Tales from the furry side

Sharon Ashwood
May 8, 2009  •  2 Comments

My tabby cat has never been Ms. Adventurous, especially since the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness hit town. The bedroom is her domain and, frankly, that’s where she prefers to stay, away from the Demon Lord chaos.

Ergo, for want of exercise she has come to resemble one of the pillows. Or a bowling ball. Bowling balls aren’t great at grooming their hindquarters. We seem to get along with garden-variety brushing for about eleven months and then poof, she’s covered in mats from the hips back.

Happily for all the furry bowling balls out there, Groomer2Go comes to the rescue–directly to my door. Yeah, it’s a titch more cash than a visit to the beauty parlour, but it saves on wear and tear for all concerned. Getting my girl into a carrier gives a whole new meaning to Octopussy.

Of course, the grooming fairy insists I put the cat in a half-nelson and hold her down on the mat for the shaving procedure. Cue the sound effects, calculated to strike terror into our hearts: “Mmmmrrroooowwwowowwoowwwowwww!”

Groomer and I fall into a fit of the giggles. Not the intended effect.

I don’t blame the cat for objecting, since we are giving her private parts a buzz cut. The effect is a bit like a rear-end Mohawk. After twenty torturous minutes, in which I am bitten, peed on, and sworn at in cat, the ordeal is over. I tip the groomer in big-time apology. Tabby lost dignity and enough hair to knit another kitten. I lost flesh. Thank the great feline goddess that’s over with for another year.

Then I fed my girl and she purred and cuddled. I guess getting all those lumps out of her coat counts for something.

Edits achieved

Sharon Ashwood
May 5, 2009  •  No Comments

I just spent the last three days sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop going over the editor’s comments on SCORCHED. I have fryball-eyeballs and the kind of sluggishness that only 72 hours of almost complete immobility can produce. But I got it done.
One could point out that a reasonable person wouldn’t cram so much into such a short space of time. I actually did this intentionally. Connecting all the dots in a book sometimes requires the total immersion method. In order to make sure the logic works, you need to hold the whole book in your head at once.
I did notice some essential differences between RAVENOUS and SCORCHED. This next book is seriously rooted in fairy tale. I didn’t start out that way, but the heroine kept pulling me in that direction. And we are talking about a Castle. And a rescue. And a curse. And really, once you start down that road, there’s no turning back.

This is why they don’t trust me with pointy objects

Sharon Ashwood
May 1, 2009  •  No Comments

Oh, good grief. I got my newsletter out last night but totally messed up one of the links. The correct link to sign up for my loop is here

This discussion loop, or focus group, is for those who want to hang out and talk writing, books, practical stuff, what the cat did, etc. This is new, so I don’t know how it’s going to go. What I have in mind is fairly fluid. I’m happy to talk about writing. I’ll probably ask opinions on things like the newsletter, goody bag inserts, what books readers are enjoying, and so on. And, of course, book talk.

Sadly, gave the wrong address in the newsletter. Which is a bit like inviting people to a party and pointing them to a different street. No wonder no one ever calls me to organize a wedding!

Yeah, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks in an “if it’s not one thing, then it’s another” kind of way. I’ve fallen behind in just about everything again, which then sends me into the avoidance spiral. In my defence, I had a nasty cold for about a week, but that’s thankfully on the way out. All I could do for several days was be grumpy.

Some of the grumps were with cause: I’m enrolled in the last course of a day-job educational program I’ve been working on for six years. I’m sticking it out because it’s the end, but I’m kicking and screaming inside every time I open the textbook. Not just because I really don’t care about the minutiae of the Income Tax Act (it doesn’t apply to my job anyway) but the course is badly designed and the tutor completely uninterested in doing more than the bare minimum of marking. I actually asked for extra problems to work through to make sure I understood the material and was shrugged off. This has got to be penance for something.

Besides, I’m into my next manuscript and really want to spend my time there instead. I have book 3, book 2 edits, and another project all sitting up and begging for attention. SCORCHED should be through the revisions process (this should be about SCORCHED v. 2.3) this weekend. I’m excited because I think I have the final finishing touches in mind. It just needs that last little push to be complete.

Dating tips for dark heroes

Sharon Ashwood
April 16, 2009  •  No Comments

Heroes: Definitely a matter of taste, but there are certain essentials: generous size, just the right amount of fillings, nicely toasted buns. But it’s not just the, um, pastrami that counts.

In keeping with most readers, I have strong and unapologetic opinions about what a hero should be like. For starters, I don’t have much patience with the über alpha knuckle-dragger who mows through a story muttering MINE MINE MINE and marking his territory, incl. the heroine, like a Tom cat with urinary issues. (Anyone remember Red Dwarf?)

I like a manly man, but one who actually likes the fact that the heroine is her own person. Sure, he can untie her from the train tracks and sweep her away to a mountaintop chalet for a solid week of mind-blowing sex …that’s all part of the fun…but if two characters are the missing halves of each other seeking a zen-like balance, neither one can be completely in charge all the time.

But he can’t be too perfect, either. Realistic characters don’t have everything figured out on page one. For there to be growth, for hero to fall in love and, y’know, to have a plot, there’s probably stuff he needs to learn. And, if the hero is still searching for the ultimate designer wardrobe, weaponry, or the meaning of life, the heroine has something substantial to offer him. Advice. Comfort. Padded hangers. Whatever.

And he might not realize right away what a wonderful gift he’s been given, because a good protagonist usually screws up at least once. We bond with them because of their mistakes. Who doesn’t love a hero all the more when he finally sees the light and set out to make things right? It’s their struggle to be better that gives the reader courage and hope.

Speaking of bonding … I love the latest Bond incarnation, because—even though he’s, like, Bond—he gets dirty, hurt, grumpy and doesn’t always have the right answer. I can believe he walks the earth (and please give me his address).

So, for all you dark heroes taking notes, a few miscellaneous tips:

• Don’t sniff your date, even if you are a werewolf. It sends the wrong message.

• Allow your date to set the pace of courtship. Just because she’s your destined mate doesn’t mean she won’t get a restraining order.

• Don’t brag about your wardrobe, limitless personal fortune, or private army. It makes us want to poke you in the eye.

• Don’t claw the furniture, bedsheets, chew on the carpet, or shed. Shift in the back yard, for pity’s sake.

• If you’re Undead, let your new girl know early in the relationship. Corpse Surprise on the morning after can put chill a promising friendship, not to mention your lover’s feet.

• Most important, consult a professional hairdresser for a good shampoo. All that black clothing has its challenges.

Vampire batteries. Not kidding.

Sharon Ashwood
April 11, 2009  •  2 Comments

Ran across this story a couple of days ago:


This is extremely cool and no, it doesn’t require hooking the undead into a wall socket.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a fuel cell that feeds on human blood. While this sounds utterly gross, it has wonderful uses for things like pacemakers, which currently require surgical battery replacement. Basically, pop one of these babies in, and you’re good to go as long as there’s blood in your veins.

This fuel cell runs on the natural sugars in the blood. Yeast feeds on the blood sugars and creates electricity.

My question is, what happens if you eat a whole box of apple fritters? Do you give yourself a shock?

Heads, Elves and Ivanhoe

Sharon Ashwood
April 7, 2009  •  No Comments

Okay, I’m twisted (did I just hear a chorus of “ya think???”) but when I sat down to ponder my favourite romantic moments—or favourite moments, period—they weren’t particularly hearts and flowers but they were compelling.

The hands-down top bizzaro romantic scene has to be in Margeurite de Valois, a Dumas novel that was made into a French-language film (nowhere as good as the book). It’s a semi-true sixteenth-century historical epic about a group of royals in the French court. A passionate and doomed love affair between the title character and her swain ends up with his beheading (the characters have the life span of gnats in this book). The scene I nominate as Top Weird Moment is Marguerite’s tender moment(s) with the severed head, which she keeps in a velvet bag as a tribute to their fatal love.

I had just had four impacted wisdom teeth removed prior to reading Marguerite, and I think the drugs might have clouded my perceptions, but there was something of a wild romantic sensibility few authors attempt these days.

A prettier episode is the Romantic Scene That Never Was. I love the farewell between Arwen and Strider in the film version of Lord of the Rings, even if most of it is in elvish. The scene was implied in the book, but never got the full treatment. Tolkien wasn’t much for love scenes or well-developed female characters, and this is one instance where a movie did add something to the book. This scene is important because we get a sense of what is at stake on a personal level for the two lovers. Arwen is going to sacrifice her immortality and her place among her people to be with the man she loves, and we need this moment to give weight to her decision.

But my All Time Favourite is from Ivanhoe, when the Templar knight Brian de Bois-Guilbert fights to save Rebecca, sacrificing his honour to prove her innocence. This is his turning point and redemption. He fights without any hope of a HEA or even chivalric brownie points. He protects her because love and his personal sense of right and wrong demand it. This may not be a “love scene” per se, but it’s romance at its best—love transforming a troubled character into someone more noble, someone who rises above the constraints of his society, someone worthy of our approbation. In one chapter, Bois-Guilbert moves from villain to good guy and has stayed on my fave heroes list ever since.

Cross posted from Silk and Shadows

Anyone out there know music sites?

Sharon Ashwood
April 6, 2009  •  3 Comments

I’m going crazy. I need help.

Last night I logged into a site called www.amiestreet.com. It was recommended as a place to find independent music. It looked good in theory—give them a bunch of artists you like, and the system provides recommendations based on your tastes. I did that, and it gave me…nothing to do with my list, unless Dead Can Dance has a relationship with Pavarotti that I don’t know about. Nothing at all against Luciano, but I’m already all stocked up on opera.

Okay, I have picky but broad tastes. I like early music and classical but I also like heavy metal. I’m not a jazz fan. I love Celtic. Country, in my mind, is best experienced outdoors with beer. However, for writing, I like something a bit dark.

My selections of late have been:
On Thorns I Lay
Dead Can Dance
Lacuna Coil
Nox Arcana
Midnight Syndicate

And I’d really like to add something new to the mix. Can anyone recommend some albums and/or a music site that is geared in this direction? I just don’t have time right now for endlessly searching, so I’m begging …

High concept

Sharon Ashwood
April 1, 2009  •  No Comments

Successful authors know how to use this important tool. Part of its value is that its utility extends beyond the editorial process:

• It’s useful for marketers, because they can create a catchy campaign from it.
• It’s useful for sales people, because they know right off the bat how to place a product in their catalogue or store.
• In some cases, it’s useful for the consumer, because they get an idea from a tag line or logo what to expect from the product.

And this is all good, because we write commercial fiction which is, y’know, meant for commerce. The good and the bad of it is that almost nobody along the supply chain actually has to read any of our books because they’ve been given high concept pitches that bypass all that page-turning stuff. Efficient but—kinda weird.

(Which reminds me of a peculiar movie I saw and loved called How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I won’t even try to explain it, just rent it. Trust me.)

High concept must be used cautiously during the pitch phase of a book. All too often the author is stuck trying to live up to what seemed like an excellent idea in the thrill of the sales moment.

“Yeah,” says Author, “the story is kind of like Edgar Allan Poe meets Shrek. With flying monkeys.”
“Great,” says Editor. “Just make sure it has lots and lots of sex.”

So there sits Author, despondently wondering how to get Edgar and Donkey into bed. Author remembers college daydreams of the Booker Prize, and wonders where it all went wrong.

For me, high concept is a tool, not a method. When my world is nearer the “perfect” end of the happyometer, I get to hold off on addressing marketing concepts (high or low) until I actually know what the book is about. For me, that means writing at least a good chunk of it. Then I can figure out how to explain it to other people and adjust accordingly. If I do it the other way around, I end up with Edgar and Donkey in the back seat hoping the flying monkeys don’t have cameras.

(x posted in part from www.SilkandShadows.com)

There’s nothing like taking a weed-whacker to the to-do list.

Sharon Ashwood
March 30, 2009  •  No Comments

I’ve caused the web site to be updated—I gave up on thinking I’d do it myself ‘cause that just wasn’t happening. I’ve linked to some reviews, interviews and what have you. It’s by no means exhaustive, but there’re some new things, like a link to an interview with the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness, a radio interview, and the Dark Hero Product Testing blog I did for Sidhe Vicious.

I sent out the April newsletter. Vertical Response is a fairly easy platform to use, has a decent selection of formats, and they provided a slick sign-up doodad for my website so getting your name on my mailing list does NOT depend on my hands-on involvement. It also manages all those nasty unsubscribes, bounces, and duplications. This translates into more time for actually writing books, as long as I don’t geek out on their stats reports about how many people clicked on which link and who still hasn’t opened my beautiful creation.

Thanks to all those who responded to my cry for newsletter ideas. I’m getting lots to work with—some really intriguing thoughts—but I’m astonished by the number of requests for recipes. Lucky for you guys I can cook!

What else? Oh, yeah, the baby computer is in for de-virusing. I have separation anxiety. Took three pairs of boots in for re-soling, which should cost a bundle. Sorted through all the magazines waiting to be read and discovered some that got buried last October, so all that news is pretty much irrelevant. Watched a DVD of Michael Hague lecturing on romantic comedy story structure (very good). Rented a PO Box so I’ll have an official mailing address. Composed an email to publicist. Cooked and baked. Made bread. Did dishes. Took a long, hot bath.

I’m not sure where I got all the energy for this, but I’ve been watching my diet really closely for a few days. I really don’t want to go down the road of the food-obsessed and squeal with dismay each time a grain of refined sugar lands in my food, but there is something to avoiding junk. I was putting “tired” down to burning the candle on every possible end, but maybe some of the problem was dietary negligence.

Sunday night, I actually sat down and began the opening of book 3. Yay, me.

Ghost of prose past

Sharon Ashwood
March 11, 2009  •  No Comments

Picking out favourite scenes is a tough job because if a chunk o’ prose is working, it carries impact. If it doesn’t, chances are it hits the cutting room floor. Until you’ve tried to stuff you personal War and Peace into a 100,000 word length, you have no idea how cruel an author can be to those lesser scenes. I write long, so usually something gets taken out before all is said and done.

That’s not to say all the surviving scenes are created equal. Some are character development, some action, some purely there for the romance. Others change the entire universe of the story with a single phrase. I really think those moments are what stick with us – Luke Skywalker finding out Darth is Dad, Sam figuring out Frodo’s not going to drop the Ring into Mount Doom, or Elizabeth Bennett figuring out what Darcy was really thinking. Often these scenes reveal deep truths about the characters involved. They’re unexpected, but contain a perfect logic when they’re revealed.

Where do these moments come from? Darned if I know.

I’m what you might call a misty plotter—never quite flying into the mist, but never clear on a lot of significant detail. In other words, I know where I’m headed, but the scenery is always a surprise and I’ll stumble on a lot of the universe-changing stuff when I least expect it. In Ravenous, the answer to one of the major story questions smacked me in the face before I knew it was there. I felt pretty dumb. I mean, I’m supposed to know what’s going in my own book, right?

Some days we’re just the office help.