Archive for the 'Inspiration' Category

The view from my head
by Jessa Slade on March 21st, 2011

Currently working on: Some bizarre futuristic postapocalyptic action adventure thing that came out of nowhere
Mood: Baffled

In the strange alternative universe that is publishing, even though Book 3 of the Marked Souls doesn’t appear on bookshelves until April 5, Book 4 is going to cover conference in some high rise in New York even as we speak.

Here’s how I imagine it is happening:

Editor: We need eye catching! We need hot! We need…the bold hero cover!

(Trumpets blare from the coffee room.)

Cover designer (who looks as rumpled and sexy as the males on the covers themselves): I can build him. I have Adobe Photoshop. I have the capability to build the romance novel hero cover. Better than he was before. Better, chestier, more rippling abs…

Editor (producing Author cover notes with a flourish): Here are the specs.

Designer (reading through notes): There are specs.

Editor: Yes, I said that. These are the author’s specifications.

Designer: No, this actually says spectacles.

Author (appearing out of nowhere, much like the aforementioned story idea and the aforementioned trumpets): Ha! Yes, I have given the hero glasses because I wear glasses and it’s about time more demonically-possessed heroes had to wear glasses. We will be bold heroes together! In glasses!

Editor and Designer (blinking)

Author (also blinking as she wakes from her nightmare back in her bed in the middle of nowhere): Yikes. I had this dream I was in New York at a cover conference. And I wasn’t wearing a shirt…

And in honor of my bold heroes, here’s the first glimpse of my Romance Trading Cards. Much like the Book 4 cover, RTCs are in development around the country at right this moment as romance authors gear up for the spring and summer conference and convention season. You can see examples of some of the gorgeous work at the Romance Trading Card website.

Here are mine, with much thanks to my designers and with hands-clasped prayers that Book 4 is as bold!


Have you seen any inspiring book covers lately?

Five Ways to Eliminate Sagging Middles
by Annette McCleave on March 15th, 2011

First off, my heart and prayers go out to those dealing with the disasters in Japan. May all of you remain safe.

As for sagging middles…these aren’t the only options available to you, but if you’re stuck, maybe they’ll spark a fresh perspective:

1. Raise the stakes. Have your hero discover the looming disaster is even worse than he imagined. An example of this would be discovering the kidnapped child he’s hunting for is injured or sick. Or the road in front of the bus has not been finished there’s a twenty foot gap between the hero and safety.

2. Peel back another layer of your hero’s character. Use an event to trigger a memory that is very painful for the hero. This is especially useful if it causes conflict between the hero and heroine, or causes the hero to veer away from a possible route to success.

3. Change direction. Put a big roadblock in your hero’s path that forces the hero to discard his current plan and come up with a new one. A hero always has a plan. Sometimes the plan doesn’t work out. A literal example of this is the escape tunnel that ends up blocked, but it can be anything.

4. Unleash your villain. Have your villain do something really smart and really nasty. And if your hero gets injured in the fallout, so much the better. The best villains are always the ones that manage to outsmart your hero a time or two.

5. Deepen the romance. Turn up the heat and let your hero and heroine sweat it out together. This one actually ties in nicely to any of the above events, because there’s nothing like a near-death experience to stir up the hormones.

If you’re a writer, do you have a favorite way to juice up your story? As a reader, do you recall an awesome story twist that really worked for you?

Getting into Character
by Annette McCleave on March 8th, 2011

I spend a lot of time figuring out my characters before I dive deep into the story. One of the most effective ways for me to ‘meet’ my characters is to just start writing, even if I haven’t nailed the plot yet. This works for me because some of my characters—mostly the guys—aren’t big talkers and getting to know them requires observation.

Once I’ve thrown a couple of tough scenarios at them—a dead body, an explosion, or the very unique touch of a beautiful woman—I have a good idea who they are.

My next step is to find a photo that matches my impression of the character. No picture matches the image in my head exactly, but some come pretty close. I tend to pick actors, rather than magazine models, because models tend to look too perfect. I like my men a little flawed. When I find the right photos, I post them on the desk around me for visual reference.

So, what pictures did I pick for the heroes of my first three books?


Clive Owen

Clive Owen (as Aurthur)

I think Clive Owen is the epitome of ‘ruggedly handsome’.


Jensen Ackles (of Supernatural fame)

Jensen Ackles (of Supernatural fame)

Jensen is model-perfect, but then again, so is Brian. :-)


Gerard Butler (as Beowulf)

Gerard Butler (as Beowulf)

Gerard is also conveniently Scottish. Yum.

If you’re a writer, do you use pictures in your character profiles? If you’re a reader, do you imagine certain actors playing your favorite heroes? Willing to name any?

Motivation through Quotation
by Annette McCleave on March 1st, 2011

When I first began writing, I had not yet discovered my local chapter of the RWA, and my writing was a very solitary effort. Even after I found my chapter mates, the actual writing I did was on my own and the disappointing rejection letters/contest results were handled on my own.

My intent is not to make my writing life sound overly melancholy—I actually have enough self-confidence to push me past most disappointments. But life is full of ups and downs, and occasionally, I would find myself in the sitting amidst the pits in the cherry bowl.

My method for dealing with that was to surf the internet in search of wisdom from other people—otherwise known as famous quotes. Reading how other people handled trials and misfortune helped me put those rejection letters in perspective. In the beginning, many of the letter were form letters, yet I somehow managed to read between the lines and take the feedback personally. Yeah. Writers can be neurotic.

Anyway, back to the quotes. Every time my lack of progress got me down, I’d open up that file of quotations, pull one, and print it large as life to hang over my computer. I wasn’t the only one to meet rejection or feel the pinch of failure. Many others—including some brilliant people—had traveled that path before me.

So, for the benefit of those who might need a lift, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite quotes…

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.William Shakespeare

Success is the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration and inspiration.Evan Esar

The best way out is always through.Robert Frost

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.Albert Einstein

Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom. –Gen. George S. Patton

Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game, one foot from a winning touchdown.Ross Perot

You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.Stephen King

Never give up, never surrender.Galaxy Quest

Do you have a favorite inspirational quotation? Care to share it (or them)?

Dark nights, dark chocolate, dark heroes
by Jessa Slade on January 10th, 2011

Currently working on: Sticking with even ONE of my New Years Resolutions
Mood: Fail!

The nights are finally getting shorter but we’re still facing many, long, dark, cold, wet hours here in the Pacific Northwest. What to do with all that time? There can be only one answer:


Yup. Snuggle up. Monster Girl absconded with the purple pillow pet unicorn I won at the Christmas white elephant party, but they make such a cute couple I haven’t interfered with their intra-species love parade. This time of year, everybody deserves extra cuddle power.

For me, that means fuzzy socks and a fuzzy blanket, a cup of hot cocoa, and a stack of books.

Here’s my one cup of cocoa:

2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cocoa plus a little bit extra
1-1/2 teaspoons non-dairy creamer
Tiny pinch of salt

Whipped cream and mini choco chips on top are optional but highly recommended :) I’m still working on tweaking out the recipe. Is powdered sugar better than granulated? Half and half maybe? Which brand of cocoa makes the best beverage? Surprisingly, the top of the line stuff doesn’t always make the best drinking, although of course the darker varietals taste richer. I feel very noble sacrificing myself on this endeavor.

Last Friday, I burned through the last of my Powells Books gift card to get:


This is a fun triple header because now I have Delilah Marvelle’s PRELUDE TO A SCANDAL which is historical, our own Annette McCleave’s SURRENDER TO DARKNESS, a contemporary paranormal, and Marcella Burnard’s ENEMY WITHIN, a futuristic romance. So I have all time periods and a nice cross section of subgenres covered.

I’m looking forward to a few good dark nights. Oh, I should’ve gotten a medieval romance so I could say knights. Guess I’m making another run to the bookstore. Poor me ;)

It seems to me most romance readers read across many subgenres, but do you have a favorite you default to in time of needful snuggling? I guess it’s no surprise that I always go back to paranormals. Something about the extra darkness of most paranormals — like extra dark chocolate — seems perfect for winter nights. What makes your winter nights perfect?

Real life vs. the power of dreams
by Jessa Slade on January 3rd, 2011

Currently working on: Looking sideways & whistling nonchalantly
Mood: Stalked by good intentions

It’s the new year. Again. Seems to happen with disturbing regularity. Like a pattern. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but I think I’m onto something.

This is the time of year when I, like everybody else on the road to hell, mortars in a few more bricks of good intentions. I already know I’m going to trample all over them, but that’s part of the process, I guess. So while I’m standing here on these intentional bricks (slowly sinking into the mud so I better stack ‘em higher and faster; luckily Resolution #1 is work my way through all the fitness videos at SparkPeople) I want to take a quick look back on the path I’ve already traveled.

See, while I was recycling some old papers (Resolution #2: Clear out one basket of crap each week in January) I came upon an old goal. It was on a worksheet from an Anthony Robbins’ seminar that I attended with a long-lost boss. The seminar was in 1999; my goal was to be published by my birthday in 2000.


If I’d known then how much longer my path was, would I have kept my feet under me? Or would I have been knocked off course? Maybe I would’ve been re-energized by the knowledge that I’d get there some day. Heck, maybe I would’ve worked harder to get there quicker.

The semi-rotten thing about goals is we can’t be sure they’ll get us to our dreams. Which leads us to this week’s topic at Silk And Shadows: How to break it to your friends and family that you have a dream. (Which maybe you have decided to pursue as one of your Resolutions.)

Whether you want to be a writer or a musician or a painter or a nuclear physicist, sharing your dreams with others is a sketchy proposition. Will they help? Will they hinder? Will they even care?

My circle of friends are almost all artists of some sort. Getting together with the big group of them as we did for our annual Christmas Eve white elephant party is a glorious revelry of artistic affirmation.

Also, thrift store chic, childlessness, borderline narcissistic personality disorder, not to mention bottom-shelf beer and wine. Because most dreams don’t come cheap or easy or without some sacrifice.

Which is why, I think, sometimes friends and family have trouble accepting your dreams. They know the path is like making daily New Year’s Resolutions, constantly rededicating to the mud and bricks. Who’d want that for their loved one?

A young woman I met at the Christmas Eve party mentioned she was a writer. (In Portland you can’t wield the proverbial dead cat without hitting a writer on the back swing and a musician on the follow through.) She said she’d quit school to share a single room apartment with a guy she knows while she writes.

I wanted to shake her. Finish school! Get a job! At least get a sugar daddy!

And then I wanted to shake myself. After all, I did pretty much what she was doing. Why wouldn’t it work for her?

But when I thought how long her path could be…

white elephantMy XY paints in addition to making music. Over the Christmas break, he started a new canvas. At six feet, it’s the largest he’s ever done. Talk about dedication. And paint-induced poverty.

Do you know the history of the white elephant? It’s a reference to a gift given to an ancient king by another king. The gift was… an actual white elephant. The thing about being gifted with a white elephant is that it’s pretty cool. Cuz it’s a WHITE elephant. But it’s also uncool cuz, well, it’s an ELEPHANT. An elephant eats a lot, poops a lot, takes up a lot of space, tramples the occasional unwary passerby, trumpets at dawn.

With the exception of trumpeting, this new canvas is a white elephant in my house. (Okay, it doesn’t poop either, though it generates a shocking number of paint-smeared t-shirts.)

But that is the way of dreams. They can be awkward and unwieldy and problematic and completely out of place. So might as well be bold. March your dream up to the gates and knock. (Elephant of any color are good at knocking.) Once they realize you’re coming through the gates or THROUGH the gates, they’ll open up.

And then it’s up to you to keep marching into 2011!

Paying It Forward
by Annette McCleave on December 14th, 2010

Although kindness and generosity are values we can see evidence of any time of year, the Christmas season seems to nurture them.

I see people tucking twenty dollar bills into the Salvation Army kettles, adding brand new toys to Toy Mountain, and giving generously to the Food Bank…even when their own fortunes aren’t stellar. Recently, a friend of mine and her husband gave up their Christmas gifts to each other to help out a single mom down on her luck.

This time of year is inspiring.

I got my own little shot of inspiration just last week. I wasn’t feeling well, and to bolster my sagging spirits, I pulled into a Starbucks drive-through.

I ordered a gingerbread latte and a slice of gingerbread to sweeten my mood. Maybe the corners of my mouth were dragging, or maybe it was simply spontaneous, but when I got to the cash window, the barista told me the woman in the car ahead of me had paid for my order. No, she didn’t know me—it was a random act of kindness.

And it totally made my day.

It also made me want to do the same for someone else. I’ve given to the usual drives, but I’m looking for the perfect opportunity to return the latte favor.

It probably won’t surprise you to know the inspiring song that’s currently playing in my head is Clay Walker’s Chain of Love. I tried to find a legit video of it somewhere on the ‘net, but couldn’t track one down. So, here’s a link to the lyrics.

Have you had a pay-it-forward moment that you’re especially proud of? Has someone done something unexpected for you that made your day?

A season of senses
by Jessa Slade on December 13th, 2010

Currently working on: Page proofs for Vowed in Shadows (April 2011)
Mood: Amused

We got our tree today. Every year, we go to the same farm outside town because they offer butter cookies and hot cider along with every kind of pine tree an ornament could want. Every year, we wander the rows of trees, looking for the “perfect” tree. XY prefers Charlie Brown trees so our perfect is usually spindly and asymmetrical. But once I get the lights, garland, ornaments, and tinsel on… Beauty!

And really, Christmas trees are all about the fragrance for me. Snipping up a few boughs off our Grand fir to release the oils makes the whole house festive. (Baking something with cinnamon doesn’t hurt either.)

This season is a festival for all the senses. Between the sights and smells of decorating the trees, the taste of the peppermint bark I snack on while working (thanks for the reminder last week, Annette, of how much I love peppermint bark), and the touch of velvet ribbon and cool glass ornaments, I have to have my seasonal music.

This is one of the few times of the year I commandeer the stereo from XY and blast the carols and Bing Crosby. Everybody knows the tinsel won’t hang straight without TransSiberian Orchestra’s awesome instrumentals cranked to 9. This year, my mom sent me one of my favorite musical pieces.

It made the viral video rounds, but in case you missed it, I think this flash mob perfectly embodies the spirit of the season, when it comes out of nowhere (nowhere, in this case, being the food court at a crowded mall), smacks you upside the head with a wall of beautiful sound, and reminds you what it’s all about. Enjoy!

Have you ever participated in a flash mob? The whole idea just makes me grin. I think I’d like to take part in one, just to see everybody’s expression go from bewildered to delighted.

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.