Archive for June, 2009



Diving Into Other Worlds
by Annette McCleave on June 30th, 2009

As a writer, the bulk of my daydreams are about the worlds I weave for my books. Some of my most relaxing moments are just sitting in my La-Z-Boy, immersing myself completely in the sights and sound and smells of that magical place, where ever it might be. Even if the real world is ratcheting up the tension, I can de-stress in an instant simply by closing my eyes and following my characters into their adventures.

As a reader, all it takes is a skilled wordsmith with a flair for storytelling and I’m off visiting far-off lands and ancient times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into a great book only emerge hours later wondering how much time has passed. Unless I then discover I’m late for something, LOL, that’s a blissful moment. To be transported. Sigh. That’s what my book budget is really for.

I don’t do much spontaneous daydreaming. To be honest, I feel like I’m living my dream. But I do tend to surround myself with paintings and pictures of peaceful places I’d love to dive into.

painting

Calendars of Scottish castles, paintings of houses in the autumn, pictures of winding country roads. A few images of the stars… And yes, some clear blue water and white sand scenes. They have the power to make me forget, just for a second, the phone bill and the laundry pile. Some days, that’s exactly what I need.

Do you have a favorite place to daydream? Inside? Outside? At the office, LOL?

The power of daydreams
by Jessa Slade on June 29th, 2009

When I was a teen, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Vail, Colorado, babysitting my cousins on a ski vacation.  It was awesome.  I’d never been downhill skiing before, and I got to take classes and accompany my aunt and uncle and the kids (who were waaaay better than me) on some of the easier runs.

If you’ve ever been skiing in Colorado, I don’t need to describe it, but for the rest of you, I will just say: Heaven. Celestial blue skies. The softest, whitest, downy snow. An intense and all-encompassing feeling of floating and joy. (When I wasn’t yard sale-ing — or we could say sailing — across half the slope.)

vail{This photo of a $2800/night mountain-side chalet is NOT where we stayed; but the beauty is the same, free, and everywhere.}

One night near the end of our stay, my aunt and uncle had gone for a nice dinner and the kids were asleep. I stepped out onto the balcony.  Our room faced a walkway through the pines, with the pale bulk of the mountain beyond.  It was late, but the reflection of hotel lights off the snow made the night glow.  Drifting snowflakes (like the rain in the fairy world of Summerland, I swear it only snowed at night in Vail) glimmered like falling stars in the dark.

I thought, This is where I want to be.

Fast forward, oh, about seven years. 

That last serene image of Vail had stayed with me over time and distances. I would conjure it up in my head when I was stressed about finals in college, when I was studying abroad, and at my first less than inspiring full-time job.

One day, looking through want-ads, I saw an opening at a newspaper in Vail, Colorado.  And I made my daydream a reality.

Later, I read books about manifesting your reality. I read how your brain — trapped in a cage of bone and goo — has no way to experience the “real” world except through your senses. If you can imagine something clearly enough — see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it — as far as your brain is concerned, that’s reality.  Eventually, your imagination can become reality.

Run amok, this process leads to mental illness, true.  But since we’re using our powers for good…

Daydream + Action plan + Perserverance = Your shiny new reality

Daydreams without the other two elements are perfectly lovely, of course.  A few minute’s mental vacation on a snowy mountain night is entirely enough.  Not everybody wants to turn that into living in a ski bum town for two years, paying $700 a month to sleep in a heated shed (no bathroom) between two single-wide trailers for the honor of coming up with another sudden illness every time the fresh powder falls.  Sometimes even shiny new realities aren’t quite the same as the daydream.

But I think the power of a daydream to relax and revive and delight us is the knowledge that it could become so much more, given the right circumstances and impetus.

After all, writing started as a daydream for me.

caribbean-vacationMy new daydreaming escape is also based on an old family vacation.  When I was young, my parents took my sister and me to St. Johns in the Virgin Islands.  (And, yes, what my sheltered suburban upbringing sadly lacked in future source material for lurid angsty tell-alls, it more than made up for in loving, generous family members who believed new experiences were more important than stuff.)  The Caribbean was, to my imagination, as epic as Vail in its own way.  I’d never been snorkeling before, but oddly, the ocean was the same color as the Colorado sky.

One evening, we walked through town on one of the islands. The sky had turned a peachy red fading to blue, the colors echoed in the hanging baskets of flowers.  The air was as perfectly warm as the water, at once decadent and pure. 

I could as easily have been a beach bum as a ski bum.  Just sayin.’

One of these days, I’ll make it back to that island, and then I’ll need a new, new daydream. But for now, I’m savoring every minute in paradise.

When you daydream, is it about old places, or places you’ve never been?

Comment for a chance to win a book!
by Jessa Slade on June 29th, 2009

This week’s topic at Silk And Shadows is daydreaming. 

So, in keeping with the theme, one commenter on any of this week’s posts (feel free to comment lots for extra chances to win!) will receive a copy of Shiloh Walker’s 2008 Berkley Sensation print release, THROUGH THE VEIL.

Lee Ross always knew she was not entirely human. But when the man who has plagued her dreams her entire life appears in the flesh, can she give up everything she knows to follow him to another realm?

Shiloh’s next e-book is an expanded reissue of THE REDEEMING out in July from Samhain.

Bred for destruction but longing for redemption, this second chance is all they have.

Faced with the choice of torment or redemption, Jonah accepts the bargain laid out by his guardian angel as he lies dying in the street alone. Change…or die. Not a hard choice, it seems. But then he meets Lily and has to wonder just what he’s agreed to by accepting this new life.

Even the angels call Lily unique—and she is. Born of a demon, but longing to be more, her one wish is granted—temporarily. But now her time is running out and she has an impossible task set before her. It doesn’t help that she can’t stop thinking of Jonah…or the very real demons that will come hunting her once they realize where she is.

With demons and angels tracking their every move, Jonah and Lily have a life to save before they can save themselves.

Leave a comment on any post this week for a chance to win.

Long Tempered
by KimLenox on June 27th, 2009

STATUS: ON DEADLINE
STATE OF MIND: BLULULULULULULU

I’ve really enjoyed the posts this week from the other Silk & Shadows writers. That is so funny about Allison saying she finds it difficult to write even a short message in a greeting card. I’m the same way. There’s just so much PRESSURE to write something original, meaningful and short that lots of times I resort to: XOX, Kim. How sad is that? What a copout!

Like others have said, I’ve never been able to make my brain tackle a short story. Even articles. A neighbor asked why I didn’t try to write those two to three page articles for local magazines, and the thought that shot right out of my head was, “Well, because I can’t.”

I think it would be like telling a violinist to sit down and paint an Impressionist scene. Okay, well, maybe not quite that extreme of a difference. I’m sure we as writers could muddle through, but others could certainly do it better, and enjoy it at the same time. But maybe it’s a left brain/right brain issue or some other cerebral complication.

That being said, my books almost always seem to have a natural arc of about 85,000 to 90,000 words, which is common, but a little short for single title. I like to read longer fiction, shorter fiction and short stories, but I don’t like to read a lot of blah blah blah unless it’s really interesting blah blah blah. I’d define “blah blah blah” as those parts of the book that don’t really have anything to do with the story.

I think it was Toni Morrison who said, and this is a complete paraphrase, that there shouldn’t be any words in your book that don’t have a specific and real purpose for being there. That seems like it would be common sense, but I keep that little reminder in the back of my head while I write.

This week’s topic has me wanting to grab up a few anthologies. I also really enjoy Stephen King’s short stories. I’m even tempted to exercise some writing muscles and attempt a short story or two.

But for now I’m on deadline. The game has been a little delayed due to a nail-through-the-eyeball type headache so I’d better get back to it.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Long on Words, Short on Attention
by Our Guest on June 25th, 2009

Jessa, Sharon and Annette have all very eloquently explained the challenges of writing short. It’s not a skill I’ve ever been able to develop. I’m not even fond of jotting messages inside greeting cards. I know, that’s pretty neurotic…or is the word pathetic, especially since I’m supposed to be a writer? But give me 90 or 100,000 words to play with and I will certainly tell you my thoughts. All of them. Maybe too many, which is why I often struggle to streamline my prose and why my editor makes sure she has a sharpened pencil whenever she sits down with one of my manuscripts.

I blame it on my reading habits earlier in life. Oh, those 19th century English novels with their endless sentences and characters and oh-so-detailed descriptions. And have I ever mentioned that semester in college I spent reading a mere four books? They were War and Peace, Don Quixote, Ulyses and Moby Dick. No brevity there. None. We are talking an outpouring of words that went on and on. And on….. Kind of a spewing, really, albeit well-crafted, poetic and timeless.

Or maybe not. How many young people these days are racing to the bookstore to snatch up that sort of verbosity? Sadly, not very many. Of course the Harry Potter and Twilight series come to mind, but those are really the exceptions. The number one reason cited is attention span, as in people nowadays having extremely short ones. In our fast-paced world, things are generally supposed to happen instantly. Instant communication, instant entertainment, instant gratification. No one wants to hang around long enough for the gradual unfolding of emotions, relationships and story conflict. It’s “Tell me now or forget it.” Not a comforting notion for a novelist.

And yet… My daughter enjoys playing those video games like Mario and Zelda, where the character goes on these epic quests that last…well, they seem to go on forever. From what I’ve observed, there is absolutely nothing instantly gratifying about those games. They’re complex, repetitive and often teeth-gnashingly frustrating. Now that I think of it, they’re a little like a Dickens novel, or Tolstoy, with stories within stories and layers and layers of meaning and theme — like navigating through a garden maze gone wild. You’ve got to be focused and employ the patience of a saint to make through one of those puppies.

longleat

Is it because the games are visual that makes the difference? Or that the player in effect becomes the main character and is in control of all the major actions and decisions? If so, that would suggest, not the eroding of the modern attention span but rather an emerging need to be absorbed into the action rather than remain a passive viewer. Maybe the wave of the future won’t be shorter books — or no books — but interactive ones, undoubtedly read on an electronic device like a Kindle, where at each major plot point the reader is able to choose from several options which the direction the story will go. And then BINGO! The silver lining for us writers will be the salvaging of all those scenes we end up cutting because we deemed them unnecessary to the plot. Woo hoo!

Hmm. I really strayed off the main point here. Sorry, I’ve got an alarmingly short attention span. What were we talking about? Ah yes. Question: Given today’s schedules and stresses, are you content with traditional, full length novels or does the idea of shorter, snappier and maybe even high tech stories intrigue you?

The long and short of it
by Sharon Ashwood on June 24th, 2009

stapemeasure1_full

I don’t necessarily need 365 pages to come to the point, but it helps.

My stories ramble along, turning problems over and over because that’s how I think. Our books are only as smart as we are. All the wisdom and brilliance contained therein have to be supplied by us. Hence, our hero can’t find his way out of a jam unless we solve the problem first, nor can our tales conclude with neatly wrapped gems of insight unless we got ‘em in stock. I ponder; ergo my books ponder.

I admire short fiction enormously, because it tends to be crammed with clever ah-hah moments. The best stuff is like a little puzzle box that springs open in the end to reveal the prize. And, the difference between short and long fiction isn’t just in the plot. The writing skills involved vary. Communicating entire lives, entire emotional histories in a few paragraphs without sounding like you’re doing it–wow.

There are also purely practical issues to consider - if you’re writing with alternate realities, you’ve got some ’splaining to do. By the time you’ve mapped out the rules about your were-terriers and evil raptor finches, you’ve already reached the word limit for a short. If you’re talking to readers who already know the universe, it’s a lot simpler. If you’re not, it’s better to pick a setting where more is automatically understood or plan on a novella.

I could go on, but Annette did a great job covering this aspect of the topic yesterday. Let me sum it up like this: Long versus short writing is like hand embroidery versus machine quilting. There are similarities, but knowing one doesn’t automatically grant expertise in the other. Some very accomplished authors stick strictly to one format.

I do write short stories, but they aren’t my natural stride. I treat them like exploratory jaunts, exercises in precision, and holidays from what I’m supposed to be doing at the time. Some of my shorts are good. Others are weird. Perhaps I’m most daring when writing small stories, because they’re a low-risk venue to try out new techniques. I haven’t wasted 50,000 words by the time I pull the plug on a dumb idea.

I aspire to be one of those wonderful authors who can do both with ease. I was delighted when I read Strange Candy, Laurell K. Hamilton’s short story collection. It really showed off her range as a writer and gave a glimpse of the many directions she could have taken her talent.

Who can you think of who is every bit as good in short fiction as they are in long?

The Art of Short
by Annette McCleave on June 23rd, 2009

Right from the beginning, I’ve written novel-length stories. Perhaps because I grew up reading books and not magazines, I never attempted to write shorter tales. Or perhaps it was a snobbery of sorts—being a novelist has a certain cache that I’m not sure can be said of essayist or short story author. Either way, I hopped right to the 400 page gorilla.

In hindsight, I’m not sure that was the wisest course.

As Jessa so aptly described in her article yesterday, it doesn’t take a lot of words to tell a story. The advantage to learning the art of the short tale first is that you develop an infinite respect for the value of each and every word. When you only have a few to work with, each one must truly pull its weight.

I also believe a shorter medium forces the author to focus on the critical elements of the story: character, plot, conflict, resolution. You don’t have room to wander into convoluted subplots or lecture the reader on the world you’ve built to house your characters.

If you’ve ever tried to distill a novel-length book into a log line, you know how big and complicated a story of that length can be. Yet, I find the most memorable books are those that never lose sight of their core story, that never forget the true nature of the main character, and that tie up the trailing story threads—not neatly in a bow, but satisfactorily, with a reader’s sigh.

Learning the art of the short tale must surely help in honing those talents. Or so it seems to me.

I’ve since tried my hand a few shorter pieces. I wrote a 40 page Christmas story and 120 page medieval novella (which made it to the finals of the Brava Novella contest). I still have miles to go in perfecting the shorter story, but the experience was great. As you can see from my response to Jessa’s challenge yesterday, I find the concept of short-story-telling very intriguing, and I suspect I’ll make other forays into the genre. If for no other reason than to round out my skills.

Have you read short stories you fell in love with and found were delightfully complete and whole? Have you read others you wished were longer? Or (laughing) novels you wished were shorter? Feel free to share.

p.s. In the spirit of proving short can be good, I’ll offer up my brand new book trailer for DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, which is a mere 1 minute long. Enjoy.

How long?
by Jessa Slade on June 22nd, 2009

Currently working on: Staring into the abyss without blinking
Mood: Abysmal

March Hare: “Start at the beginning!”
Mad Hatter: “Yes, yes. And when you come to the end… STOP!”

I’ve always written long.  I write long words in long sentences to make long paragraphs that end up as long stories.  ALICE IN WONDERLAND’s Mad Hatter would be an even madder hatter after reading my first drafts.  I live in a place formerly nicknamed Stumptown for the love of logging, and even the hard-pressed papermills around here wouldn’t approve of the number of reams I could burn through.  Luckily, editors invented revisions.

I think writing short is harder.  I’m always impressed with art that compesses idea and expression into the smallest space possible.  Think of haiku and Faberge eggs and lolcats.

The modern equivalent is Twitter stories.  Twitter is the microblogging site that allows you to post, at most, 140 characters.  Not words, characters.  Yeah, I know, 140 pages barely gets me out of Act I.

But I’ve been toying around with the form.  Well, mostly I’ve been reading other people’s stuff and secretly suspecting they fleshed it out later to Facebook status update length.  The trick is, how do you fit character, plot, conflict and resolution — or at least the suggestion of all four — into 140 characters?

Brain strain time.  It’s actually kind of fun.  I can write a Twitter story in my head while I’m walking the dog and have a half-decent chance of still remembering it by the time I get home.  Here’s what I came up with on this morning’s walk:

She waited behind the door. Patiently, as a lady should. Soft sand crept in, but nothing else. She feared all along he had wanted the tiger.

Deathless prose to equal Lewis Carroll?  No.  But I think I got the four elements in, plus (to my mind) a touch of pathos.  Okay, sure, I used up every single one of those 140 characters.  Like any good papermill, I’ll let nothing go to waste.

Go ahead and try it.  Never fancied yourself a writer?  This is a quick and relatively painless way to join the fun.  To the first 10 people who take a shot (and remember, quality is not an issue in first drafts, which these are) I’ll send a SEDUCED BY SHADOWS bookmark.  (I should add, this is for residents of the U.S. since I plan to use up old stamps on ya.)  Just like words, you can never have too many bookmarks!

haul

And I’d like to thank…
by KimLenox on June 19th, 2009

One reason I love being a writer, is because I get to hang out with other writers.

I first started flirting with the idea of writing for publication about eleven years ago. When I attended my first regional writers conference, I met a published author from my town, Pam Litton, and right off, she welcomed me into the madness of it all by inviting me over to her house to talk writing. Around that same time, I met Linda Warren, also from my area. I can’t remember if Pam gave me Linda’s email address or if it was the owner of the local independent bookstore. But I introduced myself and told her I was interested in writing, and we chatted back and forth by computer for a bit.

Long story short, these ladies took me under my wing and read my awful first attempts at writing a romance and encouraged me to keep at it–and not use so many commas! Years later, when I sold my first book, Linda invited me over for lunch to celebrate, and invited some other local writers, including Pam. There was a cake with my book title on it. You can’t beat friends like that. They were my first writing mentors. They took me and my goals seriously, and so I started to take myself seriously as well.

I have other mentors! Colleen Thompson has given me lots of very wise and level-headed advice on when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em. When to walk away, and when to run. Ha! Kerrelyn Sparks reminded me (when I was whining about not having the sales numbers of, well…Kerrelyn Sparks) just how remarkable it is to get published in the first place. And then there are countless other writing friends who I consider mentors because of their example, encouragement and enthusiasm.

Now I’m feeling sentimental. I just want to say a big thank you to all of them! Group hug anyone?

Shazaam! The Power of A Mentor
by Our Guest on June 18th, 2009

If it weren’t for having a real life mentor, I probably would never have become a writer, at least not one published in romance fiction. All my life I loved to write, from the minute they put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to spell a few words. In first grade I was always the last to hand in the “creative writing” assignments, not because I was slow at it but because I had so much to say. My stories were usually romantic adventures (yeah, even then!) about princesses and knights and magical forests.

But as I grew up, the term “romance novel” took on connotations that steered me clear of the genre, or so I thought, because a lot of what I was reading contained strong romantic themes. They just weren’t officially categorized as romance novels.

In college, too many years ago to count, one of my English professors prophetically asked me if I had ever considered writing romance. I don’t know why she asked, but I suppose she saw something particular in my writing style. At the time I’d only read a couple of romance novels, not very good ones, so I laughed and said, “Why would I write romance? I don’t read that stuff.” Oh dear, how I shudder now at my post-adolescent highbrow academic snobbery. What did I know? Obviously not much. When I graduated that same professor gave me a gift: Roget’s International Thesaurus, 4th Edition. This is one that offers not a few choices for each word, but sometimes hundreds, with nuances upon nuances of meaning so you can select exactly the right sentiment. It’s fabulous. I always say I could never write a book without it, and in fact I haven’t. Dr. Frank, you knew me better than I knew myself, and I have so much to thank you for!

But it was a few years later, when a friend published her first romance novel for Harlequin, that something just clicked with me. I excitedly bought and read the book - my friend was a published author! By the way, it was Date With An Outlaw by Lyn Lockhart, a pseudonym for my friend, Marilyn Jordan, who went on to publish for Dorchester and Kensington.

In reading her book, I instantly came to understand that romance was not defined by those so-so ones I’d read back in the 80s. Romance was so much more. It was mystery and adventure and danger and humor and everything imaginable that can happen in life, with a guaranteed happy ending. Wow! A passion was born. I started writing. And writing and writing. It was a historical, of course, set in the Middle Ages. I had no idea what I was doing and that book probably would have gone nowhere but under the bed, which might have been the end of the story if Marilyn hadn’t dragged me, pretty much kicking and screaming, to her critique group meetings and to the Florida Romance Writers. She literally introduced me to everything I needed to know about the writing industry, encouraged me to attend my first conference, helped me prepare for my first editor appointment, and gave me the kick I needed to prevent me from becoming one of those isolated, closet writers who tremble at the thought of letting anyone see their work. It isn’t overstating it to say her influence was life-changing for me.

Mentors can be accidental, as in the case of my English professor, or intentional, as in the case of my friend. The trick is to always keep an open mind and an open heart and have the courage - even if you’re scared silly - to reach for your dreams. Especially if someone has just shoved you face first into them.