Jilly: Villainous Heroes

Have you ever waited impatiently for a book or series starring a character that you’d previously loathed?

I’ve read a couple of villain-turned hero stories and even blogged about one of them here a few years ago (Grace Burrowes’ 2014 historical The Traitor, starring the baddie from her previous book, The Captive), but I’ve never done the foot-tapping, finger-drumming, calendar-watching book launch thing for a very bad guy before.

It’s Ilona Andrews’ fault. I’ve squeed about their writing here before, once or twice 😉 , but their newest trick leaves me open-mouthed and thinking hard.

According to their blog (link here), the project started in 2015 as an April Fool. They put up a spoof cover and tongue-firmly-in-cheek blurb for a romance starring Hugh d’Ambray, the hard-as-nails enforcer for Roland, the grand antagonist of the bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. It began as a joke that prompted a deluge of requests that spawned an idea that became a book, and what looks like a whole new series, Iron and Magic.

I’d think it was another April Fool, except they’ve posted footage from the cover shoot, run a title contest, and best of all the blog post I linked to above contains a further link to a long excerpt. It’s really, really good and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. Judging by the comments (more than 1,400 at the time of writing), I’m not alone.

I’ve read the excerpt a few times now, because I’m fascinated to understand how the authors have managed to establish empathy for such a dark character. It would be easier to understand if the character’s bad deeds were in the past, or somewhat diluted as backstory, or happened to a character we don’t care deeply about, but in Hugh’s case his murdering, torturing and various atrocities have been committed across multiple books, right in front of our eyes, against our heroine Kate Daniels and her community. He should be unforgiveable.

So how have they done it?

Spoilers below, so read the excerpt first if that’s your thing.

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Jilly: Resisting Holiday Romances

Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.

This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.

Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.

I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure. Continue reading

Michaeline: Christmas in Connecticut (Film Rec)

Christmas in Connecticut, with snowy trees and a farmhouse

Like so many old films, this one is about to tell you a story about one Christmas in Connecticut. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Christmas time is another natural story time – there’s something about a long winter’s night that makes one long to hear a tale. And storytellers are ready to oblige!

Out of all the dozens and dozens of Christmas films out there, I keep returning to the 1945 Christmas in Connecticut. I’m not sure where I saw it first; it must have been Turner Broadcasting System, back in the 80s.

OLD FART TANGENT: What do kids do these days for random input? When I was a kid, you could depend on a potluck from old TBS – old movies I’d never heard of, but there was nothing else on during a lazy Saturday, and I’d start watching, and before I knew it, a whole movie had gone by. These days, there’s so much choice that one feels it’s very important to make the Right Choice, and so one might spend more time looking up movie reviews than actually viewing movies. Or maybe that’s just the perfectionist in me. But there were so many good movies I would have never seen if it weren’t for an afternoon of boredom.

ANYWAY. Christmas in Connecticut is a Christmas comedy whose theme is about lies that seem to make our lives easier, and how the truth sets us free. On top of that rather ponderous base is a light and fluffy confection of a story. It starts with food. The Germans blow up a boat (1945, remember?) and two stranded sailors float on a raft. Our Hero, Jeff, dreams of the feasts he’ll eat when they finally get rescued. And they do get rescued, but no feasts for Jeffy-boy – he’s got to make do with milk and maybe a raw egg for a special treat until his digestive track gets back to normal. In pursuit of solid food, he Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Season of Story

Smiling Christmas snowflake ornament on the tree
© Eldridge Photography

As I write this post, I’m sitting in the living room, basking in the glow of the holiday tree that is dressed in its strings of twinkle lights and golden garland.   That cat, of course, considers it to be his own personal giant toy.  I hope I don’t have a reason to regret not bolting it to the ceiling this year.

The holidays have changed a lot since I was a kid, when the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas used to last what felt like an eternity and the tree (at least for some  years) was oddly metallic and sported lots and lots of tinsel.  Now the time seems to be speeding along at an alarming rate and the tree is real and giving off a faint pine scent.

I’ve run out of time this evening, so putting on the ornaments will have to wait until I get home from work tomorrow.  When I pull out the ornaments, I’ll be pulling out memories along with them.  There will be the glass ballerina that I got from my dance teacher the year I went en point in ballet class.  There will be the brightly colored fish made out of ribbons that I got in the Honolulu airport while on a business trip just before my son was born.  There will be ornaments picked up on trips, received as gifts, made in school, and any number that never seem to make it to the tree, but all of them will have some kind of story associated with them.

In some ways, decorating and storytelling have some things in common, which is the actual point of today’s post. Continue reading

Jilly: Good Ghost Story–The Girl in a Swing

Do you enjoy a good ghost story? They’re not usually my thing, but around this time of year they creep up on me whether I will or no. Like yesterday, when I found myself drawn into Michaeline’s excellent and satisfying re-telling of the story of Old Betty and Raw Head the razorback hog.

That set me to wondering what’s the best ghost story I ever read. Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing won by a mile. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is by the author of Watership Down. He wrote a number of other novels in various genres, but as far as I’m aware this is his only scary story. It may not be the most famous ghost story I’ve ever read, but it’s the one that had the most profound and lasting effect on me.

The Girl in a Swing was published in 1980 so it must be more than thirty years since I first read it, and I can still remember how it made me feel. It’s not a slam-bam horror story. There are no chainsaws or buckets of blood. It’s a story of ordinary people living normal lives in a present-day world. It’s very low-key and the pace is deliberately slow. The writing is quality, as you’d expect, and little by little, it drew me in until I was completely hooked. Richard Adams did a brilliant job of making me care about the characters, and at the end I was horrified, scared, shocked, moved and very sad.

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Michille: Character Actions

The Devil Takes a BrideOne of my favorite writer blogs is Writers Write. Most of what they write about is creative, but they also discuss business writing, and blogging and social media. A recent topic was a fun one for me – 60 Things for Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think. What things can characters be doing while talking? What actions will reveal character more thoroughly? Continue reading

Kay: Writing Authenticity, not Gender Swapping

The all-female cast of the “Ghostbusters” reboot. From left: Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon. (Hopper Stone/Columbia Pictures, Sony via AP, File)

Just recently I finished a fantasy story in which the protagonist was a female warrior. It didn’t really grab me. The heroine seemed to slash and burn her way through the opposition without much worry, and while consequences resulted, they were plot points rather than shifts in her character development and emotional outlook.

Guy in a skirt, I thought, and moved on.

But lately I’ve noticed that there’s been public discussion of this phenomenon—that is, the “gender swapping” effect. Continue reading