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

Michaeline: Books, fans and fantasy marketing

This week, Lois McMaster Bujold announced on her blog the long-awaited coming of a New Book. Then she announced it on her mailing list, which is where I heard about it.

She wrote:

I am pleased to report that a new Cordelia Vorkosigan novel has been sold to Baen Books for publication, tentatively, in February of 2016.

The title is Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

It is not a war story. It is about grownups.

And that is probably all I ought to say right now in a venue read by the spoiler-sensitive. It is, after all, a long haul till next February.

2016 will also mark the 30th anniversary of my first publication by Baen, which ought to be good for a little PR fun.

Ta, L.

Continue reading

Jilly: Sorrow, Joy, and Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's coat of arms, granted by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux King of Arms dated 28 April 2010. The motto means 'Don't Fear the Reaper.'

Terry Pratchett’s coat of arms, granted by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux King of Arms dated 28 April 2010. The motto means ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper.’

Yesterday Michaeline wrote about the death of Sir Terry Pratchett. Like Micki, I’ve been a fan of his books for a very long time (more than thirty years), and I wasn’t ready to change the subject. We took time yesterday to say goodbye to the man, so today I’d like to celebrate his legacy and try to pinpoint why I’ll be reading his books until it’s my turn to type The End.

I saw the sad news last Thursday night. I was at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, stretching my legs during the interval of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Kurt Weill’s political and satirical opera with libretto by Bertolt Brecht. I was playing with my phone because the alternative was to ruminate on the piece’s dispiriting worldview about the ugliness of human nature when let loose in an unbridled capitalist society. Even as I read Sir Terry’s brilliant three-tweet farewell and wiped my eyes, I gave thanks for the seventy-something wonderful books he left us and most of all for the renewed sense of optimism about our stupid, screwed-up world that I feel every time I read one.

In the early days, I enjoyed the intelligence and humor of the Discworld books, but Continue reading