Jilly: Taking A Break

Are you looking forward to the summer? Feeling ready for a break? Me, too.

Apart from essential trips to the dentist and doctor, one decadent haircut last October, and daily sanity-maintaining walks with Mr. W, I haven’t left home since mid-March 2020. I haven’t even taken the tube into town, except for one unavoidable hospital appointment.

I like my home. I love sitting at my dining table, writing. But after twelve months of covid-confinement, I feel as though the lack of variety and absence of external stimulus are taking a toll on my creativity. It’s taken me three months and I don’t know how many rewrites just to get a first scene I’m happy with on my current WIP, The Seeds of Destiny.

In normal times I’d take a vacation, break out of my comfort zone and fill my creative well with new experiences—sights, smells, ideas, food, people, places.

Right now that’s not possible, though I have my fingers crossed for 2022. 

In the meantime, since I can’t change my surroundings, I’ve decided to break my routine, take a pause from blogging and change it up by taking on a few new challenges from the comfort of my own home.

I’ll still be commenting on the other Ladies’ posts, and you can always find me via my website or my newsletter.

While I’m recharging my battery, I’d like to thank you for your company and wish you a safe and rewarding summer 😀 .

Michaeline: Procrastination and Kittens

Mama Tabby is a short-haired farm cat. In this picture, all four of her babies are varying shades of tabby. You can see the cute little face of one, and the pink little feet of another. The other three are buried under Mama, looking for milk.
Mama Tabby, inspiration for Tabby Kate in my current WIP, had kittens in Auntie Milk’s bathroom last night! Hooray! Mother and babies are doing fine, but bewildered. (E.M. Duskova)

I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret: I like to procrastinate. If I don’t have an idea for the Saturday blog that thrills me, I’m perfectly willing to wait and see if something fresh pops up Saturday morning (which is still Friday night in the Americas, so something fresh often does pop up in people’s exuberance for the weekend). Procrastination often serves me well.

But when it doesn’t, it’s awful. A ton of pressure to produce 500 words of crap . . . I could have done that Thursday afternoon and saved myself the pressure!

And then there’s today, when something so wonderful happens that all thoughts of writing and blogging are driven out of my mind.

Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy “National Taxes Aren’t Due Today After All Day” (if you’re reading this on April 16th) or, if you prefer something a little tastier, how about “National Eggs Benedict Day”.  I’m a big fan of Eggs Benedict.  It is my traditional Christmas morning breakfast treat, although I make it with Béarnaise sauce instead of hollandaise and, in a name leftover from childhood, call them “saucy eggs.”  Some of the local restaurants offer a wide variety of fancy eggs benedict styles on the menu, but I’m a traditionalist at heart.

Oh great, now I’m craving eggs.

Today is also “World Semicolon Day” which is not, as you might think, a day to celebrate an underappreciated punctuation mark. 

“World Semicolon Day is “a day to celebrate those who chose not to end their lives because their stories are not over yet.” It pays tribute to those who have thought about or attempted suicide, and it informs people about how common suicide is.”

For now, since it’s NOT my Friday off, it’s time focus on some Day Job tasks.  I’m hoping to clear out the work email inbox so I can go into the weekend with a clear conscience.  Fingers crossed on that.  Whether the email box is cleared out or not, I definitely plan to grab my favorite notebook and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try after diner.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Kay: Getting a Clue

I’ve been thinking about murder mysteries as a genre lately, I think in part because the trilogy that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever is winding up. I’ve thought about these books primarily as romances, but there’s no question there’s a mystery element to them. No one dies, but villains attempt dastardly deeds and, ultimately, are thwarted by my heroes. Motivations are revealed, and justice prevails. So I think they could fall under a mystery label if “murder” wasn’t part of your requirement.

The main reason I’ve never attempted to write a full-on murder mystery, even though I enjoy reading them, is that I’m not clever enough to plot one. Every time I get to the finish of a well-written mystery, I am pleased and astonished at the outcome. I know I couldn’t do that.

And then recently I read this short article by Dana Stabenow at WritersDigest.com. Stabenow sets her mysteries in Alaska, and setting is an important element of her books. She has several long-running series; her first Kate Shugak novel won an Edgar. Her seven tips on how to write mysteries make it sound so simple! And the good thing is that most of these tips apply to any kind of writing. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Loretta Chase Event

Are you a Loretta Chase fan?  If so, you may want to check out an upcoming Virtual Q&A tomorrow (April 14th) at the Cary Memorial Library.  I’ve attended a few virtual events from this library in the past and they have been great fun.  It is always interesting to “see” authors that we generally only know through their work.

As Loretta said in a post on her website:

“One thing I’ve deeply missed during the year of self-quarantine is the opportunity to get out and talk to readers. That, however, has not stopped me from talking, usually in a small rectangular box on a screen. On the plus side, these virtual events have offered opportunities for us to get together from the comfort of our homes or favorite hangouts.”

Here are the details for the event:

When: Wednesday 14 April at 7PM

How: You can register via this link.

Or, if for any reason the link disobeys you or sulks or otherwise refuses to cooperate, you can click on this link, which will take you the the Cary Memorial Library Calendar, and follow these steps:

If you are interested in the event but can’t attend, don’t worry, it will be livestreamed via Facebook and recorded and uploaded to the library’s YouTube channel.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go read Lord of  Scoundrels.

Michaeline: Wolf Hall and the Journey with a Well-Known End

Thomas Cromwell sitting at a table covered with a beautiful green fabric. A book is by his side, with writing quill, letters, and broken seals.
Thomas Cromwell, the main character of Wolf Hall, was a practical commoner with a genius for languages and people. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s interesting to think about how stories grab our attention and propel us along through the pages until the end.

When I was a kid, I read mostly fantasy and fairy tales. The point was to find out what happened – although, I often cheated and checked out the last pages of the book to make sure it was a happy, satisfying ending. Even as a very young reader, I wanted a HEA, and I disliked cliffhangers – after all, I was in a small town 90 miles away from a Waldenbooks, so if there was a sequel, I needed to know I could get it soon.

But the romance genre isn’t really about the ending; it’s about the journey. Most romance writers make sure the reader knows who the main couple is, and it’s not in the romance genre unless the writer establishes a relationship that looks like it is going to last.

OK, digression, some romance writers like to play with the genre. I’m thinking of Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion. If you haven’t read it, it’s a masterclass in playfulness. SPOILER: there is a HEA, but it’s not with the delightful, handsome rogue.

I’m reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel this week. It’s about Thomas Cromwell in the time of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, and the language is a bit dense (though very smooth and easy to read). The plot is not a thrill a minute, and the writer stays far away from the romance between Henry and Anne . . . because we all know it’s going to turn out with Anne getting her head chopped off.

So why read it?

Continue reading

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprint

Happy “National Dive Bar Day” or, if you prefer something a little more specific, how about “National Gin and Tonic Day”.  I’m not much of a drinker, but I’ve always like the sound of a G&T.  I remember a series of mysteries I read when I was much, much younger, where the characters always seemed to be sitting on the porch sipping G&T’s, which sounded both relaxing and refreshing. 

Now that I think about it, they probably should have been off solving mysteries, but who knows.

These days I’m more likely to be sipping a cold-brew coffee while working away on the computer, which sounds far less relaxing or refreshing.  Ah well, it’s apparently also “National Almond Cookie Day”, so maybe I’ll put down my coffee, step away from the computer, and whip up a batch.  That sounds like a delicious alternative.

For now, since it’s my Friday off, I’m going to be focusing on a bit of relaxation for at least part of the day.  There are still those pesky backyard sprinklers that need to be repaired, but I think I’ll need to build up to that much activity by reading a book (or two?).  Somewhere between the almond cookies and the backyard sprinklers I plan to grab my favorite notebook and give today’s writing prompt and random words a try.

Care to join me? Continue reading

Michille: Romance Story Ideas

Creativity has abandoned me. I hope it’s temporary. I googled ‘romance writing prompts’ to jump start my creative mind and got some interesting results.

The Write Practice. 20 Romance Story Ideas.
These are interesting and a little twisty with a gender-bender thrown in. A cop and a jewelry store owner who is tripping his alarm on purpose. Humans and aliens communicating through a plant. There is only one tried and true – the hero who has sworn off love falls for the spunky rookie with a joie de vivre.

Writing Forward. Fiction Writing Prompts for Romance and Love Stories
These are all pretty vanilla. Two characters at odds because they both want the same thing. Human falling for an alien (The Shape of Water anyone?). Casting a love spell. Mortal enemies fall in love.

eadeverll.com. 52 Romance Story Ideas to Write Now
There are some interesting ones here (and some stock ones). A clockmaker who falls in love with a fairy they find in an antique clock. Two beachcombers who come together when they find two pieces of an ancient artifact. A lexicographer who incites a “manhunt” when they use their unrequited love as the subject for a series of puzzles for a local newspaper. Two paranoiacs who invent their own secret language to communicate with each other (kinda funny). Two gods from different mythologies who meet after the end of the world.

Bryn Donovan. 50 Romance Plot Ideas.
These are vague ideas. She’s already ruled him out. They are competitors or straight-up enemies. He already won (inherited the estate/got the job that she wanted). He broke her heart in the past. He did her wrong in the past. He did something wrong in the past, period.

It didn’t immediately jumpstart my creativity, but it gave me some ideas. Any other ideas to get the creative juices flowing?

Jeanne: In Memoriam

Rita’s high school graduation picture, 1971

On March 13th, 2021, my sister Rita passed away. I’m one of seven children, but Rita was just sixteen months my senior, so she features prominently in my childhood memories. I’d like to share this story in her memory.

In the 1950’s, like many American families, our family celebrated Easter by coloring eggs. Mom would dissolve little dye tablets in boiling water laced with vinegar–to this day, I associate the smell of vinegar with Easter. Then we’d take a dozen hard-boiled eggs and color them hues that don’t occur in nature–the orange of circus peanuts. the turquoise of Studebaker fenders, the yellow of polka dot bikinis.

The next morning, before we got up, Mom and Dad would hide the eggs in our backyard and claim the Easter bunny put them there. As kids, we totally bought this. After all, it’s no bigger leap to believe in a cheapskate Easter Bunny who simply conceals the eggs you colored yourself than it is to believe in a Santa who slides down your chimney to bring you only the gifts your parents approve (i.e. no ant farms or chemistry sets).

One spring morning when I was four or five and Rita was five or six, we awoke to find that the Easter bunny had visited us a second time that year. Easter had already come and gone, and instead of hiding colored eggs in the grass, this time Mr. Bunny hid sugar cubes.

I can remember this so clearly. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue. The grass was the light green of early spring and the lawn sparkled with dew. Rita and I came outside and headed for our swing-set only to discover a wonderland of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sugar cubes nestled in the grass all throughout the yard.

As an adult, I used to recall this event occasionally and scratch my head. I mean, it made no sense whatsoever. What kind of parent-masquerading-as-Easter-bunny would hide sugar cubes in wet grass? Even if the dew didn’t melt the sugar into a syrupy glop, those cubes would be crawling with ants. A mother who won’t let her insect-fascinated daughter have an ant farm isn’t likely to go down this road, now is she? In my memory, though, the lawn was speckled with blazingly white sugar cubes, still solidly six-sided and insect-free.

Fast forward sixty years. Rita is up visiting from Florida and we drive to the other side of town to visit my brother. On the way home, I tell her about this bizarre memory, expecting her to razz me about my over-active imagination, as she often does.

Instead, she bursts out laughing. “It was hail,” she says. “It was the first time we ever saw hail.”

And just like that, the corners melt off those little white sugar cubes. When I pluck one from the grass and hold it in my hand, it’s icy cold.

I was this goofy little kid who saw sugar cubes, but big sister knew the score and as soon as I thought to ask, she set me straight.

The back of this photograph pictured above reads To a weird little sister. Good luck in high school next year without me to watch your step, so be good. “God bless” Remember Me Always, Rita.

I will, Sis. I will.

Jilly: Easter Eggs!

Happy Easter, if you’re celebrating today!

Do you enjoy Easter eggs? Story ones, not the chocolate sort 😉 .

In this context, an Easter egg is a bonus nugget—an object, action, character, or phrase—that isn’t critical to the story and may be overlooked by many readers or viewers but which is somehow significant and provides an extra hit of geeky pleasure to those who notice it.

Easter eggs may offer a wink and a nod to a sub-genre. Here’s an easy one: I have lost count of the number of romance heroes who say “As you wish,” when being ordered around by the heroine. No explanation is ever asked or offered, but most romance readers would immediately recognize the homage to William Goldman’s 1973 fantasy romance The Princess Bride, or more likely Rob Reiner’s wonderful 1987 movie adaptation. It’s what farm boy Westley says frequently to Princess Buttercup, and it means, of course, “I love you.”

Or they could be a tiny detail within a book or series that adds a little extra zing. In the final book of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, when the eponymous hero has finally found his HEA, there’s a quick exchange where his beloved says “You can give me a brooch. A sapphire one.” He answers, “But will you take care of it?” Which harks back to their very first encounter, in the very first book, when she’s a ten-year-old child. Lymond questions her to verify her father’s honesty. It’s frightening and dangerous, and when it’s over he pins a beautiful sapphire brooch to her nightshirt by way of apology. She rips it off, hurls it to the ground and grinds it under her shoe. Yay Philippa! Yay, Dorothy Dunnett!

An Easter egg could also be a reference to pop culture. The heroine of Ilona Andrews’ most recent book, Blood Heir, was an important secondary character in their bestselling Kate Daniels series. In the Kate Daniels books she’s Julie Olsen, but in Blood Heir she returns to Atlanta with a new face, a new name—Aurelia Ryder—and a whole raft of new superpowers. She becomes a temporary member of the chivalric Order of Merciful Aid, which makes her Knight Ryder. I laughed out loud the first time I read this. Because if you’re as old as I am, you might remember Knight Rider as a 1982 TV series starring David Hasselhof, a police detective who’s rescued after a near-fatal shot to the face and returns to town with a new face (thanks to plastic surgery) and a new name to become a hi-tech, modern crimefighter. I guess it was most likely a joke that became a book.

Easter eggs are everywhere. Peter Grant’s car (a Ford Asbo) in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/Midnight Riot. Google it if you don’t know what an ASBO is. Ford Prefect’s name in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Quentin Tarantino’s sneaky cameos in many of his movies. A quick glimpse of John Thaw in a mirror in the Inspector Morse prequel TV series Endeavour.

I think they’re a nice bit of added fun. I enjoy them when I spot them. I don’t mind too much if they sail over my head.

How about you? Are you an Easter Egg fan? Do you have any favorite examples?