Thursday, 30 July 2015

I Want To Belive: Expanding Reality

Since I write and read urban fantasy, I spend a lot of time thinking about the different ways people would react when learning about an expanded world.

There are already a lot of believers out there: 42% of Americans  and 52% of UK residents believe in ghosts, 57% of Americans believe in psychic phenomena and about 50% of Americans believe in some kind of conspiracy theory, including theories about secret societies and hidden populations.

I think we all have our own area where we keep an "open mind" even if we openly scoff at what we consider to be others' "out there" beliefs.  Strictly from the numbers, at least half of the US population believes there is more out there than science currently explains.  I believe that means the population as a whole would be quite ready to accept something new and beyond their current experience, provided there was some kind of proof.  70% of people polled believed in the Discovery Channel's fake Megalodon documentary, despite having been taught the massive prehistoric shark was long extinct.

However, I think each person would have a different reaction to the proof.  Some would automatically deny it, looking for evidence of special effects or fakery.  Some would do their own investigation to learn the truth, keeping an open mind.  Some would accept the basics but refuse to go any further, lest they be branded as crazy by their peers.  And some would accept it wholeheartedly.

It's not easy to believe in something which is publicly mocked and derided, even if a person has personal evidence to support it.  It's easier to keep their personal experience quiet but that leaves the person feeling isolated and alone.  It's a one-way door, once a person steps through, they can't ever go back to the comfort of mutual ignorance, yet they cannot drag other people after them.

Some people are like Mulder in X-files, they want to believe and will ignore evidence to the contrary.  Some people struggle to fit what they've seen into the worldview they've always had, telling themselves they've hallucinated, misunderstood or been tricked.  And some find themselves convinced despite all their efforts to avoid it. 

But we can't avoid new truths forever.  Eventually the evidence mounts beyond the ability to deny, taking us further than we could have ever imagined.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Weekly Update: July 19 to 25: First Draft Done!

Weekly word count: 6100

I reached the end of the story for Metamorphosis!  I started it over a year ago and I finally reached the end.  I've said the first draft is done, although that's not quite technically true.  I still have a lot of revising to do, including some chapters which will have to be completely rewritten.  But the beginning, middle and end of the story are solid and now can be matched up to one another.

I've decided to stick with Red Adept for editing.  They've done a great job for me so far and while I'll do more investigation into Red Pen, I want to move forward and keep things consistent.  I've learned there's a lot of variation between different editors when it comes to grammatical conventions.  English is a constantly evolving language with multiple sets of rules even within dialects, so there are lots of "right" ways to do things.

It's also time to contact Streetlight Graphics again to do the next cover.  Somehow getting my cover always makes the act of publishing feel real.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Definition of Nobility and the Power of Love

I grew up on stories of knights and heroes, which means I grew up believing that nobility was a desirable quality.  I still believe that aspiring to a code of ethical and moral nobility is a good thing.  But I'll admit that the armour has become a little tarnished as I've gotten older as I noticed a great many characters used "nobility" as an excuse to push people away.

Classic example: the superhero who doesn't want those around him or her to be hurt.  So they contrive to push them away by any means necessary: wiping their memories, pretending to be a jerk, faking their deaths or sometimes going back in time to rewrite the past (you'd be surprised how often that's actually an option).

Perhaps it's the romantic side of me, but that just stinks of lack of commitment.  I understand and sympathize with the "I'll never forgive myself if <insert name here> gets hurt" impulse.  I can even understand the need to keep certain heroes on the tragic side (Batman is never as much fun when he's happy).

Wanting to avoid making someone a target is laudable, but it's not a good enough reason not to try for a relationship.  Especially since it almost always seems to backfire, because the key issue (the hero/heroine caring about that person) is already a factor.  The bad guys always figure out that a hero is unusually quick to respond to a particular character being in danger.

Being collateral damage in a superpowered feud is tragic, true.  But to me, it's far more tragic that two people in love will live out their lives never having the opportunity to express it to one another.  To a romance writer, it darn near verges on heresy.  Call me naïve if you will, but I believe love makes people stronger.  It makes them want to live up to the best side of themselves, the side their lover sees.  It gives them a reason to fight when everything else has been taken away.  And it makes everything else in their life a little easier to bear.

In the end, withdrawing to protect someone is a short-sighted strategy.  Which is why I chose an older character to challenge it.  Someone with a hearty helping of cynicism, willing to call a copout what it is.  Someone who knows that the number of tomorrows are limited and joy is too precious a gift to return because it might someday break.   

Monday, 20 July 2015

Weekly Update: July 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 3400

I've started the final confrontation scene for Metamorphosis, which means I am close to finishing the story, if not the draft.  I did take a bit of a break this week to begin going over the final polish for Whispers In the Dark.  (My brain was starting to rebel by pretending to be slow and stupid, so I tricked it by focusing on something different.)

I'm also starting to put down more detail for the plot and characters for the sequel to Metamorphosis.  I heard an interesting factoid a few weeks ago, that the term "apocalypse" means "secrets uncovered" in Greek.  This makes me really tempted to use it as my title for the third book, but I'm worried it has too many modern zombie-related associations.  As hard as it is to believe, it's time to start nailing down details like the title and characters.

I'm also looking into a new editing group: The Red Pen Coach.  Although I was very happy with what Red Adept Editing gave me and can't thank them enough for their work and teachings, I've heard a number of independent authors praising Red Pen so I'd like to check them out.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Villains/Heros: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Villains don't see themselves as bad guys.  Or at least, the really good villains don't.  They are the heroes of their own stories, struggling to achieve something and being blocked by the characters the audience is usually rooting for.

I find it interesting that DreamWorks has been focusing many of their stories on characters who would traditionally be the villains: Shrek, Despicable Me and Mastermind all humanized their protagonists despite their "evil" leanings.  It's not just for kids either.  Joss Whedon may have played Dr. Horrible for laughs, but he is still a classic villain who sees more than the self-absorbed hero. 

A well-defined villain is necessary to balance a well-rounded hero.  Just as the hero needs to have some flaws for the audience to relate to, so the villain needs to have some redeeming features.  I've frankly always had trouble with one-dimensional "Look at me, I'm EVIL!" villains.  I much prefer a villain who honestly believes their course is the right one and their end justifies their means.  My favourite examples are Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn's Star Wars Heir to the Empire trilogy, the Operative in Joss Whedon's Serenity and a new addition, Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of the Kingpin in Daredevil (the link has spoilers for all those who haven't seen the show yet).

For those who haven't read it, Heir to the Empire is set about 5 years after Return of the Jedi.  The galaxy is still effectively split between the remnants of the Empire and the fledgling new Republic.  Grand Admiral Thrawn wants to restore the Empire.  He believes that democracy is not a viable tool for ruling an intergalactic multiverse with thousands of interacting alien species.  He believes a central authority is the only way to effectively manage the galaxy.  He is intelligent, insightful and a tactical genius, which makes him an absolutely terrifying enemy for Luke, Leia and Han.  He is also utterly ruthless in his pursuit of victory.  He doesn't care whether a win comes from a pitched battle, an assassin's knife or a spy's rumours.  He's been given a task and he intends to accomplish it, no matter what.

The Operative is another example of someone whose faith in the goal permits them to step outside anyone's concept of acceptable methods.  He delivers death for failure and employs scorched earth methods to find his quarry.  He does it all for a "better world", one which he knows he can never be a part of.  He acknowledges that he is a monster and is willing to sacrifice himself to create it.

The new Kingpin is a combination of all my favourite villainous traits: smart, well-read, capable of hiding his ruthless and dangerous side and utterly committed to goals which the audience can find sympathy with.  I won't go into more details because I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen the show but the combination of the writing and acting have gelled into a bit of small screen magic.

It's only a small sliver which separates these men from the heroes facing them.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Rebels overthrew the Empire in a bloody coup, not a democratic election.  River Tam (the Operative's quarry) is a living weapon capable of taking down almost anyone with eerie simplicity.  Daredevil is not known for offering his opponents counselling and rehabilitation.  Both the good and the bad guys do things which would have to be objectively looked at as "bad" by an outsider.

I like a villain who accepts his or her place as the bad guy.  They are not in conflict (as the hero and heroines often are).  Perhaps that is the final difference in the end: the struggle to stay in the grey defines who becomes a hero and who becomes a villain.  Abandoning the struggle allows the villain clarity of focus and confidence.  They're not spending time angstily worrying about whether they've gone too far and feeling bad about themselves.  Instead, they put all of that aside to focus on what they need to do and then go after it with terrifying precision.

Get ready to meet Andre Dalhard, my villain, in tomorrow's quote card.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Weekly Update: July 5 to 11

Weekly word count: 8100

Consider this a happy dance moment.  The end of Metamorphosis is calling to me and demanding to be written.  I've shoved aside a lot of other stuff this week to do it and it has paid off.  I'm getting close to the end.

I have another 10 000 to 15 000 words to write, according to my outline.  Then I have to go back and put everything together for consistency, check for overused words, make sure I have enough description and character reactions.  Only then can I slap a "done" on my first draft and send it to the editing process.  It's a lot and I'm looking at my original deadlines and feeling the pressure.

In an interview, musician Bon Jovi said that writing his first album was easy.  He had all the time in the world to do it.  The pressure began with his second album.  Because now he was in the public eye and balancing promotion and writing and he had to make his deadlines.  I get what he was talking about.

I really want to have this draft done by the August long weekend.  So I'm going to be going quiet, I think.  Except for my weekly quote cards and blog posts, I'm hunkering down. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Monsters In the Dark

We all remember our monsters in the darkness, the ones which hid under our beds and in our closets.  The things we can't see are always more terrifying than the ones we confront and understand.  People who use fear to manipulate us are always deliberately vague about the consequences of the terrors they are invoking, it allows the listener to fill in the blanks with their own anxieties.

I've always found knowledge easier to deal with than uncertainty, even if it ended up being bad news.  But there comes a point where the knowledge becomes a burden all on its own.  In the graphic novel, Midnight Nation, there is a point where one of the characters is tortured by being made aware of all the misery and horror in the world for a few terrifying seconds.

How would someone cope with that kind of knowledge?  If reliable and powerful psychic powers truly existed, then the people with them would learn all sorts of things that we usually aren't faced with.  They would be inadvertent witnesses to the horrors which can behind a pleasant façade.  This is one of the origins for my hero, Michael, in Revelations.  As a psychometrist who can pick up secrets and emotions through touching people and objects, he'd have to deal with knowing about affairs, heartbreak, lies, and treachery.

I did some research into people who work with the darkest part of human reality, the investigators who search out abusive crimes and the workers who try to put communities back together after war and genocide.  I wanted to know how they cope with having seen the incredible depth of human imagination put to figuring out ways to hurt and destroy.  There's a very high turnover in these fields as people reach the limits of what they can cope with, but there's also a common theme of focusing on how they can help.  That's what allows them to keep going day after day.

I needed to find a way for Michael to use his gifts to help and I found the inspiration to make him a child therapist, one who helped children who couldn't speak for themselves.  He uses his gift to shine a light into their darkness and help them to defeat their own monsters.

There are true horrors in this world, but I believe that they always seem bigger in the darkness.  Knowing the truth is like flipping on the switch in the closet.  Maybe there will be something hiding there, maybe there won't.  But once it's seen, it can be fought and defeated.  Being forced to see all the horror in the world might be a form of torture, but it would also bring a certain level of perspective.  All the petty things we tend to flail ourselves with would be revealed as surface issues.

There are monsters in the dark, but they are rarer than we fear.  And they can all be made smaller with a  little illumination.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Weekly Update: June 28 to July 4

Weekly word count: 5950

Things are moving along well with Metamorphosis.  I'm really looking forward to getting to the finale and then going back and tightening everything up.  I've spoken to my first round of beta-readers and let them know where I am.

I also had a really fun session with my friends on what kind of swag to invest in.  They gave me some great ideas to look into, including some I wouldn't have come up with on my own.  With luck I can be ready for conference season next year. 

The first week of summer actually went smoother than I thought it would.  So far I'm managing a good balance of having fun with the kids and still getting my work done.  I find it's actually going smoothly enough that I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Maybe it's too many years of watching Joss Whedon, if you're happy, something horrible is about to happen. 

I've gotten a good reaction from my first Friday quote card.  I've got a whole series planned for the summer, so I hope to build up some buzz for Whispers in the Dark and Metamorphosis.  I hope everyone enjoys this week's offering as well.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Celebrating Strong Heroines

And in ancient times, the people did cry out for strength and beauty and the great writing gods did deliver unto them Ripley, Xena and Buffy.

It's sometimes easy to forget how ubiquitous it was for female characters to do nothing but repeat the computer, get in trouble and complicate rescues.  The idea that the girl could save the day instead of shrieking in the background is one we've rediscovered again and again throughout history.
Even Xena's over-the-top action sequences and (I have to admit it) bizarre yet hilarious plot lines didn't take away from the fact that she was strong and independent.  She wasn't looking for someone to take her away from all the fighting, it was what she craved and lived for.

Buffy managed to combine a kick-ass ability with the challenges of a secret identity and a desire to find someone who would connect with her on her own terms, rather than expecting her to take a back seat.  She may have longed for someone to take on her burden, but I always felt it was more a Lone-Guard-At-the-Gate attitude, not a "looking for a man to solve my problems" approach.

I love strong heroines.  Nothing frustrates me faster than watching someone do something which is nonsensical and obviously designed to make things harder for the "real heroes".  I enjoy stories about capable women even when they aren't toting guns or have superpowers (although those two factors are always a bonus).  I enjoy stories where women find out they are capable of more than they dreamed they could be.  And I enjoy stories where those women find love and support from someone who wants them to shine as brightly as possible.

There are all kinds of strength.  There's obvious physical strength and skill, like the action heroes above.  But there's also strength of mind, character and personality, the sort of woman who can run a multimillion dollar business /country or organize disparate personalities into a cohesive whole (I'm thinking of Dame Judy Dench's M in the James Bond series and Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth). 

There's the strength of determination, of a woman who will not allow obstacles or ridicule to stop her, no matter what.  She has no special abilities or authority, but keeps getting up even when common sense would tell anyone to back down.  She pushes through situations which would send most of us home crying.  (Angelina Jolie in Changeling.

There is the strength of personal integrity, refusing to compromise who she is at the core even when everything would be simpler if she did so.  We all face pressure to conform and so I really enjoy stories about those who have the internal strength to stay true to themselves.  (My example is Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, who ignored the expectations of the village around her  and the initial threats of the Beast.  She insisted on telling the truth and being herself even when it cost her dearly.)

The urge to explore my own strong female characters is one of the reasons why I began to write in the first place.  Dani, in Revelations, is the epitomy of my favourite action heroes, strong and powerful but with hidden vulnerabilities and doubts.  She has to battle her own demons as much as her external enemies.

My two upcoming projects have very different but equally strong heroines.  Jessica (Whispers in the Dark) struggles against ridicule and ostracism to pursue her chosen field of scientifically exploring paranormal phenomena.  Lily (Metamorphosis) is strong and capable with great responsibilities, but she's not seeking escape.  She celebrates her own strength and refuses to compromise it.

Characters in stories should always be at least a little larger than life.  That's why we follow their journeys.  But I like to believe every person, every woman has a core of strength inside her, no matter how much she has had to face.  And that's worth celebrating.

Come back tomorrow for a new special Friday feature!