Monday, 29 August 2016

Weekly Update: August 21 to August 27

Weekly word count: 2000

Not my most productive week, but I was on vacation and I finished my manuscript last week (still doing some happy dancing over that one).  I got to take my kids out swimming and to museums and other touristy stuff, so I'm still calling it a good week.

This week, it's back to work.  Aside from the final preparations before school starts, I need to get Inquisition to the editor, my two short stories polished for the anthology submission and Rose on the Grave ready for publication in late September.

I also have to get everything ready for Can-Con and my table and workshops.  It's going to be a lot of fun and it's creeping up fast this year.

Back to the grindstone.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Ink Tips: The Different Types of Editing

Since I'm about to plunge into my third major foray into the editing process, I thought I'd share some suggestions from my own experience.

Anyone will tell you that if you want to be a writer, then you need an editor.  But as a self-published author, it can be a challenge to try and figure out what type of editing service is needed and how much it should cost.  There are editors charging thousands of dollars for what amounts to a run through Microsoft spell check, and there are editors who can help to polish a work until it shines, bringing out nuance the author never knew were there.

First rule of thumb: ask for references and get a sample.  Word spreads fast among the publishing community about the scams and tricksters.  Even if an editor is claiming to be "new" then they often have some background that authors and other editors will know about.  Once an author has some recommendations, then ask the chosen editor for a sample of their editing work.  That will give a good idea of what to expect before you pay for a full manuscript to be edited.

That still leaves plenty of choices to make.  Most private editors will offer both packages and an a la carte option for their services, which can include:

Developmental Editing:

In a developmental edit, the editor looks for potential plot holes, weak characters or world-building.  This is invaluable, particularly for new writers.  I highly recommend it as a way to avoid common errors, author blindspots and improve writing skills.


Fact-checking is just what it sounds like, an editor or several editors will go through a manuscript to look for factual or cultural errors.  The tricky part for this service is making sure that the editor is in fact familiar with the area of history, culture or location that an author is using.  Personally, I prefer to use my research contacts to go over any potentially sensitive issues, since I've already vouched for their knowledge.

Line or Copy Editing:

In a line edit, the editor goes through line by line, looking for inconsistencies, continuity errors, grammar problems, odd phrasing, spelling issues and other potential challenges.  It's a time consuming and detailed process and thus one of the most expensive editing options but to me it is non-negotiable.  If I'm only going to do one type of editing, this is the one.


This is very basic spell and grammar checking, looking for missing or extra punctuation or words.  Usually it's done as a single read through.  I save this kind of check for the end of the editing process and I'll ask several sharp-eyed friends to have a look through.


This is a type of editing that usually happens after the manuscript is ready for publication.  An editor goes through the final ebook to make sure that page breaks are where they are supposed to be, that the links work properly, etc.  I generally handle this myself but it's a time consuming process.

Editing is a lot of work, usually as much or more than the initial writing and unlike writing, it can't be a solitary effort.  But it's worth it, making all the difference in a manuscript that will have readers eagerly waiting for more.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Weekly Update: August 14 to 20

Weekly word count: 12000

It was a very productive week.  Here's the checklist:

Inquisition: Finished!  <happy dance>
First story for anthology: Finished <more happy dancing>
Second story for anthology: 2/3 done <still more happy dancing... cause that's still good>

I even got some extremely good news that the editor has a spot for mid-September, which means I still have a chance to make a February release!  I've also got a mid-September slot with the cover artist, so look for a cover reveal in early October, which should pair nicely with the release for Rose on the Grave.

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself, and I'm giving myself permission to have a quieter week next week for writing.  Instead of writing every afternoon (which is what I have been doing for the last two months), I'm going to take my boys out to do some of the fun summer stuff I've been wanting to do with them.  They both have the week off from camps and the week after that will be back to school blitzing.

I took another look at my 90 day goals, which have 10 days left.  I will not have my Scrivener notes complete, but I will have Rose on the Grave and Inquisition on track.  I think doing the short stories to submit to the anthology instead was the right choice.  I'm not sure I'll try to do another 90 day goal set, at least not right away.

With luck, I can get the two short stories fully polished and ready for submission at the end of next week.  I've got about 1500 words left to go for the second one, which should be doable.  I'm actually quite pleased with both of them.  They both tie into the lalassu universe.  One is an independent story and the other features Vapor.  If the anthology isn't interested, I'll definitely be publishing them independently as a bonus.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Speculative Fiction: Holding Up the Mirror to Reality

I've always preferred stories where reality is an option, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, to the Lord of the Rings, to The X-files, to Babylon 5, to X-men and The Avengers.  I could keep listing pivotal stories for the next several screens.  But there is one common thread among them all: despite being set in alternate realities or times, fantastical worlds or a slightly twisted version of our world, all great speculative fiction explores aspects of our world and culture.  By taking potentially explosive issues out of their real-world context, speculative fiction allows us to look at them without triggering emotional blindness.

Joss Whedon's short-lived television series Firefly explored the issue of sovereignty from the American Civil War.  By removing the issue of slavery from the equation, Whedon could explore the question of whether or not a people have the right to refuse to participate in a more technologically-advanced civilization.  The Browncoats fight for independence, for the right to decide their own fates.  Their Wild West existence is significantly different from the technological wonders of the Alliance and they don't want people in distant and foreign lands to make their rules or take the profit from their efforts.  Many people in the Alliance are surprised at the strength of the resistance, asking why anyone would refuse access to advanced medical knowledge and education and general quality of life.  The character, River, answers "because we meddle... We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right."

Bryan Singer's X2: X-men United (and the other X-men films) uses the mutants as an allegory for the LGBTQ community.  They are persecuted and feared for something they are born with and have no choice about.  The X-men have been used to represent different minority groups over the years, but Singer played with many aspects of what happens when a group is feared and repressed.  When Bobby Drake (Iceman) "comes out" to his family as a mutant, his mother asks "Have you tried not being a mutant?" and is clearly struggling with realizing that her baby boy is part of a group she has feared.  Some of the mutants respond with anger, forming the Brotherhood to overthrow the humans.  Some try to live in peace but are discouraged by constant attacks.  Some try to hide who they are.  On the other side, some people support the mutants, others fear them and others just want them to go away and stop challenging their perceptions of a safe world.

H.G. Wells' The Time Machine was a look at the strata of Victorian society.  As much as the upper level Eloi wanted to pretend that the lower level Morlocks didn't exist, the Eloi were dependent on them for their daily survival.  Wells deliberately drew a parallel with the servants, coal miners, laundresses, rag-men and other people who kept Victorian society rolling while the gentry and nobility amused and isolated themselves.  The problem was that periodically the lower levels rose up against their masters.  In the novel and film, this takes on a cannibalistic turn as the Morlocks hunt and consume the Eloi.  In the book, no matter how horrific, the reader can't help but be left with some sympathy for the Morlocks kept in the darkness.

This is the beauty of speculative fiction.  All fiction takes us outside of our ordinary experiences and exposes us to new ideas, new ways of thinking.  But, to me, there is something different about worlds of fantasy and slight changes to reality.  They can illuminate our blindspots and seduce us into expanding even the most closed minds.  With shiny armour or starships, flashing ray guns or dazzling magic, they invite us along for the fun, while coaxing us to learn at the same time.  The fantasy is the spoonful of sugar we need for the medicine of social change.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Weekly Update: August 7 to 13

Weekly word count: 5100

It's been a little strange going back to only writing part time.  I'm so close to the end of Inquisition and yet it's remaining stubbornly out of reach.  I'm hoping that by next week's update, I'll be able to report a finished manuscript.

This week I received my scores from the PRISM and RITA contests.  (Prism is the contest for the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Romance chapter and the RITA is the main contest for Romance Writers of America.)  Although I didn't final in either of them, my scores were respectably high, which is encouraging.  I got one 9.5 out of 10 for the RITA, which boosted my pride and ego considerably.

Once Inquisition is done, then I'll spend some time working on the short stories I want to submit for the Behind the Mask anthology and getting the final draft polished for Rose on the Grave.  And after that, I have a tough decision to make.

I've been considering having another push at traditional publishing.  But to do that, I need a manuscript that I don't intend to self-publish.  In order to pitch to editors and agents, that needs to be a completed manuscript.  But that would mean delaying writing and publishing book 4 of the lalassu.

It's a tough decision.  Right now, I'm leaning towards giving myself a few months to try and push through a completed manuscript for the first book in a companion series to the lalassu.  But I can't let myself get too distracted from the tasks at hand.  First, complete my obligations, then I can make decisions about what to do next.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Heroine Fix: Taking Baby Out of the Dirty Dancing Corner

1987's Dirty Dancing was a pivotal story for me growing up.  It's why I still bear romantic dreams of spontaneous choreographed dancing and why lip synching love songs to each other seems incredibly sexy.  It defined "summer romance" for me.  I've been looking forward to revisiting it for the Heroine Fix series, but wondered if I would find myself more drawn to Patrick Swayze's Johnny than Jennifer Grey's naive and awkward Baby.

I shouldn't have worried.

Baby is naive and awkward, which is appropriate for someone transitioning from childhood to adulthood.  But she's also determined and brave, doing what's right even at great cost to herself and her pride.  When we first meet her, she's been designated as the family's "Good Girl" and those around her seem to think nothing of giving her orders.  She's rarely actually asked to do anything by her family and society friends.  They assume that she'll comply, from getting luggage to helping with the magic show to doing set design for the end of season show.

But even from the beginning, she's not afraid to stand up for herself.  She tells Neil, the resort owner's son, that she wants to study the economics of developing countries and join the Peace Corps, quite out of the ordinary for a young woman in 1963.  When a staff member makes fun of her, she promptly gives him back his watermelon and begins to walk away.  She dumps a pitcher of water on Robbie's crotch and threatens to have him fired when she discovers that he won't help Penny after getting her pregnant.

Her very awkwardness is endearing, as well as providing hope to all the other awkward young women out there.  I've certainly had my share of "I carried a watermelon" moments in early courtship.  Watching her begin to enjoy herself learning to dance with Johnny and then be humiliated when he walks off brought up a number of unpleasant memories of liking someone and not having them like me back.  When she tries to be friendly to Penny and Johnny, only to have her different status thrown in her face, it reminded me of similar rejections when trying to make friends.

Baby doesn't give up, though.  She's willing to step and and do whatever it takes to help Penny, from getting the money for Penny's abortion from her father to taking her place as Johnny's partner for the Sheldrake Hotel performance.  Despite Johnny's snide comments and terse instruction, she works hard to learn the steps.  When he accuses her of not taking it seriously, of just having fun, Baby lets him have it.  "Yeah, this is fun.  I'm trying to save your ass when I really want to drop you on it."

The blossoming romance between Johnny and Baby is wonderful.  It's great to watch them go from snarking at each other to laughing at their mistakes.  Johnny is genuinely shocked when Baby gets her father to treat Penny after the botched abortion.  "The way he saved her, that was something."  But to Baby, it was never in question.  Penny needed help and Baby could provide it, even though she knew her father would be upset at learning that his money had paid for an abortion.  She goes after Johnny, even though her father had forbidden her.  Her heartfelt confession to Johnny that "I'm scared of what I saw, of what I did, who I am.  But I'm most scared of never feeling this way again, the way I do with you right now."

Baby is the first one to declare her feelings, putting herself in a vulnerable position.  She handles the awkwardness of their first meeting after being together with a surprising level of dignity.  She asks Johnny if he's had many women and doesn't shy away from his answer.  She encourages Johnny to stand up for himself with Neil.  All of these show how brave she is and how unwilling she is to compromise her morals.

When Johnny is fired on suspicion of theft, Baby doesn't hesitate to admit that she slept with him.  Her father withdraws on hearing, shunning her.  Baby confronts him with a powerful speech: I'm sorry I lied to you.  But you lied too.  You said everyone was alike and deserves a fair shake.  But you meant everyone like you.  You told me you wanted me to change the world and make it better, but you meant becoming a lawyer or an economist and marrying someone from Harvard.  I'm not proud of myself but I'm in this family and you can't keep giving me the silent treatment.  If you love me, you have to love all the things about me.  I love you and I'm sorry I let you down.  But you let me down too."

She challenges his expectations of her and the world and won't let him get away with pretending she doesn't exist or that what she's done is somehow so shameful that she deserves to vanish.  She may not claim to be proud, but she isn't ashamed and she treasures her time with Johnny.

Technically Dirty Dancing isn't a romance.  Baby and Johnny don't end up together before the credits roll.  But I like to think that they reconnect after Baby finishes college, when she's a little wiser and he's gained a little more confidence.  That's a story I'd like to see.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Weekly Update: July 31 to August 6

Weekly word count: 13 chapters, wrote over 22k

A very productive week but alas my writing holiday has come to an end.  As of this week, I go back to having to juggle kids and my day job as well as trying to finish Inquisition.   There are approximately 10 chapters left and I no longer have anything prewritten that I can mine to keep things moving at a quick pace.  I'm still setting myself a goal of a chapter a day (around 2500 words).

I also have another temptation, an opportunity to participate in a Behind the Mask Superhero Anthology.  They're looking for short stories in the "real lives" of superheroes, which is right up my alley.  I have some short stories and fan fiction which I think I can adapt, but they need substantial reworking.  If I'm going to submit, then I think I should make sure that my stories are set in the world of the lalassu.

I also have the deadline for Rose on the Grave lingering over my head.  I want to release the story in time for Halloween, which doesn't give a lot of spare time for the rewrites which need to happen on it.

It's going to be a busy summer and fall.  I also have to get ready for Can-Con, which I'm very much looking forward to.   I met a lot of great authors last year and had a great time in the vendor room.  I have to get my promo items together and make sure I have enough books in stock.

Phew, I think I need another vacation.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Finding the Joy To Keep Writing

My day job has a two week summer shutdown which gives me a two week unpaid writing holiday.  (That would be a holiday to write as opposed to a holiday from writing.)

It's given me a bit of perspective.  I've been enjoying writing 5000-7000 words a day and I've found it to be a quite manageable schedule, something that I could easily fit into the hours that my children are at school.  When I finish for the day, I'm eager to get started again tomorrow.  When I get in front of the computer in the morning, it's easy to leap back into the story.

So why isn't it that easy when I'm working my day job?

Obviously, I have less time.  Rather than 6 hours, I only have two and a half (or an hour and three quarters if I need to use that time to have lunch).  But my usual output in that time is 1000 to 1700 words, which isn't proportional.  Even worse, there are a number of days where I end up not being able to write at all.  Sometimes it's because I have to sacrifice a writing day to chores or errands and sometimes it's because my day job spills out past my usual end of day.

But I think there's a more subtle influence at work here and that's the energy drain that comes with a job that I'm good at but don't love.  I don't hate it and I actually quite enjoy my co-workers and a number of our clients, but I can't ignore that I usually finish my work day and I feel drained, not energized.

I can counteract that draining somewhat, by using music to artificially boost my energy levels and get over the inertia, or giving myself a twenty minute break with something energy-boosting so that there's a definitive break between my day job and writing.  But it still forms something of a drag on my productivity.

Over the years, I've discovered a number of things which drain my energy to write rather than boosting it.  There are some old favourite books which I love to read, but which I know will sap my energy.  (Also there are also some books that will send me running to the computer.)  If I don't have new stories (can be movies, television or books), then I find it harder to generate my own work.  There are particular encounters and situations which will drain me.  Watching the news drains me.  

There are always going to be parts of life which drain me.  That's a fact and one which I have to take into account.  But I can also make sure to include plenty of things which I know will boost me.  I have a short list of new shows that I haven't seen waiting on Netflix (including Supernatural, which I'm hoping to get started on in the fall).  I go regularly to the library and try a wide variety of genres so that my mind always feels like it's growing.  I have friends who are like personal caffeine/euphoria IVs, they will always send me away with a buzz (and, more importantly, are always willing to do a quick meet up).

You would think that doing something you love would be its own reward.  But the reality is that the promise of that reward isn't always enough to overcome the inertia of drained energy.  It becomes too easy to sit there and say "I'll do it later" until later becomes never.

Pay attention to what lifts you up and what brings you down.  A car can't run on an empty tank and neither can a writer.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Weekly Update: July 24 to 30

Weekly word count: over 18k

Boo-ya!  An excellent first week of my writing holiday.  I'm about halfway through Inquisition and things are moving along smoothly.  I'm starting to do some thinking about the sequel and what I want to do with it.  I'm also looking nervously at my draft for Rose on the Grave, the next Spirit Sight short story and realizing I need to get working on it as well, but the priority has to be getting Inquisition back on track.

It's been a rather pleasant set up.  I sleep in until about 7:30, spend some time getting chores done and then by 9, I'm on my computer making notes on the chapters I've done the previous day.  I find this is a good refresher and gets my brain back into the same mindset.  At the end of each chapter, I give myself a little 20 minute break, either on Facebook, Twitter or email or watching Lucifer on TV.  I've been able to do about 3 chapters a day and I'm finishing between 4 and 5, which gives me time to relax and reset in the evening.  I could push it through, but experience tells me that if I continue writing past 7, then it starts affecting my sleep, not to mention not giving me any time with my husband and/or children.  So I think this kind of schedule would be a good long term balance.

It's made me wish that I could afford for this to be my full time job.  If I could keep up this kind of pace, then I would be able to put out 2 books a year (depending on how I could fit editing into this).  I feel happy and energized at the end of the day, eager to get back to the story the next day.  It's going to be really hard to go back to my day job after next week.  But for now, I have another week as a professional writer and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.