Sunday Summary and #ROW80 Progress Report

Sunday Summary

  1. I made my goal for February!  I really didn’t think I was going to.  With the snow days last week and the complete lack of routine, I didn’t write any prose from Monday to Friday.  But yesterday, I settled in at my local coffee shop for the day and spewed out…about four days’ worth of work.  I finished knitting the new section with the old section and revised the last waiting scene.  I’m positive there are still some uneven spots relating to the shift from novella to novel and starting earlier in the narrative, but it’s fixed well enough that I can be moving chronologically forward on the novel again.  Thank God!  Writing out of order gives me an eye twitch.
  2. Despite the lack of prose during the snow days, I did plot out another Meet Cute.  This one is directly related to the snow days, as it had me in a wintery frame of mind.  Depending on how things go with Liam and Riley, I may start on that this week.
  3. Last night I spent some time going through my Gym Buddy app and writing down all my weight lifting routines.  There are a lot of them.  And they all need to be transferred into my new weight lifting app, Strong.  I talked some yesterday about what I’d like to do to get back on the Goddess in Training bandwagon so I won’t repeat myself here, but all that starts tomorrow.  Note to self: Set backup alarm clock.  I’ve really struggled with getting back into a routine post Christmas–both in small ways and in a Nike Just Do It kind of way (which usually works for me just fine).  The only thing I’ve done semi-consistently (getting sick was the thing that kept me from being totally consistent there) has been my taekwondo class (which, if I’m going to be doing anything, is a good thing to do).  With the weight lifting, I’ve got everything from very brief routines that include 2 major, whole body sorts of exercises, to very lengthy, fine tuning kinds of workouts.  The brief routines are supposed to be when I’m in a time crunch and just need to get something in.  But it feels like baby steps are kind of where I am just now.  So I’ll shoot for getting those routines over the next 2-3 weeks while I get myself back into a routine of simply getting UP on time and while I get myself back to cleaner eating.  Today will be the last blow out, as it were, as we are having a wee birthday party for hubby’s grandmother (90 this week) and there will be pie.  This girl does not turn down pie.  Particularly when my mother in law is making them specially so that hubby and I can still eat them (because she is awesome like that).
  4. I have a new and very rabid writer crush on Kate Perry.  I have several of Kate’s books that I nabbed during free promos over the last few years, but I’d never actually read one until this week.  I nabbed the first one of her Laurel Heights series, Perfect For You in audio through the Whispersync program at Amazon for a paltry $1.99.  She totally has the narrator I want to hire someday, Xe Sands, who is fabulous.  Anyway, Kate’s books are all about independent women, which, as we all know, is right up my alley.  Plus she writes well, with good prose, and engaging characters (which is several steps above a lot of what’s out there).  Given that so many of my favorite contemporary series are ending, this was a well-timed discovery because she’s hella prolific (chicky has put out TWENTY BOOKS–short novels from 42k-65k but still, TWENTY–since December 2011–that’s, like, a million words plus whatever she lost in revisions–in a little over 3 years!) and now I have a LOT to tear through and enjoy (and, frankly, to analyze because clearly whatever formula she’s rocking is working for her in a big big way).
  5. I’ve been prowling stock photos this week as I got another free trial to Bigstock.  I finally did something I’ve been thinking about for ages–I made a Mockworthy light box.  Because I see so many stock photos while I’m looking for book cover images that are just hilariously awful.  I want to do some kind of regular feature somewhere–and I don’t know if I should make a Mockworthy Pinterest board with captions and/or fake titles or some kind of semi regular blog feature or what.  I’m leaning toward the Pinterest board because it seems best suited for images.  Or I suppose I could do something on Tumblr…
  6. LOTS to do today.  The house is an absolute pig sty and must be cleaned.  We haven’t done a proper clean in 3 weeks (it’s that depressing time of year when you clean and then it gets immediately gross again because of all the rain and ick and you lose the will to try to fight it).  I need to make my clean eating menu plan.  Daisy needs her bath.  I’m making a new microwavable heating pad for hubby (he’s been having cold feet issues at night).  There’s lots of laundry.  And we’ve got work to do on hubby’s new website.  So I guess that’s it on my progress report!  Hope everybody has a GREAT WEEK!

Operation Where The Heck Is My Goddess In Training?

Operation Goddess In Training

sleepIt’s the last day of February and I find myself wondering where the heck the first couple months of the year went.  There was something about flu.  And business at the Evil Day Job.  A cookbook.  Writing a class.  And a whole lot of not being able to drag my fanny out of bed on time in order to get back into any kind of fitness routine because…dark…and cold…and comfy bed.  I’ve been rocking the Zen meditation “I am one with the bed.”  And when I have made it up, I feel kind of…lost in my workout routine.  I feel kind of lost in every normal routine in my life, as if I don’t have one anymore, or haven’t anyway, since before Christmas.  My whole goddess in training mentality has, I think, gone off to Aruba without me.  I feel squidgy and mentally foggy and just generally out of sorts.  And I find that I’m not alone.  Seems like everybody I talk to has been experiencing some flavor of the same.

Part of the workout malaise is because my very favorite fitness app, Gym Buddy, apparently is no longer being updated and won’t work with my iPhone keyboard anymore.  So I can’t actually enter my weights and reps anymore.  Which is a pain because I’ve been using it for years and it has all my different workout routines input.  So I’ve been on the hunt for a new one that does the same thing.  I tried to get into Fitocracy, and there’s a lot I love about it, but it doesn’t allow you to input custom exercises, and there are a whole bunch of things that I do that aren’t in their database.  So far the main contender is Strong.  It appears to do more or less the same thing as Gym Buddy and allows me to enter custom exercises.  I have aspirations of getting several of my routines entered from Gym Buddy and starting to use that next week.

I also plan to turn Move back on.  This was an app I discovered last fall that reminds you to get up periodically throughout the day to move.  Given I literally LIVE at a computer between Evil Day Job and writing, this was a particularly appealing one.  They have a free version and a paid version ($2.99 gets you all 313 exercises and allows you to input your own).  I haven’t updated to the paid version.  But I discovered that while using the app during the work day, I could burn an extra 100-150 calories a day.

Since we’re in the winter and it’s dark when I get up (or at the very least REALLY FLIPPING COLD), I’m just accepting that I’m really not going to walk first thing in the morning.  That’s not going to change with the advent of Daylight Savings Time next month.  Bleh.  It’s hard enough to get out of bed without making it pitch black again.  In any event, I think it’s time to go back to yoga for a while.  Now that I’ve been back to taekwondo training for 8 months, I can tell that my balance isn’t anywhere near as good as it was when I was 19 (and 40 pounds lighter), so I’m thinking I’ll go through the Balance training program on New U Yoga and Pilates on my Wii a couple days a week.

I need to axe the sugar from my diet again.  I actually did really well over Christmas (I even LOST weight) because I couldn’t eat most anything at holiday get togethers.  But I made up for it afterwards making a fabulous chocolate pie when my bff came up to visit.  And chocolate lava cake for Valentine’s day.  And homemade vanilla ice cream.  And a variety of other sweets.  Well, now that my birthday is past, there are no celebratory anythings calling for nummies for a good couple of months, so it’s time to get back on the bandwagon (which will, I think, help with the mental fog and squidgy feeling).

Who’s with me?

Three Awesome Things: Snow Day Edition

Awesome Things

So the snow finally showed up.  We ended up with 4 inches I think.  My mom, an hour north of us, had over 8!  This is a Mississippi blizzard, and I am off work again today.  WOOT!  That said, it’s time for the snow day edition of awesome things!

This greyhound in BATMAN PAJAMAS totally gets that snow days are awesome.

 

This is Bob the 9th.  I have no idea why, but my whole life, every snow man I have ever built has been Bob.  Yes, I’m 35 and this is my 9th snowman.  We don’t get snow here.  Hubs and I were out playing in it at 9:30 last night.  I even made my first ever Mississippi snow angel!

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And this is my famous, stick to your ribs, creamy potato soup, perfect for a cold, snowy day.  This is from my days before I had to go dairy free (I am still working on a dairy free equivalent).  It is…amazing.  Especially topped with bacon, cheddar, and scallions.

Midweek #ROW80 Progress Report

Progress Reports

I’m home unexpectedly today for a snow day.  For which we have not actually seen any snow.  We’re in that borderline range of 32-33 degrees where all the weather apps say snow, but it’s really more like freezing rain and is just generally nasty.  They were predicting 3-6 inches of snow.  And maybe it’ll turn as the temperature drops.  Who knows.  I’m just happy to get an extra day at home in the middle of the week.

Genesis Boxed SetThis morning I’ve been designing a new boxed set cover for my Mirus omnibus Genesis.  It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for a while because a lot of buyers don’t bother to read the description that clearly states it’s an omnibus of other work–and then they get mad because it wasn’t a new novel in the series.  Plus boxed sets are a Thing these days, so I might as well get in on that.

I haven’t got much progress to report on fiction this week because I’ve been writing another writer’s class.  This one is on writing novellas.  That’s a length I’ve done often and I’m quite comfortable with, and it’s become a really popular length again since the advent of ebooks.  Since I’ve got the time, I’m planning on recording that this afternoon.  More on that when it’s available.

I’ve met or surpassed my goal for recipe posting this round.  Now that I’ve got the blogs merged and everything all in one place, it seems easiest to just make a weekly feature with a recipe.  This week’s was a to die for, gluten free, dairy free chocolate peanut butter lava cake.

I’m not going to attain all of my goals this round.  We only have a month left and I’m nowhere near finishing She’s Got A Way since it turned into a full novel.  But I hadn’t set a goal to write a cookbook or a class, both of which I’ve done this round, so I got different things done.  I’m doing my best to focus on the process as much as the end result.  As long as you keep DOING STUFF, it adds up and the results eventually come.

Gluten Free Dairy Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Lava Cake

Recipe

One of life’s greatest joys (mine anyway) is half-baked cookies.  They’re warm and perfectly ooey gooey and just melt on your tongue.  I don’t know if it was intentional or accidental, but somebody somewhere discovered that half-baked cake is just as fantastic.  I imagine that’s exactly how chocolate lava cake was born. My pal Jay at Techsurgeons (web host extraordinaire! /shameless plug) shared this recipe with me a few weeks ago, and I converted it to be gluten and dairy free for Valentine’s Day (and added peanut butter because…peanut butter).  Oh. Dear. God.  So good!  This chocolate peanut butter lava cake is fantastic by itself or served with dairy free vanilla ice cream.  It’s best served fresh, but if you have leftovers, just nuke them for 40 seconds and the crater will reinflate.  Makes 6.
Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup dark or semi-sweet dairy free chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli’s semi sweet)
  • 3/4 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 gluten free flour (I used sorghum flour)
  • 6 tbsp peanut butter, divided
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
  2. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil together in a saucepan over low heat.
  3. Mix the eggs and sugar together in a separate bowl and whisk for a few minutes.
  4. Add the flour.
  5. Add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate and mix until smooth.
  6. Pour the batter into 6 greased ramekins (the 1 cup size so there’s room for it to rise).
  7. Add 1 tbsp of peanut butter to the center of each.
  8. Bake for approximately 16 minutes.

Birthday #ROW80 Check-In

Sunday Summary

  1. I turn 35 today.  Some people feel old at this age.  Given that my husband bought me the entire line of Star Wars Itty Bittys from Hallmark, I think I’m good on that front.  This man totally gets me.  <3  It’s a toss up between Chewie and Han as to which is my favorite.
    Best commercial ever.
  2. My writer pals have hooked me up with wonderful writerly gifts.  Only another writer can truly understand the pure excitement of new OFFICE SUPPLIES (thank you, Lisa!) or oracle cards for plotting (thank you, Susan!).  The art in this deck by Jasmine Becket-Griffith is gorgeous and the concept lends itself really well to character exploration and character arc development.  I’ve been playing a little with the oracle cards and having Mirusy thoughts for the first time in ages.  Nothing specific, just exploring a couple of peripheral characters to see what pops for me.  I regularly use these sorts of tools with projects that already have a shape, but I’m always interested in what I can develop from little more than a kernel of inspiration.
  3. On the writing front, things have gone pretty well this week.  5408 words this week.  I set myself the new goal of getting the new scenes of Act 1 finished and getting through the revision of the 12 scenes I’d already written before I decided to expand this to a novel by the end of the month.  I still lack 2 scenes in Act 1 and yesterday I spent my coffee shop time blowing through 11 of the 12 scenes that needed revising.  Six days left to go.  I should be able to meet this mini goal without a problem, and then I’m hoping to gain some forward momentum.
  4. This week, I’ve been having All the Thoughts on the issue of character agency and the power of fiction.  We had some interesting discussion going on in my last post, if you care to pop over and check it out.
  5. This week’s recipe was Lemon, Rosemary, Garlic Chicken and Roasted Vegetables–a fabulous one dish meal that freezes really well.
  6. My new Audible credit came in today (the last of my 3 months for $3 promo I signed up for), so I immediately nabbed Meljean Brook’s The Kraken King.  I cannot tell you how much I love this series.  And the narrator for the Iron Seas books is amazing.  This will keep me in happy listening for quite some time because…well, it was a serial, so it’s very long.  And also because Ariq is the perfect writer’s hero.  <3
  7. I’m off to finish up some chores before getting ready for birthday festivities!
  8. Oh, as a birthday favor, can I beg you to swing by Amazon to my listing of Once Upon A Coffee and report a lower price?  I’m trying to get it price matched to free since the story is now everywhere.  There’s a link at the bottom of the product details section to do so. Thank you!!!
    Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo

Character Agency as an Element of Plot (AKA, Remember The Author Is God–Write Wisely)

Awesome Things

Okay, it’s not Thursday, but this is an expansion on the Bonus Awesome Thing I linked to yesterday.  This is a Storify of the discussion about character agency and how it is an element of PLOT, not character.   Give it a gander.

This is another one of those awesome light bulb posts and it’s making me Think All The Things.  It’s something that seems so incredibly obvious once it’s pointed out–and then you feel stupid for not seeing it before.  It doesn’t matter how physically kick ass or ball-busting we make our sheroes (or any other character, for that matter–women aren’t the only ones who are marginalized) if we do not insert them into plots that give them an opportunity to act.  That’s not to say that these characters need to have it easy.  By all means, put them through hell.  But don’t tie their hands.  Leave a bobby pin and duct tape so they can McGuyver their way out of the crap situation.  That doesn’t always mean that these characters have to have that physical or mental strength.  It would actually make for a far more compelling read to have someone who feels like they have no control, like they can’t act grow to become someone who can, who takes control.

I think this is really important.  Women (and certainly other marginalized groups, but right now I’m thinking about women in particular) have been socialized for CENTURIES not to act.  We’re supposed to be the weaker sex.   We’re force-fed rescue fantasies practically from infancy.  We have this notion of a prince coming to save us from the drudgery of real life dangled in front of us as some kind of carrot on a stick.  And, sure, there’s some appeal to that.  Real life is WORK, y’all.  There’s no shame in wishing somebody’d come along to ease up the load.  And it seems to me that maybe this is where the huge popularity of these stories with these powerful, controlling men coming into the shero’s life and taking care of things comes from.  We’re socialized to want this, so it’s really craptastic for huge chunks of the populace to then turn around and get angry that a lot of women buy into it and bash them as stupid or somehow lesser.

I have largely steered clear of this kind of story.  I’ll try them from time to time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with the sheroes of these kinds of stories, but invariably I end up putting the book down because she’s not participating in her own story.  I’ve always viewed that as being an inherent characteristic of the shero and associated that with weakness (which makes for an automatic wall thumper for me), but in light of Ms. Hoffmann’s points, the object of my ire ought to be with the author (well, okay either way my ire ought to be with the author–she being god of her own world) for having created a story in which the shero is NOT ALLOWED to act.  Because, quite outside the realm of fiction, this perpetuates the notion that woman in real life should just sit passively by while someone else makes decisions that impact them and their lives.  And that’s both a disservice and a waste of the potential power of fiction to enact change.

To my mind, story should be used to EMPOWER women.  I’d like to see these everyday sheroes exercising more caution when these powerful alpha males show up and start trying to run their lives.   Let’s have more stories of normal, everyday women who choose to act despite the fear, despite the difficulty of doing so.  Show everyday women finding their strength and learning that they can and should make decisions to control their lives (better yet, let’s pair them with powerful men who encourage the flexing of their autonomy).  Show them rising above their circumstances by their own actions, their own choices because those things have POWER and MEANING.  Too often, I think these stories end up sending the message that shero is in a life that somehow sucks but along comes a man who (in some manner or other) takes over and everything gets better–which therefore = women need a man to make it better and cannot rescue themselves (to which I instinctively call BULLSHIT) and trains women to relinquish control too easily.  The balance of power should not be automatically handed over to the nearest man just because he happens to exist.  Not that all men are inherently bad, but you’d best be damned sure you’ve got a good one if you’re going to trust him that far.

Writers, I encourage you to remember that it’s both your job and your privilege to create stories–use that power wisely!  So anyway, that’s where my brain is today.  I’m itching for discussion!  What do y’all think about all this?

 

Midweek #ROW80 Check-In

Work In Progress

I hesitate to say it, but I think I’m finally getting back into a groove.  After a couple of days with very low word count over the weekend, the last two days, I’ve hit 1k+ each day, and I feel like I’m sort of shrugging back into the story like a favorite pair of jeans.  Yesterday I hit on a really important detail for the shero that will very much control how she goes through the relationship arc of the book.  There are 10 days left in the month.  I’ve got 3 and a half new scenes to write to get to the 22k chunk I wrote before I stopped to replot.  And then there are changes that need to be made in that original chunk.  Depending on how things go, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that I could get through all those changes by March 1st, so that’s the new short-term goal.

In case you missed it, this week’s recipe is for Lemon, Rosemary, Garlic Chicken and Roasted Veggies.

Yesterday I did some pontificating about the 50 Shades franchise and the issue of character agency.  There’s some link love for a number of posts I’ve read the last week, and I also pose the question of why there are so many books/movies/series out there that are ragingly popular, wherein the shero has no character agency.  I think there’s been too much dichotomizing of the issue and name calling, implying that the women who enjoy these stories are somehow deficient or stupid or [insert whatever derogatory remark], and that’s totally not cool.  This is NOT about bashing those women and their preferences.  People have the right to like what they like (as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else).  I pose the question, NOT to insult women who are actually into this stuff (“stuff” being, in this case, stories wherein the shero has little to no agency, wherein the plot mostly happens TO her, not because of her), but because I’m truly trying to understand the appeal (’cause I totally don’t get it).  This is a much broader question than the issues of sketchy consent and abuse dressed up as romance brought up by 50 Shades.  So if you’ve got time to pop over to yesterday’s post and enter the discussion, please do!

Why The Popularity For Sheroes Without Agency?

Musings

So 50 Shades of Grey the movie came out last weekend.  Whether you love it or hate it, you cannot deny it’s become a cultural phenomenon.  There’s been a whole SLOUGH of fantastic posts about it.   Here’s a collection of my favorites.

Is Romance Devolving? 50 Shades vs. No One Puts Baby In A Corner: Kristen Lamb takes a look at how popular conceptions of romance seem to have changed.

Consent Isn’t Enough: The Troubling Sex of Fifty Shades: This is a long one but well worth a read as it delves into the sketchy nature of Ana’s consent (and is it really consent?) and talks about a lot of the issues raised by the story.

A Letter To My Children About Fifty Shades of Grey: This post talks about everything 50 Shades is and is not (it is NOT a love story, yo!)–starkly explaining exactly how Christian’s actions are Not Okay and should not be used as a model for acceptable behavior.

Does Fiction Matter?  Fiction, Fantasy & Social Change: Another one by Kristen Lamb talking about the power of fiction to enact social change (whether it’s trying to or not).

How “Strong Female Characters” Still End up Weak and Powerless (Or, “Do They Pass The Action Figure Test?”): This one by the ever thoughtful Chuck Wendig may be my favorite because he FINALLY puts a name to that niggling thing in my brain for exactly WHY I have such issues with books like Twilight and 50 Shades–the sheroes lack AGENCY.  Go read the article in total, but to bring up the issue on my mind, he defines agency as:

Character agency is… a demonstration of the character’s ability to make decisions and affect the story. This character has motivations all her own. She is active more than she is reactive. She pushes on the plot more than the plot pushes on her. Even better, the plot exists as a direct result of the character’s actions.

fist pump babyI admit, I had a total fist pump/light bulb moment when I read this because YES, this is exactly why I hated Twilight.  Bella is so much an observer rather than an active participant in her story.  She’s reactive rather than active.  From what I’ve read, Ana in 50 Shades is much the same (not a shock since it began its life as Twlight fanfic).  That’s not to say that either of these women never ACT, but as a whole, they are reactive and passive, letting the events of the plot happen TO them rather than BECAUSE of them.  Big Bang Theory pointed out that Indiana Jones totally falls into this trap too–pretty much NOTHING he does has any real bearing on the outcome (and, frankly, I’m not sure I can QUITE forgive them for pointing that out because I used to love those movies…).  There are a whole plethora of hugely popular romance series that I can’t stand because the sheroes fall into this trap and have no agency (I didn’t know this term before and now I’m going to be using it all over the place!).

But I admit, even with this yardstick in the back of my mind, I don’t always notice when things don’t measure up.  I went to see Jupiter Ascending a couple weeks ago and loved it (not a popular opinion).  I loved Michael Giancchino’s score, thought they did some cool stuff visually with the world-building and special effects, and I totally admit there was a whole lot of oh Channing Tatum is pretty and I really like watching him fight–sue me (and I can’t wait to see him as Gambit).  I wasn’t paying much attention to the agency of the shero.  It’s the kind of thing that might’ve popped for me on a second viewing or after further pondering.  Or not.  We’re so constantly bombarded with stories that don’t pass the Bechdel Test, Women in Refrigerators, and the Sexy Lamp test–all means of determining whether female characters actually are…you know…people–that even those of us who SHOULD notice often don’t.

The Bechdel Test in particular is one I think about a lot.  In a nutshell, it asks whether the story features at least two women who talk about something other than a man.  I first heard about this in the context of movies, and I was shocked at the number of movies that don’t pass it.  I write and read romance, so as soon as I read about this one, I started holding up some of my own work as a yardstick and finding that–yeah, not everything passed (some of this being because there were really narrow casts with mostly just the hero and shero and the bad guys and a lot of running for their lives, so not an occasion for the shero to even talk to another woman, let alone dish about a man).  I think it’s easier to overlook this kind of thing in a story where there’s a lot of action or where the shero can physically kick ass.  It feels like she’s DOING STUFF.  But often this is just window dressing and she’s just an action figure, still at the mercy of the plot (that’s almost always driven by men, whether it’s a romantic entanglement or not).

Looking back at Jupiter Ascending, it’s hard to clearly see how to write a shero with agency under those circumstances.  You’ve got a fish out of water story where she finds out she’s suddenly not what she’s always thought and she is, in a very real sense, at the mercy of others to help her navigate the universe into which she’s been thrust with no knowledge.  So much of the conflict in this story arises from the fact that she just flat doesn’t know this world and feels like she has to trust this or that person.  How do you give a character like that agency within that context?

This whole thing has been percolating in my brain, and I’ve been pondering the psychological and sociological ramifications of the ENORMOUS and, frankly, scary popularity of these non-female agency stories among women.  I mean, seriously, what does this say about our society?  I look at some of these popular series, analyzing and trying to understand WHY they’re popular (because we all want the Secret To Success, right?) and absolutely failing to get it.  IS their very popularity rooted in the shero’s lack of agency?  In this idea of some strong man coming in to take care of everything, tell her what to do, and allow her to NOT think about stuff (like bills and chores and kids and jobs and the million different things most women are called on to deal with in real life on a day to day basis)?  Do women actually fantasize about that abdication of responsibility?  Is that the appeal?  If it is, that’s definitely not my target audience and not at all the kind of book I’m likely to ever write.  Which is fine.  To each their own.  But really, I’m trying to understand.

So sound off in the comments, y’all.  I want to know your thoughts on this.