Monday, 21 August 2017

Weekly Update: August 13 to 19

Weekly word count: 4100

I'm getting close to the halfway point for Judgment, which is exciting but I still find myself a little frustrated because normally at this time of year I'd be getting ready to do the final polish before sending the book to the editor.

But I tell myself that I'm making progress and hopefully I'll have it ready by the end of November and then I can have it ready for Ad Astra next year.

There's only two weeks left of summer and then school starts up again.  I may have a rough start to the year as we were having some trouble with my older son's school last year and I don't know if it will be resolved for this one.  Either way, I'm still looking forward to having some more peace and quiet to concentrate on writing.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Controversy over Ross, Rachel and Joey on Friends

Friends was a long time ago.  I recall watching it with my cousin, then my dorm mates, then by myself.  But it still pulls up some surprisingly strong feelings.

Last week, a Twitter rant about why Rachel should have ended up with Joey instead of Ross ended up gathering quite a bit of attention in the media and online.  Unfortunately, my tech skills have not proved sufficient to link to a specific Twitter thread, but I have transcribed the entire thread below.

The rant itself brings up some interesting points.  That Ross' s insecurity makes him undercut Rachel's career and intelligence.  That Ross and Rachel made each other worse as people (both were jealous and suspicious and tried to sabotage one another's relationships).  That Joey often supported Rachel and paid attention to her feelings, despite being set up as the "shallow" Friend.  And that ending the series with Rachel and Joey as a couple would have been a game-changer in the sitcom world.

It gave me some new thoughts to try out (which I always love).  To be honest, I haven't thought much about Friends for over a decade, having stopped watching the show around season six or seven (whenever Phoebe had the triplets).  But this rant is about the romantic relationships and the subtle skewing that often appears in fictionalized examples.  I probably would have left it rattling in the back of my brain but couldn't because of a morning show DJ.

The day after I saw the rant, there was a substitute DJ on the morning show I usually listen to on the radio.  He began talking about the rant, starting off by describing it as a "Tweet-storm by a stupid woman who droned on and on about how Joey and Rachel should have been a couple on Friends."  This did not bode well and tweaked my inner injustice radar.  The DJ immediately continued to mock several of the tweets, following each with a "NO!"  No counter-argument, no alternate point of view, just a straight denial.  He finished by claiming that "most of the men agree with me" and then moved on to sharing traffic and weather details.

It surprised me that he felt this was sufficient to counter what was a well-thought out and pieced together view.  It also surprised me that he was so clearly emotional about believing Ross and Rachel should be a couple and was so threatened by the idea that Joey could have been a contender.  (Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, as a man denigrating a woman for sharing an opinion isn't exactly uncommon, but I will maintain my higher expectations for society no matter the evidence to the contrary.)

So here's my thoughts on the matter.  The sit-com is a formula.  It's meant to be light-hearted and funny, giving people twenty-two minutes to relax and enjoy themselves.  They don't often tackle more serious subjects and one of the things that people love about them is their predictability.  The audience isn't looking for the characters or situation to change in any meaningful ways, they just want to have a laugh.  Now, some sit-coms have managed to be funny, successful and tackle big issues (Murphy Brown and Roseanne being the two which immediately spring to my mind) but Friends never aspired to that.  It was a group of people with a wide variety of personalities, making their way through life as hilarity ensued.

Yes, in anything resembling a real life situation, Ross would have been a horrendous, hateful jealous jerk.  Because his jealousy and insecurity got laughs, they were played up more and more as the series went on.  He did actively block Rachel's career, both with his jealousy of the men around her and his final push to prevent her from taking the Paris job.  (BTW, this is a pet peeve of mine, when female characters give up their dreams for a relationship.)  He did pursue her when she said she wasn't interested and was dating someone else (and she did the same to him).  Those are not good qualities in a romantic partner.

@kaneandgriffin had a very valid point that Joey's character went through a real change, from being shallow and a player to falling in love with his pregnant friend, respecting her feelings when she didn't return them, and then moving to a deeper level of relationship.  It would have been nice for the writers to acknowledge that change.  It probably wasn't a deliberate character arc, but it still ended up happening.

She also had a valid point that what Ross fell in love with was a fantasy.  He wanted to be the kind of guy who could get a Rachel.  But he doesn't think he would be enough, otherwise, he wouldn't be so jealous.  

There are a lot of real life women who put up with jealousy and manipulation in the name of love.  Who make themselves less so that their partners won't be outshone.  And it would have been amazing if a pop culture icon like Friends could have turned that script on its head and said "here's someone who has treated her consistently well throughout the series, who puts her interests above his own, and now he's going to get the girl."  To honour a relationship built on a solid day-to-day friendship rather than a long distance crush.

But I'm not getting upset about it, because there are lots of stories out there which do what @kaneandgriffin wanted.  They may not have been made into long-running TV shows, but they're there.  Friends missed a chance to be revolutionary, and probably won't be making my rewatch list anytime soon.  The very fact that we now see the flaws rather than accepting them as inevitable or right is a victorious step in the right direction.

As for the mansplaining DJ, he can cart his entitled ego to the curb.  The intelligent men and women out there have some real discussions to catch up on. 

The Original Tweet Essay on Friends

In Defense of Rachel and Joey: A Thread by @kaneandgriffin (Transcribed from Twitter)

I’m loving this “let’s yell about TV plot points we hate” thing that’s happening EXCEPT that it started about Rachel and Joey on Friends.  I am on record as being absolutely ride-or-die anti-Ross Geller, who is for money one of television’s all-time worst human men.  And her brief thing with Joey was obviously intended by the writers to artificially draw out Rachel’s will they/won’t they with Ross.  A lot of people think it was weird or that it came out of nowhere, BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU WHY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ENDGAME.

ARGUMENT # 1: Ross Never Saw Rachel As A Friend, But Joey Did

From the moment the Friends first meet Rachel, Ross immediately sees her as a romantic prospect.  He’s never gotten over his crush on her.  Joey, of course, greets her with “how YOU doin’” and Monica appropriately smacks him down for hitting on a woman on her wedding day.  But this is presented as Joey’s standard greeting to every hot woman ever, not specific to Rachel. (We can talk about the overall attitude of men on this show to women as sexual objects another time.)  But Joey’s relationship with Rachel is platonic almost right away.  They have a genuine friendship.  He frequently gives her dating advice. (Sometimes questionable af, but, you know, well-intentioned.)  He sets her up on dates with men he thinks she’ll like.  He lets her crash the set when he’s filming and flirt with soap actors.

Joey has a lot of problems but his supportive, protective relationship with the women friends is one of his best qualities.  He genuinely loves them and wants them all to be happy and there’s no jealousy in it at all.  HE MAKES HER LAUGH.  Okay, now contrast this with Ross, who from minute one has labeled Rachel as “his.”

We’re always told that Ross/Rachel was a “friends to lovers” ship but WHAT IS THAT BASED??? WHAT F*CKING FRIENDSHIP??  He had a crush on her in high school, so he “claimed” her first, and long after they’ve broken up he resents every man in her life.  He hides messages from men who call her when they’re living together.  He’s endlessly threatened by the men she dates.  He outright sabotages her career WE’LL BE COMING BACK TO THIS POINT because he can’t get over his Mark thing.  Ross literally cannot accept that Mark (or any man) could be just friends with Rachel because HE couldn’t be “just friends” with Rachel. 

And you’ll note that throughout the series it’s often Joey telling Ross he doesn’t OWN Rachel, while Chandler and Monica enable him.  Joey is the person who most often tells Ross “dude she’s not interested” when she’s clearly not.  The one who notices what RACHEL wants.   He doesn’t have all this “but he’s loved her FOREVER” false nostalgia that makes them all feel like Ross has EARNED Rachel by waiting.  This is why “nice guys” are often so much shadier than openly, unapologetically promiscuous guys like Joey.

Joey’s feelings for Rachel were born out genuine friendship.  They were roommates.  SHE WAS PREGNANT.  We honestly don’t talk enough about how big a deal it is that Joey, the “shallow” one, falls in love with Rachel while she’s pregnant.  It happens the way realistically healthy relationships do: they just start spending a lot more time together.  He has to LEARN to see Rachel as a romantic prospect because she’s always been a friend first.  Which was NEVER true for Ross.  It’s not until he takes her on a fake date (because she’s pregnant and misses going on fancy dates) when it actually clicks.  And when he tells Rachel how he feels and she turns him down, contrast that with “WE WERE ON A BREAK.”  He never blames her and he doesn’t let it impact the rest of the group.  The friendship stays intact.  The forced cop-out ending where they get together & suddenly all the chemistry evaporates was NONSENSE.  They could have made this work.  If the writers had cared enough to try, there was potential there for a fantastic and genre-defying surprise twist to the show.

ARGUMENT # 2: Rachel Deserved Someone Who Understood Why Her Career Was Important To Her (MY DUDES I AM JUST! GETTING! STARTED!)

Y’all.  Y;all.  It was 13 f*cking years ago and I am still furious AT LEAST WEEKLY that Rachel got off that goddamn plane.  Ross sabotaged her career at every turn.  He was “tired of having a relationship with her answering machine.”  He was jealous of all her male colleagues.  He FELL ASLEEP at a work event he demanded she take him to.  Over and over Ross trivialized her passions, even though I would argue that Rachel’s career was always her most interesting arc.  Somewhere, there’s a way more feminist version of “Friends” about a spoiled privileged girl who’s never had to work a day in her life – going on to become a brilliant and competent executive at the top of an insanely competitive creative field, as a single mom.

There are MANY things about “Friends” that don’t hold up, but one surprising thing they often get is career/money storylines.  (I know.  The apartments.  I KNOW.  Ignore the set design for a second and stick with me.)  Some of the most interesting conflicts in the show are when lines are drawn among the friends about who makes more money than who.  WHICH WE ALL KNOW IS A REALISTIC THING THAT HAPPENS IN YOUR 20’s AND 30’s, SOME OF THOSE PLOTS ARE SO ACCURATE IT HURTS.  Ross/Joey/Phoebe are initially the broke ones, while Chandler/Monica/Ross have salaried full time jobs (though this shifts over time).

Hey, does anyone remember who gives Rachel her first big break to get out of Central Perk and into the fashion industry.  JOEY DID.  Joey knows what it feels like to be grasping for your big break.  But name ONE THING Ross ever did to unselfishly help Rachel’s career.  It’s kind of remarkable that, for the token shallow/appearance-driven character, Joey actually seems to care very little about money.  So he doesn’t see Rachel the big-shot fashion exec as qualitatively different from Rachel the scrappy waitress.  But Ross CLEARLY does.  Every step up the ladder towards career success that Rachel takes is interpreted as a step AWAY from him.  It’s SO.  F*CKED. UP.

No one in the F*CKING WORLD loves Rachel Green more than Monica Geller and yet Monica still wanted her to get on that plane for Paris.  They ALL did.  They GOT it.  Rachel was maxed out at her old job.  She’d gone as high as she could.  She said so REPEATEDLY.  She needed more.  There was nothing left for her professionally in New York, and the Paris job was her literal dream.  Her friends wanted her take it.  GUESS WHO DIDN’T.  F*CKING ROSS.  BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT HIM.  I have never wanted any finale retcon more than for Rachel to be allowed to go to Paris & make a brand-new life.  IT PHYSICALLY PAINS ME.

AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK IT’S ROMANTIC THAT ROSS WENT BEHIND RACHEL’S BACK TO HER BOSS TO MAKE HIM TAKE HER BACK BECAUSE I F*CKING DON’T.  AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK IT’S A SIGN OF LOVE THAT HE ONLY WANTS A RACHEL WHO IS ECONOMICALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY SUBORDINATE TO HIM?  HARD F*CKING PASS, TYVM, SHE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO PARIS AND TAKEN SEVERAL LOVERS AND REALIZED THAT SHE OUTGREW ROSS DECADES AGO.

“That’s all well and good, Claire,” your’re probably saying, after sixty tweets, “but those are just reasons why Ross is shitty… why is Joey specifically a better romantic prospect.  I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED.

ARGUMENT # 3: Joey And Rachel Make Each Other Better, Ross And Rachel Make Each Other Worse

So I already mentioned this but it bears repeating: Joey develops feelings for Rachel while she’s VISIBLY pregnant.  The s1 New Year’s episode (best known for Phoebe and Hank Azaria’s sad goodbye) features Joey on a date with a single mom.  The whole time, the kids are treated like a buzzkill.  Being a mom is an obstacle to desirability.  The show also makes repeated and deeply wearying jokes at the expense of fat women on the regular.  SIGH.  So let’s talk about what it says about how Joey has grown tf up that he realizes he’s in love with his friend while she’s pregnant.

He happily lets Rachel and Emma moved back in with him, despite how much having a baby around disrupts his lifestyle.  The insanely terrible women Joey brings home, and their brief tenure in his life, is of course a 10-season running joke.  But it ends after Rachel.

Joey’s first GF after the Rachel crush is Charlie, hands-down the greatest love interest on the show.  I LOVED her.  Charlie is nothing like any woman Joey has ever dated.  Falling for Rachel literally teaches Joey that he wants something… more.  Joey learns to love having a baby around, stops being a bad-date punchline and tries to be worthy of a higher-class lady. 

And he’s good for Rachel, too.  Circa-Joey’s-roommate Rachel is my favorite iteration of all the Rachels.  SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT HOW GREAT SHE IS.  Short hair, playing the drums, eating spaghetti off the floor, watching “Cujo.”  What an angel.  Rachel has been uptight all her life and Joey teaches her to chill the f*ck out.  He brings out a sillier side of her.
Meanwhile, let’s discuss how a few moments exist in the “Friends” canon where Ross and Rachel are EVER that chill and cute together.  Everything is ALWAYS fraught.  Fighting, jealousy, possessiveness, drama.  Their relationship looks EXHAUSTING.  And it’s not just Ross, tbh (although like… it’s mostly Ross).  But he makes HER worse too.  She’s harsher and more tightly-wound.  I cannot imagine a life where forever having to live with the shadow of “we were on a break” hanging over your head is considered a win.

But think about how kind and gentle they were with each other when Joey said he had feelings for Rachel and she couldn’t say it back.  Think about an entire lifetime of one or the other of those two conflict-resolution styles, my dudes.  SERIOUSLY THINK ABOUT IT.  Joey: respecting Rachel’s feelings.  Ross: needing to win every f*cking time.

One of my favorite Joey/Rachel moments is when they’re in Barbados for Ross’ conference and he’s giving his boring keynote speech.  (BRIEF ASIDE TO NOTE THAT THE SINGLE SERIES-LONG PLOT POINT WHICH HAS AGED THE WORST IS THE FALSE NOTION THAT DINOSAURS ARE BORING).  Joey and Rachel are giggling at “homo erectus” together (RELATABLE!), for which Ross and Charlie treat them both like massive idiots.  Which is yet another sign that Ross thinks Rachel is intellectually beneath him.  But Joey just thinks she’s hilarious.  Ross has ALWAYS treated her like she’s intellectually beneath him, which is why “just a waitress” cuts so deep on that s2 list.

Being Mrs. Geller is a ticket to a lifetime of being treated like a dummy at his faculty events with him never sticking up for her.  And crucially, this is NOT because Rachel isn’t smart.  It’s because ROSS doesn’t think she’s smart.  No matter how high she advances.

That’s not to say there is no potential downside to Joey, but she’d be treated like a queen instead of patronized forever tbh.  The bottom line is this, the Rachel Ross fell in love with was a teenage fantasy he never outgrew that may have been an illusion all along.  Ross fell in love with A PICTURE OF HIMSELF AS THE KIND OF MAN WHO COULD DATE A RACHEL and on some level that was always what he wanted.

Whereas Joey fell in love with a bright, funny, competent single mother he’d been friends with for 7 years and knew inside-out already.

Yes, there’s something sweet in the idea of Rachel being Monica’s sister, but they basically were already.  They don’t need Ross for that.  The only factor in favor of Ross/Rachel endgame is conventional sitcom storytelling structure.  Not because they’re RIGHT for each other.  Ross and Rachel were endgame because they were considered INEVITABLE, and I don’t dispute that that’s where the show was always heading.  But a s10 surprise twist where Rachel and Joey ended up realizing THEY were each other’s lobster all along WOULD HAVE CHANGED SITCOM TV.


Anyway, thank you for your time.  I’m going to go watch the Barbados 2-parter again now and cry over what could have been.  END RANT

Monday, 14 August 2017

Weekly Update: August 6 to 12

Weekly word count: 9000

A good week.  I managed to get to a scene that's been haunting my imagination since I first thought of the idea for Judgment.

And I got the confirmation that I got chosen for next year's Romancing the Capital.  Which I am still geeking out about.  I'll be sponsoring a half table at the Saturday lunch.

Next week, I go back to split duty between writing and my day job.  Hopefully I can keep up momentum and make my 4000 word a week goal.

And it looks like next week, we'll be getting a kitten.  Look forward to a rush of Twitter pics.    

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Heroine Fix: Kitty Katt, Megalomaniac Girl and Wolverine With Boobs

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

Usually I look at heroines from movies or television because people have usually seen them and so I'm not spoiling anyone's experience.  And I like to think that I sometimes remind people of great stories or inspire them to seek out some of the lesser known ones.  But today, I'm looking at a heroine from a series of sci-fi novels because I needed to share the love for Kitty from Gini Koch's Alien series.


Kitty is an atypical heroine, particularly in the sci-fi/fantasy universe.  She's not a suave, smooth action hero.  Nor is she a shriek and hide gal, overwhelmed by the strangeness of her new world who gradually learns to adapt.  Instead, she is allowed to have doubts and uncertainties, but she doesn't allow them to stop her.  I find her a refreshingly relatable heroine, someone I can imagine myself being in the same circumstances.  (It's never going to happen but let me have my little dream.)

In the very first book, Touched by An Alien, Kitty is going about a typical day when she finds herself in the middle of a superbeing attack (alien parasites that attach to people and turn them into monsters).  She immediately begins doing what she can to help, both in fighting and in getting spectators to safety, which attracts the attention of the Alpha Centurions, double-hearted, supremely hot aliens who have been living in secret on Earth since the fifties.  She insists on staying in the middle of it all, despite openly expressed doubts that a weaker human female could possibly have something to offer.  And she shows them all up brilliantly.  It's a heck of a story of female persistence and competence, and it's only the beginning.


The first thing which made me root for Kitty was the fact that she is a fellow geek culture junkie, with a love of comic books that rivals my own.  She puts everything and everyone she encounters in terms of comics.  Her husband is Superman, her best friend is Batman, her bodyguard is Dr. Strange.  She is able to combine her understanding of world events with her love of comics and use them to understand what her enemies are doing, earning her the nickname Megalomaniac Girl.  More importantly, she uses that knowledge to stop them, saving the world multiple times throughout the series.  But it's not the Geeks Save The World that earned my respect.  It's Kitty's completely unapologetic enthusiasm for the things that she enjoys, be it comics or Aerosmith.  She's not ashamed of either her tastes or of publicly enjoying them.  So often, we are encouraged to fly under the radar, lest others think we are uncool, which makes her openness refreshing.  When she learns she has acquired superpowers, she immediately begins to dance in jubilation, shouting "I'm Wolverine with boobs!"

The next aspect of Kitty's character that I respect is her ability to think outside the box, or "go with the crazy" as she calls it.  She's not afraid of failure or of looking bad, only of not protecting the people she cares about.  So she's willing to try anything that seems plausible and could have a chance of success, even if she'll look silly or could end up flat on her face.  From using mambo dance steps to destroy robots to solo piloting a jet to land with no experience, she never insults herself or the audience by doing something half-heartedly.  Which leads me to the next great part of her character: her heart.



She is incredibly loyal to her friends and family and fiercely protective of anyone being threatened by a greater power, even if that person has been an enemy and actively working against them.  She doesn't believe they'll change their ways, but no one is getting away with bullying someone on her watch.  She goes nose to nose with all sorts of superpowers and doesn't back down.  In fact, her approach often wins the respect of her enemies, and flips them to her side.  By not doing what they expect, she forces them actually think and re-evaluate, which often leads them to realize they are being exploited.

She's openly sensual, making no secret about enjoying sex with her husband.  Although slightly embarassed by the volume, she isn't inhibited by yowling like a cat as he gives her multiple orgasms.  She's never fallen out of lust for her chosen partner, quite separately from how much she loves and admires him.  And he feels the same way about her, giving her both passion and respect.  

And finally we come to what is for me, the key point: her anger.  Kitty is not indignant or morally opposed.  She is openly furious at those who seek to attack her, her loved ones, her planet and those weaker than themselves.  And the anger doesn't make her unlovable, unfeminine or unrelatable.  It makes her powerful.  It even becomes part of her character: when she is angry, she is faster, stronger and able to defeat her enemies more easily.  Anger is often a no-no for female characters.  Even if the characters are physically active and battle competent, they are often impassive and calm.  Kitty's anger is raw and real and right on the surface for anyone to see.  But it's not considered a flaw, which is a rarity.


All in all, I think it's her apparent genuineness that readers appreciate.  She's not playing games or trying to downplay herself.  She's open about her doubts and fears, but also doesn't hide behind them.  She does what she believes is right and what will get the job done.  Her mistakes haunt her, but she still gets up to stand between danger and those it is targeting.  It's quite a refreshing portrayal and one which keeps me coming back for more.

Are you also addicted to strong and intriguing heroines?  Sign up for my Heroine Fix mailing list and you'll never miss a Heroine Fix.

Next month, I'll be looking at Offred from The Handmaid's Tale.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Weekly Update: July 30th to August 5th (Romancing The Capital Photos)

Weekly word count: 11 000 words

First off, while I didn't make the 20 000 words I was hoping for, I still feel that I did fairly respectably for my first week off work.  So I'm pleased with it.

But the big event this week was Romancing the Capital.  This is one of the highlights of my year and always a huge amount of fun.  For three days, I get to hang out with other readers and authors who get my particular brand of romance crazy, I get to laugh until my belly and my cheeks ache, I get to load up on signed books from great authors, I get bags full of swag and prizes, and I get to dance until my socks melt.  As far as I'm concerned, I don't know why everyone in Ottawa doesn't go (aside from the fact that the hotel might have a fire code issue).

My official reader ID badge with pins and my charm collection from the charm hunt.
On Thursday, there were a bunch of panels for writers, with advice on publishing, building one's audience, character arcs, and the different options available to writers for getting their books out there (eg ebook, print, audio, serialized, etc.).  Thursday evening offered a group karaoke (where you know I was belting out the hits) and tarot readings, book readings and author stalking.  

Friday is when the reader-focused side of things started, with events like Hot Cover Bingo, Romance Trivia, Kiss Marry Kill and Blurbs Against Humanity.  Also some more serious stuff like Complex World Building, Sex Science and Romance and Exploring LGBTQ Romance.  That evening was the Heroes and Villains costume dinner and dance.  I had my Wonder Woman costume ready to go.  I had to do some alterations to the costume I bought, mainly adding a second layer to the skirt (that first band of gold is the original final hemline) and tightening up the headband and armband.  Next time I wear it, I want to sew a little pouch for my phone into the wrist gauntlets.

Ready to fight for a Happily Ever After.
I was certain that Friday night would be the one where I get pulled over by the local police for a sober driver check.  I'm sure the fine officers would have completely believed me that I hadn't been drinking.  After all, I'm dressed as Wonder Woman, drenched in sweat from dancing, unable to walk a straight line (also from the dancing), and more than a little giddy.  And I have a nagging suspicion that my "real world" filters were down and I might have failed to resist the temptation to shout "Oh yeah!  Eve got me the good strippers!"  (Item # 1249 on the Funnier In My Head Than In Reality List).

Saturday was more reader fun, with an Alien Abduction Party, Perverted Pirate Playtime and Dirty Talk.  Then there was the giant book signing, which is open to the public for those who just want books but didn't get tickets to the event.  I may have gone slightly crazy, walking away with almost three full bags of books, but it was worth it.  (I'll have a list of the books that I got down at the bottom of this entry.)  And the night finished with the Fairy Tale Monster Bash dinner and dance.  I won for 2nd best costume with my Maleficent horns and extending wings.  (Sadly the wings broke but I'm confident I can fix them for more events, because they were just cool!)


I would wear these to work.  Even though I work from home.  Also the grocery store.
It was an amazing time.  Sharon Page and I closed down the dance floor each night.  My friend Erin joined us for the Saturday and we found some new dancing friends who had some hilarious and entertaining takes on Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga.  And I nearly fell down when LMFAO's "I'm Sexy and I Know It" came on, and I discovered my automatic recall is the "I'm Elmo and I Know It" video, because I've listened to that one more often.

On Friday night, the dance floor was sweltering, so I'd brought a fan from home for Saturday (though it turned out to be unnecessary).  It may have been the late-night, having-fun giddy-high but I thought it was hilarious to take a picture of me going home with my biggest fan.

What happens at RTC gets Tweeted, because c'mon, that's funny.
Today, I started going through my swag and books, deciding what to keep and what to pass on.  The quality of the swag at RTC always impresses me.  There's the usual paper, chocolate, lip balm and pens, but also things like USB car chargers, free book downloads, keychains, water bottles, earbud headphones, and decks of cards.

Just a few of the awesome goodies in my Reader bag.

New buttons to add to my Shameless Self-Promo Bag!  Yay!

And then there are the books.  Glorious, unread books!


And now, as promised, here's the complete list of the books that I bought, was given, or won, in no particular order:

Eve Langlais Assassin Next Door (audio book on CD)
Katie Ruggle Hold Your Breath
Georgette Heyer Arabella
Milly Taiden Fur-Ocious Lust Tigers - Volume 2
Amy Ruttan Tempting Nashville's Celebrity Doc
Darynda Jones First Grave On The Right
Deborah Cooke Kiss of Fire
Heather Long A Fistful of Dreams
Viola Grace An Obscure Magic: Collection 1
Eve Langlais, Kate Douglas and A.C. Arthur Wild
Viola Grace Ritual Space
Sharon Page The Worthington Wife
Amy Ruttan Biochemical Reaction
Sarah Castille Yield To Me
Anna Markland Passion's Fire
Cathryn Fox Slow Ride
E.M. Gayle Tucker's Fall: Purgatory Masters Book One
Anne Lange Worth the Risk
Sarah Castille Legal Heat
Anne Lange Who's The Boss: The Vault Series
Ainsley Booth and Sadie Haller: Full Mountie
Nathan Burgoine Triad Soul
Ashlyn Chase Out of the Broom Closet
Elle James Voodoo On The Bayou: A Cajun Magic Mystery
Eve Langlais Crazy
Milly Taiden Protector: Federal Paranormal Unit Series
Coreene Callahan Fury of Obsession
Coreene Callahan Fury of Surrender

That list should keep me out of trouble.  For a few weeks at least.  I have one more week off work, and so I'm going to have to concentrate on writing despite the siren call of new books waiting to be read. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Getting Personal

Today is the start of Romancing the Capital, one of the best romance-themed conferences (in my opinion).  I always look forward to it each year.  It's a lot of fun and I have a great time.

This year, I'm having some conflicted thoughts about it.  I want to go and just immerse myself in the whole experience but there are two things holding me back.  First, I am not where I want to be in terms of getting Judgment ready.  And second, my stamina is not where it was last year.

I was hoping to write 20 000 words this week, but instead I've been averaging about 2000 words a day, which will likely put me at around 10 000 for this week.  That's still respectable but before my health problems started in the spring, I could do 1500 to 2000 words in an hour and a half.  Now I'm writing slower and I don't have the endurance for five to six hour sprints.  

I keep telling myself that this is only temporary and I'll eventually get back to "normal" but after over six months, I'm having to wonder if this is the new normal.  If it is, then I'll have to accept that and learn to work with it.  Part of which means not exhausting myself and facing weeks of non-productiveness.  

One thing that I have going for me is my stubbornness.  I have never yet given up on something that I wanted to do.  If the straight path is denied me, I will go under, over, around and through.  It may take me longer than I hoped, but I will make it.  No question.


Monday, 31 July 2017

Weekly Update: Double Week Edition (July 16th to 29th)

Combined weekly word count: 4200

In the last two weeks, I learned a few invaluable lessons:

1) Make sure your backups are working properly and recording all of the <insert profanity> information that you wanted them to actually back up.

2) My child (and probably most other children) can strip the protective covering off of a power adaptor cord in less than 30 seconds.

3) That protective covering is important because without it, the <insert more profanity> little wires break and then your power adaptor doesn't work and the laptop dies.

My laptop which held all of my information for my blog and website, as well as my WIP and reference notes, became a piece of abstract art early on July 17th, sparking true panic.  I immediately went out and bought a universal charger that turned out to be not so universal.  Its plugs would not match the holes, no matter how much I threatened and cursed and cried.  (Lesson 4: technology is surprisingly resistant to emotional blackmail.)

Okay, plan B.  Switch to my old laptop and use the backup information, while ordering the exact cord I need from eBay.  Discovered the eBay cord could arrive any time between the next week and two months from now.  Cried a little more.  Got my old laptop out and started to access the backups.  Discovered most of what I needed was there, but not all.  Cried a lot more.  There was swearing and possibly some kicking of things which were not impressed by my tantrum.  Least of all my toes, which hurt.

Then it was time to pull up my big girl panties, acknowledge that I did not prepare or handle this as well as I could have and try to get some work done.  I wrote 2000 words last Friday, the first time I had a decent writing day in a long time.  

The next two weeks are the annual company shut down for my day job.  It's two weeks where I can actually live as a full time writer.  Part of my panic was knowing that these two weeks can make or break my writing productiveness.  Last year, I wrote 40 000 words, which is between a third and a half of my novels.  If I was stuck without being able to move forward, then my ability to have a book ready for next year would have been in serious jeopardy.

But I've pulled things together and if it's not ideal, that's how life is sometimes.  The mark of success is not making it work when things are easy.  It's making it work when the universe seems to be against you and climbing over all those obstacles to prove how much you want your dream.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Gastro Bugs and Travel Exhaustion

First off, apologies to everyone for missing Monday's post and being late with this one.  For the record, my weekly word count was zero for last week.  I plead exhaustion from taking care of two kids, a husband and a dog while enjoying our time in Alberta.  

Then, when we got back, we got hit with a nasty gastro bug that took out our whole family at once.  (Usually viruses are courteous enough to hit us one at a time so that there's always someone healthy to deal with stuff.)  

It's taken me awhile to get my feet back under me, but I was able to get some writing time yesterday, which makes me feel better.  Soon my kids will be off to their grandparents' cottage and then I can try some real writing binges.  But I probably won't be as productive as last year, since I'm still finding I don't have the endurance that I did before my surgery in March.

I had a wonderful time out in Calgary, particularly with meeting a new family member who also turned out to be a fan of my writing!  We have a lot in common and I could have spent days visiting with her.  Always great to find another sister-in-spirit.

I'm looking forward to Romancing the Capital in a few weeks.  And hopefully, I can get myself back on track.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Heroine Fix: Alice: Out of the LIbrary and Into the Fray

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

For those who haven't found it, The Magicians is an urban fantasy television series where magic is real and practiced in secret by both magical families and the occasional surprised "normal" person.  There is also an alternate dimension world, called Fillory, full of magical creatures and gods.  However, this isn't a cheerful blend of Harry Potter and the Narnia books.  The series is aimed at the adult crowd and tackles some very dark topics.

Alice is one of the main characters in the series.  She comes from a magical family and is the top student in Brakebills, the school for magical studies.  At first, I thought she was essentially a Hermione knock-off and I wasn't paying much attention to her, but I quickly realized there was more to her than being a plot device whenever the characters needed to do something magically difficult.


Alice's appearance is tied in to her backstory, rather than being a shorthand for her personality.  She dresses in a very preppy, covered up way but isn't a strait-laced or prudish person.  Instead, she dresses in that way because her parents are self-absorbed hedonists who have open orgies and multiple partners.  Her clothes are a way of distancing herself from her parents but are somewhat of an ill-fitting mask.  They are armor rather than an expression of herself.  


Alice's magical skills are particularly impressive.  She is easily one of the most skilled magicians in her lifetime.  Unlike many skilled heroines, her abilities aren't used mostly for research and behind the scenes support.  Alice is on the front lines.  One of my favourite moments in the series comes from the end of the first season.  Quentin, who is the ostensible hero of the series, has the opportunity to boost his magic so that he can defeat the Beast.  As he's about to quaff the potion, he pauses and hands it to Alice, telling her that she is the more talented and has a better chance.  He says that he might want to see himself as the hero of this story, but she is the real hero.  I wanted to stand up and applaud.  So often, it doesn't matter how skilled the female characters are, they take second place to the males.  They fight sidekicks, not the Big Bad.  Alice went up against the Big Bad himself and ultimately took him down.


Alice is also a bit of a rebel and very loyal, two qualities that I always like in my characters.  She enters Brakebills with a secret mission.  Her older brother, Charlie, and most of his class, disappeared.  She's determined to find out what happened to him and uses her abilities and magic in direct defiance of the teachers.  When told that it is impossible to help her brother because he's been consumed by the magic and turned into a Niffen, Alice refuses to believe it, putting her impressive mind and skills into finding a way to help him.  She puts herself on the line, ready to sacrifice herself if it means that her brother has a chance.  She does the same thing when fighting the Beast, defying all presumptions of what should happen.

I chose Alice for this month's Heroine Fix because she's a reminder of how characters can defy audience expectations and grow beyond them.  It's easy for an author to get caught up in the short hand of character development: want to show someone is a good person, give them a pet, want to show they're authoritarian, have them wear a suit and be in an office, etc.  Alice appears to fit in the good-girl, smart-girl, follows-the-rules stereotypes, but in the end, those are only disguises, done for a reason which is explored in the story.  It makes her more real than those characters which rely on the stereotypes.


It reminds me that every aspect of a character should have a reason, not just a plot function.  And Alice shows the world that not every brainy girl was meant for the library.

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

Next month, I look at Kitty from Gini Koch's Alien series.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Weekly Update: July 2 to 8

Weekly word count: 2800

I was really hoping to do better this week, and I had these grand plans to bang out some pages while travelling, but once again, the reality of travelling with my family meant I was crazy to believe that.

I love my boys and my husband but I have to remember that they don't travel well.  They are all homebodies at heart and get very unsettled when pulled out of their normal routine and environment.  I'm a more adventurous soul and keep hoping that my love of travel will rub off on them and transform them from reluctant travelers into eager explorers.  

Hasn't happened yet.  Don't get me wrong, they do seem to enjoy some parts of the experience but it takes a lot of work on my part to achieve that.

Still, I keep hoping.

As I type, we're in Alberta, enjoying the sunshine and mountain air of Calgary and Banff.  I'm a firm believer that every Canadian should experience the Calgary Stampede at least once in their lifetime.  I have fond memories of it from when I was a child and we have family in the area, so it's been on my wishlist for quite awhile.

Hopefully I'll still get some good writing time in.  Or maybe I'm still just crazy.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

My Thoughts on the Ottawa Police and Our Pride Parade

Normally, I don't get into politics on this blog but this is something that has been bothering me and so I wanted to share my thoughts.

Ottawa has been preparing for this year's Gay Pride Parade in August.  The organizers had asked any off-duty police who wish to march in the parade to please do so out of uniform, as many younger members of the LGBTQ+ community have negative associations with the uniform.  Particularly members of colour and other minority groups.

This raised a flurry of opinions.  There were many police officers who felt conflicted about being asked to deny a part of themselves, as they are proud to be both supporters and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community and police officers.  A few days after this request, the Chief of Police made a public statement that he intended to wear his uniform and would leave it up to the discretion of individual officers as to whether or not they intended to follow suit.

That raised a blizzard of opinions.  Some people felt the original request was divisive and disrespectful of the police and the work they do.  Some people felt the Chief's response was disrespectful and exemplified why members of the LGBTQ+ community didn't feel safe around police.  There were accusations of being insensitive, of privilege, of fear-mongering, of catering to stereotypes.  It's been a very polarizing issue.

I find myself torn.  On the one hand, I can understand being proud of one's job and particularly with the police, seeing this as an opportunity to show support and change the stereotype of the unfriendly and insensitive cop.  But, in the end, I feel that the community's request should be honoured.  If they say they're not ready for that step, then that should be respected.  I can understand how the request would hurt and make some officers feel as if they have to choose between their identity as a cop and their identity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and allies.  

But does it have to be an all or nothing proposal?  The police uniform is a symbol and while it is intended as a symbol of protection, in reality it can also be a symbol of oppression.  And, to be clear, this is separate from the actual person inside the uniform, who can have all the good intentions and empathy in the world.  So how can the gap be bridged?  How can police officers send the message that they are part of the solution without having to deny themselves?

This may be simplistic, but what about an official Ottawa Police Department t-shirt for the event?  Officers could wear the usual Ottawa Police Department shirt or if the department really wanted to show support, they could make a special shirt: Police and Proud.  It would allow them to identify themselves and build bridges without having to bring in the symbol of the uniform.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Weekly Update: June 25 to July 1

Weekly word count: 3900

I always seem to get more productive the closer we get to a deadline.  September, October, I have a hard time getting myself in gear.  Last two weeks of June, banging it out.  :)

This weekend was Canada's 150th anniversary and it was an incredible celebration here.  Huge open air concerts all over the city, covering just about every musical genre.  Spectacular fireworks displays blooming in the darkness.  And red and white everywhere that we looked.

I'm proud to be a Canadian.  I like our country's blend of protection (health care, gun laws, social security) and encouragement (social mobility, individualism, the luxury of following our dreams rather than worrying about putting food on the table).  I'm proud of our ability to accept and include new cultures and traditions.  Even if we don't always get it right, the majority of Canadians are supportive of helping others make their own choices.

I've heard Canada described as the ultimate efficient society.  We are big believers in getting things done and nothing raises our ire like accusations of waste.  And that includes wasted potential where someone isn't given an opportunity because of race, gender, religion or any other criteria that wouldn't impact their ability to do the job.  We don't have a lot of patience with people who waste our time by jabbering on about things they don't actually know about.  We don't want to waste our precious time and resources policing things which are chosen freely between consenting individuals.

We're not perfect.  No question of it.  We have those who try to stir the pot of hate and prejudice.  We have people who react out of fear.  We've done some horrible things in our past and need to do some serious work to make it right.  

But I believe that we want to make it right.  We want everyone to have the chance to enjoy life, follow their dreams and be themselves.  

So for that, I stand proud.  I am Canadian.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Ink Tip: Style and Voice

One of the more confusing things for a new writer is trying to understand how to find the line between accepting corrections and staying true to your own voice.  I certainly found it frustrating as I sorted through critiques and suggestions on my first manuscript.

So let's start with the basics.  A writer's voice is hard to define but easy to recognize.  It's a combination of word choice, sentence structure, storytelling technique and description that comes together to create a unique way of telling a story.

Here's a demonstration.  These are the first paragraphs of some of my favourite books:

"Shadow had done three years in prison.  He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.  So he kept himself in shape and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife."

"I parked the bike in front of the restaurant, wiping perspiration from my upper lip.  It was unseasonably warm this January, but sweating during a Florida winter was better than freezing in a Northern one.  I twisted my hair into a knot, my neck cooler once the long back swath was off it.  With a final swipe at my forehead, I entered the restaurant, ignoring the tables in favor of the patrons seated at the bar."

"Shoot the moon was considered to be one of the more dangerous yoyo tricks.  Not particularly complicated -- nothing like the crossovers of a Texas Star -- but a moment's inattention and the odds were good that 35.7 grams of hardwood would be impacting painfully off the front curve of the human skull.  There were rumors that, back in '37, Canadian and World Champion, Joe Young, had once bounced a Shoot the Moon and continued to ace the competition with no one the wiser until the next day when the bruise began to develop.  She didn't know about that, and she didn't put much trust in rumors, but she did know that when Joe Young died in the war, the sport lost a master."

All three of these are obviously very different stories.  The first has short sentences and short words, creating a sense of action and movement.  In a few short sentences, we get a clear idea of who the hero is.  The second is very focused on the senses, creating an immediate and intimate connection between the reader and the character.  And the third brings in humour by talking about the danger of yoyos, but is also very specific and precise.  Again the words are shorter but the sentences are longer, creating a flow of language.

For the curious, the first example is from Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the second is from Jeaniene Frost's Once Burned and the third is from Tanya Huff's The Enchantment Emporium.

Neil Gaiman has a dark whimsical twist to his writing and that comes through in the first paragraph.  We start with the hero being in prison and then make it clear that no one messes with him (dropping an f-bomb along the way) and finish with learning coin tricks and loving his wife.

Jeaniene Frost's writing tends to be very sensual and intimate.  She uses the first person and puts in a lot of sensory detail but does so in a way that it doesn't become overwhelming.  We follow the heroine through just a few seconds of her life but already feel as if we're part of it.

Tanya Huff mixes humour and eccentricity but also brings in backstory in a way that sets the stage and tells us about the characters.  The few lines about the adventures of Yoyo Master Joe Young establish the tone as quirky but also reveals the character's admiration of perfection and skill.  

Finding your own voice as a writer is an ongoing process.  Some core elements will always remain the same and become more refined over time, but others may change over a writer's career.

My rule of thumb is: if I took this out of the story, would it also take out the fun?  If I feel removing a detail is going to suck the life out of my story, then I know I'm touching on something inherent to my voice.


Monday, 26 June 2017

Weekly Update: June 18 to 24

Weekly word count: 2400

I had a couple of days where the words just weren't flowing, so I went back to my basic principles: conflict, character and pacing.  (I wish I had another C word to make the whole thing pop, but this is how it actually works.)

Step 1: Review my conflicts: By "conflicts" I mean the challenges to the hero and heroine in the plot.  If a conflict is fuzzy in my mind, then it doesn't translate well onto the page.  Or sometimes I've been focusing too much on one conflict and I've let other conflicts drop out.

Step 2: Review my characters: I have multiple points of view in my novels, usually the hero, heroine, villain and sometimes, a prominent secondary character.  If the words are drying up, sometimes it's because I need to switch to a new point of view and build up tension in their plotline.

Step 3: Check the pacing: As someone who always wonders what happened in the scene break, I have a bad habit of extending scenes and sequences.  So I check myself and ask if the scene I'm writing has fulfilled its purpose, making it possible to skip to the next stage.

Those three steps are usually enough to get me jump started again.  But I always have to resist the temptation to spend my writing time wallowing in self-doubt and procrastination.  Once I settle in and do the work, I can usually move forward but there's always a part of me which thinks this time will be different.

Other than writing, it was a nice week.  I enjoyed the quiet of not having the kids at home... something that will change at the end of this week.  I got to visit with some ORWA ladies at the Author's Lounge, including SM McEachern, who dropped in from Vancouver.  It's going to be interesting to see how this week plays out, being the last week of school and then into the summer, which is usually a time of lower production for me.  But I will prevail!

Friday, 23 June 2017

Reader Beware: The New Amazon Buy Button

Over the last few days, the RWA message boards have been inundated with authors discussing a new Amazon policy where third party vendors can compete to "buy" the Amazon Buy Button to sell print books in new condition.  

There have been a lot of angry articles posted about how this policy undercuts authors.  There are a few key issues:

1) It appears that when a third party seller wins the button auction, their Buy Button supercedes the Amazon Buy Button, but not in an obvious way.  So a reader may believe they are buying the book from Amazon when they are in fact, buying from a third party.  And it becomes very difficult for readers to find the actual Amazon Buy Button.

2) Because this is a third party sale, the author receives no royalties from the sale.  Amazon gets a payment from the button auction and the third party seller gets the reader's money.  These sales also don't count towards an author's sales ranking.

3) The third party books appear to be free samples given away at conferences and signings, ARC review copies or pirated copies created from digital PDFs of the ebooks.  They are often priced significantly below the retail price for the book.

4) Often a third party seller only has one or two copies of the book.  If a reader wants to buy multiple copies (for gifts or a book club for example), then they are unable to do so.  Once the copies are sold, then the book is listed as "sold out" or "out of stock" even though Amazon may have dozens of copies or the book is available through Print on Demand.  Until the third party seller's purchased time is completed, it is very difficult for readers to buy the book.

Now, I can appreciate the appeal of a bargain.  There have been (and still are) many times in my life when I needed to make my pennies stretch.  So I've got no problem with readers deciding to purchase a cheaper copy of a book they want.  On that side, it's no different from going to a used bookstore.  But I think it's also important for readers to be aware of what is going on, especially because the online market makes it much easier for sellers to disguise their intentions.

However, I do care when readers pay for a book and get something other that what they've expected or are tricked into believing a book isn't available.  So what can a reader do?

First, be aware that this policy is in place.  Tell your fellow readers about it so that everyone knows to look for the subtle signs when ordering books.

Second, if you decide to purchase a book from a third party, take a screen shot of the initial order.  Then, if the book you receive is obviously used or damaged in some way (for example, a cut on the cover or spine indicates that the book has been returned from a bookstore and was not supposed to be resold) then take a picture and send the picture and the screen shot to Amazon.  This policy came to light because readers complained to the author about receiving damaged books.  Amazon has said they will only take action if they have proof that a third party seller is misrepresenting used or damaged books as new.

Third, if a book you want is listed as unavailable or if it's difficult to find the Amazon Buy Button, then wait a day and try again.  These third party sellers are only given a brief window of opportunity, in some cases, only a few hours.  Again, contact Amazon and include a screenshot.  If readers complain, then Amazon will revise its policies.

There has been speculation that this Amazon policy is a strike against the traditional publishers, who have been pushing up e-book prices in an effort to drive people back to print books.  (Take that statement with a grain of salt on all sides, I'm a conspiracy-theory kind of girl and even I'm not convinced of the reality of a shadowy battle to control book sales.)  My thought is that Amazon is simply out to make money and hasn't thought through the process.  If they discover it is costing them sales and money, it will probably be changed.

Meanwhile, I think it's important for readers to know what's happening.  So please share this information.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Weekly Update: June 11 to 17

Weekly word count: 4100

Finally back above 4000 words in a week!  

It was much harder than I expected.  My creative brain seems to have run dry and would much rather watch Penny Dreadful on CraveTV than write.  But, like a primed pump, things seem to be flowing smoother each time I make myself sit down to the keyboard.

My life disruption has definitely cost me.  Normally at this time of year, I would be about halfway through a second or third draft of my manuscript.  Right now, I'm still in the early chapters of my second draft.  I'm hoping that maybe I'll still be able to make a September deadline but realistically, it may be later than that.

While I'm disappointed about the delay, I'm also accepting the fact that I needed that time to cope with life and get myself physically recovered.  As much as I would like to be a superhero and only need a commercial break or end credits to get back to normal, I'm human and I need time.  

I'm grateful that my head is finally getting back into the lalassu world and is ready to share stories again.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Playing with What If

Alternative histories are some of my favourite stories of speculative fiction.  Taking a small change and extrapolating what might have happened differently is a fascinating mental exercise.  For example, what would have happened if Christopher Columbus hadn't sailed west in search of a faster route to China?  Or what would have happened if the Black Death had never swept through Europe and Asia?  Or if Rome had remained a democracy instead of becoming an empire?  

History is a fine balance between powerful social, economic and geographical forces and the choices of a few individuals poised in the right place at the right time to tip the status quo.  I find the paradox fascinating.  For the most part, the grand forces cannot be stopped, though they may proceed very slowly.  As the Black Death killed a third to half of Europe's population, the available manpower for things like building and farming decreased.  This led to people being more willing to try new techniques (leading to the Renaissance) and an increased value on individual human life (leading to the fall of the nobility and the feudal system).  An increased interest in mechanical innovation eventually sparked the Industrial and Information Ages while the higher value on individuals would eventually lead to democracy over monarchy, women's suffrage and the civil rights movement.  

There were (and are) many people who have tried to stop this inexorable process.  They try to drum up fear and bitterness, pointing back at so-called "golden ages" and seeking to blame others for their own disappointments.  But each generation becomes more accepting of the changes done by the generation before and pushes for further change.

And yet there are individuals who make a huge difference in the direction of the world.  If there had been no Christopher Columbus, the countries of Europe would not have had the wealth of North America to fund centuries of battles and the civilizations of North America would have continued to develop.  Contact would have eventually been made, but it might have been between cultures at a very different stage.  If there had been no Augustus Caesar, Rome might have reverted to being a democracy after Julius Caesar was assassinated.  There would have been no Pax Romana and no global Roman Empire, and very likely, no Roman Catholic Church.  Would there have been a push towards greater equality and expanded Roman citizenship?  Or would Rome have fallen into the forgotten annals of history as a failed experiment?

The individuals who make a difference are able to capitalize on the larger historical movements within their society.  Columbus sailed on the wind of Spain's greed and religious and territorial aggressiveness.  Augustus played on the Roman citizens' desire for a strong hand at the wheel and their fears of a drawn out civil war.  But it is unlikely that someone else at the same time could have convinced the Spanish to abandon the Inquisition or Rome to see their conquered territories as equal partners.

To me, the fascinating part is how everything plays out.  People make choices of their own free will, but are influenced by these huge patterns.  Things can seem to change very quickly and unpredictably in the moment but then, as we look back, each step seems inevitable based on what came before  It's a creeping tide of lines drawn in the sand by those who refuse to be pushed back.