Thursday, 22 August 2019

How Much Is This Worth? A look at what goes into making a book

Recently, as I was going through Twitter, I ran across a series of posts from frustrated readers complaining about the price of books.  Specifically, about a publisher who used to price books in the $3-$5 range, but is now pricing in the $10-$12 range.  There was a response from an editor at one of the larger publishers explaining that while they could understand the frustration, readers also needed to recognize that a lot of work goes into producing the books they enjoy reading.  The editor finished with a plea for understanding, that the publishing world doesn't do things to deliberately spite or drive away readers.  They are a business and businesses can't operate on the devoted love of their fans.

It'd be nice if being awesome covered rent... but we're not there yet.

As someone who was coming of age during the time of Napster, I remember the seductiveness of it.  Downloading a digital copy (usually of a song I already owned on CD at first) made it so easy to put together the music I loved.  I justified it to myself, saying that I didn't have a lot of money, and it was greedy of the big music corporations to ask me to spend $10-$20 on a CD with a dozen songs, only a few of which I actually liked.

Then someone said something to me that changed how I saw it forever.  That yes, maybe the corporations were greedy and only paying their artists pennies on the dollar, so that the artist I loved was only getting a dime from my $10 purchase.  By refusing to buy it, I was denying the Evil Corporation its $9.90.  But I was also denying the artist their dime.  And I needed to remember that most artists needed those dimes if they were going to continue to make art.

It was an eye-opener.  And as I became one of those dime-hungry artists myself, I started to see how not paying that $10 affected more than just the person whose name is on the front of the creation.

A book is more than just the author's creation.

There are editors, usually several of them for each book, all spending a significant amount of time (weeks and sometimes months) on very painstaking and sometimes tedious work.  (I would not be able to spend my professional career searching for misplaced commas for a line edit.)

There is the cover illustrators, who are artists themselves and deserve proper recompense.

There are the support staff.  All of the people who keep the business running and who make sure readers and vendors know about the amazing books that are out there.

And we can't forget the author, who has likely spent months, if not years, in the process of creating the story.

When looked at from that angle, there are a lot of people who are putting a lot of time and energy into creating a book (and this doesn't change according to the format, whether digital, physical or audio).  They all need to be paid out of that $10.

So now I want to say something to those who are upset about book prices.  I get it.  Times are tough and money doesn't stretch very far.

But when you see a publisher charging $10-$12 for an ebook, instead of thinking the publisher is trying to take advantage of readers, please think of it as a publisher who is treating their staff and authors with respect, and paying them for their work.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Weekly Update: August 11-17

Weekly word count: 5237

A pretty good week.  Not only did I make my word count but I also crossed something off my household to-do list.  I'd promised my 15 year old that we could repaint his room.  He'd chosen his colours (a lovely Hunter's Green with a sage for the trim and doors).  This week we got it all done.

It's such a nice feeling being able to actually say something is done.  It feels like I've had a lot of things on my lists for a very long time and I haven't been making much progress.

I'm also looking forward to the kids heading back to school soon.  Next week, both kids will be at camp, which will hopefully give me some more time to make progress on writing.  And then the last week of August will probably be busy with getting the back-to-school stuff.

Then it's the most wonderful time of the year...  :)

The other big thing I'm looking forward to is Fan Expo next weekend.  Not only are there tons of awesome guests (like Jason Momoa and Brandon Fraser) but I've never been to the Toronto event before.  It's going to be so exciting to get to meet new readers and hang out with the MythHawker folks.

The only question is whether or not my books will arrive in time from Ingram... (I have stock but I'd ordered some more, just in case.)

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Twisting Cinderella Into Deadly Potential

I've talked a lot about the idea that sparked the Director for Deadly Potential, the creepy idea of a stalker who is able to hide in plain sight.  But there was another idea behind my story, a twist on Cinderella.

First off, I'll recuse myself by sharing that I am a huge fairy tale fan.  I read them exhaustively as a child, collecting the variations like other children collected stickers or cards.  I can sing and recite most of the Disney versions (and do, given half an opportunity).

That doesn't mean I'm blind to the flaws in many of the stories.

Any story reflects the time it is created.  The classic Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm stories come from the 19th century and reflect many of the Victorian values.  Cinderella is from Charles Perrault's collection, which was assembled in the second half of the 17th century.  It's a bloodier version than those familiar with Disney's will expect, but it has what are considered the key elements: 

- it's a rags to riches story where the heroine goes from poverty to plenty
- the heroine is blocked by her stepmother and, to a lesser extent, her stepsisters
- the heroine meets her prince at a ball (or series of balls) and he is entranced by her beauty
- there is a magical being (fairy godmother) who grants the heroine beautiful clothes and transportation
- the prince is able to see through any attempts at deception to identify the heroine, despite not knowing her name or status

While I do enjoy stories of women being elevated out of difficult circumstances, there are aspects of the Cinderella story which bother me.  The biggest one is her passivity.  She is singled out for aid because she is quiet, patient, and virtuous.  She is singled out as the ideal bride because she is beautiful.  Personally, that bothers me on both sides of the relationship, because physical attraction is one heck of a poor qualification for choosing someone who will eventually be a co-ruler of your kingdom.  But I digress.

The other aspect which troubles me is how Cinderella is set up as being different from the other women in her life, and as being in competition with them.  They are coarse and vulgar, she is noble and graceful.  It's a theme that I see reflected in a lot of modern stories, that the heroine is somehow better than all those other girls (be they co-workers, ex-girlfriends, or rivals for the hero's affection).

Many of Perrault's stories focus on a character's inherent nobility and the message that their goodness will be rewarded.  But the idea that people should suffer in silence and wait to be rescued isn't one I can get behind.  I much prefer when characters are active participants in their own rescue, though they usually do need help (which is why I also love stories where characters realize they can't do everything on their own).

Women who are set up as "the good one" in fiction are isolated.  In reality, female friendships are incredibly important.  I would never want to be without my girlfriends, yet it's actually surprisingly rare for a story to have two or more women with a close and supportive friendship.

I've always written stories with independent heroines, but this time, I also wanted to write a story where there was a strong female friendship.  And I started thinking about Cinderella, and what it would be like if the stepsister teamed up with Cinderella to overthrow her abusive mother.

And because I'm never happy with just one twist, I wanted to explore another idea, too.  What if the fairy godmother was evil, what if she was pushing Cinderella into a world that she didn't want?  What if Cinderella just wanted to restore her family home and live peacefully there and it was the fairy godmother who had the whole dream of her charge becoming royalty?

So I made sure that my heroine, Katie, had a strong and healthy relationship with her stepsister, Aggi, one where they faced down Aggi's narcissistic mother together.  And I made the Director into a dark version of the fairy godmother, one who only makes his own wishes come true.

I hope that people will enjoy the story as much as I do.  Deadly Potential is available for pre-order now and will be released on October 23rd!

Previous post: Heroine Fix: The Brave and Brilliant Dr. Ellie Arroway from Contact.

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Monday, 12 August 2019

Weekly Update: August 4 to 10

I know I've been kind of sketchy with these updates lately and I'm sorry about that.  I've been struggling and it's been a very intense few months of dealing with personal things, plus the injury, and frankly, feeling as if my creative energy has been drained out of me.

But, if I dare tempt fate by saying so, things seem to have turned a corner.

I wrote 6145 words last week.  The most progress I've made in a long, long time.  The writing felt the way it used to feel, as if I were just transcribing something from some place inside my head where the book is already perfectly written.

But on the personal side, I've made some progress as well.  One of the things I haven't been able to share is that I've been going through a separation.  It's been an emotionally draining and unexpectedly expensive process, and one that took a lot longer than I was expecting.  It's hit me in my confidence as well.  How can I write about happily ever afters when my own marriage was on critical?

It's taken me awhile to realize that it's because I believe in happily ever afters that I can't let myself be held back in a relationship that frankly hasn't worked in awhile.  I've reached the point where I can honestly say that my ex-husband isn't a bad person, but we're just not a good match in terms of our expectations and needs.  Things are actually far more amicable between us now that we're no longer romantically entangled.

My focus has been on supporting my children through this process.  They didn't get a vote on it, but I want to make sure they never have cause to doubt how much they are loved and that their well-being is our highest priority.

I'm not sure what's going to happen now.  I never expected to be facing a new world of possibilities in my mid-forties.  But I'm glad that I am giving myself permission to take a gamble on gaining the kind of happiness that we're all entitled to in life.  Even if it doesn't happen, I made the right choice to bet on hope rather than settling for quiet despair.

I'm sure there are more bumps to come in the road.  I will probably be slower than I'd hoped in putting out my next few books.  But even if I slow down, I'm not going anywhere.

Thank you to all of you who have stuck by me.  It means more than you can imagine.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Heroine Fix: The Brave and Brilliant Dr. Ellie Arroway

I'm addicted to well-developed and capable heroines who defy the expectations of society and male-dominated genres.  Each month I examine a new character who influenced my writing or me personally.

This month, I was shocked to discover how long it was since this movie was released.  Contact came out in 1997 and I watched it in theatres at least four times.  I wanted to be Dr. Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) and get into an alien ship and teleport my way across the galaxy (or dimensions, depending on your interpretation of the story).

As I got older, I started to realize how amazing and unusual the story was.  It didn't focus on Ellie's male counterparts and treat her like an expositional plot device (the fate of many of Dr. Arroway's brainy counterparts, such as Hermione Granger).  It didn't treat her intelligence as a joke or a deterrent to her happiness.  She wasn't the awkward loner or the repressed ice queen or any of the other stereotypical portrayals of smart women.

She's a passionate, determined woman studying a field that others ridicule, who refuses to compromise her personal or scientific integrity.  She's got no problem enjoying a fling with a hot guy if he crosses her path, but doesn't compromise her professional goals for romance (though she still gets a happy ending, as I choose to believe).  That's actually pretty rare in terms of films and movies.  Women, even in their own stories, often take second place to male characters or are diminished so as to be unthreatening to the status quo.

Ellie is strong, both in her spirit and her intellect.  Her passion is discovering evidence of extraterrestrial life and so she uses her radio telescope time to "search for little green men" even though it exposes her to professional and personal ridicule.  From her reaction, we can see that the mockery bothers her, but she doesn't let it stop her.  To me that's a more powerful message than the characters who never seem bothered by others' opinions.  It hurts to be treated as the punchline of the joke, and that fear stops us from pursuing many of our dreams.

She also doesn't hesitate to stand up to authority when it's required.  When she's begging for funding, she refuses to be politely brushed off, telling the potential donors that they lack vision and understanding.  If they refuse to fund her research, they are the kind of people who refused to see the potential in the airplane or vaccinations.  After she discovers the alien signal, the government wants to suppress knowledge of it and threatens Ellie for having shared the information with other scientists.  She's not intimidated by their bluster, laying down why their position is ridiculous and she is right.

And yet, Ellie is not blindly ambitious.  When her team discovers the plans to create a alien device that will allow someone to journey outside the solar system (and presumably meet some aliens), it's the opportunity she's dreamed of her entire life.  She wants on that ship more than she's ever wanted anything in her entire life.  She's willing to sacrifice her personal life and happiness to be the one to make contact with extraterrestrials.  She proves her competence to a inquisition-like hearing with dozens of people judging her worthiness.  Then it all comes down to a single question: do you believe in God?

The question is a deliberate sand-bag from her lover, Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey).  He knows her opinions on the subject and how the hearing will interpret that interpretation.  He doesn't want her to leave Earth and possibly return hundreds or thousands of years later.  (Which in my view, means he fails the hero test, which requires him to place his beloved's needs over his own.)

Ellie could lie and claim to believe in God.  It would be the popular answer and probably would have guaranteed her the place on the ship.  But she doesn't.  She answers honestly that she doesn't believe it's likely and she has no personal faith in an omnipotent or omniscient divine being.  She does it knowing that her answer is the end to her dreams.  

The ostensible bad guy of the film, Ellie's rival, Dr. David Drumlin (played by Tom Skerritt), gives the answer that the committee wants to hear and wins the spot.  It's of a piece with other actions we've seen from him in the film, such as using his professional interest to shut down Ellie's telescope time in an effort to force her to return to "respectable" science, or taking credit for her work when it suddenly comes with acclaim.  He's not a traditional villain.  He's more subtle than that.  He's a man who is convinced he knows what is best and who doesn't hesitate to take advantage of any opportunity that comes his way.  He is ambition without Ellie's integrity.

I think what most impresses me about the story is Ellie's character arc.  Like many independent characters, her journey is about learning to connect with others.  But it is done without diminishing her intelligence, skill, or dreams.  The only person Ellie has allowed herself to depend on is her father.  She is willing to have a fling with Joss, but not derail her career or dreams for him.  She holds herself aloof from her coworkers, keeping their relationships strictly professional.

It is only when she meets the aliens and learns that Earth is truly not alone that she begins to grasp the importance of interpersonal connections.  The alien takes the form of her father and tells her "In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other."

That knowledge shakes Ellie to her core.   She returns to Earth a transformed woman.  She's still passionate and dedicated, but I get the sense that now she's willing to take a little time for herself to explore other sides of her personality.

I love writing strong women who fall in love and not all of them are necessarily looking for love at the start of the story.  It's a fine line between giving them the opportunity for love and making sure it doesn't seem as if they need romantic love in order to be happy.  Ellie has been given the answer to her life's work.  She now needs a new dream.  Personally, I believe that she goes on to have a long and happy life, outspoken and unflinching when sharing what people need to know.  But also, I believe she has a life where she's not cutting herself off from others any more.  And whether she finds romantic love or enjoys the richness of friendships, I think she ends up with the best of both worlds.

Join me next month on September 12 for the next Heroine Fix.  Or check out last month's Heroine: the ferocious and loyal Mazikeen from Lucifer.

Or check out my latest independent, competent and brilliant heroine from my upcoming
book, Deadly Potential.  Katie runs a multinational business, is managing a global tour, and writes commercially successful pop songs for her sister, the Princess of Pop.  When she starts receiving intrusive letters, she finds out she's been targeted by one of the most infamous serial killers in history, a man who is psychically able to make anyone forget his presence.  Special Investigator Ben will do whatever it takes to keep her alive.  Deadly Potential: A Special Investigations Case Study, available for pre-order now and releasing on October 23!

Previous post: LIAR! Using Body Language To Detect Deception

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Thursday, 1 August 2019

LIAR!! Using Body Language to Detect Deception

In case you missed it, I did a mini-workshop on Twitter last week for the #notRWA19 group (those who weren't able to attend the RWA National Conference in New York) and I thought my blog readers might appreciate a look at it.

Body language and expressions are an area of interest of mine.  It started out because I'm not skilled at picking up social cues, so I had to teach myself (and my kids, who inherited my social blindness).  As I researched and compiled information, I found myself with a great writing resource and I started presenting workshops on different aspects of body language.

For #notRWA19, I did a thread on how to use body language to detect deception, both in life and for your POV characters.  Most of the information here is from Dr. Paul Eklund's books and research.

It would make life so much easier but sadly, there are no universal signs that someone is lying to you.  We see a lot of lists that claim to be able to expose liars, and most of them include things like avoiding eye contact, fidgeting and sweating.  However, the things on those lists tend to be signs of increased anxiety, which doesn't always correspond to lying.

That said, there are postures and expressions that can help a person to figure out if someone is trying to deceive them.  But they're not quite as simple as "touching their nose means a person is LYING!!!" would like us all to believe.

There are three signs which can indicate deception:
- increased anxiety (** with a caveat that this is the most complicated and unreliable sign)
- mismatched emotional reactions
- uneven expressions/postures

Lying to another person makes most people anxious.  It's stressful to have to remember details, to evaluate others' reactions, and since most people have a goal when they lie, to worry about whether or not they'll get the result they want.  The anxiety can be especially high if the situation involves an authority figure or a high stakes scenario.

That said, there are plenty of people who don't display any sign of nerves when lying, no matter how intense the situation is.  And there are people who are naturally anxious, who will show signs of nerves in the most innocuous of situations.  In general, anxiety as a tell for deception is most effective with people that we know well enough to see whether or not their behaviour is an increase in anxiety or just their regular baseline.

Signs of anxiety include sweating, twitching, fidgeting, faster breathing, increased heartrate, and flicking eyes.  It also includes self-soothing gestures like touching their own skin, hair or stroking their own hand.

But, really, all that signs of anxiety tell you is that a person is anxious.  It doesn't tell you why that person is anxious.  They might be afraid that their listener isn't believing them (for example, if the listener is a police officer who is accusing them of a crime) or they might be afraid about making a mistake (for example, when relating an account of what has happened to them), or they might be embarrassed (for example, wanting to gloss over particular details), or even just not wanting to hurt someone's feelings.  Anxiety alone doesn't necessarily mean lying.

In general, if someone is lying, you'll see mismatched emotional expressions (when the expressed emotion doesn't match the words/situation)  and/or uneven expressions or postures (done with only part of the body/face or beginning on one side instead of evenly).

If someone is lying, they'll try to assume the appropriate emotions to what they're saying.  Eg, if you're claiming you can't come to work because your grandmother died, you'll probably try to sound and look sad.  However, people can't completely suppress their actual emotions, so the truth will leak through for a split second, which is called a microexpression.

This is actually a slowed down version.
Interestingly, the only ones who have success at having their expressions match a false story are professional actors, and they cheat (kind of).  They use their own memories and experiences to generate genuine emotions on cue.  It sounds simple but it's actually quite difficult.

Another interesting (though sad) fact, is that psychologist first grew interested in microexpressions as a way to figure out which patients were lying about intending to self-harm.  The patients would lie very convincingly, claiming to be happy and excited, but when discharged, would attempt (or succeed) suicide.  In looking at video recordings of the sessions, the psychologists discovered split-second expressions of grief and pain in the faces of those patients who later hurt themselves.

One of the most reliable signs of deception is called "duping delight" and it's a combination of contempt, relief and glee.  Most good liars try to mask it but it can still come through as a microexpression.

Uneven postures and expressions are another way that people mask their real reactions.  Natural expressions are always symmetrical (unless there's a physical reason why they can't be).  But if someone is deliberately making the same expression, it will be uneven.  It might be only on one side of their face or body (one sided shrug or smile are the most common).  Or it will begin more on one side before evening out.  Forced expressions will also tend to switch faster than natural ones, eg: the smile will appear and disappear faster.

Fun fact: a one sided shrug is often an indication of suppressed helplessness, and can be a reasonably reliable indicator of a long term deception.

Another side of uneven expressions are when different parts of the body are sending different messages.  Like feet pointing toward the exit when someone is talking to you.  It's a subconscious sign that they're ready to run.  Or nodding when saying no, or shaking their head when saying yes.  Or smiling but having the eyes show fear or anger.  In all of these cases, the gesture is the truth.  We have less conscious control over our movements than we do over our words, the eyes are less controllable than the mouth.

One final caveat, even if someone is lying, it's not necessarily due to a malicious reason.  We lie to avoid hurting people, to avoid embarrassing ourselves, to fit in socially, and sometimes because we wish what we were saying was true.

That said, it can be such a relief to spot signs of dishonesty in a person's behaviour.  Especially if our instincts have already rung alarms that the person is not being truthful with us or that their intent doesn't match their external actions.  It takes away confidence-sapping second-guessing and removes the opportunity for others to gaslight or manipulate us.

(Princess Bride gif: Liar!  Liaaaarrr!)
Previous blog post: Hidden Diamond, Jaycee Jarvis and her fantasy romance series and the importance of creating a satisfying emotional experience for your readers.

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Monday, 29 July 2019

Weekly Update: July 21-27

It's been another week of healing, so not a lot of writing progress but I got two good writing days this week.  I didn't track word counts, because it's still a lot lower than I'd like, but I'm counting this as progress.

Next week is Romancing the Capital and I am looking forward to that so much.  The last couple weeks has been all about making sure I'm in good shape for the conference.

I had friends at RWA National Conference last week and I am so jealous of their New York experiences.  New York is still on my bucket list to visit in person at some point.  This year, the money wasn't there, but someday, it will be.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Hidden Diamond: Creating An Emotional Experience with Jaycee Jarvis

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the ones they love to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month, I feature a new Hidden Diamond author.

This month's Hidden Diamond is a fellow Soul Mate author and a Golden Heart Finalist who can always be counted on for an interesting discussion, Jaycee Jarvis.  I share her love of fantasy and romance and am intrigued by how she's put the two together for her Hands of Destin series.

The latest installment of the series, Deadly Courtship, released in May through Soul Mate Publishing.  The series follows a group of magically gifted friends, as they fight corruption in their government posts and find love along the way.  In Deadly Courtship, Madi, a member of the elite guard in the tropical town of Trimble, finds her loyalties tested in unexpected ways when her former lover is accused of murder.

Today, Jaycee shares her thoughts on the emotional experiences her readers are looking for, her writing process, and her answer to the eternal debate of astronauts versus cavemen.

Creating Emotional Experience

I really want to thank Jennifer for having me on her blog today! I’m passionate about reading and writing, so it is a real treat to be able to go on at length about my favorite subjects.

I once heard fiction writing described as the art of creating an emotional experience with the reader.  That really resonated with me, and my watchword as a writer is to authentically craft the experience my readers crave.

I think one of the important purposes of genre labels is to help readers figure out what emotion to expect. Want to be frightened? Horror is there for you. Looking for a laugh? Many bookstores have a humor section. Now good books are not completely one note and will mix different emotions into the story to keep it interesting. Still there is an emotional theme or tone to most novels, and genre plays a role in cluing the reader into the tone before they pick up the book. Because I write across genres, straddling both fantasy and romance, I’m hyper-aware of those reader expectations.

Fantasy stories promise wonder and surprise, with problems and solutions far removed from our mundane world. Readers pick up a fantasy novel to be transported,  to experience new possibilities. Romance, on the other hand, is all about the feels. Readers want to intimately know and understand the characters in a romance novel, and of course romance has the all important happy ending.

Authors who don’t write romance sometimes have the mistaken impression that delivering an HEA (happily ever after) somehow makes romance easier to write. After all, you already know the ending. But in some ways the promise that everything will turn out right in the end can be extremely challenging to deliver. Readers also want an interesting story, which means obstacles and conflict are a must, and then those problems have to be satisfyingly resolved. And what exactly constitutes a satisfactory resolution can be a matter of personal taste.

I’ve had beta readers complain because the villain didn’t meet a bloody enough end in my book. Because part of a happy ending includes a comeuppance for the bad guys, especially in fantasy. And I took their critique to heart, which strengthened the story at the same time.

As both a reader and a writer I enjoy the opportunity epilogues give to show the characters in the future, beyond the drama and whirlwind of the story. When I’m writing the capstone to my own novels, I always hope the reader will savor the proof that my characters have found their bliss and will live happily ever after.

- Jaycee Jarvis

Author Interview with Jaycee Jarvis

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

I have a tendency to go down deep internet rabbit holes exploring obscure bits of history or ancient tech, but I don’t know if it’s exactly wild and crazy. I’m also a big gleaner, where everything I experience has the possibility of ending up in my books. I didn’t take a trip to Costa Rica strictly to research my books, but you can bet those humid hikes through the natural wonder of a rainforest found their way into my books set in a magical jungle kingdom.

What is your writing process?  

I’m a pantser with aspirations to be a plotter. I think it would be much more efficient to plan my stories out in advance, and cut down on rewrites, but somehow my creative mind doesn’t work like that. My stories tend to surprise me in wonderful ways, and never stick to the plan. The revision processes is where I really get into the meat of the story, since I have to draft to discover what the story is actually about.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I was a reader long before I was a writer and it is still my go-to leisure activity. I love getting lost in the worlds that other writers create, and usually find myself inspired to get back to my own stories.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

I will always have a soft spot for the man in black aka Wesley from the Princess Bride. I imprinted on that movie as a teen.

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

Astronauts for sure, and I don’t think they’d even need the technological advantage. Their germs alone would wipe out the cavemen.

Thank you, Jaycee, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And if you'd like your own copies of Jaycee's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here.

Facebook       Twitter       Website

And if you'd like to spend a little more time on this website, you can check out my latest release, a steampunk romance created specially for Romancing the Capital, A Star To Steer Her By.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Still A Real Writer: Struggling With Limitations

On Tuesday last week, I injured myself rather severely.  I fell, spraining both hands and my foot.  My doctor told me to avoid moving my hands or putting any weight on my foot for three days to allow the sprains to begin to heal properly.

I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in one of the most excruciatingly difficult positions.  Everything I would ordinarily do to occupy and entertain myself: typing, drawing, puzzles, cross-stitch, all of them require my hands.  Luckily, I had sent off my final edits for Deadly Potential to Soul Mate Publishing before this happened.

Even scrolling through Twitter on my phone was overwhelmingly painful.  I tried using the dictation software to write a few replies, but it was frustratingly difficult.

The problem with hand-held devices is that you have to HOLD them in your HANDS!
As I was scrolling, I saw a piece of writing advice that often gets trotted out: Real writers write every day, they have no other choice.

That advice is garbage, but it is particularly hurtful to those suffering from chronic health conditions, injuries, or who have other responsibilities, such as family, earning an income, or other challenges.

I didn't write for three days.  That doesn't make me suddenly less of a "real writer" or a bad writer.  Very few authors can manage to write on a daily basis.  For those that can, I think they should be celebrated.  But those who can't should never be made to feel less than.

I'm going to be several weeks recovering from this injury.  And if I want to actually recover, I will need to listen to my body and respect the pain warning me that something is wrong.  It will be a challenge, because I strongly internalized the message that there are no excuses for not getting work done.  That illness and injury are things that willpower can and should overcome.

That level of expectation is harmful, even in the best of circumstances.  In a case like my current one, it could delay or even eliminate my chance to recover completely.

So I'm going to be quiet for the next few weeks.  But I'm still going to be a real writer, regardless of how many words I put on the page.

Previous blogpost: Heroine Fix: Mazikeen from Lucifer, and how she's worth it.

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Monday, 15 July 2019

Weekly Update: July 7-13

Weekly word count: 1050

Considering that Tuesday was spent in the emergency room and Wednesday through Friday were enforced no-work days, I will take this total.

I have managed to injure my hands in such a way that it will take several weeks to recover.  (A fall in a parking lot for those who are curious.)  They're sprained, not broken, for which I'm grateful, but the pain is still enough to make me cautious.

These days I'd give a great deal for mutant healing abilities.  It's been a week of watching Netflix, which sounds great in theory, but not once you're in pain while doing it.

Don't worry.  I should be back on my feet in time for Romancing The Capital.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Heroine Fix: Mazikeen, Totally Worth It

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature where I share amazing and interesting female characters whom I admire and inspire my own writing. This post will contain spoilers.

Those who know me are well aware that I adore the television series Lucifer, with its irreverent take on Christian mythology.  And one of my favourite characters is the title character's best friend and right-hand demon, Mazikeen (Maze for short).

Whereas Lucifer is conflicted about his purpose and nature, Maze is confident in her own path.  She is on Earth to protect Lucifer and enjoy herself with sex, liquor and violence.  It's only as Lucifer shifts into doing more and more good that she begins to doubt her place.  She and Lucifer have been partners for millennia.  She was his head torturer and second in command.  If he is abandoning that part of his life, its a rejection of her as well.

The rejection leaves her lost in a society she doesn't understand.  Human customs seem arbitrary and hypocritical.  For all that she enjoys physical pleasures, they aren't enough for her.

Any one would be overwhelmed when faced with the diminishing of a long-term partnership, and the erosion of our understanding of the world.  Most of us would give up.

Mazikeen returns to Lucifer and demands respect and acknowledgment.  In his narcissism, he doesn't understand why this is so crucial to her.  She takes the incredibly scary step of following through on her ultimatum.  She leaves him to find her own place in the world.

In doing so, she discovers a richness she'd previously despised: the humans.  She begins a friendship with Linda, a psychologist who knows the truth about demons on Earth.  Linda helps her to understand human customs (though not without some setbacks and misunderstandings).  Mazikeen also befriends Trixie, a young girl who is not afraid of the supernatural.  The relationship with Trixie brings out Maze's protective side.  No little girl has ever been safer from anyone looking to hurt her.

She finds a job that she loves and excels at, a bounty hunter.  She can find any bad guy and bring them back easily.  She revels in her skills and how easy it is for her to show-up the more macho, experienced bounty hunters.  Watching her take unrepentant pride in her accomplishments rather than dismissing them is frankly inspiring.  So often women are trained to accept compliments with a "here's why I don't deserve this" instead of "damn right, I am awesome."

In season 4, Mazikeen does something that will forever cement her as one of the bravest characters I've had the pleasure of watching.  Throughout the series, she has protected herself by keeping a flippant distance from even her closest friends.  She rarely admits any feelings beyond rage, and tends to be dismissive of her relationships (even though she's taken incredible damage in order to protect her friends).

In this most recent season, Mazikeen falls in love with Eve (the actual Eve, as in the original human woman mentioned in the Bible).  Eve is in love (or at least infatuation) with Lucifer, and enlists Maze's help to win his heart.  Mazikeen takes the risk of telling Eve how she feels (in a glorious cover of Oasis's Wonderwall), knowing that it is most likely that Eve doesn't feel the same way about her.

Mazikeen allows herself to be completely vulnerable.  And when Eve misunderstands the gesture, Maze has the courage to accept that what she wanted isn't possible.

She could physically force Eve to be with her.  She could have lied and tricked Eve into a relationship.  But she wanted something genuine and wasn't willing to settle for anything less.

Because Maze knows what she's worth.  And she's worth the happily ever after with someone who adores her and whom she adores, the challenging job that she's brilliant at, and the respect and friendship of those in her life.

We shouldn't settle for anything less either.

Previous Heroine Fix: Sara Lance from DC's Legends of Tomorrow

Previous post: Overcoming Writer's Block

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Monday, 8 July 2019

Weekly Update: June 30-July 6

Weekly word count: 4127

Steady progress.  Hopefully next week goes better since I'll have both kids in camp rather than facing a steady stream of "I'm bored."

I have come up with a rather clever parenting plan for the younger.  His teacher commented last year that he was having trouble with the standard five paragraph essay structure.  He would repeat himself rather than explaining his conclusions.

So for this summer vacation, he is allowed to watch movies during the day.  (Usually they have a strict 2 x 30 minutes of screentime each day.)  However, for each movie he watches, he has to provide me with an outline for a five paragraph essay.  So far he's done "Ghost was not really a bad guy" for Ant-Man and the Wasp and "Ways the Cree Made Vers Think She Wasn't Powerful" for Captain Marvel.  He's still struggling a bit but making improvements.

For those worried about his vacation quality time, it's entirely optional.  If he doesn't want to watch a movie, he doesn't have to do the outline.  It's cut down on his complaining and I have the illusion of teaching him something.  Wins all around!

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Breaking Writer's Block

There is nothing more frustrating to an author than when the words on the page just aren't flowing.  Whether the page is staying blank or progress feels like we're struggling across a gravel slope, it can be disheartening to be the one wooing the creative muse.

However, there are techniques that can help.  Here are the ones I've found helpful.

Is it a problem with the story or something external?

Lots of things can affect creative output.  Depression, stress, and a number of other health and life problems will cut down word counts.  So my first step is to figure out if something external is to blame.  I've found the best way to do that is to take a break from my WIP and try something else.  If I can dash off 2k words of fan fic or chasing a plot bunny, then the problem isn't with me, it's the story.

Where is the problem with the story?

The vast majority of the time, when I'm having trouble with a story, it's because there's a plot hole or a faulty character arc or plot line.  Sometimes I can pin down where it is fairly quickly and sometimes it takes some work.  I generally find the best way to find it is to either write out my plot by hand or talk to someone.  Writing by hand uses a different part of the brain than typing, so the switch can let me see things from a different angle.

After that comes the hard part.

Sometimes we have to sacrifice the best bits.

Sometimes I really want to include a scene, or a moment, or a character.  But sometimes they're just not working in a particular story.  They're slowing it down or making things too complicated, or require narrative convenience to make them work.  It's heartbreaking to let them go, but I tuck them into the "use it later" folder on my computer.

This isn't exactly "kill your darlings" advice, it's "be willing to do what's best for the story" advice.  There will be other stories where your darlings can thrive and get the best possible versions of themselves. 

Sometimes this means substantial rewrites and if that's the case, then that's something else that we need to be willing to do.  Even if it means a book is delayed, it's better to have a book delayed and then be good than to put out something flawed.

Dealing with writer's block is one of the things I think of when people tell me that they think writing is easy.  Writing can be easy, when everything is going well.  But when it's not, that's what separates professional authors from enthusiastic amateurs.  Professionals do the work that isn't as much fun, that can be tedious and difficult.  But they do it because they're driven to do it.  And that's what makes it special.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond Interview with Olivia Dade

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Monday, 1 July 2019

Weekly Update: June 23-29

Weekly word count: 2314

I'd made some good progress on the ending for Division but the ending didn't feel right.  I spent some time thinking about it and plotting it out and I think I have a better ending now.  Hopefully progress will be faster after this.

I also got my final edits back for Deadly Potential from Soul Mate.  The release date is set for October 23rd.  I'll let you all know once it's available for pre-order.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Hidden Diamond: An Interview with Olivia Dade

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books they love to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month, I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.

I am very excited to share this month's Hidden Diamond, Olivia Dade.  I first met this lovely woman through a weekly romance author chat on Twitter and quickly formed an online friendship through our mutual quirky sense of humour.  Then I had the chance to meet her in person last year at the RWA national conference and discovered that she is just as lovely, witty, and caring in real life as she is online.  And she writes some of the most wonderful, three-dimensional characters that I've ever read.  Her latest book, Teach Me, has become my go-to summer reading recommendation.  It features an educational romance between two teachers, a statuesque ice queen and a slightly dorky cinnamon roll of a hero.  And I'm looking forward to Desire and the Deep Blue Sea with its fake relationship, a pair of librarians, and a week on a tropical paradise reality show.

Without further ado, here is my interview with Olivia.

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

One of my upcoming books features a forty-year-old heroine and a twenty-something, former-tennis-pro hero. My exhaustive pursuit of literary excellence, then, required staring intensely at my favorite tennis players as they ran, sweated, emitted grunts of efforts, and bent over from the waist at satisfying intervals. Sometimes—through endless, hard, Google-related work—I even located videos of them training shirtless and/or immersed (again, shirtless) in ice baths after their matches!

I know, I know. It’s sheer lunacy. No one expects writers to sacrifice so much for their stories, but I am fiercely committed to realism in my work, down to the tiniest details. I asked myself all the important questions, such as: How do endless lunges and squats affect the curve of a tennis pro’s posterior? Also, would he make those same sounds in bed?

You’re welcome.

What is your writing process? 

I’ve always, always worked best alone and in silence. Other parts of my writing process have changed over time, though. I’ve become much more of a plotter than I used to be, because—as I’ve discovered—without an overarching framework for a story, I tend to overlook key elements as I write. For instance, something story experts call “a plot.”

Before I begin drafting a story, I now write down my story arc, which gives basic information about the main characters (their appearances, their backgrounds, their goals and motivations and fears) and delineates key plot points. It also traces developments in the romantic relationship and the progression of individual characters’ internal arcs.

I put a lot of thought into that document, so I tend to follow it somewhat closely when I draft—and if I deviate too much from it, I often find I’ve written myself into a corner or gone wrong in some other way. But since I don’t determine the details of various scenes ahead of time, I still have plenty of room for creativity and improvisation as I write.

The process works well for me, but one of the great joys of writing, I think, is seeing how radically different processes can all lead to equally amazing books. So if your process is very, very different from mine, please don’t question yourself or despair! :-)

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Reading. Always and forever.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

This answer changes all the time, but I’ll tell you about my latest crush.

So here’s the story: I’ve never had HBO, I don’t enjoy violence, and I need happy endings. Thus, I did not watch Game of Thrones. However. A month or two ago, my Twitter timeline was abuzz in a shipping frenzy over two characters on the show, Jaime and Brienne. Idly, I clicked on a GIF of the fictional couple.

You should know that when I re-watched Wimbledon (the movie) last year, the first time a particular secondary character showed up on-screen, I gasped and immediately paused the movie to find out what other movies he was in and—more importantly—whether any of those movies included full-frontal nudity. That secondary character was, of course, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. At that point, I must have seen that he acted in Game of Thrones, but again, the whole HBO/violence thing stopped me from pursuing the matter further.

But then. But then. All those Jaime/Brienne GIFs! All those Jaime/Brienne video clips! That FACE! That face GAZING ADORINGLY AT BRIENNE/GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE!

Dear reader, I shipped them. And here’s the glory of the internet: I could repeatedly watch a 48-minute supercut of scenes starring Jaime and Brienne without seeing any of the stuff I didn’t care about or found off-putting. (Such as, say, twincest. Or pushing a kid out a window. Or anything involving any of the other characters.)

Basically, Game of Thrones might as well be called Game of Jaime and Brienne for me, and I’m not even sorry.

P.S. In my head canon, they end up on Tarth, where she’s in charge of everything important and he devotes himself entirely to her sexual satisfaction and making her smile with his sly wit and punching anyone who doesn’t sufficiently admire and respect her. THE END.

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

Oddly, even though I could have written like twenty more pages about Jaime and Brienne, I have no answer for this. I want to say cavewomen? Somehow?

Your technique for incorporating organic and non-distracting description is amazing.  Do you have suggestions for authors looking to do vivid descriptions with a minimum of interruption to the flow?

This is very, very kind of you. I want to be clear: I am not naturally skilled at writing description. In fact, about two or three years ago, I decided to draft a story specifically designed to push myself in that area, because I realized descriptive passages were a major weakness in my writing. (The story was a futuristic gothic, which featured entire chapters with no dialogue or sex. Dialogue and sex come pretty easily to me as a writer; evocative descriptions do not, but they are crucial in gothic romances.)

My basic rule is this: Any description has to serve an important purpose. It is not an end in itself. Sometimes, it’s there to orient readers and allow them to picture the characters or a particular setting (especially the first time a character appears or a setting is used). Other times, it’s there for symbolic or foreshadowing purposes, or because it reveals something about a character and/or their emotions and/or the plot. I’ll also include descriptions that are funny, and thus serve the tone of my story.

Even if the description is serving one or more of those purposes, I generally try to keep it brief, because I worry about pacing. I don’t want readers to get bored and set down the book, never to return.

Also, the best description is vivid, with punchy language. It comes from the POV character’s perspective, distinctive to what that particular person would notice and how they would describe it. I’m still working on that part of things, and I highly recommend reading Joanna Bourne’s books as exemplars of POV-infused description. She’s a master.

How do your story ideas come to you?  Do you start with a scene, a character, a concept or something else?

Different books emerge in very different ways for me. For example: the book I mentioned earlier, with the former-tennis-pro hero and forty-year-old heroine? The original idea for that story came from me randomly watching the French Open and thinking idly to myself, “You know, 40-Love would be a great title for a romance.” It’s my only story that ever sprang to life entirely from a title idea.

In “Cover Me” (a novella originally published in the Rogue Acts anthology, which I’m bundling with another story and republishing later this year), I wanted to write a romance about health insurance and breast cancer. Teach Me came from my desire to explore (sexily!) how toxic masculinity hurts people of all genders. So thematic/plot elements sometimes drive me to write a story.

Sometimes, I’ll decide I want to write a particular type of character. An absentminded-professor type of hero (such as Thomas in Desire and the Deep Blue Sea), or a latter-day-hippie heroine (such as Lucy in Tiny House, Big Love), or…anything that sounds interesting to me.

Other times, a certain plot element might drive me. For the longest time, I wanted to write a contemporary romance where one of my main characters would propose to the other—with the expectation/fervent hope of getting turned down. The other character would say yes, even though they didn’t want to get engaged either. Then each of them would try to get the other to dump them…even as they both fell in love. It took me years to figure out what particular set of circumstances would make that sequence of events plausible and fun! But I finally worked it out, so I hope to write that story soon.

Finally, if I end up obsessed with a particular television show or movie or sport or…whatever? It’s showing up in a book, in one form or another. :-)

To me, that’s one of the other absolute joys of writing: Your stories can come from anywhere. Literally anywhere. Obsessive viewing of tiny house shows? Sure. Ogling Dominic Thiem’s very fine ass? Definitely. Shipping a particular couple on a violent television show and ignoring literally everything else about the show, including the on-screen death of half that couple? Oh, JUST YOU WAIT.

Thank you, Olivia, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And if you'd like your own copies of Olivia's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here.

And thank you for joining us!  Come back next month on July 25th for the next Hidden Diamond.  Or check out last month's double feature of Rayanne Haines and Barbara Nolan.