Archive for April, 2009



The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
by Our Guest on April 30th, 2009

So, you’ve sold a book. Finally, someone has told you that you did all the right things in the right genre at the right time, and all your stars have fallen into place. The next year or so will be one of the best of your life. Oh, there will be revisions to work on, new proposals to submit, but during those prerelease months, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be driving around in your car, or at the grocery store, or at sitting at work with the biggest, goofiest grin on your face, and sometimes you’ll even laugh out loud from happiness, making those around you ease away slowly.

Then, a few weeks before the big day, reality sets in. Or, rather, you realize the reviews will start coming in, and suddenly that confident smile wilts to be replaced by sweating palms and a budding ulcer. Oh. My. God…what if no one likes it? What if it’s totally panned? You find yourself forgetting all the wonderful reasons your editor bought the manuscript in the first place and second guessing things like…the hotness of your love scenes. Too much? Not enough? What about the hero and heroine’s first meeting. Does she come off as an air head? Is he a macho jerk? Can I please just make a few last minute changes?????

cinderella20with20birds

Yes, pretty much overnight I went from fairytale princess communing with the birds and little animals of the forest to one of those horror movies where the girl wanders off alone into the darkened woods as the scary music builds, and we wait, tensed and breathless, for the monster to jump out and eat her.

blair-witch-project-movie-poster

OK, turns out it wasn’t so bad. For the most part in fact, pretty darn good. There were a couple I’ve erased from my memory banks, but icky words like “mediocre writing” (for Dark Obsession) remain like smoking brands on my writer’s psyche. And then there was that “Meh,” although I forget which book that was for. Unlike joyful praise or scathing criticism, judgments of mediocre and meh imply that I simply failed to elicit an emotional response - and that’s the worst thing you can say to a writer. I’d rather the reader loathed me, ranted and raved about everything that drove her crazy, because then at least I’d know I struck a chord and got some passion out of her!

So my best comments…I can’t deny that the words, “Best Historic Romantic Gothic of 2008″ have gone a helluva long way in boosting my confidence and making me feel like I’ve come of age as a writer. The competition was stiff, I felt sure I’d never win and just being nominated is an honor… Well. Occasionally I still wonder if there’s been a mistake.

rt-award-web

But the comments that have made the most impact on me came from a reader who experienced what I can only call a horrific tragedy in her life, which I won’t go into, but she said reading my books helped her see that while events can snowball out of control, self-forgiveness is key to recovering and getting your life back on track. Not only was I humbled and touched that this reader chose to share her story with me, but it drove home the point that as writers we have a responsibility to present human emotions as truthfully and realistically as we can, because there will always be someone out there who has experienced, in some form, the nature of what we’re writing about. Yes, romance is foremost an entertainment genre, but fiction is a powerful medium, and as writers we should always respect the power of the words we set to the page.

I really should have kept the android sex
by Sharon Ashwood on April 28th, 2009

barefeetYou know those anxiety dreams where you show up for a final exam that you haven’t studied for and you’re naked and on prime time TV with an audience of millions? That’s what publishing a book feels like. Your inner self is out there for all to see and criticize and—guess what—for good or ill, feedback happens.

I’ve been fortunate. With few exceptions, the response to RAVENOUS has been very supportive. Still, I get that “erk” feeling whenever someone darkens my in-box with a “check out your review here” link. Now I know what a partridge feels like in the shooting season. You’re game, baby, and someone has a rifle pointed at your butt.

Don’t get me wrong. An author (or anyone who puts their work before the public) rarely objects to constructive criticism or balanced reviews. No one is perfect. It helps to know where, as an artist, one is missing the mark. Beyond that, not everyone is going to like every book. That’s why there are 7,164 sub-genres of romance.

My only complaint about having the metaphorical gun pointed at my metaphorical tail feathers is that the intrinsic anonymity of the Internet does not enhance civilized dialogue. Which is a nice way of saying some folks are just plain off their meds some days.

Worst comment? Someone said RAVENOUS was so boring they quit reading halfway through. Unfortunately, they didn’t bother to say what they thought was missing. More dead bodies? Polyandrous android sex? Ghouls doing the can-can? Who knows?

Best comments? Well, here are some nice ones I grabbed off my website:

I urge anyone who is a fan of urban fantasy and paranormal romance to put Sharon Ashwood at the top of their list! – Night Owl Romance, Reviewer Top Pick

With its splendidly original heroine and dangerously sexy hero, surfeit of sizzling sexual chemistry and sharp writing seasoned with a generous dash of wicked wit, “Ravenous” is simply superb. - Chicago Tribune

Intriguing and darkly entertaining — not to mention sexy. Ashwood is definitely making herself right at home in this genre - Romantic Times Book Reviews

Nice, but I really like the ones from private individuals who drop an email to say, “Hey, I stayed up all night to finish this. Good work!” Those are the folks who keep me going in the cold, still hours at the keyboard.

The best, though, came when I was talking to a friend (who is also one of my beta readers) about the plot for book three. I was saying something about the heroine and she turned around and said, “No, you can’t write that. That’s wrong. Ashe wouldn’t do that.”

Oh, the proud mother moment. My characters have lives and worlds of their own and are negotiating with my readers behind my back. Alive! They’re alive!

However, I’m checking my credit card statements carefully.

I gave a few of them expensive taste.

A Well-Placed Word
by Annette McCleave on April 28th, 2009

Major congrats to our own Allison Chase for winning the 2008 Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Historic Romantic Gothic at the Romantic Times Convention this past weekend!

* * *

As a ‘not-quite’ published author, I don’t have a lot of reader feedback on my books yet. Still, feedback was instrumental in smoothing out the many bumps in my road to publication.

In the beginning, when I first started writing seriously, most feedback took the form of responses from judges in contests that I entered. For a writer flexing her wings for the first time, wondering if she had the talent to turn her dreams into reality, those initial comments were precious gems chipped out of the gloomy rockface of self-doubt. I once got these words back on an entry:

“You have a lot of talent! Never, never quit! You will be published.”

Can you imagine the power of receiving that feedback on the same day the mailman delivers a flurry of rejection letters from agents? Yes, I’m sure you can.

I used to pull all the positive comments off my contest entries and store them together in a file. Never any negative comments—they had their place, but not in this document. Then, whenever the world felt particularly heavily and I considered giving up, I’d open up that file and read all the lovely things people said.

“You are a wonderful, talented writer with a magnificent voice. I’ll be looking for you in print.”

Bolstered by a few very kind words, I’d find the strength to send my newest manuscript out into the cold, cruel world.

The closest I’ve come to a reader comment was an email I got over a year ago, after I finaled in the Brava Novella Contest, where the top 20 entries are posted online. Mine was a medieval historical, set in France. Out of the blue I received this:

“I would like to purchase the book title: A Righteous Seduction, but I have been unable to find the seller. Would you by any chance be able to supply me with a name? This book sounds interesting.”

I practically danced on the ceiling. Someone wanted to buy my book. Okay, it was only a novella, and it wasn’t actually published yet, but someone wanted to BUY my book. Responding to that reader to let her know the story was not in print—and might never be—was soooo hard.

I’m looking forward—yes, with nervous anticipation—to getting reader feedback on DRAWN INTO DARKNESS in my mailbox. The good and the not-so-good. I’ll read the not-so-good ones, look for lessons to be learned, then put them away. But the good ones? You guessed it—I’ll be storing those in a special file I can open up every now and then and savor.

If you’re a reader (which most of us are, LOL) and you love an author’s books, I heartily encourage you to visit her website and drop her a quick note telling her so. We writers are a strange bunch—chock full of prose-induced confidence one minute, lost in the depths of uncertainty the next. Trust me, your words will be incredibly, marvelously appreciated. Even by the big names.

How about you? Did you ever receive a compliment or a pat on the back at just the right moment? Something that kept you slogging forward, despite the challenges you were facing? Willing to share?

Sticks and stones
by Jessa Slade on April 27th, 2009

Currently working on: The Garden of Weedin’
Mood: Temporarily defeated

My XY, a musician, is a champion heckler.  His theory is that since the audience shows up with money in one hand, they’re allowed — even obliged — to threateningly heft a proverbial rotten tomato in the other hand.  Comic Auggie Smith out of Portland, Oregon, made an equally painful observation about working artists when he said (I’m paraphrasing here) “It’s not a healthy thing that I go out every night seeking the approval of strangers.”

Yeowch.  Don’t we get any credit for sharing?  At least writers, unlike comics and musicians, perform at a polite (or should I say safe?) distance.   Thanks to the dubious miracle of Google Alerts, however, you can be instantly informed whenever anyone says anything about you.  It’s the high-tech version of “your ears must be burning.”  No, just my inbox and my ulcer.

Google Alerts is how I received the first — and so far only — review of my debut novel.  For maximum effect, do note that my book doesn’t come out until October and no one has received any advanced copies yet.  The review was this:

Meh.

review

Yeah, that was it.  Meh.  That faintly — but only faintly — damning analysis of my pweshus work was based on the Publishers Weekly one-sentence recap of recent transactions in bookworld.  Sob.

The urge to reach out and connect is intrinsic to humanity, I think, and part of the secret to our survival.  To be rebuffed, ignored or reviled is to be denied our very existence, to be banished from the tribe, where we will surely starve.

Hmm, that comes off a touch melodramatic, not to mention self-pitying.  So I should also share the best review I’ve ever received for a work-in-progress:

More, more, we want more!

Isn’t that sweet?  It was from my mom.  Tragically, moms are not to be trusted as book reviewers.  Although I love the idea of an all-mom review site.  They could do their rating system in mom-code:

Hotness scale:
Sexy = “I suppose I could let my of-age daughter read this.”
Smokin’ = “No way am I letting my mother read this!”
Erotica = “Really?”

Quality:
Great book = “I’ll call my book club about this one!”
Okay book = “I’ll pass this one to my sewing circle.”
Terrible book = “Well, at least you tried. I’m sending you cookies.”

There could also be a mom-based music review site:

Great album = “Look, I brought my own custom earplugs!”
Okay album = “Iron Butterfly had a drum solo almost that long.”
Terrible album = “You could play at weddings! Have a cookie.”

Ah well, cookies are better than rotten tomatoes.  What’s your comfort/celebration food?

Sophie/Sharie’s dark heroes
by Our Guest on April 24th, 2009

Sophie Jordan is the USA Today bestselling author of historical romance for Avon Books. She also writes contemporary paranormals for Pocket under the name Sharie Kohler. To learn more about Sophie/Sharie, visit her websites at www.sophiejordan.net or www.shariekohler.net.

bloodmoon-coverHello, everyone!

I’m Sophie Jordan and Sharie Kohler all rolled into one! Thank you, Silk & Shadow authors, for having me here today! When the lovely (and I do mean lovely! Have you seen her photo?!) and talented (have you read her book yet?!) Kim Lenox mentioned you were all talking about dark heroes this week, I thought, “awesome!” Dark heroes are my favorite kind. Both in my historicals and paranormals. I think that’s the commonality among all my books. I so, so, so go for the dark/tortured/scarred hero!  

Actually, the more I write, the more I’ve been pushing the envelope on my heroes. I think they’re getting darker. I mean, if I’m writing about a 30-something year-old hero that hasn’t been caught in marriage yet, then it’s because he’s got some serious issues. And of course, usually these issues aren’t his fault — that’s what makes readers forgive him for his rough edges. And that’s what makes the heroine so amazing. I’m the one woman … er, I mean she’s the one woman who can heal him and help him become the man he was always meant to be.

My latest book, SINS OF A WICKED DUKE, probably features my most corrupt hero yet. This is one of those times where we cover conferenced the book before it was complete. So I had my title - SINS OF A WICKED DUKE – pretty early. And I thought to myself long and hard. Hmmm, if this guy is wicked, then he’s going to be really wicked. I mean, he’s going to be one seriously bad boy. My “baddest” historical romance hero yet. So, I gave him some grim baggage (ie, terrible childhood abuse) and on the outside? Just to tie up the box on his bad boy image? A wicked serpent tat! I’ve never read a historical romance where the hero had a tattoo, so it was unique for me. I don’t know about you, buy a sexy, naughty tat spells BAD in my book.

bad-boys

A tatted hero just kind of spells rough and edgy and to-die-for-dark.

My paranormal heroes deal with a world that’s full of violence and supernatural creatures, so they’re always pretty dark characters. But my next paranormal, set to release August 25th, has my darkest storyline yet. Check out TO CRAVE A BLOOD MOON:

A BITE TOO FAR . . .

Imprisoned and tortured by a lycan pack, half-breed Sebastian Santiago is determined not to break. But now they’ve come up with a cruel plan-starve Sebastian until he is half-mad with hunger, then force him to succumb to his werewolf instincts by giving him human prey to feed off.

Snatched from the Istanbul streets, American tourist Ruby Deveraux has already seen the horror of her companions torn apart. Now she is thrown into a dark cell with a shadowy shape she can barely see. But Ruby is no ordinary woman. All her life she has been able to sense the emotions of others, and she knows instinctively that while Sebastian does not want to be her enemy, he is in the grip of sensations so dark and primitive that he can barely control them. But amid his surging feelings she can detect passion-passion for her as a woman. This, she realizes, may be her only hope.

In the unrelenting dark, trapped in a hideous prison, can Ruby and Sebastian somehow forge a fragile alliance, and break free from their deadly captors to seize a love neither dreamed possible?

As you can probably infer, my hero, Sebastian, is battling some serious demons. Both metaphorically and literally. I’ve set it up so that there is every expectation he will break and feed on the heroine. But then, she’s the heroine, so of course he can’t do that! But there might be some close calls. Okay, this book is full of close calls! And also some of the steamiest scenes I’ve ever written. For those of you who prefer your hero dark and dangerous, be sure to check it out!

So who are some of your favorite dark heroes? Personally, I love the heroes in Lara Adrian’s series. Those are just about the darkest heroes I’ve read! Those books are great.

Again, thanks for  having me here, Silk & Shadows ladies!

Best,
Sharie/Sophie

AWOL
by Our Guest on April 23rd, 2009

If I’ve been conspicuously absent without leave this week it’s because I am. I’ve jumped ship, abandoned all my day to day responsibilities to be with fairies and vampires and guys with pects too rippling to be real — except that they are. In the world I’ve escaped to, there are intergalactic space parties, morning mystery mixers, Shadow Dwellers and Midnight Gods get-togethers. There are also serious, kick-ass discussions about every facet of writing you can think of, at all levels of writing. It’s a place where you can say “I write romance” without having to worry about those cynical eye-rolls or sarcastic head-nods designed to try to make you believe you’re not a serious writer. Because at the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention, romance writing is serious business, but with plenty of opportunity for a rip-roaring good time.

The truth is, I’ve REALLY needed this. Writing is not glamorous business. It’s sitting in a chair for hours at a time in raggy sweats and t-shirts while dredging up your soul. And the longer you sit there tapping away at the keyboard, the harder it is, sometimes, to keep those creative juices flowing. The outside world creeps in with louder and louder footsteps until you find yourself distracted by the slightest chirping of a bird. Sharon talked yesterday about having Duncun MacCleod slashing away at those extraneous concerns so she can keep her focus. By the way, Sharon, thank you for that image. As a true Highlander fan, I’m definitely going to borrow that one. But this week RT is my Duncun, slashing way at all the stress and angst in my life so that for these few days I just get to simply enjoy being an author. I get to meet readers, booksellers and other authors and have nothing but fun while remembering everything I love about this business and why I started writing in the first place. I also got to help aspiring authors on their journey to publication with my “The Big What If” Workshop on story development with Nancy Cohen, and yesterday Kim Lenox and I gave our “Dark Heroes” workshop along with Karen Kendall and Erin McCarthy. So for the first time, I’m here at RT not just as a spectator but a participant. To all who attended both workshops, THANK YOU!

I am recharged, and I do believe that when I get home on Sunday I’ll be able to sit my butt back in that chair and start pounding way with new energy and focus. But maybe I’ll tape a picture of Adrian Paul to the side of my monitor, just in case.

There can be only one. Or at least I sincerely hope so.
by Sharon Ashwood on April 22nd, 2009

Disclaimer: I write, work full time, and take courses. Actually, I’m doing my last course before earning a financial management certificate through my workplace—then I can retire the student hat for a while. I’ll say up front my current implosion should only last until late summer, when things should vastly improve. Believe me, I’m counting the days.

Meanwhile, my current state is characterized by giggling hysterically and running around like the lost BeeGee chanting “stayin’ alive.” Flashing lights, bad hair and the strains of grown men imitating the Chipmunks? Yup, there’s a fire in the disco!

travolta

I used to be one of those people who scheduled everything, made lists, and burned through an enormous pile of work in very few hours. This was great until I realized that there weren’t enough lines in the old date book to write my to-do list. Now I have very selective perceptions about what needs to get done. Sort of Zen amidst the chaos, at least until the editor sends Guido to kneecap me if I don’t fork over my manuscript. Of course, he’ll have to catch me first.

When travelling at the speed of light, creativity can be, er, challenging. So how does anything get done, Guido notwithstanding?

Long ago I figured out I’m not a multitasker. Half my attention means half a job. So, I have to simply pick something, focus, and do it. In other words, for X number of hours, I think about Y. Everything else can go do something anatomically inappropriate.

Which is easy, until one is in hamster-wheel, mind-boggling, nervous overload because twelve things are trying to happen in the same time/space continuum. I think it’s called panic.

Then I found a solution perhaps only a writer would dream up. I called on Duncan Macleod. Remember him? The cute guy with the orgasmic electricity issues?

duncan

Yes, yes, I know there are a thousand reasons to daydream about the Highlander, but for this particular discussion, he’s part of a purely pragmatic visualization exercise. No, not that kind of visual.

When I’m trying to concentrate, he hangs around my brain as a kind of doorman, swirling duster, ponytail and all. His job is to make sure I get stuff done. Intrusive, distracting thoughts that pull me off task get chopped off by the big sword. If I’m doing homework, *thwack* the bills can wait. If I’m writing, *smush* the emails don’t exist. If I’m at work, *slice* book publicity stays at home. One thing at a time. In fact, Duncan occasionally grunts “there can be only one” as he lops the head off some tentacled side-issue squiggling through my mental defences. Yup, one thing at a time means at least one thing gets done. And then something else. And then something else.

Yes, I know it sounds weird, but it works. I just wish Dunc was available in the flesh the next time someone fills up my in-box with time-wasting spam. There are days I’d like to put that sword to extra-good use.

The Dawn of Productivity
by Annette McCleave on April 21st, 2009

I don’t have any secrets to staying productive as a writer.

But I do have one habit that saves me time and time again—I write in the early hours of the morning. Before the sun comes up. Those hours are the only ones I feel absolutely no guilt in dedicating to my writing, even when I’m under the gun with a contract non-fiction job.

In those pre-dawn hours, I am in my element. The house is dark, except for the glow of my monitor and gamer’s keyboard, and quiet, except for the soothing burble of coffee percolating. It’s as if I’m temporarily out-of-step with time, in a place all by myself, where only the world I’m building and my characters exist.

predawn

Other writers experience the same peace late at night, when the rest of the family has gone to bed. I know that works, too.

Yes, I can write during broad daylight. But my productivity isn’t anywhere near as great when the phone is ringing, my email is swiftly piling up, and my Twitterdeck is chirping. Even if those were all miraculously silenced, my thoughts would wander to the chores that need doing and the miscellany that is my To Do list.

In the daylight, I can see the dust bunnies and the drooping leaves on the plants that need watering. I can hear the garbage truck screeching to a halt in front of the neighbor’s house. I can see those rain spots on the big picture window—indeed, they glare at me through the beams of spring sunshine. In the dead of morning, under cover of darkness, my muse can run free.

Are you more productive at a particular time of day? Got any great hints for quieting the persistent whispers of daily life?

Staying on task
by Jessa Slade on April 20th, 2009

The Eternal Espionoptimist — superhero of secretly searching souls — recently escaped enemy headquarters with this top-secret document which reveals dastardly efforts to blacken the hearts and stymie the passions of the good people of our world. 

In-House Memorandum

From: The Director of the Shadowverse
To: The Demons of Disorderly Discordant Despair Department
Re: Quarterly Earnings Report

Good work, all!  Fear and hopelessness are again on the rise this quarter.  Stockholders are thrilled.  Special mention goes to the “Reality Bites” subcommittee which presented the classic trilogy of Cold Hard Truth, Common Sense and Security In Your Old Age to truly stirring effect with their new program, “Settle For Less… And Be Grateful.”  Special thanks to the Guilt Guild, which provided our pre-meeting dessert – a baker’s dozen of really exciting refurbished excuses peppered with indecisiveness and frosted with avoidance.

Don’t forget, if you haven’t had the chance yet, check out this week’s de-inspirational training video: The Devil, The Donut & The DVR Made Me Do It.  That wacky team down in Self-Sabotage For Dummies really outdid themselves this time.  Pick up a copy for everyone on your list.

While some self-helpists believe the Universe has their best interests are heart, we all know that the Universe actually finds chaos, entropy and a variety of mold spores every bit as enchanting as creativity and puppies.  We here in Universal Accounting — the Shadowverse — are delighted to continue to offer humanity the opportunity to make the same mistake over and over again.  Until they don’t.  So let’s stay on task, keep up the good work, and give ourselves a big pat on the back (just watch out for those oversized bat wings)!

There is only one distressingly bright spot in this otherwise satisfying field of gray ennui: Subject W. 

Despite our seeding her vicinity with pointless tasks and time sucks with event horizons that even Gene Roddenberry couldn’t plot his way out of, Subject W continued on with her self-imposed deadline last month.  This is troubling, of course, especially considering she used only a computer keyboard and an egg timer.  To counteract her low-tech terrorism, we’ve subcontracted with network television to roll out some telethon reruns of peculiarly compelling 1980s sitcoms which we think could put a dent in her output.  But if not, we need to prepare our most powerful weapon yet…

Unfortunately, the Eternal Espionoptimist — unable to see past his rose-colored glasses — did not notice there was a second page to the memo.  So we are uncertain what the most powerful weapon against Subject W’s productivity might be.  We can only stay on guard, and carry on. 

Wanted: Tall, Dark and Brooding
by KimLenox on April 17th, 2009

Tall, Dark and Brooding.

That sounds very cookie cutter, doesn’t it? But all “Dark Heroes” are as different as beautiful, dark and sparkly snowflakes. I draw inspiration for my dark heroes from all sorts of places. Batman has always been a favorite.

You know, with all that Bruce Wayne wealth, Batman could just stay home in his mansion every night and watch the latest BlueRay DVDs, but no – he heads out into stinky, ugly old Gotham because he’s compelled (by memories of his own past tragedy) to protect the innocent from the evildoers of the world. And then strangely, I found inspiration in Grim. Grim is the Grim Reaper character in the cartoon show Billy & Mandy.

He’s got such a great, dry sense of humor. (But being the Grim Reaper can’t be all that great for meeting women and getting dates!)

When browsing the romance book aisle, you’ll see a lot of dark heroes represented on book covers or back cover blurbs, and on first glance, they may seem very similar — but like Batman and Grim they each have their own secrets and mysteries, and they are secrets you won’t discover without reading the pages in the book. It’s those secrets that lure me into a story every time, secrets like:

What experiences made him into the man he is when I, the reader, meet him for the first time?

What is all that brooding about?

Why is he so alone (even if he’s got pals)?

But in the end, the one thing I love about dark heroes in romance is that despite of all the “bad” or “darkness” in their lives, that when they are faced with their big defining moment (the one that might turn weaker men into cowards, cheats or villains), they prove themselves to be (yes!) heroes.

Do you have any favorite heroes who walked a fine line between villain and hero, and turned out to be a fantastic hero in the end?