Jilly: Sara Sartagne–Joining the Writing Community

What a week! How are your stress levels? As I described last Sunday, I’ve been boosting my mood with comfort reads. When you can’t control the real world, it’s uplifting to take a break in an imaginary one where you know things will turn out just right.

Real-life feelgood stories are even better pick-me-ups than fictional ones, so when my English author friend Sara Sartagne offered to write about her experience as a debut author, I grabbed the chance to share a heartening slice of writing life.

Here’s Sara:

Birthday flowers from a fellow author

Jilly wrote last week about the importance of community and alongside making me yearn to pick up a Georgette Heyer again, it’s made me reflect that, even outside the novels, the writer ‘tribe’ itself is a warm, welcoming one. This blog – Eight Ladies Writing – is a perfect example of a community that gives Jilly the warm and fuzzies, as she calls it. It’s kind, strong and successful. And it’s real.

Like many rookie self-publishers, I made a lot of wrong choices for my first book. Launching on a Sunday. Not double-double-double checking the manuscript for typos and errors (at the time, I couldn’t afford a proofreader) before sending to Josie, who formatted for me. Who formatted it several times. My poor cover designer suffered from my vacillations over type, figures, look and feel – God, I couldn’t even settle on a colour first time around.

But what I learned, through that bumpy first release, was that other writers can be incredibly generous with their time and advice. A number of people were in attendance at the birthing of my first book, patting me on the back, virtually passing me sweet tea and biscuits and cheering me on. They also happened to be all women, which might be to do with my genre (women’s fiction with a healthy dose of romance) but I also think that this is the kind of thing that women do– support each other.

My list of supporters is long, but starts with fairytale writer JA Clement, who I met more than two years ago in a café outside St James’ Park tube. I took two pages of notes as she bombarded me with a host of names (BookBub, KDP, Canva, Scrivener…). In the following years, she’s been around to answer hundreds of questions about the whole process.

The list also includes Jess Ryder, psychological thriller writer (check out The Ex Wife, it’s brilliant). She’s been my developmental partner, helping me patch plot holes you could drive a bus through. Jess was also the calm voice on the phone after I received a particularly curt rejection from an agent who had asked to see a manuscript. I had high hopes of the query, and the book, a stand alone called The Visitor, was very close to my heart.

I had just got off the train at Leeds station; I eagerly read the email from the agent, felt my heart break, and burst into tears. I dragged my suitcase around Leeds snivelling and sobbing for forty-five minutes while Jess consoled and reassured me and gently kicked my arse. Yes, I could write, no, I’d obviously caught the agent on a bad day, it probably wasn’t her genre, she said what? – well, that was just wrong. It was just one agent, and again, I could write, and what’s more Jess was going to make sure I bloody did.

Then there’s your own Jilly Wood, who has read many more books than I have, and who gently suggested I read Goal, Motivation, Conflict to tighten my writing and save myself time and pain in editing. Her advice is something I’ve come to depend on (sorry, Jilly!) and there’s almost no question about the romance genre I can’t ask her and get a sensible, thoughtful response. Her review of my book on this blog was part of a series of events which increased my sales beyond my loyal mates and reluctant family and sent my page reads soaring.

Last but not least by any means, are the authors who have reviewed me on Amazon – constructive, insightful and generous.

As with all good things, it gets better when you pass it on, and with that in mind, I’m going to be writing alongside another author friend for NaNoWriMo. Well, NaNoWriMo Lite as we’re calling it. If we both keep each other up to the mark – as I’m pretty sure we will – that will be at least 15,000 words for the next WIP.

So here’s to community – in fiction and real life. Who’s helped you in books? And helped you in the flesh – or as near to flesh as we get these days?

*****

About Sara Sartagne

Having wanted to be a journalist when she was a teenager, Sara actually ended up on the dark side, in PR. From there, it was a short skip to writing for pleasure, and from there to drafting her first book, The Garden Plot. This is the first novel in a romance series where gardens feature in a BIG way – she inherited green fingers from her wonderful grandmother and gardening is a passion.

Sara recently moved from London to York and is loving the open skies and the green fields. And a HUGE garden! Although not a country girl, she’s discovered the joys of no streetlights, septic tanks and ordering logs. Going from an underground tube or bus every three minutes, bus timetables in a small Yorkshire town have been a bit of a shock.

Sara loves being a writer although it’s not her only job – yet. She’s keeping her fingers firmly crossed. The second book in the English Garden Romance series – Love in a Mist – was released in October 2020.

She loves hearing from readers who have thoughts about her books and characters – and even about gardening! – so please visit http://www.sarasartagne.com (good for news and freebies!) or make contact on Twitter – @Sarasartagneauthor

Jilly: Community

How are things with you?

At least here we don’t have an election to stress about, but I spent a dismal hour yesterday watching our Prime Minister, flanked by his chief scientific and medical officers, presenting the powerpoint of covid doom 😦 . Later this week we’re heading back into a national lockdown that is scheduled to last for a month.

The government seems to be taking action now because that gives them the best chance of ensuring restrictions are lifted for the holiday season. I think that’s plain common sense, because even really cautious, rule-following friends of mine are planning family gatherings around Christmas and New Year, and to hell with the official regulations or the potential consequences.

I’m a grinch even in non-corona years, so being required to spend the holidays quietly at home with my husband, books, puzzles, music, wine, and long walks, is no hardship, but we are definitely feeling the lack of face to face interaction with our wider community. Not just our friends and family, but people we’ve known for years at our favorite restaurants, shops, hair salon, dentist, car service company, dry cleaners—all kinds of personal and professional contacts that may not be deep but are long-lasting and treasured relationships.

I was thinking about this recently as I re-read Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief series (strongly recommended, especially the first three books). The author does a fabulous job of uniting the young rulers of three warring kingdoms. Over the course of the series they bond into one tightly-knit community strong enough to defeat the invasion of a powerful, predatory empire. It’s cleverly written and deeply enjoyable to read.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I think I read for community even more than I read for romance. Becoming part of a kind, strong, successful community, even a fictional one, gives me the warm and fuzzies. It’s not a complete substitute for real-life interactions, but spending mental time in that connected world leaves me feeling happy and empowered, and it lasts after I’ve put the book down. In our current situation that’s no small thing.

Most of my favorite authors are excellent at creating community. Ilona Andrews. Grace Draven. Loretta Chase. Jenny Crusie. Dorothy Dunnett. Georgette Heyer. Lois McMaster Bujold. Martha Wells’ Murderbot books. Our own Kay has a talent for writing community. Her heroines are people magnets and her stories are super-fun to read for the way all kinds of unexpected characters become part of a strong network of generosity and friendship. I hope I can do half as well with my elan stories.

What do you think? Is community an important element of your reading choices?

Do you think fictional communities can help people feel connected when we’re forced to narrow our real-world interactions? And do you have any favorite authors you think are especially stellar at creating that community buzz?

Michille: Love in the Time of COVID-19, Part II

Heart

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Jeanne blogged about Love in the Time of Coronavirus. Specifically, she said this: Forced proximity is a romance trope wherein the couple in question is forced by circumstance (blizzard, long-haul truck run, bodyguard, work assignment, etc.) to spend time together. I agree that the stuck together trope will be very popular in the near future, there’s got to be others. I’ve blogged about romance during a disaster before. Jeanne is right again that blizzards are very common ways to get two people stuck together. Linda Howard has a good one in Ice.

But let’s think up some others. How about: Continue reading

Jilly: Sara Whitney’s Tempting Heat

An unexpected upside to becoming a writer is that I find myself reading books written by friends, and friends of friends. I love seeing people I know become debut authors and then go on to build their lists. There’s something thrilling and insider-ish about being part of their adventure.

Here on 8LW we’ve shared the excitement surrounding the publication of Jeanne’s Touched by a Demon books and Nancy’s Harrow’s Finest Five series, and we’ve enjoyed interviews with some of Jeanne’s fellow Golden Heart alumnae. This week was another first for me: the debut of Sara Whitney, one of my Golden Heart classmates.

Tempting Heat is a contemporary second-chance romance novella set in Chicago, with the two main characters stranded in forced proximity during an epic snowstorm. I really like those tropes. Second-chance stories raise the emotional stakes quickly because the characters already have shared baggage for the author to play with, and forced proximity adds extra pressure because the characters literally have nowhere to go—they have to face Whatever Went Wrong first time around.

An unexpected downside to becoming a writer is that I find it hard to lose myself in a book. My inner editor starts offering critique and before I know it I’m assembling a list of things I’d tweak or change or rewrite instead of enjoying the story. So I was ridiculously happy to find myself immersed in Tempting Heat, sharing Finn and Tom’s long-overdue reconciliation-cute.

The story starts when Fiona (Finn) discovers a half-awake, hungover Tom emerging from her flatmate’s bedroom some hours after said flatmate departed to deal with a work emergency involving a weekend-long trip to Las Vegas, and just as a gigantic snowstorm shuts down all transport options. Continue reading

Michille: Read-A-Romance Month

RARM-logo-1-1August is full of Romance. Along with Bookstore Romance Day (Elizabeth’s post), August is also Read-A-Romance Month. What is that? According to an older version of the website it “was conceived and launched in 2013 by freelance writer and romance advocate Bobbi Dumas, after she realized there was no one place where the community celebrated romance all together, at one time, in a concentrated way. The theme this year is The Romance Of Reading, The Magic Of Books, so many of the authors have written books that include magical elements.

There are three pieces to the month, this time around. The calendar has three entries on each day. The first is a guest on the The Romance of Reading Facebook page, the second is a blogger on the Read a Romance Month website and the third is an ongoing project called #100DaysOfGreatBooks. Continue reading

Jeanne: To See or Not to See

ParagraphsA few weeks ago, I attended a book talk at Paragraphs Bookstore in Mt. Vernon, Ohio with Donna MacMeans, a member of my RWA chapter and former treasurer of RWA National.

Donna’s first novel, The Education of Mrs. Brimley, won the Golden Heart® for Historical Romance back in 2006. She has since followed it up with nine more published novels.

At Paragraphs, she described the book as “a book-length strip-tease.” She went on to explain the premise: unmarried Emma needs to escape London and the twisted domination of her uncle. She discovers an advertisement for a teaching position in Yorkshire, but the successful applicant must be a widow. Desperate, she applies anyway, forging a reference that nets her the job. Then, attired in her late mother’s widow’s weeds, she heads for Yorkshire. Continue reading

Nancy: Two Scandals Cover Reveal!

Coming this May…the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series! In TwoScandals Are Better than One, our couple–Lucinda (Luci) and Edward)–face no seemingly unsurmountable external obstacles (other than needing to rescue her father from kidnappers) to being a couple. Instead, we join them on their journey as they fall in love, and they:

  • Overcome their internal misbeliefs to each become a fully realized person
  • Learn their previously-believed weaknesses are actually strengths
  • Discover the games her brothers played with Luci as a child were really lessons in fighting and survival (and sharpshooting)

And now for the really fun part: the cover reveal! And the back cover copy/blurb to go with it.

A gentleman on an illicit lark

Edward, the upstanding Viscount Meriden, is desperate for one reckless adventure. After years of holding his crumbling family together, he finally indulges in one night of abandon at a debauched house party, where he meets a masked mystery woman. He longs to uncover all her secrets. But when he realizes she’s an old friend on a dangerous mission, he insists on becoming her protector. 

A lady on a dangerous quest 

Miss Lucinda Wagner is the only woman in a family of men rumored to be spies. When her father goes missing, she infiltrates a treacherous world to find him. No one suspects her double life until her childhood friend Edward discovers her secret. Now “Steady Eddie” insists upon watching over her. To gain his silence, she allows him to join her search. 

A journey into the belly of the beast

As Luci and Edward delve deeper into the criminal underworld, their lives turn upside down. Danger lurks around every corner. Threats assail them from all sides. The only safe harbor in the city is in each other’s arms. Until the sparks between them threaten to ignite their long-denied passion.

Next week, I’ll have some more news about the series including a special sale, and when, where, and how to get Two Scandals Are Better than One!

Nancy: Will They or Won’t They?

When we read romance books, we know that, by definition, the couple will get a happily ever after (HEA). The joy isn’t the destination; it’s the journey. Not the what, but the how and, as Lisa Cron would remind us, the why.

But one thing I’ve been pondering as I finish my final round of revisions on the next Harrow’s book (Two Scandals are Better than One) is whether part of that journey should be the sense that this couple’s obstacles are so great, they just might not make it. Two Scandals doesn’t have that burning question. One of my beta readers listed it as a problem, although she liked the overall story. And as the writer/god of this story universe, I can thank her for that input and then choose to ignore it. But that bit of critique has stuck in my brain, because I think she might be onto something. Continue reading

Jeanne: Telling Parallel Stories

Like Jilly, I have been spending time judging contest entries lately. Unlike Jilly, some of rails-3309912_640mine have been pretty good. One, in particular, interested me because the story paralleled the romances of three different couples, which is what I’m trying to do with my third demon book, The Demon Wore Stilettos.

I was especially interested because every time I tell other authors what I’m working on, they say, “That’s way too complicated. You need to get rid of some of that.”

And it may come to that, but I really want to keep all three stories, so I was happy to see someone else had tried the same thing with, I thought, some success. Her stories were all set in the same small town and used the marriage-of-convenience trope for all three.

Mine are all set in Minneapolis-St. Paul and all revolve around the second-chance-at-love trope.

Where I thought the contest entry could have been stronger was in cohesion. The stories run along side-by-side like train tracks, never crossing, never even approaching each other. In mine, the three couples are, respectively, demons, humans and angels. All three couples have had past romantic encounters and all are now, for various reasons, no longer in those relationships. Continue reading

Michaeline: Welcome to Riverdale

Puff pastry with a layer of cream, more pastry, more cream, more pastry . . . more better! Strawberry on top.

The many layers of a Japanese mille feuille (by Miya, via Wikimedia Commons)

Over the holidays, I binge-watched Riverdale, which is a live action reboot of the 75-plus-years-old Archie comics, and I loved it. I always love a good soap opera, because they are layered like a mille feuille, but Riverdale? Riverdale has layers in five dimensions.

First, artistically speaking, I was struck by the Twin Peaks vibe from the first shot. We open on the tragic drowning death of campus hero, Jason Blossom. In some ways, it feels like a prologue, but it is exactly where the season’s story starts. We’re given a gorgeous backdrop of river and mountains, somewhere near the Canadian border, and the stunning contrasts of all that summer green, and the Blossom twins’ pale skin and red hair. (Tone alert: Riverdale has Twin Peaks’ striking look, but there’s 50 percent less mumbo jumbo. The story references Twin Peaks as an influence, but it’s got better pacing, in my opinion.)

When I headed back to the DVD menu to click for my next hit, the episode names reminded me of old movies and short stories. Stuff like “Heart of Darkness” and “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” I bet a reading/watching program of these references would provide quite an education in how to set up murderous fictional situations. But even if you’ve never read or seen most of these classics (and I haven’t), you’ve heard of them. They are in a million pop references, and you get it. It’s a little touch that re-inforces what you know about this series: it’s a pop rendition of some of the best of the twentieth century. That cult-hit vibe makes it even more cool and mysterious.

The next thing you notice is the stars. I’ll circle back to the younger stars in a paragraph or two, but the older stars? If you are a woman of a certain age, Archie’s dad (played by Luke Perry ((!))) and his mom (Molly Fucking Ringwold! THE red-headed sweetheart of my generation!) will provide all sorts of other feelings and memories. They don’t particularly Continue reading