Michaeline: Brainstorm Saturday

Imagination magazine cover, March 1955. A full robot with antennae and flashing lights helps a stylish young housewife in a red jumpsuit with her groceries, but manages to bash the eggs all over her floating maroon trunk (of her car). Lots of "Oh, no! Oh, no, no, no!"
Story seeds! Use your imagination, and pass on the ideas that are right, but not right for you. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve got a really cool video that just provokes all sorts of ideas in my head for stories. So, if you need a little bit of inspiration, grab a pencil and some paper, and try this:

  • Remember the rule is no self-editing. Jot down quick notes about what comes to you – edit your list later.
  • You don’t HAVE to like robots in order to get ideas from the video. You can pretend they are real people, and see what comes to you. (But don’t deny the weirdo SFF ideas, either – they may spark new ideas in your later.
  • Watch this video (“Do You Love Me?” Boston Dynamics, 2:54), and take notes:
4.
  • Aw, go on, watch it one more time and see what comes up.
  • Any ideas that seem kind of cool, but you have no interest in exploring? Share them in the comments below so someone else can run with them! Kind of like the Poughkeepsie Idea Service!

So, I’m going to share some of the ideas that came to me during this video. It really was inspirational. (And if you want to run with them, go ahead! What you do with these seeds is going to be completely different from anything I do with these seeds.)

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Michaeline: Behind the Scenes in Poughkeepsie

Harlan Ellison, an SFF writer, at least once said when asked that he got his ideas from Poughkeepsie. “$25 a Week and they send me a fresh six-pack of new ideas fifty-two times a year” (Shatterday: Stories by Harlan Ellison).

Where do you get your ideas?

I’m getting mine from the cats these past few months.

Half-grown long-haired kitten who looks like a Norwegian Forest cat (tabby) sits on a leopard print fleece blanket that's been placed on top of a big pot of soil (if you are curious, it used to be a turmeric plant). Ears forward, whiskers forward, eyes bright and curious. Very regal sitting position.
Princess Charlotte, also known as Charli with a soft ch (シャーリー). Here she lords over the houseplants. (EM Duskova)

Our new cat, Princess Charlotte, looks like a Norwegian Forest cat or a Maine Coon cat. Both breeds are friendly, chatty giants with long fur and athletic ability. Princess Charlotte (or Charli for short) showed up in our barn on February 15.

She holds herself like a princess, but attacks dem fishies like a warrior queen. And Norwegian Forest cats come with their own mythology and legends, so it’s natural

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Jeanne: Spring Fever

We’re getting an early spring here in southwest Ohio–days in the 50’s and 60’s–which is perfect for spotting nesting owls

Great Horned Owl

and for locating woodland ephemerals.

Winter aconite

Snow Trillium

Siberian Squill

So, although my second draft is lagging well behind where I planned and there’s always promotional work waiting for my attention, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Spring fever always makes me think of this poem:

I Meant To Do My Work Today

by Robert La Gallienne

I meant to do my work today—
   But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
   And all the leaves were calling me. 

And the wind went sighing over the land,
   Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
   So what could I do but laugh and go?

Jilly: Virtual Vacay–My Father’s Island

Do you like to travel?

As a child I dreamed of exploring the world, and as an adult I’ve been lucky enough to visit some spectacular places. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I retired. Right now, thanks to covid, we aren’t even allowed a day trip to Brighton.

I know it’s not the worst consequence of the pandemic, but I feel sad that our skies and borders seem likely to stay restricted for some time to come. I hope we’ll find a way to open up again.

In the meantime I’ve been recapturing that sense of wonder by re-reading some of my favorite travel books. I decided to share one or two here, in the hope that you might be inspired to refresh your own post-covid bucket list.

This week’s treat was My Father’s Island by Johanna Angermeyer, which I first read in 1997, just before we visited Galapagos. I love this book. It’s memoir, but the author’s story is fascinating enough to be fiction. To borrow from the dust jacket:

In 1935 Hans Angermeyer and his four brothers escaped from Nazi Germany and sailed to the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles west of Ecuador. Surviving incredible hardship, the Angermeyers began an extraordinary Robinson Crusoe existence surrounded by giant tortoises, tame birds and prehistoric iguanas.

When Hans met Russian-born Emmasha, the couple set out to make a life together on what truly seemed to be their portion of paradise. But Hitler’s war caught up with them, shattering their idyll and sending Emmasha back to the United States with three young children.

Johanna Angermeyer, the youngest daughter, always daydreamed about her father’s island but never expected to go to the Galapagos—until one day she saw her long-lost uncles on a TV adventure programme. Seeing her cousins, ‘children born in paradise, their toys are the wild animals,’ and hearing about her people who ‘made their own shoes, delivered their own babies, built houses from lava blown from the bowels of the earth…’ left nine-year-old Johanna with a dream and a vow to return to the Enchanted Isles. With determination her family returned to South America, where the author began piecing together the story of her parents’ extraordinary marriage and her father’s tragic death.

My Father’s Island is a wonderful story—funny, moving, surprising and satisfying—and the descriptions of the Galapagos Islands after Darwin but before tourism, before the archipelago became a National Park, are some of the most vivid word-pictures I’ve ever read.

Reading this book wasn’t as good as a Galapagos vacay, but it left me refreshed and delighted. It’s not available as an ebook, but if you’re tempted it looks as though second hand print copies are quite readily available for a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket 😉 .

Do you have any recommendations? Favorite travel books or destinations for my post-covid bucket list? Thank you!

Elizabeth: All Shall Be Well

Quote from Julian of Norwich

Happy Wednesday to all.

I was just watching the news and, despite the roll-out of multiple vaccines and the decreasing infection/death rates, the pandemic is far from over.  That is certainly a disappointing as we pass the 1-year mark since the “shelter in place” first began.  Also disappointing are the pictures I’m seeing of Florida beaches full of crowds of mask-less people–that does not inspire confidence that “normal” is just around the corner.  Other news stories of the increased violence against Asian-Americans clearly show that our country is infected with more than just Covid.

To combat all of that, the quote above seems like a timely boost of positivity.  I’d very much like to believe in that force of love and that the arc of the universe bends towards justice.

In the meantime, the New York Times reported today that “Print book sales had their best year in a decade” in 2020. That makes sense;  what better time to escape into a book than when you’re sheltering at home during a pandemic or trying to block out political upheaval for just a while.  Physical books, eBooks, and audio-book purchases all saw an upsurge in 2020, which my home library and Kindle can confirm.

For now, I think I’ll turn off the news and go escape into a book where I know good will prevail and happily-ever-after exists.

Hoping all is well with you and yours.

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)?

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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,

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