Thursday, 30 August 2018

Hidden Diamond: Lucy Farago, Search and Recover, and The Research Vortex

There are a lot of authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find what they're looking to read.  So I want to share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month, I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.  If you want to know more, please join the mailing list and you won't miss the diamond you've been searching for.

This month, I'm proud to share a fellow ORWAn and a lady whose books have been on my Kindle since she first released: Lucy Farago, writer of thrilling romantic suspense with fast-paced action.  

I was there at the ORWA meeting where she brainstormed her most recent release: A Necessary Deception and I couldn't wait to read it.  A tech genius taking an analog vacation in an isolated Alaskan cabin, a wealthy socialite matchmaker on the run from the Russian mob and a keep-turning-to-the-last-page adventure.  And for those looking to start at the beginning, don't miss the first book in the Search and Recover series: A Necessary Lie with it's rodeo star secret investigator and a heroine determined to solve the mystery of her friend's death.

And now without further ado, I'll let Lucy tell you a little about her writing process.  Or rather, the other things she's doing on her computer while she's writing.

The Never-Ending Research Vortex

Research, it’s a wonderful thing…until you’re sucked into a vortex of never-ending information that has little, ifanything, to do with your book. Ah, those pesky traps, cleverly hidden within the matrix of google. I once lost two weeks of my life gathering information on how to allow my inexperienced heroine the ability to handle an explosive without killing herself. I succeeded, but in case you’re bored and want to amuse yourself, try “How to blow up a tree with Tannerite!!”? Yup, not one, but two exclamation marks. Or “Blowing up trees with Dynamite!!”. What is it with back-wood rednecks and their enthusiasm for tree carnage?

If you tire of watching harmless trees being reduced to matchsticks, there’s always the irresistible one-click to the sidebar video on “Glow Sticks in the Microwave”. It’s something a mature adult shouldn’t need to know, but what does happen when you stash those leftover concert goodies in a microwave and hit them with small doses of radiation? In case you were curious, they glow brighter…until they explode. Then there’s the “Legos, are they bullet proof?” Hmmm…no, no they are not. This same dude shot his truck with a tank. Dare I say someone has too much time on their hands? The truth could be said about me, because do I really want to know if my microwave can kill me? Apparently, I do, because I squandered even more time with my new best friend, ‘the internet’.

Why am I wasting time on you-tube and google instead of finishing the darn book you ask? Good question. First, I can say with the utmost certainty, I am not alone in the research time-suck dance. Many of us spend an afternoon learning facts we’ll never make use of, other than to exchange stories on how we wasted an entire afternoon learning facts we’ll never make use of. So why do it? I can’t speak for anyone else, although I believe some share my dilemma.

For me, it’s not having a clear understanding of where my story is heading.  I write romantic suspense. This means I’m plotting two intertwined stories. I can visualize the romance. But if I don’t, it tends to flow more naturally than my creating ways to hide clues or keeping my readers guessing as to whodunit. And I want to leave my readers guessing. It’s not until I’m three quarters of the way through the book that I get that ‘ah-ha’ moment. All this leaves me frustrated and I find ways to distract myself from the real task at hand. It can be very unproductive. On the flip side I can tell you exactly how much C-4 you need to blow up a tree. Find me on Facebook and I’ll give you the what-up.

- Lucy Farago

An Author Interview with Lucy Farago

What is the craziest thing you've done to research a book?

I wouldn’t say crazy as imprudent. I once asked a TSA guy if I’d be able to pack a severed head in my luggage without it being detected. I guess I should have started with “Hi, my name is Lucy and I’m a writer” but that didn’t sound like any fun. I also asked a couple of Boston cops on July 4, if a civilian could gain access to a murder scene. I didn’t miss how one officer’s hand went to his handcuffs. They were chatting once I explained who I was, but his hand never left the handcuffs.

What is your writing process?

I was a pantser. But to write romantic suspense you have to be a plotter, especially if you’re writing to a deadline. It's much easier and it's less likely I’ll get stuck on a plot point. Plus if you have someone who'll read your synopsis, you'll be able to fix anything that doesn’t work.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I bake. I also bake when I’m stuck. My neighbours all know when I’m struggling. They are the recipients of my blocked muse. I enjoy television. It keeps me current and as a writer, you need to stay current. 

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Mr. Darcy of course. I’m more in love with the character than Collin Firth. Although I’m team Firth all the way. It’s not that he’s the all-time best hero, it’s more the romantic character he represents. Rich man, poorer girl, wrong side of the tracks trope. Plus he’s pretty much the first romantic hero in history. And I love history.

And finally, in the spirit of the great Joss Whedon debate, who would win: cavemen or astronauts?

I always found this debate interesting. What environment are we sticking them in? I get the whole instinct vs evolved debate, but playing field I think is more important. Put them in the wilds with no unfair advantage, cavemen. I’m with Spike, man has evolved to the point that most people wouldn’t survive a day without assistance.

Thank you to Lucy for being my inaugural Hidden Diamond and for those who want their very own copies of her books, you can find them at the following stores:

Come back on September 27th to discover the next Hidden Diamond.  
Or join the mailing list and have the perfect gems for you sent right to your mailbox.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Weekly Update: August 19 to 25

Weekly word count: 5170

For the first time in a long while, I feel like I'm in a good groove for writing.  I'm not pushing myself at a frenetic pace and I'm also making good progress.  This week I was able to do a thousand words for four out of the five days.  I'm going to keep on with that as a goal for the next little while but then I'd like to see if I can increase it to 1500 a day.  It would be really awesome if I could do 2000 a day, but I'm not sure if I have the writing time and energy for that.

The bad news is that I may not have the updated versions of the Spirit Sight short stories or the new one ready before Halloween, which is a little disappointing but that's how life works sometimes.

I'm debating whether or not I'll do another holiday short story this year.  It was fun doing one last year but I don't have any ideas jumping out at me.

Other than that, life is all about getting things ready for back to school after Labour Day.  I'm looking forward to getting back into a solid routine where both kids are occupied on a predictable schedule.  I've enjoyed having them home for the summer but I'm ready to have the house to myself again.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Finding New Authors In Today's Market

I'm a lifelong voracious reader and I know I'm not alone when I say that there is nothing more frustrating than not having something new to read.  There are times that I look around at my shelves and I'm up to date in all the series I'm following and I've already read everything a half dozen times, and my brain is craving new characters, new stories and new approaches.

The challenge is finding new stories that I will enjoy.  There are a few techniques that I use.  I have friends who are also voracious readers and they give me recommendations.  I sometimes try random authors and books (usually through the library or by browsing sales).  But it can be disheartening, weeding through the stuff I don't enjoy to find the real gems among the ordinary stones.

I read quickly and a "bad" story will likely only cost me a few days.  For those who don't read quickly, it can be a huge deal to have the next two or three weeks (or months) devoted to a story they aren't sure they'd enjoy.  But everything seems to be so crowded these days, and authors can end up drowning each other out in their efforts to catch readers' attention.  And readers can get overwhelmed and tune out in self-preservation.

I've decided to start up a new monthly feature: Hidden Diamonds.  There are some amazing authors out there and each month, I'll share one of them with readers.  I'm hoping that readers will be willing to give these authors a chance and that authors will have an opportunity to connect with readers.  I'll be looking for great authors in speculative fiction and romance who write amazing characters and stories.

Hidden Diamonds will be on the last Thursday of every month.  If you know an author who you think would be a great diamond to share with the world, then please let me know at  

Happy reading!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Weekly Update: August 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 2945

This week I relearned something important about myself.  I came pretty close to burnout this spring and summer and so once RWA was done, I was trying to be extra careful with myself.  I gave myself permission to write at a pace that felt more natural to me.  It's a good strategy and one that I need to embrace more as I often find myself pushed beyond my limits by my own perfectionism and unwillingness to admit there's a problem.

However, as much as I feel it was important to give myself time to recover, there is also the reality of maintaining my business as a writer.  And the reality is that the rest of my life is hectic and stressful enough that it will always feel better to sit and veg in front of the TV and do cross-stitch instead of sitting at the keyboard and creating stories.

So I need to push myself, but not push myself too hard.  It would be simple if there was only one piece of advice that a person needed to follow but the truth is that everyone has to find the balance point that works for them.  Everyone has a sweet spot between pushing and self-care, between listening to their mind and body and ignoring their inner fears.  And to make it even more challenging, that sweet spot will change depending on circumstances so even if a person has found it before, it doesn't mean that spot will continue to work for them in the future.

This is one of the reasons why I get frustrated with cookie cutter writing advice like "write every day" and "push through writer's block."  The intent is to keep people from giving up which is good but it ignores the reality that some people are already pushing past the point of healthiness and what they need to do is slow down and take care of themselves, not keep pushing.

Starting next week, I'm going to go back to the weekly writing grid to share my progress.  I hate having to record blank spots during the week so hopefully I'll be more motivated to sit down and write.  I'm going to continue giving myself the weekend off, aiming to write every day from Monday to Friday, with a word goal of 800 to 1500 for each day.  I think that's a sustainable goal and it will let me keep making progress on the third Spirit Sight short story (which I really need to find a title for but so far none seem right).

The plot for book 5, Division, is coming along nicely.  I've got some really good moments set up for the major plot points and I really like how the character of Annika is developing in my head.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Reconciling Rescue Fantasies and Feminism

For those who read this blog regularly, it's no secret that I love kickass heroines who are strong and take no crap.  I love reading about them because it counteracts the messages that women often get that they need to be quiet, unassuming and not cause trouble.  And because they're just fun and it's fun to fantasize about taking on any problem with amazing powers and a witty quip.

But as much as I enjoy my take-no-prisoners heroines, I also enjoy a good rescue fantasy.  There is something incredibly appealing about a hero who is willing to rip the world apart with his bare hands to rescue the person he loves.  However, it does leave me with something of an internal conflict.  Shouldn't a kickass heroine be able to rescue herself?

I believe that it's important to encourage women to see themselves as the powerful and strong individuals that they are.  They shouldn't be encouraged to wait for rescue like an old fashioned fairy tale princess.  Instead they should be encouraged to believe they can take on their challenges themselves and rescue themselves.  That belief runs counter to the idea of a rescuing hero fantasy and it meant that every time I enjoyed one, I wondered if I was celebrating something that was actually encouraging women to be passive and less than they could be.

Lately, I've wondered if I've been mistaken and allowed myself to get trapped into either/or, black/white thinking.  

The rescue fantasy isn't about celebrating passiveness, it's about recognizing that no matter how powerful, competent or kickass someone is, life can have a way of dealing out more than that person can handle.  And it's taken me a depressingly long time to figure this out, but no one should have to go through life alone.

Partners come in all shapes and sizes and commitment levels.  Some partners will do anything to help the person that they love and others find it a challenge to do little things like take out the garbage before it gets picked up.  A lot of women are dealing with overwhelming situations, trying to balance work and family, trying to take care of both children and parents, trying to make money stretch, and dozens of other difficult scenarios.  And quite often, they're doing it without a lot of support from their partners or society in general.

Is it any surprise then that the idea of being helped can resonate so strongly with women?  The rescue fantasy is about someone who will do anything to help the person that they love.  They will risk injury and death, throwing aside everything else that has ever mattered to them because their highest priority is the health and happiness of their beloved.  It's not a farfetched assumption to believe that a person who is willing to charge through a hail of bullets would also be willing to put their glass in the dishwasher instead of beside the sink when asked.  

I still think it's important to encourage women to think of themselves as heroines and able to rescue themselves, but I also think they should be encouraged to believe they deserve a partner who will put them above all else and who will do what it takes to make sure they are happy and fulfilled.  So, for now, I'm comfortable with putting both the kickass heroine and the rescue fantasy on my shelf and not feeling guilty about either.

If you want to read about my kickass heroines and the men who would do anything for them, you can give Book One of my Lalassu series a try for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Previous blog post: Heroine Fix: Be Anyone You Want to Be, a look at Aech and Art3mis from Ready Player One.

And for updates on my writing and life, check out my blog homepage.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Weekly Update: August 6-11

Weekly word count: 3782

This week, my day job was shut down so I had the week off.  Usually I drive myself very hard during such opportunities but since this was my first week getting back to writing, I gave myself permission to take it slowly.

I'm glad I did because it took me much longer than I would have expected to get back into both the world of the Spirit Sight short stories and the mindset of writing.  I've got my key plot points for the short story but my brain is being a little sluggish in throwing up the ideas on how to get from one to the next.  But that's understandable after pushing myself so hard during May, June and July and taking almost four weeks off of regular writing.

Even though it's harder than expected, it feels really good to get back at the keyboard and letting that side of myself explore freely again.  The ideas are starting to percolate for Book 5 of the Lalassu, Division and I'm looking forward to starting that one as well once the short story is done.

I got another response from my RWA pitches and sadly it was another rejection.  I'm not particularly surprised by this one as I didn't think I would be a good fit at that agency but I got a very nice personalized note of encouragement.  Two rejections and seven still pending.  Fingers crossed!  I had two fortune cookies last night which both promised success in business, so now I'm waiting for the universe to follow suit. 

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Heroine Fix: Be Who You Want To Be, the Ladies of Ready Player One

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

For this month's Heroine Fix, I've decided to focus on two characters from one of my new favourite films: Ready Player One, Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis.   The idea of an entirely virtual world where a person can customize their avatar to anything they want and which allows a person to use their natural body movements to interact with the gaming environment is an appealing option.  (Disclaimer: I have no talent for video games.  I'm fascinated by the stories but using the controls and navigating the game isn't intuitive for me.)  If I were going to venture into the Oasis, I would probably be using it as a place for social interaction, which is why the idea of being able to appear as whatever I would want is appealing.

The idea of being effortlessly taller, thinner, and prettier is certainly tempting but that's not what everyone in the Oasis chooses.  Avatars say a lot about the person they represent.  Do they want to be intimidating?  Alluring?  Are they dedicating their fandom to a particular film, show, or comic?  

Samantha, a high level gunter (egg hunter, one of those searching for secret objects within the Oasis), created the avatar Art3mis.

Samantha is self-conscious about the birthmark over her right eye and doesn't include it in her avatar.  She's also made herself thinner, with larger eyes and pointed ears, creating an elfin anime type look.  It is not directly connected to any particular fandom which marks her as an independent, something Samantha prizes as she refuses to join any of the "clans" working together within the Oasis.  She wears a leather jacket and has a spiky, short hair style, which creates a "back off" message.  She wants to be attractive, but isn't inviting flirtation.  She wants to be taken seriously and is quick to jump on any inference that she is less than competent.

In the real world, Samantha is dedicated to fighting the "Sixers" and the corporation, IOI.  She is a crusader, wanting to keep the Oasis out of the hands of those who would seek to monetize it.  She's angry and passionate about protecting those who are being exploited.  She's furious when she realizes that Parzival doesn't have any ambitions beyond solving the quest and earning fame and fortune.  To her, solving the quest and gaining control of the Oasis is a way to make the worlds (both real and virtual) a better place.

Her avatar reflects this passion.  There's no attempt to make it fun or playful.  It's a serious creation for a serious business.  She is attractive, because attractiveness can be useful, but not so attractive that she will be distracted by attempts at personal connections.  She's not attempting to disguise herself, but she is still hiding her vulnerabilities, revealing a wariness and a lack of trust in the rest of the world.

It's an interesting contrast with Helen/Aech, who has chosen a massive biotechnical orc for her avatar.

Aech is a widely recognized avatar in the gaming worlds.  He has a highly successful business building custom artifacts and vehicles for people (including an awesome Iron Giant).  He is respected.  It's not mentioned in the movie, but in the books, Aech is considered one of the top gunters and to be invited to join him is a mark of prestige.  He is the best friend of the main character, Parzival and serves as a mentor and guide.

We don't know much about Helen's real world life in Ready Player One.  It appears that she lives in her van and spends most of her time in the virtual Oasis world rather than the real one.  She never explains why she chose an avatar that differs so much from her appearance but there are a couple of theories.

Female gamers often experience harassment online.  While most gamers are happy to play against or with anyone who loves the game, there is a minority who will attack those who use female avatars and attempt to drive them away.  Aech is very involved in Oasis gaming as well as in the gunter subculture.  In the first scene, he appears to be involved in a first person shooter game.  So perhaps Helen chose Aech so that she could play the games that she loved without harassment, something that many female gamers do in real life.

Or perhaps she chose Aech to counteract any subtle prejudice against her race and gender while building her business.  She is obviously a brilliant virtual engineer and appearing as a male may have garnered her more customers while she was trying to establish her reputation.  Or Aech may have been created so that she would have a more intimidating presence, preventing others from attacking her and enabling her to demand more respect.

The most intriguing theory is that Aech represents who Helen wishes she truly was.  That she sees herself as inherently male.  The real world of Ready Player One is one where most people are in desperate poverty.  People are squatting in abandoned buildings, living in trailers stacked atop one another or in vehicles.  Garbage and debris is piled in graffiti covered streets.  Real world transgender surgery would probably be expensive and beyond the reach of most people but they could be whomever they wished in the Oasis, allowing them to have the identity they crave without surgery or hormone treatment.

I'm not sure if this is the case as the real world Helen doesn't show any signs of being uncomfortable within her physical body but given the limited character development, it would be hard to say one way or another.  But it's also interesting that Aech is the one character who reminds the others that the avatars don't necessarily represent who a person is in real life.

Either way, Aech is still a wish-fulfillment for Helen.  He's bigger, scarier, and more powerful than she is.  I would honestly love to see more of Helen/Aech's story, as I wonder if being Aech undermines Helen's confidence because she wonders if her Oasis friends would still like her if they knew her in real life, or does being Aech free Helen, letting her step aside from cultural and gender restrictions to be who she has always wanted to be?

Both Helen/Aech and Samantha/Art3mis have made me think more about the way my own characters present themselves versus who they really are inside.  Those multiple layers are what create truly grounded and realistic characters that live inside the minds of readers long after the covers are closed.

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

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the characters of Ready Player One.  Leave a comment or share your thoughts with me on Facebook or Twitter (#HeroineFix @jclewisupdate).

And if you'd like to give my paranormal romantic suspense series about a secret society of superheroes a try, I'm running a sale on book one.  You can pick up the ebook for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

Or you can check out last month's Heroine Fix where I took a look at Hela from Thor: Ragnarok and how the line between a villain and a heroine can be razor thin.

Or take a peek at last week's post where I shared my steps for Reclaiming Our Inner Goddesses because I think there are too many messages that encourage women to be less and we should all be celebrated as the Goddesses we truly are.

And you can always just check out my blog homepage to see my updates on my life and how my writing is going as well as my thoughts on all kinds of subjects.

Next month, I'll be looking at the lovely and lethal Dutch from Killjoys.  Join me on September 13th for your next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Weekly Update: July 29 to Aug 5

Another week off from writing but I was getting things ready for Romancing the Capital.

I had been looking forward to RTC all year and sometimes events like that don't live up to the anticipation.  This one did.  I've been three times as a reader but this was my first time as an author and I wasn't sure if people would be interested in what I had to say.  I did my Beyond the Furrowed Brow workshop to a full room and my Basics of Burlesque event to an even fuller room.  People had a great time getting in touch with their inner Goddess and dancing around to music.  I was worried that I'd have a hard time getting people to participate but everyone was eager to join in.  I also had an amazing time on the genre panel, talking about urban fantasy and why I write it.

Then came the signing.  I'm used to conferences where the vendor room is open all weekend, throughout the whole conference.  For RTC, it's open for two hours.  Two hours with hundreds of readers coming through.  It's overwhelming but amazing.  People came to see me, even though I'm still very much an unknown author.  They had a great time at my panels and then came to see me, which is exactly the way its supposed to work.

Eve told me that she wanted to set up RTC so that every attending author could get their "rock star" moment.  That moment when a reader is genuinely excited to meet them and excited about their books.  I got a few of those, plus ones that meant just as much to me as a writer: ones where readers' eyes lit up with excitement when I talked about what I write.

I'm debating about next year.  I won't have a new book out between now and then (though I will have the third Spirit Sight short story out and book 5 of the Lalassu should be out sometime in the fall of 2019).  It's so much fun that I selfishly want to do it anyway but I also want other authors to experience that as well.  Eve is an amazing and generous woman who just wants everyone to have a good time, and that is rare in a con organizer.

I'm also feeling recovered from my hectic blast of finishing Deadly Potential, going to Ad Astra, RWA and RTC.  Next week, I will be getting back into writing and starting the third Spirit Sight short story so that it can be out for Halloween.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Claiming Our Inner Goddesses

Every woman has stories about being asked to be less than she is.  Don't act too smart, don't draw attention, don't take the last dessert...

Well, for this weekend, I say: forget that.

This weekend is Romancing the Capital and it is a celebration of loudness, laughter and, of course, achieving happily ever afters in all aspects of life.  Romance is the genre where women can win.  Heroines can definitely have it all.  She can have an exciting, profitable and fulfilling career, a loving and supportive family, and a partner who adores her and is devoted to her pleasure and joy.  (And if he happens to be a shapeshifter, vampire, or superhero, all the better.)  Heroines remind us that every woman is a Goddess inside.

Reclaiming that Goddess can be a challenge in the face of all the messages pushing women into narrow boxes or driving us to put off our happily ever after until later (once we lose weight, once we buy new clothes...).  I've come up with a three step system to help us celebrate our Goddesshood:

1) Do something brave.

Women are taught to be afraid.  We are taught to constantly be aware of what's around us and how others might be perceiving us.  We get blamed for how others see us (dressing too sexy, being too emotional) and so we tend to lock ourselves down and avoid risks.  

For this weekend, take the risks.  Talk to a stranger, be the first one on the dance floor, dive in to one of the "naughty" panels, whatever you would normally want to do but tell yourself not to because it might not be appropriate.  It doesn't have to be big, but releasing ourselves from the restraints of fear can be incredibly freeing.  

Goddesses don't have to be afraid because a Goddess is a proud, strong and amazing person.

2) Accept your rightful worship.

Every woman has been stuck trying to curl herself into a ball while a nearby man takes up at least a seat and a half.  Part of not being noticed means physically restricting ourselves.  It also means refusing to take our due, lest someone decide we have asked for too much.

For this weekend, say "yes" instead of "I couldn't possibly...".  Take that extra helping, talk loudly and with wide gestures, don't be afraid to laugh until you snort.  Or take the opportunity to take care of yourself with something indulgent.

Because, like the old commercial says: Goddesses are worth it.

3) Follow your dreams.

Most women have huge levels of responsibility.  We still take on most of the household and childcare work, often on top of demanding jobs.  It becomes too easy to put ourselves and our dreams on hold.  

Take this chance to say yes to a dream.  Small or big, it doesn't matter.  Take that first step or the hundredth.  But tell yourself yes.

None of these are huge but they can make a big difference.  We are Goddesses and we never should forget it.

And if you're at Romancing the Capital and would like to try taking on your inner Goddess in a fun and sexy way, please stop by my RTC Basics of Burlesque workshop on Saturday at 11 in Kanata B.  I promise a camera-free, PG-13 safe space for women of all body shapes, bravery levels and mobility to connect with their inner Goddess.

You can also enter my draw for a gift card and share your Goddess-reclamation with me on Twitter at @jclewisupdate (hashtags #IAmAGoddess and #RTC2018).

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