For love or money?

Sharon Ashwood
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?


For this I gave up Desperate Housewives

Sharon Ashwood
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.


For those who contemplate booksignings

Sharon Ashwood
July 10, 2010  •  No Comments

Parnell Hall on booksignings

One of my critique buddies sent this (thanks, Jane!) I got a giggle fit when I watched this.


It’s all about the snacks

Sharon Ashwood
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?