Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Jilly: Girl With Sword

Michaeline and I both found ourselves captivated by the same snippet of news this weekend: the story of Saga, an eight year-old Swedish girl who found an authentic 1,500 year-old sword while playing by a lake.

Click here to read Michaeline’s post, which includes links to news articles as well as one of the best Monty Python sketches ever. Micki also points out that last summer a seven year-old girl found a sword in an English lake associated with Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary blade. Are you seeing a pattern yet? Micki is, and she’s developed a Theory. Check out her post to find out more 🙂 .

My response is simpler than Michaeline’s. I just love, love, love the Girl With Sword trope (must add it to my Id List), and judging by the number of GWS Fantasy and Urban Fantasy book covers currently gracing the Zon, I am not alone. I added a few examples to this post, so those of you who don’t read fantasy can see what I mean.

I hadn’t really thought about it until this weekend, but swords are special, right?

These images are about more than seeing a strong, powerful heroine defend her community or embrace her destiny. I don’t think I’d respond the same way to Girl With Crossbow or Tomahawk, and I’m really not keen on Girl With Gun.

I think there are three main reasons I’m all over Girl With Sword:

1. Swords have the weight of history behind them. According to Wikipedia, renowned swords appear in the folklore of every nation that used swords. The Vikings, Maori, Samurai; Parsifal, Charlemagne, Beowulf, Arthur… Give your heroine a sword, especially one with a name, and you’re placing her in the pantheon of legends. Continue reading

Justine: Mood Music Playlists for Writing Sad Scenes

working to musicI know several of the Eight Ladies (myself included) have used music playlists for writing, either because it “goes” with the book they’re writing or, like with me, there’s a certain Mozart playlist that generates a Pavlovian response within me to write. When I hear the music, my inner storyteller kicks in.

This is all well and good except the music I listen to is pretty upbeat (for Mozart, anyway) and I was having a hard time getting into the right mood to write some really dark, painful, sad scenes (not my typical mojo).

So I pulled up Google and searched “saddest classical music” and the first hit that came up was Continue reading

Justine: Seeking Out Rejection to Overcome It

Are you sitting on your finished MS, dying-but-hating to send it out to the A-list of agents and editors you met at a recent conference? Perhaps you’ve signed up for a mentor program, but you’re anxious about putting your 60,000 word baby in the hands of someone else. Or, you found a great new critique partner, but you keep putting off sharing your chapters because “it’s just not quite right yet.”

You’ve got a rejection problem…or really, the fear of it.

Cue Jia Jiang, an entrepreneur and educator who formed an early association to rejection anxiety when he was six years old. Watch in this humorous TED talk as he explains how exposing himself to rejection for 100 days actually lessened the anxiety he felt about being rejected, and actually opened up opportunities he otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s a lesson we can all learn from (although I don’t think I’ll be asking for “burger refills” at the local burger joint).

What is your worst rejection moment? Your best? What lessons can you share with writers who are afraid to put their work out there?

Jilly: Seeking Playlist Recommendations

Anybody up for a playlist recommendation or two? I’d truly appreciate it. 😉

It’s only two weeks since I posted my plan for the rest of the year, and I’ve already made a significant change. I sent off Alexis Book 1 to be edited, (yay!), but when I sat down to start work on the prequel, I realized that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell…not yet, anyway.

The prequel is the story of Alexis’s parents, Daire and Annis. It explains how Annis ends up running for her life, carrying little more than her unborn child and the most powerful jewel in the history of Caldermor. But, but, but… that story stems directly from Daire’s failure to secure the hand in marriage of a very different woman. All the characters from the debacle are major players in Alexis’s story, and I’ll need a novella to give away next year when I finally hit ‘publish,’ so I decided to write Kiran and Christal’s story now, and (hopefully) let the momentum carry Daire and me into the prequel.

I know where the novella is set (Darrochar, the kingdom adjoining Caldermor). I know how it ends, and I know the main characters. I’ve made a few pages of notes, but I need a playlist to really get my imagination working.

The story so far:

  • One arranged political marriage;
  • One clever, rich, handsome, spoiled princeling who’s too busy having a good time to stand up to his ambitious, power-mad mother;
  • One elegant, clever princess, determined not to waste her life and talents on a golden loser.
  • One scheming, murderous Princess Dowager (the mother-in-law from hell);
  • One plainspoken, upstanding career soldier turned princely bodyguard-slash-advisor who’s wondering what the hell he’s let himself in for.
  • Fighting (physical and metaphorical), in-fighting, hard truths told, harder lessons learned, risking all, expecting to lose all and (spoiler alert!) somehow the good guys emerge triumphant.

I’ll add to the list as I build up the story, but here’s my first stab at a few tunes: Continue reading

Jilly: The Mistress Problem

I’d really, really like to find a different form of address for the gentlewomen in my WIP, especially my heroine.

Lately I’ve been working on a sequence of set piece scenes toward the end of the book. The setting is a fantasy world, historical, before the invention of guns. Horses ‘n swords. Vaguely Tudor-ish, with a few creative liberties taken. The action takes place at the most important event in the city’s calendar. Everyone who’s anyone is present: royalty, aristocracy, military, and a lucky few gentlefolk. All the guests are addressed formally, even (especially!) when they’re hurling deadly insults at one another.

The problem is my heroine, Alexis Doe. She’s 25. Unmarried, but old enough to be a wife and mother. Of no acknowledged family (her name indicates she’s illegitimate), but invited as a guest of the Princess Dowager, scary and powerful grandmother of the Crown Prince. Alexis has no title, but her connections would carry a certain level of cachet and she would be addressed with respect. As far as I can see, she would be called Mistress Doe.

I did a fair amount of reading around, looking for possibilities, and I found a fascinating article describing research done by Dr Amy Erickson at the University of Cambridge (click here to read more about Mistress, Miss, Mrs or Ms: untangling the shifting history of titles).

Apparently both Mrs and Miss are abbreviations of Mistress. Continue reading

Michaeline: Sex Scenes I Didn’t Have to Write

Woman in 17th century dress, entertaining female friends from her curtained bed.

“Y’all are fine right now, but as soon as my honey gets here, we’re a-shuttin’ this curtain and gettin’ through four sets of corsets.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, a lot of us had a lot to say about sex scene (Kay, me, Nancy on 8LW), and I had a major breakthrough. In romance, the sex is often supposed to show the POV character going in for orgasms or fun or comfort . . . and coming out with orgasms, fun, comfort AND True Love.

That explained a lot about the sex scenes that I haven’t written in the past.

Last year, I wrote a romantic short story where I quite firmly closed the bedroom door on the readers. There really was no point. As far as I was concerned, the pair had shown their Natural Compatibility through fighting to defeat the villain. They were on the same wavelength, and they gained mutual respect for each other through the fight scene. So, when they headed off for post-battle sex, there was really no point in showing that, I thought. (-: Pardon the pun, but it would have been anti-climactic. The sex was a reward for a job well done, and I left it to the readers’ imaginations to envision their own very satisfying happy ending.

In a different short story, my characters were having really great sex. And again, I Continue reading