Archive for January, 2010



Zen and the art of book production
by Sharon Ashwood on January 27th, 2010

Late January is supposed to be the time of year when folks are the most depressed. There are a lot of potential reasons—everything from post-Christmas credit card bills to the fact that snow lost its novelty value about five inches ago. Those who can afford it start looking around for vacation escapes.

The weather rarely bothers me that way – Victoria already has bulbs blooming. Throw in a bit of sun and it’s pretty spring-like. What I find more of a drag is the slog to the Easter holiday. It’s like we pay our dues for the first three months of the year, showing up to work every day, eating healthy and saving our money. I start to feel boring, boring, boring. Blah!!

And that’s nothing compared to the dark and fallow season that blights every writer’s life: the post book blues. You’ve squeezed all the emotional energy possible onto the page, offered up your dreams for sacrifice, and bared every vulnerable nerve. There’s nothing left to give.

After I’ve put a book to bed, I feel like the Spanish Inquisition has ground me up for meat loaf and taken mocking photos. And then I check my calendar and see there’s another book to write. Fast. Oh, goody.
Okay, don’t get me wrong. For an author, this is a good problem—it means you’ve still got a contract—but there is a moment of doubt. For an author, doubt is a killer.

If you’ve given everything you’ve got, what more is there to pull out of your soul? Can you make another book? Do you have the emotional strength? Part of you is eager. Part of you is appalled. This is the dark hour before the dawn, when it all seems frankly impossible.

The secret, I’ve found, is to wait. If I barrel into my imaginary world with guns blazing and demand a story, anything resembling good, true inspiration will run screaming from the scene. If I do catch an idea at this point, it’s the lame one at the back of the herd and the resulting story will limp along like road kill. The secret is patience and trust. You have to trust that good book is in you.

That’s the tough part. Waiting for the fresh, green shoots of imagination to appear when everything inside your head looks like Sauron’s army just trundled through. Despite what schedules and deadlines would have us believe, writing is an organic process. Nature has to take its course, and we have to believe it can and will bloom again. It simply has to.

And knowing that doesn’t make the waiting one bit easier. :sad:

‘Tis the Season
by Annette McCleave on January 26th, 2010

This morning was a classic example of what winter does to me: my alarm went off, I hit the OFF button, then snuggled into the covers and went back to sleep. Winter brings out my inner bear. I just want to hibernate.

In some ways, that urge to nest is good for my writing. After all, the computer is in the house where it’s nice and warm. There are fewer activities vying for my attention this time of year. Heck, if it weren’t for my dog needing daily walks, I probably wouldn’t even leave the house.

Unfortunately, my brain seems to fall into a hibernation pattern, too.

I feel less daring, less creative. I doubt myself more, and find more excuses not to write. This, in turn, makes it harder to drag myself out of those comfy flannel bed sheets and into the chair in front of the computer.

Which is why winter is the season of self discipline.

See, I know that if I just sit down and write, if I just get past the dreariness and doubt, I’ll find my groove. It may not happen with the first draft of a scene, but it will show up. Eventually. And if I write, if I get any words on paper at all, I’ll feel better. Better feeds more words, more words feed more confidence, and before you know it, Spring is here.

But it all starts with that moment when I choose whether to get out of bed.

This morning, I gave myself permission to sleep 15 minutes longer. I reset the alarm and went back to sleep. When it buzzed for the second time, I groaned, rubbed my face, and seriously considered resetting it again. But I didn’t. I rolled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. Stories don’t write themselves (darn it!), and I know I’ll feel really good about myself if I get a couple of pages written before my daughter wakes up.

Yup, winter is the season of self discipline. And double-strength coffee.

To satisfy my slothful inclinations, I let myself hibernate in the evenings. My favorite hibernation activity is watching Criminal Minds while buried deep in a snowflake-patterned throw. What’s yours?

Writing in the dark
by Jessa Slade on January 25th, 2010

Currently working on: Brooding
Mood: Broody

Last year, the grapes tried to come in the house.

XY bought me a couple gorgeous Interlachen grapes for my birthday three years ago, and last year, they really took off.  They ran up into the birch tree and across the porch.  They tangled in the yuccas and wrapped around the sun shades.  When they started scratching eerily at the front door on windy nights, we knew they had to move.

So this weekend, while they’re dormant for the winter, XY whacked them back and transplanted them to brand new holes on their very own trellis, where they can run this way ‘n’ that way without opposition.  XY also moved the fruit trees to accommodate the new grapes trellis.  One of the roses, a lilac, and a bunch of perennials had to go to make room for the fruit trees.  It was cold, wet, muddy work, and the front yard looks like a cemetery with its piles of dark earth and skeletal plants. 

Tonight, when we took Monster Girl the dog for her walk, we paused in the 5 o’clock, low cloud darkness to stare at the wreckage, and it was hard to believe spring will ever come.

 At some point in my writing, I always feel like that.

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There always comes a time in my writing when the story is out of control.  Tendrils are choking the life out of anything nearby.  Too scraggly and unwieldy and ugly, my writing begins to creep me out.  The darkness descends.  The winter of our discontent, indeed.

This is my fallow season.  Since the cycles of my writing echo the seasons in my garden, I’ve learned to apply a few rules to both.

1. Just cut back the dead wood already.
I have roses that bloom through November.  At Thanksgiving, they still have buds forming.  But invariably, sometime in December we finally get a hard frost which kills the last blossoms.  The buds blacken and slump on their stems.  The surviving leaves give me (false) hope that I’ll get another glimpse of pink.  But no.  Really, there’s nothing to do but get out the clippers and whack everything back to sturdy greenery.  That first cut is the sharpest, but the harsher I am, the more lush and vigorous the blooms are the following year. 

2. Lay the ground work and run the guide wires now.
I read a garden book once that said you should always put your 50-cent peat pot in a five-dollar hole.  I get impatient (and cheap) and am sometimes tempted to skip ahead.  But there’s no rushing the prep work.  So now I start by honing the spade and invest time in reading craft books and taking workshops that can make me a sharper writer.  I dig a deep and rock-free hole of prewriting.  I string my story arc wire on securely concreted plotting posts.  And I turn my well-aged compost into a hot and steaming muck.

3. Nurture the seedling.
Good God, but a seedling is so small and pathetic.  With only two baby leaves, I can’t even tell the peppers from the potato, the carrots from the kohlrabi.  And knowing how long it will take before harvest, sometimes it seems so pointless.  But I have faith that if I put a tiny toilet paper roll anti-slug collar around them, if I spread the compost thick, and thin the weeds, if I water them regularly with my blood, sweat and tears (minus the cliche), in the end — The End — I will hold the fruits of my labor.

Sure, it’s a dream.  But it’s always easier to dream in the dark.

Do you have rituals for the dark and fallow months?  Or do you vegetate?

 

Dreams of Green
by KimLenox on January 24th, 2010

Oh, yes, my first million! SCORE!

I don’t have to think twice. If I had a million buckaroos, I would quit my job. I might work for a few more weeks, just to enjoy the secret knowledge that I could quit at any time, but yes, the job would go. It’s stressful, time consuming, just pays “okay” and all my hard work seems to benefit the higher ups, not me. I’m not bitter, it’s just the way things are. I say all this as I drink my coffee, and spend a couple of hours with my awesome family. It’s Sunday morning. Because of pending deadlines, I worked all week, including late nights. I worked all day yesterday and have to go in again this morning. You might say I am feeling a bit frazzled.

After I was blessed with my first million, I might take a few weeks off just to exist in pajamas, lay on the sofa and roll in the grass–WHEEE!–but then I’d focus on my writing, and opening my own business. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and I think one day I will be. But until I got my first million (oh, wait, we’re still just dreaming, right?) I haven’t had the cajones to take such a gamble. I’d also get back to volunteering, which in recent years has fallen by the wayside. What’s my interest? The elderly. I’d volunteer for Meals on Wheels or get certified to be an Elder Advocate.

I like to work, and stay busy. But I would rather do something more meaningful to me. The Million would allow me to do that!

What about you - if you haven’t already shared this week, what would be your dream-related-to-a-million$$.

And WELCOME to Joss Ware!

Joss Ware guest blogs!
by Sharon Ashwood on January 21st, 2010

For those who might be curious about the Lou Waxnicki videos we’ve posted over the last while, here’s the scoop! Joss Ware has not only been good enough to write a blog about her new series, but she’s also doing a giveaway. We’d asked her to put a few zombies up for grabs, but apparently shipping is a problem (once assembled, there’s no putting them back together) and most delivery companies refuse to deal with parcels that persist in devouring the courier’s brains. So, we moved on to plan B.

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Joss will send a free, signed copy of Beyond the Night to one lucky reader randomly selected from all who provide a written comment about what sort of building they’d want to live in if they had to “rebuild” after the world as we know it went through an apocalyptic change.

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My new series is a paranormal romance set in a post-apocalyptic world, about fifty years after the major catastrophic events that destroyed most of the human race and the bulk of its infrastructure.

So many people have asked me how I got the idea, and why I went from writing historical vampire hunter novels (The Gardella Vampire Chronicles) to writing a post-apocalyptic romance series. Well…

I’ve read so many thriller novels (Clive Cussler anyone?) and seen tons of movies where the safety of the world is at stake, where the villains are power-hungry people bent on destroying the human race as we know it. In the end, the good guys and gals always get there in time to foil their plans…but, I thought one day, what if, one time, they didn’t?

That’s where I got the idea to write a series set in a world in which the bad guys actually succeeded with their plan…and now the good guys have to not only find a way to survive in this new world, but also to destroy the villains.

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Unlike the world of Mad Max and his Thunderdome, the world of Envy (which is the largest city in this post-cataclysmic environ) is one of lush overgrowth and Mother Nature flexing her muscles, showing Man that she is, after all, The Boss. Now that man is not there to maintain his buildings, she’s taken over with a vengeance.

There are zombies, some villainous immortal beings who wear crystals and keep the humans repressed, and lots of wild animals on the loose. And, of course, some sexy heroes that appear on the scene to save what’s left of mankind from the immortal Strangers.

Fifty years after the Change, these five men emerge from a mysterious cave to find their world has been destroyed. Nothing is left.

While in the cave, these heroes have each acquired their own paranormal ability, and now must learn to live with the blessing—and curse—the new abilities offer. In the meantime, they join the fight of the Resistance against those who would repress the human race and find the women meant to be by their sides.

Action and adventure, romance and mystery abound in what I think of as a gritty, edgy world.

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The first book, Beyond the Night, features Elliott Drake and the woman who helps him find a “home” in this new world. Her name is Jade, and she has her own baggage and secrets as well.

The second book, Embrace the Night Eternal, will be released in February, followed in March by Abandon the Night.

A Million Tiny Dreams
by Annette McCleave on January 19th, 2010

At any other time, I’d have had a lot of fun with this topic—my first million dollars. But I confess that I’m having a harder time dreaming of fun stuff after the Haiti earthquake. Like many writers, I’m a highly empathetic person—I need to be to get into the heads of my characters and make them come to life on the page.

But that empathy is knocking me for a loop right now.

I find it all too easy to imagine what it would be like to experience the devastation Haiti is currently living through. Losing loved ones, feeling helpless and lost, desperately struggling to get food and water for my family. I’ve remained riveted to the news casts, cried over some of the video and pictures, and felt ill over the impotence of the people on the ground trying to help. The situation so terribly hard on all of the people there.

It makes me feel incredibly lucky to have the things I have (and take for granted)—fresh running water, shelter, food, and safety for my daughter.

I do love to dream, though. I believe in the power of those dreams and the importance of occasional mental escape. Life can be very hard. Overwhelming, sometimes. Dreams are a facet of hope—and hope is all some people have. Dreaming of a better life, be it a simple vision or one of being rich, can make the current situation more bearable and lead us past the grief.

Here’s to powerful dreams and a better life for all.

Who DOESN’T want to be a millionaire? Duh
by Jessa Slade on January 18th, 2010

Currently working on: Destroying Book 3
Mood: Godzilla-y

As W-2s begin appearing in mailboxes around the country in preparation for tax season, this seems like a good time to dream about making my first million.

Okay, back to work.

writing-moneyI wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be rich and famous.  I know, I know, in retrospect, that was crazy.  But I write fiction, after all.  Unfortunately, not fantasy, so I can’t sustain the fame and fortune dream.  Sigh.

And I have such plans for that non-existent million.  A back deck where I can write in the summer…  A breakfast nook with a sliding glass door to that back deck where I can write in the fall, winter and spring and those parts of summer where it is too rainy to write on the back deck…  (I live in the Pacific NW where we must be realistic about our outdoor opportunities.  And water-resistant.)

The rest of the million would be eaten up in colored Post-Its and buckets of cookie dough.  My needs are fairly simple.

It would take several million to make my real writer dream come true.  I’ve long had a fantasy of an artist commune, a place where writers, musicians, painters, and dancers could come and live for free while they pursued their art, even for just a week.  I found this diary entry from January 2000 where the fantasy began:

I wish I had a true office where all I did was write.  An office with bookshelves and a big comfy desk with a big comfy chair that could recline so I could pull the keyboard over my lap and type in perfect style.  There would be a TV with awesome reception that would automatically record my shows and not turn on until my chapter was done.  Yes, my choices must be taken away from me.  Maybe I will start a writers’ colony where all choices are taken away from the writer.  They must churn out the requisite number of pages before they are fed, for example.  That would get the muse juices flowing, no doubt. 

Okay, so maybe it’s less a commune and more a prison.  At least I have an office now.  Still no chair, although now I have a pretty purple exercise ball to sit on, which is fun.  And the TV is almost dead, no great loss since they cancelled the only show I was watching.  (I’ll miss you, Dollhouse!  Joss, stop working with Fox!)  I still have hopes for the artist colony.  Someday…

Okay, so I can’t control the million dollars, but I am closing in on my other first million.  My first million words.

A million words is one of those numbers that gets bandied about among writerly types.  They say “Every writer has a million bad words in her, and she needs to get them out before she gets to the worthwhile words.”  I don’t know about that; I’m pretty sure I got way more than a million bad words in me.  I think it’s just because they’re writerly types and so they like the big, easy number.  I know I like it.  I recently added up my final draft words on the ten novels I’ve completed: 844,000.  If I throw in the three false starts, I’m at 924,000.  I’m not counting the really false starts where I only have a few chapters or just the working outline.  And I’m not counting how many times I had to rewrite those words to arrive at the final drafts.

By the end of this year, my word odometer will roll over.  It’ll be interesting to see what’s in me then.  Lots of cookie dough, no doubt.  Unless that crazy warden from the writers’ colony makes me do my words first.

So what does a million mean to you?

Unfortunate Realities
by KimLenox on January 17th, 2010

I think that I’ve mentioned on this blog before that apocolyptic/post-apocolyptic stories always make me a little nervous. There are so many apocolyptic books and movies from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s that have featured scenes or incidents that have in many ways come to pass. But still, I’m riveted by post-apocolyptic stories. I’ve got Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD on my bedside table, because I want to read it before I see the movie.

I also love a more tongue-in-cheek type despair and destruction — SHAUN OF THE DEAD anyone? I thought that movie, and its multitudes of lurching, moaning zombies was hysterical!

I think the one thing that pulls me toward apocolyptic stories is that I know the characters are usually unwilling heroes and heroines. Because of the terrible circumstances, they have to find the best inside themselves, and fight with every ounce of their strength and willpower for an optimistic and hopeful tomorrow.

We’ve all watched the news this week. The people of Haiti who survived the earthquake must feel like they’ve survived an apocolypse. It’s my hope and prayer for them that they will find comfort in one another and in the good wishes of the world around them, and somehow find a bright tomorrow.

My husband and I donated money today to a relief agency, and my kids and I are filling “personal care” bags that are being collected by another charity for distribution to Haitians in need.

Have you done something this week to support the efforts in Haiti? Even if it is just to stay informed and give your emotional support, feel free to share.

OTTT: Over the top, totally
by Sharon Ashwood on January 13th, 2010

“It’s the apocalypse!”

“What? Again??”

I’ve always loved that (probably misquoted) moment in Buffy. It pretty much sums up the real danger of high-stakes writing. Once you’ve ended the world, where do you go from there? If you end it more than twice, people start to wonder.

I honestly think disaster inflation is one of the reasons book franchises rise and fall so quickly. Some folks just aren’t satisfied with a regular old hero/heroine defeat an ordinary supervillain. They need worse and worse villains, and the protagonist keeps gaining weapons and powers faster than if they’d hit the superhero bargain bin at an after-Boxing Day sale. Before you can say “raise the stakes,” the author has written themselves into the proverbial corner. The protagonist is all powerful, and they’ve already beat Dr. Doom, Satan, and the Tax Man. So they have an apocalypse. Again. As far as the author’s concerned, ending the world as we know it and leaving it that way is starting to look good, because there’s nowhere new to go and the book’s due in a month. Talk about Armageddon.

It’s moments like that when the cream rises to the top, and authors with game get going. Take Joss Whedon. I didn’t exactly get the warm fuzzies from the end of the Angel series, but I completely respect that for once the disaster wasn’t a big tease. It came. The finale was a manly man ending, suitable for multiple brooding vampires. Brows furrowed. Coats ruffled in the wind. It wasn’t pretty, but it made sense in the context of the story. It was true to the characters, and that’s what gave it emotional power.

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High stakes inflation hits in various ways, including the aforementioned SuperDuperDuperHero issue. Anita Blake is a S.D.D.H. poster child. She has powers coming out her ears. However, the problems she faces usually can’t be fixed with a supernatural zap. Thus, Hamilton is very clever in the way she handles Anita and co: There’s always more room to grow and fresh difficulties to solve, most of them stemming from the characters’ personalities. The stories are character-driven rather than built around magical abilities–and so our heroine is always busy regardless of how many supernatural or hi-tech weapons she’s packing. Anita never gets the easy way out–one big reason why readers come back for more.

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The best near-miss end of the world has to be The Lord of the Rings. It’s Frodo’s compassion, seen through his treatment of Gollum, that ultimately saves Middle Earth and preserves the Shire from its own industrial apocalypse. Although big powers are at work, Tolkien points out repeatedly that it’s the “small folk,” with their big hearts, who save the day and are the focus of the story. I’ve always admired the way that JRR keeps both the big picture and the small in view. As sprawling as it is, the tale has little, very relatable stakes as well as big ones. Another thing he does brilliantly is the ending. The Ring returns to Mount Doom—but the world still changes. Middle Earth can’t go through a thwarted apocalypse without consequences. That makes the characters’ journey real.

Wait? Did I write character in all these examples? Why, yes I did. Just like every other good yarn, world-ender stories hinge on the people in them. We can forgive a lot of histrionics if the personalities involved are worth it. Zombies? Endless winter? Plague? Demons? Make me care about the company I’ll be keeping. If you do, I’ll grab a cup of tea and cheerfully join in the end of the world as we know it.

I might even bring biscuits.

A Few Good Men and Women
by Annette McCleave on January 12th, 2010

Do-or-the-whole-world-dies scenarios hold tremendous appeal for me–which might explain why I write paranormal romance. In both PNR and urban fantasy novels, the continued existence of humanity is often at risk, and the heroes have their work cut out to save he day. Apocalypse is a mainstay of the genre.

No surprise then, that I’m also attracted to disaster flicks. I love the danger and the over-the-top action—the bombs exploding, the volcano erupting in the middle of downtown, the giant spaceship blasting a few cities off the map. But the true appeal of disaster flicks, for me, boils down to my deep-seated belief that no matter how bad things get, there will always be honor and courage and good people. I’m not so Pollyanna as to believe everyone will resist the pull of evil—I just need to believe some segment of the population will. That a few good men and women will never let go of their principles.

It was that belief that drew me to the trailer for The Road. I’m not usually a fan of stories that end on a dismal note, and I tend to avoid stories that I know will make me cry. I write romance for a reason—I love my Happily Ever After. But I went to see The Road anyway.

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Yes, part of the attraction was Viggo Mortensen. Love that man. But the real draw was the intriguing concept of a father-and-son pair trying to survive while remaining the last hold outs of true humanity. I found myself curious about the courage it would take to face such a bleak existence and wondering if the movie would touch on that.

I wasn’t disappointed—it’s a post-apocalypse movie, and the heart of the story is the father-son relationship. And although it doesn’t end on a cheery note, I left the theater reaffirmed in my hope for mankind. Always the sign of a satisfying apocalypse story. I haven’t read the book by Cormac McCarthy, but I’ve borrowed a copy from a friend, and I intend to.

If you enjoy watching or reading apocalypse stories, why do you think they appeal to you?