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

Michaeline: Thoughts on Writing a Modern Villain

Wizard of Oz Illustration. Dorothy consoles the Cowardly Lion with Tinman and Scarecrow looking on.

Faking it isn’t a new problem. If you think about it, almost everyone in *The Wizard of Oz* was fronting. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Hugh Laurie discusses his role as a fake space cruise captain on The Graham Norton Show (aired January 24, 2020) while promoting his new TV series, Avenue 5.

He says: “That’s right. I am a fake. The captain is actually not a proper captain. He doesn’t really know anything about space travel and isn’t even American. He has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.

“Because the premise is that what matters is confidence, is reassurance, is – the façade is what matters rather than the technical competence. And I think that is a pretty telling statement about the world in which we live.

“That fronting things out has become a more valuable gift than actually knowing how things work. And I think that partly accounts for the great anxiety that the world now feels. That we are now bossed by people who have the confidence without . . . or at least with much much less competence than the confidence – you know what I mean.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Graham Norton says, tugging on his ear.

There’s so much I want to say about this clip, and so little space to do it in. So let me bullet point a few things, and we can discuss it at length in the comments. Continue reading

Jeanne: Confronting My Own Racism

Butternut squashAs you’re probably aware, over the holidays the Romance Writers of America (RWA) had kind of a melt-down over the issue of racism. A prominent RWA member and former board member, Courtney Milan, received word that her membership was suspended for a year and that she could never serve on an RWA board again as punishment for posting, on her Twitter account, a criticism of a fellow author’s book which she felt to be racist.

There are lots of aspects to this issue. Milan is Chinese-American and has been instrumental in helping RWA to confront some of the bias in its policies and processes. There appear to be some irregularities in how the ethics complaint was handled and there have definitely been some inconsistencies–the punishment was retracted the next day after Milan shared her situation with her 42,000+ Twitter followers.

If you’re interested in more detail, Google “RWA Milan ” The Big G will cheerfully deliver a full day’s worth of information.

In reading through the complaint, I became painfully aware that the last book I released, The Demon’s in the Details, contained character descriptions that Ms. Milan would almost certainly find offensive. Continue reading

Nancy: Revisiting Story Brain

This week, I’m sorry to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit under the weather. While I don’t have the energy or mental focus to write a new blog post, I thought I’d share this one that I wrote two years ago, in which I discuss how stories mold our minds and attitudes, and can ultimately change the world.

How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there. Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Nancy: The Power of Women’s Stories

A few weeks ago, I had one of those strange juxtapositions that sometimes happens in life. While many in the US and across the world were riveted to the broadcast of US Senate testimony, I was immersed in a deep-dive workshop with writing mentor Jennie Nash. While I was submersed in discussions about the value of women’s narratives, pundits were debating whether one woman’s narrative should have any impact on a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court. And while my friends and I were celebrating the many opportunities for women to publish their stories in this day and age, one woman was painstakingly recounting her own personal story in the public square. A story that was ultimately whitewashed and dismissed by an all-male panel of senators.

For many of us, it was one hell of an emotional week. Continue reading

Nancy: More Thoughts on Diversity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock AND falling behind on your 8LW reading, you’ve heard about Suzanne Brockmann’s stirring acceptance speech for her Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 RWA national conference. On Thursday, our own Kay summarized the speech and Brockmann’s career. This launched a discussion about writing diverse characters and including diverse experiences in romance fiction.

One of our Eight Ladies, Justine, disclosed in the comments her own trepidation about writing diverse characters in a meaningful, inclusive, and non-appropriating way. This sums up a lot the discussions the Eight Ladies have had on this blog and outside of it. And Justine threw in a twist – how do we respectfully and conscientiously diversify our historical romances? As I said in a reply to Justine’s comment, I have no answers or advice, just some thoughts and more questions of my own.

How bad would it be to write an historical world where women, and people of color, and characters with non-straight sexual orientations, and those with neurodiversities, and those with disabilities, are treated equally? Continue reading