Wednesday, March 31, 2010

3 Books

Just Read: Broken by Shiloh Walker, trade paperback

Why I picked it up: In a word? Quinn. He was a secondary character (as well as the brother of one of the protagonists) in Shiloh's novel Fragile, and he stayed in my head long after I read that one.

What I liked: Quinn. The pace, the characters, the focus. Quinn. The slow unraveling of the mystery surrounding the female protag. Quinn. The clever plotting. Quinn. A huge twist, which if anyone gives away they should be flogged publicly while the author watches from a velvet settee as half-naked strapping young men feed her chocolates and rub her feet. Did I mention Quinn?

What I didn't like: The fact that the author got me with the end twist. I cursed like a PMSing witch on amphetamines when I reached that page, but then I had an entirely different ending figured out, and I hate to be wrong. Excellent twist, though.

Reading: Roadkill by Rob Thurman, mass market paperback

Why I picked it up: Because if I don't read Rob Thurman every couple of months I turn an ugly color of blue and drop like a stone. Wait, that's if I stop breathing. Okay, almost the same thing happens when I don't read Rob Thurman.

What I like: You know how in some series authors don't let their young protags age or mature, and after three or four books they start reminding you of the creepy kid vampire in those Anne Rice books? Or Dick Clark? Not happening with Cal Leandros; he is definitely growing up. And without giving away spoilers, let's just say that it is quite, ah, seismic.

What I don't like: The antagonist, aptly named Plague of the World. In my defense, I have a repressed immune system, and this guy is the stuff of my very real nightmares. But why read dark urban fantasy if it can't scare at least a little of the bejesus out of you, right?

Will Read: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, trade paperback reprint

Why I picked this up: Our blogpal Vanessa Jaye gets the blame (again); she wrote about it and it sounded like something I'd enjoy.

What I expect to like: All the parts about Austen. I also expect vampires, zombies and other mashup creatures will not be showing up in the text and oozing all over Austen.

What I expect not to like: All the parts about Dickens. It's a grudge thing; I still haven't forgiven him for that ridiculous opener he wrote for A Tale of Two Cities.

So what books have you guys read, are reading or plan to read in the near future, and why? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I reserve the right to make fun of anyone who SPAMs me, and this week I got three of these:

Dear Former Subscriber:

Hmmm. I never subscribed to your rag. I could never afford it. So you're lying to me already.

Time really does fly.

And yet you would be the people who constantly bitch about writers using too many cliches. Hokay.

Since you last received [The Rag], so much has happened within our industry.

Wait, I remember now. I signed up on a web site to get some sample copies about nine years ago. You sent me exactly two issues in 2001. So you're right, a lot has happened, and I bet now you're going to give me a flirtacious little recap.

From the Google settlement . . .


. . . to the continuing financial struggles of booksellers both large and small to the emergence of portable digital readers, book publishing is changing and adapting to a brave new world.

Sorry, but I don't care about Google settlement, I'm not a bookseller, and I can't use digital readers, so you've yet to rouse my interest out of its current coma. Also, I can read about all this stuff on the internet for free.

One question, though: why is it that you people always refer to the new world as brave? Why can't it be ambivalent, or terrified, or even a little depressed because it doesn't have anything nice to wear? Huh? Huh?

To successfully navigate today's challenging economic realities, the knowledgeable editors of [The Rag] provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions.

Actually those sample issues did tell me a lot about your rag, namely that you print lots of ads for books I'm never going to read, spread industry gossip, fear and incitement to panic disguised as pseudo-thoughtful speculation, perform simpering suck ups to important literary novelists, endless hatchet jobs on genre writers (four or five of them on my own books), and much smooching of major publisher booty. I hear you now don't pay a good chunk of your writer staff, too. I hate to disappoint you, but none of this is useful to me during informed decision time.

Accept this timely offer to receive one year of [The Rag] at a special 33% discount from our standard subscription rate. You'll pay only [more than $150.00] for [one year of issues].

After being SPAMmed three times by you, do I want to then pay you a big chunk of money to read [The Rag] for a year, or do I want to buy something I can actually use, like five ten-ream cartons of printer paper, or three cartridges for my laser printer, or internet service for the next eight months?

I'll let you guess.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fortitudo Nos Defendit Denarius

Ten Things About Latin

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

Latin 1: The Easy Way by C.J. Cherryh (who also used to teach Latin, btw.)

Is there a Latin blogger out there? Of course there is.

From, How to Pronounce Latin.

If you need to translate something in Latin to English, French or German in a hurry, try the online translator Lexilogos.

For when you need to build your own Latin motto, try the Latin Motto Generator

The University of Texas at Austin/Linguistics Research Center offers a series of lessons in Latin over at Latin Online

In Rebus offers a Latin Translation Assistant in the form of a Windows interface that works with Whitaker's Words dictionary (download link for Words at the end of list)

Textkit is a site that "began in late 2001 as a project to develop free of charge downloads of Greek and Latin grammars, readers and answer keys. We offer a large library of over 180 of the very best Greek and Latin textkbooks on our Ancient Greek and Latin Learning pages. Since that time we have distributed millions of PDF textbook free of charge world-wide."

VRoma is "first and foremost a community of scholars, both teachers and students, who create online resources for teaching about the Latin language and ancient Roman culture. The project was initially funded by a $190,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Teaching with Technology grant in 1997. The two major components of the project are its online learning environment (MOO), which has received several favorable external reviews, and its collection of internet resources. The VRoma MOO requires logging on as a guest or through your personal character and password, but all the web resources are freely accessible on the internet."

Download William Whitaker's Words a free Latin-English dictionary (OS: DOS, Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP, OS/2, LINUX - and Mac OS X)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blog Capsule

A lot of people think I'm psychic. I'm not. I make a few educated guesses. Occasionally I just bet on the right random pony. Mostly it's simple dumb luck. Honestly, if I really could predict the future, I would not be Paperback Writer. I would be Tibetan Cave-Dwelling Chick.

But after yesterday's bizarre coincidence (and really, that's all it was) I'm willing to test my own unpsychic ability to prove once and for all that I have no ESP. This will be a decidedly unscientific test; I'm just going to make a blog capsule post and predict five things I think will happen by this time next year (March 28, 2011.) If I'm right about all of them, I'll give up and admit I'm psychic. If I'm not, then I get to gloat.

Let's see, looking into my fake* crystal ball here . . .

1. A major publisher will move a big chunk of their titles into print-on-demand to test the waters, and in the process suspend author advances in favor of quarterly royalty payments.

2. Enhanced content will be the next big author promo trend.

3. The Author's Guild will make so many more concessions to Google they will be sued by their own membership.

4. The e-book market will hit a plateau as the novelty of e-readers wears off and people decide books are not as entertaining as TV, video games or DVDs, which they will be able to play on a new type of crossover e-reader manufactured in the far east that is intended for use with animated anime (aka comic books that can be set to be read or be played like a cartoon.)

5. The next big new genre trend will arrive by the explosion via an unknown author whose debut goes platinum, and will be a combo of alternate history with a kind of mashup between urban fantasy and steampunk.

I am not using any insider information to formulate these predictions, btw; they are just guesses. Now if you want to be part of the experiment, copy this post and save it somewhere you know you'll check at the end of March 2011, along with a note to stop by here. I'll put a reminder on my calendar and in exactly 365 days post again with the list and how accurate -- or not -- that my predictions were.

Okay, now it's your turn to play psychic: what predictions would you make about the biz for next year? Share them with us in comments.

*it's actually a paperweight I bought on sale from B&

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Not My Fault

Someone e-mailed me a link to the announcement of a Kensington mentorship/writing competition called "Writing with the Stars" and asked if I had anything to do with it. Ah, no, sorry. Evidently this is a real contest, and wholly unrelated to the parody Writing with the Stars that I wrote almost exactly one year ago.

Of course someone at Kensington could have rifled through my archives, but given the scalding tone of that particular parody, I rather doubt they nicked the idea from me.

Also, please note that any resemblance between my Writing with the Stars post and the quality of the actual mentorship involved in the Kensington contest should be considered merely coincidental and by no means another demonstration of psychic abilities that I assure you, I do not possess.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Green Eggs & Sam

Like most parents who read to their kids, I can (still) recite from memory most of the popular Dr. Seuss books. Go Dog Go was my daughter's favorite; Green Eggs & Ham was my son's (mine is Put Me in the Zoo, which I still think is the best of Seuss.)

When I was little the only things I can remember the adults in my house reading were the Bible, the Sunday newspaper and Life magazine (I was not allowed to touch any of them, but occasionally I'd filch Life to look at the pictures.) I was also not a Dr. Seuss kid; my mother and grandmother were not bedtime story readers. We were encouraged to read, but it was more along the lines of "read so you'll do well in school" versus "read because it will enrich your life."

The first book I owned was one I bought myself for the then-exorbitant sum of ninety-five cents from a Scholastic book flier my teacher handed out. I paid for it by borrowing the money from my grandmother and then paying her back a nickel at a time by doing extra chores after school. I washed a small mountain of dishes and folded a couple dozen baskets of clothes for that book, which I still own, btw. I'm also not too old or proud to admit that every couple of years I take that book out and read it -- and still love every word.

I bought a few more chores-for books, and hoarded what I acquired like the treasures they were to me. By the time I was in middle school I owned maybe twenty, the majority from church rummage sales and birthday gifts from a book-loving aunt, all stashed away in my bottom bureau drawer under my pjs. I dreamed of the day I could have a room in my house filled with nothing but books where I could go and shut the door and read (that took another thirty years to acquire.)

I can't offer you any hard statistics on how the books I read and loved in childhood helped me as an adult. I make my living writing books, but of course that might just be a coincidence. Reading a biography about Abraham Lincoln and how he educated himself also probably had nothing to do with me teaching myself to write stories. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and A.M. Lightner's Day of the Drones likely had no influence on me during desegregation, when I ignored all the racist adults shrieking at each other and made my first African-American friends.

It's true that there are a lot of books littering my past, but really, all those Cherry Ames novels I read as a kid don't have to be why I went into the medical field. Some could argue that A Wrinkle in Time and Sea Horse in the Sky are not the reason I later wrote all these SF books, and that The Long Winter didn't necessarily inspire my Dream Mountain or Rebel Ice.

No, now that I think about it, it was probably cartoons, or pinball games, or random jolts of creative inspiration beamed into my kid brain from the cosmos at large. How could mere books change any kid's life?

Seriously now, with all the very cool gadgets and gizmos out there that children want, and working parents who are exhausted by the time they get home from the day job, books are not high on anyone's priority list. I understand. I know it's also a lot easier to sit a kid in front of a TV screen than curl up with them and spend a half-hour with Sam I am as he convinces his stubborn pal to try those green eggs.

But I believe reading exercises the mind, inspires the soul, and encourages kids not only to see someone else's dream worlds, but to actively use their own imaginations when engaging the real world around them. Given the state of our species and the planet, I think we need all the imaginative, creative future adults we can nurture. And they need green eggs & Sam.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fan to Pro

This morning I stopped by Seventh Sanctum, one of my favorite online sites for writing inspiration, and saw that Sanctum Master Steven Savage has published Fan to Pro, a guide about using your fandom to take a new career direction or enhance your current job situation.

Over the years I've had so much fun playing with the generators at Seventh Sanctum that I believe I would happily buy Steven Savage's grocery list if he chose to publish it (what does that guy eat for breakfast, anyway?) However, as it happens the subject of his book is very timely for me.

At the quilt show this year every other pal I saw asked me when I'm going to publish a quilting book. As is, "You do this for a living, don't you? Write something for us!"

Actually I have already written a number of short e-books on different techniques and projects for my guild, and I'm still working on a photo e-book of my wedding ring quilt collection, but I've never pursued writing quilt books for profit. I think part of it is due to how I feel about my quilting. Like my poetry, it's a mostly private passion. In the past I've done commission work, taught some classes and entered a few competitions (and won a couple small ones) but I never tried to make the leap to turning pro. As a quilter I've never considered myself anything special, just an average hobbyist/home sewer -- much more of a fan than a pro.

At the same time I read a lot of quilt magazines and books; I use their patterns and methods and I discuss them with friends. After almost twenty years of that I have a lot of practical knowledge about what works and what doesn't for a quilter. I've designed my own patchwork patterns and invented some methods to handle common problems, especially in the restoration of antique quilts. Combine that with my experience as a writer, and how closely I relate quilting to writing, and obviously there is some potential there.

Lots to think about, anyway, and I'll report back on Fan to Pro after I read it. In the meantime, what non-writing hobby or passion do you enjoy that you think helps you with writing?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gone Blogger Gone

I know I have to redo my sidebar; there are at least a dozen links over there now for blogs that have closed their doors or gone static. According to my somewhat nebulous blogging rules these should all be removed (Writeminded is the latest to close their doors) but it's too depressing to acknowledge how much of my blogroll Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media trends have eaten alive. Thing is, I keep thinking how Rosina Lippi came back to blogging, and Romancing the Blog is supposed to be eventually returning, and then I don't want to delete anyone's links, just in case.

I've been keeping some form of online journal for nearly ten years, almost as long as I've been a professional writer. As a result I've watched a lot of trends come and go, evolve, get snatched up by Google, etc. From what I've observed over time, the very nature of an online presence trend virtually sentences it to eventually be abandoned en masse for whatever new/shiny/improved thing that next comes along and catches everyone's fancy. Remember when every author simply had to start a blog, and then create a MySpace page, and then do a podcast, and then make a book video? Not so much anymore now that the herd has stampeded their way to flood Twitter and Facebook. No doubt the next leap from there will be Buzz or Vook or some Publishing variation of FourSquare.

For obvious reasons, I'm not going to be named the poster child for traditional online author self-promo. I've never been cool enough for LiveJournal; articulate enough for podcasts, or technosavvy enough to do book videos. I've always felt far too old to intrude on MySpace; same goes with Facebook now. Even if I liked it, which I don't, Twitter is for people with keyboard phones and working thumbs. I've tried lots of other things over the years, too, only to discover that web sites, list-servs, chat rooms and writing communities are huge time sinks that don't justify the time or cost involved, or for other reasons were impossible for me to maintain.

I'm not all about my limitations, though; sometimes I think I get it right. Back in 2000 when everyone was predicting that e-books would kill print, and squabbling among their writing organizations about segregating e-pubbed authors, I guessed that electronic books were going to be a big part of the future of Publishing. That's why I started self-publishing free original e-books online as promo for my print novels, and subsequently founded most of my readership on that free content.

Ten years ago I also suspected online journaling by authors would be big someday, which is why I've been a blogger for so long. The power of free print books has also helped build my readership, and the blog has given me a chance to identify interested readers and put real books in their hands.

I want to keep moving forward instead of resting on my laurels and stagnating, so I constantly think about how I need to change. The keyword here is think, not leap -- I'm not a bandwagon jumper. I want to build the bandwagon myself. And drive it. And decide where it goes. And get off when I decide it's not taking me anywhere I want to go. Which, yes, makes me a huge control freak, but it also keeps me from wasting my time. I've looked at taking some new directions with self-promo that haven't been done yet and that might work really well, as long as I can figure out how to do them myself (again, I have control issues, I admit it.)

One of the great things about blogging is that I get most of my ideas right here on PBW. You guys know how much I love to give away books. Thanks to your thoughtful comments on my Time to Read post, I packed up a bag and paid a visit to the local hospital this week, and (after getting permission from the charge nurse) handed them out on the maternity ward. I'd have never thought to do that without you ladies reminding me of how much I used to read when my kids were babies and I was nursing every couple of hours.

You would not believe how grateful the new moms were to have something to read other than those boring handouts they give you in the You Just Gave Birth! bag. Plus I got to admire some adorable little ones. Tomorrow I'm going to hit a couple of tattoo parlors (yes, I know, how did I make that leap? You guys made me think about other captive audiences.) What do you do when you're sitting there being inked for an hour or two? Reading a free book might be fun, especially if the characters are tattooed, or tattoos are an integral part of the plot, as they are in my Kyndred novels.

Anyway, you have to change with the times or turn into a fossil; I get that. I wouldn't still be in print if I didn't. Not matter how unfashionable it becomes, I'm not giving up blogging; I enjoy it too much. That said, I'm also ready to try some new things. I still believe not following the herd gives you the space you need to be innovative and original -- and even more importantly, noticeable. While everyone is busy doing what everyone else is doing, focusing on what you can do on your own actually gives you a better chance of standing out. Combine that somehow with doing something that you love, and you won't mind the work involved. In fact, you'll probably look forward to it.

What do you guys think will be the next big trend for author self-promotion? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Easy Art

I just downloaded David Thoiron's image-to-art FotoSketcher conversion freeware to help photoshop some of my digital pics into art images for a quilting project, and I thought it might be of interest to anyone who likes to tweak their pics. I'm really impressed by how simple this freeware is to use; I started working on it right away with no problem. Here are screen shots of some different conversions I did with it (click on image to see larger version):

Photo to Watercolor

Photo to Colored Dots

Photo to Brushstrokes

Photo to Pen & Ink Sketch

FotoSketcher offers about a dozen different types of conversion filters (primarily pencil, pen and paint effects) but you can tweak the settings to get different looks. The only problem I've found with the program is that you can't clear an image you're working on; you have to close the program (disclaimer: I just may not have found the clear-screen command yet.) The brushstrokes and other paint-type filters are pretty cool because you can watch your image being digitally painted by the program as it constructs the conversion.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grant Me Ten

Dylan Thomas Center ~ Dylan Thomas Prize offers a prize of £30,000 (approximately $48,000), given annually to honor a book of poetry or fiction that “displays creative, imaginative, and innovative use of the English language” by a writer under 30. Publishers may submit three copies of a book published between May 1, 2008, and April 30, 2010, by April 30. There is no entry fee. E-mail or visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline: April 30, 2010.

Lake Forest College ~ Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency offers a prize of $10,000 and a two-month-long residency at Lake Forest College will be given annually to a poet or a fiction writer to complete a work-in-progress. The winner also will receive publication of his or her manuscript by &NOW Books, an imprint of Lake Forest College Press. Writers who are under the age of 40 and who have not published a book are eligible. This year’s contest is for poets. Robert Archambeau, Joshua Corey, and Davis Schneiderman will judge. Submit up to 30 pages of poetry, a project statement, and a curriculum vitae by April 1. There is no entry fee. Deadline April 1, 2010.

The Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award is a prize of $500 and publication by Lotus Press, and is given annually for a poetry collection by an African American poet. Submit two copies of a poetry manuscript of 60 to 90 pages; no entry fee. Send an SASE, e-mail, or visit the Web site for complete guidelines. Deadline: March 31, 2010.

New Hampshire State Council on the Arts has fellowships of $5,000 each, which are given biennially to New Hampshire poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. New Hampshire residents who are not enrolled full-time in a degree-granting program are eligible. Submit six copies of up to 15 pages of poems or up to 30 pages of prose and a resumé by April 9. There is no entry fee. Visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline: April 9, 2010.

Novello Festival Press ~ Novello Literary Award offers a prize of $1,000 and publication by Novello Festival Press, given annually for a book of fiction or creative nonfiction by a North Carolina or South Carolina writer. Submit a manuscript of 200 to 400 pages by May 1. There is no entry fee. Send an SASE, call, or visit the Web site for complete guidelines. Deadline: May 1, 2010.

Passaic County Community College ~ Paterson Fiction Prize is a prize of $1,000 and is given annually to honor a novel or short story collection published in the previous year. Publishers may submit books published in 2009 by April 1. There is no entry fee. Send an SASE, call, or visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline: April 1, 2010.

Poets & Writers Magazine offers several grants to organizations to help cover fees involved with writers' fees and appearance costs at sponsored readings and workshops. There are some geographical restrictions and other fine print involved, but this could help if your writer or charitable organization needs funding help for an author event; see web site for more details.

Five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships of $15,000 each are given annually to emerging poets. Writers who are U.S. citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 as of March 31 are eligible. Using the online submission system, submit 10 pages of poetry, a one-page writer’s statement, and a list of publications by March 31. There is no entry fee. Visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline: March 31, 2010.

The SLF Older Writers Grant is awarded annually to a speculative fiction writer who is fifty years of age or older at the time of grant application, and is intended to assist such writers who are just starting to work at a professional level. We are currently offering one $750 grant annually, to be used as the writer determines will best assist his or her work. No fee or previous publication credits required; see web site for other details; deadline is March 31, 2010.

Washington Center for the Book offers two prizes of $500 each, given annually to honor books of poetry and fiction by writers who were born in Washington or have lived in the state for at least three years. Publishers or authors may submit six copies of books published in 2009 by April 1. There is no entry fee. Send an SASE, call, e-mail, or visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines. Deadline: April 1, 2010.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

3 Art/Text Generators

Flame* is "a painting program, it belongs to my 'I am Artist' experimental project. I think with tools which inspires you, everyone can be an artist. You can try it here, change different brush settings and paint your own flame paintings. When you change background from black to white, palette changes from additive to substactive and the feeling of the painting is very different. It's not easy to explain all brush parameters, so I leave this for your experimentation."

I made this cover (cick image to see larger version) for one of my poetry books with Flame, and I think it ranks right up there with Dreamlines as an inspirational online art tool. You do have to play with Flame a bit to get a handle on the different settings, but they're fairly easy to figure out. This is not a generator for control freaks, btw, but if you're into abstract and fluid art you'll quickly become addicted.

I've also just started playing with the online Font Image Generator to manipulate some text for different applications like banners and other blog bits. This one might be good to make small projects like banners, avatars and icons, like this one:

Someone (you know who you are) asked me if there is an online graffiti generator with colors and effects that you could tweak, and here's one I just found: the Graffiti Creator. I used it to create bookmarks for a kids' literacy event (see below) and a header for a school workshop handout, and while it also requires some time and experimentation, it's also pretty simple.

(*Link filched from Gerard at The Presurfer)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Off to Quilt

Today is one of my personal holidays, National Quilting Day, so I'm taking off to join my sewing sisters to work on our latest quilt for charity. If you like to quilt, or just like quilts, here are some links to check out:

Learn more about National Quilting Day, and download a free .pdf quilting pattern from NQA here.

Sherri from A Quilting Life has posted some pics of her latest project.

Ruthann Logsdon Zaroff at Adventures in Creativity is also giving away a free .pdf block pattern to celebrate this year's event.

On YouTube, Julie Hansen shows you how to make a quilt out of recycled T-shirts.

FabTalk has some great ideas on how you can celebrat NQD by giving something back through quilting to those in need.

Moda Bakeshop has a very easy, pretty Snuggly Layer Cake Throw pattern by Melissa Mortenson that is simple and only requires one layer cake (see explanation of Moda baked goods, aka precut fabric packs, here) plus backing fabric, batting and binding.

Threads Magazine has some links up to some great quilting posts on their site.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Update on Dr. Peter Watts

Some of you may have been following the case involving SF author Dr. Peter Watts, who was stopped, searched, assaulted and arrested by U.S. border protection while attempting to cross the U.S./Canada border. Most of it is chronicled on his weblog.

When I read that Peter was the one who was charged with assault and was going to be prosecuted, I was utterly horrified, and like so many among the online writing community did what I could to offer some support for him. Today I'm saddened and sorry to say that it wasn't enough, and that Peter was found guilty. He faces up to two years in prison when he's sentenced in April.

While the media will doubtless perform their usual hatchet job, I thought I'd offer a different perspective. This is a snapshot Peter sent me last year when we briefly corresponded about some of the critters we rescue.

Peter saved this orphaned coon from starvation. Here he is feeding the little one:

I'm going to see what more I can do. In the meantime, if you guys would be kind enough to send good thoughts and keep Peter in your prayers, I'd really appreciate it.

Lady RaRa's Rules for Self-Promotion

RYAN SUKRITE: Hello, Publishing! This is Ryan Sukrite, reporting live for BookTV from the red welcome mat at BEA. Oh, look, here's superpublicist and bestselling author Lady RaRa arriving in her hot pink limo! She's the guest of honor at this year's event, and doesn't she look amazing in that razor-spiked g-string made out of rejection form postcards? She's spelled out "Not for us" in diamonds just below her navel, how clever! Let's see if I can get an on-the-spot interview. (charges limo) Lady RaRa? Lady RaRa!

LADY RARA: (climbs out of limo) No autographs. No kissing. No touching.

SUKRITE: Lady RaRa, It's me, Ryan Sukrite from BookTV. You look utterly fabulous!

RARA: Thank you, Bryan. I am feeling very fabulous today. This is because I am looking fabulous, thanks to my favorite designer, Armand Aleg. He made my jacket from shredded unsolicited submissions. (lifts paper sleeve) I'm calling it slushpile recycled chic.

SUKRITE: What a great way to go green and get rid of some unread, unwanted manuscripts, Lady! And by the way, it's Ryan, not Bryan. So tell us, what are you going to talk about during the big luncheon?

RARA: Oh, you know, Ronald, my rules for self-promotion, and what all these book writers must do to be a little more fabulous. (laughs) What am I saying, writers are not at all fabulous. They are fat smelly people with very bad hair and yellow teeth. But they could be so much more if they would just promote themselves as Lady RaRa does.

SUKRITE: Fascinating! Especially now that authors already do so much to promote themselves. Do you believe that they're doing it wrong? And my name is Ryan.

RARA: (shrugs) The Twitter, the Facebook, that is so yesterday. They must be more unique, more fashionable, more like me. Without copying me, of course. You copy my promotion designs, then my attorney will be calling.

SUKRITE: Can you give our viewers an example of how they can accompish that? And call me Ryan, please.

RARA: Well, Robin, at my last book signing, I used a hot pink sequinned pen filled with my own blood. And I let the store manager caress my bubbies while I gave my reading.

SUKRITE: How daring! I wish my name were Robin, but it's Ryan. That signing in blood idea sounds as if it would work really well for a vampire fiction writer.

RARA: (nods) It would if I hadn't trademarked it, Colin, so they can't use that. But they could make their appearance more fabulous. Like by putting little rubies all over their face. With superglue. It also covers up all those pimples they have.

SUKRITE: Look, it's Ryan, not Colin. Wouldn't covering someone's face with rubies be extremely expensive?

RARA: That is why God created third mortgages, Tyrone. I am authentic, so I use only real gems on my face. Diamonds, not rubies, of course. And writers should sleep with their editors whenever possible.

SUKRITE: My name is Ryan. R-Y-A-N. But what if the writer and editor are both women? Should they still sleep together?

RARA: (giggles) They shouldn't sleep, Richard! And what is hotter than girl-on-girl action? Make a film of it and post it on YouTube, and in a week their book will be number two on the Times list. Mine will still be at number one, naturally.

SUKRITE: Say Ryan. Just once. I'm begging you.

RARA: No begging, no kissing, no touching. (waggles fingers at camera) Tah-tah, darlings. (saunters off, leaving a trail of submission letter shreds.)

SUKRITE: (under his breath) Bitch. (turns to camera) There you have it, viewers. Superglue some rubies over your acne, sleep with your editor, and sign your books in your own blood, and maybe you too can become as fabulous as New York Times #1 bestseller, Lady RaRa!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time to Read

The one complaint I hear most often from people who love books is that they never have enough time to read anymore. They blame the demands of day jobs, family and household chores as the cause, and since these are all time-consuming parts of life I don't disagree with them. What I think eats into reading time are other, less noticeable preoccupations along with some old bookish habits that no longer fit with most people's lifestyle.

Jobs, family and home have to come first; at least they do with me. Besides, if I neglect them, there is no relief writer/mom/housewife to step up and keep things running smoothly; I just end up with a pile of work waiting for me whenever I try to get back into my routine. This is why I think if you want more reading time, you have to make sure you're keeping up with the primary responsibilities in your life.

Unless I'm sick, I work every day of the week, and I divide my time so that I use it efficiently. You've all heard me say how I write in the mornings (when it's generally quiet and everyone is at work or school) and edit in the evenings when everyone is settling down for the night. I'm always on call for the family, but by devoting my afternoons to them and my household chores, I usually keep up with work, family and home on a daily basis.

I used to love to sit down and read in the evenings for hours, and occasionally I still give myself a night off now and then to do that. But I've changed my reading habits over the years to accommodate the demands on my time, and now I read most books in short sprints throughout the day. That means when I have breakfast, I have a book at the table. Same with lunch. When I take my work breaks (at least ten minutes every two hours) I leave my writing space and sit outside on the porch with a book. I also keep whatever book I'm reading with me; taking it along when I run errands, make school pick ups or go to doctor appts.

I'm forever looking for opportunities to read, such as while I'm on hold on the telephone, when I'm standing in line at the grocery store or post office, when I'm sitting in a waiting room or a parking lot, or any time or place when I can't do anything but wait. If I soak in the tub at night, I've got a book with me; if I can't sleep I get up and read until I feel drowsy.

I also sacrifice a lot of things for my book habit. Aside from avoiding watching television, I limit the time I spend on the internet. Unless there's some work- or friend-related crisis I don't spend more than an hour a day online. That hour I break up into six ten-minute intervals by using a kitchen timer. This also forces me to be more productive when I am online, because I know when that bell rings I have to log off and get back to work.

No one likes to sacrifice something they enjoy doing, but I'll bet there are plenty of things you do out of habit that don't add to the quality of your life. For example, I used to watch the evening news every night so I could keep up with world events. Eventually I got to the point where I just could not abide one more minute of the squabbling and sensationalism, and stopped cold turkey. Same with newspapers; I gave up my subscription after the content became more aggravating than informative. My primary source of news is now the internet, and I've become very selective about what I read even on it. As a result I'm a much calmer person, and I've gained at least an hour more each day to read books.

I've started listening to more audio books, which allow me to knock out an extra four to six books per month. I keep at least one book on CD in the car to listen to while I'm driving (much more fun than all those commercial-glutted radio stations) and I'll often listen to an audio book on my headphones when I do chores, sew or cook. I did try listening to an audio book when I went to bed, thinking it would help me go to sleep, but it had the reverse effect, so I quit that (your mileage may vary.)

I also think about what I'm going to read for the day, and choose my books accordingly. About half of the reading I do is for work, self-education or market research, which for me is a different kind of reading; more like intensive skimming versus losing myself in a story. These books are good to read during my work breaks because I know I can set the aside without a qualm. Ficition, particularly by authors I usually can't stop reading, I save for other times when I can devote an uninterrupted hour or two to them.

A print book is certainly a very low-tech form of entertainment, but I'm quite happy that I don't have to plug it in, boot it up, fiddle with settings or miss part of it when I'm needed elsewhere. A book is forever patient, and waits until I have time for it, not the other way around. It does not demand I make time for it once a week, or to be recorded when I'm too busy, or require new batteries every other day. If I want to pick it up, it's always ready to tell me the story. On bad days a book is like my dog; it's always waiting and ready to make me happy (and unlike the pup, it doesn't chew the laces on my sneakers to pieces.)

Of course you don't have to live the life of a total book worm like me to make more time to read. Look at what you do every day and resolve to give up one thing: a television program, chatting on the phone, Twittering, or something else you do that is not an essential activity. Even if you go to bed a half-hour earlier to read a little before you go to sleep, that will give you three and a half more hours to read every week. If you bring your lunch to work, tuck a book in your bag to read while you eat, and there's another two and a half hours of extra reading time. If you're bored to death with your favorite weekly TV program, skip it and read instead for an hour.

By making just those three small changes in your routine, you can give yourself seven more hours of reading time per week. For most people, that's two books. Keep it up for a year, and you will probably read at least 100 books you didn't think you had time for.

What do you guys do to make more time on your busy schedule for books? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wishing You

If you're feeling lucky today, here are some contests you might check out:

AOL is giving away three Asus - Eee PC Netbooks in their Feeling Lucky? Sweepstakes. Entrants must be U.S. citizens 18 years or older, and to win must send AOL a brief review on a favorite product or recent purchase. Contest runs from March 15 - April 11, 2010; see sweepstakes page for more details and official rules.

Agent Nathan Bransford is holding a NCAA-winners-brackets-challenge. I don't follow sports so I don't understand what it is (NCAA is basketball, I think) but it will probably make sense to everyone else on the planet. The nice thing is that he's offering the winner a free partial critique or a book from one of his clients, so it's good for both writers and readers. I don't see a deadline listed but looks like you have to enter your brackets or choices or whatever before something locks on Thursday (March 18th, maybe?)

Author Larissa Ione and a bunch of other writers are having a blog tour contest where you make the rounds of the blogs, leave comments at each one and have a chance at winning four different prize packages. This one ends on March 17, 2010.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Character Craft

Because I can never do anything without thinking of how it applies to writing, I used my quilt guild's latest challenge (show a single block design in four different applications) to help me think through and work out a characterization for my next novel.

It all began with a watercolor I painted one morning while thinking about recovering from a tough situation in life. We've all been there, and I think once the disaster is over all we wish for is some measure of calm or quiet so we can sort ourselves out and heal. This I channeled into the portrait of my character, Charlotte (Charlie), who as an EMT is in the business of providing the first step in recovery for others.

At this stage Charlie was simply a two-dimensional, idealized and rather fuzzy image in my head. Like the watercolor, she was flat, but she had a lot of potential. So I took a photo of her portrait, resized it, and printed out four copies onto muslin to begin making her into some quilted objects -- and a person.

The first thing I made was a slightly oversized quilted ATC, to make Charlie's image iconic. Our protagonists are heroic figures, and I believe first responders are some of the most noble people on the planet. Despite this, they're often taken for granted or go unnoticed by the general public until that person is in need of rescue and critical care. Such is the case with Charlie, and before I started taking her apart and putting her back together, I wanted to pay some homage to her and her profession.

The next step was to casually see Charlie as others around her every day do. Her work defines her personality, which is practical, quick, focused, and not especially girly or frivolously feminine. Like this little emergency kit I put together (handy to keep in the car or the purse) By nature and profession Charlie is an excellent immediate problem-solver. If you had a personal dilemma, she would listen and offer useful options. She would not always be entirely sympathetic, though, as someone who can't decide which guy to date ranks fairly low on her list of Serious Life Problems.

Charlie also has her own issues relating to a fairytale childhood that came to an abrupt and brutal end, and from which she was never rescued until she saved herself. Thus wealth, privilege and all the glittery bits of the entitled life are some of her hottest buttons, and bring out in her feelings of resentment, hatred and disgust. She also carries around some baggage from relationships at which she's failed and anger she's never resolved, which she generally channels into physical activity (which is why she's in great shape, she uses running and weight training as an outlet.) Her natural aggression makes her very good at her job -- a timid EMT wouldn't be employed for long -- but it also costs her when it comes to forming friendships and enjoying intimacy. Like this tin of buttons, Charlie usually keeps a tight lid on her emotions because she knows they're not always a plus, but because she hasn't yet dealt with her issues, they're still there, always waiting to spill out.

In the novel, Charlie is transported to a beautiful place where her life actually depends on how well she adapts to a pampered, privileged existence in Paradise. For most of us that sounds ideal, at least on the surface, but for Charlie it is absolutely the worse thing that can happen to her. Like this quilt, she's trapped in a beautiful place surrounded by danger and shadows. No matter how luxurious a cage, it's still a prison, but for Charlie it's also like a warp-speed trip back in time to the worst moments of her young life. If she is going to survive, she will have to face everything in her past that she's been avoiding for so long.

Charlie must also depend on a fellow inmate: a wealthy, privileged man who enjoyed the happiest of childhoods and yet works just as hard as she does to save lives. On one hand he represents just about everything she despises; on the other she learns that they share the exact same goals, values and beliefs. Now add in a strong physical attraction and you have a classic romantic triad. Her conflicted feelings for him will change and grow as the story progresses and the main conflict forces them to depend on each other in order to escape the Paradise in which they're trapped. This will also compel Charlie to finally confront the past, something that for her is long overdue.

Getting to know Charlie will take a few more weeks, but after going through the different stages of this project she is no longer two-dimensional or flat to me. Now my job is to bring that characterization to the page, and breathe life into it, because no matter what I make of Charlie for myself, it all comes down to what I can put into words for the reader.

If you'd like to try to do something similar, but aren't much of a sewer or quilter, try using a hobby or craft that you do enjoy to work out a characterization. This can be sketching or painting, beading, sculpting, collage art, putting together a CD of theme or passage songs (this one is very popular with most authors, btw) or anything else that helps you better visualize and figure out your character.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Take Ten

Ten Things That Are Yours for the Taking

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

Cool Reader is "an e-book viewer" that "understands a number of text document formats. Fully customizable palette, text reformatting with any font size, font antialiasing, extra smooth scrolling and a lot of other features turn reading into a pleasure. Read Aloud function saves your eyes" (OS: Win9x/ME/NT4.0/Win2K/XP)

eLIB is "a new FREE tool which helps you categorize, view, catalog ... your ebook collection." Features: "performs a scan of your folders and files with pre-defined or choosen extensions; you can create as many collections as you wish, and even create subcollections; you can drag/drop your collections; generates the thumbnails for PDF, and some MsOffice files (XLS, DOC, PPT); you can manage several databases of your collections, create backups etc.; and you can view PDF, XLS, DOC, TXT and some other files directly in the integrated viewer" (OS: Windows XP, Vista)

Freebie Notes is a great little program for users who just want sticky notes with an alarm timer. With Freebie Notes you can: create electronic notes (stickers) - unlimited number of sticky notes; edit sticky notes in the advanced mode; specify the date and time of reminder; customize the default parameters of electronic notes (their size, text, background and title color, position on the desktop, transparency)" (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista)

JAlbum allows you to "create and share stunning customized photo albums on any site. Drop folders containing image and movie files onto JAlbum. JAlbum will create thumbnails of your images and display them in index pages in HTML. You can also have JAlbum produce slide shows of your images for easy navigation. The appearance of the generated albums can be fully configured through the use of skins" I've been having a lot of trouble with Photobucket lately so I might try this one myself. (OS: Windows (All) / MacOSX / Linux)

Notefly is a "very small application. Less than 100kb setup. Features: Change color of notes; Make a note sticky on top; Make notes transparent; Create an e-mail of a note; Send a note to your Facebook wall; Tweet a note to your twitter account; Resize notes how big or small you want it; Syntax highlighting for html content notes" (OS: Win 2000/XP/Vista/7)

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

PrestoNotes is "a freeware tool for Windows that lets you write little memos and stick them on your screen. Each note can be entirely customized, including: Image (each note has a text side and an image side); Background and text colour; Transparency; Character fonts; Title bar; Scroll bar; Position and size; Always on top of other windows, or not; Possibility to open or save in an external file (.txt); Add an automatic reminder to any note" The designer also notes that the freeware is multilingual (OS: Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Vista)

SeoDev Content Spinner {Synonymizer} is "used for spinning text content into many variations for further usage, such as submitting spinned pieces of text to website directories, article directories, Web 2.0 sites, blogs and so on." It could also be useful to writers in helping reword a difficult fragment or sentence of prose (OS: Windows 2003, Windows Vista, Windows 2000, Windows XP)

Also from OMZ Software, Telling Folders (scroll down on page) allows you to "easily put any image on top of your folder icons to make them easily distinguishable. QuickLook is supported, so you are not limited to images alone. Drag any file in and see a rich visual representation on top of the standard folder image. Drag a folder in to set its icon – easy. If you accidentally change a folder's icon, Telling Folders' Undo function has you covered (OS: Mac OS X)

Time Tracking Tool is "designed to get an idea of the time passing by while working on different tasks. This tool measures the time of a number of different tasks and can be used for private and commercial purposes (i.e. billing, spent time on a project, time arrangement etc.) as well. After a while, you will be able to view a clear statistic which shows what you spent time on. The Time-Tracking-Tool is written in Java" (OS: listed on a Mac freeware site, but designer notes: "It can be used on every system were a current Java version has been installed")

Sunday, March 14, 2010

3 Contests

Author Doug Clegg has a new contest to celebrate the upcoming release of his novel Neverland that will snare one lucky reader their choice of a Kindle or a Nook e-reader; get the details, rules and enter by May 15th, 2010 over at his web site.

Parsec is holding their 15th annual short story contest for SF, fantasy or horror stories with a theme of "The Color of Silence." Length is 3.5K max, three prizes of $200.00 (1st place), $100.00 (2nd) and $50.00 (3rd) and may be considered for publication. No reprints, no eletcronic submissions, see web site for more details. Deadline April 15, 2010.

Pyr is having a 5th anniversary essay contest for U.S. residents; write an essay of 1500 words max with a theme of "five reasons why science fiction and fantasy is important to you" and have a shot at winning free books, a trip to a SF con and much more. See web site for details and rules; submission period for contest runs from April 1 - June 1, 2010.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hair is the New Weird?

For the second time in as many weeks I've stumbled across a photo of a debut author (who shall remain nameless) with weird hair. I know that "I don't give a damn" and "I don't own a comb" hair is often fashionable (yes, Kate Moss, I reference your mop) but this isn't the usual clueless-writer-can't-figure-out-a-hairstyle look. This is contrived weird. Deliberate bizarre. Look-at-me strange.

Is this the latest trend in objectifying authors? I never got the memo.

I admit, weird hair is not as extreme as whatever compels someone to tattoo their entire head like a checkboard, or like, ah, I don't even know how to describe it. Maybe I'm too old to keep up with the younger crowd and what they like. I've certainly struggled with my own silly hair issues, so I'm not trying to stomp on anyone's hot pink My Little Pony head.

I guess what perplexes me is why would anyone want to burst onto the Publishing scene while looking like a fugitive from a Tim Burton film?

Maybe weird hair is the new gimmick. Gimmicky author photos have never seemed very dignified to me, though. Those soft-focus Glamour Shot bio photos, which are still quite popular among certain segments of the writing community, really should have been outlawed back in the eighties, along with big hair, single-strand golfball-size pearls and that red lipstick that makes chunky female authors look as if they've been eating their young. Dressing up like a character or in period costume also seems more like an activity for Halloween parties or one of those idiotic writer conference contest things. And if you're not particularly attractive, no amount of judicious lighting, makeup or lens filtering is going to make you look like Cindy Crawford; I speak from experience.

Now for some good examples of what I consider interesting yet still professional-looking author photos: Charlaine Harris, Larissa Ione, Marjorie M. Liu, Robert Ludlum, Stuart MacBride, Nathaniel Philbrick, Martin Cruz Smith, and Carrie Vaughn. Note the absence of weird hair.

Tastes differ, naturally, but to me the simple, natural, full-face or 3/4 profile headshots still seem like the best choice. Ladies, that includes minimal makeup and normal-looking hair styles (and please don't give me grief about employing the word normal. Bizarre is for rock stars. You are not a rock star.) Gentlemen, it's to your benefit to comb the hair, and unless you do the beard or goatee thing, for Pete's sake shave. Also, try one shot with a smile. The squinty-eyed unsmiling broody look many authors believe gives them an enigmatic air actually just makes them look constipated.

Finally, I was skimming through some acting sites for advice on how to take a decent professional headshot, and the same advice kept popping up: get a good night's sleep before you take your photos, put on clothing that doesn't have a trendy look (which quickly becomes dated) or busy patterns (they distract the eye), avoid wearing big/chunky jewelry, and use shades of makeup that are natural and/or flattering to your coloring. Talk to your photographer about the kind of look you want and any judicious retouching you might need (dark circles under the eyes were mentioned most often in regard to touchups.)

Additional links:

Beaupix Studio's Makeup Tips for Headshots

Preparing for a Head Shot -- Kevin McClellan Photography

Taking a Good Headshot By Amanda Vogel

Friday, March 12, 2010


I have been rifling through the blog archives to find some old lists, and decided to check on how many draft posts I still have saved from over the years but never got around to publishing. Altogether: 156, or an average of about 30 every year since I started PBW. Does that sound like a lot to you guys? Seemed like a lot to me.

I started to go through them, and found that most were satires that needed polishing, rants that ought to be deleted permanently, or partial ten lists that needed to be finished. A few were in great shape but were a little too impolitic for NetPubLand. Then there were a couple I honestly couldn't remember writing at all.

When I save fiction drafts or partials, which I keep on disk and in hard copy in my filing cabinet, I always include notes to myself on where I got the idea, why I set it aside and what I think it needs if I want to revisit it. Most of the time I'm too busy to go through that file more than once or twice a year, but I figure it's still good to save things that have promise. Who knows, maybe someday I will absolutely go crazy if I don't try to publish a modern day retelling of Gilgamesh.

I don't do that with blog posts, and I think it's because Blogger's save-as-draft feature is too convenient. I hit save, get distracted by another idea or do something else and in a couple of weeks I forget about it. Also, I rarely print out my blog posts in hard copy, so I don't have to file them, which is the point when I do make notes.

156 posts seem like a lot of work to simply delete; maybe I'll go through them a little at a time and save the best for the idea file. Or publish the ones I think won't get me tarred and feathered. There are a couple of those ten lists I'd like to finish, too.

Writers and bloggers, what do you do with your blog or story drafts? Do you save everything like me, or have another routine that keeps you from collecting too much unfinished work? Should draft hoarders like me get into a different habit to keep from acquiring too big a pile? Let me know what you think in comments.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

3 Magazines

I've been very good about controlling my addiction to magazines, and have reduced my subscriptions to just five that I can't live without, which is much better than the twenty-seven I was subscribing to a few years ago.

As a reward now and then for my good behavior I let myself buy a few from the racks; here are the latest three I thought might be of interest to other writers (not that I'm trying to get you hooked or anything):

The March/April '10 issue of Archaeology magazine has some particularly fine articles in it; anyone who is interested in the debate over whether we should clone Neanderthals (which may soon be possible) should really love this issue. One other article that ethralled me was written by Hyung-Eun Kim about the discovery and translation of family letters and personal items placed with entombed body of a Korean gentleman who died in the 16th century. One of the 424 year old letters, written by his pregnant, devastated wife, was used to cover the body like a shroud. Love and loss never changes; despite the centuries that have passed the letter sounds as if it were composed yesterday.

I am quickly becoming addicted to just about everything Stampington & Company publishes, and their Spring 2010 issue of Somerset Digital Studio has so much phenomenal digital art it should be on the must-buy list of all digital artists and writers who create their own cover art. I got some great ideas of how to move in some different directions with my digital art, especially with layering, which I've always been a little timid about trying. Also of particular note: The Charm of Darkness and the Search for Precision, an article showcasing Maro van Middendorf's art (you can see some of the images in his website gallery here) as well as a great look at Vanessa Paxton's incredible photography (I dare you to look at Invisible Walls on page 83 and not be inspired to write something.)

Finally, one of the magazines that has been extremely helpful in transforming my art journaling, Somerset Studio, has the usual great variety of content. I've been picking up magazines and books about mixed media for a while now as I am trying to do more non-traditional art quilts. I'm also about to start on my first assemblage piece and frankly I'm terrified, so anything helps. Why I think this issue is also good for writers is one of the best articles I've read in a long time about the healing power of art by Kelly Rae Roberts. If you ever doubt the meaning what we create has for others, you really need to read this.

What magazines do you read and/or subscribe to that inspire you? Let us know in comments.

Added: Ayla mentioned in comments that it is tough to impossible to get some magazines overseas, so I did some hunting and found that Vanessa Paxton also has a Flickr account. Here's where you can see Invisible Walls online.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Infectious Ten

One thing that caught my eye from that writing rules article I mentioned yesterday was a comment by P.D. James who stated that we should be discriminating about what we read because Bad writing is contagious. I can't say if I agree with that or not -- it invites snobbery, and badly-written books often cheer me up immensely -- but it did make me wonder what other writer cooties might be out there waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting storyteller.

Over the years I have noticed some faddish-type writing that seems to spread along with trends, and commenced compiling a ten list -- did you doubt I wouldn't? -- so here are:

Ten Things You Might Catch from Other Writers' Books

Dragonorrhea: the prevalence of countless, beautifully colored, magically-endowed, bejewel-eyed dragons in a story when said dragons are not logical to the world-building, have no lives, apparently have nothing better to do than suck up to puny mortals, and (no matter how enormous or powerful they are) usually behave like fanged, flying, fire-breathing bunnies.

Good Girlitis: A serious and often grotesque inflammation of the heroine's moral pulchritude, which results in her utter inability to acquire flaws, make bad decisions or otherwise mess up like the rest of the ordinary mortals on the planet.

InfoMumps: Swollen, boring and largely unattractive monologues offered by dull characters who seem to serve no other purpose except to be on hand to confirm what Bob already knows.

HEAlzheimers: no matter how emotionally screwed up one or more main characters were during the first nineteen chapters of the novel, in the twentieth they forget all their troubles, commit to a serious relationship for which they were always incapable of trying much less sustaining in the past, and otherwise present a permanently welded-on mask of unnatural, lobotomized bliss.

Projectile Dysfunction: the unreasonable, unrealistic but steadily persistent eruption of guns, knives, swords and other phallic symbols wielded by the hero to underscore or serve as visual substitute for his masculinity, heterosexuality, virility, or any other manly man attribute.

Pseudo-BadBoydom: a surface condition which presents the hero as a nasty dirty lowdown mean leather-wearing foul-mouthed ingrate who should be publicly flogged for his innumerable sins and yet mysteriously and instantly vanishes whenever the heroine confesses her love, self-doubts, troubles or any situation in which a real bad boy would actually come in rather handy.

Rumor Paralysis: an emotionally void state in which a character falls in after hearing the most ridiculous, unbelievable, circumstantial gossip about their loved one; at least until said loved one offers up tangible and undeniable evidence to the contrary at the last possible moment versus telling the moron to piss off like any sane person would.

Sexaholism: any mortal character who performs more than four sex acts in a 12-hour period; any semi-mortal character who must sleep with everyone in the novel because if they don't the world is doomed; any immortal character who has non-stop sex with a mortal character and yet does not cause them to spontaneously combust after the four hundredth go.

Tattoomania: characters who enjoy normal employment while sporting so much visible body ink that the only two jobs they could reasonably hold down in the real world would be that of a) a tattoo artist or b) a sideshow freak.

Writerinterruptus: Random and glaringly obvious break outs of ax-grinding, soapbox preaching and other outpourings of personal bitching by the author that derail the story, annoy the reader but sound really good when quoted by an ardent colleague who possesses the same inane belief system.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hi-Speed Art

I've never watched a YouTube video I was tempted to actually embed on the blog, until this one: High-speed video shows Orbit books' designer Lauren Panepinto creating cover art for Gail Carriger's Blameless in 155 seconds -- and a warning for those of you who are at work, it runs with background music (link and video found over at SF Signal.)


The Guardian has an interesting article listing ten rules for writing fiction from Elmore Leonard and various other important authors. Richard Ford's terse but funny list (scroll down) is my favorite, but I noted a couple authors couldn't come up with ten rules; one lady only offered three (invoking that quotation about there being three rules for writing books, but no one knows what they are.)

I don't agree or disagree with any of the rules listed; I question the point of listing rules for writing at all. The authors I enjoy most are the ones who generally ignore or smash the rules. This may be because I personally loathe them and do whatever I can to stomp on their pointy little heads (the rules, not the important authors who issue them. Who may have pointy little heads, too, but I digress.)

The work demands certain things from us: good grammar, strong voice, coherent narrative, effortless pacing and engaging characters. We all have our own tricks and tools we use to bring that to the page. Do any of us do it exactly the same way, or abide by the same set of rules? No. I've known writers who use such a complicated process that they have to do ten times the work I do in order to produce a story; I've known others who seem to pull it out of thin air on a whim and nail perfection in a single draft that they rattle out in an hour.

Over the course of a career I think we all put together rules for ourselves and take them apart and recombine them and throw in or take out whatever experience teaches us works or doesn't work. I used to be obsessed with writing all my chapters the same length and with the same number of scenes. They were all exactly the same; I actually counted scenes and pages. Part of it was my love of symmetry; some of it came from worry that if I didn't have that uniformity I wasn't controlling the prose or the pacing. Then I read a book by another author who obviously didn't give a damn about chapter length, having written several that were very long and others that were equally short. A couple were just a single page -- and the book was wonderful.

Seeing that book work so well despite the lack of chapter symmetry was so powerful and effective an example that it made me rethink my own rule. I started relaxing more and focusing on the story instead of counting pages. My chapters are still fairly symmetrical (old habits die hard) but now if the scene or page counts don't match perfectly I don't have a cow.

I'd like to see all these writing rules go far, far away, and more discussion and advice take their place. Why can't we agree that no rule fits all writers? Maybe some of you out there know an excellent way to get around the rule of using only "said" as a dialogue tag, or that dark and stormy night no-no of never opening a story with a weather report just doesn't apply to you. In fact, maybe you do it so well that the applicable rule crumples like a wet tissue in the face of what you do with story.

One thing I did take away from this article is an intense desire never to utter another writing rule again without making sure I clarify it with a "For me" or "When I write." For me, reading a book that opens with a weather report seems dull, so I don't write them. When I write, I try not to use any dialogue tag but "said" because I was brainwashed into doing the exact opposite by my ninny of an English teacher in school. And I still reserve the right to break either rule whenever it serves the story.

What writing rule(s) do you like to break? Let us know in comments.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Warning Ten

Many people in NetPubLand have already commented on the latest PublishAmerica plan to separate aspiring writers from their money, and I really have nothing more to add, except maybe some hastily-ejected saliva aimed in the direction of the CEO's head.

There are some things I've noticed about money-making/writer-faking entities in Publishing that do shriek scam to me the minute I see them, so I thought I'd compile a ten list on them:

Anything and Everything: There are a few major publishing houses that do publish a fairly wide range of books, but no one publishes everything. Generally a publisher wants to see a limited range of genres, and if they solicit any type of new submissions it's usually whatever they think is going to be hot in two years. If a publisher says you can send them anything written in any genre of any length, it's like code for "We don't care what you write, we're just interested in your wallet."

Big Promises: There is no secret handshake. Please, let me repeat that again: there is no secret handshake. So when a publisher claims to have some insider top-secret shortcut way for you to achieve the recognition you deserve, that will absolutely positively put you on the road to success, and make this kind of promise to everyone in the world who reads their schlock, guess what? They are LYING to you.

Bonuses: This comes in a variety of packaging, like: Submit in the next ten days and you'll receive a 10% discount on premium cover art! or Refer one of your writer friends to us and earn $100 toward the cost of production! Look, over the years I've referred other writers to publishers, editors, and agents. I've never been offered or accepted a dime for it. Occasionally it's cost me. So if there is some cash or discount incentive being dangled, they're probably only offering it so you'll pimp their schlock for them while you still pay for their questionable services.

Conspiracy Theories: Hard as it may be to believe, Publishing at large is not conspiring to prevent your genius from being made known to the world. However, anyone who suggests or even implies that is happening to you, and uses it as a reason to purchase their services is conspiring against you. They have hatched a dastardly plot to feed your paranoia in order to deduct large amounts from your checking account. Don't let them get away with it.

Miracle Diet Tone: You know that swallowing two pills, no matter what's in them, is not going to make you lose weight (unless they're an emetic. Then you're going to puke up a pound or two.) To ditch those unwanted love handles, you're going to have to exercise and modify your eating habits. Same thing with publishing. There are no miracle solutions to getting a publishing contract. If there was, no one would sell it to the general public, I can assure you.

No-Name Blurbs: If you don't recognize the name of the published writer pimping the publisher's goods, chances are the blurb is made up or was written by someone who got a 10% discount on their premium cover art in trade. Reputable, successful authors do not blurb scam artists.

Number One: You know who the number one publisher in publishing is? Depends on the yardstick you use, frankly. Scholastic is definitely the largest children's publisher in the world; Bertelsmann AG owns Random House, which is the largest English-language trade book publisher. I wouldn't spit on Lagardère SCA, either. But I can almost guarantee you that is not, as they claim to you to be, number one in Publishing.

Unsolicited E-mails: Any venture you are tempted to try because you received a wonderful-sounding e-mail that was also sent to all of your writer friends is not wonderful. It's SPAM, which rhymes with SCAM; treat it as both.

Upfront Fees: Unless a writer decides from the beginning to self-publish (and I am not trying to imply there is anything wrong with this; I've self-published and I'll probably do it again some day) we do not pay anything for the privilege of getting our work into print. Neither should you.

Web Site Testimonials: Testimonials on the publisher's web site all have several things in common: they sound awesome, they promise the moon and the stars and other chunks of the universe, and they're all nothing but sales tactics. A legit publisher does not have to sell themselves to writers; they get all the submissions they need every day plus a few thousand they don't. Seeing a testimonial should be like a big red flashing sign in your face that says "We are in the business of making money off ignorant slobs. Are you one of them?"

Finally, there are two things you can do to protect your income from scam publishers. One is to do your homework, research them and ask questions about them around the writing community. Talk to authors who are published and gather opinions. Ethical, professional writers will be the first to tell you about the scam artists in the industry.

The other thing is simply to refuse to pay anyone in order to get published. Submit only to publishers who don't charge you for the privilege. Make that your #1 rule and it will never steer you in the wrong direction.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Off to Hang

I'm back from my favorite annual quilt show, but I'm hanging up my writer hat for the weekend so I can spend time with a few visiting quilter friends (they keep grumbling about how much I neglect them, so I'm hosting a fabric swap. You would not believe how much forgiveness a few yards of hand-dyed fabric can buy you.)

Have a good weekend, and see you all on Monday.

Friday, March 05, 2010


I thought when I wrote the final version of the post for the Dream Books giveaway that I was still being overly emotional, but after reading all your comments you've reminded me of the many ways in which books become our sanctuaries, and how important that can be during the worst of times.

From there I turned things over to the magic hat, and the winners of the giveaway are:





Erin Kendall


Margaret Yang




Winners, when you have a chance, please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get these books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Prepare to be Charmed

If you enjoy books by author Monica Jackson (definite fangirl here) and are familiar with her novels Love's Potion and In My Dreams (ditto), or you're just in need of a great romance to read (always), then you'll be happy to hear that today is the release day for Charm Me Baby, Monica's latest release.

Here's a bit about the book from the page at Red Rose:

Mia Washington, a respected professor at a large Atlanta university, has a plan for her life that doesn't include dealing with her dysfunctional family in the small Mississippi town she was raised.

When Mia's aunt dies and leaves her a book full of magic, charms and spells, her life changes. Mia's cousin begged for a love charm to force the town's most gorgeous and eligible surgeon to fall in love with her. When the love charm went awry, it was Mia's heart that was the target for Cupid's new arrow.

Magic exists...and so do the spirits that accompany it. Mia learns it's not only real, but dangerous.

But how dangerous can magic be?

Sizzling, spine-tingling dangerous, if I know Monica. The purchase link goes live on 3/4/10, so I'll be heading over to RRP to buy the e-book as soon as I get home from my annual quilt show trip. I haven't bought from the site before this, so are there any other titles over there you guys would recommend? Let me know in comments.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Six Sub Ops

The American Journal of Nursing (circ. 340,000) wants poems and short personal essays on health care related experiences for its Art of Nursing and Reflections departments. Original perspectives and clear, unsentimental writing preferred. $100.00 honorarium paid on publication. See more details at their web site.

Kansas City Voices has an open call for poems, fiction and creative nonfiction for their 2010 issue, and awards for best prose and best poetry. Work doesn't have to relate to Kansas City. More details at their web site. Deadline March 15, 2010.

Lachance Publishing is looking for true inspirational (and preferably first-person) stories from 500 to 3K words for their Voices Of series; specifically in regard to Alzheimer's, Anoreixa/Bulemia, Breast Cancer, Depression and Epilepsy. They also need stories about dogs who have transformed peoples' lives (and an interesting note on these books from the web site: "100% of the profits from the sale of the Voices Of book series are donated toThe Healing Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing information and support to those challenged by Alzheimer’s disease, autism, breast cancer, alcoholism and other illness.") Details at their web site.

Minnetonka Review has an open call for fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry; two $150.00 editor's prizes awarded each issue. No entry fee, submit online or to P.O. Box 386, Spring Park, MN 55384. More details as well as samples of previous issues can be found at their web site.

Monadnock Writers Group has an open call for submissions to their 5th publication with the theme of "Memory." Prose up to 2.5K, maximum three poems, and photo-ready art are welcome. See their website for more details, or write to P.O. Box 3071, Peterborough, NH 03458. Deadline March 15, 2010.

New Writing on Justice has an open call for their Fall 2010 issue. Work should examine justice directly or tangently. Send fiction and personal narrative to max length of 6K, and up to a max of three poems to Editors, J Journal, Dept. of English, John Jay College, 619 W. 54th Street, 7th Floor, New York NY 10019. More details are available at their web site. Deadline August 15, 2010.

All of the above sub ops were found in the March/April 2010 print issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Dream Books

I received a nice box of ARCs for Dreamveil, my second Kyndred novel, and got to work on a giveaway post for them this morning. I deleted it and rewrote it, and deleted and rewrote it, and kept that up until at last a shampoo manufacturer called to see if he could hire me to ghost-write instructions for his product labels.

I generally avoid painting a bullseye on myself by talking about how I feel about my work, but this book happens to be a tough one for me to fling into the world. I won't go into all the reasons why (because then I'll have to delete this version, too) but I can guess that some of the anxiety comes from working on it during what was for me personally a very grim part of 2009. Call it a Dickens of a novel; the best of writing experiences at the worst of times.

While I know what I'm supposed to do -- emotionally disconnect and let it go -- sometimes you can't do that. Some books are important to the author for reasons the reader will never know. For these books I don't think we should have to attempt to do the usual grinning authorial soft-shoe dance of pretending they're not, even for the sake of self-promotion.

I also see no reason why I should hide under the bed with these babies, so I'd like to hand them over to some of you guys. If you'd like one, in comments to this post name a book or story that helped you get through a difficult time in your life (or if you'd rather not for your own reasons, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, March 4, 2010. I will draw ten names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners a signed ARC copy of Dreamveil. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Fire Me Up Ten

Ten Things to Fire and Inspire the Imagination

Ancient Calendars walks you through the history of timekeeping and (if you're not careful) might spark from story ideas.

What are the basic emotions? Experts don't always agree, but skip them and scroll down to check out the tree-structured list of primary, secondary and tertiary emotions.

Because earthly thoughts don't always do the trick: Julia West's Cosmic Thoughts generator.

Imagination Frequent Fliers:'s Fantastic Out of This World Fantasy Pics.

Who says hairstyles are boring? Not the folks at The Costume Gallery's Hairstyle History archive.

Help yourself to 2,382 plot starters at Hatch's Plot Bank.

OneLook's Reverse Dictionary will take a word or concept you type in and compile a list of definitions and links related to it.

More visual stim, courtesy of 40 of the Prettiest and Fairest Images You Will Ever See in Your Life.

I dare you to play here and not be inspired: Steven Savage's Seventh Sanctum.

"Vicissitudes depicts a circle of figures, all linked through holding hands. These are life-size casts taken from a group of children of diverse ethnic background." Oh, and P.S., they're exhibited on the bottom of the ocean.

All of the above links were pilfered from the amazing online writing linkage library that is Margaret Fisk's Writing Links