December 27, 2015 • No Comments
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.
September 18, 2015 • No Comments
I 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.
September 14, 2015 • No Comments
Coming November 1, 2015 Le pouvoir du vampire écrit par Sharon Ashwood in paperback and ebook
Also known as Possessed by a Warrior. Yup, that’s Sam and Choe, en francais
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!
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!
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 on 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!
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.
February 25, 2012 • 2 Comments
I’m running for the end of a rainbow! Every so often there’s one of those moments when the writing gets do-or-die. This weekend is one–I MUST finish this draft/reach the destination/find the pot of gold for this particular adventure, so I can hop off and write a different book, turn it in, then get back to this one and edit it. What I don’t want to do is to leave threads dangling, characters sitting around waiting to get the girl/finish off the villain/solve the mystery. They get all cranky:
“Is this in our contract, Fred?”
“No, it’s a violation of Schedule Two, Part 4, Clause C. The cliffhanger clause.”
“I thought that was the suspension of disbelief rider.”
“No, that’s Appendix IV.”
“What’s this one say?”
“The right to timely denouement. Breaking it means WE get to end the book OUR way.”
Stories can go stale. An ending–any ending–is necessary for successful storage. I can change it all later, but I never have that “did I leave a tap running?” feeling. Plus, the characters stay put and don’t run around turning my romance into a Stephen King special. Don’t laugh–I’ve had it happen. Unfinished business will develop a life of its own. So wish me luck–wish my characters luck–we’ve got our athletic shoes on and we’re running for the finish line!
April 28, 2011 • No Comments
How does one salve one’s conscience when one doesn’t actually feel like writing? I’ve begun to think the answer is books on writing. Maybe not creating them because that’s, like, writing, but COLLECTING them is certainly one of the best forms of procrastination going. I have shelves of the suckers. But how useful are they? Once you’re past the “how to format a manuscript” stage, and you know all about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, what can these tomes do for you besides make one look very writerly?
As far as I can tell, these books fall into a few categories. There are reference works for writers: handy-dandy guides to poisons, what happens at a crime scene, how to survive in the Regency era, etc. It’s pretty easy to figure out which of these you need and they are by far my favourite type. Just the facts in small words that even writers can understand. Here are two I go to again and again:
Then there are writing guides that are structure-focussed books. How to write mysteries/ horror/ romance/ bestsellers, etc. Mileage on these varies hugely. I’ve yet to find a really good one on horror. And, even when these guides are good, they need to be applied with common sense. Take romance for instance: Are you really going to use the same approach for writing a Harlequin Presents as for a dark paranormal romance? Hmm—the Cowboy Vampire Firefighter’s Secret Baby Werewolf Surprise?
For good genre-fiction techniques in general, I personally like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and Bob Mayer’s incomparable Toolkit.
There are books about finding one’s writing inspiration, but I’ve never been inspired to pick them up.
There are also myriad books about individual issues, like dialogue, description, character and so forth. I suppose that one could fill a book with a minute examination about one of these topics, but I’m not sure I’d want to read it. The best straight-up advice I’ve found is in Stephen King’s On Writing. He has a fabulous way of getting right to the point. I’ve pulled more nuggets out of this volume than any other, and only half of it is how-to.
I’m sure there are plenty of other fabulous choices, and some might be gathering dust, unread, on my shelf. The point is that I think once you’ve found those craft guides that resonate with your process, those are the keepers. It won’t be the same list for everyone, and that’s okay.
January 5, 2011 • No Comments
In my nuclear family, it was expected that one would be an artist of some sort. Maybe of several sorts. That was cool. I never had to go through the awkward talk about having unwanted artistic ambitions. It was assumed I would write, paint, dance, whatever and maybe all at the same time.
However, I also had to have a practical career—so there were no awkward talks about ONLY being an artist. It was a given that I had to put food on the table and a centrally-heated roof over my head. No starry-eyed visions of Bohemian garrets. After all, we lived on the prairies where freezing to death was a literal hazard. Plus, my parents were both involved in the arts. They knew what their daughter was facing. So I learned to type in Grade 10 and went to university to become a teacher (which I never did, but that’s another story).
Sensible? Not everyone thinks so. Some assume that artists aren’t for real until they quit their day jobs. Well, I believe in my talent, but I don’t believe that I will be automatically rewarded for it in monetary terms.
Do I think I SHOULD be able to live by my writing? Sure, but at the same time that popular conception says we aren’t legitimate unless we’re an economic success, there are plenty of people who claim artists should work for love alone and stick everything on their websites for free.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our society has conflicting ideas about the cash value of creativity. Nobody questions whether or not a plumber, nurse, or flagman should get their wages, but when a school budget gets cut, the arts are the first to go. Unfortunately, in our society money = worth. We might feel warm and fuzzy about culture, but we don’t make it a priority. When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s just not that important.
With messaging like that, it’s a wonder anyone still values their own creative vision. Sadly, many do not and we’ll never know what those people had to say.
The point is, I never had a problem telling my family I wanted to be a paperback writer, but the big bad world at large was another matter. I might have said that I was planning to be a flea wrangler with the same results—something between benign indifference and outright scorn.
If 2011 brings nothing else, I hope it brings a sea change in how it regards writers and painters and dancers. I hope it gets more people into galleries, concerts, and bookstores. And, I hope it gets more people into art supply stores and music schools and writing classes. It’s the Tinkerbelle principle. We need to honour our collective creativity, or it wastes away. Starving artists eventually starve or give up.
If we all do something to participate in or support the creative life, it WILL become possible for more and better art and artists to thrive. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’ll take what I can get. What creative thing are you going to do this year?
November 24, 2010 • 2 Comments
Which constitutes my real life—the one where I trundle off to the office each day, or the one where I sit swearing at my computer making up stories?
The romantically correct answer is to say that art is everything and that I am only alive when I am writing. Eh, not so much. There are times when I feel that and, hey, hand me a big enough royalty cheque and I’m out of the day job in a flash. However, until that day comes, I’m very much in favour of salary, benefits, and pension. I like to know that my heat will be on and my fridge full. I’m shallow that way.
In some ways, that makes it easier to handle the unpredictable nature of the writing biz. Because my survival is not dependent on its antics, I can keep a cooler head. On the other hand, the hours that could be devoted to improving my art are spent in meetings. It’s impossible not to resent that when a story is calling my name.
There are only two answers I can think of for managing work and writing both. One, I treat the writing as seriously as I do my paid employment. I go to work, and then I come home and go to work again on job #2. Workaholic? No, just an understanding that no one is going to do the book for me. Therefore, I sacrifice countless hours of prime time television. Oh well.
Two, I am very wary of burnout. Given #1 above, I’m bad about not building in R&R. My answer to everything is to work harder. Unfortunately, harder (at least in this context) isn’t always better. Jokes get flat, sentences plod, and the story sounds as tired as I feel. There is only so much pulling-up-of-socks one can do at that point. More effort won’t help; in fact, it will only hurt. The solution? Just back away from the computer. Go take a nap. The nice thing about writing is that it stays put until you can come back to it with a fresh eye.
The contradictory nature of my two answers speaks for itself. Art versus life is a balancing act. Fun versus labour. Inspiration versus perspiration. Fortunately, women are good at juggling priorities. After all, we hold down jobs, take care of children and parents, keep house, and make sure holidays happen. We know how to work smart.
July 10, 2010 • No Comments
One of my critique buddies sent this (thanks, Jane!) I got a giggle fit when I watched this.
July 5, 2010 • No Comments
One question that I am frequently asked is what favourite junk food I consume while writing. Okay, that’s harder to answer than one might think. An author has to be careful about how she presents herself. Anything that readers might find odd or distancing should be carefully avoided.
This applies in the general as well as the culinary sense. For instance, one should never admit to black magic blood rituals even for research purposes. Similarly, training poisonous spiders to do circus tricks might be seen as off-putting. While junk food is a more innocuous subject–barely on the scale of, say, raising zombies–people have strong loyalties to their fast food. One does not show the burger disrespect.
The truth of the matter is that I don’t eat while I’m working. For one thing, I’m too deep in concentration. For another, what I’m writing is often pretty out there: demon slime, severed limbs, and werewolves with the munchies. Yum yum.
Okay, so maybe that’s not what the well-meaning questioner wanted to hear, but what can I say? I could lie and claim that I have a bag-a-day cheese curl habit (yeah, man, I’m strung out on the orange dust!) but I prefer my junk food, when I let myself have it, without thoughts of mangled body parts.
Then there’s that whole nutrition angle. My books are about slayers and sword-swinging warriors. There’s something about having all that frequently-naked rippling muscle frolicking through one’s imagination. It makes one think fondly of vitamins and sit-ups. And carrot sticks. Graphically, and not just for the crispy crunch.
So how do I answer the junk food question? Honestly, I like slow food. Organic, locally grown, made from scratch using traditional methods. Cuisine is an art. Sure, that makes me sound a bit like one of those snobby, opera-loving, cat petting movie villains, but whatever. At least I’m telling the truth. Plus, I like cats and classical music. And I hate cola. So sue me.
Admitting that is far easier than trying to explain the demon slime and carrot sticks. And it’s never right to lie to one’s readers, even about the small things. I respect them too much.
For those who want to know all about the real Sharon Ashwood: it’s simplest to just read my books, because that’s where I live.
Unchained: the Dark Forgotten. Out July 6. Guaranteed action-adventure, monsters galore, good jokes and hot sex. After that, who cares what I eat?