Thursday, 25 May 2017

Ink Tip: How To Sell At Conferences

Getting readers to discover you as an author is one of the hardest parts of launching a writing career.  Indie, small press or traditionally published, no matter what your career path, no writer can afford to ignore promotion opportunities.

I've found conferences to be a good place to interact with readers.  A lot of them are eager to try new authors and books.  So how do we get them to pick up our book?  Here are a few tips that I've found very helpful:

1. Be approachable.  Conferences can be stressful, particularly for introverts (which seems to include most writers).  But as tempting as it can be to spend your time chatting with your booth-mates, or checking your phone or computer, being occupied sends a signal that you are not available to talk or interact with readers.  At the same time, don't be overly desperate or eager, trying to drag over people from across the room.  Smile, make eye contact and say hello.

2. Have a lure.  People need to spend some time at your booth in order to decide whether or not to buy your book.  If you have swag to give away or a prize draw or something else which brings people to your table, that gives you an opportunity to pitch your book to them.  

3. Sharing details and finding common ground.  If a reader can relate to you personally, then he or she is more likely to pick your book out of the multitude.  It takes some time to talk to people and find out what they're interested in, but that gives you a chance to personalize your pitch.  At Ad Astra this year, I discovered one reader had special needs children, so I mentioned that the hero of my first book used his psychic powers to help developmentally delayed children.  Another expressed interest in the fact that my heroine was a burlesque dancer, so I shared some of my stories about researching with different burlesque troupes.  The goal is to make you and your book stand out from the crowd.

4. Get people's hands on the book.  This was a tip that I got at my first conference from another author and it's proved to be invaluable.  If people are holding the book, they're more likely to take the time to look at it and, hopefully, end up buying it.

5. Be gracious.  Good impressions are everything.  At one of my first conferences, I watched an author scowling at everyone who came near his booth.  If someone picked up one of his books, he would shout at them that he wasn't a library and they better be ready to buy it.   I still don't know what he wrote, but even if it was my favourite sub-genre, I wouldn't have been willing to buy from him.  On a subtler level, I've also watched authors lose interest in talking to people once the reader has said they're not interested.  But it pays to still take the extra time.  If a reader isn't interested in my work, I try to recommend someone else at the conference.  At a minimum, I wish them a good day and try to have them leave with a smile.  Because even if they personally aren't interested, that doesn't mean they don't know someone who might be.

6. Get to know your neighbours.  Conferences are a community.  Taking the time to get to know the other vendors at the conference gives you the option of referrals (and hopefully also gets you some).  And it can be invaluable for those times when you have to leave your booth for a time.  I went to a panel once and came back to discover that my booth-neighbour had sold five books for me.  She didn't have to, she could have told them I would be back later.  But since I had sent several readers to her table, she didn't want me to miss a sale.

7. Know your conference.  Every conference has a difference flavour.  Some are very business-like and precise, others are more go-with-the-flow spontaneous.  If possible, before you arrive, talk to other people who have been vendors.  They can give you invaluable information about the type of readers to expect (for example: do they tend to prefer ebooks or print?).  How many authors will be giving away swag or books?  For example, at romance conferences, my experience has been that many authors are giving away free books and almost all of them will have some kind of swag.  On the other side, at speculative fiction conferences, there aren't many giveaways but authors are more likely to be offering a discount on their books.  

8.  Always be on the lookout for new ideas.  Figure out what is working for you and what isn't.  For example, I've discovered that a significant proportion of readers would like my book but want it in an e-book format.  I've been giving them postcards with my book cover and blurb as a reminder, but when I get back home, I'm not seeing a corresponding sales bump.  So I've been researching ways to directly sell the ebooks at conferences (unfortunately, much of what I've discovered so far only applies to conferences in the US).  

I've really enjoyed my experiences at conferences so far.  Even though I have to overcome my own introverted tendencies, getting to meet readers and seeing complete strangers pick up my book has been a real thrill.  Even better, when I've done the same event the following year, I get returning readers who have come to pick up my latest book.  That is a real ego-boost to me as a writer.  My next conference is Limestone Genre Expo on June 3rd and 4th in Kingston and I can't wait.  

Monday, 22 May 2017

Weekly Update: May 14 to 20

Weekly word count: 2200

I've gotten the okay from my doctor, so next week I'll be heading back to my day job.  It's been nice having the time to de-stress (particularly since we got hit with a couple of school related crises for my son) but it will also be nice to start having a regular paycheque again.

Writing continues to be slow for me these days but it's picking back up.  I'm still not going to impose minimum word goals on myself.  Instead I will allow myself the flexibility to listen to my mind and my body about what I need.  Unless they try to convince me that I need to binge-watch Netflix.  

There's a part of me which worries about taking it slow.  Will I be able to get Judgment out in time for a February/March release next year?  Will I be able to work on my other manuscript and get it done in time to pitch to an agent for July 2018?  And I have to remind myself that the answer to those questions is: I don't know.  But if I can't, then that is still okay.  It is better than burning myself up and risking not being able to do anything.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Taking Advice... Or Not

Everyone's got tons of opinions and they're almost all happy to share them with other people.  Some people are even official opinion-givers, appearing on television and writing books to help out those of us who haven't reached their special combination of insight and experience.  Wherever I turn, there are dozens of people quite happy to tell me what it is that I'm doing wrong.

Most of it is kindly and earnestly meant, but I still find that it can lead to confidence erosion.  Just strictly on the writing career side: traditionally published, indie or hybrid?  Monthly promotions or only with new releases?  Pricing?  Distribution?  What types of plots to explore, how often should I be releasing?  And forget listing off the challenges of parenting, work-life balance, politics and social awareness.  

So now it's my turn to share my $ 0.02 worth of opinion: Life is not a video game.

By that, I mean that there is no magic combination of action, preparation and opportunity which will automatically allow a person to "level up" in life.  It's possible to follow all of the "rules" for a given goal and still come up short.  Failure doesn't mean that someone hasn't done all that they could.

Instead I try to focus on the following tactics:

Be honest with myself about my limitations.  I would love to do weekly or monthly giveaways, tons of guest posts and other promotion-building options.  I'd love to be able to have a quality book ready for release every three months.  I wish I could go to all the amazing conferences across North America and take research trips across the globe.  But I only have limited time and money ready to invest.  So I have to make hard choices rather than taking advantage of every opportunity or desire which comes my way.  It means that my path to success will be slower and less direct than those with more resources and I have to adjust my expectations accordingly.

Commit, don't flip-flop.  Chasing a trend can be tempting.  But if someone constantly changes direction, then they also don't tend to gain any ground.  I decided that I would self-publish my first series and I've stuck to that decision and the marketing plan that I created to go with it.  I make adjustments as I see what works and what doesn't, but I'm sticking to my plan rather than racing off to pursue other options.  The plan has always been to also pursue traditional publishing with other series and now that I have the foundations of my self-published series ready, I can start taking some time and mental energy to start on that path.

Pay attention.  My life gets overwhelming with predictable regularity, but if I've set something in motion, then I also have to follow up and pay attention to what's happened.  That's what lets me know if what I'm doing is effective, which helps me to avoid throwing away my time and money on dead ends.  It also reminds me of my hard-earned wins, putting back some of the confidence.

And one last piece of advice: no one really has the answers.  No matter how confident a person seems, there is no "right" solution for everyone.  Everyone is simply doing what seems like the best choice in the moment, feeling their way into the future step by step.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Weekly Update: May 7 to 13 (With Photos from Ottawa Comic Con)

Weekly word count: 3600

Another quiet week, moving more towards a productive time.  I spent the first part of the week dealing with the aftermath of Ad Astra (counting inventory, ordering more swag, doing my giveaway draw, etc.).  It's always a bit of a bittersweet process for me.  On the one hand, I really enjoy the conventions but it's always an effort to get myself organized afterwards so that I'm not scrambling at the last minute for the next one.

Then there was the big event this weekend: Ottawa's Comic Con.  This is one of the highlights of my personal year: an opportunity to geek out and get the behind the scenes info from some of the actors from my favourite shows and movies.  (Wish list: more writers at Comic Cons.)

Gates McFadden: aka, Dr. Beverley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation
I started off with Gates McFadden and John Billingsley, sharing their Star Trek memories.  John was super-excited and constantly moving around the stage.  Gates was more reserved but shared a witty sense of humour.  For example, John had a bag of candy for the most embarrassing question and Gates replied that she would give away a Range Rover for the best question.   

John Billingsley, aka Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise
Both of them talked about how they often can fly below the radar without being recognized but people tend to figure out who they are when they speak.  Gates shared a funny story about how the entire cast was on a plane and the stewardess asked for everyone's autographs except for her.  And when Brent Spiner prompted the stewardess, the response was: "Oh, yes, I'd love your autograph, too, Mrs. Spiner."  Gates signed the autograph: Lots of love, Mrs. Spiner.  She also talked about her work on Labrinyth with Jim Henson and about his hands-off, jump-into-the-deep-end approach to management.

John Cusack: do I really have to list everything off?
Saturday started off with John Cusack, who seemed a little tired and uncomfortable with the crowd, until we started talking about music.  That was where his real passion shone.  He spoke at length about how he feels people reveal themselves through the music they create or like.  So he likes being very involved with choosing the music for his films.

John Barrowman: aka Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Merlin from Arrow/Flash
 John Barrowman was the highlight of the con.  Exuberant, funny, prone to breaking into song at random moments and a relentlessly dirty mind, he's made my top five wishlist of people I'd like to have dinner with someday.  He shared a bunch of great stories, like when he ran into a friendly rival from his school days and got to enjoy a bit of a triumphant reveal that John was now the lead dancer while his rival was in the chorus.  Or during the futuristic game show episode of Doctor Who, where he did one scene completely naked and surprised an unsuspecting crew member.

But in between the dirty jokes and salacious stories, there were also touching moments.  Several people shared how John's openness helped them to come out of the closet as LGBTQ+.  One girl began to cry and John brought her up on stage, telling her that he could understand her being emotional, but from now on, he didn't want her to cry any more when she was telling people who she was.  "Never cry for who you are," he told her as he gave her a big hug and then prompted the audience for a round of applause.

He lead the entire audience in a sing-a-long of "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You", letting me cross "Sing with a Broadway Star" off my bucket list.  His voice is amazing and he's still an impressive dancer (especially since he just turned 50).  I'm still laughing to myself at some of his stories and if any of you have the chance to see him in person: do it.  You will not regret it.

Peter Capaldi: aka, Doctor Who.
On Saturday evening, there was a special Doctor Who panel with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Alex Kingston.  All of them were gracious and took the time to make sure that the audience's questions were fully answered.  My favourite question was: what crossover would each of them like to see with Doctor Who.  Peter would like a Game of Thrones crossover, Alex would like Lord of the Rings and Jenna would like Gilmore Girls.

Jenna Coleman, aka Clara Osmund and Alex Kingston, aka, River Song, both from Doctor Who.
Jenna talked a bit about her experience playing Queen Victoria in the recent PBS/BBC series and Alex Kingston talked a lot about how she interpreted her character, River Song.  She greeted every cosplaying Doctor with a "Hello, sweetie" and "You're my husband, too."  She said it took her a little while as an actress to wrap her head around the idea that the Doctor's spirit is the same no matter whose body he's in and that's who River is in love with.

Robin Lord Taylor, aka, Oswald Cobblepott, the Penguin, from Gotham
On Sunday, Robin Lord Taylor showed he was very different from his mob-boss role as the Penguin.  He was charming and witty (and I swear he was looking right at me for most of his panel).  He gave full credit to Gotham's writers for keeping his character sympathetic while also keeping true to being a villain.  He said he'd like to finish the character arc by becoming completely irredeemable.  He wants the Penguin's final scene to leave the audience ready for Batman to take him down.  

Alex Kingston, again.  Because one hour was not enough.
Alex had her own panel again on Sunday, which was wonderful because she was a delight to listen to.  She talked about her experiences on ER, including some of the pranks that George Clooney would play on the cast.  She also talked about how, although she loves the character of River and isn't ready to finish up with her, she also likes having the flexibility to take different roles.

She also shared a great story about the importance of consent.  She was doing a production of Much Ado About Nothing and at the end of the play, her character and another were supposed to share a very chaste kiss.  However, her counterpart kept trying to stick his tongue down her throat.  She told him that she didn't like it, and didn't think it was appropriate for the characters.  He persisted.  She told him that if he did it again, she was going to bite his tongue.

He did it again.  So she bit his tongue.  They did their final bows and she headed off to unwind at the pub.  The next day, she noticed he was only having soup and asked him what was wrong.  He replied that he'd just come back from the doctor and now had stitches in his tongue from where she'd bitten him.  She said she knew she should apologize but instead felt rather satisfied at having stood her ground.  She got much applause at the end of that story.

Matthew Lewis, aka Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter.
I ended the con with Matthew Lewis' panel.  He began acting very early as a child, and said he remembered feeling sad that he'd been born too late to participate in Star Wars and that his generation wouldn't have that kind of defining epic.  Then he began to read the Harry Potter books and got very excited about them.  Then there was the announcement that there was going to be a movie and he, as a 10 year old boy, was going to be exactly the right age to participate.

He went to audition and said that although he was hoping to be Harry, he just wanted to be a part of the film, even if it was only as someone in a crowd scene.  Then, when he found out he was going to be Neville, he was really pleased.  And as we found out more about Neville's role in the wizarding world, he was feeling pretty excited about the whole thing.

One thing I liked was how he talked about the importance of the audience.  He said that the writers conceive of a story, the actors and other film people try to recreate it, but it's the audience that truly bring it to life.  The audience and fans are the ones discussing it, thinking about it and making it into more than just a few hours of fantasy fun.

It was a lovely weekend, despite the poor weather, and I'm glad I got to go.  I'm definitely looking forward to next year.  

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Heroine Fix: Lisbeth Salander

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

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series became a worldwide phenomenon, in part because of its unique heroine, Lisbeth Salander.  She's described as surly, violent, anti-social and uncompromising, and yet she is also fiercely loyal and an inherent protector.

Salander is a great example of how to take a character who could be unlikable and make sure that audiences are rooting for her.  When we first meet her in her boss's office, it's made clear that she operates on her own schedule but delivers impressive results.  "Her reports could be a catastrophe for the individual who landed on her radar," digging up any and all skeletons from their graves.

The author describes her as a "pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows.  She had a wasp tattoo about an inch long on her neck, a tattooed loop around the biceps of her left arm and another around her left ankle.... She was a natural redhead but she dyed her hair raven black.  She looked as though she had just emerged from a week-long orgy with a gang of hard rockers."

The description paints a vivid picture of Salander for the audience, letting them clearly picture her in their minds.  Her small size is continually referred to throughout the novels, reminding people that despite her larger than life personality, she is the tiny David to her enemies' Goliath.  By presenting her as an underdog, Larsson creates sympathy for her.  And by explaining that she has amazing investigator skills, the audience is encouraged to admire her.  Together, these two things offset Salander's sullen crankiness but wouldn't be enough to make people root for her.

Larsson transforms Salander from an interesting secondary character to heroine by putting her in harm's way.  But he doesn't make her into a simple victim.  When her guardian forces her to give him a blow job, she arranges to videotape their next encounter, with an eye to using the recording as protective blackmail.  When he brutally assaults her, she doesn't go down weeping, fight futilely or involve the authorities despite having the assault on tape.  Instead, she waits until she has sufficiently healed and then goes on the offensive, assaulting him in turn and tattooing a warning across his chest.  Then she forces him to commit to a two year plan to arrange for her to be out of his care and threatens to contact the police if he causes even a hint of a problem.

Salander's tactics are unusually well-thought out.  Throughout the series, she never forgets a slight, but clearly agrees with the sentiment that revenge is best served cold.  She's self-reliant with a deep distrust of authorities, but also a deep level of compassion for the victims.  She doesn't hesitate to attack a sadistic killer to save Mikael, and when faced with a conspiracy to bury the killer's identity and actions, insists that the killer's victims be identified and their families compensated.

Unlike many action heroes, Salander never takes an emotional leap of faith and hopes it will all work out.  She calculates, plans and persists despite seemingly impossible odds.  She even manages to steal the fortune of a corrupt businessman in an untraceable way, giving herself sufficient funds to achieve independence.

She has a photographic memory, almost magical hacking skills and enhanced pattern recognition.  She solves problems and defeats the bad guys with her brains, but isn't afraid to resort to her fists.  Or a golf club.  This makes her an interesting role model for young women, a kind of anti-princess who doesn't wait for princes or dwarves or anyone else to rescue her.  She's a direct counter to the typical message which encourages females to be patient, understanding and not make a fuss.

Larsson created an iconic character by imagining an adult Pippi Longstocking.  He imagined she would be an outsider, possibly even viewed as a psychopath.  Like Pippi, Salander fights against a world that seems to be stacked against her.  She is an avenger, a protector and a watchful eye in the night.  

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines?  Sign up here and you'll never miss a Heroine Fix.

Next month, I'll be looking at the deceptively mild but ruthless Stahma from the short-lived television series, Defiance. 

Monday, 8 May 2017

Weekly Update: April 30th from May 7th (With Photos from Ad Astra)

Weekly word count: 2950

It was a fairly quiet week.  I took the time to rest but still got some writing done.  But the big focus was preparing for Ad Astra in Toronto.  It was my first time at that convention and my first time doing a non-hometown convention, so I was a little nervous.  But I packed up my car with bins of books and swag and headed out on Friday, with my younger son in tow for a visit to his aunt and uncle in Toronto.

As those who live in Southern Ontario know, this weekend was a record breaker for rain.  So it was a long drive and there were a couple of time where we slowed down to a crawl because of lack of visibility.  But for all that, there were no real complications or problems, and we arrived in Toronto in good time.  I got myself registered and my booth set up well before the dealer room opened at 8pm that night.

I had some new elements for my table this year: a vinyl poster with the promo blurb from Deb Cooke, which rolled up nicely into a bin and was much easier to deal with than my big board-mounted cover; my table-top sign with the Revelations cover and blurb; and of course, book 3: Inquisition!  I also had my sign up for my mailing list, with a chance to win an Amazon gift card, my swag tote bags, my promo buttons, and a bag full of 250 packets with my card, a button and a Hershey's kiss.

I was pleased to see a lot of variety among the vendors.  And I had some great neighbours.  Beside me was Kraken Not Stirred, original music based on nerd and geek culture (about Dr. Who, Star Wars, Firefly, etc.) 

On the other side was Black Currant Jewelry, which was absolutely gorgeous handcrafted earrings, necklaces and more.  It took her almost four hours to set up her stock display and all weekend, I was tempted by the sparklies.  

Across the aisle was Brain Lag publishing, a small press representing local Toronto science fiction and fantasy authors.  I picked up a copy of Tinker's Plague from them, which is a post-society-collapse novel set in Southern Ontario.  But I was also tempted by Extreme Dentistry in which Mormon dentists fight against vampires.

My other aisle neighbour was Ira Nayman, author of Welcome to the Multiverse.  I met him at my first convention, Can-Con back in 2015.  We were having a laugh because it seemed like every time he visited my table, I made another big sale.  He also has a cool campaign going: Reading Is Sexy, taking photos of people reading books.

I also got to reconnect with the folks from the Myth Hawker travelling bookstore (carrying Canadian authors across the continent), Pat and Lisa, whom I also first met at Can Con 2015.  They took me out for my first Korean barbecue on the Saturday night (very delicious and fun).  And I went to the book launch for Brave New Girls 2, which was a lot of fun, too.  And I've worked out a deal that Myth Hawker's travelling bookstore will be carrying my first book, Revelations, to some of the conventions that I can't get to.  And I'm going to be talking to Lisa about doing some promotions for me.  

I met so many great people, had a ton of interesting conversations and sold lots of books.  It was an amazing weekend, though exhausting.  I've already signed up for next year to do it all again.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

5 Less-Helpful Things I Learned From Superhero Stories

I love superhero stories in movies, TV, books, comics... wherever.  And I think they have good messages like: standing up for what's right, protecting others, and holding to a moral code.  But there are some other inadvertent messages that creep in.  Like...

1) Ordinary people who try to help end up dying/getting hurt.

The audience needs to see that the bad guy is, well, bad.  Which means we need to see them doing something horrible.  But not so horrible that it prompts the audience to stop watching.  For many writers, this sweet spot is having the bad guy hurt someone who is trying to help them.

We've all seen it.  "Hey, are you okay?" the Samaritan-victim asks as they get closer and closer.  Then the monster/bad guy leaps out as soon as they get close enough.  Then cut to the good guys finding out what the bad guys have done.

I'm fine.  Thanks for asking.  I really appreciate your concern.
Although I'm logically aware that I'm probably not going to encounter a vampire or a supervillain, I've seen the trope play out so many times that it's left an alarm bell in my brain.  The not-so-subtle message here is that helping others is best left to the costumed (or at least titled) professionals.  Which leads to the next point.

2) The authorities can't help or aren't prepared.

Again this comes from a logical narrative necessity.  If the only challenges are ones that should be directed to the cops and that they could easily handle, why would superheroes be necessary?  A larger-than-life hero demands larger-than-life villains.  

The downside of this is that after watching Gotham and the Batman movies, I'm pretty sure that the Gotham Police are the last people you would ever want to call if there was a problem.  They probably handle traffic tickets okay, but anything more than that and they are inevitably corrupt or about to be corpses.  One of the key plot points in Dark Knight Rises is that the entire force gets locked underground, having been tricked into it by the bad guys.

In The Avengers, the New York police show up and desperately try to help, but are severely outmatched by the alien invasion already in progress.  The Avengers use them as crowd control, sending them and the other potential collateral damage victims out of harm's way.

You say that the 6 of you can handle the incoming horde?  Okay then.
The flip side of this is that superheroes also tend to be more efficient than real life police work.  Someone threatening you?  A hero will punch them until they agree to leave you alone.  Police expect things like documentation, and will issue a warning.  Or possibly get the legal system involved.  None of which is fast or emotionally satisfying.  But they have to do that, because the cops can't assume all their targets are bad guys.  It's actually kind of a big deal in the real world.

3) Experiments always go wrong.

Quick.  Take a minute to think of every lab you've ever seen in a superhero story.  Now ask yourself if things ended up going well for the people inside.  Fantastic 4: mutated by a cosmic storm while trying to take measurements.  Hulk: created by gamma rays while trying to experiment in regeneration or supersoldiers.  Joker fell into a vat of chemicals, Ultron was created in Tony Stark's lab while trying to create a less-hurtable version of the avengers.

There's even an obvious bias in most of the character names.  "Doctors" tend to be evil while the good guys are "Mister" even if they have a Ph.D.

If only Doc Ock had gone into marketing like his mother wanted...
"Experiment gone wrong" makes a convenient short-hand for how someone becomes a murdering psychopath or gets supernatural powers or both.  Actually having to delve into the psyche of how someone became a hero or a villain takes away valuable fight-scene time.  But the frequency of the trope does tend to make people automatically leery about any kind of innovation or experimentation, which is bad because that's how we find out about things or make beneficial changes.

4) Romances are doomed to fail.

This is one that particularly irks me.  If we see a superhero happy and in a committed relationship, it is a virtual guarantee that the partner will be dead/kidnapped within 10 minutes or 3 pages.

Happy Wolverine = Boring Wolverine
The happy part is supposed to come at the end of the story.  It's something that the characters earn.  But the problem is that, like soap operas, superhero stories never really end.  Spider-man doesn't get a happily ever after because there's always new bad guys or escaped old bad guys to fight.  And in the interest of always drawing in new readers, there are efforts to make sure that it's easy to join the series at any point and still figure out what's going on.  Which means that character arcs reset with depressing frequency.

Now he can get back to kicking ass.  And now it will be personal.  No one's ever thought of that before.
It's an interesting tug of war between two opposing principals.  On the one hand, being attracted and falling in love with someone is a universal human experience.  It immediately creates a connection between the audience and the character.  On the other hand, these characters have to stay roughly the same so that they can continue having adventures.  No one wants Captain America to call a halt halfway through a battle because it's time for date night or to pick up the kids from daycare.

There's another variant of this: the Old Friend trope.  

Hero: "Hello, Old-Friend-Whom-I've-Never-Mentioned-Before.  It's great to see you."  This is the moment when you know that some pain is about to happen.  Either we will discover that the Old Friend is actually the bad guy that the hero has been searching for or is otherwise mixed up in the plot.  Or the Old Friend is about to be killed by the bad guys so that the audience can feel bad for the hero and want him/her to win even more badly.

Audiences respond better to their heroes being in pain, which means...

5) Being happy means bad things will happen.

There's an old joke that writers spend their time thinking of ways to ruin other people's happiness.  And, to a point, it's true.  Happiness in stories almost always signals that something is about to go wrong, unless it's at the end.  And then that happiness will almost certainly be taken away by the sequel.

I was chatting recently with a friend and commented that when anything starts to go well, I find myself constantly worrying about the other shoe dropping, which tends to spoil the happiness.  My friend said she felt the same.  We speculated that maybe it's because happiness tends to be trap or a ruse in superhero and other speculative fiction stories.

Like in Astonishing X-men, when a psychic held all the world's heroes in a trance where they thought they were saving the world but were actually standing there drooling.

Don't worry.  She hit him back off-panel.
Or happiness is given specifically so that it can be taken away.  Either way, it's not going to last and it signals a major problem about to occur.  So the message to take away is: be glad we don't live in a superhero world.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Weekly Update: April 23 to 29

Weekly word count: 2550

I've been more than a little disappointed about schedule coordination, since I won't be able to go to any ORWA meetings from March to June (and we'll be breaking for July and August).  But luckily, I was able to go to the the unofficial Author's Lounge meeting and get to see some of my fellow ORWAns and chat.  They had some great advice for the challenges I'm having with Judgment.

I took the first week of my medical leave easy.  I did a lot of napping and didn't push myself on anything.  I managed not to try any new projects (reorganizing bookshelves or painting).  I still feel pretty exhausted so I suspect there will be more nappage/TV binges this week but I keep reminding myself that it's okay, that's what this week is for.

I am feeling anxious about my swag for the Ad Astra convention.  My buttons should be arriving soon and hopefully the bags as well.  If not, I'll be okay but it would be nice to have everything here.

I have the books packed and I bought myself a foldable dolly to help transport.  This week, I'll be packing up the extra stuff (posters, stuffing my little bags with the buttons and business cards).  And then Friday, I'll be on my way.  :)

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ink Tip: How To Say Goodbye

Every writer has that sentence, scene or character that they absolutely love.  They know in their hearts that it's brilliant, entertaining and wonderful.

And sometimes, it doesn't work.

So what's a writer to do with their wonderful square peg and nothing but round holes to stick it in?  When the brilliant line of dialogue sounds forced?  When the heart-felt scene doesn't make sense?  Or the engaging character ends up feeling like a distracting extra?

First, (and this can be the hardest step) accept that it's not going to work.  It doesn't matter how great it is, if it doesn't fit into this story, then forcing it to stay will only diminish both sides.  When I went to see Logan, I was surprised when they put the Deadpool 2 teaser scene at the front of the movie instead of in the credits like they normally do.  But after I watched both, I understood.  Without giving any spoilers away, the Deadpool teaser is funny and irreverent while the movie Logan was powerful and intense.  If the Deadpool scene had happened after, it would have struck the audience as disrespectful and it would have taken away some of the impact from the finale of the movie.

In this case, some timeline editing allowed the audience to see both but that's not always going to be a possibility.  Sometimes, a writer just has to surgically remove the awesome, yet troublesome piece.  But then what?

The second step is to save it.  I always find it easier to edit out my favourites when I know that I'm not getting rid of them, I'm merely putting them aside to feature at a later date.  Sometimes that brilliant character can become the hero or heroine of his or her own story.  Or the scene can become the dark moment or highlight in the next book (or the one after that).  You can always remind yourself that this is not the last story you will ever write, so there will be other opportunities down the road.

But there will be times where no matter the intention, it's just not going to come together.  If that is the case, then sometimes it's necessary to just bite the bullet and consign something to the "wish it could have been" drawer.  It can be a hurtful event, so give yourself time to emotionally process it.  Call a friend, have a glass of wine or emergency chocolate bar, whatever it will take to let you emerge on the other side, ready to battle the blank page once again.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 16 to 22

Weekly word count: 2150

It's a slow start but an improvement nonetheless.  I realized I hadn't ordered some of the swag that I needed for Ad Astra so I put in a rush order for more bags and buttons.  Unfortunately, 4imprint didn't have the royal blue bags that I ordered last time but they had a lovely light blue.  

In other life news, I'm still having trouble due to complications from my surgery last month and my doctor has put me on medical leave from my day job for a month to see if reducing my stress level can help get things back on track.

I'll have to keep reminding myself that I'll need to take this time to rest and recover, not take on more projects.  I've been so used to working, working, working all the time that it will be a challenge.  But since I don't want to end up in a more severe state, I'll have to find a way to relax.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Sexy Comic Book Heroines: Girl Power or Exploitation?

I've been a comic book fan for a long time and a comic book art fan for even longer.  I follow several fan art feeds in Twitter and I'd love to share more, but I find I have a moral hiccup.  No matter how badass the heroine, she always seems to be portrayed with bust or butt (or both) prominently displayed.

Catwoman: Queen of Snark, expert thief, master of the bull whip and able to disguise herself into virtually any situation, including sneaking past Batman.

Plenty of people have weighed in on how women are portrayed in comics.  The argument consistently seems to boil down to "It makes real women feel bad" on one side and "But that's what the customers want" on the other.

Scarlet Witch: able to bend reality to her will (as in, she imagines it, it happens), shoots hex bolts, can teleport, fly and move objects with her mind.
I found myself pondering the issue lately and decided to share my ponderings.  First of all, the fact that women in the entertainment industry are pushed to present a sexualized image is a problem, regardless of format.  It's not that the problem is with any particular sexy woman, but the fact that there are not many alternative archetypes out there.  It goes back a long way: the heroine of fairy tales is described as beautiful and it is implied (or outright said in some cases) that her beauty is the reason she has the adventure or attracts the attention of the hero or villain.

Wonder Woman: super strong, super fast, bullet-bouncing bracelets, Golden Lariat of Truth, expert in bow, sword and hand-to-hand combat.  Oh yeah, and immortal.
Women often face a double-edged sword when it comes to beauty.  It's nice to look attractive but can be dangerous (the "Dressed like that? She was asking for it" defense).  Often women are required to present their most attractive side (eg, wearing makeup to run to the store) but are then dismissed because of their beauty (too pretty to be smart/competent).

Storm: able to control the weather on continent-wide, local and individual levels, can throw lightning bolts at her enemies, can fly, expert thief and marksman with handguns and thrown knives, immune to climate extremes.
Heroines in comic books face the same challenge.  Those who might be truly inspired by the strength and depth of these characters and stories also tend to dismiss them because of how they are drawn.  Granted, sometimes these powerful ladies are forced into "damsel-in-distress" roles or pushed aside in favour of the male characters, but at one time or another, each has found herself in the hands of talented writers who utilize their strengths and weaknesses to reveal incredible three-dimensional characters and powerful stories.

Supergirl: invulnerable, x-ray vision, laser/heat vision, super strong, super fast, can fly, super breath (ie, can blow out building fires).
I love strong female characters.  And yet, I find myself feeling a little hurt and alienated when looking at these images.  Because this is not how real women look.  It makes me feel as if there is a barrier between the super-version of myself as the heroine of my own life and these characters who I admire.  And it's the most superficial barrier of all, a size 0 waist, DD cup size and flat abs.  Nothing to do with their personalities, drive or morals.

White Queen: one of the strongest telepaths in the Marvel universe, with a brilliant mind and wit, can transform into living diamond, has multiple college degrees and is a successful CEO.  Can design and build electronics, expert in neurology, biochemistry, and genetics.  Owns several multi-billion dollar conglomerates.
And yet, at the same time, I find myself asking: why shouldn't they have it all?  Why shouldn't they be brilliant, powerful, dynamic and gorgeous?  Women shouldn't have to settle for being less than they can be in order to make other people feel better.  That would be blatantly against everything that we have fought for.

Batgirl: superior speed, flexibility and strength, expert in hand to hand combat, expert marksman with projectile weapons, master of stealth and distraction, makes her own explosive/smoke pellets.
It does seem a little silly, once we start thinking about how their backs must ache when forced into the bust-forward, butt back pose, or the near 180 degree waist twist required to show both bust and butt in the same picture.  The images may be dramatic, but also impossible in reality.  And yet, comic books are supposed to present larger than life images and stories.

Black Widow: superior agility, expert marksman, gymnast and contortionist, brilliant tactician and political analyst.
In the end, it all boils down to a personal choice.  What is more important: the characters and the stories or the way they look?  It's hard to overlook their appearance, but behind the skimpy costumes are ladies with hearts of gold, steel and every metal in between.  They are smart, they are skilled and they kick ass.  And if they happen to look amazing while doing it, that's a compromise I'm willing to live with.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 9 to 15

Weekly word count: 1200

One good writing day, the first one in almost 3 weeks.  Unfortunately followed by an extra long weekend with kids home.  Carving out writing time with the kids home is a challenge under the best of circumstances, so I gave myself permission not to push it.

Next week should be better.

I'm restarting Judgment.  I was about 30 000 words into the first draft, but I knew those were mostly going to go.  It almost always takes me two or three starts to get a good sense for my plot and where I want to go.  The first draft has too much backstory, too many coincidences and too many changes of direction (marked to be addressed in rewrites).

I also took a longing look at the manuscript I was trying to get ready for the RWA conference in 2018.  I wish I had the time to spend working on both.  I know one author who works on one series in the morning and another in the afternoon.  But right now, with kids, day job and several household crises, it's not going to happen.

I got all of my books, etc, in for Ad Astra.  I'm still waiting on buttons for Inquisition.  But I've got a full set of everything else.  Can't wait for my first vendor conference of 2017!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Heroine Fix: The Irrepressible CC Bloom from Beaches

These days I'm feeling pretty worn out, so there was something very appealing about the character of CC Bloom, as portrayed by Bette Midler and Mayim Bialik in the 1988 classic, Beaches.  She crackles with energy, never backing down.  She's fiercely loyal to those she cares about and a passionate, unapologetically ambitious woman.

Too often, women suffer from "impostor syndrome", describing their hard-won success as an accident or luck.  That's what makes CC's naked ambition refreshing and inspiring.  As a child, she announces herself proudly as the most popular act in the Sammy Pinker Kiddy Show.  As an adult, we see her going on audition after audition, brazening through disinterest and indifference.  She dresses as a rabbit to deliver singing telegrams.  She dyes her hair for a two line part.  She gives her all to every opportunity, even when it's not something she particularly wants to do, because she sees every chance as a stepping stone to her chosen career.  When she finally has a successful show, she glories in her success, proud of what she's accomplished.

She doesn't hesitate to go on the offensive when she thinks she's being slighted.  When her boss at a nightclub refuses to give her an advance, she unleashes a rapidfire attack until he unlocks the cash box to hand over fifty dollars.  As a child, when she feels intimidated by the ritzy patrons at a fancy hotel, she does a tap-dance routine on the stairs.  During her movie shoot, she doesn't hesitate to break character when her co-star tries an unscripted kiss.  And then she lets the director have it, giving him a blast of frustration over his lack of involvement, finishing with a jaw-breaking punch when he accuses her of being a talentless hack and tells her to waddle her ass back on set and shut up.

Her fiery assertiveness makes me think of an old saying: to survive, the small ones must be fierce.  CC doesn't have the protection of money or social status.  All she has is her own spunk and talent.  She does it all on her own, without compromise.  It shouldn't be so shocking to watch a woman do what CC does, but it is rare in a world where women are encouraged to not make a fuss or cause a scene.

And yet, for all of CC's fire, she is devoted to her friends and loved ones.  The very first scene shows her dropping all the preparations for her concert so that she can rush to the side of her dying friend.  When her best friend sleeps with the man that CC has a crush on, CC is angry but once she's said her piece, it's over.  "We're friends, aren't we?"  When her husband tells her that he needs to stay where he is and not join her on her soaring career, it is one of only two points in the film where she doesn't argue.  She asks if he's sure and then accepts it.

The second time is when her best friend tells her that she's ready to die.  Despite CC's fear of illness and earlier urgings to fight, she looks Hillary in the eye and asks if she's sure.  When Hillary nods, CC turns her considerable energy to fighting on Hillary's behalf to have her released from hospital so that she can die at home.  I've always been particularly touched by how Hillary simply closes her eyes, trusting CC to fight for her.

I've been trying to think of other strong, defiant female characters, outside of the assassin/superhero/physical fighter character set and have been coming up blank (with the possible exception of Roseanne Barr's character on Roseanne).  CC isn't a black belt or a secret agent.  She's a singer and performer.  So in some ways, her determination and feistiness is even more accessible to the average person.  

Beaches is one of the first movies I remember watching in theatres and it stuck with me.  But it's only as I've gotten older and more aware of how strong female characters can be undermined that I've realized how special it truly is.  The story of friendship, strength and devotion resonates powerfully, without compromise or apology.  And it all begins with the very simple promise between two little girls in Atlantic City.

"Sure.  We're friends, aren't we?"

Continuing with my look at strong female characters, next month I'll be looking at Lizbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series.  Heroine Fix is the second Thursday of each month, looking at the heroines whom I admire and who have inspired my own characters.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 2 to 8

Weekly word count: 0

This week was very intense due to a combination of personal stuff and long days of training in another city.  

But this officially ends my self-allotted period of indulgence and it's time to get back to work.  I need to do some plot revisions, so I may not have much of a word count to report next week either, but one way or another, I intend to get back on the horse.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Happily Ever After: Goal to Strive For or Unrealistic Endings?

This week, two rather interesting articles have been making the rounds on social media.  The first is "How Romance Novels Imagine a World in Which Women Can Win", which looks at how the romance genre encourages women to want and believe they can have it all.  The second was "Sometimes I Want A Romance Without an HEA" which says that while romance novels can be inspiring, sometimes it can make one's real life situation feel worse.

I can certainly understand the latter's point.  I am one of those who find "inspiring" stories depressing.  Hearing about people overcoming worse odds than those I myself face makes me feel as if there must be something wrong with me if I continue to have problems.  If a woman can handle raising triplets after having her arms and legs amputated and still have time to earn her college degree, surely I should be able to handle the major and minor crises in my day to day life.

I could point out that I'm sure that triplet-mom has her good and bad days and there are days when she probably doesn't feel like she's been all that successful.  Just like I can point to a list of my own accomplishments and remind myself that it hasn't all been universal failure.

But it doesn't change the fact that I avoid "True Life" stories in magazines, newspapers and TV specials.  Because I invariably feel worse.  But I don't feel that way after reading a romance novel.  

If the story has grabbed me, then for a little while, I've lived through the plot along with the hero and heroine.  I've vicariously succeeded against the odds, found love, found success, found the missing jade statue... whatever the goal was, I've done it.  It's given me an escape from the day to day grind, a mental and emotional vacation.  And it's reminded me that success is always a possibility, even when trapped in the Black Moment of the plot.

Romance without a happily ever after (or at least, a happily for now) isn't a romance.  It can be a book dealing with romantic themes or exploring the darker side of relationships and love and those can be good and worthwhile stories.  Heck, I can even agree, since I usually intersperse my romance reads with non-fiction and other fiction.  

But the reason to read romance is to get that uplifting surge of hope, an inoculation against the challenges which take away our internal strength.  That's what romance is: it's hope.  Hope for the chance for mind-blowing sex, dreams coming true and eventual contentment in all (or almost all) aspects of life.

So as much as I can respect the drive behind Book Riot's plea, I must disagree.  I don't want a romance without a HEA.  Because it would be like having a burger without the buns or meat.  In other words, not a burger at all.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Weekly update: March 26th to April 1

Weekly word count: 0

As I mentioned last week, I'm giving myself a break on writing goals so that I can have time to heal and mentally rejuvenate.  This week, I'll also be giving myself a break because I'm away on training and won't have my afternoons to write.  If I can manage to do some stuff in the evening, that'll be great, but I'm not going to push myself.

Giving myself mental space is definitely helping.  I've been letting my mind wander around my plot and identify some points that could be problems.  I'm not worrying too much about finding solutions yet, but a couple have presented themselves.  I'll probably be rewriting most of what I've done so far on Judgment, but I was expecting to do that anyway.  

Take a breath, take a moment.  That's what I need to do now before I plunge back into the frantic pace of trying to get everything done.