Getting it down

Sharon Ashwood
April 28, 2010  •  No Comments

Words on paper. It’s harder to get them there than you think. Slow and steady might win the race, but sometimes that consistent slog is difficult to maintain. Make no mistake – in the middle of any book, the worst TV shows start looking mighty fine.

I’m not a fast writer. I clock about 500 words in an hour. On a work day, there are about 2.5 usable writing hours in a day if I ignore meals, fitness, social niceties, and personal hygiene. It’s a bad idea to have too many such days in one week, or people start to avoid me.

On the other hand, there are those occasions when I burn up the screen, writing a hot streak that won’t quit. My largest day’s page count ever was 30 pages. Unfortunately, that level of output breaks my brain and I can’t write for days afterward. Counting on a blitz when I get behind is chancy.

An example of my accelerated writing style—I’m nearing a deadline—was this past weekend. I took Thurs/Friday so I had four days full to work with.

• Thursday I worked from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with three breaks of about an hour. Product: approx. 4,000 words. Pretty good, considering I was also doing some editing.
• Friday – got a late start (around 11:00). Product: about 2,500 words. Not so great.
• Saturday – Call me writer girl. 6,000 words. Time out for one grocery run.
• Sunday – 2,000 words at best. Too many obligations nibbling away at time.
• Monday night – 2,000 words written after dinner from 7:15 to 11:30. I don’t usually work this long on a week night, but the muse was happy so I just stayed with it.

Five days, approximately 16,500 words. There are writers who could have blazed through half a book in that time. I’m not one of them.

I think that’s one of the big lessons in becoming a writer—finding your working style and how fast you can comfortably produce in a day. You do what you do. There’s no good or bad. Some authors push to write as many books as possible in a year, but too much haste produces brain sprain and burnout, not to mention crappy books. Respect your process.

My happiest writing time is the after-dinner session. I have my laptop on the couch, feet up, CD player on shuffle, and the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness flopped over my feet. My brain works best in the evening for new material, and I can motor on like this for hours. If I’m editing, it’s the kitchen table with the coffee pot and I’m best during the daytime. I’ve risen from bed at 3:00 a.m. to put in a few hundred words and then gone back to sleep, but I’ve never been a crack-of-dawn person. If I’m up at five, I’m wrecked for the rest of the day.

Why would new material be a night thing for me and editing a day thing? Different halves of the brain? Probably there’s a psych paper in there someplace.


Men are from Mars, hellhounds from Pluto

Sharon Ashwood
April 23, 2010  •  No Comments

One of the rules I live by when writing paranormal fiction is not to think too hard, at least when it comes to practical matters. I mean, consider the problems of actually achieving a HEA with the heroes in question. Right now I’m working on a story where the strapping hero is a hellhound. Yes, he really is nothing but a hound dog.

Hellhounds, like werewolves, are meant to be beastly but hunky bundles of primal instinct. They’re protective, loyal Alphas always in tip-top sexual overdrive. They apparently don’t own shirts and wander about displaying serrated abdominal muscles, completely unconscious of their lusty charms.

Sounds yummy, but what would they actually be like on a day to day basis? How does one deal with a part-time canine? Does the city charge him with assault if he chases the mailman? When does he get to lie on the furniture? If he sheds on the furniture, will he clean it up, or does it just become another top-off-the-toothpaste issue? Couples therapy could start to smack of obedience training.

I live with cats, and shudder to think what they’d be like if bestowed with the power to operate credit cards and motor vehicles.

And then there are vampires. They come complete with an array of mechanisms for sidestepping all those difficult couples’ conversations. If the girlfriend starts winding up to a talk about “us,” he could turn into a bat and flap away. Turn into a mist. Turn sideways and slip through a crack in the floor. If all else fails, he’ll keel over dead when the sun comes up. Hate pillow talk? Just die. It works every time.

The supernatural guy belongs in the pages of fiction. His mystique is safe there, the curtain politely drawn across those awkward moments in the grocery aisle, when Fido heads for the extra-large package of chew sticks.

Yep, never pays to think too much.


You mean I was supposed to plan?

Sharon Ashwood
April 21, 2010  •  No Comments

montgolfier_balloon I’ve never been one for prewriting per se. I mean, I have an idea, and some characters, and I’ll crank out an outline of sorts. I sort of throw them in the blender and see what happens. After about six chapters, I’ll look at the results and see if it resembles what I had in mind. Often at that point I’ll go back to the beginning and do a rewrite to bring the vision and the actual closer together.

Research? I usually do a fair amount, and half the time end up not needing it. I’m a bad one for running off on tangents. However, if you need to know anything about hot air balloons in the eighteenth century, I have file folders full of information.

And, for the record, I plot. I do it on butcher paper pinned to the wall, so I can stand back and see it all at once. I don’t force myself to stick to the road map, but I like to have one.

The best part of my pre-writing is spent looking for the right mood for the story. Images, smells, sounds, the weather, and a billion other things converge into the right atmosphere. Some people collect pictures and collage. That’s not my thing, although a single picture can stir something up in my mind. It’s more music that works for me. I’m prone to finding an album and playing it 6,000 times while writing a book.( I’m sure my neighbours bless the advent of the iPod.) For Unchained, I found a particular red wine that worked well to get me in the storytelling mood—appropriately named Bête Noir. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those folks who can drink and write at the same time and it had to become a post-writing treat.

Where I go into preparation mode is before my daily writing sessions. I try and make notes in advance. If I don’t plan out a chapter, I end up rewriting it several times to get it functioning properly. What purpose does it serve? Where is the conflict? Scene goals? A tiny bit of thought ahead of time will make my 2.5 hours a day count.

I also believe in pre-session ritual to focus myself on the task. It doesn’t have to be particularly elaborate, just enough so that I know it’s time to settle down and work. For me it’s doing dishes. When the kitchen is cleaned up, I can use the kitchen table. Simple, useful, and it keeps me from succumbing to the temptation of the TV. I honestly think that’s the key to finishing a book—just put the bum in the chair and get to work.


The story herd

Sharon Ashwood
April 14, 2010  •  No Comments

There are two models of creators: those who get great mileage, and those who seem to have eternal fuel cells. Beethoven wasn’t a big tune writer. When he got a good tidbit, he’d use it a lot, either in the same composition or recycled elsewhere. No waste there, and he was so clever about how he repackaged, no one minded. Others—Mozart and Dvorak come to mind—seem to be bottomless wells for tunes.

Authors are much the same way. Some seem endlessly inventive. Others work with a few themes, but keep coming up with new ways of looking at them.

For me, getting ideas is not a problem. I have herds of them. They don’t come from any place in particular—no catalogue, warehouse, wellspring, or oracle. Just stampedes of unruly thoughts, most of which are entirely useless, repetitive, or weird. Alas, shall we ever see my tale of the gypsy phrenologist and the missish Victorian bookkeeper who discover a frozen corpse buried at the crossroads?

The trick is figuring out which ideas are keepers. I tend to store them away, checking periodically to see which still interest me. Notably, they seem to form loose subject groups. I am apparently obsessed with a) social injustice and b) problem parental figures. You show me a guy with an absent father and a revolutionary streak, and I’ll show you a protagonist.

IMO, a viable idea must have the seeds of character growth. In my favorite books, a hero or heroine’s viewpoint radically changes over the course of the story. Plus, I need emotion and reversal. Emotion, because the reader, author and character all have to feel deeply about whatever problem the protagonist faces. Reversal, because the only way the character can solve the unsolvable dilemma is by changing his/her own vision. They have to learn, sacrifice, and earn their HEA. If this isn’t present in a story idea, I tend to pass it by.

Can you think of a story where the solution came from outside the character, and was it a satisfying ending?


Literary, or just likeable?

Sharon Ashwood
April 13, 2010  •  No Comments

I participated in the essay anthology Ardeur: 14 Writers on the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Series, which was released by Smart Pop on April 6. I was flattered to be asked to participate, and it forced me to dust off critical skills I hadn’t used since university. Not that harkening back to my school days was always a help. The editor of the collection demanded not only an insightful, well-reasoned contribution, but also an entertaining one. In other words, she put me through my paces with just as much discipline (and, I sometimes imagined, unholy glee) as any of my profs. I polished that sucker until I was blue in the face.

Collections like this one are cropping up more and more frequently. I certainly see no reason not to apply the academic toolkit to movies, TV, and books on the mass market list. For one thing, some creators (J. Michael Straczynski comes to mind) write such excellent stuff that it begs for a closer look. The world of Buffy can, and has been, dissected without damaging the original one bit. But sometimes brain candy is just that, with no hidden profundities or depths to plumb. These stories and shows were never meant to be analyzed, and it wouldn’t be fair to do so.

But acknowledging that some popular entertainment is robust enough to support criticism and some is not raises some interesting questions—and I’ll say up front that I don’t pretend to have answers. One essay does not a theorist make.

As I said, this “literary criticism of the non-literary” seems to be increasingly popular. More and more of it is getting published, so someone’s buying it. What appetite is it filling? And what does it say about the shows and books these essays are about? Are popular genres developing their own sub-strata of smarter, meatier works, or is this just a belated recognition of the fact?


A watched pot never tweets?

Sharon Ashwood
April 11, 2010  •  No Comments

Idle surfing led me to this item about a newly invented tea kettle that not only tweets you when it starts to boil but also keeps stats on how much water you’ve boiled.

The obvious question is: why?

When my appliances start talking to me, I’ll know it’s time to get out more.


Resolve–or was that dissolve?

Sharon Ashwood
April 6, 2010  •  No Comments

I remember making resolutions. A lot of stuff about maintaining my personal blog, writing every day, flossing, exercise, and on and on.

pileofmanuscript
Resolutions are typically a sign of dissatisfaction. There’s something you want to improve. But, unless you fix the cause underlying the behaviour, chances of a resolution sticking are slim.

So, as one watches one’s self-improvement plan fall to pieces, there are two options:

1. Quit the day job so there’s more time to address the underlying reasons why there’s no time to, say, exercise, or
2. Make more attainable resolutions.

Sadly, my bank account strongly suggests the latter.

As deadlines begin to squeeze one into a smaller and smaller space (I always think of those rooms with moving walls, like in the old Get Smart TV shows), it’s time to prioritize. Focus on the stuff you really have to do. Get rid of extraneous ambitions until the crisis is past.

My 2010 resolutions (revised) are as follows:

1. I promise to get out of bed at least once a day.

sleepy_puppy

I like it. Short. Simple. The rest of my energy is going to be spent writing my book–since making my deadlines had better be a resolution I don’t break!

What’s your non-negotiable resolution?


It’s April 1

Sharon Ashwood
April 1, 2010  •  No Comments

jordan-kitchen My human is out of service. I am her cat, also known as the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness. I have no idea why she calls me that. Not one.

Today, I am blogging on her behalf, which means typing on the silly black box on her desk. I wasn’t very happy about it until I figured out that there are other things this black box does, too. I went to eBay and bought 5,000 pounds of fresh mackerel on my human’s credit card account. I hope she doesn’t mind. The fish should be lovely and smelly by the time it’s delivered—just right.

But I’m supposed to talk about her writing. What do I know about that? She comes home, throws food in a bowl for me, and sits at the black box. And sits. And sits. Sometimes she makes faces at the screen, or laughs hysterically. That’s really disturbing to watch.

Human plots are stupid.

“He’s a hero,” I say. “Make him pounce on something. He’s probably hungry by now.”

Instead, she makes her hero strut around in tight leather. No pouncing there, unless he does himself an injury. Like, get a fur suit. It’s comfortable and looks good in all seasons.

If that’s not bad enough, half the book is talk. No wonder it takes 400 pages to tell a story. It would be two sentences if a cat wrote it. Whack the villain on the head; jump on the girl. What’s left to do? They talk about beastly Alpha males, but a real beast would have the whole business wrapped up by the end of the prologue: Whack. Girl. Fish dinner. The end.

I guess that’s why cats aren’t writers.

The human will be back soon.


Sanctuary

Sharon Ashwood
March 30, 2010  •  No Comments

Anybody else out there a fan of the TV show Sanctuary? I’m shamelessly hooked. It airs here at dinnertime on Fridays, which is perfect for me. Kind of a treat for making it through the work week.

So I was devastated to realize that there won’t be any new episodes until fall. Grrr!

Well, at least there are more episodes. Whenever I publicly endorse a TV show, as that seems to be the kiss of death. The last one I cheered on was Primeval, and I think it was nearly eaten by a T-Rex … though the web site says the show was “thrown a lifeline.” I wonder what that means?


To purge or not to purge?

Sharon Ashwood
March 29, 2010  •  No Comments

Okay, so I succumbed and finally bought an electronic reader—a Sony touch-screen model. The first book I decided to read on it is Richelle Mead’s Succubus Blues. I like her Vampire Academy series a lot and was pleased to find this is fun, too.

My big motivation in getting an e-reader was space. I don’t want to stop reading books as they come out, but I’m drowning in them. Sadly, the library doesn’t have the budget to stay current on all my fave authors (much less new ones), so just borrowing the books isn’t an option.

There’s a charity book sale here once a year, and I’d like to thin out the shelves at home. More like: get everything on a shelf and not in heaps on the floor. I just wonder how many volumes will actually make it out the door once I start reading the back covers? Parting with books isn’t as easy for me as I like to pretend.


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