Kelley Armstrong’s advice on how to write a bestseller

This summer I attended a writing workshop hosted by the brilliant book editor, Brian Henry, on how to write a bestseller. I was excited to attend the workshop and be able to rub shoulders with the likes of Kelley Armstrong (author of the Otherworld Series) and, as usual, my imagination got away from me in the days leading up to it.

You know what I’m talking about.

While instructing us in the do’s and don’ts of making it to the big times, our eyes would meet. She would feel compelled to ask me what my current novel was about, and then, after I ever-so-eloquently pitched my story, she would request we become BFFs immediately and later that day we would be discussing the movie rights of my yet-to-be published novel as we sipped latte’s under a patio umbrella.

me-and-kelley

Yeah, so that didn’t happen. But I did shake her hand.

The workshop, itself, was pretty great. Kelley spoke in detail about characters, central goals, minor goals, conflict, POV and the emotion in our fiction. She was easy to understand, and there was a simplicity to what she was saying that helped me re-align my story in order to provide complexity, depth, and of course, action, action, action.

There was also a lot of obvious stuff thrown around. Things like, “you need to write a good story,” and you need to “stand out,” and have a “fresh voice,” that is different and compelling. We’ve all heard that before, right? But instead of wanting to slap her, I found that Kelley made it work. She backed up those statements with the “how” that most people leave out.

The most important piece of advice that I took home was that success has to be hard-fought. Another obvious humdinger. But the not so obvious part was that the fight of my characters for success needed to mirror my own. I had to work hard to bring my novel to the publishing market, and my characters had to work just as hard to bring success to the story. It was an inspired epiphany of layers that made me drive home in a mind-blown daze. If I want readers to spend their time in my world, I need to fight to give them something worthy of their time.

Somewhere about half-way during the workshop, we stopped for a short writing prompt. We got our notebooks out and had 20 minutes to crank out a short story based on a collaboration of prompts. Quite honestly, I’d never written a short story under pressure before and I was a bit panicked at the prospect. Everyone else seemed to be scribbling away and I was just sitting there like some gloss-eyed fool. But I persevered, and a couple of months later, that short story went on to win the Eden Mills Fringe contest. A short story that I’ve been invited to read at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival next weekend on September 13th. That never would have happened without Brian Henry, that workshop, or the inspiration from Kelley.

Keep writing, keep editing, and think about taking a workshop or two. It’s worth the investment.

 

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Do literary agents suffer from gender bias with authors?

I may be one of those people who sees the world through rose-coloured glasses, but when I stumbled across this experiment by Catherine Nichols, I almost fell out of my chair.  Partly because my name is Catherine, but mostly because for a grown woman, it appears that I’m as naive as a toddler. I assume individual equality, and I always play by the rules. (Ahem, fortunately, they’re my rules.)

guidelines

Catherine had been sending out queries to literary agents for a novel she had written, and was receiving minimal responses. Now, this in and of itself is not unusual, however, it wasn’t her first novel, and she (along with her published writer friends) knew this novel was good. It had that something, and you just know. After some 50-odd sends to agents, she had two requests for a full and an inbox full of form rejections.

And so it was on one fine Saturday morning, feeling discouraged and perhaps low on java, she created “George Leyer” and gave him his own bare-bones email account. She copy/pasted her query and used all the same language, only now the queries came from George instead of Catherine. (And because my dog’s name is George, I figure her story is a sign from the universe.) She sent out one query, and as she prepared the second, there was already a response from the first in the empty email account. What the… on a SATURDAY? It read:  Mr. Leyer. Delighted. Excited. Please send the manuscript. She sent a total of six queries that Saturday, and she received five responses before the end of the weekend. Three requests and two personal rejections praising “his” abilities. By Monday morning, she had deduced that the novel wasn’t the problem, it was her as the author.

mr.-uberscribbler

In a puff of slighted rage, Catherine rolled her experiment out to 50 agents, some of them she had already queried under her own (female) name. “George” received 17 requests for a full manuscript. He was eight and a half times better at writing the exact same novel.  Not only that, his rejections were personal, warm, and full of compliments and advice.

Now, for new and budding authors that send out queries, our name is likely the last thing we’re thinking about. In fact, it’s usually the only thing we figure we got right. The query itself is a fierce animal that often takes longer to write than our precious novels.  We brood, we re-write, we take critiques, and then we spend large parts of our days curled up in the fetus position licking our critiqued wounds. There are as many authoritative types telling us the ‘correct’ way to structure a query and send our proposals as there are writers trying to get noticed. With all of this complex publishing science to navigate, now we have to worry about the name we attach to our work?

larry king

And if you do lie to 50 agents, 17 of which ask for a full, and let’s say a handful of those want to represent “George”, what’s that awkward conversation going to sound like when they find out that he’s a she?

I don’t know how to feel about any of this. Is this an anomaly? Tell me what you think.

 

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Looking for awesome? Rent ME!

It’s that time again. Time to roll up my shirtsleeves, wipe the sweat from my brow and hit the pavement internet looking for work. My six years of agency work is almost done, and in another month, I’ll be flying solo. And broke. Possibly homeless. (Don’t tell my kids.)

Unless, of course, there is someone out there who would like to pay me a comfortable living just for being awesome. Anyone? I am awesome, I promise. Even when I’m sleeping. Sugar daddies welcome. Well, without the sugar… or the daddy bit. Just send me your money.

In addition to writing, editing, social media consulting and the other shameless credentials I’ve noted below, I can also walk your dog, buy your groceries, give you a massage (I don’t touch feet), build you a deck,  teach you new cuss words, pour concrete, punch bees, mow your lawn, taste-test meals sent from your enemies, plant your garden, build you a lego village, change the oil in your car, sing you to sleep (although my fees for that one are particularly steep),  alphabetize your canned goods,  yell at your children (I’m highly skilled at this), blow up balloons, and internet stalk your ex’s new partner.

Please tell your friends, family, neighbours, co-workers and all the strangers you pass on the street. Together we can end this insantiy and I can get back to writing my novel with peace of mind. I’ve grown accustomed to my house and I would like to stay in it.

catherine2_web_censored

 

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John Oliver and Transgender Rights: Everyone Poops

“It is no more OK to ask transgender people about their sex organs, then it would be to ask Jimmy Carter whether or not he’s circumcised.”

“Which by the way, he is.”

“Smooth like a boiled carrot.”

John Oliver spends just over 16 minutes delivering a sarcastically gritty commentary on Transgender rights in a why-can’t-I-articulate-the-pure-aweseomeness-that-flows-from-his-mouth kind of way.

Gender identity should be assumed and invisible in the same way that you identify as being alive.

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The biological basis for transgender – part one

Studies point to genetic triggers of atypical gender identity. (That’s fancy-schmancy talk for transgender people are born that way, and there’s proof.)

Unfortunately, nobody is listening. The social stigma attached to gender diversity implies that it’s simply a lifestyle choice. That one can simply choose to be a particular gender just because they feel like it. Perhaps on a whim. When the reality is, Lady Gaga was right, you were born that way.

lady gaga

And because being transgender (or gender atypical) is not something you can see with the naked eye, folks tend to assume it’s all in your head. For the last 4 decades, medical doctors have shipped gender atypical folks off to the psychologists and psychiatrists. These very same psychologists and psychiatrists have then assumed (without any scientific evidence) that it must be a mental illness. A disease of the mind. Which, of course, carries its own social stigma, making gender variance a wildly and socially unpopular condition. (Historically, this was not the case. Before our patriarchal society came into full effect, gender variance was accepted and often revered – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

By defining transgender as a mental illness, these mental health professionals have inadvertently shaped much of the entire medical establishments (as well as the general publics) views on gender variant individuals. There is a popular notion in politics that transsexuals are psychopathological sexual deviants. These folks will switch genders in order to follow you into a public restroom and catch you unaware with your pants down. (Yes, Senator Plett, I’m talking to you.) These same alarmists also argue that we are all psychosexually neutral at birth, and that gender identity/expression is something that is nurtured or chosen.  But seriously, who would choose to live their life labelled with a socially unpopular mental illness?

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett's Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett’s Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Now, because this condition is still (today) diagnosed as a mental illness (Gender Dysphoria) as noted in the bible of modern psychiatry, the DSM-V  (Diagnostics & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, written by the American Psychiatric Association), nobody is looking at any scientific evidence of this phenomenon.  Medical doctors are not trained in gender variance (since it’s always been a “mental illness”) and mental health professionals (to whom this “disorder” currently belongs) don’t look at new medical science outside their area of expertise.

Remember female hysteria – the mental disorder attributed only to women? Yeah, it was in the DSM once too. Symptoms included emotional outbursts and various sexual urges. It was widely believed that women didn’t orgasm or enjoy sex, so any woman who exhibited these symptoms were either forced to enter an insane asylum or forced to undergo surgical hysterectomy. True story. (There’s a great movie on the subject here.) The American Psychiatric Association didn’t drop the term until the early 1950s, and actually, “hysterical neurosis” didn’t disappear from the DSM until 1980! (Vibrators were initially developed as a medical device to aid in the treatment of female hysteria.  <ahem> And in the 1950s, pornography became prolific with their use, thus shattering the long-held mental illness illusion. Hey, that’s right when the APA dropped the term, coincidence? Hmm.) I never thought I’d say this, but thanks porn.

hysteria_scene

scene from the 2011 movie, Hysteria.

There are some researchers out there trying to get to the bottom of it, and so far, all of these studies point to biological origins of transgender. The proof is hidden in your genes.

I decided to do some research to make sense of the studies. The first questions that popped into my head had to do with fetal development. My own transgender daughter was born prematurely at 26 weeks gestation, and I can recall the specialists telling me these bizarre (and off-handed) little factual remarks, like, all biological males born before 27 weeks are left-handed.  At the time, I chalked it up to mysteries of the womb. Partly because that sounded like a cool sci-fi show, but mostly because I didn’t really care why. But now, I want to know more.

fetus-development

My artistic skills – straight from my research journal notepad

The first interesting tidbit I came across in my research was that all developing embryos follow a “female blueprint” for the 1st several weeks of development. Some folks will try to tell you that this isn’t true, that all humans are biologically neutral at birth, and they would be correct if by neutral they mean female. You only need to look as far as your nearest nipple for the proof. Men’s nipples are equipped with both nerves and blood vessels, thanks to the first 2 months of gestation. (Don’t believe me? Pinch one. Did he say ow?) Further evidence comes in the form of the raphe line on his scrotum. It’s a scar, from where his vagina sealed up. OK, so it wasn’t quite a vagina yet, but the opening was there. It sealed up around the same time that his clitoris grew out into a penis and his ovaries dropped down into testicles.

So what happens to determine the biological sex? After about 60 days, the hormone testosterone kicks up for most of those with a “Y” chromosome – changing the genetic activity of the cells in the genitals and the brain. (I say kicks ‘up’ instead of ‘on’ because folks assume that testosterone is a ‘male’ hormone, but that’s another unfortunate term, as every single human body produces all three hormones; estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.)  The changes to the genitals begin right away based on genetic instruction (“If Y is present then turn left, if no Y is present then continue straight ahead”), but the organizing effects of sexual hormones and differentiation in the brain doesn’t occur until the second half of pregnancy. That means that the genital-sex and brain-sex processes are independent of each other and chronologically separated during fetal development. And that’s fancy-schmancy talk for any number of things can go sideways and disconnect the two, and why wouldn’t they? Nature loves adversity. Maybe they were never supposed to match.

But sex ideology happens in the brain (as well as the genitals), and it happens during fetal development. This evidence would agree and support the Canadian Paediatric Society who have published that gender identity is fully established by the time a child is 18-30 months of age. And also, that it’s not a choice.

Are you still reading this? Hopefully you hung in there with me and found some of this interesting, and maybe even eye-opening. (And yes, I drew that picture of the baby, and yes, that’s the uterus it’s in and not actually resting peacfully on a wooden spoon.) I’m hoping that if we can help to ‘rein in’ some of the stigma attached to gender diversity, then I believe we’re one step closer to acceptance. Next time (in part two) I’ll share the brain-mapping and receptor gene evidence I’ve found. Until then, be hysterical, pinch some man-nipples, and share the knowledge. 🙂

 

 

 

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Filed under non-fiction, projects & events, transgender, world news

Do we need the government to tell us where to pee?

I promised myself I wasn’t going to blog about this. This topic makes me so crazy in a fierce and nothing-good-can-come-of-it sort of way. The very idea that our politicians are squabbling over public toilet use in the house of commons and throughout the senate is so moronic—that I didn’t want to add my energy to the ridiculousness of it. But I just can’t help myself anymore. Every day that passes, the more the fear mongering soars to extremely dangerous levels. And the more it pisses me off. Remember when this was the only bathroom debate?

the great debate

If you’re in Canada, we’re talking about Bill C279. When the Bill was first introduced, I was one of many who had written a letter that was read in front of council. And the bill was passed successfully about two years ago as Federal Law. And then recently, Senator Donald Plett and his outliers introduced an amendment which would effectively make the bill useless. You can catch up on that here. If you’re in the U.S., 17 states and more than 200 cities have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity already, while the current fight is underway in Florida, Texas, and Kentucky—each of which have introduced bills to make it illegal for individuals to use the bathroom they identify with—if it doesn’t match the biology they were assigned at birth. You can catch up on the goings on here.

The core argument against allowing people to use whatever restroom they identify with is the same regardless of which soil you reside on. It suggests one of paramount safety for women who identify as women and who were also born with a vagina. (Affectionately referred to as cisgender.) The family action group in Canada states that Bill C279 will be allowing sexual predators to go unnoticed in the ladies room and will also offer them legal defense after they have perpetrated their crimes against the ‘cissies’. Essentially, they are fighting for the right to discriminate.

To these people I say, WTF? No, seriously, WTF? How can you know this will happen? When Rosa Parks infamously moved to the centre of the bus, was she plotting to sneak up on the unsuspecting white folks and assualt them in their seats? Or was she making a spontaneous stand on the law of segregation and inequality? She just wanted to ride the bus gosh dang it… and sit where she was most comfortable to sit.

rosa parks

My rage about this topic remains the same as it first did in my letter to council a few years ago:

As the parent of a 14-year-old transgender female in the Hamilton community, I’m deeply saddened by the on-going debate over the use of a public toilet.

Unfortunately, the issue is not as black and white as most on the side of segregation would believe. We’re not talking about boys using girls’ toilets and girls using boys’ toilets and the safety therein. We’re talking about people taking action to deliberately promote prejudice against transgender and transsexual Canadians by equating them with sex offenders and pedophiles. As a mother, I’m sickened and outraged that members of my own community (where I have worked, volunteered, supported, and raised my children) would take pause to consider my child a deviant for using a public toilet that she identifies with to answer nature’s call while out in our community.

Labelling every girl born with a penis and every boy born with a vagina as a drug-addicted, low-income, loud-mouthed criminal and/or potential pedophile is a prejudiced and tired stereotype that is detrimental to the very livelihood of our community. Instead of perpetuating this prejudice, we need to spend our energies educating each other on the realities of medical misnomers and the evolution of gender non-conformity. We need to stop bickering about what’s yours and what’s mine and what’s his and what’s hers and instead focus on what’s ours. And while we’re at it, we need to mind our own business and stay out of the genitalia of those around us.

It is critical to remember that anyone who is born “different” or doesn’t meet “normal” identity criteria (as assessed and judged by those who deem themselves the measurement of “normal”) must hurdle bullying, hate, ignorance, disrespect, harassment and outright violence every day of their lives. That means special needs, race minorities; religious affiliations, sexual orientation and personal gender identity are triggers for hate crimes and extradition from the acceptance of the community. Including the denial of the most basic of human output—the use of a public toilet.

Here’s what I can tell you about the transgender person in the public restroom with you:

  •  They are in there to use the toilet. Just like you.
  •  They will lock their cubicle door because they are shy and modest. Just like you.
  •  They have no interest in what you’re doing in there, in fact, they are more afraid of you then you are of them. How do I know this? They are expecting your hate, judgment and harassment—as it is given to them so freely every day of their lives—and they are uncomfortable with the anticipation of it. They will do their business and get out in order to avoid you.
  •  Their safety is more at risk then yours. Do your homework, over 90% of rapists and pedophiles are married, white men. Not trans, not gay or lesbian or questioning, or anything else you don’t understand. There is absolutely no indication or burden of proof that laws allowing transgender or transsexual people to use the restroom they are most comfortable with will result in an increase in sexual perpetration. In fact, the opposite may be true. My 14-year-old daughter would be at risk for severe violence if she were forced to use a men’s room.
  •  It’s none of your business what the genitalia of the person in the cubicle next to you looks like. Genitalia are private. There are no gender checks, no DNA scans, and in most instances, you won’t even be able to tell who’s who.

As long as we have public conveniences, ANYONE should be able to use ANY public convenience, regardless of gender, race, or religion, provided that they are using it ONLY for its intended purpose. Trans are not deviants any more than a Muslim or Korean immigrant is. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands. They are all ages—including children. They live in all parts of the city, and are living their lives in all social circles and at all levels of financial success. Why not turn our community into a giant summer festival where the only trouble we have with a restroom is the line up?

portable toilets

Let’s invest our energies in an evolution that will support all walks of life. Let’s set an example for our children. Let’s stop the prejudice and stereotypes. Let’s just let a toilet be a toilet.

If you’re a ‘cis-woman’ and have ever used the empty men’s room to avoid an embarrasing accident, this bill in Florida, Texas, and Kentucky (if passed) will prohibit you from ever doing it again legally in those states. So resign yourself to this:

women's line

I’d also like to take a moment to clear something else up. Not every trans female looks and acts like Frank N Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some do, but most of them already hate themselves for it enough on their own—they don’t need your hate to feel bad about themselves. (Perhaps if they had been accepted by their families in their youth or not pressured into conversion therapies wasting years of their lives in confusion and denial, things may have been different for them.)

frank furter

I’m focusing on the children, which this bill and all that it stands for affects with its broad stroke. Amnesty International reported that, “In a recent nationwide survey, 74 per cent of Canadian transgender youth reported experiencing verbal harassment in school, and 37 per cent reported experiencing physical violence.”  Bullying is already a crime. Physical violence is already a crime. So who is getting away with the crime right now? And let’s take a look at how this will play out on the flipside. There’s so much talk about men dressing as women to get away with murder in a public toilet, how are all of these conservatives (read family action group types) going to feel when a trans man (born with a vagina) is in the ladies room with their young daughters? I mean, that’s what they want, that’s what they’re fighting for.

we just need to pee

But this is the reality. #WejustNeedtoPee. Most people you would never know anyway. These are just a few of the trans female faces of teens below. One of them is my daughter. Scary, right? I mean, seriously, you better hide your children from these delinquents. (sarcasm intended.) But imagine for one moment, these young girls in the men’s room.

the-real-deal

Also, I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but some of these radical group members that are fighting for the right to segregation and prejudice are fabricating stories and/or quoting would be ‘experts’ and releasing them to the media in order to convince you of their cause. This infuriates me. It’s not just a twist of the truth, it’s a complete and total fabrication. They are ruining young lives (and in some instances ending them) for the sake of their crusade. Some media outlets no longer fact check their sensational journalism. But there are sites dedicated to fact checking stories like this, so please, if you hear of or read a story, make sure you cross-vet it with other sites and the parties involved before you form an opinion. Even a simple tweet can require verification.

Please, people, just stop for a moment, take a deep breath and remember… the earth used to be flat. Until it wasn’t.

Flush bigotry down the toilet where it belongs.

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marketing, mommy blogs, and cuss-pot soup

Today was a day destined for book marketing. I spent the whole day trying to figure out how I could get my latest ebook into the hands of the parents who need it. The target audience is all parents, regardless of whether their children are gender non-conforming or not, so how tough can that be? The book is really just a reminder about unconditional acceptance of your children, so I figured I’d go out and buy a little advertising in parent communities.

So there I am, out there surfing the interwebs looking at mommy blogs and checking out parent magazines—and the more I read, the more I realize—I’m in trouble. I mean, big trouble. Who are these parents in these magazines? Who are these moms that can clean a 4-bedroom house in 20 minutes, put in a full day at the office, and then prep a 7-course meal before hubby gets home—all the while blogging about it with a set of twins dangling from her breasts? Is that fiction? I also came across an entire parenting blog dedicated to storage. Um, OK, what? I mean, I can sort of see how organization might be catchy, but is that real life? Do these people actually live like that? Because if that’s my audience, I’m not going to sell shit.

I’m not a twenty-something perk-fest who smiles in her sleep and spends her days engaged in home-made crafts for her curious toddlers, and then spends her evenings mapping out the storage of lego pieces in colour-coded bins. I actually want to slap mothers with that kind of energy and committment across the face. Hard. The kind of slap you only see in old movies when someone is acting hysterical.

slapping

I’m gritty. I’m the kind of mother who scares other mothers. I’m aggressively unfancy and  socially handicapped by severe facial expressions. I blame the children for my deep scowls and twitchy temper. Yes, I said it. I’m not ashamed. It’s their fault. I was a beautiful woman once.

I kept a clean house once too. I think. Well, fairly clean. No, actually, I mean tidy. And that was only for about 10 minutes in 1996. Now, I name the dust bunnies that scoot across the hardwood floors when I enter a room. There are fingerprints on my mirrors that read like a childhood growth chart and yes, there is a styrofoam container in the back of my fridge with takeout from a restaurant that closed 2 years ago.  I do laundry on the schedule of mom-I-don’t-have-any-clean-underwear and I wash dishes when I run out of spoons. That’s gritty living right there.

I also cuss in front of my children and have been known to walk around in ratty underpants. I spend one hour a week fangirling over the latest episode of The Vampire Diaries—during which the only interruption I would allow is an air raid siren signalling the onset of the zombie apocalypse—and then for 15 minutes after the show while I have inappropriate daydreams about the Salvatore brothers. I’m not proud, but that’s the reality.

I’m a loud, moderately controlling, socially awkward, opinionated cuss-pot. I’m not the perfect parent, but I’m the perfect parent for them. We exist together happily. (Most of the time, anyway.) You won’t find organization, clean towels, or a place to sit in my house that isn’t covered in crystalized dog spit. But there’s laughter, love and acceptance here. If you don’t have that in your home, buy my ebook. (Or share it with someone you know.)

#grittymoms rule. 🙂

 

 

 

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