Home, sweet crypt
by Sharon Ashwood on May 19th, 2010

The best non-writing thing I do that helps me write is really quite boring. Eat well, sleep well, and exercise. If the body’s not working, the rest of me can’t, either.

Of course, here in the Castle of The Dark Forgotten, common activities take a slightly different turn. Warm up with a little hellfire, get some cardio swordplay with the trolls, lift a few boulders, and after that, a little stretching on the rack. Ninety minutes of that, and I’m ready to hit the showers.

Yes, it’s easy to live the simple life here. A simple mattress in a stone cell offers few distractions. One can drift off to sleep to the gentle howling of the hellhounds, and then wake to the morning screech of the gargoyles. In between, eight solid hours of tomb-like silence. If that appeals to you, it is possible to upgrade to the mausoleum suite, which offers a luxury coffin plus a small sitting area with genuine Victorian stonework decor.


Dining opportunities are varied. Given the wide range of species resident in the Castle, food services here are necessarily talented and, dare I say it, athletic. Fast food still has to be caught—and let me assure you everything is absolutely fresh. If you prefer to dine out, there are a variety of fine restaurants and bars mere steps away from the Castle door. My personal favourite is the Empire Hotel, where the lounge is run by the so-friendly bartender, Joe. Just don’t go during a full moon as some of the customers prefer take-out.

Yes, as I say, it’s important to take care of your personal health while doing anything creative. Health equals energy equals the kind of spirit capable of seizing on inspiration. It’s true that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, but without that 10% leavening the rest, anything you do will come out reading like an instruction manual.

And you really don’t want the instruction manuals from the Castle.

I just wonder what they might be???

Refilling the Well
by Annette McCleave on May 18th, 2010
Annette McCleave

Writing is creatively draining.

I don’t mean that in a bad way—just as an honest assessment of the flow of creativity within me. While I love to write and can’t imagine ever not writing, I need to step away from the computer and renew myself on a daily basis. I fear that if I continually empty the well and never pour anything back in, one day I’ll wake up to find I’m burned out.

Renewal comes in a variety of forms. To charge my creative battery, I can read, watch TV, go for a walk, or simply sit and think. It has to be an activity I find inspiring. Books by authors I love are an easy choice. But so are books on improving my craft or research books. Movies and well-written TV series work, too, because I can’t help but analyze why certain plot elements work for me and others don’t and applaud when the writers surprise me. Exercise of any kind gets the blood pumping and increased blood flow to the brain is always helpful. :wink:

But interacting with the world in a calm, leisurely way works best for me. Watching the ducks in the park, savoring cream cheese and lox at the bagel shop, discussing the weather with my neighbors, enjoying brunch with family members, or sucking in a deep breath of cool, spring air–all of them can rejuvenate me and send me back to the key board with fresh enthusiasm and new ideas.

The important part is refilling the well.

Getting back to craft books for a second, the book on my shelf with the most worn pages is Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. There’s yellow highlighter on almost every page. Who wants to share their can’t-live-without-it writing skills book?

Winner of A Breath of Magic
by Sharon Ashwood on May 17th, 2010

Congratulations to Julianne!

No OFF button
by Jessa Slade on May 17th, 2010
Jessa Slade

Currently working on: Argh, look behind you!.. What? Oh sorry, never mind.  My mistake… What was the question again?
Mood: Focused as a laser beam

No, I’m kidding, I have been working.  Hard.  I’ve been composing guest blog posts in preparation for my blog tour to support the release of FORGED OF SHADOWS next month.  (Which will be here before I know it.  That’s what’s behind us–the relentlessly creeping Time Monster!)  One of the interview questions I had to answer was: What do you do when you’re not writing?

I thought about it for awhile.  And couldn’t come up with anything. 

If I’m not writing, I SHOULD be writing.  After all, I have the life many writers long for–a published book and another on the way.  To not write seems disrespectful.  Guilt makes not writing not fun.

So to circumvent the Guilt Monster (second cousin to the Time Monster) I often try to find a way to make my non-writing activities support my writing activites.  Dog walks are brainstorming sessions.  Reading is research.  Twitter (http://twitter.com/jessaslade) is networking.  Buckets o’ cookie dough are much-needed energy.  Naps are…well, cookie dough only takes you so far, doesn’t it?

Even my other creative pursuits have taken a back seat to writing.  The little sketching I’ve done in the last few years has been of the horde-tenebrae monsters in my books or settings when I can’t quite picture the staging.  I haven’t picked up a paintbrush at all.  Only my beading has resisted the all-encompassing suck of The Book, mostly because I’ve been making Possession in Pearl earrings–from demented, weirdly shaped pearl sticks–to use as blog tour giveaways.


I’m always glad when I blow off my guilt and sneak in an utterly non-writing project because it was a personal beading breakthrough that I think really opened some doors in my mind when it came to my writing.

See, I’m a perfectionist.  Nasty habit, that.  Striving for excellence is a worthy goal, but perfectionism will drive you mad.  For a long time, I would string beads to make a necklace…and then unstring them because they weren’t quite right.  I was constantly on the lookout for the “perfect” bead to complete a given project.  I amassed more and more beads, but it was impossible to be sure I had the “perfect” bead because–as many beads as I had–I didn’t have them all.  What if the “perfect” bead was still out there?  Time to come unstrung again.

Then one day…  I’d like to say I stopped being stupid.  But really what happened was a poverty-induced Christmas panic.  I had decided to use up some of the ridiculous amount of beads making jewelry for my female relatives.  And now I had a deadline.

Suddenly, “perfect” was less pressing than “wrapped, packed and shipped.”  I learned to come to peace with the pieces I had.  And they were perfectly lovely.  At least according to my mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt, who I’m sure were utterly objective.

Now when I’m writing, when I feel the urge to look for the perfect word, to wait until I have perfectly visualized every element of the story, to rail at myself for being less than perfect, I think of my beads.  To be lovely, to come to life, they have to be strung and hung around someone’s neck or dangling from someone’s ears.  And I’m the only one who can make that happen. 

I think most people have beads rolling around the drawers of their life that should be out for the world to admire.  Maybe not perfect, but shiny or sparkly or intriguing or whatever is good enough.  How do you support the creativity in your life?

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a pair of Possession in Pearl earrings similar to the ones pictured above.  I’m making another pair as soon as I finish this post.  Hey, I can’t write ALL the time.

Tracy Madison’s quirky guest blog!
by Sharon Ashwood on May 13th, 2010

Tracy Madison knows how to make paranormal romance light and fun! And to prove it, she’s having a Month of Mysticism (with great prizes) on her blog.

Meanwhile, Tracy has dropped by S&S to give away a signed copy of A BREATH OF MAGIC to a commenter, so tell us about your favorite quirky characters!


Quirky Characters and Why I Love Them

One of my favorite words in the entire world of words is “quirk.” I love how it looks, how it sounds, and I even love saying it. Quirk. Quirks. Quirky. Go ahead and say it out loud. Please? I’ll wait…

See? It’s a fun little word! Just saying it forces your mouth into a pucker, which is sort of quirky on its own. But as much as I love the phonetics of the word, that’s not the only reason why I adore the word “quirk.” I also love its meaning.

Quirk has a few different definitions, but the one I’m talking about today is:

“A peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality: mannerism.”

And right there is the reason why I am hooked. Every single one of us has at least one quirk. I totally believe this. Even if you can’t identify your own quirks, I bet those closest to you can. Some people’s quirks might be tiny, barely noticeable peculiarities, while others have more than their fair share of peculiarities. Heck, I know a few on both sides of the equation.

But these quirks are part of what makes us who we are. Some of them are funny, and we’re used to being teased about them. For example, I cannot sit in a public place with my back to the room. Okay, well, I can. I just don’t want to. It gives me the creepy-crawlies and I’ll do almost anything to avoid it. My friends and family give me a knowing look whenever I beeline it for the chair against the wall. If I have to sit with my back to the room, I will. I’ll just be uncomfortable until I can get up and leave.

And oh, am I teased about this. Everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Especially because I have no reason to be this way—it just is what it is. But if you think about it, that’s a true statement for most quirks. And that’s another reason why I love them. Quirks, peculiarities of action, can breathe life into the characters of any book I’m reading. They are an important aspect of what helps me connect to characters, so I care about them and their story.

These quirks don’t have to be huge or crazy, either. Often, the tiniest of mannerisms are the strongest in characterization, the most compelling, and deliver exactly the bit of insight I need to truly understand a character. They add dimension, texture, and create characters that jump off the page into real life.

Can you imagine Sookie Stackhouse being quite as interesting without her high quirk quotient?

Or what about Eve Dallas and her penchant for sweets and coffee, or even the fact she hates having her hair styled? Eve is a strong woman, an engrossing character, and infinitely interesting to read about, but I have to say, I like her even more because of her quirks.

Quirks can also make me dislike a character, feel disgust, or even cringe as soon as that character walks into a scene. But when that happens, it’s for a reason. In most cases, the author wants me to have those feelings, and that’s why they’ve given these particular characters unappealing quirks. They’ve still used certain peculiarities of action to add dimension, texture, and realism into their characters. So, whether I like, love, or loathe the end result—these characters feel real to me, and that’s exactly how I want to feel when I’m reading a book.

And this is why I love quirky characters.

When I’m creating the characters who will live in my stories, I definitely give a great deal of consideration to quirks. Sometimes, these quirks pop up when I least expect it, and I love that. Other times, though, I have to consciously decide what quirk is right for which character. In my Magic series (A Taste of Magic, A Stroke of Magic, and my newest release, A Breath of Magic), I use quirks mostly to add humor, but also to add emotion.

I want my readers to care about my characters, to laugh with them, to worry about whatever struggles they’re facing, and giving them quirks is one way I can accomplish this. As a writer, my hope is that my readers will become invested in my characters, so they’ll stick around from page one all the way to “the end,” and enjoy the journey in between.

What about you? Who are some of your favorite quirky characters? And if you feel like sharing…what are some of your quirks? Everyone who comments will be entered to win a signed copy of A Breath of Magic!

To learn more about my books and maybe even some of my quirks, visit me at www.tracymadison.com.

The Sekrit
by Sharon Ashwood on May 12th, 2010

Secrets can be good or bad.

The secrets of the post-published life are plentiful in good AND bad ways. I’ve talked before about the shock of discovering how much self promotion was involved in authorhood. I’m not going to cover that ground again, even though it’s a topic I can whine about ad nauseum. Instead, the Big Sekrit I’m going to talk about is one I learned long before I was published. It was one of those bits of information I picked and filed away without knowing its value until I really needed it.

Here it is:

Survival is the name of the game. Be prepared to adapt as a writer. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Reasons for this abound. One is that tastes change. People like historical yesterday, paranormal today, and kink with tribbles tomorrow. It doesn’t always pay to chase trends, but a certain amount of mobility is essential. Otherwise, we’d all still be in helmet hair and shoulder pads—and that would just be scary.

Another reason is the constant roller coaster of the publishing industry itself. Lines fail. Editors leave. What fit for one may not work for the next that you approach. They may have all the kink with tribbles they need, but require pirates in lacy underwear. Or maybe you’re competing against the queen of tribble sex, and just can’t seem to get any traction with readers. Instead, you know there’s an unfilled market for Wild West sagas featuring the hairless Chihuahua porn hero, Alpha Romero. It might be something new to you, but it’s an untouched gold mine. Give it a shot, and you’ll not only land a contract, but perhaps discover your métier.


Footnote: Sometimes trying a new genre is very revealing. Every writer needs to discover the voice they have, not the one they think they should have. Working against self-assumptions can be healthy.

The third, and most important, reason to experiment is that writers are primarily artists. They need room to grow, stay fresh, and push their limits. Staying in the safe zone is the kiss of death. This is one reason why authors constantly rebrand themselves and launch their careers over and over again. Many have two different careers at the same time working on very different lines. It’s not just money issues. Versatility keeps a writer on the right side of editorial and artistic Darwinism.

My question is, in the interests of cross-genre experimentation, should we introduce Romero to the tribbles?

How To Train Your Muse
by Annette McCleave on May 11th, 2010
Annette McCleave

The winner of last week’s signed copy of Bound by Darkness is Zita! Congratulations! Email me your address, Zita, and I’ll get the book out to you ASAP.

What’s the post-publishing secret I wish someone had told me? Train your muse.

In all fairness, I think an author or two might have tried to share this secret with me before I was published, but I wasn’t really listening. I thought I had it all under control.

I’ve never had a problem with deadlines. I thrive on them. I love the sound of the bell clanging in the mist, warning me that there are lethal shoals ahead. Knowing the deadline is out there helps me focus and keeps me on track. In my day job, I was always able to juggle multiple tasks and ruthlessly prioritize to get the job done.

But when it came to writing a book on a real deadline, things didn’t go quite so smoothly. I had a bad habit that I didn’t realize I possessed.

For years, my writing took a back seat. Yes, I carved time out of my busy schedule to write—I had to, or I would never have finished a book—but whenever real life crept up, my writing time was the first thing to suffer. This happened because up to the moment I sold my first book, fiction writing was not a money-making venture for me. Other things in my life had a direct positive or negative impact on my cash flow, and thus, they got priority.

After I signed a book contract, my priorities changed, and I was ready for it. I was enthusiastic and keen and eager to make my mark as a published author. Unfortunately, my muse was not so ready. As proud as I was about scheduling dedicated writing time, delivering a manuscript under real deadline (not self-imposed) proved much more difficult than I thought.

Here’s why: Published authors need to multitask. At the same time that they are writing the new book, they are drafting a proposal for the next book and marketing the first book. They are updating their websites, writing guest blogs, arranging advertising, planning and ordering marketing materials, and visiting the post office … a lot. In short, writers are small business owners.

I realize now that my muse was lazy. It thought it could saunter in at those pre-arranged times and slowly stretch out its muscles for an hour before diving into the real work. It thought it could break for coffee several times a day. It thought we were self-employed and could take a day off whenever it wanted. It thought watching a movie was an excellent way to regenerate the creative flow.

Yikes. Talk about watching the days rush past.

But I can’t blame my muse. I should have prepared it better for that moment when we did have a contract. We like to think writing is cerebral and sort of uncontainable, but the truth is, any pro tennis player uses her head as much as her heart. Like any other pro, writers need to be able to call up their master game.

So here’s my advice: Train your muse now. Cultivate instant focus. Produce words on demand. Learn to switch from one creative task to another with ease. If I had, the first year would have been a great deal less stressful.

The Sekrit Handshake
by Jessa Slade on May 10th, 2010
Jessa Slade

Currently working on: Still unpacking from the RT Booklovers’ Convention
Mood: Awash

Last Monday, when I was supposed to be blogging here, I was flying back from Columbus Ohio after the RT Booklovers’  Convention, where more than a thousand women — and a few men — gathered together for a solid week of book lovin,’ Mr. Romance-ogling (I did mention there were a few men), drinking, and more book lovin.’

Highlights of my trip:

  • Whiskey shots with Joe Konrath, author of WHISKEY SOUR (see, those shots were networking)
  • Scoring Jeri Smith-Ready’s newest, SHADE, a paranormal YA, before she sold out at the book fair — mine, all mine!
  • Four nights of dancing in person with online friends

Lowlights of my trip:

  • The DJ who, when I asked if he had any Bollywood dance music, responded that, well, he had Molly Hatchet — er, not quite
  • Forgetting my tiara for the prom-themed dance party
  • The flight home from Ohio to Oregon via New York — don’t ask

Back to the highlights though.  I got to mingle with all sorts of people, from voracious readers to aspiring writers to famous authors.  (Is that Charlaine Harris?!  OMG OMG!  I adore name dropping!)  What an amazing, fun, savvy, dedicated group it was.  For a newer author like myself, it was a wonderful opportunity to talk with a wide swath of book people and contemplate, “Geez, who let me in here?”

Turns out, there wasn’t a sekrit handshake required at the door.

Oh, I knew there wasn’t really a sekrit handshake, but when I was racking up rejections in the early years of my writing (uh, and in the later years too) I desperately hoped there was a large, Raybanned, cross-armed bouncer guarding a NYC office building with “Publishing” somewhere on the letterhead who could be bought off with the right open sesame.  In many ways, it seemed easier to imagine a trick than to think of all the hard work.

After all, ”work hard” just isn’t an inspiring call to adventure. 

But one theme I heard repeated at RT time and again was the value of perseverance, the stubborn dedication that goes with hard work.  I talked to a multi-published author whose number of rejections quadrupled mine.  I met writers in all stages, from “I have this idea” to just receiving a request for a complete manuscript from an editor attending the convention.  I had dinner with a reader who drove ten hours after work through the night to make the convention, blowing a tire in the process.  “I need chocolate,” was her only complaint.  They all wanted the same thing: books.  Lots of books.

Can you be clear eyed and starry eyed at the same time?  I think so.  I saw that at RT, and it reminded me, the door was always open.  I just had to get there.

The RT Booklovers’ Convention is in Los Angeles next year.  Maybe I’ll see some of you!

The Final Cut
by KimLenox on May 9th, 2010

As you know, we have weekly blog topics here at Silk & Shadows. Some of the topics are easy to blog about, and some are HARD. At least for me.

The craft topics, for example, are always difficult for me to blog about, I suspect because I don’t really want all of you to know just how imperfect my methods are.

As for pulling the book all together…

I think a lot of writing, for me, is instinct. The instinct comes from reading so much. A lot of us have the instinct, even those of you readers who don’t write. You just know when something pivotal is supposed to take place, or when the action is supposed to rise, or when something bad is bound to happen. And when those things don’t happen at the right moment, things feel a little off kilter or poorly plotted.

There are so many books written and seminars dissecting the subject of writing. I do have a couple of craft books I read, and re-read as I’m writing a book. Like GOAL, MOTIVATION AND CONFLICT by Debra Dixon. And I always enjoy attending writing workshops and seminars. I take a lot of notes that I never look at again because all in all, I tend to glean and internalize the most profound suggestions and they become part of the voice inside my head that guides me as I write. Again, it goes back to instinct.

One of the most important voices is the one that reminds me, constantly, that every word should be important. It should have purpose and meaning. I work very hard never to write “filler”. Every “brick” of my writing should be a part of my story “wall”. I don’t really want any bricks laying off to the side, unused and abandoned. That’s filler to me.

Still, at the close of each book, I always experience a sort of panic. The book is never perfect. I always want more time. I have a friend. She writes several books a year for multiple publishers and…she always turns her books in a couple of weeks early. (I love her! I do. But…can you hear the wistful envy in my words?) I have never turned in a book early. In fact, I go all Charleton Heston with my manuscripts, and yes, I have to force the manuscript from (no, not my cold, dead hands, but) my shaking, aching hands and press that SEND button.

Even then, after it’s done, and I go through the revision process with my editor and copy edits, I aways feel anxious when my ARCS (advanced reading copies) arrive. Normal writers get excited and want to share them with everyone. I eyeball them for days, never opening the cover, because I know my book is imperfect.

Fast Forward: About three months after the book releases, I’ll finally pick up a copy and … SURPRISE! Rainbows and butterflies shoot out from the pages. I read, and read, and ENJOY and see the story that I wanted to write is YES, actually there on the pages.

Why can’t I see that before? I suspect it has something to do with perfectionism, and being too close to the story to be able to see clearly. I don’t think there is any way to change my process, it’s just me.

Is there anything you are a raging perfectionist about? Your checkbook? Are you a neat freak? Your job? Tell me about it! I need to know I’m not the only weirdo out there.

The push and pull of book assembly
by Sharon Ashwood on May 5th, 2010

I always have more ideas than I can use in a book. Part of my process isn’t so much pulling things together as weeding things out, and it’s an emotional process. There’s nothing worse than characters looking at you with big, sad eyes when you tell them it’s not their turn to come out on stage. Next book. Maybe. They trudge away, dragging their feet, heads bowed, mumbling something about contracts.

The problem is that I never know exactly what goes or stays until draft 1 is complete. A lot comes to light when there’s a chance to step away and think about the book as a whole. Given deadlines, that usually lasts about ten minutes, but a period of several weeks is best.

What emerges for me is theme. One writes a series of events, but one also writes what the book is about. That “about” is key and constitutes much of what they call the writer’s voice. What issues to you address through the actions of your characters? Family? Self-actualization? Fate? Atonement? The iniquity of shoulder pads?

Sometimes I start out thinking my book is about X only to discover it’s about Y. The theme that sneaks into my text is usually smarter, more sophisticated and altogether better. My next step—part one of the pulling together process—is then reshaping what I’ve done to show it to best advantage and the pretending that’s what I meant to write all along.

My biggest flaw is dropped threads. As I head into draft 2, I’m constantly tripping over plot ideas that fit some other version of the story but have nada to do with the end product. A lot of this has to do with the breathless rush that happens when characters are telling me their scenes. I just record the stuff as it comes along, figuring I’ll go back and fix it later. I keep a notebook by the computer where I can jot notes down. Right now as I write ICED I have:
• What did Perry know? Why did he ask Baines to go to the University?
• Why did they kill St. Hiliare?
• Who was the gunman?
Don’t ask me. I have to figure it out like everyone else.
Eventually, though, the questions have to be answered, and that’s the other big “pulling together” that happens. Nothing bugs me worse than sloppy plotting, so I can’t exactly let myself off the hook. Some threads will get snipped off. Others will be properly woven into the story. If I do a good job, the effect will be seamless.

Someday I’m going to keep a log of how much time I spend writing a book versus editing it. By the time page proofs are done, I’m willing to bet the ratio is 2:1 or even 3:1 in favour of editing. Anyone want to place bets?