Monday, 31 October 2016

Weekly Update: October 23 to 29

Weekly word count: 2200
Editing countdown: 6 chapters this week, 23 chapters done, 5 weeks to go

I've hit the halfway mark for editing Inquisition.  Which feels pretty good because I've also hit the halfway point for my time available to edit.  Barring catastrophe (looking at you, Universe), I should be good.

I've also been busy getting my kids' costumes ready and the Hallowe'en decorations.  The costumes are good to go.  There are still a few bits and pieces to be done for decorations.

Next week is ORWA's November meeting with a workshop on building your readership with Eve Langlais.  I'm looking forward to that one.

My Kindle Countdown deal for Revelations went well.  I got a nice spike in sales as well as a spike on Kindle Unlimited.  I'm also getting good interest in Rose on the Grave, which is nice.

I'll have to start doing some serious thinking about whether or not I want Inquisition to be part of the Kindle exclusive program.  Having the first two books available on Kindle Unlimited is a good way to gain readers, but do I necessarily want the whole series on there?  I don't have a good answer to that as yet so I think I'll put out some questions to ORWA and get some opinions.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Ink Tip: Dealing with Consent in Romance

I’ve heard a number of spirited debates about the responsibility of romance writers when it comes to portraying healthy relationships.  One of the trickiest to negotiate is the issue of consent.

At their heart, romance novels are fantasies.  Real world inconveniences don’t come up so going to bed with wet hair doesn’t lead to snarled rats’ nests and tables never break (unless for dramatic purposes) and kids don’t come down with the flu on date night.

But at the same time, romance novels also offer a chance to normalize certain behaviours in the courting process.  Because a romance reader will vicariously experience many more relationships through the books than in real life, the stories can subconsciously provide a pattern for how a relationship should proceed.

Many romance authors consciously decided to include condom use as part of love-making, hoping to make it more common.  They gave readers a number of different scripts to use in their own lives, transforming asking for and using the condom into a sexy experience.

But what about things like making sure both partners are okay with the level of contact, intimacy and kink?  By definition, nothing can occur in a fantasy which is against the fantasizer’s will.  Even if the fantasy involves the illusion of a lack of choice, nothing makes a fantasy dissolve faster than actually having something done against a person’s will. 

This is a tricky concept for most people to understand.  For example, if a person likes the Bad Sexy Cop fantasy or a multiple partner fantasy, then it can be harder to understand why he or she might not be a consensual partner during a real life scenario.  Some psychologists have said that disgust is the key to understanding the difference.

Suspending disgust is a sign of intimacy.  The idea of sharing a French kiss with a loved one is appealing.  The idea of an unwelcome stranger sticking their tongue in your mouth is disgusting.  The consent is what makes the difference.  So a person can engage in a perfectly consensual act but then be unwilling to engage in that same act at a later time or with another person and that is a perfectly human and natural thing.

BDSM romance has been something of a trend since 50 Shades of Grey sparked with the general public.  But what concerns actual practitioners is the fact that a large number of stories don’t show the negotiations which lead up to enacting the fantasies, the use of safewords and attention to both partners’ level of comfort during the scene and how to take care of both parties once the scene is completed.  

Romance has always been an opportunity to raise issues that concern women and a way to explore women’s sexuality.  This is why I think romance writers have a responsibility to making sure the fantasies presented contain enough reality to help their readers.

The stories that I enjoy make it clear that both hero and heroine (or hero and hero or heroine and heroine) are willing, eager participants in what occurs between them.  They give asking for a kiss a sensual buzz and make the conversation part of the anticipation.  And that lets me enjoy the fantasy.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Weekly Update: October 16 to 22

Weekly word count: 3700

Editing countdown: 6 chapters done this week, 17 done total, 42 days to deadline.

Another productive week.  I took a day off from editing to work on my kids' Hallowe'en costumes.  (It's one of my few domestic skills.  I'm only a passable cook and we have a cleaning service, but I can sew and craft with the best of them.)  Now one of my children has a Dr.Who jacket (11th doctor, Matt Smith) along with a fez hat.  The other has a muppet costume sewn out of blue towels and a red cape so he can be Super Grover 2.0.  There's still stuff to be done, specifically adding a pocket to the coat for his sonic screwdriver and making the sash and belt for Super Grover.  But for the most part, costumes are complete.

My Whovian fan of a son has requested a TARDIS front door and a Dalek pumpkin.  I have some ideas and hopefully I can pull them off next weekend before the big day.

It's been tiring trying to keep up a consistent pace and still fit in writing time, but it is working.  I'm making good and consistent progress on the manuscript, which is still completely without title (or idea for title).  Which is fine, titles usually come late in the process for me.

I will be grateful once the editing process is done and I can share Inquisition with everyone and get back to concentrating on writing again.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

A Gem in the Dirt: My Self-Publishing Journey

There's been a lot of buzz lately about indie publishing.  It's saving the industry, it's killing the industry, it's a godsend, it's a curse.  There are more opinions than people to express them.

I'm indie published.  Which means that I did not go through one of the traditional New York publishing houses or a small press.  I accepted a deal directly with Amazon, a deal which is available to anyone willing to abide by the terms.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted to pursue my publishing career.  I knew I wanted to write stories.  I've been doing that since I was a kid and "author" is a job which allows for a fair amount of flexibility, something I need in my personal life.  I knew that if I wanted my writing to be more than handing around stories to friends and fans, then I needed to treat it as seriously as my day job.

I joined professional writing organizations, specifically the Romance Writers of America and the Ottawa Romance Writer's Association.  Both of them are known for their professional resources and as promoters of skilled writers.  I joined critique groups and tossed out my first manuscript as it became apparent how much I still had to learn about the craft of writing.  I spent hours each week in front of the keyboard, fighting to keep it in my schedule.

Eventually I had a new manuscript, one I was proud of and ready for the next step.  I began sending it out and was met with an odd mixture of deafening silence and encouraging rejections.  One of my good friends, Theresa Morgan, shared how she'd had the same experience.  Publishers told her that no one would be interested in her sheikh romances, but she'd decided to self-publish them and found a healthy niche market.

I decided to see if superhero romance would be a similar undiscovered niche market.  I hired three editors and spent a grueling six months polishing my story into a brilliant shine.  I hired a cover artist who told me I'd have to wait a few months but then came back to me a few days later with a design he said he couldn't get out of his head.

I hired a company to help me set up blog tours to get my name and my book out there and then, on February 1, 2015, I released my creation into the world.

I got encouraging feedback from reviewers and bloggers.  Those who read the book loved it, with an incredibly small number of dissenting votes.  (Out of over 60 review copies, I only had one return a negative opinion.)

That was when the real work began.  The endless grind of promotion and ensuring that new people saw the book.  And I was still trying to write the next book, manage my family and household, and keep my day job.  I look back and I'm still not sure how I did it.

But I did.  On February 14th, 2016, Metamorphosis joined Revelations on my Amazon author page.  And in March 2017, the third book in the series, Inquisition, will be added.  I also put up two Halloween-themed short stories, Whispers in the Dark and Rose on the Grave.

The work is starting to pay off.  I've gone from having irregular sales to seeing at least one spike in my royalty report for every month.  I've used the tools that Amazon offers, including Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Countdown Sales.  I've had a number of people share with me that my book has appeared on their Amazon Recommends emails and suggestions.  By having my books exclusively through Amazon, I've reaped the benefit of their sophisticated promotion and I'm grateful for the support they've offered.

In some ways, I see my achievement as more impressive than those who got triple and quadruple digit sales in the early self-publishing days of 2013 and 2014.  I put out my first book into a market which contained over 6 million options and still managed to convince people to give it a try.  I worked hard to ensure that I offered quality rather try to put out quantity.

There will always be those who point to the plethora of poorly written works out there and decry self-published authors.  But the point isn't that every self-published author has to be amazing.  The point is that Amazon gave an opportunity for the few diamonds to shine among the masses of coal, allowing both the industry and readers to realize that they had missed out on some of those precious gems. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Weekly update: October 9 to 15

Weekly word count: 2700

Editing countdown: 7 chapters this week, 11 chapters total, 49 days left to deadline

This week was the release of Rose on the Grave and to celebrate I put Revelations on sale.  There's been a lot of interest and I've learned a lot about targeting Facebook ads.  I was surprised when one of my ads got rejected for having "too much text" even though it had considerably less text than an ad which ran fine a few days earlier.

Definitely a busy week with the latter part spent plugging a plot hole.  I think it flows much better now.

It's been a grueling schedule but so far, I'm keeping up with it.  I'm a little brain dead (at least the part of my brain which isn't preoccupied with editing), so I'm afraid I won't be doing much on social media.  I'll try to stick my head up periodically and remind people that I'm still here.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Heroine Fix: Scarlett O'Hara: Never Hungry Again

Scarlett O'Hara certainly captured the public attention since she first appeared on the pages of Margaret Mitchell's book Gone with the Wind in 1936.  Vivienne Leigh's portrayal of the character in the 1939 epic film stands as a classic.  The story continued to hold the public's interest, sparking Alexandra Ripley to pen a sequel, Scarlett, in 1991.  The sequel was made into a television miniseries in 1994.

Scarlett is a difficult heroine to get behind.  She's shallow, vain and manipulative.  She spends the entirety of Gone With the Wind longing for another woman's husband, steals her sister's fiance, uses both slave and convict labour to undercut her competitors and seems more driven by greed than any other character trait.

By all logical examination, Scarlett is an unlikable heroine.  She should have disappeared into history.  But there is something about her which continues to intrigue and draw fans to her camp.  Perhaps it is because Gone with the Wind ends just as she realizes her errors.  She's on the cusp of a major character change, leaving readers and viewers to wonder if she will be able to persuade Rhett to take her back and live a happier life.

Maybe it's because despite her unlikable exterior, there is something attractive about Scarlett.  Even in the beginning, she's vibrant, flirting with the boys and clearly enjoying every second of their attention.  There's an innocence to her, an innocence which extends to all the Southerners pre-war.  She shares their certainty that the world she knows will never change.

But of course, it does change.  When the war collapses everything Scarlett knows and has always counted on, unlike the others around her, she steps into the gap.  She protects her sister-in-law (despite her own jealousy), taking Melanie and her newborn baby on a perilous overland journey through occupied territory.  She works in the fields, dragging her pampered family along with her so that they can all eat.  She shoots a Yankee soldier intent on robbing and assaulting her and her kin.

This is Scarlett's first transformation: from spoiled and pampered princess to shrewd and stubborn schemer.  With the complete collapse of her society, she abandons all the rules.  If it is a dog eat dog world, then Scarlett is determined to be the final one sitting there with a knife and fork.  She demonstrates her intelligence and determination, facing society's scorn as she launches a lumber business, a store and struggles to restore her family's plantation.

Her decision to marry Rhett isn't inspired by sentiment or affection, but by practicality.  Whenever I've watched the film, I've seen hints of vulnerability develop through their marriage.  I think she cares for him, but can't let herself trust in him.  Not to mention feeling torn between wanting to be accepted as a Southern lady but not wanting to be left helpless again.

Personally, I always found the end of Gone With the Wind unsatisfying.  Aside from the inherent racism and other issues, it's not a complete romance.  It's why I prefer the sequel, Scarlett, where she completes her character arc and finally reunites with Rhett.

The sequel's Scarlett finally learns compassion and loyalty to more than herself.  She learns the difference between surviving and living.  But she's still strong, vibrant and intelligent. Now she's no longer afraid to show any of it.

In the end, it's the mixture of traits which I find inspiring about Scarlett.  She's actually an unusually well-developed character, particularly for the time period when she was created.  She's a modern CEO, almost fifty years before anyone would have considered it possible.  She's attacked in the same way that many modern women are attacked, called unfeminine and overly aggressive.  But she is successful in her business endeavors, outwitting her male competitors.

As a heroine, she has many flaws, perhaps too many to truly overcome.  But it is those flaws which lend depth to her strengths.  She's human, which is quite an achievement for a fictional character.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Weekly update: October 2 to 8: Release of Rose on the Grave

Weekly word count: 2800

Editing countdown: 4 chapters done, 55 days until deadline

I'm trying something a little different this year.  Last year, from October to February, I concentrated almost exclusively on editing Metamorphosis, with only brief periods of new writing.  This year, I'm going to try and give myself one or two big chunks of writing time per week as well as my goal of editing one chapter per day.  I'm hoping that I can get some good progress on the first book my new series.  I've still got the fourth book of the lalassu simmering in my back brain, though.

On Tuesday, I will be releasing my latest Spirit Sight short story, Rose on the Grave.  It's in review on Amazon right now.  I'm very excited to share the beautiful cover done for me by Samianne.

Rose on the Grave is a continuation of Jessica and Greg's story, begun in Whispers In the Dark.  After their harrowing encounter with the demon box, both of them are dealing with fresh scars.  Jessica's freshly bloomed medium gifts seem to have shut down and Greg isn't sure if his continuing nightmares are signs of trauma or of some dark entity still lurking in his mind.

When the pair are invited to investigate Rose on the Grave, a haunted bed and breakfast, they find themselves increasingly on opposite sides.  They are quickly drawn deeper into a world of ghosts, fraud and strange powers.  Otherworldly messages warn of dramatic changes to come and send them on a mission to rescue a little girl named Bernie, a name that readers of Revelations will find familiar.

As part of the release for Rose on the Grave, I'll be putting Revelations on sale on and from October 11th to the 17th.  I wish I could put it on sale in Canada but unfortunately I don't have that option.  (Maybe some of my Canadian readers can contact Amazon and ask for Canada to be included in the Kindle Countdown deals?)

I'm very excited to share this newest installment of the lalassu world and can't wait to hear what people think.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

A Romance Reader: Loud and Proud

Sarah MacLean wrote a wonderful article last week on how bashing romance novels is basically a form of slut-shaming and it inspired me to write about some of the most common complaints about romance novels and why we should completely ignore them.

Myth # 1: They push women to equate happiness with being with a man.

Romance novels always have a love story as a central aspect of their plot.  It's part of the definition of the genre.  By the logic of this myth, one could also argue that mysteries encourage murder and vigilante justice, but we rarely hear Sherlock Holmes being accused of pushing people towards a life of crime.

The urge to connect with another person (male, female, alien, whatever you're drawn to) is one of the most fundamental human drives.  Romance novels celebrate that connection and acknowledge it.  But it's not just about finding love.  The heroines in romance novels don't just find a mate, they also achieve their other dreams, be it careers, families, contests or whatever else their hearts desire.

Romance novels encourage women not to settle.  The heroine goes through a character arc, beginning with an uncomfortable situation where they are bound by expectations and their own fears.  As the story goes on, she gains the courage to go after what she wants, rather than what she's been told to expect.  That usually includes an exciting and passionate relationship with a man (or woman) that is a partnership of equals, based on attraction and respect.

So romance novels don't hang the heroine's happiness on a man.  They recognize that a satisfying relationship can be part of the overall package but it is only a part.  They are about the heroine finding happiness period, in all its varied forms.

Myth # 2: They are poorly written and formulaic.

Romance novels make up 5 to 7 % of print book sales and 45 % of ebook sales.  (Source,

That's a lot of books and the quality of them can vary significantly.  There are poorly written romances, just as there are poorly written books in all genres.  But the majority are well done, with some reaching incredible levels of excellence.

The charge of being formulaic is back-handed way of attacking the quality of the writing.  All stories are essentially formulaic.  They need to follow a certain structure or else the reader doesn't find them satisfying.  The pattern applies across every successful story from Shakespeare to Tolkien to Star Wars.  The structure is like the foundation of a house.  Without it, it doesn't matter how grand or beautiful the plans are, it will all collapse under its own weight.

This myth can be countered by pointing to authors like Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Kristan Higgans, Roxanne St. Claire, Sherilyn Kenyon and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.  Attacking the genre as a whole based on its weakest examples is a sloppy argument.

Myth # 3: They're just thinly disguised porn for bored housewives.

There are two parts to be debunked for this myth.  The first is was covered in Sarah MacLean's article.  Sex is a part of romantic relationships and romance novels include satisfying sex, even if the novel itself uses the "fade to black" technique rather than showing it.  There is a huge range of detail, ranging from explicit erotica which explores various fetishes to sweet romance, which only shares the first kiss and leaves everything else behind closed doors.  The only universal is that the heroine's pleasure and wishes are given priority.

The second part to this myth is the assumption that wives and mothers (and by extension all women) should not be interested in sex.  That we should not desire multiple orgasms and a caring partner.  As New York Times journalist, Natalie Angier, explains, the argument that women can have a satisfying sex life without orgasm holds as much weight as the argument that some homeless people like living outdoors.  Dismissing women's pleasure was supposed to have become obsolete in the sixties and doesn't really deserve any further serious consideration.

Women don't deserve to be shamed for their sexuality or their sexual desires.  Instead we should be proud to claim them.

Myth # 4: They encourage a hetero-normative approach to relationships.

For those unfamiliar with the term, basically this myth boils down to the concept of embracing diversity.  The one-man, one-woman approach to relationships ignores bisexuality, homosexuality, menage and polyamory.  I will acknowledge that there is still plenty of room to increase the level of diversity in romance, but I would also challenge its critics to find another genre with more representation of all cultures and desires.

Romance has always encouraged diverse and minority voices.  The sheer volume of books out there allows all kinds of niche markets to be successful.  The success of 50 Shades of Grey allowed women to voice their interest in BDSM (though I'd recommend Opal Carew instead).  Menage fiction allows women to explore the fantasy of being with multiple lovers.  There's a sizable collection of LGBTQ romance.  Almost any variation of human sexuality is represented.

Myth # 5: They present an unrealistic version of relationships and romantic love.

This one is perhaps the hardest myth to debunk.  Passionate, lasting romance which is based on mutual respect is rarer than it should be.  But should we give up that dream?  Should we stop encouraging women to reach for that star, to believe that they can have all that they desire without having to compromise or settle?

Too often, women are encouraged to compromise.  As an example, despite my deep and abiding love for Hugh Jackman, I can't stand the movie Kate and Leopold due to its ending.  I hate that the heroine chooses to abandon a career that she clearly enjoyed and was talented at to travel back to a time when she would be considered a second-class citizen, to be with the man she loved.  I would have liked it much better if he had found a way to make his way in modern times, supporting her and giving her the peace and her support to pursue her dreams.  The latter is the kind of story that one finds in romance novels.

One can argue that the stories are unrealistic but I'd say that the flaw lies more in reality than in the stories.  The more stories there are about women whose partners support them rather than the other way around, the more women will be willing to try it in real life and find out how it can work.

So don't hide your love of romance.  Put it front and center and take pride in enjoying stories that encourage us to have all our dreams.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Weekly Update: September 25 to October 1

Weekly word count: 5300

I've finished my draft of Rose on the Grave and it's going for a final read-through.  And I got started on a new story for a new series.  I'm giving myself a couple of months to see if I can get the manuscript done, which will give me something to pitch to agents.

I'm also working on the plotting for book 4 in the lalassu series.  I've got most of it laid out but there are still a few big choices to make.

I saw the preliminary work for the Inquisition cover this week.  There's just one final tweak that needs to happen but it's looking good.  I'm hoping to be able to send out the cover at the same time I announce the publication of Rose.

I should get my developmental edits from Inquisition back soon, so it's going to make this next month a busy one.