Thursday, 27 April 2017

Ink Tip: How To Say Goodbye

Every writer has that sentence, scene or character that they absolutely love.  They know in their hearts that it's brilliant, entertaining and wonderful.

And sometimes, it doesn't work.

So what's a writer to do with their wonderful square peg and nothing but round holes to stick it in?  When the brilliant line of dialogue sounds forced?  When the heart-felt scene doesn't make sense?  Or the engaging character ends up feeling like a distracting extra?

First, (and this can be the hardest step) accept that it's not going to work.  It doesn't matter how great it is, if it doesn't fit into this story, then forcing it to stay will only diminish both sides.  When I went to see Logan, I was surprised when they put the Deadpool 2 teaser scene at the front of the movie instead of in the credits like they normally do.  But after I watched both, I understood.  Without giving any spoilers away, the Deadpool teaser is funny and irreverent while the movie Logan was powerful and intense.  If the Deadpool scene had happened after, it would have struck the audience as disrespectful and it would have taken away some of the impact from the finale of the movie.

In this case, some timeline editing allowed the audience to see both but that's not always going to be a possibility.  Sometimes, a writer just has to surgically remove the awesome, yet troublesome piece.  But then what?

The second step is to save it.  I always find it easier to edit out my favourites when I know that I'm not getting rid of them, I'm merely putting them aside to feature at a later date.  Sometimes that brilliant character can become the hero or heroine of his or her own story.  Or the scene can become the dark moment or highlight in the next book (or the one after that).  You can always remind yourself that this is not the last story you will ever write, so there will be other opportunities down the road.

But there will be times where no matter the intention, it's just not going to come together.  If that is the case, then sometimes it's necessary to just bite the bullet and consign something to the "wish it could have been" drawer.  It can be a hurtful event, so give yourself time to emotionally process it.  Call a friend, have a glass of wine or emergency chocolate bar, whatever it will take to let you emerge on the other side, ready to battle the blank page once again.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 16 to 22

Weekly word count: 2150

It's a slow start but an improvement nonetheless.  I realized I hadn't ordered some of the swag that I needed for Ad Astra so I put in a rush order for more bags and buttons.  Unfortunately, 4imprint didn't have the royal blue bags that I ordered last time but they had a lovely light blue.  

In other life news, I'm still having trouble due to complications from my surgery last month and my doctor has put me on medical leave from my day job for a month to see if reducing my stress level can help get things back on track.

I'll have to keep reminding myself that I'll need to take this time to rest and recover, not take on more projects.  I've been so used to working, working, working all the time that it will be a challenge.  But since I don't want to end up in a more severe state, I'll have to find a way to relax.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Sexy Comic Book Heroines: Girl Power or Exploitation?

I've been a comic book fan for a long time and a comic book art fan for even longer.  I follow several fan art feeds in Twitter and I'd love to share more, but I find I have a moral hiccup.  No matter how badass the heroine, she always seems to be portrayed with bust or butt (or both) prominently displayed.

Catwoman: Queen of Snark, expert thief, master of the bull whip and able to disguise herself into virtually any situation, including sneaking past Batman.

Plenty of people have weighed in on how women are portrayed in comics.  The argument consistently seems to boil down to "It makes real women feel bad" on one side and "But that's what the customers want" on the other.

Scarlet Witch: able to bend reality to her will (as in, she imagines it, it happens), shoots hex bolts, can teleport, fly and move objects with her mind.
I found myself pondering the issue lately and decided to share my ponderings.  First of all, the fact that women in the entertainment industry are pushed to present a sexualized image is a problem, regardless of format.  It's not that the problem is with any particular sexy woman, but the fact that there are not many alternative archetypes out there.  It goes back a long way: the heroine of fairy tales is described as beautiful and it is implied (or outright said in some cases) that her beauty is the reason she has the adventure or attracts the attention of the hero or villain.

Wonder Woman: super strong, super fast, bullet-bouncing bracelets, Golden Lariat of Truth, expert in bow, sword and hand-to-hand combat.  Oh yeah, and immortal.
Women often face a double-edged sword when it comes to beauty.  It's nice to look attractive but can be dangerous (the "Dressed like that? She was asking for it" defense).  Often women are required to present their most attractive side (eg, wearing makeup to run to the store) but are then dismissed because of their beauty (too pretty to be smart/competent).

Storm: able to control the weather on continent-wide, local and individual levels, can throw lightning bolts at her enemies, can fly, expert thief and marksman with handguns and thrown knives, immune to climate extremes.
Heroines in comic books face the same challenge.  Those who might be truly inspired by the strength and depth of these characters and stories also tend to dismiss them because of how they are drawn.  Granted, sometimes these powerful ladies are forced into "damsel-in-distress" roles or pushed aside in favour of the male characters, but at one time or another, each has found herself in the hands of talented writers who utilize their strengths and weaknesses to reveal incredible three-dimensional characters and powerful stories.

Supergirl: invulnerable, x-ray vision, laser/heat vision, super strong, super fast, can fly, super breath (ie, can blow out building fires).
I love strong female characters.  And yet, I find myself feeling a little hurt and alienated when looking at these images.  Because this is not how real women look.  It makes me feel as if there is a barrier between the super-version of myself as the heroine of my own life and these characters who I admire.  And it's the most superficial barrier of all, a size 0 waist, DD cup size and flat abs.  Nothing to do with their personalities, drive or morals.

White Queen: one of the strongest telepaths in the Marvel universe, with a brilliant mind and wit, can transform into living diamond, has multiple college degrees and is a successful CEO.  Can design and build electronics, expert in neurology, biochemistry, and genetics.  Owns several multi-billion dollar conglomerates.
And yet, at the same time, I find myself asking: why shouldn't they have it all?  Why shouldn't they be brilliant, powerful, dynamic and gorgeous?  Women shouldn't have to settle for being less than they can be in order to make other people feel better.  That would be blatantly against everything that we have fought for.

Batgirl: superior speed, flexibility and strength, expert in hand to hand combat, expert marksman with projectile weapons, master of stealth and distraction, makes her own explosive/smoke pellets.
It does seem a little silly, once we start thinking about how their backs must ache when forced into the bust-forward, butt back pose, or the near 180 degree waist twist required to show both bust and butt in the same picture.  The images may be dramatic, but also impossible in reality.  And yet, comic books are supposed to present larger than life images and stories.

Black Widow: superior agility, expert marksman, gymnast and contortionist, brilliant tactician and political analyst.
In the end, it all boils down to a personal choice.  What is more important: the characters and the stories or the way they look?  It's hard to overlook their appearance, but behind the skimpy costumes are ladies with hearts of gold, steel and every metal in between.  They are smart, they are skilled and they kick ass.  And if they happen to look amazing while doing it, that's a compromise I'm willing to live with.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 9 to 15

Weekly word count: 1200

One good writing day, the first one in almost 3 weeks.  Unfortunately followed by an extra long weekend with kids home.  Carving out writing time with the kids home is a challenge under the best of circumstances, so I gave myself permission not to push it.

Next week should be better.

I'm restarting Judgment.  I was about 30 000 words into the first draft, but I knew those were mostly going to go.  It almost always takes me two or three starts to get a good sense for my plot and where I want to go.  The first draft has too much backstory, too many coincidences and too many changes of direction (marked to be addressed in rewrites).

I also took a longing look at the manuscript I was trying to get ready for the RWA conference in 2018.  I wish I had the time to spend working on both.  I know one author who works on one series in the morning and another in the afternoon.  But right now, with kids, day job and several household crises, it's not going to happen.

I got all of my books, etc, in for Ad Astra.  I'm still waiting on buttons for Inquisition.  But I've got a full set of everything else.  Can't wait for my first vendor conference of 2017!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Heroine Fix: The Irrepressible CC Bloom from Beaches

These days I'm feeling pretty worn out, so there was something very appealing about the character of CC Bloom, as portrayed by Bette Midler and Mayim Bialik in the 1988 classic, Beaches.  She crackles with energy, never backing down.  She's fiercely loyal to those she cares about and a passionate, unapologetically ambitious woman.

Too often, women suffer from "impostor syndrome", describing their hard-won success as an accident or luck.  That's what makes CC's naked ambition refreshing and inspiring.  As a child, she announces herself proudly as the most popular act in the Sammy Pinker Kiddy Show.  As an adult, we see her going on audition after audition, brazening through disinterest and indifference.  She dresses as a rabbit to deliver singing telegrams.  She dyes her hair for a two line part.  She gives her all to every opportunity, even when it's not something she particularly wants to do, because she sees every chance as a stepping stone to her chosen career.  When she finally has a successful show, she glories in her success, proud of what she's accomplished.

She doesn't hesitate to go on the offensive when she thinks she's being slighted.  When her boss at a nightclub refuses to give her an advance, she unleashes a rapidfire attack until he unlocks the cash box to hand over fifty dollars.  As a child, when she feels intimidated by the ritzy patrons at a fancy hotel, she does a tap-dance routine on the stairs.  During her movie shoot, she doesn't hesitate to break character when her co-star tries an unscripted kiss.  And then she lets the director have it, giving him a blast of frustration over his lack of involvement, finishing with a jaw-breaking punch when he accuses her of being a talentless hack and tells her to waddle her ass back on set and shut up.

Her fiery assertiveness makes me think of an old saying: to survive, the small ones must be fierce.  CC doesn't have the protection of money or social status.  All she has is her own spunk and talent.  She does it all on her own, without compromise.  It shouldn't be so shocking to watch a woman do what CC does, but it is rare in a world where women are encouraged to not make a fuss or cause a scene.

And yet, for all of CC's fire, she is devoted to her friends and loved ones.  The very first scene shows her dropping all the preparations for her concert so that she can rush to the side of her dying friend.  When her best friend sleeps with the man that CC has a crush on, CC is angry but once she's said her piece, it's over.  "We're friends, aren't we?"  When her husband tells her that he needs to stay where he is and not join her on her soaring career, it is one of only two points in the film where she doesn't argue.  She asks if he's sure and then accepts it.

The second time is when her best friend tells her that she's ready to die.  Despite CC's fear of illness and earlier urgings to fight, she looks Hillary in the eye and asks if she's sure.  When Hillary nods, CC turns her considerable energy to fighting on Hillary's behalf to have her released from hospital so that she can die at home.  I've always been particularly touched by how Hillary simply closes her eyes, trusting CC to fight for her.

I've been trying to think of other strong, defiant female characters, outside of the assassin/superhero/physical fighter character set and have been coming up blank (with the possible exception of Roseanne Barr's character on Roseanne).  CC isn't a black belt or a secret agent.  She's a singer and performer.  So in some ways, her determination and feistiness is even more accessible to the average person.  

Beaches is one of the first movies I remember watching in theatres and it stuck with me.  But it's only as I've gotten older and more aware of how strong female characters can be undermined that I've realized how special it truly is.  The story of friendship, strength and devotion resonates powerfully, without compromise or apology.  And it all begins with the very simple promise between two little girls in Atlantic City.

"Sure.  We're friends, aren't we?"

Continuing with my look at strong female characters, next month I'll be looking at Lizbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series.  Heroine Fix is the second Thursday of each month, looking at the heroines whom I admire and who have inspired my own characters.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Weekly Update: April 2 to 8

Weekly word count: 0

This week was very intense due to a combination of personal stuff and long days of training in another city.  

But this officially ends my self-allotted period of indulgence and it's time to get back to work.  I need to do some plot revisions, so I may not have much of a word count to report next week either, but one way or another, I intend to get back on the horse.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Happily Ever After: Goal to Strive For or Unrealistic Endings?

This week, two rather interesting articles have been making the rounds on social media.  The first is "How Romance Novels Imagine a World in Which Women Can Win", which looks at how the romance genre encourages women to want and believe they can have it all.  The second was "Sometimes I Want A Romance Without an HEA" which says that while romance novels can be inspiring, sometimes it can make one's real life situation feel worse.

I can certainly understand the latter's point.  I am one of those who find "inspiring" stories depressing.  Hearing about people overcoming worse odds than those I myself face makes me feel as if there must be something wrong with me if I continue to have problems.  If a woman can handle raising triplets after having her arms and legs amputated and still have time to earn her college degree, surely I should be able to handle the major and minor crises in my day to day life.

I could point out that I'm sure that triplet-mom has her good and bad days and there are days when she probably doesn't feel like she's been all that successful.  Just like I can point to a list of my own accomplishments and remind myself that it hasn't all been universal failure.

But it doesn't change the fact that I avoid "True Life" stories in magazines, newspapers and TV specials.  Because I invariably feel worse.  But I don't feel that way after reading a romance novel.  

If the story has grabbed me, then for a little while, I've lived through the plot along with the hero and heroine.  I've vicariously succeeded against the odds, found love, found success, found the missing jade statue... whatever the goal was, I've done it.  It's given me an escape from the day to day grind, a mental and emotional vacation.  And it's reminded me that success is always a possibility, even when trapped in the Black Moment of the plot.

Romance without a happily ever after (or at least, a happily for now) isn't a romance.  It can be a book dealing with romantic themes or exploring the darker side of relationships and love and those can be good and worthwhile stories.  Heck, I can even agree, since I usually intersperse my romance reads with non-fiction and other fiction.  

But the reason to read romance is to get that uplifting surge of hope, an inoculation against the challenges which take away our internal strength.  That's what romance is: it's hope.  Hope for the chance for mind-blowing sex, dreams coming true and eventual contentment in all (or almost all) aspects of life.

So as much as I can respect the drive behind Book Riot's plea, I must disagree.  I don't want a romance without a HEA.  Because it would be like having a burger without the buns or meat.  In other words, not a burger at all.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Weekly update: March 26th to April 1

Weekly word count: 0

As I mentioned last week, I'm giving myself a break on writing goals so that I can have time to heal and mentally rejuvenate.  This week, I'll also be giving myself a break because I'm away on training and won't have my afternoons to write.  If I can manage to do some stuff in the evening, that'll be great, but I'm not going to push myself.

Giving myself mental space is definitely helping.  I've been letting my mind wander around my plot and identify some points that could be problems.  I'm not worrying too much about finding solutions yet, but a couple have presented themselves.  I'll probably be rewriting most of what I've done so far on Judgment, but I was expecting to do that anyway.  

Take a breath, take a moment.  That's what I need to do now before I plunge back into the frantic pace of trying to get everything done.