Archive for January, 2012



How to Retreat! Retreat!
by Jessa Slade on January 30th, 2012

Currently working on: Expanding a story
Mood: Widening

Last weekend, I went to the Oregon Coast with some writer friends for a beach retreat. (I accidentally typed “treat” and it WAS a treat.) Writing retreats are enormous fun, of course, but I also want the time to be productive. So here are some of my suggestions for a productive writing retreat:

Jessa-beachGo to the beach at a yucky time of year.

At the Oregon Coast, you can be guaranteed gusting rain November through July (and prohibitive prices August through September). So usually the horizontal “moisturizing and exfoliating” is enough to keep us inside at our computers.

Here’s a picture of me, measuring how many words I have yet to add. See, this is why you go to the beach in bad weather. Sunshine DEMANDS a walk on the beach.

beach-friends

Bring the right friends.

It’s best to surround yourself with writers who share similar productivity goals. Friends who constantly tempt you to walk on the beach as the sun sets are counterproductive.

Sadly, it turns out I am that friend. So don’t bring me. Except you have to bring me because I always bring the mint brownies.

beach-house

Find an inspiring spot.

Not only is the right physical spot important — like this lovely little beach house surrounded by chirping frogs — but the right spot in your mindset and your work in progress.

I try to prepare for a writing retreat by making sure I have the right sort of project and that I clear my “real life” of distractions that might creep into the weekend. Actually, this last weekend, I did a bad job of choosing the project. I’m working on revising, and I found that I did not do as well as when I bring a hot draft to a retreat. I’ll know that for next time.

beach-foam-and-skyNever mind the inspiration, just focus!

Part of my problem with choosing a revision project instead of a hot draft, is that when I’m revising, I tend to stare off into space while I think. When I’m at home, in my little office, there’s not much to look at and I quickly go back to work. But at the beach… I just stared at the waves for hours! I needed to bring my focus closer.

A good writing retreat has a clear focus, whether it’s writing, brainstorming or just refilling the well. Be sure you know what purpose your retreat will serve.

beach-sunsetTrack progress on the retreat days.

Like tracking the sun across the sky… It’s easier for me to stay accountable if I track my progress in three chunks during a retreat day: morning session, afternoon session, evening session. If I only review my progress once at the end of the day, I might find I didn’t do enough, but now it’s too late. If I track in chunks, then a slacker morning session (sun on the beach!) can be rectified in the afternoon, or a slow afternoon (afternoon nap on the sunny beach!) can be made up in the evening (no sun).

beach-sunset2Indulge.

As much as I want a writing retreat to be productive, well, it is a retreat. I try to capture some of that glory — and some of that sun — and take it back with me to rainy Portland.

Do you have a favorite getaway that never fails to rejuvenate you? Do you bring back souvenirs? I love to find good rocks.

Winner of Yours, Unexpectedly
by Sharon Ashwood on January 29th, 2012

Kathleen is the winner of Yours, Unexpectedly by our guest, Susan Fox. Congratulations, Kathleen! And many thanks to Susan and all those who commented.

Susan Fox on Reflections, Lessons, and of course Romance!
by Sharon Ashwood on January 26th, 2012

Susan Fox (who also writes as Susan Lyons) is one of the best contemporary romance writers I’ve ever read, and I’m so pleased to be able to host a guest blog for her at S&S! We’re celebrating the release of Yours, Unexpectedly, so check out the contest at the end of this post!

***

Thanks to Sharon Ashwood and the rest of the gang at Silk and Shadows for inviting me here. What a great way to start 2012!

When an old year fades away and a new one begins, I get reflective. What did I accomplish? What did I learn? How will I make the next year a better one?

Well, one thing I accomplished in 2011 was to finish my second 4-book series: Wild Ride to Love (Kensington Brava). It seems like a very long time ago that I first had the notion of writing a sexy “planes, trains, and automobiles” anthology of 3 novellas about single older sisters who come home from far-flung places for their baby sister’s wedding and find sexy romances along the way.

Lesson: Listen to the muse – or instinct, or whatever you want to call it – when she speaks! Don’t discard any ideas, even if you’re not ready to use them now.

I pitched the idea for that anthology to my Kensington editor and somehow she got the notion I was talking about a 4-book series. Huh?

Lesson: Don’t turn down a good opportunity! When asked if you can do something, say yes!!

So I started on the series. In the first book, Sex Drive, oldest sister Theresa, the serious professor, comes home by planes from Australia – and her sexy seatmate, Aussie thriller writer Damien, shows her some in-flight entertainment that just might turn into true love.

In book 2, Love, Unexpectedly, second sister Kat, the girl with the worst luck in love, comes home by trains from Montreal – and her best friend Nav plays “stranger on the train” and gets her to view him in a whole new, sexy and romantic, light.

In book 3, His, Unexpectedly, third sister Jenna, the free spirit, comes home from Santa Cruz by automobiles – and hitches a ride from hot marine biologist Mark, who shows her that some things in life – and some people – are worthy of commitment.

So far, so good. But what about book 4? I’d initially conceived of baby sister Merilee as the one who was lucky in love, having fallen for Matt in grade 2 and been with him since then. Very sweet and romantic, but where’s the tension that makes for a compelling book?

Lesson: Be flexible and creative. You can always find a good idea if you hunt hard enough.

The runaway bride!! But with a twist. That’s what I came up with.

We authors do like to torture our characters. So, as Merilee watches her sisters arrive home with exciting new romances, she realizes that her own relationship is sadly lacking in excitement and passion. Full of doubt, she calls off the wedding and she and Matt break up. Yes, I split up my young lovers.

And now, here’s the twist. When Merilee decides to go on the honeymoon Mexican Riviera cruise alone, to get some distance and perspective, she discovers Matt has the same idea. So there they are, reluctant roommates, aboard a luxury ship bound for Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. And now what?

Lesson: An author is bound to put a large chunk of herself into her books. Or at least, if we do, it tends to make our books deeper, more insightful, and more emotional.

I remember what it was like to be 21. You think you’re all grown up, but nope, that’s not true. Actually, I believe you’re never “all grown up,” in the sense that you have nothing left to learn. And to me, M&M’s problems hinged around the concept of growing up.

They’d been best friends, then boyfriend-girlfriend, then lovers, over the course of 14 years. They thought they knew themselves and each other inside out. But how dull is that? People need to change, to explore new ideas and activities, to – yes, you know it’s coming – to keep growing.

And that’s the journey I sent M&M on, as they go on their cruise as individuals rather than a bonded-at-the-hip couple. As they give themselves make-overs, play pirate and flapper, explore Mexican towns, go zip-lining, and experiment with their sexuality.

It’s time for each of them to find out who they really are and to become adults. There are lots of surprises in store for them as they discover whether growing up means growing apart or growing together in a way that’s deeper, more exciting, and more passionate. A way that will last a lifetime.

Lesson: Okay, this one I knew all along. I write romance. There will be a happy ending!!

Often, I write about strangers becoming lovers, and Yours, Unexpectedly presented a different kind of challenge, and a different romantic journey.

Lesson: For me, every good romance shares two common elements. One is, of course, getting to know your lover – whether they’re someone you’ve just met or someone you’ve been with, perhaps even been married to, for a decade or more. The other is getting to know yourself better – to stretch and learn and grow and become a better person, a person who will fight for love, and who deserves love.

If I bear those elements in mind as I write, it helps me set the challenges my heroine and hero need to meet, and to make sure their journey is an emotional and satisfying one. As I hope M&M’s is.

In a Top Pick review at The Romance Reviews, Shana Rea said: “Yours, Unexpectedly is both wild and sweet. It tugs at the heartstrings and delivers a powerful message or two. It is the perfect ending to the exciting Wild Ride to Love series that has kept me captivated and engrossed… Matt and Merilee’s story is one that will stay with me for some time to come. Fluid writing, absolutely unforgettable characters, Yours, Unexpectedly will touch you and provoke you to think about love and life. And like Matt, this book – the entire series – is a keeper!”

You can find an excerpt, behind-the-scenes notes, a discussion guide, other review quotes, and recipes (chocolate mousse, anyone?) at my website.

And now, looking ahead to 2012, I intend to take all those lessons I’ve learned – and my belief that we all need to keep growing – and challenge myself to create new love stories that resonate emotionally with my readers.

All the best for 2012 to all of you!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my book, the concept of the series, lessons you’ve learned in the past year, or anything else you’d like to talk about. I’m giving an autographed copy of Yours, Unexpectedly to someone who comments.

You are what you read
by Sharon Ashwood on January 25th, 2012

It’s a long story, but a mildew incident recently forced the disposal of a cupboard full of magazines in my house. As I reviewed the titles of the masses of periodicals I was forced to throw out, it really made me think about how magazines say something about the subscribers. Mostly, how different titles describe different phases in one’s life.

I had to put out years and years of the old Victoria magazine (in my opinion, the old ones were better than the new version), Tournaments Illuminated, a complete series of a small publication I worked on once upon a time, and a whole lot of writing magazines. I did manage to save a huge stack of sheet music.

When I got through the unpleasant mildew business, I reviewed my current magazine rack. It says a lot about who I am.

First, there’s the writerly stuff: Romantic Times, Romance Writers Report, and Publisher’s Weekly. Fellow authors will recognize those titles, and so will a lot of avid readers.

Then there is Maclean’s, which is a bit like Time or Newsweek, but with a Canadian focus. It’s my weekly dose of in-depth news. Otherwise, I pretty much rely on the morning radio to keep me abreast of the world’s goings-on.

Then I read Chatelaine for the women’s perspective–and possibly because it was always in the house growing up. I think it’s a connection with my childhood while at the same time having some really good recipes. Kind of a twofer.

And then there are the wish fulfillment magazines. Two minutes to a sexier you. Gorge your way to the perfect body. Tips and secrets to being the confident businesswoman you know you can be. Etcetera.

Yes, there are always a few of those around for the combo of reproach and hope, a powerful mix in any female’s life.

So there I am: a reader and writer, somebody who tries to be alert to the world at large, but who loves home and comfort, and has the same insecurities and dreams as every other woman. It’s all there in my magazine rack, along with the TV guide.

What’s in yours?

A Spring Wind
by Jessa Slade on January 23rd, 2012

Currently working on: Hot draft of new story
Mood: Borne & buffeted

Sometime in January, I like to pull my Tarot cards for a start-of-the-year spread, to see where I’m at. This year, so far, I’ve been too busy to take a quiet night to get into the right space to think about things. But with the month almost over (and how did THAT happen?!) I figured I better get at least ONE card done so I’d have something to contemplate on my dog walks.

Page-of-Swords

I pulled the Page of Swords. I use the Mythic Tarot deck by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Greene, illustrated by Tricia Newell. This deck features Greek mythology which I loved as a kid, so I relate to the stories.

The Page of the Swords is represented by Zephyrus, the Greek god of the West Wind. His card is ambivalent — as the Swords tend to be cards that poke at your complacency — since he and his brother the North Wind started out as malicious little shits, prone to starting storms just to knock things over. Eventually Zephyrus married Isis of the rainbow, which mellowed him out. But still, having him start my year gives me lots to think about.

The positive aspects of Zephyrus as the Page of Swords are curiosity, enthusiasm and the emergency of new ideas. The downsides are irritability and petty quarrels that blow up into battles. As I move forward with some new story ideas, I guess I better practice my patience. That’s usually on my list of New Years Resolutions, so I suppose that’s okay. Sigh.

I like this picture of Zephyrus because he is puffing up all these great clouds leading into a blue sky… but the way he is holding the sword makes me think he is about to burst his own bubble. He had better be careful which bubbles he bursts, since some of them are holding him aloft. I better make sure I’m puffing up the right dreams. Not there’s anything wrong with walking sometimes. Ask my dog.

If you play with tarot cards, did you get any thoughtful readings for the new year? Or if you want me to pull a card for you, just let me know in comments and I’ll see which Greek myth might be right for you.

January update
by Sharon Ashwood on January 18th, 2012

Yes, we have returned from our unplanned hiatus. January has been a bit disorganized for me, so the break was thematically consistent with everything else going on and, truth be told, a little timely.

However, I did finally get some stuff checked off the list. Kitchen wallpaper removal and paint job is done. The last bit was replacing the heater, so now everything is working, clean, and toasty-warm:

Demon Lord of Kitty Badness inspects the work:

I really have enjoyed the finished product. I was puttering in the kitchen over the weekend, which let me see the results in daylight (we’re still at the point of the year when I’m coming and going in the dark). I like the gentle, sunny yellow. I also don’t miss the trailing bits of paper where the paper was parting company with the walls.

Now that I had a working kitchen again, I finally did my Christmas baking, although it was on January 14 (this is the outcome of the recipe for Dundee Cake I posted a few weeks ago):

And I submitted a manuscript—book one of my new Nocturne series. I still don’t know the title or release date, but this is the one I was working on during Nanowrimo. Of course, I’m now charging ahead frantically on the next manuscript, before #1 comes hurtling back to eat my writing time. You might say it’s business as usual, working, writing, sleeping and keeping up with the odd bit of trash TV, but there are times when routine is welcome.

We’re back!
by Jessa Slade on January 17th, 2012

You might have noticed we were temporarily unavailable due to a hacker with too much time on his hands. Dude, please, use your powers for good!

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…

Happy 2012!
by Jessa Slade on January 2nd, 2012

Currently working on: Getting back in the groove
Mood: Groovy

I can’t find my New Years Resolutions from 2011. I know I wrote them down because goal-setting gurus tell us we’re supposed to write that stuff down so I’m sure I did. Somewhere. Somewhere veeeery safe and special so I wouldn’t lose the list, so I could review it and see how I did.

Looking back at my Silk & Shadows posts from early in 2011 I see several references to cleaning my closets and exercising more. Uh… Yeah, anyway, moving on to 2012.

What with the world ending on December 21, 2012, though, I’m not sure I should bother with a new list. According to some eschatological* interpretations of Mayan prophecies, the world ends with the end of one of their calendar cycles on 12/21/12. I know I often feel apocalyptic when Christmas is rolling around, but actually ending the world seems a little melodramatic. The calendar cycle in question marks 5,125 years — give or take a few holidays — which is about how long it would really take me to clean my closets.

Still, I think I’m going to discount the December 21 end of days. Mostly because the people who predict apocalypses always seem a little sad and angry. And perverse. Like they are DISAPPOINTED when the world doesn’t end. Jerks.

Here are some of the comebacks I’ll be using for the post-apoc-ers who will be running rampant this year:

  • Let me introduce you to a friend of mine. His name is Y2K. Perhaps you’ve met.
  • Then can I have your dessert?
  • I wanted to have three funny comebacks, but I only have two. That’s okay, though. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.

And fine, I guess I’ll put closet cleaning and exercising back on my list for 2012

Do you have perennial resolutions? If so, how do you keep them fresh and interesting?

Also, congrats to last week’s winner of the DARKNESS UNDONE
Advanced Reading Copy, courtesy of Random.org, Kate!


* Eschatology is the study of end times. What? You didn’t know there was a word for it? Neither did I. Never stop learning.

Moving Forward
by KimLenox on January 1st, 2012

Happy New Year everyone!

Here in the Lenox household, we’re preparing for a move! Due to a slight delay on our closing, we now have twenty extra days to get our act together. So we’re pulling everything out from the closets, attic and cabinets, and doing a lot of purging. If we don’t love it, and if it’s not necessary or sentimental, it’s going in the trash or being donated to a local fundraising organization.

Even in the midst of the stacks and boxes, we had friends over for a small New Years celebration, and now that it’s New Years Day, I’m about to start chopping and dicing to put together some Hoppin’ John and collard greens. Confession, I’ve never made collards, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to love eating them. I’ll be lucky to get my husband and kids to put a bite in their mouth, but we’re going to try them this year instead of cabbage.

Going back to our move — I can’t help but draw a parallel with the New Year and the resolutions I’d like to make. Like always, I want to write bigger and better books. I want to evolve as a writer, and open my mind to different aspects of creativity. But most of all, I want to get rid of the “clutter”. I want to leave behind any negativity and cynicism or mental “ruts” , and begin this year fresh and new.

Here’s to a spectacular 2012! Happy New Year everyone!