Jilly: Where Would You Go?

Another weekend in lockdown, at least here in the UK. How are you doing? I hope you’re safe and well and facing the corona-challenge as best you can.

This week we finally received confirmation that the 2020 Romance Writers of America  National Conference, scheduled to take place in San Francisco at the end of July, has been cancelled. That’s…kind of a relief, since I saw the writing on the wall a couple of months ago and refunded our plane tickets and hotel bookings. I’m sad it won’t be happening, but glad we won’t be missing out on the fun.

Last weekend I talked about the idea that a cancelled vacation is a double disappointment—you miss out on the trip, but you also miss out on the planning, which may be the best bit. No budget constraints, no logistical difficulties, nothing but good times ahead.

In last Sunday’s comments, Elizabeth said that since much of the fun is in the planning, we should keep working on our itineraries, enjoying the luxury of our virtual trips without being hampered by financial considerations or practical details. I think she’s right.

So. Once this crisis is over, if you could go anywhere in the world, money no object, where would you go? Continue reading

Jilly: Traditional treats, surprising skills

Another week, another Sunday. I’d swear the days are dragging, yet blink! and here we are again. I hope you’re still keeping safe and well as we inch toward the new normal, whatever that may be.

An unexpected upside of the current crisis has been a surge in demand for various niche businesses. Amid the general gloom and depression, it’s been lovely to see artisanal flour producers, needlepoint tutors, hen-keepers and the like enjoy an unexpected moment in the sunlight.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before that I’m a huge jigsaw puzzle fan. Jigsaws are traditionally regarded as a staid older-person’s form of distraction, but apparently in these stressful days of lockdown confinement they have seen a huge resurgence. Yay! Long may it last!

I always have a jigsaw on the go when I’m plotting a book. When I get stuck trying to figure out character arcs, world-building, turning points and plot holes, I take a time out with the puzzle and the challenge of identifying colors, patterns, and shapes seems to re-set my brain. According to the interwebs, this is because jigsaw puzzles Continue reading

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

Jeanne: Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Magnolia blossom

Magnolia blossoms, seen in my neighborhood on Sunday

Forced proximity is a romance trope wherein the couple in question is forced by circumstance (blizzard, long-haul truck run, bodyguard, work assignment, etc.) to spend time together. I suspect there will be an influx of these stories in the coming months but I have to tell you: I’m already tire of this trope.

Because we’re older and fairly sensible by nature, Old Dog and I started self-isolating a couple of weeks ago. We are doing better cooped up together than I would have expected. Under normal circumstances we have a tendency to snipe at each other when we’re feeling irritable, but we’ve managed to curtail that almost completely, at least for the duration.

For now, I’m able to get out and walk in my neighborhood or head to the nature preserve about 10 miles north of my house when cabin fever threatens to get out of control. If you don’t have that option, here’s a video from my walk earlier this week that may give you a little vicarious out-of-doors time. Continue reading

Jilly: Silver Linings

So how was your week?

According to the news briefings, London is the coronavirus hotspot of the UK, but so far, touch wood, we’ve been fine chez Jilly. We’re doing as instructed, staying quietly home, washing our hands, waving to the neighbors from a safe distance, watching the news, and checking up on friends and family. I’ve been having lovely long chats with friends I normally only catch up with at Christmas.

I didn’t do any new writing, but I did put together a brief for Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile. I had a good discussion with my cover designers about the stock photo I found for Daire, crown prince and ruler of Caldermor. The guy’s expression and pose are perfect. Unfortunately, his clothes aren’t. He’s a cool urban dude and I need a fantasy prince. I had some ideas about how he could be transformed, and I was thrilled when Deranged Doctor Design said they can make him work. Those people are a breath of fresh air, somehow managing to work with their usual upbeat professionalism even though their patch of Eastern Europe is under martial law and they’re expecting to go to full corona-lockdown soon. I really admire their attitude. Continue reading

Jilly: Life, But Not As We Know It

Yesterday Michaeline reported that Hokkaido is no longer in a state of emergency, so she and her family are free to socialize and celebrate the spring equinox. Yay, Hokkaido!

In my corner of London things are…strange. In true British fashion we’re not ordered to stay home, just strongly requested to do so. Pubs, clubs and bars are closed, ditto theaters and cinemas. Public transport is running a reduced service, and consumer stockpiling has stripped the supermarket shelves. We’ve been strongly requested not to panic buy food and toiletries, but so far that request has been more honored in the breach than the observance.

So far I don’t know anyone who’s had the illness, but I know lots of people who’re suffering the financial consequences of avoiding it. Friends who’ve lost their jobs or fear they may be about to; business owners who’ve lost everything almost overnight; pensioners who’ve seen their retirement savings devastated. The government is undertaking a massive program of financial intervention, and we have to hope that will mitigate the effects for the worst-hit people. Continue reading

Jilly: It’s Grim, But It’s Not All Bad

 

Yesterday Michaeline shared the events of her week in rural Hokkaido, which began with a birthday celebration and ended with the coronavirus-related closure of schools, the declaration of a state of emergency, and a strong request that people should stay home.

Here in London the Sword of Damocles is still suspended, but probably not for much longer. So far there are 20 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus across the UK. Nineteen of those cases are people who have been abroad recently, but the latest one is a man who is the first person to be infected domestically. The source of his infection is currently unknown. He lives in Surrey, a populous area to the south of London, and attended his local doctors’ surgery before he was diagnosed.

We’re also starting to see precautionary measures taken by employers. Last week the oil multinational Chevron sent 300 staff home from its Canary Wharf offices after one of its employees, who’d spent the weekend ski-ing in Italy, became unwell. Media company OMD, which shares the same building, sent all its staff home after an employee who’d returned from Australia via Singapore reported symptoms. Transport company Crossrail, which shares a building with Chevron and OMD, sent all its employees home. And yesterday law firm Baker McKenzie sent home more than 1,000 staff from its Blackfriars office after a possible virus case was identified. Continue reading

Elizabeth: RWA 2.0?

As we talked about here and here, the Romance Writers of America trade organization had an implosion at the end of 2019 and its 2020 has thus far been no better.  The last of the remaining Board members resigned on February 12th and the organization is currently on life-support, being kept alive through the efforts of the Leslie Scantlebury, the interim Executive Director (who seems to be doing a bang-up job).

A few days ago, the independent auditors, who were hired to investigate specific issues within the organization, released their report (accessible to RWA members only).  The results were not good – citing missteps, flaws in understanding, and gaps between policy/procedures and actions.  The report should not be a surprise to anyone who has been following along since December.  There were numerous recommendations regarding what RWA could do next, including the excerpted bit below which seemed to say that “there wouldn’t have been such a problem if people had just kept things secret.”

The publicity surrounding the handling of the ethics complaints against Ms. Milan has harmed the organization, created concerns among Ethics Committee members and candidates about participating in the process, and magnified the negative attention and reputational harm experienced by Ms. Tisdale and Ms. Davis.

I’m hoping that wasn’t really the intention of that bit, but I’ve read a lot of posts and comments by others who had that same interpretation.

So, what happens now? Continue reading

Jeanne: A Whole Different Kind of Writing

20817926 - vintage wooden door in the old part of jerusalemAwhile back, the preacher at my (teeny-tiny) church approached me about giving a sermon. He was interested, he said, in having different voices represented in the church, more than just white guys.

I declined, explaining that I’m not a speaker, I’m a writer. A couple of months later, though, he approached me again. We’ve been doing a series on the broken heroes depicted in the book of Judges and we were coming to Judges 11, the story of Jephthah. He knows how fascinated I am by the story of Jephthah. (In the early 2000’s, I wrote a book with this story as the underlying theme (though not the story).

The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the saddest story in the Bible. It makes Romeo and Juliet look like the pilot for a sitcom. I’ll spare you the theological analysis, but I thought I’d share my retelling of the story itself.

Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. His father had other sons by his legitimate wife and when he died. Jephthah’s brothers said, “You are the son of a whore. We are not sharing Dad’s estate with you.”

So Jephthah left Gilead for the land of Tob, where he gathered a band of ne’er-do-wells and malcontents and they lived off the land as bandits.

And life was good. Continue reading

Jeanne: The Ladder of Inference

The following is based on a workshop given to RWA Chapter Leaders at this year’s national conference in New York.

Take action

Adjust Beliefs

Draw conclusions

Make assumptions

Add meaning

Filter input

Observe stimuli

Human perception functions like a ladder:

Observe stimuli—We are bombarded by millions of stimuli—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches—at any given moment.

But the human brain possesses the bandwidth to process only about five to nine pieces of data at any given moment. This forces us to filter out the extra stuff, keeping only the 5-9 bits we believe, based on our current interests and priorities, to be useful.

Then, based on past experience, we add meaning to the observations we decided were worth keeping.

Next, again based on past experience, we make assumptions about what we’ve perceived.

Then we draw conclusions.

Then we adjust our existing beliefs to take into account this new data we’ve experienced.

Finally, we take action based on the perception arrived at in the previous step.

Much of this processing takes place in the basal ganglia–an older part of the human brain that has evolved to process information swiftly, based on past experience. The basal ganglia is very efficient and requires minimal energy to do its job.

As we reach the top of the ladder, though, there’s an opportunity to re-inspect and rethink our conclusions using our pre-frontal cortexes, a more recently-developed part of the brain that’s designed to handle new and unique situations. The pre-frontal cortex requires a lot more energy to do its work, which is why solving complex problems (or developing plots!) is so exhausting.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of room along this ladder for things to go awry, causing us to react in a less than optimum manner.

There’s a great video on YouTube on this Ladder of Inference.

I suspect that Add Meaning is where the conflict lies in most stories. It seems to provide a whole lot of opportunity for a character to completely misjudge what another character is doing, based on their own back story.

This happens a lot in my demon books. Demons have witnessed Bad Behavior from humans (and Satan) for so many millennia they tend to always assume the worst.