Monday, 15 July 2019

Weekly Update: July 7-13

Weekly word count: 1050

Considering that Tuesday was spent in the emergency room and Wednesday through Friday were enforced no-work days, I will take this total.

I have managed to injure my hands in such a way that it will take several weeks to recover.  (A fall in a parking lot for those who are curious.)  They're sprained, not broken, for which I'm grateful, but the pain is still enough to make me cautious.

These days I'd give a great deal for mutant healing abilities.  It's been a week of watching Netflix, which sounds great in theory, but not once you're in pain while doing it.

Don't worry.  I should be back on my feet in time for Romancing The Capital.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Heroine Fix: Mazikeen, Totally Worth It

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature where I share amazing and interesting female characters whom I admire and inspire my own writing. This post will contain spoilers.

Those who know me are well aware that I adore the television series Lucifer, with its irreverent take on Christian mythology.  And one of my favourite characters is the title character's best friend and right-hand demon, Mazikeen (Maze for short).

Whereas Lucifer is conflicted about his purpose and nature, Maze is confident in her own path.  She is on Earth to protect Lucifer and enjoy herself with sex, liquor and violence.  It's only as Lucifer shifts into doing more and more good that she begins to doubt her place.  She and Lucifer have been partners for millennia.  She was his head torturer and second in command.  If he is abandoning that part of his life, its a rejection of her as well.

The rejection leaves her lost in a society she doesn't understand.  Human customs seem arbitrary and hypocritical.  For all that she enjoys physical pleasures, they aren't enough for her.

Any one would be overwhelmed when faced with the diminishing of a long-term partnership, and the erosion of our understanding of the world.  Most of us would give up.

Mazikeen returns to Lucifer and demands respect and acknowledgment.  In his narcissism, he doesn't understand why this is so crucial to her.  She takes the incredibly scary step of following through on her ultimatum.  She leaves him to find her own place in the world.

In doing so, she discovers a richness she'd previously despised: the humans.  She begins a friendship with Linda, a psychologist who knows the truth about demons on Earth.  Linda helps her to understand human customs (though not without some setbacks and misunderstandings).  Mazikeen also befriends Trixie, a young girl who is not afraid of the supernatural.  The relationship with Trixie brings out Maze's protective side.  No little girl has ever been safer from anyone looking to hurt her.

She finds a job that she loves and excels at, a bounty hunter.  She can find any bad guy and bring them back easily.  She revels in her skills and how easy it is for her to show-up the more macho, experienced bounty hunters.  Watching her take unrepentant pride in her accomplishments rather than dismissing them is frankly inspiring.  So often women are trained to accept compliments with a "here's why I don't deserve this" instead of "damn right, I am awesome."

In season 4, Mazikeen does something that will forever cement her as one of the bravest characters I've had the pleasure of watching.  Throughout the series, she has protected herself by keeping a flippant distance from even her closest friends.  She rarely admits any feelings beyond rage, and tends to be dismissive of her relationships (even though she's taken incredible damage in order to protect her friends).

In this most recent season, Mazikeen falls in love with Eve (the actual Eve, as in the original human woman mentioned in the Bible).  Eve is in love (or at least infatuation) with Lucifer, and enlists Maze's help to win his heart.  Mazikeen takes the risk of telling Eve how she feels (in a glorious cover of Oasis's Wonderwall), knowing that it is most likely that Eve doesn't feel the same way about her.

Mazikeen allows herself to be completely vulnerable.  And when Eve misunderstands the gesture, Maze has the courage to accept that what she wanted isn't possible.

She could physically force Eve to be with her.  She could have lied and tricked Eve into a relationship.  But she wanted something genuine and wasn't willing to settle for anything less.

Because Maze knows what she's worth.  And she's worth the happily ever after with someone who adores her and whom she adores, the challenging job that she's brilliant at, and the respect and friendship of those in her life.

We shouldn't settle for anything less either.

Previous Heroine Fix: Sara Lance from DC's Legends of Tomorrow

Previous post: Overcoming Writer's Block

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Monday, 8 July 2019

Weekly Update: June 30-July 6

Weekly word count: 4127

Steady progress.  Hopefully next week goes better since I'll have both kids in camp rather than facing a steady stream of "I'm bored."

I have come up with a rather clever parenting plan for the younger.  His teacher commented last year that he was having trouble with the standard five paragraph essay structure.  He would repeat himself rather than explaining his conclusions.

So for this summer vacation, he is allowed to watch movies during the day.  (Usually they have a strict 2 x 30 minutes of screentime each day.)  However, for each movie he watches, he has to provide me with an outline for a five paragraph essay.  So far he's done "Ghost was not really a bad guy" for Ant-Man and the Wasp and "Ways the Cree Made Vers Think She Wasn't Powerful" for Captain Marvel.  He's still struggling a bit but making improvements.

For those worried about his vacation quality time, it's entirely optional.  If he doesn't want to watch a movie, he doesn't have to do the outline.  It's cut down on his complaining and I have the illusion of teaching him something.  Wins all around!

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Breaking Writer's Block

There is nothing more frustrating to an author than when the words on the page just aren't flowing.  Whether the page is staying blank or progress feels like we're struggling across a gravel slope, it can be disheartening to be the one wooing the creative muse.

However, there are techniques that can help.  Here are the ones I've found helpful.

Is it a problem with the story or something external?

Lots of things can affect creative output.  Depression, stress, and a number of other health and life problems will cut down word counts.  So my first step is to figure out if something external is to blame.  I've found the best way to do that is to take a break from my WIP and try something else.  If I can dash off 2k words of fan fic or chasing a plot bunny, then the problem isn't with me, it's the story.

Where is the problem with the story?

The vast majority of the time, when I'm having trouble with a story, it's because there's a plot hole or a faulty character arc or plot line.  Sometimes I can pin down where it is fairly quickly and sometimes it takes some work.  I generally find the best way to find it is to either write out my plot by hand or talk to someone.  Writing by hand uses a different part of the brain than typing, so the switch can let me see things from a different angle.

After that comes the hard part.

Sometimes we have to sacrifice the best bits.

Sometimes I really want to include a scene, or a moment, or a character.  But sometimes they're just not working in a particular story.  They're slowing it down or making things too complicated, or require narrative convenience to make them work.  It's heartbreaking to let them go, but I tuck them into the "use it later" folder on my computer.

This isn't exactly "kill your darlings" advice, it's "be willing to do what's best for the story" advice.  There will be other stories where your darlings can thrive and get the best possible versions of themselves. 

Sometimes this means substantial rewrites and if that's the case, then that's something else that we need to be willing to do.  Even if it means a book is delayed, it's better to have a book delayed and then be good than to put out something flawed.

Dealing with writer's block is one of the things I think of when people tell me that they think writing is easy.  Writing can be easy, when everything is going well.  But when it's not, that's what separates professional authors from enthusiastic amateurs.  Professionals do the work that isn't as much fun, that can be tedious and difficult.  But they do it because they're driven to do it.  And that's what makes it special.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond Interview with Olivia Dade

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Monday, 1 July 2019

Weekly Update: June 23-29

Weekly word count: 2314

I'd made some good progress on the ending for Division but the ending didn't feel right.  I spent some time thinking about it and plotting it out and I think I have a better ending now.  Hopefully progress will be faster after this.

I also got my final edits back for Deadly Potential from Soul Mate.  The release date is set for October 23rd.  I'll let you all know once it's available for pre-order.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Hidden Diamond: An Interview with Olivia Dade

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books 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.

I am very excited to share this month's Hidden Diamond, Olivia Dade.  I first met this lovely woman through a weekly romance author chat on Twitter and quickly formed an online friendship through our mutual quirky sense of humour.  Then I had the chance to meet her in person last year at the RWA national conference and discovered that she is just as lovely, witty, and caring in real life as she is online.  And she writes some of the most wonderful, three-dimensional characters that I've ever read.  Her latest book, Teach Me, has become my go-to summer reading recommendation.  It features an educational romance between two teachers, a statuesque ice queen and a slightly dorky cinnamon roll of a hero.  And I'm looking forward to Desire and the Deep Blue Sea with its fake relationship, a pair of librarians, and a week on a tropical paradise reality show.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Olivia.

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

One of my upcoming books features a forty-year-old heroine and a twenty-something, former-tennis-pro hero. My exhaustive pursuit of literary excellence, then, required staring intensely at my favorite tennis players as they ran, sweated, emitted grunts of efforts, and bent over from the waist at satisfying intervals. Sometimes—through endless, hard, Google-related work—I even located videos of them training shirtless and/or immersed (again, shirtless) in ice baths after their matches!

I know, I know. It’s sheer lunacy. No one expects writers to sacrifice so much for their stories, but I am fiercely committed to realism in my work, down to the tiniest details. I asked myself all the important questions, such as: How do endless lunges and squats affect the curve of a tennis pro’s posterior? Also, would he make those same sounds in bed?

You’re welcome.

What is your writing process? 

I’ve always, always worked best alone and in silence. Other parts of my writing process have changed over time, though. I’ve become much more of a plotter than I used to be, because—as I’ve discovered—without an overarching framework for a story, I tend to overlook key elements as I write. For instance, something story experts call “a plot.”

Before I begin drafting a story, I now write down my story arc, which gives basic information about the main characters (their appearances, their backgrounds, their goals and motivations and fears) and delineates key plot points. It also traces developments in the romantic relationship and the progression of individual characters’ internal arcs.

I put a lot of thought into that document, so I tend to follow it somewhat closely when I draft—and if I deviate too much from it, I often find I’ve written myself into a corner or gone wrong in some other way. But since I don’t determine the details of various scenes ahead of time, I still have plenty of room for creativity and improvisation as I write.

The process works well for me, but one of the great joys of writing, I think, is seeing how radically different processes can all lead to equally amazing books. So if your process is very, very different from mine, please don’t question yourself or despair! :-)

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Reading. Always and forever.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

This answer changes all the time, but I’ll tell you about my latest crush.

So here’s the story: I’ve never had HBO, I don’t enjoy violence, and I need happy endings. Thus, I did not watch Game of Thrones. However. A month or two ago, my Twitter timeline was abuzz in a shipping frenzy over two characters on the show, Jaime and Brienne. Idly, I clicked on a GIF of the fictional couple.

You should know that when I re-watched Wimbledon (the movie) last year, the first time a particular secondary character showed up on-screen, I gasped and immediately paused the movie to find out what other movies he was in and—more importantly—whether any of those movies included full-frontal nudity. That secondary character was, of course, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. At that point, I must have seen that he acted in Game of Thrones, but again, the whole HBO/violence thing stopped me from pursuing the matter further.

But then. But then. All those Jaime/Brienne GIFs! All those Jaime/Brienne video clips! That FACE! That face GAZING ADORINGLY AT BRIENNE/GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE!

Dear reader, I shipped them. And here’s the glory of the internet: I could repeatedly watch a 48-minute supercut of scenes starring Jaime and Brienne without seeing any of the stuff I didn’t care about or found off-putting. (Such as, say, twincest. Or pushing a kid out a window. Or anything involving any of the other characters.)

Basically, Game of Thrones might as well be called Game of Jaime and Brienne for me, and I’m not even sorry.

P.S. In my head canon, they end up on Tarth, where she’s in charge of everything important and he devotes himself entirely to her sexual satisfaction and making her smile with his sly wit and punching anyone who doesn’t sufficiently admire and respect her. THE END.

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

Oddly, even though I could have written like twenty more pages about Jaime and Brienne, I have no answer for this. I want to say cavewomen? Somehow?

Your technique for incorporating organic and non-distracting description is amazing.  Do you have suggestions for authors looking to do vivid descriptions with a minimum of interruption to the flow?

This is very, very kind of you. I want to be clear: I am not naturally skilled at writing description. In fact, about two or three years ago, I decided to draft a story specifically designed to push myself in that area, because I realized descriptive passages were a major weakness in my writing. (The story was a futuristic gothic, which featured entire chapters with no dialogue or sex. Dialogue and sex come pretty easily to me as a writer; evocative descriptions do not, but they are crucial in gothic romances.)

My basic rule is this: Any description has to serve an important purpose. It is not an end in itself. Sometimes, it’s there to orient readers and allow them to picture the characters or a particular setting (especially the first time a character appears or a setting is used). Other times, it’s there for symbolic or foreshadowing purposes, or because it reveals something about a character and/or their emotions and/or the plot. I’ll also include descriptions that are funny, and thus serve the tone of my story.

Even if the description is serving one or more of those purposes, I generally try to keep it brief, because I worry about pacing. I don’t want readers to get bored and set down the book, never to return.

Also, the best description is vivid, with punchy language. It comes from the POV character’s perspective, distinctive to what that particular person would notice and how they would describe it. I’m still working on that part of things, and I highly recommend reading Joanna Bourne’s books as exemplars of POV-infused description. She’s a master.

How do your story ideas come to you?  Do you start with a scene, a character, a concept or something else?

Different books emerge in very different ways for me. For example: the book I mentioned earlier, with the former-tennis-pro hero and forty-year-old heroine? The original idea for that story came from me randomly watching the French Open and thinking idly to myself, “You know, 40-Love would be a great title for a romance.” It’s my only story that ever sprang to life entirely from a title idea.

In “Cover Me” (a novella originally published in the Rogue Acts anthology, which I’m bundling with another story and republishing later this year), I wanted to write a romance about health insurance and breast cancer. Teach Me came from my desire to explore (sexily!) how toxic masculinity hurts people of all genders. So thematic/plot elements sometimes drive me to write a story.

Sometimes, I’ll decide I want to write a particular type of character. An absentminded-professor type of hero (such as Thomas in Desire and the Deep Blue Sea), or a latter-day-hippie heroine (such as Lucy in Tiny House, Big Love), or…anything that sounds interesting to me.

Other times, a certain plot element might drive me. For the longest time, I wanted to write a contemporary romance where one of my main characters would propose to the other—with the expectation/fervent hope of getting turned down. The other character would say yes, even though they didn’t want to get engaged either. Then each of them would try to get the other to dump them…even as they both fell in love. It took me years to figure out what particular set of circumstances would make that sequence of events plausible and fun! But I finally worked it out, so I hope to write that story soon.

Finally, if I end up obsessed with a particular television show or movie or sport or…whatever? It’s showing up in a book, in one form or another. :-)

To me, that’s one of the other absolute joys of writing: Your stories can come from anywhere. Literally anywhere. Obsessive viewing of tiny house shows? Sure. Ogling Dominic Thiem’s very fine ass? Definitely. Shipping a particular couple on a violent television show and ignoring literally everything else about the show, including the on-screen death of half that couple? Oh, JUST YOU WAIT.

Thank you, Olivia, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And if you'd like your own copies of Olivia's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here.

And thank you for joining us!  Come back next month on July 25th for the next Hidden Diamond.  Or check out last month's double feature of Rayanne Haines and Barbara Nolan.

Monday, 24 June 2019

Weekly Update: June 16-22

Weekly word count: 3059

Another difficult week and one that's got me thinking about what I'm going to do next.  There are a lot of balls in the air and some of them have got to go.

There will be some difficult decisions ahead.  As much as I wish everything was going to happen smoothly, the last year has shown differently.  I keep hoping that I'll get back to a manageable situation and so far it has eluded me.