Windows help

Sharon Ashwood
July 1, 2010  •  No Comments

windowshelpbutton1 Finally, a help message that I can understand.


Products I want to buy – mini office voodoo kit

Sharon Ashwood
  •  No Comments

I was wandering around the web and found this:

Description
Put the power of voodoo to work in the office–so you won’t have to! With a mini corporate voodoo doll and 32 page executive spellbook, you’re practically guaranteed to turn nasty colleagues into friendly allies. And if you’re looking for a raise or hoping for a promotion, you can hardly go wrong with this hilarious kit.


Ads on our license plates: Another method of creating traffic accidents

Sharon Ashwood
June 23, 2010  •  No Comments

Now that many jurisdictions have banned the use of cell phones while driving, here comes yet another distraction for drivers. In an effort to raise revenue, California lawmakers are now considering Digital Electronic License Plate (DELP) technology that would allow rear license plates on vehicles to display l.e.d. advertising when the car is stopped.

The technology could also be used to show information such as Amber alerts and emergency traffic updates. But, for those drivers who want to use the space for their own messages, the DMV could charge for the privilege, just as they do for vanity plates.

The added economic bonus from the development and engineering of digital electronic license plate technology would be new jobs in tech and sales/marketing. In California, the bill promoting a study and trials of the program is being pushed by Smart Plate, a Bay-area company that is currently developing a digital license plate. A feasibility study should be completed by January 1, 2013, with research costs of about US$200,000 to be met by private vendors.


One, two, splat

Sharon Ashwood
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lioncub The writing task I always put off is Chapter 3.

Chapter 1 is easy. It’s a fresh idea, a fresh start, a fling with some new characters. It’s like sneaking out of your bedroom window at night and creeping off for some unauthorized fun. It’s the attraction of the unknown, crammed with possibilities.

Chapter 2 is the counterpoint, a response, the chance to provide the answering viewpoint, the villain’s machinations, or the Big Thing that raises the stakes to a nerve-shattering pitch.

Chapter 3 is where the author has to get past the fanfare and start providing actual story. If the fireworks in the first two chapters were nothing but a lot of light and sound, this is where the shaky foundation becomes apparent. Cue sound of fizzling. Cue sound of author whistling as they stroll away, pretending they didn’t like that dumb story anyway.

I hate chapter 3. If we make it past that danger point, chapter 5 is nearly as bad, because that’s where the author has to have another trick in her bag to crank up the volume. It has to be something fresh that the reader hasn’t seen coming, yet not so outlandish that your editor suspects you’re using a plotting version of Mr. Potato Head.

I love chapter 10, because if I make it that far I know my book has a chance to survive infancy. Nevertheless, there are still dangerous waters ahead. I have a tendency to suddenly start hallucinating around chapter 13 that I have far too many pages to fill, and that I’d better drag in a third and fourth plot just to fill it up—which is how I have been known to exceed my allotted word count by, oh, 60,000 words. Sagging middles have never been my literary foe. Knowing when to back away from the keyboard is.

If I can avoid the “gee, I guess I’d better throw in a revolt by the trolls” trap, I finish in good order. The second half of the book will go twice as fast as the first, because all my lovely setup is unwinding just like it’s supposed to. Biff! Bam! Dragons! Holy batwings, Dracula!

The problem is that I have to get past chapter 3 to get there. All the decisions are yet to be made. All the slog up the hill of rising tension has yet to begin. Chapter 3 is what tests not just your inspiration, but your resolve, your toolkit, and your devious plan. It’s where the real authors come out to play, fully prepared to make their characters’ lives sheer hell. Hear us roar!

Or mew. Sometimes ideas aren’t quite ready for the world. After all, who doesn’t have a few started-but-never-got-traction projects stored away on hard drives, in closets, or in craft cupboards?


Summertime, and the grass is greener

Sharon Ashwood
June 16, 2010  •  1 Comment

Summertime can be when I get my best writing done. I think this is a hangover from being in school—I expect to have more time and energy to spare, so I associate warm nights and hanging out in the garden with creative thought and, more specifically, experimental writing.

grassandbook

When I was in university, my focus was on late eighteenth and early nineteenth century English poets, aka the Byronic crowd. One of their buddies was a novelist named Matthew “Monk” Lewis, who wrote what we’d now call horror fiction. One summer I applied myself to his works. Mostly I was fascinated by the claim that he had locked himself up for a long weekend with a case of wine and deli take-out and written the first draft of The Monk. It’s a substantial pile o’ prose (and not a bad read, if you like gothic). Me, I would take a long weekend to write a synopsis, and only if I were stone cold sober.

Nonetheless, the result of my Monk-ish fascination resulted in a complete manuscript written that summer. Rereading it now, I wish I had the excuse of alcohol abuse for the sword-waving histrionics contained therein. One takes things far too seriously at that age.

Now, since what I write is mostly about brooding monster guys (thanks so much, Mr. Lewis), my summer escapes tend to be light and fluffy adventure stories. I actually started writing one, just to clear the dust and spiderwebs of the Castle out of my soul for a bit. I’ll bet you a quarter that if all I ever wrote was light and fluffy, I’d be looking for something dark and broody. That’s just the way holidays work—we want the opposite of our normal lives so that we can go back and appreciate what we have day to day.

On a parallel note, I’m leaving the chilly northern rainforest (okay, it’s sunny and gorgeous out, but go with me here) for the tropical steam of Orlando in July. If that’s not a reversal of my typical habitat, well, vampires don’t have coffin hair in the morning.

Okay, all you paranormal readers—what bookshelf do you visit to change things up?


Don’t step on my potato head

Sharon Ashwood
June 9, 2010  •  No Comments

At the moment, one has to be skilful to avoid the news that a Mr. Potato Head Elvis will soon be gracing toy shelves, first in a white jumpsuit version in August and then in a black leather version come Christmas.

Yikes. Should I ever become famous, I don’t wish to become THAT famous.


Clever me. Or not.

Sharon Ashwood
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“Clever” is a relative term, especially when it comes to the creative arts. From a purely practical standpoint, my most clever writing moment was probably whatever got me published. But then someone else might think that exact same passage was drek, because they would have preferred reading about naked space aliens doing the Macarena and spraying each other with Antarean massage oil. You just never know.

I used to review books for a local paper. Most of it was what is fondly referred to here as Canlit—Canadian literature often produced by a small press, usually serious, often filled with despair, weighty allusions, and landscapes that devour people via snow, bears, an excess of wheat, or the CBC. I enjoyed some of it, was puzzled by some of it, and sincerely disliked the balance. While we do have some brilliant humorists in the Canlit field, none of them sent their books to me (either that or my arts page editor kept all the good stuff).

But just because I didn’t like those stories, that didn’t make them bad. A lot of them set out to achieve their story goal and, while they might have depressed the bejeezes out of me, I had to give them credit for doing a good job. A lot of them were, in a word, clever—just not very warm and fuzzy.

In fact, I think the very cleverness of some of them put me off. I like to be surprised, and I don’t even mind knowing that the author is trying to surprise me. I just don’t like to be aware of it all the time, because then the whole act of reading becomes a strictly intellectual exercise with me trying to anticipate the author. I can’t relax into the story world but kind of skulk around in it jumping at shadows. (Example: The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. By Robert Coover. I forgive this book because it really is a genius piece of fiction.)

cat-computer

What I like is a book that sucks me in so completely that I forget I’m reading and leaves me ready to stake anyone who interrupts the trance. This requires a combination of intellectual pleasure and emotional pull. Clever, but with the gears and cogs hidden well enough that I don’t see them from chapters away.

So, do I ever write that well? I like to think I manage it once in a while—but everything is so subjective, I’ll never have a cut and dried answer. When I hear from a reader that I hit the right chord for them, I’ve received the best external validation possible.

What’s the cleverest thing I ever wrote? Whatever it was that made someone buy the next book.


Fresh Perspectives

Sharon Ashwood
June 3, 2010  •  No Comments

I moved offices at work this week and now I’m on the west facing side of the building. I think it’s going to be extra-hot in the summer, should we ever have summer here (I’m still in winter clothes) but right now the added light is a boost to the spirits. Plus the office is a little larger which means there is enough oxygen for at least five minutes if one shuts the door.

A change in perspective is everything. I know when I’m writing, if I get stuck sometimes just moving where I’m working can make a huge difference.

But, for those who like where they are, here is a new invention. The body of this car is “elastically adjustable” to reform itself into a bedroom, office, or gym.

This is the part I think is extra-cool:
“The SheLL will also connect seamlessly to buildings and public facilities by way of what is expected to become a standard interface for vehicles – a docking station so it can supplement the home or office with another working or living space.”

You don’t have to park the car, you just stick it to the side of your building. It should make that rush to work so much easier when the commute is actually done by driving your bedroom.


Risk and reward

Sharon Ashwood
June 2, 2010  •  No Comments

The late fall is when many of the published author contests open for entries, and every time the season rolls around I wonder whether I should go contest-happy or not. The expense, the paperwork, the mailing hassles, and the fact that it’s also the holiday season all spell a must-miss experience. But you mustn’t miss it.

You see, there are excellent Machiavellian reasons to enter. Contest judges are an enforced audience. They have to read, or pretend to read, your book. Maybe some will like it enough to buy the next one. There’s also the tantalizing promise of finalling or even winning your category. And, of course, there are contests that will forward the feedback forms to peruse. In my experience, most judges who write comments are honestly trying to be helpful, and I usually learn something. Yes, occasionally there’s one that’s snarky or just strange, but those are fortunately rare.

And, finally, entering contests feels like one is doing something positive. As authors, there’s a fairly limited amount we can do once the book is “out there.” Filling out entry forms gives us an illusory sense of control.

In a manic fit, this year I entered both my 2009 books in quite a few contests, which gave me a scoring data pool. Breaking with my personal traditions of apathy and sloth, for once I actually kept track of the results. I discovered something fairly interesting.

The book that colored outside the lines received either very high or very low scores and finalled or won in many of the contests. The one I wrote as a crowd-pleaser scored more consistently and with a higher average, but received fewer nominations in the end.

What does this actually mean? I’m not sure my test sample was large enough for rash generalizations, but I’ll make one anyway: To be exceptional, you have to accept the fact that some people will hate your work. Just go for what floats your boat. It’ll probably work out better in the end.

Oh, and fill out the entry forms, because you might win. The thing with contests—besides being great fundraisers for the chapters that sponsor them—is that they are low-risk with great reward if you do succeed. For the price of an entrance fee, you can put “award winning author” beside your name.

Cheap thrills. We get ‘em where we can.


Fluttering by

Sharon Ashwood
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The fun and the pain in building the world of the Dark Forgotten is that I had a wide-open slate to bring various species onstage. Some, like vampires, would be more like us (after all, they started out human) and others, like the fey, might sometimes look human but have completely different value systems. How these various creatures viewed the world, interacted, built their economies and belief systems, rapidly became a fascinating playground.

And that didn’t cover all the fun things like looking into the various pursuits my human(ish) characters had: police detectives, radio announcers, and eighteenth century cavalry officers. Who doesn’t want to spend an afternoon sitting in the booth during a talk show, or scour the Internet for engravings that showed the proper uniform the hero wore in his misspent youth?

11butterfly

Yup, my weakness is remembering which story I want to write. A fascinating something flutters by, and my natural instinct is to chase it.

It doesn’t just happen with world building, either. I’ll be writing along and think, “Whoa! Wouldn’t THAT plot twist be cool??” and I’m off. The trick is knowing which of these winged messengers are actually memos from the muse and which are demons in disguise—because every time a new layer of complexity is introduced, each and every character will be impacted. Sometimes that opens up a fruitful vein of characterization, and sometimes it’s just a big old can o’worms.

can-o-worms

Put another way, one can end up with a book badly in need of pruning and shaping. Annette’s post yesterday about editing is very true. What makes a book is the ability to see the book under the butterflies (by now no more than splotches on the plot development windshield), weird outgrowths, and scraggly patches. What I love is seeing the finished product and seeing how the unexpected bits of inspiration that I keep have changed the original concept into something new and surprising.

Of course that same butterfly-chasing urge can strike in other ways, too. I’m always fascinated by what I carry out of the bookstore. I always go in to buy JUST ONE book . . .


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