Michaeline: Dear Freddy

A dandy from 1815 in a smart coat and pair of trousers kneels before a fashionable young lady, kissing her hand. Proposal.

And at the end of a cotillion, all of the couples are sorted. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments, and I like mine tall and a little bit goofy. I’m re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion today, and Freddy Standen checks off both boxes.

Georgette Heyer is a writer’s writer, and one of the very cool meta-things I noticed the read-through is that so many of the characters come in pairs. In the first chapters, Freddy Standen is meant to be an idiot – a well-dressed fop who hasn’t two wits to rub together. In a complicated plot, he’s set up against his four cousins as competitors for our heroine’s hand in marriage. An evil uncle has made it part of his will that his fortune will go to Kitty Charing if, and only if, she marries one of his nephews. Otherwise, she’ll be destitute, and the fortune will go to Continue reading

Elizabeth: Death by the Book

I have been a fan of mysteries since Nancy Drew found that old clock and the Hardy Boys uncovered that treasure in the tower.  Nancy, Ned, Frank, and Joe led to Beverly Gray, The Dana Girls, Ginny Gordon, and my favorite – Judy Bolton.  I collected the books at garage sales, flea markets, and the like, and many of the editions were from the early 1930s (and smelled like it too), with beautiful old dust jackets and the original story-lines.   I don’t think there were any murders, but many of the stories were dark and a little edgy.

In later years the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were revised and brought up to date a bit.  Nancy’s roadster morphed in to a sports car, she traded in her suit and hat for trousers, and the racial stereotypes in the Hardy Boys books were addressed.  Sadly, vocabulary words such as “ostensible” and “presaged” were also eliminated, as was slang and about 5 chapters from each book.

When I moved on to the ‘grown-up’ section in the local library, there were the romantic mysteries of Elizabeth Cadell, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart, not to mention my favorite, M. M. Kaye with her “Death in . . .” series – Kashmir, Zanzibar, Kenya, Cyprus, the Andamans – I visited them all (except Berlin – that one still creeps me out).  Unlike the early mysteries that I cut my reading teeth on, so to speak, these definitely featured dead bodies along with a nefarious villain or two.  I haven’t re-read any of them in decades, afraid perhaps that they won’t pass the test of time.  I’d rather remember them fondly than take the chance of being disappointed.

Fortunately, there is a whole wide world of mystery stories out there – old, new, cozy, suspenseful, contemporary, historic, and everything in between. Continue reading

Jilly: What’s on Your Id List?

What things in fiction, big or small, really do it for you? Tropes, characters, premises or details that you enjoy so much you’d auto-buy a book or stick with a really bad movie because of them?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Writing For Your Id, a workshop presented at this year’s RWA National conference by Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author. I’m super-grateful to 8 Lady Jeanne for recommending it.

The first part of the presentation, which would have been worth the price of admission, was that certain universal pleasures have become hard-wired into our brains, and encountering those treats when we read gives us a deep-seated hit of happy. Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons. Different genres are associated with different pleasures, and the workshop offered suggestions about different ways to create pleasure-centric stories and to work with and against the typical pleasure buttons.

Lots of food for thought there, but what really resonated with me was the second part of the presentation: that you make your stories distinctive and memorable by adding in to them stuff that you, the writer, personally really, really like.

The idea is to develop a list of all the things that do it for you and use those things to bring excitement to your writing.

Work out which pleasures recur. Which ones you’re strong on and vice versa. And if you’re not looking forward to writing, get yourself in the mood by adding in something from your Id List.

Dr. Barnes said she has a list of more than a thousand items. I just made a start on mine, but here are a few things I came up with.

Sensible, smart, plain heroines who get the hot guy
Especially the overlooked bluestocking sister with a drop-dead gorgeous sibling.
I’d put Lizzy Bennet top of this list—Jane is beautiful, but Lizzy’s smart and interesting. Or quiet, competent Mary Challoner from Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.

Heroines who shoot the hero
That would be Mary Challoner again. And Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels. And Sophy from The Grand Sophy (well, she shoots a friend to prevent the hero from challenging him to a duel, but I think it counts). Continue reading

Elizabeth: Book Squee – A Duke in Shining Armor ©

As I may have mentioned a time or two recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, both from the local library and my very own TBR pile.

That means that last week, I finally broke down and read Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor.   The book was published last November, but I held off reading it, not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but because I knew once I read it, I’d be desperate for more, with no next-in-the-series on the horizon for a while to come.

Once I finished the book I posted a review on Amazon / Goodreads, as I have been trying make sure to do, regardless of how long the book has been out.  Afterwards, I perused what others had written and was frankly rather surprised at the wide-range of reviews people posted.  I get that not every reader is going to like every book, as Jeanne talked about in her Did Not Finish post yesterday, but it was baffling – and eventually a bit amusing – to see such seemingly contradictory comments: Continue reading

Elizabeth: Writer Interupted

The quote above pretty much sums it up for me.  Generally, the act of writing is about as appealing to me as mopping the floors or scrubbing the bathroom, but when I look back after the fact, I love the results.

Disliking the actual writing process means I’m always susceptible to procrastination.  Last night after dinner that meant, when I should have started working on this post, I instead decided to read for “just an hour.”

That was a mistake.

I blame Georgette Heyer. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Comfort and Joy

If you’re looking for our normal Friday Writing Sprints post, we kicked things off a little earlier this week on Wednesday with our 4th Annual Short Story Challenge.  If you missed it, check out our first entry, Kay’s fun Botticelli Pizza story.  We’ll be posting other entries in the coming days, including my own story next Wednesday.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break and doing a little comfort reading and movie watching.   It never quite feels like the holiday season is official unless I’ve watched Love Actually at least once (though I tend to enjoy it all year-round).  I’ll even admit to watching more than my fair share of holiday movies via the Hallmark Channel in recent weeks.    They may be predictable, color-blind, and even a bit sexist at times, but they provide a nice Continue reading

Jilly: History on a Plate

Yorkshire Puddings

What recipes or dishes are entrenched deep in the history of your hometown or family or country? Like it or hate it, food that would transport you to a particular place or time before you could say Beam me up, Scotty?

After our adventures in Highgate Cemetery and at Shakespeare’s Globe, last week Kay and I spent a few days visiting Derbyshire. I wanted our trip to be a uniquely English experience, and I think I succeeded. I knew the pretty stone-built towns, gorgeous countryside and historic houses would be a safe bet, but I hadn’t thought about how much of what we eat is particular to our land and culture.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how the judicious use of dialect, slang and cant can add richness and depth to a story world. Now I’m thinking I should pay more attention to my characters’ meals. I’ve given them food that’s appropriate to their time period, but I need to double check whether I missed an opportunity to make their meals local, distinctive or significant in some way.

For example, the Yorkshire Pudding, which Kay sampled for the first time last Sunday at a country pub on the edge of the Chatsworth estate, is history on a plate. Continue reading