Michaeline: Good Omens is the Apocalyptic Fiction for Our Times

Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) in 2019’s Good Omens TV series. (Image via IMDb)

For once, I was on the cutting edge of things. My husband subscribed to Amazon Prime in March to easily send stuff to our daughter who went away to college, and at about the same time, I found out that Good Omens was coming.

Good Omens was originally a lovely book written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman about the impending End Times. It was published in 1990, and was full of clever little international references – Elvis as a fry chef, our changing diet, and of course, the Apocalypse.

Anyone who has read the brochures left by the Jehovah’s Witnesses knows something about the coming apocalypse and all the assorted cavalry and plagues and trumpets. I remember visiting the County Fair in the late 70s, and seeing great big bulletin boards filled with a timeline for the Second Coming of Christ, and was quite upset about the whole thing until someone talked some sense into me. End of the World? Why, I’d hardly gotten started with it at that point. Someone told me that no one really knows when the end is coming, and also that I needed to be less impressed with big bulletin boards and scary predictions.

From 1985 to 2001, according to Wikipedia, we’ve seen someone predicting the end of the world for each and every year – sometimes multiple predictions. The pace slowed down after that, but nearly every other year, there’s been someone saying the world is going to end. I remember particularly the Y2K bug, and the end of the Mayan calendar.

The Y2K bug was particularly worrying. We had just gotten internet in 1999, and that was one of the first things I saw online. I planted extra pumpkins and worried excessively, but the internet scareth, and the internet comforteth in equal measures. Someone talked me down, and on the plus side, we had some gorgeous jack o’lanterns that year, and we didn’t have to eat a single one.

So, you’d think we’d be over the apocalypse in 2019; so many prophets crying wolf. But . . . have you seen the news over the past three years? Continue reading

Michaeline: Wise Old Characters

Elderly African American Couple from 1899 or 1900 on their front porch. She's strong and has her arm on his shoulder.

Is there a dearth of wise old characters in fiction? What are we doing to fix that? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Whoo-hoo! Three-day weekend here in Japan courtesy of “Respect for the Aged Day” on Monday. It got me to thinking about the old, wise characters in fiction. Currently, my favorite senior citizen is Nana Strong from Jeanne Oates Estridge’s new book, The Demon Always Wins.

Nana is feisty without being senile, is frail of body but strong in her beliefs, and offers a very real sort of “best friend” – not an all-knowing one, but one who knows a lot, and gives it to Dara Strong straight.

Other than that, though? Who are my favorite old folks in literature? It took me a little bit of thinking.

Werewolves? Nah, not a long-lived race, the werewolves. Vampires? Not what you’d call role-models, particularly. I am fond of MaryJanice Davidson’s young Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, but she’s not old.

So, I did what any 21st century philosopher would do, 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

Michaeline: Crazy stories

Now here’s an example of structure combined with crazy — leading to an incredible body in motion. Strandbeest by Michael Frey, image via Wikimedia

We love structure and craft here on Eight Ladies – combined, we’ve spent thousands of hours on classes, and maybe tens of thousands reading about how to write, and listening to podcasts. Structure is important, and it makes a book great.

But . . . it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. There’s that big, blasted sword of Crazy that only shows up in this dimension when it wants to, and can disappear nearly as fast. It’s also only visible to certain readers, so whoever wishes to wield the sword of Crazy had better have a thick skin or numb ears: a lot of people are going to be telling the wielder that s/he is . . . well, crazy.

Crazy sometimes carries the day, though. I love Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series – adored them as a teen and imprinted on them, and even read them as an adult and still loved them!

Adams had a gift for funny ideas, and was skilled at winding them up and letting them run into each other at full speed. Structure was more hit and miss – he was more like a jerry-rigger than an architect of literature. The Hitchhiker’s Guide has not just one, but multiple prologues. The climaxes seem to come regularly, but not in any particular order. And the dangling threads? Well, apparently that’s why this trilogy needed four sequels instead of the usual two.

Still – look at Adams’ impact on culture. Anyone in the English-speaking world who has Continue reading

Jilly: Voice

VoiceI’ve been away from home the last couple of days, visiting my mum. She’s in her late 80s and her health is variable, so I try to get the most out of every hour I spend with her. It can be challenging, and I’ve learned by experience that there is no point taking my WIP along. By the end of the day, I’m generally too fried to tackle anything more demanding than a large glass of wine and a good book.

Reading inspires me, but I don’t read new novels in the sub-genre I’m writing, because I don’t want to borrow, even subconsciously, and I don’t want to be put off developing something my story needs because it feels too close to something someone else has created. So new fantasy or urban fantasy authors are off-limits. I’m not in the mood for contemporaries or historicals. Romantic suspense might be a possibility, but best of all, for now, is a Terry Pratchett re-reading binge. Pratchett suits my current reading needs perfectly – he’s familiar, fantastic, funny, brilliant, inspirational and unique.

I’m currently half-way through Mort, the fourth Discworld novel – the one in which the eponymous hero becomes Death’s apprentice. I threw it in my travel bag without even thinking about the storyline, but after a day spent with the residents of mum’s nursing home a story about life and death expertly told with intelligence, humor and compassion was, oddly, exactly what I needed.

I sneaked in a few more pages over breakfast yesterday morning, and as always, I was dazzled by Pratchett’s voice. Continue reading

Jilly: Hogfather – Holiday Fun and Humanity 101

HogfatherAre you a Terry Pratchett fan? If you haven’t read him yet, you’re missing out on some good stuff (85 million books in 37 languages good). If you are, what is it about his writing that appeals to you?

Apart from the quality of his prose, which is stellar, there are two big reasons why Pratchett is my all-time favorite author. The first, which Michaeline discussed in this post yesterday, is the humor. Everything in Pratchett is done with a smile or a laugh, and the darker the topic, the more likely it is to get the comic fantasy treatment. Who else could turn the Grim Reaper into Death, sympathetic and hilarious as well as inevitable? Whichever book you choose, the funnies comes thick and fast, and in every possible form – light and dark, juvenile and highbrow, situational and slapstick, garnished with dazzling wordplay that could as easily be a cheesy pun as a brilliant epigram.

The gags are so good, and so non-stop, that it’s easy to bowl merrily along and miss the substance that underlies the funny stuff. Continue reading

Michaeline: The Hogfather’s Wee Piggies

A rich man sitting on Santa's lap, being denied presents. Next to Santa is a collection box for the poor, and a mouse is putting a large coin in the slot on top.

Pratchett wasn’t the first to tackle the hypocrisy of the winter holidays. This cartoon from Bob Satterfield contains many of the same elements — sitting on Santa’s lap, the rich, the poor, a rat . . . . (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I am on record as stating that Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is not the most accessible of his Discworld novels. But even so, a kinda-hard Pratchett is head and shoulders above a good anything-by-anyone-else. I spent a merry December evening this week giggling on the sofa with his holiday book, and then I spent a few lovely hours thinking about what made me laugh. (A really good book is still with you even when it’s not open.) (What is Hogfather? io9 talks about it here with some spoilers.)

The scenarios I want to examine are the ones set in the Grotto. Our story so far: the Hogfather has disappeared on Hogswatchnight, and Death (and friends) decide to bring him back by re-creating belief in the Hogfather. In other words, Death puts on a jolly red suit, gets behind a sleigh powered by four flying pigs, and performs Christmas miracles in his own inimitable fashion. One of his duties is showing up in an Ankh-Morpork shopping emporium and granting the wishes of the kiddies. Continue reading