Friday, April 30, 2010


Assemblage art is what I'd describe as 3-D collage. Basically you use found objects (usually vintage or distressed) and recombine them to make art. You can read more about it and see some very fine examples here.

I'm working on my first assemblage piece but I've been having kind of a tough time with it. I like order, neatness, organization and logic; I'm drawn to patterns and symmetry versus spontaneity and chaos. The soup cans in my pantry are arranged in alphabetical order; so are the spice jars. None of my natural inclinations are particular helpful to me for this project.

Fortunately the May/June issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine has a great article/mini- workshop on assemblage art by Amy Hitchcock, which helped me understand a bit more about the how-to aspects of assemblage. The why was still a problem for me, though. As in: why put all this junk together when I could be making something useful, like a quilt?

For a while I sat and looked at the assemblage ephemera kit I bought over at and waited for the junk to spark something. The vendor did send me some pretty interesting bits: a doll's head, shredded money, a little computer board, a vintage book page, a tiny glass light bulb, dice, springs, etc., but none of them really related to each other (other than being a collection of stuff you might find in anyone's junk drawer.)

Since sitting and staring at the pile didn't result in any ideas, I started separating the ephemera into categories: paper, glass, metal, plastic. No, I didn't alphabetize them, but I was tempted. Then I noticed that the doll's head had the same color hair as I did about fifteen years ago. She also had painted-shut eyes, as if she were asleep, and dreaming.

I could relate; twenty years ago I was all about the dreams. Me, the dreamy little housewife, changing diapers, scrubbing floors and folding laundry, all the while constantly writing in my head, or furiously typing up a few pages while the kids napped, all the while thinking about how incredible it would be to see my name on the cover of a book.

It wasn't all dreamy, though. I clearly remember my perpetual state of frustration, trying to find the time to write and pursue publication and being rejected week after week after month after year, all while juggling the kids and the house and chores and family obligations. All alone; no one to talk to about it. All those negative comments from well-meaning friends and family: you'll never get published, you should be happy with what you have, stop deluding yourself. I put up with ten straight years of that; even now I wonder, how did I manage to keep writing?

Still reminiscing, I put the little light bulb over the doll's head. If she were wet, I thought, she'd be me in the shower, shrieking as the title for StarDoc came to me. That was really the moment everything changed for me and my writing, and ultimately led to my first published novel, my first series, and my career as a professional writer. And in true lightbulb fashion, I finally got it. Assemblage art is symbolic, like a visual metaphor for whatever the artist is trying to communicate. I wasn't compiling random bits; I was supposed to take the pieces that had a personal vibe for me and put them together to tell a story.

I found a little crate I used to use for the business cards I collected at writer conferences over the years (all of which are now alphabetically filed away in a card holder) and began assembling in earnest. The background is a page; the focal point is the doll. I put the little lightbulb over her head, positioned the computer board to serve as her torso, and scattered some shredded money at the bottom. It all began to make sense to me: the burden of inspiration, the delight of dreams, the challenge of technology, the achievements, the disappointments. The single di, for the gamble that is each book. All of it playing out against the work.

I have some other elements to add so I'm not finished, and I still have to figure out how to nail or glue everything in place, but it felt good to finally get it. I even have a title for the piece: Bruised Dreamer.

When writers tell a story, we do often start with a lot of unconnected, random bits. A great character, a fiery conflict, an amazing setting. Building those elements into something cohesive and coherent is what drives us: pulling it all together, assembling it into something with meaning. Often we're not successful and it still looks like a pile of random stuff, or it doesn't convey our vision, or under scrutiny it falls apart. But when we make the right connections, all the story ephemera can be assembled into something really wonderful, something that another person can explore and understand and be entertained by; something that will add to their cache of life's delight. And isn't that why we write?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tiger Eye

Passionfruit Games has just released Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, the first PC video game based on Marjorie M. Liu's novel, Tiger Eye.

I've been looking forward to the release this game for a bunch of reasons, including the fact that I am a devoted follower of Marjorie's Dirk & Steele novel series. But I have to admit, I'd already assumed that I wouldn't be able to actually play it myself . I've tried exactly one video game in my life and never made it past level one; solitaire and pinball are more my speed. It's also been my experience that video game playing requires superior motor skills, lots of time to practice, and a much younger, hip frame of mind -- none of which I possess. Honestly, I planned to pass it along to the kids.

I am delighted to report that Tiger Eye is eminently playable and genuinely fun, even for a pinball-era gimp like me. You're not required to run around fighting in the street or ripping out your opponent's spine; instead you face a series of fun and very interesting puzzles, riddles and problem-solving challenges that you work through on different levels as the game follows the story in the novel. Intelligence and common sense are your best allies when you play this game. Speaking as a handicapped user, I think it's extremely user-friendly for folks like me who have limited dexterity, as all of the play is point-and-click with the mouse.

The game graphics are terrific; the narrators' voices are perfect for the characters they portray, and I enjoyed the soundtrack so much I'm going to purchase it. There's also options to get hints on how best to solve the challenges, a orb that guides you when you can't find something, and timed bonus levels to add points to your score. The thing I liked most was the ever-changing degree of difficulty; the challenges ranged from simple to very tough, and the mix kept me on my toes and involved (this bicycle chain challenge is one that finally stumped me on my first try, but I'm going back next time to kick its evil twisty ass.)

As a mom who routinely drops thirty to fifty bucks on video games for her kids, I also appreciate Passionfruit Game's prices. You can purchase the basic game for as low as $6.99, or choose an upgraded version that comes with extra bonus bits and perks (I preordered the middle/premium $9.99 version.) Mac users, you have to wait until next month for your version, but it's worth it. I know Marjorie's readership will love how the game follows the story of the novel, but I don't think you have to be a Dirk & Steele fan to enjoy playing it. Be warned, though, it will probably make you want to read the novel.

To purchase and download Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, head over to the order page here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Your Writing Horoscope

Aries (March 21 - April 19)
You’re known for your fiery temper, which isn’t going to be soothed by watching dump all your e-books next week after they squabble with your publisher over pricing. Remember that you do this in order to make a living, not as an excuse to purchase that rocket launcher you’ve been secretly lusting over. Besides, do you really think you can pick out the right window to Jeff Bezos’s office from the street? You’d be better off bringing a video camera to that late-May writer’s conference to record the hijinks that happen after the awards ceremony in the Tiki bar. Watch for an editor with multiple piercings and a taste for tequila shots; she’s got an opening on her list and a real jones for that bald agent with the tribal-tatted ankles.

Taurus (April 20 - May 20)
That bio photo your cousin took of you last month when Pluto moved into your house? Is about as attractive as the planet. Dwarf planet. Whatever. Anyway, this is the time you should really think about your image in ways that do not require a permanent photographic record. Also, the futuristic silver sequinned jacket and skirt set you were planning to wear to BEA? Will make you quite popular – like that chick in the inflatable Tor wiener dog was back in ‘05. Burn the photos and the suit on May 3 as an offering to Venus.

Gemini (May 21 - June 20)
Both sides of you need to stop bickering, sit down and work out an amicable mental condition, because you’re starting to argue with yourself out loud and that’s scaring the chicks at your table during the monthly chapter meeting. Try meditation and chanting (shouldn’t be a problem since you can do both at the same time.) On May 15 you’ll meet a pair of cute single twin guy writers at the literacy function; see if they’re into a menage because there’s no way the two of you are ever going to agree on one man.

Cancer (June 21 - July 22)
Your aversion to group dynamics makes you regularly brandish your claws or withdraw into your shell, but this month you’ll have a moment of temporary insanity and consider joining yet another writer’s organization. Yes, you’re still falling for that illusion of camaraderie that really doesn’t exist unless you’re married to your co-author, write under one name, and go to couples therapy twice a week. So stay in your home office where you’re happy, calm, productive, and (as long as you face the door) no one can stab you in the back or shove you over into an out-of-service elevator shaft.

Leo (July 23 - August 22)
Sit down because I have some tragic news. You’re not going to win that writing award. Or get the runner-up thing. Sorry. But hey, the new highlights you got for the library opening look fabulous, and that will be a good hair day for you, too. Be careful not to give any interviews about losing the award, and don’t post on your blog for at least a week after. To be on the safe side, two weeks. Also, see if your sister still has a couple of Valium left over from her last breakdown. Yes, you deserved it so much more than anyone else but sometimes committees make mistakes. No, really, why would I lie to you?

Virgo (August 23 - September 22)
Since you’re Taurus’s best pal, you need to e-mail her right now and try to talk her out of using that bio photo in the back of her next book. I mean, have you seen it? My cats have hawked up prettier hairballs. Before you look at it, maybe you should get one of those viewers like the kids use during solar eclipses. And what were you thinking, letting her buy that tarty outfit with all the sequins? I know she’s stubborn but do you really want to watch her be detained by BEA security on suspicion of solicitation?

Libra (September 23 - October 22)
Don’t fall in love with that title because this month your editor is going to kill it. The new title she wants will be something like The Kissing Swords, The Kissing Guns or The Ships Who Kissed. And no, telling her it’s not a M/M romance won’t make a difference. While I know you’re the zodiac’s biggest procrastinator, do something about it before the ditz slaps it on your cover permanently (you know the drill: call your agent, cry all over him or say that you’re thinking of quitting so you can write self-pubbed stuff for Kindle, then hold your breath and pray.) Also, Mercury is going to stir up that cyber stalker you thought had found someone else to harass, so keep your backups updated and watch your blog comments.

Scorpio (October 23 - November 21)
Dude. So not worth it. Chill.

Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21)
Yes, that book by the colleague who knocked you off the Times list top ten was a complete pile of unadulterated crap, but he has a publicist who actually does more than e-mail once and vanish off the face of the earth. Rein in your ire and channel your frustration into the work. No, you can’t Tuckerize him and kill his character by slowly dropping him into a vat of molten ore. Rather than crawl into the abyss, congratulate him. Then pitch that new dazzling idea you had to his editor, because I have it on good authority that he thinks he’s Stephen King and is about to jump ship because no one at the current publisher is kissing his ass the way they do Steve’s. You know what that means: open slot!

Capricorn (December 22 - January 19)
While I know you hate your plans being trashed, you’re about to get kicked off the program grid at the next writer conference. It seems your synopsis writing workshop is not as titillating as the multi-author spitfest being put on by My advice is to hold your workshop anyway, just have it at McDonald’s across the street. That’s where all the real writers are going to be because they can’t afford room service or the hotel restaurant. P.S., your conference roommate is going to steal your best black jacket, your good hair dryer and your toothpaste and blame it on the maid. Check the side pocket of her carry-on before you check out.

Aquarius (January 20 - February 18)
I would never call you an airhead, but lately there's been a hole in your mental bucket, and stuff has been falling out. Remember that research book you got from the library? You left it in the park next to the fountain, and a homeless lady is now using torn-out pages from it as Charmin. And that notebook with your almost-finished synopsis? Little Jimmy thought it was his, took it to school and is now at lunch reading it out loud to all the other fifth graders at his table (good thing you decided against writing erotica, yes?) Put aside the confrontation scene between the hero and the antagonist for a couple hours, update your calendar and clean off your desk. P.S., your income tax return is at the bottom of pile #23, and is now thirteen days late.

Pisces (February 19 - March 20)
Little dreamer, you're about to get bruised, and not in the good way. Your last release is slated to be torn apart on that discussion board where you're guesting authoring this week. The ring leader will be your ex-critique partner, who will use the handle Bewildered (he's not bewildered, btw, he's beyond pissed that you sold another series when no one even wants to look at the book of his heart.) With all your fans planning to be there, this could become a bloodbath, unless you pop over, say hi to the ingrate after his first post, marvel over how easy it is to tell that it's him from the quality of his writing, and thank him for taking the time from his busy schedule to talk about your book. Then throw in something about how much you've always appreciated his support, wisdom and insight. No, you're not going to burn in hell for self-defense lying, I promise.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writer Birds

My grandmother had a name for people who were unusual or eccentric in some highly visible way: odd ducks. I've always liked that term because it sounded funny and kind of charming instead of cruel and derisive. It certainly applied to more than one elderly family member, like the one who always refused to wear undergarments because she felt those parts of the anatomy needed to "breathe" (she always wore skirts, however, which was why my mother always made me stand right behind her when we were on stairs or escalators.)

I know I definitely gravitate toward books by certain odd writer birds out there (and not because they refuse to wear underwear.) I enjoy books with an original voice or that defy classification, which in this trend-driven industry is tough to sell. To me a truly gifted storyteller is one whose work doesn't remind me of anyone else's work but stands on its own, separate and unique. But I don't think these writers should all be called ducks, odd or otherwise. While I like ducks, there are a lot of other interesting birds out there who seem to fit better.

Horror and dark fantasy are both genres that have always embraced the innovators among us without burdening them with a lot of preconceived notions about what "must" be in the book. Now that the genres have grown to encompass many sub-genres (urban fantasy, paranormal romance, steampunk, what have you) there's even more room to create. The shadowy elegance and fierce independence of the best writers in these genres make me think of black swans.

Although it's often called formulaic, the romance genre has also been opening up (okay, we've had to use crowbars most of the time to pry open the back doors, but I think the best of today's romance writers are taking us to places we never could dream of twenty years ago.) The romance writer who breaks away from the flock and does something new and different should be called the lone flamingo.

Inspirational fiction has also been (slowly) going in some different directions. Along with Christian writers who are experimenting with new types of fiction, we now have writers of different faiths building worlds based on their belief systems. Thirty years ago Pat Wallace used astrology to build an alternative Earth based on the zodiac instead of skin color (and probably got a lot of crap for it); now we have stories written by practicing Wiccans, Buddhists, Jews, atheists, you name it (I'd just like to see some sub-category recognition for inspirational writers of other-than-Christian faiths, but I won't hold my breath just yet.) The most original of these soulful writers are doves of many colors.

You don't have to be an odd duck to be a successful writer, but even if you're firmly settled in your flock it doesn't hurt to take some time now and then and write something different. Pick a genre you haven't ever attempted and write some flash fiction, a scene, or a short story. See what you can do with what you haven't tried yet, and maybe you'll find it allows you to spread your wings like nothing else you've done.

Now it's your turn: what sort of writer (or reader) bird are you? Let us know in comments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Writerisms Ten

Ten Things Writers Say About Their Books
(and what they really mean)

All I wanted to do with this novel was share my struggle and help others.

All I want to do with this novel is make a pile of money and stomp my competition into the dust.

Early reviews have been very promising.

Early reviewers have promised to hunt me down and beat the crap out of me.

I hope you love reading it as much as I loved writing it.

I hope you don't hate it because if this doesn't sell I'm going to be pulling double shifts at Shoes R Us.

I patterned my novel after [deceased famous writer's insanely popular novel] but they're really not the same.

I ripped off a deceased famous writer's insanely popular novel and changed it just enough to skirt plagiarism because it's a guaranteed bestseller and I'll have an instant readership.

My editor thought it was very different.

My editor called legal to see if publishing it would get them sued.

No one understands what I'm doing with this novel.

Stop asking me to explain this novel; I haven't figured out a decent premise or hook line yet.

The experience of writing this story was life-changing.

After I wrote this story my spouse left me, my family won't speak to me and the house is now in foreclosure.

This book is why I became a writer.

This book is what is selling like hotcakes.

When I finished the novel I jumped with joy.

When I finished the novel I collapsed and had to be hospitalized for exhaustion.

You can buy the book at any major retailer.

Buy my freaking book!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Out of Here

I want one of these, badly, but I'd have to buy a bigger house. I'm also wondering how you get to the books on the inside curves. Leap over the top?

While I ponder that, I'm also taking a couple days off from the blog to finish a book and recharge my batteries (and any comments you want to post will be stuck in the moderation queue until Sunday evening when I get back.)

So that your trip here was not entirely wasted, some links to other collections of innovatively designed bookcases:

13 Bizarre & Brilliant Bookcases

20 Unusually Brilliant Bookcase and Bookshelf Designs: Creative, Modular and Unique Furniture

20 Brilliant Bookcases

11 of the Coolest Bookcases and 11 More of the Coolest Bookcases

10 Brilliant Bookshelves

Photo credit:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction

Gerard over at The Presurfer posted a very provocative image of a modern-looking man standing among a group of people in a museum photograph from the 40's. I followed his link to the article with the background story here, and found a mention of one of my favorite internet urban legends, the alleged time traveler from future Florida, John Titor. I think time travel belongs in fiction, and rather doubt it could work in reality (quantum universe-style or otherwise) but I do try to keep an open mind. Any future traveler out there who wants to convince me that it's possible is welcome to stop by my time period whenever you like.

When I was in high school, a friend and I took a shot at cracking the mysterious cypher involved in the Taman Shud case (also known as the Somerton man) and came up with a few words that made sense. We used a German translation of the Rubyiat to interpret the the first line of code and half of the third to read I’ve been wildly, extravagantly hunting but I think (my) drunkenness is at an end. Unfortunately following the same code from there made our translation fall apart, so it wasn't correct (or he switched languages in mid-code.) That school project led to my lifelong fascination with cyphers and encryptions.

I've always wondered about the truth behind all the hype surrounding the July 1947 crash of an alleged UFO in Roswell, NM. I think most UFO stories are also fiction, but they're great story fodder. For example, what sort of technology would an extraterrestrial employ in order to adapt if unexpectedly stranded here on Earth? That question formed the basis of my short story Box.

I especially like object-based mysteries from history, like the Mitchell-Hedges skull, the Copper Scroll, the Phaistos Disc, and the Piri Reis Map. Sometimes these objects vanish again and you start smelling Eau de Coverup, like the newspaper which reported that Egyptian artifacts had been found in the Grand Canyon in 1909 by Smithsonian-funded scientists (The Smithsonian later insisted that they have no records of the artifacts or the men who discovered them.)

Using real world mysteries as inspiration for your fiction can be a lot of fun and led to some interesting coincidences. The world-building in my Darkyn novels was based on many mysteries surrounding the Knights Templar and plague-related mythology, so I wasn't surprised when one of my plots collided with an archaeological discovery in real life.

When you look at some of history's mysteries to see what inspires you, always go with an event, a figure, an object and/or a time period that you know you'd enjoy finding out more about; what you love will make you even more creative when you get to the world-building stage. Any enigma from our past can led to some exciting storytelling; all you have to do is a little digging, and then turn over whatever you find to your imagination.

Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Need an Author Moment?

I'm sure most of you have seen these commercials for Twix candy bars where the character commits a faux pas, time screeches to a halt, and (after gobbling up a Twix bar, of course) the character comes up with the perfect lie to excuse their behavior. My daughter made me watch the bookstore edition of the commercial so I could tell her if there really was a book like that on the market (plenty) and if I thought all guys read is scoring with chicks how-tos (not the ones I know.)

I think authors should have commercials like this to promote our books and to help readers out when they're having a moment. No, really. Imagine the following:

Scenario #1: Your boss calls you into his office and tells you to shut the door.

You say: "What can I do for you, Mr. Suit?"

Mr. Suit picks up a pink slip from his desk, and says: "I have some bad news for you."

Time stops, and Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, appears, hands you a copy of his book and whispers in your ear.

You say: "Well, let me tell you my good news first. I've figured out a way we can use telecommuting to boost productivity and cut our overhead by [three times your annual salary]. All it will take is for you to work a four-hour work week from home while I supervise from the office." You lift up the book. "It's all in here."

Mr. Suit tears up the pink slip, and says: "Did you say four hours? From home?"

Scenario #2: You're pulling up to a toll booth after a long drive on the expressway.

You reach for your wallet (which you suddenly realize you left at home) and all you in your pocket is fourteen cents and a half-used roll of Lifesavers. You say: "Uh, hi there."

The toll booth operator says: "Fifteen dollars and ninety-seven cents, please."

Time stops, and author Patricia Cornwell appears in the seat beside you, slaps you upside the head with her latest hardcover, and then whispers in your ear.

You say: "I'm so sorry, but I pulled over a few miles back to help a little old lady with a flat tire. Then I saw that she was only trying to distract me from noticing the two men she was traveling with, who were dragging this rolled-up carpet into the woods. I didn't realize she picked my pocket until after she tried to knock me unconscious with her umbrella." You show the toll booth operator the head wound Patricia gave you. "Thank God I was able to stumble away into my car and escape those fiends. I'm going to call the police as soon as I'm released from the E.R., I promise. Oh, here, in lieu of my toll." You smile wanly and hand over Patricia's hardcover. "This is a great book, and if those guys try to jump you, you can smack them in the head with it."

The toll booth operator takes the book and says: "I think it's time for my break."

Scenario #3: You've just arrived home from an exhausting day at work and your spouse is dressed in their best outfit and has a beautiful dinner waiting on the table.

You say: "What's all this for?"

Your spouse tearfully says: "Honey, did you forget? It's our anniversary."

Time stops, and PBW appears, hands you a bulging book tote, and whispers in your ear.

You say: "Sweetheart, I thought I told you, I was planning to take you out for dinner tonight." You hand over the bag. "Here, I got these for you. They're first editions of all your favorite books by that author who never has book signings. You know, the one with 483 pseudonyms? Oh, and I talked her into signing them for you."

Your spouse says: "Oh, darling, I love you so much. Hey, did you get a picture of her with your cell phone when she wasn't looking?"

Now it's your turn: what author would you like to show up when you're having a moment?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Digital Con

I'll be one of the guest bloggers for Drollerie Press's first annual Coyote Con digital author conference, which runs for the entire month of May 2010. The conference is free, and anyone can attend, but space is limited so registration (which opens today) is required.

Here's the tentative program grid, also to be finalized today. They all look pretty neat, but I recommend making a point to check out Heather Massey's chats; she's had some really interesting, thoughtful discussions on her blog.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Overcoming Reading Reluctance

I need to stretch my reading horizons every few years or I find I start gravitating back toward reading only those books by a few favorite authors and nonfiction for research purposes. This happens because over time I think I acquire a certain amount of reading reluctance, and don't give new or new-to-me authors a fair chance.

Reading reluctance is more than burnout or a rut; it's a bit like giving yourself an allergy. If I read enough books in the same genre that for whatever reason I don't enjoy, I start having a knee-jerk negative reaction every time I see a new release in that same category. It doesn't even have to be in the same genre; if I read enough badly-written dragon fantasies -- and I have -- even a glimpse of a dragon on someone's cover art can make my skin crawl.

I put together a list of some genres I'm currently not reading and thought about why I'm not reading them, and what I think it would take to bring me back:

Apocalyptic or Dystopian Fantasy: However misplaced it might be, I still have faith in humanity, so I've never been a huge fan of this genre anyway. It can be very depressing stuff.

What I would read: Anne McCaffrey-esque books where everyone escapes the apocalypse, finds another place or time, starts over and doesn't screw up that world.

Chicklit Romances: The humor often seems mean-spirited, and the fashion references are completely wasted on yours truly. Also not a fan of those highly idealized girlfriends forever books, in which two or more female characters seem to fall in love with each other while the male characters serve as your basic brainless, bulgy wallpaper cutouts or brainless, bulgy walking vibrators. Inspirational chicklit can and has made me physically ill.

What I would read: Anything that ditches the gushing BFFs, the over-the-top fashion, the insulting goofball comedy, and wretchedly-disguised bigotry, and replaces them with honest humor, real male characters, genuine feminine wit and above all, respect for the peaceful and faithful no matter what name they call their deity.

Historical Romances: After a long sabbatical I came back to this one and did a bit of reading around, but I was disappointed yet again, and my burnout reburned out itself.

What I would read: Because the usual time periods and characters have all been knocked off ad infinitum, I'd like to see some historical romances set in radically different eras, on continents other than Europe and North America, and with a variety of cultures and storylines. I'd definitely spend major bucks on any ancient world romances that hit the shelves.

Mashups: Not crazy about someone dumping zombies, sea monsters and vampire slayers in classic lit and slapping their byline on it (picky, I know, but I'm the same way about chopped peanuts on hot fudge sundaes.)

What I would read: Clever twists on classic lit in which the author does not copy and paste a single word from the original novel.

Memoirs: The last memoir I read was back in 2002, and there simply aren't words to describe that book that would keep this blog PG-rated. It had one positive effect; it made me instantly take a lifelong vow never to write a memoir.

What I would read: The diaries, journals and letters written by ordinary people who have/had interesting jobs and/or lived in interesting times.

Political Nonfiction: My grandmother made me read all the Watergate books, which she felt were important and I felt were a horrible punishment (in my defense, I was twelve. I wanted to read Laura Ingalls Wilder, not Bernstein and Woodward.) Have not touched a book on politics since.

What I would read: Nothing I can even imagine here. If I were given a choice between reading PN and having a colonoscopy without the fentanyl, I'd start undressing.

Science Fiction: As much as I've tried to like having all that endless pseudo-Platonism, rabid socialism and heartless nihilism shoved in my face, it just gives me a headache or puts me to sleep. The few SF authors I enjoyed reading when I was a kid are deceased now, and I've read everything they wrote a couple times over.

What I would read: Anything fun, adventurous, imaginative and not boring written by someone with a sense of humor. Or Edmund Cooper and A.M. Lightner, should they ever reincarnate.

Unauthorized Celebrity Bios: Celeb books don't do much for me, and most of the time they're as tasteless as they are badly-written. After all the support Oprah has provided for authors and the Publishing industry, for example, this latest bio about her getting all the hoopla seems ungracious as hell.

What I would read: I'd like to give the gossip and scandal sniffing a complete pass and read more factual accounts of the lives of people who have made a huge difference on the plus side for humanity, especially in medicine, like Avicenna, Edward Jenner, William Harvey, Joseph Lister, Charles Drew, Janet Lane-Claypon, Jonas Salk (and that list just goes on and on.)

Women's Fiction: Alas, not enough Kleenex in the bathroom or aspirin and tranquilizers in the medicine cabinet to cope with all that drama. That and if I really want to feel instantly bad I'll call the family member who always updates me on whose marriage is in trouble, who is unemployed, who has a home being foreclosed on and who might have an inoperable brain tumor.

What I would read: It's hard to be specific because this genre has the potential to be so much more than the aisle of endless sobfests. I don't mind books with downs as long as there are some ups thrown in for balance. A storyline that doesn't use tragedy as a crutch or an ending. Less soap opera, more realism.

YA: I'm winding down on a determined effort to read more in this genre, and mostly coming away with delightful memories of all the reasons I wanted to kill myself during my high school years.

What I would read: I like history, and I know I'd like to see it through the eyes of a youngster. Haven't found any decent historical YA yet, but I think the right author will eventually grab me.

What books are you reluctant to read, and why, and what would it take to get you to read them? Let us know in comments.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Day Off Ten

Ten Holidays for Writers That We'd Like to See

Amazon Dump Monday: A day of mourning for authors whose e-books have been removed from due to retail price squabbling. May also be used to write anonymous hate letters to Jeff Bezos and/or author's publisher before reading the classifieds part-time day job column for positions that might augment respective ruined portion of income.

Query Calamity Tuesday: A day of rest and meditation for any writer who realizes 1) they sent their latest query to the wrong publisher or agent; 2) they misspelled their own name on it; or 3) they accidentally sent it to every single person in their address book, including that chick in their local chapter who steals everyone else's story ideas. Must unplug from the internet for the entire holiday.

WIPlash Wednesday: 24-hour mandatory downtime in locked/dark room for any writer who loses or accidentally deletes 30 pages or more of their latest manuscript. Includes any destruction of said manuscript due to weather conditions, negligent spouse, angry romantic interest or bored house pets. Best writer friend (BWF) must remain on standby for emergency phone call response to any/all suicidal-sounding e-mails.

Royalty Check Bounced Thursday: Day when all banks will be closed to give the writer the opportunity to contact their editor, their agent, that guy they know in accounting, and (when unsuccessful at getting anyone to explain on the phone) borrow the money necessary to cover said rubber deposit. Writers who receive overdue royalty checks that, oops, accounting somehow forgot to sign, also qualify for this holiday.

Hatchet Job Recovery Friday: A day off, a massage and a week's supply of chocolate-covered Valium for any writer whose novel is torn to pieces by Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, or another trade their editor routinely reads. Re-reading of glowing fan letters, receiving reassurance of talent from BWF, and hours of sobbing and cuddling with furry household pet strongly suggested.

Cover Art Conniption Fit Saturday: One day of group therapy, psychiatric counseling and as-needed mental health interventions for the author who discovers their cover art is so unsightly that it threatens to blind their readership (or just come over to PBW's house, look at a couple of hers, and feel instantly better.)

Submission Rejected Sunday: A day of prayer and heartfelt conversations with the Almighty for any writer who receives a form rejection letter, postcard, or scrawled "not for us" in pink ink on their returned submission. An extra day may be taken for any rejection that personally insults the writer, the writer's future employment prospects, the writer's mother, the writer's DNA, etc.; funding for which will be paid by the rejecting publisher.

Fire My Agent? Week: A seven day period during which a writer in a distressed or combative situation with their current agent can spend rehearsing phone call speeches, writing piss off letters, and otherwise contemplate the pleasures and delights of finally firing that lazy/indifferent/ineffective blockhead. Toward the end of the holiday the writer must gather far worse agent horror stories from other colleagues, reconcile with their own and trudge on because really, do you want to go through this crap again with someone new?

Jump Ship? Month: Thirty days reserved for the author whose editor, contracts or other problems has pushed them to the brink of abandoning their backlist and signing on with another publisher who promises not to do the same to them (writer will not get this in writing, of course.) The month should be devoted to coaxing colleagues into spilling the beans about their situations with the prospective house so that the writer may verify that the devil they don't know is or isn't as bad as the one they do.

Why Did I Want This Job Anyway? Sabbatical: Four months of freedom between contract signings, during which the author may update their dusty old resume, go out for interviews, discover that ten years of self-employment does not make them dazzling candidates for hire for any industry, and once again confirm that while writers are routinely abused, used, rode hard and put away wet, it's still the only job to which one can go to work at noon while wearing bed hair, SpongeBob Squarepants pajamas, and fuzzy green socks with holes in the toes.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Handling Derailments

Today my guy is flying back from an overseas job, and while I have faith in the airline he picked, I know I won't be able to write from the time his plane takes off until it lands. I'll be too busy pacing the floors. Because I know his itinerary and my capacity for air-travel anxiety, I planned for this and wrote a little extra yesterday.

I couldn't take the laptop with me during my most recent unplanned road trip, so that completely wrecked two working days. Which I also anticipated, and took along a manuscript I wrote on-spec so I could do the final read-through during any quiet moments. Got about two-thirds of it read, edited and ready for the final buff and polish, plus I made notes for a shorter version of the synopsis. That came in handy this week when I decided to finish the submission package and send it to my agent, who thought it rocked and is now shopping it around.

Sometimes I can't predict when my writing time will be knocked off schedule, like this morning, when the dog decided to be sick and, of course, choose to do so on the carpet versus the tile floor. I lost an hour to clean up and comforting the pup, which combined with worry over my guy's flight back will probably keep me from catching up on my writing for the day. So I'm composing this blog post and my afternoon chores this morning and will try again to write after I make the school pickups. If I don't, I have a couple of hours to add to my writing time for the next three days.

I hate being derailed from my writing routine, because along with the regret over lost productivity comes a nice big fat dose of guilt. I belong to my manuscripts for a certain portion of every single day, and when I can't show up for work, I feel like I've just called the boss and lied about having the flu. I've had to learn how to set aside those feelings and accept that real life often has to come before the job, and that I simply can't juggle it all without dropping something now and then.

One way I compensate for missing writing time is by lining up simple work-related tasks that I can do. There's always a box of filing waiting in the office for me to put away, as well as a stack of books to add to my book inventory over on LibraryThing. The ledger can be updated any time, not just on Friday, my usual deal-with-the-accounting day. I now print out e-mails before I answer them and make notes on them for whatever I need to do in response (send an ARC, pass along referrals, recommend another writer for whatever I can't do, etc.)

Market research and reference books sit in a TBR pile in the book room in the order I need to read them. Shorter tasks include dusting the computer station, running a disk cleanup and defrag, updating my backups or vacuuming the office rug. I also update my new monthly reminder program, Chaos Manager, with new appointments, deadlines, and anything else I need to add from a notepad I keep with dates and things as they come in.

People laugh when writers say that while they're sitting and doing nothing while staring off into the distance they're actually working, but when the writing is derailed I do my fair share of that, too. I think about the stories I'm working on, the characters, and how I can make them more interesting, more realistic, better written, etc. I run through ideas for future books, and reconsider old ideas that I never had time to develop. Sometimes my most effective story epiphanies have come to me while I've been sitting in a waiting room or in traffic. Which is why I always carry a note pad and a voice recorder with me wherever I go, to nail down the best of those fleeting, idle thoughts.

I'll never be able to know when the next derailment is due, but since I'm never completely caught up on anything peripheral to the writing, I always have something to do or read or consider. The trick is to see the derailment as an opportunity instead of letting it wreck me.

What do you guys do when your writing time is derailed? Let us know in comments.

Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back Again

Since I've been feeding wild birds all winter, I had no doubt some would stay to nest around the house this spring. Birds like free food. So the first item on my guy's spring to-do list was to 1) screen in the porch so nothing nested in it and 2) do something about that garden wall cabinet we inherited from our house's previous owner. You guys might remember it; it's the cabinet on top of which mourning doves nested last spring -- twice.

"We can't take it off the wall," he told me. "It's bolted through the siding, and it'll leave a big ugly hole."

"Okay," I said, "but you've got to do something about the top of the ledge to discourage those doves from nesting there again." I didn't want to spend all Spring going out every morning to look for smashed eggs or helpless fledglings writhing on the ground.

My guy did a lovely job screening in the porch, which means I won't have to worry about finding another nest of wrens in my potted plants. His solution with the cabinet outside the porch, however, was to push the two birdhouses on top of the ledge together so there was no room for nest building. I didn't think this would work, and told him that. About a week after he moved the birdhouses, something (a dove, perhaps?) worked its way between the two houses and started building a nest. I spotted the gap and the twigs and pointed them out to him:

My guy cleaned off the ledge, pushed the houses back together again, and promised me he'd keep an eye on it while I was out of town. Which he evidently forgot to do, so when I got back home from my trip, guess what I found?


She didn't build her nest between the two houses this time. She built it in front of the smaller house, right on the very edge of the ledge.

I swear, she's smirking.

This is why the first item on my to-do list for today -- after I check the dove to make sure she and her eggs are okay -- is to move our grill into the garage.

Friday, April 16, 2010


After reading all the creative tips and stuff you guys do to keep organized I don't feel quite so obsessive (and I admit, I am a Post-it note, notepad, index card and notebook collector/addict, too. One can never have too many places to jot down the occasional killer line of dialogue.)

One last tip: I gave up my office supply closet a couple years ago and started keeping my office supplies on shelves in the bookroom where I could always clearly see what I had (the photo over there is of my notepad shelf, where all my Post-its live.) It was nice to have everything out of boxes and bins and stored in the open, plus it also keeps me from buying things I don't need.

We put the magic hat in motion, and the winner of the Neat Writer Stuff giveaway is:

Robin Connelly

Robin, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to so I can get this package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fire and Ice

In honor of National Poetry month, I thought I'd write a bit about one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost.

To be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with much of Frost's poetry. Sometimes nothing else will do, and I need Robert to remind me about the road less travelled and being acquainted with the night and other, quiet countries of the heart. Other times (usually about three a.m. on a bad night) I want to drop into the office shredder every book I have with his name on it.

Like Blake, Byron and Keats, Frost has always been both a godsend and a thorn in my side. As a teenager I wanted to love him, but he was a bit too sharp-eyed and all-seeing to allow me in. The few times I did get a foot or shoulder in the door, he smacked me down with some simple, throwaway line that should have just been lyrical and pastoral and wasn't. For me Frost is subtle but temporal; he slips into the brain like a polite guest hiding a jackhammer behind his back. Then, when you're not looking, he goes to work.

My introduction to Robert Frost was his poem Fire and Ice, which I read as a teenager and (even then) knew I was in trouble. He assured me of everything I suspected but didn't want to believe about human beings. He even tried to give me some fairly shrewd and even prophetic advice with Choose Something Like a Star, but as a youngster I was too wild and head-strong to climb that stairway to heaven. I turned my back on him and buried myself in the Romantics and the Experimenters, and every time one of his verses would come back to haunt me I'd chase it off with some Rilke or Browning or Rosetti.

Age and experience made a uncertain peace between me and Frost; I finally accepted that what I wanted to believe about people mostly belonged in fiction, not real life. He helped me get past my grandmother's death without tromping on my grief. He left me alone by those deep, dark and lovely woods on a snowy evening, but he wrapped me up before he rode on. The second time he asked of me a certain height, I still stayed on the ground, but I was better able to appreciate how much he himself must have wanted to attain that safe distance. I think now he fought for it his entire life.

Only a handful of his poems are still taught to children in school, but that's probably enough. I don't think they'd sleep too well after reading Ghost House or even Paul's Wife. I certainly didn't. As for Fire and Ice, I don't think I'll ever make peace with that particular poem. I want to believe, as my grandmother did, that faith in mankind is not misplaced, even when you're basically betting on them to be too petty and selfish to do the unthinkable.

Robert Frost was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry four times, and he deserved every one of them. His poetry is very accessible, benign on the surface, and deeper than the abyss. Like explosives, handle with care.

Choose Something Like a Star

Fire and Ice

Ghost House

Paul's Wife

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Neat Writer Stuff

Every year spring cleaning means getting my office reorganized, which gives me a reason to splurge a little on new organizational stuff. I like shopping at Target stores because they always have something different, interesting, or clever for me to lust over in the office supplies aisles. Here are some things I picked up on my last trip:

Greenroom Recycled File Folders: You'd never know it to look at them, but these folders are made with paper that contains 60% recycled paper fiber and are printed with nontoxic soy-based ink. I picked them up at first because they're colorful and attractive, so finding out that they're also eco-friendly was a nice bonus. ($3.99 for a pack of 12)

Post-it Printed Notes Book: 3M never quits evolving the humble sticky note, and this time they've come up with something that is really helpful and purse-friendly: a little book-type folder that holds two 3.9" X 5.9" Post-it pads. It comes with a lined pad for taking notes, and a week-at-a-glance pad which has a small space where you can jot down reminders, appts and other things you need to remember. There's also an elastic band to hold it closed. My only complaint is that it's not designed with pockets to be refillable, but I think once you use up the pads that come with it you could certain use a glue stick to put in a couple of replacements yourself. ($7.99)

Project Case: When I'm working on a chapter, a galley or another stack of printed pages I usually paperclip or rubber-band it and keep it in a paper folder. This doesn't always keep the pages neat or clean, though, especially if I have to take it along with me and toss it in the back seat of the car or stick it in a tote bag. I don't always want to lug my briefcase along with me, either, so it's been a problem. This project case is durable, rigid, seals and latches, and is light enough to carry anywhere. It also has enough room to fit my pens, highlighters and other editing tools, and the flat bottom serves as a nice impromptu lap desk. ($4.99)

Tack TileBoard Magnetic Bulletin Board: I have problems grasping small objects, and I've never found a small noteboard I can park anywhere and that doesn't require me to fumble with push-pins -- until now. This 9" X 9" board is small enough to fit anywhere, comes with 11 pushpins and 4 magnets, can be mounted on a wall, or used with its easel stand on any flat surface. The steel mesh surface is certainly going to be more durable than cork, which tends to disintegrate from use over time, and the magnets are a lot easier for me to handle than those annoying little pins. Also, if you want a bigger surface to work with, you can hang two or more of these together on a wall. ($14.99)

I bought an extra one of everything to give away, so if you'd like a chance to test them out personally, in comments to this post tell us a helpful tip, neat trick or cool tool you use to keep your writer, reader or other stuff organized (or if you can't think of any, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, April 15, 2010. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner all of the above listed neat writer stuff along with a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Sorry I'm a bit behind on posting, but now that I'm home things should return to the usual level of controlled chaos shortly.

To get to the announcement you all have been so patiently waiting for, we put the magic hat to work, and the winner of the Complete . . . Almost giveaway is:

Joe Iriarte

Joe, when you have a chance, please send your ship-to info to so I can ship this package out to you (and as Joe will be the first person besides my editor and copy editor to read Dream Called Time, you can try to bribe him to find out how the series ends.)

My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

The DF_Underground "welcomes submissions of fiction and nonfiction by horror and dark fiction writers from all walks of life" and are building an online community as well: " . . . theDF_underground editors provide review and response-time preference to members of the underground_Community. No two ways about it: our goal is to build a living, breathing community around the genre as a profession, and we support our community first. By joining and engaging within the underground_Community, you are taking steps to promote yourself as an author, build name recognition, network with other professionals in your industry, and take an active role in the success of your work. (And you can have a lot of fun doing it, too.)" Length: 1-5K+; Payment: "theDF_underground is a low-paying market for now, for one simple reason: we're new. We pay $5 up to 1,000 words, $10 for 1,000-5,000 words, and $15 for 5,000+ words"; reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

The Library of Horror has an open call for Groanology : Amusing Monster Mash-Ups Unleashed: "Looking for original horror stories that are humorous, witty, silly, satirical, or sardonic. Each story must focus on using two different monsters. They can be used in the singular, plural, or a combination of both. Secondary characters may be used, including other monsters, but the two main characters should stand out. You may use typical monsters (such as witches/warlocks, skeletons, gill people, banshees) or mythological/fantasy monsters (such as ogres, giants, gorgons, harpies), or urban legend monsters (such as Big Foot, Bloody Mary, El Chupacabra, Jersey Devil). Feel free to use any combination of the different types of monsters you would like. Please do not use any monsters such as Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers, Freddy Krueger or any other characters that are not held in the public domain. If you have a questions regarding a character please pm me." Length: 1.2 to 3.2k; Payment: 1¢/word + contributor's copy; no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: TBA

Library of the Living Dead has an open call for a post-apocalyptic/shared universe anthology, No More Heroes (see guidelines link for a great deal of important information on the characters/setting/details of the stories they want to see) Length: 3-9K; Payment: 1¢/word + contributor's copy; no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: June 15, 2010

Liquid Silver Books is currently accepting submissions for "all erotic romance genres in three different heat levels (note here: the levels are sterling, liquid, and molten; see guidelines page for specifics on what they entail.) We want to see strong stories that stand on their own if the sex was omitted. We are looking for the build up of passion, the explosion of a sexual relationship between characters, and not just a story with one sex scene after another. Sex in the stories must be descriptive, titillating for the reader, further the plot and be original; no purple prose will be accepted." Length: 15K and up; Payment: 35%; no reprints unless you've already submitted an original ms or are a LSB author; electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details.

Permuted Press has an open call for their Times of Trouble anthology: ". . . looking for grim, gritty stories about the unhappy unintended consequences of mucking about with the delicate fabric of reality. That doesn't mean there's no room for any note of hope, or the occasional happy ending—in fact, accomplishing such a feat effectively just might greatly enhance the author's chance of inclusion in this anthology—but the emphasis here is decidedly on the dark downside of time travel. Times of Trouble most emphatically does not want to see any stories of clichéd wish fulfillment—don't bother submitting any stories in which Hitler is fortuitously killed prior to World War II—or those using time travel as a convenient plot device to place the protagonist "elsewhen" simply for the sake of a rousing adventure. (The Editor has nothing whatsoever against a good romp with Tyrannosaurs, but the place for such is not here.) Time travel must be integral to development of the story. Unless crucial to the plot, it is not necessary to expound at length on the actual mechanism of time travel. The "how" should be far less important than "what happens next?" Examples of the sort of stories that will succeed in this anthology are "—All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein, "A Sound of Thunder," by Ray Bradbury (oh, look—you can use dinosaurs, if you do it right), and the classic Star Trek™ episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever." Length: 3-7.5K; Payment: 1¢/word; no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: July 4, 2010

Realms of Fantasy Magazine is now accepting submissions for its August 2011 "Women in Fantasy" issue; length >10k; payment at regular rates, submissions from female authors only. Deadline November 15, 2010.

Reuts Publications is currently accepting submissions for novel-length works: "We don't limit ourselves within genres, but we do ask for your stories to be fiction only and geared towards older-young adult and adult audiences. That said, our team is particularly fond of the following genres and their sub categories: paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, horror and romance." Length: >50k; Payment: 40% royalty on net; query on reprints; electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Severed Press is seeking submissions for its upcoming anthology, Dead Bait 2, to be headlined by authors Steve Alten and Guy N. Smith: "As with the original Dead Bait, stories must include themes revolving around fish/fishing and aquatic creatures (no mermaids). We will be looking for a good mix of horror, humor and deviance. Stories can be set anywhere in the world and can be fresh or sea water. Stories with exotic locations and unusual species of fish will be highly regarded." Length: 2-8k; Payment: 1¢/word of edited/final story + contributor's copy; query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: July 1, 2010

The parent company of Under the Moonhas signed a contract with author Mercedes Lackey to produce the Valdemar Source Books and D6 game. Because of this, they are now "seeking light fantasy with romance threads & space opera" novel submissions.

Vagabondage Press has an open call for their Lyrotica anthology series, as follows: "In order to further our battle against entropy in the universe of letters, Vagabondage Press has decided to stir up a little chaos by combining the two and launching our new anthology series of Literary Erotica, working title "Lyrotica" scheduled for release in September 2010. We are currently seeking well-written pieces of steamy literature--with the emphasis on literature. This is smut with its opera gloves on, elegant and provocative, perhaps even satisfying—but never tawdry. (Well, maybe just a little.) The focus is on character development and thematic plot via the wonderful world of human reproduction—rated NC-17. All genres will be considered and we hold no editorial bias in regards to stories for or about individuals of any race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or planet of origin." Length: 2-6K; Payment: 40% of cover for digital ~ 8% for print; reprints okay as long as earlier release was digital; electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Most of the above submission opportunities were found among the many terrific market listings at

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the Road

I wasn't planning on taking a trip, but turns out I have to be somewhere else, so I'm out of here and will be out of touch until probably late Sunday evening.

I'm also back to running the blog solo, so any comments you post will not appear here until after I return to moderate them. Because of this, I'm extending the deadline for the latest giveaway until midnight EST on Sunday, April 11, 2010.

Have a good weekend.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Complete . . . Almost

The proofs for Dream Called Time are sitting on my desk, waiting, ready to be corrected. One more read-through for typos, fax any corrections to NY, and I'm finished another series.

Well, not just any other series. The first series, the longest series, the series that has been a personal mission from day one. StarDoc. It's been a long time coming, and now it's here.

While I was doing my annual spring cleaning of the filing cabinets I found the very first incarnation of StarDoc, a short story titled Border FreeClinic. I always thought I wrote it in 1997, but turns out I was a year off: I wrote it in February of 1996. StarDoc is fourteen years old; just a little younger than my daughter. I'd also forgot what I first named the character who would eventually become Duncan Reever. Do you think StarDoc would have been the same if it featured Cherijo Grey Veil and an interpreter named Tyler Jackson?

(Okay, quit laughing. I have a nephew named Tyler, and a dear friend surnamed Jackson.)

I read the story, and after all these years I was surprised. Other than changing the interpreter's name, and making him a much more complex and important character, the original short story that inspired the series isn't all that different from the novels. I never sent the short story out anywhere; at the time I was just playing with concepts and really wrote it for myself. If you'd told me back then that a 22-page short story would turn into ten science fiction novels, I'd have laughed myself silly.

Moral of this story: You never know what might come from the next thing you write. Honestly.

To celebrate my final work on the series I think I should do a giveaway, too, so in comments to this post, name a book series that you've recently discovered that you're enjoying (or if you're not into series novels, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, April 10, 2010 Sunday, April 11, 2010 (entry deadline extended due to my unplanned absence.) I will select one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a signed photocopy of my original short story Border FreeClinic, as well as a signed, unbound galley copy of Dream Called Time, the tenth and final StarDoc novel, which will not be released until August 2010. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Why Then, Here's Ten

In honor of April, which among other things is National Poetry Month, here are:

Ten Things About Poetry has one of the largest collections of poetry on the internet, all searchable and all 100% free.

You can generally make some interesting accidental poetry by inputting text into the Bonsai Story Generator or Robopoem, or playing with the Automatic Poetry Generator, the Genuine Haiku Generator, Icon Poet, or The Poetry Generator.

For those of you who have poetry you'd like to sell, has a search engine for poetry and fiction markets.

From WikiHow, How to Write a Poem.

Got fridge? You can have a poem on it in no time with one of the great word-magnetic sets from Magnetic Poetry (also makes a great gift for poets of any age, especially youngsters.)

Scholastic has an online Poetry Idea Engine that teaches kids about four different forms of poetry (haiku, limerick cinquain, free verse) while they have fun playing.

National Poetry month info abounds over at*.

My favorite poem: somewhere i have never travelled by e.e. cummings

Ten Things for Poets.

Use poetry to make word clouds (and often get some compelling story title ideas) via my Wordling Poetry method.

(*link nicked from Kris Reisz)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


For everyone who complains about how I never have any book videos, here's one from the publisher of Versuchung des Zwielichts, the German translation edition of If Angels Burn:

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The No-Thanks That Helps

One of my annual spring rituals is to clean out my office filing cabinet, which I've been doing this past week. While disposing of what I no longer needed to save, I came across an old reduant copy file of rejection letters for proposals I sent out back in the 90's. About five hundred of them; looks like everyone in New York rejected me at least three times. Now I can chuckle over some of the scathing comments -- like one editor who said I'd never get my vampire fiction published -- but back then these were very tough to read.

Not all the bounces were bad, though. In the file I found a copy of my favorite rejection letter of all time from Natashya Wilson at Harlequin American. Natashya was the first editor to give me feedback that was actually useful, and also the first editor I ever pitched in person (a couple years later we met at a regional writer's conference. Still didn't sell her anything, but I made a point to thank her for her advice.)

As busy as editors are these days, they probably don't send out many personalized rejection letters anymore. If you receive one with comments, it's almost a given that the editor thought enough of your work to offer an opinion. In Natashya's case, she actually helped the most by referring me to another division of Harlequin for whom the book might work better. As editorial feedback goes, this is pure gold.

Some writers are simply not good matches for certain publishers, and what one editor dislikes another might love. Generally you can tell a rejection is based on preference or suitability when the editor makes comments like "I didn't care for [story element]" or "At this time we're not acquiring novels in [genre]." In my rejection letter from Natashya, she specifically mentioned the hero, how he didn't work for her, and how he wasn't appropriate for her line.

Other helpful feedback is when the editor comments on the marketability of some aspect of the novel. Although I didn't know it at the time, environmental issue plots were not popular with romance publishers; Natashya pointed that out and actually saved me a lot of time; after pitching the book to Harlequin Presents (who also rejected it, btw) I shelved the manuscript and moved on.

The comments you really need to pay attention to from any editor are those made about the quality of the work. Natashya emphasized that my hero was over-the-top, especially in the beginning of the novel, which was right on the money. When editors tell you that there's a problem with the writing itself, it's definitely worth looking at closely. Look for comments like "I don't feel this was written at a professional level" or "The pacing of the story felt uneven" or "The characterizations seemed two-dimensional."

Rejections can also help you decide whether to pursue or abandon a project. Last year when my agent was shopping around a new three-book proposal for me, she was getting nothing but blanket rejections for it (yes, I still submit and I still get rejected. Bestsellerdom does not = automatic acceptance.) All the editors kept saying was that they'd already acquired something similar or they didn't have room for it in their line (the heartbreakers were the editors who said "I wished I'd seen this a year ago." Got a couple of those.)

Because my timing seemed to be off, I was considering pulling the proposal and moving on to the next idea. Then one editor sent a comment about how she would have bought it except that she felt it would be too much competition for one of their established authors. That was exactly the feedback I needed to hear to keep pursuing publication. A few weeks later I received an offer from another publisher for the proposal (my new editor later told me it was exactly what he'd been looking for) and they bought all three books.

Now some questions for you guys: what do you find most helpful in the rejections you receive? Any editors out there you think are particularly helpful or generous with feedback? Let us know in comments.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Payless Ten

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.

Cha-Ching allows the user to "manage your finances quickly" and "quickly create a budget, enter transactions and track spending, all within a beautiful user interface that will make managing your finances a true pleasure. Cha-Ching 2 is re-written from the ground up to take advantage of the very latest features available in Mac OS X Leopard" (OS: Mac OS X)

Countdown Calendar is a "widget that helps you remember important dates like your wedding anniversary, Tax Day, birthday, Christmas…anything you want!" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or greater)

Gramps is a "free Software Project for Genealogy, offering a professional genealogy program, and a wiki open to all. It is a community project, created, developed and governed by genealogists." I thought this one might be of use to those of you who are writing series or epic novels and have to keep track of extensive character trees (OS: Linux, MAC OS X, and Windows)

Hornil Stylepix is a "free graphics editing program. It's light and powerful photo and image editor with professional tools for mid-range of users. Key features: Full features for raster graphics editor; Multi layer and grouping support; Various region selection tool; Various drawing tool; Practical image filters like level and curves; Correction-restore and enhancement tools; Batch processing; Intuitive user interface and convenient working environment;
Supports 53 languages." (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

Paintstar is a "versatile digital image processing software suitable for such tasks as retouching of photographs, composing and authoring images, image morphing, screen capture, and displaying image thumbnail in Windows Explorer context menu. It supports alpha, layer, path ,and the most common editing techniques. PaintStar has many of the tools and filters you would expect to find in commercial offerings, and some interesting extras as well" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP)

Piggydb is "a Web notebook application that provides you with a platform to build your knowledge personally or collaboratively. With Piggydb, you can create highly structured content by connecting knowledge fragments to each other to build a network structure, which is more flexible and expressive than a tree structure. Fragments can also be classified using hierarchical tags. Piggydb does not aim to be an input-and-search database application. It aims to be a platform that encourages you to organize your knowledge continuously to discover new ideas or concepts, and moreover enrich your creativity" (OS: Multi-Platform [Java])

Baen's Universe has posted Shoresteading (Part I and Part II) by David Brin online for free reading; donations or new subscriptions welcome.

Suvudu Free Library has some new freebies up for grabs in April: Point of Honor and Cross Purposes, two short stories by Elizabeth Moon, and Make Believe, a short story by Michael Reaves.

True Transparency is a "free application that allows you to replace your windows´ borders by skins composed with transparent images. With skins highly configurable, a one-click skin selector, a low memory usage and without installation process, change the look and feel of your windows GUI has never been so easy. Bring Vista transparency to your XP desktop with TrueTransparency" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Vocabulary Trainer is a "free and open source software for learning vocabularies. Vocabulary Trainer is implemented in Java. Skip vocabularies which you have already learned or if you are no longer interested in learning them with one button click. Ask the program for the solution to continue learning in an uncomplicated and direct manner." Could also be of use to you homeschooling parents out there (OS: Multi-platform; runs on Java virtual machine)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Wishing You

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holiday Treat Ideas

If you want to get some healthier treats into your children's Easter baskets this year, check out Caeli Esser's article Easter Bunnies do not eat Snickers.

An Easter egg hunt is always fun, even when the kids are supposedly too old for them (mine aren't.) Some tips: don't use real eggs unless you're hiding them outdoors, or count the eggs before you hide them indoors; have extra empty baskets to hand out to your hunters in case someone falls on their basket or a handle breaks; if you have kids who race around and snatch eggs from other kids, fine them 2 eggs or make them sit out for two minutes (this also trains them to be good sports), and have a special secret prize for the youngest kid and/or whoever finds the fewest eggs (I always gave the slowest hunter the much-coveted golden egg.)

A lot of moms like to make Jell-O Jigglers as treats for the kids, but if you use the egg molds Jell-O sells they can be too big and slippery for little hands to hold. I used to make half-eggs by pouring the gelatin into a deviled egg dish like this one (lightly spray first with PAM or cooking oil spray) and served them on a bed of coconut tinted green with food coloring.

Absolutely the cutest and easiest decorated Easter cupcakes to make (this would be great to have the kids decorate, too): Chick and Egg cupcakes.

For Easter dessert this year I'm going to try a spin on an old favorite of my childhood: coconut cake. Cooking Light's recipe for Double Coconut Cake is lighter than my grandmother's egg- and butter-heavy recipe, so I'm going to give that a try. I like the commenter who mentioned adding crushed pineapple as filling to give it more of a tropical flavor; I might do a variation on that with fresh peaches.

If you're not a fan of coconut, Cooking Light also has a recipe for what sounds like a really scrumptious Chocolate Cake Roll. For those of you who are already celebrating Passover, check out this reipe for Pistachio Pavlovas with Lemon Curd and Berries.

Friday, April 02, 2010


Wouldn't it be great if every ad we saw made us laugh out loud?

(I think from now on this will be my personal metaphor for "interrupting Mom when she's working.")

(This is even funnier if you and your amour started out looking like the couple on the left, and now look like the couple on the right.)

See more hilarious print advertising over at Web Design Ledger and real world advertising at

(Thanks to Gerard over at The Presurfer for the links and the laughs.)

Forever Young image credit: srhbth

Thursday, April 01, 2010

noʎ ɹoɟ op ı sƃuıɥʇ ǝɥʇ

˙sʞuɐɹd ʎuɐɯ ooʇ ɟo ɯıʇɔıʌ ǝɥʇ ǝɯoɔǝq ʇ,uop puɐ 'lıɹdɐ ɟo ʇsɹıɟ ɹnoʎ ʎoɾuǝ 'sɹnoɥ ɹnoɟ-ʎʇuǝʍʇ ʇxǝu ǝɥʇ ɹoɟ unɟ ǝʌɐɥ noʎ ǝdoɥ ı 'ɹɐɟ sıɥʇ pɐǝɹ oʇ pǝƃɐuɐɯ ǝʌ’noʎ ɟı 'ʎɐʍʎuɐ

˙ʇıɟ ʎssıɥ ɐ sɐɥ ɹǝƃƃolq uʍop ǝpısdn ʞuıl ǝɥʇ ǝpoɔ oʇ ʎɹʇ ı ǝɯıʇ ʎɹǝʌǝ ǝsnɐɔǝq 'ɥƃnoɥʇ 'sʇuǝɯɯoɔ uı ʞuıl ǝɥʇ ʇnd oʇ ǝʌɐɥ ll’ı ˙ʇxǝʇ ǝɥʇ dılɟ oʇ pǝsn ı ɹoʇɐɹǝuǝƃ ǝɥʇ spuıɟ ǝslǝ ǝuo ou ʇǝq ı puɐ 'ɥƃnoɥʇ 'ʇɟɐɹp ǝɥʇ uo looɔ ʎʇʇǝɹd ʞool sǝop ʇı

˙llıʍ ƃuıɥʇou ssǝnƃ ı 'sɹoʇısıʌ ʎɯ oʇ uoıʇoʌǝp ɹǝʇʇn ʎɯ ʍoɥs ʇ,usǝop ʇsod sıɥʇ ɟı os ˙pɹɐoqʎǝʞ ǝɥʇ oʇuo ʇno ƃuıllɐɟ sdǝǝʞ sʇǝʞɔod ɹnoʎ ɯoɹɟ ǝƃuɐɥɔ ǝɥʇ llɐ uǝɥʍ spɹoʍ ʇno dɐʇ oʇ sı ʇı ʇlnɔıɟɟıp ʍoɥ ɐǝpı ou ǝʌɐɥ noʎ ¿uʍop ǝpısdn ƃuıdʎʇ 'ʇɐɥʇ sǝpısǝq ˙ssɐlɔ ɐƃoʎ ɐɾuıu ʎɯ uı pǝuɹɐǝl ı sʞɔıɹʇ ǝsoɥʇ llɐ ǝsn oʇ ǝʌɐɥ ı 'ǝƃɐ ʎɯ ʇɐ puɐ 'ǝuoʎuɐ ɹoɟ pɐǝɥ ʎɯ uo puɐʇs ʇ,uop ʇsnɾ ı 'uɐǝɯ ı ˙sʇɹoɟɟǝ ʎɯ ǝʇɐıɔǝɹddɐ sʎnƃ noʎ ǝdoɥ ı os 'ǝʇıɹʍ oʇ ɹǝʌǝɹoɟ ʞooʇ ʇsod s’ʎɐpoʇ 'ǝldɯɐxǝ ɹoɟ

˙ƃolq sıɥʇ ɹoɟ pɹɐoqɹǝʌo ʎɐʍ oƃ ı ʞuıɥʇ ı sǝɯıʇǝɯos