by Jessa Slade on February 9th, 2009
Cursed by God, hunted by demons, desired by Cain and Abel… EVE OF DARKNESS
S.J. Day, who’ll be guest blogging with us in April, has offered one of our lucky commenters this week an ARC of the first book in her Marked series, EVE OF DARKNESS. This fabulous new urban fantasy trilogy from Tor releases back-to-back starting in April. To learn more about Eve, the books, or SJ, visit her website at www.sjday.net.
We’ll draw the winner on Saturday – Valentine’s Day! – so scroll down to leave a comment on any post this week for a chance to win!
by Jessa Slade on February 2nd, 2009
Currently working on: The big 3/4 fubar
I consider myself first and foremost a reader. I learned phonetics with LOTR. (Ar-Sakalthôr, anyone? How about Tar-Ancalimon? Númenor didn’t fall to hubris but to unwieldy names — Sorry, I should’ve called geek alert first). I read Black Beauty 11 times in a row. My bookshelf spilleth over. I am reader; hear me slap down plastic at Powells Books!
That said, I have no idea what readers want. When I go through Powells endless stacks or I search my library’s collection online, I am amazed at how many choices there are, especially when I can’t quite imagine who those titles might appeal to — or why.
Sample these delights from Bookseller’s 2008 oddest book titles:
I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen, by Jasper McCutcheon
Cheese Problems Solved, edited by P L H McSweeney
If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs, by Big Boom
And of particular interest to the writers among us: How to Write a How to Write Book, by Brian Piddock
Though the impossible urge is to please everyone, I’ll have to go with what my mother told me about my story. My mama said: It better have a happy ending.
Demons were okay by her. And premarital sex (in fiction, at least). And some other fairly intense questioning of various “truths.” Fine, fine. But there better be a happy ending.
So maybe that encapsulates what every reader wants, from any genre she is reading? She wants a happy ending. Maybe not a great love between the hero and heroine as is the case in romance, but the happiness of a story that comes to its promised — if not necessarily expected — conclusion. The killer is caught. The mystery solved. The world is saved. The cowboy rides into the sunset. Ah.
Scientific analysis of a dog’s ‘happy end.’
As a reader, when I turn the last page, I want to be left in ‘ah.’ As a writer, I seek that ah-ful, ah-some moment of Happily Ever Ah-fter.
Besides, I figure, if I can’t please everyone, I can at least please my mom.
Out of curiosity, what have you done — or refused to do — to meet the expectations of your mother or someone else who mattered to you? In the end, did it feel right or wrong? How do you balance the expectations of others with what you want for yourself?
P.S. Mom, you’re all good; stories with happy endings were the only ones I ever wanted to write.
by Jessa Slade on January 26th, 2009
Currently working on: The heroine’s betrayal
I love first chapters. My first three hit the page with a speed that I won’t match again until I start the next story. I’m not saying they are great chapters. In all honesty, they usually suck and often have nothing to do with the story itself. But that doesn’t lessen my enthusiasm for first chapters at all.
Because I think of first chapters like first dates. (You probably started to see the correlation with the ‘usually suck’ part.) Hey, I’m a romance writer at heart. (The previous parenthetical comment notwithstanding.)
Firsts are all about the excitement that anything could happen. That charming guy you’ve agreed to meet for cocktails could be a millionaire bachelor — or a serial killer! See? How exciting! First chapters are like that too. I never know if I’m onto something… or if I’m going to end up with three chapters that need to be drenched in lye and buried at a crossroads with their heads removed lest they come back to haunt me.
During firsts, everyone is on their best behavior. I come to my keyboard perky and coiffed… okay, not literally coiffed, but my desk is clear, my notes are piled tidily. But eventually comes that first hiccup. Oh sure, it made me giggle once. How sweet that my characters feel comfortable enough with me to share their… er, inner selves. Then I realized it wasn’t a hiccup. No, that was a full-on burp. Nay, a belch. It’s a turning point in the relationship (coming about the same point as the first turning point in the three-act structure) and the infatuation is over. We stare at each other over cups of coffee, and the silence thickens as I contemplate throwing that metaphorical sexy strappy sandal through my screensaver.
Firsts have no baggage. I arrive at the first date with one of those supremely cute little beaded clutches without room even for a mass market paperback much less my Alpha Smart. The cursor blinks at the beginning of a pristine blank page. But even then I know this isn’t like a first date to the hottest new nightclub; this is like the first step of an around-the-world walkabout with scenic sidetrips up Everest, down the Amazon, and across the Sahara. You gotta pack for that.
Firsts offer freedom. There’s no commitment, and I can try on new clothes, be whoever I want to be. Eventually though, I’m going to have to decide: Is this a story for which I’m willing to strip myself bare?
Ah, the passion and promise of those first chapters, when the story is young and fresh, not to mention thin and pliant. This is no time to think about the sagging middle…
So what’s your best worst first date story? When did you realize the magic was gone?
by Jessa Slade on January 19th, 2009
First, a huge thank you to everyone who commented during our inaugural (yes, I have inauguration on the brain) contest here at Silk And Shadows. We had such fun, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again soon. If you’re eager for more contest good times right now, check out our prize at Romance Junkies.
Currently working on: The hero & heroine encounter
the bad guy face-to-face for the first time — dum da DUM!!!
Mood: Hesitant (i.e. not very heroic)
I just finished a fight on the ‘L’ in Chicago. Well, not me personally, of course. My hero and heroine.
Minor spoiler: They survived. No thanks to me.
When it comes to settings, some places just cry out for a scene. Somehow, I wrote SEDUCED BY SHADOWS without a fight on the ‘L’ even though my visual storyboard has a picture that represents the vaguely cathedral-esque scaffolding that supports the elevated train tracks crisscrossing the city. I vowed to rectify that oversight in book two. The ominous rumble of the train, the sharp scent of cold metal, the dangerous imbalance of trying to run across slick rail ties with a horde of hungry demons on your ass desperately needed telling.
My favorite settings to write about are places with the potential to set the mood, to create action, and to reveal character. Yeah, I want the setting to work hard. It’s not the place, particularly, it’s the potential.
The Second City
I chose Chicago for the setting of The Marked Souls series because I thought a story about good and evil for dominion of the human soul should have a setting that could be — in a way — ‘Anyplace USA’ yet capable of containing many contrasts. To me, Chicago is kind of the Jan Brady of big American cities; it’s stuck in the middle. Neither sophisticated East Coast nor bohemian West, its world-class museums, theaters and business sector were built on the bloody stockyards. The city delights in its crooked politics (”Vote early! Vote often!”) and yet it coughed up the key player in one of the most historically significant elections in the nation. Even its weather is a study of contrasts — sweltering summers alternate with vicious winter winds, but they call it the ‘temperate’ zone. The story might really be about the light and darkness at war in everyone, but I hope the setting reflects that until the city itself becomes a character.
These cool old posters encouraged Chicagoans of the 1920s to discover something new. Even though I grew up in the suburbs outside Chicago, I didn’t know the city well, so this is my chance to explore too.
Since the story is set in Chicago, I suppose I need a car chase down Lower Wacker too. You Blues Brothers fans can insert your favorite quote here. Mine? “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” One of these blogging weeks, we’ll have to discuss soundtracks.
Meanwhile, have you ever been someplace that needed only a hero and a heroine — or a villain — to come alive on the movie screen of your mind?
by Jessa Slade on January 12th, 2009
Currently working on: Transcribing chicken scratching longhand notes
Mood: Perplexed — I wrote this?!?
I was never much interested in the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” It seemed obvious to me: Well, s**t happens.
More confusing was “Why do good people do bad things?” As if I could answer that question when generations of theologians, psychiatrists and weeping mothers haven’t. But poking at it was part of the genesis for SEDUCED BY SHADOWS, the first book of The Marked Souls which comes out in October. In the series, my heroes are possessed by repentant demons. I started reading about demons in mythology and the world’s major belief systems as well as the “demons” of purely human cruelty — genocide, serial murder, mental disorders, slavery.
But I thought those demons seemed a little removed from people like you and me. I mean, most of us will (hopefully!) go through our lives without ever needing a Roman Catholic exorcism. (But if you do, check out Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans. Not precisely a DIY manual and critics argue the veracity, but it’s a fascinating read.) Most of those metaphorical demons feel safely confined to foreign news programs and made-for-TV movies. Then I remembered a psychological study we learned about in high school.
In Milgram’s 1961 social psych experiment, begun just three months after the start of Adolph Eichmann’s trial as a Nazi war criminal, volunteers were told to administer electric shocks in increasing 15-volt increments to other research subjects when questions on a verbal test were answered inaccurately. The shockees were actually accomplices to the researchers and the shocks were fake. But the volunteers didn’t know that.
Shocking (pun intended) factoid:
Despite simulated screams of pain from the “victim,” 65% of the volunteers continued to administer shocks to the 450-volt maximum (labeled ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ on the board the volunteers used). Only one volunteer stopped before 300 volts. A more recent version of the study (updated, ironically, to decrease potential post-experiment stress on the volunteers doing the shocking) found essentially the same percentages of people willing to pull the trigger on their fellows. If everyone tells their friends and family about this study, maybe the next time researchers perform this experiment, I bet we can lower the percentages a point or two.
It was a study about response to authority, to a voice telling you to do something that you know is wrong. What interested me was the quickness and completeness with which people gave up their brains, hearts and souls to someone else. The volunteers weren’t monsters. They weren’t serial killers or sadists or Enron execs in training. They were regular, normal people — people like you and me.
Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram in his 1974 book about the study, “Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View,” said: Ordinary people…can become agents in a terrible destructive process. If this is so, then perhaps the opposite is true: Ordinary people can become warriors against destruction.
The heroes of my stories wield the power of the repentant demons to save the world. Have you ever had a little voice inside you — good or bad — influencing you? Did you listen?
Leave a comment for your chance to win this week’s prize.
by Jessa Slade on January 5th, 2009
Currently working on: Clearing my office of mealworm beetles
Mood: Creeped out — emphasis on creep
Various lessons of questionable value you can take away from my limping, snowblind journey toward publication
The deadline for my RWA chapter contest was looming. Lesson 1: Embrace artificially imposed deadlines. They can stand in until you can proudly proclaim that you are “contractually obligated” to freak out under deadline pressure. So I put the polish to a partial on a paranormal I’d been working on for a couple months and sent it in because the final round judge was from NAL, a publisher that didn’t accept unagented submissions.
Lesson 2: Don’t be a contest slut; be a contest courtesan. A slut gets drunk on cheap words and enters any ol’ contest just ‘cuz. A contest courtesan wisely chooses her contests to further her education, enhance her allure, gain access to otherwise elite circles, and hopefully, eventually, land the perfect sugar daddy.
That was the summer of 2007. Finalists wouldn’t be announced until October, but I figured I better finish the book. You know, just in case. Lesson 3: Waiting is a bitch, and there’s a lot of waiting to be done in this business. Use the time. Finish stuff. Start new stuff. Whatever. As painful as waiting is, make every minute of it count. Sad fact: In case anybody told you different, staying busy does NOT make the time go quicker.
I finally got “An Email” from the contest coordinator telling me I finaled. I received my scores, and it turned out one of the three judges HATED my story. Hated as in gave me 3’s and 4’s out of 10. Lesson 4: Judges in contests — like reviewers, readers and my grandma — have their own ideas about what makes a good story. Their opinion can lift you up or dash you. Just remember the chair in front of your keyboard is pretty much always in exactly the same place, altitudinally speaking. Take what you can use of others’ feedback and move along.
Luckily, the point spread on my scores was wide enough to earn me a discrepancy judge who did like the story, and my manuscript was going to NAL! Not only that, I ended up being the grand prize winner! Yay me! Kermit dancing! My prize was a 24-karat gold-dipped American Beauty Rose! Where’s my tiara?!? (Not that I recommend Kermit dancing while wearing a tiara — corneas can get scratched that way.) I am a grand prize winner and I am soooo cooool!
Lesson 5: Nobody cares about grand prize winners. My query letters to agents — which included 24-karat gold petals ripped from the 24-karat gold-dipped American Beauty Rose — were rejected with all the cool alacrity of my earlier queries. Review Lesson 4.
A month later, the final round scores came back. The NAL editor placed my manuscript first and asked to see the complete.
How tragic I didn’t have the complete.
Lesson 6: Have the complete.
A few weeks later, I had the complete and off it went. Review Lesson 3. Then the editor sent me “Another Email” saying she kinda liked the story. Then she asked if I could make it better.
Lesson 7: The correct answer to any question asked by The Guardian to The Portal Leading to Your Soul’s Destiny is “How high?” Some people will say “Yeah, but what about your artistic integrity, your death grip on the story you nourished from a wee little brilliant idea that nobody else could possibly understand?” My answer is “How high? No, really, how high are you anyway that you’d even ask that question? Sheesh.”
nerve-wracking number of few more revisions to tighten the pacing, motivate the characters, up the stakes, explain the world, and get the romance out of my head and on the page, the editor said she really liked the story. I also — finally! — found an agent who saw the potential. Lesson 8: In the end, compelling is more important than perfect. I’m not saying my story is compelling (Obviously I think it is, but I’m not a credible witness) but I know damn well it wasn’t perfect, and this despite the fact I am a perfectionist by nature. Your story will never be perfect either, but if you make it compelling, no one will notice the hero and heroine never technically actually said I love you. (Yes, I fixed that! Review Lesson 7.)
5/15/2008: I got “The Email”: “I’m thrilled we’ll be publishing SEDUCED BY SHADOWS and the second book in the series.”
And that, as they say, is history. Or I guess, really, the future, since SEDUCED BY SHADOWS comes out October 2009. No doubt I will learn many lessons before then and more lessons thereafter. I’ll happily share them with you, but if you have any suggestions going forward (or revisions to my past lessons) feel free to comment now.
Leave a comment anytime this week for your chance to win Allison Chase’s prize.
by Jessa Slade on December 29th, 2008
Currently working on: Book2 of The Marked Souls
Mood: Avoiding a cold via massive satsuma infusions
I recently heard a report about a Scientific Study on New Year’s resolutions that found 40+% of people who made resolutions were still pursuing their resolution six months later, compared to 4% of people who had stated goals that did not coincide with the annual ritual of resolutions.
There’s just something about the cleansing effects of a new year to get the hopeful juices of ambition flowing.
Whether you call it a resolution, a goal, a blood oath, whatever, the Experts suggest that including certain elements will increase the likelihood of success. These elements form the clever acronym SMART. Tragically, the Experts immediately went out and assigned multiple meanings to their clever acronym, which makes it less SMART. But it’s still usable.
A SMART resolution is:
- S: specific, significant, stretching
- M: measurable, meaningful, motivational
- A: agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented, accountable
- R: realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
- T: time-based, timely, tangible, trackable
Those are all great suggestions — along with the ideas that you should write your resolution down and tell a friend who will hold your feet to the flames support your endeavor — but I’d like to add a few more muddying adjectives to your goal-setting.
Because I can’t get enough of adjectives.
S = Spectacular, siren, stellar
The Experts say your resolution should be sensible. Right. Because sensible gets you out of bed in the morning.
M = Machiavellian, metamorphic, menacing
Hate to say it, but you will encounter obstacles in your resolution. You will need to be clever and maybe cruel to pursue your resolution.
A = Arrogant, argent, awful
By awful, I mean awe-ful. That grand, shining, full-of-yourself awe-full-ness will light your way.
S = Silent, serpentine, singular
In the end, you make your way on your own. Friends and family can cheer you on, but you are the one with the resolution.
H = Headlong, hazardous, hellacious
This is your chance, your life. You’ll make it happen.
So, okay, yeah, I changed the mnemonic device too. Because it’s probably not SMART to think you can tackle your dreams just because you say so; but maybe you can SMASH your way there.
Where are you going in 2009? What do you have to SMASH through to get there?
by Jessa Slade on December 22nd, 2008
Congratulations to Zita Hildebrandt, winner of the unicorn gift from Sharon Ashwood.
The Silk And Shadows holiday gifting comment contest will continue after the actual holidays. Meanwhile, our topic this week is “Our characters at Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Solstice/etc.”
Working on: Stuck on Chapter 10, having been derailed by said holidays
I haven’t been able to settle to my writing for the last couple weeks. Distracted by the holidays, sweetie’s birthday, blowing snow, boarding a second dog, arranging for an author photo from some suitable body double, [insert additional excuses as needed], I can’t seem to get many coherent words on the page.
So why start now?
As I tried to imagine a holiday themed story for my characters, I choked. My heroine fights demons. She doesn’t have time to reapply her lip balm much less wrap presents or bake cookies. So unless an incorporeal demonic emanation possesses the Christmas ham…
Sometimes I envy her.
Which is, of course, ridiculous, and not just because she’s a character in a book. Her existence is dangerous and rife with conflicts both internal and external. Still, it rings with clarity. Her choices may be monumentally difficult and possibly fatal (’cuz isn’t that more fun to read?) but she lives every moment to the fine edge. So here are three lessons I’m trying to channel from my heroine this holiday season:
Don’t waste time. The world is shopping days are coming to an end. Make every second count.
When time is running out, remember what is important. (Hint: It ain’t lump-free icing.)
Don’t forget to say I love you.
What lessons have you taken away from your favorite novels?
by Jessa Slade on December 15th, 2008
Currently working on: Cover copy for SEDUCED
BY SHADOWS — Look, ma! It’s a book!
Mood: Obsessively perfectionist
Where do ideas come from? If authors sometimes refer to their books as their children, for me, the answer to where ideas come from is as simple and boring as the 20-page picture book I read that was supposed to answer the perennial childhood question, Where do babies come from? All I remember was the sentence: “The egg is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.” And it wasn’t really a large font size.
Scientifically unverified reasons it’s likely my “ideas” are actually just eggs:
It seems they come from somewhere inside me
They start out small and unformed and more than a little alien-like
I break a lot of them in the course of half-baking them
My job is to hatch them, raise them up and let them fly
Now that I review my list, my ideas are really less like children and more like chickens. Have you ever watched chickens? They’ll wander, clucking to themselves, rather aimless. Then all of a sudden, they’ll freak and scramble with sudden (if often obscure) purpose. My ideas work like that too. And come to think of it, my handwriting bears a striking resemblance to their footprints…
The chicken as Muse. Sigh. But you take inspiration where you can find it.
[If you're still looking for the perfect Christmas gift, you could do worse than a Mike the Headless Chicken t-shirt. I'm just saying.]
Could I wish for a more noble, more coherent symbolic source of ideas than a headless chicken? No doubt. But if babies come from cabbage patches and storks — not to mention the periods at the ends of sentences — why not ideas from chickens?
Who — or what — does your muse look like?
Leave a comment for your chance to win this week’s gift
which includes your very own unicorn!
by Jessa Slade on December 12th, 2008
We select the second winner of our weekly contest on Monday when we’ll post the prize for week 3 of our holiday gifting. Thanks to all who’ve commented so far!
Our second week prize from Annette McCleave:
Annette says: “I’m offering one lucky commenter the Pamper Me Package – a Body Benefits gift pack of Peppermint Mocha bath treats, a package of delicious Hershey’s Mint Crème truffle Kisses, a $10 Amazon gift certificate and a pre-edited first chapter of my upcoming release, Drawn into Darkness. Perfect for a few stolen moments to yourself during the holiday season.”
Just leave a comment on any post this week (heck, leave a comment on EVERY post this week) and you’ll have a chance to win. Get a friend to leave a comment (and your name) and both of you will have two chances to win. Just scroll down to the next post to have your say. And thank you for visiting!