Jilly: Taking A Break

Are you looking forward to the summer? Feeling ready for a break? Me, too.

Apart from essential trips to the dentist and doctor, one decadent haircut last October, and daily sanity-maintaining walks with Mr. W, I haven’t left home since mid-March 2020. I haven’t even taken the tube into town, except for one unavoidable hospital appointment.

I like my home. I love sitting at my dining table, writing. But after twelve months of covid-confinement, I feel as though the lack of variety and absence of external stimulus are taking a toll on my creativity. It’s taken me three months and I don’t know how many rewrites just to get a first scene I’m happy with on my current WIP, The Seeds of Destiny.

In normal times I’d take a vacation, break out of my comfort zone and fill my creative well with new experiences—sights, smells, ideas, food, people, places.

Right now that’s not possible, though I have my fingers crossed for 2022. 

In the meantime, since I can’t change my surroundings, I’ve decided to break my routine, take a pause from blogging and change it up by taking on a few new challenges from the comfort of my own home.

I’ll still be commenting on the other Ladies’ posts, and you can always find me via my website or my newsletter.

While I’m recharging my battery, I’d like to thank you for your company and wish you a safe and rewarding summer 😀 .

Jeanne: Spring Fever

We’re getting an early spring here in southwest Ohio–days in the 50’s and 60’s–which is perfect for spotting nesting owls

Great Horned Owl

and for locating woodland ephemerals.

Winter aconite

Snow Trillium

Siberian Squill

So, although my second draft is lagging well behind where I planned and there’s always promotional work waiting for my attention, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Spring fever always makes me think of this poem:

I Meant To Do My Work Today

by Robert La Gallienne

I meant to do my work today—
   But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
   And all the leaves were calling me. 

And the wind went sighing over the land,
   Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
   So what could I do but laugh and go?

Jilly: Searching For A Cozy Niche

How easily do you find the kind of books you like to read?

I love character driven stories—heroines and heroes with clear, strong goals. I like romantic elements but I want an engaging external plot as well as true love. I prefer historical, paranormal or fantastic settings. Adventures and quests are good. And there must be a happy ending.

Over the last year, though, more than anything I’ve wanted the cozy. Warm, feelgood stories with lightness, humor and no painful grimdark, written for adults.

I don’t think I’m the only one, because lately I’ve found a number of new-to-me fantasy authors who really hit the spot. I feel as though I’m on a great reading discovery streak and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. The only thing is—and I find this really weird—these stories have so much in common, but there seems to be no convenient category grouping for them. No accepted term. On Amazon—usually super-smart about these things—they’re mostly dotted around the sci-fi and fantasy sections.

If I search ‘low fantasy,’ I get mostly role-playing products. If I search “cozy fantasy” I get mysteries or magic series with smiley cartoon cats, witches, or haunted houses on the cover. They look fun, but they’re not what I’m after.

A few titles from my kindle that I’d say all share a niche are shelved on Amazon as follows:

T. Kingfisher, Paladin’s Grace: fantasy romance, romantic fantasy, fantasy & futuristic romance;

Gail Carriger, Soulless: steampunk fiction, steampunk science fiction, historical fantasy;

Olivia Atwater, Half a Soul: teen & young adult historical fantasy;

Charlotte E English, Wyrde and Wicked: Gaslamp fantasy;

Ilona Andrews, Innkeeper series: paranormal & urban fantasy;

AJ Lancaster, Stariel series: Gaslamp fantasy, fairy tales;

Kate Stradling, The Legendary Inge: Fairy Tale Fantasy, Mythology & folk tales;

I’m really happy to have so many fun reads to hand, but amazed that I have to scout around to find them. And no wonder I find it difficult to select a better description than “historical fantasy” for my own books.

How about you? Do you read in a specific niche or two? How easily can you track down the kind of book you prefer to read?

Jilly: I Want That!

Did you ever see, read, or hear about something and immediately think I want that for myself?

It happened to me this week.

Writing fiction is, for me, a joy and a privilege. I feel very lucky to have the resources to pursue my passion, and the time to build a successful indie author business on my own terms. The key word here being successful 🙂 .

Joanna Penn, in her book Business for Authors (How to be an Author Entrepreneur), suggests that it’s important to identify your personal definition of success, and to know how you will track and measure that success.

She offers some possible options:

  • I want to create something I’m proud of
  • I want to see my book on the shelves of a bookstore
  • I want to reach readers with my words
  • I want to sell x copies of my books
  • I want to win a prize and win literary/critical acclaim
  • I want to make a full-time living from my writing
  • I want to create a body of work that I’m proud of over my lifetime

The most important definition for me is the last one—to create a body of work that I’m proud of. I will feel I am on the way to achieving it when I have published my remaining Elan Intrigues prequel book and the five-book fantasy series that succeeds it. I guesstimate that may take me another five years or so.

I have an ambitious writing/publishing plan, but I never set myself an ambitious financial goal. I treat what I do as a business, and over time I intend to make it profitable, but that’s always been about being able to afford quality professional services to make my books as good as they can be. Necessities, if I’m to create a body of work I’m proud of. Not luxuries.

Until last Wednesday, when I saw this post on Ilona Andrews’ blog.

New Art from Luisa Preissler

The authors commissioned a family portrait of the Baylor sisters, the heroines of their bestselling Hidden Legacy series, and it is absolutely gorgeous. It captures the sisters and the tone of the books perfectly, and it includes lots of small details that make it extra special. I love it.

So now I have an extra benchmark of writerly success. I still want all the things I listed above, but I also want to make enough extra money from my writing to commission an artist whose work I really admire to create a portrait (portraits?) of my favorite characters. How cool would that be?

So how about you? Is there something you’d really, really like, not because it’s necessary or useful, but because it would feel amazing?

Jilly: Sleep Is My Superpower

Do you find that a good night’s sleep helps you with problem solving?

This week (finally!) I settled down to work on my current WIP, The Seeds of Destiny. I already had some ideas written down and a couple of scenes sketched out, but I put the project on hold while I published The Seeds of Exile and uploaded my freebie novella The Pulse of Princes.

The heroine of The Seeds of Destiny is a healer called Annis Benkith. She belongs to an elusive, nomadic, mountain-dwelling tribe. The Kith are highly attuned to their environment and have some unusual elemental powers. Their abilities affect many aspects of their culture and are particularly important for healers.

So I need to understand and be able to describe clearly how the Kith’s powers work. And I need to think through the wider implications. I know how those powers create the crisis that launches Annis into the story of The Seeds of Destiny, but that leaves a whole world of related questions to be answered.

How, exactly, does Annis do what she does (avoiding spoilers here)? How do I show it so that a reader can see it in her mind’s eye? I’ve always thought that it would involve colors, but this week, when I created a chart for the colors I imagined and considered all the possibilities, I got a palette of outcomes that made the concept look like the aftermath of a paintball game. Argh. So not what I needed.

Also, what’s the difference between what healers do and what other Kith can do? If Annis’s mentor is the Kith’s greatest healer, how come she never discovered this problem before? And if these healing skills are so useful, why don’t the Kith just use them the whole time? I need Annis’s problem to arise in the now, and to be a shock, not an oversight. I need it to lead to difficult and dangerous choices, because that’s a great test of character—for Annis and all the other characters affected by her choices. If the problem can easily be solved, there is no story 😦 .

I wasted a whole day and a good few pages of my newest Moleskine notebook trying to brainstorm answers to these and other fundamental world-building questions. Then I gave up and went to bed. The following morning, in that wonderful semi-conscious relaxed state between sleeping and waking, I realized that I had all the answers.

This happens to me quite often. I guess it’s my subconscious, working on the problem with nothing else to distract it, but it feels more than a little magical. I never take it for granted or try to direct it—I’m just thrilled and amazed whenever it works.

Does sleeping on a problem work for you? Exercise? Knitting? Watching TV? Or some other method that often does the trick, even if you don’t quite know why?

Jeanne: Mama Said

As a young girl, my mother wanted to be an author. When I was twelve or so, and fired up about becoming a writer myself, I asked her why she’d never pursued this dream. To her credit, she did not point out, as she might reasonably have done, that she had seven kids, (one of whom was disabled), helped run my dad’s real estate business and kept a huge old house so clean you could eat off the floors, leaving little time for writing.

Instead, she took my question for what it was, a request to know what might get in the way of my own journey to being an author. She said it was because she didn’t have the education to be a writer. She had graduated salutatorian from her tiny high school near Richmond, Kentucky, a circumstance that frustrated her because if she hadn’t had the second best grades in her class she would have been class poet, a title much more to her liking. She’d also done a year of nursing school at Berea College, the tuition-free Kentucky college dedicated to offering an education to the children of coal miners. But she hadn’t studied writing.

She said there was a lot more to being a good author than loving to read and being good in English class. Despite her other responsibilities, she was a prodigious reader, plowing through Frank Yerby and Daphne Du Maurier and all of Mazo do la Roche’s Jalna chronicle, along with romantic suspense luminaries like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. I followed in her footsteps, reading several books a week through middle school and high school, but she said that wasn’t enough.

I was pretty sure she was wrong. There were plenty of famous writers who’d never gone to college–Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Beatrix Potter and Truman Capote, to name a few.

So after I dropped out of Indiana University, where I was a journalism major, I tried my hand at writing a few novels. I got precisely nowhere, because that’s where my plots went–nowhere. Even today it feels like I should have been able to analyze my favorites among the hundreds of books that I’d read and figure out what made them tick, but I never got past being so carried away by the story that I forgot to look under the covers.

Like my mother before me, my life got caught up in raising and providing for a family, and it wasn’t until I was in my late fifties that I went back to college–McDaniel College, in Baltimore–and learned how plots are supposed to work. Since then, I’ve published two books and expect to publish three more this year.

Right again, Mom.

Elizabeth: Fresh Start

Doesn’t this look like a good spot for some writing or maybe a nice nap?

The New York Times had an article the other day about five small chores to do around the house to get it (and yourself) off to a fresh start in the new year.

Some of the five–like unclogging the drains and cleaning out various filters–did not sound too appealing.  Actually, they left me feeling like I’d be more likely to get my year off to a cranky start than a fresh one.  The first suggestion, Deep-clean Your Bed, sounded like a good idea though, so I gave it a whirl this weekend.

“You know that feeling you get when you get into a bed with clean sheets?  This is that feeling times 10.” ~ from the article

I wash the sheets on a fairly regular basis and run the duster under the bed whenever I happen to notice the sun streaming through the window and bouncing off a layer of dust, but I can’t remember the last time I took everything off the bed and washed it–pillows, blankets, decorative shams and all.  Considering how much dust and whatnot was released into the air when I pulled the cover off the box-spring, I was probably long overdue for a deep cleaning.  The article even suggested sprinkling the mattress with baking soda and letting it sit for a while, to absorb any lingering odors, so I dutifully retrieved the canister of baking soda from the kitchen and gave the mattress a dusting.   While I was at it, I figured I might as well give the floor a good sweeping, tackle those cobwebs that had magically appeared in the corners of the room, and polish up the bedframe and night stands.

After about a million and a half loads of laundry and an awkward staggering waltz with the mattress, the bedding was all put back in place, fresh and clean.   When I climbed into bed that night, just as the article had suggested, I experienced the “getting into a bed with clean sheets” feeling times 10.

Yay! Continue reading

Jilly: Sound Effects

Do you prefer background noise when you work, or are you a work-in-silence type?

In the past I’ve created playlists for individual books, finding songs or pieces of music that I associated with particular characters, places or themes. If I played them often enough, they became so familiar that my ears tuned them out and my subconscious took them as a soft signal that it was time to write.

That worked well for me before covid-19. Until last year I was happy on my sofa, writing in my isolated story bubble, because in the rest of my life I was out and about, interacting face to face with real live people and getting my daily fix of human connection.

Now we’ve been confined to home, more or less, for almost ten months, and close personal interaction with others is something we’re exhorted to avoid if at all possible. I have my husband, thank goodness, and we catch up with friends and family via technology, but we’re feeling the lack of variety in our day-to-day interactions, and somehow it’s affecting my writing routine. At the moment I don’t want to get wholly swallowed by my story world. I prefer some kind of pleasing background noise that doesn’t intrude on my thoughts but quietly offers reassurance that there’s a real world out there, occupied by real people.

I’ve found the perfect solution. Cricket commentary 🙂 .

For those unfamiliar with this very British sport, it’s a bat-and-ball game played by two teams of eleven players on a circular or oval shaped piece of grass—usually with a diameter of around 450 or 500 feet. The game is believed to have originated in Medieval England, and it’s mostly played in countries that were or are part of the British Commonwealth, like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, though all kinds of other countries are now getting into the swing of it.

Because it’s such a very old, very upper-class game, it has all kinds of arcane rules and language (a maiden, a duck or golden duck, silly point, a googly, a bouncer). In its longest form, matches are spread over five days, and a series would be (say) five matches of five days each. A match usually starts mid-morning and lasts for around eight hours, with breaks for lunch and tea (those are the official names). If it rains, the players retire to the pavilion until the ground is dry again. There might be breaks of several hours, or even whole days with no play. If it’s too cloudy to see the ball clearly, the umpires will take the players back to the pavilion until it’s brighter. And at the end of all that, it’s quite possible that a game or a series might end in a draw.

All of which means that the tv or radio commentary for cricket works beautifully for me as a writing accompaniment. The commentators are intelligent, courteous, and highly educated. The matches may be fiercely competitive, but they’re so old-school and such a marathon that there’s no place for screaming commentary. Just a warm, soothing flow of observation that has time to wander off into history, geography, geology, the weather, local sights, customs, wildlife, and anything else that catches the commentators’ fancy.

Even better, many international cricket grounds are to be found in spectacular locations. The England team are currently playing against Sri Lanka in Galle, overlooked by a historic fort and fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean. It looks gorgeous. I’ve been getting a vicarious travel treat every day, and while it’s not as good as a vacay, it’s a lovely reminder of what will (I hope) be possible again soon.

Fortunately for me, when the England cricketers finish their tour of Sri Lanka, they’re off to India. That takes care of my soundtrack for February and March 🙂 .  I’m hoping they’ll help me build up some momentum on The Seeds of Destiny.

Do you like background noise whilst you work? Have your aural preferences changed during the pandemic?

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?

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