Jilly: Evaluating Also-Boughts

What’s your most tried-and-tested method of finding new authors to read? Do you ever use Amazon’s also-boughts?

I’m always checking out new search methods and new-to-me authors, but lately my selections have been especially hit-and-miss. The problem is that “I’ll know it when I read it” is not really searchable. I’m looking for a combination of qualities rather than neat pigeonholes like settings or subgenres.

I like upbeat stories with happy endings, romances or books with a strong romantic subplot. After that it gets tricky. I want heroes and heroines with intelligence, agency, and emotional depth. I love stories where strong characters deal honestly with one another, especially when that’s difficult. I prefer confrontation to secrets or lies or withholding information. My fave authors write series with strong communities. I actively seek out humor and kindness. I enjoy voice, but not when it tips over into look-at-me writing. I love a good sex scene, but only if it moves the story. I’ll try most subgenres.

I believe the Zon is one of the most powerful search engines in existence, but while it’s awesome at identifying reverse harem cowboy stories (not kidding), the search box is not my friend.

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Jilly: Villainous Heroes

Have you ever waited impatiently for a book or series starring a character that you’d previously loathed?

I’ve read a couple of villain-turned hero stories and even blogged about one of them here a few years ago (Grace Burrowes’ 2014 historical The Traitor, starring the baddie from her previous book, The Captive), but I’ve never done the foot-tapping, finger-drumming, calendar-watching book launch thing for a very bad guy before.

It’s Ilona Andrews’ fault. I’ve squeed about their writing here before, once or twice 😉 , but their newest trick leaves me open-mouthed and thinking hard.

According to their blog (link here), the project started in 2015 as an April Fool. They put up a spoof cover and tongue-firmly-in-cheek blurb for a romance starring Hugh d’Ambray, the hard-as-nails enforcer for Roland, the grand antagonist of the bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. It began as a joke that prompted a deluge of requests that spawned an idea that became a book, and what looks like a whole new series, Iron and Magic.

I’d think it was another April Fool, except they’ve posted footage from the cover shoot, run a title contest, and best of all the blog post I linked to above contains a further link to a long excerpt. It’s really, really good and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. Judging by the comments (more than 1,400 at the time of writing), I’m not alone.

I’ve read the excerpt a few times now, because I’m fascinated to understand how the authors have managed to establish empathy for such a dark character. It would be easier to understand if the character’s bad deeds were in the past, or somewhat diluted as backstory, or happened to a character we don’t care deeply about, but in Hugh’s case his murdering, torturing and various atrocities have been committed across multiple books, right in front of our eyes, against our heroine Kate Daniels and her community. He should be unforgiveable.

So how have they done it?

Spoilers below, so read the excerpt first if that’s your thing.

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Jilly: Resisting Holiday Romances

Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.

This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.

Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.

I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure. Continue reading

Jilly: Good Ghost Story–The Girl in a Swing

Do you enjoy a good ghost story? They’re not usually my thing, but around this time of year they creep up on me whether I will or no. Like yesterday, when I found myself drawn into Michaeline’s excellent and satisfying re-telling of the story of Old Betty and Raw Head the razorback hog.

That set me to wondering what’s the best ghost story I ever read. Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing won by a mile. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is by the author of Watership Down. He wrote a number of other novels in various genres, but as far as I’m aware this is his only scary story. It may not be the most famous ghost story I’ve ever read, but it’s the one that had the most profound and lasting effect on me.

The Girl in a Swing was published in 1980 so it must be more than thirty years since I first read it, and I can still remember how it made me feel. It’s not a slam-bam horror story. There are no chainsaws or buckets of blood. It’s a story of ordinary people living normal lives in a present-day world. It’s very low-key and the pace is deliberately slow. The writing is quality, as you’d expect, and little by little, it drew me in until I was completely hooked. Richard Adams did a brilliant job of making me care about the characters, and at the end I was horrified, scared, shocked, moved and very sad.

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Jilly: The Big Finish

Do any of your favorite books get wrapped up in a high-risk, high-stakes final standoff?

Michaeline and Elizabeth had opening scenes on their minds this week. I’m at the other end of my WIP. I’m deep in my writer’s cave, trying desperately to polish up the grand finale of Alexis Book 1.

There’s a dramatic setting, mortal jeopardy, the stakes are nosebleed high and there’s no obvious way out. All the major players are present—heroine; hero; scary otherworldly nemesis; powerful scheming old crone and her grandson, the heroine’s jealous, spoiled half-brother.

I’m trying to do the scenes justice, but I’m feeling a little out of my depth. I know what happens, and why. Stuff happens. Tension escalates. Somebody gets hurt. Somebody dies. The death is right for the story and I’m sure I want to make that choice, but I’ve never killed off a character before. This is a new challenge for me and I want to master it.

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Jilly: Birthday bon-bons

Happy Birthday to us, and cheers! to all our friends here on the blog: Eight Ladies Writing celebrated its fourth birthday yesterday, 2 September. Where did the time go?

I thought about selecting my favorite posts of the last four years, but it was just too hard to choose. If you have the time, and you are so inclined, check out our archive. We have a bank of almost 1,400 posts for you to browse and enjoy.

Instead, I decided to hold a traditional birthday celebration today, with champagne, cake, candles, ice cream, and gifts. That is, I picked my favorite fictional moments featuring each of those things 😉 .

If you’d like to join the party by suggesting other festive scenes or books, I’d love that!

Here are my choices:

Champagne
Without question, my favorite champagne-related story is Lord Lovedon’s Duel, a funny, feel-good short story by Loretta Chase. The trouble starts at the heroine’s sister’s wedding, where an excess of champagne leads the eponymous hero to amuse his drunken friends by making cruel and untrue suggestions about the royal groom’s reasons for marrying a wealthy commoner. Unfortunately he is overheard by the bride and her sister, Chloe, the heroine. Chloe is incensed on her sister’s behalf. She’s also more than a little tipsy, so she confronts Lord Lovedon in front of his idiot friends, slaps his face with her glove, dashes a glass of champagne in his face, and challenges him to a duel. Lovedon’s response is as kind and funny as his original remarks were hurtful. There’s a glorious epistolary exchange, culminating in pistols at dusk in Battersea. This story is a clever, perfectly formed hit of happy. I wish I could write something half as good. I love everything about it.

Cake
There’s a spectacular cake-fest Continue reading

Jilly: Five Great Writing Craft Resources

What are your go-to references for improving your chosen skill–creative, mechanical, sporting, whatever’s important to you?

I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t spend any more money on writing craft—no books, workshops, courses or conferences—unless I come across something exceptional. It’s not that my writing is so good I don’t need it, but that I already have a great collection of resources at my fingertips and I’ve only scratched the surface of most of them.

Even if I write for another 20 years (and I intend to), I bet I could find the answers to 99.9% of my craft problems on my current bookshelf or the internet. My challenge is to digest all that great advice, evaluate it, select the bits that I need most in order to power up my strengths, bolster my weaknesses, and widen my skill-set, and apply those lessons until they become second nature.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this post that I was surprised to discover how much I’ve absorbed about the process of self-publishing. I’ve also learned that some craft resources hit the spot for me, while other famous names slide through my brain and out again, leaving no trace. I had fun choosing my favorite indie publishing resources, so I decided to play the same game with the writing craft references. I found it surprisingly easy to pick the ones I believe will support my writing journey all the way to the pearly gates.

Your mileage may vary (I’d love to know!), but here are my choices: Continue reading