Monday, 20 August 2018

Weekly Update: August 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 2945

This week I relearned something important about myself.  I came pretty close to burnout this spring and summer and so once RWA was done, I was trying to be extra careful with myself.  I gave myself permission to write at a pace that felt more natural to me.  It's a good strategy and one that I need to embrace more as I often find myself pushed beyond my limits by my own perfectionism and unwillingness to admit there's a problem.

However, as much as I feel it was important to give myself time to recover, there is also the reality of maintaining my business as a writer.  And the reality is that the rest of my life is hectic and stressful enough that it will always feel better to sit and veg in front of the TV and do cross-stitch instead of sitting at the keyboard and creating stories.

So I need to push myself, but not push myself too hard.  It would be simple if there was only one piece of advice that a person needed to follow but the truth is that everyone has to find the balance point that works for them.  Everyone has a sweet spot between pushing and self-care, between listening to their mind and body and ignoring their inner fears.  And to make it even more challenging, that sweet spot will change depending on circumstances so even if a person has found it before, it doesn't mean that spot will continue to work for them in the future.

This is one of the reasons why I get frustrated with cookie cutter writing advice like "write every day" and "push through writer's block."  The intent is to keep people from giving up which is good but it ignores the reality that some people are already pushing past the point of healthiness and what they need to do is slow down and take care of themselves, not keep pushing.

Starting next week, I'm going to go back to the weekly writing grid to share my progress.  I hate having to record blank spots during the week so hopefully I'll be more motivated to sit down and write.  I'm going to continue giving myself the weekend off, aiming to write every day from Monday to Friday, with a word goal of 800 to 1500 for each day.  I think that's a sustainable goal and it will let me keep making progress on the third Spirit Sight short story (which I really need to find a title for but so far none seem right).

The plot for book 5, Division, is coming along nicely.  I've got some really good moments set up for the major plot points and I really like how the character of Annika is developing in my head.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Reconciling Rescue Fantasies and Feminism

For those who read this blog regularly, it's no secret that I love kickass heroines who are strong and take no crap.  I love reading about them because it counteracts the messages that women often get that they need to be quiet, unassuming and not cause trouble.  And because they're just fun and it's fun to fantasize about taking on any problem with amazing powers and a witty quip.

But as much as I enjoy my take-no-prisoners heroines, I also enjoy a good rescue fantasy.  There is something incredibly appealing about a hero who is willing to rip the world apart with his bare hands to rescue the person he loves.  However, it does leave me with something of an internal conflict.  Shouldn't a kickass heroine be able to rescue herself?

I believe that it's important to encourage women to see themselves as the powerful and strong individuals that they are.  They shouldn't be encouraged to wait for rescue like an old fashioned fairy tale princess.  Instead they should be encouraged to believe they can take on their challenges themselves and rescue themselves.  That belief runs counter to the idea of a rescuing hero fantasy and it meant that every time I enjoyed one, I wondered if I was celebrating something that was actually encouraging women to be passive and less than they could be.

Lately, I've wondered if I've been mistaken and allowed myself to get trapped into either/or, black/white thinking.  

The rescue fantasy isn't about celebrating passiveness, it's about recognizing that no matter how powerful, competent or kickass someone is, life can have a way of dealing out more than that person can handle.  And it's taken me a depressingly long time to figure this out, but no one should have to go through life alone.

Partners come in all shapes and sizes and commitment levels.  Some partners will do anything to help the person that they love and others find it a challenge to do little things like take out the garbage before it gets picked up.  A lot of women are dealing with overwhelming situations, trying to balance work and family, trying to take care of both children and parents, trying to make money stretch, and dozens of other difficult scenarios.  And quite often, they're doing it without a lot of support from their partners or society in general.

Is it any surprise then that the idea of being helped can resonate so strongly with women?  The rescue fantasy is about someone who will do anything to help the person that they love.  They will risk injury and death, throwing aside everything else that has ever mattered to them because their highest priority is the health and happiness of their beloved.  It's not a farfetched assumption to believe that a person who is willing to charge through a hail of bullets would also be willing to put their glass in the dishwasher instead of beside the sink when asked.  

I still think it's important to encourage women to think of themselves as heroines and able to rescue themselves, but I also think they should be encouraged to believe they deserve a partner who will put them above all else and who will do what it takes to make sure they are happy and fulfilled.  So, for now, I'm comfortable with putting both the kickass heroine and the rescue fantasy on my shelf and not feeling guilty about either.

If you want to read about my kickass heroines and the men who would do anything for them, you can give Book One of my Lalassu series a try for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous blog post: Heroine Fix: Be Anyone You Want to Be, a look at Aech and Art3mis from Ready Player One.

And for updates on my writing and life, check out my blog homepage.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Weekly Update: August 6-11

Weekly word count: 3782

This week, my day job was shut down so I had the week off.  Usually I drive myself very hard during such opportunities but since this was my first week getting back to writing, I gave myself permission to take it slowly.

I'm glad I did because it took me much longer than I would have expected to get back into both the world of the Spirit Sight short stories and the mindset of writing.  I've got my key plot points for the short story but my brain is being a little sluggish in throwing up the ideas on how to get from one to the next.  But that's understandable after pushing myself so hard during May, June and July and taking almost four weeks off of regular writing.

Even though it's harder than expected, it feels really good to get back at the keyboard and letting that side of myself explore freely again.  The ideas are starting to percolate for Book 5 of the Lalassu, Division and I'm looking forward to starting that one as well once the short story is done.

I got another response from my RWA pitches and sadly it was another rejection.  I'm not particularly surprised by this one as I didn't think I would be a good fit at that agency but I got a very nice personalized note of encouragement.  Two rejections and seven still pending.  Fingers crossed!  I had two fortune cookies last night which both promised success in business, so now I'm waiting for the universe to follow suit. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Heroine Fix: Be Who You Want To Be, the Ladies of Ready Player One

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

For this month's Heroine Fix, I've decided to focus on two characters from one of my new favourite films: Ready Player One, Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis.   The idea of an entirely virtual world where a person can customize their avatar to anything they want and which allows a person to use their natural body movements to interact with the gaming environment is an appealing option.  (Disclaimer: I have no talent for video games.  I'm fascinated by the stories but using the controls and navigating the game isn't intuitive for me.)  If I were going to venture into the Oasis, I would probably be using it as a place for social interaction, which is why the idea of being able to appear as whatever I would want is appealing.

The idea of being effortlessly taller, thinner, and prettier is certainly tempting but that's not what everyone in the Oasis chooses.  Avatars say a lot about the person they represent.  Do they want to be intimidating?  Alluring?  Are they dedicating their fandom to a particular film, show, or comic?  

Samantha, a high level gunter (egg hunter, one of those searching for secret objects within the Oasis), created the avatar Art3mis.

Samantha is self-conscious about the birthmark over her right eye and doesn't include it in her avatar.  She's also made herself thinner, with larger eyes and pointed ears, creating an elfin anime type look.  It is not directly connected to any particular fandom which marks her as an independent, something Samantha prizes as she refuses to join any of the "clans" working together within the Oasis.  She wears a leather jacket and has a spiky, short hair style, which creates a "back off" message.  She wants to be attractive, but isn't inviting flirtation.  She wants to be taken seriously and is quick to jump on any inference that she is less than competent.

In the real world, Samantha is dedicated to fighting the "Sixers" and the corporation, IOI.  She is a crusader, wanting to keep the Oasis out of the hands of those who would seek to monetize it.  She's angry and passionate about protecting those who are being exploited.  She's furious when she realizes that Parzival doesn't have any ambitions beyond solving the quest and earning fame and fortune.  To her, solving the quest and gaining control of the Oasis is a way to make the worlds (both real and virtual) a better place.

Her avatar reflects this passion.  There's no attempt to make it fun or playful.  It's a serious creation for a serious business.  She is attractive, because attractiveness can be useful, but not so attractive that she will be distracted by attempts at personal connections.  She's not attempting to disguise herself, but she is still hiding her vulnerabilities, revealing a wariness and a lack of trust in the rest of the world.

It's an interesting contrast with Helen/Aech, who has chosen a massive biotechnical orc for her avatar.

Aech is a widely recognized avatar in the gaming worlds.  He has a highly successful business building custom artifacts and vehicles for people (including an awesome Iron Giant).  He is respected.  It's not mentioned in the movie, but in the books, Aech is considered one of the top gunters and to be invited to join him is a mark of prestige.  He is the best friend of the main character, Parzival and serves as a mentor and guide.

We don't know much about Helen's real world life in Ready Player One.  It appears that she lives in her van and spends most of her time in the virtual Oasis world rather than the real one.  She never explains why she chose an avatar that differs so much from her appearance but there are a couple of theories.

Female gamers often experience harassment online.  While most gamers are happy to play against or with anyone who loves the game, there is a minority who will attack those who use female avatars and attempt to drive them away.  Aech is very involved in Oasis gaming as well as in the gunter subculture.  In the first scene, he appears to be involved in a first person shooter game.  So perhaps Helen chose Aech so that she could play the games that she loved without harassment, something that many female gamers do in real life.

Or perhaps she chose Aech to counteract any subtle prejudice against her race and gender while building her business.  She is obviously a brilliant virtual engineer and appearing as a male may have garnered her more customers while she was trying to establish her reputation.  Or Aech may have been created so that she would have a more intimidating presence, preventing others from attacking her and enabling her to demand more respect.

The most intriguing theory is that Aech represents who Helen wishes she truly was.  That she sees herself as inherently male.  The real world of Ready Player One is one where most people are in desperate poverty.  People are squatting in abandoned buildings, living in trailers stacked atop one another or in vehicles.  Garbage and debris is piled in graffiti covered streets.  Real world transgender surgery would probably be expensive and beyond the reach of most people but they could be whomever they wished in the Oasis, allowing them to have the identity they crave without surgery or hormone treatment.

I'm not sure if this is the case as the real world Helen doesn't show any signs of being uncomfortable within her physical body but given the limited character development, it would be hard to say one way or another.  But it's also interesting that Aech is the one character who reminds the others that the avatars don't necessarily represent who a person is in real life.

Either way, Aech is still a wish-fulfillment for Helen.  He's bigger, scarier, and more powerful than she is.  I would honestly love to see more of Helen/Aech's story, as I wonder if being Aech undermines Helen's confidence because she wonders if her Oasis friends would still like her if they knew her in real life, or does being Aech free Helen, letting her step aside from cultural and gender restrictions to be who she has always wanted to be?

Both Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis have made me think more about the way my own characters present themselves versus who they really are inside.  Those multiple layers are what create truly grounded and realistic characters that live inside the minds of readers long after the covers are closed.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the characters of Ready Player One.  Leave a comment or share your thoughts with me on Facebook or Twitter (#HeroineFix @jclewisupdate).

And if you'd like to give my paranormal romantic suspense series about a secret society of superheroes a try, I'm running a sale on book one.  You can pick up the ebook for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Or you can check out last month's Heroine Fix where I took a look at Hela from Thor: Ragnarok and how the line between a villain and a heroine can be razor thin.

Or take a peek at last week's post where I shared my steps for Reclaiming Our Inner Goddesses because I think there are too many messages that encourage women to be less and we should all be celebrated as the Goddesses we truly are.

And you can always just check out my blog homepage to see my updates on my life and how my writing is going as well as my thoughts on all kinds of subjects.

Next month, I'll be looking at the lovely and lethal Dutch from Killjoys.  Join me on September 13th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Weekly Update: July 29 to Aug 5

Another week off from writing but I was getting things ready for Romancing the Capital.

I had been looking forward to RTC all year and sometimes events like that don't live up to the anticipation.  This one did.  I've been three times as a reader but this was my first time as an author and I wasn't sure if people would be interested in what I had to say.  I did my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop to a full room and my Basics of Burlesque event to an even fuller room.  People had a great time getting in touch with their inner Goddess and dancing around to music.  I was worried that I'd have a hard time getting people to participate but everyone was eager to join in.  I also had an amazing time on the genre panel, talking about urban fantasy and why I write it.

Then came the signing.  I'm used to conferences where the vendor room is open all weekend, throughout the whole conference.  For RTC, it's open for two hours.  Two hours with hundreds of readers coming through.  It's overwhelming but amazing.  People came to see me, even though I'm still very much an unknown author.  They had a great time at my panels and then came to see me, which is exactly the way its supposed to work.

Eve told me that she wanted to set up RTC so that every attending author could get their "rock star" moment.  That moment when a reader is genuinely excited to meet them and excited about their books.  I got a few of those, plus ones that meant just as much to me as a writer: ones where readers' eyes lit up with excitement when I talked about what I write.

I'm debating about next year.  I won't have a new book out between now and then (though I will have the third Spirit Sight short story out and book 5 of the Lalassu should be out sometime in the fall of 2019).  It's so much fun that I selfishly want to do it anyway but I also want other authors to experience that as well.  Eve is an amazing and generous woman who just wants everyone to have a good time, and that is rare in a con organizer.

I'm also feeling recovered from my hectic blast of finishing Deadly Potential, going to Ad Astra, RWA and RTC.  Next week, I will be getting back into writing and starting the third Spirit Sight short story so that it can be out for Halloween.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Claiming Our Inner Goddesses

Every woman has stories about being asked to be less than she is.  Don't act too smart, don't draw attention, don't take the last dessert...

Well, for this weekend, I say: forget that.

This weekend is Romancing the Capital and it is a celebration of loudness, laughter and, of course, achieving happily ever afters in all aspects of life.  Romance is the genre where women can win.  Heroines can definitely have it all.  She can have an exciting, profitable and fulfilling career, a loving and supportive family, and a partner who adores her and is devoted to her pleasure and joy.  (And if he happens to be a shapeshifter, vampire, or superhero, all the better.)  Heroines remind us that every woman is a Goddess inside.

Reclaiming that Goddess can be a challenge in the face of all the messages pushing women into narrow boxes or driving us to put off our happily ever after until later (once we lose weight, once we buy new clothes...).  I've come up with a three step system to help us celebrate our Goddesshood:

1) Do something brave.

Women are taught to be afraid.  We are taught to constantly be aware of what's around us and how others might be perceiving us.  We get blamed for how others see us (dressing too sexy, being too emotional) and so we tend to lock ourselves down and avoid risks.  

For this weekend, take the risks.  Talk to a stranger, be the first one on the dance floor, dive in to one of the "naughty" panels, whatever you would normally want to do but tell yourself not to because it might not be appropriate.  It doesn't have to be big, but releasing ourselves from the restraints of fear can be incredibly freeing.  

Goddesses don't have to be afraid because a Goddess is a proud, strong and amazing person.

2) Accept your rightful worship.

Every woman has been stuck trying to curl herself into a ball while a nearby man takes up at least a seat and a half.  Part of not being noticed means physically restricting ourselves.  It also means refusing to take our due, lest someone decide we have asked for too much.

For this weekend, say "yes" instead of "I couldn't possibly...".  Take that extra helping, talk loudly and with wide gestures, don't be afraid to laugh until you snort.  Or take the opportunity to take care of yourself with something indulgent.

Because, like the old commercial says: Goddesses are worth it.

3) Follow your dreams.

Most women have huge levels of responsibility.  We still take on most of the household and childcare work, often on top of demanding jobs.  It becomes too easy to put ourselves and our dreams on hold.  

Take this chance to say yes to a dream.  Small or big, it doesn't matter.  Take that first step or the hundredth.  But tell yourself yes.

None of these are huge but they can make a big difference.  We are Goddesses and we never should forget it.

And if you're at Romancing the Capital and would like to try taking on your inner Goddess in a fun and sexy way, please stop by my RTC Basics of Burlesque workshop on Saturday at 11 in Kanata B.  I promise a camera-free, PG-13 safe space for women of all body shapes, bravery levels and mobility to connect with their inner Goddess.

You can also enter my draw for a gift card and share your Goddess-reclamation with me on Twitter at @jclewisupdate (hashtags #IAmAGoddess and #RTC2018).

Previous post: Hidden Depths and Character Complexity, why I seek out complex characters even when they aren't necessarily likeable.

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Monday, 30 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 22 to 28

This week's accomplishments: I got all of the query requests out from the speed pitch sessions and I painted my bathroom.

I sent out six full manuscripts and three partials.  Thus far, I've gotten one rejection back, but still keeping my fingers crossed for the others.  I'm encouraging myself that she read it quickly and got back to me quickly, so she was at least intrigued by the concept.  Though I now find myself wondering what didn't work about it.

This experience has brought to light one of the biggest differences between independent and traditional publishing.  With independent publishing, an author puts their work out there and works to find the audience who wants to read it.  With traditional, the author needs to find one crucial fan first: either an agent or an editor.  It's a more intense process with fewer opportunities for success, but bigger results when it works out.

But I don't have time to brood.  This week is Romancing the Capital and I have been looking forward to it for the last year.  I can't wait to see everyone and have a chance to share my books with the readers!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Hidden Depths and Character Complexity

People are complicated and we often only see the tiniest fraction of who another person is.  Stories are one of the ways we can see deeper into lives beyond our own, which is one of the reasons why it gets so infuriating when those stories are told by flat characters who never manage to come to life.  In a way, it almost feels like a cheat: like being promised gold and being delivered a cheap, gilded knockoff.

In real life, people are a mixture.  Even appalling people often have endearing traits (and some of the most effective horrible people are able to hide their evil behind hypnotic charisma) and even outward saints have some secret sins.  So why do we keep finding characters who are one- and two-dimensional?

My personal theory is that it's partly because people like simplicity.  To paraphrase JMS: we want to cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, and enjoy the satisfactory thump when the villain hits the floor.  In order to do that, we need to be able to tell right away who is the hero and who is the villain.

Another part is that we don't like the idea of "bad" people getting good things.  It offends our inherent sense of fairness.  I think this is why we have a lot of pushback against unlikeable heroes (and particularly unlikeable heroines).  And even though most people enjoy a redemption story, they want to root for a good guy who has been misunderstood or been caught up in bad circumstances, but not a bad guy who somehow stumbles into a better situation.

Everyone has a short list of things that are absolutely unforgivable in a character.  Personally, I can't get behind a character who denigrates the vulnerable, particularly if they use slurs.  But it would be interesting to see a story where such a person starts to recognize why that's a problem, recognizes the hurt they've caused, and then demonstrates real growth and change.  However, that character could not be a romantic hero or heroine with an arc over a single book.  I would need to see improvements before they got their own story.  (If I were to plot such a story, the character would be a secondary one who is an initial jerk but learns the error of their ways before the end of one book, then they would have a chance to demonstrate that they are now a better person in their own book.)

This is one of the areas that I think authors overlook sometimes.  We are often exhorted not to use unlikeable characters because we don't want to alienate readers.  But it's also boring to read about characters with no flaws.

Books have a rare opportunity to allow us to see the full complexity of a character.  We don't have to guess at what they're thinking and feeling, we can be a part of their experience.  And maybe, it can help us to be less simplistic in our own judgments of others.

Previous post: Yes I Can Juggle, Just Not With Balls (A look a the challenges of balancing writing, work and family)

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Monday, 23 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 15 to 22

Weekly word count: still on break

This week was the RWA National Conference in Denver and I have had the most amazing time.  

I met my Twitter buddy, Olivia Dade (who writes lovely books) in real life.  And I met many other amazing women and authors.

On Friday morning, I did three rounds of speed pitching and managed to pitch to four of the five people that I was really hoping to pitch to.  And all four have asked for me to send them the full manuscript, along with another request, which makes five in total.  I also have several requests for a partial.  It's a very heady feeling to know that people are interested in the story I've written.  I'm doing a final read through and then I'll be sending it out to those who have asked.

On Friday afternoon, I was a part of the Indie signing.  I brought five print books and a hundred ebooks to give away.  I was mentally braced to come back home with them, but I only have a few cards left for the ebooks.  People were very interested and I've got to give another shout out to Streetlight Graphics for their awesome cover which drew people right in.  (Literally, since I watched at least a dozen people start to walk right past my table, catch sight of the cover and then beeline over.)

I picked up lots of awesome books.  Enough to keep me in happy reading for at least the next few months.

And I had some great meals and conversations with new friends, old friends, and, of course, my ORWAn ladies.  All in all, it has been a fantastic week.  I'm ready to head home though.  News from the home front is that things have been going well.  My youngest is off to his grandparents' cottage for the week and the oldest's burn is healing well (next doctor visit today).  The animals have missed me, particularly our cat Neelix who likes to pounce on my feet first thing in the morning and our dog, Lynyrd, who is used to having me around the house all day.

But the fun isn't over yet!  Romancing the Capital comes up in a week and a half and I will have my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop on the Thursday and my Basics of Burlesque event on the Saturday.  And I'll be at the Giant Book Signing along with a bunch of other awesome authors (Saturday, 4-6, at the Holiday Inn in Kanata Centrum).  I am really looking forward to it.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Of Course I Can Juggle... Just not with balls

I often get asked: how do you do it?  And while I’d love to claim that I’m being interrogated about something cool, like being an undercover superhero or a secret pop star, mostly what they’re asking about is: how do you have a full time job, manage your family, and still find time to pursue a writing career.  I have a few joke replies involving time travel, no sleep, or dimensional portals, but the reality is that it’s a question of juggling priorities.  And it’s not ever easy, but sometimes it’s incredibly difficult.

Not pictured: my life.
For those who saw my post on Tuesday, they will already know that this week was a difficult one for my parent-work-writing balancing act.  I already expected a challenge, being in Toronto for Ad Astra on the weekend, back late Sunday night, then flying out to Denver for RWA Nationals on Tuesday.  In the thirty-six hours I would have at home, I knew I would have to get everything ready for my trip, manage setting up things at home so that my husband could single-parent more easily for the week, and get most of my regular day-job tasks for the week done in a single day. 

That level of crazy difficult, I was prepared for.

What I was not prepared for was my son badly burning himself on his leg (through an accident that happened in a fraction of a second) and needing to take him to various doctors’ appointments.  In the spirit of being honest, I could have not gone to the appointments.  My husband was also there and is more than competently able to manage, but I wanted to be there to hear the prognosis and know what was going on.  So it wasn’t really an option to not go.

It left me with a real dilemma for my planned trip.  Being physically with your child when they’re hurt is one of the big parts of parenthood.  As much as it has earned me some judgmental whispers, I made the decision to still do the trip because I know my son will be cared for by many people who love him just as much as I do.  (In fact, he’ll probably enjoy it more because his grandparents don’t enforce the screen-time limits, especially when he’s not feeling well.)

This is how the priorities balance and this is how I manage having a full time job, being a primary caregiver and writing/promoting my books.  Most of the time, the family takes priority and I do what I need to do to make sure that the household is running smoothly and that the kids are taken care of.  But I also have to keep in mind that they don’t *always* need me.  I’ve set up my life to make sure there are opportunities to pursue my own goals, particularly in terms of my writing career.  Not always long opportunities (I’ve had to teach myself to write in 45-90 minute bursts) but there are usually at least 2-3 in a given week.

The trick is actually taking them.  It’s very easy to get swept up in a list of things I should be doing.  Because there’s never enough time to get everything done and both my day job and my home job are demanding.  There are still plenty of days where I feel guilty for sitting down with my laptop to write or for taking a few minutes to check Facebook or Twitter.  I have to remind myself that my own goals are important too, not just the work I do for other people.

So that’s the secret.  Somewhat boring, especially if anyone was hoping for time travel tips.  It’s a question of making sure that in a world of no, I sometimes say yes to myself.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 8 to 14

For this week, my word count is zero since I’ve been taking a much needed break.

On Friday, I drove down to Toronto and spent the weekend at Ad Astra.  It was a lovely time and I met many wonderful people but I’ve been looking at my costs and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do the conference as a vendor next year.  I’m a little sad about that, but it doesn’t stop me from going as an attendee and still getting to enjoy the social aspect.

While I was at Ad Astra, I got a message from my husband letting me know that my son had burned himself on a motorcycle exhaust pipe.  (It was an accident, one of those things that happened before anyone could have reacted.)  Since Sunday evening, we’ve spent a great deal of time at various doctors, dealing with concerns about infection and talking about treatment options (due to the location and size, it may need surgery for a skin graft but we won’t know that for another week or two).

It’s been a very difficult forty-eight hours as I try to balance everything and still get ready for RWA in Denver.  I considered staying behind but in the end, decided to go.  My husband and parents are already stepping in to make sure that all of the doctors’ instructions are being followed and there would be nothing I could do if I stayed at home which is not already being done.  Obviously, I’m worried about him and I’ll be checking in more frequently, but I’m still going.

I’m sure not everyone would do the same and there will probably be those who disagree or think I’m a bad mother for continuing with my trip.  I could begin to justify why this trip is important, but in the end, that wasn’t the main criteria.  It was: does my son need me to be there?  And the answer to that is no.  Because he is surrounded by competent people who love him just as much as I do.

So although it hasn’t been easy, I’m on my way to Denver and I’m going to meet up with friends I’ve only ever interacted with online, I’m going to meet authors whose works I admire (and probably acquire a bunch more titles for my TBR pile), I’m going to give away copies of my book at the Indie Book Signing on Friday, and I’m going to pitch the heck out of Deadly Potential.  And then I will get back on a plane, fly home to Ottawa, and get ready for the next round of doctor’s check-ups and plans.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Heroine Fix: The Goddess of Death, Hela

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

I love Norse mythology and one of the things that's on my top ten list of things to do if I ever get a time machine is to go back and discover the lost sagas, particularly about the Norse Goddesses.  (Number one is to go back and see what dinosaurs really looked like.)  However, since that's unlikely to happen any time soon, in the meantime, I just have to enjoy modern interpretations.  Cate Blanchett's Hela, from Thor: Ragnarok was an amazing performance of an atypically nuanced villainess and goddess.  She may not be a heroine, but she is a strong female character and worth taking a second and third look at.

I stand by my conviction that Groot hates hats because he spent time on Asgaard.
One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is that every villain is the hero of their own story.  It's to ensure that your villain has a purpose beyond stopping the hero.  Hela's point of view actually makes for a compelling and heart-wrenching story.

She was Odin's first-born child, created out of a desire for conquest.  He raised her as his executioner, the one who executes his visions of the world as it should be and executes those who oppose him.  And Hela was very good at her job.  Powerful, dedicated, intelligent and resourceful, she conquered the nine realms for her father, binding them in chains of death and blood.  She wanted to continue, to bring all of the worlds under Asgaard's control.

But Odin didn't want that.  From Hela's perspective, once he'd achieved what he wanted, he decided he wanted to be seen as a benevolent king and wanted to cover up the dark deeds that were the foundation of his throne.  (One doesn't have to scratch too deep under the surface to see parallels between that and the civilized veneer that gets thrown up after atrocities.)  To give Odin a little credit, maybe he was horrified by what they'd done to achieve power, maybe he thought it had all gone too far.  But his solution left a lot to be desired: he imprisoned Hela in a pocket dimension, never to be heard from or spoken of until his death.

Thor: I'll just use my magic hammer... it works on everything.
Hela: Not a nail, blondie. :)
As a parent, time outs can be a good strategy.  But an eternal time out in solitary confinement does not make for a well-balanced personality.  And Odin knew she was going to eventually come out and wreak disaster but made no effort to prepare his people or Thor and Loki to deal with that.  Not the All-Father's best choice.

Hela comes back to the world and discovers she has been deliberately erased and forgotten.  Her brothers have no idea who she is and immediately attack her.  They're squabbling over what she sees as her throne, as the first-born.  Her people don't remember or recognize her and they're no longer the glorious warriors that she led into battle.  Her entire world has shifted and she no longer recognizes anything.  It would be overwhelming for anyone.

This is where she makes the choice that cements her as a villain.  Rather than try to adapt to the new world, or even taking the time to learn about what its pros and cons might be, Hela decides to recreate the world that she remembers so fondly, animating the dead soldiers and the Fenris wolf kept beneath the palace.  (Another of Odin's questionable choices: I've totally given up the whole conquest by force idea, but I'll keep my zombie army in the basement, just in case.)

Just add fire... lots of fire.
The last we see of Hela, she is fighting off the demon Surtur, who was awakened by Thor and Loki for the purpose of destroying Asgaard to weaken Hela so that she couldn't go on a galaxy-wide conquest.  (Talking out issues is not Odin's family's strong point.)  

Marvel's not big on redeeming their villains (at least not for anything beyond the short term) so while I assume Hela survived and we'll probably see her again, she's probably going to still be on the same "conquer the world" kick as before.  But I enjoy the idea of twisting stories around to show how the people we thought were bad guys actually have their own damaged motivations.  They might not have made the right choices in the past, but there's always a chance they can find a new, healthier path.  I would adore the chance to show Hela as learning and adapting to the modern world.  

She is the Goddess of Death, but death isn't always a bad thing.  It is the end of the old in order to allow for the growth of the new.  What if she began to target those who use their power to exploit and harm?  One could even plausibly keep it within her character arc by having her do it to knock off potential rivals rather than out of any altruistic goal.  But even Loki became enamoured of the idea of becoming a saviour.  Hela could begin to crave the recognition and adulation she would receive as a protector and that would allow for some interesting exploration of her motives and background.  She wants to be worshiped and recognized: what would she be willing to do to achieve those goals?

These are the questions that fan-fic is made of, but also the questions that inspire writers to write new stories in their own universes.  Because the best stories always start with "What if...?"

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like me? Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter with the hashtag #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to check out my version of a damaged but strong heroine who wants and fears redemption, please check out my Lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous Heroine Fix: Chosen Family with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Quake.

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Next month I'll be looking at Art3mis and Aech from Ready Player OneIt's time to play some games and save the world.  Join me on August 9th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 2 to 7 -- It's Done!

Weekly word count: 13 852

And more importantly <drumroll>.... the manuscript for Deadly Potential is done!

I would happy dance but I'm exhausted.  It has been a real marathon but it is done and a whole week before the RWA deadline!

It's not perfect.  It could use some tweaking for balancing description and action but if someone wanted to see it today (like say, an agent or editor), I could show it to them.

That is a very good feeling to have.

As promised, I'm going to give myself a bit of a break before jumping back on the writing train.  I'll still be posting blog entries but there are a number of places in my life that have been given a lick and a promise and now deserve some of my proper attention.  So I'm going to spend some time catching up with those.  And having a great time at RWA and then Romancing the Capital.  (And enjoying the summer with my kids.)

I don't think I'll be able to stay away from the keyboard for too long.  My stories are my outlet that keeps me going in life and they're always bubbling away in my head, demanding to get out.  So pretty soon I'll start announcing word counts and goals again.

But for now, I'm savouring the sweetness of "And they lived happily ever after.  The End."

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Temporarily Speechless

I am sooo close to finishing up Deadly Potential that I'm not doing a blog post this week so that I can get it done.

Regularly scheduled ranting and musing will be back next week.  Promise.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Weekly Update: June 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 12 610

The last week of school is always bittersweet.  I love the summer and spending time with my kids, but it also means that my to-myself time gets cut very short.  

But I am in the final stretch for Deadly Potential.  About six chapters left to go based on the outline.  Which hopefully will also give me time to review it before I have to send it off anywhere.

I've learned that several authors will be pitching based on partial manuscripts or have multiple books to pitch.  And as much as I tell myself not to make comparisons, I find myself doing it anyway and wondering if I'm kidding myself.  But while I may not have a half-dozen manuscripts ready and waiting, I do have a solid, well-written one that I can discuss and promote.  It's not going to be for everyone, but for those who get excited about romantic paranormal suspense, they're not going to have to wait.

I'm proud of this book and I hope other people will be intrigued by it as well.  I've worked incredibly hard to make this a complete, polished manuscript.  I've got four other books which I'm also incredibly proud of, which shows that I work hard and complete projects.  If that's not good enough... then I can honestly say that it's what I have to offer and I have put all of my cards on the table.  

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Ink Tip: Clean Vs. Dirty Romance

Labels can be good.  They are a way to pass on information quickly.  For example, if I describe a story as gritty noir, the person I’m talking to can safely assume that it will deal with dark subject matter, be graphic in describing suffering and violence, and there’s almost certainly going to be deaths within the story.  On the other hand, if I describe something as a beach read then they know it is relatively light in terms of subject matter, happy endings are guaranteed, and the pacing will be quick but not intense. 

And if I describe it as a George R.R. Martin read, then you know to buckle in for a long ride.
Sometimes the terminology used for labels brings its own baggage and issues.  And one of the most problematic examples of that is describing romance novels with no sex (or only closed-door/fade-to-black sex) as clean.

Our society already has a challenge with sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality.  There is only a narrow window where it is accepted: when a woman is young, attractive, and thin.  (And there’s a corresponding issue that women who do fall into that category are excessively sexualized and are therefore made vulnerable to sexual predators.  And for those who aren’t sure what I mean, take the usual drunken rape scenario and imagine it with a grandmother in her mid-sixties instead of a college girl in her early twenties.  The level of societal outrage would be much higher.)  Women who are older, not conventionally attractive, or overweight are not expected to be sexual beings and are often mocked if they defy those expectations.  Luckily for all of us outside-the-mold gals, we have romance novels with a wide variety of heroines who get happily-ever-afters in all walks of their lives.

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with whether or not a story graphically portrays sex.  I’ve read wonderful novels where everything after a kiss fades to black.  I’ve read wonderful novels that were about the hero or heroine’s erotic adventures and were 90% or more graphic sex scenes.  In the interest of bias disclosure, I’ll admit that my preference falls in between those two extremes: where there are some steamy sex scenes but they don’t dominate the plot. 

But I do have a problem with using the term “clean” to describe the fade-to-black end of the spectrum.  Because it implies that the other end is “dirty” and that is an unfair designation and perpetuates the stereotype of women’s sexuality as unnatural and undesirable.  I much prefer the term “sweet” romance or using the same system they would use for films.  A G rating would be a book with no sex.  PG would be some implied, but not explicit (closed door/fade to black).  R would be explicit and X would be a sex-dominant plot.  We’d need something between PG and R for books that were steamy but not necessarily explicit.  Maybe an S for sexy or steamy?

At the end of the day, quibbling over a single word is a small thing.  But small things have a habit of building up, especially where labels are concerned.  Because labels are verbal short-hands, which means that they carry baggage by definition.  I think it’s worthwhile to make sure that they’re only carrying the baggage that we intend to convey and aren’t loaded down with things that are unnecessary or potentially harmful.

If you like steamy romance with a strong action-adventure plot, you can try my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is now available for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 12 839

Two weeks left until Ad Astra (July 13 to 15) and my book launch for Judgment on Saturday, July 14th from 3 to 5.  I'll be answering questions and serving cookies.  And I'll also be in the vendor room for most of the conference.

Three weeks left until I'm on my way to Denver for RWA 2018.  I've got my stuff ready for the indie signing on Friday, July 20 from 3 to 4 and my pitch ready for that same morning.  (Friday will be a terrifying but exciting day, which means that Friday night, I will be in my relieved-have fun mode)

Six weeks left until Romancing the Capital and my workshops on non-verbal communication and the basics of burlesque (PG-13 only and it'll be a no cameras allowed workshop), as well as the giant book signing on Saturday, August 4th from 4 to 6.

And then... quiet.  Which I am also looking forward to.  Sometimes it feels as if 2018 has been a full-tilt kind of year.  But when I look back at what I've accomplished, I feel pretty proud of myself.  (And also slightly like I need to be a better boss to myself... with more appreciation and less disappointed face.)

The next two months are going to be intense.  But also, very cool.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Strangling My Evil Little Voices

Writing stories for a living has always been a dream of mine.  It was one of the biggest, scariest dreams that I had and right now, I'm in the process of giving it everything I have to see whether or not I can make it come true.

I think all of us have the little voice inside that says: it's better not to try because if you try and fail, then  you'll really look stupid.  The loudness and persistence of that voice varies from person to person.  Mine is a whisperer but it never has to take a holiday, which has added an extra level of difficulty to trying to make a writing career work.  

I thought I had reasonable expectations, but I also joined the writing market during a transitional period, which meant that things did not go as expected and I was faced with a much sharper learning curve than I had anticipated.  Which only made the little voice louder.

I haven't had as much support as I would have liked from those around me.  (And before anyone's feelings get hurt, I have many awesome and wonderful friends and colleagues who have been amazingly supportive and great cheerleaders... this part isn't about them but the next part will be.)  I've had people close to me dismiss my stories as garbage because of their genre, deride my sales levels as pathetic, and tell me that I am causing harm to my family with my insistence on pursuing this dream when it is clearly not going to work out.  Those people made the voice even louder.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm lucky to also have many great people around me who have supported me and who remind me that this is a process and give me the strength to keep going.  I'm eternally grateful to all of them and can't thank them enough, but like many people, it's much easier to believe the bad than it is to accept the good.  Still, their voices help to keep my little voice from getting louder.

This is one of the reasons why I think it's critical to have a supportive writing group, one that is honest about its members' own struggles and that is willing to cheer instead of deride.  ORWA has been that for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I would not be this far without them.

But I can't always rely on external cheerleaders to drown out my little voice of doubt.  I also needed to find ways to do it on my own.  I keep a journal of accomplishments, both big and small: being asked to speak at conferences, points where I completed my writing goals, and most importantly, a reminder that I am doing what I set out to do: I have stories out there and there are people who enjoy those stories, including complete strangers who have no reason to be "nice" to me.  I use those reminders to counteract the little voice and tune it down to a dull whisper.

Maybe someday, I'll get that little voice to shut up completely.  But even if I don't, I've already achieved the greatest hurdle.  I didn't let that voice stop me from giving my dream a try.  And if I don't succeed, then, yes, I'll probably look stupid.  But there are worse consequences in life, like constantly wishing I had the courage to try.  

This is a big reason about why I love romance.  The happily ever after is reassuring but most of the actual story is about people, particularly women, having the courage to try.  There are usually huge obstacles lined up against them and there are tons of voices, both big and small, telling them to play it safe and not risk it.  But they do.  They gamble everything on the chance at happiness rather than accepting the status quo.  They take a chance to thrive rather than just survive.

And that's what I've done and that's why I'll continue to toss the dice and bet on hope.

If you'd like to support my writing dream (and haven't already done so), you can pick up Book 1 in my series, Revelations, for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  It's about a secret society of superheroes, where a burlesque dancer with superstrength teams up with a child therapist who can read emotions and memories through touch and together they struggle to save their loved ones from an evil corporation who is collecting people with supernatural abilities.

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