Monday, 30 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 22 to 28

This week's accomplishments: I got all of the query requests out from the speed pitch sessions and I painted my bathroom.

I sent out six full manuscripts and three partials.  Thus far, I've gotten one rejection back, but still keeping my fingers crossed for the others.  I'm encouraging myself that she read it quickly and got back to me quickly, so she was at least intrigued by the concept.  Though I now find myself wondering what didn't work about it.

This experience has brought to light one of the biggest differences between independent and traditional publishing.  With independent publishing, an author puts their work out there and works to find the audience who wants to read it.  With traditional, the author needs to find one crucial fan first: either an agent or an editor.  It's a more intense process with fewer opportunities for success, but bigger results when it works out.

But I don't have time to brood.  This week is Romancing the Capital and I have been looking forward to it for the last year.  I can't wait to see everyone and have a chance to share my books with the readers!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Hidden Depths and Character Complexity

People are complicated and we often only see the tiniest fraction of who another person is.  Stories are one of the ways we can see deeper into lives beyond our own, which is one of the reasons why it gets so infuriating when those stories are told by flat characters who never manage to come to life.  In a way, it almost feels like a cheat: like being promised gold and being delivered a cheap, gilded knockoff.

In real life, people are a mixture.  Even appalling people often have endearing traits (and some of the most effective horrible people are able to hide their evil behind hypnotic charisma) and even outward saints have some secret sins.  So why do we keep finding characters who are one- and two-dimensional?

My personal theory is that it's partly because people like simplicity.  To paraphrase JMS: we want to cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, and enjoy the satisfactory thump when the villain hits the floor.  In order to do that, we need to be able to tell right away who is the hero and who is the villain.

Another part is that we don't like the idea of "bad" people getting good things.  It offends our inherent sense of fairness.  I think this is why we have a lot of pushback against unlikeable heroes (and particularly unlikeable heroines).  And even though most people enjoy a redemption story, they want to root for a good guy who has been misunderstood or been caught up in bad circumstances, but not a bad guy who somehow stumbles into a better situation.

Everyone has a short list of things that are absolutely unforgivable in a character.  Personally, I can't get behind a character who denigrates the vulnerable, particularly if they use slurs.  But it would be interesting to see a story where such a person starts to recognize why that's a problem, recognizes the hurt they've caused, and then demonstrates real growth and change.  However, that character could not be a romantic hero or heroine with an arc over a single book.  I would need to see improvements before they got their own story.  (If I were to plot such a story, the character would be a secondary one who is an initial jerk but learns the error of their ways before the end of one book, then they would have a chance to demonstrate that they are now a better person in their own book.)

This is one of the areas that I think authors overlook sometimes.  We are often exhorted not to use unlikeable characters because we don't want to alienate readers.  But it's also boring to read about characters with no flaws.

Books have a rare opportunity to allow us to see the full complexity of a character.  We don't have to guess at what they're thinking and feeling, we can be a part of their experience.  And maybe, it can help us to be less simplistic in our own judgments of others.

Previous post: Yes I Can Juggle, Just Not With Balls (A look a the challenges of balancing writing, work and family)

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Monday, 23 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 15 to 22

Weekly word count: still on break

This week was the RWA National Conference in Denver and I have had the most amazing time.  

I met my Twitter buddy, Olivia Dade (who writes lovely books) in real life.  And I met many other amazing women and authors.

On Friday morning, I did three rounds of speed pitching and managed to pitch to four of the five people that I was really hoping to pitch to.  And all four have asked for me to send them the full manuscript, along with another request, which makes five in total.  I also have several requests for a partial.  It's a very heady feeling to know that people are interested in the story I've written.  I'm doing a final read through and then I'll be sending it out to those who have asked.

On Friday afternoon, I was a part of the Indie signing.  I brought five print books and a hundred ebooks to give away.  I was mentally braced to come back home with them, but I only have a few cards left for the ebooks.  People were very interested and I've got to give another shout out to Streetlight Graphics for their awesome cover which drew people right in.  (Literally, since I watched at least a dozen people start to walk right past my table, catch sight of the cover and then beeline over.)

I picked up lots of awesome books.  Enough to keep me in happy reading for at least the next few months.

And I had some great meals and conversations with new friends, old friends, and, of course, my ORWAn ladies.  All in all, it has been a fantastic week.  I'm ready to head home though.  News from the home front is that things have been going well.  My youngest is off to his grandparents' cottage for the week and the oldest's burn is healing well (next doctor visit today).  The animals have missed me, particularly our cat Neelix who likes to pounce on my feet first thing in the morning and our dog, Lynyrd, who is used to having me around the house all day.

But the fun isn't over yet!  Romancing the Capital comes up in a week and a half and I will have my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop on the Thursday and my Basics of Burlesque event on the Saturday.  And I'll be at the Giant Book Signing along with a bunch of other awesome authors (Saturday, 4-6, at the Holiday Inn in Kanata Centrum).  I am really looking forward to it.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Of Course I Can Juggle... Just not with balls

I often get asked: how do you do it?  And while I’d love to claim that I’m being interrogated about something cool, like being an undercover superhero or a secret pop star, mostly what they’re asking about is: how do you have a full time job, manage your family, and still find time to pursue a writing career.  I have a few joke replies involving time travel, no sleep, or dimensional portals, but the reality is that it’s a question of juggling priorities.  And it’s not ever easy, but sometimes it’s incredibly difficult.

Not pictured: my life.
For those who saw my post on Tuesday, they will already know that this week was a difficult one for my parent-work-writing balancing act.  I already expected a challenge, being in Toronto for Ad Astra on the weekend, back late Sunday night, then flying out to Denver for RWA Nationals on Tuesday.  In the thirty-six hours I would have at home, I knew I would have to get everything ready for my trip, manage setting up things at home so that my husband could single-parent more easily for the week, and get most of my regular day-job tasks for the week done in a single day. 

That level of crazy difficult, I was prepared for.

What I was not prepared for was my son badly burning himself on his leg (through an accident that happened in a fraction of a second) and needing to take him to various doctors’ appointments.  In the spirit of being honest, I could have not gone to the appointments.  My husband was also there and is more than competently able to manage, but I wanted to be there to hear the prognosis and know what was going on.  So it wasn’t really an option to not go.

It left me with a real dilemma for my planned trip.  Being physically with your child when they’re hurt is one of the big parts of parenthood.  As much as it has earned me some judgmental whispers, I made the decision to still do the trip because I know my son will be cared for by many people who love him just as much as I do.  (In fact, he’ll probably enjoy it more because his grandparents don’t enforce the screen-time limits, especially when he’s not feeling well.)

This is how the priorities balance and this is how I manage having a full time job, being a primary caregiver and writing/promoting my books.  Most of the time, the family takes priority and I do what I need to do to make sure that the household is running smoothly and that the kids are taken care of.  But I also have to keep in mind that they don’t *always* need me.  I’ve set up my life to make sure there are opportunities to pursue my own goals, particularly in terms of my writing career.  Not always long opportunities (I’ve had to teach myself to write in 45-90 minute bursts) but there are usually at least 2-3 in a given week.

The trick is actually taking them.  It’s very easy to get swept up in a list of things I should be doing.  Because there’s never enough time to get everything done and both my day job and my home job are demanding.  There are still plenty of days where I feel guilty for sitting down with my laptop to write or for taking a few minutes to check Facebook or Twitter.  I have to remind myself that my own goals are important too, not just the work I do for other people.

So that’s the secret.  Somewhat boring, especially if anyone was hoping for time travel tips.  It’s a question of making sure that in a world of no, I sometimes say yes to myself.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 8 to 14

For this week, my word count is zero since I’ve been taking a much needed break.

On Friday, I drove down to Toronto and spent the weekend at Ad Astra.  It was a lovely time and I met many wonderful people but I’ve been looking at my costs and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to do the conference as a vendor next year.  I’m a little sad about that, but it doesn’t stop me from going as an attendee and still getting to enjoy the social aspect.

While I was at Ad Astra, I got a message from my husband letting me know that my son had burned himself on a motorcycle exhaust pipe.  (It was an accident, one of those things that happened before anyone could have reacted.)  Since Sunday evening, we’ve spent a great deal of time at various doctors, dealing with concerns about infection and talking about treatment options (due to the location and size, it may need surgery for a skin graft but we won’t know that for another week or two).

It’s been a very difficult forty-eight hours as I try to balance everything and still get ready for RWA in Denver.  I considered staying behind but in the end, decided to go.  My husband and parents are already stepping in to make sure that all of the doctors’ instructions are being followed and there would be nothing I could do if I stayed at home which is not already being done.  Obviously, I’m worried about him and I’ll be checking in more frequently, but I’m still going.

I’m sure not everyone would do the same and there will probably be those who disagree or think I’m a bad mother for continuing with my trip.  I could begin to justify why this trip is important, but in the end, that wasn’t the main criteria.  It was: does my son need me to be there?  And the answer to that is no.  Because he is surrounded by competent people who love him just as much as I do.

So although it hasn’t been easy, I’m on my way to Denver and I’m going to meet up with friends I’ve only ever interacted with online, I’m going to meet authors whose works I admire (and probably acquire a bunch more titles for my TBR pile), I’m going to give away copies of my book at the Indie Book Signing on Friday, and I’m going to pitch the heck out of Deadly Potential.  And then I will get back on a plane, fly home to Ottawa, and get ready for the next round of doctor’s check-ups and plans.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Heroine Fix: The Goddess of Death, Hela

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 love Norse mythology and one of the things that's on my top ten list of things to do if I ever get a time machine is to go back and discover the lost sagas, particularly about the Norse Goddesses.  (Number one is to go back and see what dinosaurs really looked like.)  However, since that's unlikely to happen any time soon, in the meantime, I just have to enjoy modern interpretations.  Cate Blanchett's Hela, from Thor: Ragnarok was an amazing performance of an atypically nuanced villainess and goddess.  She may not be a heroine, but she is a strong female character and worth taking a second and third look at.

I stand by my conviction that Groot hates hats because he spent time on Asgaard.
One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is that every villain is the hero of their own story.  It's to ensure that your villain has a purpose beyond stopping the hero.  Hela's point of view actually makes for a compelling and heart-wrenching story.

She was Odin's first-born child, created out of a desire for conquest.  He raised her as his executioner, the one who executes his visions of the world as it should be and executes those who oppose him.  And Hela was very good at her job.  Powerful, dedicated, intelligent and resourceful, she conquered the nine realms for her father, binding them in chains of death and blood.  She wanted to continue, to bring all of the worlds under Asgaard's control.

But Odin didn't want that.  From Hela's perspective, once he'd achieved what he wanted, he decided he wanted to be seen as a benevolent king and wanted to cover up the dark deeds that were the foundation of his throne.  (One doesn't have to scratch too deep under the surface to see parallels between that and the civilized veneer that gets thrown up after atrocities.)  To give Odin a little credit, maybe he was horrified by what they'd done to achieve power, maybe he thought it had all gone too far.  But his solution left a lot to be desired: he imprisoned Hela in a pocket dimension, never to be heard from or spoken of until his death.

Thor: I'll just use my magic hammer... it works on everything.
Hela: Not a nail, blondie. :)
As a parent, time outs can be a good strategy.  But an eternal time out in solitary confinement does not make for a well-balanced personality.  And Odin knew she was going to eventually come out and wreak disaster but made no effort to prepare his people or Thor and Loki to deal with that.  Not the All-Father's best choice.

Hela comes back to the world and discovers she has been deliberately erased and forgotten.  Her brothers have no idea who she is and immediately attack her.  They're squabbling over what she sees as her throne, as the first-born.  Her people don't remember or recognize her and they're no longer the glorious warriors that she led into battle.  Her entire world has shifted and she no longer recognizes anything.  It would be overwhelming for anyone.

This is where she makes the choice that cements her as a villain.  Rather than try to adapt to the new world, or even taking the time to learn about what its pros and cons might be, Hela decides to recreate the world that she remembers so fondly, animating the dead soldiers and the Fenris wolf kept beneath the palace.  (Another of Odin's questionable choices: I've totally given up the whole conquest by force idea, but I'll keep my zombie army in the basement, just in case.)

Just add fire... lots of fire.
The last we see of Hela, she is fighting off the demon Surtur, who was awakened by Thor and Loki for the purpose of destroying Asgaard to weaken Hela so that she couldn't go on a galaxy-wide conquest.  (Talking out issues is not Odin's family's strong point.)  

Marvel's not big on redeeming their villains (at least not for anything beyond the short term) so while I assume Hela survived and we'll probably see her again, she's probably going to still be on the same "conquer the world" kick as before.  But I enjoy the idea of twisting stories around to show how the people we thought were bad guys actually have their own damaged motivations.  They might not have made the right choices in the past, but there's always a chance they can find a new, healthier path.  I would adore the chance to show Hela as learning and adapting to the modern world.  

She is the Goddess of Death, but death isn't always a bad thing.  It is the end of the old in order to allow for the growth of the new.  What if she began to target those who use their power to exploit and harm?  One could even plausibly keep it within her character arc by having her do it to knock off potential rivals rather than out of any altruistic goal.  But even Loki became enamoured of the idea of becoming a saviour.  Hela could begin to crave the recognition and adulation she would receive as a protector and that would allow for some interesting exploration of her motives and background.  She wants to be worshiped and recognized: what would she be willing to do to achieve those goals?

These are the questions that fan-fic is made of, but also the questions that inspire writers to write new stories in their own universes.  Because the best stories always start with "What if...?"

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

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

And if you'd like to check out my version of a damaged but strong heroine who wants and fears redemption, 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: Chosen Family with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Quake.

Previous Post: Ink Tip: Clean Vs Dirty Romance

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Next month I'll be looking at Art3mis and Aech from Ready Player OneIt's time to play some games and save the world.  Join me on August 9th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Weekly Update: July 2 to 7 -- It's Done!

Weekly word count: 13 852

And more importantly <drumroll>.... the manuscript for Deadly Potential is done!

I would happy dance but I'm exhausted.  It has been a real marathon but it is done and a whole week before the RWA deadline!

It's not perfect.  It could use some tweaking for balancing description and action but if someone wanted to see it today (like say, an agent or editor), I could show it to them.

That is a very good feeling to have.

As promised, I'm going to give myself a bit of a break before jumping back on the writing train.  I'll still be posting blog entries but there are a number of places in my life that have been given a lick and a promise and now deserve some of my proper attention.  So I'm going to spend some time catching up with those.  And having a great time at RWA and then Romancing the Capital.  (And enjoying the summer with my kids.)

I don't think I'll be able to stay away from the keyboard for too long.  My stories are my outlet that keeps me going in life and they're always bubbling away in my head, demanding to get out.  So pretty soon I'll start announcing word counts and goals again.

But for now, I'm savouring the sweetness of "And they lived happily ever after.  The End."

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Temporarily Speechless

I am sooo close to finishing up Deadly Potential that I'm not doing a blog post this week so that I can get it done.

Regularly scheduled ranting and musing will be back next week.  Promise.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Weekly Update: June 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 12 610

The last week of school is always bittersweet.  I love the summer and spending time with my kids, but it also means that my to-myself time gets cut very short.  

But I am in the final stretch for Deadly Potential.  About six chapters left to go based on the outline.  Which hopefully will also give me time to review it before I have to send it off anywhere.

I've learned that several authors will be pitching based on partial manuscripts or have multiple books to pitch.  And as much as I tell myself not to make comparisons, I find myself doing it anyway and wondering if I'm kidding myself.  But while I may not have a half-dozen manuscripts ready and waiting, I do have a solid, well-written one that I can discuss and promote.  It's not going to be for everyone, but for those who get excited about romantic paranormal suspense, they're not going to have to wait.

I'm proud of this book and I hope other people will be intrigued by it as well.  I've worked incredibly hard to make this a complete, polished manuscript.  I've got four other books which I'm also incredibly proud of, which shows that I work hard and complete projects.  If that's not good enough... then I can honestly say that it's what I have to offer and I have put all of my cards on the table.