Justine: Oh, How a Story Changes Over Time

Old typewriter with laptop, concept of old and newMy first novel, His Lady to Protect, is in the hands of my copy editor and will be available on Feb. 14th. It’s a book that has been SIX YEARS in the making.

I thought it would be fun to compare the first chapter of that book, back when it was loosely titled “1812 Trilogy Book 1,” to what it has become. I’m almost embarrassed to do this, for my first effort was SO POOR in so many ways (bonus points if you list them in the comments!), but at least now I (think I) know how to write a little better. (The original, 6 year-old chapter is first, followed by Chapter 1 of HLTP.)

Now, if you’ll please pardon me, I’m going to hide under the covers while you read.


1812 Trilogy Book 1 – Chapter 1

“Do whatever you have to, Susannah, but don’t 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?

Justine: Being Judicious When Reviewing Editor Comments

At the beginning of November, I received comments back from my developmental editor. This was the first time in six years of writing that I’d gotten far enough to 1) finish a book, and 2) submit it to an editor. When I got her comments–which included a letter with general recommendations as well as detailed line edits throughout the MS, plus a 1.5 hour Skype call–I sat back and processed everything she threw at me before making changes, and I’m glad I did.

But once I was done digesting, how did I figure out what to use and what to keep? I listened to my gut.

Just because an editor (or anyone) makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean you make the change. It doesn’t mean you ignore them, either. The rule of thumb I follow is this:

  • If one person makes a suggested change, I think about it, weigh the merits, and listen to my gut.
  • If one person + my gut makes a suggestion, I usually change it.
  • If 2+ people make the same suggestion, my gut is usually quick to follow suit, and I usually change it.

I say “usually” because sometimes (really…rarely) there’s a compelling reason for me not to. If that’s the case, I’ll brainstorm with my critique partners to see if there’s a way to make a different change that remedies the problem or issue they pointed out. In general, though, if more than one person (or my gut and someone else) suggest something or point out a problem, I try to fix it. Continue reading

Justine: The Exhilarating, Nerve-Wracking, Terrifying Moment of Publishing a Book

Last week was a monster moment for me. Late Saturday night a week ago (when I totally wasn’t expecting it), I got an email from KDP telling me that my first book, His Lady to Protect, was available for pre-order on Amazon.

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AACKKK! THAT’S MY BOOK!

A multitude of emotions swirled through me. Happiness. Fright. Panic…lots of panic. I can’t take this book down. I really DO have to finish it now!

I cried, laughed, danced around the kitchen, shared my news with my husband (who was busy playing Fortnite with the kids, so it was a bit anti-climactic at first), and told my critique partners, who have been my day-to-day sanity over the last several years. They cheered!

When I’ve been out and about and friends ask about my book (better yet strangers that I meet when I’m in an airplane!), it’s nice to be able to tell someone that your book is up for pre-order (because all I’ve been saying for the last 6 years when asked if I’m published is “not yet”).

But now the real scary work begins. I received edits from my developmental editor (she made great suggestions) and it’s time to get my rear in gear and make changes to my manuscript. Once that’s done, I have to get my book loaded for pre-sale on the other e-retailers, plus come up with a marketing plan, get my full-wrap cover done, solidify my release schedule, and keep working on my second book.

In other words, only a few moments to…well…enjoy the moment. I’m sure more exhilaration, anxiety, and fear will abound when my book is actually out there for the world.

Have you hit “publish” yet? What emotions did you experience?

Jilly: Short Story–Challenge Accepted

The MacHugh saga continues 🙂 .

Last week I wrote a short story about Jordy MacHugh, the Canadian music teacher who inherits a derelict estate in the Scottish Highlands and decides to build an outdoor opera house by the sea.

Elizabeth continued the story and raised the stakes by introducing Jenny, a tourist from Kansas, who discovers twin babies in a basket, courtesy of the mysterious MacHugh Blessing Stone.

Maeve, the local seer, pronounces Jordy, Jenny and the twins a family, but as Jenny observes (via Kay) in Friday’s writing sprint, the whole setup screams Trouble with a capital T.

Read on to find out what happens next. Using the prompts from Friday’s writing sprint, our character(s) face a challenge. And the story includes the words equipment, belly, aimless, baffling, noise, bloke, fuzzy, clever, beekeeper, footwork, glass, dream, corduroy, setup, lump and artist.

Challenge Accepted

They couldn’t go on this way. Somebody had to make this village of dreamers face reality, and apparently that someone was Jenny.

Sunday service was over, and she emerged from the small stone kirk into the sunlit, postage-stamp sized churchyard. She settled the oversized wicker basket at her feet and chatted politely with the villagers, all twenty of them. They were kind and friendly, but their warm welcome wasn’t for Jenny herself. Not really. Her true value to them was as companion-dash-housemate to the new laird, Jordy MacHugh, and as carer for his adopted twin daughters.

“Swap you!” Moira from the But & Ben bistro, a vision in purple tweed and moss green corduroy, handed Jenny a covered basket and picked up the larger one that contained Elspeth and Isla, snug as a pair of bugs in their fuzzy romper suits. She deftly lifted the blanket and checked for rattles, nappies and all the equipment required to keep the twins clean, dry and contented for a couple of hours. Then she departed for the village at a brisk clip, offering Jenny a conspiratorial grin over her shoulder that said I know what you’re up to.

She didn’t. Nobody in the village did, and Jenny intended to keep it that way.

She’d fallen into her current role through a combination of her own aimless lifestyle and Maeve from the Pointing Dog’s fancy footwork. Now people were making assumptions. She had to unwind the setup with Jordy before somebody got hurt.

The laird-come-lately let himself out of the side door that led to the organ loft, bell-tower, and Maeve-the-Beekeeper’s rooftop hives. Jordy was Canadian—an incomer like Jenny—but you’d never have known. It was baffling, but from his curly red-gold hair to his Sunday best kilt, he belonged in the Highlands. He smiled at Jenny and she swallowed her nerves down deep into her belly, where they burned worse than Moira’s infamous loganberry liqueur.

“What’s that?” Jordy raised an eyebrow at the covered basket.

“A picnic. I thought we might walk out to the lighthouse.” Jenny tried to sound casual. “Moira said she’d watch the twins for the afternoon.”

“Fine idea.” He was even starting to add a Highland overlay to his transatlantic drawl. He treated her to another easy smile that faded to a concerned frown as he met her eyes. “Right. Let’s go.”

He settled the basket on one muscular arm, offered her the other, and they strolled out of the churchyard and along the cliff path that led to the lighthouse.

“What is it?” he asked as soon as they were safely alone. “Problem? Can I help?”

“No. Yes.” Jenny dropped his arm and turned to look out to sea. High in the cloudless sky a mob of bright yellow-headed gannets plummeted at high speed, one after another, toward the glass-smooth ocean. “We need to talk about the twins’ future. To find the right person to care for them after I’m gone.”

For a full minute there was no sound but the waves below the cliff, washing gently against the rocks. Then the scuffing noise of a basket hitting the turf.

“Gone?” Jordy echoed. “What do you mean, gone?”

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Justine: Celebrate Your Accomplishments

crossing finish lineIt’s the beginning-ish of October, and the start of a new month is a great time to share accomplishments. I, for one, am celebrating a goal I have never yet achieved in the six years I’ve been writing my book:

I sent my novel to my editor.

To be honest, I don’t think my husband ever thought I’d get there (there were days I was doubtful, too). But I had a flash of inspiration in September (read: I finally figured out how to end the book), and with some determination and focus, I got there. The feeling was euphoric. My mom happened to call a few minutes after I’d hit SEND on that email to my editor, and when I told mom, I started crying. It was an incredibly satisfying moment that had been a long time coming.

What victories are you celebrating, big or small? Did you finish a chapter? Figure out a plot twist? Type “the end” on your manuscript? Publish your first book? Get a contract? Let us know in the comments!

Jilly: Short Story–The Great Escape

I was too busy to play along with Elizabeth’s writing sprints last Friday, but I was in the mood for something upbeat and I really liked the prompt words. So…here’s a short story featuring a character who lost something important, including the words proud, plaid, thief, viper, whisper, drawer, crazy, disguised, deceit, fictional, ideal, sibling, insecure, nerve, garden, and squirrel.

The Great Escape

It was a crazy plan, so audacious that nobody suspected a thing.

Theodora Greatly-Minted started the rumor herself. She confided in one carefully selected friend after obtaining a pledge of utmost secrecy. Then watched it snowball from a faint whisper to the hottest tidbit in the ton.

Poor Lady Theodora. Too proud to admit she’d fallen victim to The Squirrel. Too haughty to acknowledge that her family’s place in the highest reaches of the Upper Ten Thousand was suddenly— calamitously—insecure.

Society’s most poisonous vipers salivated over every humiliating detail.

The Squirrel, legendary thief and expert forger, was a master of deceit. He’d waited until Theodora was out of town, disguised himself as her long-lost older brother, and convinced the manager of Cahoots Bank that he was the heir to the Greatly-Minted fortune. The fictional sibling had emptied the vaults, mortgaged the town house and the country estate, and sold every painting, horse, and stick of furniture. He’d left Theodora so indebted she didn’t have a feather to fly with.

Continue reading