Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dragon Therapy

In between monster writing & editing sessions, I'm reading Kiss of Fire, the first novel in Deborah Cooke's Dragonfire series (I went and bought the first two in the series, as promised) and feeling very glad I did. As I suspected, the first novel in the series sets up the author's world-building for me in increments so I can get up to speed on a very complex paranormal/alternative/secret society. This will help me as I read on toward book three, which was the book I picked up first and then set aside.

So far I like the characters in book one. Although they fit the typical hero/heroine paranormal romance template (he's a protective alpha male with the soul of a beta, and she's every clueless gal born with a secret power she has yet to discover/manifest) I still like them. The writing is lovely, the storyline is solid and it all works. Even the well-covered destined-to-mate aspect of the plot isn't putting my hackles in raise mode. If I carry your book in my purse when I go to pick up the kids from school so I can read a couple pages while waiting in line, trust me, it works.

What I like in a read is not always what gets my personal stamp of writer approval. For example, if a guy comes into my bookshop and turns into a dragon, one of my characters would not take it in stride. My characters are probably going to freak out. There will be screaming, and running and, if possible, a shrieking 911 call. Sara, the protagonist in Cooke's first novel, does none of my character type things. She sits down hard on the floor. While dragon guy shifts back into human form and tries to enlighten her as to her role in his life as his destined baby incubator, she still doesn't freak. She thinks a little about dipping him in chocolate, but ultimately doesn't believe him and (nicely) kicks him out of the store.

It's not what I would write. The dragon guy would be in some serious trouble in one of my stories. He wouldn't get a chance to casually chat about destiny and mating; he'd probably be busy removing some sharp pointy objects sticking out of his hide. He'd likely have to grab my girl and fly off to some hidden crystal cavern where he could keep an eye on her while she works through her rage, fear, denial, etc. She'd try to kill him and/or escape, they'd tussle, things would progress from there. Love isn't a polite dance to me; as Pat Benetar advised, it's a battlefield.

I'm also wondering just how you fit a dragon in a bookstore. The logistics of it. How passing pedestrians would react to seeing through the front window this dragon guy in his scaly form. The books catching on fire when he exhales. Smoke alarms going off. The fire department arriving. That sort of thing. I'm all about the reality and the chaos.

These are very pretty dragons, too. Jewel-like scales, gorgeous eyes, in colors that have a lot of semi-precious stone references: topaz, malachite, garnet, etc. It's a trick many romance writers do to make a traditionally unattractive creature more appealing to the female reader; kind of like toy manufacturers turning big, smelly, sweaty horses into My Little Rainbow Ponies. I'm not really a fan of that either; I like the creatures to be creatures, warts and all.

So how can a writer like me enjoy a book by a writer who doesn't write like me, has a different approach to characters and makes very different story choices? While I may think about how I would have written the story I'm reading, I try not to take the judgmental approach. Every book does not have to be written according to some list of rules and procedures in my head. As a reader I want to be more like a sponge -- simply soak it all up and let it engulf me. Then, when I'm fully immersed in the other writer's story, I judge my feelings, not the other writer. Did I enjoy the entire experience (even if it wasn't what I would have done?) If yes, I'll buy more of that author. If it was fair to middling, I'll probably try the author again. If I didn't enjoy it at all I'll probably pass on the author (exception: if it's a new author I may give them some time in the biz before trying them again. I try never to judge an author by the first five novels.)

If I've not become immersed, it's always because something kept me out of the story. Less than professional writing is #1 on that list; derivative writing is #2. If you're not writing at a professional level, you won't immerse me, and I guess that's just an occupational hazard. If you've cloned something I've already read by another author, ditto.

If I've been burned too many times by other authors in that genre, I think that factors in as well. I've mentioned that I am not a fan of dragon books; for years I've avoided them like writer conferences. I think it came from a combination of first having read the best dragon books ever published and then plowing through all the subsequent dreck trying to find more gems. Eventually I just got tired of the mediocrity and quit buying them. It's been at least four or five years now since I read a dragon book, so I've had time to get over my unhappy reading experiences. Reading Deborah Cooke made me realize that; I'm not sneering every time a dragon pops up in the story.

This will be helpful in years to come for another reason -- my daughter is crazy about dragons, loves to read and write dragon stories, and even draws and sculpts dragons (here's one of the dragon figurines that she made freehand in Art class last year.) Sometimes I wonder if she gravitated toward them because of my dislike -- the classic teenage response -- but it's now become her thing. I don't have to like everything my kids like, but I like to stay involved. Kat has already worked her way through all of my dragon book keepers, now maybe I can find some new works that she'll enjoy without giving myself a migraine in the process.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

July CR

One of the magazines I pick up now and then is Consumer Reports; they're independent and nonprofit and buy products anonymously, right off the shelf like we do. Then they test them and publish ratings that score them by quality, price, features and so forth. They also don't accept paid advertising or free samples from manufacturers, so they never sell their souls for the Almighty Buck. When CR endorses something, it's because it's earned it.

If you're in the market for a new or better digital camera, The July '09 issue of CR has an eight-page in depth analysis of 77 point-and-shoot and SLR (single-lens reflex) models, including pricing comparisons, features, reliability, buying tips, their recommendations for best buys, manufacturer claim verifications, common consumer mistakes to avoid and more. They've put up some samples of the information from the article on their web site here, but of course you have to buy an online subscription or pick up the print issue to get the entire enchilada.

Also among the other interesting articles in this issue is a lab test comparison of two e-book readers: Amazon's Kindle 2 and the Sony Reader PRS-700BC. CR says overall Kindle beats Sony; naturally your mileage may vary.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cafe Temptation

"Pssst."

Wilma Ritewell looked up from the bestelling vampire romance novel she was mentally dissecting. The man in the cheesy suit didn't look like anyone important, but at Cafe Temptation, you never knew. "Yes?"

"I don't mean to bother you, but . . . ." He glanced from side to side before he leaned over the tiny table, his grin as wide as his lapels. "You're a writer, aren't you?"

Wilma glanced down at her coffee-stained AlphaSmart, the stack of soda-stained index cards, and her Platinum Koi fountain pen, which was leaking onto the beverage nap under her cold cup of mango chai. "How did you guess?"

"You're not writing." He dropped down in the chair she'd forgotten to push away from her table. "So how's it going? Are you blocked? Stuck in a sagging middle? Find out your crit partner stole your title?"

"No, no, and no." Wilma placed the paperback cover-down on the table. "Are you taking a survey or something?"

"Nah. I saw you from across the cafe and thought you looked a little depressed. I'm a sucker for a blue writer." He parked his latte on the table and sat back to inspect her. "So, you come here often to not write?"

She stiffened. "I don't think that's any of your business." She squinted at him. "Just what is it that you want?"

"Hey, take it easy. It's not like I'm a reviewer or anything." He held up both hands, palm-out. "I like writers. Really. They're some of my best clients."

Oh, God, he was some self-pubbed how-toer. "Really." She started gathering up her things. "I do have to get back to my home office--"

"Ever see any of the real stuff?"

She blinked. "Excuse me?"

He chuckled. "That's a joke. I deal in information for writers. Real, solid information. 100% pure." He patted the briefcase by his right leg. "Not that I'm saying you need any. I bet you've got, what, fifteen books in print? Twenty? Last four on the Times extended list?"

"Six in print, and two made the USA Today list." Wilma sighed. "Look, whatever it is that you're selling--"

He reared back, his expression horrified. "Lady, I am not here to sell you anything tonight. I saw you frowning at that paperback, evidently not impressed, and thought you might like to talk to someone who understands. Obviously I was mistaken." He started to stand.

"Please, don't go." Wilma felt about two inches tall. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you. I've had a tough year."

He subsided back in the chair. "That's all right; we all have. Everyone knows what terrible pressure writers are under these days. I'm surprised you didn't bite my head off before I could say hello."

"I'd never do that." She exhaled slowly before forcing a smile. "So, what sort of information do you handle?"

"The best kind." He leaned close again. "Everything I sell comes with a complete writer-satisfaction guarantee."

"That's probably not a good idea." She frowned. "Writers are very hard to satisfy."

"Don't I know it." He propped his briefcase on the table, popped the locks and raised the lid. Inside was a copy of the latest issue of Publishers Weekly and a Levenger catalogue. "That's why I make it my business to sell exactly what a writer needs and wants most."

"I can't afford the subscription to Publishers Weekly," Wilma said politely. "And Levenger's sends their catalogue to me in the mail."

"Oh, those are my personal copies. What I handle is more valuable." He took out a sealed plain brown envelope. "Like the names and addresses of all the bookstores the Times uses to compile their bestseller list. With store manager names, home addresses and marital status. It's one of my bestsellers." He chuckled at his own joke.

"If one of my novels ever makes the bestseller list," she said flatly, "it will be because my readers put it there. Not because I cheated."

"You've got principals. I like that about you." He slowly withdrew a very small envelope. "Would you have the same problem with acquiring all the passwords to your editor's and agent's e-mail accounts?"

Wilma swallowed, hard. "That would be unethical, not to mention illegal."

"Professional and personal e-mail accounts," he murmured. "Total access to everything they write . . . about you, your books, that sweet young thang they just signed to write, what, the same sort of romances you're writing? For twice what they're paying you? Or is it really triple?"

"I'm not a snoop." Wilma stood and began packing up her tote bag. "Besides, my editor keeps accidentally sending me the wrong e-mails all the time, so I already know what they're paying that other writer." Quadruple the advance they paid her, the bastards.

"Hang on, honey. I've got four words for you." He grabbed her arm and waved a CD envelope in front of her face. "Bootleg subscription to BookScan."

"No." She tried to pull free. "I can wait the eleven months for my royalty statements. I'll have my numbers then."

"But what about sweet young thang's numbers?" he persisted. "Shouldn't you know how well she's selling before you write that cover blurb your editor is demanding from you for her next book? You know, before your editor yanks your slot and gives it to her?"

"Stop it." Wilma closed her eyes tightly. "Just stop it."

"Honey, listen to me." His grip eased. "It's just information. You should have access to it. I can make that happen. Tell you what." He stroked her arm with one hand as he reached into his briefcase with the other. "I'll give you something for free. Something you've wanted for a long, long time." He slipped a Post-It into her hand. "The real name, home and work address and telephone numbers for that Publishers Weekly reviewer who hatchet-jobbed your last novel." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "And there's more where that came from."

Wilma swayed for a moment, dizzy and flushed as she clutched the slip of paper. Somehow, with a superhuman effort, she crumpled the Post-It and threw it in his face. "Go to hell."

"C'mon, baby, don't be so uptight--"

Slamming the briefcase shut on his hand and hearing him squeal with pain gave Wilma almost as much satisfaction as the Post-It. Almost. "And take your writer porn with you." She stalked out of the cafe.

Another woman sitting near Wilma's table came over with a cup of ice and a napkin. "You poor man. Here." She set aside her notebook to wrap some ice in the napkin before holding to his bruised hand. "Are you all right?"

"I will be, thanks." He glanced at the sonnet she'd been writing, smiled at her and opened his briefcase, flipping up the divider to reveal the latest issue of Poets & Writers and some NEA Grant applications. "You're a poet, aren't you?"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Job, Sub & Contest Ops

From Craigslist NY: "Brazilian D├ęcor (www.braziliandecor.com) is a new e-commerce site dedicated to sale Brazilian Home Decoration products. We are seeking for a writer for a freelance job, someone very creative with excellent writing & editing skills. The candidates must be native English speakers. The job functions will include: Writing products descriptions; Writing articles; Templates e-mails; Create contents for Newsletters; Checking & review website contents; Etc." Apply via e-mail with 1) A cover letter with an attached resume, 2) Writing Sample(s), and 3) Hourly wage expectations. See job listing for more details.

Also from Craigslist NY: "Looking for a Ghost Writer to research and write Human Resource articles. Some knowledge of HR practice would be helpful, but not necessary in lieu of research skills. Ability to write business articles that use particular language to appeal to a target audience. A good grammarian is needed, ability to self-edit. Articles are 500 words each, $40 per article. I have a need that requires on average 6 or 7 articles per month. This can be an ongoing contract position for the right writer! Please respond with the words Ghost Writer in the Subject line. Please respond with a short note about your experience. Please also respond with two (2) samples of your writing, ideally similar length informative articles. (BE SURE TO CUT AND PASTE SAMPLES INTO BODY OF EMAIL, ATTACHMENTS WILL NOT BE OPENED.)" Telecommuting okay, see job listing for more details.

Hypersonic Tales are "currently looking for flash fiction of 1000 words or less. Please query first if your submission is any longer, so that we can reject it in a gentle manner." [Gentle? Really? I might sub to them.] Further info: "We will gladly include any links to the author's personal web page along with a short (one or two paragraphs) bio. Please do not send any previously published material. We also will be accepting cover art submissions. We pay $10. If accepted your story or comic strip will be paid $5.00. Payment for cover art will be negotiable. We require one-time use rights for a period of 12 months after initial publication. Stories accepted will appear in text and audio formats. Submission guidelines may change at the discretion of the editors." See site for more details.

Another new Twitter market, Nanoism, is accepting all genres with a soft spot for literary fiction (note: stories not to exceed 140 characters.) Payment: "We pay $1.50 for unpublished pieces and $1 for material that’s already available online. We pay a flat $5 for serials. We also include a short bio with your story, and we’ll gladly link to your personal site and/or twitter account (just fit it in the bio!)." See site for more details.

TheNovelette.com is holding a story contest: "War may be hell, but conflict is the spice of any good story. How conflicted can you be in 750 words or less?" [Oh, honey, you have no idea.] The rules: "...by submitting your story to thenovelette.com writing contest, you agree to have your work displayed on our website indefinitely, to have your work included in online and/or print collections at the discretion of the owners of thenovelette.com, and that you release thenovelette.com from any and all liability relating to your submission. Writing contest entrants must submit original work that has been written by them personally and for which they are the sole copyright owners. After vetting for appropriateness, all entries will be published at thenovelette.com. Thenovelette.com does not request exclusive rights to publish entries." Awards: "We make two awards in each contest. The first is the Reader’s Award, given to the piece that receives the highest rating from our online readers. The second is the Editor’s Award, given by our editors. Winners in each category will receive a $25 e-gift certificate to BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com." No entry fee, and the deadline for this one is June 15th.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Burgers and Birds

My guy and I like to grill out now and then. Neither of us are grillmasters, but every couple of weeks we'll throw some burgers or chops or kabobs on a small gas Char-Broil we keep in the back yard. It's nothing fancy, and it's getting pretty old now, but it still gets the job done:



Bad weather kept us from grilling out over Memorial Day weekend, so tonight I decided to cook up some burgers for a belated celebration. I went out with my guy to prep the grill, which we first move to the center of the yard because we live in a wood-frame house and I'd rather not set it on fire. As my guy rolled the grill away from the wall, something small, red-breasted and fast flew out from under it.

"Uh, honey," I said. "A bird just flew out of there."

He looked at me. "What's a bird doing . . . " He looked at the grill, which we haven't used for at least a month. "Oh, no."

"Lift the lid and check," I suggested.

And he did. Then he said a lot of words I'd rather not repeat because our daughter is probably reading this. When he was done making his observations about the intelligence of certain lower orders, I told him I'd get the camera, because no one was going to believe this without proof.



At first we couldn't figure out how she built the nest under the grill rack -- the spaces between the bars seemed to narrow for her to fit through, and it was way too heavy for her to dislodge. Then I looked at the underside, where there are a couple of bird-size holes rusted through the base of the grill. Somehow she flew under and in through this labyrinth of holes in order to build the nest.



The grill's ignition switch stopped working about two years ago; before then my guy used to light it without first lifting the lid. Fortunately now he has to lift the lid first and look as he turns on the gas and lights the heating element with a lighter, so even if I hadn't seen the mother fly out, the nest wouldn't have been toast. Lucky for her.

This time I just cannot fathom this choice. That grill is black metal, and I know it has to get extremely hot inside during the day. It reeks of gas and burnt things. During the first day of bird school, doesn't anyone point to a grill and say, "Never ever ever nest in that"?

I didn't get a good enough look at the mother to identify the bird, but from the size and color of the eggs I'm guessing another type of wren. And if all five of these hatch, I think that will make a grand total of eighteen babies born this spring (five wrens from the potted plant, four mourning doves from the nest between the bird houses, and four cardinals who just hatched in the hanging sweet potato vine -- photos of the newborns are over at the Photoblog today, btw.)

Looks like we'll be grilling indoors with the stovetop grill pan for the next month or so. I'm also expecting Animal Planet to call any day now and offer me my own show. Maybe I'll call it Ditzy Birds and Dumb Nesting Places.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Widgety

Hear that sizzling sound? That's me, in writer hell (or, the train wreck of revised deadlines that happens when your publisher moves your release date up a month early on the schedule.) I'm trying not to wimp out and put the blog on hiatus, but posting here will likely be eh until I make it through all seven levels and deal with some other things like the end of school, Father's Day and prep for LB&LI. Thanks in advance for understanding, and I'll try to get something of interest up regularly so your trip here isn't wasted.

Such as: For those of you who'd like to add polls to your site or blog but don't know how:



I made and customized this poll widget over at Vizu, after registering for a free account and going through a couple of very simple steps. Extremely easy amd totally painless. If I can do it, a toddler can.

Added: I had to wait until some votes came in before I posted this part, but Vizu also gives you a map of who responds to your poll, where they live/work, and what their answers are -- in this case, red for Hell, yes, and green for Hell, no (click to see larger version of map):

Monday, May 25, 2009

Freely Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Nothing

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

Balabolka is a "is a Text-To-Speech (TTS) program. All computer voices installed on your system are available to Balabolka. The on-screen text can be saved as a WAV, MP3, OGG or WMA file. The program can read the clipboard content, view the text from DOC, RTF, PDF, FB2 and HTML files, customize font and background colour, control reading from the system tray or by the global hotkeys. Balabolka uses various versions of Microsoft Speech API (SAPI); it allows to alter a voice's parameters, including rate and pitch. The user can apply a special substitution list to improve the quality of the voice's articulation. This feature is useful when you want to change the spelling of words. The rules for the pronunciation correction use the syntax of VBScript" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

bookTomebookTome is "a book management system which allows users to enter information about their book collection and then sort and search this information in a variety of different manners. bookTome can catalog and manage your library or personal book collection and it is suitable for collections of all sizes and types. Main features:Add and edit books manually or using web services; Sort and organise your books by author, series, reading status or tags; Search your books with free-form text searching and links; Print out book lists, book information and wish lists; Keep track of books that you want to read with the wish list" (OS: Windows XP/Vista)

Efficient Diary is "a completely free while still beautiful, easy-to-use and powerful electronic diary software package. With its unique and powerful flash full-text search technique, you can simply enter a word in the diary to quickly find the corresponding entries! The product has a strong edit function similar to that of Microsoft Word. You can insert various items such as tables, pictures, emotions, URLs or even attachments. You can set the background color, background picture of each diary entry separately so your diary can be rich and colorful" Could double as an electronic novel notebook, too. (OS: Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/2003/Vista)

FocusWriter is "a fullscreen, distraction-free writing program. You can customize your environment by changing the font, colors, and background image to add ambiance as you type. FocusWriter features an on-the-fly updating wordcount, optional auto-save, optional daily goals, and toolbars that hide away to allow you to focus more clearly; additionally, when you open the program your current work-in-progress will automatically load and position you at the end of your document, so that you can immediately jump back in" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4; Windows XP)

Forgedit is "the user friendly developers text editor . . . for developers who want an easier way to get things done. ForgEdit is surprisingly powerful and easy to use, and has all the tweakability you need.
Support for more than 25 modes, 100+ configurable keyboard shortcuts, 20+ stock scripts, and all the character encodings your Mac has to offer" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5; G4, G5 or Intel CPU)

Hikidoc is "a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. HikiDoc allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid HTML (or XHTML)" (OS: Mac; open-source Ruby project)

MemoBlock "is a slick notepad application for Mac. You can store text notes in any font/color style you like, transfer content to iPods, export as vNote files and more. MemoBlock also has a cool alarm feature that you can set for individual notes, and notes can be divided into as many categories as you like. The latest version brings an improved find box, support for vNote (.vnt) files, and a over a dozen other changes" (OS: Mac)

PhotoNotesis "an easy way to attach labels to your favorite photos. You can mark friends and family, buildings, special places, whatever you like. It is tightly integrated with the Mac OS X Address Book, so it is easy to pick a name for a label. Labels are smart: When you have birthdays in your Address Book, PhotoNotes automatically displays the age of that person, using the camera date. Finding photos of friends is easy with PhotoNotes' extensive Spotlight support. Your albums are automatically indexed. When you search for a person from Spotlight, PhotoNotes automatically displays that person's photos and highlights him or her in the thumbnail previews. You can also export your labelled photos as an interactive HTML page" (OS: Mac OS X)

Social Poster "submits (your content) to all social and bookmarking websites including: Digg, Propeller, Reddit, Del.icio.us, Stumble Upon, Social Logs, Indianpad, Google, Technorati, Furl, Diigo, Wirefan, Bibsonomy, Blinklist, Blogmemes, Faves.com, Ask Jeeves, Simpy, Backflip, Spurl, Newsvine, Netvouz, Folkd, Blinkbits, Bmaccess, Shadows, Smarking, Sphinn, Magnolia and Yahoo. Easy access to all supported social websites; Fills all possible fields automatically; Easy copy & paste the fields that can't be filled automatically; Generates space-separated from the comma-separated tags; Generates quoted tags from the comma-separated tags" (OS: No info listed, but this looks like Windows.)

viJournal Lite, a freeware version of viJournal, is "designed as an analogue of the good old-fashioned page-a-day bound diary - the kind you buy in a stationer's. You write your entries under dated headers and save them collectively by month and year." Includes a bunch of other features as well (OS: Mac OS X 10.5 or later, but they have a special download for Mac OS X 10.4.4 or later.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Winners

It was interesting to see the authors and titles that are being recommended out there. I've got a couple more to check out when I make my next trip to the bookstore. In the meantime, the winners of the Reading Mischief giveaway are:

Charlene, who read Vertical Run by Joseph Garber.

Nadia, who read the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher

BuffySquirrel, who read The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.

Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gen Ten

Ten Things About Online Generators

ArchetypeWriting.com has a page of story starters and idea generators that can help with plot scenarios, character sketches, everyday problems and more.

Generate an extrasolar starchart over at Extrasolar Skies.

Have avatar but need a name? Get an interesting one from Outland.org's Name Generator.

Want a first name for a weird, alien or fantasy character? Try out Generatorland.com's First Name Generator.

You've got a business in your story; now name it with the Modern Company Names Generator.

Also from Generatorland.com, for you ladies writing those NASCAR romances, The NASCAR driver name generator.

The text/visual generator Plot Shot generates a random plot with random Flickr shots.

Got a mage character who needs to beef up his library? Try the Random Books Generator.

Nexi.com's Random Word Generator takes whatever text or word lists you feed it and recombines them. If you ever needed to create some names limited to a certain set of letters or vowel sounds, coin new words or just play with keywords for title ideas, this is the generator for you.

Need the name of a random but real American town or city but can't find your atlas? The USA place name generator "selects a random named location from 1990 United States Census data. Because the smallest towns have the same likelihood of being chosen as the largest cities, there's a decidedly rural flavor to the selections." It's also hooked up to MapQuest if you want to see where the town is located.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reading Mischief

One thing you do when you discover a great book is to pass it along. Since you all were kind enough to recommend some great titles to me, I wanted to do the same by giving away one of the books from my Instant TBR. There were a bunch of great reads in that pile, but when I considered which book I most wanted to share, the one that kept shouting MeMeMe was the one by the author who earned a debut spot on my keeper shelf: The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark.

I've already reported on what I thought of the story, but there's a bit more to it than that. The writing is gorgeous and smart without being pretentious or overly-academic. I felt immersed in Luciano's world, which hasn't been around for 500+ years, and the author breathed life into the era without constant dropping history info dumps on my head. Everything was quite frankly presented -- even the most unsavory aspects of existing in fifteenth-century Venice -- but it never pushed me out of the story. It actually brought back some wonderful memories; every time Luciano and Chef Ferrero worked together in the kitchen, I was seventeen years old again and back in my mom's kitchen, watching my dad cook (if you're looking for more concrete details, PK posted an excellent overview of the story here.)

This novel also reminded me of what it once meant to create the physical book; the sort of art that is almost disappeared altogether from Publishing. It's a lovely book to see, from the gorgeous cover art to the unique end papers. Hardcovers today are mass-produced with cheap materials; most fall apart after only a few years (and I own 160-year-old books that are holding together better than hardcovers I bought ten years ago, so I'm watching this happen in my own collection.) I'm sure this one will be no different, but it gave the illusion of being a novel made by more caring hands, and that was a delightful little fantasy.

If you'd like a chance to check out Ms. Newmark's novel for yourself, in comments to this post, name an author or book you read only because a friend recommended it (or if you have very quiet friends, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, May 23, 2009. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned hardcover copy of The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Typewriter Writer

I am an old writer. Back in the late sixties I started writing stories and poems on school notebook paper in pencil, then in the seventies graduated to pen and composition books and legal pads. Mom bought me a second-hand manual typewriter when I was thirteen, and I used that for eleven years until it literally fell apart. After that I bought a used IBM Selectric typewriter from a yard sale, and used that for writing until 1994, when my husband bought me my very first computer.

I've always thought that my learning to write by longhand and typewriter always put me at a disadvantage to younger, more tech-savvy writers. For most of my life I didn't have the marvels of the modern word processing program to help me write. No backups, no disc copies; just me, the pen or the typewriter, and the single hard copy. I've always felt a bit like the writer equivalent of Wilma Flintstone because of it.

I was explaining this disadvantage to one of my young writer friends the other day, in one of those "be grateful for what you've got" type conversations older writers like to have with youngsters. She was complaining about how slow her printer is, while I'm still riveted by the fact that I can print out an entire manuscript in less than an hour -- something that twenty years ago would have taken me a good two months to type.

"That's why you're able to write straight through everything, isn't it?" my friend asked me. "You trained to write on a typewriter, and you couldn't stop or go back or fix things."

I was surprised, but she was right. It's not easy to backspace and rewrite on a typewriter; with the two I owned I had to use White-Out or correction tape, or rip out the page and start over. I also couldn't review and edit anything I wrote before I printed it out -- naturally using a typewriter = printing it out instantly. Add to that the fact that back then typing paper was expensive, and my mom had a fit if I wasted even a single page of it.

I never thought about it before, but I guess subconsciously I did teach myself to wait until I was clear in my head about what I wanted to put down on the paper because of the limitations of my equipment. When I typed, I wrote straight through the page while trying to make as few errors or mistakes as possible. It's a different way of thinking and writing than what you do when you use a word processor. With a computer, you have an infinite number of chances to correct whatever you write, and you never have to print it out if you don't want to.

I think this may also explain why I'm considered to be such a fast writer. I've never thought I was, but I don't do all that backtracking, editing and rewriting most other writers do. I think if I'd learned how to write on a tool that allowed me to backtrack and edit and rewrite ad infinitum, I'd be a lot less productive. I think it's also helped me be more productive using VRS now, because I'm doing almost the exact same thing I once did on a typewriter -- composing in my head before I try to put down the words by voice.

I appreciate the many advantages the personal computer and the word processing program offer, and I don't think we should go back to using typewriters and carbon paper and White-Out. But now I do think I have a little advantage over younger writers, at least in how I trained myself to write -- on a machine that in twenty or thirty years probably won't exist anymore. Odd to think that mine is the last generation of typewriter writers.

How did you guys learn how to write, by longhand, typewriter or computer? How do you think it helped (or hindered) you as a writer? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Bio Pic

After seven years of hiding in my ivory tower avoiding the camera, I've finally caved in and let Publishing have an updated bio photo of me.

We put it together first thing in the morning; I didn't let them trowel on the makeup this time, nor did I let them touch up my white hair or freckles. I did a French twist with my hair at first, but that always makes me look like the Abominable Schoolmarm, so I shook it loose.

I was glad we went totally au naturale. Well, with clothes on, but it's 100% true to life. And here it is.

So what do you think? Should I have worn my hair up? Does the tea mug and the ancient Publishing Scroll 'o Wisdom make it look too busy? Or should I have been a little more daring, maybe clipped on an eye patch and a parrot on my forearm (hey, I did go to high school with Johnny Depp...)

(To update your own bio pic for free, head over to see my photographer.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Portrait of a Character

At the last serious art festival I attended, I wandered around with the kids without much purpose in mind other than to buy a few prints, talk to some artists and generally soak up the beauty and energy. There is something about being around intensely creative people that always recharges my batteries.

I also can't gush enough about how terrific it is to see art up close and in person. I always liked Salvadore Dali, but it wasn't until I saw a collection of his paintings at a museum that I realized just how insanely talented the man was.

Back to my art festival: at one booth I caught a glimpse of a dark piece in the back, almost hidden from view by the arrangement of other, more vibrant paintings. All of the work at the booth was superb, but for some reason the one in the shadows drew me like a high powered magnet.

The painting was a profile portrait of a young woman with short dark hair wearing a lovely robe and resting her brow against one hand. Most of her face was in shadow. Her other hand was splayed almost protectively against her heart. My first impression was loneliness, sadness, and pain.

Then I looked closer, and saw that she was looking sideways (at whoever stood in front of the painting), and that seemed to change the feel of the piece entirely. She wasn't depressed, she was on guard, showing me what I wanted to see while she kept an eye on me. And then I knew who she was.

She was Rowan. Or, to be more precise, she epitomized all of the traits I had cooked up in my head to be my character Rowan. Rowan, who until that point had remained mostly in shadow for me.

At that point I wanted desperately to take a picture of the portrait (something that is a big no-no at art festivals) so that I could take home a permanent image to study. I went to talk to one of the artists; as it happened the painting was a collaboration. Ms. Brodeur probably thought I was a little weird for how I enthused about the portrait, but she was kind enough to give me a postcard with an image of it:



Once I had seen the portrait, everything nebulous about Rowan's character clicked into place for me. That doesn't always happen; finding a real image or piece of art that matches what I see in my head sometimes raises new questions and creates more work for me. But this time it was a perfect match, and the details in the painting filled in the blanks in my mental profile. That gave me the last push I needed to fully understand and complete my portrait of the character.

There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what inspires some writers to create characters; the universe tosses something our way and we feel compelled to embody it, name it and tell its story. This time for me it was a painting that finished the job, next time it might be a handful of words or a scent or a song. I think the trick is to remain open to world around you, and the possibilities that populate it, and let the universe take care of the rest.

Related links:

Kathleen Brodeur's web site

Edson Campos's web site

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Dorchester Publishing, home of Leisure Books and LoveSpell, is now accepting general submissions via e-mail. This is terrific news, especially for writers who want to pitch Dorchester but live outside the U.S. Read over the guidelines at the link, and if you scroll down you'll see a list of what they're looking for currently.

Duotrope Digest has an online fiction and poetry market search engine; input your word length, genre and other details and it will give you a list of potential sub ops.

Freelance Writing Jobs has among many market listings one currently for a decent travel-writing op.

The 15th annual Garden State Horror Writers Short Story Contest is now open for submissions; according to Ralan.com: "all genres, no lit-fic (fic). Words: <3½k. Fee: $10 (members $5). 3 Prizes=$175." Note: I don't usually list contests with entry fees because they're usually only scams to make money off writers, but a friend in the horror biz assures me this one is legit. No reprints, electronic subs only, see web site for more details. And if you win, tell them I said to stop charging entry fees.

If you're one of those scrapbook/card making writers, you might check out the online create-a-card challenge contests that Hallmark has been holding here; looks like there's some fairly decent prize money involved in some of them.

SF author Ahmed A. Khan has an open call for submissions to two anthologies; Cheer Up, Universe (feel good -- if there is such a thing -- spec fic and fantasy; no length restrictions, no reprints, no simultaneous subs; payment one cent/word to a max of $15; ) and Fun Times in Strange Lands (spec fic aimed at pre-teens; no length restrictions, reprints and simultaneous subs okay, payment is a gratis copy of antho.) Electronic subs only for both, see author's LJ post for more details, deadline for both June 30th or when filled.

Panverse Publishing has an open call for novella-length submissions for their Panverse One anthology. Deadline September 30th or when filled. Wanted: "Pro-level novellas of between 15,000 and 40,000 words. Stories should be Science Fiction (any flavor) or Fantasy (except Heroic/High/Superhero/S&S). We'll also look at Magic Realism, Alternate History, and Slipstream (whatever that is). The story should be original and unpublished in any medium (this includes web publication)." Language, violence and sex should be R-rated. Pays $60.00 + 2 copies on pub, no reprints, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more details.

Review Fuse, which I listed in April here for their off-beat monthly short story contest, is also holding a monthly poetry contest, with the winner receiving $50. No entry fee, but there is a registration requirement, you have to critique other poems, and other stuff like a theme is involved, so do check out the guidelines thoroughly.

Ruthless Peoples Magazine "is aimed at a general audience who are passionate about stories. We are the only magazine that actively loves our readers, and this principle informs the following guidelines for writers: We are happy to consider: Short & episodic fiction up to 3,500 words;
Flash fiction, preferably 500-1,000 words; Poetry, up to 40 lines." [I didn't know all the other magazines hated us, did you?] According to Ralan.com pays fic=1¢/word; flash=$10; poem=$5 via Paypal only. No reprints, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more details.

Another Twitter market, Tweet the Meat, is looking for you to scare them in 140 characters or less. Pays $1.00 U.S. via Paypal per twit, tweet, whatever you call it; no reprints, submit only on Saturday or Sunday, electronic subs only, see post for more details.

Most of the above ops were found over in the market listings at Ralan's place.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh, Hang Me

Now that all the baby birds have hatched, grown up and flown away, I finally started on replacing the potted plants I lost to a late frost. On the front porch I always keep hanging baskets of sweet potato vines. They're not the usual hanging plant, but they grow like crazy, and I love the way they look when they cascade down about six or seven feet.

After two weeks one plant was doing great, but the other started looking a little wilted and over-watered:



Since I water both pots every day, and I use the same amount for both, I thought I might have gotten a bad plant. So I took it down to have a look, and saw something had dug a hole in the center of the new plant:



I'll give you three guesses what was in the hole.



Has someone been feeding Viagra or fertility drugs to the birds ion my neighborhood? I'd really like to know now.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Winners

One of my favorite poets knew all about being contrary. It was in everything she was: the way she lived her life, how she saw the world, and what she wrote in her brilliant, subversive poetry:

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent and you are sane;
Demur, -- you're straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

--Emily Dickinson

The magic hat did its thing this morning, and the winners of the Poetic Power giveaway are:

Kate, whose favorite poetry includes Dr. Seuss's classic "I do not eat green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Megan, who loves Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies.

Bethini, who is fond of T.S. Eliot's "I grow old...I grow old... / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

Winners, when you have a chance please e-mail your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these books out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in and sharing so many wonderful poets and poems.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Let's Try Something



I was thinking of bringing back the Friday 20 once a month, and I'm curious to see if you guys would find it of any value. I know in the past I covered a lot of questions (see the Index for the old Q&A's) but we have some new people who have joined our merry irreverent band since I discontinued it, and maybe they'd like to give it a go.

Okay, I miss it, too. That was one of my favorite days of the week.

I don't know if it's worth resurrecting, but at the very least we'll have a trial run today and see how many folks participate. So, anyone have any writing- or publishing-related questions you'd like me to answer? Post them in comments.

Graphic credit: © Yellowj | Dreamstime.com

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bits & Pieces

My publisher has changed the release date for Shadowlight; according to my latest info the novel will be hitting the shelves sometime in October 2009 instead of November 2009. I don't have an exact laydown date yet, but it's usually the first week of the month. Since booksellers routinely ignore my paydown dates, if that holds true then I imagine some of you will be able to pick up the book at stores in late September.

Some of you have noticed that the sidebar is changing; it's actually under reconstruction. Tom and I are weeding out dead links, adding some new ones, and otherwise tidying up. Once we've dusted the knicknacks we're going to try to condense it so that it's not a mile and a half long like it is now. Your patience while we tinker, as always, is much appreciated.

Rhiannon passed along a sub op as well as a bit of background experience earlier this week in comments, and I want to repost in case you all missed it:

I know you like to give heads up to writers on open markets. I thought I would share the newest call for submissions from The Library of the Living Dead. I had a short story in the latest anthology "Zombology" and really enjoyed working with Dr. Pus (Dr. Mike West in real life).

"I'm going to put out a horror anthology that will contain only female penned stories.

Any horror genre will be accepted. Word count max will be 7K. I'm hoping to make this a huge tome.

Only female authors will be accepted.

Send you submissions to .... lohpress@yahoo.com ... and title the e-mail "Ladies".

Please send submisson in Rich Text Format.

You will be paid one cent per work word* and receive two copies of the book when it's published.

This is my way to thank you ladies for all of the cool stories I've received already from those of the "female persuasion."


Very nice -- thanks, Rhiannon.

*Added: corrected to clarify.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poetic Power

This year I've had excellent luck picking up how-to books at random at the store and discovering some wonderful resources, but I don't always go to the how-to aisle to find what might be useful to mention on the blog. Sometimes I head there just for me and my eternal quest to clarify, understand, and address my writing life.

Last week I spotted a new release, Writing the Life Poetic, by Sage Cohen, and the title immediately snared me. So did the cover copy, the table of contents, and the first three pages I read. I figured it would be inspirational to me personally, as my poetry of late has been squashed under the pleasures, pressures and madness of writing fiction, but not something I'd talk about here on the blog. I'm rarely willing to inflict my poet-self on my writer friends.

Fortunately Sage Cohen doesn't feel that way, and opened herself up as she extended through the book a no-strings-attached invitation to read and write poetry. The result were short chapters on all the things poets wrestle with: what to write, word and structure choices, metaphor, voice, writing rituals, art, experimentation, and anything else you can think of. She offered some amazing poems of her own and by other poets to exemplify her topic, and also included practical suggestions and interesting exercises for the reader under a Try This! banner at the end of a section.

It's not all exercises and mechanics, though. In the chapter Convenience Kills (pg. 134), Ms. Cohen discusses how our high-speed turbo-powered culture is killing creativity, which affects all of us, as evident in what Charlene wrote in her blog post that I quoted for the May Thought for the Month over there on the sidebar. In Trusting Your Instincts (pg. 208), she discusses all this writing advice that comes at us from all directions, and how we can decide whether or not to follow it. One chapter, From Dysfunction to Duende (pg. 61) explained something I've fretted over as a poet and a writer for the last thirty-four years, but could never even put a name to, much less find an explanation for. That alone blew me away.

While reading this book, I didn't get bogged down in a lot of pretty theory and lofty notion that so often is associated with composing verse. One goal Sage Cohen mentions in the book is the hope of taking poetry down off the academic pedestal and putting it back in the hands of the people. I thought this was accomplished, and rather brilliantly. It's also very non-partisan in how it addresses the creative life. I didn't have to lock up my fiction self in a cage while absorbing the information and ideas. There was as much in it for me the novelist as there was for the poet.

I've always felt writing poetry makes me a better fiction writer, but this is the first time I've found a how-to book that speaks to both sides of my writing life. And if I never wrote another poem for the rest of my life, I'd still consult with this book. In many ways it's not so much about what you write, but the life in which you write.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name one of your favorite poems or poets (or if you're poetry-deprived, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, May 15, 2009. I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Press Release

Publishers Push Through Promo Participation

New York, NY -- Major publishers wrapped up final negotiations today with the Authorial Guild on new industry standards for mandatory author promotional participation guidelines, to be included in all past, present and future publishing contracts.

The new guidelines, which cover some innovative and untried forms of promotion that all authors will be required to perform, include:

Bookstore Handsales: Authors will spend two nights per week working the aisle where their latest release is located at the nearest large chain bookstore. When a browser enters the aisle, the author will immediately engage them in conversation, show them the release and advise them that it is the best book they have ever read. If there is more than one author in an aisle, they will work together to handsell copies to the unaware. If the author has a highly visible book jacket photo, the author will of course wear a clever disguise, or at least not so much makeup.

Carnival Book Games: Authors will purchase gaming vendor space at every circus, carnival, RenFaire or other outdoor event in their area to sell their latest release. Books will only be awarded to event patrons who play until they have covered the purchase price of the book; all other patrons will be awarded bookmarks and widgets (to be provided by the author.) The publishers suggest using such classic exciting games as Penny Pitch-A-Novel, Guess the Author's Age/Weight/Real Name, Bio Photo Darts or everyone's favorite, The Novelist Dunk.

Home Book Parties: Authors will purchase ads to invite the general public into their homes at least once a month for "Home Book Parties." These parties will include a buffet, readings, clothespin games, free bookmarks, and the chance to purchase signed copies of their latest release and whatever is on their backlist that hasn't gone out of print (all food and party supplies to be provided by the author.) The consumer who purchases the largest number of copies will be invited to spend the weekend as a pampered guest at the author's home.

Intersection Sales: Every Sunday authors will dress up as one of their characters, travel to the nearest large town or city and sell books from the median of a major intersection to passing motorists (initially there was concern about competition from newspaper vendors, but since no one reads newspapers anymore, the publishers aren't worried.)

Mall Samples: For the two-week period before every major shopping holiday, or three times per month (whichever is more frequent) authors will station themselves at appropriate points in mall food courts with their latest release, and rip out pages from the best parts to hand out to passing consumers while informing them they can have the rest of the book and two book marks (provided by author) for a special low price.

Park Performances: Twice a month authors will give readings from their books in well-attended public parks. An empty, open laptop case or tote bag will be placed in front of the author in order to collect donations. Authors are advised to bring their children or young family members to help pass around the case or bag in the event donations are not voluntarily offered by the end of the reading (all donations will turned over to the publisher to offset production costs, loss of profits and misc. expenses.) The author's spouse or older family member will maintain a book cart nearby to sell copies of the author's latest release to interested park patrons.

Remainder Garage Sales: Authors whose books have been remaindered will be expected to purchase all remaining stock from the publisher and sell them out of their garages on weekends until the stock is completely sold. A special addendum was negotiated on payments of remainder profits, requiring authors to forward 94% to publisher, and 15% of the remaining 6% to the author's agent. The balance will then be turned over to the publisher's accountant, who will keep indefinitely 30% in the event of returns at the next garage sale, and hang onto the rest until Christmas, or he feels the author deserves their share, whichever takes the longest.

All books involved in these new promotional events must first be purchased by the author at a convenient retail outlet, as publishers can no longer afford to offer authors discounted copies, and are discontinuing the practice of providing "free" or "author" copies of new releases.

"We feel these guidelines provide many wonderful opportunities for authors to become more accessible and interact with their readers in positive, fun ways," one publisher's attorney stated firmly. "After all, Publishing is a partnership between us and them, and everyone agrees that they really haven't been doing their part, so they should be thrilled and happy to step up to the plate. And if they don't like it, they can go try to make a living selling homemade chapbooks online and how-to articles to Writer's Digest."

"We feel this is the best deal we could get for our members," Authorial Guild Prez Bic Kurwhyne told reporters. "Way better than that dumbass Google thing, obviously. I have no doubt that authors will respond to it in a positive manner, because if they don't they'll be in violation of paragraph four hundred and seven of the Appropriate Author Behavior While Self-Promoting section."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Help Ten

Ten Things for Writers with Impairments

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

Click-N-Type virtual keyboard freeware provides "an on-screen virtual keyboard designed for anyone with a disability that prevents him or her from typing on a physical computer keyboard. As long as the physically challenged person can control a mouse, trackball, touch screen or other pointing device, this software keyboard allows you to send keystrokes to virtually any Windows application or DOS application that can run within a window." Version 3.03 has a page explaining new and helpful features (OS:Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Vista)

Disability Resources on the Internet is a majorly helpful and useful site for people with all types of impairments.

Dyslexia-Parent.com has a page of software programs to aid the dyslexic, a couple of these are free or have free trials or demos.

Iconico's EasyRead utility allows you to view HTML pages and magnify them as you browse the web via Internet Explorer (OS: Windows XP)

Inspired Code's resources for the visually impaired includes SayPad, "a freeware talking text editor that can read you a good book or help you write one, using the latest speech technology. It carefully installs the SAPI 5.1 Text To Speech engine from a compact 8.2 megabyte download. This is a quick and painless way to get the SAPI5 TTS onto your system, plus it does cool things like read to you with natural phrasing as a person would. You can fit huge files into it like the whole Bible for instance, which you can prove by downloading it below. (In fact it has a filter you can turn on that skips over verse numbers to let you hear it like a story.) SayPad can now convert Text to Audio, even a whole book in one run, splitting off chapters into separate, well named Audio files you can burn onto a CD" (OS: Win98/Me/2000/XP)

For the visually impaired, there's a free trial download of The Magnifying Glass Pro utility, a "virtual magnifier (virtual lens, screen-zoomer) that enables you to enlarge (magnify) text and graphics as they are displayed on your computer monitor or attached television screen, or projected onto a larger media during a presentation (e.g., using an application such as PowerPoint). As you pass your mouse cursor over a section of the viewing area, the display is magnified making it instantly more readable and accessible. In addition, you can apply a variety of visual effects and enhancements to that display" (OS: Windows 9x/ME/NT/ 2000/XP/Vista)

For those who need a free screen magnifier utility or program, check out Magnifier.org's freeware and shareware list.

Panopreter "reads text files, word documents and web pages in .htm format, it can read in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and more, provided such Text-To-Speech voice engines have been installed on your computer. Panopreter converts the files into audio files with the format of wave and MP3. So you can hear your files with your audio media player, you don't need to sit at the desk, with your eyes fixed on the computer's screen any longer. Panopreter is also a good aid to any language learning program. You install the Text-To-Speech voices for the specific language, then you can hear the files being read for you" (OS: Windows XP/2003/Vista)

The Talking Dictionary is designed "for use by visually impaired and/or disabled computer users. It is a very powerful program using an incredibly detailed dictionary/thesaurus database. Full instructions are included" Note: although this is advertised as completely free on a couple of sites, it's only a free trial download. (OS: Windows 95 or higher)

TTSReader is "a full-featured, text-to speech software package that allows reading text aloud as well as to wav or mp3 files" (OS: Win 98/ME/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wishing You

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Book Reports Part II

Here's the second half of my book reports on the Instant TBR:

Bone Crossed by Patricia Briggs -- making the jump to hardcover, Patricia Briggs offers the latest installment in the Mercy Thompson series, and it didn't disappoint. Beautiful cover art on this one; I thought whoever did it finally captured the character. Before I say more, I should point out that I would buy anything the author writes, even if she published it in crayon on cocktail napkins, so consider me biased. But hey, she's that good. In the previous novel, Mercy suffered a horrendous ordeal, and in this one she's recovering and moving on. At the same time, there's a standlone story that weaves in nicely with the continuing plot threads. Mercy never walks the easy road, but in this book she's got trouble coming at her from all directions. I liked the progression of her characterization in this one; it's subtle but somewhat superior to the previous books in that it wasn't all Mercy against the universe. It's great to have an independent protagonist, but at times even the toughest chick needs backup and support, and she needs to accept that she needs it. That was delivered, along with an exciting story that makes a superb addition to the series. Off to the keeper shelf it goes.

Kiss of Fate by Deborah Cooke -- This is a third novel in a series with rather complex world-building, and I stopped reading it after I kept getting lost. Some series books do need to be read in order, I think, to fully understand and appreciate the established universe. Although I'm not crazy about dragon books, I liked the writing and the lyrical qualities this author offered in the portion of what I did read, so I'm going to put this one aside for now, order the first two in the series on faith and read them, and then come back to this one.

Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich -- evil yellow cover art can't detract from decent story, and this was, as I'd expected, mainly a fun read. You can tell the authors had an excellent time writing it, and poured a great deal of energy into it. The wattage and humor occasionally went over the top for me, but I don't read this side of the genre very often, so maybe this is the norm for this kind of book. The male characters were certainly an eyeful, but like the humanized dogs, they didn't have much personality and were nowhere near as developed as the female protagonists. Disclaimer: I'm much more interested in the guy characters than the girls, and I find that the older I get, the less patience I have with my own gender and some of their issues. If you're big into feminine bonding, highly idealized friendships between women, and the glitter of the hooha, this is definitely the novel for you.

A Long, Hard Ride by Alison Kent -- I have a prediction to make about Alison Kent: if you read her, she's probably going to ruin a lot of category romance writers for you. Her latest Blaze is just another example of what a seasoned professional brings to the table -- great writing, deep characterization, interesting plots and no hesitancy or apology. Since I happen to live with a mechanic, and have many family members in one mechanical trade or another, the story of the mechanic/race car driver and a rival car-racing family's daughter made me grin and chuckle more than a few times. I also enjoyed the generational cast, the seventy-year-old mystery, and how deftly she composed the pretense engagement plot, which is a very familiar category theme and can get pretty hokey if not handled correctly (she writes it like she invented it.) One of Alison's style hallmarks is that she writes romance for grownups, not little girls, so she's not for the cutesy/coy fairytale-lovers. But if you appreciate authenticity and maturity, particularly in characterizations, as well as a steamy romance, it doesn't get better than this.

Dark Protector by Alexis Morgan -- for a kickass paranormal this one surprised me -- it has all the elements and such but it also contained a really sweet romance, something you rarely see in this genre. The tone is a bit like Suzanne Brockmann but with immortal warriors instead of SEALs. I liked the author's style and admired her control, although I would have liked to see the world building developed a bit more than it was. The bad guys were very cool, and one aspect of the ending has me putting the next book on my shopping list; I definitely want to read more. A neat read.

Bad Penny by Sharon Sala -- it's been a while since I read romantic suspense, and this was a good spot to jump back into the genre. The third book in a trilogy or a short series is generally not a good place to start reading a new-to-you author (as was evident with the Deborah Cooke novel), but if the world-building isn't too complex and the writer is skillful enough with backstory, you should be fine. Such is the case with this book. The author has a nice style all her own; a bit like Sandra Brown before she went mainstream, but without the melodrama. Don't get me wrong, the story was dramatic, often nerve-wracking, and passionate, but the author didn't overplay her hand. Keeping a story like this plausible is a major accomplishment, I think, and while the sequence of events was the stuff of fiction, it didn't read that way, if that makes sense. I enjoyed the realism, the triumvirate of entangled plots, the interesting POVs, especially (thank you, Ms. Sala) that of the Mexican homicide detective, who is not the typical oily fat grafting moron cliche that is so often served up in romantic suspense. Considering that the protagonists have (I assume) been together for two books already, the romance was alive, full-bodied and satisfying. By the end of the book I was so on edge I felt like reading while peeking through my fingers while chanting, "Don't kill them. No, don't die. Oh, Lord. Look out!" An excellent read, particularly if you're interested in studying how to do backstory well.

Fragile by Shiloh Walker -- I'll warn you ahead of time, this one's a real heart-wrencher. Being ex-military, ex-medical, and having dealt with the ugliness of being stalked, I immediately, closely identified with both of the protagonists, which rarely happens. The protagonists have to put their future on the line to deal with their past sorrows and present dangers, and even that's not enough; they have to face their worst fears. At times I felt like they were put through a little too much in the story and the pressure became merciless -- but that is the definition of a heart-wrencher. The structure of the story is unusual, in that you have the relationship development in three major stages with their own arcs, during which the emotions on both sides are tested many times. There's also a kind of duality to the novel, in that it's as erotic as it is scary, and that worked for me but may not for some readers who want one or the other. It's also not a book I'd recommend to readers who want perfect pristine protags and a tidy, non-threatening storyline; these two are seriously damaged people and they go through sheer hell. But if you want a lot more than dark-colored fluff in your erotic suspense, do check this one out.

Thanks to everyone who offered the recs for my instant TBR, as it was fun to read what you guys like. I picked up a couple of new authors to add to my shopping list, stepped out of my routine, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Update

I promised I'd let you all know the fate of the StarDoc series, as Crystal Healer, book nine, finished my current contract. I now know what will happen to book ten.

But before I get into that, I'd like to look back at the first nine books, which span the entire length of my pro career:



This saga began with my first published novel, StarDoc. A science fiction series with miniscule print runs, no publisher support and a completely unknown author faces overwhelming odds, and yet somehow it became a genre bestseller from book one. That sounds great, but what it translates to is that all of the first five books earned out and made a modest profit, but never strayed beyond the midlist.

Midlist wasn't good enough. The publisher decided without telling me that they would shut down the series after book five. I wasn't finished, however, and the readers also refused to accept it. They wrote letters and e-mails, and otherwise made trouble. It didn't make a difference to the publisher, but it did to me. My readers didn't give up on me, and I couldn't give up on them.

They spread the word, kept me writing StarDoc stories for them and believing we could bring back the print books someday. It was a hopeless battle, of course. For the next four years, using word of mouth alone, my readership kept the series alive. Although no new StarDoc books were published from 2002-2006, my readers kept the faith, passed along my free stories, pestered their friends to read the books, expanded my readership, and gradually built up my sales numbers for the first five books, enough to keep them in print. In time they built them up enough to prompt the publisher to offer me a new contract for two new books, and then two more.

So what is the publisher going to do about book ten? You all know how my luck goes -- mostly from bad to worse. SF as a genre has never sold well, and with the way the industry is right now, the midlist doesn't sell enough to make it worth most publishers' time and money. And selling the tenth book of a SF series . . .

Well, as it turns out, not all my luck is bad.

Sold yesterday: StarDoc book ten, title and publication date to be revealed (hopefully) in the near future, to Roc SF/F.

I've been so quietly stressed out about this book that I'm kinda in shock. I'm not sure what it means, other than I can finally finish the series, and my loyal readers get to see the last book in print.

I'm kidding. After all these years, and so much disappointment, and so many hopeless battles, I do know what it means. It means two words. Two words I've waited seven years to say about this ordeal. Two words that as a midlist science fiction author I was never supposed to say. Two words that I'd really like to tattoo on a few jackasses, but I'll settle for just writing them here:

We win.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

LB&LI 2009

Once again it's time to begin planning PBW's Fourth Annual Left Behind & Loving It, a series of virtual workshops I'll be holding here at the blog this summer from July 13th through the 20th.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, this summer event is something I started doing back in 2006 for writers like me who don't attend RWA National. We spend a week together online talking shop, sharing ideas, discussing writing and publishing and doing all the stuff you do at a writer's conference except wait in long lines for bathrooms, elevators, coffee and official pins and ribbons. We don't infect each other with anything but ideas, nor are we forced to eat bad mystery chicken, wear panty hose and heels, or arm wrestle some large chick in stretch pants over gratis Linda Howard hardcovers. It's pretty much pure bliss.

Last year I offered an open invitation to any blogging writer to join in and hold their own virtual workshops on their blogs or web sites, and I'm repeating that again this year. If you're willing to teach a writing or writing-related workshop(s) of any variety online at any time during that week, I'll be happy to link to it every day I hold mine. I'll give out more details on this later down the road, probably in mid-June.

Now it's your turn -- what sort of workshops would you like to see for LB&LI this time around? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Quints & Triplets & Twins

An update on our triple backyard drama; all five of Mama Wren's babies hatched and thrived, did not jump out of the pot and otherwise behaved themselves. For a while there, though, the nest resembled a can of wren sardines (click on any of the images to see a larger version):



Mama left the nest (no room left for her) but came back faithfully many times a day to feed the quints, who barely uttered a peep. Then one day during breakfast I noticed some little heads popping up:



A few mornings later when I went out to check on them, all I found was an empty nest:



I can't be sure, but I want to believe that all five had successful solo flights and flew off into the sunset.

The mama fox had triplets, who were the cutest little things and ran around just like puppies. Because foxes are very skittish we stayed away from the den, so the only photos I managed to take were from across the yard and really too blurry to make them out. Still, here are my best shots of Mama and two of the triplets:



We haven't seen the foxes for a few days, and we think Mama took her triplets off into the woods to teach them how to hunt and stuff. On the other side of the porch, the new Mama Dove's eggs have hatched, and it's twins again.


We've named this pair Nelson and Desmond:



If this keeps up I'm going to need a wildlife daycare license or something.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Book Reports Part I

Back in February you all were kind enough to make recs on how I could spend my money at the book store, from which I built an instant TBR and proceeded to demolish it.

Work kept me from sitting down and writing up a post on the books, and then I hesitated as I wasn't sure how to write about the ones I didn't care for. There are some personal and professional considerations involved. Also, it's impossible to like every book friends recommend because of our individual preferences and buttons, but it's always good to try something new even if it's not your cup of tea. Although I didn't care for every book, I was glad I read all of them.

The other thing is that authors and editors are still actively hitting me up for quotes. I retired from quoting a couple years ago after the situation got entirely out of hand. Industry pros, please note that nothing I write on PBW can be used as a quote for a published novel by any author or author's agent, editor, publicist and so forth. This has nothing to do with the books or the authors; it's to save my sanity. Also, thank you in advance for not harassing me about it.

Here's the first half of my book reports:

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews -- This is the only book I don't want to comment on extensively for reasons best left unspecified. It's a good debut book; if you liked the Anita Blake books before all the ardeur descended you'll probably enjoy this one. The authors should do very well on the market. [Note: if you recommended this one to me and you want to talk about it privately via e-mail, shoot me a note and I'll elaborate.]

The Woods by Harlan Coben -- The author is a gifted writer, and that hasn't changed. I love what he does with brevity. The magic of his dialogue alone is worth the read. This is a twisty page-turner, and you probably shouldn't start it at midnight unless you're an insomniac. The only problem I had with this book is that I felt his gender depictions were out of balance; in his work he often comes across to me as very unforgiving of his female characters and it was very noticeable this time around. I know the character perspective of a male writer can be completely opposite that of a female writer, but when the majority of your female characters are villainized in some form or another, and the majority of your male characters basically serve as their unsuspecting Mary Sueish victims, you're not characterizing as much as you're ax-grinding at the gender wheel. Aside from this, and one story element that was left unresolved at the end, it's an excellent read and suspenseful with a capital S.

Desire Unchained by Larissa Ione -- liked it so much I gave away a bunch of copies back in February. I can't wait to see what Larissa comes up with next.

My Wicked Enemy by Carolyn Jewel -- excellent world-building, great characters, skillful pacing. Very hot. Not your usual paranormal romance fare here, either. There were some segues and characterization elements I would have liked to have seen handled differently, but I think that's a style difference between us as writers versus actual story flaws. Grand Central is really building a nice list of talented authors in this genre.

Scandal by Carolyn Jewel -- I didn't like this one as much as her paranormal (and I'm probably still burned out on historical romances, so put that on me) but it's a fine read, well-written and also shows that the author has range.

DarkFever by Karen Marie Moning -- An interesting book. I didn't like the protagonist at all at first, and then she grew on me. Same thing with the plot; I thought it might be another dull derivative cloner, and then it perked up. If you like the Meredith Gentry books but you're tired of how that series is going, this would be a good one to check out. I bought the next two books on faith that they'd be just as well-written, although I was a little ticked to see the third already got bumped up to hardcover. I'd like to see series that start off in paperback stay in paperback for the sake of the readers who can't afford hardcovers, but this is yet another reason why they'll never let me run Publishing. [Note: everyone who accuses me of not writing romance should read this one, then come talk to me about how I don't put enough romance in my books.]

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark -- beautiful book, both to look at and read (I love the gorgeous end papers.) Adored the setting, the story, and the characters. A bit like Umberto Eco meets Dan Brown, but much friendlier and more approachable. I needed this, frankly; I've hit a run of bad straight historical fiction lately and I was beginning to despair. It's a book that will appeal to the lit-heads and genre readers, which is a tough thing to pull off. Don't read if you're struggling with a diet. Very well done. Headed for my keeper shelf.

Delicious by Sherry Thomas -- Pretty writing, and an ambitious tone, but decidedly unlikeable characters (and I usually like unlikeable characters, so to put me off takes some doing.) My dad is a chef, so I know a bit about fine cuisine as well as the reality of creating it, and I think that's why the whole food-sex fantasy aspect of the story didn't work for me. I also kept getting mired down in the story timeline juggling as well as some structure problems, but I probably noticed them more because I stopped reading the book for pleasure after about page twenty. It's not a bad book, though, and will likely appeal to the Laura Kinsale/Judith Ivory/Amy Tan lovers. I'd also like to come back to this author after she's written a few more books and I'm not so burned out on historical romances.

Thanks to everyone who recommended these books to me. The second half of my book reports will be up later this week, as soon as I have time to compose them, so stay tuned.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ten with Character

Ten Things to Help You with Your Characters

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

Addressido is meant for use as a portable virtual address book that fits on a memory stick, but writers can use it to keep track of character names, details and story appearances (OS:• Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista, Microsoft® .NET Framework 2.0 or higher -- note: on Windows® Vista™ the Microsoft® .NET Framework 3.0 is already included as part of the operating system.)

Martha Alderson's article Character-driven or Action-driven gives you a little test to see what sort of stories you prefer to write.

When I need a little character inspiration or just a good laugh, I head for Seventh Sanctum's always amazing page of online character generators.

Dynastree is a home geneaology freeware that could be useful to writers for creating character trees for series novels or books with large casts. If you think outside the box, a tree can be used for more than relatives (in vampire fiction, for example, you could create a sireline tree) (OS: Windows XP/Vista)

Eposic.org's online Persona Generator will give you the more nebulous aspects of personality for your characters.

Geni has an online customizable family tree generator with profile sheets and all sorts of bells and whistles including photos you can fill in and upload to flesh out your character. I made up one in a few minutes with some of the Kyn to give you the general idea (click image to see larger screenshot):



Rich Hamper's Character Profile Sheet

Outlines for Character-Based & Plot-Based Synopsis by Barbara Karmazin

Karen Lotter talks about the importance of profiling characters in her article Getting to Grips with Character ~
Profile your Characters; Work on Real Character Development


Virtual Project freeware is a web-based project organization program that could be used by writers to profile and manage characters as well as research for them throughout your story (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

Added: a reader sent me a link to a free service that brings together all of your notes and data no matter where they're stored (laptop, web, phone, Twitter, etc.) and keeps them in sync, on both Windows and Mac computers, which would be very helpful in keeping your character info up to date: Evernote.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Winners

I really enjoyed reading the variety of jobs you all have had; I know no matter where I've worked I've gleaned at least one interesting idea for a story (although I haven't yet figured out how to fictionalize the doctor and patient who were conducting their affair by appointment at his office.)

The magic hat did its thing tonight, and the winners of the PBW in Audio giveaway are:

Eugenia Tibbs

suelder

The Bonz

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

Saturday, May 02, 2009

PBW in Audio

Grace Chapel Inn SeriesAlthough it's not technically my first audio book (I have three others out there that were made for can't-talk-about-it WFH jobs) Going to the Chapel was the first Christian fiction novel I wrote. As part of a planned WFH series, my story assignment was to hire and introduce a new minister to the community; other than and the set characters of the series, the rest was my idea.

In real life I worked for several ministers and churches, so when I tackled this story I was able to show characters based on the real deal as well as the actual process that goes on behind the scenes when a church is looking for a new head pastor. There are also the many practical and emotional transitions church members and leaders have to make when a long-term, much-loved pastor dies (which is the event that kicked off this series and required my assigned plot point.) The fact that they messed up my pseudonym during the intro and on the product is just one of those oops things that happens; Sherri Berger does a nice job of reading the story.

I promised to give away some copies as soon as I got in some extras, so in comments to this post name a job or experience you've had in real life that you think would make interesting reading (or if you're drawing a blank, just throw your name in the magic hat) by midnight EST today (Saturday, May 2, 2009.) I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed* CD audio version of my Rebecca Kelly novel Going to the Chapel. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*Just FYI, I'll be signing the cover art insert for the CD case.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Waiting and Willing

In this right-here-right-now world, when we can't leave the house to run to the market without taking along the mobile phone, the GPS, the PDA and Lord knows what else, I think waiting is becoming a lost art.

When I'm standing in line at a store, and I'm the next person to be waited on, inevitably a clerk or manager comes to me and says, "Ma'am, there's no waiting in line five/cosmetics/the service desk." As if the forty-five seconds I'm going to wait for my turn might kill me.

I hate moving to another line. I'm superstitious; I usually have bad luck if I believe the promise of no-waiting. If I try to go to that place, someone faster with a truckload of purchases will dart in front of me, or the register will need a new tape, or some other calamity will happen that will make me wait three times as long as I would have if I'd just stayed put.

There are always the same reactions when I politely refuse to go to this spot of no-waiting. The clerk gapes at me. The store manager frowns. People walking past me stop and stare. Sometimes they'll try to make me go to the other line by seizing my cart or tugging at my arm. As if I'm too old and befuddled to understand the concept of no-waiting.

I'm rarely in that big a hurry. The more I hurry, the less I like myself, and I've spent too many years trying to get everything done yesterday. I've learned that waiting = calm. I am at peace in line. In fact, I'm probably plotting out a scene in my head. I am self-employed, my own boss, and while I work hard, I don't have to race back to the office. The minute or two I save by rushing I'll probably spend trying to come down from feeling frazzled. Leave me alone and let the poor day-job people running errands on their lunch hours have all the no-waiting.

Good things come to those of us who wait. At the deli I once let a nasty customer who needed six subs go ahead of me, and when the demanding jackass finally left, the counterman thanked me and gave me my order for free. One time when my salad didn't arrive with the rest of my family's orders at a restaurant, I didn't make a big deal out of waiting, and the manager not only stopped by to apologize but gave us all free dessert. I like free food.

My best experience with waiting did test even my limits of patience, though. I spent an entire week on the phone with my mobile company to straighten out a mistake they'd made with my account. Every day I was one with them for two or three hours, but we couldn't get the snafu fixed. It was such a mess that at one point the nice customer service rep (a lovely gentleman from India) actually prayed together with me. But at last the company's computers cooperated, and the service rep thanked me by slipping me 1300 extra minutes for free on the sly. That would have cost me something like $200.00 to purchase.

I'm not always patient, but I've learned to use my waiting time to my advantage. I always carry a book in my purse, and a voice recorder, and a notepad and pen. Whenever I get a new magazine, I usually bring it with me to read in the cart while I'm waiting in the school pick-up line. I take a portable radio/CD player with me to PT so while I'm waiting for the sadist who works on me to come round and begin the torture I can listen to music or one of my favorite albums. Sometimes when I'm waiting I don't do anything more than people watch. I try to appreciate the fact that while the rest of the world seems to be in a perpetual hurry, when I wait I always have a little time to daydream or think or just be in the moment.

Right now I'm waiting on some info from NY. I've been waiting for it for three weeks, and I'll probably wait another couple of days. I'm done my daily scheduled work, so when I finish writing this, I'll head out to the garage and do a little painting. This afternoon I plan to rearrange one of the closets. At one time in my life I would have been pacing the floor or making nuisance calls to see what the holdup is; now I really don't care. The info will arrive when NY decides to send it; I have things to do while I'm waiting.