Archive for May, 2012



To everything, there is a season…
by Jessa Slade on May 21st, 2012

little-grapes

As the sun was setting the other night, I took a few pictures of my Interlaken grapes. They were transplanted two years ago, so last year they were grumpy, but this year, they are promising a fabulous crop of wonderfully sweet table grapes. You can see the little grapelings thrusting out.

The grapes needed a break so they could come back stronger. I guess we can all understand that.

little-peach

I have little peaches coming on too. Tiny, barely fuzzy little things that look like fairy butt cracks. Hopefully they are working hard turning that last sunlight into sugar.

The peaches will get bigger, although I admit I’m impatiently urging them along. Faster, faster!

little-spiders

After a gentle sprinkle yesterday (just enough to haze over my view of the solar eclipse) I found this hammock of baby spiders, sheltering together, with raindrops beneath them.

By November, these babies will be big garden spiders, trying to catch me in their webs!

By November, the grapes and peaches will be a memory. Funny how everything has its own season of glory.

We started Silk & Shadows back in November of 2008, and now, as 2012 ripens, we are turning over new leaves. So we are closing this chapter here at Silk & Shadows.

We started here at Silk & Shadows as new Signet Eclipse authors, sheltering together like the spiderlings. Now we’re bigger (a bit bigger, anyway) and we’re off to new adventures.

Sharon Ashwood’s FROSTBOUND is a finalist in the Prism contest and her new series with Harlequin Nocturne is looming. Be sure to follow her continuing adventures by subscribing to her newsletter.

Kim Lenox is in a new house with new stories brewing. Subscribe to her newsletter at her website.

And I’m busy shoveling compost, in the garden and into my computer. Gotta keep it rich and dark if I want that great harvest. You can keep track of me here.

We hope you enjoyed reading our posts, and we look forward to telling you more on our own blogs and elsewhere on teh interwebz (which has almost as many spiders as my garden). Please come find us on our social networking sites and say hey. We’ve enjoyed writing for you… That part never ends.

 

winner!!
by Sharon Ashwood on May 14th, 2012

Congratulations to erinf1 for winning a copy of Shereen Vedam’s story, The Misspelled Charm!

Guest – Shereen Vedam and the Art of Belonging
by Sharon Ashwood on May 10th, 2012

Silk and Shadows is delighted to have Shereen Vedam as our guest. Her stories are magical, whimsical, and always surprising … prepare yourself to be delighted when you pick up her books. We’re fortunate to have her here introducing her latest short work.

Please help us make her welcome! There’s a free copy available of The Misspelled Charm for someone who comments.

***


First, I’d like to thank Silk and Shadows for inviting me. Their invitation ties in nicely with my topic – Belonging – and my latest fantasy short story release, The Misspelled Charm. Both are about finding that special place where one fits in, will be accepted, where someone says, come in, please.

People are social creatures and we understand that need to belong, be it at work or socially, within our family or with friends. Yet, belonging, being accepted, being invited even, isn’t easy and doesn’t happen on command.

That’s the reason why there are loners in school, people willing to partake in college fraternity hazing, and at work, if you can’t get along, you can’t get ahead. As for paranormal stories, isn’t wanting to belong at the heart of many?

So, how can we fit in, be accepted, get along? And should we even want to?
Abraham Maslow’s answer to that last question would likely have been a resounding, yes!

“When people appear to be something other than good and decent, it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain, or the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self-esteem.”

Abraham Maslow, American Psychologist

Maslow hypothesized that before we can become self-actualized (i.e. act unselfishly, be creative, problem solve and shed prejudices), we must first master 4 basic human needs.

He saw these 4 basic human needs as being arranged in hierarchical order. A pyramid, if you will. As with any climbing exercise, we must first feel secure on the first step, before we attempt the next one.
Maslow saw the first human need as Physiological – the need for air, water, food, sex and sleep. Yup, sex is right there as one of the first basic human needs. Who’d have guessed? Well, maybe romance readers.

Master this first need and the second one extends its lure, whispering, look what’s up here. This second need is for Safety. For our self, our loved ones, our health and property.

The third need for Love and Belonging.

“Lack of interactions, human relationships and the sense of belonging may result in depression or loneliness while an abundance of love and community often sustain people through difficult times.”
Abraham Maslow

Where does that leave that loner in school? The college freshman talked into a dangerous hazing ritual? The awkward colleague overlooked for promotion, again.

Or, as in The Misspelled Charm, a witch who can take a lover for a night but not for a lifetime. Because, within her society, witches are tolerated, not accepted.

Witches don’t belong.

How can we conquer the challenges of this troublesome third need in order to reach for that much-valued fourth need for Self-esteem – where we grow confident, respect others and, in turn, are respected?
And if we can’t get past these four basic needs, will we ever achieve that top tier on Maslow’s pyramid, and become Self-actualized? Where we learn to respect those with whom we don’t get along? Where we wallow in divine creativity? Where we problem-solve our way to a success life?

I believe Maslow’s third basic need for love/ belonging is a crucial one in our journey to self-actualization. Better yet, it’s a step that everyone in society can help each other to master. Because belonging often begins with an invitation. An open door. A, “Come in, please.” Making that offer is a great way for us to give someone else a hand up Maslow’s pyramid.

In The Misspelled Charm, I explore this theme of belonging with a witch who finds the courage to reach for her place within her society and win the love of a man who is out to break any magical hold she might have on him.

Here’s a short excerpt:
———————————-
Stripping off his tunic and boots, he rolled up his trews and set to washing.
“Morning, stranger!”
Kord looked up, cool water running in streams along his hot, flushed cheeks.
A man in a brown robe cinched at the waist waved to him from across the street.
“Morning,” Kord replied in a gruff voice, not wanting to encourage conversation. The last thing he needed was to be questioned on why he came out of a witch’s house in the early morning hours.
Villagers tended to be wary of strangers, but even more so of people who associated with witches. Men had been stoned for bedding one, because it was said that a child of such a union was often malformed or cursed. He shrugged back into his tunic and avoided eye contact.
“Are you a friend of Charmaine’s?”
“No.”
“A relative?”
“No.” His feet were as clean as they were ever likely to get, so he sat on the ledge and rolled down his trews and put his boots back on.
“Who are you then?”
Kord pretended not to hear the prying question and headed to Charmaine’s house. He glanced back and discovered five people gathered across the road. Neighbors sensing gossip, or danger. He relented, wanting to allay fears. “I’m Kord from Camden. I’ve business with her.”
“Oh,” a woman said with a warm smile. “Good. She needs the custom, poor thing.”
About to retreat, that comment made him pause and face his interrogators. The woman had sounded as if she cared about the witch’s well-being.
“You’ve known her long?” he asked.
“All my life. We were schooled together.”
Witches went to school in Ponce? He had never heard of such a thing. Before you knew it, the University of Edensa would take one on for higher studies. The absurd notion made him chuckle.
———————————-
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this intriguing subject of belonging. There’s a free copy available of The Misspelled Charm for someone who comments.

The Misspelled Charm is also available at The Wild Rose Press or from other ebookstores (links to bookstores, reviews and another short excerpt are available on my website: www.shereenvedam.com).

If you purchase/read this fantasy romance short story, I (on behalf of Justin, the heroine’s familiar) would be very grateful if you would take the time to write an honest review at GoodReads, Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble. What can I say? Justin’s a bit of an attention hog. He’s definitely reached the self-actualization stage.

Virtual renovations
by Sharon Ashwood on May 9th, 2012

Few things are more daunting or more exciting than a cunning plan. Daunting, because I’m a bit short of cleverness, not to mention cunning, when faced with the world of internet technology. It outwits me on a regular basis.

That doesn’t mean I get away with ignoring it. And, unfortunately, there is only so much I can designate to other people. The sad truth is that while I can ask a technician to build a web site for me, I still have to tell them what I want to include. Now there’s a good question.

Web site? Yes, I have one already, but it was made before my Dark Forgotten series came out. With the advent of a new string of books, heroes, adventures, and the rest, I thought it was time for a makeover. What I want to know first, though, is what parts of a web page readers actually want to see. Do you care about what writing courses I can teach? Whether the text is white on black or black on white? Where do you click to first?

Answer this survey in a comment and you will be automatically entered into a prize draw for one of my books—your choice of title. If you answer all five questions, you will double your entries—yes, two chances as a reward for being thorough!

1. When you visit an author’s web site, do you look at their blog?
2. What are the first two pages you look for?
3. What pages do you ignore?
4. What turns you off about a website?
5. What features do you like so much that you bookmark a site that has them?

I’ll draw the winner in one week, so get your answers in!

This contest is also open to my newsletter group.

Resistance is (usually) futile
by Jessa Slade on May 7th, 2012

Currently working on: Plotting new story
Mood: Puzzled (like puzzle pieces)

So, the other night I had a dream. (Collective groan, I know, but it’s my blog post.) I was at an RWA conference and I was
creeping through the halls (which were lined with dessert trays). Everybody was freaking out because the power had been cut (although I could still see the dessert trays; I have that superpower in real life too) but I knew who had done it and I knew I had to fight… Larry Brooks!

My hard-core writer friends are LOLing while everyone else is arching one eyebrow in polite disinterest. Larry Brooks is an author as well as a writer of non-fiction writing craft books. He did a two-day workshop for my local RWA chapter recently, and I’ve been re-reading his STORY ENGINEERING: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Success Writing, which I highly recommend to my writer friends. I’ve been using the 6 Competencies as one of my resources as I plot a new story that wasn’t quite working out.

It’s no surprise my subconscious dredged him up as a convenient villain while I wrestle this recalcitrant new story. Discovering a story isn’t working is always annoying. One of my character flaws is I hate being told I am wrong. I especially hate being told I am wrong by my subconscious, who isn’t even trying very hard to ease into the fact I need to rethink the story. Yeah, subconscious, I got it, you’re handing me how-to-write books off my own bookshelves, thanks so much. And BTW lining the path with imaginary desserts isn’t really sweetening the deal.

I’ve mentioned here before that I consider myself a dedicated plotter. I like to work out the big steps and many of the smaller steps before I really dig into the rough draft. I use a lot of worksheets and spreadsheets and beat sheets and blank sheets of paper. I like to plot, and I like my stories better when I plot. I like MYSELF better when I plot. (Not coincidentally, all my loved ones like me better when I plot too.)

And yet I am always shocked at how often I DON’T do the things I need to do. I started this new story, on a whim. The heroine’s voice popped into my head and I wrote pages and pages of scene snippets, mostly dialogue and interior monologue in the heroine’s fun, snarky voice. Then I thought, hey, this could be a book, or even a bunch of books. So I wrote synopses for a trilogy, just off the cuff. And then I started writing the first book, sorta randomly. And now I’m forty thousand words into this BOOK THAT DOESN’T HAVE A DAMN PLOT!

Writers who are “pantsers” or organic writers (people who don’t mind not knowing the damn plot while they write) probably aren’t freaked out by this, but I am. Hence, the dream. Reminding me what I need to do to get back on track. I need to MAKE a track for myself, which means going to the plotting board.

Trying new techniques is great, but I don’t think that’s what I was doing by skipping my usual plotting routine. I think, instead, I was trying to avoid the hard work. In my dream, I was creeping around in the dark, with a nefarious scheme against Larry Brooks, rather than doing the work I knew I had to do.

power-plotting

Sigh.

I don’t blame myself for being lazy. After all, lazy is a good strategy when it works. Why do hard work when lazy gets it done? Unfortunately, lazy wasn’t getting this story done. Apparently only a damn plot will do that.

So now I’m doing the work. Got my Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and Publisher charts all scribbled on. Hopefully there will be some real dessert trays in my future.

After I get this story plotted.

 

The loneliness of the long-distance synopsis
by Sharon Ashwood on May 2nd, 2012

There is plenty of advice out there on how to write ‘em. Keep it short and simple, no more than two pages. Keep the tone of the work you’re going to write. Use the present tense. Be focussed on the key points of the book.

None of that is bad, but it’s only conditionally true. In reality, the right way to produce a book outline is a) any method that will get it from your brain to the page in a coherent and meaningful fashion and b) it has to be in a form that your editor/agent wants to receive it. The bottom line is that they want to find out, with as little effort as possible, what you’re going to write about.

These two points, in my opinion, cut out a lot of stress. I long believed myself to be the worst synopsis-writer on the planet, and so laboured long and hard to produce a perfect specimen for my editor. Two pages, not a word over. I tracked the romance arc to perfection, touching on all the grey, black and purple moments. Began and ended with catchy phrases and had many a chuckle in between. It was great, she said, but what happened in the story? She knew everything but the details of the plot. I was about to protest that all the books said that was the one thing that didn’t matter, then fortunately stopped myself. The only thing that mattered is that she wanted to know, and I had to tell her.

The next outline I stuck to just the facts. I wrote was a ten-page blow by blow, chapter by chapter account with separate sections on character background and world-building. Crazy? Overblown? Flying in the face of received wisdom? Perhaps, but she loved it. For her, the supersized synopsis was the right approach.

Ever since, I’ve tended toward these monster-sized tomes, some of which top 5K words. Yes, it gives the editor more to quibble about, but I generally get far less push-back in the end. My agent loves them, too. Plus, they can give far, far better feedback when they know the specifics of your proposal and if there’s something they just don’t feel will work, it’s better to have that discussion before you write the next 90,000 words.

This does not mean that every editor or agent out there is going to adore this method. That two-page rule came from somewhere, so a goodly portion of publishing professionals prefer it. The point is simply that it pays to ask the simple question: what does your editor/agent like? The guidelines on their web site might be a company rule, but if a publishing house has a herd of editors, their individual tastes could be quite different. If you have a chance to ask, do it. Throwing the rule book out the window did me a world of good.

In some ways, that’s the hardest lesson to learn in an industry where advice is plentiful and hard facts are rare as cream puffs at the Hunger Games. Always ask what actually works.