My guest today has some very interesting stories to tell so I’m happy to introduce you to Samantha Bryant! First a glance at her bio and then we’ll dive right in.
Samantha Bryant teaches Spanish to middle schoolers. Clearly, she’s tougher than she looks. She writes The Menopausal Superhero series of novels, and other feminist leaning speculative fiction. When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys family time, watching old movies, baking, reading, gaming, walking in the woods with her rescue dog, and going places. She’s a Shakespeare nerd and a board game enthusiast, as well as a comic book reader and burgeoning houseplant whisperer. Her favorite gift is tickets (to just about anything).
Betty: How many books have you written and published?
Samantha: I have three published novels under my belt, all of them in the Menopausal Superhero series, which will, when complete, have five novels. Going Through the Change, the first of the series won a Jacquis from Legendary Women, which is a prize for feminist writing. I also have my shorter form work included in eleven anthologies, running the gamut from horror and superhero to nonfiction and romance.
I’ve written complete drafts of three other novels: a young adult book (Rat Jones and the Lacrosse Zombies), a historical women’s fiction book (Cold Spring, which is the first of a planned trilogy), and a women’s issues fiction work (His Other Mother). I’m always torn between going back and getting those books publication ready and making progress on my new work. I shelved a dystopian novel after working on it for a year because I found it too depressing and am currently writing a Gothic romance, The Architect and the Heir.
Betty: What genre(s) do you write in and why?
Samantha: I’m a Jill of all trades in that I like to dabble. One reason I enjoy writing short fiction is for the opportunity to play with something new, trying a new genre, point of view, or style without the commitment of a full-length novel. Trying something different gives me the chance to learn and grow. I do notice though, that all my work is women-centered, regardless of genre.
Betty: What themes or motifs did you use in your recent release and why were they important to your story?
Samantha: Face the Change, the third of the Menopausal Superhero series, is at its heart, a story about women’s friendship. The entire series has themes of aging and women’s experience. There are too few stories about women over thirty where the female characters have real agency. I find it surprising because my experience in life says just the opposite: women in middle age and beyond are formidable and fascinating. Focusing on these characters is my way of bringing those stories to the forefront.
The Menopausal Superheroes are coming out of the closet and the pressure is high, both on the job and on the homefront.
Now that he knows what it’s like to be a hero, Leonel “Fuerte” Alvarez can’t imagine going back to his former life as a grandmother and housewife. But putting his life on the line may cost him his husband even while he saves the city.
Jessica “Flygirl” Roark is holding on to her second chance at love with both hands while learning to balance single parenthood with her new career in crime-fighting.
Patricia “Lizard Woman” O’Neill is blindsided by an unexpected romance just as she signs on to join the team.
Meanwhile enemies old and new abound. When superpowers alone aren’t enough, what a woman really needs are her friends.
Betty: Do you have a specific place that you write? Revise?
Samantha: For the longest time, I just took my laptop with me wherever I was going. I wrote on the Mom couch at lessons, sitting in cafés, waiting in my car, standing in the kitchen, hiding in the bathroom, wherever I could find a little focus. But when my eldest daughter went to college, we reshuffled our house and now I have an office. It’s still a little hodge-podge, furnished with what I could beg, borrow, or steal, but it’s a space that’s all my own and that is making a HUGE difference in my productivity.
Betty: Do you have any writing rituals while you write? Did you have a special drink, or music, or time of day that you gravitated toward?
Samantha: Mostly, I write in the evening, after my school day, after supper and house responsibilities, and after giving my family whatever kind of support they need. On average, I get 1-2 hours per day. I begin with a cup of Tension Tamer tea, which is lovely and aromatic, but uncaffeinated, so I can drink it at night without messing up my sleep. Often, I write in silence, but if I’m feeling unfocused, classical music can help. I’m fond of Dvorak and Rimsky-Korsakov. I’ve trained myself well to this schedule and can usually get 800-2000 words in a session.
Since teaching has a seasonal aspect, this is reversed in the summer, when I begin with a walk and can usually get in a three hour writing session before my teen daughter wakes up.
Betty: What helped you move from unpublished to published? A mentor or organization or something else?
Samantha: I turned 42.
Since I’m a Douglas Adams fan, I knew from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that 42 is “the answer to life, the universe, and everything” so I took this as my cue to start taking my craft seriously after years as a hobbyist who would become a published author “someday.”
I’d already been working with a critique group for a few years, but this was when I committed to a daily writing habit (my daily writing chain is now six years long) though the Magic Spreadsheet and stopped letting myself wander off without finishing the projects I had begun. I took to heart Neil Gaiman’s simple but reliable advice: Write. Finish Things. Keep Writing.
No one was going to publish my starts and fits, no matter how brilliant they were, so I forced myself into better discipline and pushed through the hard parts. NaNoWriMo was a breakthrough for me as well, teaching me to plough onward and not stop so often to lose myself in research or overthink the moment, but trust instead to the editing and revision process to clean up my drafts into something suitable for a reader.
My participation in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and several online communities and groups for writers really helped. Writers can be so generous with their time and so willing to share the details of their own experience, trying to help those coming behind them.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest strength in your writing?
Samantha: Character creation. When I get compliments on my work, it is nearly always about the characters. Linda/Leonel Alvarez is a crowd favorite. When I’m writing, my characters become very real to me, almost as though they are actual people in my life. When it’s going very well, I feel as though I’m channeling the story rather than carving it from stone.
Betty: What comes first when you’re brainstorming a new story: setting, situation, characters?
Samantha: The first vision of a new story for me is usually a mix of character and situation. There’s a person experiencing a moment of some kind. Because I’m mostly a pantser, I sit down and write that and discover the rest of the context and layers as I go.
Betty: Do you have a structured time to write or is more fluid/flexible? Do you have to write between family obligations or do you set aside a block of time?
Samantha: I’m both rigid and fluid. I write every day, but when I write is structured around my job and my family obligations. During the school year, writing is usually the last part of my day before bed. During off-season for school, it’s usually the first thing I do upon waking. If I could have my ideal situation, I would give up my day job and write full time, but I’m not willing to wait to build my writing life until I can afford to retire, so I make this work.
I’m fortunate to have fantastic familial support. I get away for a retreat once a summer which is heaven on earth. It’s also become easier now that my daughters are older and more able to take care of more of their own needs.
Betty: What is one recent struggle you’ve experienced in your writing?
Samantha: Time is always my issue. At this stage of my career, I have opportunities that could easily fill full time hours: invitations to write something for a collection or publisher, events to participate in for promotion, and my own fictional endeavors. Unfortunately, my writing doesn’t yet bring in a full-time income. I’m always working to balance my creative life alongside my mundane one. I’m better at it some times than others.
Betty: Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?
Samantha: Not always. But I have. I find it really helpful when I’ve got a new project I want to jump start. I’m participating for the seventh time right now drafting The Architect and The Heir and I have won three times–one of those became my second published novel: Change of Life, book 2 of the Menopausal Superheroes series. Even in the years I didn’t make 50,000 words, I still felt like I won, though, because I made more progress than I would have without that external structure and support.
I enjoy the enthusiasm that surrounds NaNoWriMo. All that positive energy is fueling and energizing, and that’s just what I need in November when my school year is trying to kill me and the change in light is draining me.
Betty: What are you reading right now?
Samantha: I’m always reading several things at the same time.
I run a book club at my local library in partnership with another local author, The First Monday Classics Book Club, which, as the name suggests, discusses a classic novel on the first Monday of each month. Our next selection is Call of the Wild by Jack London, so I’m currently revisiting it. I first read it as a child, so it’s interesting to see how time and experience has changed it for me. Now, I’ve lived in Alaska myself, and shared my life with a husky dog, so it’s quite a different experience than when Alaska was as much of an alien setting as Mars.
I’m also beta reading a friend’s fantasy novel. Beta reading is different than other kinds of reading because I’m trying to analyze it more deeply as I read so I can provide feedback and help the author make the book better. Of course, now that I write, it can be just as hard to turn off that critical eye when I’m supposed to be reading for pleasure.
Between these, I’m sneaking some strictly-for-pleasure reading. I subscribe to Fireside, a literary magazine, and I’m behind on enjoying those issues. As I move graphic novels and writing related books to my office from the rest of the house, I keep falling into those stories as well.
Really, a perfect day would be 30% reading 40% writing and 20% eating with the other 10% spent outside in the sunshine.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Samantha: Today, I’m going to say Gothic romance and mystery, but that’s probably because I’m steeped in it right now for my own project. I also love historical fiction, science fiction, memoir, biography, informational nonfiction, comic books, poetry, classics, and so much more! It might be shorter to make a list of what I don’t like to read: technical manuals and literary fiction with testosterone poisoning.
Betty: What are your keeper books? How often might you reread them?
Samantha: Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle has always had a place on my shelves since I first read it as an older child. I revisit it every few years. I open my Emily Dickinson at least monthly, always finding delight and inspiration in those pages.
There are others I keep and would never part with, but don’t often re-read like my copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott or A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Sometimes beloved childhood reads don’t hold up the same way when read as an adult and I’m cautious about spoiling my nostalgia, though I do also love the chance to revisit these with my daughter when she has an interest. We read Little House in the Big Woods together last year, and both enjoyed its sweetness alongside the font of information about frontier life from a child’s point of view.
Betty: When you’re writing, do you read in the same genre as your work in progress or something else?
Samantha: Not usually while I’m writing, but in the lead-up period, while I’m thinking my way through a new project, I steep myself in the genre. I want to be well read within any genre I’m trying to write, so I understand the reader expectations and can choose when to make use of tropes and when to flout them to great effect. A good third of the reading I do while I’m actively writing is nonfiction on topics related to the time period or plot elements of my project.
Betty: Do you have a “day job” or do you write full time?
Samantha: Boy do I have a day job! I teach middle school Spanish, seven classes a day, four different lesson plans. Even though it’s difficult, juggling my teaching, writing, and family lives, I take joy in each. I’m one of those greedy women who wants it all. When I do retire from teaching, I’ll miss it.
Betty: What do you wish readers knew about the publishing industry?
Samantha: The time constraints. I don’t think many readers understand how much time actually passes between “I have an idea” and “you can buy my published book here.” I’m so pleased when someone likes my work and is anxious to read more, but it does take time, and if you’re traditionally published, some of the timetable isn’t in your control.
Betty: What advice do you have for new writers?
Samantha: Start building your community now. Find a critique or support group. Attend local literary events and start building a circle of colleagues and friends who write. Surrounding yourself with creative people at all stages of career is a great way to learn and grow, and when you’re ready to put your work out there, they’ll be your most ardent cheerleaders. Writers are among the most generous and helpful people I know!
Betty: Any hints of what your next writing project might be?
Samantha: My next novel will be a gothic romance, working title The Architect and The Heir. I began writing it this summer and I’m hopeful of finishing the first draft in late 2019 or early 2020. I’ve also got a collection of short stories I’m hoping to release as my first all indie project in 2020. Stories from Shadow Hill is a set of thirteen weird tales (think Twilight Zone for feel) all set in a suburban neighborhood suspiciously like the one I live in. After that, I’m back to my Menopausal Superheroes. Falstaff Books has contracted me for three novellas in 2020 and the fourth and fifth novels in 2021 and 2022, so it’s time to get cracking!
Thanks, Samantha, for stopping by today! It sounds like you’ve got your hands full for the next few years. Thanks for sharing about your stories and your writing process, too.
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