Monday, 20 May 2019

Weekly Update: May 5 to 18

The last two weeks have been a challenge.  I didn't get much done the first week of May, but last week I managed a few thousand words.

I didn't track it because I didn't want to discourage myself with a low number.  Any time at the keyboard was progress.

There will likely be more upheaval coming down the road.  Unfortunately, that's how life works sometimes.

Under the circumstances, I'm extending my self-imposed deadline to get Division done.  I'm getting into the final dramatic conflicts, so I'm close to having a draft ready to go to the editors.  But I'm still likely looking at four or five weeks of solid work, which assumes no further life interruptions.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Heroine Fix: The Definitive Warrior Woman: Zoe Washburne

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining well-developed female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

First off, my apologies for the delay on this post.  I learned some very upsetting news involving my children and I needed to take some time to process before I could concentrate on anything else again.  Which actually leads me into talking about this month's Heroine Fix, because I used this amazing character to help me pull through.  Firefly's Zoe Washburne faced her own overwhelming tragedy and though she was broken up, she still flew true.

Zoe and her husband, Wash, were one of the most well-adjusted couples I've ever seen on screen.  They laughed together, they expressed their affection and attraction to one another regularly, and even when they disagreed, they respected each other.  We only get hints of how their relationship developed.  Somehow they went from "he bothers me" to a deep commitment.  As a romance author, I love seeing a relationship develop but sometimes it's nice to see an actually Happily Ever After playing out.  (And as a Firefly fan, I'm still heartbroken over how Wash died.)

One of the things I loved about Zoe was how everyone respected her strength.  Even Jayne, Firefly's resident tough, didn't challenge her, though he had no trouble frequently challenging the captain.  No one tried to make her less than she was or hinted that she should not be the incredibly competent warrior badass that she was.  In the novelization, River describes Zoe as the scariest person on the ship Serenity because she is absolutely relentless when faced with a goal.  When the bad guys have both Captain Mal and Wash, Zoe goes in to buy back their freedom.  When told she can only have one, she chooses Wash before the bad guy can finish speaking, depriving the bad guy of an opportunity to sadistically torture her.

The challenge with a character like Zoe is that it takes a very skilled writer (and actress) to keep her from becoming two-dimensional.  If she becomes defined unilaterally as the person who gets stuff done, then she becomes purely functional, with no depth.  It's important to show her vulnerability without making her fail or otherwise undermining her competence.  Gina Torres often showed the depths of Zoe's emotion through body language, leaving no doubt that she was compassionate as well as protective.

When the Captain Mal makes a joke at Kaylee's expense, Zoe glares at him, steps between him and her, and takes over his burden.  Without a word, she makes it clear that Mal stepped over the line and if he does it again, he'll have her to reckon with.

When someone reaches for a gun while the crew is in the middle of a robbery, Zoe steps behind him, points her gun at his head and says "Do you know what the definition of a hero is?  Someone who gets other people killed."  Then when he relents, she adds, "You can look it up later."

Zoe also got some of the best lines, revealing her sense of humor:

Mal: A ship like this will be with you 'til the day you die.
Zoe: Yeah.  'Cause it's a deathtrap.

Mal: Hell, this job, I would pull for free.
Zoe: Then can I have your share?

I had the pleasure of seeing Gina Torres at this year's Comic Con and she gave an answer that I think sums up the character neatly.  Joss Whedon described Firefly's success as due to the characters.  That it was nine people looking out at the stars and seeing nine different things.  Someone asked Gina what Zoe saw when she looked out at the stars.

The answer: hope.

It was the perfect answer.  Because I think that's what truly drives Zoe.  She does what needs to be done, the things that no one else is willing to step up and do, because she has the hope for a better future.  It's what keeps her going when anyone else would collapse under the weight of experience.  That's what inspires me about her character and give me the courage to believe in the eternal possibility of hope, no matter how dark things might feel in the moment.

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

Check out my latest release, Spirit Sight, about a heroine who's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Or take a look at last month's Heroine Fix, the fierce but vulnerable Gamora.  Or my last blog post on finding a way to cope with my own blind spots.

Next month, I'll be sharing my thoughts on Sarah Lance from DC's Legends of TomorrowJoin me on June 13th's for next month's Heroine Fix.

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Thursday, 9 May 2019

Life Vs. Intentions

I'm sorry to have to announce that this month's Heroine Fix will have to be postponed.

I've been hit with some pretty devastating news involving my kids and as much as I hate disappointing my readers, I'm not in the headspace to post right now.

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on Zoe Washburne with you all, particularly since Gina Torres will be in Ottawa this weekend.  I hope you'll tune in next week to see what's going on.

Thanks for being patient and understanding.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Weekly Update: April 28 to May 4

Retreat word count: 20 518 words on Division

It feels very good to have a big chunk of progress behind me.  There's about 10-20k left to finish the draft.  Which hopefully should be doable before June 1st.

The retreat was very lovely with good weather and some awesome companions (waving hi to Anne Lange and Valerie Twombly) but I found myself going through some emotional ups and downs.  It's a sign that I need to listen to myself more because I've been pushing myself too hard.

I'm not quite sure what to do about it.  There's too much that needs to be taken care of and no one else that can do it.  But I have to keep remembering that I won't get it done if I drive myself into exhaustion.  And I need to remind myself of what I've accomplished, which is impressive.

However, I'm also very ready for something to go smoothly for once.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Facing Our Own Blindspots

We all have things we take for granted in life.  Most of them are pretty basic: the sun will rise and set each day, the earth is round, and I will always stick the USB stick in the wrong way the first time I try to plug it in.  Sometimes those assumptions are more problematic.

For example, if this person assumed their coffee was on their left.
On Tuesday, I re-released the first Spirit Sight short story, Whispers In the Dark.  I wrote it back in 2015 and at the time, I wasn't terribly happy with the editing I'd received but as a newbie author, I assumed they knew what they were doing and I didn't.  When I wrote the final installment of the trilogy last year, I knew that I wanted to have Whispers and Rose re-edited.  Nothing big but they needed a final polish to make sure they shone.

I hired a wonderful and talented editor, Cait Gordon of Dynamic Canvas.  I knew she was thorough and found her to have the rare talent of making me excited to receive and work on my edits.  But there was one aspect which surprised me and that was the additional work she did as a sensitivity reader.

I'd known she did sensitivity reads but I'd rather arrogantly assumed that she wouldn't find anything in my work.  After all, I consider myself a fairly liberal person and I take active steps to learn from different marginalized groups to avoid using harmful stereotypes and tropes.  To my humbling realization, Cait did find some unconscious assumptions in my language choices, particularly around the topic of mental health and intelligence.  (And to give full credit to Cait, I'm sure she must have been frustrated to see those choices popping up as frequently as they did but she explained the concerns in a gracious and comprehensive way.)

Some of the fixes were incredibly simple, eg, not using "crazy" as a shorthand for uncontrolled circumstances or strong emotional reactions.  But there was one that required me to do some unflinching examination of my own thought processes: the assumption that to be smarter is to be better.

In retrospect, it is perhaps unsurprising that I picked up that particular bias.  As a nerdy, non-athletic child, academics were my opportunity to shine.  It was one of the few areas in my childhood where I received praise from the adults around me.  I learned very quickly that to appear to effortlessly pick up skills and information was a desirable quality.  Later, I was placed in the "gifted" program, where we were often told we were the leaders of the future, destined to use our intelligence to do great things for the world.  Add in a multi-generation trend of perfectionism and declarations that tiny flaws would "ruin" otherwise marvelous events or creations and I was firmly installed on the train of Brains Over Brawn.

Cait explained how many of the terms we see in everyday language, such as fool, stupid, idiot, etc., all began life as pejorative terms for those with mental handicaps.  And as someone who flinches whenever someone uses misogynistic language, even if it's not directed at me, I realized that if I didn't change my ableist language, I would be inflicting the same stings on others.

However, I soon realized that avoiding such language did not come easily to me.  I had to spend a few days really breaking down my thought process to see why I tended to default to seeing making mistakes or not easily picking things up as such a negative character trait.  And like so many assumptions about character, it turned out that my own assumptions were based on flawed interpretations and wish-fulfillment.

I was good at being smart.  I was also bullied for being smart and for not being good at other things.  That led me to want to believe that being smart was better than being good at those other things.  This was reinforced by teachers and other academically-minded adults in my life.  It was further reinforced by general society and the books and shows I watched, many of which had the "bullied child grows up to be better than those who taunted them" theme.  I watched characters who were smarter be praised and those who weren't be used as the punchline of jokes.  The point of stories like Inspector Gadget, Get Smart, or Forrest Gump was that it was funny that a less intelligent person managed to succeed.  And often they had a smarter sidekick quietly making sure of that success.

Undoing that complicated web of experience is an ongoing task.  Sometimes I still catch myself using ableist language.  And I'm sure that there are times I use it and don't catch it, which makes me feel horrible at the thought that I've likely hurt people without realizing it.

Because at the end of the day, that's why we should strive to do better: so that we don't unintentionally hurt people.  (If you're deliberately hurting people, that's a whole other problem.)  It can be easy to lose sight of that in a knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness (that's not what I meant, they're being too sensitive).  It's reassuring to tell ourselves that we didn't really cause harm.  It means we're still good people and don't have to do any work.  But it doesn't change the fact that harm has happened.  And the more that a person insists that it didn't when faced with examples and offered education, the harder it is give them the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I do truly believe that the vast majority of people don't want to cause hurt.  But I also realize that the same majority isn't always great at accepting they've made mistakes.  As a recovering perfectionist, allow me to reassure us all that the world doesn't fall apart if we're wrong.  And that being aware doesn't suck the fun and creativity out of life, in fact, it adds to it because it means that people can just enjoy the story without worrying about the sting.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: The 10 Carat Eve Langlais

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Monday, 29 April 2019

Weekly Update: April 21 to 27

The week leading up to a vacation is always super busy and this was no exception.  I managed to write on Monday and Tuesday, but the rest of the week didn't quite happen.  Still, with a little luck and perseverance, I should be able to get a really good jump on finishing Division.

I've also been doing some work on educating myself on how to use my newsletter more effectively.  And trying not to decide I've failed... because that's usually how I feel after I take these kind of courses.  I either can't understand what they're suggesting that I do differently or I feel like an oblivious fool.  But it's important to keep learning.

And I saw Avengers:Endgame.  Without giving any spoilers, I'm darn impressed with the level of storytelling from the MCU over the last ten years.  These are the stories that I love and the kind of stories I want to tell.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Hidden Diamond: The 10 Carat Eve Langlais

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books that they love to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.

This month's featured author isn't very hidden but she is definitely a diamond.  Not only is Eve Langlais a fantastic author with lots of amazing books across multiple genres but she is also one of the most supportive and wonderful persons that I know.  She is my movie buddy (in spite of my tendency to watch through my fingers) and always seems to have a sympathetic ear or shoulder.

She's also got a brilliant sense of humour and a keen insight into a wide variety of characters.  That insight comes out in her stories, making them a fun, page-turning read.  She showed me the covers for her Chimera Secrets series this summer and I've been eagerly awaiting the release ever since.

I'm very grateful that she took the time out of her busy schedule to answer the Hidden
Diamond author questionnaire.

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

My wild and exciting research involves a lot of Google lol. The most intense I ever had to delve into a topic involved discussions with a psychiatric nurse with patient PTSD experience.

What is your writing process?  

Pantser and solitary. I tend to let the story follow the meandering path it wants, it makes for smoother writing. I work in silence (or try to lol), with kids it can sometimes get noisy on their days off school. No music. Just the voices in my head, although, I do sometimes talk out loud as I'm creating dialogue, lol.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax? 

I do a few things to relax, reading, of course, television shows (especially paranormal-ish ones) and Candy Crush!

Who is your favourite fictional crush? 

Um, I'm kind of embarrassed to say I don't have one.

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

Cavemen! Because they're stronger and meaner with great big clubs (and maybe a pet sabertooth or two, LOLOL. )

Thank you, Eve, for being a great friend and one of my Hidden Diamonds.  For those who want their own copy of Eve's Chimera Secrets books, you can find them here.

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on May 30th.  It's my birthday month and so there will be a double Hidden Diamond feature!

Or take a moment to check out March's Hidden Diamond: RONE award finalist Tamara Hughes!

 Or look at last week's blogpost: What does "strong woman" even mean?

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