Jeanne: Excerpt from My Work-in-Progress

Beautiful Woman With Black Short Hair. Haircut. Hairstyle. FringLast week I talked a little about my work-in-progress. This week, I thought I’d share a scene that I find really entertaining. I hope you do, too!

The characters are:

  • Megan Swensen, author of the Dak Whipsnake books, a bestselling series featuring a tough-as-nails private eye who never gives away her secrets.
  • James Magnusson, Megan’s old boyfriend from college. He has gone on to become a lawyer.
  • Lilith, a she-demon tasked with collecting Megan’s soul when her deal with the devil expires in a few weeks.
  • Karriel, Megan’s guardian angel.
  • Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband.
  • Satan.

Lilith stepped off the elevator into the heat of Hell blessing under her breath. What bug did Satan have up his butt now?

She’d arranged to get a color refresh and a trim at her favorite little salon in Mayfair this afternoon. Rex had just finished painting on her custom raven tint when her cell buzzed. She’d been forced to ask him to wash it all out before it had time to process. Outraged, he’d called in his assistant to rinse her, and stalked away. She wasn’t sure who was a worse choice to piss off—Satan or her colorist. Continue reading

Jilly: Self-Isolation Past and Present

Boundary Stone, Eyam
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday Michaeline shared a fascinating Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak of coronavirus/covid-19.

In the UK we only have 9 confirmed cases of the virus, but Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of National Health England, has said people may increasingly be asked to isolate themselves here too. This BBC article explains who should self-isolate and what precautions they should take.

It’s sobering to think that one of the world’s most effective tactics for preventing a global pandemic has been around for centuries and depends on ordinary people showing selflessness and self-discipline.

I first learned about self-isolation more than 40 years ago, on a school visit to a local historic site: Eyam, a picturesque village in the Derbyshire Peak District. Eyam is a scant few miles from stunning Chatsworth House (Pemberley!) and Haddon Hall (Prince Humperdinck’s Castle!) but its place on the tourist trail was earned in much grimmer circumstances.

I blogged about Eyam, Historic Plague Village, five years ago, but given current events it seems fitting to revisit the story.

In August 1665 George Viccars, the Eyam village tailor, took delivery of a bundle of cloth from London. The cloth was infested with fleas, and within a week Viccars was dead.

The plague took hold, the squire and the wealthier residents fled, and the villagers were left leaderless. The vacuum was filled by the rector, Reverend William Mompesson. Together with his wife, Katherine, and the previous Rector, a Puritan Minister called Thomas Stanley, they united the village. To slow the spread of disease, they decided the dead would not be given funerals but would be buried by family members in their own gardens. The church was closed and services were held in the open air, where people could congregate at a safe distance from one another.

The deaths continued, so in June 1666 Mompesson persuaded the entire community to isolate themselves from the outside world, knowing this meant almost certain death. They established a system with friends and relatives outside the village whereby food and supplies were left at agreed points and the villagers would collect these later and leave money in return. Two of the places they used can still be visited today – Mompesson’s Well, where money was left in the water, and the Boundary Stone, a boulder with holes where coins could be covered in water or vinegar.

William Mompesson worked tirelessly to bolster the resolve of his parishioners. He made wills, gave out medicines, and nursed his wife when she fell sick, although she asked him to stay away from her for his own safety. Katherine was the 200thperson to die, and she was buried in the church yard. Her tomb can still be seen today.

Eyam’s self-imposed quarantine lasted for fourteen months. When there had been no deaths for a period of several weeks, William Mompesson burned everything he had – clothing, bedding, furniture, the lot – and encouraged the rest of the village to do the same.

In a letter to his uncle, Mompesson described the village as “… a Golgotha, a place of skulls.” More than 260 villagers died out of a total population of 350. Entire families died – a woman called Elizabeth Hancock buried six children and her husband in a period of eight days – but not one person broke the agreement, which saved untold lives in the North of England.

It’s a dark but inspiring story, and one other positive from the terrible event is that it was subsequently discovered that some residents of the village were genetically unique and naturally immune to the plague. Some of their descendants still live in the village today.

I hope we can find a twenty-first-century solution to our twenty-first-century plague very soon.

Michaeline: The Power of Writing

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases" says an old poster announcing a U.S. Public Health Service Campaign. "As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells -- Spread of Spanish Influenza Menaces Our War Production"

It’s said that the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic killed more people than WWI. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have to share this piece of writing with you. It’s a Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. 

National Public Radio (US) has an article on how the lockdown is affecting the lives of Chinese residents.  NPR reports that families in Wenzhou (a coastal city in China) have been told to stay indoors, and only send one person out every two days to pick up groceries.

The Reddit post does so much in a relatively small space. Redditor u/mthmchris explains how he and his partner are restricted to the apartment, and how the constraints in finding ingredients and the luxury of time have contributed to better cooking. There’s a brief reverie about the degeneracy of modern cooking, that he attributes to perhaps lack of time, especially now that he’s been living through a period of deprivation (although, not starvation) for the past few weeks. And then there are the dishes he’s made.

I suppose I’ve always been morbidly curious about “Robinson Crusoe” scenarios. So, it teases my imagination – what would I do if we were locked down on our farm with a COVID-19 outbreak in town? The post moves my sympathy for people who really are in the situation, it educated me, and taught me new things about the human experience. These are the things I would love to see my fiction writing do for people.

Japanese pork and pizza steamed buns in the package

This is what the steamed buns look like inside. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

And in addition, I was inspired to try the fried steamed bun trick. I happened to have some ridiculously past-sell-by-date steamed buns in my fridge (three pork buns and two pizza buns). I sliced one into six slices (we have six people around the breakfast table, two who are semi-vegetarians, so feeding them the heels with almost no meat really worked out). I dredged them in a large egg, and fried them in a combo of olive oil and sesame oil. They were so delicious hot! I wish I’d thought to put some oyster sauce on them. (My husband came in late, when the last remaining slice was cold, so he just ate the other two pork buns zapped in the microwave.)

Japanese pork bun, also known as nikuman.

Pork bun in my kitchen, about to be microwaved. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

For lunch, I’ll have the pizza buns fried with a drizzle of packaged Neapolitan spaghetti sauce (and that means pizza toast for lunch tomorrow!).

I doubt my stories are going to feed hungry people in countries around the world, but maybe I can do a little bit to bring some pleasure into other people’s lives. Maybe even some foreign resident in China, feeling a little homesick and weary, will read one of my shorts, and feel a bit better about life. Wouldn’t that be a nice full circle?

And since I’m spouting clichés (since I can’t really spout anything meaningful in the face of something like the coronavirus outbreak), every dark and terrible cloud can have a silver lining; every foul and nasty breeze can blow some good. I hope the whole thing is contained quickly.

(Link from caption:



Pork bun slices in a skillet

Pork bun slices when dredged in egg taste like a savory French toast, but fluffier, thanks to the texture of the steamed bun. (Photo: E.M. Duskova)

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Happy Valentine’s Day or Galentine’s Day or Friday  or whatever your preference is.

I’m afraid the holiday has caught me a bit by surprise.  I usually like to do a little holiday-themed decorating, but this year the assortment of random sized and colored hearts never even made it out of the storage box in the garage.  To be completely honest, there are still a few random Xmas decorations up around the house.  Guess I’ll just go directly to Marci Gras or St. Patrick’s -whichever comes next.

Though I don’t have any Valentine’s decorations around the house, I do have my writing notebook and pen ready and waiting for me to put them to use.  I think I’ll start with today’s writing prompt and/or random words..

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Happy Valentine’s Day

Chaucer_HoccleveSt. Valentine is thought to be a real person, recognized by the Catholic Church, who died around 270 A.D. It is thought that he was beheaded by emperor Claudius II for helping soldiers wed. There is some question about this as there was another St. Valentine who helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons who was then imprisoned himself, fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and signed his love letters to her “From your Valentine.” There are about a dozen St. Valentines plus a pope. The most recent saint was beheaded in 1861 and canonized in 1988, and the pope of that name lasted about 40 days. Odd history for a romantic holiday – a lot of beheadings involved. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Celebrating Love

I was all set to post another installment today of what seems to have turned into “Short Story Wednesday” before I glanced at the calendar and realized that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  In the past, we’ve celebrated here by talking about favorite love poems, romantic gestures, and love letters, as well as with a few original short stories from Michaeline like Olivia, Jack and the Stupid Cupid and A Love Story for Valentine Week.

This time around I found myself in the mood to read a novel set on or around Valentine’s Day.  After a quick perusal of my own bookshelves I could only find one that fit the bill. Continue reading

Jeanne: Is That a Light I See at the End of This Tunnel?


Megan, my secret-guarding novelist

This morning I went looking for the date I started on my current work-in-progress. The oldest document I found was a Scrivener project dated September of 2015 (?!). It says:

So the idea is that this book would contain three couples:

Lilith and Samael

Gabriel and Angela

Human1 and Human2

Each couple would have history that leaves them reluctant to re-engage with one another.

Lilith and Samael are charged with keeping Human1 and 2 from getting back together.

Gabriel and Angela are charged with getting Human1 and 2 back together.

The three stories play out against each other.

This, clearly, is just the kernel of an idea. I was still working on The Demon Always Wins at this point, and hadn’t even started The Demon’s in the Details, but I wanted to get the idea down on (electronic) paper before it got away. Continue reading