Monday, 30 December 2019

Weekly Update: December 22 to 28 (RWA Meltdown)

Weekly word count: about 200

It's been a week.  Oh my freaking gods has it been a week.

I'm not sure if anyone isn't aware of what's been happening in romancelandia, but if anyone needs a recap, this one covers what has happened.  There are more questions than answers, but even the most innocent explanations have some pretty awful implications.

I've always been proud to be a member of RWA.  I was proud to be part of a professional writing organization and proud of their recent efforts to deal with a systemic issue of unconscious bias and cultural racism.  (There was a lot of work that needed to be done, but I believed they were doing that work.)  I really don't know what to feel any more about the organization.

I've decided to hold on to my membership for now.  It expires in August, so I'll need to make a decision by then.  I want to be able to use my voice and my vote to continue to support diversity and inclusion.  I've also remained as a RITA judge, because I want to ensure books by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters have a fair shot at being judged.

However, it's going to take a lot of work and, frankly, resignations from those who have allowed this to occur, before I can trust this organization again.

There have been a number of people who have rightfully said that marginalized people cannot be expected to do all the work.  I agree, which is why I'm sticking around to do what I can.

I'm not doing a tarot read this week.  I'll try to get back to it next week, when I'm a little more clear-headed.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Hidden Diamonds: Getting Steamy with Barbara Russell's Steampunk Romance

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 heroines.

2019 is almost over, which means there are a number of us looking up from the shredded wrapping paper and wishing for new books to enjoy (or to use to retreat from family drama).  This month's Hidden Diamond is Barbara Russell, who has a steampunk romance with a defiant, brilliant heroine with empathic powers.  This book is a combination of superheroes, spies, and supercool technology with a terrifying serial killer villain, which means it ticks almost every single one of my favourite story boxes.

The Heart Collector is set in 1884 Auckland, where the Heart Collector is slaughtering Supernaturals.  In steps Isabel.  While other aristocratic, nineteen-year-old girls spend time dancing, she is training hard to become an MI7 agent—Military Intelligence Seventh Division, a crime squad run by Supernaturals. The Heart Collector murdered her best friend, and enrolling at MI7 is the best way to help catch the killer.

Isabel senses other people’s feelings as if they were her owns. But MI7’s leader is too worried about Isabel’s safety to let her join the team.  Eager to prove that her power is valuable, Isabel volunteers to meet Murk, a dangerous Supernatural man who can turn himself invisible. MI7 desperately tried to recruit him and failed.

She believes that her power is enough to convince Murk to become an MI7’s agent and help apprehend the Heart Collector. If he wants to attack her, his feelings will broadcast his intention, and she’ll be ready.  What Isabel isn’t ready for is to fall in love with the man who will collect her heart.

Barbara has kindly shared notes from Lady Ermintrude and an excerpt from The Heart Collector.  She also tells her her wildest research rabbit hole and her opinion on cavemen vs astronauts.

Auckland, New Zealand, 1884
Lady Ermintrude

You don’t mind if I whisper, do you? Hastings Manor is full of ears, and people’s best pastime is gossip. Thank goodness I’m not that type of lady. But I have to speak my mind.
My niece Isabel, the current Duchess of Sussex, has gone mad. She’s accommodating, here in Hastings Manor, street urchins. Street urchins! From Auckland’s rookery!
Good gracious, I need a sherry. These street urchins don’t even have decent names and the youngest one, called Trigger—ptf!—spat on his teaspoon to clean it. The older, the one called Murk, I think he’s a thief or a murderer. Apparently, he can turn himself invisible. Invisible! So inappropriate.
Those dark eyes mean trouble, mark my word, but Isabel thinks he’s charming. Poppycock, I say. I’m sure she’d like to dirty-puzzle with him. Oh, the horror. But does she listen to me? No one is listening to me anymore. A bunch of rebels they are.  Now, where’s my sherry?


Chapter 1: Auckland, 1884

ONE OF THE PERKS of being a duchess and the lady of Hastings Manor was that I could make my own decisions.
Most of the time.
I bunched a corner of my long brocade skirt and climbed the sweeping stairs toward Victor’s office. The bustle, heavy with satin ribbons, bounced lightly, tapping on the small of my back.
On the landing, one of the little cleaning machines that roamed the house trotted around, buzzing as its brushes dusted the white marble floor. A puff of steam trailed behind it while its wheels and pistons whirred. I strode on, the star-bright tiles sparkling under my velvet slippers.
The butler bowed stiffly, carrying a tray with tea and cakes that smelled of cinnamon. “Your Grace.” He stepped aside to let me pass.
“Hollom.” My heels’ click-clacking noise died down on the blue rug covering the entrance in front of Victor’s office.
I raised my fist to knock but stopped inches away from the gleaming, polished oak wood, needing a moment to collect myself. Victor had to see reason. Convincing him that my role in the investigation was vital wouldn’t be easy, but I was nineteen and properly trained in combat. More or less. The point was, I could face danger.
My resolve wavered, and I bit the inside of my cheek. On light feet, I turned and slid inside my late father’s personal library. Victor’s supernatural hearing wouldn’t catch me in the room protected by thick walls, and the old leather-bound volumes calmed my nerves.
I cleared my throat before rehashing my speech. “Victor, you’re the leader of Military Intelligence Seven, but as Duchess of Sussex, I have the right to  . . .” I shook my head. This sounded patronizing. I took a deep breath to slow my pounding heart, glad that I wasn’t wearing a corset. Another perk of being a duchess.
I squared my shoulders. A wrong word and Victor would dismiss me. “Victor, I kindly request… would you… I would appreciate if you assign me to the ongoing investigation on the Heart Collector, since I believe my skills can be an asset.” There. Simple, polite, and to the point. 

Hidden Diamonds Author Interview

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

Wearing a corset. I thought, was it that terrible? Would people faint for real? I had to know. So I got a corset from a shop that rented costumes and theatrical equipment and put the corset on (a friend helped me tie it up behind my back), and Oh My Gosh! I lasted a grand total of 1 minute and ten seconds before ripping it off me. Awful. I was about to throw up. Those women back in the nineteenth century were brave souls.     

What is your writing process?  

I’m a plotter. I need a map before starting writing, and while I can write anywhere if I need to, I prefer solitary places with no distraction . . .  except for my two dogs. Sometimes I have to throw balls and cuddle tummies while writing.

What is your favourite thing to do to relax?

I love reading of course. I read absolutely everything except for horror, and I love trekking. I found that walking in a forest really helps the writing process.

Who is your favourite fictional crush?

I have a perma-crush for Will Carver. He’s the protagonist of a book by Bec McMasters (one of my favourite authors.) I love all her male characters, but Will, a werewulfen a person infected by the lupe virus, left a mark. It helps that I picture him like Tom Hardy, lol.

Who would win, astronauts or a cavemen?

Well, I know that Buffy and her friends will have something to say about this, but the answer is obvious. The astronaut. Have you seen the Martian? A guys who can survive on Mars for more than a year can take a caveman. Unless the caveman is like Angel . . .

Thank you, Barbara, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  If you'd like to check out more about Barbara, or her books, there are links down below.  Join me next month for the next Hidden Diamond!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Weekly Update: December 15-21

Weekly word count: 3521

It was a sad week for me this week.  I lost my grande dame matriarch kitty, Ceili.  At 18-19 years old (we weren't quite sure since she came to us as a stray), she had a good life.  She was with me before I had children, the first pet we got jointly as a couple.  She was always determined and dignified.  I'm going to miss her.

Writing wise, I needed a little jump start to my story, so I set myself some short goals and then got to play with some Mandalorian fan-fiction.  (Damaged past, hidden face, single dad, kick-ass nobility of soul... of course that was going to be a fan-fiction playground for me.)  It's worked to get the words flowing again, which makes me happy.

Last week's Tarot reading wasn't encouraging: the six of staffs reversed (humiliation), knight of coins reversed (apathy), and the Hierophant reversed (too rigid).  It certainly has been hard to keep myself going.  I'm feeling drained and I get easily exhausted.  But rather than pushing myself past the point of recovering and beating myself up for not accomplishing more, I've been gentle with myself.

This week's reading is a little more promising.  For the past, the ten of staffs, which is all about recognizing limits.  I've certainly spent the past week being very aware of what I can and can't do.  For the present, the Judgment card, reversed, which promises unexpected consequences for past decisions.  And for the future, the Page of staffs, which promises quick action and daring vitality.  Sounds like the holidays will bring some challenges that will require fast reactions.

I'm taking this week off social media (part of recognizing my limits).  I hope everyone has a good holiday and looking forward to getting started again in the new year!

Thursday, 19 December 2019

2019 Heroine Overdose: All the Heroine Fixes

I celebrated some amazing characters this year and I thought it was worth putting them all together.  They're not all heroes, and most of them don't have any special powers, but they were all willing to fight for what they needed and wanted.  That's what I find inspiring about them.

When I was growing up, women in fiction were mostly saved by others (usually the men of the series).  It was rare to see one that saved herself or that saved those around her.  I am so thrilled that now there is a whole buffet of independent women displaying all the different kinds of strength, from Tess's refusal to compromise on her dream club to the skull-crushing physical power of Mazikeen.  There is the gentle and kind strength of Delenn and the saucy, independent strength of Catwoman.

There are brilliant women: Charlotte Holmes and Dr. Ellie Arroway.  There are the women who possess the singular skills of professional assassins, from Gamora, to Sarah Lance, to Charlie from The Long Kiss Goodnight to Zoe Washburne.  There are the criminals, like Catwoman and the ladies of Ocean's 8.  And then there's the women who are sweet but determined, like Ali, Sophie, and Delenn.

These characters all stand on their own with unique personalities and goals.  Even those who fall under the category of stoic warrior woman are different.  There's Zoe's sense of humour and devoted love for her cinnamon roll of a husband.  Sarah has the tortured, brooding past but hasn't launched herself on the usual quest for redemption.  She's fine with staying on the anti-hero side of the equation.  Charlie is dazzlingly competent in her combat skills, but yearned for a family.  And Gamora is laser-focused on stopping her galactically genocidal foster father.

But there's more than individual characters.  Women support each other in a different way than male teams do.  Tess and Ali have a mentor/mentee relationship, both working together to save their beloved club.  And the ladies of Ocean's 8 not only pull off a flawless heist, but do it with respect and friendship.

That's why I keep coming back to all these different characters each month.  To remind myself of how far we've come and how many amazing female-led stories are out there.  So please enjoy this overdose of Heroine Fixes:

Catwoman from Batman Returns, Catwoman, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas' Lady Sherlock series.

Tess and Ali from Burlesque.

Gamora from the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers.

Zoe Washburne from Firefly.

Sarah Lance from DC's Legends of Tomorrow.

Mazikeen from Lucifer.

Dr. Ellie Arroway from Contact.

Sophie from Music and Lyrics.

Delenn from Babylon 5.

The girl gang of Ocean's 8.

And last, but not least, Samantha/Charlie from The Long Kiss Goodnight.  

Blog homepage

Monday, 16 December 2019

Weekly Update: December 8-15

Weekly word count: 1500

Not the most promising start but I've been sick along with my kids.  It's been a week of cuddles, sickie soup (chicken noodle), and watching movies on Disney Plus.

Last week's reading was the King of Wands (leadership), seven of coins (persistance), and the ace of wands (a new project).  I can't say I started any new projects, and a week of TV watching isn't exactly persisting in my chosen career, but I took care of myself and my family, which is good enough for me.

This week's reading is less optimistic.  They were all reversed cards, which is usually a warning.  The five of swords reversed, which is humiliation, the king of coins reversed (apathy), and the Hierophant reversed (rigidity).  On first glance, it looks like a warning against getting stuck in a rut.

When I lose momentum with writing, it gets hard to get it back, especially with a major disruption like the holidays coming up.  I'll have to make sure I take some proper time to get myself back on track.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Heroine Fix: Samantha/Charlie from The Long Kiss Goodnight

Each month I focus on a well-written heroine who inspire 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 learn about some amazing characters.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers.

It's the holiday season, which means it's time for classic feel-good movies that celebrate family, personal growth, and high yield explosions.  

Okay, that last one may just be me, but I love holiday action movies, and one of my favourites is The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson.  Geena Davis plays Samantha, a woman who woke up with no memories of her past life.  For eight years, she's been living a quiet life in a small town, raising her daughter, and hiring private investigators to try and find out who she once was.  She appears on television and is spotted by a man in prison, who recognizes her and breaks out to try and kill her.

Samantha discovers that she is a major badass and begins getting flashbacks of her life as a contract killer names Charlie.  She and the private investigator (Jackson) keep going deeper and deeper, uncovering an active plot to explode a government facility in order to fund a black-ops government agency.

The duality of the character fascinates me.  With these kinds of stories, it's rare to find that both personalities are well developed.  In this case, both Charlie (the assassin) and Samantha (the mother) are fully fledged.  Samantha is kind and patient, with a quirky sense of humour, making jokes about forgetting her way to the kitchen and trading teasing quips with her fiancee about her lack of cooking skills.  Charlie is quick-witted and observant, a woman who never admits defeat and never gives up.  Even when strapped to a water wheel, she continues to fight.

One scene in particular stuck with me.  Davis has regained all of her memories, becoming Charlie.  She cuts off her hair and dyes it blonde, regaining her appearance before the accident that took her memories.  She starts to seduce Jackson, who stops her, telling her that he believes she wants to sleep with him to destroy the other part of herself.  He tells her that he had a lot of respect for Samantha and doesn't think she deserves to be tossed aside like trash.

The performance is impressive.  We can see Charlie struggling because Samantha is a part of her.  The two don't have to be in competition.  Being a loving mother doesn't mean weakness and being a kickass assassin doesn't mean having to be alone.  

I think that's why this movie has been one of my perennial rewatches.  Davis doesn't have to make a choice between Samantha or Charlie.  She gets to have the best aspects of both.  Too often, women are presented with choices that seem to cut off pieces of themselves.  How many movies center around a conflict of choosing the career/promotion or love?  Holiday movies especially seem to use the "what you thought you wanted means less than family/love/tradition" trope.

Charlie is darn good at her job, one of the best.  But there was a part of her that wanted a "normal" life, with a chance at love and family.  When her memory was lost, she had a chance to experience that.  For eight years, she lived as Samantha.  Except Samantha wanted to know where she came from and how to make sense of the memory fragments she did have.  But she didn't want to give up her life and her daughter.  Both Charlie and Samantha get what they wanted and discover that together they are far cooler than they ever imagined they could be.

And that's the kind of holiday story that I enjoy.

Previous Heroine Fix: The Girl Gang of Ocean's 8

Previous Post: Reclaiming My HEA: Being Open To Possibilities

Blog homepage

Monday, 9 December 2019

Weekly Update: December 1-7

Weekly word count: 1900
Editing countdown: finished! 

That's right!  Division is finished for my final solo round of editing and is now off to beta readers and the developmental editor.  It's a big gleam of accomplishment in an otherwise difficult week.

Those who follow me on social media probably saw the announcement on Tuesday.  I found out that the hard drive which contained all of our family photos and home videos had been tossed out and recycled without offering me the opportunity to make copies of my own.  The drive had been shared and I didn't notice when it disappeared as an option off the network.  It was really hurtful and while I'm doing my best to recover what I can, it's not something that can ever truly be fixed.

Family photos have always been very precious to me.  I was very vigilant about making digital copies of all the prints I had, plus ensuring those digital copies and the digital originals were backed up in case of a catastrophic network failure.

I just never imagined that anyone would deliberately get rid of them.

I'm still struggling to manage my reaction.  As much as I want to howl and rage, it's not going to get me what needs to happen from this point forward.

Looking back, there wasn't much of a hint in the weekly Tarot reading (8 of coins, apprenticeship, 7 of staffs reversed, persist despite opposition, and the page of cups reversed, problems with a child).  That seems to have strictly focused on what was happening with my oldest son, who has had a very difficult week at school, requiring several meetings with his teachers and support staff to keep things on track.

This week's reading has another message to persist.  I drew the King of staffs, which usually symbolizes someone in a position of leadership, the seven of coins, which is to persist despite a lack of apparent progress, and the ace of staffs, which symbolizes a new life and new projects.  Since I do plan to get back to focusing on writing Until Proven Guilty this week and will be rereading Best Face Forward as the first stage of editing, I do have new projects ready to go.  The King was in the past position, suggesting an expert who was influential but is no longer in the picture.  Perhaps the editor who initially proposed Best Face Forward.

I guess I'll find out.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Reclaiming My HEA: Being Open to Possibilities

Reclaiming My HEA is a regular feature about my separation and divorce.  I'm learning a lot of lessons about myself and finding the balance between romantic hope and practical reality.

Something happened a little while ago.  Nothing huge or life-shattering but another necessary step along the way to reclaiming my own happiness.

It's a holiday miracle!  (kind of)
I'm not usually a woman who gets flirted with, at least not a serious basis (or not in non-scuzzy ways which is a story for another time).  The other day, I had a pleasant moment of flirtation with a gentleman while waiting for an appointment.

I've had moments like this before.  They are exceptionally rare (as in one every few years), and when they happen, I am usually preoccupied with managing expectations as I don't want to cross lines.

I was doing that this time as well, and suddenly it occurred to me that I don't have to.  That if I met an attractive man who was interested in me, there is no longer anything preventing me from exploring that.

There are, of course, still other concerns, such as personal safety and protecting my children.  But there's no blanket impossibility.

This particular flirtation went nowhere and frankly, I don't think I would have wanted it to go anywhere else.  But it was a reminder that there are people out there who will find me interesting and attractive.  That I am no longer restricted by what was.

For now, that little step of freedom is enough for me.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Reigniting Romantic Hope

Previous Blogpost: Hidden Diamond: Julie K. Cohen's Colorado Shifters

Blog homepage

Monday, 2 December 2019

Weekly Update: November 24 to 30

Weekly word count: 1327
Editing countdown: 42 chapters edited

I am almost done editing Division.  I've been concentrating on that this week.  Luckily, the last few chapters have been really straightforward to edit.  I spent so long on the initial drafts that there's not much that needs to be changed, only a little tightened up.

Once Division is done, I'll be taking another look at Best Face Forward.  And continuing my work on Until Proven Guilty.  Lots of stuff to take care of.  Plus, there's some other stuff that happens in December... can't quite put my finger on what.

Last week's Tarot reading is still somewhat of a mystery to me.  I drew the 10 of coins reversed (restructuring), the 9 of cups reversed (reviewing my life), and the 4 of staffs reversed (unexpected complications).  I spent some time thinking about my life, my family and my career, but the complication came as a surprise (which seems obvious in retrospect).  I've been dealing with a thorny issue with my son's school and we found out last week that one of the staff who have been supporting him will be leaving for another job.

This week's reading began with the 8 of coins, a card of apprenticeship and learning; the 7 of staffs reversed, which advises to persist despite opposition, and the Page of Cups reversed, which signals problems with a child or escapism.  From that, I would guess that the issue at school will be ongoing.

Luckily, I am very good at being stubborn and not giving up.