Monday, 29 January 2018

Weekly Update: January 21 to 27

Weekly word count: 6500

This week began as one of those "OMG, I really am a talentless hack" weeks but I pushed through and now the words have begun to flow again.

My biggest challenge right now is protecting my writing time during the week.  I got a little sloppy while I was editing because I could edit in the post-school afternoon and evening, but I can't do decent writing then.  I need to know that someone else is taking care of whatever little crises come up and that I've got some time to just focus on the story, particularly at this stage. 

I'm still getting to know my characters and figure out my plot for Deadly Potential.  I've got some key points I know I want to develop but there's still a lot to discover.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Ink Tip: Finding The Reason Behind The Story

Stories don't happen in a vacuum.  They grow out of a desire to say... something.  Everyone has something different that they want to share.  Sometimes it's as simple as a cool bit of dialogue or an awesome character or an amazing scene.

And sometimes its more.  Sometimes there's a message that an author wants to send.  One of the questions that I usually end up exploring in my novels is balancing responsibility and personal choice.  Nathan Burgoine often explores the concept of chosen family in his stories.  Lucy Farago looks at the implications of keeping secrets and the consequences of telling the truth.  Sherrilyn Kenyon usually deals with the aftermath and recovery from abuse.  

Finding the thread that runs through your story can be a big part of finding your voice as an author.  And it can also help to guide you through some of the pitfalls.

The #OwnVoices movement is getting stronger (as it should) but it means that an author writing outside of his/her own personal experience is more likely to face challenges.  Research is important but it's only part of the work.

The other part was summed up very eloquently in Nathan Burgoine's post on the Spoonie Author Network: Why You?  Before deciding to tell a story which isn't your own, take the time to think about why you want to do so.

I struggled with this decision for Metamorphosis and Judgment, both of which have Native American main characters.  I knew I wanted to place the stories in an isolated community up North and the vast majority of the population up there is native.  To have non-native characters felt like whitewashing but at the same time, I knew I was going to have to be very careful and make sure I did my homework.  But it was critical to the story that I wanted to tell about those who can't hide from prejudice (in my case, people with visible signs of their talents).  So I've done my best to represent them in a respectful and accurate way.

But I think the message behind the story is important to find out even if an author isn't treading on OwnVoices territory.  Why do you want to tell this story?  What is the one piece that could never be compromised on, that would gut the whole reason why the story needs to be told in the first place?

When you know the answer to that question, then you'll be able to craft something more powerful than you can imagine.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Weekly Update: January 14 to 20

Weekly word count: 5740

Not quite what I'd hoped but not bad for a nine-finger typing week.  (My right index finger is out of commission due to something that  I'm choosing to lie about and say is a swashbuckling incident.)

Hopefully next week I'll have my content edit back and then I can launch into rewrites.  I've already got some good feedback from my beta readers, so the brain is already working.

I officially got Revelations out of the KDP program so now I'm working on having it published across a wide variety of platforms.  The rest of my work will be coming out of KDP over the next two months.  I've decided to use Draft2Digital to get everything into a wide platform.  I've heard good things about them.

Next up on the distribution checklist is seeing about putting Revelations up on Wattpad.  I'd been considering between Wattpad and Radish but recently learned that once a story is up on Radish, it can't be taken down again.  I don't mind having Revelations available for free for awhile, but I don't want it permafree.  So the final decision is Wattpad but I'm going to try putting the Spirit Sight short stories up first, just to test the system and see how it works.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Separating the Artist from the Art

Is it possible to separate art from the artist who created it?  Be it a book, a song, a movie, or whatever format we choose, does there come a point where the personal flaws or actions of the artist overwhelm any benefit of what they have created?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as scandal after scandal erupts.  And while I'm very much in agreement that we should mourn the art which was never created, I don't think it diminishes the message to also mourn the art which is now tainted by its creators.

Sometimes, the connections are clear.  Orson Scott Card wove his homophobic beliefs into his Ender books, even including a "cured" homosexual as a secondary character who spouted the great benefits of having married to someone of the opposite sex and expecting a baby.  I read the book before I knew about his personal opinions and I found the scene distasteful and misguided at first, but when I realized it was a deliberate message, it sickened me.  (I am generally inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt and want to make sure they've done what they're accused of before condemning them.)

Sometimes the connections are less clear.  When the media reported that Chris Brown had beaten Rihanna, I had a few songs of his in my collection.  None of them advocated violence and none of them had what I would consider offensive lyrics.  But I still felt a moral obligation to remove them from my active playlists.  His actions were so repugnant that I felt I needed to register my displeasure in the only way open to be as a consumer, by not consuming.

Now the list of men who have been consistent sexual predators and harassers is growing and I find myself having to make the same decisions.  What creations will I set aside to vanish into memory rather than sharing with my children and friends?

I've heard the arguments on all sides: that art is separate from its creator and if it speaks to someone, it doesn't matter if the person hid a criminal act; that instead of focusing on the art which is tainted, we should be mourning the art which was never created; that to focus on one person when hundreds worked together to create something is unfair on those who did nothing wrong; and that the public has a moral responsibility to act to ensure that the predators face consequences because as long as the public is willing to buy, the institutions will turn a blind eye.

I'll admit, it does trouble me to have to make such decisions in the heat of the moment, before the facts can be properly known.  In cases of reported sexual harassment or assault, my default is to believe because it is so rare to have a false accusation.  And yet I am aware of the dangers of automatic responses, because there are people out there who will take advantage of social movements and use them as political weapons against their enemies.  As much as we long for simple, emotionally satisfying solutions where it's easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, life is not that simple.

I believe that one of the reasons why the idea of boycotting art to punish the artist is so popular is that we don't have faith in the actual justice system.  If we believed that police and the courts were able to determine the truth of every accusation and that those who have been assaulted will be able to come forward and see justice done, I don't think we'd feel as strong a need to take matters into our own hands.  We do it as a form of social pressure, to say "This is not acceptable to us" because the authorities have a habit of downplaying and disbelieving rather than going against cultural icons or socially powerful figures.  It's a way to support the survivors by evening the playing field.

I think it also has something to do with how recent the impact of the artist's actions were.  Historical records make it fairly clear that Beethoven was a real SOB, but his music is still transcendently passionate.  Since he's long dead, I'm not as concerned about supporting him by buying or listening to his music.  When Michael Jackson died, I noticed that his songs came out of radio retirement, marking a return after over a decade of accusations and suspicions.  Bram Stoker was a misogynist of the first order, but I still enjoy a good Dracula story.  

In the end, it's something that everyone has to decide for themselves.  Can I set aside an association that is personally distasteful and upsetting in order to enjoy a creation?  Sometimes the answer will be yes, but more and more often, I'm finding that it is no.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Weekly Update: January 7 to 13

 Weekly word count: 6690

Actual progress: less than that if you count total words in Deadly Potential so far.  However, this is how my writing process works.  For every final word in a book, I've written at least two others that got deleted.

I usually do at least four drafts of a manuscript before it's ready to go into anyone else's hands.

It is nice being able to write again.  I've probably got another week or two before I get my content edits back and then it's back to both writing and editing at once.

However, I've discovered another issue: self-induced insomnia.  For years, I've kept myself on a strict sleep schedule because I discovered many, many years ago that if I stay up past a certain point then I'm not getting to sleep before two or three in the morning.  And since I have to get up at oh-my-god-it's-early in the morning, then I end up with a critical sleep lack.

Over the last few months, I've been staying up late to write because my day job expanded its hours. And now I'm paying the price in that even if I go to sleep on time, I'm up until two or three.  Give me some time and I'll get my schedule back on track, but for now, it's a challenge.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Heroine Fix: Who Do You Want Me To Be? Echo from Dollhouse

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse was controversial right from the start.  The idea of being able to "purchase" a custom-designed personality, installed into the body of your choice, and then wiped of all memories of the encounter afterward, it strikes a hard chord of moral outrage.  So how can anyone take an inherently horrid concept and turn it into something that audiences can enjoy?

The usual answer is to make us care about the characters, but in this case, the characters are artificial, here for one episode and then wiped completely from existence.  In this case, Whedon drew us in by creating a world where no one and nothing is what it first appears to be.

First of all, he doesn't only have the "dolls" performing romantic or sexual engagements.  Need an incorruptible hostage negotiator?  Or someone absolutely trustworthy to care for your children?  If you have all the money in the world, you can hire a doll to fulfill any need.

S&M Barbie to Stay At Home Mom: Echo really can do it all
Offering a mystery is a great way to get people engaged, even if the characters would be considered traditionally unlikable.   We see glimpses of Echo's pre-doll life as Caroline but are left to wonder how she ended up making a Faustian agreement to leave her body for five years.  We are put in the position of asking ourselves, what would be worth five years of our lives?  We learn that the dolls enter into these contracts because they dealing with horrible traumas, like PTSD or the death of a child.

As intriguing as those questions are, that's not why I decide to choose Echo for this month's Heroine Fix.  I did it because she represents the ultimate silenced victim.  She is forced to become whomever the client wants, and she isn't pretending, it's forcibly laid into her brain.  Then, when the client is done with her, her memories are wiped and she is discarded.

Undercover agent, thief, psychopath, genius, devout... it doesn't matter.  She covers the entire gamut, none of it by her own choice.  But ultimately, she isn't helpless.  There is a core of strength and compassion that cannot be erased, no matter how many times she is rewritten.  And with that core, she slowly begins to defy expectations and the roles expected for her.

We all have our struggles.  We all have roles that we have to play that aren't particularly comfortable.  We all have to face other people who seek to impose their expectations on us.  And we're not always in a position to strike back or even defy those expectations.

But there is a core that we can rely on, that others cannot touch.  It defines who we are at our deepest levels.

That unbreakable core was something I wanted to incorporate into my own heroines, particularly in my latest one.  I wanted to explore the concept of someone having been stripped down to almost nothing and then bringing themselves back by remaining true to who they are at the core rather than trying to be something they're not.

Echo is inspiring because of how she holds tight to herself in the face of overwhelming power.  And she's an interesting example of how to create a powerful character without using any of the traditional tools.  By the traditional "rules" of writing, we shouldn't connect with her.  But we do, because of who she is at her core.

Are you addicted to strong heroines like I am?  You can sign up for my Heroine Fix newsletter and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Last month's Heroine Fix: The Circle of Sisters in Practical Magic

Next month, I'm looking at another fighter, Sarah Connor, from the Terminator movies and The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

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Monday, 8 January 2018

Weekly Update: December 31 to Jan 6

Weekly word count: 0

Editing countdown: 38 of 45 chapters

It's not hard to see the lack of writing progress this week, but that's what happens when I decide to rip out the back third of Judgment with a week to go before my editing deadline.  I've been working frantically to get it all back together.  I've probably written close to 12 000 words this week, but not on Deadly Potential, so the official count for this week is still 0.

I had a great ORWA meeting this weekend.  It was an informal brainstorming and plotting session and I got some good feedback on my plot ideas for Deadly Potential as well as helping me to firm up my main plot for book 5 of the lalassu.  (Still need a title, but now that I have a firmer grasp on what the story will be about, I can work on that.)

I can't wait to get the manuscript for Judgment off to the editor next week so that I can start more work on Deadly Potential.  And start the steps for broad distribution.  I'm feeling pretty excited about both.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

2018 Resolutions

It's a new year and as we wash up the champagne glasses, vacuum up the confetti, and resign ourselves to a return to the regular routine, it's time to think about where we want to be when the calendar flips over to 2019.

Even a few years ago, a year felt like a really long time.  But now it seems to vanish faster than I can keep track of.  

It would be easy to post my professional goals for 2018: my plan to pitch at RWA, continuing to build my readership, increase my weekly word count, etc.  Those are all real and valid goals and they will be getting a great deal of my attention over the next 361 days.

But that's not all I want to do.

I want to do something which scares me.  Or rather, something that I've wanted to do for awhile and which I keep talking myself out of because I'm afraid of what other people will think.

I want to treat myself the way I treat other people, celebrating talent and understanding mistakes.

I want to try something without being afraid of getting it wrong.

I want to spend time being comfortable in my own skin and home rather than listing off a bunch of "improvements" that I could make.

And last, but not least, I want to feel the thrill of discovery and possibilities without getting caught up in practicalities and logistics.

(Astute readers will notice that I'm not being specific and that is a deliberate choice.  Because the specific goals are not as important as the attitude change.  But I do have specific ideas for each of these desires, which I think is necessary to separate wishful thinking from achievable results.)

There is a real push for self-improvement right now.  All kinds of ads and promotions about how we can become better people.  But in the end, all of those goals boil down to the same ideas: be kind to yourself, conquer your fear, and find a way to bring a little more happiness into day to day life.

2017 was difficult and personally painful in a lot of ways.  I'm ready to leave it in my rearview mirror.  But it's also left me with a lot of uncertainty and guilt over opportunities missed and mistakes made.  And I've been inside my head for long enough to know that I need to take conscious steps to overcome those negative influences or they will continue to grow and drag behind me.

I'm ready for 2018 to be better.  And I hope that it is full of hope, laughter, and opportunities for all of you as well.  Happy New Year.

Previous Post: Heroine Overdose: a look at the amazing characters featured in my monthly Heroine Fix in 2017

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Monday, 1 January 2018

Weekly Update: December 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 5000

And two thirds of the way through my edit for Judgment.  Not bad for a holiday week.

I'm back to work at my day-job next week, plus dealing with kids who are out of school, so I'm making an adjustment for my goals.  I still want to do 2-3 chapters a day for editing, but I'm setting a goal of 3000 words for the week.

I've been doing a lot of thought about my writing goals for 2018 and I think I've got a good plan.  While I'm in the editing process, which will be from now until at least mid-April, I'm setting a goal of 4000 words per week.  Once Judgment is released, then I'm going to double that goal to 8000 words per week.

I'm putting up a new chart to track my progress on Deadly Potential with the goal of having the manuscript ready for RWA 2018 which is in mid-July.

I've got nine more days to get Judgment ready for the content edit.  Once it's off, then it will be time to do the work for getting the first three books out on wide distribution.  I should have two to three weeks while the manuscript is being read.  Hopefully that will be enough.

Heroine Overdose: The 2017 Heroine Fixes

To start off 2018 right, here's a reminder of the the amazing, strong, and wonderful women who were featured in 2017's Heroine Fixes.  They can be an inspiration for us all and a reminder that strong female role models come in all kinds of shapes and sizes:

(Warning, the linked posts contain spoilers for the series in question.)

1. Kaylee Frye - Girl Genius

Kaylee is smart, sensual, and a mechanical genius.  She is relentlessly cheerful and optimistic, which is a nice change from the brooding, damaged heroines (that I also love).

Writing positive characters can be a real challenge for an author.  Inner damage makes for great internal conflict and character arcs, it can be more of challenge to create the kind of subtle arc that a cheerful character needs (and it can't always be that they lose their optimism).

Kaylee is a great example of making the light side fascinating and endearing.

2) Penelope Garcia - Oracle of Quantico

Penelope is another positive genius done right.  I love the fact that she's a plus size heroine whose weight has never been the focus of her character or the punch line of a joke.

The lesson we can learn from Garcia is how to balance opposites to create a three dimensional character.  Too much on one side or another can topple into farce.

Her confidence and wit are what make her such a powerful character and inspiration.

3) Melinda May - Woman of Action

Agent Melinda May is not a woman of words.  She is a woman of action.  And those actions mostly involve kicking ass.  She is intimidating, competent, and self-sufficient.  Personally, I think she could take on any male action hero and walk away the victor.  Preferably in some sort of cool slo-mo walk.

While May is impressively professional in almost all of her dealings, her writers also manage to show touches of vulnerability that keep her character from feeling flat.

She is an excellent example of how the "less is more" approach can draw audiences in.  Also of how to kick two bad guys at once on opposite sides.

4) CC Bloom - Friends Forever

CC crackles with passion and loyalty.  She never pauses in achieving what she wants, doesn't take crap from anyone, and is fiercely devoted to those she loves.  

She is still the only strong, defiant female character I can think of who has a non-action hero career.  It's a reminder that strength can be shown in many different ways.

And in the end, nothing can be more poignant or enduring than those five simple words: "Sure, we're friends, aren't we?"

5) Lisbeth Salander - Uncompromising and Defiant

Lisbeth is surly, anti-social, and violent and yet she has readers across the world rooting for her (including me).  She is proof that not every character has to be nice in order to be sympathetic.

There are ways to make even the most unpleasant characters into ones the reader will root for.  Vivid description, almost wizard-like skills, and a David vs Goliath plot are just some of the tools that an author can use.

Lisbeth is a reminder that aggression and violence are not exclusively the hallmark of male heroes.

6) Stahma Tarr - Mistress of Manipulation

If you didn't catch the short-lived series Defiance, then you missed a masterful performance.  Stahma is demure, soft-spoken, and always seems to be in the background rather than the spotlight.  But she is also scary-smart and able to run complex manipulations with seemingly inconsequential whispers into a variety of ears.

She may not be on the side of the angels, but Stahma is an impressive character nonetheless.  She is an example of how strength can be found even in the most exaggerated of feminine restrictions.

Lady MacBeth might have brought down a king, but Stahma Tarr could take down entire empires.

7) Alice Quinn - Brilliant Bookworm

At first, Alice might look like just another Hermione Granger rip-off.  She's smart, far more advanced at magic than her other school companions, and initially portrayed as shy and withdrawn.  But she is far from simple.  Unlike most research characters, Alice is on the front lines and her skills are recognized by the putative hero, Quentin, when he allows her to take his place.

It's a flip of a stereotype that we all take for granted.  The exposition device character who has all this knowledge and skills but doesn't use them for some reason.  Why shouldn't that character be taking on whatever Big Bad threatens the hero?

Alice is powerful, smart and knowledgeable.  And rather than being forced into a secondary role, her talents are showcased.

8) Kitty Katt - Wolverine with Boobs

As a geek kind of gal, I can definitely appreciate Kitty's comic pop-culture references, and as a sci-fi fan and romance writer, I can most definitely appreciate her super-hot alien mate and wild adventures.  She avoids the common stereotypes of both suave action hero and the hide and shriek character-in-distress.  She's not afraid of failure or looking stupid and thus manages to accomplish more than most people would dream.

She is a wonderful example of a strong heroine who leads her own series, with most of the male characters fading into afterthoughts.  She doesn't compromise on her values or dreams, but is still devoted to her friends and family.

Kitty is enthusiastic instead of cynical, irreverent instead of overwhelmed, and angry instead of understanding.  She's a multi-dimensional character who feels as real as any non-fictional person.

9) Offred - Trapped in a Nightmare

Not every person who gets involved in extraordinary circumstances will rise effortlessly to the occasion.  Offred is trapped inside a world that is determined to strip away her power and render her utterly helpless, which is one of the most terrifying situations I can think of.  She might not single-handedly overthrow the system, but she survives, reminding us of the tremendous strength it takes sometimes to just keep breathing.

She is an example of the strength that we sometimes don't know that we have.  Of the difference between saying "I'm going to live" and "I'm not going to die."  By showing us her pre-society-collapse life in careful flashbacks, the audience is drawn deep into her world and the injustice is made to feel personal.

Her refusal to let the bastards grind her down is just as powerful as any flurry of ass-kicking.

10) Wonder Woman - The Original Grrl Power

Wonder Woman was the first female superhero to break past the sidekick and damsel roles.  She was created as a deliberate foil to the "punch your way to a solution" heroes that graced comic pages.  She is super-strong but also compassionate.  She's a "wonder" in both senses, in that she is amazing and that she still has a sense of wonder about the world.  She brings out the best in those around her.

It would be easy to turn Wonder Woman into a passive character, and unfortunately, it has happened over the decades.  But when she is written respectfully, she is a dynamic character who demands more of her fellow caped crusaders and the world, never accepting bad circumstances just because "that's how it is."  But I think her most inspiring facet is that she is what women could be if they were raised without confidence-stunting restrictions.

Wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and a goddess of the hunt in her own right.  That's a character worth remembering.

11) Willow Rosenberg - Witch, Redhead, and Genius

Willow began as an intriguing combination of teenage awkwardness and unfiltered genuineness.  As Buffy The Vampire Slayer progressed, she transformed into the most powerful character on the show but never picked up the flaw of hiding who she was.

Although she was picked on by the popular girls, Willow was surprisingly impervious to their social stings.  She was doing important work that she cared about and the opinions of others weren't going to stop her.  That strength allowed her to be a wonderfully quirky character and endeared her to plenty of geeks who weren't so thick-skinned.

But even though she could dismiss the darkness, she didn't fall into cynicism or become jaded.  In being herself, she saved the world.  A lot.

12) Sally and Gilly Owens - The Circle of Sisters

There are too few stories that focus on the powerful relationships between women.  Ostracized for their powers, the Owens sisters go in opposite directions.  Sally tries to blend in while Gilly defiantly stands out.  But its by working together and recognizing each other's strengths that they can overcome the curse that has plagued their families. 

By focusing on the sisters and their relationship rather than solely on Sally's romantic interest, her story becomes more poignant.  It's a reminder that the power of love really can accomplish miracles, but it doesn't always have to be romantic love (though I do still enjoy a happily ever after).

Most of all, it's a reminder not to set our amazing heroines in a male-dominated world.  One strong heroine is powerful, but several, working together, can change the entire story.

*  *  *

I hope you've enjoyed this look back at these lovely ladies who we can admire and who inspire us.  Your next Heroine Fix will be here on January 11th and then the second Tuesday of every month.  Or you can sign up for my Heroine Fix newsletter, and never miss your next fix.

Previous Post: 2017 Ink Tips, my monthly advice posts on writing and publishing

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