Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror

It’s that scary time of year.

The nights are getting shorter, darker and colder, at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. We just passed Halloween (previously the Celtic festival of Samhain), when the barrier between our world and the realm of ghosts and spirits melts away and supernatural types return from the grave to threaten our orderly existence.

In other words, ‘tis the season for ghost stories and terrible tales.

We dipped a toe into the icy water here recently with our tag-team Scottish flash fiction adventure featuring the restless ghosts of tragic Alanis McLeish and her twin baby daughters (go here for Kay’s fabulous final instalment and links to the rest of the tale).

That tempted me to re-read Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time, her smart, scary homage to Henry James’s influential 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, complete with isolated, crumbling gothic setting; orphaned children; sinister housekeeper; and murderous ghosts. Thank heavens for the Crusie-heroine-turned-temporary-governess.

Maybe This Time whetted my appetite for Victorian horror. Click here for an interesting feature in Atlas Obscura explaining why the Victorian era was such a boom time for scary stories. It seems to be linked to the rise of the periodical press which fuelled a demand for genre fiction, combined with a period of rapid technological advancement in which things which had previously seemed impossible suddenly became real and normal.

Then yesterday, with uncanny serendipity, I found Victorian Tales of Terror, a recently republished anthology of carefully curated period fiction edited by Hugh Lamb. There are sixteen spine-chilling stories by famous (Dickens, de Maupassant) and little-known authors, male and female, English, European and American.

Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .

Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Justine: Mood Music Playlists for Writing Sad Scenes

working to musicI know several of the Eight Ladies (myself included) have used music playlists for writing, either because it “goes” with the book they’re writing or, like with me, there’s a certain Mozart playlist that generates a Pavlovian response within me to write. When I hear the music, my inner storyteller kicks in.

This is all well and good except the music I listen to is pretty upbeat (for Mozart, anyway) and I was having a hard time getting into the right mood to write some really dark, painful, sad scenes (not my typical mojo).

So I pulled up Google and searched “saddest classical music” and the first hit that came up was Continue reading

Jeanne: Getting It Out of My System

I’m currently working on the second book in my Touched by a Demon series, The Demon’s in the Details. 

So far I’m liking it. (Which is good, because that is not always the case.)

One thing that I suspect isn’t so good are the jokes I’m writing into it.

Some of you are now thinking, “Jokes are good. And Jeanne’s pretty funny, so they’re probably good jokes.”

These jokes are really goofy. They take a dopey premise (the physical act of a demon possessing a human–have you ever given any thought to just what that choreography would look like?) and wring every last drop of comedy gold (and silver and copper and tin and lead and that grody stuff you have to scrape from the the crack between the stove and the countertop) out of it before I let it go. Continue reading

Jilly: Seeking Playlist Recommendations

Anybody up for a playlist recommendation or two? I’d truly appreciate it. 😉

It’s only two weeks since I posted my plan for the rest of the year, and I’ve already made a significant change. I sent off Alexis Book 1 to be edited, (yay!), but when I sat down to start work on the prequel, I realized that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell…not yet, anyway.

The prequel is the story of Alexis’s parents, Daire and Annis. It explains how Annis ends up running for her life, carrying little more than her unborn child and the most powerful jewel in the history of Caldermor. But, but, but… that story stems directly from Daire’s failure to secure the hand in marriage of a very different woman. All the characters from the debacle are major players in Alexis’s story, and I’ll need a novella to give away next year when I finally hit ‘publish,’ so I decided to write Kiran and Christal’s story now, and (hopefully) let the momentum carry Daire and me into the prequel.

I know where the novella is set (Darrochar, the kingdom adjoining Caldermor). I know how it ends, and I know the main characters. I’ve made a few pages of notes, but I need a playlist to really get my imagination working.

The story so far:

  • One arranged political marriage;
  • One clever, rich, handsome, spoiled princeling who’s too busy having a good time to stand up to his ambitious, power-mad mother;
  • One elegant, clever princess, determined not to waste her life and talents on a golden loser.
  • One scheming, murderous Princess Dowager (the mother-in-law from hell);
  • One plainspoken, upstanding career soldier turned princely bodyguard-slash-advisor who’s wondering what the hell he’s let himself in for.
  • Fighting (physical and metaphorical), in-fighting, hard truths told, harder lessons learned, risking all, expecting to lose all and (spoiler alert!) somehow the good guys emerge triumphant.

I’ll add to the list as I build up the story, but here’s my first stab at a few tunes: Continue reading