Happy, pretty things


June 1, 2019  •  2 Comments

I love illustrated books, especially older ones with hand-drawn and tinted plates. While lots of my favorites are illustrations of novels and children’s stories, I’m fond of old scientific works as well. Botany texts, seed catalogues, and gardening manuals offer a wealth of gorgeous illustrations (as well as information on how to grow things without a boatload of chemicals). Some varieties that show up aren’t that common in modern gardens, so they are great references when looking for heritage specimens.

Recently I brought home a lovely old English (1843) volume because, y’know, book research.

Here’s a sample page of The Floricultural Cabinet and Florist’s Magazine, conducted by Joseph Harrison, editor of the Gardener’s Record, etc.:

 

I find a quick dose of happiness in the New York Botanical Garden page a day calendar (willowcreekpress.com). It alternates modern photographs of their amazing facility with antique botanical illustrations. I keep this on my desk at the day job so I can take a quick mental vacation to a beautiful green space as required.

Here’s a link to the garden itself:  https://www.nybg.org/.  The online shop is fun for gardening fans.

 


Keep a curious mind


February 17, 2019  •  No Comments

Ever have one of those dreams where you wake up back in high school about to write a math test? You think you should know how to do the problems—and clearly the teacher does—but it’s all a bunch of squiggles on the page?

My first forays into indie publishing felt like that at first. I’d been traditionally published for a lot of years, but did that help me self-publish books? The answer is: some times more than others.

Even late adopters have been forced to respond to the changing face of publishing. Everyone has to be largely self-sufficient when it comes to marketing their work. Even if publishers want to do a good job promoting a book, they may not have the resources, agility, or access to the right tools. These days, it’s up to the author—however their book got published—to attract an audience.

But unless you’ve been taught to market, how do you know what to do? The same goes for formatting, finding covers, hiring editors, and all the myriad steps involved in putting a book out on your own. Remember that dream about an algebra exam?

I had to approach everything with the curiosity of a raw beginner, and I think I’ll keep that mindset for a long time. Wherever an author is along their publishing journey, it’s impossible to know everything because there are so many constantly moving parts. If I have any advice for someone transition from trad publishing to indie, it’s this: Be open, be willing, seek advice, and give yourself permission to push your boundaries. Above all, remember to have fun!


We’ve only just begun


February 10, 2019  •  No Comments

I remember the first e-reader I owned. It was a lovely red Sony thing that became obsolete almost before I figured out how to use it. That beautiful toy was like a lot of the publishing world in that moment—an industry founded on physical art was suddenly forced to reinvent itself in electrons. Everywhere one looked, awkwardness ensued.

As much as I loved that Sony, I don’t identify with it. Unlike my barely-cordless friend, as an author I was able to adapt and carry on. And as antiquated as my traditional publishing roots may seem to some, I value the lessons I learned along the way.

My first published book came out it 2006, but before that I wrote for newspapers and magazines. The best and most brutal of editors, in my opinion, work in print journalism. You write fast and you write concisely. If you can’t tell a story in 300, 800, 1000 or however many words are allowed, you don’t get any more freelance assignments. Do or die. Miss the cut-off for filing your piece and you don’t get paid. It’s a bit like boot camp for paragraphs.

I’ve also had the privilege of working with some amazing fiction editors, and that kind of coaching is priceless. Some were gardeners, shearing and pruning to shape the, um, abundance I presented. Others taught me to plot, build worlds, and dig deep for emotion. They all had a lesson for me, however delightful or dire, and I value every one.

I learned about that side of the writing business, too. I learned to pitch, to pick my battles, and to negotiate with other publishing professionals.

Indie publishing deals with the same things, but the approach is a little different. I can’t say what it’s like coming to indie first, because that wasn’t my experience. What I do know is that I’m incredibly grateful for a solid training in the craft. However, unlike that Sony, I’ve had to evolve. However excellent a foundation I had, I’ve had to keep on learning, and learning, and learning.


Addictive world-building


February 7, 2019  •  No Comments

I was thinking about what I wanted most in a story. Some like spooky chills, others the heartache of a great romance. For me, it’s the OMG wonder of discovering an amazing world. Prydain. Middle Earth. Westeros. I love a fully-formed fantasy realm I can walk into and find friends waiting for me. I don’t take to most I find—I’m picky and take a while to settle in—but I’m loyal once it’s won me over.

I think part of the problem with finding a truly satisfying realm is that they’re hard to build. It goes far beyond naming kingdoms and drawing maps. There is a terroir that infuses everything so that the reader instinctively knows the smell and texture of each item in the place. Great authors can spin that out of the aether, making it distinct and complex and madly simple all at once. The characters grow from it (or vice versa) so that even the agents of change are the natural extension of the realm’s internal conflicts. It’s all terribly logical and consistent, as if the reader is encountering a history rather than a piece of fiction.

I read these things and think: I wish I’d written that. And somehow, weirdly, feel as if I have because the author has made it so incredibly real it’s become part of me just by looking at the page.

Is that writing or summoning a world?


Tropical Muffins


February 4, 2019  •  No Comments

 

Sometimes the most important things in life are comfort food and a house that smells like baking.  In honor of those moments, I give you a new recipe I adapted.

 

Mix:

3 mashed ripe bananas

½ cup yogurt

2/3 cup melted butter

4 beaten eggs

2/3 cup sugar

juice of 2 limes

 

In a separate bowl, sift:

1 and ½ cup flour

2/3 cup oats

1 cup shredded coconut

1.5 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

 

Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Spoon into greased muffin tins and sprinkle extra coconut on top. (Makes about 20 muffins). Bake at 325 F until golden on top.

Note:  these freeze well


How to begin a book (or not)


January 16, 2019  •  No Comments

How to begin a book? Book beginnings tend to go two ways with me: either out of the gate like a shot or in a dithery fashion that means I begin chapter one about twenty times, erase it, make it chapter three, erase it, then go back to whatever it was I wrote the first time.

Some people would say that the latter method results from a failure to plot and/or I didn’t understand the story well enough. This might be true. Most of storytelling is a mysterious process and though people throw theories at it, I doubt it will ever become an exact science. The story might be stalled because my tea was the wrong temperature and/or one sock was inside out. More likely is that I used up my allotted number of story beginnings early on in my writing career, since I started ten stories for every one that I finished.

Half the theorists say the story should begin in the regular, everyday world of the protagonist. The other half advocate for a major explosion. One wonders about the protagonist’s propensity for bomb-making.

The best way to connect these dots (at least some of the time) is to consider that there is exterior action (incendiary vampires, or whatever action you are proposing) and interior action (whatever character growth the protagonist will undergo). What we’re looking for to launch the story is conflict. It could be the start of the action plot (kaboom!) or it could be a high point of conflict for the interior plot (or both, if you can make them realistically coincide).

I’ll throw my advice into the mix: If in doubt, start with the interior plot, but make it a big moment. Show the character sweating so we like that person but understand how he or she desperately needs to change.

Examples of a high-conflict interior plot opening could be a fight, the character getting fired, or the character doing something else high-risk. Whatever flaw they have, demonstrate it to the max. This makes a nice bookend with the end of the novel, where you can show them reacting a different way to the same situation. That’s a straightforward demonstration that they aren’t the same person they were at the start.

Chapter one: Billy gets in a bar fight

Chapter thirty-one: Having developed people skills, Billy de-escalates a similar situation.

This is a stupid-simple example, but you get the point. There is a difference between flashy and important. Billy might win NASCAR and that might make up the bulk of the exterior plot, but it’s important on a personal level that he is a functional human being so that he stays out of jail and weds Mary-Lou.

Put another way, remember that HIGH STAKES are important to open the story, but the HIGHEST stakes are those the protagonist carries inside them. If in doubt, start your story there.


Because it’s a new year


January 14, 2019  •  No Comments

There’s a lot in the news that makes us think things never change, and certainly not for the better.  But not everything HAS to be this way. Imagine a world without war, or kings, or those who have or have not.

I’m a fan of the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who has (literally) dug into the history of neolithic Europe (6500 to 4500 BC).  This is my simplification of the picture she paints:

The folks who live here in the late Neolithic period are mostly farmers, although there are craftsmen (like potters) and traders. Tools are primarily flint. They keep dogs, sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle. The village is formed of concentric circles of houses with common areas in the middle. There is no big, fortified house for a chieftain. Instead, the larger buildings house communal gathering places and some of the bigger families. Inheritance and marriages are organized along the female bloodlines. Some members of those large families are the priestesses of the village, and small temple sights are scattered among the houses.

At the end of their lives, the townspeople are buried with grave goods signifying their role—tools of their trade, or ceremonial accouterments. Craftsmen are honored, both male and female alike. There are no separate houses or burial grounds for the rich. This suggests a level of economic equality.

Most significantly, there are no fortifications, weaponry, or evidence of war. There are no signs of territorial aggression.

This is the culture that builds huge megalithic stone and wood structures. There are graves, such as at Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland. There are also stone circles or henges at Avebury and Stonehenge in England. The henges are particularly interesting, since these structures are communal property, not designed for the elevation of a single individual or dynasty. Construction required significant dedication and labor. Avebury, by one estimate, required 1.5 million person hours. Talk about collaboration!

My point? We tend to think of great big monuments built by kings and pharaohs, but these megaliths were put in place by a peaceful society of Stone Age farmers and craftspeople. This went on for thousands of years, until warrior tribes conquered Europe and put their kings in place. After that, people began building fortifications instead.


Frostbound: The Dark Forgotten coming up

Sharon Ashwood
January 1, 2019  •  No Comments

Last year, my goal was to re-release my Dark Forgotten series (Ravenous, Scorched, Unchained, and Frostbound). I had three purposes in mind:

  • To get the books in the hands of new readers at a sensible price
  • To give myself the chance to revisit the world and build on it if I so choose
  • To get some indie books into the world so that I can build my sales

Check, check and check. I’m just about to release Frostbound, the fourth in the original series, which gets me up to date. I was slow on this one in order to get Gifted out the door in time Frostbound: the Dark Forgottenfor Christmas but, hey, I really wanted to do a holiday-themed novella. I hope you enjoyed it!

Doing an edit pass of these books was educational. I can see improvements from book to book and also how much I’ve learned about writing since. This is completely natural and healthy.  However, at times I’m troubled by errors that got past the previous professional editing team, but I have to let that go. It’s history. Probably much of what’s bugging me are only things I’d notice but, as a professional, I want to put out the best possible product. In any event, the books are better now than before, and that’s what counts.

Case in point—today I added a new final chapter to Frostbound. After a reread, I thought a more fulsome wrap-up would improve it. Poor Talia needed a bit more time to adjust to the new hellhound in her life—not to mention the rest of the pack—and we were all waiting for election results. Now there’s a few more questions answered. Not everything, of course, because Joe and Darak and the rest still have stories in the future.

Release date will be mid January, 2019. For more on this book, look here.

 

 

 


Favorite Supernatural Holiday Carols

Sharon Ashwood
December 6, 2018  •  No Comments

Who doesn’t like a playlist of holiday favorites? Whether you’re rocking around the Yuletide tree or mixing punch in your festive cauldron, no party is complete without a soundtrack of traditional and contemporary tunes. We consulted with the good folks over at CSUP—the station that puts super in supernatural—to get their most-requested numbers for the season.

Here we go with the countdown:

  1. God Rest Ye Hairy Gentlemen
  2. Silent Night, Howly Night
  3. Here Comes Santa Claws
  4. Jingle Hells
  5. We Three Kings Disoriented Are (aka the mummy song)
  6. O Come, All Ye Fateful
  7. The Little Dragon Boy
  8. It Came Upon a Midnight Drear
  9. What Child is This? (Theme from The Gingerbread House in the Woods)
  10. The First Nom Nom (the werewolf did say)

 

For those of you planning a sing-a-long this season, drop by the station for song sheets and a hot drink between now and New Year’s Day. Our doors are always open! As for whether you ever leave again, your mileage may vary.


Truck parade


December 5, 2018  •  No Comments

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the truck parade that passes at the end of my street.  It gets a little longer each time, a few more of the growling monsters donning antlers and lights and transforming into glittering wonders for the crowd. I love the ridiculous, joyful, contrariness of it all. I love that these big dirty workhorses can be the belles of the ball once a year, and that hundreds stand in the cold to cheer them on.