Monday, 28 November 2016

Weekly Update: Nov 20 to 26

Weekly word count: 2000

Editing countdown: All chapters done, 7 days until deadline

First round of edits are done and I think Inquisition is now solid.  Next is the line edit, which will go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and catch any errors.

It will take 3-4 weeks for the line edit to get back to me, which means I should get it back after the holidays.  Which gives me a month to concentrate on the new manuscript, as well as begin serious plotting on Book Four of the Lalassu.

Now comes my least favourite part of the whole book creation process: doing all the incidental writing: back blurb, legal disclaimer, front matter, back matter, etc.  But at least it's offset by also getting to set up ARC reviews and other promotional stuff.  It's nice getting to hear back what people think of the story and I know there are a number of people who have been eagerly awaiting it.  It's almost there.  Promise.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Ink Tip: Creating The Dark Moment

Over the last few weeks, I've been doing a lot of thinking about dark moments.  In a story (book or film), it's the moment where it looks like failure is inevitable, usually right before the big resolution.  The hero or heroine's quest looks impossible, their attempt to create a new life is in shambles and they can't return to their old life, and the couple will never be able to unite.  I'll leave it to you to decide which real world event might have got my thoughts trending in that direction.

Creating a good dark moment is a real challenge for a writer.  It can't seem forced or artificial.  The external and internal conflicts have to both come together to block the goals in a way that feels organic to the reader, but still leaves them clutching the book and frantically turning pages to find out how it ends.

The seeds for a dark moment have to planted in the first few chapters.  The character's fears, insecurities, desires and goals all come into play.  These are what determine the main conflict throughout the story.  To use an example from film, in the movie America's Sweethearts, at the beginning, Julia Robert's character, Kiki, is consumed by her work as her sister's assistant and harbours a schoolgirl crush on her sister's ex-husband, Eddie, played by John Cusack.  She's stuck in believing she's no one special, doomed to always be the bridesmaid.

Eddie is still in love with his ex-wife, Gwen, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.  He wants to cling to the stories they told in their movies, of a perfect pair of soulmates.  He's in a crisis of confidence as a man and an actor, not knowing where to go now that his celluloid-inspired world has vanished.

In the film's dark moment, Gwen tells Eddie that she wants him back, with Kiki in the room.  Kiki is heartbroken, assuming Eddie will chose Gwen over her.  She will go back to being ignored and ordered around.  Eddie doesn't want to tell Gwen the truth and realizes his lies have cost him Kiki's trust.  Externally, the film executives are pushing Gwen and Eddie to reunite in order to generate publicity for their work.

All of those critical choices are set up in the beginning.  We see the executives pushing Gwen and Eddie's personal life as a distraction from their own problems from the first few minutes.  We see Eddie's obsession with Gwen and Kiki's lack of confidence.  So it is believable that Eddie might choose Gwen over Kiki and that Kiki won't fight for their relationship.

Without a good dark moment, the happily ever after feels meaningless.  Even though every genre audience knows that the hero and heroine will succeed and end up together, if the tension isn't built realistically then the payoff isn't satisfying.  True love has to triumph over big obstacles because novels and movies are about bigger than life situations.

So to make sure the dark moment reaches its full potential, a writer should ask the following questions:

- Are both the internal conflict (the character's own prejudices, fears and doubts) and the external conflict (the character's goals or external danger/challenges) involved in coming together?  If the conflicts don't peak simultaneously, the dark moment can become too bleak (if it stretches too long in the plot) or lack power (if it feels like half-measures).

- Have the conflicts (and the characters' reactions to them) been set up realistically throughout the plot?  Does the audience see plenty of opportunities for the characters to display both growth and setbacks?  The dark moment must be tied in to the ongoing tension in order to have an impact.

- Is the dark moment consistent with being a test between the character's greatest fear and their greatest desire?  Choosing between material or professional success and love is a classic trope and it works precisely because it's a big emotional draw which works realistically with either choice.

- Is the character balanced between their new life and their old life?  Both sides should be able to exert equal pressure and an equal lure on the character.  Throwing aside an old life for something new and untested is frightening.  After the dark moment, there should be no doubt that the character is willing to face that fear to have something new.  That's why the rest of the story proceeds quickly after the dark moment.  The character has overcome the obstacles, leaving nothing to block their desires or goals.

These questions can help a writer to avoid the common challenges with the dark moment (it didn't feel real, it was too easy or it came out of left field).  And with the dark moment properly set up, the step into the light will feel all the more satisfying to both the author and the reader.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Weekly Update: Nov 13 to Nov 19

Weekly word count: 2900 words

Editing Countdown: 6 more chapters done, 42 out of 46 total, two weeks to deadline.

I'm really pleased with how the editing is going.  I'm nearly done and I'll have a few days to put it aside before going through and doing the final read-through and polish, which is what I was hoping for.  Now it's time to start thinking about when to set up the pre-order, organizing a cover reveal and talking to bloggers about doing ARCs.

I did get some disappointing news that my short stories weren't accepted for the Behind the Mask, although the submissions people said they'd really enjoyed them and would be interested in any full-length submissions I'd like to send in the future.  That's an encouraging note to concentrate on.

It's going to be nice to get back to writing only for a few weeks, instead of trying to both edit and write.  It's been really interesting doing the research into the music industry and how pop songs are created and what happens on tour.  There's a lot of new terminology to learn and understand, but I like getting into new worlds.

My kids will also appreciate my having some weekends free and I'll be able to do some Christmas preparations.  Maybe I'll even find some time to install the shelf I bought at IKEA over a month ago, which will let me unpack the copies of Revelations and Metamorphosis that I ordered two months ago.  There's a wild thought.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Let's Play With The Language of Love

I'm a word nerd.  I love the English language and how it's like the Blob, continually absorbing more and more from all around it.  I love how it's possible to play with it, inventing words and references.  I admire Shakespeare and Whedon for their ability to sculpt with the language, creating whole new worlds of expression.

Words change and grow over time.  Their meaning can change radically over the centuries so as to become unrecognizable.  One of my favourite scenes in Sleepy Hollow was where, after two and a half centuries, Ichabod complains about linguistic shift, picking on the words awful and intercourse.  Awful used to mean "full of awe" and was used for transcendent experiences.  Intercourse used to refer to any type of interaction, not just the sexual.  Abby looks at him and says "So in the 18th century, if I went out with a guy and we had some awful intercourse, we'd have a second date?"

But those aren't the only words to transform.  I was watching the documentary American Slang and they had a whole section on the language of romance.  The very word romance originally meant "Roman-derived" instead of to do with love and relationships.  It became specialized due to two factors: the fall of Rome and the continual use of Latin as a common language.  French, Spanish and Italian are all derived from Latin roots, they are the "romance" languages.  As the Dark Ages progressed, it became increasingly difficult for the geographical regions of the former Empire to understand each other, unless they used classical Latin, which no one used as an everyday language.  Important works, such as treaties, philosophical and religious works, etc. were done in Latin so they could be universally understood.  Popular tales of history, love and adventure were done in local dialects and eventually became known by the short-hand as romance.  (Which makes romance officially the oldest genre of literature, I believe.)

Ever been called a hussy or a floozy?  (Probably not, since those mostly went out as insults by the fifties, but work with me.)  Hussy is a shortened form of hausfrau, or housewife.  Scholars aren't really sure how it came to have a pejorative sense, but it appears to have been a gradual transformation over several centuries.  Floozy is the shifted "flossie" referring to silk-worm floss (as opposed to sensible wool or cotton) and became a derogative term for people (mostly women) more concerned with fashion than their moral characters.

Most people know that honeymoon comes from the tradition of giving newlywed virgins privacy (a month = moon) and alcohol (mead, a honey based drink) in order to facilitate sexual success and encourage conception.  But did you know that mate is likely a shift from the word meat, and meant someone that you shared meat with?  This is in contrast with your companions, who you shared bread with (com + panis, with bread).  Meat is much more valuable and sharing it signified a deeper and more committed relationship.

I'm a firm believer in the power of words and I believe that Archimedes was wrong.  You don't need a lever to move the world, you only need the right words at the right time.  Playing with words can be incredibly satisfying.  I'd love to do a futuristic slang someday, the way Whedon did for Firefly, but I'm still serving my apprenticeship as a wordsmith.  English is a challenging language, always growing and evolving.  Which is why I love it.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Weekly Update: November 6 to 12

Weekly word count: 3100

Editing countdown: 7 chapters edited this week, 37 total done, 10 to go, 3 weeks to go

I pushed myself a lot this week because I know next week is going to be very busy for me.  There's already one day where I know I won't be able to edit at all and three more where it's going to be a challenge.  I don't want to fall too far behind my deadline but it's nice to have the end in sight.  Also nice that the deeper I get into the manuscript, the fewer changes are necessary.  Mostly I'm having to do minor tweaks and seeing comments of enjoyment from the editor.

I also went through a bit of a confidence crisis for my new manuscript.  When I begin a manuscript, I usually give myself the first ten chapters as a pantser rather than a plotter.  I know roughly where I want to go for my main plot and the romance plot, but discovering the other subplots is the fun part.  This time, about halfway through chapter six, I hit a roadblock and had no idea where I wanted to go next.

I took 3 days to recover and research and get my head back in order.

I went back and I'm rewriting the first chapters with a much stronger setup.  I like where this story is going and it's giving me an opportunity to explore some new territory.  I've done 2 days of writing 1500 words each in a very short period.  To feel the words flow so smoothly is a great feeling.

I've been doing some thinking about the monthly Heroine Fix feature.  I've been paying for Facebook ads to get some publicity for it each month since July and I'm not seeing a big boost in people coming to my blog page.  Originally I planned to try it for six months, which gives me another two months, so perhaps I ought to just keep going and see if the numbers build.  Promotion is not my area of expertise and it's not an intuitive skill for me, so I'm just trying different options to see what works.

That was one message which came through loud and clear in Eve's workshop last week.  No one has a guaranteed path to promotion success anymore.  Any tactic with the slightest success quickly become saturated and useless, leaving authors with the choice of trying to shout in a crowd or try a wide variety of different options and hope to stumble on something new.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Heroine Fix: Lois Lane - Too Stupid To Live or Hidden Depths? (Spoilers)

(Fair warning: this post does have some spoilers for Superman Returns and Batman v Superman.  If that matters to you, bookmark this to read after you've seen them.)

Two things happened recently.  First, I found Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on CraveTV and happily discovered I still enjoyed its kitchy, campy, soap operaish storylines.  Second, I saw an article describing Lois Lane as a Too Stupid To Live heroine.  It got me thinking.  Lois isn’t one of the heroines I aspired to be or wanted to model a character after, but does she really deserve such a condemning title?

I’m not a Superman fan.  (In the DC world, I will be a Bat-girl until the day I die.  Just a fact.)  Like everyone else with even a passing familiarity with the franchise, I’ve rolled my eyes at Lois’s apparent obliviousness. It’s hard to respect a woman who can apparently be completely fooled by eyewear accessories.  And it’s even harder to respect someone whose character only seems to exist to be rescued from increasingly improbable situations.

This panel should be followed by an immediate face palm.
But the more I’ve looked at this character, the more I’ve wondered if she’s gotten a bad rap.  She was designed in the 30’s to create tension.  Since Superman is morally incorruptible, invulnerable and physically superior to anything which might attack him, a vulnerable Lois was necessary to create any kind of suspense in the plot.  The question isn’t whether or not Superman can save her, but will he get to her in time?  Having him continually rescue strangers wouldn’t have created the same drama for the audience.

Despite the narrative limitations on her character, Lois actually has some redeeming qualities.  Especially when we consider the time period that she was created in.  She is independent, not married or looking to get married.  She is a reporter, fighting for stories in what was an entirely male dominated industry.  And she’s a successful, respected reporter, which is actually an Agent Carter-like achievement for the forties, fifties and sixties.

She was actually good at her job... even if she insists on calling herself a girl-reporter.
One of the reasons used to justify the Too Stupid To Live title was Lois’s relentless choices to throw herself in the path of danger.  There’s a valid argument there, but there’s also a valid argument on the other side.  She is ballsy, determined and fearless in the face of danger.  And most importantly, her character was that way before she met Superman.  She threw herself into danger before there was anyone to rescue her, suggesting that she was confident in her ability to rescue herself.  She goes into danger because she doesn’t stand back and allow others to do the work and reap the glory.  I may not agree with how her exploits are written, but they aren’t completely indefensible.

Some incredibly strong and talented actresses have taken up the daunting challenge of playing Lois.  Each has brought some interesting depths to the character.

Margot Kidder: Canadian.  'Nuff said.
Margot Kidder played Lois in Superman I through IV.  As furious as the endings of both Superman I and II made me (time travel rescue and mind-wipe respectively), her character isn't a weak damsel waiting to be rescued.  One sequence which sticks out in my mind is her sneaking into the bottom of an elevator to overhear the men inside.  She's hanging onto the machinery, risking a plummeting death, while her male cohorts are busy shrugging.  She's not doing it to get attention, she's doing it because that's what's needed to get the story before anyone else.

Terry Hatcher: My name is first on the marquis.

Terry Hatcher is probably my favourite Lois, especially since she played the character in the one Superman franchise which I enjoyed: Lois and Clark.  She is relentless when she's pursuing a story, even stealing one from Clark on more than one occasion.  She's determined and independent, not wanting help from anyone.  She's also fiercely protective, defending Superman and Clark when they're in trouble.  

Kate Bosworth: Single Supermom
Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns is probably the Lois I respect the most.  The storyline was an interesting premise: Superman comes back after 5 years away.  From Lois's view, he disappeared without warning or contact.  She's moved on with her life.  She's raising her son on her own.  She won a Pullitzer for a story about why the world doesn't need Superman.  She challenges Superman the most, out of all the Loises.  She's definitely not his cheerleader any longer and doesn't spare him the hard questions.  And we find out that she's protected her son to keep anyone from finding out that he's half-Kryptonian.

Amy Adams: New Lois on the block.
 Amy Adams plays Lois in the latest Superman franchise: Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.  The Too Stupid To Live article focuses on her in particular as during Batman v Superman, Superman has to stop battling the big monster to go rescue Lois.  Granted, that particular narrative moment didn't impress me either.  But it wasn't Lois who annoyed me.  She threw a Kryptonite spear into a watery pit to keep Batman from killing Superman with it.  Since she's well aware of Superman's secret identity and they're romantically involved, that's a justified move.  However, she realizes the spear is necessary to kill the big monster and goes after it, knowing that Superman can't do so without risking death from radiation poisoning. (And he's busy with the aforementioned monster.)  That's helping to save the world.  The writers are the ones who decided to seal up the hole, trapping her with a rising water level so that Superman had to come back and save her.

I would have much preferred her getting the darn thing out and then having a moment with Batman, possibly threatening him before giving him the spear.  That would have been more consistent with the character through the rest of the movie (and she'd already had a couple of damsel in distress moments).

I'm still not a Lois Lane fan, but having spent some time considering the matter, I'm willing to grant her some more respect.  Maybe someday we'll get a Lois who breaks the mold completely and casts off her damsel heritage.  I'd be curious to hear what people think: would that destroy the integrity of the Superman franchise or have we outgrown the need to have Lois exist only to give Superman someone to rescue?

Monday, 7 November 2016

Weekly Update: Oct 30 to Nov 5

Weekly word count: 2100

Editing countdown: 6 chapters this week, total 29 chapters done, 28 days to go

I've gotten the first five chapters done of my new manuscript.  Still no idea for titles.  It's now time to start doing some serious research on the music industry and the process of creating a tour and making a record.

I took Hallowe'en off from editing and writing and we all had a great time.  My two boys enjoyed showing off their costumes to the various neighbours.  Now we know who is a Whovian in our little neck of the woods.

Unfortunately I didn't get to go to the Author's Lounge last week, mainly because I thought it was on Sunday and it was actually on Saturday.  I felt so embarrassed but luckily, there will be another one next month.

I did get to go to the ORWA meeting and it was amazing.  Eve had plenty of good tips and advice.  The biggest challenge with promotion today is that anything effective is quickly swamped by authors, drowning out potential readers.

Next week, plan is to buckle down.  I'm a little bummed out with not being able to participate in NaNoWriMo this month.  It always hits during editing season but I'm rooting for all my friends and fans who are participating.  Keep me posted on your progress!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Never Stop Learning

Recently a friend and I were having a discussion.  She was trying to decide whether to pursue graduate studies when she finished her university degree or start seriously working on getting a job in her chosen field.  It took me back to my own decision on academics or life.

My family places a great deal of respect on academic credentials.  Most of the compliments my sisters and I received as children had to do with how smart we were and how one day we would likely have Masters degrees or possibly Ph.D.s.  I assumed it was an inevitable trajectory.  Elementary school, high school, university, graduate work.

About halfway through my university degree, I started realizing that I wasn't particularly enjoying academic life any more.  I loved going to lectures (and was such a huge nerd that I would go to classes I wasn't registered in) and having educated debates on various issues.  But I didn't enjoy the cramp it put on my creative mind.  I had to give up recreational reading in order to get my class reading done (usually I had reading assignments of about a thousand to fifteen hundred pages per week) and biweekly 5000 word papers took up most of my creative writing energy as well.

It came as a real shock to realize that something I had planned and counted on wasn't what I wanted to do.  I spent a long time wondering if I really didn't like it or simply was dealing with bad classes (One idiot of a professor insisted that Christianity was unique among world religions because it was based on a historical figure... unlike Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, I guess - dude gave me a bad grade when I pointed out the error).  

I started to realize that the halls of academia were not filled with men and women struggling to find higher truths and knowledge to improve humanity's lot in life.  Instead, there were only people.  People with blindspots, prejudices, ambitions and delusions of grandeur.  There were some amazing professors whom I was honoured to learn from, but I began to realize that most of them saw their classes as a waste of time or an opportunity to stroke their own egos.

I began to question whether or not I really wanted to spend the next 6-10 years of my life fighting for a place among them if that wasn't the life I wanted.  The real clincher came in my third year, when talking with a professor I greatly respected.  She asked me what my plans were after graduation and I confessed that I wasn't really sure any more.  She thought for a moment and then told me that she'd be happy to recommend me for a fellowship to pay my way, but that she didn't think I'd be happy pursuing a Masters.  She advised me to head out there and spend a few years paying the bills to purge the academic expectations from my system.  Then I could sit down and figure out what my real vocation was.

I hesitated, pointing out how much I enjoyed certain aspects of university life.  She laughed a little (I was so serious!) and said that she had no doubt that I would keep learning my whole life, that I enjoyed it too much to let it go.  And moreover, she was certain I would be able to keep my mind open, incorporating everything I learned into new and more comprehensive understandings of the world around me.

Since graduation, I like to think I've proved her right.  I seek out new areas of knowledge and I'm starting to grasp how complicated the world can truly be, despite how much we want it to be simple.  So many things are interconnected and interbalanced, it can be hard to figure out how to shift things without sending the entire system into a collapse.  I found my passions in my family and in writing.  I accepted that work is always going to be a 9 to 5 endeavour that gives me the money to pursue what I really want, instead of a stepping stone to a high-powered career.  And I may not be able to afford new semesters at university, but I can always find new books at the library or documentaries to watch to increase my knowledge of the world around me.

To me, the happiness I've carved out for myself is much more valuable than an alphabet soup of letters after my name.  Even if Dr. Lewis does have a nice ring to it.