Jilly: Labor of Love

Happy Labor Day weekend to everyone in the US. Happy weekend, and happy end of summer, to everyone else.

Thinking about Labor Day led me to realize that it’s ten years since I decided to quit the day job and write fiction full time.

I left paid employment at the end of 2011.

I published my first novel, The Seeds of Power, in December 2019.

I never thought writing fiction would be so hard, that I’d have so much to learn, or that it would take me so long to get my first book published.

I’ve never worked so hard, earned so little, or had so much fun.

I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Best work decision I ever made.

What’s the best work decision you ever made?

Michille: 11 Things Every Romance Writer (Doesn’t) Need

Young woman writing at a portable writing desk

Ideas disappear if you don’t capture them. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

As readers may have noticed, there is a particular blog that I really like (which I’m not naming here because I am going to bash a recent post). So I was extremely disappointed when said blog recently had a post about 10 Things Every Romance Writer Needs. At least one of the blog owners is a romance writer. Apparently the writer of this post is not. At least I would find it hard to believe if he is because the content of the post bordered on insulting to the writers of the genre that essentially pays the bills for the whole fiction market. It is a well-known phenomenon, this casual dismissal of the romance genre, and one that prompted the creation of the International Society for the Study of Popular Romance, the partnership of the Romance Sociologists, and was recently explored by Laura Kahn in her documentary Love Between The Covers.

Not all of the 10 things were insulting. Some of the ‘things’ apply to all fiction writing like surrounding yourself with good books to help keep your head in the good-fiction game, to spend some time reading like a writer, and to take encouragement from the success of a well-written book. Some of them apply to all fiction writing, but used cutesy sexy titles like “Quickies,” which is essentially advice to keep your eyes open and a notebook handy so you can jot down the ideas that come to you at unexpected times. The “Shoulder to cry on” thing emphasizes the importance of community – find a fellow writer or a good friend you can bounce ideas off or lament to when your writing stalls, someone to believe in us, encourage us – a good thing for all writers, not specific to romance, but would you suggest that CJ Box find a shoulder to cry on?

Then there are the ridiculous, like: Continue reading

Jeanne: The Room Where It Happens

Michaeline’s post on Saturday about writers’ fantasy getaways to magical places that enable them to whip through their WIPs made me realize, once again, that my version of that fantasy is like the theme from Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.

20200829_135905I write best in my writing cave, a 9.5′ x 11′ room that was added onto the back of my 97- year-old house in the 1950’s or 60’s (along with an extra bathroom/laundry room and a ridiculously useless hallway that I’ve converted into a mudroom/cloakroom/ ironing room).

Before Covid-19 entered our lives, I went on occasional junkets to beaches or faraway cities to write, but I seldom (almost never) returned home with any additional words written. Sadly, the one time I actually got a substantial number of words on the page, I wound up throwing said pages away after I decided the book was headed in the wrong direction. 😦

I’ve come to the conclusion that I write best in familiar surroundings. That’s partly 20200829_135916because my kids are grown, I currently have no pets, and my husband is a very low-maintenance kind of guy. But it’s partly because the room is really well-suited to writing. It has space for my ancient desktop computer (if all you use is Word, Excel and Chrome, you don’t really need a state-of-the-art computer), a couple of printers (one black-and-white laser printer and a color multi-function device that scans and makes copies, and a couple of fairly up-to-date laptops that I use when I travel.

The room has counters along both sides, with an assortment of junk drawers and cabinets underneath, and bookshelves along the top of the room, where I keep dictionaries, craft books and approximately 1000 tablets and notebooks because I’m forever finding myself out in the world with time on my hands and nothing to write on.

It also has a couple of windows that look out on my working-class neighborhood. Some of my writing buddies have amazing views from their writing rooms–Puget Sound and San Francisco Bay. I suppose after a while I’d become so accustomed to the beauty that I’d stop gawking, but my view is okay. The windows are enough to keep me from being claustrophobic without creating a distraction.

20200829_140123

There are a couple of closets at one end of the room. On the closet doors I tape up things like maps and floor plans that I need to keep track of the “where” of my stories. Right now the left-hand door has floor plans of the United Nations Conference Center in New York City, where much of my work-in-progress, The Demon Wore Stilettos, takes place. The right-hand door has a tourist map of Sedona, AZ, where I plan to set my next project, a rom-com series about a family of five siblings who are suddenly left in charge of their parents’ tour business and each sibling has a different idea about where they’d like to take the business (and a chance at love along the way, of course).

It’s not a particularly pretty room, but it’s homey and very practical. What kind of space do you use when you’re being creative?

Jilly: Bake, Write, Repeat

Which of your newly acquired corona-shelter-lockdown skills is proving most useful?

I know I’m not the only one working on my baking craft. I’ve been cheering Elizabeth’s sourdough progress and applauding Kay’s inspired ingredient substitutions.

Not sure I’ve heard anyone else say that the experience has also been good for their writing, though. Michille said she’s a procrasti-baker. Weirdly, my adventures in bread-making have provided me with both food for thought and a handy writing routine.

Creative inspiration
As you know, I write fantasy romance in a historical setting. My fictional world is similar to northern England or Scotland, broadly late Medieval or early Tudor period. Of course I knew bread was the main carbohydrate in my characters’ diet—they had no potatoes or rice to bulk out their meals. I hadn’t thought enough about how the quality of flour and the kind of bread would vary according to a person’s social standing (apparently in the real world at that time there were at least seven different kinds). Or to wonder whether a character would have their own bread oven, or would take proven dough to a communal bread oven and pay to have it baked, or would buy it ready to eat from a bakehouse. To think about where and how they would acquire flour. How they’d find the time to hand-bake on an almost continuous basis. What they might flavor their dough with. And so on.

It’s not that I expect to use all those details in my books. Maybe a snippet will come in useful, here and there. But it’s a very practical way to immerse myself in my story world and connect with the rhythm of my characters’ lives. And it gives me something to think about while I’m kneading away 🙂 .

A writing routine
Making bread by hand isn’t something you can rush. At my kitchen temperature, a simple loaf needs to sit quietly under a damp tea towel for around two hours—an hour after first kneading, and another hour after it’s been knocked back and shaped. That rhythm works wonderfully well as long-ish writing sprints. Bash the dough, leave it to rise, set a timer, write for an hour. Knock the dough back and shape the loaf, leave it to prove, set a timer, write for an hour. If things are going really well, write for another 35 minutes while the loaf bakes.

Or even better-make sourdough. Mix the ingredients with the starter, set a timer, write for an hour. Add salt, write for another half-hour to an hour. Then turn the dough every half an hour for four hours. Write for eight half-hour sprints between turns. Shape the loaf. Write for another half hour. Then put the loaf in a proving basket and leave it in the fridge overnight. I get at least six hours’ worth of writing time, complete with timed breaks to get up and walk around. And fresh baked sourdough for breakfast.

I feel absurdly pleased to think I’ve inadvertently acquired a small lasting corona-benefit to offset all those missed birthdays, canceled holidays, and absent friends.

How about you? Have you discovered any corona-compensations, large or small?

Elizabeth: Start Now

As I mentioned a a short while back, this past weekend was the Australian Romance Readers Association‘s Romantic Rendezvous (Locked Down) event. 

In a time when in-person conferences are not an option, many organizations have been coming up with creative virtual events to fill the gap.  This event by the ARRA included 50 YouTube video sessions of author chats, readings, panels, and feature interviews.

While the event had a live feel to it, with the video sessions posted according to the daily schedule, it had actually all been recorded earlier.  As a plus, that meant that there was plenty of time to address any technical difficulties that cropped up during the initial recording, so the posted sessions were basically trouble-free (well, except for the closed-captioning, but they may not have had control over that).

Anyway, as you can imagine, 50 sessions is a lot of watching/listening to fit into a single weekend.  I gave it the old college try, but I still have a few sessions left in my queue.

As I listened to each session, I tried to pull out some piece of information that resonated (and, in all honesty, seemed like it might make a blog topic).  In some cases I came up empty-handed, which is not too surprising since the event was aimed at readers rather than writers, but I did come up with a few. Continue reading

Jilly: New Story, New Cover

It’s August already, and the end of this pandemic is starting to feel very far away. Here’s hoping at least one of those vaccines turns out to be a magic bullet.

I expected to be in California now, drinking cocktails, eating ice cream and hanging out with Eight Lady Kay. Instead I’m about to start the nineteenth week of our involuntary staycation in North London. Sigh. The weather has turned gorgeous. I like my house, and we’re lucky enough to have a small garden. My husband is great company. The food is okay and the wine is good. I’m trying to stay focused on the positives, but a change or two would be welcome.

So while I wait for the copy edits of The Seeds of Exile (Daire’s novella) I’m turning my focus to a new writing project—the second full length Elan Intrigues novel, called The Seeds of Destiny. The main character is a mountain-dwelling healer with uncanny powers. She’s called Annis Benkith. Daire seeks her help as he battles the energy sickness that is driving him toward an early and painful death.

It’s always hard to get to grips with a new character and a new piece of world building. Annis is a nomadic mountain dweller, wildly different from the princes and princesses of the two previous books. Fortunately I have a cover for The Seeds of Destiny that evokes the ambience I’m trying to capture. I’m using it for inspiration.

It took me hours of searching to find a stock photo of a woman who looked as though she could be Annis. She makes eye contact with the reader. She looks natural and rather serious. To me she feels like Annis—calm and empathetic, skilled, but also decisive, courageous and determined. In the original photo she was Victorian and glamorous, but my cover designers, Deranged Doctor Design, gave her a new look with a homespun dress and a high-altitude setting.

What do you think? I hope you like the cover as much as I do. I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed it as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the talented team at Deranged Doctor Design. I feel very lucky to be working with them.

Elizabeth: Creativity Challenged

In our new viral-normal, it can sometimes be challenging to give free reign to creativity.  I have found myself with much more free time in recent months (thanks to no work commute), but have little to show for it in terms of words on the page (though I did make 2 dozen face-masks and a quilt).

In her Getting Unstuck post last week, Kay gave some great suggestions for how to keep your story going when you’ve hit a wall, but what if the problem is not that you’ve reached a sticking point in your story, but that you’re stuck in reality.

Conveniently, I ran across a couple of posts in my news feed, as well as a list from work, that may be helpful.

First is a post from Janice Hardy’s Fiction University entitled Why You Can’t Concentrate Right Now. In a nutshell (you can read the article for the details) concentration can be challenging for folks right now because our brains are busy keeping an eye out for threats and maintaining a level of hyper alertness. If your brain is busy managing the Bodily Intruder Alert Command Center, it makes sense that there may be little bandwidth left over for creative pursuits.  So, I take that to mean that my lack of creativity is not because I’m lazy or that I’m too busy perfecting my pastry-making skills, but because my brain is busy making contingency plans to address potential death and economic collapse.

Makes sense to me. Continue reading

Jeanne: If It Doesn’t Bring You Joy

USA - 2019 Primetime Emmy Creative Arts Awards - Los AngelesAfter twelve weeks of being cooped up in my house, I’ve been giving some thought to doing a Marie Kondo on my life: clearing out the things that don’t bring me joy. Although my house could probably use some de-cluttering (especially the basement and the kitchen junk drawers), I’ve been focusing more on streamlining my emotional life, asking myself what I want from this last quarter of my time on Earth and what is getting in the way of my achieving that.

So what do I want? Well, in no particular order:

  • I want to return to Europe another time or two. I’d like to see something of Spain and Italy, for sure, but those trips are on hold at least until there’s a vaccine that makes air travel safe again.
  • I want to tell more stories.
  • I want to continue learning to write better.
  • I want to learn more about local flora and fauna.
  • I want spend more time hiking, preferably with a canine buddy.
  • I want to read a bunch of books I never seem to have time for.
  • I want to see more movies (versus TV shows).
  • I want to see friends again. (I suspect that shortfall may be at the root of my malaise but there’s not much to be done about it for now.)

What would I like to do less of?

  • I’d like to cook less.
  • I’d like to spend less time doing book marketing related activities.
  • I’d like to spend less time on life administration–sending in claim forms and arguing with my insurance company about whether I need to do a telehealth well-visit. (Yes, I get that Medicare pays you to make me waste an hour chatting with someone about my perfectly fine health but I don’t want to.)

More than anything, I’d like to spend less time “channel surfing” available activities. When I do get some free time, I spend so much time dithering, trying to choose what to do next, that it all goes to waste.

Maybe if I’m clearer about which activities will leave me feeling satisfied instead of frustrated I can make better use of my time.

What about you? What brings you joy? And what would you like to do less of?

Elizabeth: Choosing a Path

Once upon a time, half-a-dozen years ago (give or take), writing moved up to the top of my To Do list.   I had just made it through some major life changes and decided it was time to focus more on “want to” and less on “should.”

Though I had been writing all my life, in one form or another, I thought getting some solid foundational knowledge would be a good idea, so I headed off to grad school and studied craft-first from the literature perspective (where they mocked genre fiction) and then from the more helpful romance-writing perspective (where there was no mocking).

With that knowledge under my belt and the 8Lady network in place, I joined the Romance Writers of America and began seriously working on book #1, a Regency Romance.  Publication was a far off-crap shoot of a goal, but after attending my first RWA conference I had what felt like a more achievable goal in my sights:  finish the book and submit it to the RWA Golden Heart contest.   Finaling (or winning) would have been the icing on the cake, but finishing the book and submitting it seemed a more realistic goal since, what happened after submission would be pretty much outside of my control.

I wrote and attended conferences and worked on my craft.  In due course, I finished that first book and submitted it, along with a second book, and later a third.  None of the entries made it to the final round, but the the scores they received convinced me that I wasn’t completely wasting my time.  (I found it interesting that, for all three books, the judges either really liked them or really hated them; there were no “middle” scores.)  There were also some other local contest finals along the way, several with agent requests for a “full” or a “partial,” but nothing quite clicked.

Then an unfortunate thing happened. Continue reading

Kay: Wild Hair (That’s Entertainment!)

My friend Eileen

Shetland pony

How long have we been social distancing now? It feels like forever, right? Most of us haven’t been out to a hairdresser—or really, anywhere else—in all that time. And let’s face it: we aren’t really looking our best these days.

A friend emailed me that it’s been so long since she last had a haircut, she looks like a Shetland pony. I thought that was ridiculous, but then she sent me pictures of herself and a Shetland pony. And holy cow, she was right. She looks just like a Shetland pony!

Me

Weird chicken

This made me wonder what I look like. It turns out, I look like a weird chicken.

I asked the other Ladies what they were doing about their hair in these stay-at-home times, and what they were looking like these days. As you might expect, some of the Ladies are cutting their own hair, or are letting it grow long. Some are dying it for the first time, or missing a coloring treatment.

Elizabeth

Highland cow

Elizabeth has fairly long hair, so missing a trim, if she were so inclined, might not be so noticeable. In answer to the question of how long the stay-at-home has been going on, she says, “two hair cuts’ worth.” And she’s taking the current state of affairs as an indication that it’s time to let nature take its course, hair-wise.

She says it would appear that “Scottish Highland cow” best describes her “out-for-a-walk, shelter-in-place” hair. Looking good, Ladies!

Jeanne

Dandelion

Some of the Ladies think that their hair most closely resembles plant life. Jeanne thinks she’s looking most like a dandelion.

 

 

 

Jilly

Haystack

Jilly reports that she’s been cutting (and thinning) her own hair, too—at least two hair cuts’ worth. She says that the term most often used to describe it at her house is “haystack.”

(For the curious, the photo of that beautiful haystack was taken in County Clare, Ireland.)

 

Goldendoodle

Michaeline lets go

Michaeline’s hair is long enough that she can adapt two styles to her hair. When she lets it go, she looks like a mini Goldendoodle. (photo: picuki.com/tag/banglecats)

 

 

 

Michaeline sleek

Araripe Manakin

When Michaeline’s hair is pulled back, though, then it’s a bird of a different feather! (This photo of the rare Brazilian bird Araripe Manakin was shot by Rick Elis Simpson via Wikimedia Commons.)

 
 
 

Justine

Lion

Finally, Justine thought she’d try something new, coloring her hair a beautiful purplish-red just in the front. And then she brushed it out, and her husband said “Oh my God” when he saw it. (She says she NEVER brushes out her hair, and she has to thin it to keep it manageable. I wish!)

What does she look like? A lion, of course.

Younger son

Golden Lion Tamarin

Her younger son wanted to get in on the act, so we’re adding him in. He, too, went for a little color in front and a little shorter in the back. I thought that beautiful color most resembled a golden lion tamarin.

And that’s what we’re looking like these days, over at Eight Ladies Writing! How are you all holding up out there in the hair department?