Monday, 30 April 2018

Weekly Update: April 22 to 28

Weekly word count: 6329

This week's wacky adventure in my world involved losing almost all of my scheduled writing time due to several minor emergencies.  Which left me with a difficult choice: do no writing at all or lose sleep and stay up late to try and get some words down.

I chose stay up late.  So all this week, I've been starting writing around 10 pm and going until 11:30 or midnight, which requires a lot of caffeine.

That works in the short term but isn't sustainable for more than about five days.

I'm hoping that this week works better.  I'm putting the finishing touches on Judgment so that it'll be ready for release.  And I've got some swag to order for Limestone.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Ink Tip: But That's Not What I Meant! (Working With An Editor)

There are days when I wonder how anyone is able to communicate with one another... most of those days happen when I'm doing edits. 

Maybe I meant to say he grabbed a bear and took a drink!  It could happen!
Words are supposed to be straightforward.  Say the right ones and other people will grasp the information you are conveying.  This is the myth that we cling to and it's probably the basis for all civilization and culture.  But it's not quite entirely true, as is obvious to anyone who takes half a minute scrolling through the arguments on social media.

There's a lot of variation in interpretation of the words we use to communicate.  And often what we think we've said is not what we've actually said.  Editors and beta readers can help an author to narrow that gap, but it is an ego-shredding process.  

My rule of thumb is that I will not argue with my editor about a problem that she has identified, though I may not agree with her about the way to fix it.  This has saved a lot of headaches and arguments on both sides.  If she is asking why a character isn't jumping through the window to save the day, then I can't argue that I've laid out a dozen reasons already.  Either potential readers aren't making the connection with the previous reasons or those reasons don't seem like a sufficient excuse to avoid window-jumping.

That brings me to a choice: I can take out the window-jumping scene, I can tweak previous scenes to emphasize the reasons, or I can add a direct thought about why they're not window-jumping.  There are lots of options, I just need to figure out which one works best for my story and my style.

Sometimes there are other issues which can start to infringe on an author's voice.  Personally, I love using unusual words and descriptions but I know it can become off-putting for a reader to constantly have to guess what I mean.  So when my editor starts indicating that I need to take them out, it can feel like a personal sting.  But it forces me to consider each one: do I really need this? does it match the pacing of the story or am I slowing the reader when I shouldn't be?  I fight for the ones I really want and that I think are critical, but the vast majority get simplified.  By making me face how many times I've used the word "eeled" in a manuscript, I'm forced to hone my writing and avoid repetition.

One of the biggest reasons I use an editor is to ensure consistent writing style, i.e. use of commas, tenses, and italics.  There's a fair amount of variation in what is actually "right" in the English language (I have friends who will live and die in their defense of the Oxford comma) but it's inconsistency that makes most readers cringe.  My editor keeps my style consistent and I am eternally grateful, even if I sometimes go wide-eyed at the number of commas that I apparently missed.

None of these things are easily handled by an author on their own.  I know some authors who pay for three or four editors in the developmental stage, just to make sure they get a variety of viewpoints looking at it.   I know authors who do multiple line edits to make sure all of the typos, grammar and punctuation errors get caught.  (Though if you are going to do this, make sure that each line editor is familiar with the style that you have chosen: Chicago, Strunk and White, etc.)  An editor isn't your friend, but he or she is absolutely necessary if an author wants to move past the amateur stage.  It is a partnership and both sides have the same goal: to make sure a book is the best possible book it can be.  

My next best possible book, Judgment, will be coming out on May 14th and you can pre-order it now.  Sometimes the most ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things and you should never underestimate a mom with a mission.

Previous Post: Romance vs Reality: What Makes a Great HEA?

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Monday, 23 April 2018

Weekly update: April 15 to 21

Weekly word count: 4903

Not bad considering I got my line edits at the end of last week and have been spending two-three hours a day going through them.

This is the point in the process where I wish English was a more precise language with more definite dos and don'ts when it comes to punctuation, grammar, spelling, and style (like when to use italics and when not to).  Most of the time, I love the flexibility that allows for so much nuance and depth.  But not when I have to justify why I want to use a colon instead of a comma.  And both are technically right.

Deadly Potential is flowing nicely.  After this, I should be able to mostly concentrate on writing the manuscript, though there's still plenty to do for Judgment (like make up quote cards) and for the start of conference season.  I don't think I was ever under the delusion that writing was an easy career, but I still didn't imagine anything near this workload.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Romance vs Reality: What Makes an HEA?

An HEA (Happily-Ever-After) is an intrinsic part of romance, one of the defining features of the genre.  Stories like Romeo and Juliet or The Notebook might feature a love story but their tragic endings mean they are not romances.  If a book is labeled as a romance, the reader can know from page one that no matter how dark and horrible things seem, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s one of the reasons why romance appeals to me (and to many other readers).  We always get an HEA in romance, unlike in real life.

Romance view: mood lighting ; real life view: fire hazard
But not every HEA is created equal.  Every reader will have a slightly different opinion on what constitutes a satisfying HEA.  For some, they want evidence that the relationship survives its early turbulent days: i.e. an epilogue set a few years into the future.  For others, they want a wedding as a sign that the characters are committed to each other.  Some readers might want every aspect of the characters’ lives to be improved (great job, great relationship, all troubles resolved) while others are satisfied with knowing that the characters will be facing the difficulties ahead together.

It’s a tricky balance between what the author considers a satisfying HEA and what the readers demand.  I’ve heard of readers getting turned off of books because the HEA included a reconciliation gesture with an abusive family.  In their mind, the HEA would have been more satisfying if the characters had cut ties with people who had hurt them so deeply before, allowing them to be free of the ongoing pain.  Personally, I find a last minute wedding to be off-putting as part of an HEA.  If the characters have spent 90% of the book at odds with one another, then I’m not okay with them suddenly deciding that everything will be great once they’re legally bound.  (I do make an exception where the wedding is part of an epilogue and it’s clear that some time has passed and they’ve resolved their differences and are treating one another with respect.)

Romances are fantasies, and as such, they can explore scenarios which would be deeply problematic in real life.  For some readers, they want those fantasies untethered from the concerns of reality.  It’s okay for them if one character kisses another despite the second’s objections, because they know it’s all going to work out.  For other readers, that invalidates the HEA and destroys the illusion they were hoping to enjoy.  They want their romantic fantasy to be an attainable one, something that could happen in their own lives (werewolves, vampires, and superheroes notwithstanding). 

I tend to fall on the attainable fantasy side of the equation (and I will cling to my illusion that one day I might find out that superpowers are real).  If a hero or heroine does something that would be unacceptable to me in real life (like kissing someone who has said no, using insulting slurs against someone’s gender, race, or background, or going to an isolated location with a threatening stranger) then it no longer matters to me if everything is going to work out in the end.  Perhaps it’s overly judgmental of me, but in my mind, the character has no longer earned that HEA.  (Again, I can make exceptions if it turns out that the infraction is part of a character’s growth arc and they will learn why their actions are not okay and make amends.)

But even though I have strong feelings on what makes an HEA, you won’t find me telling someone else that they should find an HEA unsatisfying.  Because I don’t have the right to dictate what fantasy will or won’t work for someone else.  There are so many stories out there that everyone should be able to find HEAs that they can enjoy.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Weekly Update: April 8 to 14

Weekly word count: 5876

Two days this week where life got the better of me, but I'm still pleased with the overall total and progress.  

I got my line edits for Judgment back on Friday and now it's a mad rush to get them sorted out so that I can get the final text in place for release day.

Sunday's ORWA meeting was great despite the horrible weather.  Eve Langlais did a great job at going through the different self-publishing platforms and what authors should consider when deciding whether to self-publish or go the traditional route.

There's a lot of discouraging news coming out of the publishing industry right now.  It's hard to separate out rumour from fact but it does seem like the subscription model has drastically affected purchasing patterns.  Add in the fact that it's also incredibly vulnerable to scammers and there's a lot to be concerned about.  

It's the same trend that the music industry went through.  When songs first started being digitized, there was rampant piracy and a sense of entitlement to "free" music.  People bought less and less music and it wasn't necessarily because they were downloading free stuff.  People might buy individual songs, but they didn't want to go to the expense of buying whole albums or the time-cost of going to the record store.  It became harder for new artists to become discovered and even top level artists had their income slashed.  Add in the subscription/streaming services, and it's become even harder on the artist level.  

I understand the desire to pay less as a customer.  Money doesn't stretch as far as it used to.  But I also see it from the artist's perspective.  If companies can't turn a profit from an artist's work (be it books, music, whatever) then they aren't going to invest in it.  That applies on the individual level as well.  If artists need to have day jobs to pay the bills, there's less time to create and fewer of them are going to go to the expense and challenge of creating good products.

Lots of people have expressed the idea that it's okay to demand cheap or free entertainment  because the big global corporations are making tons of money so it doesn't really hurt them.  Paying ten dollars for something when the company gets $9.90 can seem like supporting an exploitive system.  But regardless of how you feel about the industry, the artist could probably use that dime.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Heroine Fix: Crafting a Great Bad Girl: Letty of Good Behavior

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

Last October, I joined a wonderful group of women for a writers' retreat.  I introduced them to one of my favorite series, Lucifer, and they in turn introduced me to Good BehaviorI was hooked instantly and became an insta-fan of the heroine, Letty.

He's in it, too.  If you need extra incentive.

But it got me thinking: why did I like Letty so much?  She's an addict, demonstrating problems with drugs, alcohol and impulse control.  She's a con artist, constantly lying to people from claiming to work for Instagram to pretending to be a ghost writer.  She steals, shoplifting $20 000 rings and chocolate bars with equal ease (and I'm one of those people who wonders what happens to background characters after the protagonist leaves).  By the logic of likeable heroines, Letty Raines has a lot more in common with villains than heroines.

That led me to take a closer look.  How did the writers make Letty likeable?

It starts with the first scene where Letty is dealing with a crap job at a restaurant and fights off a would-be rapist in the bathroom.  By putting her in a bad situation and in danger, the audience begins on her side.  We cheer when she slams the guy's head into the wall and steals his wallet all in one move.  More cheering when she quits the job immediately.

Then the writers begin to introduce Letty's story.  We learn she's been to prison.  We learn she has a child that she's not allowed to see.  We see the addiction and damage it has caused.  But we also see that she is making an effort to overcome it.  She constantly recites self-affirmations to boost her self-esteem.  She is struggling, which helps to keep the audience's sympathy.  But writers have to be careful, because struggle and failure can also alienate an audience.  It needs to feel as if suffering has a purpose within the narrative and that the character has a chance at overcoming their obstacles.

Enter the second weapon, they make Letty glamorous.  Wigs, clothes, shoes, Letty gets to play in the ultimate fantasy dress-up closet.  Her attractiveness also makes the audience more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. 

Then they show that she has a good heart.  She cares about her son.  She supports her mother, even when her mother is cruel to her.  She tries to save a complete stranger from being murdered when she overhears a hitman meeting with his client.  Her methods might be ethically dubious, but her efforts counteract the appearance of callousness.

And last but not least, they play on the audience's inherent desire to break the rules and get away with it.  Most of us have fantasized about doing whatever we wanted, without consequences.  Taking what we want without having to worry about paying for it.  Letty makes it look easy and tempting.  When she describes the thrill of deceiving someone and getting away with a crime, it's a statement that rings true for all of us, even if our biggest duping delight comes from successfully pretending to be sick so that we can stay home from work.

Letty is an unusually complex character.  Like people in real life, she's hard to pigeon-hole as good or bad.  She's both, sometimes at the same time.  She makes bad choices and stupid mistakes, but she also cares deeply about those around her.  She's self-destructive but trying to escape it.  Hopefully she reminds the audience about the dangers of judging someone based on a thin slice of their life and experiences.

But unlike people in real life, Letty manages to skate past the worst consequences of her decisions.  She gets away with things we never could, taking the audience with her in a vicarious Robin-Hood-esque crime spree.  Writing this kind of complexity is a challenge but it's also a goal, because complexity is what keeps characters real.  It's a balance between writing something that readers relate to and something that makes them think.  Too much on one side or the other saps the life out of a story: too much predictable relating leads to stereotypes and over-used plotpoints; too much making people think leads to characters they don't care about.

It's a fine line and it varies from book to book, character to character.  But Good Behavior nailed it for season one.  And it's definitely made me think about how I want to craft my next awesome bad girl.

Are you addicted to strong and interesting heroines like I am?  Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter (@jclewisupdate) and #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to give my strong heroines a try for free, enter my giveaway for a copy of my first book.  Revelations tells Dani's story: a burlesque dancer with superpowers who is searching to find her brothers before they disappear into a testing facility. 

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Previous Heroine Fix: The brilliant ladies of Hidden Figures

Previous Post: Diversity and the RITA Awards

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Next month's Heroine Fix will be looking at one of the first heroines who ever inspired me.  Meg Murray from A Wrinkle In Time.  Coming May 10th!

Monday, 9 April 2018

Weekly Update: April 1 to 7

Word count: 4620

Most of those words happened on Sunday, Monday and Saturday.  The middle of the week was a complete wash.  Life knocked me down and I had to get my feet back under me before I could move forward.

I've been looking at my deadline to get this manuscript done and it's hit me that it's taken me three months to write the first 30 000 words.  Usually my books are between 90 000 and 120 000 words, so that's a lot of words still to go at the half-way point.  I'm trying to keep myself rational by reminding myself there was a lot of other stuff going on, too.  Like editing and life crises.  

But it still means that I'm going to have to buckle down if I want to have this manuscript ready for mid-July.  

Thanks to everyone who gave me their support.  I'm trying to combat my own perfectionism and failure-phobia by being honest about my struggles so that I can remind myself that they are not insurmountable.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Diversity and the RITAs

The RITA awards are pretty much the Oscars for romance writers.  Books are submitted and judged by fellow authors.  It's by the industry, for the industry, not necessarily reflecting popularity or sales.  There are 2000 entries (although authors are allowed to submit more than one book each year), with various categories.  It's one of the more expensive contest to enter, although there have been efforts made lately to allow people to submit ebooks rather than having to mail physical copies.

I entered my first book in the RITAs and it did very well.  I didn't final, but when I looked at my score vs the average score of the finalists, I was within 0.5 of them (on a 10 point scale).  It made me feel very proud and accepted.

But there are problems with the contest and how it is structured.  Last week RWA sent out an announcement letting all authors know that it had been brought to their attention that authors of color were hugely underrepresented.  They've committed to fixing the issue which has sparked a lot of discussion about how the contest could be revised.  (And also awareness that this is not the only diversity barrier.)  For a closer look at the issue, please check out Courtney Milan (@courtneymilan) or Robin Covington (@RobinCovington) or The Ripped Bodice (@TheRippedBodice) or Rebekah Weatherspoon (@RdotSpoon) who are all far more eloquent than I would be.

Right now, any author who submits a book must also sign up as a judge.  People have rightfully pointed out that this means that unconscious or conscious bias could be influencing the scores that judges give.  There have also been suggestions that authors of color are deliberately avoiding entering because they have not felt accepted by RWA, and many have cited personal experiences of prejudice at RWA chapters and conferences.

I'm proud that RWA has acknowledged the problem and is working on fixing it.  I'm not okay with people feeling unwelcome within a professional organization that exists to support all of its members.  There are some amazing authors out there who are not getting recognized, which is not good for either the organization, the writers, or the readers.  I hope that RWA will take the time to figure out what the barriers have been (and I'm sure there have been more than one) and how best to effectively eliminate them.  Some people have been pushing for immediate action but that could end up making the situation worse if the wrong assumptions are made.

I didn't enter the RITAs this year, but I will be there to applaud my fellow authors at the awards ceremony.  To be meaningful, the RITA should represent the very best of the romance genre, not just a small corner of it.  I want all of our amazing stories to be awarded and recognized and I feel that this announcement is a good first step in making that happen.

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My fourth book, Judgment, is coming out soon.  You can pre-order your copy now or pick up Book One: Revelations on sale to find out how it all began.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Cover Reveal: Judgment

Big thanks to Streetlight Graphics for another fantastic cover!

Judgment will be coming out on May 14th but you can preorder your copy now!  Or, if you want to know how it all got started, Book One: Revelations is on sale for just 99 cents (US) or equivalent in local currency.  

Monday, 2 April 2018

Weekly Update: March 25 to 31

Weekly word count: 7610

The good news is that I'm pretty much back at the total word count I had two weeks ago, before I started tearing Deadly Potential apart, which makes me feel much happier about having it ready to pitch in July.

I'm also working hard on getting pre-orders ready for Judgment, along with revealing the new cover tomorrow.  I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Hopefully I can do well with writing for the rest of this week.  It feels really good to be back at the keyboard and letting my imagination flow again.  Editing is necessary and important but my heart will always lie with the blank page, waiting to be filled.