Jilly: Planning for the Zombie Apocalypse

Have you been reading (or watching) much fiction over the last few weeks? What kind of stories did you choose?

I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.

Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts.

That was a dark choice, given that the book is post-apocalyptic sci-fi, set in a future England where civilization as we know it was wiped out by a virus that turned most people into hungries—brain-dead, decaying, cannibalistic zombies. Only a few pockets of humanity survive, and a group of mysterious children who live in a sort-of school under heavily armed guard. Superficially this is so not my kind of book, but the friend who gave it to me promised I would enjoy it, and he was right. Apart from the subject matter, this book could be a Crusie. It passes every craft test taught to us by Jenny. The heroine, Melanie, the smartest of the children, is compelling. The author makes you care deeply about her, and the stakes start high and get higher. The secondary characters—one teacher, one scientist, two soldiers—are all credible and have their own arc. All the turning points work. The internal and external plots are tightly tied together, all the way to the excellent and inevitable ending. It’s another Jenny-trick—after I read the end, I went back to the opening scene to see whether the author made the right story promise and fulfilled it. Yep. Nailed it.

I’ve posted in the past about Dr Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author (click here to read about Id Lists). Yesterday, as I was wondering what to read next, I remembered her workshop called The Romance Writers Guide to the Psychology of Fiction. I’m pretty sure she said one academic theory is that fiction provides us with a safe space to work out how to deal with real-world problems and to role play potential future scenarios.

Huh. I thought I’d been taking a break from reality. The alternative explanation is that my Girls in the Basement have vented their frustrations at the state of the world, taken a time out to recalibrate, and have now begun to adapt to our new normal by planning for the zombie apocalypse.

Really hoping it’s the former 😉

I still haven’t decided what to read next. I started another jigsaw instead.

So what kind of fiction have you been reading/watching lately?

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

Jilly: Booksweeps!

Do you know about Booksweeps?

I discovered them last year, when Jeanne included one of her Touched By A Demon books in a paranormal romance sweep. Since then I’ve heard good things about them, so when I saw they were running an Epic Sword & Sorcery Fantasy sweep I knew it was my turn. Here’s the graphic for The Seeds of Power:

A Booksweep is a contest that aims to connect avid readers of a particular subgenre with authors who’d like to reach a wider readership. First prize is usually something like an e-reader plus a free copy of every book in the sweep. Second prize is a free copy of every book.

Authors pay to be included. Readers don’t pay to play. They sign up for the sweep by joining the mailing list of the authors they like the look of out of the selection offered. They don’t have to join every list, but each one they join gives them a better chance of winning. Of course they could immediately unsubscribe from every list they choose, but past experience suggests that many of them don’t—as long as they enjoy the newsletter.

The giveaway I joined is called Epic, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy. That’s a nice, broad definition and I think the seventeen books in the bundle offer something for everyone. Some have battles on the cover—weapons and action, red-eyed dragons, mythical creatures and whatnot. Others highlight a central character, often female. Those look like my catnip.

I’ve been reading the blurbs and the Look Inside samples, and I’m especially tempted by Continue reading

Kay: I Blame Jennifer Crusie

For the last couple of decades, I’ve traveled during the holidays, enduring the long lines at the airport, the crowds, and the bad tempers that the season seems to bring out in revelers. This year I stayed home. I went to a small dinner party, I had a couple of people over, and on New Year’s Eve, I stayed home and watched most of Good Omens with David Tennent. I thought I’d probably get the new year off to a good start if I had good omens.

Alas for my other activity, reading. I spend two weeks reading. A lot.

No good omens there.

Continue reading

Kay: Lost in Libraries

The one-year-old Central Library in Calgary, Canada

Probably most of us following this blog started our reading careers in a library. I know I did. I worked in a few, too. They were cool places in the humid summers of the American Midwest. Libraries in California, where I live now, struggle for funds to stay open. Thanks to a local referendum that passed with more than 2/3 majority, my main library is now open 60.5 hours/week, and my local branch is open 28 hours/week, a gain of 12 hours over previous years. Thank you, fellow taxpayers!

So it was with interest that I read in The New York Times about what libraries are doing to attract and keep patrons. The amenities some of them offer almost (or absolutely) overshadow their book collections. Continue reading

Jilly: Free Books for Honest Reviewers

If you’re a regular visitor to 8LW, chances are you’re an avid reader. Would you like to get your hands on the latest releases, for free, before they hit the market? If you’re willing to write an honest review of the book on Amazon, Goodreads or a similar platform, chances are you could do just that.

In today’s ultra-connected world, most savvy bibliophiles use reviews to help them decide whether to click the button and buy the book. Which means that most savvy authors will do everything they can to make sure their book has a good selection of honest reviews. Starred ratings are useful, but a paragraph or two describing what worked—or didn’t—for the reviewer is invaluable. It’s as important to warn off the wrong reader as it is to attract the right one, because word of mouth works both ways and the last thing an author wants is a disappointed reader.

So how do authors find these treasured reviewers? Sometimes through carefully cultivated “street teams”, but often by using a reputable ARC (Advance Review Copy) organization such as NetGalley, Hidden Gems or Booksprout.

It’s not permitted for an author to buy reviews, nor is it allowed to give a reader a free book in return for a review, honest or not. However, publishers large and small are allowed to pay an ARC organization who will match advance copies of their books with eager readers. The readers are not paid and are not required to review the books they receive—but as you may imagine, readers who reliably post insightful reviews are in great demand, while those who take the freebies and post anodyne one-liners, or nothing, aren’t likely to stay on the list for long.

Told you that to tell you this: there’s a huge demand for good reader/reviewers. Continue reading

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