Thursday, 29 March 2018

Ink Tip: Dos and Don'ts of Accountability Buddies

Writing is solitary.  No matter how many voices and worlds live inside a person's head and how real they feel, in the end it's just the author and a keyboard (or paper and pen if they prefer old school).  Add in the fact that most authors also have jobs they need to pay the bills, and all the other things that can complicate life and it becomes clear why sometimes letting the words flow isn't as easy as it sounds.

Inspiration is going to strike any second now.
Or maybe now.
How about now?
One of the ways to overcome life-induced inertia is to pair up with an accountability buddy.  It's a fairly simple concept: pick someone and then each day or each week or each month, you have to tell them how much you've written.  But setting up your accountability buddy can be more complicated than it sounds.  The wrong type can actually end up discouraging an author instead of encouraging them.  So here are some suggestions from my own experience with accountability buddies.

First question to look at: do you actually do better if you have someone to be accountable to?  

Not everyone likes having to share their successes and failures with another person.  If the idea of having to tell someone that you've failed to meet your writing goal is something that is going to gnaw at you, casting a pall over your writing time, then an accountability buddy isn't the best system to get your fingers moving.  But if admitting failure lights a fire under you, then the next step is to find the right accountability buddy.

Second question: how competitive are you?

I've had a few accountability buddies over the years and I've discovered that I have to be careful.  If my buddy is too productive, I feel discouraged.  My first buddy regularly wrote between 5000 and 10 000 words a day, at a time when I was doing amazing if I wrote over 500 words in a day.  My second buddy didn't write more days than she did, and so it didn't drive me.  Because she wasn't writing, it was easier to tell myself that I'd write tomorrow.

If you're competitive then you need to make sure that you don't feel like you're losing to your accountability buddy.  If you're more on the congratulate and celebrate side of the spectrum, then your buddy's output isn't as critical.

Which leads to our next step: what are the rules going to be?

Do you want your buddy to kick your butt if you don't make your writing goals?  Or would you rather have encouragement and pats on the back?  How often do you want to share?  Daily?  Weekly?  Monthly?  Do you have to share if you have a 0 word day?  Do you share privately or on a public forum?

Having a buddy should feel good.  It can be a great feeling to be able to tell someone "I did it!" and know that they will understand how good that can feel.   Having someone to celebrate with can make this solitary profession a little easier.  

Big thanks to my accountability buddy @LBoota and her amazing gifs of encouragement that keep me going.

Previous Ink Tip: Punctuation and Grammar (Comprehension vs Consistency)

Previous Post: Please take time to think (How we can all work to prevent online bullying)

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Monday, 26 March 2018

Weekly Update: March 18 to 24

Weekly word count: 4480

Editing: done!  Judgment went off to the editor for line edits on Wednesday.

That means I have a couple of weeks before the next round starts and so I'm back to working on Deadly Potential.  I spent Wednesday re-reading what I had and decided to go in a slightly different direction, plot-wise.  I like what I had and I'll probably still use it (or parts of it) later in the manuscript, but it was pushing things too quickly for the characters.  But it meant that my total word count dropped by almost 12k.

This is how my manuscripts usually go.  At a certain point, I realize the story isn't quite stable and so I prune it back until I'm back on solid ground.  Then I can move forward again.  It's a balance between not getting too far off track and not ending up constantly rewriting the first ten chapters over and over.

I've got three and a half months left before RWA Nationals.  If I can keep up my pace, then I'll be able to pitch Deadly Potential.  

In other news, I got some good news this week.  I'm going to be an official panelist at Ottawa Comic-Con this year, along with my fellow ORWAns Eve Langlais and Lucy Farago, and my friend, 'Nathan Burgoine.  We're going to be talking about the different paths available to those who want to publish.  And I got asked to do a workshop for Ottawa Independent Writers in May.

Lots of balls in the air between now and the summer but luckily my mental juggling skills are much better than my actual hand-eye coordination.   

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Please Take Time To Think

(Please be careful with this one: trigger warnings for suicide and bullying)

Have a heart.  You'll need it for this post.
Earlier this week, I heard about someone who tried to commit suicide after being attacked on Facebook due to a dispute over the creation of a book cover.  People accused her of stealing the design and then started a series of personal attacks telling her to kill herself and that the world would be better off without her in it.

Just so there is no confusion about my position: attacking this young woman was wrong.  Even if she maliciously and deliberately appropriated someone else's work, she would not deserve this level of abuse (and from what I've seen, that seems like it would be out of character for the young woman in question and that there is not sufficient similarity between the covers to assume her design was stolen).

Two of my friends have had their work plagiarized and it is a horrible, violating experience.  In those cases, it was a deliberate theft.  The names of the characters were changed but over 85% of the text was identical.  That's not a coincidence or an accidental repeating of a turn of phrase.  It was an attempt by another author to pass off their work as her own so that she could keep putting out new books at a frantic pace.

Both of my friends were heartbroken.  It felt like a personal attack on themselves.  They had put a great deal of time and effort into their books.   The plagiarizing author first claimed she had never heard of the books in question, then claimed it was an unconscious echoing, and then finally admitted that she may have "unwisely" borrowed too much from their texts.

This woman did what the young cover designer was accused of.  And it was intensely painful for my friends to go through.  And not once did they ever attack her on a personal level or encourage anyone else to do so.  They told their fans not to engage but rather to trust in the authorities.  They certainly never pushed for this author to commit suicide.

Because that would be wrong.  Even though she harmed them, that's not worthy of a mob-induced death sentence.

Every time I hear about someone encouraging someone else to harm themselves or trying to deny their basic humanity, it's sickening and disheartening.  It's hard to believe these are real people and not some horrific AI bots.  How can a real person say such hurtful things, attack with such deliberate intent to cause pain?  It's beyond my imagination and I'm glad of that.  I have enough darkness in my head without it.

I've heard it defended through claims that these are people who don't know better.  That they don't understand how telling someone to kill themselves could cause someone to actually do it.  That to them, it's merely hyperbole on a screen.  I don't think that's true.  I think the people who do such things know the power they wield and the satisfaction that it gives them outweighs the impact on their conscience.

But I also believe they are far fewer in number than we might believe.  Their power is enhanced by those sending angry messages attacking a person's character, their integrity, and their intentions.  Those messages destabilize the target and leave them vulnerable to the true predators.

So I'm hoping that everyone will take a moment to think before sending out angry messages on social media.  Even when it feels entirely justified and it seems that the target deserves to be subjected to public rage, we should hesitate.  Because we can never know the full story.  We're making snap judgments based on a small amount of information that may or may not be true, and even if true, may have been presented in a biased way.  We should avoid joining in social media lynch mobs, especially if they are targeted at a particular individual.

Please, just take some time to think before typing.  It really can be the difference between life and death.

Have another heart.  I think we all need it after that.

Previous post: The Real Lessons of Conspiracy Theories

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Monday, 19 March 2018

Weekly Update: March 11 to 17

Another 0 word week but I'm nearly done the editing for Judgment.  42 of 45 chapters done.

After careful consideration, I"m basically rewriting the last five chapters to make a much more streamlined and fast-paced ending.  Some stuff has been moved from the epilogue to the final chapters and other stuff has been reworked.

This is probably the most exhausting and demoralizing part of my writing process.  It's the part where I doubt myself the most and question everything.  I am absolutely savage in ripping apart my drafts and I demand the same from my editors.  But it's hard on my ego and self-faith.

However, I think what I'm going to end up with is a pretty awesome book that I can feel proud about.  

Edits are due on Thursday next week and then I can get on with writing Deadly Potential as well as deal with some of the other things I need to take care of: like getting the pre-orders up for Judgment and organizing my cover reveal.

There is lots of stuff to keep me busy over the next few months but it's going to be exciting to finally get to share all of it with you.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Real Lesson of Conspiracy Theories

I was born on the tail end of Generation X which means I grew up with just as many conspiracy theories as fairy tales (which explains a lot about me, now that I think about it).  The government was hiding evidence of UFOs at Roswell and Shag Harbour.  They had satellites capable of reading newspapers from orbit.  They were recording phone calls and keeping files.

5 across is SAVE not SAME!
Basically, there was a great deal of cynicism about the motives of public figures.  No longer was it assumed that people were acting out of altruism and public interest.  Sometimes they were covering up horrible crimes (such as taking bribes, or covering up abuse) and sometimes they were just abysmally uncaring of the consequences of their actions.

I look around today and it's astonishing how many conspiracy theories are out there.  From those who think that Big Pharma is concealing evidence that vaccines cause autism, to accusations that mass shooting victims are paid actors, to the ever popular lizard-people-in-disguise who run our governments.  But I also think there has been a significant change for how these theories work.

When we used to meet in coffee shops to whisper about conspiracies (don't judge), we were following the tagline of The X-files: The Truth is Out There.  We would get frustrated when people included obviously false or discredited information in their proof, as that undermined anything else they were presenting.  We discounted people who offered nothing beyond "it's all lies and fake evidence" as proof.  We applied critical thinking to what we were told, sharpening our abilities to see through plausible lies and self-serving misdirection.

Honestly, I think that was a good thing for us.  It is not in the public's interest to blindly trust the government or media, but it is also not in the public interest to automatically distrust authority and believe anyone with a website and an agenda.  We need to apply critical thinking to everything we're told, because it is appallingly easy to get caught up in lies, regardless of the source.

Conspiracy theories demonstrate how much we have to take things on faith.  Personal experience is always substantially more limited than the information we receive about the world around us.  If I'm not at a particular speech, I have to rely on other people to tell me what was said.  If it was recorded, I need to be aware of editing and what context may have been emphasized and what might have been left out.  This is how people are able to use the same evidence to support radically different points of view.  

Let's take the famous photo of the Roswell debris for an example.  At first look, it seems like a photo would provide some definitive evidence.  We can look at the photo and see what was found in the farmer's fields.  Sounds like it should be case closed, right?

Except it's never that simple.

Major Jesse Marcel, the man in the photo, said that this debris is not what he saw out in that field.  He claimed that this photo was staged to prevent panic and maintain secrecy.  He deeply resented how the government and the media represented him as a man who could not differentiate between an extraterrestrial craft and a weather balloon.

Counter-conspiracists (yes, it's a thing) claim that Marcel lied to protect his own reputation.  They believe that this photo is exactly what it appears to be on the surface: the debris collected in Roswell, New Mexico.  Nicer versions say that Marcel got confused in the dark and realized what was going on in the light of day.  Less nice versions accuse him of working up the public for his own purposes (revenge at being overlooked to pilot the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, desire for public recognition or a movie deal, the list is impressively varied).

Alternate conspiracists say that Marcel did in fact find something unusual in those fields but it was a classified airplane or satellite.  The weather balloon debris was substituted in order to protect defense secrets.

Lots of possibilities, some more plausible than others but they all hinge on one fact: whether or not the debris in the photo is actually what was found.  There's no way that any individual can know for certain unless they were one of the individuals involved in both the initial search and the photo shoot.  Everyone else is relying on hearsay.  But it's still important to remember that there is a truth under all of the elaborate stories.  Either that is the Roswell debris or it isn't.

It's exciting to think that we know something that others don't.  It's cool to be in the position of educating others about a new twist or fact.  But these theories can also cause a great deal of harm.  

Fears about vaccines causing autism have caused measles to return and some of those cases have led to otherwise preventable deaths.  The belief that mass shooting victims are paid actors has led to people threatening and attacking those who are suffering from trauma and grief and caused significant resources to be devoted to disproving the claims. 

The latter is the most common and most pernicious problem with conspiracy theories.  They waste time.  Millions of dollars, untold hours and masses of personal energy are spent debunking these theories over and over and over again.  And those who support them simply refuse to believe the accumulating evidence, dismissing it again and again. 

It's fun to speculate.  I still love doing it and that's why my series has a secret society and government conspiracies.  It can be a great tool to sharpen critical thinking and awareness of one's own personal biases.  But there does need to be a level of accountability and awareness of how these theories can cause harm.

Meanwhile, come and join me for a coffee and we can talk about how Bigfoot is secretly an extra-terrestrial entity who has come to save our wildlife in a pan-dimensional ark.

For more stuff on space, you can look at my previous post on the real-life heroines of Hidden Figures.

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Monday, 12 March 2018

Weekly Update: March 4 to 10

35 of 46 chapters edited, 11 days until the deadline.

No words written this week, at least not on my WIP.  I've done a fair amount of rewriting on Judgment to tighten up the ending.  It's coming together nicely and if I can keep up the pace, then I should not have a problem making my deadline.

It's been a very stressful week personally, with some challenges with my son's school.  I find it's really hard to keep my focus when I'm stressed.  Most of the time, I can compartmentalize but this week I found myself realizing that I'd spent the last twenty minutes brooding instead of editing.  I've had to up my musical accompaniment playlist to keep myself on track.  (More upbeat instead of smooth melodies.)

I've also been a little disappointed in the reach of my latest Facebook boost.  Usually I get a distribution of a couple hundred people and at least triple the usual numbers viewing the post.  This time, the numbers are a lot lower and I'm not getting the post views.  I'm not sure if Facebook has changed something or if its because I'm running the giveaway.  I'll have to do some experimenting to be sure.

It's March Break this week and I'm going to take advantage of the fact that camp runs longer than school to get extra writing time.  I've cleared my schedule and it's full speed ahead.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Heroine Fix: The Ground Breakers of Hidden Figures

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 can't pretend to fully understand the full impact that Margot Lee Shetterly's book and the movie Hidden Figures had on the African American community.  I'm thrilled that the real-life contributions of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and many others are being recognized but I know it didn't have the same impact on me.

But what did make an impact on me was watching three brilliant and determined women fighting against prejudice and expectations.  It reminded me that only a few short decades ago, things were much more rigid.  It reminds me that as difficult as things seem now, they have actually improved and part of that improvement came because of the efforts from the women who refused to be defined by their gender or skin colour.  They had to fight so that they could make necessary contributions.

Both the book and the film are full of powerful scenes.  One that struck me from the book was a scene from the lunch room.  There was a sign to indicate which table the coloured computers should sit at.  Every day, one of the women took that sign, crumpled it up and stuck it in her purse to throw away later before she and the others sat down to eat.  Every day it was replaced and every day she got rid of it.  Eventually, the sign disappeared.  It was a small gesture, but it eventually wore down the prejudice behind it. 

To me, that scene is far more powerful than Kevin Costner's smashing down of the bathroom signs.  That was one dramatic gesture of frustration from someone in a position of privilege.  To fight back on a daily basis from a position of vulnerability is a far more potent demonstration of strength and determination.  It was more than a momentary commitment.


I'm not sure how true to life the portrayal of Mary Jackson was, but the spunky, smart woman in the film certainly matched the description in the book.  Her cynical, insightful wit is something that I've admired in many heroines.  She is angry at the prejudice she sees around her and doesn't hesitate to call attention to it.  But she's also ready to fight, whether its convincing a state trooper to give them a police escort to work or a judge to allow her to attend classes at an all-white high school.  She's proud, smart, and earns the credentials needed to become a NASA engineer, an impressive achievement in any individual but doubly so when you consider the obstacles she had to overcome. 


Dorothy Vaughan's career seemed to be defined by fights.  She fought to be recognized and paid as a supervisor, despite doing the work.  Then the women that she supervised began losing their jobs as computers.  She recognized that the machines were going to replace human computers and taught herself how to program them, so that she would continue to be a valuable NASA employee.

Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson both fought hard for their own achievements, but Dorothy Vaughan brought others with her.  In the film, she teaches the computers how to program their mechanical counterparts, ensuring their future jobs.  It would have been easy for her to set herself up as a sole expert, but she recognized the work needed more than one person and saw an opportunity to help others in her community.


The main focus of both the book and the movie is with Katherine Johnson.  I'm not an expert in mathematics, but clearly math didn't hold any secrets from her.  I had heard the story that the astronauts trusted her calculations over the machine's and if the performance was true to life, then it's easy to see why.  She seems effortlessly brilliant, almost a savant in her mathematical skills.

She took on an incredibly difficult job, creating the equations necessary for the space program.  She fought to gain access to the classified information she needed (I love the scene in the movie where she realizes she can see the information behind the blacked out portions).  And she really did run a half-mile every time she needed to use a restroom, until NASA disposed of segregated bathrooms.  Her angry speech about the limitations placed on her by society's prejudice is a brilliant bit of acting by Taraji P. Henson.  The audience can feel the frustration that's been piling up, the fear of repercussions that has held her back, and the refusal to give up her dignity.

And she fell in love, which is always a bonus cherry and sprinkles for any story to me.  And she didn't do it by playing dumb or by building up her husband-to-be.  She gives him hell for underestimating her and he comes around to understanding the benefits of being married to a brilliant bread-winning woman.

All three of these women are strong but they show their strengths in different ways.  Mary is defiant, a scalpel slicing through barriers.  Dorothy is practical, focused on improving the here and now.  And Katherine's mind is already in space, reaching out to touch the stars.  Their story reminds me of the importance of showing different kinds of strength in my own heroines.  It reminds me of all the different barriers that women face and to never underestimate another just because her approach is different from my own.

Most importantly, it reminds me that stubbornness can make a big difference through small actions.  Water will wear away the strongest stone.  All it needs is time and persistence.

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

And if you'd like to give my strong heroines a try, you can enter my giveaway for a free copy of my first book Revelations in your preferred ebook format.

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Previous Heroine Fix: Sarah Connor: From Damsel to Deadly

Previous post: Ink Tip: Spelling and Grammar

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Next month, I'll be looking at one of my new favourite heroines, Letty from Good Behaviour.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Weekly Update: Feb 25 to March 3

Weekly word count: 1795 words

26 of 46 chapters edited

This week I came to a sad decision.  I looked at the calendar and with 20 chapters left to edit in 17 days, I need to focus on that instead of my WIP.

So for the next few weeks, the word count is going to be 0 and I'm going to have to be okay with that.

I got my cover for Judgment and I can't wait to share it with all of you.  I just want to get my pre-orders up and ready to go.

I also got the rights back to go non-exclusive for Metamorphosis and Whisper in the Dark, so those will be appearing in wide-distribution ebook stores soon.  And I've been looking at swag options for RTC.  I'll be doing my Beyond the Furrowed Brow talk and a Basics of Burlesque workshop while I'm there.

This month's ORWA meeting was a blast.  We had a local martial arts expert come in and give some practical demonstrations as to fighting and self-defense techniques.  Lots of good tips and the eternally practical advice of "The trouble with knowledge is that even idiots can have it."  Meaning, don't rely on fancy moves or a routine because life rarely goes the way you expect.  A variety of simple moves will be more effective, if you ever need to use it.

All right, back to the grindstone.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Ink Tip: Punctuation And Grammar

So which category do you fall into?  Are you a flexible whatever gets the job done?  Or do you have strong opinions about the proper usage of an Oxford comma?

It's loves bedsheets, sales, and fireflies!  Not bedsheet sales and fireflies!
I've seen several articles over the last few days talking about how being rigid about spelling and grammar can actually form barriers to diversity and multiculturalism in publishing.  I've also seen some thoughtful commentaries about how English is a rapidly evolving language that accepts variants (exhibit one: Shakespeare's entertaining spelling choices).  And finally, there have been the articles decrying the dumbing down of North American culture.

I'll admit to having mixed feelings on the subject.  On the one hand, poor spelling and grammar drives me nuts.  I don't even like the LOL Catz.  But I also recognize that the rules are inconsistent and vary quite a bit.  That's why there are different rules for grammar styles. (my editing house uses the Chicago Manual).  And for the most part, the minor variations between them don't affect comprehensibility.

I think that there is room to be inclusive and different voices make stories interesting.  So I don't believe that anyone needs to be particularly difficult about sticking to any particular style.  And frankly, in a world of autocorrect and touch-screen typing, none of us are living in glass-free houses when it comes to throwing error-rocks.

But I also don't think it's ridiculous or overly fussy to expect a certain level of professional language from a writer for a published work.  Nothing will throw me out of a book faster than a mis-used homonym like "the reign came down in soft fat waterdrops."  I don't attack people for mispellings or odd grammar choices in their social media posts or even day to day writings, but if they have asked me to pay for something they've written, I expect not to be jolted out of the story.

So how can we find a balance between making sure that there is room for everyone to tell their stories and no one group is dominating publishing, and making sure that readers have enjoyable reading experiences?  I don't know the answer to that particular riddle but I've heard some good suggestions, like offering free spelling and grammar editing for aspiring authors who might otherwise be barred from submitting to publishing houses.  

Because the thing is: people do care about grammar and spelling.  It's not just about being understood and everything else is a bonus.  Properly written, the words become invisible to the story, flowing directly to the reader's mind to create a fictional world that can become more real with every chapter.  And that's how it should be.