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.