by Jessa Slade on May 31st, 2010
First of all, today is Memorial Day here in the USA. I hope everyone celebrating has a good BBQ, safe travels, and a chance for a quiet moment of remembrance.
Currently working on: Almost release day!
This week’s topic here at Silk And Shadows is “the hardest part of writing.” But I’m hijacking the thread, because this is a celebration week for me. Book 2 of the Marked Souls, FORGED OF SHADOWS, comes out tomorrow, June 1, 2010!
The war between good and evil has raged for millennia, with the Marked Souls caught in the middle, but the new girl doesn’t play by old rules…
Liam Niall never meant to be a leader. Barely surviving the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine with body and soul intact, he escaped to Chicago…where he lost half his soul and gained a wayward band of demon-possessed warriors. Now, as the talyan face a morphing evil, Liam grows weary and plagued by doubt-until a new weapon falls into his hands. Her name is Jilly Chan. To save her demon-ridden soul, Liam must win her to his battle…and his bed.
Waging a one-woman war against the threats to the street kids she mentors, Jilly won’t be any man’s woman or weapon. But Liam-with his hard eyes, soft brogue and compelling hands-is a danger to her rebellious independence…and her heart.
These two halved souls sharing one fierce passion will sear a fresh scar across the city. Who’s in danger now?
“[F]or readers who love J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, the Marked Souls series will hit the spot.”
–4 Stars RT BOOKReviews
This is only my second book, but so far, it seems to me that release week is one of the EASIEST parts of writing. Because by the time release week rolls around, it’s too damn late. Everything has been done. The story is written, edited, wrapped in a manly chest — or backside, as the case may be — printed, and shipped to the stores (hopefully) to appear on shelves. From thence to fall into book baskets everywhere (again, hopefully).
Sure, there are other things for me to do: Bite my nails, obsessively click refresh on the Amazon ranking page, self-medicate with chocolate syrup (I already ate all the cookie dough). But the story itself is done. All that remains is for someone, somewhere, to read it.
If YOU want to read some of it, you can:
Check out the first chapters here.
Or read the alternate beginning here.
Or even buy it.
This is the moment (okay, months) of truth for a story. I’ve heard of writers who say they write for themselves, but I write to share. The release of the book into the wild is my chance — finally! — to share.
I sincerely hope you like it.
To celebrate, I’m giving away a $25 bookstore gift card this week. Just tell me which of the two beginnings to FORGED OF SHADOWS that I posted in the links above you like better, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win. Tell a friend about this giveaway, and have the friend enter your name in her comment, and you’ll both be double entered for a chance to win. Thanks for celebrating with me!
by Jessa Slade on May 24th, 2010
Currently working on: Book 3 edits
Mood: Persnickety (Am I even spelling that right? I thought I was in editing mode?!)
When I’m writing, I’m a speed angel. Which, sadly, is the opposite of a speed demon. Yes, I write demons, but I write them slooooow.
Over the years, I have gotten somewhat faster. Well, actually, lots faster. It took me about, oh, five years to finish my first manuscript. In my defense, the story was really long and traversed several major landmasses and various time periods. (No, it wasn’t a time travel; it was just very, very confused.) Plus, I spent a lot of time describing the hero’s lovely eyes.
Here are a few tricks I learned that helped me write faster during the seven manuscripts that followed:
- No one cares how polished your first draft is, so feel free to write crap. You do have to polish later, but that’s later.
- If you keep writing past it, crap is often less crappy after it ferments awhile.
- Know what you are writing; you’ll get there quicker. Disclaimer: Pantsers (writers who say they like to be surprised by their writing as it happens) say they get bored if they know where they are going. I say, I challenge you pantsers to a duel. But I don’t have to worry about you ever showing up at the duel site because if I tell you where it is beforehand, you’ll go somewhere else.
The single most important trick I learned to writing faster was — and I realize this sounds stupidly obvious — holding myself accountable. Deadlines — whether externally or internally imposed — are like the salt in a recipe: Too much can make your blood pressure spike, but a pinch/dash/sprinkle gives the flavors a zing they’d otherwise be missing.
Knowing when I have to get something done, I can track my progress. I track in an Excel spreadsheet of daily word counts. “Over/Under” is the number of words I’ve written above or below my daily goal. As you can see by the red, I spend a lot of days behind because — as I mentioned — I’m a speed angel. But I aspire to speed demon-hood.
Sure, I’m not there yet. But I’ve shaved five years per books down to about five months. A definite improvement. Although you might have noticed the last comment in my spreadsheet: Sometimes I still don’t know where I’m going.
In Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, which character did you relate to? And do you think the tortoise would’ve been faster if he’d been wearing shorts instead of a shell?
by Jessa Slade on May 17th, 2010
Currently working on: Argh, look behind you!.. What? Oh sorry, never mind. My mistake… What was the question again?
Mood: Focused as a laser beam
No, I’m kidding, I have been working. Hard. I’ve been composing guest blog posts in preparation for my blog tour to support the release of FORGED OF SHADOWS next month. (Which will be here before I know it. That’s what’s behind us–the relentlessly creeping Time Monster!) One of the interview questions I had to answer was: What do you do when you’re not writing?
I thought about it for awhile. And couldn’t come up with anything.
If I’m not writing, I SHOULD be writing. After all, I have the life many writers long for–a published book and another on the way. To not write seems disrespectful. Guilt makes not writing not fun.
So to circumvent the Guilt Monster (second cousin to the Time Monster) I often try to find a way to make my non-writing activities support my writing activites. Dog walks are brainstorming sessions. Reading is research. Twitter (http://twitter.com/jessaslade) is networking. Buckets o’ cookie dough are much-needed energy. Naps are…well, cookie dough only takes you so far, doesn’t it?
Even my other creative pursuits have taken a back seat to writing. The little sketching I’ve done in the last few years has been of the horde-tenebrae monsters in my books or settings when I can’t quite picture the staging. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush at all. Only my beading has resisted the all-encompassing suck of The Book, mostly because I’ve been making Possession in Pearl earrings–from demented, weirdly shaped pearl sticks–to use as blog tour giveaways.
I’m always glad when I blow off my guilt and sneak in an utterly non-writing project because it was a personal beading breakthrough that I think really opened some doors in my mind when it came to my writing.
See, I’m a perfectionist. Nasty habit, that. Striving for excellence is a worthy goal, but perfectionism will drive you mad. For a long time, I would string beads to make a necklace…and then unstring them because they weren’t quite right. I was constantly on the lookout for the “perfect” bead to complete a given project. I amassed more and more beads, but it was impossible to be sure I had the “perfect” bead because–as many beads as I had–I didn’t have them all. What if the “perfect” bead was still out there? Time to come unstrung again.
Then one day… I’d like to say I stopped being stupid. But really what happened was a poverty-induced Christmas panic. I had decided to use up some of the ridiculous amount of beads making jewelry for my female relatives. And now I had a deadline.
Suddenly, “perfect” was less pressing than “wrapped, packed and shipped.” I learned to come to peace with the pieces I had. And they were perfectly lovely. At least according to my mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt, who I’m sure were utterly objective.
Now when I’m writing, when I feel the urge to look for the perfect word, to wait until I have perfectly visualized every element of the story, to rail at myself for being less than perfect, I think of my beads. To be lovely, to come to life, they have to be strung and hung around someone’s neck or dangling from someone’s ears. And I’m the only one who can make that happen.
I think most people have beads rolling around the drawers of their life that should be out for the world to admire. Maybe not perfect, but shiny or sparkly or intriguing or whatever is good enough. How do you support the creativity in your life?
Leave a comment and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a pair of Possession in Pearl earrings similar to the ones pictured above. I’m making another pair as soon as I finish this post. Hey, I can’t write ALL the time.
by Jessa Slade on May 10th, 2010
Currently working on: Still unpacking from the RT Booklovers’ Convention
Last Monday, when I was supposed to be blogging here, I was flying back from Columbus Ohio after the RT Booklovers’ Convention, where more than a thousand women — and a few men — gathered together for a solid week of book lovin,’ Mr. Romance-ogling (I did mention there were a few men), drinking, and more book lovin.’
Highlights of my trip:
- Whiskey shots with Joe Konrath, author of WHISKEY SOUR (see, those shots were networking)
- Scoring Jeri Smith-Ready’s newest, SHADE, a paranormal YA, before she sold out at the book fair — mine, all mine!
- Four nights of dancing in person with online friends
Lowlights of my trip:
- The DJ who, when I asked if he had any Bollywood dance music, responded that, well, he had Molly Hatchet — er, not quite
- Forgetting my tiara for the prom-themed dance party
- The flight home from Ohio to Oregon via New York — don’t ask
Back to the highlights though. I got to mingle with all sorts of people, from voracious readers to aspiring writers to famous authors. (Is that Charlaine Harris?! OMG OMG! I adore name dropping!) What an amazing, fun, savvy, dedicated group it was. For a newer author like myself, it was a wonderful opportunity to talk with a wide swath of book people and contemplate, “Geez, who let me in here?”
Turns out, there wasn’t a sekrit handshake required at the door.
Oh, I knew there wasn’t really a sekrit handshake, but when I was racking up rejections in the early years of my writing (uh, and in the later years too) I desperately hoped there was a large, Raybanned, cross-armed bouncer guarding a NYC office building with “Publishing” somewhere on the letterhead who could be bought off with the right open sesame. In many ways, it seemed easier to imagine a trick than to think of all the hard work.
After all, ”work hard” just isn’t an inspiring call to adventure.
But one theme I heard repeated at RT time and again was the value of perseverance, the stubborn dedication that goes with hard work. I talked to a multi-published author whose number of rejections quadrupled mine. I met writers in all stages, from “I have this idea” to just receiving a request for a complete manuscript from an editor attending the convention. I had dinner with a reader who drove ten hours after work through the night to make the convention, blowing a tire in the process. “I need chocolate,” was her only complaint. They all wanted the same thing: books. Lots of books.
Can you be clear eyed and starry eyed at the same time? I think so. I saw that at RT, and it reminded me, the door was always open. I just had to get there.
The RT Booklovers’ Convention is in Los Angeles next year. Maybe I’ll see some of you!
by Jessa Slade on April 26th, 2010
Currently working on: Packing for the Romantic Times convention
For me, coming up with new ideas is easy and fun. There’s no stress or strain since they coalesce out of the ether with no particular effort on my part. They tend to be quick to capture — only a page or two and their essence is on paper.
Prewriting is also fun, if not quite so easy. A dozen to 20 pages of notes and the fill-in-the-blank charts that I like take about a week to compile. Having the bones of a real story is quite satisfying, and when I see it all charted out, it looks all tidy and pretty, like a clean, dry, assembled skeleton.
And then the wet work begins.
Putting flesh on the skeleton, then plumbing the vascular system so blood flows through its veins, and finally zapping the monster with the lighting bolt of creativity gets messy. Very messy. There’ s a reason mad scientists wear full-length aprons and goggles.
Getting down the 100,000 or so words of a novel can be daunting, even if you’re crazy. I like to keep track of my progress so that I can have a good, solid grasp on just how daunted I should be. Here’s a screenshot of the Excel spreadsheet I use to keep an accounting of my daily word counts. It shows the end 2/3 of writing FORGED OF SHADOWS, my June release.
I track my daily word goal, my actual word count, and then I use Excel’s mathematical formulas to make the numbers dance so I can see my percentages and the number of sessions I have left until The End. I also keep notes at the end to encourage (or castigate — mostly castigate) myself as necessary. As you can see from the mass of red in the middle, I spend a lot of time being behind. Frustrating! But in the end, I finished my first draft three days early. Yay!
I recently decided the 85,000-word first drafts I aim for are too scary (plus I usually end up going over and then writing too long in my final drafts) so I’m breaking my next goal setting into 3 months of 25,000 each. That will give me a 75,000-word first draft. And you should see how fast the “percent done” column fills up when there’s only 25 writing session per spreadsheet. Inspiring!
If you’re a writer, here’s a link to a shared version of the new spreadsheet I’m using. If you have a question about how to work the document, ask in comments and I’ll try to help. I converted the Excel spreadsheet to a Google Docs format, which seems similar… I hope all the formulas work.
More importantly, I hope your formula –whatever it is — works for you. Whether you’re a writer or have some other creative or work project, how do you keep yourself moving forward on long projects? Do you have a favorite reward for yourself? I usually eat cake
by Jessa Slade on April 19th, 2010
Currently working on: Navel gazing
I recently started messing around with a side project. It came from my idea file where it had been sitting for about a year. Despite its time in purgatory, the idea was still shiny and interesting, so I decided to take it out and play with it for a bit.
Some ideas are like those fancy dolls that look gorgeous but you really shouldn’t take them out of the plastic because then their perfect corkscrew ringlet hair gets all messed up and they aren’t worth anything anymore. Other ideas are like Legos, and look simple and kind of boring but can stand up to any sort of abuse and become anything you want when you start adding to them.
This new idea I’m playing with was like a bag of brightly colored and intriguing puzzle pieces. Tragically, the box top with the picture of what the puzzle would show was missing, which made me suspicious. Was this idea all there? What if pieces were missing? What if they aren’t even all pieces from the same puzzle? Would I be wasting my time?
Not much you can do in a situation like that except start working on it and see where the pieces take you.
My prewriting is a ritual the same way my puzzle working has specific steps:
Step 1: Clear a big, flat, clean work surface.
Clearing the decks is important for my writing process. While I don’t require certain kinds of pens or paper to write, I like to set up my writing files, my word count spreadsheet, some inspirational art, whatever notes I had in the idea folder, etc. before I start. That virtual workspace is as important to my story as a physical space is to a puzzle which gets hard to move around as the pieces spread.
Step 2: Turn all the colored sides face up.
With a puzzle, knowing what I have to work with — ooh, a lot of yellow; I bet that all goes together — is important. Same thing with a story idea. Who are the characters? What are they trying to accomplish? What terrible odds are they facing? Just like in that anonymous bag of puzzle pieces, I might not actually have all the pieces of the story right away, but at least I know what I DO have.
Step 3: Find the straight edge pieces.
Some of those smarty-pants new puzzles don’t have traditional straight edges anymore. But most stories do. Usually there’s – for example – a beginning, a middle and an end. Once I know those pieces, I can link them together, which shows me a framework of what I’m missing.
Step 4: Look for big color blocks and readily identifiable details.
In a puzzle, big color and little details seem to jump out to my eye. My prewriting tends to be like that too. I can imagine and make note of big action pieces or little snippets of dialogue even if I’m not quite sure where they will go.
Step 5: Start connecting the pieces.
Even before I type “Chapter 1,” I like to see how all those chunks are fitting together. Already I can see where I’m missing pieces. The writing hasn’t even seriously begun and already there are so many questions: Will I find the missing pieces somewhere in the idea pile, or will I have to make a new piece? Is this a picture anybody — me included — will want to look at? Hey, what is the dog chewing on?
Some writers prefer not to work out the puzzle before they start writing because then they lose the excitement that keeps them fitting the 400 pages of pieces together. But for me, all that playing is part of the fun.
How do you like to play? Do you break your crayons first? Or do you like to color in the lines?
by Jessa Slade on April 12th, 2010
Currently working on: Brand-new project
Mood: Fightin’ words
Most writers who tell other people that they write will eventually hear some version of the following conversation:
Non-writer: Wow, you write? I’ve always wanted to write something. Maybe a poem. Or a screenplay that will make more than Avatar. Probably not a novel, because only crazy people do novels. But I have this great idea…
Writer: Look at the time, will ya? I have to–
Non-writer: Hey, how about I tell you the idea, you write it down, and we’ll split the profits 50-50?
Writer: My world will not be complete without your idea. Seriously, tell me now before I expire from curiosity. But hold on just a second while I get a pen. Maybe a very expensive Waterman pen to adequately capture the brilliance of your idea. You wait right here…
I personally have only endured this conversation three times (and to be honest, I wasn’t sarcastic to the non-writer at all) but I expect to have it many times more. Because most people think the trick to writing is having the idea.
The truth? Ideas are like chewing gum. Ideas are so much like chewing gum that it’s really surprising they aren’t sold at convenience stores:
Ideas, like chewing gum, are cheap and everywhere:
I’m going to pull three books from my shelf. The three closest to hand are a dictionary, a paranormal romance novel (happens to be Sharon’s SCORCHED!) and… hmm, Aid to Bible Understanding. I randomly choose three words. From the dictionary I get devoir, which in addition to looking very cool (like a combination of devoid and devour) means duty or responsibility, a formal act of civility. From SCORCHED, I find incubus (hey, get your own copy!). And from the bible book I get the word ointment. You can see how there’s an inkling of an idea right there, right?
Ideas, like chewing gum, need to be chewed and softened up:
I don’t necessarily talk out my ideas a lot beforehand, but I think them out. I chew on the idea, I stretch it, I stick it on the bedpost overnight and chew it again the next morning.
A good idea, like chewing gum, sticks to the bottom of your shoe:
I find that a good idea has staying power. I can’t get to every idea right away, so I have a file where I tuck them away. By the time I get back to them, some of the ideas have faded. But some are still in minty fresh condition. That’s an idea that might actually last through 400 pages.
Ideas, like chewing gum, are only as impressive as the hot air you blow into them:
What the non-writer doesn’t understand about ideas is that the idea itself — no matter how brightly packaged — is only a dry stick of artifical color and fake sugar. It’s not until the hard work, spit, and huffing and puffing are through that you have something the world can admire. Right before it blows up in your face and you have to cut the chunks out of your hair and rug, but that’s a different story.
I’m betting (see, here’s another idea) that the kind of gum you liked best as a kid predicts your future personality. Like, a Rorschach ink blot test in chicle and corn syrup. Reveal your favorite gum here and we’ll psychoanalyze you.
by Jessa Slade on April 5th, 2010
Currently working on: Marked Souls Book 4
It’s spring! I have lilacs blooming and sunlight clearing the north fence and temptation to run around outside without seven layers of clothes on (tank top, long underwear, short-sleeve T-shirt, long-sleeve T-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece, waterproof shell)! Six layers are entirely enough!
It’s spring! The beginning of new life, a.k.a. the death of New Year’s Resolutions.
Or maybe that’s just me. But something about that first quarter of the new year seems so full of possibility. It doesn’t hurt that I’m stuck inside, which makes it easy to focus on my goals. But when the sun returns, I’m lured to all sorts of anti-resolution activities:
- Strawberry season – there goes the diet! I know strawberries seem like good diet food, except that fresh strawberries must be eaten with ice cream and whipped cream on a thick, soft bed of pound cake, sponge cake, short cake or — who am I kidding? — any cake at all.
- Nicer weather outside — there goes the exercise! Can’t do sit-ups and push-ups outside without the whole neighborhood pointing and laughing. (Although I admit I’m thinking about adding a jump rope and hula hoop to my routine and I can’t do that IN the house without busting out a wall.)
- Sun doesn’t go down until almost quarter to eight at night — there goes half my evening writing session!
About this time of year, I have to rededicate myself to my resolutions. Because I do WANT to keep up with my diet and exercise… Well, no, not really, but I NEED to. And I most certainly LOVE my writing.
But evenwhat I love isn’t always easy. Like diets and exercise, sometimes I need inspiration or castigation to keep writing. So for the next six weeks here at Silk And Shadows, we’ll be writing about writing. If you’re a writer, we hope you’ll chime in and share what works for you, from the start of the process to the final polish.
I just started the next book in the Marked Souls series. Book 4 adds new twists, new characters, new evils. That’s the inspiration part. For the castigation side of the equation, I’m chief cheerleader of the April writing challenge through my local writing group. A bunch of us have sworn blood oaths (or was that chocolate syrup?) to write 25,000 words in the next 25 days. Huge raspberries (not sweet strawberries with whipped cream) will be blown at anyone who falters.
The start of a new book. The start of a new season. The start of a new challenge. The start of every day offers opportunity to start again. C’mere, day, I’m going to seize you.
Have you let any resolutions lapse? Do you want to rededicate to them, or have you refocused? How do you stay inspired in the presence of distraction?
by Jessa Slade on March 29th, 2010
Currently working on: Freedom from cocoa tyranny
So I’m giving up chocolate for Lent. As I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice before, I’m addicted to buckets of double chocolate cookie dough.
Eight pounds of cookie dough every month was starting to seem a little… excessive, which is not to say OBSESSIVE. And, really, what better time of year to give up chocolate than the Easter season?
I mean, I have a perfectly fine imagination on my own. It’s not like romance writers NEED chocolate to be inspired.
There are lots of ways to say “I love you” that don’t include theobromine.
Sure, Godiva has furnite made of chocolate. But I didn’t make that bed, so I won’t lie in it. Even if it would be awfully convenient from a snacking standpoint.
Think of all the time I’ll save not mixing up incredibly difficult desserts that are huge hits at picnics like the following:
Cheap box of brownie mix (recommend Duncan Hines family size prepared to “fudgy” directions in 13×9 pan)
Minty middle: Beat together 3 Tbl soft butter, 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp pure mint extract, 2 Tbl milk
Chocolate top: 2 Tbl butter & 3/4 cup decent chocolate (recommend Trader Joe’s 1 pound bittersweet block — did I mention that buying chocolate by the pound is probably an indication of a problem?)
Nope, instead, I can sleep well knowing I’ve beaten my chocolate addiction. Maybe it’ll be a bed of chocolate. Yum….
by Jessa Slade on March 22nd, 2010
Currently working on: Organizing a writing challenge for my Romance Writers of America chapter
Writing can be a lonely endeavor. The stereotypical writer (okay, ME) spends a lot of time at her keyboard, mumbling to herself. On rare occasions, she is booted — blinking mustily — into the sun to confront other people. People like… readers. Oh noes! What to say?! (This is especially terrifying to some writers — okay, ME — who will be attending in the next four months three booksignings, two conventions and a conference where there will be LOTS of readers to talk to — yikes!)
So we decided (barricaded safely behind the interwebz) that this week’s topic is “Questions we’d like to ask readers.”
And my question is “Does Liam have a great butt, or what?”
This is my second cover for the second book in The Marked Souls series. And it was every bit as nail-gnawing exciting as waiting for the first cover. Here’s the back cover blurb:
The war between good and evil has raged for millennia, with the Marked Souls caught in the middle, but the new girl doesn’t play by old rules…
Liam Niall never meant to be a leader. Barely surviving the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine with body and soul intact, he escaped to Chicago…where he lost half his soul and gained a wayward band of demon-possessed warriors. Now, as the talyan face a morphing evil, Liam grows weary and plagued by doubt.
Then a new weapon falls into his hands. Her name is Jilly Chan. To save his talyan and her demon-ridden soul, Liam must win her to his battle and his bed.
Waging a one-woman war against the threats to the street kids she mentors, Jilly stands her ground against danger in all its guises. She won’t be any man’s woman…or weapon. But Liam—with his hard eyes, soft brogue and compelling hands—is a danger to her rebellious independence…and her heart.
These two halved souls sharing one fierce passion will sear a fresh scar across the city. Who’s in danger now?
Book 1 had Archer’s chest. Book 2 has Liam’s butt. My goodness, what will Book 3 show?
That was a rhetorical question. My real question to readers was going to be something along the lines of “How important is a great butt cover when you decide whether to pick up a book?” But I decided that’s a dumb question (and yes, there are dumb questions) because OF COURSE a great cover is important. Maybe not the deciding factor, but a beautiful, intriguing or shocking cover can inspire the hand to reach for it.
And most writers have zero control over the cover. Actually, there’s a lot that the writer doesn’t have control over, like — for a completely random, not-desperately-whorish-at-all example, ahem – the importance of preording FORGED OF SHADOWS at major bookstores…
But I do have some alleged, nominal control over me, myself and I. And I since I will have to inspire readers IN PERSON (did I mention terrifying?) my question to readers is this:
“What do you want from authors in real life? What makes a great author/reader interaction?”
Besides chocolate, I mean.
To sweeten the pot in a non-caloric way, I have a signed ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of FORGED OF SHADOWS to give away. It comes with a Pepto-pink cover similar to this font color, not Liam’s handsome butt, sorry. Comment on any post this week for a chance to win. Heck, comment on EVERY post this week for more chances!
And finally, a parting shot…