March update

I may be a tiny bit behind on my goal of writing a million words this year, but it’s not out of reach. I’ve written a lot of poems in the past month, and have done some heavy work on world development, characters and the plot for two books in different series. I’m really excited by both series, and took the time to read several books on craft (I recommend Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland).

I’d hoped to have the next book out by the end of this month, but I’m running about three weeks behind. That means an April release for Warden of Storms under my pen name K K Ness. In the past, I’ve felt disappointed or ashamed by publishing delays. This year feels different, where my focus is on developing as an author, focussing on craft, and not worrying so much about deadlines.

It’s feeling good so far.

And following on from my last post, the PDT treatment on my face went really well. Most of the redness receded after ten days, and my skin is now clear and better than it was before. I’m kinda looking forward to the next few rounds of PDT, too. There’s a certain relief in knowing that a medical issue is being dealt with, rather than being left to fester.

So 2019 is shaping up to be a healthful, productive year!

blog post

Cancer and countdowns

Okay, that’s a gloomy heading, and perhaps a bit more dramatic than warranted, but the past few weeks have been more full on than expected.

I’ll start with the cancer. After my last blog post, I went to a skin specialist to have my freckles and moles checked (a necessity when living in Queensland), and discovered that a spot on my back had been misdiagnosed as benign six years ago. A sizeable excision was taken from my back (it now looks like a baby shark decided to take a bite), and the results came back as an aggressive BCC (basal cell carcinoma). While it’s the ‘safest’ type of skin cancer you can get, mine had been squatting there for six years and had grown deep, and is expected to recur. I’m a little bummed by this, as I wasn’t expecting to have skin cancer at 37 years old (or technically at 31), but I’m also pale, freckled and burn rather than tan. Wear sunblock, people!

Day 1 of PDT

Day 1 of PDT: swelling, oozing and pain!

Five days ago, I also underwent PDT (photodynamic therapy) to deal with any cancerous and pre-cancerous cells on my nose and cheeks. It involved having my face sandpapered, a cream put on and left to seep in for three hours, and then being baked under a red light for about 10mins. The heat from the light was so intense I could feel my skin shrivelling, hardening and cracking liky a crusty loaf of bread. It was alarming and super painful even with nerve blockers.

 

My face is now bright red, tender, itchy, oozing and peeling. I won’t know how successful the treatment has been for a few months, and it’s likely I’ll need to go another round, particularly for my scorched nose. In the meantime, I’m hiding in the house because there’s only so much pointing and staring a woman can take.

I’ll say it one more time:

Wear. Sunblock.

As for the countdown…I’m talking about the goal of 1 million words in 2019.

The whole business with my skin has been a bit of a distraction, so I’m feeling a little doubtful about reaching it. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the type of woman I need to be in order to write a million words.

Being someone who writes regularly and a lot is a given, but I don’t think that a million words is possible (or healthy) without coming from a place of enjoyment, capability, and self belief. Like so many writers, I write not because I want to, but because I need to. I feel hollowed out and sad if I don’t write for an extended period of time. Life would be easier if the stories weren’t calling me.

But a million words is the other end of the spectrum. It demands a lot of time and energy and willpower. Setbacks feel big and impossible to overcome (just like the goal itself). And if I approach the goal wrong, it’ll cause burnout. In truth, I’ve spent decades feeling miserable and full of doubt because of my writing. There have been long periods where I forgot how to love being a writer. Some of my bleakest moments have stemmed from the guilt, shame and doubt that burbles up when I sit in front of the laptop. It doesn’t matter that I’ve published three books. I’m very familiar with feeling like a self-indulgent fraud.

So my writing the past few weeks has been around light topics, like poems about my dog and word prompts from one of my favourite books: Theasaurus of the Senses by Linda Hart. I open it to a random page and then write a paragraph, short story or scene involving whatever word leaps out at me.

None of this writing will see the light of day. There’s a lot of pressure on writers to be ‘productive’. Fanciful stories about the coarseness of sand and poetic puffery about dogs kinda misses the mark. But I’ve had fun.

While the next K K Ness book is moving forward and will be out at the end of next month (eep!), reminding myself that I love writing has been the biggest progress toward a million words so far.

Female Stereotypes

I don’t know if I’ve made some poor choices lately or if it’s a reflection of ongoing gender stereotyping, but the female characters in the fantasy books I’ve been reading have played into some pretty shitty tropes: the meek and caring girl, the hapless love-driven schemer, the whore with a heart of gold, and the woman requiring rape in order to ‘grow’.

Where is the strong, independent female character whose self-worth and growth is not predicated on a dominant, masculine force?

I’m not saying that a female character can’t look for love or enjoy sexual freedom (hell, yes!), but why does it have to be her most defining contribution to the story? And let’s not even go there on the whole rape trope.

Seriously. What the hell, people.

And, sorry, making a female character a mercenary, sword fighter or ship’s captain doesn’t automatically make them ‘strong’ women. Strong characters aren’t defined by their physicality. It’s the inherent core of their being—their personality, flaws, foibles and decisions—that defines the character.

By plonking women into traditionally male positions which require physical strength, the writer can skip over any real sort of character development and still wave their hands around, saying, ‘See? Strong woman character over here!’ But what the writer is really saying is that these female characters are ‘strong’ despite their gender. They act like men. They fight like men. They’re essentially men with shapely breasts.

This type of writing is lazy, divisive and patronising. And I’m done reading it.

Come on, writers, we can do better than this.

Rant over.