Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Off to Write

Create a sticky note online for your blog at Wigflip.com's sticky note generator, Superstickies (link swiped from Gerard over at The Generator Blog.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Practical Ten

Ten Things That Do Useful Things

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

ClocX is a free customizable analog clock for your desktop that can be programmed with alarms that play a sound file, launch a message box or run an application of your choice (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Free Virtual Keyboard is a "lightweight, multilingual and finger friendly virtual on-screen keyboard . . . works on any Windows based UMPC with a passive touchscreen (Ultra-mobile PC, Tablet PC and Panel PC). If you spend a lot of time responding to e-mail or jotting down notes on your mobile computer and find your hardware keyboard awkward or too small, a screen software keyboard may be just the improvement you've been seeking. This handy keyboard has keys large enough to be typed with the fingertips" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

For those of you writing at home with small children, Kid-Key-Lock is "a simple program to lock specific keyboard and mouse functions. You can use kid-key-lock to lock any of the mouse buttons, double clicks and/or the mouse wheel" (OS: Windows XP)

Lens is a free screen magnifier that can measure pixel distance, has zoom factors of 1 to 10, will keep its window in sync with the mouse, has a lock view option to keep to a defined screen area and a user defined refresh rate (OS: Win 9x/ME/2K/NT)

Monitor Bright "reduces with a simple trick the monitor brightness. Useful to use the PC at night without getting blind if the minimum brightness that can be obtained adjusting monitor settings is still too high if compared to ambience brightness. Supports multi monitor systems" (OS: Windows 2000 or higher; Net Framework 2.0 or higher)

Pearls is a "small reminder program" that "periodically displays a line or paragraph of text from a file." Good for people who don't use a timer while on the internet and need a reminder to get off and go back to work (OS: Win9x/Me; designer notes that you'll also need the MS Layer for Unicode)

Quotepad "saves the text selected on the screen without forgetting its source"; has a multilingual interface (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/Windows 7)

Reading Ruler is a transparent virtual ruler to help you keep your place when reading from the screen (OS: Windows XP and Vista; designer notes that Java 6 Update 12 is required)

Sanvient is a "input support utility" that "vastly improves your productivity when you must cut and paste repetitive text" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista)

Transmute will "convert, synchronize, sort, organize and remove duplicates from your bookmarks and more"; helpful if you want to try out or work with different web browsers (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has a hard time waiting for certain authors -- and there is nothing more flattering for an author, I think, than knowing that your readers are impatient for the next book.

We revved up the magic hat, and the winners of the Unexpected Answers giveaway are:

Katherine Hazen

Tami in Jacksonville



Lori T

Bethany K. Warner



Tez Miller

Carissa Thorp

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and also let me know if you'd like me to send a copy of The Iron Hunt along with your copy of Darkness Calls, and I'll get these packages out to you. Thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hawks Cry

Brakes are squealing outside the garage window; the guys are here to pick up the recycling bin. Yes, I'm obnoxious, I recycle. There's a huff -- the sound of air releasing -- that follows the high-pitched metallic screeching from the truck because it has air brakes, I think. Not sure. Must look that up.

We have two clocks in the garage, and both tick. They're on either side of me so it should be like stereo ticking, only they're half a second out of sync. I can tell you which clock is which from the type of tick: the tap of the one I bought at the dollar store, and the click of the one the kids gave their Dad for Christmas, which is all silver so their old parents can't see the hands very well (which is why there are two clocks in the garage.) I want to pull the batteries on both and restart them so that they're both in sync. Sometimes I want to throw out all the clocks in the house. I never do either.

My daughter is composing music using a free trial download of Finale Songwriter software on her computer; she has been in semi-secret for some time now. She was finally happy enough with one piece to allow me to hear it yesterday. She didn't like it (of course) but it was just like her -- gentle, whimsical, and haunting. I loved it. It's now stuck in my head and plays on an endless loop. Because it's her music I don't mind, although sometimes what she does with her music scares me a little. I love music but I'm tone-deaf and I can't even read it; I can't help her with this. I'm still buying her the software, of course.

I have chronic bronchitis which gets worse during the first month of summer when it rains almost every day. I'm now just getting over a moderately bothersome flare-up, so when I exhale the remaining constriction tags any deep breath with a little whistle at the end. It's annoying, I feel a bit like a tea kettle that can't decide if it wants to boil.

The wrens are in the yard, and so are the cardinals; I've been here long enough to separate their songs now. We haven't had too many blue jays this spring, so I rarely hear their unpleasant noises. The various hawks that usually hang around our pines at the back of the property are also off somewhere else. Wrens cheep, cardinals beep, blue jays fuss, but hawks really do scream, in a piercing, single-note fashion. I still think of screams as extended sounds, however, so I revise that in my head to a cry. Hawks cry. The two sandhill cranes I discovered in the yard the other day are bitching at each other somewhere in the neighborhood; I can hear the very loud clatter of their bills echoing outside. The little white herons picking bugs out of my neighbor's grass make no sound at all. I was never much of a bird person before we came here; now I'm mildly obsessed with identifying and learning about them.

Someone's lawn man has gone to work a few streets over, but if I listen hard I can hear beyond that. I can hear another neighbor's tractor as he mows his pasture, the faint sounds of rumbling and rushing of traffic from the state road, and the occasional booming and hammering from the construction site a mile away. Then a twin-engine plane hums overhead, the pitch rising and falling as it approaches and departs. It's a week day, a busy day. The world rolls on.

When we first moved here I thought it was too quiet. I grew up three blocks from a private airport and I've always lived in the suburbs or the city; I'm used to a lot of noise. Sometimes the silence seemed so profound I felt as if I were in a vacuum, but now my ears are clearer, sharper. There seems to be a lot more I can hear, so much more when I was living in busier, crowded places. I'm paying more attention, I'm hearing the world differently. How many things did I miss when I wasn't listening?

All right, your turn. What do you hear right now?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Unexpected Answers

The walk started slowly, deliberately. I asked my questions and got my answers. Every time I stood for a moment or two I could feel the energy come up through the soles of my feet. Towards the end I began to feel at one with the pathway. Some unexpected answers came through... -- (unidentified) Alex Champion labyrinth walker

Last summer author Marjorie M. Liu published The Iron Hunt, the first book in her new Hunter Kiss series. The novel simply blew me away, and then went and haunted me for the next twelve months. She did things in that book I didn't think were possible. Like a word magician, she turned prose into poetry and then back into prose. She took urban fantasy to another level, and made it towering and terrifying and epic and wonderful.

It was hard to wait almost an entire year for the next book in the series, Darkness Calls. I often thought about contacting Marjorie and dropping some subtle hints to see if I could get an advanced copy of the manuscript, such as e-mailing her with please let me read anything you have finished even if it's just a couple of chapters I beg you but I was afraid I'd interrupt her writing during a bad writing session and then she'd lose her train of thought and mess up something which would then be the last straw and then she'd quit being a novelist and tell everyone it was all because of me bugging her. So I forced myself to be polite and wait, and while I was sulking I reread The Iron Hunt about a dozen times.

As hard as it was to stay out of her hair, being patient and not bothering the novelist sometimes results in a little good reading karma. Recently (with no hints or bugging whatsoever from me) Marjorie was kind enough to offer me an advance copy of Darkness Calls. Which I of course grabbed in a heartbeat; I'm polite, not stupid.

In the new Hunter Kiss novel, Maxine is back with her boys, a small horde of demons who spend the daylight hours living on her body as tattoos. After the sun sets, the demons leave her skin and come alive to protect Maxine and fight by her side. They have a lot of protecting and fighting to do, as someone wants Maxine dead -- someone who also knows the only moment between daylight and darkness when she is vulnerable. But is the killer trying to get rid of her, or use her to get to her man Grant Cooperon? Grant, an ex-priest demon reformer with a mysterious past, has powers unlike any Maxine has ever encountered -- and she'll need everything he has and more when they discover exactly what is after them both, and why.

Marjorie is writing all sorts of things these days -- manga, paranormal romance, X-men novelizations -- but personally I think this series is the author at her best. There's just something incredibly special about these characters and this labyrinthine storyline. It has it all -- amazing writing, hypnotic storytelling, and wholly unpredictable twists/turns -- and gave me the most fun I've had reading all year.

But as always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments, name a series or author you find it difficult to wait for (or if you're not in any hurry to read anyone, just toss your name into the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, June 27, 2009. I'll draw ten names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned copy of Darkness Calls by Marjorie M. Liu. Also, if any of the winners have not yet read The Iron Hunt, I'll send along an unsigned copy of that as well so you have both books. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

(If you stop by Genreality for my Friday morning post, I'll also be having another giveaway there for Marjorie's Hunter Kiss novels -- and those will be signed copies.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

For What It's Worth File

I realized something the other day when I was going through a pile of old photos from my military days: were I to get hit by a bus tomorrow, no one will probably ever know who these people are. They'll assume they were friends of mine from the Air Force, but they won't have names for the faces, or stories to go with the names.

I know my personal history is only going to be interesting to a few people like my kids or theirs, but it still bugs me. If I don't do something, no one will ever know that the gorgeous doe-eye blonde standing next to me in formation was my roommate Bren, who taught me how to survive on twenty bucks a week, and how to cook an entire meal on a hot plate. Or that the laughing handsome black-haired guy hugging me in one party shot was my good pal Jamie, or why I pretended to be his girlfriend more than once (the whole don't-ask-don't-tell thing didn't really exist in the military back then. They asked, we never told.)

There are some pics I think I'll leave unexplained (like the one of me standing in the purple sand at Big Sur; I'm wearing a very small red dress and a live king snake curled around my neck) but there are more people and places in the pile I'd like to share, at least with my family. These are all snapshots from when I traveled and lived elsewhere, with other people who have moved on and don't know me anymore. I lost touch with Bren and Jamie, so they never knew I made something out of all that scribbling I used to do when we were off duty. To them I was just Snow (and no, I'm not going to explain that nickname, either.)

I can do something about this now -- scan the photos, put together a personal e-book explaining the people and the stories I don't mind sharing -- but it made me realize the same is true of my early fiction, and some of my later stuff, too. I've only been keeping novel notebooks for ten years, and even those don't cover everything. I've got 42 books in print, and at least 600 short stories sitting in my files, but the details of what inspired them and how I felt about them remain mostly in my head.

Fortunately I just finished reading The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain, which was as insightful and entertaining as I'd expected, and also offered a solution to my dilemma. At the back of the book is a section called "Commentary" in which Bourdain looks back at his stories in the book and explains them a bit. Sometimes the explanation is involved; sometimes it's only a few lines, but he provides a little background and often how he feels now about the particular piece. I did something similar when I put together the 2009 reissue of Sink or Swim by prefacing all of the stories in the book with a little background on their origins and the resulting novels they inspired or became.

I don't think a writer should provide too many details about the work behind the work, sometimes it's better that the reader not know everything. Still, if I do drop dead tomorrow there are some things I want to explain myself versus having someone try to guess what I was thinking, or no one ever knowing. So I think I will start a For What It's Worth file, and put together a career commentary of my own. I might also include some things like the details of stories I had planned to tell but had not yet written, or chapters and outlines for books such as Clash and Burn, Ghost Writer and Some Like it Hot that I pitched but was never able to sell.

Do you think every writer (or anyone, for that matter) should leave behind a For What It's Worth file? If so, how detailed do you think it should be? Do you have things you'd like to put in yours? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Seven Deadly Writing Sins

Authorial Avarice -- a belief that story length measures story worth, and the longer the better, resulting in enormous rambling novels lasting for upwards of fifteen hundred pages in print. Ultimately said novels are only good for two things: killing bugs the reader swats or serving as an emergency doorstop while unloading groceries from the car.

Book Bitterness -- producing envy-riddled text, in which the author savages some colleague whose books sell better, a highly successful personage with more money than God (usually Bill Gates), or a reviewer who hatchet-jobbed one of their books (for chronic variations, see David Drake/Charles Platt Syndrome.)

Elemental Indolence -- to refrain from properly researching/crafting/rendering some aspect of or element in the story because the author perceives it to be too much work, or something the reader (an idiot) will never understand anyway so why bother explaining it? Usually results in a lot of telling versus showing, housekeeping dialogue or the employment of the word chiaroscuro more than five times in the story.

Literary Lechery -- the author's inclusion of explicit sex scenes or other gratuitous and shocking material, not because they actually serve the story, but in the hope of boosting sales or because their editor told them too. If the author becomes a Christian fiction writer later on in life, s/he will tearfully apologize in public for this (see lesser sins, Hester Prynne Hysteria.)

Over-Ornateness -- a case of extravagant word gluttony, when the author spends most of the story describing things while employing at least three flowery adjectives for every other noun. Also called purple prose, usually begins on the very first page of the novel, when the story initiates with a florid variation of Bulwer-Lytton's notorious opener It was a dark and stormy night . . .

Voice Vanity -- an author who makes all of their protagonists thinly-disguised, highly-idealized versions of themselves; the protagonists are inevitably beautiful, smart, handsome, thin, tall, rich, universally admired and everyone in the novel wants to sleep with them. Usually touched off by the author's messy divorce or overnight success with the first book.

Writer Wrath -- when the author's anger over a political, social or other real world situation takes precedent over entertaining the reader and results in visible ax-grinding within the story. Warning signs: characters who are obvious spoofs of unpopular public figures, wars that result in the unsavory demise of a spoof character, any evil overlord antagonist named something like G'eor Gewb Ush.

Feel free to add your deadly writing sin in comments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goodbye Grill

Since losing two of the baby wrens last week, I've been keeping a close eye on the nest in the grill and the ground around the base. Tonight after I finished washing dinner dishes, I took a peek through the window, and saw a little face staring back at me (click on any of the images to see a larger version):

Of course I grabbed the camera, tiptoed out and checked the other side of the grill, where two more little faces eyed me:

They weren't afraid of me, so I was able to get close enough to take these shots without upsetting them. Then I retreated and went to get my guy and the kids.

Both of their parents were flying back and forth, trying to coax them out of the grill, but were too fast for me to catch with my camera. So we sat on the porch and just enjoyed the show as all three baby wrens left the nest to take their first solo flights.

It took about an hour for them to stretch their wings, making little fluttery practice hops from the grill to the ground to the back of our trailer and up to the trunk of a nearby oak. Only one ended up flying the wrong way -- toward the porch instead of the woods out back -- and got stuck for a minute in a corner:

But he turned himself around (me stalking him with the camera was apparently just the motivation he needed) and a few minutes later joined his family.

The most delightful thing about all the nests we've had around the house this spring has been the opportunity to watch and photograph these moments, see things we've never witnessed, and appreciate the beauty and wonder of Nature at such close range. I've never experienced anything like it. Birds are amazing critters.

And now we really need to clean out the grill.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Entitled Ten

Ten Things to Help You with Titles

Enter a descriptive keyword from your story into the verse search engine at Bartleby.com, which will find lines of poems that contain the word.

Use Wordtracker's online Keyword Suggestion Tool to view the top 100 ways your novel keywords are being used online.

Search quotations and proverbs for your novel keyword over at FaganFinder.com.

Get five random title ideas over at Maygra's Random Title Generator.

Play with the online generators at Serendipity and Seventh Sanctum.

Enter a keyword from your novel into the search engine at Symbols.com and see what it symbolizes around the world.

Take a keyword and find a synonym and an antonym for it, and play with combinations of the two (ala Little Big Man, Beauty and the Beast, etc.)

If you're looking for inspiration, check out Sarah Stodola's article The Top Ten Novel Titles of All Time.

Use a novel keyword in the online search engine over at The Visual Thesaurus.

Play the online Word Association game.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wishing You Dads

LB&LI Workshop Schedule

I've had a couple of writers ask what I have planned for my LB&LI workshops, so here is the (still tentative) list:

Agents and Writers (dealing with an agent after signing)
Art vs. Life (inspiration)
Conceptual Planning, Construction and Development (concept writing)
Diversify and Survive (career strategies)
E-Future (digital publishing)
Middlemarch (plotting and writing the middle of the story)
Standalone Branding (branding ideas for the non-series writer)
Q&A (open thread, last Day)

None of these are set in stone just yet, but that will give you an idea of what I hope to do here at the blog.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Free Lara Adrian

No, she's not locked up or anything. At least I hope she isn't.

I'm posting this quick notice because her publisher, Random House, has put up Kiss of Midnight, the first novel in her Midnight Breed series, for free download in .pdf, Kindle and Sony formats. If you'd prefer to read it online, you can find it at Scribd here. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

No registration or newsletter signup or jumping through hoops required at all, either; for once it's a complete freebie. I tested it myself and once you've downloaded it you can print it out, too. Very cool of her and Random House to do this.

Added: According to RH's Scribd page it's only available for a limited time, so if you want it, grab it now.

Nest Intervention

Our latest backyard drama took a sad turn this week when I took Cole out one morning for his walk. He dragged me around to the grill out back, where we discovered that sometime during the night two of the baby wrens had crawled out of the grill nest and had fallen on the ground. When I found them one had already gone to little bird heaven, and although I carefully replaced the second in the nest, he was in bad shape and passed on a few hours later.

I know, they're just birds, but losing two of the little ones at once broke my heart. So I gathered up some pine needles, and built a retainer wall on the open side of the nest to keep the rest of the babies from falling out.

I also removed the grill rack for the duration, because with my nest augmentation in place it would have been hard for their mom and dad to get to them.

The remaining three are fine and growing up fast, thanks to their parents, who are constantly bringing food to them.

Across the yard from the nest is my oldest, most bad-tempered rose bush (if you read my Darkyn novels, it's the same bush Liling described in Twilight Fall.) We finally found the nerve to cut it back this spring, and for weeks it just sat there looking dead, so I thought it was destined for flower heaven. Since Grill Mama built her nest, however, it's sprouted a dozen new canes, and I wasn't really surprised to see two new opening buds on it this morning.

Rest in peace, little guys.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Caught in the Rye

J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, is once more battling to protect his work. This time his lawyers are trying to block U.S. publication of a novel that has already been touted as "the sequel" to his very famous book. Salinger's literary agent believes a sequel to her client's novel would be worth a $5 million advance. The defendent is claiming the work is effective criticism of Salinger and thus protected by the First Ammendment (although the judge seems to be having trouble finding the critical parts.) The original Catcher has sold over 35 million copies since its publication in 1951.

The reclusive Salinger, who according to the article is now 90 years old, completely deaf, and currently undergoing treatment for a broken hip, has not published any new works since the early sixties. Catcher is his only published novel.

In a similar case concerning copyright law, Alice Randall wrote The Wind Done Gone, a version of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind told from a slave's point of view. The book was published and was on the bestseller lists for weeks, but Houghton Mifflin, Randall's publisher, was obliged to make an undisclosed financial settlement agreement with lawyers for Mitchell's estate. I liked how Morehouse College ended up benefitting from that one.

It's interested to see how these cases play out. I kinda doubt Mr. Salinger is going to win, but you never know. Btw, I would have quoted from the original AP release, but then I'd have to pay them $25.00. Which I find beautifully ironic.

I think instead I'll take my money to the book store and buy a new copy of Catcher in the Rye -- the original.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

LB&LI 2009 Reminder

Next month I'll be holding my fourth annual Left Behind & Loving It virtual workshops here at PBW, beginning July 13th and continuing daily through July 20th, 2009. Back in May I posted an open invitation for all you writers out there to join in, and many of you responded with suggestions and ideas for workshops. This post is my usual reminder for those of you who are still interested or planning to join; I'm putting it up a bit early to give everyone more time to get ready.

The details:

1. It's open to all -- anyone can hold a workshop; it doesn't matter if you're unpublished, published, agent, editor, employed, unemployed, student, retiree, whatever. If you've got something related to writing or publishing that you want to workshop, you're in.

2. You run the show -- you can do a single workshop or as many as you like, and hold them at any time during that week.

3. Linkage -- if you hold your workshop on your blog during the week of July 13th through July 20th, I will link to it here on PBW for the entire week while I'm running mine.

My suggestions (all optional):

1. Keep your blog comments open so your visitors can discuss the topic of your workshop, ask questions and add their own ideas. The real fun of a virtual workshop is always the visitor participation.

2. If applicable, put together worksheets, outlines, or other helpful materials related to your topic for your visitors' use. You can post these online as part of your workshop or have them available for downloading elsewhere (I recommend Scribd.com if you don't have a website and/or need a place to park them; I've used it for the last two years to publish e-book versions of my workshops.) *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

3. Link to articles, web site pages and other sources on the internet that are relevant to the topic of your workshop. I especially like to find links to writers who have a different perspective than mine because they offer second opinions on the topic.

4. Consider having a giveaway(s) for your visitors. Published writers, if you've got some extra author copies sitting around and you can swing the postage, have a drawing for a signed copy or two. Unpublished writers, if there's a how-to book, magazine or other resource that has helped you, consider giving away a copy of it during your workshop. Or think up your own unique giveaway -- whatever you do, it will be appreciated.

Along with my usual goodie bags, this year I'm putting together some surprises. Since these are still in the works I'm going to keep quiet about them for a bit longer, but stay tuned for more details.

I'll be posting my workshop schedule as well as another reminder on July 1st, and a call for participating bloggers to send me their workshop links beginning on July 12th (I'll also accept links whenever you all send them to me, up through July 20th.)

Does anyone have any questions about LB&LI? If you do, please post them in comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Writing Avoidance

I don't suffer from too many commonplace superstitions. I'm not afraid of the number thirteen; I don't think you have to be born in October to wear opals safely. A rabbit's foot to me only means the rabbit it belonged to had some bad luck. Black cats are welcome to cross my path any time.

It's the same with work. I do certain things that I think are more comfort rituals than actual superstitions, such as wearing an old green shirt on the day I'm going to finish writing a novel, or putting on socks or slippers when I'm working (weirdly, I've never been able to write when I'm barefoot.)

But I do avoid writing certain things in novels for various reasons. Dentists never make it into my stories; I've had too many bad experiences under their care and would no doubt do them great harm on the page. Neither do shrinks, teachers or chiropractors appear in my books for the same reason. They'd all be instant red shirts.

Characters named Sabra, Chastity, Noah and Madison never appear in my stories; I don't like those names. Scenes with animals relieving themselves seem utterly tacky to me (although I have no problem showing humans while they're in the powder room -- go figure that one out.) The most pretentious thing I ever saw another author do was write themselves into a novel as a character, using their real life identity and occupation for the character. I don't even like to write about characters who work as writers, and yet I'm fine with poets in a story.

I don't think there's any sense or logic to it. We like what we like. We avoid what we don't. Sometimes it's good to make ourselves write about something we always avoid (one of the reasons I wrote Roomies, to see if I could make writers funny versus boring.)

So what do you generally avoid putting in a story? Have you ever tried making yourself write something you'd rather not? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Video Your Book

Promotional book videos -- aka trailers for books -- are still a popular form of online marketing. The expense involved with having them done professionally, however, often puts them out of reach of most authors' budgets.

When Samhain author Kinsey W. Holley wanted to do a trailer for her upcoming June release, Kiss and Kin, she decided to have some fun and make it herself.

The result was an attractive, funny video (you can watch it here.) I thought it was quite fetching, and unlike most of the high-priced trailers I've watched, definitely interested me in purchasing the novel. Which means it works.

But how does an author make a promotional book video that doesn't require a degree in movie production or empty out the savings account? Kinsey was kind enough to share the nuts and bolts of what she did with me via e-mail (posted with permission):

"I made it in Photo Story 3, free from Microsoft and I got the images from Dreamstime, a royalty free stock photo sight. that's the only bit that cost money - you buy credits in pre-packaged amounts, and spend the credits to download the photos. I spent about 50 bucks by the time it was done.

Music was harder - the royalty free music sites are expensive - ten bucks for a few seconds of music, 60 bucks or more for a few minutes. I spent ten bucks to get a short sample of something before I realized I couldn't record and loop it - I could make it play over and over again, but I couldn't eliminate the start and stop in the middle.

Then I went into PhotoStory and realized there's an option to "create" your own music. It's limited, of course, but you pick the style and instrument and you can preview it - the music starts playing when your video starts, and it stops itself at the end. I messed around with a few styles till I got one that seems to fit - it even slows down at two very appropriate spots in the video.

Basically, if I can do this, anyone can do this."

Kinsey also had more advice for authors interested in creating their own trailers and where to put them online:

"The main thing to remember when making a book video is to keep it short - don't go over a minute if you can help it (I'm long winded so mine goes to 11:11). Anyone who's doing a book trailer should put it up both places - their website and Youtube. One last thought. The Romance Studio has very reasonable ad rates - you can advertise your book trailer for one week for ten dollars, for instance, and they offer other formats as well."

Now we'll all agree I am the most technically-challenged writer in NetPubLand, because, well, I am. I've never made a video before and I know nothing about video-making beyond popping a tape into on our handheld movie camera, aiming it at birthday cake, Christmas tree or whatever holiday we're celebrating, and pushing the red button. I think that qualifies me as an excellent test subject, so this week I'm going to follow Kinsey's methods and see if I can make one of my own.

What do you guys think of trailers for books? Any likes, dislikes, advice for the novice trailer-maker? Any great, author-created trailers out there we should see? Let us know what you think, and links if you have them, in comments.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Priceless Ten

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

The free edition of AvancePaint is "a complete paint program designed with a unique intuitive user interface that makes AvancePaint easy to learn and use. It’s powerful enough to suit the advanced user and yet simple enough to please the beginner. Open unlimited number photo's or pictures and unleash your artistic talents as you will discover the advanced and powerful but easy to use graphical options! A complete set of more then 20 photo-realistic filters and more then 40 textures are included. Uses only 3Mb of harddisk space" (OS: Windows 95/98/98se/Me/2k/3k/NT/XP and Vista)

Chateau is a "simple 3D drawing system that demonstrates suggestive interface. You can make 3D models such as houses and buildings without explicit buttons and menus" (OS: "It runs on Windows platforms (DirectX 3- is required)")

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" (OS: Windows 98/ME/NT4/2000/XP/2003/Vista)

With Foto-Mosaik-Edda, you can "create mosaic-pictures, which are composed of many small pictures (tiles), from your own photos. The single pictures will be analysed and copied into one or more databases. You can use your holiday photos, pictures of the last family celebration or even take over whole picture-CDs into the database" If you have a lot of cover art images or other promotional pics you might be able to do something interesting with this (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

Get some free sound effects (WAV and MP3) for use in your video, film, audio and multimedia productions. If you're looking for free music, also check out Open Music Archive.

Instant Writing Resources Toolbar is "a free toolbar providing instant access to free writing resources and writing links. Developed by Rowdy Rhodes its primary use is to provide access to the massive writing resource site Freelance Writing Organization - Int´l. which was established in 1999. The Tool Bar Includes Thousands of Resources, Freelance Writing Jobs, Job Search, Global Sponsors, RSS Feeds, Online Text Formatter and Character Counter, Dictionary, How-To-Write Library, Encyclopedia, Chat, Software, Writing Courses, over 55 Online Games and Gadgets, a Writers Radio Station by Writers for Writers, Forums, a Writers Store with Over 50,000+ Writing Products from Four Separate Suppliers, Writers Site News Archives, Windows Tray Alerts Announcing New Resources and Jobs, POP3 Email Notifier for All Your Email Accounts and a Help Desk" Sounds like it does everything but go to the post office for you. Note: looks like registration is required to access the database, but the developer's site says it's free. (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista)

LocalWeblog is "a program that allows you to run your own private web based notebook simply in one folder . . . lets you to save your notes, organize them by categories and supports text-search among notes. Each note can contain picture, audio or video information and WebLog will play it (by means of embedded plaer). LocalWebLog goes with a numbers of asp.net-Themes and can look differently , it also has some funny scripts that you can run" (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP)

This one should be called Way of the Cheetah trainingware -- Momentum Writer is "the ultimate tool for distraction-free writing. Like a mechanical typewriter, users are prevented from editing previously written text. There are no specific formatting options, no scrolling, deleting, or revisions. Momentum Writer doesn’t even allow you to use the backspace key. Momentum Writer forces you to write, to move forward, to add new words. It halts the temptation to linger, revise, and correct" (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP)

Speak-a-Message replaces written text with your voice: Just record and send . . . provides a rich communication experience that enables you to create and email your own audio messages and to listen to audio messages in your inbox . . . can also be used to add audio comments to text documents or to add your voice comments to presentations." Features: "Excellent audio compression: A 4-minute voice message requires only about 500kB; Recorded audio messages can also be played back on common media players; Enter author and title for an audio message; Messages can be marked as private (playback should occur in private or with headphones); Sends audio messages via your email client; Integrates into the menu of MS Outlook; Voice notes, voice comments and recordings of talks can be added to: MS PowerPoint presentations, MS Word documents" (OS: Win 2000/XP)

With WPanaorama, you "can display panoramic pictures by letting them scroll horizontally or vertically on the screen. You can use this software to view the gorgeous 360° swiss panorama included with the program, the 714 panoramas available on the developer´s site or your own pictures in .jpg or .bmp format" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Jim Duncan, a fellow writer who I chat about the biz with regularly over at my group blog, posted the first three chapters of his fantasy novel, Order of the Nine ~ The Stonebearers over on Scribd.com (he also posted an entire paranormal suspense novel, Dead World, if you're looking for a free book to read. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.

The unusual thing about Jim's partial novel is that it's not the usual black and white e-book with color cover art. It's all in color, with the pages lightly tinted to look like parchment and headers and footers printed in dark brown to contrast with the black story text. He also included some maps of the story world as well as interesting story bits in sidebar boxes with a different colored background and font. I've never seen a fiction e-book like it, and I thought it was very different and quite attractive.

The idea is definitely ahead of our technology -- at the moment I believe all the e-reader devices on the market simply have black-and-white screens (and I don't own any so please correct me if I'm wrong.) The only way to appreciate an e-book in color like Jim's would be either on your computer or a device with a color screen that can display electronic text (I might try to download this to my Palm and see if I can view the colors on it.)

We all know how insanely expensive it would be to print a fiction book in color; we leave that privilege to the children's and nonfic authors. For fiction writers, everything other than the cover art has to be in black and white. But looking at Jim's innovative work makes me wonder if we really have to stick to the B&W rule for fiction e-books. What is stopping us from adding a little color to our electronic reads?

Now, I'm not proposing that everyone go crazy with color and publish e-books with electric blue fonts on hot pink pages. Whenever you use color in conjunction with something you have to read for an extended period of time, or that will be read from a digital or electronic device, less is always more. But Jim Duncan's example has me thinking of ways I can use color beyond the cover art. I'd probably start out lightly tinting the pages and see what effects I can get.

What do you guys think? Good idea, bad idea, something to play with and see what happens? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Writer Jeopardy!

Let's play Writer Jeopardy!

Now, pretend I'm Alex Trebek, only shorter, white-haired, and not a guy or Canadian. I'll give you the answers, and you pick the correct questions (or write in your own.) Oh, and we're playing for reserves against returns money, which of course means you'll never receive it, but hey, you can still dream, right?

Ready? Here we go:

Sticky situations for $50, and the answer is: Your reaction to a .jpg of of a colleague's latest cover art, which is hideous.

A. What is "That's the ugliest cover I've ever seen and the cover model resembles a cheesy portrait of Charlie Sheen when he was big time into drugs and hookers."

B. What is "Oh, my Lord, I think I've developed a spontaneous, blinding case of pink eye!"

C. What is "Honey, have I ever told you about PBW's new club for cover-traumatized authors?"

Sticky Situations for $60, and the answer is: What you do when you're invited by your editor to join in an online promotional venture that is described to you as "a friendly smackdown" on a major industry web site between you, another author to be named later, a book buyer and the general public.

A. What is you refuse, and your editor is pissed at you forever.

B. What is you accept, and you are subsequently torn to pieces online, which for some reason makes your editor happy. Maybe it was that crack about the last cover.

C. What is you join the Peace Corps and request assignment to a country that bans the internet.

Sticky Situations for $70, and the answer is: This happens after someone tells you about the latest SF online cabal to be formed and sends you a copy of their earnest manifesto, all of which gives new meaning to the words "high speed train wreck."

A. What is you visit the cabal site and have a really good private laugh, for which you should feel guilty but don't.

B. What is you comment at the cabal site, giving five more young writers reasons to hate you forever and blame you for all their career woes.

C. What is you write a kind post on your blog about how everyone in SF goes through a cabal/manifesto stage. It's like acne. Or arguing about HEA in romance. But I digress, Alex.

Sticky Situations for $80, and the answer is: What you e-mail as advice for a popular author whose new blog design is beyond creepy while knowing that everyone wants the old one back but are too afraid of hurting her feelings to tell her.

A. What is you tell her it's beyond creepy and to take it down right now.

B. What is you don't tell her it's beyond creepy, and hope it spontaneously implodes.

C. What is you suggest the author set up an anonymous opinion poll to see what her visitors think of the new blog design. Then vote 100,000 times for "I hate it" or "Ick, take it down."

Sticky Situations for $90, DAILY DOUBLE!!!! and the answer is: This is what you do after you're asked to interview the gorgeous and massively talented actress/singer/model known as Beyoncé, but only when she's in the character of her new, second persona Sasha Fierce.

A. What is you ask Ms. Fierce if the guy who dressed her in Harley spare parts was the one who suggested the new name, then you never work in Publishing again.

B. What is your entire interview consists of you making this statement: "Are you out of your freaking mind, you ditzy twit?" and then you never work in Publishing again.

C. What is you suggest to Ms. Fierce that what works as a catch phrase for fashion design reality show winners may not necessarily do the same for one of the most beautiful women in the world, especially when she already had a very cool name, and maybe you can work for the National Enquirer in twenty years or so.

FINAL JEOPARDY, and the answer is: This is how you illustrate some of the many, real life sticky situations writers find themselves caught in while making it sound like fun.

A. What is making a puppet show video and posting it on YouTube.

B. What is writing it into your next novel, only with guns and car crashes and spontaneous sex in the ladies room of a county courthouse.

C. What is Writer Jeopardy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quints Take Two

Last week we discovered that the bird fearlessly nesting in our grill was another wren; this week she finally flew out to get something to eat, and we cautiously checked the nest while she was gone to see this (click on any of the images for a larger version):

The headcount -- or beakcount? -- told us that all five of her eggs hatched, making this our second set of wren quints. Since Mama was gone we decided to gently lift the rack and get a close-up shot of the babies:

From their size and general condition I'd guess they're about a day or two old:

I was worried they wouldn't hatch because the interior of the grill might be too hot for the nest, but despite temperatures in the 90's Mama spends most of the day in there, and they seem to be doing fine.

This definitely puts an end to our outdoor grilling for a while, but the babies are so damn tiny and cute I can't complain. What a spring this has been.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Antagonist No-Nos

Ten Things I Hate About Your Antagonist

As evil/psycho as the antagonist is, everyone in the story loves and/or admires her, except for the protagonist, who from the beginning and with no evidence whatsoever somehow senses that she's up to no good.

It must be the same psychic power that also allows the protag to fall totally in love with a complete stranger in less than 24 hours.

Beauty, wealth, power and social position are never enough for the antagonist, who will without hesitation throw them all away for a single, slim chance at revenge.

Didn't someone send her the memo about how beauty, wealth, power and social position are, in fact, revenge?

Despite the vastness and complexity of his personal arsenal, the antagonist never carries a backup weapon or extra ammunition.

That would ruin the moment when he throws his empty weapon at the protagonist's head, I suppose.

Five words sum up the antagonist's ambitions: "I will destroy the world."

Oh yeah? Here's seven more: Afterward, where are you going to live?

The antagonist chooses for his sidekick someone whose IQ is in the low two digits.

Sure, when I want backup, I definitely consider "criminally stupid" as a primary job qualification.

He's never loved a single person in his entire miserable life, nor has ever shown any interest in anyone but himself, yet upon seeing for the first time the protagonist's love interest, the antagonist also falls head over heels for her, too.

Blinded by the awesome glitter of her hooha, I guess.

In spite of a long history of bad behavior, no one the antagonist has ever messed with comes after him with their own plans for revenge.

Naturally they're all sitting at home and silently seething while they stick pins in an antagonist doll.

In the middle of the final crisis in the story, when she has the upper hand over everyone, the antagonist proudly delivers a full confession of all the wrong she's done.

Hmmmm. Maybe she's Catholic.

The antagonist honestly believes that if she eliminates her romantic rival that the protagonist will subsequently, instantly fall for her.

Naturally the moment we lose the love of our life we want to jump right into another relationship.

When he's finally in a position to actually bump off the protagonist, whom he's wanted dead since page one, the antagonist immediately thinks of a reason not to kill him.

This usually involves some sort of extended period of suffering that is also rife with oppotunities for escape, payback, alerting the authorities, etc.

Related links:

Peter Anspach's classic, hilarious Evil Overlord list.

Harry's article Creating the Best Antagonists.

J.C. Hewitt's article How Good is Your Bad Guy?

Dana Mitchells' article Sleeping with the Enemy: Writing from Your Antagonist's POV

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Writer Dad Gifts

Ten Things to Give Your Favorite Dad/Writer for Father's Day

(most for $10.00 U.S. or less)

Wal-Mart has 169 albums in their 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection for less than $10.00; these feature the bestselling or most popular songs by an artist or a group, i.e. The Best of Robert Palmer.

A hardcover edition of Sun Tzu's classic The Art of War is currently available at B&N.com on sale: $7.95*

Over at HisNibs.com, Norman has a collection of Bookworm Abstract series fountain pens that might please the old-fashioned, pen-loving writer dad: $15.00

BooksforaBuck.com has a page of free and $1.00 e-books. Shop early; Deadly Sting by Michael Paulson is available for $1.00 until June 19, 2009.

Clark Cable Wire Identifier can help dad figure out his connections fast: $9.71*

If Dad needs a break from writing, the coolest made-for-Dad movie I've ever seen is Frequency with Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel: $5.32

A gift card for any bookstore where your writer Dad likes to shop is always welcome; $10.00 will buy him a paperback and a cup of coffee at the bookstore cafe.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an online store with lots of cool things for Dad; I recommend Louis Comfort Tiffany at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as it's currently half price: $9.95

Get Dad's desk in order with Office Depot's Rotary Desk Organizer: $9.69

Jason Rekulak's The Writers Block is a nice big chunk book of daily writing ideas, insight and inspiration: $9.95*

*Less with B&N membership card

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Who Lives Here?

The July '09 issue of Architectural Digest has photo spreads on some amazing homes, including one Miami Beach high-rise apartment furnished in a frosty minimalist style, with almost nothing but snowy white furnishings and clear crystal accent pieces (interior designer Jennifer Post doesn't have photos of it on her web site, but it's along the same lines as the Stiles residence.

I thought the look was stunning -- like something from an alien world -- but I cringed when I read that the people who live in it have a Great Dane. Baby, you bring a dog into an all-white home, you'd better have stored up plenty of bleach and pet stain remover.

I spend a fair amount of time looking at homes, rooms, and different places we inhabit, either in real life or in magazines like AD. I've often said that I dislike writing setting so much that I'd rather have the entire story take place in a featureless void. I think that's like living in an all-white house, though, so I'm working on improving my attitude. Because I like characters so much, I gravitate toward unlikely details, or the ways people express themselves and/or leave their mark through the places they inhabit. One way to figure this out is to try doing it in reverse with the Who Lives Here? game -- look at a room, and try to guess what sort of person it belongs to.

For example, I can see a room like this and imagine the owner curled up with her cat and reading a good book. I imagine she's a woman who likes to put her feet up and relax (the ottoman), treasures her books but doesn't like to dust (glass doors on her book cases) and has a quirky sense of humor (the curtain fabric.)

I don't know how the owner of this studio/workspace keeps all those little bits organized, but it's safe to say she loves selection, color and variety. The letters spelling out ART on the wall are a very direct statement; that says to me that she's likely gotten some flack about the value of her work. All the bins and drawers remind me of a controlled pack rat who has learned the value of proper sorting and storing. And that lovely view from the window must provide as much distraction as inspiration.

When I first looked at this master bedroom I immediately thought "bachelor sports nut." But in all fairness the owner could be a man or a woman or a married couple (I know some gals like the locker room look.) I'm intrigued by the shelves of shoe boxes and racks of what looks like running suits -- who needs that many sneakers and sweats, and why? But I can tell that here is someone who has seriously nested, surrounding themselves with everything they love best, and who isn't going to apologize for it.

If you'd like to play the Who Lives Here? game, look at the following photo (and click on it if you'd like to see a bigger version) and tell me in comments who you think this room might belong to:

Monday, June 08, 2009

Techno Ten

Ten Things to Help Writers with Tech Problems

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

Applejack 1.5 is a "user friendly troubleshooting assistant for Mac OS X. With AppleJack you can troubleshoot a computer even if you can't load the GUI, or don't have a startup CD handy. AppleJack runs in Single User Mode and is menu-based for ease of use" (OS: Mac OS X 10.2 or higher)

Damaged DOCX2TXT will "extract the text even from damaged or corrupted Word 2007 docx files where Word 2007 itself fails to salvage text. It can also be simply used as a viewer of the text in a docx file without having Word 2007" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Glary Utilities is "the #1 free, powerful and all-in-one utility in the world market! It offers numerous powerful and easy-to-use system tools and utilities to fix, speed up, maintain and protect your PC." Features: "Optimize, clean and boost the speed of your Windows; protect your privacy and security; block spyware, trojans, adware, etc.; fix certain application errors; simple, fast and User friendly interface." For personal/private use only (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista)

Marie Stroughter's article, Getting Rid of Dust Bunnies Hiding in Your Computer

For everyone who drinks while they type, How to Clean a Spill on the Keyboard.

Undelete allows you to "undelete files that you have accidentally deleted from your drives" (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista/7/9x/ME/NT4)

Also from Roadkil.net, Unstoppable Copier "recovers files from disks with physical damage. Allows you to copy files from disks with problems such as bad sectors, scratches or that just give errors when reading data. The program will attempt to recover every readable piece of a file and put the pieces together. Using this method most types of files can be made useable even if some parts were not recoverable in the end" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3)

WhoCrashed is "a comprehensible crash dump analysis tool. Whenever a computer running Windows suddenly reboots without displaying any notice or blue screen of death, the first thing that is often thought about is a hardware failure. In reality, most crashes are caused by malfunctioning device drivers and kernel modules. In case of a kernel error, most computers running Windows do not show a blue screen unless they are configured to do so. Instead these systems suddenly reboot without any notice. WhoCrashed allows you to find out which drivers have been responsbile for crashing your computer (in most cases) without requiring any debugging skills. The home edition of WhoCrashed does local crash dump analysis and is licensed for use at home only" (OS: Win 2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Microsoft has an official Windows Vista Solution Center, but I prefer checking sites like geekgirls.com that talk to me like I'm a person, not another computer.

If you're tired of all the menus and buttons and distractions built into Word 2007, Lifehacker recommends WriteSpace, an add-on utility that makes all that stuff go away with just the touch of a button to create a less cluttered writing environment (OS: Windows or OS that can run Word 2007)

Also: for those of you interested in creating a virtual, navigable 3D panarama of your 2D photos and pics, check out Photosynth.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sometimes Telling

Yesterday I got a good impromtu lesson in storytelling when my guy took me out for brunch. To set this up, you have to understand how my love and I are when we're out in public -- 99% of the time he's friendly, outgoing and chatty, and strangers generally adore him; I think it's a combination of the voice and the personality. He's wonderfully likeable and his deep, beautiful voice is a pleasure to listen to. In contrast I'm quiet, pleasant but reserved, and I'm not as comfortable chatting up strangers (might be the squeaky voice.) As a result I usually get smiled at but mainly ignored.

Not so yesterday. Our waitress ignored my guy completely, giving him only the minimum amount of attention while lavishing me with her full focus. If the woman could have hand-fed me, I think she would have. It made me a little uneasy -- I don't like being the center of attention anywhere -- and puzzled. When our orders came, for example, she served me first, cautioned me about my plate being hot, checked to see if I wanted any special condiments, refilled my water and asked me twice if I needed anything else. She then turned, dropped my guy's plate in front of him with an audible thump, ignored his empty coffee cup, and strode off without another word.

"Uh, do you have an ex-wife I don't know about?" I asked my guy.

"No." He was confused, too. "I've never been here before now. I didn't harass her, did I?" When I shook my head, he sniffed the collar of his shirt. "I'm clean."

Through the rest of our meal the waitress checked on us frequently, although she continued to treat me like a princess and my guy like an ogre. I was almost afraid to leave him alone with her when I went to the ladies room. Then, while I was washing my hands, I looked into the mirror and realized the cause. It was my left eye, all swollen, purple and stitched up as it was. I've been wearing sunglasses in public so no one has to look at it, but once I was seated (I sat with my back to the other tables), I'd swapped them out for my regular glasses.

I knew what was wrong with my eye, of course, but the waitress didn't.

I went back to the table, sat down, and the waitress immediately hurried over to refresh my water glass. As she did, I became uncharacteristically chatty and told her how good the meal had been, and how nice it was not to have to cook after having surgery. As she stared at me, I gave her a brief synopsis of the procedure and how great the doctor had been to let me go home. Then I beamed at my guy and mentioned some of the many ways he'd been pampering me, driving me around and generally treating me like a princess.

Worked like a charm. From that point on the waitress relaxed and was (almost) as nice to my guy as she was to me. I left her a very nice tip, and once we were outside my guy said, "What was that all about?"

I chuckled. "She was mean to you because she thought you popped me one in the eye."

"What?" He was horrified, and rightly so. The man has never laid so much as a pinky on me in anger. "Why would she think that?"

"Me wearing sunglasses, sitting so no one could see my face, and me being quiet while you were all friendly and chatty," I told him. "It's a reasonable assumption."

"But how could it be, without her knowing us at all?"

And here was the crux of the matter. "Some man probably hit on her or someone she loves."

As writers, we're inundated with show-versus-tell advice. Show the reader the eye; don't tell them about it. I go along with this in part because I would rather show the reader anything than tell them about it. I'm not a fan of narrative; it puts me to sleep.

But while we're busy showing our readers the battered faces and black eyes in our stories, we also have to consider seeing it through their eyes. What we show them may invoke a memory or feeling that has nothing to do with us, our stories or the point we're trying to communicate. The reader is whisked off to a place we don't know about, and often it can be the exact opposite of the place where we wanted to take them.

I'm not a writer who puts it all up front for the reader to know first before the story gets rolling. I want to surprise the reader as the plot unfolds because I think that's more exciting. But this incident reminds me that sometimes you do have to tell a bit along with the show -- or your reader may get the wrong idea entirely.

Saturday, June 06, 2009


"Given a choice between being trapped on a desert island with a group of writers or a family of howler monkeys, I think I'd pick the monkeys. At least I could eat them." -- Anthony Bourdain, The Nasty Bits

I adore Anthony Bourdain. He's such a black-hearted thug, but Christ, can he write. He also gets to travel the world in search of wonderful food. That's why I picked him as the currently living writer I am most jealous of over at Raine's discussion on green-eyed monsters over at the Chicas blog.

But envy and admiration aside, would I want to be stranded on a deserted island with Mr. Bourdain? Sure, as long as I hunt and gather, and he cooks. This is because one of my definitions of hell would be my guy coming home one day and saying, "Honey, I met that No Reservations guy downtown, and told him how much you like his books, so he's going to drop by for dinner." If that ever happened, well, I own some very sharp carbon steel kitchen knives, and I know where my carotid and femoral arteries are.

The quotation did get me thinking about with whom I would not want to be stranded. Obviously any cannibals would have to go, as would certain radio talk show personalities (unless I could toss them to the cannibals.) But out of all the writers I've met either in person or online over the last ten years, there are only four I would immediately vote off my deserted island. I can think of many more writers with whom I'd never mind being stranded. Start that list with any name on my blog roll over there -->

How about you guys? How many writers do you think you'd have to kick off your island?

Friday, June 05, 2009


I am not really here; I'm actually lounging around recovering from some minor eye surgery. All went well, although I now know (at least, temporarily) what it's like to be one-eyed. Very weird. I expect tomorrow I'm going to wake up with a stupendous shiner. I was going to tell this risque joke about a one-eyed man and a parrot, but the language will kill my blog's G-rating, and then Disney will never buy the rights for a cartoon series.

I'm kidding. Seriously. I'm holding out for an HBO series.

Tami mentioned in comments yesterday that the cover model for Shadowlight looks like the same model on Gena Showalter's The Nymph King. I'm not sure; I was told that they didn't put the model's entire head on my cover because he was bald and had no eyebrows. Since my vision is at 50%, I'll let you guys tell me -- do you think it looks like the same dude?

And to complete this very lazy and discombobulated post, I've put an excerpt from the second Kyndred novel, tentatively titled Dreamveil over at the stories blog (it was that or pics of the eye, which I'm really trying not to inflict on anyone.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009


I must be in a bad subconscious mood this week. I have seven draft posts written and ready to be edited and scheduled to post (I try to keep at least two weeks ahead of the blog, but I've fallen behind.) Tonight when I read over them to pick out something for today, I realized all seven are either too blunt, too impolitic, or too satirical for public consumption. I can tone down most of them, and I will, but one was so vicious that I have to delete it.

I've been at this gig for a while now, and the biggest casualty aside from my heart has been my patience. Ask any career writer; after the gilt wears off and we reach that nebulous territory called "established" most of us get tired of the nonsense. We learn what the deal is, and we make our peace with it (or we quit the biz.) I'd like to think that we grow that famous thick skin and accept our battle scars, but on occasion knowledge combined with experience can also arm you with certain weapons the fresh troops don't yet have. It's not exactly sporting to use an AK-47 on a youngster with a sharp stick, no matter how many times he pokes you with it.

I'd rather laugh at myself than use my powers for the dark side, which is why that one post is destined for the garbage. As funny as it is -- and I think it would have most of you guys rolling on the floor -- Pokey has enough problems.

So let's look at my current dilemma: I have to send my mom a copy of the cover art for Shadowlight, which as you all know has a naked male torso on it. My first naked male torso cover, as it happens (I was overdue, I suppose.) It's not to my taste or what I'd hoped for, but what else is new? So should I tell Mom:

1) He's not showing anything that would upset the ladies at church, unless you squint at the stuff behind the byline and title.

2) People will think he's cold and feel sorry for him.

3) It could have been something like a naked snake-man.

4) He's in great shape so he's obviously been eating his vegetables, like his Mom told him.

5) We can apply some nice T-shirt-shaped stickers that say "autographed by the author" on the ones I sign before we show them to the ladies at church.

6) He's not pink.

6a) Or an albino.

6b) Or a pink albino Robin Hood.

6c) What, you thought I was going to pass up another opportunity to whine?

7) Maybe I've been cover art cursed and we need to go see a gypsy. Or a priest. Or a gypsy priest.

8) He's obviously just come back from the beach and didn't have time to put on some clothes.

9) Right before the photo shoot his girlfriend accidentally washed his clothes in Tide, which gives him a rash.

10) He desperately needed the money from posing for the cover to pay for an operation for his poor sick Mom.

10a) I desperately need the money from this book to pay for an operation.

10b) I'll limp more than usual when I give her the books.

11) He was running a fever.

12) He has a really bad shirt phobia.

13) My cover art was accidentally switched with someone else's, which means right now some erotica author is bitching about the fully-clothed guy on her cover.

14) He's really wearing a shirt with a manly torso printed on the front of it, and it's just very tight.

15) He needed to express to the world his utter joy in the beautiful body that God gave him, and this was the most efficient way to do it.

15a) No, I don't think she'll fall for that one, either.

16) As always, we writers have little to no say and no control over cover art. We take the good, the bad, and the ugly. As cover models go, this one is young, handsome, and -- bonus -- not pink. We must be grateful for our blessings, even if they're not what we would have chosen.

17) And I'll get those T-shirt-shaped autographed stickers made up right away.

Let me know what you think in comments.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bookplates or Signed Books?

I buzzed by Borders tonight to pick up Emma Holly's newest release, Kissing Midnight and see what else was hitting the shelves for June. I don't buy many Baen hardcovers as a general rule (they've fallen apart on me too many times) but I spotted a copy of Longeye, the sequel to Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Duainfey, which I had already bought as a gift for a friend, and picked that up to add to the gift. I knew going in that I had to wait until the 30th for Darkness Calls, the sequel to Marjorie M. Liu's The Iron Hunt, but that I have on preorder. From there it was just casual browsing.

I caught a glimpse of a zombie version of a classic literary novel, spun around and walked the other way. I've heard a lot about it, but the cover art is beyond repulsive, and the shock value or whatever didn't work on me. I ended up in the lit/mainstream aisle, and spotted a popular author's new title, which had an autographed sticker on the cover and a nice bookmark sticking out of it. Since I don't often have the chance to get signed copies of anything, I grabbed two copies (one for me and one for LB&LI) and headed for the register. Only when I got home did I discover that the books weren't actually signed, but had a signed bookplate glued to the inside cover.

This bothered me, as I don't care for signed bookplates. I made up a batch once for an indy bookseller who requested them, but that left me feeling like I'd cheated, and I never did them again. I don't know why I don't like them, either. They're certainly a practical alternative to doing the real thing. Authors, especially popular ones, can't be expected to hold signings all over the country. Most can't travel overseas to sign books for non-U.S. readers.

To me a signed book, even if it's flat-signed, has some value, not just as a collectible but as a memento. If you attend signings, you get to meet the author in person, and that's usually an event a reader likes to remember. Even if the author is like me and doesn't do signings but instead mails out signed books, there's still a degree of personal connection there. The author held the book to sign it before sending it off.

The bookplate is signed, too, but that happened when it was probably in a stack of blanks that the author signed, one right after another, then mailed off to a bookstore where one of the staff glued it to the inside of the new stock. It just doesn't seem as personal to me.

Maybe I'm being too picky, though. What do you guys think? Are bookplates okay with you, or do you prefer to have the author sign the book itself?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Blame Jason

The Twenty Most Annoying People You Meet at a Writer's Conference

Agent Aloof -- the literary agent who sits only with his authors, who act like bodyguards. Doesn't actually talk to anyone but has his authors tell everyone who tries to approach that his client list is full and he isn't looking for any new authors to rep. Wears enough pricey-spicey cologne to choke a cat. Seems to spend the entire conference on his mobile phone having muttered arguments with an editor at Tor, an editor at Kensington, the buyer at Borders, or someone named Debby.

Booze Bunnies -- the giggly attendee who parks in the middle of the hotel bar, guzzles innumerable colorful fruit drinks with little umbrellas in them, and who remains completely sauced throughout the conference. Smells of whatever drink she spilled or threw up on herself. Upscale variation: holds court in the hotel bar, swills expensive wine or scotch while extolling their virtues, which everyone else is too uneducated to appreciate.

Book of Her Heart Betty -- the older, depressed but determined attendee who lugs around the same 900 page manuscript she's been working on for the last thirty years, which she pitches to anyone who stands near her for longer than three seconds. Leaves a solid wake of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. Will try to sneak in to editor/agent appointments and crash publisher cocktail parties, but justifies this because it is, after all, the book of her heart.

Business Card Boy -- this is the attendee whose sole purpose is to nail everyone with one of the ten thousand colorful homemade business cards he brought to the conference (because a business card is a portal to instant fame, naturally.) Is sweaty all the time and smells like it. His contact info, six e-mail accounts, web site and blog URLS along with ISBNs and titles for every novel he's written or has thought about writing are printed on the card in 2 pt font that is too blurry or smeared to read.

Button & Ribbon Rack -- the gal who adorns herself with every single conference pin, ribbon, and other proof-of-attendance bauble since writer cons were invented. Usually about six feet tall and weighs more than the average grizzly; easy to hear approaching because she clinks and tinkles when she walks. If you so much as smile at her, will corner you and tell you the backstory that goes with every single one of her buttons, ribbons and baubles. Has a terrible case of halitosis. Goes ballistic if registration runs out of the freebie buttons and pins before she can nab her share.

Character Dragsters -- the writer who insists on dressing up as one of his characters, usually from a historic time period or from the distant future when apparently vividly-colored and poorly tailored polyester is the clothing of choice. Carries reproduction weapons like cheap aluminum swords, non-functional muskets, blunted or wooden katanas, etc. Affects a phony accent; usually one he thinks sounds British but is closer to that of a Southie on a bender. Is so flatulent no one can sit near him for longer than sixty seconds. When in character drag, he will not wear his conference name tag or answer to his real name.

Comp Complainer -- the lightly- or newly-published writer who expected to get everything for free, and didn't. Sulks like a wet cat and smells a bit like one, too. Bitterly complains about the massive conspiracy to insult her or ignore her genius for the duration of the conference.

Disappointment Diva -- the attendee who despises the conference, doesn't get to do any of the things she came to do, and/or was publicly snubbed by someone, all of which happened during the first five minutes of the conference. Gives off fumes like milk curdling on a low-heat hot plate. Spends the next three to five days doing nothing but whining about what she missed or writing a letter of complaint to the con committee about it. Demands but doesn't get a full refund.

Disgruntled Demi-God -- an indy celeb author who generates long lines of admirers hoping for an autograph or a kind word, but doesn't show up for half of his scheduled events or sits and scowls through them. Smells of money, cocaine, 20 year old Scotch or hair gel.

Filker From Hell -- a self-styled musician/singer/composer who dresses like a RenFaire refugee and carries at least one or more handmade musical instruments on her person. Doesn't speak but when inspired breaks into improvisational song or strumming, blowing, piping, etc. (and every improvisational song is a slightly off-key variation of Greensleeves.) Smells a bit moldy due to the damp cache of herbs in her velvet neck pouch. Becomes hostile only when someone interrupts anything before the seventeenth chorus of her current tune. Is a fan of only two authors (Rowling, Tolkien) and refuses to read anyone else as they are completely inferior.

Freebie Bag Lady -- the woman whose only mission is to get all the really good free stuff before anyone else. Haunts the goody room; only talks to authors to ask if they have any free books to give her. Carries four large empty bags with her everywhere, takes at least three of everything, and talks only about the lousy amount of freebies this year. Permeates the air around her with the fragrance of Juicy Fruit gum and Aqua-Net. Will swipe as many hardcovers as possible from the tables during the guest speaker luncheon and refuse to give them back to the other attendees they were intended for. Complains loudly about having to pay for the books at any charity signing event. On the last day, she is in a state of perpetual dismay after learning how much it's going to cost to ship her 5000 pounds of free stuff home. Leaves about half of the freebies she takes in her hotel room for the maid to toss out.

Grudge Boy -- the co-panelist who doesn't sell as well as you do or has some other reason to hate you, who doesn't answer any questions but spends the entire session attacking your answers and ridiculing your methods. Stinks of Old Spice and hand lotion. After the panel, he will then try to come up to you to say how he doesn't want you to take his criticism of everything you say, do, or think personally. If you're a woman, he'll do this while staring at your breasts.

How-to Hawkers -- the busy entrepeneur who had three books in print ten or fifteen years ago, but now apparently makes a living only by selling how-to books, devices and other info ephemera to other writers at the conference. Has an answer to every writing problem; generally the wrong answer. Radiates the scent of hot toner or lamination. Some of them have so much stock to get rid of that they drag a rolling suitcase or beverage cart around with them everywhere.

Jack the Ass -- the misguided but earnest soul who believes that cracking tasteless jokes, horsing around and disrupting workshops and panels with his witty but pointless remarks is the most effective way to promote himself and his books. Smells of firecrackers and a urinal, for obvious reasons.

Non-Writer Ninny -- a person who is not a writer, does not plan to write, and thinks all writers are asses. Marvels at how useless the conference is or how bad the workshops are. Uses too much celebrity-branded perfume and not enough deodorant. Will attend at least 200 writer conferences every year.

On the Make Artist -- the married, often balding gentleman who does not have his spouse with him as he only attends writer conferences to troll for easy one-night stands. Smells of tooth plaque and Binaca. Will hit on anyone with a pulse; generally nails at least one lonely, dumpy wannabe who falls for his schlock.

Substitute Editor -- a pale, harassed and untidy-looking junior editor, usually from a major publishing house, who was forced to attend the conference at the last minute because the senior editor didn't feel like doing it. Has no authority to acquire anything but doesn't share this information with anyone. Has a perpetual cold or migraine, or contracts both during the first hour of the conference. Walks around in an envelope of Halls cough drops, Pepto-Bismol, and Burt's Bees chapstick. Spends a lot of time at the Tiki bar by the pool pretending to read partials while she really tries to work on her tan. Doesn't want to pay for anything (and after a word with a high-ranking member of the con committee, generally doesn't.) Will agree to read anything a writer pitches and will forget these agreements the minute she steps on the plane to go home.

Two-Legged Dragon -- Militant smoker who hangs with other tobacco addicts to whine about not being able to smoke in the hotel. Every ten minutes will try to light up somewhere, and then when caught by hotel staff will claim he thought that was a designated smoking area. Will sneak half a cig while locked in a stall in a hotel common area restroom. Is constantly chewing gum, breath mints, the ends of pencils, etc. but still stinks like a wet ashtray that grew legs. Within the first day these folks find each other, bond, and set about creating a large, permanent cloud of second-hand smoke directly outside every hotel entrance and exit.

Vengeful Viper -- a more intense version of Grudge Boy; says nothing to your face and will not sit within a hundred feet of you, but spends the entire conference ridiculing your books, badmouthing you, and glaring at you from a safe distance. Smells a little like burnt electrical wiring.

Witchy Woman -- the ageing, heavily-tattooed, much-pierced goth type who dresses only in black imitation satin or velvet, sports Mr. T-style silver jewelry with at least two visible pentagrams on every part of her body that can support chains, clamps or piercings. Has the nose ring in the center, not the side, and a jumbo tongue stud. Smokes and smells so much of pot that you can get a contact high standing next to her. Wears enough black eyeliner to polish a dozen shoes. Voluntarily informs you of the color of your aura, if there's a curse on your career, and the best crystals to use to dispel writer block demons from your work space.

Feel free to add to the list in comments.

(dedicated to Jason Pinter, whose last Genreality post inspired the idea.)

Monday, June 01, 2009

Tis the Season Ten

Ten Things to Help You Prepare for Hurricane Season

Check and stock your first aid kit. Emergency service personnel are not permitted to respond to calls during a hurricane, so you should have some first aid supplies at home, as well as a good supply of any necessary medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how much medication you need to keep on hand in the event of a storm. If you're not sure what to keep in your household first aid kit, emedicine.com has some suggestions here.

Get a Weather Radio. A battery-operated 24/7 weather radio can keep you and your family informed after the power goes out and your phone lines are cut off. These radios are available at most electronics and discount stores like Wal-Mart, Target, etc.; also online from companies like The Weather Radio Store.

Identify the "safe room" in your home. Broward County has a page here about how to determine which room is the one to use as a safe retreat during a hurricane.

Keep a hurricane tracking chart. Most major supermarket chains make them available for free; there's also one in .pdf format here that you can download from the NHC.

Know how to safely use a generator. The city of Fort Lauderdale has a page here with guidelines on how to safely operate a generator.

Know the Scale of the Storm. Hurricane intensity is currently measured from 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale; if you don't know what that means the NHC has an in depth explanation of the scale and each category here.

Make a family disaster plan. The National Hurricane Center has a page here with plenty of helpful advice.

Protect your home. FEMA has some brief guidelines here on how to prepare your property and home for a hurricane; USA Today also has some good info here.

Stock adequate emergency supplies for your home and family. The National Hurricane Survival Initiative has an excellent page here with checklists to download.

Understand what to do after the hurricane. Once you've been through a storm, you have more challenges to face with property clean-up, avoiding post-storm hazards, how to cope while waiting for restoration of power, water and contact, etc. Gomestic.com has an article here that covers most of the basics.