Jilly: Pity Party

So, how was your week? Mine started well, but from there it’s been downhill all the way.

The good news is that I successfully uploaded my *three* entries to the RWA Golden Heart Contest website. Two of them still require tweaking, but they’re close to ready, and seeing the titles set up on the contest system gave me a huge sense of satisfaction. 😀

I celebrated by hurting my back. Fortunately it was muscular, and a few sessions of physiotherapy have helped no end, but while it lasted the effects were spectacular. Getting out of bed was a four-step process, with screaming. Sitting at a desk was impossible, so no GH tweaking happened this week 😦

I marked the improvement in my mobility by cracking a tooth. I’ll have a new crown for Christmas, please, Santa 😦 😦

And to put the lid on things, I somehow acquired a bonus ear infection 😦 😦 😦

They say things go in threes, so I’m hoping that’s my last nasty surprise. All being well, I’ll have butt in chair/hands on keyboard soon, and I’ll see you all back here in two weeks with this year’s Christmas Short Story.

Here’s hoping your week was better than mine. Did good things happen to you?

Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .

Jilly: Remembrance

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK, and Veterans’ Day in the US.

It’s also the centenary of Armistice Day. 100 years ago today, on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, the armistice was signed between the Allied Forces and Germany at Compiègne in France, formalizing the cessation of hostilities of World War I.

On a personal note, I’ll be taking time to think about William Dalby of Shirebrook in Derbyshire, a man I’d never heard of this time last year. As you can see from the copy of his service record card at the top of this post, he enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment on January 7, 1915, aged 27 years and 220 days, and was first posted as part of the Expeditionary Force on 23 October 2015.

William went to war and left behind Annie, his common-law-wife, and six children: Eliza, 13; Minnie, 12; Ruth, 10; Albert, 9; Arthur, 5; and Ada, 2. By my reckoning, he first became a father at the age of 13. His oldest child grew up to become my grandmother.

I remember my grandma as plain-speaking, practical, competent, a tough cookie. Maybe even hard, though she was crazy in love with my granddad. She never talked about her family—I never even knew she had siblings—but I believe she was indentured into domestic service as a maid at a very young age. Looking at the six kids Annie Dalby was left to support, I suppose I can guess what happened.

Grandma made it plain she thought my brother and I were soft and spoiled, and with the benefit of hindsight it’s hard to argue. I generally think of myself as a pretty ordinary person, lucky in life but not especially wealthy or privileged. Today I’m feeling very grateful to be standing on the shoulders of people like William and Annie.

Jilly: Were There’s a Will–Sunday Short Story

Last weekend I was part-way through Elizabeth’s short story challenge when I was struck down by a surprise health problem. All’s well now, I’m glad to report, but after three days of blood tests is it any wonder my story brain turned to vampires and werewolves?

Better late than never. Here are the prompt words, and my attempt:

A scandalous family secret is uncovered during the reading of a will, using the words

Eternity                     Teeth                          Grasp                         Poison

Land                           Cocoon                      Blankly                      Haunt

Capture                      Booze                         Casket                        Faint

Bluster                      Shake                         Nerve                         Awful

 

Were There’s a Will

Annabel McCallan-Whyte stared blankly at her rapacious baby brother. She understood all the words he used, but for a moment or two there she’d failed to grasp his meaning. The sheer nerve of him made her shake with rage. Grandpa was barely in his casket, and Jonathan was already peddling his unique brand of poison.

“A private golf club? Conference facilities? A helipad? Luxury housing? It’s beyond awful. Grandpa would haunt you.”

Jonathan shrugged, but his eyes slid away from hers.

“Come on, sis,” he wheedled. “This place is huge. What else would you do with a hundred acres of prime development land?”

“Give it to the village,” she shot back. “That’s what Grandpa wanted. Use the house for a community center, like they’ve been doing for years.”

Jonathan shrugged again. “So buy or build them one from your half of what this place is worth.”

Luckily the door opened before she could brain him with a priceless Benvenuto Cellini candlestick. She knew old Mr. McLeish, who’d been Grandpa’s lawyer for as long as anyone could remember, but the curly-haired, smooth-faced young guy with him was a stranger. Probably born in the twenty-first century, or at least the very end of the twentieth.

The new kid wore a sweatshirt, a slouchy hat and a broad smile, none of which seemed remotely appropriate given the seriousness of the occasion. Mr. McLeish didn’t seem to mind, but she sent the young man a stern glare. He winked at her.

“Who’s that?” Jonathan glowered at the boy, his face dark with suspicion.

“All in good time, Mr. McCallan-Whyte.” The lawyer shuffled to his usual place at the end of the dining table and set a slim file on the polished walnut. The mystery kid helped him settle into his seat, and then parked himself in Grandpa’s carved chair at the head of the table, where he slouched, entirely at ease.

It was too much to bear. Annabel almost reached for the candlestick again, but something in the boy’s expression made her think better of it. She knew she’d never met him before, but there was something terribly familiar about the way his cheeks dimpled, as though he was enjoying a private joke at their expense.

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Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Jilly: Girl With Sword

Michaeline and I both found ourselves captivated by the same snippet of news this weekend: the story of Saga, an eight year-old Swedish girl who found an authentic 1,500 year-old sword while playing by a lake.

Click here to read Michaeline’s post, which includes links to news articles as well as one of the best Monty Python sketches ever. Micki also points out that last summer a seven year-old girl found a sword in an English lake associated with Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary blade. Are you seeing a pattern yet? Micki is, and she’s developed a Theory. Check out her post to find out more 🙂 .

My response is simpler than Michaeline’s. I just love, love, love the Girl With Sword trope (must add it to my Id List), and judging by the number of GWS Fantasy and Urban Fantasy book covers currently gracing the Zon, I am not alone. I added a few examples to this post, so those of you who don’t read fantasy can see what I mean.

I hadn’t really thought about it until this weekend, but swords are special, right?

These images are about more than seeing a strong, powerful heroine defend her community or embrace her destiny. I don’t think I’d respond the same way to Girl With Crossbow or Tomahawk, and I’m really not keen on Girl With Gun.

I think there are three main reasons I’m all over Girl With Sword:

1. Swords have the weight of history behind them. According to Wikipedia, renowned swords appear in the folklore of every nation that used swords. The Vikings, Maori, Samurai; Parsifal, Charlemagne, Beowulf, Arthur… Give your heroine a sword, especially one with a name, and you’re placing her in the pantheon of legends. Continue reading

Justine: Don’t Be a Victim of Data Breaches

keyboard1In case you hadn’t heard, there was a massive data breach at Facebook this week. Over 50 million user accounts were compromised. I thought it would be appropriate to remind everyone of a few basic digital safety precautions. Below is a repost (with some tweaking) I did a couple years ago. The information I presented then is just as important now, if not more so.

The three key things to remember are:

  • Variety (as in having more than one password — there’s a tip below on how to create one that’s different for every site, yet easy to remember)
  • Frequency (backup your data frequently, change your passwords regularly)
  • Redundancy (have more than one backup, preferably a cloud-based backup as well as something local)

Keep yourself — and your data — safe!

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Today’s post is admittedly not that inspiring…unless you don’t want to lose your work. Awhile back, I happened upon a post by Mat Honan about how his iPhone, iPad, and Macbook were completely erased, and his Twitter and Google accounts compromised. The hackers did it with a few digits of a credit card number that show up readily on Amazon. He lost EVERYTHING. All the pictures ever taken in his daughter’s life. Documents he saved no where else. In a word, it was Continue reading