Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror

It’s that scary time of year.

The nights are getting shorter, darker and colder, at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. We just passed Halloween (previously the Celtic festival of Samhain), when the barrier between our world and the realm of ghosts and spirits melts away and supernatural types return from the grave to threaten our orderly existence.

In other words, ‘tis the season for ghost stories and terrible tales.

We dipped a toe into the icy water here recently with our tag-team Scottish flash fiction adventure featuring the restless ghosts of tragic Alanis McLeish and her twin baby daughters (go here for Kay’s fabulous final instalment and links to the rest of the tale).

That tempted me to re-read Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time, her smart, scary homage to Henry James’s influential 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, complete with isolated, crumbling gothic setting; orphaned children; sinister housekeeper; and murderous ghosts. Thank heavens for the Crusie-heroine-turned-temporary-governess.

Maybe This Time whetted my appetite for Victorian horror. Click here for an interesting feature in Atlas Obscura explaining why the Victorian era was such a boom time for scary stories. It seems to be linked to the rise of the periodical press which fuelled a demand for genre fiction, combined with a period of rapid technological advancement in which things which had previously seemed impossible suddenly became real and normal.

Then yesterday, with uncanny serendipity, I found Victorian Tales of Terror, a recently republished anthology of carefully curated period fiction edited by Hugh Lamb. There are sixteen spine-chilling stories by famous (Dickens, de Maupassant) and little-known authors, male and female, English, European and American.

Continue reading

Kay: Revision—Harder Than It Seems

photo by DoubleDebtSingleWoman.com

I’ve been in the throes of revision for some time (and will be for some time to come). Recently, I was stuck on something my development editor told me to do: shorten the first three chapters by combining them in two. When I looked at the material, I saw she was right that the chapters were too long, and I deleted without qualms about 3,000 words—one-third of the material the editor thought needed to go. But how to combine the chapters? What else had to be cut? I didn’t see a way.

Enter Jilly. She read the pages and offered some great suggestions. When I looked at her comments, all I could think was, why didn’t I see that?

Revision is hard, maybe harder than writing the first draft. Continue reading

Kay: The Plot Thickens

Photo: The Harris Poll

It’s always something. Just a few days ago, Jeanne talked about how she used enneagrams to clarify who her characters are, because she thought they weren’t behaving consistently. I usually have a pretty good grip on my characters right from the start—that’s almost always why I write a story to begin with. Somebody out there speaks up.

My problem is plot. And conflict. Which, if I had enough conflict, I’d have more plot. It’s a vicious cycle.

A few months ago, when I was ready to start a new project, I didn’t have any new ideas. Nobody spoke to me, demanding to be put on a page. The girls in the basement didn’t send anybody up. So I decided to write a story that’s been noodling around in my brain for a few years. It would be the continuation of a two-book FBI series, of which the second book was finished in 2012. Continue reading

Elizabeth: A Turn of Phrase

agents, editors, agent, editor, pitch, pitching, manuscriptIt’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I’m a big fan of words.  When writing, I love it when I find just the right one, with just the right nuanced meaning to get an idea across.  I like words that are slightly old fashioned or not commonly used; words that are whimsical; and words that are evocative.  I’d give you some examples but naturally, all the words in my head went into hiding as soon as I tried to find them.

I’ve been doing more of my reading on my Kindle app recently and one of the things I’ve really enjoyed is being able to click on a word and instantly get a definition while I’m reading along.   Sure, I could pull out the dictionary when reading a physical book, but that’s not nearly as instantaneous.   I’m finding that I’m looking up words fairly frequently – even words I’m pretty familiar with – just to be sure I’ve got their meaning correct.  I’ll admit there have been a few occasions where my understanding of the meaning of a word was not quite as precise as I’d thought.

Looking up a word when you are not completely sure of the meaning is one thing, but what happens when you encounter a phrase that leaves you puzzled?

I’m thinking about a book I read a while back that had the line: Continue reading

Kay: Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

from wisegeek.com

I’ve been reading the Ladies’ posts—you know which ones I mean—the ones where everybody talks about their development editors, proofreaders, graphic artists, cover designers, blog tours, FaceBook friends, Twitter followers, and advertising campaigns. I am totally in awe for the time, energy, commitment, and planning all this work requires. I admire them beyond words for what they’re doing.

I’ve never done any of that.

Not that I’m proud of it. Far from it. Mostly I’m just super lazy. And I’m an ex-editor by trade, so when I think my manuscript is as good as I can make it, I get a cover, and I publish it. Done. And sometimes people buy my book and leave a review, so overall, I’m fine with my career, as low-key as it is.

However. Continue reading

Jilly: TMI

What have you been reading lately? What did you like or dislike? Did you learn anything?

Over the last few weeks I’ve sampled a number of new-to-me authors and had the same problem with several of them. I always read the blurb, Look Inside excerpt and a few sample reviews before buying, so none of my purchases was a disaster. They all had interesting characters, an intriguing premise, and quality writing, but either I didn’t finish them, or I skimmed to the end to see how the author wrapped up the plot.

I gave up on these books because I got overloaded. It seemed clear that all the information stuffed into the opening chapters would be used at some point in the story, but the pacing was lightning-fast and data was thrown at me until I wanted to beg for mercy. I was too busy trying to remember everything to care about the main characters. In the end, the read became too much like hard work and I quit, which was a shame.

In one book, we learned Continue reading

Kay: Fine Lines

from self.com

#MeToo is an awesome thing, the zeitgeist of our times. It’s put everyone on notice: the old ways/jokes/behaviors/assumptions are over! Including how you approach fiction, especially (maybe) romantic comedy, which is more or less what I usually write.

Two days ago the Washington Post published an article that revisited some old rom-coms, analyzing how male rom-com behaviors that 10 or 20 years ago seemed cute and fun now look stalker-ish in light of #MeToo. And yesterday Jenny Crusie wrote a blog about that article and how her books appear in the glare of 20/20 #MeToo hindsight. (Spoiler alert: She thinks mostly her books hold up okay, in part because her heroes aren’t alpha males out to conquer. There’s a lot more to the discussion, so check it out.) Continue reading