Saturday, January 31, 2009

Graphic Widgets

Image Chef has a nice collection of online image widget generators you can use to design some promo or eyecandy for your blog or web site, and goes the extra step of giving you the codes to cut and paste or auto-post, depending on where you want to put them.

If you want to get rid of the watermark I think you have to sign up and pay for their services, but I thought the ones I made for free looked fine: - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more

Custom Baseball Jersey -

Thanks to Gerard over at The Generator Blog for giving me yet another place to goof off when I should be writing.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Writing with Pets

Cole, our new addition to the family, is doing very well with his house-training (only one accident so far) and sleeps through the night, which makes him SuperDog; I've never had a puppy do that. He's also very even-tempered, is playful but not too rough with the kids and the cats (who were raised with two other dogs, so they're both fairly tolerant of canine shenanigans) and has a nice mischievous streak in him.

When he's tired, he just drops and conks out wherever he wants, too, which tickles me to no end:

Puppies are very time-intensive, and Cole spends the majority of his time with me, so I've had to temporarily adjust my work hours. It's like having a baby in the house again; I reserve mornings and afternoons for socializing with him and doing my housework where he can be with me (as a breed Shelties generally love to be with people, but hate being locked up or left alone.)

As I did with my two-legged babies, I work whenever he sleeps. I've also reversed my work schedule so that I write at night when the family is home to keep Cole occupied (this allows me to work in my writing space without depriving him of company) and edit at the kitchen table during the day while Cole naps.

Some of my experiences writing at home with pets:

1. Putting a pet in your home office while you work is fine if the pet respects your space and is content there. If they want to use your work space as their playroom, they're going to destroy things and distract you. Move your work to a pet-safe area of the house.

2. Like children, pets get easily bored (especially young ones.) Focus on socializing with your pet before you dive into work. Usually an hour of play or a nice long walk will tire out your pet, and then they'll be happy to nap while you work.

3. Rather than lock up your young pet to keep them from interfering in your schedule, train them to be your companion whatever you do. Ease them into a daily routine that alternates you giving them attention with you doing your housework or writing.

4. Books, computer equipment, electrical cords and other writing-related things in your house are important to you, but just remember that to your pet they look like chew toys, playthings and scratching posts (cats in particular love cardboard boxes of books, and will sneak into them to relieve themselves or chew off some corners.) Move anything that cannot be destroyed into a place where your pet can't get at them.

Finally, if you have to choose between your pet and your writing on any given day, choose your pet. I've never regretted a single day of work that I blew off to spend with Buddy and Missy, and now Cole. I can assure you, the writing will always be there. Your pet won't.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2 Word Stones

Hanging from the rearview mirror in my car is a small green velvet and beadwork bag that contains two carved and polished stones, some pretty crystals and dried white sage:*

The carved stones are mine, and each have a word etched into them. Like the Courage stone I carry in my purse or my pocket, I've been keeping these stones in the car because they comfort me as much as my friend's gift. If I buy it in a car crash, I hope I'll be found with these two stones near me. I'd like them to be my final words to the world (and no, they don't start with F and Y. I keep those stones under my pillow.)

Today I'm giving you two virtual stones, upon which you must etch two words. They can be words that have some personal significance for you, words you like, or your last words to the world. If you'd like to share what they are, post them in comments.

*A friend of mine gave me the bag and the crystals a few years ago, and she said she put the white sage in for cleansing or detoxing or something like that. I just think it smells nice, and if anyone tries to carjack me, I intend to whack them in the head with it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saving Sub$

The cost involved with sending novel submissions through the postal service has always been a burden on most writers who don't have agents, especially those who live outside the U.S. Now that finances are tight for everyone, it's really important to cut back on expenses, and that may mean some writers choose to submit to fewer publishers or on a less-frequent basis.

Although it's difficult to find novel publishers who will accept electronic submissions from unagented writers, it's not impossible. I did some hunting around and put together this list in about thirty minutes:

Absolute Xpress has an online form you fill out and submit for your query to them (novella and novel-length science fiction, fantasy, horror, dark/gruesome fantasy, romance, erotica and mystery.)

Baen Publishing accepts full manuscript + synopsis novel submissions, and "strongly prefers" they be submitted electronically -- for specifics, check out their guidelines here (SF/F, military fic)

Black Death Books is reopened to novel subs as of Jan 1st and no longer accepts hardcopy submissions (way to go green, guys); they'd like to see a brief synopsis and first chapter, more details in their guidelines here (horror)

Newly-opened e-book/print publisher Eternal Press wants to see short stories as well as novel subs (synopsis and first three chapters on book-length fiction) via e-mail only (all genres but no YA)

eTreasures Publishing is presently looking for novel-length erotica only (guidelines available via e-mail.)

Juno Books prefers to see three chapters and a synopsis (due to tight schedule they recommend you have a finished manuscript before you sub) via e-mail (fantasy novels with a strong female protagonist)

Kensington Publishing does accept queries via e-mail: "You may QUERY ONLY by e-mail. Do not attach manuscripts or proposals to e-mail queries. An editor will respond if he or she is interested in seeing your material based on your query." (See guidelines for which editor handles what type of fiction; they publish pretty much everything.)

Nocturne Books accepts electronic subs of novellas (unpubbed writers are required to submit complete manuscript) for the new Nocturne Bites e-book program.

Also from the folks at Harlequin, Spice books is looking for novella-length erotica for their Spice Briefs e-book program; as with Nocturne Bites they want to see full manuscripts from unpubbed writers.

Twilight Times Books will be open for book-length submissions from Feb 15th through Mar 5th this year and accepts "cover letter, synopsis, first chapter and marketing plan" via e-mail (currently accepting nonfiction only, but they're interested in seeing the following categories of nonfiction: "Creative nonfiction, fantasy, historical, how-to books, humor/satire, juvenile, literary, magic realism, mainstream/contemporary, military/war-related, mystery/suspense, nostalgia-related fiction and non-fiction, paranormal, regional, science fiction, specialty/New Age, supernatural, the Sixties-related (fiction or nonfiction), World War II-related, women's fiction, writing advice, etc.")

Note: I'm not suggesting that it's better to submit to a novel publisher who accepts e-subs over mailed hard copies; you should submit first to the publisher for whom you think your work will likely have the most appeal. But there is nothing wrong with sending some queries or partials to publishers who accept e-subs, either. It won't cost you anything except the time to prepare the e-mail, and you'll be putting your work in front of another editor who may like it more than the dude in NY with the nine-foot-tall slush pile of hard copy manuscripts that he may or may not read sometime during the next year.

For more publishers who accept e-subs, check out the Book Publishers listings over at (also where I found about half of my list.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


To help celebrate my eighth year of giving away free e-books, I'm reissuing Sink or Swim, the very first e-book I published on the internet way back in 2001.

I still remember the various reactions other published authors had eight years ago when I proposed the then-radical idea of distributing original stories over the internet as a form of promotion:

(Scathing and Dismissive) Don't be stupid, no one does that.

(Patronizing and Pitying) You're only supposed to give them teasers so they have to buy the book to read the rest of it.

(Frantic and Fearful) Have you lost your mind? You'll destroy your career before it gets off the ground!

(Snotty and Superior) Don't you know that real professionals sell everything they write?

It's funny now, looking back and remembering how crazy everyone thought I was. But while a few authors tried to convince me to stop giving away my work and rejoin the herd, most of my peers ignored me. Because really, who cared what some rookie SF writer did? It wasn't like serious authors and major publishers were ever going to give away free e-books.

Yeah, well. I won't gloat, but now you understand why I smile every time I see a free e-book on the internet. Especially the ones by the serious authors being promoted by the major publishers.

The new edition of SoS will feature all the stories contained in the first edition, along with new content on what happened with the stories after I self-published them. I'll also pass along how well I think e-books with original/unpublished content and shared universes can work as promotional tools for authors and low- to no-cost gifts for readers across the globe.

I also have some new and beautiful cover art for the book, thanks to the very talented Deena Fisher, featuring her eerily accurate depiction of my character Holly Noriko:

Sink or Swim will be posted on Scribd shortly (I'll post a heads-up here when it goes live) and, like all my free e-books, will be available to read online, download and print.* Note 9/3/10: Since 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.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Instant Meme Ten

Because everyone is complaining that they don't have anything to blog about . . .

Ten Things from the Imagination Prompt Generator
(along with my answers)

What keeps you going?

My truck.

Describe each member of your family.

A little taller than me, taller than me, and a lot taller than me. And three dinky fur faces who are all shorter than me.

Did it snow much when you were a child?

I grew up in the tropics. Our snow is called rain.

Write a letter to someone you appreciate.

Dear Lady in the Big Tan SUV: Thank you for hearing me yell and stopping before you ran me down in the parking lot at the grocery store. When you have some time, please clean your windshield and invest in some sunglasses to reduce the glare that you said blinded you. And maybe think about giving up the cigarettes and the cell phone, at least while you're driving. Love, PBW.

Do you believe that today can be the ‘first day of the rest of your life?’

Well, I'm hoping it won't be the "last."

I remember . . .


Look at your hands. Why are you grateful for them?

Tough one. I dunno. Because they're not hooks?

If I could trade in my adulthood for a second childhood, I'd...

What, are you kidding me? I hated being a child. Keep your damn hands off my adulthood.

Name five things laying around your computer.

Carpeting, my chair, my feet, a baseboard and a naked man. Hmmmm. I really need to clean those baseboards.

How would you rate your self image?

I don't have one. I'm a vampire.

Everyone who doesn't have something to blog about today can use this ten list for inspiration. Or if you'd like some different prompts, visit the Creativity Portal's Imagination Prompt Generator.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Off to Play

Today I'm bailing on you guys so I can unplug and take the entire day off, as we have a gorgeous new guy in the house:

Cole is a shaded sable Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) puppy, and as I went to pick him today from the breeder I discovered that he was born on the very same day we lost our Sheltie Buddy to cancer. I don't know if that's fate or just a remarkable coincidence, but it doesn't matter. We're simply grateful to have found Cole and to welcome him into the family.

See you all tomorrow.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Story Seeds

Anything your senses offer as inspiration for story is always a good thing, but I find next to music that art, texture and other tactile material objects often sow the seeds of what grow into my stories.

Our blogpal Raine Weaver mentioned fortune cookies in her SFC post here about the need for simplification. I save all my fortunes, and sometimes use them sometimes in my altered art/philosophy journals, like this one:

Pulling out that old journal made me wonder if you could tell a story entirely in fortune cookie fortunes. I sat at the table after dinner with the four hundred or so slips I've collected over the years and started arranging them like you do magnetic poetry. I'd have to come up with original fortunes of my own, but they could work as dialogue for an oracle, I think (I'm still mulling it over.)

A few months ago I was looking through some quilt magazines and spotted a photo of this incredible piece by German artist Britta Ankenbauer*:

Scrap City, created by mixed media fiber artist Britta Ankenbauer

I don't know why but seeing this art quilt hit me like a sledgehammer. I responded to this piece on a dozen levels, including a storytelling perspective, which had me jotting down an outline of the city that I saw in the art. That grew into a country, and then a planet, and ultimately became one of the settings for my final StarDoc novel.

I've always wanted to write a piece of fiction about the elements in this photo I took a couple of years ago:

This is more abstract and definitely more personal (the real story behind the image is over on the photoblog here.) I'm not ready to write this one yet, so it's still percolating in the back of my head. When I do I suspect the story will include a minor war between gardeners and artists.

Most of the time we writers maintain a pretty healthy stock of story seeds -- if they were veggies and flowers I could supply a couple hundred farms on my own -- but I still think it's a good idea to keep yourself open to the random chance of inspiration. When you respond to something personally, you know if you can convert that energy and passion into words that it's going to shine through in the work, and better yet, no other writer will have anything like the beauty you grow.

*To see more of Britta Ankenabauer's amazing textile art, visit her web site here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Forgot to Mention

I'm double-blogging today; my debut post is up over at Genreality.

Lipstick on a PIG

Bootlegged from the Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene (SOILS) list-serv:

From the Desk of: Lady Ilyse-Veronica Eleanor Raquel St. Paul-on-the-Thames Snootle
President, RWA Chapter 987451, the Perfect Image Girls (PIGs)
Re: New Protocol on Proper, Positive and Prudent Public Images for Professional Romance Writers
To: All Platinum-Level Members

Dear, dear friends,

I hate writing this memo, really I do, but since That One has assumed office we have to face some unhappy changes, and not just upon The Hill. Before you e-mail me let me say that I know exactly how you PIGs feel. It has been suggested that right-minded writers keep any pictures taken with our darling Forever First Lady of Proper, Positive and Prudent Perfect Public Images up on the front pages of their web sites, right next to the click-through for the Limbaugh Live Feed and the new Anne Coulter book.

Now, onto new business: you know this ridiculous thing they're calling a recession is going to cause a teensy bit of a headache for us while our stock brokers -- the ones who haven't been arrested yet -- sort out our investments and move some of the emergency slush funds over to the island accounts. In the meantime, we PIGs have to prepare for the upcoming twenty or so decent romance writer conferences we'll be attending this year. Many of you have told me that you cannot afford to splurge as you should in order to keep up with the latest fashions and demonstrate to the rabble how real romance writers keep their image perfect, so I've done a little research to find some temporary alternatives until your bank accounts are a little healthier.

My main idea comes from this web site for poor families I accidentally found while searching for a cheaper, I mean, easier recipe for pate foie gras to give to the cook, and I read this charming article about something they call the lipstick effect. Apparently the poor can feel really wonderful about their self image simply by purchasing a new lipstick. Of course, this is why they're poor, but I thought, why can't we PIGs do a little of that ourselves?

As vital as lash extensions and brow waxes are, I suppose those would be the first things I'd give up if I were as poor as these frugal people. Not that I am or I ever will be, of course. To distract from one's skimpy lashes and overgrown brows, I think we should invest in some cosmetic colored contact lenses, starting at only $29.95 a pair. Just be aware that those icky paranormal writers are buying the vampy black-rimmed red and black sclera lenses, so don't order those. Oh, and for those long nights at the Tiki Bar when you don't want to see exactly who is hitting on your hubby, you might try the lenses that make you temporarily blind.

No PIG needs to have bad hair at a conference, not even after one has to let go the live-in personal hair dresser. Did you know that you can buy some hair extensions that cost as little as $79.95? For goodness sake, Jessica Simpson wears them every day, why shouldn't we PIGs? And while I know how heart-breaking it is to give up the standing monthly touchup-and-trim appointment at Oscar Blandi Salon, there is a ray of hope: buying his root touch-up pen. Or if that's a bit pricey, consider what the poor writers do. Before I fired her my assistant raved about the lasting effects she got for her roots by using a Sharpie to fill them in ; evidently they really do have them in every color now.

I can't imagine not having the $2-7K one must pay for a decent a threadlift, but if that's beyond what you have in your wallet you can invest in 1.7 ounces of a face lift in a jar for a mere $145.00. Why, that's cheaper than caviar on sale!

Fashion is always a serious concern for PIGs. One simply cannot wear the same old Dior rag one wore to last year's Vampire Rodeo. My advice is to snatch up a lot of old sweater dresses from the thrift store (they're the shops in the parts of town where the day servants live; look for signs that read "Goodwill" and "Salvation Army.") Have your maid punch some holes in the knits and launder them in hot water and bleach three or four times and then tell her to sew the tags from your designer outfits into the collars. The results are beautifully couture-ragged and will make you look like you've just come back from spending a week in Paris with Kate Moss as your personal shopper.

You can also now rent stunning designer handbags, jewelry, sunglasses and even watches from only $25 a month. I would have never spent so much on my last Balenciaga evening clutch if I'd known I could lease it for a week or two. For you inspirational chicklit writers, whom we all know are perfect princesses at heart, accessorize the part with a crown or tiara starting at $29.95. No one but we PIGs will know that they're not genuine diamonds, and your secret is safe with us!

It's vital to show how busy and important we PIGs are at the con, but of course now that so many of us have sacrificed our secretaries, we must make do with temps. I recommend you hire a personal assistant to follow you around the con. Make sure she carries a steno pad with her so she can write down everything you say, a bottle of hand sanitizer in the event one of those grubby unwashed aspiring writers tries to touch you at the big booksigning, and some miniature Stoli's for those times when you need a little belt. If you have a few extra dollars in the kitty, you might hire a celebrity to hang out with you. I tried to get George Carlin myself -- you know how shocking he is, and if one is going to make a splash, one should have an attention-getter -- but the girl said he wasn't in any shape to attend (pout.)

I've heard too many of you PIGs complain about running out of decent perfume and being unable to afford a dozen new bottles. Ladies, there are ways you can smell appropriately expensive without even paying for it. Go to any department store with a high-end perfume counter, mention that you're going to appearing with Usher at his next booksigning, and ask for vial samples you can take to your agent to make sure they don't clash with his new fragrance, which apparently he takes a bath in. I swear you won't walk out of there with less than fifty of their freebie vials. In a pinch, tear the perfumed strips from your old copies of Vogue and Elle magazine and tuck one into your bra every morning before you go down to the con. You will smell like a real PIG for nothing!

I know we can get through this minor crisis, girls. All we must do is keep our heads and think like the PIGs we are.

Love and Air Kisses,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weeding with Wordle

Last year I talked about weeding out words I overuse, and I'm still working on a replacement list for the one I lost. However, I discovered a neat trick when I began playing with Wordle, the ultracool online word cloud generator.

When you're editing a scene or chapter, open the Wordle Create Page and cut and past your text in the top box (right where it says paste in a bunch of text.) The resulting word cloud should look something like this (for a layout like this one, choose "Horizontal" under the Layout menu just above the generated wordcloud):

The words that show up in the cloud as the largest are the words you've repeated throughout the text you fed to Wordle. If one of those words is a character's name (like Jessa in mine) that's obviously not a weed word. On the other hand, if you see words that are the same size as door, around, saw and long in my example, those are words you've overused and may need to weed out.

Another thing you can do is use Wordle to generate some keywords from your story text to give you title ideas. Just do the same thing as above, but this time take the interesting/descriptive words and make a title idea list.

For this one, I'd probably start with words like Savannah, blue, sapphire, time, eyes, sweet, watch, sunrise, night and loved, play with them and see what appealed to me, like Savannah Blue or Nights in Sapphire.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strange Fruit II

A dear friend of ours sent over a great big lovely bag of star fruit and pomelos; he grows many exotic delights in his backyard and it's always a treat to see what he's produced this year. My daughter loves star fruit, and has already eaten about half of the first gift, so our friend sent over another bag for her. I promised to make a fresh starfruit tart for her, but I'm wondering if there will be any left by the time I do my baking for the week.

A pomelo is usually called the grandfather of the grapefruit, and is so much tastier than its hybrid offspring that I feel sorry for people who settle for the acid/bitter stuff they sell in the supermarkets. It's not very pretty, though; it looks like a mutant lime (pomelos can grow to be the size of basketballs) and has a very thick rind. If you don't first remove the membranes around the fruit, you'll get a whole mouthful of bitterness.

As we snack on the homegrown goodies, I keep looking at the bowl of beautiful, perfect red delicious apples I have on the kitchen table. They're a gorgeous ruby red, polished to a glow, and now no one wants them (I bought them before our friend sent over his goodies.) They don't make very good baking apples, but I can probably use them for applesauce, dry them into chips, or something along those lines.

Juggling all this fruit made me think about writing, of course -- everything is about writing. Stories are the fruit of our labors, and naturally we want to set out a great big bowl of what we plant and grow and nurture and harvest, and watched it get gobbled up. But what sort of fruit do we put in the bowl, and who's going to want it?

Certainly some of the most popular books I've read out there are just as pretty and polished and perfect as the daintiest of red delicious apples. Not very original or surprising, but definitely dependable and decorative. Then there are those other stories, the ones that seem on the outside to be as humble and homely as a pomelo. On the surface, they can't hold a candle to those apples.

If offered a choice, most people would dump the pomelo in the trash without even trying it, and stick with the lovely, uniform apple, which will taste as they expect: inoffensively sweet, bland, and exactly like the last apple they bought at the store. That, I'm afraid, is human nature.

Not everyone is a same-old same-old apple-lover, thank heavens, or some of us would definitely be out of work. Fortunately for us there are people who want something that surprises them, something they can't always find at every market. They may not know what to call it, or even what they're hoping to taste, but they're not afraid to experiment and try new things. As they do, they develop an appreciation for the unexpected, and while they can always pick up one of those perfect apples, in time I believe they find it doesn't satisfy them anymore.

As writers, we're expected to try to cultivate perfect story apples to be mass marketed in every store around the country, when what we really want to do is grow pomelos in the backyard and give them as gifts to friends.

As storytellers and professionals, should the fruit of our labors fill the bowl, or the bag? Are we only capable of producing one or the other? Or can we grow both? What do you guys think?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poll Results

My visitors have voted, and the results of the Kyn Poll 2009 are:

Richard & Elíane: 13
Korvel: 11
John Keller: 10
Phillipe: 10
New characters: 8
Marcella: 6
Guy: 5
Marian: 4
Nick & Gabriel: 4
Luisa: 3
Shalan: 3
Kyan & Melanie: 2
Thierry & Jema: 2
Any character: 1
Armand: 1
Gilanden: 1

Richard & Elíane are the clear winners, so the next Darkyn free e-book will feature a continuation of their storyline (which should be really different from what I've done so far, as well as a decent writing challenge for me.)

Since Korvel came pretty close to tying R&E for the top spot, I thought about having him as a secondary character in the e-book. But honestly, I think Korvel needs his own novel-length story to resolve his issues. I had tentatively planned to feature him as a protagonist in a future Darkyn print standalone (the story would probably include Nick and Gabriel as secondary characters doing what I had Nick and Alex discuss in STN) should that ever come to pass. I don't know right now; I'm going to give it some more thought.

Thank you all for the input. It really helps me to hear what you're thinking and what you'd like to read in the future.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ten for Free

Ten Things Free for the Taking

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

AbiWord Portable 2.6.6 is "the lightweight AbiWord word processor packaged as a portable app, so you can edit your documents on the go. You can place it on your USB flash drive, iPod, portable hard drive or a CD and use it on any computer, without leaving any personal information behind" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

Do you need a creative or unusual font? Check out the variety available for free download over at (OS: Mac, Windows, Linux)

Linsa-Anne Sanderson has a free online seminar over at here for writers interested in learning how to write for magazines.

The Other Mother blog, written by author Gwendolyn Goss, evidently offers ongoing free writing workshops for moms.

This is a hidden gem I recently stumbled across while looking for free online writing classes -- The Massacusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) offers a huge list of MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) which is "a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and is a permanent MIT activity." Check out just what they offer in literature and writing and humanistic studies.

Not to be outdone by MIT, Open University, the UK's largest academic institution, offers a variety of different free online writing classes via their OpenLearn website. No registration is required, and courses are available to everyone regardless of country of origin. 3.0.1 is "an Open Source, community-developed, multiplatform office-productivity suite. It includes the key desktop applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites. (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista, Solaris, Linux [including PPC Linux] "Additional ports, such as for FreeBSD, IRIX, and Mac OS X, are in various stages of completion.")

If you'd like to write or co-write your screenplay online for free, definitely check out Plotbot the web-based screenwriting software. 1.4.3 is "a simple word processor . . . designed to get your first draft banged out and on its way to the editing table" (Os: Mac OS X)

The University of Utah offers two free online classes for writers and readers: Introduction to Creative Writing and Introduction to Shakespeare.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking about the writing year ahead, and I really enjoyed all the comments for the Building and Growing giveaway. We put the magic hat into action, and the winners are:

DiDi, whose plans are "to write a collection of short shorts inspired by different people and objects in my life."

(I think this a great idea, as I've found so much renewal and inspiration in writing short pieces and stories.)

Darlene Ryan, who is "...sticking with the process that I've found works for me, but I have made a commitment to clear everything out of my workspace that doesn't belong there..."

(Uncluttering is really important -- plus it reinforces to your family that your workspace really is the place where you work, not free storage space for them.)

Natalie Hatch, who is determined to "...learn where to put commas.
That's it. That's my goal for this year - learn where the comma actually goes and keep up to date with the industries idea of where that comma goes because they keep changing their minds all the time."

(A deceptively simple-sounding goal. One time I decided I would not rest until someone defined clearly to me what copy-editors wanted capitalized and what they didn't -- and it took me about eight months before I finally got a consensus.)

Winners, 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.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Poll Closing

Just a quick note on the 2009 Kyn Poll -- on Tuesday I'll be closing out the post and tallying up the votes on who you'd like to see star in my next Darkyn free e-book, so if you'd like to join in and let me know, please post your comment by midnight EST on Monday, January 19, 2009.

We Got the Beat Ten

Ten Things to Help You Make Music

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

Get into your own groove by customizing one online with's Groove Generator

If you'd like to jam with other musicians online in real time for free, check out Jam Now.

The online music factory, Jam Studio, allows you to compose and play your original scores with a variety of instruments and beats (I actually wrote a song on this and it's extremely cool, and if I can do it you know it's easy enough for a toddler to use.) There's also what looks like a free recording program you can download and use to preserve your compositions.*

You no longer have to go to a bar to belt out your rendition of "I'll Survive", you can do it at home with KaraFun, "a free karaoke software for PC that offers a complete solution for home karaoke. Some of the player features are: Voice recording, Tempo and Pitch control, KFN, midi KAR, CDG+MP3 and LRC files replay, Direct 3D animation engine, playlist management, Fullscreen or windowed display, multi-monitor support."

MIDI to Wav Maker shareware "is an easy-to-use tool for converting MIDI to WAV format with CD quality."

Use this music code generator to get the HTML codes you need to add music to your web site, or this one for your MySpace page. has an entire page of music freeware here to help with your musical compositions.

This is one I really thought was neat -- the P22 Music Text Composition Generator turns your words into music played by your choice of instrument, music files and printable sheet music by allowing "any text to be converted into a musical composition. This composition is displayed in musical notation and simultaneously generated as a midi file." (Try this one when you have time -- it's the neatest online generator I've found since discovering Wordle.)

Wired has a good article here about creating music online with Hobnox Audiotool, a free virtual music studio.

Wolfram Tones is another free online music generator that uses music theory and algorithms to produce them. Just don't ask me to explain it.

* Link shamelessly swiped from Gerard over at The Generator Blog.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Building and Growing

I've been skimming through the 366 writing meditations of Fred White's The Daily Writer, a how-to tour he guides through one year of writing ideas, philosophies and exercises. Although it's probably more appropriate for a literary writer (Fred is a Ph.D. and an associate professor of English at Santa Clara University, and trust me, he sounds like it) I'm enjoying the fact that he isn't snotty about it and has plenty to offer genre writers as well.

I'm also picking up some useful angles and directions to take with my own writing habits. One entry for July 21 caught my eye; Pofessor White talks about creativity and compares it to analytical thinking, using Einstein and Fuller as examples of creative thinkers in the mathematics and geometric/architectural sense. Without these two guys' creativity there wouldn't be a theory of relativity or a geodesic dome.

I kept going back to the phrase architectural; besides it being one of my favorite words it describes perfectly everything I love about the process of writing books: envisioning the construct of a story, gathering a team of characters to help me build it and bring it to life, laying out and drawing up the plans, designing for purpose as well as beauty, and having the satisfaction of not only creating something out of nothing, but expressing new and abstract ideas in a concrete material form. I do a variation of the same thing when I take photographs, make quilts or paint.

All those codes and procedures and precise steps might smother another person's creativity, but not someone who is as architecturally-minded as me. It also explains why I'm forever trying to draw diagrams and compose templates and nail down even the most nebulous aspect of writing -- I like the architecture of order. There is no surer way to send me to hell than to take away my blueprints and plans and building codes and tell me to write off the top of my head. Except maybe someone who doesn't understand story at all telling me what I have to build.

The organic pantser writer has none of these tools to help them; they write the way abstract artists paint. From what I'm told there not only is no plan, there can't be a plan. For these writers story is simply a seed that has to be planted and tended and grown with little or no idea of what the end result will be. It's a natural evolution, something that seems to thrive only when it's permitted to grow freely.

I've tried organic writing -- once -- and the entire time I wrote the story, my brain was three chapters ahead of me frantically trying to plan out what was going to happen next. There are plenty of organically-written books on my keeper shelves, and I admire anyone who can write without a net like the pantsers do, but I'd much rather hang out at the construction site with my hard hat and my blueprints.

Somewhere in between the territories of the strictly architectural writer and the wholly abstract writer is a wide open area that has never been mapped. It's where most writers seem to search for the right spot between obsessive-compulsive planning and the free-for-all on the extreme ends of the writing process scale. I think writers even move back and forth as they hone the process and when they try out new things. Some of them will draw up a simple plot and then pants the rest of the way, some outline certain elements like characters or conflict and then let them loose and see what they do on the page.

I do a little of that with how I write dialogue, with the exception of a few lines that come to me out of some specific inspiration like a dream or an early concept I never plan out dialogue. Setting the stage, sending out the players and knowing what needs to happen in this particular act is enough for me; I just sit back and take dictation. On some level one part of my brain is probably working out the dialogue as I write it, but that seems to be in one of those subconscious gray areas that barely registers. So I'm not all plumb lines and (cough) stud finders.

I know after I wrote my first five published novels that I was very anxious to get my methods straight and establish a routine. I felt that was important if I was going to deliver books on a regular schedule. But I hung onto the importance of learning, too, and every now and then I ditch my hard hat, climb over the fence and wander around the other side. I am a daily writer, so technically I don't need to read The Daily Writer, but if I didn't jump that fence once in a while I think all my buildings would start looking alike. Being open to new ideas means incorporating some of them, but even with the ideas that don't work out, I still learn from them.

Today Professor White advises me to start a journal, right now, because I need that to become a better writer. While I don't need to start one -- I've been keeping some form of journal every day since I was thirteen -- I like seeing one of my oldest habits being recommended. It tells me that my instincts are right. And I might try out his advice on May 3rd, the possibly annoying exercise on August 24th, and the cool thing on October 29th.

I'm also thinking about writing one of these daily devotional-type how-tos myself. I just wonder if I could think up an entire year of stuff for writers to think about, try or practice -- that can't be easy.

We've got eleven and a half months left in this writing year. What new things are you going to try with your work this year, or are you sticking with the process you've already established? Let us know what you're planning (or not) in comments by midnight EST on Saturday, January 17, 2009. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of The Daily Writer by Fred White. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Rob's Stats

The one bit of news I was hoping for came in today: my January release Stay the Night debuted at #88 on the USA Today bestseller list, which makes the seventh Darkyn novel in a row to appear on it, and now they can call the entire series a USA Today bestseller. This makes the people in NY very happy. I'm just relieved the waiting is over.

I was not expecting STN to make the Times list at all; there are just too many books out at the moment by very popular authors, including some multiple titles belonging to two white-hot vampire series that have TV and movie tie-ins. When that happens they tend to dominate the list and keep the rest of us not-as-popular writers off. That, combined with the book being sold two weeks before the lay down date and the inappropriate changes to the cover art pretty much guaranteed that the book wouldn't make the list.

Despite all the problems I've had with publishing the Darkyn books over the past four years -- and there have been plenty -- I still feel I've been very fortunate. Once more my readers stood by me, supported my work, spread the word and created a following. You can't buy that. Publishers can't give it to you. There is no marketing trick or advertising widget or secret handshake that magically bestows that on you. You can only hope to earn it by doing your best.

I appreciate all you guys have done to help me finish up this series on a positive note. And I think I can now, because while I doubt pink will ever be the new black, Rob's book actually did make the Times list. #27 on the extended mass market bestseller list. So I thank you all for that, too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reading the Fine Print

No good or bad news to report, but one more vexing situation to add to the current bunch. I have a half-dozen returned packages from my holiday giveaways, which due to a data entry snafu by the shipper were all sent back to me as undeliverable. I will be heading over this morning to inspect them before we send them back out (I want to make sure they haven't been damaged in the process) and I'll e-mail each of the winners involved to let them know what happened and when to expect the redeliveries.

Every time I log on I've been out looking around the writing job and market listings for sub ops, and lately I've noticed a few things that trouble me. Some of these listings need to be read carefully before you respond to them. Take this one from Craigslist NY:

Gay-themed writing wanted by new magazine: "...non-fiction articles and essays, opinion pieces, fiction and stories to be serialized."

This sounds pretty good -- they'll even take love stories (no "porn") and they pay $100 per piece upon acceptance. Depending on what length they want, this could be a good market. But here's the kicker:

"All accepted material becomes property of the magazine."

Uh-oh. Hello, hundred bucks, goodbye, all the rights. That's not such a good thing.

Here's another interesting job listing for Manhattan:

Interactive Copywriter freelance to full time position. Job description from ad details "...working on everything from banners to landing pages, however, this is more about ideas and where you take initial concepts. The content you will be working on is more "branding" focused."

They're offering a lot of money for this job, too -- the freelance (starting) position is $45/hr (DOE), and the full time salary is $80 - $100K.

Two problems I see with this one:

1) DOE in a job listing generally means "Depends on Experience." So I interpret that to mean they might pay as much as $45/hr, or $45/hr is the highest end of their scale. If you were not making $45/hr at your last job? You're not going to make it here.

2) $80 - 100K -- maybe salaries have skyrocketed since last time I checked, but I don't know any full-time starting copywriters who pull that in -- they're lucky if they make half that. It is possible that I'm wrong, too, and this being a job located in Manhattan = better pay, but six figures for a copywriter? I'm in the wrong damn job.

Finally, I found this:

Boutique publisher Havenhurst Books is advertising that they're seeking ten new titles for 2009 publication, according to this craigslist ad.

Very little real information was offered in the listing, so I went to their web site. I found almost no useful information there, either, but read at least two points that made me think this is a dressed-up subsidy (vanity) publishing outfit:

Havehurst charges all submitting authors a non-refundable $15 "processing fee" (NY publishers do not charge fees for reading submissions. They do it for nothing. So why the $15?)

Havenhurst also made this statement: "Our writers are highly self-motivated and typically have an established platform to market their books. This reduces the risk of sluggish sales that, in old guard publishing, must be absorbed by other writers on the imprint" (This just sounds uber squirrely to me.)

If you're out hunting writing jobs and sub ops, be careful to read every word of the ads and market listings, and maybe even do a little research on the publisher or publishing entity before you submit. Definitely get all the facts before you sign. If you have to pay anything to submit or apply for a writing job, don't go there. Be aware of what rights the publisher expects to acquire. And don't fall for the dangling 18K gold carrot of high pay; get the actual pay or salary terms upfront, preferably in writing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Be (the Writing) Life

I'm taking a day off to catch up on some work and settle some business matters. So that your visit here was not entirely wasted, here's an image I think makes a great visual metaphor for the writing life (click on image to see larger version):

See you tomorrow, hopefully with some good news for a change.

Photo credit: Elena Ray, Be Life, Big Stock Photos

Monday, January 12, 2009


A week ago I mentioned that I was joining a group blog, and after everyone (Shiloh) finished spraying their monitors with coffee and tea, I promised I'd fork over the details as soon as things were settled.

I've joined Genreality, a group blog project started by author Sasha White. At present we have five members: Alison Kent, Joe Nassise, Sasha, Carrie Vaughn and Yours Truly.

I know what you're thinking -- Please, God, not another author group blog. Hold on, let me parade some of the differences with this one. For one thing, the focus of the blog is not from a single-genre POV. We all write in different genres and the range of our styles, experiences and work demands should keep the content fresh and lively.

This won't be a 24/7 "buy our freaking books" promotional blog, either. We're going to talk about craft, working as pros, and coping with the reality of the biz. You guys know how I feel about group endeavors -- I see three people standing together and talking, I walk the other way. But I had some good reasons for giving this a shot: it's a new approach to the concept of a group blog, the mix should be interesting, and it's not frivolous -- we can do this and hopefully contribute something meaningful and useful to NetPubLand versus the usual shaking of the Publishing pom poms.

I've thought about doing this before; Alison and I have even discussed blogging together a few times, but until now the right project never came along for us. I also think -- and I've even said this in a couple of interviews -- that Sasha White is a writer to watch. So this way I can keep an eye on her.

I don't plan to scale back my work here at PBW; this will be an extra side project like the photoblog. After five years of doing the same thing, I feel the need to evolve a little and try something different, too. If you let yourself get into a rut, you stagnate, and I don't want that.

Friday will be my day to post on Genreality, and I'm hoping it'll prove to be as much fun as the old Friday 20 feature I used to do here. No doubt we'll be talking a lot of shop, but I think readers as well as writers will find it interesting. I know there are plenty of people out there who read my books and occasionally mutter "What was she thinking?" Well, this is where I'll tell you.

Genreality is up and running now, although we'll officially open the blog doors on Monday, January 19th. If you get a chance, do stop in and say hello.

Next Blog Ten

Ten* Interesting People I Met While Clicking on Next Blog

Mixed Media Artist Penny: A Penny for Your Thoughts

Artist Frank Gerlitzki: Frank's Arts and More

South Dakota horse lover: Horses etc...

Deborah Bornsztein, who blogs about interior design, home decor, and accessories for the urban dog lover: House & Hound

(I love this one) Stay-at-home mom and her family, who are committed to not buy anything new (as in things from a retail store) for one full year: Less is More!

Designer/Illustrator Lis Timpone: Lis Timpone

Jodi, a young mother in Maine on a quest for simple living: Living the Road Less Travelled

Ralph, a clinical psychologist, author, Dad, photographer, jack Mormon and a lot more: Rotarians, Jesus and Talking Plants

Chadwick, Ben, Ryan, Tyler and Alyssa, a group of students participating in 2009 Lexus Eco Challenge: The Anti Pollution Revolution

Geographically-inspired artist Thorngren: Thorngren

*Okay, technically fourteen or eighteen people, depending on how you count them, but ten blogs.

What interesting people have you met out there completely by random chance? Let us know (and give us links) in comments.

(This list is all Eugenia's fault, too, since she made me wonder what would happen if I clicked on that Next Blog thing.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Portrait Into Story

When I need inspiration of any kind, I really love to look through the artwork published in magazines like International Artist. The latest issue (Dec/Jan '09) features the contest winners for IA's challenge to paint People and Figures, and most of the portraits just blew me away.

Like a photographer or any visual artist, painters tell stories in the portraits they create. When people are their subjects, very often the composition, colors, use of the surrounding or negative space and that indefinable thing called atmosphere define the person as much as the features, hair, clothing etc. While sometimes the artist's title or some obvious symbol used tell us who this person is and what the portrait is all about, most of the time you have to figure that out yourself.

For example, consider the second prize winning portrait from IA's contest, an absolutely gorgeous acrylic painting by Lancashire UK artist Robert Hefferan (click on any of the images in this post to see larger version):

It's been a while since I've seen something this beautiful done in acrylics. He should have won first prize, too, in my opinion. When I look at this lovely person poised against the piano, I wonder immediately why she's there, and not at the ball, or the wedding, or the concert. Then I start answering my own questions:

1. Ball scenario: Rosalinda knew she would never again dance with the handsome, mysterious stranger who had given her that single, perfect white rose. If she did, her stepfather would have him murdered, just like all the others.

2. Wedding scenario: Serena could not summon the energy to scream, weep, or tear apart her gown the way she had her veil and bouquet. She could only wait for her in-laws to arrive, and somehow find the words to tell them that Hamilton, their beloved son and her husband-to-be, had just run off to Cancun with his best man.

3. Concert scenario: Delia understood how important her debut tonight was, but the gown they had sewn her was so tight and stiff she was pretty sure she could play Chopsticks without using her hands.

Let's look at another (unidentified) painting from this issue, a portrait of two lovely ladies by artist Yanqun Xue:

When I see a portrait of more than one person, I think about how they relate to each other. Are they sisters, or strangers? Is this a rich lady and her maid, or a pauper being dressed by a princess (who obviously wants her to impersonate her so she can sneak out of the palace and meet her boyfriend, the handsome but penniless koi-pond attendant.)

Although their faces are serene, there's a lot going on here -- I can almost hear them thinking out loud, especially the girl at the back:

"This Hair Bumpit is never going to make her look like Eva Mendez."
"She might be rich, beautiful and beloved by everyone, but you could grow potatoes in the dirt behind these ears."
"This isn't wedding rice in her hair, but I think it rhymes with it."

Finally, there was a wonderful painting among the finalists for the IA contest that made me smile the moment I turned the page:

Derek McGowan's Girls Night Out is amazingly rich with realism and life and movement. The contrasts between the three women portrayed in this oil painting make it seem like a snapshot, one moment of conversation between girlfriends frozen in time. This one is really my favorite of the three because it's the beauty of reality, the wondrous things you can see in the people around you every day.

I find all three of the ladies great character studies, and I really love the chick in green. I bet she's a pistol. But the woman in the center of this portrait is rather mysterious. She's listening to her friends, and yet I get the feeling at the same she's a million miles away. She has on this great outfit and is obviously ready to have a good time, but she's also looking at her makeup rather than applying it. The way she holds the little palette and brush make me think she's having second thoughts. Maybe she doesn't want to be there, but where else would she rather be, and why? Answering those questions would give me the foundation of the story I'd write for her.

If you do decide to try looking for story inspiration in artistic portraits, I wouldn't jump right into writing the next Girl with a Pearl Earring or The Picture of Dorian Gray. I think the best place to start is with a single characterization (and you can even apply a version of my three questions: Who is the person in the portrait? What do they want? What's the worst thing that can happen to them?) Once you've done this a few times, then try interpreting a portrait of two or more people, and when you do note the differences in how you respond to them as a storyteller.

I'll wrap this up with a quote from portrait artist Robert Hefferan: "I strive to capture a moment in time; the light the creates the mood of the painting and gives the subject real emotion." I think that's all any of us can do, whether we use paint and brush or ink and paper.

(Note: all of the above images were scanned from the Dec/Jan '09 issue of International Artist and are copyright the respective artist. To see more beautiful portraits, pick up a copy of the issue at a bookstore or newstand near you that carries fine arts magazines.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kyn Poll 2009

I'm planning out my 2009 work schedule, and it looks like I can write at least one, possibly two Darkyn e-books to post on Scribd before the end of the year. These will be just like the other Darkyn free e-books I've published myself; they'll be available to readers all over the globe for reading online, downloading, printing and educational/non-profit distribution. *Note 9/3/10: Since 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.

Last year you all were kind enough to vote for which characters you wanted to see in my 2008 free e-book, which ended up being Lucan, Sam and Jamys. As before I'd like to write new stories about existing characters and story lines, but now that the series is concluded I thought you all might want to see a new set of characters ala the Juliana trilogy.

So two questions for you this year: would you like to see some existing characters from the Darkyn series in the 2009 e-book, or do you want some brand-new characters this time? If you choose existing characters, who are you interested in reading about this time? (I'm going to rule out Lucan, Sam and Jamys in advance, as they had their turn in Incarnatio last year.)

Warnings and Disclaimers: If you have not yet read Stay the Night, the final book in the series, you may not want to read the other comments to this post because there are bound to be spoilers mentioned. Please remember that Alex and Michael's storyline is now finished and I think after seven books they really deserve a long vacation. I also reserve the right to veto any suggestion because I'm the author, I have a few other things planned for the Darkyn, and that's all I'm going to tell you.

Let me know what you think in comments, and thanks for helping me out with this.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Charity Requests

The new year usually results in a lot of bad moods. It's understandable -- this is the time of year when most folks begin diets, quit smoking, give up alcohol, return to the grind of the day job, see the balance on their credit cards soar, hear all the dismal economic news, start worrying about filing their taxes and so on. I can't think of a month I like less than January.

Things are a bit worse all the way around this year, thanks to the recession, the stock market crisis and soaring unemployment. I've been getting flooded with public and private charity requests. There are a lot of people in need out there, there always are, but I expect it will escalate very rapidly in the months ahead.

I had to turn down a lot of folks this month who asked for donations or for me to post solicitations for donations here at PBW. I wish I could help everyone, but no one has unlimited resources, not even me. In the past I've used PBW a few times to promote causes I felt were deserving, but I really have to stop that now. People are getting upset with me for not automatically giving my support. They don't understand that if I did that, this place would eventually turn into Paperback Writer's Charity Blog.

I'm going back to the way I used to handle publishing charity-related/fund-raising activities, which was privately or anonymously. I've worked with a few of you out there on projects like that in the past, and I think you'll agree it's the best way for me to stay actively involved without raising unrealistic expectations or causing hurt feelings.

As my final charity request here at the blog, I'd like to remind everyone that although it's January, and everyone is in a bad mood, and many of you are also being flooded with requests, please don't let that to stop you from helping others. Doing your part doesn't have to be a big huge deal. If you have a couple of extra bucks in your Paypal account, donate it to someone in need. If money is tight, clean out your closets or your pantry and donate what you aren't using to a family shelter or a food bank. If you have a free afternoon, volunteer your time at a local school or library or hospital. But do what you can when you can, and stay involved.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Color Blind

Writers often obsess about little details, and I'm no exception. For the last month I've been trying to figure out how to describe the eyes of one of my characters. Her eyes are blue; a very specific shade of blue. I can see her face clearly in my mind, but try as I might I cannot come up with a description of her eye color that satisfies me and conveys to the reader what I envision.

Yes, she has blue eyes, but they're not just blue. If you're a writer, you understand what I mean.

No one ever discusses important writing stuff like this. Only once did I get a handout cheatsheet during a romance writing workshop from a big name author who takes color names from cosmetic products for her eye descriptions. I've never used it because I hate makeup and some of the color names are stupid (like plum brown -- last time I checked, a brown plum was a prune. She had prune-colored eyes? I don't think so.)

Aside from real people, food, weather and nature have been my primary sources of eye color description inspiration. I also like to read through yarn magazines for unique color names. Yarn manufacturers never sell just blue yarn, you know. They sell Hyacinth, Night Sky, Dark Teal, Marine, Royal, Cadet, Morning Glory, Sea Spray, Heather, Delft, Montana, Cobalt, Lake, Beach Party and Periwinkle blue yarns. Thanks to Lion Brand's latest catalog, the next female character I write may end up with champagne-colored eyes.

But none of those shades of blue, beautiful as they are, match my character's eyes.

I'm starting to wish I'd given her black or gray eyes. Those are my two favorite eye colors to describe because you can find a lot of synonyms for black and gray that don't sound too hokey or overblown. You can overuse an eye color in fiction, so once I write a protagonist with black or gray eyes I try to use different colors for at least the next five books. Which is probably why I gave this silly ditz blue eyes. Not that they're just blue, you understand.

New writers may think eye descriptions are tough to do in the beginning of your career, but I think the more books you write, the more difficult the task becomes (if you're not interested in repeating yourself over and over, that is.) After writing all these novels, I'll admit it's become a real chore to think up something I haven't done.

My guy has gorgeous hazel eyes, which he passed on to our son. Our daughter got stuck with my genes, and our eyes are gray, green or blue, depending on the lighting and what color we wear. The department of transportation says they're green, my optometrist says they're gray, and my mother says they're blue. My daughter and I call them sea-colored to cover all the bases.

But no, my character's eyes are much lighter in color than ours, and they don't turn green or gray, so forget that.

I should have given her brown eyes. I love brown eyes. I grew up in a neighborhood chock full of beautiful Latinas, and I think that's why I've always envied girls with brown eyes. A lot of my favorite female characters have big brown eyes. Except this one. Or I could give her glasses and cover them up. But actually very few of my characters wear glasses to correct vision. This is because I've lived in the damn things since I was three.

I'll keep working at it. No matter how original you try to be with describing eye color, eventually someone else is going to cook up the same idea. I'd never read a book with a character with opal-colored eyes, so I was feeling rather smug and pleased with myself when I used that to describe Marco's eyes in the Juliana trilogy -- until a few months later, when another author came out with the same description for her protag's eyes.

Hmmmm. I wonder if I can get away with giving her blue opal eyes . . .

Related links:

Val Kovalin over at Obsidian Book Shelf has a great page here about writing eye colors.

Want to know how eye color is passed along? Check out How Are Human Eye Colors Inherited?

Want to know what color baby's eyes will probably be? Try's Eye Color Calculator.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Better Lies

Ten Things to Explain Why You Can't Update Your Blog

An anonymous reviewer on said my book was the worst story ever written in the English language, and now I'm afraid to write anything in case I top that.

As long as your readers don't see the last review for my book, you should be okay.

I forgot to log on to Twitter for like three days and now I have 4,975 twits to read.

Because we all know how important it is to keep up with the twits.

I have jury duty and they won't let me bring my laptop into the courthouse.

If you need another couple of weeks to screw off, just say you have grand jury duty, hint that you're deciding whether or not to indite an Italian-American, and then complain about how long you have to wait in the morning before your spouse will go out and start the car for you.

I spent all night writing the epic love scene between Duke Sebastian and Elizabeth Rosalynd Annette-Marie Jacquelyn on the ship in the mate's cabin behind the barrel of grog while bloodthirsty mercenary brigands hired by the evil greedy uncle boarded and searched the ship for any nubile spunky young virginal golden-haired heiresses and disillusioned but buff semi-alcoholic cynical rakes whose pantaloons don't require padding.

Hey, we've all been there. I mean, who wouldn't be exhausted after working seventeen hours trying to describe two impossibly beautiful people almost having sex in a one by two foot rat-infested space while hiding from killer pirates?

Ninjas broke into my house last night and stole all of my black clothes, so I have to go to the mall.

Aka the all-purpose goth get-out-of-blogging for free card. If you're an inspirational author, substitute "church ladies" for "ninjas" and "twinsets" for "black clothes."

Someone told me this was International Blow Off Your Blog Day.

If someone asks who, say it was me. I'll cover for you.

The leeeeeeeetteeeeeeeeeer "eeeeeeeeee" on my keeeeeeeeeyboard keeeeeeeeeeeeps sticking.

The explanation doubles as evidence.

The Preparation H isn't working.

There isn't a writer alive who will diss you for this one.

When I wrote my post last night I realized what a great story idea it was so now I don't want to post it in case some other writer reads it and thinks its a great story idea and steals it, you know, just like they did with that thing I wrote about renegade Russian captains defecting with prototype nuclear silent-running subs, that piece I had on driving your life with purpose, and of course that whole deal about Leonardo DaVinci hiding codes about Biblical scandals in his artwork.

And the best part is, we'll believe you without question (even though we're pretty sure you ripped off those ideas from us.)

and finally, if those ten things don't work:

Write a list of ten things to explain why you can't update your blog.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Robin Arrives

Stay the Night, my seventh Darkyn novel and the story of Robin of Locksley, has made it to the shelves and now concludes this series. An excerpt of my upcoming November '09 release, Shadowlight, is included in the back pages.

I was going to post the actual pink version of the cover art, but evidently I'm not that mature yet.

I always like to finish what I start, and it's a good feeling to know this set of stories is complete. The journey from If Angels Burn to Stay the Night was not an easy one, but as I wrote my way down the road, I learned a lot about myself and what I can do. I know my approach to this series was decidedly different from that of my peers, but I hope I was able to contribute some new ideas about story to the genre.

That's about it. If you have a couple of bucks left on a bookstore gift card from the holidays, and you'd like to see how the Darkyn series wraps up, I hope you'll invest in Stay the Night.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sub Ops

As a lot of writers are looking for work now, I'm going to try to list some new or updated sub ops more frequently in 2009. Because everyone is strapped, most will likely be small markets that offer minimal pay.

The way to think about a small market is primarily for the writing credit. If you write and sell a lot of short pieces to a variety of markets, however, over time those small payments can really add up and provide a good boost to your writing income.

Allegory e-zine is accepting submissions for its May '09 issue, reading period is Jan 1st through Feburary 28th. Seeks ". . . good, solid fiction. We specialize in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres. We will consider other genres, such as humor or general interest, provided that the work possesses an original, "quirky" slant in the Northern Exposure, Ally McBeal vein" to 5K (Ralan says that's not firm, so longer may be okay.) Pays $15 flat fee for stories and nonfic (2K max), will accept reviews but doesn't pay for them, reprints okay, electronic subs only, see guidelines for very specific formatting instructions.

Astropoetica webzine, which maps the stars through poetry, seeks "Poems of any length, style, or genre that explore astronomy, cosmology, astrophysics, planetary science, and/or archaeoastronomy. Scientific, mythic, historical, multicultural, and personal approaches are all welcome", no line limits, pays one-time $5 fee for one-time rights, sim subs okay, reprints okay, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more details.

Here's a nice one for those of us with permanent impairments: Breath and Shadow webzine accepts submissions ONLY from people who are disabled (a term used broadly, read their guidelines for qualifying disorders) and seeks ". . . writing on any topic for poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama; these pieces do not have to be "about" disability. However nonfiction, academic, and similar articles (profiles, interviews, opinion pieces) do have to relate to disability in some way." (They especially like disabled writers located in Maine and New England but will accept from those of us poor slobs who don't live in that beautiful region). Three poems/200 lines max per sub, fiction to 3K, creative nonfic to 3K (longer will be considered), drama to 3K. Very interested in nonfic interviews, reviews and the like, up to 3K. Pays on pub, $5 - $15 for poetry, $15 - $25 for fiction, and $15 - $25 for nonfiction, reprints okay, electronic subs only, see guidelines here for more details.

Crime and Suspense e-/audio-zine likes ". . . Golden Age crime stories, classic P.I. stories, modern detective stories, historical mysteries, spooky suspense, and cozy mysteries." Ralan says as of December 28th they've hiked up their pay rates and have no regular theme issue, so they're obviously doing well. Pays $7.50 for flash, $15 for fiction, $20 for audio, word limits to 4k, reprints okay, electronic subs only, see guidelines here.

Crossed Genres, the magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy with a twist, has gone from a 4theLuv to a paying market, published SF/F with one random genre genre piece per month fic/nonfic/art), Pays $10 +discount on print copies, word lengths 1-8K for fiction, 1/2- 3K for nonfiction, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines here for more details.

Demon Minds is accepting submissions for its Halloween 2009 issue from Jan 1st through June 1st, and is ". . . looking for horror artwork for our cover, interesting or offbeat horror poems, and tales of horror. For this edition we are giving special consideration to tales that shed new light on a traditional monster, Vampires (e.g. Dracula), Man Made Monsters (e.g. Frankenstein), traditional cursed creatures (e.g. Wolfman or Mummy). We are reserving three publishing slots for interesting, well crafted tales about traditional monsters or variants of traditional monsters (out of an estimated 20 slots for horror tales). Anyone who submits horror on a regular basis knows that most publishers won't touch a vampire, or werewolf story with a ten foot pole--we decided to be contrarians for the upcoming issue." I love these guys already. Pays: $50 for 1 featured fiction & cover art, everyone else gets exposure only, word limits 7.5K for web, 5K for print,no reprints, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more info.

Ethereal Gazette, a speculative showcase magazine,is seeking for its eighth issue ". . . horror stories and dark contemporary fiction with a supernatural horror charm behind them but at the same time I want touches of local urban culture thrown in for good measure. Please try to avoid the vampire fiction cliches that are out there these days, or try to avoid some kind of zombie theme. I will welcome a ghost story with open arms. Authors I published in the past were part of Weird Tales and one of them made it to Analog Magazine so I want bizarro fiction with elements of real life thrown in there. I am trying to keep it a little safer with a new President in office. Make the story as convincing as possible or if you come from a faith based background I am welcoming Weird Inspirational Fiction, if you want to know a little bit about that movement of fiction talk to your nearest pastor about speculative fiction." Check out the rest of the guidelines; the editor is very candid and helpful about what he wants to see. Pays $15 via Paypal only for word lengths of 2 - 8K, reprints not sure about that, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more details. [Note 1/7/09-- I'm scratching this one off the list on the advice of one of my trusted regulars; if you'd still like to sub to this market please first check out her warning in comments -- Lynn]

Laser and Sword magazine, out to episodic short fiction, seeks "Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopia, Adventure/Action Hero serial fiction" stories with Christian world view (serial fic/art). Bible standards: "King James/New King James preferred, but open to most other translations (does not include the Message or other paraphrases.) Note: quoting the bible not required." Has quarterly submission deadlines; the latest is Feburary 15th. Pays $10 per story. Word lengths 2.5 - 7.5K, reprints okay, no electronic subs -- must e-query first, see guidelines here for more info.

The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction bills itself as ". . . the first magazine to thoroughly explore the Bizarro genre. Each issue will be roughly half fiction and half nonfiction. It will be perfect bound with full-color covers. It will be published on a quarterly basis starting summer 2009. Each issue will feature: A featured novelette and short fiction of only the very best the genre has to offer; A featured interview with a major figure of the genre; Analysis of one author's body of work. Exploring influences, styles, and reoccurring themes; A large book review section; News, release schedule, articles, art, comics, and much more!" They're currently seeking "Short Fiction: 100 - 6,000 words, Novelettes: 6,000 - 20,000 words. 10,000 to 15,000 words are preferred. If the story is shorter or longer than the preferred length, it better be damn good. Please query first for novelettes. Novelettes submitted without a query will not be considered for publication" and are ". . . only looking for the highest quality in Bizarro fiction. If you are planning on submitting fiction you better have read both Bizarro Starter Kits (at the very least)." Pays on pub, 1 cent per word to a max of $100.00, query on reprints, electronic subs only, see guidelines here for lots more details.

UK-based Neon is a " . . . literary magazine, published online every quarter, and featuring the kind of imaginative, stylised poetry and prose not generally found in British magazines. We focus particularly on the new, the experimental and the strange. Some themes we are interested in include: isolation, post-modernism, technology, dislocation, apathy, the apocalypse, memory, Kirk Cameron and urban decay. We have a strong, unique aesthetic that we work hard to maintain. We serve our readers by publishing the best fiction and poetry we can find. We serve our writers by making the submission process as easy and friendly as possible. Neon was previously published as FourVolts Magazine." Pays £3-5 (based on length), no word limit, query on reprints: query, electronic submissions only.

All of the above listings were found at, which is the online Grand Central Station of sub ops and small market information.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Thinking Pink

Since I found out about the unattractive changes made to my cover art for Stay the Night, I've been wrestling with how best to deal with it. You all have been great sports and kept me smiling at times when I probably would have yanked out all my hair. So I thank you for the many comments, e-mails, and immensely helpful support. I would look terrible bald.

Charlene, you single-handedly kept me from doing something really stupid by suggesting I write this, and I owe you.

I did consider using the unwelcome pink color scheme to help promote the book when it's released on Tuesday. Surely no one will be able to miss spotting the novel, not even from the International Space Station, but we're supposed to promote our books and it was tempting to use the screwup as a gimmick.

Some of you suggested I tie in with the release a charity drive for breast cancer research, since that noble cause also uses pink as as symbol. I have to be honest -- as nice as it would feel to turn this around and use it to raise money for charity, I'm not comfortable with that. I think we should all donate to worthy causes, but not because I didn't do my job.

I dropped the ball on this book because I was busy, and didn't follow up on the cover art as I should have. I trusted others to do the right thing instead of making sure they did. It's a very tough lesson, and an embarrassing one, but as long as I've been doing this, by now I should have already learned it.

Some people have said I've overreacted, and that's probably true. This is just one book, after all. I've published plenty of others. I'll publish more. Who cares? I should be grateful that I am working and published when so many other writers aren't, and that's also true. As an author I am expected to be a cheerleader of Publishing, and forever shake my pom poms, and act as if every disaster was all part of the plan.

(I had quite a bit here to tell you just how I feel about the pink pom poms I've been handed, but it was really depressing and I don't think whining to gain reader sympathy is a way to sell books, either.)

Bottom line, it's my name on the book, my novel printed on the pages, and my responsibility to see to it that it's handled appropriately at all stages of production. As undignified and unfair a situation as this is, I really have no one to blame but myself. This is my book, warts and all; the buck has to stop here. I promise you that I will take this unhappy experience and use it to be more vigilant in the future.

As for the promotional aspect, I'm not going to treat this novel any differently than the other six in the series. If you like my writing and want to read the story and see how the series ends, I would appreciate the sale. But don't invest in Stay the Night simply because it's got an ugly pink cover, or may glow in the dark, or can double as a tanning bed. Don't plunk down your hard-earned money only because you feel bad for me. Buy it because you want to read what's inside. That is the only reason you should ever buy any book.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Year on Scribd

*Note 9/3/10: Since 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.

Today marks my first anniversary of posting my free e-books on Scribd, a public document hosting site which provides free reads to everyone on the planet.

From the beginning I was impressed with how easy the site is to use, and how quickly I could publish an e-book by using their upload service. I started with about a dozen of the e-books and stories I'd already written, and in a few days created an instant virtual library.

Scribd also provided me with hard numbers in the form of statistics, such as running totals of views, downloads, global geographic locations of my Scribd readers and approval citations. When one of my documents proved very popular in a short period of time, Scribd gave me a nice reward by listing it on their Hot List, or featuring it on their home page, which brought in even more readers.

The comments and e-mail I received through the site were immensely helpful. I had over four hundred exchanges with readers interested in my print work and other writers who had questions about electronic publishing, copyright, promotional e-books and related subjects. That helped me expand my horizons, pick up some new readers, and also pass along what I'd learned.

PBW benefitted from Scribd as well. I was able to use the site to host my diagrams, workshop e-books and other materials I used to teach, which came in very handy during my virtual workshops last summer. The most popular document I have on Scribd to date is, in fact, my Novel Notebook, with over ten thousand views in nine months. NaNoWriMo'ers also stopped in by the hundreds in November to check out and download my Ten Point Plotting Template, and I hope that proved helpful to all the first time novelists out there.

The only downside to using Scribd were a few obvious troll and SPAM messages (can't escape them no matter where we go.) Some writers have contacted me and expressed their displeasure with the project, as they still believe that garbage RT published about me. What I'm doing is no different than an author who hands out free books at writer conferences -- my way is just more efficient, doesn't cost anything, and reaches a much wider, more interested audience. I also don't have to travel, pay con fees, stay in strange hotels, eat mystery chicken or have my immune system compromised while I'm at it. Furthermore, I'm not posting or handing out copies of my print work; my e-books on Scribd are all self-published, not-for-profit original content, and they're not available anywhere else. That = exclusive content readers can't buy in stores.

At the moment advertising may or may not become an issue. A couple of days ago I did ask Scribd to take down the Random House picture ad for Tess Gerritsen's novel The Surgeon that was placed on my doc page for Incarnatio, as more than a few people thought I'd put it there myself. As it happens, I've never read the book, nor was I consulted about the ad placement. I receive no compensation for the ads Scribd lists on my doc pages, nor do I want any. While I admire Ms. Gerritsen's success and wish her only more of the same, I feel it's inappropriate for her publisher to use my free e-book pages in this manner. Readers can and already have mistaken the ad as my personal endorsement of the book. I explained this all to the guys at Scribd, and as far as I know the ad has since disappeared, so hopefully this won't happen again.

Overall the problems were few, and Scribd in essence allowed me to distribute in a one-year period over seventy-five thousand copies of my free stories, novellas, novels and nonfic materials. I never had to solicit the readers or SPAM them. If the reader wanted an electronic or printed copy, they took care of it from their end. I didn't have to ship anything or purchase expensive advertising. My Scribd virtual library is self-sustaining and, once an e-book is uploaded and made available, requires no maintenance on my part whatsoever. There was no fuss with international rights or making my stories available in countries that will not import or publish my print work. People looking for the sort of stuff I write found it through site searches. They are readers all over the globe looking for something to read, which surely is the most valuable market out there, and Scribd is a direct conduit to them.

I can't say how many folks who read my work on Scribd later went out to buy my print work -- there's just no way to know that. However, last year the print books I published showed a significant boost in sales numbers. Since I continue to receive little or no promotional support from my publisher for my books (which is fine, because I've been around a long time and I have an established readership, and they need their advertising budgets to help out new writers) and I haven't done anything differently except put my e-books on Scribd, I'm going to give Scribd credit for helping to expand my readership in 2008.

Best of all Scribd remains 100% free, so readers who may not be able to afford print books right now can still find plenty to read on the site. Given the current state of the economy, we need that kind of resource. As for writers, as long as you agree to Scribd's terms of use, anyone can create an account and upload their documents. I don't think you can find a better deal than that anywhere, on or offline.