Thursday, 28 December 2017

2017 Ink Tips

For the last Ink Tip of 2017, I thought I would do a look back at all of the Ink Tips from this year.

1) Accepting Criticism and Edits

Writers tend to flip back and forth between two modes: feeling brilliant and feeling like a fraud.  This can get even worse during the editing process, which can bring up a lot of insecurities.  But a few simple questions can help to get an author through the worst of it and that ensures that their book gets the work they need.

2) Writing What You Don't Know

These days it's pretty easy for an author to step on someone's toes.  And the key to that is research.  There are three areas where imagination is not quite enough: creating the impossible, the learnable, and the researchable. 

3) Chasing the Shiny

I love exploring new ideas.  Sometimes when I should be working on finishing up the old one.  On the other side of the coin, I know authors who get bogged down in eternal editing.  So I put together suggestions for both groups on how to keep from getting trapped.

4) How to Say Goodbye

Sometimes, no matter how awesome a scene, or a phrase, or a character is, an author has to let them go.  So I put together my steps for letting go of what I love when it doesn't fit the story.

5) How to Sell at Conferences

As the digital landscape gets more and more crowded, conferences are becoming one of the best way to get an author's books in front of a new audience.  Yet most authors will readily admit that they don't make their money back at conferences.  But there are ways to increase your chances of making a sale.

6) Style and Voice

What is an author's voice?  It's hard to define but easy to recognize.  Take a random paragraph from your favourite authors and it'll be easy to pick out one from another even without the cues of identifying names or settings.

7) The Tyranny of Daily Writing

"Write every day or else you aren't a writer."  There are dozens of variations of this advice and while it's usually aimed at overcoming impostor syndrome or writer's block, the second half makes it a dangerous assumption.  There are all kinds of ways to be a writer and everyone has to find their own path.

8) Is "Show, Don't Tell" False Advice?

"Show, Don't Tell."  It's one of the first pieces of writing advice that we hear.  But it assumes a common experience that can exclude a wide range of minority experiences, creating a barrier to understanding.

9) A Look At Romance Tropes

Romance has a shorthand for describing books that can get confusing for the uninitiated.  So I put together a quick reference of the most common options.

10) Tortoise Victories: Writing Slow

These days all a prospective author hears is "publish, publish, publish" as a career path, but the truth is that writing slow can be just as effective, if you do it right.

I hope you enjoyed the posts.  I'll be starting up with new Ink Tips on January 25th and then the last Thursday of every month.  Happy New Year!

Monday, 25 December 2017

Weekly update: December 17 to 23

Weekly word count: 4450

Editing countdown: 18 of 45

Not a great writing week, but progress nonetheless.  I've tentatively titled book one of my new series Deadly Potential.  Since I'll be pitching it to the traditional publishers, they'll be the ones to decide on the final name, so I'm trying to not get too attached.

I'm also trying to remind myself that next week will not be productive and that's okay.  Because it's okay to concentrate on the holidays instead of working.

It's funny, no matter which project I'm working on, I want to just keep going with it, so it's jarring to switch back and forth between the editing and the writing.  However, I've learned not to push myself too much on either of them.  No more than 4 chapters a day for editing, or else I miss things.  And about 4000 words a day seems to be my limit for writing well.  Not that I get close to that on most days.

Happy Holidays everyone. 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Spirit of the Holidays - A Short Story

           “Aren’t you a little bit curious?” Chuck asked.  “No one would ever know if I had a look.”
            Curled up in bed with a warm quilt, Bernie ignored her friend’s whispers, watching the trees outside cast shadows on her bedroom window.  It didn’t feel like Christmas without snow but Mommy said it didn’t snow here, not even in the winter.  They had to make an adjustment.
            “Come on.  One tiny peek,” Chuck wheedled.
            Bernie rolled over to glare at him.  “I told you, I want it to be a surprise.”
            “Okay, don’t blow your wig.”  Chuck wavered, his body going translucent for a moment before solidifying again.  “But what if Shawna got you something stupid and educational?”
            “Mommy always makes sure I have good presents.  Even when I was in the hospital, she brought me my doll.”  Bernie hugged the rag doll close.  She didn’t like remembering the hospital, full of crazy people.  It smelled in there, sweaty and stinky, no matter how much they cleaned the rooms.  They were mean, insisting that Chuck was a figment of her imagination.  Now Mommy and Shawna understood and Bernie didn’t have to take the horrible medicine that made her head hurt and her tummy want to throw up.
            Her bedroom door opened and Mommy came in.  “Hey, Bernie-pie.  What are you still doing up?”
            “Chuck is being difficult.  He won’t let me sleep.”  Bernie sat up in bed.
            “I see.”  Her mother sat down on the bed and ran her cool fingers through Bernie’s tangled hair.
            “I’m not being difficult!”  Chuck shouted.
            “Are too!”  Bernie shouted back.
            “Hey now.  It sounds like you two are having a fight.  What’s wrong?”  Mommy tucked Bernie underneath one arm.  She was getting too big for cuddles, but it still felt good sometimes.
            “He wants to look at my presents,” Bernie muttered.
            “Chuck, that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that friends do.”
            Bernie giggled.  Mommy was talking to the empty air by the dresser instead of to Chuck, who squatted near the window.  He was making faces at her, twisting his mouth with his fingers and sticking out his tongue.
            Mommy looked down at her, frowning.  Bernie abruptly stopped laughing.
            “We had a deal, Chuck.  No more telling Bernie to do bad things and getting her into trouble.”  Mommy lectured the dresser again.
            “It’s not fair.  I just wanted to have a look.”
            Bernie told her mother what Chuck had said, adding.  “But he didn’t listen when I said no.”
            “I see.  Can you ask Chuck to come here?” 
            “He can hear you, Mommy.”  Bernie waited until Chuck moved closer.  “He’s beside the bed, near my pillow.”
            This time Mommy looked in the right direction.  “All right.  Here’s what I think is happening.  It’s been a long time since you had a Christmas, isn’t it, Chuck?”
            He nodded sullenly.  He’d been dead for a long time.  Bernie couldn’t quite remember how long, but he remembered still seeing horses on the street instead of cars.
            “I bet you miss your family at this time of year,” her mother continued.
            Chuck crossed his arms and pouted.  Bernie looked up at her mother.  “But his family was mean to him.  They left him all alone.”
            “Even when family doesn’t understand and even when they hurt us, we still miss them, Bernie-pie.  Our hearts don’t shut off that easily.”  Her mother’s hug wrapped around her.  “But Chuck is forgetting that he’s not all alone.”
            “I’m not?”
            “He’s not?”
            Mommy laughed, a light chuckle that Bernie hadn’t heard since she first started talking to Chuck.  “There are the families we’re born into and then there are the families we find.  Chuck is part of our family now.  Which is why there’s a special present waiting downstairs for him to open in the morning.”
            “There is?”  Chuck started to flicker as if he was going to go peek.
            “Stay here.  You have to wait until morning.  That’s the family rules,” Bernie scolded.
            “She’s right, Chuck.”  Mommy smiled.  “And the other part of the family rules is taking care of each other.  So you need to let Bernie get a good night’s sleep.”
            Chuck went solid again.  “Tell her I will.”
            Bernie passed on the message.
            “Thank you, Chuck.  I knew I could count on you.”  Mommy smiled again and blew a kiss at Chuck.  He smiled back, his big mouth stretching even wider.
            “Get some rest so that you’re both ready for Christmas morning.”  Mommy tucked Bernie in and gave her a kiss.  “Sweet dreams.”
            After Mommy closed the door, Bernie let her sleepy eyes roll shut.
            “Bernie?” Chuck whispered.
            “What?”  Bernie yawned.
            “Do you really think I’m family?”
            “Of course you are.  You’re like my big brother.  You’re annoying and sometimes we fight, but I still love you and I’d miss you if you were gone.”  Bernie kept her eyes firmly closed and her hands tucked under the covers.
            “I had a big brother.”  Chuck’s voice grew closer and clearer.  He was always easier to understand when he calmed down.  “He worked at the clip joint down the street.  He used to hum these jazz songs and Ma would get mad, sayin’ it was disrespectful devil music.”
            Slumber plucked at Bernie with heavy fingers, lulling her mind into quiet.
            “They didn’t wait for me.”
            Bernie’s eyes popped open.  Chuck sat at the end of her bed, staring toward the window.  She sat up.  “What?”
            He turned to face her, his eyes dark hollows in his face.  “After the fire, they didn’t wait for me.  Ma and Pa moved to San Francisco and Billy got married with some kids.  When they died, they didn’t come find me.”
            She didn’t know what to say.  When the bad people took her last year, it had been super scary and she’d been all alone.  But Mommy and the others had kept looking and they’d found her.  Daddy never tried to find you.  He just left.  Even before all the really bad stuff, he’d left.
            “Would you wait for me?” Chuck asked.
            That was a question she knew the answer to.  “Sure.  That’s what families do.”
            “I knew I could count on you, Bernie.”  He smiled and patted her shoulder, his hand passing right through and leaving cold tingles behind.  “Your mom’s right.  You should sleep.  Tomorrow’s gonna be a big day.”
            Car lights flashed across the ceiling and both of them froze.  Chuck vanished and Bernie reached down to grab her backpack beside the bed.  Before she could pick it up, he reappeared.
            “Just a cab dropping off one of the neighbors.”
            Her chest puffed and deflated in a big sigh.  Having to run in the middle of the night sucked.  And if they had to do it tonight, she’d have to leave all of her Christmas stuff behind.  Then there wouldn’t be presents, or cookies for breakfast.  Shawna wouldn’t sing her French songs and let them sneak butter tarts before dinner.  And Mommy would stop laughing.
            “Hey, don’t worry there, Bernie.  I’ll keep watch and make sure nobody gets a drop on us.”  He flickered from the bed to the window, staring out past the tree to the street below.
            Bernie curled up under her covers and stared at him, a thin boy with too short pants and suspenders.  In the moonlight, he looked as if he were made of glass.  She could see through him but he also caught the light around the edges.  He wouldn’t need to sleep or go to the bathroom.  He’d stay there until morning, making sure they were safe.  A big yawn crawled out between her lips and she closed her eyes, suddenly too exhausted to do more than whisper.  “Thanks, Chuck.”

            “Don’t worry about it, Bernie.  It’s what families do.”

This story takes place between Metamorphosis and Inquisition, but you can enjoy another of Bernie's adventures in Rose on the Grave.  Join me for Martha's story in Judgment, coming in 2018.  Sign up for my newsletter and you'll be the first to see the new cover and know when Judgment will be released.

Fool Me Once: The Importance of Reader Expectations

Let's start with a tale of two series and the important of audience expectations.  (Fair warning: this will contain spoilers for Battlestar Galactica and Outlander.)

Back in 2004, I eagerly sat down to watch the new Battlestar Galactica series.  I'd had mixed feelings about the miniseries which had premiered the previous year.  While I enjoyed the fast-paced plot of the desperate escape of humanity from the genocidal Cylons, there were some very dark points in the story, like a Cylon murdering an infant and having to abandon families in their escape.  But overall, I liked it.

Then I saw the first episode, 33, which I still think is one of the most brilliant episodes of television ever written.  Set after days of constant attacks every 33 minutes, it gets right to the heartstrings of exhaustion, persecution, and their effect on people.  It's a powerful story that draws the audience in and makes them live it along with the characters.

The first two seasons matched that first episode, for the most part.  They made the audience think and question their assumptions and understanding, the characters felt real and three-dimensional and the audience cared about their hopes, pain, and fears.  The Cylons weren't a monolithic villain, they had reason and purpose behind their actions.

It was great and if it had been cancelled then, I would have howled to the skies about the greedy networks and their inability to understand brilliant speculative fiction.

But then the third and fourth season happened.  And they were dark, going to a place of hopelessness and futility.  And they didn't make sense, something that was confirmed when a DVD commentary revealed that the writers chose their storylines based on "what would be the most surprising to the audience."  The creator, Ronald D. Moore became angry with the backlash from fans, complaining that he didn't understand why people were expecting a master-arc.

But it was a very simple answer.  We expected a master-arc to be running through the series because every single episodes started with this information in the opening credits: "The Cylons were created by Man.  They evolved.  They rebelled.  There are many copies.  And they have a plan."

It was downright chilling watching each sentence flash up on screen.  It made the Cylons seem incredibly organized and dangerous.  But it turned out to be a false premise, because the writers didn't yet know what the Cylon's plan was.

Learning that there was no plan, no grand design, nothing except incomprehensible twists and turns, that was crushing to me as the audience.  And it made me determined not to watch anything more written by Ron Moore, since he didn't appear to have any regrets about that and seemed to blame the audience instead of his own writing and plotting.

Then came 2014 and a new Ron Moore series, Outlander.  I was conflicted again.  People were telling me that it was great, a dramatic romance for the ages.  I was intrigued by the concept where a woman from the forties goes back to the 1700s.  I thought it was interesting, given that time travel almost always involves one end being the contemporary future.  But I also had people warning me that it was dark, with lots of threats of rape and murder.  And, of course, there was a bleak outlook for the characters, given the mass slaughter at Culloden only two years into their future.  And it was written by Ron Moore, who had disappointed me so badly before.

Eventually I agreed to give it a shot, trying to take some comfort in the knowledge that the series is based on books by Diana Gabaldon and surely she is capable of satisfactorily wrapping up a plot.  I found it dark, just as advertised, and had to give credit where credit is due.  Ron Moore knows how to draw the audience into the characters' despair.  I adored the character of Jamie and while I had some challenges with Claire, it was intriguing enough to keep me watching through the first season.  

But now I'm finished the first season and I find myself reluctant to continue to the second.  Because I'm waiting for that shoe to drop and all of the enjoyment I felt to disappear into sour disappointment of unfilled potential.

That is the danger of failing the audience, because disappointment will sting and linger a lot longer than any success.  While it is important for a writer to surprise the audience, such a surprise should always make them go "Oh?  Oh!" and want to flip back to the start or begin watching again so that they can see how neatly the pieces all fit together.  It should not, under any circumstances, make them go "Huh?" and be able to walk away from the story because it doesn't make any sense.

To me, that kind of approach shows an inherent disrespect to the audience.  It's the clickbait of plot devices, not caring if the audience is satisfied as long as they've provided income for the writer.  I've heard advice to authors to always shock and surprise so that the audience is tempted into the next click: to watch or to buy.

But that advice can and does backfire.  It might give some short term boosts but it carries a very long term penalty.  Because no matter how much you tempt the audience, they will not return after they've been burned.  Fool us once, shame on you.  There won't be a chance to fool us twice.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Weekly Update: December 10 to 16

Weekly word count: 9622

The first completed draft is done.  The content and line edits are scheduled and we are off to the races to get Judgment out before Ad Astra 2018.

I'm going to be trying something a little different than I normally would at this stage.  While I work on the edits for Judgment, I'm also going to try and make progress on my manuscript for RWA (and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming ORWA brainstorming workshop in January because I'm hoping I can get some title assistance).

I'm also going to be working on getting my first three novels out of KDP and into broad distribution.  It's going to be a lot but come this summer, I should be in much better position in terms of my writing career.

It's going to be an incredibly busy five months.  (Or realistically seven months since I'll have to get the RWA manuscript ready to go by July 1st.)

I'll post my editing process daily, which should help keep me on track.  And we'll see how much new writing I get to do.  But I'm excited to see it coming together.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Heroine Fix: The Strong Sisterhood in Practical Magic

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters that I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: This article will contain spoilers.)

Practical Magic is one of my favourite films and romantic comedies but I'll confess that it's been a few years since I watched it.  As I settled down with my notebook and popcorn and watched the scenes unfold, something new struck me: the strong presence of women in this movie.  It passes the Bechdel test with flying colours and extra credit.  From the Puritan women condemning great-aunt Maria to the delightfully eccentric aunts to the modern women of this small town to Sally's little girls, the film positively drips in estrogen.  And although it is a romance, the main relationship in the movie isn't about Sally and her man, it's about Sally Owens and her sister, Gillian (played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman respectively).

Just another Thursday night at the Owens' place.
The two of them have a great dynamic.  Sally is the one with the stronger powers, but also the one who feels the town's rejection most keenly.  She longs to be accepted and to fit in, rather than be a target for people's fears and insecurities.  And yet, for all that, she doesn't deny her powers, using them to remote-stir her drinks and light candles with a single breath.  But she does blame her family's magic for the death of her father and her first beloved husband, both victims of a curse passed down from Great-Aunt Maria that brings an early grave to any man who dares to love an Owens woman.

Gillian, on the other hand, takes the position that if the town is going to reject and fear her, then she's happy to reject the town and leave it in her dust.  She travels the country, fearless but also unattached.  She meets a self-described vampire-cowboy whose intensity quickly turns abusive and deadly.  But when he hits her, Gillian calls her sister, who immediately comes to the rescue.

That's the dynamic which really struck me as I watched.  How the women of the Owens family (and ultimately the whole town) stick together and help each other.  Aunt Frances and Aunt Jet cast a spell to cause Sally to fall in love with her first husband because they want her to be happy.  When he dies, they are as heart-broken as she is.  Gillian comes via a psychic journey to spend the night talking to her sister to help her get out of bed.

There is nothing these sisters won't do to help each other, from driving cross country to raising a corpse to admitting to being a witch in order to save Gillian from ghostly possession.  And it's not all bad times either.  The grand old Owens home is full of laughter, magic, and Midnight Margaritas.  None of the women are perfect and they all get on one another's nerves, but their bond is unbreakable.  Maybe it's because of their social isolation, but I think it's a fair depiction of how women's friendships can become so much stronger and more powerful than their male counterparts.  Men might be able to become a Band of Brothers in times of war, but women can always find their Circle of Sisters.

Sally does fall in love with the handsome law-man who comes to investigate the disappearance and death of Gillian's former paramour.  But he doesn't appear until almost halfway through the movie and his presence is tangential to the real stories: dealing with the dead boyfriend's body and ghost; and facing the women of the town who might not think the boyfriend was murdered but that "maybe they shook his hand and then he died.  It's all very mysterious."

Like many writers, I know I can be guilty of putting my heroines in a male-dominated world.  It's what we see and read most often.  This movie reminded me of how powerful those female relationships truly are but also about how difficult they can be to portray.  Because the truth is that women who stand together are stronger and have less to fear from the world in general.  Like the arches supporting the Coliseum, the Circle of Sisters protects and distributes the pressure, preventing it from crushing any one member.  Watching Sally and Gillian, I'm making a promise to myself to do better on that score.

In the end, Sally passes on her accumulated wisdom: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder.  Keep rosemary by your garden gate.  Plant lavender for luck.  And fall in love whenever you can.

Because falling in love isn't so scary when you have your sisters there to catch you.

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like I am?  You can sign up for my Heroine Fix newsletter and then you'll never miss your next Heroine Fix.

Next month I'm going to be looking at a series that I enjoyed but I have to say that I felt some deep conflicts about the concept: Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.  A technology is created to erase the mind and create any personality the client wants inside the living doll's body.  Is there any way that such a concept could create a strong and interesting heroine to inspire us?  Join me next month to find out.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Weekly Update: December 3 to 9

Weekly word count: 6954

So, as those who have been following the graphs may have noticed, my first post NaNo week was not quite the same writing success as the previous ones.  Although I wrote close to 7000 words, I only made about 3000 words of progress on Judgment.

The challenge was twofold.  First, I am writing the climatic ending but as I got started, I realized that the wonderful, dramatic ending I had inside my head from the very beginning was not working out.  

That was a confidence collapser.  You'd think I'd be used to it because I tend to go through the same thing as I'm finishing up each story.  Every author has a Black Moment in the writing process when he or she is convinced that what they've written is absolute crap.  For me, that's at the end.

The second part was more personal.  I am part of several private groups and one was getting quite heated about something which a member had posted.  I know the member and know that she has a tendency to be somewhat socially awkward and doesn't express herself well.  So I suggested taking a pause from the increasingly angry posts and asking her to clarify what she meant by the comment.  I ended up facing the brunt of the anger and some very vicious attacks on my character, parenting skills and career.  Very "if you're not with us then you're against us" kind of mentality.

So here's the thing.  I will not ever be a supporter of a lynch mob, be it on line or in person.  I believe that people have the right to make mistakes without being attacked.  That doesn't mean they don't face consequences for their words or actions, but it does mean that it's important to keep dialogue open and try to keep anger out of it.  Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I don't believe that most people are actively and deliberately evil or hateful, and that given an opportunity to be heard and be educated, then they can learn to improve.  Anger is effectively preaching to the choir, its a way to build up reactions in those who already feel much the same as the first person does.  Change comes when anger is set aside because that's the only way to convince others to join your point of view.

And before I spark a new wave of outrage, I do believe there is a place for anger.  There are things happening in the world which we should be angry about.  Anger is the emotional signal that something is wrong, and so we should pay attention to it.  But it also shuts down people's ability to listen and listening is critical to solving the problems.

I've quit the group.  I'd stayed because I thought of the people on it as my friends, although I'd found it was getting increasingly judgmental instead of helpful.  But having gone through that kind of attack, I now know they are not my friends and I don't need that kind of vitriol.

I'm not going into details both to protect the privacy of those involved and because they're really irrelevant.  It's possible to be both completely right and justified in one's point of view and also be inappropriate and wrong in how it is expressed.

On the writing side, I think I know why the ending wasn't working and now I've got a clearer picture on how to handle it.  It's still going to be a good ending to a good story and contains most of the elements I wanted.

I've got one week left before deadline.  Hopefully next week's post is that the draft is done, the editor has been contacted and things are moving forward.  Wish me luck. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Look for the Heroes

Yesterday was the anniversary for two pretty horrific events: the Halifax Explosion and the Ecole Polytechnique shooting.  Both of these events played strong roles in shaping my worldview.  

Not being a vampire or other immortal creature, I wasn't alive for the actual explosion but a fair part of my childhood was spent growing up in the Maritimes.  I remember being taken to a park and shown a massive chunk of iron that was a part of an anchor which was flung over two miles from the harbour by the force of the explosion.  I remember being told that 2000 people died and 9000 were injured, which was one fifth of the population.  The city was devastated, with two square kilometres of the city destroyed.

Then, in 1989, an armed man went into Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and shot 14 women out of a deranged sense of entitlement.  Women were taking his place at the school, weren't dating him, and had a future where he didn't.  So he walked into a classroom with a loaded weapon, separated the male and female students and proceeded to execute the women.

The explosion was the first man-made disaster I became aware of.  One ship failed to respect the harbour protocol (because they were in a hurry, because they were tired, it's not clear) and that one decision cost thousands of people their lives and health.  There was no action of theirs which contributed to their deaths or injuries and they had little to no warning that it was about to happen.  The shooting was the first time I became aware that there are people in the modern world for whom gender or skin colour or some other inherent trait is enough to earn a death sentence.  That violence can never be entirely prevented and those who use it indiscriminately can strike without apparent warning.

Both of these events shaped my view of a world which can't be entirely trusted not to drop the other shoe out from under me.  They made me aware of how prejudice, hatred and contempt can become a deadly combination and that the only defense is to speak out against it and advocate for protections and understanding.  They taught me that there are dangerous people out there, either with intent or through carelessness, and they cannot be identified as easily as the bad guys in my Saturday morning cartoons.

But they also taught me another important lesson.  To look for the heroes (or as Mr. Rogers put it "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping").

In Halifax, telegraph dispatcher Vince Coleman stayed at his post to warn an incoming train away from the impending disaster, saving lives.  Firefighters rushed to the pier to try and put out the flames before the ship could explode, with 5 of the 6 man crew dying in the explosion.  In Montreal, Nathalie Provost confronted the gunman, trying to reason with him and ended up being shot four times, but surviving.  She not only completed her degree but encouraged other women to stay in the program and not be afraid.  Alain Perreault and Heidi Rathjen, both present during the shooting, launched a gun control petition to prevent such attacks from happening again in Canada.

These are only a few examples.  Countless other stories exist, of those who helped others to hide from the shooter, locking doors to keep him from attacking, of those who tried to evacuate children and civilians.  And the outpouring of grief and support from those who were not present, but who stepped up to support survivors.

The darkness in the world is real and cannot be denied.  Neither of these events were natural, they were the result of decisions which meant they could have been stopped or avoided.  But when they happened, there were those who stepped up and became more than expected, when those around them weren't sure what to do.  And no matter the horror, the heroes outnumber those who sought to bring darkness and they keep working long after the monsters have been slain or have given up.

Not everyone is a hero and that's okay.  There were plenty of people who went through both disasters numbly focused on their own survival or in disbelief that such events could be happening to them.  That's a very human reaction.

It's also human to look at both the numb masses and the monsters and feel overwhelmed.  As if the world is a terrible and sick place.  It's hard to argue against it, especially lately where prejudice and violence are once more openly hand in hand.

But I would also hope that we can remember the heroes.  Because no matter how bad it gets, there will always be those bringing light to banish the dark.  They deserve equal time in our memories and awareness.  And maybe they can inspire us all to be a little more heroic in our day to day lives, conquering the smaller day to day blemishes before they can grow.

Maybe it's because I'm a romance reader and writer, but no matter how dark things get, I will always cling tight to hope and my faith in both heroes and happy endings.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Weekly Update: November 26 to December 2

  Weekly word count: 10 934

My big achievement this week was completing my 50 000 word count for NaNoWriMo.  It was difficult and I really pushed myself harder than I probably should have, but it's gotten me within spitting distance of completing Judgment and made it possible to have it ready before Ad Astra in May.

And the other big highlight of the week was this month's ORWA meeting with an explosives expert from the Ottawa Police.  He had some great details about how the Tactical Squad works, including real life examples like the shooting on Parliament Hill.

I've got another two weeks before my self-imposed deadline.  Which means another two weeks of late nights.  But I'm determined to get it done.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Ink Tip: Tortoise Victories: How to Win While Writing Slow

We've all heard the story about the fast, but lazy rabbit and the steadfast and trusty tortoise.  It's one of those great early childhood morality tales about finishing what you start and not being overconfident.  But in the publishing world, it seems that it's the hares who always win and tortoises are encouraged to invest in some jet-packs to keep up with the pace.

Ready for a word sprint?
Last month, Susanna Kearsley came to speak with ORWA about how to weave multiple-story lines into a single novel.  That was fascinating, but what really connected with me was when she talked about writing slow.

She shared that she is not a fast writer.  It usually takes two years for her to publish her next book and she usually only writes a page or two at a time.  But she is still a bestseller, proving that the publish, publish, publish strategy is not the only route to success.

There are so many messages and articles out there about how to write faster.  New authors are confronted with expectations of publishing three or more books each year, sometimes as many as one each month.  The message is: if you don't have something new out, you'll disappear into the void of constantly churning content and readers will forget about you in their search for something else.

But that's not necessarily true.

Yes, it may take longer.  After all, if an author is only putting out one book every year or two, then it takes much longer to set up a backlist that fans can discover.  No matter how brilliant a writer is, if there's only one or two books available, then that is all that fans can buy, even if they are super-enthusiastic.

And yes, it is important to stay visible.  Readers have their own lives and don't just sit breathlessly by the computer waiting for announcements that their favourite authors have released a new book.  It's important to try and keep yourself in their awareness, so that they remember that they loved your book and will be excited when the countdowns begin for the next one.  Regular social media and blog posts, attending events and sharing bits from your work in progress can all keep an author from disappearing.

There are ways to make that kind of online presence easier:

- Find something you're already excited about that can be tied into your book.  Are you great in the kitchen?  Maybe do a regular recipe connected with your stories.  Do you travel a lot?  Post photos and reviews of your adventures, emphasizing the parts that inspire you to keep writing.  We all have passions and those passions usually tie into our writing, so drawing in people who share those passions means a much larger crowd of potential readers who will learn about your next book.

- Get a posting routine.  I have two monthly blog features (Ink Tip and Heroine Fix) as well as my weekly writing update.  That leaves me two blog posts each month that can be spontaneous or reflective of what's going on in my life and the world, which I find is a good balance for me.  For social media, I participate in #1LineWednesday, sharing a quote card from my previous books and a line from my work in progress.  I also share a quote about either writing or reading each Monday, a romance-inspiring song lyric on Tuesdays, and a quote about characters, superheroes, or different genres each Friday.  There's also a floater post each week, where I post a picture of a hot hero in connection to various Internet holidays (like Tell A Fairy Tale Day, February 26).  I call that one my Hero Worship post.  I still tweet and facebook about my life and my thoughts on a spontaneous basis, but these regular postings cover me when I'm swamped or uninspired or otherwise not in a social media mood.

- Schedule your social media and blog posts in advance.  Its a lot of work coming up with posts, so blocking out some time on a weekly or monthly basis makes sense.  There are plenty of programs that let you schedule things in advance (I use Hootsuite) so I can take an hour or two once a month to schedule my Hero Worship and #1LineWednesday quotes, and about a half hour each week to schedule my quotes and lyrics.

- Pictures can be good branding tools.  Humans are visual and we're far more likely to take in a picture while scrolling (thus prompting us to stop) than we are to read text.  By finding an image which you can use to mark your different kinds of posts, you can create a visual shorthand, making it easier for readers to catch the posts they're interested in.  And if you can't create a shorthand, then a picture still makes it far more likely for your post to be noticed.

The real caveat behind all publishing advice is that readers don't like being disappointed.  So if you're a slow writer, then be honest about that.  Forcing the writing process into a breakneck pace can lead to trite and repetitive stories, which readers will quickly saturate on and move on from.  Be honest about your expected deadlines (whether self- or editor-imposed) and if there are life delays, be honest about those, too.

Some writers can produce a book that readers love in an incredibly short period of time.  Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were both written in what amounts to a weekend writing blitz, according to their respective author's memoirs.  I'm in awe of authors who can produce 70 000 to 100 000 words each month, allowing them to put out well-edited and exciting books every two to three months.

Until Ms. Kearsley's lecture, I was harbouring a growing doubt about whether or not I would ever truly be able to succeed.  I am a fast writer, but I have very limited time in my life for when I can write, which makes me a slow writer in reality.  She was a welcome reminder that there are all kinds of paths which lead to being able to call oneself a successful author.  It's a matter of stubbornly sticking to it, even in the times that we doubt ourselves and our talent.  The lesson of the tortoise and the hare isn't about their relative speeds, it's about who never gives up.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Weekly Update: November 19 to 25

 Weekly word count: 14 122

With only a few days left to go in NaNoWriMo, I'm feeling pretty good about my progress.  If I can keep up this kind of pace, then I think I've got a good chance at being able to get my companion series manuscript ready to pitch for July.  (I also really need to figure out a title for it.)

As you can see, I was struggling with writing on Wednesday and Thursday.  I've been fighting a nasty cold and decided to get some sleep rather than pushing myself to stay up late.  It was a difficult decision for me.  I was fighting some depression and was thinking that if I didn't stay up to write, there was no way that I could achieve my NaNo goal.  But I was also falling asleep at my keyboard, so I decided to choose my health.

The next day I was in a more reasonable frame of mind.  And the extra sleep helped my creativity so that I was able to write more than I think I would have been able to if I'd pushed myself.  Lesson learned.

I took a look at my outline and decided to up the estimated final word total to 125 000.  I'm almost at 100 000 words and there's between six and eight chapters left to go.  

I've had to be careful not to conflate finishing NaNo with finishing the novel.  There's probably another 10 to 15k which will have to be written after I reach my 50 000.  So I'm going to hold off booking my edits until I have the draft complete.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can get book 4 out and on the market before the spring conferences begin in May.

I've also started to look at what needs to happen after I get this draft done.  I need to get the second editions of the first three books ready (the only changes are to the front and back matter and changes to the tag lines for the covers) and then get them into wide distribution.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

My First Experience With NaNoWriMo

We're coming to the end of NaNoWriMo and I wanted to take some time to talk about my experience with it so far.  This is my first time participating, since I'm usually doing editing in October, November and December, and it's been a pleasant experience so far.

I was surprised to discover how effective it was to be able to enter my word count for each day.  It motivated me more than I expected, to the point that I decided to continue it with a daily graph which will appear on each weekly update and an overall progress graph to stay up on the blog.  The visual graph of total word count really kept me moving, although I wasn't a fan of the goal line (especially since I didn't get over it very often).  Even if I had a really good writing day, it was discouraging to see that I still hadn't made it over the official goal line.

I found the community to be very supportive with a lot of encouragement.  I wasn't in a position to do any of the local events here in Ottawa, but the online group was always ready with some virtual applause.  The website was confusing and non-intuitive but I gradually figured out how to add writing buddies and enter my daily counts.  

My biggest concerns were from people who were boasting that they were going to take their NaNoWriMo project and immediately publish it on Amazon as of December 1st.  Now, I'm a self-published author, so I don't have a problem with self-publishing, but it took me aback to see people who didn't think they needed an editor or even a second draft.  Some of the stories had some great ideas and those boasting were articulate and well-spoken, but there are too many first drafts clouding the waters.  I've tried gently pointing out that even brilliant bestsellers need more than one draft and editorial support, but I'm not sure how well my cautions were received.  

The hardest part has been writing every single day.  I've got a lot going on in my life and it's just not sustainable for me to find time every day.  I've ended up doing a lot of writing between 10pm and midnight, which ends up being hard when I have to get up six hours later.  But, on the positive side, it's also shown me where I can expand my writing hours, which should help in the future.

I've definitely learned a lot about my writing process and what motivates me, and for that I count it as an invaluable experience.  Will I do it again?  If November 2018 rolls around and I'm not in edits, most definitely.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Weekly Update: November 12 to 18

Weekly word count: 9200

Another good week, although I'm looking at my overall total for NaNoWriMo and thinking I'm probably not going to reach 50 000 words by November 30th.

But that's okay.  I think I've got a good shot at having the draft of Judgment ready for December 15th, which will let me start the ball rolling on editing.

Then comes the next round of projects: getting my books available on wide distribution (which is admittedly making me nervous) and working on my manuscript for book one of the companion series, which still needs a title.  Coming up with titles is always a challenge for me but luckily I've got a bunch of friends who are happy to title-storm with me.

On the plus side, there is a chance that I might not having to be writing on the night shift for much longer.  I've got a meeting with my day-job boss on Monday to talk about me going back to my usual hours, which would give me writing time in the afternoon again.

Hopefully I can keep up the pacing once November is over.  If I can do between 8000 and 10,000 words per week, then that will really help with my productivity.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Using Sexual Assault As Threat Or Background

Two weeks ago, I was writing a scene where one of my bad guys threatens my heroine and I had to decide what kind of threat he was going to use.  He's in a position of authority, so he could threaten her job.  He could threaten her physical safety.  He could threaten to tell her secrets.  Or he could threaten her with sexual assault.

This brought up a mental debate which has long been raging in my head.  On the one hand, sexual assault is a very common threat which women face, as the #MeToo campaign illustrated so distressingly.  Even if a woman hasn't faced it directly, the fear of assault is omnipresent.

On the other hand, I feel that sometimes sexual assault is used too often as a lazy story-telling technique.  It's tossed out without much thought and with minimal impact on the story beyond the moment.  This bothers me even more when I consider that mentioning the assault in the story can trigger those who have survived assault.

Personally, I don't like to casually use sexual assault as a plot device or character background.  I used it for Dani in Revelations, but it was a major part of who she was and why she had trouble accepting her connection to the Huntress.  I very deliberately did not use it for either Lily or Cali, because I didn't want it to become trite.

Using it for Martha in Judgment makes sense.  I took a long time to weigh the options and explore possibilities and this feels like the right choice.  Because assault does happen and bullies use the threat of it, knowing how hard it hits home and how much fear it can create.  

However, I still feel that too many writers use it as a default.  I've been recently hooked on Outlander, but in watching it, I'm struck by how often the heroine is threatened by rape.  It's as if every male character is lusting after her and doesn't care about her consent or preferences.  As a mother of sons and friend to many folk of the Y chromosome persuasion, I find that insulting on their behalf.  Men are not rapists by default, they're not even predators by default.  To imply otherwise is to reinforce the "all men are bad, so women have to be careful" fallacy that is part of rape-culture expectations.

There is one character who has threatened an assault in my story.  My heroine is not under constant bombardment and needing a strong man to protect her from the others.  In Revelations, it is a different story as part of Dani's character development was dealing with a mystical allure which drew the worst of humanity to her and destroyed their self-control.  But even then, not every man was after her.  It was a minority.

Don't get me wrong, that minority does a lot of harm, far out of proportion to the simple numbers.  But it's important to never forget that they are a minority, that they can be identified, stood up to, and stopped.  The rest of us should not have to live under constant fear.

When I began studying martial arts, my sensei told me something which has always stuck with me: 

If someone puts their hands on you without your permission, then you can assume that they are planning to kill you and react accordingly.  You don't need to wait for them to hurt you.  You don't need to wait for them to prove themselves.  You are within your rights to defend yourself as you see fit.

Now, he also taught us ways to escape, disable and prevent, but if it came to the ultimate threat, he wanted his pupils to not be the ones who ended up in a hospital or morgue.

As I watch the accusations roll in, followed by backlashes of predators claiming that they were only joking, I find myself wondering how many of them would be willing to grope and grab if they knew that one action would eliminate all of their rights.  Would it be worth it if they knew that squeeze or fondle would open the door to physical pain?  If the judges and police of this world stepped back and said "He was asking for it."

As writers, I feel we have the responsibility to be aware of how the stories we tell impact society.  We can choose to reinforce the expectations or we can choose to expand them.  We can educate and inspire changes.  So to all my fellow NaNoWriMo people out there, I'd urge you to take a moment to think before using sexual assault in your stories.  Decide if that is really the story you want to tell, and if it is, make sure that it's told well.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Weekly Update: November 5 to 11

(First off, apologies to all of those who were looking for this on Monday.  I hadn't realized it hadn't gone up since I put the wrong date on the scheduled post.)

Weekly word count: (checking NaNoWriMo site): 9 313

Whew!  That's way better than I've been doing.  So a few things are clearly working for me:

1) Staying up late to write rather than trying to do it in the afternoon and early evening while I am also trying to keep an eye on the kids.

2) Using the weekend for writing blitzes instead of blogging or tweet-boarding or other writing business.

3) Getting to enter a daily word count and watching the overall progress on a graphic.

The staying up late has been a problematic success.  I'm getting less sleep, which is taking a toll on both my alertness and productivity, but on those days when I've skipped writing, I find I still have a hard time falling asleep and I feel frustrated and irritable.  So there's no real win either way.  Ideally, I'd like to have my early afternoons available for writing again (or heck, the whole day while the kids are at school) but that's not a reality right now and I'm not going to put myself on hold until it is.

I've started using the post-school to kids' bedtime hours to do my blogging, planning my tweets and managing the business of writing.  Again, not ideal, but I find it easier to divide my attention between those tasks and parenting than I do when I try to be creative and parent at the same time.

I wouldn't have though the graphic would be such a motivator.  After all, I've always included my weekly word count in these posts and I hate when I have to report a 0 week.  But getting to enter information every day is proving to be a good counter to my bouts of mental inertia.  I think I'd have to be careful about it, since I'm already finding that the projected "here's where you need to be" total is a dragging discouragement.  But it would be great to have a similar graphic on my own site that I could see on a regular basis.