Monday, 30 January 2017

Weekly Update: January 22 to 28

Weekly word count: 3100

Not quite the 4000 that I'm aiming for, but still an improvement, especially given that it's been a difficult week with a surprise meeting at work and two summonings to see the teacher at my son's school due to a behaviour issue.  The latter is going to take some serious thinking about the best way to handle it and prevent future problems, but at least the school and I are on the same page.

I've been trying to get started on making sure I have everything set up for the conferences I've planned.  I did inventory of my various swag items to see what I have and what I'll need.  And I'm taking advantage of the fact that several of the promotional sites have sales on right now.

One of the things I decided that I needed was a tabletop banner and a large vinyl poster of my book cover.  I've been using a mounted poster sized cover, but it's bulky and difficult to move around.  Something flexible will be much easier to deal with.  And for situations where I don't have a convenient wall to mount the poster, a tabletop banner will help.

One tip I've learned from going to conferences, always make sure to have scissors, Scotch tape and either painter's tape or duct tape.  There is always something which needs to be opened and things which need to be fastened.

I want to pick up a set of tablecloths to use for when the tables aren't covered by the event.  I was hoping to find a set in royal blue, but it's apparently not a common colour.  I'll have to decide whether or not to get one in black and one in white (which would be a nice contrasting setup), two in black, or two in gray.  I think I'll have to go to a store and actually have a look at some combinations rather than shopping online.

And now it's time to go back to work so I can make my word count for next week.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Ink Tip: The Process of Accepting Criticism and Edits

What do you mean?  How can my wondrous, amazing and brilliant work of art possibly contain anything even resembling a flaw?


Oh my god!  They finally figured out I'm a complete fraud who doesn't know what I'm doing.  It's only a matter of time before my story is revealed as the garbage I was always afraid it was.

When receiving criticism, chances are that a writer feels one of the two above statements.  Sometimes both in rapid succession.  It doesn't seem to matter whether the criticism is from a random stranger online, a friend or a paid editor.  It doesn't seem to matter how often the author tells him or herself that criticism is an important learning tool and shouldn't be taken personally.  There's always an initial emotional sting.

But receiving criticism is a necessary part of becoming a published author.  Even self-published authors who eschew editing leave themselves open to reviews by the public.  Those who wish to improve their writing skills have to accept criticism, which means leaving emotional reactions behind and learning to apply that criticism to improvement.

So the first step for the author is always to ask his or herself: Is this true?

Is there a grain of truth behind the criticism?  When dealing with a professional editor, whether one assigned by a publishing house or one hired by the author, this is an easy question.  The problem identified is real and needs to be dealt with.  When dealing with other sources of criticism, it can be harder to figure out.  A critique partner, an ARC reader or a independent review may not like your book and it's important to take the time to figure out the reason behind that dislike.

For example, I had one reviewer complain that they didn't like all the strange powers in my stories.  Since I write paranormal romance and urban fantasy, there was little I could do about that particular criticism.  But when my critique partner told me that an early version of my manuscript was unrealistic, I took the time to realize that I hadn't been consistent with how I applied my character's supernatural abilities.  The first critique was a complaint about the type of book I write, while the second was something I needed to improve.

The next step is: What do I do about the problem?

Just because you've accepted there's a problem doesn't mean that you agree with the proposed fix for that problem.  There's not much of a solution to be gleaned from "Your book sucks" but most helpfully-intended criticism includes suggestions for how to improve.  An editor or critique partner may suggest different wording, or a different approach to a scene or character.  It's up the author to decided whether or not that solution works.

This is where the delicate balance between accepting other people's input and protecting your own voice as an author comes in.  I've always loved creative wordplay and often make up my own words or use unusual terms for description.  In my first book, I used the word "eeling" to describe a character moving quickly through a narrow space.  My editor flagged it as being used too often in the manuscript.  I checked and discovered I'd used it twice, once for my heroine and once for a character who only appeared in a single scene.  But I realized the editor was right.  The word was distinctive enough to stand out, even if only used twice.  So I kept it for my heroine and changed it in the other scene.

Last but not least is the trickiest step.  Is it a standard or an opinion?

Editors often use a particular style manual to ensure consistent punctuation, grammar and formatting.  Mine uses the Chicago Manual of Style.  But the problem is that English is a constantly evolving language and the rules are always in flux.

For example, when including a texting conversation in my book, I initially put the texts in italics.  My editor said that they should be in quotations, like any conversation.  Per the style manual, my editor is right.  But it didn't look right to me.  But I didn't automatically assume that I was correct.  I checked with other authors and did research to see which formats are commonly used.

In deciding to go against the style manual, I'm going out on a limb.  There will be people who look at the book and will think that I've done something wrong.  But I'm willing to take that risk because I think the standards are evolving and italics will become the acceptable standard in the future.

Accepting edits is a delicate balance between correcting one's blind spots and keeping one's voice intact.  An author should put a great deal of personality into a book, but sometimes that personality affects clarity and understanding.  Effective criticism, no matter the source, helps an author to find that balance.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Weekly Update: January 15 to 21

Weekly word count: 1700 words

Not the 4000 I was hoping for but life was not as writing friendly as I would have liked.  But I did clear out my schedule of some commitments which were overdue.  

Last weekend was the monthly ORWA (Ottawa Romance Writers' Association) meeting.  It was a small group due to the weather and holidays, but I always find it's worth the effort to make myself go.  It may seem like a small thing, but talking with other writers prompts me to get myself in gear.  It reminds me of what my hopes are for my career (rather than focusing on my fears) and just seems to get my brain sparking again for coming up with new stories.

This month was brainstorming.  I like being part of brainstorming groups.  It pushes me to think past my first instincts and go outside the box.  Which in turn helps me when thinking about my own plots.  We came up with some interesting suggestions for fellow ORWAns Lucy Farago and Mandy Rosko's upcoming books.  I've volunteered to start doing recap posts of the meetings for our website.

I also signed up for Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston in June.  I'm still trying to get in touch with the folk from Ad Astra to see about registering with them for May but I'm having trouble getting a response.  So far, that's two conferences confirmed: Limestone in June and Can-Con in October.  I'm also waiting for a reply from Prose in the Park, here in Ottawa.  

2017 is coming together.   Can't wait to see how it all works out.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Why Write?

"So what do you do?"

"(mumbling about day job) and I write novels.  I have two published and one due out in March."

This inevitably produces a surprised and impressed look.  (Which leaves me feeling like a fraud, but we'll talk about impostor syndrome another time.)  Because real writers never emerge in public.  Everyone knows they are grown in cocoons from a DNA combo of Shakespeare and Jane Austen.  Once hatched, they are installed in a tower with spectacular views, a computer and generous plotboards.  Then they release their visions into the wild to delight and astonish.

They don't shop at the grocery store or pick up their kids at school or go to the dentist like normal people do.

Except they do.  Or rather, we do.

We don't write because we were programmed in some Orwellian machine.  We write because we have stories we want to tell, characters who live in our brains and ideas that won't let us sleep at night.  But not all writers become authors.

A writer is someone who writes stories.  Those stories may be tucked away in a notepad, hidden under the bed or forgotten in an ancient file folder, but they still count.  An author is someone who has taken the step to turn their scribbling into something professional, with an expectation that one day, this will be an income-earning job.

Being an author is a lot of work and requires effort and money.  Joining professional organizations, editing, submitting to publishers, promotion, just to name a few of the key aspects that do not involve writing.

I have always been a writer.  I've written stories since before I knew how to shape the letters (early graphic novels, except for the fact that my story always played out on one page as I erased and moved the characters around).  But five years ago, I decided that I wasn't happy with only being a writer.  I wanted to make the jump to being an author.

I did it for a number of reasons.  First, it's always been a dream of mine and I was tired of treating my dreams as impossible.  Second, as much as I enjoyed being at home with my kids, having several years without me earning an income made a difference.  I don't want to be working part time at a job I don't love into my sixties and seventies.  So I'm taking a chance on maybe being able to earn a living at a job that I do love.  And third, the stories inside of me wouldn't accept anything less than being told exactly as I imagined them.  They've pushed me to be a better writer, to learn the techniques and approaches which narrow the gap between what I imagined and what ends up on the page.

So I write because I can't imagine doing anything else and being happy.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

It's Cover Reveal Day!

Woo-hoo!  I can finally share my beautiful cover for Inquistion with everyone!

It's another great design from Streetlight Graphics.  I love how Joe and Cali are back to back, partners but also moving in opposite directions.  It's a great visual representation of their relationship.  I also love the subtle hint within the mirror.  Although Cali is blond, the reflection is a brunette.

To celebrate the new cover, I've got Revelations, the first book in the lalassu series, on sale for 99 cents and a giveaway for a a $25 Amazon card.  And you can preorder the ebook for Inquisition.  Release day is March 8th.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Weekly Update: January 8 to 14: Promo Week!

Weekly word count: none but I got the line edits finished and back in to the editor for the next round.

It's a big week coming up for me.  From the 16th to the 20th, I have Revelations on sale in the U.S. and U.K., and I'm running a giveaway for a $25 Amazon card.  And on January 17th, I get to share my cover with everyone.

But I have to admit, the thing I'm looking forward to most is getting back to writing.  I've got scenes for book four floating through my head that are desperate to get out.

I've been trying to spend some more time with my boys.  After the stress of the holidays, I feel like I've spent more time correcting than connecting.  I took my oldest son to an orchestral concert of eighties' music (he adores Madonna, Bon Jovi, classic Michael Jackson, Toto, Phil Collins and all those great hairbands and power ballads).  I went with my younger son to the Ottawa Museum of History because he's into nature, geology and science.  It's nice to have some non-pressure time to have fun.  It's too easy to get caught up in work, work, work and only have a break in doing different work.

I always feel better when I'm writing.  All of the other work to put out a book is necessary, but it's the writing which feeds my soul.  The same with my family.  There's a lot of work in being a parent, but it's the special moments which keep me going.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Heroine Fix: Kaylee Frye - Girl Genius

Warning: this contains spoilers for Firefly and Serenity.

I spent a lot of time this month trying to decide which of the Firefly ladies to focus on this month.  The sensual and dignified Inara?  The lethal and efficient Zoe?  The visionary and flexible River?  Or even Patience, who rules her moon with an iron fist?  All tempting, but in the end, I went with the girl after my own heart: Kaylee Frye, with her eternal faith and optimism, a mechanical genius and passionate woman.

Fans of Firefly have the privilege of being introduced to Kaylee three times: the original (unaired) two-part pilot, The Train Job and the movie, Serenity.  In the pilot, we first see Kaylee running to the engine room to shut down the engine so the ship can avoid detection.  She climbs up a ladder and flips a switch, then comments in the dark: Now I can't get down.  In The Train Job, she crawls out from underneath a panel (in the traditional manner of all sci-fi television engineers).  For the movie, Serenity, she's scrambling for the engine and deflecting her captain's angry demands to know why the buffer panel has detached.  She calmly reminds him that she promised him that the jury-rigged couplings would hold for two weeks, six months ago.

Like most of Joss Whedon's characters, Kaylee isn't easy to fit into a stereotype box.  She's cheerful, almost always smiling, even when she's been shot.  She's smart and a mechanical genius, describing herself as someone that machines just talk to.  She's the one who understands the ship and keeps her in the sky.  Jewel Staite explained in interviews that she first played Kaylee as an innocent, until she saw the script for Out of Gas, and realized that Kaylee is just unselfconscious about both her sexuality and skills.

 Kaylee likes people just as much as she does machines.  She's genuinely delighted to greet new arrivals and convince them to sign up as passengers on her ship.  She's proud of Serenity and one of the few times she gets upset is when someone insults her ship.  She tells Shepherd that her ship is the nicest at the Persephone docks.  With her rainbow parasol and her little buns on her head, she's happy to talk to people and find out their stories.

It would have been easy for the character to tip into irritating Pollyanna territory but one never gets the impression that Kaylee is ignorant or dismissive of the dangers they face.  She simply chooses to focus on what pleasures are available, from sampling a fresh strawberry to wearing a beautiful party dress to playing games with River.

When it comes to love, I am certain that Kaylee has a stack of romances tucked under her bunk.  She immediately falls in love with the doctor, Simon, even though he's too preoccupied with his sister to see it.  The only time she despairs is when she thinks he's about to leave the ship and even then, her earthy complaint that "going on a year, I ain't had nothing twixt my legs weren't run on batteries" is one of the best in the entire movie.  Although it leaves her male crewmates shaken, she's not ashamed.  She doesn't back down.

When Simon shyly confesses that her affection is mutual (just before they're about to be overrun and horribly killed), her reaction is to press him for specifics: "You mean to say, sex?"  When he confirms it, she immediately transforms from nervous to determined.

If she's been stuck with a year of batteries, I'm with Kaylee on proper motivation.

That's Kaylee in a nutshell.  Give her the right motivation and she will move heaven and earth to achieve her goal.  Once she knows a happily ever after is possible, she no longer has any doubt.  She is going to live and she is going to get her happy ending.  Show her a broken machine and she will find a way to fix it.  Give her the chance to meet a dozen people and she will walk away with at least eleven new friends.  She believes in others more than they believe in the themselves, which makes her all the more precious in a crew that's often more cynical than hopeful.
It's easy to praise fierce female badasses as pushing forward the expectations of women and girls.  But Kaylee represents another side of the coin: she enjoys feminine frippery but isn't intimidated by grease and machines.  She's cheery, brilliant and comfortable with herself.  She's everything modern women should be aspiring to be and she always finds time to take a moment to herself to dream.

Next month's Heroine Fix will take a look at a more contemporary heroine: Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds.  See you then!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Weekly Update: January 1 to 7

Welcome to 2017.  So far, so good.

Weekly word count: none but I've been focused on my line edits.  30 of 46 chapters done.

As I do my line edits, I've also been writing up my chapter by chapter author's commentary.  I like going through and noting where things were inspired by real-life people or events or sharing why I made certain choices.  I always love finding out those sorts of things about other authors and stories.

I am very much looking forward to school starting up again.  It'll be nice to have the house to myself again, for at least a few hours a day.

Once edits are done, I'm going to turn my attention back to book four for writing.  I'm pleased with how much work I got done on the independent manuscript but it's time to start the serious work on the next book in the series.

I've also been doing some thought on how I want to present book four.  I've been careful to make sure that each book is a stand-alone but I know that most readers won't start a series in the middle.  So I've been wondering if I should stop including the book number on the front cover.  I included them because it frustrates me as a reader to not know which book goes where in the series.

I've been considering publishing book four on multiple platforms instead of exclusively on Amazon.  It's going to be the start of a new three book arc, so people will be able to pick it up easily.  But I can't say it's book four or they may not try.  It's something to think about and since I have almost a year, that's lots of time to figure it all out.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Mind-beetles and Asking For What You Want

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about assumptions.  We all make them, thinking we understand what other people are thinking, what motivates their actions.  Almost all of our society's interactions are based on the assumption that we are, in fact, mind-readers.

But we're not.

My favourite metaphor for the mind is that of a beetle in a box.  Everyone has a box and inside is a "beetle" but it is only possible to look inside one's own box.  We can only see the exterior of the box for everyone else.  So, in theory, it's possible that everyone has wildly different "beetles" but we assume that everyone's beetle is essentially the same as our own.

Even the oft-cited Golden Rule falls prey to this assumption, exhorting us to treat others as we would wish to be treated.  It assumes that what we want is what others would also want.  In fact, the truly generous course of action would be to treat others as they would like to be treated.

During a difficult time in my life many years ago, I saw a grief counselor.  I was frustrated at how often people tried to "fix" my feelings, telling me to cheer up or that things could be worse or that they could only get better.  She suggested that I be direct with people about how I was feeling.  If I wanted to vent and complain without getting suggestions, then I should say that.  If I wanted to be distracted and not think about my problems, then I should say that.  And if I wanted help, I should ask for the specific kind of help I wanted.

We don't often ask for what we want.  Society trains us to be indirect, to hint or politely demur.  I've often wondered why directness fell out of favour.  Is it because it was too often linked to rudeness?  Or does indirectness make it easier to adjust to disappointment if we don't get what we want?

To guess what other people want without them having to ask takes considerable effort, empathy and imagination.  When I think about it, the fact that we have the success that we do is fairly remarkable.  We can accurately guess a person's emotions, even if we're not always as accurate when it comes to guessing why they feel the way they do.  The classic example is Othello's error.  He knows Desdemona is upset and assumes it is evidence of her guilt rather than fear at being confronted by an irrational accuser.

Maybe that's why books fascinate me so.  It's an opportunity to get into other people's heads, to live hundreds or thousands of different lives and experiences.  It's a chance to get at least a glimpse of other people's beetles and discover the many ways we are the same and the many ways we are different.

Monday, 2 January 2017

December 25th to 31: Inquisition Available for Pre-Order

Line Edit Countdown: 12 chapters of 45 done this week

It's been fast and furious editing this week (and likely for the next two as well) but the big excitement is that Inquisition is now available for preorder on and

I've spent most of this weekend updating the website and getting everything ready.  Inquisition will be released on March 8th and I'm hoping to have both the ebook and the print book available that day.  (It takes some coordinating and I'm at the mercy of Amazon and Createspace's scheduling but I'm confident I can make it happen!)

The cover will be revealed on January 17th and there will be a big blog tour and special giveaways.  I'll be posting and tweeting links on the day, so keep an eye out.