Jilly: Free Shouldn’t Mean Gimcrack

How many of you download free books, stories or novellas from BookBub, or the Zon, or as a reward for signing up for an author newsletter?

Do you expect the quality of the writing to be worse because it’s free?

Stand by for a rant.

I’m on the mailing list of an author whose books I really like. She’s not prolific, but her stories are quality and well worth waiting for. I had a newsletter from her recently, announcing that her new novel would be published shortly. Excellent, I thought. I read on to discover that she’d written a novella-length story in the same world as the upcoming book, and that she was offering it to her mailing list as a free download to thank us for our engagement and to whet our appetites for the new release.

I couldn’t have been happier. I downloaded the free book, made a pot of coffee and got comfortable on the sofa with my Kindle. For about five minutes, tops.

I knew the novella-length story had started life as a character sketch, a discovery exercise to help the author find her way into the next big book. That’s cool. I love those little extras, behind-the-scenes glimpses and secret nuggets. That’s what I was hoping for. Perhaps that’s what it became in the end. I’m not sure, because I abandoned it after skimming the first dozen pages.

I’m not sure whether the author did just dump her discovery notes into Vellum without any thought or editing, but that’s how it read to me. What I read reminded me of the famous Mark Twain quote: “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

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Jilly: Give the Girl a Goal!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.

We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.

Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.

So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.

The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading

Jilly: Bujold’s Sharing Knife Books, Old and New

I was super-excited to learn from Michaeline’s post a couple of weeks ago that Lois McMaster Bujold is to publish a new novella in her Sharing Knife universe. I’m a huge fan of the original tetralogy and somehow I never expected her to revisit this story world, so I feel a squee brewing. Yay! Fingers crossed!

The new novella, called Knife Children, should be published later this month. I see from LMB’s Goodreads blog (link here) that it can be read as a standalone, so if you’re tempted to take a look, don’t assume you have to read the original four books first.

That said, if you’re short of something to read right now, and you enjoy engaging, subtle fantasy stories, you could always try Beguilement, followed by Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. I usually revisit these books once or twice a year, so I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read this month while I wait for Knife Children.

I’ve also been pondering, not for the first time, exactly why these books fit so well with my personal id list—the tropes, characters, premises and details that I, as a reader, really, really like (click here to read more about id lists).

I’ll try to describe in a fairly generic, non-spoilery way what I enjoy most about the stories.

The books are set in an imaginary pre-industrial country that looks a lot like America. There are typical fantasy elements—romance, a hero with mage-like powers, scary mythical creatures, blood magic, powerful objects, horses-n-swords, success against overwhelming odds—but here the story is so grounded in normality that the fantastic aspects blend seamlessly with the familiar.

Right from the start of the book the hero and heroine’s romance is as inevitable as it appears improbable. Fawn is a dewy eighteen-year-old farmer’s daughter, two months pregnant after a disappointing tryst in a cornfield, who runs away from home rather than be branded a slut. Dag is a fiftysomething-year-old one-armed battle-scarred widower who has nothing left in life but thankless duty. From their first desperate encounter with one of the aforementioned scary creatures, Dag and Fawn rescue one another, and it rapidly becomes apparent to them (if not to anyone else) that their differences make them perfectly suited, empowering them both. Her common sense, logic, honesty and hungry curiosity challenge his idealism and stimulate his talent for innovation, leading him to develop all kinds of hitherto unsuspected abilities.

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Jilly: 2019 In A Word

Can you believe it’s Twelfth Night already?

I feel rather late to the New Year’s Resolution/Goal Setting/Watchword party, but it’s been interesting to read about everyone else’s approach, from Jeanne’s specific, measurable, time-limited SMART goals to Elizabeth’s ultra-flexible pursuit of happiness.

There are still 51 weeks of 2019 ahead of us, so I’m going to join in the fun 😉

For the last few years I’ve picked a watchword to epitomize my approach to the coming year. It’s less prescriptive than a set of resolutions. More of a theme, in the sense of “an idea that recurs and pervades.”

My word for 2018 was TRIMMINGS, courtesy of Michaeline. On 30th December, 2017 she said:

We live in a time where we can get online support and critiques, buy the best organizing tools ever, and even publish ourselves with only our own Inner Censors as the sole gatekeepers of our work. Or we could get a pencil and paper, and then publish pictures of our handwritten pages on Instagram. It’s all trimmings. What really matters is the happiness you get from writing.

TRIMMINGS turned out to be a useful word, but not for the reasons I’d expected. A couple of weeks after I wrote the post, my mum died, my best-laid plans went up in smoke, and I had a sharp lesson in focusing on the things that really matter.

I didn’t do any more writing until April, and then I sat down with a blank sheet of paper to think about how I wanted to spend the rest of the year. I decided the best way to get my mojo back would be to take on a new self-contained project or two that would get me into my happy writing place again and carry me in the right direction but without too much pressure.

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Jilly: Breaking With Tradition – A Christmas Short Story

Where does the time go? Can you believe this is the fifth year of the Eight Ladies Christmas Short Story Challenge?

Check out Elizabeth’s post here for the rules and this year’s story prompts (I think I got ‘em all). And go here for Michaeline’s spooky and moving ghost story.

Below is mine—not exactly a HEA, but something sunny to contrast with Michaeline’s dark night of the soul 😉 .

***

Breaking With Tradition

Mia Bougainvillea glowered at her husband-to-be, wondering yet again what on earth had induced him to propose marriage. It was beyond baffling.

She knew why she’d accepted. He was her boss’s son. A brilliant scholar. Rich. Classy. Stylish. Blond, tanned, and perfectly proportioned. Out of her league. She’d been drunk on flattery and Dom Perignon. And now here they were, on her island, in a collision of cultures that had bypassed fiasco and was thundering toward disaster.

“Sorry, Mia. I’m not walking up there.” The midday sun reflected off Arthur’s mirrored shades as he stared at the sacred volcano, powerful and mysterious. “It must be five miles to the top.”

“It’s traditional,” Mia repeated. She folded her arms grimly over the knot of her bridal pilgrimage flame-print sarong.

His lower lip jutted. “I gave you my grandmother’s diamond solitaire. Isn’t that traditional enough?”

She shook her head, dislodging a few fragrant petals from her flower crown. “We have to walk to the crater and ask for Pinguis’s blessing. No islander would get married here without it. You said you were looking forward to it. You said it would be fun.”

“I was ambivalent at best.” His voice rose to a whine that made him sound like a colicky, grizzly baby. “Furthermore, when you first broached the idea I didn’t know it would be so damned hot.”

“You’d be cooler if you lost the suit and tie.”

“For the last time, Mia, a gentleman does not wear a skirt, even in the tropics.” He leaned forward slightly, eyes narrowed. “Are you naked under that wrap?”

“Of course. It’s customary.” She slanted a glance at him. “Many people find it sexy.”

“It’s embarrassing.” He smoothed out a non-existent crease in his sleeve. “Why don’t you put some proper clothes on—something that fastens. With a zipper. Or buttons. I’ll take you for lunch at the yacht club.”

Pinguis, help me. The honeymoon was over, and they weren’t even married yet.

“It’s not too late, Arthur,” she heard herself blurt.

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Jilly: Pity Party

So, how was your week? Mine started well, but from there it’s been downhill all the way.

The good news is that I successfully uploaded my *three* entries to the RWA Golden Heart Contest website. Two of them still require tweaking, but they’re close to ready, and seeing the titles set up on the contest system gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. 😀

I celebrated by hurting my back. Fortunately it was muscular, and a few sessions of physiotherapy have helped no end, but while it lasted the effects were spectacular. Getting out of bed was a four-step process, with screaming. Sitting at a desk was impossible, so no GH tweaking happened this week 😦

I marked the improvement in my mobility by cracking a tooth. I’ll have a new crown for Christmas, please, Santa 😦 😦

And to put the lid on things, I somehow acquired a bonus ear infection 😦 😦 😦

They say things go in threes, so I’m hoping that’s my last nasty surprise. All being well, I’ll have butt in chair/hands on keyboard soon, and I’ll see you all back here in two weeks with this year’s Christmas Short Story.

Here’s hoping your week was better than mine. Did good things happen to you?

Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .