School Doom

Sharon Ashwood
September 8, 2009  •  No Comments

apple_booksI 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!


Wtr me u idiot!

Sharon Ashwood
August 30, 2009  •  No Comments

As if I don’t get enough flack about my lackadaisical household routines, now my plants can Tweet their complaints. Too much H2O? Too little? Now they can tell you all about it.  A new system called Botanicalls, developed by interactive telecommunications researchers, allows your plants send text messages via a soil-moisture sensor device.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2009/0101-thirsty_plants_text_for_help.htm

This is all well and good, but it brings to mind some books I read years ago.  They covered a range of scientific research exploring plant intelligence, including the fact that plants can identify, at least under some circumstances, individual humans. The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird is a truly fascinating read.

Okay, if plants are smart enough to turn wireless technology into more than a “please water me” proposition, things could get interesting.

houseplants-detox-the-air

My Twitter account will start filling up with stuff like:

*Schultz’s plant food AGAIN?  C’mon!
*I ain’t bloomin’ for you, sweetheart, till you get me high speed cable.
*This tiny pot is KILLING my roots.
*New window. Now.
*Cat alert! Cat alert!
*Green and leafy looking for pollen fun. Woody stems only need apply.


Head office

Sharon Ashwood
August 25, 2009  •  1 Comment

In the quest for peace and quiet, I’ve heard stories of authors who wrote in all kinds of places. One apparently hid in the broom closet with a typewriter balanced on their knees. I understand the instinct. I’m not one of those people who can write in coffee shops or even with a radio on. A hedge trimmer three blocks down will drive me crazy, and the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness has come close to taking a one-way trip to the nearest storm drain. I need quiet!

Consequently, I write on a laptop so I can hunt out the “right” spot to commune with the muse. I may roam from spot to spot like a bird looking for the right tree to nest in. Most often I just go for the kitchen table, as it’s the biggest surface around. Since it’s on the second floor, it has a nice view of trees, squirrels, and chickadees. Also handy to the fridge and the coffee pot.

dlkb

The downside of this system is that I lose things. I don’t have a proper place to do all the admin work that comes with writing. Believe me, there’s a ton—contest prizes to send out, promotion to organize, contracts, letters, schedules, blah, blah, blah. One accumulates stationery at a furious rate—bookmarks, mailing envelopes, author copies, and so on. The writing detritus is advancing like a slow tide across my living room.

Solution? I have a small, bright sewing room that I’m eyeing for an office. Someday I’ll get organized enough to move my piles of paper, printers, fax machine, and stacks o’ stuff around. I’d do it now except I know it’s a job that will take longer than I think, and I have a book due. November is looking good …. I might get my new digs set up in time to decorate for Christmas.


The Magical Thinking of Pencils

Sharon Ashwood
August 24, 2009  •  No Comments

Does anyone else get stationery envy? I don’t want to go back to school, but I want all that cool stuff. It hits me like a disease every fall—I’m tantalized by the smell of new pencils, the pristine promise of scribblers, the glory of the clean eraser.

I’m sure some of my nostalgia is remembering the September state of grace. On Day One of a fresh school year, it’s possible to achieve all A grades, with no detentions, and no talking in class. We are all newly remade as the first bell rings. Our good intentions gleam as snowy-white as our new gym shoes.

Or maybe I want to make up for all the nifty junk I never had as a kid. Schoolyard grievances cut deep. I never had a funky lunch box, just a stupid paper bag. I might be looking to my adult self to remedy the situation, knowing I’m more of a push-over than my parents.

I was cleaning out my desk the other day and came across a trove of paper I’d saved from junior high. It was a just a few sheets, lime green with pink lines. Coloured notebook paper had been cooler than cool back then; pink, purple, green, and yellow replaced hum-drum white until the teachers protested the eye strain. My friends and I had traded back and forth to have some of each shade. I’d apparently treasured the rare treat so much I’d kept the last few pieces as a keepsake.

It still tickles my fancy. Is it any wonder that I’m boggled when confronted with an entire big box store stuffed with gel pens, sparkly binders and a veritable rainbow of sticky notes? It’s like grade school nirvana. It’s better than having both the gold and silver crayons. Unfortunately, most of it’s largely useless in an adult world and there’s no excuse to buy it.

Or maybe usefulness isn’t the point. Perhaps it’s indulging that urge for a fresh start—we would be so productive if only we just had that new, unblemished notebook/cell phone/netbook/PDA. We would be so smart. So organized. So on time. I bet my cheque book would balance if I had a pen that writes in turquoise gel.

Perhaps back-to-school is really the time of talismans. Maybe it’s not new stationery I crave, but the charm that will see me through another time of growth and testing.

In that case, I’d better buy a whole box of new pens.


But will he make coffee?

Sharon Ashwood
August 20, 2009  •  No Comments

Well, I can think of many occasions when I might like the idea of Han Solo sprawled in front of me, but I’m not sure I’d want a frozen version of the dude as my desk.


Supermarket of the Gods

Sharon Ashwood
August 19, 2009  •  No Comments

I’m not a true hot weather person. Fortunate, because we get about five minutes of it on Vancouver Island. Away from the ocean it can be hot enough to grow a satisfactory tomato, but where I live the air is one shade off chilly almost all year.

Because of the cool temperature and the lack of rain we’ve had over the past few summers, I’ve given up on growing vegetables and have been stocking my freezer from the farmers’ markets. My summer pleasure? This year it’s been spending Sunday afternoons visiting the organic farms and loading up on produce. As well as freezing berries of all kinds, I made a huge batch of spaghetti sauce from all-organic veggies and froze that, too. I’ve eaten enough blueberries and blackberries that I’ll be turning a light purple soon. I can’t wait for the apple crop to come in.

strawberries

There are market days in my own neighbourhood, but I prefer the country drive. In half an hour, I can be at the small, family-run farms north of town. The old road winds too much to go really fast, so I can appreciate the view. Cows. Horses. Deer. Sheep. Other people doing hard work when I’m not.

Wandering through the fruit stands gives me the summer fix I need: warm sun, the smell of earth, the buzz of a dragonfly zooming past. I have to slow down and relax to really take in all that sensory input. I have to use something besides the madly whirring left brain. This is where I reconnect with my basic instincts about what is wholesome, good for me, and <em>right</em>. The sheer energy pouring off that much fresh, organic food must be the karmic equivalent of a spa scrub.

carrots

The few hours I spend playing with the beans and potatoes, stopping for tea, admiring a craft fair, and then wandering home with my loot is cheap and effective therapy. Better than therapy—I can eat it afterward. As a bonus, I can walk along the ocean after dinner, watching the herons hunt the silver water, otters playing, and the lights of the marina growing brighter as daylight fades.

With long summer days, there’s so much beauty to enjoy. The trick is to remember to take the time to do it. Sure, zooming through a grocery store is fast, but it’s not nearly as fun.


Textbooks and trickery

Sharon Ashwood
August 18, 2009  •  No Comments

Somehow, I’m always swimming upstream. This time, as everyone else is getting ready to go back to school, I’m just entering the book-free zone.

As one of this summer’s big goals, I finished an educational certificate I’ve been working on for a number of years. Reaching the finish line is satisfying, but I’ve gained more than a piece of paper and a pile of very dull textbooks. I’ve learned to value some of the lessons that come with knocking around the business world, because I was able to transfer those skills to school. As they say, old age and trickery will beat youth and speed every time.
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<em>Take charge of your own experience.</em> Or, to put it another way, work smarter and don’t be so overwhelmed by authority. When I went from high school to university years ago, I was an obedient lamb who accepted the instructors and materials set before me. This time, I hunted down alternate textbooks, tutors and auxiliary materials almost as soon as I started each course. How much I got out of the class depended in part on seeking out extra resources.

<em>You are the consumer</em>. This meant advocating for myself, being the squeaky wheel, and demanding the quality of instruction I felt I’d paid for. Ultimately, the person you need to be nice to is you. There is nothing to be gained from enduring a bad situation.

<em>Don’t waste my time</em>. If something is going to eat away hours of my life, I want it to count. I don’t have to like it, but it should do something for me.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The university experience has changed a lot. With new technology, distance education, and simply more students per class, I couldn’t afford to be a passive vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. I had to go after the information I wanted to know.

Why am I talking about all this on a writing blog? Perhaps because there are so many encounters in the publishing industry that remind me I’m still a student here, too. And, what skills I transferred from business to school can be applied equally well to authordom: be prepared to speak up, find the resources required, and make sure every effort counts.

There’s more, too. Pack emergency food. Tests are closer than they appear on the calendar. Know when to celebrate and, um, deadlines don’t go away just ’cause you pretend they aren’t there.

Believe me I tried.


Skykeepers

Sharon Ashwood
August 13, 2009  •  No Comments

Over at www.SilkandShadows.com, we’re giving away one of Jessica Andersen’s books this week. If you’ve not discovered this amazing series yet, here’s a few tidbits from her latest release to whet your appetite!

skykeepers.MECH.indd

Ancient prophecy holds that 12/21/2012 will bring a global cataclysm.

Mankind’s only hope lies with the Nightkeepers, modern magic-wielding warriors who must find their destined mates and fulfill the legends to defeat the rise of terrible Mayan demons.

In Skykeepers, Michael Stone is a man with a dark secret that has skewed his magical abilities dangerously toward the underworld. Seeking redemption, he sets out on a perilous mission to save the daughter of Ambrose Ledbetter, a renowned Mayanist who died before he could reveal the location of a hidden library. The Nightkeepers must find the library before their enemies gain access to its valuable cache of spells and prophecies.

Sasha Ledbetter grew up hearing heroic tales of an ancient group of powerful magi who were destined to save the world from destruction. She never expected that her bedtime stories would come to life in the form of Nightkeeper Michael Stone, or that she’d hold the key to the warrior’s survival. As Sasha and Michael join forces to prevent the imminent battle, sparks of attraction ignite between them, and they’re forced to confront the unexpected passion that brings them together–and also tears them apart.

Link to excerpt

Link to video trailer


Blooming blob

Sharon Ashwood
July 23, 2009  •  1 Comment

This news tidbit sent to me by DarkForgotten group member Loranthiana

A boatful of hunters from Wainwright, Alaska, discovered a large, fibrous blob floating in the Chukchi Sea. Dark and miles across, it was at first thought to be an oil spill. Or perhaps the world’s biggest Scrubby. Others thought perhaps a call to Agent Mulder was in order.

It was none of the above, but alarming in its own way. The article states:

“Test results released Thursday showed the blob wasn’t oil, but a plant – a massive bloom of algae. While that may seem less dangerous, a lot of people are still uneasy. It’s something the mostly Inupiat Eskimo residents along Alaska’s northern coast say they could never remember seeing before.”

(see whole article here)

Algae blooms can be problematic, especially where seafood is harvested. It’s also a huge indicator that things aren’t normal, sometimes for natural reasons, other times because humans have mucked something up.

My twisted imagination has the blob galumphing across the Arctic waste in search of human settlements to terrorize and possibly digest. Maybe a nice bunch of plump Aryan survivalists ready to save the great white north for great white hunters. Num, num.

I know some people think global warming, while messy and full of natural disasters, is an inconvenient process humankind will ride out like a bad storm. Then we’ll dust ourselves off and carry on, just with more sunscreen or warm socks as appropriate. I think they tend to forget everything else will adapt, too. They should read more science fiction.


Serial reader

Sharon Ashwood
July 22, 2009  •  No Comments

I’ve noticed that in the romance market, series have become de rigeur. I suspect this has as much to do with marketing as anything else. As with movies, if one has good box office, make a sequel and cash in. Ditto books. The system works pretty well for authors because it gives us a chance to hook a readership in a way single efforts might not.

As an author, it affects how we think about plots. It’s nice if there’s an overarching idea to drive the series, but each book has to have its own logic. And what if your readers pick them up out of order? It’s a problem if there has to be pages of explanation to catch them up before the adventure even begins. In other words, we have to be clever little pumpkins to do a good job.

For this reason, SCORCHED can be read independently of RAVENOUS. They’re sequential and related, but by no means inextricable from each other. I think most authors aim for this kind of flexibility now, especially when bookstores aren’t always stocking all the titles in a series. If it’s too hard for a reader to pick up the story part-way through, the author loses the opportunity to bring more people on board.

Speaking as a reader, I love a series I can sink my teeth into. Characters become family. Places become like old friends. I start expecting to meet my favourite heroes on the street. The books become a reliable, comfortable haven—or at least a constant source of entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want to exactly hang out in Rachel Caine’s Morganville, even though I wait with bated breath for each new instalment.

carpe

Another series I’ve loved is CT Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Thrall series. It’s original and interesting and occasionally downright scary.

tod

And then there’s C.H. Harris’s beautifully-written regency historical detective series (Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.)

waf

Those are just a few of my favourites–there’s no shortage of great series out there. Nevertheless, do you as a reader ever feel series exhaustion? Despite an author’s best efforts to make each book stand-alone, do you ever get tired of having to figure out which one to read first, or when you kind find the first one without ordering it on-line?