Pics from Orlando

Sharon Ashwood
August 6, 2010  •  No Comments

Okay, so I’m not much of a shutterbug, but I did remember to take my camera to the RWA Conference that just wrapped up in Orlando. The conference hotel was the Swan and Dolphin at Disneyworld. I got out one day for a walk of about an hour or so, but after that I didn’t have much time for exploring. Plus it was hot and muggy in a way those of us from the Pacific Northwest just aren’t used to! Every time I walked out of the hotel, my glasses steamed up. One time, I was carrying a paperback and by the time I crossed the courtyard, the cover was slippery with moisture.

Anyway, here are some pictures:

bridge and waterway between the Dolphin and Swan hotels

bridge and waterway between the Dolphin and Swan hotels

Fountain outside the Dolphin hotel

Fountain outside the Dolphin hotel

I think these fish are meant to look like the Baroque cartographer’s view of dolphins. Either that, or the designers needed a zoological lesson.

Shipwreck and beach at Disneyworld

Shipwreck and beach at Disneyworld

Sadly, no Captain Jack Sparrow sunning himself.

The Boardwalk and faux historical buildings

The Boardwalk and faux historical buildings

Not surprisingly, there was a certain cartoon-like quality to all the architecture.

Palm trees

Palm trees

Okay, so I hadn’t seen palm trees that tall before. We do have a few palm trees where I live, but they’re short and stumpy.

Boat that toured the waterway

Boat that toured the waterway

This was a cool innovation – this boat toured the major sites accessible by water. It wasn’t speedy, but the trip was beautiful.


Programming from Hell–or was that for Hell?

Sharon Ashwood
August 4, 2010  •  No Comments

I don’t watch reality TV. Well, that’s not strictly true. When I’m trapped on the treadmill at the gym, it’s often on the wide-screens at the front. Watching it takes my mind off the fact that I’m (gasp) exercising, and I’m quite grateful for the distraction from my grumbling muscles.

One can’t help but wonder how contestants blunder onto these shows—many of them seem lambs lost in the woods of desperate circumstances. People unable to choose their wedding dress. Wedding planners leaping into the breach to save the day because someone fell into the cake. Nasty, knife-wielding chefs shrieking at their minions. People weeping as they do 3,185 push ups with a trainer ranting at them for eating a single chocolate covered almond. No, I’m not kidding. Who comes up with this stuff? I believe it was the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who declared life to be short, nasty and brutish. These shows confirm all that and add “ridiculous” to the list.

So why do we watch them? I’m not sure, but as I trot on the high-tech hamster wheel (speaking of ridiculous), I’m utterly absorbed. Completely. Mesmerized. Some folks say it’s like watching a train wreck—it’s pure schadenfreude and we’re thankful it’s not us bawling all over national TV.

That may be true, but there’s also a huge yearning on the viewer’s part for triumph. We want the wedding to succeed; we need the heroes to stay on the island and the villains to go home in disgrace. Reality TV is packed with morality tales boiled down into their raw components, and a basic part of us is anxious to see them played out. Joseph Campbell would have had a field day with this stuff–forget the hero’s journey, this material is cutting to the chase in quick and uncomplicated sound bites.

Reality shows remind me of the medieval Everyman plays: Average Joe makes his way past the Seven Deadly Sins (substitute with challenges of your choice) to the pearly gates, succeeding because his faith is sound. Average Joe discovers worldly friends and favour melt away when Death (or the Bachelorette) arrives to test him. Only his Good Deeds remains to plead his case (bag the rose). Etcetera. Play the story out on a medieval fairground or the TV, the plot is pretty much the same.

Times change, but the trials of the human heart and soul still hold fundamental fascination. We still value honesty, optimism, and a protagonist who can stick it to the Devil—especially if he’s disguised as a celebrity chef.

Makes sense to me. Or maybe it’s just exhaustion 45 minutes into my workout. Speaking of the devil, could this treadmill possibly be purgatory?


Before video killed the radio star (i.e. the paleolithic)

Sharon Ashwood
July 28, 2010  •  1 Comment

Embarrassment is a matter of perspective; I would almost say it is the province of the young, who do not yet understand the value of being ridiculous. Once you’ve worn sparkly silver platform heels, there’s not much else that life can throw at you. You’re officially a survivor.

When I look back at what was cool in my high school years, I find, oddly, it’s back on TV. Ozzy Osborne and Gene Simmons are reprising their roles as cultural icons in ways I would never have anticipated at sixteen. I think even then I would have had a sneaking admiration for their tenacity.

What was the young Sharon Ashwood devoted to in her teens? Glam rock, the more glittery the better. Alice Cooper had already (apocryphally) bitten the heads off chickens and David Bowie had already fallen to earth, but a secondary wave of costumed curiosities was strutting into suburban living rooms. On vinyl, of course. This was the dark ages.

KISS and Queen were my obvious choices because I’d grown up on comic books and live theatre. The sheer, unapologetic in-your-face of it all blew me away. It was a synthesis of a lot of my fixations.

kiss_band1

As far as the actual music went, it was interesting times. Punk was just losing its bleeding edge. New Wave was still, well, new and occupying one or two New York nightclubs. Bands toured with convoys of sets and personnel because gas was relatively cheap and the carbon footprint wasn’t an issue. Green was still the colour of your face the morning after the night before. News of one’s rock idol doings came monthly from Creem Magazine and the Rolling Stone. It would still be another ten or fifteen years before the music industry crashed beneath the Napster bulldozer. This was the era when you’d stay glued to a.m. radio all Saturday afternoon to find out if Your Song had made it to the pinnacle of the Top 40 Countdown.

Fun times, and it’s refreshing that some of the spandex gods of those days are still around and still going strong. As for the reality TV appearances, I largely ignore the whole thing. Glam rock was always tongue in cheek—this is just more of the same. Embarrassing? Only if you have a sense of shame.

Yup, we will rock you—as soon as we can lever ourselves out of the La-Z-Boy.


When I grow up, I want to be a Vorlon

Sharon Ashwood
July 21, 2010  •  No Comments

A lot of good TV shows have come and gone, but sometimes I wonder if I miss the show itself or the circumstances around watching it. I used to watch a TV show about the Vikings Sunday afternoons when I was in university. It was a great show on history and archaeology, but I think the real pleasure came out of the fact that by the time it came on, my weekend homework was usually finished. It was the signal to start my night off. I can say similar things about a lot of the British cop shows that were around in the 1980s, because I used to watch them with my Dad. I miss the shows, but I what I really miss is spending time with him.

All that being said, there are some shows I miss because of their pure genius. My two all-time favourites are Babylon 5 and Buffy/Angel. Both were clever and beautifully crafted. Bab 5 was more complex and sometimes struggled with all that creative brilliance (+/ the network execs who simply didn’t get it) but will remain on my keeper shelf always. There is something of a Shakespearean grandeur there. Plus, the Vorlons were just so cool.

I have to point to it as a real influence on how I think about story construction. The plot layering is without peer. If you watch it from the beginning, there isn’t a throw away scene in the entire series. (Watch out for Mr. Morden). Everything counts, even if it doesn’t become apparent until the next season–or even several seasons later.

Both B5 and Buffy ran their course. Angel ended in a rather spectacular, dystopian fashion I love or hate depending on my mood, but at least it ended. What bugs me far more are all the shows that died on vine before they had a chance to reach their full potential. Firefly (see Jessa’s post) is a great example—I will never understand why that one didn’t flourish.

Others committed the sin of stumbling at the starting gate, but given time could have grown into their promise. Moonlight was just starting to hit its groove after a somewhat wan beginning (Vampire Mick needed assertiveness training). Blood Ties started out well but the writing faltered, probably once they figured out they were destined for cancellation. Defying Gravity was definitely interesting, but I think the threads of the story needed to be pulled together sooner. I loved the Dollhouse, but it was too abstract for a lot of people. It took some time to understand what was going on.

Which leads me to think that, while it’s tough enough to get a book series off the ground, there is zero tolerance for any missteps while launching a new TV show. Viewers—or maybe it’s advertisers?—don’t wait around for slow but steady growth. It’s either an instant, or it’s gone.

It makes me cautious about becoming attached to a new series too soon. Does the high rate of cancellation make anyone else reluctant to try new shows?


Driver blames crash on vampire??

Sharon Ashwood
July 18, 2010  •  No Comments

Looky here.

From our local paper, an article by Peter Kenter of Postmedia News.

“A Colorado woman has blamed a recent car crash on an unwanted appearance by a member of the living dead.

“The driver told police she was travelling down a dirt road near the small town of Fruita when she was startled by a vampire caught in her headlights.

“The driver took quick evasive action, throwing the 2002 Chevy Blazer into reverse and crashing into a canal, with the vehicle rolling over on to its passenger side.

“Traditional vampires are incapable of crossing running water, though it isn’t clear whether the driver deliberately intended to test this theory….”

And it goes on. The real story question, however, is why did the vampire cross the road?


Literacy Signing

Sharon Ashwood
July 17, 2010  •  No Comments

This is undoubtedly most relevant to Floridians and those attending the RWA National Conference, but here is the scoop on the big signing event–and I’ll be there! From the RWA web site:

“The 2010 “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing takes place on Wednesday, July 28, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Walt Disney World® Dolphin Resort, Pacific Exhibit Hall, in Orlando, Florida. This event is open to the public; there is no admittance charge.”

The list of authors who will be there (and it’s huge) is here.


On the road

Sharon Ashwood
July 14, 2010  •  No Comments

My family was never big on vacations. They were busy and didn’t have a lot of spare money, so travel fell to the bottom of the priority pile and, when it did happen, was often accomplished by bus. Sometimes at seventy-two hour stretches. I get bus sick. I developed an early aversion to travel.

When I was one my own (and possessed a car) prospects improved. True, I took the “dream” vacation with the boyfriend of the day (vile mistake, but good diagnostic tool for future un/happiness), but that’s not the main reason I find travel stressful. Wherever I went for many years, there was usually a disaster of some sort. Bombing. Snipers. Flood. Riots. I was just about to start blackmailing tourist spots so they’d pay me to stay home, but that era appears to have ended with my trek to San Francisco a few years ago. It was AOK, which must have signalled the lifting of the curse. Though there was that flood in Nashville right after I reserved my hotel for the RWA National conference this summer. That’s just a coincidence, right?

Yes, it’s possible that I do read too much paranormal fiction. On the other hand, perhaps I will never take a “normal” vacation, because my perception is different.

Travel is too important to an author for me to hide on my safe little island. My two trips to England (one plagued by the IRA, the other by poll tax riots, mad cow disease, and a storm that washed out the bridge to Wales) have provided a wealth of historical imagery. All of those ghastly bus rides as a kid showed me the prairies in a way an airplane just can’t (there is a giant bronze Viking AND a giant corn cob somewhere in Minnesota). And there’s nothing like waking up to your first up-close view of the northern Rocky Mountains at sunrise. The imagery, down to every last bus stop and greasy spoon, is stored in my mental treasure room. I found seeds of stories in all of those places. (And sitting on my grandma’s porch watching the creek waters creep across the lawn toward me, half-distracted by the itch-worthy fact that I’d stupidly moved straw bales all afternoon wearing shorts and a midriff).

Authors aren’t all that different from those wildly irritating tourists who snap pictures and videos every three steps. You know the ones I mean—those people who seem to experience more with the camera lens than with their eyeballs. Storytellers are also recording every last detail for future use, even if we’re not conscious of it at the time.

What’s one mental holiday snapshot you’ve always kept with you?


For those who contemplate booksignings

Sharon Ashwood
July 10, 2010  •  No Comments

Parnell Hall on booksignings

One of my critique buddies sent this (thanks, Jane!) I got a giggle fit when I watched this.


Free into the world

Sharon Ashwood
July 6, 2010  •  2 Comments

Unchained is out!

unchained

So the book is out from under my control, free to roam the universe. But am I unchained from Unchained? One of the hardest things about book releases is the knowledge that you can’t take anything back. You’ve done it. You’ve said that. No more access to the delete key.

I had someone ask recently if there was anything I’d do differently. At this point, it’s useless to look back over my shoulder, and even if I could I wouldn’t want to. Yes, every author would like a whole lot more pages to unfurl their fabulous ideas, and more time to hone the manuscript would always be welcome–but there comes a time when you have to declare your work perfect. It’s as much a living organism as a child, and it is what it is, unique and special.

And honestly, I’m pretty darned pleased with how Unchained turned out. It gets the Angst Award among the Dark Forgotten novels to date. There’s no rest for these two characters.

So, go forth, little book and be free. It’s not a separation, just the natural evolution of becoming a grown-up book.

I’m sure I’ll be hearing from Ashe and Reynard when they need someone to do their laundry.


It’s all about the snacks

Sharon Ashwood
July 5, 2010  •  No Comments

One question that I am frequently asked is what favourite junk food I consume while writing. Okay, that’s harder to answer than one might think. An author has to be careful about how she presents herself. Anything that readers might find odd or distancing should be carefully avoided.

This applies in the general as well as the culinary sense. For instance, one should never admit to black magic blood rituals even for research purposes. Similarly, training poisonous spiders to do circus tricks might be seen as off-putting. While junk food is a more innocuous subject–barely on the scale of, say, raising zombies–people have strong loyalties to their fast food. One does not show the burger disrespect.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t eat while I’m working. For one thing, I’m too deep in concentration. For another, what I’m writing is often pretty out there: demon slime, severed limbs, and werewolves with the munchies. Yum yum.

Okay, so maybe that’s not what the well-meaning questioner wanted to hear, but what can I say? I could lie and claim that I have a bag-a-day cheese curl habit (yeah, man, I’m strung out on the orange dust!) but I prefer my junk food, when I let myself have it, without thoughts of mangled body parts.

Then there’s that whole nutrition angle. My books are about slayers and sword-swinging warriors. There’s something about having all that frequently-naked rippling muscle frolicking through one’s imagination. It makes one think fondly of vitamins and sit-ups. And carrot sticks. Graphically, and not just for the crispy crunch.

So how do I answer the junk food question? Honestly, I like slow food. Organic, locally grown, made from scratch using traditional methods. Cuisine is an art. Sure, that makes me sound a bit like one of those snobby, opera-loving, cat petting movie villains, but whatever. At least I’m telling the truth. Plus, I like cats and classical music. And I hate cola. So sue me.

Admitting that is far easier than trying to explain the demon slime and carrot sticks. And it’s never right to lie to one’s readers, even about the small things. I respect them too much.

For those who want to know all about the real Sharon Ashwood: it’s simplest to just read my books, because that’s where I live.

Unchained: the Dark Forgotten. Out July 6. Guaranteed action-adventure, monsters galore, good jokes and hot sex. After that, who cares what I eat?


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