Thursday, 29 December 2016

Families of Choice and Connection

There's a joke in our family that people never leave it, we only suck others into our orbit like a giant black hole.  That's probably why I like to explore the balance of the responsibilities of family and finding your own path in my stories.

I believe family is important and vital in everyone's life, but that families aren't always determined by DNA connection.  A family are the people who you can call on no matter what is going on.  The ones who will help and support, even when there are disagreements.  There may be judgment but there is also willingness to take action when needed.  Sometimes families are friends, sometimes they're relatives, but family is always there, like a scar.  It's not always pretty or comfortable, but it holds everyone together.

Without the safety net of family standing at your back, the world is a terrifying and overwhelming place.  But at the same time, it can be hard to step away from the encompassing network and find your own place.

Finding the right balance between accepting the support (and limitations) of family and pursuing one's own goals, dreams and ideals is unique to each person.  No one can tell anyone else where the magic balancing point is.  Some people will be happy mostly on their own with only one or two connections to rely on.  Others will be happiest when enmeshed in a Byzantine maze of hundreds.  The more connections, the more obligations are placed on the individual, but the more people are available for help when needed.  Help for everything from someone to grab coffee with to delivering shoulders to cry on.

So this holiday, I want to say thank you to all the families out there.  No matter what form, how large or how small: thank you.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Weekly Update: Dec 18 to 24

Weekly word count: 1700

A great total for the one day of writing I did this week but not a great amount for the week.  But I am giving myself some slack because it's been difficult for me over the last few weeks.  I'm hoping to get some more energy in the new year.

I got my line edits back, so I'm going to spend the next two weeks concentrating on getting those done.  Luckily, I should be able to do that while the kids are around and playing with their new toys.

I hope everyone reading this is having a happy holiday and enjoying themselves.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Ink Tip: Back Blurbs

I've been spending a great deal of time lately crafting the back blurb for Inquisition.  Luckily, I'm friends with a number of writers who are great at back blurbs and they gave me some great tips which I will now pass on to you.

The three paragraph structure:  This is one of the most common formats for romance novel back blurbs.  It's an easy way for experienced readers to recognize a romance novel.  There's one paragraph each for the hero and heroine, and then the final one for the main conflict of the story.  Each paragraph should be short, no more than three or four sentences.  Keeping the pacing of each paragraph quick generates excitement in the reader.  If possible, end each paragraph with a hook.

The personality, job and problem character description:  Book blurbs have to be brief and catch the reader's attention.  There's a lot of information to squeeze into a short space.  Giving the character's personality, job and problem can hook a reader and allow them to identify characters they would like to read about.  For example: Exuberant toy-maker Santa Claus has an overwhelming management job and his chief Elf isn't making it any easier.  Or Shy and quiet would-be solider Steve Rogers is desperate to impress the U.S. Army and fulfill his dreams of being a hero.

Judicious use of keywords: Readers scan blurbs for certain things that interest them: secret babies, marry-then-fall-in-love, shapeshifters, vampires, soldiers, firefighters, small towns, urban adventures, suspense, humour, the list is endless.  Make sure that the blurb reflects the book's tone and clearly shows its genre and other hooks.

Edit, edit, edit: Don't dash off your blurb as an afterthought.  Spend time making sure every word counts.  Get it as perfect as you possibly can, then put it aside for a week and look at it again.

The blurb is like the first three minutes of a date, it's the author's chance to create a connection with potential readers and convince them to give him or her a chance.  Happy connecting!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Weekly Update: December 11 to 17

Weekly word count: 2800

It's been a rough week creatively.  It started out reasonably well with a few good sessions but then life took an abrupt turn to the left.  A rough day at my day job left me dispirited, my son got sick and needed some Mom-cuddle time, and then my own bout of illness.  Unfortunately, it shut my imagination and determination down.

I've weathered these sorts of things before.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, I'm no stranger to fighting my way through depression. But it bothers me that this week breaks an almost 3 month streak of making my weekly writing goal.  It actually bothered me so much that I dreamed about it.

I dreamt I was setting up my table at a conference, one with a number of my favourite authors: Tanya Huff, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jessica Andersen, among others.  I was so excited to be counted among them.  I had everything arranged and was feeling proud.  I pulled a box of books out from under the table and opened it up to find an unfamiliar cover and title.  I pulled out another, panic beginning to build, and found another unfamiliar cover and title.  I kept trying, pulling out box after box and not finding my own novels.  I felt horribly ashamed that so many of my writing heroes would think I was unprepared.  And I felt crushed that I didn't have my own books.  I woke up near tears.

I try to pay attention to my dreams.  They're my emotional early warning system, telling me that something is brooding beneath the surface.  Now is the time to deal with it, keep reminding myself that reacting to life is not a character flaw and, most importantly, make sure I find the time to get back to the keyboard.

Next week is going to be a challenge, with all the holiday prep that needs to happen.  But I will find the time and get myself back on track.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Under the Covers: My Director's Commentary

I know I might be in a minority, but I enjoy watching films with the director's commentary.  I like hearing how the movie was put together, how choices were made.  Knowing that Indiana Jones initially planned an elaborate sword-fight that got scrapped because Harrison Ford had a cold and realized it made more sense for his character to shoot his attacker.  Or that the famous "It's game over" speech in Alien was improvised on set by Bill Paxton.  Or that Joss Whedon initially planned to have the Hulk "sniff" out Loki's true self among illusionary duplicates in Avengers.  It's why Bruce Banner makes several references to being able to "smell the crazy" on Loki.  But it was decided that the scene would play better if Loki didn't bother to take the Hulk seriously.

I like knowing the behind the scenes of decisions behind writing.  When I met Roxanne St. Claire several years ago, she explained how she began writing the Barefoot Bay series as a request from her editor to do a small town contemporary romance series.  At the RWA National Conference, I heard Sherry Thomas talk about how she began writing to get out of post-partum depression.

With Revelations, I decided to do a chapter by chapter commentary, sharing references, such as a request from a family with a handicapped child to include that child in the story.  Where I didn't have time to fit in research details, I've included them in the commentary.  I explain where I found inspiration and share credit for ideas which came from friends and family.  I enjoyed sharing it and did it again with Metamorphosis.  You can find them both by clicking on the book's page and finding the mirror.

I'm looking forward to doing it yet again for Inquisition.  I go through each chapter and write a few paragraphs for each one.  It's a fun way to look back on how far the story has developed and where it began.  And it's a way to say goodbye before launching into new stories and worlds.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Weekly Update: December 4 to 10th

Weekly word count: 5200 words

Despite a slow start to the week, I've had three good writing sessions this week, each 1500 to 2000 words.  The new story is coming along well.

I also had a fabulous informal get together with some ORWA and former-ORWA members.  I find sitting down with other authors to be incredibly useful and, frankly, encouraging.  It's nice to be able to talk with someone else in the same boat.

One of the more interesting discussions we had was about how we use facets of our own lives and backgrounds to create characters and plots.  A theme I've tended to notice in my own work is the balance between meeting responsibilities and being true to your own self.  It's something I struggle with in my own life, meeting all my responsibilities in my job and with my family while also making sure I don't subsume myself in those responsibilities.

I've been thinking about what to do for 2016 and I want to continue both the Heroine Fix and the Ink Tip monthly features.  I'm looking forward to examining more modern heroines, like the ladies from Agents of SHIELD, Conviction, Travellers, Criminal Minds.  I also want to looks at heroines from books, like Tanya Huff's characters or Lisbeth Salander.  For the Ink Tip features, I'm still thinking of whether or not a more precise theme might be helpful.  

In another two weeks, I should have the next round of edits back for Inquisition.  Then it will be time to work on the front and back matter as well as the teaser for book four.  I'm looking forward to pulling quotes for quote cards and doing up the director's commentary, chapter by chapter.  I'll be putting it up for pre-order for January 1st.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Heroine Fix: Have A Little Faith

(Warning: there are spoilers below for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel)

It's the Christmas season, so it seems appropriate to talk about vampires and those who slay them.  For my final influential heroine of 2016, I'm going to take a look at Faith Lehane, the other Vampire Slayer, played by Eliza Dushku.

I'll admit that I was a latecomer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The first episode I saw was Bad Eggs in Season 2.  The show quickly hooked me and I enjoyed all of the characters (Willow and Buffy will get their own Heroine Fix in the future, promise.)

But none of them intrigued me quite as much as Faith, the Dark Slayer.  Admittedly, I have always been a sucker for a tortured hero with a dark streak (Batman, Wolverine, the Punisher), but this was one of the first female tortured heroes that I could recall.  I wanted to know more about Faith's background and why she hid her true self behind a mask of flippant sarcasm and defensiveness.

I watched her descent into the Dark Side with baited breath.  When she accidentally killed a human, mistaking him for a vampire, the pain on her face broke my heart.  Especially when she decided to hide it and blame Buffy for her error.  When she felt rejected by the Scoobies and joined the evil Major Wilkins, I was shouting at my TV.  Eliza Dushku did a fantastic job at showing Faith's ambiguity.  She was enjoying playing a role as an "evil" person, enjoying the freedom from responsibility and expectations, but couldn't enjoy what that role required her to do.

I knew that Faith wouldn't finish as a bad guy.  Even though she was stabbed and in a coma, I expected her back and scanned every episode's guest credits, waiting for the inevitable return.  When she returned in season four and tried to take over Buffy's body and life, I could see that she just couldn't keep the mask up.  Her true self was breaking through and she was either going to have to destroy her own heart or give up the persona she'd hidden behind.  When she begs to be killed because she's evil, it was another heart-breaking moment for me.

I wanted to capture that kind of character depth in my own writing.  I wanted to show a heroine who has done some terrible things but is still a good person at heart.  I wanted to show how tempting it can be to give up on the constant grind of trying to do the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds.  But it's not something which can be sustained and it ultimately leaves a person empty and damaged.

In my first book, Dani is a broken heroine.  She's struggling to find a balance between what she needs to do to live and what she can't do if she wants to live with herself.  Eliza Dushku and the character of Faith were a strong inspiration for how to achieve the balance of doing horrible things and showing the torture it causes to her soul.

Faith found her peace by accepting responsibility for her actions.  She went to prison and then broke out when the world needed another Slayer in the final season of Buffy.  She didn't lose her dark sense of humor or her quick thinking, but they became tempered by maturity.  She discovered that while responsibility might weigh her down, it also provided a foundation that lifted her up.

I find Faith's character arc much more interesting than Buffy's because she made so many of the wrong decisions but still found her way back to being a true hero.  Rather than a hero triumphing over overwhelming odds, Faith is a hero who reminds us that no matter how far we think we've fallen, we can still climb back up.

Heroine Fix will be back in the new year, on the second Thursday of each month.  Next year, I'll be looking at more contemporary heroines from books, television and movies.  For January, we'll have another trip to the Whedon-verse and look at one of the ladies in Firefly.  Happy Holidays and New Year!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Weekly Update: November 27th to December 3rd

Weekly word count: 5300

It's been nice to concentrate on writing again, although there have been a number of days where I've had to deal with everyday life things which I've been pushing aside while I deal with editing.  

I've been doing a lot of research about the music industry and songwriting.  I'm enjoying putting together the new manuscript and I'm in the early excited stage where I can't wait to share it.  But there's still a lot of work before it'll even be ready to share with my early readers.  I'm trying to think of at least a temporary title.  (Since I'm planning to pitch this to an agent for the big New York publishers, they will probably decide on the title which ends up on the book.)

I'm also trying to think of a title for book four of the lalassu.  Those who follow me regularly know that titles always come slowly for me.  I'll have to sit down with my friends and do some title brainstorming over the holidays.

On the personal side, I managed to decorate our house for the holidays over the course of this week.  I usually try to get it all done in one day and end up being cranky, frustrated and decidedly non-festive by the end of it.  This time, I did it in short spurts and I'm not wiped out, so I think I have a new strategy for upcoming years.

Next week will probably be less productive but I still want to get at least 4000 words done.  

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Writing Through Depression

Hi, I'm Jennifer Carole Lewis and I suffer from depression. 
(Okay, that opening is indulgent but it felt like the right way to begin.)  I've known that depression was a problem inside my head since I was a teenager.  In the last few years, I've learned that it's been a recurring problem going back generations in my family.  But no one ever talked about it, so I ended up going through it mostly on my own.

In some ways, I think the fight to keep going through depression also helped to prepare me for the struggles of a writing career.  I've had practice in dismissing the not-so-little voice inside my head which tells me that my failure is inevitable and deserved.  I've had to learn how to force myself to keep going when every emotional and gut reaction inside tells me to give up.  There is nothing which any critic can tell me that I haven't said to myself a hundred times over and far harsher.

I also think my depression is linked to my awareness of the difficulties in the world around me, which also drives my writing.  I don't believe I have a distorted view of reality, but I certainly find myself drawn to stories of injustice, struggle and determination.  Unlike in the pages of a book, real life doesn't offer any guarantees of a happy ending.  Sometimes it seems as if it gets caught in the dark moment without ever moving on.

So I make myself keep putting down the words, despite the chorus in my head.  I remind myself that I know these feelings are a lie, that they have never told me the truth of any part of my life.  When the world feels too dark for romance, I concentrate on the darker aspects of my plots.  I remind myself that if I give myself time, I will feel better one day.  And that day will be sooner than I can imagine when I'm caught in the middle.  If it's really bad, I give myself permission to have a break from the grind and I take care of myself.  I'll even ask for help from my friends and family.  They remind me that it's worth it to keep trying and their belief in me counteracts the lack of faith I have in myself.

Even in my darkest moments, I believe in a world that can be better.  I believe people can and do change.  I believe that love has the power to inspire and transform.  And I believe that stories are a critical part of what drives the human race forward.  Those are the four corners that I use to support myself when I don't feel like I can do it any more.

I know I'm not alone out there.  J.K. Rowling used her depression to create the Dementors in Harry Potter.  Melanie Rawn openly acknowledged her hiatus from writing was due to her own bout of depression.  I hope that maybe by speaking out, I'll make it easier for someone else to speak out about their own struggles.  Meanwhile, I'll keep fighting my own battle and trying to work the alchemy to transform it into something meaningful.