Thursday, 31 January 2019

Hidden Diamond: Freya Barker's Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary People

There are lots of authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books that they love to read. So I want to to share the gems hidden among the chaos. Each month I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.  If you want to know more, I can make sure you discover the diamond you've been searching for.

This month's Hidden Diamond will be in Ottawa this summer for Romancing The Capital to share her fast-paced romantic suspense books. Stories about strong women and the protective men who keep them safe while falling in love.  Set in beautiful Durango, Colorado, the first two books are out and the third will be released in February.  Keeping Six starts the series with Kerry and Damian: when a chance encounter could offer a second chance, an FBI Special Agent In Charge has to decide between following his heart and compromising his investigation.  Cabin Twelve is about a brook-no-interference paramedic and a workaholic FBI agent.

Her stories feature characters who might not be perfect but who still find their happily ever after while experiencing an exciting adventure.  She's won the RomCon's Reader's Choice Award for best first book and was a finalist for the Kindle Book Award

Freya shares her thoughts on writing her way into the male mind as well as her answers to the Hidden Diamond author questionnaire.  Find out about her writing process and her favourite fictional crush.

Writing a man…as a woman
What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Traditionally writing my stories from a dual point of view, I’ve been asked this question a few times, and my answer is simple.
Exactly that: they’re from the opposite sex.
The term alone highlights potential pitfalls, although I don’t think we’re essentially that different at all. I believe we all have similar issues that occupy us, we simply respond to them differently.
Where women (generally speaking) are more vocal about their happiness or displeasure for instance, men tend to keep things closer to the chest, even if they may feel the same emotions. You can often recognize trouble when a woman gets loud, and a man gets quiet. We tend to show our emotions to the world and men hide them.
I realize I’m generalizing, but these are things I take with me when I shape my characters.
I actually enjoy writing from a male point of view. I enjoy trying to figure out what a man’s motivation might be to say or do the things he does.
It is frequently said (by men!) that women are hard to figure out, but I don’t think men are any less so. I’ve learned a thing or two—growing up with four older brothers and later raising a couple of sons—about the male gender. If I’m unsure how my male character would say this, or do that, I simply imagine one of my brothers in the role and the answer comes easily.
I often pluck little bits of character trait from the men I know and have known in my life, and build a personality around those.
Physical experiences are difficult to describe from the point of view of the opposite sex. The body’s basic responses to let’s say…a knee in the jewels, sexual stimulation, or even an orgasm. By the mere biological differences between men and women, those types of sensation-based experiences are particularly hard (no pun intended!) to describe.
Yet the one greatest challenge for me—in writing a solid and especially believable, leading man—is that I’m really just guessing at how men really look at us women.

And if I had the answer to that, I’d be Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s next squeeze!
- Freya Barker

An Author Interview With Freya Barker
What's the craziest thing you've done to research a book?
For my Rock Point series, I spent an entire month in Colorado house-sitting a place perched on the edge of a canyon, about 15 minutes away from the tiny town of Dove Creek and the next living person. It served multiple purposes: the solitude helped me get in character for my heroines in this series, who all spend substantial amounts of time on their own, surrounded by nothing but nature. My first night alone in this house, I was woken up by a couple of coyotes calling each other across the canyon. An eerie sound, but also quite beautiful, and it enforced that sense of solitude.
I also scouted out locations in Durango, I needed to get familiar with the setting and the ‘feel’ of the town. I had dinner in the authentic Saloon attached to the historic Strater Hotel, so I could accurately describe the experience. I even went wild water rafting down the Animas River, because I wanted to be authentic when writing about my heroine’s rafting trip.
I walked through, visited, and saw every spot I describe in this series, hoping to give the stories a feeling of authenticity.
What is your writing process?
I need peace and quiet. For instance, my hubs is watching sports on TV now, and I have a hard time focusing. My favorite time to write is in the early morning, just after he leaves for work, and the dog is napping. I get most of my writing done then.
I’m a pantser, but recently have tried to plot at least a little, to see if that would make the process of writing smoother. Pantsing comes with the risk of days without any clue where the story should go next. 
What is your favourite thing to do to relax?
First and foremost—reading. Love reading and do it every day, even just the ten minutes before I go to sleep. I also play Sudoku on my phone. It helps me get my brain working when I feel sluggish. I also love watching true crime and forensics shows, even if that’s in part research for me.
 What is your favourite fictional crush?
I have a few. I adore Jesse Ward, of This Man, by Jodi Ellen Malpas. He’s so deliciously alpha and yet hiding a broken and vulnerable man. I also love Gunnar, the hero and single father of two, in my From Dust novel. There are so many more, I adore all of my guys, but I’m pretty partial to Kristen Ashley’s brand of hero as well. 
In the spirit of the great Joss Whedon debate: who would win: cavemen or astronauts?
I have to confess, I had to look up Joss Whedon. I am a certified non-geek. LOL. So I’m not sure what the debate is all about, it appears the man had quite a few on a variety of subjects, but when it comes to cavemen or astronauts, my pick would be cavemen, hands down.

Thank you, Freya, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And for those who want their very own copies of Freya Barker's exciting books or if you'd like to follow her on social media, you can find her at the following links:

Thanks for joining us.  Come back next month for a new Hidden Diamond!

Or take a look at last month's Hidden Diamond: A.M. Griffin

Or you can have a look at last week's blog post: Editing Away, an in-depth look at my editing process.

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Monday, 28 January 2019

Weekly Update: January 20-26

The edits and trimming proceed apace.  I'm down to 96k for Eyes On Me with fifteen chapters left to go.

My darlings have been appropriately murdered, if they don't serve the plot, which is now considerably tighter than the draft I submitted.  I still love the story and had a weepy-eyed moment while editing a few chapters where my hero and heroine finally recognize they're falling in love.  And I adore my secondary characters.  I always need one sarcastic and witty spokesman to say all of the irreverent and funny things I want to say.  I'm particularly proud of my Princess of Pop, my heroine's sister.  She's a well-rounded character who avoids the usual stereotypes and it's been such fun writing a close, supportive sister relationship.

I am looking forward to finishing these edits and getting back to Division.  And then I'm looking forward to writing the sequel to Eyes On Me.  And possibly another project, but that one will have to be a secret for awhile.

I know a lot of writers are intimidated by the blank page but I love it.  All the possibilities, all the plot bunnies, everything is new and brilliant and just waiting to be discovered.  Writing the first draft is my favourite part of the process.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Editing Away

For the last 11 days, I have been in intense edit mode as I work on the manuscript for Eyes On Me.  I’ve been so focused that I haven’t come up with my usual three or four ideas for the weekly blog topic.  So I’ve decided to take advantage of my monomania and lay out my editing process.

Process... Torture... either applies

First of all, a big head’s up: I don’t believe it is possible to entirely self-edit a book.  Even though an author knows their own story better than anyone else, that very knowledge makes it hard to see what has actually been said versus what the author intended to say.  My process relies on outside people reading my work (beta readers and developmental editors), usually at least five different perspectives.  And I ask those initial readers to rip the story apart because that is the only way I can make it better.

Once I have my beta readers and developmental edit feedback, then it’s time to plunge into the manuscript.

For me, the most important part of the process is to break the manuscript down into small parts so that I don’t get caught up in reading rather than editing.  So I edit chapter by chapter, and within each chapter, one paragraph at a time.  It’s a slow process but it’s the only way I don’t miss things.

I start with making sure I’ve covered my basics within the chapter.  Are my characters and settings introduced with clear descriptions?  Is the action within the chapter clear, moving from point A to B to C without being confusing?  Do characters or props suddenly appear without warning? 

I read through the paragraph and try to condense it as much as possible.  Have I used redundant words (raised his head up, or looked down at her shoes)?  Is the information I’ve given necessary (backstory, description, etc.)?  Can I tighten the action and raise tension by trimming beats out of the manuscript (if two people each make part of a reveal, does it work better if one person makes the entire reveal)?

Then I copy the paragraph to a new document, my “scratch manuscript”.  I do this because most editors need Track Changes activated in order to see what has been changed.  It’s a valuable tool but I find that I have trouble reading text with Track Changes activated.  Transferring it lets me catch any left out or left over words as well as small formatting errors such as extra/missing spaces, periods or commas.  However, it is critical that I ensure that I’m making any corrections to the manuscript and not the scratch document.  I’ve used a number of tricks to visually cue myself, such as using a different color of text or background.

Once I’ve gone through the entire chapter paragraph by paragraph, it’s time for the “search and destroy” phase.  That’s where I search for overused words and phrases, as well as words that tend to indicate passive voice (such as was or had), superficial sensory description (look or hear), or temporal notes (day, point, moment).  To avoid getting overwhelmed by “Find” results, I do the search in my scratch document and then make the changes in my manuscript.

My last step is to make detailed notes about each chapter.  That way if I have to go back and make further edits (adding something in for foreshadowing or removing a subplot), I have a clear guide.

My process is time-intensive but I think it produces a high quality result.  I’m always looking to improve my process and make it more efficient without reducing the overall quality.  But I also have to respect what works best for me.  We all have different mental blindspots and highways.  The key to a good writing process is one that lets you take advantage of the parts that work well and protects you from the parts that don’t.

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Monday, 21 January 2019

Weekly Update: January 13-19

I've been working hard on my edits for my Soul Mate Publishing book and I have 25 000 words to trim from the manuscript.  So instead of logging words written, I'm going to track the number of words I've removed.

This week, I went through 6 chapters and removed 2 250 words.

I need to pick up the pace.  Ideally I should be going through at least 2 chapters a day.  Thus far, it's taking me 3-4 hours to go through each chapter, removing overused words, searching for places where I can state things more efficiently, and recrafting a few of the subplots to tighten them up.  I'd like to get the manuscript back to my editor before Valentine's Day so that there's plenty of time for further tweaks as needed.

I wish I had the time to work on Division as well as Eyes On Me but if I want to meet my targets, I need to focus.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Chasing True Love

I love stories about love.  Nothing gives me more satisfaction than two people finding one another and overcoming the obstacles that have been keeping them apart.  That's one side of me.  The other side of me is a pragmatist, the side that wonders what happens after the happily ever after.  When couples come together during a whirlwind adventure, can they truly find happiness together in calmer times?

Incidentally, this is one reason why epilogues work for me.  It shows me that the relationship is solid and has weathered the everyday storms.

Because that's where my inner romantic and pragmatist intersect.  I am an absolute believer in true love, the sort of love that makes a person bigger and better than they were before.  But I am also an absolute believer that true love can't happen over a weekend or even over a few months.  It takes time to develop.  

True love is bringing someone soup while they've got the flu.  It's seeing them at their worst and not losing any of the spark that drew you together at their best.  Doris Egan described true love as the rare moments when someone you love and admire suddenly seems transcendent and indescribably amazing.  It's knowing what kind of muffins they like and whether they prefer cats or dogs and what's on their favourite playlists.

Some people believe that true love requires mystery.  That it can't survive knowing everything about the beloved.  But I believe that if love can't survive learning the truth, then it was never really love in the first place.  Because you can't only love part of a person.  It's an all or nothing deal.

With Valentine's Day less than a month away, I think it's important to remember that love can be one of the most wonderful parts of human existence but that it's also one of the most addictive.  There's nothing like the high that comes with falling in love but there's also nothing like the comfort and warmth that comes from a love that lasts.  And that's always worth taking the time to find.   

Monday, 14 January 2019

Weekly Update: Jan 6 to 12

Weekly word count: 5983, 6 chapters edited/rewritten for Division

It's been a pretty significant week for me.  I decided it was time to begin draft 2 of Division, the story wasn't stable enough to keep going.  I'll be able to keep most of what I've written but there are a few plot elements that weren't working out and I've got some ideas that will work better.

I made some good progress on the rewrite but it's going to have to go on hold for the next little while because I got my first round of edits back from Soul Mate Publishing.  

This is my first time working with a publishing house editor and I'll admit that I'm nervous.  I want to do a good job and be a good author to work with.  They'd like the manuscript trimmed down, so it'll be a challenge but I've got some ideas on how to tighten it up and which subplots can be removed.

It's pretty exciting to get moving on this.  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Heroine Fix: The Fiercely Independent Catwoman

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

Catwoman is one of the first comic book heroines that caught my attention and made me want to write stories for her.  She was interesting in a way that seemed different from the other women in the shows and movies I watched.  She wasn't easily defined as good or evil.  She did what seemed right to her, whether that was stealing high end goods or rescuing a hostage.  She was sexy and smart and not embarrassed about either.  Even when she was cast as the damsel in distress, she always seemed to be in control of her own fate.

For this month, I wanted to look at three different Catwomen and how each one shows a different side of the character: Michelle Pfeiffer from 1992's Batman Returns, Halle Berry from 2004's Catwoman, and Anne Hathaway from 2012's The Dark Knight Rises.  

Batman Returns is dark, gothic and full of tragedy.  The tone is cynical, where the bad guys can win and even the good guys are violent and angry.  When we first meet Selina Kyle, she is timid, afraid to open her mouth and trapped in a job where she is humiliated and demeaned.  Her apartment is that of a little girl, full of toys and trinkets to try and counteract the dourness of her life.  She is someone who believes in the fairness of the world, that if she is a good girl who follows the rules, she will be rewarded.

But after her boss shoves her out of a window because she
uncovers his corruption, Ms. Kyle undergoes a change.  She is angry that the world has betrayed her by promising her safety in return for her silence.  Now she's no longer willing to play the role of the good girl.  She will now be loud, taking up the space that she wants, and not hesitating to go after what she wants, whether it's asking out Bruce Wayne or bringing a pistol to her boss's party so that she can enact revenge.

And that's just Selina Kyle.  Her alter-ego, Catwoman, is even more.  She rescues a woman from a rapist, only to turn on her and angrily tell her that she should never rely on someone else to save her.  She fights Batman, manipulates Penguin and blows up her boss's business.  She survives again and again when the men in her life try to kill her.  

To me, she became a symbol of feminism.  Initially, she obeys the rules that she hasn't set, only to learn they protect her attacker instead of her.  So she defies the rules and faces a backlash, trying to destroy her.  But she survives and defies those who hurt her, coming back stronger than ever with every attempt.  And yet, despite all of that, there is a part of her soul that remains untouched.  She refuses to be defined by others' opinion of her and continues to live the life that she wants.  She's angry but her anger is focused, targeting those who caused the damage.

Catwoman wasn't a movie that I particularly enjoyed, but the concept is one that has stayed with me.   As Sharon Stone's character puts it: "Catwomen are not constrained by the rules of society.  You follow your own desires.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  You will often be alone and misunderstood, but you will experience a freedom that other women will never know.  You are a Catwoman.  Every sight, every smell, every sound, incredibly heightened.  Fierce independence, total confidence, inhuman reflexes."

Like 1992's Selina, Halle Berry's Patience Phillips begins as someone who is waiting for someone else to give her permission to be the person she wants to be.  After she dies and returns to life, she physically and mentally transforms herself.  

Living life without social consquences is a
tempting proposition, particularly when a person has spent most of their life feeling as if they are being forced into a narrow path that only allows them to express a fraction of themselves.  But being free is indeed both "a blessing and a curse" because refusing to accept society's rules means becoming isolated and facing confrontation.  It's not a coincidence that most people will list social embarrassment as more frightening than painful death.  As a society, we admire those who break free of the rules but we also are afraid of them.  It's not a comfortable position to be in.

In The Dark Knight Rises, we don't get an origin story for Selina Kyle and her transformation into Catwoman.  She is already an accomplished thief and living defiantly.  Instead, what she wants is a chance to start over, to put her past behind her.  We are never told what exactly is in her past that she's so desperate to erase (especially since she doesn't seem to be particularly bothered by being a criminal).  She makes a comment that people do what they have to do, but once someone has done what they have to do, no one ever lets them forget it.

That is a message that rings particularly true in the age of social media, where anything posted effectively become immortal.  Choices and decisions remain on display for anyone to dig up and the context is rarely dug up along with them.

This Selina doesn't rely solely on her physical skills.  She's highly intelligent, able to keep several steps ahead of her opponents.  She defeats Bruce Wayne's security, including an ingenious escape plan and a quickly-shed disguise.  When her employer tries to double-cross her and threatens to kill her, she has a backup plan in place that ensures they'll be far too busy with the police to go after her.  

Like all of Catwoman's incarnations, the Dark Knight's Selina is angry but her anger is more
generalized.  She is willing to put society at large on trial for what has happened to her and willingly joins Bane's revolution.  But as anarchy reigns and Gotham's wealthy are punished, she loses her taste for global vengeance and joins forces with Batman to defeat the mercenary holding Gotham hostage.

And at the end, it appears that she gets a happily ever after with Bruce Wayne, a man who respects her and isn't looking to tame her independence.  Personally, if I were writing the postscript, I would still have the two of them working together to fight those who seek to take advantage of others, but regardless of whether or not you think they've retired their fitted leather suits, it is clear that the two of them are together and enjoying at least a moment of peace.

Catwoman is always sensual and more than a little wild, which I think is why she appeals to the audience.  Heroes are loyal and good.  A real hero will save someone, no matter what, because that's who they are.  Catwoman isn't a hero.  She chooses who she will save and who she will work with, which makes it all the more special for those chosen.

I like characters who have that same wildness and refusal to be tamed.  My first heroine is fiercely independent and refuses to hide her intelligence or her sexuality, a tribute to the female characters who have defied literary and social expectations and won their happy endings.

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

If you'd like to read the story of my first untamed heroine, Dani, you can pick up the ebook for 99 cents U.S. (or equivalent) on all platforms.  Enjoy fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

Or you can have a look at some of the other features on my blog, like last month's Heroine Fix about seizing the day with Georgia Byrd of Last Holiday, or my last post on whether or not I kept my 2018 New Year's Resolutions.  Or have a look at December's Hidden Diamond, A.M. Griffin and her wild heroines.  

If you're not quite ready for the holidays to end, you can have a look at my short story, The Spirit of the Holidays, now available for free on my website.

Next month, I'll be looking at Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.  Able to unlock anyone's secrets with a mere glance, Charlotte still faces the challenge of being a woman in Victorian London, expected to conform to the strictest social restrictions.  Join me on February 14th for the next Heroine Fix.

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Monday, 7 January 2019

Weekly Update: December 31 to January 5

Weekly word count: 1070 and a lot of plotting

After careful consideration, I've decided that it's time to start on my second draft for Division.  I'm over 80k into the story but the foundation is shaky and there's a number of elements that need to be introduced earlier or rearranged in order to make sure the plot stays tight.  Doing it now will make it easier to write the last 40k in the story.

I'm hoping that I can go through the rewrite quickly.  I'm keeping the vast majority of what I've written, though with some tweaking.  

I had a lovely New Year's Eve with my fellow ORWAn, Eve Langlais and her daughter and friends.  It was a fun evening of music, movies and board games.  And then a few days later we tried an escape room together (along with my 11 year old) and we actually managed to get out before the buzzer.

Sunday was ORWA's January meeting and it was nice to see a lot of new faces as well as meet up with the usual crowd.  No one gets you like other writers and I've always found ORWA to be a friendly, supportive group.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

A Look Back At My 2018 Resolutions

2018 is finally over and now 2019 stretches out in front of us where everything is still possible.

In 2018, I wrote 290 997 words which is darn impressive, especially since I actually took a month off.  Aside from that deliberate month, I only had 2 weeks where I didn't write, and that was because I was concentrating on editing.  So I'm feeling pretty proud about that.

But as I was scrolling through my posts to get all of my word counts, I found this post from January 4th, 2018 detailing my resolutions for the year.

I had my professional goals: pitching at RWA, increasing my readership, and increasing my weekly word count.

I did my pitches and I got my book deal with Soul Mate Publishing, so that is a definite checkmark.

Increasing my readership gets half a checkmark.  I've tried a number of things last year to get my work in front of new readers.  Some of them worked, and some of them didn't.  My monthly royalties are up, but not my number of reviews, so I've convinced people to buy my books but I'm not sure if they're being read.  But I'm encouraged and so I'll keep going.  The most successful efforts have been dropping the price of my first book to 99 cents USA and my monthly features: Heroine Fix and Hidden Diamonds.

Increasing my weekly word count gets another half a checkmark.  I really pushed myself but with mixed results.  Writing every day is not a sustainable process for me, especially not if I'm pushing myself to do at least a thousand words a day.  My best word counts (when taking into account having a healthy work-life balance) came through NaNoWriMo.  I gave myself two and a half hours of writing time every weekdays but left my weekends for other projects.  I was able to easily do between 1500-2000 words a day without feeling rushed.

But I also had personal goals:

Do something that scares me: I have a lot of social anxiety.  I have a hard time reading social cues and so I tend to play it safe rather than risk alienating people.  And I hate the idea of looking like an idiot.  But this year I did something that scared me: I ran a Basics of Burlesque workshop at Romancing the Capital.  And you know what, it was a lot of fun and people had a great time.

Treat myself the way I treat others, celebrating talent and understanding mistakes: I'm doing better with this, recognizing that I actually do have a number of talents and while I haven't quite learned to shake off my mistakes, I am getting better at not obsessing about them.

Spend time being comfortable in my own skin and home: Some days yes, some days no.  But another one I'm getting better at.

Feeling the thrill of discovery rather than getting caught up in logistics: I'm a planner.  I have a plan for alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse and any number of other improbable scenarios.  But the downside of this is that sometimes I can get trapped in my own head, trying to figure out multiple plans for any eventuality.  So I've tried to just enjoy things rather than planning.  And there haven't been too many catastrophes.

2018 was a year where I did more of reaching out for what I wanted.  Sometimes I got it and sometimes I didn't.  But I tried, and I'm proud of that.

It was also a year where I spent more time standing up for what I believe instead of being polite and letting things slide.  And I'm proud of that, too.

I don't have a bunch of resolutions for 2019.  I'd like to keep on the same path.  I want to be proud of who I am and be comfortable with myself.  I want to write my stories and be able to produce both quantity and quality.

Maybe I will, maybe I won't.  But I'll try and that's all anyone can ask for.

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