Sharon Ashwood and I have been friends, critique partners and collaborators for years, and every time we hang out I learn something valuable, usually many things. So I’m delighted to have this excuse to interview Sharon, who also writes as Emma Jane Holloway, to get another helping of her own brand of practical magic.
Sharon, fifteen years ago, you wrote a historical romance that Signet loved and wanted to publish. But that period was also the beginning of a new trend in fiction, so the editor asked if you’d add a paranormal element.
You agreed and added a ghost, if I remember correctly, and the rest is, ahem, history.
You went on to write several award-winning historical romances with paranormal elements. Then you moved out of the past with contemporary urban fantasy tales loaded with mythology. After that you swept back to the mythological past with more enchantment than you can shake a wand at, while expanding your repertoire with steampunk, which lets us readers revel in a Victorian London rife with wondrous techno-gadgets and more than a hint of magic, plus the contemporary haunted world of Corsair’s Cove.
Please tell us why you move between these genres. Are you shape-shifting? Or is there an underlying theme that you weave your different stories around?
Sharon: I’m curious about history and folklore, and that manifests as different sub-genres when I’m writing. Exploring new territory keeps my interest in the stories fresh. That being said, the division between categories is tricky, because the source material might be the same. Time travel, fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance might all draw from one Arthurian myth. I’m not so sure I move between genres so much as try out different lenses on the same tales.
Chosen family and community crop up fairly often in my stories. I’m all about the outsider finding their tribe. I stray into broader social issues, especially when I’m in a contemporary setting, but I keep those issues tied to the character’s situation. If I have a point to make, it’s best to show the reader what’s at stake and let them make up their own minds.
Rachel: What are some of the key lessons you learned at each stage of your journey, from one genre to another, from traditionally to independently published, from newbie to veteran of two decades of writing fiction?
Sharon: I’ve learned so much. The funny thing about any art form is that you and your creations overlap. Any lesson about writing is also material from a life journey. For that reason, I’ve learned to be very careful about giving control over that art away. There are financial reasons to be cautious, but it’s equally important to know that whoever you take on board in your creative life will help your creative garden grow.
Trad versus indie isn’t always the issue—I’ve had superb, ethical partners at publishing houses—but a profit motive is always there on both sides. Will business partners give you an adequate return in terms of support? The biggest plus of independent publishing is the option to walk away from a bad deal, whether that’s in terms of money or creative integrity.
Big lesson number two is that developing a brand takes time and that it will evolve. The curse of being a flexible writer is that narrowing my work down to an identifiable vibe (or two) has been a process. I could only do that as an indie without pressure to pretzel myself into whatever the publisher needed that day. The end result is that I would describe myself creatively as a happy Goth, with plenty of darkness but a spark of optimism. My world includes dreadful monsters AND fuzzy kittens. Perhaps they’re even the same creature.
Rachel: You have a busy day job and family commitments. In spite of all that, why do you sharpen your quill and fill your inkwell every week? What keeps you excited about telling stories?
Sharon: I’m horribly busy, but that seems to be the norm for everyone these days. To keep up, I’m rabid about staying organized—organizers, lists, and automatic schedulers are my happy place. The less brain space I occupy with dumb stuff, the more room there is for creativity.
Curiosity is a huge gift. I keep learning as an author. That’s not just because there’s new marketing techniques or software, but because my craft needs to keep growing. Lately, I’ve been breaking down my techniques to first principles and looking at all my assumptions as a writer. I’m taking classes and finding new tricks to be excited about. At the core, I’m a storyteller. That has to be my first focus.
Rachel: Sharon and Emma Jane, I thank you for sharing some of the key lessons that have helped you become the multifaceted writer that so many of us love to read.