Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

I’m closing in on finishing a trilogy I’ve been working on for some time. Book 1 is out; this is the cover. Book 2 is at the copy editor, due back at the end of April. I’m still revising Book 3 before it goes to copy edit.

My goal is to make these books as light-hearted as possible. I want them to be the literary equivalent of meringue—a whisper of sweetness on the tongue. I want them to be funny. I want every single person and animal—even the villains—to have a happy ending. I want these books to make readers feel better even if they read them on their worst days.

Book 1 went fine, but Book 2 was a killer. I had difficult personal issues going on at the time I wrote it, and when I went back to it for revisions, it did not read like meringue. It read like day-old oatmeal—heavy, dry, and lumpy. Totally unappetizing. I complained about it on this forum, but I will save you a dreary whine by not posting the link. Continue reading

Kay: The End Is Nigh

Copyright: Hasan Shaheed 2005

We’re already more than a month into the new year, although I haven’t stopped feeling celebratory about the ending to the last one. I’ve spent my time at home, as always, chugging along on my various projects, which include revising several manuscripts that I hope to publish this year.

Revising a manuscript that I’ve left to marinate for a while always raises questions for me, some of them structural and fundamental and some more stylistic. One of the elements I most fret over is the ending, which of course I want to be happy and upbeat, but how can I best deliver that? How to avoid cliché? How to tie things up in a way that satisfies readers but leaves them wanting more?

Continue reading

Kay: Out with the Old

One of my plans for the new year is to resurrect the finished manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and see if I can revise them into suitable shape for publication. The likeliest candidate for this treatment is the first manuscript I wrote. Years ago a well-known publishing company put it into a cycle of “accept with revisions/accept/on hold/accept with revisions” for two years before my editor moved on and it was finally rejected by her replacement. That’s traditional publishing for you! Today, thanks to indie publishing, I can revise it the way I want and publish it myself.

Progress. Continue reading

Kay: Watching Bridgerton

Phoebe Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page star in “Bridgerton.” Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix

I wanted to get 2021 off to a good start, so I binge watched Bridgerton over New Year’s Eve and Day. I had been so excited to learn that Shonda Rhimes would be producing this mini-series that I subscribed to Netflix streaming several months ago just so I could see it.

[Spoilers start now] I had high hopes for this production, and in many ways I wasn’t disappointed. The costumes! The settings! The characters! Those dance sequences! When a development company hurls money at a production like this, it really pays off. The series is spectacular to look at, a visual treat of the highest order.

However, Bridgerton isn’t flawless. I was unenthusiastic about some of the things the producers added to the source material—the angsty overtone, and interpreting Anthony as a jerk, which was a huge mistake in my view. And they left out Julia Quinn’s original witty dialogue, which was a sad loss. However, overall I was thrilled that the story really was a romance—a story in which the principal plot is the courtship between Hastings and Daphne, which I thought was fizzy and delightful. And they didn’t back off from the menstrual blood. Continue reading

Kay: Twas Daybreak (with apologies)

After I learned that Elizabeth had rejected the word “dismemberment” from this year’s randomly generated word list for the holiday story, I was unable to get it out of my mind. Twice I started a new story. One I came close to finishing. And both were about a wife who dismembered her husband and tossed his limbs down the well.

Not exactly the happy holiday ending we were going for.

In despair, I rooted through my past and discovered this holiday poem cribbage from 2014. I hope you’ve forgotten it! It’s an homage, if you can call it that, to Pride and Prejudice and the Bennett family. Dismembering, you’ll be happy to know, plays no part in this story.

Twas daybreak on Christmas, and all through the hall
All the servants were stirring, for tonight was the ball.
The Yule log was laid and the mistletoe hung,
In hopes that Sir Darcy’s fling would be flung.

Miss Lizzie still nestled all snug in her bed,
While nightmares of family danced in her head.
But Mary and Kitty, and Lydia, too,
Argued at breakfast about whom Darcy would woo.

Then out in the parlor there rose such a clatter
Jane sprang from the table to see to the matter.
Maids had dropped glasses, which smashed on the floor
The butler was livid and gave them what-for.

The cook was still worried her sauce wasn’t right
While Pa hit his sauce and got pretty tight.
The daughters decided to primp the whole day
When Mama’s hysterics just drove them away.

Finally—at long last!—the party time neared,
And moonbeams glowed down as the bad weather cleared.
Arriving by carriage the revelers came,
And the butler emerged to call them by name.

Here’s Darcy and Collins,
And Bingley among us!
And Wickham’s dismounting
To give us comeuppance!
To Lucas goes Collins
And Jane’s Bingley’s bride!
But Lizzie dumped Darcy
Because of his pride.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a pain in the heinie
Her ego is huge and her modesty, tiny
Here’s Caroline Bingley, the Gardiners, too
Georgiana is present to beef up the stew.

Mr. Bennet, the host, a right cheerful old squire,
Greeted each guest as he stood by the fire.
“I’m happy to see you, please drink and be jolly!”
So guests then embarked on all kinds of folly.

And then, in a twinkling, the music commenced
And Lizzie sat down, leaving Darcy incensed.
Kitty and Lydia flirted like mad
And Wickham decided to act like a cad.

His eyes—how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses from way too much sherry.
He spoke of his love, he said, “Come and be mine.”
And Lydia believed him, that smooth-talking swine.

They flew off to Derbyshire, where they could be wed
But Darcy pursued them, his heart full of dread.
He promised his Lizzie he’d bring back the villain
But said not a word about blood he’d be spillin’.

Lizzie stayed up like a ghost the whole night
Till Darcy returned at dawn’s early light.
“They’re married,” he told her, “and all will be well.”
“My hero,” she said. He said, “My precious belle.”

He then took her hand and got down on his knee,
“I was stupid and wrong,” he said. “Please marry me.
I thought I was wise, but it’s you I admire.
So if you can love me, let’s tell your good sire.”

Lizzie said yes with a fervor so fine.
“I love you, I do, please say you’ll be mine.
I’ll marry you now and love you forever
And stand by your side through every endeavor.”

And so our tale ends with a happy e’er after
And hearts full of love and plenty of laughter.
For you, my dear readers, I wish much the same,
But for poor stabs at poetry, I take all the blame.

Happy holidays, everyone! And best wishes from all of us to all of you for a wonderful new year.

Jilly: Christmas in Caterwaul Creek

The holidays are almost upon us. Fancy a quick, cozy, upbeat but gloriously non-saccharine Christmas read?

And this year, when travel and convivial family gatherings are not an option for most people, fancy a story about a multi-day road trip shared by complete strangers, ending in a large, happy, informal celebration?

Why not try Eight Lady Kay’s novella Christmas in Caterwaul Creek?

In general I’m a grinch about the holidays. You couldn’t pay me to watch the Hallmark Channel, but I love Kay’s funny, clever, snowy road trip adventure. I bought it in 2017, but I re-read it this week and spent a happy couple of hours on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate, chuckling to myself.

A mere five days before Christmas, Our Girl Sarah is dumped by her lying asshat of a fiancé, who also happens to be her boss. The man is a slippery slimeball and she’s clearly better off without him, but she’s devastated. So she quits her job and decides to spend Christmas with her sister. Taking an unscheduled trip from San Francisco to upstate New York on the cusp of Christmas is, of course, a logistical nightmare. For Sarah the challenge rapidly escalates from difficult to near-insurmountable courtesy of airline schedules, winter storms, and opportunistic thieves.

Sarah is having none of it. I’ll get there if I have to fly in a damn sleigh to do it. She’s my kind of can-do heroine.

The sleigh isn’t available, but she persuades a friendly Indian cabbie to drive her the three thousand miles across country. Then a grouchy pawnshop owner hitches a ride with them, and their journey becomes a wild adventure as they battle Mother Nature, try to evade gun-toting pursuers, and discover some of the more esoteric delights of the Midwest. Along the way strangers become friends, misunderstandings are aired and resolved, and by the time the taxi reaches snow-bound Caterwaul Creek the unlikely trio has snowballed into a rowdy gaggle.

The Caterwaul Creek Christmas celebrations are a delightfully mixed bag, much like the participants, but all’s well that ends well for everyone involved, and (it being Christmas and all), there’s even a new-born baby. I don’t do plot moppets, but even I have to admit you can’t have a Christmas story without a baby.

If you like the sound of Christmas in Caterwaul Creek, you can read a sample and maybe splurge a dollar and change here.

And if you like it, tell your friends. IMO this lovely little story deserves a wider audience 🙂 .

Kay: It’s Time for the Bird!

This week we’ve been talking about what we’re grateful for, and one of the things I’m grateful for is that I can still laugh. As Elizabeth mentioned yesterday, humor can help us get through some dark times.

As a writer, the week’s theme had me think about POV. How would a turkey approach this fall festival feast? Of course, s/he’d be grateful if s/he had made it this far. But perhaps our bird would also be also proactive.

I had never thought of turkeys as being particularly bloodthirsty—that is, until news reports starting popping up about Gerald, the ferocious turkey that had taken over a park in the city where I live. I had a personal connection to this story because a good friend is a volunteer there, tending the roses, and one day she had to beat the bird off with a big stick when it attacked her. Other people did, too, because if you didn’t protect yourself, Gerald would draw blood. 

Sometimes though, maybe, if you’re a turkey, you have to.

In any event, this year I’m celebrating the holiday outdoors on a patio with three friends socially distanced. It won’t be terribly warm outside, but the day promises sunshine, and we’ve got a patio heater to keep us warm. The hostess is supplying her family tradition for the entree, which is crab cakes, and I ordered a more traditional meal (yes, sorry, turkeys) for myself on Friday. We’ll have a good time and, I hope, be reasonably safe.

I had so much fun looking up these cartoons that I’m adding two more that made me laugh out loud, even though they’re not related to the turkey theme. I love Maxine (so topical! Although I added an edit), and right now, I think we can all benefit from the wisdom of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

Wherever you live and however you’re marking the day—or not marking it at all—best wishes from the Eight Ladies!

Kay: Columbo—A Hero for Our Time

Peter Falk—wearing his own raincoat, a $15 thrift store find—as Columbo

Lately I’ve been mostly unable to read or watch new fiction. I’m not sure why this is happening now, although lots of people have mentioned that between the U.S. elections and the pandemic, all they can read is books they know the ending to and all they can watch is reruns of The Great British Baking Show.

One of the TV programs I’ve been catching up on is Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It’s showing up at my house on a rerun channel on antenna TV, although I’m sure it’s available from fine streaming platforms everywhere. Even though every episode is constructed exactly the same way (the murder is shown on screen at the beginning of the show, so it’s more of an affable “police procedural” than a “mystery”), so far, I haven’t tired of it. I never thought to wonder why until I read this wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker.

For those of you who don’t want to click the link, the cartoon’s author, Joe Dator, says he’s been thinking about why he’s watching Columbo reruns. His analysis is pretty good, I think. He points to how Columbo is a relaxing kind of hero: he’s not a fancy dresser—far from it!—and his partner is a rescue beagle. He doesn’t carry a gun, much less shoot one. There are no car chases or foot races. Columbo’s success is due to his work ethic, and he’s not cowed or awed by the wealthy and privileged suspects he interviews, who live in exclusive enclaves and consider themselves untouchable by law enforcement.

“Let’s just say,” Dator, the author, concludes, “that there’s a bit of comfort and wish fulfillment in seeing this humble public servant walk into sumptuous mansions and make arrogant jerks who think they’re above the law finally face the consequences of their crimes.”

The final frame is the back of a head sitting at a desk in the Oval Office of the White House. “Oh, if only,” Dator writes.

Isn’t that the truth? Where’s a Columbo when you really need him?

Well, right now he’s on COZI TV, and, yes, I’ll be tuning in.

Kay: A Writer’s Post-Election Blues

I watched some of the American election returns on Tuesday night, and since then I’ve been struggling to put words on the page. I’ve been upset and depressed and paralyzed. Writing is usually my stress reducer. What can I do?

Like many writers, I turned to Google. And I found a 1961 article by Philip Roth in Commentary Magazine. Philip Roth is not my favorite writer and 1961 seems like a long time ago, but political turmoil has always been with us, and his words resonated with me today.

“The American writer in the middle of the 20th century has his hands full in trying to understand, and then describe, and then make credible much of the American reality,” he writes. “It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination.”

Some of his examples of a sickening and stupefying American reality seem quaint today. [following italics are mine]

“Who, for example, could have invented Charles Van Doren?” Roth asks rhetorically. [Van Doren participated in the television quiz show scandals in the 1950s and testified before Congress.] “…Sherman Adams [President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House chief of staff, who lost his job in a scandal when he accepted an expensive vicuña coat] and Bernard Goldfine [guy who gave Sherman Adams the vicuña coat]? Dwight David Eisenhower [boss of the guy who took the vicuña coat]?”

Those crimes seem awfully minor these days, don’t they? Or maybe they seem like small potatoes only if what our current president has done in the White House upsets and sickens you. Roth wrote: Continue reading

Kay: Read Any Banned Books Lately?

Well, I missed it: the week of Sept. 27–Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week. I guess I missed that headline because I was too busy reading.

Banned Books Week was the brainchild of the American Library Association and other organizations in 1982, when the Supreme Court ruled in Island Trees School District v. Pico that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content. Now more than 14 organizations sponsor the week and reach an estimated 2.8 billion readers and 90,000 industry professionals.

The banned book lists are based on information gathered from media stories and voluntary reports sent to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom from communities across the United States. However, surveys indicate that 82–97 percent of book challenges—documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries—go unreported.

I read about the list back in the 1980s and was shocked to discover that Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, a book that had profoundly moved me, was on it. It turns out that The Bluest Eye is one of the most frequently banned books of the last decade. Other classics that have hit the list in the last 10 years are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee seems to have made the list every year since it was written. (For more frequently challenged books, go here.)

Continue reading