Thursday, 14 November 2019

Heroine Fix: Ocean's 8's Awesome Girl Gang

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 asked myself a question: why do I love movies about thieves so much?  There's only so much blame I can place on Kevin Costner and Christian Slater in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  I think there's a certain level of admiration for the audacity and skill it takes for a successful non-violent heist.  We admire people who defy the rules successfully.

I think that's the reason I love the Ocean's series.  A complicated scheme full of misdirection and false leads, it's like a magic trick that ends up with people getting rich.  But as much as I enjoy the Brad Pitt and George Clooney versions, it's the Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett movie that I've watched dozens of times over.

If you follow my blog, you know I love awesome heroines.  This movie has an amazing set of heroines and it's how they interact and play off one another that makes this one of my favourites.  All female ensemble movies are still rare and seen as a risk.  This one takes eight unique and interesting characters and puts them all together in the heist of a lifetime.

First up is Debbie, sister to George Clooney's character and played by Sandra Bullock.  She's the brains and balls behind the whole operation.  She's not content with petty cons and day to day theft.  Fresh out of jail, she wants to be one of the big names in crime.  Her first recruit is her best friend, Lou (Cate Blanchett), a more practical individual who manages people and logistics well.  The dynamic between the two of them is brilliant.  The film captures the easy combination of support and challenge that happens between two women who can trust one another and have a long history of having each other's backs.

The rest of the team is equally fascinating.  Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) is a washed up fashion designer with a pressing tax issue.  Easily distracted with an impulse control issue, she is the key to the team gaining access to their target, a $150 million dollar diamond necklace.  A jewel heist needs a great jewelry expert and in steps Amita (Mindy Kaling), who is more than ready to move out from under her mother's thumb and the skills to transform the necklace into something less... recognizable.  Rose and Amita make a great team.  Amita is able to improvise around Rose's blatherings and Rose is capable of some impressive last-minute bullshitting.  The two of them convince Cartier to loan out the necklace for the Met Gala.

Every heist needs a hacker and a pickpocket.  Nine Ball (Rihanna) and Constance (Awkwafina) fill those roles.  Nine Ball is arrogant and confident.  She and Debbie butt heads, as two proud alphas are wont to do.

Constance is quirky and not easily impressed, competent but not inclined to fuss over a job.  The final team member is Tammy (Sarah Paulson), the team's fence and procurer.  I think she's my favourite, because I always love a suburban mom with a secret life.  There are hints of a past between her and Debbie, one that hasn't always been smooth.

Those counting will realize there are only seven team members so far.  The final member of the team is their mark, the celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway).  She will be the unwitting mule for the necklace and the main distraction.

Since plenty of ensemble movies only have one female main character, we often get deprived of the fun of women interacting with one another.  There's a whole language of shared sisterhood, amusement over the foibles and challenges of the world, and the pleasure of mutual delight over pretty clothes and jewels.  We can be smart, competent and glamorous, all at the same time.  And as much as women can tear each other down, we can also build each other up in a way that men simply don't experience.  Women know the truth of Debbie Ocean's statement that "a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored."  And we cheer when the ignored manage to turn the tables on the society that overlooks our accomplishments.

Maybe that's why women bond more easily and more often than men.  Life as a woman is too big of a challenge to manage completely on one's own.  We need our friends, the ones who become like sisters.  Our friendship support networks can be incredible resources.  And when we work together, we really can do amazing things.  (Legal disclaimer: please stick to amazing legal things, no matter how cool a jewel heist seems.)

Ocean's 8 inspired me to want to write about my own little girl gang.  Not jewel thieves but friends running a cosplay business together.

Every woman should get to experience the combined thrill of achievement and looking amazing that the Ocean's 8 gang gets, walking out of the Met Gala in stunning dresses with millions of dollars in diamonds.  That's moment I watch this movie for.  They're all confident and beautiful, and together they've done what should have been impossible.

Just before the heist, Debbie thanks her crew.  "I just wanna say: thank you.  The last three weeks have been amazing for me... whatever happens tonight, I want you to remember one thing.  You are not doing this for me, you are not doing this for you.  Somewhere out there is an eight year old girl, lying in bed, dreaming of being a criminal.  Let's do this for her."

Every girl should believe she can achieve her dreams, no matter what they are.  Stories about strong and interesting women help us to remember that.  Stories that end in a happily ever after are even better.  The women of Ocean's 8 don't find romance, but they do get the necklace, along with the other crown jewels, and they pin the whole thing on the man who broke Debbie's trust and sent her to jail.  

With a take of $38.3 million each, each woman gets a shot at her dreams.  Amita finds love and freedom in Paris.  Rose opens her own shop in London.  Tammy's garage business moves to a proper warehouse.  Nine Ball opens a pool hall and bar.  Constance gets an amazing loft apartment.  Daphne moves from the front of the camera to directing.  Lou gets her motorcycle and a cross country trip.  And Debbie gets the satisfaction of proving herself.

Maybe that's why I love these kinds of movies.  The idea of a big win, one that frees from the daily worries about money, one that makes all the "I wish"es possible, that's satisfying, no matter how it comes about.

Even without a romance plot, I call that a darn happy ending.

Previous Heroine Fix: Making a Better World With Delenn from Babylon 5

Previous Post: Reclaiming My HEA: Reigniting the Romantic Spark

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Monday, 11 November 2019

Weekly Update: Nov 3 to Nov 9

Weekly word count: 22 752

A very productive writers' retreat.  I even spent a day sightseeing in Charleston.  I'll have pictures in my newsletter for anyone interested.  It's always a good time hanging out with the other authors at the retreat.  They are a great group of women.

The big announcement: the project I was working on is done.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that the editor I was working on it for is no longer accepting new authors and projects.  So the home I was planning for it is no longer an option.

However, the publisher is still accepting new books, so I can still submit it generally.  And Carina Press is accepting pitches from ORWA authors in February, so I can pitch it to them as well.  Or even self-publish if that's the route I want to go.

It's disappointing, but I'm wondering if it was predicted by my cards for last week.  I had the Ace of Swords, the 3 of Coins, and the 10 of Wands.  I interpreted it as the start of a project, recognition of talents, and recognition of limits.  However, the 10 of Wands can also be interpreted as taking a pause before success.  So the path I thought was laid out is not there any more, but there are other paths available to me.

For the week starting November 10th, my cards are The Wheel Reversed (disappointment), the 3 of Cups (celebration), and the King of Swords (professional support, authority).  That certainly sounds promising for good news this week.  The Court cards (Page, Knight, Queen, and King) often refer to specific people, so it suggests that I can look forward to some help from someone at the top of their professional field this week.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Reclaiming My HEA: Reigniting Romantic Hope

Reclaiming My HEA is a regular feature about my separation and divorce.  I'm learning a lot of lessons about myself and finding the balance between romantic hope and practical reality.

As I write this, I'm sitting on a beach with the warm sunshine in my face and my toes curled in the soft sand.  For any Canadian in November, this is already an unexpected and welcome treat, but what's drawing my attention are the other people on the beach.  Particularly the couples.

There are all kinds to watch here.  Young teenagers playfully navigating their first romantic relationships.  Parents working together to corral their children.  And the sweetest of all, an elderly couple walking hand in hand, where he keeps pausing to present her with the prettiest shells on the beach and she's saving every one in her handbag.

Some of these couples are obviously deeply in love with one another.  Others are caught up in the thrill of holiday freedom and enjoying a little commitment-free flirting.  Some seem to have settled into a comfortable partnership but still take a moment for a shared glance or passing touch.

I'm sure there are unhappy couples here as well.  Ones where it seems impossible for them to remember what drew them together in the first place or where the day-to-day grind has extinguished their connection.  I've been half of one of those couples.  I would look around and see people in love all around me and I would wonder what I was doing wrong and why my relationship had become so empty.

Now I find myself in the position of being entirely outside the romantic circle, looking in as an observer.  Dating in your forties is a daunting prospect and there are legions of toads out there which no amount of kissing will transform into a prince.  I've had to take stock of myself and ask myself the question: what is it that I really want?

Then as I was people-watching, I saw something which clarified it for me.  A younger couple (I would guess late twenties or early thirties) standing in a close embrace.  I couldn't see her face, but I could see his.  The expression on his face would be hard to describe, but as a romance author, I will give it my best shot.

His hand was cradling her face as if she were something unbelievably precious and rare.  He had a tender smile, as if this moment was making him happier than he'd ever believed would be possible.  And his eyes were smoldering with full-blazing passion.  Anyone whose partner was looking at them like that couldn't help but feel like the most beautiful, special, and loved person in the world.

Being a non-voyeuristic sort of person, I snuck away before they realized I had seen their private moment.  But the image lingered with me.

That's what I want.  I want to experience being on the receiving end of a look like that.  Because I find it impossible to believe that anyone could fake such a potent combination of affection, attraction, and passion.

There have been times when I've cynically wondered if those kinds of feelings ever occur outside the carefully scripted world of movies and books.  But now I've had a reminder that they do.  And that has given my little flame of hope a fresh spark.

Romance is all about tiny sparks in the darkness.  Because in our stories, no matter how black the night is, those sparks are just waiting to find the right circumstances to create the fires that will warm a heart forever.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA (And My Intellectual Property Rights)

Previous Blogpost: Hidden Diamond Jeanine Englert and her Gothic Victorian Romantic Suspense

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Monday, 4 November 2019

Weekly Update: October 27 to Nov 2

Weekly word count: 3376 and chapter 17 of edits

Last week was hectic for me.  Monday to Wednesday was about trying to squeeze in an entire week's worth of work for my day job.  And for Thursday and Friday, I was driving from Ottawa to Charleston with some other lovely ORWA folk for the annual writers' retreat.

This beach retreat is one of the things I look forward to each year.  Not only is it a great chance to get a big leap forward on my writing projects, but it is also a chance to enjoy some extra sun and warmth.  Not to mention, I love being on the beach and being able to sit and write and listen to the waves.  And the ladies there are pretty awesome.  We have a great time, laughing and sharing our favourite new discoveries for books, movies and shows.  (This year, I've been introduced to a Turkish TV show with a main character who could give Jason Momoa a run for his money.)

For this year's retreat, I'm putting my edits on hold and focusing on finishing up a project that's been languishing for too long.  After this last year, I can safely say that I do not do well with split attention between projects.  I need to do one project, then move on to the next.  Or pause a longer project to complete a smaller one.  I can't do two at once, no matter how much I adjust my time and schedule.  So, lesson learned.

I've also decided to start sharing something else in these weekly updates.  I read Tarot cards.  I find it's a useful tool that helps me to consider events and challenges in my life from different perspectives.  Once a week, I draw three cards, one each for past, present, and future.

For the week of October 27 to November 2, I drew The Hermit (patience and isolation), the 6 of Swords (travel), and the 3 of Cups (celebration).  That's a fair representation.  I have been feeling socially and physically isolated, I had a trip planned, and I know it's going to be a fun time once I arrive.

For the week starting on November 3, I drew the Ace of Swords (the beginning of an intellectual project), the 3 of Coins (recognition of talent), and the 10 of Wands (recognizing my limits).  That's a pretty good draw for a professional trip.  My first impression is to remind myself that despite my fears, I am actually pretty good at this writing thing.  But I also can't let myself live in the fantasy land of constant smooth sailing for the writing process.  As much as I would like to believe that I can handle editing, promotion, and all the other details without having my writing speed suffer, that's not going to happen.  And that's okay.

So the key message that I'm taking away is to take advantage of opportunities like the writer's retreat, as well as being on the lookout to create such opportunities in my everyday life.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Hidden Diamond: Jeanine Englert's Gothic Romantic Suspense

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.

This month's Hidden Diamond is a fellow Soulie with an intriguing gothic romantic suspense that is calling to my black-velvet wearing inner teen.  It's a perfect read for anyone looking for some spooky romance for the Hallowe'en season and so is her blog post about using fear as inspiration.

When two murders strike the sleepy Victorian town of Clun, England, an unlikely partnership forms. But can the killer be found before there is a third?
Quirky spinster Lucy Wycliffe prefers to ignore gossip and embrace her position as the town’s layer out of the dead, despite how her parents’ deaths thrust her into such unlikely work. Lovely Digits, as she’s known to the local townspeople, no longer dreams of marriage, but takes pride in providing dignity to the dead. Desperate to hold on to her family’s cottage and support her widowed sister and young niece, an unexpected offer of employment as assistant to the constable arrives at the perfect time.

But former sailor, now constable John Brodie is far from a stranger to Clun or the events of its past. Accepting the position as constable in the small town is a double edged sword meant to heal his past and redeem his future, but falling for the beautiful and intelligent Lucy Wycliffe was never part of his plan. As the killer closes in, will John reveal his secret and risk losing everything to save Lucy’s life?

Fear As Inspiration

Thank you for having me on your blog today, Jennifer! I’m so excited to be here, especially on Halloween, since my debut novel, Lovely Digits, is a Victorian gothic romantic suspense with some rather spooky undertones.

I’ll admit that I went back and forth between five different possible blog topics for you today, but I landed on inspiration. And as strange as this sounds, fear has been an inspiration in my writing and in my life. It has propelled me into action and pushing through my fears has brought me to some of the most amazing and unexpected moments of my life.

My favorite quote about fear is by George Addair: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

This quote is on a faded yellow sticky post-it note above my desk as a reminder that fear can serve us (as well as the characters I create) in unexpected ways. It can help us grow and achieve more than we ever expected. Lovely Digits was written as a way for me to work through my fears at the time (some emotional, some physical, and some writing based). I didn’t know it then, and I honestly thought no one would ever like or read this book. The heroine, Lucy Wycliffe, is a layer out of the dead, the Victorian equivalent to today’s mortician. She is a spinster of lower class, and she falls for a disowned Constable. It wasn’t exactly an everyday historical romance with a duke falling for a bookish beauty. But, the story called to be written, and so I wrote it, not once, but twice.

Soon after I got an offer of publication through Soul Mate Publishing, and I was so used to rejection that when I got a “yes,” I panicked even more. I had no idea what to do next. After I collected myself, I forged through my fear and embraced the learning curve of publication and have been learning through a sequence of successes and foibles.

So, if you haven’t been doing something because of fear: rock wall climbing, changing careers, writing a novel with some unexpected characters or events, or meeting a new person, I urge you to face and push through your fear. You might be pleasantly surprised by how strong you are in the face of uncertainty and how many opportunities are waiting for you on the other side of it, many of them you never even knew existed.

- Jeanine Englert

Hidden Diamond Author Questionnaire

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

Perhaps this isn’t really wild, but my husband and I took a “Catacombs by Candlelight” tour in Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral this past summer in New York. It was amazing, and it gave me so many ideas for a new book. Now, I just need to make time to write it!

What is your writing process? 

I am a total pantser. I have tried and tried to be more of a plotter, but my characters just won’t allow it. But, I do have a sketch book where I create character pages before I write my first draft. I pick out pictures of them as well as my location and print them out. I also create song playlists for my hero/heroine, which I often write to. Music and visuals are a huge part of my process. I am also a solitary writer although I adore being with other writers, especially my Georgia Romance Writers chapter. Being with other writers fills my tank and helps me so much.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I tend to turn into a sloth to relax and don’t do much of anything. If I’m alone, I love to read or watch television under a pile of blankets with my pups. Otherwise, I love going out with my husband to see movies, or we might get takeout and hang out at home to watch some of our favorite shows on Netflix.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Yikes. I’m panicking. . . just one??? I have a *mild* obsession with period television shows and movies, so I would say my top two fictional crushes are John Thornton in “North & South” (I adore Richard Armitage more than I should) and Ross Poldark in “Poldark” (Aidan Turner with a scythe? Need I say more?)

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

I vote cavemen, every time. If you can fend off a dinosaur, find your own dinner, and survive the elements, I think you could outdo an astronaut.

Thank you, Jeanine, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And if you'd like to pick up a copy of Lovely Digits for yourself, you can do that here:

Join me next month for a new Hidden Diamond!  Or check out last month's Hidden Diamond: Claire Gem's shocking ghost romance.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Weekly Update: October 20-26

Weekly word count: 1571 and up to chapter 14 on editing for Division

I've mentioned before that I find release day to be exhausting.  Exciting but exhausting.  Having a new book come out is a lot of work and work that doesn't come naturally to an introvert such as myself.  Writing books, I can do.  Promoting books is a lot harder.

I'm also having to come to terms with the fact that it's taking me longer and longer to recover from events.  I really enjoyed Can-Con, but I'm still working on regaining my energy and attention.

Luckily, I have the perfect break coming up.  One more week and then I'll be enjoying myself on a beach with a bunch of other amazing writers.  It's exactly what I need.

Meanwhile, I'm really encouraged to see the early sales numbers from Deadly Potential.  A lot of readers are taking a chance on it and I hope they'll find it was worth the gamble.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Release Day Thoughts

Yesterday, Deadly Potential made its way out into the world.

This is my fifth release day for a new novel and I've discovered that these days go a little differently than I would have thought.

Before my first novel released, I thought I'd be overjoyed with excitement on release day, full of tons of extra energy.  And I am excited.  I like getting to share my stories with people.

But release day is also overwhelming.  It's a lot to put something I've worked so hard on out into the world and ask strangers to exchange their hard-earned money for it.  (And hopefully have them enjoy it!)

For my first few releases, I left a lot of work to the last minute and then discovered I didn't have the energy to deal with it in a timely matter.  This time, I planned a lot more in advance and found things went a whole lot smoother.

There's a number of things that I do for a new release.  But my favourite is my chapter by chapter author commentary (Under the Covers).  When I feel tired and overwhelmed, the memories in the commentary remind me of how eager I was at the beginning of the writing process and the good times I had along the way.

I hope that my readers appreciate it, too.