Archive for the 'Scenes' Category

Love is all around us
by Jessa Slade on March 8th, 2010

Currently working on: Last week of revisions
Mood: Vaguely National Lampoon-esque

Love is blissful.  Love is beautiful.  Love is butterflies and bluebells.

And oh boy is that boring.

I write about blissful, beautiful, true-blue love… but not until the very last pages.  Because love — once it has reached the ever-after stage — is, well, not very compelling.  Sure, it’s great to be committed in real life.  But in the portrayal of love, the struggle, the learning of lessons, the discovery of strengths, the freshness, the denial, and the compromise is where the fun lies, I think.

Which is why my favorite commercials with romance tend to be less about the end-stage “He got me a big fat diamond — cue French horns and tears” and more about the silly or sweet or sarcastic sides of love.

I like this one for capturing that perfect moment of “love at first sight” along with a few of the really awkward moments that inevitably follow:

This commercial is using love to sell electronics.  I’ve seen commercials use love to sell cat food, toothpaste, gum, and cars.  What do you think; is there ANY product that can’t be sold with love?

Writing in the dark
by Jessa Slade on January 25th, 2010

Currently working on: Brooding
Mood: Broody

Last year, the grapes tried to come in the house.

XY bought me a couple gorgeous Interlachen grapes for my birthday three years ago, and last year, they really took off.  They ran up into the birch tree and across the porch.  They tangled in the yuccas and wrapped around the sun shades.  When they started scratching eerily at the front door on windy nights, we knew they had to move.

So this weekend, while they’re dormant for the winter, XY whacked them back and transplanted them to brand new holes on their very own trellis, where they can run this way ‘n’ that way without opposition.  XY also moved the fruit trees to accommodate the new grapes trellis.  One of the roses, a lilac, and a bunch of perennials had to go to make room for the fruit trees.  It was cold, wet, muddy work, and the front yard looks like a cemetery with its piles of dark earth and skeletal plants. 

Tonight, when we took Monster Girl the dog for her walk, we paused in the 5 o’clock, low cloud darkness to stare at the wreckage, and it was hard to believe spring will ever come.

 At some point in my writing, I always feel like that.


There always comes a time in my writing when the story is out of control.  Tendrils are choking the life out of anything nearby.  Too scraggly and unwieldy and ugly, my writing begins to creep me out.  The darkness descends.  The winter of our discontent, indeed.

This is my fallow season.  Since the cycles of my writing echo the seasons in my garden, I’ve learned to apply a few rules to both.

1. Just cut back the dead wood already.
I have roses that bloom through November.  At Thanksgiving, they still have buds forming.  But invariably, sometime in December we finally get a hard frost which kills the last blossoms.  The buds blacken and slump on their stems.  The surviving leaves give me (false) hope that I’ll get another glimpse of pink.  But no.  Really, there’s nothing to do but get out the clippers and whack everything back to sturdy greenery.  That first cut is the sharpest, but the harsher I am, the more lush and vigorous the blooms are the following year. 

2. Lay the ground work and run the guide wires now.
I read a garden book once that said you should always put your 50-cent peat pot in a five-dollar hole.  I get impatient (and cheap) and am sometimes tempted to skip ahead.  But there’s no rushing the prep work.  So now I start by honing the spade and invest time in reading craft books and taking workshops that can make me a sharper writer.  I dig a deep and rock-free hole of prewriting.  I string my story arc wire on securely concreted plotting posts.  And I turn my well-aged compost into a hot and steaming muck.

3. Nurture the seedling.
Good God, but a seedling is so small and pathetic.  With only two baby leaves, I can’t even tell the peppers from the potato, the carrots from the kohlrabi.  And knowing how long it will take before harvest, sometimes it seems so pointless.  But I have faith that if I put a tiny toilet paper roll anti-slug collar around them, if I spread the compost thick, and thin the weeds, if I water them regularly with my blood, sweat and tears (minus the cliche), in the end — The End — I will hold the fruits of my labor.

Sure, it’s a dream.  But it’s always easier to dream in the dark.

Do you have rituals for the dark and fallow months?  Or do you vegetate?


Man, that’s an ugly baby
by Jessa Slade on December 7th, 2009

Currently working on: Christmas madness, not to be confused with Christmas cheer
Mood: Cheerfully mad

Writers sometimes compare their books to babies.  People with actual babies may take offense because books don’t throw up on you.  But for the sake of analogy, writing a book and doing the baby thing are both creative endeavors with certain similarities: 

  • Both take about nine months to finish.  (And often enough, starting a book isn’t something you plan either.)
  • There’s a lot of crap at first.
  • Eventually, you have to let go and set the book/baby free.
  • Nobody ever tells you to your face that your baby is ugly.

I’m not sure why this is, because there are plenty of ugly babies in the world.  And some really awful book covers too.  But among all the many munchkins and manuscripts I’ve seen unleashed upon the unsuspecting public, I’ve never heard anybody tell the author, “Ooh, that’s unfortunate.”

Sure, entire websites are devoted to snarking on covers — and more than one water-cooler conversation has revolved around Junior’s elephantine ears — but the author/momma is never present.  Well, maybe there’s a good reason for this.  And I suspect the reason has less to do with compassion than selfish concern about the potential reaction of the hormonally unbalanced.  (And if you think an author at The End isn’t unbalanced, you should watch me stagger away from my computer after the last chapter marathon.)

But maybe I’m being cynical.  Maybe people don’t laugh aloud in front of the proud author/mama because:

  • It’s just rude.
  • The author/momma probably didn’t have any real say in what the book/baby looks like.  Sure, you can choose a reasonably attractive mate in the hope that genetic roulette will be weighted in your favor, but mostly it’s God — or as we call them in the technical world of publishing, the Cover Gods — who chooses.
  • What really matters is what’s inside.

Honestly, I know I don’t have the emotional distance needed to make decisions about cover art.  For example, because SEDUCED BY SHADOWS is set in Chicago in November, I suggested that my hero, Archer, was smart enough to wear a hat and scarf against the cruel winds.


Yeah, that obviously was a stupid idea.

And I confess, I once bought a book simply because the guy on the cover was smokin’.  A good hero brings his own heat to the Chicago night ;)

How about you?  Ever judged — and bought — a book by its cover?

My romantic moment
by Jessa Slade on April 6th, 2009

Currently working on: Redesigning website
Mood: Giddy

This week’s topic here at Silk And Shadows is about “the best romantic scene in a book or movie.”  But I’m unable to compose a sensible response because I’m in love.


Shhh, shh.  Don’t look at him.  He’ll know we’re talking about him.  Tee-hee-hee.  Yes, that him!  My hero!  And he’s so strong, and handsome, and dreamy, and well-dressed.  And he has my name on him!  What’s not to love?

That’s the funny thing about those romance scenes.  They don’t have much to do with reality.    Which isn’t to say that romance doesn’t exist; just that it exists outside of the pesky needlings of reality, such as “So, isn’t your hero smart enough to wear a shirt in the middle of a Chicago November?”

That’s why when a new parent proudly displays her offspring with a cooed invitation to share her delight, your response can never be any of the following:

  • “Well, he has the requisite number of limbs.”
  • “At least he looks healthy.” 
  • “Who’s the father again?”  (For the new author, this translates to “Who wrote this?  You did?”)

No, as the cornered audience, you can only warily reflect that the chemical soup of interally produced painkillers, muscle relaxants and mood destabilizers coursing through mama’s bloodstream turns her into something closely related to a sleep-deprived ninja, and enthuse in return, “Oh, he’s going to make all the girls cry.”

Whether your new love is 8 1/2 pounds of squalling infant or 6 1/4 feet of black leather-wrapped alpha — or the 7-inch cover slick of the aforementioned alpha — of course you know it’s not always going to be perfect, or easy, or even particularly tidy.  But you want that moment of illusion, the surprise and joy.  And you want everyone — no, really, everyone — to feel that same thrill.

Later (say, October 6, 2009) he’ll grow up, take off on his own, hopefully make you proud, and maybe even support you in your old age.  But whatever happens, you’ll always be able to pull out the baby picture and remember the moment you first fell in love.

And because who can get enough of baby pictures, here’s the backside.


No, not that backside…


Scenes and scenery
by Annette McCleave on March 10th, 2009

Sigh. Jessa shouldn’t have mentioned Viggo/Aragorn in her post yesterday … I fought an almost unbearable urge all day to sneak away from my writing to watch my LOR movies.

It was actually therapeutic to revisit scenes from my first novel, trying to find the right one to share.

My upcoming release, DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, involves angels, demons and and the battle for human souls. My hero, an immortal Soul Gatherer, lives among the human race disguised as a priest. My heroine, Rachel, doesn’t know the outfit is a disguise, nor does she know her daughter is mixed up with something far worse than a bunch of teenage hoodlums, but she does know Lachlan MacGregor isn’t like any other priest she’s ever met…


Hackles up, Rachel stepped around the tree trunk, only to have her path blocked by a very big and very formidable . . . Lachlan MacGregor.

“Don’t,” he said quietly.

His sudden appearance in the dark should have frightened her. Instead, the sight of his handsome face, etched with obvious resolve, filled her with a feeling of deliverance so intense she was tempted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him. Of course, she didn’t. Despite the ease flooding her chest, she huffed her disagreement and attempted to dodge around him. Someone had to stop that creep from kissing Em.

He blocked her advance. “He knows you’re here. He’s just doing it to goad you.”

“How do you know that? She’s only fourteen.”

“Trust me.”

He took a firm step toward her, forcing her to back up, but also conveniently occluding her view with his large body, protecting her from a sight he knew would upset her. Constrained by darkness, with only a few visual elements to focus on, her senses clung to other things such as his scent, subtle and free of cologne. It was a breathtaking swirl of warm wool and spice—very sexy . . . and damned inappropriate for a priest.

“He looked right at you,” Lachlan pointed out. “And it’s pretty obvious he’s never kissed her before. It’s just a show.”

“How can you be sure?”

“I can’t,” he admitted. He took another step, again encouraging her to retreat. “But I’ve learned to trust my gut.”

Rachel dug her heels in, refusing to let him herd her any farther away from Em. He closed the gap in one decisive stride, his broad shoulders towering over her, crowding her. But if his intent was to intimidate, he failed. Despite his size, she felt no fear. “I can’t leave her here. Not with them.”

“I suspect they won’t hang about much longer, but just to be certain, I’ll go back and watch them.” He stared into her eyes with an oddly intimate look, as if they shared more than just a common goal to protect Emily. It made Rachel’s heart pound. “I need you to go home, Rachel.”


“You’ll want to be home when she gets back.”

Or face the consequences of Em finding out she’d followed her out here. Valid point. Still, she squirmed. “If he—”

“If he goes further than a kiss, I’ll take care of it.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “I promise.”

Before she could point out there were seven of them and only one of him, he was gone.

These are a few of my favorite things…
by Jessa Slade on March 9th, 2009

Currently working in: Revision Hell
Mood: Rather toasty

I’m a big picture person.  I like overarching themes and intricate through-lines.  Writing on that level is like flying with the angels — bright and cerebral, accompanied by the soothing sounds of harps and catered by cupids with Nectar of the Gods.

But a story is really told in the guts.  As in blood and guts, and gutsy decisions.  Scenes are the guts of the story.  You get waaaay dirtier there.  Scenes are slippery and don’t always fit tidily where you put them, and you’re not — according to AMA (Association of Manuscript Assassins) ethics — supposed to use duct tape or a staple gun.  But messy as they are, scenes are where the story is.

Scenes hold the emotion, the action, the energy.  Here are a few of my favorite scenes:

From Raiders of the Lost Ark:


Always bring a gun to a scimitar fight.  The story goes, a strenuous physical fight scene had been scripted between the scimitar-wielding bad guy and Indy and his whip, but Harrison Ford was feeling ill that day.  As a joke, he pulled out his gun and “shot” the bad guy.  Everybody thought it was great, so it stayed.

Whether the story is true or not, the scene is wonderful.  Watching it, I felt my heart race as Indy stood with his coiled whip and the bad guy swirled his scimitar.  Then out came the gun and blam!  The tension was perfectly released with a laugh and a wry thought that, ‘Well, yeah, that sure was smarter. I’d follow this hero anywhere.’


 From Ladyhawke:

I couldn’t find a picture, but remember the pre-dawn scene where Isabeau has bedded down for a night on the frozen tundra with the weary wolf-Navarre?  The sun has not quite risen, but the man is beginning to return from the wolf.  As his dark fur morphs to rumpled hair, she reaches out to touch him.  He lifts his hand to hers…  Then the first rays of the sun shine upon them.  Her fingers become feathers and she burst from their lovenest in a blur of hawk’s wings.

 Oh, the heartbreak.  That suspended moment — without a word said — captures their longing and the hopelessness of their situation.  I perfectly understood the desperation that drove them into their final harrowing battle. 

From The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers:

scene-helmsdeep1 For epic battle scenes (with plenty of guts, of both the figurative and strewing kind) I think nobody beats Tolkien, and Peter Jackson’s vision was a technical marvel (yes, I watched the days of bonus material on the DVDs) and a masterful manipulation of the viewers’ hearts and minds: With such vast forces of evil raised against our heroes, how can they possibly prevail? 

With awesome CG and Viggo’s twisty locks, that’s how!  Bliss!

All of the above, of course, is just a transparent attempt to avoid the real topic this week which is the favorite scene I wrote.  I can’t even tell you why I like this scene, because that would be cheating, since it doesn’t matter why I like it.  Not anymore.  Those guts I mentioned before must now come together to give life to a breathing, lusting, struggling entity quite separate from me.

So here goes…  Unlike the scenes above, I chose a quieter scene from early in the story, where the heroine, Sera, confronts the hero about her new life as an immortal warrior acolyte possessed by a repentant demon fighting the never-ending battle against evil.

From Seduced By Shadows:

 “Do you really expect me to believe any of this?  That I’ve been possessed by a… a demon?”

“Belief is beside the point.  It is true.”

It was like being told she would soon be killed by a falling piano.  Of course she didn’t believe him.  And yet she couldn’t help looking up.  “Demons don’t exist.” 

“Not corporeally, not in this world.  Which is why it has clothed itself in your flesh.”

The lake wind swirled, and an inadvertent shudder ripped through her.  She wrapped her arms around her waist.  As if she might feel different.  “And what if I’m not interested in sharing my flesh?”

A muscle in his jaw tensed.  “You can cast it out, before it ascends, before it sets roots in your soul and its mark on your skin.”

He twitched back the edge of his trench coat and from the folds of supple leather released a blackened club the size of her forearm.  With a snap of his wrist and the menacing schick of sliding metal, the club telescoped to double in length.  He flicked it outward, and from the thickened, studded end, a blade cascaded out in a series of glittering steel segments, like a cardsharp’s precisely fanned hand almost twice as wide as her spread fingers.

From primitive club to switchblade battle-axe quicker than her stuttering heart could find its beat.

“Oh God.”  She cringed back against the wall. 

“I never got around to naming it.”  He gripped the weapon just below the wickedly recurved blade and tugged up the sleeves of his coat and shirt.

The razor edge carved the cold light, sharper than the look he threw her as he laid the gleaming blade against the inside of his right arm between the inky lines of his tattoo.

“No.”  A sickening beat of horror skipped through her, like when she’d seen the SUV hurtling toward her, about to change her life forever.

The tattoo, not Celtic nor tribal but even more primitive, swirled over his knuckles and spiked halfway up his arm.  Against the black, the skin of his wrist looked tender, veins and tendons standing out in marbled relief.

He stilled, and despite the dread-full thump of her heart, she found her gaze drawn to his.

“Unforgivably melodramatic,” he said, “but effectively convincing.”

He sliced the blade down his inner arm.

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