Monday, 19 November 2018

Weekly Update: November 11 to 17

Weekly word count: 7 458

And I'm going to take a moment because I realized I have written over 60 000 words in the last eight weeks.  Granted a big chunk of that was at the writers' retreat in October but regardless, it's still an awesome accomplishment and I'm feeling pretty good about it.

It was a quieter week progress wise for me.  I spent some time on a minor rewrite this week but still managed to get two solid chapters done.  

I keep waiting for the moment when I realize I have to rewrite a bunch of it, because I've done that with every previous manuscript, but so far, I'm really liking where I've gone with this story. 

Fingers crossed I can keep up the progress.  Taking the weekends off has been working well.  Friday ended up being a really difficult day for me and because I haven't been writing on the weekend, I could take time on Saturday and catch up instead of beating myself up for falling behind.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Love Notes: The Many Variations of the Love Song

Sometimes it seems like every song on the radio is about love.  Love found, love lost, love remembered, love treasured, love sought and love broken.  It seems to be the part of the human experience that most drives us to create art, expressing the nuanced emotions that can feel incredibly difficult to put into words.  Love makes us happy and it makes us sad and nothing seems to quite express that like adding some chords and rhymes.

It’s even a common shortcut in television and movies.  Want to show that a character is falling in love?  Have them dance and sing. 

(Despicable Me 2: Gru dancing to Pharrell's "Happy")
Want to show that their heart has been broken?  Singing sad love songs alone in their home is a pretty good indication.

(Bridget Jones' Diary: Bridget singing Celine Dion's "All By Myself")
Personally, I almost always have a soundtrack going.  Sometimes internal, sometimes external.  It's one of the reasons why I have specific playlists that help me get into the mood of a scene for writing.  The right music helps me to connect to the emotions I need for my characters.  It's also the reason why I tweet out some inspirational lyrics every Tuesday, because I know I'm not alone in how music makes me feel.

In the movie Music and Lyrics, Hugh Grant has a surprisingly insightful rebuttal to the common dismissal of pop songs: "nothing will make you feel as good as fast as 'I got sunshine on a cloudy day/When it's cold outside, I got the month of May'."  Music links to our memories and emotions in a similar way to smell.  It's not just the melody or the lyrics, it's the memories of being happy or heartbroken that come up with every repetition.  With only a few notes, we can find ourselves immersed in an emotional flashback.

There are love songs for every phase of a relationship or crush, from Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop The Feeling".  There's songs for longing, from ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You" which is about missed opportunities and regrets of what might have been to The Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" which is about wanting to be with a particular person so much that the singer is willing to give up everything.  There are songs about attraction (Glass Tiger's "Hungry Eyes" and Lady Gaga's "Poker Face") and songs about recovering from heartbreak (Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On").  (And that's just a small sampling from my music library.)

When I'm feeling stuck on a plot point, I'll listen to random songs and try them out against my storylines.  Maybe my heroine is recovering after being hurt by an ex-boyfriend.  Is she going to be defiant (Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot") or wistful (Roxette's "It Must Have Been Love") or optimistic (Phil Collins "You Can't Hurry Love")?  

Writing to music isn't for everyone, but music is an important part of our lives and that's what makes it easy to connect to.  There have been a number of theories that suggest that music, like math, is a universal language that transcends barriers and different cultures, which is why samples of music were included in the Voyager space probe.  It can feel incredibly intimate, like when someone thinks of their partner every time a particular song comes on.  But no matter what a person is experiencing, odds are that someone, somewhere has written a love song about that experience.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to spend some time browsing on iTunes.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Kira Nerys of Deep Space Nine

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Or have a look at the stories that all of these love songs have inspired.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Weekly Update: Nov 4 to 10

Weekly word count: 8 797

Want to hear something funny about how my brain works?  For most of the week, I was actually feeling kind of discouraged about my writing because I'm well below the little line on the graph that tells you when you're making your targets to reach the NaNoWriMo goal.

It doesn't seem to matter that I knew in advance that I wasn't aiming to do 50 000 words.  It doesn't seem to matter that I knew in advance that my goal was to be sustainable, which meant not writing on weekends.  It doesn't even matter that it's still darn good progress.   It's not at the line, and therefore, I couldn't possibly be "doing well."

But you know what, I am doing well.  I have succeeded in exceeding my goal average of 1500 words each weekday.  I wrote nearly nine thousand words last week, which is great.  And more importantly, I'm not exhausted and I still have time on the weekends to do things like plan my social media posts and write my blog entries and remind my children what I look like when my nose isn't stuck in a computer.  By every standard of measurement that I care about, I am succeeding.  Just not according to an arbitrary line on a graph.

I still think NaNoWriMo works for me.  Wanting to meet the arbitrary daily goals has helped to push my butt into the chair and my fingers onto the keyboard far earlier in the day than I would usually manage.  But I have to remember to keep my eye on the greater picture when I'm deciding whether or not I've succeeded.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Heroine Fix: Kira Nerys

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

One of the great pleasures of parenting is getting to introduce your kids to the things that you enjoyed as a child.  (Though sometimes it's painful when your favourites haven't aged well.)  Over the last few years, I've been going through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with my son and one of the things I've greatly enjoyed about reconnecting with the series is Nana Visitor's portrayal of Major Kira Nerys, a former freedom fighter who was part of the fight to drive the Cardassian occupiers off of the planet Bajor and who is now part of the official Bajoran government, trying to get used to diplomatic solutions rather than violent ones.

One of the challenges with early science fiction television is that the female characters often had very limited roles, as was parodied in Galaxy Quest where Sigourney Weaver's character merely repeated the computer.  Kira was unusual in that she wasn't presented as serene and patient, or sensual and seductive, or cool and competent.  She gets frustrated, loudly and frequently, expressing her irritation with politics and the stupidity of other people.  It's a refreshing role model, especially since the other characters accept her anger and don't diminish her as a person or as an effective leader.

Another part of the character that I found intriguing was her spirituality.  Religious and spiritual rituals don't have a big part of the Star Trek universe.  It's most often used as a plot point for a reveal that time travel or alternate dimensions or alien beings have been the source of some religious belief.  And in this case, Kira follows the teachings of the Prohpets, alien beings who exist beyond linear time in a wormhole.  But knowing that her gods have a physical form doesn't undo Kira's belief in their teachings or in the role they play in her culture and life.  She's not apologetic about her beliefs but she also doesn't push them on other people.  It was one of the few positive examples of spirituality in pop culture that I recall from my early years.

I also liked the fact that Kira had fought for her freedom.  These days, her stories about the Cardassian occupation strike a little closer to home.  She did something that I don't think many people would have the courage to do: work with the man personally responsible for many of the atrocities that occurred in her lifetime, Gul Dukat.  She doesn't ignore his actions.  Indeed, she throws them in his face at every opportunity, forcing him to acknowledge what he's done.  But she still does what is necessary, even when it puts her in an awkward situation.

She also doesn't shy away from acknowledging that she also did terrible things in pursuit of her planet's freedom: bombs, assassinations, and sabotage.  In season one, Kira is very quick to judge others.  She expresses her anger at collaborators, at the damage the Cardassians have done to the planet, and the need to work with the Federation.  As the series progresses, she learns that the situation isn't always as simple as it appears on the surface.  In the season 6 episode Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night, Kira travels back in time and discovers that her mother became one of the Cardassian comfort women.  At first, she assumes her mother must have been horribly forced and tries to protect her.  Then she discovers that her mother has accepted the role and Kira ruthlessly condemns her as a collaborator, selling out Bajor in exchange for her own full belly, helping a resistance cell to plant a bomb in her mother's quarters.  At the last minute, she discovers the real reason why her mother is choosing to stay as a comfort woman: her family.  By providing sexual favors, Kira's mother is able to give her children and husband a place with adequate food and away from the capricious whims of the Cardassians.  She may be a collaborator, but she's also a provider and a mother who cares desperately about her family.

That's the most valuable lesson that I took away from Major Kira.  That even when someone is quick-thinking and quick-acting, they can still be open to discovering the rest of the story.  That passion and compassion don't have to be opposite sides of the coin.  And that there is always room for a strong woman who isn't shy about expressing her opinions.

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

If you want to read about my own impetuous and opinionated heroines, start with Revelations, now available for just 99 cents US (1.27 Cdn) on all platforms.

Or you can check out some other posts, like last month's Heroine Fix on Evey from V for VendettaOr last week's post on why The Crow is one of my favourite dark romances.  Or visit my Hidden Diamond page to discover new authors who write paranormal romance, romantic suspense and strong female characters.  October's feature is fellow Canadian Rosanna Leo.

Next month, I've decided to do my first holiday-themed Heroine Fix: Georgia Byrd from Last Holiday, played by Queen Latifah.  It's a story about how sometimes fear can hold us back and sometimes it can push us forward.  It's about seizing the day and how even those heroines who are larger than life can get a happily ever after.  Join me on December 13th for your next Heroine Fix.

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Sunday, 4 November 2018

Weekly Update: October 28 to November 3

Weekly word count: 5 143

First week back from vacation, not as productive as I would have hoped but there were a lot of things that needed to be taken care of.  It was still respectable though.

I'm settling into Nanowrimo.  Since I'm not writing on the weekends, I have 22 days to write 45 000 words, which means a daily target of 2 045 words per day.  But I have to be honest, my real goal is to make sure that I am sitting down to my computer every weekday at 1 pm, rather than letting other responsibilities eat away at that time.  If I can be at the keyboard for 1, I will have two and a half hours every weekday to write.

For the first two days, I didn't do it.  On November 1st, I had a meeting which was rescheduled from October 31st and I didn't get any writing time in the afternoon.  I did spend some time writing after my kids got home from school but I was distracted and interrupted, so it wasn't terribly productive.  But it was five hundred words further than I would have been if I hadn't made the effort, so that counts.

November 2nd was better.  I got to my keyboard by 1:20 and did 1932 words by the time I needed to finish.  

The ORWA meeting this weekend was fantastic.  We had a private investigator in and he shared all kinds of useful information on what private investigators and security are actually allowed to do (versus what movies tell us they do) and some very interesting stories about his time working as private security for a hotel and doing skip-traces to find people trying to run out on their debts.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

The Dark Love Story: Why The Crow Is A Perfect Romance

Last week, I watched The Crow, which is one of my all-time favourite movies.  It's full of tragedy, romance, and quotable lines.  Since it is Hallowe'en, I thought I'd take a moment to examine why it works as a romance even though the primary couple is murdered in the first few minutes.  (This is gonna have spoilers and if you haven't seen the movie then I highly recommend pausing and having a watch because it is just that beautiful.  Trigger warnings for rape and violence.)

Eric Draven and Shelley Webster are a couple in love, planning their wedding when four men break into their apartment and kill them both.  A year later, a crow brings Eric back from the land of the dead and he hunts down the men who hurt and killed Shelley.  And not just those directly involved, but the pawn shop owner who accepts stolen goods, knowing that his clients have hurt or killed their original owners, and the organized crime kingpin who ordered Eric and Shelley's apartment block cleared and holds the city hostage through violence and arson.  When they are all dead, Eric returns to his grave where Shelley is waiting for him and they fade into the afterlife together.

While I realize the "kill the girl to motivate the hero" trope is problematic, this particular example has always swept right past my conscious mind to hit me right in the feels.  Eric isn't looking for anyone else.  He is utterly devoted to Shelley and comes back because he can't rest due to the injustice of what's happened to them.  It is never directly said, but it is implied that if the city had been less corrupt, and those who attacked him and Shelley had been held accountable, he wouldn't have needed to return to life.  The original comic was written by James O'Barr after his wife and young daughter were killed in a random shooting.  O'Barr was also injured and spent a long time physically recovering from his injuries.  He's said it was like coming back from the dead and The Crow grew out of a need to give himself closure.  For me, that's enough to make the difference.  The story is coming out of a place of authentic pain rather than a quick plot twist to provide motivation.

The story is, on the surface, a story of revenge and justice.  Eric heals instantly from his injuries, can wield martial arts and weapons with a superhero's ease, and is fearless in the face of those who have used terror as a weapon.  But it isn't a "fists solve all problems" story.  Eric absorbs memories from objects and people.  He takes the memory of 30 hours of Shelley's pain as she struggled to survive in the hospital from the cop who stayed at her side and transfers them to the crimelord, allowing him to truly experience the suffering of his victims.  Eric's abilities were the inspiration for my own first hero, Michael, because I've always thought the power to experience things through others' eyes would be one of the most incredible superpowers.  

There are plenty of people who enjoy the movie for its action (and I am one of them) but there's also a deeper story, an urging to take the time to connect with our loved ones and enjoy the moments we have with them.  Eric says "Little things used to mean so much to Shelley, and I always thought they were kind of trivial....  Believe me, nothing is trivial."  His love for her is the defining element of his character and shown beautifully in the cinematography choices.  The current day scenes are almost black and white in their starkness, while the flashbacks that tell the story of Eric and Shelley's love are soft and warm and full of colour.  Those are the most important parts, not the necessity of doing what needs to be done.

To qualify as a romance, a story needs to focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine and have a happily ever after.  Although The Crow is dark and deals with tragedy of the most devastating kind, the visual and emotional emphasis on the flashbacks are why it has continued to endure when other stories of revenge-action have faded from the collective memory.  And although Eric and Shelley are both dead, they do end up together and happy, presumably to exist in peace beyond the reach of the pain of the mortal world.  So I am happy to shelve it as a dark romance.

There was talk a few years ago about possibly doing a remake.  I don't think there's a way to reasonably improve the original but I've always felt there was potential for other stories of other lost souls returning on dark feathered wings to make right what once went wrong.  (And yes, I was a fan of the short-lived TV series.)   If someone was going to remake The Crow, I would hope they would do it as an extension of the mythology.  I'd love to see a story about a mother or wife returning to wreak the same kind of vengeance on those who hurt her family.  But in the meantime, when I feel like the world has lost its hope and that justice seems to be more of a punchline than a goal, I remember the story of Eric and Shelley and remind myself that no matter how dark the clouds are in the moment, it can't rain all the time.  And I hold the final words of the movie close: Buildings burn, people die, but real love is forever.

If you'd like to check out Michael and Dani's story, Revelations, the first book of the Lalassu series is currently on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Michael uses his ability to sense emotions and memories through touch to work with developmentally challenged children and when one of them is kidnapped, he plunges into a world of secret superpowers that he never knew existed.

Or you can have a look at last week's blogpost: October's Hidden Diamond: Rosanna Leo and the Vegas Sins series.

Or just take a look at the blog homepage.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Weekly Update: October 21 to 27 - Writers' Retreat (With Photos)

Weekly word count: 20 559

That is almost an entire month of my usual word counts done in one week.  It was an incredibly productive week on the beach and I didn't feel like I was burning myself out or rushing.  

It's actually given me some real insight into how I might be able to work when (hopefully) I can transition to writing full time.  Right now my biggest challenge was that I generally only do detailed plots for a few chapters ahead and I'm used to having at least a day between scenes to think about what I want to do next.  

However, I found that taking a short break after I finished a scene worked well for me.  I went for a walk on the beach, got something to eat (if it was a meal time), watched 30 minutes of a movie or show on Netflix, and then I got back into the writing groove, ready to go.

Starting on Thursday, I'll be participating in Nanowrimo and while I don't think I'll quite hit the 50 000 mark, I'm setting myself a goal of 45 000, which should allow me to move much further along for book 5.  And meanwhile, I'll be dreaming about the beach for next year.