Down to business

Sharon Ashwood
July 13, 2011  •  No Comments

Draft of Hidden: the Dark Forgotten

Progress


RITA® and me

Sharon Ashwood
July 6, 2011  •  2 Comments

Last week I went to the Romance Writers of America conference in New York and was astonished, delighted, and bewildered to find myself the winner for 2011 of the RITA® award for paranormal romance. (Note this slightly blurry photo was taken after consuming the champagne in the glass next to the award)

071

It’s kind of like winning the Oscars in romance writing, except they give you a maximum of two minutes to make a fool of yourself in public. Hollywood could learn a few things from the rigorous management of the RWA’s ceremony.

The perils:

1. My chair leg was sitting on my hem, and I nearly pulled off my swishy chiffon palazzo pants as I stood up. That would have been, um, memorable.

2. I was sufficiently convinced that I would not win that I failed to prepare any kind of speech. Thankfully, I know very well to whom I am grateful.

The rewards:

1. My chapter mates were there to help me celebrate.

2. I got a cool piece of shiny gold hardware.

3. With any luck, the win will inspire some new people to take a chance on The Dark Forgotten series.

imgp0006

It was the cherry on top of a wonderful week. This is the view from the hotel window, right in Times Square. I’d never been to NYC before, and I have to say the city treated me very well. I did a little conference-going and a lot more sight-seeing. There wasn’t enough time to do more than taste the Big Apple, but it was enough to make me a fan.


From the library

Sharon Ashwood
June 29, 2011  •  No Comments

For those looking for some fun summer reading, here’s some recent reads that I’m giving my personal stamp of approval:

The Bunnicula Collection by Deborah and James Howe

I encountered this 25th anniversary edition as an audio book read by Victor Garber. It contains three short novellas: Bunnicula: a Rabbit Tale of Mystery, Howliday Inn, and The Celery Stalks at Midnight. These stories are told from the point of view of Harold, the family dog. Other characters include Chester, the well-read, haughty, and over-imaginative tabby and the family rabbit who quite possibly is one of the evil undead. Blanched zombie vegetables are also a sinister feature. The phrase I keep coming back to in describing these tales is simply charming. They’re loopy, smart, and light-hearted–great for kids and adults.

The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith

The best I can do to describe this book is dystopic steampunk alternate history with vampires and magic. I was hooked. There’s a streak of romance that’s touching and surprising. The authors have created fabulous characters for this adventure, and I’ll certainly be reading the next instalment. Highly recommended for readers tired of the same old vampires.

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Steampunk again, but this time set in nineteenth-century London’s Ministry for Peculiar Occurrences. The protagonists are archivist Wellington Books and his slightly off-the-rails partner, Eliza Braun. From the cover, I was expecting a frenetic romp, and it does make me grin as I read. But, I’m about halfway through and there’s a solid plot in amongst the magical artefacts hidden in the Ministry’s underground library. As well as being fun, this book has an entertaining cast and a cold case mystery to solve.


Tick, tock

Sharon Ashwood
June 22, 2011  •  No Comments

As I write this, it’s the first day of summer. The warm weather has been dragging its heels to arrive here. This is the first week I’ve actually worn a light coat, and only the second day I’ve worn sandals. I look at the calendar and think someone’s playing tricks.

clockface

I mention this, not just because complaining about the weather is a favourite occupation in the Pacific Northwest, but to illustrate how slippery is that beast called time. Although we have devices to measure microseconds, time remains perceptual. There’s always either more or less of it than we think. We try to kill it. It slips away. It’s always hang heavy on our hands until … well, it runs out, doesn’t it? Then one wonders where it went, and whether it was wasted.

The effect is magnified by creative endeavours. I am great at promising things that will occur in a misty future only to find the deadline is breathing down my neck. Due dates have a way of making the future accordion into a frightening present. When I am in the zone and doing great work, time zooms by unnoticed. I’ve come out of a white heat of writing only to notice that I’ve lost a whole day.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always been fascinated by timepieces. Apparently, they’re magical machinery quite beyond my control. And, they’re thematically appropriate to the turning of the year, when I tend to get a bit philosophical anyway.

In my constant battle to tame the fleeting hours, I have learned this much: If there is something I want to accomplish, waiting for circumstances to be right doesn’t work. I hesitate, time flies, and I’m no further ahead. Even if I never reach my goal, moving toward it puts me on a better path. It’s like the universe waits to see if I’ll commit before coming on board. That’s when happy “timing” might occur—after I’ve done 95% of the work.

Think of it this way: It’s the first day of summer and the start of a new season. The wheel is turning, but toward what? Where do you want to be on the first day of winter? Even if you know you can’t be there, can you be closer? What do you need to do to make it happen? What are you willing to put on the line?

If you want to do something, don’t wait. The sands of time are running through the glass. Be brilliant, brave and take no prisoners.


New book nerves

Sharon Ashwood
June 15, 2011  •  No Comments

Last week, I launched FROSTBOUND, the fourth of the Dark Forgotten series. I’m not totally out the zone of guest blogs and promo contests, but the initial push has passed. Now I’m eyeballing the dates for the RWA Conference in New York and wondering if Air Canada is still going to be on strike when it’s time for me to get on a plane. File that one under “never a dull moment.”

In the meantime, I’m in that odd post-book launch mood.
hangover_dog

It’s two parts fatalistic, one part empty nest. We wind ourselves up to be dynamos of energy and, once the confetti has settled, feel let down. We’re no longer the centre of attention. Another book has come along, displacing our moment in the sun. All that’s left is the anxious wait to find out how our baby is doing in the big, bad world. Will people treat it kindly? Will my hero and heroine remember to wear mittens and cross only at the lights?

I’ve never learned how to effectively deal with this state of mind, other than to plunge back into writing. Put another way, the only antidote for present nerves is future plans. I did the same thing when I was entering contests prior to publication—I always made sure I had one more entry out there, because if entry A didn’t do well, entry B just might. Having lots of irons in the fire kept my nail-biting at a bearable level.

And while I fret and wonder and wring my hands for my newborn novel, I’m also jubilant because a story I desperately wanted to tell is now in the hands of readers. How lucky is that?


Time out

Sharon Ashwood
June 1, 2011  •  No Comments

imgp0105

One of the recommended activities for writers is to “refill the well.” Cryptic, but I think that means “have fun every so often.” As a working adult with writing ambitions, time is scarce and usually fun gets left till last. Trying to co-ordinate with friends in a similar situation is almost laughable.

However, after a year and a half of stalling around, it happened. A friend and I had a weekend excursion away. I wanted to visit Granville Island in Vancouver, which I envisioned as a setting for a story. As I am a crappy photographer, I cleverly put my friend in charge of the camera.

imgp0079

What I like about the location is the mix of industrial, artistic, and natural scenery. It has a bit of a carnival atmosphere. There’s an arts school, a farmer’s market, many restaurants ranging from funky to upscale, and a lot of interesting boutiques. What it doesn’t have is enough parking, but that’s another story.

After a miserable spring, the weather turned warmish for the day. Although the area isn’t actually that big, there was enough to see to keep us walking for hours.

imgp0076

imgp0110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I picked up for the story wasn’t everything I needed. In some ways, it was too cheerful—I do better atmosphere with fall weather. But it was what I needed as a human being—a couple of days without responsibility.

imgp0133

imgp0109


Good for the gander, maybe not the goose

Sharon Ashwood
May 25, 2011  •  1 Comment

geese-nd-gooslingsIn the writing world, there is a great deal of talk about motivation. Without a doubt, it is key to any good characterization. Without it, books seem too much like real life, full of meaningless sound and fury.

For the record there are two kinds of motivation: internal and external. External is driven by things from outside of us: We are motivated to call the plumber because the tap is dripping. Internal is driven (you guessed it!) from inside: We are motivated to call the plumber because secretly we are working out daddy issues, and daddy was a pipe and porcelain man. If we call, we symbolically confront him one more time.

Audiences—and by that I mean editors, agents, reviewers and blog commenters because those are the folks whose opinions I know about—are particular about what is acceptable internal motivation in protagonists. This is thrown in stark relief when we get to what could be sweepingly termed boy books versus girl books.

In a thriller, Agent Manly Man is given the task of putting away Evil Guy, so he does it. It’s his job. No one questions that. He might do it as a cop, a special agent, or in the courtroom. Gotta earn a pay cheque, and these occupations make good pulp fiction. Often/usually Manly Man is a loner. Audiences ache for his lonely state and hopes someday he’ll find solace in the bosom of, well, a bosom. These books—and they are legion—have a definite following.

However, wheel Agent Jane into the same scenario. The first question you’ll get as an author is, “Why is she a police sergeant? What happened to her that she wants a job with so much violence? Why isn’t she, like, a teacher or something?” You have to put a good reason out there before folks will move on to paragraph two.

Jane can’t wake up one day and think, “Gee, it’s Career Day at school. I like excitement. I think I’ll go check out the booth with the cops” any more than she can announce, “There’s a company over there with good assets and earning potential. I’ll think I’ll take it over and damn the torpedoes.” No way. What she’s allowed is, “My daddy was a cop and I never got his love because Peter was the boy. I’ll go be more of a cop than Peter and finally earn Daddy’s love.” Well, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to go scuttling into a shoot ‘em up wearing Kevlar and a prayer, I’m doing it because I want to and to heck with what Daddy thinks. But that’s me.

Better yet, Jane is a cop because a child was murdered somewhere in her past, and she’s out there to defend young ‘uns everywhere. (No one ever oversets their lives in a crusade to defend middle-aged couch potatoes.)

But I digress.

I’ve run into the same problem plenty of times with female characters in the boardroom—I’ve never had a storyline pass go if it features a career woman, and I’ve tried many times. I know plenty of females who are ambitious and career-minded in real life. They do it for the same reason as guys: because they’re good at it, and they like the idea of retiring comfortably. However, if you translate that onto the fictional page, it’s necessary to counteract that “cold” ambition with a lot of factors that make her “softer” and “likeable.” Preferably kids. If her kids interfere with her job and she chooses family over personal success, so much the better. Does this mean boy exec = breadwinner; girl exec = not likeable?

I’m completely sure there are exceptions to this. I’m just going by my experience. However, the conclusion I draw is that there is a segment that sees female motivation convincing only in the context of family. A woman has to be motivated by factors outside of her own self-fulfillment before some readers can accept her.

As I say, I’m going by my own limited observations. What do you think? Am I right or wrong?


In the soup

Sharon Ashwood
May 18, 2011  •  1 Comment

For me, the biggest stumbling block to writing is that I am slow and need large blocks of time. For instance, I spent most of Sunday glued to the computer fiddling with edits. As it was pouring outside, distractions were reduced. This was a good thing because—outside of an hour or so for phone call and lunch—I was at my desk from 10:00 am until about 6:00 pm. Such a marathon is great, but not possible during the week when I’m expected to show up at the office. It’s after dinner writing or nothing.

IMO, the secret to getting a chunk o’ time during a weekday evening is to cook as little as possible. What I mean is that, on the weekend, I lay in survival supplies, chop veg in advance, and usually make a large pot of soup or a casserole so that lunches are ready to go (and cheap). It’s not a perfect system, but it helps me get to the computer before I’m starting to think about bed.

Of course, when it comes to lunches, I’m only worrying about myself. It’s harder if you’re dealing with family. I recall my working/student mom introducing me to the task of brown bagging food when I was in junior high school. I think it was a smart idea: if I didn’t like what I packed, I had no one to blame but myself. Alas, she never did successfully train my dad to fend for himself. He definitely needed a keeper.

Anyway, this is my latest soup invention, for anyone else trying to prepare ahead:

• In a large soup pot, fry 1 ½ c chopped onion in olive oil. Add about a ½ teaspoon of salt.
• Chop a bundle of asparagus and add that. Cook until onions are clear (about six minutes).
• Sprinkle with 3 heaping teaspoons of flour to make a roux and cook for about a minute. Then slowly add six cups of stock (or water, but stock is better). At this point, feel free to add, say, leftover chicken, turkey, or ham and herbs to taste. Mushrooms are also an option. I used a tsp of dried dill and a half tsp of pepper. Cook until asparagus bits are tender.
• Put everything through the blender or (much easier) use a hand blender wand until the soup is a smooth texture. Add a large dash of tamari sauce. At the last minute, stir in a cup of milk or cream.
• This recipe reheats extremely well.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do is get a bunch of friends together and start one of those deals where everyone cooks a bunch of food and swaps homemade frozen dinners. Has anyone tried that?


Strategic Swatting

Sharon Ashwood
May 11, 2011  •  No Comments

Every so often, I realize that I actually learned something useful in my business classes. While this comes as something of a shock, I shouldn’t be so surprised. Writing is a business. Ergo, business theory occasionally applies.

Take, for instance, strategic planning. It’s a lovely buzz-phrase. It sounds clever and important. Basically it is a response to the question, “I want to be/do/have X, how do I get there?” It’s a question writers have, too, especially when one is talking career.

In order to answer “how do I get there?” we have to decide where “there” is. Yes, good old goal-setting is a first step. Let’s say: Writer Jane wants to get an editor seriously interested in buying a book. She can’t MAKE an editor buy her work, but she can do her best to get firmly on the radar. Good. Simple. We’re on track to a strategic plan.

So how does Jane form an action plan for getting herself in the game? One tool is called a SWOT analysis. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with special ops guys with rifles. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The business or person doing the analysis makes a list of each category with reference to their stated goal. That is, what strengths does Writer Jane have that will advance her toward the goal of getting on an editor’s radar? What weaknesses? Not all of her strengths/weaknesses will apply. What could be a strength one time (she’s a great writer of sex scenes) may be a weakness the next time around (the editor in question avoids writers with a reputation for writing hot). It’s important to keep the goal firmly in mind and think carefully about how well each item on the list fits.

So, what goes in each list?

Strengths = internal strengths. What do you bring to the table? A great work ethic? A fabulous proposal? A talent for characterization? A background in marketing and promotion?

Weaknesses = internal drawbacks. Where do you fall down? Can’t finish a project without a gun to your head? You haven’t a clue about promotion? Time challenges?

Opportunities = external strengths. Is the market for your kind of book trending up? Is that publisher opening a new line absolutely suited to you?

Weaknesses = external problems. The publisher you want to pitch to is folding. Nobody likes your sub-genre anymore. The market is glutted.

Of course, the more specific and insightful you make your goal and your lists, the better information you’re going to get. Then, once you’ve done the analysis, you’re ready to do your planning. The object, of course, is to work your plan so that you end up with lots of strengths and few weaknesses.

Step one is figuring out how closely your strengths match the opportunities available. This is where you will find your competitive advantage. For instance, if publisher X is launching a new line of medical mysteries and, hey, you spent twenty years working in Emergency, you have an edge. It’s amazing how confident this process can make you feel, and how well it prepares you for making a pitch to an editor. But don’t stop there: make your competitive advantage everything it can be. How can you enhance your strengths? Or do you need to adjust your goal for a better fit? The closer the alignment between your goal, opportunities and assets/abilities, the greater is your likelihood of success.

Step two applies to the weaknesses and threats. How can you make this list shorter? What weaknesses can you mitigate? Can you convert disadvantages to opportunities? If no one is publishing books about roller-skating zombie FBI agents, can you be the first in the field with this—um—original concept?

The objective of the SWOT is to generate plans and ideas. When it works well, it can take one a long way from fuzzy thought to detailed to-do list. I find it useful for organizing priorities. This makes a good basis for talking to an editor or agent—you’ve done your brainstorming in advance and will have something to say for yourself when you pick up the phone.

A final thought: a quick search on Google will give you a ton of links to SWOT tools and examples which are interesting and possibly fun to play with. However, it doesn’t need to get any more complex than what I’ve listed above. It’s the thinking part that counts, and no software can tell you what your dreams are.


Creative apathy

Sharon Ashwood
May 4, 2011  •  No Comments

I don’t tend to get writer’s block per se, but I will confess to the occasional case of severe apathy. No matter how well/badly things are going, there are days when I just can’t get excited about deadlines, sales, market stats or anything else book-related. All I want to do is watch bad TV and sulk.

This is probably healthy and normal, but there is a little voice in my head that panics. If I’m not writing, is this the beginning of the end? The departure of the muse? The slide into irrelevance? *Gasp* will the page police bang on the door and demand to see that day’s production?

Do I care? Some days, not so much. And, if I leave it alone, in less than a week I’m banging at the keyboard again—sulk over, moxy back in gear. What causes these lapses? Rebellion is probably just a sign that vacation-time is overdue. Cure? Take a mini-vacation. Apathy might have something to teach us.

The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to indulge. Do nothing. Watch television. Read trashy magazines. Paint toenails. Get well and thoroughly bored. It could be considered research. For instance, in my last bout of indolence I learned:
· That there is a new crackled trend in nail polish that looks vaguely like a zombie disease
· That a hat that isn’t a hat is called a fascinator
· That according to a 2009 study, women are more accurate at hammering nails than men are
· And that goji berries taste kind of like soap
. Women are most likely to win an argument with a man at 3:00 pm

Priceless information. No, really. And if wading through gems like that is the alternative, I’m way more than ready to get back to work.

The question is how many of the factoids above can be used in a book. Better yet, a single paragraph …


Page 24 of 44« First...10...2223242526...3040...Last »