Elizabeth: Action!

With little fanfare and none of the traditional New York Times Square hugging and kissing, the year 2020 finally made its last appearance a few days ago.  And not a moment too soon.  The calendar insists the year contained no more than the standard number of days, but it seemed to have lasted several lifetimes at least.  Although most of us were (safely) stuck at home–washing our hands, sanitizing surfaces, making sure we didn’t run out of the essentials, and mastering the art of Zoom–the year did have its bright spots, including a lot of writing progress and new books by several of the Eight Ladies.

Yay!

The Romance Writers of America organization crashed and burned in spectacular fashion at the beginning of last year, but like the Phoenix, it seems to have risen from the ashes, changed and is, hopefully, better than before.  It’s too soon to tell if the issues that led to the demise have been successfully addressed, but the new leadership does seem to be making an effort, which is an additional 2020 bright spot.

On a lighter side, though I spent most of the year writing-challenged and day-job busy, I did find time to master pandemic sourdough and to attend about a zillion-Zoom calls.  My son and I also added “oil painting” to our accomplishments as we, with help from a Bob Ross video, painted landscapes with happy, happy trees over the holiday.  Neither of us had painted before, but the results were recognizable, and we had a great deal of fun during the process.  It was a good reminder that the journey is as important as the destination and that perfection is not really the goal.

Now that we’re firmly in 2021, a brand-new year with no (or few) mistakes in it yet, it’s time to look ahead at what is possible in the next 360+ days.  Sure, the pandemic is still raging and looking to get worse with the post-holiday-spike before it gets better, but there are several vaccines in play now, which offers real hope leaves me feeling more optimistic about the future.

One of the things in my 2021, thanks to the motivation of Eight Lady Michille, is a focus on getting rid of “stuff.”  For several years now Michelle has been getting rid of one thing a day.  I joined her last year and was fairly successful, though my garage currently has a backlog of things just waiting for one of the local charities to be open for drop offs.  Earlier this week, while waiting for my daily parade of repairmen to finish their tasks, I gave my bookshelves a bit of a going over.  Since I have thousands of books, the results may not be visible to the naked eye, but I did manage to cull out several dozen books, which are now waiting for the library to be open for donations.  Better yet, the remaining books are organized so I can find what I have.  Here’s hoping that will help avoid the “buying something I already have” scenario from cropping up again.

Buoyed by the pleasant feelings following this successful cleanup effort, I’ve chosen Action as my focus word for this year.  I have a tendency to get stuck in the “thinking” stage of projects–writing or otherwise–and never make it to the “doing” stage.  I’m hoping the momentum that I’m starting with now, along with the positive feelings of accomplishment, will keep me moving forward.  I’m not above a little self-bribery if I start to stall.

The second component of my focus for the year is Humor.   If the past year has shown anything it is that humor can make even the bleakest times seem a little better.  So, I plan to make sure that I spend at least some of my 2021 searching out the amusing side of things.  Below is today’s bit of humor.  I don’t know why, but that “Prime” bit at the end just cracked me up.

I hope you are all staying healthy and safe and that your 2021 is off to a good start and trending upward.

Jeanne: The Chicken or the Egg?

A few months ago I did a beta read for an author friend. She’s a kick-butt writer, with a real gift for creating likeable characters you connect with and want to root for, but she had one narrative tic that I found distracting. When she described events that create an emotional reaction in the point-of-view character, she often described their reaction first and described what caused it second.

Here is a totally made-up example:

His breath shortened and his heart pounded till he could feel it beating in his ears. Footsteps sounded on the stairs above his head.

I can see where you might want to do this occasionally to create suspense for the reader (what’s going on?!), but in general it feels to me like it lacks chronological validity.

On the other hand, research into human perception suggests that we do actually perceive things at a subliminal level and react to them milliseconds before we’re consciously aware of what we’re reacting to.

(This has actually been used as an argument against free will–how can humans have free will if a large portion of our reactions are made by our subconscious minds?)

I’m opening the floor to discussion. In describing a stimulus-response situation, which should come first? Are there exceptions? If so, what are they?

Jilly: Incubating in Caldermor

Happy New Year, all!

I had plans for my first post of 2021, but my brain seems to be off on a frolic of its own. Whether I’m asleep, cooking, tapping at my laptop, or walking around Hampstead Heath, my gray matter is in Caldermor, mulling over Annis, Daire, and my new WIP. Not working out specific plot points, just noodling around what kind of people they are, what they want in their deepest, most private selves, why there would be a deep/unique connection between them, and what would make a true HEA for their love story.

I get this distracted feeling from time to time, and I’ve learned from experience that when it happens, I should relax and give my subconscious free rein. I’m reassured by the idea that creative incubation appears to have some scientific basis 😉 .

Nancy Andreasen is a leading neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of Iowa whose specialty is research into the creative mind. She was originally a professor in the English Department, and her research was partly informed by her proximity to the talented writers participating in the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

I’ve linked before to her one-hour Aspen Ideas presentation titled “Secrets of the Creative Brain,” but not since 2017. I revisited it today and thought it an hour well spent, so I’m sharing it again.

Among many other things, Ms. Andreasen says that there are four stages in the creative process:

  • Stage 1, Preparation: the assimilation of basic information to build on.
  • Stage 2, Incubation: a relaxed time when connections are made, often unconsciously.
  • Stage 3, Inspiration: the Eureka! Moment
  • Stage 4, Production: putting the insights or concepts into a useful form, or something that can be communicated to others.

I need to get The Seeds of Exile into Production soon, so I’m hoping all this Incubation will lead to Inspiration. I’ll keep you posted 😉 .

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and creatively satisfying 2021.

See you next Sunday!

Michaeline: The Fabulous Five Weeks of New Year Plan

a check. Upper banner: May Courage and Good Health and Fortune Favour You. Your Course keep Cleap (clear) Through all the Year. The Consolidated BANK OF SUCCESS Pay to (blank line) the Bearer, Three hundred and sixty-five days of Prosperity, Good Luck and Happiness. L (pound mark?) New Year Greeting. Being the sincere wish of (blank line). Mountains, crest, New Zealand (?) flag bearer woman, native person (Maori?) with a spear and two feathers. Mountains and a road with a small bridge. The border repeats: Good luck, happiness, prosperity.
OK, Capitalism. But from New Zealand! So it’s got to be better for us! Wishing you all a nice draft from the bank of success in the coming year. (Image via Wikimedia)

Look, it’s been a rough 2020 for the world as a whole, and for many of us personally. I’m not here to tell you what you should or should not do. Except for this: you need to make room in your life for things you enjoy. Some of you are probably doing an excellent job of this already, while others may feel guilty about failing yourself on this as well as other things.

Well, first of all, stop feeling guilty about fun. It IS a luxury, no matter what people these days say. If you don’t find room for fun, well, that was life for millions of people all through the ages.

But . . . it is a delicious feeling to have a little fun when you’ve already got a lot going on. There’s no failing this quest – but there is winning this quest.

So, go ahead and read through my advice – and I’m going to tell you, making plans is really, really fun for me! I love giving advice, particularly if I think it’s good advice. But if it’s not for you, no hard feelings. You can comment about what does work for you, or go research a little deeper into methods that look more interesting. But I hope this will work for some of you (and I hope it will work for me, too).

Four kittens marching through the snow on hind legs, with ribbons around their necks, holly in their front paws. Flag by biggest cat reads: Bright and happy thy New Year. Caption is Happy and Free Jolly Cats are we.
May your new year be full of metaphorical jolly cats (and literal ones, if that’s the way you like it). (Image via Toronto Public Library)

The whole Fabulous Five Weeks of New Year Plan hinges on second chances and redemption. Maybe you don’t keep resolutions well for a whole year. This is a shorter-range plan than that. You only have to try for five weeks at a time. Then, the beauty of 2021 is that February 12 is almost

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Elizabeth: Friday Year-End Writing Sprint

It’s New Years Eve as I write this, so I have a few more hours to post one last writing sprint for the year.  Thanks to all who participated in our recent annual Short Story Challenge and our Friday sprints throughout the year.  I’m always amazed at how we can all take the same words / prompt and come up with such completely different results.

I’m sipping champagne as I write this post–having my own personal New Years Eve celebration.  The neighbors are apparently trying to make things feel more festive by shooting off massive fireworks from their backyard.  I’m hoping the rain kicks in before they manage to light the hillside or themselves on fire.  Mother Nature is also adding her two cents, with a 3.6 earthquake just a few miles away.   This has been the longest year ever.

I’m going to need more champagne.

And maybe some noise canceling headphones.

My house is currently sporting several massive drying-fans, thanks to a minor kitchen flood a few weeks ago.  I feel like I’m living inside of a jet engine.  Chunks of my hardwood floors–that took me forever to install–have been mercilessly cut away to get to the wet and mold beneath.  Ugh.  On the plus side, the insurance company has hired professionals to do the restoration.  Also on the plus side, there is now no more reason for me to put off the kitchen remodel that I’d been thinking about for years.  Fingers crossed on that. Continue reading

Michille: LaQuette’s Brainstorming Hacks

I am going through years’ worth of Romance Writers Reports. Some of you know, I am completing my second year of getting rid of one thing a day, every day, for 365 days. Last year, I got rid of over 1,000 things. This year, it has only been about 500, but hey, that’s 1,500 fewer things in the house. It’s very liberating. I’m starting on the years’ worth of Romance Writers Reports that have come in the mail and I’ve just stuck on a shelf in the office, and a pile on the desk, and a pile on the floor . . . you get the idea. I found an interesting article on learning styles and productivity. As my husband is a life-long educator and currently a professor in the College of Education at a state university, I hear a lot about learning styles. This LaQuette feature was in the November 2019 volume but can also be found here. It focused on brainstorming hacks according to your learning style. I’ll condense the article here.

The basis of the article is that knowing your individual learning style(s) could be the means to making brainstorming easier. She follows the educational theory that there are seven different learning styles and gives examples of how those types of learning styles can be used to enhance creativity.

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Elizabeth: (More) Unfinished Business

Last week I posted the beginning of my Short Story Week offering.  I’d like to say I planned to make it a two-part story, but honesty compels me to admit that I actually just ran out of time last week.  And then, of course, I managed to get myself stuck, unable to decide exactly how my undercover agents were going to get their happily ever after.

Fortunately, after a week’s worth of thought and a fair number of deleted words, I think I finally got it.

Without further ado, here is the complete Short Story Challenge story with, I think, all of the random words included.

Enjoy.

Unfinished Business

“Is this some kind of joke?” Amelia glared across the desk at Mr. Saunders who sat in his tufted velvet ergonomic desk chair like he was royalty, rather than the mid-level bureaucratic puppet she knew he was.

“Mr. Saunders—if that was really his name—steepled his fingers over a protruding belly that would have put Kris Kringle to shame and adopted a benevolent master-of-the-universe expression that invited Amelia to cooperate and comply.

All it did was make her wish she had a blunt instrument handy. Continue reading

Jeanne: How I Spent My Covid Vacation

I’ve been reading way too many news stories lately about people who have learned a new language or how to play a musical instrument during quarantine. Those stories should be inspiring but instead they left me feeling like a loser because all I’ve managed to accomplish during the pandemic is to grow my hair out. (And even that’s incomplete–the last layer won’t reach chin length until probably Mother’s Day.)

Except for a brief stint back in March, when I freaked out and didn’t get much done besides obsessively reading about the virus, I’ve been reasonably focused but I don’t have much to show for it except failed or incomplete projects.

One of the failed projects was the original version of The Demon Wore Stilettos. In its original incarnation, the book revolved around an author who sold her soul to the devil to make the New York Times bestseller list. The story became ridiculously complicated (three couples, three romance arcs, six character arcs and way the heck too many plot lines). In July I gave up on that premise and started over. I took one of the subplots, a second chance at love story featuring demons Samael and Lilith, and created a separate story. That book is now about 75% of the way to a first draft. I would be finishing it up very soon except…

Last Monday I found myself thinking about my Faustian author again. In a flash of inspiration, all the problems I had with the original book disappeared. With Sam and Lilith’s story stripped away, I could see the bones of the original book very clearly. Since then I’ve been writing like a madwoman (except for Christmas Eve, which I spent handing gifts to shivering grandchildren on my back porch), typing until my back and shoulders burn so much I have to quit for the day.

I may still run into some kind of showstopper issue, but I’m feeling pretty good about the book’s chances. With a few more months of quarantine-level focus, I expect to finish both demon stories before spring.

With any luck, I’ll release three books in 2021–two demon stories (tentatively titled The Demon Wore Stilettos and The Demon’s Secret Baby) and Girl’s Best Friend, the first book in a new Contemporary romance series set in Russet Springs, a small town in Ohio.

So take that, all you newly minted guitar players.

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?

Michaeline: Learning from a Christmas Story for 1945

Barbara Stanwyck being kissed by Dennis Morgan in a Warner Bros Poster for Christmas in Connecticut
Rom-com for the holidays! Barbara Stanwyck is fabulous in Christmas in Connecticut. (Image via Wikipedia Commons)

Happy Boxing Day, everyone! It’s the second day of Christmas as well as Saturday, which means for a lot of people, it’s a day off and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is starting to slow down.

Christmas isn’t such a big deal in Japan, although the merchants try to make it so. This year, most people worked; some kids got off school but only because Christmas fell on Friday this year and we lost the old emperor’s birthday in December now that the new emperor is on the throne. My kid and I had the day off, so I decided to make a Christmas feast on Christmas Day for the first time in, well, far too long.

To keep me company while I sliced and diced and boiled and roasted, I put on Christmas in Connecticut, a 1945 screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet with Reginald Gardner and S.Z. Sakall. I wrote about it being my favorite Christmas movie back in 2017, and guess what? It still is!

Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a magazine writer who is scamming her publisher with fables of rural American womanhood – cooking, cleaning, shopping for antiques and even taking care of cattle. In reality, Elizabeth doesn’t

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