Textbooks and trickery

Sharon Ashwood
August 18, 2009  •  No Comments

Somehow, I’m always swimming upstream. This time, as everyone else is getting ready to go back to school, I’m just entering the book-free zone.

As one of this summer’s big goals, I finished an educational certificate I’ve been working on for a number of years. Reaching the finish line is satisfying, but I’ve gained more than a piece of paper and a pile of very dull textbooks. I’ve learned to value some of the lessons that come with knocking around the business world, because I was able to transfer those skills to school. As they say, old age and trickery will beat youth and speed every time.
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<em>Take charge of your own experience.</em> Or, to put it another way, work smarter and don’t be so overwhelmed by authority. When I went from high school to university years ago, I was an obedient lamb who accepted the instructors and materials set before me. This time, I hunted down alternate textbooks, tutors and auxiliary materials almost as soon as I started each course. How much I got out of the class depended in part on seeking out extra resources.

<em>You are the consumer</em>. This meant advocating for myself, being the squeaky wheel, and demanding the quality of instruction I felt I’d paid for. Ultimately, the person you need to be nice to is you. There is nothing to be gained from enduring a bad situation.

<em>Don’t waste my time</em>. If something is going to eat away hours of my life, I want it to count. I don’t have to like it, but it should do something for me.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The university experience has changed a lot. With new technology, distance education, and simply more students per class, I couldn’t afford to be a passive vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. I had to go after the information I wanted to know.

Why am I talking about all this on a writing blog? Perhaps because there are so many encounters in the publishing industry that remind me I’m still a student here, too. And, what skills I transferred from business to school can be applied equally well to authordom: be prepared to speak up, find the resources required, and make sure every effort counts.

There’s more, too. Pack emergency food. Tests are closer than they appear on the calendar. Know when to celebrate and, um, deadlines don’t go away just ’cause you pretend they aren’t there.

Believe me I tried.


Skykeepers

Sharon Ashwood
August 13, 2009  •  No Comments

Over at www.SilkandShadows.com, we’re giving away one of Jessica Andersen’s books this week. If you’ve not discovered this amazing series yet, here’s a few tidbits from her latest release to whet your appetite!

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Ancient prophecy holds that 12/21/2012 will bring a global cataclysm.

Mankind’s only hope lies with the Nightkeepers, modern magic-wielding warriors who must find their destined mates and fulfill the legends to defeat the rise of terrible Mayan demons.

In Skykeepers, Michael Stone is a man with a dark secret that has skewed his magical abilities dangerously toward the underworld. Seeking redemption, he sets out on a perilous mission to save the daughter of Ambrose Ledbetter, a renowned Mayanist who died before he could reveal the location of a hidden library. The Nightkeepers must find the library before their enemies gain access to its valuable cache of spells and prophecies.

Sasha Ledbetter grew up hearing heroic tales of an ancient group of powerful magi who were destined to save the world from destruction. She never expected that her bedtime stories would come to life in the form of Nightkeeper Michael Stone, or that she’d hold the key to the warrior’s survival. As Sasha and Michael join forces to prevent the imminent battle, sparks of attraction ignite between them, and they’re forced to confront the unexpected passion that brings them together–and also tears them apart.

Link to excerpt

Link to video trailer


Blooming blob

Sharon Ashwood
July 23, 2009  •  1 Comment

This news tidbit sent to me by DarkForgotten group member Loranthiana

A boatful of hunters from Wainwright, Alaska, discovered a large, fibrous blob floating in the Chukchi Sea. Dark and miles across, it was at first thought to be an oil spill. Or perhaps the world’s biggest Scrubby. Others thought perhaps a call to Agent Mulder was in order.

It was none of the above, but alarming in its own way. The article states:

“Test results released Thursday showed the blob wasn’t oil, but a plant – a massive bloom of algae. While that may seem less dangerous, a lot of people are still uneasy. It’s something the mostly Inupiat Eskimo residents along Alaska’s northern coast say they could never remember seeing before.”

(see whole article here)

Algae blooms can be problematic, especially where seafood is harvested. It’s also a huge indicator that things aren’t normal, sometimes for natural reasons, other times because humans have mucked something up.

My twisted imagination has the blob galumphing across the Arctic waste in search of human settlements to terrorize and possibly digest. Maybe a nice bunch of plump Aryan survivalists ready to save the great white north for great white hunters. Num, num.

I know some people think global warming, while messy and full of natural disasters, is an inconvenient process humankind will ride out like a bad storm. Then we’ll dust ourselves off and carry on, just with more sunscreen or warm socks as appropriate. I think they tend to forget everything else will adapt, too. They should read more science fiction.


Serial reader

Sharon Ashwood
July 22, 2009  •  No Comments

I’ve noticed that in the romance market, series have become de rigeur. I suspect this has as much to do with marketing as anything else. As with movies, if one has good box office, make a sequel and cash in. Ditto books. The system works pretty well for authors because it gives us a chance to hook a readership in a way single efforts might not.

As an author, it affects how we think about plots. It’s nice if there’s an overarching idea to drive the series, but each book has to have its own logic. And what if your readers pick them up out of order? It’s a problem if there has to be pages of explanation to catch them up before the adventure even begins. In other words, we have to be clever little pumpkins to do a good job.

For this reason, SCORCHED can be read independently of RAVENOUS. They’re sequential and related, but by no means inextricable from each other. I think most authors aim for this kind of flexibility now, especially when bookstores aren’t always stocking all the titles in a series. If it’s too hard for a reader to pick up the story part-way through, the author loses the opportunity to bring more people on board.

Speaking as a reader, I love a series I can sink my teeth into. Characters become family. Places become like old friends. I start expecting to meet my favourite heroes on the street. The books become a reliable, comfortable haven—or at least a constant source of entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want to exactly hang out in Rachel Caine’s Morganville, even though I wait with bated breath for each new instalment.

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Another series I’ve loved is CT Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Thrall series. It’s original and interesting and occasionally downright scary.

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And then there’s C.H. Harris’s beautifully-written regency historical detective series (Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.)

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Those are just a few of my favourites–there’s no shortage of great series out there. Nevertheless, do you as a reader ever feel series exhaustion? Despite an author’s best efforts to make each book stand-alone, do you ever get tired of having to figure out which one to read first, or when you kind find the first one without ordering it on-line?


Round Robin Story!

Sharon Ashwood
July 21, 2009  •  No Comments

I was invited by Romance in the Back Seat to participate in a round robin short story called “White Wedding Nightmares.” My segment just went up today. Some of the other participants are: Angie Fox, Jacquelyn Frank, Michelle Rowan … just a huge list of really talented and fun writers! It’s essentially a story about a slayer who gives it all up to get married, but then all the paranormal hotties in her life show up to protest and the adventure begins.


What if?

Sharon Ashwood
July 20, 2009  •  No Comments

Here’s our platitude for the day: Life is a series of “what if” propositions. What if I had done A instead of B? Made this choice instead of that one? “What if” isn’t just a plotting device; it’s the stuff our lives are made of. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s not a terribly useful line of thought.

Despite smacking my metaphorical self upside the head, I’ve been in the land of “what if” fairly regularly of late. Self-indulgent, because I don’t really have a lot to complain about. Short of having a fat trust fund or a sugar daddy, I’m in a pretty good situation for an author–a steady day job, a quiet space at home to write, and good organizational skills. You’d think juggling demands would be a snap. As advertised during my school years, there is no reason the modern superwoman can’t have whatever and as much as she wants.


The Demon Lord of Kitty Badness helps me study

Sharon Ashwood
July 16, 2009  •  2 Comments

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Blog changes

Sharon Ashwood
  •  No Comments

This blog is mirrored in a few places – over to LiveJournal, MySpace, and then fed through to Facebook. Up until now, I’ve been handling this mostly through a cut and paste process that took some time due to logging in, logging out, toggling between pages, blah blah. As a consequence, I’ve often skipped posting because I didn’t have the time to go through the whole process.

I’ve now had Digital Dragon, mage queen of technostuff, outfit this patch of cyberspace with feeds to everywhere. I blog once, and I’m done. So nice. I think this will make it easier to put something up more often because it’s not going to be such a big deal.

The one hiccup is MySpace. It doesn’t accept a full mirror of WordPress right to the blog page, so there is now a widget on the main page with the feed. It’s a nifty, pretty little thing.


test post

Sharon Ashwood
July 14, 2009  •  No Comments

Just seeing if the feeds work


Naming Characters

Sharon Ashwood
July 12, 2009  •  No Comments

My characters tend to show up full-grown. They walk into my head, sit down, and start trying to boss me around. Usually they come with their names, as well as annoying habits, a fashion statement (or lack thereof), and attitude.

Occasionally, though, you get the one-name guy. Historical writers will be familiar with this phenomenon—they’ll be “Buckingham” or “Fitzcarruthers” and evidently popped into the universe with no first name and, if they’re aristocracy, only a title. It takes me months of prodding before they finally confess to being “Steve” or “Bob”. Captain Reynard (you’ll meet him in SCORCHED) didn’t have a first name until I slapped one his forehead and said “live with it.” He’s still pouting even though I’ve explained REPEATEDLY that a hero with his own book has to make SOME sacrifices. Yeesh. I’m still writing book three, so he’d better mind his manners or I’ll have my revenge.

However, it’s not safe to assume a werecougar or a hellhound or even a witch will have the same naming traditions as a human. Witches take their surnames from their mothers, not their fathers. This had me really confused until I figured out that the blood relationships between my various characters would only work if the society was matrilineal. Suddenly a complex family tree problem was solved. Yup, the author is sometimes the last to know.

Hellhounds, as far as I can figure, only have one name. Lore is just Lore, although there’s no “just” about him. What do you say about a guy who risks death daily to save just one more of his people?

Another upcoming character is Errata Jones, an announcer/journalist/werecougar and a good friend of Perry Baker’s (the werewolf professor in RAVENOUS). An errata is a list of corrections, so she’s obviously playing a joke. I wonder about her real name but, y’know, cats have secrets. She hasn’t given me hers yet.

There are a lot of complexities in naming characters, and I’ve always found that it never pays to force it. If I sit down with a book of names and try to choose one, it won’t stick. It kind of makes me wonder about our parents picking baby names before we’re even born. How many of us feel like we truly fit the name we got?


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