Where Have All The Boys Gone?

I have a four-year old son who believes he’s Elsa.

I’m okay with that, because Elsa is awesome, and because who else is he supposed to look up to and identify with when watching animated movies? And with that, I specifically refer to Disney or Pixar movies, because those are our preference in this house.

Consider the following list of films that we have at home (although my little boy hasn’t watched most of them yet – some of these movies are remarkably scary for stories aimed at kids!) and here I’m focusing specifically on main characters only:

Adult Male Main Character (9)

Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Wreck-It Ralph, Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc, Toy Story (x3), Tarzan

Adult Female Main Character (4)

Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo

Young Adult Male Main Character (3)

Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin

Young Adult Female Main Character (6)

Frozen, Tangled, Mulan, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid

Girl Main Character (3)

Moana, Brave, Tinker Bell (x5)

 Boy Main Character (2)

Big Hero 6, The Lion King

Other (2)

WALL-E, Ratatouille

From this list of 29 movies, only two of them have a young boy as the main protagonist – and of those two one is a lion. If we’re willing to look at older characters, then six of them have female leads, with only three who have male leads – and none of those three are exactly relatable to my son. The cards are turned as the characters get older, with a score of four for the women and nine for the men – although in all four cases for female characters they share the stage with the men.

So adult characters aside, in the representation of girls (9) vs boys (5), the boys are in the minority.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that girls have lots of female characters to watch and relate to, and that they’re no longer mostly concerned with attracting the attention of a marriageable guy. They’re feisty and fierce and clever and brave, and that’s all great. Even the ones that suffer from past stereotypes are still good (I grew up with these movies and I love them unconditionally).

But it’s a little problematic if you’re a little boy looking for a movie with a main character that you can identify with.

I think in the midst of the drive for gender equality the focus has shifted so much towards strong female characters aimed at empowering young girls, that the boys have been left by the wayside. All the arguments that have been made in the past for the inclusion of female role models now seem to apply to boys.

All I want on behalf of my son is a movie with a young human boy as the main character, who goes on a grand adventure and overcomes the odds while learning a few life lessons along the way. Is that too much to ask?

Granted, my sample might be skewed because all the movies we have in our house are the ones I loved as a girl (and still love),  but if I do a quick Internet search, the trend seems to hold strong.

I’m just a little worried than in trying to correct some mistakes of the past, we’re inadvertently making similar mistakes now. I suspect if I look at books for kids I’ll get the same results. This is such a basic discrimination (and let’s not even get started on the gender spectrum or race or religion discussions!) that can easily be rectified.

Creators: write inclusively, and don’t follow the trends of the day just for the sake of them.

Right now a little boy feels left out and confused. And we really don’t need more of that.

Have you noticed this trend too? Can you recommend any good animated movies aimed at little boys?

I Created My Book’s Characters in Sims 4!

Yes, I know, I’m a complete geek.

I had some unexpected free time over the Easter weekend and, instead of using it productively to write my book or something else meaningful, I spent an hour or so quickly creating mock-ups of the characters from Myth Hunter, my upcoming novel, in the Sims 4.

Ambrose and the gang!

How cute is this? If you’ve read Beginner’s Luck already, can you tell who any of these are?

Looking back on this image a few days later, I’m struck by the following thoughts:

  • For a novel with a male protagonist, I really have a lot of supporting female characters. That’s always been my plan, but I didn’t quite realise how outnumbered the boys are. This is something I might have to look into for the next series.
  • Although the majority of my characters are Caucasian, I’ve tried to be a little more diverse in my cast. I also have LGBTQ+ characters. Issues of race and gender are not a focus in my stories, and I find it difficult to write outside my own lived experience, but I do try to be inclusive. Hopefully readers will not be too offended or disappointed by my depiction of someone they may associate with.
  • There are quite a few important characters that I haven’t added to this picture, and one that isn’t important yet but will be in the second series.

I had a lot of fun creating these characters. I even picked out their traits and lifetime wishes! All I want to do now is go and play with them to see how they react to each other in-game! (Fortunately for my own productivity, I don’t particularly enjoy playing Sims 4. Sims 3 on the other hand…)

They say you have to write the book that you want to read. This series was definitely written for me. I think it’s such a fun story, and it includes a romp through Europe and an even greater cast of mythical creatures, adapted to fit my own universe. It appeals to both the traveller and the dreamer sides of my personality.

I hope readers will enjoy it too.

Either way, I can’t wait to start writing the next series! I have BIG plans for Ambrose and the gang.

Would you like to see more character images like this or do you prefer not to taint your own imagination? Interested in a little more in-depth character bio’s?

What Makes You DNF a Book?

This past weekend, for the first time in probably a decade, I gave up on a book. I wanted to throw it across the room and out the window, but since I was reading via the Kindle app on my phone, I held myself in. Instead, I created a new DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf for it on Goodreads, where it now quietly languishes on its own.

To say I was sorely disappointed is an understatement. It’s the third book in a series that started off with such great promise. I gave the first book 4 stars, for crying out loud! The second book wasn’t as good, but I figured it probably suffered from second book syndrome, gave it the benefit of the doubt and a 3-star rating, and eagerly anticipated the last instalment. What makes it even worse is that I sort of know the author (from our mutual Facebook writing group) and expected much better.

Strangely enough, this novel currently has an average rating of 4.59 stars on Goodreads, with  a number of gushing reviews, proclaiming it to be “love, love, love” and “everything you could want”. Apparently it has “all the feels” – and with that statement I’m guessing the reviewer wasn’t referring to the feeling that I had of wanting to rather commit ritual seppuku than read one more paragraph.

What did I hate so much about this book, you may wonder.

I recently shared this article about strong female characters on my Facebook page written by an author who is able to explain the issues I have with this book so much more eloquently than I ever could.

Everything said in this article holds true for me. A female character does not need to suffer endless physical abuse to make her stronger. Sure, if the novel’s theme is about violence and maltreatment and the journey of overcoming or rising above such circumstances, by all means go for it. And I love a girl who can grab a sword and fight right beside the boys, or hone her body into a weapon with which to overthrow the oppressors. But if the violence is gratuitous and just for the sake of showing us she’s a badass, then my teeth start grinding against each other. Throw in a supposed love interest who treats her like shit, but she can’t help falling for his tortured and misunderstood soul, even though she is already involved with another man who, surprise-surprise also doesn’t have the best track record, then I end up writing rant posts like this one.

Maybe I’ve just read one too many frustrating young adult dystopian love triangles in the last few years. And maybe I’m alone in wanting strong female characters who are actually strong because they have grit and determination and a sense of self-worth that isn’t dependent on what the moody man-boy thinks of her.  Maybe enduring torture, rape threats, and forced bonding rituals for no other reason than to make another man jealous make the average reader love a “strong” female character, but I’m holding out for something with a little more nuance and a lot more authenticity.

Maybe this book isn’t as bad as I think it is and redeems itself deeper in, but I DNF’ed it at 35%, so I guess I’ll never know.

What makes you put a book down without finishing it? Can you think of any strong female characters done right? Are there any books you hate as much as I hated this one – and why?

Ambrose’s Scotland

In SPRIGGAN’S QUEST, the very last installment of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE Series 1, Ambrose has to find three legendary items. His quest takes him to Ireland, Wales and Scotland in a whirlwind race against time.

When I think of Scotland, I think of cold, misty days, tartan, warm comfort food, shaggy cows, and shortbread! It’s a country I’ve visited twice already, and I’m sure I’ll go again. I had a great time reliving those memories in Ambrose’s footsteps, and I hope you will too.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Cardiff to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Scotland?

What I’m Currently Working On: Something New!

Someone asked in my writer’s group why people are suddenly saying they are so much more productive now that we’re all confined to our houses during coronavirus lockdown. Is it because we’re no longer commuting, or gossiping at watercoolers, or going out for drinks in the evening…?

The answer in my case is energy. I’m an introvert (in fact, my Myers Briggs test revealed that I am 98% introverted), which means that any time I spend in the company of others drains my battery.

Now that I’m at home, locked away in the study with only limited interaction with my immediate family, it’s like I’m the Energizer bunny. I have energy for everything at the end of the workday!

So, what am I doing with all my newfound joie de vivre?

  • I’m busy editing the final version of Spriggan’s Quest – the last installment of Series 1 of the Mythical Menagerie series. I’m still waiting for feedback from some betas, but I expect to be done with these changes within a week or so.
  • I’ve applied for and received ISBN numbers (for e-book, paperback and audio) and will soon contact my designer to make covers for paperback and audio too (have you seen my gorgeous cover yet?).
  • I’ve completed a Udemy course on how to make little videos and am learning the basics of DaVinci Resolve (professional video editing software) so I can make a book trailer.
  • I’ve got two webinar replays lined up that deal with book formatting and book release strategies – I’ll probably watch them in the next week – and then start formatting the book.
  • I’ve been reading more non-fiction, which has sparked all sorts of ideas for flash fiction for my monthly newsletter.
  • I have NOT been blogging consistently (or pretty much at all) this year, because I was focused on getting Ambrose done, but I did add two new posts about Rome and Ireland and plan to do more blogging now that the pressure is off. That includes writing about last year’s trip to Slovenia and Croatia on my travel blog.

But most exciting of all – I’ve plotted out a new story!

I wanted to take a little break from writing Ambrose’s adventures while I focus on getting the novel published, so I thought it would be the ideal time to write a short story that’s been at the back of my head for a while now. The idea for this story started out as a scene I wanted to write as a flash fiction, but I put one sentence down on paper and knew it would have to be something longer. It’s been idling ever since then.

I dusted off Scrivener (which I love, but rarely use, due to the fact that it’s not great for syncing between laptops, but since I’m now permanently at home I’m only working on one laptop anyway) and have plotted the entire story out on the cork board. I wanted to see if I had enough ideas and content to turn this story into a novella (roughly 40k words) as opposed to a short story (under 10k words). Turns out I do!

As a bonus side effect of this technique, I was also able to see all the problems in pacing and conflict with my first plot outline. I used the labelling options to mark some scenes red and others green to indicate if they help my protagonist move towards or away from her goals, and realized that there were lots of green and barely any red. Not enough stumbling blocks! Then I reworked and reshuffled scenes, and added a few new ones, and I’m as happy as I can be with the plot for now.

Now I just have to scrape up the courage to actually start writing… 

How are you keeping busy during this lockdown period? Are you going slowly insane, or are you enjoying the time off from the hustle and bustle?

Ambrose’s Ireland

I’ll admit it – I haven’t been to Ireland yet! Something that I’ll rectify in the very near future, because we’re planning on traveling through the Emerald Isle in June 2020, if the corona virus allows.

But that hasn’t stopped Ambrose from going there in search of luck in SPRIGGAN’S QUEST, the final installment of Series 1 of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE. Unlike the other stories, he doesn’t spend any time in a city, but immediately goes off into the countryside – a place that is green and verdant and mysterious in my imagination…

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Ireland to get your own imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Ireland?

Ambrose’s Rome

“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.” ~ Mason Cooley

In this time when people are self-isolating in the hope of avoiding the spread of COVID-19, and travellers have been advised to rather stay home, what better way to still trot the globe than from the comfort of your own armchair? That’s the beauty of reading, and it’s also one of the reasons why I wrote the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series – to help me revisit all my favourite European cities when I couldn’t do so in person.

In HUNTER’S RESOLVE, the fifth installment of the series, Ambrose Davids finds himself in Rome, on the trail of a trafficker. The Eternal City is a bucket list destination for many and while Italy is currently in quarantine with its borders closed off to the rest of the world, following Ambrose on his adventures might just be the best way to enjoy this beautiful city.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Rome to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Rome?

Cover Reveal: Myth Hunter

The wait is finally over…

After almost three years, I’m just about ready to publish my first full-length novel! Long-time readers will know that when I started writing the Mythical Menagerie series, I envisioned them as serialised installments, each a short story of their own, that would eventually encompass one large story arc.

Initially I released these individual installments on their own, but since serialisation works best when there’s a new release every week or so and I write glacially slow, that plan never really worked. By the time Part 3 came out, people couldn’t remember what had happened in Part 1 anymore.

So I had to change my plans and I decided to bunch a group of stories together into a Series 1 collection that would be the length of a complete novel. All the stories in Series 1 are complete on their own, but together they form a larger story that can stand on its own, but will eventually just be the start of all the adventures I have in mind for Ambrose Davids, Freelance Procurement Specialist. I hope this will be a better format for my readers and I really hope they’ll hold out until the whole story line is complete!

When I published the first three installments, I had to have covers designed for each of them. Although I really liked these covers (especially the one for Beginner’s Luck), people in the know told me that they didn’t exactly conform to genre expectations. What do you think?

Now that I’m releasing a complete novel, I had the chance to take all of the genre expectations in mind and come up with something much more suitable. And I absolutely love it!

So without further ado… Ta-daaaa!

This cover was designed by the incredibly talented Covers by Tallulah and I think it conveys the spirit of the story I’ve written while looking like it’s urban fantasy, albeit something different from the usual fare.

What do you think?

Looking Ahead to 2020

Where did 2019 go? I blinked and it was gone! I swear, the older I get, the faster the years go by. So as we stand on the cusp of not only a new year, but also a new decade, let’s invoke Janus, god of doorways, to look at the year gone by and the new year ahead.

Janus, Roman god of doorways | Adolphe Giraldon, Wikimedia Commons

How did I do with my writerly resolutions for 2019?

Complete all instalments of the Mythical Menagerie series

Done! Sort of. I still need to edit the final instalment of Book 1, which I anticipate to have ready for beta readers around the end of January 2020.

Compile the completed series as a single novel to be published wide

Fail! I wanted to get this done before my 40th birthday, which was in June 2019. Things didn’t work out as planned, but I’m hoping to get it published early 2020, before my next birthday, which still sort of adheres to that milestone.

Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece

Done! I have quite the collection of flash fiction pieces now. Not yet enough words for a novel, but maybe by the end of 2020 it will be enough to either set up for sale as a collection, or give away as a freebie for subscribers.

Write bi-weekly blog posts as part of a content marketing strategy

Sort of… I do try to write at least twice a month, but sometimes this falls by the wayside. Certainly something I can be better at.

Complete the first draft of a full fantasy novel

Fail! Not even close. I am a glacially slow writer and Ambrose’s adventures are taking up all my writing time. Still something to aim for.

Grow my email list to 1000 subscribers

Fail! My strategy has changed since I made this resolution. My list was close to 700 subscribers at one point, but is now down to just over 650. I’ve come to the realisation that it’s not quantity but quality that matters here. Instead of forcing lots of freebie seekers to subscribe in exchange for a free read (which just languishes unread on their TBR pile in any case), I’m letting the list grow organically now. I’d much rather have someone on it who is there willingly and of their own accord, and who enjoys what I write. Having ten people email me to tell me how much they enjoyed my story is infinitely better than having 700 people who just ignore my unopened mails.

Release an audio book version of one of my short stories

Fail! Let’s finish one format before we tackle another one.

I also had the following secondary objectives:

Increase followers and their engagement on my Facebook page

Fail! I currently have 77 Facebook followers, most of which are family and friends.

Use Instagram more effectively to engage with the book reading community

Fail! I have around 165 Instagram followers at the moment, pretty much the same as last year.

Create a monthly video for my (much neglected) YouTube channel

Fail! This is not something I focussed on in 2019. I’m still a little camera shy…

Create some sort of writing or reading course for passive income

Fail! I’m in two minds over this one. Of course, passive income would be fantastic, but who am I to give writing advice? There are literally thousands of people out there more qualified to do this than me. Maybe in the far future.

Well, it seems like I’ve really been slacking in 2019 with only 2.5 of my goals actually achieved. This is the reason why I find roundup posts like these so invaluable – so I can get motivated again to pick my socks up and get my act together.

What did I achieve this past year?

  • I wrote 3 instalments (2 of which are novelette length and the third is novella length)
  • I changed tactics from releasing each instalment to keeping them and compiling them into a novel length “Series 1” in a longer running novel series
  • I made Beginner’s Luck free on various platforms and unpublished both Banshee’s Wail and Asrai’s Curse so as not to confuse readers
  • I had a new book cover for the complete novel designed by a talented cover designer (cover reveal to come soon in the new year)
  • I changed email provider from Mailchimp to Mailerlite
  • I created Strawberry Moon Press, my own publishing imprint
  • I decided on a publishing strategy for when the novel is finally finished
  • I travelled through Slovenia and Croatia for 3 weeks and came back inspired!
  • I attempted NaNoWriMo again – and finally made peace with the fact that it’s just not for me
  • I completed Neil Gaiman’s Storytelling Master Class
  • I completed a Udemy course on Social Media Marketing Mastery
  • I read 48 books

So I did manage a few things at least, even if I didn’t deliver on most of my resolutions.

Here’s what I have in mind for 2020:

  • Complete and publish Series 1 of the Mythical Menagerie Series
  • Write and edit 3 instalments of Series 2 of the Mythical Menagerie Series
  • Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece for my email subscribers
  • Compile a flash fiction collection novel
  • Write bi-monthly blog posts for my author blog
  • Write bi-monthly blog posts for my travel blog
  • Read 1 non-fiction book per month

Additionally, if I have enough focus and energy left, I’d like to also do the following:

  • Complete the first draft of a fantasy novel
  • Engage more and grow my following on Facebook
  • Engage more and grow my following on Instagram
  • Create some content for my YouTube channel

2020’s list looks a lot like 2019’s, I see. However, I do believe that it’s doable and, with my eternal optimism revving at high speed, I’m ready to make it happen this year.

What are your plans for the new year? Did you achieve any of your resolutions for 2019?

My 2019 in Books

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 47 books this year. There are still a few days left in 2019 and I expect that number might go up by one or two more, but let’s work with those 47 for now.

47 feels like a very low number to me. In 2018, I read 62 books, but many of those were free novellas from indie authors, while this year I read more full-length novels. The amount of pages read is about 1500 or so less, so in reality I guess I have been slacking a little bit this year. I don’t really understand why people would challenge themselves to read x number of books though – read as many as you like! Some are short and some are long, some are audio only and others are mostly graphic art, but as long as you do read, it’s all good.

They say your thoughts and ideas are formed by what you read, so let’s have a look at what was bubbling around in my brain in 2019.

(Please note, I’ve added affiliate links to some of these books – they won’t cost you anything extra, but if you decide to buy from the link I’ll get a small commission to help feed my reading habit.)

Books That I Read for Review Purposes

I love that I get paid to read books, but seriously, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Indie publishing means there are no more gatekeepers, but oftentimes those gatekeepers are sorely needed. The books I read for review this year were generally not too bad, thank goodness. One was excellent and one nearly did me in. We’ll see if I continue with this particular time sink next year.

Books by Author Friends

It’s always nerve-wracking to read a book written by a friend – what if I don’t like it? Should I be honest or should I sugarcoat it? Luckily, my friends are all excellent writers! I particularly enjoyed Starheart, A Study of Ash and Smoke, and Last Fight of the Old Hound!

Books on Writing and Marketing

I’m always trying to improve my writing skills, and I’ve discovered a love for book marketing. Most people don’t realise how difficult it is to write a (good) novel! And trying to get other people to actually read it is even more challenging (even more so if they need to pay for it first).

Other Non-Fiction Books

I’m a little disappointed by how short this list is. Reading non-fiction is where I get my ideas from and it fills my creative well, so I’ll definitely need to make it a priority for 2020. I always used to read one book for fun, followed by one book for the mind, but this habit has fallen by the wayside the last few years. Time to implement it again, I think. This year, my favourite non-fiction book was Big Magic and I’d recommend it to any creative in need of some motivation or inspiration.

Books that were Okay

Sometimes books just don’t live up to my expectations. They may have an interesting idea, or great writing or fantastic worldbuilding, but somehow they just disappoint. For me, The Belles was great on almost all counts, except that it didn’t convey the message that the shallow society and its crappy morals are less than ideal. Similarly, I really wanted to like Angelfall (because angels) and Talon (because dragons), but they just didn’t do much for me.

Books that I Liked

I’d recommend every book on this list, either for their great writing, great characters and/or plot, or creativity. They were all fun reads, but just lacked that little something that pushes a book from being good to being great. I was particularly pleased to discover The Mermaid’s Sister, which has beautifully lyrical writing and quirky characters, and the concept of time as a currency in Everless was fascinating.

Books that I Loved

Needless to say, I think you should add all of these books to your TBR pile if you haven’t read them already. The Swan Thieves and The Shadow of the Wind were both riveting, and The First Time I Died was clever and quirky.

My favourite book of 2019 was hands-down Strange the Dreamer – I loved everything about it and it makes me want to quit writing, because I’ll never be as good as this book is.

What was your favourite book this year? Recommend something I have to read in 2020 in the comments below.