Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Synful Trio

#1: Someone (you know who you are) asked me if there was a one-size-fits-all-genres synopsis template anywhere on the web. I found a site that offered instructions on how to create your own template using Microsoft Word, which will make and store a blank template formatted for a synopsis (you still have to write it.)

#2: While looking for the template, I found the Vivian Beck Agency, and their excellent page on 5 Steps to Writing a Synopsis. If you get mired down in writing synopses, or don't understand them, definitely check this out.

#3: Although I've not yet found a synopsis-generating software program that doesn't cost an arm and leg, our blog pal Simon Haynes's yWriter freeware can be used to create a synopsis using the summary data entered for each chapter. Another reason to adore Simon: he understands our pain.

I think I got over my serious dread of synopses by following some advice to write one for a novel by one of my favorite authors. Great practice, and no pressure involved.

What's the best synopsis tip you've ever gotten?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Plot Algebra

Plot Algebraic Equations

Aphrodite's Curve Ball [H + H + A = LT]

To plot a love triangle, find the sum of the hero, heroine, and antagonist.

Boolean Secret Baby [H + H = (H + H)2 = H2 + 2H2 + H2 = H + 2H + H = H + H + H + H = B]

If the hero and heroine get together often enough, they will simplify their relationship, work out all their problems, and have a baby in last chapter.

Habeas Crime Fictionous [P / BLI + ES / TA = DB]

Protagonist divided by bimbo love interest plus ethnic sidekick divided by thuggish antagonist equals dead body.

Janus's Law of Duplicity [PT + RH = -A, P = A]

If the plot twists and red herrings do not result in an antagonist, then the protagonist is the antagonist.

Moufang Switcheroo [(PL)(IA) = P(LI)A

If the protagonist shares a love interest with the antagonist, then the love interest is out to screw one or both of them.

Properties of the Pissed-off [P < C, P + M (?GS + CC?) > C]

The protagonist is less than conflict, but the protagonist plus motivation is greater than conflict, especially if great sex and a cute chick are added into the equation.

Unending Order of the Infinite Series [P + . . . . + (C/(infinity)).FI = (number of open threads/2). (first + last motivations)=(infinity/2).(P+(C/(infinity)).FI)=(infinity/2).(P/(infinity)).A =(A-P)/Advance = KJA]

The bestselling fiction series shall be written until the publisher goes belly-up or the author drops dead, in which case Kevin J. Anderson will take over writing it.

(And they said that I'd never use it after high school. Ha.)

Extra credit: write an algebraic equation for your WIP or favorite novel in comments.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Winner & Write Stuff Ten

The victim winner of the Test Subject Needed giveaway is leatherdykeuk, aka Rachel Green, who should e-mail me at with your ship-to address so I can begin the torture send along the DVD and cards. Thanks to everyone for joining in -- as soon as I get in more cards, I'll have another volunteer giveaway.

Ten Things for the Writing Freeware Lovers

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

1. Type faster and more accurately with a free trial version of As-U-Type.

2. Extend the power of your Clipboard with ClipMagic freeware.

3.'s IntelliEdit 1.0 freeware "is a Rich Text Editor powered by smart autocompletion. It can autocomplete words and phrases, auto-expand shorthands. It can even learn new words and phrase while typing."

4. Pot Boiler novel writing software offers a free trial version for download that's the same as the full version except for disabled file load and save features.

5. Add your favorite phrases, signature blocks and other frequently-used phrases with the freeware version of Quick Phrase.

6. Have your computer read your WIP back to you with Sayz Me freeware.

7. You can test drive some of the features of "The Writer's Software Companion" by downloading Storyline Interactive freeware.

8. Text Explosion is an abbreviation expander and can be used to auto-correct common spelling errors.

9. Replace your NotePad with WordTabs freeware.

10. Another Clipboard extender freeware, YC3, remembers the last 200 things you placed on your clipboard.

Reader freebies: The University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center offers over 2,100 books for reading online or for download in Microsoft Reader and Palm format.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Story Clay

That which has been is what will be,
That which
is done is what will be done,
And there
is nothing new under the sun.

--Ecclesiastes 1:9, (NKJV)

In his diary, Michelangelo wrote the following about creating his very famous sculpture of David:

"The City Council asked me to carve a colossal David from a nineteen-foot block of marble -- and damaged to boot! I locked myself away in a workshop behind the cathedral, hammered and chiseled at the towering block for three long years. In spite of the opposition of a committee of fellow artists, I insisted that the figure should stand before the Palazzo Vecchio, as a symbol of our Republic. I had my way. Archways were torn down, narrow streets took forty men five days to move it. Once in place, all Florence was astounded. A civic hero, he was a warning...whoever governed Florence should govern justly and defend it bravely. Eyes watchful...the neck of a bull...hands of a killer...the body, a reservoir of energy. He stands poised to strike."

I love those four words: "I had my way." They still ring with Michelangelo's satisfaction.

The "damaged to boot" part is the interesting part, though. Another artist -- Agostino di Duccio -- had started working on that particular marble block forty years earlier, but for whatever reason had failed to make anything out of it. There aren't any photographs of the original marble block, but some biographies hint that Agostino had also been working on depicting David, and that Michelangelo had picked up where he left off.

In the writing world, it's often said that there are no new stories. What we write has already been done, and our books are nothing new under the sun. Chiseled in marble, statues of perfection, might as well give it up, etc.

Unless you consider that the writer can be the new factor in the equation.

Paying homage to what has been done (or, if you look at it from another view, ripping off someone else's work) by producing knock-offs isn't the same thing; look at what's happened to poor Tolkien over the years. Knock-offs may not be illegal, but they are troubling. No matter how they tweak it, if a writer doesn't bring anything new to a story, they're only creating a poor imitation.

Maybe it's the storyteller's sacred obligation to do whatever they can to bring something fresh to every story. Everyone sees things differently; the best storytellers show us old favorites via such a different angle that we see them in an entirely new light.

Take one of the most beloved myths in the world: Pygmalion, another story about a block of marble. Pygmalion brought his vision of the perfect woman to the stone and created Galatea, whom Aphrodite brought to life. Which inspired George Bernard Shaw, who adapted the myth for the stage, which eventually became the musical My Fair Lady; Stephen King to write his novel Carrie (and yeah, we've debated this one for years, but I still think it's a twisted version); the 1999 movie She's All That, in which high school jock Freddie Prinze Jr. turns a geeky Rachael Leigh Cook into a prom queen.

Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Miss Congeniality, The Princess Diaries -- they all have their roots in Pygmalion. Even Jessica Hall, may she rest in peace, drew on the myth as inspiration for the relationship and characters of the protagonists in her novel Heat of the Moment*. What makes them unique is not the mythic foundation upon which they're built, but how the storytellers used that, not as marble to worship, but as clay to be remolded into their individual vision of love and transformation. They reshaped it with their tools, touch and inner vision into something new under the sun. That's what can never be duplicated.

*I know, I have to stop talking about myself in third person.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Test Subject Needed

I need to experiment on one of you. You don't mind, right?

Remember that workshop thing I was talking about last week? I've transferred the VHS tape over to a DVD, but the sound quality is a little iffy, and I'm not sure it's clear enough to be useful (I know what we're saying in the tape so it's hard for me to judge.)

If you're interested, throw your name in the hat in comments by midnight EST on Sunday, January 28, 2007. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who does and send the winner the workshop DVD along with a deck of Archetype Storytelling Cards as my thanks for screening the DVD (which you can also keep.) Test giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday 20

(Jordan did this to me. And she will pay.)

Womens Fiction Book Meme

Contemporary, Historical, or Paranormal? Unless it's Balogh, Valdez, or I can't get to sleep, not historical.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback? You have to ask? Mass market paperback.

Heyer or Austen? Please. Austen.

Amazon or Brick and Mortar? Amazon's business practices drove me back to brick and mortar.

Barnes & Noble or Borders? Barnes & Noble online, mainly because they aren't affiliated with Amazon, and they've always given me great customer service. Borders brick and mortar because their store is less stodgy and their stock more interesting.

Woodiwiss or Lindsay? Hmmm. Who to choose. Lindsay because she's more prolific. And she has better hair.

First romance novel you ever remember reading? True romance? "Bride of the Rif" by Margaret Rome. And yep, I still have the book.

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random? Author then pub date, genre, and degree of re-readability. What? It's my system.

Keep, Throw Away or Sell? Always donate or pass along to family, friends and readers.

Read with dustjacket or remove it? Dustjacket stays on lately because the pup likes to chew anything made of paper.

Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake? I have to admit, I've given up on both.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks? Read straight through or stop at whatever point in the book I am when the current domestic crisis reaches critical mass.

It was a dark and stormy night or Once upon a time? Who wrote this meme? My mother? Neither.

Crusie or SEP? In a cage match? Definitely Susan.

Buy or Borrow? Buy unless out of print, then borrow.

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse? Wave the pork butt in front of the starved tiger's nose, why don't you? Recs or browse.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger? Cliffhanger. Or, if you're my editor and you're reading this, tidy ending.

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading? Quantum reading. I like to read when I'm relaxing in the particle accelerator.

Series or standalone? Exemplary standalones that don't leave me wanting to punch out the author over the ending; otherwise, bring on the series.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
La nuit des temps par René Barjavel.

To be extra mean, I'm tagging everyone who asks a question in comments today.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Learn Free

Thanks to the internet, writers can now attend classes and workshops from any spot on the globe. No classrooms. No spine-rearranging desks lined in wads of used gum. No snotty teacher to grab you by the sleeve and say, Well, Miss Smartie, why don't you stand up and read whatever you've been writing to the whole class?

By the way, kids, if you ever are caught writing an honest ode to your teacher's face, personality and the way she smells instead of watching her slaughter a sentence on the chalkboard, don't read your poem out loud to the class. Instead, recite Shakespeare's 29th sonnet -- she won't recognize it and you'll avoid a referral and a lengthy debate with the principal over your rights under the first ammendment (which I still think I should have won, Mr. Beale.)

Here are some online classes that anyone can afford:

Of interest to journalers and bloggers -- Gerry Starnes offers Conversations Within, an online workshop on journal writing.

Need a critique partner but live in the boondocks? Critters Workshop is described as "an on-line workshop/critique group for serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. You get your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others, both of which are invaluable ways to improve your writing."

The 2007 Crusie Mayer Writing Workshop is "A year-long workshop, updated twice weekly, on the craft of writing a novel presented by NY Times best-selling authors Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer" (appears to be free; is being used as a test/info gathering exercise for a nonfic writing book the authors are planning to write.)

If you didn't get enough of it in school, the fiends at will e-mail you a "short, fun grammar lesson Monday-Friday. There will also be a quiz each Saturday." Of course. There is always a quiz. No doubt given by the same twisted mind who paired the words "fun" and "grammar."

For 120 classes in a wide variety of subjects and courses, check out

Author Steven Barnes has a free writing class online: Lifewriting. He describes it as "the complete text of the 9-week writing class I've taught for years at UCLA."

News University offers some free courses like Get Me Rewrite: The Craft of Revision and Online Project Development for registered users; registration is free.

Paradigm Online Writing Assistant bills itself as "an interactive, menu-driven, online writer's guide and handbook written in HTML and distributed freely over the WWW."

According to the website intro, Storyarts six week on-line writing workshop is geared more toward helping writers who are just starting out; syllabus can be found here.

Now, your turn: what sort of writing classes (topic, length, type of class) would you like to see offered online?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Strange Fruit

As I stood in line at the pack-n-ship place in town, an elderly farmer came in. An instant character, raw-boned, scarecrow-thin, with a driftwood face and a jujube-size cyst on the edge of his left eyelid. Baggy, sun-faded denims with permanent dirt stains on the seat and a washed-out, long-sleeved gray shirt sagged on his clothesline frame. The wind had combed his pure white hair for him, and on his shoulder hung a homemade canvas fruit picking bag, as if he'd wandered in directly from a grove.

He seemed a bit antsy, and I had fifty pounds of books to ship, so I let him go ahead of me in line. He smelled of dirt and weedkiller, sunshine and old-guy sweat. He told the clerk he wanted to ship the grapefruit in his bag, which the clerk immediately informed him that he couldn't do. Florida currently prohibits private shipping fruit out of state to prevent the spread of citrus canker.

"It's goin'-a Washington D.C.," the farmer told the clerk. "They doan have no groves so they doan care 'bout the canker."

The clerk turned him down a second time and went to answer the phone. The farmer turned to me and asked if the post office would ship his fruit. I told him that, as far as I knew, no one would. While we were waiting for the clerk, the farmer took a grapefruit from his bag and held it out for me to admire.

I eyed what looked like a pale yellow cantelope, with faint rain-mold streaks on the rind (this is a sign of authentic homegrown; the streaks are always washed off commercially-sold fruit, which is sometimes also dyed and waxed.) I'm not exaggerating on the size, either -- it had to be the largest grapefruit I've ever seen. The farmer told me his trees often produced eight pounders. I imagined he spent a lot of time shoring up his trees with cotton ties and two by twos to keep the weight of the fruit from snapping the branches.

I love grapefruit, and miss it terribly (I haven't been able to eat it for six months because it reacts with my medications) but that farmer's goliath specimen made me uneasy. He mentioned his graefruit were very juicy and full of seeds, but what else was in them? What was he using as fertilizer? Had he planted his trees over some septic tanks? Why bring a bag of just-picked grapefruit directly from the grove to a shipper? Anyone even remotely involved with citrus knows the state law; I know it. And why so adamant to send it to Washington D.C.?

I never thought something as ordinary as a grapefruit could give me the creeps, but that one did.

The clerk finally got off the phone, and for the third time refused to ship the grapefruit for the farmer. The farmer asked if he brought in a box to the post office and didn't say there was grapefuit in it, would they ship it? I shrugged. The clerk said it was between him and his conscience. The farmer bought a big box from the clerk, paid for it in quarters and ambled out.

I may have acted non-committal, but I doubted the farmer would get his fruit past the folks at the post office. Grapefruit has a distinctive smell, very sharp-bitter, that is especially intense if the rind is bruised or scored. Unless he seals the shipment in plastic, the odor will give it away.

The encounter got to me, though. By the time I shipped my boxes and returned to my car, I had worked out in my head five different ways to explain the farmer and his strange fruit:

1. A love gift to the farmer's old flame, who is dying of cancer in some hospital in Washington. A nurse will open the box for her and try to whisk it away, her rich husband will veto that, peel one and listen to her talk about the farmer as he feeds her the sections one by one.

2. Shrapnel bombs disguised as grapefruit, being sent to a certain Congressional Committee that has pissed off that farmer for the last time.

3. The final volley in a life-long feud between two brothers: one who got rich selling out the citrus industry as a lobbyist while his brother stayed home to farm the family groves (lobbyist brother has just been convicted in the Abramoff scandal, has lost everything, and is going to jail.)

4. Alien pods carrying something much worse than canker to Washington.

5. Grandpa's annual late-January, post-harvest box, sent as a gift to his son, daughter-in-law and grandkids, who will have to give half away to the neighbors, who will look at the size of them and wonder what the hell we have in the water here in Florida. One of the grandkids will dig out the designer tulip bulbs in her mother's windowbox and plant some of the seeds.

Or the whole thing could serve as the topic of a writer's weblog post on the method she uses to sketch out story ideas to get them out of her thoughts, onto paper and into a file so she can work on the WIP without mutant citrus dancing in her head.

How do you writers out there deal with your strange fruit?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Workshops from Hell

Ten Workshops I Think I'll Skip

1. 101 Nice Euphemisms for the P-word: Why use something uncooth when you can call it a manroot?

2. Chapter One -- Reflecting on a Decade of Writing My Literary Novel: It may look like only seventeen typed, double-spaced pages, but it is so much more.

3. Correct that Book: Tired of authors using words, characters and scenes that you don't like? Sick of respecting copyright? Ways to alter print and electronic novels to your satisfaction (bonus: mini scrapbooking seminar included!)

4. Death of a Noble Sub-Genre: How paranormal romance and romantica authors are just runing everything for the six of us who still read historical romance, and what we plan to do about it. [Workshop materials required: poster board, colorful markers, glitter glue and stickers.]

5. Ex-Lax in Your Editor's Christmas Chocolates and Other Ways to Get Even: If she thinks you produce nothing but crap . . .

6. How to Really Impress a Bookseller: Learn how to make friends, perform oral sex in small, cramped offices, and watch your sell-through soar.

7. It WAS a Dark and Stormy Night: Opening your novel with powerful descriptions of the wonderful world of weather!

8. The Vanishing Art of Purple Prose: Help preserve romance's roots by learning how to properly illustrate secret, savagely intimate moments of white-hot blazing passion and heavenly undying everlasting devotion in the soft lilac velvety vise of the true love scene.

9. Ways to Win Industry Awards Through Blackmail: Overnighting the entry fee check, badmouthing the competition and sucking up to the judges just aren't enough to guarantee a trophy anymore. How prostitutes and long-range camera lenses can get your book the attention it truly deserves.

10. Wild Sex Scenes in Science Fiction Novels and the Handsome Guy Authors Who Write Them: (cancelled.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Outlining Ten

Ten Things to Help With Outlines

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

1. Fill in the blanks with's Blank Novel Outline.

2. Rob Parnell uses the 1-10 method of outlining in his article Building Novel Templates.

3. The folks who created Compendium concept mapping freeware just released v. 1.5.1 in beta.

4. Organize Your Novel by S.L. Bartlett had a neat suggestion about creating a "Wall of Rogues" to help the writer visualize characters.

5. Need to outline during your lunch hour? Read Alicia Rasley's article, Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes.

6. Yours Truly's Single Novel Plotting Template.

7. Scene by Scene: A .pdf version of's The Step Outline: Getting to the Barebones of Your Idea can be downloaded here.

8. Topicscape mind mapping software offers a free trial version download, as does MindApp and, for Mac users, Tinderbox.

9. For the Linux users out there, try the digital notebook capabilities of Alexander Theel's TuxCards freeware.

10. But it's not mandatory: check out Crawford Kilian's post Writing Without an Outline.

Finally, folks keep e-mailing and asking me for this link: World Check, my post and outline on how much worldbuilding I do for a novel.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Last Samurai Agent

"Ms. Hartlace," Janey said over the intercom. "There's an agent who would like to speak to you."

Senior Editor Agatha Hartlace chewed the last piece of her doughnut and swallowed before she punched the reply button. "Tell whoever it is that I'm not in today."

After a pause, Janey said, "Uh, Ms. Hartlace, he's standing right here with his assistant. In my cubicle." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "He's carrying, like, swords."

Takamori, of course. Only he would have the nerve to show up without an appointment. "That's why I said to tell him come in." Agatha switched off the intercom, turned off The Young and the Restless feed on her computer, and brushed away the powdered sugar that had fallen on the front of her blouse. "Idiot temp."

Takamori entered the office and came to stand before Agatha's desk. His gleaming black hair was pulled back in a perfect chomage. He wore navy blue kamishimo and hakama over his black kimono, and two swords and a dagger thrust through the left side of his black silk obi. Agatha smelled cherry blossom and oiled steel as he offered her a shallow bow.

"Takamori, what a nice surprise." Agatha shuffled a stack of rejection form letters that needed rubber-stamping. "How are you?"

He folded his hands inside the wide ends of his sleeves and regarded her without expression. A petite woman in a pink kimono embroidered with white cranes stepped out from behind him and bowed.

"I am Natsu," the woman said. "I will translate what my master says into English for you."

"Okay." Agatha found it highly annoying that Takamori understood English perfectly but refused to speak it. "What can I do for you and your boss today?"

Several minutes of silence passed.

He was just trying to psyche her out; Agatha knew that. But he never blinked, and she wasn't sure he was even breathing. "Or should I say, what can I do for your client?"

Takamori uttered a long string of sharp syllables.

"My master says that the perfect manuscript is a rare thing," Natsu translated. "He says that you could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life."

Agatha forced a smile. "He should talk to my mother sometime."

Takamori spoke again, with Natsu translating almost simultaneously. "My master says that his writer is an honorable author, with talent as endless as the stars. His writer wishes to write more novels for the House of Penguins, and offered you three most perfect proposals."

Takamori took a folded a contract from his sleeve, dropped it like a used tissue on the edge of her desk, and grunted.

Natsu gestured to the contract. "And you sent him this?"

"I did?" Agatha picked up the contract and skimmed the top page. "Oh, right, the one for the next three books. We're very pleased with how the last one sold." She checked through it. "Seems in order." She glanced up. "What's the problem?"

Natsu looked at Takamori, who drew his katana.

Agatha put down the contract. "Whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out."

Takamori drove the tip of the katana into the worn carpet and drew his wakizashi sword.

"I don't understand," Agatha babbled, staring at the razor-sharp edge. "I thought our contract offer was very generous--"

Takamori placed the shorter sword across his palms and offered it to Agatha.

"As my master has no Kaishaku-nin," Natsu said, "he would be honored and grateful if you would behead him after he disembowels himself."

"Mr. Takamori!" Agatha jumped to her feet and backed away. "Natsu, tell him that there is no reason to commit hari-kari over an unsigned contract."

"Seppuku," Natsu corrected gently as Takamori placed the shorter sword on the desk. "For ninety years, the samurai of my master's agency have protected and fought for their writers. My master is the last, and now . . . he cannot stand the shame of defeat."

"This is a very nice offer," Agatha said firmly, and faced the samurai. "Takamori, I know you understand me. You also know how hard things are for the publishing industry now. Your author should feel grateful to have the work."

Takamori opened his upper garments and slipped out of them until he was naked to the waist. He dropped down and tucked his sleeves under his knees.

"Why is he doing that?" Agatha demanded.

"To prevent himself from falling backwards," Natsu said as Takamori removed a long dagger and contemplated it. "A samurai agent should die falling forward."

"Tell Mr. Takamori--"

Natsu gestured as Takamori took the hilt of the dagger in both hands. "If you would please stand behind my master, Miss Hartlace? You must cut off his head as soon as he slices open his stomach."

"Wait," Agatha begged as she saw him invert the dagger. "I know we can work this out. It's the advance, isn't it? I could do a little better for him. Maybe . . . two thousand more on signing?"

The tip of the dagger stopped an inch from Takamori's navel. The agent did not look at her.

"Three thousand," Agatha said, and gasped as he drew back the dagger for the final thrust. "Five thousand!"

"Ten thousand would restore my master's honor," Natsu said as Takamori closed his eyes.

"Seven. It's the best I can do. I swear."

Time crystallized as Takamori breathed in deeply. Agatha didn't exhale until she saw him lower the dagger and mutter something.

"My master says his writer will be displeased with him," Natsu said, her black eyes filled with delicate sorrow. "But he believes he can persuade him to accept such terms. You will issue a revised contract by Friday?" When she nodded, Takamori rose to his feet, sheathed his dagger and swords in his obi, and bowed.

Natsu did the same. "We are most humbly grateful for your understanding and generosity, Miss Hartlace."

"You're welcome. Have a nice day." She watched the pair leave her office as silently as they had entered before she collapsed in her chair. She groped, found the intercom button, and pressed it. "Janey?"

"Yes, Ms. Hartlace?"

"Get legal to issue a new contract for Takamori's author. Increase the advance on signing by seven thousand." Agatha opened a desk drawer and took out a roll of TUMs. "Then call that ninja agent I was not supposed to see at two and reschedule. I'm taking the rest of the day off."

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Sing Me

Today's assignment: post the title of a song in comments that best illustrates how your writing or your life is going right now.

Mine is So Far Away by Staind from their album 14 Shades of Gray, more for the feeling of the music versus the actual lyrics.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday 20

I was sorry to hear that Bookseller Chick's store is closing at the end of this month. I'm hoping she'll soon find another job where she's appreciated for her talents and enthusiasm.

Mom found and sent me an old home video of a writers' workshop for Archetype Storytelling Cards I did seven years ago; the first workshop I'd ever given as a pro writer. I'd never watched it, so I popped it in the VCR and let it roll. It seemed very weird to see a younger, better-dressed, redheaded version of myself. I'm wearing a suit I remember hating, and I uhmmed a bit and laughed a lot during my speaking. I appear quite happy and very enthusiastic about my topic.

I was also, well, armed. Yes, among other things, I waved around a sword and two guns as I role-played some archetype characters in the middle of the workshop. At a local RWA chapter meeting, no less. I bet those women popped some major champagne when I finally quit.

But that's who I was seven years ago: an energetic redhead who hated suits but loved writing, and especially loved to talk about writing. Who played the fool, put on a pirate's eyepatch and waved around toy weapons to communicate that love to others and make them laugh. The gilt was still on in those days; I had yet to be knocked on my ass. I'd spent so many years writing alone that I was overjoyed to finally find other people who I thought were like me, and who I trusted to accept me and help me and share the love.

Lord, I was such a rookie. No wonder I got stomped so hard.

You know what's really funny? What you don't see on the tape. Thanks to the home video quality, you can't tell that I was blushing through most of the workshop. I blush when I'm embarrassed, and what I remember most was feeling horribly self-conscious because everyone was watching me and I'd never done any public speaking. I would have fallen on my toy sword before I'd have admitted it, too.

Anyway, I transferred the video over to DVD, and contacted Lon Koenig Games to see if the Archetype Storytelling cards are still available, and they are. I think I might have a copy of the original workshop handout around here somewhere, too. I'm ordering some card decks, and I'll make a few copies of the DVD, and put together a PBW's first workshop giveaway as soon as I get all the stuff together.

Why? Mainly because I think it's still a pretty good workshop on characterization. Although the hair is silver-white now, I'm back to being a hermit and I traded in my suits for jeans and bunny slippers, the love for what we do hasn't changed. It is unstompable. Plus the part with the sword and the guns is cute.

That's all from my corner of the writing world. Anything happening with you guys? Have any questions for me this week?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Smart Pens

It seems as if technology will soon make the pen as extinct as the e-mail did the letter, but maybe not. There are still people who prefer to write by hand, and certainly plenty of places where it's not convenient or permitted to take a laptop. With all the gadgets we have to carry, portability and multifuction capability is becoming an issue.

Digital "smart" pens may not be as sexy as the iPod or Chocolate, but they've come along nicely in the five years since Wired reported on the hunt for markets for the new technology (created by Anoto, a Swedish company.)

Sony Ericsson's CHA-30 ChatPen is a fully integrated digital pen that allows you to send handwritten e-mails, doodles and more. According to one article I read, smart pens like this one are being used to post entries to weblogs. On the other hand, PLANon's DocuPen is not a pen, but a pen-sized handheld scanner with many nifty features. I can't lug my scanner to the library, but I could definitely take this one with me.

Back in 2005 I included the Logitech IO in a pen ten list I wrote, but with the IO2 the company is offering a variety of software, specialty digital paper and other bells and whistles. For portable multifunction pens, I still think nothing beats Brando's USB MP3 Pen + FM Radio + Voice Recorder (try fitting separate devices that perform the same functions in your shirt pocket.)

One that may be perfect for the old-fashioned wroter, the Nokia Digital Pen SU-1B will remember up to 100 pages of handwritten notes for you. No more worrying about losing your notes in the shuffle, either -- you can store them on your PC in their orginal form (nice if you draw schematics or maps.) If you enjoy writing in bookstores and cafes but need a wireless connection for your laptop, Informatica's Wi-Fi Pen detects wireless internet signals and writes, too.

The smart pen has yet to make a significant impact on the publishing industry, but the potential is there. For writers, smart pens are the obvious bridge between the legal pad and the computer. Editors might someday might use a smart pen to add editing marks to an electronic manuscript and send revisions only via e-mail (no paper involved, so we'd save a few forests that way.) Agents negotiating deals with publishers could keep their authors in the loop during the meetings by writing their notes with a smart pen and transmitting the data simultaneously to the author and receiving their feedback just as quickly.

More is on the way. Companies like Fruits and Maxell are continuing to develop new applications for the Anoto technology. Digital paper is still in its infancy; it might become the bridge between the traditional print and electronic novel (I'm thinking of paper or paper-like pages implanted with programmable text. You'd have the feel of a book but you could change the story to whatever you want to read by downloading a new text.)

Speaking for the handicapped writers out here, I'd like to see a pen built along the lines of an optical mouse (or one that is operated by one.) People who can't hold pens or who can't write legibly with one can usually still roll a mouse.

What sort of functions would you like to see in the next generation of smart pens?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A few new/revised ideas on getting more out of your writing time:

I know how much I harp on quota, but don't count or think about the number of words, pages or scenes you're getting down while you're in the process of writing. This can be as detrimental to your progress as backtracking and rewriting. Forget all about the numbers and simply write straight through your allotted writing time. You can get out your calculator and kick yourself (or pat yourself on the back) when you're done for the day.

Try using footnotes or comments as block tags. I've mentioned that when I can't find the words to describe something (usually setting), I tag it in the manuscript like this: [describe Central Park in mid-winter] and move on. Later I would do a search for the [] brackets and fill in what I didn't write. Recently I've instead tried using MS Word footnotes or highlighted comments to perform the same task. It seems to works better and faster for me than my old method, and I never miss a tag now.

Some potentially useful freeware* to make the most of your lunch hour at work (if your boss is okay with you using the company computer for personal stuff, naturally): Portable Scribus freeware is "a portable version of an open source page maker called Scribus, which is much like Adobe Pagemaker, which can help create professional looking documents, newsletters, magazines, etc. With Portable Scribus, you can put it on your USB drive, and plug it in to any computer, and leave not trace behind when you're done."

(A sidebar on Scribus: Author Jacques Centelles used Scribus to put together his lovely, photo-rich book on marine life, which you can read about it on the Scribus site here; there are also some notes on the site about another French author who actually published a book made with Scribus.)

Work out a scene timeline in your head or on paper before you write the actual scene. This is simply a way of sketching out the main events of a scene in sequence and in advance of the writing (organic writers may ignore this if it crowds them too much.) Example:

John takes Marcia home from Halloween party.

Marcia produces stolen, mystical diamond.

John informs Marcia that he is a cop.

Marcia attempts to run into her house.

John uses his half-demon powers to stop her.

Marcia gives John the diamond and insists it was planted on her.

John has precog vision and pulls Marcia into his arms.

Marcia's house explodes.

Finally, an interesting setting trick passed along from one of my high school students that can help those of us who struggle with fleshing out settings: you can furnish your character's house by cutting out bedroom, living room and diningroom sets from sale circulars in the Sunday paper or from furniture catalogs and taping them to pages in your novel notebook (historical writers may want to use images of period furniture taken off the internet.) If you don't like what's advertised, go to furniture stores and take photos of what you do like. If there's some element in the picture that you want to add or change, draw it in or tape in a replacement item. If you really want to get detailed, add paint, counter, rug and/or flooring chips from a home improvement store for each room. Now, how does all this save time? Before you write a scene in that room, look at the room pages in your notebook to refresh your memory about exactly how you planned it to look.

What have you found or invented recently that's helped you with your writing productivity? Let us know in comments.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

ARCs Away

I appreciate everyone coming up with so many terrific ideas on how to handle extra ARCs. I wish I had enough to send you all a copy. But names have to be drawn, so the winners of the Take My ARCs, Please giveaway (along with the suggestion they made that I'm going to use) are:

1. Applejacks0711, who suggested: "I like the idea of donating it to a cancer treatment center (my grandmother and mother would love to read stuff like that when they're there)."

2. Jason, who suggested: "You could donate them to a soldier. I'm pretty sure that they need something to get their minds off of their current situation."

3. Firebrand, who suggested: "New reading material would be much appreciated here at the Burn Unit."

4. Karen W., who suggested: "I'm always all for donating to a women's shelters..."

5. Edie, whose comment read: "Send them to the amputee ward of military hospitals for severely injured troops."

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to information to so I can get these ARCs out to you. Firebrand, if you would also send the address for the Burn Unit, I'd appreciate it.

I'll have a post later on in the week (with pics if possible) as I distribute the other ARCs according to your suggestions. Thanks again to everyone for joining in.

Monday, January 15, 2007

No Purchase Necessary Ten

Ten Things That Will Cost You Nothing

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

1. Easily save web content to a clipboard for offline viewing and use with AmazeCopy freeware.

2. eSnips offers 1GB of storage to keep private, make available to a group, or go public with your web snippets, links, pics, audio, video, documents and files. Registration required, but membership is free (this seems like it would be a good, cheap way to store extra copies of your important files away from your home or office location.)

3. A small app freeware that allows you to print multiple PDF files in one batch; Multiple PDF Printer.

4. PBWiki allows you to make a web page that can be edited by multiple people (thanks to Jean for mentioning this one.)

5. Yet another WordPad replacement freeware, QJot, is being billed as "a relatively small, completely USB portable, alternative rich text editor that saves .doc files, inserts images and more."

6. Make snazzy graphics for your documents or web pages with Rockin' Text freeware.

7. Create your own tiled backgrounds with the very cool online paint/generator, The Tile Machine (I played with this one; you can see my first attempt in the gallery, listed under Paperback Writer.)

8. Use your words to create typo poster-styled art with ladyK's TypoGenerator (this is a great tool for creating concept art for e-book covers and promo but, like Dreamlines, very addictive.)

9. Custom design the wallpaper for your desktop online with Wallpaper Generator 2007.

10. Need more wiki? Have a look at the wiki-style notepad/organizer freeware Wikidpad.

Also, if you're in need of a great book about writing professionally, but don't have room in the budget this month to buy one, check out the e-book version of Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love AND Money by Holly Lisle. It's immensely helpful, wonderfully written, and absolutely free.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Take My ARCs, Please

My very kind editor just sent me a box of ARC copies of my May release, Night Lost. After I send the ones I've promised to Mom, friends and reviewers who have requested copies, I'll still have ten copies leftover.

I feel like trying something different this time -- how about you all decide what happens to them?

In comments to this post, let me know what you think should be done with one Night Lost ARC (besides give it to you or something anatomically unlikely.) Post your suggestion by midnight EST on Monday, January 15th. I'll draw five names from everyone who participates, and send the winners a signed ARC of Night Lost. I will also use each of the winners' suggestions to distribute the remaining five ARCs. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mary Sue Anonymous

A tall brunette walked to the front of the meeting room and stepped up to the podium. "Hi, everyone. My name's Jane, and I write Mary Sue novels."

"Hi, Jane."

"I've been coming to meetings three times a week for nine months now." Jane toyed with a thread hanging from the end of her sleeve. "I was feeling pretty good, and confident about earning my one-year chip, but this past weekend, I . . . I fell off the wagon."

Most of the audience shifted in their seats.

Jane pushed her shoulders back. "I knew what I was doing. I mean, I knew when I made my protagonist a virgin at twenty-six that I was heading down the wrong road. She's not a Christian fundamentalist, or unmarried and living in Iran. But I just couldn't bring myself to give her a fumbling backseat high school experience or a token bad marriage to an older man with regular erectile dysfunction. It's stupid, but . . . I really thought I could handle it."

Someone snorted loudly. A middle-aged redhead in the second row elbowed the bearded man sitting next to her.

"I kept writing, and made her beautiful and built and brilliant . . ." Jane stopped and covered her face with a trembling hand.

The redhead sighed. "The three killer B's."

Jane dropped her hand and bravely pushed on. "From there, I admit, it snowballed. I gave her a bottle-green Jag, and a job curating an art museum, and a Victorian mansion she bought for a song and renovated single-handedly. The next thing I knew she was gardening, raising hybrid roses and tossing together gourmet dinners for one."

A lanky teenager in a black leather jacket slowly clapped his hands three times. "So what did you name her? Elizabeth? Angelique?"

"Jennifer. Jennifer Jane Fairchild." Jane avoided his eyes. "I knew it was wrong. I knew it spelled the end of my sobriety, but you know . . . God, it felt so good to write it."

A thin, balding man stood up. "Tell us about the dog, Jane."

"I don't know what you mean." Jane's chin lifted. "I didn't write a dog in the story."

Everyone stared at her.

"All right. All right." Jane hung her head. "It was a golden retriever. Never sheds, never pukes or piddles on the carpet. Sleeps on the floor at the foot of Jennifer's antique brass bed. I named him . . .Goldie."

A tattered-looking man with a straggly goatee and a black cigarette planted between his chapped lips entered the meeting room and took a seat in the back row.

"Anyway." Jane paused to sniff a few times. "I did stop. I stopped as soon as Jennifer Jane stumbled across a Neo-Nazi plot to murder the democratic, extremely popular governor of her state. A murder which only she personally could prevent, of course, at great personal risk. I put away the pages in my desk."

"Oh, Jane." The redhead knuckled away a tear.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Jane snapped. "Sure, I know the rules. My protagonist should have been a recovering crack whore hiding from the cops in a flop house room with a sometimes-boyfriend named Wife Beater--"

The man with the goatee interrupted Jane by applauding loudly. One of the women sitting near him leaned over, asked him a question, shook her head and pointed to the door. The man with the goatee rose and walked out.

Jane rubbed some sweat from her face. "It's not like I'm going to publish it. Look, it was just a story. One story."

"That's how it starts, Jane," the balding man in the front row said, not without some sympathy. "One story, and then another, and soon you can justify every aspect of the Mary Sue novel. You join a writer organization, wear pink suits, have your business cards scented and go to luncheons once a month. And you know what the next step is after that."

Jane paled. "That won't happen to me."

"You never think it does," he said, "but then suddenly you're writing the last three words of your novel." He looked around the room. "And they are?"

The audience answered as a group. "Happily. Ever. After."

Jane burst into tears.

"I think we should have a reading now, to remind us all of why we're here." The balding man opened the book in his hands and began to read. "The Twelve Suggested Steps of Mary Sue Anonymous. Step One: We admitted we were powerless over Mary Sues--that our stories had become unrealistic."

As Jane groped in her purse for a tissue, the other people in the meeting echoed the balding man's words. Down the hall, the man with the goatee finally found the correct room for his meeting. He was welcomed by that group, and invited to step up to the podium and introduce himself.

"Howdy." He rubbed his mouth, dishevelling his goatee. "My name is Nick, and I write literary novels."

"Hi, Nick."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday 20

It's been like a Chinese curse around here this week, hasn't it? Next thing you know they'll be featuring our decapitated heads stacked on the cover of Publishers Weekly.

One thing that made me laugh: a day after I posted my Reality Novelists spoof, the New York Times ran this article about Simon & Schuster's Touchstone imprint holding an online reality novelist competition. First prize appears to be publication of "a book by a first-time author who wins a contest on, a social-networking site that might be described as MySpace for grown-ups."

A MySpace for grown-ups. Check.

Despite my rather excellent timing, I am not psychic, nor do I have an inside source at S&S or the Times. I've probably spoofed the Times too often to have any friends there. Shame, too, as I think Dave Itzkoff is kinda hot, mainly because the Borg haven't been able to assimilate him.

One more treasure I unearthed from the bookmark cellar during an interesting discussion in comments over at Robert Gregory Browne's place: Lakshmi Chaudhry's article on the various theories about why most readers are female versus male.

For the benefit of our newest visitors, Fridays are usually Q&A day here at PBW. This is how it works: you post any writing- or publishing-related question in comments, and I do my best to answer it, or point you to a better source of opinion and/or information, from midnight EST Thursday to midnight EST on Friday.

Ready? Ask away.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Working Titles

Personal Quirk #99,957: I can't begin a story unless I have some sort of title. No title, no writing. I don't know why. Probably the same English-teacher-induced trauma that rendered me physically incapable of placing a tabbed divider in a notebook until after I fill in the section header on that little slip of paper and shove it in the empty plastic tab.

By the way, kids, if you turn in your English class notebook with Dead Bores on the tab for the literature section, your teacher's not going to think it's funny. Trust me on this.

Decent titles take a while to cook up, so I generally use place-holder or working titles until I read a couple tons of poetry, hit the Library of Congress Online Catalog a few million times to see if any of my title ideas have been done before, and settle on the one I want. It doesn't have to be the title, just a title.

Titles ultimately have to be marketable, so a writer can't get attached to any title until it's in print. I've had pretty good luck with mine, and still about half never make it past the publisher's chopping block. This is why StarDoc book #3 is titled Endurance instead of Skin Games. The original title was my personal metaphor for novel's slavery elements, especially the endless branding Cherijo endured; the editor felt it sounded pornographic (Which illustrates how differently people can interpret the same title.)

Other titles of mine that never made it to the cover:

1. ClanSon sounded too Zane Greyish to my editor, who renamed the book Plague of Memory. I was very happy with this, as her title was better, more interesting, and more clear in meaning than mine.

2. After two years of believing that my publisher was okay with the title Darkness Has No Need (no one raised any objections to it) I was abruptly informed that it was too long a title. I'd already invested a great deal of my series budget in promoting the book by that title, so I fought hard to keep it, but lost that battle. None of the replacement titles suggested by the publisher worked with what I was doing with the series titles, but I compromised again and went with the least jarring, and the book became Dark Need. It cost me, though. Most of the promo for that book was instantly rendered useless, and I had to pay additional fees to retitle what could be saved. But I should have gotten a solid title committment from the publisher in the first place, which I didn't. It was a good (if frustrating) lesson for me. In publishing, never assume silence = consent.

3. My very unromantic title No Stone Unturned apparently committed the additional sin of not being pretty enough for a first romance, which is why that editor changed it to Paradise Island. I then had to change the name of the island setting in the book, because it wasn't called Paradise.

Final titles are a pain in the posterior, but I'm not picky about how I get a working title. I've used online title generators, chemical formulas (H2SO4), fragments of poetry (Do Not Go Gentle) and common brand names (Chips Ahoy!) If I can't think of anything off the top of my head, I'll use my favorite stock working title A Dark and Stormy Night (this also reminds me not to open the book with a damn weather report.)

You can use working titles as nudges, too. One of my current WIPs is working-titled 1918, not because it's set in that year, but to remind me of the year that initiated what will become my protagonist's primary conflict ninety years later in 2008. I also use working titles with version numbers so I can see in a glance how many times I've revised it, i.e. Butterfinger v.4.0

Do any of you writers out there use working titles, or have any special mojo that helps you create a solid title? Readers, does a book's title play any part in whether or not you purchase it? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Reality Novelists

Hosted by Padma Lakshmi, actress, model and cookbook author

Reality show featuring seventeen authors competing weekly in quick-write and elimination story challenges for a chance to showcase their storytelling skills, appear in a publisher booth at Book Expo America, win a complete Reference for Dummies library furnished by Barnes & Noble booksellers, and earn the title of TOP WRITER.

EPISODE #14: Semi-Finalist Elimination/The Romance



Seated at the layout table are PADMA LAKSHMI and Special Guest Judges TOM COLICCHIO of Top Chef, NINA GARCIA of Project Runway, and DEIDRE DIKSHRINKER of Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene, RWA Chapter #666

PADMA: Now that we've sent the semi-finalists to get us coffee, pick up our dry cleaning, and wash our cars, what did you judges think of the stories they turned in?

NINA laughs; TOM shakes his head; DEIDRE folds her arms and begins praying under her breath.

PADMA: I thought only one of them really got this challenge.

TOM: They screwed it up. Three out of the four, in a semi-final. Just screwed it up. Unbelievable.

NINA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the challenge was to write a romance story. To me romance means writing a romance, and I'm sorry, but you read what was turned in. Did you see any romance in the first three?

DEIDRE: I kept my eyes closed. If the Good Lord had intended for me to take in such things, he'd have put me on this earth as a septic tank.

TOM: Steve put out a classy presentation; I'll give him that. But when you're going to tell a romance story with horror, the horror element has to be soft and fluffy and delicious, not an ice-cold stiff.

NINA: Stephen gives us hip, beautifully-written stories, but every week it's the same elements in the same order: nonstop fear, crazy monsters, shredded victims, plunging plot lines, unfinished endings. (sighs) I would like to see the Stephen who writes westerns, historicals, even chicklit. But now I'm thinking . . .

TOM: He's a one-note.

NINA lifts her hands up and drops them in a helpless gesture.

PADMA: What did you think of Isabel's story?

TOM: No romance I could see, and the girl had green hair. Girls don't have green hair. If she'd dropped a blonde in a heavily-chlorinated pool, fine. But green hair for no reason -- didn't work for me.

NINA: Isabel's abstract way of telling stories has its own niche appeal, I suppose, but this one had no shape, no line, no . . . purpose to it.

DEIDRE: I'm an American. I don't read things by illegal immigrants who can't speak English. Live in MY country, get a green card, pay taxes and write in MY language.

PADMA: I'm sure the producers saw to it that Isabel has a valid work visa, and her story was translated from the original Spanish before it was turned in.

DEIDRE: That there makes it her translator's story, not hers. That's how I spell cheating in my book: I-S-A-B-E-L.

PADMA: What about Dean's story?

NINA: Again with the horror, and the dog, always the dog . . . (rolls eyes.) Perhaps the taste level isn't there.

DEIDRE: I liked that cute puppy in Dean's story. He didn't kill it. If he'd killed it, I'd have run him down and beaten him black and blue with my purse.

TOM: Too bad the only real romance in the story was between the dog and the hero.

PADMA: That leaves Alison.

NINA: Alison really impressed me this week.

TOM: She thought about the challenge.

NINA: Alison does think before she commits a word to paper, and it shows. Alison created a love story between two people. Now, granted, they fell in love while trying to keep spies from stealing secrets that would devastate National Security, but that only enhanced the romance for me.

PADMA: Alison took a chance and put herself out there while staying true to the challenge.

NINA: Subtle but stunning. Did you notice how cleverly she used the strand of pearls?

TOM (grinning): Loved the pearls.

DEIDRE: There was too much sex in it. And what she did with those pearls was capital-dee-scusting. It proved to me that Alison serves The Evil One. I burned my copy of her story and spent the night praying the Lord would wrestle her out of Beelzebub's embrace.

PADMA: We still have to decide who to eliminate before we go to the final booksigning challenge at BEA.

NINA grimaces.

TOM: Tough choice. I don't know.

DEIDRE (standing): What's the matter with you people? These wanton, degrading writers have all been writing nothing but porn. All of them should go home, right this minute. Don't you go rewarding them for their filth. Surely y'all don't want Satan to triumph over the earth and publishing, do you?

NINA, TOM and PADMA exchange long looks.

PADMA: It's decided, then. They're all going to BEA.

DEIDRE: Whaaaaaat?

PADMA (firmly): Deidre, pack your Bible and go.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


"Marcia, please come into the library," John said from the open doorway. As his one and only true love walked over the threshhold, he gestured to the sofa. "Do sit down over there, darling, if you don't mind."

Marcia sat and crossed her legs daintily at the ankle. "Would you tell me why you asked me to come into the library and sit, dearest?"

"Don't let my request disturb you, beloved, I beg you." John went and kneeled with the utmost courtesy before her. "If you would kindly comprehend that all I want to do is talk with you. Not about my request for you to come into the library and sit, of course. Would you be so gracious as to allow me to discuss something else with you?"

Marcia nodded.

"Excuse me, sweetheart, but I would be terribly grateful if you would put that head motion into words -- as long as it doesn't inconvenience you." He pressed a hand to his heart. "I'm sure you recall what Jack and Diane had to go through with that 1-800-CONSENT situation. If you have no problem with recalling that blog post, that is."

"If you have nothing better to do," Marcia said, tapping the floor with her shoe, "I would be gratified if you would relay the details of that something else that you wish to talk to me about that is unrelated to my coming into the library and sitting down, John."

"Naturally, I live to please you, my sweet." He smiled at her. "Permit me to say that my affection for you, if you are interested in such a thing, knows no boundaries. Except the usual, polite ones."

"I would love to express how hearing that your affection for me, in which I am interested, knows no boundaries," she said through gritted teeth. "Only I can't think of another synonym for please."

John felt uneasy, but forced a laugh. "Don't forget your manners, darling -- I mean, if you are so inclined not to forget them, that would be very convenient at this moment."

"Please -- oh, the hell with it." Marcia grabbed John's tie and used it to jerk him forward until their noses were only a centimeter apart. "I'm yours. You're mine. Forget about the polite chit-chat and kiss me."

"Please, Marcia." Sweat began running down the sides of his face as he tucked in his chin and watched her unknot his tie. "Please don't ask such things of me. I feel compelled to adhere to my innate courtesy--"

"Which does not make for very good dialogue," she pointed out. "You're polite as all hell, which makes for good Beta hero, but you're basically saying nothing. I practically have to give myself diabetes just to respond in kind. You're my boyfriend, John, not a robotic butler. I swear, sometimes I could just put you over my knee and spank you. . . " Her eyes sparkled. "Is that it? You want to play Big Bad Sexually Deprived Beta Hero again?"

"Oh, I couldn't impose on you like that." His eyes bulged. "It would be unspeakably rude of me to ask you--oomp." His eyes widened as she suddenly pressed her mouth over his. He jerked his head away. "Honeybunch, I entreat you--"

"Not for the next hour or two." Marcia whipped off his tie and gagged him with it before she pushed him back on the carpet. "Tell you what. This time I'll play the monosyllabic Special Forces demolitions expert who fell in love with you when I sat behind you in Mrs. Randa's second grade class and again during senior year but who ditched you on Prom Night to join the military because your mother secretly hated me for being so big, strong and sexy, and who never forgot you or had sex with another person for an unspecified but lengthy-seeming amount of time while single-handedly defeating thousands of terrorists and who has finally taken an honorable discharge to come back from the Middle East to claim my ancestral ranch, the millions in the saving account left to me by my maiden aunt, and have wild monkey sex and a subsequent, pseudo-shotgun wedding with my one and true love. You can play the one and true love."

John jerked down the gag. "That's backstorymbalance," he protested. "Not protagonism."

"All right." Marcia sighed. "You play the one and true love," she said, trailing her finger down the buttons of his shirt, "pretty, pretty please with sugar and me on top?"

"I suppose . . . as long as we understand each other." John tucked his hands behind his head and batted his eyelashes as he let his voice rise to a sweet falsetto. "Oh, Major Marcia, whatever are you planning to do to me?"

She ripped open his shirt and said in her deepest, gruffest tone, "Anything I please, Cupcake."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Namely Ten

Ten Things About Names

1. Need 20,000 names from around the world with meanings and etymology? Here you go.

2. has a quizilla-style baby name generator that produces multiple girl, boy and unisex names, as well as a random single boy or girl name generator.

3. has a nice online random name generator that allows you to choose the number of given names, gender and surname as well as the etymology.

4. Choosing a Name & Creating a Persona by Modar Neznanich is geared for SCA folks, but may also be of interest to writers with applicable historical settings.

5. My favorite online naming resource,'s Random Name Generator uses data from the U.S. Census and allows you to choose male, female or both, up to 30 names, with an obscurity factor you preset from 0 to 99 (1=Common, 50=Not so common, 99=Totally obscure.)

6. Get a name for your character's bird, cat, dog, dragon or horse.**

7. Douglas Harper's Online Etymology Dictionary gives you some background and history on why lots of things were named what they were.*

8. Seventh Sanctum has an entire page of name generators for writers to play with.

9. Links 2 History's Surname directory gives helpful origins, history and variations on many medieval last names.

10. Naming twin characters can be tricky, especially when you want a non-rhyming connection; has some good ideas; Social Security Admin Online has a list of the 112 most popular names given to twins born in 2004; get some insight on naming twins from this interview with the Founder and President of Twin Services, Pat Malmstrom.

Finally, if you're looking for a way to keep track of all your characters' names, brief details, titles of the stories in which they appear and so forth, you might try organizing the info with something like Tolon Data Solutions' NoteKeeper freeware.*** Or, if you'd rather handwrite the info, use a blank address book with enough space for each entry to jot down some notes.

*Link swiped from author Joe Clifford Faust.

**Most of these links filched from Catherine Tudor's place.

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

Sunday, January 07, 2007


A quote from James Nicoll's LJ post What readers are not owed by writers* caught my eye the other day, so naturally I had to hunt it down and wade through the accompanying comments to see what the verdict was. Looks like the jury is still out.

Readers sometimes relay what they believe that I owe them via the letters and e-mails they send. Some are interesting, some are funny, some are flat-out hostile, but all of them make the same basic demand: "[Book title] made me very unhappy. You owe me. I want you to write this: [reader demand.] That will make me happy."

I'm not a Shahrazade, but if I did write to settle up with just a fraction of these folks, Duncan Reever would have died a horrible death in Beyond Varallan or Endurance, Jadaira would have had the baby in Afterburn, Caine would have ended up with Terri in Heat of the Moment, no one would ever suffer or die in my novels, Cherijo would be a compassionate, sweet-tempered, lovable character, I'd only write Christian fiction, I'd quit writing and make room for the more superior writers whose rightful shelf space I'm polluting with my schlock, Liam and Brooke from the White Tiger trilogy would have their own novel, all of my protagonists would ride off together on Without a Care the Wonderhorse into the Sunset of Supreme Happiness, John Keller from the Darkyn novels would not exist, I'd only write nice books, everything I wrote after Eternity Row would have been a clone of the first five StarDoc novels, etc.

It's strange stuff. And I still can't get over the one about Caine and Terri. They're first cousins. Euw.

I don't know what, if anything, writers actually "owe" readers. I always feel a responsibility to do my best work for the reader; that goes without saying. No one can write something that makes everyone happy. As to what ends up in print, I generally only sell what has (in the publisher's opinion) the greatest chance of selling well, or what has already sold well in the past.

What happened with StarDoc is a good example of when what the readers want does make a difference. Upon the publication of book five, the publisher announced that the series was over (quite a surprise for me.) I was told to write something else, and because I like paying the bills, I did. No publicity or promo was done by the publisher for StarDoc after that; StarDoc was finished. Over. Done with. Move along, lady.

Only it wasn't. The entire series kept selling for three years after the publisher decided to end it, and never went out of print. Now, I may have helped the cause a little with the freebie StarDoc novellas and short stories I wrote during the long gap between book five and six, but that was all I did. The readers and their word-of-mouth advertising are what kept the books selling. Eventually the publisher asked me to write new books for the series, and Cherijo was back in business. That's the real power that readers as a group have over any writer's work.

I'm curious to hear what other writers and readers think. Do you believe the writer owes the reader anything? If so, what, and why?

*Rifled from Jaquandor's Sentential Links #81

Saturday, January 06, 2007

January: Plan

Writers love to talk about the creative side of the biz, but rarely about the biz side of being creative. You can't have one without the other, so at least once a month I'll be writing about the other side of our profession: writing as a business. This month: the writing/business plan.

Long before I became a pro writer, I worked in the corporate world (where I learned to be the compassionate, sweet-tempered, lovable person that I am.) As comptroller of an international company, I managed budgets, accounts and transfers that bounced between seven countries and often ran into the millions. Without a comprehensive business plan, I'd have been swamped in a week and completely lost in a month.

During my rookie year in publishing I was repeatedly told that writers couldn't create viable business plans. I know many writers don't have much practical business or accounting experience, but that didn't make sense to me. The biz, as weird as it can get, isn't much different from any corporation I've worked for. Being an author is no different than being any sort of non-union sub-contractor, except that we don't have to use blow torches, carry our lunch in steel pails, or group together to make animal sounds at passing cute guy agents.

Okay, there was that one time at National, but Donald Maass came up to me because he wanted to read what my T-shirt said. And I only did it after he walked away.

Anyway, working off an estimate of annual income based on contracted work was the first thing I did. Then, after seeing several writers spend themselves into bankruptcy court, I put myself on a strict budget to track and control my expenses. I'd been working by a personal productivity plan that had already kept me focused and writing steadily for ten years before I sold, so it seemed only natural to plan and organize everything else.

What can I say -- my spices are racked in alphabetical order.

Today I begin every calendar year with a writing/business plan that defines my immediate, short-term and long-term business goals; provides me with a detailed budget, work calendar and submission schedule; projects my expenses in relation to my estimated income, and basically organizes me the writer as me the business. It's never perfect, but it keeps me from over-spending, wasting my writing time, being sucked into overthrowing another third world country, or getting distracted by peripherals that have no business in my business.

If you think of writing as a journey, the writing/business plan is both the road map and the tolls schedule.

A business plan can help most writers become more time-productive and cost-efficient, and it doesn't have to a huge complicated thing. The basic parts are your goals, a work plan, and projecting your expenses and your income. Remember that the plan is yours and yours alone; make it user-friendly.

Let's break down a very basic plan for a writer who is only planning to write one novel this year:

2007: Write a new novel and submit it for consideration.

The annual goal is what one works toward for a year. You can create any sort of goal, write whatever you want and change the goal as needed, but remember to keep it realistic (use the one to ten scale: writing one book per year is realistic, writing ten books is probably not.) The more work expectation you pile on yourself, the heavier the daily workload becomes.

1. Daily work goal: 300 new words, or 1 page.

Writing as a daily habit helps train you for that time when you have to write every day as a professional. If you can't write daily, plan and stick to the days in the week when you can. Also, it's a good idea to designate your writing times and stick to them (i.e. every night from 7-11pm; every morning from 4-5am, etc.) and make sure your family and loved ones are aware of and are okay with this. If you're not sure how long it takes you to write the words to meet your daily goal, time yourself writing that daily goal for one week and average it out.

Don't be nervous about this goal, either. If you can plan to eat sensibly, watch a TV show, have wild monkey sex and moisturize on a daily basis, you can do the same thing with writing. Just do all the other stuff when you're not writing.

2. Weekly work goal: 2K in new words; one-pass edit of WIP.

If you didn't make goal for the week, plan an extra hour over the weekend to make up the writing, or add in what you didn't write to next week's quota (don't do this too often; you'll end up with an impossible daily goal that will make you feel defeated before you start to write.) When you know ahead of time that your writing schedule is going to be disrupted, write a little more than quota for the day so you can "buy" that time off from writing.

A one-pass edit, btw, is a single read-through and correct. It does not mean one pass until page 4, back up, rewrite, another pass to page 9, back up, tear up page, rewrite page, a third pass backward to page 1, tear out hair, call WIP names, etc.

3. Monthly work goal: Verify 9K written in new words; research and find one new publisher and/or agent for prospective submission list.

Use a monthly goal check to see where you're at with your WIP as well as to look at how well you're working. If there's an ongoing problem, try to think up a creative solution to it and adjust your plan accordingly. This is also a good time to check on your income and expenses and make sure you're staying within your budget.

Once a month check in with your family, too. If they're not speaking to you, or don't remember who you are, you may need to adjust the amount of time you're spending writing.

4. Annual work goal: Finish novel, submit to twelve publishers and agents.

This is the self-imposed deadline for the year. If this writer writes according to plan, there should be a couple of weeks for a final comprehensive edit of the manuscript, writing up query and cover letters, checking on any changes with the publishers and agents on the submission plan, etc. This is also a good time to reflect about the previous year and ways to improve performance, income and career (which helps with writing next year's business plan.)

If you made your goal, be sure to reward yourself in some significant way. If you didn't make your goal, don't beat yourself up. Fly down to Florida and I'll do it for you! No, seriously, give yourself credit for what you did accomplish, and see what you can learn from not making plan (it will help to adjust next year's plan to accommodate the problem that kept you from finishing.)

5. New Endeavor Goal: write and submit short story to genre publication.

This is optional. In my business plan, I include one new endeavor goal and one outrageous goal every year. A new endeavor goal, for example, can be anything from writing in a new genre to publishing a promotional e-book. Outrageous goals are things that are usually beyond my means and/or present capabilities, like buying the Hope Diamond or running over to borrow a cup of sugar from Stuart MacBride. I almost always nail the new endeavor goal (six out of seven so far), and almost never the outrageous one (one out of seven to date), but it adds a nice incentive for me to work a little harder and budget myself a little better. One can only depend on so many job offers for work as a jungle-combat mercenary.

Annual Expense Budget: $347.00 [printer paper ($27.00), ink cartridge ($50.00), monthly internet access ($120.00), research books ($75.00), postage ($25.00), misc. office supplies ($50.00.)]

This is where you figure out what it costs to write for a year. The only other thing you may need is a planner where you can record what you've written each day, a ledger or spreadsheet to keep track of your expenses, and a submission schedule. You can write this up on paper and start a business plan notebook, or use software or freeware to track it electronically. One trick I employ with tracking expenses is to use one credit card solely for business expenses, which helps a lot with the bookkeeping.

Note: Hershey's kisses and M&Ms are not yet a deductible business expense, but I'm still pestering the IRS.

Income: $15.00/week from day job paycheck to writing account = $780.00/year*

And this is how you're going to pay for your writing expenses for a year. A published writer can project their writing income according to contract payouts. I divide my income between household and professional accounts, but I make it a habit to allocate twice the money I actually need in the writing account as a bumper for emergency expenses. At the end of the year whatever I have leftover I either carry over to the next year as rainy day funds, or invest it in hardware, software, books, automatic weapons, grenades, shark repellent, etc.

A business plan may seem a little dull and boring, but working with it can help you stay on top of how productive you are, move your project along and send up a flag if you need to scale back on your spending. For example, if you continually can't meet your daily wordcount goal, it likely needs to be adjusted to a lower figure, or you need to allocate more time to writing. If you know in advance that you can't afford this year's writing expenses, you can cut out what's not necessary and look for cheaper alternatives to what is. It also impresses the family when they disrupt your schedule: pass out copies and gravely inform them that refereeing the screaming argument over who gets to hold the remote is not listed under your daily goal.

You've all had a week off to recover for the holidays, so this weekend consider drafting a writing/business plan for 2007. Like I said, it doesn't have to be complicated, but if you stick to it, it will help you make the most of the writing year ahead.

Related links:

Dolphinity Software's Planner freeware may help you organize your business plans (Freeware caution: always scan free downloads of anything for bugs and other threats before dumping the programs into your hard drive.)

The United States Small Business Administration has an excellent web page devoted to business planning along with links to example business plans, including one for a magazine publisher.

Friday, January 05, 2007


No Friday 20 today, as I'm off to the knee doc to get x-rayed, poked, prodded and pay him money for the pleasure. But as promised:

The Devil's Publishing Dictionary Part II: N through Z

Non-fiction - anything written that is stranger than fiction.

Novelist - a writer who cannot bear to end their short stories.

Novelization - 1) a fictional work written to cash in on the popularity of a television series, movie, or video game; 2) what science fiction and mystery writers write when they can't get contracts for their own ideas; 3) collectibles disguised as books.

Out of Print - a title no longer maintained in the publisher's catalogue or inventory, the rights to which the publisher controls to prevent the author from making any more money for the work and to exploit in the future if the author should ever become famous writing something else.

Packager - 1) a white slaver and copyright pirate pretending to be an author broker; 2) a publicity firm that puts together a cute ethnic student at Harvard with a publisher too busy to catch her plagiarizing better authors.

Paperback Writer - 1) a writer of mass market fiction; 2) a shadowy figure with at least 486 pseudonyms who publishes a blog by the same name; 3) what happens when a bruised dreamer refuses to become a cynic.

Prequel - a book an author writes when the publisher wants more novels in a series that the author ended five years ago.

Print Run - the number of copies actually produced; about one-third of the number of copies the publisher tells the author will be in the print run.

Pub Date - 1) the scheduled release date for the book after it has been changed at least three times; 2) not the release date the author announces to the readers; 3) the date a reprint is released with new cover art to fool the casual buyer into believing it to be a new work.

Query - a ten-page single-spaced letter sent by a writer to an editor, in which the writer recounts their tragic life story, describes how much they've suffered for their craft, lists every award, pin and runner-up prize won from their writer organization, mentions the name of every famous author the writer has imagined meeting and hanging out with, and a odd rambling paragraph that might be a description of the writer's latest protagonist, ex-spouse, or critique partner, all which the writer refers to as a proposal or a pitch.

Remaindered - that over which an author either weeps or laughs, depending on whose name is on the cover.

Returns - copies of books not returned by the bookstores or wholesalers to the publisher but for which they get credit because they strip off the cover and claim they destroy them, the royalties for which are deducted from the author's advance, which has probably not been paid to the author yet (see Advance.)

Reviewer - 1) a person who truly believes that they are a gentle, intelligent and learned individual who is supporting the publishing industry by writing thoughtful opinions of books; 2) someone who maintains that all writing except their own is subject to the harshest amount of criticism possible; unless it's an author they're fangirling; 3) the highest evolved form of Archaeplastida, 4) anyone who can't understand why they keep buying an author's books because they all, all suck, but still does and takes the time to write a five-paragraph, one-star review, or who has a seven-year-old who can write better the author, or who suggests using books as substitutes for feminine menstrual hygiene products; 5) a yutz with a credit card and a hair up a southern orifice.

Royalties - percentage of the sales price earned by the author on sold copies prior to the application of reserves against returns by the publisher (see Earn Out.)

SASE - short for stamped self-addressed envelope, which the writer will likely to forget to include with all submitted articles, proposals and manuscripts

Self-published - produced by the author, ignored by the industry.

Sequel - a continuation of an earlier book that sold better than the publisher expected.

Small Press - 1) the publisher of authors who can't sell to major publishers; 2) the last stop for a multi-rejected proposal; 3) the last resort for a science fiction writer's version of The Book of Your Heart.

Subsidiary Rights (Sub Rights) - sales of rights for foreign translation, first serial, audio, electronic, film, book club, etc. editions of an author's book, for which the author will not get paid for some time (see Advance, Royalties.)

Trade Paperback - 1) a larger format paperback, commonly used by publishers to give an illusion of respectability to a novel that was not projected to sell well in hardcover; 2) the worst mistake Harlequin made with Luna.

Trade Publisher - publisher of books geared for sale to people who are too busy with work to read fiction.

Vanity Press - 1) a pay-to publisher that claims to be an author's best friend and business partner; 2) where authors go after being rejected by the last resort (see small press); 3) writer-dream vultures.

Writer - 1) a masochist with an ink and paper fetish; 2) a damaged creative individual who when confronted with life's unpleasantries retreats to put it all down in words rather than fight like a girl; 3) someone who never forgets anything and will eventually write it in book form; 4) a demented, thin, sad creature in hock up to their neck who truly believes publication will solve all their problems; 5) Peter Pan one step up on the evolutionary ladder.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Devil Made Me Do It

The Devil's Publishing Dictionary Part I: A through M

Advance - a sum paid to the author's agent after contract signing, as soon as the editor puts in a payment request to accounting, which is misplaced for three weeks to three months, re-requested, routed to senior editor for approval, misplaced again or completely forgotten until agent's fourth inquiry. The author may or may not see 30% of the agreed-upon advance, less that 15% owed to the agent, within a year of signing, upon publication of the contracted work, or when the author starves to death while living under a bridge, whichever comes first.

Advance Reading Copies - prepublication edition of the book that is not for sale, generally used to generate income for reviewers who sell them on eBay; also known as ARCs.

Agent - that person an author pays 15% of their writing income. The agent in return lives in New York, makes many phone calls, eats lunch with editors, goes to industry conferences and keeps the author away from the editor.

Backlist - all of the author's books in print that are no longer in print.

Blurbs - ringing but patently false endorsements of a book by buddies of the author, the author herself coyly pretending to be another author by using a pseudonym, or carefully-edited segments of bad reviews. Also known as cover quotes.

Book Doctor - a quack hired by an author to take most of the author's money in return for poorly editing the author's manuscript.

Copy Editor - 1) an undercover, superior writer who pretends to correct grammar and spelling in a manuscript while actually teaching idiot authors how to write books; 2) someone who chews gum, wears fake tattoos, has a first name that ends in -y and is obsessed with using ellipses.

Copyright - the author's legal right to ownership of the work under federal copyright laws that protects the author's only means of income; said shaky laws should collapse at any moment.

Cover Art - the design of the book jacket, generally produced in-house by the publisher's art department, all of whom are near-sighted psychotics who never actually read the book and routinely forget to take their meds.

Earn Out - to sell enough copies to earn the advance against royalties before the publisher applies reserves against returns and zeroes out the royalties.

E-book (electronic book) - a book published in electronic format that will be illegally copied a thousand times and, no matter how well-written, will not get any respect whatsoever from most of the publishing industry.

Editor - 1) a sadomasochist; 2)) a kind but crazy person who makes a career out of working with authors to improve their manuscripts; listens to their lies, tantrums and crying fits; extends their deadlines; meets with them over mystery chicken entrees at industry cons and suffers countless bouts of depression, con crud and tinitus as a result; 3) an industry professional who drinks Maalox or Jack Daniels for lunch.

Fiction - 1) a story created by an author that is then lifted, rewritten and published by another author; 2) anything you hear when an author's lips are moving.

Galley - a bound or unbound edition of a book riddled with typesetter errors, missing characters, scenes and pages that the author begs not be sent out for publicity purposes before publication.

Genre - engaging fiction that sells well; anything a literary author spits on or an academic author calls vulgar.

Ghost Writer - 1) a writer or co-writer who is paid very little to write a book but not to take credit for it, and says nothing when the celebrity who does take credit accepts praise from critics and natters on about how difficult the book was to write, etc.; 2) a talented chump who needs money.

Instant Book - any book rushed into print whose publisher has been pleading with its very famous author for years to turn it in (see the works of Thomas Harris and Stephen King.)

Jacket - the paper cover on a book that depicts something that bears no resemblance to anything in the story.

List Position - where in the publisher's pecking order a title ranks; generally decided by celebrity status, youth and/or hair color of the author. A lead title typically will be written by a 26 year old blonde former Ms. Arkansas who has breast implants and lisps when she speaks, or Dr. Phil.

Managing Editor - editor in charge. Of what, we're just not sure.

Mass Market - a smaller, cheaper edition of a hardcover novel that represents the author's entry into publishing's ghetto (see Paperback Writer's 'Hood.)

Memoir - a personal reflection or account that, when read aloud, does not allow the author to pass a lie detector test.

Mid-list - a title or author that does not become a bestseller; an author who is dumped by a publisher and replaced by a 26 year old blonde former Ms. Arkansas who has breast implants and lisps when she speaks, or Dr. Phil.

(To be continued -- feel free to add your own entry for the dictionary in comments)