Jilly: Same Prince, Different Cover

Almost the end of October, and we’re inching toward the end of the weirdest, suckiest year of my life so far. Really hoping 2021 doesn’t turn out to be more of the same.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my character Prince Daire of Caldermor—ostentatious, wealthy, and not half as empty-headed as he appears. He has a wild mop of curly hair and a love of showy clothes, which encourages people to underestimate him.

In my debut novel The Seeds of Power Daire is an important secondary character—the pointless princeling who’s supposed to marry a very useful princess (she’s older, fiercer, and determined not to wed him). In The Seeds of Exile, the new novella which is almost ready, Daire is the hero whose political skills are tested to the max in a power struggle with his younger brother. Stiff-necked Prince Warrick finds Daire’s flamboyant style unseemly. Warrick thinks he’d do a better job as crown prince, and challenges Daire for the throne. Battle is joined.

My plan was to make The Seeds of Exile a free read for newsletter subscribers, until I realized that giving away the middle book of a trilogy isn’t the best way to introduce new readers to Daire and Caldermor. So I decided to publish The Seeds of Exile and write a new novella to give to newsletter subscribers. That story will be called The Pulse of Princes.

The Pulse of Princes introduces Daire and elan, the mysterious golden beans that give Caldermor its wealth and power. It’s kind-of-sort-of Daire’s origin story, set in Caldermor just before he inherits the throne. He’s eighteen. His father’s dying, his mother is dying to take control of Caldermor. Daire has to assert himself or he’ll become Princess Irmine’s puppet before he’s even crowned.

I commissioned a cover for The Seeds of Exile way back in April. I found a great model for twenty-six-year-old Daire, thinking that would be his only cover appearance. In The Pulse of Princes he’s eighteen. I had to find a new image and ask Deranged Doctor Design if they could imagine the same character, but younger, skinnier, and altogether less experienced. Anne, my copyeditor, had previously suggested that he’d look great in purple, so that’s what I chose.

What do you think? I hope you like the new cover as much as I do.

I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

Michaeline: The REAL* Ghostwriting (*for certain values of real)

Agnes Guppy-Volckman flying over London supported by angels and cupid flying on what looks like a beer bottle. She has a pen in her hand, and is dressed like Queen Victoria.

Oh, wave your magic wand, and let flights of fancy give you wing! (Agnes Guppy-Volckman flies over London with a pen in hand.) (Image Via Wikimedia)

When I was a pre-teen, I haunted the libraries of my school and town for books about the unknown and supernatural – Salem witch trials, Atlantis, pyramids . . . I loved them all, and it seemed somewhat surprising that they’d actually be publicly available in my small town. But they were – I guess stories of the odd and eldritch are popular everywhere.

I can’t remember which book talked about automatic writing – the idea that a spirit or your subconscious could work through your body to write meaningful sentence without conscious control of your hand.

Messages could be spelled out with a Ouija board, but some spiritualists used just a loosely-held pencil on a piece of paper. Wikipedia cites William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925) as a source for this method. In the case of dowsing (searching for an object or resource with a hand-held rod), Barrett thought that the individual’s muscle twitches were responsible for the movement, but that the individual’s unconscious would pick up information through clairvoyance and guide the ideomotor responses. That’s pretty much the theory my half-remembered book put forth.

Some spirits writing messages to the living are often frivolous and write nothing to purpose; others write mysteries hidden in half-riddles. But, there are others who wrote whole books, or at least, so the writers claimed.

Pearl Curran, a housewife in St. Louis in the 1910s, channeled a spirit called Patience Worth, who wrote poetry and two novels through Pearl. This fascinating article from The Smithsonian online details Pearl’s short life and acquaintance with Patience, but as a minor celebrity, there are plenty of contemporary sources that describe her method.

Pearl used a Ouija board, and at first, spelled out each word with the planchette. Eventually, though, the tool proved unnecessary, and just touching the planchette would provoke contact and a recitation. Her husband often took down the words spoken.

There was quite a bit of controversy about Patience’s reality. She didn’t share details of her “life” readily, and she avoided predicting the future. (Ruth Montgomery was a journalist, and popular automatic writer, in the 1960s and 70s who predicted that Atlantis would rise in 1999 due to a polar shift . . . and had to write another book in 1999 pushing back the timeline. So, either her spirit guide was imaginary, or completely unreliable.) In this way, Pearl was able to avoid having Patience being definitively proven false. Many mundane reasons were produced to explain the Pearl/Patience connection, including a split personality.

The Smithsonian article posits that the real truth was in a short story written by Pearl Curran (not her spirit guide) about a young lady who pretends to have a spirit guide in order to get more fun out of life. Perhaps that’s all Pearl wanted, too. At any rate, the flights of fancy attracted the attention of the nation during a world war and an influenza epidemic, which is more than a lot of would-be authors can boast.

I am not proposing that anyone try automatic writing – do your research if you are interested and decide for yourself. I think 2020 is a year full of anxiety and mental instability, anyway, and playing around with it could lead to unhappy confrontations with one’s psyche. I mean, a fly lands on a debater’s head, and the internet went crazy for it. OMG, omen! What would happen if your automatic writing was eerily on point? Never mind there’s at least a 20 percent chance of ANYTHING happening this year. I would be surprised but not shocked if Atlantis made a late appearance and apologized for keeping us waiting.

However, if you are writing ghost stories this month, automatic writing can be a fun driver of the plot, and a way to provide information your characters don’t consciously realize. Fiction is a safe way to play with weird stuff. Enjoy your writing time!

May 1, 1920. Saturday Evening Post A young woman stares rapt at the ceiling as her hands delicately touch the Ouija planchette. A young man stares raptly at her neck, while he also holds the planchette. His feet invade her space, and they are knee-to-knee. Both of their cheeks are glowing.
Ouija fun in the parlor. What kind of ghost do you think they contact? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Michaeline: Meditation on Japanese Rain with Cat

It’s been a rough and rocky week — not so much for me personally, but for the people around me, and in the news, and on social media. So, here’s a nice one-minute video of cool, soothing rain on a Japanese farm . . . with guest voice cameo by Greebo, the cat.

Rain on a Japanese farm — a meditation. With Greebo doing a voiceover at the 0:17 mark. Only one minute of peaceful rain — enough to calm your mind and let ideas float to the top. (E.M. Duskova) Flowers: Blue salvia, red salvia, dusty miller. Begonias near the greenhouse in the background. Bees keep flitting, even through the pouring rain.

short-haired chonky black cat stretched out under a yew tree. Grape leaves and scented phlox are in the foreground. He's glaring at the camera.

Greebo, during sunnier days. (E.M. Duskova)

Greebo is a Grumpy-cat mix. He’s mostly black with a few orange markings that look like battle scars from a former life. He isn’t afraid of people, but he has no use for them unless they come bearing saucers of milk. (I know this because Auntie gives him a dish of scalded milk every morning, and he’ll let her pet him. Everyone else, he hisses at, then stalks away. Not runs. Stalks, with great dignity and he’s so affronted that you dared to approach him without a tribute for the conqueror.)

They say there are only two stories in the world: someone leaves home, or a stranger comes to town. I wonder what would happen if Greebo, anthropomorphized, showed up in my fictional town . . . .

Michaeline: Ghosts on the Brain

Okiku, a ghost from a well, at night. She's got a sad expression on her face, and she's blowing out a stream of cold air.

Okiku, the ghost rising from a well. Note how her body is made of plates . . . and she’s SO over 2020 and all its nonsense. Phew! (Image via Wikimedia Commons. Hokusai)

People are moaning and groaning that Halloween is going to be cancelled in North America this year, and others are vaguely annoyed by this attitude – mind you, I’m seeing this on Twitter, and most people are not even taking 280 characters to express their feelings about this, so half of what I report here may be my own imagination.

In Japan, Halloween has become quite popular, but mostly among the kids who go to English classes, and among the candy manufacturers. There’s a whole display of special orange, black and purple snacks for Halloween. Not bite-size candies to pass out, per se. And not really anything particularly scary. Just the candy company mascot dressed up as a witch, a vampire or a Munch’s Scream Guy. So, I HAVE been to a couple of Halloween parties in Japan, but they are mostly mass events where kids parade their costumes (95 percent of which are witches, vampires or Scream Guys), and then say in English, “Trick or Treat” at a booth to receive a small piece of candy.

I’ve hosted a couple of Halloween parties when my kids were small, but let’s face it. I’m not influential enough to change Japanese Halloween culture.

So, in Japan, anyway, it’s not going to be a big deal. They might have the mass events, with extra masks. It’ll be interesting to see if they tap into the horror of this year, and have more Zombie Nurses (2 percent of the costume parade) or COVID victims (obviously, this would be a debut costume), but I doubt it. Most people who celebrate will grab a bag of Scary Themed butter shoyu potato chips, and call it a season.

But anyway, I’ve got ghosts on the brain since July. August is when the ancestors are supposed to return home for a three-day holiday called Obon, and ghost stories are said to be a delightful cooling device when you don’t have an air conditioner – the chill down your spine during a session of evening stories is quite welcome.

For the first time, I’m thinking about Japanese ghosts. I have a modern story about Continue reading

Jeanne: The Room Where It Happens

Michaeline’s post on Saturday about writers’ fantasy getaways to magical places that enable them to whip through their WIPs made me realize, once again, that my version of that fantasy is like the theme from Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.

20200829_135905I write best in my writing cave, a 9.5′ x 11′ room that was added onto the back of my 97- year-old house in the 1950’s or 60’s (along with an extra bathroom/laundry room and a ridiculously useless hallway that I’ve converted into a mudroom/cloakroom/ ironing room).

Before Covid-19 entered our lives, I went on occasional junkets to beaches or faraway cities to write, but I seldom (almost never) returned home with any additional words written. Sadly, the one time I actually got a substantial number of words on the page, I wound up throwing said pages away after I decided the book was headed in the wrong direction. 😦

I’ve come to the conclusion that I write best in familiar surroundings. That’s partly 20200829_135916because my kids are grown, I currently have no pets, and my husband is a very low-maintenance kind of guy. But it’s partly because the room is really well-suited to writing. It has space for my ancient desktop computer (if all you use is Word, Excel and Chrome, you don’t really need a state-of-the-art computer), a couple of printers (one black-and-white laser printer and a color multi-function device that scans and makes copies, and a couple of fairly up-to-date laptops that I use when I travel.

The room has counters along both sides, with an assortment of junk drawers and cabinets underneath, and bookshelves along the top of the room, where I keep dictionaries, craft books and approximately 1000 tablets and notebooks because I’m forever finding myself out in the world with time on my hands and nothing to write on.

It also has a couple of windows that look out on my working-class neighborhood. Some of my writing buddies have amazing views from their writing rooms–Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. I suppose after a while I’d become so accustomed to the beauty that I’d stop gawking, but my view is okay. The windows are enough to keep me from being claustrophobic without creating a distraction.

20200829_140123

There are a couple of closets at one end of the room. On the closet doors I tape up things like maps and floor plans that I need to keep track of the “where” of my stories. Right now the left-hand door has floor plans of the United Nations Conference Center in New York City, where much of my work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, takes place. The right-hand door has a tourist map of Sedona, AZ, where I plan to set my next project, a rom-com series about a family of five siblings who are suddenly left in charge of their parents’ tour business and each sibling has a different idea about where they’d like to take the business (and a chance at love along the way, of course).

It’s not a particularly pretty room, but it’s homey and very practical. What kind of space do you use when you’re being creative?

Jilly: New Story, New Cover

It’s August already, and the end of this pandemic is starting to feel very far away. Here’s hoping at least one of those vaccines turns out to be a magic bullet.

I expected to be in California now, drinking cocktails, eating ice cream and hanging out with Eight Lady Kay. Instead I’m about to start the nineteenth week of our involuntary staycation in North London. Sigh. The weather has turned gorgeous. I like my house, and we’re lucky enough to have a small garden. My husband is great company. The food is okay and the wine is good. I’m trying to stay focused on the positives, but a change or two would be welcome.

So while I wait for the copy edits of The Seeds of Exile (Daire’s novella) I’m turning my focus to a new writing project—the second full length Elan Intrigues novel, called The Seeds of Destiny. The main character is a mountain-dwelling healer with uncanny powers. She’s called Annis Benkith. Daire seeks her help as he battles the energy sickness that is driving him toward an early and painful death.

It’s always hard to get to grips with a new character and a new piece of world building. Annis is a nomadic mountain dweller, wildly different from the princes and princesses of the two previous books. Fortunately I have a cover for The Seeds of Destiny that evokes the ambience I’m trying to capture. I’m using it for inspiration.

It took me hours of searching to find a stock photo of a woman who looked as though she could be Annis. She makes eye contact with the reader. She looks natural and rather serious. To me she feels like Annis—calm and empathetic, skilled, but also decisive, courageous and determined. In the original photo she was Victorian and glamorous, but my cover designers, Deranged Doctor Design, gave her a new look with a homespun dress and a high-altitude setting.

What do you think? I hope you like the cover as much as I do. I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed it as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the talented team at Deranged Doctor Design. I feel very lucky to be working with them.

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

Michaeline: The World of Your Story

 

A large young woman holding a saucer of tea. On the table is a samovar, watermelon, fruitcake, apples and grapes. Next to her, a cute kitty rubs her shoulder. Affluent and full of sunshine.

Boris Kustodiev’s A Merchant’s Wife’s Teatime from 1918 shows the kind of sunny August afternoon I wouldn’t mind living in forever. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m always a bit in awe of people who write intricate, dark, depressing stories like The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. They do such a good job, but . . . they have to live inside that world in their heads for however long it takes to write the book.

I guess that’s why I prefer to write things with ultimately happy endings. I have a good real life, and I’m content, but in a story, I can stir up just a little trouble, just a little drama, and then resolve it all with cake and a brighter future ahead.

I wonder how many people set their stories in the Now. When I write these days, I studiously avoid plagues, invasions of insects, racism, floods, global warming and riots. They may creep in, but they are not what I set out to write.

But even before these wild days came upon us, I rarely wrote in the Now. I mostly wrote in the near future and far future, and a little bit in the distant past (80 years or more before Actual Writing Time). I am not sure why . . . maybe because I’m still processing the Now, and am not sure what to write about it. The distant past just needs a bit of research, and the future can be fudged. I don’t trust my perception of things enough to write about the Now.

But that’s me. I think people may want to read things about Now in the near future; they’ll have a basic set of reference, and can compare their experience with the author. They’ll have processed things. They might take joy in what the author got right, and they might have a sneaky bit of schadenfreude for what the author got wrong.

What is your Now like right now?

I saw a fun game on Twitter by Amber Sparks, who Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all–Which Cover Works Best?

The “calm” one

I’m sorry to plague you all with yet another cover query, but I’ve been looking at this thing for so long that I’m not sure what I’m seeing any more.

The new cover for Betting on Hope is essentially done. The copy has been tweaked since you saw it last, and the last thing to be decided is the color saturation. I have three variations, and they vary only slightly: One is the “calm” one, one is the “hot” one, and one is “the other one.”

The “hot” one

I’d like to know what you think: Which one is easiest to read? (I realize that if you’re looking at this post from a phone, none of them will be easy to read—it’s scarcely readable from my computer screen.) Does any of them appeal to you more than the others? What about the color on that back cover?

Any thoughts on these or other matters gratefully received.

The “other” one

Jilly: Behind the Scenes

I enjoyed Michaeline’s post yesterday, about her love of secret passages and rooms, trap doors, hidden compartments and all kinds of mystery architecture. She loves them as a reader, so she likes to incorporate them into her own stories.

She set me thinking.

Mystery architecture is a wonderful tool for storytellers. There are so many good examples, but below are a few of my favorites.

The hidden basement and secret shelter in Jenny Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman.

The smugglers’ cellar and well-oiled trapdoor that Francis Crawford of Lymond uses to sneak into locked-down Edinburgh in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings.

Another smugglers’ construction— the concealed tunnel between Darracott Place and the haunted Dower House in Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax.

All kinds of hidden delights, from ancient temples to sneaky palace passageways, in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief and its four sequels.

I like all that undercover stuff, but what really thrills me is an insider story. When I see a swan gliding serenely along, I want to see the feet paddling like mad under the water. I love, love, love to watch characters working on their craft. I need to share their setbacks, mistakes, failures and ultimate triumph. I like to write those stories too.

In real life I love it when restaurants offer a chef’s table so diners can watch the kitchen in full flow. I really like that pro tennis has been experimenting with allowing players to talk to their coaches mid-match—and we all get to hear their discussion. And some of my best trips to the Royal Opera House have been to watch working rehearsals, or to see costumes being made, props being constructed, and choreography developed. To give you an idea of what I mean, click here for a ten-minute video of the Royal Ballet working flat out on the big sword fight between Tybalt and Romeo in Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo & Juliet.

One of my favorite movies ever is Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom—double dealing, dirty tricks and the private language of competitive ballroom dancing. Christopher Guest hilariously gives dog shows the same treatment in his mockumentary Best in Show. And for books, what about:

Faro’s Daughter (Heyer again), where the heroine is a gambler’s daughter who runs a fashionable gaming house with her delightfully clueless aunt; or

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor—half-goblin Maia loses his entire family in an airship crash and unexpectedly becomes Emperor. He has no training, no allies, and seems an easy target for every ambitious, manipulative, scheming courtier in the palace. Maia outwits them all by learning the system from servants, soldiers, airship crews, and other ordinary people that make his world work.

A hairdresser friend of mine once told me he’d never book a chef’s table. He’s spent his entire working life behind the scenes and he knows exactly what happens. When he reads a novel, or goes to dinner, or to a movie, he wants a finished product, all glossy and shiny. He’ll take the fairy tale presentation every time.

Where do you stand on insider stories? Are you a fan, or would you rather sit the other side of the curtain, watching the action from the plush seats?