Saturday, December 31, 2022

My Year in Books: What I read in 2022


A big box showing the covers for 55 books.

Every year, I set a goal to read 52 books: one per week. Even alongside a full-time day job and a writing life, I can generally manage that, especially if I choose a few short ones, and do a lot of reading via audiobook. I mostly read ebook and audiobook intermixed (I buy both versions and move back and forth between them), but I did read two graphic novels in paper and three books that were just ebooks (no audio). My arthritis and my vision make paper harder to handle with each year, so I'm grateful to have so many ways to access literature. 

This year, I read 55 books. I expect to finish a couple more in the next day or two, but the calendar will have flipped by then, so they'll go into the count for 2023. Goodreads very helpfully tells me that I've read 14,730 pages this year, the shortest book come in at 38 pages (Emergency Skin by NK Jemisin) and the longest at 964 (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy). The most-shelved book I read this year was Animal Farm by George Orwell and the least The Princess and the Peonies by Lucy Blue. My average rating was 4.1, which means I did a darn fine job finding Samantha-pleasing books this year. 

If you've been reading my blog for a while, then you already know that I help run the First Monday Classics book club at my library, so some 9-11 choices (depending on whether the library is open on the First Monday) each year are books for that. Since we've been reading together for five or six years now, our definition of classic has shifted depending on who is attending the meetings and we try to find wider representation across gender and ethnicity. Generally, though, we're looking for books that are at least 20 years old and that have demonstrated staying power or influence. 

a book shelf of leather bound books with a text box saying "what makes a classic"
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This year, we revisited authors we had already read another book by: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (counted on 2021 reading challenge, since I finished in December 2021), Another Country by James Baldwin, Tess of the d'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, The Invisible Man by HG Wells, Animal Farm by George Orwell, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Beloved by Toni Morrison, and Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie. 

I found all of them worth reading, though if you check out the reviews, you'll see that there were some frustrations as well. I probably enjoyed The Invisible Man the most--it was more comedic than I expected. Six of them were re-reads for me, and it's always interesting to see how your view of a books changes when read in different eras of your life. I liked Mrs. Dalloway better than I did as a young woman, and thought quite differently of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility

The words "book club" written on books pines with a coffee cup in front
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Because I'm a bit of a book club junkie, I also have a neighborhood book club with three other women. Our picks are a lot more random, and our meetings are less regular. After we finish talking about a book, we just sit there talking about books until we agree on the next one. This year, we read: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson, The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict (a did-not-finish for me), Weep, Woman, Weep by Marie DeBlassie, and Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. 

As a group, we tend to like social justice nonfiction, contemporary works from other cultures, and historical fiction, so hit me up with your suggestions for what we should read next year!

Now for the hard part: favorites! 

books covers for all 6 volumes in the Murderbot Diaries series

I've been hearing about Martha Wells's Murderbot Diary series for a couple of years now and I finally read them and can finally understand why they garner such praise! If you're going to read them, I recommend going in order, though each one is read-able as a stand alone. Start with All Systems Red and read all six! They are mostly novellas, so they go quickly. 

So, Martha was my new find this year, but I also revisited several authors who had pleased me in past years. 
  • Rebecca Roanhorse Tread of Angels (Weird wild west, with demons and angels. Also check out her Between Earth and Sky series--Black Sun and Fevered Star--and her young adult post-apocalyptic The Sixth World Series--Trail of Lightning, Storms of Locusts. I've read all of those and loved them).
  • Lucy Blue The Princess and the Peonies (1920s murder mystery-romance. I ADORE this series: The Stella Hart Romantic Mysteries). 
  • NK Jemisin Emergency Skin (Short story, quite fun. Definitely also check out her Broken Earth series)
  • Lydia Kang The Half Life of Ruby Fielding (historical espionage. I also loved several of her other novels: A Beautiful Poison, Opium and Absinthe, and The Impossible Girl). 
  • Octavia Butler Unexpected Stories (a novella and a short story. I also loved her Xenogenesis series, Kindred, Wild Seed, and Blood Child and Other Stories. I plan to read all of her work)
  • John Hartness Amazing Grace (cozy mystery/romance with ghosts. I also love his Quincy Harker series and have enjoyed Bubba, the Monster Hunter). 
  • Mary Robinette Kowal The Spare Man (described very well as "Thin Man" in space. Definitely also read her Lady Astronaut Universe. I'm hoping to check out her Glamourist Histories series soon. 
  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia The Beautiful Ones (historical with a big of magic. If you didn't read her Mexican Gothic yet, you totally should). 
  • Nnedi Okorafor Nsibidi Scripts series, 1-3 (Girl meets magical world, Nigerian style. Much lighter than Who Fears Death. I also picked up one of her short stories this year: Remote Control). 
  • Grady Hendrix The Final Girls Support Group (1980s horror tropes for a contemporary crowd. Also loved: My Best Friend's Exorcism). 
Of course, there are more books on my list that I didn't talk about here. Did we read anything in common? What were some of your favorite reads this year? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! 

Monday, December 26, 2022

Goalsetting 2023: An Open Book Blog Post

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.

Do you set monthly/yearly goals for your writing? What are your goals for the coming year?


My goal-setting for a writing life have shifted over the years. 

I used to set a goal to write every day, but now my daily writing habit is so ingrained that's not even necessary. (I've written at least 250 words every day for the past 9 years). I use Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision spreadsheet to track my work, and I set monthly goals there of how much progress I expect to make on which projects. 

Now, it's not a matter of just writing every day, but making sure I focus my writing time on the right thing--not letting myself play around with a new short story when I have a deadline looming for my next novel, for example. 

Having developed some discipline, I find I still need to develop a higher level of discipline. 

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The pandemic years really screwed with me in this regard though. Between the stress of managing day to day life over all the shifts and changes over the past two years and the realization that writing a series ender is a different animal than any other kind of book I've written so far, I feel like I'm stuttered my way through my writing life since 2020. 

I was grateful to be able to write *anything* at all, and now I worry that in "giving myself grace," I've been too soft of myself and given myself an uphill climb over territory I'd already covered. It's always a tricky balance to strike. 

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Then, in 2022, I changed careers in the day job, which also messed with my writing life, breaking all my established patterns of where and how I write, and forcing me to figure out new ways to do this. That's made goal-setting a little mushy. 

So my goal for 2023 is pretty simple: progress. And I reserve the right to define that how I need to. 

I have a few specifics in mind: 

1. Finish the now long-overdue Menopausal Superheroes #5 and get it to my publisher (it's WAY overdue)
2. Try at least three new approaches to selling my books.
3. Join SFWA and HWA professional organizations. (I'm pretty sure I qualify; I just haven't put in the time to gather the proof of that and submit my applications). 
4. Actually publish the collection of short stories I originally planned to release in 2020--my first indie project. 

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My 2023 keywords are discipline and balance. I don't want to push so hard I end up in burnout (it's happened to me before), but nor do I want to let my momentum slip away. 

What does your 2023 hold for you? What are you hoping to accomplish? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

And don't forget to check out the rest of the blog hop! 

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Monday, December 19, 2022

'Tis a gift! An Open Book blog post

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.

Dec 19, 2022 What gift did you want that you never got and might be bitter about? Have you bought it for yourself?


Somewhere in the fog of childhood memory, I'm sure I was a petulant little brat over something I wanted and didn't get, but from the vantage point of my fifty-first year on planet earth, I know I've been quite spoiled across my life. I don't harbor any of this kind of bitterness apparently, because I can't remember anything like that. 

Even when we didn't have much money, my parents knew how to make gifts seem special, setting the stage and presenting them in a way that made them special. I suppose it's all in what you compare it to.

These days, I'm told I'm difficult to buy for. 

I can see that. 

Small things I need I buy for myself when they come up. Other things, I save up for, but wouldn't generally ask for as gifts because they're too expensive. Like many adults, I often receive quite practical gifts--things I actually need. 

I like giving gifts more than receiving them, though even giving them can become stressful, especially in a household like ours that celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas at this time of year. I have mixed feelings about gift-giving holidays and the sense of obligation that can take them over. 

My husband usually buys me tickets--to a play or concert, or for a trip or something like that. He knows I would enjoy an experience more than a trinket. My mother still buys me clothes, and somehow always knows what size and style are right for me, even though we live three states away and only see each other a few times a year. 

The children often make things, and those are special gifts indeed. 

So, I'll leave you with a sonnet I wrote a few years back. I'm afraid I'm not all that good at sonnets, but the sentiments are genuine. 

Check out the rest of the blog hop at the link: 

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Thursday, December 15, 2022

My Year in Words: My 7th year pursuing writing for real

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2022 is coming to a close. That seems like science fiction in and of itself. How can it be 2022, let alone almost 2023? But I've survived a lot of bad predictions now.

  • I made it through 1984, and if Big Brother was watching, he didn't speak up. 
  • I made it through 1999, and the party wasn't over after all. 
  • Y2K didn't eat my hard drive
  • I made it through 2001 and AI did not kill off the humans. Sorry, Dave.
  • Ancient calendars didn't end the world in 2012
  • I made it through 2015 without getting hit by Michael J. Fox on a hoverboard. 
  • I made it through 2019 without finding out if replicants dream of electric sheep. 
  • Godzilla didn't return in 2020. Neither did the Terminator. (though both might have been preferable to what 2020 DID bring us)
  • And here we are in 2022, and I'm not yet eating Soylent Green.
So maybe 2023 won't be as bad as science fiction led me to believe either.


My goals were a little mushy this year. After getting through 2020 and 2021, life didn't feel that predictable, so setting goals was harder. I didn't have my usual faith and optimism about what all I'd be able to get done. 

the Menopausal Superheroes novels so far

I've been working on the fifth and final Menopausal Superhero novel off and on for two years now. I was hoping I'd finish a draft this year. 

I didn't. 

But, I'm finishing the year strong, having written on it every day during NaNoWriMo and kept up that momentum in December, so I'm hoping to have a finished draft by March of 2023. 

Partly this was pandemic life. Partly this was me trying to close out a series for the first time, which is a very different task than just writing the next novel in the series, especially for a pantser like me. 

I tracked my word count across six projects: Menopausal Superheroes #5, Short Stories, Book Reviews, Social Posts, Business (by which I mean correspondence, blurbs, bios, etc.), and Blogs. I use Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker, because I like how it lets me see my progress on several projects, and track both new words and revised words. Across the year, I wrote 287,642 words and revised 109,515. Not too shabby!

There are still two weeks left, so I'll add a little more to that word count before the New Year bells toll. 


I did see some work into print though, even if it wasn't Menopausal Superheroes

My short stories made it into three anthologies in 2022: 
I'm proud of all three, but especially happy to have used my writing for a bit of activism, in support of reproductive rights in the second two. 

I also had a few short stories included in magazines. You can read all of these online for free (or listen to them, in the case of the two podcasts): 
I'd love it if you checked out any of my work! And, for the books, please consider leaving a review. A few words and some stars makes all the difference in a book's discoverability, and I'd love to see these small presses continue to thrive. 


Another of my goals was to submit my work more often. I'm terrible about writing a short story, submitting it once, then letting it languish on my hard drive if it doesn't get accepted. (Hint: if you want your work to get published, you have to submit it). 

At this point, it's not even about fear of rejection for me anymore, but more about managing my limited time so that I can write new things, promote my published work, AND submit my work. 

I set a goal of submitting work 100 times this year and, as I write this, I've done so 99 times. So, you can bet I'll find time to submit one more piece of work before the calendar flips. I was helped by participating in challenges developed by a writing colleague Ray Daley. A few times a year, he collects a list of magazines he intends to submit to, one a day over the course of a month, and invites other writers to try and do the same. 

It paid off, too! Several of the year's publications are stories that met with rejection before finding success. Persistence is the name of the game. 
  • What I Can See: written 2019,  submitted 4 times in total, and accepted in 2020 (for publication in 2022). 
  • How Does Your Garden Grow? written 2020, submitted 5 times in total, and accepted twice in 2022. (reprints are sometimes welcome in anthologies)
  • No Country for Young Women written 2022, submitted 5 times in total, and accepted in 2022 (that's pretty fast for me--to write a story and see it published in the same year)
  • The Beginning of You written 2015, submitted 11 times, and accepted in 2022
  • Under an Orange Sky written 2014, submitted 14 times, and accepted in 2014 (project folded without coming to fruition) and 2022
  • Poison written 2020, submitted 5 times, accepted in 2020 (in a magazine), and in 2022 (as a reprint for a podcast)
  • Moondance written 2019, submitted 8 times, accepted in 2022
  • The Mind Plays Tricks written 2015, submitted 17 times, accepted in 2022


Getting comfortable with promotion has been quite a journey these past seven years. 

I was a guest at ConCarolinas and Multiverse this year, and sold my books at GalaxyCon, Queen City Book Fair, Bookmarks Book Festival and PopCon

I also presented a workshop at Orange County Public Library and continue to run the First Monday Classics book club with writer-colleague James Maxey every month.

I've started to stretch my geographic reach in hopes of finding new audiences, and seeking out more one day festivals and events. I'm still trying to find that balance between promotion and protection of my writing time that leads to a wider audience and more sales. Now that I'm no longer a teacher, I'm a little less tied to the academic calendar and look forward to the new opportunities that will open up for me. 

I've also been taking advantage of the wider array of digital opportunities. I record panels with ConTinual Convention on the regular, as well as with Strong Women Strange Worlds, Go Indie Now, Write Hive, and other organizations. 

I try to gather all those together into a playlist on YouTube: 

I didn't put up much new material on my own YouTube channel this year, so I'm hoping to get back to this more regularly next year. 

I've also been exploring new social media options this year, building a presence and a following on CounterSocial, Mastodon, and Hive (@samanthabwriter) in case Twitter finishes imploding, while still keeping up Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which have been my main channels for a few years now. 

See why time management is such a thing?

How did your year go for your creative or business pursuits? Any insights to share with girls like me who want it all? 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Open Book: Where I Live

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.

Dec 12, 2022 Tell us about something local to where you live. Have you ever made it part of your stories?


I live in a pretty standard American housing development. Neither the poshest nor the most rundown, with about 4 varying house designs from the 1990s throughout most of the neighborhood. We call our house "Sunshine House" because it has yellow siding and large windows that admit a lot of sunlight. 

So far, Sunshine House and the neighborhood she's found in have not made it into any of my novels, but I do have a set of short stories I'm planning to release in 2023 that take place in "Shadow Hill" which is definitely a version of my neighborhood and some of its denizens. 

They are weird tales, and I've really enjoyed writing them. It's fun to imagine less mundane backgrounds for the very mundane happenings of my neighborhood: 

A few of them have been published, so you could check them out now if you're interested! 

Lawn Wars was the first to be published, first in a magazine, and then in an anthology of works from that same magazine. I wrote it because my across-the-street neighbors were obsessive about mowing their lawn…in real life, they probably just were a little bored in retirement. In my story, the reasons are a little more sinister. 

The Girl in the Pool, my daylight ghost story, came about because another neighbor has a swimming pool that mostly sits empty and I enjoyed imagining why that might be. Prospective Press published it in one of their Off the Beaten Path paranormal anthologies. 

The Mind Plays Tricks appeared in Dark Recesses, an online magazine, earlier this year. You can read it on the site (no purchase necessary). I saw a couple of women walking together one day, and put it together with some of my musings about whether I was seeing things or not seeing things and ended up with a tale about the nature of reality that really pleased me. Luisa is one of my favorite characters. I might revisit her story someday and write more for her. 

Margaret Lets Her Self Go has been published twice. Once by Hinnom Magazine and again in an anthology from Abstruse Press: Outsiders Within. That one really came out word play: herself vs. her self (the space makes a difference), and surprised when it became a bit of cosmic horror that questions what is real and what isn't. 

Others in the collection haven't been published so far, so I look forward to getting them into the hands of readers. I'm hoping to make this my next project after I turn in the fifth and final novel in the Menopausal Superheroes series to the publisher. 

I'm not sure how the HOA will feel about Late Bloomer which suggests that there might be something paranormal going on at those board meetings. Maybe the H stands for Hecate, instead of Home. 

It's fun, though, and I expect I will write other Shadow Hill stories in the future. I enjoy the intersection of the domestic and mundane with the otherworldly and strange. 

(check out the other posts in this blog hop via the link below): 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

IWSG--Holiday Catch Up

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: Joylene Nowell Butler, Chemist Ken, Natalie Aguirre, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine!

December 7 question - It's holiday time! Are the holidays a time to catch up or fall behind on writer goals?

This year Chanukah and Christmas intersect, which compacts my holiday season a bit (we celebrate both at la Casa Bryant). That's both nice and annoying. I think I like it best when Chanukah falls in early December and is complete before it's time to get ready for Christmas. It was really cool the year that Chanukah and Thanksgiving collided, but I think that only happens about every 7,000 years, so I probably won't see that again. 

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Now that my kiddos are a little more independent (at ages 15 and age 22), time off of the day job gives me more leisure time than it used to. I might be called upon to play Mom bus, or get an offer to go do something fun, but the kids can and do largely entertain themselves, giving me the chance to sneak off to my writing oasis and muck about in my world of words. 

An interesting shift here lately has been that I can't sleep past 8:00 a.m. no matter what (hurray? menopause!), but my kids don't want to do anything until after noon, which means I can get 3-4 hours without being asked for much--just dogs who want a walk and a husband who might distract me. I gotta say, it's pretty nice. 

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So for those of you struggling with younger kids and finding quiet time for writing, I'll offer that it has gotten easier with time. And for those of you who never had kids, I see what you meant about the freedom that affords! 

Assuming everyone stays healthy, I anticipate a little catch-up time this year, at least until the grandparents come to visit, then all bets are off! (But grandma and grandpa time is wonderful in its own right, so I'm not complaining). 

Here's hoping your holidays feed your creative life, too, and give you the right balance of family and "me" time. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Imaginary landscapes for my imaginary friends: An Open Book blog hop post

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.
Nov 28, 2022 Do you use real or fictional cities in your writing? How do you incorporate them into the story?

My Menopausal Superhero series takes place in an imaginary southern city, sort of an amalgam of several cities in the region. I made the decision not to use one particular real city because I didn't want to be limited by reality in that sense, or stuck researching things I don't know about a city. 

So, I invented Springfield and have avoided saying which state its in, though careful readers could see that must be somewhere around North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia because of the travel times to other real places that are mentioned in the series. 

I named it Springfield because I was after that "this could be anywhere" kind of feeling--there's a Springfield in 34 of the United States, and 58 of them worldwide. Most ensemble superhero stories seem to center around a particular city, and I wanted to have that same feeling, but set it someplace smaller than a New York City analogue like Gotham or Metropolis. 

I used a similar strategy for naming each of the Menopausal Superheroes. I decided what year she was born and looked up most popular baby names for that year. 

So, Patricia "Lizard Woman" O'Neill was born in 1955. 
Helen "Flamethrower" Braeburn was born in 1950.
Dr. Cindy Liu was born in 1946. 
Linda (later Leonel) "Fuerte" Alvarez was born in 1965. 
Jessica "Flygirl" Roark was born in 1980 (she went through menopause early, as a cancer survivor). 

All their very common names are intended to give an "everywoman" feeling to the characters. All the heroes had in common that lived in Springfield, which put them in contact with Dr. Liu--the mad scientist who started it all. 

Springfield is a medium-sized city, big enough to have urban parks and urban crime. Museums, theater, restaurants, and local monuments, but not likely to have a large tourist trade. Probably Springfield didn't make the news much until some of her citizens developed unusual abilities. 

So, that's my imaginary city. Do you like writing and reading stories that take place in real places? Or do enjoy made up places? Or like me, maybe you love both! I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

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Friday, November 25, 2022

My reading life since July

I started a new job in May. Not just a new job, a complete change in career, moving from classroom teaching to working mostly from home as a content strategist for a big financial company. 

Of course, that set everything else in my life topsy-turvy, too--from what time I get up in the morning, to when I do my creative writing, to what I eat for lunch, when and how I exercise, and of course, how much and what I read. 

Looks like I haven't written about my reading life since June! Unusual for me--since I usually do a monthly round-up of what I've been reading. 

As of today, I'm 2 books behind on my reading challenge (I always make a goal of 52 books a year, one per week).  Not too bad considering all the changes in my life. 

Screenshot from my Goodreads Reading Challenge 2022

I'm still reading primarily on audiobook (either on Audible or Chirp), on Kindle, or on audiobook with reference to the ebook edition, depending on whether I expect to want to take notes. Paper books continue to be difficult for me because of arthritis and eyesight. Another reason to love being a 21st century girl--my limitations don't have to constrain my reading. 

For a little while there, I was reading GIANT books. Partly, this is the fault of my First Monday Classics Book Club, which chose David Copperfield for August and Anna Karenina for October. We tend to do that--if the first Monday is a holiday, we don't meet that month, so this year we didn't meet on Independence Day or Labor Day. When we've got 2 months between meetings, we pick a tome. Each of these took me fully a month to read. 

Between those two tomes, I read one short one (The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle), one medium one (The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno Garcia), and yet another tome (The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish). 

Those three tomes were probably why my book count fell behind, but I'm really glad I read all three of them. The Weight of Ink was a work of historical fiction that pulled me into a world I had never really read about before, the immigration of Jews from Portugal to Amsterdam to London during the Inquisition, with fascinating main characters in both the past and present storylines. David Copperfield was a sweeping story of growing up poor and making something of one's self and Anna Karenina was a sweeping story of growing up rich and losing it all--proof that getting what you want isn't the same thing and finding happiness. 

The Ballad of Black Tom had been on my TBR for quite some time, having come highly recommended by several friends who also enjoy horror and dark fiction with a Lovecraftian bent. It was excellent. And I picked up The Beautiful Ones because I LOVED Mexican Gothic by the same author. It proved similarly atmospheric and lyrical, so I'll definitely be seeking out more by Silvia Garcia Moreno. 

I read more nonfiction than usual this fall. My daughter had read Rage Becomes Her by Soroya Chemaly as part of a summer course, and recommended it. Reading it led me to A Girl's Guide to Joining the Resistance by Emma Rose Gray. Both books speak to the rage that has taken over a lot of women in the past decade or so, as certain elements of our society have worked to squash the gains we have seen in civil and legal rights since my grandmother's day. If you're looking to channel the energy of your anger in helpful directions, you can find some ideas in these two books. 

Also in nonfiction, I read The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki. It's part of work-related book club I'm participating in (I know; I have a book club problem--I just love the experience of talking about books with other people who've read the same books SO MUCH).  I also started Atomic Habits and plan to pick up How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everyone and expect to finish those before the year endsAll three of these are part of my attempt to connect with my new colleagues and understand corporate thinking. Even if I find some of the thinking simplistic, I do find that they spark good conversations. 

I think I'm a hard sell when it comes to "self help" and related genres--my skepticism is sparked when the solutions are too easy, and I'm over fifty--so some of the ideas are old hat for me. Hardly as eye-opening as they think they are. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison was the November choice for First Monday Classics, which meant I was reading it in October. Very thematic. This was my third or fourth time reading the book and it's still harrowing. Truly one of the best ghost stories I've ever read. It was made even better this time as my audiobook was read by Morrison herself. 

I also picked Weep, Woman, Weep by Maria DeBlassie as a bit of seasonal reading for my neighborhood book club. It plays in the mythology of La Llorona, and I'd been interested in it since last fall when I participated in a reading for Strong Women, Strange Worlds with the author

I also was a guest at Multiverse in Atlanta, Georgia this October--with guest of honor Mary Robinette Kowal. 

I was already an admirer of Kowal's Lady Astronaut books (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, and The Relentless Moon). I was thrilled to get to meet her and participate in her Q&A (she talked about how her puppetry work feeds her writing and that was fascinating!). 

She described her newest release, The Spare Man, as "the Thin Man in space" and I was sold since I adore Nick and Nora Charles. 

I bought it before I left the con and started listening to it on the way home. Kowal also narrates her own work, and does beautiful voicework, so it was a real treat. 

Right as I finished that book was when I realized that I was behind on my reading challenge and started choosing short works that were already in my Audible library. So in short order (roughly one book per day), I read: 
All of them were well worth reading and left me thinking in different ways. I probably enjoyed Remote Control the most, and will probably spend the most time pondering Convenience Store Woman. 

So, that's where my reading time has gone since summer. How about yours? Anything I should add to my endless TBR? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Cats and Dogs and other unexpectedly contentious things: An Open Book blog hop post

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.
Nov 21, 2022 Big internet fight: Are you team cat or team dog? (or something else?)
People do like to squabble about silly things sometimes, don't they? I don't really have a side in this one, though. Currently, the non-human animals in my house include one snake and two dogs. But over the years, I have shared my home and my heart with a rabbit, four other dogs, some frogs, a hermit crab, a bunch of fish, and five cats (not all at the same time). I'm a grand-mum to my daughter's two cats. They've all had their good and bad qualities. 

I might lean slightly more toward dog-person than cat-person, but I think I would have both if they could get along together. No cats in my immediate future though, as the husband is allergic, and I like him more than I like cats. I'd love some more reptiles, and a goat if I had the yard for it. We'll see what the future holds. 

All in all, I feel pretty fortunate to have had animal love in my life. Pets have seen me through a lot of sadness and loneliness and brought even more joy to happy times in my life. They are better companions than many humans. 

I'll finish with a poem I wrote for the first dog I adopted in my adult life: Häagendog. 

A Woman Needs a Dog

A woman needs a dog

at times like these,

when she has watched too many sunsets alone

and, waking to an empty pillow

in the middle of the night,


Dogs understand

the desperation we all have

to be loved, how the need of love

can make you abase yourself

and be glad of the opportunity.  

A dog knows how oppressive

it can be to be alone,

yet how important it is

to be independent and strong. 

They appreciate that there is a time

to play in the sun, 

a time to sing to the moon,

and a time to rest your paws

on silken pillows

and wait.  They know

the beauty of indolence,

and the joy of comfort in their own skins. 

And a woman with a dog 

is never alone and never unloved.

Do you have a strong opinion about cats vs. dogs? Or just want to tell me about animals you've loved? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Dealing with feedback: An Open Book blog hop post

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.

Nov 14, 2022 How do you deal with negative feedback? Do you have tips for critiquing other writers’ work?

I value feedback on my work. 

I'm a part of two regular critique groups--one in person and one online--because having other eyes on my work is so helpful to solving the puzzle. I learn a lot, too, from providing feedback. Having to examine my own reactions and be specific about where I got lost or why a scene isn't working for me helps me avoid falling into those same pitfalls when it's my turn. 

That's feedback in a safe environment, though, with people I have long-term relationships with and where reciprocity necessitates kindness, or at least professionalism. 

There's also public feedback, in the form of reviews or social media comments. That's a completely different kettle of fish, and sometimes it really stinks. 

image source

I accepted long ago that my work isn't for everyone, but a lot of reviewers and commenters do seem to forget there's a person on the other end of that work. They can be belittling or accusatory in their critiques, so it's important to develop a thick skin and learn to sort the wheat from the chaff. 

There's a balance to be found, as there is in so many things, both in receiving and giving criticism. 

image source

When receiving it, I try to listen without pushback or oversensitivity, to allow for the possibility that the complaints are at least partly legitimate. This is easy with my critique partners, because we have long-established relationships, but hard with random members of the public, when it can feel like an attack, especially if you run across the comment unexpectedly. 

That's why I only wade in and read reviews periodically, and never if I'm already in the throes of self-doubt and low confidence. I do still read them though. I know some authors don't, but I watch for themes, so I can learn and make each book better than the one before it. 

image source

When I'm the one giving critique, I make sure I come with a heart to help. I think about how I would want to hear a critique and try to give my fellow writers the same consideration. Whether I'm writing a review or offering feedback in a writing group, I try to be fair and balanced, explaining any biases I have that color my view and pointing out what is done well as well as what didn't work for me. 

How do you handle giving and receiving critique in your life? What makes it easy or hard? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Check out the rest of the blog hop in the link below. 

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Monday, November 7, 2022

When Characters Text: An Open Book Blog Hop post

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: Nov 7, 2022 There don’t seem to be any universal rules for indicating texting in books and short stories. How do you handle it?

Texting hasn't really come up in my books that much so far, though I've seen it in other books, where entire pages of dialogue represent a text conversation. 

In my Menopausal Superheroes series, I've mentioned that texting is happening, but summarized the conversation rather than quoting it. I've used ordinary dialogue conventions for the few bits I've quoted fully, like so: 

From Going Through the Change, book 1

It's an interesting question. I've seen books that present it in imagery, so that the page actually looks like texting screen, like these superhero group chat memes (I love these things). 

It could get confusing though, if the formatting got jumbled when you moved from reading on paper to reading on a digital device or something, and I'm not sure how that would work at all in an audiobook. 

image source

But if it's just a few quotes, I think I'd still just write it out using ordinary dialogue conventions, but add something in the sentence to indicate that it's a text. Texting is definitely one of the most popular ways that people communicate here in the twenty-first century, so I'm sure some kind of standard will eventually be settled on to represent those conversations in books. 

Jane Austen never had to think about things like this! 

Do you have any opinions about how texting should be represented in books? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And don't forget to check out the other posts from my fine colleagues at Open Book via the link. 

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