Jeanne: Things to be Thankful For

It’s been a tough year for most of us, so when Eight Lady Michaeline suggested we each do a post this week that focuses on things we’re grateful for, it sounded like an excellent idea. Here are my gratitude items, in no particular order:

Dogtooth Violet
  1. Only one person in my family has caught Covid-19. My 14-year-old grandson got a very mild case. He only discovered this because he got strep throat and his pediatrician ran a Covid test when he went in for the strep. Although he lives in a household of five, he was apparently perfectly content to hang out in his room with his computer and his Playstation and call for room service as needed.
  2. In addition to staying healthy, my family has managed to stay financially afloat. Since this includes one daughter who is a waitress and another who owns an event venue, this is pretty thank-worthy.
  3. Last spring, authorities shut down my favorite place to hike. This was initially not a gratitude item because it happened just as the woodland ephemerals were coming into bloom. The great thing that happened from this disappointment was that it forced me to break out of my routine and discover a ton of new places to hike. (I took the pictures on this post at a couple of them.)
  4. Places that I love to hike got a lot more crowded. This wasn’t great for me personally, but it’s exciting to see families getting out into nature who weren’t doing that before. I have my fingers crossed that by the time this is over it will be a habit for them because people who love nature, protect nature.
  5. The lack of opportunities to travel this year created a different opportunity–to sit in my chair and work on my current book. Thanks to that extra focus, I expect to finish a first draft before the end of the year.
  6. Last, but certainly not least, I’m thankful for the other Ladies. Behind every successful author is a strong community, and I’m so grateful to have found this one.
Large-flowered trillium
Bluebells

Jilly: Kindle Full of Books

We don’t have a Thanksgiving holiday in the UK, but I’m delighted to join the 8 Ladies celebration. 2020 has been a shocker of a year (and we still have another month to go) yet despite everything we have much to be thankful for. I’ll gladly take this opportunity to pause, reflect, and take a moment to focus on what really matters.

For an engaging take on down to earth blessings, enumerated in joyously upbeat style, here’s a video of Scottish Italian singer Paolo Nutini jamming with vintage British skiffle musicians The Vipers. The song is called A Pencil Full of Lead and it makes me smile every time I watch the video.

The song inspired me to compile a list of my own everyday 2020 lockdown blessings. With apologies to Paolo, here goes 😉

Kindle Full of Books

I’ve got a Kindle full of books with some really great hooks
The characters are brave, they’ve got worlds to save
I’m wholly transported. That’s my leisure time sorted.
With a plot to unravel, who needs to travel?

Then it’s time to write and that’s a delight
Forget about votes, I’ve a book full of notes
I got functioning gray matter and friends for a natter
And time to polish my snappiest patter

My heroines are smart, I got great cover art
My heroes are heroic and all kinds of stoic
The baddies are bad, and often quite mad
They’ll stop at naught tho they rarely get caught
The good guys go through hell but it all turns out well
And nothing’s gonna bring them down

I got soap for my hands and a mask for my face
Groceries delivered as I remain in place
I’ve got airline pyjamas and a jigsaw with llamas
I’m a very happy loafer on my oversized sofa
I’ve got ink for my printer and heating for the winter
And nothing’s gonna bring me down

But best of all (best of all)
I’ve got my loved ones
But best of all (best of all)
I’ve got my loved ones
I’ve got a Happy Ever After
And a life full of laughter
And nothing’s gonna bring me down

It’s not high art, but I had fun writing it. Now I need Michaeline to arrange it for ukulele 😉

So… Paolo’s got a Pencil Full of Lead. I have a Kindle Full of Books. What do you have?

Michaeline: Let Us Give Thanks

TEXT: ILLUSTRATED CURRENT NEWS To Prevent Influenza! Do not take any person's breath. Keep the mouth and teeth clean. Avoid those that cough and sneeze. Don't visit poorly ventilated places. Keep warm, get fresh air and sunshine. Don't use common drinking cups, towels, etc. Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. Avoid Worry, Fear and Fatigue. Stay at home if you have a cold. Walk to your work or office. In sick rooms wear a gauze mask like in illustration.
From ILLUSTRATED CURRENT NEWS, October 18, 1918. At this time, the influenza pandemic wasn’t very old at all; it only reached Nebraska on October 3, for example. But the advice is much the same as the advice we get today. As the old folks say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (Via HuskerMax.com, 1918 War, Influenza and football.)

It’s been a horrible year full of surprises and plot twists on the world stage. Late last year, COVID-19 made its first appearance, and by February, it had swept around the globe, and health officials were panicking. We learned about masks and social distancing, and those of us who could worked from home, and those of us who couldn’t washed our hands really well and hoped for the best.

The disease brought a lot of people to a standstill, and in that quiet time of reflection, a lot of things happened. I think a lot of the unrest in the US can be traced to people having time to do something about the injustices that have plagued our country for centuries (see my review of The Garies and Their Friends to see how much hasn’t changed since the 1850s for free Blacks). 

Unrest brought about reaction from people who had a lot of time on their hands to think and plan, and then came the election, which still isn’t settled as a done deal in every American’s mind.

Does it help to think that the world has been through similar circumstances before, and managed to get through the times of trouble and even thrive again? I think it does. During the pandemic of 1918, we saw a lot of the same scenarios play out – masks, mask-deniers; the

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Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Happy 20th day of NaNoWriMo or, as others call it, Friday!

I hope your week has been a good one or, failing that, at least not a bad one.  Mine was a 4-day work week, to be followed with a 3-day weekend, so that’s good.  However, the refrigerator sprang a leak the other day, and I didn’t discover the fact for a few days, so that’s not so good.  

Who would have guessed something as simple as water could cause so much trouble.  Looks like that kitchen remodel of mine that I’ve been thinking about and putting off for years is about to become a reality.  If nothing else there is a new floor in the works since water+wood is not a good combination, especially when the wood is particle board, which soaks up water like a sponge.

I love the freedom of having my own house but . . . sometimes . . . it’s not as delightful as one would like.  Ah well, now I have an excuse to browse through all of those kitchen remodeling magazines I’ve accumulated over the years and a reason to drop by the local home improvement center to look at options–in a socially distant way, of course.  

Between browsing magazines for ideas and waiting for the insurance agent to call back about my claim, I think I’ll give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

Jeanne: The Proud Guys

As discussed last week, Samael, the hero in my work-in-progress, suffers from the deadly sin of Pride.

As part of my research for the character, I asked the other Eight Ladies for book recommendations. They came up with some great suggestions! Today, I’m going to talk about some of them.

The Misunderstood Proud Guy

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Mr. Darcy is the “pride” character mentioned in the title. He is wealthy, owns an estate and is the object of all the matchmaking mothers in Longbourn, where he’s visiting a friend. When he haughtily refuses to dance with the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, she takes him in instant dislike.

Over the course of the book, though, it becomes clear that he is a good man. Much (though not all) of of what people view as pride is really a combination of introversion and shyness.

The Broken Proud Guy

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, aka Dain, prides himself on his bad behavior. The product of a very bad marriage that resulted in his mother abandoning his father (and him) when he was eight years old, followed by years at prep school being tortured by other boys, leaves him with the conviction that he was damned from birth. When his father dies and he inherits the estate and title, he decides to live out that belief.

Miss Jessica Trent has helped rear ten male cousins, so boys behaving badly are nothing new to her. Over the course of a very enjoyable 357 pages, she brings Dain to heel and mends him.

The Redeemable Proud Guy

Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The gods were smiling the day Bobby Tom Denton was born. Smart, good-looking, gifted at business, irresistible to women and an exceptional athlete, he had it all until an unlucky tackle in the Super Bowl ended his football career. Although he’s ridiculously generous to friends and acquaintances, who are more than willing to take advantage of his generosity., he doesn’t let anyone get close to him.

Gracie Snow was not born under the same star. Average-looking, badly dressed, nearly broke and a thirty-year-old virgin, she was raised in a nursing home. She’s much more at home with old people than a hot young bachelor.

When an odd feeling of connection leads Bobby Tom to consider helping Gracie shed her virgin status, he eradicates the feeling by telling himself it’s beneath him to have sex with a “charity case.”

By the end of the book, both Bobby Tom and Gracie learn to value Gracie for the excellent person she is, and Bobby Tom finally learns to set boundaries.

The Accept-Me-As-I-Am Proud Guy

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis of Vidal was born heir to a wealthy dukedom. Bright, good-looking and athletic, he believes he is entitled to whatever he wants, including attractive young women.

Mary Challoner is a sensible middle-class young woman with middling looks and a very good brain. When she perceives that Vidal is about to ruin her beautiful but rather silly younger sister, she disguises herself as Sophia and takes her place, thinking to teach Vidal a lesson.

But Vidal is quite capable of kidnapping an unwilling woman. Only after Mary shoots him does he realize her reluctance isn’t feigned.

When the book ends, Vidal has learned to treat Mary with respect, but is otherwise essentially unchanged.

The Cosmically Ordained Proud Guy

The Iliad by Homer

This last one is not a romance, and was suggested by G.S. Kenney, author of Freeing Eden and The Last Lord of Eden.

Chosen by the gods to be invincible, Achaean warrior Achilles doesn’t handle frustration well. When Menelaus, leader of the Achaean army, appropriates Achilles’ slave girl, Achilles retires to his tent to sulk, refusing to join his comrades on the battlefield.

Without their best warrior, the Achaeans get destroyed on the battlefield, so Patroclus, Achilles’ bestie, dresses up in his friend’s armor and goes to battle pretending to be Achilles. Unfortunately, the armor doesn’t work for him and he winds up dead.

Overwhelmed by guilt, Achilles gets up off his duff and does his job–and gets killed, too.

My Proud Guy

So now I just have to decide which of these gentlemen, and thus which character arc, is the model for my hero, Samael.

Thoughts, anyone?

Jilly: What Codename Would You Choose?

Anyone who ever read a thriller or watched a movie/TV series involving US politicians knows the United States secret service uses codenames for presidents, first ladies, prominent persons and important locations. Originally the names were for security, but today they’re used for brevity, clarity, and tradition, and are often public knowledge.

I discovered this week that people who require a codename get to choose one for themselves, selecting from a list of “good” words maintained by the White House Communications Agency. Many choose a name that resonates with them personally. So, for example, we are told Kamala Harris settled on PIONEER.

I’d pretty much reached max election-coverage fatigue, but this thought-provoking snippet perked me right up. So much baggage for one word to carry!

How would you choose a codename for yourself?

I spent an hour or two playing with the question. Do you pick a word that epitomizes the way you define yourself, or one that reflects the way you want others to see you? The options may be similar or wildly different, depending on (to borrow a concept from writing guru Michael Hauge) how closely your public identity matches your private essence. And do you choose a word that describes who you are, or who you aspire to be?

In the end I used the simple brainstorming technique I use for book titles and the like. I wrote every word I could think of in my notebook, then picked the one that instinctively felt right. For myself I’d like INDIE.

Some definitions of “independent”: free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority; thinking or acting for oneself; not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

Yes! I’ll take that.

I also think choosing a codeword would be a great way to develop a deeper understanding of a fictional character. I found a list of some famous ones (Liberty, Eagle, Falcon, Condor, Baroness, Duchess)—but they feel to me like a vehicle for the author to tell the reader what kind of character or story to expect. That’s like letting the Secret Service choose for you 😉 .

I took the test for my Elan Intrigues character Prince Daire of Caldermor, because I’ve just written a couple of novellas from his POV and I feel I know him fairly well. Plus I’m about to knuckle down to work on The Seeds of Destiny, a new novel that wraps up his story arc.

As the author, my codename for Daire would be LODESTONE. It’s a Middle English word for a stone that’s naturally magnetic or a person that’s the focus of attention or attraction. It’s uncommon. Something that leads or sets a course, and that brings healing and balance.

He’d never choose that for himself though. I think he’d pick HEIR, even after he becomes Crown Prince, because his whole life is defined by heredity. He inherits property and rank (a throne), physical characteristics (excess vitality, which enables him to make magical elan pulses but drastically curtails his life expectancy), a whole library of rules (the Edevald Family Statutes) and a secret pact with the ancient guardians of Caldermor (the Legacy).

Now I need to find a codename for Annis, the mountain-dwelling healer heroine of the new book.

How about you? What codename would you choose for yourself? Or for a favorite fictional character?

Michaeline: Pet Inspiration for NaNo and Other Writing

I’m writing short stories for National Novel Writing Month, and here’s the elevator pitch for my work in progress:

Tabby Kate, caterwauler at the Brawler’s Grate, is on the run from her boss and former lover, Tuxedo Jones. Stowing away on Captain Alphabet Greebo’s ship seems like an easy solution for getting off the planet without getting noticed, but this stickler for the rules notices right away that he’s got trouble on his hands.

–Weird and Wonderful Stories for Every Holiday (WIP)

It’s about cats in space.

Tom cat looking in the window with his tabby lady cat friend. Both cats have ears perked forward and interested whiskers. Tabby is ready to run, though.

The Dynamic Duo: Captain Alphabet Greebo and Tabby Kate. Unlike their fictional counterparts, they don’t fight crime: they commit it. (E.M. Duskova)

 

Now, let me backtrack a little bit. We have two housecats and two dogs who have been featured on these screens before. But staying home this summer, I came to realize we’ve got at least seven outdoor cats. One mostly stays in the barn, and I rarely see him (a Tuxedo boy who is white and black), but the others hang around our house and the house next door, waiting

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Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Happy Friday!

Hope you all have had a good week.  Things here have been hectic, but now that the election results are in, it is at least safe to turn on the television again.

What it isn’t particularly safe to do is to go out in public and hang around other people.  I don’t know about where you are, but it looks like most places are in the midst of a “weather is cooling down, Covid is gearing up” scenario.  My area is increasing closures again in an attempt to stop the rise in cases before they get out of control.  It’s looking like it will be a very socially-distant Thanksgiving this month.

I wasn’t planning on going to a sit-down restaurant or heading to the local bowling alley any time soon, so the impact of the new closures is minimal.  As long as I can get to the grocery story every week or so, I’ll be fine.  We’re supposed to be seeing a bit of rain today/tomorrow, so that is extra incentive to remain safely at home.  Fortunately, I have plenty to keep me busy, even though I will be off work for the day.

My version of NaNo is starting this Sunday, so I think I’ll warm up by giving today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: NaNo at Day 12

National Novel Writing Month began on Sunday, November 1. I haven’t hit my word count on any day, but I have been writing. It is, however, more words than I’ve gotten on the page in a long time, so it was still sort of successful. As I’ve said before, I would love to hit the 50,000-word target, but I am more interested in hitting the write-every-day target. You’re seeing this post for the first time on the 12th, but I am writing in on the 11th. Therefore, the write-every-day target was hit for the first eleven days. Yeah me!

I had 40 ideas of things to write and two of them gave me 1,700 word scenes. Tuesday’s idea didn’t yield enough words and that coupled with a lack of time to tackle another idea had me missing the word-count. I can’t change the day job, the house can’t fall down, I felt the family could use some dinner, and various other stuff that limited my time and that will happen again so I’m not planning to focus a whole lot of energy on changing that. But I can change the quantity and quality of ideas in my pipeline so I can get more words on the page faster. I took to the Internet for more motivation and ideas.

There are a lot of websites that have NaNo advice. Suggestions like write every day, don’t edit, or write the last scenes first to change things up. One of the tips I came across is “don’t sweat the roadblocks.” If you get stuck, just skip to the next scene. I do this all the time. If I can’t figure how to get out of the scene I’m in, I’ll stop that one and go on. That was one of the reasons I didn’t get more than 659 words written on Tuesday. I got to a point and couldn’t figure out where the scene was headed. Writing sprints is another suggestions, but I still have to have a scene idea in order to do that. Continue reading