Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Hidden Diamond: Living the Dream with Rayanne Haines and her Guardian Series

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books 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 is my birthday and I'm giving my readers a double feature of Hidden Diamonds.  Two spectacular fellow Soul Mate authors, Rayanne Haines and Barbara Nolan.

Fellow Canadian, Rayanne Haines just launched the third book of her paranormal romance series, Air Born, on May 22nd, and it's already on my TBR on my Kindle.

Quinn Taleisin hates secrets, and shadows, and subterfuge. Which is why she still can’t believe she agreed to become a member of the Guardians, an elite force of immortals tasked with keeping the balance between good and evil in the world. 

Sounds great, except, to be a guardian you must agree to live in secrecy. Quinn is a wind elemental. Being caged in by secrecy is worse than death for someone like her. She can’t imagine a worse fate—until she’s asked to work with Lachon Findel, the man she holds responsible for her mother’s death and her father’s insanity. 

Lachon is the oldest living elemental in the world. Known as Lachon the Law, he’s an earth element; a man who sees the world in black and white, right and wrong. So maybe once, briefly, a hundred years ago she thought he was a good guy. She knew better now. No way would she fall for his savior of the world shtick. 

When the dangers of the past catch up with them, Quinn realizes the only way either of them will make it out alive is if she can put the ghosts of the past behind her and finally trust the flesh and blood man in front of her.

Rayanne shares her incredible journey into writing her kick-ass heroines full time and her answers to the Hidden Diamonds author questionnaire, including her opinion on cavemen vs astronauts.

Living The Dream

Hi Everyone,

Thanks so much, Jenn for having me on your Blog! I’ve just launched, Air Born, the third book in my Paranormal Romance Series. It’s my fifth book overall – I also have two poetry books out with a third in development. And I’m utterly delighted to say that as of June 1st I will no longer be employed by anyone other than myself. Yep – I’ve quit the day job to focus on writing, which is what fed the idea for my blog post today.

I remember being fourteen years old and being taken through a fence by my horse, Razzle. He was a good horse. But that day something spooked him and no matter what I tried, he decided there was no way I was staying on his back. He’d had enough.

As puberty hit, I started feeling that way about expectation. I wanted it off my back. The idea of finishing high school to go to college to get a 9-5 job ate away at the fiber who I knew I was. I wanted to chase wild horses and wild adventures. I’m certain I was an author before I knew what the word meant.

My parents raised me to be tough and independent, to work hard. Living on a farm, you worked - period. To this day, my mother is the strongest woman I’ve ever met. Her strength was a benchmark for me as I a struggled through divorce, single parenting, re-educating myself, and building the career I wanted, not what society expected of me.

When I began writing seriously I started with poetry. A great poet can change the world with one line. I write poetry to empower women. I soon discovered I wanted to write fun stories about kick-ass women and alpha men who loved them. Along came expectation. A serious poet, a true feminist couldn’t write romance. To that, I scoff. The women in my family, the strong women I know, have never been defined by expectation. Have never allowed the judgments of others to shape our path.

I write romance, where happily ever after is found because of the heroine’s strength and resiliency, not despite it. Everything I write is shaped by the experiences I had growing up surrounded by strong women and by the resiliency I discovered in myself when I became a single mom. If I had to go back in time and tell my younger writer self, anything, it would be—don’t change. Follow the path whatever it looks like. Life is going to be hard. It’s going to test you. You’ll be lonely sometimes. The world will expect things of you that you don’t have to give. You know who you are. Buy some good pens—The stories will come.

- Rayanne Haines

An Author Interview with Rayanne Haines

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

My research is pretty normal I think. Though I have travelled to every location in my books except the Isle of Wight. Though I’m working on that because I’m quite certain I still have long lost relatives there. This August I’m heading to Ireland to research for a new series I’m drafting out!

What is your writing process? 

I’m a solitary pantser. Lol. I mean, I think I do plot. I’m working on the fourth book in my Guardian series and I absolutely know where I want it to go. But I spend much more time on character development and world building than I do on plotting. That way if things switch up with the plot it’s usually because my characters have demanded it.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Can I say Netflix and Chill? Truthfully though, I’m a big gardening buff. If I wasn’t a writer I think I would want to work in a greenhouse. I adore playing in my garden and growing my own food. When I see plants starting to sprout I get a little thrill!

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Oh dear, I’m a grown woman so I know I should have a grown woman answer but the first name to pop into my head is Rhysand from a Court of Thorns and Roses

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

I love a good caveman but I have to say, Astronaut, hands down. Those guys and gals are in the prime physical condition of their life, would have access to medication and health care cavemen wouldn’t even know to dream about, and the military brains to back up any tactical operations to win in combat. Sorry Cavemen – you’re out.

Thank you, Rayanne, for being one of my birthday Hidden Diamonds and for your encouraging story about following your dreams.  For those who want their own copies of Rayanne's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here:

Twitter     Facebook     Instagram

Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on June 27th for the next Hidden Diamond.

Or, if you'd like to stick around on my blog, you can check out last month's Hidden Diamond, my friend, the 10 carat Eve Langlais.

There's always my last blogpost as well about my thoughts on Black Widow's character arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers: Endgame.

And there's another little birthday present you can take advantage of, the first book in my paranormal romance series, Revelations, is now available for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

See you next time!

Hidden Diamond: Barbara Nolan's Second Act and Going Beyond Paradise

There are lots of great authors and books out there, so many that it can be hard for readers to find the books 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 is my birthday and I'm giving my readers a double feature of Hidden Diamonds.  Two spectacular fellow Soul Mate authors, Rayanne Haines and Barbara Nolan.

When I first read Barbara Nolan's guest blog post for today, I found it so touching that I needed to take a moment.  It takes a brave person to take a chance and seize their dreams.  Her Paradise series sounds like a fast-paced adventure mixed with a hot romance.  And you can pick up the first book, Beyond Paradise, for 99 cents!

Jonny Vallone, the dark, brooding owner of Manhattan nightclub, Beyond Paradise, doesn’t need any more complications in his life. Then savvy con artist, Cheryl Benson, barges into his office and spits out a confession that would make most men run for cover. 

Cheryl’s fast-paced, out-of-control life is closing in, and her only hope against a ruthless crime boss is bad boy, Jonny and his powerful connections. Her knight in black Brioni has a body made for sin with enough baggage to fill a 747, yet he’s her only hope.

Their wild ride whisks them from the high-powered glitz of Manhattan after dark, to the sultry beaches of Miami, in a desperate attempt to break free of their shady pasts while trying to tame their fiery passion and the dangerous deceptions swirling around them.

And now please enjoy Barbara's story about how her dream of becoming a published author came true as well as her answers to the Hidden Diamond author questionnaire.

A Second Act

I like to think of my writing career as my second act.

My first act centered around my family. Although I did work away from the home, I was able to adjust my schedule, and also be home with my children as they grew up. Raising my three children, a son and two daughters kept me very busy, but they are now adults with children of their own.

There was no one specific trigger or need for change as I had been writing off and on for most of my adult life. I always said I would become serious about my writing and I believe that the passing of my father and the tragic events of 911 in the same year motivated me to take action. We live in the New York/New Jersey area and were greatly affected by the tragedy of that horrific act. Losing friends and loved ones made me realize how precious life is, and how in a second everything you knew can be taken away.

Being in the restaurant and bar industry for most of our married lives I had many stories in my head and wrote them down whenever I had the chance. At one point, I had over 200,000 words on my computer, but I knew I needed a plan for putting those words together in a way people would enjoy reading.

Realizing that I had to learn the mechanics of writing, I furthered my education, and received a degree in Creative Writing from New York University. At NYU I worked with many talented professors who mentored me while editing and critiquing my work.

The professors at NYU gave me the tools I needed to make my dream come true, and believe me, I had a lot to learn. Punctuation, pesky run-on sentences and the power of show don’t tell. I still have problems with commas as my editor with gladly tell you, but overall my writing has improved greatly. (I know, I really didn’t need that adverb.)

Armed with all the tools I needed, I converted those words into three books which became my Paradise Series. I read that entering contests was a good way to get noticed so I entered at least three a month and was pleasantly surprised when I became a finalist in many of them.

I would highly recommend entering contests as most have agents and editors as judges and even if they don’t request your work you will get critiques. Some of my most valuable critiques have come from contest judges. Entering contests is what brought me to Soul Mate Publishing. I am now an author with Soul Mate Publishing and my debut novel, Beyond Paradise, was published on December 12, 2018.

My best advice to anyone who dreams of starting a new career is not to wait. There will never be the right time or the perfect situation, you just have to jump in with both feet and work hard toward your goal. I wish that I had followed through with my dream earlier, but wherever you are in life, don’t hesitate, act.

- Barbara Nolan

An Author Interview with Barbara Nolan

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

Most of my books take place in and around Manhattan, and center around New York nightclubs and nightlife. For many years we owned restaurants and bars, so my stories many times have come from this experience. So I guess you could say that my research has been done over my life time. And believe me there have been some crazy stories over the years.

What is your writing process? 

I think I am a hybrid of plotter and pantser as I do outline my story to at least the middle, but then after the middle the characters just take off and I become more of a pantser.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Reading is my greatest joy. Unfortunately, I don’t get the time I would like as I spend so much time writing and revising these days. The second book in my Paradise Series will be out this August, so I am in heavy revisions for that now. I consider reading a luxury and writing a necessity.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

I am a fan of both Joanna Wylde and Nicole James and their bad boy biker guys get me every time.

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

I am going to go with cavemen because they know how to live off the land. They know how to hunt and have basic skills of survival. They are nomadic which means they are also adaptable to their surroundings.

Thanks, Barbara, for being one of my special birthday Hidden Diamonds.  Your story is an encouragement for all of us who dream of our stories in strangers' hands.  For those who'd like to get their own hands on Barbara's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here:


Beyond Paradise - 99 cents



Thanks for joining us!  Come back next month on June 27th for the next Hidden Diamond.

Or, if you'd like to stick around on my blog, you can check out last month's Hidden Diamond, my friend, the 10 carat Eve Langlais.

There's always my last blogpost as well about my thoughts on Black Widow's character arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers: Endgame.

And there's another little birthday present you can take advantage of, the first book in my paranormal romance series, Revelations, is now also available 99 cents or equivalent on all platforms.

See you next time!

Monday, 27 May 2019

Weekly Update: May 19-25

Life is slowly falling back into a predictable pattern, with four and half more weeks to go until the summer schedule starts and it all falls apart again.

Because that's how life works.  It's always going to be full of changes and challenges, which is why its important to build time for it into the plan.

Last year, I managed some really high weekly word counts, up above 8k a week.  I did it partly by taking a pay cut to finish earlier with my day job and partly by working on weekends.  By pushing myself hard for two months, I was able to complete the first draft of Deadly Potential before RWA last July.

Since then, I have struggled to make my 5k goal most weeks.  Two months of boosted productivity vs a year of lowered productivity.  That's not a great trade off.  I still think it was necessary because I needed a completed manuscript to pitch, but I wish I knew how to get back into decent weekly word counts without feeling completely drained and exhausted.

There are other complications (because there always are).  The last year has been one of the most difficult years of my life, personally, professionally, and parenting.  I've struggled with severe depression, external challenges, and a system which seems determined to crush me and my kids.

It's all interlinked.  Overwork makes it harder to maintain emotional equilibrium, which can start the spiral into depression.  External challenges cut into both the day job and writing time, making it harder to make ends meet financially or make my word counts, adding to the pressure to push beyond my limits.

But I think the most important takeaway is that I haven't given up.  I'm listening to myself and putting my own needs on the priority shelf so that I don't burn out completely.  My word counts might be small, but they're still accumulating toward a finished novel.

There's never going to be a point where my life is "easy" so I can't put things on hold for a day which will never come.  I also have to recognize the impact of a difficult life on the things I want to do and the things I need to do.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Let's Talk Black Widow and Avengers: Endgame

This post will contain spoilers for the entire MCU, including Avenger's: Endgame.  I don't usually comment about stuff that's still in theatres but there's been a lot of chatter about this and I've spent a lot of time thinking about Widow's story and how it was handled.

Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, is one of my favourite characters in the MCU.  (A tough, brilliant red-headed assassin with crazy martial arts and weapons' skills... it's not a stretch.)  As a result, I'm not happy about what happened to her in Endgame.  (This is your last warning about spoilers.)  But I don't think it's quite as bad as some have made out.  With some tweaks, it could have been a very powerful moment.  Allow me to take a minute to run through her character arc and then I'll discuss where it could have been strengthened.

We were introduced to Black Widow in Iron Man 2.  She'd been inserted into Tony Stark's staff to keep an eye on him at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s request.  At first, she seems like just a pretty face but then we see her true skill set as she takes out an entire hallway of bad guys in seconds during the final conflict.

We next see her in The Avengers.  She's tied to a chair with a Russian guy preparing to rip out her tongue.  Then he gets a phone call from Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. and suddenly we the audience realize that Widow is actually using the Russian guy's bragging to (what he thinks is) a helpless victim to gather intelligence.  She then beats up all of the guys in the room while still tied to a chair.

For her next scene, she's collecting Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk.  She lures him to an isolated part of the city and talks him into coming back to S.H.I.E.L.D. to help them find the stolen Tesseract (the blue glowy cube for non-geeks).  She has a fairly minor role in ferrying people to the Helicarrier, but still shows every sign of confidence and competence.  She is the one who gets Loki to reveal his evil plan, by pretending to react to his gloating, which encourages him to keep talking.  He thinks he's hurting her but instead, he's telling her what he intends to do.

Widow tries and fails to keep Bruce from turning into the Hulk.  But she then deliberately lures him away from populated areas of the ship.  To have that level of presence of mind while being chased by a giant green rage monster is impressive.  It's easy to see why a lot of people glommed onto Widow as their heroine of choice.  We also shouldn't forget that she is the one who retrieves Loki's sceptre and closes the wormhole to stop the alien invasion.

Lots of good moments with just these two films.  She demonstrates intelligence, skill and a sense of humour.  She clearly regrets her past as an assassin, referring to it as red in her ledger, a debt she owes the rest of the world.  It's a classic redemption arc.

Her character gets deeper with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron.  In Winter Soldier, she's a pivotal character.  She keeps Captain America alive and helps him on his quest to find the titular Winter Soldier.  And when she realizes that H.Y.D.R.A. has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., she is the one who releases all of their secrets to the public, including her own.  (And there's another kick-ass fight scene where she infiltrates the H.Y.D.R.A. elite.)  In Ultron, she got a romance arc with Bruce Banner (which did not end well, a perennial sore point for me with the Marvel and DC universes).  She's got the guts to tell him how she feels, too, despite not knowing if he feels the same.  She is effectively managing and overseeing the team, though Cap still functions as the inspirational team lead.

In Captain America: Civil War, she is the voice of pragmatism, cautioning both sides about dramatic action, but also the only one of the Avengers who is there for Cap during Peggy's funeral.  She is the one who expresses regrets to T'Challa (the Black Panther) over his father's death.  She makes the final decision to join Cap's side during the airport scene, but like the consummate spy she is, she keeps herself in a useful position for as long as possible.

She is ubiquitous in the MCU films.  If they need something done, chances are they've asked Widow to do it.  She is always watching and aware of multiple levels of intention and interaction.  And she does it so reliably and flawlessly that she is often dismissed as a minor character.

That brings us to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.  Widow has clearly been on the run with Cap and the others who refused to sign the Sekovia accords.  She's been monitoring Vision and Wanda's developing relationship, keeping an eye on a potential vulnerability but allowing them to have their human moments.  She fights Thanos's alien invaders and helps to coordinate the massive battle at the end of Infinity War.  In Endgame, she's taken over what's left of S.H.I.E.L.D. and has clearly dedicated her every waking moment to protecting Earth and helping to deal with the devastation post-Snap.  She and Cap are still friends, both of them struggling to cope.  She and Hawkeye are sent after the Soul Stone and she sacrifices herself so that the Avengers will have a chance to restore everyone who was lost in the Snap.

It's a heck of an arc and one that would be breathtaking except for two points.

1) Widow's sterilization and referring to herself as a monster in Avengers: Age of Ultron
2) The fact that she is killed and apparently unmourned by her teammates (and doesn't get brought back along with the vast majority of everyone else.)

The sterilization is a touchy point and a lot of people were very upset at the implication that a woman who is unable to be a mother is somehow a monster.  I'm not sure that was what was intended, but that is basically what ended up on screen, so this is one of the areas that needs tweaks.

I think the conversation in Ultron was meant to echo back to things that happened in previous films.  In The Avengers, when Widow goes to retrieve Bruce, they have a conversation in an empty home.  At one point, Bruce gently rocks an abandoned cradle and comments "I don't always get what I want."  Earlier in Ultron, we see Widow interacting with Hawkeye's children, clearly loving being Auntie Nat.  In general, she displays a great deal of compassion and empathy.  She is the one who sits and talks to the people on the team when they're having a hard time.  (Hawkeye in Avengers, Cap in Winter Soldier, T'Challa in Ultron, etc.)

She reveals that as part of her "graduation" from assassin training, she was sterilized.  She bites her lip as she says "it's efficient" because it removes the possibility of the one thing that could be more important than the missions assigned by her handlers.  She then finishes with "still think you're the only monster on the team?"

As written, that's problematic.  However, I think the intention was for her to reveal that she destroyed something she deeply wanted in order to be an efficient killer.  So much about Widow's character is about her making the choice that she thinks is right, regardless of the consequences to herself.  In the case of the sterilization, that's a choice that was taken from her.  With a little tweaking to add context, this could have been a very powerful statement about bodily autonomy and added motivation to Widow's overall goal of wiping out the red in her ledger, i.e. balancing out the great harm that she acknowledges she has done.  I think she sees herself as a monster because she allowed others to make her choices for her, to turn her into a weapon in the hands of amoral individuals.  Surrendering her agency and allowing her choice to be a mother to be taken from her in order to be a killer would be a soul-scarring moment.  Infertility is a painful and devastating thing to go through for those who yearn to be parents, so that could have been a moment which showed how much Widow still struggles with what occurred during her years as an assassin.

Without the dropped ball of the infertility scene, I don't think Widow's death would have disappointed fans quite as much.  There's a great deal of the tragic hero in her arc and character, so one could make an argument that this was always planned and intended.  (I think the way the Soul Stone was handled is actually one of the weaker parts of Infinity War and Endgame.  It was intended to be a set of emotional hits but, due to inconsistencies, doesn't quite play out as intended.)

In the Endgame scene, Widow and Hawkeye battle to sacrifice themselves.  They need to get the Soul Stone to save everyone who was wiped out in the Snap.  So this is exactly what we would expect heroes to do.  In the final moments, Widow tells Hawkeye that it's okay to let her go.  If the Russos were going to insist on her death, then I would have much preferred a final reference to wiping out the red in her ledger.  That by sacrificing herself, she will finally feel she has atoned for the harm she has done in the past.

That would have been powerful, it would have reinforced the redemption arc and been consistent with her character's theme of making her own choices.

Instead, it ended up reading like Hawkeye was more valuable because he had a family, even though he'd been on a multi-continent murder spree.  Widow was the one literally holding both the team and Earth together but her life meant less because she couldn't have children.

I'm really hoping that was not the intended message.  

I would have preferred that Widow lived, that she would have seen restoring everyone as finally moving her ledger to the black.  It also could have been awesome if she'd had the chance to step in as a mother and adopt some children.  Even more awesome, she and Bruce could have gotten a happily ever after (okay, that last one was probably never going to happen because comic heroes almost never get HEAs, which is why I write them now).  But it was very possible for her to get everything she wanted and still be a kick-ass superhero.  That would have been incredibly satisfying to me.

And like I said, if she had to die, then it could have been much more impactful and still given a sense of closure to her arc.  There needed to be more recognition of her sacrifice than a thrown bench and a two minute conversation.  These are superheroes who regularly defy the laws of nature.  When faced with bad choices, they find a third option.  It was disappointing that her death seemed to be accepted so quickly and as inevitable.

Her death should have been mourned and her actions celebrated the same way Tony Stark's were.  It should have been recognized that she made a choice to save the world by sacrificing herself, knowing that this was the final choice of her life.  That's noble, top-level hero stuff and she deserved more than a passing reference.

I still love the character, and the whole 10 year MCU arc.  No story is ever entirely perfect and with so many characters and intertwined storylines, mistakes and disappointment are inevitable.  And the disappointment over Widow's death will inspire more stories, pushing people to create the stories where it goes "right", whatever they define that to be.  I still believe that the 22 films comprise an amazing arc of unprecedented storytelling, one that gave movie audiences the same feeling I used to get reading cross-over editions and Marvel Event stories.  It introduced the world to superheros and showed everyone how powerful these stories could be.  I don't know that we'll ever get another experience quite like this, and I'm thrilled to have gotten to share it with so many others.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: The Definitive Warrior Woman, Zoe Washburne (Firefly)

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Monday, 20 May 2019

Weekly Update: May 5 to 18

The last two weeks have been a challenge.  I didn't get much done the first week of May, but last week I managed a few thousand words.

I didn't track it because I didn't want to discourage myself with a low number.  Any time at the keyboard was progress.

There will likely be more upheaval coming down the road.  Unfortunately, that's how life works sometimes.

Under the circumstances, I'm extending my self-imposed deadline to get Division done.  I'm getting into the final dramatic conflicts, so I'm close to having a draft ready to go to the editors.  But I'm still likely looking at four or five weeks of solid work, which assumes no further life interruptions.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Heroine Fix: The Definitive Warrior Woman: Zoe Washburne

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

First off, my apologies for the delay on this post.  I learned some very upsetting news involving my children and I needed to take some time to process before I could concentrate on anything else again.  Which actually leads me into talking about this month's Heroine Fix, because I used this amazing character to help me pull through.  Firefly's Zoe Washburne faced her own overwhelming tragedy and though she was broken up, she still flew true.

Zoe and her husband, Wash, were one of the most well-adjusted couples I've ever seen on screen.  They laughed together, they expressed their affection and attraction to one another regularly, and even when they disagreed, they respected each other.  We only get hints of how their relationship developed.  Somehow they went from "he bothers me" to a deep commitment.  As a romance author, I love seeing a relationship develop but sometimes it's nice to see an actually Happily Ever After playing out.  (And as a Firefly fan, I'm still heartbroken over how Wash died.)

One of the things I loved about Zoe was how everyone respected her strength.  Even Jayne, Firefly's resident tough, didn't challenge her, though he had no trouble frequently challenging the captain.  No one tried to make her less than she was or hinted that she should not be the incredibly competent warrior badass that she was.  In the novelization, River describes Zoe as the scariest person on the ship Serenity because she is absolutely relentless when faced with a goal.  When the bad guys have both Captain Mal and Wash, Zoe goes in to buy back their freedom.  When told she can only have one, she chooses Wash before the bad guy can finish speaking, depriving the bad guy of an opportunity to sadistically torture her.

The challenge with a character like Zoe is that it takes a very skilled writer (and actress) to keep her from becoming two-dimensional.  If she becomes defined unilaterally as the person who gets stuff done, then she becomes purely functional, with no depth.  It's important to show her vulnerability without making her fail or otherwise undermining her competence.  Gina Torres often showed the depths of Zoe's emotion through body language, leaving no doubt that she was compassionate as well as protective.

When the Captain Mal makes a joke at Kaylee's expense, Zoe glares at him, steps between him and her, and takes over his burden.  Without a word, she makes it clear that Mal stepped over the line and if he does it again, he'll have her to reckon with.

When someone reaches for a gun while the crew is in the middle of a robbery, Zoe steps behind him, points her gun at his head and says "Do you know what the definition of a hero is?  Someone who gets other people killed."  Then when he relents, she adds, "You can look it up later."

Zoe also got some of the best lines, revealing her sense of humor:

Mal: A ship like this will be with you 'til the day you die.
Zoe: Yeah.  'Cause it's a deathtrap.

Mal: Hell, this job, I would pull for free.
Zoe: Then can I have your share?

I had the pleasure of seeing Gina Torres at this year's Comic Con and she gave an answer that I think sums up the character neatly.  Joss Whedon described Firefly's success as due to the characters.  That it was nine people looking out at the stars and seeing nine different things.  Someone asked Gina what Zoe saw when she looked out at the stars.

The answer: hope.

It was the perfect answer.  Because I think that's what truly drives Zoe.  She does what needs to be done, the things that no one else is willing to step up and do, because she has the hope for a better future.  It's what keeps her going when anyone else would collapse under the weight of experience.  That's what inspires me about her character and give me the courage to believe in the eternal possibility of hope, no matter how dark things might feel in the moment.

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

Check out my latest release, Spirit Sight, about a heroine who's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Or take a look at last month's Heroine Fix, the fierce but vulnerable Gamora.  Or my last blog post on finding a way to cope with my own blind spots.

Next month, I'll be sharing my thoughts on Sarah Lance from DC's Legends of TomorrowJoin me on June 13th's for next month's Heroine Fix.

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Thursday, 9 May 2019

Life Vs. Intentions

I'm sorry to have to announce that this month's Heroine Fix will have to be postponed.

I've been hit with some pretty devastating news involving my kids and as much as I hate disappointing my readers, I'm not in the headspace to post right now.

I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts on Zoe Washburne with you all, particularly since Gina Torres will be in Ottawa this weekend.  I hope you'll tune in next week to see what's going on.

Thanks for being patient and understanding.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Weekly Update: April 28 to May 4

Retreat word count: 20 518 words on Division

It feels very good to have a big chunk of progress behind me.  There's about 10-20k left to finish the draft.  Which hopefully should be doable before June 1st.

The retreat was very lovely with good weather and some awesome companions (waving hi to Anne Lange and Valerie Twombly) but I found myself going through some emotional ups and downs.  It's a sign that I need to listen to myself more because I've been pushing myself too hard.

I'm not quite sure what to do about it.  There's too much that needs to be taken care of and no one else that can do it.  But I have to keep remembering that I won't get it done if I drive myself into exhaustion.  And I need to remind myself of what I've accomplished, which is impressive.

However, I'm also very ready for something to go smoothly for once.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Facing Our Own Blindspots

We all have things we take for granted in life.  Most of them are pretty basic: the sun will rise and set each day, the earth is round, and I will always stick the USB stick in the wrong way the first time I try to plug it in.  Sometimes those assumptions are more problematic.

For example, if this person assumed their coffee was on their left.
On Tuesday, I re-released the first Spirit Sight short story, Whispers In the Dark.  I wrote it back in 2015 and at the time, I wasn't terribly happy with the editing I'd received but as a newbie author, I assumed they knew what they were doing and I didn't.  When I wrote the final installment of the trilogy last year, I knew that I wanted to have Whispers and Rose re-edited.  Nothing big but they needed a final polish to make sure they shone.

I hired a wonderful and talented editor, Cait Gordon of Dynamic Canvas.  I knew she was thorough and found her to have the rare talent of making me excited to receive and work on my edits.  But there was one aspect which surprised me and that was the additional work she did as a sensitivity reader.

I'd known she did sensitivity reads but I'd rather arrogantly assumed that she wouldn't find anything in my work.  After all, I consider myself a fairly liberal person and I take active steps to learn from different marginalized groups to avoid using harmful stereotypes and tropes.  To my humbling realization, Cait did find some unconscious assumptions in my language choices, particularly around the topic of mental health and intelligence.  (And to give full credit to Cait, I'm sure she must have been frustrated to see those choices popping up as frequently as they did but she explained the concerns in a gracious and comprehensive way.)

Some of the fixes were incredibly simple, eg, not using "crazy" as a shorthand for uncontrolled circumstances or strong emotional reactions.  But there was one that required me to do some unflinching examination of my own thought processes: the assumption that to be smarter is to be better.

In retrospect, it is perhaps unsurprising that I picked up that particular bias.  As a nerdy, non-athletic child, academics were my opportunity to shine.  It was one of the few areas in my childhood where I received praise from the adults around me.  I learned very quickly that to appear to effortlessly pick up skills and information was a desirable quality.  Later, I was placed in the "gifted" program, where we were often told we were the leaders of the future, destined to use our intelligence to do great things for the world.  Add in a multi-generation trend of perfectionism and declarations that tiny flaws would "ruin" otherwise marvelous events or creations and I was firmly installed on the train of Brains Over Brawn.

Cait explained how many of the terms we see in everyday language, such as fool, stupid, idiot, etc., all began life as pejorative terms for those with mental handicaps.  And as someone who flinches whenever someone uses misogynistic language, even if it's not directed at me, I realized that if I didn't change my ableist language, I would be inflicting the same stings on others.

However, I soon realized that avoiding such language did not come easily to me.  I had to spend a few days really breaking down my thought process to see why I tended to default to seeing making mistakes or not easily picking things up as such a negative character trait.  And like so many assumptions about character, it turned out that my own assumptions were based on flawed interpretations and wish-fulfillment.

I was good at being smart.  I was also bullied for being smart and for not being good at other things.  That led me to want to believe that being smart was better than being good at those other things.  This was reinforced by teachers and other academically-minded adults in my life.  It was further reinforced by general society and the books and shows I watched, many of which had the "bullied child grows up to be better than those who taunted them" theme.  I watched characters who were smarter be praised and those who weren't be used as the punchline of jokes.  The point of stories like Inspector Gadget, Get Smart, or Forrest Gump was that it was funny that a less intelligent person managed to succeed.  And often they had a smarter sidekick quietly making sure of that success.

Undoing that complicated web of experience is an ongoing task.  Sometimes I still catch myself using ableist language.  And I'm sure that there are times I use it and don't catch it, which makes me feel horrible at the thought that I've likely hurt people without realizing it.

Because at the end of the day, that's why we should strive to do better: so that we don't unintentionally hurt people.  (If you're deliberately hurting people, that's a whole other problem.)  It can be easy to lose sight of that in a knee-jerk reaction of defensiveness (that's not what I meant, they're being too sensitive).  It's reassuring to tell ourselves that we didn't really cause harm.  It means we're still good people and don't have to do any work.  But it doesn't change the fact that harm has happened.  And the more that a person insists that it didn't when faced with examples and offered education, the harder it is give them the benefit of the doubt.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I do truly believe that the vast majority of people don't want to cause hurt.  But I also realize that the same majority isn't always great at accepting they've made mistakes.  As a recovering perfectionist, allow me to reassure us all that the world doesn't fall apart if we're wrong.  And that being aware doesn't suck the fun and creativity out of life, in fact, it adds to it because it means that people can just enjoy the story without worrying about the sting.

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