Jilly: The Pirate’s Parrot–A Shapeshifting Short Story

It’s been a difficult start to the New Year, and I haven’t written or edited anything for the last few weeks, so I thought I’d try to get myself back in the swing by tackling Elizabeth’s writing prompts from last Friday.

I’m not sure what to make of this. It took me a while to get going, and the final result came out quite dark, but at least it got the wheels turning.

The prompts were:

Something floating in the swimming pool

Ripple                          flicker                          shade                           depth

Breeze                          killjoy                          parrot                         shadow

Moonbeam                 symbolic                     acrobat                       daredevil

Headphones               contestant                  cougar                        bludgeon

The Pirate’s Parrot

A persistent breeze shepherded fluffy clouds across the balmy North African night sky. Intermittently—too often—a moonbeam shone through, illuminating the battered body floating face down in Hizir Barbarossa’s white marble swimming pool.

I’d perched, frozen, on Hizir’s beefy shoulder as he’d lounged on his white marble throne while Oruc, his First Mate, fought a contestant for the coveted place at the pirate lord’s right hand. I’d witnessed Oruc humiliate the challenger, bludgeon him to a pulp, and then make him walk the plank along the antique wooden diving board as the assembled thugs cheered and jeered.

Apparently it was symbolic, like Hizir’s decision to adopt the name of a long-dead pirate and decorate his person with brocade coats, antique pistols and dangly ear-rings. There was nothing archaic, however, about his fast-growing empire of people smugglers, slavers, drug-dealers, money-launderers, and online scammers.

Unfortunately for Barbarossa, his sartorial preferences had made him the perfect target for the Powers-that-Be’s super-secret new shifter division. The Boss had figured that an ultra-rare Spix’s Macaw would make the perfect shoulder ornament for the discerning pirate-psychopath, so I’d exchanged my jeans, boots and smart remarks for brilliant blue feathers and a vocabulary of limited depth.

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Jilly: Evaluating an Edit Report

So how’s the New Year shaping up for you?

I started January with a new challenge—deciding how to respond to my very first professional content edit. I’d previously seen the excellent report the editor, Karen Dale Harris, wrote for Jeanne’s The Demon Always Wins, so I knew roughly what to expect. That didn’t mean I was ready for it.

The overview/summary report alone ran to 24 pages, and covered everything from subgenre choice and the implications of that, to characters, conflict, plot, plot holes, world-building, language choices, inconsistencies…you get the idea. I’ll just say that it’s not a comfortable experience to have one’s every last choice subjected to such detailed scrutiny. Continue reading

Jilly: 2018 In A Word

Happy New Year!

Do you play the watchword game? That is, choose a single word to epitomize your approach to the coming year? It’s not as restrictive as a goal or resolution. More like a theme, defined as ‘an idea that recurs and pervades.’

Elizabeth told us on Wednesday that her word for 2018 is FINISH, to be applied to one project per month, not necessarily writing-related.

Last year I wanted a call to action. I settled on PUBLISH, and here’s how I explained my choice:

That doesn’t mean I expect Alexis to be published by the end of 2017, though that would be thrilling. It means that everything writing-related that I do this year should be directed towards that end. By next New Year’s Eve, at the very least I should know the specifics of how and when that book, and that series, will get published.

I think I did pretty well with that.

  • I finished Alexis Book 1 and, with Jeanne’s help, tidied up the ms well enough to win a contest and get some nice comments from the judges.
  • I made a final decision to pursue indie publishing, joined Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing 101 course and worked through the lectures.
  • I signed up with Jeanne’s editor, Karen Dale Harris, and sent Alexis to her. I received my report just before Christmas and I’m now working my way through Karen’s comprehensive and challenging feedback.
  • I decided to write two more stories from Alexis’s past, one to be given away on my mailing list and the other as a prequel to kick off Alexis’s series. I resolved to get both of these finished before I release the first Alexis book, even if that means I have to let the ‘go live’ date slip a few months.
  • I spent a lot of time thinking about my titles, covers, and all kinds of other useful indie-publishing need-to-know decisions I learned about from the Mark Dawson classes. I now have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to handle most of them.

This year I’m going for a different approach, because although I keep inching forward, I’m feeling a kind of mounting frustration that I still have so much to do and it’s taking me so damn long to hatch a book.

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Jilly: New Year’s Resolution – Christmas Short Story, Part 2

Happy New Year, everyone!

This year I decided to write a two-parter in response to our Christmas Short Story Challenge. Click here to read Part One, in which our heroine, horologist Sandy Sharp, searches for clues about her missing father and encounters a mysterious otherworldly character at midnight in the clock mechanism room of Big Ben’s tower.

New Year’s Resolution

The mystery man was so tall, Sandy’d had to stand on tiptoe to reach his collar. He’d been fast enough to catch her wrist, strong enough to block her and absorb the momentum of her entire bodyweight as she swung the hammer at the panel. He could have broken her hold on him, could have swatted her like a gnat, but he didn’t.

He leaned down, just enough to allow her feet to settle back on the ground and relieve the pull on the fabric of his uniform. Above her clenched hand, his shoulders rose and fell in a slow, steady rhythm. Under the peak of his hat, his brown-rimmed hazel eyes gleamed, focused and calm. Waiting.

Seconds dripped by. The pounding in her chest slowed to a rapid thump-thump-thump that made it easier to catch her breath. Then her whole body started to shake, making the gold braid scratch against her fingers. With a supreme effort of will, she opened her hand and stepped back out of reach.

He straightened to his full height, walked around to where her hammer lay forgotten, picked it up and returned to present it to her with a polite bow. “I apologize for frightening you. I suppose it’s too much to ask that you forget you ever saw me?”

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Jilly: Midnight Reflections – A Christmas Short Story

Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s Christmas story time again, already! Check out Elizabeth’s post for this year’s challenge words. Click here for Kay’s deliciously feelgood snowy tale, and here for Michaeline’s steampunk treat.

As my posts fall on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve this year, I decided to write a two-parter covering both nights. I picked off the prompt words in Part One, below, but the Happy Ending will have to wait until next Sunday.

***

Midnight Reflections

Bong!Bong! … Bong!

The unmistakable chimes of the Great Bell of London, commonly known as Big Ben, resonated across the moonlit, traffic-free city. A random snowflake drifted from the cloudless sky and settled on the roof of the Elizabeth Tower. It was officially Christmas.

Below the belfry, in the mechanism room, Sandy Sharp, the youngest horologist in the Palace of Westminster, waited until the last echo of the final chime faded. Then she threw the temporary switch that disconnected the hour train that caused the half-ton hammer to strike the fourteen-ton bell.

She wiped her hands on her jeans and traced the raised, gold-on-black inscription at the base of the legendary clock. Made in the Year of our Lord 1854 by Frederick Dent of the Strand and the Royal Exchange, Clockmaker to the Queen, from the Designs of Edmund Beckett Denison, QC. Fixed here 1859.

Officially the clock was shut down for refurbishment, but the powers that be had decreed the Great Bell should ring out to celebrate the start of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Keeper of the Clock had asked for volunteers to babysit the process, and the other mechanics, who had families to consider, had accepted with guilty relief when Sandy offered to cover both shifts.

The team thought they knew why she wanted to do it. They weren’t wrong exactly, they just didn’t know the half of it. The critical aspects of her plan were too unorthodox to share with her profoundly rational colleagues.

Her earliest memory was of being carried in her father’s arms, up, up and around endless stairs to this room. As a tenth birthday surprise, Dad had let her place an old copper penny on the pendulum stack to speed up the mechanism by two-fifths of a second per day. On her sixteenth, he’d signed her up as his apprentice. On her twentieth, she’d joined the team as a fully qualified mechanic.

And then a scant few weeks later, joy had turned to catastrophe. Some time between the beginning of his shift on New Year’s Eve, and the end of it the following day, Dad had simply disappeared. It was as though the Elizabeth Tower had swallowed him whole.

Sandy was almost sure she didn’t believe in ghosts, but Continue reading

Jilly: Resisting Holiday Romances

Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.

This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.

Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.

I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure. Continue reading