Mar 27, 2014

Me Again

Last year was a rough year on me, emotionally. I was under a lot of stress and had some ups and downs. Sometimes it felt like there were more downs than ups. I don't think I'd realised until last night just how much everything that I'd been through last year really affected me, and I was carrying some of that weight into 2014.

Last night I had a bit of a breakthrough. I won't go into the details, because a lot of what's been on my mind really isn't mine to tell. Suffice to say, I feel, for the first time in a long time, truly like myself again. I'm back, and I'm going to kick this year's ass.

Mar 25, 2014

Lady Raven is Underway

While I work through my edits for Final Hope, all sorts of stuff is happening with Lady Raven.

My editor started reading the book yesterday, and last night I had a meeting with the photographer and model for the book covers. Well, I say meeting. In our house what counts as a meeting is tea, curry, and music videos.

We've got the core ideas laid down for how the books are going to look. We'll be preparing the covers for all four books at the same time, since I know how the overall story is going to go, and it saves time and work in the long run. I'm really excited to have such amazing and talented people to work with.

As it happens, there are a fair few people interested to help out with artwork and layouts, so we can make the books look as professional as possible. This is a key thing in self-publishing, I've learned. If you skimp on how your book looks, or fail to take into account that the cover needs to stand out on a small image on an online store, or that you also need the back and spine to look good if you intend to release a print version, your book won't be able to compete as well against the hundreds of thousands of other books out there.

What I'm really looking forward to is engaging with Dublin's thriving steampunk community. We plan to arrange a promo to go along with one of the awesome steampunk events in the city throughout the year. It's just a matter of getting more work done so we can put together a timeframe.

It's all feeling very real.

Mar 20, 2014

Interview with Paula Martin

Hi everyone! We've got a special post today. To help celebrate the release of her latest novel, Irish Inheritance, I'm interviewing romance author Paula Martin, to find out more about her work:

1: What attracted you to setting your latest novel in Ireland?

The easy answer to this is that I love Ireland! Until about 7 years ago, I’d only visited Ireland twice – a day trip to Dublin (from the Isle of Man) when I was in my teens, and a flying visit to Belfast to speak at a conference there about eighteen years ago. In 2007, a friend and I decided to spend a few days in Galway, and since then then I’ve visited your beautiful island ten times, but still haven’t see it all. I love the scenery, especially the mountain areas and the rugged west coast; I love the sense of history everywhere you go; and I love the friendliness of the people, when total strangers greet you with ‘Hallo there, how ye doin’?’ everywhere you go.

2: I note that neither your hero nor your heroine are from Ireland, themselves. I find that lends a sense of mystery to the setting, as both characters are outsiders. Is that what you were trying to achieve when you created them?

Yes. As a visitor to Ireland myself, it made more sense to have my main characters as non-natives. For one thing, it meant I could take them to some of the ‘tourist’ places that I’ve visited, such as the Cliffs of Moher and Glendalough Monastery. The other reason was that I needed them both to leave Ireland during the story, with one of them returning to England, the other to America. Of course, the long-distance created extra problems for them, and this wouldn’t have worked as well if both had been resident in Ireland.

3: You've written books set all over the world. How much research do you do to prepare yourself when starting a new manuscript?

I tend to do my research as and when I need it while I’m writing the story. I don’t create a detailed plot before I start (I’m very much a ‘pantser’) so I don’t always know what I’m going to need. It slows down the writing of the first draft, and even later drafts too, but it’s the way I’ve always worked. The only thing I may do before I start is refresh my mind about the location of the story, usually with the help of maps, photos, videos etc. I find Google street view invaluable because it means I can see where someone is driving or walking. I ‘drove’ through Clifden countless times when I was writing ‘Irish Inheritance!

4: What is your favourite place in Ireland?

Oh, how do I answer this one? There are so many places that have captured my imagination or made me catch my breath! The view of Killiney Bay from Sorrento Park in Dalkey, an amazing sunset over Galway Bay, the Atlantic waves crashing against the rocks along the coasts of County Mayo or Donegal,  the prehistoric forts and tombs on the Burren, the deserted ‘famine villages’, the timelessness of Claddagh Harbour – I could go on forever! It’s so hard to pick a favourite, but if pushed, I think I would have to say the stunning scenery of Connemara with vistas that change with every bend in the road - the peaks of the Twelve Bens, the green valleys, and the dozens of small streams and loughs. A truly beautiful area!

Thanks for stopping by, Paula. We wish you every success with this book!

Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.
She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Irish Inheritance:
English actress Jenna Sutton and American artist Guy Sinclair first meet when they jointly inherit a house on the west coast of Ireland. Curious about their unknown benefactress and why they are considered 'family', they discover surprising links to the original owners of the house.

They soon unravel an intriguing tale of a 19th century love affair. At the same time, their mutual attraction grows, despite personal reasons for not wanting romantic involvements at this point in their lives.
A local property agent appears to have her own agenda concerning the house while other events pull Jenna and Guy back to separate lives in London and America. Friction builds over their decision about the house and its contents.

Will their Irish inheritance eventually drive them apart – or bring them together?

You can learn more about Paula and her work at her website and her blog. Her books are available from Amazon.

Mar 13, 2014

Dead Parents and Other Tragedies

I was working on some ideas for using the Fate rpg system to run a superhero game, and I got to thinking about origins, and how characters often have tragic events that shape their lives.

Batman gets a hard time for how his entire character hinges on the death of his parents. It's often suggested that he should get over it, given the various things he's been through in comparison, or compared to Superman losing his entire planet. But I think this does his loss an injustice.

It's not what Batman lost. It's how he lost it.

Superman lost his planet. He's one of the last of his people. But consider his life and upbringing. He never knew Krypton. He had loving parents who taught him values and made him the man, the hero, he is.

Batman didn't just lose his parents. He watched, helpless, as a man shot them. He knelt in their blood as the life drained from their eyes, and had to wait until the police came to find him, which in Gotham was probably a long wait.

Imagine being 10 years old, watching the most important people in your life die, and then having to wait, alone in the cold and the dark, while and unfeeling city carried on around you. Now tell me that wouldn't change you.

That's what makes Batman who he is. That's what his loss means.

Take Locked Within (spoilers here!).

Nathan's dad dies. But consider what he takes from it. Mike Shepherd dies because he chooses to save his son, rather than get himself to a hospital. His final lesson to his son is that even when it might cost you your life, others come first. That moment shapes Nathan for the rest of the series.

It's an important thing to remember when writing. Loss doesn't exist simply for angst. It has to serve a purpose. It has to guide the hero in some way, help them grow and struggle through the pain into a stronger person.

As with all things, consider what every scene means and how it adds to the story and character development.

Mar 11, 2014

Edgy Comics

My friend, Ash, shared this picture on her Facebook.

There's not a lot I can add to make this statement more perfect than it already is. This is exactly my problem with the attitudes being shown in comic books.

SFF fandom exploded recently with the whole Jonathan Ross fiasco. One of the issues raised was that the community is currently struggling to shed the image of us all being a pack of mouth-breathing sleaze-balls who harass any woman that appears within a hundred yards. It's a serious problem, and it's our responsibility to show a different side to the community.

Just as it's the responsibility of those who create the things we enjoy to shed the impression that comics (or any form of entertainment associated with geek fandom) is a boys-only club, where female characters exist to be exploited and help us get our rocks off.

Mar 7, 2014

The Mess That is the 2014 Hugo Awards

I wasn't going to blog about this. It seems like everyone remotely associated with the SFF community has thrown their two cents in, and I didn't want to leap to conclusions.

But this is too important an event in an industry and fandom I care deeply about to not record my feelings, so I can look back years from now and say "Thoughts, I had them!"

On March 1st, Loncon (the 2014 Worldcon), announced over Twitter that Jonathan Ross had agreed to host the 2014 Hugo Awards. The background to this is that the co-chair of Loncon contacted Neil Gaiman and asked if he would invite Ross to host the awards. Being a huge SFF fan and comic creator, Ross agreed, and even waived his fee for such an appearance. Worth noting is that Farah Mendelsohn resigned from the Loncon committee as a result of the choice, and tweeted about it before the announcement was made. So it should have been clear to the Loncon chairs that Ross might be a controversial choice for a host, and that either they might want to consider an alternative, or at least prepare both him and themselves for some negative comments.

To say people reacted badly is something of an understatement. Tweets came in fast, criticizing Loncon for their decision and raising concerns about Ross' style of humour, as well as taking him to task for what he may say on the night. These fears were based on his past behaviour and propensity for using material that pokes fun at women.

In the end, Ross stepped down. His wife deleted her Twitter account. And the wrong people are being labelled as the "leaders of a bullying campaign" against their family.

The stories you'll read alternate between depicting SFF fandom as a bunch of self-absorbed children, too precious about their community to let people be involved if they don't count as a "real fan", bullying people off of Twitter, and others asking everyone involved to be a bit more level-headed and consider exactly what we say, pointing out the errors in the mainstream media placing blame in the wrong places, and generally being disheartened that this mess came about at all.

This Storify lists some of the more relevant tweets in chronological order.

I've been mulling over where exactly I stand in all this. Honestly, my opinion has shifted so often as I've learned new things, I'm not even entirely sure what the right opinion is at all.

I do know that Loncon, as an event, has taken some damage. They fucked up, let's be honest. They've admitted as much themselves. By not consulting the committee properly and listening to the dissent within their own ranks, they barged ahead to announce a celebrity host and I think ultimate responsibility for this whole depressing mess lies with them. Maybe if they'd made things clear to Ross that there's a hugely divisive split on matters relating to the treatment of women and minorities, he wouldn't have reacted so badly, or perhaps would not have accepted the invitation. Certainly, there was a lot more they could have done to address the concerns as they were raised. As it was, they remained mostly quiet, only clarifying that Ross is a SFF fan, and that he was volunteering his time.

Jonathan Ross has been a significant public figure for some time. He knows the entertainment industry, and he knows he's done things in the past that have created controversy. I believe that the more prominent a public figure, the more responsibility they have to carry themselves professionally when dealing with a prospective audience. Instead of engaging in conversation and addressing concerns, Ross became defensive, and chose to insult people, fanning the flames against him. He should know better.

Jane Goodman took Seanan Maguire to task for ignoring her daughter. What's overlooked in the media is that Maguire apologised for missing the tweets directed at her, and engaged in civil discussion about the issues at hand. While she had a very emotional response to Loncon's announcement, she handled criticism against her professionally and unfortunately the fact that their disagreement ended on good terms, it has been completely overlooked in the media. The fact that Jane Goodman has since deactivated her Twitter account has only made this look worse.

You know, I understand that it's not easy to receive criticism. And that being attacked and mocked is painful. But that's part of being in the public eye. And responding to such comments properly is part of being an adult. This isn't the schoolyard, where you can win an argument by being the most angry person involved.

Do I think the critics on Twitter were justified in their concerns? I honestly don't know. I don't know enough about Ross' more recent work to guess what material he would likely have used at the awards. But people clearly had concerns. A lot of people. Enough that any sensible person should have stopped before answering and asked themselves if maybe there was something to it.

Of course, one thing which I haven't seen addressed, regardless of how understandable or justified these concerns were, is how the media view the manner in which these concerns were addressed. Huge numbers within the SFF community turned on Ross. It drew a lot of attention and, deservedly or not, made us all look bad. Of course we're all entitled to express our fears and our concerns, just as we're entitled to have a safe place in which to celebrate the best of our fandom, which is what Worldcon, and the Hugo Awards, are supposed to be.

But it pays to take a breath and consider how the manner in which we raise these issues. Shouting and hurling accusations may get attention, and it may even get us what we want, this time. But the next time we have a serious issue to discuss, I'm genuinely worried that this mess will be held up as an excuse not to listen, that we'll just turn on anyone, for any reason.

I don't know what we can do to prevent it. Loncon needs a new Hugo Awards host, and there's going to be a ton of pressure and baggage attached to that. Future Worldcon committees are going to have their actions scrutinised for signs of a similar cock-up.

I blame Loncon for fucking up. I blame Jonathan Ross for failing to act in a professional, compassionate manner. I blame anyone who let that knee-jerk reaction to the announcement cause them to lash out and attack Ross or his family. I blame people who are so caught up in who to blame they can't see that everyone involved is coming out of this the worse for the experience.

It's a sad, sorry mess.

Mar 6, 2014


It's a word every author fears. And it's one I think I may have to accept for my new Carver & McCain book.

I'd been experimenting with 1st-person, a POV I don't usually choose. My idea was that each of the two protagonists would share spotlight time as the book's narrator. Unfortunately, looking over what I have so far, I don't think I've developed enough of a distinct voice for each of them.

While Carver and McCain's personalities do clash, they're both still cops working together. Therefore they have similar goals, and are experiencing the same environments. These factors add up to make it even more challenging to distinguish between them, and even I was having trouble keeping track of which of them was narrating at any given point.

So I'll be going back to the start, re-writing the book in my usual 3rd-person POV. In fairness, I was still in the early stages of the book, so it's better to catch this now than struggle on with the shadow of a re-write lingering over me the whole time.

Hopefully writing in 3rd-person will help me get back into my writing flow and get the first draft completed sooner

Mar 4, 2014

Undermining Character Agency

This post contains spoilers for the Batman: Arkham Origins video game.

It's surprisingly easy, even in a male-dominated story, to depict women fairly. That is to say, you don't have to have a female protagonist, or a lot of female characters, in order to write women well. I dare say, if a writer thinks that the presence of female characters is, itself, enough to count as treating women well, they obviously haven't seen Sucker Punch.

I feel a lot is made of the "strong female character" archetype. The Buffy. The Zoe Washburn. The Sarah Connor. But there's more than one way to be strong, and more than one way to write great women. Sometimes strength, and agency, can come from small moments.

There's one such small moment in Arkham Origins.

The previous game, Arkham City, was criticized for its sexism, particularly with regard to the treatment of Catwoman. Arkham Origins, at least, doesn't have characters on every corner casually implying they'd like to rape someone.

Here be spoilers:

One of the early investigations Batman conducts in the game is a very nicely put together sequence of events surrounding the disappearance of the crime boss Black Mask. So far, it's been my favourite section of the game, showing not only how Batman is a great detective, but also how he has to contend with (and battle) a corrupt police force and still has to build up the intelligence network he has access to in the previous games.

In particular, Batman has to break into the Gotham Police Department so he can hack into the National Criminal Database. We always think of Batman having instant access to/knowledge of any criminal file he needs, so the fact that Batman needed to do some extra legwork here was a very nice touch.

While in the GCPD, Batman meets Barbara Gordon, the girl who will one day become Oracle, who he comes to rely on for her computer hacking skills. She comments that, in order to gain remote access to the GCPD network, he'll have to get into their telecommunications hub. She tells him he can get into them through an old sewer line.

In just one short cutscene, Barbara Gordon has gone from a bystander cameo to someone who has given Batman valuable information that will be essential, not only to solving his current case, but to his continued work fighting crime in Gotham. See? Easy.

Unfortunately, that empowerment is just as easily taken away.

Moments after he leaves the room, Batman contacts Alfred to tell him that he needs to get the the GCPD's telecommunications hub, and Alfred advises him that he'll need to use an old sewer line to gain access. Literally the exact same information Barbara gave him in the previous scene. She may as well have said nothing. But for a side mission she later provides, to track down weapons that have been stolen from the GCPD, Barbara may as well not have appeared.

Female empowerment. So easy to include in a writer's work, and so easy to completely undermine.

Even from a non-feminist angle, this represents poor writing. If you have one character provide valuable information or assistance, don't then reveal that the protagonist didn't need it, after all.

Can any of you think of other cases where a character's importance is undermined by the writer?