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.

Someday I might pay handsomely to keep this all quiet …

Sharon Ashwood
February 24, 2009  •  No Comments

Cross posted from www.SilkandShadows.com

The topic “favourite paranormal stories that I didn’t write” is a bit ambiguous. Does that mean a story that someone else wrote? Or does the “I didn’t write” mean books that I wanted to write, but never got to? Too many of those to list in one blog!
The topic might also mean my problem children—books written or partially written that will never see the light of day. I have at least five ‘under the bed’ books. My earliest full-length, complete novel was written when I was 16, and it was a coming of age story which I believed worthy of common stock in Kleenex. Enough said.
During university I wrote a peculiar novel about a frat house where some of the Romantic English poets lived and attended classes. I also had John Constable and Eugene Delacroix having a torrid affair. There was a beach-at-dawn duel between John Keats and the narrator. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. Probably exam stress.
Then there was one I wrote when I was incarcerated in Secretarial College. Yes, that’s where (during the last major recession) cash-poor English majors went after graduation and there were zero jobs to be had. We weren’t allowed to wear jeans and had to sign in and out. Absences required a doctor’s note. A come down from cum laude, let me tell you.
I wrote, during the particular hell known as typing class, a comic adventure about a vampire, a werewolf, and a tiger’s eye ring. Writing was my means of mental survival and, what the heck, I was typing, wasn’t I? It was a very hot summer, I was stuck in a room with about forty IBM Selectrics all going at once, and the roof next door was being tarred. Blargh!
While I was clerking at the mall part-time, I wrote another historical involving a consumptive poet, an opera-singing count, devil-worship, a secret baby, sorcery and, oh, a few other odds and sods. It had (she says with a sentimental quaver) my first ritual sacrifice scene.
There were others, plus a boatload of fragments, bright ideas and things that puzzled my editor. Yes, I’ve become much more aware of the demands of the commercial market, but I’m glad I wrote for a long time with no eye to sales potential. I had amazing adventures, made mistakes with gusto, and plumbed the depths of cheesy plots—all with no one (except teachers and employers) looking over my shoulder. Now I can settle down and proceed with more method, less hysteria, and a snowball’s chance of getting another human to read it.
Those old manuscripts had better stay buried, though. Good thing I’m too poor to be worth blackmailing!

Cat adventure

Sharon Ashwood
February 23, 2009  •  1 Comment

I had the best job in the world this Saturday. My task was to tag along with a friend and help her make wise decisions about cat adoption. Notice I used the singular.
This was a bit like taking a tippler to a wine tasting. Temptation was compounded by the fact that I wasn’t the one smuggling a hard luck story home and trying to explain it my furbles. This was fun shopping entirely on someone else’s dime.
To make a long story short, we ended up at the pound, just to look. They had a half-dozen or so strays there, but there are hundreds of unwanted cats and kittens in the city that have landed in shelters. Most are volunteer-run organizations. This was a very small sampling—lucky for us, because it was heartbreaking enough as it was.
We went into the back area with the cat kennels and met Samson. He resembles Sylvester, if Sylvester had a bad accident with a weed whacker and was subsequently electrocuted. He’s a long-haired boy about five years old who was living wild, but he was obviously a spoiled pet at some point. He reminds me of a swashbuckling cavalier fallen on hard times. Once the matted fur is taken care of, he’s going to be gorgeous.
And then there was a female chocolate point ragdoll named Rosebud (the name has to change). She had been dumped in the wild, probably because she needs medical attention for one eye. Like Samson, she’s an affectionate, purring sort who had a good home once upon a time. She is a beautiful, elegant animal that really needs a crystal food bowl and silk cushions to complete the look.
After a masterful job of justification, we took both home. Samson was in my lap in no time, playing Velcro kitty. Rosie took a little bit longer to gain confidence, but was checking things out by the time I left that night.
Yes, I really did an excellent job making sure my friend just looked and didn’t take anyone home. However, two needy cats that were abandoned by their former owners found a loving guardian. This was a happy ending. I wish we could have taken them all.

Wretched furbles

Sharon Ashwood
February 22, 2009  •  No Comments

Okay. I know cats can’t read. They’re cats, not people.

However, don’t you think it’s strange that the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness, who has never, ever bothered a book before just poked fangmarks all over the BORROWED copy of Dogs and Goddesses? (couldn’t do it to a book I owned, nooooooo–well, I guess I own it now!)

Apparently, in a house owned by cats, no other divinities need apply.

Food for thought

Sharon Ashwood
February 19, 2009  •  No Comments

Okay, so I had one of those unfortunate blurting moments the other day. I’d gone for lunch with a friend to an okay-but-not-upscale restaurant near work. I’d ordered a bagel and cream cheese, no sides, and coffee. It was a nice lunch, but when we got to the till to pay, my mouth engaged before my brain.

“Thirteen-fifty?” I exclaimed in a squeak. “For a bagel?” Okay, there was salmon involved, but still. That bagel wasn’t even toasted.

Nevertheless, I could have handled it much more diplomatic fashion. It wasn’t the server’s fault the place was engaged in highway robbery, but I was so startled I reacted without thinking.

But my problems could have been much worse. Check this out:

Seems a businessman and five guests went to Milan’s Cracco restaurant and ordered the white truffles. When the $5,000+ bill arrived, he was so put out he refused to pay. That is a lot to pay for underground fungus but, like me, he should have checked the menu before committing to the meal.

Seems we high flyers have to watch out for those luxury foodstuffs these days.

Hotel Dracula – nice, but does it take Aeroplan?

Sharon Ashwood
February 18, 2009  •  No Comments

I’m blogging at www.FreshFiction.com on Thursday Feb 19, plus I have contests up there.

(x-post from www.SilkandShadows.com)

I can see my characters getting into vacations. My werewolves would do the whole extreme outdoorsy thing, Holly would want to go to a shopping mecca, and the vampires would opt for a tour of the Paris catacombs. Monsters need vacations as much as anyone else does, and one of the huge benefits of integration into human society would be freedom of movement—also known as the right to rack up humungous, over-inflated hotel bills and deal with snippy concierges.

Tour agencies catering to the bump-in-the-night crowd would soon spring up. Transylvania package tours (Visit the homeland! See where it all began!) would quickly outnumber the Mexican sun fun vacations. Specialized airline carriers (sun-proof windows, no flights during the full moon, in-flight catering best left unexplained) would rapidly emerge.

Yet there would surely be glitches. Dealing with the passport office is a challenge at the best of times. Imagine trying to provide proof of identity when you were a peasant born in a mud-floored hut back in the middle ages. Then there’s airport security. No one but an idiot would try packing a broadsword in carry-on, but what about the fangs and claws? Are werebeasts subject to classification and quarantine as live animal cargo, or will a rabies tag suffice? Can a witch only pack mini-potions that fit in those stupid baggies?

Then there’s the danger of layovers and delays, when vampires go from tourist to luggage. As the sun comes up, the airline officials walk the winding line-ups of disgruntled travellers, issuing complimentary body bags for the vamps and coffee for their human companions. Not a pretty sight.

Still, the world holds plenty of surprises and mysteries, even if you’re millennia old, and what’s the point of an extra-long life if you can’t explore? In a world where magic literally lives next door, there’d be even more to see. Of course, this new wave of tourism would bring consequences, including publicity and endorsement deals for The Loch Ness Monster and Ogopogo. They’ve already noticed Sasquatch has his own beer commercials.