Monday, July 31, 2006

Gaming Ten

Ten Things for the Game Lovers

1. Get a free demo download of Aveyond and a totally free download of Akriman's Prophecy at Amaranth Games, or try a free download of Haunted House 1.0 over at Acoders.

2. Dave Pelletier's Darvex's Roleplaying System helps you make not-for-profit real-time RPGs.

3. Professional game designer David Kennerly has an entire page of free resources on Game Script and Storyboard Creation.

4. Odyssey Online's Inscription Transcription Game is geared toward kids but lots of fun for grownups, too.

5. Michigan State University is about to go live with the public beta version of Ink, an online community writing/teaching game, on August 15th (ambitious and very promising, I'm following this project to see how it turns out.)

6. Interactive Fiction offers a quartet of freeware and free trial games: Dry Gulch, The Murderer, The Hollywood Murders and Dames Are Trouble.

7. Create your own text-based RPGs with Legendary Tales freeware.

8.'s Max Kalus offers NameGenerator, a freeware Java program that produces random names using semantic rules.

9. Download and play Realms of Despair, a multiplayer text-based interactive medieval adventure game (MUD) for free.

10. Digital Labs now offers an RPG set in 19th Century China, Taipan for Windows, as freeware.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

VW#3 Winner

The winner for the VW#3 Left Behind Goody Bag is Julie Doe, who should e-mail me at with your full name and ship-to address.

Remember, there's still one more goody bag to go and it's a whopper -- see details here and post by midnight EST on Monday, July 31, 2006.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Sorry I've been scarce, folks. Real life snarled this time instead of the usual techno tangles, but all is well and back to what passes for normal around here.

The winner for the VB Party Left Behind Goody Bag is Monica, who should e-mail me at with your full name and ship-to address.

Virtual Workshop #4:
Extending Your Writing Range

I. The Call of Writing

Anyone can be a writer, but the journey to becoming a writer is different for everyone. Some writers seem to be born with a pen in hand, while others find writing like an oasis after years of searching for a creative outlet. Many writers are the children of other writers, either born to them or devoted fans inspired by their work. Avid readers make the leap from loving books to wanting to create their own. Still others fall into writing as the result of a happy accident: a school assignment that flips an inner switch, or joining NaNoWriMo on a lark, or throwing some ideas and words together on a boring, rainy afternoon.

How you became a writer doesn't matter, and neither does what you write. All writers who are born or made or accidentally fall into the gig all share the same calling: storytelling through words.

II. Story as Mind Cuisine

Because my parents are from the northern U.S. and moved to the extreme southern U.S. when I was very young, I was raised on a hodge-podge of Northern and Southern cuisine: New England boiled dinner with hushpuppies and Key lime pie; pancakes with maple syrup, grits and grapefruit we picked from the tree in the yard. Hanging out with Latina friends from school I picked up a love for Cuban coffee, black beans and rice and mariquitas. My chef stepdad taught me to set aside my mother's Crisco, Ragu and seasoned salt and experiment with olive oil, plum tomatoes and fresh herbs. My military years added French, German, Japanese, Korean, English, Thai and dormitory food (anything that can be made in one pan on a hot plate) to my repetoire.

Writing novels allows us to explore the cuisine of the mind. Most writers start out with a favorite, comfort genre that feeds their imagination. They come to know that genre so well they don't even have to think about measuring the ingredients. This comfort can make every other genre seem a bit foreign in comparison. Combined with a (to me) very weird attitude around the industry that writers can only write in one genre, it often works to inhibit writers from striking out and trying new things.

I was fortunate in my writing education. When I began to devour books as a kid, I didn't know what genre was. I went to the library, started at the "A" author shelf in fiction and began picking up books. I checked out the ones that grabbed me, read them, and went back for more every week until I hit the end of the "Z" section. Reading other authors' books was my only writing education, but it was a great one. Wide-variety reading broadened my horizons and helped me to see the structure of novels versus the genre label they were slapped with.

Any writer who wants to extend their writing range should not be inhibited by the comfort genre or the opinions of limited imaginations. You don't have to give up writing in your favorite genre, either. Just because you try making stirfry now and then doesn't mean you have to stop making spaghetti and meatballs.

III. Novel Recipe

All fiction novels begin with the same two ingredients: characters and conflict. Every book you read has characters who encounter conflict and an account of how they handle it. The who, what, where, when and how determine genre, but a novel about a private investigator hired to solve a series of murders is no different than a book about a cowboy who must chase after his runaway pregnant bride. You put characters with conflict, and it leads to an end result, or

Character + Conflict = Conclusion

Alone, each ingredient does nothing. Characters need something to do. Conflict needs someone to resolve it. Throwing them together in the novel skillet and turning up the story heat makes them change each other; the character is affected by the conflict, the conflict is affected by the character. Neither come out of that skillet unchanged by the other.

IV. Inhibitors

As a young writer I completely stayed away from writing stories and novels with male protagonists. My reason? I thought boys were dumb.

Once I got through puberty, I still shied away from male protags, until I saw many female authors had written books with male protagonists. I attacked my inhibition by reading novels written by male authors in order to compare the differences in my writing style and theirs.

Call it getting in touch with my masculine side, but once I had done enough of that I began to catch myself "being female" when I was writing in a male POV. Eventually I got up the nerve to write a couple of novels with male protagonists. It was definitely different, but not quite as scary as I'd imagined. I just had to think differently; step outside myself and tell the story from the character's POV instead of my own.

A common trap writers fall into is the need to make their protagonists mirror images of themselves. There is a certain vicarious thrill involved in the author making the protag a fictional identical twin. The author doesn't have to imagine what the protag will do, they already know. They don't have to write outside their personal comfort zones, either. Problem is, the author ends up with cookie-cutter protagonists.

I combat this by seeing myself as the protagonist's biographer versus their RL twin. Whenever possible, I deliberately create characters who are very different from me physically, mentally and situationally; the more so the better. It allows me to observe and record rather than steer and impose my will on a protag who is just me in a fictional mask.

V. Practical exercises

Here are some methods that may help extend your range:

1. Try writing a scene or chapter from your WIP from the POV of a character in the story other than your protagonist (I did this by writing Illumination, which is the story of StarDoc totally from Duncan Reever's POV.)

2. Set your usual story in a different place, time or circumstance. Fond of writing cowboy/runaway bride romances? Set one on an alien world 500 years in the future. Have a penchant for private investigators? Have yours investigate a soldier being court martialed for sedition during the American Revolution. Into family sagas? Make the family slaves, and chronicle what happens to them during the collapse of the Roman Empire.

3. Test drive different types of protagonists. Try writing a story from the POV of a victim, or the antagonist, or a young child, or the family pet. If all your protagonists are of one gender, switch to the opposite gender. Give your protagonist a significant handicap that deprives them of one of the five senses. Write a protagonist whose situation, philosophies or lifestyle are completely opposite your own.

4. Take a classic fiction story or myth and write it in a modern setting. Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice and Taming of the Shrew have all been updated into modern stories; how about your version of Pygmalion, Beowulf, Les Miserables or Snow White?

5. Pick a famous figure from history and write a story about one day in their life. The day can be an ordinary day, their birthday, their wedding day, or the day before they die.

VI. No Limits

Whatever attitude our peers and the industry have, the first person to impose restrictions on a writer is the internal fraidycat. We decide at the keyboard what we feel we can or cannot do, and we're always our own worst censors. So the next time you approach a story idea and something inside you says You can't write that, tell something to shut up and write it anyway. You may be surprised to find out that there really are no limits to what you can do on the page.

Post your thoughts, comments and questions about writing range in comments to this post by midnight EST on Monday, July 31, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning the final Mega Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of my S.L. Viehl hardcover novel Blade Dancer and all three of my Lynn Viehl Darkyn novels in paperback, an unsigned hardcover copy of Talyn by Holly Lisle and paperback copies of Love's Potion by Monica Jackson, Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, Tiger Eye, Shadow Touch and Red Heart of Jade by Marjorie M. Liu, Threads of Malice by Tamara Siler Jones, The Attraction by Douglas Clegg, I See You and Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle, Dark Lover and Lover Eternal by J.R. Ward, Hunting the Hunter by Shiloh Walker, as well as a hardcover copy of The Writer's Book of Matches and Flow Chart Maker Software (good for outlining, mind mapping and organizing), all packed in a red and beige canvas tote from Books-A-Million. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Related Links:

Peder Hill's The Basic Three Act Structure

The Elements of Fiction.

Friday, July 28, 2006


The winner for the VW#2 Left Behind Goody Bag is Amanda, who should e-mail me at with your full name and ship-to address.

Virtual Workshop #3:
Writing to Concept

I. What is Concept Writing?

A concept is defined as an idea, thought, notion, scheme or plan. For writers, it's a bit like story shorthand. When we write, we have some concept of what we want to write before we start putting words on the page (extreme organic writers who write off the top of their heads and plan nothing in advance are exceptions.) That concept helps us create, develop and eventually transcribe the story onto paper, and the stronger and clearer they are, the easier it is to do our job.

"Big" or "high" concept books are what we often call fiction and nonfiction works that sell fabulously, or transcend genre, or that have wide-range appeal, or stay on the lists for years, or all of the above. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, and Rev. Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life are regularly invoked as examples. I like how Paige Wheeler defines high concept, as "a premise that can be boiled down into one sentence and sets it apart from other stories by its unique hook or angle."

Thinking up a concept for a novel is easy. I have the power to make complete strangers do it spontaneously. All someone has to do is tell them I'm a published author, and like magic that stranger tells me about their own novel concept, usually in under a minute.

Writing a novel to concept is a bit harder. First there's all that dreary writing involved. Big hassle. Then you have to build a story around the concept, and that means expressing it through setting, plot, dialogue, characters, and all that miscellaneous stuff involved in book writing. So many details to keep track of; a real pain. But if you aren't satisfied with simply thinking about being a writer, and talking about being a writer, and planning to be a writer, then learn to write to concept may be the next step.

II. The Concept Game

You must first clearly define your novel concept before you can write to it. This is also good practice for pitching your novel, because you want to offer a novel concept line in your query and submission letters.

If you have trouble with this, trying practicing on other authors' works. One of my favorite teaching games is "Name that Concept." I name a well-known book and have my students put together a novel concept in fifteen words or less off the top of their heads. I give bonus M&Ms to anyone who uses a reference to another story, novel or myth upon which the book is based, i.e. Carrie by Stephen King: "Psychic Cinderella goes psycho at the School Prom."

Well-known novels have slamming concepts, startling concepts, concepts that grab the reader's imagination and won't let go. These are easy to put into words, so my students rarely have a problem playing the game. After we've tagged a dozen or so blockbuster books, I then challenge them to give me concept lines for their own work. Because they're already having fun thinking in concepts, they have an easier time putting theirs into words.

III. Centering the Concept

Very often writers create what seem like wonderful novel concepts, start writing, and end up with three chapters and no idea of what next to write. Here are some of the reasons that happens:

1. Weak concept: the idea doesn't support a novel-length story.
2. Supersize concept: the idea is too big for a single novel.
3. Lost concept: the concept falls by the wayside during the writing and is forgotten.
4. Tangent-squashed concept: the novel deviates from the concept too often to successfully support it.
5. Fuzzy concept: the concept is not defined clearly enough for the writer to translate into the story.

Your novel concept is the center of your book, the story glue, the thing that provides navigation through the plot, colors or touches every character in some way and brings all of the story elements together. If a book was a body, the concept would be the brain, because it runs everything.

One reason I think books like The Da Vinci Code become mega bestsellers is not only the high concept of the novel, but how closely the author sticks to it throughout the story. Everything in Dan Brown's story is tied tightly to the concept, serves it in every chapter, and never once strays from it.

When you outline your novel, the concept should help you make all of the story decisions. When you're writing the novel, the concept should always be in the back of your mind, ready to jumpstart things when you stall. If you find it difficult to keep the concept present in your head, type up the concept and tape it to the top of your monitor, typewriter or legal pad.

IV. Misconceptions

Some writers seem to take pride in claiming their novels are too complicated to be defined by a novel concept. I always wonder how they compose their query letters. "Dear Editor, I am pleased to offer you the opportunity to enrich your existence by reading my new novel, The Inexplicable Sorrow, Struggling Ovidicus and Cold French Fries in the Melting Wheel of Timex. I won't attempt to condense 250,000 words into a single, vulgar line, so let me merely assure you that it is magnificent, will take several weeks for you to read and adequately ponder, and will sell a ba-zillion copies, provided you offer me an appropriate advance, somewhere in the high six figures. Yours etc., Charle-Dante Wrytah the Third."

Editors simply don't have the time to read 250K word manuscripts to grasp their writers' concepts, or lack thereof. Not being able to relate the novel concept in concise terms implies that you don't know your own work; not the kind of thing you want an editor to think about you. Plus if you wrote the book and you don't know how to properly express the concept, how is the publisher supposed to market it? "Buy this book, we have no freaking clue how to describe it, but we promise it's terrific"?

If your concept isn't working, you don't have to toss it out the window immediately. Work it, hone it, sharpen it, twist it, stretch it, and you may find the changes help get your novel rolling. But if a concept proves completely unwritable, let it go and start over with something new. It's not a wasted effort. You'll find that you learn as much from your failed concepts as you do from the ones that end up in print.

Post your thoughts, comments and questions about writing to concept in comments to this post by midnight EST on Saturday, July 29, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning today's Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of all three of my Darkyn novels If Angels Burn, Private Demon and Dark Need, and unsigned paperback copies of: Closer by Jo Leigh, Last Girl Dancing and I See You by Holly Lisle, Deep Breath by Alison Kent, The Writer's Book of Hope by Ralph Keyes, as well as unsigned hardcover copies of Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helene Fielding and Cover of Night by Linda Howard, all packed in a reversible multi-color tote bag. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Related links:

PBW posts related to novel concepts: Pitch Tools, Wattage, Practice.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

VW#1 Winner & VB Party

Have we workshopped around here for the last two days, or what? The nice thing is we can all do this at our convenience versus running around checking a program grid and trying to choose between sitting in on a chat with Linda Howard or Pat Gaffney's latest writer procrastination speech, at which point we'd break a heel, twist an ankle, lose the Alpha Smart or spill a coke down a Very Important Author's Versace cocktail dress.

Go ahead, laugh. Someday you too may attend National, turn a blind corner in a hurry and knock Donald Maas on his butt.

Down to business: The winner for the VW#1 Left Behind Goody Bag is Jenn, who should e-mail me at with your full complete name and ship-to address. Also, just a reminder for everyone; I keep all personal information sent to me strictly confidential and use it for no other purpose except to send your winnings to you.

I think we need a breather, so no virtual workshop today. Instead, virtual beach party!

List the title of a book or books you think make great beach reads in comments to this post by midnight EST on Friday, July 28, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning today's Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of my S.L. Viehl hardcover novels Bio Rescue and Afterburn and unsigned copies of: Rosina Lippi's (aka Sara Donati) new hardcover Tied to the Tracks, Eric Maisel's A Writer's Paris, Monica Wood's The Pocket Muse, a copy of Writer's Journal magazine, 3D Architect CD software (a program to design the interior and exterior of houses) and a gold seal/glass dip pen set with gold ink, all packed in a beach bag made by Yours Truly. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Virtual Workshop #2:
Trend Tracking Versus Jumping

I. Trends and Options

The publishing industry, like any entertainment entity, runs on consumer demand. What the readers buy, the publishers want. When a certain genre or sub-genre is in high demand for a significant period of time, we call this a trend. However we writers feel about trends, they are a reality, and they have direct influence over what publishers will buy, and what they reject.

The most common ways writers deal with trends:

A. Ignore them. Write exactly what you want, and pay no attention to the market, and hope for the best.
B. Jump on them. Write only what is in market demand in hopes that it will give you an edge in the slushpile.
C. Track them. Continually watch what sells on the market and use that information to follow current trends, evaluate your manuscript potential and, if possible, be one of the first writers to anticipate a new trend.

A is the artist's way. I respect artists, and I think this is a lovely attitude to have. It's also the reason a lot of artists starve, so it doesn't work for me.

B is like jumping on Ye Olde Bandwagon. It's often more counter-productive than helpful, as by the time a trend really gets rolling you have a ton of writers trying to do the exact same thing.

C is what I do, and in this workshop, we're going to talk about how to do that.

II. Genre Awareness

To sell in a genre, you must be aware of what is selling in that genre. Go to the bookstore regularly and look at the shelves. Check the online booksellers' BSL lists. Talk about genre titles with readers and other writers and see what are the latest, most popular sellers. Read books that do very well for market analysis.

What to look for in your target genre, and author examples:

Authors who create trends (Dan Brown)
Books that explode on the market (J.R. Ward)
Novels that provoke strong reader reactions (Thomas Harris)
Successfully sustained bestselling series (Sue Grafton)
Unusual or unique voices (Jacqueline Carey)
Word of mouth or "buzzed" books (Lisa Valdez)

Educate yourself as thoroughly as you can about your genre, and you'll have the basic knowledge you need to track a trend.

III. Info Gathering

Every week helpful entities like The New York Times and USA Today tell us what consumers are snapping up. This is great for readers but not very useful to writers, because we know whatever makes the bestseller lists was actually sold a year or two ago. What sells now is what will (or won't) be hot in 2007-2008. You might as well ignore the lists, right?

No. The lists individually provide little useful info, but collectively are a free trend mapping service. A writer interested in trend tracking should read the lists every week and watch how well books in their target genre(s) are selling (this is why it's so important to know your genre, so you can recognize the applicable author names and titles that show up on the lists.)

Let's look at rankings for five writers over a one year-period on the USA Today list (books are listed in order of publication along with peak position on BSL):

Jennifer Armintrout: The Turning 93
Kelley Armstrong: Haunted 62, Dates from Hell 36, Broken 22
Patricia Briggs: Moon Called 109
Lynn Viehl: If Angels Burn 148, Private Demon 120, Dark Need 87
J.R. Ward: Dark Lover 48, Lover Eternal 39

Let me add some details: Jennifer and Patricia's novels are genre debuts. Kelley, J.R. and I all have established series that are building in popularity. Patricia and I are veteran pros in other genres. With the exception of Kelley, all of us are new to the USA Today list, so we're considered "up and coming." Patricia and Kelley are being shelved in SF/F, and the rest of us are shelved in romance. The one thing we all have in common is that we're writing series that are not the usual Kiss Me Forever Vlad type novels that have been so popular in the past.

IV. Analyzing and Applying Your Info

How well you can track a trend depends on how much effort you're willing to put into it. Reading lists, watching your genre, and making the connections does require some time, but you're educating yourself about the market. Track trends long enough and you'll find that you do automatically.

To apply what you learn, use the information you gather as a submission barometer for your written manuscripts, and as a priority guide for your new novel ideas. Do the five authors above indicate a new direction in the vampire fiction trend; perhaps a trend within the trend? Only time will tell for sure. But if you are a writer with a dark or otherwise unusual vampire fiction manuscript or idea, I'd say this would be a good time to put together a proposal and get it out there, because similar fiction is collectively rising on the lists.

One thing about information: make sure it's information and not rumors. For about a year now I've been hearing a tired old rumor about how chick-lit, a very big trend in the romance genre, is on its way out. It's becoming cluttered in the same way that romantic suspense did five years ago, and paranormal romance is doing now, but I'm not seeing it die on the lists yet, and plenty of new writers are still selling it. Publishers will probably become more conservative with the number of chick-lit titles they publish, and eventually whittle down their authors lists, but I don't think it's going belly-up any time soon.

V. Making Trends

All trends start with some author(s) who present readers with something unexpected. Anyone who decides it's better to take the A/artist option and follow the artist's path has the potential to be a trend-setter. So do writers who take the C/Tracking option, because while watching trends, you may come up with an idea for a novel that goes beyond what's being done. B/Bandwagon writers generally don't set trends, because you're imitating what's already being done, but there is always the possibility that you'll do it better than anyone else has before you. In all things trend-related, choose to do what works best for you as a writer.

Post your comments, thoughts and questions on trends by midnight EST on Thursday, July 27, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning today's Left Behind Goody Bag: signed copies of my Jessica Hall novels Into the Fire and Heat of the Moment and unsigned copies of: Diana Peterfreund's Secret Society Girl, Emma Holly's All U Can Eat, Jamie Sobrato's The Sex Quotient, June Casagrande's Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, and Gimbles (brackets that hold a book open for you for hands-free reading), all packed in a quilted tote bag made by Yours Truly. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Note: Thanks to the terrific response to VW#1 I'm lagging a bit behind on answering questions being posted in comments, but I promise I will leave no question unanswered. :)

Related links:

Bob Mayer's RTB guest post Writing for the Market.

Previous PBW posts about trends are here, here and here.

*Added: Bookseller Chick shares my general attitude about the chick-lit trend. (Thanks to L. for the link.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Left Behind & Loving It

Virtual Workshop #1:
Building Series Novels

I've talked about how writing novels is a lot like building mansions, and I'd like to revisit that analogy with some material lists for writing series novels.

Novel series is the sort of book building I do most often. Series can be of various lengths, and although I've been labeled as a long-running series author, I'm more the middle-length type, averaging about seven to ten novels planned per series. Writing these type of books from the beginning of my career has taught me to prepare well in advance for the duration of the building.

Series Novel Materials List:

I. The Durable Premise

A durable premise is the foundation of the series, the driving force of the story that can be sustained for multiple novels. Epic themes, enduring story elements or extensive plot aspects serve a durable premise well. However you work it, you want a premise that can be revived in each novel in the series without repetition. Here are some examples of durable series premise foundations:

Alternate histories (Eric Flint's 1632 novels, John Birmingham's Axis of Time books)

Epic adventure/exploration (my StarDoc series, C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower)

Family or group sagas (Louisa May Alcott's Little Women books; Alison Kent's SG-5 series)

Haunted or paranormal settings, circumstances (Douglas Clegg's Harrow House novels, Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series)

Historical settings (Diana Galbaldon's Outlander series)

Immortality (Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, Christine Feehan's Carpathian series)

Problem-plagued protagonists (Val McDermid's Tony Hill novels, Thomas Harris's Clarice Starling books)

Quests (Holly Lisle's Secret Text novels, J.R.R. LOTR series)

War/Epic conflicts (Star Wars franchise novels, Frank Herbert's Dune dynasty books)

II. The Standalone Conflict

Each series novel should stand on its own and provide the reader with a beginning, middle and end. So in addition to the durable premise you need a conflict that is autonomous to the current novel. This conflict has to have a resolution, but it should also connect with or feed into the durable premise. Like battles during a war, the standalone conflict can be resolved while providing some advancement (or regression, or flip-flop) of the durable premise.

Example: You remember John, our half-demon cop, who must protect Marcia the librarian from a murderous diamond thief. John's tasks are to defend Marcia and stop the thief; that's the standalone conflict. The fact that John is half-demon would be part of the durable premise; especially if I made Marcia half-angel.

When you're contemplating how to come up with your standalone conflict, think about a television series that you like to watch. Every week, you get a new show that has a plot for the episode that is completed by the end of the show, but also progresses the series story line along a little more (or regresses it, or flip-flops it, etc.) The series novel's standalone conflict should work the same way.

III. Memorable characters

Characterization is where I see a lot of otherwise excellent series fail. Series writers who build gorgeous, intricate worlds and then send out bit players to perform short-change their readers. When we read, we identify with the characters -- not the backdrop behind them. Forgettable characters can bury a series in mediocrity.

No two writers put together the same cast in the same way, so it's impossible to come up with the perfect character. What you can do is think about the traits and aspects of people that you remember best from all the books you've read, movies you've loved, and even people you've met through life. What was it about them that resonated with you? What made them stick in your head? Why did you love/hate/admire/envy these particular characters? Write up some lists and study them. These are the prime ingredients for making your own memorable characters, because these are the traits and aspects about which you feel passionate.

IV. Running threads

Running threads are plots or subplots that can be continued in the next/subsequent series novels. I tend to map these out on a grid in my head, and I once did an online workshop with plotting templates for single novels, trilogies and a mid-length series to show what I do in my mind. By the time I got to describing how to plot out seven threads in a three-phase, five-to-seven book series everyone was ready to give up and go home.

I've gotten over templating everyone, and I know that as with creating characters, no two writers plot or subplot the same way. When you're building a series, you have to think outside the single novel playground. A series runs on conflict, and some of that generally should be carried over from previous novels.

I like running threads that feed the durable premise, or eventually become part of it, but I also like small, hidden-in-plain-sight subplots that the average reader doesn't notice until I bring them into play. Your own preferences will relate to how your structure your series, but keep this in mind: the more subplots you and the reader have to track, the more likely you're going to drop a thread or tangle them, the more backstory you're probably going to have to lug over to the next novel, etc.

V. Resolution, Cliffhangers and Consequences

Every series book should have a resolution of the standalone conflict, but it should also give the reader a reason to keep reading the series. I like cliffhangers; I grew up watching television cliffhanger shows and they had a tremendous influence on me as a writer. Other writers like "the next chapter in the saga" approach or the "everything they fixed in the last book just went all to hell" wrench in the works.

Everyone's style is different, everyone has an opinion on it, and I'm not going to debate what is ultimately an individual decision and writing style. Whatever approach you use in your series, it should provide momentum for the durable premise and attract return readers.

One consequence of our very competitive market is that the series writer is rarely guaranteed to sell through to the end of the series plan. My novel Blade Dancer, for example, was planned as the first of an eight novel series. In the original manuscript, the story ends as Jory and crew go after Danea, who is abducted by slavers during the celebration on the homeworld. When the publisher bought only the first novel, and I was already looking at StarDoc being put on the back burner in mid-series, I changed the ending to wrap up the novel. Since then I've made sure that whatever I write as the last book of a series contract, I plan and leave the ending flexible enough so that I can change it into a series finale if I have to.

VI. Series Novelists of Tomorrow

As long as there are loyal readers, I think there will always be novel series. They may get a bit shorter -- the average length of a midlist series seems to be heading toward three to five books these days -- but like our premises and story lines, series novelists will endure. We may have to get creative with how we deliver what our readers want, but like our novels, they're worth the effort.

Post your comments, thoughts and questions by midnight EST on Wednesday, July 26, 2006, and you'll have a chance at winning today's Left Behind Goody Bag: A complete signed set of all six of my StarDoc novels, and unsigned copies of: Alison Kent's Deep Breath, Jo Leigh's Closer, and Holly Lisle's I See You; a Jane Austen writing kit with stationery, indigo ink and a pretty dip pen with changeable nibs, all packed in a blue "All on a Summer's Day" plastic tote bag from Barnes & Noble. I'll draw one name from everyone who participates and send you the goodies; giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Related Links:'s discussion board thread on The Novel Series.

Kate Elliott's article for The Swan, Why Writing a Fat Fantasy Series is a) really easy, b) very, very hard, c) fun, and d) not much better than beating your head against the wall until it's bloody – all at the same time.

My article for The Swan about series writing (my title looks so short now): When Once is Not Enough

Monday, July 24, 2006

Way Cool Ten

Ten Things I Thought Were Pretty Cool

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

1. Want to write stories, but can't write? No longer a problem; 7thnovel is a freeware program that will write your short stories for you.

2. The Abstract Art Title Generator was created for use by artists, but some of the titles I got from it would work nicely for parodies, stories and even some novels. Who could resist a book titled "Undefined Bachelor Transformed"?

3. Generate names and identities for your characters with The Fake Name Generator*.

4. Jason Fieldman flexes his awesome programming skills with his Random Art Generator.

5. The next best thing to writing on paper for creative writers, Papel (this one looks very interesting; I'm going to give it a test drive later this week.)

6. Generate random animated textures with TexRD, which uses algorithms based on reaction-diffusion principle.

7. Compose your own music from scratch using VioLet Composer; break a music-writing block with the random chord generator freeware program koZong (click on downloads, then scroll down.)

8. A classic one-line story generator that often produces hilarious combos, The Story Starter*.

9. has shut down their web site, but Writer's Block v. 1.0, their freeware writing block-buster program, is still available for download on a couple of mirror/host sites, like the ones here.

10. Zoner has a bunch of trial and free downloads on their site; Zoner Draw 3 is now being offered as freeware.

*Links swiped from The Generator Blog.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

P&P Intrigue

If you don't like author/novel intrigues, and/or you haven't read Pride and Prejudice, this post is going to put you to sleep.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite novels of all time, but the character of George Wickham has always puzzled me. Wickham starts out well enough in the story as a charming rogue out to better himself, but ends up smashing through the Bennet family like a wrecking ball. Once Darcy revealed some of Wickham's backstory to Elizabeth, Wickham's actions were clear and clearly reprehensible.

Wickham's motives never really worked for me, though. Stupidity doesn't jive; he's not a stupid guy. Jealousy of Darcy didn't fit, either. Wickham was obviously jealous, but why? He and Darcy grew up together, but in those days the classes were sharply divided. Wickham had to know he wasn't entitled to the same life Darcy had.

If George Wickham were Darcy's illegitimate brother, as author Linda Berdoll suggests in her P&P continuation novels, everything makes all kinds of sense.

Darcy's father's being Wickham's "godfather," as well as his affection and financial support for Wickham is explained: guilt and a sense of obligation. George and Darcy playing together as boys, also a little more logical. Darcy might have been assuaging a bit of his own guilt when he paid off Wickham the first time with three thousand pounds instead of the living promised by his father. Or was it hush money? In the book, Wickham runs through the money and goes back asking for the living, which Darcy refuses to give him. Wickham's subsequent attempt to grab a bigger chunk of the Darcy fortune by trying to elope with Darcy's sister Georgina (gross, too, considering she'd be his half-sister) makes more sense, too. Not good enough to be Darcy's brother, right? There is more than one way to get into a family.

Wickham later running off with Lydia also never made sense to me, it was a supremely stupid thing to do. But if he wanted to avenge himself on Elizabeth for giving him the cold shoulder, or to disgrace Elizabeth's family enough to make it nearly impossible for Darcy to marry into it, that would be the next best thing to marrying Georgina.

Another thing about Georgina Darcy's name: it's an eerie echo of George Wickham's. Why would old Mr. Darcy give his daughter a feminine version of his steward's son's name?

Jane Austen may have written Wickham's backstory to be read between the lines, or she wrote only what she wrote and I'm just obsessing about this too much. But it tickles me to think that Jane did sprinkle some clues to the mystery of Wickham in P&P, and Linda Berdoll picked up on them when she was researching the novel. Makes me wonder what else Jane might have hidden in her books.

P&P fans, what do you think?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Publishing World

Genre hopping as a writer, I was told when I got into the biz, is like visiting foreign countries. You have to shift gears when you cross the borders, speak the language fluently, understand the native philosophy, humor and customs, and try not to piss off their police. What one does in the U.S. of Romance one does not do in the People's Republic of SF.

As a rookie I thought this was remarkably stupid. Like the Berlin Wall was. I still do, but I've slammed into enough genre fortifications that I've developed unwilling respect for how thick and immovable the isolationism that built them is.

Every time a book appeals to readers of more than one genre, it kicks a hole in the wall and expands a readership. Sometimes this is deliberate on the part of the author, but generally it's the readers who smuggle the book across the borders. I think the reason for it is simple: the majority of readers may have a favorite genre but are not exclusive to it. People who love books will read anything and everything. I know, I'm that type of reader.

Among the many challenges writers face, shrinking readership is one of the toughest. Genre walls aren't helping; they're adding to the problem. We have viral marketing; what we need now are viral novels.

I some ideas on the writing side, which I'll get into next week, but what element(s) in a story, if any, do you all as readers think makes a novel jump over those genre walls?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday 20

One of the pseudonyms is being put to rest:

I got letters yesterday and today letting me know that Into the Fire and Heat of the Moment are going out of print. Those were the last of my JH books on the shelf, so that's a rap. For those who were hoping to finish out the fire trilogy with Caine's story, I'll see what I can do. Worst case scenario, I'll put it out in e-book form just to finish up the trio.

I've only had a few books go out of print since I turned pro, so I can't really complain. I will miss Jessica, though. Her books were fun to write. Now to work on stop speaking about myself in the third person.

Any questions out there to distract me from my grieving process?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Winners & Virtual Workshops

If I ever need a name for a secret society, I'm calling you guys. In the meantime, the winners for the Secret Society Girl giveaway are:

Tempest Knight (Secret Publishing Society Name: Writing Mooners/The Muses' Slaves)

Mary (Secret Publishing Society Name: Words Unseen, LTM)

Dean (Secret Publishing Society Name: The Society That is Not Secret and is Not About Publishing, But is Instead About Something Else Entirely, Like Fish. Or Trees.)

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you, and my thanks to all you secretive souls who joined in.

Lots of folks are heading off to RWA National, but I think those of us who are not going to choke down mystery chicken entrees or have close encounters with the overly-flatulent should party keep busy. So beginning on Tuesday next week, I'm going to do some virtual writing workshop posts here at PBW. I'll also be giving away some writing books and writer stuff I think is helpful in daily Left Behind and Loving It goody bags. Topics I have (tentatively) planned so far:

Cross-genre writing
Extending your writing range
Trend tracking versus jumping
Writing to concept

Any suggestions for other writing-related topics you'd like to see/discuss before I finalize the list?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Before You Ghost

A couple of folks have asked me to post any open submission WFH work I find out there, and I got a heads-up on this job today:

Reply to:
Date: 2006-07-17, 3:22PM EDT

Seeking talented and experienced ghostwriter to assist with a series of teen fiction/reality books. Interested candidate must write with an empathic, contemporary and youthful voice. Extremely confidential project deals with horror/demonic/dark side/theological with a world view – good v. evil theme. Theological background and local presence a plus. Reimburseable travel may be required if outside of New England area. Ghostwriter will work closely with collaborators and will receive no writing credit, but ghostwriting fees. Legally binding non-disclosure and confidentiality statement required.

Serious candidates only – must be available full time for 3-4 months work – first book in series to be released in Spring, 2007. Anticipated start date is August 1, 2006. Please submit resume and writing sample to

Job location is Mass/Conn
Compensation: To be discussed
no -- Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
no -- Please, no phone calls about this job!
no -- Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.
yes -- Reposting this message elsewhere is OK.
yes -- OK to repost to Job Developers for Persons with Disabilities.

Some suggestions for the writers out there who are interested in auditioning for this and other WFH work:

1. Check out the client as thoroughly as possible. If they're legit, they're going to do the same thing to you, so don't lie to them about your experience.

2. Get all job terms, payment schedule and obligations put into a written contract that is signed by both you and the client.

3. Do not sign anything until you've gone over every single word with an agent or a lawyer and understand the agreement completely. Both signatures on the contract -- yours and the client's -- absolutely should be notarized.

4. The writing sample and resume requested in the above ad are pretty standard for WFH work. Occasionally you may also be required to do a short audition piece (writing a chapter according to the client's specs.) If a client says they won't hire you without seeing a full manuscript first, or wants you to write the manuscript on-spec to see if they can sell it, or wants you to help them develop the project from scratch with no payment, or asks anything else of you that puts an "if" into payment of your fee, they're not the real deal.

5. Payment should be made according to current industry standards: partial payment of your agreed-on fee upon signing, with the remainder due to you upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript. Occasionally clients will ask for a third of your fee to be paid upon publication; it's up to you whether or not you want to sign for that.

I also strongly recommend getting an agent to represent you and to negotiate any WFH contracts. An agent will help you to get the best fee, the fairest terms, and should steer you away from scammers and dilettantes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Winners & Secrets

I applaud the wide range of writing prompts posted for the Fire It Up giveaway. Personally I'm printing them out and putting them in my inspiration notebook for the next time I need something like the naked man covered in Vaseline prompt.

We drew three winners' names out of the hat tonight, and they are:

Dawn Firelight

Darlene Ryan


Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you, and my thanks to everyone who participated.

Whatever people believe about the glam of being an author, it takes courage to publish the work. Popular opinion of your books can be entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers, and you know how that usually goes. It's supposed to get easier as the career rolls on, but I'm coming up on number thirty-four and jaded indifference has yet to descend and teflon me.

A debut novel is an amazing thing, though. It's the first time the dream turns real. You hold that book in your hands and seriously freak out, because it's not someone else's writing between the covers, it's yours. That feeling echoes with every book that follows, but like a first kiss, a debut is something that only happens once in a writer's career. It should be a magic moment.

Author Diana Peterfreund's Debut Novel One debut novel hitting the shelves today is Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund. I can't say I've read a lot of novels in the same vein as The Devil Wears Prada -- I'm a Levis girl myself, and I'm still recovering from Manolo Blahnik pricetag shock -- but I checked out the opening chapter of the book, which was quite fun. And a novel about being the only girl member of an all-male secret society? Sign me up, boys.

Let's help welcome this debut with a giveaway. In comments to this post, list the name that you'd give your secret publishing society (I have dibs on Secret Publishing Society, Chapstick Chapter) by midnight EST on Wednesday, July 19, 2006. I'll pick three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of Secret Society Girl by Diana Peterfreund. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gratis Ten

Ten Things Provided at No Charge

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

1. AbiWord, a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word, has released version 2.4.5 (anyone actively using an older version should upgrade, as they've fixed a lot of bugs.)

2. Dead Disk Doctor makes the following promise about its freeware: "allows copying files from scratched or damaged CD, DVD disks, unreadable Floppy and Hard Drives or other media." (Note here: I'd be interested to know if anyone can verify that this actually works; would be a nice resource for folks who can't afford the high price of data recovery.)

3. For all you MySpace lovers out there, George's MySpace Editor.

4. Point and zoom in on any earthly spot with the "3D interface to the planet": Google Earth.

5. GroupMail has a free edition of their bulk-mailing software. It's fairly limited (single connection, only sends to 100 recipients at a time) but could be a nice test drive or starter program.

6. Keep a calendar, diary, contacts list and map out your thoughts with Pooter4.

7. I'm in the process of revamping the freebie e-books from the old web site, and putting together some new ones, but due to popular demand I'll be uploading the old files and making them available for now (links will be listed on the sidebar under Freebies.) The latest addition is Deimos, a novella I wrote for my StarDoc readers a few years back (.pdf format, may take a couple of minutes to load or download on dial-up.)

8. Create your own gorgeous photo calendars for yourself or as gifts for family, readers and friends with TKexe Kalendar.

9. Authors who like to create their own manuscript style sheets, series encyclopedias or track overused words might want to take a look at Word Index Builder.

10. Download 13,051 public domain clipart images tailored for use with word processing programs and home printers for free at WPClipArt.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Fire it Up

I love writing prompts. They're writer mind kindling, always starting something with that built-in "what if." The right prompt will jumpstart an idea out of nowhere, and there really are no limits to how far you can take one.

Case in point: long ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, a friend asked me, "If you could be anyone, in any time period, and do anything, what would you do?"

It probably is the oldest writing prompt in the world, but I got a lot of mileage out of it. I started by writing a personal parody/short story about an ER doctor in the future who is forced at gunpoint to deliver a killer alien's vicious quintuplets, which became my short story Border FreeClinic. That story evolved into StarDoc, which became my first published SF novel. StarDoc evolved into a SF novel series of six books and counting, two spin-off parallel novels, and a same-universe standalone. And I'm not done yet.

During my ambles through the book store, I picked up a copy of the chunky little book Writer's Digest has been advertising on their prompt page: The Writer's Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction. I tend to be very leery of WD advertisers, but this one actually delivers what it promises.

The brain child of the twisted minds at Fresh Boiled Peanuts, the book is packed with great starters, ideas on how to use them, and a fun, user-friendly format. It's also not genre-specific or targeted, so it will appeal to any type of fiction writer.

Three sample prompts from the book:

You come home from a business trip and realize you have the wrong suitcase.

A man opens his mailbox to find an envelope containing a set of instructions.

"Whatever you do, don't turn on the light. Please."

My only complaint is that at $19.99 US/$27.99 Canadian/£12.99 UK the book is a bit pricey, especially for writers on a tight budget. I recommend you find a copy at your local bookstore, if possible, and have a look first. You'll get a better idea of the contents and if you think they're worth that much to you.

Or you can take a shot at getting a free copy of the book right now: in comments to this post, give us a writing prompt* by midnight EST on Monday, July 17, 2006. I'll draw three names from everyone who participates and send the winners a copy of The Writer's Book of Matches. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*Your prompt can be a random line of dialogue, a situation, or anything else that you think up, or a great prompt you've found elsewhere.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Snakes on the Blog!

I'm not a herpetologist, but this week I'm playing one at home:

Snake #1, about 8" in length, found in the middle of our backyard:

Eastern hognose youngster, caught and relocated

Eastern hognose snakes are often killed because they imitate the bad behavior of venomous snakes by hissing, head jabs, fanning the head and neck (like a cobra) and shaking their tails. If the bad behavior doesn't work, they play dead. Although they have fangs in the back of the mouth, they rarely if ever bite humans and are not considered venomous. They eat frogs and other amphibians, so we relocated this guy to a remote area with a nice big pond.

Snake #2, about 36", chased out of the garden by the pup:

Southern Black Racer, living somewhere in the garden

Southern black racers are terrific snakes to have around for a couple of reasons: they eat insects, frogs, other snakes, rats, and just about anything else they can catch. They're also very nervous and prefer to run rather than fight. Racers will only defend themselves if they're cornered, and they will bite to defend themselves, but are nonvenomous. This snake is also often killed because when cornered, it will shake its tail like a rattler.

We've been living with this snake in the garden for a year now, and I've gotten used to him being around. He does run the minute the kids or I come near him. The problem now is our dog. Buddy has almost caught the racer three times over the last month, so I think we're going to have to catch and relocate him.

Molted skin of Snake #3, 72-1/2" long (that's my shoe beside it for size reference), found hanging on the south fence:

I don't want to know.  I really don't want to know.

This one may be a granddaddy of a black racer, which usually reaches a maximum length of 70", or something else. We took the skin over to the local wildlife rehab center to see if they can identify it for us. I'm hoping he lives over in the neighbor's pasture, but I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday 20

I'm putting together new ideas for upcoming blog posts. Here are the ones I've scratched off the list:

Anonymous Publishing Bloggers Identified -- The Ultimate Expose -- yeah, that'll make me all kinds of new friends

First Ammendment, Free Speech, It's for Everyone! Except Published Authors -- hate mail potential in the red ranges

If You Want Everyone to Like You, Get a Job in a Brothel -- can't work in a tactful blowjob analogy. Is there such a thing as a tactful blowjob analogy?

Inspirational Paranormals: The Next Big Trend -- will probably start it for real

Pissing Contests Don't Make Your Backlist Look Longer -- mean

Stepford Lips: Bestselling Authors Who All Wear the Same Hideous Red Lipstick -- maybe they're all colorblind, or nearsighted, or something

The Importance of Not Being Earnest -- can't take it seriously

You've Gone to Like 5000 Writing Workshops, Am I Right? -- whoa, very mean

Your Guest Blogger Sucks -- but she's your mom, and I respect that

I'll figure out something else, I guess. In the meantime, any questions for me this week?

Added: Our pal Simon Haynes is celebrating turning in the draft for his third Hal Spacejock novel by giving away ten copies of the first novel in the series, Hal Spacejock. This is a great chance to get a signed copy, so definitely check it out.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Just for fun, match the job with the author who worked it (no cheating with Google):

1. Caddy
2. Deputy Forester
3. Doctor
4. Pharmacy worker
5. Raymond Chandler's Screenwriter
6. Silver Miner
7. War Correspondent

A. Agatha Christie
B. John Steinbeck
C. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
E. Geoffrey Chaucer
F. William Faulkner
G. Mark Twain

Answers will be provided in comments later today. Also, if you don't mind sharing, what's the oddest job you've ever worked?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


From the Normal Paranormal Writers newsletter:

Tired of reading completely implausible paranormal novels featuring silly mythic warriors, ridiculous demon slayers and offensive reconstructive vampire surgeons? Looking for fresh, unique paranormal stories that are both nice and could actually happen in this world, to real people?

Look no further! Normal Paranormal Writers (RWA and SFWA membership approval pending) are dedicated to providing quality paranormal novels featuring only realistic, nice protagonists and plausible plots for a completely safe and satisfying reader experience.

Here are some of the exciting novels for which our members should be signing big deals for any minute now:

1. Call Me Vlad by Jonica Mackson: Telemarketer Tasha Kasha had no idea that selling maintenance-free vinyl castle siding would have her falling in love with the voice from her deepest nightmares.

2. Checkout the Devil by Deidre Dikshrinker: The Evil One is standing in the express line and has more than ten items, what's a good Christian cashier at the end of her shift to do?

3. Dark Convenience by Krissy Freehand: The Big Gulp that he really wanted was Suzy Doozy, but how could he get her to unlock the doors after midnight so he could say the immortal ritual words that would make her his 24/7 woman?

4. Fiends with Benefits by R.J. Draw: After noting that more and more people are calling in sick on the night of a full moon, personnel manager Betty Stetty learns a terrible secret that may utterly destroy the salesforce.

5. If Bangles Burn by Lin Vale: Opening a specialty costume jewelry store during Christmas shopping season is hard enough, but when manager Judy Prudy is kidnapped and forced to redo an injured demonic prince's piercings, can she charm her way back to the mall and freedom?

6. Massage Me Gently by Sheena Gowalter: Physical therapist Mina Deena tried to work the huge knots out of the shoulders of her strange, purple-skinned new client, but there seemed to be something inside them . . . something that wanted out!

7. Midnight Shifters by Stephie King: Tiffany Litany hated working the register with its dumb pictures of food, but she should have never turned her back when the guy wearing the pentagram said he wanted fries with that.

8. Prince of Cubs by Sue SanKranird: Cub Scout Den Mother Beth Pleth isn't sure why all the boys in her troop have 5 o'clock shadows, but her world will turn upside down when she and the lil' shavers go camping with dark and enigmatic Scout Leader Paco "Macho" Loco Lupa.

9. Quiet Tormentor by Elizabeth Stokava: Shushing the noisy cheerleaders writing their term papers was hard enough, but keeping an eye on the red-eyed man lurking in Reference places librarian Gertrude Fine in danger of losing her heart -- and her soul.

10. Undead in Underwear by Merry-Jan Deckemone : Personal shopper Lori Dory can't understand why the mysterious European Count with the thick accent spends so much time following her through her favorite lingerie stores. Is he a cross-dresser, a stalker, or something much more menacing?

Please contact Verity Snicklepickle @ Normal Paranormal Writers for author contact information, offers that will be described as very nice deals in Publisher's Lunch, or sexy fan mail (cute single guys only.) Thank you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Contest & Winners

Jenna Glatzer is having a fun logo contest for the Absolute Write web site. The designer of the winning logo will receive $50, a free lifetime subscription to the Absolute Markets Premium Edition, a free CafePress item of the winner's choice with the winning logo on it and more. For more on the contest and entry requirements (including particulars on the logo design), see Jenna's post here. Deadline for entries is July 25th, 2006.

If I'm ever stranded, I hope it's with everyone who participated in the Castagiveaway. Wouldn't make the island exactly deserted, but think of the cool writer/reader colony we could start.

We put ye olde magic hat back in action tonight, and the winners of the Castagiveaway are:



Bridget Medora

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you, and my thanks to everyone for joining in.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Music Ten

Ten Things for the Music Lovers

Freeware/music dowload caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs/MP3 files into your hard drive.

1. offers free music downloads by independent and unsigned artists.

2. is offering a complimentary sampler featuring The Little Willies, The Wood Brothers, Cassandra Wilson, Dr. John, Amos Lee, Raul Midon, Keren Ann and more if you fill out this form here and subscribe to their mailing list (note: while supplies last.)

3. The intelligent guide to free and legal music: Fingertips.

4. Glide offers free music downloads twice a month and maintains a small archive of past freebies here.

5. Listen to free music online with Internet Player freeware.

6. Solway's Internet TV and Radio Player allows you to listen to, watch and record radio and TV from around the world for free.

7. Out of Obscure is a free MP3 download site and community.

8. Listen and record radio broadcasts online with a preview version of Silent Night Radio.

9. offers free downloads of music by unsigned house, garage, and bass and drum artists.

10. Unsigned Band Web.Com appears to offer free downloads if you register as a listener (I'm having trouble reading the site because of the colors used; my apologies if this one turns out to have premiums involved.)

One more, in print: I rarely read or recommend music magazines because most of them are snot rags, but one that is actually worth it is Paste Magazine. Whatever you think of the opinions in Paste, the magazine comes with a sampler CD in every issue with full songs by new or up-and-coming musicians and sometimes a DVD sampler with music videos, shorts and trailers, which to me makes it worth the $7.95 cover price.

Paste Issue #22 (Bob Dylan looking constipated as usual on the cover) has an especially fine sampler in it, with Alejandro Escovedo's Arizona (Edit) and Janove Ottesen's Black and White Movie as well as 20 other tracks. If you subscribe to Paste (11 issues for $34.95, over half off the cover price) you're given access to their online archive of 400 more free downloads. Not a bad deal at all.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


You're stranded alone on a deserted island. You've built a decent shelter, and you've found reliable sources of food and water, but it looks like you're going to be there for a while.

A water-proof, standard-size suitcase comes floating on shore. You open it and discover that it contains one item and five books that you most want to have with you while you're stuck on the island.

What is the item, and what are the titles of the five books in your suitcase?

Answer in comments to this post by midnight EST on Monday, July 10, 2006. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of Linda Howard's brand new novel, Cover of Night. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Make It Stop

Charlene was talking about beach reads yesterday over at RTB, and that got me hunting around for some offbeat opinions on what to take with the sunscreen. Which lead to yet another example of why literary books desperately need new PR.

Yes, I've bitched about it before, but the blurbs are actually getting worse. Don't believe me? Here's a book described by the Village Voice* as a beach read:

"Sued because the ineradicable graffiti from his company's "Eter-No-Mark" pens has metastasized throughout the city, young Manhattan exec Chad Roe [1] spirals into a lost weekend of booze, drugs, and self-loathing [2]; passed out, he is maliciously tattooed with his own bread and butter[3]. A yuppie Queequeg[4], his appearance repels and fascinates onlookers but is shortly trumped by the horrors of 9-11 [5], from which he staggers to a dilapidated American history theme park filled with squatters [6]partying amid the three-story stucco heads of dead presidents. Sans dialogue [7], entwining poetic captions—"the slippery meat-dream of life" [8]—with beautifully composed ink drawings [9], this hallucinatory tale finds a Burning Man catharsis at the heart of a jittery nation [10]."

First and lasting impressions, by the numbers:

1. Naming the protagonist after the egg-laden ovary of a fish does not make one the next John Irving. Please make note of this.

2. As taking an Advil, talking to friends and sipping Pepsi while working things out during a couple of productive weekdays would mean he's not really suffering.

3. Now there's irony that you never saw coming, eh?

4. Cap'n, we've got Melville sighted off the port bow!

4a. Literary reviewers, please. Read Nat Philbrick. Go on the Atkins Diet. Get in touch with your inner Rushdie. Make an appointment for a high colonic. Have sex. Have sex with someone else. Find a decent therapist and work out your issues leftover from high school. Whatever you have to do, do it and get over your obsession with this stupid fricking whale story.

5. Ann Coulter's not the only one exploiting it? Quelle surprise.

6. Squatters being a much hipper term than homeless, I suppose. Or the British have retaken the colonies and no one told me.

7. What the f-- there's NO dialogue in this novel? AT ALL?

8. I can't parody the slippery meat thing. I'm still in shock over the no-dialogue. What, is it like all exposition and setting and weather reports?

9. Aha! Close-captioned for the reading impaired.

10. You obviously never went to a Burning Man, my man.


Okay, so despite the fact that this painfully crafted blurb left me feeling like I'd rather have a colonoscopy minus the sublimaze than read this at the beach, I decided to order the book anyway. I figured I'd write up a snappy blurb of my own to post in comparison. Also, I just had to see a novel with no dialogue.

Guess what? It's not a novel. It's a comic book.

Did you see the words comic book show up anywhere in that blurb? Me, either (and yes, I apologize in advance to everyone who now calls them graphic novels because comic book isn't considered cool anymore.) But it's a comic book, all right. With no dialogue. Which makes it . . . a picture book.

And this is a literary beach "read."

I give up.

*Link brazenly swiped from John Rickards.

Friday, July 07, 2006


I have had a long-running love/hate relationship with William Shakespeare. Yes, I know, you're shocked, but 'tis true. The Immortal Bard has been getting under my skin since the fifth grade.

One of his plays that really rattles my cage is Hamlet. Hamlet didn't work for me as a protagonist. I never connected with him. It might have been the royalty thing -- not like I'm going to have a lot in common with a Prince of Denmark -- but didn't he just get annoying after while? I mean, To be or not to be is not a question. It's a pity party of one whining for a better table.

What burned me was how Ophelia got a truly raw deal; I always thought her ghost should come back and haunt his dumb ass. Ophelia was a younger version of Othello's wife, Desdemona, who also went nuts and committed suicide. Sure, Shakespeare made it look like the Moor killed her, but if your paranoid hubby comes to bed muttering about you cheating on him with his best friend and how he's going to put out your lights, do you hang around? Not if you're in your right mind and want to live, you don't.

Hamlet's incessant whining aside, the word be has been on my mind a lot lately.

Be is a big word for writers. It's the better table, the one that isn't by the restroom or tucked behind a potted plant. From wannabes to bestsellers to has-beens, writers are forever chasing after that better table. It's what you do to be a writer.

When I got into the game, publication was the table I wanted. To be a writer, you had to be published. And that was the whole deal.

Brother, was I clueless.

After I published my first novel and tried to sit down at that table, I was told (among other things) that it wasn't good enough. To be a writer, I had to be like all the other pro writers, join their groups, fit in with their agendas, network and self-promote their way, pay for awards competitions with them, go to cons, do booksignings, impress the right people, sign with the right houses, get the right reviews, make the right lists, etc. etc.

After a while trying to do all those things didn't make me want to be a writer. It made me sick, and horrified, and sad; at one point it even made me stop writing. I don't blame anyone but myself for that. I was so ignorant of the industry that I was practically begging to be chewed up and spit out by it. Once I figured out that it was me, my stupidity, my inability to be anything but who I was, I quit trying for the better table.

You know what happens when you stop trying to be a writer? You go back to square one, to that place where you left behind your dreams. Mine was always to write books and publish them; the little table behind the potted plant where few people can see you. Whatever you call a person who does that, that's likely all I'll ever be. But as tables go, it's small and comfortable and quiet. I can invite whoever I want to it whenever I want, like now, or I can sit there and write alone, in peace. It's not the best table in the house, but it's where I belong.

As for that elusive snipe of publishing, the big be, I don't know if there is such a table. I've heard a lot of rumors about it but never caught sight of it. I suspect no one ever does. Writers who want to be something in this business are forever chasing a better table, like the end of the rainbow's pot of gold or that distant shimmer in the desert that promises water. I hope someone finds it, but it won't be me.

How's your table in publishing today?

*Added: We're still doing the usual Friday 20 today; I just forgot to title the post that.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Certain situations that happen during a love story can be too graphic for delicate sensibilities. Such horrid things can be whispered or glossed over during normal dinner party conversations, but what if you write love stories for a living? A romance author can never be too careful about what she composes, as certain assumptions can be made about her based on the content of her novels.

When writing about such situations, the Romance Police, a division of The Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene (TM), recommend that the tasteful author only use euphemetaphors. Euphemetaphors are those carefully crafted, timeless phrases used by countless romance authors in place of more crude, lewd or lascivious language. These lovely, ethereal phrases that are so loved by true romance readers provide adequate information without the risk of causing any offense whatsoever.

To illustrate, here are some classic examples of certain romantic situations, and the euphemetaphors that we strongly recommend authors use to describe them:


Admires Heroine's Anatomy

He could not keep his heated gaze from tracing over her ripe though innocent form.
She embodied the beauty and grace of all things womanly.
Surely she was the loveliest temptation to ever cross his path.

Becomes Physically Aroused

He turned away to hide the hard evidence of how she affected him.
Heat surged wildly through his veins until he thought his unruly desire for her would drive him insane.
Her delicate, fragile beauty stirred him until his muscles rippled, tightening against the need burning in his loins.

Has Intimate Relations

He brought their bodies together in an inferno of desire.
Masterfully he claimed her fragile femininity as his own.
Slowly, gently, with the determination of his love and hers guiding him, he made her his woman.

Has Lots of Relations

He explored every inch of her lusciousness, leaving nothing untouched.
He loved her again and again, until their entwined bodies curled together in delicious exhaustion.
Passion's storm broke over them and consumed them throughout the night.


Admires the Hero's Anatomy

His forbidding but striking countenance caused a strange ache in her heart.
Surely no man could be as handsome, muscular, or virile as he.
The sight of his bare, bronzed chest made her gnaw at her lower lip.

Becomes Physically Aroused

His hand on her arm sent an electrical energy sizzling through her.
His tall, dark, handsome presence made her entire body tingle.
She could not understand the frightening conflagration of sensations he made her feel.
The sight of him stirred something deep within her being.

Has Intimate Relations

A wondrous heat spread through her nether regions.
She gave herself utterly to his passion.
She was swept to the dazzling heights of pleasure.

Has Lots of Intimate Relations

His masculine demands reduced her to give the whole of her being to him until the wee hours of the morning.
She surrendered again and again, withholding nothing from him.
They blazed together in love's fiery furnace until dawn.

[Next up: How using euphemetaphors, making the right sort of friends, and overnighting that entry fee check can clinch your RITA Award and bestow you, too, with the title of the best romance writer in the genre!]

(for Alison Kent, who started it)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


You all posted some terrific writing tips for the Tipsters giveaway over the holiday weekend. It's neat (as well as extremely helpful) to see what keeps other writers on course to get the job done.

We cranked up le chapeau de magie again tonight, and here are the names of the giveaway winners:




Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to so that I can get your winnings out to you, and my thanks to everyone who joined in.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Birthday, America

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

--Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing, Leaves of Grass

Monday, July 03, 2006

For the Geek Squad

Get the 2004XP14 ephemeris here.

(For those scratching their heads, me and some geek friends are tracking a half-mile-wide asteroid that will pass within roughly the moon's distance from earth. Today.)

Get Ten

Ten Things You Can Get for Free

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

1. Where's the free business planning software when you need it? Try's BusPlan.

2. Gammadyne's DocPad is a NotePad replacement program with a bunch of features.

3. Everest Dictionary is actually 35 dictionaries in a bunch of different languages, and can be had for the downloading here.

4. Make your own virtual games for your readers and visitors (or just for yourself) with Game Maker.

5. GlobalSpellChecker will give you spelling and meaning of any word (for applications using Microsoft Word.)

6. Build your vocabulary in other languages with Interlex.

7. Mind Pad offers a free trial evaluation download of its mind-mapping software. So does ConceptDraw, Mind Genius and Visual Mind.

8. Power up your project with Project Engine.

9. Need to tour a city, island or region for your WIP but can't afford to go there? Tour virtually with Schmap freeware.

10. Try outlining your novel events and timeline with Alexander G. Tilles's What to Do.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Tipsters Giveaway

In between all and sundry, I've been slowly working my way through Ralph L. Wahlstrom's The Tao of Writing. Lovely book, beautiful theories, great points, no way in hell could I ever write like this. But I'm enjoying it all the same. As Mr. Wahlstrom points out:

"The problem is not that we don't get the right tips on how to write, we're buried in them. It's more than we have not learned to see the connections between the written word and the world in and around us."

I agree. I also think everyone connects differently. If we all made our writing-to-world connections in the exact same way, we'd only need one how-to writing book. We'd all write the same way, and produce identical stories, and I'm already imagining being trapped on that all-the-same world in A Wrinkle in Time, aren't you?

The Tao of Writing is one approach, and one way of making connections. I haven't finished it yet but I think it's a solid read for any writer who struggles with blocks and structure and accessing the muse or the inner well or whatever labels your imagination.

For those who are more interested in boosting their productivity but have problems reading e-books, I've put together three hard copies* of my own e-book on writing, Way of the Cheetah for a giveaway.

In comments to this post, list a writing tip that has helped you with your work (and, if you remember, from whom or where you got it) by midnight EST on Tuesday, July 4, 2006. I'll pick three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a hard copy of Way of the Cheetah along with a surprise. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

*Hard copy in this case means printed on 8-1/2" X 11" bond paper and bound in a slim, three-ring binder.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Last Dance

The past month I've been hashing out a proposal with my agent, and although I gave it my best shot twice, it didn't work for her or me. It kept bugging me, and after I asked her to read it we talked and worked out what was wrong with it. The flaws are such that I have to scrap the proposal altogether and start over from scratch.

This doesn't happen very often to me, but when it does I struggle to let go as much as any writer out there. Here's one of the reasons why in this case:

Julian is an attractive man. Not really handsome, but not the type of guy you can eye-skim and forget. He brings this presence with him whenever he walks into a room, like a captain standing on the deck of a ship far out to sea; steely of eye and spine, ready to make decisions that cause armies to retreat and governments to collapse. He didn’t look at you; he evaluated your threat potential. That kind of thing.

I had fun getting to know Julian for this proposal. He wasn't like any male character I've written so far, and he came out beautifully on the page. Writing him was like dancing with him -- close, smooth, fun. Bit of a thrill in several places because he is so different for me. But now Julian has to go back into the filing cabinet, in the (thankfully) small section where I put failed proposals.

Am I done with this proposal? Yep. Am I done with Julian? Maybe not. That's the great thing about ideas, and characters, and concepts. Even when they're flawed, I can always go back to the best of them, turn them around in my head, and try something different. Maybe next time I dance with Julian, he'll end up in print. Doing it like this -- saving him for another time versus deleting him -- also helps me move on, oddly enough.

What helps you disconnect from a flawed character, idea or proposal?