Thursday, 30 March 2017

Ink Tip: Chasing The Shiny

From my experience, authors tend to fall into one of two camps: those who are perpetually chasing new stories and those who are perpetually editing existing stories.

I'm one of those who is constantly being lured by new ideas.  They pop into my head at any time, shouting "Look at me!  Look at me!" and trying to persuade me to just write down a few scenes.  I get ideas for fanfiction (I want to write a prequel about what happened in the Wolverine: Origin movie between the two brothers running away from home and showing up in the Civil War and an Agents of SHIELD/Avengers crossover where the Avengers learn Coulson is still alive and the secret why the TAHITI protocol worked for him), historical (I think it would be cool to write a prehistorical romance set in the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, or one set in ancient Babylon, or a Bonnie and Clyde-esque one from the Depression), and dozens of other genres.

On the other side of the coin, I have some author friends who are eternal editors.  The blank page intimidates the heck out of them but give them one full of text and they can spend weeks polishing it until it gleams like a diamond.  

The challenge with that approach is that no story ever truly feels finished.  Even New York Times Bestselling authors admit that they look back on their most popular books and wish they could have done things differently with them.  

Successful authors have to find their personal balance between the two.  You can't turn off the flow of creativity but can't get swept away in it either.  And it's critical to polish and edit but not get bogged down in it.

For me (and other authors inclined to chase shiny new stories), there are a number of strategies that can keep us on task:

- keep a notebook or computer folder with ideas and inspirations so that they don't get forgotten
- set yourself a daily or weekly word count on your main work in progress, then any extra writing time can be used to explore new ideas and projects
- incorporate the new ideas into your work in progress (if they're suitable)
- focus on shorter fiction pieces which allow you to explore many different stories in the same time period as a long novel

On the flip side, for editors and polishers who want to bring the shiny to their work:

- set a daily or weekly word count on your work in progress before you go back to edit previous days
- set an editing schedule, with one pass for each type of editing (eg: description, deep point of view, pacing, etc.)
- insist on completing a certain portion of the manuscript before beginning editing
- make notes of any changes or edits you want to do so that you can go back and do them all in one pass 

I have my computer folder full of files of notes and ideas, although I have to be careful because I find it's too easy to lose an afternoon, clicking open one file after another.  A friend of mine, who is an eternal editor, forces herself to complete each manuscript to the 3/4 point before she allows herself to go back and edit any of the previous work.  Both very different processes, but each of them works for us.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 19 to 25th

Weekly word count: 537

As those who saw my Facebook post know, this hasn't been a good week for me.  I've been having some health issues for the last year and a bit.  Nothing life threatening but more of a quality of life issue.  This week, I had a surgery that was supposed to improve matters but unfortunately, it appears to have made things worse.  It's going to be awhile before we can figure out what the next option is.  Again, it's still not life threatening and there are probably plenty of people who wouldn't see it as a big deal.  But it's been a drain on me.

I gave myself some time to process the new situation emotionally.  Usually I try to push through because I have a tendency to depression and if I let that inertia build, it's really hard to get back out of it.  But I've already been struggling and I realized that I needed that time.  It was soothing to read all of the good wishes and offers to help.

I'm hoping to get back to work in a more normal way this week.  To get back into it, I'm going over my plot notes and outline for Judgment.  That usually re-sparks my creativity.

For the next little bit, I'm going to suspend my weekly word goals and treat every word that I manage to write as a victory.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Contest Blues and Pride

This week, RWA announced the Rita and Golden Heart finalists for 2017.  My Twitter and Facebook feeds were buzzing as the judges called the finalists to let them know and the lucky excitedly shared the news.

Last year, I was waiting to discover whether or not I was one of those finalists.  Unfortunately, I didn't quite make the cut, although I came close.  The average score for a finalist in my category was an 8.1 and Revelations scored a 7.7.  A respectable placement, but not enough to join the circle of finalists and award winners.

This year, I find myself feeling a little blue even as I add a heart or like to each Twitter and Facebook post.  I wonder about all of the other hopefuls who will not receive a phone call, who will not be celebrated.  As much as I am truly pleased for the success of others, I'm also only human, and so I also feel sad and disappointed not to be among them.

But I'm proud of them as well and proud of how so many authors are celebrating the victories of others rather than tearing them down out of jealousy.  It makes me believe in a better side of humanity as they congratulate as well as compete.

So I want to offer my congratulations to every author who submitted a manuscript or book to either the Golden Heart or the Rita.  It takes courage to put your work out there and allow others to pass an opinion on it.  And you should all be proud, too.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 2200

Not great but I'm not going to beat myself up about it.  Hopefully I can do better this week now that we're closer to being back in a regular routine.

I've been busy trying to get everything ready for Ad Astra and Limestone Genre Expo.  One of the big things I've found myself debating is how many of each book to bring to sell.  Ad Astra is a much larger event than I'm used to, so I've decided to go all out and have at least 50 copies of my first book ready to go.  Then 30 of my second and at least 20 of my third.

I also have to decide how many promo items to bring.  Such as buttons and my promo bags.  I'll need to order more of both.

And now it's time to get back to work.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Writing When It Doesn't Make Sense

It's been a difficult month for me and it's not likely to ease up for the foreseeable future.  Which has definitely impacted my writing.

Generally, I'm of the "allow yourself the luxury of a day off during a bad day" mindset.  Partly that's because I have a hard time not ticking off every item on my to-do list and have learned the hard way that driving myself into the ground will cost me more than just one day.  So I reassure myself that it's not the end of the world if I take a mental health day to rejuvenate myself.

But sometimes it's more than just one bad day.  Sometimes life throws a series of curveballs at me and my writing time gets eaten up.  Sometimes other commitments all crash together and end up being overwhelming.  Sometimes the kids have been fighting non-stop and I'm feeling drained, frustrated and not particularly creative.  

I can't put my writing aside for weeks at a time while I try to cope with the rest of my life.  Most importantly, not writing makes it harder to break out of those depressive slumps, but almost as important, I've chosen to make writing stories my business.  Even though I'm self-published, that still gives me deadlines and obligations that I need to meet if I want my business to flourish.

So how to do it?

First things first, ask for help.  This is the crucial step that gets overlooked too often when life gets overwhelming.  If you need to talk to someone, then talk to someone (a friend, therapist, cornered stranger in the coffee shop).  If medication will help, then see your doctor about your dosage or prescription.  If there are any tasks which can be offloaded, then find people to do those tasks and say "yes" when someone offers to help.  

With all the chaos and difficulty, household chores were suffering at my house.  So I found a housekeeper to come in a couple of times a week.  It's more expensive than I would have liked, but it takes a large chunk of my to-do list off my plate.  And it doesn't always have to be expensive, I knew a couple of moms who worked out a co-op arrangement, where one prepared all the meals for both families and the other dealt with dishes and tidy-up.

I also said yes when a fellow ORWA member offered to help me with the official ORWA Twitter account.  (Thanks, Jessica!)  This was actually quite hard for me, because I felt as if I was letting the organization down.  And I knew that Jessica was already doing quite a bit to help out, so I felt as if I was imposing on her.  But after a little time, I realized it was more of a blow to my pride than anything else.  And pride is not worth tearing myself apart for.  So I said yes and she's doing a wonderful job and I'm not having to worry about it.

Next step, set up for success.  We all have our ideal set-up for writing but most of us manage with a "that'll do" rather than insisting on the ideal.  But when the rest of life is not cooperating, then more support might be needed to make a few hours of writing into a success rather than a frustration.  Try to set things up as close to the ideal as possible.

For me, my ideal involves being able to listen to music without headphones, being uninterrupted and preferably alone for an extended stretch of time (at least 90 minutes), and not being distracted by other things that I know I have to do.  In reality, I often have to use headphones or deal with a shorter than ideal time.  And I usually have to ignore everything which is still undone.

However, when I'm already feeling crappy, then I need more of my ideal to be productive.  And so it's okay to insist on my husband taking the kids out (or dumping them with their grandparents) so that I have my uninterrupted time and can listen to my music without fear of complaint or comment.  And it's also okay to insist on having more time to accomplish the other tasks on my to-do list.

A last thought on setting things up for success.  It's times when things aren't going smoothly that I find I really need the plotting work I've done.  It's still not an entirely natural process for me, but it's invaluable to keep things moving when I'm not inspired.  

Next, use what you have.  Not feeling the happily-ever-after?  Then focus on the black moment, or moments of despair for the characters.  Feeling frustrated and angry, use it to fuel a confrontation scene.  

I tend to write sequentially, but sometimes I jump ahead to use what I'm feeling to create a more powerful scene.  Those scenes don't always end up in the final book, but they help.  They get the words out of my head and onto the page, which gives me some mental space.

And finally, celebrate any success, no matter how small.  Be proud of the fact that you wrote 500 words, even if your usual total is closer to 1500.  That's 500 hard-won, paid for in effort.  And it's still better than 0.  

For me this is crucial because it's too easy to find myself saying, it's not worth the effort for such a small gain.  Then I find myself tempted to veg in front of Netflix with promises of doing better tomorrow, even though I know tomorrow will bring its own challenges.

It would be great if I could always guarantee my life would make room for my writing career, but that's not how it works.  There are always going to be times when it goes smoother than other times and times when everything seems to conspire against me.  But that's where the commitment comes in, distinguishing the career writers from the hobbyists.  

If you can write when it's not easy, then you'll have a greater chance of succeeding in a field that holds more heartbreaks than triumphs. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Weekly Update: March 5th to 11th

Weekly word count: 3050 words

As part of my draw this week, I asked my readers to share something they'd learned.  This week I have learned that I was crazy when I thought I could combine a family road trip with writing.

Writing while sitting in the car for hours on end.  Sounds like a great idea, until factoring in that I can't see the screen with my sunglasses on.  And the constant interruptions for music changes, snacks and other challenges just made it incredibly hard to concentrate.

But there's still the option of writing at night.  It's not my most productive time but even a few hundred words is better than nothing.  I'm limping along but still making progress.

On to other news, I was blown away by Book Partners In Crime's tour.  They had 30 sign ups and 28 blogs ended up featuring my book.  And my twitter feed has been exploding with retweets.  That is much better than the tour I did for Metamorphosis, which had 5 sign ups, and the only two which ended up actually posting were two blogs which I referred.  It's comparable with the tours I do through Xpresso Books, (which had 50 posted out of 100 sign ups), however those blogs tend to be aimed at a younger crowd than my ideal audience.

I was also excited to be chosen for an author spotlight on Eskie Mama and Dragon Lady Reads.  Again, their readers promoted the heck out of me.

I'm starting to get preliminary reviews back for Inquisition, and so far, people seem to love it.  Including those who don't know me personally and have no reason to be nice about it.

All in all, it was a good week.  Now, on to recovery mode.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Heroine Fix: Melinda May of Agents of SHIELD

First things first, I love a good clandestine government agency.  X-files, Fringe, Men In Black and now, Agents of SHIELD.  It satisfies my inner conspiracy theorist.

But even more than secret agencies, I enjoy a strong, super-skilled laconic hero.  Or heroine.

 Agent May doesn't waste time or effort with witty comebacks or clever puns.  She's too busy efficiently kicking ass, or faces.  After over ten years of martial arts training, I can definitely appreciate the latter.  She's a sharp shot with a rifle or a pistol.  Determined and relentless in the pursuit of her target, she's a force to be reckoned with.

In the first few episodes, she was more of a whispered presence than an actual character and I think that worked to the character's benefit.  Someone with her skill level and history would be a legend within the agency.  Showing us that legend rather than telling us made it feel more real.  From the first moment she walked on screen, we believed that Agent May could be sent up against any force, from petty thugs right up to Agent Romanov, the Black Widow herself, and Agent May would win.

Release the Calvary.

 But there's more to Agent May than her fighting skills.  Despite her stoic exterior, she cares deeply for her teammates and about helping the vulnerable.  In the subtle twitch of a lip or eye, she reveals pain that would tear a lesser hero apart.  

Maybe that's why she resonates so strongly with me.  No matter how much crap life throws at her, she doesn't waste time feeling sorry for herself.  She gets on with what needs to be done and never gives up until she's accomplished what's necessary.  In my own life, I often feel as if I'm struggling to cope with the curve balls of fate.  It may not be "fighting-a-guy-with-a-table-saw" level of challenge, but I can still see some parallels.

Guns?  I don't need guns.  There's a perfectly good table saw here.
I admire competence, no matter in what field.  But I also admire people who don't feel the need to cater to other people's opinions.  May doesn't fall into any of the typical female categories and there isn't even a hint of an apology.

The subtlety of the character is a long-term investment but one that pays off big.  By keeping May reserved, the times when she does lose control have a much stronger impact.  It's a lesson that I used with one of my characters, Vincent.  He's irreverent and dismissive, which makes it much more significant when he says something serious or meaningful.

In doing this series, I've been impressed with the range of heroines currently out there.  When I was young, heroines fell into two categories: damsels in distress or token female character.  Neither were particularly strong and even the token females ended up needing frequent rescue.  Now there are all different kinds: witty, laconic, cheerful, brooding, sweet, sexy, powerful, stealthy, manipulative, straight up and all the possible combinations.  No matter what kind of woman a girl wants to look up to, there's a heroine out there for her to emulate and admire.

I'm feeling a little nostalgic and ready for a change of pace, so next month, I'll be looking at  CC Bloom from Beaches.  Bold, brassy and demanding, but still with a heart of gold.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Release Day: Inquisition

It's official!  Inquisition is now available in print and ebook on  (It will take another few weeks for the print book to be available in Canada but the ebook is available.)

Police detective Joe Cabrera used to have a pretty good life.  Promising career, plenty of flirtations, and he never once needed to question the nature of his reality.  All of that changed when he discovered the truth of the lalassu.  Suddenly, he fell deep into a rabbit hole of paranormal powers, shadowy conspiracies and millennia-old secrets.  Now, his old no-nonsense approach to his job just doesn’t work any longer.  If he wants to stop his old enemy, AndrĂ© Dalhard, from hurting anyone else, Joe will need to find a more flexible option.

A master of disguise, Cali has assumed so many identities over the years that remembering who she was born to be is impossible.  Abandoned on the streets as a child, she was rescued by AndrĂ© Dalhard.  She’s served him loyally for many years, using her shape-shifting abilities to take on new personas in the blink of an eye, such as Boomerang, the master thief.  To save Mr. Dalhard from prison, she becomes Colleen Avila, a meek and mild personal secretary.

Joe initially planned to use Colleen as a confidential informant, but wasn’t prepared for the intensity of his feelings for her.  When he meets the arrogant and brash Boomerang and the determined and fearless Cali, he finds himself torn between the three women.  For Cali, she knows she must inevitably either break Joe’s heart or turn against the man who saved her from a life of uncertainty and poverty.

As Joe and Cali work together, they discover an even greater threat to the lalassu, one that could send everyone tumbling down into a new rabbit hole.  If their fears are realized, neither their friends nor their enemies will be able to escape.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Weekly Update: February 26 to March 4

Weekly word count: 4550

It's been a difficult week and I am not ashamed to say that life kicked my butt over the last seven days.  But I still managed to get my writing totals done.  

Unfortunately, I'm still looking at a 3 page to-do list that needs to happen in the next few weeks before our family goes through some big changes.  But I'm confident I will get it all done.  I might not sleep but I will get it all done.

The ORWA meeting this weekend was really helpful.  I'd always dismissed Wattpad as a forum for fanfiction but from Linda Poitevin's workshop, it looks like it might be a good marketing tool.  I'd need to do some thinking, but since I'm planning to go broad base to release Judgment once it's ready, maybe doing a serialized release on Wattpad might not be a bad idea. 

I'm loving how Judgment is coming together and I am so excited to get to share Inquisition with everyone this week.  

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Deal-Breakers and Wincers

How much of a book does a reader need to agree with in order to enjoy it?

It's a question that may not have occurred to you.  Certainly most people assume that if someone enjoys a book, they must have enjoyed all the parts in it.  But it's not necessarily true.

There are a number of authors whom I really enjoy but there are always moments in their books where I have to wince.  It's like the stab of an ice sliver in an otherwise delicious milkshake.  And then there are the books that sound promising but include one of my literary deal-breakers.  And that's more like finding a bug in the milkshake.  It doesn't matter how good it's been up to that point, now it's disgusting and there's no salvaging it.

Everyone has their own "not-great" and "deal-breaker" lists.  For me, one of my wincing moments is when a character uses woman as an insult.  Eg: "Do I look like a girl?" or referring to something as "girl shit" or similar things to that.  To me, it's misogynistic language and reinforces the idea of female as defective.  And yet there are series that I enjoy where the author clearly doesn't feel the same.  I end up having to brace myself when I'm reading and remind myself not to get too upset.  If the author wasn't incredibly talented, I wouldn't bother.  But it doesn't mean I'm okay with that kind of language.

On the deal-breaker side is anything involving coercion in the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine.  Frankly, coercion bothers me between any characters but it's an absolute deal-breaker in the main couple.  I recently read a book where the hero was blackmailing the heroine into having sex with him and once I read that, the book was done for me.  No second chance.

It's not always easy for an author to guess what will be a trigger to his or her readers.  Things which might seem innocuous or even daring to the author might end up being deal-breakers.  For example, I have a friend who had traumatic experiences with the church as a child and now anything that involves any kind of Christian imagery is a deal-breaker for her.  Even characters swearing can be enough to make her put a book down.

It's important to have a wide variety of beta readers before a book is published.  They can help let an author know about any potential pitfalls.  With my most recent book, one of my readers warned me that in some groups, using food terms to describe skin tone is considered offensive.  I had described a character as having skin the colour of fresh-baked bread but changed it to tan.  It's a small change for me and if it avoids hurting or offending someone, that's an easy choice.

Obviously, it's important to respect your own voice as an author.  It's not going to be possible to please everyone.  But at the same time, it is also important to respect your readers.