Monday, 30 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 22-28

Weekly word count: 3 620

I've been splitting my efforts between writing on Until Proven Guilty and getting Division ready for developmental edits.  It's not quite as productive as I would have hoped, but I'm still pleased with my progress.

It's getting into the final countdown to prepare for my writing retreat at the end of October.  I'll have to decide which project to spend my time on.  I've learned the hard way that I don't do well if I try to do two projects at once.  I need to concentrate and focus if I want to make significant progress.

But no matter what I choose, I'm looking forward to spending some time with some wonderful authors in a lovely beach house without the usual distraction of my responsibilities to my day job and family.  I get to be a full time author, so I get a week of living my dream.

The deadline for edits on Division is December 1st.  Once I've got the full editing schedule, I'll get pre-orders set up.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Hidden Diamond: Claire Gem's Shocking Romances

There are so many books out there that it can be hard for readers to find the books they would love to read.  Every month I feature a fellow romance author who writes paranormal romance, romantic suspense, or amazing female characters.

This month's Hidden Diamond is a fellow Soul Mate Publishing author and, based on her books and her degree in Parapsychology and MFA, a fellow ghost story enthusiast.  I love a good story about a haunting that sends a chill up my spine and raises goosebumps on my arm and Claire Gem's latest Haunted Voices book, Electricity, sounds like a great ghost story with a sweet romance.

Mercedes Donohue is an electrician starting a new life in a new town with her son.  She pulled up roots in Atlanta when her marriage imploded. She’s come back to New England, to the place where she was born. Mercy’s focus is to stabilize her teenage son’s life—he took the breakup pretty hard—and to establish her place, gain the respect of Progressive Electrical’s team.

She never expected so many sparks to fly so soon, both on the job and after hours.

Daniel Gallagher has been alone since his fiancé's death.  He'll never feel that way about any woman again, and certainly won't try with another independent, strong-willed one.  Then Mercy short-circuits his plans.

Although the asylum closed it's doors over thirty-five years ago, Mercy and Daniel quickly realize the abandoned building is very haunted.

A spooky start and perfect with Hallowe'en coming just around the corner.  Claire shares her technique for building her characters, as well as answering the Hidden Diamond author questions, including her writing process and her vote on cavemen vs. astronauts.

Building My Characters - From the Ground Up

One of the most interesting parts of the writing process for me is doing the research it takes to develop my heroes and heroines into believable people. I’ve always heard to “write what you know,” but after a while, that becomes boring, for both me and my readers. I mean, I’ve never done half the things my characters have. So how do I make them realistic? Research.

In my first Haunted Voices novel, Hearts Unloched, the hero’s hobby is scuba diving. I’ve never scuba-dived in my life, but I needed to get the details right, because the black moment in the book takes place 75 feet under water. Fortunately, I have a friend whose husband is a certified diver. It took dozens of phone conversations, emails and Facebook messages, over the course of several months, in order for me to get a handle on how to write that scene. Then, just to be sure, I sent him the chapter and asked him to proofread it for me. I was duly embarrassed when he pointed out that divers don’t call their footwear “flippers,” but “fins”…

Spirits of the Heart stars a hero who is a security officer—a weapon carrying one. I know nothing about guns, so I approached the chief security guard on the campus where I work and asked about a thousand questions. He was more than happy to comply, flattered that I came to him and impressed that I wanted some firsthand information from a real person, not just information I could find online.

For Electricity, both my hero and heroine are electricians—here I had an inside track. My husband was a licensed electrician some years ago, and was happy to provide me with all the right terminology to use. He also was quick to point out that an electrician uses fiberglass ladders, not metal, for obvious reasons.

So I may never have strapped on scuba tanks or holstered a weapon or ran conduit, but when my characters do, they know what they’re doing. I can tell you, getting the details right is very important to me when I’m the reader. I once threw down a book by a bestselling author because she made a statement about DNA on a hairbrush that was completely ridiculous. I work in a scientific research lab, so although the general public didn’t catch it, I did. There may not be many readers who would identify the little errors in terminology or equipment. But I cringe to think I might someday read a review of one of my own books that says, “I can’t believe she calls them flippers.”

Researching my characters’ worlds is truly an education, and makes my own life just a little bit more interesting.

- Claire Gem

Hidden Diamond Author Questionnaire

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

I talked the facilities manager at my job into taking me into the abandoned (and condemned!) building on campus for a tour and to take pictures. It used to house the most disturbed mental patients confined to a state hospital before it closed in the 1970s. Dangerous? Yes. The ceilings are falling in and the place is infested with raccoons. The hair stood up on the back of my neck during the entire visit, but it wasn’t from the raccoon poop or the dead pigeon skeletons. It was from the deep, disturbing sadness that still lingers there…it became the setting for my latest Haunted Voices novel, Electricity.

What is your writing process?

I’m mostly a pantser, but that has gotten me into trouble all too many times. I have a number of books that I got 1/3 of the way into and then lost the thread…so I’ve started writing a sort of “synopsis,” including the ending, to refer back to when I get lost. It’s much easier to get to The End when you know how the story ends.

As far as solitary vs public, I am definitely a solitary writer. I much prefer doing the work alone in my office or in a quiet corner of a library.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

Martinis, lol. I do enjoy a leisurely happy hour with my daughter at a local restaurant where they have a numbers game called Keno. We talk, we laugh, we drink, we gamble away twenty bucks, and then we go home in a much better mood.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Well, he’s not fictional—I have a crazy mad crush on Aquaman, aka Jason Mamoa. I keep saying “where was this man when I was 20 and single?” and then I remember…oh yeah, he was only two years old…

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

Cavemen. They learned how to survive long before all the fancy technology was invented to help them. I can’t see an astronaut battling with a mastodon and winning.

Thank you so much for being one of my Hidden Diamonds, Claire!  And if you'd like one of Claire's books for your very own or you'd like to follow her on social media, you can find her here:

Facebook     Twitter     Goodreads

Join us next month for a new Hidden Diamond or check out last month's feature: Rhonda Frankhouser's matriarchs and paranormal romance.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 15-21

Weekly word count: 5936

This was a bit of a challenging week.  Not only was it busy, with a last-minute trip to Calgary over the weekend to see my 95 year old grandmother, but I also had to resist chasing a fan-fiction plot bunny that is ever so shiny and wanting to be caught.  (Killjoys inspired, for the curious.  That show has become one of my favourites.)

But resist I did, leaving aside the lure of writing my own space bounty-hunter adventure until my daily word counts were done.  I find that technique works well.  If I get my thousand words on my WIP, then I get a half-hour or an hour to play in my fan-fiction worlds.  Sadly, those stories will probably never see the light of day, unless I get hired by the various franchises, but fan-fiction was how I started writing.  Telling my own stories in other people's worlds will probably never lose its allure for me.

Things are going to start shifting.  Now that I've had a few weeks since Division was finished, it's time to start getting it ready for the first round of developmental editing.  The plan is to use Red Adept Editing again.  They've done the work on my first four independent novels and they've done a fantastic job.

And the countdown is on for heading out to the writers' retreat in November.  I'm really looking forward to having a nice quiet week to pretend to be a full time author.  Who lives on a beach.  With a dozen other women who are also awesome authors.   Though, if it really was reality, there would be cats (at least two) and a charming, yet sweet, person who would handle our cooking, cleaning, and weird research requests.

Ah well, it may not be my life now, but a girl can dream! 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Family Stories

This week I got word that my grandmother in Calgary has begun a decline.  She has had health issues and dementia for the last few years, so it's not a particular surprise, but it is sad.  She's always been the family historian for that side of the family, sharing the stories about her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on.

I think most families have this person.  The person who tells funny, interesting, or meaningful stories about other family members.  Sometimes, if a family is lucky, that person isn't reliant only on their own memories (or family gossip) but has a treasure trove of stories passed down through generations.  They're not always entirely accurate, but they can make a big difference about how a family defines themselves.

A lot of our family history defines ourselves as explorers.  We've frequently picked up and moved on to find new opportunities.  Family legend claims that one of our ancestors was on the first Norse ships to cross to Greenland and Vinland (probably Nova Scotia).  More recent records show the crossing of my great-great-grandfather and his brothers, who settled in Drumheller, Alberta and found brides, including three sisters.  (A plot bunny that will probably remain out of my reach as a writer for the forseeable future.)  

We have a long tradition of military and government service, travelling across the world.  There is a long-running joke in our family about the Family Postal Service, which I've used on more than one occasion.  My son lost his favourite toy when he was ten, and we discovered that it was no longer sold in North America.  However, it was available at a store in Spain.  One relative went to the store, and picked up the toy.  Another relative carried the toy from Spain to England.  A third relative brought it from England to Halifax, where it was driven up to us in Ottawa by a fourth relative.  (All significantly faster and more reliable than Amazon shipping, in my opinion.)

To me, family is a concept of far reaching tentacles that expand far beyond the typical range of siblings and cousins.  I get updates from around the world during the holidays.

This kind of closeness wouldn't happen without the shared stories.  It makes us more than a collection of random strangers with linked DNA.  Our roots aren't in particular locations, but in our bonds with one another, most of which come from the stories we swap.

My aunt and several of my cousins have spent the last few years trying to write down my grandmother's stories, to ensure they live on after her.  And interestingly, even though my grandmother often fails to recognize people, she can still tell a great story.

It's sad for me to think of my grandmother's passing, but it gives me some comfort to know that she'll live on in our stories, the same way she's made long-dead relatives live on in hers.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Striking The Right Note With Sophie from Music and Lyrics

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Shameless self-promo: my latest romantic suspense release, Deadly Potential: A Special Investigations Case File, coming October 23 and available for pre-order now!

Monday, 16 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 8 to 14

Weekly word count: 3991

This last week was probably one of the more difficult I've experienced.  I don't want to go into details, but I took a lot of emotional hits from different sources.  I'm used to being tired and feeling run down, but this was the first time in a long time that I felt the same way I used to during the short run of time at school when I was getting beaten up on a regular basis.  Remaining still hurt, trying to move hurt, and every hurt brought back waves of pain and humiliation, as well as a despairing certainty that there was no escape.

I wasn't physically hurt this week, but the emotional toll left very physical aches in its wake.

So I did something I rarely do.  I was gentle with myself and gave myself time off, both from my day job and from writing.  I allowed myself some time to heal, with the result that when I went to the library for a few hours of writing on Saturday, I wrote over 2500 words.

I wish this was something I didn't need to force myself to remember.  It would be so much easier if it was a default: I need a break so that I can get back to being productive faster.

But I still end up feeling guilty.  As if feeling bad isn't enough to "earn" a break.  In fact, I probably wouldn't have been able to do it if I hadn't been feeling physical pain along with the emotional stuff.

It's something I need to work on.  Add it to the list.  :)

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Heroine Fix: Striking The Right Note With Sophie (Music and Lyrics)

Each month, I focus on a well-written heroine who inspires and influences my own writing.  What can I say, I'm addicted to awesome heroines.  You can check out all of my Heroine Fixes to see some amazing characters.  Warning: This post will contain spoilers.

This month, I went back to an old favourite, 2007's Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.  It's a romantic comedy about a former eighties pop star and the dedicated, idealistic woman who helps to drag him away from dreaming about the past.  It's got a sweet, well-written plot and a fantastic soundtrack of songs that I still listen to over a decade later.

I love stories that include music.  My DVD library is full of musicals, and I grew up during the "soundtracks are just as important as the film" movies, like Footloose, Dirty Dancing, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.  That's probably why the heroine for my latest novel is a singer-songwriter.  But as I went back to watch Music and Lyrics, I was surprised to remember how strong Sophie's (Drew Barrymore's) character was.  And frankly, how supportive Alex's (Hugh Grant's) character was.

Most romantic comedies seem to center around having the woman prove to the man that she is in fact capable at her job (like The Ugly Truth, for example), or having the woman decide that her career isn't as important as the man of her dreams (Kate and Leopold).  It's something that bothers me and has made me skeptical of the genre.  But it doesn't happen in Music and Lyrics.

Sophie is talented at putting together words into rhyme and meter (which is much harder than you think.  Try coming up for new lyrics to fit Mary Had A Little Lamb and you'll see).  But she's been creatively burned, so she is reluctant to try again.  Alex is very persistent, going to visit her at work and inviting her to see him perform.  Each time she doubts herself, he immediately tells her that she has impressive skills.  He convinces her to give writing a song a try.  He will provide the melody, and she will create the words.

The conflict arises between their approaches to the music industry (and life in general).  Alex has been hired to write a song for a pop music superstar, Cora, called A Way Back Into Love (based on her tragic breakup with her boyfriend after **two** whole months of a relationship).  He is focused on creating whatever Cora will want to record.  He treats this as a job where the customer's requirements are more important than the promptings of his inner muse.

Sophie, on the other hand, is idealistic.  She believes in making things "right" and things are either right or they're not.  She argues with the superstar when Cora wants to add a faux-Indian hip-hop opening to their song.  When Cora refuses, she demands that Alex change Cora's mind.  He refuses and she accuses him of selling out, launching us into the black moment.  (They reconcile before the end, I promise.)

The other part of Music and Lyrics that I find refreshing is the relationship between Sophie and her sister Rhonda.  Rhonda was a huge fan of Alex's, back when he was a pop superstar in his own right.  It would have been narratively easy to set up their relationship as one of competition, pitting them against each other.  Instead, the two of them are friends.  Rhonda genuinely cares about her little sister, and is excited for her when Sophie and Alex start dating.  That kind of supportive female friendship is too rare in fiction, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to have a supportive pair of sisters in Deadly Potential.

When I first watched the movie, I didn't like that Sophie didn't successfully challenge the jerk of a professor who had a relationship with her while she was his student (not telling her about his fiancee), used their relationship as the basis for a novel, casting Sophie as a narcissistic villain, and undermined her creative confidence by claiming all of her work was a slavish copy of other great minds.  She has an opportunity, but she stammers and flubs her way through it.  It leaves her even more humiliated.

But watching it again, I realized that this is actually one of the movie's strengths.  Because her strength doesn't depend on a flawless confrontation.  She can be amazing and awesome without ever having to deal with a man who has hurt her over and over again (and who frankly wouldn't be changed by a confrontation anyway).  Her moment comes from denying him any further power over her actions and choices.  It's cutting him off that is the key to breaking his hold, and once she does that, she can be free to find her new place in the world and accept love.

Sophie doesn't have superpowers, or martial arts skills, or any of the bonuses that many of my Heroine Fixes do.  She's facing a problem that most of us have dealt with, an ex who broke our spirits and confidence.  And she succeeds in a way that any of us can follow, by giving herself a chance to pursue something that she enjoys and is good at.  That's inspiring and is exactly the song that I'm ready to march to.

Keep reading to learn more about Deadly Potential and find out some of the other awesome things that you can find on my website.

When Katie first began receiving the letters, she thought they were just odd fan mail.  That sort of thing happens when your sister is the Princess of Pop.  But Ben recognizes the notes as the signature of The Director, a stalker-serial killer who is suspected of having psychic abilities that have helped him to evade capture for a decade.  He'll need all of his skills as a Special Investigator to keep Katie alive, but it's going to be difficult when he's distracted by falling in love with her.

Deadly Potential, available for pre-order now and releasing on October 23!

You can also look at last month's Heroine Fix: the brilliant and brave Dr. Ellie Arroway from ContactOr join me next month on October 10th for next month's fix.

Previous post: a new and personal monthly feature: Reclaiming My HEA

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Monday, 9 September 2019

Weekly Update: September 1-7

Weekly word count: 5600

Always fun to start a new project.  I'm working on book 2 of Special Investigations.  I had an outline, but some things changed between writing book 1 and getting book 1 published, so I've had to substantially change what I was planning to do.

Nonetheless, I am enjoying the heck out of playing with new characters and new scenes.

There are a lot of intense things going on personally for me right now.  I'm having to spend a lot of time fighting for my child to get the help he needs at school, which is emotionally draining.  And legal issues which need to be dealt with surrounding the separation from my ex-husband.

It is astounding how many organizations will ask for documentation, then decide that documentation is not good enough and ask for still more documentation.  And yet, I can't see how the new documentation they're requesting is any more rigid than the previous set (i.e., if they think we've faked the first set, then faking the next set would be just as easy).  It reminds me of insurance claims that keep asking for paperwork.  They don't actually care about it, they're just hoping that the claimant will give up under the repeated requests.  But I'm stubborn and I don't give up, even when all the evidence suggests I should.

I also signed up to judge the RITAs for 2020.  I won't be submitting my book, but I'm committed to making sure that all books submitted to the contest have a fair shake (which hasn't always been true of the judging in the past).  Hopefully I get some good entries.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Reclaiming My HEA: Starting Again At The Beginning

I've decided to start a new regular feature on the first Thursday of every month: Reclaiming My HEA.

Last year, I separated from my husband of nearly 20 years.  It was a difficult decision but we'd reached a point where the things we wanted from our relationship were no longer compatible.

It put me in a difficult position.  Obviously, I wasn't in the best frame of mind to be writing romance and couples falling in love.  There were points where it was actually painful to read and write my favourite genre, because it hurt to see couples overcoming immense differences when my own relationship was falling apart over things which seemed eminently more fixable that the fictional obstacles, if only both partners had been willing to make that effort.

But at the same time, romance kept me from becoming bitter and angry.  Every time I did read a romance, I was reminded of the central premise behind the entire genre: that there is always a chance at love, no matter how bad things seem at any given moment.  

Life is not solely a series of battering events where one can only aim for survival.  There are wonderful moments, too.  And any person, no matter how difficult their life has been, can find themselves living a life better than they ever dreamed.  Romance gives us the stories that keep us going.

Through the support of my friends and my stories, I came to see my decision to separate not as a sign that I had failed at love, but rather as one of my self-worth.  That I didn't (and indeed shouldn't) need to accept a relationship that made me feel like less than I truly was.  I hadn't failed, I had re-opened the opportunity for my own happily-ever-after.

I don't know what the future has in store.  I'm well aware that the odds are against me, but that no longer frightens me as it once did.  The act of creating room for hope has made me happier.

I'd like to share this journey with you, my readers.  It's a scary new world, but isn't that where all of our favourite stories start?

Monday, 2 September 2019

Weekly Update: August 25 to 31

Weekly word count: 2489

It's been a challenging week recovering from FanExpo.  I had a lot of fun but it was a long drive and there were some logistical challenges with where I was staying.

I spent the week feeling exhausted.  I went to bed early and still could have napped through the day.  I started to worry that I was getting ill but there was no fever or other symptoms.  I was just worn out.

I didn't start to feel like myself until I had a full day of no pressure.  No day job, no writing, no working on social media posts.  Just a quiet day of recharging with one of my favourite romantic comedies (Music and Lyrics) and some good books (Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storm trilogy and Sharon Page's An American Duchess).

It's a reminder of the importance of taking time to recharge.  I'm glad that I'm feeling much better now.

And even more excitingly, those 2489 words let me finish the first draft for Division.  There's still work to do before it goes to the editor, but that's mostly small things compared to having gotten the first draft finished.  I'm going to leave the manuscript for a few weeks and then get it ready for a developmental edit.

Meanwhile, I can get started on Until Proven Guilty, the second book in the Special Investigations Case Studies series.  Plus another project I've been working on, one that I was doing some research for while I was at FanExpo.