Thursday, 28 February 2019

Hidden Diamond: Sally Brandle and the Inspiration Behind Her Independent Heroines

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 share the gems hidden among the chaos.  Each month I'll feature a new Hidden Diamond author.  

This month's Hidden Diamond is a fellow Soulie, an author from Soul Mate Publishing, Sally Brandle.  She writes slow-burn romantic suspense set in Seattle and Montana, featuring women who learn to trust their inner gifts and the heroes who earn their love.  For those looking for a chance to meet Sally in person, she'll be at the Readers and Writers Author Event in Seattle on July 13th, 2019.  

Sally's latest book, Torn By Vengeance (Book 2 of Love Thrives in Emma Springs), has just been released for presale and will be available in May 2019.  Corrin is a skilled lawyer with a promising career but a determined stalker forces her to hide in Emma Springs.  Kyle is the town doctor and he might be charming but Corrin has sworn a moratorium on men.  A mix of thrilling suspense and sweet romance creates a compelling, page-turning story.

Today Sally shares the inspiration behind her Emma Springs series and her answers to our author questionnaire.

Writing What You Know

Fans and friends consistently ask where I’ve gotten the premises for the seven unique stories I’ve created. Do I have a vivid imagination? Yup. Do I watch people and their reactions? Ahh…yup. Unique personal history? Absolutely. Transferring my experiences and emotions to credible fiction challenged me to deepen the intensity of flickering moments embedded in my memory.

I haven’t witness an attempted mob hit, but the unsettling vibe for the opening scene of The Hitman’s Mistake came from one of Seattle’s government buildings. The atmosphere during a visit put me on edge during daylight, so I contemplated how creepy I’d feel in the shadows of evening. Getting Miranda’s premonition of doom on paper required multiple revisions. This wasn’t the case in the next story, Torn by Vengeance. Throughout the summer before I turned fifteen, a girlfriend and I crisscrossed our Michigan town on bicycles. One sweltering hot day, we headed to a local park adjoining a large river. We made a bad decision to hop off our ten-speeds and hop into a jet boat with a couple of twenty-year-old guys we’d just met. The progression of the unfolding events and how we escaped the bad situation remains firmly seared onto my brain. I manipulated the scenery in my book, but not Corrin’s recollections of fear. 

I’m currently editing the third book in the series, The Targeted Pawn, which casts the prospect for happiness squarely on the shoulders of a hero and heroine who are both closer to forty. Writing from a mature viewpoint allows exploration of unique conflicts, restrictive old habits, and the nuances of second chance romance. I married after I turned thirty, and stayed too long in a prior relationship out of loyalty, a core trait of my heroine, Elon. She’s been hired as a welder (my Dad possessed those skills) and bakes when she’s anxious. I had the privilege of travelling to Montana while working for a commercial French pastry company, so replicated familiar scenery and trusted baking tips into Rane and Elon’s story.

Researching unfamiliar elements constantly introduces me to interesting new worlds. I firmly believe if I don’t qualify the validity of an action, tool, or regulation, I’m leading my reader astray. And that’s not my style. For The Targeted Pawn I’ll need an expert on development near Native American burial grounds, so if you know of someone, please contact me.

Happy trails,

Sally Brandle

An Author Interview With Sally Brandle

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

Big red is a mule that plays a key role in The Hitman’s Mistake. My own equine buddy happens to be a Quarter Horse gelding, and I know enough about different horse breeds to realize the devil would be in the steed’s tails. I joined Facebook groups and asked for help on correctly describing characteristics unique to our long-eared friends. One kind soul invited me to her ranch to meet her mules. Driving into rural country reminded me of my Michigan childhood and Deb’s friendly assistance allowed insight into collaborating with a mule. The bonus is that I’ll be the guest speaker at her Backcountry Horseman meeting in April. If you find yourself in the shadows of Mt. Rainier on April 24th, look me up!

What is your writing process?

I churned out my first book in five days—fifty-five thousand words hitting the basic stages of romantic suspense in plot structure, but not in refined form by any stretch of the imagination. I took classes while producing seven more books. I’d say I’m a plantster hybrid. I write a big drafty outline, then plot out the necessary character, romance, and suspense arcs. Those become integrated into the manuscript. The real work begins after my wonderful Soul Mate Publishing editor, Sharon, offers her developmental suggestions sending me to my quiet desk. I’m not the coffee shop writer you see hunched over a laptop. We downsized about a decade ago, and I’m privileged to spend time in an office overlooking my garden, which slopes to a serene lake.

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

Trail riding on my mature (he’ll be 29 in May) gelding, Lance, not only quiets my mental state, but loosens my back. To say I’m living the childhood dream I never had puts it mildly. Lance often poses his opinion, and during our seven years together, we’ve learned to compromise. Studies continuously show how horses sense human emotions, and I’ll share an example. I stayed overnight in the hospital with my dying mom, knowing she’d be gone by morning. My confidant, friend, travelling companion, and cheerleader passed peacefully at dawn. By seven thirty, I’d walked out of the hospital and driven to the horse barn. I’d been riding Lance about a year, and on this day, he was grazing at the far side of a pasture with several other horses. I called out to him, and for the first time ever, he trotted to me and rested his head on my shoulder so I could lean against his neck and process my loss. He gave me a gift I’ll never forget.

Who is your favorite fictional crush?

Rane Falconer in the Wild Swan series by Celeste De Blasis still resonates in my memory as a true hunk of hero, and I read the books over twenty years ago. His love for Alex and his willingness to fight to retain her unique spirit had an impact on my life.

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

My off-the-cuff answer would be cavemen. Survival skills never lose their impact, whether you instinctively sense someone’s following you or recognize which berry you can eat.

Thank you, Sally, for being my first Soulie Hidden Diamond!  And for those who want their very own copies of Sally Brandle's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her at the following links.

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on March 28th for a new Hidden Diamond!

Or take a look at last month's Hidden Diamond: Freya Barker

 January's Hidden Diamond

Monday, 25 February 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 17 to 23

Steady progress on Division this week.  I rewrote two entirely new chapters.

This weekend has been busy getting things prepped for Shirley Jump's visit to Ottawa next weekend.  I'm really looking forward to her ORWA workshop on March 3rd.  I had a great visit with the Author's Lounge ladies, despite some miserable weather.

And I've been organizing ORWA authors to go to Limestone Genre Festival.  

I'd love to be more eloquent, but I'm exhausted and next week looks like a doozy.  But I'll keep plugging away.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Genre Expectations

It seems like every few months, an author wanders into Romancelandia and declare an intention to do something innovative within the genre by creating a book where the primary characters do not fall in love and have a happily ever after.

The progression of reactions is fairly predictable after that.

A number of authors will (with varying degrees of politeness) explain that an HEA (or at least an HFN - Happily For Now) is the only required rule for genre romance.  They explain that the definition of romance is for the readers, so that reader know what they are buying.  (And trust me, nothing is louder or angrier than a reader who has had their expectations violated.)

This heart was ripped out by a disappointed reader.  Be afraid.
Outsiders to the genre often bring up Nicolas Sparks, or Romeo and Juliet or Titanic, calling them great romances that do not end happily.  Romancelandia patiently (or not so patiently) explains that those stories are not romances by the genre definition, specifically because they don't end happily.

There's also usually some further chatter where outside authors claim that knowing that a happy ending is coming makes stories trite and formulaic, removing the tension.  This usually results in Romancelandia going "Really?" and then pointing out the thousands of awesome stories that disprove this point.

Lots of different genres have expectations.  Mystery readers expect there to be a crime and to have that crime solved in a satisfying way.  Horror readers expect the majority of the characters to have a short shelf life.  Canlit readers expect there to be cold winds sweeping across the prairie as a metaphor for various stages of life.

Romance readers expect a happy ending and a love story.  I find it interesting that authors don't storm into other genres and mock the readership for their expectations (and then expect those readers to buy their books).  But it's no secret that plenty of people sneer at romance, despite the genre's popularity and profitability.  Whether it's inherent misogyny or elitism or some other reason behind it isn't that important.

The simple fact is that romance readers don't require permission from anyone else to enjoy what they enjoy.  And romance authors don't need to apologize for creating amazing stories that inspire hope and which bring readers that enjoyment.  If other people can't understand that, it's a sign of a fault within them, not of the genre.  

For a long time, I spent a lot of time explaining these things over and over.  But while I'm still happy to provide recommendations to those looking to learn about the genre, I'm done with people who try to use shame as a weapon.

I am a romance reader.  I am a romance author.  And I am darn proud of both of those things.  Romance is an amazing genre and if someone wants to sneer at it, then they've done me the courtesy of letting me know in advance that I don't need to bother with their opinion.

That's my own happily ever after.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: The Brilliant Charlotte Holmes (Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series)

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Monday, 18 February 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 10 to 16

Division is coming along nicely.  A number of scenes have been reordered but for the most part I'm able to reintegrate what I've already written.  There are a couple of bits that I'm sad to lose but overall, it's better.

I'm hoping that I'll continue to make progress and hopefully have the manuscript finished up soon so that I can begin new projects!  The lure of the blank page is a powerful siren call to my imagination.

I successfully transitioned my books from Draft2Digital to directly with Kobo.  And I sat down and combed through my sales reports to get my total numbers for 2018 (lower than previous years but better than I'd feared).

My stumbling block thus far has been transitioning my print books to Ingram Spark.  Before I can shift them over, they need to come off expanded distribution with Amazon.  I removed them a week ago but apparently it can take 6-8 weeks for the transition to take effect.  Patience is a virtue, but not one I have a lot of.  

I've also been working on the final edits for Third Eye Open and I got to see the early draft of the artwork.  It looks amazing and I can't wait to share it.  Once Third Eye Open is finished then I can start the process of creating the anthology for all three stories.  The Spirit Sight anthology will be available as a print book, my first mass market paperback!

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Heroine Fix: The Brilliant Charlotte Holmes from The Lady Sherlock Series by Sherry Thomas

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.

I love a smart woman who's not afraid to demonstrate that she has brains.  I also love women who defy the expectations of those around them.  Women who refuse to dim their own light, to act smaller than they are, or ignore what they need and want.  So it's not a surprise that I adore Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.

There are many iterations of the Sherlock Holmes story.  (Two of my favourites are Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock and Jonny Lee Miller's Elementary.)  But I've become a fan of Sherry Thomas's novels ever since I heard her speak at RWA Nationals in San Diego and when I heard she was writing a variation on Sherlock Holmes with a female protagonist, I pre-ordered A Study In Scarlet Women as soon as it was available.

Once I started reading, the story grabbed me right from the beginning.  Charlotte Holmes is the daughter of a family struggling to maintain their position in society.  Her family insists on Charlotte contracting an advantageous marriage but Charlotte has no interest in trading her father's control for a husband's.  She would prefer to make her own way in the world, supporting her sisters.  Her father has refused to give her the education and training she would need to achieve her dream of becoming the headmistress of a private girls' school, so Charlotte comes up with a daring plan to make her permanently ineligible for marriage.  She arranges for herself to be deflowered but the plan goes awry when the act is witnessed by a larger audience than she'd initially intended.

Charlotte quickly finds herself involved in a larger mystery, one which needs her unique ability of deduction to unravel.  She acquires an ally, the widowed Mrs. Watson, a former actress.  Hiding behind the guise of a masculine pseudonym, Charlotte takes on a clever murderer and the expectations for a fallen woman in Victorian society.

The story is fast-paced and engaging but it was the characters that drew me in.  Charlotte's worldview is fascinating.  As she wryly observes, most people can never escape how they were taught to live.  She is the rare individual who sees how arbitrary our social expectations can be.  That often, the things which restrict us most are no more binding than threads, kept intact by a group reluctance to challenge them.  By the understanding of her society, a fallen woman should be hopeless.  But Charlotte not only survives, she thrives and finds happiness in her new life because she refuses to accept the dictates of other people's expectations.

I also adored Charlotte's awkward sister, Livia, who struggles to find the courage to follow her own dreams; the defiant and compassionate Mrs. Watson, who has always lived on the outskirts of expectations; and Charlotte's other sister, Bernadine, who I suspect is severely autistic in an age before such labels were known.

But it's Charlotte who keeps me reading.  I could sympathize with her frustration at trying to pursue her dreams, only to find herself blocked at every turn.  She's planned a perfectly logical course of action for herself, one that suits her temperament and ambitions and would allow her to be reasonably happy and productive.  But those around her are far more interested in forcing her to fit into what they want than in listening to what she wants.  But the part which truly inspires me is that in losing everything that she thought she wanted, she found a life that was better than the one she'd dreamed for herself.  Because even with her tremendous insight, her plans for herself were still limited by what she'd been taught to expect.

To me, that is the essence of the hope inherent in every romance novel: that sometimes life can give you something even more wonderful than you would have wished for.  Considering that real life can often deliver situations which are worse than we could have imagined, it's comforting to believe the opposite is also true.  That we can defy the expectations that oppress us, we can find a lasting love with a partner who respects and treasures us, and we can achieve all of our ambitions, including the ones we haven't quite admitted to ourselves yet.

(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 my stories of heroines who find more than they ever hoped for, you can pick up my first novel for 99 cents US (or equivalent) on all platforms.  Enjoy fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

Or you can check out some of the other features on my blog, like last month's Heroine Fix which looked at the intriguing and untamed Catwoman or my most recent post about how impostor syndrome convinces us to keep silent.  Or you can find other amazing romance authors with my monthly Hidden Diamond feature.  This month, my secret gem is Freya Barker and her extraordinary tales of ordinary people.

Next month I'll be examining the heroines who inspired my first novel, Tess and Ally from the 2010 movie, BurlesqueTess, played by Cher, runs the burlesque club that has been her dream but is proving to be financially risky.  Ally, played by Christina Aguilera, has left her small town to come to LA to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer.  The story about how they find their happy endings is one that has stuck with me since I first saw it.  Join me on March 14th for my next Heroine Fix.

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Monday, 11 February 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 3 to 9

I've been working hard on my second draft for Division.  Instead of doing a daily word count, I decided to share my chart for my overall writing process.

The green is the new draft (though I'm reusing a lot of material from draft one).  I'm hoping that in a couple of weeks, I'll be able to get on with new writing.  This story has been very eager to get out of my brain and onto the page.  

There's also plenty of other work to keep me busy.  I'm looking at making some changes to my website and some other behind-the-scenes stuff.  There's always plenty of work to do in running a small business and it's been a steep learning curve but I'm getting there.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Overcoming A Fear of Keeping Silent

Last weekend, ORWA hosted Heather Elliott, who talked to us about impostor syndrome and author burnout.  She was incredibly frank and open about her own personal journey and many of her comments gave me a lot of insight.

I think most women have experienced the little voice in their head that says: no one is interested in your opinion, or if you speak up, you'll only invite attack/look foolish/cause problems.  Most of us discount our own hard work and experiences.  We hesitate to take center stage because experience has taught us that center stage is an unpleasant place to be (it's not ladylike, it's not safe, it's too arrogant, it's too demanding... there are a ton of reasons which all boil down to the same truth: it's just not for me.)

The sign is a trick.  Doubt and Fear are behind you, too.
One of the points which resonated most with me seems incredibly obvious in retrospect.  Mockery has always been a useful tool to prevent groups from effectively lobbying for change.  It doesn't take more than a passing glance through social media to see the sneers, the unkind memes, and the personal attacks which dog the steps of the outspoken.  It's depressingly predictable, but still effective, even when the target knows the attacks have nothing to do with them personally.  The burden of such ongoing negativity and derogatory comments erodes the self-confidence.  And it's even more effective when one considers the effect on the audience, on every person who hesitates to speak up against something they know is untrue or wrong.  They keep silent because they don't want to be attacked.

Keeping silent is the equivalent of "I won't go to this party" or "I won't take a walk after dark."  It's a self-imposed restriction made because of the implied risk of action.  It really boils down to I won't do this because it's too dangerous.  

One of the challenges that comes up is that promoting oneself is a necessary part of life.  The obvious example is in careers.  Quiet good work can be overlooked in favour of the loud and flashy (leaving aside the absolute horrors that happen when credit is stolen).  My chosen job as a writer literally depends on me promoting myself to strangers and so far, I've found it's the most challenging part of the whole process.

But it's not just about work.  We need to advocate for ourselves at the doctor's office, with service providers and sometimes with the public in general.  We do, in fact, deserve to be treated with respect and without dismissal of our concerns.  We shouldn't have to justify our needs by citing outside authorities and third parties, just to be taken seriously.  

Heather Elliott had a lot of good advice but there's one bit I'm taking to heart for 2019.  I'm going to take a deep breath and start being more active in promoting myself.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Weekly Update: January 27 to February 2

Edits are done!  Edits are done!

It's been three weeks of very intense editing but the manuscript for Eyes On Me is now ready to go back to Soul Mate Publishing for the next round of edits.  I ended up simplifying two subplots and eliminating one entirely but the story is now more intense and streamlined.  I still love it (which I always consider the ultimate sign of whether or not one of my stories is good enough to publish) and I had several moments of laughing and crying while going through, which I hope readers will share.

Next week it's back to work on Division and hopefully I can get that manuscript done in the next few months.

Full steam ahead.