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:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Michaeline: A Love Story for Valentine Week

A stylish Japanese modern girl with a black bob, beautiful eyes and lips, and a stylish sheath dress. The art is titled "Tipsy".

Anna Kitt, on working holiday in New York City. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Every love story has its conflict, and weak lovers can see it. Their love is paralyzed, and eventually stillborn as they realize just how impossible it is to love this person at this time in this place. But true lovers don’t see the conflict. Love is blind, you see. The lovers are like two cats in a bag, struggling against this unsee-able confinement, but together for as long as it takes to make peace with the bag or get out. That’s why when I saw Anna for the first time, I fell in love instead of running away.

I walked into that bakery in Korea-town, looking for a little something sweet on a cold February day, and I saw her by the pain au chocolat. Black bob, perfect cat-eye liner capturing dark brown eyes, and she was elegant in something black and floofy around the hips with a red fur stole over her shoulders. I reached around to take the last piece of ganache cream cake, when she grabbed my wrist.

“I don’t think you want that, mister,” she said. “It’s mine.”

My first instinct was to back up, stuttering something like, “Of course, madam” and scurrying away but then she gave me the side-eye, and then I saw those red lips, and something funny happened in my chest, and I said, “Why don’t we share it?”

She smiled, and that funny thing in my chest turned into a raging, roaring fire. “My name is Anna,” she said.

“Ray Perez,” I said, and almost kissed her hand before remembering what century I was in.

So, that’s how we wound up sharing a little rectangle of chocolate cake while Continue reading

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