Thursday, March 31, 2011

MegaCon Report

When I was a teenager I remember frequently mystifying my mother with the fads and fashions of my generation. Usually she'd say something negative about them, i.e. "A normal girl don't need a ring to show what mood she's in, or shoes strapped to four-inch blocks, or a skirt with a screwed-up hem that she has to wrap around her butt like a bandage."

Mom was also convinced that my love of heavy metal would result in me making the jump from wearing Love's Rain Scent to shooting heroin, the hair that was always "hanging in my eyes" would eventually cause me to go blind, and my piercings would automatically inform any decent boy that I was forever doomed to be a hussy.

Mom, you were wrong. I'm only wearing trifocals, and I've never once shot heroin.

Why it was so difficult for my mother to bridge the thirty-year generation gap between us was a mystery to me, until I went to MegaCon, and discovered that I am in imminent danger of turning into her.

I didn't realize I was so out of touch with the younger generation. The whole time I was at the con I saw maybe a dozen things I recognized; mostly guys dressed up as Batman, Superman, Captain America, the old-school superheroes. There weren't many of them. About two-thirds of the attendees were dressed up like manga and anime characters -- in what my daughter calls cosplay.

Most of the cosplayers wore wigs in unnatural hair colors (green, purple, orange, pink, blue) and styled them to look like I do in the morning after I go to sleep with damp hair. Evidently bedhead is all the rage. Their costumes were mostly homemade from the most humble of materials: plastic housecleaning gloves, rain boots, cardboard, vaccuum hoses, pvc pipe, etc. Lots of spray paint, too. The outfits reminded me of the Halloween costumes we used to make when I was a kid because we were too poor to afford the store-bought variety; I really enjoyed seeing how cleverly this generation put them together. Way better than our stuff.

Prices for tickets (which we didn't buy in advance because no one could decide which day they wanted to go until the last minute) were $25.00/day, which I thought given the size of the convention was reasonable, and while there were long lines for the ticket booths they moved quickly. Issuing armbands that once put on were almost impossible to take off was smart, too, although I did spot some kids letting other, un-armbanded attendees into the con area through some exit doors.

I associate comic books and cartoons with children, which is wrong, I know; adults are big into this stuff now. This was not a convention geared toward young children (age 13 and under) at all, however, and a few times I even had to steer my older teens away from some very explicit stuff. I saw some costumes and behavior that weren't what I'd consider appropriate for public viewing. I'd rate the convention overall as PG-13, with many R- and even a few borderline X-rated moments.

Also, every other person was carrying weapons: knives, swords, guns, rifles, you name it, they had it. I saw this guy running around with what looked like a bazooka, I swear to God. 99% of the weapons were obviously homemade, but a couple of the folks dressed in military-style uniforms were carrying what looked like the real deal. No one seemed to be checking anyone carrying the stuff that looked real, which made me a little nervous. I've seen these shooting games; I didn't want to be there if anyone went Call of Duty on the crowd.

The main activity seemed to be to either take pictures of the folks in costume, or (if you were wearing a costume) stop and pose for a picture. Every five feet someone was doing this. Occasionally it became annoying, and I thought the convention people should have an area set aside for this (and maybe they did; I didn't find it.) I found myself constantly trying not to walk into someone else's photo moment. I didn't complain, though, because the delight with which these kids showed off their costumes and assumed all these dramatic poses seemed quite genuine.

The vendors were universally great people, and most were open to bargaining or would offer great deals on multiple purchases or little extras. The gentleman at The Blonde Swan, from whom I bought a pair of steampunk goggles as a surprise for my kid, did a little something extra with the lenses for her. Everyone selling their art happily signed things for me; most offered before I asked. On average prices seemed pretty reasonable, even from the big names at the con.

I enjoyed meeting author Tracy Akers, who had a lovely setup at her table and was quite friendly. I loved Tom Fleming's and Paul Vincent's art, and they were terrific as well. Mostly I stayed in the background, though, and followed the kids around. It was more interesting to me to see what they gravitated toward, and who they spoke to, and listen to what they discussed.

The convention center suffered from some common big event problems: not enough food vendors, confusing signs, unclear check-in procedures and far too much walking distance from the parking lot. There was nowhere to stow the stuff you bought, so once I was loaded up with the kids' purchases I had to walk about two miles to put it in the car (Mom = pack mule.) A few vendors offered to hold bigger items, but I felt a drop-off/pick-up area for merchandise would have been more helpful.

The food was terrible; what I bought for me and the kids came only half-cooked, and we had to wait in line for close to an hour to pay astronomical prices for it. I was so ticked off I'm writing a letter to the parent company of the food vendor we went to so I can give them a piece of my mind about how they run their convention concessions. Since the food court area didn't have enough tables about half the customers had to sit on the floor, which is okay when you're eighteen but a bit harder on an old gray mare like me. There were also very few places to sit down anywhere at the convention, so by the time we went home my knee was singing the Ave Maria in high C.

I'd have to give one glittering gold star for the availability and condition of the restrooms. This sounds ridiculous to you youngsters, I know, but wait until you're older; this actually becomes a real issue. There had to be at least ten thousand people attending this thing, and yet every time I made a pit stop the rest rooms were tidy, fully stocked and being watched over by a convention center employee. There were also plenty of them everywhere so I never had to wait in line. Writers conferences need to take lessons in restroom management from these folks.

Everyone at the con gets a gold star for being remarkably polite. I'm a veteran of about a dozen writer conferences, and the repeated, lousy behavior I've witnessed at ours by comparison puts us to shame. Kids held doors for me, apologized for bumping into me and even steered me in the right direction the few times I got lost. Those who had to wait in line with me for something were patient, mannerly and didn't try to cut ahead. More than once someone told me to go ahead of them because I was ready to buy something and they were still deciding. Handicapped people were not treated like lepers, something you don't see often; the ones in costume were photographed as much as the abled. And these kids at the con were mostly older teens to young adults, who always have the worst reputation for being rude. Now maybe they were just being nice to me because I was so obviously a mother hen herding her chicks, but their manners and small kindnesses utterly charmed me.

A group of Lego enthusiastists occupied one corner of the convention floor, and they had on displayed some of the coolest Lego creations and landscapes I've ever seen. A few famous folks had tables in the signing area, and I'm happy to report that Gil Gerard and James Marsters are just as handsome in real life as they are on the screen. I missed Kevin Sorbo, though, damn it, and the line to meet William Shatner was just too long (I really didn't want to leave the kids unattended for more than a few minutes, either.)

The teenagers did have a very good time, which was the most important thing to me, and are already planning their costumes for next year's convention. I think my guy will definitely have to chaperon the next one -- too much walking and standing for me -- but overall I enjoyed the experience. I do have a long list of things I'm going to look up so I know what they are or what they mean, but that's good for me, too. Any generation gap can be crossed, I think, as long as the person on the older side is willing to keep an open mind and employ their sense of wonder.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


You guys scored some very cool things at your conferences and conventions. Probably the most unusual thing I ever picked up at a conference was a voodoo love candle at RWA National in New Orleans (the priestess/candlemaker even blessed it for me.) Since that was about ten years ago, and my guy and I are still crazy about each other, I'd say it worked, too.

We put the magic hat in action, and the winner of the MegaCon Ten giveaway is:


DeeCee, when you get a chance please e-mail your full name and your ship-to address to so I can send off your MegaCon goodies (and far as I know, there are no secret compartments in any of them, but the tote has a nice front pocket.)

My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blog Capsule

Today we have to open my 2010 blog time capsule. If you remember, last March I promised to prove I wasn't psychic by making some random predictions and then waiting one year to see if they came true.

Let's see how I did:

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

(To my knowledge) Didn't happen. Publishers are trying to grab more rights though, so if you do not have an agent be sure and read every single word of any contract before you sign it.

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

Nope, although if the publishers testing the water verify that it will sell more books at a higher sticker price, it still might happen.

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

Not that I've heard. The good news is that in spite of The Authors Guild sucking up to Google, wiser minds have (at least for now) shut down this idiot settlement.

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

Nope. While I was at MegaCon I did talk to several anime artists, who say the idea I described is not yet a reality (although some of them were quite intrigued by the concept.) Kodansha seems to be heading in that direction, too. As for the expected plateau, also a no. Everyone is still in love with e-books and e-readers, and now every day we hear about yet another author turning down deals, firing their agents and rushing to self-publish for profit. Well, not me, but if I jump off a cliff, doesn't mean everyone else has to.

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

I've got three strikes on this one: Since author Gail Carriger debuted in 2009 I can't count her; to date no other debut author has made the impact or sales that she did; and finally the consensus among my editors pals, as well as feedback I've been getting is that traditional publishers are not convinced of steampunk's viability as a trend.

There you go. I think this proves once and (hopefully) for all that I am not a psychic.

Monday, March 28, 2011

MegaCon Ten

Ten Things I Brought Back from MegaCon

One large, sturdy canvas tote embroidered with the MegaCon 2011 Logo

One "Bleach" metal necklace with a portrait pendant

One artbook, Draw and Paint Fantasy Females by Tom Fleming, signed by the artist

One set of seven art note cards and blank envelopes featuring Tom Fleming's "Monarch" artwork in black and white

Two YA Fantasy novels, The Fire and the Light and The Search for the Unnamed One by Tracy A. Akers. These are books one and two in her The Souls of Aredyrath series; both are signed by the author, who also included a set of sixteen absolutely fabulous character cards.

Four utterly gorgeous art bookmarks by Paul Vincent from his original oil painting "Four Seasons"

I know, technically that adds up to more than ten, but it's all going in the tote along with some freebie promo stuff I picked up. If you'd like a chance to win the whole pile, in comments to this post name the coolest thing you've ever found or seen at a conference or convention of any kind (or if you can't think of anything, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. I will draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the MegaCon tote packed with all the goodies. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

To see some of the photos I took at the convention, stop by my MegaCon photo album.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Off to Play Parent

I'm not here today. I'm actually here:

Right down there in the middle. Can't miss me. I'm the only adult who isn't wearing a green wig, pink hot pants and platform combat boots. [Note to self: pick up the dry cleaning when I get back.]

Before anyone yells at me, I'm not at this thing in any official capacity; just being a mom, chauffeur and chaperon. Originally my guy was supposed to take care of this, but at the last minute he had to work.

Be good while I'm gone, and I'll bring back something neat to give away.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Nine

Back in the beginning of my career when I was researching swords and swordmasters, I picked up William Scott Wilson's translation of Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings. Musashi, a legendary Japanese swordsman who lived during the seventeenth century, wrote the work as a kind of ops manual/personal guide for his followers and other samurai. The author probably had no idea how many people outside his profession would study his philosophies and apply his wisdom to their life's pursuits.

It's a deceptively simple book, one that over the years I've gone back to reread probably a hundred times. At first I was only interested in the warrior's mindset for characterization purposes, but gradually I went back to it for the clarity it offers, and to wrestle the enigma of the book itself. Every time I read it, I find something new to think about and apply to my work.

In his chapter "The Earth" Musashi set down nine rules about how to approach the study of martial arts. When you're facing an opponent who can cut you in two with a single blow, obviously you've got to have your game on. But what he wrote for other samurai is not really about swords or fighting, it's about how to think and conduct yourself on or off the field of battle.

The nine apply just as beautifully to storytellers as they do warriors:

1. Think without any dishonesty.

No one, not even a rug, can lie like a writer. When we're not busy telling our tall tales to the world, we often deceive ourselves. Truth, even the painful variety, is the foundation of clarity.

2. Forge yourself in the Way.

Now you know where I got the title for Way of the Cheetah. Knowledge is power, but so is practice. If you're a writer, you have to educate yourself in the ways of writing, but you also have to practice them, and observe other writers, and immerse yourself in your art in every way possible. No swordsman ever won a battle just by talking or reading books about fighting.

3. Touch upon all of the arts.

Art in any form is an act of creation, and creative people are inspired and energized by other creative people and their works. As writers we're all about the books, but it's helpful to regularly step outside the writing world and commune with the other arts.

4. Know the Ways of all occupations.

It's not enough to be a writer and know our business. You have to investigate other professions and understand how they conduct their businesses. If not for bakers handing out free samples to tempt customers, I probably never would have thought of trying promotional e-books.

5. Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.

If you don't know the pros and cons, you don't know anything.

6. Develop a discerning eye in all matters.

Being easily distracted is a common problem among writers; with social media it's also getting worse. You have just so many hours in the day to work and study and learn, don't squander them on things that ultimately have no value to you as a writer.

7. Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.

Writers read between the lines better than any people I know, so seeing and understanding what can't be seen shouldn't be a problem for us. Yet with all the make-millions hoopla going around NetPubLand lately about digital self-publishing, very few people are talking about what we aren't being shown. Most writers seem to see a dazzling new way of Publishing, which is what they're being sold; I see a massive marketing and publicity campaign being run by the digital self-publishing service provider in order to pimp their wares and secure more works.

8. Pay attention to even small things.

I came up with what is possibly the best series title of my career (StarDoc) by noticing in a grainy newspaper photo a marine biologist's vanity license plate (SEA DOC).

9. Do not involve yourself with the impractical.

I think this may be the most important of the nine. Making a list of what is impractical to writers would run about ten pages, so it's easier to focus on what is practical: Our work. If the majority of your writing time as well as your attention and efforts during that time are being spent on things other than the writing, you're not being a writer. Simple as that.

Musashi doesn't offer any quick fixes in The Book of Five Rings. He's not concerned with shortcuts or handshakes or cronyism. I think above all things he believed in self-reliance; that everyone who seeks the way has to walk it alone. It's an odd philosophy for someone who wrote a book to be read by others, but it also makes sense, at least to me. Musashi wanted to share the wisdom he'd acquired by himself so that others might find their way in the world. And whether you're a samurai or a storyteller or a shoe salesman, that's a path we all have to take.

Friday, March 25, 2011

118 Years in 20 Seconds

I came across this while doing some online research on how buildings collapse, and thought it was very creepy and quite cool. It's like watching a haunted house in reverse:

Architect Albert Kahn designed and built this home in 1893 for William Livingstone, who contributed a great deal to the city and commercial shipping in the region.

The house was moved from its original location, and renovations to preserve it were made; unhappily none were ever carried out. In 2007 the house was finally demolished, but not before it became a familiar symbol of urban decay. Another video here shows it in worse shape, and documents a partial collapse.

Like I said, creepy. But cool.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


"Ms. Lesharpe?" Jenny, the editorial assistant Mercedes had inherited along with her too-small, hopefully very temporary office, yawned over the intercom. "Your eight a.m. is here."

Merce punched the reply button. "Please pickup the handset, Jennifer." As soon as she heard her assistant's asthmatic breathing in her ear, she said, "We don't refer to anyone I am seeing by appointment times."

"We don't? But Ms. Hartlace--"

"--is now working for Wiley and Tight House," she reminded her. "Where, if she chooses, she may call people by their pornstar names. In my office, however, we use proper names."

"Okay." Jenny sounded glum. "Mr. John and Ms. Marcia are here to see you."

Merce gritted her teeth. "Mr. John and Miss Marcia who?"

"You said not to call them your eight a.m."

"I meant, what are their surnames?" After a long silence, she asked, "Their last names?"

"Gee, I don't know," the assistant admitted. "I don't think they have any. Come to think of it, neither do I."

"We don't mind being referred to by our appointment time," a pleasant male voice called out over the speaker.

Merce propped her forehead against her hand. "Jennifer, the next time I request you pick up the handset, please remember to also turn off the speaker."

"Oh, sure." Chewing gum popped. "I'll write that down."

"Excellent." The assistant would definitely have to go back to reception, by the end of the week at the latest. "Now please send in our guests."

"Who? Oh, you mean them. Okay."

Merce straightened the lapels of her jacket, slid her hands together to check their temperature and humidity, and then resisted the urge to fiddle with the perfection of her chignon as the door to her office opened and her eight a.m. came in.

The hero, Merce saw at once, was far too tall, dark, and handsome. As for the heroine, she looked like a brunette-wigged Heidi Montag before all the surgeries. "Good morning. I'm the new senior editor, Mercedes Lesharpe. Do call me Merce."

"I'm John," TTD&H said, striding over to reach across the immaculate desk and seize her hand. He had a grip like a shoe junkie at a DSW 80% off sale. "It's such a pleasure to meet you." He released her bruised fingers and slipped his arm around PreSurgery Heidi's thick waist. "This is my darling Marcia." He patted the bulging elastic panel on the front of her skirt. "And of course our little devil, who won't be making an appearance until our next novel, Demon's Redemption."

"A sequel." No one had mentioned this. "How delightful. Congratulations to you both." Merce imagined heads rolling down the aisles in Acquisitions. "Please, sit down."

Once everyone had settled, Merce put on her sympathetic-but-brisk face. "I appreciate you making time in your busy schedules to see me. I'm also sorry we had to meet here, but the board is still shifting personnel, and it will be a few weeks before I have my office." She removed a folder from a drawer, and pretended not to see the empty Skittles wrapper that came out with it. It fell on top of her right stiletto, which she quickly shook and shifted to cover it. "Although I have yet to assign a new editor to your novel, I want you to know that Ms. Hartlace was extremely fond of your novel, and deeply regretted leaving your author in the middle of production."

"Really?" Marcia appeared bewildered. "Her last e-mail said she couldn't wait to get out of here. After she called me a stupid bimbo who needed to grow a brain."

"No, honey," John told her. "It was before she described blowing chunks over our manuscript so often she had to be treated for bulimia." He thought for a minute. "Or maybe it was after she said she now believes there is a hell, thanks to us."

Merce cleared her throat. "Nevertheless. I will do my best to find the right editor to step in and fill the enormous shoes left behind by Ms. Hartlace."

"Size eleven and a half extra wide," Marcia said.

Merce blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Agatha had feet like a rodeo clown." John's expression grew fond. "She always smelled deliciously of powdered sugar and Jack Daniels, too. God, I miss her already."

"Yes. Well." Merce decided the faster she could end this meeting, the sooner she could start in on the thermos of Irish coffee she'd brought from home. She opened the folder. "I do have a few questions about your story." She nodded at Marcia. "You are currently pregnant, obviously, but when I read the manuscript for Angel's Darkness I never found a wedding scene. Did your author at some point hold the ceremony off-stage?"

"We didn't get married," John said. "Marcia wanted to at first, naturally, but her being half-angel and me being half-demon, well . . . it would create a catastrophe."

"What kind of catastrophe?"

"Um, the apocalyptic kind." Marcia made a face. "We discover it when I find that unholy book in the very back of the library, you know, and read the prophetic passage that details the destruction of all life in the universe, the sundering of Heaven, the end of time itself, yada yada yada. Should John and I ever tie the knot, all that kind of happens. Like immediately." She thought for a moment. "Middle of Chapter Seventeen, I think."

"Right after we do it on top of the coin-operated copy machine," John put in.

Merce sighed. "Chapter Seventeen will have to be tweaked, then. The unholy book can be deleted, and that will take care of this apocalyptic prophecy. I also don't care for sex atop public-access equipment, so we'll cut that as well. You" --she looked at John-- "may use the resulting space to propose marriage. And you" --she turned to Marcia-- "will blushingly accept with all your heart."

"I don't have a ring," John said. "Or a heart. I'm half-demon, remember? Totally different physiology."

Marcia looked stricken. "We liked having sex on top of the copy machine. The slidey part made it fun." She touched her stomach. "It's how our little angel was conceived."

"Is your mother Sarah Palin?" Merce asked sweetly. "No? Then this unplanned pregnancy is not happening. I also want you two to date in the story for several months -- eight or nine should do -- before you jointly decide to commit to a physical relationship. This should happen a week or two after John proposes. We want your author to send the right message to our readers, don't we?"

The couple simply stared at her.

"Good. Now, a few more things."

Merce went through her notes, briefly outlining the two hundred and seventy-nine other tweaks she needed their author to make. Neither John or Marcia made any more protests, and by the time Merce reached the last item she felt comfortable enough to break out her thermos and pour herself a healthy measure into her company mug.

"The final change I want made is this green wallpaper." She took a sip from the mug. "We want to offer readers attractive modern settings with the sort of interiors they dream of for their own homes. Your author can paint this room instead; since it belongs to you, John, I think soft but still masculine adobe colors with some texturizing would be--"

"No!" Marcia jumped to her feet. "You can't take away our wallpaper! I know it's a hideous green, but it's our hideous green, don't you see that?"

"I'm sorry you feel that way." Merce closed the folder. "But the wallpaper is fictitious."

"Like our wild monkey sex, our huge plot twist, our unborn half-human quarter-angel quarter-demon baby?" John countered. "They may not mean anything to you, but they're our whole world."

"Which is also fictitious," Merce said sweetly. "I'll have your new editor explain it to your author once I order, I mean, assign one to her."

"We do have other publishing options now, you know." When she didn't respond, he stood up. "All right. I don't think our author will be working with any of your editors on this novel."

"I'm sorry you feel that way." Merce knew her smile wasn't as pained as it should have been, but she was enjoying this too much. "The terms of your contract, however, are quite clear. As senior editor I do have the final say over content, and with the exclusive rights clause your author agreed to, she can't sell any paranormal novel to anyone else without my approval."

"Wrong." John produced a roll of papers from his jacket and tossed them onto the desk. "Our contract. Check the next to last page."

Merce scowled as she unrolled the pages, flipping to the end. "These are the usual agency riders. There's nothing here that forces us . . . " she paused as her gaze drifted to the bottom of the page. "Where is the author's signature?"

"Temperance hasn't signed it yet." John plucked it from her hands and dropped it in the trash can next to her desk. "Come on, darling," he said to Marcia. "We'll go and talk to that nice man from B& who promised us seventy-five percent."

Merce shot to her feet. "You'll never get the kind of distribution we can give you," she called after them. "Or a print edition. Or any editing at all."

"Sounds good to me." John shot her the bird behind Marcia's back before the couple exited and the door slammed shut.

Merce sank back down into her chair. "Ingrates," she muttered as she emptied the rest of her thermos into her mug. "I can sign five authors -- better authors -- to take the place of yours before lunch." She chugged down more coffee and then yelled, "And they'll write without an advance for six percent, do you hear me? Six percent and not a penny more!" The intercom buzzed, and she punched the button. "What now?"

"The Dreamworks studio rep is holding on line two," Jennifer said meekly. "He wants to talk to you about acquiring the film rights for Angel's Darkness and Demon's Redemption. Evidently Mr. Spielberg loves the storyline. He also wants to inquire about us collaborating with them on enhanced content for the e-book editions."

"Get his number and tell him I'll call him back." Merce spilled the rest of her coffee down the front of her blouse, slipped on the Skittles wrapper, and slammed her hip into the corner of her desk, but the sodden material, broken stiletto and shooting pain didn't slow her pace. She skidded to a halt by Jennifer's desk. "Which way are the elevators?" She waited for the girl to point, and then raced out in that direction.

Jennifer waited until the editor disappeared around the corner before she got up, went down the hall in the opposite direction and knocked on the door to the private conference room. "Hey, you were right, she actually broke a shoe. Now what do I tell her when she comes back and asks for the rep's number?"

"Say he preferred to call her later," John suggested in a slightly muffled voice. "When Spielberg can do a conference call with them."

"John." Something inside the room got slapped. "That's too mean."

Something inside the room got kissed. "So was tweaking our baby out of existence."

"So is your author really going to self-publish, or was that just part of the gag?" Jennifer heard a yowling sound, and peeked inside. Seeing what John was doing to Marcia on the conference table made her giggle. "Gee, Ms. Hartlace was right. You guys really are like bunnies."

(for Darlene and all the other John & Marcia fans out there)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Character Trading Cards

Three years ago I came up with the idea of creating Character Trading Cards as an alternative to the usual character info worksheet. I also thought it might be a fun way for authors to promote their work.

It seems the idea has resurfaced, as folks have been asking me for links, so I've unearth the old posts from the PBW archive vault and checked to see what's still working.

The free online generator I used to make my first example is still working nicely, as does another free card generator over at Read Write Think. We also had another pretty neat discussion here with lots of ideas from everyone about using trading cards as promo.

When I made my first card (you can see the full size original here) I wanted to use it mainly as a personal/quick character reference, so I listed things like Lucan's talent and scent. When you make cards for yourself, you'll want to jot down the most important facts you'll need for writing purposes.

A card you intend to use for promotional purposes should have things like the novel title and a teaser, like this one I made up today for Nightshine at the top of the post. On both cards I used cropped cover art images that depict the characters, but you could probably tweak the card to show an image of the entire novel cover.

Other ways you can use trading cards as promotional items: design one for your blog or web site that shows the URL, an avatar or graphic associated with your site, and a brief description of your content. If you're a Twitter or a Facebooker, add on those contact URLs. Series authors, you could probably fit thumbnails of your covers and titles in reading order on your cards. Cards for upcoming releases could include the date they hit the shelf and ISBNs.

If you want to make your trading card about you, I'd put your bio photo or a business graphic on the card, all your contact info and a tag line that describes what you do, i.e. "freelance editor" "cover art designer" "romance author" etc. A trading card could probably be scaled down to the size of a business card, although you'll have to watch the quality of the graphics and font size, and see if it's still readable when you print it out.

For printing purposes you'll want to use cardstock or a decent weight photo-quality paper. I remember that I did experiment with printing mine out on scrapbooking paper, printing on the white side so the print side would be the backing, but the results weren't that great and the card was too flimsy. Scrapbooking papers may have improved so you might see what's available at your local craft shop. If you're planning to produce a large quantity of a single design it may be cheaper to have them professionally printed.

Back when I originally proposed the idea authors Shiloh Walker and Sasha White actually ran with it and did amazing things with trading cards for their characters and novels. My old links to their examples aren't working, but I believe both authors printed and used the cards as real promo items, so they'd probably have some good advice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First Chapter Fever

While we were out last weekend I picked up some books by some authors (who shall remain nameless) I haven't yet read. Buying random books helps me expand my reading horizons, and about 50% of the time I get lucky and find someone I want to read again.

No such luck this time. I finished only one out of the four.

I thought I had selected a pretty good mix; the authors were a veteran, two rookies and a self-reinventor respectively. Four different genres, too. For anyone who is getting nervous, don't be. None were written by anyone I know or who drops by here, and none were published within the last two years.

I can nutshell the problems. Both debut authors apparently attended way, way, way too many writer workshops, because they put everything they learned in their first chapters. Every. Thing. The veteran was short on characterization/plot/voice/pacing/everything else and loooooong on repetitive sex scenes (I did finish that one just to see how often these people could do it without acquiring shin splints, oral abrasions or friction burns. Every twenty pages, I swear, they were at it like bunnies on Viagra.) The self-reinventor dressed up nice but didn't go anywhere but the mirror.

What all four books suffered from were different variations of First Chapter Fever. This syndrome can strike when a writer forgets about story to fixate on assumptions they've made about their readers, and (feverishly) writes to cater to those assumptions. The most common strains I've noticed are:

All-Upfront Infodumps: Typically a first chapter averages between two and five thousand words. If more than 85% of those words are an explanation of the backstory or the plot that is wearing a flimsy narrative mask, the author has broken out in a very bad case of infodumps. The writer's fear that the reader might miss some detail ends up choking the life out of the story and the reader's interest because the first chapter basically reads like a boring synopsis of the entire novel. It's a common malady among debut authors, but unfortunately not exclusive to them.

Cast Rash: These breakouts happen when every single character in the book is trotted out to be introduced to the reader. In one of the quartet I quit reading I met the H&H, their two best friends, their respective posses, the bad guy, the kind of bad guy, the two bad guys who weren't really bad guys, and another fifteen (yes, I actually counted) backstory characters. Let me get my calculator; that's (adding it up) 31 in all. In the first chapter, no less. Now, I like a big cast as much as the next series writer, but the reading experience was like standing in front of a hotel revolving door and watching people run in and out. I glimpsed some interesting-looking folks, but we didn't exactly get a chance to bond.

Time Period Pox: Commonly contracted by writers who fear their readers can't make a mental leap to the past and so attempt to shove them back via endless descriptions of story period-appropriate dates, historical figures, world events, weather conditions, architecture, clothing, technology of the time, transportation, furnishings, food, shoes, accessories, vermin, and on and on and on. This is most painful when it is incessantly delivered in the As-you-know-Bob dialogue between appropriately-dressed and coiffed characters. Any writer can catch this, but they're most vulnerable to burning up when they're writing in a new-to-them time period.

Transdermal Superiority Those who suffer from this condition seem to believe that a) they are brilliant, b) readers are morons and c) the first chapter needs to make this very, very clear. Immediate signs are clunky, complicated to incomprehensible descriptions of some manner of technology that are as exciting to read as a high school chemistry textbook written in a language other than your own, of which you understand just enough to ask where the bathroom is.

If you still don't get why a feverish first chapter is not a good thing, imagine you're at a party and you're introduced to someone new. Someone you don't know from Adam. In the first five minutes you spend talking to that stranger, do you take off all your clothes? Do you describe every single member of your family without pausing for breath? Do you insist on giving this person a narrated tour of the party's location from top to bottom? Do you prove to this poor slob how smart you are by explaining all of Einstein's theories as well as all of your theories about Einstein?

No? So why would you do the same thing in a book?

If I'm your reader, I want to start off with your characters, and what they're saying, and what they're doing -- not all of them at the same time, just the important one(s). The one(s) who will grab my interest (and it doesn't have to be a protag; I've read plenty of great stories that start off with the antagonist.) The characters I need to meet first are those who are most likely to keep me reading.

Naturally not everyone shares my prejudices or opinions, but some things are universal. I doubt you'll find a lot of readers who are mesmerized by a dark and stormy night, a cast of lemmings who rush them like they're a cliff, maps to every nook, corner and cranny seventeenth century London, or your blinding genius.

If I could ask all authors to avoid one thing in the first chapter, it's delivering a lot of story set-up. I like the screenwriters' approach; bring me into the scene as late as you possibly can. Don't worry, I'll keep up. First chapters that I consider dazzling establish a connection with me almost instantly. They make me forget that I'm reading. If you can do that, then no matter how you write it or what you put in the first chapter, I'm yours.

What do you guys like or don't like to read in a first chapter? What do you think is most likely to keep you reading? Let us know in comments.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Freebies Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

DocHaven is "a cloud-based library for your documents. You run DocHaven as an alternative to the normal folders on your PC or file server. Your documents are permanently backed up. You take them out of the cloud as you need them then put them back into the cloud when you have finished with them. You can store any kind of document in these ‘Projects’. Once a Project is back in the cloud it can be taken out by others in your group. Every time a Project is put away, it keeps the last ten versions automatically. So not only do you have a permanent backup, but if you make a mistake with your Project file, you can always go back to a previous version on the Cloud. Each time a person tries to take out a Project they are verified. They must be either the owner of the Project or a member of the group to which the Project belongs. DocHaven meets the 3-2-1 rule for data Backups: Your files are in three places 1. your DocHaven folder 2. the cloud and 3. your cloud backup. At least three copies, at least two different media and at least one of the copies is offsite. Plus DocHaven also gives you extra assurance with multiple versions on the cloud and in your backups. Use the Backup window to create an on-site record of all your cloud projects and project meta-data" (OS: Windows, Linux, Mac or via a browser)

Fusion 2.0 "allows merging several images of the same scene in one. You can merge photos taken with the same exposure or images taken with different exposures. When blending together images taken with different exposure, the program creates an image with high dynamic range of brightness (HDR). Subsequent tone mapping to low range (LDR) uses nonlinear algorithms and allows preserving maximum details of the original images" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Money on Thread is "a free simple application for personal finance, house budget, or household budget. You add, delete modify the transactions that you usually have (salary, mortgage, rent, bank rate, car rate, credit cards due payments) on the "thread", and thus you can have a quick view when you might have some short cash, or not. There is support for the following languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Romanian (FR, GE, ES, and IT has been updated using the Google translator tool. Requires Java Runtime Environment" (OS: Win 98/ME/NT/2000/XP/Vista/7)

Now being offered as freeware, Photo Pos Pro "offers users a wide variety of possibilities in the fields of Image Enhancing and Image Editing and in the field of Computer Graphics Design. Using the editor you can perform various tasks, from simple basic tasks to complex tasks; you can edit existing images, create new works based on existing images, create new works from scratch and more. Photo Pos Pro Photo Editor offers powerful tools and functions which include among other things Support of many picture file types, Support of scanners and digital cameras, Advanced Image Enhancing and editing tools and functions, Tools for creating Computer Graphics Design, Rich Text Tools, Special Effects, Selection Tools, Layers & Masks, Gradients, Patterns and Texture, Script Tools, Batch Operations and also The Ability to expand the software yourselves" (OS: Windows 98/Me/XP/Vista)

Reading Ruler is "a virtual plastic ruler to help you reading. What it does is just to guide your eyes. ReadingRuler can also detect the text under it and move to the next line. Requires Java Runtime Environment" (OS: Windows XP/Vista)

ScreenReader "reads all elements menus or screen text pointed by mouse. This software has been done for people with visual troubles. It uses new microsoft SAPI 5 technologie without agent, and replace the older Agent Screen Reader software. It gets a text free window (like the old Simple Reader software), and shortcut to read clipboard content" (OS: Windows with SAPI 5)

SpeakHaven is "an application that speaks whatever is on the computer clipboard whenever the application is brought to the foreground. If the clipboard is unchanged it is ignored, otherwise it speaks the new clipboard text" (OS: Windows, Mac)

SpeedCrunch is "a fast, high precision and powerful desktop calculator. Features: history and results on a scrollable display; up to 50 decimal precisions; unlimited variable storage; intelligent automatic completion; fully usable from the keyboard; more than 50 built-in math functions; optional virtual keypad to be used with a mouse; on-the-fly and selection calculation; customizable appearance; syntax highlighting and parentheses matching" (OS: Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X)

Task Unifier is "a task management sofware based on the well known GTD (Getting Things Done) method. TaskUnifier helps you manage your tasks, folders, contexts, goals and locations." Feature list: "Multiplatform java software; Synchronize your tasks with Toodledo; Use folders to organize your tasks by projects; Use contexts to organize your tasks depending on your current context; Use goals to help you achieve some goals by executing specific tasks; Use locations to organize your tasks depending on your current location; and You can create templates in order to help you add tasks more quickly" (OS: Windows, Linux, Mac OS X)

Our blogpal Simon Haynes has just released the latest version of yWriter, a word processor freeware that breaks down your novel into chapters and scenes. Here's the list of features: "Organise your novel using a 'project'; Add chapters to the project; Add scenes, characters, items and locations; Display the word count for every file in the project, along with a total; Saves a log file every day, showing words per file and the total (Tracks your progress); Saves automatic backups at user-specified intervals; Allows multiple scenes within chapters; Viewpoint character, goal, conflict and outcome fields for each scene; Multiple characters per scene; Storyboard view, a visual layout of your work; Re-order scenes within chapters; Drag and drop of chapters, scenes, characters, items and locations; Automatic chapter renumbering" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Twins Update

It's only been a week since we took a peek at Mama mourning dove's twins, Liu and Xiaobo, but they have since more than doubled in size (click on any image to see larger version):

Their Mama has been nice enough not to attack any of our infrequent visitors, while the twins have been very quiet and well-behaved.

Judging by past experiences, I'd say we only have another week to go before they're old enough to fly.

I'll miss them, but we already have another feathered family moving in -- and this one decided to take advantage of our most popular pre-fab nesting spot:

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I meant to tack this stargazer heads-up onto today's post but as usual my menopausal gremlin Forgetful slipped it from my mind.

Tonight's full moon will be at perigee, or the spot in its orbit that is closest to the earth. It's a rare event (only happens once every eighteen years) and if you can catch the moon as it's rising in the east, it will probably look much bigger than normal. If you're stuck in an urban area, you might take your kids and/or the ones you love to a park or other spot with an uncluttered view of the sky to have a moonlight walk or picnic. If the weather holds here I'm going to try to photograph my view.*

*Added: I did manage to get a few shots of it, which you can see over on the photoblog here.

Prompt Anatomy

Being a storyteller is like having telepathy; we're tuned into stuff that non-writers generally don't pick up. Things like words, images, music, dreams and life's random ephemera catch our attention and for some reason start the gears turning.

Having an extra/sixth sense is also the one major blip in our wiring that can create the most problems for us. Like telepaths we have to learn early on how to discard or block most of the unexpected inspiration that prompts story ideas, or we end up going crazy.

Sometimes you can't get rid of the prompt, and I've talked about how to manage that. I think the prompts themselves are interesting, too, because they're often very simple ordinary things that don't even register on other people's radar. Like my most recent additions to my story idea file:

You have done well made frozen.

This rather silly phrase came to me in a dream I had a few nights ago. I was back working as a bookkeeper (yes, it was a nightmare) and going through a massive printout on old green-bar dot matrix paper. These words were printed on a sheet toward the end, and for some reason jumped out at me. They had been deliberately inserted, I realized, a threat veiled as praise, and no, I can't explain how I knew that.

Reading words in a dream fascinates me, so if I can remember them when I wake up, I always write them down.

Everything from there was like a Tom Clancy novel with me racing around trying to prevent some nameless catastrophe, but when I woke up the words are what stuck with me. They were like something someone with not a great command of English would say, i.e. the old Zero Wing joke "All your base are belong to us." It felt like a puzzle I had to figure out, though, so I kept thinking What was done well? What was frozen? until I jotted down a vague idea for a story about extraterrestrial miners drilling to tap the core of a comet and unleashing a star eater.


This was the I'm-a-person-not-a-SPAMbot verification I had to type to post a comment over on Bill Peschel's blog. At first it replayed some pop songs from my teens in my head (the Brothers Johnson's Strawberry Letter #23 and R.B. Greaves's Take a Letter, Maria, both of which I loved.) I actually bought some strawberry-scented stationery once because of the Brothers Johnson. I'm pretty sure I used it to write a love letter to my boyfriend Rob, too.

It was the seventies. We did stuff like that. What? It was romantic.

Anyway, the phrase made me jump from teen memories to a story idea that would not leave me alone. Letters have been story prompts for centuries, but e-mail has slowly turned handwritten correspondence extinct, and it's not a big stretch to imagine a day someday soon when no one writes real letters anymore . . . unless they had to keep what was in the letter protected, or confidential. Some future grim government or joyless regime might go all Fahrenheit 451 to keep that from happening, until a martyred revolutionary's letters are discovered, and smuggled out to be copied over and over and distributed. What is contained in the 24th that would (naturally) be what takes down the letter-burners.

Letter #24 would definitely have to be strawberry-scented, though. As homage, the Brothers Johnson deserve no less.

Free Memory 387704

My guy jotted this down on a notepad he left on the workbench in the garage, and no doubt they relate to the available space on one of the energy management controllers he programs for his job. I have little sticky notes like this all over the house, and I'm afraid to throw them away in case they're something he needs for work.

The words Free Memory kept poking at me. What if some day our memories are taxed, or locked away, or held hostage? Would 387704 be the code that frees them? Or would citizen #387704 refuse to hand over their memories? I ended up writing down more questions than answers, but it seemed like something I'd really like to explore with story.

Light Output (Lumens) ~ Energy Used (Watts) ~ Life (Hours)

Words off the front of a Philips DuraMax flood light box value pack. We use the bulbs in motion sensor lights outside so that while I'm walking the pups in the dark I can see if any critters are hanging around in the yard. It's nice to know that I should get about a thousand illuminated dog walks out of these, but we really need to invest in some of the new extended-life LEDs (I'm already on a mission to replace all the old incandescent bulbs in the house with greener alternatives.)

If human beings were born with similar labeling, we'd have a world where babies came out coded with what they'd be able to do, how much it would cost and what their life expectancy is. As we continue to figure out the human genome, maybe someday we'll be able to predict some of those things while people are still in utero. But would it a good thing to know all that upfront? And what happens if someone outlives their expiration date?

You writers out there, what was one of your oddest prompts? Did you ever turn it into a story? Let us know in comments.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Senior Moments

You Know You're an Older Writer When . . .

Every band on your writing playlist is retired, dead or on a nostalgia tour, while your dream of giving up writing to become a roadie is no longer even a remote possibility.

Hi-tech writing gadgets depress rather than excite you because the buttons are too tiny for you to hit, the display is too small for you to read, and/or you just figured out how to use the @#%$! thing they're replacing.

New colleagues meeting you for the first time always gush about how they read all your books when they were in high school, or how much their parents love your work.

Sex scenes stop shocking you and start perplexing you. You also realize you don't have to hide the really graphic books anymore.

Some ninny calls you a legend, an icon, or nominates you for an industry lifetime achievement award.

When you send your publisher the updated bio photo they've requested, they decide to keep using the old one.

Your agent keeps mentioning the amazing things they're doing with hair coloring and plastic surgery these days.

You do the math on your new editor, who you discover was born the same year your first novel was released.

Your hardcovers begin dropping out of circulation at the local public library because the copies are too old, worn, or the pages have started to mildew.

Zealous fans at booksignings stop hitting on you, asking you out for drinks or trying to cop a feel while hugging you. Only one will hang around after the signing, and you're flattered by this until you put on your glasses and see that he's twelve and is wearing a Boy Scouts uniform. When you ask him why he's still there, he'll say that his Mom told him to wait and walk you out to the parking lot to make sure you get to your car safely.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Coming in April

In April I'll be releasing Dark of Heart, my next e-book novella. The story is set in the Youngbloods universe and parallels the story in After Midnight, my YA debut novel, which hits the shelves in May. Dark of Heart will also be free to anyone on the planet who wants to read it.

If you're interested in a preview, head over to the stories blog and check out the excerpt here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Excel Your Goals

When you're constantly working under one or more deadlines, keeping track of your writing progress is important. I think most writers have some system they use with their work, such as jotting their numbers on a note they tape to their monitor or posting and updating one of those Nanowrimo WIP trackers on their blogs. One of my writer friends uses a virtual calendar/reminder program to nudge him on his goals; it actually sounds an alarm every morning, too.

I'm hardly an expert with Microsoft Excel, but it's enough like the ancient Lotus program I trained on as a bookkeeper back in the Jurassic era that I can use it without making a mess of things. In addition to my budgets and general ledger, I also use it to run simple writing quota spreadsheets that track my progress and project my work schedule (to see a larger version of this screen shot, click on the image.)

I decided to start using a spreadsheet because I usually write more than one novel at a time, and having all the counts on one sheet allows me to plan my time better. I also used easy formulas so all I have to do is record the total wordcount for each manuscript at the end of the writing day, and Excel does all the rest.*

I'm presently tracking two novels under deadline, mainly as both are due to my editors on the same day. After labeling the columns with the file codes I use for the titles, I list the ms goals for each one (whatever the wordcount limit for the entire novel is.) In this case both books have a limit of 85K.

"Current" represents the total wordcount I've completed for each manuscript. To determine how much I have left to write, I subtract current from ms goal, which results in the figures in the "Left" row.

"Weekly" calculates what my weekly wordcount goal is for each book. This is calculated by dividing "Left" by the number of weeks I have left to write (in this case, seven. This is the only formula I adjust weekly; next Monday I'll change the seven to a six. I'm sure you spreadsheet experts out there can figure out a better formula for this row.) If you have different deadlines for different novels, remember to adjust your weekly formulas accordingly.

"Per day" divides the "Weekly" figure by seven to show how much I have to write daily for each book.

"Pages" divides the "Per day" figure by 250 (this because one manuscript page is roughly equal to 250 words.)

To update the sheet, at the end of the writing day I put in my new current numbers, and Excel recalculates everything for me. At the end of the week, I adjust the number of weeks I have left by -1, and that's basically it.

The numbers can seem intimidating at first, but you'll find they can be motivational, too. If I want to take a day off, I know with one glance that I have to write an extra ten pages to "buy" the time for myself. I also like seeing the per day figure drop when I write consistently over quota, so I usually do more than I strictly have to. Also it helps to know what you are committed to already before you take on any other writing projects, and having all your counts in one place can give you an exact look at what your current workload is.

One thing you don't want to do is neglect a spreadsheet. If you set up a daily quota sheet like mine, be sure to update it at least a couple times a week, and keep an eye on your projected work figures. If your per day or per week figures are starting to climb then you're not making your goals, and you need to address that well before you get too close to your deadline.

Also, always be sure to leave enough time in your writing schedule for things like days you may be doing things other than writing (family events, holidays, etc.) This goes for the other tasks you need to do for your novel. For example, I edit whatever I write daily, so all I need when the book is finished is time to do my final read-through edits. If you prefer to wait to do all your editing until the manuscript is finished, allow an extra week or two (or however long you think it will take you) of time before your deadline.

Now it's your turn: do you have a system for tracking your writing progress? Are there any programs you find particularly helpful? Let us know in comments.

*If you'd like to copy my spreadsheet and the formulas I've used, you can download it in excel format here. Just remember to change the totals for your current and ms goals, and adjust the formula for the weekly count to reflect the number of weeks you have left until your deadline.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If Manuscripts were Lovers

He always looks better in your head than he does in reality.

He constantly changes his name.

Your friends think he's stupid, useless, and are either jealous of him or pity you for getting involved with him. Secretly you're pretty sure he's worthless, too.

You don't want your mother to meet him. Ever.

If you talk about him too much, he'll try to abandon you. If you show him off too much to strangers, at least one of them will try to steal him, and he won't fight them off.

The cat wants to pee on him, the dog wants to gnaw on him, and your five-year old constantly spills things like red Kool-Aid on him.

He keeps promising to get a job but usually ends up sitting around the house.

He is not as interesting as he was when you first met.

Most editors think he's unoriginal, unattractive, uninteresting, and flat-out refuse to fall in love with him. Even if they kinda like him, they want to make him change into what they think he should be.

He vanishes whenever the power goes out, your computer fries or you move. Sometimes he doesn't come back.

He keeps waking you up in the middle of the night for no good reason.

He's not as, um, long as you thought he would be.

When he finally gets between the covers you're too tired to do anything fun with him.

You take him from nothing, give him your best, adore him, cling to him, devote most of your free time to him, and in the end you know he's going to leave you and become a total attention slut about whom no one has anything good to say.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

The 10th Annual Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award for best previously unpublished poem (any form, style or length) in English that best relates GLBT life is is on. Prize: "$100 and publication on Web site." Note: They do charge a reading fee of $5 per poem, (but since their award honors Oscar Wilde I'm going to forgive them.) Deadline: June 27, 2011. For complete details, e-mail or visit their web site for the contest page.

The American Journal of Nursing (AJN), the oldest and largest circulating journal of nursing in the world, is looking for "poems and visual art related to health or health care for its Art of Nursing department. Authors need not be health care professionals. Original perspectives and clear, unsentimental writing are preferred." No specifics on length, Payment: "$150 honorarium paid upon publication." Query Art of Nursing coordinator at:

Arktoi Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press that specializes in the work of lesbian authors, publishes one title per year, and is looking for poetry manuscripts. No fee, submit between August 1 and November 30; looks like they accept hard copy and electronic subs (but confirm that before you hit send.) For more info see submission guidelines page or contact Eloise Klein Healy at

The Backwaters Press has extended the deadline for their Letters From Grass Country antho to June 2011. They're looking for "essays on poets, poetry, or the influence of the Great Plains poets; related subjects." I'm not seeing any payment mentioned in their submission guidelines so you're probably looking at bragging rights and a contributor's copy, but you can e-mail them at with subject “Letters From Grass Country.” for more info.

Bloodroot Literary Magazine reads submissions from April to September 1st, and is looking for "high-quality submissions of unpublished poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction." From their web site: "We consider free verse and sonnets only. We do not accept translations. We accept only literary prose, no genre fiction such as sci-fi, gothic, juvenile fiction, or sexually explicit fiction." Length: "Submit 3–5 poems: 10 lines to two pages. Prose: 5,000-word limit." Payment: contributor copies. No electronic submissions, no reprints, see guidelines page for more details.

This one has a March 15th deadline, which is tomorrow, but just in case someone has a piece that fits: It’s All in Her Head: Women Making Peace with Troubled Minds blog has an open call for "first-person, literary non-fiction essays (please, no poetry) from established writers and talented emerging voices detailing your experience with a mental health issue, and how you’ve learned to make peace with it. Although your essay may (and should) reveal the truth about what it is/was like to live with your particular challenge, I’m looking for contributions that have a positive and/or hopeful tone (humor is more than welcome), with concrete examples of how you’ve managed to be productive, successful, satisfied, and yes, happy–or at least content." Length: 2-4K, Payment: "commensurate with publishing history." See guidelines page for more details.

Founded in 2006 by breast cancer survivor Debra LaChance, LaChance Publishing aspires to be "an oasis of information, inspiration and support for those affected by chronic or life-threatening illnesses through the publication of the acclaimed Voices Of book series. From that labor of love grew a company whose ever-expanding list of the highest-quality books on health, fitness, psychology, wellness and medical science continues to garner critical acclaim and worldwide distribution." They do accept queries and proposals for book-length projects, too, "in the categories of non-fiction adult, young adult and juvenile health and fitness. We are pleased to accept proposals from professionals in the health/science fields. We prefer agented projects but will consider projects of merit from qualified individuals without agent representation." See their book submission guidelines page for more details.

Mutabilis Press has an open call for poets "who have a connection with the states of Texas or Louisiana, by birth, residency and/or employment" to submit for an as yet untitled poetry anthology which will explore the theme "Given our noisy marketplace of beliefs, how or where can the sacred be found?" No specifics on length, and I don't see payment mentioned, but they're non-profit so it's probably for the glory and a contributor copy. See web site for more details.

Main Street Rag publishes books as well as their magazine, and is venturing into novellas: "seeking novellas between 25k-50k words and short fiction for themed anthologies up to 10k words." Looks like their reading period is May-September 1st, but everything else is questionable (I'm a bit confused by the multiple pages on submissions on their web site.) I strongly suggest you read them carefully and query the publisher if you have any questions. They also state on one page that they waived their $10 reading fee for 2010; I'd see if that is going to stay the same for 2011.

Switchgrass Books, a fiction imprint of Northern Illinois University Press, publishes exclusively "literary novels that evoke the Midwestern experience, whether it be urban, suburban, or rural" and notes: "Switchgrass authors must be from the Midwest, current residents of the region, or have significant ties to it. We publish only full-length novels set in or about the Midwest. We will not consider memoirs, short stories, novellas, graphic novels, poetry, or juvenile/YA literature. Agented manuscripts will not be considered." Length: web site only specifies "Full-length novels." No info on payment, no electronic submissions; mail hard copy manuscripts to Northern Illinois University Press, Switchgrass Books, 2280 Bethany Road, DeKalb, IL 60115.

All of the above sub ops were found over at P&W's classifieds pages.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Writer Math

Some observations I've made lately (never mind about what or who) have me feeling the urge to do some writer math today. Bear with me; this is the stuff they don't teach you in Algebra I.

Serial weather reports ≠ world-building.

To build a world, you need just a tad bit more than an overcast sky and temperatures in the light jacket range. Show me some architecture, some locals, some flora, fauna, anything but current climate conditions, I beg you.

Endless introspective interludes < interesting reading.

I am your reader, not your character's therapist. Reading ten pages of your character's thoughts is like listening to my mother talk nonstop for three hours. I am sympathetic, really I am, but three pages is my absolute limit (Mom gets thirty minutes.) Try interspersing all those issues with some dialogue and action.

Hateful, selfish, shallow, disgruntled, untalented narcissists are not ≥ true storytellers.

They do quite well in Publishing, however, so get used to their unbearably evil presence, 'cause they ain't going anywhere. Don't wait for them to die young, either, because they also live forever. Look, just be glad you aren't married to one of them.

A first-novel bestseller does not → perpetual genius, stardom or even a very long writing career.

It often does = too much con-going, Tiki-bar visiting, online time-wasting, not enough writing and a second novel that tanks so bad they tear up your contract and tell you ta-ta. Your fans are waiting, so get back to work, genius.

Self-doubt spawned urges > rational thought.

Example: you e-mail your freshly-finished manuscript to your best writer friend with this demand: Just read the damn thing and tell me how much it sucks. Even if it sucks like a turbo-charged Dyson, your BWF isn't going to tell you that. At least not while you're acting all read-the-damn-thing crazy.

Soft amorphous fantasy places are not adequate story setting.

Remember during the eighties, when you went to that mall photographer to have them do your author bio photo in that cashmere sweater that you thought was fun but in reality made you look like a great big pink Yeti as viewed by someone after cataract surgery? Same thing. And don't give me that "if it's not a real place it doesn't have to be all that detailed" nonsense. You want me to believe it's real? Make me.

What writer math have you done lately? Add your equations in comments.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


As many of you know, our blogpal author Nadia Lee lives in Japan. I've been in touch with her via e-mail, and I am quite happy and relieved to report that she and her family are okay. She's also just posted more details about the situation there in an update on her blog.

This morning I finally got a clear shot of the mourning dove who decided to nest in one of my poinsettias (click on any image to see larger version):

Naturally while she was in the tree we decided to take a peek in the nest and see how her eggs are doing. Only they're no longer eggs:

I'll guess they hatched sometime late yesterday or last night, as they are tiny and still a bit egg-shaped:

Now we just need to explain (again) to our UPS guy why we'd like him to leave our packages by the garage door for the next three weeks.

My thanks to the Powers That Be for providing so many blessings this week.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sneak Peek

Here's a first look at the cover art for Nightshine, the fourth and final novel in the Kyndred series, which will be released on November 1, 2011.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Talking Back to Fortune

After nine weeks of 2011, I am inclined to think my New Year's fortune might have been a warning versus a suggestion. Sought-out or otherwise, changes have been coming at me nonstop since January 1st. I've been grateful for the positive, and have done what I can to manage the negative, but oy. At this point the Year of Change has me thinking less about changing and more about doing what I can do to make the next ten months a little less stressful.

Cave. Tibet. Paradise!

Kidding. In the meantime I've cracked open a few more cookies, and this is what else they had to say:

This one is probably a direct cosmic nudge for me. Outside immediate family, people who care about me are usually the last to know when something is going on in my life. I think it's because the words "support system" always instantly make me think of other phrases, like "misery loves company" and "share the depression."

I'd rather handle things on my own; in my experience self-reliance is more dependable than other people. Easier to deal with, too, as I never like to impose on those I trust. But as a very patient and understanding friend just reminded me, the people who do care about us often go through similar or even the same problems (and kept it quiet because they don't want to impose on us.)

I'm going to work on my trust issues, but I do wish my troubles would go on a diet and slim down to minor annoyances.

This is a perfect analogy for all those things in life that are much desired, often dreamed of, and rarely bestowed. I for one love cake, always have, always will. I never met a cake I didn't want. Okay, maybe not that one some women make with condensed tomato soup; as ingredients go that is just a wee bit too weird for me. But as for the rest of them, really, what's not to lust after?

These days, plenty. Once upon a time cake used to be simply cake. Much desired, often dreamed of, and rarely bestowed. Not anymore. Now folks are spreading around lots of pretty frosting on all manner of things and calling them cake (when a lot of them are actually more like what my grandmother used to call horsey pies.) We should be able to smell these fake cakes a mile away, but times are tough and everyone wants to believe there's a cheap and easy way to get all the cake they want.

I don't have a problem with this because I can't have cake anymore. I'm strictly a bran muffin girl these days. Not everyone is on the nuts-and-twigs diet, though, so you should be careful what you buy, and what you buy into. You've all heard the one about If it sounds too good to be true, etc. Here's an updated version: If someone tells you that for a couple hundred bucks you can have a million cakes, they aren't selling you cake.

So what has fortune been telling you these last nine weeks? Any significant messages from the cosmos land in your lap? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Belated Christmas Gift

Before I get to today's post, I asked the magic hat to give me five winners for the Cat Magic giveaway, and they are:

Trisha, who favors the kittens, writes about mice and has us all very intrigued with this mention of the turkey

Charmaine Clancy, who knows exactly how spooky cats can be (a rattling doorknob would freak me out)

Margaret Claire, whose cat-loving sister should give her a big hug right now

bluebamboo, who in addition to loving the usual suspects wants an alpaca story (me, too -- will someone write this book, please)

Digillette, who reads, writes and converses with cats

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

Onto the post:

This past Christmas my guy gave me some baskets of pointsettias to hang out on the front porch, which I hadn't taken down yet because I love the way they look (they also survived every cold snap and freeze we've had since December.) But lately they've been looking a bit droopy and sparse, so over the weekend I went out to finally take them down:

As soon as I touched the basket a little mourning dove flew out at my head and then went to perch in the tree nearby. I suspected at once why she was giving me the evil eye, but took down the basket to be sure. And sure enough, just like last year:

She's a few months early this time, but not like I can do anything about it now. Thus we will start off Spring with a little leftover Christmas to give Mama the time she needs for the twins.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

Before I get to today's post, I wanted to say bravo for the many wonderful author and book recommendations made in the entries for the Friendly Power giveaway.

Also, tonight we revved up the magic hat, and the winners of the giveaway are:

Nadia Lee, who likes Ilona Andrews and The Edge series

Sherri, who tossed her name in the hat so she definitely needs this book

Maripat, who is torn between the early Anita Blake books by LKH (have to agree with you there) and J.K. Rowling.

Lauraine D., who recommends Maria V. Snyder's books.

lxz, who mentioned Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can send these books out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in and adding yet more stuff to my next bookstore visit shopping list.

Onto the post:

Today is International Women's Day. If you're not familiar with it, every March 8th people around the world celebrate the wide variety of achievements of women from all countries and cultures, past and present, and mark the progress we've made toward gender equality.

Writer, teacher, editor and historian Dr. Gillian Polack graciously invited me to write a blog post to share something from my personal history that might fit the occasion. I did warn her that I'm just not that interesting, but she was very persuasive and talked me into giving it a try. Thus you can blame her for the result, which can be read on her LJ here.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Save your stamps, SF short story writers, as Analog magazine now accepts (and prefers) electronic submissions. They are also issuing a "submission ticket number" that allows the author to track the status of their story.

Auriga Press is looking for science fiction or fantacy novels to publish as e-books, and notes: "Please make sure your work is either science fiction or fantasy. Most horror can be classed as dark fantasy, but if you feel your work is pure horror then we’re not likely to publish it. Likewise, we are not likely to publish any other genre of novel that is wrapped inside a fantasy or sci-fi setting." Length: "At the moment, we are looking primarily for novels of 100,000 words or more. If you have yet to have a novel published, then your novel must be completed at the time of submission. If your novel is the first in a trilogy (or other set), the entire story does not have to be finished, but the first 100,000 words must be. This is so that we can be sure you have the ability to finish what you start." Payment: negotiable advance + 50% net. Reprints okay, electronic submission only via online form, see guidelines page for more details.

Del Rey is temporarily open to unagented submissions via their Suvudu editorial review contest, details of which can be found here. What they're looking for: "a work of speculative adult fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror or paranormal romance) from 50,000 to 150,000 words in length." One grand prize winner will receive a full edit from Editor Betsy Mitchell along with a bunch of books, and (possibly) a chance to publish the winning ms. with these folks. [If you are tempted to enter this one, be sure to read every single word on the contest page as there are lots of terms and restrictions involved.] Deadline: midnight EST, March 18, 2011.

Alliteration Ink has an open call for The Crimson Pact Vol. II, and would like to see "stories based thematically on the loose frame of "The Crimson Pact" [link to TCP theme & details provided]. "We are concerned about quality of the story first, then only secondarily about fitting it in the frame. Our editor has to earn their fame and glory somehow, right?" Whatever you say, sweetie. Length: up to 1K, Payment: $10.00, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: June 6, 2011.

Darwin's Evolutions is shifting their focus from webzine to antho publishing, and has an open call for what sounds like a series of anthos: "Our target anthology length is 120,000+ words. The number of stories in each collection will be at most twelve. Release of an anthology will occur within three months of acceptance of the final story for a collection. What we are looking for in terms of content is stories that are entertaining to read and that will leave the customer feeling glad they invested their time and treasure in acquiring our product. Entertainment is the key word, here. If the story is entertaining with an engaging plot, solid character development, and has a conclusive, fitting ending, then it’s what we want. We will consider any story belonging to the broad classifications of Science Fiction or Fantasy." Length 7.5-40K; Payment $50.00 +shared royalty, no reprints, electronic submission via online form only, see guidelines page for more details. No deadline listed.

Plainswede Press has a rather interesting open call for their Live Free or Die, Die, Die! antho, and wants to see "twisted tales of hardboiled detectives, femme fatales and two-bit thugs in a style inspired by the classic pulp fiction of the early 20th century" with a catch, on which I'll quote the editor: "It’s got to be set in New Hampshire and it’s got to be have that special atmosphere you find only here." [I shine you not; I pulled this straight from the guidelines.] Length up to 8K (firm on this), Payment: $50.00 + copy, reprints okay, electronic submissions okay, see guidelines page for more details.

Pseudopod, the "world's premier horror fiction podcast" has a new editor and is now open to submissions. Length: fic=2-6k, flash=<1k (sometime buys 1-2k). Payment: $100.00 (flash=$20.00). Reprints okay, electronic submissions only, check out the link in Ralan's listing here for more details.

Samhain Publishing is now accepting novel submissions for their horror line: "We are actively seeking talented writers who can tell an exciting, dramatic and frightening story, and who are eager to promote their work and build their community of readers. We are looking for novels—either supernatural or non-supernatural, contemporary or historical—that are original and compelling. Authors can be previously unpublished or established, agented or un-agented. Content can range from subtle and unsettling to gory and shocking. The writing is what counts." [Ah, I want to hug whoever wrote this.] Length: "Between 12,000 and 100,000 words, for print eligibility minimum 50,000." Payment: "royalties of 40% of the cover price on single-author ebooks sold directly through Samhain, 30% of the cover price on single-author ebooks sold through third-party vendors such as Mobipocket, Fictionwise and All Romance eBooks, and 8% of the cover price on single-author print books, with a 3% reserve against returns. Multiple-author books will split the above royalty percentages equally."

Shadowgate Magazine is "currently accepting submissions for our April issue. We accept all science fiction types, steampunk and cyberpunk, and poetry. As well, if you have stories of alien abductions or interesting sightings we would love to hear them and would pay to feature them if it’s what we’re looking for." Length: .5-4K, Payment: $6.00 + copy, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines page for more details.

Voluted Tales magazines "publishes six monthly editions, spread across the month. These include Voluted Tales General edition, Voluted Tales Themed edition, Voluted Tales Serials edition, Voluted Tales YA edition, Voluted Tales Paranormal Romance Edition and Voluted Tales Noir Thriller Edition. Voluted Tales Magazines is looking for stories and artwork which cover the entire spectrum of speculative and Noir fiction in all of of their different genres and sub-genres. Do not send query letters, just make the submission." [Hookay.] What they are looking for: "Submissions must be of an original and creative nature, no fan-fic; avoid cliches and tired ideas. Humorous and ʻquirkyʼ tales are welcome, but they must make clear sense, not so ʻout thereʼ and experimental that readers canʼt understand them. Save those works for the writerʼs sites. We accept poetry and articles, but these must be speculative poems of some form, and articles dealing with the spec fic genres in some way. We also welcome author/writer/artist interviews, or interviews of figures in the spec fic publishing trade generally. Anyone wishing to be interviewed, perhaps with a novel to promote, please contact the editor." Length: less than 8k (longer serilized), Payment: ½¢/word ($10.00 min). Reprints: "yes, if informed", electronic submissions only, see guidelines page for more details.

Nearly all of the above submission oppportunities were found among the many marvelous market listings at

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cat Magic

As anyone who shares their home with a furry feline friend will tell you, sometimes cats are a little spooky. They can get through doors we thought we closed, find the catnip we thought we put away in a safe spot, and always know when we need a cuddle (sometimes before we know it ourselves.)

Then there is this mysterious business of feline teleportation. I can't tell you how many times I've lost one of my cats, ransacked the house and then searched the neighborhood looking for him, only to come home and find the missing feline sitting next to the empty food bowl and giving me that smug look, as if to say Silly human, you'll never find my secret hiding place. And to date, I haven't.

Cats are maddening, infuriating creatures who do exactly as they please, which is probably why I've always loved them. I also collect books with great cat characters in them, so I was pretty happy to start reading Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, the first book in by Sofie Kelly's new mystery series.

Owen and Hercules own a nice, funny human named Kathleen Paulson, a librarian who has moved temporarily to their small town in Minnesota to oversee the renovation of their library and its historic Carnegie building. Kathleen is a kitty charmer, too, and lured Owen and Hercules away from the feral life to share her home. They all get along fine, although sometimes the cats do things Kathleen knows are impossible, like vanish into thin air, and just as quickly appear. Like the odd and painful accidents she's been having at the library, these seemingly magical powers trouble her. The real shocker, however, is when Kathleen finds the body of another visitor to the town who she disliked, who may have been killed in her library -- and who she is suspected of luring there just before his murder.

I haven't read a good mystery in quite a while, so it was a pleasure to follow the cats and the clues along with Kathleen. The plot certainly kept me guessing, to the point of when I began to suspect everyone in the town of being in on it. But in the end (with a little help from her magical furry friends) Kathleen discovers many things, including the reason why she's been so accident-prone. I appreciated Kathleen's sense of humor and keen insights, as well as the fine detailing of the writing that paired beautifully with easy flow of the story (you usually get one or the other; not both.) The cats had me at Hello, though, and are keeping me for the series. It might have a little to do with the fact that Owen and Hercules could be twins of my two boys, Jak and Jeri.

As always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name your favorite type of non-human character to read about (or if you're not a critter fic fan, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Tuesday, March 8, 2011. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners an unsigned paperback copy of Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly (who, btw, is the pseudonym of our own Darlene Ryan.) This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.