Jilly: I Want That!

Did you ever see, read, or hear about something and immediately think I want that for myself?

It happened to me this week.

Writing fiction is, for me, a joy and a privilege. I feel very lucky to have the resources to pursue my passion, and the time to build a successful indie author business on my own terms. The key word here being successful 🙂 .

Joanna Penn, in her book Business for Authors (How to be an Author Entrepreneur), suggests that it’s important to identify your personal definition of success, and to know how you will track and measure that success.

She offers some possible options:

  • I want to create something I’m proud of
  • I want to see my book on the shelves of a bookstore
  • I want to reach readers with my words
  • I want to sell x copies of my books
  • I want to win a prize and win literary/critical acclaim
  • I want to make a full-time living from my writing
  • I want to create a body of work that I’m proud of over my lifetime

The most important definition for me is the last one—to create a body of work that I’m proud of. I will feel I am on the way to achieving it when I have published my remaining Elan Intrigues prequel book and the five-book fantasy series that succeeds it. I guesstimate that may take me another five years or so.

I have an ambitious writing/publishing plan, but I never set myself an ambitious financial goal. I treat what I do as a business, and over time I intend to make it profitable, but that’s always been about being able to afford quality professional services to make my books as good as they can be. Necessities, if I’m to create a body of work I’m proud of. Not luxuries.

Until last Wednesday, when I saw this post on Ilona Andrews’ blog.

New Art from Luisa Preissler

The authors commissioned a family portrait of the Baylor sisters, the heroines of their bestselling Hidden Legacy series, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It captures the sisters and the tone of the books perfectly, and it includes lots of small details that make it extra special. I love it.

So now I have an extra benchmark of writerly success. I still want all the things I listed above, but I also want to make enough extra money from my writing to commission an artist whose work I really admire to create a portrait (portraits?) of my favorite characters. How cool would that be?

So how about you? Is there something you’d really, really like, not because it’s necessary or useful, but because it would feel amazing?

Michaeline: February Inspiration

February, the shortest month of the year! The coldest two weeks of the year in my area; I’m sure some of our southern-hemi friends find it the most miserable hot days of the year. So short, yet so packed with inspiration for writing!

A fashionable lady in a befeathered big hat and stole holds a Lippincott's magazine. TEXT: Lippincott's February. The Chaple of Ease
February — a great time for reading and writing. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

First up, Groundhog Day in the US. It’s come and gone, but if the groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2, it’s supposed to get scared, run back to its hole, and there will be six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, though, the groundhog will play around, and there will be an early spring.

This reminds us that it’s fun to play with opposites in a story. Does our heroine have a terrible, awful life, and then get hit by a car, only to wake up as Queen of the Vampires (MaryJanice Davidson, Undead and Unwed)? Or does she have a happy, sunny life, suddenly get pelted with unsuitable suitors who make her life miserable, but after six weeks of BS (OK, six months or so), discover that one of the suitors loves her deeply and would rescue her wayward sister for her . . . and she loves him (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)?

Continue reading

Jilly: Sound Effects

Do you prefer background noise when you work, or are you a work-in-silence type?

In the past I’ve created playlists for individual books, finding songs or pieces of music that I associated with particular characters, places or themes. If I played them often enough, they became so familiar that my ears tuned them out and my subconscious took them as a soft signal that it was time to write.

That worked well for me before covid-19. Until last year I was happy on my sofa, writing in my isolated story bubble, because in the rest of my life I was out and about, interacting face to face with real live people and getting my daily fix of human connection.

Now we’ve been confined to home, more or less, for almost ten months, and close personal interaction with others is something we’re exhorted to avoid if at all possible. I have my husband, thank goodness, and we catch up with friends and family via technology, but we’re feeling the lack of variety in our day-to-day interactions, and somehow it’s affecting my writing routine. At the moment I don’t want to get wholly swallowed by my story world. I prefer some kind of pleasing background noise that doesn’t intrude on my thoughts but quietly offers reassurance that there’s a real world out there, occupied by real people.

I’ve found the perfect solution. Cricket commentary 🙂 .

For those unfamiliar with this very British sport, it’s a bat-and-ball game played by two teams of eleven players on a circular or oval shaped piece of grass—usually with a diameter of around 450 or 500 feet. The game is believed to have originated in Medieval England, and it’s mostly played in countries that were or are part of the British Commonwealth, like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, though all kinds of other countries are now getting into the swing of it.

Because it’s such a very old, very upper-class game, it has all kinds of arcane rules and language (a maiden, a duck or golden duck, silly point, a googly, a bouncer). In its longest form, matches are spread over five days, and a series would be (say) five matches of five days each. A match usually starts mid-morning and lasts for around eight hours, with breaks for lunch and tea (those are the official names). If it rains, the players retire to the pavilion until the ground is dry again. There might be breaks of several hours, or even whole days with no play. If it’s too cloudy to see the ball clearly, the umpires will take the players back to the pavilion until it’s brighter. And at the end of all that, it’s quite possible that a game or a series might end in a draw.

All of which means that the tv or radio commentary for cricket works beautifully for me as a writing accompaniment. The commentators are intelligent, courteous, and highly educated. The matches may be fiercely competitive, but they’re so old-school and such a marathon that there’s no place for screaming commentary. Just a warm, soothing flow of observation that has time to wander off into history, geography, geology, the weather, local sights, customs, wildlife, and anything else that catches the commentators’ fancy.

Even better, many international cricket grounds are to be found in spectacular locations. The England team are currently playing against Sri Lanka in Galle, overlooked by a historic fort and fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean. It looks gorgeous. I’ve been getting a vicarious travel treat every day, and while it’s not as good as a vacay, it’s a lovely reminder of what will (I hope) be possible again soon.

Fortunately for me, when the England cricketers finish their tour of Sri Lanka, they’re off to India. That takes care of my soundtrack for February and March 🙂 .  I’m hoping they’ll help me build up some momentum on The Seeds of Destiny.

Do you like background noise whilst you work? Have your aural preferences changed during the pandemic?

Jeanne: Literary Influences

The Masterclass I’ve been taking on Storytelling got me to thinking about the authors I loved when I was young, writers who had a profound impact on how I think a story should be told and what fiction should sound like. Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Lucy Maude (L.M.) Montgomery (1874-1942) Readers know her for Anne of Green Gables, but my personal favorite is The Blue Castle, a romance about a twenty-nine year old woman who has dwindled into spinsterhood always doing what she should. An unexpected diagnosis of a fatal disease frees her to pursue her dreams, including proposing marriage to a mysterious local bachelor who lives in the wilds of eastern Canada.
    • My Takeaway from Her Books: Her characters are so alive they jump off the page because they have both strengths and weaknesses. Anne is as famous for her temper as she is for her vivid imagination.
  • Edward Eager (1911-1964) He wrote stories of magic happening in the lives of everyday children. My favorite was Seven Day Magic, about children who borrow a book that has set on the bottom shelf of the fairy tale section at the library for years, with all that magic dripping down on it. The first seven days with the book provide magical experiences for the kids, but when they break the rules and fail to return the book on time, the magic turns dark.
    • My Takeaway from His Books: He sets up worlds that doesn’t follow all the rules of our world but strictly enforce the rules they do have, which gives them the consistency that makes them believable.
  • Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) For lovers of historical romance, Heyer is second only to Jane Austen. Her stories of Regency London sparkle with candles, cut glass and couture.
    • My Takeaway from Her Books: Readers love handsome, arrogant heroes who learn to love.
  • Donald Westlake (1933-2008) Westlake wrote both crime stories and comic capers. The crime stories are good but the capers are even better. One of my favorites is Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner, about a guy who says he wound up being a criminal largely because people refused to pronounce his last name, Künt, with the umlaut. It was re-released this year by Hard Case Crime and there’s a great review of it here.
    • My Takeaway from His Books: Not nearly enough. I would give my back teeth to be able to write anything as one-tenth as funny as Westlake at his best. His banter is rivaled only by Jenny Crusie (who isn’t listed here because I didn’t find her till I was solidly middle-aged.)
  • There are many others: Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, E.M. Hull (who wrote The Sheik, the first actual romance I ever read. It is racist, misogynistic and terrible on many levels, even given the fact that it was published in 1919. That said, it struck me, at age 13, as the acme of romance.)
    • My Takeaway from this Group: A bit of mystery keeps the romance burning hot.

Who were your biggest literary influences?

Michaeline: Being of Good Cheer

According to a Merriam-Webster post, “cheer” comes from the Greek cara meaning “face”. It originally could mean a happy face or a sad face, or any kind of face, but it gradually came to mean happiness and a certain rah-rah spirit.

I’m certainly feeling cheerful this year, in spite of all the crap going on in the world at large (the pandemic being a big piece of crap). I started an anti-depressant about a year ago, and it’s helped my outlook considerably. Things don’t seem as overwhelming as they did in, say, August 2019. I’ve been able to start and finish more little projects around the house, and the voice that tells me, “That’s HOUSEWORK. That’s not important or interesting. That’s NOTHING” – you know that voice – that voice doesn’t seem to hold as much conviction and persuasiveness as it used to.

A young girl welcoming a boy on a sleigh pulled by a giant pig. The boy has a Christmas tree in back. The card says, God Jul.
What a cheerful winter scene! Reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather, without the teeth. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve managed to finish my Christmas shopping, wrap my presents as they come in, and decorate the house – and not go overboard with wild schemes to have The Best Perfect Christmas Ever! I’m shooting for a nice Christmas; a comfy New Year; a cozy rest-of-winter-until-Valentine’s-Day 2021. My husband helped me tape up an outdoor Christmas tree made of three trellis and three strings of solar lights, and I made a Christmas tree out of cuttings for the front entrance, and a kitty tree for the porch. It actually sounds like a lot when I put it this way, but believe me, it was less than three hours of work, and that was spread out over different days.

 

When I feel like it, I make little paper decorations for the kitty tree, and I have a pretty red ribbon to tease the cats with. It’s less like work and more like therapy. (The decorations are shuriken made of origami – aka, Japanese throwing knives. For some reason,

Continue reading

Jeanne: This Is Your Life

I recently started a Masterclass on storytelling with Neil Gaiman as the instructor. His first lesson was on honesty in storytelling. In it, he talks about, among other things, using the experiences you had as a child to create verisimilitude in your fiction.

This lesson is very timely because I recently wrote a fight scene for my WIP–a demon fighting an angel on the wing of an Airbus A320 plane 30,000 feet in the air. Obviously, I’m neither an angel nor a demon (opinions of my ex-husbands notwithstanding) nor have I ever been in a real fight with another human being, much less on the wing of an in-transit plane.

However, I grew up the middle child of seven and I have extensive experience with trying to wrestle my possessions away from other kids (or trying to retain possession of something that absolutely wasn’t mine).

I know, for example, what it feels like to have an older sibling literally force you to pick up something you threw on the ground. They place one hand on the nape of your neck, bend you over until your forehead hits your knees, fold their other hand around your hand and close it around said object, then drag you to the trash can and peel your fingers back to release the object. (Note: Looking back, I now understand why my older sisters were so “mean” when they babysat us.)

I’ve never been in a fist fight. My parents had strict rules about fighting, so we never did anything that left marks. All of these wrestling matches took place upstairs, or when Mom and Dad were away. But these tussles provide me with a gut understanding of what it feels like to be in an actual fight–the anger, fear and frustration of going up against a much stronger opponent, knowing you’re inevitably going to lose, but being too stubborn (read: stupid) to take the easy way out and just comply.

How do you use your life experiences to inform your fiction with realism?

Jilly: What Codename Would You Choose?

Anyone who ever read a thriller or watched a movie/TV series involving US politicians knows the United States secret service uses codenames for presidents, first ladies, prominent persons and important locations. Originally the names were for security, but today they’re used for brevity, clarity, and tradition, and are often public knowledge.

I discovered this week that people who require a codename get to choose one for themselves, selecting from a list of “good” words maintained by the White House Communications Agency. Many choose a name that resonates with them personally. So, for example, we are told Kamala Harris settled on PIONEER.

I’d pretty much reached max election-coverage fatigue, but this thought-provoking snippet perked me right up. So much baggage for one word to carry!

How would you choose a codename for yourself?

I spent an hour or two playing with the question. Do you pick a word that epitomizes the way you define yourself, or one that reflects the way you want others to see you? The options may be similar or wildly different, depending on (to borrow a concept from writing guru Michael Hauge) how closely your public identity matches your private essence. And do you choose a word that describes who you are, or who you aspire to be?

In the end I used the simple brainstorming technique I use for book titles and the like. I wrote every word I could think of in my notebook, then picked the one that instinctively felt right. For myself I’d like INDIE.

Some definitions of “independent”: free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority; thinking or acting for oneself; not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.

Yes! I’ll take that.

I also think choosing a codeword would be a great way to develop a deeper understanding of a fictional character. I found a list of some famous ones (Liberty, Eagle, Falcon, Condor, Baroness, Duchess)—but they feel to me like a vehicle for the author to tell the reader what kind of character or story to expect. That’s like letting the Secret Service choose for you 😉 .

I took the test for my Elan Intrigues character Prince Daire of Caldermor, because I’ve just written a couple of novellas from his POV and I feel I know him fairly well. Plus I’m about to knuckle down to work on The Seeds of Destiny, a new novel that wraps up his story arc.

As the author, my codename for Daire would be LODESTONE. It’s a Middle English word for a stone that’s naturally magnetic or a person that’s the focus of attention or attraction. It’s uncommon. Something that leads or sets a course, and that brings healing and balance.

He’d never choose that for himself though. I think he’d pick HEIR, even after he becomes Crown Prince, because his whole life is defined by heredity. He inherits property and rank (a throne), physical characteristics (excess vitality, which enables him to make magical elan pulses but drastically curtails his life expectancy), a whole library of rules (the Edevald Family Statutes) and a secret pact with the ancient guardians of Caldermor (the Legacy).

Now I need to find a codename for Annis, the mountain-dwelling healer heroine of the new book.

How about you? What codename would you choose for yourself? Or for a favorite fictional character?

Jeanne: Your Worst Day

A couple of weeks ago my daughter recommended a documentary series on Netflix called Song Exploder. The show, which is hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway, began life as a podcast. Each episode explores the creation of a single song with the songwriter. There are currently four episodes available on Netflix. The one with Lin-Manuel Miranda, discussing the creation of “Wait for It,” Aaron Burr’s song from Hamilton, was particularly fascinating.

There’s a lot of good stuff in it, including Miranda’s anecdote about being struck with inspiration while riding the subway to a friend’s birthday party. He arrived at the party, drank half a beer and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.” If you’ve ever had one of those “grab it now because it may not stick around” flashes of inspiration, this will resonate with you.

The bit that slammed into me like a subway train, though, was where Hirway talks to Alex Lacomoire, music director and orchestrator for Hamilton, about whether Aaron Burr (who eventually killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel) was a villain.

“He is a person who did villainous things,” Lacamoire says. I thought he was trying to sidestep the question until he went on. “If you are judged by your worst day, who would any of us be?”

Let’s hear that again: If you are judged by your worst day, who would any of us be?

Have you ever felt like someone took a metaphysical baseball bat and whacked you between the eyes? That’s what this statement felt like to me. The fact is, any of us, at our worst, is not particularly admirable. Even Jesus had that weird day with the fig tree.

One of the reasons Lacamoire’s question hit me so hard, I think, is because Lilith, the protagonist in my work-in-progress, is a villain in my first two books. Readers almost universally loathe her. I know she’s unlikely to sell many books for me but for some reason I feel compelled to tell her story anyway.

Because the converse of Lacamoire’s statement is, “If we were judged by our best day, who would any of us be?”

Jilly: The Urge to Hibernate

Is your productivity affected by the change in season?

We’re only a few weeks past the equinox, but to me it feels like winter is here already. The days are dark, gloomy, rainy, and cold. The covid figures are getting worse again. Social media seems to think we’re headed for another bout of heavy restrictions if not a full lockdown, and they’re probably right 😦 .

I’ll be thrilled to see the end of 2020, but the downside is I have a long list of things I want to finish before 31 December. Publish The Seeds of Exile, make The Pulse of Princes available for free download, write at least the first act of The Seeds of Destiny. Submit my taxes and deal with a boatload of other grim-but-necessary administrative chores.

I’ll get them done, because I hate, hate, hate to start the new year dealing with unfinished business, but right now I’m fighting myself every step of the way. What I really want to do is go to bed early, curl under the duvet, rise late, and spend the hours in between lolling on the sofa with a hot beverage, a box of Belgian chocolates, and a good book.

I might give in today, and gird my loins again tomorrow.

How are you doing?

Jilly: Labor of Love

Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone in the US. Happy weekend, and happy end of summer, to everyone else.

Thinking about Labor Day led me to realize that it’s ten years since I decided to quit the day job and write fiction full time.

I left paid employment at the end of 2011.

I published my first novel, The Seeds of Power, in December 2019.

I never thought writing fiction would be so hard, that I’d have so much to learn, or that it would take me so long to get my first book published.

I’ve never worked so hard, earned so little, or had so much fun.

I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Best work decision I ever made.

What’s the best work decision you ever made?