Monday, December 18, 2023

From idea to story, 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.

Describe your steps for moving from a story idea to a finished story.


Ideas are never my problem. I have several a day. But some of them will never be anything more than a passing fancy, a clever quip, a "what if?" 

I'm sure I've lost some ideas that could've become something because the idea came at an inconvenient moment (while cooking, in the middle of a work meeting, during the night) and I didn't pin it down, but I don't worry too much over those because I'll have other ideas. 

image source

Some ideas are special though. You have a little thought and it persists. It keeps coming back around and poking you in the brain. Like "hey, hey, hey." 

The initial inspiration for my Menopausal Superhero series was like that. It just kept flitting back into my thoughts, like some part of brain had been noodling on it all this time, even though I was in the middle of writing a completely different novel at the time.

Getting from idea to a story takes a lot of forms for me. Since I've been under contract for a novel series these past few years, I don't always have the freedom to follow a new idea right at the moment I have it--there are deadlines, after all. 

So if I really like the idea, I try to pin it down so I can come back to it later--send myself a text, keep a voice memo, use the notes app on my phone to capture a paragraph or two. Mostly, this works for me and I'm able to pick up the idea at a later time, months or even years later. I do come back and pick those up a lot of the time, but not always.

image source

Sometimes, though, I'm too distracted by the idea to focus elsewhere. It's TOO persistent. In those cases, I've been known to give in, and follow the new idea through a few pages or even a whole draft (if it's an idea that is poem, article, or short-story sized, as opposed to book-sized. That's probably not good for finishing the novel--I have that ADD tendency to want to follow the "new shiny" all the time, and I have to discipline myself to keep my focus in one place long enough to finish. But, it's a balance and mostly I do okay at finding it. 

There is sometimes a talking phase for me. My husband is my sounding board for a lot of these. 

We'll be driving or out walking somewhere and I'll say, "I have an idea." 

He'll say, "What's it going to cost us?" 

I think he's relieved when my idea is for a story I want to write and not for a room I want to remodel. He always has some good questions, and his initial response helps me figure out if the idea might appeal to readers or not. 

Once I've picked an idea to focus on though, I'm pretty dogged. Years of managing my "squirrel brain" has taught me how to make myself zero in and commit. 

I'm not a planner in my writing though. On that planner to pantser spectrum of writing, I'm dangerously close to being out in public without any pants. So, to my writer friends who are outliners, my process looks like I'm just flailing around, I'm sure. 

It works for me though. 

While I'm focused on a particular project, I have a rule that I have to touch it every day, even if it's just to re-read and think about it for a while. That keeps me moving steadily forward, and lets my subconscious work on it while I'm handle the mundanities of life. I write every day; I make steady progress; eventually, I get there. 

I have a regular critique group and I rely on their input to let me know when I'm done--when the story on the page works for the reader. Then, I start the publication cycle--research, submission, revision (sometimes), rinse and repeat until successful. 

So far, all my work is traditionally published, in that I submit it to a publisher who accepts it or doesn't and the process follows their procedures from there, but I do have plans for some all-indie projects in the future and I'm looking forward to figuring all that out. 

How about you? What decides which of your ideas makes it to fruition? Do you have a backlog you hope to get to someday? I'd love to hear about in the comments. 

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Monday, December 11, 2023

Top 5 of 2023, 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.

Tell us the top five best things that have happened to you in the past year. (Focus on writing, but other things are allowed)


I'm not sure these are in order, but here are five great things about my 2023 in writing: 

1. Day job success: 

This might seem off topic for a post about my writing successes, but my day job as a content strategist at a big financial company (a new career which I started in May of 2022) is going well. I like the work, but it doesn't drain me dry like teaching did. It pays better, too, which alleviates some stress. 

And all of that makes for a better writing life. It's hard to focus on your imaginary friends if you're worried about feeding your real family, after all. 

2. Convention time feeds my inspiration and energy

I went to several conventions and events this year, promoting my published work, networking, and just enjoying feeling successful and just a little bit famous. My work sold well at several of these, and I got to participate in some great panel discussions, and meet a few writing world celebrities. 

Highlights include having someone who had not read my work before buy the $100 omnibus edition of the Menopausal Superhero series (what a show of faith!), talking with horror author Gabino Iglesias about Puerto Rico and parenting while writing while we shared a signing table, and visiting the Poe Museum with Esther Friesner, a comedic fantasy author known for Chicks in Chainmail. 

In front of the Poe Museum with writing friends

Now that I've been doing "the con circuit" for eight years, I've got this whole family of writer friends and it's a joy to get time to spend with them a few times a year. 

3. Travel! Puerto Rico, Beach, PNW

The opportunity to travel is one of the great joys of my life and I had three lovely trips this year: to Puerto Rico with all the Bryants (including the elder daughter's partner), to the beach with my youngest kiddo and a few of their best friends for birthday aquarium fun, and to the Seattle area of Washington with my mom to visit my sister. That's a lot for one year!

The family in a park in PR

Travel always sets my brain and spirit alight, and that's got to be good for my wordsmithing. I wouldn't be at all surprised if El Yunque or the beach or Rattlesnake Lake shows up in something I write soon. 

4. Two new publications

I didn't publish a lot this year--my focus has been on the series-ending novel for the Menopausal Superheroes series, which hasn't left me much time to focus on submitting short stories or writing other new pieces. So, I was pleased as punch to still manage to get two new stories into anthologies this year!

My new anthologies!

You can read "The New Guy" a bit of science fiction set on an off-world botany lab in Breaking Free, an anthology from my critique group and "The Other Jack" a horror piece with urban legend vibes in Tangle & Fen from Crone Girls Press, a small feminist horror press I've had the pleasure of working with several times now. 

If you check them out, remember to leave a review! More reviews = more visibility, even if they are brief. 

5. Progress on that series-ending novel

The first Menopausal Superhero novel, Going Through the Change, came out in 2015 and I've been writing in that universe ever since, seeing three more novels, two novellas, and a collection of shorts into the world, as well as that omnibus edition I was telling you about. 

I love my heroes, and have enjoyed writing these action-adventure-comedy-women's fiction books, but it's time to move on to other projects, so I'm also happy to be wrapping it up. 

But writing a series-ender is a different sort of writing task than writing "the next one" and it's taken me longer than the others. I feel like I'm near the end now, though, and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to share the finished series with you in 2025! (That seems far away, but it'll also go quickly, I know). 

It'll be the end of an era, and I'm hoping to celebrate with a big publication party and maybe a book tour. We'll see what me and my publisher come up with :-)


So, that's my year in words. I hope 2023 was kind to you as well, giving you a lot to feel grateful for as the year comes to an end. Don't forget to check out the other posts in this blog hop and leave me a comment letting me know how your 2023 went. 

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The Perils of Book Reviews, an IWSG 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 December 6 posting of the IWSG are C. Lee McKenzie, JQ Rose, Jennifer Lane, and Jacqui Murray!

December 6 question: Book reviews are for the readers. When you leave a book reviews do you review for the Reader or the Author? Is it about what you liked and enjoyed about your reading experience, or do you critique the author?

I've been a reader a lot longer than I've been a writer, at least the kind of writer who finishes and publishes things. And I LOVE talking about books with other readers. (We should talk sometime about my addiction to book clubs). 

Reviews, for me, are a way to talk about books with other readers. So my format is generally to set a little context (how I came to choose this book to read, my past relationship with the author, what format I consumed it in, etc.), briefly say what I enjoyed and if anything put me off, and include a statement of what kind of reader I think would enjoy the book. 

For example, here's a review I wrote of The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias, an author and educator I once shared a signing table with at a convention and have a cordial social media friendship with, but whom I can't claim to know well on a personal level. 

See? I try to let my fellow readers know what they're in for, so they can decide if this is a book for them, a little better informed than they might be by just looking at the promotional materials.

Now, as a writer, I'm cautious when it comes to reviewing books by living and not-yet-A-list authors. Not everyone takes criticism well, and more than a few writers have been known to seek vengeance on those who dare not to like something they've written. (Sad, but true). I'm never trying to critique the writer as a person, but some folks have trouble separating themselves from their book babies. 

Generally, I won't review the book at all if I didn't like it at least at a three-star level. I know the struggle of getting reviews and how a 2-star can tank your average when you've only got 5 reviews in total. I'm not going to be the one to tank your average just because your book wasn't for me. 

It's tricky, too, because I'm networking with some of these folks, so I don't want to burn any bridges or raise any ire. I'd rather just not write a review than write a disingenuous one, though. I have a certain level of integrity as a reviewer that won't let me praise a book unless I actually enjoyed it. 

[Small rant to follow] In fact, Amazon won't let me review any more--and won't give me a reason or respond to any of my queries about the block. My best guess is that I reviewed books by people I know because that's how building a career grows--I'm going to connect with and get to know other authors, and I'm going to read their work and have opinions about it. Not being allowed to review there is bullcrap, IMHO, but SO MUCH about Amazon's business practices is bullcrap even if it's my best option to date [Rant over]

I'm so grateful to the folks who have taken a moment to leave some stars and thoughts about my own books. 

First off, they read them! How freaking cool is that? 

And then, they cared enough to comment and help other readers determine if my books are for them. Awesomesauce. 

I'm even grateful for the low reviews, because sometimes a low review will show a reader that what that other reviewer hated is exactly what they might love about a book. 

How about y'all? Do you write reviews? Do you read them when you're deciding what books to try? What do you want out of a book review? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. (And don't forget this is a blog hop--go see what some of my colleagues in IWSG have to say about the topic today, too). 

Monday, December 4, 2023

Teacher-Writer-Mom, 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.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 


I'm that rare and odd creature: the person who became what they said they were going to be when they were a kid. I would occasionally flirt with other ambitions, catching an enthusiasm from a book or a movie. There was my brief affair with archaeology, and my short-lived interest in law, but I always circled back to the trinity: 


I was about 5 when I decided I was going to be a teacher, a writer, and a mom. I announced it to my family at a holiday party. Everyone nodded sagely and went back to their cigarettes (it was the 70s). 

I loved school, books, and kids, so it seemed like a no-brainer to me. Of course, my vision of what being any of things was like was, well, less than accurate. I had no idea how overwhelming all three of those roles can be individually, let alone wrapped up into a single person-sized package. 

I imagined that teachers got paid to play with kids, that writers got paid to make up stories. I knew moms didn't get paid, but they still got to hang out and play with kids all day, so it couldn't be all bad. I'd have plenty of money from teaching and writing, right?

With that childish understanding of money and time, I assumed I'd have a lovely country estate with a tower room to write in and someone tending my garden and horses, and plenty of energy to handle all of these things. 

But I did do them all…eventually. 

Just not all three of them at the same level all the time. 

I got my first teaching job fresh out of college and continued to teach for 27 years before I left the career for something less stressful and more lucrative (I'm a Content Strategist for a big financial company now). 

I had my first kid when I was in my late twenties, and started to scale back my teaching a little. I volunteered for fewer extras, streamlined to try to lessen the amount of work I took home every night. But then I was doing two of the three: teaching and momming. Sometimes I wrote. 

I had my second kid in my mi-thirties. I scaled back my teaching even more. I gave up teaching English and began teaching beginning Spanish which had a lighter paper grading load and could more easily be forced to stay within working hours only, if I was disciplined. Sometimes I wrote

Throughout all those years, I always wrote, off and on, when the mood hit me, when I could steal the time and focus. But it took me a while to get around to finishing and publishing things, in part because of teaching and momming. There are, after all, only the 24 hours a day. 

But I started taking it seriously when I was 42. And that was another rebalancing, taking time for myself, and negotiating space for a writing life with my career and family. I guess I'd built up a head of steam, though, because once I committed and focused, I got my first book contract with two years, and I've worked steadily ever since. 

Here we are 10 years later, and I've got 41 titles to my name, counting all the editions: everything from short stories included in anthologies, to novellas, to novels, and even a poem or two. 

My Amazon page

I did it y'all: I'm a teacher-writer-mom, even if I technically don't teach for a living anymore. 

How about you? What did you imagine for your adult self when you were a child? Is that what happened? 

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