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.

Michaeline: Is it April already?

Nana dog is yawning in the spring sunshine; snow in the background

At least I can’t complain that the weather has turned bizarre. It’s always bizarre in April in Hokkaido. You can see we had snow recently, but now Nana is yawning in the sunshine and I’m barefoot. It’s snowing again as I type this, and Nana and Wonderdog Rex are huddling under the yew tree for now. The swans are heading north for a cool Russian summer, and we’ve got geese passing overhead as well this year. (E.M. Duskova)

https://twitter.com/scalzi/status/1248765241997041666

I think SF author John Scalzi summed it up well on Twitter: “This fucking year I tell you” (in response to the 2020 volcanic activity of Krakatoa – the volcano that also brought us the Year Without a Summer back in the 19th century).

It’s been a few weeks for me, as well. April is traditionally “back to school” time for Japanese students, but back in 2019, I decided I was done with teaching, and ready for a change. So, no back to school for me this year – and none for several students on the main island of Japan. The kids of Hokkaido are back to school, but it’s really up in the air as to how long they’ll stay in school – it all depends on the coronavirus.

Then, on top of transitioning to a freelancer and adjusting to the new realities of life under the cautions of Corona, my father-in-law passed away at the end of March, and life as we know it took a further turn into the bizarre. My FIL didn’t talk much, and was very much in favor of letting people figure out their own lives. But he was a solid, kind presence for all that, and now he’s gone. And although people should expect that an 83-year-old who spends most of his time commuting from couch to table to bed is going to die someday, we just didn’t realize that the day was coming so soon.

Why? I ask myself. Why did he have to go so soon? Spring was just around the corner, and he could have had one more season of strawberries and walks around the farm. But maybe he just didn’t have the energy to face one more month of 2020. I can understand that.

So, I’ve been immersed in the simple pleasures – arranging the funeral flowers as they wilt – after two weeks, we still have some hardy blooms hanging around, and the flowers have been a bright spot. I’ve been doing dog care. And my kids are safe for now. My oldest is living with her husband and his grandmother, and taking a lot of precautions as they work and study from home, and my youngest is back in Hokkaido, waiting to see if her university will restart in May (a month

Digestive biscuits with lemon zest frosting

AFI (Aw, eff it) digestive biscuits. The dough had been chilling in my fridge for WEEKS, so I said, “All right, these are getting baked TODAY.” No faffing around with rolling them out and cookie cutters — just slice and bake. And they turned out wonderfully! Like a cross between graham crackers and sugar cookies. They just look horrible, like a true 2020 kind of cookie. Fortunately, they taste like 1991. (E.M. Duskova)

late) in the traditional face-to-face mode, or if they’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age with online classes.

If they are online classes, she can stay in Hokkaido, and I think you can guess which I’d prefer.

Things are getting done here, just not the things I dreamed I’d be doing way back in January.

So, here. Have a doggy picture and a cookie. Take a nap, drink a warming beverage, and take care of yourselves – it’s OK, whatever you are doing. What you are doing right now is just fine.

 

Jeanne: A Tale of Two Stories

Identical Twin Babies in Green BlanketsAbout a year and a half ago, I got an idea for what I planned to be the third book in my Touched by a Demon series. The thought was to write a Faust story–a tale of Megan Swensen, an author who sells her soul to the devil to make the New York Times Bestseller list. The romance would be a second-chance-at-love story. James, a third-year law student and her grad school boyfriend, helped negotiate the terms of the contract under the impression that he was helping her with a literary assignment for school. When he discovered the truth, they broke up. As the book opens, seven years have passed, the contract is coming due and Megan is panicking.

For its demon, the book would feature Lilith, the she-demon who was a player in the first two books, as Megan’s literary agent and Hellish customer service representative. I even had a title–The Demon Wore Stilettos. Continue reading

Michaeline: Happy Half-Year!

Gibson girl writing on piece of paper.

Writing is a series of decisions. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I swear, I’ve only had time to turn around three times, and already, we’ve gone from the depths of winter into the abundance of summer (at least here in the northern hemisphere). “What have I accomplished?” makes me want to crawl back into bed and sleep for the rest of the month.

But the ever-hopeful “What will I work on?” makes me think of breakfast in bed, and planning checklists with colored markers and beautiful paper, all while dressed in a beautiful negligee.

(Note: this is all in “writer-space” – that place in our imagination where anything is possible and everything is as easy as we want to make it. It’s kind of like “cyber-space” but much more ancient. In real life, I’m at the kitchen table in a quick-trick skirt, pounding away at the computer keyboard. My hair is in an unravelling braid, but . . . BUT, I did manage to pull a pineapple/lime water from my imagination, and I’m drinking it as I compose my dream for the next six months.)

So, here’s a status report. Continue reading

Nancy: Happy April and Accountability!

April might very well be my favorite month of the year. So many great things happen during this first full month of spring! My daughter has her birthday. Trees and flowers begin blooming for another year (allergies be damned!). Days grow longer and warmer, but not yet hot and humid (usually).

This year, in honor of this  uplifting month, instead of just discussing my goals and plans on the April Monday accountability thread, I’m sharing the things I’m looking forward to seeing/having/doing this month.

Covers. It’s very exciting to open an email to find your new book cover design attached! Once again, I’m working on covers for the Harrow’s Finest Five series. This time, I’m waiting for the final version of the design for Two Scandals Are Better Than One, which has a book release date of late May. My newsletter subscribers will get the first sneak peek sometime in the next few weeks, and then I’ll share it here by the end of the month – a very exciting way to close out April!

And speaking of covers, I was amused but not surprised when two of the ladies posted about them last week. We do seem to be a little obsessed with them here at the 8LW blog. But now more than ever, covers are integral to categorizing, branding, and marketing books. Maybe sad, often stressful, but definitely true. That’s why I’m also working on a cover update for the novella Too Clever by Half. Continue reading

Nancy: Still Workin’ It

Last month at about this time, in my February accountability post, I circled back to my New Year New Writer approach for 2019, something-something zen, something-something balance. Okay, to quote our mentor Jenny Crusie, it’s a process, people!

I’m continuing to clear detritus, both in the business and personal spheres. I’m learning new things about the marketing side of writing, and reminding myself that I actually love learning new things when I allow my brain enough time and space to absorb the lessons. Still, the most important part of this whole process is getting the stories out of my head and onto the page, so here’s a summary of last month’s progress and this month’s plan. Continue reading

Nancy: Clearing the Decks

As I mentioned in my last post of 2018, New Year New Writer – Zen Edition, in 2019, I’m working on balance. Balance between extreme fitness goals and creature comforts, online life and IRL friendships, work and play. One of the things I need to do to before I can even think about balance, though, is whittle down my to-do list du jours.

Some people might suggest not writing a to-do list every day. To those people I would say What is wrong with you? And when I’d recovered from my shock, I’d politely point out our brains must work very differently, and I’d spend the rest of the day wondering how anyone functions without a to-do list. Continue reading

Jeanne: Welcome, 2019!

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Lindisfarne Priory, Holy Island, Northumberland, UK

As this post goes live, Baby New Year 2019 should be toddling across the threshold in Greenwich, England, which means that it’s time to give some thought to goals for the year.

I try to set SMART goals–specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. And I set them across an array of categories.

  • Health/Fitness
  • Relationship
  •  Culture/Education
  •  House
  •  Retirement/Savings

Those probably aren’t of interest to the average reader, so we’ll focus on my writing/marketing goals. Continue reading

Nancy: Progress and Plans

Welcome to December! While I’m labeling today’s post accountability thread, you’ll note that in place of the runners jumping over hurdles image I usually include, I’ve chosen a picture of a woman in a zen pose as she looks out at the mountains in front of her. That’s in honor of the kinder, gentler approach I’m going to take this month to scaling all the cliffs in front of me. With the holidays, family obligations, and some exhaustion setting in from the breakneck pace I’ve been trying to keep, I don’t have much choice.

By this time in January, I might be lacing up my Sauconies and hitting the trail, sprinting up the side of the next mountain. But for today, I’m going to calmly celebrate November’s accomplishments and peacefully prepare my December plans. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Stages of a Manuscript

quill-175980_640Stage 1: This is a brilliant idea! Once this thing is published, it will make me instantly famous and very, very rich.

Stage 2: Okay, it’s a good idea, but how in the world am I going to make this work?

Stage 3: Whatever possessed me to think this was a good idea? Joss Whedon himself couldn’t figure out how to make all these pieces come together.

Stage 4: Okay, okay, I think I see how it can work. I really am pretty smart.

Stage 5: But I SUCK as a writer. This has to be the most boring pile of manuscript crap ever committed to paper.

Stage 6: So that was a pretty good scene. Clever banter, a little humor. Maybe not every reader will abandon ship on page 1.

Stage 7: I have a book! It didn’t turn out quite like I thought it would (or, it turned out nothing like I thought it would), but there’s a worthwhile story here.

Stage 8: Okay, it’s out in the world. How do I make people aware of its existence?

Here’s where I am with the first three books in my demon series:

Book 1: Stage 8

Book 2: Stage 7 (with sudden trips back to Stage 3 as I work through my editor’s feedback)

Book 3: Stage 3

How about you?