Friday, December 31, 2010

It Figures

Sorry I'm late posting; due to some connection problems we're currently on dial-up only, and will likely remain that way until my guy figures it out, or the cable company sends someone to check out our equipment (at this point, looks like Saturday.)

In the meantime, please be careful out there tonight. Stay home if you can, or if you're planning to go out to party, decide in advance on a designated driver who can see to it that everyone gets home safely.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of 2010

Toward the end of December I always catch myself thinking about what sort of year I've had. There are landmarks like my blog and my work backups that chronicle my writing journey, which is ever an interesting one. Often I count the number of personal art and writing journals I fill up in twelve months to measure how often I needed to retreat and work things out in private; I used twenty-three for 2010 (about average; a bad year can result in forty or more.)

In some ways it was a year of losses (something we're supposed to get used to as we get older, but I don't really see how one does that.) We lost another brother to cancer, and two more family members became gravely ill. We sent one kid off to university, and while that is exactly as it should be, it's been a difficult adjustment. I joined in NaNoWriMo, but losing my sweet boy Jak hit me very hard, and I didn't finish my November novel.

While I won't call it a loss, I finished StarDoc, the foundation series of my writing career, with the release of Dream Called Time in August. Not everyone was happy about the end of the series, but it was quite painful for me to let go, too. You won't find many midlist science fiction writers who are able to publish a ten-novel series; support from my loyal StarDoc readers gave me that privilege, for which I will always be grateful.

One of them more vile events of the year was when a reader alerted me to the fact that was using my work without my permission as part of their scam to swindle readers into paying for something I've provided for free for the last ten years. Even here on the blog I was ridiculed for going public with this information, but as it ultimately caused to back-pedal and allow their users to opt out of the scam, I think it was worth it.

On the upside of 2010, I wrote five novels, sold three more, moved into a new genre and will be writing new stories of the Darkyn, the bestselling series of my career. A generous reader turned one of my free e-books into an app; another created a beautiful and haunting video envisioning my characters. My German publisher has been producing a constant stream of gorgeous cover art for my work, and made the very first publishing video for my work. The cover art gods have also smiled upon a couple of my upcoming 2011 releases.

That, together with all the laughs, surprises and other bright spots helped keep me moving forward instead of wallowing in despair. Maybe the most valuable thing that 2010 taught me that there is always something to get you through, as long as you take the time to look for it, and appreciate it, and make it part of your daily life. PBW is one of those things, thanks to you guys.

I've gone through the archives, and here are what I think are the best posts from the blog for 2010:

January: Wordling Poetry, Ten Things That Indicate You and Your Story Should Part Ways, and Why God Must Be a Writer

February: Mash-O-Matic, Where's the Mothership?, The Backstory Cafe, and Is This Your Query?

March: Ten Things You Might Catch from Other Writers' Books, and Lady RaRa's Rules for Self-Promotion

April: Ten Holidays for Writers That We'd Like to See, Ten Things Writers Say About Their Books (and what they really mean), and Your Writing Horoscope

May: Coyote Con Chat Questions, and Character Therapy

June: Ten Things You Will Not Find In Dreamveil, In Character, and Ten Things I've Resolved to Do

July: Write Noise and Cloud Profiles

August: Ten Things I've Never Told Anyone about StarDoc

September: Six and a Half Weeks and Follow the White Rabbit

October: The Ten Grave Precepts of Writer Zen, e-Pestered, and Runaway Trains Part I and Part II

November: Hold the Apps, Please, Writing Gremlins, and Ten Things I Don't Want for Christmas

December: Ten Things Writers Say, and What They Really Mean (Holiday edition), Holiday Karma, and My Holiday Wish

I thank you all for stopping in to talk shop, share the laughs and keep me motivated even in the darkest times. My wish for all of you in 2011 is that you move forward, try new things, and help each other when you can. Look for the light, and wherever you are in your writing, your career and/or your life, it will find you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cool Calendars

I admit, I'm a calendar junkie. Every year I go out and buy a year's supply (I wait until after January 1st so I can get them at a discount) for the entire family. They are not as vigilant as I am about keeping them updated -- the slackers -- but it satisfies my ever-constant need for organization. If you're going to the brick and mortars, BAM and B&N always seem to have a nice selection, and Borders usually offers theirs with excellent discounts after January 1st.

I have found if I get calendars with themes that appeals to my victims loved ones, they are more apt to use them. So I look for nature or beach scenes for my guy, puppies for my daughter and anything Asian for the college kid. For myself I buy some type of quilt-themed wall calendar -- this because they almost always come with free patterns -- a purse-size pocket planner and a lay-flat, desk-size notebook type for my office desk.

I've never before made my own calendar, though, so in keeping with my "try new things" outlook for 2011 I decided to see how hard it was to put one together. Not difficult at all, as it turns out. Microsoft Word 2007 allows me to access and download online templates from their site, so I found a simple one to use. I inserted a blank page between each month and on those inserted an interesting photo from my collection.

The whole thing took about thirty minutes, and the resulting calendar came out great, as you can see here. I was just playing, but I think doing something like this for readers would be an excellent New Year's gift from an author, especially those of you who do a lot of booksignings, conferences and that kind of thing (I'm thinking you could also mark upcoming release dates with a cover thumbnail inserted into the appropriate calendar date block, although I haven't tried that myself.)

One suggestion: I didn't resize the photos I used for the example calendar, so most of them are really too hi-rez for printing (they also make the file over 4 MB in size; rather huge for a 25-page document.) If you're going to use digital or scanned photos for a calendar you want folks to print out, resize them first to an easily-printable resolution before you insert them in your doc.

Other calendar resources:

The simple but wonderful Chaos Manager freeware designed by Martin Bresson was such a huge help to me in 2010 I'm going to keep using it as my virtual calendar/reminder program for 2011. I've got my guy hooked on it now, too.

Veranda Magazine's February 2011 issue comes with a lovely free calendar featuring their amazing photography; I'm putting this one in the kitchen because it's attractive, not too big and yet it has decent-size blocks to write on.

Calendar Freeware fom the Freebies page: 1 year * Calendar.exe * Calendar Magic * Calendars & Planners * Chandler * Easy HR Popup Calendar * MiniMinder * Multi-Reminders * Rainlendar Lite Remind Me Please * Sunbird * TaskPrompt * TKexe Kalendar

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Works for Me

The thought of making a New Year's resolution for 2011 has me once again waffling. I think change is good, but I resent having to decide and initiate the change by January 1st. I'm too tired after the Christmas holidays to work up the proper amount of enthusiasm; I'd be more receptive to something like a Valentine's Day Vow or maybe a Saint Patrick's Day Pledge.

Tradition keeps poking me, though, so I went over and rifled through the sidebar links over at The Generator Blog to find an online resolution-maker (because Gerard has a generator for everything) and of course I found one that led me here. This was the first thing the generator suggested:

Hopefully that doesn't mean a musical instrument. I'm tone-deaf.

Seriously, I would like to take more time to play. I have another idea for a year-long virtual art project similar to PBWindow, but I don't know if I have the time or the nerve to attempt it. Have to brood on that a bit more. My work schedule is pretty packed, but I wouldn't mind experimenting again (I might save this impulse for NaNoWriMo 2011.) I'd also like to try something I've never done, like make a video for fun.

I've got a few more days to think about it, so that's probably what I'll do. How about you guys? Are you making a New Year's resolution, are you undecided, or are you going into 2011 unresolved?

Monday, December 27, 2010


Ever wonder what writers do with those bookstore gift cards? Here are:

Ten Things I Bought with Mine at Books-a-Million

Blank Books:

1. Piccadilly spiral-bound blank journal (butterfly front, discounted.) I picked this up on impulse; the cover is fetching and it's large enough to make into a daily art journal.

2. Write Ideas "Dance Floor" large flex journal. I don't like the cover on this one, but it's huge, the page lining is nice and wide, and it has a pocket and a ribbon marker. I'll probably redo the cover with an interesting fabric.


3.& 4. "Go with all your heart" and 5. "The Spirit of Flight." Two are to give away and one is a replacement for me (I gave my original to a friend.)


6. Angel at Dawn by Emma Holly; second in her latest Upyr trilogy. The first one in this trio was terrific, and I think this installment continues the protagonists' story, which is even better.

7. My Immortal Assassin by Carolyn Jewel. I'm pretty sure this is the third in her paranormal romance series; definitely the newest. It's been a while since I read the last one so I may have to go back and reread the early novels to pick up the story again.


8. Quilting Arts Magazine Dec/Jan issue. This is not for me; I'm taking it to a quilter friend who is recovering from back surgery and can't get out to the store. Looking forward to bickering with her over adding metal to quilts (she's dead set against it; I'm all for it as long as the quilts aren't to be used for bedding or handled by children.)

9. Somerset Studio Gallery Magazine Winter '2011 issue. I tried to walk past it, really I did, but Angela Cartwright has an article in this one about watercolor photo art, and that I couldn't resist.


10. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. I've never read it, and since I'm into Zen anything, thought it was about time I did.

(the above list is thanks to my guy, and the gift card he never forgets to give me every Christmas)

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I hope everyone is keeping warm and enjoying their holidays. Our college kid made it home Christmas Eve night, which was all my guy and I wanted from Santa. The next day was quiet but relaxing, with the weather keeping us all inside to hang out with the kids, play with the dogs and take naps on the couch. We expect to do the same today, so it's been pretty much the perfect Christmas at Casa PBW.

We finally found something our fearless and feisty new pup is afraid of: wearing jingle bells. Because I'm becoming that classic old lady who dresses her pets, I got a little velvet collar with tiny bells to put around the puppy's neck (Cole got a more manly John Deere neck scarf.) Skye skittered around, tail between her legs, until finally she crawled onto my daughter's lap and refused to budge. So now I have a very nice velvet and bells ornament for the tree.

Cole has been missing his friend, the neighbor's toy poodle (earlier this year she went to live with her brother at their grandparents) so we found a little stuffed replica of her for him. I thought he might have forgotten her, but no, he carried the poodle around with him all day and even curled up with it last night.

What I didn't expect to find in my stocking was a shiny new 20" monitor for my work computer, which will allow me to see everything on the screen without scrolling back and forth (and replaces the monitor I've been using for the last six years, which was six inches smaller.) This will also be invaluable now that I have to do all my copy-edits electronically, as I can see the page and the editor's comments at the same time without reducing the size of the page. My guy also gave me a beautiful new steel filing cabinet, which sounds dull but for me is the same as getting a diamond bracelet is for other women.

The biggest chuckle of the day came from my mom, who is spending Christmas with my sister and her family. I groaned as soon as I unwrapped it and saw the color of the T-shirt she sent as my gift; she is determined to get me over my hatred of pink. Then I unfolded it and laughed along with everyone else at the caption on the front:

Did Santa surprise you this year? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Holiday Wish

The Publishing Fairy and I had a long talk last night, during which I presented her with my wish list.

As she read it, she began shaking her head over what I'd written and making comments:

"Not within my wand range."

"Bill Gates's Fairy is meaner and more powerful than me."

"When pigs fly, honey."

"Are you kidding? You are kidding. Telling me you're kidding."

"That's sweet. Tragic, misguided, and completely out of the question, but sweet."


"Santa doesn't do that."

"Or that."

"Especially not that."

Finally she got to the red-circled item on my list, the one thing I really wanted for Christmas. At which point the Publishing Fairy threw down the list. "You're crazy."

Of course I was, but I also tried to look deserving.

"Don't give me the sad writer eyes. They never work on me."

I ducked my head.

"All right. But this is only because you were a good girl and didn't touch that huge box of chocolate your editor sent you." She sighed, handed me back my list, stood up and waved her wand over me. "Wish granted."

In my hands appeared a long list of names, all of whom (thanks to the PF) are the winners of the Holiday Wishes giveaway, and they are:

Jessica ~ Jaye Patrick ~ ♫♥LovLivLife Reviews♥♫ ~ Robin F ~ Stacy M ~ Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews ~ Jackie Uhrmacher (yes, even if you're getting a review copy) ~ Anonymous (winterfall333) ~ Amalia ~ L in Oz ~ mofo8727 ~ Charlene Teglia ~ Shiloh Walker ~ Elizabeth ~ Michelle ~ Karen Mahoney ~ Melissa ~ Diane ~ ableskiver ~ bluebamboo ~ s7anna ~ B.E. Sanderson ~ Denise ~ Lisa ~ Darlene Ryan ~ necole p ~ sandy l ~ Deb Salisbury ~ Margaret S ~ Krystal ~ Liz B ~ JJ ~ Tammy S ~ Cid ~ Julie Doe ~ Cricket ~ Sari in Michigan ~ Cybercliper ~ Erin KEndall ~ Cheena ~ Keita Haruka ~ The Red Angel ~ Lorinda ~ Marianne Arkins ~ ten ~ ilona ~ darkreader ~ Anne Velosa ~ Jane ~ Rowan ~ Diane M. ~ Alice ~ SandyH ~ donnas ~ Dawn Montgomery ~ Steena Holmes ~ Margaret Claire ~ Jennifer and Jeff ~ LauraP ~ Abigail [All Things Urban Fantasy] ~ Anne V. ~ Leslie ~ Laura ~ Karen W. ~ Atropa Rainwater ~ Caroline ~ Rebecca ~ Jonathan B. ~ Sheila ~ Becca ~ Pamk

Just in case I missed any names as I was transcribing them from comments, everyone who commented yesterday is getting a signed copy of Frostfire. Now go, enjoy your holiday, your weekend, and when you have time after that, please e-mail your full name and ship-to address to Of course I have to order the extra copies of the novel, and sign all of them, but I should be able to get everyone their books in a week or two.

In the meantime:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Wishes

It seems the Publishing Fairy is in town for the holidays, and she just called to say she's going to stop by Casa PBW tonight to deliver some early copies of this:

Since I have no more room under the tree, I thought you all might be nice enough to take them off my hands. So if you're interested in helping out, in comments to this post make a holiday wish (or if you're wish-undecided, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST tonight, December 24, 2010. I will draw five names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners a signed copy of Frostfire by Lynn Viehl. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brittle Monster

Yesterday I made candy for the first time: honeycomb toffee brittle. My mother makes candy (her fudge is to die for), and so do all the other women in my family; I've never tried. This is because I am occasionally clumsy in the kitchen, and in the past the thought of handling substances that are liquid and not far from the melting temperature of tin has always discouraged me. Besides, I can buy candy any time.

I wanted to make this one recipe, though, ever since I bought Simply Christmas by Carol Field Dahlstrom. Each November I'd take out the book, open it to page 80, and stare at the picture, which as you can see is scrumptious. The recipe only called for five simple ingredients. How hard could it be?

Not really that hard at all. The instructions are barely a paragraph long, and every time I read them, I imagined myself making it. Butter a cookie sheet, okay. Combine sugar and syrup in medium saucepan, no problem. Bring to a boil, can do, until the mixture reaches the temperature of molten lava . . . .and I'd stop right there, and carefully put the book away, and go make Toll House or sugar cookies or something else that didn't make me think of skin grafts and burn units. No candy in the world is worth that kind of grief.

That's how it went, until the next year I would take out the book, and stare at it again until my fear of being burned by the brittle monster made me put it away. I've done that for ten years, until yesterday, when the girls and I were baking, and I went to get a Cooking Light issue that had a lovely little chocolate-hazelnut cookie recipe. I saw the book, saw the picture that is now branded on my brain and heard something inside me whisper, "You wimp."

I handed over the chocolate hazelbut recipe to the girls, and got out a medium saucepan. The looming spectre of the brittle monster made me start bargaining with myself: I won't make it because I know I don't have all the ingredients on hand. But no, a check of the pantry revealed that I did have all the ingredients. I won't be able to find that candy thermometer mom sent me six years ago. But no, I found it in the I-never-use-this drawer. The thermometer is so old it'll be broken. It worked fine.

I was actually okay while the molten lava brittle mixture was simmering, mainly because I didn't have to stir it for twenty minutes. That allowed me to keep at a safe distance while the temperature on the candy thermometer crept up closer and closer to 300°F, the first time I would have to stir down the monster. I held my breath while I did, and escaped unscathed.

Me - 1, Monster - 0

I cleared the counter for the final and most difficult part of the recipe, transferring the mixture to the buttered cookie sheet. Then all I had to do was wait for the latest reason to visit the emergency room mixture to reach 390°F. The brittle monster in the pot seethed and roiled, just waiting to get at some unprotected limb.

I love my kitchen; it's really the heart of our home, my favorite room in the house, and the one place I'm never scared. I didn't want to get burned, and while I watched the temperature on the candy thermometer pass 350°F, I was a bit shaky. Then I remembered all the things I've made here, that have been enjoyed by my family and friends, and all the things I still want to make. I am not an amazing cook, but I'm competent, and I knew I could do this if I just stopped being so scared of what might happen. This weird calm settled over me, and by the time the thermometer reached 390°F, I was ready to make candy.

I did make the girls stand back and protected my hands and my workspace before I touched the pot. Caution, never a bad thing in my opinion. I also had a wobbly moment when I stirred in the baking soda and the brittle monster in the pot foamed up to within a quarter-inch of the rim. But I kept a firm grip on my mixing spoon, and stirred it down, and quickly poured it onto the sheet. All of this I did without getting a drop on the counter, the floor, or me.

I'd slain the honeycomb toffee brittle monster. All by myself.

A half-hour later, when the candy was cool enough, I broke it into pieces and passed it around. My daughter didn't care much for it; her best friend thought it was amazing. As for me, well, it melted in my mouth, and was so rich and carmel-chocolatey that it made me shiver. It also stuck to my teeth, and had a trace of baking soda taste to it, and from the dense texture I think I stirred it too much that last time. I also know I've never enjoyed a piece of candy so much in my life.

There is this recipe, though, for a French dessert that I've never attempted. It's like a tower of orange-flavored cream puffs studded with citrus stars and veiled with sugar spun into gossamer strands. The kind of dish that makes people's eyes pop. And you know, I look at the recipe every New Year's Eve, and think, No, that's too hard, I could never do that . . . .

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Journal, Wrecked

Back in October I mentioned that my daughter, her best friend and I had started a group writing project involving Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal. My goals were to show the girls that journals and diaries don't have to be boring, and to try out a little creative destruction myself.

To give you some perspective, here is a typical entry in one of my own journals. I write about my family, friends, books, music, art, world events, my job, and all the ordinary (and probably boring to anyone else) things that go to make up a life. After getting into art journaling a few years back, I also regularly paint or sketch something and then write a short passage about it or some topic that relates to it.

Keri Smith's journal demanded a different approach: a destructive and messy one. Before I go into details, I think overall this was a good exercise for me, as I am kind of a nitpicky person about cleanliness. Okay, my bathrooms sparkle, you can eat off practically any surface in my house, and I can produce three different kinds of hand sanitizer at any given moment (and my guy is just as bad, and even cleans the bathrooms for me; another reason I adore him.)

Every other page in Wreck This Journal listed instructions of what to do on that page or to the page, i.e. "drip something here (ink, paint, tea) close the book to make a print" and "tear this page out, put it in your pocket, put it through the wash, stick it back in." I dutifully followed the instructions, going so far as to spend a half hour reconstructing the page my washing machine turned into mush.

As I progressed through the journal, I used the blank pages for daily entries, spaces for photos and so forth, as I would any journal. But then I started reaching instructions I truly didn't want to follow, like licking pages, chewing on pages and smearing pages with things bacteria and mold love, like candy, food, dirt etc. I love books, but I simply don't put my mouth or food on them; if that makes me uptight so be it.

Because the author noted that the instructions were open to my personal interpretation, I tried to get away with some creative substitutions. Instead of using one page as my dinner napkin, I taped one of my dried paint rags to it (art is soul food, right?) My favorite page -- "Make a mess, clean it up" -- I was able to interpret with a visual parody (later in the journal Keri instructed me to give it away, which I did.)

I did things I've never done with journals, though, lots of them. I sewed a page, picked up the journal with my feet, played golf with a page, slept with the journal under my pillow (now there's something I didn't do even when I was a teenager) and covered two pages with office supplies. I also added bird feathers I found in the yard (safely and sanitarily encased & sealed under clear packing tape) and made a drawing using my own hair.

Nine times out of ten it was fun, and the few times I did draw the line at following the instructions exactly I made a creative substitution or wrote down why I decided not to follow them. Some, like jumping up and down on the journal, were not physically possible for me (the bad knee does not permit jumping.) Mainly I baulked at doing anything that would make the journal unpleasant or hazardous for someone to handle.

Toward the end of finishing the journal my aversions made a light bulb go off. I've always believed that I write my private journals for myself, but maybe subconsciously I want them to be read by someone else someday. After thirty-six years of keeping a daily journal, you'd think I'd have realized that, but honestly I hadn't.

As with altering books into art, I don't think creative journal destruction is my thing. Respect and love for books is deeply ingrained in my personality; I winced every time I had to deface or destroy a page. But this was a fun project, and it opened my eyes to my own journaling habits. Despite my failure to get oral with certain pages, I think Keri Smith helped me loosen up a bit, too. Any time you can expand your horizons as a writer or an artist, you get a chance to increase your range. I definitely will be doing some new things with future journals.

Guided journals often prompt us to vent our worries and explore our imaginations, but Keri Smith invites us to rethink our attitudes toward the journal itself. Through her zany instructions she reminds us that a journal can be more than a thought depository or a sketch book; it can become a golf ball, a pull-toy, a bulls-eye, and just about anything else we want to play with.

As for the girls, they've both have told me that Wreck This Journal is the most fun they've every had with any book. I think it is a terrific gift for adults as well as kids ages 10 and up (younger are okay, too, but should probably be supervised by an adult while following instructions involving glue or other substances that can deface and/or stain more than the journal.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Screen Time

While I don't watch broadcast television, I do buy movies and a select few TV series on DVD as rewards for meeting my writing goals. I also swap them with friends as reciprocal gifts for birthdays and the holidays, which is fun because we don't tell each other in advance what we're swapping.

The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds was one of my rewards for finishing my last novel, and features Sandra as a demanding NY Publishing senior editor about to be deported back to Canada, and Ryan as the male assistant she strong-arms into becoming her fiance. I'm generally not a fan of films that portraying powerful women as demanding, heartless harpies from hell because it caters to misogynistic attitudes, but I like Sandra's movies, and as I expected she plays her role as smart and funny versus offensive and insulting. The screenwriters also did a nice job with the back story that actually supports her characterization.

Most of the story takes place in Alaska, during a visit to meet Reynolds's family, and gets pretty goofy at times, but there's enough drama to keep it from becoming utterly silly. Betty White (who plays Reynolds's 90 y.o. grandma) obviously had the best time with this project; she practically steals every scene she's in. The logical but realistic end wrapped up the movie neatly without sending my blood sugar through the roof or ticking me off, something that tends to be a problem for me with romantic comedies. I wonder, though, does Ryan Reynolds have a lazy eye, or maybe is a tiny bit cross-eyed? There were a couple of times during the movie that I swear, his right eye just didn't seem to be staying in sync with the left. Anyway, see the official trailer here.

Chuck Season One: This was a birthday swap gift that I received from a friend who (thanks to me) is now completely hooked on Burn Notice. I think I'm hooked on Chuck now, too; if you're looking for pure farce, you don't get much better than this. Chuck is a computer repair tech/geek/lonely guy who works at a big electronics chain store. He lives with his sister, he got kicked out of college, and he's basically every poor slob who could never get a date in high school. All that changes when via synaptic download Chuck accidentally becomes the government's most valuable intelligence asset.

The characters really make this show, and Adam Baldwin, who plays one of Chuck's handlers, is really priceless as brutal/humorless gung-ho patriot. He deadpans so well that I swear, every time the guy raises a steely brow I crack up. I'm charmed most by Zachary Levi, though, who plays the title role and in every episode grabs your heart with his awkward but sweet and surprisingly deep portrayal of the character; a true prince with principles and a pocket protector.

What I'll be watching over the holidays:

Castle Season One -- Another swap gift, one that came in for Christmas (our theme was favorite on-screen genres, and my pal got the SyFy Channel's Dune and Children of Dune mini-series in return from me.)

I'm a bit nervous about this one. I rarely watch movies or shows about writers because (inevitably, I suppose) they never get it right, or they make us into some idiotic variation of the wonderfully rich, helpfully curious old gal author from Murder, She Wrote (yeah, there's some heavy-duty realism for you.) About every ten years one comes along (ala Author! Author! with Al Pacino, Impromptu with Judy Davis, and Finding Forrester with Sean Connery) that is entertaining, but mostly I avoid them.

That said, I think Castle might be okay for three reasons: 1)It stars Nathan Fillion, who I think is an amazing actor, 2) Nathan plays a mystery author, one genre I don't consider personal territory, and 3) I got my friend (a devoted SF-hater) hooked on Frank Herbert enough to ask to borrow the first book, so this is like swap karma. I'll let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, here's the trailer for season one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Down to the Wire Ten

Ten Things You Can Make as Last Minute Gifts

Collaborative or Family Cookbook: My mom is making a family version of this for my nephew's new wife: ask your friends and/or family for their all-time favorite or most famous recipes, type them up or photocopy them, and put them into a booklet or binder divided into sections (appetizers, entrees, side dishes, etc.) Add your own recipes and hints about holiday celebrations, photos of past friend/family get-togethers, etc. To add a special note, present it in a basket with all the ingredients to make one of the recipes.

Cozy Evening Bag: In a large recyclable gift or shopping bag put a warm throw or lap quilt, fuzzy socks, a CD of holiday music, a book you love to curl up with, a coffee mug, something to make a hot drink (like tea bags, hot cocoa mix, small jar of instant decaf coffee) and some snacks (cookies, candy, nuts, etc.)

Custom CD mixes: Have fun with your music collection and create playlists with interesting themes, i.e. holiday classics, road trip tunes, music for a bubble bath, rock out blasters, romantic nights, etc. Burn your playlists onto CDs and design your own mix cover art for the cases spotlighting the theme (if you can use pictures of the recipient that relate to the theme, even better.)

DVD Exchange: This is a reciprocal gift I do with friends every year that is great fun because it is always a surprise. Agree to exchange DVDs of your favorite movie or TV show of the year, or if you prefer a particular genre use themes like "Best SyFy Channel Show" or "Must-See Mini-Series." Present yours in a bag with some microwave popcorn and classic theater treats (like Twizzlers, Raisinets, M&Ms.)

Freebie Reads Bundle: Download some e-books that are in public domain or that the authors have posted for free on the internet (links to all mine are here) and burn them on CD, or print them out and place them in a binder. This works well as another reciprocal gift.

Holiday Pomander Basket: A pomander is a natural air freshener, and for this gift you'll need fruit (oranges, apples and/or lemons work best) studded with whole cloves, a basket, fresh greens (twigs from a pine tree with green needles look nice, so do any small branches you've trimmed from your Christmas tree.) Line your basket with the greens and make the pomanders (that artist woman blog has good directions on how to insert the cloves here.) Place the pomanders on top of the greens. Add little touches like candles, cinnamon sticks or other fragrant bits to add to the aroma.

Memory Album: I'm doing this for several people on my list who don't realize how often I've photographed them (being sneaky with the camera helps.) Go through your photos for the year of your recipient, print out the best and put them in chronological order in a small brag book or photo album. Add funny captions along the top or bottom border, or note the time/event on the back side. My mom made one for my college kid that shows him at age three -- and has photos of everyone else in the family at the exact same age.

Sampler Stocking: Fill a stocking with samples of anything your recipient might enjoy: granola bars, diet drink mixes, 100 calorie packs, gum, mints, etc. It doesn't have to be food, either - I like to buy sample sizes of things like hand lotion, shower gel and body spray so I can use them on road trips and in my guest bathroom, so I always a bag of them in the closet. An assortment of these along with a bath sponge or scrunchie would be fun.

Scrumptious Shortbread -- Scottish shortbread is the simplest of all cookie recipes, as the usual formula is three parts flour, two parts butter and one part sugar (tip: I find unsalted butter works best.) Here's a simple recipe that you don't have to chill or form, just press in a pan, bake, cool and cut into wedges.

Snap Crackle & Pop: Requires a box of Rice Krispies, a bag of marshmallows and a couple tablespoons of butter or margarine; takes about 5 minutes to make them into Rice Krispie treats (recipe can be found here.) You can form the mixture while it's still warm into balls, snowmen or other holiday shapes, or cut and wrap squares after mixture cools in a brownie or cake pan (tip: make your squares bite-size, wrap in foil and present in a canister or candy jar.) I've never met a kid who didn't like them.

What are your favorite last minute gifts to make? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Give Us This Day

This may look like a loaf of bread, but it's not. It's a gift. A delicious, homemade, still-warm-from-the-oven gift. Someone couldn't wait to taste it and nipped an end piece the minute it touched a flat surface in the kitchen. Okay, it was me, but I live with another crust lover. If I don't nick one for myself my guy will eat both.

My next door neighbor first made and brought over this bread for us on the day we moved into this house, and has made a loaf as a Christmas gift every year since. It's a simple but lovely gesture, one I return usually by baking a pie or a strudel for her and her family, although this year I might do a basket of cookies (I can never decide on one thing and stick to it; I'm too restless a baker.)

Exchanging gifts of food is really old-fashioned. Today no one has time to bake; it's certainly easier to send a basket of stuff from a catalog or pick up something from the bakery in town. My neighbor and I are both insanely busy women, and rarely have time to do more than chat for a minute now and then, and usually about car pooling the kids. This year has been particularly hectic; I can count the number of times we've talked on one hand. I certainly never expect the gift of her bread, just as I know she never expects anything from me.

We're very different people,my neighbor and me -- different backgrounds, jobs, schedules, hobbies, friends and so forth. But we live side-by-side; our kids go to the same schools. We share tools and repair tips, rescue stray mail and packages, and keep an eye out for any wild critters that cross our properties (we even caught our neighbor's horse when he got loose one New Year's Day.) When one family goes out of town, the other watches their house, and when the rare emergency happens, we're there for each other with whatever is needed. I couldn't ask for better neighbors.

So when I look at this loaf of bread, I don't see something simple or humble. I see a gift I'm given every day, living in my neighborhood and knowing this family. I see friendship, and trust, and community. I see all the days I've been here, and look forward to the times to come.

Every time you stop in here and talk about books and writing and share some laughs with me, you do the same thing as my neighbor. You give me a little part of your day, your words, your thoughts. You talk about the books you love, the stories you wrestle and the hopes and dreams you hang onto. You are my colleagues and readers, my virtual neighbors, and I'm sure all very busy with lives of your own, and still you make time for me. I think that may be the greatest gift you can give anyone.

Tomorrow I think I'll make soup to go with the bread. Or maybe a stew. The other wonderful thing about this kind of gift are all the possibilities that go with it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Generate Some Cheer

Make your own Christmas and holiday cards with this online card generator (click on card to see larger version):

This one is for the kids: have them drag-n-drop lights and ornaments to decorate this virtual Christmas tree, then tell them to click on the on/off switch directly below the decoration palette and watch what happens to the tree and their decorations (Christmas music will also play when you turn the tree on):

Upload and turn your favorite photo into a virtual Christmas ornament (actual size):

Have you been invited to too many parties but can't think up reasonable (or other) excuses to dodge them? Try the Holiday Party Excuse Generator (click image to see larger version; also warning for those at work ~ this site plays cute music in the background):

Friday, December 17, 2010


I's great to know so many of you are giving books as gifts, and what a terrific range of titles you mentioned in the 2 Magical Holiday Reads giveaway -- Santa would be proud.

We de-iced the magic hat, and the winners are:

Bethany K. Warner, who is giving the "first two Rachel Caine Morganville vampires books."

The Bonz, who is presenting a lucky niece with "a gorgeous set of illustrated LOTR hardcovers."

Cora, who is giving away a pile of books, including a novel from one of my favorite series "Nightlife by Rob Thurman."

Bunnie's Mom, who is hoping her guy will "go to the book store and gift me an actual book."

Claire Cherven, who gives "Borders gift cards as well as gift certificates to the Clinton Book Store."

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Karma

If he picked out the expensive perfume in your stocking, prepare to smell like a mango, an opium addict or a streetwalker for the next six months.

If she picked out a special holiday sweater for you to wear, be prepared to flash, ring, shed sequins, itch unbearably and possibly have your manhood questioned.

If you bake your own cookies, no matter how carefully you plan, you will make too many or not enough. You will also burn the ones you're giving your boss but won't realize they're scorched on the bottom until he's about to take a bite.

The day after you finish all your holiday shopping someone will ask you to get a gift for someone who wasn't on your list. P.S., the recipient will be someone you don't know, someone you don't like, and/or insanely difficult to shop for.

The food item you are highly allergic to will be the secret ingredient in your neighbor's famous pumpkin bread. You will not discover this until after the emergency room visit.

The giant hole/termite infestation/occupied bird's nest in your Christmas tree will not become evident until you are putting on the last ornament.

The mail carrier you chewed out for delivering a battered box last July will assure that no gift package addressed to you ever again lands unscathed.

The mall Santa will smell like Ben-Gay, denture cream or Jack Daniels, and will go on his lunch break just as you and your exhausted preschooler reach the front of the line.

When he visits, your weird uncle will definitely ask where you've displayed put the semi-pornographic statue he gave you for your wedding.

While cooking dinner for your family you will drop something on the kitchen floor that 1) shatters into a million razor-sharp pieces, 2) creates a small lake of something nearly impossible to clean up fast (like cooking oil) and/or 3) is an essential part of the recipe for your entree, one you had to drive 20+ miles to purchase.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

2 Magical Holiday Reads

One reason I love the holidays is because it means I can go to the bookstore as often as I like. Browsing through the shelves to find books for family and friends is fun, and I can always find something to please even the pickiest reader.

One book I'm giving this year to all the paranormal fantasy and romance lovers on my list is In the Dark of Dreams by Marjorie M. Liu. This newest Dirk and Steele novel tells the story of Jenny, a gifted paranormal researcher, who travels the world looking for the legendary merfolk, people who live in the sea, and Perrin, an outcast merman sent to live in exile on land.

Since meeting briefly as kids, Jenny and Perrin have had tough lives filled with betrayal, loneliness and brutality. All that sustained them through those grim years were their memories of each other and the dreams they share. When they find each other again you'd think they'd get a break, but no, fate isn't finished messing with them yet. What brings them together also threatens to rouse an ancient, slumbering monster capable of causing worldwide catastrophe and the death of millions -- unless Jenny and Perrin can avert disaster before becoming its first two victims.

This story was intense, and has all the fascinating characters, exquisitely detailed world-building and unique, heart-stopping conflict that Marjorie is known for. The great thing about the Dirk and Steele novels is how well they work as standalones, so new readers will enjoy In the Dark of Dreams as much as loyal followers of the series.

Patricia Briggs also has a new novel on the shelves, Wolfsbane, which is the second of her Sianim novels and the long-awaited sequel to Masques, a novel she wrote back at the beginning of her career. You'll see my quote on the reprint of Masques, which I am very happy Ace decided to reprint, as people keep asking to borrow my first edition (which I don't let anyone touch much less borrow because I think it's now worth more than my car.)

Aralorn, a shapeshifter who works as a spy, travels home to attend her father's funeral, only to find that he's not dead but held in a deathlike state by a spell that will soon kill him. To save his life she must enlist the help of her magic-scarred companion, Wolf, who was the son of the most powerful and evil mage in their world. To avoid spoilers for Masques that's all I can say about the plot, but from there it gets very interesting and twisty.

If you have someone on your list who enjoys adventurous romantic fantasy (ala Patricia's The Hob's Bargain), then Wolfsbane is the right book for them. I am going to recommend getting both books for readers who are new to Patricia's early works, not because the Sianim books have to be read together, but because once they read one story about Aralorn and Wolf, they're going to want the other one.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments, name the title of a book you're giving as a gift this year (or if you're not playing novel Santa, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, December 16th, 2010. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners unsigned copies of In the Dark of Dreams by Marjorie M. Liu and Wolfsbane by Patricia Briggs. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Totally Psyched

E.E. Smith has a post over at Psychology Today about the top ten careers with high rates of depression. As you might guess, we scribes hit the list squarely at #5:

Writers, Artists, Entertainers: Those of us in this category -- so-called "creative" people -- complain of irregular income, odd hours and isolation. Depression leads some to become bipolar.

Hmmmm. On the other hand, we so-called "creative" people may be living very fulfilled lives, thanks to our ability to adapt to almost any situation and make do with what we have to reach our goals.

So which is it? Both? Neither? Equal parts of each? The writer of the depressing careers list admits to some personal experience with depression; did that factor in to putting our profession on the list? Or this other guy who thinks we're so adaptable -- can anyone really know what the creative mind is like by observation?

Such mixed signals are not uncommon. Every day is a gift, we're told. Be the change you want to see in the world. Forgive and forget. There are a million more motivational sayings for creative people floating around out there. They're nice. We want the writing life to be nice.

That said, we all know that every day is not a gift. Some days are nightmares that turn into weeks and months and years of struggle, misfortune and unhappiness. What you change may be something other people didn't want changed, and you find this out only when -- surprise -- they're running at you with torches and pitchforks. Also, how do you honestly forgive and forget the kind of stuff that requires absolution and amnesia?

Yes, the writing life -- or any creative life -- can be difficult, lonely, problematic and at times very depressing. That life can also be joyous, comforting, as easy as breathing and an endless source of delight and satisfaction. I know that I've lost enough of my writing life to misery, and what it's taught me is that I have better things to do. I have things to learn, ideas to explore, and worlds to build. I have people to love, and to entertain, and to help get through their dark times just as they've helped me get through mine.

I thought a lot about what both writers said, and I keep coming back to one thing: I have stories to tell. That's always been the center and the foundation of my writing life, and as long as I have that I know I can deal with anything else that comes along.

What do you guys think? Should writing be ranked as one of the top ten depressing professions? What other careers do you think should have made the list? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Play Me Ten

Ten Things for the Free Game Lovers

Age of Conquest is "a medieval Risk-like turn-based strategy game where you take the reins of a budding empire and struggle against fellow empires for control of the world" (OS: "Available for all major operating systems including Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Android and iOS [iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad"])

Based on the classic Frank Herbert fantasy series, Dune Legacy is "an effort by a handful of developers to revitalize the first-ever real-time strategy game. The original game was the basis for the hugely successful Command and Conquer series, and the gameplay has been replicated an extended to a wide variety of storylines and series. There are currently two different branches of Dune Legacy" (OS: designer notes that it will run on Mac, Linux and even Windows)

Homonym Madness is "a very challenging and fun word puzzle game. It is a completely different kind of word puzzle than you have ever played before" (OS: Win 9x/ME/NT/2K/XP/2K3/Vista/7)

LettersFall2 is a free game that "combines Scabble with Tetris" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Monopoly Deluxe is a virtual, point and click freeware version of the classic game (OS: Windows 95-98, Windows XP)

pChess is "a basic chess programme" ". . . with nice graphics and a built-in FEN Viewer. Uses a classic Shannon type MiniMax search with Quiescence extensions and Alpha-Beta pruning. It supports copy/paste of FEN positions, a 'Visual Brain' feature, and a small (700 move) opening book. Comes complete with FutureBasic 5 source code" (OS: Mac OSX)

Rasputin's Curse is "a mind-bending hidden object game" (OS: Mac OS X 10.4 or later)

RPGSuite is "a collection of free software aimed at making Role-Playing Games (RPGs) easier to play and manage. It takes programs from a variety of developers and puts them all in one clean, shiny package. You can install what you want, and ditch what you don't" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Suqoku is "a sudoku game written in QT 4. It can open game files from other sudoku games and generate random games" (OS: OS X, Linux, Windows 7, WinXP)

WordBog is "a challenging word creation game. Those who enjoy word games such as Boggle and Scrabble will find WordBog addictive" (OS: Windows Vista/XP/2000)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How to Save the World (or Not)

I'm late posting because we have family visiting and they're more fun than the computer. Sorry.

I read a very interesting post about how to save the world the other day over at Chris McKitterick's LJ. I think the Rifkin video that he pairs with it is charming and entertaining, and like so many theories, it works nicely on paper, but I think it would probably fall apart the minute you add real humans to the mix. Still, if you want to know more about evolutionary sociology for your world building, this video is probably the best crash mini-course I've ever seen (about ten minutes long, with some mild/vague cartoon nudity.)

Samhain has an open call for their End of Days anthology: "Samhain Publishing invites you to step into the future when Earth as we know it no longer exists. But the End of Days doesn’t mean an end to hope and heroes and, most importantly, love and happiness. Will the world end with a bang or will humanity be changed for the better? Only you can decide." Also: "Stories can be of any genre or heat level, and submissions are open to M/F, M/M, or multiples thereof, but all submissions must feature either an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic theme (or both) as integral to the story. Submissions should be 20,000 to 30,000 words in length. All stories must end with a happy ever after for the hero and heroine. Yes, a HEA in an apocalyptic story – don’t you just love the contrast?" [Should make for an interesting antho, anyway.] Payment isn't mentioned, but they pay 40% of net on single-author books (I'd e-mail the editor and ask about this up front.) Reprints unspecified, electronic submissions only, see submission guidelines for more details.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dog Watching

I hope to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am. ~ Unknown Author

I've always had dogs in my life. The only time I haven't lived with a furry friend in my home was when I was in the military, and traveled too much and worked too many weird hours to take care of one (which was propbably why I spent so much time with my parents' pups whenever I went home on leave.)

I am equally fascinated by other people's dogs, and over time have become a secret/sneaky photographer of them. Seeing dogs and people together sometimes gives you a little insight into their personality -- both human and canine.

This pretty girl and I met in town, and I had the chance to discreetly observe her and her owner for about an hour. Both were laid back, down-to-earth types who looked like they handle just about anything life throws at them: strong, content, not easily intimidated. From the casual affection of the owner and the relaxed adoration of the pup it was obvious they'd been together for years.

The most charming thing was seeing how the owner handled the pup -- with quiet voice commands or a brief touch on the head or neck -- and the dog's slow but good-natured response. Despite the breed's rep (these are powerful, muscular dogs) every rottweiler I've ever met has been a big sweetheart, and always seem to have a glimmer of amusement in their eyes when they're watching us.

When I spotted this little princess with her owner I thought, Which came first, the hair color or the Pom? A reasonable assumption, as I often see small dogs being treated like fashion accessories by their female owners. Princess also had been ruthlessly groomed; she didn't have a hair out of place and was so clean she practically glowed.

I grew up with Penny, my grandmother's chihuahua, so I know with small dogs there's a lot more than meets the eye. They're smart, intuitive, and own their humans, not the other way around. These little ones are often so in tune with their owner's emotions they seem like pint-size psychics. For an elderly person, owning a small dog provides opportunities for exercise and welcome relief from loneliness and depression.

When I first saw Princess Pom she was behaving skittishly, evidently made nervous by the crowded conditions of the sidewalk. She tried to retreat into a doorway, at which point her vigilant owner scooped her up and carried her. From that moment on Princess grinned at everyone she and her owner passed, as if she'd gotten exactly what she wanted.

I don't know what breed this pretty pair of pups are (I love their fur; they look so exotic) but seeing them together reminded me of the joys of having two dogs in the house. I've never owned two dogs at once until this year, when we adopted Skye and brought her home to meet Cole. If one dog is a big responsibility, two are double that. Even something simple like walking the pups together can turn into a real challenge.

The owner had no problem with handling these two; they strolled in delighted sync, their eyes bright and heads high. The owner didn't seem to be paying much attention to the dogs, but then, they weren't misbehaving at all. As much as they belong to their owner, they were each other's companion, too. It was a beautiful day, they were together, and all was right with their world.

When I'm busy with housework or writing, I often see Skye and Cole forget about me while they play with their toys or curl up together for a nap. They also hate to be separated; when I took Skye to be spayed Cole was utterly miserable and wandered around the house looking for her for hours.

Not every story we write can include pets, but one good creative exercise is to imagine what sort of dog (or other type of pet) your character would own. You can go back in time to imagine a furry friend from their childhood, or what type they might consider adopting someday. If you're not familiar with the characteristics of different breeds, do the research, but also talk to other people about their dogs, why they chose that breed and what life is like with their pet.

What do you think a character's dog or other pet say about them? Let us know in comments.

Friday, December 10, 2010

DIY Gifts for Writers

Writer friends are not difficult to shop for (hint - bookstore gift cards - hint), but this year the holiday budget may not extend to purchasing gifts for all the scribes on your list. Writers also understand what it's like to exist on a shoestring budget, so don't sweat it. An e-mail greeting card is fine with us; I just got one last night that was absolutely gorgeous.

If you'd still like to do a little more for your writer friends, here are some low- to no-cost ideas that make great gifts:

Art Journal: There is more to the art of writing than just words, and an blank art journal can encourage the artist in your favorite writer to come out and play (you can also find blank art journals at remainder tables at most of the chain stores for under $5.) Add a small set of watercolors, markers or other art supplies as additional incentive. Art journaler Teesha Moore has some fabulous technique videos on her site that include an easy way to make a 16 page journal from a single sheet of watercolor paper.

Blog Collection: For the writer pal who is an avid blogger, copy and paste the best of their posts from 2010 into your word processor. Play with the font, add some pics and design cover art for the collection. Once you've got it all together, generate a .pdf version to e-mail to them, or print a copy to put in a binder and send via traditional mail. If you don't have the ability to create a .pdf file, get a freeware program like CutePDF Writer*.

Custom Bookmarks: Design some bookmarks for your author buddy's latest or upcoming release. Include all their public contact info and (if possible) a title backlist on the flip side. Print them out, cut them up and bundle them along with a CD backup of your designs so your friend can print out more as needed.

Find Freeware: All writers need freeware; we just don't have time to check out every program we'd like to try. Step in for your friend and test drive one or more than you think might be helpful to them, and then backup the download on a CD or e-mail it along with your thoughts on how the program worked. I have a fairly big collection of freeware links here, and you can search out more at sites like and Primewares.*

Guided Journal: Using a notebook or a pretty blank book, create a guided journal for your writer pal. At the top of every other page put a prompt directing them to write about something specific. For prompt ideas, The Creativity Portal has an entire page of links to writing prompts as well as the imagination prompt generator.

Special Slideshow: You can say a lot with pictures, so gather together some great images that would have meaning to your scribe and put them in a slide show with captions, music or whatever would wow your pal. If you're particularly gifted with video, put together a book trailer for your pubbed writer's next release (or if you're like me and video-clueless, will generate a decent slideshow for you pretty painlessly.)

Submission List: If you know what sort of story your writer pal is working on, put together a potential submission info list for them with publisher names, addresses and editor contact info. You can find most of this online or in a Writer's Market at your local library (always try to verify anything you find in Writer's Market as they tend to become outdated pretty fast.) Also check out market sites like for interesting open calls for anthologies, writing contests, and the latest on new sub ops.

Writing Cards: I've talked about using the Trading Card Maker to create character cards, but you could also use it to make a custom-designed deck of writing prompts, motivational quotes or other words of wisdom for your writer pal.

Writing Class: If you know the areas of craft where your scribe is interested in learning more or improving, hunt down a free online class and download the info to a CD or print it out and put it in a binder. You can also hunt down free e-books on writing (I've got a couple available on the freebies page under nonfiction) and make up a CD of them. For broader perspective, author Steven Barnes has a free online version of the nine-week writing course he's taught for years at UCLA.

Your Story: If you're a writer, why not write a story about your friendship? You can recount anything from the funniest conference experience to the day your pal kept you from throwing in the towel. The point is to show your friend how they've become a part of the narrative of your life (and if you can make them laugh, that's even better.)

*As always, remember to be cautious with freeware and scan anything you download for bugs and such before you put it on your hard drive.

Do you guys have any DIY gift ideas for writers to share? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

New Art

These are so gorgeous I have to show them off:

These superb covers are from LYX, the publisher of the German editions of the Darkyn novels and now some of my Jessica Hall titles. These two will be released in August (Night Lost) and September (Into the Fire) next year.

My German is pretty limited, but I think the new titles translate to Blind Desire and In the Heat of the Night.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I'd like to ask everyone to send good thoughts and prayers to our blogpal Lisa J. Cohen; she and her family are dealing with the aftermath of a house fire. Her husband has pictures posted on Flickr here of the terrible damage it caused. One great blessing is that they were able to get out of the house in time.

Each year during the holiday season fires kill 400+ people, injure 1,650 more, and cause over $990 million in damage.* Houses can be rebuilt and possessions replaced, but fire-related injuries are often devastating, and lives lost to fire are simply gone forever.

So: if you didn't put fresh batteries in your smoke detectors back when the time changed, please do it today. If you don't have smoke detectors in your home, please buy and install some now. Also, make sure you have an escape plan to get out in the event of a fire, and talk to your kids about it.

*Stats are from USFA's article A Season for Sharing in Fire Safety, which is also something you should read when you get a chance.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

NaNo Now What?

You've all had a week to recover from NaNoWriMo, so I think it's safe to discuss what happens now with your November novel. What follows is my advice as a professional novelist. Blow me off if you want, but I do this for a living, and I think my approach is at least worth considering.

Let's talk about length for a moment. 50,000 words is a novel-length story, but one with a very limited print market. There are a few publishers who will consider 50K novels (Harlequin) and some print mag and antho markets also willing to look at that length, but most publishers are looking for novels in the 75K - 100K range. That said, e-publishers are much more flexible on length, and I believe most are quite receptive to considering novels in the 50K range (and some do print as well as e-book format.)

Don't panic that you haven't written enough for the traditional print market, because unless you are an expansive, thoroughly detail-oriented, get-it-right-the first-time type of writer, your first draft of a novel is likely going to get longer after you edit and revise it.

So that's length, and now I'd like you to forget about that for the time being, because you have more important things to do than count words. You have a first draft to read, edit, buff, polish and prepare for submission.

First question you need to ask yourself: Is the novel finished? If the answer is no, stop reading this post and go finish writing your book. And don't argue with me, because an unfinished story is not a book; it's a partial manuscript. When you've got a completed first draft, then you can come back and go to the next step.

Next step (if you haven't taken it already) is to put your completed novel aside and take a break from it. Stick it in your file or desk, work on something else and put a little distance between you and the story. How long? Everyone is different, but the shortest break I take is three days, and the longest is a month. This time away from the story is important because you need to be as objective as possible, and you usually can't do that if you're up to your ears in the story all day every day.

Once you feel you've taken a decent break, take out your first draft and read it through one time, start to finish, without editing or making any notes on it. You're reading the manuscript this time to get the big picture, which hopefully will allow you to answer these questions: Is this story worth more of your time? Is it still as exciting as it was when it was just an idea in your head? Are you itching to get back to work on it? And, finally, is it a story you believe you can sell?

That last question is a killer, I know. It requires you to take a very hard look at yourself as well as the work. But if you don't believe in this novel now, you're going to have a very tough time selling it to someone else. Now is the time to decide if it's something you want to actively pursue for publication, or something you need to put away.

Btw, if you ever want to come over to my house and see the eight boxes of manuscripts, short stories and other works I've put aside because in the end I didn't believe in them, I didn't like how they turned out or there simply wasn't a market for them, I'll haul them down from the attic for you. P.S., the stories and the original proposal for my Darkyn novels lived on one of those boxes for six years, so don't think anything you set aside is wasted or garbage. Sometimes you have to wait for the market to catch up with you.

Once you've decided that your first draft answers all those questions with a solid yes, then it's time to prepare for an intensive edit. My method is to go through the entire manuscript again, start to finish, and decide what stays and what goes. I use a highlighter to slash through large portions of the story that bore me, are clunky or just don't make sense; these are portions that have to be reworked or tossed out and written over from scratch.

For smaller/shorter type-in corrections for things like grammar stumbles, misspellings and places where I need to clarify, expand or otherwise clean up things for the reader I use a red pen to circle things and write notes on the page. I also keep a notepad handy for things like name changes (it's inevitable that I'll find at least one character whose name I begin to hate for some reason and decide to change), logic problems that will affect other portions of the story (when you change something in one chapter, odds are you'll have to change it in at least two or three more past that point), and facts that need to be checked (because while you're almost sure that huge clock tower in London is named Big Glen, it wouldn't hurt to look it up.)

Common things to look for: too much explanation/too little action, telling instead of showing, eye references, awkward sentence constructions, identical dialogue tags (he said, then she said, then he said, then she said, then they said, etc.), housekeeping dialogue (Hi, how are you? I'm fine, and you? Wonderful. Isn't the weather nice? Yes, it is. Lather, rinse, repeat), characters standing around and doing nothing, characters sitting around and doing nothing, characters whose names are too similar and therefore too easy to mix up, too much narrative, As-You-Know-Bob dialogue info dumps, any other kind of info dump, sparse descriptions, over-done descriptions, lags in the pacing of the story, scenes or chapters in which nothing much happens, obvious filler, and weed words you've overused or echoed too many times.

You may want to run a spell check at this point, too, but spell checking can be done at any point. This is one of those choices you'll make based on how you like to edit. To save time I've stopped spell checking until I'm down to the very last draft, but if you feel more comfortable doing several, go for it.

Once you've completed your first pass, take the manuscript chapter by chapter and do your rewrites, your toss-outs and write-overs, your type-ins, etc. Go slowly and work carefully, and no, it's generally not much fun, but it's a necessary skill you need to develop and constantly work on improving -- and you only get better with practice, practice, practice.

Once you're finished your second draft, take a break for at least 24 hours, again, to put a little distance between you and the story. When the time is right, read through your revised manuscript and evaluate your results.

Some writers get away with doing a one-pass edit; some have to repeat the editing process a few times before they feel they have a book that is ready to be read. The danger here is that you can get caught in an endless editing loop where you read, you edit, you rewrite, you read, you edit, you rewrite, and suddenly it's ten years later and you're still working on the same book (what I think of as Book of Your Heart syndrome.) Your novel isn't going to get published if no one ever sees it, so keep the editing to a reasonable amount/time frame.

Once you have the final/revised version of your manuscript, hopefully not ten years from now, you have several choices: 1) you can do nothing with it, 2) you can ask a trusted family member or friend to read it, or 3) you can dive into the submission process. You can also burn it, bury it in the backyard or lock it in a bank vault in a box that says Do not open until after I'm dead.

If you decide to do nothing with it, don't beat yourself up. Remember those eight boxes in my attic; I'm not going to throw any stones. Learn from the experience and use it to write a better story next time.

I think the most popular choice (especially for first-time novelists) is to ask someone to read it. Obviously you want someone who can give you some constructive feedback without ripping your manuscript to shreds. I had my older brother read my first novel, and he was kind and considerate with his very light critique (and the book was really terrible, but I was just a thirteen-year-old kid, and it meant the world to me, and he knew that.) An ideal first reader gives you an honest reaction without being brutal about it, and that takes some doing, so be selective.

I won't kid you; it's very tough to go through the submission process. Rejections can be harsh and demeaning. You try not to get your hopes up, but your hopes thumb their nose at you and do what they want. There's nothing quite like being squashed by the very people you wanted to impress. It would be safer -- and saner -- not to subject yourself and your hard work to the impersonal, indifferent ego-thrashings Publishing loves to hand out. And if you don't try, you'll never know, and it's as simple as that.

I know a lot of writers see the new trend of no-cost digital self-publishing as a wonderful shortcut around the submission process, and the editorial process, and all the other unpleasant, tedious aspects of traditional publishing that writers hate. I don't disagree with you. Self-publishing is superfast, and now anyone can do it. You don't have to put up with a single rejection or some idiot editor telling you what you can or cannot write, and that's definitely got to be good for the ego. Those are the same reasons we called it vanity publishing back when I started out.

Whatever you decide to do, think about it seriously, and then start out as you mean to go on.

Now it's your turn: are you editing your NaNo novel yet? Ready to send it out or bury it in the backyard? Where are you planning to go from here? Let us know in comments.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Writerisms Ten

Ten Things Writers Say, and What They Really Mean
(The Holiday Edition)

A diamond necklace? Honey, you shouldn't have!

Diamonds? Where am I going to wear diamonds, to the grocery store? What happened to the new laptop I wanted, you moron?

Give me five minutes, sweetie, and I'll help you bake those cookies.

Five minutes in writer time is actually five hours. Or, if I'm having trouble with the WIP, days. Possibly weeks, or months, or . . . look, sweetie, cookies are bad for you.

Going to your office Christmas party should be great fun.

If your boss asks me one more time if I've published anything yet I'm dumping the punch bowl on his toupeed head.

Honey, I love driving around and looking at Christmas lights with you.

God, I could have written two or three chapters by now. And figured out that chase scene problem, too. Ooh, someone's house is on fire -- Honey, pull over!

I enjoy giving signed books to my friends during the holidays.

If my friends weren't such damn cheapskates I wouldn't have to keep giving them free books that they're never going to read anyway.

Let me read you "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

I'm not going to imagine Santa naked this time. Or that thing he could do with the mouse, a candy cane and that bowl full of jelly.

My book is being released in December, so I expect it to sell like hotcakes.

My book is going to tank because in December the bookstore clerks are going to be too busy to unpack boxes and shelve it.

My family doesn't want me to hog the conversation at the dinner table.

If I tell one more decapitation story and make Grandma throw up again my family is going to make me eat dinner on a tray in my room.

Of course I'll make it to church on time.

They still do that midnight mass thing, right?

The holidays always fill me with joy.

Which holidays are these again?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Biz Card Buyer Beware

Back during my rookie year as a pro everyone told me I needed business cards. So I had some printed up and handed out maybe 2 or 3 in a year. Then I moved, which changed all my contact info, so I had to throw the rest away. I have not bothered with business cards since.

Fast forward to last month, when I placed an online order with B& After going through the checkout, an ad came up that offered me free complimentary business cards as a thank-you:

Now sure, I like free stuff, but I've learned that very few things offered as a purchase perk are actually 100% free. On the other hand, I still don't have any business cards. Thus I decided to click through and see how much I was going to get fleeced.

Navigating through the business card site was like running a sales barrage gauntlet. At the type-in-what-you-want-on-the-card page, they showed me a couple of stock designs, then offered to show me the premium designs ($3.99) Did I want 500 cards instead 250? $9.99. The flat/matte finish on my cards was included, but I could upgrade to a glossy finish ($8.99) 100 lb. paper ($8.99) or show everyone how much I cared about the environment by using the recycled paper option ($14.99)

I skipped all that stuff, designed my biz card and thought, okay, time to checkout.

Alas, the site decided, not so fast. It threw a back side printing options page at me (the free option noted that it contained vistaprint advertising, which btw looks like this) with blank/no advertising ($2.74) color ($6.99) black and white ($3.99) and designer (starting at $3.99) I went with the free option, and clicked through, expecting to checkout.

Nope. More pages of products and widgets printed with my biz card info were then lobbed at me: A pad of sticky notes ($3.74) self-inking address stamp ($13.49) printed pens ($3.74 each) notepads ($6.74). There were a lot more; custom-printed hats, car door magnets, lawn signs and equally ridiculous dreck that I clicked through to get to the checkout.

Which I didn't. I went to a page offering to sell me a web domain with my name (try 1 month for free then pay $9.98 per month.) It seemed to include a web site based on my biz card info, which was a little creepy. Then there were more "free" offers from Google ad words, Pitney Bowes, etc. etc.

After plowing through several more screens of this crap, I finally got to the place-your-order screen. The 250 cards I'd ordered were free, but shipping was not. Standard shipping (defined as 14 business days) was $9.52; Priority (7 days) $13.68; Rush (3+ business days) $26.20. I opted for Slow (21 Days) for $5.67 and that seemed to be it except for my credit card info or buying via Paypal (I went with the latter choice.)

So in reality my free/complimentary business cards cost me $5.67. That was the absolute cheapest I could get them, too.

I was curious to see what the quality of the printing was, and about three weeks later the cards arrived, not especially well-packed or packaged. Out of curiosity I checked with the post office to see what the actual shipping charges would be, and according to them it actually cost $2.38 to ship it to me. So the company tacked on $3.29 to the shipping (which probably covered the cost of their printing and packaging, so I won't begrudge them that; they simply shouldn't call it free.)

As for the cards, the quality is about what I could do myself on my ink jet printer if I set the printing quality at medium. There is no finish to the cards; the flat/matte finish is just the surface of the cardstock they used, which feels to be on the light side, maybe 50-60 lb. It's not horrible, and with the cost of toner cartridges it is probably cheaper than what it would cost me to design and print it out myself. The end result didn't impress me, though, and the ordering experience was so utterly obnoxious that I doubt I'll order anything from them again.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Holiday A-choos

I have a cold -- a nasty one that is stealing my voice -- so I'm going to try to get some rest today. So that your visit here wasn't entirely wasted, I've rounded up some old and new holiday links for you:'s article on How to have a green Christmas offers some excellent and easy-to-do tips on how to green up your holiday and encourage others to do the same.

RecycleWreath: Living with Lindsay has a post from last year on how to make a wreath out of old book pages (or, if you're like me and can't stand to rip up books, maybe try substituting old magazine pages?)

Because you should always know where the man in red is on Christmas Eve, stop by and check out the Official NORAD Santa Tracker (and visit the countdown village to play some games and listen to some holiday tunes.)

Need a Snow Day? aka PBW's favorite online snowflake generator

Every year I revisit pups of Christmas past via Jacquie Lawson's animated card The Snow Dog.

My recipe for PBW's no-brainer fudge is here, and if you're looking for a healthy dessert that is simple to make but still tastes like you slaved all day, I recommend my favorite apple strudel recipe from Cooking Light.

Friday, December 03, 2010

What to Give, the Biz Edition

Shopping for and selecting appropriate gifts for business associates during the holidays can be a challenge, especially when you're on a tight budget, which I think we all pretty much are these days. During the holidays you want to let the people you work with know that you do care about them, but you don't want to spend a fortune or send something that says you are completely clueless about their likes/dislikes.

I like to ask people what they don't want; that keeps me out of trouble and they almost always volunteer information on what they do like. First, here's a list I've compiled of gifts that my editor and agent friends and associates have told me that they get every year that they don't like, and why:

Chocolate. Every year the most popular gift authors send their editors and agents (particularly those who are female) is chocolate. One box is nice, an editor told me, but fifty tends to be overwhelming.

Homemade Baked Goods. No matter how well-wrapped they're sent, by the time they're delivered they're almost always on the stale side. Also, some people aren't crazy about eating personally-made baked goods because they generally don't come with a list of ingredients, which presents problems for recipients who have dire allergies to things like gluten or nuts.

Cheese and Sausage gifts. Weight- and health-conscious recipients generally avoid these food catalog gifts like the plague; these are also the gifts that are most frequently thrown away because no one wants them.

Alcohol. I was surprised to find out how much booze is still sent out during the holidays, particularly wine. It's not workplace-appropriate, and one wine-loving agent told me that most wines sold via catalogs is of questionable to poor quality.

Gag Gifts. What seems really cute and funny to you is probably going to annoy or embarrass the recipient. The gift you sabotaged to shower thousands of bits of confetti all over your editor, her work desk and her office rug will not be appreciated by her, her boss or housekeeping. Neither will the Playboy sex toy your agent unwittingly unwraps at home in front of his wife and their three preschoolers.

Religious Gifts. Putting more reason back into the season is a popular theme, but unless your faith is shared by your recipient these type of gifts can be as offensive and inappropriate as sex toys.

Some alternative gift ideas that will probably be more welcomed by your biz associates:

Business Card Case. Most professionals have cards and also hand them out frequently in the course of business, so a nice case is likely to be used a lot. For conference-going biz folks look for cases that can hold larger amounts of cards.

Charity Donation. Giving a cash gift to a charity your recipient supports is always a great thing (I recommend first checking out the charity over on Charity Navigator to make sure the donation is being used for the needy and not to line the pockets of a well-paid CEO.)

Desk Stuff. Workspace is always at a premium, so look for items that don't require a lot of surface, such as stacking or tall organizers for commonly-used office supplies (and stock them with some supplies to tempt your recipient into actually using them.) Perpetual calendars are also much appreciated because they can be used basically forever.

Fresh Fruit. Healthier than chocolate, cheese and sausage, and more apt to be actually consumed; look for fruits in reasonable quantities and interesting assortments. Any fruit that can be juiced was mentioned to me as especially nice because it can all be used before it spoils. Note: Grapefruit can be a problem for anyone who is on certain cholesterol meds that require them to avoid it.

Gadgets: If it's related to books or the industry, chances are the recipient owns one already, so you might check with them first. Also, look for devices that aren't as obvious and can be used at work or at home. A couple of things I saw in a gadget catalog that I thought were interesting: gloves that are techno-friendly (with fingertip pads so you don't have to take them off to use gadgets) and a handheld digital scale for luggage (handy for the frequent traveler.)

Personalized Memo Pads. One editor received a basket of different-size memos and sticky notes custom-printed with her name, and mentioned these to me as her #1 favorite gift of all time (make sure you know exactly how to spell your recipient's name, and choose colors and styles that are workplace-appropriate.)

Your Art. If you sew, knit, quilt or create any other kind of hand-crafted art, giving a one-of-a-kind item you took the time to make for your recipient is something that really comes from the heart. My advice is to keep it simple and useful, and avoid enormous-size projects or things that have to be dry-cleaned.

What sort of business gifts do you guys like to give and/or receive? Let us know in comments.