Jilly: Bake, Write, Repeat

Which of your newly acquired corona-shelter-lockdown skills is proving most useful?

I know I’m not the only one working on my baking craft. I’ve been cheering Elizabeth’s sourdough progress and applauding Kay’s inspired ingredient substitutions.

Not sure I’ve heard anyone else say that the experience has also been good for their writing, though. Michille said she’s a procrasti-baker. Weirdly, my adventures in bread-making have provided me with both food for thought and a handy writing routine.

Creative inspiration
As you know, I write fantasy romance in a historical setting. My fictional world is similar to northern England or Scotland, broadly late Medieval or early Tudor period. Of course I knew bread was the main carbohydrate in my characters’ diet—they had no potatoes or rice to bulk out their meals. I hadn’t thought enough about how the quality of flour and the kind of bread would vary according to a person’s social standing (apparently in the real world at that time there were at least seven different kinds). Or to wonder whether a character would have their own bread oven, or would take proven dough to a communal bread oven and pay to have it baked, or would buy it ready to eat from a bakehouse. To think about where and how they would acquire flour. How they’d find the time to hand-bake on an almost continuous basis. What they might flavor their dough with. And so on.

It’s not that I expect to use all those details in my books. Maybe a snippet will come in useful, here and there. But it’s a very practical way to immerse myself in my story world and connect with the rhythm of my characters’ lives. And it gives me something to think about while I’m kneading away 🙂 .

A writing routine
Making bread by hand isn’t something you can rush. At my kitchen temperature, a simple loaf needs to sit quietly under a damp tea towel for around two hours—an hour after first kneading, and another hour after it’s been knocked back and shaped. That rhythm works wonderfully well as long-ish writing sprints. Bash the dough, leave it to rise, set a timer, write for an hour. Knock the dough back and shape the loaf, leave it to prove, set a timer, write for an hour. If things are going really well, write for another 35 minutes while the loaf bakes.

Or even better-make sourdough. Mix the ingredients with the starter, set a timer, write for an hour. Add salt, write for another half-hour to an hour. Then turn the dough every half an hour for four hours. Write for eight half-hour sprints between turns. Shape the loaf. Write for another half hour. Then put the loaf in a proving basket and leave it in the fridge overnight. I get at least six hours’ worth of writing time, complete with timed breaks to get up and walk around. And fresh baked sourdough for breakfast.

I feel absurdly pleased to think I’ve inadvertently acquired a small lasting corona-benefit to offset all those missed birthdays, canceled holidays, and absent friends.

How about you? Have you discovered any corona-compensations, large or small?

Kay: Got Gender Bias?

Where’s that comb when you need it? From rebloggy.com

No comb needed here! From Ablemens Facebook page

A lot of professional writing organizations (well, all of them, I think) are struggling with diversity issues, and writers are scrutinizing their characters, looking for hints of bias. But gender stereotypes—we’re past that, right?

Um, no.

The latest Sisters in Crime newsletter pointed to an article in The Pudding, in which author Erin Davis recounts reading a novel for her book club that had a 35-page description of the heroine that made everyone’s eyes roll. She started to examine what she was reading and found that female characters often had red lips and soft thighs, and men had strong muscles and rough hands. She wondered how prevalent those kinds of descriptions were. Continue reading

Jilly: Searching for Niol

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging in for the long haul. It would be lovely to think the world was starting to return to normal, but I’m not making any plans that involve spending significant time in the wider world. Fingers crossed for next year.

Luckily I have a new writing project to keep me busy. I just finished up the developmental edits on The Seeds of Exile and sent it off for copy editing. Yay! Now I need to get to work on the next Elan Intrigues book, The Seeds of Destiny. I have a pretty good idea of the central story (more on that later), but I’ve acquired an important secondary character and right now I know next to nothing about him.

The Seeds of Exile is about the relationship between twenty-six-year-old Daire Edevald, crown prince and ruler of the wealthy city state of Caldermor, and Warrick Edevald, his twenty-one year old brother and heir. As I wrote the novella, I discovered a third brother, eighteen-year-old Niol. He doesn’t appear in the book, but he features strongly in the battle between the brothers and at the end of the novella Daire sends a message to call Niol home.

Salient details about Niol: he was sent away aged eight, to be raised at a friendly court on a remote peninsula four days’ ride away from Caldermor. That was a decade ago and he hasn’t been back since, though he’s always known he might be recalled. His political value is as backup to Warrick, just as Warrick is backup for Daire.

I was talking through my edit report with Karen, my developmental editor. She said “So, Niol. What’s he been doing and what’s he like?” Er. Good question. Better figure that out.

All the Edevald boys have been brought up to do their duty, no matter the personal cost, but they have very different styles and personalities. Daire is showy and theatrical, totally OTT, with a talent for political maneuvring and a big heart. Warrick is scholarly, introverted, idealistic, a touch pedantic. So what is Niol? Physically he’s like his brothers– tall and whippy, with masses of curly hair and a cute smile. As a character he can be almost anything I want him to be except an out-and-out villain.

I’d like him to be very different from the other two sons, and since he was raised in a different country I can easily justify that.

Is he happy or resentful that he was sent away?

How does he feel about the family and/or tutors who were given the responsibility of raising him? Does he feel more loyal to them than to Caldermor?

What’s his personality like? What skills has he learned in the last decade?

How does he feel about being recalled? I think he could have visited over the years but has chosen not to, which suggests to me he doesn’t see Caldermor as his home. He has no reason to feel brotherly love for Daire or Warrick.

I’d like Niol to be fun to write, and to read about. What kind of young man do you think he’d be?

Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of brainstorming?

I’m finishing up my developmental edits of The Seeds of Exile, also known as Daire’s novella. There’s a small, impromptu wedding in the book (not Daire’s). In addition to the bride and groom there are a scattering of witnesses, one matron of honor and one groomsman.

The story takes place in a historical fantasy world a little like northern England or the Scottish border country. The time period would be vaguely late Middle Ages or early Tudor. With lots of otherworldly antics and fantasy tweaks.

There are gods and monsters, but no dominant theology. The marriage in question is a legal and political occasion (as well as a romantic one), but not religious. My edit notes quite correctly suggest that I should find terms for the official supporter of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be that suit my imaginary world and the story.

I was chatting to Eight Lady Jeanne about this on Friday, and she came up with the excellent suggestion of investigating the history of both roles.

As far as I can tell, the role of a matron of honor, maid of honor and bridesmaids over the ages and continents has been to protect the bride by providing her with a degree of camouflage, thereby confusing and confounding jealous suitors, evil spirits and potential kidnappers.

The role of the groomsman/men has been either to help the groom protect the bride against jealous rivals and potential kidnappers, or to assist him in kidnapping his intended (ew). Continue reading

Jilly: Ryder

I’ve been reading a lot lately and I’ve never been so grateful for the ability to escape reality for a while in favor of a world where you know the toughest challenges will be overcome and the good guys will prevail.

I’ve read new releases by authors whose work I like a lot, well reviewed first-in-series by new-to-me authors, and genre classics of yesteryear, but the thing I’m most enjoying right now is a new urban fantasy serial from the husband-and-wife team who write as Ilona Andrews.

I posted here a couple of months ago about their Innkeeper Chronicles “plague sale” (99 cents for the first three books; all proceeds, net of their literary agency’s costs, to be donated to the CDP Covid-19 Response Fund). The new serial is even cheaper. It will eventually be edited and self-published, but for now it’s free to read on the authors’ blog.

The story has an official title, Blood Heir, but the working title is Ryder. It’s urban fantasy, in the Kate Daniels universe, and the story takes place eight years after the end of the bestselling KD series. The protagonist is Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter, who’s returning to Atlanta in secret with a new face, a new name (Aurelia Ryder), even a new scent. Her mission is to save Kate from a terrible, prophesied, but currently unrevealed, threat. When the first chapter was posted, the authors’ plan was to offer a snippet as a treat for KD fans. The response they received persuaded them to keep going, and now, twelve chapters later, they’ve confirmed that Blood Heir/Ryder will become a book, likely to be self-published in the first quarter of 2021. That news made me so happy!

They’re uploading each chapter as they write, more or less once a week. It’s classic Ilona Andrews—engaging characters, strong community, high stakes, fantastic worldbuilding, and snappy dialogue. I’m loving it so much. Every new chapter is a treat. If you like the sound of this, and you’re not already following along, check out the story so far here.

Have you read anything good lately? It’s a long time between Ryder installments. Any and all recommendations would be most gratefully received.

Jilly–The 10,000-hour rule

Have you heard of the 10,000-hour rule?

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 best-selling non-fiction book, he examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. One idea that recurs throughout the book is the 10,000-hour rule.

In essence, he argues that the key to achieving a world-class expertise in any skill is mostly a matter of practicing in the correct way for a total of at least 10,000 hours.

Personally I think that to become world-class the person doing the practicing must also have a certain level of talent, and getting the right kind of expert help makes a huge difference, but I’m willing to believe that with consistent application the average person can reach a high skill level in many areas.

Told you that to tell you this: I just received my final formatted files for The Seeds of Power, and I’m expecting the paperback covers some time in the next day or two. Which means that after almost eight years of toil, sweat and tears in the writing trenches I should be in the position to publish my debut book before the end of the year, and I’m proud of the way it’s turned out. I honestly don’t think I could have done any better.

More on that next week, and no doubt the week after as well, but as I was contemplating just how long it’s taken me to get here–so much longer than I ever expected–it occurred to me to do a rough guesstimate of how many hours I’ve spent learning my craft. I plucked some numbers out of the air, and guess what? Six hours a day, for five days per week, for forty weeks per year, for eight years, makes 9,600 hours. Huh.

I’m not saying that means the book is good or that I’m a world-class writer, but I’m choosing to take it as a sign that I’ve earned my chops. That the time is right.

How about you? Have you learned a musical instrument, become a pastry chef, a calligrapher, or a dog whisperer? Or do you know somebody who mastered a skill? I know Elizabeth makes quilts, Michaeline plays the ukulele, and one of our commenters, Penny, is an artist. How long did it take you (or them) to become proficient?

Do you believe the 10,000-hour test is a good rule of thumb?

 

 

Nancy: Because Every Story Is a Special Snowflake

Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.

By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.

Until it stops working.

While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.

If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me: Continue reading

Elizabeth: What I learned about story from jigsaw puzzles

Fun and educational too!

Recently my life has included more than its fair-share of jigsaw puzzles.  My current spate of puzzling actually started about a year ago when the National Gallery had a Black Friday sale on fine art puzzles.  I ordered one of a Monet painting and then spent “forever” putting it together – all those shades of blue!

More recently I was browsing in a store and came across a colorful “Women’s March” puzzle.  I was looking for a excuse not to write way to relax, so I gave it a try.  One puzzle led to another – a French street scene, a flower garden, an artistic grouping of globes – and suddenly I’d worked my way through about a dozen puzzles.  I’ve gone cold-turkey for NaNo, and not just because the only puzzle I have left is another fine-art-shades-of-blue masterpiece, but I did learn a few things from all that puzzling that seem relevant to writing. Continue reading

Jilly: Too Many Dogs

Do your favorite authors have signature metaphors? Do you?

I’ve just finished working through my developmental edit on The Seeds of Power (yay!). Among many other smart observations and suggestions from my editor, Karen Dale Harris, I was surprised to find this comment: You use metaphors with dogs a lot. Do a search for “dog” and try to vary this.

My reaction: I do? Dogs? I don’t even have a dog. And no dog plays a significant part in this book. Really?

A search revealed the following:

  • The man was like a fighting dog. Once he sank his teeth into a problem, he never let go.
  • Her whole body came to attention, like a hunting dog on point.
  • Captain Randsen’s hackles rose like a well-trained fighting dog.
  • The prince was dressed and waiting. Soft boots, loose overshirt and trousers, and the ill-contained impatience of a dog who’d been promised a walk, despite the fact that the lad probably hadn’t gone to bed until the small hours.
  • Daire said nothing, but if he’d been a dog, his ears would have pricked up.
  • He put his enforced inactivity to good use, worrying at his mission like a dog with a sore paw.
  • Oriel had described her as a strong ruler, politically astute, fiercely protective of her family and their domain. Again, nothing to set the dogs howling.
  • She had the Hollin deep blue eyes and challenging stare, and she looked at him as though he’d thrown her pet lapdog to the hounds for a snack.

Yikes! Dogs, dogs, everywhere, and I hadn’t even noticed.

I’ve fixed it, but I wonder what else I write without realizing. And I’m even more convinced that quality editing is money well spent.

Do you, or your favorite authors, have a go-to metaphor? Or is it just me?

Elizabeth: There’s No Comparison

ComparisonQuote_Blog2

I came across this old post the other day and thought it was both a timely reminder and a message worth re-sharing.

It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. I’ll be heading off to RWA nationals soon and, although I’ll undoubtedly come back with a lot of useful information and a renewed commitment to my writing, it’s very likely that I’ll also come back with thoughts of “I’ll never write as many books as Author X” and “I’m not nearly as far along in my writing career as Author Y.”   It doesn’t help when I see notes from ghost-writer friends about their 10,000 word days or how they drafted out a book in a week.  Though I intellectually know better, and it tends to take the shine off my own progress, it is regrettably easy to do.

“Comparison is the thief of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Continue reading