Thursday, 12 July 2018

Heroine Fix: The Goddess of Death, Hela

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 Norse mythology and one of the things that's on my top ten list of things to do if I ever get a time machine is to go back and discover the lost sagas, particularly about the Norse Goddesses.  (Number one is to go back and see what dinosaurs really looked like.)  However, since that's unlikely to happen any time soon, in the meantime, I just have to enjoy modern interpretations.  Cate Blanchett's Hela, from Thor: Ragnarok was an amazing performance of an atypically nuanced villainess and goddess.  She may not be a heroine, but she is a strong female character and worth taking a second and third look at.

I stand by my conviction that Groot hates hats because he spent time on Asgaard.
One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is that every villain is the hero of their own story.  It's to ensure that your villain has a purpose beyond stopping the hero.  Hela's point of view actually makes for a compelling and heart-wrenching story.

She was Odin's first-born child, created out of a desire for conquest.  He raised her as his executioner, the one who executes his visions of the world as it should be and executes those who oppose him.  And Hela was very good at her job.  Powerful, dedicated, intelligent and resourceful, she conquered the nine realms for her father, binding them in chains of death and blood.  She wanted to continue, to bring all of the worlds under Asgaard's control.

But Odin didn't want that.  From Hela's perspective, once he'd achieved what he wanted, he decided he wanted to be seen as a benevolent king and wanted to cover up the dark deeds that were the foundation of his throne.  (One doesn't have to scratch too deep under the surface to see parallels between that and the civilized veneer that gets thrown up after atrocities.)  To give Odin a little credit, maybe he was horrified by what they'd done to achieve power, maybe he thought it had all gone too far.  But his solution left a lot to be desired: he imprisoned Hela in a pocket dimension, never to be heard from or spoken of until his death.

Thor: I'll just use my magic hammer... it works on everything.
Hela: Not a nail, blondie. :)
As a parent, time outs can be a good strategy.  But an eternal time out in solitary confinement does not make for a well-balanced personality.  And Odin knew she was going to eventually come out and wreak disaster but made no effort to prepare his people or Thor and Loki to deal with that.  Not the All-Father's best choice.

Hela comes back to the world and discovers she has been deliberately erased and forgotten.  Her brothers have no idea who she is and immediately attack her.  They're squabbling over what she sees as her throne, as the first-born.  Her people don't remember or recognize her and they're no longer the glorious warriors that she led into battle.  Her entire world has shifted and she no longer recognizes anything.  It would be overwhelming for anyone.

This is where she makes the choice that cements her as a villain.  Rather than try to adapt to the new world, or even taking the time to learn about what its pros and cons might be, Hela decides to recreate the world that she remembers so fondly, animating the dead soldiers and the Fenris wolf kept beneath the palace.  (Another of Odin's questionable choices: I've totally given up the whole conquest by force idea, but I'll keep my zombie army in the basement, just in case.)

Just add fire... lots of fire.
The last we see of Hela, she is fighting off the demon Surtur, who was awakened by Thor and Loki for the purpose of destroying Asgaard to weaken Hela so that she couldn't go on a galaxy-wide conquest.  (Talking out issues is not Odin's family's strong point.)  

Marvel's not big on redeeming their villains (at least not for anything beyond the short term) so while I assume Hela survived and we'll probably see her again, she's probably going to still be on the same "conquer the world" kick as before.  But I enjoy the idea of twisting stories around to show how the people we thought were bad guys actually have their own damaged motivations.  They might not have made the right choices in the past, but there's always a chance they can find a new, healthier path.  I would adore the chance to show Hela as learning and adapting to the modern world.  

She is the Goddess of Death, but death isn't always a bad thing.  It is the end of the old in order to allow for the growth of the new.  What if she began to target those who use their power to exploit and harm?  One could even plausibly keep it within her character arc by having her do it to knock off potential rivals rather than out of any altruistic goal.  But even Loki became enamoured of the idea of becoming a saviour.  Hela could begin to crave the recognition and adulation she would receive as a protector and that would allow for some interesting exploration of her motives and background.  She wants to be worshiped and recognized: what would she be willing to do to achieve those goals?

These are the questions that fan-fic is made of, but also the questions that inspire writers to write new stories in their own universes.  Because the best stories always start with "What if...?"

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

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like me? Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter with the hashtag #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to check out my version of a damaged but strong heroine who wants and fears redemption, please check out my Lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous Heroine Fix: Chosen Family with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Quake.

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Next month I'll be looking at Art3mis and Aech from Ready Player OneIt's time to play some games and save the world.  Join me on August 9th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 2 to 7 -- It's Done!

Weekly word count: 13 852

And more importantly <drumroll>.... the manuscript for Deadly Potential is done!

I would happy dance but I'm exhausted.  It has been a real marathon but it is done and a whole week before the RWA deadline!

It's not perfect.  It could use some tweaking for balancing description and action but if someone wanted to see it today (like say, an agent or editor), I could show it to them.

That is a very good feeling to have.

As promised, I'm going to give myself a bit of a break before jumping back on the writing train.  I'll still be posting blog entries but there are a number of places in my life that have been given a lick and a promise and now deserve some of my proper attention.  So I'm going to spend some time catching up with those.  And having a great time at RWA and then Romancing the Capital.  (And enjoying the summer with my kids.)

I don't think I'll be able to stay away from the keyboard for too long.  My stories are my outlet that keeps me going in life and they're always bubbling away in my head, demanding to get out.  So pretty soon I'll start announcing word counts and goals again.

But for now, I'm savouring the sweetness of "And they lived happily ever after.  The End."

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Temporarily Speechless

I am sooo close to finishing up Deadly Potential that I'm not doing a blog post this week so that I can get it done.

Regularly scheduled ranting and musing will be back next week.  Promise.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Weekly Update: June 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 12 610

The last week of school is always bittersweet.  I love the summer and spending time with my kids, but it also means that my to-myself time gets cut very short.  

But I am in the final stretch for Deadly Potential.  About six chapters left to go based on the outline.  Which hopefully will also give me time to review it before I have to send it off anywhere.

I've learned that several authors will be pitching based on partial manuscripts or have multiple books to pitch.  And as much as I tell myself not to make comparisons, I find myself doing it anyway and wondering if I'm kidding myself.  But while I may not have a half-dozen manuscripts ready and waiting, I do have a solid, well-written one that I can discuss and promote.  It's not going to be for everyone, but for those who get excited about romantic paranormal suspense, they're not going to have to wait.

I'm proud of this book and I hope other people will be intrigued by it as well.  I've worked incredibly hard to make this a complete, polished manuscript.  I've got four other books which I'm also incredibly proud of, which shows that I work hard and complete projects.  If that's not good enough... then I can honestly say that it's what I have to offer and I have put all of my cards on the table.  

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Ink Tip: Clean Vs. Dirty Romance

Labels can be good.  They are a way to pass on information quickly.  For example, if I describe a story as gritty noir, the person I’m talking to can safely assume that it will deal with dark subject matter, be graphic in describing suffering and violence, and there’s almost certainly going to be deaths within the story.  On the other hand, if I describe something as a beach read then they know it is relatively light in terms of subject matter, happy endings are guaranteed, and the pacing will be quick but not intense. 

And if I describe it as a George R.R. Martin read, then you know to buckle in for a long ride.
Sometimes the terminology used for labels brings its own baggage and issues.  And one of the most problematic examples of that is describing romance novels with no sex (or only closed-door/fade-to-black sex) as clean.

Our society already has a challenge with sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality.  There is only a narrow window where it is accepted: when a woman is young, attractive, and thin.  (And there’s a corresponding issue that women who do fall into that category are excessively sexualized and are therefore made vulnerable to sexual predators.  And for those who aren’t sure what I mean, take the usual drunken rape scenario and imagine it with a grandmother in her mid-sixties instead of a college girl in her early twenties.  The level of societal outrage would be much higher.)  Women who are older, not conventionally attractive, or overweight are not expected to be sexual beings and are often mocked if they defy those expectations.  Luckily for all of us outside-the-mold gals, we have romance novels with a wide variety of heroines who get happily-ever-afters in all walks of their lives.

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with whether or not a story graphically portrays sex.  I’ve read wonderful novels where everything after a kiss fades to black.  I’ve read wonderful novels that were about the hero or heroine’s erotic adventures and were 90% or more graphic sex scenes.  In the interest of bias disclosure, I’ll admit that my preference falls in between those two extremes: where there are some steamy sex scenes but they don’t dominate the plot. 

But I do have a problem with using the term “clean” to describe the fade-to-black end of the spectrum.  Because it implies that the other end is “dirty” and that is an unfair designation and perpetuates the stereotype of women’s sexuality as unnatural and undesirable.  I much prefer the term “sweet” romance or using the same system they would use for films.  A G rating would be a book with no sex.  PG would be some implied, but not explicit (closed door/fade to black).  R would be explicit and X would be a sex-dominant plot.  We’d need something between PG and R for books that were steamy but not necessarily explicit.  Maybe an S for sexy or steamy?

At the end of the day, quibbling over a single word is a small thing.  But small things have a habit of building up, especially where labels are concerned.  Because labels are verbal short-hands, which means that they carry baggage by definition.  I think it’s worthwhile to make sure that they’re only carrying the baggage that we intend to convey and aren’t loaded down with things that are unnecessary or potentially harmful.

If you like steamy romance with a strong action-adventure plot, you can try my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is now available for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous blog post: Strangling My Evil Little Voices

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 12 839

Two weeks left until Ad Astra (July 13 to 15) and my book launch for Judgment on Saturday, July 14th from 3 to 5.  I'll be answering questions and serving cookies.  And I'll also be in the vendor room for most of the conference.

Three weeks left until I'm on my way to Denver for RWA 2018.  I've got my stuff ready for the indie signing on Friday, July 20 from 3 to 4 and my pitch ready for that same morning.  (Friday will be a terrifying but exciting day, which means that Friday night, I will be in my relieved-have fun mode)

Six weeks left until Romancing the Capital and my workshops on non-verbal communication and the basics of burlesque (PG-13 only and it'll be a no cameras allowed workshop), as well as the giant book signing on Saturday, August 4th from 4 to 6.

And then... quiet.  Which I am also looking forward to.  Sometimes it feels as if 2018 has been a full-tilt kind of year.  But when I look back at what I've accomplished, I feel pretty proud of myself.  (And also slightly like I need to be a better boss to myself... with more appreciation and less disappointed face.)

The next two months are going to be intense.  But also, very cool.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Strangling My Evil Little Voices

Writing stories for a living has always been a dream of mine.  It was one of the biggest, scariest dreams that I had and right now, I'm in the process of giving it everything I have to see whether or not I can make it come true.

I think all of us have the little voice inside that says: it's better not to try because if you try and fail, then  you'll really look stupid.  The loudness and persistence of that voice varies from person to person.  Mine is a whisperer but it never has to take a holiday, which has added an extra level of difficulty to trying to make a writing career work.  

I thought I had reasonable expectations, but I also joined the writing market during a transitional period, which meant that things did not go as expected and I was faced with a much sharper learning curve than I had anticipated.  Which only made the little voice louder.

I haven't had as much support as I would have liked from those around me.  (And before anyone's feelings get hurt, I have many awesome and wonderful friends and colleagues who have been amazingly supportive and great cheerleaders... this part isn't about them but the next part will be.)  I've had people close to me dismiss my stories as garbage because of their genre, deride my sales levels as pathetic, and tell me that I am causing harm to my family with my insistence on pursuing this dream when it is clearly not going to work out.  Those people made the voice even louder.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm lucky to also have many great people around me who have supported me and who remind me that this is a process and give me the strength to keep going.  I'm eternally grateful to all of them and can't thank them enough, but like many people, it's much easier to believe the bad than it is to accept the good.  Still, their voices help to keep my little voice from getting louder.

This is one of the reasons why I think it's critical to have a supportive writing group, one that is honest about its members' own struggles and that is willing to cheer instead of deride.  ORWA has been that for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I would not be this far without them.

But I can't always rely on external cheerleaders to drown out my little voice of doubt.  I also needed to find ways to do it on my own.  I keep a journal of accomplishments, both big and small: being asked to speak at conferences, points where I completed my writing goals, and most importantly, a reminder that I am doing what I set out to do: I have stories out there and there are people who enjoy those stories, including complete strangers who have no reason to be "nice" to me.  I use those reminders to counteract the little voice and tune it down to a dull whisper.

Maybe someday, I'll get that little voice to shut up completely.  But even if I don't, I've already achieved the greatest hurdle.  I didn't let that voice stop me from giving my dream a try.  And if I don't succeed, then, yes, I'll probably look stupid.  But there are worse consequences in life, like constantly wishing I had the courage to try.  

This is a big reason about why I love romance.  The happily ever after is reassuring but most of the actual story is about people, particularly women, having the courage to try.  There are usually huge obstacles lined up against them and there are tons of voices, both big and small, telling them to play it safe and not risk it.  But they do.  They gamble everything on the chance at happiness rather than accepting the status quo.  They take a chance to thrive rather than just survive.

And that's what I've done and that's why I'll continue to toss the dice and bet on hope.

If you'd like to support my writing dream (and haven't already done so), you can pick up Book 1 in my series, Revelations, for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  It's about a secret society of superheroes, where a burlesque dancer with superstrength teams up with a child therapist who can read emotions and memories through touch and together they struggle to save their loved ones from an evil corporation who is collecting people with supernatural abilities.

Previous blog post: Heroine Fix: Quake from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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