Monday, 18 March 2019

Weekly Update: March 10 to 16

It's been a busy week.  I worked on a submission, the manuscript for Deadly Potential for Soul Mate Publishing, and got my short stories formatted for print and ebook.

I've also been working on some things for ORWA, my local RWA chapter.  We're starting to put together the workshops for 2020 and I'm managing our April workshop, Finding Your Unique Voice with Stefanie London.

On the home front, it's tax season, which means reconciling all my writing expenses and income and making sure I have all my receipts and other papers.

So yeah, a lot has gone on and it's been busy.  But it's not a bad kind of busy to be.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Heroine Fix: Through The Looking Glass with Tess and Ali of Burlesque

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

Not everyone has seen the movie Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher.  It's full of great song and dance numbers, elaborate costumes and some phenomenal actors (Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, and Kristen Bell, to name a few).  But that's not what has kept me watching it again and again.  What draws me into this movie are the characters of Tess (Cher) and Ali (Christina Aguilera).

Burlesque takes a different path than the typical small-town girl pursues her dreams and finds love stories.  In most of those stories, the Burlesque Lounge Club would be the low point in Ali's story, the thing she needs to be rescued from.  Except in Burlesque, Ali doesn't need to be rescued at all.  She works hard to get onto the stage and she loves it.  She rejects people who tell her that she should be aiming higher than a small club literally buried under the Sunset Strip.  It's one of the rare instances of a female character who never doubts herself, her talent, and what she wants.

Ali leaves her small town in Iowa because she "looked around and there wasn't one person whose life (she) wanted."  When she arrives in Los Angeles, she goes after what she wants with determination.  She tries to get onstage at the Burlesque Lounge but Tess rejects her.  Rather than slinking away, Ali picks up a tray and starts waitressing at the club.  She forces her way onto the stage during an audition in order to claim her space.  When the established star of the show sabotages Ali's performance, Ali seizes the opportunity to show off her vocal talents and earns a place as the new star of the show.  She even rescues Tess by saving her club from foreclosure by arranging for a local business owner to buy the air rights above the club, preventing a developer from demolishing the club and building a skyscraper.  She's an unusually proactive and confident heroine.

Tess is another strong and confident character who has some of the best lines in the movie.  ("I didn't divorce you so I could spend more time with you" makes me laugh every time.)  She handles her ex-husband and the greedy developer with poise and wit.  She gets angry and never hesitates to speak her mind, but also reaches out to Ali and te other dancers to give them support.  She's a beautiful mixture of motherly and fierceness.  She's glamorous and not afraid to be larger than life.

What really strikes me though is the fact that these two women are not placed in opposition to one another but actually support one another.  Positive intergenerational female relationships are unusual in fiction.  The younger woman is usually fighting against the older woman in stories (the evil stepmother, the monster mother-in-law) or older women are simply absent.  Tess challenges Ali but not in a destructive way.  They end up in partnership, working together to achieve both of their happy endings.

When I first saw this movie, I absolutely adored the characters and the Alice Through The Looking Glass motif.  It inspired me to take a chance on my own dreams, stepping away from fan-fiction and writing my first original manuscript.  That story is still buried in my hard-drive but with my second, I decided to take a little more direct inspiration and make my heroine a tough-as-nails burlesque dancer with a heart of gold.  I still listen to the music from the movie on a regular basis and last year, I gave a Basics of Burlesque workshop at Romancing the Capital.

I love stories that embrace confident women and female sexuality rather than punishing them.  And, of course, I adore stories that inspire hope and end with dreams achieved.  Burlesque is and will always be one of my all-time favourite movies and the one I turn to when my spirits sag.  It reminds me that dreaming big is the only way to live.

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

If you'd like to read about Dani, my superpowered burlesque dancer, now you can pick up Revelations for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Get started with fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

If you'd like something shorter and spookier, there's my Spirit Sight Short Stories, releasing between April 30th and May 14th.  Get them one at a time or the whole collection.

Or you can browse through the blog and check out last month's Heroine Fix about the brilliant and irrepressible Charlotte Holmes in Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.  Or you can read last week's blog post about the line between romantic and creepy.  Or if you're looking for other books to read, check out my Hidden Diamonds for romance recommendations with strong women, exciting adventures and paranormal thrills.  This month is Sally Brandle's romantic suspense series set in the Colorado mountains.

Next month, in anticipation of Avengers:Engame, I'll be looking at Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Join me on April 11th for your next Heroine Fix.
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Monday, 11 March 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 24 to March 9

The last two weeks have been very hectic and difficult for me.  I have been making progress on Division but I've fallen behind on my tracking.

The ORWA workshop with Shirley Jump was incredible and got me (and I think a lot of other people) fired up to get back to our keyboards and get writing.  Except there's a limited number of hours in the day and a lot of competing priorities right now.

My dayjob has been deeply affected by the changes announced by the Ontario government.  Families with autism are fighting hard for their children.  The stories are heartbreaking and so I've been putting in a lot of extra time to help them.  

There's also personal stuff which has left me worn down and not feeling very creative.

I also got some disappointing news from Soul Mate that my release date has been pushed back and won't be ready for July.  They've also decided to change the title back to Deadly Potential, which is still a good title but I liked Eyes On Me better.  However, this is part of collaborating with a publisher and I trust them to know what's best.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Line Between Romantic and Creepy

Recently I read a comedy article about the awful relationship advice contained in romantic comedy films.  There were some very valid criticisms about the tropes in such films, such as the coercive implications when a boss pursues an employee, people who fall in love with their stalkers, people who throw over presumably satisfying relationships to pursue the thrill of a chance-met stranger, men remaking women into their dream woman, and the perennial issue that I find particularly challenging, the hero who just "knows" that a woman is into him despite her vocal and frequent protests to the contrary.

A hug or a restraint is all in the experience of the one being held.

A lot of these criticisms can be summed up in one simple issue: what does the object of the character's affection truly want?

The black moment is a standard point in the plot arc.  It's the point when it seems impossible that the characters can be together.  Most romances follow the black moment with the grand gesture, when one character (often the man) does something public and dramatic to demonstrate that he is committed to the relationship more than anything else in his life.  The grand gesture is often the apex of the hero's character arc.  And it's usually one of the most touching and emotional parts of the story.

And yet critics of rom-com films have rightfully pointed out that the grand gesture can often also be interpreted as creepy.  A guy standing on your driveway with a boom box, blocking you from leaving?  Breaking up a wedding to proclaim your love for the bride or the groom?  Grabbing a person to kiss or grope them without any sign of their consent?  In real life, these are behaviours more like to lead to restraining orders instead of true love.

In a film, the hero doesn't know if the heroine is still willing to consider a relationship with him.  That's part of his character development, he's gambling on happiness rather than playing it safe.  However that is exactly the opposite tactic that people should follow in real life.  Because the truth is, unless you ask, you don't know what the other person is thinking and if they are no longer interested in you (or were never interested in you in the first place) then you have crossed a very important social boundary.

When I was researching emotional expression, I came across an interesting interpretation of the purpose of disgust: it's a sign of belonging.  If we are both disgusted by the same things, then our mutual connection to a particular group is reinforced.  And in personal relationships, suspension of disgust is a sign of affection.  It doesn't take much to think of examples.  My personal favourite is French kissing, which sounds like it should be awful (you let someone else stick their tongue in your mouth!) but is actually pleasurable when done with someone you're attracted to.

And that's really the fine line that separates romantic from creepy.  If a gesture or action prompts disgust in it's intended target, then it's horrible.  The action becomes an attempt to dominate or an expression of disrespect.

If the exact same gesture is met with welcome and affection, then it's romantic.  It's an expression of the feelings between the gesturer and the target.

In a film or a story, the writers and the audience know that the target is secretly receptive.  That's the definition of romance after all, that the characters will fall in love and be happy ever after.  There's no chance of disgust.

Real life is trickier.  People might appear to be receptive, but that's due to fear of being able to express their true feelings without repercussions, such as being fired by their boss or hurt/killed by their stalker.  A person forced to completely change their look and demeanor in order to be part of a relationship is being abused, not wooed.  And a guy might want to grab a girl and just kiss her (or vice versa), but if she is not reciprocating then the kiss is an unwelcome assault.

There's often a great deal of discussion about how much art should reflect real life.  And I believe that there is great opportunity within art to create change in how we see things in our everyday world.  In the late eighties, early nineties, romance made a concerted effort to normalize condom use and reframe it from a gesture of distrust into a symbol of protection and caring.  I believe that it is possible to do the same with consent, teaching people to see checking in with a partner as evidence of a true hero or heroine.  Recognizing a potential power imbalance and ensuring that their partner is entirely comfortable with what's occurring is a sign of respect and, indeed, confidence.  A character who doesn't feel the need to rush because they have faith in their partner is a darn seductive romantic lead.

And those are the kinds of stories that I want to read and write.

Previous Blog Post: Hidden Diamond: Sally Brandle's extraordinary heroines and romantic suspense adventures.

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Thursday, 28 February 2019

Hidden Diamond: Sally Brandle and the Inspiration Behind Her Independent Heroines

There are lots of 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 Hidden Diamond is a fellow Soulie, an author from Soul Mate Publishing, Sally Brandle.  She writes slow-burn romantic suspense set in Seattle and Montana, featuring women who learn to trust their inner gifts and the heroes who earn their love.  For those looking for a chance to meet Sally in person, she'll be at the Readers and Writers Author Event in Seattle on July 13th, 2019.  

Sally's latest book, Torn By Vengeance (Book 2 of Love Thrives in Emma Springs), has just been released for presale and will be available in May 2019.  Corrin is a skilled lawyer with a promising career but a determined stalker forces her to hide in Emma Springs.  Kyle is the town doctor and he might be charming but Corrin has sworn a moratorium on men.  A mix of thrilling suspense and sweet romance creates a compelling, page-turning story.

Today Sally shares the inspiration behind her Emma Springs series and her answers to our author questionnaire.

Writing What You Know

Fans and friends consistently ask where I’ve gotten the premises for the seven unique stories I’ve created. Do I have a vivid imagination? Yup. Do I watch people and their reactions? Ahh…yup. Unique personal history? Absolutely. Transferring my experiences and emotions to credible fiction challenged me to deepen the intensity of flickering moments embedded in my memory.

I haven’t witness an attempted mob hit, but the unsettling vibe for the opening scene of The Hitman’s Mistake came from one of Seattle’s government buildings. The atmosphere during a visit put me on edge during daylight, so I contemplated how creepy I’d feel in the shadows of evening. Getting Miranda’s premonition of doom on paper required multiple revisions. This wasn’t the case in the next story, Torn by Vengeance. Throughout the summer before I turned fifteen, a girlfriend and I crisscrossed our Michigan town on bicycles. One sweltering hot day, we headed to a local park adjoining a large river. We made a bad decision to hop off our ten-speeds and hop into a jet boat with a couple of twenty-year-old guys we’d just met. The progression of the unfolding events and how we escaped the bad situation remains firmly seared onto my brain. I manipulated the scenery in my book, but not Corrin’s recollections of fear. 

I’m currently editing the third book in the series, The Targeted Pawn, which casts the prospect for happiness squarely on the shoulders of a hero and heroine who are both closer to forty. Writing from a mature viewpoint allows exploration of unique conflicts, restrictive old habits, and the nuances of second chance romance. I married after I turned thirty, and stayed too long in a prior relationship out of loyalty, a core trait of my heroine, Elon. She’s been hired as a welder (my Dad possessed those skills) and bakes when she’s anxious. I had the privilege of travelling to Montana while working for a commercial French pastry company, so replicated familiar scenery and trusted baking tips into Rane and Elon’s story.

Researching unfamiliar elements constantly introduces me to interesting new worlds. I firmly believe if I don’t qualify the validity of an action, tool, or regulation, I’m leading my reader astray. And that’s not my style. For The Targeted Pawn I’ll need an expert on development near Native American burial grounds, so if you know of someone, please contact me.

Happy trails,

Sally Brandle

An Author Interview With Sally Brandle

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

Big red is a mule that plays a key role in The Hitman’s Mistake. My own equine buddy happens to be a Quarter Horse gelding, and I know enough about different horse breeds to realize the devil would be in the steed’s tails. I joined Facebook groups and asked for help on correctly describing characteristics unique to our long-eared friends. One kind soul invited me to her ranch to meet her mules. Driving into rural country reminded me of my Michigan childhood and Deb’s friendly assistance allowed insight into collaborating with a mule. The bonus is that I’ll be the guest speaker at her Backcountry Horseman meeting in April. If you find yourself in the shadows of Mt. Rainier on April 24th, look me up!

What is your writing process?

I churned out my first book in five days—fifty-five thousand words hitting the basic stages of romantic suspense in plot structure, but not in refined form by any stretch of the imagination. I took classes while producing seven more books. I’d say I’m a plantster hybrid. I write a big drafty outline, then plot out the necessary character, romance, and suspense arcs. Those become integrated into the manuscript. The real work begins after my wonderful Soul Mate Publishing editor, Sharon, offers her developmental suggestions sending me to my quiet desk. I’m not the coffee shop writer you see hunched over a laptop. We downsized about a decade ago, and I’m privileged to spend time in an office overlooking my garden, which slopes to a serene lake.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

Trail riding on my mature (he’ll be 29 in May) gelding, Lance, not only quiets my mental state, but loosens my back. To say I’m living the childhood dream I never had puts it mildly. Lance often poses his opinion, and during our seven years together, we’ve learned to compromise. Studies continuously show how horses sense human emotions, and I’ll share an example. I stayed overnight in the hospital with my dying mom, knowing she’d be gone by morning. My confidant, friend, travelling companion, and cheerleader passed peacefully at dawn. By seven thirty, I’d walked out of the hospital and driven to the horse barn. I’d been riding Lance about a year, and on this day, he was grazing at the far side of a pasture with several other horses. I called out to him, and for the first time ever, he trotted to me and rested his head on my shoulder so I could lean against his neck and process my loss. He gave me a gift I’ll never forget.

Who is your favorite fictional crush?

Rane Falconer in the Wild Swan series by Celeste De Blasis still resonates in my memory as a true hunk of hero, and I read the books over twenty years ago. His love for Alex and his willingness to fight to retain her unique spirit had an impact on my life.

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

My off-the-cuff answer would be cavemen. Survival skills never lose their impact, whether you instinctively sense someone’s following you or recognize which berry you can eat.

Thank you, Sally, for being my first Soulie Hidden Diamond!  And for those who want their very own copies of Sally Brandle's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her at the following links.

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on March 28th for a new Hidden Diamond!

Or take a look at last month's Hidden Diamond: Freya Barker

 January's Hidden Diamond

Monday, 25 February 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 17 to 23

Steady progress on Division this week.  I rewrote two entirely new chapters.

This weekend has been busy getting things prepped for Shirley Jump's visit to Ottawa next weekend.  I'm really looking forward to her ORWA workshop on March 3rd.  I had a great visit with the Author's Lounge ladies, despite some miserable weather.

And I've been organizing ORWA authors to go to Limestone Genre Festival.  

I'd love to be more eloquent, but I'm exhausted and next week looks like a doozy.  But I'll keep plugging away.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Genre Expectations

It seems like every few months, an author wanders into Romancelandia and declare an intention to do something innovative within the genre by creating a book where the primary characters do not fall in love and have a happily ever after.

The progression of reactions is fairly predictable after that.

A number of authors will (with varying degrees of politeness) explain that an HEA (or at least an HFN - Happily For Now) is the only required rule for genre romance.  They explain that the definition of romance is for the readers, so that reader know what they are buying.  (And trust me, nothing is louder or angrier than a reader who has had their expectations violated.)

This heart was ripped out by a disappointed reader.  Be afraid.
Outsiders to the genre often bring up Nicolas Sparks, or Romeo and Juliet or Titanic, calling them great romances that do not end happily.  Romancelandia patiently (or not so patiently) explains that those stories are not romances by the genre definition, specifically because they don't end happily.

There's also usually some further chatter where outside authors claim that knowing that a happy ending is coming makes stories trite and formulaic, removing the tension.  This usually results in Romancelandia going "Really?" and then pointing out the thousands of awesome stories that disprove this point.

Lots of different genres have expectations.  Mystery readers expect there to be a crime and to have that crime solved in a satisfying way.  Horror readers expect the majority of the characters to have a short shelf life.  Canlit readers expect there to be cold winds sweeping across the prairie as a metaphor for various stages of life.

Romance readers expect a happy ending and a love story.  I find it interesting that authors don't storm into other genres and mock the readership for their expectations (and then expect those readers to buy their books).  But it's no secret that plenty of people sneer at romance, despite the genre's popularity and profitability.  Whether it's inherent misogyny or elitism or some other reason behind it isn't that important.

The simple fact is that romance readers don't require permission from anyone else to enjoy what they enjoy.  And romance authors don't need to apologize for creating amazing stories that inspire hope and which bring readers that enjoyment.  If other people can't understand that, it's a sign of a fault within them, not of the genre.  

For a long time, I spent a lot of time explaining these things over and over.  But while I'm still happy to provide recommendations to those looking to learn about the genre, I'm done with people who try to use shame as a weapon.

I am a romance reader.  I am a romance author.  And I am darn proud of both of those things.  Romance is an amazing genre and if someone wants to sneer at it, then they've done me the courtesy of letting me know in advance that I don't need to bother with their opinion.

That's my own happily ever after.

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