Thursday, 28 March 2019

Hidden Diamond: Tamara Hughes's Bewitching the Beast and Writing Experiments

There are lots of great 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.

I have another fellow Soulie for this week's Hidden Diamond, sharing her latest release from Soul Mate PublishingTamara Hughes writes paranormal and historical romance and her Bewitching the Beast is a great story about a hero fighting his own divided nature (and my readers who have picked up my Revelations know how much I enjoy a story about a paranormal entity hidden in a character's subconscious).

In this fast-paced read, Ethan Lockwood hates what he’s become—a slave to a parasitic monster whose victim’s names pepper the obituaries. He’s possessed by The Beast, a dragon who feeds off human spiritual energy. After a year of fighting The Beast’s demands, Ethan is losing the battle. The creature is taking over his mind, body, and soul. When he spies Tess, he can relate to her weary look and the sadness in her eyes, but her aura shines like a beacon, attracting The Beast. Ethan is forced to drain her energy, but for a split second, she subdues the creature inside him, compelling the spirit to slumber. How? Can she somehow free him from The Beast? Ethan chases after her. He can’t afford to let Tess die.

Since her fiancĂ©’s death, Tess Edwards struggles to find new meaning in life. She doesn’t expect that new meaning to involve a sexy photographer who says he’s possessed by an energy-stealing beast. He claims she’s in danger and that he’s the only one who can save her. Great. He’s a nut job—cute, but delusional. She doesn’t believe in dragon spirits and magic, not until she finds her grandmother’s Book of Shadows. She’s descended from witches, and the book warns her of her fate. Although the beast inside Ethan needs her alive, he isn’t the only one of his kind. There’s another, and he wants Tess dead.

Today, Tamara shares the fun she's had doing research for Bewitching the Beast, along with her answers to the Hidden Diamonds author questionnaire, including her writing process and her opinion on cavemen vs. astronauts.

It's All The Little Details

Hi! I’m Tamara Hughes, and I write both historical romances and paranormal romances. My stories are fast-paced and action-packed with lots of humor and love.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about the fun part of research.

Our job as authors is to provide our readers with an experience. Our books need to be written in such a way that the reader can sink into the story and become the characters. And there’s nothing worse than getting really into what’s happening in a novel only to hit a spot that strikes us as so unbelievable it jolts us back to reality. That’s where research is essential.

Historical novels require a lot of research to get an accurate depiction of the relevant time period, but when you think about it, even contemporary stories can bring up questions an author can’t answer.

Take for instance my paranormal romance Bewitching The Beast. In a world of magic and supernatural elements, you’d think I could just make everything up. And largely that’s true, except when it comes to things readers might have experienced or could experience if they wanted to.

I can come up with characters that are possessed by dragon spirits and witches that can perform actual magic, but believability will go out the window if I get a potential real world experience wrong. That’s why, while I was writing Bewitching The Beast, I conducted a little experiment. You see, I had a scene in which the hero and heroine have sex in a bathtub. And no, I didn’t have sex in a bathtub. Hang with me here. During the book, my hero gets into the water-filled tub with his jeans on. He and the heroine start to get hot and heavy, and then he tries to take off his wet jeans. The question – how difficult is it to pull off sopping-wet denim?

Enter my poor, unsuspecting husband. (I guess I could have done this experiment myself, but what fun would that be?) I asked my hubby if he would be willing to go into a tub filled with water with jeans on, and then try to get them off. Surprisingly, he humored me and tried it out. The answer – it was difficult but possible to pull down the denim the several inches it would take to be able to continue the scene.

This book, as with all my books, had many minor situations that I played around with. As I write, I frequently make the same facial expressions as my characters, try out different moves they might make, smell the scents they might encounter, etc.

Which brings me to the next great experiment I tried...

Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to tear off a man’s button-down shirt? This was a question that came up for one of my other paranormal novels (one not available for sale yet). This particular issue caught the interest of my kids, so we investigated this problem together. My kids went to a secondhand store and bought two button-down shirts, then gave the shirt-ripping experiment a go. The first attempt was to rip open a shirt while wearing it yourself, and the second try was someone else attempting to tear the shirt for you.

As you can see, the movies lie. It’s actually a lot harder to pop buttons than you’d think.

The point here is that research is important. And can be really fun. I can’t wait to come across the next experiment I can dive into.

- Tamara Hughes

An Author Interview with Tamara Hughes

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

Probably when I had my husband go into the tub with his jeans on to see if he could pull them off wet.

What is your writing process? 

I try to plot, but I’m a pantser at heart, so it’s not easy for me, and I make lots of changes as I write the book. I usually write at home with very few distractions if possible. Sometimes I listen to music to get the mood of the scene or just to get more focused internally vs. what’s going on around me.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I’m a huge Netflix bingewatcher. Over the last several months, I’ve really gotten into Chinese dramas. I love anything with romance.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

For me, it changes with every show I watch or book I read (if it’s a stellar show/book).

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

I would have to think astronauts would win if for no other reason than their greater intelligence. They can plan attacks and maneuvers that would outsmart the cavemen. Plus, they can do all that weightless!

Thank you, Tamara, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds! (And for the great video!)  For those who want their own copy of Tamara's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here:

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on April 25th for a new Hidden Diamond.

Or take a look at last month's Hidden Diamond: Sally Brandle

Or you can check out last week's blogpost: Making Mistakes

Monday, 25 March 2019

Weekly Update: March 17-23

I've been working hard on edits this week, but I'll admit that it hasn't been as productive as it could have been due to some chaos taking place in the publishing world and in my local politics.

This week, the finalists for the RITA awards were announced.  There are a lot of talented writers included in this year's finalists.  Unfortunately, there are also a lot of talented authors who are not included, specifically authors of colour, disabled authors, and LGBTQ+ authors. 

That makes me really sad.  Last year, there was a lot of discussion about judging bias that prevented authors from finaling with some really amazing books.  The RWA Board of Directors has been working really hard to try and make the contest fairer, but it's disappointing to see that their efforts haven't been sufficient.  (And I know the Board shares my disappointment and dismay.)

It makes me even sadder that there are some members who are dismissing this issue and claiming that it's been exaggerated or even completely fabricated.  I really feel for those members of RWA who are part of these affected groups, who are having to face dismissive and ugly rhetoric.  It's not okay and I've been very proud of the Board and those members who have stood up to those making such remarks.  And even prouder of the ones who have taken the time to educate.

I hope that RWA takes the time and effort needed to make sure that future RITA contests truly represent all members and genuinely present the best of the genre.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Making Mistakes

I'll start by recusing myself.  I was raised as a perfectionist and despite my best efforts to change my thinking, it still bugs the heck out of me to make mistakes.  As part of my efforts to change, I've spent a lot of time thinking about mistakes and what they mean.  But I've also spent a lot of time thinking about how people react to other people's mistakes.

Mistakes are what happen when people take risks.  By definition, we never know what the results will be when we take risks.  It will always be a gamble.  But sometimes risks are the only option for success, because we don't want the results of the safe and predictable paths.

Taking risks is hard when someone has been raised to always be 100 % successful at all endeavors.  It's literally always impossible to always succeed if a person is trying new things.  We should encourage people to try and offer them support when they fail as well as celebrate when they succeed.
Good try on that heist.  Maybe you'll do better in the sequel.

But often people aren't supportive about mistakes.  (And to be clear here, I'm talking about situations where things haven't worked out as hoped or unintended errors, not malicious attempts at harm or deliberate carelessness.)  There can be a lot anger and blame, both of which can be extremely discouraging.  It's hard to take a chance when it feels like failure will always be the only thing that people remember.

I've found myself wondering where the line should be drawn.  Obviously, people should acknowledge their mistakes, particularly if those mistakes have real costs to themselves and others.  But after the mistakes have been acknowledged, then is it reasonable to expect that they will no longer be the first things brought up?  Or should the damage continue to be acknowledged?

I don't have an answer to that.  I guess it all depends on the circumstances.  If those injured don't feel that the harm has been truly recognized, then that's a reason to continue to bring up the mistake.  If there's a concern that the mistake will be repeated, then that's another reason to keep it front and center.

But I think it's also important to recognize a person's attempts to make amends.  Too many reminders can crush their spirits, particularly if they genuinely do recognize their mistakes and want to make them better.

It's not easy for me to acknowledge when I've made mistakes, but I'm getting better at it.  And part of that is recognizing when I need to be gentler with others and when it's necessary to fight to the ground.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Through The Looking Glass with Burlesque

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Monday, 18 March 2019

Weekly Update: March 10 to 16

It's been a busy week.  I worked on a submission, the manuscript for Deadly Potential for Soul Mate Publishing, and got my short stories formatted for print and ebook.

I've also been working on some things for ORWA, my local RWA chapter.  We're starting to put together the workshops for 2020 and I'm managing our April workshop, Finding Your Unique Voice with Stefanie London.

On the home front, it's tax season, which means reconciling all my writing expenses and income and making sure I have all my receipts and other papers.

So yeah, a lot has gone on and it's been busy.  But it's not a bad kind of busy to be.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Heroine Fix: Through The Looking Glass with Tess and Ali of Burlesque

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.

Not everyone has seen the movie Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher.  It's full of great song and dance numbers, elaborate costumes and some phenomenal actors (Stanley Tucci, Alan Cumming, and Kristen Bell, to name a few).  But that's not what has kept me watching it again and again.  What draws me into this movie are the characters of Tess (Cher) and Ali (Christina Aguilera).

Burlesque takes a different path than the typical small-town girl pursues her dreams and finds love stories.  In most of those stories, the Burlesque Lounge Club would be the low point in Ali's story, the thing she needs to be rescued from.  Except in Burlesque, Ali doesn't need to be rescued at all.  She works hard to get onto the stage and she loves it.  She rejects people who tell her that she should be aiming higher than a small club literally buried under the Sunset Strip.  It's one of the rare instances of a female character who never doubts herself, her talent, and what she wants.

Ali leaves her small town in Iowa because she "looked around and there wasn't one person whose life (she) wanted."  When she arrives in Los Angeles, she goes after what she wants with determination.  She tries to get onstage at the Burlesque Lounge but Tess rejects her.  Rather than slinking away, Ali picks up a tray and starts waitressing at the club.  She forces her way onto the stage during an audition in order to claim her space.  When the established star of the show sabotages Ali's performance, Ali seizes the opportunity to show off her vocal talents and earns a place as the new star of the show.  She even rescues Tess by saving her club from foreclosure by arranging for a local business owner to buy the air rights above the club, preventing a developer from demolishing the club and building a skyscraper.  She's an unusually proactive and confident heroine.

Tess is another strong and confident character who has some of the best lines in the movie.  ("I didn't divorce you so I could spend more time with you" makes me laugh every time.)  She handles her ex-husband and the greedy developer with poise and wit.  She gets angry and never hesitates to speak her mind, but also reaches out to Ali and te other dancers to give them support.  She's a beautiful mixture of motherly and fierceness.  She's glamorous and not afraid to be larger than life.

What really strikes me though is the fact that these two women are not placed in opposition to one another but actually support one another.  Positive intergenerational female relationships are unusual in fiction.  The younger woman is usually fighting against the older woman in stories (the evil stepmother, the monster mother-in-law) or older women are simply absent.  Tess challenges Ali but not in a destructive way.  They end up in partnership, working together to achieve both of their happy endings.

When I first saw this movie, I absolutely adored the characters and the Alice Through The Looking Glass motif.  It inspired me to take a chance on my own dreams, stepping away from fan-fiction and writing my first original manuscript.  That story is still buried in my hard-drive but with my second, I decided to take a little more direct inspiration and make my heroine a tough-as-nails burlesque dancer with a heart of gold.  I still listen to the music from the movie on a regular basis and last year, I gave a Basics of Burlesque workshop at Romancing the Capital.

I love stories that embrace confident women and female sexuality rather than punishing them.  And, of course, I adore stories that inspire hope and end with dreams achieved.  Burlesque is and will always be one of my all-time favourite movies and the one I turn to when my spirits sag.  It reminds me that dreaming big is the only way to live.

(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 about Dani, my superpowered burlesque dancer, now you can pick up Revelations for less than the price of a cup of coffee.  Get started with fast-paced paranormal romantic suspense about a secret society of superheroes living among us.

If you'd like something shorter and spookier, there's my Spirit Sight Short Stories, releasing between April 30th and May 14th.  Get them one at a time or the whole collection.

Or you can browse through the blog and check out last month's Heroine Fix about the brilliant and irrepressible Charlotte Holmes in Sherry Thomas's Lady Sherlock series.  Or you can read last week's blog post about the line between romantic and creepy.  Or if you're looking for other books to read, check out my Hidden Diamonds for romance recommendations with strong women, exciting adventures and paranormal thrills.  This month is Sally Brandle's romantic suspense series set in the Colorado mountains.

Next month, in anticipation of Avengers:Engame, I'll be looking at Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy.  Join me on April 11th for your next Heroine Fix.
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Monday, 11 March 2019

Weekly Update: Feb 24 to March 9

The last two weeks have been very hectic and difficult for me.  I have been making progress on Division but I've fallen behind on my tracking.

The ORWA workshop with Shirley Jump was incredible and got me (and I think a lot of other people) fired up to get back to our keyboards and get writing.  Except there's a limited number of hours in the day and a lot of competing priorities right now.

My dayjob has been deeply affected by the changes announced by the Ontario government.  Families with autism are fighting hard for their children.  The stories are heartbreaking and so I've been putting in a lot of extra time to help them.  

There's also personal stuff which has left me worn down and not feeling very creative.

I also got some disappointing news from Soul Mate that my release date has been pushed back and won't be ready for July.  They've also decided to change the title back to Deadly Potential, which is still a good title but I liked Eyes On Me better.  However, this is part of collaborating with a publisher and I trust them to know what's best.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Line Between Romantic and Creepy

Recently I read a comedy article about the awful relationship advice contained in romantic comedy films.  There were some very valid criticisms about the tropes in such films, such as the coercive implications when a boss pursues an employee, people who fall in love with their stalkers, people who throw over presumably satisfying relationships to pursue the thrill of a chance-met stranger, men remaking women into their dream woman, and the perennial issue that I find particularly challenging, the hero who just "knows" that a woman is into him despite her vocal and frequent protests to the contrary.

A hug or a restraint is all in the experience of the one being held.

A lot of these criticisms can be summed up in one simple issue: what does the object of the character's affection truly want?

The black moment is a standard point in the plot arc.  It's the point when it seems impossible that the characters can be together.  Most romances follow the black moment with the grand gesture, when one character (often the man) does something public and dramatic to demonstrate that he is committed to the relationship more than anything else in his life.  The grand gesture is often the apex of the hero's character arc.  And it's usually one of the most touching and emotional parts of the story.

And yet critics of rom-com films have rightfully pointed out that the grand gesture can often also be interpreted as creepy.  A guy standing on your driveway with a boom box, blocking you from leaving?  Breaking up a wedding to proclaim your love for the bride or the groom?  Grabbing a person to kiss or grope them without any sign of their consent?  In real life, these are behaviours more like to lead to restraining orders instead of true love.

In a film, the hero doesn't know if the heroine is still willing to consider a relationship with him.  That's part of his character development, he's gambling on happiness rather than playing it safe.  However that is exactly the opposite tactic that people should follow in real life.  Because the truth is, unless you ask, you don't know what the other person is thinking and if they are no longer interested in you (or were never interested in you in the first place) then you have crossed a very important social boundary.

When I was researching emotional expression, I came across an interesting interpretation of the purpose of disgust: it's a sign of belonging.  If we are both disgusted by the same things, then our mutual connection to a particular group is reinforced.  And in personal relationships, suspension of disgust is a sign of affection.  It doesn't take much to think of examples.  My personal favourite is French kissing, which sounds like it should be awful (you let someone else stick their tongue in your mouth!) but is actually pleasurable when done with someone you're attracted to.

And that's really the fine line that separates romantic from creepy.  If a gesture or action prompts disgust in it's intended target, then it's horrible.  The action becomes an attempt to dominate or an expression of disrespect.

If the exact same gesture is met with welcome and affection, then it's romantic.  It's an expression of the feelings between the gesturer and the target.

In a film or a story, the writers and the audience know that the target is secretly receptive.  That's the definition of romance after all, that the characters will fall in love and be happy ever after.  There's no chance of disgust.

Real life is trickier.  People might appear to be receptive, but that's due to fear of being able to express their true feelings without repercussions, such as being fired by their boss or hurt/killed by their stalker.  A person forced to completely change their look and demeanor in order to be part of a relationship is being abused, not wooed.  And a guy might want to grab a girl and just kiss her (or vice versa), but if she is not reciprocating then the kiss is an unwelcome assault.

There's often a great deal of discussion about how much art should reflect real life.  And I believe that there is great opportunity within art to create change in how we see things in our everyday world.  In the late eighties, early nineties, romance made a concerted effort to normalize condom use and reframe it from a gesture of distrust into a symbol of protection and caring.  I believe that it is possible to do the same with consent, teaching people to see checking in with a partner as evidence of a true hero or heroine.  Recognizing a potential power imbalance and ensuring that their partner is entirely comfortable with what's occurring is a sign of respect and, indeed, confidence.  A character who doesn't feel the need to rush because they have faith in their partner is a darn seductive romantic lead.

And those are the kinds of stories that I want to read and write.

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