Jilly: Another Shiny New Cover

Another week, another seven days closer to the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be. I hope you’re safe and well.

And Happy Easter to everyone who’s celebrating today. Even though this is an Easter like no other, I hope you’re able to find the joy in it.

Here in England the weather has turned gorgeous, which makes it even harder to stay inside. I’m lucky that we have a small garden, and if I work at the table in the kitchen I can open the double doors and get a hit of birdsong and sunshine. It helps a lot.

I’m still waiting for the edit report on Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile, but I have a cover, and here it is. You might remember that I found a stock photo of a guy I thought was perfect for Daire—hair, face, expression—but who wasn’t a golden historical fantasy prince. I hoped my cover designers would be able to turn him into one, and I must say they surpassed my expectations.

What do you think? I hope you like it 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 that cover 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 team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

Jilly: Sibling Rivalry–A Snippet

I had a list of possible topics for today’s post, but somehow none of them felt right. Instead I decided to offer a micro-distraction from our current real-world grimdark.

The snippet below is from Daire’s upcoming novella. I should have more information to share soon, including a title and a cover. The excerpt is a little spoiler-y, but no more than you’ll get from the blurb in due course. If you’d rather wait a month or three for the finished article, look away now 😉 .

Prince Daire is crown prince and sole ruler of the wealthy city-state of Caldermor. Prince Warrick is his brother and heir. The exchange below comes in the aftermath of Warrick’s death-or-exile attempt to challenge Daire for the throne.

Sibling Rivalry

Warrick was right, blast and blight him. He’d clearly spent as much time as Daire worrying about the future.

Time to turn the tables. “What would you have done? If you’d defeated me yesterday?”

Warrick cleared his throat. He had the grace to look abashed.

“Besides putting me to the sword.” Daire brushed that off with a wave of his hand. “Would you have married?”

A curt nod.

“Who would you have chosen?” He managed a grin, and a drawl. “Which blue-blooded brood mare meets with your approval?”

Warrick’s eyes blazed. He took a step forward, fists clenched, before he got hold of himself. “She’s no brood mare. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. Principled. Calderran. She knows our history.”

Daire watched his brother warily. “Does this paragon have a name?” Continue reading

Jilly: The Big Step

It’s been months since I worked on a new story. I’d almost forgotten how it feels 😉

I had a solid draft of The Seeds of Power finished by summer last year. Then I spent the rest of 2019 dealing with edits, more edits, proofreading, formatting, and uploading the book. Not to mention setting up author accounts, claiming author pages, writing blurbs, bios, and all kinds of other indie publishing stuff.

It was interesting and oddly enjoyable, rather like my desk job back in the day. I was pleased with the final result, but it’s only now I’ve started working on the next Elan Intrigues story that I realize how much I’ve missed writing.

I’ve started a novella that links The Seeds of Power with the next full Elan Intrigues book. The point of view character is Prince Daire. He was the most important secondary character in The Seeds of Power, but he didn’t have a point of view in that book, so the reader never got an insight into his head.

Even though I had a pretty good understanding of Daire, it’s taken me most of the last month to find his voice. Now, finally, I’m getting there. Here’s the key to Daire: his family motto is The Price of Privilege is Duty, but his personal mantra is Whatever Happens, Smile.

It’s early days, and it’s only a novella, but I can’t overstate the thrill I get from feeling that I finally got inside Daire’s head. He’s a fictional character, but suddenly he’s become real to me. I care what happens to him. I’m excited to tell his story. I want to solve his problems. Don’t tell my husband, but I kind of love him 😉

I know it won’t last, but right now I want to write the next scene, and the one after that. I go to bed thinking about the story and wake up raring to write. It’s wonderful.

I said at the beginning of the year that my watchword for 2020 would be WALTZ, symbolizing my efforts to balance writing, publishing, and marketing. I realized this week that a waltz may comprise three steps, but they don’t have to be equally weighted. You can take one big, swooping creative step and then balance it with two smaller, stabilizing ones. I think that may be my kind of waltz.

It’s been a good week here in London. What gives you that excited, buzzy feeling?

Jilly: Booksweeps!

Do you know about Booksweeps?

I discovered them last year, when Jeanne included one of her Touched By A Demon books in a paranormal romance sweep. Since then I’ve heard good things about them, so when I saw they were running an Epic Sword & Sorcery Fantasy sweep I knew it was my turn. Here’s the graphic for The Seeds of Power:

A Booksweep is a contest that aims to connect avid readers of a particular subgenre with authors who’d like to reach a wider readership. First prize is usually something like an e-reader plus a free copy of every book in the sweep. Second prize is a free copy of every book.

Authors pay to be included. Readers don’t pay to play. They sign up for the sweep by joining the mailing list of the authors they like the look of out of the selection offered. They don’t have to join every list, but each one they join gives them a better chance of winning. Of course they could immediately unsubscribe from every list they choose, but past experience suggests that many of them don’t—as long as they enjoy the newsletter.

The giveaway I joined is called Epic, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy. That’s a nice, broad definition and I think the seventeen books in the bundle offer something for everyone. Some have battles on the cover—weapons and action, red-eyed dragons, mythical creatures and whatnot. Others highlight a central character, often female. Those look like my catnip.

I’ve been reading the blurbs and the Look Inside samples, and I’m especially tempted by Continue reading

Jilly: 2020 In A Word

It’s a new year, the beginning of a new decade, the perfect moment to take stock. In recent years I’ve chosen a watchword to epitomize my approach to the coming twelve months. I’ve decided to continue the practice for 2020.

I like the idea of a watchword. It’s less prescriptive than a set of resolutions. More like a theme. An idea that recurs and pervades.

My word for 2019 was CONCENTRATE, defined as:

  1. To focus all one’s efforts on a particular project or activity; and
  2. To distil something to its essence by removing or reducing any diluting agents.

For 1., my priority project was to indie publish The Seeds of Power. I made it (just). Yay!

For 2., my intent was to remind myself of the choices I’d have to make in preparing the book for publication—content edits, title, genre positioning, covers, blurbs, and so on. I wanted the book to be professional and marketable, but most of all I wanted it to be the clearest, strongest, most intense version of my voice and story vision that I could achieve. I think I got that too. Double yay for 2019!

After three whole weeks as a published author I have a pretty good idea of how I want to approach 2020. First and foremost, my priority is to keep writing. I want to write a second Elan Intrigues story, provisionally titled The Pulse of Princes, and then update Alexis’s book. Second, I need to prepare The Pulse of Princes for publication. At least I have a better idea what to expect this time, and I found some great professionals to work with. Third, I need to get to grips with marketing. That’s the last part of the indie author trifecta. It’s not my strong suit, and it’s the bit I didn’t really get to grips with in 2019.

So: my challenge for 2020 is Continue reading

Jilly: Wonderful Wintersnight

I haven’t forgotten about the Annual Christmas Week Short Story Challenge. My holiday offering needs another 48 hours to marinade followed by a few days in the slow cooker. It should be ready by next Sunday. Hopefully it will be worth the wait 🙂 .

Today, instead, I’d like to celebrate my favorite day of the whole year.

I’m a grinch about Christmas and I find it difficult to stay awake long enough to welcome the New Year, but the winter solstice is important to me. Today, 22ndDecember, is the shortest day and longest night of the year, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

I don’t suffer ill health in the winter months as some people do, but I’m sensitive to changes in daylight, and at some subliminal level I respond to trends and momentum. Once my subconscious notices that every day is a little lighter and longer than the one before, I start to feel energized and 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.

I’ve learned over the years that this is my best time. I typically get ever more inspired and enthusiastic until May or June, sometimes right up to the summer solstice. Then I’m done. My Girls take a vacay for the summer and spend the fall on housekeeping and closing out projects.

Which means if I want to get the next Elan Intrigues book done, there’s no time to waste. I need a discovery draft done by the end of spring. Tomorrow I’m planning to warm up with the Short Story Challenge and then I’ll use that momentum to roll on into 2020 and Daire’s story.

Of course I’ll take the time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, but as far as I’m concerned the best day of the year is today. Right here, right now.

Happy Wintersnight, everyone! Nothing but good times ahead 🙂 .

Are you a seasonal creature? Do you have a favorite day or time of the year?

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of title brainstorming? I’d appreciate some help.

I’m planning to publish my first book, The Seeds of Power, before the end of the year (much more to follow on that subject soon). All being well the sequel, The Light of Calder, will follow in 2020.

Told you that to tell you this: I want to write a short story (which may grow into a novella) that sits between The Seeds of Powerand The Light of Calder. I know the bare bones of the story. I can visualize the cover. But I can’t find a good title, and it’s driving me crazy.

The books are fantasy adventure romance in a swords-n-sorcery setting vaguely similar to Tudor-era northern England or Scottish borders. The most important commodity in this world is elan, an imaginary medicine created by concentrating life energy into specially grown beans. The mysterious transformation process changes the beans from everyday foodstuff into hard-shelled, fragrant, shiny golden nuggets known as pulses. A pulse of elan can be grated and boiled into a tonic for internal use, or added to a poultice for external application. However it’s used, elan boosts the body’s own natural healing powers and gives near-miraculous results, which makes it more valuable than gold. The only people who know how to make elan are the Edevald family, rulers of wealthy, powerful Caldermor.

The Seeds of Poweris about Christal, a strong-minded princess who’s determined not to marry (she has excellent reasons) and who justifies her single status by becoming an expert cultivator of rare plants. Her plan works fine until Prince Daire Edevald unexpectedly proposes marriage because he needs her to fix a problem with his secret elan beans.

The Light of Calder is Daire’s story, about his attempts to lift the Edevald curse. The men of his family burn brightly but do not live long. Common gossip says the Edevalds made a deal with the gods, and their short life span is the price they paid to gain the secret of elan. The Light of Calder is a priceless jewel, the Edevald family’s greatest heirloom, and so much more than merely the centerpiece of the Calderran royal regalia.

My plan is for the Story in the Middle to show the problem with the secret bean plants and explain how the solution Christal offers motivates Daire to seek out someone who can help him solve the mystery of the Edevald curse.

The title for the new story should be The Something of Something.

Continue reading

Jilly: Crouch End Kong

Once every decade or so I see a painting or a piece of glass or art pottery and know immediately that I have to buy it. Usually it’s something colorful or intriguing or just plain crazysauce. This time it was all those things, and a creative inspiration as well.

For some time now King Kong has been a writing craft prompt for me. It started around five years ago, courtesy of a post on Ilona Andrews’ blog. She linked to a song by a comedy duo (I can’t find it now but I think it may have been Flight of the Conchords) about the movie. Their point was that the rebooted version spent forever on setup and backstory, when all the audience really wanted was Fay Wray in a slip dress and Kong atop the Empire State Building. The song was called something like “Get to the effing monkey.” It made me laugh and think hard about good storytelling and pacing and reader expectations, so when I went to RWA Nationals in New York in 2015 I bought a plastic Kong that still stands on the bookcase next to my writing sofa.

Told you that to tell you this: recently I was in Crouch End, a neighborhood near my home in North London. Crouch End has a modest high street, a few nice shops and restaurants, and a much-loved nineteenth-century red brick clock tower. I glanced in a shop window as I passed, then backed up and looked again in open-mouthed joy as I realized I’d just seen a pop art painting of Kong on the Crouch End clock tower.

If ever there was a painting with my name on it, this was the one.

The shop only had a poster but the artist, Sara Sutton, agreed to paint a new one for me as a commission. I collected it last week and hung it on the wall next to my writing sofa, opposite the bookcase.

I love it sooo much. Whenever I look up from my keyboard I see it and smile.

Do you own objects, souvenirs or keepsakes, classy or tacky—that inspire and motivate you? Or is it just me?

Jilly: Tell Me More!

Do you like your romance novels to be tightly focused, or do you prefer a wider, more complete view of the main characters and their lives?

I read a book last weekend that was passed to me by a friend of a friend. It was a romance, by an author I hadn’t read before, in a subgenre I don’t normally read. I’ve been on a fantasy/urban fantasy/steampunk kick for the last few years, with excursions into historical, paranormal and suspense. This was a contemporary romance with dashes of suspense and adventure.

My friend has high standards, so I was confident the book would be well-written. It was, but I found it enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. The heroine and the hero were engaging, complex characters. They both had strong personalities, interesting careers, strong goals and challenging backstories. The setting was exotic and spectacular. The conflict was a little iffy, but both characters faced tough external obstacles and had to overcome some level of internal conflict in order to earn their Happy Ever After.

Sounds good, right?

What drove me nuts Continue reading

Jilly: Hits of Happy–Atlas Obscura

Do you have a favorite website or other go-to place that’s not strictly useful but makes your world a little bit better or richer?

Most of the newsletters I subscribe to are from favorite authors or are somehow related to writing and publishing—practical, useful subjects like aspects of craft, or marketing, or developments in the industry. The big exception is Atlas Obscura, which I find invaluable in a very different way. Their newsletter is the opposite of practical. It’s where I get my five-minute daily hit of wonder that transports me, stimulates my imagination and keeps me in the kind of mental space that inspires fantastic worldbuilding.

Atlas Obscura is an online magazine that showcases unusual and obscure places and objects around the globe. There are fabulous photographs, fascinating editorials on history, science, food, travel and exploration, and even experiences and guided trips.

Here are just a few of the many articles and images I’ve browsed lately:

  • Abandoned places in the United States
  • Secret apartments in New York City libraries
  • The U.S. Army’s extensive fossil collection, from trilobytes to dinosaurs
  • ATM machines in Singapore that dispense frozen salmon fillets
  • The typography of biscuit lettering
  • Winning cakes from an architectural baking contest in Melbourne, Australia
  • Elvis’s 1967 Lincoln Continental, Kurt Cobain’s uncashed royalty check and George Washington’s dentures

The above examples barely scratch the surface of the breadth and depth of the weird and the wondrous to be found on Atlas Obscura. The website is searchable, but for me that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m there to be surprised and inspired, though I’m delighted to enjoy the quality writing and solid information once something catches my attention.

They also have a Youtube channel, a calendar, a journal, and a couple of books—Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, and The Atlas Obscura Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid.

I really look forward to my bites of weird and wonderful. Whatever else my day holds, I know I’ll spend a few minutes indulging in brain candies of the most unexpected kind, and I never know where those treats will lead me or how they might inspire me later.

Atlas Obscura is a delightful way to fill the creative well. It also serves to remind me that there’s plenty of joy to be found in our world, if you take a moment to look for it.

Where do you find a hit of happy? Any recommendations?