Kay: Finally Getting There!

Phoebe 2 cover smallI’ve been in a flurry of literary activity lately, finishing up my endless trilogy (the Phoebe novels) and contemplating whether my first three books can be resuscitated. (They can! Or at least, one can, for sure.) This effort then requires time spent scheduling editors, formatters, and cover designers. Sometimes I have trouble keeping it all straight—is this the book that’s going to formatting, or going to the editor? What’s due from the cover designer? But the good part is that I think that I’m finally in the home stretch for many of these projects. Not only with my newer work, but also my older work.

I’ve complained so often about the problems I’ve had with the Phoebe trilogy that you all are probably happier than I am that I’m finally finishing them up. (There are way too many links to post back to. Seriously, you don’t want to revisit any of that.) But now that I’m finally getting past my logjam with them, I thought I’d show you the new cover for Phoebe 2. What can I say? I love the cheerleaders. (Editors note: I admit I was a high school cheerleader, but I deny all insinuations that this novel is autobiographical.)

What about you? How are things going on your side?

Kay: Getting a Clue

I’ve been thinking about murder mysteries as a genre lately, I think in part because the trilogy that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever is winding up. I’ve thought about these books primarily as romances, but there’s no question there’s a mystery element to them. No one dies, but villains attempt dastardly deeds and, ultimately, are thwarted by my heroes. Motivations are revealed, and justice prevails. So I think they could fall under a mystery label if “murder” wasn’t part of your requirement.

The main reason I’ve never attempted to write a full-on murder mystery, even though I enjoy reading them, is that I’m not clever enough to plot one. Every time I get to the finish of a well-written mystery, I am pleased and astonished at the outcome. I know I couldn’t do that.

And then recently I read this short article by Dana Stabenow at WritersDigest.com. Stabenow sets her mysteries in Alaska, and setting is an important element of her books. She has several long-running series; her first Kate Shugak novel won an Edgar. Her seven tips on how to write mysteries make it sound so simple! And the good thing is that most of these tips apply to any kind of writing. Continue reading

Michaeline: Self-care and the Gentle Art of Computer Backups

Young lady sitting on the back of a chair, watching a very small TV in a high cabinet c. 1933
Spend a night in with the small screen AND back up your computer files at the same time! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

March: In like a lion’s tale, out like a lamb’s whisker . . . or something like that. What a story of woe I have, but it’s a very common one. My computer crashed and burned at the beginning of March. The trackpad had been wonky for months (a whole year?), so I should have known this was coming, but the Lenovo Idea Pad wasn’t even three years old, so I thought I had time.

Ah, time, my old enemy, my dear friend.

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Jeanne: Rewrite the Stars

Rewrite the Stars, the debut novel of Christina Consolino, will be released next Thursday, March 18th. To kick it off, she is giving away a signed copy to a lucky Eight Ladies’ reader in the U.S. or an ebook anywhere worldwide.

Sadie Rollins-Lancaster is legally separated from Theo, her husband of fifteen years. Because of Theo’s PTSD, they still share a house and responsibility for their three children, who range in age from eighteen months to eleven years. Neither is in any hurry to sign the papers that will finalize their divorce until a chance encounter at the local grocery on Father’s Day brings Andrew into Sadie’s life.

She sets aside the initial surge of attraction she feels toward this handsome stranger, but life has other plans, throwing Andrew in her path several more times in the ensuing days. This could easily feel contrived, but in Consolino’s deft hands, it feels more like what happens when we hear something new to us and then re-encounter it twice more within the next twenty-four hours. Perhaps it isn’t so much that Sadie never seen Andrew before as that she’d never noticed because she wasn’t paying attention.

The story alternates point-of-view between Sadie and Theo, giving us an unsparing picture of the very real struggle Theo has with the legacy of his service in Afghanistan. Although he’s agreed to their planned divorce, he’s also struggling with whether to let their marriage reach its conclusion, despite the fact that it was he who initiated their separation. He loves his children very much, and on good days he remembers how he felt about Sadie back in the day.

With solid and, at times, lovely writing, Christina Consolino’s novel tells the story of a woman trying to balance old love and new without harming her husband’s attempts to heal or wrecking her children’s lives in the process. She is a genuinely good person, with more compassion for others than for herself, but the pull of new love is heady and strong.

If you’re a fan of stories that center on women making the journey through life in the face of both adversity and joy, Christina Consolino’s Rewrite the Stars is just your ticket. You can pre-order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

To enter the drawing, just leave a comment below letting me know you’re interested. I’ll announce the winner next Tuesday and make arrangements to get you your free copy!

Christina Consolino is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in multiple online and print outlets. She is the co-author of Historic Photos of University of Michigan, and her debut novel, Rewrite the Stars, was named one of ten finalists for the Ohio Writers’ Association Great Novel Contest 2020. She serves as senior editor at the online journal Literary Mama, freelance edits both fiction and nonfiction, and teaches writing classes at Word’s Worth Writing Connections. Christina enjoys warm cups of coffee, good books, and long runs outside.

Michille: Stages of Intimacy

With Valentine’s Day in the recent past and all the posts (not necessarily here) about love, intimacy and swiping right, I was reminded of an RWA session I attended years ago with Linda Howard in which she presented Desmond Morris’s 12 stages of intimacy as a means to build sexual tension in a story. It comes from his Intimate Behaviour (© 1971), which I looked to buy and couldn’t find until my good 8LW pal Kay gave me her copy a couple of years ago.

One mention in the book that I recently delved into is play-fighting as a stage of intimacy (Chapter 5: Specialized Intimacy). I’ve used that in my stories and, at the time, I didn’t consciously know it was one, or part of one. I’ve read it in other stories. At times, I’ve read it done well and others, I’ve started reading the sequence and rolled my eyes and blew past it because it was too cliché. Morris highlights the possibility that it could escalate into something that is far different from the initial idle start to the play-fighting. That’s when it gets interesting and can be useful in storytelling. Does something go a little too far, then retaliation, then pay back, facial expressions change, play-fighting changes to not playing, or into something else entirely. Is it violence or sexual foreplay?

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Michille: Happy Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine is thought to be a real person, recognized by the Catholic Church, who died around 270 A.D. It is thought that he was beheaded by emperor Claudius II for helping soldiers wed. There is some question about this as there was another St. Valentine who helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons who was then imprisoned himself, fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and signed his love letters to her “From your Valentine.” There are about a dozen St. Valentines plus a pope. The most recent saint was beheaded in 1861 and canonized in 1988, and the pope of that name lasted about 40 days. Odd history for a romantic holiday – a lot of beheadings involved.

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Jilly: Lighter Days Are Coming

Are you enjoying the holidays? It’s been a year like no other, but hopefully you’re managing to find a silver lining under all that cloud.

Over the last few days I’ve started to feel really energized. It’s not Christmas (bah, humbug!). It’s partly the prospect of a new year—I’m all in favor of putting 2020 to bed, and I love the idea of a fresh start, even if my rational self knows New Year’s Eve is an artificial construct. Mostly I’m super-happy because we’ve passed the winter solstice.

Last Monday, 21stDecember, was the shortest day and longest night of the year for people living in the northern hemisphere. In London the day was a tad short of 7 hours 50 minutes. Contrast that with the 12 hours of daylight we enjoy on the Spring equinox, and more than 16 hours on the summer solstice.

Long summer days are lovely, of course, but for me trends and momentum are more influential. At some subliminal level I notice when every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, and I start to feel amazingly empowered and creative. Almost superhuman. It doesn’t matter that we’re still in winter, that the weather may be grim and the nights will be longer than the days for another three months. We’re heading toward the light 🙂 .

I’ve experienced this excited, fizzy feeling almost every year for as long as I can remember. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then my subconscious tends to down tools for a vacation and resists like mad if I try to start new creative projects in the fall. I always do better working on housekeeping and closing out projects, which is why I’ve chosen to edit in the autumn and publish in December.

All of which means that right now, time’s a-wasting. I need to roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny, or Annis’s book, ASAP. I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the last week or so and I feel ready to settle down and start writing.

I still have a little more housekeeping to finish up—I need to get The Pulse of Princes, my Elan Intrigues prequel novella, formatted and set up as a free download for mailing list subscribers. I have a few tweaks to make to my website. And of course I will enjoy the rest of the holidays, right up until New Year’s Day. But I can feel my energy building, and I feel excited to make a new start.

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you’re looking forward to good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Kay: Tis the Season for Reading

I don’t know about you, but I still have some holiday gift shopping to do. The boxes I have to send are sent, and last night I pre-gifted myself a set of six-oz. flannel sheets in a beautiful shade of blue. Yum! Just the thing to slip between on cold winter nights. But for the rest of my shopping list, I think I’ll buy books, purchased from my local independent bookshop, which carries a nice selection of new and gently used books. People are still staying home, and they need something to read. It’s a win!

Normally I like to linger in bookshops, but in This Year of Covid-19, I think lingering is not advised. So I went hunting for ideas so that I’ll be prepared when I get there.

The Library Journal has—among other lists—a comprehensive and interesting “best of” list of crime fiction (my favorite genre), but I have to tell you: there are a lot of books on that list that, were I compelled to make a selection based on available descriptions, I would seek out the cookbook department. This year I am unable to read or watch much that is difficult, violent, or suspenseful. And the adjectives for the various books on this list are “heartbreaking,” “high-octane,” “depravity,” “intense,” and “vigilante,” among many others that make me want to move along.

The book on this list that looked most interesting to me was Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden about drug activity on Native lands (dubbed “Native noir”), and there’s a cozy mystery (The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman) that doesn’t appeal to me but at least is not described as “depraved.” For those of you who enjoy a gripping read, the books on this list might be just what you’re looking for.

There’s also a seven-year-old boy whom I want to shop for, and I think I’ll look for a volume from the list that aMightyGirl.com recommends, called “Elementary, My Dear Mighty Girl: 50 Books Starring Mighty Girl Detectives.” It’s probably high time that he start learning that women hold up half the sky.

Another list I’m taking to the bookshop is BookRiot’s rather specific “7 Great Books by Writers of Color From the First Half of 2020.” This list has some titles that I find promising, starting with The Chai Factor by Farah Heron, a romance that’s described as “laugh-out-loud” funny, about a Muslim Canadian who’s on the verge of finishing her master’s thesis when she falls for Duncan, a member of the barbershop quartet now renting her grandmother’s basement. That sounds like something I’d write, in fact, and maybe I’ll just get that one for myself.

(And, for those of you who might be interested in checking out the efforts of the Ladies, here are the author pages of Jilly Wood, Jeanne Oates Estridge, Michille Caples, Justine Covington, Nancy Yeager, and me.)

I’m looking forward to a trip to the bookshop, because indie bookshops have been struggling through the pandemic. The American Booksellers Association estimates that one independent bookstore has gone out of business in each week of last year. (For a great graphic round-up of how a few of the indie bookstores are doing, check out this cartoon by Bob Eckstein.)

And for those who might not have a handy, local, indie bookstore to patronize—and if you don’t want to shop Amazon—check out Bookshop. It’s an online indie bookseller billing itself as the indie alternative to Amazon, and a chunk of its proceeds go back to small stores. It’s a bit of David to Amazon’s Goliath, but it might be worth taking a look.

What about you? Do you give books as gifts for the holidays? And if you do, what are you buying this year?

And to all of you—happy holidays!

Jeanne: Demonic Party Games

My work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, is coming along well, with a target date for a first draft at the end of this year. It opens with Sam and Lil giving a party in Hell, along about 8,000 BC. 

Samael, the Demon of Pride, walked Lucifer to the front door of his apartment in the First Ring of Hell. “Thanks for coming.”

Lucifer was a short, skinny figure with leathery skin the color of sour cherries. In the two thousand years since he’d founded Hell, he’d shriveled, losing all resemblance to the bright morning star he had once been. Beneath the little horns poking out of the top of his head, his narrow face did not look happy. Behind him, his arrow-tipped tail swished angrily.

“Hell of a party.” He looked back into the cave, where the party was still in full swing. .

Sam’s quarters, like every other apartment in Hell, consisted of a huge cave sculpted from hardened lava. Near the back wall, a quartet of demons yodeled disharmonies while the audience pelted them with rotten figs. In the middle of the room, at a bar constructed from stalagmites and a slab of granite, a bartender mixed pus with boiling water for an endless line of takers, who shuddered as they slugged back the concoction and then got in line for more.

Around the room a dozen smudge pots burned, filling the air with sulfurous smoke. Several demons roasted wild boar sausages over the open fires while others, drunk on pus cocktails, tried to pee on the sausages. Here and there fights broke out when one of them was successful.

You all were so helpful in suggesting things that might go on in Hell’s daycare that I’ve decided to tap the hive mind for party suggestions.

What other kinds of activities might go on at a demon party? (Remember: this takes place approximately 8000 BC.) Hell often has technology before it shows up on Earth (because most technology is create in Hell) but not thousands of years before, so please stay within that constraint.

Jeanne: Things to be Thankful For

It’s been a tough year for most of us, so when Eight Lady Michaeline suggested we each do a post this week that focuses on things we’re grateful for, it sounded like an excellent idea. Here are my gratitude items, in no particular order:

Dogtooth Violet
  1. Only one person in my family has caught Covid-19. My 14-year-old grandson got a very mild case. He only discovered this because he got strep throat and his pediatrician ran a Covid test when he went in for the strep. Although he lives in a household of five, he was apparently perfectly content to hang out in his room with his computer and his Playstation and call for room service as needed.
  2. In addition to staying healthy, my family has managed to stay financially afloat. Since this includes one daughter who is a waitress and another who owns an event venue, this is pretty thank-worthy.
  3. Last spring, authorities shut down my favorite place to hike. This was initially not a gratitude item because it happened just as the woodland ephemerals were coming into bloom. The great thing that happened from this disappointment was that it forced me to break out of my routine and discover a ton of new places to hike. (I took the pictures on this post at a couple of them.)
  4. Places that I love to hike got a lot more crowded. This wasn’t great for me personally, but it’s exciting to see families getting out into nature who weren’t doing that before. I have my fingers crossed that by the time this is over it will be a habit for them because people who love nature, protect nature.
  5. The lack of opportunities to travel this year created a different opportunity–to sit in my chair and work on my current book. Thanks to that extra focus, I expect to finish a first draft before the end of the year.
  6. Last, but certainly not least, I’m thankful for the other Ladies. Behind every successful author is a strong community, and I’m so grateful to have found this one.
Large-flowered trillium
Bluebells