Archive for January, 2009



Humor in strange places
by KimLenox on January 16th, 2009

First off — don’t forget to leave comment in order to be entered in this week’s contest giveaway! We’ll accept entries through Sunday at midnight.

And yes, “Yah!” “Woot!” and “Blululululu!” all count as comments, just so we can track you down if your name is drawn.

Oh, boy! What’s the strangest thing I’ve come across during research? If you’ve read my book, NIGHT FALLS DARKLY, you’ll know it took place during the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888 Victorian London. Because I’m a research junkie, I took a lot of care to weave my story around exact dates, events and people — including famous personages of the time, and several Jack the Ripper suspects.

I do the same thing in SO STILL THE NIGHT, except this time, my story takes place during the time of the Thames Torso Murders, which in actuality, took place before, during and after the Jack the Ripper killings. For some reason, these murders never drew as much interest as Jack’s murders, even though they were just as disturbing. I know. Shiver!

I found out while writing NIGHT FALLS DARKLY, I had to draw the line as to how dark I’d let my story go. After all, I write romance. I write adventure. I write happy endings. There had to be some balance of darkness and light. I put a lot of thought into which details went into the story, and tried to focus on “interesting” over “gore”.

Here are some things that struck me as interesting (bizarre) in the case of the Thames Torso Killer:

- In 1888, construction was underway for the New Scotland Yard, which stands very close to the Thames. The killer – who like Jack, was never identified – left the dismembered torso of a woman in the basement of the building. In the basement, people! Of the new police station! Audacious, don’t you think? One interesting thing of note, is that the discovery of the body was made two days after a Ripper killing. And a couple of days later the Ripper sent a sniffy letter denying involvement in the Scotland Yard murder. Was the letter authentic? Or written by an imposter? I don’t know. Still, very interesting.

- Here’s a map of London and the Thames that I’ve got in my office.

The events of SO STILL THE NIGHT take place alongside the murder and investigation of a young prostitute who was eventually identified as Elizabeth Jackson. I say eventually identified, because at first they didn’t know who she was. See all the green tags? That’s where Elizabeth Jackson was discovered. The discoveries were spread all up and down the river, over a span of distance, locations and days that indicated, at least to me, that the killer was purposefully spreading out the discoveries and likely enjoying his (or her?) observation of the authorities as they ran all over the city, trying to keep up with him.

One really bizarre fact: The killer must have had a sense of humor. No, this isn’t “funny” but …

One of Ms. Jackson’s body parts was discovered behind the tall ornamental railings of a riverside garden which was part of the private estate of Sir Percy Shelley. Most of you probably know who Sir Percy’s mother was: Mary Shelley. The author of Frankenstein, a story of a man-monster crafted from stolen body parts.

Those are just a few bits of “interesting” or “bizarre” research I’ve come across. It’s true what they say — fact is stranger than fiction!

Be Careful What You Research!
by Our Guest on January 15th, 2009

It started out perfectly innocent. I just needed a little information, nothing much, just enough to add that touch of realism to a group of scenes in Dark Temptation. My hero wasn’t feeling well and didn’t know why.

Slow acting poison. That was the culprit, and I needed to know about the various kinds and what their effects were. So I turned to the internet and typed in my query.

Holy crap!!!

Suddenly I had images of the FBI banging down my door, confiscating my computer and dragging me off to prison. Because as I perused the website I’d opened, it soon became apparent that this wasn’t an informative description of poisons and how they work, but instructions on HOW TO MURDER SOMEONE! Seriously. I felt as if I’d just descended to one of Dante’s levels of hell, where the real demons lurk and plot their evil deeds. I can’t tell you how fast I clicked off, dropped my computer cookies and decided books were the way to go. Writers Digest has volumes on everything, and I found my answers there. Phew!
So the lesson learned was be careful WHAT you research and HOW you research it.

Anyway, not all research comes second hand. Yesterday I mentioned something about fleas and castles. While in Ireland and touring Ross Castle in Kilarney, I learned a little something that, at least momentarily, blew all my romantic, fairytale concepts about lords and ladies. Seems they had a little system to help combat the vermin crawling in their clothes, which was to hang said clothes along the tiny passage that led to the privy in the lord’s solar. Apparently the acidic stench filtering back up from the cess pit (or moat), was enough to kill anything. I know! I’m sorry! But can you imagine how that clothing must have reeked??? Especially on a summer’s day. Still, I suppose that was better fleas and lice. For the most part I just put it out of my mind. It’s my romantic fantasy, and in MY world, lords and ladies bath regularly and their clothes are clean, anacrynisms be damned!

Another bit of research that blew my preconceived notions? Despite the Victorian Age being one of stuffy traditions and strict family values, it didn’t necessarily start out that way. From what I’ve read, after a grim, sheltered childhood spent in shabby surroundings, Victoria became quite the party girl upon ascending to the throne! But maybe it’s not so hard to believe. Imagine yourself an eighteen-year-old who has been overprotected all your life, and suddenly finding yourself the leader of the most influential country at the time, with a crown on your head, no less, and everyone bowing and curtsying every time you walked by. Might make you want to act out just a bit, huh?

Can we say, Power Crazed? Not that she abused her authority, mind you. She was at heart a sensible girl, but the first thing she did upon moving into Buckingham Palace was relegate her mother to rooms far, far away from her own. Victoria was free, and she intended partying until the wee hours of the morning! It was actually her husband Albert who instilled a steadying, quieting influence on the royal household, but Victoria had no problem going along with it by then because she ADORED him. Which leads me to my final reasearch surprise — her majesty did NOT like babies or young children. I know! In her mind, pregnancy and looking after infants interfered with time that could be better spent with her darling Albert, and she resented it!

So that perfect family image that lent its shining example to an entire era was, well, maybe not so perfect. The good news for me, though, is that while I came away a little disillusioned, it all makes great fodder for romance novels!

How about you? What surprises have shocked you, scared you, or just blew your preconceived notions out of the water?

Research outside the book
by Sharon Ashwood on January 14th, 2009

haunted-houseWriting paranormal fiction has its limitations when it comes to hard research. Sure, I can dredge up floor plans of castles, behavior patterns of wolf packs, and the bite radius of a vampire bat, but it’s skirting around the problem. What I really want to know is never there. Do werewolves get fleas? What REALLY happens when you shove a vampire into sunlight? Does he burst into flame or just grumble a lot? Solid facts about a lot of my “critters” exist only in my imagination, given the local shortage of werewolf packs.

Still, reading is theoretical. Research isn’t just about ideas, but also hands-on experience–which sounds grand until the ectoplasm hits the road, so to speak.

The opening of my book—all about a haunted house—is entirely fictitious, but a lot of the feelings the characters have began with a real experience. Once upon a time, I worked in a very old building that had started life as a hotel, then became a bordello, then was eventually restored and turned into offices. I never dug deeply into the history of the place, but apparently during its frisky heyday the hotel had housed a gambling den and at least one person had been shot to death before it closed down.

It had a basement, but not just any basement. This basement opened into the sewers and other subterranean tunnels that run under the oldest part of the city. I, the new hire, was given the task of descending to this dungeon and cataloguing the boxes of files stored there. (Doesn’t this already sound like a B horror flick?)

It was musty with the sweetish scent of old earth and dead air but, to be fair, I didn’t see any bugs or rats or any of the obvious Spooky Place wildlife. I worked for a while, kind of glad to be out of the office frenzy. The weirdest thing about the space was its absolute stillness, probably the effect of being walled with stone. There was no light but bare overhead bulbs, and that light was broken by towering metal racks filled with cardboard boxes and rolled-up blueprints. It was utterly silent except for a very distant echo of dripping water somewhere down the tunnels.

About a half hour later, I started to get the up-the-spine tingle that says your animal sense is on alert. I remember turning around, thinking someone was going to come out of the unlit passageway behind me. Then a cold spot moved on top of me. Not me stepping into the cold, but it onto me. It as an electric absence of any kind of warmth, like icy static. The sensation lasted about ten to fifteen seconds. Then it moved on, sliding away.

What was it? I was annoyed enough that I didn’t care. Something about the whole thing felt rude. I kept working for about another minute, but the feeling that I was being watched crept to the front and centre of my mind until I talked myself into being scared. I gave up, grabbed my clipboard and went upstairs. I found out later everyone else did their best never to go into the basement. They said the rats and/or the mold bothered them.

Un-huh.

Years later, it wasn’t hard to take that germ of an eerie experience and start spinning a haunted house scene. Of course, I made my spooks a lot more exciting than a mere wandering cold spot, but writing it was a lot easier with that memory to draw on. I can make up the details, but the gut feeling of that spooky moment was intense.

Anyone else had a strange encounter?

Dogged Research
by Annette McCleave on January 13th, 2009

Research is one of the best parts of being a writer—there’s just so much information out there, especially on the internet. I’ve been known to dive into a subject looking for a single fact only to surface many hours later. It’s a tendency I force myself to control during a first draft, or else I’d never finish.

Sometimes the information I find builds on my romantic notions—King Alexander III of Scotland died when he fell off his horse into a ravine during a storm, while racing to return to the side of his beautiful wife Yolande—and sometimes the information dashes my rose colored illusions—roughly six percent of all murders in the States are one spouse killing another.

Sometimes, the facts are just not as fun as the made up stuff. For example…the image of the trusty Saint Bernard dog rushing up the Swiss mountainside with a keg of brandy under its neck, going to the aid of stranded travelers is heart-warming and theoretically body-warming as well. Truth is the rescue dogs were real, but there was no keg of brandy. No keg at all. The image we’ve all come to know and love seems to have originated strictly from the imagination of an early painter. How sad is that?

st-bernardsm

Worse, it’s been proven that drinking alcohol in frigid temperatures may actually increase your chances of freezing to death, because it dilates your blood vessels and lets the heat escape faster. Darn. There goes my excuse for slinging a wineskin around my neck on ski trips. Water is far better for you, but not nearly as romantic. Sigh.

How about you? Do you find the internet addictive? Do you click from link to link and get lost for hours? Or do you find the information overwhelming and boring?

Don’t forget to comment for your chance to win this week’s prize!

The Final Countdown!
by KimLenox on January 12th, 2009

That’s right! This is the last week of the Silk & Shadows giveaways. At least … well, until we decide to do more giveaways.

*** SECOND UPDATE!!** The winner of Kim Lenox’s prize package is: Patricia Barraclough Congratulations to Patricia!

****UPDATE: The winner of Allison Chase’s prize is Lexee Toste. Congratulations Lexee!

(This post will remain on top; scroll down for the daily discussions.)

So post a comment this week to any of the Silk & Shadow author posts, and be entered to win Kim Lenox’s RELAX! TAKE A BATH AND READ A BOOK prize!

The prize consists of a $25 gift card to LUSH:

Kim highly recommends the bubble bars. But that’s not all — she’ll also include a copy of NIGHT FALLS DARKLY. Alternatively, if you’ve read NIGHT FALLS DARKLY, she’ll trade that book out for a promise of an advance reading copy of SO STILL THE NIGHT, the second in her Shadow Guard Series.

So post away! We enjoy your company!

Shocking research
by Jessa Slade on January 12th, 2009

Currently working on: Transcribing chicken scratching longhand notes
Mood: Perplexed — I wrote this?!?

I was never much interested in the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It seemed obvious to me: Well, s**t happens.

More confusing was “Why do good people do bad things?” As if I could answer that question when generations of theologians, psychiatrists and weeping mothers haven’t. But poking at it was part of the genesis for SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, the first book of The Marked Souls which comes out in October. In the series, my heroes are possessed by repentant demons. I started reading about demons in mythology and the world’s major belief systems as well as the “demons” of purely human cruelty — genocide, serial murder, mental disorders, slavery.

But I thought those demons seemed a little removed from people like you and me. I mean, most of us will (hopefully!) go through our lives without ever needing a Roman Catholic exorcism. (But if you do, check out Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Not precisely a DIY manual and critics argue the veracity, but it’s a fascinating read.) Most of those metaphorical demons feel safely confined to foreign news programs and made-for-TV movies. Then I remembered a psychological study we learned about in high school.
elec_outlet

In Milgram’s 1961 social psych experiment, begun just three months after the start of Adolph Eichmann’s trial as a Nazi war criminal, volunteers were told to administer electric shocks in increasing 15-volt increments to other research subjects when questions on a verbal test were answered inaccurately. The shockees were actually accomplices to the researchers and the shocks were fake. But the volunteers didn’t know that.

Shocking (pun intended) factoid:
Despite simulated screams of pain from the “victim,” 65% of the volunteers continued to administer shocks to the 450-volt maximum (labeled ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ on the board the volunteers used). Only one volunteer stopped before 300 volts. A more recent version of the study (updated, ironically, to decrease potential post-experiment stress on the volunteers doing the shocking) found essentially the same percentages of people willing to pull the trigger on their fellows. If everyone tells their friends and family about this study, maybe the next time researchers perform this experiment, I bet we can lower the percentages a point or two.

It was a study about response to authority, to a voice telling you to do something that you know is wrong. What interested me was the quickness and completeness with which people gave up their brains, hearts and souls to someone else. The volunteers weren’t monsters. They weren’t serial killers or sadists or Enron execs in training. They were regular, normal people — people like you and me.

Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1974 book about the study, “Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View,” said: Ordinary people…can become agents in a terrible destructive process. If this is so, then perhaps the opposite is true: Ordinary people can become warriors against destruction.

The heroes of my stories wield the power of the repentant demons to save the world. Have you ever had a little voice inside you — good or bad — influencing you? Did you listen?

Leave a comment for your chance to win this week’s prize.

The Agony and the Ecstasy
by Our Guest on January 10th, 2009

I gladly stepped aside this week for our fabulous guest, Jessica Andersen. I really enjoyed learning what inspired Jessica as an author, and judging by the number of comments, you all did too!

But since this week’s topic was “Getting the Call” I’ll jump in today and add that my journey to the Call was simply one of persistence, fueled by a love affair with the written word and a deep-rooted belief that no matter how unlikely, eventually I WOULD sell.

I actually had the benefit of some invaluable help in the beginning. A good friend who had published her first book at the time was generous enough to introduce me to the RWA and the Florida Romance Writers, and even invited me to join my first critique group. OK, sometimes she had to drag me kicking and screaming, but that was because despite my grand notions of being an author, I was SO insecure about the whole thing!! People reading my work? ARGH!! NO WAY!

But they did, and I got over it.

It took me two years to write my first book — a Medieval I still consider the (or a) book of my heart — but I was lucky enough to learn so much along the way that by the time I finished, I actually finaled in contests and received “glowing” rejection letters from the houses I submitted to. I even landed an agent, and I thought, “Hey, I’m on my way!”

Heh heh heh. Yeah, I was on my way, a way that would take several more years before I arrived anywhere. Those contest finals and glowing rejections kept pouring in. It was discouraging, especially when I was told things like, “Your characters are provacative and your story compelling, but I just didn’t fall in love with this project…” I mean, what can you learn from that? What do you change?

I just kept at it. After finishing one manuscript and sending it out, I always moved on to another, which I think is so important to any aspiring writer. If not for my critique group, though, I maybe would have given up. Or not. I never did lose that core belief that someday I would sell. I couldn’t bring myself to admit that no matter how much you love something, you still might not succeed at it. So I guess it was denial that kept me going.

To fast forward, it was a good thing I was already sitting down when that call came from my agent (different from the one I’d originally signed with), because as soon as I heard “NAL” I started shaking. What? Huh? Me? An NAL author???? No. REALLY??? Oh. My. God.

At that moment, my life changed. I’d gone from hopeful writer to Published Author (It didn’t matter that the book wouldn’t be out for another year). I cannot describe the elation I felt, the glory, the sense that I could accomplish anything. And then…

The reality of it all sank in, and I darn near had a stroke, a nervous breakdown, a canniption fit (no idea how that’s spelled).


All I could think was that now I was playing with the big kids, and how on earth would I live up to that? Luckily though, the terror passed and I calmed down.

And then I got down to work with my brilliant editor who has prompted me to work harder, dig deeper and demand more from myself than ever before. It’s been an amazing journey that isn’t over, and I’m just happy and feel extremely fortunate to be traveling this road.

Kim’s Sale Call
by KimLenox on January 9th, 2009

I still recall the heady first days after I decided I was going to write a romance novel. I was in my mid-twenties and I’d just started reading romances. I’d always wanted to write, but never had any clear direction. After reading my first slew of romance novels from the local used book store, and falling in love with the genre, I decided I could write one. It ought to be easy, right? Especially because I had an English degree! (I’m laughing now! Are you?)

So I started writing a story that I entitled DRAGON’S KISS, and by the time I’d written a few chapters, I felt certain I was going to be NYC’s next big thing. My story was so exciting. So innovative! So romantic! I just knew once those editors got a glimpse of my story, they’d be calling with (large) competing offers, and my life would become a whirlwind of commercial fiction success! They’d probably even fly me up to NYC for some meetings. What kind of meetings? I don’t know! But I was also pretty sure they’d pay for my hotel. **wink**

Somehow I stumbled onto Romance Writers of America. I admit to being dismayed at the realization there were enough writers out there writing romance, that they needed an organization. Then I saw the membership numbers: They were in excess of 9000. Wow. Suddenly my dream of publishing a romance novel took on a different context. Surprise! There were lots of writers out there — smart, intelligent and talented people — trying to get their romances published too.

I floated down to earth, and hunkered down, and took an online writing class offered through a community college. I joined RWA and started doing my research. After entering a few contests, and getting shredded by the judges, I realized my fabulous novel, DRAGON’S KISS, had zero plot, my characters had no goals/motivations/conflicts — and after reading an article written by a NYC editor, that I’d included at least four of the “top ten romance novel cliches” in the story. So much for that English degree!

So I chalked that book up to a learning experience, and started fresh. I took more online classes. I studied my craft. I dissected lots of romances. Again, I started entering RWA Chapter contests, but this time I placed, and received requests from editors who wanted to see the entire manuscript. At this point, I queried a short list of agents, and listed out my contest finals, and the requests I’d received. To my excitement, agents were interested, and it wasn’t long before I signed with mine.

Success didn’t come instantly. Even agented, I received plenty of rejections. I experienced many frustrations, and so many times I questioned myself and my ability — and even my resolve — to become published. But no matter how frustrated I got, I always jumped back in.

The days surrounding the sale of NIGHT FALLS DARKLY were exciting ones. Exciting because we received interest from more than one publisher. While I sat in my office, biting my nails, and waiting for the next update/development from my agent, all the hard work became even more meaningful. All the late nights and early morning writing sessions and rewrites, were all worth it.

I was alone at home, in my office, when I got “the call” that I’d sold. I remember how silent it was after I put down the phone, and I was just here, completely alone with my news. Sure, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband, and my critique partner, and my friends, but at first I just sat quietly and savored the rolling thunder of realization as it went through my mind. I was going to see this book on shelves!

My first emotions? Joy, yes. Terror, yes.

But most of all, I was just really proud of myself. And I have to admit: I cried. For about twenty seconds. Spurt, spurt! Then I had to jump in the car to go pick my kids up from school.

I hope everyone’s enjoyed the “CALL” stories this week! Remember, just post a comment for a chance to win Allison’s fabulous prize.

Our very first guest! Welcome to Jessica Andersen!
by Sharon Ashwood on January 8th, 2009

dawnkeepers1It’s a red-letter day at S&S because we have our first guest blogger! Fellow NAL author Jessica Andersen joins us this week just as her new release, Dawnkeepers, hits the bookstores. I encountered her Final Prophecy series last summer with Nightkeepers–a big, satisfying read crammed with sophisticated world-building, fascinating characters, plenty of action and a supernatural premise I hadn’t seen before. Needless to say, I’m all a-twitter to have her here!
– Sharon
nightkeepers

Jessica’s post

I’m proud to be a nerd. Does anyone even still use that word? Probably not, but that’s what I was and am. I love words and language, history and science, pretty much information in all its forms (well, not so much math and geography. . . but I digress).

As a kid I attended a really good public school, with teachers that did their best to keep me busy. In retrospect, however, I have a feeling I was pretty disruptive when I got bored, which was often. So let’s just say the school system didn’t put up a fight when my parents used to pull me out of school and take me to Mexico for a week or so of ruin-crawling at off-peak rates. Most of the time my teachers just said, “Keep a journal, and do a presentation when you get back.” And then, I suspect, breathed a sigh of relief.

This was back when Cancun was just starting to become a tourist area. My parents and I stayed at small local hotels and took rattling bus tours to Maya ruins across the Yucatan. I learned about Maya astronomy, and about the winner-loses-head ball game played in huge, open-ended ball courts. I discovered flan (and subsequently Moctezuma’s revenge), haggled at open-air markets and learned some of the differences between the modern-day Maya and Mexican peoples, and how the coming of the Conquistadors had changed the landscape forever.

Eventually, my interests shifted, my parents’ lives changed, and those trips stopped. Their memory, though, remains vivid.

I can close my eyes and feel the damp chill of the narrow stone stairway inside the great pyramid at Chichen Itza, or remember the squirrelly feeling at the pit of my stomach as I stood at the edge of the Cenote Sacrada- a sacred, water-filled sinkhole hundreds of feet across and down, that the ancient Maya used for ceremonies and sacrifice. It’s those images, those memories of history and grandeur and a deep sense of otherness, that grabbed me by the throat and dragged me along for the ride when I started working on the concept for the Novels of the Final Prophecy.

Here’s the blurb for Dawnkeepers, which just hit the stores on Tuesday:

The final four-year countdown to the end of days has begun. According to ancient Maya prophecy, demons from the underworld will arise on December 21, 2012. Only the Nightkeepers, mortal descendants of an ancient race of magic-wielding warrior-priests, can prevent the apocalypse by stopping the demons from bringing the old legends to life.

Unlike his fellow Nightkeepers, Nate Blackhawk isn’t about to let the gods determine his destiny- especially when it comes to his feelings for Alexis Gray, his ex-lover and nemesis. But when they’re forced to work together, racing to recover seven antiquities before the demons get their claws on the vital artifacts, Nate and Alexis will have to face their feelings- and their past- in order to defeat a dire and ancient enemy.

And thus, my nerdiness comes full circle to a series I absolutely love to write, research and read, one that combines my love of action-packed, sexy stories with my love of learning about new places, cultures and rituals. For more info on the 2012 doomsday, the books, to hang out, or just check out the cool animation, come visit me at www.JessicaAndersen.com. And for those of you who’ve made it through to the end of my post-revisions, brain-fried ramble, I’m curious. . . what’s the nerdiest thing you’ve done lately??

How to Get Published When You’re In Denial
by Sharon Ashwood on January 7th, 2009

I am living proof that slackers sometimes do stumble into success. If there was a prize for Author Most Unprepared, I’d have won it.

I’m deadly serious about the quality of my writing. Absolutely. All hail the excellent phrase! But the business side of publication …. Not my thing. I ignored it for as long as possible.

I mean, really, who plans to get published? I knew how hard it was. I had years of real-world non-fiction articles to my name and all the cynical indifference that comes with …. Well, never mind. I didn’t have a clue. I also didn’t have any rejection letters because I’d never submitted anything. I wasn’t sure what an agent did, but never bothered to ask for details. It sounded complicated, and I was busy.

A while later I entered a contest because it was my chapter contest and entry was free. I won. Cool! And I forgot about it.

Then one of the judges started pestering me. So, because I felt guilty, I bundled my winning chapters off to the editor in question, along with a few breezy statements about other books. And I forgot about it. I mean, nobody really gets a contract out of these things, do they?

phone-booth

I finally got the call one afternoon when I was at work. For a split second, I actually ran down the list of my mischievous friends and wondered who was having a laugh at my expense.

I don’t recall most of the conversation. My editor was patient and kind and spoke in slow, brief sentences about percentages, rights and other arcane mysteries. (so THAT was what agents looked after! I instantly wanted one!)

Lots of people talk about squealing and bouncing for joy when they get the call, but not me. I was going to be published, and I had to get with the program. And I knew nothing about what I was supposed to do. I was shocked and panic-stricken.

deer-in-headlights

My boss, one of the truly good people on this planet, hugged me and told me everything would be fine. She was right. It was.

In truth, there has been a very steep learning curve. I think it’s going to go on like a twisty roller coaster for the rest of my writing career because publishing is an ever-changing industry. I’ll never have the chance to get bored, and that’s the biggest push to stay creative.

The moral of my story? Never say never. Fate loves to tease a cynic.

Oh, and to all those aspiring authors out there—trust me, it pays to do your homework! Don’t make my mistakes!