An Interview with Samantha Bryant
The Author of Going through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel
1) How long have you been writing and how did you get interested in it?
I’m one of those folks who has always written. The first time I can remember thinking of myself as a writer was in first grade. Mrs. Alsdorf had our class making collections of poems as a handwriting project. I fell in love with the sounds of the words and when I shared my enthusiasm with my teacher she told me that I could write poems of my own if I’d like to. So, I did! I wrote a set of rhymed couplets about beauty. Things like:
“Beauty is in the great, tall trees
Bending over in the breeze.”
I was proud of it. Writing it satisfied something in me that I still haven’t found any other ways to satisfy. It’s a feeling of having made something. Shaped something out of words. It probably didn’t hurt that my parents, family, and teacher all praised the heck out of the thing, too.
I always wrote after that. Poetry, stories, essays, articles, journal entries, diatribes, blog posts, heartfelt letters, etc. However, I didn’t really take it seriously and start working towards making it my vocation until I was forty-two. Forty-two was a crisis year for me, in the same way that turning thirty or forty or fifty has been for many people I know. Blame Douglas Adams. I felt the passage of time and the weight of the things I’d left undone. So, I committed to a daily writing habit and started finishing and submitting things. No more waiting for the muse for me. No more “someday I will.”
I guess I’d had enough time to develop some skill in those first forty-two years, because I signed my first book contract when I was forty-three! Now, I’m forty-four and I’ve got five more contracts under my belt (including another novel and a few anthologies) and more on the horizon. I might yet make a living at this.
2) Can you tell us a bit about the journey to publish your latest work, Going through the Change?
When I finished writing and rewriting Going Through the Change, I’d already been shopping around another novel for a couple of years. (His Other Mother, a women’s fiction piece. It’s out on submission right now, yet again!). I had learned from that process that, if you want to publish traditionally with a big publisher, it’s a glacially slow process. I was frustrated with the slowness, tired of waiting six months for a response, only to get a non-specific rejection.
So, I was considering indie publishing Change. But I was hesitant to do so. I’m a public school teacher in North Carolina, which means I earn embarrassingly low wages for a professional with a master’s degree. Without my husband’s income, my family might be living in a van down by the river. I worried that I couldn’t afford a good editor and cover artist, that I didn’t have the marketing wherewithal to get the book distributed to a wide enough audience.
So, I started looking at what other writers I know (in real life and online) were doing, and learned about the “small, independent press” movement. It’s a traditional publishing route, wherein you submit your work and it is accepted or rejected, and if accepted, edited, covered, and marketed by the company. But, because the companies are smaller, time frames for response are usually faster, and, in many cases, you can work as more of a partner with your publisher than you might in a bigger company. Many small presses have a specific niche they focus on: paranormal romance, memoir, alternate histories, etc. That seemed really appealing to me.
With a bit more research, I found Curiosity Quills Press, the company that published me. I liked their catalogue. Lots of books that it seemed mine would be in good company with — they have a speculative fiction bent and publish a lot of work exploring gender identity and feminism. I liked their book covers. I liked the transparency of the contract terms. So, I decided to give them a try, and sent in a cold query. My timing was good! Within a week of submitting the sample, I’d had a request for the full manuscript and then the offer for a contract!
The book has been out since April, and is doing pretty well for a debut novel by some woman no one has ever heard of. I’ve received royalty checks (or, in this case: PayPal receipts)! I’ve gotten to do readings, interviews, and guest blog posts. I’ve participated in book fairs and author events at the library. I’ll be a guest author at my first con in November (Atomacon, South Carolina).
This has been a good route for me. There’s no advance to earn out, so there’s not money in one lump sum, but there is potential for strong earnings over time. I don’t feel like a cog in the machine or a number on a spreadsheet. I know the people I’m working with and am treated well by them.
3) Going through the Change is a book about women who gain superpowers mysteriously in middle age. Have you always been a science fiction fan?
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with science fiction over the years. I grew up in the seventies and eighties, which was an especially misogynistic phrase of science fiction in some ways, especially in the novels I could get at my public library. I loved the imagination and the fantastical stories, but got frustrated with feeling like the works were never about characters I could truly identify with. I got tired of women only being there to be rescued or abused or objectified.
I was also a comic book fan, reading diversely in those genres, though it was still hard to find strong female characters, especially if by “strong” you mean something deeper than “can throw a car.” I’ve always loved science fiction/comic book TV shows and movies, too. There’s just something about these “larger than life” characters and situations that tugs at my soul.
I didn’t know any other young women in the small town I grew up in who enjoyed these kinds of books, so I drifted away from them as a teenager and college student, trying to fit in, as so many of us do when we’re young. I read a lot of weepers, romances, and horror novels, because that’s what was popular, and then got snobbishly obsessed with “literary” fiction as a college student. When I was in my twenties and thirties though, I made my way back to the library and found some wonderful work that had happened when I wasn’t looking. Nancy Kress. Kim Stanley Robinson. Julian May. I was hooked again. Now, I’m un-apologetic in my enjoyment of science fiction and fantasy. There’s so much good work out there! I only wish I had more time to read.
4) Why did you focus on menopausal women in Going through the Change?
That started from a dog-walking conversation with my husband one night. We had just watched a superhero movie. I think it was one of the X-men movies. We were talking about it as we walked, and both of us were wondering why it always seems to be teenagers who get superpowers in these stories. Like hormones bring on the powers. I laughed and said that, if that was the case, then menopausal women ought to be the most powerful people on the planet.
The idea got its hooks in me then and I started playing with it. It was so much fun to write! I know so many women who are heroic and strong in surprising ways, and writing this novel let me riff on that theme while having a lot of fun.
5) Also, we read your essay about Agent May from Agents of SHIELD as great representation for older women heroines. Are there any other heroines you can think of? On that note, are you excited to see what Viola Davis can bring to the Amanda Waller role in Suicide Squad?
One of my favorite older is Helen Mirren’s Victoria in the movie Red. I loved how she was undeniably feminine and still dangerous as heck. I loved the depth that history and experience added to her story. I’m also a fan of Judi Dench’s portrayal of M in the more recent Bond flicks. The newest Mad Max was exciting for the range of women portrayed, and that it was a story in part about rape, in which not a single rape was portrayed on screen. Though I was disappointed in how many of the elder women were killed off easily. I think they’d have been more wily than that, and done more damage on the way.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is one from a bit further back that I admired. Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor was groundbreaking in her way, too. Strong older women characters are out there. They’re just far from the norm, and often not the lead.
I am SUPER excited about Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Waller is a fascinating and terrifying character. Just from stills, I can already see that Davis can do the dead cold stare frighteningly well.
6) Why do you think when there is a woman superheroine, she’s usually young and such a lack of focus on middle aged women in those roles?
When I feel charitable, I say that it comes from wish fulfillment. Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. So it can be tempting to write a young character with the expertise, skills, and experience that it takes years to build in real life. A case of “if I knew then what I know now.”
Mostly, I don’t feel charitable. Mostly, I think it comes down to the society-wide fear that America has of grown women. We want our heroines young, unattached, svelte, and beautiful. We want them in the scene, beautiful to look at it, but certainly not in charge. After all these years, women are still valued for surface characteristics more than their strengths as people. Audiences are more interested in how an actress fills out her leather pants than her skill.
I am hopeful that this is changing. I have a teenaged daughter, and I can see how far society has come in many areas just by listening to what assumptions she and her friends have about gender roles. The next generation already has less limited and antiquated thinking. They’ve learned from our mistakes and assumptions just as we learned from the mistakes and assumptions of our parents and grandparents. As they become the producers of art and literature in our society, we’ll see the shift coming more and more strongly.
7) You’ve also written and had poetry published. Do you find that a different writing process from writing novels?
It’s a totally different world! Poetry was my first love in writing. I love the compactness of it, the journey of capturing a moment, a feeling, or an epiphany. When I write a poem, it’s a constant writing-revision cycle. I might write one line over and over and over again before moving on. I will agonize over the placement of a comma or the choice of a single word.
When I first started writing longer form pieces, I had a great deal of difficulty juggling all the elements. Plots, subplots, character arcs, timelines, etc. When working with something long, I couldn’t just hold the entire piece in my head like I had been accustomed to doing with poetry. I had to make visual aides. Charts. Timelines. Character bios.
When I write a novel, I don’t let myself cycle back on one part (or at least not much). I have to get a full draft down before I can really understand the entire piece and go back to shape it. I’m mostly a pantser, so I’m writing to find out what’s going to happen. I often don’t know the ending until I’ve actually written it, then I go back and make the earlier parts lead to the ending.
The basic idea of a poem seems to come to me more fully formed and the process is like sculpture, cutting out the things I don’t need and cleaning up the lines. A novel is more like an abstract painting. I throw down words and them look to see what is in them and how I can shape it into a polished piece.
8) Which would you prefer to write: poetry or novels?
At this stage of life, I’m getting more enjoyment out of writing novels. I still write poetry, but it’s more personal, expressing my feelings about people and events of my life. I haven’t sought publication for a poem in several years, though I do still plan to finish my collection of fairy-tale related work at some point and seek publication for it.
In novels, I can go “big picture,” exploring my ideas about life, the universe, and everything. I can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes imaginatively and expand how I see the world. It’s a larger playground to explore and, at least right now, it’s the right one for me.
9) What are you working on next?
I’ve got a few irons in the fire right now. The sequel to Change, working title Change of Life, was just accepted for publication. So I’ll be working with an editor to polish that one in time for an April 2016 release. I’m planning to write the first draft of the three-quel for NaNoWriMo.
I’ve got an historical fiction trilogy in process. I’m rewriting the first book and researching for the second. I’ve also got a middle grades novel on the back burner. I wrote a draft for NaNoWriMo last year and haven’t been able to give it my full focus for a rewrite yet. I’m also writing a lot of short stories, some in my superhero universe, some not. You’ll be seeing my work in several anthologies in the upcoming months, and I think I may put out my own collection soon, of my Shadow Hill stories (a collection of weird tales set in a suburban neighborhood).
10) Finally, where can people find you on social media?
Blog/author website is http://samanthabryant.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/samanthadunawaybryant
Finally earlier this month, we talked about the amazing work of The Watering Hole. Please do check out and contribute if you can to the Indiegogo campaignfor The Watering Hole and spread the word as well to friends!