To purge or not to purge?

Sharon Ashwood
March 29, 2010  •  No Comments

Okay, so I succumbed and finally bought an electronic reader—a Sony touch-screen model. The first book I decided to read on it is Richelle Mead’s Succubus Blues. I like her Vampire Academy series a lot and was pleased to find this is fun, too.

My big motivation in getting an e-reader was space. I don’t want to stop reading books as they come out, but I’m drowning in them. Sadly, the library doesn’t have the budget to stay current on all my fave authors (much less new ones), so just borrowing the books isn’t an option.

There’s a charity book sale here once a year, and I’d like to thin out the shelves at home. More like: get everything on a shelf and not in heaps on the floor. I just wonder how many volumes will actually make it out the door once I start reading the back covers? Parting with books isn’t as easy for me as I like to pretend.


The weekend

Sharon Ashwood
March 28, 2010  •  No Comments

I’m bad about creating a monster to-do list that discourages me before I even start. I tried to keep it modest this weekend, but time has still outrun my chores.

Top of the pile was finishing up page proofs for UNCHAINED. I was pleased with the result. After a gazillion rewrites, the end product is nice and shiny and, best of all, it’s off to the book factory.

Other excitement included mailing all those darned things to mail, cleaning out my inbox, scoring a roommate for the Nashville conference, and lining up my thoughts about publicity for UNCHAINED. Any suggestions out there?


Ashwood on ebook

Sharon Ashwood
March 20, 2010  •  No Comments

Woo-hoo. For those who care about e-books, UNCHAINED with be available in both virtual and paper forms. Someday maybe the backlist will be available, but for now I’m happy to be catching up with technology. (No, it’s not me or my publisher who’s holding up the works, so please don’t ask Penguin about it.)

On a personal level, I’ve been a slow sell on electronic formats. I really do like physical books best, but experimenting with a Sony reader convinced me of the virtues of the zoom feature. After staring at a computer screen all day, the big print size is a blessing.


About those social networks …

Sharon Ashwood
March 18, 2010  •  No Comments

I’d just like to comment here about Facebook and MySpace activities. Some of you very kindly have sent me invitations to participate in various games etc on the social networks, and I really appreciate being included in your thoughts. I would like to apologize for not participating, and if I wasn’t at work all day I probably would. If I haven’t joined in or you don’t see me commenting on your posts all that often, don’t think it’s because I’m not interested. I really do enjoy sharing virtual time with you.

I have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. I try and log in at least once a day, but I don’t always make it. I give my best at-home hours to actually writing and catch up with “fun stuff” after I’ve run out of words. How much I do depends on how late it is when I finish my pages for the day.


Judging

Sharon Ashwood
March 17, 2010  •  No Comments

I recently finished reading through a pile o’ books for the Romance Writers of America published author awards aka the Ritas. That makes the third contest I’ve judged this year—I also did my local chapter’s contest and the RWA unpublished author contest (aka Golden Heart). I somehow managed to sign up for that last one accidentally but I actually really enjoyed the entries I got, so it was all good. However, it does show you how much of a hazard I can be on-line when I’m not paying attention.

It’s always a strain on my schedule to do the judging—it always falls at the busiest time of year at my job—but it’s one of the ways I can give back to the writing community that has been very good to me. It also forces me to pick up books I wouldn’t otherwise consider, and I’ve found some great authors. It’s against the rules to comment on individual books, but I can say that this year I found one author I’ll be watching for on the shelves.


Spring tonic

Sharon Ashwood
  •  No Comments

lavenderI’ve encountered literal spring tonics—old fashioned recipes (usually not-so-yummy) involving rhubarb, lemons and herbs. I think their original purpose was to restore a lot of nutrients depleted after a winter without fresh vegetables. Or perhaps some sort of severe retribution. In any event, I’ve added them to my list of “why not to be a pioneer,” along with wool underwear and shovelling the pig sty.

Today, we’re not so much in need of tonics for the body as for the mind. Most of us approach spring with ritual: a new haircut, cleaning closets, washing the car, and cleaning up the garden. Others go on a diet or dust off the bike. For me, it’s washing windows. Bright, clear spring light cheers me up every time. It’s like tidying up old chapters and turning the page. It’s a natural time to dream of growing new projects, letting in fresh air, and doing the world over in bright, happy colours.

This time the season has something extra for me. Those who’ve followed my adventures over the last years will recall dark tales of courses and exams. Tuesday I attended my convocation, finally putting the official seal on a financial management certificate that took me six years to complete. It does feel like springtime after a long, hard winter. It’s a relief to finally tie up that particular project, and make room for something fresh.


A ticket to write

Sharon Ashwood
March 16, 2010  •  No Comments

One of my fellow Silk and Shadows bloggers, Jessa Slade, just posted about getting away on a writer’s retreat to churn out the pages. It sounds like a lovely thing to do, and one I should try sometime.

Or not. I’m not a great traveller. In fact, I fervently hate it eighty percent of the time. The other twenty is like some sort of migratory lemming impulse, because I suddenly MUST go somewhere, anywhere, or go mad. This love/hate relationship with the open road makes planning difficult. I never know which mood I’ll be in when it’s time to pack my suitcase.

Nevertheless, the area where I live is dotted with fine places to go if you have the time and money. Saltspring Island is one of the nicest places on earth, closely followed by the Tigh-na-mara resort near Rathtrevor Beach. My personal favourite is Point-no-point: cabins with fireplaces, endless beach, good food, seals, stars and tidal pools. Once upon a time, a Celtic folk group I played with was planning new material and we went there to brainstorm. It was an amazing weekend. There is something about all that sea air that gets the brain cells moving. Or maybe it was the single malt?

I haven’t done many weekend trips over the last few years, and most of the writing-on-the-road stuff has occurred due to deadlines colliding with other necessities. Nevertheless, that’s led to discovery. Writing in hotel rooms works for me. I spent a large chunk of the last writer’s convention I went to blasting through the end of SCORCHED. I think all those other writers must have psychically helped out, because the words just flowed. Or maybe it was the mini-bar?

I dunno. Whether or not one is happy living out of a suitcase, taking the muse for a vacation seems to help. But why? Lack of interruption? The novelty of a strange environment? Not feeling obligated to jump up and do laundry? I would think the inconvenience of moving shop would have the opposite effect, but it seems I’m wrong.


Lorem Trivium

Sharon Ashwood
March 4, 2010  •  No Comments

Y’know how some things just suddenly bug you until you figure them out? I was staring at a Lorem Ipsum passage and wondered why this particular placeholder gobbledegook kept turning up again and again.

I’ve always assumed it was Latin-based nonsense, but I don’t know Latin. Today that not knowing got to me. I mean, was it a joke I was missing? User instructions? A first-century warranty?

Google to the rescue.

This site explains that the passage first started its career as dummy text in printing galleys back in the 1500s. Variants have appeared since. The really cool bit is that a researcher (Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia) tracked the origins of the passage to “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” by Cicero (“The Extremes of Good and Evil,” written around 45 B.C.E.). Check out the web site for a translation. The passage in question is all about pleasure and pain. And exercise. Must have had a trainer like mine.


The gentleman in the corner

Sharon Ashwood
March 3, 2010  •  2 Comments

detectiveIf I wrote in another subgenre, it would be . . . well, the question is more what wouldn’t I write? Where my imagination roams depends a lot on my mood. Horror? Western? Fantasy? They all have their attractions, and I’m a literary flirt.

Still, I leave an idea to frolic in the wilds for quite some time before I rope it onto the page. This weeds out the passing fancies. If a story idea is strong, it’ll keep coming back to tempt me. Sometimes it’s just a character, a situation, or a setting that pops up every month or so to say, “How about me?” Sooner or later, I have to do something about it.

One genre that keeps coming back is historical mystery. I love history, I love the macabre, I love moody settings, and I know the detective because he loafs in an armchair in a dark room in my imagination, patient as a jungle cat.

“Someday,” I say.

“I know,” he replies from the shadows.

And we wait. I don’t know all the pieces of his story, although I know a few. It doesn’t pay to rush at this point because there are those whose claims on my writing hours come first. Deadlines, commitments, and promises to keep. However, I know his time will come, because he’s been there for years, growing a little bit stronger each time he strolls out for a look at what I’m up to.

“Hellhounds, you say?” says he with a lift of one eyebrow. “I hope they clean up afterward.”

“Back to your chair,” says I.

And he goes, just waiting for the imaginary murder that will call his talents into play.

Waiting for the right moment to begin a book is a bit like waiting for a pond to freeze. I know who wants to share my hero’s bed, and whom he watches cross the ballroom floor. What I don’t know is why. Without that, all I have is cat’s ice on a dark and murky pond. No skating yet. There’s not enough to support the weight of a book.

But, one by one, those answers present themselves in random moments, and only when they’re not pursued. Sooner or later there will be enough and then . . . we’ll see what this gentleman is made of.


Mistakes or simply outlandish writing behaviour?

Sharon Ashwood
February 16, 2010  •  No Comments

falling-catOne of the reasons I love cats is that they never make mistakes. If they’re prancing along the window ledge, misstep and do a belly flop to the floor, they pretend that they meant to do that, dammit. They pick themselves up, lick a paw, and sashay off to the next adventure. As an approach to life, I’ve met worse.

In writing, one has to decide when a mistake is a mistake. I’m not talking about grammar/spelling/punctuation, because when two or more copyeditors are gathered together, there shall be clashing opinions, none of which coincide with mine. The real blunders come on a much larger scale, such as when the plot goes to pieces. I often have a terrific scene in mind and will commit all sorts of logic errors just to get there. Or, I write the book how I see fit and find afterward that the result appeals to me and no one else. Most often, I commit the error of overcomplicating things. I do like my subsubsubplots. I also like shades of grey. I don’t always care about how conventionally sympathetic a character is. I’ll take “interesting” over “nice” every time.

Hence, I do a lot of rewriting.

Why do these things happen? Pull up a chair, would-be writers, and learn from the error of my ways:
1. Think through a scene (and a book) before committing it to paper.
2. Remember your audience. Who are you writing for?

With regard to #1, an outline can look better in a notebook than it does in action. Once you’re into a story, it can become evident that your brilliant plot twist was the product of that third glass of Shiraz. Unfortunately, backing out of a bad idea and slashing gobs of pages is sometimes necessary. Or, you can take the cat’s approach and act like you meant it. After all, stories are all about the motivation. Convince yourself, convince the characters, and sometimes it all works out.

With regard to #2, know the expectations of your genre. I struggle with this because I dislike the entire concept of slotting books into pigeon holes, and yet that’s the reality of the marketplace. Trying to be innovative can work, but it can also mean rewriting the entire book back inside the genre boundaries to make it marketable.

A lot of this stuff I don’t regard as mistakes per se, but as choices. An author can choose to be commercially accessible or not. He or she can choose to adhere to today’s favoured structure of story writing–or not. That doesn’t make it bad writing. Much literary fiction goes in the opposite direction and is well-respected.

The down side of there being so many “how to” resources for writers is that the concept of right and wrong storytelling techniques has become firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of the commercial writing and reading community. The debate over accepting first person point of view is a typical example. It’s not exactly radical stuff, but it’s been a hard sell with many readers. Experimentation is rare. Have we, as writers, followed “the rules” to the point where we’ve trapped ourselves?


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