Archive for November, 2010



To Boldly Go
by Annette McCleave on November 30th, 2010

When I grow up…ooops, I mean, if I ever grow up…I want to be a space traveller. Notice I didn’t say astronaut. I’ve never wanted to be an astronaut. The idea of being stuffed into a claustrophobic tube and shot into space atop half a million gallons of highly flammable fuel does not appeal to me.

Nope. Give me the Enterprise. Or Battlestar Galactica. Something big. Something I can walk around inside using normal gravity and can miraculously produce coffee when I say “Starbucks caramel macchiato. Hot.” Then I’m your woman.

I’ve had a fascination for Star Trek style space travel ever since I watched the original series on TV. Yes, I’m that old. I never got into Deep Space Nine, but I’ve watched all the other flavours of Star Trek over the years, including the new movie by JJ Abrams. As for BSG, I remember when ‘Starbuck’ was Dirk Benedict, not Katee Sackhoff. In fact, I have the old DVDs. There is a serious geek in me.

Need proof? On my honeymoon to Florida way back when, I convinced my new husband to do the Star Trek Adventure at Universal Studios—a screen test type film where hubby played the captain of the Enterprise and I played the Vulcan first officer. It only exists as a VHS tape, so don’t ask me to post it. But it’s so bad it’s funny.

So why don’t I write science fiction, you ask? I might, someday. But for now I’m content to be transported into space by others. Pun intended.

Am I the only Trekkie on S&S? Tell me it’s not so.

When I was a kid: Walking uphill through the snow both ways
by Jessa Slade on November 29th, 2010

Currently working on: Christmas
Mood: Elfish

The first Christmas lights are up in my neighborhood! When we walked Monster Girl in the coldrainydarkOMGwhowantedtogetadog tonight, one house had an illuminated candy cane lane running to the front door. The big picture window blazed with one of those miniature Christmas villages that make me want to shrink myself down to the size of a silverfish and scuttle through the fake-snow streets.

(I imagine a human-sized silverfish scuttling through the sleepy little village would terrify the carolers and the kid on the sled, but it’s a small price to pay for living in the Land that Christmas Never Forgot.)

This season brings out the kid in a lot of us, I think. The promise of gifts is part of it, of course. Also wearing big puffy coats and pants that make me walk like a snowman inspires seasonal cheer.

But now that I have to CREATE the holidays instead of just revel in them, it can get hard to maintain that child-like wonder. For example, I’m making jewelry for gifts this year and apparently a bead store vomited all over my workspace:

img_1339Hmm, looking at this, I realize this is a good visual representation of my creative mind: Pull out everything, scatter it everywhere, see what fits together. Vacuum leftovers. Repeat.

But being creative, creating the holidays, comes with a cost. Much like the marauding silverfish. In the case of beading, I usually shed at least a few drops of blood and the scars linger for days. See:

img_1337The combination of sharp wire, sharper Swarovski crystals, Superglue, and black thread (not all for the same project) is etched in my skin, despite multiple showers. What we suffer for our art.

That’s the thing I didn’t get as a kid, that a lot of work went on behind the scenes to create the fantasies that delighted me.

But learning the coldrainydark truth — that somebody expended effort, love and blood to create — doesn’t ruin the fantasy. I’ll just take a moment to pause in my busy night and appreciate how the lights twinkle.

Got any tips for enjoying the holidays with kid-like abandon? Please share.

And check back here at Silk And Shadows. Marjorie Liu — eeee! — will be guest posting with us later in the week and giving away a copy of her latest Dirk & Steele book, IN THE DARK OF DREAMS.

Flourescent Glare
by KimLenox on November 28th, 2010

STATUS: Working on multiple projects
MOOD: Inspired

You know when you go to the mall and you take the clothes, or worse, that bathing suit into the dressing room and they have those flourescent lights that reveal EVERY HORRIBLE FLAW?

I try to shine a mental flourescent light on my writing at all times so that I can see how I can stay realistic and improve not only my writing, but my attitude, expectations and “big picture” goals. It’s a wondrous thing to write and create…I love it! But there’s a reason Poe and Hemingway (etc., etc.) danced with darker issues like mental illness and substance abuse. Writing is HARD, and at times very frustrating. In addition to getting to hold our beautiful book in our hands and meet readers who love our stories, most writers also get to deal with rejection, the reality of the financial statement/royalties and criticism.

It’s hard not to take any failure personally since each word comes from a deep and meaningful place inside you. The reality of every day life can make the writing dream all that much harder.

I do get up and go to work five days a week, and I work very hard at my day job. I’ve got two school age children and a great, supportive husband who get a good deal of my time. That means writing takes place in the early morning hours, late at night, during my lunch hour, and on the weekends. It’s not a perfect system.

But in the end, my writing is an addiction of sorts. I’m going to do it no matter what. Also, if writing wasn’t a challenge on so many different levels, it wouldn’t mean as much. So yes — they can have my netbook when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. Whoever “they” are. **G**

Is there something you are utterly and completely “addicted” to? Knitting? Baking? Reading? Shopping? Surfing the Internet?

For this I gave up Desperate Housewives
by Sharon Ashwood on November 24th, 2010

The topic this week is pursuing a dream while coping with “real” life. My immediate question is which constitutes my real life—the one where I trundle off to the office each day, or the one where I sit swearing at my computer making up stories.

The romantically correct answer is to say that art is everything and that I am only alive when I am writing. Eh, not so much. There are times when I feel that and, hey, hand me a big enough royalty cheque and I’m out of the day job in a flash. However, until that day comes, I’m very much in favour of salary, benefits, and pension. I like to know that my heat will be on and my fridge full. I’m shallow that way.

In some ways, that makes it easier to handle the unpredictable nature of the writing biz. Because my survival is not dependent on its antics, I can keep a cooler head. On the other hand, the hours that could be devoted to improving my art are spent in meetings. It’s impossible not to resent that when a story is calling my name.

There are only two answers I can think of for managing work and writing both. One, I treat the writing as seriously as I do my paid employment. I go to work, and then I come home and go to work again on job #2. Workaholic? No, just an understanding that no one is going to do the book for me. Therefore, I sacrifice countless hours of prime time television. Oh well.

Two, I am very wary of burnout. Given #1 above, I’m bad about not building in R&R. My answer to everything is to work harder. Unfortunately, harder (at least in this context) isn’t always better. Jokes get flat, sentences plod, and the story sounds as tired as I feel. There is only so much pulling-up-of-socks one can do at that point. More effort won’t help; in fact, it will only hurt. The solution? Just back away from the computer. Go take a nap. The nice thing about writing is that it stays put until you can come back to it with a fresh eye.

The contradictory nature of my two answers speaks for itself. Art versus life is a balancing act. Fun versus labour. Inspiration versus perspiration. Fortunately, women are good at juggling priorities. After all, we hold down jobs, take care of children and parents, keep house, and make sure holidays happen. We know how to work smart.

Keep Leaping
by Annette McCleave on November 23rd, 2010

At the moment, I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have a full time job in addition to my writing—other than being a mom. Given the current economy, who knows how long that will last? I don’t. So, I keep to the same schedule I created when I was working full time—getting up at 4 a.m., pouring myself a cup of java, and sitting down in front of the computer to write.

Why do I get up at 4? Because it’s now a habit. But before it was habit, it was a commitment I made to myself. Back in 2002, while I was working a job that demanded upwards of sixty hours per week, I decided to get serious about my writing.

Here’s the thing: Up to that moment, I didn’t think I had it in me to be a writer. Why? Because I wasn’t passionate about it. Passionate people don’t say they’re going to write a book and then spend all their spare time on other things, right? Well I found every excuse in world not to write. Ergo, I was convinced I didn’t have the drive to be a real writer.

What made me decide to give it a go anyway? A sad event. My older brother passed away, cut down in his prime by cancer. Because he was young, one of the hardest parts was acknowledging that he never ahd a chance to fulfill his potential. He never married, never had children, never traveled to the stars.

After the grief dulled somewhat, I realized I wasn’t fulfilling my potential either. So, I set the alarm for 4 a.m. and vowed to get up early to take charge of my future.

What really happened? I hit the snooze button several times and never actually got up. Way to take charge, Annette. But, to give myself credit, I’m tenacious. I set the alarm again the next day, and the next, and the next. Eventually, I got tired of the poor sleep I was getting, and I rolled out bed a bit early. When I did, I sat down at the computer and wrote.

Eventually, I made progress on my manuscript. Motivation, thy name is progress. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. The more I wanted to write, the earlier I stopped hitting the snooze button. After a couple of months, I was up at 3:45 to make the coffee and check my email before diving into my manuscript.

Making your writing dreams come true while working a full time job (motherhood included!) isn’t easy. There’s always something else vying for your time and energy. If it isn’t work, it’s family stuff. Or the hard knocks of life. Sometimes it’s even your own fears that stop you from carving out the necessary time. A mentor of mine once told me that the more committed I was to achieving something, the more roadblocks would appear in my path—but that the only way to succeed was to leap over them.

It was good advice, so I’m passing it on: if you want to achieve your dreams while living in the real world, keep leaping the hurdles. Knock a few over, kick a few out of the way, but no matter what, keep going.

A wing and a prayer
by Jessa Slade on November 22nd, 2010

Currently working on: Flying across the country
Mood: Airborne

dreamsSo this past week I’ve been in Chicago — the setting for my Marked Souls series — doing a little research downtown and a few stock book signings at local bookstores.

As I’m sitting here typing this post, it’s late (by the time you read this, it’ll be tomorrow and I’ll be on the plane) and a flock of geese just went over the house. It’s cold and windy — a typical Chicago November night — and the sound of the geese honking as they fly away is strange and silly in the dark.

geese1I think if dreams had a sound, they would sound like geese in the November night: unseen yet insistent, ridiculous and righteous, a little lonely.

Cold, hard reality is very much like the pond in the backyard, slowly icing over, open opportunity shrinking and ever more chill. To fly into the darkness seems like the height (or depths) of foolishness. How do the geese know where they are going? How can they see what lies ahead? Why not just wait for dawn like the sensible squirrels?

But the geese have places to be, I guess. They aren’t waiting. And they won’t go quietly into that dark night either. Instead, they launch with raucous cries, as if the whole world needs to know their itinerary, warm and sunny — truly dream-like. Maybe encouraging the rest of us to join them. Never mind the dark and the cold and the wind and the icicles clinging to our toes.

Wish me good flight, little brother. I wish thee good flight.

The grade A alpha – no poodles need apply
by Sharon Ashwood on November 17th, 2010

As I write this, I’m at the Readers and Ritas gathering in Dallas, Texas. This event (put on by Fresh Fiction) is an extraordinary bash for readers of romance fiction, hence the “readers” part of the title. The “ritas” references margaritas. So far I’ve seen plenty of the former and very few of the latter. The drug of choice here appears to be Sherrilyn Kenyon, the guest of honour.

So, on to the “hot hero” part of the blog. As I’m in a perfect position to do field research, being in the middle of a pack of avid readers, I can accurately report the preferences of at least this slice of the reading populace. Heroes get points if they are a Dark Hunter. They get extra points if they’re Acheron. Points are awarded if you’re Taylor Lautner or could possibly be portrayed by Taylor Lautner. Beyond that, vampire porn will suffice, with the odd furball thrown in. The one “must” is that they are an alpha, because these readers are big girls not looking for “safe”—at least not in their reading material. The nice-guy beta hero is more the fare of the YA market.

Reassuring, because the vampire hero I’m working with at the moment is more alpha than any of my previous ones. I like to think of him as Bruce Willis from “Die Hard” crossed with Hellboy. The only thing that saves him from being obnoxious is a sense of humour. I had to give him something redeeming because, good grief, he’s occupying my brain for the next while. Y’know the cliché of the vamp in formal wear with all the fine china and expensive décor? Not this fella. He’s more of a sports bar vampire—and just the ticket if you want to save a town from some very evil forces disguised as a beer.

Now, all that being said, it does lead me to one question. Trade fangs for fur or a corporate suit for a cowboy hat, alphas are all broody, sexy, take-charge guys. Stray too far from that basic DNA, and many readers lose interest. I’ve always wondered how far the envelope can be pushed. A non-traditional occupation? A fondness for goldfish? He rides a bicyle? Owns a bichon frisee (okay, that might not work with a werewolf)?

How far and in what way can the essential alpha vary and still be true to the romance code?

Tall, Dark and Toweled
by Annette McCleave on November 16th, 2010

With every novel I write, I’m on a voyage of discovery. I plot, so I know where I’m headed with the action, more or less. But the characters, no matter how much I map them out in the beginning, always surprise me.

Take the hero of my January release, Surrender to Darkness, for example.

surrender_cover_150

I knew Jamie Murdoch was a big gruff guy, imbued with a berserker’s battle rage. I knew his history—he was born on the west coast of Scotland in 1256 and died in battle at the age of 33—but I didn’t really get to know him fully until I started writing his story. Then some interesting details came out, like his tendency to dress in similar clothes every day, and his keen possessive streak.

Let me show you that possessive streak:

Sweeping her hair up in a quick ponytail, Kiyoko padded barefoot across the tatami mat and joined Sora in the lantern-lit tearoom. The table was spread with an assortment of dishes, including rice and broiled salmon, but Kiyoko chose only tea. Her stomach would not handle food right now.

Sora looked up from his miso soup. “Not hungry?”

“I’m anxious to get down to the dojo.”

“Eager to train, or to see Mr. Murdoch?”

“Both.”

The sensei carefully scooped up the last of his soup with his spoon. “You insult Umiko-san by failing to eat.”

She chose not to respond. Eating simply wasn’t possible until she saw Murdoch and confronted the strange feelings that refused to let her go. Besides, the poor man had been waiting for hours. She had intended to greet him when he arrived, but her energy levels were not what they used to be and she’d fallen asleep around one a.m.

Her teacher sighed. “We will go, then.”

After making their apologies to Umiko, they donned sandals in the entranceway and took the short path along the cliffs to the back gate of the compound.

Mr. Murdoch stood just inside the door in the main hall, looking less than thrilled. Judging by the various cuts and bruises on the nine men who surrounded him, the wait had been unbearable.

“About bloody time,” he grumbled, as she and Sora entered.

Sora studied the guards with a critical eye. Although none of them flinched, Kiyoko could sense their shame. “Did you object to our invitation, Mr. Murdoch?”

“No,” the big man said, his voice a dry rumble of Scottish brogue. “We simply had a miscommunication.”

He looked at her while he spoke, his gaze trailing over her face in leisurely detail before slipping lower to study her clothing. Considering that he stood five feet away, it was an amazingly intimate experience. Kiyoko’s heartbeat sped up and goose bumps rose on the back of her neck. She felt claimed.

“Over what?” she asked.

“My boots.”

She glanced at his feet, which were bare.

“Aye,” Murdoch said dryly. “I removed them. But it would have saved everyone a lot of grief if they had asked instead of demanding. My collection of possessions is small, but what I own, I keep.”

Murdoch is a Scot. Unfortunately, he dates back to a time before there were kilts, or else I would have had him dress in one. He’s definitely the sort of guy who’d look glorious with a bare chest, bare legs, and a swathe of cloth around his hips. In fact, I liked that image so much, I had him do an entire scene in nothing but a towel.

Don’t worry, nothing fazes Murdoch. :wink:

Dark = Can’t see nuthin’
by Jessa Slade on November 15th, 2010

Currently working on: Book 5
Mood: Immersed (but still breathing)

I surely do love the dark, wounded, brooding, bad boy alpha hero (shocking, I know) but, man, he can be hard to write.

You’d think it’d be easy. After all, a dark hero is like a brownie recipe: There aren’t that many ingredients:

  • One black leather jacket
  • 2 cups worn-denim-clad butt
  • A dash of arrogance
  • Brusque one-liners to taste
    Do not overbake. You know you want your dark hero gooey in the center.

That’s it. And yet any brownie connoisseur knows, the variations on the basic recipe are endlessly yummy. Even without the frosting.

But I find that dark heroes — much like brownies — are opaque. In the same way that I don’t like to share brownies, my dark heroes don’t like to share with me. That’s the problem with taciturn, emotionally aloof loners — they won’t talk even to their creator.

I just started writing Book 5 of the Marked Souls series, and Ecco muscled onstage as the hero. In my original sketch of the full series, I knew some basics of the Book 5 hero but I didn’t have a name. So when Ecco claimed the honor, I  shrugged and thought I’d let him audition.

I forgot that you don’t LET a dark hero do anything. Ecco was originally a walk-on character in SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, Book 1 of the Marked Souls. He was willing to voice what the other characters were afraid to say, so I thought he’d be a great sidekick. But then he started kicking back.

vos-coverHere’s the scene in VOWED IN SHADOWS (April 2011) where Ecco let me know he wasn’t going to take ‘wait’ for an answer much longer. Archer, the hero from SEDUCED, is talking with VOWED’s Jonah. The boys are in the kitchen, whipping up dinner (and tempers) as they discuss doing some unauthorized recon:

Ecco shook his head. “Better wait for the boss.”

“Since when do you obey the rules?” Archer asked.

“Since the girls started coming round and breaking them. Playing with them is more fun. And way scarier.” Ecco glowered at Jonah. “The next one was supposed to be mine.”

Jonah’s hackles rose in atavistic response to the challenge. “They aren’t trading cards.”

Ecco tapped the spoon against the side of the pot and turned slowly. “They should go to the strongest fighters.”

Jonah flexed his fingers. “They did.”

“Knock it off, you two,” Archer snapped. “We don’t understand the mechanism of the bond, but you can be sure there’s more to it than muscle.” He gave Ecco a long stare.

The big talya returned the look, and in his hands, the spoon seemed suddenly lethal.

Jonah smoothed his hand down the back of his neck. The short hairs prickled against his palm. What was wrong with him? He wasn’t the sort to beat his chest and crow. But the incense scent of Nim was still on his skin. This was why saints renounced the temptations of the flesh.

“I’d join that advance team,” he said. “If Nim is in danger from her demon’s strength, I want that anklet.”

“Not to mention, who knows what havoc Corvus could wreak with the artifact at his disposal.” Archer swept his hand over the map again, encompassing the city with his gesture.

Jonah remembered the pull of Nim’s allure. “I think the artifact does the djinn-man no good without the matching demon. Which is why Corvus went after Sera last winter.” He flattened his palm on the map. “Which is why we’ll have no trouble finding him again.”

Ecco stirred the soup with unnecessary vigor. “Because he’ll be coming for Nim. And you don’t seem to care.”

Jonah stared at him from beneath lowered brows. “Tell me again how you think you could have her, and I’ll show you how much I care.”

Archer sighed. “Your mark is on her, Jonah, as surely as the demon’s. Ecco is just teasing you about taking her.”

“No he’s not,” Jonah said, just as Ecco protested, “No I’m not.”

So now we’re stuck with each other. And despite his quickness with one-liners (he’s probably the sort to like lots of extra chocolate chips in his brownies) Ecco has proven remarkably silent about his feeeeelings. And I need to know those before I can let him close to his heroine. Or, more to the point, before the heroine will let him close to her.

wolfBut how do you get a dark hero to open up when even the worst demons of hell have only made him giggle? Have you ever had a tall, dark and silent type (real or imaginary)? How did you get him to share his heart with you?

Post your ideas in comments and a random winner will receive a signed copy of Christine Warren’s BIG BAD WOLF.

Winner of Nocturnal
by Sharon Ashwood on November 11th, 2010

Congratulations to Stephmartin71, who commented on Jess Haines’s guest post to win a copy of NOCTURNAL