Michaeline: When Stakes Just Aren’t Important

One of the things we’re taught as studious craft writers is that the stakes are important. Stakes, well-defined at the outset and referred to as needed during the course of story, can keep the reader reading, eager to see if (or more likely, in the romance genre, how) our characters get their hearts’ desires.

But this week, I binge-watched season one of BBC’s Ghosts, and now I’m wondering if high stakes are actually a distraction from a cozy story.

Alison (white woman) and Mike (Black man) sit on the floor during a DIY tea break, while ghosts come out the wall. GHOSTS is emblazoned on the wall.
Promotional image of BBC’s 2019 comedy, Ghosts, via BBC Media Centre.
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Michaeline: Making the Reader Do the Heavy Lifting

This post has only a nugget of truth in it, and I will be asking you, the reader, to do the heavy lifting of separating fact from fiction from pure flights of fancy.

The truth is this: Grey @RayPilley hired one of those write-my-essay groups to write a 1500-word romantic encounter. Grey provided art of two male characters, names of the two men and the basic scenario: “two characters confessing their feelings of love for each other at a fancy dinner party”.

Dinner Party by Jules-Alexander Grun showing hundreds of people in a grand hall with a mezzanine also full of tables and people.
“Love was seated several kilometers away from Hero, much to their mutual chagrin. How could professions of love take place over the distance of the Grand Hall?” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll provide a link at the end that should get you through THAT wonderful story of connection between two strangers on the internet – one trying to make a buck, the other looking for easy entertainment and a few laughs.

But let’s call the ghostwriter Hub (they/them). Hub provided a story full of stilted sentences, bad spelling and no stakes. Oh, and some pronoun confusion; Hub seems to have lifted half the essay from a hetero scenario and forgot they were writing about anime boys. Dear Reader, if you are feeling bad about your writing these days, I encourage you to follow that Twitter trail Grey laid out. The first two-thirds are so bad in so many areas that

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Michaeline: Where There’s a Will

Yesterday, April 23, was the death anniversary (and some say the birthday) of William Shakespeare. Of course, he’s remembered for being one of the greatest writers in the English language, but it’s entirely possible that he was buried as a businessman – a local boy who had done well in London and had property to disperse.

Portia, Bassanio, Gratiano and Nerissa in Renaissance clothing.
A scene from The Merchant of Venice — a play by Will that also involves a father and a will. Next on my reading list, as a matter of fact! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The Conversation has a 2016 article describing Shakespeare’s death and funeral as a “non-event” compared to other famous writers who were commoners. And there’s an interesting article by the BBC and the British Council (also 2016, I think) that describes how a four-month scientific analysis of the will from 2015 to 2016 sheds new light on various theories about Shakespeare and his family.

And that was the end of Shakespeare, the man, but only the beginning of Shakespeare, the literary giant. So, in my brain, one thing leads to another. Shakespeare’s will was considered by scholars to be a variety of things: some conjectured a snub of his wife with the bequest of his “second-best bed” to her; some thought it showed a distrust of his second daughter Judith and her new husband (who had just been convicted for unlawfully impregnating

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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.

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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?

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Michaeline: The Pandemic and Your Writing

Well, it’s been a little more than a year of lock-downs and warnings, sickness and death, constriction and austerity as a result of the global pandemic sparked by the COVID-19 virus. Big, big changes. Have you had enough space to see how this is all affecting your writing?

The pandemic bubble is represented by the arc of a rainbow. Inside are two goddesses and two peacocks. A tree completes the arc. Outside under the tree are two little cherubim, pointing at the goddesses.
Inside my pandemic story bubble, the story shrunk to two characters, with possibly another couple on the side. OK, and maybe a pair of peacocks playing minor roles. But compared to my pre-pandemic stories, the cast was limited. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

For me, I’ve seen a shift to smaller casts – people with more localized problems, and only two to four people in a story. You can see this with my Christmas story last year – a crappy boss, a heroine wallowing in loneliness, a mystery man passed out on the pavement, and a touch of Mother. This is

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Michaeline: Behind the Scenes in Poughkeepsie

Harlan Ellison, an SFF writer, at least once said when asked that he got his ideas from Poughkeepsie. “$25 a Week and they send me a fresh six-pack of new ideas fifty-two times a year” (Shatterday: Stories by Harlan Ellison).

Where do you get your ideas?

I’m getting mine from the cats these past few months.

Half-grown long-haired kitten who looks like a Norwegian Forest cat (tabby) sits on a leopard print fleece blanket that's been placed on top of a big pot of soil (if you are curious, it used to be a turmeric plant). Ears forward, whiskers forward, eyes bright and curious. Very regal sitting position.
Princess Charlotte, also known as Charli with a soft ch (シャーリー). Here she lords over the houseplants. (EM Duskova)

Our new cat, Princess Charlotte, looks like a Norwegian Forest cat or a Maine Coon cat. Both breeds are friendly, chatty giants with long fur and athletic ability. Princess Charlotte (or Charli for short) showed up in our barn on February 15.

She holds herself like a princess, but attacks dem fishies like a warrior queen. And Norwegian Forest cats come with their own mythology and legends, so it’s natural

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Michaeline: Welcome to the Equinox!

A gardener from the 17th century carries a potted tree out to the garden. In the background, more gardeners are hoeing and preparing beds and perhaps mazes for the coming summer.
Whether you are in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, it’s time to change gears and get ready for the coming seasons. Spring! David Teniers the Younger via Wikimedia Commons. Copyright © The National Gallery, London

It’s a season of change, and here winter and spring are still fighting the March battle for dominance. The days are springlike, but the nights are clear and frigid. Tomorrow, we’ll get both snow and rain, if the weather report is right. Blow, winds, blow, and bring in the new.

I’ve had a lousy year so far for . . . well, just about everything. But this week was a good one. I did some spring cleaning, I planted most of the bulbs I should have planted last autumn, and I did some writing. If I read a book tomorrow during the inclement weather, it’ll have been a very good week indeed.

Hope your week is going well, too, and the changing energy recharges your batteries and gives you a nice chance for a reset!

Michaeline: Self-care and the Gentle Art of Computer Backups

Young lady sitting on the back of a chair, watching a very small TV in a high cabinet c. 1933
Spend a night in with the small screen AND back up your computer files at the same time! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

March: In like a lion’s tale, out like a lamb’s whisker . . . or something like that. What a story of woe I have, but it’s a very common one. My computer crashed and burned at the beginning of March. The trackpad had been wonky for months (a whole year?), so I should have known this was coming, but the Lenovo Idea Pad wasn’t even three years old, so I thought I had time.

Ah, time, my old enemy, my dear friend.

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Michaeline: Copyrights of the Future?

This week on my corner of Twitter, there’s been a lot of discussion about copyright, and how long it should last. Someone suggested 30 years after publication! (See below.) The discussion isn’t about a real-world change in laws, as far as I can tell, but a what-if scenarios that may stem from the Dr. Seuss estate pulling some of the Seuss books with racist imagery. As a lot of internet conversations do, the discussion has drifted from the original “problem” to a lot of different ideas about how to do things. Some “solutions” are silly, some are impractical but some have brought up some great tangential points.

In my corner of Twitter, Dr. Seuss wasn’t even mentioned. I’ll get into that later. The reason why it caught my attention is that most writers I know there are extremely concerned about their rights, their old age, and taking care of dependents who may not be able to take care of themselves.

A mid-30s slightly balding writer is seated at a table, writing, in a sparse room while Death as a skeleton aims a spear flagged with "Finis" at his chest. The man is holding up the left hand to ward off Death, but holds onto the quill with his right.
Copyright and royalties can mean a lot to a struggling author facing death. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In general, writers are also readers, and many readers would like to be writers. So, I would say there’s a significant minority of readers who see both sides of the copyright problem.

In America right now, copyright is for the life of an author plus 70 years. (For all the ifs, ands and buts, visit Copyright.gov. The website is a cornucopia of copyright facts in America.) It’s basically the same in the UK, but I’m sure there are some different details. (British Library) In Japan, it’s the lifetime of the author plus 50 years. (Page 5 of this PDF) The problem for me as a reader

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