Michille: First Lines

Take a HintI have blogged about first lines before – best, worst, would you keep reading, etc. One time, it resulted from my daughter (another voracious reader) bringing home a bag of random books and we sat around the dining table after dinner and read the first lines/paragraphs of several of the books. The motivation for this post came from a book I just started, which has a funny first line that gives a very good impression of the writing style and the language the characters use:

Talia Hibbert, Take a Hint, Dani Brown: The moon was high and full, the night was ripe for witchy business, and Danika Brown had honey on her tit. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Marginalized Characters

I’ll admit I was sorely tempted to skip posting this week and just binge-watch Hamilton, but since it made me cry every time I saw it live (and I did so several times) or listened to the soundtrack (which I did even more times), I decided to pause that thought and save those tears for another day.

I’m currently taking an online class sponsored by The Beau Monde, the Regency writer’s group that is (was?) part of RWA.  The class, Critical Lens, is taught by LaQuette and aimed at those “interested in learning what constitutes positive representation and how we can respectfully depict communities we don’t belong to.

One of the first topics addressed was “Marginalized Characters” and the session started with a simple description of a variety of characters.  Some white some not.  Some gay, some not.  There were various professions, income levels, and housing choices.  And a young white billionaire.

The exercise was simple:  Which characters do you find believable (and why or why not)? Continue reading

Jeanne: Sitting with Your Setting

Animal figures carved on steleSettings play a huge role in my demon novels. All of the books spend some time in my take on Hell, which is a cross between the fire-and-brimstone Hell described by the terrifying Baptist preachers of my childhood and the equally terrifying large corporations I worked for during my career as a software engineer, but each of them also has a more mundane setting here Aboveworld.

The first book, The Demon Always Wins, is set in northern Florida, near the ocean along the Georgia border. My eldest sister lives there, so I’ve spent several vacations in that area over the years. Much of the book takes place in a free clinic staffed by paid staff and volunteer doctors, similar to one I worked in as the office manager for eighteen months.

The second book, The Demon’s in the Details is set in Sedona, AZ. I’ve never had the joy of living in that beautiful place, but I did spend a wonderful week there in January, 2016, getting the lay of the land and soaking up atmosphere, before setting pen to paper (or fingertips to keys).

From this, you can deduce that I like to actually visit and spend time in the settings where my books are going to take place. I like to know, before I start writing, how the light looks (crystal clear, like Sedona? or a little smudged with humidity, like Florida?), what the place smells like (ocean? rotting vegetation? cooking spices?), the ambient noises.

Recently I’ve been doing research for the setting for The Demon Wore Stilettos. After brainstorming with Eight Lady Jilly and poking around on Google, I came across a place I think will be perfect: Gobekli Tepe, in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border.

Depositphotos_308477512_s-2019

Gobleki Tepe, which means “potbelly hill,” is the site of an archaeological dig of what is believed to be the oldest religious site in the world. Diggers have uncovered a series of layers of carved stone pillars, some ten meters high, set in circles. There are three main circles, which in turn form the points of an equilateral triangle. Based on carbon dating, it was originally built around 9600 B.C., making it six thousand years older than Stonehenge.

Let that sink in for a moment–it is twice as old as Stonehenge. It was built before there was written language, before metallurgy, before the invention of agriculture, before there were cities.

One of the reasons archaeologists have identified Gobekli Tepe as a religious site is that no signs of day to day life, like cooking implements, have been discovered there. The hunter gatherers who built it weren’t there just living their everyday lives. They came there for the specific purpose of building a temple.

The area around Gobleki Tepe is also believed by some Biblical scholars to be the site of the Garden of Eden. Where, as you may know, Lilith first came into existence. (If you’re interested in a free short story about Lilith’s origin, you can get it by signing up for my newsletter, The Gehenna Gazette, over on my website.)

The nearest city is Sanliurfa (aka Urfa).

 

 

So how do you immerse yourself in a setting you can’t actually visit?

  • Google
  • YouTube
  • Visit Turkish (in this case) restaurants
  • Talk to a former work colleague who emigrated from Turkey

Other suggestions?

 

Jilly: Independence Daze

Happy Fourth of July to the other Ladies, and to all American readers of 8LW. It’s been a year like no other, but I hope you found a suitable way to celebrate.

Here in Merrie England we’re also enjoying a very special weekend. The Prime Minister announced an easing of covid-19 lockdown measures, beginning yesterday, and suddenly all kinds of socially distanced fun and games are back on the cards.

Now that so many suspended activities are possible again, it’s been interesting to see which ones I’m desperate to return to and which ones I’ve decided can wait a little longer.

Home Visits
We’re allowed to receive visitors at home now, though outside is better and social distancing is de rigueur. We’re expecting an in-person visit from a real, live friend this afternoon. We’ll sit in the garden and keep our distance, but the idea of an in-the-flesh social interaction is thrilling. Humans are social animals, aren’t we? Zoom, Skype, and Facetime are better than nothing, but they don’t come close to a face to face catch-up. We’re expecting visits from another friend, maybe two, before the end of next week and I couldn’t be happier.

Restaurants
I don’t feel tempted to check out smart city center restaurants, but we’ve missed our weekly visit to the local Bangladeshi eatery. It’s part of the fabric of our neighborhood—everyone goes there. The food isn’t fancy, but it’s tasty and consistently good. The people who run the show are great—smart, hardworking, and kind. Dinner there is part of my routine, like taking a grocery delivery or writing a blog post. We like to eat early, when it’s nice and quiet. I’m looking forward to getting into that groove again.

Hairdressers
It’s been four months since I had a haircut. Normally I get fretful if I hit the five-week mark. I’ve been going to the same stylist and colorist for around 20 years. I’m good friends with both, and with many other people at their salon. My stylist is a great supporter of my writing. He loves to talk creativity and gave me the germ of the idea that became the elan stories. My colorist usually works with celebrities around the world and is a great person to quiz for the latest ideas, trends and insights.

I can’t wait to see them, but I’ve been checking up on the covid-secure rules for running a salon and don’t envy them the task of putting the necessary measures in place. They’ll be trying to do everything right, delivering their best work while keeping their staff and clients safe. Balancing a waitlist of demanding clients while keeping the salon half-empty and adhering to their long list of protocols. I’ve decided to give them a few weeks, maybe a month. If the salon has settled into a new normal by the end of August, that will do nicely.

Dentists
Our dental surgery re-opened. Whoo! My husband and I have appointments next week for check-ups that were canceled months ago. The experience is likely to be weird. Our dentist is chatty. His practice is friendly and informal. It’s going to be strange to see him kitted out in PPE and talking through a visor. I like him a lot, but I’ve never before thought of a dental check-up as a treat. I snapped up the first appointment I was offered and am feeling ridiculously excited about it.

Travel
From today people in England are allowed to travel for pleasure and to stay overnight in hotels, campsites and B&Bs. That was a popular decision—yesterday there were huge tailbacks on roads heading to the coast and well-known beauty spots.

We’re also starting to relax quarantine rules for arrivals from various countries. Airlines are scheduling flights, and apparently optimists are rushing to book holidays before their children go back to school (in September, assuming that goes to plan).

I’ve always enjoyed travel, and dear lord I’d love a change of scenery, but right now I feel no inclination to buy a train ticket or book a hotel, let alone hop on a plane. It’s partly the health risk, but at least as much the knowledge that the world could change again in the blink of an eye and we could find ourselves stranded, far from home, possibly for a very long time and potentially uninsured. I’m glad we’ve taken some very special trips over the years, because I can’t see us straying far from home unless/until the dust settles, and I’m guessing that may take years rather than months.

It’s exciting to feel that we may be returning to a kind of normality, though as I’m watching the rest of the world I have a sinking feeling that this may just be a lull before the next storm. I hope I’m wrong.

So…how’s your weekend going? And have you noticed a change in your priorities during these crazy days?

Michaeline: Fourth of July

Older ladies sitting in the shade with their shoes off while others wade in the lake.

This is one of my favorite pictures of the Fourth of July — being with good friends in the summer heat, and just kicking off your shoes and relaxing in the shade. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

For Americans in the reading audience, Happy Fourth of July (fraught with meaning)! For non-Americans, Happy Fourth of July (random day, so why not be happy?).

I love the Fourth of July. It’s the day that the Continental Congress declared they were no longer subject to George III, and it’s smack in the middle of the long summer holidays from school that in my case lasted from the end of May to the end of August. My family had picnics, and sometimes family reunions, and always, always, always fireworks. There’s a streak of pyromania that runs in both sides of the family DNA, and we enjoyed setting off the mild fireworks that Nebraska allowed, then going to see the big fireworks down by the pond.

Things are different here in Japan. Fireworks are on sale, but aren’t really a big deal until mid-August in Hokkaido. The first of the summer fireworks shows start at the end of July. At any rate, much as I love fireworks, the dogs and the cows hate them, and they outvote me on this. We might do a smoke bomb or two or some wee sparklers, but that’s it at home.

Menu ideas for the fourth of July with an explanation of what the Fourth of July is. There is no "Republican," no "Democrat," on the Fourth of July -- all are Americans.

Here’s what an ideal Fourth of July looked like long ago — fried chicken for breakfast! And, “(t)here is no “Republican,” no “Democrat,” on the Fourth of July — all are Americans.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Back in Nebraska, being in the middle of summer vacations, Fourth of July wasn’t what you’d call an intellectual celebration. Oh, you learned stuff, that was sure. Fireworks are full of science and physics, and also about responsibility for your actions and consequences. Very educational, that. And of course, the mayonnaise-based salads could provide a health lesson, but my mom was very much in favor of lecture mode vs. the school of hard knocks (major concentration in food poisoning), and we never suffered from that.

This year might mean the smartest thing to do is stay home. My hometown had plenty of parking, and a lot of room on a wide, grassy hill, so maybe they’ll have a safe, socially distanced fireworks display. People could probably park at the old drive-in theater (if it’s still undeveloped) and enjoy the whole show from their cars and never leave the bubble.

But not every town has that sort of space (or small population). It’ll be interesting to see what kind of new traditions evolve to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Originally, I was going to write a whole blog post full of suggestions for a fun and educational Fourth. Watch a movie! Read some books! Play History Charades! Enjoy a traditional meal from your family’s heritage – because they were the people who helped build America. Enjoy a traditional side-dish from someone else’s heritage, because they made America the country it is today. Set an alert on your calendar for the next business day to make sure you are registered to vote, and to apply for an absentee ballot if you need one (you might really need one this year).

But then, I thought, who am I kidding? It’s the middle of summer. I’m going to arrange some flowers, have hot dogs for supper, set the alert on my calendar, and call it good. That’s probably good enough.

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Welcome to the end of another week in what feels like the longest Twilight Zone episode ever.

Apparently whoever is authoring this episode thought that we were getting complacent and the stakes needed to be upped a bit.  As if those earlier murder hornets weren’t enough.  Now we have skyrocketing infections plus a new strain of H1N1 on the horizon.  A perfect time for my dentist appointment on Monday.

Nothing but good times ahead.

For now, we’re kicking off a holiday weekend here–celebrating our breakup with Mother England.  I’m sure everyone will wear their masks, wash their hands, and observe appropriate social distancing as the celebrate.

Oh, who am I kidding.

Well, I at least will do all three as I continue to shelter-in-place here in the Writing Castle, which now has a (mostly) working sprinkler system but is still lacking a repaired retaining wall.

To take my mind off reality and give myself something to do other than worry that one of the idiots shooting off illegal fireworks will set my hillside on fire, I think I’ll give today’s writing prompt and random words at shot.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all–Which Cover Works Best?

The “calm” one

I’m sorry to plague you all with yet another cover query, but I’ve been looking at this thing for so long that I’m not sure what I’m seeing any more.

The new cover for Betting on Hope is essentially done. The copy has been tweaked since you saw it last, and the last thing to be decided is the color saturation. I have three variations, and they vary only slightly: One is the “calm” one, one is the “hot” one, and one is “the other one.”

The “hot” one

I’d like to know what you think: Which one is easiest to read? (I realize that if you’re looking at this post from a phone, none of them will be easy to read—it’s scarcely readable from my computer screen.) Does any of them appeal to you more than the others? What about the color on that back cover?

Any thoughts on these or other matters gratefully received.

The “other” one

Elizabeth: The Dominant Narrative

A few Wednesdays ago I posted that I was planning to attend a virtual writing convention.  It was a plan that, sadly, went awry, due in large part to my writing the reminder about the class down on my calendar in the wrong month.  I realized my mistake today, one day after the conference had concluded.

Quel dommage!

Thank goodness I had forgotten to register as well!  On the whole, I wasn’t too terribly devastated. A four-day virtual conference was always going to be a bit of a stretch for my attention span.  Though I was sorry to miss the Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!

Lucky for me, that wasn’t the only virtual learning event on my calendar.  I happily spent a portion of this past Friday and Saturday at another, shorter virtual conference and came away with more than I expected for my $25 fee (though, sadly, without prizes).

The event got off to a bit of a slow start, with the kind of Zoom-technical-difficulties that have become commonplace in our Age of Coronavirus, but once everything was straightened out we were up and running.  First up was a talk by LaQuette entitled “An Intimate Conversation about Representation and Authenticity in Fiction”  I wish I had taken notes, since I’ve already forgotten almost all that I heard (fortunately, I can listen to a replay of the session later), but she was definitely interesting, engaging, and someone I’d like to hear (and read) more from.  Coincidentally, she’s teaching a short course that I’ve enrolled in, which starts in . . . just a few hours. Continue reading

Jeanne: Writing through Coronabrain

Digital illustration of macro Covid-19 cells floating over a human brain and a web of connection. Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic concept digital compositeWhen I was a child, my mother sent me to the local YWCA for swimming lessons. Although I took lessons for what I remember as an entire winter, I never really mastered the art of moving horizontally through water.

There were two issues I couldn’t seem to overcome:

  1. I never got to where I could put my face in the water and turn my head for breath every few strokes. Putting my face in the water engendered a feeling of panic I could never conquer–not even after spending a week faithfully practicing dunking my face in the tub when I took my bath each night.
  2. The frustration that came from furiously flailing my skinny little arms and legs until the whistle blew, only to discover that I hadn’t progressed forward to any appreciable degree, left me unenthusiastic about continuing.

Lately, I’ve had much the same feeling when I sit down to work on my manuscript. I work away industriously, face in the water for what feels like hours, only to surface and find that I’m still in the same spot I was when I jumped in (though without that gasping sense of panic that I can’t breathe, so that’s good).

Part of that is the Coronabrain mentioned in the title of this post–difficulties in focusing brought on by the stress of living through (and watching my kids and other loved ones struggle through) a global public health crisis whose long-term impacts are impossible to predict and there are no guarantees we’ll all make it out alive and solvent.

But with cases back on the rise and no relief in the near-term future, it feels like it’s time to figure out how to propel myself forward, despite the situation.

One of the problems is that I’ve let myself wander away from my trusty schedule of writing from eight to noon. I’ve been staying up later at nights and therefore getting up later in the morning, making it difficult to work out, shower and breakfast before eight a.m. And since I am not at my desk by eight, I go ahead and prioritize other things (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning) ahead of writing.

This week I’m going to try to return to my schedule, putting writing at the top of my list again. I’m going to try giving myself a reward (watching an episode of Gilmore Girls, which I recently discovered on Netflix and LOVE) each day that I complete one thousand words. So we’ll see how that goes.

If you’re having any luck with productivity, what magic spell are you casting?

Jilly: The Murderbot Dilemma

How much would you pay for an ebook? Or a series?

I’ve been trying to decide whether to invest in Martha Wells’ Murderbot books. I don’t usually dither over book purchases, but this series has me hovering over the buy button.

The community on Argh Ink (Jenny Crusie’s blog) loves Murderbot. Jenny loves and re-reads the series. These are smart people. They read a lot. They’re sharply observant and constructively critical about their recommendations and DNFs. They tend to like the kind of stories I like. So that’s a strong positive.

I read the first novella, All Systems Red, and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t desperate to read the next book immediately, but I haven’t forgotten it and moved on. I felt like that about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles—had a hiatus of maybe a couple of years before I bought the second book—but that series became a favorite and one that I regularly re-read.

The Murderbot premise is great—an introverted, self-hacking robot protagonist who’s technically not a person but who has an engaging personality–fascinating, funny and conflicted. The author makes you care about the character. The writing is clever and complex. The stories are sci-fi, with lots of great world-building and action, but deeply character-driven. As far as I can see from a quick scan of the reviews, the first four novellas arc to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s really only one argument against Murderbot. The price. According to the many disgruntled reviews on the Zon, the first four titles are essentially one book, with each act published as a separate novella. According to Amazon US at the time of writing, they are: Continue reading