Dundee Cake

Sharon Ashwood
December 14, 2011  •  No Comments

I’ve been trying to get into a Christmas mood. Helpfully, the good folks at my day job have been heaping the goody table with all manner of Bad4U food. This is absolutely part of the whole holiday tradition, and I salute their determined efforts to send us all into a sugar coma guaranteed to last until at least March.

It reminds me how much food is part of the festivities. Christmas as a kid used to start in mid-November, when my mom began marinating ingredients in a bath of rum for days and days before baking and wrapping fruitcake. It “aged” in the refrigerator until Twelfth Night, when it would come out of its tin foil coat to fill the room with a sweet, alcoholic scent. Since that was my Dad’s birthday, it doubled as his birthday dessert. I have indelible memories of snow and candied fruit, wrapping paper and pipe tobacco. I also recall if one of those cakes fell on your foot, it could break bones.


Cream 6 ounces of butter (about ¾ cup) of butter with an equal amount of brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in 4 eggs one at a time, then fold in 8 ounces (about a cup) of flour, ¼ cup of ground almonds and a pinch of salt and mix well. Stir in ¾ cup sultana raisins, ½ cup currants, ¼ cup chopped peel, ¼ cup glace cherries (chopped) and the juice and grated rind of an orange and a lemon.

Grease an 8 inch cake tin and line it with baking paper, then spoon in the mixture. Smooth the top and hollow it very slightly, then decorate with whole blanched almonds. Bake for two hours at 300 F and don’t open the oven for the first 30 minutes. Watch toward the end to make sure it isn’t browning too much and cover with foil if necessary. Once completely cool, the cake can be wrapped and stored in an airtight tin for weeks.

Variations of this recipe date back to eighteenth century Scotland.

NaNo Reviewed

Sharon Ashwood
December 6, 2011  •  No Comments

So I missed last week’s post. I was out of words.

National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) ended a week ago. The goal of NaNo is to make 50,000 words during the month. I ended up a few thousand short, clocking in around 47,000, but something in me broke around November 29. I scraped around my brain and couldn’t find one more sentence. Not even a phrase. I hang my head in shame.

On the bright side, I finished the draft I was working on by Sunday night—a whole lot sooner than if I hadn’t been under the sway of November novel madness!

So what did I learn by all this? Practically speaking, it is possible to draft a novel in about six weeks. It’s true that keeping a routine makes the pages add up faster. Also, if you fall behind, it’s really hard to make up the word count.
On a more esoteric level, I found the exercise interesting from a “you don’t know what you can do until you try” sort of way. It also demonstrates what you really find important, because the extras fall off your personal map pretty quickly. Needless to say, my living space looks like Viking raiders invited the Mongol hordes over for a frat party.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes and no. This is a hard enough task that someone has to really want to succeed.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, if the circumstances were right. I got a lot out of it because I had my piece ready to go. If I’d been waffling around without a clear outline, a lot of time would have been wasted writing nonsense. Also, having the external goal of a January 15 submission deadline lifted the daily word count from “nice to do” to “get with it, girl.”

The Summary – NaNo or Not?

– Prose, and lots of it.
– An excuse to avoid awkward social engagements
– You can say you did

– Social alienation
– Brain damage
– Health department quarantines your kitchen

xTreme word count

Sharon Ashwood
November 23, 2011  •  No Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I did my first NaNoWriMo check-in, and here I am back again. My goal was to finish the first draft of this manuscript by the end of November. As I write, I have nine days to go.

Yes, that was a wail of pure panic.

On the other hand, I can say I’ve only fallen behind by about 7,000 words, which is something I could conceivably make up as long as I don’t want to, say, sleep.

I did have a brilliant flash of insight this past weekend. Okay, maybe not brilliant, but important. I plot a fair bit before I start writing. I do discover stuff along the way, the plot shifts and twists, but in the end I stick fairly close to a general outline that I have in place before I begin. If I don’t have a road map, I generally write in circles. Or at least I thought this was how things worked.

However, because I’m writing this fast, I realized that I deviate far more than I suspected. Those thousand small adjustments can be handled gradually if I’m writing at a normal pace. Hurtling along at NaNo velocity meant that my average 2% variation sent me flying from an off-ramp worthy of a motorcycle stunt rider—and not in a good way. Something about speed x word count x plot variation = edit squared. There was time lost Saturday as I sat down and pondered things like plot structure and the zen of backspacing.

The words I’ve written are fine, the book is fine, but it’s not what I expected. The result of rushing through the manuscript is not that it’s bad, it’s just that I haven’t had a chance to get to know it like I normally would. During my first edit pass, I’ll be reading Chloe and Sam’s story more like a reader than the author.

Which leads me to wonder – why is it that we don’t absorb the book merely by the act of writing it? Is part of our brain switched off, so that the writing function can be in the “on” position? Or am I the only one who experiences things this way?

The creative mind is a very curious thing.

A little retail therapy!

Sharon Ashwood
November 16, 2011  •  No Comments

Halloween has barely cooled its pumpkins but, when I was tearing around the streets of the downtown on my lunch hour, I noticed Christmas decorations. I was about to go into a huff about it being far, far too early for such things and then realized we’re pushing into the middle of November. Christmas Eve is six weeks away! For once, it’s not the retailers who are ahead of themselves; I’m just out of touch with the calendar.

I easily succumb to glitter. I like shiny. I like snow (in small doses) and turn to sentimental goo at the sound of carols. In other words, I’m a merchandiser’s dream around this time of year. The catch is that when I go shopping, I turn out to carry home as many parcels for me as for everyone else because this is the time of year all the really cool stuff comes into the stores.

I’ll throw in a disclaimer here: I actually buy a lot of presents at craft fairs because the money goes straight to the artisans and I can find really unique items that aren’t otherwise advertised. Here, though, I’m posting about things you can get through the web, because what’s the point if you can’t share the fun?

So here we go: Sharon’s shopping picks, 2011

If you know any folks who do work at home, this might be a hit. I know I want one! This is a heavy vinyl mat that will take an office chair rolling back and forth – and yet it looks like a Persian carpet. This is definitely on my Christmas list because my place is small, so my office is in my living room. I need to get a chair mat to protect the carpet, but most are so ugly that I’ve been stalling. This would go a long way to a compromise between practical and pretty.


Speaking of pretty … one of my very favourite craftspeople is Melissa Caron, who does amazing silver work. I love the organic feel of her designs. Click on the ring to visit her Etsy store and I guarantee that you’ll spend a lot of money, at least in your imagination! I came across her booth at a local craft fair last year and one of her rings followed me home.


Speaking of Etsy, drop by the Steamworkshop to check out these decorative USB drives. They are both practical (they work for real—I have one from this seller) and fun—and could probably survive an airship crash. Just about everyone uses jump drives, so it might be the ticket for a hard-to-buy-for. I like having a bunch of different USB drives to keep my novels-in-progress separate. The more unique-looking, the better for telling them apart.

Please keep in mind that while I’ve had good experiences with the Etsy retailers listed, it’s always buyer beware out there in the land of on-line shopping. This is not a paid advertisement nor is it a guarantee. However, I’ve had good service and a lot of pleasure out my purchases.
So, what nifty items are out there that you know about? Care to share?

NaNoWriMo Lessons Learned – report one

Sharon Ashwood
November 9, 2011  •  No Comments

I’m beginning to think the National Novel Writing Month should be retitled to the National Why I’m Not Writing My Novel Month. If you want to find out why the words are not showing up on the page, this is the exercise that will bring all that to light. In my case, it’s mostly because my idea about what I do with my time and what I think I do are some distance apart. Like, in different towns.


Keep in mind that I’m not talking about scheduling inconveniences like landslides, volcanoes, or abduction by space aliens, although as the month carries on, those might seem like attractive options. Let’s face it, if a crisis is big enough, writing falls off the radar and rightly so. What I’m encountering is the part where writers are nibbled to death by ducks—in other words, small things that gum up the works. 🙁

That’s not to say anything super-unusual happened, but my attention has been drawn to the fact that I undertake many “writing-like” but not actual writing activities. A night out at a lecture to gather ideas. A night out with my critique group. A night out talking about writing instead of doing it. And then there are the weekly classes at my gym. All worthy endeavours, but not bum-in-the-chair writing time.

Now, one might argue such things are vital to a balanced life. Yes, they are. However, NaNoWriMo is not about a balanced anything. It is imbalance in favour of writing 50,000 words in 30 days and these, lovely, social moments are exactly why the word counter isn’t climbing the way it should. Ironically, I always considered myself something of a hermit. Apparently I’m not as antisocial as I thought!


The lesson? If you’re going to bite off a heroic chunk o’ wordage, there will be sacrifices. Perhaps modern communication devices should be the first to go. Then, perhaps all social acquaintance. If that doesn’t work, a stint in a cloisters might be in order–at least for the month of November.

Have you ever made an unexpected discovery about the way you spend your time?

Random harvest thoughts

Sharon Ashwood
November 2, 2011  •  No Comments

I always wonder about people who renounce things. You know – give up on part of their identity, or an affiliation, or the world in general. The notion presupposes that we have the power to banish such influences from our lives. As if we could say, “Get thee behind me, chocolate!” and the temptation would be gone.

I dunno. Conquering that chocolate addiction isn’t about running away from the candy counter. It means examining one’s relationship with the dark forces of Hershey’s and coming to terms with its grip on one’s soul. Becoming a cave-dwelling hermit removes the chocolate from one’s vicinity, but all that ends the moment the candy dish comes back into view. It’s not enough to say we’re done with something. Its grip needs to be gone whether or not we’re in the same room.

img040_edited-1Put another way – one can take the hermit from the Hershey’s, but can one take the Hershey’s from the hermit?

For chocolate, substitute criticism, rejection, insecurities, procrastination and all those other thorny bits we encounter as human beings. Those are all things we could cheerfully put to rest.

As I’m writing this, it’s Halloween. Candy is an issue, given the day, but I’m thinking beyond that. Halloween is also the New Year’s Eve of the Celtic calendar. It’s the day when old things—items or ideas we no longer have a use for—can be put to an honoured rest and new projects born.

Now, the harvest isn’t the New Year’s resolution where we worry about going on a diet or working harder or getting to the gym more often. Those are the resolutions that tell us we need improvement. That’s the thinking that would send us to a cave in the hills to avoid what we apparently don’t have the strength to resist. Stuff and nonsense. Running away is giving an issue more power than it deserves. It’s running away that makes the monsters chase you.

No, this resolution is to say buh-bye to all the nagging voices in our heads that tell us we can’t run faster, jump higher, or do whatever the heck we see ourselves doing in our happiest fantasies. We are that fabulous person already. We’ve just been trained not to believe it.

It’s a new year. Something holding you back? Burn it. Compost it. Let that energy go and transform it into something you can use. That’s what this harvest time is all about.

And while you’re at it, have some chocolate. Harvest is all about celebration, not self-flagellation.

Fright night – or was that fright month?

Sharon Ashwood
October 26, 2011  •  No Comments

I do love October 31. Some of that is due to the prevalence of tiny candy bars. The rest is thematic. After all, Halloween and paranormal romance go together like, well, chocolate and peanut butter. Trick and treat. Vampires and haemoglobin. I seem to be building up a backlog of Vampire Diaries episodes on my PVR – maybe that will be my Halloween fun. I can snuggle with the cats, who need a bit of comfort with all the firecracker action outside.


Speaking of scary, the other thing about October 31 is that it is the day before November 1, which is the start of NaNoWriMo a/k/a National Novel Writing Month. For those that don’t know, this event is a kind of authorial Iron Man, in which folks try to write their novels in a month. Or just about. Actually, the aim is not to create a finished, polished book, but a good chunk o’ draft manuscript which can then grow up to be a novel. People join in whether they’re beginners or professionals—this is a totally level playing field. The only person you’re competing with is yourself, but it’s a lot more fun when you’re doing it with friends.

There is a web site where participants go register, and there are bulletin boards, support, tips, tricks, coffee mugs and everything else to help get you through those 30 days of writing madness.

Since I seem to have a very full writing schedule at the moment, I’ve signed up in hopes a burst of furious activity will get me through the first leg of my writing journey. I’ll be working on the first of my Nocturne books. I’ve started it, so my goal is to get it as close to the finish as possible. I’ll give weekly updates to let you know how it’s going!

Is anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? If you are, let me know and we can cheer each other on!


Sharon Ashwood
October 19, 2011  •  No Comments

This past weekend I went to SteamCon III, which was my first Steampunk event. The Steampunk genre seems to have arrived later in my corner of the world, so I realize I’m a beat behind in discovering it. Anyhow, the trip was inspired by a) curiosity, b) it was nearby and relatively inexpensive and c) a friend wanted to go, too. In other words, it was a low-barrier way to see what all the fuss was about.

I’d read some really fun books in the genre and seen pictures of great costumes, but couldn’t—and probably still can’t—explain Steampunk. It’s kinda sorta Victorian alternate history, but that description falls short of reality. Imagine pirates with ray guns, dancing jellyfish, and women with lobster tails for bustles. Imagine gamers and androids and long discussions about how to keep an airship from tipping over. I found myself at an unholy hour (i.e. before noon) in a lecture hall listening to some academics—at least one from Harvard—discussing nuclear particle thingummies with a man wearing a birdcage around his head, and a bowler hat on the birdcage.

Sidebar: I was never very good at physics. I had not fully grasped how not very good I am. Frankly, the whole idea of celestial aether sounds reasonable to me.

The nuclear-aether-birdcage event describes one end of the weekend’s experience. The other involved a stuffed hedgehog and a deal of draft beer at the inevitable Irish public house. Every roadtrip seems to include at least one such establishment, but the hedgehog was a new innovation. Great icebreaker. I named it Smithwick. I tried to buy him a top hat but couldn’t find one small enough.


Saturday night was a concert with three new-to-me bands: Unwoman, The Clockwork Dolls, and Vagabond Opera. If you like eclectic—and I do—this was a treat, but a diverse one. Each act had a very distinct sound.

And the merchant room? There was some jaw-dropping craftsmanship there. One could walk in one door with a credit card and come out the other with an entire steam-driven household. There were costumes, books, weapons, artwork, housewares, practical things, impractical things, and a lot of cephalopods. I was almost too dazzled to shop, which is saying something. However, I seemed to walk away with a fetching red and black corset.

As you can probably tell, I had a blast. In turns, the experience was mind-expanding and giggle-inducing. By the end of the weekend, I concluded that you can’t define Steampunk, it just is. And the last thing it needs is someone trying to put it in a box with a label.

New season, new series!

Sharon Ashwood
October 12, 2011  •  No Comments

This past weekend, I celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving with extra gusto (and an excess of pumpkin pie). As well as the usual general feelings of turkey-day well-being, I have something very concrete to be thankful for—a contract for a new book series!

In good journalistic fashion, here are a few particulars:

Who: The series will be brought to you by the Harlequin Nocturne imprint.

What: This is straight-up, toasty-hot paranormal romance involving vampire/werewolf super-spies, lost diamonds, and royal feuds. Of course there is a lot of humour in it, because this stuff just begs for one-liners. I mean, really.

Where: The action is split between North America and the Mediterranean. Stay tuned for moonlit palaces.


When: No release dates scheduled yet.

Why: Because it was there. This series has a lot of fantasy elements—big houses, exotic locations, car chases, impossibly gorgeous men—and writing it is a bit like indulging every girlie daydream out there. I actually had to go buy wedding magazines for research purposes.

How: Mostly sprawled on the couch with my laptop and a lot of Scottish Breakfast tea.

Of course I’ll post more information as things firm up, but for now I’m thrilled to be able to announce the series is coming!

Sound the trumpets!

Sharon Ashwood
October 5, 2011  •  No Comments

I’m happy to announce that a brand new Dark Forgotten novella is now available for your electronic bookshelf.

I’ve not ventured far into the indie e-wilderness, so this is a new experience for me. Huge kudos to Michele Hauf and Lori Devoti for doing the technical heavy lifting—I cannot claim to have done more than stand by with a writerly air and offer occasional applause.

Yes, I’m lucky to be making this foray in excellent company and, after reading the other entries in the volume, I can guarantee a varied and exciting tour of the vampire PNR genre. No two of these stories are the same! From very dark to highly original to scorching hot, there’s something for every mood:

Nicole Ruiz is a psi tracker, an elite vampire hunter who can shadow her quarry anywhere. Daktan is an executioner assigned by the demon king to eliminate a rogue vampire who’s killing humans. Demons might be as much her enemy as the vampires, but Nicole discovers the rogue is stronger than she expected…

ONE SOUL TO SHARE by Lori Devoti
Mermaid, Sarina Neri, is desperate to regain her sister’s soul. The sea spirit who has it wants a man who can survive in her realm, underwater, in exchange. Fortunately, Sarina has found such a man, vampire Nolan Moore. Unfortunately, Nolan wants the soul for himself.

While investigating the vicious werewolf blood games, vampire Revin Parker struggles with his attraction to the faery informant, Sabrina Kriss. Six months earlier she cursed him with an addiction to faery dust. Can they risk the desire that demands they fall in love with the one who could become their worst nightmare?

HIDDEN by Sharon Ashwood
Rafe returns to the Devries werewolf pack to rescue his people from a scheming fey beauty. Pitting his will against her wits, he plans to seduce his way free of the ice queen’s trap. But surrender means death for the fey, and little does Rafe know that he’s gambling with more than hearts… 😉

In retrospect, this book is an ideal place for Hidden. The story does not fit into the usual Dark Forgotten canon, although Darak from Frostbound puts in an appearance. It doesn’t take place in Fairview. It’s a snapshot of another community in the foothills of the Rockies (an all-werewolf ranching community) with characters I couldn’t fit into one of my usual books.

However, it is one of my stories so you’ll see a very mismatched couple trying to figure each other out under extremely bizarre conditions. Eventually sparks ignite in a good way, but only after severe property damage. Did I mention it was one of my books? I looked back and I’m not sure any of my romances go by without at least one major structure either burning down, blowing up, or getting eaten by demons. But there is sex, so not all the explosions require full body armour.

Hope you enjoy!