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.

Jilly: Lighter Days Are Coming

Are you enjoying the holidays? It’s been a year like no other, but hopefully you’re managing to find a silver lining under all that cloud.

Over the last few days I’ve started to feel really energized. It’s not Christmas (bah, humbug!). It’s partly the prospect of a new year—I’m all in favor of putting 2020 to bed, and I love the idea of a fresh start, even if my rational self knows New Year’s Eve is an artificial construct. Mostly I’m super-happy because we’ve passed the winter solstice.

Last Monday, 21stDecember, was the shortest day and longest night of the year for people living in the northern hemisphere. In London the day was a tad short of 7 hours 50 minutes. Contrast that with the 12 hours of daylight we enjoy on the Spring equinox, and more than 16 hours on the summer solstice.

Long summer days are lovely, of course, but for me trends and momentum are more influential. At some subliminal level I notice when every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, and I start to feel amazingly empowered and creative. Almost superhuman. It doesn’t matter that we’re still in winter, that the weather may be grim and the nights will be longer than the days for another three months. We’re heading toward the light 🙂 .

I’ve experienced this excited, fizzy feeling almost every year for as long as I can remember. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then my subconscious tends to down tools for a vacation and resists like mad if I try to start new creative projects in the fall. I always do better working on housekeeping and closing out projects, which is why I’ve chosen to edit in the autumn and publish in December.

All of which means that right now, time’s a-wasting. I need to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny, or Annis’s book, ASAP. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last week or so and I feel ready to settle down and start writing.

I still have a little more housekeeping to finish up—I need to get The Pulse of Princes, my Elan Intrigues prequel novella, formatted and set up as a free download for mailing list subscribers. I have a few tweaks to make to my website. And of course I will enjoy the rest of the holidays, right up until New Year’s Day. But I can feel my energy building, and I feel excited to make a new start.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you’re looking forward to good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Elizabeth: Happy Holidays!

We’ve reached the end of another week in a year that has lasted an infinite number of days already.  Normally we’d be engaging in a rousing round of Writing Sprints right about now, but this is the holiday season, and I’m pretty sure we all deserve some time off for good behavior.

If you have a hankering to try a writing sprint or two, there’s still time to participate in our annual Christmas Short Story Challenge. You can also check out any of our Friday posts for a writing prompt and a set of words, if the Challenge isn’t your cup of tea.

Happy Holidays to all and may 2021 find you happy, healthy, and brimming with stories to tell.

Kay: Twas Daybreak (with apologies)

After I learned that Elizabeth had rejected the word “dismemberment” from this year’s randomly generated word list for the holiday story, I was unable to get it out of my mind. Twice I started a new story. One I came close to finishing. And both were about a wife who dismembered her husband and tossed his limbs down the well.

Not exactly the happy holiday ending we were going for.

In despair, I rooted through my past and discovered this holiday poem cribbage from 2014. I hope you’ve forgotten it! It’s an homage, if you can call it that, to Pride and Prejudice and the Bennett family. Dismembering, you’ll be happy to know, plays no part in this story.

Twas daybreak on Christmas, and all through the hall
All the servants were stirring, for tonight was the ball.
The Yule log was laid and the mistletoe hung,
In hopes that Sir Darcy’s fling would be flung.

Miss Lizzie still nestled all snug in her bed,
While nightmares of family danced in her head.
But Mary and Kitty, and Lydia, too,
Argued at breakfast about whom Darcy would woo.

Then out in the parlor there rose such a clatter
Jane sprang from the table to see to the matter.
Maids had dropped glasses, which smashed on the floor
The butler was livid and gave them what-for.

The cook was still worried her sauce wasn’t right
While Pa hit his sauce and got pretty tight.
The daughters decided to primp the whole day
When Mama’s hysterics just drove them away.

Finally—at long last!—the party time neared,
And moonbeams glowed down as the bad weather cleared.
Arriving by carriage the revelers came,
And the butler emerged to call them by name.

Here’s Darcy and Collins,
And Bingley among us!
And Wickham’s dismounting
To give us comeuppance!
To Lucas goes Collins
And Jane’s Bingley’s bride!
But Lizzie dumped Darcy
Because of his pride.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a pain in the heinie
Her ego is huge and her modesty, tiny
Here’s Caroline Bingley, the Gardiners, too
Georgiana is present to beef up the stew.

Mr. Bennet, the host, a right cheerful old squire,
Greeted each guest as he stood by the fire.
“I’m happy to see you, please drink and be jolly!”
So guests then embarked on all kinds of folly.

And then, in a twinkling, the music commenced
And Lizzie sat down, leaving Darcy incensed.
Kitty and Lydia flirted like mad
And Wickham decided to act like a cad.

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses from way too much sherry.
He spoke of his love, he said, “Come and be mine.”
And Lydia believed him, that smooth-talking swine.

They flew off to Derbyshire, where they could be wed
But Darcy pursued them, his heart full of dread.
He promised his Lizzie he’d bring back the villain
But said not a word about blood he’d be spillin’.

Lizzie stayed up like a ghost the whole night
Till Darcy returned at dawn’s early light.
“They’re married,” he told her, “and all will be well.”
“My hero,” she said. He said, “My precious belle.”

He then took her hand and got down on his knee,
“I was stupid and wrong,” he said. “Please marry me.
I thought I was wise, but it’s you I admire.
So if you can love me, let’s tell your good sire.”

Lizzie said yes with a fervor so fine.
“I love you, I do, please say you’ll be mine.
I’ll marry you now and love you forever
And stand by your side through every endeavor.”

And so our tale ends with a happy e’er after
And hearts full of love and plenty of laughter.
For you, my dear readers, I wish much the same,
But for poor stabs at poetry, I take all the blame.

Happy holidays, everyone! And best wishes from all of us to all of you for a wonderful new year.

Jilly: Book Birthday–The Seeds of Exile

The Seeds of Exile is live now on Amazon and other e-book retailers! For a dollar and change you can pre-order Daire’s novella today, or download it tomorrow (Monday).

This makes me so happy 😀 ! It’s such a satisfying way to end a depressing year, and leaves me feeling energized and inspired to dive in to the next book.

Exile is the second story in the Elan Intrigues historical fantasy series. It can be read as a standalone, though if you’ve read The Seeds of Power you’ll meet some familiar characters as well as a couple of new ones. Expect a quick-witted hero, sibling rivalry, royal politics, natural magic, and life-or-death stakes.

Here’s the blurb:

Two princes. A desperate duel. A perilous legacy.

How can a man not know his brother? Prince Daire of Caldermor and his heir, Prince Warrick, were raised apart. Daire’s showy. Warrick’s stuffy. All they have in common is a shared secret duty—Daire creates elan, mysterious golden beans that assure their family wealth and power; Warrick bears witness. Then Daire discovers that elan-making ravages his body. Internally he’s hurt beyond remedy, but if he modifies the time-honored elan ritual he can save Warrick from suffering his fate.

Warrick knows transforming elan is a privilege. He doesn’t believe it’s dangerous. To prevent Daire from debasing their treasured heritage he claims the throne and battle is joined. The arena: an elan-making duel. The loser’s forfeit: exile.

Daire wants Warrick beside him, not banished, but he’ll need insight and guile to win the duel without losing his brother—or breaking the ancient Legacy that protects Caldermor.

*****

The novella is a quick read—22k words or around a hundred pages.

I hope you try it. And I really, really hope you like it!

Link for Amazon US is here

Link for Amazon UK is here

Wishing you a safe and happy Sunday!

Jilly: Kindle Full of Books

We don’t have a Thanksgiving holiday in the UK, but I’m delighted to join the 8 Ladies celebration. 2020 has been a shocker of a year (and we still have another month to go) yet despite everything we have much to be thankful for. I’ll gladly take this opportunity to pause, reflect, and take a moment to focus on what really matters.

For an engaging take on down to earth blessings, enumerated in joyously upbeat style, here’s a video of Scottish Italian singer Paolo Nutini jamming with vintage British skiffle musicians The Vipers. The song is called A Pencil Full of Lead and it makes me smile every time I watch the video.

The song inspired me to compile a list of my own everyday 2020 lockdown blessings. With apologies to Paolo, here goes 😉

Kindle Full of Books

I’ve got a Kindle full of books with some really great hooks
The characters are brave, they’ve got worlds to save
I’m wholly transported. That’s my leisure time sorted.
With a plot to unravel, who needs to travel?

Then it’s time to write and that’s a delight
Forget about votes, I’ve a book full of notes
I got functioning gray matter and friends for a natter
And time to polish my snappiest patter

My heroines are smart, I got great cover art
My heroes are heroic and all kinds of stoic
The baddies are bad, and often quite mad
They’ll stop at naught tho they rarely get caught
The good guys go through hell but it all turns out well
And nothing’s gonna bring them down

I got soap for my hands and a mask for my face
Groceries delivered as I remain in place
I’ve got airline pyjamas and a jigsaw with llamas
I’m a very happy loafer on my oversized sofa
I’ve got ink for my printer and heating for the winter
And nothing’s gonna bring me down

But best of all (best of all)
I’ve got my loved ones
But best of all (best of all)
I’ve got my loved ones
I’ve got a Happy Ever After
And a life full of laughter
And nothing’s gonna bring me down

It’s not high art, but I had fun writing it. Now I need Michaeline to arrange it for ukulele 😉

So… Paolo’s got a Pencil Full of Lead. I have a Kindle Full of Books. What do you have?

Jilly: Labor of Love

Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone in the US. Happy weekend, and happy end of summer, to everyone else.

Thinking about Labor Day led me to realize that it’s ten years since I decided to quit the day job and write fiction full time.

I left paid employment at the end of 2011.

I published my first novel, The Seeds of Power, in December 2019.

I never thought writing fiction would be so hard, that I’d have so much to learn, or that it would take me so long to get my first book published.

I’ve never worked so hard, earned so little, or had so much fun.

I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Best work decision I ever made.

What’s the best work decision you ever made?

Jilly: Silver Linings Saturday

While Michaeline’s away dealing with family matters (check out this post for more information), I’m borrowing her Saturday slot to ask: what good experiences did you find to alleviate the grimdark this week?

Whatever your circumstances, if you found joy in a burst of birdsong, or the spring sunshine, or an unexpected message… if you found something—anything—that lightened your heart, please share it in the comments and give somebody else a much-needed moment of feelgood.

I took a little while to make my list for this post, and to my surprise just searching for the good moments in another stressful week left me feeling uplifted.

Of course the most important thing is that all my family and friends are still home and well. Everything else pales beside that. I’m deeply thankful, and I hope that you have all been equally fortunate.

I’ve had another week of no new writing. I’m supposed to be working on the my new Elan Intrigues novel, but the opening scene is really intense. The heroine loses everything she cares about in one candid exchange, and I simply haven’t had the emotional bandwidth to do it justice. I plan to do better this week. Hopefully that scene will be next week’s silver lining. Continue reading

Jilly: Seizing the Day

Time flies when you’re having fun 😀

I won’t be doing much writing or blogging this weekend, because I’ll be helping my husband celebrate his 60thbirthday. This will be the fifth Big Birthday I’ve celebrated with him, and we’re both wondering where the time went.

On his 20thbirthday we were at university. I made him a chocolate cake in the shape of a hedgehog, with chocolate buttons for spikes. It seems like yesterday. Now we’re retired and enjoying the luxury of a kind of golden age.

So this is a quick post to say life is fleeting. Blink and you’ll miss it. Don’t forget to take time to celebrate your successes and enjoy the good moments with the people closest to you.

What will you celebrate this year?

Elizabeth: Happy Holidays

Christmas postcard with Santa Claus and bag of toys in a basket suspended by greenery from an airship, with "Greetings to one and all - Merry Christmas." Color postcard, ca. 1916. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. N39376.

Christmas goes so well with an airship or two! (Image via Missouri History)

I hope you have all been enjoying our year-end short story challenge.  Michaeline kicked things off on Saturday with her magical story Farewell to the Old, Long Live the New, Nancy left us hanging on Monday with Part 1 of her story They Shoot Lounge Lizards, Don’t They? and Jeanne kept us entertained Tuesday with her trope-tastic story The Queen of the Tropes.   I’m always amazed at the wildly different stories we come up with based on the same set of words.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.

I’ll be posting my own story next week, but for now, I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday season, however you celebrate (or don’t).