Archive for the 'Beyond writing' Category

by Annette McCleave on April 6th, 2010

Spring is a great time to re-evaluate. As the buds sprout into leaves on the trees and the birds chirp as they build nests, I almost always get a wonderful sense of impending … something. Call it promise, call it potential, call it what you will, but the days ahead are brimming with it. And I love that feeling.

I get inspired to eat better, exercise more, and generally savor life. Maybe it’s as easy to explain as the additional light in every day, but whatever the reason, spring creates the inspiration to renew myself. You know–turn the sod, sharpen the saw, water the garden. Mentally, of course.


How? I look for ways to improve my writing craft. Obviously, there’s plenty of ways to do that, but here are a few I’m actively doing:

1) Online workshops. I signed up for one because I’ll never know everything here is to know about the craft of writing, no matter how long I’ve been doing it.

2) Reading. I’m doing lots, in several different genres. Reading other people’s prose reminds me of the art, not the struggle. Words can be so beautiful … when they’re not my own. Well, some of mine are beautiful, too, but it’s much harder to appreciate my own work than it is to appreciate someone else’s.

3) Idea hatching. I’m thinking ahead to my next book, and I’ve got some very definite ideas about it. But before I commit myself, I like to brainstorm. Sometimes, it’s whatever comes into my head. Wild and crazy stuff. Sometimes, it’s expanding on an idea that occurred to me while I was wrapped up in my previous manuscript. Fodder for a next series, perhaps.

So many of us have challenges and issues and crises to deal with. It’s hard to hit the refresh button on ourselves, because we’re so engaged in supporting others. Do you take time out of your busy life to renew yourself, even if it’s only once a year? What sort of thing do you do?

Giving up chocolate for Lent
by Jessa Slade on March 29th, 2010

Currently working on: Freedom from cocoa tyranny
Mood: Libre!

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….



Cover lovin’
by Jessa Slade on March 22nd, 2010

Currently working on: Organizing a writing challenge for my Romance Writers of America chapter
Mood: Inspiring

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…


Oops, you made a mistake
by Jessa Slade on February 15th, 2010


Currently working on: The last dash of Book 3
Mood: Breathless

I hate revising.  I understand the need for revising, in the same way I understand the need for flossing after brushing.  But I don’t have to like it.  Revising means I didn’t do it right the first time.  And I hate not doing things right the first time.

There was a School House Rock song from the 70s that shows a string of bloodless Kid Fail bloopers: spilled milk, falling off bicycles, shooting water from the water fountain up your nose.  The chorus goes like this:  “Oops, you made a mistake, that’s all.  Mistakes can happen to anyone.”


Despite the cheery tune, conciliatory message and studiously rainbow interracial casting, the sentiment irked me.  Then, like now, I found mistakes to be annoying, wasteful and embarrassing.  But — and I’m reluctant to admit this — mistakes aren’t all bad.

Mistakes are where a lot of serendipity happens. 
I made a mistake when I started writing Book 3 of the Marked Souls.  See, I sort of forgot to plot it. And I’m a die-hard plotter.  I love to plot.  I love charts and spreadsheets and workbook pages filled with plot.  But in one of my many spreadsheets, I forgot to schedule plotting into my calendar and so I never got around to it.

By the end of the first draft, Book 3 was out of control.  I had to make notes to myself on every page, notes like the following, cut and pasted from my manuscript:

  • What is this clue they keep talking about?!
  • Is this appropriate post coital convo??
  • Did we see where the body was last time? Whose body is it?!

Going back through the pages as I revised and seeing note after note of fumbling confusion was maddening…  And really interesting.  I had no idea what would happen until it happened, and I discovered new things about my characters, my storyworld and myself as a writer.

And I won’t ever make that stupid mistake again!  But I think I will try to preserve some of the sense of mystery that kept me turning pages.

Beading and collaging have helped me accept  work with work around my hatred of mistakes.  For a long time, I had trouble beading because I just couldn’t get started.  I thought:

  • I needed one of every bead in the world so I could be sure I had the right combination.
  • I had to get it strung exactly right the first time. 
  • I had to have an outfit that went with the beads.

Oh please.  #1, I’m never going to have one of every bead in the world.  And besides, I’d need at least two of every bead in the world so I could have matching earrings.  #2, I can just restring it if I don’t like it.  And #3, I can give the piece away as a present if it doesn’t work with my wardrobe.

Collaging (with the help of glue sniffing probably) taught me that flipping through all the world’s magazines (are we seeing a trend here?) to find exactly the right image is boooring and cutting on straight lines is for wusses.  I learned to flip, rip and stick and move along.  Sure, my collages are crooked and a little sticky (glue is every bit as messy as you remember from preschool) but they’re INSPIRING to me, and inspiration trumps correct every time.

Most importantly, mistakes are inevitable.
Knowing that I WILL make a mistake at some point, I try to cultivate a certain fatalism, even PLAN for the mistake.  I heard from a Navajo basket weaver once that the patterns in some Native American baskets are designed to include a visible flaw, because perfection belongs only to the gods.

I have no idea how true the story is, but it works for me.  Perfection belongs to the gods, and I’m just stumbling along behind, tripping over the flaws.  It takes a lot of the pressure off  :roll:

In the end, “Oops, you made a mistake, that’s all” was just the start.  Now, when the mistakes are coming fast and furious, I have my favorite mantras to get me through:

  • Don’t get it right, get it written.
  • We’ll fix it in post.

And lastly, a favorite quote:

  • Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
    Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Do you have favorite saying or quote to console yourself after a mistake?  Or is chocolate enough for you?

Women, emotions and romance
by Jessa Slade on February 8th, 2010

Currently working on: Unearthing the revised Book 3 from the rotting corpse of Book 3 — phoenix, arise!
Mood: Frankenstein-esque

It’s Valentine’s week.  If you haven’t signed up for the Silk And Shadows newsletter (look to the left side of the page) today’s the day.  Our next newsletter goes out soon and there are Valentine’s giveaways to be won.

And speaking of Valentine’s…  Will I be drummed out of the romance lovers’ league if I say aloud that I think Valentine’s Day is a crock?  In college, some women in my dorm donned black armbands on Valentine’s Day, and I wore one in solidarity.  One of my roommates (who, yes, had a boyfriend with whom she had a lovely relationship judging from the late-night noises coming from the bunk across the very tiny room) accused me of being bitter and jealous nerd.  I said, Duh.

But it seems to me that many of the traditions of Valentine’s don’t feel like any romance I’d want to have.  Roses wither in a disturbingly short period of time.  The milk chocolate bon-bons pushed on us are a poor, cheap substitute for the real deal.  At least there’re sparkly diamonds… Except now we’re told diamonds are just the blood-soaked refuse of terrible Third World conflict.

What’s a girl to do? 

Besides read a romance novel, I mean.


 What I learned from romance novels that Valentine’s Day got wrong:

1. Love is not a one-day affair.
Indeed not.  Love is at least a week-long affair with a Sicilian billionaire.  Or maybe an eternity with a vampire prince.  But definitely not a mere 24 hours in February.

2. Love means having to say… lots.
Words are the measure of the man.  Backed up with action, of course.  Lots and lots of hot action.  But I want more words than fit on 5×7 cardstock even if it has a glittered butterfly and embossed heart.  Somewhere between 200-400 pages of words should just about do it.

3. Love is sacrifice.
This one Valentine’s Day got right.  According to the story, Valentine was a saint who martyred himself for lovers.  Romance novels are all about the sacrifice the lovers make to be together.  They give up their loneliness, their distrust, their prejudices, even though sometimes giving up their lives would’ve felt easier.  And at the end, they don’t always get flowers and chocolate and sparkly jewelry, the love is a given.

Do you have a Valentine’s tradition that you adore?  Feel free to create one.  We write our own stories here.

A Million Tiny Dreams
by Annette McCleave on January 19th, 2010

At any other time, I’d have had a lot of fun with this topic—my first million dollars. But I confess that I’m having a harder time dreaming of fun stuff after the Haiti earthquake. Like many writers, I’m a highly empathetic person—I need to be to get into the heads of my characters and make them come to life on the page.

But that empathy is knocking me for a loop right now.

I find it all too easy to imagine what it would be like to experience the devastation Haiti is currently living through. Losing loved ones, feeling helpless and lost, desperately struggling to get food and water for my family. I’ve remained riveted to the news casts, cried over some of the video and pictures, and felt ill over the impotence of the people on the ground trying to help. The situation so terribly hard on all of the people there.

It makes me feel incredibly lucky to have the things I have (and take for granted)—fresh running water, shelter, food, and safety for my daughter.

I do love to dream, though. I believe in the power of those dreams and the importance of occasional mental escape. Life can be very hard. Overwhelming, sometimes. Dreams are a facet of hope—and hope is all some people have. Dreaming of a better life, be it a simple vision or one of being rich, can make the current situation more bearable and lead us past the grief.

Here’s to powerful dreams and a better life for all.

I love the smell of apocalypse in the morning
by Jessa Slade on January 11th, 2010

Currently working on: The End is coming! (Not an apocalypse end, just The End of my Book 3)
Mood: Pre-post-apocalyptic


As a child of the Cold War, I have a special place in my heart for apocalypses.  Total world destruction was forever imminent — but it was survivable as long as we got under our desks in time, and meanwhile there’s still a lot of ice cream to eat when you’re 10 years old so it was hard to get too freaked out.

Of course, I planned to be a survivor (the aforementioned ice cream was motivation and I’m super quick sliding under a desk) so — thinking ahead — I even decided to study Russian.  It was us or them, I figured.

Who knew, I should’ve studied Mandarin.  Oh well.

Over the years, I studied apocalyptic literature and movies with great and horrified delight.  Here are a few of my favorites apocalypses you might have missed the first time around.  I even learned a few more tricks — besides the head under desk thing — that might help you survive the end.

nuke-alasALAS, BABYLON by Pat Frank
One of the first post-apocalyptic books written in the nuclear age, ALAS, BABYLON was also one of the first post-apocalyptic books I read as a kid.  Set in a small Florida town, the book chronicles the breakdown of the society — naturally — as well as the heroism of those who kept their heads and their hearts.

Apocalyptic lesson: When the bespectacled doctor’s only set of eyeglasses are destroyed, I was horrified.  As a four-eyed kid myself, I understood this was a death sentence.  The lesson I learned was read lots now because you never know when you won’t be able to read again.

nuke-swanSWAN SONG by Robert McCammon
In a post-nuclear world, two children become the leaders of opposing camps of good and evil as the rebirth of civilization hangs in the balance.  Apparently the author hates being compared to Stephen King, but this story does read as a more digestible version of the themes in King’s THE STAND, another fun post-apoc — plague, this time — story.

Apocalyptic lesson:  The survivors are afflicted with keloid scars that worsened through the course of the story… and then revealed the true, inner nature of the afflicted.  The lesson being, you better be pure and good if you want to avoid permanent radiation burns and possession by creeping evil.

nuke-maxMad Max with young, hawt, pre-crazy Mel Gibson
Because post-peak-oil is definitely post-apocalyptic as anybody who wouldn’t be able to fuel up their sweet 1973 XB GT Ford Falcon Coupe aka Max’s Interceptor would agree.  You probably saw this movie when it first came out and then it got buried under layers of Tina Turner’s hair in Beyond Thunderdome.  Go back to the roots where surviving the apocalypse meant being badder ass than the bad guys.  Yes, I know this contradicts the earlier post-apocalypse lesson of being pure of heart, committed to humanity, and not so quick on the trigger.

Apocalyptic lesson: Invest in black leather now, before it’s too late!!!

nuke-loganLogan’s Run (the 1976 movie version)
Spoiler alert!  This was an interesting take on post-apocalypse because… whatever bad thing had happened (some sort of environmental disaster, apparently) was over, but the people didn’t know it and had barricaded themselves inside a domed city and were euthanizing themselves to avoid any overcrowding that would force them out into the bigger world.  Allegedly, a remake — in the works with various producers and directors since the mid-1990s — has been again rescheduled for 2012.

Apocalyptic lesson:  The only thing worse than an apocalypse that ends the world is living as if an apocalypse has ended the world… when it hasn’t.  Doh!

nuke-sarahApocalypse has gotten more sophisticated over the years, from the fabulous climate change pseduo-science of The Day After Tomorrow — cold air from space swirls down to freeze our heroes!!! — to the amok-running of technology in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (my fave of the franchise — girl crush!) which taught us that (contrary to the waif-like Jessica 6 in Logan’s Run) upper body strength will be vital to post-apocalypse survival and, yes, black is still THE color for Armageddon.  But for all the changes since the fall of the Soviet Union, apocalypse remains full of good times in the end times.

Don’t forget to pack your Zippo.

Do you have a favorite apocalypse story?  Do you think you’d be the brave assistant deputy mayor who leads the survivors to safety?  Or would you be the well-armed loner who vows not to get involved?  Or would you be the mutant screamer?

Reshuffling my deck
by Jessa Slade on December 28th, 2009

Currently working on: Digging out from under the holidays
Mood: Eager for daylight

I have a friend who’s experienced more than her fair share of life’s hard knocks.   (I’m not sure how much a fair share would be, exactly, but I’m pretty sure she got hosed.)  One of her favorite sayings is “The universe gives you the chance to make the same mistake over and over.  Until you don’t.”

Mean universe.

Oh, I could look at it as tough love, I suppose, one of those “learning moments.”  But sometimes it’s hard to tell what the lesson is.  So at the end of every year, I like to look back, give the universe a long, hard stare, and try to figure out what it was thinking (and what it was trying to make me think about) while it stares back at me.

Because I dabble in the Tarot, I like to use my cards to give some narrative to the year that has passed.  I have a deck based on Greek mythology, because those were some of my favorite stories when I was a kid.  I draw a three-card spread, which is often used in understanding influences at play before taking any particular path, which seems to me useful in looking back at paths chosen.

So what exactly was the universe trying to teach me?  Did I get it?  Can I move on from this lesson to the next?

I pulled Temperance, The Chariot and the Knight of Swords:


Temperance (Iris, goddess of the rainbow): Iris was a kind and merciful goddess who represents the fluid adjustment of feeling and emotion with the ultimate goal of harmony. She was also a message bearer of the gods.

The Chariot (Ares, god of war): With his two horses pulling in opposite directions, Ares represents aggressive instincts guided by the will of consciousness, and suggests conflict and struggle can result in a stronger personality when faced with strength and containment.

Knight of Swords (the Warrior Twins, Castor and Polydeuces, one mortal and one divine): An augury of sudden change and mercurial energy which breaks apart the ordinary patterns of life, often with callous disregard for common sense or kindness.

Oh, I love it when my cards tell me what I already know.  It was a crazy year for me.  (Duh.)  I saw my dream of publication come true when I finally got to hold a printed copy of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS.  At the same time, I suffered through the flailing death throes of my day job.  (Luckily I’m good at imagining the living dead, so I’ve managed to keep my job lumbering along — minus some body parts — in a gruesome caricature of employment.)  I’ve stretched my personal boundaries from painfully introverted bookworm to painfully social bookworm-becoming-butterfly.  I started — and failed at — a weight-lifting regimen.  (Yeah, yeah, I actually started it again tonight; stupid New Years resolutions.) 

Clearly, it’s been a year of more uproar than balance, which is obvious if you weigh the three warrior boys and their three wild horses against the pretty Iris.  Still, I think I did a reasonable job of adjusting on the fly and keeping my feet under me.  So I’ll keep the reminder of steady Iris going forward (kindness, mercy, balance) since I bet when I pull my full Celtic Cross spread for the new year, I think I’ll be seeing more of those conflict cards.

Besides, in the pitcher she carried, Iris also held the waters that filled storm clouds.  She could dump a bucket of cold water on those hot-headed boys at any time — if she decided to stop playing nice.  That’s a good reminder too.

How about you?  Did you come away with a lesson from 2009 you’d like to share?  If you want a three-card draw from my Greek mythology deck, just ask and we’ll see what the cards have to say to you.

Wake up! — Making a dream come true
by Jessa Slade on December 14th, 2009

Currently working on: Word wrestling
Mood: WWF Smackdown

I love when cheesy rock anthems — the kind that demand a lighter held high overhead — seem to speak directly to me.  One that came at a particularly needful time of my life was Creed’s 1999 angsty tune “Higher.”  The part I liked to sing along with — very angstily and with marginal tunefulness — went a little something like this:

When dreaming I’m guided through another world
Time and time again
At sunrise I fight to stay asleep
…’Cause there’s a hunger, a longing to escape
From the life I live when I’m awake
…But, my friend, I’d sacrifice all those nights
If I could make the Earth and my dreams the same…

I thought I’d sacrifice anything to make my dream come true.  My dream, essentially forever, was to be a published author.  I’d been writing for a long time, and I felt like I was stuck in one of those running dreams, going nowhere.  I admit, my authoring dream may have been slightly misinformed early on by a particular heroine of mine:


As a kid, I’d read an article about Dame Barbara Cartland that talked about how she wrote a $#!+load of books while reclining on a pink divan, reciting the stories in her head to a secretary, whilst caressing her dogs.  For some reason, in my memory, the article said the dogs were pink too, although this picture I found doesn’t corroborate.

Regardless, based on that article, my dream went a little something like this:

Be rich
Be famous
Have a dog

Write all day long…

So, turns out, the third one is doable and the last part is a must.  Here are a few lessons I learned in between dreaming of being a published author and waking up as one:

1.  Dreams take work.
And not the kind of work I normally do in dreams.  In a high percentage of my night-time dreams, I’m some sort of super-spy skulking around.  Which is cool.  Unlike my second most common dream occupation which is hiding from monsters.  Actually, now that I think about it, my night-time dreams are sort of decent practice for my day dreams.  But really, the work of dreams requires more sweat and less flying than the dream of dreams.

2. Dreams can be as surreal in real life as they are in dreams.
The funny thing about dreams is — Creed’s wishes aside — they don’t always look the same in real life.  The Earth and my dreams will never be the same — for which my black labrador is very grateful, since making her Cartland pink would actually be a nightmare.

3. Dreams need more dreams.
At my writers’ group holiday party this weekend, one of the other writers, who I hadn’t seen in awhile, said to me, “You did it!”  As if “it” was ever done.  The dream doesn’t end when you wake up.  The dream-come-true is very much like the endless rooms dream, where every door leads someplace new.

Speaking of doors, sometimes The Doors got a little trippy, but I always liked this line from “Awake”:

Shake dreams from your hair
My pretty child, my sweet one.
Choose the day…

If you were going to choose the next step toward making your dream a reality, where would the path take you?

Giving thanks
by Jessa Slade on November 23rd, 2009

Currently working on: National Novel Writing Month (which, in order to meet my deadline, is actually National Novel Writing Quarter)
Mood: Is there an adjective for ‘hip waders’?

This is a thoughtful time of year for me.  The combination of the calendar’s end, the long hours of darkness, the overconsumption of carbohydrates, and those crazy “family newsletters” tucked into Christmas cards from people I haven’t heard from since last year — all contribute to a general feeling of contemplative consideration.

This year has been particularly noteworthy because my first book came out.


As a dream come true, “the year of the book” as my mom calls it also lent itself to multiple opportunities to fall on my knees in heartfelt, gleeful thanks.  I gave thanks for the sexy hero who made my lady friends go “ooh”; I gave thanks for my spectacular editor and agent who walked me through the maze; I gave a big sigh of relieved thanks when the book actually showed up on bookstore shelves last month and I could hold the dream in my hands…

I’m thankful for my writer friends who came out in White Russian-fueled giddiness to my first official booksigning; I’m thankful for the new reader friends who’ve sent me emails saying they liked the story and are waiting for the next one (me too!); I’m thankful for the idea butterflies (actually, some of them are dragons) that keep coming at me when I’m trying to sleep.

It’s been a difficult year too, with some of the world’s financial troubles echoed in my circle and in my home.  But I’m thankful it’s not worse, and I’m thankful those aforementioned idea dragons will always burn their way to the heart of a happy ending.  Hey, I’m thankful I write romance!

In the midst of my gratitude, of course, I also see all the ways I could’ve been/done/had better.  But that’s for New Year’s Resolutions.  For now…


(And you all can be thankful that my attempt to Photoshop a turkey under Archer’s arm was a miserable failure.)