Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. 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

Jilly: Free Shouldn’t Mean Gimcrack

How many of you download free books, stories or novellas from BookBub, or the Zon, or as a reward for signing up for an author newsletter?

Do you expect the quality of the writing to be worse because it’s free?

Stand by for a rant.

I’m on the mailing list of an author whose books I really like. She’s not prolific, but her stories are quality and well worth waiting for. I had a newsletter from her recently, announcing that her new novel would be published shortly. Excellent, I thought. I read on to discover that she’d written a novella-length story in the same world as the upcoming book, and that she was offering it to her mailing list as a free download to thank us for our engagement and to whet our appetites for the new release.

I couldn’t have been happier. I downloaded the free book, made a pot of coffee and got comfortable on the sofa with my Kindle. For about five minutes, tops.

I knew the novella-length story had started life as a character sketch, a discovery exercise to help the author find her way into the next big book. That’s cool. I love those little extras, behind-the-scenes glimpses and secret nuggets. That’s what I was hoping for. Perhaps that’s what it became in the end. I’m not sure, because I abandoned it after skimming the first dozen pages.

I’m not sure whether the author did just dump her discovery notes into Vellum without any thought or editing, but that’s how it read to me. What I read reminded me of the famous Mark Twain quote: “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

Continue reading

Justine: (Is It?) All About the Book Cover, part II

His Lady Protect Sml-1

My original book cover.

Two weeks ago, I announced that I was redoing the book cover for the first book in my series because it did not “spark joy.” (Thank you, Marie Kondo!)

Well, my new designer, who will still remain nameless (until we have the final cover completed), has given me a first draft, if you will, and I’m already in love.

Before she began any work, she asked me a bunch of questions about what I’m looking for, including:

  • Genre
  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Author name/co-author (if any)
  • Blurb/summary/back cover copy
  • Release date
  • Links to covers I like
  • Things I know I don’t like
  • Is the book part of a series?

Because we were changing up an existing cover, my designer wanted more information about what I didn’t like. So I sent her this: Continue reading

Jilly: Give the Girl a Goal!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.

We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.

Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.

So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.

The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading