The In-The-Know Nine
Going through “the change” isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for four seemingly unrelated women, menopause brought changes none of them had ever anticipated—super-heroic changes. When events throw three women together, they find out that they have more in common than they knew—one person has touched all their lives. The hunt for answers is on!
Samantha is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her secret superpower is finding lost things. but we found out even more about her.
1. What inspired you to write your Menopausal Superhero novels?
The origin story of this series stems from frustration. I LOVE all things superhero, starting with Mighty Mouse and Spiderman when I was still a toddler and continuing through the current superhero boom in movies and television. But the older I got, the harder it became for me to connect to teenaged characters in the same way and I hated losing connection to stories that had always spoken to me.
My husband and I had just watched an X-men movie (I honestly don’t remember which one) and were out walking our dog and talking. We were joking about the idea that, if this film was to be believed, superpowers apparently come as part of a package deal with puberty. I said something like, “Well, if hormones cause superpowers, menopausal women should have the corner on that market.” My husband laughed and told me I should write that down, which is what I’ve been doing for a few years now. Three novels and several side stories later…
2. In addition to being a published author, you’re a teacher. What is the best part about teaching?
Short answer: the children.
For me, the joy comes in being there, helping someone grapple with a new concept and seeing it when it clicks. That might be intellectually, as in understanding the conjugation of regular -AR verbs, but just as often it’s a realization about being a good human being. I always say I teach children, not Spanish. Spanish is just our context.
I have the opportunity to help make the world a better place one child at a time by helping children find the best within themselves. I teach middle school and 11-15 year old people are at decisive moments in their lives every day. Teaching gives me a reason to go on when the world seems cold and ugly and mean. The children give me hope.
3. Describe your writing career trajectory?
I’ve always been a writer, starting with a poem called “Beauty” when I was six. It’s adorable, if I do say so myself: rhyming couplets leading to the idea that happiness is beauty.
That’s not to say it’s been a smooth path. For most of my life, I wrote only when inspired, largely during times of angst and turmoil as a way to cope. I started hundreds of projects and let them languish unfinished. I lacked any sort of discipline or follow through. I didn’t take it (or myself as a writer) seriously.
As an undergraduate, I took creative writing classes as part of my bachelor’s degree and I’ve always been glad I did, for the experience of being in a workshop and learning about the role critique could play in my process. It thickened my skin and helped me gain some objectivity about the quality of my own work. I kept finding writing communities as a younger adult. I wrote mostly poetry and essays during those years.
But, I let writing slip away from me when I became a mother. My focus was on my daughter wholeheartedly for a few years, and while I don’t regret that, it eventually became a problem and I felt like part of me was missing. I didn’t have a writing community in my rural Alaskan town. So, I was back to only writing when I had something to deal with: writing as therapy instead of writing as artistic expression or vision. There was a lot to deal with during that time frame. My first marriage was coming to an end, and that necessitated moving away from my chosen home in Alaska. It was an emotional few years, but I came out the better for it.
When I had my second daughter shortly after my second marriage and found I was struggling with postpartum depression, my husband suggested I find a writing group again in our new home in North Carolina. It proved to be exactly the right thing, giving me structure, expectations, and community, and my writing began to thrive. Writing has always been my favorite coping mechanism, after all.
When I turned 42 and decided that was the year to do this for real–thanks to Douglas Adams who taught us that 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything–I committed to a daily writing habit which was a game-changer for me. I finished a novel. Then another, and another. I finished short stories and collections. I submitted my work and began to see it published. My current unbroken chain of writing days is over 1700 days long.
There are still ups and downs in my productivity and confidence, but I take myself seriously as a writer now. I see my work to fruition. I’m proud of where I am, and a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get here.
4. In the bio on your Website you reveal that your superpower is “finding lost things.” What’s the best thing that you’ve found and why?
Myself! Older women in my life always told me that the 40s were awesome, and life has proven them right.
Though less abstractly, I once found an ipod that had been lost for five years. It was in the bottom of the umbrella stand that we keep all our nerf swords and melee weapons in.
The best thing about finding that wasn’t finding the device itself–it was that the ipod was now a time capsule for who our now-tween was when she was a tater tot.
5. How do you balance career and family?
It’s a constant struggle, but it has gotten easier over time.
My first step was to stop teaching English. My teaching degree is in English and Spanish, which leaves me qualified to teach either. I LOVE teaching English, but the assessment load of giving feedback on writing is giant and I could never fit it into the hours of the workday and leave enough of myself for family and writing life, too.
So, when I moved to North Carolina, I only applied for Spanish teaching jobs. I teach beginning Spanish, so helping students write means working on three to five sentences to see if they have said what they think they said. So much less time than helping a student craft a multi-page essay! I’m a complete nose-to-the-grindstone girl all the hours I’m at school, but when I leave school, I actually leave. No tote bag full of papers to read for me. Teaching work stays at work.
My children getting older and more independent has helped as well. My girls are 11 and 18, so there’s a lot they can manage for themselves, freeing more hours for me to spend on other things.
Once I started to add a writing life to the mix, we had to have some tough talk as a family, setting boundaries both for me (I can’t have ALL the hours of a day for my writing life, no matter how much I want them) and for them (you have to respect mama’s writing time). Like any balancing act, there are swings and dips in favor of one side of my teacher-wife and mother-writer triangle at any given moment, but we’ve got good systems in place to make sure everything gets enough attention at the right time.
6. What’s your approach to the aging process?
I try to balance accepting who I am without accepting limits before I must.
For example, I can’t stay up until two a.m. anymore and be a kind and coherent person the next day. So, I don’t try. When I apply as an author guest at a convention, my “special needs” requests always say that they shouldn’t schedule me for programming after 10 p.m.
But, I haven’t just accepted my body’s tendency to thicken around the middle and stiffen up, limiting my mobility. I’ve upped my exercise and worked on my eating habits. I need this body to last me a lot more years: I’m not done using it yet. And, as is true in many things, if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Some aspects of aging don’t phase me a bit. I’m looking forward to more gray hair (so far I’ve only got a sprinkling) because I won’t have to bleach my hair before I dye it interesting colors. I like the lines in my face. But I could do without the soreness in my joints that is becoming more common.
I’d say I’m trying to grow old gracefully, but those who know me know that “graceful” is not an adjective easily applied to me. I’ve never been dignified either. So, I guess I’m shooting for, “Without permanent injury or irrevocable embarrassment.”
7. What advice you would give yourself as a middle schooler about “adulting”?
Have some faith in yourself. Yes, there’s a lot to manage in an adult life, but the choices are yours to make and you are free to take on only what you wish. It’s okay to say no. Really, it is. In fact, you should totally say no more often. Remember to appreciate where you are in the moment, because there are no promises about how many tomorrows you’ll get.
8. How do you relax?
I need time in the woods. Maybe it’s the extra oxygen that comes from being near the trees, or maybe it’s the way the light filters through the leaves. I don’t know. But I can almost feel my blood pressure go down after even just a short walk through a wooded area. Even better if there’s also some water: a river, falls, or creek. The ocean is nice, too, but I miss deciduous trees and forest sounds when I’m there.
When I can’t get outside, I like to lose myself in stories, so I read, play games, or watch old movies. Baking with my youngest daughter is great because it’s both a bonding time, and a feast for our senses.
9. What quote or motto has inspired you?
I love quotes! Choosing one favorite is hard, but since we’re talking about my writing life, I’ll choose my current favorite one about stories: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” –Neil Gaiman
It’s a reminder that a story doesn’t have to be realistic to be meaningful, that sometimes fantasy speaks more to the truth of things than journalism. It also captures my love of reading, and how much the person I am has been sculpted by what I’ve read.