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 #smileaday Breakthroughs. 
 
lightbulbOne of my favorite things about teaching is being there when someone has a breakthrough, when you can see the light bulb go off over their head, just like in a cartoon, and feel like you helped to power that light bulb. 
 
I teach for a local community college from time to time. This semester's class is called "Finish Your Novel" and is part cheerleading, part feedback, and part advice about building a writing life that lets you finish things. 
 
Today, I shared a plantser (half pantser, half plotter) outlining/structuring technique I've been using and the response was heartening. Looks like I'm not the only person this approach might help. One student announced that she was super excited to get back to writing now and try this out!
 
It's good to feel like you helped someone move forward. Super good. I still feel all glowy. 
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 #bookeveryweek Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. 
 
fahrenheit 451 book coverThough I've long been a fan of Mr. Bradbury's short stories, I hadn't ever read this, arguably his most famous book. I'm sorry to have to say I didn't like it that much. 
 
The ideas behind the story are familiar Bradbury territory: the dangers of reliance on technology, the de-humanization of people, the hard-won lesson, the importance of thinking for yourself. I'm a bleeding heart liberal myself, a supporter of education and considered thought, so I like the ideas. That's not the problem. 
 
But what works in short form is not as great longer for, at least not in this case. One of the things I've always appreciated about his short stories is the unapologetic and straightforward earnestness and sincerity. Especially now, when everything seems so damn ironic and cynical all the time, impressed with its own cleverness, reading Ray Bradbury can feel like a breath of fresh air. But in this book, I found that directness came off ham-fisted. Clumsy even. No subtlety. No build. 
 
In a longer work, I expected to delve deeper into the characters, but I didn't find it. Montag was a man who did things, but it was never clear to me why. Why did talking to Clarisse affect him so deeply? There was nothing in their conversation that sparkled enough to make me see what he apparently saw, nothing life-changing. He was taking some terrible risks, but even he didn't seem to understand his own motivations. 
 
I understood that Millie, Montag's wife, was supposed to illustrate what a society without books and genuine interactions could do to a person, but she was so vapid as to be only a caricature. She was a sketch only, exhibit A: cautionary tale. None of the complexity that even a shallow character needs to feel real and to be emotionally affecting. 
 
Given that the book has so few female characters (Clarisse, Millie and Millie's friends), it's sad that they are used only to illustrate a point and not explored with any depth. We don't see any civilian men painted as similarly ruined by this society, so it plays into some 1950s gender politics that just didn't age well. 
 
There are some highly quotable lines if you're looking for that kind of thing, but they feel stilted to me in the context of the story, like the characters are merely mouthpieces for the moral of the story rather than people I can care about. 
 
Sorry, Ray. I'm sorry this is the work people have heard of. It's not your best work. 
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 #samanthascenes #saturdayscenes I've been playing around with a short story this week. It's not titled yet, but I'm hoping it will turn out to be a good fit for an anthology +Dave Higgins is putting together (details here: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/submission-calls/call-for-submissions-fears-of-a-clown/) Here's a taste of what I've written so far: 
_________________________________________
 
“CREEPY CLOWN HAUNTS LOCAL PLAYGROUND.” The headline screamed across the page in 20 point gothic font. Maggie snorted. _This hogwash was news? Honestly!_ Across the breakfast table, her husband looked up from his phone. “What?”
 
Maggie turned her newspaper so he could view the lurid headline. “A little over the top, don’t you think?” 
 
Her husband reached for the paper and she let him take it, picking up her coffee and taking a sip. It was still a little too hot and burned her upper lip. She touched the sore place with her fingertip. Not too bad. It probably wouldn’t even redden that much. George always did make the coffee superheated. She joked it was because his heart was just that cold. This is what it took to defrost him. 
 
He was back on his phone now, apparently in an active chat. She sighed, wondering why she bothered to get out of bed to have breakfast with him anymore. It wasn’t like they talked. They might as well be two strangers on the bus. Maybe it would be better when he retired too here in a couple more years. Maybe it would be worse. Time would tell. 
 
Suddenly, George stood. “I’m going to have to go,” he said, shoving his arms through his suit-jacket sleeves. He knocked his phone onto the floor. 
 
Maggie glanced at the clock as she moved to pick it up for him. It was still only 6:30. “So early?”
 
George took a gulp from his still steaming mug, unfazed by the tongue-searing heat. “Things are already on fire over there.” 
 
Maggie held out the phone, startled to see a group chat labeled “Gleemen.” The last message said, “EMERGENCY. Here. Now.” _What was the man up to?_ 
 
 George pocketed the device, leaned over and gave her kiss on the cheek, lips still warm from the coffee. “Lunch today?”
 
Maggie nodded, pulling her bathrobe tight around her. 
 
As soon as George was out of the house, Maggie went to the bedroom and pulled on her retirement uniform of yoga pants and a voluminous blouse, ran a comb through her gray and brown mop of hair, and grabbed her purse. _What in the world were Gleemen?_ 
 
Crackpot theories went through her head. She’d heard stories about women her age finding out they’d been living a lie all these years, that their husbands have secret lives they’ve known nothing about. Mistresses. Gay lovers. Shady business ventures. Dark hobbies. She had to know what George was doing. It was the surest way to shut down her hyperactive imagination.
 
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
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 #smileaday Just heard from my new publisher (Falstaff Books) that we've got a narrator and are moving forward on audiobooks for my Menopausal Superhero books. Given that over half of my own reading is done in audiobook format these days, I'm so very very very excited about this!
audiobook image
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 #smile a day False spring.
 
The dog and I made it out for a walk in daylight again today. That's getting easier to do, because daylight is lasting a bit longer. We saw daffodils today. I feel bad for the daffodils, because they're probably going to die quickly since they bloomed before it's really spring, but they also made me very happy with their burst of yellow in the winter-browned woods. 

daffodils in false spring
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 #smileaday When your students missed you. 
 
I was absent from school for two days which is middle school terms is something like a month. Substitute teaching a thankless job, and many substitutes aren't there because of their love of children or your subject matter. That said, to all appearances, my substitutes were competent and kind, but the kids still prefer their own teacher. Me. 
 
My return was straight out of Miss Nelson Is Missing. I hope the second honeymoon lasts out the week :-)

miss nelson is missing cover
 
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#smileaday Reading on a rainy day. 
 
I'm still at home with my sick youngin' and today was bleak and gray and featured a cold rain that made me glad I didn't have to venture out. I read a lot, which is just what such days are for. 

reading in the window while it rains 
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#bookeveryweek Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.


cover Trail of LightningMaggie Hoskie is a wonderfully complicated character at the center of an epic struggle with cosmic implications. A fast and engaging read that left me wanting more without leaving me unsatisfied with the ending of this first book in the series. I hope it continues well!


The best part:  a woman character with tragedy in her past who is realistically impacted by that and who grows through her relationships with others without finding that love is a miracle cure. Maggie is functioning in a difficult world despite her pain when the story begins and I found myself cheering for her from the get-go, hoping that she'd find her way to a better and fuller life on her own terms. Really liked a lot of the supporting characters as well.


The second best part: the mythological bits. Big Water and the Sixth World, Clan Powers, Coyote (Ma'ii), Neizghání, witches. This is not mythology I've read over and over again, so it felt fresh to me, and I really loved the way magical/mythological elements were commonplace and known to everyone without question.


The less good parts: the makeover scene (I think I'm too old for that "she cleans up so hot" moment to have the impact it might if I were actually a young adult), the wandering (I was never clear on what was guiding this journey, but they were always right about where they went next to look for a clue), and. Neizghání.  


When we finally meet Neizghání, Maggie's former mentor, "in person" he is NOT AT ALL what I was expecting based on what we'd heard about him up to that point. He seemed, well, stupid (as in un-intelligent, brutish, no subtlety) and I had trouble parsing that with Maggie's obsession with him, even given the rescue angle. I like surprises, but only when they fit in with what I do know. He didn't fit.


So, I would read more, but the story is not without its flaws.

 
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 #smileaday To speedy recoveries. 
 
I was home with the youngest Bryant today, who was freshly diagnosed with the flu. Given how bad she felt last night, I anticipated a difficult day full of intense worry, but she was actually quite a bit better today. Low energy and definitely still sick, but much lower temperature for her fever and much more alert and "like herself." Such a a relief! Here's hoping that tomorrow keeps her on the fast track to healthy. 
speedy recovery
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 #smileaday It's been a rough one at Casa Bryant today. The youngest went from kinda sick to scary sick over the space of a few hours and has been diagnosed with Flu, type A. :-( So, I guess my smile today is that there is an Urgent Care facility in my town and that they treated her with kindness and compassion on the way to that diagnosis. And that, even though the flu sucks, it's nothing scarier than the flu. 
juju cartoon
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 #samanthascenes #saturdayscenes In celebration of my re-release of the Menopausal Superheroes series last Thursday, here's a favorite bit from book 1: Going Through the Change.
_______________________________________________
Helen tossed off the covers. She couldn’t sleep. It had only been a few hours since Cindy had dropped her off, after yet another all night session testing the limits of her abilities, tipsy on wine and drunk on power. She had stumbled to the bedroom, thrown away her burnt-up clothes, and flopped into bed. She fell into sleep like a diver into a pool.

She hadn’t expected to resurface again so soon. She checked the bedside clock. Four-thirty a.m. Too late to be called night and too early to be called morning. But her eyelids were up, and she shook with a restless energy. She knew this feeling. It was excitement.

The round of experiments with Cindy last night had shown her what she could do. And she wanted to do more. It had been a long time since her limits had been stretched, since the world had seemed new and exciting. God, what a rush! It was like being in love.

She sat on the edge of the bed for a moment and then padded to the closet and pulled on a long T-shirt. It had been her husband’s and proved more durable than he had. She wondered if it were possible to buy fireproof clothing.

Moving quietly through the apartment, she made her way to the kitchen and to the patio doors at the back. She stepped through into the patch of grass that had sufficed as a yard for Mary’s barbecue party a week or so ago.

Helen looked around. The windows of the two apartments above Mary’s overlooked the yard, but they were dark. The back of the yard was bordered by some kind of industrial strength hedges, probably to protect the homeowners behind from having to see the seedy, little apartment dwellers smoking their cigarettes and drinking their beer.

Helen willed a ball of fire into her hand and made it roll. She tossed it from one hand to the other, rolling it across her arms and laughing. She balanced it on one finger like Wilt Chamberlain and made it spin, first one direction and then another. She made a second and a third ball and tried to juggle them. Whenever she dropped one in the grass, she stomped out the small fire with her bare foot and made a replacement.

When she tired of fire juggling, she decided to try other shapes. She made a sort of spear, a long thin flame. She bent it around itself until it was a ring. She spun it in the air and then around one wrist, like it was a hula-hoop. She thought about spinning it around her waist, but knew the shirt would never survive it. She didn’t want to end up naked in her daughter’s backyard.

God, this was fun. She hadn’t had this kind of fun in years. She lined up a couple of beer cans and soda bottles in various parts of the yard and, making her finger into a gun, shot them with small blasts of fire, leaving smoking piles of melted tin can and broken glass.

She was trying to decide what to do next, when she froze, stopped by a small squeak. The sliding door squeaked in its track. Helen turned, just in time to see her wide-eyed daughter poking her head out the small opening she had made. Her voice sounded almost childlike, like she was afraid. “Mom?”
________________________
Thanks for reading! You can learn more about me and my writing at http://samanthabryant.com or follow My Saturday Scenes collection here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/Y5kMoB There's also a collection for ALL the Saturday Scenes by ALL the participating authors here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/4XjIWE

new covers
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 #bookeveryweek Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
 
hidden figures coverA fascinating story, but a pedestrian telling. It felt like reading a report, all facts and no heart. The women in the book still felt hidden to me afterwards. I hadn't gotten to know them as people, understand their personalities or desires. I had merely learned the facts of their lives. After reading the whole book, I couldn't tell you for sure which woman was who. 
 
I'm sad about that, because I think this is an important story and it deserved a stronger narrative than it got. There so much STORY here that was left unexplored. I hope the movie did better by the material because there's so much here to work with!
 
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 #smileaday Book birthdays.

I had triplets today. Three brain children.

Three of my book babies were sent out into the world to seek their fortunes. Hmmm . . .may have to work on that metaphor. Makes me sound too much like the mother in the three little pigs, and I'm hoping to avoid the wolves.

It really is such a lovely feeling though, getting your work out there into the world. So grateful for all the help I've had getting this far.

It's time to celebrate so the youngest and I made cupcakes. :-)

new books
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#smileaday Teaching success. 
 
It's been a good week in my classroom. My roughest class made some serious progress today. It's exhausting, but when I can ride the wave of their energy and help it splash down in a positive direction, it's the most amazing feeling. Like I'm Diana Prince.  
wonder teacher logo
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20s

#smileaday Cooking adventures.


I told my husband I wanted to get an instant pot, since I'd been hearing so much about them from friends who cook. I thought I was giving a birthday hint, but apparently, he decided just to get me one! So tonight, we made ribs. I was interested in trying this out because it's one of those foods that generally takes too long to cook to even consider on a weeknight.


The results! So much yum that I'm afraid I ate too much.



ribs


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 #smileaday When your partner is a good partner.
 
I don't feel good today. It's "just a cold" but a cold can be so miserable, making it hard to breathe and leaving you feeling so very very blah. Sometimes I think I'd rather just go ahead and be a little sicker so I could justify staying home from work (and writing substitute teaching plans-shudder!) as opposed to suffering through. 
 
But I am a lucky girl, and seeing how low I felt, the husband stepped in and made the Beans a la Bryant tonight. Warm, comforting, and someone else made it when I didn't feel up to it. Perfect. It's lovely when you need someone to take care of you and then someone does. 


sick cartoon

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 #smileaday Lunch with my girls.

College girl called me up today because she had some time and wanted to spend it with me and her sister. As if that wasn't good enough . . .there was also sushi!

sushi conveyor belt
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 #smileaday Second chances and fresh starts.

Today, I sent out an author newsletter announcing the re-release of my novels through a new publisher. I also changed all my pictures and banners on all the different social media platforms I play on so as to stop using the picture of me holding that first book with its old cover and the old covers.

It felt really good. Like fresh coat of paint or complete makeover good. That new beginning feeling like I get when a new semester begins and I get new students and the possibilities are all still on the horizon. Such buoying optimism!

Despite the signed contract in my hand (or really, on my hard drive), the thing that made this rebirth moment for my novels feel real was getting my new covers and knowing my release date (February 7). So, one more time (then I promise I'll stop sharing my new covers . . .for today at least): Meet the Menopausal Superheroes for the first time all over again.
new book covers
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 #smileaday Movie night with Sweetman. 
 
We're regulars at the Retro series at the Carolina Theatre in Durham and tonight was so much fun! Schwarzenegger and Stallone, The Running Man and The Demolition Man. Retro movie series has confirmed again and again that I married the right man. He always springs for popcorn and candy, too. 

movie posters
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 #smileaday Building relationships with challenging students. 
 
I've got three new classes right now. Some classes at my middle school last all year, others one semester, others one quarter, so my "beginning of the school year" work resets for at least some portion of my day several times over the course of a school year. 
 
One of my new classes is a group of 7th graders taking semester Spanish. It's a big class: 30 kids in a classroom built for 20 (the district cap on language classes used to be 15, a decade ago when I took the job). This class is a rough one. It's 80% male. For those who don't deal with middle schoolers often, you should know that 13 year old males are not particularly mature or patient, and can be aggressive and super high energy. Classroom management is easier when the gender balance is more 50/50 at this age because the girls are more focused and cooperative. So, this skewed demographic is definitely a challenge. 
 
It's also got a mix of native speakers, kids with some language experience, and total newbs. It's got about 20% kids who are accustomed to failure in their classroom experience. I'm stubborn though. Determined that every one of them is going to make progress. I don't like to see 13 year old people accepting that school just isn't for them and they're doomed to failure. That's way too soon for giving up the fight. 
 
xena wants to helpIt's hard though. It's easy to lose heart when even basic conveying of information requires hacking through a jungle of apathy and resentment. These kids don't just automatically trust in the good faith of their educators. They've had too many experiences that hurt them. 
 
I knew I was getting somewhere in getting their buy-in today when one of the high-flyers (admin-speak for "kids who get in trouble a lot") turned to his friend who was getting ready to poke another kid in the ribs just to make him squeal in the middle of my lesson and hissed "Cut that shit out. The lady trying to teach us now." 
 
So far as he knows, I didn't hear that (it's a useful tool in teaching to be selectively deaf sometimes), but I was so pleased at the heart of that, if not the word choice. He wanted to hear what I was going to say because he wants to learn Spanish and has started to have faith that I can help him do that. That's a big step right there! 

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Samantha J Bryant

February 2019

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