. I read it as Kindle/Audiobook, going back and forth between the two, which I often do with Classic reads. 

I'd read it before, as a teenager, and it really helped me understand Russian communism--I've always apprehended history better through fiction. Re-reading it as an adult, I was struck by the deep-seated cynicism. Sure, it's a story about the failure of the Russian attempt communism. But more than that, it's a fable about the inability of humanity to build a system that doesn't rely on the exploitation of someone, regardless of the best of intentions. Depressing. But, he's not wrong. 


Next for me was The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, which I enjoyed as an audiobook read by the author. It's probably no surprise that a woman who writes a feminist superhero series of her own has an interest in Wonder Woman. 

I picked the book based on title alone, so I didn't know what to expect really. What I got was a really intriguing history of the social movements of the early 20th century and of William Moulton Marston, the man who created the character. 

Fascinating stuff, even if it took a long time to get Wonder Woman. It's sort of academic in tone, but I don't find that off-putting. I'm a bit academic myself. It's one of those books that extended my TBR again, because now there are so many topics I want to read more about!

The last book I finished in June was Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor. I started it in May, then set it aside (it was on Kindle and I was feeling screenburnt) and picked it back up for airplane entertainment on my way back from Ireland. 

It's the third and final in the Nsibidi Scripts trilogy, in which we meet Sunny Nwazue when she finds out that she is a Leopard Person (Nigerian magical person) and we watch her grow into herself and her powers while building powerful friendships with three other young people. 

I really enjoyed the series, which felt positive and light and had a sense of wonder and joy in the magic. Definitely more optimistic than grimdark. Highly recommended. 

So that was my month in books. I finished the month with a good start on David Copperfield, the August pick for my classics book club, and I'm poking at a cool horror anthology I'll tell you about at the end of the month. How about you? What did you read this month? 

And here's your reminder to review what you read! Especially if it was by a less-famous writer like me. Your reviews, no matter how brief really help with the visibility of our work.  

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. 


image source

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. 

image source


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. 

image source

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.