Michaeline: The Power of Writing

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases" says an old poster announcing a U.S. Public Health Service Campaign. "As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells -- Spread of Spanish Influenza Menaces Our War Production"

It’s said that the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic killed more people than WWI. https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/ Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have to share this piece of writing with you. It’s a Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. 

National Public Radio (US) has an article on how the lockdown is affecting the lives of Chinese residents.  NPR reports that families in Wenzhou (a coastal city in China) have been told to stay indoors, and only send one person out every two days to pick up groceries.

The Reddit post does so much in a relatively small space. Redditor u/mthmchris explains how he and his partner are restricted to the apartment, and how the constraints in finding ingredients and the luxury of time have contributed to better cooking. There’s a brief reverie about the degeneracy of modern cooking, that he attributes to perhaps lack of time, especially now that he’s been living through a period of deprivation (although, not starvation) for the past few weeks. And then there are the dishes he’s made.

I suppose I’ve always been morbidly curious about “Robinson Crusoe” scenarios. So, it teases my imagination – what would I do if we were locked down on our farm with a COVID-19 outbreak in town? The post moves my sympathy for people who really are in the situation, it educated me, and taught me new things about the human experience. These are the things I would love to see my fiction writing do for people. Continue reading

Jeanne: Putting the Meta in Metaphor

cartoon concepts and ideas setA few years ago, on my personal blog, I proposed a metaphor:

Happiness slid from her face like a fried egg from a Teflon skillet.

I went on to assert:

…the narrator has to be a housewife or a chef, because if, for example, a cop, or a dentist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company says something like this, it just doesn’t work. (Unless he’s the CEO of Farberware.)

But Christo, another blogger, took issue with that statement, commenting:

…I have to disagree with you on the Teflon one – I think it works for no matter who you say it about – why does it specifically have to be a cook or a housewife or even more linear someone that works for Teflon?

To which I responded, via email: Continue reading

Michaeline: Add some contemporary to make your historicals more real

A young lady from the mid-1800s reading a newspaper.

Newspapers were a popular source for information of all sorts. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve talked about using contemporary newspaper accounts to make your historical more real in the comments, and I’ve used the technique extensively when researching my Bunny Blavatsky, Gilded Age Spirit Photographer stories. You pick up vocabulary and phrasing for your writing, and background knowledge that would have been part of your characters’ everyday life. You don’t just pick up local tidbits that don’t make it into history books, but in later historicals, you also get world events practically as they happen. The first transatlantic cable was successfully transmitted on August 16, 1858; by the 1870s, messages were transmitted across the ocean in minutes.

According to Wikipedia, there were 43 newspapers in America in 1783; in 1810 there were

A Japanese woman reading a newspaper while clad in a kimono.

Reading a contemporary newspaper could challenge some of the clichés and stereotypes you hold about an era. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

366 (including 27 daily papers), and during the age of yellow journalism and all the good and bad that attended, papers exploded from 971 in 1880 to 2,226 in 1900.

You can find some of these newspapers archived on line; the Library of Congress is a good place to start.

I’m blogging about it today because there’s an astounding article from the today-in-history feature (August 3) on the United Press International website. UPI brought back an article about the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. The story is first told with the kind of drama I’ve always associated with New Journalism – it’s a mix of fact and dramatic speculation about the last hours of Harding and his wife. The story then turns deftly to the facts of Harding’s last days, with wonderful period words such as “apoplexy” and “ptomaine poisoning”. It details the reactions of key political figures before going into a pithy biography of the late president, including his achievements as president. In true UPI style, the end is a bunch of charming anecdotes that can be included or excluded as the member paper’s column inches required.

Even if you aren’t setting a novel in 1923 (although, to be honest, it seems like an underutilized and exciting time to set a romance!), it’s well worth looking at the article for the details and the story telling.

Michille: Characters with Disabilities

Silent MelodyI am reading Mary Balogh’s Silent Melody in which the heroine is a deaf-mute (that’s how she is characterized in the story). It’s fascinating to read the way Balogh describes how Emily views/lives in her silent world, how she communicates with others, and how they communicate with her. And how sensitively/insensitively the other characters treat her. Some of the language used in reference to the character makes me uncomfortable because part of my day job is public school system special education administration. I keep telling myself that it’s like reading a romance novel from 1972 – yes the rape scene is understandable given the genre and societal norms at the time, just as in 1780, there was no such thing as political correctness when referring to someone with a disability. Continue reading

Jilly: Seeking Fashion Advice

Anyone else ready for a break from reality? I hope so. I’m in need of some super-glamorous, exceedingly outré wardrobe suggestions.

Alexis, the heroine of my fantasy WIP, accompanies Kierce, the hero, to a very OTT aristocratic celebration. Something as showy as the Oscars, hosted by royalty, but in a horses-and-swords kind of world. Alexis was raised in a monastery; she’s spent her whole life passing as a boy, so it’s challenging enough for her to have to act and dress like a female. To glam up, and preen, and flirt is her idea of a nightmare.

It’s mine, too, which may be why I’m struggling with her wardrobe.

Continue reading

Michaeline: A Different Kind of Sex Scene

Androgynous image with curly hair on head and curly hair on chest.

Does it matter if the lover is a boy or a girl? In some details, yes. But a lot of technique is transferable. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve been talking about sex scenes this week on Eight Ladies (Kay’s post on February 2), and my book rec for the month is Charmed and Dangerous, a collection of short gay fantasy stories written by women and edited by Jordan Castillo Price. The ten stories are well-written, exciting and full of creative ideas that take paranormal romance and urban fantasy to interesting places. Goodreads link.

The sex scenes have a different dynamic than any of the straight romance I’ve read. Women have this idea that men are ready for action at any minute. I’m not sure if that is acute observation or just urban legend, but there it is. In a straight scene in a straight romance, often the woman is worrying about something: her reputation, her own feelings for this guy, the meaning of the sex, and so on and so forth.

Generally in the scenes in this book, sex is sex. It doesn’t have to mean a thing – as long as the two gay men are in a romantic situation with mutual attraction, there doesn’t seem to be a reason (in this fictional world) for them not to have enthusiastic sex-in-the-moment. So, they drop everything to do so, and have a few paragraphs of sweaty, happy sex, which turns out to be deep and meaningful (the most intimate sex ever) because after all, we’re talking about subsets of the romance genre. The characters often go in expecting orgasms, and come out with orgasms and the love of their lives.

The big question is, can this be applied to straight romance scenes? Continue reading

Michaeline: Descriptions in the Beginning

Don't leave your readers confused! Give them the basic facts up front! (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Don’t leave your readers confused! Give them the basic facts up front! (image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, this week I’ve been reading an anthology of gay fantasy romance, and it’s been really good so far. But, since I’m not writing a review but a craft analysis, I don’t really want to name names – I’m going to take a tiny quibble and blow it up large, and see if I can figure out how to avoid it.

The great thing about an anthology is that you get a variety of usually new writers with lots of beginnings all packed in one volume.

The first story had a rocky start. We started in a Chinatown, and I was ready to roll with that – but I didn’t have a good feel for the “when” of the story. Something about it made me think of a Chinatown from around the 1900s; there were no cell phones or Land Rovers to tell me otherwise, and my first clue that maybe we were in the modern world was a Continue reading