Jilly: The Mistress Problem

I’d really, really like to find a different form of address for the gentlewomen in my WIP, especially my heroine.

Lately I’ve been working on a sequence of set piece scenes toward the end of the book. The setting is a fantasy world, historical, before the invention of guns. Horses ‘n swords. Vaguely Tudor-ish, with a few creative liberties taken. The action takes place at the most important event in the city’s calendar. Everyone who’s anyone is present: royalty, aristocracy, military, and a lucky few gentlefolk. All the guests are addressed formally, even (especially!) when they’re hurling deadly insults at one another.

The problem is my heroine, Alexis Doe. She’s 25. Unmarried, but old enough to be a wife and mother. Of no acknowledged family (her name indicates she’s illegitimate), but invited as a guest of the Princess Dowager, scary and powerful grandmother of the Crown Prince. Alexis has no title, but her connections would carry a certain level of cachet and she would be addressed with respect. As far as I can see, she would be called Mistress Doe.

I did a fair amount of reading around, looking for possibilities, and I found a fascinating article describing research done by Dr Amy Erickson at the University of Cambridge (click here to read more about Mistress, Miss, Mrs or Ms: untangling the shifting history of titles).

Apparently both Mrs and Miss are abbreviations of Mistress. Continue reading

Jilly: The Joy of Podcasts

Are you a fan of podcasts? I’m a recent convert, and I’m wondering what took me so long.

Some of my friends are dedicated podcast followers, though with interests very different to mine. I enjoy chatting with them about their favorites, but I never thought to seek out shows that might align with my own interests, because I couldn’t think of a natural place in my routine to listen to them.

The obvious time would be during a regular journey such as a school run or commute, but I don’t have either of those. My commute is from my bed to the sofa, with a detour to the kitchen for coffee 🙂 . I have my groceries delivered and though I have a car, I rarely drive it more than once or twice per month. I’m not a gym bunny either. If the weather is nice I like to walk around my neighborhood or to the local shops, but I use that time to listen to my playlist and think about my WIP.

I don’t Continue reading

Jilly: Which Story Would You Tell?

“Where do you get your ideas?” is supposedly the question most asked of successful authors.

I collect and hoard story starters from here, there and everywhere (Alexis grew from the juxtaposition of two fascinating anecdotes shared by my hairdresser), but my all-time favorite source is the BBC website.

Most weeks I stumble across something weird or wonderful that makes my brain fizz. I bookmark them in a folder called ‘story stuff’ and forget about them until I’m looking for ideas or inspiration or just something a little different to get the wheels turning.

I had one of those days today, so I took a stroll through my story stuff file. There are more than a hundred nuggets in there, but here are a trio of good ones.

A sci-fi classic: Continue reading

Jilly: Powerful Shots of Story

Michaeline’s post yesterday (Story Bites for When You Just Can’t) was exactly what I needed. I’m tantalizingly close to the end of my draft, and I know what I need to do, but this last handful of scenes is driving me bananas.

I’m not the fastest writer, but once I’ve figured out what’s supposed to happen in a scene, I can normally nail a decent draft in a day or two. Right now, each one is taking me a week or more: write, delete, rinse and repeat.

My problem is that all the key players are coming together and the stakes are high. In my head the scenes are great, but capturing that intensity on the page is hard. My lack of progress has been making me very cranky indeed, so I thought I’d take Micki’s advice and see if approaching the problem from a different angle would boost my spirits and improve my productivity.

I already have a playlist and a collage for Alexis, so I decided to try something different and write a haiku for each main character at this critical stage of the story.

I’m no expert on haiku, but what I know is this: they should be three lines long, comprising seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five pattern. And ideally they should provide an insight by juxtaposing two contrasting—or conflicting—ideas.

That sounds like the perfect structure for a brief story shot that aims to capture the essence of the character and their conflict.

I’m pleased to report that Continue reading

Jilly: Making Good Use of Critical Reviews

Do you read reviews when you’re thinking about buying a book? How do you use them to help your decision-making?

I never take account of the star ratings, but I used to spend quite a lot of time sifting through the reviews themselves, trying to find ones that I thought were written by a reader with tastes similar to mine, who’d bought the book with their own hard-earned money and reviewed it because they wanted to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t.

That’s become almost impossible of late, because reviews are so important that publishers and authors will do whatever they legitimately can to collect as many high-scoring, positive reviews as possible. Searching for the few that might be useful to me has become a needle/haystack exercise, and linking reviews to verified purchases has, if anything, made the problem worse.

Now, if I see a book with hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews, it does not make me think the book is likely to be good. I start with the expectation that the book is very probably the beneficiary of a well-executed and possibly expensive marketing campaign, and that I should disregard most if not all of the enthusiastic endorsement.

So I’ve been trying a new tactic lately—if it’s a book I like the sound of, but there are so many unhelpfully positive reviews that I can’t use them to form an opinion, I read the detailed critical reviews instead. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it’s been working quite well, for three reasons. Continue reading

Jilly: Good Book Squee–The Goblin Emperor

The quality of my TBR list has improved greatly of late thanks to Jenny Crusie. Last month she added a new weekly feature, Good Book Thursdays, to her blog, www.arghink.com, and invited her online community to recommend something good to read.

Jenny’s followers are a discerning group, so when Katherine Addison’s novel The Goblin Emperor collected a slew of recommendations, I bought it and bumped it up to the top of my list. I’m glad I did. The story is fantasy, which I love, arguably Young Adult (not so much my thing), and with only the barest smidgeon of the possibility of a future love story (bah!), but I really enjoyed it.

The Goblin Emperor is a coming-of-age story about eighteen year-old Maia, half-elf, half-goblin, who unexpectedly becomes Emperor of the Elflands following the death of his father and three of his siblings in an airship crash. He’s the only child of a political mixed marriage, raised in exile by his mother and after her death, by a bitter, bullying cousin. Maia comes to the dangerous, formal and highly politicized Imperial Court without friends or allies and has to decide whom to trust and just what kind of Emperor he wants to be—assuming he survives long enough to make his mark. He quickly discovers that his father’s airship was sabotaged, and he’s smart enough to realize the murderer is likely to be close at hand.

If you’re looking for Continue reading

Jilly: Relaxed, Entertained, Informed, Inspired

How do you like to spend your evenings?

I’ve always been a morning person. I find that I do my best writing from breakfast time until early afternoon, when I slow down and eventually grind to a halt. Then I’m usually good for business or household challenges until dinnertime. After that I have an hour, maybe two or three, when my brain doesn’t seem to want to work, but is oddly susceptible to ideas and impressions. If I use this downtime well, it can be incredibly useful later.

Continue reading