Elizabeth: Loretta Chase Event

Are you a Loretta Chase fan?  If so, you may want to check out an upcoming Virtual Q&A tomorrow (April 14th) at the Cary Memorial Library.  I’ve attended a few virtual events from this library in the past and they have been great fun.  It is always interesting to “see” authors that we generally only know through their work.

As Loretta said in a post on her website:

“One thing I’ve deeply missed during the year of self-quarantine is the opportunity to get out and talk to readers. That, however, has not stopped me from talking, usually in a small rectangular box on a screen. On the plus side, these virtual events have offered opportunities for us to get together from the comfort of our homes or favorite hangouts.”

Here are the details for the event:

When: Wednesday 14 April at 7PM

How: You can register via this link.

Or, if for any reason the link disobeys you or sulks or otherwise refuses to cooperate, you can click on this link, which will take you the the Cary Memorial Library Calendar, and follow these steps:

If you are interested in the event but can’t attend, don’t worry, it will be livestreamed via Facebook and recorded and uploaded to the library’s YouTube channel.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go read Lord of  Scoundrels.

Kay: Reading Crime Fiction

My favorite literary genre is the mystery. I’m not a big fan of the “cozy”—the storylines of teacups and cats set in bookshops—but I don’t like sensationalist serial-killer stories, either. I don’t want to read loving descriptions of slow torture or the detached planning of sociopath rapists. This is not my idea of entertainment.

My favorites are those books that straddle a middle ground. I like the puzzle a mystery offers. I like a flawed detective. I enjoy good writing, unusual settings, and any time period. If there’s a secondary romance plot, so much the better.

After a year of not really enjoying anything I read, I just polished off in one week the first three books and four novellas in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn. I’d been thinking about why this series, set in Victorian times, caught my fancy when so many other things did not in the past year. Lady Julia has a great deal of agency, Brisbane takes her seriously, and her large family—eccentrics all—is fun to read about. Also, the dialogue is good and the romance is slow-burning. So that’s all catnip for me.

Continue reading

Jilly: Scrappy Underdog v Flawless Beauty

How do you like your heroines? Scrappy or stunning? Do you care?

A couple of weeks ago I re-read Ilona Andrews’ Blood Heir. The book was indie published in January and became an immediate bestseller. It has nearly six thousand ratings on the US Amazon site, almost all five stars. I’d been counting the days to publication, bought it as soon as it was available, and read it right away.

I enjoyed it—Ilona and Gordon’s books are an auto-buy for me and I don’t see that changing —but I didn’t love it the way I expected to. I don’t think my reaction had anything to do with the writing. The book was set in a familiar fictional world, with a nice blend of old and new characters. All the usual elements were present—kindness, humor, adventure, action, mythology, community, and snappy dialogue. I think my problem (if you’d call it a problem) was in what I brought to the book as a reader.

The heroine of Blood Heir is an important character in the hugely successful Kate Daniels Atlanta-set urban fantasy series. In that series she’s Julie Olsen, an orphaned, feral street kid who’s adopted by Kate. Julie gains a family and a community, finds trust, love, and protection in a dangerous world. She grows up and discovers her own considerable magical powers, but she remains scarred by the crucible that formed her. For example, she always carries food, even though she never goes hungry anymore, because she spent her childhood in a state of near starvation. Julie is pretty enough. She’s feisty, attitude-y, and independent, with some well-hidden vulnerabilities. I find her a relatable, fascinating character.

In Blood Heir Julie returns to Atlanta from her new home in California because a prophecy has revealed that an ancient and super-powerful Big Bad will try to kill Kate and destroy all that Julie loves. Except she’s not Julie now. She’s been re-born as Aurelia Ryder, a high princess of an ancient and powerful magical dynasty related to Kate. She has a new, flawless face and body, incredible superpowers, wealth, education, even a new scent. She can’t tell anyone she’s home, because if Kate finds out, Kate will face the Big Bad and die.

When I first read about this set-up, I was just super-excited to read a story about Julie. I speculated privately that maybe the new name, new face, no Kate setup might be somehow related to contractual publishing matters. Or alternatively that it might be a way to start a spinoff story without reinventing a super-successful series that had been drawn to a satisfying conclusion.

Blood Heir has a powerful emotional element. Julie/Aurelia is back in Atlanta, but isolated from the family she loves and the community she cares deeply about. She can’t tell anyone who she is, and she can’t go home. Add in the reappearance of a wolf shifter she’s had a lifelong crush on—he also has new name, a new pack and massively enhanced magical powers—and you have a heroine with material, magical, and physical advantages carrying a terrible emotional burden.

I’m sorry to say, I didn’t care about this as much as I should have, and I think it’s because 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?

Jilly: Sara Sartagne–Joining the Writing Community

What a week! How are your stress levels? As I described last Sunday, I’ve been boosting my mood with comfort reads. When you can’t control the real world, it’s uplifting to take a break in an imaginary one where you know things will turn out just right.

Real-life feelgood stories are even better pick-me-ups than fictional ones, so when my English author friend Sara Sartagne offered to write about her experience as a debut author, I grabbed the chance to share a heartening slice of writing life.

Here’s Sara:

Birthday flowers from a fellow author

Jilly wrote last week about the importance of community and alongside making me yearn to pick up a Georgette Heyer again, it’s made me reflect that, even outside the novels, the writer ‘tribe’ itself is a warm, welcoming one. This blog – Eight Ladies Writing – is a perfect example of a community that gives Jilly the warm and fuzzies, as she calls it. It’s kind, strong and successful. And it’s real.

Like many rookie self-publishers, I made a lot of wrong choices for my first book. Launching on a Sunday. Not double-double-double checking the manuscript for typos and errors (at the time, I couldn’t afford a proofreader) before sending to Josie, who formatted for me. Who formatted it several times. My poor cover designer suffered from my vacillations over type, figures, look and feel – God, I couldn’t even settle on a colour first time around.

But what I learned, through that bumpy first release, was that other writers can be incredibly generous with their time and advice. A number of people were in attendance at the birthing of my first book, patting me on the back, virtually passing me sweet tea and biscuits and cheering me on. They also happened to be all women, which might be to do with my genre (women’s fiction with a healthy dose of romance) but I also think that this is the kind of thing that women do– support each other.

My list of supporters is long, but starts with fairytale writer JA Clement, who I met more than two years ago in a café outside St James’ Park tube. I took two pages of notes as she bombarded me with a host of names (BookBub, KDP, Canva, Scrivener…). In the following years, she’s been around to answer hundreds of questions about the whole process.

The list also includes Jess Ryder, psychological thriller writer (check out The Ex Wife, it’s brilliant). She’s been my developmental partner, helping me patch plot holes you could drive a bus through. Jess was also the calm voice on the phone after I received a particularly curt rejection from an agent who had asked to see a manuscript. I had high hopes of the query, and the book, a stand alone called The Visitor, was very close to my heart.

I had just got off the train at Leeds station; I eagerly read the email from the agent, felt my heart break, and burst into tears. I dragged my suitcase around Leeds snivelling and sobbing for forty-five minutes while Jess consoled and reassured me and gently kicked my arse. Yes, I could write, no, I’d obviously caught the agent on a bad day, it probably wasn’t her genre, she said what? – well, that was just wrong. It was just one agent, and again, I could write, and what’s more Jess was going to make sure I bloody did.

Then there’s your own Jilly Wood, who has read many more books than I have, and who gently suggested I read Goal, Motivation, Conflict to tighten my writing and save myself time and pain in editing. Her advice is something I’ve come to depend on (sorry, Jilly!) and there’s almost no question about the romance genre I can’t ask her and get a sensible, thoughtful response. Her review of my book on this blog was part of a series of events which increased my sales beyond my loyal mates and reluctant family and sent my page reads soaring.

Last but not least by any means, are the authors who have reviewed me on Amazon – constructive, insightful and generous.

As with all good things, it gets better when you pass it on, and with that in mind, I’m going to be writing alongside another author friend for NaNoWriMo. Well, NaNoWriMo Lite as we’re calling it. If we both keep each other up to the mark – as I’m pretty sure we will – that will be at least 15,000 words for the next WIP.

So here’s to community – in fiction and real life. Who’s helped you in books? And helped you in the flesh – or as near to flesh as we get these days?

*****

About Sara Sartagne

Having wanted to be a journalist when she was a teenager, Sara actually ended up on the dark side, in PR. From there, it was a short skip to writing for pleasure, and from there to drafting her first book, The Garden Plot. This is the first novel in a romance series where gardens feature in a BIG way – she inherited green fingers from her wonderful grandmother and gardening is a passion.

Sara recently moved from London to York and is loving the open skies and the green fields. And a HUGE garden! Although not a country girl, she’s discovered the joys of no streetlights, septic tanks and ordering logs. Going from an underground tube or bus every three minutes, bus timetables in a small Yorkshire town have been a bit of a shock.

Sara loves being a writer although it’s not her only job – yet. She’s keeping her fingers firmly crossed. The second book in the English Garden Romance series – Love in a Mist – was released in October 2020.

She loves hearing from readers who have thoughts about her books and characters – and even about gardening! – so please visit http://www.sarasartagne.com (good for news and freebies!) or make contact on Twitter – @Sarasartagneauthor

Kay: Me and Nora

Nora Roberts

I’ve been having a tough time with the WIP. I’m doing revisions after an edit letter, and friends, it’s not going well. The book sucks. Why didn’t the editor just say so? I hate it when they’re so polite, like they think you can make it better. No, I cannot make it better, because maybe you didn’t hear me: The whole thing sucks. If I could have made it better, I would have done so long ago.

I should probably just delete the whole thing now and save everyone a ton of misery.

So I went looking for something to cheer me up, and what I found was 10 well-known quotes from Nora Roberts. She’s so bracing. I swear to you, that woman has never thrown herself a pity party in her life. Hearing her speak or reading her advice is like dashing ice water on your face. It makes you blink, but it brings you to your senses. And more good news: her birthday is Saturday, so you have time to get her a card. Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Woman Behind the Name

A week or so ago, the Women’s Prize for Fiction and prize sponsor Baileys launched the Reclaim Her Name campaign to mark the 25th anniversary of the award.  As part of the campaign, twenty-five works, written by women but initially published under male pseudonyms, were re-released under the writer’s real names.

One of the works in the set is Middlemarch, by Mary Ann Evans, who adopted the pen name of George Eliot in the mid-19th century, in order to ensure her works were taken seriously.  Evans is quoted as having said she was

“resolute in preserving my incognito, having observed that a nom de plume secures all the advantages without the disagreeables of reputation”

Her partner George Lewes added that

“the object of anonymity was to get the book judged on its own merits, and not prejudged as the work of a woman, or of a particular woman”.

The books in the Reclaim Her Name collection are available to download as ebooks for free (in case you are looking for something to add to your reading list).

According to the Guardian article discussing the collection, the promotion was intended celebrate some amazing women of the past who have never quite had their due as women. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Tea Time

The Australian Romance Readers Association‘s Romantic Rendezvous (Locked Down) event that occurred earlier this month continues to be the gift that keeps on giving.

I still haven’t had a the chance to listen to all of the sessions, but one that I was able to listen to this week was the Alyssa Montgomery house party,

“Alyssa J Montgomery is joined by three overseas romance authors, Meg Tilly, Dani Collins and Sabrina Jeffries, to discuss their writing spaces and their upcoming releases. At this writers house party, after the tour some of their Australian fans ask the four authors a variety of questions on their books and their writing.”

Not only did I enjoy the session, but it was kind of fun to see someone that I remembered from years past a a popular young actress (Meg Tilly) who is now a popular grown-up novelist.    A quick perusal of my TBR pile shows that one of Meg Tilly’s books is patiently waiting it’s turn to make it to the top (which it now has), so obviously I knew she was a novelist, but I’d never seen an interview with her before.

Coincidentally, just after I saw the ARRA video, I saw this post by author Jayne Ann Krentz:

Author pal Meg Tilly has fired up a fun YouTube channel. Join Meg for her weekly Tea Time events. Here’s a link that will take you to her channel.

Naturally I had to check it out.

The episodes are short and fun. Meg is generally in her pajamas (or writing clothes) and just has a cup of tea and chats.  The videos started about a month ago and there are 16 of them so far, covering a variety of topics.  It’s always fun to catch a little behind-the-scenes glance into a writer’s life, and these videos are no exception.

Looking for a little distraction?

Grab a cup of tea and check out an episode or two.

Michaeline: Virtual Fun, Australian RRA style!

 

RKO radio pictures logo with a radio antennae on top of the globe

Calling out, around the world! Romance readers, here’s a special bulletin for you! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Just a quick update on Elizabeth’s post on July 22, 2020. The Australian Romance Readers Association’s virtual weekend has begun! Their A Romantic Rendezvous: Locked Down began releasing interviews on YouTube this morning, and by the time people in Europe and North America wake up, there should be almost a day’s worth of fun stuff up!

I spent a half hour watching the Jennifer Crusie interview; it was my first time to see her in live action! She’s just as I imagined she would be: articulate and full of good humor.

I’m tempted to spoil it and tell you what was in the interview! She talks about using collage to create characters, and why she doesn’t like to base a character on a real person. She tells us what books she’d recommend to someone new to her catalog. She adds her theory of humor. She tells us her best reader feedback, and then the conversation winds up with book talk, of authors living and dead that she likes.

I’m making the comments a spoiler zone; if you haven’t seen the interview, you might want to bookmark this to read the comments later. Please feel free to discuss and fan-squee! I’ll be checking back through the weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday for me).

There are a few other ARRLD events that I’ve got marked on my calendar for this weekend, but the wonderful thing is that it’s all on YouTube, so you can enjoy them any time, on your own schedule. (I’m just lucky that Australia is only one hour different for me – LOL, first time I’ve ever been first on a video.)


Michaeline: New Penric Novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

a plague doctor in a long beaked mask with a robe, gloves and hood

The doctor is in, and I think I’ve found the cure for my reading blahs! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All right, book fans, I have been out of action for 42 days. No writing, and as for reading, I only did about four days of the 10-day-long Decameron. It’s been a rough quarantine for story for me — I haven’t even watched any TV stories or movies aside from a special Quarantine tribute to Lil Sebastian by the Parks & Recreation cast. (2:44)

And this week is not going to be any less busy. My father-in-law’s 49-day death anniversary is coming up this week, and the crops have to be in the fields, and my daughter is starting online Quarantine College classes . . . .

But it looks like I could bust right out of this horrible, boring rut I’m in. I write this on Friday evening my time; by the time it posts tomorrow at 5 a.m. GMT, there could be a new Penric novella by Lois McMaster Bujold out! Details about The Physicians of Vilnoc are in her Goodreads blog here. You can read the first section on Patreon here. (I’ve been seeing Tweets about The Decameron Project for days, and it sounds like a wonderful way to sample a lot of the people writing fantasy and science fiction today. 

I have, and the first 100 words had me squealing in delight. Oh, this is going to be a great book, and perfect for the times we live in. I’m hoping it’ll prove inspirational as well. I don’t know if I can write a physician in a time of plague, but I bet I could find a journalist character who reports on a plague during an era of magic and upheaval. Steampunk? Contemporary urban/rural fantasy? Or maybe something set on a space station?

At any rate, I’ll put The Decameron aside for a few more days, and dive into a wonderful read after I’ve done my duty and my chores on Saturday. Fingers crossed!

(I’ll update with Amazon info as soon as I have it!)