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.

Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Who Gets Run Over?

from DadsRoundTable.com

I’ve been buzzing along on the WIP, everything going pretty well, and then today, I ran into a conundrum. I could tell I was stuck, because I wrote 1,000 words today, and I knew the instant I was done that it sucked. I’ve thought about this problem all day, and I can’t figure it out. Help, please!

In this scene, my antagonist, Vlad, the Russian assassin, has stolen a car. He’s enraged because Phoebe, my heroine, has just broken into his hotel room and stolen back the data. He must retaliate.

Vlad knows where the safe house is, so he’s off to hurt someone, anyone (that’s the “blind with rage” thing going on). I want him to run over one of my characters. Who? That’s my question. (Don’t worry, nobody dies. I think nobody will even be hurt. Maybe a little.)

There’s a lot of people living in the safe house. Here are your options: Continue reading

Jilly: 2018 In A Word

Happy New Year!

Do you play the watchword game? That is, choose a single word to epitomize your approach to the coming year? It’s not as restrictive as a goal or resolution. More like a theme, defined as ‘an idea that recurs and pervades.’

Elizabeth told us on Wednesday that her word for 2018 is FINISH, to be applied to one project per month, not necessarily writing-related.

Last year I wanted a call to action. I settled on PUBLISH, and here’s how I explained my choice:

That doesn’t mean I expect Alexis to be published by the end of 2017, though that would be thrilling. It means that everything writing-related that I do this year should be directed towards that end. By next New Year’s Eve, at the very least I should know the specifics of how and when that book, and that series, will get published.

I think I did pretty well with that.

  • I finished Alexis Book 1 and, with Jeanne’s help, tidied up the ms well enough to win a contest and get some nice comments from the judges.
  • I made a final decision to pursue indie publishing, joined Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing 101 course and worked through the lectures.
  • I signed up with Jeanne’s editor, Karen Dale Harris, and sent Alexis to her. I received my report just before Christmas and I’m now working my way through Karen’s comprehensive and challenging feedback.
  • I decided to write two more stories from Alexis’s past, one to be given away on my mailing list and the other as a prequel to kick off Alexis’s series. I resolved to get both of these finished before I release the first Alexis book, even if that means I have to let the ‘go live’ date slip a few months.
  • I spent a lot of time thinking about my titles, covers, and all kinds of other useful indie-publishing need-to-know decisions I learned about from the Mark Dawson classes. I now have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to handle most of them.

This year I’m going for a different approach, because although I keep inching forward, I’m feeling a kind of mounting frustration that I still have so much to do and it’s taking me so damn long to hatch a book.

Continue reading

Jilly: Travels With Kay

Postage Stamp Depicting the Globe Theatre, 1614

I’m writing this post a little early, because Kay is visiting us here in London. World news is getting scarier at home and abroad, the weather has turned chilly, and our neighbors (on both sides) are engaged in noisy construction work, but we’re making the most.

So far we’ve enjoyed food, drink, a LOT of book talk and a tour around Highgate Cemetery. The sun shone, which was a bonus, even if it didn’t do much for the brooding, gothic atmosphere.

Kay wrote in her Thursday post: I think travel is good for people. It puts you in different and sometimes complex situations that challenge you to see events, places, and people in new ways. It can stimulate your thinking and creativity. And it’s fun.

I think it’s also good to have guests. It prompts you to go to new places and do different things. Plus, you get to experience the familiar through the eyes of a visitor, and it’s surprising how different their perspective can be. All of this is a great way to boost creativity plus, as Kay says, it’s fun.

Last night we went to see Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre is in Southwark, on the south bank of the Thames, just a few hundred yards from the site of the original Globe Theatre. The building is a replica of an Elizabethan playhouse, the result of almost fifty years of fundraising, campaigning and research initiated by Sam Wanamaker, the American actor, director and producer. It’s as faithful a reproduction of the original Globe theatre as is possible, built of oak lathes and staves and white lime wash. It was constructed using traditional methods and even has a thatched roof—the only one allowed anywhere in the city of London. The only concessions to modernity are provisions for emergency signage and fire protection.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, opened 1996

It’s an amazing venue, and I’m embarrassed to say last night was my first visit. Kay and I made a few concessions to 21st century living—we did not join the ‘Groundlings’—the intrepid souls who stood for three hours in the rain in the open space in front of the stage. We were seated, under cover, with rented cushions to soften the benches and blankets to keep us warm (Kay says it was 90 degrees when she left California so the blanket was a welcome addition). Still, it was amazing to experience theatre the way people would have done in Shakespeare’s time.

Continue reading

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.

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

Jilly: Tips for Creative Problem Solving

What do you do when you’re chewing on a problem, any problem, and you can’t seem to find your way to an answer?

I’m just back from a routine trip to visit my mum in Derbyshire. The return journey involves a minimum of six hours driving, closer to eight hours this weekend. It almost always results in some brainwave, useful insight about my WIP, or some other problem if Real Life is getting in the way of my writing.

I don’t consciously use my driving time to problem solve—I try to keep my eyes on the road and my wits about me—but somehow when my surface concentration is fully occupied watching the traffic, the deeper levels of my mind feel free to work on knottier problems.

I write sequentially, which means that I use each scene I write to provide the impetus for the next one. The good thing about my process is that the story grows organically. The downside is that when I hit a problem, I grind to a halt and spin my wheels. I can’t move forward until I resolve it.

Over the last few years I’ve tried various tactics to rescue myself when I get stuck. Here are a selection of the ones which work best for me, though your mileage may vary. Continue reading