Monday, 26 February 2018

Weekly Update: February 18 to 24

Weekly word count: 3630

Chapters edited: 17 of 46

A look back at the last month shows that I've been struggling to make my word count, so I've decided to step it up and join my fellow ORWAn, @LBoota.  We'll be tweeting each other every day with our word counts and hopefully it encourages us both to get our fingers on the keyboard.

It's been a real up and down week for me.  The highlight was doing an escape room with some of the ORWA gals.  (Spoiler: we didn't make it out but we had a lot of fun and I think we made some good progress and showed innovative thinking.)

The low point was discovering that someone I've known and who has been working with my family for over a decade had committed suicide.  It was a professional relationship so there wasn't a strong emotional attachment, but as someone who has struggled with depression for most of my life, it still ended up hitting me hard.  Here is a link for crisis centres in Canada.  If you're hurting, please reach out for help before making any big decisions.

And if you're not hurting, please take a moment each day to be kind.  A moment of kindness can be like a spark in a dark room.  It doesn't take much to chase the shadows away, even if its only for a second.  You never know when that moment can make all the difference.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Myth: High Maintenance vs Low Maintenance

Forgive me for a moment while I share something that has always bugged me.  In When Harry Met Sally, there is a scene where the two title characters are watching the end of Casablanca together over the phone and Harry comments that Ingrid Bergman is a "low-maintenance" woman and explains his theory about high-maintenance vs low-maintenance women.

Sally then asks which one she is and he casually tells her that she's the worst kind, a high-maintenance who thinks that she's low-maintenance.  Then as an example, he points out how she orders things on the side so that she can control her food.  Her response is "I want what I want, the way I want it."  And he accepts that as a confirmation that she is high-maintenance.

This scene stuck in my head when I first saw it and my takeaway from the scene was that it was not a good idea to be a high-maintenance woman, i.e., one who insisted on having things her way rather than going with the flow (even if the flow wasn't going somewhere that she wanted to be).  Now, granted, in the end, the two characters end up falling in love but I always got the sense that it was in spite of her high-maintenance rather than a genuine acceptance of it.

Looking back at it from a more aware distance, it was only one of a wide variety of messages encouraging girls (and the women they would become) to not make a fuss, and as a side-effect (or underlying purpose, depending on how cynical you are), it also encouraged them not to seek out what they wanted.  To put aside their desires and needs in favour of not inconveniencing others.

I've heard other men citing the high vs low maintenance distinction and it's made me want to share a little jolt of reality.  The distinction is a myth.  All women have their own wants and dreams.  And bluntly, it's time that, as a society, we stopped pretending that's a bad thing.

Insisting on getting what we want, the way we want it, is a perfectly good way of going about life.  And I cannot see why that would be a deterrent to any partner who genuinely cared about the person in question.  Being with a person who is open about what he or she desires is much easier than one who hides behind a mask of what they think the partner wants.  "High-maintenance" should be the preferred choice because everything is out in the open and there are no games being played.

There is still an undercurrent of "don't get greedy" in a lot of media today.  I'm particularly sensitive to it when it comes to the current rush of superhero movies, which have chosen to perpetuate the comic books' "happiness is only a prelude to disaster" approach to relationships and dreams.  If someone is happy in a healthy relationship, or has achieved a dream, it's a safe bet that it will all be undermined later.  

If a heroine falls in love (and it's not a romance), there's a good chance that her partner will either leave or die, leaving the relationship as an idyllic interlude.  If she gets her dream job or career, she will likely discover that it isn't what she wanted anyway.  Women who are demanding are cast in the role of villains.  Even romance isn't entirely free of this bias.  There are a number of stories where the heroine stumbles into her heart's desire without any intention or idea of what it was in the first place.  Or the heroine is working hard at achieving a dream only to discover it isn't what she really wanted.  There aren't many where a woman is working hard to achieve her dreams and ends up achieving them, plus a bonus round of things she didn't think she was going to get and also wants.

At least romances do end with a happily ever after which implies that the heroines have gotten what they wanted and are satisfied.  That means a lot and is infinitely better than the bravely going forward and learning to live with lesser dreams approach that dominates outside romance.

But I also think that maybe it's time to start celebrating the high-maintenance heroine and her open desires, whatever they may be.  It's time to start believing that what we want is worth pursuing and definitely worth a little outsourced inconvenience.  And even more importantly, that we have every right to have what we want, the way we want it.  And more.

Previous post: Examining the Friends to Lovers Trope

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Monday, 19 February 2018

Weekly Update: February 11 to 17

Weekly word count: 500

Chapters edited: 12 of 45

This week ended up being a self-care week.  And not as in an "I'm on holiday and having too wonderful a time to worry about work" kind of way.  More like a "I'm on holiday but I've got a lot of upset, angry people to manage plus deal with my own kids" kind of way.  It's been an incredibly stressful week and there has been no opportunity for the break I would need to be able to cope.  So in order to stretch my coping abilities, I made the very hard decision to put aside my hopes of writing early on in the week and about halfway through I realized I also needed to stop editing if I wanted to have a shot of making it back home reasonably intact.

I'm glad my kids have had a good time (with some speedbump/tantrum fits along the way).  They've gotten a good dose of Disney magic and there have been some delighted smiles and laughter.  But it is a lot of work to make that happen and the vast majority of that has fallen on my shoulders and been made more difficult by the extended family who is vacationing with us.

I'm emotionally and mentally exhausted right now.  I want to crawl into a hole and cry and sleep and not come out for a very long time.  But that's not a luxury that I have, not now and not when we're home.  I've prided myself on being able to work through such things, but I'm also smart enough to know when I'm done.  And for now, I'm done.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Examining the Friends to Lovers Trope

The Friends To Lovers trope is when two characters begin as friends, usually with a long-standing friendship, but fall in love through the course of the story.  It's one of my favourite tropes, since it usually requires a non-alpha hero.  I also love alpha heroes but they are notoriously short on friends.  They might have brothers-in-arms but not someone they could call on to ask for help (which alpha heroes hate doing anyway) or talk about something emotional.

The Friend To Lover hero is usually a good guy, kind and considerate.  He's been emotionally supportive of the heroine, usually through difficult times in her life.  In other words, he's already put in the work that alpha heroes are scrambling to manage from the mid-point of the book onward: that they can do more than solve problems in a hail of bullets or fangs.

About a month ago, I was quite distressed to see a post talking about how the Friends To Lovers trope is actually harmful to both men and women in setting up expectations.  It talked about how the trope encourages the idea of that a person can just hang around another person, doing things for them, and that eventually that other person is supposed to reciprocate by getting into a sexual relationship.  The example they used to illustrate was Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory.

In season one, Penny is a vivacious, attractive young woman who dates widely but is struggling financially.  Leonard has a crush on her and starts doing a wide variety of things for her, giving her food, paying her bills, sharing his wi-fi, and at one point, I believe he even buys her a car.  He listens to her complain about the men she's dating and is agony that she never sees him.  They end up dating, breaking up, dating again and then marrying.

To me, this isn't a true Friends To Lovers story.  Leonard's intention from day one is to make Penny see him as a romantic candidate.  At several points in the series, he's angry about all that he's done for her and how she's failed to fall in love with him (although he does not confront her, he complains to his friends, who mock him as a loser).  His friendship came with a price-tag, which to me, means it wasn't a real friendship.  One can't move from being friends to lovers if they were never friends in the first place.

For a much superior example of Friends To Lovers, I'd recommend Olivia Dade's short story, Cover Me, in the anthology Rogue Acts.  The heroine, Elizabeth, is in a desperate situation.  She suspects she has cancer and doesn't have health insurance.  The hero, James, has been her friend for many years.  As he works out a way to help her, he realizes that he loves her not just as a friend, but also as a romantic partner.  Although he hopes to deepen their relationship, his aid is freely offered.  Regardless of how she feels about him, she can depend on him as a friend.

This is how Friends To Lovers is supposed to work.  A genuine friendship deepens into a romantic relationship, not one desperate person trying to buy their way into a relationship.  So, for example, I wouldn't consider Ross and Rachel from Friends to be a Friends To Lovers story, but I would consider Chandler and Monica as an example of the trope.

And I'll admit that it makes me angry to see this trope picked on as setting up unrealistic expectations.  First of all, I don't think it's unrealistic for friends to develop a deeper affection for one another (a la When Harry Met Sally or several real life examples I could point to).  And second, as I said before, a friendship based on an expectation of eventual sex is not a real friendship.

That's one of the things I like about When Harry Met Sally, Monica and Chandler, and Cover Me.  When one character decides that their feelings have changed, they don't spend a lot of time hiding it.  They're honest but don't force their expectations on the other person.  There's no drawn out will-they/won't-they drama (which, by the way, is an artifact of TV scripts and not a genuine romance novel plotline).  Sharing how they feel without expectations is one of the bravest things a character can do, in my opinion.  And all of them are rewarded for it with solid, wonderful relationships that earn their happily ever after.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Sarah Connor: Damsel to Deadly

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Valentine's Day Superhero Wisdom

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.  To celebrate here's some superhero wisdom about love.

Some of it is sweet, some of it is strong, and some of it is a little crazy, but it's all about finding what your happily ever after.

"I don't flirt.  I just say what I want."

Monday, 12 February 2018

Weekly Update: Feb 4 to 10

Weekly word count: 2220

Chapters edited: 7 of 46

Not my best week but given the life chaos, not the worst.  Next week, I'll be on holiday but I'm still hoping to get at least another 2000 words written on Deadly Potential and another 4 or 5 chapters done.  Then when I come back, it will be nose to the grindstone time.

I've gotten my first look at the cover for Judgment and I absolutely love it.  Once it's finished, I can't wait to show it to you.  I love getting to see my covers, it's the candy treat at the end of a hard slog to finish a manuscript.

I've got until March 20th to get my line edit ready to go.  I've gotten some good feedback from my beta readers and now it's full speed ahead.

I did my official sign up for RWA Nationals in Denver so the clock is officially ticking!  I am gonna do this (she said to herself with confidence).  

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Heroine Fix: Sarah Connor - From Damsel to Deadly

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

I started my Terminator experience with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and was instantly impressed by the character of Sarah Connor.  She was a mom but also a badass.  I hadn't ever seen a story before where the mom was able to do more than hide and shriek, or just stay oblivious while everyone else had adventures.

I'm sorry, Ms. Connor, but we're not looking for PTA volunteers today.
I rented a copy of the original Terminator and was immediately disappointed.  This fluffy-haired mewler was my brilliant Sarah?  I don't think so.  Then Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out and I was even more disappointed (for many reasons but mainly because there was no Sarah).  Thus I was super excited when they announced they were making a television series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Finally someone understood that this story was about Sarah, not John or the robot.  Then I cried and lost all faith in Fox when they decided to cancel the show after two seasons, despite the fact that it had both viewing numbers and critical acclaim.

No, really, Ms. Connor, the PTA is doing just fine here.
Sarah's story has always resonated with me and as I've gotten older, I see more of the brilliance of her character's journey.  She goes through a transformation even more radical than Ebenezer Scrooge's famous 180 but rather than going from evil to kind, she goes from good and afraid to good and kicking butt.

When her story begins, Sarah is an ordinary young woman in the nineteen-eighties (yes, the feathery hair used to be uber-cool).  She works as a waitress, she's laughing with her roommate about cute boys, her biggest concerns are paying the rent and maybe having a chance to have a little fun.  Then all of sudden, this guy drops out of nowhere and utters the iconic line: Come with me if you want to live.  She gets plunged into a nightmare of an unstoppable cyborg who is coming to kill her because of something she will do in the future.  She falls in love with her protector and then tragically loses him after their one night together.  (As a romance author/reader, I like to pretend the movie ends about fifteen minutes before it actually does and that they escape and have a life together up in the remote, machine-free wilderness.)

I've had a lot of fan-fic inspiration in thinking about Sarah's life between Terminator and Terminator 2.  She had a baby and had to learn how to survive off the grid, learn to fight and to become a weapons expert.  There are hints of weeks in the jungle, surviving in the Mexican desert.  John comments that she would hook up with anyone who could teach him, but I wonder if she ever ended up falling for someone.  Did she have to leave to protect them?  She had to have longed for her old normal life, but she committed wholeheartedly to what needed to be done.

And then she ends up in a mental hospital.  In Terminator 2, there's a scene where she is looking at a video of herself trying to warn everyone about the imminent rise of Skynet.  It's the image of a woman who has been driven mad by her foreknowledge, one who can't sleep knowing that everyone around her is doomed.  It's a masterful performance by Linda Hamilton.  When you think about everything her character has been through, it's amazing that Sarah isn't curled up on a floor somewhere, checked out from reality.

Just because someone is crazy, doesn't mean they're wrong about robots from the future being out to get them.
She demonstrates an impressive level of resilience, getting herself out of the hospital rather than waiting to be rescued.  She's free and at the elevators when the Terminator arrives.  She accepts the Terminator is now an ally rather than an enemy.  She also demonstrates a strong sense of morality and tactics.  Her plan to kill Miles Dyson is sound tactically, but she calls it off because she won't harm his children either directly or by shooting their father in front of him.  On a coldly logical front, two or even three lives should be worth saving billions, but Sarah won't pull the trigger.  In spite of all the horrors she's seen, she still has her humanity.  It's a powerful moment.

It's a different combination than the traditional action hero.  Sarah is absolutely driven to protect her son and save the world.  She is adaptive and intelligent, but still has moments of vulnerability and uncertainty.  She's dealing with an enemy who doesn't underestimate her because of her background or gender, one that is absolutely ruthless and can only be stopped by destroying it.  And she wins.  Twice.

The idea of a mother going through a transformation of being overwhelmed and uncertain to taking charge, while still keeping her central morality intact, is one that inspired my latest heroine, Martha, and her novel, Judgment.  Too often, I find that fictional parents are more often defined by their absence than stars of their own stories, so when I introduced Martha in Revelations, I knew I'd eventually want to write her happy ending, too.

Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman who becomes an extraordinarily strong heroine.  I find it interesting how a large number of people can put themselves in her shoes and believe they would be able to do just as much.  (My future-robot-assassin contingency plan is well thought out and quite ingenious, if I dare say so myself.)  But when faced with something a little more plausible, like raising a special needs child, they are quick to say they could never handle it with the grace and patience that so many special needs parents do.  I believe that we are all capable of more than we could imagine when the circumstances arise.

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

Previous post: Let's Talk Consent: a look at how pop culture can influence how we see consent.

Next month, I'll be looking at the real-life heroics of the ladies of Hidden FiguresJoin me on March 8th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Weekly Update: January 28 to Feb 3

Weekly word count: 6730

Start of the editing countdown: Prologue + 3 Chapters, out of 45 (or so I thought)

Let's start with the unpleasantness.  I'm in the middle of some computer upgrades and migrations.  And as a result, I've had to switch around all the folders.

I got my content edit back this week and have now begun going through chapter by chapter to prepare for my line edit.  I started 3 days ago with a very intensive process that takes 2-3 hours to edit each chapter, assuming there are no major changes.  Anything involving a more substantial rewrite will take longer.  I'd done the first three chapters plus the prologue in 3 days and was feeling pretty good.

Until I realized I was editing the wrong version of the manuscript.  I label my manuscripts by drafts, starting with A.  This was the C draft and I should have been editing the D one.

Oh, that's discouraging.  

But there is good news.  I'd looked at what needed to be done and I'd asked for an extra 3 weeks to prepare, which the editor was kindly able to accommodate.  So rather than being under an incredibly tight schedule, I have the wiggle room to recover from this.

I'm still furious at myself, but it's a lesson in paying attention to the details.

Even more good news, ORWA's social media workshop this weekend was fascinating and incredibly useful.  And, as always, it was great hanging out with my friends.

I'm taking Sunday night to dust myself off, get a good night's sleep and accept that I screwed up.  Monday, we start again to do it right.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Let's Talk Consent

There's been a heck of a debate raging over the last month about how consent should work.  Should you accept a soft no from your partner?  Is an enthusiastic yes the only option that is acceptable?  Should details be worked out in advance?  Should we all start using safe-words?

And more to the point, how does pop culture determine how we frame these debates?

Sex is one of the trickier social minefields to navigate.  Most of us want it but society isn't big on talking about it.  Our desire for sex is used to sell just about everything, but we aren't supposed to admit that we want it.  Sniggering, degrading talk about our partners is still somehow more acceptable than honest sharing of experiences.  We are supposed to be experts but we're not supposed to have practiced.  Let's be honest.  It's a mess.  And it's made even trickier by the effects of desire on our minds.  Our ability to predict consequences go down and we're more willing to engage in risky behaviour.

Add in the misleading messages from pop culture and it's no surprise that there are a lot of misconception about how and when to obtain consent.  There are dozens of examples where men are able to magically understand that a woman really wants to say yes when she's clearly saying no (Han Solo and James Bond to name a few).  Women are portrayed as constantly wanting men to pursue them but have to pretend not to be interested, thus men should see refusal as a coy trick instead of a genuine expression.  It's a sobering experience to look at many of the great love stories of my youth and see many troubling assumptions about how people should interact when entering a relationship.

So how is it possible to change the narrative to one that is safer and more respectful of both parties?  First and foremost, by encouraging more voices to share their stories.  Those who have been on the wrong end of these assumptions are going to be faster to identify the problems.

Second step: use pop culture to change the narrative.  The biggest weapons in the arsenal for changing our views in society are novels, television, and movies.  I'm biased, but I think romance novels are particularly well placed to change the script of how we pursue relationships.  But it's not just the romance genre, any story that has a subplot of people connecting on a romantic, emotional, or physical level needs to be aware of what messages they're sending.

In the eighties, asking for consent was seen as weak.  I recall Oprah saying on air that if a man has to ask if he can kiss you, the answer will always be no.  (That statement now makes me cringe.)  Using a condom was seen as a sign of distrust and as a total mood-killer.  Go back a few decades earlier and a woman who enjoyed and actively wanted sex was considered morally flawed.

These attitudes were all changed through pop culture, specifically romance novels.  It was a gradual shift, starting with women enjoying sex even if they didn't actively seek it out (hence the "ravish" plotlines) but then more and more authors found an audience who wanted heroines who took an active role.  Authors deliberately took on the challenge of making condom-use a standard part of love-making.  They reframed using a condom as a way to protect and care for your partner (rather than a sign of protecting oneself), and finding ways to make it part of the erotic process.

Now there are calls to do the same with making enthusiastic consent into a similar default.  There are still plenty of authors who see asking for consent as an interruption of the flow, but more and more, we're finding ways to make it sexy and exciting, the sign of a hero or heroine who is attuned to his or her partner and cares about their experience.  I believe that we can make a real difference by providing alternate scripts to the magical thinking approach.

And for those who enjoy a good alpha hero or heroine, I don't think they need to be worried.  Alphas don't need to be synonymous with jerks.  A character can be fierce, strong, protective, and take charge but also demonstrate caring about their partner.

The goal for all of us should be to want our partners to enjoy sex just as much as we do.  Mutual pleasure shouldn't ever be an option.  And the only way we can do that is by being honest and communicating, and then also be respectful and listen to what our partner is saying.  Maybe it takes a little longer, but it makes sure that we all have a lot more fun. 

Previous post: Ink Tip - Finding the Reason Behind the Story

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