Thursday, 31 October 2019

Hidden Diamond: Jeanine Englert's Gothic Romantic Suspense

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 Soulie with an intriguing gothic romantic suspense that is calling to my black-velvet wearing inner teen.  It's a perfect read for anyone looking for some spooky romance for the Hallowe'en season and so is her blog post about using fear as inspiration.

When two murders strike the sleepy Victorian town of Clun, England, an unlikely partnership forms. But can the killer be found before there is a third?
Quirky spinster Lucy Wycliffe prefers to ignore gossip and embrace her position as the town’s layer out of the dead, despite how her parents’ deaths thrust her into such unlikely work. Lovely Digits, as she’s known to the local townspeople, no longer dreams of marriage, but takes pride in providing dignity to the dead. Desperate to hold on to her family’s cottage and support her widowed sister and young niece, an unexpected offer of employment as assistant to the constable arrives at the perfect time.

But former sailor, now constable John Brodie is far from a stranger to Clun or the events of its past. Accepting the position as constable in the small town is a double edged sword meant to heal his past and redeem his future, but falling for the beautiful and intelligent Lucy Wycliffe was never part of his plan. As the killer closes in, will John reveal his secret and risk losing everything to save Lucy’s life?

Fear As Inspiration

Thank you for having me on your blog today, Jennifer! I’m so excited to be here, especially on Halloween, since my debut novel, Lovely Digits, is a Victorian gothic romantic suspense with some rather spooky undertones.

I’ll admit that I went back and forth between five different possible blog topics for you today, but I landed on inspiration. And as strange as this sounds, fear has been an inspiration in my writing and in my life. It has propelled me into action and pushing through my fears has brought me to some of the most amazing and unexpected moments of my life.

My favorite quote about fear is by George Addair: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

This quote is on a faded yellow sticky post-it note above my desk as a reminder that fear can serve us (as well as the characters I create) in unexpected ways. It can help us grow and achieve more than we ever expected. Lovely Digits was written as a way for me to work through my fears at the time (some emotional, some physical, and some writing based). I didn’t know it then, and I honestly thought no one would ever like or read this book. The heroine, Lucy Wycliffe, is a layer out of the dead, the Victorian equivalent to today’s mortician. She is a spinster of lower class, and she falls for a disowned Constable. It wasn’t exactly an everyday historical romance with a duke falling for a bookish beauty. But, the story called to be written, and so I wrote it, not once, but twice.

Soon after I got an offer of publication through Soul Mate Publishing, and I was so used to rejection that when I got a “yes,” I panicked even more. I had no idea what to do next. After I collected myself, I forged through my fear and embraced the learning curve of publication and have been learning through a sequence of successes and foibles.

So, if you haven’t been doing something because of fear: rock wall climbing, changing careers, writing a novel with some unexpected characters or events, or meeting a new person, I urge you to face and push through your fear. You might be pleasantly surprised by how strong you are in the face of uncertainty and how many opportunities are waiting for you on the other side of it, many of them you never even knew existed.

- Jeanine Englert

Hidden Diamond Author Questionnaire

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

Perhaps this isn’t really wild, but my husband and I took a “Catacombs by Candlelight” tour in Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral this past summer in New York. It was amazing, and it gave me so many ideas for a new book. Now, I just need to make time to write it!

What is your writing process? 

I am a total pantser. I have tried and tried to be more of a plotter, but my characters just won’t allow it. But, I do have a sketch book where I create character pages before I write my first draft. I pick out pictures of them as well as my location and print them out. I also create song playlists for my hero/heroine, which I often write to. Music and visuals are a huge part of my process. I am also a solitary writer although I adore being with other writers, especially my Georgia Romance Writers chapter. Being with other writers fills my tank and helps me so much.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I tend to turn into a sloth to relax and don’t do much of anything. If I’m alone, I love to read or watch television under a pile of blankets with my pups. Otherwise, I love going out with my husband to see movies, or we might get takeout and hang out at home to watch some of our favorite shows on Netflix.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

Yikes. I’m panicking. . . just one??? I have a *mild* obsession with period television shows and movies, so I would say my top two fictional crushes are John Thornton in “North & South” (I adore Richard Armitage more than I should) and Ross Poldark in “Poldark” (Aidan Turner with a scythe? Need I say more?)

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

I vote cavemen, every time. If you can fend off a dinosaur, find your own dinner, and survive the elements, I think you could outdo an astronaut.

Thank you, Jeanine, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  And if you'd like to pick up a copy of Lovely Digits for yourself, you can do that here:

Join me next month for a new Hidden Diamond!  Or check out last month's Hidden Diamond: Claire Gem's shocking ghost romance.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Weekly Update: October 20-26

Weekly word count: 1571 and up to chapter 14 on editing for Division

I've mentioned before that I find release day to be exhausting.  Exciting but exhausting.  Having a new book come out is a lot of work and work that doesn't come naturally to an introvert such as myself.  Writing books, I can do.  Promoting books is a lot harder.

I'm also having to come to terms with the fact that it's taking me longer and longer to recover from events.  I really enjoyed Can-Con, but I'm still working on regaining my energy and attention.

Luckily, I have the perfect break coming up.  One more week and then I'll be enjoying myself on a beach with a bunch of other amazing writers.  It's exactly what I need.

Meanwhile, I'm really encouraged to see the early sales numbers from Deadly Potential.  A lot of readers are taking a chance on it and I hope they'll find it was worth the gamble.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Release Day Thoughts

Yesterday, Deadly Potential made its way out into the world.

This is my fifth release day for a new novel and I've discovered that these days go a little differently than I would have thought.

Before my first novel released, I thought I'd be overjoyed with excitement on release day, full of tons of extra energy.  And I am excited.  I like getting to share my stories with people.

But release day is also overwhelming.  It's a lot to put something I've worked so hard on out into the world and ask strangers to exchange their hard-earned money for it.  (And hopefully have them enjoy it!)

For my first few releases, I left a lot of work to the last minute and then discovered I didn't have the energy to deal with it in a timely matter.  This time, I planned a lot more in advance and found things went a whole lot smoother.

There's a number of things that I do for a new release.  But my favourite is my chapter by chapter author commentary (Under the Covers).  When I feel tired and overwhelmed, the memories in the commentary remind me of how eager I was at the beginning of the writing process and the good times I had along the way.

I hope that my readers appreciate it, too.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Weekly Update: October 13-19

Weekly word count: 1235

I've been focusing mostly on editing this week.  I'm about a quarter of the way through Division with six weeks to go before the deadline.  I'm not going to be editing while I'm on my writers' retreat, so I want to make sure I've got the room to take a week off.

I had a great time at Can-Con over the weekend.  I did my first Can-Con in 2015 and it's always been a fun experience.  And now their hard work has been acknowledged and they won an Aurora award for the conference!

But now I am really looking forward to to the beach retreat in a few weeks.  I need some relaxation time.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Taking On Different Threats: Creating My Villain For Deadly Potential

First off, allow me a moment of undignified excitement that my first novel with Soul Mate Publishing is going to be released on October 23rd!  This is my first book with a small press and I'm really looking forward to getting to share it with my readers.

Putting Deadly Potential together was an interesting process for me.  I've spoken in a previous blog post about how I began with two ideas: a serial killer who could make his victims forget that he was in the room and a twisted version of Cinderella where the stepsisters team up to defeat the bad guy.

But there was something else I wanted to do with this novel, too.  I am a huge fan of suspense, thrillers, and police procedurals.  Criminal Minds, the Law and Order collective, and pretty much every other series that involves people solving mysteries and putting criminals behind bars is guaranteed to have my viewing attention.  I adore reading true crime books, watching documentaries, and have forced my family to play far too many rounds of Clue and Scotland Yard.

Despite all of this, there is a common element of the suspense genre that bothers me: the threat of sexual violence used as a tension booster.

I go back and forth on this issue.  On the one hand, sexual violence is a real danger and a depressingly common one.  Most women have experienced being the subject of unwelcome touching, often with the implied or explicit threat of violence.  It is something that we are constantly aware of and evaluating the risk of.  Most women take regular precautions against assault and the fear of it dictates many of of our choices.  That reality deserves to be respected and should not be dismissed or silenced.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely comfortable with rape or other sexualized violence being the go-to threat for a female character.  (And for a male character, it's often the threat of rape against a female loved one.)  I recognize that it can be very upsetting for anyone who has experienced assault (and as I stated previously, that is a large proportion of the general population) and even for those who haven't, it can reinforce the sense of a lack of safety in the world.

So for Deadly Potential, I made the decision that my villain would be a serial killer, but not be a sexual sadist.  It has been cited over and over that rape is not about sex, it is an exercise of power over another person.  My fictional serial killer, The Director, only cares about having power and control over his targets.  They are living dolls to him, which he can use to create his "artistic vision" and remake them into what he wants them to be.

He is dangerous and sadistic, with no empathy or compassion.  It wasn't necessary to add a threat of rape.  Instead, I concentrated on The Director's psychic ability to cause people to overlook his presence (based on our real world tendency to fill in much of what we think we're "seeing' from memory) and his ability to make people forget him even if they have noticed him (based on how our brains create memories: if something interrupts the transfer of short term memory to long term memory, that moment will be forgotten completely).

With those two elements in place, my villain came to life.  I decided that he wouldn't be able to control his abilities, which meant he was forgotten and abandoned early on in his life.  The complete isolation would make him more likely to be sociopathic and violent.  The only way others would be able to remember him would be through an intermediary, such as a phone or computer.  From there, it seemed natural that he would become obsessed with the idea of legacy and being remembered.

That obsession would drive his modus operandi.  He chooses his targets based on their "failures" and then kidnaps them.  Once they are in his power, he kills them and then arranges their bodies in elaborate tableaus, creating "successes" that he takes credit for.  Sadly, to me this seems like only a small extension of how women are often seen as interchangeable ornaments and their personal integrity is often seen as optional.

In this case, The Director targets my heroine, Katie Ballard.  He sees her as unsuccessful because she has not used her talents at songwriting and performing to become a star in her own right.  He ignores the fact that she is happier outside of the spotlight and perfectly willing to support her stepsister's career as the Princess of Pop.  He assumes that his opinion of what she should do with her life is more valid than her own.

Of course, my hero, Ben Morgan, isn't about to let The Director get another notch in his belt, particularly not when he realizes what an amazing, brilliant, and competent woman that Katie is.  And Katie is not about to let some random stranger use fear to force her into doing what he wants her to do.

I think that this story is still super-exciting and suspenseful and I hope the readers agree.  I love stories of adventure and romance, with lots of danger and thrills, especially if they have a twist of weirdness (which is why I write paranormal romantic suspense).

Thanks for giving me and my weird brain a try!

Previous post: Heroine Fix: The Elegant and Kind Delenn (Babylon 5), showing us a different way to be strong.

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Monday, 14 October 2019

Weekly Update: Oct 6-12

Weekly word count: 1045

Not a big total for this week, but I was concentrating on editing Division.  I've made some good progress on it and I'm back on track for my December 1st deadline.

I've also been struggling with a bit of a downswing in mood.  I'm feeling tired and worn out and as if my efforts will all be ultimately fruitless.  I know enough to recognize these feelings as inaccurate but it doesn't make it easier to work through them.  

This kind of downswing tends to happen before most of my releases.  It makes sense.  Every new release means taking a risk and hoping people enjoy my stories.  That's stressful, no matter how many of them I've gone through.

However, I can reassure myself that I have done everything I need to do in order to make sure my books are entertaining and well-written.  They tell stories that I care about: about people finding that they are not limited by their own or others' expectations, that love and respect are always possibilities, and that our fondest dreams are only the starting point for the happiness that lies in store.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Heroine Fix: Making A Better World With Delenn of Babylon 5

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.

For the last couple of months, I've been introducing my son to one of my all-time favourite shows, Babylon 5.  I was a little worried at first, 25 year old shows haven't always aged well, but this one is one of the exceptions.  When I first saw the ads, I thought B5 was a cool concept: a diplomatic center that could serve as a neutral place for different species to work out their differences.  Otherwise, it seemed like any other sci-fi show.  Space ships - check.  Aliens - check.  Earth in a surprisingly predominant political and military position among a multi-planetary government - check.

Then I started watching and discovered that not all was as it initially seemed.  The character arcs were incredible.  The ambassador for the war-like race became a spiritual leader and spokesperson for peace.  The ambassador who was the drunken gambler went down a dark path into genocide and then made the only choice he had left for redemption, even though it condemned him to a living hell.

The one that still impresses me is Delenn, once of the Grey Council (the ruling body of her culture) and ambassador to Babylon 5.  Played by the talent Mira Furlan, she was dignified, resourceful, and showed a kind of strength that one doesn't often see in female characters.  She wasn't a martial warrior, or an encyclopedic exposition device.  Her strength was in her quiet determination to do what is right, to convince others to take up her cause, and in her willingness to take a leap into the unknown.  Because faith manages.

This is a woman who went into a confined area with hundreds of critically ill and potentially infectious people, so that she could offer them comfort as they died.  Who dragged belligerent representatives to the diplomatic table in an effort to avoid bloodshed.  Who transformed herself genetically to become a bridge between her own race, the Minbari, and the humans.  She arranged for the creation of a fleet of star ships to fight an ancient enemy, one determined to sow chaos and anarchy.  And she did it all with a sense of humour and unmatchable grace.

Often, soft spoken and kind women in fiction don't have long lives.  Their kindness leaves them vulnerable to bad guys, or they are broken down by outside events.  Their memory and example might inspires other to fight, but they don't do battle directly.  While Delenn's first choice is diplomacy, she is not afraid of conflict.  One of my favourite scenes is this one, where she faces a potential attack with poise, refusing to pretend to be intimidated.

 Warship: Do not force us to engage your ships!

Delenn (conveying a perfect mixture of annoyance and amusement): 
Why not?  Only one captain has ever survived an encounter with a Minbari fleet.  
He is behind me.  
You are in front of me.  
If you value your lives, be somewhere else.

This moment was a key point in Delenn's character arc.  In the early part of the series, we learn that 10 years before Babylon 5, Delenn was the deciding vote in whether or not to go to war against the humans.  Devastated with grief at the death of her mentor, she screamed to "Kill them all" and then spent the entire war quietly regretting that decision.  When the Minbari fleet was on the verge of wiping out the human species, she discovered that humans and Minbari shared souls and that eliminating them would destroy the Minbari as well.

She had the courage to correct her mistake, ordering the Minbari to immediately surrender to the besieged planet Earth.  She dedicated her life to making sure that mistake was never repeated but did not excuse her actions or allow her guilt to restrict her choices.  A traditional male hero who had made such a horrific error would have been discovered hiding in some isolated retreat after a decade of hermitage.  Delenn did not withdraw from the world.  Instead she had the strength to work to make the world better.  And she made those around her better as well.

Her aide put it beautifully, that in Delenn's world, we are all better than we truly are.  She strove to bring out the best in others, rather than dismissing them as hopeless.

She also got to fall in love (which I heartily approve of as a romance author).  Her partner, Captain John Sheridan, respected her and never put her down in order to build himself up.  He went through all of her rituals, even when they made no sense to him, because he recognized that they were important to her.  Love didn't mean she stepped down from her position, or became the damsel in distress.  It didn't diminish her strength.  It made her stronger because she had someone else that she could rely on.

Like I said, that's not a kind of strength that we see depicted often in fiction.  The strength that trusts in itself but doesn't need to prove itself or bolster its owner's ego.  Strength that can allow itself to be vulnerable.  Strength that gets back up after every setback and continues to do what is right and necessary.  That strength was something I've striven to imbue in my own heroines, particularly Lily (Metamorphosis) and Martha (Judgment).

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Mira Furlan at Ottawa Comic Con.  She was just as funny and gracious as her character.  At the time, I had a half-finished Delenn cosplay costume in my closet, and I was disappointed that I couldn't finish it in time to wear.  A few months ago, I pulled it out and got back to work on it.  Because that's the lesson Delenn teaches us, that it's never too late to do what's right.  Or to make the dreams in our hearts come true.

Previous Heroine Fix: Striking the Right Note with Sophie of Music and Lyrics

Previous post: Reclaiming My HEA and My Intellectual Property Rights

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Monday, 7 October 2019

Weekly Update: Sept 29 to Oct 5

Weekly word count: 5764

Things are coming together for my writing process, which is a nice feeling.  The story for Until Proven Guilty is coming into focus.

The beginning of a project is both intimidating and intoxicating for me.  I'm like a kid in a candy store.  There are so many stories I could weave into my central idea.  Do I want to have a There's Only One Bed moment?  Or maybe a Friends To Lovers?  Or Opposites Attract?  Do I want to include references to overcoming abuse?  Learning to trust one's own instincts?  A control freak who discovers the world really does go to hell when she steps back?

Stories don't start off as fully formed narratives.  I try things out, see what resonates with the characters and what doesn't.  As I write, I get to know my characters.  For example, I knew my heroine, Samantha Adler, would have something in her past which would drive her to be precise and logical.  Something would have happened that drove her to learn to read tiny cues and microexpressions to know what secrets people held.

But what was it?

An overcontrolling, perfectionist parent?  An abusive school administration?  A tragic event she thinks she should have been able to prevent?

Finding out is part of the reason why I love writing.  These fictional people may come from inside my head but they become very real to me.  I care deeply about them and the journey they go through.  And I'm just as excited as my readers to find out what happens.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Reclaiming My HEA and My Intellectual Property Rights

It's getting close to Hallowe'en.  Let me tell you a scary story....
Going through a separation and divorce isn't easy.  There are thousands of details ready to trigger strife and argument.  I was ready to stand my ground on custody matters, financial support, and keeping my copies of JMS's Amazing Spider-Man.  But one that caught me by surprise was the need, as an author, to protect my intellectual property rights.

First, a quick definition for those not familiar with the term.  Intellectual property rights refer to the rights to things which have been created.  In my case, it applies to the books which I had written during the course of the marriage.  Even though my ex-husband had no hand in my writing career, there are two legal arguments that grant him a 50-50 share.  First, spouses are considered one person under the law.  Thus, what one creates, earns, or saves is shared equally with the other.  And second, an argument could be made that by providing the lion's share of financial support to the household, my ex-husband can be seen as a silent partner in my business, in the absence of any other legal clarification.

In any business, there are decisions to be made.  Do I submit a manuscript to a publishing house or do I self-publish?  What do I spend on covers and editing?  If I'm offered money for possible movie rights or foreign rights, do I accept the offer or hold out for a better one?  When I was married, these decisions weren't an issue.  I simply made them based on what I felt was best for my career and my business.

However, once I became separated, my ex-husband technically had the right to insist on an equal voice in making those decisions.  (To be clear, he had no interest in acting on that right and the situation between us is currently amicable.  But it was still a vulnerability that I wasn't comfortable leaving in place.)

I couldn't protect my income and keep all the money earned from my books.  Like any business, my author earnings will affect what I'm financially entitled to in terms of alimony and child benefits.  But I could ensure that my intellectual property rights were severed and all of my books are solely mine.

I ended up having to pay a one-time settlement, the equivalent of half of my saved income from book sales.  For that payment, I insisted on language which states that any further books are not considered joint intellectual property, including any books which were in the process of being written but not yet published.  The agreement also made it clear that my existing books were my sole intellectual property and that my ex-husband had no further right to them.

It was a bargaining chip that could potentially have been much more costly.  Particularly if I hadn't been aware of it and had left the property rights as joint.  Things are cooperative now, but that doesn't mean they will be in the future.

A lot of romance novels start with a hero or a heroine in financial difficulty, with them having been forced into a desperate situation.  I'm looking forward to finding a new happily-ever-after, but that doesn't mean I want to begin in crisis.  In this matter, I've protected myself and I'm feeling like a proper heroine because of it.

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: Claire Gem's Shocking Romance

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