Jilly: Aliens or Werewolves? Why?

If you were stranded on a desert island or snowed up in an isolated cabin and you could have only one novel to read, would you choose shifters or aliens? You don’t know the author. You don’t get to see the cover or read the blurb, you just have to choose a sub-genre. Fantasy/urban fantasy, or sci-fi?

My question arises courtesy of an explanation I read this week on Ilona Andrews’ blog. Like many of their fans, I am super-excited about their current Innkeeper serial, a novel posted in free instalments every Friday.

Sweep of the Blade is a courtship story between Maud, a human who was previously married to an asshat vampire and has sworn off the species for good, and Arland, a swoon-worthy alpha male vampire of aristocratic lineage who’s unshakeably in love with her and makes no secret of it. He persuades her to accompany him to his home planet, and high-octane high jinks ensue. The story features hierarchical, militaristic vampire dynasties in space, family politics, deadly conspiracies, and some serious arse-kicking delivered by Maud and her young daughter, Helen. It’s clever, moving, funny, exciting, and kind.

Apparently fans have been writing to the authors to squee about the story and to ask why they don’t quit writing their other series so we can all have more Innkeeper. Among a handful of reasons, Ilona offered this explanation:

Innkeeper is a SF at its core. Aliens are a harder sell than werewolves. 🙂 A lot of people who would actually like Innkeeper, if they gave it a shot, read the description and walk away from it because it has Science Fiction elements.

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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: Book Signings

Have you ever been to a signing or other author event at a bookstore? Would you recommend it?

As I may have mentioned 😉 I’m a huge Ilona Andrews fan, and I especially like the Hidden Legacy series, because the books are romance in an urban fantasy setting, rather than urban fantasy with strong romantic elements. All Ilona Andrews books have the same basic components: lashings of imagination, fabulous world-building, characters to care about, strong community, sparkling dialogue, underpinned by kindness and humor, but I love them most when there’s a double helping of romance in the mix.

I was already excited about the upcoming release of Wildfire, the third and final (maybe) book in the series, which will be on sale next month, on 25th July. Then I discovered Continue reading

Jilly: I’d Love to Read His Story

In her post last Saturday, Michaeline talked about subplots and secondary characters. We chatted in the comments about the movie version of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and Michaeline said she wished the whole story could have been about the master swordsman sidekick, Inigo Montoya.

Which got me wondering: which secondary character(s) would you like to see in a starring role?

In this era of series, especially in romance, many (most?) significant secondary characters are written and signaled as sequel bait. Usually I’m excited about that. I love the promise of more stories in a world I’m enjoying, and if I’m already invested in the characters, there’s a delicious frisson of anticipation whenever they do something that could come back to bite them later.

Sometimes the author dangles the treat but keeps the reader waiting through multiple books. Maybe even through an entire series, like Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green books, where it was always clear that the resolution of Lyon and Olivia’s romance arc would wrap up the series. That’s OK. I’m comfortable with deferred gratification. I know the story will come, eventually. If I care enough, all I have to do is stick with the author and series until it arrives.

Here, I’m thinking more about the cast of supporting players who people a fictional world but who are not set up to step into the limelight in due course. Take Christopher and Barabas, two characters from Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. Ilona put up a blog post a few days ago in response to a reader’s question about whether she would ever write their romance. Click here to read the post in full. In short, Ilona said the decision would not be a question of popularity, but one of inspiration.

If I had my way, I’d beg the story gods to Continue reading

Jilly: Dunbar’s Number for Writers and Readers

How many authors are on your mental auto-buy checklist? How many are on your keeper shelf? And how long have those authors been at the heart of your reading universe?

I’ve been noodling around with these questions for some time—a couple of years, probably—ever since I first read about Dunbar’s Number. If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia describes it as a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. Or, to put it crudely: there’s a limit to the number of people your brain has space for.

Dunbar’s Number has been around since the 1990s, but I came across it when I started writing fiction with an eye to publication and realized that meant I’d have to get to grips with social media. If you’d like to know more about the idea in the context of online relationships, click here for a Youtube link to anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s 15-minute Tedx talk: Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?

If you’d prefer the short version, it goes something like this: we humans maintain social relationships at various levels of intimacy, and the number of people we have the capacity to manage at each level is more or less predictable.

  • We have a very inner core of intimate friends and relations, people we would turn to in times of deep emotional stress. Typically there are about five of them.
  • We have a group of best friends, people we know well, confide in, trust, spend time with. That group would likely be about fifteen people, including the inner five.
  • The next closest layer, good friends, would be about fifty people (including the first fifteen);

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Jilly: Educated and Entertained

Anyone interested in hearing Eloisa James, Ilona and Gordon Andrews, Alisha Rai, and Sarah MacLean discuss various aspects of romance writing?

I just spent almost three hours online watching a recording of a fascinating, funny and insightful seminar held last week at Duke University. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. My plan was to skim it for the good bits and listen to the rest later, but it turned out to be all killer, no filler. The only bits I skipped were the rest breaks 😉 .

The event was called Gender, Sexuality, Feminism and the Romance Novel, and indeed all those subjects are covered in an intelligent and engaging way, but there was so much more.

Each author talked about their home environment and what led them to become a romance writer. After that, the Q&A session included: Continue reading

Jilly: Cold Comfort Reading Recommendations

cold-comfortDo you have a favorite book or author you always read when you’re feeling under the weather?

I’ve been out of sorts for a day or two, but during Friday night I hatched out the mother of all colds. I’m not properly ill, just the usual—head full of cotton wool, sandpaper throat, sneezing the house down—and feeling very sorry for myself.

I had a couple of possible posts in mind for today.

My first topic was the preponderance of gratuitous sex scenes in the mainstream romantic fiction I’ve been reading lately. I love a well-written sex scene, but I expect it to follow the same rules as any other scene–it should be particular to the characters and it has to move the story. Two people repeatedly having a good time together, however inventive they may be, does not of itself move the story forward. It takes up pages of real estate that could better have been used to make the relationship and eventual HEA between the H&H unique and unforgettable.

The alternative was to discuss a romance I just started. It’s standard paranormal romance, not erotica. I’ve only read a chapter or two, but it’s a continuation of a series so I’m already familiar with the characters. I’m reading on, because I like the author, but I’m filled with trepidation because there’s a huge gap in age, experience and status between the H&H. He’s mid-forties, a good guy in a dominant leadership position. He’s freaked out to find himself head over heels in lust with a nineteen year-old girl Continue reading