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?

Jilly: One More Day, One More Book

Can you believe it’s September already? Me neither.

Michaeline said yesterday that she plans to linger in summer for a few more weeks.  I’m allowing myself one more day. Today 😉

Tomorrow I need to get back to work. Forget Halloween, I’ve been counting the days to Christmas as I need to put together a sensible schedule for rest of the year. I know that’s sixteen whole weeks away, but in that time I would like to to publish and market The Seeds of Power, write a new draft of Alexis’s book, submit that draft for developmental editing,  (ideally) write the short novella that bridges the two books, and (in a perfect world) add some more structure to my ideas for the rest of the series.

Yeah, I need a plan. My shopping list is ambitious, but I *think* it should be do-able if I put my mind to it. Watch this space 😉

That’s for tomorrow. Today is the last day of my self-appointed staycation, and I have time to squeeze in another couple of books. I’m thinking Jackie Lau’s Ice Cream Lover (thanks, Michaeline!) would be a good way to start the day, but I’d love to find just one more excellent read to finish with.

I was planning to check out Juliet Marillier’s new book, The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards Book 1). That would have done nicely, except it’s not available until Tuesday 😦

I already read Ilona Andrews’ Sapphire Flames, and have to confess I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had expected. I suspect part of the problem is that I set my hopes extremely high. I’ll still buy the next book in the series, and anything else Ilona and Gordon choose to publish.

I also read T. Kingfisher’s Clocktaur Wars duology, Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, and Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. All well-written, interesting and enjoyable books, but for various reasons none of them quite hit the squee button for me.

I’d love to end my mini-break with a Good Book Squee. Fingers crossed for Jackie Lau. And whichever other book I find for my Last Read of Summer.

No pressure, but…does anyone have a recommendation?

Jilly: Too Many Dogs

Do your favorite authors have signature metaphors? Do you?

I’ve just finished working through my developmental edit on The Seeds of Power (yay!). Among many other smart observations and suggestions from my editor, Karen Dale Harris, I was surprised to find this comment: You use metaphors with dogs a lot. Do a search for “dog” and try to vary this.

My reaction: I do? Dogs? I don’t even have a dog. And no dog plays a significant part in this book. Really?

A search revealed the following:

  • The man was like a fighting dog. Once he sank his teeth into a problem, he never let go.
  • Her whole body came to attention, like a hunting dog on point.
  • Captain Randsen’s hackles rose like a well-trained fighting dog.
  • The prince was dressed and waiting. Soft boots, loose overshirt and trousers, and the ill-contained impatience of a dog who’d been promised a walk, despite the fact that the lad probably hadn’t gone to bed until the small hours.
  • Daire said nothing, but if he’d been a dog, his ears would have pricked up.
  • He put his enforced inactivity to good use, worrying at his mission like a dog with a sore paw.
  • Oriel had described her as a strong ruler, politically astute, fiercely protective of her family and their domain. Again, nothing to set the dogs howling.
  • She had the Hollin deep blue eyes and challenging stare, and she looked at him as though he’d thrown her pet lapdog to the hounds for a snack.

Yikes! Dogs, dogs, everywhere, and I hadn’t even noticed.

I’ve fixed it, but I wonder what else I write without realizing. And I’m even more convinced that quality editing is money well spent.

Do you, or your favorite authors, have a go-to metaphor? Or is it just me?

Jilly: Shiny New Cover!

Happy holiday weekend to everyone in the US, and happy weekend to the rest of us 😉

Here in England the weather has turned gorgeous. It’s Wimbledon time, and usually I’d be on my sofa, indulging in a two-week tennisfest accompanied by the obligatory Pimms and strawberries. Not this year. I’m deep in the edits for Christal’s book, and if I’m to have any chance of publishing her on time, I have to keep my nose to the screen and my hands on the keyboard.

The edits for The Seeds of Power may not be finished yet, but the cover is ready, and here it is. 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 on the Zon, would you click it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be 😉

Oh—and big thanks to the lovely people at Deranged Doctor Design who did all the hard work!