Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dude, Where's My Blog?

One of the disadvantages of using a service like Blogger to host PBW popped up last night. My access to the blog, comments and so forth vanished, replaced by a enigmatic message page that assured me Blogger's engineers had been notified and were working on the problem. I keep imagining a couple of red shirts in a radiation-flooded Jeffries tube, fumbling with breaker bars and swearing as they disobey the Captain's orders to abandon ship, but that could be wishful thinking on my part.

Anyway, thank you, Blogger engineers, and sorry for the minor interruption, blog readers.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


"Hello, John," Marcia said as she sauntered into the room.

"Marcia." As she had never been in this part of the house, or seen him in his present casual yet attractive attire, John waited for her to take in his appearance and that of his surroundings before he asked, "What are you doing here?"

Marcia indulged in several paragraphs of describing John and the room to herself. She allowed her conflicted feelings about him to rise and ebb before she felt a pressing need for dialogue and remembered she hadn't answered him.

"What am I doing here?" she repeated, in the event the reader had forgotten John's question. "I really don't . . ." She swallowed and looked around in confusion. "I really don't . . . know."

John noted two paragraphs worth of Marcia's considerable physical assets with a healthy amount of lustful yet restrained and heroic-sounding internal admiration, although it felt a good deal like what he had done in an earlier scene when he had observed her walking through the expansive gardens outside his mansion while she wore a thin frock that unbeknownst to her the bright sunlight had turned semi-transparent.

John discreetly acknowledged the always-surprising fact that he had a boner before crossing his legs and asking, "Aren't you supposed to be sneaking off to cheat on me with that struggling, under-employed painter?"

"That's tomorrow night," Marcia whispered, hoping the reader wouldn't hear. "In Chapter Five. And his name is Harold."

"I see." John fell silent and recalled a page of irrelevant information about the preceding chapter that had nothing to do with his rival before murmuring, "And I'm supposed to catch you sleeping innocently in his arms in chapter . . . ?"

Marcia discreetly held up six fingers. "This is a lovely room." She looked around as if she hadn't seen it, recalled that she had in the beginning of the scene and just a few second ago in a confused state, and quickly asked, "Did your mother decorate it?"

"Don't you remember?" John asked. "We talked about that when you first came to the house to confront me about my heartless decision to takeover your dying father's nearly bankrupt company and sell off its assets, leaving you and your sheltered, spoiled mother penniless."

"Oh, my." She pressed a hand to her throat. "You're not going to do that anymore, I hope?"

"No, dear." John shook his head in such a way that required a paragraph of hair movement description. "I made you promise to marry me in exchange for saving the company, seeing that your father had that bone marrow transplant that wasn't covered under his insurance policy, and keeping your mother in the family home collecting Yorkies and scrapbook supplies."

Marcia frowned. "And now I'm going to try to do the nasty with Harold because . . . ?"

"Because you resent me for forcing you to marry me, the cold-blooded, arrogant, merciless tycoon who, despite spending several million dollars to bail your family out of the mess they're in, does not deserve your love the way Harold, the boy that you have loved all of your life and don't yet know is gay, does."

"This sounds an awful lot like an info-dump refresher," Marcia said, clearly worried now.

John lifted his hands. "Darling, what else are we going to talk about? You know the guidelines; we can't have sex until after we're married. We don't even kiss until Chapter Eight. We have nothing in common. Our author needs this book to be seventy-five thousand words in length, but she doesn't outline."

"Ah." Marcia nodded. "I see. We're covering a story lag."

"You're such a bright little thing, for a self-sacrificing, sexually confused virgin." John beamed. "So, my sweet, tell me what you think of the weather. I know that hasn't been mentioned more than once or twice since the beginning of Chapter One."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Cast Ten

Ten Things About Characters

1. SF/F writers and RPGers will enjoy using Steven Edward Schend's fun Character Name Generator. For interesting character descriptions, try Seventh Sanctum's General Person Generator.

2. The best character building book I've ever read, Holly Lisle's Create a Character Clinic (now available in print as well as e-book format.)

3. Make your own hero or heroine, complete with costume, mask and nifty weapons over at's online demo for The Hero Machine.

4. The Lazy Scholar's article How to Creat a Character Profile also includes a character worksheet.

5. Get into what makes great characters of many types over at Jungian Novel Writing.

6. Caro Clarke gives us the lowdown on Loving Your Characters Too Much.

7. UC Berkeley's Monomyth site takes you step by step through the classic hero's journey (the heroines apparently stayed home to make dinner, do laundry and watch the kids.)

8. Need a character-creating freeware program? Try PCGen (remember to scan all freeware downloads for bugs before dumping them in your hard drive.)

9. Kate Gerard has some interesting complaints in her article Please Get Your Characters Out of My Way!.

10. Greg Knollenberg from Writers Write, Inc., has put together a nice article chock full of links to Web Resources for Developing Characters.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I owe some letters to some people out there. Not e-mail, not typed notes, but good old-fashioned pick-up-the-pen-and-hand-write correspondence. Once a month I make a habit of writing to someone I care for, no matter how long it takes. If I time it right with my meds I can write a reasonable-length letter in a day or two.

I also write in a personal journal almost every day. Sometimes my entries are very short and the hand writing sucks, and a few times I've had to use the Dragon to type my entries, which I tape to the page. When my hands were better I used to sketch pictures in my journal, pictures of ordinary things, flowers, the cats, my kids. Now I take photographs of those wonders and tape them in.

I still hand write research notes, some outlines and other things in my novel notebooks. I doodle when I'm on the phone talking to my agent or editor and draw labyrinths of brick walls. My caricatures aren't what they used to be, but sometimes I draw things in the books I sign for special friends, or friends who need a laugh.

I've made my own paper and ink, my own fountain pens, and bound my own journal pages into books. I design quite a few of my personal journals, and I've taken classes in how to dye paper and hand-make books. I still make chapbooks and poetry books and books of my photographs with hand-written captions. Sometimes I make my own bookmarks out of odd things.

With all our technology, electronic gadgets and wireless wonders, we've been made more efficient, more productive writers, and I'm not knocking that. I appreciate it a lot. But I do all this homemade, hand-written, artistic stuff because it reminds me of who I am. I'm not e-mail. I'm not a PDA. I'm not a laptop. I'm a writer. Writing is my living, but it's also my passion.

How do you stay in touch with the art of your writing?

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I always thought of a writing retreat as a time you take to get away from every day life, maybe travel away from home, and either discuss writing or write your brains out.

The first time I went on a writer's retreat, I was the only writer in the group who didn't drink. This is never fun under normal circumstances -- many writers tend to drink a lot -- but I didn't realize that drinking, whining, and whining while drinking was the basic purpose of that particular retreat. I spent most of the time in my room working on my laptop while everyone went out clubbing. It was okay. Like being at home except I didn't have to cook and fold laundry.

The next retreat I attended was held during a high-brow literary conference. I checked first and was assured that it was all very serious and there would be no drinking. I arrived at the hotel to find my group in the bar getting loaded. It was eleven a.m. I spent a lot of time writing by myself in my room for that one, too.

The last time I went to a "proper" retreat was for a dinner/mini-retreat at a writer's residence. I thought for sure I'd be safe. Who would have the bad manners to get drunk at someone's home during a meal? (Yes. I was that stupid.) For that one I ended up in the kitchen washing the dishes while the others polished off eight bottles of expensive vino and bitched about the biz.

I know there is a certain glam attached to drinking authors, and God knows you certainly have the right to destroy your liver if that's what you want, but I got tired of being the designated writer at every retreat and get-together.

From that point I avoided the usual writer retreat opportunities and deliberately sought out other writers who weren't into the grain or the grape. One used to meet me monthly for a few hours at a Borders cafe and we'd bounce ideas back and forth and crit chapters from each other's WIPs. The wildest thing we drank was exotic tea. Another invited me to a gym where we worked out together while talking endlessly about story structure and great books.

I think the retreat I learned the most from was right here on the internet, spending three years moderating an online writers' think tank. A bunch of us would get together and troubleshoot writing-related problems every Friday night (a chatroom/group-style version of the Friday 20 here at the blog.) As a result, I've been mulling over some ideas on how to do a virtual weekend retreat of some sort on a discussion board or newsgroup this summer.

Have you participated in any unusual writing retreats? Tell us about them in comments.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday 20

Before we get into this week's Q&A, I have to try to compete with Marjorie and Alison, as they both have gorgeous new cover art posted at their blogs.

Cover art for Plague of Memory (StarDoc book #7) -- original art by Jerry Vanderstelt, cover design by Ray Lundgren

Jerry Vanderstelt, the artist who also created the cover art for my StarDoc novels Endurance, Eternity Row and Rebel Ice, has always done a marvelous job depicting Cherijo and various alien characters from my novels as I've described them. He took on both Cherijo and the Hsktskt this time, and (at least from the author's POV) achieved perfection.

Also, a bit of news: Plague of Memory is my last SF novel under contract, but my publisher has already inquired about buying more StarDoc novels. I have a couple of things up in the air at the moment, so I can't commit yet, but I'll be discussing it with my agent and making more of those fun career decisions we all know and dread.

I know some of you out there are series writers like me, and like to stay and play in the universes you create. We face a bunch of unique challenges in today's market, not just with selling a series from book one and trying to build a readership but with keeping a series alive despite of chains ordering to the net and publishers only offering one- and two-book contracts at a time.

Successful series writing is a struggle in any genre, and you often find your plans have to change from book to book. Some pros are self-publishing to continue series that publishers dump; others are selling novels in serial chunks to magazines or in reprint editions to small presses. The hardest part is to know when to push, when to hold on, or when to abandon a series. Twenty years ago a long-running series was one that went twenty or thirty books over the span of a career. Today StarDoc, with only six books in print in as many years, is being referred to as a long-running series (and yeah, when I first heard that, I thought, what the hell?)

Time for questions: got any for me?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Story-to-Blog III

Before you publish a story on your blog or online, think about looking for a paying market for it and sending out some queries and submissions. Hunt around and bookmark places like's Short Story Markets page, which has a ton of resource lists and market links, as do specific genre market sites like Ralan Conley's site for SF/F writers. Get into the habit of subbing a new market at least once or twice a month. Unless you're a Name, there isn't a lot of money to be made selling one short story, but sell five or ten of them a year and it starts to add up.

As for the stories for which you can't find a market, giving them away is better than letting them sit and gather dust. For one thing, readers really like free reads. I discovered this a few years back when I began posting an unpublished story on my old web site every month. As a gift to my readers each winter I'd make an e-book of the free stories from the entire year, throw in a couple I hadn't posted online, and give that away. At first I thought of it as an interesting way to promote my work, but it turned out to be much more than that for me.

For those of you who are not yet in print, some editors and agents are reading blogs these days to look for fresh voices. This is not to say that you'll get a book offer a day after you post a free story, but it's not unheard of for an interested editor to contact a blogger to see what else you've got.

You also can learn something in the process of writing short stories for your readers and getting feedback from them. A dozen of the stories I gave away on my web site eventually grew into or inspired new novels, which I turned around and sold to major publishers. The Darkyn novels, which are now my bestselling series to date, are based on three of those old freebie short stories.

If you're still looking for a way to post stories online and link or promote them from your weblog, and you don't care for anything I've suggested so far, you may consider using one of the story web sites like to act as your host, and then link to it from your blog. Before you use an outside host, make sure that you still retain all rights to your story, and the host is not profiting by selling subscriptions or downloads of your work. Free should really mean free.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Story-to-Blog II

Another way to publish stories to your blog is in cliffhanger or serial form. At regular intervals you post part of the story, and repeat until you have published the whole thing on your blog. Visitors who like the story will return to read more of it, especiall if you work the post to leave them hanging.

There is one immediate problem with the blog serial story. New blog posts make the old ones scroll down, so your story will read to a casual/unaware visitor as if you started it in the middle or wrote it backward. Placing links to previous parts of the story in every story post can solve this problem.

Another way is to start a fiction blog like this sample blog* I made up tonight with my story Back to Back. There are a few blog templates out there that are story-friendly, and you needn't bother with all the bells and whistles if all you intend to post on the blog is your fiction. Set up a permanent sidebar link to your fiction blog and you're in business.

*I manipulated the post dates so the story would publish to the blog in order.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Story-to-Blog I

Posting an entire story on a weblog can be a problem, especially if the story is longer than a page or two. The narrow column format of most blogs doesn't suit stories, and visitors may find all that text off-putting.

One way to solve this problem is to upload your story to your personal FTP space and posting a link to the story URL on your blog. That gives your visitors the options to read or not to read.

Here's one of my stories, Roomies, which I uploaded from a file copy that I saved as a web page rather than a word document in Microsoft Word. I didn't fiddle with the formatting or coding; this is exactly how Word converted it. You can also convert a story into .pdf format and upload it that way -as I did with my story Red Branch here - just be sure to designate the link as a .pdf file so that your readers know what they're opening (some folks on dial-up have to download .pdf files versus opening them online.)

Once you have a story saved away from your blog, you can post a permanent link to it on your sidebar. A story posted as a blog entry will drop down as you post new entries and eventually disappears into your archives; a sidebar link stays visible for as long as you keep the link there.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Imagine Ten

Ten Things to Boost Your Imagination

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Adventure Maker is a freeware toolkit program that allows you to create your own point and click games (like the Deveron Murder Mystery Game below).

2. The National Gallery of Art has a very cool Art Zone area with online art creation programs (geared for kids, but we won't tell anyone if you hang out there.)

3. Explore our universe with the 3D space simulation Celestia.

4. Play detective with The Deveron Murder Mystery Game.

5. The Weather Channel's Driving Game allows you to drive through real weather in any U.S. city.

6. DSpeech (scroll down) will read your WIP to you.

7. Give yourself a virtual makeover with The Perception Lab's Face Transformer.

8. Anyone can be an artist with Kaleidoscope Painter.

9. Improve your memory with Super Memo freeware.

10. Watch 300+ international television channels on your PC for free with TVexe.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

If Angels Bicker

(This post is for Deb, who asked for an example of other-than-diary-form post writing.)

Near midnight at Casa PBW: The children, the dog, the cats, the hamster, the triops, the spiders in the garage that PBW is too soft-hearted to evict, and all other identified lifeforms inside the house are fast asleep. Even PBW's guy is snoring on the couch as the History Channel plays its latest program for Da Vinci Code week: Were the Templars Really Renegade Jews Stashing Priceless Treasure in the Holy Land?

PBW finishes the daily edit, makes backups and heads to the internet computer to post the midnight/next day blog entry -- and doesn't get there. Blocking her path are two angels: one sweet-looking, smiling bubbly blonde with immaculate white robes and a highly-polished halo, and one scowling thug with a dented, tarnished halo who slouches in faded jeans, a muscle tee and a leather jacket.

PBW's Good Angel: Good evening, boss. (straightens shining halo) I thought I'd drop in and remind you that it's time to post something about the new release so that all your loyal readers can rush out and buy it.

PBW's Bad Angel: (scratches under her right breast) Screw the new release and the blog. I'm hungry.

Good Angel: We can't do that. We're an author. We have responsibilities. We need to help our publisher promote--

Bad Angel: (slaps duct tape over Good Angel's mouth.) C'mon, P. Let's go raid the fridge.

Good Angel: (muffled) Oh, no, we can't do that. (rips off duct tape, shrieks, then tries to look righteous) Remember our diet.

Bad Angel: There are two pecan sticky buns on the top shelf. Big ones, too.

Good Angel: (sniffs) They're for the children.

Bad Angel: What about that extra package of Double-Stuff Oreos tucked in the back of the pantry?

Good Angel: Oreos are . . . (blinks) Double-Stuff?

Bad Angel: Yeah. Or the raspberry-cheese danish stashed in the bread box. No one has found those yet.

Good Angel: But the cholesterol . . . the calories . . . (sways)

Bad Angel: I won't count 'em if you don't, pudge.

Good Angel: Stop it. I mean it. Get thee behind me, Evil One.

Bad Angel: (looking behind Good Angel) Your backside is getting flat, you know. That's the first sign of too much dieting. Serious booty loss.

Good Angel: You just shut up. (To PBW) You must do some self-promotion this week, dear. Like it or not, you do have a new novel out. Your publisher has shipped an awful lot of copies to the stores. What if no one buys it?

Bad Angel: We can quit the biz and write Logan McRae fanfic?

Stuart MacBride's Bad Angel appears. He is John Rickards in dark, whelk-scented Armani.

MacBride's Bad Angel: Who's writing what then?

(PBW walks past all three into her office, slams the door, and locks it.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Jessiegirl's comment from yesterday started some e-mails flying, and now I need some opinions. Of course I'm going to hit you guys up for them. You're an opinionated bunch.

Which author(s) out there give(s) the most honest quotes and blurbs (to keep my ego in check, we'll exempt me from the list.) If you don't have an author in mind, what sort of quote do you find most believable?

Also, do you prefer brief blurbs or lengthy ones? Or, as in other important personal matters, is size not a problem?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday 20

One of my favorite movies of all time is the dark police drama L.A. Confidential, based on a novel by James Ellroy. Brilliant storytelling, an inspired cast and a plot that managed to be straightforward and twisty simultaneously. I could not predict a single minute of the movie, especially the ending -- a great ending, btw; quite possibly the best movie ending of all time.

I won't reveal any spoilers (if you haven't seen it, and you aren't squeamish, do get a copy of it, it's wonderful) but at one point during the movie, promotion-loving Det. Lt. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) tells fame-loving Det. Sgt. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) the story of his father's senseless murder, the name Exley gave the killer (who was never caught), and how that compelled him to become a cop. Although I hated Exley's character, who was an uptight opportunist for most of the movie, that confession redeemed him for me. Exley then asks Vincennes why he became a cop, and Vincennes smiles and says that he can't remember.

I won't compare the publishing industry to the bleak world of L.A. Confidential. Being a writer is not being a cop. Publishers are not riddled with corruption. Some nice writers do finish first, and not everyone in the business is a Vincennes or an Exley. But losing track over the years of the reasons why you take on a difficult job, and keep working at it, now that is something that can happen to any of us (which is why I thought of the movie when I was writing this.)

The point of all this: Whatever happens to you before, during or after publication, whatever is said and done, whatever good or harm comes your way, don't forget why you're a writer.

I'm double-blogging today, and a little later on I'll have a link* to my other, guest post elsewhere, but in the meantime: any questions for me this week?

*My guest post over at RTB is up: Don't Dump That Weblog!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

IA&E Ten

Ten Things to Inspire, Amuse and Entertain

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Learn to program interactive 3D graphics with Alice.

2. Make digital collage photo art with AndreaMosaic.

3. No paint? No canvas? Create your art online, display it and e-mail it to a friend with ArtPad (this one is great for kids, too.)

4. Mind map your ideas with Axon.

5. Design-A-Room lets you do what it says (pretty basic, but good if you want to layout a simple room for your WIP.)

6. Take a virtual tour through the history of Pop-up and Movable books.

7. An online oldie but goldie time waster: Sand Art.

8. Complete virtual paint-by-number versions of great artworks (and race to beat the clock) at Segmation (warning: this one is really fun, and addictive as hell, too.)

9. Resistance is futile when you join Swarm Sketch, a collective online art project.

10. Get into Da Vince's head over at The Mind of Leonardo.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


What shall I blog about today? Let's run through the hot topics of the moment:

1. Authors Behaving Badly! I won't bash rookies, and I haven't seen much in the way of established writer bad behavior lately. Would some of you old pros please go out and plagiarize someone, have a screeching tantrum about the biz, or at least pour a coke on David Brin's head, and then e-mail me some details? Thanks.

2. Hate Mail! All of my readers have been remarkably upbeat and positive; they write to me and say nice things about my books. I have no idea what's the matter with them. Where's the hostility, people?

3. ARC-selling reviewers! Tempting, but I think Mary Janice Davidson has dibs. I also did something similar last year, and I'm trying not to repeat myself.

4. Sex is porn! If all romance novels with sex in them are porn, then sex is porn, and any book with sex in it is porn. Which would mean the Bible is porn. Maybe we should rethink this logic. Anyway, Alison and company do a better job than I can of taking on the lock-kneed.

5. Vampire fiction sucks! Euuuww. Nasty stuff, loving the cursed undead. And having sex with them? Necrophilia, that's all it is. Definitely not romance. Hang on, I forgot, I write it. Never mind.

6. What's wrong with SF today! Oh, please.

7. Agonized lit-heads suffering! Stephen Leigh (who is not me, btw) already elegantly nailed them.

8. Publishing Dirt! Alas, I know too much stuff that I have promised to keep to myself. Besides, we'll all just end up being an item in PW Daily.

9. Pathetic self-promotion! Been there, (yawn) parodied that.

10. PBW's weblog! I'm posting too many cute animal stories lately, aren't I? Harry must be in agony. What else? I haven't done any promo for Dark Need other than giving away books. I abandoned you guys last weekend. And I just suggested that the Bible is porn. Someone should be burning me in effigy within the hour.

I guess there is nothing in WriterLand that is really worth blogging about at the moment, except maybe a certain Scot who is sitting on his backside doing nothing. The disgust. The horror. The homemade sausages. We should notify the Friends of Rodents Society about this menace, post-haste. Or go see what Mr. Rickards is up to; he's always good for a decent outrage.

I know, I know. Get back to work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Anyone who says you can't find inspiration in your own backyard needs to visit mine.

Self-doubt never got anyone anywhere

Now this little guy appears to be totally out of his depth, not to mention living dangerously, what with all the frog-hungry snakes and herons hanging out in our hood. He doesn't look too worried, though, does he? That look on his face is downright smug. Whatever it took this petite green Spiderman -- climbing straight up a twenty foot wall was part of it -- he got where he wanted to be.

Being a frog isn't easy, I imagine. You're always looking up at the sky, but you're stuck in the dirt. You want to fly; you can only hop. You have to swallow a lot of nasty things simply to stay alive. Other, bigger critters likely think all you're good for is making a racket at night or starring in bad beer commercials. Suave French chefs might pinch your thighs now and then, but only to check how nice and fat they are.

When you're a frog, I'm sure that no princess shows up at your puddle to kiss you and change you into royalty. You're a frog for life. Sure, you might get to move to a bigger pond, but there are no guarantees you can stay there. There are only so many bugs to go around, and a bunch of other frogs living there or waiting to grab your spot on the lily-pad. We see enough roadkill to know that every frog does not have his day.

What's the point of climbing up out of the dirt, or leaving behind the safety of the pond? And, God, why try to move into a birdhouse, of all things? You could fall. Something that actually belongs there could show up and munch on you. A bigger frog could come along and kick you out. Or you might live a long and prosperous life doing things few frogs ever do.

Anyway. Good thing we're not frogs, right?

(dedicated to Doug Hoffman, who believes that "you can never have too many frog photos on your blog.")

Monday, May 15, 2006

Saving Ten

Ten Things to Save Time

Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.

1. Edit HTML simply and efficiently with Alleycode.

2. FastStone offers a bunch of time-saving freeware photoshop programs.

3. Syncon has a freebie version of Idea!, a software program to efficiently sort and organize information, documents, databases and more.

4. Need a small but trusty freeware countdown timer? Try Micro Egg Timer.

5. Generate virtual index cards with's Text Block Writer.

6. For the wordcloud lovers and unconscious repeaters out there, Textanz from checks the text of anything loaded from anywhere, and calculates how often words, phrases or wordforms are used. They also offer Fore Words, which does the same thing as a plug-in to Microsoft Word.

7.'s Time Tool program allows you to track how much time you spend on multiple projects.

8. Gljakal's To Do freeware helps remind you of all those things you're going to forget to do without it.

9. Tired of typing the same stuff over and over? Let TypeItIn remember and do it for you.

10. WebSearchBar is a toolbar for Internet Explorer that helps you search via the most popular search engines out there with one click.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Outta Here

I'm bailing on you guys this weekend so I can drive down to see my mom. She's the pretty redhead in this picture:

PBW & Mom, 1980

God, I can't believe that was 26 years ago, or that I voluntarily wore that hat. Anyway, Happy Mother's Day to you moms out there, and I'll see you all on Monday.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday 20

Today's planned industry post was completely derailed by an intruder that I found sitting in the backyard this morning. She was alone, not particularly attractive, up to her knees in her own crap and completely incapable of dealing with her situation. Plus she shrieked at me the minute I approached her, wordless but adamant as she demanded that I do something.

The blue bird of unhappiness

No parents appeared to peck me in the head. She wasn't injured but she couldn't fly; she was so little she barely could hop. How she got in the middle of two acres of lawn with no trees within a hundred yards will likely remain a mystery forever (and I did look for her nest for about an hour, with no luck.) She showed no fear of me when I knelt down beside her, though, only opening up her mouth for food.

I had a million things to do, all of them fairly urgent, and none of them could accommodate her. Unlike my daughter, I tend to avoid wild things, and it wasn't like I put her there anyway. As she shrieked at me, I had to decide whether to let nature (and the outdoor felines, raccoons, foxes and possums roaming the neighborhood) take its course, or do something to help this uninvited, bad-tempered, belligerent little madam.

Screw nature, I thought. This chick and I were instant soulmates.

She didn't peck at me or freak out when I lifted her out of the grass to put her in the container. She sat on my palm and chirped, much happier. She seemed ignorant of the fact that I am a member of a far less trustworthy species, or maybe she figured I was her best shot at a chance to live. Which she has now, thanks to the folks at a local wildlife rehab/release center where she'll be residing until she's big enough to handle life on her own. All that cost me was three hours, several phone calls, a couple of bucks in gas, a disposable plastic container and the post I was going to write for today. Not a bad trade.

Now that I have answered the call of nature (Lord, you didn't see that coming?) I'll trade you answers for some questions. Got any for me?

Thursday, May 11, 2006


A while back I read Green Mansions, a novel by W.H. Hudson that was published in 1904 and made into a fairly decent movie fifty-five years later. I thought it was cute that the book was subtitled "a romance of the tropical forest" when it was more like something Nicholas Sparks would write. Great title, though.

Writers are the builders of many novel mansions, and spend our lives planning, designing, constructing, finishing and furnishing them. Our vision provides the specs, our industry the code. To make mansions for a living is nice, but whether or not we're paid for it, it is the building that consumes us. Probably why during the process most writers are as courteous and charming as the average construction worker laboring and sweltering under a mid-July sun. Occasionally we smell as good, too.

Like neurotics with their castles in the air, writers live in our mansions of paper, even while we're building them. Some become dream palaces, with ivory towers and wide windows that let in plenty of sunshine. Others are nightmare castles, haunted by personal demons we don't dare release anywhere but in those contained corridors. There are all the places in between, too: labyrinths of a million roses, caves of mysterious crystal, cliffhouses of painted rock, cathedrals of towering ice. There are no limits on what we can build, or how, or where. The clouds make way when our turrets spiral up toward the heavens. The earth opens to accept the abyss as we dig our way to hell.

We divide the interiors of our mansions into chapters; like so many bedchambers and stairwells and studies and sitting rooms. We spend days and weeks and months in those small sections of the house, crafting them until they provoke just the right response. We disguise the secret passages to and hiding places of treasured revelations so they can't be easily discovered, and place plot twists like unexpected artworks, to surprise and thrill the unwary.

Our characters are both permanent residents and indentured servants, sentenced to live in our mansions and do our bidding for eternity, or at least until we send them packing. Some are obedient and helpful, and make the work a joy. Others are a pain in the ass and tear down as much as we build on any given day. We are glad they're not real, because we rarely treat them well. Then there are moments when those imagined folk seem more real than we ever will be.

When the work is done, we must carve something above the threshold to our mansions. We try to give them magic names; whispers of what's inside. Some of us put other words in that place, words with meaning known only to us, words that are prayers and curses, confessions and fragments of private poetry; our wards against the void.

We try to interest real estate agents in our mansions even as we know that if they do buy them, it'll likely be for a pittance. Once the sale is made, the property no longer belongs exclusively to us. The agents erect signs on the lawns and repaint the exteriors to suit themselves. If they don't like something on the inside, they tell us to renovate. Often these renovations are a good thing, and make the mansion a better, more balanced place. Occasionally they aren't, and we end up with a little pink powder room filled with adorable stuffed animals in the middle of a haunted chateau. We then stand silent and watch as the result of our months and years of dedicated work and attention to detail is turned over to the tourists.

As we are at the mercy of the real estate agents, so they become sycophants to those fickle souls, the wielders of the Almighty Buck. From the moment the tourists walk inside, they're opening doors and cupboards, sniffing the air for the smell of fried fish or well-used litterbox. Never mind that we've never met them. Some are not to be cheated, you understand, of the mansion experience they have come to expect, and God help any builder who doesn't deliver. They've paid eight dollars, or fifteen, or twenty-five for the privilege of seeing the place. They may not have a clue about how to build even a functioning outhouse, but that won't stop them from passing judgement on what we've done.

First in are usually the jaded cynics, experts at mansion touring, looking for anything with which to indulge their contempt and show how clever they are. They're the ones who will generally waltz out dismissing everything we've done as less than nothing. Then there are those plaintive complainers who behave like little yap-yap dogs, racing in only to make a lot of noise while they piddle on the carpets.

Not all of the tourists stop in just to piss on the place, though. Some are respectful, knowledgeable of the effort that goes into mansion building, and keep an open mind. Some are like kids, prepared to be delighted, open to enchantment. Others have toured the mansions we've built before, and have come looking for our latest efforts. If there's something that bothers them, they let us know, but not by lifting a leg. Those are the people for whom we love to build.

Almost before we have a chance to enjoy the finished mansion, it's time to move on and build the next one. We glance back at what we've accomplished, and appreciate what we've learned in the process. The mansion will always be there. It may grow old and dusty, and no one may want to buy it or pay to have a look after a year or two on the market, but no one can tear it down. They can walk through it, rent it, steal the design, buy it outright, or even pay us for the privilege of putting their name on it and claiming that it's their work, but it will never belong to them.

That's why we build them.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Play as Work

Yesterday's "Turnabout" post was great fun -- you all do some deadly impressions -- but it's also a nice, informal exercise in writing voice. Whenever I teach kids about writing voice, I'll use an old joke like this one to illustrate my point, and get them focused on what makes a writer unique.

Games can also help writers do more than relax and have fun. For example, Andrew Gryc's AutoRealm, a cartography software program originally designed for RPG players, can be a terrific tool for fantasy writers looking to map their towns, nations and worlds (or maybe even develop an RPG based on their novel.)

Stimulating your imagination through play translates into more creativity on the job as well. The Dread Tap-dancing Vampire of the Lemonade Stand, gratis Seventh Sanctum's Humorous Monster Generator will likely never make it into a Darkyn novel, but a variation on the Obsessive Brain Cow might.

I love playing with cards of all types; tarot, RPG, duelist and various collector's art decks. My #1 favorite cards for story inspiration are still Lon Koenig's gorgeous Archetypes Storytelling Cards, which I've also used to teach a couple of character workshops. Three of the cards in particular jumpstarted ideas which went on to become whole novels.

How do you use play to help with your work?


What if rejection letters were written by writers instead of editors?

Jane Austen: It is a truth universally acknowledged that an editor in possession of a manuscript such as yours must be in want of an antacid tablet.

Douglas Clegg: Long before this rejection letter, and well before my initiation into the mysteries of writing it, there were your many queries, bound in padded envelopes and buried deep within my inbox. They whispered of the manuscript that would come, but even then, in my innocence, I could not have predicted the horror that awaited me.

Emily Dickinson: Unpleasant a task it is for me,
To return this manuscript.
None can avoid this purple prose,
None may evade this rejection.

William Faulkner: I decline to accept this manuscript. It is easy enough to say that man is a writer simply because he will write: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one last writer like you, and a puny inexhaustible voice like yours, still writing. I refuse to accept this.

John Keats: what I feel, fair writer of an hour!
That I shall have to look upon thee more,
And again have anguish in the power
Of rejecting you;—then on the shore
Of the Hudson I shall stand alone, and think,
Till I see your manuscript into nothingness sink.

Alison Kent: Methinks someone’s knickers are going to be in a big fat wad over being exposed to explicit manuscript rejection here instead of hearts and flowers and euphemistic purple-helmeted prose apologies laced with writerly love.

Stephen King: This terrible manuscript, the manuscript that earned my rejection, the apotheosis of terrible manuscripts, which would not end until page 28 (where I stopped reading) -- if it ever did end -- began so far as I know or can tell, with a character made from cardboard floating through a chapter swollen with plot.

Holly Lisle: So my topic is to be the inadequacy of your manuscript. Joy.

Marjorie M. Liu: Given that I have so much work to do, the idea of rejecting your manuscript felt downright sinful. Sinful, I say! But I did take a peek. Dude.

Stuart MacBride: The only question is why the blue sizzling Hell they decided to ask me to reject your manuscript. My guess is that all the good authors were busy so they had to settle for a beardy half-wit instead. Which is gratifying in an ego-massaging sense, but a bit worrying at the same time (better make sure I've got presentable underwear on, just in case.)

China Mieville: A writer rejects. Pushes through cheap white-bond pages, through the purposeless chapters of this manuscript. I stared into it as if I might see something emergent. Things never came close.

Robert B. Parker: Last time I worked rejections was in 1989, when an important kiddie lit tycoon hired me to bounce his wife, who had run off with a Little Golden Books editor named Costa. Her name was, incredibly, the same as yours, but I found her manuscript to be okay. I conclude that you two are different writers.

John Rickards: There may be an actual rejection of an actual manuscript here later today, but I make no promises. I'm on a week off from doing any work, so I might just spend all day sitting here, scratching myself.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Many that write deserve publication. And some that write deserve rejection. I am not too eager to deal out rejection in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that this manuscript can be published before you die, but there is a chance of it.

James R. Winter: What is it? Oh, yeah. Manuscript. Rejected. Why? It was okay until I grok'd it around page 100, when I realized where the book was going. Nowhere.

(Feel free to add your own rejections -- and those of other writers -- in comments.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Play Ten

Ten Things About Writer Games & Generators

1. Download a free trial version of Bonnie's Bookstore, a word game based on helping an aspiring writer get published.

2. You, too, can break the code over at the Cryptogram Corner.

3. Etymologic!, the "toughest word game on the web."

4. Start your story with's First Words generator.

5. Hop to it.

6. Need more than just the Castle of Doom and the Mountain of Dreams on your fantasy novel's map? Try Manon's Interesting Sites Generator.

7. Plot your setting room by room painlessly by using Zlana's Room Description Generator.

8. Eric Myer's Stereotypes game.

9. He's an impetuous alcoholic cyborg on a mission from God. She's an artistic extravagent Valkyrie from Mars. They fight crime!

10. Test your improv skills with Seventh Sanctum's Writing Challenge Generator.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

ARC Winners

I have to sit down and tally up votes* for the Darkyn book five protagonist pitches (and I appreciate the many interesting comments -- much for me to ponder now), but in the meantime, the names of the Dark Need ARC winners are:

Shiloh Walker

Diane McConnell



Jaye Patrick

Winners, please e-mail your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you. As always, I won't use your information for any other reason or purpose.

My thanks to everyone who participated, and do stay tuned for another DN giveaway in May -- next time I'll do some signed sets of all three Darkyn novels plus a surprise.

*Tallied results: John Keller came in as #1 choice of protagonist for book five, with Valentin** in second, and Jamys third (Locksley came in a very respectable fourth), so I'll work up pitches on John, Valentin, and Jamys. This does not totally eliminate the other characters, either; once I see the initial numbers for Dark Need I'll have a better idea of what I'm going to do with the series next year.

**His name is Valentin, btw, not Valentine. As usual I missed the typo.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

ARC Wrestling

I've dragged my feet long enough; I've still got some Dark Need ARCs left to dump on some willing recipients before the pub date arrives and I'm stuck with them until the next Friends of the Library donation drop-off day.

Also, I need to decide which protagonists I'm going to pitch for Darkyn book #5 (I'll pitch three different possibilities to my editor.) Available characters: Valentine, Jamys, John Keller, Phillipe, Locksley and Byrne (the last two are Kyn who will make brief appearances in books #3 and #4.)

Let's knock out both jobs at once. In comments to this post, tell me the name of the character you'd most like to see featured as the protagonist of Darkyn book #5 (if you haven't read the books, pick one of the available characters at random.)

Post your pick by midnight EST on Saturday, 5/6/06. I'll draw five names from all those who participate and send the winners a signed ARC of Dark Need. Names of the winners will be posted here before noon on Sunday, 5/7/06. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here in the past.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday 20

Ask and ye shall be answered -- and do ye want fries with that?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Dodge Word

I love words. They're my art, my business, and my pleasure. Given my devotion to putting them on paper, arranging them, and in some cases, inventing them, I'd love them all, right?


There are words I can't stand. They're acid to the eyes. Icepicks to the ears. They crawl under my skin, the place where extemporaneously always slithers, or up the back of my skull, the way chiaroscuro invariably goes.

Over-familiarity usually breeds contempt. At one point a couple of years back every freaking lit-head was using chiaroscuro compulsively, like it was some elitist word mason's secret handshake into the snotty vocabulary club. After months and months of being battered with the damn word, I thought I would require professional treatment if I read it one more time.

Others are inexplicable, but still have the same effect. Take prolixity and signatory, add an interstitial dash of schadenfreude, and please: oh, God, please, top it all off with a nice big honking zeitgeist and you'll have me breaking out in hives (bonus annoyance points if you use any of these as verbs.)

I can probably give a therapist a lifetime of work figuring out why certain words bug the hell out of me, but the fact remains that they do and I'm pretty sure that they always will. So I dodge them. Obsessively. All I have to see is the first few letters of a hated word and I know it's coming and I am out of there.

I can be just as annoying, too. I'm an unconscious repeater. Count how many times I've used terrific great or a lot in a single blog post and you'll get the picture. To police myself, I try to be aware when I repeat words that annoy my friends and blog pals, and substitute something else for them when I can. Zornhau probably hasn't noticed, but I have tried very hard not to use Oh, well on the blog ever since he mentioned that he hates that phrase. My friends Rob and Jess have forbidden me to use fascinating more than once a year as apparently I was using it so much I was starting to sound like Mr. Spock.

What are some words you'd rather dodge than fight?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


How many times have you heard or read something like this:

Writing books isn't good enough anymore. You MUST self-promote them.

A variation on this came up here last Friday, when Zoe posted a question about it (not to pick on you, Zoe; it was just a bit of a shock to me to think I'd have to ask my publisher for permission not to self-promote.)

I'm contracted by publishers to write books, not promote them. Which is a good thing in my case. Self-promotion is something at which I suck. Verily. Whenever I'm tempted to self-promote, the first thing that pops into my head is Can I write a check and have someone else do it? Then generally what happens is an idea for a story kicks the self-promo thought out of my mind and I forget about it and go back to writing books.

Self-promo dodging is an art, you know.

The latest thing being worried over by some of my writer friends is to newsletter or not to newsletter. I'm in the not camp. I've been bombarded by couple of authors who are one step short of being SPAMmers so I mostly delete newsletters automatically now -- when I can. One lit-head is becoming a borderline cyberstalker; I unsubscribed three times to this guy's self-promo rag (for which I never signed up) and it still shows up every month in one of my business or reader e-mail accounts (of course, this could be complete jerkitude on his part.)

I don't want to spit on the fabulous newsletter writers out there, though. If you're great at newslettering, go for it. Just make sure the unsubscribe link thing works.

I'm curious to know how other writers are feeling about this particular MUST these days. MUST authors self-promote now, or is it still okay simply to write the books? Tell us what you think in comments.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hot Dates

Reading a book is like going on a date with the author. You spend several hours alone together in a very intimate situation: you relaxing, hoping to forget about your worries for a few hours and have some fun. Meanwhile, the author does his/her best to get inside your heart and make you feel, think, or wonder about something new (that's our way of having fun.)

You always date authors who show you a great time, and keep their names in a little black book in your head. The best authors are the hottest dates; the ones you can't wait for; those few that you wish would date you every week. When you're in need of some fun and your datebook is empty, you'll even go back and relive the last hot date you shared.

Books by authors you've never read are blind dates. Aka duty dates or Mom-do-I-have-to's. You always have high hopes, but ugh. Is this really worth your personal time and investment? It's not like you're hard up for dates, or you'll have to shave your legs, but still . . . and sure, they may sound nice, but until the actual date it's all hearsay. The author might be great, or good, or okay, or the Blind Date From the Pit of Eternal Jackasses.

A warning from the authorial side of dating: don't judge us by whatever outfit we're wearing. If we're very lucky, it'll be something beautiful and appropriate for the date. If we're not, it's going to be an ugly brown dress with little rainbow cartoon dolphins leaping all over the skirt. We don't get to pick it out, so try to chuckle with us, not at us.

Back to the blind date: some of your friends will assure you that this author is sizzlin' hot, but these might be friends of that author, and somewhat oblivious to the fact that their friend's dating ability hovers only around lukewarm. Or friends who wear glow-in-the-dark lip gloss, have a safety-pin pierced eyebrow and use like to preface every other sentence. However eloquently they swear that the blind date is gorgeous, or has a fabulous sense of humor, or a very cool car (if all they can recommend is the car, stay home), until you spend a night with him or her, you'll never know.

Speaking as a reader, I'm up for any sort of date. It doesn't matter to me what color or religion or nationality you are, where you came from, whether you're straight, gay or other, or if you have a dating pedigree. You can take me anywhere you want to go. If you don't have a rec for me from a bigshot author, or a fancy outfit to wear, no problem. I don't care if this is your very first date.

I'm an easy date, but that doesn't mean you can take me for granted. Assume that you know me, batter me with your lack of self-esteem, bore me, drone about how without your genius I and the world at large would be bereft, demonstrate that you've attended every dating workshop on the planet, ignore me, immerse me in your hate, insult me, judge me, lecture me, invite me to kiss your ass, revolt me, smother me, sneer at me, suck up to me, talk about how much all your other dates worship you, tell me how to think, threaten me, throttle me with overcompensation for your lack of physical beauty/inability to have an orgasm/coping skills for your genital size-related anxiety, or yammer on and on about your dating standards and how woefully I fall below them, and guess what I'm going to say next time you call me?

If you really slam me with any of that crap early on, I will bail on you ten minutes into the date. I won't humiliate you in public, or ridicule you in front of our mutual friends, but no matter how often you call me later and try to make nice or persuade me into giving you another shot, forget about it.

But: if you amuse me, chat with me as if we were at my kitchen table trading war stories about old lovers, dream with me, enchant me, enthrall me, force me to set an alarm so I don't forget dinner, get me to check prices on flights to Paris or elsewhere merely from your descriptions, give me your truth, have me taking the Lord's name in vain under my breath, hug me, keep me up until 3:42 am on a school night, make me shiver, seduce me, share your wisdom with me, shake me, show me places I've never seen, sing to me, start me laughing until tears run down my cheeks, stun me, tease me, tempt me, thrill me, tickle me, touch my heart, weep with me, and wrap me up in your heart like a warm, soft quilt? Honey, I'm yours.

Not only will I date you, but I'll tell everyone I know to date you. I will set up dates with you for strangers and acquaintances. And baby, if you're really good, I will give away dates with you on my weblog, or give you a rec so hot it'll have to be rated in terrajoules. Whenever I talk about dating, I will bring up your name. Whenever I think of you, I'll remember our last date and smile.

Take my latest blind date: Gregory Frazier, author of Riding the World (nonfiction book about around-the-world motorcycle trips, and how to prepare for them.) I fell under the spell of Gregory's practical magic as fast as I was dazzled by his incredible photos of Nepal, Thailand, and Morocco. If you want to ride the world, read this man. He's a biker. He's a sage. He's amazing.

What about your last date with an author? Was it fine or fumbled? Scorching or tepid? What's your ideal hot date?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Da Code Ten

Ten Things About Colors and Color Codes

1. Get the lowdown on color hue, chromaticity, saturation, value and luminance at's Advanced Color Theory.

2.'s Color Theory page explains basic color and color harmony.

3. ITA's Complete HTML Color Chart.

4. Get hex codes as well as a look at page layouts at Color Scheme Generator 2.

5. Generate your own virtual paint chips at Color Schemer Online.

6. Jeff Minard's Online Color Palette Generator picks a palette of complimentary colors for any image you upload.

7. Website Wisdom has a simple web page generator that will generate html code for you based on your preferences.

8. offers The Color Spot at HTML Station, which includes a very neat Hex Hub to help you code your colors.

9. For those who are afraid to ask, What is HTML explains the code, in simple language, with examples.

10. Scott Pamatat talks about the importance of color in web site design in his article Your Choice of Web Site Color.

(Most of the generator links were pinched from The Generator Blog.)