Monday, 29 October 2018

Weekly Update: October 21 to 27 - Writers' Retreat (With Photos)

Weekly word count: 20 559

That is almost an entire month of my usual word counts done in one week.  It was an incredibly productive week on the beach and I didn't feel like I was burning myself out or rushing.  

It's actually given me some real insight into how I might be able to work when (hopefully) I can transition to writing full time.  Right now my biggest challenge was that I generally only do detailed plots for a few chapters ahead and I'm used to having at least a day between scenes to think about what I want to do next.  

However, I found that taking a short break after I finished a scene worked well for me.  I went for a walk on the beach, got something to eat (if it was a meal time), watched 30 minutes of a movie or show on Netflix, and then I got back into the writing groove, ready to go.

Starting on Thursday, I'll be participating in Nanowrimo and while I don't think I'll quite hit the 50 000 mark, I'm setting myself a goal of 45 000, which should allow me to move much further along for book 5.  And meanwhile, I'll be dreaming about the beach for next year.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Hidden Diamond: Rosanna Leo; Self-Care and Sexy Sin City

There are lots of authors and books out there, enough that it can be difficult 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 connect with me and you won't miss the diamond you've been searching for.

I first got in touch with fellow Canadian Rosanna Leo through the weekly #RWChat live chat.  Her cheerful encouragement and interest in folklore and mythology sparked an online friendship.  Hopefully one day we'll get a chance to meet in person but for now, I'm delighted to share her books with more readers.  Her characters are beautifully crafted with multi-dimensional depth that make it easy to connect emotionally with them.  She's sharing her tips for self-care as well as answering my author questionnaire on her writing process, favourite fictional crushes and more.

Her latest novel, Covet, is all about Alex, who has acquired Sin City's hottest casino and is determined to remake it into a pleasure palace.  But all of his success as an entrepreneur hasn't managed to erase the past that haunts him.  When he crosses paths with Dana, it's a red-hot fling but if he wants more, he'll have to face her demons, and his own.

(Content warning for discussion of infertility)

Taking Time for Self Care

Thanks so much to Jennifer for hosting me today! I wanted to share my thoughts on a topic that means a great deal to me: self-care.

We all need to find ways to be kind to ourselves. Many of us have loops that play in our heads, full of negative messages we've received at one point or another, and it can be hard to shut those voices off. However, there comes a time when there's really no choice. We have to take a stand with our own health, be it mental, physical and emotional. In fact, I would argue they are all intertwined.

For me, protecting my emotional well being is very much connected to "turning off the noise." What does this mean? It can mean different things for different people.

If you are an author, it might mean you establish relationships with critique partners who can be honest without being nasty. It might mean you don't search out all your reviews on Goodreads. It might mean you remove yourself from social media for a while so you can recharge without being constantly bombarded by bad news. Yes, stay informed, but also protect your heart.

If you have a different job, it might mean extricating yourself from gossip and negative conversations. It might mean you take your breaks outside in the fresh air. I've had corporate jobs before and I know full well how toxic the cubicle world can be. It helped me to remove myself from my pod regularly.

So many factors can add to the voices inside our heads. I know I always have a mental "to do list." When the list grows longer instead of shorter, I feel stress. Yes, we're all adults. We need to get things done, but I'm sure many of us would agree we can spend too much time fretting about things we can't change. Use your precious energy working on things you can change.

Most of all, we have to find our peace where we can. If that means we go for walks in the park, so be it. If you long to spend the weekend in your garden, smelling the flowers, make time for it. If you've been putting off reading that book, take a few minutes and read.
Life will continue. Work will still be there when you get back. No one will blame you for taking a beat. Just be still, close your eyes and breathe.

Now stop reading this blog and go do something that makes you happy.

- Rosanna Leo

An Author Interview with Rosanna Leo

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

To be honest, I haven't had to do anything too "out there." For the most part, I'm a big believe in writing what you know, and of mining all those golden nuggets from one's personal history. Luckily, depending on how you look at it, my work history has been varied and I've called on a lot of my own experiences to create occupations for my characters. Because I've been fortunate enough to travel a bit, I've also made use of that experience.

What is your writing process?  

Although I've tried many times to create detailed outlines, it just doesn't work for me. I'm more of a pantster. I know where I want to begin, I know the key plot points, and I know how I want to end the novels, but beyond that, I'm generally making it up as I go along.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax? 

Reading! LOL. I bet everyone says that here. Hubby and I also love hiking and exploring small towns outside the area where we live. 

Who is your favourite fictional crush? 

It's so hard to pick just one! I'm very much a mood reader so I usually fall in love with the protagonists of the book I'm reading. I'll always love Jamie Fraser from Outlander and the vampire Lestat. Who doesn't? :)

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

Uh oh. I don't think I followed this debate but I'll say astronauts. 

Thank you, Rosanna, for being one of my hidden diamonds and for those what their own copies of Carey's books, you can find them at the following links.

And you can find Rosanna at

Bookbub       Twitter     Facebook

Come back on November 29 for the next Hidden Diamond!
Or check out last month's Hidden Diamond, Carey Decevito.

Or you can join the mailing list and have the perfect gems for you sent right to your mailbox.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Weekly Update: October 14-20

Weekly word count: 3 614

This was not a terribly productive week but I still managed some good days.  Thursday was a difficult day for me where no matter how hard I tried, the words were just not coming.  After an hour and a half, I accepted that and gave myself permission to take a break and watch TV.  Monday and Friday were full days at my day job, so I knew in advance that I wasn't going to have writing time.

But now I am sitting in Charleston, South Carolina, with some wonderful ladies and we'll be spending the week writing and having a great time.  We have a house on the beach with a gorgeous view so I can sit with my laptop and listen to the waves.  I've always found the ocean to be a settling influence for me and it's one of the things I miss about living in Ottawa: not having an ocean to listen to.

We go on family trips through the year and I have business trips sometimes but this is my vacation and I'm looking forward to getting my batteries recharged and being ready to charge ahead for Nanowrimo.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

A Letter from My Future Self

People talk about sending letters to their younger self all the time but let's face it, what we really want is a letter from the future letting us know that everything is going to be okay.

So through the power of wishful thinking and imaginary time travel, I have procured a letter from my future self:

Hey girl,

I remember this part as being one heck of an adventure.  There were days when I thought I was so tired that the idea of making it to the next day seemed ludicrous.  I remember having to juggle all kinds of balls and always worrying about what would happen if I dropped one.

So I'm here to tell you what you need to know right now: you're going to drop the balls and it's not going to shatter the world.  Balls bounce.  And you'll pick them up and keep going.  Because no one expects you to be perfect.

I remember being super excited about all the wonderful opportunities that are on the horizon.  Getting your first publishing contract, that's huge!  And I'm telling you to take the time to enjoy the moment rather than always having your eyes on the to-do list.  I can't tell you how it will all turn out (something about the space-time continuum and the complete implosion of the timeline and universe) but you already know that even when the future isn't everything the past you imagined, it has wonderful things that you never would have guessed.

Things aren't going to go the way you expect.  They never do.  But that's part of the point of life, to explore places we never would have ended up if we hadn't gotten lost along the way.  And some of those places are pretty damn fantastic.

The future has its share of pain ahead.  That's inevitable.  But it also has love and laughter and happy moments.  Because those are inevitable, too.  Don't let one overshadow the other and get out of your head every once in awhile to savour the happy moments.

And most importantly, here are the lotto numbers for next wee--- <<transmission ended>>

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Evey from V for Vendetta

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Monday, 15 October 2018

Weekly Update: October 7 to 13

Weekly word count: 5 422

It was a very intense week for me.  On Wednesday, I had a major family crisis.  Luckily, the immediate crisis was dealt with quickly but there's a lot of work that needs to be done in order to make sure it doesn't happen again.  It's likely to take up a lot of my time over the next few months.

Then on Thursday, I signed a contract for a book deal.  While I was at RWA 2018 in July, I pitched my paranormal romantic suspense novel, Deadly Potential, to Soul Mate Publishing and they said yes!  It will probably be at least a year (and more likely two) before the book is released, but I am now officially on the hybrid indie-trad publishing path. 

And then Friday, Saturday and Sunday were Can-Con.  This is the last major conference of the season and I look forward to it.  It's fun, full of people that I care about and who are just as enthusiastic as I am about speculative fiction in all its forms.  I had a lovely dinner on Friday night with the folks from Myth Hawker Travelling Bookstore and then on Saturday night, I closed out the bar with Tanya Huff.  (It sounds wilder than it was, since we were mostly just sitting and chatting, but there was celebratory cheesecake.)  I did some fantastic panels with 'Nathan Burgoine, including a fascinating discussion of urban fantasy (where I got to sit next to Charles de Lint, Evan May and Linda Poitevin) and a high-spirited debate on problematic art.

Now I'm back home, tired and happy.  Next week I have my writers' retreat in Charleston and I am looking forward to a week with some charming and talented ladies and the chance to get some serious writing done.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Heroine Fix: The Power of Overcoming Fear: Evey from V for Vendetta

I'm addicted to strong and intriguing female characters.  Heroine Fix is a monthly feature examining strong female characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

The movie V for Vendetta is one of my favourites.  Originally a comic book by Alan Moore, the screenplay was written by Lily and Lana Wachowski and it's full of amazing lines:

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Creedy: We have guns.
V: No, what you have are bullets... Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.

The story is about a right-wing authoritarian government that takes over Britain by unleashing a plague and blaming it on those they consider undesirable (immigrants, non-Christians, the poor, LGBTQ+, the list is depressingly long).  They rule through fear and lies, attacking any hint of disobedience with ruthless violence.  The ruling class indulges in their own corruptions, perversions and addictions without fear of reprisal.  The police are helpless, as most investigations are politically directed and controlled.  The public is numb and frightened.

I've been thinking about it a lot these days.  At first, it's hard to look past the title character, V.  He gets most of the best lines, he gets to blow up buildings and do fancy martial arts move.  His story of vengeance and justice drives the plot.  But it's actually Evey who develops as a character and who holds the heart of the story.

At the beginning, Evey is afraid but ignoring it.  Her world is terrifying, so she tries her best to forget it and avoid attracting attention.  However, as many have discovered, ignorance is not a shield against injustice.  When she's discovered on the streets after curfew, she is attacked by men who are supposed to be enforcing the rules, but are really only bullies enjoying absolute power over anyone who crosses their path.  She is about to be raped and possibly murdered, when the caped and masked V sweeps in to save her. 

After Evey is implicated in V's first vengeful act of terrorism, he brings her back to his bunker to keep her safe.  Then he tells her that she will not be able to leave until he finishes his year of planned attacks.  After many months together, she offers to help him with his next target.  She plans to use the opportunity to escape him and get her life back.  But she quickly learns that the cruel men who run the government have no interest in helping her or anyone else.  Now that her eyes are open to their cruelty and corruption, there is no safe place for her.  She is captured and imprisoned.

We learn later that V took her instead of the authorities, but that doesn't change what Evey experiences next.  She is relentlessly tortured with demands to tell all she knows about V.  Her interrogator tells her over and over that the only way to save herself is to give him up.  (This is a common technique of governments that rule by fear, the demand for more names and a growing circle of accusation.)  But Evey resists.  Not because she expecting rescue, but because she discovers a story.

Written on toilet paper and hidden in a hole in her cell, the story is of a young woman who is kicked out of her family when they discover she is a lesbian.  She recovers, finding success in her career as an actress and love with a woman who grows roses for them both.  It's beautifully summed up in one line: "For three years, I had roses and apologized to no one."  Her story gives Evey strength for defiance.

Her captor tells her that she is scheduled to be shot behind the chemical sheds and begs her, one last time, to tell them something, anything about V so that she can save her life.

She replies: "Thank you... but I'd rather die behind the chemical sheds."

She's not afraid any more.  She knows she's not powerless any more.  The worst has happened and they can't take anything more away from her, not even her life.  And once she has no fear, their only weapon against her is gone.  V claims that he did this to her to show her how strong she truly was.  He tells her that he originally found the toilet paper memoir and it showed him that there could truly be a better world if people were willing to fight for it and stand up to those who use hate and fear to conquer and divide.

V lets her go and they don't meet again until November 5th, the eve of his grand revolution.  His plan is to use the old subway tunnels to send a train full of explosives into Parliament, succeeding where Guy Fawkes failed.  The authorities attack him, fatally wounding him.  Evey finds him and he dies in her arms.  Then she places his body on a bier of roses on the train and sends it on its way, completing the attack.

It is implied that the revolution is successful and the authoritarian government is overthrown.  In the comics, Evey assumes the mask of V and his mantle as a bringer of justice to those who have none.

In my view, Evey's story is more powerful because she has none of the usual attributes of the hero.  She's not particularly clever or strong, she's not driven by righteousness.  She spends most of the film in a state of acceptance.  She knows the government has made the world a horrible, unfair place but there's no drive in her to stop it.  She doesn't ever truly participate in V's revolution until that last moment when she starts the train.  There are only two moments that define her as a hero rather than a bystander: when she refuses to inform on V and when she finishes his plan.  But those two moments are all it takes.

I like the idea of ordinary people standing up to power.  That's why Martha, the heroine in my most recent novel, Judgment, doesn't have any superpowers.  It's easy to imagine a Captain America or a Wolverine standing up against powerful odds.  It's harder to imagine ourselves doing it.  Heroes like Evey remind us that we have just as much power as any caped crusader and that is a reminder that resonates in today's troubled times.

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

If you want to read about my heroine who stands toe to toe with skin-walker grizzlies, a doctor who sees Dr. Mengele as a role model, and a murderous ghost who tries to take her daughter, then please take a look at Judgment, only $5 US on all platforms.  Or start the series with Revelations, only 99 cents US on all platforms.

Or take a look at my Hidden Diamonds (featured authors who write speculative fiction, romantic suspense and strong female characters) or the last three years of Heroine Fixes.

Next month, I'll be taking a closer look at Major Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  The series is over twenty years old but many of the storylines still resonate, particularly the angry Major who is struggling to help her people rebuild after decades of alien occupation and who balances faith and action to find her personal path.

Join me on November 8th for the next Heroine Fix.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Weekly Update: Sept 30 to Oct 6

Weekly word count: 7 752

First off: Happy Thanksgiving to all of us north of the border. While there are plenty of issues around the holiday as a whole, taking a moment to be thankful is a good thing. So I am thankful for how things have been going lately because I feel like I'm making real progress in my chosen goals for life.

I've been doing more thinking about Nanowrimo goals and I think, rather than aiming for 50 000 words, I want to aim for an average of 2000 words per weekday.  It's not quite enough to get me over the 50 000 word threshold, but I think it's a sustainable year round goal.  I've been doing fairly well with hitting an average of 1500 per day and I'd like to boost that.

Here's my logic.  My stories tend to be around 115 000 to 130 000 words.  To get to a first draft, I usually need to write about double that.  Call it 250 000 words for a nice round number.  If I can do an average of 2000 a day on weekdays, that's 10 000 words per week, which would let me get a draft done in 25 weeks, which is about 6 months, rather than the 7 to 9 months that it usually takes me.  It's not a huge amount, but it's the next step that's in my control for my career as an author.  If I want to have two series being produced, one self published and one traditionally published, I need to be able to write more in the time that I have available.

Will I be able to do it?  I'm going to try but I'm also going to be paying attention to my energy level.  I'd rather continue at 1500 per day than push myself to 2000 and end up needing a break.

In other news, the re-edit of Whispers In the Dark and Rose on the Grave has begun with Dynamic Canvas and I've found a new search and destroy word.  Every author has their list of words that they overuse.  I'm really pleased with the work so far.  It's exactly the kind of detail that I was hoping for.

I'm also in the final prep mode for Can-Con next week.  I'm really looking forward to this con.  It's the last one of the season and it's so friendly and caring.  The organizers make huge efforts to make sure that everyone feels safe and that everything is accessible.  That way, everyone can just enjoy being geeks together and concentrating on the really important things, like debating dice roll techniques or how grounded science fiction should be in current science reality or what the best glue is to keep your elf ears on.  It's three days of talking stories of the imagination in all genres and I adore it.  I'll be in the vendor room and on some panels so please do drop by the Sheraton Hotel, October 12 to 14 (Friday: 2-7, Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 10-3).  There will be chocolate.  Promise.

And I should have a big announcement for next week.  I've been sitting on this for a couple of weeks while I get all the details organized but I have been hugely excited about it.  It's going to be such a thrill to get to tell everyone.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

All Your Genre Faves are the Worst: Loving Problematic Art

This week's post was inspired by the two events that sandwiched it: Banned Book Week and a panel that I'm doing at Can-Con: All Your Genre Faves Are The Worst.  There's a real challenge when we look back at our favourite shows, movies and books.  Stories and characters that were absolutely pivotal to our experience haven't always aged well, so what are we supposed to do when we recognize the flaws in our favourites?

Molly Ringwald wrote a powerful essay about her own conflicted feelings about The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles.  Both stories feature developed female characters and looked at the challenges of the everyday teen experience.  A lot of people felt those movies were the first time their voices had been heard and the films launched Molly's career.  But they also used racial stereotypes as a punchline and portrayed sexual harassment as part of the courting process.  (In Sixteen Candles, the drunk girlfriend is traded to the horny nerd and when she wakes up, she is enamoured of him and the implication is that they will start dating.  And in The Breakfast Club, Bender looks up Claire's skirt and it is implied that he touches her inappropriately and by the end of the movie, they're dating.)

For myself, I used to love Ender's Game and Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card.  Since then I've become more aware of the author's own homophobia and bigotry and seen how that seeps into the stories (male on male attacks that happen in the bathroom, a "cured" homosexual character, and solving the problems of colonialism by Christianizing the natives before Columbus shows up).  I now no longer can enjoy those stories but they did have an influence on me that I can't ignore.  There were good messages in them: the power of working together with people you can trust, authorities don't always tell the truth and it's up to the individual to do their own research, true understanding and compassion comes from understanding someone's story from their own point of view, and it's worth sacrificing your own comfort to right the wrongs of the past.   But in my view, those good messages don't overshadow the negative ones.  (And it's possible to find other, less problematic examples of stories with those same positive messages.)

We rarely call for books to be banned because of the hatred they promote or the hurtful insidious messages they include.  In fact, you're far more likely to hear people championing their personal favourites and classics as somehow immune to any criticism.  People dismiss concerns as irrelevant because the author didn't know any better or because the art should be separated from the artist.  In fact, the books that tend to be targeted for banning are the ones that would encourage compassion and understanding by exposing readers to different points of view.  I don't think I would support banning hurtful books, but I certainly would want to make readers aware of the issues within them.  There's a difference between choosing not to promote a particular work and calling for it to be completely removed from the shelves.

I've recently begun watching the original seasons of The Simpsons with my son and I'm finding myself having to interject to tell him that some of the jokes are hurtful and not funny.  It allowed us to have conversations about how sometimes comedians and storytellers use negative stereotypes for a quick laugh but that has a real impact on the people listening.  

Sometimes it really does seem as if everything is tainted.  The people who were raised up as heroes and role models keep getting revealed as predators and bigots at worst or indifferent to others' suffering at best.  The stories that I used to read or watch over and over have negative messages about a wide variety of people.  It can feel hopeless and make anyone with compassion question whether it's possible to escape.

Here's my point of view on the whole matter: the first step is to be aware of the flaws.  Don't dismiss the potential harm just because a story was personally important or because it's a tradition.  

The next step is one that will have different results for everyone: decide whether or not the flaws outweigh the positive.  That's a personal decision and it may change depending on where a person is and what they're going through.

The last step to continue to acknowledge the flaws and the impact those flaws have on people.  That might mean not recommending the story to anyone else but continuing to enjoy it privately.  Or if it is recommended, including a content warning so that no one is caught by surprise.  And as part of the acknowledgement, do frequent reality checks to make sure that the stories aren't reinforcing unconscious bias and your actions.

Art comes from people and that means that it's going to come from problematic people which means it's going to contain problematic aspects.  Art is a reflection of culture, society and viewpoints, and that means it reflects the good and the bad.  Expecting art to only be compassionate, encouraging, and uplifting is probably not entirely realistic.  But at the same time, we shouldn't give up on that as a goal.  Most artists create art because they have something they want to say, a message they want to send out into the world and thus share a little piece of wisdom or compassion.  I still believe that stories are what will make the world a better place.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: Carey Decevito, her paranormal romance series Essence Extracted and Getting Into The Male Point of View.

Related posts: Why Books Get Banned and Separating Art from the Artist

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Monday, 1 October 2018

Weekly update: Sept 23 to 29

Weekly word count: 7 862

I'm very pleased with how the writing has gone this week.  I finished the first draft of Third Eye Open and began Division.  It is a real pleasure to start working with Vincent again and get to tell his story.  He's had a rough time in the first four lalassu novels and has earned himself a happily ever after.

Giving myself a writing break on the weekend and using that to deal with the business side of writing has been working really well.  I feel more energized come Monday and I'm less likely to let a day slide to deal with the other thousand things that have to be done.  My daily word totals are higher and overall, I write more per week, so for now, this is the method that works.

Taking the weekends off may make things more difficult for Nanowrimo in November.  There are 22 weekdays, which means I need to do at least 2 273 words per weekday in order to make the 50 000 goal.  On the one hand, my inherently competitive nature means I want to reach that goal (and it would mean a nice leap forward for Division), and on the other, I promised myself that I wasn't going to let myself get burned out again.

I've also made a change on my Upcoming Projects page.  I'm going to start posting a chart with my overall weekly writing progress on that page so readers can see how things are going.  I know this is a long gap to wait for the next installment of the lalassu novels.  It usually takes me 7-8 months to get a draft ready for beta-reading and editing.  I'm hoping that I can lower that but we'll see what life has in store.  Thanks to everyone who's stuck with me through this process.