Thursday, 18 April 2019

What Does "Strong Woman" Even Mean?

Those who follow this blog regularly know that I adore strong female characters in the stories I read and even more in the stories I write.  However, a recent Twitter thread (which I unfortunately cannot find now) talked about how they didn't like the term "strong women" because it was one-dimensional about physical strength.

It took me aback because I've always used the term "strong women" to mean female characters who are well-rounded, well-written and integral to the story rather than being used as plot devices to motivate their male counterparts.

More than one?  Even better!
Physical strength is cool.  I love that my first heroine, Dani, can bend steel with her bare hands.  There's something immensely satisfying about a woman who knows that she can not only go toe-to-toe with any man but can dominate him.  Women are told so often to be careful, that they have to avoid angering others because they can't defend themselves (and can't expect anyone else to defend them).  I enjoyed writing a story about a woman who didn't have to hide or pretend to be less because she knew she could defend herself.

But physical strength isn't the only way to be strong.  In Metamorphosis, Lily can turn into a grizzly bear, but that's not what makes her a strong woman.  She apologizes to no one for who she is and what she believes in, even when her own family disagrees with her.  She's willing to stand on her own to do what is right and insist the rest of the world needs to move.

Metamorph Cali in Inquisition is another example of a different type of strong woman.  There is no obstacle that she can't get around, under or through because she never gives up, no matter what the world throws at her.  She also has the strength to examine her own beliefs and opinions, recognize when she's made a mistake and take the steps needed to fix it.  Even if it costs her everything, she doesn't hesitate to make the necessary sacrifice.

In Judgment, Martha displays yet another different type of strength.  The strength that comes when life has hit a person over and over, driving them to the edge of survival.  It takes strength to reach that point and stand up to fight one's way back.  Fighting against overwhelming odds when it can seem hopeless is one of the most powerful statements of strength a person can make.  She may not have any powers, but that doesn't stop her.

Four women, all different, all strong in different ways.  And my new heroines, Annika and Katie, will be strong as well, each in her own way.

To me, a strong woman is one with a sense of her own identity, who doesn't hide or make herself less in order to be liked.  She doesn't bow down before the world and hope for the best.  She takes active steps to shape her own life into the one she wants.  It's not a one-dimensional trait.  It can be applied in all kinds of ways and it's what makes a heroine inspiring.

Real life doesn't always reward strength.  Sometimes it seems to delight in breaking those who dare to be strong.  Fiction doesn't always reward strength, either.  There are too many stories about strong women who are constantly struggling and fighting, never able to achieve their dreams.  Sometimes these fictional women aren't even allowed to complain.  They're praised for their acceptance and composure in the face of ongoing tragedy.  

This is one of the reasons why I love the romance genre.  No matter how bad the situation gets for the heroine, I know her strength will be rewarded and recognized.  She will not be put in a position where she must sacrifice her strength for her dreams (or if she is, there will be a way where she gets both).  Those are the stories about strong women that I want to read and write.

Previous post: Heroine Fix - Gamora - Fierce but Vulnerable

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Sunday, 14 April 2019

Weekly Update: April 7 to 13

This week, no writing done.  My day job blew up in my face and needed extra hours.

There's been a very interesting (though somewhat discouraging) conversation going on on the Published Author Network chatloop for RWA.  Authors are being honest about the difficulties they're having making a living from their writing.  People with 10, 20, 30 books and over a decade of experience with traditional publishers, small press and indie publishing are sharing that their income doesn't exceed their expenses, let alone give them enough income to let them support themselves.

A number of authors are going back to day jobs, or quitting writing altogether.

No one agrees on what the causes are, people are buying fewer books overall, a glut of free or cheap low quality books, problems with scammers taking over popular platforms, a combination of all or something unknown.

It's been hard to hear as well as providing some comfort to know that far more experienced authors are in the same boat that I am.  But it means there will be some hard choices on the horizon for me.  I may have to concentrate on the small press contracts that I've received in order to build up readership and then come back to my independent series later.  But I really want to finish Division and get it out there.

No decisions yet.  But even if I do end up having to delay book 6, it doesn't mean indefinitely.  Meanwhile, I am very excited about the book I'm releasing for Soul Mate and can't wait to share that one with all of you.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Heroine Fix: Gamora - Fierce But Vulnerable

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

In a few weeks, ten years of Marvel movies will culminate in Avengers: Endgame.  As a comics fan, watching so many amazing characters and stories interweave and unfold has been wonderful.  One of my favourite parts has been being introduced to characters I didn't know before.  I'd never even heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before the film was announced (although I do recall one friend scornfully talking about a raccoon and talking tree combo) but I adored the film when I saw it, particularly its green-skinned lead, Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana.

Marvel has many strong kickass heroines (one of many reasons why I love them).  Gamora falls into the brooding, damaged protagonist character (another of my favourites), one who is seeking redemption but doesn't expect to achieve it.  There are several key moments for her character arc.

In the first Guardians, Gamora is captured and imprisoned among hardened criminals, many of whom are enemies of her putative father, Thanos.  They see her arrival as an opportunity to strike back at him.  We know that Gamora hates Thanos and is actively working against him.  We know that Thanos killed her family and took her from her home planet, raising her as a weapon to do his bidding.  But Gamora doesn't beg for mercy or sympathy.  She walks defiantly in front of those desperate to tear her down and neither flinches nor retreats.  As someone who was bullied, her refusal to bow caught my attention.

In the second Guardians of the Galaxy, Gamora's story takes second place to Quill's but the development of the relationship between Gamora and her sister, Nebula, is one of the more poignant examples of female bonding that I've seen the Marvel films.  Both Gamora and Nebula were stolen by Thanos, who then pitted them against one another in contests of strength and skill.  Gamora won those contests, driven by fear of Thanos and the consequences of failure.  Every time Nebula lost, Thanos replaced a piece of her with a cybernetic part, and now she's almost entirely robotic.  Nebula spends most of the film trying to kill Gamora, accusing her of being selfish for always winning and ensuring Nebula was the one to go under the knife.  The moment when Nebula looks up at Gamora and says "All I wanted was a sister" still makes my breath catch.  In that moment, Gamora does what few heroes have the strength to do, she recognizes that her perception of events wasn't the only one and that Nebula's is just as valid as her own.  The two of them realize that fighting each other only gives the advantage to their true enemy: Thanos.

I would very much love to see a story featuring Gamora and covering the time between Guardians: Volume Two and Avengers: Infinity War because there's a lot of off-screen character growth.  She and Nebula have obviously been working together, she and Quill have begun a romantic relationship, and most importantly, she's much more centered than the previous films.  In the two Guardians films, she's reserved, holding back.  Initially, she doesn't believe she deserves happiness and at some point in the interval, she decides to take a chance.

That makes the events of Infinity War even more difficult to watch.  She begs Quill to kill her rather than allow her to fall into Thanos's hands again.  Saldana's half-choked "You promised!" will tug the heart strings of anyone who still has a heart.  But to me, the true apex of her character arc is the moment when she believes she's killed Thanos.  She hates him.  He ruined her life, killed her family, and forced her into a daily game of survival and torture.  And yet, as she watches him die, she crumples into a ball, overcome with emotional agony.

A male hero would likely be celebrating.  He's saved the world!  Destroyed his oppressor!  But Gamora is grieving.  Thanos may have been a horrible father but he's the only one that she knows.  Often we forget that people who are abused may still truly love the one who abused them (which is one of the crueler facets of abuse).  And that even when they recognize the abuse, they can still feel love even as they do whatever is necessary to stop their abuser.  I would have loved if there had been more time to explore this part of her arc, but even though it is a brief exchange, her tears say it all.  (And for the record, this is also a reason why I have a problem with Thanos sacrificing her as someone that he loves, because while abusers may encourage love in their victims, they themselves do not love them because I believe it is impossible to truly love someone and deliberately harm them.)

I don't know what will happen with Gamora's character in Endgame but I can't wait to find out.  Too often, writers won't allow strong characters to have their moments of vulnerability, particularly if that character is a heroine.  But strength isn't only defined by refusing to bend, it's also defined by doing what is necessary even when that action tears your heart in two.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)
 Books2Read Link: Revelations
If you'd like to read about my own damaged, brooding heroine, Dani, you can pick up Revelations for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Get started with the first book in my fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.
Books 2 Read link: Spirit Sight
If you'd like something shorter and spookier, there are my Spirit Sight short stories, releasing between April 30th and May 14th.  Pre-order them individually or grab them all at once in the collection.

Or if you'd rather just poke around the blog, there's plenty to keep you entertained, like last month's Heroine Fix about Burlesque's trip through the mirror with Tess and Ali.  Or you can read last month's post about ways we can all step back from being part of the problem with racism in today's world.

Or you can find other books to read with my Hidden Diamonds, featuring my fellow romance authors who write strong women, exciting adventures or paranormal thrills.  This month is Tamara Hughes Bewitching The Beast.

Next month, I'll be sharing my admiration of another strong warrior woman, Zoe from Firefly and Serenity.  Join me on May 9th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Weekly Update: March 31 to April 6

I've been working on Division this week but also allowing myself a bit of recharge from the frantic pace of trying to both edit and write for a month.

I can also (and with much gratitude) say that I think I've finally gotten the PDF situation for Spirit Sight sorted out.  Many thank yous to my friend who saved me from having to buy a $250 US program, plus pay to run a Mac simulator.

I still want to have my books in Ingram but I'm now understanding why some authors don't.  It's a lot of work and the platform isn't very flexible.  Initially, I thought having my books on Ingram would be a savings (since they don't charge the same customs and shipping fees that Createspace did) but if I have to spend this much time and money to create each PDF, I'm going to have to do some serious thinking about the cost effectiveness.

(It's a moot situation right now, since Ingram won't accept any of the lalassu books because Amazon still has them on extended distribution.)

Hopefully once this initial fuss is over, things will flow more smoothly with Ingram.  Because I'd much rather be concentrating on creating new stories than wrestling with PDF formatting.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Stepping Away From Being Part of the Problem

There have been a lot of tough discussions over the last few weeks about racism and unconscious bias and the roles they play in our every day lives.  It was prompted by this year's RITA finalists (RITAs are basically the Oscars for romance novels) because once again, the list is almost uniformly white authors.  (There are other issues of discrimination at play as well, but for this post, I'm going to focus on race.)

It's not easy to talk about racism.  When I was a kid, I remember people talking about racism as if it had been eliminated, like measles and polio (both of which are once again destroying lives, but that's another post).  There was an emphasis on moving beyond defining people by skin colour and that would ensure everyone had the same opportunities.

It was a lovely idea, but it was unfortunately wrong.  Because even if a person isn't stereotypically racist (using slurs, physically or verbally attacking, refusing to serve, etc.), they can still be implicitly racist due to unconscious bias (non-Anglo names getting fewer callbacks for job interviews, interpreting expressions as angier/more threatening if the person is black, assuming that a black person did something wrong to prompt a police shooting/arrest/search, etc.)

There are still plenty of people who don't accept unconscious bias and believe it doesn't play a role in people's lives.  They believe that life is inherently fair and equitable and anyone who isn't achieving the desired results simply isn't trying hard enough.  It's a tempting worldview, because the idea that people can genuinely try their best and not succeed due to their skin colour is horrible.  (The experience of it is even worse, just for the record).

Maybe I'm too much of an optimist, but I truly believe that most people don't want to hurt others and want the world to be a more fair and equitable place.  Yet there seems to be a real disconnect in listening to the experiences of people of colour and accepting those experiences as valid.

I'm not a person of colour.  Which means I'm not subjected to daily microaggressions on the basis of my skin colour.  Which means that some people are more likely to listen to me than to an actual person of colour (though I highly encourage those who are concerned about the such matters and who want to help to seek out the voices of people of colour and listen to them).  So I thought I'd share some of the reactions which may seem harmless or even helpful, but which actually play into unconscious bias.  I'm hopeful that people reading this will catch themselves before making such a reaction.

You misinterpreted (insert action/event/results here)

Who wouldn't want to know that the situation isn't as bad as they feared?  The problem wasn't racism, it was a misunderstanding and now everyone can feel better.

Here's the problem with that approach.  With unconscious bias the person acting on that bias usually has another conscious reason for their actions: I was tired, I was feeling edgy that day, I wasn't comfortable with that specific person/incident/event.  So there's always a bunch of ready-made excuses that aren't racism.

Any particular incident can usually be explained away by alternate causes.  It's in the statistical data that unconscious bias becomes overwhelmingly obvious.

It's important to remember that those subjected to these biases face such incidents in every aspect of their lives.  It's everywhere and there's nowhere to go to escape it.  Yet when they bring up an example, it's dismissed.

What "you misinterpreted" boils down to is telling people that their experience isn't valid, that they have overreacted, that they are at fault for trying to fight back against something that causes them pain.

I don't see colour.

I think this one is a bit of generational marker.  It's based in the idea that by refusing to acknowledge skin colour, a person will end up judging only by merit or by individual.

Except that refusing to acknowledge skin colour ends up erasing a significant part of people's experience.  I personally struggle with this one.  I don't like describing skin tone or referring to someone by skin colour.  However, I'm working on it because it prevents me from working on my own unconscious biases.  Taken to an extreme, refusing to acknowledge skin colour puts the person in the position of saying "I know better than you" to people of colour, which is extraordinarily dismissive.

I'm not like that.

On the surface, this can seem like a vote of support.  Bad things are happening but this person is not one of the people doing them.  They don't support racism and aren't one of the bad guys.  Surely those suffering from racism will be happy to see they don't have to worry about this particular individual.

However, it's not quite that simple.  On a very basic level, it derails the conversation into being about the person protesting they aren't a racist instead of focusing on the experience of those targeted by racism.

There's also a tendency to either/or thinking.  If person X isn't a racist, then the things they do must not be racist.  We all like to believe we're good people who treat others fairly, but if we insist our actions are therefore above reproach, we can't learn to do better.  And the only way to maintain this insistence is to tell those who have actually been harmed that they are wrong and that they haven't been hurt.

Don't be angry, be nice.

This one is another tricky one.  There's a grain of truth in it because it is true that when people are directly faced with anger, their ability to retain new information shuts down.  However, seeing others' anger is a more effective way of bringing awareness to an unjust situation than calm discussion of that same situation.  Humans remember things better when their emotions have been brought into play.

This is one of the big areas where people can step up as allies of those affected.  We often have the opportunity to discuss and educate without anger, because we're not the ones being directly affected by racism.

But it's also really important not to tone police when people are hurt.  (For those not familiar with the expression, it refers to invalidating someone's statement because you don't like how it was said while ignoring the actual content.)  This technique is often used by explicit racists to derail conversations and discredit those bringing attention to the issues, which is why its such a sensitive topic.

Here's my take: if a person truly cares about not causing harm to others, then the onus is on them to look past the speaker's anger and focus on the message. 

Separate but equal.

Sadly, this is one that pops up whenever there is complaint about systemic racism.  Teachers are treating black and white students differently, get two different school systems.  Authors of colour aren't winning the award, create a diversity category.

This solution assumes that people of colour are incapable of competing with white people in a fair competition.  And that is in and of itself an implicit bias.

And even if the intention is good, it does nothing to address the implicit bias that is the real issue.  The concept of separate but equal has been disproven for decades and it causes immense harm because at its root, it says that we don't want to associate with you, we don't want you to be part of our organization or community.

A lot of this boils down to a very simple set of conditions:

Does a person believe that systemic racism (both conscious and unconscious) is a fact of modern life?

Do they want to change the impact of systemic racism?

If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then listening is the first and most critical step.  It's not easy and it's a hit to the ego when we recognize ourselves as part of the problem, but it's the only way to make the change.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Weekly Update: March 24-30

I had a good week.  I got my edits done for Soul Mate, which means I can go back to concentrating on Division for the next little bit.

I participated in No Spend Week, a week of protest against the Ontario government's spending cuts.  I'm appalled by how many programs are being slashed and how many people are being left vulnerable.

I've been caught up in discussions about racism and how it has impacted the RITA, which isn't a pleasant topic but one that needed to be brought to light.  It's been a process of recognizing the subtle and not so subtle ways that prejudice creeps into everyday life and trying not to add to it.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Hidden Diamond: Tamara Hughes's Bewitching the Beast and Writing Experiments

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books that 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 have another fellow Soulie for this week's Hidden Diamond, sharing her latest release from Soul Mate PublishingTamara Hughes writes paranormal and historical romance and her Bewitching the Beast is a great story about a hero fighting his own divided nature (and my readers who have picked up my Revelations know how much I enjoy a story about a paranormal entity hidden in a character's subconscious).

In this fast-paced read, Ethan Lockwood hates what he’s become—a slave to a parasitic monster whose victim’s names pepper the obituaries. He’s possessed by The Beast, a dragon who feeds off human spiritual energy. After a year of fighting The Beast’s demands, Ethan is losing the battle. The creature is taking over his mind, body, and soul. When he spies Tess, he can relate to her weary look and the sadness in her eyes, but her aura shines like a beacon, attracting The Beast. Ethan is forced to drain her energy, but for a split second, she subdues the creature inside him, compelling the spirit to slumber. How? Can she somehow free him from The Beast? Ethan chases after her. He can’t afford to let Tess die.

Since her fiancĂ©’s death, Tess Edwards struggles to find new meaning in life. She doesn’t expect that new meaning to involve a sexy photographer who says he’s possessed by an energy-stealing beast. He claims she’s in danger and that he’s the only one who can save her. Great. He’s a nut job—cute, but delusional. She doesn’t believe in dragon spirits and magic, not until she finds her grandmother’s Book of Shadows. She’s descended from witches, and the book warns her of her fate. Although the beast inside Ethan needs her alive, he isn’t the only one of his kind. There’s another, and he wants Tess dead.

Today, Tamara shares the fun she's had doing research for Bewitching the Beast, along with her answers to the Hidden Diamonds author questionnaire, including her writing process and her opinion on cavemen vs. astronauts.

It's All The Little Details

Hi! I’m Tamara Hughes, and I write both historical romances and paranormal romances. My stories are fast-paced and action-packed with lots of humor and love.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about the fun part of research.

Our job as authors is to provide our readers with an experience. Our books need to be written in such a way that the reader can sink into the story and become the characters. And there’s nothing worse than getting really into what’s happening in a novel only to hit a spot that strikes us as so unbelievable it jolts us back to reality. That’s where research is essential.

Historical novels require a lot of research to get an accurate depiction of the relevant time period, but when you think about it, even contemporary stories can bring up questions an author can’t answer.

Take for instance my paranormal romance Bewitching The Beast. In a world of magic and supernatural elements, you’d think I could just make everything up. And largely that’s true, except when it comes to things readers might have experienced or could experience if they wanted to.

I can come up with characters that are possessed by dragon spirits and witches that can perform actual magic, but believability will go out the window if I get a potential real world experience wrong. That’s why, while I was writing Bewitching The Beast, I conducted a little experiment. You see, I had a scene in which the hero and heroine have sex in a bathtub. And no, I didn’t have sex in a bathtub. Hang with me here. During the book, my hero gets into the water-filled tub with his jeans on. He and the heroine start to get hot and heavy, and then he tries to take off his wet jeans. The question – how difficult is it to pull off sopping-wet denim?

Enter my poor, unsuspecting husband. (I guess I could have done this experiment myself, but what fun would that be?) I asked my hubby if he would be willing to go into a tub filled with water with jeans on, and then try to get them off. Surprisingly, he humored me and tried it out. The answer – it was difficult but possible to pull down the denim the several inches it would take to be able to continue the scene.

This book, as with all my books, had many minor situations that I played around with. As I write, I frequently make the same facial expressions as my characters, try out different moves they might make, smell the scents they might encounter, etc.

Which brings me to the next great experiment I tried...

Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to tear off a man’s button-down shirt? This was a question that came up for one of my other paranormal novels (one not available for sale yet). This particular issue caught the interest of my kids, so we investigated this problem together. My kids went to a secondhand store and bought two button-down shirts, then gave the shirt-ripping experiment a go. The first attempt was to rip open a shirt while wearing it yourself, and the second try was someone else attempting to tear the shirt for you.

As you can see, the movies lie. It’s actually a lot harder to pop buttons than you’d think.

The point here is that research is important. And can be really fun. I can’t wait to come across the next experiment I can dive into.

- Tamara Hughes

An Author Interview with Tamara Hughes

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

Probably when I had my husband go into the tub with his jeans on to see if he could pull them off wet.

What is your writing process? 

I try to plot, but I’m a pantser at heart, so it’s not easy for me, and I make lots of changes as I write the book. I usually write at home with very few distractions if possible. Sometimes I listen to music to get the mood of the scene or just to get more focused internally vs. what’s going on around me.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I’m a huge Netflix bingewatcher. Over the last several months, I’ve really gotten into Chinese dramas. I love anything with romance.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

For me, it changes with every show I watch or book I read (if it’s a stellar show/book).

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

I would have to think astronauts would win if for no other reason than their greater intelligence. They can plan attacks and maneuvers that would outsmart the cavemen. Plus, they can do all that weightless!

Thank you, Tamara, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds! (And for the great video!)  For those who want their own copy of Tamara's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here:

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on April 25th for a new Hidden Diamond.

Or take a look at last month's Hidden Diamond: Sally Brandle

Or you can check out last week's blogpost: Making Mistakes

Monday, 25 March 2019

Weekly Update: March 17-23

I've been working hard on edits this week, but I'll admit that it hasn't been as productive as it could have been due to some chaos taking place in the publishing world and in my local politics.

This week, the finalists for the RITA awards were announced.  There are a lot of talented writers included in this year's finalists.  Unfortunately, there are also a lot of talented authors who are not included, specifically authors of colour, disabled authors, and LGBTQ+ authors. 

That makes me really sad.  Last year, there was a lot of discussion about judging bias that prevented authors from finaling with some really amazing books.  The RWA Board of Directors has been working really hard to try and make the contest fairer, but it's disappointing to see that their efforts haven't been sufficient.  (And I know the Board shares my disappointment and dismay.)

It makes me even sadder that there are some members who are dismissing this issue and claiming that it's been exaggerated or even completely fabricated.  I really feel for those members of RWA who are part of these affected groups, who are having to face dismissive and ugly rhetoric.  It's not okay and I've been very proud of the Board and those members who have stood up to those making such remarks.  And even prouder of the ones who have taken the time to educate.

I hope that RWA takes the time and effort needed to make sure that future RITA contests truly represent all members and genuinely present the best of the genre.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Making Mistakes

I'll start by recusing myself.  I was raised as a perfectionist and despite my best efforts to change my thinking, it still bugs the heck out of me to make mistakes.  As part of my efforts to change, I've spent a lot of time thinking about mistakes and what they mean.  But I've also spent a lot of time thinking about how people react to other people's mistakes.

Mistakes are what happen when people take risks.  By definition, we never know what the results will be when we take risks.  It will always be a gamble.  But sometimes risks are the only option for success, because we don't want the results of the safe and predictable paths.

Taking risks is hard when someone has been raised to always be 100 % successful at all endeavors.  It's literally always impossible to always succeed if a person is trying new things.  We should encourage people to try and offer them support when they fail as well as celebrate when they succeed.
Good try on that heist.  Maybe you'll do better in the sequel.

But often people aren't supportive about mistakes.  (And to be clear here, I'm talking about situations where things haven't worked out as hoped or unintended errors, not malicious attempts at harm or deliberate carelessness.)  There can be a lot anger and blame, both of which can be extremely discouraging.  It's hard to take a chance when it feels like failure will always be the only thing that people remember.

I've found myself wondering where the line should be drawn.  Obviously, people should acknowledge their mistakes, particularly if those mistakes have real costs to themselves and others.  But after the mistakes have been acknowledged, then is it reasonable to expect that they will no longer be the first things brought up?  Or should the damage continue to be acknowledged?

I don't have an answer to that.  I guess it all depends on the circumstances.  If those injured don't feel that the harm has been truly recognized, then that's a reason to continue to bring up the mistake.  If there's a concern that the mistake will be repeated, then that's another reason to keep it front and center.

But I think it's also important to recognize a person's attempts to make amends.  Too many reminders can crush their spirits, particularly if they genuinely do recognize their mistakes and want to make them better.

It's not easy for me to acknowledge when I've made mistakes, but I'm getting better at it.  And part of that is recognizing when I need to be gentler with others and when it's necessary to fight to the ground.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Through The Looking Glass with Burlesque

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Monday, 18 March 2019

Weekly Update: March 10 to 16

It's been a busy week.  I worked on a submission, the manuscript for Deadly Potential for Soul Mate Publishing, and got my short stories formatted for print and ebook.

I've also been working on some things for ORWA, my local RWA chapter.  We're starting to put together the workshops for 2020 and I'm managing our April workshop, Finding Your Unique Voice with Stefanie London.

On the home front, it's tax season, which means reconciling all my writing expenses and income and making sure I have all my receipts and other papers.

So yeah, a lot has gone on and it's been busy.  But it's not a bad kind of busy to be.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Heroine Fix: Through The Looking Glass with Tess and Ali of Burlesque

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

Not everyone has seen the movie Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher.  It's full of great song and dance numbers, elaborate costumes and some phenomenal actors (Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, and Kristen Bell, to name a few).  But that's not what has kept me watching it again and again.  What draws me into this movie are the characters of Tess (Cher) and Ali (Christina Aguilera).

Burlesque takes a different path than the typical small-town girl pursues her dreams and finds love stories.  In most of those stories, the Burlesque Lounge Club would be the low point in Ali's story, the thing she needs to be rescued from.  Except in Burlesque, Ali doesn't need to be rescued at all.  She works hard to get onto the stage and she loves it.  She rejects people who tell her that she should be aiming higher than a small club literally buried under the Sunset Strip.  It's one of the rare instances of a female character who never doubts herself, her talent, and what she wants.

Ali leaves her small town in Iowa because she "looked around and there wasn't one person whose life (she) wanted."  When she arrives in Los Angeles, she goes after what she wants with determination.  She tries to get onstage at the Burlesque Lounge but Tess rejects her.  Rather than slinking away, Ali picks up a tray and starts waitressing at the club.  She forces her way onto the stage during an audition in order to claim her space.  When the established star of the show sabotages Ali's performance, Ali seizes the opportunity to show off her vocal talents and earns a place as the new star of the show.  She even rescues Tess by saving her club from foreclosure by arranging for a local business owner to buy the air rights above the club, preventing a developer from demolishing the club and building a skyscraper.  She's an unusually proactive and confident heroine.

Tess is another strong and confident character who has some of the best lines in the movie.  ("I didn't divorce you so I could spend more time with you" makes me laugh every time.)  She handles her ex-husband and the greedy developer with poise and wit.  She gets angry and never hesitates to speak her mind, but also reaches out to Ali and te other dancers to give them support.  She's a beautiful mixture of motherly and fierceness.  She's glamorous and not afraid to be larger than life.

What really strikes me though is the fact that these two women are not placed in opposition to one another but actually support one another.  Positive intergenerational female relationships are unusual in fiction.  The younger woman is usually fighting against the older woman in stories (the evil stepmother, the monster mother-in-law) or older women are simply absent.  Tess challenges Ali but not in a destructive way.  They end up in partnership, working together to achieve both of their happy endings.

When I first saw this movie, I absolutely adored the characters and the Alice Through The Looking Glass motif.  It inspired me to take a chance on my own dreams, stepping away from fan-fiction and writing my first original manuscript.  That story is still buried in my hard-drive but with my second, I decided to take a little more direct inspiration and make my heroine a tough-as-nails burlesque dancer with a heart of gold.  I still listen to the music from the movie on a regular basis and last year, I gave a Basics of Burlesque workshop at Romancing the Capital.

I love stories that embrace confident women and female sexuality rather than punishing them.  And, of course, I adore stories that inspire hope and end with dreams achieved.  Burlesque is and will always be one of my all-time favourite movies and the one I turn to when my spirits sag.  It reminds me that dreaming big is the only way to live.

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

If you'd like to read about Dani, my superpowered burlesque dancer, now you can pick up Revelations for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Get started with fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

If you'd like something shorter and spookier, there's my Spirit Sight Short Stories, releasing between April 30th and May 14th.  Get them one at a time or the whole collection.

Or you can browse through the blog and check out last month's Heroine Fix about the brilliant and irrepressible Charlotte Holmes in Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.  Or you can read last week's blog post about the line between romantic and creepy.  Or if you're looking for other books to read, check out my Hidden Diamonds for romance recommendations with strong women, exciting adventures and paranormal thrills.  This month is Sally Brandle's romantic suspense series set in the Colorado mountains.

Next month, in anticipation of Avengers:Engame, I'll be looking at Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Join me on April 11th for your next Heroine Fix.
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Monday, 11 March 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 24 to March 9

The last two weeks have been very hectic and difficult for me.  I have been making progress on Division but I've fallen behind on my tracking.

The ORWA workshop with Shirley Jump was incredible and got me (and I think a lot of other people) fired up to get back to our keyboards and get writing.  Except there's a limited number of hours in the day and a lot of competing priorities right now.

My dayjob has been deeply affected by the changes announced by the Ontario government.  Families with autism are fighting hard for their children.  The stories are heartbreaking and so I've been putting in a lot of extra time to help them.  

There's also personal stuff which has left me worn down and not feeling very creative.

I also got some disappointing news from Soul Mate that my release date has been pushed back and won't be ready for July.  They've also decided to change the title back to Deadly Potential, which is still a good title but I liked Eyes On Me better.  However, this is part of collaborating with a publisher and I trust them to know what's best.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Line Between Romantic and Creepy

Recently I read a comedy article about the awful relationship advice contained in romantic comedy films.  There were some very valid criticisms about the tropes in such films, such as the coercive implications when a boss pursues an employee, people who fall in love with their stalkers, people who throw over presumably satisfying relationships to pursue the thrill of a chance-met stranger, men remaking women into their dream woman, and the perennial issue that I find particularly challenging, the hero who just "knows" that a woman is into him despite her vocal and frequent protests to the contrary.

A hug or a restraint is all in the experience of the one being held.

A lot of these criticisms can be summed up in one simple issue: what does the object of the character's affection truly want?

The black moment is a standard point in the plot arc.  It's the point when it seems impossible that the characters can be together.  Most romances follow the black moment with the grand gesture, when one character (often the man) does something public and dramatic to demonstrate that he is committed to the relationship more than anything else in his life.  The grand gesture is often the apex of the hero's character arc.  And it's usually one of the most touching and emotional parts of the story.

And yet critics of rom-com films have rightfully pointed out that the grand gesture can often also be interpreted as creepy.  A guy standing on your driveway with a boom box, blocking you from leaving?  Breaking up a wedding to proclaim your love for the bride or the groom?  Grabbing a person to kiss or grope them without any sign of their consent?  In real life, these are behaviours more like to lead to restraining orders instead of true love.

In a film, the hero doesn't know if the heroine is still willing to consider a relationship with him.  That's part of his character development, he's gambling on happiness rather than playing it safe.  However that is exactly the opposite tactic that people should follow in real life.  Because the truth is, unless you ask, you don't know what the other person is thinking and if they are no longer interested in you (or were never interested in you in the first place) then you have crossed a very important social boundary.

When I was researching emotional expression, I came across an interesting interpretation of the purpose of disgust: it's a sign of belonging.  If we are both disgusted by the same things, then our mutual connection to a particular group is reinforced.  And in personal relationships, suspension of disgust is a sign of affection.  It doesn't take much to think of examples.  My personal favourite is French kissing, which sounds like it should be awful (you let someone else stick their tongue in your mouth!) but is actually pleasurable when done with someone you're attracted to.

And that's really the fine line that separates romantic from creepy.  If a gesture or action prompts disgust in it's intended target, then it's horrible.  The action becomes an attempt to dominate or an expression of disrespect.

If the exact same gesture is met with welcome and affection, then it's romantic.  It's an expression of the feelings between the gesturer and the target.

In a film or a story, the writers and the audience know that the target is secretly receptive.  That's the definition of romance after all, that the characters will fall in love and be happy ever after.  There's no chance of disgust.

Real life is trickier.  People might appear to be receptive, but that's due to fear of being able to express their true feelings without repercussions, such as being fired by their boss or hurt/killed by their stalker.  A person forced to completely change their look and demeanor in order to be part of a relationship is being abused, not wooed.  And a guy might want to grab a girl and just kiss her (or vice versa), but if she is not reciprocating then the kiss is an unwelcome assault.

There's often a great deal of discussion about how much art should reflect real life.  And I believe that there is great opportunity within art to create change in how we see things in our everyday world.  In the late eighties, early nineties, romance made a concerted effort to normalize condom use and reframe it from a gesture of distrust into a symbol of protection and caring.  I believe that it is possible to do the same with consent, teaching people to see checking in with a partner as evidence of a true hero or heroine.  Recognizing a potential power imbalance and ensuring that their partner is entirely comfortable with what's occurring is a sign of respect and, indeed, confidence.  A character who doesn't feel the need to rush because they have faith in their partner is a darn seductive romantic lead.

And those are the kinds of stories that I want to read and write.

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