Thursday, December 31, 2009

Next Year

2010 is almost here, and while it's always tempting to make some resolutions, I'd rather focus on keeping my options open. In part it's because I had to end so many things in 2009; I probably have a mild case of enditis. There are plenty of things I want to do, both personally and professionally, and I hope I have the chance to try, but I'm not inclined to make a list this time around. What I want most in the next year is not to commit to anything except PBW and writing. That should give me plenty of room to breathe and dream and create as needed.

Hey, even an obsessive-compulsive organizer/planner like me can learn to be less regimented, more spontaneous. If nothing else I'm giving myself a year to find out if I can.

If you're in the market for a desk planner you can write in that is geared specifically for your writing needs, check out Small Beer Press's A Working Writer's Daily Planner 2010, which you can buy in trade paper, remainder, or DRM-free e-book form at their web site.

I bought this to mainly to contribute to a charity drive, but I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it is. It's a desk diary type of planner, compact but just the right size to carry along whereever you wander. Along with one-page week at a glance calendar blocks, there are pages with details on the year's sub ops, contests and residencies; writing prompts, submission and result tables, blank pages for notes and even some paper dolls for when you need a break (click here to see two inside pages; I couldn't fit all of it on my scanner but it'll give you the general idea of the layout.) It's definitely aimed more toward academics and those who are working in the literary end of the biz, but it's the first planner I've ever seen published especially for use by writers, so I thought it was pretty cool.

As you've no doubt already noticed, PBW is undergoing some renovations (a project I had intended to finished during the holidays, but NY dropped a boatload of work on me, and that had to come first.) After five years of basic black and white I thought I'd add a little color. Okay, a very little, but there's a header now, too. As for what else will be changing, you'll have to wait and see, but I hope to freshen things up and provide some new/interesting content. Stay tuned for more on that after the new year.

One change to my* virtual library -- because overseas readers can't purchase it, I'll be taking down my only for-sale e-book, Way of the Cheetah, as of 1/1/10. I don't know if I'll be offering it again anywhere, so if you were interested in a copy and you don't live outside the U.S., get your copy before January 1st (cost is $1.00.)

Now it's your turn: what are some of your plans for 2010? Are you giving up anything old, or starting anything new, or keeping your options open? Let us know in comments.

*Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I no longer recommend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dear Future Me

To: Future PBW
From: Past PBW

Re: Stuff

Dear Future PBW,

I know you're probably feeling better than I am right now, or you've at least gotten over this rotten respiratory infection we contracted over the holidays. I also know you have the same e-mail address because you haven't changed it in ten years; what's another twelve?

Did you remember to finish all the UFOs in the closet under the stairwell? What about donating that crazy quilt to the folk art museum? Don't tell me you forgot it again. If you wait much longer it's going to disintegrate on you. Also, remember to call Kat today; she's turning 28.

Are you happy to be retired? (this is assuming the world didn't end ten years ago in 2012.) You didn't cave in and cut your hair like all the other old ladies, I hope.

Give our guy a big kiss from me and thank him again for the lovely new office chair he gave me this Christmas.


Past PBW

Send an e-mail to your future self.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last of the 2009 Freebies

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

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

Architect Roger Berent offers The 5-Hour Home Office a free e-book on Scribd that describes and shows detailed illustrations and photos on how you can build a home office/work space for $300.00.*

Artweaver is "a simple Freeware program for creative painting, i.e. Artweaver makes all artistic effects, which you need for your work. You can create sketches from photographies and experiment with a wide range of brushes. The brush simulation is realistic as possible. Features: Support of many different digital brushes e.g. chalk, charcoal, pencils; A wide variety of adjustment settings to customize the default brushes or to create new brushes.
Standard image editing tools like gradient, crop, fill and selection tools; Support for the most common file formats like AWD (Artweaver), BMP, GIF, JPEG, PCX, TGA, TIFF, PNG, and PSD (no layer support); Transparency and Layers support; Effect filters like sharpen, blur, emboss and mosaic; Editable text layers; Pen Tablet support for a realistic feeling; History function to und/redo last editing steps; Expandable by Plug-In modules (Artweaver Standard); Support for many languages through language files" (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista)

If you'd like a new look for your Blogger or Moveable Type weblog in 2010 but don't have any extra $$$ to spend, check out the top-rated free templates over at (I really liked some of doughnutcrazy's and Xavqior's skins.)

Want to listen to some free audio books? Check out the excellent selection over at

Here's a neat project for the kids: customize and download a free Coloring 2010 Calendar for them.

Dreamstime, where I buy most of my images for PBW and other projects, has a gratis archive section with over 20,000 images you can download for free (registration required; free images are subject to the same terms as the regular Royalty Free terms.)

Natural Parenting Tips's Family Budget Planner can "help manage your expenses. Now in version 1.1 it offers the ability to: Enter companies you make payments to; Enter expenses you pay each month; Automatically calculate how much you spend each month; Grouping to see which companies you are making the most payments to; Yearly Expense Report; Weekly calculation" (OS: not specified but it looks like Windows)

LyX is "a document processor that encourages an approach to writing based on the structure of your documents (WYSIWYM) and not simply their appearance (WYSIWYG). LyX combines the power and flexibility of TeX/LaTeX with the ease of use of a graphical interface. This results in world-class support for creation of mathematical content (via a fully integrated equation editor) and structured documents like academic articles, theses, and books. In addition, staples of scientific authoring such as reference list and index creation come standard. But you can also use LyX to create a letter or a novel or a theatre play or film script. A broad array of ready, well-designed document layouts are built in. LyX is for people who want their writing to look great, right out of the box. No more endless tinkering with formatting details, “finger painting” font attributes or futzing around with page boundaries. You just write. On screen, LyX looks like any word processor; its printed output — or richly cross-referenced PDF, just as readily produced — looks like nothing else" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or later;
A TeX installation (see )

Name Maker LE is "the ideal solution for those who need to generate names, quickly and easily. This flexible system incorporates a large database of thousands of male and female names along with many more thousands of last names. This gives millions of possible combinations of first and last name, then, when a middle name is added, the possibilities are almost endless. The system is easily configurable and enables a variety of parameters to be used to control the generated names" (OS: no info although it looks like Windows; designer states it requires the Microsoft .NET v3.5 runtime)

PhotoFiltre is "a complete image retouching program. It allows you to do simple or advanced adjustments to an image and apply a vast range of filters on it. It is simple and intuitive to use, and has an easy learning curve. The toolbar, giving you access to the standard filters with just a few clicks, gives PhotoFiltre a robust look" (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/Vista)

Finally, a bonus motivational free e-book -- What Matters Now by Seth Godin and a whole bunch of important people. Here's the description from Seth's blog: "Here are more than seventy big thinkers, each sharing an idea for you to think about as we head into the new year. From bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert to brilliant tech thinker Kevin Kelly, from publisher Tim O'Reilly to radio host Dave Ramsey, there are some important people riffing about important ideas here. The ebook includes Tom Peters, Fred Wilson, Jackie Huba and Jason Fried, along with Gina Trapani, Bill Taylor and Alan Webber." I've looked through it, and while it provides promo links for every single one of the seventy contributors, it offers some generally good ideas. You can also read it online, download and print it for free (note: my version of Adobe came up with a display error, although I haven't found whatever it is that it can't display. Added 12/30 -- I posted a note about the error in comments for the e-book, but it's been deleted, so I assume that means the error was corrected.) *Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I no longer recommend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sub Ops

Ten Submission Opportunities for Writers

Absolute XPress is looking for "quality novel and novella length science fiction, fantasy and horror submissions. Sub-genres of these categories are also acceptable. We also occasionally publish books on self-promotion, genre history and writing technique. Submissions for genre related books on self-promotion, history and writing technique are currently not open. Please query us first. We are not interested in young adult, erotica, romance, religious fiction, mystery, short stories, self help, general non-fiction or poetry. Manuscripts should be aimed at an older (aged 20 and up), well-read, mature audience. We work with new and established authors." Payment: royalty, length 50k-100k. Reprints: query, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

eTreasures Publishing is interested in "novels, collections; all genres (fic/poem)." Payment: eBook=35%, POD=15%. Length: 80-700 pages. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Pill Hill Press has a story contest for their Flesh & Bone: Rise of the Necromancers anthology: "Send us your darkest, fiercest, most magical DARK FANTASY short story about necromancers and the undead rising...Stories can take place any time (past, present, future, alternate) at any place (Earth, Imaginary Places, Your Grandma's Kitchen Sink, etc.). Stories can be told from the perspective of good or evil or anywhere in between. Send your best effort. Only one short story per person will be considered for this contest. Final selections will be made after the deadline. Winners will be notified by email. We prefer stories in the 3,000-6,000 word range, though we will accept stories 2,000-10,000 words. Please do not enter stories under 2,000 words or over 10,000 words. Contest entries will be accepted until 31 July 2010." No reprints, electronic submissions only, Prizes: 1st Place - $125.00 + 1 contributor's copy of the book; 2nd Place - $50.00 + 1 contributor's copy of the book; 3rd Place - $25.00 + 1 contributor's copy of the book; Runners-up - 1 contributor's copy of the book, see guidelines for more details.

The 2010 Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest is for "a short story of no more than 8,000 words, that shows the near future (no more than about 50-60 years out) of manned space exploration." Prizes: "The GRAND PRIZE winner will be published on the Baen Books main website and paid at the normal paying rates for professional story submittals. The author will also receive a specially designed award, free entry into the 2010 International Space Development Conference, a year's membership in the National Space Society ($45 level) and a prize package containing various Baen Books, Jim Baen's Universe and National Space Society merchandise. SECOND and THIRD place winners will receive a year's membership in the National Space Society ($45 level), and a prize package containing various Baen Books, Jim Baen's Universe and National Space Society merchandise." Deadline: April 1, 2010, see contest site for more details.

Lightspeed Magazine is a new monthly webzine looking for sf (fic/nonfic). Payment: new 5¢/word, reprints 1¢/word, length: 1k-7½k (prefers less than 5k); will be open for submissions as of January 1, 2010. Reprints okay, electronic submissions preferred (online form.) See guidelines for more details.

Microcosms is a "weekly twitter poetryzine" looking for sf/f/h (poem). Pay: $1 (PayPal only). Length: about 20 (<140 characters). Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, first reading period opens January 1, 2010.

Strange Horizons is a weekly webzine looking for SpecFic (fic/nonfic/poem/art.) Payment: fic=5¢/word; nonfic=<$50; poem=$20. Length: fic=<9k (prefers <5k), nonfic=2-5k (not firm). No reprints, electronic submissions via online form only, see guidelines for more details.

Pound Lit Press has an open call for its Terminal Earth anthology: "Our world is about to end. Tell us a story with this as the backdrop. Make it intelligent, well-written fiction for grown-ups. Wander into genres of your choice, if it’s good it has a chance. Read the do-not-want list to avoid wasting your time. Obviously the theme of the collection tilts towards sci-fi, which we love, but it doesn’t have to be and non-sci-fi stories have a great chance of getting in. Be imaginative, be daring, be smart. You can tell us how the world ends, or you can just allude to it. What we're really interested in is what ordinary and extraordinary people will be doing as the last grains of sand run out." Length 3-6K. Payment: "The best story as judged by the editors will receive $25 and a copy of the paperback book. Two runners up will receive $10 and a copy of the paperback book. Everyone else accepted will receive $5 and a .pdf version of the book." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: March 15, 2010.

Wily Writers needs stories for its biweekly webzine/audio; looking for sf/f/h/paranorm rom/adv (fic), current themes reading periods: Dec 20, 2009 - Jan 31, 2010 for Paranormal Romance (R rating limit); Jan 1, 2010 - Jan 31, 2010 for Twins! (any spec fic genre.) Payment: $50.00, length: 1-4k. Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Writing Shift is a quarterly webzine looking for SpecFic/sf/h/f (fic/nonfic). Payment: $20.00, length: 1k-4k. Reprints okay, electronic subs only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline for submissions for April 2010 issue: March 1, 2010.

All of the above listings were found while sorting through the fabulous market listings at Ralan's place.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of PBW 2009

Thanks to the economy 2009 was a tough year all the way around. Too many friends lost their jobs; too many businesses closed their doors (although I and a bunch of non-writer friends were able to help keep one from going under.) Publishing had more than its fair share of new problems along with the usual turmoil and squabbling. I don't think I'll be alone when I happily kick 2009 out the back door for good.

On the career front I had many blessings: wrote six books, sold rights to five, finished two novel series (Darkyn and StarDoc), began a new series (Kyndred) and am now working on a novel trilogy in a new-for-me genre that will debut in 2011. I'm grateful to my guy, my kids and my blogpals and visitors for helping me stay upbeat and focused on what's important.

Memorable moments from 2009: Cole joining the family, me joining Genreality, having a book rank in the Times BSL top twenty for only the second time in my career, photographing stuff for my year-long art project, PBWindow.

Unhappiest moments from 2009: not receiving the original, beautiful cover art I was shown for Rob's book, having eye surgery and the aftermath, having to give up LB&LI, nursing my kid through H1N1.

Weirdest Moment of 2009: No contest there, it was definitely discovering that a bird had nested in our grill.

My favorite PBW post of the year was Publishing 911, which also proved to be one of the most popular with everyone who stopped in during 2009.

The book that was the most useful to the writer me in 2009 was definitely Sage Cohen's Writing the Life Poetic. I hate to pick favorites in fiction, so I'll just say the most surprising novel I read in 2009 was Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman.

Some other fun posts from 2009:

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

February: Ten Things Your Romance Novel Heroine Should Never Do, The 22 Immutable Laws of Publishing

March: Hate-Mail Fun, The RITA Drinking Game

April: Warning, Writing with the Stars

May: Cafe Temptation

June: The Seven Deadly Writing Sins, Writer Jeopardy, Ten Things I Hate about Your Antagonist

July: Phalluses and Fallacies, LBL&LI Virtual Workshop #5 -- Art Vs. Life

August: Mawked by Dawkness

September: What Goes Around, Ten Things You Probably Shouldn't Ask for During Contract Negotiations, The Promonator

October: Ten Chinese Cookie Fortunes, and What They Really Mean for Writers

November: The Last NanoPost, Ten Things That Appear in Your Novel, and What They Tell Me, Ten New Terms for Writer Woes

December: Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

2009 was my eleventh year working as a pro, and while a great deal has changed for every writer, too much in Publishing has stayed the same. I'm looking at 2010 as a year of opportunity for me and the industry, and I hope we're both up to the challenge.

What will you all remember from 2009? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

One Last Wordle

I hope everyone out there is having a great holiday. At the moment I'm trying out my guy's top secret Christmas gift to me, a brand new office chair, which is a thousand times better than what I had, and so comfortable it's almost indecent (this is also a wildly romantic gift for reasons that, well, I'm not going to tell you, just trust me, it is.)

As I've been putting together the last week of posts for this year, I'm finding some old links I haven't visited in a while, like Wordle. Here's one last word cloud for 2009 using the blog's URL (click on image to see larger version):

Did Santa bring you all any surprises? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wishing You

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Elves at Work

We're having a stay-at-home open house Christmas this year, and with all the friends who have been stopping in I think it's going to be one of the best ever. The girls decided to paint elf masks yesterday, and I couldn't resist taking a shot of teenagers playing like little ones:

I should have gotten pictures of the boys versus the girls chocolate chip cookie bake-off, but I was too busy juggling mixers (and alas, the boys won -- but only because my guy judged. I still think the girls' mini-chip cookies were unique.)

Today I'm taking over the kitchen to make a from-scratch German chocolate cake for my guy, and apple strudel for friends, and then make my daughter's favorite dinner, ham and cabbage. After that we're going to play Chocolate Monopoly (I saw it at Walgreen's and simply could not resist it):

What are you guys doing today? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

For 2010

If you're looking for a personal info manager and a virtual calendar to use for next year, I thought I'd put in a personal good word for this freeware by Martin Bresson:

Chaos Manager 2.25 is a "little simple and compact organizer which features an appointment/to-do manager (appointments will pop-up), a calendar, contacts (phone/address-book), a notebook which supports multiple topics, sync via internet, email forwarding of appointments, print/import/export and much more. All is password protected and encrypted (optional). You can also customize your own skin and background" (OS: Win 98/ME/2K/XP)

I was looking for a simple freeware to replace the (annoying as hell) Windows Vista calendar I've been using, and this is definitely an improvement. It's small, it's simple, I don't have to jump through hoops or get a degree in programming to use it, plus I downloaded it and ran it on my Windows Vista system and it works fine.

Here's a screenshot from my desktop to give you an idea of how it looks (click on image to see larger version):

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Ten

Ten Things to do During the Holidays

221B is an advergame to promote the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Looks like it might be fun, although it seems you have to be on Facebook to play it so I couldn't try it out.

Want to learn how to write a movie script treatment the easy way? Try Bill Myer's Automatic Movie Script Treatment Generator. has a trio of story-starter generators to play with: Character Generator, an Everyday Problems Generator, and a Plot Scenario Generator.

Play the online game Christmas Lights and listen to some holiday music while you try to spot all the differences (not as easy as it looks.)

All I can say about the Christmas Zoom Game is Whoa.

For a distraction-free writing environment, try Dark Room (OS: Windows XP/2000/2003) or Write Room (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or later)

This Google Image Ripper over at Dear Computer pulls images based on the keyword(s) you put in.

OmmWriter is "a simple text processor that firmly believes in making writing a pleasure once again, vindicating the close relationship between writer and paper. The more intimate the relation, the smoother the flow of inspiration" (OS: Mac OS X 10.5 or higher)

Who is smarter, men or women? Trivial Pursuit has an online game that doubles as an experiment to find out.

If you're bored and want to get in a little writing practice without committing to a huge project, try putting together a scene or short story using prompts from Seventh Sanctum's Writing Challenge Generator.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Save 'em Ten

Ten Things to Save Your Screen

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

Decorate your own virtual Christmas tree then display it as your screensaver with's free Animated Christmas Tree (OS: Win 9x/ME/2K/NT/XP)

For those who like to look at something more heavenly, check out RGGWare's Astronomy Screensaver (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Set your desktop ablaze with's Free Fire Screensaver (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3) has Free Santa and Holiday Screensavers (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista)

Want a free screensaver that doubles as an acarde game? Check out GameSaver (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Green Land is "a new free 3D animal and nature screensaver by Sunny day, the grass is green, the flowers are in bloom, the flies are buzzing, the birds are singing, the horses are grazing, the butterflies are fluttering - nothing breaks this happy harmony cozy atmosphere" (OS: Win 9x/ME/2K/XP/2K3)

Get "unlimited access to a huge selection of 1000’s of top quality 3D animated Wallpapers and Screensavers featuring a huge selection of themes, designs and illustrations" with Magentic (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7) has a whole page of free holiday-themed screensavers as well as some with clocks that I thought looked pretty neat (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista)

Turn your pics into PhotoToys, 3D Screensavers and Wallpaper Collages with Photojoy (OS: Windows XP/Vista) also has a free animated Yule Log screensaver with video and audio from a real fireplace (OS: Win 9x/ME/2K/NT/XP)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Last Minute Writer Gift Ideas

I always think writers are the easiest people to shop for (one book store gift card and you're done) but my family assures me that we're not. I've collected complaints from the rest of the clan, and they cite the following:

1. You can't buy writers actual books because you don't know what we already own (true, but my shelves are not hidden, and neither is my LibraryThing account, which is searchable. Plus I always have a running shopping list on the bulletin board in the office.)

2. Reading or writing devices are tricky because we've either got them all and/or we're extremely picky about them (very true. I would go with a Levenger gift card here.)

3. There are very few writing-related humor gifts (also true, although Mom did find me a Careful, or you'll end up in my novel T-shirt for me one year.)

I still say the book store gift card is the best gift for writers, because we're forever in need of books. For the writer on your list who lives far away, you can do an online bookseller gift certificate by e-mail, which is just as good. But if you're still looking for a physical gift for your favorite writer, here are some last-minute ideas:

AlphaSmart Neo: Every writer I've given one of these to really loves it and says it helps them get a lot of writing done. I think they're great because the only thing you can do on them is write.

Books on Writing: If your writer enjoys writing how-tos, and you know what they already own, a new book on writing will likely be much appreciated. My favorite how-to released in 2009 is definitely Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen. Or check out online recommendations (Author Nancy Owens Barnes has an interesting site called Books4Writers where I found out about The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, something I've been using every week since I bought it.)

Cleaning Kits: A printer cleaning kit is also something most writers can use; so are kits to clean up CDs, DVDs or CD drives.

Digital Camera: I have a little no-brainer Kodak point and shoot, and I love it because it is easy to use and takes some great shots. Over the last year I've used it almost every day for my online art project, and it's really changed the way I think about photography and how I look at the world.

Dragon Naturally Speaking: every seriously handicapped writer I've talked feels this is the best speech-to-text software out there; so do I. It's not for every writer, but if yours has been wanting the program, it can make a huge difference in their writing life.

Magazine subscription: if your writer doesn't subscribe to a trade mag, a year's subscription to P&W or The Writer are definitely worth the price.

Magnetic Poetry: Half of my books wouldn't have titles if it weren't for MagPo. I recommend one of their Essential Word Kits or (for the blocked writer) the Writer's Remedy Kit.

Office Supply Store Gift Card: We're always in need of office supplies; this will absolutely be used.

Printer ink cartridge: This sounds like an unlovely gift, I know, but we go through them like Kleenex so they'll definitely be used.

Windows 7 upgrade: for your writer who is still trying to figure out Vista (I am not a fan of Windows, but until Publishing switches over to Mac, I think we're stuck with it.)

If you'd rather make a gift, one thing you can put together is a Writer Relaxation Kit. In a pretty basket or book tote put a coffee mug, a hot beverage mix, some snacks (single-serving bags of microwave popcorn are great), some magazines, a soothing CD and/or a cool movie. If it's cold where your writer lives, add some fuzzy socks or a plush throw.

Another cool gift to make is a Writer's Pack. This can be a backpack, a book bag or big pretty binder filled with writing essentials: interesting pens and pencils, clips, packs of dividers, notepads, a book light, planners, CD holders, etc. You can put the little bits in a neat pencil case or supply box.

My personal favorite homemade gift is a Writer's Bubble Bath Kit. For this you put together everything your writer needs to take a long, hot soak in the tub: bath salts or bubble bath, soap, a pretty washcloth, scrunchie or bath mitt, scented candles, a CD with nature sounds, a bath pillow (I like the ones made to support the neck) and a big fluffy towel or a bath robe and slippers.

You writers out there, want to add any ideas for what you'd like to find in your stocking? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yes, Another Online Toy

This is another thing that is too cool not to share -- Infinite Comic is an online genator that takes "a random image from Flickr superimposed with some random text off of Twitter based on keywords of your choosing" and creates a three-panel comic strip from them.

I tried it and got these generated (click on images to see larger versions):

Lynn Viehl - This has to be some pics from one of my LB&LI winners over the summer. :)

StarDoc - Not sure whose bookcases these are, but love the toys.

Charlene Teglia -- the artwork came up at random, and somehow, it's perfect.

Shiloh Walker -- Shiloh's name brought up this wonderful dog pic. I'm totally jealous.

Marjorie M. Liu -- Of course, Marjorie gets not only the best cover art but her own lolcat, too.

If you don't want to go random, you can customize it -- using the advanced link, I was able to input a URL for my latest cover and the words for each panel:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

IAB Goes Overseas

I love German publishers; they always give my novels such fantasic cover art.

For my readers over there, this German translation edition of If Angels Burn will be released in April 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Buy My Hardcover, or I'll . . . .

My daughter told me tonight that author James Patterson is running a TV commercial in which he threatens to kill his protagonist if people don't buy his new book. I think Stephen King already did that once in The Dark Half and it didn't work out so well for the guy (wait, no, twice, he did it in Misery, too.)

Maybe it's a joke, but getting all Abraham with your readership is like telling your editor what you really think of him. Just don't go there. Ever.

I know the steady decline in hardcover sales is costing the big names lots of bucks (according to Publishers Weekly, adult hardcover sales were down 13% in 2008 as a result of a 5.3% drop in gross sales plus 10.8% increase in returns, and while I don't have any reliable figures for 2009, friends tell me it's been a bad year for the hardbound.)

I buy mostly paperbacks, but I'll admit, I didn't buy as many hardcover novels in 2009 as I have in years past. 99.9% of what I did buy were for blog giveaways or were copies I passed along to friends with tight book budgets. It's always been tough for me to pay $27.00 for a hardcover when I can get three paperbacks for $24.00, and I only do it for a couple authors like Mary Balogh and Linda Howard. I'm also now having trouble holding heavy hardcovers for long periods of time, and most of the big fat ones like Stephen King's latest I read from a bookstand or from the tabletop, which sometimes gives me a neck crick. Since I can't use an e-reader, paperbacks really are the most comfortable reads for me.

I think most readers are being pretty cautious when it comes to buying hardcovers, too, as I'm not seeing the booksellers moving much of their big name stock. I saw one novel by a critically-acclaimed author marked "Clearance -- 50% off" at BAM last week, which was a huge shock. Why? This particular author was advanced millions, had a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign, plus the book was just released this fall. I'd heard that it tanked, and badly, but to hold a firesale before it's even had three full months on the shelf? That is troubling.

To be published in hardcover is nice -- I've had about ten books debut that way -- but these days they're just not selling (and with the economy the way it is, I doubt that's going to change.) I'm sure the big names have enough in the bank to weather the storm, but until prestige pays the bills the working writer has a better chance of earning out and even making a profit in paperback -- and even more so in electronic format. If I were ever given a choice (most authors don't choose how their books are printed, btw; publishers decide that) I'd pick paperback every time.

Another downside to hardcovers is the short shelf life. I've notice a lot of paperback reprints of hardcover titles being released within six months of the hardcover (it used to be a year or more) which pretty much kills the sales of hardcover editions. With less time on the shelves, it's likely that a larger percentage of hardcovers are being remaindered sooner than they should be (which may also explain why the returns in 2008 were so high.)

That day at BAM I almost bought a sympathy copy of the millionaire author's 50%-off title. I know, it's weird, but in the past I have bought books because I felt sorry for their one-hit wonder authors. But evidently the economy and the plight of too many midlist authors has changed my attitude. As I picked up the book, I thought of two paperbacks I wanted that I could buy for the same price as the one hardcover. In the end I went for paperbacks instead, and honestly? I didn't feel guilty at all. I felt I was being supportive of two authors who interested me and who I know don't have millions in the bank.

As for James Patterson, I never followed any of his series books so it doesn't make any difference to me if he kills this character or not. I bet his fans feel differently, though.

I'm curious -- what, if any, hardcovers are you guys buying these days? Do you have any criteria as to what you will buy in hardcover? Do you find you're more inclined to wait for the paperback, or buy books that are first released in paperback versus hardcover? And last but not least, would an author threatening to kill off a character compel you to buy their book? Let us know what you think in comments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Explorations in Story

I'm finally getting to read the new quilt books I picked up over Black Friday weekend, and really loving Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter, a fascinating how-to book by quilt artist Katie Pasquini Masopust that teaches you the basic steps of making art quilts. Art quilts are different from traditional quilts as they usually aren't made to be used as bedding but are hung or displayed like artwork. If you've ever wanted to make an art quilt but aren't sure how to tackle the project, this is definitely a book to check out.

To me the only difference between a painting and an art quilt are the materials used to create them (and often art quilts are painted, too, so that line blurs regularly.) I began dabbling in art quilts a few years ago to forge a connection between my own painting and my needlework. To me every quilt is a work of art, but I've always made quilts to serve their basic purpose, so it was a a bit of a jump for me to make something that wouldn't be used to keep someone warm and comfortable. But art quilts, I discovered, warm the soul.

I've often compared writing to quilting, but always from a practical approach: design it, plan it, make it, finish it, give/keep/sell it. While reading Ms. Masopust's book I realized that from the moment I begin a new story, I've usually got my eye on that last step -- selling it. Marketability is the primary determining factor for what I do during step one and all the other steps, and I don't apologize for that. As a pro, I have to write something that I at least have a chance to sell.

But not everything I write is for sale. Sometimes I write just to get something out of my head, or test out a new idea, or simply recharge my batteries. Joining in NaNoWriMo gave me a chance to write a book that was just for me, just for fun. Generally I only have time to do that with a couple of scenes or a short story, so to give myself permission to write an entire novel that had no price tags attached to it was terrific. Even after producing almost 60K in thirty days I feel so turbo-charged I'm now flying through everything else on the schedule. Whether I sell my NaNoNovel or not, the payoff has been pretty astounding.

As writers we're so focused on dealing with the biz that I think we sometimes forget that for us it's supposed to be about the story. We make so many concessions and compromises in order to sell that we can lose touch with why we do this. For me it's always been about exploring, not just what I can do but what I can do for others through story. Finding ways to understand and work out my vision of a story only strengthens my bond with my craft. Those bonds should never feel like chains, and when they start dragging at me I do go off exploring. November simply taught me that I need to do more of that.

You writers out there, how are you exploring story? Is there anything you've found that helps you get out of the writing rut and rejuvenate? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gift Ten

Ten Gifts That Won't Cost You Much to Give

1,500 Gifts under $14.99: I keep getting mail-order catalogs from Collections Etc., a gift company that boasts it sells over 1,500 items for $14.99 or less. Turns out they have a web site and a sales section with 700+ items starting as low as $1.97 (a lot of this stuff is on the kitsch-y side, but I went through about ten pages of the sales section, and found these: Tabletop Letter Organizer for $10.97, Adjustable Table for $12.97, and Sunflower Veggie Bin for $10.97 which I thought were fairly neat.)

Baked Goods: If you've got a specialty cookie or candy, whip up a batch and put in a pretty tin. Breakfast breads, coffee cakes or some other brunch-type item are also good, and if you bake them in a disposable pan you can just let them cool, wrap them in cello and stick a ribbon on top (I like to share great recipes, so this year I'm giving apple strudel and print copies of the issue of Cooking Light that contains the super easy, delicious recipe I used to make it.)

Books: Give a gift bag filled with books you've enjoyed from your shelves, or a CD with downloads of free reads from Suvudu Free Library or (like my own free library of stories, which has 33 freebies.) Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I no longer recommend using their service, and have removed my library of free reads from their site. See my post about this scam here. Currently my free reads can be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; see my freebies and free reads page to get the links.

CD Designer Mix: Raid your music and compile a collection of tunes your recipient would enjoy, then burn them a customized CD. If you have a label-maker program, print out a label with their photo on it. If you need a source for free, legal downloads of new music, check out

Dollar Store Dare: This is fun to do with a friend who has a sense of humor. Decide on a specific dollar amount for your gift ($1, $3, or $5) and dare each other to find a gift or gifts by shopping only at your local dollar store. While most dollar stores carry a lot of junk, you can also find some pretty neat little items in them that are fun, useful or really different (once I found 11 brand-new copies of a famous SF author's award-winning hardcover novel at my dollar store, so you never know.)

Freeware: For your computer geek friends who are low on cash, pick up some freeware dowload links at sites like and to send them (and if you really want to be a pal, test out the programs first and let your friend know how you liked them.)

Gift Card Pass: This is the only form of regifting I do, and it's only when someone gives me a gift card that I know I'm not going to use -- I pass it along to someone I know who will. Generally it's a gift card to a department store where I don't shop, or restaurants we don't care for or that don't serve anything I can eat on my diet (if you do this first make sure that the gift card you're passing along hasn't expired.)

Green Gifts: For someone who loves to garden as much as you do, share the fruits of your labors -- pot one of your nicest plants, put together some cuttings or a basket of home-grown goodies to share (if you like to grow roses and want to share them, check out this article on how to grow roses from tip cuttings.)

Movie Swap: Start a swap tradition with a friend every holiday -- agree to send each other one of your favorite movies from your DVD collection or make them from one of the top ten free full-length movie sites on the internet (one friend and I swap TV series every year this way, which is how I discovered Lost and Battlestar Galactica and he got hooked on Spooks and Torchwood.)

Their Day Gift: Give your friend or loved one the gift of a day in which they can do whatever they like. You make this happen by filling in for them, i.e. babysitting their kids, cooking dinner for their spouse, taking care of their pets or being their chauffeur. It's also cool to do a meal variation of this -- give your friend a home-cooked meal of their choice and either have them over to eat with you or deliver it to their house.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Off to Play Santa

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cover Art

Dreamveil, the second Kyndred novel and Rowan's story, will be out in June 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Freebies for All

Author Joely Sue Burkhart has posted a revised version of The Horse Master, a Blood & Shadows prequel, on Scribd.*

A couple of seasonal freebies on Scribd: The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson (children's book, illustrated); Carol Baicker-McKee's Scandanavian Heart Basket Templates for making three sizes of the holiday heart baskets (assembly instructions & photos at the author's blog here), and Create a Homemade Christmas and Incredible Memories and Free Christmas Clip Art Printables, compliments of*

Author Roslyn Hardy Holcomb has a novella, Rock Star Wedding, a sequel to her novel Rock Star, available as a free read in .pdf on her website (scroll down.)

This month Suvudu Free Library has presents for all you vamp fic lovers out there with free downloads of Charlie Huston's Already Dead (first book in the Joe Pitt series) and Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens. Also, Star Wars fans can get three titles for free from Suvudu to add to their literary collections: Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith: Skyborn and Star Wars: Lost Tribe of The Sith: Precipice, both by John Jackson Miller as well as Star Wars Fate of the Jedi: Dramatis Personae.

Author Kristen Tsetsi has posted a short story collection, Carol's Aquarium ~ A Collection of Unusual Fiction free for reading online, printing and downloading.*

*Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I no longer recommend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Gift No-Nos

Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

Biographies of Famous Dead Writers: Why, thank you for showing me exactly what sort of erroneous idiocies some dumbass might someday write about me or one of my friends as well as reminding me of how young we generally buy the farm. Does this come with a box of Kleenex?

Celebrity bylined Books: They didn't write them, and the writer who actually did the work probably got paid a pittance, so this is just going straight to the library donation box.

Chocolate Anything: With my diet the way it is, this is pretty much the same thing as handing a sixteen-year-old boy a bottle of whiskey and the keys to a brand-new Maserati.

Computer Games: After eight to ten hours of writing and editing, my eyes burning, my neck cricked, my voice gone and me never wanting to see another red- or green-squiggle-underlined word again, you think I'm going to want to play Publishing Tycoon for PC?

High-Tech Phone: Last year I used exactly 118 minutes on the cheap, do-nothing disposable phone I've had for the last six years, and half of that was from the kids borrowing it when the batteries on theirs died. I can't text. I can't overuse my voice. I won't talk on the phone when I'm driving. You know what I like to do with phones most? Shut them off. So just turn around and walk away from the Blackberry display.

Personalized Items: I know my name. So do my friends and family. The dog even knows my name. I already have an extensive collection of personalized coffee mugs, T-shirts, embossed address books, planners, blotters, desk signs and notepads. So save yourself an hour hanging around the mall kiosk while having it etched on yet another item I won't use, because as you seem to forget every year, I hate my name.

Quilts or quilted objects: Aside from the fact that they're generally imports made by women who are paid pennies to work in horrendous sweat-shop conditions in some third world country with a fascist government that endorses honor killings, have you not noticed that I already own enough quilts to keep an Army regiment warm at night?

Vampire-themed Things: It's sweet of you to try to connect with my work, but that series is finished and I've moved on. Besides, the only time I can use this stuff is to decorate the house once a year for Halloween.

Victoria's Secret Products: At my age, baby, this is like putting lipstick and nail polish on a plow mare.

Zhu Zhu: Oh for God's sake.

So what don't you guys want for Christmas? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

From Lucan & Jayr to You

Making these was just *too* much fun:

Convert any photo into a talking character online with the online demo/lite version of PQ DVD Talking Photo (they have preloaded mp3 scripts, mainly bits of songs and movie dialogue, but you can upload your own photos.)

Also, thanks to Gerard over at The Generator Blog for the great link.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Festive Ten

Ten Things to Help with the Festivities

Planet Green's Leslie Billera has step-by-step instructions on How to Make a Christmas Stocking from Recycled Wool Sweaters (felting, simple cutting & sewing.)

Need the lyrics to your favorite Christmas tune? You'll probably find it over at

Reader's Digest has an extensive collection of Christmas recipes that will take your feast from soup to nuts.

In addition to offering up their annual holiday recipes, Cooking Light magazine is having a double giveaway sweepstakes for someone to win a year's worth of groceries -- plus they'll donate a year of food to your local community food bank to help others in your community. Enter here by December 22nd.

Go on, Elf Yourself.

Preserving the music of Christmas past:'s Meghan Carter demos via video How to Make a Christmas Wreath (easy and has some good tips and construction tricks.)

NORAD Tracks Santa has a countdown village where kids (or the kid in you) can play different online games every day until Dec. 25th.

My favorite online make-a-snowflake site: Snowdays.

Still the best Christmas e-card of all time: The Snow Dog

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Home for the Holidays Again

Guideposts has issued a trade paperback reprint of my one of my Grace Chapel Inn novels (and to date the only Christmas novel I've written), Home for the Holidays, which until now has only been available via subscription to the entire Guidepost GCI series. For those of you who like my Christian fiction, you can find it at B& or

Saturday, December 05, 2009


You guys have definitely stocked up my shopping list with your recs; I'll be taking them along with me this weekend as I make the rounds of the stores. In the meantime, we cranked up the magic hat, and the winner of the Books for the Holidays giveaway is:

bamabelle, who recommends Need by Carrie Jones.

Bamabelle, when you have a chance please send your BookWish along with your full name and ship-to info to so I can make some magic and get these books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Gen Ten

Ten Things Generated by Online Generators

Chronology of Industrial Zoology ~ Cultural Zoology ~ Industrial Engineering ~ Industrial Studies ~ National Remedial Engineering ~ Popular Experimental Politics ~ Practical Arts ~ Scientific Mathematics ~ Theoretical Chemistry ~ Theoretical Cultural Academics (Seventh Sanctum's Academic Realm Generator)

HyperFive Sound Effects ~ Siebencordings Operators ~ EnerCinco Interactive ~ 5strax ~ Pitchcordings Corp. ~ HuitAcht Recordings ~ 2record Factory ~ Unophonic Factory ~ E-AudSei Corporation ~ Sonsample Games (Namator's Company Names Generator)

The protagonist of this story is a man with charm who has dissociation as a questionable coping mechanism. On the way to the story's conclusion the protagonist encounters a boy disguised as a girl. This person has knee-high boots. Plot elements include a complicated assassination plot and swords, and at least one character is motivated because it's the only way to make things right. (Cool Bits Story Generator)

Isolde the Fair ~ Randall the Wise ~ Orella de la Reue ~ Alvar Ironside ~ Hildegard le Goix ~ Thrall Firethorn ~ Regina the Slender ~Sigbert Stonewall ~ Belia the Noble ~ Saxon the Quick (NamePistol'sMedieval M/F Name Generator)

Kelly Yamana ~ Adnan Abravenel ~ Diego Dorsey ~ Zeus Moiseev ~ Maxim Maness ~ Antoinette Meuber ~ Yolonda Green ~ Hertha Lahey ~ Elisa Macaula ~ Shinzo Hekt (Namator's People Names Generator)

Gotrodynamos Blanc ~ Hatturbanus ~ Ak' Heimtechix XV ~ Demin Miwasteen Psi ~ Neu Floraagronomic Grau ~ Dobeuki Griss ~ Alva Focktechnos 16 ~ Soleil Acculturos Jaune ~ A' Frincoros 8 ~ Osteogen Quinque (Namator's Planet Names Generator)

Using a predominantly grey color scheme, show a character in a mood of suspense. Listen to a style of music that you usually don't listen to while creating. (Random Art Prompt Generator)

Advanced Clinical Virtual Reality ~ Basic Dimensional Statistics ~ Essential Hyperspatial Law ~ Essential Terraforming ~ Future Nanotechnology ~ History of Interstellar Anthropology ~ Hyperspatial Instruction ~ Inter-Planar Business ~ Political Robotics ~ Virtual Botany(Seventh Sanctum's Science Fiction Academic Realm Generator)

It starts in a harem, with a photographer who's always in the wrong place at the wrong time. The antagonist is a modern major-general and the plot involves elements like being stuck in a confined space with something trying to kill you and railroads. (Steampunk Random Story Generator)

Agricultural Metaacoustics ~ Bioseismogenics ~ Cognitive Stereostatics ~ Environmental Ultrageography ~ Histooptics ~ Nuclear Metamathematics ~ Paraspectrostatistics ~ Polymer Cytoinformatics ~ Social Pharmacometrics ~ Zoomorphology (Seventh Sanctum's Weird Science Generator)

Added: Remember the Pseudo-Elizabethan Place Name generator that was so cool, and then disappeared a few years ago? I found it again here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Books for the Holidays

I've been catching up on my TBR this past week, and have a stack of books I wanted to rec as great reads for the holidays:

Mary Balogh headlines The Heart of Christmas anthology, which has three very decent stories (and you don't see that too often in an antho.) I especially enjoyed the common-man story by Courtney Milan, an author I haven't read before, and I'll now be looking for her single titles. This would also make a great gift for someone who enjoys holiday historical romance.

If you can spring for the hardcover, Ice by Linda Howard is a one-night, curl-up-with-hot-chocolate-by-the-fire read that will leave you shivering in more than one spot (I just wish it had been longer.) I bought some extra copies to hand out to friends because during winter people in the south love to read about how you people in the north get buried in all that ice and snow. Yes, we're mean that way. And it's Linda Howard. If romance were chocolate, she'd be Godiva.

Marjorie M. Liu returns to the shelves and sparkles in the Never After anthology with a fairytale romance that is a lovely fusion of dreamy, dark and delightful. Usually writers are either great novelists or gifted short story tellers; Marjorie is one of those rare authors who is both. This or any of her stories would be terrific to drop in the stocking of a writer or a reader.

For those of you who want something new and different, Jessa Slade's debut Seduced by Shadows offers a cool series premise, a great assortment of unusual, well-developed characters and some pretty sophisticated world-building. Though not something I'd recommend for people who want a simple, mindless read, this is probably the most interesting debut novel I've read in a long time. Definitely an author and a series to watch, and a great starter novel for your series-loving pals.

Also writing on the dark side, Linda Winstead Jones headlines Nocturne's Holiday with a Vampire III anthology with her story Sundown, her very first vampire story (hopefully it's not her last; I thought it rocked.) Your category-reading friends who like paranormals will enjoy this one.

Last but not least, I have a real gem for you, a novel that actually made me burn dinner. Now I've been known to char a chicken now and then while I'm writing, but I know I haven't incinerated a meal while reading since I got a galley copy of Moon Called to read for a quote (and Patricia Briggs, you still owe me a pot roast.)

But now it seems I must invest in more smoke detectors, thanks to Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler. This novel is one of those dangerous stories, the kind that is so thrilling, romantic, edgy and absorbing that once you start it you may find it very tough to put down. I know I did because I began it after I put on a pot of our favorite pasta sauce to simmer.

Of course I know better, but this is Jake's book. Those of us who have been blogging since the good old days have also been waiting to read Jake's book for a long time -- five, maybe six years now? And it was worth the wait; I got so lost in the story that I didn't resurface until my guy arrived home -- three hours later -- and asked me what was for dinner. As it turned out that night, not pasta. I did take a shot of the scorched pot for posterity, though, because this book is just the first in what promises to be an amazing trilogy. I'm completely hooked, so I should probably save the fire department a trip and get another extinguisher for the kitchen. Maybe two.

Hard to Hold would be a great gift for any contemporary/military romance reading fan. Just warn them not to cook. And if you read this, Stephanie Tyler, you owe me an Italian dinner. Or at least a pot of pasta sauce.

I'm heading out this week to do more holiday shopping at the brick & mortar stores, and I'd like to know what you guys recommend as stocking-stuffers. In comments to this post, name a book or author you think would make a great holiday read or gift (or if you're coming up empty, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, December 4, 2009. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an early holiday gift: unsigned copies of Mary Balogh's The Heart of Christmas anthology, Ice by Linda Howard, Marjorie M. Liu's Never After anthology, Seduced by Shadows by Jessa Slade, Linda Winstead Jones's Holiday with a Vampire III anthology, and Hard to Hold by Stephanie Tyler. I will also grant the winner a BookWish* so you can have something you've been waiting to read. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of your choice that is available to order from an online bookseller, with a maximum cost of $30.00 U.S. (I'll throw in whatever shipping costs are involved.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


How readable is your text? This online tool will generate a series of scores, along with a sentence count, word count, syllable count and an average of how many words you used per sentence.

If you want to make a quick check of how some text sounds when read out loud, stop over at AT&T Labs Natural Voices® Text-to-Speech Demo page, cut and paste your test into the box, and click on speak. There is a 300 character limit, but there are a variety of voices, and it's a decent online tool to test a line of dialogue.

If readability is an ongoing concern, you might check out the free 15-day trial of Readability Analyser for Windows XP and Vista (also included in the free trial download of EssayBuilder.)

Patrick Burt has some good suggestions on how to make your online text more readable in his post How To Optimize Your Body Text For Readability. has a page on Readability - making web pages easy to read that gives great tips plus visually demonstrates why you shouldn't do or use certain things on your web page or blog.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Holiday Brakes

Time seems to move too fast these days, doesn't it? I swear, the kids just went back to school; I blinked and suddenly it was Halloween. Thanksgiving -- a day that for me has always been a nonstop celebration of food and family and fun -- was a flash this year. If I hadn't cooked all day I would have sworn we microwaved Thanksgiving.

Now the Christmas holidays are coming at me, and while I know I still have 24 days to finish my preparations, I suspect it's going to be more like 24 minutes. And then it'll be 2010, my baby will be driving (oh, yes. She's studying now to get her learner's permit at the end of the month) and I have a feeling the last few dark hairs on my head will be turning snowy.

Everyone is busy beyond the usual busy. My guy has so much work to do with his job in retail I've just cleared the next three weeks for him to come and go as needed, otherwise I might not see him again until January. At present my own work schedule is completely filled until March 16th. The kids have penciled in so much school and friend festivities on the calendar page for December that I had to start scheduling pickup and dropoff times. I've been asking people to call before they stop by during December to first make sure that we're even here.

There are things that do put the breaks on my warp-speed reality, such as waiting to see a doctor, shopping at malls, and wrapping packages, all of which take almost forever; my weekly physical therapy (forever plus a nice big side order of sweat and pain) and trying to talk to someone who isn't a robot at the mobile phone company (press one for service, press three if you have questions about your bill, press five if you are too stupid to use our automated FAQ service, press nine if we're driving you insane, etc.)

But there are good things that slow me down, too. When I write I forget about time until the stop-writing alarm clock goes off. Sewing, baking, listening to music, taking long walks with the pup and sitting by the fire with my guy have a nice timeless quality to them, too. Going out to photograph a sunrise or sunset. Hanging out with the kids and their friends on a Sunday. Going for a drive in the country to no place in particular. Game nights, when I shut off the TV, the computers and all the other electronics and take out the chess board, Scrabble or Monopoly.

I also read articles like Managing Your Holiday Stress to help cope with mine. I think I'm doing okay. I start working on my Christmas shopping lists in July so that once December arrives I don't have to live at the malls. I've been working extra hours to get all my contract work completed by next week, but I've also been taking time to do things like the NaNoNovel to keep my creative batteries charged. I also try to keep a sense of humor about all the things that can and will go wrong (my daughter is calling this Christmas CookieFail; I've been testing new recipes but so far every one of them has sucked.) And hard as it is, I accept that there are some things I'll have to gift bag instead of wrap, gift card instead of choose myself, and store-buy instead of hand-make.

The holidays will probably still fly by as fast as everything else has in 2009, but now and then I hope I remember to put on the brakes. It's the only way to get off the crazy train and spend an hour or an afternoon or an evening simply enjoying the reason we all work so hard this time of year: family and friends.

So what are you guys doing to combat the holiday rush? Have any really good tips to share? Let us know in comments.