Jilly: Self-Isolation Past and Present

Boundary Stone, Eyam
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday Michaeline shared a fascinating Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak of coronavirus/covid-19.

In the UK we only have 9 confirmed cases of the virus, but Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of National Health England, has said people may increasingly be asked to isolate themselves here too. This BBC article explains who should self-isolate and what precautions they should take.

It’s sobering to think that one of the world’s most effective tactics for preventing a global pandemic has been around for centuries and depends on ordinary people showing selflessness and self-discipline.

I first learned about self-isolation more than 40 years ago, on a school visit to a local historic site: Eyam, a picturesque village in the Derbyshire Peak District. Eyam is a scant few miles from stunning Chatsworth House (Pemberley!) and Haddon Hall (Prince Humperdinck’s Castle!) but its place on the tourist trail was earned in much grimmer circumstances.

I blogged about Eyam, Historic Plague Village, five years ago, but given current events it seems fitting to revisit the story. Continue reading

Michaeline: Thinking About Safe, Inclusive Spaces

Hands from various backgrounds putting together a jigsaw heart

Image via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been thinking about making safe, inclusive spaces for everyone. I’m still in the theoretical stage, and I’m not sure if it’s even possible (or desirable) to have a space that’s 100 percent comfortable. A good discussion group does need some friction and I believe a little awkwardness is a good thing. But it’s not good when some people feel awkward or unseen repeatedly, while other people feel very comfortable most of the time. There’s got to be a balance, and there’s got to be a moderate road where everyone feels safe and like there can be a friendly resolution to arguments and discussions. Like we could all get pizza* afterwards, despite our differences in outlook and opinion.

First, what is the problem? Racism has been a huge topic in Romancelandia over the past few weeks with the blow-up in the RWA stemming from systemic racism and (I think) money struggles. But it’s not just about race – as romance writers, we’re very aware of the prejudice against and for gender as well. There’s sexuality (LGBT, polyamory, asexual) inclusion or exclusion. There are body issues, such as able-ism and weight-ists. And then there’s a wide range of issues involving the way the brain works, such as depression, bi-polarism, autism and even simpler things such as extroversion and introversion.

One of the things I came to realize over the past few weeks is that most of us want to be known as nice, and “good” girls or boys or people. We want to swim along in society, helping out others, or at least not hurting people, and not getting hurt. “You’re X-ist!” can be a real slam to one’s self-image – maybe not equal to the first slam of “You’re Other!” that the accuser may have originally felt, but still hurtful.

But saying, “this book is a fucking racist mess” is NOT the same as saying “you are a fucking racist mess.”

I know, I know. Book babies feel like children, and casting shade on one’s books can be very hurtful. But, it’s important to both frame things as “this action is X-ist” and also take the criticism as a critique about an action or behavior, and not as a personal judgement on one’s humanity.

Now, of course, if a pattern starts to manifest of X-ist actions and behaviors, people will probably be thinking, “Oh, Mx. X is an X-ist.” And they might be right. So, maybe the first step is Continue reading

Nancy: My Recipe for a Delicious Romance Series

As Justine announced yesterday, this week we’re discussing recipes of both the edible and readable kind. As I’ve planned and written and moved toward release of my romance series this past year, I’ve put a lot of thought into what I like in a romance series. Here’s my favorite recipe.

Start with an ensemble cast of characters who each bring something good to the party. Use their interconnected lives to lead us from the story of one happy couple to the next, but be sure to let their individual qualities shine, even when it’s not ‘their book’. When done well, you’ll have me pre-ordering the books that finally give my favorite secondary characters their own romance, like the duke in Slightly Dangerous from Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga series.

Add a generous dollop of inside jokes, memories, and friendly bonding opportunities. Make me feel like I’m in on all the fun even if I haven’t read other books the series, but feel free to repeat or build on these fun themes across books, providing fan service for loyal readers. Think the running joke of the terrible music created  by the Smythe-Smith Quartet (with the musician line-up changing for each annual performance) from Julia Quinn’s The Bridgertons series.

Sprinkle in a bit of past HEAs. Show me the couples who got together in past books, still together, still happy, still interacting like they did in the book of their own love story. It shouldn’t be so heavy-handed that having read those other books in the series is a prerequisite to understanding the current book, but it should be enough to tempt me to pick up those other books to find out how the settled couples found their own happy endings together. The books in Anne Stuart’s House of Rohan series always include at least a few of the happy couples, made up of reformed rakes paired with strong women, from previous books. These happy couples guide, advise, and generally annoy the bejesus out of the couple currently struggling toward their own HEA.

Mix all ingredients together into a multi-book series, pair with a good red wine, and serve over a long weekend with nothing to do but read!

And now, an actual recipe… Continue reading

Michille: Preparing to Attend a Writers’ Conference

RWA 2017RWA National Conference is fast approaching. So it’s time to start prepping for it. Of course, getting the conference schedule is a top priority and deciding which sessions to go to, which to avoid. I’m not pitching this year, or I’d be working on that. I suck at elevator pitches and tag/log line type descriptions so creating those is torture. In order to make sure I’m not forgetting anything, I googled to find some internet advice. Continue reading

Elizabeth: A Reminder to be Kind

Happy or sad? Are you sure you can tell the difference? © Disney PhotoPass

Happy or sad? Are you sure you can tell the difference?
© Disney PhotoPass

As 2016 continues its bobsled race to the finish line, there’s a lot going on.  If the internet is any indication, there is a frenzy of shopping, baking, traveling and holiday-related socializing, not to mention end-of year work-related projects and deadlines to meet.

Andy Williams may sing that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year but that’s not true for everyone.

Among all that glittering gaiety, there are people who are tired, over-extended, stressed, lonely, and even depressed, so it’s a good time to take a step back, take a breath, and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Continue reading

Nancy: Writing Is Our Superpower

The times, they are a-changin'.

The times, they are a-changin’.

Wow, what a week.

As I sat down to compose this post, it was hard to know where to begin, how to find my way into writing the true-life story I’ve lived this past week. Last Monday, at 6 AM, I was on a plane from Baltimore to Boston. Within hours, I’d met a stranger who became a fast friend who was willing to pick me up at Logan airport at 7:30 AM, had shared breakfast and lunch with more new friends I’d just met, and was passing my phone around a table so these wonderful people could put their phone numbers into my contacts so we could stay in touch during our week together. No, I had not joined a commune or entered some weird alternate reality where strangers are your new best friends. Well…maybe I had. I had entered the Writers Unboxed Un-Conference.

With my own personal favorite mentors like Lisa Cron and Donald Maass, and authors/teachers such as Cathy Yardley, Kathryn Craft, and Barbara O’Neal (just to name a few) presenting deep-dive, hands-on workshops, this was already on track to be a writing-changing experience. I thought the writing workshops would be the thing that rocked my world last week. Oh, innocent, optimistic, naïve Nancy of November 7, how I miss you.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you as a card-carrying member of Pantsuit Nation, I wanted our country to make history in a very different way last Tuesday. When the exact opposite of my hopes happened, it triggered stages of grief – shock, anger, depression – on an endless loop. The majority (but not all!) of the conference attendees had a similar reaction. Perhaps it was because we’d self-selected to be part of a group of people whom we intuitively sensed were ‘on the same side’.  Perhaps it was because writers are empaths by nature; putting ourselves in the shoes of ‘the other’ is fundamental to our writing process, and there are many ‘others’ who have legitimate fears given the outcome of this election. This shared grief created a strange, bubble-wrapped enclave where we could rant, cry, and  – eventually – begin to heal.

“Community is a flashlight on a dark road. It keeps us pointed ahead.” – participant, WU Un-Conference 2016

Continue reading

Michaeline: The Election and the Future of the U.S. Writing Market

"The future is escapist fantasy." If the shoe fits, wear it. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“The future is escapist fantasy.” If the shoe fits, wear it. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .”

Think about it. Fifty-nine million people got the lesser of two evils. Fifty-nine million people got the greater of two evils. America is divided about evenly, and there’s a whole spectrum of thought and opinion. So, if you want to write a white hero-guy who kicks poor, brown ass and enjoys his Budweiser, there’s a market for that. If you want to write a diverse cast of characters, fighting The Man like time-travelling hippies and enjoying a little recreational marijuana, there’s a market for that. I predict that escapist fantasy is going to have a heyday. Why? Continue reading