Jilly: What Codename Would You Choose?

Anyone who ever read a thriller or watched a movie/TV series involving US politicians knows the United States secret service uses codenames for presidents, first ladies, prominent persons and important locations. Originally the names were for security, but today they’re used for brevity, clarity, and tradition, and are often public knowledge.

I discovered this week that people who require a codename get to choose one for themselves, selecting from a list of “good” words maintained by the White House Communications Agency. Many choose a name that resonates with them personally. So, for example, we are told Kamala Harris settled on PIONEER.

I’d pretty much reached max election-coverage fatigue, but this thought-provoking snippet perked me right up. So much baggage for one word to carry!

How would you choose a codename for yourself?

I spent an hour or two playing with the question. Do you pick a word that epitomizes the way you define yourself, or one that reflects the way you want others to see you? The options may be similar or wildly different, depending on (to borrow a concept from writing guru Michael Hauge) how closely your public identity matches your private essence. And do you choose a word that describes who you are, or who you aspire to be?

In the end I used the simple brainstorming technique I use for book titles and the like. I wrote every word I could think of in my notebook, then picked the one that instinctively felt right. For myself I’d like INDIE.

Some definitions of “independent”: free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority; thinking or acting for oneself; not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

Yes! I’ll take that.

I also think choosing a codeword would be a great way to develop a deeper understanding of a fictional character. I found a list of some famous ones (Liberty, Eagle, Falcon, Condor, Baroness, Duchess)—but they feel to me like a vehicle for the author to tell the reader what kind of character or story to expect. That’s like letting the Secret Service choose for you 😉 .

I took the test for my Elan Intrigues character Prince Daire of Caldermor, because I’ve just written a couple of novellas from his POV and I feel I know him fairly well. Plus I’m about to knuckle down to work on The Seeds of Destiny, a new novel that wraps up his story arc.

As the author, my codename for Daire would be LODESTONE. It’s a Middle English word for a stone that’s naturally magnetic or a person that’s the focus of attention or attraction. It’s uncommon. Something that leads or sets a course, and that brings healing and balance.

He’d never choose that for himself though. I think he’d pick HEIR, even after he becomes Crown Prince, because his whole life is defined by heredity. He inherits property and rank (a throne), physical characteristics (excess vitality, which enables him to make magical elan pulses but drastically curtails his life expectancy), a whole library of rules (the Edevald Family Statutes) and a secret pact with the ancient guardians of Caldermor (the Legacy).

Now I need to find a codename for Annis, the mountain-dwelling healer heroine of the new book.

How about you? What codename would you choose for yourself? Or for a favorite fictional character?

Jeanne: More on Using YouTube for Research

The Demon Wore Stilettos, my work-in-progress, begins with a courtroom scene–Lilith, the protagonist, is on trial for murdering her ex-husband and the love of her life, Samael. I knew where I wanted the scene to go, but I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough about courtroom behavior to really nail the scene.

So I went scouting for information about courtroom procedures and found this:

(You may not want to spend a half an hour watching this very nice lady deconstruct all the ways TV and movies misrepresent what happens in courtrooms, but by the time I finished it, I knew exactly what to do with my scene.)

The inner part of the story, the story of how Lilith came to push Samael into the Lake of Fire in the first place, revolves around a trade summit that takes place between Heaven and Hell. After thinking about neutral ground where Heaven and Hell might meet to hammer out an agreement, the United Nations seemed like an obvious choice. Unfortunately, despite numerous trips to the Big Apple, I’ve never visited the United Nations.

YouTube to the rescue: There a several tours of the buildings available. This is the one I found most useful:

Again, you may not want to spend a lot of time on this, but it was helpful in allowing me to get a sense of what my characters will see.

And yes, I know this if the fourth location I’ve chosen for this story. Writing is a process, people! Which reminds me: I’m going to reward myself for finishing my blog post by going back to YouTube and watching our professor, Jenny Crusie’s inteview at the Australian RRA.

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of brainstorming?

I’m finishing up my developmental edits of The Seeds of Exile, also known as Daire’s novella. There’s a small, impromptu wedding in the book (not Daire’s). In addition to the bride and groom there are a scattering of witnesses, one matron of honor and one groomsman.

The story takes place in a historical fantasy world a little like northern England or the Scottish border country. The time period would be vaguely late Middle Ages or early Tudor. With lots of otherworldly antics and fantasy tweaks.

There are gods and monsters, but no dominant theology. The marriage in question is a legal and political occasion (as well as a romantic one), but not religious. My edit notes quite correctly suggest that I should find terms for the official supporter of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be that suit my imaginary world and the story.

I was chatting to Eight Lady Jeanne about this on Friday, and she came up with the excellent suggestion of investigating the history of both roles.

As far as I can tell, the role of a matron of honor, maid of honor and bridesmaids over the ages and continents has been to protect the bride by providing her with a degree of camouflage, thereby confusing and confounding jealous suitors, evil spirits and potential kidnappers.

The role of the groomsman/men has been either to help the groom protect the bride against jealous rivals and potential kidnappers, or to assist him in kidnapping his intended (ew). Continue reading

Jeanne: Another Delivery from the Girls in the Attic

In the atticWhen the Eight Ladies were in class at McDaniel College years ago, our instructor, Jenny Crusie, used to talk about the Girls in the Attic. The Girls, she said, were the source of inspiration. What they handed down might be weird and totally not where your conscious mind wanted to go with your manuscript, but you should never disregard them.

(The Girls, by the way, were Jenny’s answer to Stephen King’s Boys in the Basement, who serve a similar purpose.)

Last week I started noodling around with another demon book. I have no idea why. I have one manuscript with 60,000 words written that’s waiting for me to come back and mold it into a readable story. And the next logical book in the demon series isn’t the one I started playing around with.

Clearly, following a straight line is not something I excel at. Continue reading

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of title brainstorming? I’d appreciate some help.

I’m planning to publish my first book, The Seeds of Power, before the end of the year (much more to follow on that subject soon). All being well the sequel, The Light of Calder, will follow in 2020.

Told you that to tell you this: I want to write a short story (which may grow into a novella) that sits between The Seeds of Powerand The Light of Calder. I know the bare bones of the story. I can visualize the cover. But I can’t find a good title, and it’s driving me crazy.

The books are fantasy adventure romance in a swords-n-sorcery setting vaguely similar to Tudor-era northern England or Scottish borders. The most important commodity in this world is elan, an imaginary medicine created by concentrating life energy into specially grown beans. The mysterious transformation process changes the beans from everyday foodstuff into hard-shelled, fragrant, shiny golden nuggets known as pulses. A pulse of elan can be grated and boiled into a tonic for internal use, or added to a poultice for external application. However it’s used, elan boosts the body’s own natural healing powers and gives near-miraculous results, which makes it more valuable than gold. The only people who know how to make elan are the Edevald family, rulers of wealthy, powerful Caldermor.

The Seeds of Poweris about Christal, a strong-minded princess who’s determined not to marry (she has excellent reasons) and who justifies her single status by becoming an expert cultivator of rare plants. Her plan works fine until Prince Daire Edevald unexpectedly proposes marriage because he needs her to fix a problem with his secret elan beans.

The Light of Calder is Daire’s story, about his attempts to lift the Edevald curse. The men of his family burn brightly but do not live long. Common gossip says the Edevalds made a deal with the gods, and their short life span is the price they paid to gain the secret of elan. The Light of Calder is a priceless jewel, the Edevald family’s greatest heirloom, and so much more than merely the centerpiece of the Calderran royal regalia.

My plan is for the Story in the Middle to show the problem with the secret bean plants and explain how the solution Christal offers motivates Daire to seek out someone who can help him solve the mystery of the Edevald curse.

The title for the new story should be The Something of Something.

Continue reading

Nancy: What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

Years ago, when I was in my previous life and profession and was using a white board for something other than character arcs and plot progressions, I kept a question on my board at work. It was, “What keeps you up at night?” This is a question used in sales in marketing to remind sellers to think about what the customer wants/needs/stresses about, NOT about the widget or service we want to sell.

Then about five years ago, I read an article that argued (rather convincingly) that we should stop asking what keeps our customers up at night, and start asking, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Do you see the shift from negative to positive? I brought that to the teams I managed with the goal of writing our business proposals with a different spin. We still needed to write about knowing the customer’s pain and how to solve it. But I started pestering my teams (and the business development execs who interacted with the customers) to learn about customer’s bigger-picture visions. I wanted to expand our message to say, “We support solutions, but also aspirations.”

By now you’re wondering, WTH does this have to do with fiction writing? I’m so glad you asked! Continue reading

Nancy: A Romance by Any Other Name…

This could TOTALLY be Percy and Finola if he were a strawberry-blond instead of a brunette.

Here on the blog, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of book covers and branding in getting our books into the hands of the right readers, the ones who will love our particular genres and stories. It probably goes without saying, but in case it doesn’t, I’ll say it now: book titles are an important part of the overall package that positions books.

With that caveat, you can probably see where this post is going. Turns out, the title I selected for my next book, a title I’ve loved and attached to and had at the forefront of my brain while I wrote the book, might not work for my romance sub-genre. It all started when I was working on cover concepts with my new cover designer (this is designer number three, for those of you following along at home). After several discussions of the book with her, I woke up one morning to find an email in my inbox that changed the way I now see my beloved title.

As she had been setting up a design and working on fitting the title into it, it struck her that Three Husbands and a Lover sounded like a reverse harem erotica title. If you haven’t heard of the RH subgenre, it’s one woman with multiple male lovers, and tends to be erotica. Um, no. Not my genre, and not what I intended communicate with that name. If I thought it was just her opinion, well-versed as she is in the romance field, I could ignore it. But now that she’s put that thought in my brain, all I can picture when I see that title is my heroine surrounded by her four lovers. Continue reading

Justine: Tricks to Help You Focus

Depressed man with worried desperate stressed expression and brain melting into linesI have attention deficit disorder. I’ve had it my entire life, and because of a heart condition, I can’t take medication for it. ADD makes staying focused one any one task for a long period of time very difficult (unless I’m really excited about the task — like reading a book from my favorite author).

In the past, I’ve tried setting goals in order for me to get my writing done. But word count goals didn’t work for me, especially when I was editing. Did I really write 1,000 words? No idea…too much cutting/pasting/adding. Plus, there were some days Continue reading

Jeanne: Help a Writer Out

It seems to me that the second-chance-at-love trope, by its very nature, calls for more backstory than fresh-out-of-the-box romance. (Even Jenny Crusie, who dislikes backstory more than any other writer I’ve ever known, wound up including a dash of it in Maybe This Time, her second-chance-at-love romance.)

question-mark-1872665_640Possibly because I had a bias against backstory drilled into me during the McDaniel program, I tend to minimize it in my books. But if you have characters who were once together and broke up for some reason and you’re now attempting to join them back together, I think the reader needs to know what caused problems the first time around.

And if they’re going to achieve a happy-ever-after ending, readers need to know what caused their problems the first time around so they can watch for the character arcs that will address those problems.

Right now, the main characters in The Demon Wore Stilettos (cover reveal coming soon!) broke up because she got him to help her negotiate a contract to sell her soul to Satan by telling him it was a literary exercise for her MFA program.  Underneath, though, the bigger issue is that she tends to conceal information and he has a driving need to expose the truth.

This shows up as a problem from the first time they meet, in the scene below: Continue reading

Nancy: A Rose by Any Other Name*

If I had to take out a personal ad to describe my current writing dilemma, it would go something like this: Multi-genre author with deep-seated issues around choosing book titles seeks readers with sharp, intuitive minds to help choose an appropriate marketing title for a book going out on submission.

You can probably see where this post is going. You, dear readers, are the sharp, intuitive minds in question. A few weeks ago, I didn’t realize I’d need your help, as I was merrily skipping down the primrose path with my beloved working title for a soon-to-be-submitted story nestled safely in my blue and yellow basket. (Yes, metaphorical Nancy is a weird amalgam of different fairytale characters. And she skips. Just go with me on this one.)

Then approximately a week and a half ago, I was on a video chat with Jennie Nash, one of my writing mentors, and a few other people when the conversation turned to submitting manuscripts to agents and editors. Jennie mentioned the importance of having an email subject line that captures the recipient’s attention. Since most query emails will have the prescribed subject line “Query: Book Title,” that means a marketing book title – without the benefit of a full book cover to convey genre and tone – might carry more weight than the final title on a published book. The title needs to convey Continue reading