Jilly: Snippet

A couple of weeks ago I decided to write a new Elan Intrigues prequel novella as a giveaway for my newsletter subscribers. I’ve been in my writing cave ever since.

The Pulse of Princes will be 15-18,000 words, about the early life of recurring character Prince Daire of Caldermor. In this story he’s aged 19. His father is dying and Daire is likely to inherit the throne soon. It’s the first time he seriously butts heads with his domineering mother, the indefatigable Princess Irmine.

Here’s a snippet from the encounter that triggers Daire’s rebellion.

 

Request Denied

“This should prove an interesting test.” Daire’s mother folded the note and slid it back into her pocket. When she withdrew her hand, she was holding a small pouch. She bounced it in her palm, and even through the heavy padding Daire heard the familiar jingling sound. Elan. He made it every month, albeit in small quantities. He’d never kept a single pulse for himself.

The crown princess opened the pouch and drew out a single hard-shelled, bean-shaped nugget. She held it reverently between her finger and thumb, tilting it so that it shone pure gold in the morning light. He wasn’t close enough to catch the scent, but his mind supplied it: sweeter than the most delicious fruit pastry, richer and more complex than the finest tree-sap. He’d been making elan since he was ten years old, and the smell of it still made his mouth water.

A low wooden rail guarded the edge of the terrace. Inside the rail a narrow shelf offered enough space to place a pair of gloves or a cup of cordial. Princess Irmine dipped her hand into the bag and placed twelve pulses of elan on the shelf, one by one, spaced a handspan apart.

She stepped back, assessed her handiwork, and nodded in satisfaction. His mother never did anything without reason. What on the gods’ fair earth was she doing now?

She lifted a hand and waved toward the garden gate where Captain Bale waited, in her line of sight but out of earshot. He snapped a salute, opened the gate, and ushered in three servants in Edevald livery.

The first, a cleanshaven, skinny young fellow, Daire recognized vaguely as one of the clerks from the treasury. The boy looked bug-eyed and scared out of his wits. The second was a middle-aged woman he’d last seen in the kitchen, making apple pies. She’d smiled at him then. Now she looked as though she’d found weevils in the flour. The third was the couriers’ hostler, Sharp, who looked like his usual shifty self.

Prompted by Bale they lined up before the terrace and each made their obeisance.

“Ask them anything,” his mother encompassed the three with a wave of her hand. “Their work, debts, spouses, children. Whatever you need to know in order to decide.”

“Decide?” The sweet pastry Daire had devoured earlier roiled in his gut.

His mother shrugged. “Which one I should dismiss.”

She clearly expected him to ask, so he chose the line of least resistance. “Why must you dismiss any of them, ma’am? And why must I choose?”

“If I am to meet your request I need to find a saving elsewhere. The quickest and simplest way is by culling a hireling or two.” She glanced at the line of elan beans, glimmering on the shelf, and her lips tightened. “For a dozen pulses it should be all of them, and more, but as this is an unfamiliar challenge for you I decided to make it easy.”

Daire made himself look the servants in the eye. The boy was trembling so hard he could barely stand upright. The kitchen maid crossed her arms and stared back at him. She looked furious. Sharp met Daire’s gaze briefly, then fixed his eyes on Princess Irmine.

“No questions?” The crown princess held out her hand to Daire. On her palm sat the empty elan pouch. “Choose one servant, and you may take the pulses with you.”

Daire put his hands behind his back. “No.”

“No?” Princess Irmine asked softly.

“No.” He didn’t shout, but his confirmation was louder and more forceful than was proper.

“Very well.” His mother nodded to Bale. “They can go.”

Sharp bolted down the path and disappeared. The kitchen maid put her arm around the clerk. Bale followed the sorry pair as they left. He closed the gate behind them and stood at attention.

“Well?”

“You knew I wouldn’t choose.” Daire gripped his hands together behind his back, so tightly he thought his bones might crack.

“I thought you wouldn’t,” Princess Irmine corrected. “Now I know.”

“You terrified those servants to teach me a lesson.”

“It made a lasting impression, did it not?” His mother waited a beat, daring him to deny her assertion. “Simply explaining the problem would not have worked half so well.”

***

Whoo! I hope you enjoyed that.

Of course Daire knows he can’t allow Princess Irmine to get the better of him, or he’ll be under her thumb before he even inherits the throne. I’m having fun writing his counter-offensive 🙂 .

Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you next Sunday.

Jeanne: A Tale of Two Stories

Identical Twin Babies in Green BlanketsAbout a year and a half ago, I got an idea for what I planned to be the third book in my Touched by a Demon series. The thought was to write a Faust story–a tale of Megan Swensen, an author who sells her soul to the devil to make the New York Times Bestseller list. The romance would be a second-chance-at-love story. James, a third-year law student and her grad school boyfriend, helped negotiate the terms of the contract under the impression that he was helping her with a literary assignment for school. When he discovered the truth, they broke up. As the book opens, seven years have passed, the contract is coming due and Megan is panicking.

For its demon, the book would feature Lilith, the she-demon who was a player in the first two books, as Megan’s literary agent and Hellish customer service representative. I even had a title–The Demon Wore Stilettos. Continue reading

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of title brainstorming? I’d appreciate some help.

I’m planning to publish my first book, The Seeds of Power, before the end of the year (much more to follow on that subject soon). All being well the sequel, The Light of Calder, will follow in 2020.

Told you that to tell you this: I want to write a short story (which may grow into a novella) that sits between The Seeds of Powerand The Light of Calder. I know the bare bones of the story. I can visualize the cover. But I can’t find a good title, and it’s driving me crazy.

The books are fantasy adventure romance in a swords-n-sorcery setting vaguely similar to Tudor-era northern England or Scottish borders. The most important commodity in this world is elan, an imaginary medicine created by concentrating life energy into specially grown beans. The mysterious transformation process changes the beans from everyday foodstuff into hard-shelled, fragrant, shiny golden nuggets known as pulses. A pulse of elan can be grated and boiled into a tonic for internal use, or added to a poultice for external application. However it’s used, elan boosts the body’s own natural healing powers and gives near-miraculous results, which makes it more valuable than gold. The only people who know how to make elan are the Edevald family, rulers of wealthy, powerful Caldermor.

The Seeds of Poweris about Christal, a strong-minded princess who’s determined not to marry (she has excellent reasons) and who justifies her single status by becoming an expert cultivator of rare plants. Her plan works fine until Prince Daire Edevald unexpectedly proposes marriage because he needs her to fix a problem with his secret elan beans.

The Light of Calder is Daire’s story, about his attempts to lift the Edevald curse. The men of his family burn brightly but do not live long. Common gossip says the Edevalds made a deal with the gods, and their short life span is the price they paid to gain the secret of elan. The Light of Calder is a priceless jewel, the Edevald family’s greatest heirloom, and so much more than merely the centerpiece of the Calderran royal regalia.

My plan is for the Story in the Middle to show the problem with the secret bean plants and explain how the solution Christal offers motivates Daire to seek out someone who can help him solve the mystery of the Edevald curse.

The title for the new story should be The Something of Something.

Continue reading

Nancy: The Little Book That Could

Last week, Jeanne shared news of The Demon Always Wins finaling in two contests! I’m excited to announce that the first book in my HFF series, Too Clever by Half, is a finalist in one of those contests, GDRWA Booksellers’ Best Contest, in the novella category!

This came on the heels of a very good sales week in the beginning of May, when I offered Too Clever for free and the next book in the series, One Kiss from Ruin, at a discounted price. The promotion put Too Clever at #1 in a few Amazon categories for approximately three days, which meant thousands of downloads (and page reads in Kindle Unlimited, which are continuing). It raised series visibility, drove some traffic to my newsletter, and actually made some money (because of much higher than usual book sales on One Kiss).

All in all, my little series-launching novella has had a good month. It’s especially gratifying because a year and a half ago, I wasn’t sure I would be able to turn the early draft of the manuscript into a readable book. I didn’t make the contest rounds with the story because, frankly, it just wouldn’t have done well. My beta readers were a godsend, pinpointing the issues, which included a hero who didn’t have much motivation for what he wanted (to win the Duke’s Trust prize to fund Harrow School scholarships), and a heroine who started out pretty self-involved and didn’t arc throughout the course of the story. While such character issues would be problematic for any fiction genre, they are absolute deal-breakers for one as character-centric as romance. Continue reading

Nancy: Another Day, Another Cover

 

Victorian Reader Drawn


This is the placeholder ‘cover’ I’ve had on my website for Too Clever by Half. This week, I can upload the real one!

I’ve been away from home and offline for the past several days, so I just caught up on the cover craze that took over 8LW this past week. That’s very fortuitous, as I now have a cover of my very own to share!

I wish I could say I had the designing chops (and confidence) of Justine, the whimsical eye of Michaeline, or the cover-judging savvy of Kay. Let’s just say I’m not one of those people who judges or buys a book by its cover. I had high hopes that I’d be able to have a quick conversation with a designer, turn the task over to her, and do a happy dance when the best cover I could ever imagine appeared in my inbox. (I can’t help that I sometimes live in fantasy land. Hazard of the fiction writing profession.)

So, when no cover fairies appeared to do my bidding for me, I began my long, arduous journey toward a cover for my soon-to-be-released (!) novella myself. I allocated a mid-level budget for the project, narrowed down the list of well-established and recommended romance cover designers in that price range, and finally chose The One. It didn’t work out. So I spent more months researching, returning to my original down-selected list, and contacting designers for scheduling information. I chose the second One. That almost crashed and burned as well. But the second time, I at least got a proof copy to consider.

The first thing I noticed about the proof copy was color. So much color. You might recall I was traveling in September, which is when the color bomb hit my inbox. I opened the email attachment in the middle of the night Copenhagen time, gasped, blinked hard, said something like ‘dear lord, that’s pink’ (possibly with a few expletives thrown in), and went back to bed for a nearly sleepless night.

Nevertheless, I persisted. From the ashes, and through some teeth-clenching emails and what felt like never-ending negotiations, a cover that started out as unworkable gradually became something usable, maybe even pretty. I’ll let you be the judge: Continue reading

Nancy: The Big Reveal: Harrow’s Finest Five Series

If you’re a long-time follower of the blog, you’ve no doubt seen Harrow’s Finest Five mentioned in many of my blog posts. It seems like I’ve been discussing this series for years because, well, I’ve been discussing it for years! You might have wondered if the stories in this alleged series would ever see the light of day. You wouldn’t be alone – I’ve had the same question myself. But today, I’m happy to announce the first novella, which launches the series, is coming out this November!

Next week, I have so many things to share about that upcoming release: the cover, the back-cover blurb, how to sign up to be an ARC reader, and where to read an excerpt of the first book PLUS a free prequel short story and sample chapters from the next two books! And, if all goes according to plan, I’ll also be able to share the exact release date of the book.

In the meantime, though, it occurs to me that while you’ve heard of the series existence, I haven’t told you much about the whys and wherefores. Today, let’s remedy that, shall we?

What: Harrow’s Finest Five Series, seven (we’ll get to that shortly) mid-Victorian era romances centered around five old school mates from Harrow, one of the handful of boarding schools for boys from all the best British families (read: titled and wealthy). They were given their tongue-in-cheek name by novel 3’s hero, who is also the group trouble-maker and all around fun guy.

But let’s remember these are romance stories! So they’re as much about the fab women these men love as they are about our Harrow mates. Here’s the series tagline: Continue reading

Nancy: Novella (.5) Cover Copy

As I’ve mentioned a few (hundred) times recently, I have a lot of writing balls in the air right now. Partly this was intentional: I knew the writing and editing tasks for my multiple books in my Victorian Romance series would have to overlap to meet a rather aggressive publishing schedule (set by yours truly, so no one to blame but myself for that). Partly this was unintentional: I got behind schedule on a few different things, shifted some dates, zigged when I should have zagged, and suddenly multiple deadlines converged and…well, here I am.

Last week, I asked for your help for a 50-word pitch and 250-word opening sequence for Take the Money and Run, my Women’s Fiction manuscript. This week, I’d love some feedback on a totally different task for a completely different book, the back cover copy for Too Clever By Half, the kickoff novella of my Harrow’s Finest Five series. I’ve been working on this slippery sucker for a while, and now it’s time to get it nailed down so I can get my cover completed (and then share it here!). The goal of the cover copy? Convince a reader to pick up the book from a bookshelf or click on the ‘look inside’ option online. In brief, the cover copy should include a high-level hook, introduce you to the protagonist(s), introduce the conflict, and make you eager to read more.

Your task today, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me whether this cover copy does that for you. The more specificity you provide about what you like, what you dislike, or what makes you say ‘oh hell no!’, the more I can improve it. So leave your thoughts and – really importantly – your first reactions to reading this in the comments, please and thank you!

Two fierce competitors engaged in a battle of intellects might just be outwitted by love… Continue reading

Michaeline: “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (discussion and spoilers in the comments)

The Vorkosigan butterbugs in their radbug incarnation, glowing with radiation markers on their backs.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Flowers of Vashnoi” came out on May 17, 2018! I’m not really a bug person, but boy, Ekaterin knows how to make a glorious bug! Art, science and passion is a winning combination for this heroine! (Image via Goodreads)

It has been a great month for short fiction for me. I started with Bujold’s latest novella, “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (Amazon), and then thanks to filkferengi’s comments last week, I discovered a couple of new short fiction magazines.

I’ve already bought and read issues 7 and 8 of Heart’s Kiss, a relatively new magazine of romance stories that is available on Kindle (and I bought it from amazon.co.jp, so it’s internationally available) and in print. Their editorial board changed with issue 7 (February 2018), and it turns out that one of our Eight Ladies, Jeanne, knows one of the editors through the RWA Golden Heart awards program.

The stories are a lot of fun – exactly the kind of short, happy fiction I enjoy best. Most of them (all of them?) are liberally laced with magic and fantasy; one series has a cupid-in-training, and a different series is full-on Outlander-style timeslip/historical fantasy. The stand-alone stories stand alone, and have been very satisfying.

I will put in one caveat: if typos destroy the experience for you, you might want to proceed with caution. I’m not the most vigilant proofreader in the world, and even I caught several words that were misspelled or small editing errors. There’s one author in the series who uses the word “fisting” to mean “grasping” . . . and I don’t want to see “fisting” anywhere near my sexy, romantic fiction, even if it’s not “that” kind of activity. Not my cup of kink!

I just mention this because I know a lot of people who are extremely annoyed by typos; I still enjoyed the series, and am looking forward to part three (even though I just know she’s going to slip in “fisting” the sheets or clothing in some way or another!).

To tell the truth, the errors in editing just add a certain gritty, blast-from-the-past flavor to the magazine; it brings me back to a time when it was quite common to pick up a magazine and find a nice short fiction piece in it – or a girl could go down to the drugstore, and pick from six different romance comics. In order to cultivate a Dorothy Parker or a James Thurber, we need fields and fields of these kinds of magazines – and the internet e-reading revolution can provide those fertile grounds. I’m glad to have found Heart’s Kiss.

Which brings me back to today’s main theme: did you get a chance to read “The Flowers of Vashnoi”? What did you take away? Like so many Bujold books, the story is great while you are reading it, improves when you think about it, and rewards re-reading. The whole icing on the cake is when you get to discuss the many issues and techniques with like-minded readers. Because even though we may be like-minded in enjoying a good yarn, we all bring different interpretations and spins to the table when we have time to discuss a shared story.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Kay: Revising Made Easy (Thanks, Cover Design!)

What do you think? Too much type? Script too hard to read? Would you check it out?

This cover seems to have all the elements, but it looks pretty amateurish. Would you pick it up?

This week I temporarily set aside the revisions on my WIP to focus on another aspect of my “self-publishing journey”— creating covers for the three completed novellas languishing on my hard drive. In other, more accurate, words, my life force has been sucked out of me by the heinous graphics software program InDesign because I’m too cheap to hire a cover designer.

My word, how I hate that program, which is entirely because I’m so ignorant about it. I had to use it at my last day job seven years ago, and then only in a very limited capacity. Seven years and who knows how many updates later, InDesign might as well be string theory, genome analysis, and astronomical map projections rolled into one. It is very complicated.

I decided to tackle it again because the revisions on my WIP have slowed to a crawl. Continue reading

Nancy: Selling Your Book in 150 Words

There’s been a lot of buzz here on the blog lately about upcoming book releases from several of us here at 8LW, This includes my own Victorian Romance series, with the opening novella tentatively slated for a late October release. One of the realities of publishing these days, whether via the traditional route or self-publishing, is the requirement for authors to market their own books. With that in mind, expect to hear a lot about book marketing here on the blog over the next several months to a year.

Today, I’d like to look at one of the basic marketing building blocks every writer needs that has dominated my brain-space for the last several days: the pitch. You’ve probably heard of it. But what is a pitch? How do you use it? And is it really necessary?

That last question is the easiest to answer: YES!

I’m going to glom together the answers to the other two questions because, in reality, there are different types of pitches, and they’re used for different purposes. Continue reading