Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hey, They're Signed, Too

Welcome to the politics-free weblog of Paperback Writer. Here we discuss books, writing and Publishing. Comments from armchair economists who feel we should be instead bickering with them will be rejected after I'm done passing them around to some friends and having a good laugh. P.S., all small children left unattended will be given an expresso and a free puppy.

Now that I've addressed that little issue, on to the more important stuff. My regular visitors will remember that I mentioned last week that I had ordered the deluxe print edition of Douglas Clegg's novel Afterlife from Cemetery Dance.

Afterlife Deluxe Edition HardcoverIn fact I ordered two copies, one for me and one to give away here. They arrived promptly today, beautifully packaged by the folks at Cemetery Dance, who have so impressed me with their service, their product and the pristine handling of my shipment that I think I'll write them a fan letter. Publishers never get many of those.

Also (big surprise, as I missed this detail on the sale page) both copies of the book are signed by the author. Now I'm imagining Doug sitting there and signing 1250 copies, and just thinking about it makes my hands hurt. Doug deserves a fan letter, too.

As for you guys, in comments to this post, tell us the title and author of the book you're currently reading (or if you've hit a reading dry spell, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST tonight (Tuesday, September 30, 2008.) I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a signed, limited edition copy of Afterlife by Douglas Clegg and a signed ARC of Stay the Night, my seventh and final novel in the current Darkyn series. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Play Me Ten

Ten Things for the Game Design/Creation Lovers

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

Adventure Games Studio "allows you to create your own point-and-click adventure games, similar to the early 90's Sierra and Lucasarts adventures. It consists of an easy-to-use editor to create your games, and a run-time engine to play them. The game interface is fully customizable, with classic Sierra and Verb Coin templates provided by default. AGS manages most of the game so that you don't have to - it does all the donkey work like load/save game functions, pathfinding and scrolling rooms so that you can concentrate on the parts of your game that make it unique" (OS: Windows 2000, XP or Vista. Designer's note: "The AGS Editor will also run on Windows 98, but some features are not available if you do so. You also need to have the .NET Framework 2.0 (or later) installed in order to run the editor. The installer will tell you if you don't have this and need to download it.")

AutoRealm mapping freeware allows you to design and create "maps of castles, cities, dungeons and more." (OS: Windows)

BYOJeopardy "helps you make custom game boards that you can use in the classroom or play with friends. Features for BYOJeopary include the ability to bold, italicize, and underline text. You can insert symbols° and small images. You can use different fonts or specify the font size. You can use subscript and superscript. You can add media like Quicktime (*.mov) and Windows media player (*.wmf) files to your board" (OS: Windows with the designer's note: "There are TWO versions available: one requires the .NET framework & will NOT run on Win95, the other does not & will run on ALL versions of Windows. Make sure you choose the correct download")

The just-released 0.97.5 version of Construct is "a FREE development studio geared for creating DirectX games and software in a WYSIWYG environment" (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista)

DimensioneX is an "open source software kit for developing and running multiplayer adventure games" (OS: Any/All)

Golden Realm [not freeware, but for $2.50 it might as well be] is " as user-friendly and anti-programming as possible. A simple understanding of basic GML is suggested but not required. You can do a ton with this engine without any understanding of programming. This is a very easy-to-use Game Maker engine" (OS: not specified)

Jarum Game Creator "allows you to create games and compile them into "exe" files using a simple programming language. Features include a Game Wizard that allows you to create simple games with out having to code them from scratch and a debugger that allows you to find errors in your code quickly and easily. A Sprite Masker that adds a mask to your sprites. A compiler that compiles your games into standalone executable programs. A Help File that includes a list of commands and topics on how to use the game creator." (OS: Windows, Vista)

Official Hamster Republic Role Playing Game Construction Engine is "a free open-source utility that you can use to create your own RPG game in a style similar to the classic Final Fantasy games on the NES, SNES and GBA which have so shaped the RPG genre" (OS: No specific system required, but Has been tested on various Windows and Linux and has a page here with the test results)

Scratch is "a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web. Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the process of design" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3, Mac OSX 10.3 or later)

World Creator allows you to "create your Artwork for Games quickly and easily, specialises in Game Tiles, 2D, Platform, Overhead, Isometric, Pseudo3D, and Animations. The World Creator has a unique Tiling & Masking system with an open ended structure, so you can design and create / use your own Textures and Masks which in turn provides an ever expanding library which can be exchanged between users" (OS: Windows)

Additional Resources:

Ambrosine.com has a page here with an extensive resource/link list of more sites, freeware, shareware and software to buy for game design and creation for pratically every skill level and operating system.

If you'd like to practice making games online, test drive the free online game maker at Fyrebug.com (also, according to the site, if you register you can create your own images and mp3s for use in games.)

If you need music for your game, you might take a look at the work being done by game music composers over at Sakari Infinity (downloads and uploads are free, but evidently you do have to register first. I don't see any cost involved, but check it out thoroughly before you join.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Start to Finish

Some years ago a friend sent me a couple of antique quilt tops in need of some TLC and finishing. Among them I found what looked like a variation on the Indian Trail pattern made in the forties or fifties. I discovered that the fabrics were still in very good condition, and the maker had actually appliquéd all the tiny pieces together by hand with a blind stitch.

The color palette and the pattern the maker used wasn't to my personal taste, but I needed to get over my aversion to the color yellow. Also, the amount of work that had already been done demanded I finish what she had started, also by hand.

I started working on the quilt whenever I had some spare time and my hands weren't bothering me too much. I always seemed to work on this quilt during hurricanes or storms, probably because I couldn't use the sewing machine. During the long power outtages from the 2004 hurricanes, I would sit and repair seams by candlelight. By the time Katrina roared into the Gulf in 2005, I had restored the top and had it pinned together with batting and backing. After a tornado knocked out our power during Christmas of 2006, I began the hand quilting work.

Quilting detail, Hurricane Quilt

By 2007 I could only work on the quilt on good hand days, which were few and far between. I seriously doubted I was ever going to finish the work. Toward the end of the year I set it aside for a few months during my blue period and tried to think of someone I could pass it along to. Hardly anyone hand quilts these days; the thought of someone tossing it into a cupboard or giving it to Goodwill was the only reason I held onto it.

I don't know why I kept working on it in 2008; it was taking forever and my hand stitching was becoming erratic. I had to start using a thimble with a needle puller to work on it. It seemed like an exercise in futility. I was never going to finish it, not stitching around one little patch at a time.

Until I did, tonight.

Hurricane Quilt, 2004-2008, restored and hand-quilted by PBW

It's not perfect by any means. The stitching is inconsistent, and some of it where my hands got too shaky with the needle needs to be redone. I still don't like all that yellow. But I finished it in the way I wanted it done, and how I believe the maker would have wanted -- by needle, thread, thimble and hands.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Playing it Safe

One morning when my daughter was very young, I took a new box of her favorite cereal out of the cabinet and brought it to the kitchen table. As soon as I put the box down it began to shake, and the bag inside began making rattling sounds.

These were not little creepy shakes or sounds. These were mouse-size shakes. Or maybe rat-size sounds.

My apartment didn't have mice or rats, but I carefully checked the outside of the box anyway, and found it completely intact and sealed. I checked the label to see if there was some sort of wind-up toy prize included inside that was going off on its own -- and there wasn't. Whatever was in the box was inside the cereal bag, and sounded as if it were trying to chew or claw its way out.

I put the box in a garbage bag, tied off the bag, carried it downstairs and tossed it into my building's Dumpster. I then consoled my kids (especially my daughter, who was quite put out that Mommy threw away her favorite cereal) with a trip to our favorite pancake restaurant for breakfast.

At the time I thought I did the sensible thing by playing it safe and just getting rid of it immediately. I was by myself with the kids and I might have let something nasty loose in my apartment, or maybe gotten myself bitten. Yet later that same day I started wondering -- just what could have gotten into that box? How? Where -- at the factory? Had to be a mouse. Or a rat. Finally I couldn't stand it another minute, and went downstairs to grab the trash bag out of the Dumpster. By that time it was gone because that was pick-up day.

I'll never know what it was, and seven years later, I still think about that damn box of cereal.

How does this apply to writing, you ask? Well, my unidentified cereal box occupant is a bit like every story waiting to be written outside your comfort zone. You don't know what it is, only that it's inside you, and it's trying to get out. Open up and you don't know what you might let loose. Look or reach inside for it, and there's a chance you may get hurt.

But throw it away without taking a look, and you'll always wonder.

Somewhat related link: David Niall Wilson's post Writing on the Edge - The Fiction Valence Coefficient.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Around the Blogosphere

I have (mostly) caught up on work, so I have vowed to spend the morning answering the questions left in comments during my recent absences. While I'm doing that, you might check out these links:

Joely Sue Burkhart has redesigned her blog/website, and I really like the new look. But I liked the old one, too.

Another reason I need to catch up on my blog reading -- I miss wonderful posts like this one from Douglas Clegg back on August 24th (Keep an eye on this mentoring thing, too -- if I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, and ask for a mentor, #1 on the wishlist would be Doug.)

I'm so far behind I didn't realize Marjorie M. Liu is back from China; I went over to check on her to make sure she wasn't caught in the latest typhoon. But she is back, and has redesigned the look of her LJ, where she also posts that her novel The Iron Hunt is coming out in audio format in November (I am so buying that; I'd love to listen to it in the car when I go on my next road trip.)

Each week Jordan Summers will be giving away 2 ARC copies of Red, her November release from Tor. All you have to do for a chance to win one is leave a comment on her blog or enter via her contact page. Head over to her blog and get the details here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sub Ops

Comet Press, a small press print publisher, is currently seeking "Novels—40,000 to 85,000 words, Novellas—17,500 to 40,000 words, and Novelettes—7,500 to 17,500 words" with stories of "horror, suspense, and dark crime fiction. If it scares the hell out of us, makes us cringe, and is well written, then chances are good that we will publish it." Pays ?% of net, no advance. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only. See more details and info at the publisher's guideline page here.*

Federations, a SF themed anthology to be published by Prime books and edited by John Joseph Adams, begins reading submissions November 1st (do not submit before this date) through January 1, 2009. Payment: "5 cents per word ($250 max), plus a pro-rata share of the anthology’s earnings and 1 contributor copy" Limit: 5000 words preferred max. Electronic subs only, see details here.*

For you extreme flashfic writers out there, Per Contra is looking for nano-fiction; stories that are 55 or 69 words in length, specific structuring required on the 55-word pieces, pays $5 flat rate per piece, submit in batches of five max, electronic subs only.

Space and Time Magazine has reopened to fiction and poetry submissions from 9/22/08 through 11/30/08. They're interested in "science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror, but are really open to looking at anything, so long as it is speculative. Stories should be in standard manuscript format and a maximum of 10K words" and "poems should be no longer than a single, standard 81/2 by 11 inch page, and must be of a speculative nature -- either science fiction, fantasy, horror, or any combination thereof will do." Pays: Pay: 1¢/word for fiction, $5 per poem. No reprints, electronic submissions only. See more details and guidelines here.*

The Horror Library has a very interesting submissions guidelines page here; it seems to be a slushpile-to-workshop-to-publication deal. Definitely read it carefully first. Pays: 3 cents per word with a $150.00 cap for horror/dark fiction pieces (500-5000K length preferred) Electronic subs only.

Also, just a heads-up for readers: While stumbling around SpecFicWorld's web site, I found a page with seven different SF, Fantasy and Horror e-books free for the downloading here. I can't swear to it but it looks like some short story anthos and a couple of magazines.

*Market listings found over at the always-helpful Ralan.com, which is also having a fund-raising drive this month. If you use Ralan's site regularly, please consider sending a few bucks/euros his way.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Unapologetic Buys

Sometimes my bookstore buys and reading habits must seem rather odd to other people. I may be all over the place one month and obsessing over a single topic or genre the next. I'm a restless reader and I like to try new things, but I'm also a loyalist who collects several authors and will reread old favorites when I'm in the mood for another visit. In July I was pouring over old, old books on x-ray refraction and related crystal physics; this month I'm glomming on the fall of the Roman Empire. Tonight I took a break to read an old Mills & Boon romance.

For years I've seen the phrase guilty pleasure tossed around by readers who feel they must apologize for some aspect of their reading habits. The older I get, the less I like that phrase. If a book -- any book -- gives you pleasure, and takes you away from the turmoil of life for a couple of hours, why should you feel guilty about it? Why would anyone with any amount of empathy make you feel guilty about it? With the way the world is right now, trust me, reading what you truly enjoy is a wonderful, necessary thing.

I think we need a new phrase. Instead of using guilty pleasure let's call these purchases our unapologetic buys.

For example: I have always liked Prince (or, if you prefer the artist's symbol, O(+>.) I've enjoyed his music, the way he dances, dresses, sings and acts. He is a genuine, original, interesting musician, and he's beautiful to look at, and I just like him. I don't care if that forever brands me as an outdated eighties chick; I was a chick back in the eighties. I'm definitely buying his new book/CD 21 Nights, and I'm not apologizing for it.

I can't stand surrealism or high-end arty lit, but I habitually read Isabel Allende. What can I say, she had me at the girl with green hair (The House of the Spirits.) Actually I'm quite fond of Ms. Allende; she may be wordy, and unfamiliar with the concept of the paragraph break, but she certainly has style (or her English translator does.) She's probably good for me, too. After I finish reading Inés of My Soul, I'll probably start on a category romance. And I don't care about the contrasts between the two works. I will enjoy them both equally.

I always try to buy some books for me as well as the kids at the annual Scholastic book fairs because they donate part of the proceeds to the schools' media center. I usually buy gift books for friends' kids, bookmarks, or cookbooks. This year I picked up Taste of Home ~ The Busy Family Cookbook for myself, and it's got some pretty good meal ideas, grouped by main ingredient and time it takes to make them (all 30 minutes or less ala Rachel Ray.) I've had to adjust some of the recipes to get them more on the low-fat low-cholesterol side, but these are good, basic home style dishes, the kind like mom used to make. I know I'll get more out of this cookbook than I would out of the latest hot new YA fiction because I'm not a fan of YA. The kids got a stack of YA for themselves, however, so absolutely no guilt there.

I purchased a copy of Robyn Young's "epic adventure of the Knights Templar" only because of the title: Brethren. Given the title and the subject matter, I thought it was funny. Sometimes I buy books for no other reason than that. Sue me.

I hardly ever buy Publishing rags anymore; I'll pick up The Writer or Poets & Writers now and then if they look like they've put out a good/relevant issue, but that's about it. I've never subscribed to Publishers Weekly, which is just too overpriced for me. I have better things to do with my money, like buy more interesting-to-me magazines, such as Veranda, Architectural Digest, and Quilters Newsletter. I subscribe to all three for less than what PW costs. And because I've been buying copies every month off the newsstand or getting them from a very generous friend, I finally broke down and also subscribed to both Cloth Paper Scissors and Quilting Arts. Not a smidgen of guilt, either.

As readers, we don't have to get someone's stamp of approval on what we like to read. In a sense that's only one level away from book-burning. Reading preferences are like religions; no one can say theirs is right and yours and everyone else's are wrong (but they will.) You can have someone else make your choices for you, or you can tell them to buzz off and think and choose for yourself. Which will make you happier? Guess.

What are some of your unapologetic buys? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Lately I'm hearing too many writers talking about giving up, and I think it's time for a virtual pep rally. So, toss publishing out the window for today, and consider these:

25 Reasons to Keep Writing

1. Using a chainsaw is (usually) not a job requirement.
2. It’s the only time in your life when you really are Master of a Universe.
3. No office, no time clock, and no boss hovering over your shoulder asking, “Are you done yet?”*
4. Every day is Casual Friday.
5. You get paid to lie.
6. Poets will collectively envy and loathe you for having better prospects.
7. It gives you endless subject matter for your weblog posts.
8. You have a valid reason to gripe about Publishing.
9. Three words: Love Scene Research.
10. No one knows your stories but you. Yet.
11. Only writers are officially allowed to make Dan Brown, Stephen King or John Grisham jokes.
12. You keep up with what’s happening in your career field by buying and reading books.
13. You get to wrestle with important issues, like: Times New Roman, or Courier New?
14. It’s like having sex -- you won’t get any better at it unless you keep doing it.
15. What else are you going to do for the entire month of November?
16. Your writing may bring joy and purpose to the otherwise empty life of a yutz with a hair up a southern orifice.
17. You may someday inspire a poor kid with no education or future to dare to write stories, too (thank you, A.M. Lightner.)
18. You will become an expert at where to purchase the cheapest printer toner cartridges.
19. You will finally have your people – other writers.
20. Nothing will ever feel exactly like the moment when you type that last word on the last page of your story.
21. You can obsess for days over things like whether Lucien should have blue or green eyes.
22. No one in your house will ever have to pick up the mail again.
23. How else are you going to get into the Library of Congress, other than visiting it?
24. James Patterson isn't going to live forever, you know.
25. You were meant to be a star. Actually, you’re already a star. Well, all of the elements that make up your body came from the collision of atoms in a star. Except for the hydrogen and helium. Anyway, you’re part of a star. Writing is the other part.

*Not counting editor or agent e-mails asking the same question.

Add your reasons to keep writing in comments.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meaningful Ten

Ten Things to Help You Check, Define and Refine Words

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

Rick Meyer's e-Sword Bible study freeware allows you to view multiple versions of the Holy Scriptures, create a parallel Bible with up to four translations, additions of your own commentaries and notes, view graphics and much, much more, plus it offers Strong's definitions [oh, to have found this baby BEFORE I bought the monster that is the print version of Strong's, *sigh*] (OS: OS: Win 9x/ME/2K/NT/XP)

Just released, Lingoes v. 2.4.5 "integrates cursor translator, looking-up in dictionaries and intelligent translation by creative zoned word translator. With selection of word or sentence in screen by cursor, it will translate as many as 23 languages of text into your native language." (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Grady Ward's Mobysaurus is "a comprehensive, feature-rich, easy-to-use English thesaurus for Windows. In addition to numerous built-in powerful features (usually seen only in commercial products), it offers some major unique benefits that no other thesaurus product (software or otherwise) does, including a huge database of 2.5 million synonyms, Find Synonymous Headwords and Suggest Headwords, that make this free thesaurus software the right tool for you to find the right words at the right time." Mobysaurus also now has a free online thesaurus to play with, too, btw. (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

Nisus Thesaurus offers "a fast electronic thesaurus that automatically integrates with any service aware application including Nisus Writer Express, Nisus Writer Pro, Mail, TextEdit, Safari, and more." (OS: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later; G3 (or better) or Intel Mac.)*

This one is pretty neat -- you can quickly check your spelling, grammar, and access a thesaurus online for any text you cut-n-paste into the text check box over at Spellchecker.net (great for e-mails.)

Professor Jack Lynch from Rutger's University touts The Online Grammar Guide as the "ultimate online guide to English grammar for advanced users of English." I didn't find everything I normally mess up (I guess that means I'm not an advanced user), but I like the common sense approach and wording of the explanations.

TheSage's English Dictionary and Thesaurus is "a professional software package that integrates a complete dictionary and multifaceted thesaurus of the English language into a single and powerful language reference system. TheSage can look up words directly from almost any program (IE, Word, Firefox, Outlook, Thunderbird,... ) and is 100% portable." [Sequence Publishing has also made TheSage's dictionary an online tool, too, if you want to test drive it before downloading the freeware.] (OS: Win 98/ME/2K/XP)

Although it is not free, I always recommend ThinkMap's The Visual Thesaurus software as a great tool for visually-oriented writers (but please do give it a free try online first to see how it works.) You can purchase the software outright [$39.95] or subscribe online [$2.95/mo; $19.95/yr] (OS: Windows: 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista; Mac OSX 10+)

When I need a word that begins, contains or ends with specific letters, I go over to use the search engine at Word Navigator. Their word lists are pretty helpful, too.

XTerm Medical Dictionary is "comprehensive dictionary of medical terms. It’s all presented in a handy, easy to use application that includes a search engine with wildcard and incorrect spelling searches. The database of medical terms is updated twice a month and the software features a function to easily download and add these updates." (OS: Win 98/2K/XP)

*Link swiped from Sudeep Bansal's very interesting weblog, Brilliant Ignorance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Nothing warms a series writer's heart than to know that so many readers out there are still enjoying series novels (and, looking over all the great recs, I need to go book shopping again.)

We put the magic hat in action, and the winners of the Early Robin giveaway are:

S. Muse

Sandy (whose comment began with My favorite series continues to be Roberta Gellis's Roselynde historical series.)


Cats Meow




Winners, when you have a chance, please send your full name and ship-to information to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these packages out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The First Free Novel of Fall

One of my favorite dark fantasy/horror/vampire fiction writers, Douglas Clegg, is making his novel Afterlife free to read online at Scribd* for a limited time (or, if you'd rather have it in print like me, you can purchase the deluxe hardcover edition from Cemetery Dance Publications here.)

This is the first time I've ordered books from Cemetery Dance, actually, and I'm impressed. They didn't slut themselves all over me or bug me to buy more stuff like the online chain booksellers do. They didn't offer me a gift card to sign up for their credit card with the sky-rocketing rate, or 40% off Oprah's latest nit-lit-pick, or try to tell me what else I should buy from them by making unsolicited suggestions.

Nope, it was all very simple and clean: click, order, fill out the ship-to-bill-to and pay. That's all, just like in the old days of buying stuff on the internet. Made me tear up a little, to be honest. Thank you, Cemetery Dance.

*Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Early Robin

Thank you all for putting up with my lousy blogging this week. To get back on track and do something fun, I have seven ARCs to give away of my January '09 release:

Stay the Night features Robin of Locksley from Evermore, and is the seventh and final novel in my current Darkyn series. If you want more Rob, and/or to know how I wrap up things, this is the story you'll want to read.

If you'd like a chance to win one of the seven ARCs, in comments to this post name one of your favorite novel series in any genre (or if you're not a series fan, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight on Saturday, September 20, 2008. I will draw seven names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed ARC copy of Stay the Night as well as a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Random Bits

My first Rebecca Kelly/GCI novel Going to the Chapel has been licensed for audio by Oasis, which means in approximately six months to a year it should be released on CD. I have other novels on CD, but all of them were WFH that I can't talk about, so I'm really delighted to have one to add to the public works list.

After much consideration, I went with an excerpt of the first novel in the new dark fantasy series for the back teaser in Stay the Night. I don't want to give away too many details about it just yet for reasons better left unexplained, but the current title of the new book -- still pending full approval by the publisher -- is Shadowlight.

I appreciate the many condolences and e-mails you all sent about Rush. I've been trying not to look at the spot by my office window where he always napped in the sunlight, but finally I put a little pot of violets there and that made me feel better. It's hard for me to accept that he's gone from my life, but I know he's in good hands now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going Once

Artist Damien Hirst made headlines and lots of cash this week by auctioning off some of his bizarre artworks. Already he's sold a pickled tiger shark for $17 million, and a gold-crowned bull (I can't find an image of this one, but here's a similar work by the artist) for $18.6 million.

Call me stodgy and unimaginative, but I don't call this art. Embalming, definitely, or maybe -- stretching a definition a bit here -- creative taxidermy. But not art. Nor can I see paying millions for the privilege of parking a large dead critter in a tank of formaldehyde in the living room, but hey, I'm cheap that way.

It did make me wonder what my heirs might decide to auction off after I'm gone (one can only specify and control so much in a will.) I don't have a lot in the way of personal possessions, just my books, art, and quilts. Well, several decades of unpublished writing and terrible poetry, but I'm slowly destroying everything I don't want published posthumously, so 99% of that won't be around. I think my journals would only be of interest to my loved ones, but after seeing how Ted Hughes edited what the world saw of Sylvia Plath's, I might burn those, too.

If my kids don't want them, I'd like to my books to go to a public library, and my antique quilts to a museum. The art, eh. I can't see anyone paying a dime for my own paintings, but I have a very small collection of some nice pieces by other artists, including the original cover paintings for Shockball and Beyond Varallan. Art is personal, so I'd like those to stay in the family if possible. If not, then I'd like to see them auctioned off to benefit a public school arts program.

What would you like to see happen to your stuff after you're gone?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rushan 2001-2008

I haven't caught up yet, but life threw another curve ball at me. Over the weekend we lost Rushan, one of our rescued kitties.

Abandoned or a runaway, Rush spent probably the first six months of his life as a feral stray. He was in such bad shape when I adopted him that my vet told me he wouldn't survive another week, and recommended I put him to sleep. I'm glad I ignored that advice, and was able to save him and give him seven more years of life and love.

I don't have too many pictures of him, as he hated the camera's flash and would run and hide whenever I took it out, but here's one I took of him beside Buddy:

We miss you, little guy. Safe journey.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Catch-Up Day

I'm going to spend today catching up on questions in comments from last week that I still need to answer and getting this STN teaser decided and finished to go out on Monday. I really appreciate all the input you guys gave me yesterday, too -- it was a big help to hear what you thought would work best as a preview.

A couple items/links of interest:

Some of you know that Hurricane Ike ran directly over our friend Alison Kent. Her DH, Walt Stone from Cuppa Cafe, is blogging via Twitter about their situation and some info on surrounding areas. The latest update shows they have their power back and seem to be doing fine, not counting the possibility of zombie attacks. :)

Our blogpal Jess is giving away a bunch of very cool books over at her place; to win all you have to do is post a comment for the corresponding post (due to shipping expense, this one is open to U.S. residents only.)

Shiloh Walker is giving away (and I'll quote here) "An ARC of THE MISSING and a GC for $40 to Borders, as well as some of my backlist books (your choice from what I have available-we’ll say…hmmmm… three books, sound doable?)" to anyone who donates to a hurricane-relief charity; check out the details here.

See you all tomorrow.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sneek Peak

Ike should be hitting Texas about now, and I'm sending all the positive thoughts and prayers I can today to our friends and the folks in Texas and all around that part of the Gulf. I hope you all will, too.

My editor has given me the weekend to decide what teaser to put in the back of Stay the Night, my January '09 release. A teaser is a short scene or excerpt from another work that's offered as a preview, and is usually taken from the next book to be published by the author.

Since STN is the last novel in this particular Darkyn series set, my choices are:

1. An excerpt from the first book (as yet untitled) in the new dark fantasy series.

2. A scene from one of my StarDoc novel (either Omega Games or Crystal Healer.)

3. A scene from If Angels Burn, which never got a teaser anywhere because it was the first Darkyn novel.

I'm inclined to go with #1, because it's probably what my Darkyn readers are most interested in seeing. The problem with this is that it probably won't have a novel title in time to go to print.

If you have an opinion on the subject, what would you like to preview? Let me know in comments.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Crazy Nines

In quilting, there's a kind of anti-pattern called Crazy Nines (if you read the quilting trades, it was featured in this Summer's issue of Fabric Trends.) Basically what you do is stack and rotary cut 12" squares of different fabrics into nine asymmetrical pieces, swap the pieces around, and sew them back together. The end result is sort of a lazy person's not-very-interesting crazy quilt.

All right, I'm being a bit of a sewing snob. It's not a bad piece for a beginner or a kid to make, because there are no templates involved, all the seams are straight and you end up with nine squares you sew back together. If you use the right fabrics, you can make a reasonably pretty quilt.

The problem I have with anti-patterns like Crazy Nines is that there's no real workmanship involved. Shortcut stuff like this encourages laziness and lack of imagination. The real art and skill involved in quilting gets shuffled to the sidelines. To me that's only a couple of seams away from using cheater cloth.

In writing there are all sorts of ways to take shortcuts with characterizations, too. Take some very popular characters created by other writers, stack them, cut them up and put them back together at random, and you may think you have a fully-realized character of your own. But what you really end up with is a hodge-podge of someone else's ideas.

You can only hide so much of that behind the excuse of a genre trend. The lack of workmanship always comes out in the story, too; anything that isn't your idea is probably going to pale in comparison to the original because it was never yours to begin with.

Rather than throwing together characters made out of bits and pieces of other authors' work, consider what you gain when you create your own characters according to your individual vision. Yes, it's a lot tougher to create versus imitate; at first you're probably going to mess up and have to redo a lot of work. But I think that's an important part of the process of becoming the writer you were meant to be instead of a clone of every other writer in the herd.

As a writer you bring a lot to the character worktable that has never been there before you got into this gig. Think of all the people you know, have met, have watched, have studied or have simply dreamed up over the years. Think of all the character ideas they've inspired for you. I can practically guarantee you that I don't know any of them the way you do, and I will never write any of them the way you can. They're yours, an entire secret world of them. They're worth investing your time and effort to bring them to the page, because no one else can -- and if they try, they'll only pale in comparison to you.

Related links:

Writing outside the paranormal box – creating unique characters by Jennifer Estep

Creating Unforgettable Characters by by Vicki Hinze

Creating Well-Rounded Characters by Lori L. Lake

Creating Memorable Characters by Lee Masterson

The Mystery of Character by Robert Wilson

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten By Any Other Name

Ten Things to Help You With Naming Characters

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

1. YeahBaby.com's Baby Name Generator allows you to customize gender, number range of letters, and provides origin and meaning with the very long lists it generates.

2. Author Barbara Delinsky has some suggestions at her blog on How to Pick Character Names.

3. Mervyn Love suggests using a map to inspire your character names in his article here.

4. Jason M. Tucker's article Naming Your Characters points out the virtues of J.K. Rowling's colorful way with character naming.

5. Caro Clarke's many writing advice articles includes this one, Problems with names and how to avoid them.

6. Get up to 50 suggestions for male or female character names with Seventh Sanctum's Quick Name Generator (or check out the many other name generators on the SS's link index page.)

7. With BehindtheName.com's Random Name Generator, you can customize it by number of given names, gender and even nationality.

8. My favorite online naming toy, Kleimo.com's Randon Name Generator, uses names from U.S. Census data, and gives you a 1 to 100 scale to customize how common or obscure the names generated are (1=most common, 100=completely obscure.)

9. Random Names 2.0 freeware offers 2900 male and 4900 female names for you to shuffle through (OS: Win9x/ME/2k/XP)

10. Need a mysterious name that actually means secret or mysterious? 20000names.com has put together an entire page of them.

If you have any links to great online resources for names and want to share, please post them in comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Your Character's Bookshelf

Most of my fictional characters like to read. I don't go into a lot of detail about what's in their TBR (product placement doesn't interest me) but personally knowing what they prefer to read is part of the characterization process for me.

Alexandra Keller is a big fan of Linda Howard because she likes her no-pushover heroines. Jema Shaw adores Jane Austen for the affection she shows for families in her stories. Even Samantha Brown, my homicide detective who sees the worst of reality, finds refuge and spiritual renewal by reading beautiful old poetry.

I've never been tempted to portray one of my characters as a fan of my books, oddly enough. I think that would be as ridiculous as giving myself a quote. Or maybe I've never recovered from reading a fiction book by an author who inserted their real self into the story to serve as a character. Not sure.

Some of my characters enjoy books that I don't particularly care for. Nick from Night Lost has a nice collection of nonfic books at her farm; they're all about motorcycles and baseball and I'm every one of them would put me to sleep in under a minute. Duncan Reever seems to like every Fred Saberhagen and Robert Silverberg novel that's ever ticked me off and/or given me a monster headache, especially The Veils of Azlaroc and The Man in the Maze.

Right now I'm mentally inspecting my new protagonist's bookshelves to see exactly what she's been reading. I can envision a tidy row of novels by Dick Francis, Val McDermid and Jeffrey Archer, but I think she's got a small stack of books tucked out of sight behind them. When I figure out what my protag would want hide from view, I'll know a little more about her.

What is one of your characters reading right now? If you don't know, what do you think they'd enjoy reading, and why?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting Perspective

Point of view, or the perspective(s) writers use to tell a story, comes in three main categories:

1. First person (the story is told from the perspective of I or We):

I grabbed Marcia's arm. "What was that about my wallpaper?"

2. Second person (the story is told from the perspective of You), generally in present tense:

You grab Marcia's arm and demand she repeat the crack she made about your wallpaper.

3. Third person (the story is told from the perspective of He, She, It or Them):

John grabbed Marcia's arm. "What's wrong with my wallpaper?"

Some authors use first or third POV only no matter what they write; others switch between first and third. Very few writers trifle with second person, the least-used and most difficult POV category, for various/obvious reasons. First, it's freaking hard to write in the past or present you form with sounding like a motivational seminar speaker's index cards: "After you make $5000.00 in your first week selling our Herbiagra Manhood Enhancement Product, you can start planning your retirement!"

I'm a switch-hitter when it comes to POV; I like first and third and will write whatever feels right for the story (and often I will change POV to suit the length of the story; the original short stories for the Darkyn novels were mainly written in first person, but all of the novel-length versions are in third.) I don't mess with second person in fiction, but I do employ it sometimes here on the blog.

For me second person seems far more intimate than first person, which is another reason I handle it like nitro. It's one thing to invite the reader into my fictional character's head with a first person perspective, and quite another to attempt to get into the reader's very real head by using second. You'd better know what you're talking about before you make that leap. While second person is just as effective when I'm serious as it is when I'm not, the form demands a certain degree of confidence and knowledge. Otherwise I'm not going to get into the reader's head, I'm going to be jumping over it, stomping on it, or kicking them in it.

When you consider which POV to use for your fiction, first look at the demands of the genre that best fits your story. Traditional romances are almost always told in third person; P.I. crime fiction stories are usually presented in first. SF/F waffles depending on what the current trends are (all the urban fantasy I've read lately has been written in first person, while all the traditional fantasy is still in third.) This is not to say you have to write only in those POVs, just be aware that the more popular a POV is in any given genre, the harder it's going to be to sell an editor a story with a different perspective.

Also, don't fall for what the POV snobs say about the different forms. I keep reading this one about how beginning writers mostly use first person because it's easier. Please. I didn't write a novel in first person until I'd first written 28 in third person (and wouldn't you know it, the first book I wrote in first person is the first one I sold.) While I love using first person for short stories, I still think a novel-length story is way easier to write in third.

If you're not sure which POV to use for your story, try writing a scene from first person, and then write it again in third. One of them will feel or sound more right than the other. But if for some reason they don't, have someone else read both scenes and ask them which is more engaging.

Finally, don't be afraid to experiment. You may not have much practice writing in more than one of the POV categories, but trying out different forms increases your range, and may provide you with a better connection to your reader. And if you don't want that, you definitely need to work on your POV.

Related Links:

Men with Pens' article Fiction Writing -- What's Your Point of View?

Two Heads Aren't Always Better than One by Robert J. Sawyer

Over at The M Factor, Mary Morel has a good article on how POV affects communication, and also provides a link to a Customer Focus Calculator that can read your website or blog and give you percentages on how customer-focused/self-focused your text is.

Monday, September 08, 2008


It was positively inspiring to see such a variety of novels mentioned for the Past Revisited giveaway. After wringing out the slightly soggy Magic Hat, we drew names for the giveaway winners, and they are:



Ladies, when you have a chance, please send your complete ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

We Don't Like Ike

I have to bail on you guys today to help out some friends who are on the move from Hurricane Ike.

Some weather info links:

The Orlando Sun-Sentinel's Hurricane Center page has lots of maps, updates and helpful info on hurricane preparedness and what to expect from Ike.

The National Hurricane Center's website offers the most current official advisories on Tropical Storm Hanna, Hurricane Ike and the remnants of Tropical Storm Josephine (which they're watching to see if it will regenerate into something.) For you folks on the Pacific side, they also have the latest on Tropical Storm Lowell.

New Orleans resident/author Poppy Z. Brite has been reporting via audio posts on the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav over at her LiveJournal.

We had to drive through Volusia County last night, and saw a lot of standing water between Cassia and DeLand, especially any place near the St. John's. The riverfront businesses and the roads leading to them appear to be still under at least a foot of water, and the river hasn't stopped rising yet, so there's more to come. I won't describe the smell.

Send all the good thoughts you can to the South, folks. We really need them.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Past Revisited

Coming soon in trade paperback to a Wal-Mart near you:

Cover art for Portraits of the Past by Rebecca Kelly, reissue

Until now the Grace Chapel Inn series novels that I wrote for Guideposts have only been available via their subscription service or from used booksellers, so I'm happy to see this reissue hit the shelves (and, relating to our discussion about recipes in fiction earlier this week, at the back of the book is my recipe for Crepes Benedict.)

If you'd like a chance to check out the more spiritual side of Yours Truly, in comments to this post name a novel you found to be personally inspiring in some fashion (does not have to be religious in theme or genre) or just toss your name in the magic hat by midnight EST on Sunday, September 7, 2008. I'll draw two names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed copy of the reissued Portraits of the Past by me writing as Rebecca Kelly. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Jordan's Meme

While I was trying not to float away with Fay, Jordan memed me again. This one is not at all obnoxious, so I'll bite. This time.

In no particular order, my top ten favorite books that are romances or have excellent romances in them:

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2. Chase the Moon by Catherine Nicholson
3. House of Scorpio by Pat Wallace
4. Mistress Devon by Virginia Coffman
5. Talyn by Holly Lisle
6. Exposure by Susan Andersen
7. The First Snowdrop by Mary Balogh
8. An Unbreakable Bond by Robyn Donald
9. Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi
10. Killing Time by Linda Howard

Notable: Wallace's House of Scorpio (circa 1975, I think) had the most original and dazzling worldbuilding I've read in a romance novel, ever, period. She also tells six different romances in just one novel. An amazing book, but unfortunately OOP for many years.

Nicholson's Chase the Moon was an epic, sweeping contemporary romance that was also intelligent and thoughtful, and (in my opinion) was written way ahead of its time. I doubt even now readers would appreciate its style, but man, I loved it. The only writer I've seen come close to Catherine's exceptional storytelling is Marjorie M. Liu.

My top ten favorite movies/mini-series, in no particular order:

1. Speed
2. Pride and Prejudice (the A&E mini-series)
3. The Breakfast Club
4. Mumford
5. Children of Dune (the SciFi channel mini-series)
6. Aliens
7. Desperately Seeking Susan
8. Minority Report
9. Underworld
10. Die Hard

I really liked the last remake of P&P with Keira Knightley (sp?), which I thought was beautifully done, but Colin Firth still remains the ultimate Mr. Darcy.

While I think up ways to get even with Jordan, anyone want to add their lists in comments?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Recipe for Disaster

Slashfood.com has a bizarre report here about a typo in a recipe that resulted in four people being poisoned (despite what sounds a massive effort by the magazine to warn subscribers of the danger once they found out about it.) Thanks to some research I did for a story, I happen to know large quantities of nutmeg is dangerous. Even if I didn't, though, I doubt I'd put what is roughly equivalent to 60 teaspoons of any spice into a single recipe.

But: I did follow a Cooking Light magazine recipe once that called for among other things three very hot peppers, and fortunately tested it myself before serving it (and just about scorched my mouth off.) Since we don't like our food that hot, I tossed it out and made it over, this time with 1/8 of one pepper. In the next month's issue, the editors apologized for what turned out to be a typo with the peppers in that recipe (which redeemed me; my guy thought I'd messed up something.)

I'd rather make someone else's recipe than share one of my own with strangers. Unless it's a 100% foolproof dish like my No-Brainer Fudge, I always worry other people won't like it. When I was asked to contribute one of my own recipes for a GCI book I wrote, I actually panicked. I put together about a dozen of my best dishes and then had my family taste them and vote before I decided which one might be good enough to share with the readers. Then I wrote up the recipe (and promptly made it again following the written version to make sure I'd listed everything correctly and in the right order.)

I like writing about food and cooking in general terms; I did a lot of that in the GCI novels and it was fun (because it was not specific enough to make me worry, I guess.) I also like reading recipes other authors sometimes put in themed anthologies or in the back of their novels. Sometimes what writers like to cook tells you something you otherwise might not know about them. For example: the reason I like my no-brainer fudge so much is that I hate using candy thermometers; over the years I've broken about twenty of them.

Readers, do you like to see actual recipes included in the fiction books you read? Would you enjoy the story more if the author told you how to make a dish that appears in the novel? Writers, what's your stand on writing recipes for your readers?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Unemployment Fantasies

Although I've verbally accepted a new offer from my publisher, the contract hasn't arrived yet, and neither of us have signed off on the new agreement. It's pretty much a done deal, but until I officially read every word of the contract (twice) and scribble my name on the dotted line, I'm under no obligation to write anything for them, not even a Post-It note.

As it happens I've also just finished writing and turned in my last contracted novel. I have plenty of work to do; I've started writing the first book for the new contract, I'm putting together a pitch for another, and I'm working on a pile of free and promo stuff. But as of 9:00 am tomorrow morning I will (technically) be unemployed for the first time since 1998.

Realizing that I'm out of work didn't make me feel panicky, insecure or particularly happy. I like having a job, and . . . all right, I did indulge in a couple of fantasies we writers have at times like these, like:

Sending the Mass Expose E-mail: Writing to that long list of folks who did unforgivable things to you, and letting them know which of their significant others is having or has had carnal knowledge of other people on the long list. Bonus points: attach the pictures they never knew you snapped of them at the conferences with their boyfriend/girlfriend/adoring fan.

Reclaiming Your Honesty: Go back over every request or suggestion you ever received from your editor in regard to your writing, your manuscripts or whatever, and respond to each one again, only this time, tell her/him what you really think of their ideas.

Axing the Agent: (This only works if you've recently received a very lucrative offer) Fly to New York in person and take your agent out for a nice meal. Tell your agent how much the big offer is worth, give them a minute to work out what their hefty commission will be, then tell them you're not taking it because you're quitting Publishing, and they're fired.

Repaying the Buzzkillers: Do that really awful, terrible thing we discussed at length last month at the last Secret Publishing Handshake Cabal meeting. Remember -- unless they're illegal in your state, be sure to use at least two skunks, three rolls of duct tape, and five packages of firecrackers.

Beeg Name Grand Finale: (This is more for the huge bestsellers out there who'd like to make Le Grand Trampling Exit with a little style) Invite your agent and editor to your house for a barbecue, handcuff them to your picnic table in the back yard and, while you tell them that you're quiting Publishing for good, burn every one of your unpublished manuscripts, synopses and story idea outlines over the fire.

I'm sure I'll have a couple more fantasy moments before the contract arrives. Then I will dutifully read every word of it (twice) before I sign on the dotted line, and put away the conference pictures and the duct tape for another year of my writing life. Unless someone out there is interested in a really wonderful expose on the Publishing Industry from a writer who's been in the trenches since '98 . . . ?

What are your unemployment fantasies, Publishing or otherwise?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Squishing Back

For my return to the blog I wrote up a long post about Fay, the Tropical Storm that would not Go Away. She blew. She rained. She made the rivers and the lakes overflow. She wore out her welcome and then some. But now that Gustav has hit New Orleans, and Hanna is heading our way, I don't think I'll aggravate the gods of weather by complaining too loudly.

Seriously, it hasn't been all that bad here. Our front yard definitely needed the water, and it's really become kind of picturesque now:

We still can't sit out on the back porch (if it's still there) but the new neighbors have been hanging around the back door:

We've also had some interesting visitors come in from out of town:

(By the way, Mary Stella is probably sitting at her computer right now saying "Hey. Wait a minute. Those dolphins look awfully familiar.")

All kidding aside, the flooding was more of a problem than the storm itself, and that's what left us a bit soggy, but we and our extended families came through all right, and that's the important thing. We're hoping Hanna will pass on by this week, and we're keeping family, friends and the folks who are currently battling Gustav in our thoughts and prayers.

The highlight of my week: my daughter and I rescuing a lovely cocker spaniel who had gotten loose during the storm. We found the terrified little thing dodging cars on one of the worst roads in the county, and when I called to her she came right to me. I would have gone door to door until I found her owners, but I was able to reunite the pup with her family immediately because she was wearing ID tags, which gave her owner's current home address, phone number and vet contact info. Pet ID tags are a wonderful thing, and you can get them made at most pet supply stores.

How are things with you all? Anyone have any news they want to share?