Archive for the 'Favorites' Category

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….



Release the hounds… I mean, books!
by Jessa Slade on November 30th, 2009

Currently working on: Racing deadlines
(Have you looked at a calendar lately?!)
Mood: Arriba, arriba!

Congratulations to fellow Silk And Shadows author Sharon Ashwood on the release of SCORCHED tomorrow!  Happy almost-Release Day, Sharon!

The writing life might be mostly (okay, by percentages, pretty much only) hours at a computer – just writer and words and weird, echoy voices in your head — but there are a few highlights, and the release of a new book is definitely one of them.  It’s been two whole months since my first book came out, and I’m still having tons of fun with it.

For example, I just attended my first book club meeting with the Cheeky Pages Romance Book Club at Powells Books in Beaverton.  Kind of scary, since they were readers who’d actually read SEDUCED BY SHADOWS.  To ward off any potential scariness in the form of literary criticism, I bribed them with brought two cakes from His Bakery, arguably (and yes, I’m happy to argue this point with you if it means a taste-testing tour) one of the best bakeries in Portland.


(Pictured from left: Raspberry Revel in White and Chocolate Indulgence — Comfortably serves 18 romance-reading ladies with enough left over for XY and breakfast. I can also vouch for their chocolate chip cookies and breads.  Yum.)

jessa-chicagoEarlier this month, I also went to Chicago for a stock book signing tour.  Stock signing is a guerrilla book tour where the author hits as many bookstores as she can, signing the books in stock (hence “stock signing”) and putting a cute “Signed by author” sticker on the front.  Every copy of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS I could find in every Borders and Barnes & Noble and Anderson’s in the Chicagoland area now has my awkward scrawl plus a bookmark plus a custom @1 temporary tattoo (inside joke from the story). 

(Pictured: Jessa Slade, somewhat chilly author who needs another haircut, on the new bridge to the Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing (don’t get me started on the “string of lightbulbs” installation) with Millenium Park in the background.)

If you happen to live in Chicago and manage to find a book that I didn’t tag, I’m sorry.  I did a terrible job Googlemapping the tour — hey, it was my first! — and might have missed a store or two.  Especially if it was located next to a creepy alley or other potential demon fighting location, since I took a bunch of notes while I was there and might have gotten distracted.  Just email me and I’ll mail you the bookmark and tattoo plus a signed bookplate.

The best part of finally having a book out is forcing my entire family to read it.


(Pictured above: Entire family reading SEDUCED BY SHADOWS — with certain pages excised for a certain person under 4′ tall.  Note the crazy pyramid of books on the tabletop behind us.)

Favorite stories from my first release — so far:

  • A co-worker of my dad’s sent him home with her copy for me to sign.  She attempted to give him the book in her office and he explained how he really, really wasn’t going to walk across the truckyard with Archer’s bare chest shining in the sun.  So the book came to me in plain, brown paper wrapping.  Archer as contraband!
  • Walking into a random Chicago bookstore to sign stock, finding a random salesperson to let her know I wasn’t defacing their property — honestly – and her saying, “Jessa Slade?  I know you!”  Really?!
  • My grandmother went to dinner at the retirement center the other night to find her fellow nonagenarians gleefully discussing “Page 100.”  Yes, my work here is done.

Have you ever attended a book signing or other author event?  What was your favorite part?  If — purely hypothetically — an author was going to bribe you with bring a cake, what flavor would you prefer and how many slices would ensure a six-star Amazon review?

Costumes & candy: A holiday to sink your teeth into
by Jessa Slade on October 26th, 2009

Currently working on: Book 3 of The Marked Souls
Mood: Eager

I’m not sure my household can top last Halloweens high point.  We always decorate the front porch for trick-or-treaters.  I put out luminaria along the driveway plus a couple hollowed gourds or a pumpkin on the porch railing.  We have a strobe light kicking, and a nice severed arm pointing to the door bell.

We also have a 3-foot plaster voodoo mask that I don for answering the door, and the chorus girl scream from “The Phantom of the Opera” soundtrack is cued up on the stereo with my XY’s finger on the play button.

pumpkinLast year, about midway through the evening, the bell rang, I picked up the mask and opened the door, XY hit play… and the seven-year-old boy on the porch dropped his plastic pumpkin full of candy and ran as if all the demons of hell were after him — and could be bought off by a fairly impressive haul of Hershey’s products.

Well, I chased him down to return his candy (probably could have caught him quicker if I’d taken off the mask) and gave him a big double handful of Twix, Milky Ways, Pixie Stix, Smarties, and Reese’s PB cups (no off-brand candy bars from me) to make up for my burst of cruel delighted laughter.

In our defense, I think we taught him a valuable lesson about thinking even free candy comes without potential risk.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because, honestly, it’s low prep and high payout.  I can recycle a costume from a previous year, and nobody expects a freakin’ turkey with multiple side dishes and baked goods, yet I get a monster truckload of candy at the end of the night.  (Admittedly, this is because I over-purchase for the children who for some reason don’t come to our house anymore.)

But pragmatic reasons aside, I love Halloween because of the costumes.  I wish more days of the year involved pretending to be something we’re not — and somehow, through that disguise, revealing something deeper about ourselves. 

(I always wondered what it revealed about the studly jocks in high school that they seemed to gravitate to costumes involving pantyhose and high heels.)

I’ve been a princess, an alien, an overdosed starlet, a peacock, the planet Saturn, the last-minute ghost (who hasn’t?).  So often, it seems like we’re hiding who we are anyway.  At the day job, in front of the in-laws, around the neighbors.  Wouldn’t it just be more fun if we were always wearing costumes?

My boss:  Jessa, can I see you in my office?
Me:  Argh, sorry, matey.  A pirate can’t be constrained by four walls.  I’m off to plunder the treasures in the office supply room!

With enough candy bars, we’d all have the high fructose courage to be ourselves — or anyway, be the ourselves we were meant to be.

If you were picking a costume to reveal the real you, who would you be?

Darkly Dreaming
by Annette McCleave on October 20th, 2009

I’m a DVD-aholic. My life just doesn’t allow me to faithfully watch a TV show once per week at a certain hour. Ok, maybe one (Defying Gravity). But more than that? Nope. As a result, I was very late to the Buffy party. So late in fact that the show had been canceled before I saw my first episode—I picked up the Season 1 DVDs in a bargain bin at a local electronics store.

My daughter and I glommed the first season in a couple of days, and promptly ran out and bought Seasons 2 & 3. There’s nothing like watching back to back episodes in order, on your own sofa, with lots of popcorn. As went Buffy, so went Angel—we watched ‘em all in rapid fashion. Because I was late adopting Buffy, it’s hard for me to know whether TV influenced the popularity of vampire novels, or whether the emergence of vamp books inspired Joss Whedon. (Though, my bet would be on the former).

Other shows I’ve DVD’d: LOST…I got bored after Season 3. Grey’s Anatomy…I’m falling behind, so I’d say my interest is dwindling. Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagined series)…I loved it, but didn’t enjoy the ending.


My current faves are Dexter and True Blood. Because I don’t get the cable package that includes HBO and Showtime, I have no choice but to impatiently await the DVD releases. But I’m loving both right now. Is my addiction influenced by the knowledge that both are based on popular book series? Not really; I’ve never read either series. But it does make me more interested in reading the books—because I’m one of those people who believes the book is almost always better than the ‘movie’. Judging by the current reign on Sookie books on the bestseller lists, I’d venture a guess that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I think TV has influenced popular fiction—and vice versa—but not always in terms of storyline. Even before the internet, TV began to increase our need for gripping conflict and quick resolution. Some TV shows are only half and hour, and others, while technically an hour long, are chewed up by twenty minutes of commercials. We’ve grown accustomed to having conflict thrown at us from the opening line, reversals and reveals coming fast and furious, and endings delivered with drama and satisfaction—all in the space of an hour. Genre fiction, in order to compete, has had to do the same. Readers no longer have the patience to wait for the story to gently roll out.

It’s too simple to blame TV completely for this trend, but I think it had a profound influence. What do you think?

Blame it on Buffy
by Jessa Slade on October 19th, 2009

Currently working on: Arm wrestling Book 3
Mood: Sore but unbowed

Powerful women.  Hot men.  Zinging dialogue.  Fate of the world and the human heart at stake.  If you’ve enjoyed those elements in a paranormal romance, I believe you can blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a good chunk of it.  Oh sure, brooding bad boys existed before Spike and definitely high school was hell all along, but when it came to mixing big paranormal love with big paranormal problems, Buffy was in a class by herself.


In previous posts, I’ve betrayed my adoration — which is not to say weird stalkeryness — for Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and the equally wonderful spin-off Angel and the even more wonderful Firefly plus the wacky Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog.  So why keep reliving the glory days?  Because I don’t think they’ve been done better since.

Lost lost me.  Heroes had a few too many to keep track of.  Smallville felt that way to me.  Supernatural… okay, that one has the hot guys.  Still, the lack of a compelling-t0-me romance in most of today’s paranormal themed television shows leaves me cold.  I’m at a disadvantage because I don’t have cable; maybe True Blood would have been ”my show”?


So many of the things I love about a paranormal story can be done so well on screen:  Claustrophic close-ups to heighten the tension of what’s sneaking up behind; creepy fog-filled settings with obligatory search-light backlighting; eerie music to heighten the tension of what’s sneaking up behind; high action quick-cut edits to make you feel like you’re really there; terrific gore-ific special effects to release the tension of what was sneaking up behind.

And yet portraying that compelling-t0-me love story is apparently really hard.  Maybe because the course of many months — years, if the show is lucky and good — is a tough timeframe.  A two-hour movie can get away with a kiss, some witty banter, and a soft-focus love scene.  But a television show has the opportunity to build a romance from first glance to true love with all the stages in between.  And maybe that’s not easy at all.

So maybe that’s why I read romance novels while my 11-year-old TV sits in the basement with dust on the screen and the picture slowly blowing out into strange flares of red and blue.

But could be I’m missing something.  I’m watching Whedon’s newest show Dollhouse in its second season.  No love story, except my love for Whedon himself.  So perhaps I have room for another show, one with a romance I can sink my teeth into, although I don’t demand vampires necessarily.  Enlighten me, those of you with a working television set — Any worthy successors to Buffy?

Guilty pleasures
by Jessa Slade on September 21st, 2009

Currently working on: Book 3!
Mood: Time traveling ahead

Maybe it’s because I’m a Type A personality, from a Puritan work ethic country, raised Catholic, who writes about temptation and damnation, but the concept of guilty pleasures intrigues me.  Pleasure: Something that feels good.  Guilty pleasure: Feeling bad about something that feels good.  How we humans love to complicate even simple things!

When I told my XY that the topic this week is guilty pleasures, he immediately said, “You’re going to write about your bucket o’ cookie dough again?”  And I said, “No, silly.  I don’t feel guilty about that.”

Guilty pleasures feature importantly in romance fiction.  Powerful guilt about pleasure creates sexily somber, asthete heroes who desperately need their heroines to bring light and laughter back to their lives.  No guilt about anything leads to delicious villainy.  (Not that I think my guilt-free cookie dough consumption will lead inevitably to world domination, although it is delicious.)  While the guilt might keep hero and heroine apart for awhile, the irresistible pleasure always brings them together by The End.  Besides, everyone knows that the naughty thrill is part of what makes a guilty pleasure so pleasurable!

I used to have lots of guilty pleasures: Wasting a whole day curled up on the couch with a book; surfing the net for hours on end; reading trashy magazines with more ads than articles; watching trashy TV.

I say “used to” not because I don’t do those things anymore, but because I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.  Not only do I use guilty pleasure in my writing, I use my writing to excuse my guilty pleasures.  My secret to guilt-free pleasures — Word choice.  Watch how a few deft turns of phrase turn guilt into work even a Purolic (that’s a melding of Puritan and Catholic) can endorse:

  • Wasting a whole day curled up on the couch with a book = Market research.
  • Surfing the net for hours on end = Book research.  Oh, I’m on Facebook?  That = Networking.
  • Reading trashy magazines with more ads than articles = Finger on pulse of popular culture.
  • Watching trashy TV = Finger on pulse of popular culture (and finding it deader than vampires).

Hey, I’m a writer after all; word choice is what we do.  And think about how many women admit that they consider reading romance one of their guilty pleasures; if anyone should advocate for turning guilty pleasure into open, honest, no-holds-barred, in-your-face, and-I’ll-take-two-of-him pleasure, shouldn’t it be a romance writer?

Do you have any good euphemisms for your guilty pleasures?  If you need help coming up with one, confess and we’ll brainstorm something for you.

Snacking the Pyramid
by Annette McCleave on September 15th, 2009

When it comes to snacking while I’m writing, I take my guidance from the food pyramid. It’s simple to follow and I think it’s important to put all the right nutrients into your body to spur the creative process. I tried to find a picture of the food pyramid I use on the internet, but strangely I couldn’t find one. So, I took the liberty of drawing one.


The pyramid shape is an indication of the quantity of each major food group you should ingest. Although my pyramid doesn’t have a dairy section, you’ll note that there is milk in both the chocolate food group, and in my case, in the coffee food group. Not everyone puts milk in their coffee, however, and those that prefer black should up their intake of choco-heaven to make up for the lost dairy.

Tea or cola can be substituted for coffee. Although not specifically addressed in the pyramid, it’s recommended that you switch from caffeinated to decaf after two cups. Unless you’re on deadline. In that case, you may also support your coffee food group with shots of Red Bull.

The necessity of including choco-heaven in your diet is tri-fold. At different times it can provide soothing calm, inspiration, and emotional connection. No dedicated snacker should skip this vital section of the pyramid. Unless you’re allergic. Then all we can say is “Long live the carob bean”.

Popcorn provides all the dietary fiber you could ask for. The only disadvantage of the popcorn food group is the smears it can leave on your keyboard. On the other hand, butter is easier to clean than chocolate, which is why we recommend eating the chocolate straight from the wrapper.

I know what you’re going to say—there doesn’t appear to be any protein in this food program. That’s actually not true. This food pyramid recommends putting large quantities of cheddar powder on the popcorn to accommodate the full range of nutritional requirements.

It also recommends including exercise in your snacking life—stretches while seated and regular marches to the fridge, coffee pot and ladies room. If you’re so inclined, putting a load of laundry in the machine while you’re up will give an extra workout to those biceps.

Happy snacking!

Snacks for the soul
by Jessa Slade on September 14th, 2009

Currently working on: Unpacking the car trunk after a four-day camping trip and unpacking my mental trunk after Book 2 revisions
Mood: Purging

A writer, like any other triathlete, does her best work when properly fueled. 

Perhaps I should first justify my supposition that a writer is like a triathlete since one might not automatically think that marathon chair sitting and staring into space qualifies as an Olympic event.  But if you look closer…  There’s the wild flailing of idea generation, kind of like entering a vast lake where any direction is possible, but only one way will get you where you are going.  And then there is the grueling haul of the first draft, pedaling as fast as you can to get through it.  And finally there is the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, no-power-but-you revisions culmimating in a full-out sprint to the deadline.

You see why carrot sticks alone won’t get you to The End.

I wish my list of writer’s snacks made suitable reading for dieticians.  But at least I’m not William Burroughs composing through a heroin/morphine/opioid daze.  (Tangent: Burroughs NAKED LUNCH is 50 this year!  And here nobody thought it’d live past its thirties.)  Hello, my name is Jessa and I’m a snacker.

As regular readers might remember, I should have a corporate sponsorship from the makers of my bucket o’ cookie dough.  The English Bay double chocolate batter comes in 8 lb. buckets that are precisely calculated to get me through exactly one month of writing.  Between pre-heating the toaster oven and baking the cookies for 13 1/2 minutes, I can time a 20-minute session at the keyboard and then eat cookies guilt-free before returning, sugar-powered, to my scene.

Which is not to say cookies are my only snack.  When I have time, I like to bake from the Cake Mix Doctor’s Cookbook. (For quick ‘n’ easy recipes, her blog is here.)  Yes, yes, I realize I haven’t fallen far from the bucket o’ cookie dough tree with box mix cupcakes, but srsly, yum.

(No dogs were injured in the eating of this chocolate. What? You thought I’d share?!)

Other emergency back-up snacks include the French Silk Pie from Village Inn (no other chocolate cream pie will do), Trader Joe’s chocolate-coated Dunkers, or — in a pinch — Reduced Fat Oreos (which sounds absolutely ridiculous — why reduce the fat in an Oreo? Because they stay crispier in milk, that’s why).

And that’s just for First Snack.

Because of the extreme sugar content of my snacking (amateur snackers should build up their endurance before attempting such feats) by 10:30 pm, I’m in desperate need of more fuel.  In the summer, my sweet XY brings a plate of watermelon, peaches or blueberries, depending on the season.  Not only is this more sugar (yay!) but it is fruity, fibery sugar which is self-righteous sugar.  The best kind.

By midnight, though, the sugar receptors in my brain have burned out and I still have more writing to do.  This is the time known in my household as Second Snack.  Second Snack demands salt.  But I am far less cultured about my salts.  I’ve tried gray French salt and pink Hawaiian salt and mostly they just taste like salt to me.  Any handful of pretzels will take me through that last hour.

The trouble, of course, comes when I’m really pushing for The End, 2 a.m. rolls around and I’m still at my computer.  What now?  Sugar is done.  Salty is over.  That leaves, what?  The umami taste (that’s the “fifth taste” culinary types say is induced by MSG in foods)?  Actually, carry-out Chinese at 2 a.m. sounds perfect, but would require living in a much larger city than where I am.  Instead, I usually just brush my teeth.  This is comparable to the triathlete veering off the nicely cordoned path headfirst into the cheering crowd.  Ooh, the agony of defeat.

But there’s another race tomorrow night.  And I’ll be pumped for that.

Diving Into Other Worlds
by Annette McCleave on June 30th, 2009

As a writer, the bulk of my daydreams are about the worlds I weave for my books. Some of my most relaxing moments are just sitting in my La-Z-Boy, immersing myself completely in the sights and sound and smells of that magical place, where ever it might be. Even if the real world is ratcheting up the tension, I can de-stress in an instant simply by closing my eyes and following my characters into their adventures.

As a reader, all it takes is a skilled wordsmith with a flair for storytelling and I’m off visiting far-off lands and ancient times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into a great book only emerge hours later wondering how much time has passed. Unless I then discover I’m late for something, LOL, that’s a blissful moment. To be transported. Sigh. That’s what my book budget is really for.

I don’t do much spontaneous daydreaming. To be honest, I feel like I’m living my dream. But I do tend to surround myself with paintings and pictures of peaceful places I’d love to dive into.


Calendars of Scottish castles, paintings of houses in the autumn, pictures of winding country roads. A few images of the stars… And yes, some clear blue water and white sand scenes. They have the power to make me forget, just for a second, the phone bill and the laundry pile. Some days, that’s exactly what I need.

Do you have a favorite place to daydream? Inside? Outside? At the office, LOL?

How to make a lifelong nerd… er, reader!
by Jessa Slade on June 13th, 2009

Currently working on: The End
Mood: Pre-post-apocalyptic

I’m old. This sad fact is revealed by my favorite childhood book, which is actually an LP.  For you whippersnappers, that’s a Long Playing record.  As in vinyl. 

hobbitMy first favorite book was, not shockingly, THE HOBBIT.  And the awesome thing about this version of the 1977 animated TV movie is that you could read along while the actors spoke, so you didn’t have to ask any adults how to pronounce Lothlorien and whatnot.  Plus, there were cool iron-ons.  Plus, there were sing-alongs.

To this day, I sometimes spontaneously break into the chorus of “Down, down to goblin town, you go, my lad, ho ho, my lad” while on my way to the day job.

This post, of course, is just a blatant excuse for a fan-grrl moment about the 2011 remake of THE HOBBIT, with exec producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (director and writers of the most recent THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy — swoon) with  Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II) directing.

dragon2dragon1I can’t wait to see Del Toro’s vision for Smaug.  Shiver.  He says his favorite dragons are Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer

Rumor has it, the story outline and treatments are done, and the screenplay work has begun.  Oh, to be a writer on that team.  The shoot itself is supposed to last for most of 2010 in New Zealand (I am totally going to plan a book signing tour in NZ! I only want one gold piece…) using some of the sets and actors from TLotR. The actor to play Bilbo is supposed to be announced in the next couple weeks.  Oh, gleeful Gollum-style cavorting!

But back to the book/LP version I sang along with as a kid.  What I liked best about it was the moment I discovered there was a much loooonger version, though without pictures.  Written by this guy name Tolkien.  And there were three sequels.

Thus is a lifelong nerd reader born.

Did you ever read a book as a kid that totally ruined you for life?  And did you later buy that book for a child at your first opportunity?