Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Weird Name Game

I've been playing with the generators over at Seventh Sanctum again, and I found the Weird Name generator that doubles as a fairly decent name/title/story idea prompter, too -- or at least it does for me.

Upfront disclaimer: the generator does produce some laughably weird names, such as Marquis with a Mouth of Fire Who Inherited the Canyon of Frost (so much for his inheritance) and Frozen Monk with Lips of Emerald (where is Isabelle Allende when we need her?) But it also came up with some pretty neat stuff, too, like Duchess of the Silver Knife and Uniform of Dreaming (the latter not really being a name at all, but a terrific story starter.)

Here's a list of some other interesting weird names I generated:

The Illuminated Knight
Bow of Silence
Profane Spear
Singer in the Misery
(there's the title I want for my biography)
The Astral Official
Bracers of Fire
The Screaming Walker
Chime of the Vault
The Crazed Courtesan
Winter of the Shrine

Also, some of the more ridiculous weird names had interesting story concepts incorporated in them that you might be able to use once you weed out the silly stuff, i.e.:

The Angry Hero Who Takes Shadows
King That Enables the Ever-changing Ossuary and is Bound by Eternal Dreams
The Courageous Queen Holding the Gold Cutlass and That Keeps the Labrynth of Gold
Astral Wanderer That Destroyed the Room and is Fed by the Crystal Citadel
The Cruel Inquisitor with a Mind of Zoisite Who Makes the Tower of Silence

The one that really made me laugh and would make a killer chick-lit story idea or title: Princess Orientation.

If you have a chance, head over and play with the Weird Name generator, and post what you think would make a great name, title or story idea in comments.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bid on PBW

If you're looking for some unique holiday gifts, our auction to benefit our blogpal author Jo Leigh, who lost her husband earlier this year and is still struggling to pay the medical bills, is now up and running here.

My contributions, which you will soon be able to bid on:

1. A complete, signed set of all seven Darkyn novels: If Angels Burn, Private Demon, Dark Need, Night Lost, Evermore, Twilight Fall, and Stay the Night.

2. A signed set of the eight StarDoc novels published to date: StarDoc, Beyond Varallan, Endurance, Shockball, Eternity Row, Rebel Ice, Plague of Memory, and Omega Games (I'll get Alison to correct the titles that are included in the listing; someone missed a couple and threw in some others that aren't in the StarDoc series.)

3. This brand-new, never-used quilt from my personal collection:

There are also some other terrific items up for bid, including author, agent and editor critiques, mentoring opportunities, internet services, web site hosting, signed bundles of ARCs and books, gift certificates, and many more goodies, so when you have a chance definitely go over and check out the listings.

Added: The full list of the current/open auctions on eBay is here (many more auctions to be added as they go live.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Alternative Barbie

I noticed while watching the Thanksgiving Day parades (one of the few times I actually watch TV during the year) that Mattel is running a nostalgia ad campaign for Barbie which shows grown women giggling and reminiscing about their favorite childhood memories of the doll.

I personally never got into Barbie because she came with all that pink fru-fru stuff, but my little sister was a huge fan of the dolls, and sometimes roped me into playing with them. That generally never turned out well for Barbie (let's just say I was always thinking up new ways to test her structural integrity.) My favorite childhood doll memories were of stealing my brother's G.I.Joes. To me Joe was far cooler than Barbie because he came with seriously interesting accessories like jeeps and parachutes and automatic weapons.

The ad campaign did make me curious about what sort of Barbies they're selling now -- my daughter never liked the dolls, either -- because after forty years you figure they would have updated her a little, right? So I looked in some of the Black Friday sales fliers in the paper, and here's what they're selling: My Scene Barbie, Totally Hair Barbie, Princess Barbie, Western Barbie and Fashion Forever Barbie (and eerily, immediately thought of the last RWA Nat'l con I attended -- wall to wall Totally Hair writers, Princess writers, Fashion Forever writers...)

Anyway. I think Mattel should come up with some new Barbies for those girls who, like me, aren't into all that pink fru-fru and anatomically incorrect Ken. I'd like to see some alternative Barbies -- Dark Barbies, Goth Barbies, even a couple of Vamp or WereBarbies. Imagine how many dolls Mattel could sell if they based some Barbies on fictional characters, such as:

The Meredith Gentry Barbie: Lovely, glows, can't make up her mind but happily displays herself in her own somewhat worn triple king bed. Comes with 147 semi-naked personal guard Ken accessory dolls (no pun intended) and an enchanted mirror that when you put the Ken dolls in bed with her displays random images of her evil aunt watching, her evil uncle watching, her evil cousin watching, etc.

The Alexandra Keller Barbie: Frowning, cranky and half-starved but still smells great. Dressed in a pristine white lab coat over a dress she didn't pick out for herself. Carries a medical case filled with tiny surgical instruments and syringes filled with play blood that she doesn't have to feel guilty about. Only sold with the Michael doll, who murmurs in French, puts up with all of her crap and still can't keep his hands off her.

The Isabella Swan Barbie: Pale, nondescript, and constantly injuring herself (doll's eyes close for at least thirty seconds after the sight of any blood.) Smells really wonderful, but only to the handsome pale Edward doll, who doesn't want to be sold with her but in the end really has no choice but to get into the bag. May also be sold with Jacob doll, who fits perfectly between her and the Edward doll.

The Mercy Thompson Barbie: Small, tough and determined with lots of cool tattoos. Wears garage overalls spotted with grease or jeans and a T-shirt spotted with grease. Turn her head a certain way and she instantly changes into a coyote. May be sold with alpha Adam doll (who changes into a wolf) or petulant Samuel doll (who changes into a wolf) or both or neither, depending on how fickle she feels this week.

So if you could make an alternative Barbie based on one of your characters, what would she be called, and what accessories would she have? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wishing You

Happy Thanksgiving from Paperback Writer

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Holiday Read

Our blogpal author Kate Rothwell is offering The Rat Catcher, a free e-book in .pdf format (click on this link to open or download) in exchange for an e-mail to to let them know you've got a copy. You can't get a better, hoop-free deal than that.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

For Turkey Day

Butterball will have its annual Turkey Talk hotline (1-800-Butterball) up and running today; it will remain open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CST. Their online Thanksgiving guide also has a lot of tips, calculators and ideas to help out with your family's meal.

Cooking Light Magazine has an Ultimate Holiday Cookbook online with 73 recipes that cover all the courses you could want for your holidays from now until New Year's (I love Cooking Light because most of their recipes fit into my dietary plan. I made their recipe for Onion Soup Gratinée over the weekend, and it's pretty fabulous.)

Food Network has an entire Thanksgiving page of recipes, tips and ideas to help you celebrate, including a truly cool Turkey calculator that will guide you on what size bird to buy according to the number of guests you'll have and when to start cooking it in time to have it done for dinner.

The has a nice collection of recipes here for folks who don't indulge in the bird. I'm going to try their version of French Onion Soup to see how it compares to the classic.

PBW's Turkey Day tips:

If you're having Thanksgiving at someone else's home, offer to make and bring a side dish or a dessert. If your hostess refuses, bring her some flowers or a basket of her favorite fruit.

Invest in a decent turkey roasting pan instead of buying the disposable aluminum variety that sometimes buckle whenever you try to lift them out of the oven. For one thing, it's safer. You can make a lot of stuff besides turkey in the pan, and you'll help the environment a little by not throwing it away every year.

If your desserts will keep overnight or can be refrigerated, make them the night before Thanksgiving. Also have young kids tear up bread while the older kids chop celery, peel carrots, etc. the night before and store the ingredients in ziplock bags in the fridge.

To make extra broth, simmer the turkey neck (the U-shaped thing that is usually tucked away inside the bird) in two quarts of water while the turkey is roasting. If you don't mind the taste, toss in the giblets (liver, heart and gizzards, also tucked inside the bird.)

For an emergency fat separator (I lose or break mine regularly) cool your pan drippings for a few minutes and then pour them into a large ziplock bag. Hold the bag over a big bowl until the fat rises to the top of the bag (should only take a few moments) and then cut off a little corner at the bottom of the bag and let the broth run out. When the fat layer drains down to the bottom of the bag, pinch the hole closed and put in another container or discard.

If you're a little tired of traditional homemade stuffing (generally bread, celery and seasonings) and want to jazz it up a little without making too much of a drastic change, chop and sautee a medium onion in two teaspoons of shortening, margarine or olive oil until soft/semi-transparent and then add the sauteed onion to your usual stuffing mix. It adds a nice flavor without being overpowering.

Commercial turkey basters suck and even the expensive ones lose their seal or break. lousy. I use a brand-new 2" bristle brush (like the kind you buy to paint trim.)

Make a quick, edible centerpiece for your table by piling a dozen red or gold apples in your prettiest bowl.

Do you have any tips or traditions for celebrating Thanksgiving? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gift Pass Ten

Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

Anything Collectible: I am through collecting things other people want me to collect. Except hundred dollar bills. Those I still gladly accept.

Book Clip-on Lights: Friends and family love to give these to me, so I currently have one for just about every book I own, and maybe enough for all the books at the local library, too. Actually I think if I turned them all on I could single-handedly illuminate Cleveland.

Cosmetics: Under the sink I have forty-nine untouched jumbo all-in-one gifts sets of color-coordinated eye shadow, lip gloss, nail polish, blush and so forth. I'm allergic to all of them, plus the hypoallergenic makeup brands, too. You'll just have to deal with my freckles and flaws au naturale.

Cute Bookends: I know some folks think pudgy resin statues of moon-faced young children bending over to prop up things with their plump behinds are adorable, but having them do that to my books is really kinda creepy.

Infomercial Items: If a man with a beard or a bad tan screamed at you to buy it and get a second set for free (plus shipping) chances are it's going to end up in my Goodwill donation box, just like last year's lousy folding colanders (impossible to get clean), the roll-everywhere floor sweeper (the pet hair around here clogged it up in ten seconds flat) and the chocolate fountain (that was just plain cruel.)

Layered Mixes in a Mason Jar: I love to cook, which means I get about five thousand jars o' mixes a year. Every holiday, I swear, it's Mrs. P's Valentine cherry muffin mix in a jar or H.B.'s Easter Banger Soup Beans in a Jar. I don't celebrate holidays anymore; I'm too busy making the stuff in the gift jars. So if you genuinely want me to have chocolate chip cookies, please, bake them for me and bring them on a plate. I beg you.

Naughty Nighties: Look in the Fredrick's of Hollywood catalog. See any old, chubby white-haired chicks losing the battle with gravity modeling the black lace cat suits and the purple patent leather merry widow? No? I rest my case.

Small Appliances: I'm 47 years old. I have them all. Trust me.

Vampire Stuff: This is tricky, because I love vampire stories, so anything in the vampire fiction book department is okay (but unless it's romance, I've probably also read it.) But the vampire ephemera (capes, plastic fangs, posters, bloodstone pendants, gothwear, gory vampire flicks, Anne Rice before she got into Boy Jesus memorabilia, etc.) is not really my schtick.

Watches: I refuse to wear them. Out of maternal guilt, I keep the one the kids gave me for my birthday clipped around the strap of my purse. The one from last Christmas is at the bottom of my purse. The one from the birthday before that is in the glove compartment of my car. I'm running out of places to hide them.

What do I want, you ask? Peace on Earth would be nice.

What don't you want as a gift this holiday season?

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Someone (you know who you are) asked me what I thought of, a web hosting/roboblogging service advertising itself on such indy sites as Publishers Weekly. Apparently for a mere $1200.00 in set-up fees (plus $19.95/month, plus add-on charges of $30 to $80/hour) they will "develop a presence" on the internet for you (which translates to they'll create and host your blog and update it as well feed it to other social sites like Feedburner, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Upcoming, Twitter, Squidoo, Pingfm, etc.)

I am in the wrong damn business is what I think.

Let's break down exactly what this service does:

1. It creates a blog for you (does not create blog content, just a blog.)

You can do the same by yourself for nothing; you just have to register with a free bloghosting service like Blogger and click your mouse a few times.

2. It creates duplicate accounts on all the social blogging/video/vanity sites (again, note that they do not create blog content, they only create other places to dump it, and they dump it for you.)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe 99% of those sites are also free to anyone who wants to register and click the mouse a few times.

3. It updates everything for you with whatever content you upload to them.

I don't maintain any social site but this blog, so I don't know how hard it is to upload your content to more than one site, but I'm guessing it's just a few minutes and another couple of clicks of the mouse per site.

So for a first year cost of $1439.40 (plus $30-$80 an hour for extra stuff like adding new pages and whatnot) you can basically hire to . . . click your mouse for you. After you click your mouse uploading your stuff to them.

I know what you're thinking -- you're in the wrong damn business, too, yes?

I'm old-fashioned; I think to have an online presence, you have to occasionally be present online. I also think (no matter who does the majority of the clicking) that uploading the same stuff to twenty different sites makes one look like an unimaginative selfpromoslut. More of the same is not better, it's just more of the same. But if you've got fifteen hundred bucks to burn, who am I to tell you to curtail your content or click your own mouse?

So here's the bottom line: as much as I'd love to sit by the pool, sip Mimosas with my BFF and natter on about the problems I'm having with the maids, the great botox party I went to last night, and where on earth will I ever get a decent Brazilian wax while some roboblogging service uploads my schlock to everywhere in virtual creation, I think I can do this stuff myself.

Friday, November 21, 2008


The Devil's Writing Dictionary, Part II

Novel: a rambling, proportionally disorganized fictional prose narrative of considerable length (usually 60,000 words or more) that typically possesses some semblance of a plot (unless literary, see Literature) that is presented in between sequences of pointless actions, boring speeches, and unconnected thoughts of a cast of characters who bear a striking resemblance to those individuals in real life who have pissed off the author of the work.

Novella: a rambling, proportionally disorganized fictional prose narrative of modest length (usually less than 60,000 words) that bears a brief and passing resemblance to a novel, if viewed sideways while one squints.

Novelette: a short story beefed up by an author who couldn't stretch the idea out long enough to make it a novella or novel.

On Acceptance: the payment promised to an author when the editor accepts a completed work, which is paid when the editor remembers to send a request to accounting, which they fill out incorrectly and will have to resubmit at least twice more, which is then redirected to a hold file while the publisher scrambles to make their budget report appear more attractive, at which point the request disappears and must be resubmitted as soon as the author's agent calls demanding payment for the tenth or eleventh time.

On Publication: the payment promised to an author upon publication of the work, or the latest industry ploy to withhold one-third to three-quarters of an author's advance until said author is living on beans and ketchup.

On Spec: unassigned/unsolicited work written and submitted by an author to an editor who has not yet stopped opening envelopes that are not marked with the words "requested material."

Organization: a dynamic group of self-serving individuals who pay an annual fee in order to bootlick a tiny percentage of perceived successful members in any given field, established in order to augment the income of said tiny percentage, provide the means and unity for the majority to be guided by the tiny percentage into pursuing their personal agendas via perpetually instigated group hostility, create and award worthless trophies and honors presented to the most effective and dedicated kowtowers and bootlickers to keep hopes high and those dues rolling in, and to provide a constant source of amusement to anyone not especially enamoured of group-think or herd mentality.

Outline: 1) the torturous, terribly painful process of figuring out what the dickens one intends to write and setting down a brief, bulleted summation of the same; 2) the most common idea-killer among organic writers, 3) a coldly hateful and entirely unnecessary chore inflicted on contracted authors by their sadistic agents and editors.

Overview: a term used by unemployed writers to refer to the outline while courting an editor at a writers conference, i.e. "How about I send you an overview of my novel?"

Pacing: the disjointed, stumbling cadence of a story that regularly drags the reader down or knocks them out of the story altogether during the reading experience.

Philosophy, Writing: Whatever motivational garbage a writer tells themselves or their friends in order to keep writing, i.e.: "You know this is an endurance game. All the old playground rules still apply: you don't get picked for the team, you watch the game and come back the next day. When you're picked, forget mistakes, you've got to be better than everyone else on the field. Bloody noses and skinned knees are not an excuse to quit. And if you have the stubbornness (or stupidity) to stay in the game until the end of the day, you get to come back tomorrow and have the crap kicked out of you all over again. But: everyone else who can't stand on the sidelines, play their hearts out or take a few bruises goes home sniffling about what great players they would have been, if only the game had been fair and the other players nicer."

Plot: the plan, scheme, or main story of the work that makes it sound as if it really is a cohesive novel, novella, short story, etc.

POD: an abbreviation for the words "print on demand"; the small press or bankrupt publisher practice of only printing copies of a work after they have been ordered because the printer has placed them on POD (in this case, "pay on delivery.")

POV: an abbreviation for "point of view"; the segment of the story told by the author while role-playing a character, hiding their sentiments behind them, or intruding through their characterization in order to grind a particular ax.

Premise: a very brief, exciting description of the work provided by the author which sounds wonderful but rarely describes the actual work itself.

Printer: 1) a cheap device for producing printed materials, which is usually running out or out of toner, or 2) the company in charge of printing materials, which charges exorbitant fees for producing substandard work guaranteed to be missing pages or to deteriorate faster than the ozone.

Proofreading: the skimming through of the work to admire one's genius and find any typos or errors, not that there will be any.

Proposal: a package of information about the work submitted to a publisher by in author in hopes of selling the work; includes but is not limited to a whiny, three-page letter about how well-connected but poor the author is, a discombobulated summary of a proposed work that may or may not make any sense, and a sampling of the work (usually the first three chapters that the editor will need to cut from the work prior to publication.)

Provocateur: an out-of-work semi-published wannabe who attempts to gain attention by making outrageous statements about an industry-related subject of which s/he understand little but know that their statements will push the buttons of those who do and thus instigate a flame-war which the provocateur will refer to as either a "fruitless dialogue" or "my validation."

Revisions: changes made or requested to be made of work that the editor claims 1) does not quite meet professional standards, 2) is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, or 3) makes about as much sense as Bruce Wagner's Wild Palms did; the jealousy-born sabotage of the work by an editor who obviously cannot deal with the author’s genius.

Romance: a work of fiction in which nothing much happens except a too-slow or too-fast, overly-complicated love story between two overly-idealized, hysterically heterosexual reader-proxies who practice coitus interruptus at least three times before eventually doing the nasty either on or offstage before the act convinces them to commit to an unrealistic permanent relationship that appears to be emotionally satisfying, as long as the reader is extremely near-sighted, easily duped, unhappy in their own life, or twelve years old.

Satire: the scornful use of heavy irony, vicious sarcasm, caustic ridicule or similar means to expose the truth about polarizing topics without getting one's ass fired, attacked, sued, stalked, shot, etc.

Sci Fi: an abbreviation for "science fiction" used by anyone who wants to piss off science fiction authors, who refuse to call what they write science fiction as it is some sort of insult to their brilliance.

Self-Promotion: any cheap, lame, inappropriate or unprofessional attempt by an author to market themselves or their latest release.

Short Story: fiction that was too short to call a novelette.

Side Bar: a place where one puts monotonous or unnecessary information considered by the writer as wholly enrapturing, such as the Twitter update sidebar on a writer's blog.

Speculative Fiction: what science fiction authors will grudgingly allow you to call their fiction, sometimes, or at least until the next Big Science Fiction Manifesto is published online.

Synopsis: like an outline, a horrible, demeaning exercise in futility inflicted on writers who are expected to briefly describe the work in a present-tense first person presentation that (creepily) sounds quite a bit like their bio.

Thread: certain portions of the work that may or may not be connected, depending on how many times the author forgot said thread was part of the plot.

Trade Magazines: specialized publications for a targeted occupation or industry which employs persons who have failed to achieve or maintain active employment in said occupation or industry.

Unsolicited Submission: describes 99% of the contents of every major publishing house's dumpster on any given day.

Web Site: an online virtual hub for the author that does not offer any practical or usable information about the author or their work, but shows off their latest heavily touched-up, soft-focus mall photostudio headshot, displays inappropriate and often offensive pics, such as naked muscular torsos of decapitated male models, announces their latest news that is at least six to eight months out of date, a coy or gushing bio page that that contains at least one tearful-sounding confession of devotion to the craft, and maintains a guest book used by SPAMmers to leave links to various online porn sites.

Widget: an expensive, worthless, cutesy and/or unnecessary promotional item commissioned by an author to help advertise their latest release, can be anything from hot pink condoms printed with the author's title, a cheap fridge magnet with a too-small, blurry reproduction of the author's cover art, or a professionally printed bookmark with the author's URL misprinted or the release information dated incorrectly.

Word: 1) a single unit of writer expression, generally carefully selected, mulled over and then replaced by another hundreds of time during the writing of the work; 2) the Microsoft word processing program used by writers that is either five years out of date or so new they still haven't figured where the thing is that changes the font style.

Wordcount: the number of words produced for or contained in a piece, usually calculated by the author ten or fifteen times per day before they toss in some padding to make it a little healthier and by extension make themselves appear more productive.

Writing: 1) the hopeless act of a person or thing that writes, usually poorly; 2) the written form: to commit one's thoughts to writing so that if one is hit by a truck tomorrow the ex will know what a complete freaking jerk s/he was; 3) that which is hopelessly and poorly written; the words produced by a pencil with one badly-chewed end, the sputtering ink from a freebie pen picked up at the last writer conference, or the uneven, thready print produced by an inkjet printer in need of a new toner cartridge, or the like.

Writing Space: an area in a private home where the writer stores how-to books, a desktop computer that needs repair work, obsolete software, manuscript drafts and rejection slips while they are out at the coffee shop pretending to write.

YA: an abbreviation for "young adult"; describes the sort of work written by authors who are unable to achieve success writing for the adult fiction market, who have never grown up enough to write adult fiction, or who suffered much unhappiness during their own high school years and retell their suffering through stories that basically consist of scenes that are infinite variations of "Does he like me?" or "Does she like me?" scenarios, fumbling light petting, and climaxes with a disastrous school dance, Homecoming or Prom experience.

Zone: a mystical, non-existent place a writer says they occupy while writing at a furious pace, and from which they cannot be jolted when they don't feel like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making dinner or going to the day job.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

DWD Part I

As an addendum to The Devil's Publishing Dictionary, and to honor all those writers out there who are slogging away at NaNoWriMo, PBW is happy to present:

The Devil's Writing Dictionary Part I

Abstract: Something that exists in theory versus reality, such as the author's latest overdue royalty check.

Advertising: 1) expensive but basically useless marketing on which the author spends most of their advance money in order to promote their latest release to other authors, who read them only to see if they should do their next ad in a similar fashion; 2) what publishers do not do for 95% of their contracted authors in order to compel them to spend their advance money on something besides silly luxuries like food, shelter and clothing.

All Rights: the world-wide rights to the work in all medium, which a poor or inattentive author sells for a pittance to a low-level publisher.

Allegory: Fiction written as a tediously extended metaphor utilizing unexplained animals, Greek mythology or non-erotic sex scenes employed by an author to present their moralistic ramblings and tantrums.

Analogy: A parallelism used by an author to compare two things that should share a common element but that only sound good while actually have nothing whatsoever to do with each other, such as "Publishers are like writers; the worst is better than none, which is why the best cannot be expected to deliver on time."

Anthology: a single-volume collection of short stories comprised of one lukewarm ho-hum piece written by a Big Name who gets most of the royalties, and three to twenty-five frantically earnest ho-hum pieces written by a career midlisters who can't get their name on the Times list any other way.

Assignment: a stupid idea thought up by a non-writer in the industry who finds an out-of-work author and hires the dumbass to write and publish it under their byline.

Attachments: the electronic or hard copy of whatever the author forgot to attach to the e-mail or send in the envelope.

Autobiography: the life story of a celebrity figure advertised and bylined to be written by that person, who actually tells their story while drunk during a series of brief phone calls from a Vegas bar to a bored ghost writer, who then writes the book for a small flat fee.

Bio: sanitized, cutesy, important-sounding and/or completely irrelevant information about the author, written by the author (weirdly enough) in third person.

Biography: the mean-spirited or ultra-rosy story of a prominent figure who the author either despises or worships, respectively.

Blog: an online journal written by a writer to 1) bemoan their lack of success, 2) bash other authors who are more successful, 3) bemoan their lack of income, 4) bash political figures/situations they don't understand, 5) bemoan the publisher conspiracy to suppress their genius, 6) post lame excuses as to why they have not been able to blog, 7) post photos of small domestic animals being abused in various ways along with poorly-spelled cutesy captions that are supposed to illustrate the writer's current emotional state or 8) all of the above.

Book: the printed work of fiction, the electronic work of fiction, or what unemployed writers call each of the fifteen, seven-pound piles of paper gathering dust in their spare closet; if poorly written, edited twenty or more times, taken out at least once a week to be reread and wept over, and submitted to one hundred or more publishers, known as Book of the Heart.

Bookplate: A large adhesive label applied to the inside cover of a book and signed by an author too lazy to hold booksignings.

Byline: the line in tiny print under the cover title, blurb, and hook line that gives the author's fake name, usually covered by a discount price sticker.

Chapter: 1) a too-long or too-short installment of the story, made up of one or more scenes, which begins at an overly-contrived point the author decides is a revelation and ends at a plodding point the author views as suspenseful; 2) what a reader has to plow through to get the next tiny nugget of plot information; 3) the maximum amount of a story that an unhappy reader will skim through before a) throwing the book against a wall, b) putting the book through a wood chipper, or c)writing a one-star review on

Choke: 1) what an editor regularly fantasizes doing to their writers; 2)a term used to refer to the actions of a writer a) whose inability to cope with success or resist going to writer conferences destroys their professional career before it can get off the ground, or b) who spends so much time promoting the first book they're too exhausted to write the second one well, or c) who writes three (mass market) or two (hardcover) books that utterly tank; 3) what an author does while reading their latest royalty statement.

Climax: the least exciting, but often inadvertently the funniest, part of the story.

Clip: a published sample of the author's work, usually six to ten years old, from which they artfully alter or remove the date of publication before sending it with a submission.

Coffee Shop: a public gathering place for blocked writers and people posing as writers who do not actually write but want to look as if they are composing their opus while swilling bad cappuccino and sending angsty/soulful glances to the most attractive customer present.

Computer: a ten- to twenty-year old virus-riddled electronic device designed to replace the typewriter which sometimes accepts data, occasionally performs prescribed operations at sluggish speeds, and now and then display the results of these operations before it crashes and the internal parts of its hard drive begin making that weird haheeeehaheeeehaheeeethukkathukkathukka sound again.

Concrete: That which is not abstract and theoretical but solid and unalterable, such as the condition of the mystery chicken entree at every writers' conference HasBeen Guest Speaker luncheon.

Cover Letter: a one-page letter which the author rewrites about five thousand times before giving up and using the original draft, which the author hopes will so dazzle the editor that they will read more than the first five words of the weather conditions described in the attached submission.

Creative Nonfiction: See James Frey.

Crime Fiction: an inaccurate label currently applied to the Mystery genre by writers born after 1961 in hopes that it will make them and their work sound more hip, now, edgy and/or dangerous.

CV: (curriculum vitae) a professional resume of experience offered to a prospective employer; what a well-educated writer accidentally on purpose sends in with their submission that lists the MFA they spent $100,0000.00 and four years getting at a small college at which a literary great once passed out drunk at a commencement, in hopes that the degree will finally actually do something to get them published.

Dialogue: the aimless, dull conversations conducted by the characters in a story in order to kill time before they engage in the next empty love/wild monkey sex/tedious action/pointless violence/boring scientific discovery/brutal attack by horrific monster scene.

Dues: the minimum amount of fruitless effort, undeserved bashing and similar abuse an author must endure before being considered a genuine professional; this includes but is not limited to ten consecutive years of receiving submission rejections (weekly), twenty pages left out by the printer from the final edition of their first novel, five online pointless hate campaigns, two vicious Publishers Weekly hatchet jobs of their work, the receipt of a small dead animal in a package with no return address, and the acquisition of three or more real life and/or cyber stalkers.

Edit: 1) the writer's search through a written piece for all grammatical, spelling, and factual errors, which when discovered make more sense than the correct form and therefore cannot be changed; self-confirmation that every word one has written is brilliant, flawless, pure genius etc. and under no circumstances must be altered/ruined by a professional editor who will of course turn green with envy the moment s/he reads the piece; 2) what an editor does to forever ruin the work.

Elements: The parts of the author's story (characters, plot, setting, theme, action, dialogue, etc.) which if the book proves wildly successful will be knocked off by every other writer in the genre.

Epilogue: an unnecessary wrap-up restatement end piece added to a story that otherwise would fall short of the expected/contracted wordcount.

Exposition: The beginning of the story, during which nothing much but weather conditions are introduced.

Falling Action: the aftermath of the climax of the story, during which the author explains all the crap s/he couldn't work into the story logically; can double as a viable script for the last scene of any Scooby-Do cartoon.

Fan mail: See hate mail.

Fantasy: a genre in which all the novels retell in some fashion the story from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Figure of Speech: something that can be safely repeated in front of one's editor.

First Print Rights: rights sold to a publisher offering print production of an author's work, generally for a song.

First Electronic Rights: online rights sold to a publisher too cheap or too small to offer to print an author's work, generally for the first five notes of a song.

First North American Rights: rights sold to a publisher offering production in Canada, United States and Mexico in the medium the writing was published in; also allows them to publish the work in Australia, Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, which makes you wonder what the hell they were doing during high school geography class.

Flash Fiction: fiction of 500 words or less written by an author who is drinking too much coffee or is currently suffering a bad hemorrhoidal flare-up.

Font: the typeface style a writer uses for a submission, manuscript or other written communication in hopes that it makes it look fancy/important/legit/pretty; often resulting in unreadable text.

Freelance: any writer who sells small pieces to magazines, web sites and other similar venues in order to earn enough income for postage and envelopes so they may continue to submit hopeless proposals for a novel no one in New York wants to read or will ever buy.

Freeware: the only software that writers can afford.

Guidelines: the publisher's phony wish-list, generally six to eighteen months out of date, which gives false instructions to writers in order to keep the slushpiles healthy and justify an editor's weekly overtime or work-at-home Fridays.

Happily Ever After: the Disney-cartoon-fairytale ending of a romance novel that does not emulate real life or any realistic romantic relationship, but in which the hero and heroine are presented as going off to live together in eternal bliss, just as soon as the heroine sacrifices everything she was doing to kill time while waiting for her prince to arrive.

Hate Mail: see fan mail.

Historical Fiction: factual error-riddled fiction written set during some era other than modern, customarily featuring a deceased prominent figure or notorious event in history that the author later plays/reenacts while wearing an ill-fitting, inappropriate costume at large writer conferences.

Hook: a story concept that has little to do with the story but that the author employs as a premise in hopes of peddling the work to agents, editors, and/or readers; usually based on another, bestselling author's hook.

Horror: a genre in which all the novels retell in some fashion the story from Dracula by Bram Stoker, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, or Gray's Anatomy by Dr. Henry Gray( after it's been run through a wood chipper.)

IM: an instant online messaging service which writers use to bitch to online writer friends whenever they hit a story block, receive a nasty rejection or discover another writer has obviously stolen their plot, title or character idea.

Imagery: the densely-worded, highly descriptive, flighty, yawn-inducing passages written by an author that serve no purpose except as filler between the dialogue and action.

Kill Fee: litigation-avoidance payoff given by a publisher to a writer if they steal the idea from said writer's submission to give to another writer they think will sell better.

Knock-off: fanfic based on a popular bestselling, retired or deceased author's original work, sold as original fiction by the knock-off artist, who guarantees him/herself a ready-made reader base and at least one if not two writer organization awards.

Lap Top: a used portable computer purchased from eBay by writers so they can appear more legit to the cute patrons while hanging out at Starbuck's and pretending to write.

Lead Time: the time between acceptance and publication of the work. Also known as eternity.

Literature: any written work that fulfills the following criteria: 1) doesn't sell well, 2) has no plot, 3) is written in high-end language by a well-educated substance abuser who sponges off honest, hard-working relatives while despairing of anyone ever understanding his/her pain, 4) features unnecessary abuse of characters (often horrible), 5) is depressing and utterly without merit and 6) always ends badly.

Mac: a brand of computer purchased by authors who have reinstalled Windows more than four times and are pissed because Microsoft won't let them do it a fifth time, because how else are they going to install that bootleg copy of The X-Rated Sims they bought from their cousin Jerry.

Manifesto: a public declaration of the writer's phony intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, worded to sound like something important and noteworthy; often employed by groups of unemployed writers in hopes of attracting enough notice to make them appear as if they have their finger on the pulse of a genre in which they cannot get published.

Manuscript: six to eight pounds of semi-cohesive but somewhat confused fiction printed in fading inkjet ink on cheap paper the author got on sale at Office Depot or stole one ream at a time from their day job.

Markets: places that will actually pay authors for their work, or say they will, maybe, once the thing is in print, the returns have been counted and subtracted, and the moon enters the seventh house on a Tuesday during a month that ends in -ch in an odd year.

Market Research: what a writer says they are doing when they buy books they want to read because the novel isn't going well and there's nothing decent to watch on TV.

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance and make the author appear clever and sensitive to life versus being the emotionally stunted voluntary shut-in they are in reality; sometimes a thinly-veiled comparison between some hideous monster and the author's former love interest, editor or day job boss.

Mystery: a genre in which all the novels retell in some fashion any story written by Agatha Christie (written by authors born before 1961) or Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (written by authors born after 1961.)

(Stop by tomorrow for Part II.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I'd like to ask everyone to send all the positive prayers and energy you can to one of our blogpals, SF author Tobias Buckell, as he's in the hospital with a cardiac issue. He's young, he sought medical attention promptly, and his attitude is upbeat, which is a big part of the battle. Still, it's a scary situation, and any good thoughts you can send his way would be much appreciated.

The Hebrew faithful have a beautiful prayer for the sick that a friend taught me many years ago. Here's the English version:

May the One who blessed our ancestors --
Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah --
bless and heal the one who is ill: Tobias.
May the Holy Blessed One
overflow with compassion upon him,
to restore him, to heal him,
to strengthen him, to enliven him.
The One will send him, speedily,
a complete healing --
healing of the soul and healing of the body --
along with all the ill,
among the people of Israel and all humankind,
soon, speedily, without delay,
and let us all say: Amen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

PBW Turns Ten

Today I celebrate my tenth anniversary as a professional novelist. Since 1998 I've written fifty-two novels, sold and/or published forty-four of them (four are currently in various stages of production), and accomplished three out of the four major personal career goals I planned to pursue ten years ago (I'm about six-eight months away from reaching the fourth, final goal.)

Ten years ago I also sold this article about the near-disaster that resulted in my first contract. I hardly recognize that goofy, hopeful writer I was, but I'm glad I was able to laugh at myself even back then. That turned out to be quite helpful over the next decade.

It's a nice coincidence that the official/final version of the cover art for Stay the Night arrived in my inbox today:

That line under my byline on the cover was my third career goal, the one I was never supposed to achieve, the one they told me to forget about, that like the rest of my goals would never happen to someone like me, etc. It's a nice wrap-up for this ten years in the biz.

From here? Onto the next ten. Or Paris. What would you do?

Monday, November 17, 2008


Next time I need to name a dragon, I am talking to you guys first. Which may be sooner than later, as my daughter adores them, sculpts them and has started a small collection of them, and not entirely just to annoy me, either.

We cranked up the magic hat, and the winners of the Double Dragon giveaway are:

Mackan: Klara (of course it is a female dragon. Never met a male one. Never heard of anyone meeting a male one...)

DiDi: ...if I had a pet dragon, I think I'd have to name him Muse and hope he lived up to it.

Kristen: My dragon insisted on Sebastian.

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to, and I'll get these books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Scrambling the Famous

Seventh Sanctum, one of my favorite online generator sites, just put up a new toy for us to play with: The History Scrambler. Basically what it does is pair a famous figure from history with a new job title to nudge your imagination, such as Bach - Private Detective. You can generate up to 25 results at a time, too.

Now, if I'm interpreting the use of this generator correctly, you think of Bach as an archetypal character, not actually as the historic composer Bach himself, and make him a private detective (unless you're writing alternative/secret life history, then disregard what I'm saying.) It's a provocative exercise in characterization to be sure. And a world class composer secretly working as a gumshoe? I'd buy that book in a heartbeat.

Here are a few others I generated that I thought were interesting:

Paracelsius - Mutant
Calamity Jane - Alchemist
Marquis De Sade - Vigilante (hmmmm, that sounds familiar)
Immanuel Kant - Warlock
Queen Elizabeth - Secret Agent
Archemedes - Werewolf
Florence Nightengale - Black Ops Agent (whoa, there's a cool idea)
Isadora Duncan - Super-soldier
Ptolemy - Alien Invader
Leonardo Da Vinci - Steampunk Hero (I know one writer who could do this fabulously)
Copernicus - Anime Magical Knight
Oscar Wilde - Assasin (Hey, I already wrote this one)
Emily Dickenson - Computer Simulation
Indira Ghandi - Fallen Angel
Harriet Tubman - Time Traveller
Queen Victoria - Exotic Dancer
H.P. Lovecraft - Paranormal Investigator

I especially like the one with Ghandi as a fallen angel (that sent a small shiver up my spine) and Lovecraft as a paranormal investigator -- he'd be the perfect Yog-Sothothery-buster.

If you have a chance give the generator a whirl, and let us know in comments which famous person you've scrambled.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Double Dragon

We're at the halfway point of NaNoWriMo already? Time to do a midway giveaway, then. I just got back from the bookstore and lookit what I found on the shelves:


I believe these are the final reprints from author Patricia Briggs's novel backlist, and arguably they saved the best for last. No one does dragons like Ms. Briggs, which is why I can happily reread both of these books at a point in my life when even seeing the word dragon makes my head hurt.

But you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, tell us what you've named (or would name) a fictional dragon (or, if you have a case of the dreaded dragonitis, just toss your name in the magic hat) by midnight EST on Sunday, November 16, 2008. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners unsigned copies of the reprint editions of Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gift Calendars

I think this holiday season finances are going to be pretty tight for everyone, so I'm putting together some gift ideas for/from writers that are low- or no-cost.

One thing that's been popular for some time now is to make your own photo calendar. I get at least one every year from some family member, and I never have enough calendars, so they are much appreciated.

If you're an author and would like to custom-design a calendar as a gift for your readers (and do a little promotion at the same time) you can use your cover art, your upcoming release dates, scheduled booksignings and other personal appearances. You can also do a calendar with a specific theme, like a novel series or genre. I downloaded some calendar templates in Word today, messed around a bit with them, and began putting together a Darkyn series calendar:

Many photo-editing programs have make-your-own-calendar options, and you can also get a bunch of calendar-making freeware online (for links, see the Calendar section in my Index of Freeware and Online Tools for Writers here.)

Once you have your calendar put together, you can make it available as a .pdf file on your blog or web site, and that way any reader who wants it can download it from there. This would also be a fun project to do for a group blog or with a bunch of writer friends (just divide the year up and let everyone do one, two or three months.)

There is no limit to what you can use for your calendar: personal photos, inspirational images, even some of your favorite posts from your blog could be fun. Remember to give proper credit to any images you use from the internet (and don't sell the calendars you make unless you have the photographer/artist's permission.)

Related links:

2009 Calendar dates and holidays

Create a Calendar in Word by Susan C. Daffron

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Widget Yourself

While hunting for widget-making freeware, I came across an article, How to Create a Widget Featuring your Blog, Content, Or Website by Ariana Cherry-Shearer. Sounded pretty simple, and as we all know I am completely hopeless when it comes to this sort of thing, I thought I'd test it out personally and see just how easy it was.

Took me about a minute to make this:

Note: you do have to join before you can use their widget-maker/designer, but all they ask for is a sign-in ID, password, and e-mail addy. Otherwise it's free.

I used my blog post headlines for my example widget, but there are all sorts of options and templates, sizes and colors, bells and whistles etc. This could be useful for writers who want to create a promo-type widget for their blog, web site, latest news, posts, upcoming releases, freebies, contests and so forth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Copy-Edit Electric

I did finish the copy-edit four hours ahead of deadline, plus I learned something new in the process: Never try to do a copy-edit in only 24 hours. I think I sprained a retina; I'm pretty sure the production team up in NY did, too.

I once did a copy-edit over the phone with an editor, with us both reading from our copies of the ms. and her marking the production copy. As copy-edits go that one was very light, maybe a dozen queries and corrections total, but still it took us a good two hours to work our way through the stack of pages.

This time I did an electronic copy-edit, which is all done in Word (and which is eventually going to become the standard method by NY publishers, I'm told, for doing all copy-edits.) It's basically working with queries typed in those little sidebar comment balloons instead of hand-written notations, but it takes some getting used to. With the exception of that phone call copy-edit, I've always done mine on paper, not on the screen. The benefit for me is that I can use the Dragon now instead of scrawling all over the ms.

Btw, it now looks like Master of Shadows will make our target release date. More details will be coming soon, I promise; I just want to make sure the date is chiseled in stone and I see the final edition before I spill all the beans.

What's up with you guys? And why does it smell like a donut shop around here?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008


You guys should do stand-up; I don't think I've seen a funnier collection of one-liners than what you all posted in the Simply Irresistible giveaway.

Jack got off his high post to do the drawing (we helped a little since he's limb-challended), and the winner is:

Lynn M -- "Aw, man, who ate all the Three Musketeers?"

Lynn, when you have a chance, please send your full name and ship-to info to, and I will get your surprise out to you.

Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


In the event anyone is remotely interested, I've put up a beta version of PBWindow, a blog for my photography experiment. I'm probably going to tinker with it a bit more, see how much time it takes to upload stuff, create a sidebar for links to other art blogs, photography sights etc. (I know the blog title is a little odd, but A Photo A Day sounded odder.)

Comments at PBWindow are enabled but on moderation for now; not sure if I'm going to keep them. The trolls are starting to comment-bomb me here again, and I really don't feel I can ask Tom to help me deal with them on two blogs.

I also don't expect my PBW visitors to pop over there every day, week or even at all unless you're interested in how rotten I am as a photographer. This project is a personal one, and I wager it's not going to be very interesting to anyone but me.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Simply Irresistible

Spotted on the way into town today:

Another 358 days to go until Halloween?

Poor guy. I can't tell if he's depressed, sulking, or just falling to pieces because he's doing NaNoWriMo. Or maybe he's watching an ant pile. He looks like kind of an airhead, don't you think?

What caption would you write for this photograph? Post yours in comments (or if you can't think of a caption, just throw your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Sunday, November 9, 2008. I will pick one name from everyone who participates and send the winner a surprise. To add a little mystery, I won't say what the surprise is, but my past winners can tell you that my surprises are always pretty good. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Michael Crichton, 1942-2008

I was so sorry to hear that we lost Michael Crichton on Wednesday; he was 66 years old.

Like millions of other people I'm a great admirer of his work, especially his very first novel, The Andromeda Strain, which back in the seventies ignited my interest in epidemiology. I think I can safely say that Michael Crichton's SF work definitely influenced a significant number of my own SF and dark fantasy novels.

The Andromeda Strain also led me to discover that the strange dizzy spells and blackouts my mother regularly suffered were actually epileptic seizures; something that my family never discussed or explained to me when I was a kid. To finally know what was happening to her was a huge relief.

Dr. Crichton was a genius on the page as well as the screen. I don't think there will ever be a storyteller to rival him. We all talk about dazzling the world, but he actually did it. Safe journey, Michael.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


This story is for the NaNo'ers and other writers out there who are worried about what rejection will do to them. I've told it before, many times, but this time I can say it's finished.

Back in 1998, I received one of those resounding rejections that take a writer down a few thousand pegs. It was for a submission I'd made for a series of dark fantasy novels featuring, of all things, vampires. The editor who bounced it said something along the lines of there were far more talented writers out there doing much better books and that I should forget about it.

I wrote a couple more stories set in that universe for my online readers, but I did shelve the series idea and went on to other things in print. Five years later when I got the chance to pitch a new editor, I decided what the hell, I'd give it one more shot. I loved the stories, my readers were nagging me constantly about them, and I really hoped that maybe this new editor would be more receptive to my series idea.

She was.

The Beginning

The Print Novels

The Juliana Trilogy

The Standalones

As I've said before, I doubt this will be the last we'll see of the Darkyn, but just in case I get hit by a truck tomorrow, it's done. There's a lot of satisfaction in just being able to say that, and feel this sense of completion. I also owe so much to the nonstop generosity of my visitors here at PBW, the bookstore buyers and readers out there who invested in my work and spread the word -- thank you.

This is what you can do if you love the work, you do your best for the reader, and no matter how many times you're rejected, you don't give up: you can finish what you started.

*Before anyone yells, I know I haven't delivered Incarnatio yet; it's done but needs a final buff and polish before I put it online. As soon as I get my current contract book out of here that's next on the agenda (along with five or six other projects I had to put on hold.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Myth, oh, Myth

Ten Popular Romance Novels Myths, with Corresponding Truths

1. All a man has to do is tell a woman that he loves her and she believes him.

All a man has to do is pass a Wasserman and sign an iron-clad pre-nup, and I'll believe him. Maybe. Okay, a lie detector test may be required.

2. All the things women do are merely to fill in the time while they're waiting to fall in love and live happily ever after.

I'm sorry, but who ARE these women, and how soon can we build a time tunnel and send them back to the eighteenth century?

3. Application of whipped cream all over a partner's body is delicious bliss.

Look, it's messy. You're going to need a big plastic sheet for starters. And even if you scrub yourself for an hour with plenty of soap and hot water during the post-bliss shower, you will miss something and then smell like sour milk the next day.

4. Guys always carry protection and produce it when necessary.

I've never known a man to produce protection at the necessary moment, ever. In case I just have lousy taste in men, I also polled friends, and the consensus is that most guys don't carry any at all, but when asked about it they almost always counter with, "Why, don't you have any?"

5. It's wonderful and romantic to fall asleep in your lover's arms.

No, it's hot and uncomfortable to fall asleep with a two-hundred pound man wrapped around you and snoring in your ear (your lover size/septum condition may vary.)

6. Lovers wake up in the morning to exchange passionate kisses.

Lovers wake up with morning breath, and unless Listerine or Scope is first employed, avoid facetime.

7. Marriage is the ultimate expression of love.

Marriage fails, what, like 75% of the time now? Which maybe makes marriage the #1 love-terminator.

8. Satin sheets are sexy.

Satin sheets are slippery. I wouldn't do anything on them that requires leverage or traction.

9. The average number of intimate acts a couple shares together during one night is three or better.

One, definitely, two, possibly, three, just maybe. More than that (there is always Viagara and Speed, I suppose) and both parties risk exhaustion and friction injuries.

10. Women (decent) do not know how to perform oral sex.

Middle school girls (decent) practice how to do it with bananas at pajama parties. What, you thought they wanted them for snacks?

What myths have you discovered in romance novels? Share them in comments.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Writer Art

Cloth Paper Scissors magazine has issued an artistic reader challenge in their Nov/Dec '08 issue that I thought might be of interest to you crafty writers out there -- they're look for art that is a play on words. Check out the details and rules here.

As if I don't have enough to do already, I've been toying with the idea of an year-long online art project in 2009. I guess the idea goes back to when I used to visit the blog of this amazing photographer who would post pics that he took pretty much on a daily basis. He had a great eye for detail and finding beauty in the most ordinary things (alas, he closed down his blog and retired from the internet some time ago.)

I am nowhere near as competent as he was, but I often have some interesting experiences with nature, and I had a blast taking photos in Savannah. Keeping that in mind, I'd like to challenge myself to take one decent photograph every day in 2009, and post them online in an album or on a photo blog. No words, just the pics. It was mostly be for myself, to chronicle an entire year in images, and give me a reason to practice using the camera every day.

Have you ever done an online/offline project like this, or considered it? I'm wondering how tough it is to keep up with it, so if you have, let me know what you think in comments.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Done & Gone

I have been off making book, and finished the final draft of Master of Shadows, my dangerous project, like two minutes ago. Or, as my head puts it, clunk.

I love writing dangerous but holy guacamole, I am so glad that one is done.

I've also lost my voice (twice) this weekend, and it's starting to go down for a third time, so I think I'm giving myself the rest of the day off before I have to learn ASL for real.

Hope you all had a good weekend, and see you tomorrow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tone Those Lines

For me, the toughest line to write is always the first. It's the kickoff of the story; it sets the tone and needs to be timed just right. Most book store browsers read at least the first line, so it's an important selling tool.

Because the first line is the one that makes the approach and creates the first impression, it can be viewed as the writer's version of the pickup line. The wording is important, but so is the tone. I think that's why many first lines sound so artificial or cheesy; writers get nervous and overthink the words while forgetting how they come across, i.e.:

Timid: So, you're a girl, huh?

Arrogant: Well, here I am; what were your other two wishes?

Here's a simple exercise I give students to help them out with first lines that also practices tone. I'm going to use it and some bad examples (all of which are based on actual first lines I've read but that I've paraphrased or reworded.)

Imagine for a moment that you're in a coffee shop. A cute person you'd like to tell a story to is there sitting alone, sipping a vanilla latte and looking bored. You walk up and say:

"Isn't this weather we're having just totally riveting?"

Talking about the weather is safe. It's polite. It's picturesque. You can't get into a lot of trouble opening with the weather because it is what it is and we all know what it is. No one will send you a hate-mail that starts off "I found your description of that thunderstorm completely revolting." It's no wonder weather remains the number one pick-up line most used by writers in fiction.

To me, weather is boring. It's been done to death. It has no tone. Wallpaper has more tone. And I swear, every time I read any description of the weather as the first line, I see it morph into "It was a dark and stormy night" on the page. It's up to you, but I really think we need to move on now.

"Times sure have been the best and worst lately, huh?"

Aside from the weather, nothing delivers a first line more often than General Lization. He's that big, vague, blustery old soldier that writers send to lead their story into battle. He doesn't know where he's going, he can't tell you anything of value and often he doesn't have a clue as to what the war's about. But he's harmless, and he sounds good, and everybody likes him, or so writers think (actually he's a bumbler, he sounds patronizing and readers think he's cliche.)

Whenever you feel the urge to deploy the general -- Times sure have been the best and worst lately -- ask yourself: Why? The answer is the guy who should really be commanding your first line. Then do yourself a favor; retire the general, and send him to Florida. He's earned it.

"I know this guy who knows this girl who's married to this dude who works for this other guy who dates this woman who has a cousin with a son who knows this lawyer whose client is looking for someone who can date his daughter's adopted son's best friend -- which would be me -- and I thought that might interest you."

Characters are good things. We like them. In my opinion, the more, the merrier. But to a reader, the introduction of more than one or two important characters in the first line of the story is like you bringing your entire family to the coffee shop to help you hit on her. That really the tone you want to set for your possible relationship?

Keep in mind that most people have limited memories for information, and throwing a lot of names at them is not going to impress them or help them remember who they are. Leave the clan at home and avoid turning your first line into a character dump.

"Hey, there, big boy, how would you like to hear something naughty?"

The coy first line is very flirty in tone. It flutters its eyelashes at the reader. It flashes a little cleavage. It giggles. Does it do anything else? Well, it better.

Here's the deal: the flirtation line, done properly, can be intriguing. I know of maybe a handful of writers who can make that tone work like a charm. But if it's an empty tease, sounds ridiculous or doesn't do anything for reader, it's a waste of time. Do not waste the reader's time.

Some other brief observations on frequently-used first line tones:

"You're smarter than you look, right?"

Questioning the reader's intelligence in the first line works about as well as it does in person. Don't go there.

"No one will ever, ever understand my pain."

Nor will they want to hear about it, either, if that's your first line.

"I know a lot of big, pretty, useless words that I think will impress the hell out of you, wanna hear 'em?"

About as much as we want to watch you love yourself. Pass.

"Can I tell you the story of my life?"

No. Okay? Just: no.

Also, one other problem with first lines that regularly bedevils writers is that they get stuck on them. They write and rewrite and reword and write over and yet they're never satisfied and get caught in that whole reread-rewrite-reread loop. If you can't think of a decent opening line, or can't get past the one you've written, do yourself a favor -- write this sentence as your first line:

Until I think of something better, this is how it started.

It's a prod, too. Until you think of something better, that sentence will be your working first line. Leave it there as a place holder and continue writing.

Some of the first lines I've written most recently, and why I used them:

“Know what the three greatest pleasures in life are, buddy?”

Beginning a story with a line of dialogue is a bit tricky, and a lot of writers don't like to be that forward with the reader. I thought this one was fun, though, and it poses a question that everyone would answer differently but would want to know how other people would answer. It's also a line you'd hear one guy say to another in a bar, which is where this story opens.

Only Death is immortal.

I debated this one for a long time. I wanted a powerful first line for this particular opening, which was an ancient journal entry written by a character who is prone to making provocative statements. At the same time, I worried I'd gone and recalled the general. In the end I decided to use it because it is short, it sets the tone I wanted, and I doubt I'll ever pack that much truth or irony into a mere four words again.

Luce wanted to live up to her name tonight.

I apologize in advance to every Luce out there for this one, but when this line popped in my head I couldn't resist it. It's extremely rare that I have a first line come to me on its own, evidently out of nowhere, but when it does and it's good, I run with it.

What do you wrestle with when you're composing your first lines? Do you have a favorite first line of your own? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

This Just In

From our blog pal, Dawn Montgomery:

"I wanted to let you know that Realms of Love will be hosting speedwriting sessions through NaNo on Saturday and Sunday at 7am, 2pm, and 6pm CST. The sessions will last as long as people are there. In a speedwriting session, everyone posts their wordcount, and then a timekeeper starts the “race”. You write for 15-20 minutes, then Time is called and everyone posts their new wordcount. Everyone encourages one another, helps those who are struggling, and reminds people that NaNo isn’t about editing (if they’re stuck in an editing loop). After a 5-10 minute break, another round begins."

This is something Dawn does every weekend with her crit partners, btw; she just thought it would be fun to open it up to other NaNo'ers. To participate, you do need to register with the site as a user, but that's it. I've done things like this in the past (we called it word wars in my day) and it can be a lot of fun.

Do You NaNo?

Today is the first day of the tenth annual National Novel Writing Month, during which storytellers from all over the world will attempt to write a novel in a month (specifically, the goal is to write 50,000 words in the next thirty days.)

You'll probably hear some grumbling about it from a few pros in NetPubLand, but not here. I love this event, I think it's an amazing challenge and I admire everyone who has the desire and courage to take it on. Also, I enjoy how much it ticks off the writing snobs, but that's just a little personal side benefit.

I'm in the middle of production on three books, so I'm not officially participating (every month is pretty much NaNoWriMo at Casa PBW), but I'll be posting some ideas, advice, ten lists and other items of interest for NaNo'ers during November so I can help cheer you guys on.

So, officially, who's NaNo'ing this year? Please let us know in comments and, if you're willing, tell us a little about your WIP. If you'll be blogging about your progress, do post a link so we can visit your place and see how you're doing.