Jilly: Silver Linings Saturday

While Michaeline’s away dealing with family matters (check out this post for more information), I’m borrowing her Saturday slot to ask: what good experiences did you find to alleviate the grimdark this week?

Whatever your circumstances, if you found joy in a burst of birdsong, or the spring sunshine, or an unexpected message… if you found something—anything—that lightened your heart, please share it in the comments and give somebody else a much-needed moment of feelgood.

I took a little while to make my list for this post, and to my surprise just searching for the good moments in another stressful week left me feeling uplifted.

Of course the most important thing is that all my family and friends are still home and well. Everything else pales beside that. I’m deeply thankful, and I hope that you have all been equally fortunate.

I’ve had another week of no new writing. I’m supposed to be working on the my new Elan Intrigues novel, but the opening scene is really intense. The heroine loses everything she cares about in one candid exchange, and I simply haven’t had the emotional bandwidth to do it justice. I plan to do better this week. Hopefully that scene will be next week’s silver lining.

I did, however, go back and forth with Deranged Doctor Design on the cover for my new novella, The Seeds of Exile. I mentioned last week that I found a stock photo of a cool urban dude that I hoped DDD could turn into a historical fantasy prince. No spoilers but…they did, and he looks amazing. I’m thrilled. I should get the finished file on Monday or Tuesday. I’ll share next weekend, and I hope you like it as much as I do.

Also writing-related: Draft2Digital and Overdrive (library ebook distributor) have created a promotion whereby D2D authors can opt to make their novels available to libraries at a seriously discounted price, initially through April 30th, potentially longer. Given that the world is suddenly full of people with time to read and no money to spare for book buying I think this is an excellent idea. I’ve signed up to offer The Seeds of Power. I hope Overdrive decides to include it in the promotion. If they do I’ll stay in for as long as the promotion runs.

On the home front, I noticed something different. Our house is on the outskirts of London, and for years our street has been a cut-through to one of the main roads into town. The traffic noise has never bothered me particularly. It’s at most an hour in the morning and again in the evening, and as we’ve lived here for more than 20 years I’ve internalized it. Suddenly though, people aren’t driving into the city and the absence of noise has disoriented me. Subconsciously, it seems, I’ve been using the rat-run as an alarm clock.

The days are getting noticeably lighter, and I’ve been relishing the unexpectedly clean air on my daily walks. I’ve been keeping to the streets rather than following my usual routes over Hampstead Heath, but the signs of spring are all around my neighbourhood. Daffodils, tulips, camellias, crocuses, blossom, scents. Lovely.

And on the subject of spring, did you see that David Hockney published a series of images created recently at his home in Normandy, offered to the public as a respite from current events? The images are beautiful, and I am awestruck and inspired that he is capable of such work at 83 years young. There’s hope, right? Check them out and absorb the wonder of man’s talent and nature’s glory. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52109901

So. Those are the good bits of my week. How about yours?

Michaeline: Digital Ideas Poughkeepsie

Poughkeepsie Female Academy, 1877

Poughkeepsie: Where the ideas come from. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

The last month has been an extremely creative time for me, but the general unsettled zeitgeist means I feel like I should be doing things other than writing. So, I decided to share some of my ideas that are going to waste. Feel free to execute them as you like, or add your own fun story ideas for people to pick up and share. Just make sure you have a protagonist, an antagonist, and a conflict. Or, provide half of the equation, and let people in the comments fill in the rest. You can add frills like the inciting incident, the time and setting, cool ideas and supporting characters.

*When asked where his ideas came from, Harlan Ellison said he would reply, “I get my stories from an idea service in Poughkeepsie, New York . . . $25 a week and they send me a fresh six-pack of new ideas fifty-two times a year.” – Shatterday: Stories, by Harlan Ellison

STORY IDEA #1: Amelia Hamsterkaufe, Miss North Carolina 1972, is now a suburban widow at a party in 1980 for her best friend (and runner-up) Betsy Hill’s birthday. Betsy breaks the news that she’s going to divorce her husband, Rex, and marry a scandal-ridden senator that she’s loved for the last ten years. Amelia absorbs the news under the moonlight on the patio, when she’s interrupted by Rex, who she has had a secret crush on since 1971. They begin to bicker about Betsy’s decision to divorce Rex, when a passing asteroid falls in the pool, and sends them both back to 1972 with their knowledge of the future, and a chance to change everything.

STORY IDEA #2: Continue reading

Kay: Narrating Family History

The family tree of Cesky Sternberk Castle, Czech Republic (Library of Congress)

Novelists create characters. We give them names and personalities, families, backgrounds, and histories. We give them motivations and core values, often based on what they learned from their families or what’s important to their heritage, so they have reason to make the choices they do in our narratives.

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Ancestry that individual Americans actually know very little about their heritage.

Ancestry commissioned a survey from OnePoll, which canvassed 2,000 people in the United States. They found that many Americans don’t know or are unclear about their family origins.

  • 25 percent don’t know from what countries their families came to the United States
  • 40 percent of Americans polled are not certain from what country their last name originates

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?

Kay: Writing Retreats

This is the home of authors Stephen and Tabitha King in Bangor, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Now that we are in the month of NaNo, many of us are hunkered down, grinding out a daily 1,667 words letting our imaginations take flight in a concentrated, one-month writing extravaganza.

You can maybe tell this is not my thing.

However, I am deeply attracted to the idea of a writers retreat, where people can go and maybe write or maybe just cogitate or brainstorm. I like the idea of getting away from daily life, a healthy disruption that removes us from our routines and can jar those neurons into bouncing in new directions.

So here’s a retreat I’d like to try: Continue reading

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

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?