Jilly: One More Day, One More Book

Can you believe it’s September already? Me neither.

Michaeline said yesterday that she plans to linger in summer for a few more weeks.  I’m allowing myself one more day. Today 😉

Tomorrow I need to get back to work. Forget Halloween, I’ve been counting the days to Christmas as I need to put together a sensible schedule for rest of the year. I know that’s sixteen whole weeks away, but in that time I would like to to publish and market The Seeds of Power, write a new draft of Alexis’s book, submit that draft for developmental editing,  (ideally) write the short novella that bridges the two books, and (in a perfect world) add some more structure to my ideas for the rest of the series.

Yeah, I need a plan. My shopping list is ambitious, but I *think* it should be do-able if I put my mind to it. Watch this space 😉

That’s for tomorrow. Today is the last day of my self-appointed staycation, and I have time to squeeze in another couple of books. I’m thinking Jackie Lau’s Ice Cream Lover (thanks, Michaeline!) would be a good way to start the day, but I’d love to find just one more excellent read to finish with.

I was planning to check out Juliet Marillier’s new book, The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards Book 1). That would have done nicely, except it’s not available until Tuesday 😦

I already read Ilona Andrews’ Sapphire Flames, and have to confess I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had expected. I suspect part of the problem is that I set my hopes extremely high. I’ll still buy the next book in the series, and anything else Ilona and Gordon choose to publish.

I also read T. Kingfisher’s Clocktaur Wars duology, Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, and Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. All well-written, interesting and enjoyable books, but for various reasons none of them quite hit the squee button for me.

I’d love to end my mini-break with a Good Book Squee. Fingers crossed for Jackie Lau. And whichever other book I find for my Last Read of Summer.

No pressure, but…does anyone have a recommendation?

Nancy: On Book Clubs, Best-Selling Fiction, and Career Advice You Might Need to Ignore

Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve tried to get on the book club train three different times. Each time, I left the group after only one meeting. That choice wasn’t because I took issue with the people (they are readers, and therefore inherently lovely😊), their passion for the books, or even the wine. It was because I, as a writer, read so differently than non-writers that I was looking for things in a book discussion that the other members wouldn’t find interesting. Ergo, I had nothing to bring to the book club party (other than the wine, which is important! but not really the point).

The real problem I and many other writers have in joining book clubs is that we’re not looking for book discussions at all. We’re looking for book dissections. Writing craft deep-dives. Story geek deconstructions.

That’s why I’m so glad I agreed to join an online book club with one of my writing tribes. We are all long-time writers, with multiple years and manuscripts-worth of experience. Most of us either are or are in training to become book coaches who work with other writers on a regular and ongoing basis. That training has given us a common language and shared tools we use to evaluate writing. Last week, we had a one-hour online video chat to discuss our first group book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Our discussion was wonky and geeky and made my little writer heart sing with joy.

Interestingly, though, when I found myself thinking about the book and our discussion in the days that followed, it was usually in the context of current writing career advice and “truths”, how Delia Owens ignored (intentionally or otherwise) much of it, and how none of it is applicable if it isn’t relevant to you and your process. 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

Nancy: Some Love for Women’s Fiction

This past Saturday was Women’s Fiction Day! Don’t worry if you didn’t know and missed it. The celebration doesn’t have to be limited to one day. And if you’re wondering what, exactly, makes fiction women’s fiction and why does it need its own celebration, that’s okay, too. So let’s talk a bit about this often misunderstood and sometimes undervalued segment of the fiction market.

Most visitors to our blog are romance readers. Makes sense, as we 8LW ladies are romance writers. While a few of our followers are die-hard, romance-only readers (and we love you!), many read across a wide swath of fiction. Bonus points if the other-genre fiction has strong female characters with fully-developed inner lives and emotional journeys. If the female characters’ emotional journeys are the central storyline, what you have in front of you is women’s fiction.

Women’s fiction can be written, read, and enjoyed by people of any gender. (Yes, even straight, cis-gendered men can write women’s fiction). The stories can include mystery, suspense, adventure, intrigue, and romance! Some stories include a lot of those elements, and that’s fine. It’s still women’s fiction, as long as the very core story is about a woman’s emotional journey.

If you’re thinking, that’s an awfully big tent, you’re right. Continue reading

Nancy: Now That’s A Good Book: Behind These Doors

Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of reading Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens. This Edwardian polyamorous romance is one of my favorite reads of 2019 thus far.

Here’s a bit of an open secret of many authors, me among them: when we’re deeply entrenched in own stories, it can be hard to wrap our heads around other books in the same genre. I tell you this because – as I finish writing my fourth historical romance in a row and am about to start the fifth – for a book in the genre to turn my head right now, it has to hit all my HEA buttons. And, boy howdy, Behind These Doors does that. Here are the top five reasons I fell in love with this book.

Exquisite historical detail, deftly rendered. The Honorable Aubrey Fanshawe and Lucien Saxby meet in London in 1906. These men are from different classes and lead very different lives. Part of their journey is observing and learning about these overt and nuanced differences in each other’s lives, and understanding the fraught nature of being bi/poly men in that time and place. Of course, as these characters make these observations, so does the reader, which immerses us in this specific time and place. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Up All Night

Since I’m a card-carrying night-owl and a chronic alarm-clock-snooze-button pusher, there are very few occasions when I’m up in time to see the dawn.  With my college days behind me and no new puppy in the house, there are even fewer occasions when seeing the dawn means I’m still up from the day before.

There has been an recent upswing in those up-all-night days though, thanks to the latest series of books I’ve been reading.  Last weekend, I was in the midst of a book around bedtime, with no chance of finishing it any time soon since I’d started it late that evening.  I put in a bookmark, closed it, got ready for bed . . . and then decided I’d read just one more chapter.

I’m sure you know what happened next. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Poetry and Prose

On the bookshelf in my home office there is a handmade book from my angsty teenaged poem writing days, when I was apparently not a fan of rhyming. Many of them were Really Bad Poems. Some of them though, were rather sweet, with thoughts of life and love directed at long-forgotten (or more likely fictional) recipients.  Often, they were written using the image from a greeting card for inspiration and painstakingly typed on an old manual typewriter.  Talk about angst.

During my graduate writing program years later at UC Berkeley, we had one session which was a “poem-intensive.”   The guest speaker was a Poet, with a capital “P” for published.  We got a crash course in poetic-do’s-and don’ts and then had to write something of our own, which we then had to read aloud to the class and get the speaker’s critique.  Shudder!

It was an iterative process that I’m pretty sure could be used as an official form of torture.  While it was a learning experience, seeing my poem evolve from it’s initial state to its revised state …if truth be told, I was much fonder of the initial attempt than the end result which was far too dark and oppressive for my taste.

That was pretty much the end of my poetry writing days (if you don’t count scandalous limericks) and frankly I’m not really a big fan of poetry in general.  Possibly because it often makes no sense to me and leaves me feeling clueless.

Periodically I think “maybe I should give it another try.”  As a result, I have a fairly well populated poetry shelf in my home library; purchases of those books triggered by a variety of things, like Jennifer Crusie’s Crazy for You, where the car-mechanic hero with the English degree quoted poetry to the heroine.  At another time, for some unknown reason I felt the need to slog my way through Beowulf, though I’ll have to admit I found the Shrinklits version more palatable than the translated original:

“Monster Grendel’s tastes are plainish.
Breakfast? Just a couple Danish.”

I’ve got a number of Best Loved Poems compilations, one of which contains this fun entry:

“A Fence or an Ambulance” by Joseph Marlins

T’was a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally;
Some said “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”

As I check the shelf, it appears I do at least have a fondness for love poems, though frankly, who doesn’t?  I’m pretty sure liking love poems is a requirement to get your official Romance Writer card.

“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe

“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove. . . “

“Paradise Lost (Eve speaks to Adam)” by John Milton

“. . .With thee conversing I forget all time;
All seasons, and their change, all please alike. . .”

“Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“. . . And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?”

I hadn’t thought much about poetry at all for a long time though, until I started reading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series a short while back.  Penny is a big fan of poetry and has incorporated bits and pieces in her stories.  Margaret Atwood, Mike Freeman, and Ralph Hodgson are among the poets she’s mentioned in her author notes and I decided maybe it was time for me give poetry another try.   I’m sure both it and I have changed over the passing years – perhaps we’re now a better fit.

As I was at the bookstore picking up Atwood’s, Morning in the Burned House, I also picked up Mary Oliver’s, American Primitive, and Raymond Carver’s, Ultra-Marine.

We’ll see what catches my fancy.  Who knows?  Perhaps I’ll find I’m a fan of poetry after all.

So, how about you?  Do you have any favorite poets or poems I should add to my “poetic” reading list?