Jilly: Do You Believe In Love At First Sight?

I finished my draft of The Pulse of Princes, the novella that’s been gobbling up my time for the last few weeks. I sent it off to gobble up my editor’s time instead 😀 .

I’m so happy I chose to write this story. It turned out well, and best of all it made me think hard about the early life of Prince Daire, who’s turning out to be the most influential character in the Elan Intrigues stories. I gleaned some insights which have me really excited.

The Pulse of Princes shows Daire before he inherits the throne of Caldermor, when both his parents are still alive. I had to put them on the page. I had to figure out how they met, and how they each found a role in their marriage.

Here’s a snippet:

Princess Irmine’s dark gaze assessed Daire: the tidy queue that was making his head ache, his tense posture, carefully chosen clothes, and comfortable gray watersnakeskin boots. Her eyes narrowed. “You are so like your father. Do you know why he married me?”

That, at least, was easy. Daire relaxed his arms, used the question to restore his equanimity. A reprieve, though no doubt a temporary one. “He tells me the story, often. He loved you from the moment he saw you. He never saw a woman so strong. So beautiful. He forgot the biting cold. Forgot the furs he’d come in search of. Forgot everything except you.”

Just for a moment, his mother melted. Her dark eyes shone. Her lips softened and curled upward in sheer pleasure. Just for a moment, Daire saw the woman his father saw every time he looked at the crown princess.

“Well, yes.” Her smile faded. “But it’s more than that. Your father takes his vows seriously. His duty. He knows the best way to protect Caldermor is to have a strong, powerful country.”

“Father traded everything he had with him to carry off an unknown princess from a wild island nation on the edge of the ice fields, and you call it duty?” Daire rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Excuse me, ma’am, but you do yourself a disservice.”

“I say he did me a great honor.” His mother stood straight as a lance, every inch a princess. “I organized everything for my father the king. Our stronghold. Our people. Our fur trades. Desmond saw I could rule Caldermor for him. And better still, I’m not Calderran.”

“How so?”

“Because I can take the decisions he can not.” She relaxed, just a hairsbreadth. “Daire. I was traded myself. I understand everyone has a price. I’m not sentimental about Calderran people the way your father is.”

Daire winced. “And I am.”

“So it seems.” She leaned toward him, and for once he got the sense she was speaking from the heart, without calculation. “I strive every day to be worth the great price Desmond paid for me. I will do what I must to keep his country safe and strong. And I shall do so as long as I have breath in my body. Whether he is here to see it or not.”

I like this. It explains Irmine’s no-holds-barred mindset. It also led me to think about my new WIP, The Seeds of Destiny, which is Daire’s love story. I had imagined he’d be influenced by the events of the two previous Elan Intrigues books, where true love happens to people he cares about. Of course those events are important, but the bond between his own parents would be an earlier and stronger influence.

That got me to musing about love at first sight, in real life and in fiction. Lust at first sight happens all the time, of course, but I think sometimes it can be more than that. My father decided to marry my mother before he ever spoke to her. They would sit at bus stops on opposite sides of the street on working days. They spent months smiling at one another before heading off in different directions. That turned into fifty-something years of powerful togetherness.

I like it as a trope in fiction too, as long as it’s more than he’s so hot/she’s so beautiful. More like the fabulous first meet in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Of course there’s immediate physical attraction between Dain and Jessica. He is hot, and she is beautiful. But there’s also a major battle of wits and an even bigger battle of wills between two smart, headstrong characters. We already know Dain is hyper-competitive. When he loses both battles we know he’s toast. I love that 🙂 .

What do you think? Do you believe in love at first sight, on the page or IRL?

Jilly: Try Before You Buy

Do you sample a book before you buy it?

Not so much in-person bookshop browsing, because right now that’s off the menu for most of us. But reading an excerpt on an author’s website, or using the Look Inside feature on the world’s most powerful online bookstore.

How often do you think reading a sample persuades you to buy a book, or makes you decide to move on to something else? I never used to bother with it, but a few years ago, after a particularly long series of dud purchases, I gave it a go. Now I’d never buy without trying.

I was thinking about samples this morning, after I discovered a brand-new reason not to buy. I saw a strongly positive review of a new-to-me author on a site I follow. The cover was great, and I loved the premise. The story sounded smart, original, quirky, just what I was looking for. So I headed over to the Zon and checked out the sample.

Have you ever tried food or drink that was delicious on the first mouthful, tasty on the second, fairly nice on the third, but by the fourth or fifth you never wanted another bite and a sixth would have made you gag? It was like that.

The story was told in first person, through the eyes of a smart, potty-mouthed, strongly opinionated character. The inciting incident was impactful and well told. The writing was super-strong. It was just too voice-y for me. If they’d cut off the sample at the end of the first page, I probably would have bought the book. By the end of the third page, I was done. I didn’t even read to the end of the sample or check out the reviews.

After thinking about it for a while, I decided it was a great Look Inside, because I bet the right reader would have devoured that sample and probably gone on to love the book. And the story promise was strong and clear enough for me to discover that I wasn’t that reader.

Do you read samples?

Have you gone on to buy (or not buy) based on what you read? Can you remember why?

Jilly: Snippet

A couple of weeks ago I decided to write a new Elan Intrigues prequel novella as a giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. I’ve been in my writing cave ever since.

The Pulse of Princes will be 15-18,000 words, about the early life of recurring character Prince Daire of Caldermor. In this story he’s aged 19. His father is dying and Daire is likely to inherit the throne soon. It’s the first time he seriously butts heads with his domineering mother, the indefatigable Princess Irmine.

Here’s a snippet from the encounter that triggers Daire’s rebellion.

 

Request Denied

“This should prove an interesting test.” Daire’s mother folded the note and slid it back into her pocket. When she withdrew her hand, she was holding a small pouch. She bounced it in her palm, and even through the heavy padding Daire heard the familiar jingling sound. Elan. He made it every month, albeit in small quantities. He’d never kept a single pulse for himself.

The crown princess opened the pouch and drew out a single hard-shelled, bean-shaped nugget. She held it reverently between her finger and thumb, tilting it so that it shone pure gold in the morning light. He wasn’t close enough to catch the scent, but his mind supplied it: sweeter than the most delicious fruit pastry, richer and more complex than the finest tree-sap. He’d been making elan since he was ten years old, and the smell of it still made his mouth water.

A low wooden rail guarded the edge of the terrace. Inside the rail a narrow shelf offered enough space to place a pair of gloves or a cup of cordial. Princess Irmine dipped her hand into the bag and placed twelve pulses of elan on the shelf, one by one, spaced a handspan apart.

She stepped back, assessed her handiwork, and nodded in satisfaction. His mother never did anything without reason. What on the gods’ fair earth was she doing now?

She lifted a hand and waved toward the garden gate where Captain Bale waited, in her line of sight but out of earshot. He snapped a salute, opened the gate, and ushered in three servants in Edevald livery.

The first, a cleanshaven, skinny young fellow, Daire recognized vaguely as one of the clerks from the treasury. The boy looked bug-eyed and scared out of his wits. The second was a middle-aged woman he’d last seen in the kitchen, making apple pies. She’d smiled at him then. Now she looked as though she’d found weevils in the flour. The third was the couriers’ hostler, Sharp, who looked like his usual shifty self.

Prompted by Bale they lined up before the terrace and each made their obeisance.

“Ask them anything,” his mother encompassed the three with a wave of her hand. “Their work, debts, spouses, children. Whatever you need to know in order to decide.”

“Decide?” The sweet pastry Daire had devoured earlier roiled in his gut.

His mother shrugged. “Which one I should dismiss.”

She clearly expected him to ask, so he chose the line of least resistance. “Why must you dismiss any of them, ma’am? And why must I choose?”

“If I am to meet your request I need to find a saving elsewhere. The quickest and simplest way is by culling a hireling or two.” She glanced at the line of elan beans, glimmering on the shelf, and her lips tightened. “For a dozen pulses it should be all of them, and more, but as this is an unfamiliar challenge for you I decided to make it easy.”

Daire made himself look the servants in the eye. The boy was trembling so hard he could barely stand upright. The kitchen maid crossed her arms and stared back at him. She looked furious. Sharp met Daire’s gaze briefly, then fixed his eyes on Princess Irmine.

“No questions?” The crown princess held out her hand to Daire. On her palm sat the empty elan pouch. “Choose one servant, and you may take the pulses with you.”

Daire put his hands behind his back. “No.”

“No?” Princess Irmine asked softly.

“No.” He didn’t shout, but his confirmation was louder and more forceful than was proper.

“Very well.” His mother nodded to Bale. “They can go.”

Sharp bolted down the path and disappeared. The kitchen maid put her arm around the clerk. Bale followed the sorry pair as they left. He closed the gate behind them and stood at attention.

“Well?”

“You knew I wouldn’t choose.” Daire gripped his hands together behind his back, so tightly he thought his bones might crack.

“I thought you wouldn’t,” Princess Irmine corrected. “Now I know.”

“You terrified those servants to teach me a lesson.”

“It made a lasting impression, did it not?” His mother waited a beat, daring him to deny her assertion. “Simply explaining the problem would not have worked half so well.”

***

Whoo! I hope you enjoyed that.

Of course Daire knows he can’t allow Princess Irmine to get the better of him, or he’ll be under her thumb before he even inherits the throne. I’m having fun writing his counter-offensive 🙂 .

Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next Sunday.

Jeanne: From the Cutting Room Floor

Deleted Scenes Movie Film Clapper Board Bloopers 3d IllustrationLast week I talked about designing your books to focus on the things that your readers value and to minimize the amount of effort you put into adding things that they don’t.

One of the things that my readers seem to particularly enjoy are my descriptions of Hell as a giant dysfunctional corporation.

I wound up cutting the scene below from my first book because my editor felt that it put too much emphasis on Lilith, who was a minor character in that story.

I recently pulled it out to look at because she is the central character in my work-in-progress, but it doesn’t work for this book, either, because I’m trying to redeem her and this scene doesn’t help with that effort.

Even so, the scene was a lot of fun and deserves to see the light of day, or at least the light of blog.

“If you could just sign right here, sir.” Hovering behind the red granite counter by means of his substantial wings, Focalor pushed a quill and a three-part form toward Belial. The griffin had run the Travel department since time immemorial.

Behind him, row upon row of men and women sat at cramped desks, arranging various demonic missions. Their chairs were bolted to the floor six inches too far back from their desks, forcing them to hunch forward to reach their keyboards. After just a few minutes, their backs burned with the strain and they worked twenty-hour days. Continue reading

Jeanne: Another Cover Story

originalsin-estridge-ebooksmallOn Sunday, Jilly shared the cover of her new novella, The Seeds of Exile. It’s spectacularly alluring and I think it will perform well for her. (Hope so!)

I, also have a new cover to share, along with a snippet from the short story it fronts.

If you’ve read any of my Touched by a Demon books, you’re familiar with Lilith, the she-demon who serves as one of Satan’s primary agents on Earth. Although Lilith excels at fieldwork, she ends each story headed for the maggot pit because she’s also Satan’s primary whipping girl when things don’t go as planned.

“Original Sin” is Lilith’s origin story and I’ll be giving it away as a freebie to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. It won’t be on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or any other vendor site–only as a reward for joining my subscriber list. (And to everyone who’s already a subscriber, of course.)

The cover was created by Paper and Sage, who also did my other covers. I love that this one echoes those, but it’s enough different to signal that this is something…different. A short story, rather than a full-length novel.

Here’s the tagline and blurb for the story:

In the beginning, God created Adam and…Lilith?

Meet the founding member of the First Wives Club. Before Adam met Eve, he was married to Lilith. Created at the same time and from the same dust as her husband,  Lilith views herself as Adam’s equal.

What if the original sin wasn’t curiosity?

Here’s the first scene (lightly edited in keeping with Eight Ladies’ PG rating): Continue reading

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

Jeanne: Excerpt from My Work-in-Progress

Beautiful Woman With Black Short Hair. Haircut. Hairstyle. FringLast week I talked a little about my work-in-progress. This week, I thought I’d share a scene that I find really entertaining. I hope you do, too!

The characters are:

  • Megan Swensen, author of the Dak Whipsnake books, a bestselling series featuring a tough-as-nails private eye who never gives away her secrets. Seven years before the story opens, Megan sold her soul to Satan in exchange for making the New York Times Bestseller list.
  • James Magnusson, Megan’s old boyfriend from college who unwittingly helped her negotiate terms. When he found out what he’d done, he dumped her. He has gone on to become a lawyer.
  • Lilith, a she-demon tasked with collecting Megan’s soul when her deal with the devil expires in a few weeks.
  • Karriel, Megan’s guardian angel.
  • Samael, Lilith’s ex-husband.
  • Satan, Lord of the Underworld.

Lilith stepped off the elevator into the heat of Hell blessing under her breath. What bug did Satan have up his butt now?

She’d arranged to get a color refresh and a trim at her favorite little salon in Mayfair this afternoon. Rex had just finished painting on her custom raven tint when her cell buzzed. She’d been forced to ask him to wash it all out before it had time to process. Outraged, he’d called in his assistant to rinse her, and stalked away. She wasn’t sure who was a worse choice to piss off—Satan or her colorist. Continue reading

Nancy: Catching Up

A reasonable likeness of me this past month.

Well, hello there! Happy September!

It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I’ve been in social media hibernation mode this past month. Not total hibernation, though. I spent August wrestling a new (and very stubborn) story to the ground, gnashing my teeth over a revision gone off the rails, planning a long-weekend trip for research and Bourbon-drinking purposes, and dealing with  health upkeep (recovering from sports injuries and keeping all those pesky preventative care appointments). Today, I’m finally popping my head out of my writing cave to share a few things coming up in September. Continue reading

Nancy: Preorder Party: A Sale and a Snippet!

As I announced last week, May is release month for the next story in my Harrow’s Finest Five Victorian romance series. Two Scandals are Better than One is Luci and Edward’s book. And to celebrate their story coming out into the world, I’m throwing a preorder party!

Two Scandals will be released on May 30, but you can order your copy now at the discounted preorder price. And this week, the other two books in the series are on sale as well. Monday through Thursday, you can get all three books for less than six bucks! Check out the series page on Amazon to get the whole series (thus far!) today.

Once you’ve read Too Clever by Half and One Kiss from Ruin (or even before, if you’re so inclined), you can read the first chapter of Two Scandals are Better than One over at my website. In the meantime, here’s a snippet from one of my favorite scenes from later in the book. I hope you like the snippet and sample chapter, and enjoy the entire series!

Two Scandals are Better than One – Excerpt

“Since I won’t be staying in this room, I’ve brought you something that will make you feel safer.” Edward reached into his pocket and slowly withdrew the cloth-wrapped offering. Flipping back the edge of the handkerchief, he revealed the glint of a four-inch silver barrel. Continue reading