Resistance is (usually) futile

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

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

Writers these days

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Filling plotholes
Mood: Asphalty

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.

Jessa at #RT2012

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Stealing Easter candy from careless children
Mood: Sneaky

This week I’m at the RT Booklovers Convention in Chicago. If you aren’t attending, you can follow the fun on Twitter at #RT2012.

If you are my XY reading this, thinking, “I thought you said it was work?”, see all the work:

This picture doesn’t even show the big box of books coming with me.

If you ARE attending RT, I hope you’ll come find me and say hey. All Silk & Shadows (and readers who come hey me (let me know you read the post here) will be entered to win an RT schwag bag. Readers at home, leave a comment here about your favorite memory of meeting an author, and you’ll be entered for a chance to win too.

My RT schedule is all over the place, but you can for certain find me at:

Wednesday: Linnea Sinclair’s Intergalactic Bar & Grill, 4:45-5:45 p.m.

Thursday: Ebook Expo, 4-6 p.m., Grand Ballroom

Friday: Humor writing workshop (What? You don’t think I write humor? We shall see!): SPRINKLING SMILES INTO SAD (SEX, ACTION & DRAMA) SCENES with Dee Brice, Ashlyn Chase, Marcia James, Delilah Marvelle and Jessa Slade, 11:15 a.m.

Saturday: Giant Book Fair, 10:45 a.m.-2 p.m., Grand Ballroom

I’ll also be at all the evening parties, of course, probably dancing. If you see me limping during the days, you’ll know why.

Also also, I’m taking part in a “stalk the author signature” game with Ann Aguirre, Tes Hilaire & more. Come find me for your game sheet and signature. Someone will win an e-reader, a basket of books, and more.

If you’ve wondered about attending a romance reader convention, here are three useful tips:

  • Bring an empty priority mailing box from the USPS, already filled out with your home address so you can mail your books back to yourself. You can pay online and drop the box at the hotel business office, easy-peasy. Books are crazy heavy, and you’ll be going home with more than you might expect. At least that always seems to happen to me 😉
  • Bring cute shoes AND comfortable shoes. You can wear the cute shoes the first day while you still care. On the second day and every day thereafter, you can switch to the comfortable shoes, because by then, you’ll be friends with everybody in the hotel and they’ll be in their comfortable shoes too. Heck, bring your slippers.
  • Stay hydrated. I know, you think, it’s not like we’re lost in the desert. But those hotels are big enough that you can march for days. Bring a couple chocolate bars too.

You can never go wrong with extra chocolate bars.

Never stop learning

Crossposted from Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Retyping notes from Larry Brooks workshop
Mood: Studious

Way back in college, I learned that if I read the course materials before the lectures, listened to the lectures and took notes, transcribed the notes from my notebook into my computer, and then re-read the notes, I was usually good for the test. This is why I like to attend workshops in person; even if I’ve read the speaker’s book, it forces me to take notes and then I remember more.

Larry-Brooks-workshopSo when I found out Larry Brooks ( was coming to speak to my local Romance Writers of America chapter, I was psyched. I’d read his STORY ENGINEERING writing book and loved it. It is my kind of writing book; very analytical and no-nonsense, but fun too. (Nonsense and fun being not the same thing, necessarily.) But as much as I love reading craft books, I also like to hear the information presented.

Sometimes speakers have found new ways to present their information and it’s always interesting to hear what they emphasize. Writer friendTerri Reed says hearing previously learned information again is like looking at a diamond from another angle: from the top you see mostly the flat surface, while from the sides you see the angles, and from the bottom you see the point.

choco-teaI highly recommend the STORY ENGINEERING book to fellow writers, because there is a lot of content best absorbed from the original source, but I thought I’d share some nuggets of thought from the weekend too:

  • To stand out from the slush pile, a story has to be better than good. It has to be better than what is out there already. What makes your story stand out, not from the slush pile, but from thesecond cut?
  • What is your central dramatic question? Can you make the question more provocative, more emotionally engaging? The more compelling the “what if” question, the more compelling the answer. And the answer is why the reader keeps reading.
  • What is the burning ember of your story? Pass that burning ember to the editor and to the reader.
  • Don’t settle; make it bigger.

Having spent a couple weekends ago in New York on the business side of writing, it was a joy to spending a weekend on the art and craft of writing. Next weekend, I go to Chicago for the RT Book Reviews Reader Convention. That will be the party side of writing!

On the Hunt

Silk & Shadows

Currently working on: Revisions read-throughs
Mood:  Critical

We adopted our current dog, Talullah, as a puppy, and you know those cute puppy videos you see on YouTube? Yeah, we never got any of those.

From the very beginning, she was an absolute monster. Hence her nickname, Monster Girl. She was a biter, a runner, a not-listening-to-anything-you-sayer. She fought the leash. She fought bedtime. She fought other puppies. She was the worst puppy in puppy school. For months, she made me swear and/or cry on a daily basis.

What made the situation particularly bad was that our previous dog, Hannah, was The World’s Best Dog ™ so in comparison Talullah suffered. Not as much as she made us suffer, of course.

While reading a gazillion dog manuals — from positive-only reinforcement to shock collars, Cesar Milan psychology to Schutzhund training — I stumbled across a concept used with hunting dogs. The trainer suggested there are hard/soft dogs and fast/slow dogs that (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) combine into four dog learning styles: hard-fast dogs and hard-slow dogs, soft-fast dogs and soft-slow dogs. Any of those dogs could become good hunters, but each require a different training style.

Something clicked for me. (See? I too can be clicker trained.) Hannah had been a soft-fast dog. She was incredibly attentive and interested in pleasing, and quick to pick up on anything we wanted. She made us think we were awesome dog owners because she was so easy.

Talullah is a hard-slow dog. Corrections that would have crushed a soft dog like Hannah (scowls made Hannah slink away, even scowls not directed at her) didn’t make a dent on Talullah. And though both dogs would set similar get-to-the-tennis-ball racing speeds, Hannah was quicker to master a task. Which is not to say that Talullah is a dumb dog, but she likes to work through problems herself, given the opportunity. It was me that was dumb!

Once I realized that T had her own style — a style completely opposite from her predecessor — we started making progress. T was a slower learner, but we could also work a little longer, where Hannah would have been bored and causing trouble in half the time. Getting through to Talullah had me and her knocking heads a few times, but as a hard dog, she doesn’t give up, and neither did I.

So, when it comes to hunting down your own dreams, what kind of dog are you?

I had a soft-slow dog writer friend. Harsh critiques could shut her down for weeks, and she couldn’t stand to have other people mess with her words on the page. She wanted feedback, but it had to be presented in a certain way, and she wanted to apply the feedback herself. Once she’d made her needs clear, our critique group was fine, but we had a few rough sessions before we learned our styles.

I have a hard-fast dog writing style. Given too long a line, I will run to the end and choke myself. Gentle criticism like “you might want to think about” or “have you considered” won’t stop me; I need to hear feedback like I just received recently: “You can’t do this because you are going to scare the editor.” Huh, okay then.

The trick, of course, is not just knowing what kind of dog we are, but getting other people to give us what we need to thrive. You can’t always get people to play along, so sometimes it helps to reimagine them yourself .

For example, I always take apart the revision letters my editor sends me and make it what I need it to be. My editor is great about giving me praise, but I’m a hard-fast dog 🙂 A pat on the head is fabulous, no doubt, but I do my best with quick, firm directions. I read the praise, bask in the glow a moment… and then I delete it, so all I have left are the problems that need action steps. I am happy when I have a nice, stark list without warm fuzzies getting in the way.

Whatever dreams we’re after, it helps to know ourselves first. I think we can all be good hunters once we know what we need to succeed.

What kind of dog are you? Do you have tricks to make the world give you the treats you need?