Thursday, 27 February 2020

Hidden Diamond: Mary Ann Marlowe's A Crazy Kind of Love

There are so many books out there that it can be hard for readers to find the books they would love to read.  Hidden Diamonds is where I share some of the books that I love with my readers.

I picked up Mary Ann Marlowe's A Crazy Kind of Love on the recommendation of a friend and now I'm thrilled to pass that recommendation on to all of you.  It was a surprisingly touching contemporary romantic comedy between a photographer and a rock star.

I loved the heroine, Jo Wilder.  She's a professional photographer who pays the bills with celebrity photos.  Her dad is a famous artistic photographer, and Jo desperately wants his approval, which is held out of reach.  He doesn't respect her work and belittles it.  That resonated with me.  Even when we know our parents are holding us to impossible standards, there's a part of us that still yearns to be acknowledged.  To hear "I'm proud of you" from the people who know all of our deepest flaws.

Marlowe does a fantastic job of conveying how Jo feels trapped between two worlds, both professionally and personally.  She's not ruthless enough for her paparazzi boss, she's too commercial for her father.  She enjoys taking candid photos that reveal previously unseen aspects of the subject but doesn't approve of the paparazzi's invasion of privacy.  Her father's family rejects her for being too white and her mother's family rejects her for being too Indian.  It's a subtle thread that runs through the book, a sense of not belonging no matter how hard one tries, which is something we can all identify with at some point in our lives.  

The meet-cute with Jo and Micah is adorable.  He blocks her shot of Maggie Gyllenhaal and then boosts her up on his impressively broad shoulders so that she can get it.  She doesn't recognize him (he's a famous musician) and the two of them have some fun, banter-as-flirting exchanges.  Her boss demands that she exploit the connection to get information about Micah and his sister (also famous).

Marlowe threads a careful path with Jo.  She takes celebrity photos to pay her bills and make a living, but doesn't enjoy the exploitative aspect of her work.  She can take a photo which becomes a window into her subject's emotional and personal life, but is very aware of the damaging effects of not having privacy and constantly being on display.  She respects both of her parents, but acknowledges her own abandonment issues.

As the story progresses, Jo begins to realize how much of herself has been defined by others (and unfairly found lacking).  She begins to recognize how often she's compromised her own standards to try and please someone else.  It's a beautifully evocative story of self-discovery, with an engaging romance.

I'm not surprised this book has won a number of awards.  If you're looking for a fun story with light-hearted dialogue that touches on some deep subjects, this is a great choice.

Previous Hidden Diamond: Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals

Previous post: Celebrating Different Voices and Finding the Time to Create

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Monday, 24 February 2020

Weekly Update: February 16-22 (More RWA Updates - The Audit Report)

Weekly word count: 2731
Editing countdown: 39 chapters done for first pass through, 4 weeks to go

Let's start with the big news.  The auditor's report on what happened with the Tisdale/Davis complaint that launched the RWA shitstorm was released this week.  One of the reasons why I hung on to my RWA membership was that I wanted to see the report.  I wasn't sure it would be released to the public or restricted to members.  I've gone through the whole thing (The report itself is 58 pages, plus hefty appendices) but the law firm summarized their findings as follows:

- RWA members don't know what's actually in the Code of Ethics, including those serving on the Ethics Committee
- the Code of Ethics has been updated on an ad hoc basis, which has allowed for contradictory provisions
- the Ethics Committee failed to report on what interpretation and evidence they used to reach their conclusion
- the Board was not given the evidence and was told that they needed to accept the Ethics Committee's report or they were stating that they had no trust in the committee or its role.  They were asked to judge based on analogies that were misrepresentative, rather than the actual evidence.
- The law firm concluded that there was not evidence of personal bias against Courtney but rather a complete failure to understand and follow policy and procedures, as well as inherent flaws within those policies and procedures.

If RWA had been following their own policies, this is what should have happened:

- When Tisdale and Davis filed their initial complaints, they should have been required to submit documentation about their claims of lost business.  They also should have been advised that an ethics complaint was not the appropriate venue and told that if they wanted to pursue this, they should do so through the legal system, not RWA.  (The Code of Ethics specifically puts social media as exempt from ethics complaints, but there is a category of "invidious discrimination" which is about defaming romance as a whole and this is apparently what was used to continue the complaint.  The contradiction is one of the flaws in policy noted in the summary.)

- If it had gone through, the Ethics Committee should have asked for advice as to what the definition of "invidious discrimination" was.  They apparently pulled a definition from the Internet which was not accurate.  Invidious discrimination is a legal term with a specific definition, and if the complaint had been evaluated by that definition, it would have been clear that the complaint did not apply.

- Carol Ritter and Damon Suede were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to preserve the confidentiality of the Ethics Committee.  They interpreted these NDAs to mean that they were not able to speak to the Board of Directors about the specifics of the complaint, including the evidence presented by Tisdale and Davis.  The NDA should not have been drafted without the help of legal counsel, who also should have been clear as to the limitations. 

- Due to their interpretation of the NDA, when it came time to present the Ethics Committee's report and recommendation to the RWA Board of Directors, the only information they were given was vague generalizations and analogies, including an analogy that what Courtney had done was the equivalent of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace.  The Board was then told that they were not able to ask for more information without violating the confidentiality of the Ethics Committee or sending a message of distrust.  Both of these requirements are false, the Board was required as part of their duty to personally examine the evidence and determine if the recommendation was appropriate.  To blindly rely on the Ethics Committee is to give them a greater role than policy allows and creates the possibility of misuse and personal vendettas without any accountability.

Even if everything else had failed, when the Board saw the evidence, they would have been able to correct the Ethics Committee's error.  Introducing an additional interpretation to asking for more information created a subtle level of coercion to accept.  The Board could no longer judge the report strictly on its merits but were required to also consider the feelings and professional response of the Ethics Committee.

In other words, this was a full on failure of procedure due to misinterpretation, ignorance and inexperience.  And yes, I do believe that racism played a part, but if the Board or the Ethics Committee had properly understood their roles and the procedures, they could have stopped it.  (Not to place the blame solely on the Board, it's important to remember that this is the result of Tisdale and Davis making false claims in support of a racist acquisitions editor (Sue Grimshaw) and to defend a book with harmful, racist stereotypes.)  I think (and this is just my own interpretation) that while there may not have been direct evidence of personal discrimination in how the complaint was handled, it is suspicious that the three people most responsible for pushing this complaint through (Allison Kelley, Damon Suede and Carol Ritter) all seem to have disliked Courtney and had butted heads with her on previous occasions.

This complaint and the consequences were the result of people getting offended because an individual expressed her opinion on problems with a book and another individual and did so using profanity.  She was one of many people expressing concerns, including the then-President Elect of RWA, Carolyn Jewel.  Couirtney was targeted unfairly and procedure was weaponized against her.  That should not have been possible and frankly, RWA deserves the condemnation that has resulted from this disgraceful mess.

I am now waiting to vote in the March special election and see who is elected to the new Board of Directors and what direction they take.  If they choose to make RWA a place which does not tolerate bigotry and prejudice, then I will remain a member.  If the result is a wishy-washy "I'm sorry if I offended any special snowflakes" approach, then I'll be done.

I'm sure there will be more fallout.  From what I can see, the auditors did a thorough job and anyone familiar with legalese will see the "OMG this was awful" subtext throughout the report.  From what the report says, I believe that there was not a malicious, over-arching conspiracy.  Unconscious racism and personal bias, absolutely yes, but not a conspiracy.  That's good news, because you can't fight a malicious conspiracy, but you can ensure that opportunists don't have the chance to pursue personal vendettas within an organization.

So that's where things stand for now.  Moving back to the personal side, I had something very strange happen.  I drew the exact same cards for this week's Tarot as last week's Tarot, but in a slightly different order.

Last week, I drew the King of Swords, reversed, the Page of Cups, reversed, and the Four of Swords.  Injustice, escapism, and recharging.  This week I drew the King of Swords, reversed, the Four of Swords, and the Page of Cups, reversed.  (And before anyone asks, I do a very thorough shuffle between draws.)  I've never drawn the same cards twice in a row before.

The King of Swords, reversed, indicates injustice, unfairness, and intimidation.  A situation where a decision has gone against the individual.  The Page of Cups, reversed talks about concern for a child, lack of discipline causing difficulties, and wasting time and energy on pipe dreams.  The Four of Swords indicates that it is time to take a break and reevaluate, getting some distance from one's regular routine, and can indicate a medical issue that requires a stay in a hospital.

Between the three of them, it's not an optimistic draw.  The King of Swords staying consistently in the past indicates the injustice has already happened.  The Page of Cups and Four of Swords suggests that I've been wasting time on something and need a break.  Cups generally refer to emotions and swords refer to the intellect.  This draw would actually work perfectly for the RWA situation, there was an injustice against Courtney, we've wasted a lot of time with denials and obfuscation and a refusal to admit what happened, and there are certainly a large number of members who are walking away to re-evaluate what to do next.

Too much for me.  I'm going to continue to focus on my writing (which I refuse to consider a waste of time).

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Celebrating Different Voices and Finding The Time To Create

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you've probably noticed that I like posting quotes during the week.

On Mondays, I'll post something about writing, either a morale booster to keep working even when it seems difficult, or insight into famous and successful authors' writing process (#MondayMotivation).  On Tuesdays, I'll post an excerpt from song lyrics celebrating love in all its wondrous and terrifying glory (#TuesdayTunes).  On Wednesdays, I post a line or two from my work in progress (#WIPWednesday).  Thursdays, I pick a quote from a TV show or movie that I enjoy (#ThrowbackThursday).  And Fridays, I chose a quote about being in love, going through life, or finding hope when things are hard (#FridayFeels).

But there's one thing that all of these posts have in common.  I always look for something attributed to a woman (and for the record, I am using the word "woman" in its broadest sense to include anyone who identifies as a woman or female-presenting).  It can be surprisingly hard sometimes.  When I search a subject, I'll often find dozens of quotes by men with only one or two by a woman.

My superpower is continuing to speak when
a man has already said something similar.
I don't think that anyone would argue that history has been dominated by male voices (and only a very small subset of those voices).  But it can be discouraging to see how much our culture is still dominated by masculine opinions and perspectives.

And yet, there are other voices out there.  They're not getting the same time and attention, but they are speaking up in steadily increasing numbers.  Still, they never quite seem to gain the same traction, no matter how passionate, talented, and loud they are.

Last summer, I read a Guardian article by Brigid Schulte about how women are often not able to gain the same stretches of uninterrupted time that their male counterparts can.  Women tend to work around other people's schedules, trying to manage the social labor of making sure everyone feels appreciated and heard.  They still take on a disproportionate share of household chores and are expected to deal with the day to day challenges (like calling the plumber or picking up a new set of pots or any other small errands that seem to add up into massive tasks.)

I'm deliberately not mentioning children and childcare, even though that is also mostly on women's plate, whether they do paid work or not.  Kids will certainly disrupt a schedule and while they can be taught independence, it always seems to fail as soon as the parent has something else they need to do.  However, most of the mothers I know want to care for and nurture their kids (maybe not all the time, but it's usually one of the big reasons they had children in the first place).  That said, most of the mothers I know also greatly appreciate getting time away from their kids to reconnect with their own dreams.

I grew up with the "women can have it all" mantra, which implied that everything was possible if only the woman was organized enough and didn't "waste" her precious time doing something non-productive.

Except women should not be expected to exhaust themselves in order to earn the right to pursue their dreams.

I'm not sure what the solution is.  But I can do a small part by choosing to promote their ideas and words as a reminder that there are a lot of very talented women out there and if their production of amazing art is limited by the other responsibilities they have, then it makes what they do create even more incredible.

Previous post: Heroine Fix: Rebel, Spy and Princess - Let's look at Leia

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Monday, 17 February 2020

Weekly Update: Feb 9-15

Weekly word count: 4352
Editing countdown: halfway through first pass, 5 weeks to go

On Monday, I sent off my synopsis and first three chapters of Best Face Forward to Harlequin.  Fingers crossed.  I still have a couple of other options available if they decide they don't like it, but I'm hoping they do.

With the rotating strikes for elementary teachers in Ontario, my youngest ended up with only two days of school last week, and three this week.  I support the teachers and respect them for standing up to the devastating cuts that the provincial government is trying to push through.  But it has made for slower than usual progress.

Last week, I drew the Lovers, the King of Cups and the Chariot.  Together, they warned of a crucial decision and being pulled in opposite directions by irreconcilable forces.  I think I understand it a little better now.  The people who usually help me with my kids and household are away for the next month.  I am being pulled between making sure my kids have fun experiences, keeping the house habitable, editing Division, writing Until Proven Guilty, and trying to take care of myself.  Trying to do it all is an illusion that guarantees it will all fail.  So I'm having to pick and choose, without letting anything far too fall.

This week, I drew the King of Swords, reversed, for the past.  While the Kings generally represent good news or opportunities, in the reverse position that's not entirely true.  In this position, it usually indicates someone who is trying to manipulate the situation to their own advantage.  For the present, I had the Page of Cups, also reversed.  There are a couple of meanings for this card.  It could indicate problems with a child, or being fooled by an illusion, or being caught in escapism.  For the future, I drew the Four of Swords, which advises rest, meditation and recharging ones own batteries before venturing back into the fray.

Taking time for oneself is almost always good advice.  It's one that often gets left behind in all the other priorities.  And if I'm distracted by wishful thinking while someone is plotting against me, well, I trust myself to deal with that when it comes to light.  Or maybe the escapism is part of the recharging the batteries.  A steady diet of reality can be depressing.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Heroine Fix: Rebel Spy, Princess, and General: Let's Look At Leia

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature where I examine heroines who have inspired and influenced my own writing.  I want to take a closer look at why they've become real to me, despite being fictional.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers, including for The Rise of Skywalker.

It's really hard to overestimate the impact that Star Wars had on me.  I don't even remember watching it originally.  It seemed as if I just always knew the story.  Even today, it surprises me when I find someone who hasn't watched it.  I want to talk about Leia Organa, played by the supremely funny and talented Carrie Fisher, and why it has slowly dawned on me that the entire series should have been done from her point of view.

Luke Skywalker is fine and cool.  Han Solo is entertaining and awesome.  But, in my opinion, Leia outclasses them all.  Let's look at her story.  (I'm only looking at what happens in the films.  I realize there's a lot of other material out there as well, but I'm focusing on the 6 movies with her character.)

Buckle up.  This is going to be a long one, celebrating the awesomeness of our Princess-General.

Episode 4: A New Hope

While Luke is wandering around Tatooine and hanging around Tosche Station looking for the power converters, Leia is representing Alderaan in the Imperial Senate, and being a major player in the underground Rebellion.  She receives the secret plans for the Death Star and is on a mission to recruit Obi Wan Kenobi to assist the Rebellion.

When she is caught by Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, she is defiant.  She puts the plans in R2-D2 and sends him down to Tatooine to find Kenobi.  She fires on the stormtroopers assaulting her ship.  Tarkin confronts her and she snarks back at him without hesitation.  Vader and Tarkin subject her to interrogation but she is too strong willed to surrender the information they seek.  They take the Death Star to Alderaan and threaten to blow the planet if she doesn't tell them where to find the Rebellion.  She meekly tells them "Dantooine" (which is a complete and bold-faced lie, proving that she is one very impressive lady under pressure).  The Empire blows up Alderaan anyway, killing everyone that Leia knows.

I want to take a moment to really examine this moment.  In the movie, the focus is on the evilness of the Empire.  There's no real effort to see Leia's pain.  She's sent back to her interrogation cell to await execution.  I imagine that she must have spent the hours between the destruction of Alderaan and the arrival of the rescue party being devastated.  The reality would have probably taken a long time to sink in.  Humans just aren't equipped to process that scale of loss.  And yet, during those hours, she also found the strength to keep fighting the Empire.

When a random stormtrooper bursts into her cell, she isn't impressed, dismissing him.  When Luke reveals himself, she's cautious.  It isn't until he mentions that he's with Kenobi that she goes with him.  She sees that the rescue is sadly lacking in the "plan" department and takes over, shooting out the garbage chute with cool efficiency.  Inside the garbage dump, she counters Han's impulsive instincts.  Without Leia's decisive action, there is a good chance that none of them would have made it back to the Millennium Falcon.

She is the one that recognizes the Empire allowed them to escape the Death Star.  Although it is not shown, I imagine that she must have argued with Han about going directly back to the Rebellion.  The woman who didn't hesitate to stand toe to toe with Vader and Moff isn't going to balk at confronting a smuggler pilot.  Since Han and Chewie wouldn't have known where to find the Rebellion, she must have eventually told them.  I find myself wondering why.

My theory is that this is a sign of Leia's trauma in this film.  She makes a reckless atypical decision because she needs to get back to the only family she has left: the Rebellion.  The Rebel forces are the only chance she has at avenging her planet's destruction.  So she ignores her instincts and ends up leading the Death Star to the Rebel base on Yavin 4.

During the journey, she takes the time to comfort Luke over the death of Kenobi.  Many people have pointed out that no one seems to even realize that Leia herself would need comfort.  However, I choose to see that as a moment of showing who Leia truly is.  Even though she is in pain, she still reaches out to others.  She is kind and loving, as well as being strong and determined.  She doesn't lose sight of either the big or small scale.

She is curiously absent from the battle.  Again, I would guess that she could well have gone into shock when the Death Star appeared.  I like to think that someone finally realized what she was going through and took care of her.  The next we see of her is when Luke hugs her in celebration at successfully blowing up the Death Star.

At the end of the movie, Leia presides over the medal ceremony in which Luke and Han are awarded medals for their role in the battle of Yavin 4.  (They should have also given one to Chewie.  That's a fact but aside from the point here.)  She takes on the ceremonial role, one she likely did many times as a princess of Alderaan.  She recognizes that the Rebellion cannot survive if all they do is fight.  They need to have moments and symbols of victory or else they would get burned out.  That recognition is what makes her a valuable and potent leader.  Again, I would have liked to have known if she had any moments of doubt about continuing and what got her through them.

Luke is the newcomer to the struggle, which allows him to serve as a stand-in for the audience and have things explained to him.  However, it also would have been narratively possible to explain things from Leia's point of view as someone who suffers incomprehensible personal loss at the hands of the Empire and who chooses to fight back.  Not making her the main character and focus of the series was a choice.

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Empire starts with the rebel base on the ice planet of Hoth.  Leia is clearly a leader, managing hundreds of people.  She and Han are obviously at odds.  He taunts her when she tries to recruit him, saying that she only wants him around because he knows she has feelings for him.  I find it interesting that Han is so clearly intimidated by Leia.  He can be respectful with everyone else, but not with her.  His accusations are classic psychological projection, assuming that she feels the way he does.  He unsettles her because he doesn't fit into her expected categories. He's a good guy, but not a hero.  He's a rogue, but has honor.  But even though he is a major pain, she recognizes his good qualities and value to the Rebellion.

I can't talk about Leia's character arc without mentioning the retro-conned incestuous kiss between her and Luke.  Even in the story, it's a clear moment of defiance against Han's pestering (made evident by the way she glares at him as soon as the kiss is done).  And it works!  We can see that Han is thrown completely off his stride by the gesture.

But what I would have liked to see is what was going on with Leia in that moment.  She has taken refuge in the practical.  She's not allowing herself to feel.  I think that's the other reason why Han unsettles her so much.  He's always going on about her feelings, refusing to see her as the leader she is.  It has to have been a confusing and difficult time for her and she doesn't quite seem to know how to handle it.

When the Empire attacks, she manages the evacuation, staying to make sure everyone gets out.  Her escape is cut off, forcing her to flee with Han on the Falcon.  I'm sure it was the last thing she wanted, to be trapped on a small spaceship with the one guy she's been trying to avoid.  Which brings us to the next most controversial moment with Leia and Han, their first kiss.

There's no denying that Han's actions are predatory.  He traps her against the bulkhead, refusing to release her hand when she asks, and insists he knows what she's thinking despite her protests to the contrary.  She slips away as soon as C3P0 distracts him.

Most women have experienced the emotional challenge of having to come to terms with a guy that she likes pushing things too far.  It's confusing and hurtful, often leading to a lack of confidence and questioning oneself.  We never see Leia go through this process, and it would have been a powerful moment for her character.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but when the Falcon lands in Cloud City, Leia's body language is nervous.  She seems to avoid Han's touch while also trying to not look like she's avoiding it.  She is the one who suspects that Lando isn't the ally he claims to be, a concern that Han brushes aside, only to be proven right when Darth Vader shows up at the dinner table.

Once again, she is strangely passive once captured by the Empire.  Or perhaps not that strangely at all, given that the last time she openly defied them, an entire planet paid the price.  But even though she doesn't take direct action, she is watching closely, waiting for an opportunity.

The moment where she breaks free from the stormtroopers to tell Han that she loves him is still a moment that tugs on my heartstrings.  She doesn't quite seem sure about what she feels, but she needs to say it in case this is the last opportunity.  His "I know" in reply leaves her uncertain but also seems to shock her into action.

She resumes her role as leader, guiding Chewie and the droids to escape.  When they run into Lando, it's Leia's decision whether or not to trust him or let Chewie kill him.  The escape is also the first glimmer of Leia being able to use the Force.  She is the one who realizes that Luke is dangling from the antenna and needs them to rescue him.

The movie ends with Leia's determination to fight being renewed.  Unlike the frantic undertone of the initial scenes on Hoth, she moves with calm purpose.  She's become an irresistible force, ready to sweep aside the Empire and rescue Han.

Episode 6: Return of the Jedi

Return is my favourite of the original trilogy, perhaps because it was the one I had a bootleg VHS copy of and thus watched over and over.  It begins with the classic Wookie Gambit, pretending to capture Chewie in order to gain access to Jabba the Hutt's palace.  The bounty hunter uses a thermal detonator to successfully negotiate with Jabba.  In the background, we see Lando Calrissian, undercover as one of Jabba's gang.  Then the bounty hunter thaws Han from the carbonite and reveals herself to be Leia.

As a kid, I loved that reveal.  She had obviously set up a whole plan to rescue Han, getting Lando in place and then pretending to deliver Chewie to Jabba.  I thought she was so badass for threatening to blow everyone up if she didn't get the price she wanted, even though she'd already gotten what she needed.

Of course, it doesn't go well.  It turns out that Jabba knew about the rescue and captures Han and Leia.  This is to set up the plot of having them rescued by Luke, but I want to take a moment to explore what Leia must have gone through in these moments.

As a kid, I was grossed out by Jabba licking Leia's face with his slimy tongue, but didn't really think about what happened beyond that.  As an adult, the sequence takes on a horrifying implication, one further solidified by the fact that when we next see Leia, she is wearing the infamous gold bikini and a chain collar.  It's never covered explicitly, but I find it hard to believe that the extent of Jabba's actions are a leer and dressing her in a highly sexualized outfit.

Leia never mentions being assaulted, which is in keeping with how she often keeps her pain to herself.  (Incidentally, I think this stoicism is because Lucas treated her pain as a plot device, never really seeing it as affecting her as a person or character.)  However, if we assume that being private about her trauma is actually a facet of who she is, then it adds extra weight to the few times she does allow herself to react.  When she strangles Jabba with the chains he put on her, I choose to believe that is her moment of striking back for what he'd done to her.  She blows up the ship, even though it's not strictly necessary for the escape, because she wants to burn the location of her humiliation to the ground.

We don't know what happened between the flight from Jabba's palace and the meeting with Mon Mothma to plan to destroy the second Death Star.  Leia is cheerful at the briefing, whispering sardonic comments to Han and gleefully volunteering to be part of the mission to bring down the shield protecting the incomplete planet killer.  She seems unusually free, as if a weight has been removed from her.  Maybe it's because she finally had a chance to fight back against one of the many injustices done to her.

She is separated from the others on the forest moon of Endor, after chasing down a set of scouting stormtroopers on speeder bikes.  She makes contact with the Ewoks, in a scene that I think really shows Leia's true nature.  She recognizes Wicket's nervousness and takes the time to reassure him.

Contrast that with Han's bluster and Luke's panic when they're caught in an Ewok net.  I can't help but think that the reason why Han and Luke end up as potential dinner while Leia is welcomed into the tribe is because she treated the Ewoks as equals from the beginning.

During the night, as they prepare to attack the shield generator in the morning, Luke takes Leia aside and asks her what she remembers of her mother.  This request has to seem weird and out of place.  Other military specialists would have shut him down, telling him to concentrate on the mission.  Leia tells him what she remembers, even though it isn't much and frankly is none of his business (at least from her perspective at this point).  He then drops the bombshell on her, that she is his sister and Darth Vader is their father.

Leia handles the revelation far more calmly than Luke does at the end of Empire.  She accepts it and immediately focuses on protecting Luke, urging him to leave so that Vader cannot sense him.  Luke tells her that he wants to redeem Vader and bring him back to the light.

I can only imagine what happens in Leia's head at that moment.  Back to the light?  Dude tortured me and blew up my planet.  He's personally killed thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people, including the children at the Jedi temple.  And you want to give him a chance to hurt even more of us?  If anyone has a right to protest Vader's redemption arc, it would be Leia.

But she doesn't.  It's important for Luke to try and thus she supports him, even at a cost to herself and the Rebellion as a whole.

Han confronts her a few moments later, accusing her of favouring Luke over him.  She deflects his anger, eventually telling him what she's just learned.  That she and Luke are twins and Han doesn't need to feel jealous.

It marks a turning point in their relationship.  She is confident and knows what she wants from Han.  He can't unsettle her any longer because she's found peace in herself.  His bluster and attitude become cute instead of irritating.  When she flips the infamous "I love you"/"I know" response on him in front of the blast doors of the shield generator, it's playful.  There's no sense of the desperation from Empire's moment.

That's pretty much the end of Leia's arc for the original trilogy.  She has a few more scenes but they're basically solely plot driven.  The focus is on Luke and his final confrontation with the Emperor and Vader.

No one ever asked Leia if she had second thoughts about killing Vader once she learned that he was her father.  Or if she had any emotional reaction to his death.  Vader sacrificed himself to protect Luke but was willing to kill her without hesitation.  That has to have been difficult to come to terms with.

Leia undergoes as much of a hero arc as Luke, but isn't given the narrative time to react emotionally.  We have to guess at what she's experiencing, using the subtle cues in Fisher's superb performance.

Unfortunately, this is a pattern that continues into the sequel trilogy.

Between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens

We know what must have happened between these two movies.

- Leia begins her Jedi training with Luke.
- She marries Han and has a son with him
- Her son goes to the Dark Side of the Force
- Leia quits the Republic's Senate and goes back to her Rebellion roots, resisting the rise of the First Order
- Han takes off and starts gallivanting around the galaxy with Chewie again

Despite all of this heartache, Leia continues to fight.  Unlike her brother, who goes on permanent Jedi retreat, she digs down and keeps going.  When we first see her in The Force Awakens, she is clearly weary but determined.  She comes to Han's rescue (based on their dialogue and body language, I'd guess it wasn't the first time she'd done it) and organizes the assault on Starkiller base.

The biggest POV injustice is that other than a brief glance, we don't see Leia having to cope with the knowledge that her son kills the love of her life.  Even though she must have been horribly devastated, once again, she pulls it together to offer comfort to someone else, in this case, Rey.

The movie where Leia comes the closest to coming into her own was The Last Jedi.  She gets blasted into space and brings herself back to the ship.  She keeps a close rein on Poe, trying to temper his impulsive instincts toward the grand gesture.  When they're trapped in the crystal caves on Crait, she holds firm to her courage, knowing the others are watching her.

There's a beautiful moment where Luke and Leia talk.  Based on her expression, I think she knows that he's saying goodbye to her.  One more person from her past is gone, and Leia still finds the courage to keep going.

It's no secret that the original plan was for Rise of Skywalker to focus on Leia's goodbye to the franchise.  Unfortunately, Carrie Fisher passed away, forcing the narrative hand.

I think that the original idea was for Leia to be the one who talks Kylo Ren back to the Light on the crashed Death Star.  She would have shown Rey and Kylo that fighting each other isn't what the Force wants.  (Though, full disclosure, I am not a Reylo fan.  The two of them have a brother-sister vibe in my opinion.)

I loved the scenes of Leia training Rey, teaching her to connect to the Jedi of old.  That's the powerful message of the sequel trilogy for me, that we are more powerful when we connect than when we seek to tear each other apart or keep one another down.  Whenever the characters work together, things go much better than when they are fighting each other.

Leia was a Jedi who mastered love, compassion, and protecting those under her care.  She suffered huge, devastating losses, probably more than anyone else in the series.  And she never gave in to darkness or despair.  From what we see, she was never even tempted by the Dark Side.  That makes her a fascinating character to me and one of my favourite Heroine Fixes.

Previous post: Reclaiming My HEA: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Previous Heroine Fix: Bluffing with Molly Bloom, looking at the differences between the book and movie for Molly's Game.

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Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Contest and Kindle Deal!

It's almost Valentine's Day and I've got great news to share!

First, I'm part of a massive romance giveaway.  The grand prize is a High Def Kindle Fire and more than 50 romance novels covering every genre, trope, and heat level.  I guarantee you'll be able to find some new favourites in the selection.  Two other entries will get Amazon gift cards.

For every author from the giveaway that you follow on Bookbub, you get an entry in the contest.

And I've also got a Kindle Deal running on Amazon, so you can pick up my latest romantic suspense release, Deadly Potential for just 99 cents!  Don't miss it!

How can anyone stop a killer who can make everyone forget he's in a room?  That's Investigator Ben Morgan's job, but he didn't count on falling in love with the supremely confident and competent Katie Ballard, who is far too busy managing a global concert tour to let a killer throw her off her game.  Ben will need all of his skills to keep Katie alive.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Weekly Update: Feb 2 to 8 (updated RWA statement)

Weekly word count: 3 314

I've been mostly working on edits for Division this week, but there's still some progress for Until Proven Guilty.  My next deadline is the end of March, when I need to have Division ready for the line editing process.

I've also been reading and listening to the accounts of those who have left RWA in the last month.  A lot of them are people and authors whom I greatly respect and the stories they're sharing are troubling.  Attempts to raise awareness of the diverse origins of RWA and the romance genre blocked.  Constantly having to cover the same points over and over again: that white privilege does not mean white people have not struggled (only that they have not faced an additional barrier based on the colour of their skin), that complaints which focus on a speaker not being nice instead of the substance of their words are tone policing, that authors of colour or disability or LGBTQIA+ should not be placed in separate but equal categories for awards and that there are many talented authors who are not getting fairly judged because they or their characters are marginalized.

It sounds exhausting and greatly underscores the fact that many of those who have left have spent a lot of time and effort trying to fix a system that has resisted them at every turn.  So I can understand the choice of saying "That's it, I'm done" and I respect that.  I believe that if they had believed there was any chance of improvement, these individuals would still be in the trenches.

I am choosing to stay in RWA for now, despite the fact that I am deeply troubled by what I'm hearing.  The main reason that I am staying is that I want to hear the audit results.  I'm no longer particularly hopeful that RWA will be able to continue as a trade organization and advocacy group.

Part of me wants to believe that the resistance is pure backlash, the last dying gasp of institutional racism and a small number of bigots who know they are on shaky ground and about to fall.  However, it's hard to believe that in a world where spewers of hate get elected and are praised for their attacks on minority groups.  Realizing just how deep the hatred goes is very unsettling for me and makes me feel very small and vulnerable.  (And I'm not the main target, so I imagine it is much worse for those who are visible minorities.)

I do not and will not support institutions that protect and support hatred and exclusion.

Moving on to better news, we had Kerri Buckley from Carina Press speak to ORWA this weekend and I had the chance to pitch Best Face Forward to her.  It wasn't what she was looking for but she asked for a synopsis and three chapters to send to Harlequin Special Edition.

I did a Tarot draw before leaving to pitch and I drew the Knight of Coins, which is a card indicating slow and steady progress and an incipient breakthrough.  Fingers crossed it turns out to be prophetic.

Last week's draw was the five of cups (loss and grief), the five of coins (poverty) and the six of swords (brighter days ahead).  It was an expensive week paying for my son's braces and my other son's summer camps.  But not enough to shove us into the poor house.

This week's draw pulled the Lovers for the past.  The Lovers indicates a significant decision was made, one with major implications.  Next was the King of Cups for the present, which usually indicates someone who gives emotionally important and relevant advice.  The future was the the Chariot, suggesting a difficult time dealing with opposing forces and a struggle to maintain balance.

Two major Arcana in one draw suggests it's going to be a memorable or significant week.  Guess we'll find out.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Reclaiming My HEA is a monthly feature talking about my progress through my separation and divorce.

The holidays were challenging for me.  Maybe it was just the usual family-oriented stress but I found myself dealing with a fair amount of depression.

I want to believe that great things are ahead for me.  That all of the hard work I've done to reclaim this part of my life will let me move forward into a happier, more connected life.  But I've spent a long time trying to manage my expectations and shrinking my dreams to fit into what I thought was possible.

At a deep level, in order to keep going, I had to convince myself that it wasn't possible for things to be better.  That real life meant compromise and settling.

Maybe having to break those reduced expectations is what triggered the anxiety and depression.  Humans do better when things are predictable.  Even if what they're predicting is absolutely horrible, it's easier to manage awful known catastrophes than dealing with uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next.

I don't know what will happen next.  Maybe I will find myself alone and I'll need to find a way to be okay with that.  Maybe I will find someone who makes me happy, and maybe it will work out and maybe it won't.  I can't know unless I try.

Trying is scary.  It means opening myself up to rejection, and a particularly personal rejection at that.  So it's okay if I take my time.  I don't need to rush and push myself into more stress than I can handle.

Because no matter what happens in the future, I need to take care of myself.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Is Everyone Else Right When They Say They Wouldn't Date Again?

Previous post: Hidden Diamond: Reluctant Royals from Alyssa Cole

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Monday, 3 February 2020

Weekly Update: January 26 to Feb 1

Weekly word count: 10 816 (9489 of which were from Sunday and Monday of my writing long weekend.)

Some good progress on Until Proven Guilty.  I'm halfway/two-thirds through my storyline and the beginning is still relatively stable, so I haven't had to go back and bulk rewrite.  Usually I have to do one major pruning for each third of the book.  I'll still have to do it because I've yet to have a book where I didn't, but I'm pleased with what I've done.  With a little luck and persistence, I might have the draft ready for polishing in another couple of months.

I got my developmental edits back for Division.  Lots of good suggestions and the editor liked my sense of humor, which is always a big whew.  One of the big challenges is weaving in enough backstory that new readers can get what's happening while not boring those who started with book one of the series.

And I'm working on my pitch and polish for Best Face Forward.  I'll have a chance to chat with an editor from Carina next weekend, so hopefully, she'll find the concept interesting enough to take a closer look at.

It's a lot to try and juggle, but I know what I can and can't do.  As much as I've enjoyed being an indie author, I need to start having someone to share the costs of producing a book.  A girl can also dream of help with promotion, but that's a bit of a pipe dream for genre fiction these days.

Last week's Tarot reading was the Devil (restrictions), the four of wands (refuge), and the seven of wands (stand your ground).  I've been holding firm on a number of fronts and despite a bout of self-doubt and pessimistic thinking, I continue to do so.  

This week's reading drew the five of cups for the past, which usually symbolizes deep and painful loss, sometimes depression.  For the present, I drew the five of coins, which indicates a lack of resources, usually being deprived of home and money.  Those two are not a great combination, but are probably accurate enough.  I've struggled with depression for my entire life and it's been difficult over this last week and month.  And although I work very hard at both writing and my day job, the truth is that I don't make enough money to support my family with either, if I was solely responsible.  But for the future, I drew the six of swords, which predicts long-awaited movement and brighter days ahead.

Fingers crossed that last one comes true.  Or maybe not, since that makes it hard to type.  :)