Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Off to Write

First, I have to share this comment, which was left on the blog a few minutes ago (the bleep on line one is mine):

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Freeware & Online Tools for Writers":

Hey you! All this stuff is so [bleep] great for writers around the universe. THANKS A LOT. I would retweet it, but... HOW? NEITHER YOU'VE A TWITTER OR FACEBOOK PROFILE. Gwt one, to get more people coming around you.

and my response:

Dear Anonymous:

Thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you thought all this stuff was so [bleep] great. Alas, I'm never going to have a Twitter or Facebook profile. Ever. The universe will collapse first. So please stop screaming at me.


Now that I've taken care of that, I'm heading off to finish some work and family committments. So that your visit here was not entirely wasted, here are some photos of our the latest backyard drama:

From the porch I spotted a couple of tortoises playing follow-the-leader. We have a couple of burrows on our property, but since I've never seen two of them together like this, I thought they might be a couple in the making.

The larger tortoise in the front kept stopping to nibble on weeds (another reason to love these critters -- they're natural born weedeaters) while the smaller one kept rearending the back of his shell.

Finally the big one turned on the smaller one, and while I didn't get a picture of it, the smaller one promptly rammed into his side and tried to flip him onto his back.

That's when I realized they were probably not lovers in the making, but members of the same gender who were fighting over territory.

Watching tortoises fight is hilarious. They go nose to nose, bob their heads like . . . bobbleheads, I guess. One time they pulled inside their shells and rammed each other head-on, and the collision sounded like a mini fender bender.

The smaller one kept using his flippers to fling dirt at the bigger one, but whenever the big one became more aggressive, he would retreat in his shell. Oddly enough neither one snapped at each other; maybe sea turtles are the only ones who do that.

After about ten minutes of this the two stopped fighting, sat side-by-side for a minute, and then turned away from each other and went their separate ways. So it was a stalemate, or they just got tired of me taking pictures of the fight.

Kind of reminded me of some of the battles I've watched on the internet.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Collage It

I've been looking for a way to make some photo collages from my digital collections, and in the process found a simple-to-use freeware that produces fabulous results.

When Collage It says you can make photo collages in minutes with just as few clicks, they aren't exaggerating. I downloaded the freeware, watched a brief tutorial that auto played after the download -- and I recommend if you give this a try you do the same, because it runs you through what to do in just a couple minutes -- and then a couple minutes later I finished making this (click on image to see larger version):

The first version was about three times this size; I resized it for uploading to Photobucket and viewing on the internet. You can also shuffle, rotate, sparse and preview your collage before you save it in an image file (BMP, JPEG, PNG, TGA, GIF etc.) The program also has different options you can play with to produce different types of collages (and to see a gallery of sample collages, click here.)

I didn't expect this kind of quality from something that was so simple easy to use, and it's terrific to find it for free. I can think of a couple dozen different uses for it, too, from family stuff to cover art promo to characterization collages. It would also be an interesting way to show off what you're reading, or display some of your favorite books.

Collage It is for Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7, and when I downloaded the program it was virus-free, but as always remember to take the usual precautions and scan it before you put it on your hard drive.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Font Ten

Ten Things About Fonts
(Inspired by this article over at

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

Download 17 different handwriting fonts here.

For those who want to create their own typeface, check out Chank's online tutorial guide to How to Make Your Own Fonts.

Chank also has a video on YouTube here showing a live workshop on making a font with M&Ms.

Laura McCanna's page with tips on How to Create a Typeface.

NexusFont is "a font manager for Windows. If you have many fonts and you need to choose fonts you want, this program is for you. You can compare many fonts at once. And there are useful functions to manage font files" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7)

Paleofonts is "an *exe file of c. 12 Mb which is unpacked by default in a separate folder, of c. 38 Mb, from where it can be installed into "Windows"´s " Fonts " folder. With additional software and separate procedures, the True TypeFonts may work under some " Linux " distributions. The compilation contains 279 paleographic True Type Files plus a brief * pdf document entitled "Explanation", providing some technical and legal statements. The fonts are designed by various authors, whose intellectual property they represent. The credit for the creation of these fonts is all theirs. All of the fonts are free for personal as well as academic use, but not for commercial purposes such as reselling, charging for use, hiring. The fonts embody dozens of ancient scripts that have been (and in some instances few of them are still being used) for millennia around the Mediterranean sea, as well as Northern, Central and Eastern parts of Europe, ancient Egypt and Near and Middle East. Some of these scripts are scarcely represented in this version, rarely with more than one font, but many, among them various variants of Egyptian hieroglyphs Hebrew, Greek, Latin as well as OCS Cyrillic are quite extensively represented" (OS: Win 98/ME/2000/XP)

Rockin Text is "a very simple yet powerful software designed to make quick text graphics. It provides various features which make it an extremely handy tool for web designers or anyone who needs to design text graphics" (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2K/XP/2003)

Did you know there was a convention every year for the typographically obsessed? Yep. Registration is now open for TypeCon 2010.

Typographica, edited by Stephen Coles, is "a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design."

Have you seen a font out there and want to know what it is? Upload it to What the Font to find the closest match in their database.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hands-On Writer Tools

I often see inspirational and how-to writers' kits at the book store, and occasionally I'll pick up one to play with and see if it does anything for me. Most are good for sparking an idea here and there but rarely go the distance.

My latest acquisition is The Writer's Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan, published by Chronicle Books. At $24.95 list price it's a bit expensive, but B& has it new for $19.98 and used for less than ten bucks. One thing I did like was seeing a photo of the box's contents on the back, which I find reassuring (I don't like buying a kit that I can't open to see what's inside, and like most kits this one is shrink-wrapped to protect the contents.)

Roughly about the same size as a cigar box, The Writer's Toolbox was nicely packed with a variety of interesting stuff. There's a slim book that explains how to use all the components with various writing games and exercises, a deck of Sixth Sense Cards, four different story element wheels, three sets of Popsicle sticks with different phrases printed on them, and a mini hourglass (just like those old-fashioned three-minute egg timers our Moms used to use before digital everything.)

I skimmed through the book, which had a lot of narrative about writing, some very brief instructions on how to use the kit via various games and exercises, and example stories that had been written using the kit. Being more of a card person, I personally tried out the game for the Sixth-Sense cards (and a quick user tip -- don't discard the strip of paper bound around the cards because when you put them back loose and then try again to get them out of the box's niche they all don't want to come out.)

The game is to shuffle the cards, select three and place them face-down, then turn over the first card and write for three minutes. My first card read: your mother's pearls and here's what I wrote in three minutes (all of my examples are the first drafts, so don't expect perfection):

I kept a polite face on as my father introduced me to Darla, his personal assistant. She had seven feet of legs and one inch of forehead, the latter probably being slowly crushed by the lacquered weight of her Dolly Parton hair.

I listened to her breathy small talk for as long as it took me to study her pinched-waisted fuchsia jacket, the breast augmentations testing the elasticity of the white polyester shell beneath, and the matched pink perfection of her necklace. Then I excused me and my father, steered the old man into his office and shut the door on Darla's .

"Dad," I said, mostly through my teeth, "Why is your bimbo wearing my mother's pearls?"

The game continued with turning over the second card, which read orange spray paint, which reminded me of some real life experiences. Here's the bit of nonfic I wrote in three minutes:

The last time I saw orange spray paint was in L.A., along with blue spray paint, black, white, green, and every other color of the rainbow. In some neighborhoods you couldn't see a building that hadn't been tagged by some kid with a can and too much time on his hands at three a.m. on a school night.

Every so often we'd get a call to a scene of an apparent jumper, only to hear later from the police that the victim was a tagger who had slipped off whatever bridge, building or billboard he was adorning with his handle. Falling to your death, now, that's suffering for your art.

And finally, the third card to be turned over read: the sound of the dishwasher, and the final three-minute round. This time I tried writing a quick poem:

The dishwasher is much faster
he tells me again
what he means is it's safer
and won't cause me pain.
I've handwashed our dishes since '92
since the day we got married
it's one small thing I could do
not a burden I carried.

You load it like this
he says as he shows
how much room that it has
and where everything goes.
What he means is it's faster
it won't drop things or bleed
nothing for it to master
it just does what we need.

I stand back and watch him
as he turns the dial
and wait for the hum
with a plastered-on smile.
There's the sound of a wheeze
and then nothing comes from it.
He finds the motor has seized
because I've never used it.

The game was a lot of fun, especially using the timer and trying different forms for each card. As a writer I don't need a lot of explanation or examples; I'd rather get right to the games and exercises. But for a beginning writer, or someone who is dealing with major writer's block, this kit might just be a perfect fit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I liked reading all the comments for my giveaway this week; you guys were really upfront about the things you'd like to start doing, stop doing and/or change for the better. You've definitely inspired me to take a closer look at how I want to spend my time this summer, too.

We revved up the magic hat, and the winner of the Volitional Ten giveaway is:

Stacy McKitrick

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

Friday, June 25, 2010

Free from Authors

Simply subscribe to author Doug Clegg's e-mail newsletter and get a chance at winning a free Kindle or Nook; details and newsletter sign-up are at his web site.

Did you know that author Larissa Ione posts free reads on her web site? The latest is a free short story featuring characters from her Demonica series.

For you Kindle users, author John Kao has his nonfic guide Clearing the Mind for Creativity up for free download on Amazon here.

Author Rudy Rucker has posted free .pdf and .rtf versions of The Ware Tetralogy for downloading under creative commons here (not sure what this is about, exactly, as the author's description isn't too clear. Might appeal to the zombie lovers.)

For the next week or so author Shiloh Walker is having a contest to give away an ARC of her upcoming release Veil of Shadows; all you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling her why you should win it (you'll have stiff competition for this one; I just read through the entries that have posted and they're all pretty terrific.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Volitional Ten

Ten Things I've Resolved to Do

I will stop comparing Publishing to the Matrix. It was only funny the first couple hundred times.

I will not e-mail my agent about something that I know I cannot accept and that I also know she cannot change. Such paradoxes always give us both a migraine.

I will cease waffling, make a decision about the edits for chapter five scene one, and fix the damn thing, once and for all, so help me God. Or maybe . . .

I will not e-mail the editor of a prominent publication to ask if he happened to misplace his mind along with his ethics. I will instead hope that they are not permanently lost.

I will not go over to the Dark Side. They'd simply trap me into serving their evil overlord, and then for their own twisted amusement force me to wear yellow. Or pink. Or pantyhose. Or yellow and pink pantyhose. Wait a minute. I don't already work for the Dark Side, do I?

I will not marvel at the glaring mistake a colleague made in geography. I haven't been watching the news lately; it is remotely possible that someone actually did relocate that particular city three countries to the left.

I will not write a scalding letter to a newspaper that recently showered glowing praise on people who make money by destroying books. Nor will I burn a stack of that newspaper, take Polaroids of it, send them to the editor and ask if he wants to buy a bag of the ashes for fifty bucks. No matter how much I really, really want to.

I will stop shopping so much online (which is convenient) and drag my lazy self to the bookstore (which I love more.) I hate the drive but once I get there I always think it's worth it.

While at the bookstore, I will buy a copy of the book my daughter's reading right now and read it tonight so we can talk about it when she's finished. P.S. I will make this purchase cheerfully and silently, and refrain entirely from making groaning sounds, sucking noises or telling the whole story to the cashier so she doesn't think I voluntarily read this kind of thing.

When we do talk about said book, I will be respectful of my daughter's love for this particular sub-genre and not air my own less than complimentary opinion of it. Nor will I chide her about how long it takes her to read the book. I will be grateful that she isn't spending all that time watching the television, playing video games, or texting ten thousand variations of "Does he like you? Do you like him?" to her BFF.

So what have you resolved to do lately? Tell us in comments to this post (or if you remain unresolved, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, June 25, 2010. I will draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner signed copies of my Kyndred novels, Shadowlight and Dreamveil, 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.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Sometimes I have to play writer pong between my work and internet computers, especially when someone uses the guest room, where I keep the work computer. I don't mind relocating upstairs to work on the internet computer, although it is older, not as fast and doesn't like the Dragon as much. It's that or get behind on my edits.

Tonight I forgot to bring a blank CD with me for backups, so rather than go downstairs I rummaged around in the desk to see if I'd left any up here the last time I played writer pong. That's when I unearthed an old floppy disk labeled only with a date: 3-18-03.

In the first couple years I was a pro I used to back up everything on floppies and date the labels instead of marking them with proper file names. I discovered what a dumb habit it was when I needed a backup of one of my original StarDoc manuscripts, and it took me two days of checking floppies to find it.

I didn't expect to find anything valuable when I popped the floppy in the drive; I wouldn't have been surprised if the computer couldn't read it. But there was a file (also titled with just the date) so I opened it to see what was inside.

Word started, and a forty-nine page manuscript of a story titled Possession popped onto my screen. I didn't remember it at first until I got to the notes I'd saved at the end of the manuscript. I'd written the story as a test drive of an idea I had for a dark fantasy novel about exorcism (which I then decided was cool but not particularly marketable, and put aside to work on something else.)

I don't remember why I never printed out the story or put it in the idea file, but it was neat to rediscover it. I'll have to sit down this weekend, read it over and see if maybe it's decent enough to post on Scribd (I still don't think it's marketable.) Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I will not be posting this or any other document on their site. See my post about this scam here.

It also made me realize that in a couple of years I won't be able to read any of the stuff I have saved on floppies because they're no longer being made, and once I fry this computer, I'll probably have a tough time finding one with a floppy drive. So finding this story also nudged me to start seriously thinking about converting my sizeable collection of floppies over to CDs.

Have you ever found an old story you couldn't remember writing? What do you like to do with old stories once you've revisited your writing past?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Story Art

The other day Charlene and I were talking about our respective summer art projects, and she got me thinking about how often our stories also inspire us to create other types of art. Not every writer is an artist, but many of us have hobbies or sidelines that incorporate writing into another art form. I combine my love of art and writing in my art journals every week, and I've made a number of quilted pieces like this one based on elements and characters from my stories and books.

I also like looking for new ways to play with writing and art, and Cloth Paper Scissors magazine is one place I find regular inspiration. The magazine holds regular art challenges for their readers that I find hard to resist, and the one in the Jul/Aug issue is no exception: Create an original, mixed-media mini book no larger than 6" X 6" X 1" that weighs no more than 1 lb. Since I love making books, and the deadline isn't until September 1st, I don't think I'm going to be able to resist this one (the challenge details aren't up yet on the web site, but they will probably post them by the end of the month when the issue hits the new stands.)

Unless you're selling your work, creating art from your writing is generally for your own gratification, but it can also be a way to get better in touch with the work. I always feel I know a character better after I've sketched or painted them. In my novel notebooks I create collages of pictures I take from the internet and magazines that help me with character, setting and time period details. Color palettes are important to me, too, and I often play with online generators like this one to figure out what part of the spectrum I want to use for some story element.

Story art doesn't always have to be a project. I use my camera all the time to photograph places and things and capture the images I want to incorporate in a story, or buy images off royalty-free sites that help me visualize better (these also help when an editor asks you for input on cover art; nothing illustrates an idea better than an image.) Cameras are also good for people who aren't inclined to sketch or paint but who still want to create -- pretty much anyone can point and shoot.

For this mini-book project I'm going to be studying the techniques in the Summer 2010 issue of Sew Somerset. This issue is packed with art book-making ideas from raw-edged journals, fabric and panel books all with different inspirations, themes and techniques. Definitely the magazine to check out if you're interested in getting some ideas to make your own sewn mixed-media books.

Building up a personal collection of artwork based on your writing can help recharge the creative batteries, too. We spend so much time translating our vision of story into words that we occasionally feel a little trapped in the black-ink white-paper world; playing with images is a nice mental vacation. When it comes to art you may choose to stick with one medium that you enjoy or that you're familiar with, or try something new. I like trying new techniques because they force me to stretch rather than get comfortable, and sometimes the results are pretty neat. I always think it's interesting to get first-hand experience with any artistic process; if nothing else you gain a mountain of respect for the artists who do it every day.

This is why another of my summer projects is to sculpt an art doll based on one of my characters. I don't want it to be a kids' doll, however, and up until now it's been tough to find usable info from doll makers who are inspired by books that are a little more grownup than Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately Art Doll Quarterly magazine finally came through for me with a terrific article in their summer issue about Loni, an artist who makes steampunk dolls. She talks about the process of creation and her doll-making techniques, but something she wrote at the article really resonated with me: Remember to listen to your dolls; they will guide you along. I spend so much time listening to my characters in my head I sometimes feel like I'm developing multiple personality disorder, but they never steer me in the wrong direction (sadly I can't make the same claim.)

Do you guys play with art for story? What things other than writing do you use to work out or illustrate your stories? Is there anything you'd like to try someday? Let us know in comments.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cool Gen Ten

Ten Things About Online Generators

Spin Andrew Bosley's The Brainstormer and get three random, interesting concept starters.

Conspire allows you to customize a random and hilarious conspiracy theory with victims, conspirators, plots, heroes and locations (or leave the fields blank for random paranoia.)

I never thought I'd look for (or find) a horse name generator, but guess what? Found one.

You can find almost any kind of generator over at Generatorland, like this Plot Generator. Or register and make your own.

For those moments when you need some emotional inspiration, try Julia West's Random Character Moods Generator.

Need some ideas for a Christian speculative fiction story? Try Where the Map Ends's Random Story Generator.

Short Story Ideas has a gender customizable Character Name Generator, a First Line Generator, a Random Word Generator, a Scenario Generator, and a Title Generator.

You can only generate 1 idea at a time (the # customizer doesn't seem to work) but don't let that stop you from trying out the Steampunk Random Story Generator.

Dear Computer's Story Creator allows you to input a subject word and read the results in English or Dutch.

The Story Idea Generator gives you two noun combinations to inspire (on my first couple of tries I got tomb fairy, breath shell, memory light and tornado heart, all of which gave me story ideas, so handle with care.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For My Dad

The only photo I have of us together on the day you married my Mom is this one, with you in the background. I've carried it in my wallet for thirty years, and here's why:

You're brave. I can't imagine what it must have been like for a middle-aged lifelong bachelor to take on not only a wife but an instant family of five kids. You never complained, not once, not even when a certain damaged, hostile teenager did her worst to aggravate you.

You're a self-made man. Because you never had the chance to go to school, you taught me the value of self-education, and that no matter how old we are or where we are in life, we should never stop learning. I doubt I would have tried to improve my writing or found the nerve to pursue publication if you hadn't spent years encouraging me to teach myself what I needed to know.

You have a gentle soul. You love dogs, and they adore you. So do kids and wild birds. In fact I think the wild birds come around here just because they're hoping you'll be visiting us.

You're considerate. You're the only one who came up with a nickname of my dreadful name that I liked (and thank you for not tacking on the obligatory -y)

You're incredibly gifted. Watching you cook is like watching Barishnikov dance. It's beautiful and amazing and slightly terrifying and makes us all wish we could do something half as accomplished.

You worry. You showed me how to check the engine and change a tire so I'd never have to wait helpless and alone in the dark on the side of the road.

You're not a chauvinist. You never minded my unfeminine choices, or later on that my dainty little daughter preferred to go outside and catch lizards and dig in the dirt instead of playing with dolls (in fact, I'm pretty sure you secretly encouraged her.)

You're committed. You never made me feel as if I disappointed you, even when I must have. You never got angry, or washed your hands of me, or rejected me. You were always there to talk about it and figure out what to do.

You care. You're always happy to see me. Always. No one else in my life can honestly make that claim, not even my kids.

You're a born storyteller. You should have been a writer; you always have the best stories.

You're kind. I think I fell in love with my guy partly because like you, he loves to laugh and also like you, he never yells.

They say we can't pick our parents, but Someone Up There was thinking of me and my brothers and sisters when they made you. I would not be the woman I am if not for all the things you are, especially the Father you've been to me.

I love you, Dad. Thanks for choosing me to be your daughter. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Minor/Major Annoyances

If I ever launch a digital self-pub venture, I will choose a name for it that cannot at first glance be mistaken for the word pubic.

When I visit a chain bookstore, I don't mind walking around an enormous ugly kiosk pimping said chain's e-reader. Nor do I mind being asked if I'm interested in seeing a demo. But you e-reader sales people need to learn the definition of the phrase "No thank you." It does not mean keep talking to me while I walk away so I feel rude. Nor does it mean talk to me again as I'm trapped beside your booth while standing in line with my print books waiting to check out. It doesn't even mean Tell me while I'm a captive audience how superior you think electronic format is to print, and be sure to insult my generation and my reading preferences while you're at it. I could be wrong, but last time I checked, No thank you actually means no thank you.

Wordless Wednesday. On writers' blogs. No, I think I must be hallucinating this trend. Okay, who slipped the mind-altering drugs into my crystal light when I wasn't looking?

I can't rant about a truly idiotic thing an industry professional said to me this week because a) some friends of mine work with this person, b) you wouldn't believe me unless I posted the evidence -- yes, I have it in writing, no less -- and c) everyone's head would explode as soon as they read it, because mine did. And yes, it's killing me to keep my mouth shut.

If I go to the largest, busiest bookstore in my region a week and a half after my bestselling release, I'd like to see at least one copy of my book in the store. On the back shelves is fine; that's where the rest of them are. I don't want to be told "They haven't arrived yet." Lie to me. Say they sold out in the first hour and they're on reorder. (I admit, I did laugh over this major annoyance as soon as I saw this new release at the front of the store):

*This is Karma, I think, and only funny if you read Rob Thurman's LJ. Or see the irony yourself here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Getting Big

Sweetie's twins, Meriden and Dansant, are growing up really fast. They've almost doubled in size in five days:

The sweet potato vine is definitely worse for wear, but we've only been refilling the water globes about once a week to keep from disturbing the nest too much:

Judging by how quickly Stubborn Thing's twins went solo back in May, I think these will probably be the last close shots I get.

Baby birds are just so freaking cool.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Water Worlds

As a SF writer I've had to build a lot of planets, and I'm always on the lookout for new inspiration. Lately I've been playing with an idea that includes terraforming a water world to create artificial land masses and colonies for offworld visitors and maybe even some colonists.

The obvious solution is to boat them around and/or create floating constructs, but it's been done. I don't want underwater colonies because it doesn't serve the story idea. Then I toyed with the thought of deep drilling to tap the planet's asthenosphere to generate controlled underwater volcanic activity (which is what created a bunch of landforms on our planet) but that comes with a lot of logistical headaches and reminds me too much of what's happening now in the Gulf.

I'll keep working on it, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some of the cool stuff I've come across while researching the concept:

German architect Wolf Hilbertz's Autopia Ampere, which builds itself using minerals from the sea via electrodeposition. I love this idea so much I am permanently green with envy.

Art becomes island: Chinese sculptor Zhan Wang's Floating Mountain of Immortals. This appeals to me on a couple of levels, and connects with something I've done a couple times in other books, but can you actually live in art?

Shimizu Corporation's environmental island cities: Green Float*. A beautiful idea that I don't see surviving our climate shifts, but still, hugely appealing and very well thought out.

Palm Jumeirah, one of Dubai's Palm Trilogy of manmade islands. Like a floating DisneyWorld for the yachting crowd, I guess.

Richard Sowa built Spiral Island on a base of thousands of plastic bottles (recycling at its finest) and while it was later destroyed by a hurricane, he's going to do it again with Spiral Island II.

Finally, I can never talk about cities or water worlds without mentioning Project Indigo, the mind-blowing vertical seaside metropolis imagined by artist Jesse van Dijk (for which I will be eternally grateful to Eva Gale for passing along to me.)

*Link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fighting Fatigue

It's not unusual for writers to be stressed out -- it's kind of an occupational hazard -- but lately I've noticed some unusual signs of fatigue popping up around the blogosphere. It's not just people neglecting their blogs or virtually disappearing for weeks at a time, either (that I blame on Twitter.) I've noticed regular comments by folks out there in NetPubLand who mention being tired or just plain sound tired. A lot.

I can sympathize. At the moment I'm trying to kill a deadline after an insanely busy release week and two separate huge family events, and frankly? I'm wiped. I'd like nothing better than to put up one of my "Off to Write" posts, unplug and hole up in my writing space until this novel is out of here. I can even see myself coming back from the post office to collapse on the nearest horizontal surface and not move until the moon enters a new phase.

Can't do it. I may have the kids home for summer, but I have a ton of commitments to keep, a career to keep going and new ideas impatiently waiting to be tested. My to-do list now has a secondary to-do list, a cross-referenced reminder list and a daily if-you've-got-a-minute list. I don't have time to collapse into a quivering puddle of writer goo. So I pay attention to my mood and my body, and I do what I can to compensate for however exhausted I might feel.

Dealing with fatigue means figuring out where it's coming from and what we need to combat it. We all experience two types of fatigue: mental and physical. Artistic people like writers also seem to be prone to what I call creative fatigue -- aka the well running dry. Sometimes one or more types of fatigue combine on us (as with what most people experience during bouts of depression.) But for the purposes of this post, let's look at them separately:

Physical fatigue has been linked to some major/common causes, such as working too much overtime, sleep deprivation, poor nutrition and (believe it or not) lack of exercise. There are also many chronic conditions, chemical imbalances and diseases for which fatigue is one of the major symptoms. If you're feeling physically tired every day, it's really an excellent time to go and see your primary care physician for a check-up. Also, talk to your doctor about how you feel and see if s/he has some suggestions on how to best recharge your batteries.

I've had the most success dealing with my own physical fatigue by making serious changes in my diet. I rarely thought about what I ate every day until I had to go to a nutritionist and confess my snacking sins. She charted my eating habits and showed me that I was eating the calorie equivalent of an extra two meals every day in junk food. Switching to a cardiac-healthy diet with no salt, caffeine or sweets was very tough, and giving up snacks hurt, but the energizing benefits were almost immediate. I slept better, I lost thirty pounds I didn't need to be carrying around (for which my knees were very grateful) plus I didn't have to go on medication to manage my cholesterol. I'm not suggesting doing the same will work for everyone, but this is an example of how making one major life change can really help.

Every person who reads this blog has to be well-acquainted with mental fatigue; it's the plague of the twenty-first century. We're all expected to work long hours and and multi-task every aspect of our lives. We now carry phones with us because God forbid we not answer a call from someone the second they want to talk to us. Add to that about ten thousand other electronic gadgets that fill every single waking second with even more demands (computers, e-readers, televisions, satellite radio, GPS and Blue Tooth and God knows what else) and it's obvious that just the technology alone is trying to bury us.

My method of dealing with mental stress is also pretty basic. I shut off all the gadgets, unplug the computer and go quilt or soak in the tub or fold laundry or just sit on my porch with my dog and watch the birds. I do not answer the phone. I do not use a laptop. I don't allow anything electronic near me for at least an hour, and when it's really bad, I do it for the rest of the day. And for me, it works beautifully.

Then there is creative fatigue. I think for writers it's directly related to the current career demands like diving into social media, promoting our books as well as writing them, and the endless endurance marathons we run in order to please our publishers, compete with our peers and come up with consistent, quality work in order to stay in the game. Creating on demand, always being on, always being told we're not good enough, we're not successful enough, and we're not doing enough. I've been working this gig for twelve years now and I can tell you this much: the pressure never ends.

I understand the siren song of all the hype that's attached to things like social media and networking, but I think it's also the reason Publishing loses so many great writers every year. The stress of trying to be-all and do-all as a professional writer inevitably and negatively affects the writer as well as the quality of their work, which tips over the seven dominoes of writer self-destruction via creative fatigue: exhaustion, paranoia, burn-out, depression, isolation, renunciation and, finally, tossing in the towel.

If you're not interested in becoming the next writer to flame-out, I believe you have to set some limits and boundaries in order to protect yourself and the work. Fortunately there's a single, amazingly powerful word that I use all the time that does it for me: No. When they come to you and say you must do this or you have to do that, just say no. Or to be more specific, say no to whatever you don't want to do and/or don't have the time to do.

It's not difficult once you make up your mind to do it. Be courteous but firm, and don't listen to them whine about how all the other writers are doing these things (I can tell you, I'm probably not doing it, so use me as an example.) I say no all the time, and you wouldn't believe how much creative fatigue that has removed from my life. Which is the real reason why I knock out all these novels every year while my competition is busy Facebooking, Twittering, networking, interviewing, blog touring, book signing and otherwise not writing their books. I'm not as fast as you think, folks; I simply don't squander my creative energy on things I suck at anyway.

Writing will always be a stressful job; most of us are too emotionally invested in our work for us to develop an indifferent clock-in clock-out mentality. That's why it's important to find healthy ways to fight fatigue and keep our physical, mental and creative energy at decent levels. Subsisting in a constant state of exhaustion doesn't mean that you're suffering for your art. It could mean that you're actually wrecking it -- and yourself in the process.

What sort of fatigue do you suffer from most often, and have you found any successful ways to combat it? Let us know in comments.

Related links:

10 Healthy Ways to Fight Fatigue by Allie Comeau

Mental Fatigue Causes Perceived Physical Exhaustion

How to Manage and Recover from Mental and Emotional Fatigue and Stress by Dr. Rosalia Mariz

Mental and Physical Fatigue Linked by Rick Nauert

10 Ways to Fight Fatigue ~ How to Feel Alert and Energized All Day by Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

Rev Up Your Energy by Dulce Zamora

Image credit: © Nataliia Fedori |

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Must Love Books

Most of my real life friends are not huge readers. Those who did not read books at all before meeting me have been gently prodded by Yours Truly into reading at least one book a month (I make no apologies for dropping unsubtle hints and shoving books at them until they caved in; I consider it a sacred duty.)

I think the main problem is that I live in a rural area where there are no bookstores and only a couple of tiny libraries. Limited access to books = few readers. I keep a stock of extra copies of my favorite books so I can lend them out, but there are only so many unsuspecting visitors I can corner at any given time. This naturally drives me crazy.

I know I'm a pain in the ass about getting people to read, but my motives are not self-serving. I love books, and all I've ever wanted to do is share that love. From my perspective people who refuse to read are depriving themselves of one of the finest pleasures in life. I don't expect everyone to knock out five or ten books a week, or spend half their income at the bookstore, but surely there's time in any schedule to read one book a month.

Anyway, since I gave up LB&LI last year I've been giving some thought to starting a new weekly feature here at PBW this summer. I thought it would be fun to touch base once a week and talk about what we're reading, what books we're handing out to friends, upcoming titles we're impatient for, who has a new book being released and so forth -- your basic reader/writer/book fest. As an incentive I could do a weekly giveaway of some sort (a BookWish, signed copies of my stuff, the occasional big honking bag of new titles, etc.), but the main purpose is to shamelessly take advantage of my blog's popularity to get more people reading and talking about the books they love.

What do you guys think? Good idea, bad idea, other? Let me know in comments.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Trades Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities for Writer Trade Magazines

Although not technically a trade, lots of writers do read Library Journal, which is "the oldest and most respected publication covering the library field. Considered to be the “bible” of the library world, LJ is read by over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and staff in public, academic, and special libraries. LJ is the single-most comprehensive publication for librarians, with groundbreaking features and analytical news reports covering technology, management, policy, and other professional concerns. Its hefty review sections evaluate nearly 7000 books annually, along with hundreds of audiobooks, videos, databases, web sites, and systems that libraries buy." Unfortunately they don't have much info at all on their one guidelines page which I found here, but they welcome submissions and have a snail mail address up. If you've got a great idea I'd send them a query.

Online trade e-zine Literary Traveler is seeking nonfiction articles with photos about writers or places that have literary or artistic significance. From their website: "We are seeking articles that capture the literary imagination. Is there an artist or writer that has inspired you? Have you taken a journey or pilgrimage that was inspired by a work of literature? We focus mainly on literary artists but we welcome articles about other artists: composers, painters, songwriters, storytellers, etc. Subject matter can be anything artistic or creative. Each one of our articles in some way is about someone who creates. Some of our articles are subjective first person travel pieces. Some take a meditative slant on a visit somewhere, and reflect on a theme. Others are objective articles about places or writers, or artists." Length: 1.5-2K; Payment: $50.00 via Paypal; electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Literary trade Poets & Writers magazine publishes: "News & Trends: brief articles (500-1,200 words) that keep our readers abreast of pertinent information in the writing and publishing industries; The Literary Life: essays (1,500-2,500 words) on the more contemplative aspects of writing, ranging from creative process to the art of reading; The Practical Writer: advice and how-to articles (1,500-2,500 words) that offer nuts and bolts information about the business of creative writing; Features: profiles of and interviews with (2,000-3,000 words) contemporary writers who reflect the rich diversity of current American literature. Recent featured authors include Anne Carson, Sandra Cisneros, Jonathan Franzen, Li-Young Lee, Chuck Palahniuk, Colson Whitehead, and C.D. Wright. Other features include articles and essays (2,000-3,000 words), frequently grouped into special sections, that provide an in-depth look at subjects of interest to creative writers, such as writers conferences and residencies, small presses, regional writing, and the distinctions of genre." No info on payment, electronic and snail mail submissions, see guidelines for more details.

Poets & Writers magazine is also now accepting submissions for the 2010 Amy Awards: ". . . open to women poets age 30 and under living in the New York City metropolitan area or on Long Island. The winners will receive an honorarium and public reading in New York City in October 2010. To enter, please send 3 lyric poems (50 lines or less), a short bio, and a self-addressed stamped envelope by June 1, 2010 to: Amy Awards, Poets & Writers, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10004."

Publishers Weekly doesn't seem to have submission guidelines for anything but books you want them to review (not something I'd personally recommend) but they do have this call for information: "Feature: Fall/Winter First Fiction. Please include basic info (title, author, price, pub month, brief description, editor contact) and tell us why your author would be the perfect candidate for this feature. Please send galleys if available. Do not e-mail submissions; mark packages "First Fiction" and send to Publishers Weekly, 71 West 23rd St., Suite 1608, New York, NY 10010, not to arrive before June 2. Any questions, contact Dick Donahue (; after June 2:" If you've got a debut novel coming out this fall, pass this along to your editor.

Canadian book publishing trade Quill & Quire publishes "both short (300- to 1,200-word) and long (up to 3,000-word) news and feature articles about the business of writing, publishing, and bookselling in Canada. We also publish author profiles (generally of about 1,800 to 2,000 words), and brief reviews of Canadian books." Also noted on their website: "Q&Q only very occasionally accepts unsolicited manuscripts. To pitch an idea for a feature or news story, send an e-mail to Stuart Woods outlining in two or three paragraphs why the article would be of interest to our readers. If you have an idea for a guest column on an issue that relates to the book industry, send an e-mail to Stuart Woods, outlining what you'd like to write about. Quill & Quire also runs guest columns from writers ("The Last Word") on subjects that pertain to the writing life. Contact Nathan Whitlock if you are an author and would like to pitch an idea." Payment: "The fee for published articles is 45¢ a word. Brief reviews (350 words) pay $110 ($60 for picture-book reviews); feature reviews (800-1,000 words) pay $300." No info on reprints; electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details and e-mail contact links.

Screenwriter trade Script is looking for article pitches from screenwriters currently working in the film industry. From their website: "Unsolicited manuscripts cannot be accepted. We don't accept very many pitches, but we do give them all consideration. We do require that authors have industry experience, preferably produced credits or that they have worked in the industry. Interviews are also considered if they are specific to the scriptwriting craft and are timely and informative." No info on length, payment or reprints, seems to be okay with electronic submissions (I might e-mail the editor myself and ask they be more specific); see their guidelines for snail mail address and e-mail link.

The Writer is "dedicated to helping professional and aspiring writers with a straightforward presentation of information, instruction and motivation. In the pages of our 123-year-old magazine, writers come together to share their experiences, expertise, struggles, successes and suggestions. The magazine's efforts have been recognized in recent years with gold and silver medals for Editorial Excellence in Folio magazine's national competition." [Lately their content has not lived up to their sterling rep, but I'm one of their readers and I live in hope. So submit something good, will you?] Does not accept fiction or poetry; prefers queries first. Length: 600 to 3.5K; Payment: on acceptance and (I'll quote here) "varies." Electronic and hard copy submission okay, see guidelines for more details.

Writers Digest magazine, which claims to be "the No. 1 magazine for writers, celebrates the writing life and what it means to be a writer in today's publishing environment. Through the voices of bestselling authors, buzz-worthy newcomers and seasoned editors, we offer everything writers need to stay inspired, to improve their craft, to understand the unique challenges of publishing today and to get their work noticed. Our pages are filled with advice and real-life experiences that go beyond the ordinary and delve deeply into what's important to writers today. Whether they write fiction, nonfiction, poetry, articles or scripts, our readers will walk away from every issue inspired and ready to write, satisfied in the knowledge that we get it, that we all share this passion for writing, and we're all part of grand literary tradition. And that's worth celebrating." [I can't tell you how they are now, but I sold them something in '98, back when I was a rookie, and at the time it was a good experience.] Length: varies according to department; Payment: .30 to .50 per word. Electronic submissions okay, see extensive guidelines for more details.

Writers' Journal is "a bimonthly magazine for writers, including professional communicators, self/independent publishers, part-time or full-time freelancers, screenwriters, desk-top publishers, authors, editors, teachers, and poets. Although most of the columns in the Writers’ Journal are staff-written, articles from freelance writers are always welcome. Complete manuscripts are acceptable, or query with clips first. Several feature articles, running 1200-2200 words, are published in each issue. Please see the table of contents of some of our back issues to get an idea of the types of articles we have covered." Publishes nonfiction, poetry, has lots of contests, too. Length: 1.2-2.2K (articles) 15 lines (poetry); Payment: $5 per poem, articles "vary" depending on their budget (I'd get a quote from the editor before you sign on.) Electronic and snail mail submissions, see extensive guidelines for more info.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Sweet

We took down the hanging plant this morning to refill the watering globes and discovered that Sweetie's twins have hatched:

Judging by their size I'd say they're only a couple of days old.

We can't tell the genders, but since they were born during my release week for Dreamveil we're calling them Meriden and Dansant.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In Character

A black velvet-gloved hand knocked softly on the closed, locked door. "Time to wake up, love."

A low, disgruntled sound, like the rumble of displeasure from a stirring tiger, came from inside the room.

The immortal assassin considered punching his fist the flimsy barrier, and then glanced at a nearby window. I swore I would not use my ability or my superhuman strength while under this roof. Stupid of me. He knocked again. "It's 6:45. School starts in half an hour."

The creature inside yanked open the door. Tiny, fairy-like and swaddled in her favorite quilt, she brushed past the handsome fiend and went straight to the couch in the living room, where she dropped and pulled the quilt over her head.

Lucan silently followed and hovered over the teenager for a moment. She weighed perhaps a hundred pounds, had fragile porcelain skin, and played the flute like an angel. He refused to be terrified of such a flimsy creature. "Froot Loops, or Apple Jacks?"

A muffled "Whatever" came from under the quilt.

He went to the pantry and regarded the available boxes of cereal before selecting the freshest and carrying it to the kitchen table. There he filled a bowl with multi-colored presweetened O's (the sight and smell of which made his stomach clench) and then fetched the carton of lactose-free milk from the fridge to pour over them. "All right, love, come to the table."

Under the quilt, love mumbled something that sounded suspiciously rude.

He thought it a pity one could no longer foster children on an unsuspecting neighbor. "Come on," he urged her, "before the cats get it."

The teenager rose, now a scowling zombie, and came to the table. She glared at him through a veil of tangled blond hair. "What?"

I am the most feared Darkyn lord in the world, he thought. With a single touch I can shatter bone and rend flesh. I have slaughtered thousands. The most ferocious warriors among my kind quail at the mere mention of my name.

"Nothing." Meekly retreating to the kitchen, he checked his tea and finished preparing it before escaping with it out to the porch.

"That didn't go too well," Samantha, his sygkenis, said from her chair. She was sipping her tea and watching a blue jay busily raiding the feeder outside the screen. "Did you mention that she should try to get to bed earlier?"

"And risk having my head torn off my neck? Thank you, no." He eyed her. "Why don't any of you women ever have to wake her?"

She shrugged. "Because we're smarter than you. Uh, someone else wants attention."

Lucan glanced down. The household pup, a small Sheltie with silky fur, stood staring up at him with soulful brown eyes. "I know your game, dog. You've been out already, and you have personally sniffed every other blade of grass on the property. Twice. Now you simply want to chase squirrels."

At the sound of the s-word the pup's curled ears perked and he whined.

The door to the porch opened and the fairy's head popped out. "Where are my gray jeans?"

"I sold them to a passing gypsy," Lucan snarled back. "She'll be returning for you later."

The door slammed.

"They're in the dryer," Sam said helpfully.

"I know where the damned jeans are." He rubbed his burning eyes. "Do you know, I just bought her five new pair from that store in the mall with that seizure-inducing music blaring at unspeakable decibels. Two hours I stood there being deafened while she tried on every bleeding size zero jeans they had in the place. Did I mention that I didn't kill the sales clerk who was too busy talking to her boyfriend on the telephone to wait on us?"

"She won't wear the new ones until you've washed them at least twice," Sam reminded him. "And the gray jeans are her favorite."

"Bloody hell." He rose and snatched up his tea. "My mother would have married her off at thirteen to wife-beating widower with six children."

"Then it's a good thing that you're her mother," Sam called after him.

"I am not her mother. I am a Kyn suzerain, respected and feared by all who know me." He retrieved the garment from the dryer and carried them back to the closed, locked door. He didn't bother to knock this time. "Sweetheart? I have your gray jeans."

The door opened an inch. "I don't want them." The door closed.

"But you just said . . ." he closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Is there anything else I can get for you? A husband, perhaps? Daily beatings? Six or seven ungrateful children of your own to slave for?"

"Go. Away."

He left the jeans hanging on the door knob and turned to find the dog watching him. "I can sell you to gypsies, you know. They'd put you to work herding their stolen goats and sheep."

Completely aware of how much he was adored, the pup gave him a toothy grin.

"Oh, shut up." Lucan stalked past him and went into the household chapel.

It was not a very large place of worship, but it was spotless, and the machine waited with an open page displayed on its monitor. He sat down and read what had been written earlier.

"I should be part of this." He contemplated typing in a part for himself and his lover. "Samantha would love San Francisco. I could prove quite useful during the chapter on the rebellion. There are no teenagers in this story, which I believe makes it Nirvana."

Sorry, pal, the voice in his head told him. These characters have got to do it on their own. Do you know what time it is?

Before he could give her a piece of his mind, the door to the chapel opened and the fairy glared at him from haunting sea-colored eyes. "We have to go," she said, as if he were the one lolling about the place. "Now."

"Of course." He grabbed an insanely heavy purse and hunted through its contents for the truck keys. "When are you getting out today?"

"Early release schedule," she snapped. "Hurry up. I'm going to be late."

On the way to school, Lucan donned his shades and neatly avoided a female in an Infiniti who was more interested in her mobile phone conversation than the red light she had just run. "Do you need some lunch money?"

The fairy yawned and shook her head.

"Any papers I should sign?"

"Uh-uh." She closed her eyes and slumped against the inside of the door.

He clenched his jaw. "Would you like to join the exchange student program and spend the rest of high school living in a mud hut in the Congo?"


"It would be a very nice mud hut, I'm sure. Think of all the ferocious animals you could observe in the wild. Aside from yourself, I mean." He saw the way she was clenching her own jaw and fell silent.

As he waited in the ridiculously long line of cars waiting for their turn at the drop-off loop in front of the school, he glanced at the drowsy face beside him. Every time he looked at her, she broke his heart a little more. "I was only kidding about the Congo."

She grunted.

"Alaska would be better for you," he continued. "You'd have to live in an igloo, but they have six months of night up there. You could sleep off half your sophomore year."

She didn't open her eyes. "Uh-huh."

After several minutes he reached the front of the school, and watched the fairy stretch and gather her things. "I love you. Have a good day." He didn't make the mistake of trying to give her a hug, but once she had climbed out and glanced back at him he blew her a kiss.

She gave him the gift of a genuine smile before she joined the queue of kids trudging away from their cars.

On the way back to the house Lucan found a radio station that played Goth tunes and hummed along to Amy Lee. "Mission accomplished," he said, glancing at the rear view mirror. "Your turn."

In the backseat, TssVar, Hanar of the Hsktskt Faction, displayed extensive rows of razor-sharp jagged teeth. "I am the supreme ruler of the most feared species in the galaxy. Governments cower before me. My armies send millions fleeing in terror. Even now, hundreds of thousands of combat-trained battle-hardened warriors wait in readiness to carry out my bidding."

Lucan's brows rose. "Your point?"

TssVar's massive shoulders slumped. "Do I have to pick her up from school?"

Friday, June 11, 2010


The NY Times mass market bestseller list is tough to get on any month, but when I saw this past week's list I knew my name wouldn't be showing up on it at all. Sure, I've had some luck in the past, but let's be realistic. There are just too many big names who have huge print runs and massive marketing campaigns, and usually stay on the list for multiple weeks listed there. Far too popular for my new release to battle; I knew the minute I read it that it was an uncrackable list.

I couldn't get depressed about it; I'm very happy with how the admittedly low key release of Dreamveil went. Okay, the book shipped a couple weeks early, but what else is new? Everyone here seemed enthusiastic about it, so I was pretty sure it would sell well. I got to do some interesting things with the story and I thought the readers would enjoy it. The free e-book I posted also was well-received (it got almost 10K hits and over 1200 downloads in the first week, which is really fabulous.) Early buzz has been favorable, too.

Today I got the Times mass market list for my release week (you all will see it next week) and as I suspected it was pretty much an uncrackable rollover: all big names, some with multiple titles, all getting second, third, fourth and fifth weeks on the list. I compared and counted, and only four new titles actually made it into the top thirty, with three of the four novels are by very popular male authors.

The fourth and last novel to debut on the list, coming in at a very respectable #26? Was by this chick:

You guys cracked the uncrackable and made my novel look terrific. Thank you for this awesome show of support.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Free for All

1000+ novels for free: Online Novels has indexed links to "titles of more than 1000 online books written by both published and unpublished authors who have made their work freely available on the internet. The novels listed here are organized by category, with brief descriptions taken from the websites on which they can be found."

Crime Fic for Free: Charlie Huston has put Caught Stealing, the first book in his Hank Thompson series, up on for free reading and download.Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I do not recommend using their service. See my post about this scam here.

Dragon Lovers, rejoice: this month Suvudu Free Library is offering for a limited time Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, the first book in her popular series, as a free download in all of the major formats.

New/Shiny SF e-zine: Lightspeed Magazine is offering one fiction story and one nonfiction piece free to read online or download as a podcast each week; this week it's Jack McDevitt's The Cassandra Project and an "author spotlight" with McDevitt.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fiction Becomes Fact (Maybe)

Weird writer moment #9999 #100000: sometimes real life imitates your fiction.

I wrote a short story back in 2002 that, I admit, was definitely one of my stranger ideas. At the time I had returned to world-building K-2 from my SF series with plans to write Bio Rescue, and had thought about aquatic life forms that develop in hostile environments, like jellyfish. The deep sea varieties can grow to incredible sizes (one captured in the Antarctic was reportedly twelve yards long and weighed 90 lbs) and their hydrostatic skeletons enable them to live under conditions that would pancake almost anything else. The idea of something thriving in such frigid temperatures also intrigued me.

From there I tested it out in a short story called Untouchable. The idea for the Titan life forms never made it into the StarDoc series, but I did publish the story for my readers on my old web site as part of the Do or Die anthology.

In honor of this latest scientific discovery, I've posted an updated version of Untouchable by itself over on Scribd. Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed this document and temporarily transferred it to Google Docs here. See my post about this scam here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Match Game

Let's play a game. See if you can match the writer to the fact:

1. Officially recognized as history's most prolific novelist for writing 904 books under six pen names.

2. More than once wrote a 35,000 word novel overnight.

3. Currently holds the world's record for longest novel title at a whopping 290 words.

4. Penned a 1.5-million-word opus that is widely considered to be the longest novel in English.

5. Used 70 different pen names to write 850+ books.

6. Composed one of the earliest novels in human history.

7. Wrote a 110,000 word novel in 21 days without electricity, running water, paper or pen.

A. Davide Ciliberti
B. Murasaki Shikibu
D. Marcel Proust
E. Mary Faulkner
F. Lauran Paine
G. Prentiss Ingraham

No Googling now -- answers will be provided in comments at the end of the day.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Know Thy Character Ten

Ten Things to Help with Developing Characterizations

Colorizing: Decide your character's favorite color(s) and consider using it/them in some part of your setting where the character spends a great deal of time (like their home, their office, or their vehicle.) Avoid the usual paint/wallpaper/carpeting and go for more unusual expressions of color such as art, upholstery, ordinary objects and plants. If you need ideas, pick up paint chips and decorating pamphlets (usually free at your local home improvement store.)

Get Cooking: plan a meal that your character would prepare or order while out at a restaurant. Take into consideration their food likes/dislikes and whether they'd be daring and try something new or stick to traditional favorites. Get ideas from restaurant menus, cookbooks, cooking magazines and recipes you see on TV food shows. Keep in mind any applicable dietary requirements and seasonal favorites.

Horoscoping: Pick out a birth date for your character and read up on their astrological sign. Incorporate one of their sign's common traits into their habits, daily routines or personality. Learn how your character relates to other signs of the zodiac (astrological polar opposites are often great love interests.) If the sign doesn't seem to match your characterization, pick a different birth date and try again.

Inventorying: Imagine you're standing in front of your character's refrigerator, pantry, bathroom cabinet, tool chest or closet (or other place they keep stuff), and make a list of everything they keep in that place. Think about what your character would want to keep on hand, and why; also note if your character is neat, messy, nonchalant or has everything alphabetized or otherwise organized. Write up your character's next shopping list.

Journaling: Start a hand-written journal but write in character instead of with your own voice, and detail an event from your story through your character's eyes, emotions and opinions. If your character isn't the journaling type, write a letter, an e-mail or a text your character might send a friend about the story event.

Library Stocking: Decide what books your character enjoys reading and give them a supply (this can be anything from a couple paperbacks on the nightstand to a full formal library, depending on your character's situation.) If your character's favorites are part of your personal collection, pick up a book your character would love from the library or bookstore and read it.

Old Flaming: Work out a previous emotional relationship in which your character was involved (this can be anything from a close friendship to a marriage.) Write a timeline of the major events that happened in the relationship, if/when it ended, what reminds your character of that person in their life, and what your character brings to any new relationships as a result of the previous involvement.

Remembering Childhood: Write a one-page description of a significant event from your character's childhood. Think about how this event has affected them emotionally and/or physically from the time it happened to present date. Decide what part of their life (if any) it has permanently affected or changed. Create a sensory trigger for these memories (hearing a certain song, tasting a particular food, feeling a sensation on their skin, etc.) that always reminds the character of the event.

Schooling: Decide what kind of education (formal or otherwise) your character has experienced and how well they did in school or in the learning situation. Create at least one teacher or mentor who significantly influenced them in some way and invent a scenario in which the character thinks of this person. Write up the caption in your character's yearbook or create an educational memento that concisely illustrates the student they were (for example, 30 years after graduating, I still have the two medals I was awarded as a senior -- Creative Writing and Art -- in my jewelry box.)

Window Shopping: The next time you're at a mall or a department store and have some time to spare, look around and pick out an outfit for your character (you don't have to buy it) and write it into your story. Try to avoid designer brand name dropping and go more for describing the look, cut, fit, design, pattern and/or color. If your character's setting is not in the modern era, go to the library for books or check online for sites that show actual garments from history and put together one from that info. For those of you who are writing SF or non-Earth fantasy, try choosing a modern or historic garment that suits your character and then adapt it for your otherworldly setting.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Morphology of Desire

She recognized the pounding in her ears as the beating of her heart . . . or perhaps it was coming from her computer speakers as she watched with incredulous eyes the cover art on her romance novel begin to move . . .

The Morphology of Desire, 1998 from Robert Arnold on Vimeo.

Video filched from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Launch #2

I know I've been a bit wonky with posting lately, but it's because I had two launches this week -- a new novel and a new graduate. My senior got his diploma last night, and is heading off to university in the fall to study meteorology in hopes of someday working for the National Hurricane Center.

I thought I'd share this moment with my readers because all of you are partly responsible for this one promising future. Most of the profits from my book sales go directly into college funds so the kids can have the education and the opportunities that their Dad and I never had.

Every time you buy a book, you do something like this for the author. You not only enable us to keep writing, you help us take care of ourselves and our families. It's the other part of being a pro for which I'll always be grateful. Thank you.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Setting Porn

I have been diligently working on my intense dislike of writing setting by purposely studying how other genre writers do it, trying writing exercises to develop my focus on it, and otherwise forcing myself to deal with it like an adult instead of a whiny toddler. So far I've done okay. I'll probably always think characters are way more interesting to write, but I'm slowly getting away from wishing every novel took place in a featureless void.

During this process I've noticed a couple of things about how a lot of genre novelists deal with setting:

1. Most of it is largely glorious. Largely. Nine out of ten setting-intensive novels I read have drop-dead gorgeous settings in them that sound like the deserted island you should be living on, preferably half-naked, along with a nubile young sex-crazed adoring partner who wanders around after you all day asking in a sexy European accent if it's time to make love yet.

2. No unsightly neighborhoods. Trailer parks, slums, crack houses and other undesirable properties evidently do not exist in these worlds. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a little crab grass in these parts.

3. Everyone can comfortably afford to live in these settings. I don't know what these writers have done with the poor, the unemployed and the homeless, but they're not in these settings. I'm kind of wondering if they've been secretly rounded up and auctioned off to the literary writers.

4. Nothing ever goes wrong in these places. The weather is beautiful, the neighbors are nice, non-gun-toting folks and there aren't any bugs, snakes, wasps, rats, mold, mildew, dust motes, etc. No one has a water pipe burst or a stove blow up, no drug dealers hang sneakers from the telephone wires, and Wal-Mart never builds a superstore directly across the street.

5. Invisible cleaners secretly arrive to tidy up while everyone is sleeping or making love. Go ahead, laugh, then you give me a reasonable explanation as to why no one in the story ever does any housework and still the places remain 100% immaculate. I'm still waiting to see just one time someone produce a Swiffer or a vacuum or even a Handy-Wipe. No, it seems in these settings dirty dishes and laundry do themselves. Garbage spontaneously disintegrates before it can be identified as garbage. Toilets are never scrubbed, disinfected or even flushed.

I know the fiction world is supposed to be a big fantasy place where we can escape, but any setting that is too perfect just doesn't ring true to me. Maybe it's all technicolor adjectives and superb nouns affecting my vision, but sometimes it reads so fake I feel like I'm watching porn. So how do we keep our settings escape-worthy without turning them into over-idealized, utterly unbelievable porn sets?

I think part of it is in the small details. When I go on a research trip, I try to see as much of a location as I can -- but I don't just focus on the pretty parts; I try to see all of it. Visiting pre-Katrina New Orleans, I went to meet my editor at a fancy French Quarter restaurant, dodging empty go-cups that had been dropped on the sidewalks (which explained why the air smelled like a bar on ladies night) and spotting broken strands of sun-faded Mardi-Gras beads still hanging from some railings and tree branches. I spied hundred-year-old rotting wood door frames squeezed between glittery new gift shops and tired-looking cafes; I noticed some used heroin syringes in the gutter not two feet away from the entrance of that fancy restaurant.

Using senses other than vision can also bring out more realism in setting. The air in downtown Pittsburgh during a hot summer day has an acid tinge to its usual dank industrial waste stench. The old historic buildings in Philadelphia have some wood in them that has been touched so many times over the centuries it feels like glass. People passing you on the street in Miami smell of sweat, suntan oil, or too much perfume. I've heard more car horns blare simultaneously and smelled more urine in New York City than in any other spot on the planet. Every outdoor surface that had not been regularly swept or cleaned in Chicago has this dark grit on it, like finely-ground gun powder. Visit any small town in Central Florida in early spring and you'll almost get drunk on the heavy scent of orange blossoms. Sometimes in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale (around three a.m.) if you listen closely you can hear the waves hitting the beach.

Every location has its own feel to it. I used to compare one spot in Colorado to Disney World; incredibly clean, filled with colorful characters, but at the end of the day, all facade and way too expensive. In another town I lived everyone was so nice and polite I wondered if they were dumping Prozac in the water supply (the happiness in that place was so relentless it was creepy.)

I'm still figuring it out. In the meantime, I will keep working on not only how I write setting, but also what I think should go into setting to keep it realistic without dispelling all the fantasy/escapism for the reader.

Now it's your turn: what do you think needs to go into setting to prevent it from morphing into porn? Or would you rather have the porn? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, June 03, 2010


According to*, over the last twelve hours 818 people have taken a look at Rain Lashed*, my free Kyndred novella e-book that I posted yesterday:

At the time I checked 124 people had also downloaded the e-book, also a very good number for the first day -- probably the best I've had so far for a freebie.

Along with the complete, original novella in Rain Lashed there are two excerpts in the back -- one for Shadowlight and the other for Dreamveil, my Kyndred novels in print -- and a complete bibliography listing all my public work, my weblog and my other freebies, aka a shopping list for anyone who wants more.

Not counting my labor, the only expense I had for this e-book was the cover art image, which I purchased from Big Stock Photos for one dollar. I didn't have to print the book, package it, ship it or otherwise distribute it; hosts the e-book for free, and when it does well, they also promote it.

While novellas are a shorter form, it still takes time to write them, and I spent the better part of six months working on this one whenever I had a few minutes. At one point I had to set aside the story completely for a couple months to deal with other issues that demanded more of my time. It was nice to be able to finally be able to get back to it, finish it and make it into an e-book.

I can't promise you that a free e-book will turn your print work into an instant bestseller, but think about these stats. How often do you get the chance to show your work to 818 interested people in half a day, and it only costs you your time, your creativity, and maybe a dollar?

*Note 9/3/10: Since instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed this document and temporarily transferred it to Google Docs here. See my post about this scam here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


You've all been very patient while I've been offline getting my surprise ready, so let me first announce the winner of the Dream Retreats giveaway:

Eugenia Tibbs

Eugenia, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to me at, and I'll get this box out to you. Be careful picking it up when it lands there, too; it's a heavy one.

Now something for everyone else out there -- yes, I still have a surprise for every single one of you, even those of you who didn't enter the giveaway:

Just click on the cover art and you'll go to the page where you can read, download, print out and/or freely distribute my first free e-book and novella of the Kyndred, Rain Lashed.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Rowan Arrives

Today is the official release day for my novel Dreamveil, the second book in my Kyndred dark fantasy series, which means I am obliged to write a buy my freakin' book post.

We should have some fun with this chore, yes? Let's see, I've already done the ten reasons you should buy or request it list. I know:

Ten Things You Will Not Find in Dreamveil by Lynn Viehl

Angels or Demons. There is a restaurant in the setting that has an angelic name but no connection to the divine or the profane. I hear the food is pretty good, though.

Bite Scenes. Any nipping that occurs during the story is purely incidental and passion-spurred. Said nips do not actually break through any of the characters' skin surfaces, will not save anyone's life, destroy anyone's life or turn them into a blood-dependent immortal.

Brand name female designer clothing/shoes/purses/accessories: My protagonist is poor and couldn't afford them.

Cardboard Secondary Cast: I loved working with these talented imaginary people, but unfortunately all of them flatly refused to take a position by the nearest structure-support divider and make like the covering.

Genetically-altered superhuman villains: Alas, the only bad guys I could persuade to join in this time are strictly human.

Patricia Briggs. My protagonist reads her books, and does comment on them, but the author herself does not actually appear in the story.

Predictable Ending. I try not to do those. But: you already know this about me.

Rap music references: There's a single album title ref to flesh out my graffiti scene, but no real life rap artists were quoted or real buildings defaced during the mention of it.

Secret Babies. A pregnant character does appear briefly in the story, but everyone following the series already knows that baby. Wait, now that I think about it, there's another one but she doesn't actually appear in the story. Except in a flashback. That doesn't count. What?

Usual Suspects. In this novel there are no BDSM dungeons, condoms referred to as foil packets, female deities (wrathful or otherwise), girls cooing over each other's glittery hoohahs, intimacy marathons that last longer than 24 hours, mystical treasures of disturbing origin, pointless quests, shape-shifters who sprout fur, fangs or claws, swords of incredible power, troubling omens, underground or above ground portals to hell, vampire brotherhoods, we-must-have-sex-to-save-the-world scenarios, or weapons of mass destruction. Oh, and absolutely no dragons appear in the story at any time whatsoever (okay, there are a couple of tattoos. But that's all. I swear.)