Thursday, 28 June 2018

Ink Tip: Clean Vs. Dirty Romance

Labels can be good.  They are a way to pass on information quickly.  For example, if I describe a story as gritty noir, the person I’m talking to can safely assume that it will deal with dark subject matter, be graphic in describing suffering and violence, and there’s almost certainly going to be deaths within the story.  On the other hand, if I describe something as a beach read then they know it is relatively light in terms of subject matter, happy endings are guaranteed, and the pacing will be quick but not intense. 

And if I describe it as a George R.R. Martin read, then you know to buckle in for a long ride.
Sometimes the terminology used for labels brings its own baggage and issues.  And one of the most problematic examples of that is describing romance novels with no sex (or only closed-door/fade-to-black sex) as clean.

Our society already has a challenge with sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality.  There is only a narrow window where it is accepted: when a woman is young, attractive, and thin.  (And there’s a corresponding issue that women who do fall into that category are excessively sexualized and are therefore made vulnerable to sexual predators.  And for those who aren’t sure what I mean, take the usual drunken rape scenario and imagine it with a grandmother in her mid-sixties instead of a college girl in her early twenties.  The level of societal outrage would be much higher.)  Women who are older, not conventionally attractive, or overweight are not expected to be sexual beings and are often mocked if they defy those expectations.  Luckily for all of us outside-the-mold gals, we have romance novels with a wide variety of heroines who get happily-ever-afters in all walks of their lives.

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with whether or not a story graphically portrays sex.  I’ve read wonderful novels where everything after a kiss fades to black.  I’ve read wonderful novels that were about the hero or heroine’s erotic adventures and were 90% or more graphic sex scenes.  In the interest of bias disclosure, I’ll admit that my preference falls in between those two extremes: where there are some steamy sex scenes but they don’t dominate the plot. 

But I do have a problem with using the term “clean” to describe the fade-to-black end of the spectrum.  Because it implies that the other end is “dirty” and that is an unfair designation and perpetuates the stereotype of women’s sexuality as unnatural and undesirable.  I much prefer the term “sweet” romance or using the same system they would use for films.  A G rating would be a book with no sex.  PG would be some implied, but not explicit (closed door/fade to black).  R would be explicit and X would be a sex-dominant plot.  We’d need something between PG and R for books that were steamy but not necessarily explicit.  Maybe an S for sexy or steamy?

At the end of the day, quibbling over a single word is a small thing.  But small things have a habit of building up, especially where labels are concerned.  Because labels are verbal short-hands, which means that they carry baggage by definition.  I think it’s worthwhile to make sure that they’re only carrying the baggage that we intend to convey and aren’t loaded down with things that are unnecessary or potentially harmful.

If you like steamy romance with a strong action-adventure plot, you can try my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is now available for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous blog post: Strangling My Evil Little Voices

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 12 839

Two weeks left until Ad Astra (July 13 to 15) and my book launch for Judgment on Saturday, July 14th from 3 to 5.  I'll be answering questions and serving cookies.  And I'll also be in the vendor room for most of the conference.

Three weeks left until I'm on my way to Denver for RWA 2018.  I've got my stuff ready for the indie signing on Friday, July 20 from 3 to 4 and my pitch ready for that same morning.  (Friday will be a terrifying but exciting day, which means that Friday night, I will be in my relieved-have fun mode)

Six weeks left until Romancing the Capital and my workshops on non-verbal communication and the basics of burlesque (PG-13 only and it'll be a no cameras allowed workshop), as well as the giant book signing on Saturday, August 4th from 4 to 6.

And then... quiet.  Which I am also looking forward to.  Sometimes it feels as if 2018 has been a full-tilt kind of year.  But when I look back at what I've accomplished, I feel pretty proud of myself.  (And also slightly like I need to be a better boss to myself... with more appreciation and less disappointed face.)

The next two months are going to be intense.  But also, very cool.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Strangling My Evil Little Voices

Writing stories for a living has always been a dream of mine.  It was one of the biggest, scariest dreams that I had and right now, I'm in the process of giving it everything I have to see whether or not I can make it come true.

I think all of us have the little voice inside that says: it's better not to try because if you try and fail, then  you'll really look stupid.  The loudness and persistence of that voice varies from person to person.  Mine is a whisperer but it never has to take a holiday, which has added an extra level of difficulty to trying to make a writing career work.  

I thought I had reasonable expectations, but I also joined the writing market during a transitional period, which meant that things did not go as expected and I was faced with a much sharper learning curve than I had anticipated.  Which only made the little voice louder.

I haven't had as much support as I would have liked from those around me.  (And before anyone's feelings get hurt, I have many awesome and wonderful friends and colleagues who have been amazingly supportive and great cheerleaders... this part isn't about them but the next part will be.)  I've had people close to me dismiss my stories as garbage because of their genre, deride my sales levels as pathetic, and tell me that I am causing harm to my family with my insistence on pursuing this dream when it is clearly not going to work out.  Those people made the voice even louder.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm lucky to also have many great people around me who have supported me and who remind me that this is a process and give me the strength to keep going.  I'm eternally grateful to all of them and can't thank them enough, but like many people, it's much easier to believe the bad than it is to accept the good.  Still, their voices help to keep my little voice from getting louder.

This is one of the reasons why I think it's critical to have a supportive writing group, one that is honest about its members' own struggles and that is willing to cheer instead of deride.  ORWA has been that for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I would not be this far without them.

But I can't always rely on external cheerleaders to drown out my little voice of doubt.  I also needed to find ways to do it on my own.  I keep a journal of accomplishments, both big and small: being asked to speak at conferences, points where I completed my writing goals, and most importantly, a reminder that I am doing what I set out to do: I have stories out there and there are people who enjoy those stories, including complete strangers who have no reason to be "nice" to me.  I use those reminders to counteract the little voice and tune it down to a dull whisper.

Maybe someday, I'll get that little voice to shut up completely.  But even if I don't, I've already achieved the greatest hurdle.  I didn't let that voice stop me from giving my dream a try.  And if I don't succeed, then, yes, I'll probably look stupid.  But there are worse consequences in life, like constantly wishing I had the courage to try.  

This is a big reason about why I love romance.  The happily ever after is reassuring but most of the actual story is about people, particularly women, having the courage to try.  There are usually huge obstacles lined up against them and there are tons of voices, both big and small, telling them to play it safe and not risk it.  But they do.  They gamble everything on the chance at happiness rather than accepting the status quo.  They take a chance to thrive rather than just survive.

And that's what I've done and that's why I'll continue to toss the dice and bet on hope.

If you'd like to support my writing dream (and haven't already done so), you can pick up Book 1 in my series, Revelations, for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  It's about a secret society of superheroes, where a burlesque dancer with superstrength teams up with a child therapist who can read emotions and memories through touch and together they struggle to save their loved ones from an evil corporation who is collecting people with supernatural abilities.

Previous blog post: Heroine Fix: Quake from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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Monday, 18 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 10 to 16

Weekly word count: 10 136

I wish I could get these kinds of word counts all the time, but it really only works because I'm putting almost everything else aside to concentrate solely on getting the manuscript done.  And because this is my third time through the story, so I'm no longer chasing plot bunnies (very often) and I know what needs to be set up and foreshadowed, etc.  

This is the point in most projects where I become desperate to do something else for awhile.  I want to get started on book 5, I want to begin writing totally unrelated series (my Lord of Underhill series has been calling to me of late, and I got a cool idea for a science fiction series).  I want to write the 3rd Spirit Sight short story.  I want to write a prequel for the Lalassu series.  All these stories are just screaming in my head, demanding their fair share of my attention.

This is where the discipline part has to kick in.  (Everyone finds there's a part of the writing process which really tests their self-control, yours may be different but mine kick in toward the end of completing the manuscript and during editing.)  I will finish this book before the deadline so that I have something I can send to any editors or agents who are willing to take a chance on me.

But I also know I'm going to pay for pushing myself.  Which means I have to be gentle and not berate myself when the word counts go down to something more manageable.

On the other hand, I really wish I was earning enough from writing to be able to quit my day job.  When I think of the stories that I could be telling if I had 6 hours a day to write instead of 2... it's a powerful motivator for me.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Heroine Fix: Finding Family in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Quake

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

I've been enjoying Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since it first came out in 2013 and I've already done one Heroine Fix about the laconic and powerful Agent Melinda May, aka The Calvary.  But today I want to look at another of the awesome ladies of S.H.I.E.L.D: Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake, played by Chloe Bennet.

As I went back to rewatch some of the early episodes, it occurred to me that the character's story is really a modern Cinderella story with a superhero twist and no need for a rescuing prince.  When we begin, Skye is living in her van and running a resistance movement online.  She's an incredibly talented hacker (which strikes me as a more useful skill set than cleaning house with the aid of lyric-directed mice and birds) and is recruited by Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Bennet gives a masterfully nuanced performance, showing Skye's suspicion of Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as her desire to belong, both which make sense for someone who has been surviving on her own with no family and who has been subject to the foster care system.  For the first season, she is the Everyman, getting to demonstrate the audience's wonder at the amazing things that S.H.I.E.L.D. has to deal with.  There's a bit of a stepmother vibe between Skye and Agent May, who is continually pushing Skye to do better and Skye resisting those expectations as unrealistic.  And there's a prince, the handsome Agent Grant Ward, who definitely shows signs of being smitten.

In season 2, the story shifts outside of the usual expectations for a fairytale or superhero narrative.  We learn Skye's father, Cal, is still alive and searching for her (and is apparently a bad guy).  When they meet, Cal tells Skye that her real name is Daisy and that H.Y.D.R.A. killed her mother.  We also discover that Ward is a double-agent working for H.Y.D.R.A., making him forevermore ineligible as any kind of Prince Charming.   Daisy is transformed, not by a fairy godmother, but by alien terragen crystals.  She is cocooned in stone before shattering free.

Daisy is devastated by the multiple betrayals and shuts herself off from S.H.I.E.L.D.  She has these incredible powers but they are destroying her.  This part of her character arc was my favourite because it showed the value of chosen family.  Agent Coulson and the others may not be Daisy's blood family, but they care about her in a way that her father can't.  Her father's love is conditional, she must behave in a way that he approves and follow his example or his love is withdrawn.  Her family at S.H.I.E.L.D. loves her and cares about her no matter what.  They will protect her, fight beside her, and when necessary, fight against her to keep her from doing something she'll regret.  They put themselves on the line to reach her.

The next complication in Daisy's life is the reintroduction of her mother, Jiaying, who runs a sanctuary/training camp for inhumans (those who gain powers from the terragen crystals).  At first, Daisy is seduced by the apparent acceptance of those like her.  And there's another handsome prince on the scene, the dashing Lincoln.  And this one really does love her and want what's best for her.  But Daisy's mother isn't what she appears.  She only cares about the inhumans and doesn't care if the rest of humanity burns.  She's also willing to sacrifice anything, including Daisy, to achieve her goals.

The power of Daisy's arc comes from the fact that she is given everything she wishes for in season one: her parents are alive, she becomes a respected member of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even leading the team for the most recent season), and she learns to fight so that she'll never be vulnerable again.  But those gains also come with loss: her parents aren't the caring, supportive people that she hoped for, Ward is a traitor and Lincoln sacrifices himself for her, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't always the good guys, and knowing how to punch and force-fling enemies aside doesn't mean she'll never be hurt again.  When faced with this pain, her instinct is to cut herself off from the world and bear the burden alone.

But the other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents won't let her.  Whether she wants them there or not, they are always there to support her, just as a family should.  And they may not always get it right (because families are still just people and people make mistakes) but they don't give up.

That kind of family means a lot to me and it's one that I create for my own characters.  No matter how strong, badass, and powerful a person is, a family always makes them stronger and DNA overlap is not the only kind of family.  When we're most damaged, families are the ones who step up and say: don't worry, we got this.

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my books.)

Are you addicted to strong and interesting heroines like I am?  Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter with the hashtag #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to see how my version of a chosen family with superpowers works, please check out my lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous Heroine Fix: Celebrating Angry Girls with Meg Murry

Previous post: Happy Pride Month

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Next month, I'll be going darkside to look at the magnificent and terrifying Hela from Thor: Ragnarok.  Join me on July 12th as I take on the Goddess of Death for my next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Weekly Update: June 3 to June 9

Weekly word count: 9 036

I've been averaging completing a chapter a day for the last two weeks.  If I can keep that up, the manuscript will be ready before RWA.

I'm nervous about the whole idea of pitching to the traditional publishers.  My work doesn't fit neatly in a box (though I've made an effort to make sure that Deadly Potential has less bleed over than usual) and the media is full of doom and gloom reports about how the publishing industry is in trouble.  There's also the typical self-doubt: I'll be asking someone to judge something that has taken almost a year of my life in the course of a 3 minute conversation.  That's nerve-wracking no matter how you slice it.

I've been struggling some this week after the Ontario election results.  It is disheartening to see someone elected who is so antithetical to what I believe is important.  There's also been a challenge with the high-profile suicides and my own struggles with depression.  Some of the discussions have been really hard to see playing out.  It's hard not to despair when it happens to people who seem to have every advantage and if they can't do it, then what chance does anyone else have?  (My intention isn't to dismiss their pain, which must have been overwhelming, but to recognize how difficult and chronic depression is.)  There's also the usual messages of anger and attack against those who are suffering from depression, which is hard to see.

But it's also life and part of my self-care is reminding myself that I can only do the parts that I can.  And it is perfectly okay to take time to create something beautiful.  Maybe it's not "serious" work, but even tiny bits of beauty, joy, and hope are necessary to keep us going, especially in difficult times.   

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Happy Pride Month

I'm a romance writer which means I am a sucker for stories about people falling in love.  Finding that sense of connection can be one of the most transcendent and uplifting experiences we can have in our lives and there's nothing as intoxicating as the mix of intimacy and attraction that solidify a romantic partnership.

This is why it pisses me off when people try to dismiss other people's experience of falling in love.  That sense of exultation should never have to be tarnished with fear of being hurt or judged or otherwise made to feel less.  (And this post is not intended to diminish the experience of asexual or aromantic people, who also deserve to be be happy, comfortable and judgment-free.)  I don't care why people feel they have the right to quash love that doesn't fall into the cis-hetero-allo box, they don't have the right to hurt others.

I've gotten into a number of arguments over the years with people who don't see themselves as spreading pain and hatred because they don't associate their own words, actions, and reactions with the more virulent and violent forms of bigotry.  And there is a point in saying that assuming that two men checking into a hotel must want two beds is not the same as shooting people in a gay club.  Okay, not the same.  But both are still harmful.  

Imagine how exhausting and demoralizing it must be to have to constantly be prepared to justify oneself.  To not be sure whether or not someone's rejection of you will be supported by those in authority and the public around you.  To constantly hear dismissals, insults presented as crappy jokes, and outright mean comments.  And even worse, all that negativity is aimed at one of the happiest parts of your life: the person that you love and the connection between the two of you (or more, to include those who are polyamorous).

Tackling hatred can feel overwhelming but there are some things we all can do.  First and most important, educate ourselves.  Know what you're talking about in terms of homosexuality, heterosexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality (and any other prefixes you run across).  And the best way to educate yourself is to listen to those who wear those labels.

Be willing to speak up against the crappy jokes and casual insults.  Don't wait to see if someone else is offended.  And don't expect someone else to carry all the weight of explaining why that's a problem.

Be representative in your language and examples.  This one is surprisingly hard and not everyone is always going to be happy with what you use.  But to give an example, you can avoid reinforcing a false gender binary by using "they" instead of "he/she".  It's small, but sometimes it can help.

And last but not least, remind yourself that people's relationships are not actually your business.  If someone chooses to share, that's great (and you can be supportive).  But otherwise, the odds are good that you don't actually need to know whether or not two people are roommates, lovers, friends, siblings, or married.  By being accepting, then you can avoid reinforcing stereotypes and certainly avoid pushing someone beyond their comfort levels.

Then maybe we can work our way to a point where no one has to worry about who they fall in love with and they can just get on with enjoying it.

Here comes the shameless plugging: I've just released book 4 of my Lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us and if you'd like to check out book 1, now you can do so for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous post: Ink Tip: Writing Influences: a look at the amazing writers who have inspired and influenced me.  

Monday, 4 June 2018

Weekly Update: May 27 to June 2

Weekly word count: 11 998

It's been another flying week of working on Deadly Potential.  I've got my gaze focused on pitching at RWA Nationals and it's going to be a solid race to get it all done.

But I've also started to find myself thinking of what will happen afterward.  I've really pushed myself this year and while I don't regret that, I don't want to keep on at this pace.  I don't want to burn myself out.

I'm considering giving myself a few weeks away from writing once Deadly Potential is finished.  A few weeks to tackle other things that have gone undone around my house (specifically, I have some rooms that need painting).  Maybe another week or two to update my series guide.  I think that might help me to come back fresher and better.