Archive for July, 2009



If you’re bored…
by KimLenox on July 31st, 2009

Then you are boring! Have you ever heard that phrase? I must not be boring because I’m never bored. There’s always something to do. I work a full time job, and I’ve got a family–two kids, a husband, three cats and a collie. Between work/family/writing/life! there isn’t a lot of spare time.

But I like to go! This weekend we’ll spend one night at a beachhouse with friends, and the next in the city seeing Phantom of the Opera (because it’s my wedding anniversary!).

I do love to cook, and bake (cranberry-orange bread below).

I collect old linens, recipe books, polish pottery, old (green!) Fiesta Ware and other “old stuff” that catches my eye. I’ve learned how to do ceramics. I’ve attempted–and failed–at crochet. I can sort of sew. (Eeek!) I’d love to try my hand at pottery, and at making jams and jelly.

We like to spend time outside making bird, butterfly and toad habitats, grilling, hanging out with friends and I really, REALLY love to admire the results of my husband’s green thumb!

I don’t do much for the garden myself other than dump the kitchen remnants into the compost bucket, and…um, add empty wine bottles to our bottle tree. All in all, I don’t really have any one go-to hobbie. But I like to try everything out. Everything, but probably SKYDIVING.

I guess overall my favorite pasttime would be: Family. Being present, in the moment, and making memories.

What about you? Do you have one hobby that you love, or is each day a new adventure?

Projects for our copious free time
by Sharon Ashwood on July 29th, 2009

This is getting up late because a) I lost my blog post somewhere in the mysterious recesses of my laptop and b) it’s about 4,000 degrees outside and my brain is melting. (If you’re down east and wondering where the sunshine is, we’ve got a double dose over here on the coast) Then I tried to get fancy with the photos and that led to hours of futzing around with software I don’t really understand.

So apparently one of my hobbies is making excuses :smile:

I love my garden. It’s mostly herbs, but I took a pic of one of my latest additions. It’s a Bela Lugosi lily. I bought the bulb because the name amused me and it was one of those sad, end-of-season sale bin plants, but it turned out to be quite a beautiful addition and worth the wait of a couple of years while it grew big enough to flower. This is its debut performance:

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I like reading old herbals and old cookbooks. This leads to a lot of experimentation, which is not always welcomed by one’s housemates. Once upon a time I had a Long Suffering Roommate. Conversations tended to go like this:

LSR: What’s this in the back of the fridge?
Me: Mandrake seeds. They need the cold to sprout
LSR: Okay. So why is there a tray of dirt in the oven?
Me: Those seeds need dark to sprout.
LSR: Uh huh. So what’s this in the freezer?
Me: Chicken feathers.
LSR: Okay. Ordering in dinner.

We’re still very close friends, believe it or not. The feathers, BTW, were for a mask-making project.

I’ve never been the wonderful needlewoman either of my grandmothers were (and have never, ever mastered knitting) but I do like sewing. I’m a great one for getting something about half done and forgetting about it. This unicorn sat on the embroidery frame for about four years before I finally finished it:

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Some people would accuse me of buying cloth and other textile items because I’m just a sucker for pretty colours. I’m of the theory cloth has to age properly before it’s ready to sew. I have a closet full of projects just awaiting the right degree of ripeness before I crack open the patterns. Someday–wouldn’t want to rush the procrastination process, right?

Are there any people with “someday” projects out there?

Let There Be Life!
by Annette McCleave on July 28th, 2009

This week’s topic is “the crafts we pursue outside of writing”. I was tempted to create a piece of fiction for this spot, since I really don’t do much outside of writing. Instead, I sat back and wondered if that was true.

What is the truth? Well, I don’t cultivate wonders in the garden, knit cozy sweaters, cook up masterpieces in the kitchen, or keep a wickedly clean house. Nor do I paint watercolor landscapes, snap prize-winning family photos, or finesse delightful scrapbooks out of vacations to Disney World.

(Insert picture of me peering about the house in desperation, looking for evidence of a life).

Aha!

If I make the assumption that pursuing a craft need not equate being good at it, then I do have a hobby. Arranging silk flowers. Most of the arrangements currently on display in my home were made by moi. Please keep in mind that I’ve already logged the caveat “need not equate with being good at it”. My talents are mediocre at best. But I enjoy putting baskets together, when I find the time.

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Lately, though, my spare time has been dedicated to a craft of a different sort: motherhood. I’m a single mom with a teenage daughter. Between chauffeuring her to school, music lessons, multiple social activities, and the shopping mall, I give her advice on life (ha!), admire her artistic skills (the girl can really draw!), and share enjoyable moments on the couch chowing down on all-dressed potato chips & watching our favorite shows.

Am I the only one who can’t find the time to fit in a hobby? Really?

Quite contrary
by Jessa Slade on July 27th, 2009

Currently working on: Something new
Mood: Tender (in a poke-it-with-a-skewer-to-see-if-it’s-done sort of way)

My life is neatly broken into three parts: Day job, sleeping, writing.  Sometimes, one or the other or the other will take over for a bit: Sleeping on weekends; writing when I’m on deadline; day job when rent is due.  But all work and no play makes for a psychotic writer, or so I learned from THE SHINING, so I also try to keep up on a few hobbies.  And summertime is for gardening.

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I’d never had a garden of my own until I met my XY.  In the small Colorado mountain town of Minturn, he decided he wanted fresh, garden-grown tomatoes.  We turned a coffin-sized patch of the duplex parking lot into a planting bed. After we’d pulled out an almost ski-able hill of rocks, the neighbor hung over the fence and announced, “You can’t grow tomatoes in the mountains.”

Ha, little did he know.  The neighbor didn’t understand that enthusiasm and love — and a hearty dose of beginner’s luck supplemented by Miracle-Gro — can make up for a lot, even in a ridiculously short growing season.

hobby-coneflowerSince then, I’ve always had a garden with flowers, fruits and vegetables.  During the good weather, I use the garden as an excuse to be outside puttering, but I’ve also learned a lot about life and writing from my garden.

Productive:  Over the years, we’ve learned to trim, thin and cull the non-producers.  With limited resources — time, space and money — every plant must justify its continued existence.  Same thing goes for chapters in a book.  If the tension isn’t growing and the conflict won’t bear fruit… snip.

Practical:  Although we managed to grow tomatoes in Colorado, we’ve found sometimes it’s better to recognize your limits.  The Pacific Northwest makes amazing berries so we’ve lined our fences with raspberries, marionberries and blueberries, but we’ve given up on melons.  We don’t have enough light and heat to make them sweet.  Kinda like my writing voice, which isn’t sweet either.  It wasn’t until I found my dark heroes that I really settled in to the kind of stories I was meant to tell.

Pretty:  Despite the hard-line approach above, not everything in my garden is grown for food.  Sometimes, beauty is enough.  I don’t have much room for stargazer lilies or extended metaphors, but if there’s an untended corner where one can bloom in secret, until it bursts out in all it’s glory, too late to deny… Well, that corner wasn’t doing anything anyway.

hobby-blueberryPatience:  Waiting for a garden tomato to flower, swell greenly, and finally ripen to gleeful red is — as far as I can tell — the one time that patience as a virtue is actually rewarded.  So while I don’t necessarily condone it as a virtue, it is a useful skill elsewhere in life since the pursuit of most dreams — writing included — seems to demand a generous top dressing of it.

Perseverance:  The garden is hard work.   From spring compost spreading to harvest to tilling under, the buckets of produce come at a cost.  Even during the waiting time in the middle (which happens to be about now) when all the plants are prepared but the big push hasn’t quite arrived, there’s plenty of weeding and watering.  Sometimes we debate whether it wouldn’t just be easier to get everything at the farmer’s market.  We could show up on a Sunday morning, sweat-free and undirtied, and pop everything we want into our cute reusable bags.

But it wouldn’t be our tomatoes, our blueberries, our roses.  So we keep at it, rotating crops, trying new things (corn, this year, and a lovely Mexican feather grass in a hot, dry part of the yard), always learning, enjoying the fruits — and vegetables — of our efforts, however small and tart they might be.

After all, there’s always next year.

Are you a hobby gardener?  I’d love to hear about your favorite plantings, especially if they’d flourish in the Pacific Northwest.  If you’re the kind of person who makes even silk flowers wither, I once heard having a brown thumb can’t be all bad since brown is the color of dirt.

Commitment
by KimLenox on July 26th, 2009

The first series I remember reading (not including Nancy Drew, etc.) were the Betsy & Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.

The copies I checked out of our Oklahoma school library were original editions, published in the 40s. I wonder what happened to those books — now they are highly sought after (expensive!) collectors items. They run along the same lines as the Little House on the Prairie books in that they follow the lives of Betsy & Tacy as they grow from young girls into married women. After reading those books I always wanted a pompadour hairstyle (but so far haven’t ever had one).

But other than that, like Jessa, I tend to shy away from most series, unless the books can be read as standalones.

I’m not a creature of habit in my reading preferences. I want each reading experience to be new and exciting and to take me to a different place and adventure. Like many of you, I read all over the board. Historical. Paranormal. Contemporary. Thriller. Biography. History.

I rarely “glom” an author. If I do discover a new fabulous author, I’ll usually buy their books, and read them over time, spaced out by other books. That’s why I love the regular pace of a publishing schedule. It gives me time to “break” with other books and come back to that new favorite author with a fresh and open mind.

I also think perhaps one of my difficulties in jumping into a truly interlocked series, is yes, the committment required, but also my fear that the story will go in a direction I don’t want to see. I think that comes from a traumatic series read (haha!) a few years back, where I adored the first book, and then read, horrified through the next two installments as everything I loved about the first book was destroyed. No, I won’t name names because even though I did not like the development of the series, I still completely respect the writer and that writer’s right to make decisions as they see fit. It is their vision! But still, yes, SOB! Traumatic. I kept the first book, and have even re-read it a number of times, blocking the other two from my memory. :lol:

I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s responses about the series discussion this week, so keep them coming! If you’ve got any great series to recommend, I’d love to hear them. It’s summertime, and maybe the perfect time to — commit!

Inquiring Minds Need to Know
by Annette McCleave on July 23rd, 2009

Edited to announce the winner is Zita! Congratulations! Email me with your address and I’ll send the book off to you.

Sorry for my late post. Wouldn’t you know it, I came down with a nasty cold and cough right after returning from DC and I slept the morning away. To make it up to you, I’m offering up a free copy of Loretta’s Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways (I’ve somehow ended up with two copies) to one of today’s commenters.

***

Some book series are like crack: as soon as you close the book and put it down, you itch to read the next. Others have tugged you into a world so enticing and vivid that returning is a blissful, mesmerizing thought. J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series and the Harry Potter series come to mind as examples.

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In exploring the reasons why I love some series and not others, the over-arching conflict that Jessa mentioned yesterday is a big factor. If I’ve bought into the world the author has built and the reason the characters are in a constant struggle to win, then I’m eager to know what happens next. I want to see them conquer the BIG BAD in the end. (Who doesn’t want to see Harry defeat Lord Voldemort? Or see Wrath and his hunky gang deliver the beat-down to the Lessers? I sure do). If I haven’t bought in, then I may never pick up book two in the series, let alone three or four.

The tricky part as an author is to make each book in the series a satisfying read while still leaving problems unsolved and questions at the end. If you leave too many questions at the end, the reader feels ripped off. Not enough and the anticipation for the next book may be lacking.

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A vivid world is also very important for me as a reader. I LOVED the world J.K. Rowling sucked me into. Chocolate frogs and Diagon Alley and flying cars. Wow. The world she created came so alive in my head that I didn’t want to leave. Isn’t that what all of us dream about doing as writers? Crafting a world so engaging that people lose themselves inside, just for a few hours? I can’t imagine a more delightful comment from a reader than “I didn’t want it to end”.

Which is why, I think, some series go on for a large number of books. The readers don’t want the story to end. It’s bittersweet when it does. We’re happy to see our intrepid hero/heroine triumph and yet sad to see them move on without us.

Do you have a favorite series that ended, one where you felt that bittersweet sense of longing? What was it? Why do you think it worked so well for you?

Serial reader
by Sharon Ashwood on July 22nd, 2009

I’ve noticed that in the romance market, series have become de rigeur. I suspect this has as much to do with marketing as anything else. As with movies, if one has good box office, make a sequel and cash in. Ditto books. The system works pretty well for authors because it gives us a chance to hook a readership in a way single efforts might not.

As an author, it affects how we think about plots. It’s nice if there’s an overarching idea to drive the series, but each book has to have its own logic. And what if your readers pick them up out of order? It’s a problem if there has to be pages of explanation to catch them up before the adventure even begins. In other words, we have to be clever little pumpkins to do a good job.

For this reason, SCORCHED can be read independently of RAVENOUS. They’re sequential and related, but by no means inextricable from each other. I think most authors aim for this kind of flexibility now, especially when bookstores aren’t always stocking all the titles in a series. If it’s too hard for a reader to pick up the story part-way through, the author loses the opportunity to bring more people on board.

Speaking as a reader, I love a series I can sink my teeth into. Characters become family. Places become like old friends. I start expecting to meet my favourite heroes on the street. The books become a reliable, comfortable haven—or at least a constant source of entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want to exactly hang out in Rachel Caine’s Morganville, even though I wait with bated breath for each new instalment.

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Another series I’ve loved is CT Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Thrall series. It’s original and interesting and occasionally downright scary.

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And then there’s C.H. Harris’s beautifully-written regency historical detective series (Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.)

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Those are just a few of my favourites–there’s no shortage of great series out there. Nevertheless, do you as a reader ever feel series exhaustion? Despite an author’s best efforts to make each book stand-alone, do you ever get tired of having to figure out which one to read first, or when you kind find the first one without ordering it on-line?

Alexis Morgan guest blogs
by Sharon Ashwood on July 21st, 2009

My name is Sharon Ashwood, and I’m a Paladin junkie …

But why stop there? That would be like stopping before dessert. Alexis Morgan serves up a whole oh-so-yummy smorgasborg of dark heroes and the second of her Talion series is coming out this month! And if you read to the end of the post, you’ll see she’s giving one away :grin:

Alexis Morgan is the best-selling author of over eighteen published books. She’s written short contemporary, American West historical, and paranormal romances. Originally from Missouri, she’s currently makes the Pacific Northwest her home. She loves to hear from fans and can be reached through her website: www.alexismorgan.com.

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I’m so pleased to be hanging out here at Silk and Shadows for the day. I especially want to thank Sharon Ashwood for inviting me, but also for writing such a great book. If you haven’t read Ravenous, what are you waiting for????

But on to the topic at hand. I’m in the final countdown until the release of DARK WARRIOR UNBROKEN, the second book in my Talions series from Pocket Star. The official date for its debut is July 28th, but sometimes books have a way of sneaking out onto the shelves earlier.

I’m pretty excited about this particular book because it was a particularly challenging story to tell. You see, when Sandor Kearn was introduced in the first book in the series, I had a serious love-hate relationship with the man. His fault, not mine. Really.

To begin with, let me explain that Sandor isn’t quite human. Instead, he’s a member of the warrior class of the Kyth. Originating in the harsh climate of northern Scandinavia, his kind developed the ability to borrow energy from those around them in order to survive the long winters. Unfortunately, they thrived at the cost of the normal humans around them, forcing the Kyth to spread their numbers out over the rest of Europe and even the New World. Didn’t you always wonder why the Vikings and others like them liked to wander around so much? Well, now you know.

Most of the time, the humans Kyth harvest energy from are not harmed—think of all that free-flowing energy at weddings, sporting events, and dance clubs. But sometimes Kyth go rogue, and that’s where the Kyth warriors come in. Called Talions (which actually means “punishment meted out in kind or an-eye-for-an-eye justice), it is their job to police the Kyth and destroy the renegades.

In the first book, Sandor was the highly polished ambassador for his people, charged with introducing newly discovered Kyth to their heritage. By the end, he’d had to face some hard, ugly truths about himself. His own book begins with him struggling to come to terms with the darkness in his soul. He soon meets the heroine, Lena Wilson, who has some pretty heavy duty secrets of her own. Together, they have to find some common ground that lets each of them come to terms with the mistakes in their pasts.

All writers have themes they return to time and again in their stories. For me, it’s often a character’s struggle for redemption and restoring their sense of honor. Sandor’s personal journey made him a better man, one I could both respect and like. I hope you all will enjoy making that journey with him.

If you have questions for me about either my Talion series or my Paladin series, I’ll do my best to answer them. One lucky person will win an autographed copy of DARK WARRIOR UNBROKEN, so keep those questions and comments coming!

Alexis Morgan

This little piggy went wee-wee-wee, all the way to the bookstore
by Jessa Slade on July 20th, 2009

Currently working on: Sleep
Mood: Exhausted

Having just returned from the Romance Writers of American national conference in Washington DC, I have nothing to say.  I won’t have anything to say for several days while I refill the well of words emptied from me in a week of talking, talking, talking writing with friends and colleagues.

And yet I find myself able to write a few words :)  The topic here at Silk And Shadows this week is reading and writing series.  Despite the fact I am writing what I hope will be a series, I’m torn about whether I truly like series.  No, that’s not true, I LOVE a good series.  I just finished Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books and am fidgeting for the next one.  But it’s hard to do a series well.  As a reader, here’s why I shy away from some series:

1. The author dies.
Or sells the series to a lesser writer.  Obviously, the first one isn’t the author’s fault (probably) and the storyworld shouldn’t have to die just because its creator did.  But so often something of my enjoyment is lost along with the voice of the original writer.

2. I’m already too far behind.
I loved Star Trek fiction as a kid, but I didn’t have time for it in high school and college.  By the time I came back to it, entire universes had changed.  The canon had grown so large and diverse, I was hopelessly intimidated.

3. I have a mind less like a steel trap and more like a rusty sieve.
Even when I love a series, if somebody does pull my head out from under a rock and then smack me lightly on both cheeks a few times to bring me around, I often forget that I’m supposed to be waiting for book next.  Honestly, this is one of my favorite things about social networking like Facebook and Twitter; I can finally stay current with my favorite authors! 

Oh, but a well-done series with enough books to immerse me for days…  That is a thing of wonder.   My next trick is trying to write one…  Here’s what I will be attempting:

1. Tie every book to the overarching storyline.
Because that’s so simple.

2. Make every book strong enough to stand alone.
Oh, is that all?

3. Deliver a knock-out punch at the end of every book and keep ‘em coming back for more.
But of course.

I’ll check back in five years and let you know how I did.

Do you seek out new series, or do you shy away?  If you shied away — without bashing anyone — what scared you off?  If you download countdown clock widgets from your favorite author to remind yourself when her next book is out, what draws you to a series?

Allison’s Winner
by Our Guest on July 19th, 2009

Valarie P. has won the set of my Blackheath Moor books. Congratulations Valarie!

Thanks, everyone, for all your good wishes! Hey, if you’re ever looking for me, you can always find me at Allison Chase’s News & Views. Kim, Jessa, Annette and Sharon, thank you so much for including me here. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ll always be a huge fan of all of you. Au revoir for now! Well, sort of, because in the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back!”

Love to all,
Allison