A ticket to write

Sharon Ashwood
March 16, 2010  •  No Comments

One of my fellow Silk and Shadows bloggers, Jessa Slade, just posted about getting away on a writer’s retreat to churn out the pages. It sounds like a lovely thing to do, and one I should try sometime.

Or not. I’m not a great traveller. In fact, I fervently hate it eighty percent of the time. The other twenty is like some sort of migratory lemming impulse, because I suddenly MUST go somewhere, anywhere, or go mad. This love/hate relationship with the open road makes planning difficult. I never know which mood I’ll be in when it’s time to pack my suitcase.

Nevertheless, the area where I live is dotted with fine places to go if you have the time and money. Saltspring Island is one of the nicest places on earth, closely followed by the Tigh-na-mara resort near Rathtrevor Beach. My personal favourite is Point-no-point: cabins with fireplaces, endless beach, good food, seals, stars and tidal pools. Once upon a time, a Celtic folk group I played with was planning new material and we went there to brainstorm. It was an amazing weekend. There is something about all that sea air that gets the brain cells moving. Or maybe it was the single malt?

I haven’t done many weekend trips over the last few years, and most of the writing-on-the-road stuff has occurred due to deadlines colliding with other necessities. Nevertheless, that’s led to discovery. Writing in hotel rooms works for me. I spent a large chunk of the last writer’s convention I went to blasting through the end of SCORCHED. I think all those other writers must have psychically helped out, because the words just flowed. Or maybe it was the mini-bar?

I dunno. Whether or not one is happy living out of a suitcase, taking the muse for a vacation seems to help. But why? Lack of interruption? The novelty of a strange environment? Not feeling obligated to jump up and do laundry? I would think the inconvenience of moving shop would have the opposite effect, but it seems I’m wrong.

Lorem Trivium

Sharon Ashwood
March 4, 2010  •  No Comments

Y’know how some things just suddenly bug you until you figure them out? I was staring at a Lorem Ipsum passage and wondered why this particular placeholder gobbledegook kept turning up again and again.

I’ve always assumed it was Latin-based nonsense, but I don’t know Latin. Today that not knowing got to me. I mean, was it a joke I was missing? User instructions? A first-century warranty?

Google to the rescue.

This site explains that the passage first started its career as dummy text in printing galleys back in the 1500s. Variants have appeared since. The really cool bit is that a researcher (Richard McClintock, a Latin professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia) tracked the origins of the passage to “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” by Cicero (“The Extremes of Good and Evil,” written around 45 B.C.E.). Check out the web site for a translation. The passage in question is all about pleasure and pain. And exercise. Must have had a trainer like mine.

The gentleman in the corner

Sharon Ashwood
March 3, 2010  •  2 Comments

detectiveIf I wrote in another subgenre, it would be . . . well, the question is more what wouldn’t I write? Where my imagination roams depends a lot on my mood. Horror? Western? Fantasy? They all have their attractions, and I’m a literary flirt.

Still, I leave an idea to frolic in the wilds for quite some time before I rope it onto the page. This weeds out the passing fancies. If a story idea is strong, it’ll keep coming back to tempt me. Sometimes it’s just a character, a situation, or a setting that pops up every month or so to say, “How about me?” Sooner or later, I have to do something about it.

One genre that keeps coming back is historical mystery. I love history, I love the macabre, I love moody settings, and I know the detective because he loafs in an armchair in a dark room in my imagination, patient as a jungle cat.

“Someday,” I say.

“I know,” he replies from the shadows.

And we wait. I don’t know all the pieces of his story, although I know a few. It doesn’t pay to rush at this point because there are those whose claims on my writing hours come first. Deadlines, commitments, and promises to keep. However, I know his time will come, because he’s been there for years, growing a little bit stronger each time he strolls out for a look at what I’m up to.

“Hellhounds, you say?” says he with a lift of one eyebrow. “I hope they clean up afterward.”

“Back to your chair,” says I.

And he goes, just waiting for the imaginary murder that will call his talents into play.

Waiting for the right moment to begin a book is a bit like waiting for a pond to freeze. I know who wants to share my hero’s bed, and whom he watches cross the ballroom floor. What I don’t know is why. Without that, all I have is cat’s ice on a dark and murky pond. No skating yet. There’s not enough to support the weight of a book.

But, one by one, those answers present themselves in random moments, and only when they’re not pursued. Sooner or later there will be enough and then . . . we’ll see what this gentleman is made of.

What really matters

Sharon Ashwood
February 10, 2010  •  1 Comment

valentinespupI checked the Web for some Valentine’s Day fun facts. Here’s a few things I found:

• About 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged in the US each year, second only to Christmas
• About 3% of pet owners will give Valentine’s Day gifts to their pets.
• Approximately 110 million roses, the majority red, will be sold and delivered within a three-day time period.
• In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their valentines would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week, giving rise to the expression “wear your heart on your sleeve.”
• Richard Cadbury invented the first Valentines Day candy box in the late 1800s.
• The oldest surviving love poem till date is written in a clay tablet from the times of the Sumerians, inventors of writing, around 3500 B.C

It seems to me, though, what really matters are those unique traditions that spring up between couples. Y’know, the things that mean something to those two people but no one else. Stupid jokes. A favourite brand of coffee. Remembering to tape the other person’s favourite show. It’s the fact that your loved one is remembered, considered, and cherished that matters. The commercial holiday is lovely window dressing that can never, ever replace the real thing.

I always try to remember that when I get grumpy at someone for forgetting significant dates. Did they remember the important stuff, like my TV show, to feed the cats, or to send words of encouragement when life got rough? If they’re truly in the trenches with me 24/7, does the sparkly card matter?

To me, Valentine’s Day is a great excuse for a celebration in an otherwise blah month, but not much more than that. But, don’t get me wrong–I always accept chocolate.

And, BTW, if you’re looking to send an e-card, I have one here. For every one sent, a donation goes to the Animal Crusaders to cover the medical costs of the rescued strays.

Just print off a new set of lungs, will you?

Sharon Ashwood
February 4, 2010  •  No Comments

Every so often, I come across a news item that’s sufficiently cool I think it must be a fake. It’s just too good to be true.

Here’s one for you – a 3D bio-printer has been developed that “prints” organs on demand for organ replacement surgery. It uses the patient’s own cells, so there’s no risk of rejection.

The article says, “The 3D bio-printer allows scientists to place cells of almost any type into a desired 3D pattern. It includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix.” The device already “prints” arteries and could be used in a heart surgery near you within five years. More complex organs aren’t far behind. Units are already being shipped to research institutions working on tissue construction and organ replacement.

With any luck, organ donor cards will soon be relics of the past.

No plan survives

Sharon Ashwood
January 6, 2010  •  No Comments


Made resolutions? Watched them turn to mush within weeks? Many of us are in the throes of resolution meltdown this week, reducing the New and Improved Self back to the Old Self in record time. Yes, it sucks.

To quote someone I knew and admired, no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

My to-do list for 2010 has the usual stuff on it – eat better, get to bed on time, exercise more, blah blah. I also want to tend to my blog and other social networks more regularly. Having said all that, what’s been impossible to manage in 2009 won’t happen in 2010 unless something changes. As my father used to jibe, you can’t fit ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack. I think he was referring to blue jeans, but the quip is transferrable.

But it’s useful to note that a simple plan will survive better than a complex one. Let‘s face it – stuff that’s easy is much more likely to get done. The more elaborate and involved the resolution, the less likely it is to thrive—not because of laziness, but time is at a premium, adult attention spans are shrinking, and survival mode prevails. One of the most successful things I did was to remove a lot of ornaments and clutter from the surfaces of my furniture. I got a covered wicker basket for the zillion remotes, adaptors and other gizmos littering the coffee table. I actually got around to hauling unwanted books down to the book sale, thus revealing acres of floor space. It all sounds very Martha, but suddenly dusting became possible because I could do it quickly. Otherwise, forget it.

Put another way, failure breeds sulky avoidance. Success breeds satisfaction, and we go back for more of that, don’t we? It’s no big mystery why the rules of simple, achievable, and measurable are the basis for most goal-setting advice. It applies equally to writing as to house maintenance, fitness plans or getting along with the in-laws. Many small success can and usually do add up to a big one.

But here’s the kicker–Will I follow my own advice? Hmm. Maybe. Good question.

How well we do often depends on what we’re getting out of our bad habits. We all actually know how to do better, are we ready to give our failures up? Do they give us excuses to avoid something else we don’t want to do? Does a person subconsciously keep the house messy to avoid inviting company over? Do we pursue an unhealthy lifestyle because if we felt better we’d actually have to, like, DO something?

What do you think?

First task of the New Year

Sharon Ashwood
January 1, 2010  •  No Comments

Is setting up a new all-in-one Santa brought me. Unfortunately, they never have a tech guy packed in the box. Have made it print so far … we’ll see what else I can make it do …

New Year’s Eve

Sharon Ashwood
December 31, 2009  •  No Comments

Had a reasonable crack at a scene from ICED yesterday and hope to finish it up today. It always takes far longer to do about the first three chapters of a book. After that, I can set a good clip. The problem is organizing background info. How much, how little, how to reel it out so that the action keeps moving and explain the supernatural world while I’m at it. I’m always enormously glad to get that part out of the way.

Writing aside, today I have to clean the house before the dust bunnies have an uprising. It would be nice to start 2010 in an orderly fashion.

Here’s hoping you and yours have a fabulous New Year!

And 2009 went zooming past, bodies flying in its wake …

Sharon Ashwood
December 30, 2009  •  No Comments

This was a crazy year.

There were amazingly wonderful things. The Dark Forgotten series came out in February with RAVENOUS. SCORCHED came out the first of this month and actually registered on the B&N mass market romance bestseller list. For me, that’s huge. RAVENOUS was a bit of a last-throw-of-the-dice book, even though I wasn’t really admitting that to myself. Let’s just say I was so ready for some external validation.

I also finished school, ended up doing two jobs instead of one, and pretty much wore myself out. I’ve spent the weekend making like a couch potato. For all those people who say, “How can you possibly do so much?” the answer is that I can’t. Not really.

Of course, sitting around reassembling one’s splattered brains into a thinking organism is a great time to wax philosophical.

Annette mentioned the importance of the little victories we have along the way. I heartily concur. We can’t live by great achievements alone, nor should we. This is important because we need to remember we’re not just good writers, but good citizens, business persons, family members and individuals. Working in the arts is hard on self-esteem for a thousand reasons. It’s vital to have something besides sales numbers to measure yourself by.

And if we need to know that, so do other people. At the end of the day, it’s the good business relationships, the kindnesses, and the solid foundation of right action that gives us integrity. That’s what makes people turn and help when we falter, and what gives us the balance we need to keep moving forward. Some days it may not seem like it, but hard work and a good reputation still counts.

What did I do this year that I’m proud of? I finished commitments when I wanted to walk away so bad it gagged me. I helped a friend try something she was interested in, and for once didn’t help too much. I tried to be a good team player on several fronts. I made sure I was a good listener even when I had no brain cells to speak of. I took good care of my pets.

On the other hand, I get a failing grade in the domestic arts. I see some vacuuming in my future, because I’m doing New Year’s at my place. Despite the crazy year, I still have friends. That’s one blessing I’m counting for sure.

Resolutions? To make a little time to look after myself.

Planes, trains and etc.

Sharon Ashwood
December 16, 2009  •  No Comments

On the road for work today, which meant float planes and Skytrain and who knows what all to get to the meeting hours later. Meeting was brief and successful, which was a blessing, and then there was the reverse trip. That pretty much ate today.

It was pretty when the plane taxied through the harbour because the legislature is all Christmas lights and sparkle. However, I was really happy to get out of the killer shoes and power suit and turn back into a pumpkin.

Baked for the Christmas potluck (coconut squares. Must try one just to be sure they’re up to snuff). Now I’m printing off material for tomorrow’s critique meeting. Not really exciting stuff, but it feels good to be caught up for once.