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?

Jilly: Ryder

I’ve been reading a lot lately and I’ve never been so grateful for the ability to escape reality for a while in favor of a world where you know the toughest challenges will be overcome and the good guys will prevail.

I’ve read new releases by authors whose work I like a lot, well reviewed first-in-series by new-to-me authors, and genre classics of yesteryear, but the thing I’m most enjoying right now is a new urban fantasy serial from the husband-and-wife team who write as Ilona Andrews.

I posted here a couple of months ago about their Innkeeper Chronicles “plague sale” (99 cents for the first three books; all proceeds, net of their literary agency’s costs, to be donated to the CDP Covid-19 Response Fund). The new serial is even cheaper. It will eventually be edited and self-published, but for now it’s free to read on the authors’ blog.

The story has an official title, Blood Heir, but the working title is Ryder. It’s urban fantasy, in the Kate Daniels universe, and the story takes place eight years after the end of the bestselling KD series. The protagonist is Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter, who’s returning to Atlanta in secret with a new face, a new name (Aurelia Ryder), even a new scent. Her mission is to save Kate from a terrible, prophesied, but currently unrevealed, threat. When the first chapter was posted, the authors’ plan was to offer a snippet as a treat for KD fans. The response they received persuaded them to keep going, and now, twelve chapters later, they’ve confirmed that Blood Heir/Ryder will become a book, likely to be self-published in the first quarter of 2021. That news made me so happy!

They’re uploading each chapter as they write, more or less once a week. It’s classic Ilona Andrews—engaging characters, strong community, high stakes, fantastic worldbuilding, and snappy dialogue. I’m loving it so much. Every new chapter is a treat. If you like the sound of this, and you’re not already following along, check out the story so far here.

Have you read anything good lately? It’s a long time between Ryder installments. Any and all recommendations would be most gratefully received.

Michaeline: New Penric Novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

a plague doctor in a long beaked mask with a robe, gloves and hood

The doctor is in, and I think I’ve found the cure for my reading blahs! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All right, book fans, I have been out of action for 42 days. No writing, and as for reading, I only did about four days of the 10-day-long Decameron. It’s been a rough quarantine for story for me — I haven’t even watched any TV stories or movies aside from a special Quarantine tribute to Lil Sebastian by the Parks & Recreation cast. (2:44)

And this week is not going to be any less busy. My father-in-law’s 49-day death anniversary is coming up this week, and the crops have to be in the fields, and my daughter is starting online Quarantine College classes . . . .

But it looks like I could bust right out of this horrible, boring rut I’m in. I write this on Friday evening my time; by the time it posts tomorrow at 5 a.m. GMT, there could be a new Penric novella by Lois McMaster Bujold out! Details about The Physicians of Vilnoc are in her Goodreads blog here. You can read the first section on Patreon here. (I’ve been seeing Tweets about The Decameron Project for days, and it sounds like a wonderful way to sample a lot of the people writing fantasy and science fiction today. 

I have, and the first 100 words had me squealing in delight. Oh, this is going to be a great book, and perfect for the times we live in. I’m hoping it’ll prove inspirational as well. I don’t know if I can write a physician in a time of plague, but I bet I could find a journalist character who reports on a plague during an era of magic and upheaval. Steampunk? Contemporary urban/rural fantasy? Or maybe something set on a space station?

At any rate, I’ll put The Decameron aside for a few more days, and dive into a wonderful read after I’ve done my duty and my chores on Saturday. Fingers crossed!

(I’ll update with Amazon info as soon as I have it!)

Jilly: Quarantine Bargain

Another week checked off the calendar. Another week closer to the end of this pandemic. Fingers crossed. I hope you and yours are safe and keeping as well as can be expected.

While we’re waiting this crisis out, would you be interested in a great read, at an incredible price, for a good cause?

Any regular reader of 8LW will know that I love, love, love anything written by the husband and wife team who write as Ilona Andrews. Their books are enjoyable, intelligent urban fantasy adventures packed with action, romance, mythology, humor, kindness and much more.

I especially love the Innkeeper Chronicles, a self-published series featuring Dina DeMille, the proprietor of a magical B&B in Texas that serves as a secret waystation between earth and the rest of the universe. There are heroic werewolves, chivalrous martial space vampires, fabulous creatures, smart magic, epic fights, great dialogue and lots of jokes.

I already own the books, but if you don’t, and you feel tempted to try them, you’ll never have a better opportunity. Right now the first three books of the Innkeeper series are on sale for a princely 99 cents. All proceeds, net of Ilona Andrews’ literary agency’s costs, will be donated to the CDP Covid-19 Response Fund.

Go on, try them. You know you want to. The Zon link is here.

I’m pretty sure there will never be a better time, a better price, or a better cause.

Take care, stay safe, and see you next week.

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