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

Jilly: The Urge to Hibernate

Is your productivity affected by the change in season?

We’re only a few weeks past the equinox, but to me it feels like winter is here already. The days are dark, gloomy, rainy, and cold. The covid figures are getting worse again. Social media seems to think we’re headed for another bout of heavy restrictions if not a full lockdown, and they’re probably right 😦 .

I’ll be thrilled to see the end of 2020, but the downside is I have a long list of things I want to finish before 31 December. Publish The Seeds of Exile, make The Pulse of Princes available for free download, write at least the first act of The Seeds of Destiny. Submit my taxes and deal with a boatload of other grim-but-necessary administrative chores.

I’ll get them done, because I hate, hate, hate to start the new year dealing with unfinished business, but right now I’m fighting myself every step of the way. What I really want to do is go to bed early, curl under the duvet, rise late, and spend the hours in between lolling on the sofa with a hot beverage, a box of Belgian chocolates, and a good book.

I might give in today, and gird my loins again tomorrow.

How are you doing?

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?