A little more writerly advice

Sharon Ashwood
May 3, 2016  •  No Comments

Here are a few truths I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Books will complicate themselves. They don’t need help.
  • The stronger a characters’ motivations are, the less artfully constructed patches are needed to save the plot. (I was only fooling myself!)
  • If an action doesn’t make emotional sense in the real world, it doesn’t make emotional sense in the book world.
  • Ask myself if real people talk like that.
  • Being mysterious doesn’t equal good storytelling. One can’t advance a plot just by withholding information from the reader.
  • The better the actual story, the less special effects (dragons, sex scenes, gruesome murders, dancing hamsters, etcetera) are needed to keep it moving.
  • If I have to stop the action and explain what’s going on, I need to check my work.

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Keeping it simple

Sharon Ashwood
May 2, 2016  •  No Comments

You know that feeling when you first start a book? It’s like my mind is a kitten surrounded by tempting balls of yarn. It wants to pounce on EVERYTHING at once and succeeds mostly in falling over a lot. Adorable, but not that effective.

cat_yarnIdeas, characters, settings, sub plots – I love them ALL and I want them ALL in the first paragraph because I’m so excited (!!!) by the fabulous world I’ve created. Unfortunately, that means I have written quite a few openings that sucked. Fortunately, I have discovered my best friend the delete key, which means my finished books aren’t quite the unruly beasts promised by my first few drafts.

It’s all too easy to load up our openings—and often our entire novels—with an embarrassment of riches. It’s true that certain genres, like epic fantasy, usually have lots of subplots and characters, but the best examples always firmly establish the world and conflict before branching off into weaving threads of events. Many other genres, including romance, prefer only a few main story threads. Either way, good craftsmanship guarantees the reader can always follow the action without drowning in clutter. No one likes a story that requires a spreadsheet and a geomancer to make sense of it.

So, my lesson learned? I don’t need to add one idea more than what’s absolutely necessary—my stories will magically gather complications all on their own. I have to start with the bare bones if I want to end with a coherent book. Restraint and simplicity are perhaps the last lessons one masters, and for me they have been the hardest. I have a hard drive full of mangled first drafts to prove it.

Long ago, I received an excellent piece of advice.  “A woman of style will always remove one piece of jewelry before leaving her dressing table and another before leaving her front door.” While I will be the first to admit that sounds a bit patronizing, there’s wisdom in it when it refers to book structure. Sometimes simplicity is a good friend.


2016 RITA Nominee!

Sharon Ashwood
March 31, 2016  •  No Comments

Possessed_by_a_WolfPOSSESSED BY A WOLF has been nominated for a RITA Award in the paranormal category! So it’s off to San Diego this July for the Romance Writers of America conference. I’ll be part of the big Literacy Signing, so if you’re in the area please do stop and say hello.

So how did I hear the news?  I was off work for the day and in my bathrobe because it was still early here on the West Coast. When the phone rang I thought it was a telemarketer or some such, so you can imagine my surprise when a very nice person began telling me Wolf had been selected. Yes, I’ve won a RITA before but finding out you’re a finalist doesn’t get old. Trust me on that one! I had to get her to repeat everything while my brain caught up.

An award like this is not a guarantee of fame and fortune, but it is important to authors because it’s validation of one’s art. The RITA is judged by peers. There’s no “campaigning” or politics involved. It’s just whether the judges who got your book in the box liked it or not and as far as I’m concerned that’s how it should be.

I have a real fondness for Faran, my werewolf hero. Let’s wish him luck!  Maybe it’s appropriate that I imagined he was a Californian.

 

 

 


Ten no-fail procrastination technique, personally tested

Sharon Ashwood
January 17, 2016  •  No Comments

Ten no-fail procrastination techniques, personally tested to ensure no writing happens

10 Obscure recipe ingredient. Must have it.

9 Coupons are expiring!

8 Distant relations haven’t heard from me since the 90s.

7 My car is overdue for servicing

6 Financial planning! Right now!

5 Flyers! Must. Read. Every. One.

4 My sinks are dirty. Someone might see them. Like my mother.

3 Computer gags. Software update.

2 Must Google for new reviews. Then the aftermath.

1 Can’t possibly write without the perfect tea.


Look who arrived on my porch!

Sharon Ashwood
January 16, 2016  •  No Comments

Sadly, Gawain himself wasn’t in the box!

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Camelot Reborn

Sharon Ashwood
January 12, 2016  •  No Comments

I’ve talked about the fact that I’m starting a new Nocturne series and the first book is coming out in February (just in time for Valentine’s!). I’m sure how well I’ve explained it– it’s a contemporary-set paranormal based on Arthurian legend, complete with fae, witches, demons and plenty of magic. There is a respectful nod to medieval fantasy, but I do not stray into true historical territory.

The germ of the idea for this series came to me when I was very young and on my first journey to England. I was deeply impressed by the stone effigies of knights anlamiad ladies sleeping on their tombs. At the time, I thought them serene and beautiful and sad and wondered what would happen if I had the power to wake them up. On a much more recent trip through Exeter cathedral, that idea returned with a romantic twist and here we are.

The first book is Enchanted Warrior and its hero is Sir Gawain, the son of King Lot of Orkney and the Isles. He’s stranded in modern times and on a mission to find King Arthur. When he encounters Tamsin Greene, a medieval historian, he believes he’s found someone who can help him. Unfortunately, she’s a witch and he doesn’t trust anyone with magical powers. Mind you, Gawain has a few surprising talents of his own!

The second book is Enchanted Guardian (Lancelot), which will be out in the summer. He’s one of those figures that we think we know, but when I started digging into his legend there were a lot of surprises that I was able to take advantage of.

I’m very pleased with this series – I’ve really had a lot of fun exploring this world.

 


Feline Disruption Unit

Sharon Ashwood
December 27, 2015  •  No Comments

Feline disruption unit

Those who know computers and cats will know whereof I speak. I’m on deadline for Enchanted Guardian, and I have a stiff daily page count to make.  However, the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness can’t go half an hour without an adoration break. He considers this his contribution to the writing process: ensuring that I take those important moments to bend and stretch (as when tossing a nerf ball, filling a food dish, or removing him from some small instance of destruction). Without his input, I’d become overly focussed on unimportant work goals. Also, the type of progress I’m seeking is a mundane, unenlightened human measurement. Frequency of cuddle sessions are a far better performance measure.

Everything is teamwork when you have a cat. Important safety tip:  the cat is the team leader.


Dark Hero Product Testing

Sharon Ashwood
September 18, 2015  •  No Comments

captive vampireI wrote this post in 2009 for Sidhe Vicious Reviews shortly after I released RAVENOUS. The original post is here. It remains one of my favourites, so for a Friday Flashback, I’m running it one more time! It’s still a good answer to one of the perennial questions authors get from readers:

 

Where do authors get their characters from?

 

Always a good question. When I needed to choose my hero for RAVENOUS, I perused the Author Supplies Emporium catalogue very carefully. What should he be like?  I flipped through the Romantic Tycoons, the Sexy Cops, and the Hard Hat Hunks. I wanted just the right guy for my book:  definitely an alpha hero, but not one of the overly pushy types. He’d have to be heavy-duty enough to like smushing villains, because I had a lot of action planned. There was no getting away with the affordable but flimsy Comic Lite products.

 

Picking the right model took time. My favourite heroes may be a little twisted as well as dark, but there’s always some line they won’t cross, and it’s that restraint that divides these edgier heroes from the villains. Still, a little envelope-pushing keeps things interesting. For me, the best kind of dark hero has to earn his way into the light, and the price he pays for his happy ever after is high. This kind of hero doesn’t stumble into love and flop down on the couch. He has to earn it, and it takes a strong heroine to stand up to him.

 

When I found the model I wanted, I placed my order, being careful to select the “sense of humour,” “fully operational brain,” and “redeemable soul” options.

 

I was so happy when my order arrived!  Unlike most true life heroes, mine came with instructions:

 

Hello, and welcome to your new Dark Hero, Vampire Edition 3.2!  Warranty provisions require that you follow these instructions for safety and for optimal customer satisfaction:

 

1.  This unit may be damaged if left for long periods in direct sunlight.

2.  This Hero unit may be cleaned using products designed for dark wash.  Do not bleach. Dry flat. Cool iron only.

3.  Your Dark Hero, Vampire Edition is intended for nighttime use only. Recharge daily.

4.  Use of the unit during the “brood” cycle is not recommended.

5.  If unit begins to watch Underworld repeatedly, remind him that he wears leather way better than Kate Beckinsale. This should reset unit to “arrogant” mode.

6.  It is not recommended that unit operate heavy equipment during full moon.

7.  This unit is not designed for domestic use. For daily household tasks, we recommend the Dark Hero, Djinn Slave 4.0

5.  If you wish to disassemble unit, use stake provided.

 

By way of product review, the Dark Hero, V.E. 3.2 worked a treat. I have to admit, though, I’m curious about the 3.3 upgraded “green” model. The solar rechargeable batteries might present some issues.

 


Parlez-vous vampire?

Sharon Ashwood
September 14, 2015  •  No Comments

Coming November 1, 2015 Le pouvoir du vampire écrit par Sharon Ashwood in paperback and ebook

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Also known as Possessed by a Warrior.  Yup, that’s Sam and Choe, en francais

Here’s a link on Amazon.fr

So far that’s the only French edition in the works, but it’s a landmark because it’s the first Ashwood title to be translated into French. Previously, the Dark Forgotten was done (beautifully) in German by Knaur with some of the nicest covers I’ve ever received (check out this page for a look). I’m very, very happy to expand my world domination plans to Paris. Hopefully it’s the beginning of great things!


A WRITER’S JOURNEY, UNLIKE HER BOOKS, NEVER ENDS

Sharon Ashwood
April 28, 2015  •  57 Comments

Allow me to introduce Carmen Fox, a writer who has the absolute right stuff. Wondering what that is?  Read on–her story speaks for itself! And be sure to leave a comment–she’s offering a great prize to someone who stops by!  Not only does some lucky winner get a $15 Amazon gift certificate but also the chance to name a character in one of her books!

 

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Thank you, Sharon, for giving me the chance to appear on your blog.

So who am I?

I’m an urban fantasy/paranormal romance/mystery writer who didn’t start out at the top of her game. My skills are learned skills. It is my strong belief that, given the right encouragement and input, everyone can learn to write well.

But what about natural talent? Some people think a writer puts down thoughts in the form in which they popped into his or her head. The problem with that attitude for me was that I’m a terrible speaker. Even when it comes to telling jokes I stumble over my words and am sure to mess up the punch line. Lacking this natural talent, would I ever amount to anything?

As I said, I don’t believe in this mythical gene that allows a few chosen ones to enchant their readership without trying. More likely, they got a head start simply by grasping the fundamentals at an earlier age. Their talent comes down to knowledge.
The best starting point if you want to learn something new, even in the age of the geek, is a good how-to book. At least that’s the path I took. After giving my wallet a rigorous workout, my shelves soon buckled under the weight of bound wisdom. What I discovered was that novels have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Score! Armed with this knowledge, I fancied myself a writer and set about penning my first book, GUARDED (back then under a different title).

Fast-forward a few months. As part of an on-line auction, I bid on and won a partial critique by Sharon Ashwood. Yes, this Sharon Ashwood. She waded through my finished manuscript and, rather than the worshipping superfandom I expected, returned a rather sober verdict. She liked my worldbuilding and the humor, although not so much the slapstick moments. Sharon also struggled to aptly categorize my book as light PNR or UF, a task I myself wrestled with until I gave up and let the book stand as a mishmash of PNR/UF/mystery. But her comments significantly enhanced the quality of my manuscript.

Amid this critique discussing the good, the bad, and the downright awful, Sharon dropped a line that would mold my writing even more. She advised to invest in a course run by Margie Lawson, a teacher responsible for transforming many so-so writers into successful authors.

Since I had little to lose, I enrolled. Over the next three years I participated again and again, and Margie’s insights filtered through to me and into my next book and the book after that. Thanks to her, I twist clichés like it’s the 1950s and employ a wide range of voice cues, while putting body parts through painful acrobatics to show a character’s emotional state. Her personal feedback cemented my new-found understanding of language.

After Margie Lawson’s courses I moved on to Mary Buckham and many other wonderful instructors. Word after word, my style improved. In fact, it improved so much I was offered a contract for DIVIDE AND CONQUER almost as soon as I typed ‘The End.’

Stuff just got real. Shoot. My once casual pastime had morphed into a hobby with deadlines. What next?

Publishing a book is a slow process, where long periods of rest alternate with moments of panicked frenzy. In my off-time, I returned to GUARDED, the book I’d first sent to Sharon. The story’s characters occupied a place in my heart, and I couldn’t wait to dive into what became the mother of all edits. Yup, almost every sentence needed a re-write. The contrast between before and after more than once made me well up. It wasn’t that I used to be atrocious. I just wasn’t…good enough, an affliction that befalls many hopeful writers.

During my many hours of editing, the how-to books, now languishing on my shelves, mingled with Margie’s and Mary’s explanations, and things started to make sense. As it turns out, you need to know how to write before you can learn to write fiction.

Let’s take ‘show don’t tell’ as an example. Up to that point I’d associated this adage with ‘adding description.’ In my original e-mail to Sharon I even wrote, “I have no eye for detail when it comes to places or people, so coming up with sufficient specifics for “show, don’t tell” isn’t always easy for me.” How wrong I was. Rather, this principle is about respecting your readers enough not to TELL THEM THAT your character feels a certain way, but to SHOW THE PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES of that feeling. Not to TELL THEM THAT your character is looking at something, but to SHOW THE SCENE your character sees. More specifically, stay away from “She watched an old couple walk up the street,” and instead write “An old couple walked up the street.”

I also discovered that ‘hooking a reader’ has little to do with formulating a clever first sentence and everything to do with resolving one issue while opening up another one.

With these sparks of clarity, I edited away, simplified the plot, and soon a new story emerged, the story I should have written at the start.

Five months in, my editor returned DIVIDE AND CONQUER, and my stomach jigged. While her comments focused onUntitled strengthening the emotional impact of my scenes, my re-read uncovered that I’d also told much of the story, and hooks were largely a no-show. I changed as much as I dared and returned the manuscript, still aghast at the difference between my old version of DIVIDE AND CONQUER and my new version of GUARDED. How can a few months make such a difference?

In hindsight, I’ve become rather proud of this initial discrepancy. DIVIDE AND CONQUER was released in March. GUARDED will be out in July. I still haven’t reached the top of my game, but both novels represent the best of my ability as it stands now, and I’ve been lucky to have found readers who love them. What about the future, though? Well, I want to learn more. Much more. I want to understand what it takes to make a reader cry in as little as two hundred words, and how to deepen conflict. My fervent wish for 2020 is that I’ll be able to look back on 2015 and see room for improvement. Because the secret formula to getting published is the same as succeeding in sports. Never stop improving your game.

Be sure to leave a comment–one lucky winner gets a $15 Amazon gift certificate and also the chance to name a character in one of Carmen’s books!

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DIVIDE AND CONQUER, out now

Buy it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U0W2BIM

GUARDED, coming July 31, 2015

 

About me, Carmen Fox

Carmen lives in the south of England with her beloved tea maker and a stuffed sheep called Fergus. An avid reader since childhood, she caught the writing bug when her Nana asked her to write a story. She also has a law degree, studied physics for a few years, dabbled in marketing and human resources, and speaks native-level German and fluent Geek. Her preferred niches of geekdom are tabletop games, comics, sci-fi and fantasy.

She writes about smart women with sassitude, about pretty cool guys too, and will chase that plot twist, no matter how elusive.

Expect to be kept guessing.

Visit her blog at www.carmen-fox.com.