Word Clouds

I have a fairly serious obsession with word clouds. I love the way they turn sentences into pictures and chapters into works of art. I love the way they take ideas, all serious and heavy and full of meaning, and turn them into soft wisps of air.

This is the word cloud for Underneath. It’s a veritable treasure trove of information if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s what sticks out for me:

  • the word said is the biggest word because I use it a lot. A lot. I like the word said – to me it’s where the story stops to take a breath.
  • unlike in the Inbetween word cloud (see below) Alex’s name is much bigger than Robbin’s but there’s only word in the whole cloud that’s bigger than Finn.
  • the phrases “blood magic” and “Dark Alex” and “see darkness turned.” Hmm…foreshadowing? Could be.

That’s the word cloud for Inbetween. In it, I see the aforementioned affinity for “said” and the phrases “love two” and “being both.” Although this cloud was generated randomly, those are pretty much the central themes of the book. I know! It’s like magic isn’t it?

Deadlines & the Fiction Writer: How to turn Emotional Issues into Motivational Tools

I need deadlines. Without them I will wander around aimlessly, accomplishing nothing, thinking about what to have for lunch. I will call my sister. I will read a book. I will spend whole days looking at pretty pictures on pinterest (Click here) to see my boards but don’t blame me if you get sucked in over there and fail to accomplish another thing all day. But if I know someone is counting on me to be finished by such and such a time, I will be finished. Come hell, high water, or a plague rat where the mouse should be. No exceptions, no excuses. I’ll be done.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
– Douglas Adams

Traditionally self imposed deadlines haven’t been nearly as effective for me. That’s probably because without the (nearly paralyzing) fear of disappointing someone hanging over my head, I don’t feel as much pressure to perform. (Readers, these are my staggering emotional problems. Staggering emotional problems, these are my readers. There. Now we all know each other.). But as I’m working on book 2 of the Princess of Twilight and Dawn series,  (Click here for a sneak peak at Chapter 1) of Tab Bennett and the Underneath) I find myself sticking to my schedule, meeting my writing goals (665 words a night), and getting shit done even though there’s no one standing behind me, looking at me with sad puppy eyes and saying things like “I’m not mad; I’m just disappointed.” Do you want to know why? Because of the readers. Because they’re out there in the world waiting to find out what happens to Tab next and because only I can tell them. And I really don’t want to let them – you – down.

“But what about me?” you ask. “Unlike you Jes, I’m well-adjusted and I refuse to be manipulated by guilt. What tools can I use to help me meet my deadlines?” I’m so very glad you asked. When the psychological scars of your childhood won’t get the job done, meeting deadlines comes down to four important rules:

1. Be aware of the deadline: It will sneak up on you if it can. Mark it on the calendar. Circle it. Write it on the ceiling above your bed. Make acknowledging its approach an inescapable part of your day. Whatever you do, don’t lose sight of it.

2. Celebrate small successes: I like to break a project up into pieces so I have lots of little goals to meet. Lots of little goals to meet mean lots of chances to celebrate how competent and trustworthy I am when I actually meet them. (As an aside, there’s a potty training method that works on basically the same principal. It involves letting your child eat lots of pretzels and chips while drinking coke and hanging around the house without wearing any pants. Like toddlers, writers love to do well and be patted on the back for it. Coincidentally, they will also work for salty foods.)

3. Prepare for the other thing: Build a cushion into your schedule. That’s right; I’m telling you to plan for failure. Look, things come up. Life comes up. Sometimes you just can’t get to it. It’s not the end of the world if you’ve planned for it. That’s why I have a cushion. To catch my lazy butt when I fall.

4. No Sleep til Brooklyn: In this case, Brooklyn is your deadline and the one getting the no sleep is you. Stay up late. Get up early. Finish when you said you would.

But what about you? Do you work best with a deadline or do you prefer a more open ended schedule? Do you find those countdown clocks to be an awesome motivator or a terrifying reminder that time is shooting by you at the speed of light. Were you a Beastie Boys fan or was Vanilla Ice more your speed? Tell me all about it in the comments. Maybe we can help each other out.

A Disappointment to the Animal Kingdom

Today I received an email that contained the following images:

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more motivated to write.

(These pictures are from a collection called 33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed in You. The original captions are by Jack Shepard over at buzzfeed.com. Mine have been personalized.)


Please judge this book by its cover

photo and cover design by Bill Wadman


It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I honestly don’t think I could love it any more than I do. Many, many thanks to the very talented Bill Wadman for designing it and for patiently tolerating my obsessive need to over analyze the font.

You can see more of Bill’s work (which has appeared in TIME magazine, BusinessWeek, Improper Bostonian, POZ, and others) at billwadman.com. It’s worth the trip. USA Today calls his work “transgressive in the sweetest possible way.” That pretty much describes Bill too.


Thank you Mr. Tolkien

About two years ago I decided I wanted to write a book about elves. I imagined it as your basic good versus evil, light versus dark, princess in disguise fantasy story with a beautiful heroine, a handsome prince, some unresolved daddy issues, and a quest for revenge. It sounded simple. I sat down and, drawing on everything I learned about writing fantasy fiction by watching the Lord of the Rings movies, I wrote the first draft of Tab Bennett & the Inbetween. And that’s when I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about fantasy, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance. I was in way over my head.

As is so often the case, I found the solution to my problem in a book – in many books actually. Here’s what I learned by reading the work of nine bestselling authors and the father of modern fantasy:

  • From J.R.R. Tolkien I learned that people will believe what you tell them to believe. If you do it well enough they’ll forget they ever believed anything different.
  • From George R.R. Martin I learned that constructing a world and its mythology and then moving everyone around in it is difficult and time consuming but worth the effort.
  • Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer reminded me that a woman should not wear a hair bow to coordinate with her reindeer sweater and a man should never wear a sleeveless button-up. Ever.
  • Karen Marie Moning and her excellent Fever series taught me that a cream puff can become a tough cookie with the proper motivation. Also never trust a man who can manipulate time and space or cause mind shattering orgasms through sheer force of will.
  • In the Merry Gentry series Laurell K. Hamilton introduced me to the necessary mix of magic and menace and power. Also tentacle sex . . . but that’s a different story.
  • The compulsively readable Immortals After Dark series by Kresley Cole showed me how to use an enigmatic and (almost) all-powerful character to guard rail the plot when things get messy.
  • Gena Showalter and the Lords of the Underworld showed me how to overcome my inhibitions and write sexier sex scenes.
  • J.R. Ward and the Black Dagger Brotherhood confirmed what I already knew: vampires are dead sexy.

These authors taught me a lot, gave me a lot to think about, and, completely without their knowledge, made me a better writer – which in turn made Tab Bennett & the Inbetween a better book.  I owe them each a muffin basket and a great deal of gratitude.