November 4, 2009 • 1 Comment
I’m always fascinated by the traditional idea that all vampires are rich. Presumably this is a function of two things:
One: they have a castle or two somewhere in Eastern Europe stuffed with valuable heirlooms and
Two: they all get rich because they live forever.
These are of course fallacies. Castles are expensive to run–which undoubtedly explains the mandatory tropes of cobwebs, skeletons and other signs of residential neglect. Housekeepers are expensive. Plus, it’s a good thing Vlad’s a corpse, because heating the old family pile costs a small fortune all on its own. Flogging the family silver on eBay is only going to net so much cash. Nope, he’s better off in a condo.
As far as amassing a fortune over time goes, that would depend on one’s business sense. Just because somebody’s Undead, that doesn’t mean she or he’s good with investments. I don’t care how long I linger on this planet, I’m never going to fully understand derivatives.
I figure the number of financial whiz kids in the supernatural community is about the same as in the human population. They exist, but they’re in the minority. Some will, with luck and experience, have a nest egg for those days when it rains angry villagers with pitchforks—but that wouldn’t cover the day to day necessities of black leather and styling gel. So, at least some of my characters work. Some even like the satisfaction of a job well done.
What occupations they have depends on their talents and skills. Mac, the hero of SCORCHED, was a cop before his luck ran out and after that he remains, more or less, a kind of cop. He’s the type of guy who identifies with his career. My werewolf is a computer science professor, my werecougar a journalist, and my witch had to go back to school because she couldn’t figure out the business side of ghostbusting. What they do is a big part of who they are and how they fit into society. When I say the werewolf is the first of his family to pursue an academic career, to escape the family construction business and strike out on his own, we learn a fair amount about who he is before we even get to the business of being furry. He’s an educator, a dreamer, and a solver of puzzles, and that all comes together in his classroom.
Who we are is a complex bundle of factors that includes the nine to five—be that a.m. or p.m. Because a lot of my stories revolve around how non-humans fit in a human world, the work world is a goldmine for humour and character quirks. It’s also a great source of conflict.
After all, who hasn’t had at least one co-worker who was a good candidate for a flesh-eating monster in disguise?
October 20, 2009 • No Comments
The traffic of ideas between TV and popular fiction is a two-way street. Who started the vampire craze? There’s a perfect opportunity for a big ol’ chicken and egg argument.
My theory is that books are usually a bit ahead in terms of creative exploration because, basically, books are cheaper to produce. Plus, there are more of them, so the odds of a trend-setting dark horse are greater. A publisher can gamble on a book that costs thousands in hopes of another Laurell K. Hamilton among the thousands of books published in a year. A TV pilot costs millions, and there are only a handful of prime time spots available. Really, innovation has become part of a numbers game. There are, of course, brilliant exceptions—Jessa and Annette both mention Buffy—but the vast majority of new shows stay within a fairly narrow creative bandwidth. Those that stray tend to die fairly quickly, especially if I like them.
Of course, if a hot new thing gets legs, the replicas follow. It’s a miracle if the tender new shoot of an idea survives the flood of imitations, which often aren’t as good as the original. I’ve never been a huge fan of reality TV, but the early examples had some novelty value. Pioneer House was actually pretty interesting and Mad Mad House was a guilty pleasure. What was on this summer—not so much.
But how does TV influence popular fiction? TV has the advantage of speed—especially news magazines and entertainment shows—to pick up on what’s on the public mind from one day to the next. Because of the time lag between writing and publication, ripped from the headlines is a little more leisurely for the novelist.
In my opinion, where the influence of TV really comes in is as a testing ground for subject matter. Lots of stuff comes and goes—it won’t be long before we forget all about the boy in the balloon—but the media stories that persist iron themselves into our collective social consciousness. You can start counting backward when you see a big news story, a super-hot trend, or the emergence of a new archetype (a slayer like Buffy, or a hot spy like Jennifer Garner in Alias). In six months to a year, you’ll see their reflection on the bestseller racks.
In fact, I take a paranoia poll every so often. Walk up to any bestseller wall in a bookstore and read the back covers. What are people worried about today? Terrorists? Epidemics? Greedy entrepreneurs? What are they hoping for? Rags to riches, love, justice? Our hopes, fears, and aspirations are all there. Popular fiction is a mirror into our day-to-day minds—sometimes profound, sometimes banal, but I think more true than anything coming out of an academic think tank.
What do you think will be the hot topics a year from now?
October 19, 2009 • No Comments
Although there days when I think the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness would make a nice muff, car polisher, or other inanimate and incapable-of-badness accessory, I love him to bits. He was a rescue kitty with eye infection, ringworm, and upper respiratory problems—a bit too old to be kitten-cute but young enough to be rambunctious. In other words, hard to adopt. Lucky for him, he was a good salescat. When I walked into the shelter, he bounced up onto the scratching post and touched noses, and that was it. He came home and became my resident comic. It took him a long time to settle down and completely trust humans, but now he’s curled up on my feet while I write this.
Companion animals are dear to many authors and readers alike. They show up on their web site, in bios and dedication pages, and sometimes have bit parts in the books themselves. Unfortunately, there are far too many furballs that have a hard time getting by. I recently went with a friend to rescue a couple more cats and saw a lot of sad faces waiting for a home.
Realistically, no one can take care of more than a few of these bright sparks. However, we can support those wonderful volunteer organizations that carry on the work of rescuing cats, dogs, and other creatures and placing them in good homes. One of the organizations in my area is the Greater Victoria Animal Crusaders and, as a tie-in with SCORCHED, my December release, I’m going to be fundraising for some of their furry friends in need of medical attention.
As a preview, here is one of the GVAC’s recent success stories:
Pax was found as a tiny stray kitten. This little fellow was very skinny, couldn’t eat and was unable to walk. He was rushed to the vet where it was found he had about five huge bite wounds that were badly infected. His wounds were cleaned up and he was put on antibiotics. A few days later he crashed and was near death. He was rushed to the vet again where he had to stay for five days and put on an IV and had X-rays, many tests, and stronger antibiotics. It was worth it, though—a healthy, happy Pax was recently adopted into a loving forever home.
And he’s just one of the many furballs that are saved by a little help from their friends. In November I’ll start posting holiday e-cards on my web site at www.sharonashwood.com. For every one sent, a donation will be made to the GVAC to provide veterinary help to the sponsored critters. It seems a perfect way to combine writing and animals, two of my favourite things.
Does anyone have story about pets and writing?
October 7, 2009 • No Comments
I’m not a car person. If I pop the hood, all I see are dark, greasy, and vaguely frightening shapes. On a good day, I can add washer fluid.
So it was an interesting process dealing with characters who were definitely into their rides. Lots of eye-rolling and heavy sighs as I made inappropriate vehicular suggestions. For Alessandro and Mac, I ended up flipping through millions of pictures on auto sales sites until I found the right cars.
Alessandro needed something flashy but classic at the same time. He drives a a red two-door T-Bird with custom chrome and smoked windows. No sun roof for a vampire. He bought it new in the 60s and maintains it himself, so it’s in excellent condition. He never locks it. Only an idiot would touch something that was his. If you tried to eat take-out in it, he might snap your neck.
Mac is a lot less uptight about—well, everything really. He has a black two-door Mustang. He likes her a lot, does the basic maintenance himself, but doesn’t have a lot of time to fuss. He’s not a perfectionist, and spilled coffee only matters if you get burned.
Holly drives an ‘87 Hyundai Pony. I gave her that because I had one at the time and it fulfilled the same requirements she needs: cheap to run, amazingly reliable, and no one would ever think of stealing it. It has manual everything but there’s no question that it will start every time and keep going till it runs out of fuel. Reliable and low-maintenance. What more can a girl ask?
I miss my old Pony sometimes. It was my first car and took me through a lot of adventures. Once its excellent handling saved my bacon when a logging truck lost its load right ahead of me on the highway. It finally started to wind down and it wasn’t easy to get some parts any more, so I traded it in on a Saturn. I like the newbie, but after 20 years together I sometimes feel like a traitor for letting the old faithful Hyundai go.
Do other people have special memories about their first ride?
October 4, 2009 • No Comments
Yesterday was fascinating – I went to a friend’s house and played recording engineer/the monkey pushing the buttons while other people worked, however you want to look at that. Once upon a time I played with a band, and so had some mic stands, a decent mic, cables, etc. With the addition of a mixer and a laptop with podcasting software, I was a portable recording unit. If I only knew how to use half the stuff, I’d be in business.
Anyway, add two actors and we were recording promo stuff for Scorched. A big, huge, sloppy thank you to both of them for being patient with me and their willingness to play the were-cougar DJ, Errata, and the FM Guy. Lunch was the least I could do!
My only question was why I was exhausted afterward, when all I did was sit around and try and look intelligent underneath the headphones? Did you really think I was actually turning any of those buttons on the mixer?
The results of all this will land on the website eventually … stay tuned!
September 23, 2009 • No Comments
To me, guilty pleasures are indulgences—definitely things my idealized higher self deplores, because she’s the type with money in the back, the ideal physique, a clean kitchen, and a better working career. But that version of myself is a bore and I switch her off as often as possible. I’m at peace with my baser instincts.
What gives me that sparkly feeling of getting away with something I perhaps should not? What cost too much? What’s a taste sensation I should skip but can’t? Where do I fail in my responsibilities and love it? Stay tuned, because I made a list.
How to be guilty? Oh, let me count the ways – or ten of them, at least.
10. My red boots. Yes, they were expensive imports. Yes, the heels are high. Whatever. It’s my feet.
9. Suffed grape leaves from that little Greek place in Sidney that makes the best darned lemon sauce. Nom nom nom!
8. Buying my Christmas holiday read hardcover and not waiting for the paperback.
7. Hotel room writing sprees. Mini-bar, laptop, room service: go! Of course, I paid a substantial sum of money for that conference I more or less ignored, but whatever …
6. Fashion magazines. Utterly useless. Love ‘em.
5. Horror flicks. Cliché counting is a great drinking game.
4. The BIG bag of red licorice at the movie theatre. Red vinyl! Yum!
3. Going on computer/email/phone strike for 24 hours. Ah, peace.
2. The Friday meltdown: lying on the couch with a book and a glass of wine and ignoring the million chores waiting for me. (Bonus points for refusing to move because it would disturb the cat.)
1. Friends’ nights out with appropriate world domination discussion.
That last one isn’t really a guilty pleasure, but I value it so much it should be. There’s no substitute for conviviality and nachos. We need that face time to catch up, to plot and plan, and relieve the stresses of unplanned adulthood. Diets are blown, restraint programs sunk, but it’s still cheaper than psychotherapy!
I think that’s the point of guilty pleasures–they’re small transgressions, but have a high payoff in enjoyment. Blowing off a little bit of steam is healthy.
Question of the day: When standing in the junk food aisle and faced with enough money for one treat, what would you pick?
September 16, 2009 • No Comments
If I’m really writing, I don’t tend to snack. If I’m stuck or procrastinating, I can graze through my fridge like a herd of deer through a prize garden.
It’s all about unloading nervous energy. Crunchy is good. Virtuous is better. Over the years, I’ve learned to stock up on veggie sticks and ban Succulent Evil at the front door, because dietary judgment fails in the face of an artistic crisis. Fortunately, the nearest junk food emporium is a fifteen-minute walk away. Sloth wins out over the appeal of a bag of chips.
I was contemplating this blog and kept bumping up against one very compelling question. It’s one thing to be a human author with a bad case of the munchies, but what about my characters?
Pizza place: So you want the pizza delivered. What toppings would you like?
Vampire: Forget the pizza. Just send the driver.
With vamps, one could go on and on in a similar, uh, vein, and it would lead nowhere good.
I’ve always wondered about the urban werewolf. Real wolves are built for speed – long legged and slim – in order to chase down their dinner. Would it be hard for citified werewolves to maintain that so-svelt physique? Sure, he might have to run a bit to catch his nightly jogger, but there’s prey a-plenty in most city parks. After a few years of easy pickings, would the Wolfman have to spend hours on the treadmill like everyone else? What happens if you’re a roly-poly werewolf? Do the Hellhounds laugh and call you names?
Demons stumped me. What do they look for when they stand with the fridge door open? A box of Soul Snax? A bowl of Hot as Hellfire Fudgy Brimstone Ripple?
Mom demon: Who took the last of the lava and put the empty container back?
Little sister demon: Azazael drank it straight from the carton!
Azazael: Quit tattling, or I’ll take away your Inquisitor Barbie.
Mom demon: Just wait till your sire gets home.
How about the Demon Celebrity Chef cooking show? A bit of flame and sulphur could put a whole new spin on the old “Bam!” routine.
Uh, hold that thought. As I write this, my stomach is telling me it’s lunchtime. Salad with a few Moroccan olives and feta. Nice, simple, and cheerfully dull. Outside of the occasional illicit BLT, I’m vegetarian. Which is why paranormal romance is only in fiction. It’s hard enough agreeing on a restaurant when you’re with another human.
Werewolf: Honey, I’m home, what’s for dinner? Oh, no, mailman again?
September 14, 2009 • No Comments
Nothing says “Get down to work!” like a cup of coffee. It’s the fuel that gets me on the road in the morning. It’s a social communion and a comfort object. When I meet with friends, curl up with a book, or sit down to concentrate on a task, a cup of coffee is usually nearby. After my laptop, caffeine is probably my number one writing tool. I’m not alone. Three-quarters of the adult population in the US drinks coffee. A National Coffee Association survey revealed average consumption among javaheads is around 3.1 cups per person per day, with men slightly ahead of women. No wonder our world is so fast-paced. We’re collectively buzzed. And jangled. As I stared at the bedroom ceiling at four-thirty this morning, pondering deadlines, I began to doubt the wisdom of worshipping the bean. I’d been up late working on my book, but now I was too wired to sleep. The next day’s word count was going to be a slog on four hours of shut-eye. Creativity requires alertness and motivation. Some of that’s got to come from real rest, not just a barista. So where did my coffee intake enter the realm of diminishing returns? When did it just plain start sabotaging my productivity? Some quick surfing (heck, I was awake anyway) produced plenty o’ factoids. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that alters a person’s mood by raising glucose levels to provide a “buzz.” According to one web site it takes 350 mg of caffeine a day to become addicted. A 5 ounce cup of coffee contains between 60 and 150 mg of caffeine, tea 35 to 60 mg, ordinary cola 30-55 mg per 12-oz. can, and the high-test colas about 55-70 mg. In other words, it’s fairly easy to hit junkie levels of caffeine intake during the course of a day. The physical side effects are legion. Besides the jitters and insomnia, excessive caffeine intake results in increased levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of anemia as well as cardiac, gastric, and assorted plumbing problems. While caffeine may improve performance on simple tasks, it nukes short term memory and fine motor coordination. On the flip side, a Harvard web site states that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, colon cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Coffee improves performance in long-duration physical activities (and if novel-writing isn’t an endurance sport, I don’t know what is). Further surfing produced a range of results, some of them alarmist. The common-sense bottom line: moderation is key. For most people, a cup or two is okay, but more than that can impact health. Caffeine is one of those crutches than can eventually cripple you. I remember reading about hard-drinking, chain-smoking, hard-partying writers who approached their pages under the influence of a chemical stew and still turned out brilliant prose. I’ve always wondered if that was myth, or if I’m just a genetic weenie with a decidedly non-Pulitzer constitution. At any rate, it hardly seems fair to have to surrender yet another vice, but I like my sleep. So now, when I head into the writing zone, I’ll have to convince myself some other hot beverage will do the trick. Somehow, though, writing shoot ‘em up action scenes with a cup of Horlicks just seems wrong.
September 11, 2009 • No Comments
Yes, we here in Beautiful British Columbia are used to strange phenomena, not the least of which is our provincial politics. But there’s more, according to the local Scientific Cryptozoology Club, who are planning to have a look-see in one of our local lakes. See the article here.
Well, there’s still untouched wilderness in parts of BC, so who knows. To my knowledge, all of the lake monsters around here (Cadborosaurus, Ogopogo etc) are of the serpent-ish variety. With 39 critter-haunted lakes, it sounds like a bit more than one or two lone specimens, unless they’ve got air miles and a rigorous travel schedule.
At least, as the article observes, these sightings are worth checking out. They might not be Nessie’s BFF or Sasquatch’s tub toy, but it could be a species not previously recorded in the area. If so, it’s better know if there’s an endangered creature out there in need of protection.
John Kirk, author of In the Domain of the Lake Monsters (and no known relation to James T.) plans an expedition to Cameron Lake to look for our snakey friend on Sept. 19.
September 8, 2009 • No Comments
I always liked learning things as a kid. That did not equate to a love of school. I just couldn’t see the point, and rational argument about future job prospects is a non-starter when you’re six or even thirteen.
What I did like was the autumn—the first, wine-sharp tang of fall has always made me come alive. I treasured the fire of turning leaves, jack frost silvering the chain link fence (yes, your tongue does stick if you lick it) and the acrid smell of bonfires. It was time for the ubiquitous grandma-knitted woollies and lunchtimes of tomato soup.
Of course, back-to-school itself had compensations, like new clothes, fresh school supplies, and the contact high from other people who actually were excited. That was usually good for the first week. Then reality began to set in:
Day 1. New stuff. Goody!
Day 2. Show of end-of-summer despondency in hopes of more new stuff
Day 3. Updating gym avoidance protocol
Day 4. Phoning the drugstore 3,000 times to see if latest teen mag has been delivered because life, the universe, and school cannot progress without authorized fashion instruction
Day 5. Complaining to friend whose mother doesn’t care about said fashion authority, either. This phone call good for two hours.
Day 6. Official boy watch begins. <em>Wow</em>. In post-surveillance free time, begin <em>Lord of the Rings </em>for the third time, dreaming of Aragorn
Day 7. Boy watch continues. Surely The Boy (<em>le sigh</em>) is Aragorn-in-waiting—tall, dark, silent.
Day 8. Scientific field excursion aka welcome back school dance proves all too conclusively The Boy dances like an orc, or at least a troll. Enemy agent in disguise?
Day 9. Boy watch is definitely over. What was I thinking? Crushing on teacher because, y’know, he’s like <em>scholarly</em> and <em>mature</em>.
Day 10. Dress code? Whaddya mean dress code? Public education is a social experiment gone seriously wrong.
Day 11. First math test. Teacher <em>must</em> be Saruman in disguise. I squander my affections on the unworthy.
Day 12. My soul is made of darkness eternal, and yet we must read <em>Rascal</em>. Mock me if you will, my gloom is impenetrable.
Day 13. Gym is cancelled! Yay!