Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy “National Bacon Day” (if you’re reading this on the 26th).  If you’re feeling environmentally friendly, it’s also “National Skip the Straw Day” as well.

“In 2017, a group of teenage activists called the Coral Keepers established National Skip the Straw Day to recur every fourth Friday in February. Amid frequent and intense conversations about the state of the planet and the potentially fatal effects of plastic waste for creatures in the world’s largest oceans, these high school students from Whitehall, Michigan decided to establish the day in order to educate others about the many biodegradable alternatives to these small but potent cylindrical sippers.”

Whatever you choose to celebrate, I hope you have a good day.

Here in “feels like Springtime” California, I’ll be celebrating “Digging in the Yard” day.  The local garden centers are flush with new plants, just the thing I need to brighten up my yard, which is still looking a little winter-bland.  I’ve got some climbing roses and lavender plants that need to get out of their plastic pots and into the ground while they’re still alive and flourishing.

After I get my yard taken care of I  think I’ll take a break, grab my favorite notebook, and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me?

For those of you working away on a story (whether a first draft or a polished version on its way to publication), if you’re not feeling random, we’d love to hear a bit – whether it’s a scene, a paragraph, or even a phrase that you are especially pleased with and would like to share.

If you don’t have a story in progress, or just want to work on something new, I hope either today’s random words or writing prompt will catch your creative fancy.

Ready?

Prompt:   Making a new start

Feel free to interpret the prompt any way you choose (or ignore it completely) and include any (or all) of the following random words:   

dazzling          distort              peepshow         feast

tiger                western            consultant        expose

destiny            mood                dramatic          faith

fountain          academic         driver               free

I look forward to seeing your stories in the comments.  If you’re not feeling in the writing mood today, or don’t have time, feel free to post suggestions you might have for future “what-if” prompts.  Ideas are always welcome.

Happy writing to all!

Michille: Stages of Intimacy

With Valentine’s Day in the recent past and all the posts (not necessarily here) about love, intimacy and swiping right, I was reminded of an RWA session I attended years ago with Linda Howard in which she presented Desmond Morris’s 12 stages of intimacy as a means to build sexual tension in a story. It comes from his Intimate Behaviour (© 1971), which I looked to buy and couldn’t find until my good 8LW pal Kay gave me her copy a couple of years ago.

One mention in the book that I recently delved into is play-fighting as a stage of intimacy (Chapter 5: Specialized Intimacy). I’ve used that in my stories and, at the time, I didn’t consciously know it was one, or part of one. I’ve read it in other stories. At times, I’ve read it done well and others, I’ve started reading the sequence and rolled my eyes and blew past it because it was too cliché. Morris highlights the possibility that it could escalate into something that is far different from the initial idle start to the play-fighting. That’s when it gets interesting and can be useful in storytelling. Does something go a little too far, then retaliation, then pay back, facial expressions change, play-fighting changes to not playing, or into something else entirely. Is it violence or sexual foreplay?

Continue reading

Elizabeth: Blast from the Past

I recently hooked up a spare television to an indoor antenna that is the modern-day equivalent of “rabbit ears.”  I can tune in about seven stations, four of which are various public television stations (PBS).  One station that comes in clearly in all its high-definition glory is the local CBS affiliate–which gives me access to the evening news and Late Night with Stephen Colbert.  The remaining two stations are a bit fuzzy; who knows how far those signals are travelling.  One station seems to run nothing but Perry Mason episodes–not my favorite–but the other runs a random variety of old game shows, which are definitely my catnip.

Last night I caught a double episode of the old “Classic Concentration” game show.

I’m not sure if you are familiar with the show or ever watched it, but it was a mainstay just before dinnertime when I was growing up.  I used to love being able to guess the puzzles–before both the contestants or my family members did.  The episodes must be from the 70s, and one of last night’s contestants (male) sported full fluffy styled hair reminiscent of Peter Frampton back in the day.  The prizes the contestants won were a bit of a hoot:  a “stereophonic” system, a “35m Camera” that looked like it would take both hands and a shoulder strap to hang on to, and of course, sets of “his and hers” matched luggage.  Sadly, one guest wound up with only an “ice cream set,” though she was a good sport about it.

I was just happy to have been able to solve the puzzles before the contestants, despite the station’s tendency to fuzz in and out.

So, you may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with writing? Continue reading

Jeanne: Vonnegut’s Story Shapes

Kurt Vonnegut once said that his biggest contribution to the culture was his master’s thesis, rejected by the anthropology department at University of Chicago, wherein he theorized that if you graph stories along two axes (good fortune to ill fortune on the vertical axis and beginning to end along the horizontal axis), there are only eight basic shapes. If you want a scholarly take on this topic, I recommend this article. If you’re okay with something less erudite, stick around.

  1. Man in a Hole

Man begins with slightly better than average luck but immediately falls into a hole of ill fortune and has to dig himself back out.

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Jilly: Searching For A Cozy Niche

How easily do you find the kind of books you like to read?

I love character driven stories—heroines and heroes with clear, strong goals. I like romantic elements but I want an engaging external plot as well as true love. I prefer historical, paranormal or fantastic settings. Adventures and quests are good. And there must be a happy ending.

Over the last year, though, more than anything I’ve wanted the cozy. Warm, feelgood stories with lightness, humor and no painful grimdark, written for adults.

I don’t think I’m the only one, because lately I’ve found a number of new-to-me fantasy authors who really hit the spot. I feel as though I’m on a great reading discovery streak and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. The only thing is—and I find this really weird—these stories have so much in common, but there seems to be no convenient category grouping for them. No accepted term. On Amazon—usually super-smart about these things—they’re mostly dotted around the sci-fi and fantasy sections.

If I search ‘low fantasy,’ I get mostly role-playing products. If I search “cozy fantasy” I get mysteries or magic series with smiley cartoon cats, witches, or haunted houses on the cover. They look fun, but they’re not what I’m after.

A few titles from my kindle that I’d say all share a niche are shelved on Amazon as follows:

T. Kingfisher, Paladin’s Grace: fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, fantasy & futuristic romance;

Gail Carriger, Soulless: steampunk fiction, steampunk science fiction, historical fantasy;

Olivia Atwater, Half a Soul: teen & young adult historical fantasy;

Charlotte E English, Wyrde and Wicked: Gaslamp fantasy;

Ilona Andrews, Innkeeper series: paranormal & urban fantasy;

AJ Lancaster, Stariel series: Gaslamp fantasy, fairy tales;

Kate Stradling, The Legendary Inge: Fairy Tale Fantasy, Mythology & folk tales;

I’m really happy to have so many fun reads to hand, but amazed that I have to scout around to find them. And no wonder I find it difficult to select a better description than “historical fantasy” for my own books.

How about you? Do you read in a specific niche or two? How easily can you track down the kind of book you prefer to read?

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy “National Chocolate Mint Day” (if you’re reading this on the 19th).  If you prefer, it’s also “National Caregiver’s Day” as well.

“National Caregivers Day on the third Friday in February honors the health care professionals across the country providing long-term and hospice care.  The celebration recognizes caregivers who provide quality, compassionate care every day.”

This seems like an especially relevant celebration, considering the critical work of caregivers and other health professionals during what seems like the unending pandemic.  Cheers and hats off to all of them.

Here in chilly but lovely California I’ll be celebrating “Thank God I don’t live in Texas” day.  Frigid temperatures, power outages, and water outages too – what an awful, deadly combination.  I can’t imagine what the clean up and death toll will be once all is said and done.  Much of the rest of the county appears to be covered in a swath of cold and snow as well.  I feel the urge to put on another sweater every time I see the news.

Here in the writing castle where the trees in the backyard are beginning to bloom and the grass is green and growing, I’m still plugging away on home repairs.  The drywall in the living room and dining room have been repaired, and I painted the kitchen over the weekend.  Next up:  giving the kitchen cupboards and deep-clean and a bit of re-staining.  I’d hoped that my kitchen floor replacement would be complete by now, but the flooring contractor is currently missing in action.   I REALLY don’t want to have to install my own kitchen floor, so I’m hoping he reappears soon.

While I’m waiting for the reappearance, I think I’ll take a break, grab my favorite notebook, and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

I’m closing in on finishing a trilogy I’ve been working on for some time. Book 1 is out; this is the cover. Book 2 is at the copy editor, due back at the end of April. I’m still revising Book 3 before it goes to copy edit.

My goal is to make these books as light-hearted as possible. I want them to be the literary equivalent of meringue—a whisper of sweetness on the tongue. I want them to be funny. I want every single person and animal—even the villains—to have a happy ending. I want these books to make readers feel better even if they read them on their worst days.

Book 1 went fine, but Book 2 was a killer. I had difficult personal issues going on at the time I wrote it, and when I went back to it for revisions, it did not read like meringue. It read like day-old oatmeal—heavy, dry, and lumpy. Totally unappetizing. I complained about it on this forum, but I will save you a dreary whine by not posting the link. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Language, Ladies!

While I occasionally read the intentionally amusing product reviews on Amazon (here’s a link to some), I normally don’t pay too much attention to the reviews people give to books.  I noticed a long time ago that my tastes rarely ever align with those of review writers, and some of the reviews are plot spoilers or just plain obnoxious.

Occasionally, however, when I’m not sure about something that happened in a story I just read or when I’m curious about a freebie that appears in a Bookbub email, I peruse Amazon or Goodreads to see what others thought.  Sometimes the results are helpful, sometimes they’re not, and sometimes they make me roll my eyes so much I’m afraid they’ll get stuck. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Messiah Trope

Last weekend, on the recommendation of my 16-year-old granddaughter, I watched the Winx saga on Netflix. The story opens as 16-year-old Bloom arrives at Alfea, a boarding school for fairies. The school also has a wing for “Specialists”–non-magical but gifted fighters. Alfea is a training ground where the students are taught the skills needed to protect the Magix realm from the Burned Ones, an army of horrifically burned creatures whose touch generates an infection that will kill the recipient if the Burned One isn’t quickly eliminated.

Bloom has grown up in a human family. When she reached adolescence and her powers as a fire fairy awoke, she unintentionally set the house on fire, resulting to third-degree burns to her mother. After being recruited to Alfea, Bloom is initially told there were family genes somewhere far up her family try, but she eventually learns she’s a changeling–a fae infant who was substituted for a human baby without the human parents’ knowledge. Over the course of the 6-episode series it becomes clear she was born to save Magix from the Burned Ones. (She’s also self-absorbed and a bit of a mono-maniac about finding her real parents.)

That got me to thinking about the Messiah/Savior trope in children’s fantasy literature. A few features of the messiah figure are:

  1. They were born for a specific purpose.
  2. Their birth/coming may have been foretold.
  3. They are way better at fighting and/or magic than their peers.
  4. They are often orphaned or half-orphaned
  5. They have often been fostered in a family outside the realm they’re supposed to save, and come to the job as adolescents.
  6. They have often been badly treated by these caregivers, giving them an inner resiliency.

Examples of child saviors are:

  • Harry Potter–enters wizarding world at age 11.
  • Frodo Baggins–sets off on a quest to destroy the One Ring at age 51 (which is much younger for a hobbit than it is for a human)
  • Anakin Skywalker (but he turned to the Dark Side) –9 in Episode I–The Phantom Menace and 19 in Episode II–Attack of the Clones
  • Luke Skywalker–sets off to save the galaxy from the Empire’s battle station at age 19
  • Katniss Everdeen–steps up to take his sister’s place in the Hunger Games at age 17, setting off a chain of events that will bring down the repressive government of Panem.
  • Jonas in The Giver is 12 years old when he becomes the Receiver, charged with keeping memories of the before-times for his community, which has elected to take away life choices from people as a way of preventing discord.

Recently, I’ve been reading the Kate Daniels books by husband and wife writing duo Ilona Andrews and it occurs to me that Kate appears to be another example of a messiah character. I’m only on the fourth book and at this point I don’t know if she winds up saving her world (though I suspect she does) but she definitely checks most of the other boxes.

It also occurs to me that heroine of my first book, The Demon Always Wins, checks a lot of these boxes–Dara was born to save Belial; she’s better at demon-fighting than anyone else (in part because few others recognize the presence of demons in this world); she was orphaned as a small child; she was brought up by her grandparents, who were absorbed with fighting demons.

Funny the stuff you internalize without ever realizing it.

Jilly: Secret Declarations

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you celebrate the occasion! Chez Jilly, 14th February falls between our wedding anniversary (flowers, champagne) and Mr. W’s birthday (cake, treats) so we don’t make much of it.

I enjoy all the online hoopla, though. It takes me back to my teens, when receiving a valentine card brought major bragging rights at my girls-only high school. Extra kudos for multiple cards, and most of all for unknown senders. I wasn’t the prettiest or the most popular girl in my class, but one year I received three valentine cards and had no idea who’d sent any of them. Whoo!

I can still remember the giddy, fizzy excitement of it. And ever since those long-ago days, the secret/unilateral/unconditional love declaration has been one of my all-time favorite romance genre tropes. Of course, it’s especially delicious because the reader knows the secret will eventually be uncovered, even if she knows not when or how.

The greatest secret declaration story must be Pride and Prejudice. Reserved, uptight, principled Darcy uses his considerable power and influence to save Lizzy from social ruin by bribing a man he rightly despises to marry his beloved’s disgraced airhead of a younger sister. Darcy uses his personal capital to give credibility to the unlikely wedding, whilst doing his utmost to keep his involvement under the radar. He does it all for love, but he’s genuinely embarrassed when Lizzy finds out and confronts him. Swoon!

I think one of the most delightful examples is Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. When country-mouse Kitty persuades rich, good-natured Freddy into a fake engagement so that Kitty can sample the delights of London society (and win the heart of handsome rake Jack), it gradually becomes apparent that Freddy has fallen head over heels in love with Kitty, with no expectation that his feelings will ever be returned. Kitty’s meager budget is wholly inadequate to meet the costs of living among the ton, so Freddy quietly finds ways to meet the shortfall, leaving Kitty in a Cinderella-like whirl of beautiful clothes and exciting new experiences. When his benevolent duplicity is finally revealed, he simply shrugs and says he wanted Kitty to have everything she ever wished for. Nothing more, nothing less. Sigh.

It works wonderfully in fantasy, too. Take The Talon of the Hawk, my favorite of Jeffe Kennedy’s Twelve Kingdoms series. The hero, Harlan, is the (smart, hot, principled) leader of a team of foreign mercenaries hired by a capricious High King who doubts the loyalty of Ursula, his dutiful daughter/heir. Ursula’s distrust of Harlan is deep and powerful, but that doesn’t deter him from making an irrevocable commitment of his own and signaling it in a deliciously oblique manner. A secret declaration combined with another of my most favorite tropes–a hero who’s all-in, long before the scales fall from the heroine’s eyes.

I could go on, but I feel the urge to break out the champagne truffles and go on a re-reading binge 😉

How about you? Are you a fan of the secret declaration trope? If not, which ones make your heart beat faster?