Jilly: Picking Your Brains on Audiobooks

Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you like or dislike about them?

I adore fiction, but my medium of choice is the written word. Dead tree or e-book, either works for me. I just love the way reading loads a story directly from the page into my brain, allowing me to imagine and interpret the author’s words in the way that’s most personally powerful to me.

I enjoy visual media like movies, TV, and the theater, but I’d choose a book over any of them, any day. My subconscious clearly wants to be the sole interpreter of the story. I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve never even thought of listening to an audiobook.

That may have to change. I’m planning to publish my debut novel, The Seeds of Power, later this year, followed by other stories in the same world and series. I’ll start with e-books and print, but then I think I should add audiobooks. Partly because people who know more than I say that audio is a fast-growing sector, less crowded and thus offering more discoverability to a new author. Mostly, if I’m honest, because it would be something new to learn and I think it would be cool 😉 . Continue reading

Jilly: Rocks In My Head

I know it’s a holiday weekend and the sun’s shining, but is anyone up for a quick game of world-building “what if”?

As regular readers of this blog know, I write fantasy. Stories of chivalry, rivalry, power, and love, set in a fantastic pre-industrial landscape. I love my weird, crazy world, but I’m currently working through developmental edits, and after some good discussions with my editor and beta readers (thanks, Jeanne and Kay!) I’m looking for ways to make my stories stronger. In particular, I’d like to find a few well-chosen details to amplify the fantastic feel of my world.

I write a very practical kind of fantasy. My stories have powerful jewels, miraculous golden beans, sinister talking rocks and uncanny, mystical monks, but all my otherworldly elements are solidly rooted in the everyday. I don’t have dragons or spells or magical woo-woo. What I need is to identify ordinary things that would be natural and useful in my world, but which would not be found in a regular historical story. Small details that don’t drive the plot but that would support and enrich the world of jewels, beans, rocks, monks etc.

This week, I think I found something useful hiding in plain sight. Do you know what apotropaic marks are? Me neither. Apparently they’re symbols or patterns scratched into the fabric of a building to keep witches out. They’re most commonly found in places that witches were thought likely to be able to enter a building, such as doors, windows, or chimneys. Continue reading

Jilly: Craft Book Squee–Dreyer’s English

Last year I decided I wouldn’t buy any more writing craft books until I’d made better use of all the ones I already own and have at best cherry-picked my way through. A couple of months ago I broke my self-imposed rule, and I’m so glad I did.

Dreyer’s English is subtitled “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” The author is the Copy Chief of Random House, so he should know a thing or two about cleaning up one’s prose. The wonder and the joy of it is that while some of his book is about The Right Way and The Wrong Way to write, as much again is about ignoring the so-called “rules” and making mindful, intelligent choices to optimize your story and amplify your own voice.

He had me at the introduction: Continue reading

Justine: Tips for Reader Groups on Facebook

caitlyn oleary fb group header

This is the Facebook header for Caitlyn O’Leary’s Facebook group called Caitlyn’s Crew. You can get an idea of not only what she writes, but the general vibe of the group based on her group logo. Image copyright Caitlyn O’Leary.

A couple weekends ago, I attended the California Dreamin’ Writer’s Conference. It was a lot of fun, and, as I promised when I originally blogged about it, I have some goodies to share with you from some of the workshops I attended.

One of the most fun workshops was about creating Superfans, put on by Caitlyn O’Leary (who is devilishly funny and very sarcastic…she puts it all out on display, and I think it’s one of the things her readers love about her, besides good writing, of course!).

One of the first things Caitlyn talked about was creating an author “brand.” However, she didn’t quite mean it in the “what-do-your-business-cards-look-like” kind of way. Nor did she mean it as “book branding.” Rather, it’s a personality brand…what sort of person are you? Romantic? Whimsical? Practical and to the point? Funny vs sensitive? Goofy vs. serious? Whatever your personality brand, that’s what has to come out and shine in your interactions with readers.

I won’t get into the “how’s” of creating that author brand (because I don’t want to pilfer too much from her presentation), but when determining it, think about Continue reading

Jilly: Cover Question–Which Way Should My Heroine Face?

I’m working on the cover design questionnaire for The Seeds of Power (Christal’s book), and I’d appreciate your advice. I know she should be on the cover, but should she face the reader or should we see her back?

We’ve been talking a lot about covers lately. The choices are different depending on the sub-genre and the flavor of the book itself. It’s harder than you might think to tempt the reader to take a closer look while also giving them a clear promise of the kind of story you’re offering. For a taste of the challenges involved, click here to read more about covers for Jeanne’s complex, brain-teasing demon paranormal series; here for Kay’s attempts to update the cover of her Las Vegas contemporary caper; here for Justine’s historical suspenseful adventure and here for Nancy’s historical elegant battle of wits.

My books are epic fantasy romance, so they have to look historical but with a legendary-adventure kind of feel. They are predominantly romance, and the primary character is the heroine. So I know there will be castles and horses and Princess Bride-type stuff in the background. I’m clear that I want a person (the heroine) on the cover, if I can make that work given the challenges of working with stock photography.

What I can’t decide is this: assuming I can make it work in practical terms, should the heroine have her face or her back to the reader? There are excellent examples of both styles within the genre. I’m thinking the pros and cons are as follows:

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Jilly: Not Perfect, But Done

Spring is here! The days get lighter, the weather improves (at least if you’re in the northern hemisphere), flowers bloom, birds sing, and suddenly everything seems fresh and new and exciting. I usually find this is my most creative and productive time of the year, and I’m starting to get that lovely buzzy, sparkly feeling.

If ’tis the season to begin new projects, it’s also the time to make room for them by closing out old ones, so I’m super-happy to report the closure (or imminent closure) of three big time-eaters that have kept me busy for the last year or more.

Please forgive me if I indulge in a little trumpet-blowing 😉

1. Last week, in my non-writing life, I made the final payment required to finish the administration of my late mother’s estate. My mum passed away in January 2018, which means it has taken me fourteen months to finalize her affairs, and it hasn’t been for lack of effort. I can’t tell you what a relief it is finally to be able to draw a line under the whole process.

2. In the next week or so, I’ll send the finished first draft of The Seeds of Power (Christal’s book) to my content editor, Karen Dale Harris. I started writing this story in spring last year as a way to get back into my fantasy world after a complete break of three months. The book is far from perfect, but it has been a joy to write. I really like the main characters, and as they all return later as important secondary characters in Alexis’s story I think I’ll be able to bring added depth to my edits when I settle down to polish that book. Double yay!

3. And on Thursday the finalists for the RWA Golden Heart contest are announced. It’s not that I’m expecting to final (of course I would love to) but that last summer I decided to make a concerted effort to polish up three entries and make them as good as I possibly could. It’s the last year of the contest, and my last year as an unpublished author, so I wanted to close that chapter of my writing life knowing I’d given it my best shot. I’d guesstimate that I put almost six months of hard work into my entries. I learned a lot, and I’m happy with where I finished up, so whether I final or not, Thursday will be a day of closure. I’ll be celebrating my efforts, not the outcome 😉 . I’ll also be toasting Jeanne’s RITA and Justine’s Golden Heart entries.

I plan to publish The Seeds of Power later this year. If I’m going to achieve that I have a whole daunting laundry list of things to do and learn in the next few months. It’s all too easy to focus on the next task, and the one after that, and to forget to take a moment to breathe and celebrate a milestone passed.

So, before I move onwards and upwards…cheers, m’dears!

What did you finish or start lately? Or what do you have planned?

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

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