Monday, 16 October 2017

Weekly Update: October 8 to 14 (Can-Con)

Okay, let's get this out of the way first: weekly word count was zero.

<hanging my head in shame... and now I'm done>

It was not a productive week for writing but it was an amazing weekend at the Canadian Conference for Speculative Fiction.  I had a great time, caught up with some friends, got stood up for coffee (but was secretly kind of glad because then I could go home early and I know I'll get to see that person another time), I chatted with Tanya Huff and Charles de Lint, was avoided by Robert J Sawyer (I'm assuming, since he slowed down in front of my table about a half dozen times and then hurried on to something else... because the universe revolves around me, duh!), saw my Browncoat buddies, my original fan, gave some panels, did a reading (to people who didn't know me personally), stayed up way too late, got up way too early, explained the RPG, sent people on secret missions for hot chocolate, wore the same shirt as the Con-director, chatted with the Heart Tea Heart tea guy (Robert, see, I remembered his name), gave away a ton of kisses and buttons, oh yeah, and sold some books.

Can-Con is, without doubt, the best-organized con I've ever attended and one of the ones which is actively inclusive and always looking for ways to improve.  The people who set it up each year do an amazing amount of work and genuinely care about making sure that everyone feels safe and included, and has a chance to enjoy themselves.  Can-Con was my first con and as I've done more and more, I've come to learn how much of a rarity those two things are.  And how valuable.

It was a great antidote to the anger and vulnerability that's been filling my news feed lately.  And a reminder that for every jerk who is abusive, there are at least dozen other people who care, are supportive, and willing to make changes.  It reminded me about all the awesome folk who bond over Star Trek, Star Wars, card games, Firefly, Buffy, X-files, Marvel, DC, and all of the other worlds created out of imagination.  

One of the panels which got me doing some thinking asked about our favourite 'ships.  (For those not familiar with the shorthand, that's a relationship which is implied by the text or show, but never officially developed.  So for example, Ron and Hermione wouldn't count, but Hermione and Harry would.)  My favourite implied 'ship is River and Jayne from Firefly and Serenity.  First of all, she's a telepath, so would probably appreciate Jayne's "never hold anything back" approach to conversation. Secondly, Jayne is a big enjoyer of all things violent and River is superlatively and gorgeously deadly.  Third, and this is the important part, Jayne is the first person at River's side during most of the scenes when she's in danger, far more often than her brother or Captain Mal.  He does it even though she beats him up and humiliates him and he hates humiliation.  But he keeps coming back to her side.  And there's this little moment when he thinks she's dead, and there's a little pained, determined set to his mouth as he watches Kaylee and Simon.  In that moment, he's thinking he's missed his chance (that's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it).  So I have my happy little fan-fic world in which Jayne and River get together and create gorgeous, smart (from her), deadly babies who take over the verse.

But then, on the way home, I was thinking about Loki (whom I adore and feel is terribly misunderstood.  Just because he has no value for human life doesn't mean he's not worthy of love... yes, I have issues.  I accept that).  He's a force of chaos and change, necessary as a counterpoint to the law and order side.  But there's no one in the Marvel universe who would really be a good pairing for him, at least in my opinion.  He would need someone strong, unafraid of power, who's not afraid of the crazy... oh my gods, I'm talking about Harley Quinn and didn't even realize it.

So now, I have an idea for Loki/Harley Quinn Tom Hiddleston/Margot Robbie fan-fic bubbling away in my head and oh sweet Christmas, do I love it!  (It may involve the Defenders, whom I'm also enjoying at this point, we'll see if it gets that far.  Because Loki and Harley could totally take out Danny Rand, which would make me happy.  And she'd slap Daredevil out of mopery, which would also make me happy.  And they could pair up with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and go on a massive crime spree... And and AND it would get Harley away from Joker, who is fun but abusive and she deserves a man of refinement and psychopathy who will treat her like the queen she is and Loki would have someone who isn't afraid to challenge him on his bullshit and who would encourage him to work with what he does best instead of constantly pursuing a throne that he wouldn't want once he got there because it would be boring and require too much stability... and I may have done too much thinking about this but the sentences just keep running on because I'm in love and yes, this is really what my brain looks like when I'm excited about an idea.)

Which is why editing is really crucial for me.

But I need to take a breath and store that on the "really awesome ideas for later" pile.  Then buckle back down to finishing Judgment.  Because the next time I see Tanya Huff, I need to have a new book ready for her to buy and love.  

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Heroine Fix: Wonder Woman

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

Sometimes, I think modern women forget how far we've really come in the last century.  In 1900, women were not allowed to vote and while we were allowed to keep pre-marital property, any wages or income post-marriage belonged to our husbands, and we were considered "persons" under the law for penalties but not for rights or privileges.  The Victorian ideal of a woman, devoted to children, home and husband, stayed strong.  An ideal woman was artfully weak and helpless, deferred to others (or stayed silent and invisible entirely), and the best possible compliment was that everything she managed ran smoothly without anyone seeing her make an effort or even realizing she was there.

In October 1941, Wonder Woman burst through the pulp pages of comic books to become a female icon.  She wasn't demure.  She was not deferential.  She did not rely on men to do things for her.  She was an Amazon (and for many, this was the first time that they would hear of the ancient Greek legends of female warriors) and was declared a Goddess of Love and War.



Wonder Woman was the first female superhero and is the one with the longest run.  She was created by Charles Moulton, who was an early pioneer in inventing the lie detector (under his real name of William Moulton Marston).  He and his wife and their lover created Wonder Woman as a foil for the male superheroes of DC comics.  They wanted a hero who would conquer with love instead of by punching.  They wanted her to be a female role model for girls.  In 1943, Marston wrote: "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power...  The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman."


Now, Marston also had some not-entirely-compatible ideas of female empowerment through submission and a bit of an alleged fetish with bondage, but that doesn't diminish the power of what he and his partners created.  For the first time, the female character wasn't a girlfriend, secretary or victim.  She was one of the powerful, one of the good guys.

But she wasn't effectively a male superhero with odd bumps.  She was a different kind of hero, one who loved children and animals, who could nurture as well as kick butt.  These two things weren't seen as mutually exclusive traits, they were both sides of her personality and neither negated the other.  She lived up to both interpretations of her name: she was a "wonder" in being a woman who was as strong (or stronger) than Superman and she was a woman who embraced the "wonder" of the world around her, able to enjoy it rather than brooding or hiding.


Granted, she wasn't always properly written.  When she joined DC's Justice League, she often found herself in the hands of writers who couldn't figure out what to do with her, so she got coffee or did the filing while Batman, Superman, the Flash and the Green Lantern went out to battle evil.  But in the right hands, she became something unique and valuable: a woman who grew up without society and culture telling her to be less.


Wonder Woman grew up in Themiscyra, a mystical island populated solely by women and cut off from the outside world.  Thus it never occurred to her that there was a job that women couldn't do.  Women do it all in her world and are never told that they are over-reaching, being unfeminine, or dismissed and cursed.  She was never cautioned not to do something because boys might get the wrong impression.  She was never told not to get her clothes dirty or to worry about wrecking her hair.  She was never told that people don't like smart women or strong women.

She is what all women could be, if they were given the same confidence as men.


That is an incredibly appealing concept to me.  Most modern female superheroes are dark and brooding.  They kick butt, but they don't talk about their feelings or have healthy relationships.  I love them and enjoy writing them, but I can also appreciate Wonder Woman as an alternative.  She is kind and optimistic without being silly or stupid.  And without giving up any of her power.  She has faith in the world, not because the world deserves it, but because she has confidence that she can deal with any failures or problems.  That's something I would like to explore more fully and I already have story ideas starting to take root.


I'm glad that the recent movie has breathed new life into Wonder Woman and introduced her to a new generation.  She take her place among the many different role models for girls, showing that they can be strong, powerful and uncompromising without losing wonder, joy and love.

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like I am?  You can sign up to get each month's Heroine Fix by email and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Next month, I'm going to do one of my all-time favourites: Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Her transformation from nerd to witch to goddess is definitely worthy of celebration.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Weekly Update: October 1 to 7

Weekly word count: 4500

Today's delayed update is brought to you by Canadian Thanksgiving, where we ate turkey and marveled over being able to wear shorts.  And debated how Thanksgiving got started in the first place (leading "facts": Thanksgiving was created by the train company to encourage people to travel home, and Canadian Thanksgiving used to be in November, but got moved to October so that it wouldn't take away from Remembrance Day.  I have not looked either of these facts up yet, so I am not responsible if they turn out to be plausible bullsh*t).  We also had a brief talk about the myths of Thanksgiving and how European settlers actually treated native North Americans (spoiler: not great).  And then we made everyone go around the table and share what they were thankful for this year before sharing our favourite Netflix discoveries.

Writing in the evening after supper is not great.  I only managed two days last week (mostly because I was sick) and then had a big writing blitz on the weekend.  But we'll keep trying.

Now the rush is on to get everything ready for Can-Con this weekend.  I'm looking forward to it, especially the romance panels.  It's so nice to see romance getting some recognition in the spec-fic community.

And then in two weeks, I will be on my way to Charleston for some well deserved rest and writing time.  And then it will be Nanorimo.  Then Christmas...  wait, I want to go back to thinking about the well deserved rest and writing time.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

When Life Makes You Change Your Writing Process

Recently, I was faced with something of a dilemma.  My day job needed me to increase my hours, which would cut out the usual 90 minutes I had to write before the kids got home from school.  As much as I would have liked to insist on keeping that time sacrosanct, the day job is what pays the bills, so I had to find another solution.

It will probably take me awhile to come up with a new process.  I know from experimentation that 9:30 to 2:30 is my most productive writing time.  That's when it's relatively easy to knock off a thousand words in an hour.

I've tried getting up early to write, but my inherent lack of morning-personness and kids who can apparently hear a keyboard clicking from two floors away quickly put an end to that experiment.

I tried writing in the evening, after the kids are in bed and discovered two problems.  One, I'm usually worn out from the day which slows my productivity and increases my "Screw it, it's a Netflix night" impulse.  Two, I do have a second burst of productivity that starts around 8:30 and goes until about midnight.  That might not sound like a problem, but once I get started, my brain is "woken up" and I'm not getting to sleep until one or two a.m.  since it takes me a long time to fall asleep once I have an active brain.

So, for now, I'm trying a compromise.  I'm insisting that my husband take over parenting duties between supper and the kids' bedtime so that I can hide upstairs and write.  This isn't ideal, since it cuts into our family time for things like Board Game Night and Let's Pretend We're Watching Live TV Night (for Doctor Who and Star Trek Discovery).

I'm definitely slower, averaging 700 to 800 words instead of 1000-13000.  But it beats not having any writing time at all.  I'm still insanely hopeful that I will meet the 50 000 word goal of Nanorimo, which would put the manuscript for Judgment at complete or nearly complete.  (Fingers crossed)

I have real envy for the authors I know who are able to devote their full time to writing (either because that is their job or because they are supported by other income).  I wish I had that.  But the reality is that life doesn't always line up with our wishes (at least, not in the first 3/4 of the story).  

Dr. Phil has a saying that I've heard often: Winners do things that losers don't want to do.  

While I don't believe that success is automatic if one puts in enough effort, I do support the gist of it.  Sometimes we have to do things that aren't ideal in order to reach our goals.  Sometimes we have to do things which are hard, or which prevent us from doing other fun things.  That's what distinguishes successes from failures.  Those who succeed didn't give up on the less exciting parts of their dreams.  So for the foreseeable future, I'll be hard at work, hoping to get through to the next level. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Weekly Update: Sept 24th to 30th

Writing update: 4300 words

I didn't have a terribly productive week while I was out of town, but thankfully the trip home offered a good opportunity.  I did 3200 words between waiting for the train and the train trip itself, which keeps me on good progress.

I've signed up for Nanorimo.  I haven't participated before since I'm usually editing instead of writing, but I'm excited about being part of it this year.

The Persisting Beyond Margins fundraiser for ALSO was great.  We had a good turn out and the books were all very interesting.  It still makes me sad that people try to shut down things that make them uncomfortable, depriving other people of wonderful stories and opportunities to learn.  Nathan Burgoine made an excellent point that LGBTQ+ people are often particularly vulnerable to this.  Since most queer children are not born into queer families, with parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents to use as examples, the first time they encounter someone like them is usually in books.  That makes the availability of such books critical to helping them to understand themselves.

I also did my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop and despite running over the allotted schedule, I think everyone had a good time.  We had a good turnout and absolutely love the new room in the Ottawa City Archives.  As much as I enjoy Centrepointe, the room at the Archives is prettier and more comfortable.

Now my attention turns to Can-Con and the writers' retreat in Charleston.  I'm very much looking forward to them both.  But I'm also looking forward to the relative quiet of November and December.  

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ink Tip: Is "Show, Don't Tell" False Advice?

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Cecilia Tan which tore apart the most well-known piece of writing advice: show, don't tell.  She pointed out the inherent assumption behind it, namely that the writer's experience is universal.  But we know that isn't true, even within North American culture.  Tan makes a convincing argument that "show, don't tell" is actually an exclusionary tactic, used to regulate genre fiction as less than literary fiction, and silence diverse voices.

I've experienced genre-shaming first hand on several occasions since I began to write.  After all, I write romance, which everyone knows is trite, formulaic and done to titillate bored housewives, and I write speculative fiction, which is only read by nerds who can't hack the real world.  (Everyone got the sarcasm?  Okay, good, we can move on.)  

However, I hadn't thought about how "show, don't tell" assumes a false universal experience, one that shuts out diverse stories.  After all, if someone doesn't fit into the accepted box (which sadly tends to be white, male, cishet, and middle to upper class), then they have to "tell" in order to give the reader context.  That "telling" can then be used as an excuse by publishers and editors to refuse the manuscript, citing that it's bad writing.

But is the advice itself actually bad?  Like most writing advice, the short form is incomplete.  The full advice should actually be: "Show, don't tell, except when telling works better for the story."  Showing something is more emotionally impactful to the reader, but telling speeds up the pacing.  So there are times when telling the reader something is actually the right choice for a narrative, just as there are times when showing is the preferable choice.

For example, if I want to establish a character as cruel, then telling the reader that the character is a "bad guy" won't have the same gut-instinct as showing him/her doing something cruel.  But if I'm establishing why the stakes are high for an intergalactic conference, that's something that I need to tell the reader because showing it would require a couple of Tolkienesque bulky appendices detailing the history and interactions of the various cultures.  

Good writers are able to tell the reader information in a way that feels natural and doesn't interrupt the flow of the story.  That's an important skill and one that shouldn't be dismissed.

I'll admit that I'm used to dismissing literary fiction, which I generally find to be dry, patronizing and thinly-disguised commentary.  I like genre fiction of all types because I find well-written genre fiction to be engaging, character driven and thought-provoking.  So I'm not particularly bothered by the idea that "show, don't tell" discriminates between genre and literary fiction.  I'm also not bothered by the idea that the creative writing courses and Masters of Fine Arts programs focus on literary fiction.  If that's what a person wants, go for it.  If you want the other stuff, there are plenty of other groups that will help to teach an aspiring author the necessary craft.

But if "show, don't tell" is being used to shut down diversity, that makes me angry.  Because publishers should be encouraging diverse voices.  It should be something that they actively seek out and promote.  Now, I don't have the personal experience in the publishing industry to say one way or another if that is the case, but given that people of colour, LGBTQ+, and those with disabilities have repeatedly shared that they have trouble getting contracts, I suspect there are challenges that need to be addressed.

Show, don't tell is still a valid piece of advice (if overly simplistic).  Like all writing advice, it's one that writers have to learn when to ignore.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Weekly Update: September 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 3300

As I write this, I'm in Cambridge on a training trip.  It's a lovely small city in southern Ontario, near Toronto.  And I'm trying to deal with the fact that our air conditioner has failed back at home, leaving us to scramble to find somewhere suitable for the cats to stay until we come back.  Luckily, I've got some very good family and friends who are helping us deal with it long distance.

I'm getting my presentations ready for Persisting Beyond Margins and ORWA, on Thursday and Sunday respectively.  And I've been working on Judgment, which is coming along nicely.

Back to work.