Monday, 16 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 8 to 14

Weekly word count: 3991

This last week was probably one of the more difficult I've experienced.  I don't want to go into details, but I took a lot of emotional hits from different sources.  I'm used to being tired and feeling run down, but this was the first time in a long time that I felt the same way I used to during the short run of time at school when I was getting beaten up on a regular basis.  Remaining still hurt, trying to move hurt, and every hurt brought back waves of pain and humiliation, as well as a despairing certainty that there was no escape.

I wasn't physically hurt this week, but the emotional toll left very physical aches in its wake.

So I did something I rarely do.  I was gentle with myself and gave myself time off, both from my day job and from writing.  I allowed myself some time to heal, with the result that when I went to the library for a few hours of writing on Saturday, I wrote over 2500 words.

I wish this was something I didn't need to force myself to remember.  It would be so much easier if it was a default: I need a break so that I can get back to being productive faster.

But I still end up feeling guilty.  As if feeling bad isn't enough to "earn" a break.  In fact, I probably wouldn't have been able to do it if I hadn't been feeling physical pain along with the emotional stuff.

It's something I need to work on.  Add it to the list.  :)

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Heroine Fix: Striking The Right Note With Sophie (Music and Lyrics)

Each month, I focus on a well-written heroine who inspires and influences my own writing.  What can I say, I'm addicted to awesome heroines.  You can check out all of my Heroine Fixes to see some amazing characters.  Warning: This post will contain spoilers.

This month, I went back to an old favourite, 2007's Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.  It's a romantic comedy about a former eighties pop star and the dedicated, idealistic woman who helps to drag him away from dreaming about the past.  It's got a sweet, well-written plot and a fantastic soundtrack of songs that I still listen to over a decade later.

I love stories that include music.  My DVD library is full of musicals, and I grew up during the "soundtracks are just as important as the film" movies, like Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  That's probably why the heroine for my latest novel is a singer-songwriter.  But as I went back to watch Music and Lyrics, I was surprised to remember how strong Sophie's (Drew Barrymore's) character was.  And frankly, how supportive Alex's (Hugh Grant's) character was.

Most romantic comedies seem to center around having the woman prove to the man that she is in fact capable at her job (like The Ugly Truth, for example), or having the woman decide that her career isn't as important as the man of her dreams (Kate and Leopold).  It's something that bothers me and has made me skeptical of the genre.  But it doesn't happen in Music and Lyrics.

Sophie is talented at putting together words into rhyme and meter (which is much harder than you think.  Try coming up for new lyrics to fit Mary Had A Little Lamb and you'll see).  But she's been creatively burned, so she is reluctant to try again.  Alex is very persistent, going to visit her at work and inviting her to see him perform.  Each time she doubts herself, he immediately tells her that she has impressive skills.  He convinces her to give writing a song a try.  He will provide the melody, and she will create the words.

The conflict arises between their approaches to the music industry (and life in general).  Alex has been hired to write a song for a pop music superstar, Cora, called A Way Back Into Love (based on her tragic breakup with her boyfriend after **two** whole months of a relationship).  He is focused on creating whatever Cora will want to record.  He treats this as a job where the customer's requirements are more important than the promptings of his inner muse.

Sophie, on the other hand, is idealistic.  She believes in making things "right" and things are either right or they're not.  She argues with the superstar when Cora wants to add a faux-Indian hip-hop opening to their song.  When Cora refuses, she demands that Alex change Cora's mind.  He refuses and she accuses him of selling out, launching us into the black moment.  (They reconcile before the end, I promise.)

The other part of Music and Lyrics that I find refreshing is the relationship between Sophie and her sister Rhonda.  Rhonda was a huge fan of Alex's, back when he was a pop superstar in his own right.  It would have been narratively easy to set up their relationship as one of competition, pitting them against each other.  Instead, the two of them are friends.  Rhonda genuinely cares about her little sister, and is excited for her when Sophie and Alex start dating.  That kind of supportive female friendship is too rare in fiction, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to have a supportive pair of sisters in Deadly Potential.

When I first watched the movie, I didn't like that Sophie didn't successfully challenge the jerk of a professor who had a relationship with her while she was his student (not telling her about his fiancee), used their relationship as the basis for a novel, casting Sophie as a narcissistic villain, and undermined her creative confidence by claiming all of her work was a slavish copy of other great minds.  She has an opportunity, but she stammers and flubs her way through it.  It leaves her even more humiliated.

But watching it again, I realized that this is actually one of the movie's strengths.  Because her strength doesn't depend on a flawless confrontation.  She can be amazing and awesome without ever having to deal with a man who has hurt her over and over again (and who frankly wouldn't be changed by a confrontation anyway).  Her moment comes from denying him any further power over her actions and choices.  It's cutting him off that is the key to breaking his hold, and once she does that, she can be free to find her new place in the world and accept love.

Sophie doesn't have superpowers, or martial arts skills, or any of the bonuses that many of my Heroine Fixes do.  She's facing a problem that most of us have dealt with, an ex who broke our spirits and confidence.  And she succeeds in a way that any of us can follow, by giving herself a chance to pursue something that she enjoys and is good at.  That's inspiring and is exactly the song that I'm ready to march to.

Keep reading to learn more about Deadly Potential and find out some of the other awesome things that you can find on my website.

When Katie first began receiving the letters, she thought they were just odd fan mail.  That sort of thing happens when your sister is the Princess of Pop.  But Ben recognizes the notes as the signature of The Director, a stalker-serial killer who is suspected of having psychic abilities that have helped him to evade capture for a decade.  He'll need all of his skills as a Special Investigator to keep Katie alive, but it's going to be difficult when he's distracted by falling in love with her.

Deadly Potential, available for pre-order now and releasing on October 23!

You can also look at last month's Heroine Fix: the brilliant and brave Dr. Ellie Arroway from ContactOr join me next month on October 10th for next month's fix.

Previous post: a new and personal monthly feature: Reclaiming My HEA

Blog homepage

Monday, 9 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 1-7

Weekly word count: 5600

Always fun to start a new project.  I'm working on book 2 of Special Investigations.  I had an outline, but some things changed between writing book 1 and getting book 1 published, so I've had to substantially change what I was planning to do.

Nonetheless, I am enjoying the heck out of playing with new characters and new scenes.

There are a lot of intense things going on personally for me right now.  I'm having to spend a lot of time fighting for my child to get the help he needs at school, which is emotionally draining.  And legal issues which need to be dealt with surrounding the separation from my ex-husband.

It is astounding how many organizations will ask for documentation, then decide that documentation is not good enough and ask for still more documentation.  And yet, I can't see how the new documentation they're requesting is any more rigid than the previous set (i.e., if they think we've faked the first set, then faking the next set would be just as easy).  It reminds me of insurance claims that keep asking for paperwork.  They don't actually care about it, they're just hoping that the claimant will give up under the repeated requests.  But I'm stubborn and I don't give up, even when all the evidence suggests I should.

I also signed up to judge the RITAs for 2020.  I won't be submitting my book, but I'm committed to making sure that all books submitted to the contest have a fair shake (which hasn't always been true of the judging in the past).  Hopefully I get some good entries.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Reclaiming My HEA: Starting Again At The Beginning

I've decided to start a new regular feature on the first Thursday of every month: Reclaiming My HEA.

Last year, I separated from my husband of nearly 20 years.  It was a difficult decision but we'd reached a point where the things we wanted from our relationship were no longer compatible.

It put me in a difficult position.  Obviously, I wasn't in the best frame of mind to be writing romance and couples falling in love.  There were points where it was actually painful to read and write my favourite genre, because it hurt to see couples overcoming immense differences when my own relationship was falling apart over things which seemed eminently more fixable that the fictional obstacles, if only both partners had been willing to make that effort.

But at the same time, romance kept me from becoming bitter and angry.  Every time I did read a romance, I was reminded of the central premise behind the entire genre: that there is always a chance at love, no matter how bad things seem at any given moment.  

Life is not solely a series of battering events where one can only aim for survival.  There are wonderful moments, too.  And any person, no matter how difficult their life has been, can find themselves living a life better than they ever dreamed.  Romance gives us the stories that keep us going.

Through the support of my friends and my stories, I came to see my decision to separate not as a sign that I had failed at love, but rather as one of my self-worth.  That I didn't (and indeed shouldn't) need to accept a relationship that made me feel like less than I truly was.  I hadn't failed, I had re-opened the opportunity for my own happily-ever-after.

I don't know what the future has in store.  I'm well aware that the odds are against me, but that no longer frightens me as it once did.  The act of creating room for hope has made me happier.

I'd like to share this journey with you, my readers.  It's a scary new world, but isn't that where all of our favourite stories start?

Monday, 2 September 2019

Weekly Update: August 25 to 31

Weekly word count: 2489

It's been a challenging week recovering from FanExpo.  I had a lot of fun but it was a long drive and there were some logistical challenges with where I was staying.

I spent the week feeling exhausted.  I went to bed early and still could have napped through the day.  I started to worry that I was getting ill but there was no fever or other symptoms.  I was just worn out.

I didn't start to feel like myself until I had a full day of no pressure.  No day job, no writing, no working on social media posts.  Just a quiet day of recharging with one of my favourite romantic comedies (Music and Lyrics) and some good books (Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storm trilogy and Sharon Page's An American Duchess).

It's a reminder of the importance of taking time to recharge.  I'm glad that I'm feeling much better now.

And even more excitingly, those 2489 words let me finish the first draft for Division.  There's still work to do before it goes to the editor, but that's mostly small things compared to having gotten the first draft finished.  I'm going to leave the manuscript for a few weeks and then get it ready for a developmental edit.

Meanwhile, I can get started on Until Proven Guilty, the second book in the Special Investigations Case Studies series.  Plus another project I've been working on, one that I was doing some research for while I was at FanExpo.  

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Hidden Diamond: Rhonda Frankhouser's Matriarch of Ruby's Ranch

There are so many books out there that it can be hard for readers to find the books they would love to read.  Every month I feature a fellow romance author who writes paranormal romance, romantic suspense, or amazing female characters.  

It's time for Back to School and this month's Heroine Fix is a fellow Soulie, Rhonda Frankhouser, who writes about feisty cowgirls falling in love.  Her most recent release, Legacy of Ruby's Ranch, is all about the matriarch whose namesake ranch inspired the series.

From the moment her grandmother presses an ancient amulet into her palm, Rube Gautier’s life changes. Chosen to lead a mystical life in the service of her village, she’s expected to marry within the community and confer with the spirits to lead her people, but all she really wants is a normal life, on a ranch of her own far away from Oklahoma, with a man of her choosing. When she lays eyes on Mac, hope for a different future begins to blossom.

World War II hero, Mackenzie Adams finds more than he bargained for at a local livestock auction. When he catches sight of the fiery redhead commanding a crowd of roughneck ranchers, his heart pounds faster than it had when he’d stormed Omaha beach. He’d never seen so much passion and so much angst in such a beautiful package. Unfortunately, she’s bound to another life.

Sparks fly between Rube and Mac even as danger lurks around them. The spirits insist Rube must fulfill her destiny, and they will do what they must to see it done, even if it means taking those Rube loves away from her.

The Power of Tradition and Symbolism in a Good Story

Hi, my name is Rhonda and I’m an addict. Over my years of book-addiction, I’ve found I’m drawn to drama and controversy. I’m not proud of it, but I get sucked into the against-all-odds stories where tormented souls search and fight for freedom and love. The more desperate and angsty, the better. Even if it means the character in question will lose what they’ve sought to follow, and change their own set of (often misguided) deep-seated values, I’m all in. Oh sure, I cry and fuss at them. But I respect them all the same for following their beliefs.  

Even when reading fiction, I pick up something about the plight of man’s battle between good and evil. I’ve learned the most about religion and spirituality, not from the Bible or the animated preacher, but from talented authors weaving it into their beautifully researched prose from every time period. Signs and symbols play a powerful role in reminding the faithful follower of their purpose in life. Some talismans are meant to soothe while others threaten to scold. Think the Christian cross, the Ischthys (Fish), the Star of David, and the Yin and Yang, to name a few. Each symbolizing the essence of their own religious or spiritual beliefs.  

In my latest release, Legacy of Ruby’s Ranch, my heroine, Rube Gautier, is born into a culture steeped in ancient tradition. When her grandmother placed the silver Lauburu into Rube’s hand, the burden of her people’s safety and future was hers to bear. For this feisty cowgirl who dreams of a new life, the struggle between love and tradition tears at her.  

The Lauburu is an ancient Basque talisman which symbolizes culture and unity among other things. Some interpretations lean toward the philosophical (physical, mental, emotional and perceptual), while others believe the four heads are representative of the essential natural elements or seasons. In my story, I’ve used a mix of these beliefs to guide Rube’s journey. As a former philosophy major, I’ve had a bit of fun mixing my two worlds together.

Do you have an important symbol in your life? How does is support and guide you? Next time you’re reading a new book, see if you can pick out instances in the story line where tradition and culture play a part. I’m sure you’ll find a few. I’d love to hear about your experiences, both as a writer and reader where values dictated a character’s path. Thanks for listening.

Check out all of Rhonda's books on Amazon
Hidden Diamond Questionnaire

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

I’m not sure if it’s wild, exactly, but I spent hours binge watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. My husband was sure I’d lost my mind.

What is your writing process?

I do a little plotting to get the main theme of a new book, then I let my pantser personality take over. When I first started writing years ago, I spent days outlining different story ideas, which ended up being a writer’s prison for me. When I tried to force my characters to move and act according to my will, they went on strike and stopped talking. So, I gave in and let them dictate the story. They haven’t disappointed me so far.

I’m DEFINITELY a flow writer who prefers to be alone during the writing process.  I can’t even listen to music that has lyrics. I’ve tried, trust me, but what I found on my read back, were those same lyrics written into the storyline. So, it’s nice easy acoustic guitar or soft Celtic love songs for me.  

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

When I really need to relax, I head to the mountains, find a hammock and breathe. I’m not a big city kind of girl. Birds chirping, wind in the trees, the scent of pine, these are my kind of heaven.

Who is your favorite fictional crush?

My latest fictional crush is, yes, cliché, Jamie Frasier from Outlander. Oh mercy, I’m a sucker for a hot highlander. I know it’s not original, but it’s true. It’s no wonder my gorgeous husband has a bit of a red tint in his hair. Wink!

Astronauts or cavemen?

This is a timely debate for me to enter into, especially after my recent research binge of the Ancient Aliens series. I’m easily an astronaut girl. They would be smarter and more cunning. That alone would outdo the primitive sensibility of the caveman.  

Thank you, Rhonda, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  Join us next month on September 26th for next month's feature.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

How Much Is This Worth? A look at what goes into making a book

Recently, as I was going through Twitter, I ran across a series of posts from frustrated readers complaining about the price of books.  Specifically, about a publisher who used to price books in the $3-$5 range, but is now pricing in the $10-$12 range.  There was a response from an editor at one of the larger publishers explaining that while they could understand the frustration, readers also needed to recognize that a lot of work goes into producing the books they enjoy reading.  The editor finished with a plea for understanding, that the publishing world doesn't do things to deliberately spite or drive away readers.  They are a business and businesses can't operate on the devoted love of their fans.

It'd be nice if being awesome covered rent... but we're not there yet.

As someone who was coming of age during the time of Napster, I remember the seductiveness of it.  Downloading a digital copy (usually of a song I already owned on CD at first) made it so easy to put together the music I loved.  I justified it to myself, saying that I didn't have a lot of money, and it was greedy of the big music corporations to ask me to spend $10-$20 on a CD with a dozen songs, only a few of which I actually liked.

Then someone said something to me that changed how I saw it forever.  That yes, maybe the corporations were greedy and only paying their artists pennies on the dollar, so that the artist I loved was only getting a dime from my $10 purchase.  By refusing to buy it, I was denying the Evil Corporation its $9.90.  But I was also denying the artist their dime.  And I needed to remember that most artists needed those dimes if they were going to continue to make art.

It was an eye-opener.  And as I became one of those dime-hungry artists myself, I started to see how not paying that $10 affected more than just the person whose name is on the front of the creation.

A book is more than just the author's creation.

There are editors, usually several of them for each book, all spending a significant amount of time (weeks and sometimes months) on very painstaking and sometimes tedious work.  (I would not be able to spend my professional career searching for misplaced commas for a line edit.)

There is the cover illustrators, who are artists themselves and deserve proper recompense.

There are the support staff.  All of the people who keep the business running and who make sure readers and vendors know about the amazing books that are out there.

And we can't forget the author, who has likely spent months, if not years, in the process of creating the story.

When looked at from that angle, there are a lot of people who are putting a lot of time and energy into creating a book (and this doesn't change according to the format, whether digital, physical or audio).  They all need to be paid out of that $10.

So now I want to say something to those who are upset about book prices.  I get it.  Times are tough and money doesn't stretch very far.

But when you see a publisher charging $10-$12 for an ebook, instead of thinking the publisher is trying to take advantage of readers, please think of it as a publisher who is treating their staff and authors with respect, and paying them for their work.