Tuesday, May 26, 2015

May Author Interview: Samantha Bryant

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I met Samantha Bryant through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Insecure Writers Support Group. It’s a delight when you get to know someone and find that they have a book for you to read. Check out her website HERE. Believe me, I love Going Through the Change.

Here’s my Goodreads review:

Going Through the Change
is chock full of black humor that skewers the twin notions that menopausal women aren't as good as younger women and that menopause is a disease that must be treated. Bryant's ladies are superheroes. Read this one if you are postmenopausal, peri-menopausal, or a long way from "the change."

ZM: It’s a delight to welcome Samantha to The Shade. ;-)
Tell us, Samantha, where did the idea come from to make all these wonderful menopausal characters so heroic and funny?

Samantha: Thanks so much for inviting me. I enjoy your blog and am excited to be here.

This novel started as a conversation with my husband. We're both superhero fans, the kind of folks who read comic books and graphic novels and watch superhero shows and movies. I don't remember why now, but we were talking about how so many superhero stories are about teenagers, the implication being that hormones and superpowers are intertwined. So, I said that if hormones caused superpowers, menopausal women would be the most powerful people on the planet. He said, "Write that down!" And I did.

Once I started talking about the idea with my writer friends (mostly women), the story really started to take shape in my mind and I fell in love with the characters. I'm working on a sequel with them right now, and I still love these women. I think they are heroic and funny, too, just like many of the women in my life.

ZM: How did you start writing? Tell us a bit about your journey to publication.

Samantha: My love of writing is life-long, starting with poetry in first grade. There's never been a time in my life since when I didn't write, though my level of dedication really varied, and what I wrote changed over time, from poetry and plays to stories and essays to journals to blogs and novels. I first took myself seriously as a writer though, starting about two years ago. That was when I committed to a daily writing habit and starting finishing, polishing, and submitting my work to publishers.

When Going Through the Change was ready to be submitted, I had already been shopping around another novel (which still hasn't found a publishing home) for about a year and a half. I was frustrated with the glacial slowness of the business, where you can wait six months for a simple "no", and was researching indie publishing, thinking it might be a good fit for me. Somewhere in that process, I ran across the idea of an "independent small publisher."

The idea of working with a small publisher really appealed to me, and the more I looked into it, the more I liked what I saw. You don't generally get advances with small publishers, but you get a higher percentage of the sales in royalties. Depending on the particular publisher, you can still get some of the advantages of traditional publishing, too, like having marketing experts to help you and professional cover design and editing.

I found Curiosity Quills in particular through an online connection with another writer who had published a book with them. So far, I've had a very positive experience working with CQ and am hopeful for the future.

ZM: You and I are both in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. What’s your definition of the genre? I know my stories are more social issue focused. There’s historical WF and literary WF. I could go on and on listing the various flavors. Why do you think Women’s Fiction is such a “big tent”?

Samantha: It really is a tricky genre to define! It includes serious literary work, issues driven dramatic stories, and lighter fare you might call "chick lit" as well as historical stories. I consider my superhero novel women's fiction, too, though some don't agree, since it is also speculative fiction (yet another nebulous category!). I think what really makes a story women's fiction is that it features female characters with a strong growth or change arc. Going Through the Change, by that definition, is assuredly women's fiction.

In my more feminist moments, I am troubled by the need for women's fiction as a category at all. After all, there isn't a parallel category for men. I waffle though. Genre designations are really intended to help readers more than writers.  It's a way of defining what kinds of books you like to read so you can find more of that kind of book. So, if these categories help us find readers, then writers probably shouldn't complain about them.

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Samantha: My favorite author these past few years has pretty consistently been Neil Gaiman. I love the magic wonder of the worlds he writes in and his unflinching honesty in the face of all the ambiguities of his characters and their decisions. It doesn't hurt that he also just has a lovely turn of phrase. in all his work. He's the only writer I automatically order every new book from.

I'm not sure I have one favorite genre, though. I'm a pretty omnivorous reader. For instance, some of my most recent reads are Wilkie Collins's gothic melodrama The Woman in White, the science-fiction classic Ringworld by Larry Niven, Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, Cary Elwes's memoir As You Wish and a collection of apocalyptic short stories called The End is Now. Right now I'm reading The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin, which is a nonfiction biography of Nelly Turnan, the long time lover of Charles Dickens and a collection of superhero short stories called The Good Fight. Sometimes I don't even know what drew me to a book. I find a lot of them through serendipity or the recommendation of friends. I'm in two book clubs because I love being led to books that I wouldn't otherwise find on my own.

ZM: What are you working on now? Any plans to let us read it soon? I know we can all do with a bit of humor or any story you want to tell.

Samantha: I've got a few irons in the fire right now. I've got short stories slotted for two upcoming anthologies. I'm working with an acquisitions editor on Cold Spring, the first of a historical fiction trilogy about two sisters at the turn of the twentieth century and am hopeful that we'll have a contract soon. I'm on the final rewrite of Change of Life, the second book in the Menopausal Superheroes series, and hope to send it off to the publisher by the end of this month.  I also have a middle grades novel, Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies, that I'm planning to get back to this summer, along with some short stories and a novella for my superheroes. I've got so many stories I want to tell!

There's a movement on Google Plus under the #saturdayscenes hashtag that I participate in every Saturday, sharing a piece of what I've written during the week before. Following me there is a great way to see what I'm working on as it progresses. I post the pieces on Google Plus, on my Facebook author page, and on Twitter.

ZM: Thank you for dropping by Into the Shade of the Cherry Tree, Samantha! I can’t wait to read some more of your stories.

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day, and a novelist and wife and mother by night. In other words, she's a superhero all the time!

Samantha Bryant believes in love, magic, and unexplainable connections between people. Her favorite things are lonely beaches, untamed cliff tops, sunlight through the leaves of trees, summer rains, and children's laughter. She has lived in many places, including rural Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Vermont, England and Spain. She is fierce at heart, though she doesn't look it.

She's a fan of Charlotte Brontë, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Neil Gaiman, Nicole Perlman, and Joss Whedon, among many others. She would like to be Amy Tan when she grows up, but so far it doesn't look like she'll be growing up any time soon.

Samantha writes blogs, poems, essays, and novels. Mostly she writes about things that scare or worry her. It's cheaper than therapy. Someday, she hopes to make her living solely as a writer. In the meantime, she also teaches middle school Spanish, which, admittedly, is an odd choice for money-earning, especially in North Carolina.

When she's not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys time with her family, watching old movies, baking, reading, and going places. Her favorite gift is tickets (to just about anything).

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

5 Mini Book Reviews for May: L. McMaster Bujold, R. Carr, S. Srock, M. Trapp, A. Wisler

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Here's your monthly installment of the Mini Book Reviews. Enjoy!

THE CURSE OF CHALION Lois McMaster Bujold: Fantasy

Lois McMaster Bujold proves again that she is a master storyteller. The Curse of Chalion is one of the best introductions to a new world I've ever read. Cazarile is a fully realized character whose story will hook you and hold you long after you finish. This is a Must Read! 

 THE HOUSE On OLIVE STREET Robyn Carr: Women's Fiction
This story is an amazing  examination of the journeys of five women. After the death of the woman who brought these women, all writers, together, they have to examine her life and theirs. Lovely read.

CALLIE Sharon Srock: Christian Women's Fiction

The deceptively simple style allows the hearts and souls of the characters to shine through and reveals the truth at the center of everything.

THE TRAPP FAMILY SINGERS Maria Augusta Trapp: Biography

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the glorious musical, I reread Maria Augusta Trapp's biography of an amazing family. I first read this in junior high and it is even better now. 

UNDER THE SILK HIBICUS Alice Wisler: Historical Fiction

I found the book to be a deep dive into a setting I had only passing knowledge of. Nathan’s story and the view Alice gives of his Japanese American culture is so vivid, you’ll be captured immediately.  Read this book!

Next Week: Author Interview ;-)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Momma Had Words With Me

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I know what you're going to say...This isn't Tuesday! But once you read the following, you won't care. It is Mother's Day and what would be better than the following essay. ;-)

Me, Momma, My brother, and sister--July 2012
 My Momma Had Words With Me

      I don’t know if it’s true anywhere else, but in the South, to “have words with” someone means to fuss, argue, or reprimand. My momma had another purpose for having words with me, for me, and around me. We didn’t discuss why people read or why it was important. My siblings and I just read. The power, magic, and glory of words surrounded us. No lectures were needed. No punishment was forthcoming to make us read. It was second nature to read. After all, our parents read in front of us every day. Momma focused on fiction while Daddy read the newspaper, biographies, and his professional journals.
      So, it was all Momma’s fault that my father-in-law was shocked when my daddy built bookshelves that covered half the walls in our study from the floor to ten-foot ceiling. With wide eyes, he said, “No one has that many books!”

      My husband shrugged. “She does. Everyone in her family does.” He knew there would be no wasted space in our study.
      It was Momma’s fault that we take delight in words. She gave us no choice in the matter. From the time we were toddlers, we all had library cards and joined the summer reading program at the regional library branch in our home town. Every week, we checked out five books.
All the librarians knew us by name.
      How do you feed a growing reading habit? Momma knew. She made sure there were books to read that challenged us. She made reading more books fun and expected. When our abilities to read outstripped our ages and we needed bigger, more complex books, Momma checked out adult books for us on her own library card. As the school librarian at my elementary school, she found harder and harder books for me to read when I had read everything at the lower levels. I clearly remember reading
Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson in the fifth grade. It was my first adult novel and I’ll never forget holding the large book and being carried away into the Southwest by the words.
      In time, my siblings and I found our own preferred genres. When given a list of three hundred books for college-bound students in the 1960’s, we attacked it from different angles. The fact that the complete works of Shakespeare and the great Greek historians were available in our home, made it easy to get started. My sister loves literature. My brother has a taste for biography, science, history, and true life adventure books. I read history, fiction of all types, and poetry.
      As voracious readers, we are the people who keep bookstores—large, small and online—in business. We are the people who always have up-to-date library cards. Our to-be-read lists of new books and old favorites are extensive. None of us is bored as long as there is something to read. And that isn’t likely to happen if we live a thousand years.
      It’s Momma’s fault that there is a longstanding family joke about the end of civilization. If an asteroid or other near extinction event occurred, our combined libraries would form the basis for restarting science, math, history, and literature. We could quickly raise man’s knowledge back to its former heights.
      The majesty and beauty of the words I grew up with created the desire to shape and form my own stories, to create new adventures, new people to meet, and new places to go. Momma encouraged me. She kept the poetry I wrote as an eight year old. Her simple acceptance made no obstacle insurmountable. Her faith that I could do anything I wanted allowed me to experiment and try different styles. She not only taught me to love words, but the persistence it takes to shape, order, and arrange them in coherent ways. When she gave me the love of words, she gave me the tools to accomplish what I desired to do. She gave me the ability to tell stories that soothes hurts, inspires challenges, and entertains. My mother gave me life—physically, mentally, and emotionally. She gave me dreams and encouraged me to strive to reach for them. My mother gave me words to share and the persistence to achieve the dream of being a writer. She still encourages me to write and inspires me with her own voracious reading.
      Thank you, Momma, for having words with me. I love you.

Next Week: May Mini Book Reviews ;-)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

IWSG: Fail Big

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Insecure Writers Support Group
 Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

The awesome co-hosts for the the May 6 posting of the IWSG will be Eva Solar, Melanie Schulz, Lisa-Buie Collard, and Stephen Tremp!

It's been said that Michael Jordan counseled his fellow players to play big and screw up big. If they played timidly for fear of the mess-ups, they'd stop playing. 

I think writing is the same way. If you don't try to go for the gold, you'll settle for sand. If you don't try to write a query or a synopsis, for fear that you'll fail, you will most assuredly fail. So instead of trying to protect ourselves from failure, we'll get nothing done, nothing finished.

I know I've looked all the things I need to do to get my MS ready for querying, and I get really discouraged. Look at all the ways I can Fail Big! But I'm going to Play Big. If I crash and burn, I'll have learned what not to do.


  • Finish the story
  • Polish the story
  • Get beta reader input
  • Polish again and again if necessary
  • Write synopses and queries
  • Research agents who might be interested in the story
  • Etc. 
There's a lot on this list that could be epic fails, but I'm going to Play Big.

So what are you going to do to Play Big? I promise I'm interested in what you have planned. ;-)