Thursday, 20 September 2018

Banned Book Week and Persisting Beyond Margins

For the second year, I'm participating in a special charity event for ALSO, a local charity that supports adult literacy programs.  On September 22nd, me and several other local authors will crawl out of our comfort zone to be in public to talk about our favourite topics: books.

I've never quite understood why there are so many calls to ban books.  And it's been even more of a mystery why such a wide variety of books get attacked in this way.  I love books.  They're a way to expand my awareness by exposing me to ideas and lives different from my own.  Not to mention, they're fun!  So why do so many people get themselves tied into a knot.

This year, my curiosity was too much.  I decided to start looking into it and what I found was depressingly bleak.  There seem to be a few specific reasons for banning that keep coming up over and over in the lists: the book features queer characters, diverse characters, encourages people to question authority, or deals with alternate realities.  To me, those are a check list of things I want to read but for some, it strikes them with terror.

Most requests to ban books seem to come from various fundamentalist Christian groups who see these books as an attack on themselves and their faith.  (And just to be clear, these groups are a minority of Christians and I'm sure that many Christians would have a problem with the version of their faith as portrayed by these groups).  In the view of these groups, anything that might encourage anything other than blind faith and obedience is a threat.

And as a result, they will never know the vicarious thrill of tessering across the universe, or flying in a spaceship, or riding a unicorn, or any of the other wonderful and exciting adventures that books have opened up to me.  They will never learn to see the world through someone else's eyes and thus increase their compassion for those who are different or who have lived different experiences.  And to a point, if they don't want to do that, if they would rather stay in their narrow world bounded by fear, that's their choice.

What they don't have is the right to make that choice for anyone else.  They don't have the right to look at a book and say "This scares me" and insist it be destroyed or locked away.  They don't have the right to deny people the chance to experience stories of others like them and others who are completely different.  

So I am proud to be part of Banned Book Week and part of the ALSO fundraiser.  And if you'd like to support freedom of expression and helping adult literacy, or even if you'd just like to enjoy an evening of books, food, wine and conversation, please join me on Saturday for Persisting Beyond Margins.  And if you'd like to know more about my chosen banned book, A Wrinkle In Time, and why I feel it's a great story, please check out my Heroine Fix on Margaret Murray and the value of an angry heroine.

And if you'd like to check out my own fantastical stories about a secret society of superheroes living among us, the first book in my lalassu series, Revelations, is currently on sale for 99 cents US on all platforms.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Weekly Update: September 9 to 15

Weekly word count: 6 253

Things are moving a little better writing wise this week.  I'm managing a decent average and I've got a much better handle on the third Spirit Sight short story.  I'd been trying to do it without a central ghost story and realized that was ultimately hurting the pacing and emotional impact.  I was trying to have multiple small paranormal encounters instead of one big one but it ended up feeling like the supernatural side was an afterthought.  I'm much happier with it now.

On Saturday, I had a lovely day with Tanya Huff.  I've been organizing the ORWA event for several months and I was really pleased with how well it all came together.  She gave a fantastic talk full of great advice for authors at all levels.  And most importantly, I think everyone had a good time and no one felt rushed or isolated.  We had a great guest turnout with lots of new faces, hopefully they'll come back.

I also got some very exciting news this weekend but professional discretion means I can't quite share it yet.  As soon as I can, I will be announcing it everywhere I can.  But it's got me feeling much better about my writing and myself.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Heroine Fix: The Loyal, Lovely and Lethal Dutch from Killjoys

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters whom I admire and who influence my own writing. (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

I love a good action story and I love a strong female character who steps up and takes charge.  I only recently started to watch the Space series Killjoys about a team of wise-cracking interplanetary bounty hunters but it only took half of the first episode to hook me.  The lead character, Dutch, played by Hannah John-Kamen is a fascinating mix of determination, fierce loyalty to her friends, extraordinary skills, and stunning warrior.  She has the kind of casual excellence that I've always found appealing, particularly since I'm the type of person who is more likely to trip over my own feet and tongue.

The Jaqobis brothers are also impressive... but that's a topic for another time.
However, what makes Dutch worthy of a closer look is that she isn't just a two-dimensional warrior.  There's a beautiful layer of vulnerability underneath her armor of perfection.  She is someone who has faced her world and dreams being destroyed on multiple occasions and who has decided to cope with it by never again being in a situation that she can't control.  As a child, she was royalty but her family lost everything, abandoning her in an orphanage.  She was rescued from the orphanage and trained as assassin.  She took the bold and dangerous step of leaving that life.  She's become one of the top Killjoys (bounty hunters) in the Quad (the local solar system), known for never failing to get her target.

It would have been very easy for the character to tip over into being a villain, uncaring and aloof.  She's had so much tragedy in her life that no one would be surprised if she'd developed an emotional callus over her soul.  But instead, she is still a deeply caring individual.  She cares about the people who are at the mercy of the mega Corporations and capricious aristocracy who own the quad.  She's fiercely protective of her partner, Johnny, and his brother, D'avin.  On more than one occasion, she faces death and torture to make certain they are safe.   And as an added measure of her retained humanity, those who have gotten to know her are loyal and protective of her as well.

Dutch might know a thousand different ways to drop a target, but it's her relationship with her partner, Johnny, that really impresses me.  He was a starship thief who made the mistake of trying to take off with her ship.  She could have killed him but instead chose to mentor him and make him her partner.  A techspert and self-proclaimed nerd, Johnny's skills gets Dutch into all kinds of places, from palaces to sewers.  She has the heart to go into any Hell because she trusts that Johnny will be able to get her out again.  Emotionally, they are tied tighter than any couple, but there's no attraction between them except that of chosen family.  They are siblings bound by love and shared history rather than DNA.

One of the other facets I find fascinating about Dutch is her constant questioning of herself and her motives.  She knows that she was raised abnormally and worries constantly about slipping into becoming a sociopath.  Her constant reality checks give her character a surprising maturity and insight.  It would have been very easy to make her into an anti-social loner, but instead she takes the harder road of staying as a part of society while still knowing she can never be entirely comfortable within it.

Hannah John-Kamen's portrayal of the character is beautifully nuanced, with tiny moments of hesitation and tensed lips saying just as much as the big gestures and grand speeches.    The character is a consummate actress, able to play any role from a regal aristocrat to a lost thief.  Even "Dutch" herself is something of a role: the confident, competent hunter and killer.  But it's the moments between roles, when we see the glimpses of loneliness and uncertainty that make her real and admirable.  She's not a superwoman, she's a woman who is facing overwhelming and frightening odds and is choosing to get the job done and help where she can, while trying hard not the let the scars of failure grow too thick.

The damaged heroine seeking redemption is a character that has long resonated with me but with Dutch, it's a slightly different twist.  She's not looking for redemption.  She doesn't seem to believe that redemption is possible for her.  Instead she's looking for something a little more tangible and in the moment: a chance at a few stolen moments of happiness in between the challenges of trying to make the world a little more right.  She isn't pushing the world away in an attempt to stand strong on her own.  She knows she's strong and knows that isolation would only make her unhappier and more dangerous.   She's open to love, even knowing that it opens her to hurt as well.   And that takes much more courage than any amount of kicking ass.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

I hope you've enjoyed my take on Dutch and that you'll consider hanging around to check out some of the other fun things I've got going on in my website.

My first damaged and seeking redemption heroine, Dani, is a burlesque dancer who can bend steel with her bare hands and who needs to hold back the ancient monster hiding deep in her soul.  You can try the first novel in my paranormal romantic suspense series, Revelations, for only 99 cents US across all platforms.

Or you can take a look at last month's Heroine Fix when I looked at the ladies of Ready Player One and how the world of the Oasis gives the freedom to be whoever you want to be.

Or take a peek at last week's post about the one skill that every writer needs right now: patience.

Or check out my Hidden Diamond feature, where I share some of my fellow authors who write amazing strong female characters, fast-paced romantic suspense and reality-twisting paranormal romance and speculative fiction.

Or you can just visit my blog for weekly updates on my writing and my thoughts on all kinds of subjects.

Next month, I'll be looking at Evey from V for Vendetta.  Some heroines are determined to be great right from the first minute or page.  Others, like Evey, find themselves caught up in overwhelming situations and become stronger than they ever imagined they could be.  Join me on October 11th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Weekly Update: September 2 to 8

Weekly word count: 5 669

Ah, the most wonderful time of the year: back to school!  I love spending the summer with my kids and doing all the fun summer stuff like going swimming and spending time at the park or going on little mini road trips.  But it's nice when they head out the door with their backpacks and I know I'll have several hours to myself to both do my day job and get some writing done.

I decided to take a major plot change for the third Spirit Sight short story but I'm much happier with the new idea.  I also think I've come up with a great title: Third Eye Open.

I got a really great writing day on Thursday.  The ideas and words were flowing.  It's been awhile since I had a day like that and it was a really encouraging day for me.

I'm looking forward to ORWA's Tanya Huff's workshop next weekend.  She's been an inspiration to me for a long time and is also such a genuinely nice and generous person as well as being a talented writer.  It'll also be great to see all my ORWA friends again after the summer break.

I know that January is the start of the calendar year, but to me the year always starts in September.  It's the start of a new cycle and a new routine.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Real Skill All Writers Need: Patience

Many things in life seem to operate on the "hurry up and wait" principle but it applies to a lot of an author's career.  Hurry up and send the pitch and then wait patiently to hear from editors or agents.  Hurry up and promote and then wait to see if it helped readers to find your book.  Hurry up and write and then wait and go patiently through the editing process.

If I see one more teh...
When the story is still in an author's head, it can seem very easy.  When I begin, I feel like I can see the whole thing in my mind.  It's brilliant and amazing.

The challenge comes when I try to translate that interior vision onto the page.  What seems perfectly clear in my head turns out to be less clear when I need to capture it with words.  It takes patience to try out different ways of saying the same thing, trying subtle variations to find the right way to make the words disappear and then the story becomes real.

And it's not just the writing process.  All of the great authors are continually learning about their writing craft.  Which means reading widely and taking the time to break down how other authors convey meanings, emotions and impressions.  Recently, I read a story where a few short sentences created a horrific combination of vulnerability, denial, and terror as a predator grabbed their victim from behind.  It was an incredibly powerful impression that lingered with me for days afterwards.  

"She wasn't laughing when the screams started behind her, high and shrill and terrified, or when she felt the touch of a hand-oddly long and spindly, covered in a cool, clammy film, like aloe gel was smeared across the skin-on the back of her ankle. Elena stopped waving her arms. She closed her eyes. If she couldn't see it, it wouldn't be real. That was the way the world worked, wasn't it.  Her scream, when it came, was short and sharp and quickly ended." - from Mira Grant's Into The Drowning Deep

I've re-read that paragraph a half-dozen times since, trying to understand how the author created that effect.  Is it powerful because the only sensory description is done in relation to the monster's hand and the screams, making them stand out prominently in the reader's subconscious mind?  Is it the quick pacing, where the attack is over almost before the character realizes they're in trouble?  

It takes patience to try and understand the subtle differences that punctuation, word choice, and writing style can make.  It's a lot easier to just enjoy or dismiss and not think too much about why things work or why they don't.  It takes patience to work through a book (enjoyable or not) and learn from it.  It takes even more patience to apply those techniques to one's own writing and to see if they fit in an author's own voice.

Patience (and its counterpart, stubbornness) will get an author through a great deal of the challenges in this industry.  Got a brilliant story that doesn't quite fit the current market?  Have patience and watch the market for an opening.  Do you write slowly and could never do the publish a book every 90 days strategy?  Then be patient and develop your career more slowly.

Patience doesn't mean just passively waiting.  It means accepting your own pace and your own style and continuing in spite of any naysayers or pushes to do things differently.  It means accepting that you know yourself best and that there is not, and never has been, only one path to publishing success.

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Monday, 3 September 2018

Weekly Update: August 26 to September 1

Weekly word count: 4937

Friday was a busy day of visiting my son's new school and dealing with the paperwork.  Unfortunately, that meant I didn't get any writing done that day, but I'm reasonably happy with my weekly total.

I am very much looking forward to having the house to myself while both my kids are at school.  I'm hoping I can settle into a writing rhythm quickly.  In previous years, September has been pretty rocky but I'm in a more stable routine than usual right now.

I haven't heard anything further from the editors and agents I sent my manuscript to.  It's hard to be patient and not second guess what I've done.  That's the hard part about a career that ends up with a person living mainly in their own head.  It can be hard to get out of.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Hidden Diamond: Lucy Farago, Search and Recover, and The Research Vortex

There are a lot of authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find what they're looking to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month, I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.  If you want to know more, please join the mailing list and you won't miss the diamond you've been searching for.

This month, I'm proud to share a fellow ORWAn and a lady whose books have been on my Kindle since she first released: Lucy Farago, writer of thrilling romantic suspense with fast-paced action.  

I was there at the ORWA meeting where she brainstormed her most recent release: A Necessary Deception and I couldn't wait to read it.  A tech genius taking an analog vacation in an isolated Alaskan cabin, a wealthy socialite matchmaker on the run from the Russian mob and a keep-turning-to-the-last-page adventure.  And for those looking to start at the beginning, don't miss the first book in the Search and Recover series: A Necessary Lie with it's rodeo star secret investigator and a heroine determined to solve the mystery of her friend's death.

And now without further ado, I'll let Lucy tell you a little about her writing process.  Or rather, the other things she's doing on her computer while she's writing.

The Never-Ending Research Vortex

Research, it’s a wonderful thing…until you’re sucked into a vortex of never-ending information that has little, ifanything, to do with your book. Ah, those pesky traps, cleverly hidden within the matrix of google. I once lost two weeks of my life gathering information on how to allow my inexperienced heroine the ability to handle an explosive without killing herself. I succeeded, but in case you’re bored and want to amuse yourself, try “How to blow up a tree with Tannerite!!”? Yup, not one, but two exclamation marks. Or “Blowing up trees with Dynamite!!”. What is it with back-wood rednecks and their enthusiasm for tree carnage?

If you tire of watching harmless trees being reduced to matchsticks, there’s always the irresistible one-click to the sidebar video on “Glow Sticks in the Microwave”. It’s something a mature adult shouldn’t need to know, but what does happen when you stash those leftover concert goodies in a microwave and hit them with small doses of radiation? In case you were curious, they glow brighter…until they explode. Then there’s the “Legos, are they bullet proof?” Hmmm…no, no they are not. This same dude shot his truck with a tank. Dare I say someone has too much time on their hands? The truth could be said about me, because do I really want to know if my microwave can kill me? Apparently, I do, because I squandered even more time with my new best friend, ‘the internet’.

Why am I wasting time on you-tube and google instead of finishing the darn book you ask? Good question. First, I can say with the utmost certainty, I am not alone in the research time-suck dance. Many of us spend an afternoon learning facts we’ll never make use of, other than to exchange stories on how we wasted an entire afternoon learning facts we’ll never make use of. So why do it? I can’t speak for anyone else, although I believe some share my dilemma.

For me, it’s not having a clear understanding of where my story is heading.  I write romantic suspense. This means I’m plotting two intertwined stories. I can visualize the romance. But if I don’t, it tends to flow more naturally than my creating ways to hide clues or keeping my readers guessing as to whodunit. And I want to leave my readers guessing. It’s not until I’m three quarters of the way through the book that I get that ‘ah-ha’ moment. All this leaves me frustrated and I find ways to distract myself from the real task at hand. It can be very unproductive. On the flip side I can tell you exactly how much C-4 you need to blow up a tree. Find me on Facebook and I’ll give you the what-up.

- Lucy Farago

An Author Interview with Lucy Farago

What is the craziest thing you've done to research a book?

I wouldn’t say crazy as imprudent. I once asked a TSA guy if I’d be able to pack a severed head in my luggage without it being detected. I guess I should have started with “Hi, my name is Lucy and I’m a writer” but that didn’t sound like any fun. I also asked a couple of Boston cops on July 4, if a civilian could gain access to a murder scene. I didn’t miss how one officer’s hand went to his handcuffs. They were chatting once I explained who I was, but his hand never left the handcuffs.

What is your writing process?

I was a pantser. But to write romantic suspense you have to be a plotter, especially if you’re writing to a deadline. It's much easier and it's less likely I’ll get stuck on a plot point. Plus if you have someone who'll read your synopsis, you'll be able to fix anything that doesn’t work.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I bake. I also bake when I’m stuck. My neighbours all know when I’m struggling. They are the recipients of my blocked muse. I enjoy television. It keeps me current and as a writer, you need to stay current. 

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Mr. Darcy of course. I’m more in love with the character than Collin Firth. Although I’m team Firth all the way. It’s not that he’s the all-time best hero, it’s more the romantic character he represents. Rich man, poorer girl, wrong side of the tracks trope. Plus he’s pretty much the first romantic hero in history. And I love history.

And finally, in the spirit of the great Joss Whedon debate, who would win: cavemen or astronauts?

I always found this debate interesting. What environment are we sticking them in? I get the whole instinct vs evolved debate, but playing field I think is more important. Put them in the wilds with no unfair advantage, cavemen. I’m with Spike, man has evolved to the point that most people wouldn’t survive a day without assistance.

Thank you to Lucy for being my inaugural Hidden Diamond and for those who want their very own copies of her books, you can find them at the following stores:

Come back on September 27th to discover the next Hidden Diamond.  
Or join the mailing list and have the perfect gems for you sent right to your mailbox.