by Jessa Slade on May 21st, 2012
As the sun was setting the other night, I took a few pictures of my Interlaken grapes. They were transplanted two years ago, so last year they were grumpy, but this year, they are promising a fabulous crop of wonderfully sweet table grapes. You can see the little grapelings thrusting out.
The grapes needed a break so they could come back stronger. I guess we can all understand that.
I have little peaches coming on too. Tiny, barely fuzzy little things that look like fairy butt cracks. Hopefully they are working hard turning that last sunlight into sugar.
The peaches will get bigger, although I admit I’m impatiently urging them along. Faster, faster!
After a gentle sprinkle yesterday (just enough to haze over my view of the solar eclipse) I found this hammock of baby spiders, sheltering together, with raindrops beneath them.
By November, these babies will be big garden spiders, trying to catch me in their webs!
By November, the grapes and peaches will be a memory. Funny how everything has its own season of glory.
We started Silk & Shadows back in November of 2008, and now, as 2012 ripens, we are turning over new leaves. So we are closing this chapter here at Silk & Shadows.
We started here at Silk & Shadows as new Signet Eclipse authors, sheltering together like the spiderlings. Now we’re bigger (a bit bigger, anyway) and we’re off to new adventures.
Sharon Ashwood’s FROSTBOUND is a finalist in the Prism contest and her new series with Harlequin Nocturne is looming. Be sure to follow her continuing adventures by subscribing to her newsletter.
Kim Lenox is in a new house with new stories brewing. Subscribe to her newsletter at her website.
And I’m busy shoveling compost, in the garden and into my computer. Gotta keep it rich and dark if I want that great harvest. You can keep track of me here.
We hope you enjoyed reading our posts, and we look forward to telling you more on our own blogs and elsewhere on teh interwebz (which has almost as many spiders as my garden). Please come find us on our social networking sites and say hey. We’ve enjoyed writing for you… That part never ends.
by Sharon Ashwood on May 14th, 2012
Congratulations to erinf1 for winning a copy of Shereen Vedam’s story, The Misspelled Charm!
by Sharon Ashwood on May 10th, 2012
Silk and Shadows is delighted to have Shereen Vedam as our guest. Her stories are magical, whimsical, and always surprising … prepare yourself to be delighted when you pick up her books. We’re fortunate to have her here introducing her latest short work.
Please help us make her welcome! There’s a free copy available of The Misspelled Charm for someone who comments.
First, I’d like to thank Silk and Shadows for inviting me. Their invitation ties in nicely with my topic – Belonging – and my latest fantasy short story release, The Misspelled Charm. Both are about finding that special place where one fits in, will be accepted, where someone says, come in, please.
People are social creatures and we understand that need to belong, be it at work or socially, within our family or with friends. Yet, belonging, being accepted, being invited even, isn’t easy and doesn’t happen on command.
That’s the reason why there are loners in school, people willing to partake in college fraternity hazing, and at work, if you can’t get along, you can’t get ahead. As for paranormal stories, isn’t wanting to belong at the heart of many?
So, how can we fit in, be accepted, get along? And should we even want to?
Abraham Maslow’s answer to that last question would likely have been a resounding, yes!
“When people appear to be something other than good and decent, it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain, or the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self-esteem.”
Abraham Maslow, American Psychologist
Maslow hypothesized that before we can become self-actualized (i.e. act unselfishly, be creative, problem solve and shed prejudices), we must first master 4 basic human needs.
He saw these 4 basic human needs as being arranged in hierarchical order. A pyramid, if you will. As with any climbing exercise, we must first feel secure on the first step, before we attempt the next one.
Maslow saw the first human need as Physiological – the need for air, water, food, sex and sleep. Yup, sex is right there as one of the first basic human needs. Who’d have guessed? Well, maybe romance readers.
Master this first need and the second one extends its lure, whispering, look what’s up here. This second need is for Safety. For our self, our loved ones, our health and property.
The third need for Love and Belonging.
“Lack of interactions, human relationships and the sense of belonging may result in depression or loneliness while an abundance of love and community often sustain people through difficult times.”
Where does that leave that loner in school? The college freshman talked into a dangerous hazing ritual? The awkward colleague overlooked for promotion, again.
Or, as in The Misspelled Charm, a witch who can take a lover for a night but not for a lifetime. Because, within her society, witches are tolerated, not accepted.
Witches don’t belong.
How can we conquer the challenges of this troublesome third need in order to reach for that much-valued fourth need for Self-esteem – where we grow confident, respect others and, in turn, are respected?
And if we can’t get past these four basic needs, will we ever achieve that top tier on Maslow’s pyramid, and become Self-actualized? Where we learn to respect those with whom we don’t get along? Where we wallow in divine creativity? Where we problem-solve our way to a success life?
I believe Maslow’s third basic need for love/ belonging is a crucial one in our journey to self-actualization. Better yet, it’s a step that everyone in society can help each other to master. Because belonging often begins with an invitation. An open door. A, “Come in, please.” Making that offer is a great way for us to give someone else a hand up Maslow’s pyramid.
In The Misspelled Charm, I explore this theme of belonging with a witch who finds the courage to reach for her place within her society and win the love of a man who is out to break any magical hold she might have on him.
Here’s a short excerpt:
Stripping off his tunic and boots, he rolled up his trews and set to washing.
Kord looked up, cool water running in streams along his hot, flushed cheeks.
A man in a brown robe cinched at the waist waved to him from across the street.
“Morning,” Kord replied in a gruff voice, not wanting to encourage conversation. The last thing he needed was to be questioned on why he came out of a witch’s house in the early morning hours.
Villagers tended to be wary of strangers, but even more so of people who associated with witches. Men had been stoned for bedding one, because it was said that a child of such a union was often malformed or cursed. He shrugged back into his tunic and avoided eye contact.
“Are you a friend of Charmaine’s?”
“No.” His feet were as clean as they were ever likely to get, so he sat on the ledge and rolled down his trews and put his boots back on.
“Who are you then?”
Kord pretended not to hear the prying question and headed to Charmaine’s house. He glanced back and discovered five people gathered across the road. Neighbors sensing gossip, or danger. He relented, wanting to allay fears. “I’m Kord from Camden. I’ve business with her.”
“Oh,” a woman said with a warm smile. “Good. She needs the custom, poor thing.”
About to retreat, that comment made him pause and face his interrogators. The woman had sounded as if she cared about the witch’s well-being.
“You’ve known her long?” he asked.
“All my life. We were schooled together.”
Witches went to school in Ponce? He had never heard of such a thing. Before you knew it, the University of Edensa would take one on for higher studies. The absurd notion made him chuckle.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this intriguing subject of belonging. There’s a free copy available of The Misspelled Charm for someone who comments.
The Misspelled Charm is also available at The Wild Rose Press or from other ebookstores (links to bookstores, reviews and another short excerpt are available on my website: www.shereenvedam.com).
If you purchase/read this fantasy romance short story, I (on behalf of Justin, the heroine’s familiar) would be very grateful if you would take the time to write an honest review at GoodReads, Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble. What can I say? Justin’s a bit of an attention hog. He’s definitely reached the self-actualization stage.
by Sharon Ashwood on May 9th, 2012
Few things are more daunting or more exciting than a cunning plan. Daunting, because I’m a bit short of cleverness, not to mention cunning, when faced with the world of internet technology. It outwits me on a regular basis.
That doesn’t mean I get away with ignoring it. And, unfortunately, there is only so much I can designate to other people. The sad truth is that while I can ask a technician to build a web site for me, I still have to tell them what I want to include. Now there’s a good question.
Web site? Yes, I have one already, but it was made before my Dark Forgotten series came out. With the advent of a new string of books, heroes, adventures, and the rest, I thought it was time for a makeover. What I want to know first, though, is what parts of a web page readers actually want to see. Do you care about what writing courses I can teach? Whether the text is white on black or black on white? Where do you click to first?
Answer this survey in a comment and you will be automatically entered into a prize draw for one of my books—your choice of title. If you answer all five questions, you will double your entries—yes, two chances as a reward for being thorough!
1. When you visit an author’s web site, do you look at their blog?
2. What are the first two pages you look for?
3. What pages do you ignore?
4. What turns you off about a website?
5. What features do you like so much that you bookmark a site that has them?
I’ll draw the winner in one week, so get your answers in!
This contest is also open to my newsletter group.
by Jessa Slade on May 7th, 2012
Currently working on: Plotting new story
Mood: Puzzled (like puzzle pieces)
So, the other night I had a dream. (Collective groan, I know, but it’s my blog post.) I was at an RWA conference and I was
creeping through the halls (which were lined with dessert trays). Everybody was freaking out because the power had been cut (although I could still see the dessert trays; I have that superpower in real life too) but I knew who had done it and I knew I had to fight… Larry Brooks!
My hard-core writer friends are LOLing while everyone else is arching one eyebrow in polite disinterest. Larry Brooks is an author as well as a writer of non-fiction writing craft books. He did a two-day workshop for my local RWA chapter recently, and I’ve been re-reading his STORY ENGINEERING: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Success Writing, which I highly recommend to my writer friends. I’ve been using the 6 Competencies as one of my resources as I plot a new story that wasn’t quite working out.
It’s no surprise my subconscious dredged him up as a convenient villain while I wrestle this recalcitrant new story. Discovering a story isn’t working is always annoying. One of my character flaws is I hate being told I am wrong. I especially hate being told I am wrong by my subconscious, who isn’t even trying very hard to ease into the fact I need to rethink the story. Yeah, subconscious, I got it, you’re handing me how-to-write books off my own bookshelves, thanks so much. And BTW lining the path with imaginary desserts isn’t really sweetening the deal.
I’ve mentioned here before that I consider myself a dedicated plotter. I like to work out the big steps and many of the smaller steps before I really dig into the rough draft. I use a lot of worksheets and spreadsheets and beat sheets and blank sheets of paper. I like to plot, and I like my stories better when I plot. I like MYSELF better when I plot. (Not coincidentally, all my loved ones like me better when I plot too.)
And yet I am always shocked at how often I DON’T do the things I need to do. I started this new story, on a whim. The heroine’s voice popped into my head and I wrote pages and pages of scene snippets, mostly dialogue and interior monologue in the heroine’s fun, snarky voice. Then I thought, hey, this could be a book, or even a bunch of books. So I wrote synopses for a trilogy, just off the cuff. And then I started writing the first book, sorta randomly. And now I’m forty thousand words into this BOOK THAT DOESN’T HAVE A DAMN PLOT!
Writers who are “pantsers” or organic writers (people who don’t mind not knowing the damn plot while they write) probably aren’t freaked out by this, but I am. Hence, the dream. Reminding me what I need to do to get back on track. I need to MAKE a track for myself, which means going to the plotting board.
Trying new techniques is great, but I don’t think that’s what I was doing by skipping my usual plotting routine. I think, instead, I was trying to avoid the hard work. In my dream, I was creeping around in the dark, with a nefarious scheme against Larry Brooks, rather than doing the work I knew I had to do.
I don’t blame myself for being lazy. After all, lazy is a good strategy when it works. Why do hard work when lazy gets it done? Unfortunately, lazy wasn’t getting this story done. Apparently only a damn plot will do that.
So now I’m doing the work. Got my Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and Publisher charts all scribbled on. Hopefully there will be some real dessert trays in my future.
After I get this story plotted.
by Sharon Ashwood on May 2nd, 2012
There is plenty of advice out there on how to write ‘em. Keep it short and simple, no more than two pages. Keep the tone of the work you’re going to write. Use the present tense. Be focussed on the key points of the book.
None of that is bad, but it’s only conditionally true. In reality, the right way to produce a book outline is a) any method that will get it from your brain to the page in a coherent and meaningful fashion and b) it has to be in a form that your editor/agent wants to receive it. The bottom line is that they want to find out, with as little effort as possible, what you’re going to write about.
These two points, in my opinion, cut out a lot of stress. I long believed myself to be the worst synopsis-writer on the planet, and so laboured long and hard to produce a perfect specimen for my editor. Two pages, not a word over. I tracked the romance arc to perfection, touching on all the grey, black and purple moments. Began and ended with catchy phrases and had many a chuckle in between. It was great, she said, but what happened in the story? She knew everything but the details of the plot. I was about to protest that all the books said that was the one thing that didn’t matter, then fortunately stopped myself. The only thing that mattered is that she wanted to know, and I had to tell her.
The next outline I stuck to just the facts. I wrote was a ten-page blow by blow, chapter by chapter account with separate sections on character background and world-building. Crazy? Overblown? Flying in the face of received wisdom? Perhaps, but she loved it. For her, the supersized synopsis was the right approach.
Ever since, I’ve tended toward these monster-sized tomes, some of which top 5K words. Yes, it gives the editor more to quibble about, but I generally get far less push-back in the end. My agent loves them, too. Plus, they can give far, far better feedback when they know the specifics of your proposal and if there’s something they just don’t feel will work, it’s better to have that discussion before you write the next 90,000 words.
This does not mean that every editor or agent out there is going to adore this method. That two-page rule came from somewhere, so a goodly portion of publishing professionals prefer it. The point is simply that it pays to ask the simple question: what does your editor/agent like? The guidelines on their web site might be a company rule, but if a publishing house has a herd of editors, their individual tastes could be quite different. If you have a chance to ask, do it. Throwing the rule book out the window did me a world of good.
In some ways, that’s the hardest lesson to learn in an industry where advice is plentiful and hard facts are rare as cream puffs at the Hunger Games. Always ask what actually works.
by Jessa Slade on April 30th, 2012
Currently working on: Filling plotholes
This last Saturday, I attended Write to Publish, a writers’ conference organized by Portland State University’s Ooligan Press. (Conveniently, the Saturday Farmers’ Market was going on in the park next door, so I was able to stock up on brownies and chocolate chip cookies too. I suppose I could have gotten kale, but…) I had the chance to sit on a writing panel with a handful of romance writing friends and talk with aspiring authors about writing in general and writing romance in particular.
In my four years now as a published author, I’ve done a bunch of panels discussions, and funnily enough, it’s getting harder, not easier. The more I learn, the more I want to tell. I want to talk, non-stop, for days about the mistakes I’ve made, what worked for me, what the future holds. And usually, I have about ten minutes.
So I thought I should try distilling my thoughts down to three (of course three) main points when I talk to aspiring authors:
1. Learn everything you can. Take in information from every reputable source. (Learn from the disreputable sources too, just be more selective.) So much is changing in publishing that you can never know too much. Learning about writing and publishing is a full-time job — on top of the full-time job that is ATUALLY writing and maybe the full-time job that is your full-time job. But heck, nobody said it was easy.
2. Write. Write a lot. So much of writing is… well, writing. Everything you learn in step one is irrelevant if you don’t put words on the page and write write write.
3. Keep writing. There are hella distractions to the writing life. You’re a small business. You’re a promoter and marketer. You’re a public speaker and compatriot to other writers. And that’s just distractions in the writing realm. You’re probably also a friend, lover, spouse, parent, dog walker, whatever. But steps one and two above are irrelevant if you don’t keep writing.
Wow. It looks like this writing thing IS easier than I thought. The devil is in the details, of course. But I think those three points are all you really need. I could relay those is way less than ten minutes, even with a mouthful of brownies.
by Sharon Ashwood on April 25th, 2012
I’ve seen lots of information on world building that helps an author lay out the rules of their universe. There are tons of things to consider: climate, currency, social castes, political systems, and on and on. One can draw maps and list all kinds of flora and fauna and cuisine. It’s all good.
What I rarely see is information on how any of that contributes to the story beyond setting, such as why or how, let alone how much.
I had a lively discussion recently about just this thing. I’d given some chapters of a fantasy to a beta reader (poor thing) who came back with a recommendation for more world building details. Piqued that my genius would be questioned—after all I had tons of just such info in mind—I reread to see what I had (or had not) done. She was right. I’d fallen to the low end of the world building spectrum because I hadn’t used my ideas effectively.
· Low end of spectrum: the Stingy Approach. Don’t introduce anything unless you absolutely need to.
· Gone crazy end: the Victorian Bordello Approach. Don’t bother with the plot, the fun is in the gizmos and webbed feet.
Needless to say, there is a happy medium. However, the underlying problem in my story was that I had not thoroughly examined what role the world building elements in my book played.
Example: let’s say our fantasy society has an economy based on solar power. That could translate into: their jobs, where their family money came from, do they live above ground or under it, are there medical consequences, what crops do they have, can anybody access the power, has it affected population migration or birth rate, do they sell the power somehow? Why did they go to solar power and how did they learn the technology? Does it have spiritual or religious implications? What about the rest of the ecology?
Once the author has deeply pondered this squirmy mass of connecting ideas, the trick is then to drop in just the right details, as if in passing, to imply all of the above. Reference it as a fait accompli the way we talk about catching the city bus. After all, one’s point of view character probably lives in that world.
Example: They wouldn’t ponder the caste system of their planet. They’d simply kick the scum into the gutter and move on. Show, don’t tell.
It’s a casual slight-of-hand that makes the difference between the plodding obviousness of bad sci-fi and the opportunity to draw a reader deep, deep into the playground of your imagination.
To take this one step further, one has to ask why a certain element is pertinent. How do the two-headed dog packs on planet x affect the choices available to the protagonist? Where does it impact the central story conflict? Does it say something important about the state of society?
Example: planet x is a mining planet digging up a dangerous mineral. The resource conglomerates are telling the inhabitants the two-headed dogs with five tails are a naturally occurring species, but really their ancestors were cute little boxer pups and these are a mutation caused by the mining operation. Our hero discovers this secret just after his wife conceives. Cue plot motivation.
So, that is the worldbuilding lesson I learned. If I had done my homework, I would have known when and where to use my fantasy elements with the precision of a master chef seasoning a dish. Scrap that. They would have been essential ingredients to the meal, driving my characters and their actions.
Now let’s see if I can take my own advice
by Jessa Slade on April 23rd, 2012
Currently working on: Catching up
Mood: Juggling (cue circus music)
I was in Chicago last week at the RT Booklovers Convention and missed my post because I was just having too much fun! (And also because I left the power cord for my netbook at the hotel and couldn’t download my pix. If netbooks could be powered on caffeine and giggling, I would’ve been fine.)
Leaving at o’mg’dark-thirty in the morning, I captured this thrilling shot of the full moon setting at the Portland airport. What? You can’t see the pale, fuzzy circle in the upper left hand corner? I couldn’t either because I was still basically asleep.
But I did get a better shot of Mt Hood which I always take on the way over. What? You can’t see the pale, fuzzy triangle in the lower left side of the photo? I guess I was still basically asleep. You gotta sleep as much as possible before RT.
We stopped at Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove to sign copies of DARKNESS UNDONE which completely woke me up. Most of the bookstores in the greater Chicagoland area probably have signed copies now. So swing by your favorite bookstore.
Since I had a few free days before the convention started, we got to stop by the Chicago Botanical Gardens (which shockingly I’d never visited before) to stock up on some peace and blue skies before plunging into the madness of book world. I took a bunch of pictures that made me want to write a historical romance, with heroines sneaking out to meet their heroes in beautiful gardens. There would be roses tucked behind ears eventually, I’m sure.
When we got to our conference hotel, the architecture made me want to write more science fiction romance. Check out these great levels. Can’t you imagine a Logan’s Run-style adventure, jumping from floor to floor? There was definition a lot of running on my part since our room was located at the farthest possible point from the elevators. But we compensated by having a great view.
Over the trees, we could see downtown Chicago beyond a strange little temple. One night, we had a great crashing lightning-and-thunderstorm, which we rarely see in Portland. The rain reminded me of home…
But we didn’t spend much time in the room, of course, because it was books books books and more books!
There was Linnea Sinclair & Friends Intergalactic Bar & Grille party with treats and games and — naturally — books.
I sat in on a great discussion with (tiny from right) Jeaniene Frost, Charlaine Harris, and Nalini Singh with RT’s Morgan. (The photo is fuzzy not because I was half-asleep this time but because I was fan-girling too hard. That’s my excuse, anyway.) Three vampire writers telling us secrets about their upcoming books; and refusing to tell us secrets too, the teases.
We had themed dance parties every night — hip hop night, Scottish night, Night of Stars and more. I brought waaaaay too many shoes… and wore them all
The costuming even applied to mascots, such as Bob the Alien (who escaped from the Intergalactic Bar) and showed up in a kilt at the Scottish party. In case you were wondering what Bob the Alien has under his kilt, if you look very closely, you’ll see that he has anatomically correct candy. Shocking!
But RT isn’t all fun and games. Well, it’s all fun, but not all games. Authors are there to work! We had the Ebook Expo and Giant Book Fair to meet readers and sign books books book.
I signed books and trading cards and book bags and e-book covers and t-shirts and scrapbook pages, but some other authors found other things to sign…
What could be better than man chest (okay, man belly) signed with your favorite romance authors?
Don’t answer that quite yet.
The end of the party is always a little sad. I thought I’d grab a shot of the aftermath: snapped rubberbands, scattered pens, a few leftover books, empty candy wrappers (or maybe that was just my table). Definitely nap time.
But the party never really ends. I’ll be at Authors After Dark in New Orleans in August, where the party REALLY never ends. But also, I brought home 104 lbs from RT which I haven’t even unpacked — thus ensuring the party continues — and at least some of it should go to one of YOU.
So, if you’d like to get some RT-themed goodies, assorted swag, and — naturally — books, leave a comment about what you’re reading these days and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a bag.
by Sharon Ashwood on April 18th, 2012
Once upon a time they used to torture people into confession by tying them down, putting a plank of wood over them, and then piling rocks on top until the victim was squished. I know, not a really attractive image, but a useful metaphor #1 for this discussion.
Metaphor #2: I had a really excellent story idea last night. It was still with me this morning, fluttering around like a colourful butterfly, bonking against my nose once in a while just to make sure I’m paying attention. Like most really good ideas, it is slowly coming into focus, showing more and more of its pretty patterns as I, all unwilling, try my best to ignore it.
Ignore it?? Why ever would I do that? Well, gentle reader, because I have absolutely no time to deal with it right now. Back to the guy under the rocks—or rather, me under my rocks. If I make it through to the end of June, I’m golden, but right now I have three impressive deadlines a few weeks apart. Completely doable, as long as I don’t drop any balls. What less convenient time for my muse to send a butterfly?
But that’s just the thing. The more pressure I’m under, the more I’m suffocating from workload, the more effectively my brain pops out excellent ideas. When I’m kicking back and watching the grass grow, I get nothing.
I’m not sure why it works this way. My theory is that new ideas are very delicate things and, like butterflies, not meant to be handled. If we try to pin them down too soon, they become specimens rather than living creatures. Therefore, the most logical thing for the muse to do is to send them along when I can’t mess with them.
Right now, all I can do is look and appreciate and wait till they grow up. Then, during the slow moments when I’m rock-free, they’ll be robust enough for me to coax to my hand without doing damage.