Michaeline: February is a Great Month for Stories!

Doves driving an old-fashioned automobile bedecked with flowers (one dove has a letter in her mouth)

Ready? Set? Let’s fly into February! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I often feel like January is a recovery month – it takes 31 days to catch up on the sleep I lose on New Year’s Eve, and I’m often busy trying new resolutions to improve my diet, exercise, career, housekeeping and writing practices, which in turn, leads to recovering from too much fiber, muscle strain, brain strain, dust allergies and . . . and luckily, no adverse effects from the writing.

February is full of fun little days that have produced big stories. February 2 is Groundhog Day, the day a small mammal predicts the weather and future happiness. I’ve discussed the movie Groundhog Day a couple of times on the blog, as a metaphor for re-writing, and a meditation about how a wretched character (Phil, the weatherman) re-invents himself as a being worthy of loving and capable of love.

February 3 is Setsubun, the Japanese holiday about driving out demons called oni and generally getting rid of what doesn’t serve you. The tradition is that you throw beans while yelling, “Demons out! Good luck in!” Then you pick up all the beans, and eat as many beans as your years on earth. Side bonus: the wise demon-exorcist will vacuum all the corners of the house so the beans don’t get dusty. The wily Hokkaido pioneer will use peanuts in the shell to Continue reading

Michille: Happy Valentine’s Day

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36899372St. Valentine is thought to be a real person, recognized by the Catholic Church, who died around 270 A.D. It is thought that he was beheaded by emperor Claudius II for helping soldiers wed. There is some question about this as there was another St. Valentine around the same time who helped Christians escape harsh Roman prisons who was then imprisoned himself, fell in love with his jailer’s daughter, and signed his love letters to her “From your Valentine.” There are about a dozen St. Valentines plus a pope. The most recent saint was beheaded in 1861 and canonized in 1988, and the pope of that name lasted about 40 days. Odd history for a romantic holiday – a lot of beheadings involved. Continue reading

Nancy: Valentine’s Day Traditions

A few days ago, Michaeline gave us the best possible reminder that Valentine’s Day is coming by sharing a romantic short story with us. What I found disturbing – and admitting this could get my romance writer card pulled – is that I actually needed the reminder.

It’s safe to say it’s not a high-priority holiday in our house.

However, we sometimes enjoy a small Valentine’s Day celebration. When we remember it. And we have a few traditions on those occasions, including handmade cards and a special double chocolate dessert. No flowers (I’m allergic to nearly everything with pollen), and no dinner at a crowded restaurant (amirite, fellow introverts?). In their dating days, my daughter and now son-in-law began their tradition of celebrating every Valentine’s Day in a different city. This year’s destination: Honolulu, HI. White sand, 75°F weather, and tropical drinks. (I raised a smart kid.) Continue reading

Michaeline: A Love Story for Valentine Week

A stylish Japanese modern girl with a black bob, beautiful eyes and lips, and a stylish sheath dress. The art is titled "Tipsy".

Anna Kitt, on working holiday in New York City. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Every love story has its conflict, and weak lovers can see it. Their love is paralyzed, and eventually stillborn as they realize just how impossible it is to love this person at this time in this place. But true lovers don’t see the conflict. Love is blind, you see. The lovers are like two cats in a bag, struggling against this unsee-able confinement, but together for as long as it takes to make peace with the bag or get out. That’s why when I saw Anna for the first time, I fell in love instead of running away.

I walked into that bakery in Korea-town, looking for a little something sweet on a cold February day, and I saw her by the pain au chocolat. Black bob, perfect cat-eye liner capturing dark brown eyes, and she was elegant in something black and floofy around the hips with a red fur stole over her shoulders. I reached around to take the last piece of ganache cream cake, when she grabbed my wrist.

“I don’t think you want that, mister,” she said. “It’s mine.”

My first instinct was to back up, stuttering something like, “Of course, madam” and scurrying away but then she gave me the side-eye, and then I saw those red lips, and something funny happened in my chest, and I said, “Why don’t we share it?”

She smiled, and that funny thing in my chest turned into a raging, roaring fire. “My name is Anna,” she said.

“Ray Perez,” I said, and almost kissed her hand before remembering what century I was in.

So, that’s how we wound up sharing a little rectangle of chocolate cake while Continue reading

Elizabeth: What Should I Watch Next?

Spring is just a few days away, though you wouldn’t know it from the recent snowfall blanketing our east coast.  Writing contest season is also in full swing, which means I’ve been spending more time judging other peoples’ writing than focusing on my own these past few weeks.

It’s an interesting experience.

For this year’s Golden Hart, I’m just finishing up a set of “inspirational” entries.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they’ve mostly been “sweet” contemporary stories (no sex and occasional God references).  Definitely different from the paranormal entries that I judged previously, but it has, as always, been a learning experience.  It seems far easier to recognize what is not working in someone else’s story than it is in mine.  Using the information in Nancy’s recent post on conflict-locks last week, I tried to create a conflict box for each of the stories I read.  No surprise that the stories I enjoyed the most / rated the highest were those that had a clear conflict lock.  It’s a good reminder to me to take a close look at my own stories and make sure I have the conflict locked down.

As soon as I finish the last few contest entries, it is back to writing for me.  Naturally that means I need to watch some television first.

Wait, what? Continue reading

Jilly: Romantic Gestures

Romantic GesturesHappy Valentine’s Day!

What’s the most romantic gesture, real or fictional, you can think of?

Credible, lasting, loving relationships are the sine qua non of the romance genre, and we romance writers spend a lot of mental energy trying to find moving ways to show what Michaeline described so perfectly yesterday: two people who find each other beautiful, and suitable, and who listen to each other and get each other. A meeting of both minds and hearts.

The three magic words are important, but they’re an empty promise unless they’re backed by concrete, specific actions.

In real life, the evidence suggests that many people believe throwing money at their beloved is the way to go – last year the estimated retail spending on Valentine’s day in the US alone was almost $19 billion – but in fiction, at least, the reader expects more.

Continue reading

Michille: Ancient Love Stories

Odysseus_Penelope_Louvre

In this terracotta relief circa 450 BC, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, tries to make Penelope recognize him.

Last May, I completed my Master of Liberal Arts program, and many of you know that my final project was a contemporary romance based on Sophocles’ Antigone (which is also a hero’s journey). My interest in ancient love stories was piqued and I’ve been looking at more to see if I can use them as fodder for other stories. I think a writer friend of Justine also uses ancient couples as fodder for her stories. In Harry Brown’s updated version of the story of Achilles and Hector, The Stars in Their Courses, he took the story out of ancient Greece and set it in the Old West. Achilles becomes Arch Eastmere, a gunslinger, hired to help Mark Lacy (Menelaos) get his wife (Ellen/Helen) back from Pax (Paris) after Pax abducted her. Brown brings other characters along on the ride, including Hallock (Hector), Alan (Agamemnon), and Oliver Swindon (Odysseus). There are a lot of parallels between The Iliad and The Stars in Their Courses, but Brown switched some of it up: Achilles fights from great glory in battle, but Arch Eastmore does it for a paycheck; there are no gods, but the weather and the land are described using terms that give them power over man; and he adds a hooker for Arch and the sheriff to fight over. Continue reading