Jilly: Were There’s a Will–Sunday Short Story

Last weekend I was part-way through Elizabeth’s short story challenge when I was struck down by a surprise health problem. All’s well now, I’m glad to report, but after three days of blood tests is it any wonder my story brain turned to vampires and werewolves?

Better late than never. Here are the prompt words, and my attempt:

A scandalous family secret is uncovered during the reading of a will, using the words

Eternity                     Teeth                          Grasp                         Poison

Land                           Cocoon                      Blankly                      Haunt

Capture                      Booze                         Casket                        Faint

Bluster                      Shake                         Nerve                         Awful

 

Were There’s a Will

Annabel McCallan-Whyte stared blankly at her rapacious baby brother. She understood all the words he used, but for a moment or two there she’d failed to grasp his meaning. The sheer nerve of him made her shake with rage. Grandpa was barely in his casket, and Jonathan was already peddling his unique brand of poison.

“A private golf club? Conference facilities? A helipad? Luxury housing? It’s beyond awful. Grandpa would haunt you.”

Jonathan shrugged, but his eyes slid away from hers.

“Come on, sis,” he wheedled. “This place is huge. What else would you do with a hundred acres of prime development land?”

“Give it to the village,” she shot back. “That’s what Grandpa wanted. Use the house for a community center, like they’ve been doing for years.”

Jonathan shrugged again. “So buy or build them one from your half of what this place is worth.”

Luckily the door opened before she could brain him with a priceless Benvenuto Cellini candlestick. She knew old Mr. McLeish, who’d been Grandpa’s lawyer for as long as anyone could remember, but the curly-haired, smooth-faced young guy with him was a stranger. Probably born in the twenty-first century, or at least the very end of the twentieth.

The new kid wore a sweatshirt, a slouchy hat and a broad smile, none of which seemed remotely appropriate given the seriousness of the occasion. Mr. McLeish didn’t seem to mind, but she sent the young man a stern glare. He winked at her.

“Who’s that?” Jonathan glowered at the boy, his face dark with suspicion.

“All in good time, Mr. McCallan-Whyte.” The lawyer shuffled to his usual place at the end of the dining table and set a slim file on the polished walnut. The mystery kid helped him settle into his seat, and then parked himself in Grandpa’s carved chair at the head of the table, where he slouched, entirely at ease.

It was too much to bear. Annabel almost reached for the candlestick again, but something in the boy’s expression made her think better of it. She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something terribly familiar about the way his cheeks dimpled, as though he was enjoying a private joke at their expense.

Continue reading

Michaeline: Dear Freddy

A dandy from 1815 in a smart coat and pair of trousers kneels before a fashionable young lady, kissing her hand. Proposal.

And at the end of a cotillion, all of the couples are sorted. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments, and I like mine tall and a little bit goofy. I’m re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion today, and Freddy Standen checks off both boxes.

Georgette Heyer is a writer’s writer, and one of the very cool meta-things I noticed the read-through is that so many of the characters come in pairs. In the first chapters, Freddy Standen is meant to be an idiot – a well-dressed fop who hasn’t two wits to rub together. In a complicated plot, he’s set up against his four cousins as competitors for our heroine’s hand in marriage. An evil uncle has made it part of his will that his fortune will go to Kitty Charing if, and only if, she marries one of his nephews. Otherwise, she’ll be destitute, and the fortune will go to Continue reading

Jilly: What’s on Your Id List?

What things in fiction, big or small, really do it for you? Tropes, characters, premises or details that you enjoy so much you’d auto-buy a book or stick with a really bad movie because of them?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Writing For Your Id, a workshop presented at this year’s RWA National conference by Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author. I’m super-grateful to 8 Lady Jeanne for recommending it.

The first part of the presentation, which would have been worth the price of admission, was that certain universal pleasures have become hard-wired into our brains, and encountering those treats when we read gives us a deep-seated hit of happy. Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons. Different genres are associated with different pleasures, and the workshop offered suggestions about different ways to create pleasure-centric stories and to work with and against the typical pleasure buttons.

Lots of food for thought there, but what really resonated with me was the second part of the presentation: that you make your stories distinctive and memorable by adding in to them stuff that you, the writer, personally really, really like.

The idea is to develop a list of all the things that do it for you and use those things to bring excitement to your writing.

Work out which pleasures recur. Which ones you’re strong on and vice versa. And if you’re not looking forward to writing, get yourself in the mood by adding in something from your Id List.

Dr. Barnes said she has a list of more than a thousand items. I just made a start on mine, but here are a few things I came up with.

Sensible, smart, plain heroines who get the hot guy
Especially the overlooked bluestocking sister with a drop-dead gorgeous sibling.
I’d put Lizzy Bennet top of this list—Jane is beautiful, but Lizzy’s smart and interesting. Or quiet, competent Mary Challoner from Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.

Heroines who shoot the hero
That would be Mary Challoner again. And Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels. And Sophy from The Grand Sophy (well, she shoots a friend to prevent the hero from challenging him to a duel, but I think it counts). Continue reading

Jilly: The Appeal of Foreign Stories

Do you read contemporary stories set in countries other than the USA? What kind of stories are they? What do you especially like about them?

I have a reason for asking.

I’m just back from a most excellent vacation in the States, including an action-packed weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin with fellow 8 Lady Kay, followed by a few days in picturesque Door County (click here to read Kay’s description of our excursions to the Northern Sky Theater Company).

Before I met up with Kay, I spent an afternoon in Chicago talking all things writing with a developmental editor. Mostly we focused on Alexis, but we also talked about my English/Scottish contemporary romance, which I decided to dust off in time for the next (and final) RWA Golden Heart contest.

The editor gave me the same feedback I heard from a very respected agent a couple of years ago when I tried to shop this book: the writing is strong, but a contemporary British setting, with all British characters, is hard to sell outside the UK. She said that the story offered a kind of insider perspective on life in London and Scotland, which is not what the mainstream American romance reader is conditioned to expect.

In her view, when US readers pick up a foreign-set story, they expect the setting to be either

  1. exotic;
  2. glamorously urban; or
  3. small, close-knit communities where the culture is a large part of the appeal.

Continue reading

Michaeline: Say It Simply

This week, I ran across a good TED talk about showing, not telling. It was so good, it was all showing, and not a lot of telling, and some of the peanut gallery in the comment section were complaining, “What’s the point of this? This is just a showcase for his art.”

For some people, you just gotta tell. There’s no point in being too arty and showing (unless you are very good at this, and can combine a good show with bullet points at the end – kind of like Craig Ferguson’s old “What Did We Learn on the Show Today?” but for realsies).

But fortunately, we write for a sophisticated romance audience, and we can show. We can throw in some extra references, and some of our allusions will hit our readers right in the heart.

Go ahead; take a look and tell me what you think. Christoph Niemann, “You are fluent in this language (and don’t even know it)”, 12:42.

I was especially struck by two of his points. First, he says that in his art, he goes for the simple. He tries to take away every unnecessary element until by taking away the next element, his concept collapses. Second, he emphasized the process. He said he never sits down with an idea, but rather finds it through a process of discovery. He illustrated this with a couple of his preliminary drawings (read “first drafts” for fiction writing), which ultimately combined to make a very poignant New Yorker cover. So, he advocates for a Hemingway-style of clean communication, and he also advocates for making as many pots as you possibly can. (Not familiar with The Story of the Pots? You can read one version here: https://medium.com/startup-leadership/the-best-way-to-learn-something-make-a-lot-of-pots-7f4aa97e1d3a on Medium.)

We creative people are all using different tools – maybe they are pens and brushes, maybe they are notes and strings, or maybe they are words on a screen. But on one level, we are all doing the same thing: expressing and communicating ideas to our audience, who will receive the ideas, and then do what they will with them, according to their own accumulated knowledge and preferences. Even though Niemann is an illustrator and I’m a short story writer, there’s a lot of crossover in what we do, and there’s something to learn.

Kay: Play It Again

 

Lumberjacks in Love (2008 production): Chase Stoeger, Doug Mancheski, Jeff Herbst, Jane McAnanney, Fred “Doc” Heide. Photographer: Len Villano

I’ve been on vacation to my home state of Wisconsin, and I spent almost a week in Door County, the area at the farthest end of the peninsula. It’s been a destination spot of locals for decades, thrilling the population with every form of cherries, cheese curds, ice cream, and beer, which everyone can wear off swimming and boating in the area’s waterways, as well as hiking through the county’s many parks and forests.

There is also a very fun musical theater group that performs in Peninsula State Park every summer.

Northern Sky Theater has written and produced at least one original play every year since 1988, and by now they have more than 50 plays in their repertoire. Continue reading

Jilly: Alpha Males Revisited

Is anyone up for more discussion on the evergreen topic of Alpha Male heroes in romance fiction?

Mr. Alpha has been on my mind recently, thanks to a combination of circumstances. I lost a chunk of writing time earlier this year following the death of my mum. Dealing with her estate has been a time suck, so the books I had hoped to self-publish this year are now rescheduled for 2019. Which means that I will still be unpublished at the end of 2018. That’s frustrating, but the upside is that the RWA has decided to run the Golden Heart contest for one more year, and now I will be eligible to enter. I would love, love, love to final in the Golden Heart, to join the supportive and welcoming sisterhood that Jeanne described in her recent post, The True Heart of the Golden Heart.

In planning my final assault on the contest, I decided that in addition to entering my Alexis paranormal stories, I’d dust off the English/Scottish contemporary romance I worked on at McDaniel and which I haven’t read in the last three years or so.

I got fairly close to snagging an agent with that manuscript, and it finaled in a number of local RWA contests, so I thought it should be relatively easy to tweak.

O.M.G. I am sooo glad I never sold that book. It didn’t need a quick edit so much as a comprehensive rewrite. I think the general premise, the characters, the community and most of the plot points are solid, but among other things, the hero (who is, obvs, a very good guy) made me cringe. He was guilty of arrogant asshattishness rather than the kind of consent offences Jeanne discussed in her excellent post The Thin Line Between Alpha and Predatory, but still. Even if his BDE showboating was a persona rather than his true self, the patronizing way he interacted with the heroine was simply not okay. I had to give him a thorough makeover.

The thing I found curious is Continue reading