Thursday, November 30, 2006


At the Fiction Freedom Force's modest beachfront cottage headquarters, Captain Conflict and his workout partner, Major Action, started the day by sparring together on the beach.

The major, tanned and toned to a tee, avoided his mighty leader's headlock by feinting left before throwing a classic right hook. "Eat fist!"

"Is that the best you can do?" the silver-haired captain snarled as he easily avoided the punch and kicked sand into the major's face. "Where's the build-up? Where's the finesse? If you knock me out, what are you going to do for the rest of the morning?"

"I dunno." The major knuckled his eyes. "Your wife busy?"

"You're going to lose a tooth for that," the captain promised just before he lunged.

In a parallel scene, Captain Conflict's wife, Dame Dialogue, stood in the cottage's kitchen having a talk with Setting Son about his compulsive redecorating. From just outside the door, the ever-meddling Plot Twister eavesdropped.

"Sweetheart, please understand, it's not that I don't like your little pink restrooms," Dame told her son. "I think they're adorable. It's just that your father . . . ."

"I know, I know." Set scowled down at his plate of heart-shaped waffles. "He thinks they're sissyboy stuff."

This talk was not going as Dame had planned. Her rough-and-tumble husband and sensitive, artistic son rarely agreed on anything these days. "I'm sure that your father realizes that you're doing your best, dear--"

"Oh, H-E-double toothpicks, Mom," Set said, pushing his plate away. "All Dad wants me to do are stupid war-torn battlezones and ridiculous chrome-and-glass situation rooms. He said if I use pink in one more scene he's going to send me to work for Tom Clancy."

"Oh, no, not Tom. All he uses is camouflage and interior Russian sub scenarios." Dame sighed. "Look, honey, I'll talk to your father, but in the meantime just stick to outside nature scenes." She smiled. "Your father can't complain if the sky happens to be robin's eggshell blue, or the grass a minty green, can he?"

Set grinned. "Thanks, Mom. You're the best." He jumped up and kissed her cheek before hurrying out the back door.

"You can talk anyone into anything." Plot Twister came up behind Dame and rested his thin, cold hands on her shoulders as he added in a whisper, "Even me."

"Stop it." Dame glanced through the window at the beach where her husband and the major were still wrestling on the dunes. "I told you before, it's over between us. Didn't I speak plainly enough? Or are you deaf as well as manipulative, transparent and pointless?"

"How quickly she forgets." Twist ran his palms down the sides of her arms. "You needed someone to really talk to, remember? So who was it that put in enough twists in the last story to keep both of those grunts chasing red herrings for six months?"

Dame turned in Twister's arms. "We have no future together, Twist. You're too unpredictable, you never say what you mean and I don't like the way you look at Set when you think I'm not watching."

"Just doing my job." He tried to kiss her. "If you don't play along, baby, I might have to throw a wrench in your happy, boring little marriage."

"You wouldn't," she flared. "You couldn't."

Twist patted her stomach. "Set could use a little brother who doesn't resemble the captain in the least." He looked up as the door slammed and narrowed his eyes. "Who the hell are you?"

"Not saying." The large, bland-face man glanced at the watch strapped to his thick wrist. "Yep, it's time." He pointed at Twist. "You. Outside."

Twist released Dame. "I think I'll call for the Captain. Hey." As the big intruder grabbed him, he paled. "You can't do this to me. You want her husband. Hey!"

The large man tucked Twist under his meaty right arm and nodded to Dame. "Ma'am, I'm sure we'll meet again in the next book." He strode out of the cottage carrying the writhing Twist and abruptly vanished out of sight.

"Wow." Set, who had come in to quietly redo the kitchen curtains, put his arm around Dame. "Gee, Mom. How come you never told me that you knew Cliff Hanger?"

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Guest Blogger: Ms. Romance

[Today PBW is hosting the latest essay penned by Ms. Romance, genre expert and author of the nationally sydicated romance-writing advice column, "Ask Ms. Romance"]

Hi there, lovebirds,

Have you noticed lately how so many big gun guy writers seem to be getting in touch with their inner romance writer? Stephen King's written a "love" story (according to Nicholas Sparks, anyway), Carl Hiassen's written what's being touted in the press as a romance (not sure if this is the truth or an insult aimed at Carl), and James Patterson has evidently joined RWA (Jim, good luck with wrestling that best contemp RITA away from Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She may be short and cute, but she's a lot tougher than she looks.)

Personally I think this is wonderful. We should have more men writing romance. After all, they often make up one half of romantic relationships. The problem is, I don't think the big guns have any sort of genre guidelines being made available to them. Here are the ones I post every year for my special Valentine's Day column:

Ten Things You Absolutely Must Have To Write A Romance

1. A hero who is still breathing: You may be heavy into the necrophilia, my friend, but the romance hero has to have, you know, a pulse. He should also stay alive for the duration of the novel, otherwise the HEA is just not going to seem as plausible. [Exception: heroes who are ghosts, vampires, shape shifters or interdimensional beings may or may not breathe, have a pulse, be considered alive, etc. Of course these are not "real" romances, but hopefully the paranormal trend will be over soon.]

2. A heroine who does not commit federal offenses: I agree that kidnapping is a very exciting plot element, but your heroine should be the victim of, not the perpetrator of, any kidnapping. This is so she doesn't get caught, convicted and sent to jail for the rest of her life. This kind of thing also spoils the HEA and insults the reader, who by now thinks your heroine is nothing but a worthless skank.

3. Antagonists Who Can Be Turned Away From the Dark Side: Yes, I know you want someone really horrific, someone who can be sent to alternate dimension where he'll be sucked like a Slurpee into the maw of an unimaginable monster (and deserve that fate tenfold.) Well, romance readers don't want this. They want antagonists who can be reformed to become heroes in later sequels or series novels. In fact, it's a well-known fact in romance that former antagonists who are brought to their knees by the love of a good woman are some of the most beloved heroes in the genre. We call this the "Bad Boy Effect."

4. Appropriate Titles: Romance titles should sound romantic, which means you can't call your book things like Multicolor Memories of My Manic-Depressive Hookers. In fact, don't use the word hooker or anything demeaning to women, ever. Always shoot for the two-word classic title: Misty Memories (sweet romance), Hook Me (sensual romance), or Man, Impressive (erotic romance.)

5. Easy to Comprehend Dialogue: I know you're into soliloquies, monologues and stirring speeches. Romance readers aren't. Think of the last conversation you had with your teenage daughter. Make that level of conversation your dialogue intensity cap. Or, if you'd rather not sacrifice your artistic integrity, write the entire dialogue in authentic medieval English. No one will understand it but, you know, it sounds so pretty.

6. Nice Settings: This works a bit like when you're dating women. You know how the nicer the place you take your date to, the more you'll impress her? Same thing with romance readers. Save the dripping, scummy, malodorous underground abandoned sewer system in which man-eating rats roam the pipes as a setting for your next horror novel.

7. No Abusing the Heroine: I don't care if your hero is a WWF champion on steroids going through a hallucinatory psychotic episode, and his favorite form of self-expression is smashing beer cans against his unibrow: if they're not having sex, keep his paws and mouth off the heroine. He should also not lose his temper with her, yell at her, insult her, call her names or in any way shape or form threaten her. Think talking Ken doll. As for what he's allowed to do during sex, see #8.

8. Realistic Amounts of Sex: I'm sure your dream girl would happily spend months in bed with you in a foreign country doing nothing but catering to your genitals, giving you marathon sex and worrying about you when you subsequently left the house in (amazingly) a bad mood while not making any friends or having any sort of life. Romance readers, on the other hand, would be in the emergency room after a week getting treatment for friction abrasions on various orifices. They'd also fly back to the states and divorce your sex-obsessed ass. Break it up by having your hero take her out for a meal or a nice walk in the park once in a while.

9. The Black Moment: Because every woman in a romance has a black moment when her love is tested by some idiocy on the part of the hero. This moment takes place on page 175 and lasts exactly long enough for the hero to have to grovel before the heroine afterward. The groveling is important, too, so don't forget that.

10. The Happy Ending: With the divorce rate in this country being as high as it is, we all know love does not often have a happy ending. Time to develop temporary amnesia, boys. Readers would like it if you would allow the hero and heroine to have some solid prospect of happiness ahead of them -- preferably with each other -- by the end of the book.

Follow these guidelines, guys, and you can't go wrong. Or if you're still confused, just imagine everything you like that your wife or girlfriend doesn't. Make a list of those things, and keep them out of the novel, and you'll be walking up the stage to accept that RITA in no time.

Ms. Romance

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Out There

There is nothing wrong with your computer. Do not attempt to adjust the screen. We are now controlling PBW. We control the horizontal slant and the vertical limit, whatever they are. We can deluge you with a thousand parodies or expand one single sarcastic post to painful clarity and beyond. We can shape your vision of the industry to anything our imagination can conceive.

No, we are not Publishers Weekly. Good guess, though.

For the next four days we will control all that you see and hear here. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the deepest inner mind of an author to . . .

The Outer Limits of Publishing

[Today please welcome Dr. Karla "Karlie" Knutchazer, eminent and acclaimed damaged-writer psychologist and author of the upcoming self-help guide to healthier self-image for self-conscious storytellers, My Book's Okay, Your Book's Okay, So Please Don't Worry Or Feel Insecure Or Unhappy If Mine Sells And Yours Doesn't, It's Not A Reflection On Your Talent, You Dear Person.]

Greetings to all you dear people,

Please allow me to re-introduce myself as your new friend, Karlie. It's important for you to view me as a friend, not an enemy. I can only guess how intimidating it must be for fragile, impressionable souls like yourselves to encounter someone much more educated, well-adjusted and successful. Yet you can allow my expertise and insights help you evolve into the writer you were meant to be. Yes, dear friends, someday you can quit working in that unhealthy trans-fat-saturated environment and have the dignified profession that you've always dreamed of.

I'm so deeply, truly happy to be here for you today. First, let me mention the perfect means with which to help you overcome whatever is blocking your muse and assist you in releasing those stories that remain trapped inside your poignant, poverty-tempered souls: My Book's Okay, Your Book's Okay, So Please Don't Worry Or Feel Insecure Or Unhappy If Mine Sells And Yours Doesn't, It's Not A Reflection On Your Talent, You Dear Person. Yes, as a special gift for communing with me here at PBW, I'm going to make available to you for three easy payments of $99.95 the exclusive, full pre-release 20-hour audio version of my guide to writer self-image awareness and improvement, narrated by myself, so it will be as if I were visiting you in your very own home.

My research has shown me how painful and difficult it has been for all of you to pursue the writing life, but I am not here to patronize you. Oh, no! Instead, I want to explore every nuance of your pain, every degree of your personal struggle so that you and other unfortunates like you can open the inner windows that rejection and your totally understandable inadequacies have painted shut over time. Unfortunately my time today is limited, so perhaps a few of you could post comments here to give me a brief synopsis of your suffering. Ten words or less should do nicely.

Yes, we can work together through this tormenting period in your career to achieve for you something like a modest sale to a conference chapbook or fan magazine that pays in contributor copies. Such a monumental achievement will invigorate your muse (and if the three very easy payments of $99.95 prove to be too much at this time, I will send you the first 10 hours of the audio version of My Book's Okay, Your Book's Okay, So Please Don't Worry Or Feel Insecure Or Unhappy If Mine Sells And Yours Doesn't, It's Not A Reflection On Your Talent, You Dear Person for two ridiculously easy payments of $99.95, and reserve the second 10 hours of this book that could be so helpful to you until you work a few double shifts at the fryalator and can make up the outrageously easy balance of $99.95.)

Gather around me in a virtual circle now. In your thoughts, imagine yourself joining hands with thousands of other writers who, like you, have nothing better to do and so may fully benefit from the wisdom and power emanating from my center (which I am giving you at no extra charge here today.) When you feel comfortable with your surroundings and your company, please draw on your writing spirit or higher power to show the proper gratitude by investing in my MBOYBOSPDWOFIOUIMSAYDINAROYTYDP audio tapes (please note that I only accept PayPal for the very affordable and laughably easy three payments of $99.95, and the tapes will not ship until after the third payment has cleared.)

Hmmmmmm. I do sense some genuinely determined writerly spirits out there, but unfortunately no new payments have been received by my PayPal account. Oh, my, look at the time! I completely forgot about the pre-order book talk I agreed to give at's writer chat this morning. (A note to PBW: I assumed that at the very least you would invest in my My Book's Okay, Your Book's Okay, So Please Don't Worry Or Feel Insecure Or Unhappy If Mine Sells And Yours Doesn't, It's Not A Reflection On Your Talent, You Dear Person guide to becoming a writer with a healthier self-image. Not to be unkind, but I feel you of all writers desperately need this help. That and these rather bizarre-looking beings who took over your blog aren't paying me a dime for my guest post.)

As for you dear, dear people, I feel certain that you will do the right thing for your future by purchasing as soon as possible what can help you as no other writing self-help resource (for three insanely easy payments of $99.95, my MBOYBOSPDWOFIOUIMSAYDINAROYTYDP guide.)

In the meantime, try to work a few more double shifts, won't you?


We now return control of your computer to you, until tomorrow, at the same time when We Who Control PBW will take you to...

The Outer Limits of Publishing

Monday, November 27, 2006

Snap Ten

Ten Things for Writers in a Hurry

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

1.'s Daily Writing Prompts will give you as many swift kicks in the muse as you'd like.

2. Create quick floor plans, interior layouts and 3D models of your setting with Cadsoft's Envisioneer Express freeware.

3.'s Fiery Love Poem Generator, for those times when you or your novel need a hot love poem but you aren't in the mood to compose one.

4. Fifty Writing Tools: Quick List from Poynter Online is just what the title says (I'm a big fan of #34.)

5. Desperately seeking a title for your novel? Find one in a click with's Instant Title Generator.

6. Opera 9 free web browser claims to be superfast and works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

7. Find that perfect pseudonym in a blink with the Pen Name Generator.

8. Save time checking your various e-mail accounts by having Pop Peeper freeware alert you when new e-mail arrives.

9. Someday one keyword will launch a thousand applications; for now launch your apps faster with Quick Start freeware.

10. Inet 2 Inet's World Creator v. 1.5 freeware creates graphics and artwork; aimed at gamers and RPGers but could be of use to writers looking to work up images of their fictional settings.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


As we're in the last days of NaNoWriMo, and Bryon has pulled into the lead in his manuscript race against Dave, and I'm about 72 hours away from finishing my last book of the year, I think we should share whatever we do or use that helps us make it to the finish line.

My never-fail five:

1. Nice big reward: When I finish this book, I get to take off an entire month to enjoy my family and the holidays. There's not a better form of motivation than pending vacation.

2. Daily motivators: If I make my target quota for the day, I'm allowed an hour of reading for pleasure or a long hot bubble bath. If I surpass my daily quota, I get the bath or the book plus my guy gives me a back rub (his way of helping out.)

3. Serious breaktime: The pace of working during a deadline week is relentless and grinding; the last couple of days are spent in different levels of hell. I always work eighteen hour days, but I combat exhaustion by actually working only twelve of those hours, and breaking them up into three sessions of four hours on, two hours off.

4. Nutrition: I live on salads, fresh fruit and whole-grain English muffins, in small portions, for the duration of deadline week. I stay away from sugar, caffeine and meat. So far I've already killed two half-gallons of orange juice and God knows how much chilled water. I never eat before I work, only after when I take a break (also a nice side motivator to get me through a session.)

5. Well Refills: I listen to a lot of music during deadline week, usually in the car as I'm making school rounds but I also have my CD player close at hand. This book has me listening to a lot of Shelley Phillips, Branford Marsalis and Bach's Masses and Magnificats.

So what do you guys do to make it through crunch time? Tell us in comments to this post by midnight EST on Thursday, 11/30/06. I'll draw ten names from everyone who participates, and send the winners a signed copy of the mass market edition of Afterburn. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

100 Huhs

The New York Times has released its annual list of 100 Notable Books of the Year, one I usually peer at to see if there's anything on it that I read and/or liked. Hold onto your hats; I've actually read two on the list: one I loved, and one I loathed -- but other than that, zilch.

After last year's mess, I was hoping that someone in the editorial department would have said, "Hey, guys, maybe we should write blurbs that HELP sell more copies of these books." Something happened; they've reverted from babelesque hip-speak of last year to their standard snot-speak, which of course has made the New York Times the veritable stanchion of unimaginative elitism.

Honestly, I don't think you could drive the average book buyer away from these books any faster than if you jumped in front of the shelves and waved an open vial of anthrax. For example:

1. "....unsettling and blackly funny vignettes" -- Last time I checked, unsettling was not funny, even blackly. Vignette must be the latest trope, whatever the hell a trope is.

2. ".... A hefty, brilliant volume" -- Does no one at the Times listen to Clapton anymore? With a story, like a penis, it's not about size but in the way that you use it. Although (call me psychic) I'm sure this one holds open the laundry room door with no problem.

3. "....Old grievances drive the plot of this novel" -- That's the answer to Literary Meanings for $500. The question: "What is a transparent ax-grinder, Alex?"

4. "....A structurally experimental road-trip novel" -- Experiment on your own dime, pal. Better yet, use it to hire a therapist and get over writing badly-disguised Kerouac fanfic.

5. "....two exquisitely shaped novellas" -- So, shouldn't that make this list 101 Notable Books of the Year, then? Or 99 Notable Books and 2 Novellas?

6. "....this dark-humored novel" -- Since they already used blackly funny and don't want to repeat themselves. Up next: Murkily mirthsome, duskily tittery and low-light laughable.

7. "....The third volume, remarkable for its breadth and detail" -- I'm betting the writer for #6 had to read it for a quote, right? That's what put her into the bad mood.

8. "....a schoolboy's story." -- I'm sorry, but maybe you boys in editorial didn't get that memo from the Author's Gild. We only use "schoolboy's story" as a deadly insult to another writer, i.e.: I cannot believe they actually paid money for this stupid little schoolboy's story.

9. "....a moral framework" -- I have no idea what this means. The original outline for the ten commandments? Ted Haggard's ministry? Catholic scaffolding? What? (Also, why are we using the word "moral" so much? If you want to lure the hard red right into the stores, try substituting purpose-driven or inspirational and decorate it with little doves and burning Bushes. Well, okay, that last part was for my personal amusement, but still.)

10. "....The Nobel laureate tells her life story" -- I won't listen to this from drunks at writer conferences, so why would I pay $26.95 for it?

11. "....complicated sexual algebra" -- No. I know you guys are trying to be clever, but NO. You are not allowed to pair something as wonderful as sex with freaking algebra.

12. "....How to read with writerly sensitivity" -- Obviously, not written by me.

13. "....An artful journalist cross-dresses" -- but still can't get her pretend domestic partner on her medical insurance plan. Then she takes off the penis suit and mourns the life she never lived. Oh, the suffering. (Waitress? Check please.)

14. "....A panoramic moral analysis" -- Panoramic immediately makes me think of those 4" tall 48" wide photos of Grand Canyon vacations that camera nuts are always giving you. "Look, you can see the entire Snake River from start to finish!" Please. I've faked orgasms that were more thrilling. And there's that moral word again. Why not tag it as immoral? I'd buy an immoral analysis in a heartbeat, wouldn't you?

15. "....In her effectively elliptical novel" -- Does that mean...the novel is...filled with...these stupid...things...? Or is it shaped like this: ()

16. "....this parablelike novel" -- Excuse me, parablelike? You're the New York Times, for God's sake. Stop using words that don't exist.

17. "....Stories of understated realism" -- As story collections went, it was sort of real, but not so you'd notice. It was, you see, many brave paddles secretly angled to propel literature's fine boat up the mighty river of How It Should Be into LaLaLand, where the upstanding overly-educated people run things, because they alone know that physical objects are impermanent representations of unchanging ideas, and that ideas alone give true knowledge. And we the inferior dumbasses, being so caught up with playing with our physical objects and doing the actual gruntwork in the world and all, should let them. Uh-huh.

17a. Somebody IM Matt Cheney, he'll want to be all over this one.

18. ".... in this debut novel of global misunderstanding." -- So who is going to understand it? Extra-terrestrials?

19. ".... this nimble, satirically chiding novel." -- Only the Brits are allowed to use the words like nimble and chiding, as they're the only ones who can say them without sounding like effete dorks.

20. "....This novel's hero, a ghost, looks back ruefully on his suicide" -- Suggested subtitle: The Lovely Slitted Wrists. Oooooo, how original.

20a. It's also now official: I am tired of dead protagonists.

20b. I mean it. No more of this Sebolderdash. You want me to purchase your book, it has to have a living, breathing protagonist in it. Or a vampire protagonist. Undead okay, dead not okay.

20c. This is non-negotiable.

and finally, the ultimate in boring blurbs:

"A nameless protagonist grapples with aging, physical decline and impending death in this slender, elegant novel.": The Old Man and Medicare Part C!

Anyway, I will recommend one novel from this esteemed list as deserving of the recognition: Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. That's the one I loved, and may it nab the author another NBA.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday 20

Now that the holidays are upon us, it's tough to find the time and energy for blogging. It's almost as if we're hauling the weight of the entire year behind us, like Marley's chains, and not a whole lot happens in the publishing from November 30th to January 1st. If you're feeling like you're running out of steam, Alison Kent wrote an excellent post about making a blog plan that might help (and promptly devised her own.)

I'm not a huge fan of memes, which remind me of those "test" notes the twits in high school were always passing to each other during class, but I do like the concept behind the Thursday Thirteen, which promotes more creativity and individuality while still giving the blogger a focal point for the post, namely writing thirteen things about one topic that helps a visitor get to know the blogger.

Blogger is making the switch over to Google, and has prompted all their users to do the same. I've tried, but the system won't switch PBW because it's (apparently) too large. I don't know how they're going to handle the transition of blogs like mine, but things like this never seem to go well. If there are posts or links from my archives that you'd like to copy down or print out, you might want to do that soon. I've never made any electronic backups of anything I write here, only paper copies (yes, beyond stupid, I know) so I'm going to investigate what I can do to save the blog content. ***Updated: I figured out how to copy via View Source the archived entries by month so I should be able to recover everything even if the blog melts down completely during the switch over.

That's it for another week in WriterLand. Got any questions for me?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

To All

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holiday Help

Ten Things to Help With the Holidays

1. Butterball Help: If those of you in the U.S. need any advice on thawing, dressing or cooking your holiday turkey, call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line at 1-800-BUTTERBALL by phone, or e-mail (e-mail response may take 24 to 48 hours.)

2. Grace or Thanks: Here's a short and simple prayer to say before your holiday meal: Bless us, O Lord, for these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Help us to be mindful of all our blessings, and the needs of those who have less. Amen. If you don't say grace at meals, you can ask everyone at the table to name something for which they're thankful, and why.

3. Nuking the Potatoes: If you're preparing microwavable mashed potatoes to save cooking and stovetop time, but want them to taste a bit more homemade, mix in 1/4 cup of milk, 1 tbsp. butter or margarine and (optional) 1/2 tsp. of black pepper per 24 ozs. of potatoes before you heat them.

4. Occupy the Kids: (You'll need ingredients to make a batch of cupcakes, some tubs of ready-to-use frosting, and shakers of sprinkles or tubes of gel frosting.) This is a great way to let even the youngest kid contribute something to the feast. Make your favorite recipe of cupcakes the night before your holiday, but don't frost or decorate them. While you're cooking the next day, give the kids the cupcakes, frostings and decorations, and let them at it. If grandparents need something to do, they can supervise. This is also a nice dessert alternative for the kids, who might not like pumpkin pie or whatever you've got planned for the grownups.

5. Painless Dessert: People ask me for this recipe every holiday season. It's sinfully rich fudge for those of us who can't be trusted with a candy thermometer.

PBW's Famous No-Brainer Fudge

3 cups Nestle Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 can 14 oz. sweet condensed milk
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
dash of salt
[optional add-ins: chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, raisins, M&Ms etc.]

Put morsels, milk, extract and salt in a sauce pan and melt over low heat. Stir frequently to blend. When it looks like fudge -- after about 5 to 10 minutes -- remove from heat, stir in your favorite chopped nuts, marshmallows, M&Ms or whatever. Pour into pan (I use an 8" pie pan), spread out, cover with foil or plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Chill for two hours, take out, cut into squares, enjoy.

Note on fancy toppings: Before you put in the fridge, you can also top the fudge with coconut, maraschino cherries, pecan halves etc.

6. Punch with Pow: Freeze a 46 oz. can of unsweetened pineapple juice. When time to serve, place the frozen block of juice in punch bowl and pour black cherry soda over it until you fill the bowl (use as much soda as your guest count demands; we usually go through about 4 liters of soda at mid-size gatherings.) If you want a fancier look, freeze the pineapple juice in shaped ice cube trays or a ring-shaped mold.

7. Quickie Centerpiece: Fill your favorite serving bowl or basket with apples, oranges, grapes or other fresh fruit you have around the house, and then place unshelled walnuts in some of the spaces between the fruit. If you don't have walnuts, try short sprigs of evergreen or pine, autumn leaves or small bunches of fresh parsley.

8. Thanks in Return: If you're having your holiday feast at someone else's place and would like to do something nice for your hosts, give them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. After all the cooking they've done, it will be much appreciated.

9. Waking up the Stuffing: If you make traditional bread/celery/seasoning-type stuffing and want to liven it up a little, chop a medium onion, sautee it in a little margarine and add it to the mix. For more intense flavor, don't sautee the onion. Feeling more adventurous? Try adding one of the following to your basic stuffing recipe: chopped apples or water chestnuts (adds sweetness and crispness) dried cranberries (these are wonderful), crushed garlic, cooked sausage, or sliced mushrooms.

10. Ziplocks to the Rescue: If your fridge space is limited, try saving leftovers in ziplock bags versus Tupperware or plastic containers (bags seal just as well but are more flexible than rigid containers.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cooking the Books

If publishers were restaurants, then readers would be the patrons, booksellers the waiters, writers the chefs, genre the cuisine, and novels the meals. Every day something new comes out on the menu to join the current favorites while something old that nobody ordered much is removed.

In the fine dining business, everything rides on the ability of the chef to prepare a great meal. The chef must choose the right ingredients, prepare them properly, add them together in the right amounts and combinations, all to create something new and delicious that will please the people waiting for it.

Oddly enough, the profit margins in publishing and fine dining about the same, too -- and want to guess how much the average chef makes these days? Full-time, based on national averages, about $15-20K per year (which is about twice what the average pro writer makes. Maybe we're in the wrong business.)

As with gourmet meals, people will put up with a lot of things for a great read: terrible atmosphere, lousy ambience, neglectful service, obnoxious patrons at the next table, etc. Devoted novel lovers will put in pre-orders for their favorites and wait for weeks or even months for that one particular writer to deliver their specialty of the moment. If the novel sucks, however, just as in restaurants with lousy food, those people won't be back.

Writers have to compete with each other at the burners, and then shut up and step out of the way when a better-seller chooses to waltz in and take over the menu. Across the street there is always some Red Lobster or Olive Garden publisher, churning out yet another all-you-can-eat trendfest. They work off the theory that quantity outsells quality, and maybe they're right, because they're always busy. If your books don't sell, your publisher will be letting you go, because there is a line of writers a mile long standing outside the delivery door, just waiting for their one shot at the chopping block.

Not everyone is going to like what you offer them. If you've got someone in the dining room who has been stuffing themselves at other restaurants with nothing but vanilla sponge cake with pink frosting for dessert, and you dare send out a slice of dark chocolate ganache, they're going to complain. It's dark, it's bitter, whatever. Their palette is so dulled by the crap they scarf that they can't appreciate what you're offering. If you combine ingredients in a way that's never been done before, and present your patrons with something entirely new, no matter how delicious it is, they're going to view it with suspicion. They may not even taste it because -- as my kids often say -- it looks weird.

Then there are those regular patrons who send back their plates to show the chef who's really the boss. The "shut up and cook" ax-grinders who can't imagine why they lower themselves to eat at our lousy restaurant but still show up, every single time we're on. Love to cook for people like that. I do wonder if they realize how often they gobble up something without noticing the little additions we made especially for them, like the crumbled cockroach and the saliva glaze.

The one thing we have to do when we're in the great kitchen of publishing is focus on preparing the dish at hand. When we're cooking up our books, the only way to create a great story is to give it our full attention. Choosing the novel's ingredients, preparing them, combining them and making them work together as a story is the job, and that's all it is. You get distracted by other things -- how the meal is listed on the menu, how quickly it's served, how much comes back and what the fatass food critic who got his meal comped said about it -- and what you've got simmering on the back of the stove is going to start burning or go cold.

Now that I've depressed you or wrecked your diet, I've got to go stir-fry a dark fantasy. If your writing was a cuisine or a particular dish, what would it be?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gimme Ten

In honor of the holiday shopping that gets into gear this week:

Ten Things Under $25 That Make Great Writer Gifts

1. 100,000 + Baby Names by Bruce Lansky: (cost: from B&, $11.65) The king of baby names books has put out a spectacular new edition that claims to be the most complete ever printed (I have a copy and it's like a name Bible.) Lansky includes interesting lists of most popular names by year, naming trends, and a worksheet to determine the right name. Writers often use baby name books to find names for our characters; this one is a true gem.

2. (cost: $25.00 or less) For posters, prints and framed art, you just can't beat Pick out something inspirational for your favorite writer to gaze upon, or give them a gift certificate so they can go shopping.

3. Bookstore Gift Card: (cost: $25.00 or less) Pick one up at your favorite book store and slip it into your Christmas Card; you're done. Online booksellers like B& offer electronic versions which they e-mail to the recipient. There isn't a writer in the world who doesn't love, cherish and covet bookstore gift cards.

4. Fountain and Specialty Pens: (cost: various) I personally recommend this site because I've loved every pen I've bought from Norman (the owner of HisNibs) and his customer service is outstanding. Many affordable pen and pen accessory gifts to be found here, like the Hero '50 Series, currently priced at $12.00 - $15.00 each.

5. Handheld Voice Recorder: (cost: from, $23.90 plus free shipping) A voice recorder is a big help for writers who like to dictate notes, talk out dialogue, or muse out loud; also for handicapped writers like me who can't always use a pen comfortably.

6. Journals: (cost: various) We need something in which to chronicle our writing journey, blow off steam or just ponder the meaning of life, and a journal does the trick. I go through five to ten journals per year and I recommend Paperblank Book Company -- they make some of the most interesting and beautiful journals on the market, with most priced under $25.00.

7. Music: (cost: various) I often give CDs of music that inspires me as gifts to writer friends; the one I've given out most this year is Nickelback's Silver Side Up. One of the better buys in this year's holiday boxed sets is Mozart 250 - A Celebration.

8. Office Depot Gift Cards: (cost: various; available online in $10.00 to $25.00 amounts) Next to bookstore gift cards, writers love these the most, because we go through office supplies like nobody's business. Office Depot ships the card for free and it never expires.

9. Visual Thesaurus Online Subscription: (cost: $19.95) I've been bullying people for years to check out ThinkMap's Visual Thesaurus, which is unique and very inspirational. The software download or CD is a bit more pricey ($39.95) to buy, and an online subscription gives your writer a year to play with it.

10. Subscription to Writer's Journal Magazine: (cost: special offer from WJ, $15.00 for 1 year) I think WJ offers the most practical info for working writers, and their holiday subscription special gets your writer a year of issues for 50% off the newstand price.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Decoration No-Nos

Ten Holiday Decorations That I Can't Stand

1. Any cute figurine that comes to life, talks and dances the minute something moves within two feet of it.

One year Santa is going to bring me that bazooka I keep putting on my list, you know.

2. Cheap outdoor plastic, light-up Nativity scenes.

During the first strong breeze those poor shepherds are going to fall over and look like they're having a threesome with Blessed Mother, right in front of Joseph and the baby.

3. Christians who put out Hanukkah decorations to be fair or whatever.

That stick on the dreidel? Does not get planted in the ground. It's a top, not a tree. And STOP putting singing Christmas bulbs in the menorah.

4. Decorating with Santa Claus, snow man, reindeer, teddy bear or angel heads.

At no time during "Deck the Halls" does it say do it with decapitations.

5. Draping or wrapping every square inch of furniture in a house with glittering garland.

I want to take off my sunglasses when I come inside, thanks.

6. Dressing up the mailbox with cutesy holiday stuff.

Talk about rubbing salt in your letter carrier's wounds. Don't you ever wonder why they go postal?

7. (Florida residents only) Displaying anything with the words "Let it Snow!" on it.

Move back up north, please. At once.

8. Lighting up a twenty-foot tall cross on the lawn with blinking, multicolored lights.

Somehow I just don't think Jesus wants a fun, festive reminder of that.

9. Old inflatable Santas that do not remain completely inflated.

Santa looks like he's been on a three-week bender or someone beat the crap out of him. Patch the damn thing or get rid of it.

10. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figurines with an other-than-red lightbulb in the nose.

If I have to explain this to you, you are not allowed to decorate for the holidays.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Character Wheel

While working with Antone Roundy's online Color Wheel generator to get some ideas for an e-book cover art in progress, a writing lightbulb flickered.

Everyone remembers from school what a color wheel is, right?

Image borrowed from

When people like artists, interior designers and quilters work with color, they are constantly thinking about how to put different colors together in a palette to create a certain look. Monochromatic color schemes, for example, are all tints or shades of one color (sky blue, medium blue, navy blue), while analogous schemes are all different colors which are side by side on the color wheel (green, blue, and violet.) Complementary schemes are when you put together colors from opposite sides of the wheel (green and red; blue and orange.)

I can talk color all day -- quilters are obsessed with values and patterns and such -- but that's not why I latched onto this color wheel thing. For years I've tried to explain how to balance characters in a story, but I never had a logical way to show how I do it. I always ended up trying to draw a schematic of the process and making a mess of it.

But now I'm thinking: is it possible to create a cast of characters in the same way artisans and designers use a color wheel to work out a design scheme? In romances, I know I prefer to write complementary heroes and heroines, and create sort of an analogous cast around those two contrasting characters. But the terms for color schemes don't quite translate right; we'd need personality traits to be the colors and define very different combinations. Each novel might require a new wheel, and I doubt any two writers' wheels would look the same.

It might still be too complicated a process to put together a character wheel, but I really liked the idea. It would make a great teaching tool, too. What do you guys think?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Friday 20

Bryon Quertermous and Dave White are trying to wrap up writing their current novels by seeing who can finish theirs first. To offer some friendly, no-pressure support for this effort, Jim Winter and I have put down our money on them.

If Dave wins, I’ll make a donation to Jim’s charity, Habitat for Humanity, and when, I mean if, Bryon wins, Jim will make a donation to my charity, The Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Jim, you do have your checkbook handy, right?)

I’m sure the guys will do their best to make it to the finish line. Dave has a contracted book, so he’s got an editor waiting on it. An editor who will probably be going on vacation for the holidays and won’t have time to actually read the manuscript until after the first of the year, but still. I’m sure Bryon will be happy to know the writer backing him has worked for and remains on good terms with more than a dozen major publishing editors who often ask her opinion of new novelists.

One can never know precisely who will win a manuscript race – well, not counting that time I bet that Jim would win his, and he did – but it’s all in good fun. May the best writer (*cough*Bryon*cough*) win.

Meanwhile, it's that time of week again -- any questions out there for me?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Unreal Influences

While at the book store today, I spotted a book that I later looked up on B&, listed under possibly the longest title I've ever seen: The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History by Dan Karlan, Allan Lazar, Jeremy Salter.

Imagine, just typing up the file folder labels for that one. Ouch.

The book's title did make me think about fictional characters who might have had some influence on my work. Laura Ingalls from the Little House Books wasn't fictitious, but her and her family's struggle to survive during The Long Winter definitely left a lasting impression. As did Paiken and Elea, the "ice people" from La Nuit des Temps, and Ivan Denisovich from the novel some rookie named Solzhenitsyn wrote about one day in his miserable life. It's possible they're why a beach girl from Florida ended up writing a novel like Rebel Ice.

I don't write knock-offs or derivative fiction, but there have been some memorable characters that still serve me as shining examples of why one should toss all Da Genre Rules out the window. Devon and Michael from Virginia Coffman's Mistress Devon turned the Gothic novel upside down for me by showing how a theatre troupe deals with treachery on the brink of the American Revolution. Mitji from Madeleine Brent's Golden Urchin demonstrated just how far out you could go with a romance heroine -- like abandoning her as a baby to be raised by Aborigines in the Australian outback -- and still keep her completely plausible and realistic.

Have fictional characters had any impact on your work? Who are they, and how do you think they've influenced your writing?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

HB Buddy

Remember this furry little baby moving in to Casa PBW last January?

The pup and his older cat brothers, aka my four boys

Well, he sorta grew up on us.

Touch Mom's books and I'll take off your hand

So today we brought home a cake made especially (and only) for pups:

Fresh fom the pet shop bakery

And celebrated Buddy's first birthday in style.

Chowing down

Next year, I want a people cake, too (sniff.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

E-book Challenge Read/Critiques

Way back when I issued the E-book challenge, I promised to randomly select 20 of the entries, read them, and offer the author a private critique. I apologize for my delay in keeping that promise, but I wanted to see how many e-books were submitted, if I could rearrange the schedule, and do a little better than 20.

Turns out I can, so I'm going to read and offer private critiques on all of the E-books in the challenge.

I should be able to read my way through the entire list by mid- to late-December (I'll draw one e-book at random from the list at a time until I read and crit them all.) Also, I will not be reading any other type of fiction until I finish this project, so you guys are now my TBR stack.

As for the type of critique I'll send along, it will be basically the same thing that I get from my own editors: any technical errors I find, what I liked, what didn't work for me, and any suggestions or ideas I have that I think might improve the story. Keep in mind that any critique is an opinion, nothing more, not to be chiseled in stone etc.

I'll be e-mailing my critiques to the e-book authors' e-mail addresses that were used to send me the challenge entries. If that information has changed, do let me know by sending a note to Also, if for whatever reason you'd rather not have a critique from me, just let me know -- I'll still read it, but I'll keep my opinions to myself.

Congratulations, and thanks again to all the challengers.

Monday, November 13, 2006

What a Site Ten

Ten Things for Web Site Design & Management

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

1. Creating a web community? Check out Boonex's Dolphin, Ray and Orca freeware.

2. Generate a template for a simple, single column web site with's Easy Template Wizard freeware.

3. Learn the basics of HTML and CSS with Dave Raggett's Getting Started with HTML.

4. Manage your web site content easily and professionally with Atozed Software's free personal version download of IntraWeb Studio.

5. has a freeware java script package that includes a customizable applet to add animated scrolling text to your web site.

6. Publish to the web minus the hassles with the freeware version of PDFMoto.

7. Convert MS Word documents into web sites with Rapid-Website freeware.

8. Also from, make your own stylish css boxes, headers and content for your web site with Stylebox CSS freeware.

9. Matthias Peters's ThumbaWumba freeware can help you easily create a web gallery for your site.

10. Total Web Kit freeware apparently allows users to create a web site and upload it automatically, all within a few minutes.

Also, if you want to try building a web site but are reluctant to invest in a lot of expensive software and services, check out's Web Page Design Course and one of the free builder sites listed here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


The dark and stormy night was not dark and stormy, exactly; in fact the night in whatever manner it would procede to manifest itself had yet to arrive. At this cherished moment in the sprawl of time, the present hour effortlessly hovered between a magical sunset and sensuous twilight like a slightly bipolar dragonfly, not certain if it might fly up in manic glee into the golden-fleeced clouds or plummet with withering depression into the purple depths of coming darkness.

Beneath these lovely if indecisive skies, a large and impressive house rose from an abundant carpet of well-tended grasses of many shades of green and flower beds spilling like rainbow pools at their precise edges, a stately house that many square, uneducated hands had masoned out of brick and mortar and low-income sweat. An eminently suitable house that served an appreciative master whose flaws, aside from some very poor taste in wallpaper color, were as scarce as the teeth of feminine chickens.

A house of houses, that waited for the unexpected visitor that it sensed would come driving like Mario Andretti down the dusty lane winding out from the huddle of the quaint little town not five miles away, waited with the resignation of the immovable, always waiting as it had been since it had first gazed through its some thirty-odd windows at the blazing globe of its first post-construction dawn, although not with eyes, as it was simply, beautifully, completely a house.

And so Marcia, she of the exquisite taste in wallpaper, came. She came in a cloud of raw sienna dust, came in her lovely green dress which she knew would clash horribly with John's library, or at least its expansive walls and their unfortunately-chosen coverings, came with her blue eyes flashing like sapphires and her sweet red lips compressed into a slashing line, came to the door of this magnificent house and hammered on it with a white-knuckled fist that moved with the vigor of a rainbow trout in the vicinity of a winter-starved, golden brown-furred grizzly bear.

The carved oak door slowly swung in, framing the man within, the man with whom Marcia had shared so many hours of appreciation of the unassuming, thirty-odd-windowed house, and those mellow, lazy if somewhat waffling sunsets that hinted at the possibility of an unprecedented rollback in time, much as the happy yellow smiley faces in Wal-Mart ads often precipitated rollbacks in prices, but perhaps not with as much avarice and sunny indifference to the dire straits of those forced to make the bulk of their purchases within its prefab, anonymous, unnoticed walls.

"Marcia." John looked past her slim, green-clad shoulder to gaze upon the last flicker of buttercup radiance sending its beams through the thick green lace of the leaves on the oak tree in the very front of the house. The tree of his youth, the tree under which he had first kissed his second-grade girlfriend Gertrude Hicks, who had tossed her carroty curls and screeched with the venom of a banshee before punching the seven-year-old version of himself in the belly. Or perhaps it had been Marcia; she had never taken his decision not to remove the deep, serene, soothing pea-colored wallpaper in his study with anything resembling understanding. "How lovely to see you."

"You're not looking at me, John," Marcia said, turning slightly so that more of the last of the ebbing day's light could bathe both of them in a gentle, luminescent glow that would have made round-cheeked cherubs with purest alabaster wings sigh with envy from their perches in the endless vaults of heaven. "You're looking at the sun."

"It is glorious, isn't it?" He smiled at the horizon, captured by the enchantment of the moment when day met dusk, when the long afternoon hours drew to a silent close, when he could draw the curtains and listen to the crickets sing to him from the depths of the small woods behind his modest dwelling, which--

"John." A hand waved in front of his face, a small but strong hand, a hand that promised as much pain as it did delight. "I've been standing here for thirty minutes. I'm cold, my feet hurt, and I'm bored."

"Wait, darling." John encircled her waist with his arm, gently turning her toward the magnificence of the yellow star that warmed their planet, that shed its power and glory over the fields to coax tender green shoots up from the rich soil, shoots that would grow into fine, sturdy stalks of yellow and white corn, the kernels of which held the sweetness and warmth of its touch, especially when liberally soaked in the rich, melting creaminess of butter, with perhaps just a tiny sprinkle of sea salt from the shores of faraway, exotic India, where--

"Snap out of it!"

Marcia's hand slapped his cheek, and so stunned was John that all he could do was gaze down at the face of his beloved, that delicate oval now tinted a light pink, a pink that rivaled the inside of a conch shell--

"I mean it," Marcia said, raising her hand in a menacing gesture. "Quit it, or so help me God I'll get the duct tape."

Her threat so unnerved John that he couldn't imagine how to better illustrate how menacing her gesture seemed. "Quit what, dearest?"

"The sun?" She pointed to the horizon. "Is setting. That's it. Get over it."

"The sun?" He smiled wistfully as he leaned over to gaze around her at the light symphony that danced over his retinas with the feet of tiny ballerinas in tutus made from the down of newborn chicks. "The sun is setting, darling, it's setting like a soft, lemon-colored feather drifting to the glassy surface of a silvery lake at--" his head snapped back as she hit him a second time. "What?"

"Inside. Now."

Marcia marched him in the same manner a drill sergeant might to his library. John tried to envision the interior of his home in a poetic and enlightening fashion, but she hurried him too much for him to compose the proper expository phrases.

"Darling, if you would just slow down, I could show the reader--"

"Every freaking inch of the inside of your house with more adjectives than Webster's prints? Spare me." Marcia shoved him into the library. "The readers are already in a description coma from the setting sun stuff." She gave him a furious look, a glare, a stare with lethal intent, a gaze that chilled him down to his bunions, and added, "Don't you dare start on me, either."

"What would you have me do, darling?" John asked, closing his eyes so that he would not be tempted to compare her to Blake's rose, or Faulkner's Miss Emily, or one of Viehl's diminutive, slime-coated alien slaver beings.

"I don't know." Marcia began to pace around the room. At least he thought so; he heard her footsteps thumping but his eyes were still squeezed shut tightly. "Talk to me? Do something to me? We're supposed to be in love. Not with the setting sun, not with this house, not with anything but each other. So say something. Do something!"

"You mean, use dialogue and action instead of setting?" He shuddered. "Sweetheart, how can I stoop to facilitate such vulgar prose? Our readers deserve to know my world as I know it, and see it, and feel it. I just bought the newly revised and expanded edition of Roget's, too. You're so beautiful. The sun is so incredible. This house, this wallpaper--"

Marcia grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "If you even think one nice word about this hideous wallpaper, I will strangle you with my bare hands. Which, by the way, do not move like rainbow trout."

"Very well." John swallowed and opened one eye a fraction of an inch. "I'll talk to you. I'll . . . do things to you. Are you sure I can't tell you how inspiring I find your--"


"Not even when your hair and eyes remind me of--"


"Oh, very well." John sighed. "Best get out the duct tape."

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Title Search

Here's a title-and-hook-line practice game: sit in any place in your house where you're surrounded by things with words on them (garage, storage room, library, home office, etc.) Make a list of random words that you see around you (don't take titles off the spines of books.)

Here's my list of words from the garage:

Old Locks (hand-written on cardboard box)
Wonder Wind (extension cord winder; "er" from "winder" is worn off)
Running Men (shoe box)
Just for Thought (old note stuck to bulletin board)
Venezia Spell (paint chip folder)
Landmark (fan box)
Without Rain (cracked CD case with fragment of insert, Enya? maybe)
Nom 166 (Dell computer box)
Gem of Truth (one or the kids' RPG cards)
Just a Click Away (end of photo package)
To Her Desires (beginning of last line on cover copy of old novel I'm reading)

Now, take your title words and imagine a story for them -- doesn't have to be a novel, just a story idea -- and write a premise or hook line for it:

Old Locks: Grandma meets the three bears.
Wonder Wind: How fast will Timmy's new bike go?
Running Men: In this race, there is no second place.
Just for Thought: Before you leave me, let me tell you why you shouldn't.
Venezia Spell: Never cast a stone spell in a glass castle.
Landmark: What could have scorched through the corn field like that?Without Rain: Forty nights in the devil's desert.
Nom 166: 500 more days and the AntiChrist arrives.
Gem of Truth: John and Marcia must save mystic gem from murderous thief.
Just a Click Away: Falling in cyberlove.
To Her Desires: Everything must be, or else.

You can also pick up title words and phrases from the Yellow Pages or telephone directory, things you hear people say, billboards, street signs or greeting cards. Look around you right now: what words do you see that you can make into a title and hook line? Post yours in comments.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Friday 20

Hot off the production team press:

Cover art for Night Lost, Darkyn book four

I'm particularly happy with this one because 1) he's gorgeous and 2) I specifically requested the color theme to echo some major story elements.

Authors aren't often involved in the composition of cover art for various reasons, mainly as it's not our area of expertise. The irony is that when someone ridicules cover art, they usually make fun of the author, not the editor, production team and publisher who were actually responsible for the disaster.

That needs to change. Authors can be a little snotty about what they consider appropriate cover art -- Jean, shut up -- but we know the story better than anyone. Publishers should at least listen to our ideas. Authors, on the other hand, need to learn the fine art of compromise and acceptance. I'm still working on that myself.

My publisher has also asked to use Midnight Blues, the story I wrote for my e-book challenge, for one of their marketing projects. That is a first, and adds another reason to the list of Why Do a Freebie E-book: because your publisher might be able to use it in some way to promote your print novels. Publishers looking for low- to no-cost marketing tools might try working with their authors to put together some promo e-books. People love free stuff, and nothing gives the reader a better idea of the writer than the writer's work.

The writer/publisher relationship doesn't have to be adversarial; we're all in this for the same basic reasons. We love books, we want to publish them well and we'd like not to starve in the process. As the industry continues to shrink, it makes more sense to pool our resources instead of keeping them from each other.

That's all from my corner of the writing world -- what's up in yours? Got any questions for me this week?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Paper

Yesterday Noël posted this in comments, and made me laugh:

I'd love to see an article on how cranky, misanthropic introverts should handle learning to sell their work.

If that isn't the story of my professional career . . .

Here's the main thing: when I was a cranky, authority-hating teen who pretty much pissed off everyone including my schoolteachers -- publishing parodies of them in the underground school newspaper probably didn't help -- I learned a valuable trick. In person I was a disaster, and often landed in detention thanks to my lack of interpersonal skills. On paper, however, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I only had to invent a persona to do the talking for me.

This is not to say you have to lie about who you are, what you write and how you'd like to get it published. The content stays the same. It's all in how you deliver it.

Let's say I have a short story that I want John Smith at Fiction Magazine to consider for publication. I'm in a bad mood tonight, so I'm naturally inclined to write the sub like this:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Enclosed is my short story,
Cranky and Introverted, for your consideration. It's the story of an author struggling so much to fit in with the publishing herd that she kidnaps an etiquette teacher. I'd appreciate a response within the sixty days as per your guidelines as I have other editors I'd like to query. Let me know if you have any questions.


No matter how well the story is written, this query letter will likely get it rejected. John Smith is going to interpret the tone of this letter, and the tone shrieks I've got a chip on my shoulder, this industry sucks, you've got sixty days and hey, don't waste my time. Why would he interpret it that way? Maybe John Smith's had a bad day, too. Maybe he expects the deference, or just doesn't want to deal with someone who would write a letter like this.

Now, the same letter, but with one of my personas writing it:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Enclosed please find my short story,
Cranky and Introverted, for your consideration. It tells the tale of a writer in desperate need of professional polish, and the etiquette coach she kidnaps to help her shine. Thanks for this opportunity, and I look forward to hearing from you.


The letter sounds a bit more friendly and inviting now, right? That's because the persona writing it was Friendly and Inviting PBW, who likes editors and wants them to like her and hire her and send her lovely big checks, not the evil Screw the Industry and You Too Pal PBW, who is presently popping ibuprofen for the tension headache that appears to be drilling into the gray matter behind her right eye.

The only technical difference between the two letters is that in the first I hit him with a reminder of the sixty day turnaround and in the second I didn't. I try never to give an editor a deadline; it's presumptuous and always sounds a little obnoxious.

If you're not comfortable with creating and using a persona on paper, then I'd recommend simply being as polite and professional as possible. An editor or agent will likely respond more often to a serious, courteous pitch than one that burns off their nose hairs.

There is more to cover on this topic (like what to do when you have to actually meet John Smith in person) but as most of the job is on paper, this is about 95% of the battle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Behind the scenes I've been working on getting some blog-related projects planned and organized. A couple of you (you know who you are) have made some very helpful suggestions via e-mail, and you can expect some series posts on outlining, self-promotion and plotting as well as some ways to put together a business plan for 2007.

I'd also like to hear from the rest of you regulars, infrequent visitors and lurkers, too: what topics, features or discussions would you guys like to see here on PBW? Please let me know in comments.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Melts in Your Mouth

It's a beautiful day in the publishing blogosphere, isn't it? If you skip around the raging hemmorhoids, the flaming jackasses, the rabid tongue-cluckers and everyone else shoving their posterior in your face today (and trust me, somehow we'll deserve it, us being the worthless writer scum that we are.)

Someday someone will invent a process that makes semen chocolate-flavored, but until then, we're stuck with these people.

I am here to report that despite the conflagrations, there are some pretty wonderful things out here, like National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. It's in full swing now, and that's always fun to join in or cheer on the NaNo'ers. I love November because fifty or sixty thousand kindred spirits spend it finding out firsthand just how fun this gig can be (and tough, and cool, and frustrating, and amazing, and so on.)

Need something to read? There are always new books hitting the shelves to check out: Lauren Bacall's updated autobio, By Myself and Then Some, Emma Holly's new tale of the Demon World, The Prince of Ice, Monica Jackson, Donna Hill and Adrianne Byrd's holiday antho Takin' Chances for the Holidays, Tamara Siler Jones's latest Dubric novel Valley of the Soul, Alison Kent's newest Blaze Infatuation, Jo Leigh's latest Blaze Relentless, and some SF book by a chick with an aquatic fixation.

No room in the budget for books this month? No worries, you can find lots of free reads online if you know where to look.

The holidays are just around the corner: only 47 shopping days left. Have you made a list? Have you checked it twice? If you need help deciding on the perfect gift for someone, you might consult the gift wizard at

If you're talented and not afraid to show it to the entire planet, you might enter your video for a shot at the $50,000 prize in the Yahoo! Talent Show contest (11/27/06 is the last day to submit a video.)

You can discover some new and healthy recipes for your seasonal gatherings over at Cooking Light Magazine, or win some neat prizes on their contest page. Baking some homemade bread is also very good, if you don't use the bread machine -- pummeling the dough by hand works out plenty frustration.

You might also resync yourself by trying one of the Cleveland Clinic's Calming and Empowering Exercises.

Or you could get started on inventing that flavoring process. Just remember, when you accept the Nobel, I get a mention for having suggested it. Who says that we can't have world peace in our lifetime?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Helping Out Ten

Ten Things For Impaired/Handicapped Writers

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

1.'s Click-N-Type freeware provides a virtual keyboard in English and a bunch of other languages for people who have trouble with or can't type on a traditional version.

2. The most popular text-to-speech freeware out there, Cyber Buddy.

3. Dot-to-Dot, a braille transcriber program for Mac users, is free for anyone who works to help the blind and physically handicapped.

4. Zoom in on any hard-to-see portion of your screen with EZMagnifier or MouseCam.

5., a new company which plans to specialize in software designed for the impaired user, offers Ghost Clock 1.0 freeware.

6. Java Accessibility Helper makes JFC-based programs more accessible to users with disabilities.

7. Click-N-Type virtual keyboard users may also want to check out two programs designed specifically to work with it: Point-N-Click, a virtual mouse, and CNTDesigner, a keyboard customization program.

8. Have your e-mails and other text documents read to you by the free version of NaturalReader, or MDW Software's Speak Text freeware.

9. offers free braille and deaf language fonts.

10. Presently Simtel has a list of 114 free download programs designed for the impaired/handicapped user.

Jon Harrison from MSU Library also maintains a web page on grants for the disabled that details the related web sites, databases and books that can help.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Coming Soon on Book-TV

Gray's Dichotomy

A publishing drama that focuses on Merryditz Gray, who is part of a group of authors hanging out at a Borders' cafe. The daughter of a famous (unnamed) writer, Merryditz struggles to maintain relationships with her fellow writers while at the same time competing with them.

PILOT EPISODE: Absinthe and Peppermint



Multi-genre author MERRYDITZ GRAY sits at the writers' table in the corner of the store cafe with horror author TINA YING, romance author DIZZIE STEVENS, and cozy mystery author GEORGE O'MULEY.

MERRY: (swigs from double mocha no-caf latte laden with saccharine) Seriously, the key to surviving a publishing career is denial. We deny that we're tired, we deny that we're scared, we deny how badly we want to succeed. And most importantly, we deny that we're in denial, especially during pretty but pointless audience set up monologues.

YING: (sourly) I need a drink, a decent review, or a massage. Or a decent massage by a drunken reviewer. Why am I the only character identified in the script by my last name?

GEORGE: (earnestly) You're more ethnic than we are.

DIZZIE: (stops analyzing peppermint-chocolate cupcake recipe in food magazine) Seriously?

YING: (sourly) Seriously.

MERRY: We only write what we want to write and pitch what we want to pitch, and it works. (spills some latte down the front of her READING IS SEXY T-shirt, dabs at it with napkin) Okay, not always, but still. We lie on the page so much that after a while the lies start to seem like the truth. Seriously. We write so much that we can't recognize the truth right in front of our faces. Or the lies, I mean. You know, they originally wanted to cast Pamela Anderson for my part, and I'm beginning to see why.

GEORGE: (earnestly) We're fiction writers, you know. That means we like . . . lie for a living, right? (sees MERRY and YING exchange significant look) Oh, great. You're back working for McEditor. Seriously?

MERRY: I am not. Seriously.

YING: Not working for a wealthy good-looking powerful man who could get you on the Times? (stares into her latte) I should be on the Times. I love the Times. I live for the Times. There is nothing else in my life but getting onto the Times.

DIZZIE: What about the mysterious flu symptoms that you've been having? They worry me. If this was a romance novel, I think they'd result in a short but tragic emergency medical procedure that would add a much-need touch of pathos to your brilliant but incredibly emotionally shallow character.

MERRY: (leans across the table, in a whisper) Why didn't you tell me you're pregnant?

YING: (sourly) Maybe because you've got McEditor and I hate your guts?

MERRY: I don't have McEditor. My novels are too important for me to waste them on that, that--

Crime fiction author ALEX KREEPEV slithers in through a side door.

ALEX: --Guy who used to love anything you submitted. Even when it stunk. Which it usually does, 'cause you're a chick, and everyone knows chicks can't write like men.

DIZZIE: (with a lustful glance) Shut up, Kreep.

ALEX: (grins) For a novel to be really good, you want it to mean something. You want it to be edited by someone you can't get out of your head, so that when your story finally hits print you feel it everywhere. A novel so hot and so deep you never want to come up for air. Want to sleep with me again, Dizzie?

DIZZIE: Seriously? (with a come-hither glance) Drop dead, Alex.

ALEX slithers over to check out a pair of blonde booksellers with nice racks.

MERRY: See, seriously, at some point, you have to make a decision. Contracts don't keep other people out. They fence you in. Publishing is messy. That's how the business was designed. So, you can waste your lives drawing lines, making fun of Alex 'cause he writes those really stupid crime fiction novels, and scarfing up cupcakes. Or you can live your life crossing them.

DIRK SWINEHERD, aka McEditor, walks in with literary agent WANDA BITCHEY. They make a nonchalant beeline for the writers' table.

MERRY: (taking out a flask of absinthe from her purse and adding a dollop to the latte) Then again, there are some lines that are . . . way too dangerous to cross.

WANDA: (snorts) Why are you lazyasses sitting around here knocking back cheap latte when you should be at your terminals writing something that might vaguely resemble literature if you're very lucky? (YING holds up her hand; WANDA shakes her head.) I have five rules that you were supposed to memorize. Rule number one, don't bother sucking up. I already hate you, that's not gonna change. And no, Ying, I'm not going to represent you. I'd represent O'Muley first.

GEORGE: (earnestly) Seriously?

WANDA: Do I look like I'm serious to you, O'Muley?

DIRK: (in a seductive murmur to MERRY) So you blew me off for a bottle of absinthe? Absinthe's no good for you. It doesn't call, doesn't write, not nearly as much fun to wake up to.

MERRY: I'm not sleeping with you again, Dirk. You're married to your job. You're still in love with it. I have to be with someone who loves my novels. Who wants my novels. Who buys my novels. Love me, want me, buy me.

DIRK: (softly) Let's go back to my trailer, and you can show me your proposal again. (gives MERRY passionate but tortured look.) I need to see it again, Merry.

MERRY: Okay. (to everyone else) Gotta go, bye.

DIRK and MERRY drift out of the cafe.

YING: (into her latte, sourly) Bitch.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Bye Bye Bye

Tomorrow I say goodbye to the Darkyn web site, which has finished up a two-year run on the internet. It was a gamble, but I'm happy to report that it paid off, and the series has done so well that I earned back my investment in the first year.

However, like all good things, self-promotional budgets run out, so the site has to go. I do appreciate the excellent service and support that I received from Metro DMA, the site's amazing designers. Metro helped me with every glitch, technoblip and problem that came up, and dealt with a lot of inconvenience on my behalf without a murmur. I highly recommend them to anyone looking for first-class digital media design.

I'm not really sure what I'll do next. For now, I'll keep PBW rolling and let that be it for a while. This is not to imply that web sites are a bad idea. When done right, they can be fun as well as great promotional tools.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who stopped in to see the site and sent feedback to me about it. It was definitely an experience.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday 20

Want to know how to fry a modem? Better yet, want to know how not to install a new one? Come, my darlings, come and talk to PBW.

Yes, technology got me again. Sorry, folks. I also have some personal messages to pass along before we get into the weekly Q&A because I have no idea if my e-mail went out, stayed put or was devoured by the keeler modem:

Jordan Summers landed a three book contract with Tor -- Wheee!

The link for Midnight Blues is now live, and will hopefully stay that way. There is an exclusive excerpt from Night Lost at the end of it, and for the StarDoc readers, one from Plague of Memory as well. I'll also add the link to the freebie section in the sidebar as soon as I do the monthly template updates.

I will draw the names for the 20 read/critiques from the challenge entries as soon as I'm absolutely positively sure I got everyone on the list. E-mails are still coming in.

Selah, this is the last night I'm staying up until 2:30 a.m. I promise.

Dear Adobe Acrobat Professional 7.0 Designers: Your extremely expensive program? Sucks. First time I really need to use it in a hurry (don't ask) and hello, it crashes everything. Windows, Microsoft Word -- all had to be reinstalled. Because of you. And once I do get the damn thing to work? Oy. I thought I was landing a shuttle in Houston. User-friendly? Ever heard of this term? Huh?

We just won't talk about file transfer protocol. Ever. Again.

So? You all having a good week, or what?