Jeanne: Satan’s Daycare

I’m currently working on the section of The Demon Wore Stilettos where our protagonist (I’m not even going to try to get anyone on board with thinking of Lilith as a heroine at this point) has discovered that she’s pregnant. It’s what she’s always wanted, but now she’s faced with figuring out how she, a single demon whose job requires extensive travel, can raise a child on her own.

As she comes to terms with this reality, she visits Hell’s daycare center, where things are just as topsy-turvy as they are everywhere else in the underworld. I had some initial ideas about what such a nursery would look like–kids running with scissors, kids playing with matches–but I wanted a broader range of ideas, so I put out a call for suggestions in my September newsletter.

(Don’t get my newsletter, but you’d love to, along with a free short story just for signing up? Click here)

I won’t be able to use all of the great ideas people submitted, but they made me laugh, so I’ll share them with you:

  • Projectile vomiting–complete with 180 degree head turns.
  • Running around on the ceiling
  • Playing mean pranks on the teachers
  • Biting
  • Playing with cleaning solutions and chemicals
  • Clogging toilets
  • Sniffing glue
  • Cutting each other’s hair
  • Watching porn 
  • Stealing the teacher’s wallet
  • Cursing 
  • Putting goo on things
  • Grabbing toys from each other and banging each other over the head with them
  • TV on 24 x 7
  • Junk food and caffeine all day
  • Peanuts everywhere
  • Classes in bullying, lying, stealing and manipulation

Some of these ideas remind me of early Dennis the Menace cartoons, back when they were a lot edgier than the sanitized version that made it to the big and little screens. (I remember a D the M cartoon where Dennis has placed matches between the bare toes of his sleeping father and, with a grin of pure devilment on this face, is about to light the first match.)

Or Charles Addams cartoons like this one.

Do you have any other ideas you’d like to throw out?

Jeanne: Rating My Reading, Part 1

Last week, over on Jenny Crusie’s Argh blog, she mentioned that she’s been reading so much romance recently she’s developed her own rating system. It’s a highly personal (read: idiosyncratic) system but it sounds like it works for her.

The book I’m currently working on, The Demon Wore Stilettos, would definitely lose points under Jenny’s system because there’s going to be an epilogue and it’s going to have a baby in it. The whole book revolves around a pregnancy my heroine waited 12,000 years to experience and after all that it would be a breach of reader trust not to show the damned baby (that’s not just me being a potty-mouth. That kid is the product of two of Satan’s minions. It is going to be a very difficult child.)

Sorry, I wandered off-topic there. Anyway, Jenny’s post got me to thinking about what my own rating system would look like. I would add points for:

  • Strong, interesting protagonist with a clear, imperative goal
  • Strong, interesting antagonist with a clear, imperative goal that is mutually exclusive with the protagonist’s.
  • A plot that shows the two of them putting their all into reaching those goals, with twists and turns that catch the other (and me) unawares.
  • Language that occasionally surprises me with a unique and original image that gives me a clear picture of something I’m unfamiliar with or lets me see something familiar in a new way.
  • A setting that takes me somewhere I’ve never been with such richness that it feels like I live there for the duration of the story. 
  • Demonstration of an understanding of human nature that goes beyond what you can see on the average TV show.

If I were to take all the books I’ve ever read and rate them based on the above criteria, it would look like this.

***** Five stars would be reserved for books that changed my worldview in some way, or opened up a vista into a strange new world and left me permanently enriched.

**** Four stars would be a really good book, substantially above the ordinary because of one or more of the characteristics listed above.

*** Three stars would be the vast majority of the books I’ve read–solid stories, well-told, with empathetic characters in interesting situations.

** Two stars describes books that fail on one or two the of items listed above.

* One star books fail all or most of my criteria. Typically, I do not finish these books.

How do you rate your reading?

Michaeline: Jokes Saturday


Lady in a jester's costume, leading a man in a monk's costume.

“I have a joke about a priest, a rabbi and a minister, but it’s a low bar.” — Image via Wikimedia Commons

Silly season, the time when serious people go on vacation and the media is left to the frivolous folks lower on the ladder, has started early. At least, according to my Twitter timeline, it looks that way. It’s jam-packed with jokes that follow the format of “I have a joke about x, but y.”

So ridiculous. But so viral! It’s been in my brain, and I’ve been obsessed with the jokes all morning. Here are some I came up with:

I have a joke about Skype, but I’d have to phone it in.

I have a joke about plums, but it’s so cold. (But so delicious.) This is just to say hello, William Carlos Williams. 

I have a joke about school openings during a pandemic, but it’s really sick.

I have a joke about sewing homemade masks, but it’s layered.

I have a joke about a pile of laundry, but it’s not clean.

I have a joke about a two-engine plane, but it needs a couple of props. (This one is for my mom. Hi, Mom!)

I have a joke about opening bars during a pandemic, but it’s too soon – and the priest, the rabbi and the atheist are busy doing other things.

I have a joke about the post office, but I’m not sure if I can deliver the punchline.

I have a joke about a tree falling in the forest, but Continue reading

Michille: COVID Break

taking-out-trash1On Monday, Kay posted some Entertainment! for us and while I know this site is about writing, I’ve been working at home and going a little loco. So I’m going to add to the entertainment. Here is a column from the LA Times written by a high school pal-o-mine, Mary McNamara, about how the line between work and family is changing in these strange times we’re living in.

My kids are older, but my husband and I share our home office and we’ve had to adjust times for online meetings so we’re not both talking at the same time in different meetings. He’s a college professor so I can pop into his meetings with students, and so can the kids and the dog (the students love when the big ol’ golden retriever jumps into the frame). However, I work for the government (local school system, actually) and it’s not as fun in my meetings. Although, my husband used to work at the same place so he did pop into my frame before the meeting started this morning to say hi to some of his old colleagues. When I’m on with someone from FEMA, I don’t think they’d appreciate it all that much. Continue reading

Michaeline: Death in the Family

Mourning sampler with a man and woman under a weeping willow tree; other flowers.

Mourning sampler; 1838. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

My father-in-law passed away this morning. He had aspirational pneumonia, not coronavirus, or so they think. I’m re-running a piece I wrote at the end of 2016. It’s a bit morbid, a bit hopeful. They say the Covid-19 mortality rate is running around 1 percent; if we each know about 300 people, that means all of us may know one or two people who die from that alone this year. I hope this doesn’t hit too close to home — please practice self-care if you want to continue reading.

Stay safe, all, and let your loved ones know you love them.

Kay: New Prize Aims to Recognize Female Writers

Let’s lead with the no-news bad news: women don’t win literary awards. Further, books written about women don’t win any awards, either.

I bet you’re shocked. Shocked!

Despite a couple of recent breakthroughs in 2018 (Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood shared the Booker Prize for Girl, Woman, Other and The Testaments, respectively; Susan Choi won the National Book Award for fiction for Trust Exercise; the award for nonfiction went to Sarah M. Broom for The Yellow House), women haven’t begun to reach parity with men in the book awards realm. (Evaristo, the first black woman to win the Booker, said in her acceptance speech, “I hope that honor doesn’t last too long.”)

Continue reading

Michille: Definitions of the Romance Novel

booksThe shake up with RWA and the ethics debacle, or in Elizabeth’s word the implosion, has injected the romance-writing community with some extra energy right now. At least as far as discussions related to the genre. Romance Scholar Digest is having an interesting discussion regarding the definitions of the romance novel. Eric Selinger shared in an email that there’s an ongoing discussion on Twitter about the need for some linkable definition of the romance genre that doesn’t rely on the RWA, which has led to an interest in a compendium (with citations) of definitions that have been offered of the genre by various hands, scholarly and authorial and industrial, etc. I’m not on Twitter so I’m getting my information from a Romance Scholar Digest email thread. Eric is considering putting them up at the IASPR site or in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS), which I would look forward to. The Teach Me Tonight blog has a list of definitions compiled by Laura Vivanco, some of which I’ve included here. Continue reading

Michaeline: The robots are taking our jobs!

Robot carrying grocery bags for a lovely young housewife; a bag has burst all over her stylish car.

Oh, no! Has the robot ruined dinner again? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Ever since the term “robot” was coined in 1920 (popularized by Karel Capek’s play, R.U.R. — Rossum’s Universal Robots), someone’s been worried about robots taking over their jobs. A few years ago, there were some National Public Radio (US) stories about programs that could write news stories. (One here:

I’ve read a few of these stories – honestly, there are only so many ways to report the weather on 90 percent of the days. Or to report on the stock market. In the vast majority of cases, you can randomly select a template, and plug in the numbers and adjectives for that day, and you have readable information.

Some artificially generated fiction can be strangely moving and seemingly full of thought. That’s because the reader is expected to do some of the work in fiction – she searches her brain for the source of allusions, or makes the connections that make the subtext clear. Is there so much difference between certain types of highly experimental fiction and vague robotic meanderings? As far as satisfaction goes, I think they both can deliver. Not every piece, of course. It’s Sturgeon’s Law that 90 percent of any genre is dreck. I think that goes for non-human writing, as well. Computers, over the short term, generally do better than an infinite number of monkeys plonking away on typewriters.

However, the inputs still matter. Today on Twitter, Janelle Shane shared some of her results from a neural net. Continue reading

Jeanne: Truffles Don’t Feed the Bulldog

Cute white English Bulldog puppy in a classic red velvet and gold crownOn Friday, Elizabeth posted a short story prompt where the main character had to deal with a difficult client, using the following words:

bulldog           undersea       grill                moonbeam

lonesome      chain               ambush           detox

facade            bluntness      miserable       injury

wealthy          audience       entertain        cynical

Everyone is welcome to join in. If you want to participate, you can leave your story in the comments, as Kay did. Here is my attempt:

The maitre d’ at the Undersea Moonbeam Grill looked down at Lady Perpetua Fortheringham-Wythe’s bulldog.

“You can’t bring that animal into the restaurant with you.”

“Of course Hermione will dine with me,” said Lady Perpetua. “She adores your truffles foie gras.” Continue reading

Michille: The Comma

comma_PNG30The comma is my friend. Too friendly. I use too many of them when I write. We all learned in elementary school when to use a comma in the basic sense: in lists, to separate clauses, to enclose parenthetical words/phrases, between adjectives, before quotations, in dates, etc. One of my favorite writer websites if Writers Write and they have a series they call Punctuation for Beginners which goes up on Tuesdays. In general, I like to noodle around on grammar sites for refreshers as it’s been a while since I learned grammar. Yesterday, the post was All About Commas. I learned a little about writing, but mostly I found the humor. Continue reading