Interview with Author Sharon Maria Bidwell, Writer of Dark and Light Fiction

NightsinPinkSatin

Tonight, I am honored to talk with prolific author Sharon Maria Bidwell, who hails from Britain. Her latest, Nights in Pink Satin, has just been released as of June 19. She writes in slipstream, romance, horror, gothic, cross-genre, and other genres. Though she is best known for her longer works, her short stories have appeared in many magazines, including Sam’s Dot Publishing, Night to Dawn, Roadworks, Epiphany Magazine, and others. Her secret to success? She takes the bull by the horns and writes away…

BARBARA: Congratulations on your new release, Nights in Pink Satin. Tell me a little about your book.

SHARON: NIPS (as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Vincent, a vampire, who is as old as the hills and essentially bored. He fills his time with little diverting pleasures such as the annual ball for which he’s seeking a new coffin. When he assumes a female vampire has placed an order for a pink coffin lining he mistakenly breaks into the home of a young gay vampire called Martin. Martin is so painfully lonely that at first you think he’ll be a pushover for any attention that Vincent bestows on him but like most of us there’s a moment when we’ll speak up for ourselves. Vincent’s in for a few surprises. Vincent is also lonely but he’s not aware of it in quite the same way as Martin is and yet the meeting changes his awareness. The result makes for an interesting, humourous, and quirky love story.

If anyone is interested, I have to thank fellow British author, Fiona Glass, for drawing my attention to a news story of an abandoned coffin. As you can see from the news article, the lining looked rather “pink”. It was the spark for my idea. You’ll also notice it’s quite an old piece of news. I just didn’t have time to finish it until this year: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6590769.stm

BARBARA: How do your readers react to your writing in diverse genres?

SHARON: I’d have to say I receive mixed reactions. There are readers who will focus on one aspect of my work and there are some who want to hear about all the things I do, even if they don’t always read it. They may try a story out of their “comfort zone” and so far (fingers crossed), I’ve always received a favourable response when they do. I don’t expect every reader to like or even show an interest in everything I do. I don’t expect a reader of my gay romances to read a heterosexual romance (or menage) or vice versa, and I don’t expect them to seek out my darker stories.

I can’t and won’t say I’ve been “sidetracked” by the romance genre (although I also write various sub-genres within that category) because that makes it sound as if I perceive it to be something I’m doing until something better comes along. I’m saying that because I think early on a couple of mistaken individuals made that assumption. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing what I’m writing but I’m delightfully surprised, and while I’ve many GLBT titles to date, I do hope to write more het titles too (I have another due later this year). I also hope to get back to writing some of my darker stories (although I believe some of my romances can be darker and deeper than some readers expect).

If I could write exactly the way I wanted to write, I’d do exactly what I’m doing now…I’d just be able to clone myself and have about three avenues of writing open to me on a regular basis. The problem is finding time for them all and there are moments when life itself interferes.

BARBARA: What motivated you to begin writing?

SHARON: Love of books. Life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. It can’t be easy when one parent suffers ill-heath and my mother had many personal and physical problems, yet one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me. I still have many of those books. She even taught me to read where my school failed but that’s a longer story. Books were always my friends. They never let me down. Books enabled me to live through so many adventures, several lifetimes in one. I think to be a full-time writer would be the best job in the world, even though like any job you have your good and bad days. Anyone who doesn’t think writing is work has it wrong.

BARBARA: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?

SHARON: What springs to mind is time. Just finding the time. The truth is most writers have at least a part-time if not full-time job and even if you don’t there’s everyday life, family and friends to consider. Maybe that’s not the dream everyone wants to hear of but it’s the truth. Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s difficult to be solitary, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

What’s difficult about the process itself? I’d have to say waiting for or seeking out that one thing that makes a story special. I’m not even going to pretend that I manage to do that every time. You can take any plot and break it down into basics, but there’s got to be “something” that clicks into place, that changes a story that has been written a million times before and turns it into someting that will stick in a reader’s mind, make it memorable, even haunting. Not all stories can or even need to do this but they are the ones readers will keep for a lifetime.

BARBARA: What books would you recommend to aspiring writers?

SHARON: Ah…now you’re asking me to give away all my secrets. LOL. Hmm…oh god, you really are! I wouldn’t buy most of the ‘how to write’ books out there…or, to put it another way, do be selective. They can be entertaining and most have “something” to offer but you’ll read an awful lot of books to glean very little information from each. I’m not saying they’re worthless but there comes a point when you have to accept that’s time you can spend writing.

I’d tell every aspiring author that they may think they understand punctuation and grammar but check they really do know what they’re talking about. I’d recommend “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. You’ve probably heard all about this book but really, everyone should read this because if nothing else, it highlights the woefully poor attitude to the subject. If you think a publisher never turned down a story owing to terrible punctuation and grammar, think again! A few errors can be overlooked — it’s what editors, line editors, and proofers are there for — but if a writer displays a lack of care and disinterest in how they present their work, many publishers notice. Penguin produce a good punctuation guide and another good book I’ve recently come across is “My Grammar and I (or should that be me)” by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. If you really can’t stomach the convoluted methods of learning grammar that applied in my grandmother’s day (and really who can?) then this is a lighthearted educational way to look at an old approach that works. Even so, I’m not going to pretend to be a punctuation or grammar expert. The one thing I excelled in at school was spelling but I’m not going to pretend I never put a comma in the wrong place. The damn things just love to slip in when you’re not looking.

For plotting, if you can find a copy (which was difficult last time I searched) check out “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The fact is stories do follow patterns, and even if you want to break the patterns up, recreate the universe as we know it, like any rule you wish to break, it’s best to know exactly what the rule is in order to know how best to break it. I haven’t read many books on personal success stories. However, I did find “Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks very entertaining, and to contradict something I said above, if you wish to specialise in a particular subject, be it for example, poetry, children’s books, or crime, I would look for a “how-to” book focusing on that specific genre. Learn your market. Learn how to research.

BARBARA: I know a few writers who are also illustrators, and on your website, you mentioned an interest in drawing. Have you explored that interest?

SHARON: Only as a way to relax, and alas, I get little time for it these days and I am woefully out of practice. I have been playing around a little with illustrating in case I ever decide to self-publish something, but that’s mostly with digital programmes. We moved last year and I’ve been knocking down a dilapidated garage. Don’t laugh. Yes, I’ve actually been wielding a sledgehammer! The plan is to have a summerhouse put up in its place very soon and as well as a place to enjoy the garden, read, write, and entertain, I want to use it as space for drawing. My father died a couple of years ago and left an entire art course. I want to follow that coursework. With drawing even more than writing, I can forget what day it is, and even how much time is passing. Nothing else exists apart from the project in front of you. You forget all your worries. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t manage that so often with writing because there’s a certain amount of “worry” involved in that kind of creation. The drawing is really just for me. The writing is for sharing.

BARBARA: How would you define slipstream writing?

SHARON: Difficult to define. LOL. It’s writing that slips around the edges of and takes from a variety of genres, containing elements of more than one or even many.

BARBARA: How did you make the transition from short story to novel writing?

SHARON: It was actually sort of the other way around. I always wanted to write novels and plunged straight into them but none ever pleased me. I’ve since realised I needed to learn the craft of writing first in order to support my storytelling ability. I seldom wrote short stories. I think I felt as my father did that no sooner had he got into them than they were finished. Then I decided to take a creative writing course. Because of the nature of the course, I had to submit shorter work and my emphasis changed to short stories. I would recommend every writer to write short stories. The process teaches you how to be concise with your writing, how to characterise swiftly, how to make a story more vibrant. You stretch this process out somewhat when writing a novel but you learn so much from writing short stories and even grow to appreciate them more. A good short story can haunt you as much as any novel can. I don’t think I would have ever written a publishable novel if it hadn’t been for writing short stories.

BARBARA: What advice would you give aspiring writers about time management?

SHARON: I am NOT the person to ask. I wish someone could teach me. The internet is a blessing and curse as it can be terribly distracting. I try to write before I check email etc but then I can’t write because I’m wondering if I have email. Then I’ll see to that only to think “I’ll just pop into that forum…or drop a good friend a line…or maybe I ought to do a bit of promo…or I could see what books I could add to my towering to-be-read pile.” I struggle with time and my worst trait is procrastination, although once I get caught up in a story I can type for hours, forget to eat or drink, and come away from the keyboard feeling physically and mentally shattered.

BARBARA: Where may someone purchase print or ebook copies of your works?

SHARON: My longer works are in ebook formats from my publishers and I’d prefer readers to purchase from the official sites:

http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/sharon-maria-bidwell.html

http://changelingpress.com/author.php?uid=129

http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=144

These publishers also use subsidiary outlets such as Fictionwise, All Romance eBooks, and Lightning Source. A couple of my titles are available on Amazon’s Kindle. If you see any listed elsewhere they’ve probably been pirated. Please don’t purchase from pirates or take part in file sharing. It’s illegal and the writer receives nothing. My short stories are mostly in small press magazines available from individual outlets.

Patients Who Lie to their Doctors

I’d like to share an open secret about my day job. Patients lie to their docs. Patients lie about how often they exercise, how much they smoke and drink, and whether they’re taking their medicine. And, as a respiratory therapist, I hear people grossly underestimate the severity of their symptoms. The other day, I saw a man hunched over, gasping at a rate of thirty, yet declaring his breathing was fine. I humored him, but I wrote up the true findings on his chart. And, when I’ve had bad bronchitis, I sat in the doctors hunched over, and telling my doc my breathing was fine.
Howcumzit? Breathing is a basic function, and when that goes sour, everything in your life feels wrong. When you get sick, your job security and insurance coverage are on the table. People fear the doctor might judge them, so they try to appear at their best. And so the fibs start coming, and sometimes with serious consequences. Example: a diabetic binges on sweets, comes to doctor with a grossly high sugar level, and lies about his transgression. The doctor beefs up the insulin and sends the patient into low blood sugar and insulin shock.
You may wonder how all this can relate to writing. It bears chatting about my day job because most of the medical background in my books came from that job. Including the lies patients tell their doctors.
In my book Dark Side of the Moon, protag Becky told the Employee Health doctor a whopper when she got her physical for to work at Betsy Ross Hospital. She knew she had blood irregularities, and so did her family doctor. But no self-respecting Employee Health doctor will clear someone for work with undiagnosed blood cell abnormalities. So Becky got her family doctor to fudge the lab report. I would bet all the balloons in my home, and fatten my collection by betting, that she didn’t say squat about telekinesis to the employee doc. Dr. Hoffman figured out the score when she got pregnant, and alas, he acted like a jerk.
Lying to doctors can be a useful tool in your fiction, and may help you explain how people who are “not right” end up in responsible jobs. Imagine this: You work as a nurse on a floor of 50 people, and your boss hires someone who is incompetent. Perhaps she skips treatments and starts blowing up at people. The character has a history of psychosis, and lied about it on her application. Perhaps she knows something incriminating about the head boss. The stage is set for later, if she does get canned, for the woman to show up on the premises with a shotgun.
So have fun with the lying tool, and let your characters lie to their hearts’ content. But in real life, if you’ve been naughty, ‘fess up to your doctor. Your health (and your writing, as a consequence) will be much better for it.

What the Workshop Conference Leaders Don’t Tell You.

I’ve been editing NTD magazine for some years and recently branched into publishing novels. Most of the truisms apply: show, don’t tell, be scarce with adverbs and passive voice, go for the action verbs, and ditch anything that doesn’t belong to the story. With the submissions I get, I run into a lot of little things that workshops leaders don’t discuss. And so, buckaroos, I’m adding my two cents to the pot.

I hate sloppily typed manuscripts as much as any other editor, but I will factor in the differences in software, i.e. Vista and XP. A lot of submitters are using Vista while I stick by my trusty XP, and the manuscripts come through with weird symbols. Suggestion: if you use Vista, consider sending the file as an RTF. RTF will agree with most programs. The font my submission comes in doesn’t matter so long as it’s readable (keeping in mind I’ve got 54-year-old eyes). But you don’t want to keep changing fonts as you work on your manuscript, especially in Word. Why? Because Word is temperamental. I once worked on a manuscript that had been reformatted several times and ran into big issues with Word – big gaping spaces between paragraphs. The road to Hell in Word is paved with reformatted documents, by gum.

A couple of months ago, someone queried me for book submissions, and I requested a synopsis. I never heard from that writer again. It is true the synopsis will demonstrate one’s writing ability, and gives the publisher an idea if he or she would want to spend the time on that book. It also gives the publisher a snapshot view of the story and serves as a road map when requesting or choosing a cover illustration. So if you send a badly written synopsis, you may end with an illustration you don’t like.

“ Sadisms”  are the sorts of thing that make me want to close down my computer and run to the nearest balloon store. He “ commented, rejoinder, exclaimed, opined, observed, gasped, etc.”  What happened to “ He said?” Okay, “ said” can get mighty monotonous, so go with the dialog tags.

Examples:

  • Mary gasped. “ Helen, what are you doing?” 
  • Harvey yanked Rich by the collar.” C’mon!” 
  • Anne smiled and pointed to the Mylar butterfly.” Oh, look at the
  • balloon.” 

I find I have a tendency to use “ to be”  verbs, which deflate the punch from the manuscript. Better: action verbs, the kind of words that catch the eye.

Exercise: go through your draft, and see how many “ to be”  verbs you can find. Then substitute with an active verb and appreciate the difference. On that note, I think I shall go through mine, eliminate all the “ to be’s”  and then head for the adverbs for good measure.
Zombies provide grist for Harold Kempka's Blue Plate Special.

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