Jeanne: Prepping for an Edit

Last summer, a writer friend suggested I sign up for an edit slot with the excellent romance writer Laurie Sanders. I’d had dinner with Laurie once, after she spoke to my RWA chapter, and thought she had a lot of smarts where romance-writing is concerned, so I took that advice.

This week I got an email saying my 7000 word submission was due. Since I’m currently in the process of drafting two different books, it took me a day to decide what to submit. I chose to send the first 7K of The Demon’s Secret Baby, which will be the fourth in my Touched by a Demon series.

Then it was time to clean it up for submission, a process I liken to straightening your house in anticipation of your cleaning lady’s arrival. Back when I was working more-than-fulltime and had a cleaning lady, my husband used to scoff at my scurrying around, tidying everything before she arrived.

“Why do we need to impress our cleaning lady?” he’d ask.

“It’s not to impress her,” I’d respond.

Full disclosure–while it wasn’t to impress her, I really didn’t want the cleaning lady to know how messy we could be. The real reason I tidied up before she got there, though, was so she wouldn’t waste her time having to move stuff around to do her job.

Prepping a manuscript for submission to a paid editor is a lot like that. I want my submission to be as clean and error-free as I can make it so she doesn’t get distracted by or waste her time correcting grammar and punctuation and that bit of backstory that, for some reason, I felt the need to restate in three different places.

How about you? Do you clean for your cleaning lady (in whatever form that takes)?

Jeanne: The Chicken or the Egg?

A few months ago I did a beta read for an author friend. She’s a kick-butt writer, with a real gift for creating likeable characters you connect with and want to root for, but she had one narrative tic that I found distracting. When she described events that create an emotional reaction in the point-of-view character, she often described their reaction first and described what caused it second.

Here is a totally made-up example:

His breath shortened and his heart pounded till he could feel it beating in his ears. Footsteps sounded on the stairs above his head.

I can see where you might want to do this occasionally to create suspense for the reader (what’s going on?!), but in general it feels to me like it lacks chronological validity.

On the other hand, research into human perception suggests that we do actually perceive things at a subliminal level and react to them milliseconds before we’re consciously aware of what we’re reacting to.

(This has actually been used as an argument against free will–how can humans have free will if a large portion of our reactions are made by our subconscious minds?)

I’m opening the floor to discussion. In describing a stimulus-response situation, which should come first? Are there exceptions? If so, what are they?

Jeanne: How I Spent My Covid Vacation

I’ve been reading way too many news stories lately about people who have learned a new language or how to play a musical instrument during quarantine. Those stories should be inspiring but instead they left me feeling like a loser because all I’ve managed to accomplish during the pandemic is to grow my hair out. (And even that’s incomplete–the last layer won’t reach chin length until probably Mother’s Day.)

Except for a brief stint back in March, when I freaked out and didn’t get much done besides obsessively reading about the virus, I’ve been reasonably focused but I don’t have much to show for it except failed or incomplete projects.

One of the failed projects was the original version of The Demon Wore Stilettos. In its original incarnation, the book revolved around an author who sold her soul to the devil to make the New York Times bestseller list. The story became ridiculously complicated (three couples, three romance arcs, six character arcs and way the heck too many plot lines). In July I gave up on that premise and started over. I took one of the subplots, a second chance at love story featuring demons Samael and Lilith, and created a separate story. That book is now about 75% of the way to a first draft. I would be finishing it up very soon except…

Last Monday I found myself thinking about my Faustian author again. In a flash of inspiration, all the problems I had with the original book disappeared. With Sam and Lilith’s story stripped away, I could see the bones of the original book very clearly. Since then I’ve been writing like a madwoman (except for Christmas Eve, which I spent handing gifts to shivering grandchildren on my back porch), typing until my back and shoulders burn so much I have to quit for the day.

I may still run into some kind of showstopper issue, but I’m feeling pretty good about the book’s chances. With a few more months of quarantine-level focus, I expect to finish both demon stories before spring.

With any luck, I’ll release three books in 2021–two demon stories (tentatively titled The Demon Wore Stilettos and The Demon’s Secret Baby) and Girl’s Best Friend, the first book in a new Contemporary romance series set in Russet Springs, a small town in Ohio.

So take that, all you newly minted guitar players.

Jeanne: Charlie’s Golden Anniversary

As I was typing out the list of words in Elizabeth’s short story prompt on Friday, the word “bucket” capitalized itself and I immediately knew what I wanted to write about. Anyone who is a fan of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or the movie starring Gene Wilder that was made from it, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, will recognize the characters below (except the new ones I created and even those apples don’t fall far from their respective trees).

Charlie Bucket opened the door of his chocolate factory and shivered. The courtyard was freezing. Overhead, a banner read, “Welcome Back Golden Ticketers!” Beneath the banner stood eight people. He rubbed his hands together. “Thank you all for coming today.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” A smooth-faced woman who looked like she’d been poured into her figure-hugging purple jumpsuit pushed forward, hauling a young girl along with her. The jumpsuit wasn’t the purple of royalty, but an obnoxious shade of puce that made Charlie want to squint, even in the thin winter sunlight.

She extended fingers encrusted with purple gemstones. “Amethyst Darlingstar.”

Charlie peered at her through his bifocals. “I’m sorry. I don’t recall inviting an Amethyst Darlingstar.”

The woman stretched her red lips into a smile, though not one other muscle in her face moved. “You knew me as Violet Beauregarde. I changed my name when I became an actress. Perhaps you’ve seen some of my films?”

Charlie shook his head. “I don’t get out much.” He smiled down at her companion. “Is this your granddaughter?”

The girl, who looked less like a child than an undersized adult, curtseyed. “Lavender Bloom, sir.”

Charlie tried to shake off the sense that he was looking at a grown woman in miniature. “Welcome.” Continue reading

Sara Sartagne: A Fairytale Ending

Sara, a regular reader of Eight Ladies Writing, submitted this story in response to Friday’s prompt

Traditionally performed at Christmas, British pantomime is a popular form of family theatre, incorporating song, dance, buffoonery, slapstick, cross-dressing, in-jokes, topical references, audience participation, and mild sexual innuendo. It’s a popular family Christmas outing, often on Boxing Day, with storylines based on children’s classic stories and fairy tales – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, for example. Standard jokes include villains creeping up on the hero and his sidekick who are always looking the wrong way. Audience participation is strongly encouraged – “He’s behind you!”, “Oh yes, he is!” and “Oh no, he isn’t!” are standard responses.

A Fairytale Ending

It was just as the kids in the audience screamed “He’s behind you!!” that Henry threw up.

Tom, as he struggled to mop up the vomit with a handkerchief, now knew for certain that an ice cream feast before the pantomime would indeed, all end badly. Nearby children scooted away as though burned.

As the smell started to roll through the warm, packed theatre, Tom could see the usherettes confer and then split up. One came straight towards him, looking determined and carrying a fire bucket, the other diving out of the door. Henry, like the villain, was washed luminous green. He was trying hard not to cry. Ignoring his new leather jacket, bought to cheer himself up, Tom drew the boy into a hug.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Tom,” Henry whimpered. Tom grinned.

“No sweat. Feeling better?”

Henry nodded, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. An actress glared down with a most un-fairy-like demeanour and Henry looked tearful again. Tom glared with raised eyebrows and to his surprise, the dancing bear came to the edge of the stage and shouldered her out of the way. The fairy stumbled, clutching her fake amethyst tiara and stalked into the wings. Continue reading

Jeanne: Literary Influences

The Masterclass I’ve been taking on Storytelling got me to thinking about the authors I loved when I was young, writers who had a profound impact on how I think a story should be told and what fiction should sound like. Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Lucy Maude (L.M.) Montgomery (1874-1942) Readers know her for Anne of Green Gables, but my personal favorite is The Blue Castle, a romance about a twenty-nine year old woman who has dwindled into spinsterhood always doing what she should. An unexpected diagnosis of a fatal disease frees her to pursue her dreams, including proposing marriage to a mysterious local bachelor who lives in the wilds of eastern Canada.
    • My Takeaway from Her Books: Her characters are so alive they jump off the page because they have both strengths and weaknesses. Anne is as famous for her temper as she is for her vivid imagination.
  • Edward Eager (1911-1964) He wrote stories of magic happening in the lives of everyday children. My favorite was Seven Day Magic, about children who borrow a book that has set on the bottom shelf of the fairy tale section at the library for years, with all that magic dripping down on it. The first seven days with the book provide magical experiences for the kids, but when they break the rules and fail to return the book on time, the magic turns dark.
    • My Takeaway from His Books: He sets up worlds that doesn’t follow all the rules of our world but strictly enforce the rules they do have, which gives them the consistency that makes them believable.
  • Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) For lovers of historical romance, Heyer is second only to Jane Austen. Her stories of Regency London sparkle with candles, cut glass and couture.
    • My Takeaway from Her Books: Readers love handsome, arrogant heroes who learn to love.
  • Donald Westlake (1933-2008) Westlake wrote both crime stories and comic capers. The crime stories are good but the capers are even better. One of my favorites is Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, about a guy who says he wound up being a criminal largely because people refused to pronounce his last name, Künt, with the umlaut. It was re-released this year by Hard Case Crime and there’s a great review of it here.
    • My Takeaway from His Books: Not nearly enough. I would give my back teeth to be able to write anything as one-tenth as funny as Westlake at his best. His banter is rivaled only by Jenny Crusie (who isn’t listed here because I didn’t find her till I was solidly middle-aged.)
  • There are many others: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, E.M. Hull (who wrote The Sheik, the first actual romance I ever read. It is racist, misogynistic and terrible on many levels, even given the fact that it was published in 1919. That said, it struck me, at age 13, as the acme of romance.)
    • My Takeaway from this Group: A bit of mystery keeps the romance burning hot.

Who were your biggest literary influences?

Jeanne: This Is Your Life

I recently started a Masterclass on storytelling with Neil Gaiman as the instructor. His first lesson was on honesty in storytelling. In it, he talks about, among other things, using the experiences you had as a child to create verisimilitude in your fiction.

This lesson is very timely because I recently wrote a fight scene for my WIP–a demon fighting an angel on the wing of an Airbus A320 plane 30,000 feet in the air. Obviously, I’m neither an angel nor a demon (opinions of my ex-husbands notwithstanding) nor have I ever been in a real fight with another human being, much less on the wing of an in-transit plane.

However, I grew up the middle child of seven and I have extensive experience with trying to wrestle my possessions away from other kids (or trying to retain possession of something that absolutely wasn’t mine).

I know, for example, what it feels like to have an older sibling literally force you to pick up something you threw on the ground. They place one hand on the nape of your neck, bend you over until your forehead hits your knees, fold their other hand around your hand and close it around said object, then drag you to the trash can and peel your fingers back to release the object. (Note: Looking back, I now understand why my older sisters were so “mean” when they babysat us.)

I’ve never been in a fist fight. My parents had strict rules about fighting, so we never did anything that left marks. All of these wrestling matches took place upstairs, or when Mom and Dad were away. But these tussles provide me with a gut understanding of what it feels like to be in an actual fight–the anger, fear and frustration of going up against a much stronger opponent, knowing you’re inevitably going to lose, but being too stubborn (read: stupid) to take the easy way out and just comply.

How do you use your life experiences to inform your fiction with realism?

Jeanne: Demonic Party Games

My work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, is coming along well, with a target date for a first draft at the end of this year. It opens with Sam and Lil giving a party in Hell, along about 8,000 BC. 

Samael, the Demon of Pride, walked Lucifer to the front door of his apartment in the First Ring of Hell. “Thanks for coming.”

Lucifer was a short, skinny figure with leathery skin the color of sour cherries. In the two thousand years since he’d founded Hell, he’d shriveled, losing all resemblance to the bright morning star he had once been. Beneath the little horns poking out of the top of his head, his narrow face did not look happy. Behind him, his arrow-tipped tail swished angrily.

“Hell of a party.” He looked back into the cave, where the party was still in full swing. .

Sam’s quarters, like every other apartment in Hell, consisted of a huge cave sculpted from hardened lava. Near the back wall, a quartet of demons yodeled disharmonies while the audience pelted them with rotten figs. In the middle of the room, at a bar constructed from stalagmites and a slab of granite, a bartender mixed pus with boiling water for an endless line of takers, who shuddered as they slugged back the concoction and then got in line for more.

Around the room a dozen smudge pots burned, filling the air with sulfurous smoke. Several demons roasted wild boar sausages over the open fires while others, drunk on pus cocktails, tried to pee on the sausages. Here and there fights broke out when one of them was successful.

You all were so helpful in suggesting things that might go on in Hell’s daycare that I’ve decided to tap the hive mind for party suggestions.

What other kinds of activities might go on at a demon party? (Remember: this takes place approximately 8000 BC.) Hell often has technology before it shows up on Earth (because most technology is create in Hell) but not thousands of years before, so please stay within that constraint.

Jeanne: Things to be Thankful For

It’s been a tough year for most of us, so when Eight Lady Michaeline suggested we each do a post this week that focuses on things we’re grateful for, it sounded like an excellent idea. Here are my gratitude items, in no particular order:

Dogtooth Violet
  1. Only one person in my family has caught Covid-19. My 14-year-old grandson got a very mild case. He only discovered this because he got strep throat and his pediatrician ran a Covid test when he went in for the strep. Although he lives in a household of five, he was apparently perfectly content to hang out in his room with his computer and his Playstation and call for room service as needed.
  2. In addition to staying healthy, my family has managed to stay financially afloat. Since this includes one daughter who is a waitress and another who owns an event venue, this is pretty thank-worthy.
  3. Last spring, authorities shut down my favorite place to hike. This was initially not a gratitude item because it happened just as the woodland ephemerals were coming into bloom. The great thing that happened from this disappointment was that it forced me to break out of my routine and discover a ton of new places to hike. (I took the pictures on this post at a couple of them.)
  4. Places that I love to hike got a lot more crowded. This wasn’t great for me personally, but it’s exciting to see families getting out into nature who weren’t doing that before. I have my fingers crossed that by the time this is over it will be a habit for them because people who love nature, protect nature.
  5. The lack of opportunities to travel this year created a different opportunity–to sit in my chair and work on my current book. Thanks to that extra focus, I expect to finish a first draft before the end of the year.
  6. Last, but certainly not least, I’m thankful for the other Ladies. Behind every successful author is a strong community, and I’m so grateful to have found this one.
Large-flowered trillium

Jeanne: The Proud Guys

As discussed last week, Samael, the hero in my work-in-progress, suffers from the deadly sin of Pride.

As part of my research for the character, I asked the other Eight Ladies for book recommendations. They came up with some great suggestions! Today, I’m going to talk about some of them.

The Misunderstood Proud Guy

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Mr. Darcy is the “pride” character mentioned in the title. He is wealthy, owns an estate and is the object of all the matchmaking mothers in Longbourn, where he’s visiting a friend. When he haughtily refuses to dance with the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, she takes him in instant dislike.

Over the course of the book, though, it becomes clear that he is a good man. Much (though not all) of of what people view as pride is really a combination of introversion and shyness.

The Broken Proud Guy

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, aka Dain, prides himself on his bad behavior. The product of a very bad marriage that resulted in his mother abandoning his father (and him) when he was eight years old, followed by years at prep school being tortured by other boys, leaves him with the conviction that he was damned from birth. When his father dies and he inherits the estate and title, he decides to live out that belief.

Miss Jessica Trent has helped rear ten male cousins, so boys behaving badly are nothing new to her. Over the course of a very enjoyable 357 pages, she brings Dain to heel and mends him.

The Redeemable Proud Guy

Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

The gods were smiling the day Bobby Tom Denton was born. Smart, good-looking, gifted at business, irresistible to women and an exceptional athlete, he had it all until an unlucky tackle in the Super Bowl ended his football career. Although he’s ridiculously generous to friends and acquaintances, who are more than willing to take advantage of his generosity., he doesn’t let anyone get close to him.

Gracie Snow was not born under the same star. Average-looking, badly dressed, nearly broke and a thirty-year-old virgin, she was raised in a nursing home. She’s much more at home with old people than a hot young bachelor.

When an odd feeling of connection leads Bobby Tom to consider helping Gracie shed her virgin status, he eradicates the feeling by telling himself it’s beneath him to have sex with a “charity case.”

By the end of the book, both Bobby Tom and Gracie learn to value Gracie for the excellent person she is, and Bobby Tom finally learns to set boundaries.

The Accept-Me-As-I-Am Proud Guy

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer

The Marquis of Vidal was born heir to a wealthy dukedom. Bright, good-looking and athletic, he believes he is entitled to whatever he wants, including attractive young women.

Mary Challoner is a sensible middle-class young woman with middling looks and a very good brain. When she perceives that Vidal is about to ruin her beautiful but rather silly younger sister, she disguises herself as Sophia and takes her place, thinking to teach Vidal a lesson.

But Vidal is quite capable of kidnapping an unwilling woman. Only after Mary shoots him does he realize her reluctance isn’t feigned.

When the book ends, Vidal has learned to treat Mary with respect, but is otherwise essentially unchanged.

The Cosmically Ordained Proud Guy

The Iliad by Homer

This last one is not a romance, and was suggested by G.S. Kenney, author of Freeing Eden and The Last Lord of Eden.

Chosen by the gods to be invincible, Achaean warrior Achilles doesn’t handle frustration well. When Menelaus, leader of the Achaean army, appropriates Achilles’ slave girl, Achilles retires to his tent to sulk, refusing to join his comrades on the battlefield.

Without their best warrior, the Achaeans get destroyed on the battlefield, so Patroclus, Achilles’ bestie, dresses up in his friend’s armor and goes to battle pretending to be Achilles. Unfortunately, the armor doesn’t work for him and he winds up dead.

Overwhelmed by guilt, Achilles gets up off his duff and does his job–and gets killed, too.

My Proud Guy

So now I just have to decide which of these gentlemen, and thus which character arc, is the model for my hero, Samael.

Thoughts, anyone?