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: 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: 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: 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

Jilly: RWA Retrospective

Have you made a major step change recently, in your writing, or your work, or any other part of your life, big or small?

Shortly after this post is published, I’ll be packing my bags ready to fly to Orlando for my fifth RWA National conference. I’m really looking forward to it, but I’m also expecting it to be my last, at least for a little while.

Partly it’s the expense. I think the conference itself is excellent value at $500 for three full days of quality workshops, keynotes, pitch sessions, awards and so on. Likewise, hotel costs of just over $100 per night for a shared room is reasonable. The problem is that when I add on a transatlantic airfare, plus an extra night or two for recovery time, plus meals, transfers and other incidentals, I’m looking at a fairly significant investment, and I feel as though I’m now at the point where I could make better use of that kind of money.

If you’d told me four years ago that by July 2017 I’d still be unpublished and unagented, I don’t think I’d have believed you. The biggest lesson I’ve learned Continue reading

Jilly: Making Good Use of Critical Reviews

Do you read reviews when you’re thinking about buying a book? How do you use them to help your decision-making?

I never take account of the star ratings, but I used to spend quite a lot of time sifting through the reviews themselves, trying to find ones that I thought were written by a reader with tastes similar to mine, who’d bought the book with their own hard-earned money and reviewed it because they wanted to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t.

That’s become almost impossible of late, because reviews are so important that publishers and authors will do whatever they legitimately can to collect as many high-scoring, positive reviews as possible. Searching for the few that might be useful to me has become a needle/haystack exercise, and linking reviews to verified purchases has, if anything, made the problem worse.

Now, if I see a book with hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews, it does not make me think the book is likely to be good. I start with the expectation that the book is very probably the beneficiary of a well-executed and possibly expensive marketing campaign, and that I should disregard most if not all of the enthusiastic endorsement.

So I’ve been trying a new tactic lately—if it’s a book I like the sound of, but there are so many unhelpfully positive reviews that I can’t use them to form an opinion, I read the detailed critical reviews instead. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it’s been working quite well, for three reasons. Continue reading