The gift of seeds


November 27, 2017  •  No Comments

Winter is typically the time for huddling indoors and thinking about roast beast and woolly sweaters. However, back in the days of snail mail, it was also the season for seed catalogues. I typically spend small fortunes (mostly mentally, occasionally literally) on all sorts of gardening toys, bulbs, books, seeds, and root stock. At the time, I even ordered rose bushes to plant in my glorious lot and a half garden with its greenhouse, asparagus bed, small orchard of trees (3 apple, 2 cherry, and a pear), grape vines, berry canes and a horseradish plant that was doing its best to take over the world. I miss that place, which has since been paved over, but I have to believe the seeds of all those plant friends are waiting under the earth for the right time to shrug off the concrete and start again. Nature is far more persistent than people who apparently hate gardens.

The cycle of the year is also persistent. Here we are again, in the quiet season when it is right to think about seeds and what we would like to plant. Sure, it’s hectic with celebrations and shopping and visiting, but in every wrap-up of the year is the germination of the next. What do we want to grow more of? What would we like to weed out? What roots need more water and what requires pruning? In the midst of all the chaos, this is our opportunity to step back and take our garden’s measure.

Sometimes we discover a volunteer plant along the way. I found the tiny seedling of my next Corsair’s Cove story almost by accident this week. It’s still tiny, but I recognized it at once. Creativity is a bit like that—a random word or image takes root and grows into something robust and unexpected. Call it a Yuletide stocking stuffer from the Muse.

 

 


Happy Hallowe’en


October 30, 2017  •  No Comments

Hallowe’en is almost upon us and I thought, “Oh, this post should be easy.” After all, the events of Kiss in the Dark revolve around an October 31 ball, complete with curses, ticking clocks, and doomed spirits. Plenty of material there. And, in truth, many of my books reference Samhain or Hallowe’en, and most of them have some supernatural goings-on. Plus, I live down the street from a graveyard in a very haunted town.  I am spoiled for choice of spooky material.

So, I’ll restrict myself to two favorite images I’ve taken in the cemetery. Both were taken with an older camera and aren’t the best resolution, but to me they show the fantasy world peeping through to our own. The crow on the obelisk should definitely be quoting Poe. As for the angel–could the sky be any more perfect for a heavenly backdrop?

Sure, on Hallowe’en the veil between the worlds is thinnest. That doesn’t mean the other 364 days are completely free of magic sprinkles. We just have to stay alert.


The Market Green at Corsair’s Cove


July 31, 2017  •  No Comments

One thing I adore about where I live is how close I am to farm country. Half an hour will get me to fruit and vegetables fresh from the fields, not to mention fresh eggs, honey, wine, and organic meat for the carnivores.

Of course, all things we adore go into our fictional town of Corsair’s Cove. I’ve mentioned the Cove as the setting for an updated group project–keep your eyes peeled for the first release within the next few weeks!

It’s a tourist stop, but that’s certainly not the only industry. Agriculture has always been a foundation of the town’s economy and some of the residents have a keen interest in the farm to table movement. Mack even has his own distillery.

There is a fishmonger’s by the wharf and a market green at the edge of town where farmers bring their wares to sell. They are busy places all the year round, but summer means crowds. Some customers will be the townsfolk doing their regular shopping, but there are others from the marina or camping nearby. Then there are the professional foodies—the chef from upscale Blackthorne Manor as well as cooks from the more modest Zephyr’s Rest Inn and the local café and bakery. Who wouldn’t want to cook with berries still warm from the sun or seafood fresh from the ocean?

The sensory experience of shopping at a farmer’s market is amazing, both as a regular shopper and as a writer. There is a saying that setting is character, and I do believe that Corsair’s Cove has emerged as a character on its own. The businesses that make the town run are its heartbeat, and the everyday flow of humanity through places like the market green shows its regular rhythm. Judging by the quality of the produce, I’d say the Cove is very healthy indeed. Stop by for dinner sometime—I recommend the curry at the Zephyr’s Rest.


Tea and Travel


July 24, 2017  •  No Comments

Last weekend I treated myself to a few days away. I’d just survived a book deadline and was looking forward to baking in the sun at a local music festival. This meant a few hours’ drive up Vancouver Island on a beautiful sunny Friday. Getting there is half the fun, right?

One of the real treats with taking a road trip is the opportunity to stop in interesting places along the way. The very first tea farm in Canada, Westholme Tea Company (www.Westholmetea.com) is just north of the city of Duncan. After a drive down a winding country road, my friend and I stopped in a completely charming oasis that housed not only the farm, but also a charming garden patio, an intriguing shop filled with single origin and blended organic teas, and a pottery gallery.

The tea plants were smaller than I expected and grew in shaggy terraced rows along the hillside. Inside the shop we were offered samples of the tea du jour in tiny cups made from the very funky local pottery. The building was open and airy and filled with wonderful scents and lots of treasures to investigate. The staff was great, too, filled with suggestions and information.

I learned a lot about the differences in taste between first and second flush teas. This refers to whether the tea is gathered from the first growth in the spring or from a later crop of leaves. The first flush has a more astringent taste and the second is mellower. Preference is a matter of taste, although many prize the first flush and often that’s more expensive. Yes, I bought a few things, including a nice second flush Darjeeling.

I don’t follow a hundred mile diet, but investigating locally produced foods is a great excuse to seek out fascinating people doing cool things. Hopefully I’m shrinking my carbon footprint and expanding my horizons at the same time!


Footprints and shadows


April 26, 2017  •  No Comments

It’s spring, and the process of renewal happens. Sometimes it’s all bunnies and pansies, but other times I’m reminded the universe isn’t sentimental. In the past two days, I heard one of my long-time supervisors (now retired) passed away in her sleep, I wrote a farewell message in the going-away book of the boss who just left, and I see the posting for his replacement is out.  All this reminds me that none of us is irreplaceable and that all we have control over is the memory we leave behind. That will fade, too, but for as long as it lasts, I want my shadow to be a pleasant one.

Since I’m a supervisor, too, I understand my role isn’t all about popularity. Some of it is about expectations, boundaries, and performance, but for the most part I have fabulous staff and discipline is not an issue. I have the privilege of concentrating on teaching, support, and seeing my folks reach their goals. If they compete for a better position and successfully move on, I’m sad but proud.

I try hard because I know how badly things can suck. At various times I’ve had very good and very difficult individuals in control of my work life. All of them taught me something, even if it was not to be like that. Understanding why someone behaves as they do may lead to sympathy, but it doesn’t prevent a sense of relief when the misery is over.  On the other hand, there have been people I truly miss a lot. I think of them every time I need to check my own messaging. Am I being fair? Am I helping? Am I putting responsibility where it belongs?

Someday, I will be replaced. Today reminded me of that. How other people respond to that moment is entirely up to me.

 

 


Mammoths!

Sharon Ashwood
June 15, 2016  •  No Comments

2016-06-11 12.13.00Our local museum has a special exhibit this summer, “Mammoths! Giants of the Ice Age.” It’s done in partnership with The Field Museum in Chicago. Among the things to see is Lyuba, a 40,000 year-old baby woolly mammoth discovered frozen in Siberia. Apparently she drowned and through an accident of ice and bacteria, the poor thing stayed pretty much intact until discovered in 2007 by some reindeer herders.

Lyuba was remarkable but sad. The exhibit as a whole was fascinating. There were bones and artist’s recreations of heads of mastodons and mammoths (who knew there was a difference?) and lots of other elephantine relations. It’s a wonderful exhibit for kids because there are lots of interactive activities. Even as a non-kid, I enjoyed the straightforward presentation of the material. It reminded me of how much I loved biology in school–and how much of this stuff could be applied to a fantasy novel, because these critters were BIIIIGGG!  There were some life-sized statues I took photos of. The short-faced bear made a grizzly look small and I couldn’t get the whole mastodon into the frame.

If this show comes to your museum, I recommend the trip.2016-06-11 12.13.39 2016-06-11 12.13.292016-06-11 12.13.19


The Tinder Box

Sharon Ashwood
June 12, 2016  •  No Comments

Sometimes people ask me what my favourite fairy tale was growing up. There is a lot to choose from–I read all of the fairy tale, ghost stories and myths I could get my hands on. Andrew Lang’s fairy books loomed large (The Red, Blue, Yellow etc Fairy Books) as well as the usual Grimm and other European trad stories. Tinder BoxThen there were all the Marvel and DC comics about superheroes. I didn’t differentiate much between the old stories and the new. The very best of course, was what happened when you combined fairy tales and comic books! And so my love affair with a ragged copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box was born.

I don’t know why the story isn’t better known. It has all the great elements: a kidnapped princess, a clever but poor young man who saves her, and talking animals! The plot is simple–young man sets out to rescue the princess and ends up saving the day, but only through the help of three magical dogs summoned by the tinder box. The only reason he gets his hands on the box is because of his generous and helping spirit. Yes, he does his fair share of manly-man swashbuckling, but it’s the fact that he’s a good guy that wins the day. He’s somebody we feel sure will look after his princess.

There are a number of versions of this story throughout the fairy tale universe–one is a very old Welsh tale that has the hero saving ants from a fire and they later play a part in helping him along. The message of the story is clear: no matter how humble someone is, they have something to offer the world and should not be left to perish. I think that’s a tale for everyone, young and old.


Ten no-fail procrastination technique, personally tested

Sharon Ashwood
January 17, 2016  •  No Comments

Ten no-fail procrastination techniques, personally tested to ensure no writing happens

10 Obscure recipe ingredient. Must have it.

9 Coupons are expiring!

8 Distant relations haven’t heard from me since the 90s.

7 My car is overdue for servicing

6 Financial planning! Right now!

5 Flyers! Must. Read. Every. One.

4 My sinks are dirty. Someone might see them. Like my mother.

3 Computer gags. Software update.

2 Must Google for new reviews. Then the aftermath.

1 Can’t possibly write without the perfect tea.


We need to have a chat about the kibble

Sharon Ashwood
January 14, 2016  •  2 Comments

The Demon Lord of Kitty Badness in conversational mode.
DLKB relaxing


Feline Disruption Unit

Sharon Ashwood
December 27, 2015  •  No Comments

Feline disruption unit

Those who know computers and cats will know whereof I speak. I’m on deadline for Enchanted Guardian, and I have a stiff daily page count to make.  However, the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness can’t go half an hour without an adoration break. He considers this his contribution to the writing process: ensuring that I take those important moments to bend and stretch (as when tossing a nerf ball, filling a food dish, or removing him from some small instance of destruction). Without his input, I’d become overly focussed on unimportant work goals. Also, the type of progress I’m seeking is a mundane, unenlightened human measurement. Frequency of cuddle sessions are a far better performance measure.

Everything is teamwork when you have a cat. Important safety tip:  the cat is the team leader.


Page 1 of 3123