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.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ink Tip: Chasing The Shiny

From my experience, authors tend to fall into one of two camps: those who are perpetually chasing new stories and those who are perpetually editing existing stories.

I'm one of those who is constantly being lured by new ideas.  They pop into my head at any time, shouting "Look at me!  Look at me!" and trying to persuade me to just write down a few scenes.  I get ideas for fanfiction (I want to write a prequel about what happened in the Wolverine: Origin movie between the two brothers running away from home and showing up in the Civil War and an Agents of SHIELD/Avengers crossover where the Avengers learn Coulson is still alive and the secret why the TAHITI protocol worked for him), historical (I think it would be cool to write a prehistorical romance set in the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, or one set in ancient Babylon, or a Bonnie and Clyde-esque one from the Depression), and dozens of other genres.

On the other side of the coin, I have some author friends who are eternal editors.  The blank page intimidates the heck out of them but give them one full of text and they can spend weeks polishing it until it gleams like a diamond.  

The challenge with that approach is that no story ever truly feels finished.  Even New York Times Bestselling authors admit that they look back on their most popular books and wish they could have done things differently with them.  

Successful authors have to find their personal balance between the two.  You can't turn off the flow of creativity but can't get swept away in it either.  And it's critical to polish and edit but not get bogged down in it.

For me (and other authors inclined to chase shiny new stories), there are a number of strategies that can keep us on task:

- keep a notebook or computer folder with ideas and inspirations so that they don't get forgotten
- set yourself a daily or weekly word count on your main work in progress, then any extra writing time can be used to explore new ideas and projects
- incorporate the new ideas into your work in progress (if they're suitable)
- focus on shorter fiction pieces which allow you to explore many different stories in the same time period as a long novel

On the flip side, for editors and polishers who want to bring the shiny to their work:

- set a daily or weekly word count on your work in progress before you go back to edit previous days
- set an editing schedule, with one pass for each type of editing (eg: description, deep point of view, pacing, etc.)
- insist on completing a certain portion of the manuscript before beginning editing
- make notes of any changes or edits you want to do so that you can go back and do them all in one pass 

I have my computer folder full of files of notes and ideas, although I have to be careful because I find it's too easy to lose an afternoon, clicking open one file after another.  A friend of mine, who is an eternal editor, forces herself to complete each manuscript to the 3/4 point before she allows herself to go back and edit any of the previous work.  Both very different processes, but each of them works for us.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 19 to 25th

Weekly word count: 537

As those who saw my Facebook post know, this hasn't been a good week for me.  I've been having some health issues for the last year and a bit.  Nothing life threatening but more of a quality of life issue.  This week, I had a surgery that was supposed to improve matters but unfortunately, it appears to have made things worse.  It's going to be awhile before we can figure out what the next option is.  Again, it's still not life threatening and there are probably plenty of people who wouldn't see it as a big deal.  But it's been a drain on me.

I gave myself some time to process the new situation emotionally.  Usually I try to push through because I have a tendency to depression and if I let that inertia build, it's really hard to get back out of it.  But I've already been struggling and I realized that I needed that time.  It was soothing to read all of the good wishes and offers to help.

I'm hoping to get back to work in a more normal way this week.  To get back into it, I'm going over my plot notes and outline for Judgment.  That usually re-sparks my creativity.

For the next little bit, I'm going to suspend my weekly word goals and treat every word that I manage to write as a victory.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Contest Blues and Pride

This week, RWA announced the Rita and Golden Heart finalists for 2017.  My Twitter and Facebook feeds were buzzing as the judges called the finalists to let them know and the lucky excitedly shared the news.

Last year, I was waiting to discover whether or not I was one of those finalists.  Unfortunately, I didn't quite make the cut, although I came close.  The average score for a finalist in my category was an 8.1 and Revelations scored a 7.7.  A respectable placement, but not enough to join the circle of finalists and award winners.

This year, I find myself feeling a little blue even as I add a heart or like to each Twitter and Facebook post.  I wonder about all of the other hopefuls who will not receive a phone call, who will not be celebrated.  As much as I am truly pleased for the success of others, I'm also only human, and so I also feel sad and disappointed not to be among them.

But I'm proud of them as well and proud of how so many authors are celebrating the victories of others rather than tearing them down out of jealousy.  It makes me believe in a better side of humanity as they congratulate as well as compete.

So I want to offer my congratulations to every author who submitted a manuscript or book to either the Golden Heart or the Rita.  It takes courage to put your work out there and allow others to pass an opinion on it.  And you should all be proud, too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 2200

Not great but I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  Hopefully I can do better this week now that we're closer to being back in a regular routine.

I've been busy trying to get everything ready for Ad Astra and Limestone Genre Expo.  One of the big things I've found myself debating is how many of each book to bring to sell.  Ad Astra is a much larger event than I'm used to, so I've decided to go all out and have at least 50 copies of my first book ready to go.  Then 30 of my second and at least 20 of my third.

I also have to decide how many promo items to bring.  Such as buttons and my promo bags.  I'll need to order more of both.

And now it's time to get back to work.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Writing When It Doesn't Make Sense

It's been a difficult month for me and it's not likely to ease up for the foreseeable future.  Which has definitely impacted my writing.

Generally, I'm of the "allow yourself the luxury of a day off during a bad day" mindset.  Partly that's because I have a hard time not ticking off every item on my to-do list and have learned the hard way that driving myself into the ground will cost me more than just one day.  So I reassure myself that it's not the end of the world if I take a mental health day to rejuvenate myself.

But sometimes it's more than just one bad day.  Sometimes life throws a series of curveballs at me and my writing time gets eaten up.  Sometimes other commitments all crash together and end up being overwhelming.  Sometimes the kids have been fighting non-stop and I'm feeling drained, frustrated and not particularly creative.  

I can't put my writing aside for weeks at a time while I try to cope with the rest of my life.  Most importantly, not writing makes it harder to break out of those depressive slumps, but almost as important, I've chosen to make writing stories my business.  Even though I'm self-published, that still gives me deadlines and obligations that I need to meet if I want my business to flourish.

So how to do it?

First things first, ask for help.  This is the crucial step that gets overlooked too often when life gets overwhelming.  If you need to talk to someone, then talk to someone (a friend, therapist, cornered stranger in the coffee shop).  If medication will help, then see your doctor about your dosage or prescription.  If there are any tasks which can be offloaded, then find people to do those tasks and say "yes" when someone offers to help.  

With all the chaos and difficulty, household chores were suffering at my house.  So I found a housekeeper to come in a couple of times a week.  It's more expensive than I would have liked, but it takes a large chunk of my to-do list off my plate.  And it doesn't always have to be expensive, I knew a couple of moms who worked out a co-op arrangement, where one prepared all the meals for both families and the other dealt with dishes and tidy-up.

I also said yes when a fellow ORWA member offered to help me with the official ORWA Twitter account.  (Thanks, Jessica!)  This was actually quite hard for me, because I felt as if I was letting the organization down.  And I knew that Jessica was already doing quite a bit to help out, so I felt as if I was imposing on her.  But after a little time, I realized it was more of a blow to my pride than anything else.  And pride is not worth tearing myself apart for.  So I said yes and she's doing a wonderful job and I'm not having to worry about it.

Next step, set up for success.  We all have our ideal set-up for writing but most of us manage with a "that'll do" rather than insisting on the ideal.  But when the rest of life is not cooperating, then more support might be needed to make a few hours of writing into a success rather than a frustration.  Try to set things up as close to the ideal as possible.

For me, my ideal involves being able to listen to music without headphones, being uninterrupted and preferably alone for an extended stretch of time (at least 90 minutes), and not being distracted by other things that I know I have to do.  In reality, I often have to use headphones or deal with a shorter than ideal time.  And I usually have to ignore everything which is still undone.

However, when I'm already feeling crappy, then I need more of my ideal to be productive.  And so it's okay to insist on my husband taking the kids out (or dumping them with their grandparents) so that I have my uninterrupted time and can listen to my music without fear of complaint or comment.  And it's also okay to insist on having more time to accomplish the other tasks on my to-do list.

A last thought on setting things up for success.  It's times when things aren't going smoothly that I find I really need the plotting work I've done.  It's still not an entirely natural process for me, but it's invaluable to keep things moving when I'm not inspired.  

Next, use what you have.  Not feeling the happily-ever-after?  Then focus on the black moment, or moments of despair for the characters.  Feeling frustrated and angry, use it to fuel a confrontation scene.  

I tend to write sequentially, but sometimes I jump ahead to use what I'm feeling to create a more powerful scene.  Those scenes don't always end up in the final book, but they help.  They get the words out of my head and onto the page, which gives me some mental space.

And finally, celebrate any success, no matter how small.  Be proud of the fact that you wrote 500 words, even if your usual total is closer to 1500.  That's 500 hard-won, paid for in effort.  And it's still better than 0.  

For me this is crucial because it's too easy to find myself saying, it's not worth the effort for such a small gain.  Then I find myself tempted to veg in front of Netflix with promises of doing better tomorrow, even though I know tomorrow will bring its own challenges.

It would be great if I could always guarantee my life would make room for my writing career, but that's not how it works.  There are always going to be times when it goes smoother than other times and times when everything seems to conspire against me.  But that's where the commitment comes in, distinguishing the career writers from the hobbyists.  

If you can write when it's not easy, then you'll have a greater chance of succeeding in a field that holds more heartbreaks than triumphs. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 5th to 11th

Weekly word count: 3050 words

As part of my draw this week, I asked my readers to share something they'd learned.  This week I have learned that I was crazy when I thought I could combine a family road trip with writing.

Writing while sitting in the car for hours on end.  Sounds like a great idea, until factoring in that I can't see the screen with my sunglasses on.  And the constant interruptions for music changes, snacks and other challenges just made it incredibly hard to concentrate.

But there's still the option of writing at night.  It's not my most productive time but even a few hundred words is better than nothing.  I'm limping along but still making progress.

On to other news, I was blown away by Book Partners In Crime's tour.  They had 30 sign ups and 28 blogs ended up featuring my book.  And my twitter feed has been exploding with retweets.  That is much better than the tour I did for Metamorphosis, which had 5 sign ups, and the only two which ended up actually posting were two blogs which I referred.  It's comparable with the tours I do through Xpresso Books, (which had 50 posted out of 100 sign ups), however those blogs tend to be aimed at a younger crowd than my ideal audience.

I was also excited to be chosen for an author spotlight on Eskie Mama and Dragon Lady Reads.  Again, their readers promoted the heck out of me.

I'm starting to get preliminary reviews back for Inquisition, and so far, people seem to love it.  Including those who don't know me personally and have no reason to be nice about it.

All in all, it was a good week.  Now, on to recovery mode.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Heroine Fix: Melinda May of Agents of SHIELD

First things first, I love a good clandestine government agency.  X-files, Fringe, Men In Black and now, Agents of SHIELD.  It satisfies my inner conspiracy theorist.

But even more than secret agencies, I enjoy a strong, super-skilled laconic hero.  Or heroine.

 Agent May doesn't waste time or effort with witty comebacks or clever puns.  She's too busy efficiently kicking ass, or faces.  After over ten years of martial arts training, I can definitely appreciate the latter.  She's a sharp shot with a rifle or a pistol.  Determined and relentless in the pursuit of her target, she's a force to be reckoned with.

In the first few episodes, she was more of a whispered presence than an actual character and I think that worked to the character's benefit.  Someone with her skill level and history would be a legend within the agency.  Showing us that legend rather than telling us made it feel more real.  From the first moment she walked on screen, we believed that Agent May could be sent up against any force, from petty thugs right up to Agent Romanov, the Black Widow herself, and Agent May would win.

Release the Calvary.

 But there's more to Agent May than her fighting skills.  Despite her stoic exterior, she cares deeply for her teammates and about helping the vulnerable.  In the subtle twitch of a lip or eye, she reveals pain that would tear a lesser hero apart.  

Maybe that's why she resonates so strongly with me.  No matter how much crap life throws at her, she doesn't waste time feeling sorry for herself.  She gets on with what needs to be done and never gives up until she's accomplished what's necessary.  In my own life, I often feel as if I'm struggling to cope with the curve balls of fate.  It may not be "fighting-a-guy-with-a-table-saw" level of challenge, but I can still see some parallels.

Guns?  I don't need guns.  There's a perfectly good table saw here.
I admire competence, no matter in what field.  But I also admire people who don't feel the need to cater to other people's opinions.  May doesn't fall into any of the typical female categories and there isn't even a hint of an apology.

The subtlety of the character is a long-term investment but one that pays off big.  By keeping May reserved, the times when she does lose control have a much stronger impact.  It's a lesson that I used with one of my characters, Vincent.  He's irreverent and dismissive, which makes it much more significant when he says something serious or meaningful.

In doing this series, I've been impressed with the range of heroines currently out there.  When I was young, heroines fell into two categories: damsels in distress or token female character.  Neither were particularly strong and even the token females ended up needing frequent rescue.  Now there are all different kinds: witty, laconic, cheerful, brooding, sweet, sexy, powerful, stealthy, manipulative, straight up and all the possible combinations.  No matter what kind of woman a girl wants to look up to, there's a heroine out there for her to emulate and admire.

I'm feeling a little nostalgic and ready for a change of pace, so next month, I'll be looking at  CC Bloom from Beaches.  Bold, brassy and demanding, but still with a heart of gold.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Release Day: Inquisition

It's official!  Inquisition is now available in print and ebook on  (It will take another few weeks for the print book to be available in Canada but the ebook is available.)

Police detective Joe Cabrera used to have a pretty good life.  Promising career, plenty of flirtations, and he never once needed to question the nature of his reality.  All of that changed when he discovered the truth of the lalassu.  Suddenly, he fell deep into a rabbit hole of paranormal powers, shadowy conspiracies and millennia-old secrets.  Now, his old no-nonsense approach to his job just doesn’t work any longer.  If he wants to stop his old enemy, AndrĂ© Dalhard, from hurting anyone else, Joe will need to find a more flexible option.

A master of disguise, Cali has assumed so many identities over the years that remembering who she was born to be is impossible.  Abandoned on the streets as a child, she was rescued by AndrĂ© Dalhard.  She’s served him loyally for many years, using her shape-shifting abilities to take on new personas in the blink of an eye, such as Boomerang, the master thief.  To save Mr. Dalhard from prison, she becomes Colleen Avila, a meek and mild personal secretary.

Joe initially planned to use Colleen as a confidential informant, but wasn’t prepared for the intensity of his feelings for her.  When he meets the arrogant and brash Boomerang and the determined and fearless Cali, he finds himself torn between the three women.  For Cali, she knows she must inevitably either break Joe’s heart or turn against the man who saved her from a life of uncertainty and poverty.

As Joe and Cali work together, they discover an even greater threat to the lalassu, one that could send everyone tumbling down into a new rabbit hole.  If their fears are realized, neither their friends nor their enemies will be able to escape.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Weekly Update: February 26 to March 4

Weekly word count: 4550

It's been a difficult week and I am not ashamed to say that life kicked my butt over the last seven days.  But I still managed to get my writing totals done.  

Unfortunately, I'm still looking at a 3 page to-do list that needs to happen in the next few weeks before our family goes through some big changes.  But I'm confident I will get it all done.  I might not sleep but I will get it all done.

The ORWA meeting this weekend was really helpful.  I'd always dismissed Wattpad as a forum for fanfiction but from Linda Poitevin's workshop, it looks like it might be a good marketing tool.  I'd need to do some thinking, but since I'm planning to go broad base to release Judgment once it's ready, maybe doing a serialized release on Wattpad might not be a bad idea. 

I'm loving how Judgment is coming together and I am so excited to get to share Inquisition with everyone this week.  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Deal-Breakers and Wincers

How much of a book does a reader need to agree with in order to enjoy it?

It's a question that may not have occurred to you.  Certainly most people assume that if someone enjoys a book, they must have enjoyed all the parts in it.  But it's not necessarily true.

There are a number of authors whom I really enjoy but there are always moments in their books where I have to wince.  It's like the stab of an ice sliver in an otherwise delicious milkshake.  And then there are the books that sound promising but include one of my literary deal-breakers.  And that's more like finding a bug in the milkshake.  It doesn't matter how good it's been up to that point, now it's disgusting and there's no salvaging it.

Everyone has their own "not-great" and "deal-breaker" lists.  For me, one of my wincing moments is when a character uses woman as an insult.  Eg: "Do I look like a girl?" or referring to something as "girl shit" or similar things to that.  To me, it's misogynistic language and reinforces the idea of female as defective.  And yet there are series that I enjoy where the author clearly doesn't feel the same.  I end up having to brace myself when I'm reading and remind myself not to get too upset.  If the author wasn't incredibly talented, I wouldn't bother.  But it doesn't mean I'm okay with that kind of language.

On the deal-breaker side is anything involving coercion in the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine.  Frankly, coercion bothers me between any characters but it's an absolute deal-breaker in the main couple.  I recently read a book where the hero was blackmailing the heroine into having sex with him and once I read that, the book was done for me.  No second chance.

It's not always easy for an author to guess what will be a trigger to his or her readers.  Things which might seem innocuous or even daring to the author might end up being deal-breakers.  For example, I have a friend who had traumatic experiences with the church as a child and now anything that involves any kind of Christian imagery is a deal-breaker for her.  Even characters swearing can be enough to make her put a book down.

It's important to have a wide variety of beta readers before a book is published.  They can help let an author know about any potential pitfalls.  With my most recent book, one of my readers warned me that in some groups, using food terms to describe skin tone is considered offensive.  I had described a character as having skin the colour of fresh-baked bread but changed it to tan.  It's a small change for me and if it avoids hurting or offending someone, that's an easy choice.

Obviously, it's important to respect your own voice as an author.  It's not going to be possible to please everyone.  But at the same time, it is also important to respect your readers.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Weekly Update: February 19 to 25

Weekly word count: 4400

I've got around 21 000 words done on Judgment, book 4 of the lalassu.  I'll probably have to rewrite most of them but that's par for the course at this stage.  But the plot is coming together nicely and I've got some really interesting ideas to explore.

I've been doing a lot of research into different internment camps, the Japanese in World War II, modern refugee camps, and, of course, the Nazi concentration camps.  I'm surprised by the commonalities between them.  Perhaps I shouldn't have been.  There are only so many ways to bulk warehouse large numbers of people and then deal with the issues of sanitation, feeding them and keeping them contained.  It's a bit of a depressing realization.

The highlight of this week was getting to do my Beyond the Furrowed Brow presentation for the Low Country Romance Writers of America.  The ladies of LRWA were awesome and I am more than a little envious of the lovely February weather they're getting right now, vs my 3-4 feet of snow.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Ink Tip: Writing What You Don't Know

This may come as a surprise to some people, but I have never shape-shifted into a bear.

Writing is full of sharing experiences that don't come from an author's personal history.  Some of them are impossible to experience, like time travel, shape-shifting, magic and living on an intergalactic space ship.  (That covers my personal wishlist.)  Some can be learned, like how to fire a gun, pick a lock, cook a gourmet meal or play an instrument.  And some can be observed and researched, like different cultures and groups.

An author doesn't have to be restricted to only what he or she knows and the key to expanding those horizons is research, research, research.

Creating the Impossible:

It might not be possible to travel in time, but an author can do the research to make certain that he or she has portrayed the historical period accurately.  He or she can speak with physicists to learn about time as a fourth dimension.  For magic, an author can study different magical systems across different cultures to get an idea of what we have believed is possible.  

The key to creating something impossible that feels real to a reader is to set up a solid groundwork beforehand.  Decide what the rules are going to be: does a character need to touch someone to get a psychic read or can they touch a photo?  Does the space ship have artificial gravity or does it need to rotate to create the illusion of gravity?  By setting up a framework, an author can avoid the temptation to suit the requirements to their story.

It's also critical to make sure that any big plot points have been set up properly.  There are three common complaints in speculative fiction.  The first is when authors tip their hands too much with an early "never do X" scene, making it obvious that X will be the solution to the big crisis.  A classic example is Ghostbusters, where the characters are told to never cross the streams, but then have to cross the streams to defeat the big bad in the end.  The second is when a useful ability or piece of technology is used initially and then never heard from again.  The best example of this is in Iron Man, when the bad guy uses a device which emits a noise that immobilizes anyone who hears it.  We never hear about this technology again, even though it would have been useful any number of times.  The third is when the solution to the crisis isn't shown before the actual crisis.  Someone reveals a new superpower or technology that would have been useful in the past.  My favourite example of that is the "Oh yeah, R2-D2 can fly" moment from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

The Learnable:

For things which can be learned, the author has a different challenge.  How many skills should an author acquire in the course of writing a book?  With dozens of characters, each with their own skills, trying to learn them all could make it impossible to have the time to actually write the book.  Each author has to find their own balance between research and writing.

Authors don't have to become experts in order to realistically portray a skill.  Most experts are quite happy to share their expertise, and where possible, share some hands-on experience.  For Inquisition, I spoke with police officers, prison guards, stage magicians and escape artists.  I wanted to make sure I could realistically portray the skills and professions of my main characters and key secondary characters.

The Researchable:

Writing about different cultures and subgroups is a touchy subject.  No matter how diligent an author is in their research, he or she will never duplicate the experience of being in a different culture or subgroup.  This is one of the main drives behind the #OwnVoices movement, which seeks to promote minority voice authors writing about their own cultures.

But at the same time, it's limiting to be restricted to writing characters which are all of a similar background to the author.  And it creates an illusion of segregation and diminishes the presence of minority cultures and subgroups.

It's critical to do research, as much research as humanly possible.  Speak to those within that culture or group, read books and articles about them and their experience, watch documentaries and whatever else an author can think of.  An outsider's perspective will never be the same as an insider's, and there will always be differences between what the author portrays and what individual people have experienced.  But if an author is sincere in wanting to portray a different culture with respect, it is incumbent on him or her to do the work to minimize those potential errors.

Using a sensitivity reader can also be a technique to minimize errors, but it isn't a replacement for proper research.  A sensitivity reader is someone who is knowledgeable about a particular group or culture and who will read a manuscript in order to point out errors and things which could be offensive.  

It can be intimidating to try and portray something which an author isn't familiar with, but with the proper work, it can open up a rewarding diverse landscape to explore.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Weekly Update: February 12 to 17

Weekly word count: 1200

Between getting the final proofreading and formatting done for Inquistion and a flu bug which kicked my butt, my productivity has been low to non-existent.  

It's actually been surprisingly hard to keep my writing levels up over the last few months.  I need to find a way to step things up again.  Hopefully once I get over this flu, I can get things back on track.

I've also been struggling with another decision.  Registration for Prose in the Park, an Ottawa literary festival, is coming up.  Last year, things did not go very well.  The organizers seem to have a disdain for romance in general and we've been stuck with a woman who is both rude and unprofessional.  They treated Deborah Cooke and Eve Langlais with a great deal of disrespect.

But, the organizers are not the fans and it was still a good day of interacting with readers and fans.  I'd like to have the opportunity to do that again.

However, I really don't want to deal with the rude woman again.  And I've seen on the map that there will be only one table for romance, which means a guarantee of dealing with her.  So I've been thinking of registering as a science fiction/fantasy writer instead and being at those tables.  But it feels like I'm turning my back on the romance community and I'm worried it could be interpreted as being ashamed of being a romance writer.

I'm proud of being a romance writer and it bothers me to deny any aspect of that.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Why I Read And Write Romance

Last week, Romance Writers of America asked the Internet at large: Why do you read romance?

"Because so many of its characters, 
authors and readers represent 
what's best about humanity." 

It got me thinking about my own journey into reading and writing romance.  I used to avoid the shelves in the bookstore with their covers full of half-naked men and swooning women.  I'd bought into the stereotype that there was something shameful about those shelves and those who bought the books from them.

But the thing was, I liked books that had a subplot which focused on the characters' relationships.  But those were speculative fiction stories, not romance, at least in my head.  However, the endings were not satisfying.  The couples didn't last.  One of them would die (usually the woman, although I did notice a trend where if the woman was too strong to succumb to a relationship, the man would die between her deciding to take a chance and actually trying), or the couple spent the book separated due to a kidnapping (again, usually the woman), or they would break up for what always seemed like easily overcome-able reasons.

"I read romance because no other genre 
so consistently centers women as the 
protagonists of their own stories." 

I'd had a number of friends tell me that I needed to give romance a proper try.  That it wasn't an overblown caricatures and parodies, or the Hallmark story of the week that we saw on TV.  That the books were smart, full of great adventures, sharp wit and interesting characters.

Eventually, I tried it.  I was out of town and went into a bookstore.  I took a deep breath and headed for the shelves marked Romance, still feeling somehow that I was doing something wrong.  I scanned the shelves and picked out two books that involved magic and post-apocalyptic societies, figuring they would be the easiest to get started with.

I tried the first one on the plane home and read it all before we landed.  I didn't even blush at the sex scenes, despite being shoulder to shoulder with actual strangers.  I enjoyed it and ordered the rest of the series as soon as I got home.

"I read romance to discover the diverse voices
 of strong women creating fierce heroines and 
intriguing heroes who live HEA." 

I became an avid romance reader.  The romance section no longer intimidated me and now I find myself mildly insulted when there isn't a separate section in a bookstore or library.  I realized that the stories I'd been writing for years were romances, that this was the genre I'd been at home in all along, without ever realizing it.

Real life doesn't come with guarantees.  But it does come with hope.  Romances take that hope and build on it.  If things are going badly, it's to set the hero or heroine on a path to greater happiness than they could have ever had on their previous one.  And not just happiness with each other, but happiness in their work and in all of their dreams.  Suddenly, the things that we don't quite dare dream about become real possibilities.

"I read romance because the stories are so 
well written and they are about women 
succeeding at life. 
Whatever that life happens to be." 

Shamers will attack that hope, calling it unrealistic and escapism.  But in order to improve anything, we first need to be able to dream that it can be different.  Escapism is the start of all meaningful change.  Whether it's a divorced woman dreaming of finding love and trust again or a former CEO trying to make a ranch work or a former therapist making sense of a post-apocalyptic world, it's all about not accepting where you are and dreaming of where you could be.

Romance is also an opportunity to create new narratives.  In the 70's and 80's, the sex in romance novels can only be charitably described as "coerced" because it wasn't socially acceptable for a woman to want to have sex.  The heroines were virgins who were despoiled by the heroes, who didn't take no for an answer.  But the novels changed that expectation.  They began to show women who enjoyed sex, who didn't need to be coerced into participating.  Romance novels began to incorporate regular condom use into the sex scenes, giving women a script for insisting on the use of condoms in real life.  Heroines stopped quitting their jobs to be with a man.  They demanded equality.

I have a number of friends who write LGBTQ romances, and the progress there is similar.  The books insisted on pushing back against the spectre of AIDS, prejudice and social disapproval.  They told stories of acceptance, of finding families to replace the ones who rejected them.  And those stories started to inspire real life.

So I'm proud to write paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  I'm proud to represent both speculative fiction and romance.  Because there's always room for more hope and dreams.

"It makes me happy. Plain and simple." @bylisahahn

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Valentine's Day: 15 Quotes Celebrating Love and Romance

Today is a day for celebrating love and happily ever afters.  So I've put together a list of quotes about the power of love and it's ability to transform ordinary life into something extraordinary.

And one last bonus quote, from The Mirror Has Two Faces:

Myth or manipulation, we all want to fall in love.
That experience makes us feel completely alive.
Our everyday reality is shattered and we are flung into the heavens.
It may only last a moment, an hour, but that doesn't diminish its value.
We're left with memories that we treasure for the rest of our lives....
So the final question is: why do people want to fall in love - 
when it can have such a short run and be so painful?...

I think it's because, as some of you may already know,
while it does last, it feels f**king great.

- Barbra Streisand