Monday, 27 April 2020

Need a hiatus

For the last few weeks, I've been dealing with some health issues (don't worry, nothing likely to become fatal) and family issues (hopefully with the same caveat).  Between that and the strain of dealing with what's going on in the greater world, I've been struggling.

As much as I hate having to admit this, I've come to a crossroads.  I can either work on the blog and social media, or I can work on finishing the books I'm writing.  While I know you all will miss me, I know you'd prefer getting new adventures to me maundering about various topics.  Don't worry, I will be back.  I've been through these types of situations before and I've always managed to pull through.

Hugs to you all.  I hope you're all staying safe and taking care of yourselves.

Talk to you again soon.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Weekly Update: 12-16 April

Weekly word count: 2296

Lower than last week, but pretty good considering I got my line edits for Division back and that's going to have to be the writing priority for the next few weeks.

Still no word from Entangled about the submission of Best Face Forward.  They usually say 60 days for a response, but under the circumstances, I guess it could be more.  I've entered it in the Stiletto contest for the Contemporary Romance Writers, so fingers crossed for that.

Last week's Tarot reading was the ten of cups (joy and nostalgia) for the past, the eight of cups (breaking loose) and the Emperor reversed (immaturity).  Last week was a difficult week emotionally, I found myself looking back on my life a lot and feeling sad about the challenges I've faced.  It was discouraging to remember how I'm effectively starting over in so many ways and worrying about whether or not I'll still have a job when this quarantine eventually ends.  I'm not sure if that counts as immaturity, but an alternate reading for the reversed Emperor is instability, which would fit.

This week's Tarot draw was the five of cups for the past.  The five of cups symbolizes emotional loss and difficulty.  I drew the seven of swords for the present, which signifies craftiness and intellectual sneakiness.  And finally, the Queen of cups, reversed, which warns that emotions may be clouding my judgment.  Doesn't sound like a fun week, except for the sneakiness.  I always enjoy a good convoluted plot.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Heroine Fix: Women of Westworld

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature where I examine heroines from television and movies which inspire my own writing or which I just find cool or interesting.  Warning: this post will contain spoilers for season 1 and 2 (but not 3 because I'm still watching that one).

There are only two times in the last decade that I've been caught off guard by a plot twist and had the "OMG, that is amazing!" reaction.  One was Arrival and the other was Westworld.  Usually I can predict where a show or movie is going (and I'm good with it, since seeing how they intend to get there is a big part of what I enjoy about stories).  And I've been disappointed with plot twists that make little to no sense based on the previous narrative.  But these two were brilliantly scripted in such a way that the plot twist not only made sense retroactively but still worked on rewatch when I knew what was going to happen.  (And I enjoyed it enough that I won't be sharing the biggest plot twist of season one, the one that surprised me, just in case those reading this haven't seen it yet.)

Westworld is more graphically violent and sexual than I usually watch, but I've been impressed by the depth of the characters and the skill of the writing.  And I've been particularly intrigued by the development of the two main heroines, Dolores and Maeve.

One of the things that I find interesting about Westerns and the historical Wild West period is how the level of "civilization" was often defined by the presence of settler women.  The presence of respectable wives and daughters, such as Dolores, meant stability.  They were used as a symbol of purity and goodness, something which needed to be protected from the rough world of men and nature.  Thus it wasn't a surprise that Dolores plays the damsel in distress in the Westworld park narratives.

Maeve's character is another common theme in Westerns, the HHOG (Hooker with a Heart Of Gold).  Though these women are not considered respectable, their mix of wisdom and street smarts make them frequent fan favourites.  Maeve is not abused by guests the same way that Dolores is because it's not considered shocking to attack her.  It's the taking away of Dolores's implied innocence that makes her a target of the sadistic Man in Black and other guests.

After the first few episodes of season one, I was expecting Dolores's character arc to be one where she learned not to rely on the men in her life to protect her and Maeve to play the role of sardonic commentary, perhaps even teaming up with Dolores to show her how to become more independent.  I was not expecting Dolores to transform into the villain and begin a systematic slaughter of the humans.  It is foreshadowed in the final scene of the very first episode, when she kills a fly.

I also wasn't expecting the unfolding of Maeve's character, revealing someone who cares deeply for those around her, even when she hides it behind sarcasm.  When she discovers the nature of her reality (i.e. that she has been manufactured to entertain guests), she is angry but funnels that fury into gaining the power to protect herself and others.  She blackmails the technicians into giving her upgrades, gaining the power to control the other hosts.  Ultimately, she ends up using that power to allow as many hosts as possible to escape into the Valley Beyond, even though it means sacrificing her own chance to be with her daughter.

The two women serve as foils to one another.  Maeve's cynicism, such as when she tells Teddy that all men pay for a woman's companionship, the only difference is that their's are posted on the door, is a direct contrast to Dolores's idealist "I choose to see the beauty" in the world.

When Maeve begins to remember all the times she's been killed and her previous character, her first instinct is to seek confirmation and her second is to gain control.  She remains fundamentally herself, even when she remembers her life as a settler mother.  Instead of rewriting Maeve's character, it brings out a kinder side of her, one that creates balance in her personality.  When Dolores begins to remember, the knowledge seems to deeply unsettle her.  Initially, it seems as if it is driving her insane, but then it becomes clear that a secondary, crueler persona (Wyatt) is coming to the surface.  Dolores the idealist is buried and Dolores the homicidal avenger is born.

It's a reminder of how powerful flipping a trope can be, but also how important it is to craft the story in such a way that the audience doesn't feel cheated.  If Dolores had remained a symbol of purity to be cherished and protected by those around her and Maeve had stayed as the world-wise brothel madam, then Westworld wouldn't be nearly as memorable.

Previous Heroine Fix: The Many Faces of Harley Quinn

Previous post: Thoughts on the I'm Clean/Condom Scene In Romance

Blog homepage

Monday, 13 April 2020

Weekly Update: April 5-11

Weekly word count: 2491 words

I got to write the poignant, breath-holding moment before the rush to the climax last week.  There's something immensely satisfying about knowing the pain and heartbreak is all temporary, that the happy ending is just around the corner.  It gives me hope when I'm facing difficult times, that maybe my happy ending is on its way.

In other matters, I turned in my first homework assignment in 20 years.  I'm out of practice for academic work, but I think I did all right.  Hopefully the teacher agrees.

Last week's Tarot reading was the ace of swords (strength in conflict), the page of cups (emotional rebirth), and the eight of coins, reversed (review your career and work).  I did a little furniture reshuffling, but I don't know if it counts as a rebirth.  On the other hand, it happened because I accepted where matters stood rather than waiting for the situation to change.  So maybe a little bit of a rebirth.

This week's reading is less optimistic.  I drew the ten of cups for the past, which indicates joy and happiness, along with a sense of completion.  For the present, I drew the eight of cups, which represents breaking loose and being aware of possibilities on the horizon.  Both of those are pretty good, but for the future, I drew the Emperor, reversed.  That position indicates a lack of maturity and preparation.

My first reaction was "I am sooo not immature" but then I thought: maybe a little immaturity isn't such a bad thing.  Being the adult all the time is exhausting.  We all need play.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The "I'm Clean/Condom" Scene

Okay, be forewarned.  This is going to be a frank discussion about my opinions on condom-use during sex and how it's depicted in romance novels.

Anyone who reads romance has seen variations of the scene I'm about to describe.  It usually doesn't happen with the first sex scene, but there are good odds of it happening later on.  The couple is ready to make love when they realize they don't have a condom (because they're on the run, or they've gone through the original pack).  There's a brief discussion that includes some or all of the following:

- I haven't been with anyone for <X length of time>
- I've been tested recently and I'm clean
- I'm on the pill/shots/am infertile so we don't have to worry about pregnancy

I'm not casting stones at any other authors.  I've adored and recommended books where this exchange happens.  But it has begun to bother me, especially when the main characters haven't known one another very long.  Pushing someone to have unprotected sex is not an expression of love and caring.  Blindly accepting someone's word on their sexual habits is not a sign of a secure relationship.  And I'm not even going to get into how it sets up an implied hierarchy of intimacy where unprotected sex is higher than sex with a condom.  Or how it implies condom use is a transitory phase in a relationship.

What really throws me out of the story is that I've only rarely seen a character even mentally question the other character's declaration of non-risk.  No one seems to ask "could this person be lying to me in order to have sex?"  It makes me want to shout at the characters: Look, **I** know everything is fine because he's a romantic hero who will be worthy of you before we reach the last page, but you can't possibly know that yet!  Have some self-protective instincts!  He's a hero, he'll support and protect you if you just ask him to!

I may have occasionally said these things out loud, leading to a number of awkward conversations and at least one incident where I was asked to leave that particular coffee shop.  A true hero will never do anything to put his partner at risk, so when I see those statements in a romance novel, I know they are intended to be true.  But without the protective framing of Once upon a time and happily ever after, that's not always a guaranteed thing.  Sadly, there are still a depressingly large number of real life men who will push their partners into unprotected sex and who are often not honest about their relative health or sexual history.

Another aspect of this exchange that I find troubling is that this discussion usually takes place when the couple is in the middle of a clinch.  One of the things we've become aware of is how sexual arousal affects decision-making.  Studies have shown that horniness impairs a person's ability to make rational and well-reasoned decisions.  The level of impairment is similar to being drunk.  Like, impulse buying a bunch of commemorative plates online at three a.m. level drunk.

This led me to a chain of thoughts: individuals cannot give consent to sexual activity when they're drunk, which means they also can't give consent if their mental processes are scrambled because they were in the middle of hot foreplay.  Particularly they shouldn't be expected to give consent to riskier sexual encounters than were initially agreed to.  Especially when the relationship is still in the getting-to-know you phase when the couple don't yet know about the secret agreement to sell her vineyard or the mysterious tragic backstory that keeps him awake at night.

As you can see, I have strong opinions about this topic.  I'm hoping that more romance authors are starting to think about this particular dynamic.  Consent is becoming a bigger part of sex scenes and frequent check-ins to make sure that all partners are good with what's happening are being modeled more and more on the page.  I'm really pleased to see that, but as a reader and author, I'm ready to take the next step.

Because of my strong opinions about condom use and consent, the sex scenes in my upcoming release, Division, are structured a little differently.  In one encounter, Vincent realizes he doesn't have a condom.  Annika is waiting for him to pressure her into unprotected sex (at which point she plans to reveal that she has already bought condoms and has them ready), but instead, he calls a halt and tells her that he will go out and get some before they have sex.

To me, that is a wonderful expression of caring for and respecting your partner.  There's no implied "if you really loved and trusted me, you would be okay with proceeding without protection."  Condom use is taken as a given and my hero will do what is needed to protect her, even when that action requires a lot of willpower on his part.

I also included a scene where Vincent waits until after he's given Annika an orgasm before he pauses to make sure she's still willing to have penetrative sex.  He wants her to choose to be with him without any distractions from her body or mind.  He wants her to choose him, not just be willing to proceed with any reasonably attractive guy.

In both of these scenes, the determination to protect his partner is part of demonstrating the increasing emotional connection between the characters.  They are falling in love and discovering the intensity of having a physical and emotional bond with another person.  It's honestly the best feeling in the entire world and I wish everyone had the option of feeling it every day.  It's why I write romance.  It's why I read romance.  I believe in the power behind those feelings.

Division is up for pre-order now and will be releasing in July.  My Lalassu series is set up so that every book is a stand-alone story, but there's also a overall story arc that runs through the series.  If Division appeals to you, feel free to jump right in.  But if you'd like to start at the beginning, you can pick up the first book of the series, Revelations, for less than two dollars.

Previous post: Reclaiming My HEA: Hunkering Down (Sadly, Without Hunks)

Blog homepage

Monday, 6 April 2020

Weekly Update: March 29 to April 4

Weekly Word Count: 3328

It feels very good to have the words flowing again.  I figured out the issue with the scene I was trying to write and now the plot is moving forward.  I was able to kickstart my creative brain with fanfic (Mandalorian for the curious).

My kids and I have settled into a routine.  I've still got a lot of worries and I'm trying very hard not to think about the future.  I miss my friends terribly but I'd never forgive myself if I ended up being a link in a chain that got people sick.

Last week's Tarot reading had Temperance (moderation) for the past, the nine of coins (self-reliance) for the present and the ten of wands (burden of success) for the future.  Last week worked because I didn't try to push myself to do too much (moderation), I made certain that I could take care of what needed to be done (self-reliance), and then I found myself managing on my own (the burden of success).  Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it seems to fit.

This week's reading is the ace of swords for the past, which advises strength in conflict and the beginning of an intellectual enterprise.  The present was the page of cups, which symbolizes emotional rebirth.  And for the future, I drew the eight of coins, reversed, which advises the card reader to review their career and chosen work.  That last one is not reassuring for someone who has been laid off from their day job.  Since I work for a small company, one of the unpleasant realities I have to think about is that the company owner may decide not to restart it once the threat of the pandemic is over.

I started my online human resource management course last week, which matches with the ace of swords.  Since it was already set up, my employer said I could go ahead with it even though I've been laid off.  I'd planned to gradually earn my credentials over the next few years, but maybe I should consider a more accelerated program.  I won't make any decisions now.  The situation is still too fluid and unpredictable.

I've been struggling, but things seem much clearer now.  I feel more capable of dealing with what the future is throwing at me.  So maybe that's my emotional rebirth.

Either way, at least I'm writing again.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Reclaiming My HEA: Hunkering Down (Sadly, without any hunks)

Reclaiming My HEA is a regular feature where I share what's been going on with my separation and divorce.

Things have changed rather drastically since my last Reclaiming My HEA post on March 5th.  It was only four weeks ago and in that time, my kids' schools have closed, my day job has shut down, and my ex-husband is now working from home.

That last one makes things difficult, since we're doing an in-home divorce, where we're continuing to share the family home and expenses.  This usually isn't a challenge.  I work from home and deal with the vast majority of the household and family planning and tasks.  I don't tend to see him that often, except during meals and the odd family activity.

Now, four of us are sharing a house that I usually have to myself five days a week.  (Or at least while the kids are at school.)  I'm finding it to be a real adjustment, especially since I'm having to take over managing the kids' schedules and dealing with any education stuff.  And keeping them from annoying the crap out of each other.

My ex and I might not have worked out as romantic partners, but I'm not in the "he-demon sent from the depths of hell" mindset regarding him.  There are plenty of frustrations, but he's not a bad person.

I've had to remind myself of that a lot over the last few weeks.  Some of it is just the stress of having four people around without the opportunity for our usual diversions.  My oldest has been particularly hard hit, since everything he does to relax is a public activity, which means its been no-go.  Some of it is the stress of financial uncertainty, now that I'm no longer employed.  Some of it is the stress of managing my extended family, particularly my parents.  I've somehow become the de facto therapist for a number of people, which I'm good to do, but it does take an emotional toll.

But some of it is that it's hard to ignore our incompatible approaches now that we're in each other's space throughout the day.  I've been seeing the headlines about a rise in divorces due to self-isolating, so I know I'm not alone in finding it frustrating.

It's been a struggle finding ways to escape and give myself some quiet time to myself.  A few times, I've been tempted to take the car and park somewhere random with my computer.  I miss getting together with my friends and having my monthly massage and hair appointments.  I miss being able to blast my music and dance around the kitchen.  I miss being able to immerse myself in a story.

However, I also recognize that as much as my life has been disrupted, it is very small compared to those who are struggling with COVID or watching their loved ones struggle.  Or worse, have already lost people to this disease or other complications due to the lack of health resources.  I don't want to be one of those petty people who can't see the bigger picture.  Having us all stay home might be aggravating but if it means that fewer people die, then I'm good with that.

Meanwhile, I'll just try to be gentle with myself and enjoy the parts I can enjoy.  And try hard not to think about the parts I don't.

Previous Reclaiming My HEA: Thoughts on Partnership

Previous Post: Heroine Fix: The Many Faces of Harley Quinn

Blog homepage.