Thursday, 20 February 2020

Celebrating Different Voices and Finding The Time To Create

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you've probably noticed that I like posting quotes during the week.

On Mondays, I'll post something about writing, either a morale booster to keep working even when it seems difficult, or insight into famous and successful authors' writing process (#MondayMotivation).  On Tuesdays, I'll post an excerpt from song lyrics celebrating love in all its wondrous and terrifying glory (#TuesdayTunes).  On Wednesdays, I post a line or two from my work in progress (#WIPWednesday).  Thursdays, I pick a quote from a TV show or movie that I enjoy (#ThrowbackThursday).  And Fridays, I chose a quote about being in love, going through life, or finding hope when things are hard (#FridayFeels).

But there's one thing that all of these posts have in common.  I always look for something attributed to a woman (and for the record, I am using the word "woman" in its broadest sense to include anyone who identifies as a woman or female-presenting).  It can be surprisingly hard sometimes.  When I search a subject, I'll often find dozens of quotes by men with only one or two by a woman.

My superpower is continuing to speak when
a man has already said something similar.
I don't think that anyone would argue that history has been dominated by male voices (and only a very small subset of those voices).  But it can be discouraging to see how much our culture is still dominated by masculine opinions and perspectives.

And yet, there are other voices out there.  They're not getting the same time and attention, but they are speaking up in steadily increasing numbers.  Still, they never quite seem to gain the same traction, no matter how passionate, talented, and loud they are.

Last summer, I read a Guardian article by Brigid Schulte about how women are often not able to gain the same stretches of uninterrupted time that their male counterparts can.  Women tend to work around other people's schedules, trying to manage the social labor of making sure everyone feels appreciated and heard.  They still take on a disproportionate share of household chores and are expected to deal with the day to day challenges (like calling the plumber or picking up a new set of pots or any other small errands that seem to add up into massive tasks.)

I'm deliberately not mentioning children and childcare, even though that is also mostly on women's plate, whether they do paid work or not.  Kids will certainly disrupt a schedule and while they can be taught independence, it always seems to fail as soon as the parent has something else they need to do.  However, most of the mothers I know want to care for and nurture their kids (maybe not all the time, but it's usually one of the big reasons they had children in the first place).  That said, most of the mothers I know also greatly appreciate getting time away from their kids to reconnect with their own dreams.

I grew up with the "women can have it all" mantra, which implied that everything was possible if only the woman was organized enough and didn't "waste" her precious time doing something non-productive.

Except women should not be expected to exhaust themselves in order to earn the right to pursue their dreams.

I'm not sure what the solution is.  But I can do a small part by choosing to promote their ideas and words as a reminder that there are a lot of very talented women out there and if their production of amazing art is limited by the other responsibilities they have, then it makes what they do create even more incredible.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Rebel, Spy and Princess - Let's look at Leia

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Monday, 17 February 2020

Weekly Update: Feb 9-15

Weekly word count: 4352
Editing countdown: halfway through first pass, 5 weeks to go

On Monday, I sent off my synopsis and first three chapters of Best Face Forward to Harlequin.  Fingers crossed.  I still have a couple of other options available if they decide they don't like it, but I'm hoping they do.

With the rotating strikes for elementary teachers in Ontario, my youngest ended up with only two days of school last week, and three this week.  I support the teachers and respect them for standing up to the devastating cuts that the provincial government is trying to push through.  But it has made for slower than usual progress.

Last week, I drew the Lovers, the King of Cups and the Chariot.  Together, they warned of a crucial decision and being pulled in opposite directions by irreconcilable forces.  I think I understand it a little better now.  The people who usually help me with my kids and household are away for the next month.  I am being pulled between making sure my kids have fun experiences, keeping the house habitable, editing Division, writing Until Proven Guilty, and trying to take care of myself.  Trying to do it all is an illusion that guarantees it will all fail.  So I'm having to pick and choose, without letting anything far too fall.

This week, I drew the King of Swords, reversed, for the past.  While the Kings generally represent good news or opportunities, in the reverse position that's not entirely true.  In this position, it usually indicates someone who is trying to manipulate the situation to their own advantage.  For the present, I had the Page of Cups, also reversed.  There are a couple of meanings for this card.  It could indicate problems with a child, or being fooled by an illusion, or being caught in escapism.  For the future, I drew the Four of Swords, which advises rest, meditation and recharging ones own batteries before venturing back into the fray.

Taking time for oneself is almost always good advice.  It's one that often gets left behind in all the other priorities.  And if I'm distracted by wishful thinking while someone is plotting against me, well, I trust myself to deal with that when it comes to light.  Or maybe the escapism is part of the recharging the batteries.  A steady diet of reality can be depressing.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Heroine Fix: Rebel Spy, Princess, and General: Let's Look At Leia

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature where I examine heroines who have inspired and influenced my own writing.  I want to take a closer look at why they've become real to me, despite being fictional.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers, including for The Rise of Skywalker.

It's really hard to overestimate the impact that Star Wars had on me.  I don't even remember watching it originally.  It seemed as if I just always knew the story.  Even today, it surprises me when I find someone who hasn't watched it.  I want to talk about Leia Organa, played by the supremely funny and talented Carrie Fisher, and why it has slowly dawned on me that the entire series should have been done from her point of view.

Luke Skywalker is fine and cool.  Han Solo is entertaining and awesome.  But, in my opinion, Leia outclasses them all.  Let's look at her story.  (I'm only looking at what happens in the films.  I realize there's a lot of other material out there as well, but I'm focusing on the 6 movies with her character.)

Buckle up.  This is going to be a long one, celebrating the awesomeness of our Princess-General.

Episode 4: A New Hope

While Luke is wandering around Tatooine and hanging around Tosche Station looking for the power converters, Leia is representing Alderaan in the Imperial Senate, and being a major player in the underground Rebellion.  She receives the secret plans for the Death Star and is on a mission to recruit Obi Wan Kenobi to assist the Rebellion.

When she is caught by Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, she is defiant.  She puts the plans in R2-D2 and sends him down to Tatooine to find Kenobi.  She fires on the stormtroopers assaulting her ship.  Tarkin confronts her and she snarks back at him without hesitation.  Vader and Tarkin subject her to interrogation but she is too strong willed to surrender the information they seek.  They take the Death Star to Alderaan and threaten to blow the planet if she doesn't tell them where to find the Rebellion.  She meekly tells them "Dantooine" (which is a complete and bold-faced lie, proving that she is one very impressive lady under pressure).  The Empire blows up Alderaan anyway, killing everyone that Leia knows.

I want to take a moment to really examine this moment.  In the movie, the focus is on the evilness of the Empire.  There's no real effort to see Leia's pain.  She's sent back to her interrogation cell to await execution.  I imagine that she must have spent the hours between the destruction of Alderaan and the arrival of the rescue party being devastated.  The reality would have probably taken a long time to sink in.  Humans just aren't equipped to process that scale of loss.  And yet, during those hours, she also found the strength to keep fighting the Empire.

When a random stormtrooper bursts into her cell, she isn't impressed, dismissing him.  When Luke reveals himself, she's cautious.  It isn't until he mentions that he's with Kenobi that she goes with him.  She sees that the rescue is sadly lacking in the "plan" department and takes over, shooting out the garbage chute with cool efficiency.  Inside the garbage dump, she counters Han's impulsive instincts.  Without Leia's decisive action, there is a good chance that none of them would have made it back to the Millennium Falcon.

She is the one that recognizes the Empire allowed them to escape the Death Star.  Although it is not shown, I imagine that she must have argued with Han about going directly back to the Rebellion.  The woman who didn't hesitate to stand toe to toe with Vader and Moff isn't going to balk at confronting a smuggler pilot.  Since Han and Chewie wouldn't have known where to find the Rebellion, she must have eventually told them.  I find myself wondering why.

My theory is that this is a sign of Leia's trauma in this film.  She makes a reckless atypical decision because she needs to get back to the only family she has left: the Rebellion.  The Rebel forces are the only chance she has at avenging her planet's destruction.  So she ignores her instincts and ends up leading the Death Star to the Rebel base on Yavin 4.

During the journey, she takes the time to comfort Luke over the death of Kenobi.  Many people have pointed out that no one seems to even realize that Leia herself would need comfort.  However, I choose to see that as a moment of showing who Leia truly is.  Even though she is in pain, she still reaches out to others.  She is kind and loving, as well as being strong and determined.  She doesn't lose sight of either the big or small scale.

She is curiously absent from the battle.  Again, I would guess that she could well have gone into shock when the Death Star appeared.  I like to think that someone finally realized what she was going through and took care of her.  The next we see of her is when Luke hugs her in celebration at successfully blowing up the Death Star.

At the end of the movie, Leia presides over the medal ceremony in which Luke and Han are awarded medals for their role in the battle of Yavin 4.  (They should have also given one to Chewie.  That's a fact but aside from the point here.)  She takes on the ceremonial role, one she likely did many times as a princess of Alderaan.  She recognizes that the Rebellion cannot survive if all they do is fight.  They need to have moments and symbols of victory or else they would get burned out.  That recognition is what makes her a valuable and potent leader.  Again, I would have liked to have known if she had any moments of doubt about continuing and what got her through them.

Luke is the newcomer to the struggle, which allows him to serve as a stand-in for the audience and have things explained to him.  However, it also would have been narratively possible to explain things from Leia's point of view as someone who suffers incomprehensible personal loss at the hands of the Empire and who chooses to fight back.  Not making her the main character and focus of the series was a choice.

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Empire starts with the rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth.  Leia is clearly a leader, managing hundreds of people.  She and Han are obviously at odds.  He taunts her when she tries to recruit him, saying that she only wants him around because he knows she has feelings for him.  I find it interesting that Han is so clearly intimidated by Leia.  He can be respectful with everyone else, but not with her.  His accusations are classic psychological projection, assuming that she feels the way he does.  He unsettles her because he doesn't fit into her expected categories. He's a good guy, but not a hero.  He's a rogue, but has honor.  But even though he is a major pain, she recognizes his good qualities and value to the Rebellion.

I can't talk about Leia's character arc without mentioning the retro-conned incestuous kiss between her and Luke.  Even in the story, it's a clear moment of defiance against Han's pestering (made evident by the way she glares at him as soon as the kiss is done).  And it works!  We can see that Han is thrown completely off his stride by the gesture.

But what I would have liked to see is what was going on with Leia in that moment.  She has taken refuge in the practical.  She's not allowing herself to feel.  I think that's the other reason why Han unsettles her so much.  He's always going on about her feelings, refusing to see her as the leader she is.  It has to have been a confusing and difficult time for her and she doesn't quite seem to know how to handle it.

When the Empire attacks, she manages the evacuation, staying to make sure everyone gets out.  Her escape is cut off, forcing her to flee with Han on the Falcon.  I'm sure it was the last thing she wanted, to be trapped on a small spaceship with the one guy she's been trying to avoid.  Which brings us to the next most controversial moment with Leia and Han, their first kiss.

There's no denying that Han's actions are predatory.  He traps her against the bulkhead, refusing to release her hand when she asks, and insists he knows what she's thinking despite her protests to the contrary.  She slips away as soon as C3P0 distracts him.

Most women have experienced the emotional challenge of having to come to terms with a guy that she likes pushing things too far.  It's confusing and hurtful, often leading to a lack of confidence and questioning oneself.  We never see Leia go through this process, and it would have been a powerful moment for her character.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but when the Falcon lands in Cloud City, Leia's body language is nervous.  She seems to avoid Han's touch while also trying to not look like she's avoiding it.  She is the one who suspects that Lando isn't the ally he claims to be, a concern that Han brushes aside, only to be proven right when Darth Vader shows up at the dinner table.

Once again, she is strangely passive once captured by the Empire.  Or perhaps not that strangely at all, given that the last time she openly defied them, an entire planet paid the price.  But even though she doesn't take direct action, she is watching closely, waiting for an opportunity.

The moment where she breaks free from the stormtroopers to tell Han that she loves him is still a moment that tugs on my heartstrings.  She doesn't quite seem sure about what she feels, but she needs to say it in case this is the last opportunity.  His "I know" in reply leaves her uncertain but also seems to shock her into action.

She resumes her role as leader, guiding Chewie and the droids to escape.  When they run into Lando, it's Leia's decision whether or not to trust him or let Chewie kill him.  The escape is also the first glimmer of Leia being able to use the Force.  She is the one who realizes that Luke is dangling from the antenna and needs them to rescue him.

The movie ends with Leia's determination to fight being renewed.  Unlike the frantic undertone of the initial scenes on Hoth, she moves with calm purpose.  She's become an irresistible force, ready to sweep aside the Empire and rescue Han.

Episode 6: Return of the Jedi

Return is my favourite of the original trilogy, perhaps because it was the one I had a bootleg VHS copy of and thus watched over and over.  It begins with the classic Wookie Gambit, pretending to capture Chewie in order to gain access to Jabba the Hutt's palace.  The bounty hunter uses a thermal detonator to successfully negotiate with Jabba.  In the background, we see Lando Calrissian, undercover as one of Jabba's gang.  Then the bounty hunter thaws Han from the carbonite and reveals herself to be Leia.

As a kid, I loved that reveal.  She had obviously set up a whole plan to rescue Han, getting Lando in place and then pretending to deliver Chewie to Jabba.  I thought she was so badass for threatening to blow everyone up if she didn't get the price she wanted, even though she'd already gotten what she needed.

Of course, it doesn't go well.  It turns out that Jabba knew about the rescue and captures Han and Leia.  This is to set up the plot of having them rescued by Luke, but I want to take a moment to explore what Leia must have gone through in these moments.

As a kid, I was grossed out by Jabba licking Leia's face with his slimy tongue, but didn't really think about what happened beyond that.  As an adult, the sequence takes on a horrifying implication, one further solidified by the fact that when we next see Leia, she is wearing the infamous gold bikini and a chain collar.  It's never covered explicitly, but I find it hard to believe that the extent of Jabba's actions are a leer and dressing her in a highly sexualized outfit.

Leia never mentions being assaulted, which is in keeping with how she often keeps her pain to herself.  (Incidentally, I think this stoicism is because Lucas treated her pain as a plot device, never really seeing it as affecting her as a person or character.)  However, if we assume that being private about her trauma is actually a facet of who she is, then it adds extra weight to the few times she does allow herself to react.  When she strangles Jabba with the chains he put on her, I choose to believe that is her moment of striking back for what he'd done to her.  She blows up the ship, even though it's not strictly necessary for the escape, because she wants to burn the location of her humiliation to the ground.

We don't know what happened between the flight from Jabba's palace and the meeting with Mon Mothma to plan to destroy the second Death Star.  Leia is cheerful at the briefing, whispering sardonic comments to Han and gleefully volunteering to be part of the mission to bring down the shield protecting the incomplete planet killer.  She seems unusually free, as if a weight has been removed from her.  Maybe it's because she finally had a chance to fight back against one of the many injustices done to her.

She is separated from the others on the forest moon of Endor, after chasing down a set of scouting stormtroopers on speeder bikes.  She makes contact with the Ewoks, in a scene that I think really shows Leia's true nature.  She recognizes Wicket's nervousness and takes the time to reassure him.

Contrast that with Han's bluster and Luke's panic when they're caught in an Ewok net.  I can't help but think that the reason why Han and Luke end up as potential dinner while Leia is welcomed into the tribe is because she treated the Ewoks as equals from the beginning.

During the night, as they prepare to attack the shield generator in the morning, Luke takes Leia aside and asks her what she remembers of her mother.  This request has to seem weird and out of place.  Other military specialists would have shut him down, telling him to concentrate on the mission.  Leia tells him what she remembers, even though it isn't much and frankly is none of his business (at least from her perspective at this point).  He then drops the bombshell on her, that she is his sister and Darth Vader is their father.

Leia handles the revelation far more calmly than Luke does at the end of Empire.  She accepts it and immediately focuses on protecting Luke, urging him to leave so that Vader cannot sense him.  Luke tells her that he wants to redeem Vader and bring him back to the light.

I can only imagine what happens in Leia's head at that moment.  Back to the light?  Dude tortured me and blew up my planet.  He's personally killed thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people, including the children at the Jedi temple.  And you want to give him a chance to hurt even more of us?  If anyone has a right to protest Vader's redemption arc, it would be Leia.

But she doesn't.  It's important for Luke to try and thus she supports him, even at a cost to herself and the Rebellion as a whole.

Han confronts her a few moments later, accusing her of favouring Luke over him.  She deflects his anger, eventually telling him what she's just learned.  That she and Luke are twins and Han doesn't need to feel jealous.

It marks a turning point in their relationship.  She is confident and knows what she wants from Han.  He can't unsettle her any longer because she's found peace in herself.  His bluster and attitude become cute instead of irritating.  When she flips the infamous "I love you"/"I know" response on him in front of the blast doors of the shield generator, it's playful.  There's no sense of the desperation from Empire's moment.

That's pretty much the end of Leia's arc for the original trilogy.  She has a few more scenes but they're basically solely plot driven.  The focus is on Luke and his final confrontation with the Emperor and Vader.

No one ever asked Leia if she had second thoughts about killing Vader once she learned that he was her father.  Or if she had any emotional reaction to his death.  Vader sacrificed himself to protect Luke but was willing to kill her without hesitation.  That has to have been difficult to come to terms with.

Leia undergoes as much of a hero arc as Luke, but isn't given the narrative time to react emotionally.  We have to guess at what she's experiencing, using the subtle cues in Fisher's superb performance.

Unfortunately, this is a pattern that continues into the sequel trilogy.

Between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens

We know what must have happened between these two movies.

- Leia begins her Jedi training with Luke.
- She marries Han and has a son with him
- Her son goes to the Dark Side of the Force
- Leia quits the Republic's Senate and goes back to her Rebellion roots, resisting the rise of the First Order
- Han takes off and starts gallivanting around the galaxy with Chewie again

Despite all of this heartache, Leia continues to fight.  Unlike her brother, who goes on permanent Jedi retreat, she digs down and keeps going.  When we first see her in The Force Awakens, she is clearly weary but determined.  She comes to Han's rescue (based on their dialogue and body language, I'd guess it wasn't the first time she'd done it) and organizes the assault on Starkiller base.

The biggest POV injustice is that other than a brief glance, we don't see Leia having to cope with the knowledge that her son kills the love of her life.  Even though she must have been horribly devastated, once again, she pulls it together to offer comfort to someone else, in this case, Rey.

The movie where Leia comes the closest to coming into her own was The Last Jedi.  She gets blasted into space and brings herself back to the ship.  She keeps a close rein on Poe, trying to temper his impulsive instincts toward the grand gesture.  When they're trapped in the crystal caves on Crait, she holds firm to her courage, knowing the others are watching her.

There's a beautiful moment where Luke and Leia talk.  Based on her expression, I think she knows that he's saying goodbye to her.  One more person from her past is gone, and Leia still finds the courage to keep going.

It's no secret that the original plan was for Rise of Skywalker to focus on Leia's goodbye to the franchise.  Unfortunately, Carrie Fisher passed away, forcing the narrative hand.

I think that the original idea was for Leia to be the one who talks Kylo Ren back to the Light on the crashed Death Star.  She would have shown Rey and Kylo that fighting each other isn't what the Force wants.  (Though, full disclosure, I am not a Reylo fan.  The two of them have a brother-sister vibe in my opinion.)

I loved the scenes of Leia training Rey, teaching her to connect to the Jedi of old.  That's the powerful message of the sequel trilogy for me, that we are more powerful when we connect than when we seek to tear each other apart or keep one another down.  Whenever the characters work together, things go much better than when they are fighting each other.

Leia was a Jedi who mastered love, compassion, and protecting those under her care.  She suffered huge, devastating losses, probably more than anyone else in the series.  And she never gave in to darkness or despair.  From what we see, she was never even tempted by the Dark Side.  That makes her a fascinating character to me and one of my favourite Heroine Fixes.

Previous post: Reclaiming My HEA: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Previous Heroine Fix: Bluffing with Molly Bloom, looking at the differences between the book and movie for Molly's Game.

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Contest and Kindle Deal!

It's almost Valentine's Day and I've got great news to share!

First, I'm part of a massive romance giveaway.  The grand prize is a High Def Kindle Fire and more than 50 romance novels covering every genre, trope, and heat level.  I guarantee you'll be able to find some new favourites in the selection.  Two other entries will get Amazon gift cards.

For every author from the giveaway that you follow on Bookbub, you get an entry in the contest.

And I've also got a Kindle Deal running on Amazon, so you can pick up my latest romantic suspense release, Deadly Potential for just 99 cents!  Don't miss it!

How can anyone stop a killer who can make everyone forget he's in a room?  That's Investigator Ben Morgan's job, but he didn't count on falling in love with the supremely confident and competent Katie Ballard, who is far too busy managing a global concert tour to let a killer throw her off her game.  Ben will need all of his skills to keep Katie alive.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Weekly Update: Feb 2 to 8 (updated RWA statement)

Weekly word count: 3 314

I've been mostly working on edits for Division this week, but there's still some progress for Until Proven Guilty.  My next deadline is the end of March, when I need to have Division ready for the line editing process.

I've also been reading and listening to the accounts of those who have left RWA in the last month.  A lot of them are people and authors whom I greatly respect and the stories they're sharing are troubling.  Attempts to raise awareness of the diverse origins of RWA and the romance genre blocked.  Constantly having to cover the same points over and over again: that white privilege does not mean white people have not struggled (only that they have not faced an additional barrier based on the colour of their skin), that complaints which focus on a speaker not being nice instead of the substance of their words are tone policing, that authors of colour or disability or LGBTQIA+ should not be placed in separate but equal categories for awards and that there are many talented authors who are not getting fairly judged because they or their characters are marginalized.

It sounds exhausting and greatly underscores the fact that many of those who have left have spent a lot of time and effort trying to fix a system that has resisted them at every turn.  So I can understand the choice of saying "That's it, I'm done" and I respect that.  I believe that if they had believed there was any chance of improvement, these individuals would still be in the trenches.

I am choosing to stay in RWA for now, despite the fact that I am deeply troubled by what I'm hearing.  The main reason that I am staying is that I want to hear the audit results.  I'm no longer particularly hopeful that RWA will be able to continue as a trade organization and advocacy group.

Part of me wants to believe that the resistance is pure backlash, the last dying gasp of institutional racism and a small number of bigots who know they are on shaky ground and about to fall.  However, it's hard to believe that in a world where spewers of hate get elected and are praised for their attacks on minority groups.  Realizing just how deep the hatred goes is very unsettling for me and makes me feel very small and vulnerable.  (And I'm not the main target, so I imagine it is much worse for those who are visible minorities.)

I do not and will not support institutions that protect and support hatred and exclusion.

Moving on to better news, we had Kerri Buckley from Carina Press speak to ORWA this weekend and I had the chance to pitch Best Face Forward to her.  It wasn't what she was looking for but she asked for a synopsis and three chapters to send to Harlequin Special Edition.

I did a Tarot draw before leaving to pitch and I drew the Knight of Coins, which is a card indicating slow and steady progress and an incipient breakthrough.  Fingers crossed it turns out to be prophetic.

Last week's draw was the five of cups (loss and grief), the five of coins (poverty) and the six of swords (brighter days ahead).  It was an expensive week paying for my son's braces and my other son's summer camps.  But not enough to shove us into the poor house.

This week's draw pulled the Lovers for the past.  The Lovers indicates a significant decision was made, one with major implications.  Next was the King of Cups for the present, which usually indicates someone who gives emotionally important and relevant advice.  The future was the the Chariot, suggesting a difficult time dealing with opposing forces and a struggle to maintain balance.

Two major Arcana in one draw suggests it's going to be a memorable or significant week.  Guess we'll find out.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature talking about my progress through my separation and divorce.

The holidays were challenging for me.  Maybe it was just the usual family-oriented stress but I found myself dealing with a fair amount of depression.

I want to believe that great things are ahead for me.  That all of the hard work I've done to reclaim this part of my life will let me move forward into a happier, more connected life.  But I've spent a long time trying to manage my expectations and shrinking my dreams to fit into what I thought was possible.

At a deep level, in order to keep going, I had to convince myself that it wasn't possible for things to be better.  That real life meant compromise and settling.

Maybe having to break those reduced expectations is what triggered the anxiety and depression.  Humans do better when things are predictable.  Even if what they're predicting is absolutely horrible, it's easier to manage awful known catastrophes than dealing with uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next.

I don't know what will happen next.  Maybe I will find myself alone and I'll need to find a way to be okay with that.  Maybe I will find someone who makes me happy, and maybe it will work out and maybe it won't.  I can't know unless I try.

Trying is scary.  It means opening myself up to rejection, and a particularly personal rejection at that.  So it's okay if I take my time.  I don't need to rush and push myself into more stress than I can handle.

Because no matter what happens in the future, I need to take care of myself.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Is Everyone Else Right When They Say They Wouldn't Date Again?

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: Reluctant Royals from Alyssa Cole

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Monday, 3 February 2020

Weekly Update: January 26 to Feb 1

Weekly word count: 10 816 (9489 of which were from Sunday and Monday of my writing long weekend.)

Some good progress on Until Proven Guilty.  I'm halfway/two-thirds through my storyline and the beginning is still relatively stable, so I haven't had to go back and bulk rewrite.  Usually I have to do one major pruning for each third of the book.  I'll still have to do it because I've yet to have a book where I didn't, but I'm pleased with what I've done.  With a little luck and persistence, I might have the draft ready for polishing in another couple of months.

I got my developmental edits back for Division.  Lots of good suggestions and the editor liked my sense of humor, which is always a big whew.  One of the big challenges is weaving in enough backstory that new readers can get what's happening while not boring those who started with book one of the series.

And I'm working on my pitch and polish for Best Face Forward.  I'll have a chance to chat with an editor from Carina next weekend, so hopefully, she'll find the concept interesting enough to take a closer look at.

It's a lot to try and juggle, but I know what I can and can't do.  As much as I've enjoyed being an indie author, I need to start having someone to share the costs of producing a book.  A girl can also dream of help with promotion, but that's a bit of a pipe dream for genre fiction these days.

Last week's Tarot reading was the Devil (restrictions), the four of wands (refuge), and the seven of wands (stand your ground).  I've been holding firm on a number of fronts and despite a bout of self-doubt and pessimistic thinking, I continue to do so.  

This week's reading drew the five of cups for the past, which usually symbolizes deep and painful loss, sometimes depression.  For the present, I drew the five of coins, which indicates a lack of resources, usually being deprived of home and money.  Those two are not a great combination, but are probably accurate enough.  I've struggled with depression for my entire life and it's been difficult over this last week and month.  And although I work very hard at both writing and my day job, the truth is that I don't make enough money to support my family with either, if I was solely responsible.  But for the future, I drew the six of swords, which predicts long-awaited movement and brighter days ahead.

Fingers crossed that last one comes true.  Or maybe not, since that makes it hard to type.  :)

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Hidden Diamond: Royal Gems from Alyssa Cole

There are so many books out there that it can be hard for readers to find the books they would love to read.  For the last year and a half, I've been featuring many of my fellow romance authors from ORWA, Romancing the Capital, and Soul Mate Publishing.  With what's been happening with RWA this year, I've decided to do something different for 2020.

I want to share some of the amazing books that I've read by diverse authors, that feature diverse characters.  I'm beginning with one of my favourite reads from 2019: Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series.  She's an award-winning author who is certainly not hidden by any measure.  However, I love her writing and thought her books would be perfect to get 2020 started.

One of my favourite ways to discover new authors is to pick up books at random from my local library.  That's how I found Alyssa Cole's A Princess In Theory.  The concept fascinated me.  We've all seen the spam emails claiming to come from exiled princes who just need a little help from us, but what if one of those emails was the truth?  I discovered a delightful romantic comedy with a determined, intelligent heroine (Naledi) and a genuine prince for a hero (Thabiso).  If you like mistaken identity, arranged marriage, and friends to lovers books, then this is a great one.

Naledi is a grad student in New York.  She's always had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.  When she gets an email claiming that she is the missing betrothed of Prince Thabiso of Thesolo, she dismisses it.  But it turns out to be quite real, and Thabiso gets the fairy tale started by coming to New York to find out why the woman he's been pledged to marry since they were both infants.  Instead, he finds himself assuming the role of her neighbour, living the ordinary life that has been out of his reach.  The two of them begin to fall in love, but it's all jeopardized when she realizes that he's been lying to her.

It turns out that Thabiso can help Naledi find many of the answers which were lost when her parents were killed and she was put into the foster system.  She connects with her family's history and culture, creating the sense of belonging she's been searching for.

Once I read it, I knew I would never be satisfied with a single reading, so I bought it and the rest of the series.  Alyssa Cole has a real talent for creating characters that not only feel real, but that make the reader wish they could go hang out with them.  (Or maybe that's just me.)  She also created a beautiful and rich culture for her fictional African country of Thesolo.

A Duke By Default gives us Portia, the heroine I most identified with.  She's smart, but that somehow never quite seems to translate into getting things right.  But she's determined to find her niche and prove herself.  She moves to Scotland to become an apprentice swordmaker, under the tutelage of Tavish McKenzie.  It's a scattered to success, enemies (to friends) to lovers story with a hot Scotsman who discovers he may be a Duke (and wants nothing to do with it). tes

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is a lovely opposites attract, second-chance romance between Likotsi and Fabiola.  Likotsi is practical, organized and elegant while Fabiola is more free-spirited and impulsive.

A Prince On Paper is my favourite in the series because it deals with a topic that is near and dear to my heart, how we only know a small part of people's stories.  Sometimes what we see is a facade designed to protect and we never know what's in someone's history.  Playboy Johan and shy wallflower Nya have a wonderful fake romance that blossoms into something quite real.

If you're looking for modern fairytales that are sweet, sexy and full of clever dialogue and fascinating characters, then this is a wonderful series that I can't recommend enough.

Previous Hidden Diamond: Getting Steamy with Barbara Russell's Steampunk Romance

Previous Blog Post: Cavemen vs Astronauts: My previous Hidden Diamonds share their opinion on this tongue-in-cheek debate.

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Monday, 27 January 2020

Weekly Update and Tarot: January 19 to 25

Weekly word count: 12 204

Boom.  <mic drop>

Of course, 9516 of those words were written on Friday and Saturday, during my mini writer's retreat, a.k.a. me cashing in my points for a 4 day weekend at a hotel.

I try to do 2-3 writing retreats every year because they make a huge difference in my productivity.  Without the distractions of life (family and paid work), it turns out that I can be amazingly productive in writing.  I wouldn't want to choose to live without my family and I rather like being able to pay my mortgage and buy groceries, so I don't think I'll be saying good-bye to the day job any time soon (plus, I actually like my coworkers and my office).  But it would be pretty cool if I could devote 6 hours a day to writing most weekdays.

I think sometimes parents (especially moms) are put in a difficult position.  There can be a lot of judgment and there's an expectation that the role of parent supersedes any personal dreams or goals.  I actually agree with that.  I think that if someone chooses to be a parent, then that is a verb, not a noun and they need to consider their children as well as themselves.  (This doesn't mean giving everything up for them, or sticking with conventional gender roles.)  However, I don't agree that expressing a desire to fulfill a personal dream is the same as saying that a parent wishes they hadn't had children or that their children are holding them back.  It's expressing a part of themselves that is separate from their obligations to their family.

Someone can be both grateful for having children in their lives and express wistful wishes about paths not taken.  They can love their kids and still need time away.

Going home after a writing retreat is like being plunged back in the deep end of the pool.  There's no bottom and the work to stay afloat begins immediately.  I can get used to it and find time to carve out for myself, but it's not the same as lounging in the shallows and enjoying the sun.  (I may need to take a vacation somewhere warm to counteract the Canadian winter.)

Last week's Tarot cards were the page of Coins, reversed (missed clause), the five of wands reversed (setbacks), and the Fool reversed (unprepared).  Thus far, no overlooked paragraphs in legal documents have come forward to trip me up (knocking on wood because I'm superstitious that way).  Maybe I'll find out later, but for now, I'll hope that I avoided unpleasantness by being careful.  Frankly, it's always good advice to make sure you truly understand the implications of any contract that you sign.

This week's past card was a major arcana, the Devil.  It's usually depicted as a treasure anchored in place with people trying to haul it to an exit.  If they let go, they could walk away at any time and be free, but because the insist on holding on, they are trapped.  (I've seen decks where this card was depicted as an anchor, which I think might be more symbolically appropriate.)  The present card is the four of wands, a time of refuge and recharging.  The four wands hold up the corners of a structure, providing safety and sanctuary for those within.  The future card is the seven of wands, usually showing someone defending the high ground against attack.  The message is to stand firm, that while the individual is under siege, they actually hold the advantage.

So I have one card telling me to let go and one telling me to stand my ground, with a pause in between.  More accurately, they are saying that I have failed to let go when it would have been helpful in the past, but that I should be prepared to defend my position in the future.  That's probably fair, since I have trouble with change and tend to believe I can fix things rather than discarding them.  So I'll be on the lookout for any high ground that I happen to be standing on.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Cavemen vs Astronauts: Join the Debate

One of my favourite parts of the Hidden Diamond interviews is seeing people answer one simple question: Who would win?  Cavemen or astronauts.  (from the long running debate from season 5 of Angel).  It's interesting how many different interpretations come from those 6 words.  Some people assume hand to hand combat, others a conflict of civilizations, some just picked which they considered sexier.  Lots of fun answers from some very talented authors.

I thought it would be fun to do a little recap:

Lucy Farago (Romantic Suspense - August 2018)

I always found this debate interesting. What environment are we sticking them in? I get the whole instinct vs evolved debate, but playing field I think is more important. Put them in the wilds with no unfair advantage, cavemen. I’m with Spike, man has evolved to the point that most people wouldn’t survive a day without assistance.

Carey Decevito (Paranormal Romance - September 2018)

And I just took a trip down the Angel memory lane on this one. (Yes, I’m dating myself, aren’t I?) LOL So who would win? Both have merits really. I mean cavemen are who we were before we evolved both mentally and technologically. Let’s face it…cavemen became astronauts, so wouldn’t both win? Isn’t it in fact a tie in the grand scheme of things

Regardless, if you were to pit both of them against one another, I’d say the guy with the superior intellect (astronaut) would win. They do have the problem resolution skills and aptitude to research a hell of a lot more than cavemen would. Let’s just hope the problem at hand isn’t one too simple however. It seems the more knowledge we have, the more someone of superior intellect will suss out a complicated way to solve a problem when the resolution is so simple.

Rosanna Leo (Contemporary Romance - October 2018)

Uh oh. I don't think I followed this debate but I'll say astronauts. 

Jenn Burke (Paranormal Romance - November 2018)


A.M. Griffin (Paranormal Romance - December 2018)

Cavemen. Cavemen adapt. It’s scientifically proven (hello present day humans). Astronauts, while having smarts, really would be hindered if technology was taken away. Honestly, I don’t think anyone walking Earth today could outsmart a caveman when it came to survival.

Freya Barker (Romantic Suspense - January 2019)

I have to confess, I had to look up Joss Whedon. I am a certified non-geek. LOL. So I’m not sure what the debate is all about, it appears the man had quite a few on a variety of subjects, but when it comes to cavemen or astronauts, my pick would be cavemen, hands down.

Sally Brandle (Romantic Suspense - February 2019)

My off-the-cuff answer would be cavemen. Survival skills never lose their impact, whether you instinctively sense someone’s following you or recognize which berry you can eat.

Tamara Hughes (Paranormal Romance - March 2019)

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!

Eve Langlais (Paranormal Romance - April 2019)

Cavemen! Because they're stronger and meaner with great big clubs (and maybe a pet sabertooth or two, LOLOL. )

Barbara Nolan (Contemporary Romance - May 2019 Double Feature)

I am going to go with cavemen because they know how to live off the land. They know how to hunt and have basic skills of survival. They are nomadic which means they are also adaptable to their surroundings.

Rayanne Haines (Paranormal Romance - May 2019 Double Feature)

I love a good caveman but I have to say, Astronaut, hands down. Those guys and gals are in the prime physical condition of their life, would have access to medication and health care cavemen wouldn’t even know to dream about, and the military brains to back up any tactical operations to win in combat. Sorry Cavemen – you’re out. 

Olivia Dade (Contemporary Romance - June 2019)

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?

Jaycee Jarvis (Fantasy Romance - July 2019)

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

Rhonda Frankhouser (Paranormal Romance - August 2019)

This is a timely debate for me to enter into, especially after my recent research binge of the Ancient Aliens series. I’m easily an astronaut girl. They would be smarter and more cunning. That alone would outdo the primitive sensibility of the caveman. 

Claire Gem (Paranormal Romance - September 2019)

Cavemen. They learned how to survive long before all the fancy technology was invented to help them. I can’t see an astronaut battling with a mastodon and winning.

Jeanine Englert (Historical Romantic Suspense - October 2019)

I vote cavemen, every time. If you can fend off a dinosaur, find your own dinner, and survive the elements, I think you could outdo an astronaut.

Julie K Cohen (Paranormal Romance - November 2019)

Cavemen. In every book you read and movie you watch, inevitably the modern day protagonists (astronauts in this case) drop their fancy guns or suffer from technological ‘glitches’. When that happens, the protagonists are left with just their wit, which is great if they have the time, materials, and know-how to construct what they need (think MacGyver here).  The cavemen, meanwhile, won’t stop to think the situation through. Their animal instincts to survive will probably kick in faster that the astronauts’ ability to think their way out of a fight.  And guess what?  If they do end up in a hand-to-hand combat situation, those cavemen are probably in better shape than the astronauts. Survival of the fittest.

Barbara Russell (Steampunk Romance - December 2019)

Well, I know that Buffy and her friends will have something to say about this, but the answer is obvious. The astronaut. Have you seen the Martian? A guys who can survive on Mars for more than a year can take a caveman. Unless the caveman is like Angel . . .

As for my opinion, I'm holding that in reserve for now.  But I'd love to hear yours in the comments!

Previous post: Growing Up Is Overrated.  People always told me that I'd have to give up the things I was passionate about when I "grew up".  They were wrong.

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Monday, 20 January 2020

Weekly Update: January 12-18

Weekly word count: 2595

Not much to share this week.  The RWA stuff seems to be getting quieter (except for microaggressions/shouting on the published author boards).  They've put out a call to see who is interested in serving as a Board member/President.

I qualify to volunteer as a Board member, but not as President.  But, to be honest, I'm hesitant to put my name in the ring.  I've pulled back from my volunteering at ORWA because I was finding it stressful.  I don't know that I want to jump into the national level, especially given how difficult it's likely to be.

And yet, I feel guilty for not stepping up, because I do care about making changes and making RWA free of discrimination.  If I can, shouldn't I?  I'll have to do some thinking about it.

This week's Tarot reading was the Page of Coins, reversed, for the past, the five of Staffs, reversed, for the present, and The Fool, reversed, for the future.  All reversed cards, which is always somewhat ominous.  The reversed Page of Coins usually points to a missed clause in a contract or bureaucracy, something that has been overlooked but is going to come back and bite those involved.  The reversed five of Staffs suggests a time of setbacks and being overwhelmed.  And in its reversed position, The Fool is not a card of optimistic trust.  Instead it warns of being unprepared.

Doesn't look like a good week for me, but maybe it's just a warning to be cautious going forward.  The missed clause one causes my legal-minded pessimistic brain to go into overdrive.  There are a number of actual contracts that I depend on these days, not to mention the unwritten social contracts that I sometimes mess up on because I'm not good at understanding what's happening in social situations.

Maybe I'll just put my head down and write.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Growing Up Is Overrated

I've just finished watching the documentary Never Surrender, about the fandom around the movie Galaxy Quest and it has reminded me of something very important.

Being able to get excited about something that we care about is the great gift of life.

I can't count the number of times that someone has told me that someday I'm going to have to grow up.  Usually what they mean is that I will need to stop enjoying things that I love.  No more buying action figures.  Or talking for hours about a show or movie.  Or wearing costumes and wigs to pretend to be a character.  These are usually people who say they like who I am, but just want me to be a quieter, more sedate version of myself.  One that doesn't embarrass them with my general lack of coolness.

Groot thinks I'm cool.
And you know what?  I have grown up.  And I have realized that the problem was never my inherent geekiness.  It was a culture that prizes cynicism over enthusiasm.

To that I borrow a line from Adam Savage: I reject your reality and substitute my own.  And my reality is full of amazing, fun things that I am desperately passionate about and enjoy sharing with others.  And then there are other amazing, fun things that other people are passionate about and I want to know about those things, too.  Sometimes I won't end up feeling the same way, but I can be happy for them.  And they can be happy for me and we all end up having a great time.

For me, that is the true strength of geek culture.  It's built on love.  (Which is probably why I feel that geek culture and romance culture fit well together.)

The Villainesses dance troupe
Galaxy Quest struck a powerful chord because at its heart, it's about geek culture.  It's about loving something so much that it becomes real in our minds, even when we know it's fiction.  It's about wanting to share that love with other fans and anyone who was even a little bit involved with the original, be they actors, directors, writers, anything.  It's why I go to Comic Con every year, because even though the cast and crew are often far less enamored of the final product than the fans, there is something magical about getting behind the scenes glimpses. 

The documentary reminded me of how far we've come.  Geeking out about something was shameful for most of my adolescence and adulthood.  We were the punchline of the joke, be it the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons or the guys on The Big Bang Theory.  Now we're too far in the mainstream to be pushed to the side.  But there are still plenty of people who look down on the freaks in their costumes with their collectibles.

Of course, most of those people have their own fandoms.  Maybe it's music, or sports, or gardening, or baking, or science.  But it's something they're passionate about and that brings them joy in their lives.  No one should have to live a passionless life.

My passion happens to include six inch poseable figures, movies and shows full of special effects, and convention centers with thousands of people in costumes.  And I'm okay with that.  Just like I'm okay with my passion for stories that end with dreams coming true.

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