August 11, 2010 • No Comments
What I’ve learned about writers’ conferences can be boiled down to the simple principle of: expect nothing, be curious, and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. At least in my case, what ends up happening is rarely what I planned for. I personally think there’s a Chaos Fairy assigned to writers’ events.
Once, when I was in the planning stages of going to WorldCon, I joked with my to-be-roommate about the cost of renting a suite instead of the standard double-double—the difference in this particular hotel was so outrageous, we surmised the suite’s bathroom must have gold-plated taps. Then, when the time came to check in, there was a room screw-up and no place to stay. We protested vigorously at the reception desk, and finally were given a partial suite at a bargain-basement price. Yup, it had gold taps. The poor porter must have wondered why we were laughing so hard. I spent most of the conference writing in the room, with its full dining area, living room and two elegantly-appointed bathrooms, because it was just so darned nice. Dream—or at least joke—come true! On the other hand, most of the writers I had gone to see never showed up. Win some, lose some.
Maybe I appreciate the random quality of these events because my life is usually overbooked. Sure, conferences have schedules, but after a few years the listed offerings pale beside the impromptu sideshows. I don’t need another seminar to inform me that I need a web page. What I need is a shake-up. Something surprising.
I certainly got surprises during the Orlando conference. For one thing, the blue, hot, steamy Florida atmosphere is the polar opposite of what I’m used to. It was green and beautiful, but a sauna. It forced me to stop racing around at my usual pace—and that’s not a bad thing. Besides all that:
• I met readers! Bless you for coming out to the signing! I was thrilled.
• For the first time ever, I met my editor and she fed a flock of her authors a very fine meal indeed.
• I had a fancy purple cocktail that tasted like cough syrup, but it was very pretty to look at.
• I danced, much to my surprise. Probably had something to do with that martini.
• One of my roommates, Jacqui Nelson, won a Golden Heart award for her unpublished manuscript. You go, girl!
• I met tons of people, including a first face-to-face with Jessa and Kim.
Plus, I got all the usual mixed messages about the future of the publishing industry. It’s heaven! It’s hell! It’s dead! It’s alive! It’s Undead! It’s zombified! Call an exorcist!
Pass the purple martinis 😯
If you want to write romance, I’d definitely recommend the RWA National Conference experience. It has tons of information available—but not all of the valuable stuff is in the seminars. Wear comfy shoes and go for the adventure. At the very least, there’s a book’s-worth of characters to encounter.
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:
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.
Sadly, no Captain Jack Sparrow sunning himself.
Not surprisingly, there was a certain cartoon-like quality to all the architecture.
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.
This was a cool innovation – this boat toured the major sites accessible by water. It wasn’t speedy, but the trip was beautiful.
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?
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.
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.
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?
July 18, 2010 • No Comments
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?
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.
July 6, 2010 • 2 Comments
Unchained is out!
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.
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?
July 1, 2010 • No Comments
Finally, a help message that I can understand.