Thursday, June 30, 2011

Butterfly People

Another of my rewards for crossing the novel finish line was a nice big stack of art magazines (pretty much everything Somerset Studio publishes, plus a few on quilting and sewing.) I parked them on the porch table so I could get my fix whenever the dogs and I came out to hang with the birds.

I admit, I am kind of addicted to ArtMag world. It's an amazing, beautiful place. On this planet (populated entirely by the nicest women you'll never meet) everyone talks about the creative life as a journey of self-discovery. No one ever gets angry or annoyed or has a bad day. While they're effortlessly throwing together the most astonishing projects, they're also finding enlightenment or artistic validation or having some other kind of continuous spiritual orgasm.

In almost every issue there is someone who works exclusively in shades of white, or transforms plastic grocery bags into designer purses, or turns old watches into steampunk cuffs and pendants (which they claim they wear in public. I'm dying to see that.) Their friends are amazingly gifted artists who only want to inspire each other to greater creative heights. Their homes smell of cookies and lavender and baby powder. They have more Victorian art scattered around than Queen Victoria did. They listen to classical music 24/7. There don't seem to be any men in ArtMag World, but there's always a punched copper pie safe in the kitchen, a claw-footed tub in the bathroom, and somewhere near a window a mason jar tied with raffia and filled with sea glass and a single sunflower that never dies.

I want to go to this planet someday, and crash an ephemera exchange tea party so the hostess has to whip up in five seconds a place card for me out of old Valentines and Scrabble tiles. I want to gobble an entire cracked porcelain platter of those perfect chocolate raspberry scones dusted with powder sugar through a doily and sprinkled with edible flower petals. I want to tie bouquets of fresh violets gathered with vintage lace and old rhinestone brooches to the handles of coffee mugs and then watch people try to drink from them without putting out an eye. After we collage the contents of a hope chest into a 5 X 7 shadow box with the word DREAM stamped crookedly on a white-washed Barbie's head, I want to talk about the creative life in words that in our world are most often used to describe scented fabric softener, women's winged sanitary products, and extra-plush toilet paper.

Most of all I want to meet these women -- these fabulous, ethereal, gossamer creatures who evidently don't have jobs, spouses, weight problems, body odor, bills, etc. Apparently they never walk the floors at 3 a.m., sweaty and pissed off because they're having hot flashes or can't turn off their brains. Their lovely white cats sit in windowsills all day instead of hawking up hairballs and sharpening their claws on the furniture. I never see one of these artistic types perspiring as they plow through a six pound stack of their art while their peach tea goes cold and the ant bites on their right foot itch like the devil. They certainly don't seem to get hate-mail from disgruntled folks who decide they've forced their art on the world, and for whatever reason it offends justifies the audience bitch-slapping the artist with partially-starred expletives. No, I think they just shimmer all day as they flit around on translucent jewel-toned wings, like butterfly people.

Maybe this is why so many creative souls fear they're not legit; because they don't live on ArtMag world. They don't sprout wings the minute they rise from their not-so-snowy sheets. When they look at themselves in the mirror, they realize their T-shirt and shorts don't match, or their bra is giving them a uniboob, or they haven't shaved their legs in two months. They go out to drink the coffee they got on sale out of a chipped Garfield mug, and pet their scrawny tabby cat, which has shown its love by depositing an eviscerated lizard on the seat of the spouse's favorite armchair. The mail doesn't arrive in envelopes covered with calligraphy tied together with an ombre silk ribbon. Friends call only to bitch about their bad marriages or ask some insanely inconvenient favor. The tea parties in this world are run by the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

I know I'll never live in an ArtMag world. Writing is not especially pretty. Most of the time it's very hard, exhausting work that seems to take forever and can't be accomplished by gathering a list of supplies and following half a page of instructions. Our results are always and forever a stack of printed pages and that's it. You can dress that up with as many rhinestone brooches and dew-spangled violet bouquets as you want, but underneath all the ephemera you pile atop it the work remains work.

To be honest, I don't think ArtMag world exists. I think the all-white artist has a house that smells like chlorine and chalk, and the baker just burned her latest batch of scones because her mother called and distracted her, and the steampunk jewelry maker has to get a tetanus shot because she sliced her finger open while dissecting that rusty old watch. They live in the real world, just like the rest of us poor slobs, and while you'll never see the bleach bottles, burnt offerings or bloodstains in a magazine, they're still there, just beyond the butterfly wings.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Tonight I sifted through Julia Cameron's The Right to Write, another how-to skewed more toward adjusting one's writing philosophy than actual instruction (I think someone in the family passed this copy onto me.) While there were some autobiographical shock-geysers I had to dodge now and then, it wasn't uber neurotic. I actually thought it was interesting. A bit merciless at times, like a Storm Trooper's writing manual. That said, I suppose when you write for Hollywood you have to armor up daily. An excellent book for anyone who wants to write but feels "unworthy" of being a writer.

I just finished writing my fourth novel of the year, and I'm in need of something more restful and lyrical, so I'm retreating to Sage Cohen and her Writing the Life Poetic. I find I keep going back to this book as a little sanctuary where I can be one with the verse. I think poetry always has been my biggest creative retreat; the one place I can go where I don't have to be on display. I'd also like to work my way through the book again and this time do all the try this exercises.

I also have book #5 and #6 to get started, but I'm giving myself this week and the holiday weekend off to recharge and catch up on house work. I have a stack of fiction books to read, and when I get restless I have two rooms I'm reorganizing that I can work on. I don't usually take this much downtime between projects, but the last book was such an intense writing experience that I know I need a few more days to get it out of my head.

An ongoing part of the writing life is learning what works to reset/detox/restore yourself after you finish a story. I know cleaning the house sounds dull, but I like house work and the exercise helps me shake off the cobwebs. Reading fiction for pleasure helps back off the muse and the internal editor, plus it's a nice reward for crossing the novel finish line.

What do you do after the work is done and you're between stories? What do you find rejuvenates you most? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Got Doggelgänger?

Today I'm unplugging to finish up some work for my editor. So that your visit here was not entirely wasted, I thought I'd let you meet my canine twin. We met when Gerard over at the Presurfer tempted me to try out Doggelgänger, an online toy which matches human faces with their canine doubles.

Turns out I am a 56%* match for this lovely creature named Bailey:

Bailey is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and has the chocolate brown eyes I always wanted. Staffies are great dogs, too. If only I were this gorgeous!

The neat thing about this is that the pups used for matches to are all awaiting adoption (I'm guessing they're all in New Zealand, the site has an nz at the end of the URL, and my match is listed as being in Auckland.) Hopefully lots of our Kiwi friends try it out and find someone to bring home and love.

*We have the same white hair. I just have a lot more.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

A word of caution about three sub ops over at that threw up some red flags for me:, and ezines all have open calls for short fiction submissions on the Pay Markets page, offering $25.00/per story payment. Sounded good, until I read the guidelines for each, which are almost identical, and the fact that they push site membership for submitters to get preferred publication consideration. Membership to these sites is purchased through an automatic billing service, so for example if you join you'll be billed $5.00 per week. Since response time can be from one to three months, you could end up paying $20.00 - $45.00 for membership while you're waiting for a reply on your sub. Also, all three sites are going live in July. I'm not saying they aren't legitimate markets, but this all just seems a bit fishy to me. If you decide to sub to any of them, do be careful.

Science Fiction and Fantasy convention BayCon has a semi-open call for their convention program book, to include "works of science fiction or fantasy. We will consider slipstream if there is a clear speculative fiction element. BayCon is a family convention and the program book and progress report are read by people of all ages. Therefore, we are looking for works that are no more adult than PG-13 in content, meaning mild swearing (at most) and no explicit sex or violence. We welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation, however, we are an English-language market only. While it is not required to use the convention's theme in submissions, it is encouraged. The theme for 2012 is: 30th Anniversary Pleasure Cruise." BayCon is not interested in subs from SFWA members, although the minimal qualifications for anyone to submit also rule out the as-yet-unpublished (the qualifications bit is a little weird. Go read it.) Length 1-4K, Payment: 5¢/word (min $50), no reprints, electronic submission via online form, see guidelines for more details. Reading period: July 15th - Sept 15th, 2011.

Comets and Criminals ezine is looking for "fantastic stories of no more than 5,000 words in the Science Fiction, Adventure, Historical, and Western genres. We also accept Crime and Mystery fiction, with an upper word limit of 10,000 words. We want amazing poetry in these genres, too, though we’re willing to look at more mainstream poetry also." Length: Fiction - 1-5K, mystery/crime 1-10K, flash fiction 1K or less, Payment: 1¢/word for fiction, $10.00 for flash fic or poem, Reprints okay but pay is less, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. First issue debuts January 2012.

Escape Collective Publishing has an open call for their escape-themed anthology" "For our first anthology, we are seeking short stories focusing on the theme of “Escape.” Escape from what, to where, why? That's up to you! But please notice that we ask for a “theme” of Escape, not specifically a “plot” based on escape; though we will read and accept stories centered around prison breaks, escapes from dying planets, and others, we wish to explore less obvious examples of escape or escapism as well. 'Fiction of the Fantastic' has often been called “mere escapism,” after all; we just want to do away with the derogatory “mere” and embrace the “escapism”: the wondrous, the sense of freedom, and more, that comes with literature that frees itself from the bounds of realism, and, in doing so, is able to look at 'reality' from a new perspective. So surprise us, entice us, move us, and free us with your stories. Stories accepted will be published in our Fall anthology." Length: up to 7.5K, Payment: "portion of the profit on the digital sale of the Anthology, on a per word royalty basis.", no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 15th, 2011.

Rosetta Books' The Galaxy Project Contest is "both a celebration - through new editions in widely distributed electronic form - of the great 1950's Galaxy Magazine, edited by H. L. Gold and a means through these new electronic editions of classic longer works and through its new novella contest to carry forth that tradition in the new millennium. The contest to select one novella or novelette will be judged in the spirit of H. L. Gold and the great magazine of which he was founding editor. Galaxy was open to all potential contributors in the 1950's and 1960's. Only excellence mattered. The contest will be "open" and judged on the same standards. The winner will: Be published in e-book as part of The Galaxy Project collection. Receive an advance of $1,000 against royalties of 50% of net receipts to 2,500 copies and 60% of net receipts thereafter for world English digital rights. Retain the copyright and all rights other than the initial digital use (per Galaxy Magazine's policy.) See contest page for more details. Deadline: September 2, 2011.

Winner of the PBW Strangest Antho Title of All Time award, Generic Publishing has an open call for their King Paul Crushes Your Face and You like It anthology: "We here at Generic Publishing want you to dig deep and access you inner manly man, that beast within that screws, plunders and lays waste to all that approach it, to tell tales of the glory and awesome might that is King Paul, rife with sex, violence, debauchery, depravity and big heaping buckets of gore. Picture a Chuck Norris/Maddox/Tucker Max hybrid being punched in the face by Conan to a soundtrack of W.A.S.P., killwhitneydead and Manowar, then listen to the King Paul songs on (all submissions MUST match the mythology of these songs to be considered). These stories should harken back to the style and ideals of Orature (traditional tales and history passed along orally) and should be either in Flash or Praise poetry form. Do keep in mind that, while the theme of masculinity taken to cartoonish extremes will likely be handled with tongue firmly in cheek, we expect it all to be played straight. My first image of the concept lends itself to sword and sandals fantasy, but don’t feel obliged to constrict yourself to that genre; we’d love to see a steampunk Paul mowing down werewolves on a pirate ship in space. This anthology is intended for adults, so feel free to be as raunchy and brutal as you desire (please), but don’t bother us with rape fantasies or kiddie porn. Even the King has his limits." Hokay. Length: < 2K (flash fiction) or 100 lines (poetry) max, Payment: Pay: .5 cents per word for flash fiction and $5 flat rate for poetry, no reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 15th, 2011.

Author Michael A. Ventrella has an open call for his Tales of Fortannis anthology: "Tales of Fortannis is a new series of short stories set in the world of my novels. It's a high fantasy world with elves, dwarves, the mysterious biata, gryphons, goblins, and more." Length: < 10K, Payment: "small shared royalty", no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 1st, 2011, or until filled.

Pill Hill Press has an open call for their The Trigger Reflex ~ Legends of the Monster Hunter II: "The Monster Hunter is a breed apart, destined to a life filled with anguish, wild triumph, and blood. We want more of their very best stories. For inspiration, follow Van Helsing from Dracula, or Sylvester James from Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter. Follow Quint from Jaws, Tangina Barrows from Poltergeist, or even Ripley from Alien. Set them after snow-beasts in the Himalayas, sea-monsters off of Komodo, or sandworms in Egypt. Give us legend, folklore, or beasts unknown that never leave the shadows. Tell the stories of those that hunt these monsters, stories filled with wild chases, hair-raising close calls, tragedy, regret and bloody victory. Make them gritty, give them punch, or make them subtle, creepy and suspenseful. You are welcome to dazzle, but bleak will be equally appreciated. Make the hunters heroes, or make them more evil than the creatures they hunt. Give them blind determination and a hell bent desire to win no matter what the cost, or let them face a moral uncertainty over whether or not they’re doing the right thing by killing…" (and there's a lot more, so read the guidelines carefully.) Length 2-7K, Payment: ¼¢/word, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: until filled.

The editor of the Trust & Treachery: Tales of Power, Intrigue and Violence anthology has an open call for submissions: "We are very open as to genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, etc. Please no romance, erotica (though relevant sexual content is fine), or YA." Length: 1-5K, Payment: $20.00, no reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: December 15th, 2011.

Sky Warrior Books has an open call for their Zombiefied – An Anthology of All Things Zombie anthology, for which they'd like to see "your best work on zombies, original or reprint (must have the rights), of stories 500 to 7000 words in length. Can be fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Sure, we’ll take standard horror and dark fantasy, but you can be creative. Zombies in space, zombiefied critters, zombie love stories (uh, no erotica), fantasy zombies, steampunk zombies, zombie humor, zombies on toast…well, you get the idea." Payment: "author share divided equally among the authors. We pay quarterly", reprints okay, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: August 15, 2011.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This and That

I went looking around for online events to link to for those who are wisely avoiding RWA National next week, but unfortunately I found zip except for Romance Divas, who appear to still be holding their annual Not Going to the Conference Conference; registration at their site required. If anyone knows of any free online events being held for those who aren't going, please list a link in comments and I'll add it to this post.

Added: Author Alison Kent is giving away writing books over at her blog here, hooray!

Several people have e-mailed to ask if I would start hosting my Left Behind & Loving It virtual conference again. My reasons for ending it back in 2009 remain the same.

Access Romance blog is closing its doors as of June 30, 2011. As a consolation offering it appears they're giving away boxes of books, so if you'd like a chance to win some, head over and leave a comment.

Finally, yes, I can confirm that the title for my first novel in the new Lords of the Darkyn trilogy is indeed Nightborn. I had planned to announce it here as soon as I had some cover art to show you, but the book got moved up on the release schedule, my publisher put it up for pre-order on and evidently someone out there in NetPubLand spilled the beans.

Sorry the newsy bits are mostly depressing. Does anyone have any happy news to share? Let us know in comments.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Full Spectrum Story

Whenever I'm away from home I carry my camera in my purse, just in case I see something I want to shoot (in the good way.) Experience has taught me that you never know when something interesting is going to cross your path.

This unretouched shot here is one I took while I was sitting in a diner have breakfast with my guy and our kid. I looked up at a shiny glass surface, but instead of seeing my own face I saw this. Now, while there are (cough) always rainbows in my heart, generally I don't see them in mirrored objects. I was seeing it because I was sitting in just the right place at precisely the correct moment; the sun and certain properties of light did the rest (and if you want to know what I was looking at, keep reading.)

The image made me think of writing, naturally, because of course everything is about writing. Story is like the reverse of refracting light, in that the creation of it begins with a wide spectrum of elements -- characters, plot, dialogue, action, setting, time period -- which through the prism of the writer's storytelling hopefully all blend back together into a single, dazzling read.

It would be nice to play God with a novel and only have to say "Let there be light," but as any writer will tell you there's a lot more work involved in it for us. I'd say the most difficult part of making this happen for the writer is being too close to see beyond the spectrum of elements. Occupational hazard, I think; we have to be so detail-oriented when we're working that we can be blinded by the dispersion. This juggling act we do often results in an uneven execution that affects the whole story.

Fortunately we have the editing phase, when hopefully we can back off enough to see all the elements, not just what we were so zeroed in on at the time of creation.

Every book you write has its own set of challenges. With the one I just finished I was fully immersed in four of the characters: my two protagonists and two central secondary characters. This quartet had strong, distinct personalities, and the story issues they had to deal with were so interwoven even one misstep could have turned into a big ball of tangled plot yarn. An added problem was with one who decided to give me nothing but grief whenever she was on the page; at one point I was so frustrated I actually killed her to shut her up. Which of course I went back and rewrote as soon as I cooled off enough to do the daily edit.

My daily edits are what really prevented the book from being all character and no story, and also saved me from having to do a massive rewrite or a total manuscript toss-out. I knew I was focusing too much on the characters, so at the end of each day I made myself stop obsessing about them and take a hard look at the other elements in the scene. In the beginning of the book I saw that I was rushing through or skipping things that needed to be there so I could get the characters on the page and transcribe all this great dialogue in my head. By the middle of the book, I was remembering this while I was writing new material, and correcting myself in the process of getting the story down. The last half of the book went much smoother, and what I produced was much more balanced and needed far fewer rewrites.

Every writer has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and unless you're a cookie cutter writer every story will bring these together in different ways. Your challenge is to find the correct combination of elements and focus that produces that single dazzling result.

I found this wallpaper while I was hunting for spectrum images, and I think I'm going to put it into my desktop background file for when I start my next novel. Seeing this every morning will be an excellent reminder to mind the details, but also keep my eye on the full spectrum of the story.

Spectrum Colors image via 3D Wallpapers

Friday, June 24, 2011


I appreciate all the great comments for the One Book giveaway. What you wrote about what your one book means to you, the impact it's had on your life, and what it might do for others was great, and some of the titles were quite unexpected. But then, you guys are never really predictable, are you?

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

Vorpaks, who chose Cinderella Complex.

Vorpaks, when you have a chance please send your full name, ship-to address and the title you'd like granted for your BookWish to so I can get your package on the way. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Place Name Gen Ten

Ten Things to Help Name Your Fictional Location

Chaotic Shiny's Place Name Generator -- this unusual place namer gives you random names based on geographic features. Excellent if you need a particular landmark name.'s Fantasy Place Name Generator -- gives you up to 100 place names, including dark and weird ones. Best for fantasy stories.'s Random Place Name Generator -- has a nice option that allows you to tick whichever names you like to keep on the page before you generate a new list. Good for fantasy stories.

Pseudo-Elizabethan Place Name Generator -- generates batches of 100 names with a distinct Dickensonian/UK-flavor. Probably best for historic or fantasy stories.

The Random Town Name Generator -- scroll down past the explanation of how it works to generate a "unique, scientifically-derided, custom-made name for the country, kingdom, area, town, city, village or place you are trying to name."

The Regency Place Name Generator -- this generator produces quality place names geared for Regency-era stories, but could work in other time periods as well.

Samuel Stoddard's Fantasy Name Generator -- the place name generator with the most customizing options; allows you to generate a wide selection of serious, fun or specialized names.

Serendipity's Place Name Generator -- Manon says this one is good for cities, countries, continents or other large areas, and I agree. Reality-based, so check your results as it may generate the name of an actual location.

Seventh Sanctum's Realm Name Generator -- this place name generator allows you to customize by size of area being named. Good for fantasy stories.'s Random Name Generator -- has a long list of customizing options you can sort through to see which suits your story.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Today I'm being questioned over at author Shiloh Walker's weblog, where among other things I confess the title of the one book I think everyone should read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

One Book

Author Shiloh Walker asked me some interesting questions the other day (and my answers will be appearing on her blog tomorrow.) Among them was one I didn't want to answer because I thought it couldn't be answered: What's the one book you think everybody, writer or not, should read?

Like saying you want world peace at a beauty pageant, the Holy Bible seems to be the default answer. But the Bible and I have our issues, and I feel it's simply not appropriate for everyone. So back to the drawing board. Shakespeare was next on my list, but he wrote plays, not books, and he can be difficult to understand. I came close to saying Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer because I do think that illustrates the human character from soup to nuts, plus it's funny -- but also, not an easy read.

I finally turned around the question and thought what is it that I wish everyone would get from reading one book? And then I knew.

I read this book when I was quite young, probably too young to be exposed to the content, which is brutal. It's not a pleasant read, especially for writers. Even after you learn that the author actually lived it, you don't want to believe it. Thinking about it afterward made me cry a couple times and I even had some nightmares about it.

So why would I want everyone to read a horrible book like that? Honestly, it made me grateful. Grateful for everything I had: the tiny room I shared with two sisters, the squashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my lunchbag, the hand-me-down clothes that were too big or too small, the cheap shoes that pinched my toes, even the dismal prospects waiting in my future. I didn't believe that I had anything of value in my life until I read this book, and then for the first time clearly saw and understood exactly how fortunate I was. That the few things I had, the things that had never before been good enough, were blessings that could so easily be taken away from me, along with my family, my home, and even my future.

In answering Shiloh's question I also realized I've never given anyone a copy of this book, which I intend to remedy right now. In comments to this post, name a book that changed how you think about yourself or anything (or if you've not yet read that one book, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, June 23, 2011. I will draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a copy of the book that I think everyone should read, and I will also grant the winner a BookWish*. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of your choice available to order from an online bookseller, up to a maximum cost of $30.00 U.S. (I'll throw in whatever shipping is involved.)

Graphic credit: © Yellowj |

Monday, June 20, 2011

Search Terms Ten

I've never checked what search terms new visitors use that lead them to here because I don't know how to do that spy stuff. Turns out Blogger does, though, via their Stats section, and they also list the terms at the very bottom of the Traffic Sources page.

The good thing is that it's anonymous; they list only the total number of visitors who used the search terms to get here. I guess you could use it to judge if your content is appropriate to your audience. With that in mind, here are:

Ten Things People Look for at PBW

Face Generator (130): Probably the best face generator I've found is the Morphases Editor.

Paperback Writer Blog (156): There are a couple of other blogs that use the same name, but I'm probably the best-known in the Publishing Industry and (far as I know) the original.

Plotting a Novel (488): Here are all the plotting posts I've tagged from most recent to the earliest.

Lynn Viehl Website (501): I don't have a formal website, sorry, but all the pertinent info about my books can be found via the sidebar links.

Place Name Generator (674): My old post about place name generators is here, although most of the generators I listed back in 2006 have since winked out of existence. The links that are still functional are Serendipity's two place name generators as well as the Planet, Realm and Tavern name generators over at Seventh Sanctum. Also, I've made a note to myself to start hunting new place name generator links, and I'll put together an new/updated post as soon as I compile them.

Novel Outline (770): Here are all of the posts about outlining that I've tagged, from latest to earliest.

Outlining a Novel (880): See Novel Outline.

How to Outline a Novel (1,658) Now I understand why the most popular writing post of all time on PBW is Novel Outlining 101.

Paperback Writer (3,370): Just in case anyone came here to listen to The Beatles' song, after which this blog is named, here's a video of them performing it:

Lynn Viehl (6,132): Yep, you found me. Welcome. My bibliography is here, the most important info about me and the blog can be read here. Links to all of my free novels, novellas, stories and other stuff can be found here.

Those of you who have Blogger as your host, do you use these search term lists for anything useful? Let us know in comments.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wishing You

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Seeing the Light

You know you're a series writer when you never want your stories to end. I happen to be that kind of storyteller. I'm also allergic to happily ever after, don't like saying good-bye, and refuse to believe in Armageddon.

Then there is the frustrating mystery of the appropriate time to stop replying to e-mail replies, which I have never been able to solve. Do I stop replying too soon? Do I drag it out longer than I should? I'd put -30- at the end of mine, but not everyone would get it. And there's no graceful to say "Do you still want to reply, and then should I reply, or is it okay if I stop after you send the next one?"

Hey, I'm a writer. I worry about this stuff.

I also hate ending books, which is why I often rush through writing my last chapter. It's like taking cough medicine; sipping it slowly is simply not possible. For a while it was becoming a real problem for me; during the full manuscript editing phase I almost always threw out the last chapter because it sucked and rewrote it from scratch. Then someone mentioned online that they wrote their final chapter way before they got to it so they could work toward an ending versus screeching to a halt and wrapping it all up (and I'm sorry, but I don't recall who said that or I'd give them credit.)

I'm also a linear writer, in that I write from beginning to end without stopping, so I knew from the start that this was not going to be easy for me. Still, I wanted to see if it worked, so I tried it. I stopped when I was writing in first third of the book, and put together a draft of the last chapter. Once I finished it, I parked it at the end of the manuscript anyway and went back to pick up where I left off.

I don't think about what I've already written while I'm writing, so I forgot about it. And sure enough, when I got to the end of the book and started getting the usual, "Oh, God, I have finish it" heebie-jeebies, the ending was already there, like a nice little light at the end of the bridge.

Now granted, that last chapter draft was pretty rough, and needed plenty of revision because certain things had changed during the process of the novel. But I am much less stressed when I edit, especially when I have a completed manuscript to work on. I also didn't take as much time off between the writing and the full manuscript edit because I wasn't annoyed with myself or how I'd written the ending. Having it waiting for me was actually energizing.

If you wrestle with your endings and want to try this method, I have a few suggestions:

Know how you want your book to end (obviously writing ahead isn't going to work for organic writers) and briefly outline the chapter before you write it.

Write light. This is a draft, not a finalized chapter, so keep it simple and nail the most important details.

Characters, dialogue and action make a great framework for a draft chapter. Avoid things that bog down the writing, i.e. tons of description, endless setting, weather reports, travelogues, etc.

Don't tell yourself it's set in stone, because it's not. If it sucks you can always toss it and rewrite a new version from scratch.

Writing the last chapter while you're still working on the front of the book also has one final benefit: once you have it written, the book is technically finished. Then all you have to do is write toward that light at the end of the story bridge.

Image credit: © Karin Jehle |

Friday, June 17, 2011

True or Fake?

I am bailing on you guys today to take care of some new contract negotiations. So your trip here was not entirely wasted, you might visit Mikhail Simkin's True Art, or a Fake?*, a quiz to test your knowledge of authentic abstract art.

I scored 92%, but then I'm a student as well as a fan of abstract art, and recognized all but one of the real artworks. Just the Klee threw me for a loop.

*Link swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


In Naming the World, a how-to with a collection of essays and exercises from writers/editors/teachers, author Nick Arvin wrote a piece about revision, specifically about how to revise physical objects in the story -- what he refers to as props -- to make them more effective as a story element. He mentions Chekhov's Gun, one of those literary theories they beat into our heads in high school.

According to Chekhov, no object in the story should be there without a reason:

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." —Anton Chekhov (From S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911.)

I agree with Chekhov, sort of. I think of props as active and benign; the active ones are there for a reason, the benign there for the setting. Active props are probably the least-used story element in genre writing, and it's a shame, too, because when employed with some imagination they can be pretty effective. Not only as elements to provide some foreshadowing for the reader, but as inspiration for dialogue, focal points in an otherwise ho-hum scene, etc.

My new Darkyn trilogy is unusually object-driven. When plotting I always like to use unusual active props, so it's probably no surprise that I employed Mickey Mouse ears to inspire and put a fresh spin on what would have otherwise been a pretty standard confrontation scene (and if you want to see how I did it, head over to the stories blog and read the partial scene here.)

Most of the time I see great stuff in other writers' stories that is only described, and this kills me, because when I come across that mysterious urn of ashes or portrait of a one-legged man I start telling myself stories about them while I'm reading. Then I get to the end of the story and those great props are still sitting there, unused and covered with dust, like story clutter.

That said, not every prop in a story has to have a reason for being there. Some props are active and others aren't. Not all rifles go off; sometimes they really do just hang on the wall as part of the setting description. If we didn't have at least some benign props, every story would be written in a series of empty rooms, vacant lots and flowerless meadows.

What's your favorite type of active prop in a story? Do you think the rifle hanging on the wall always has to go off? Let us know in comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The House That Frank Built

While hunting for some architectural info, I discovered Cristóbal Vila's short CG movie showcasing Falling Water, the magnificent home Frank Lloyd Wright designed, which was built over a waterfall back in 1936.

For those of you at work there is background music to this one, which is definitely worth viewing full-screen.

Fallingwater from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Namator Game

We all need to do some exercises in spontaneous creativity now and then or we forget how to have fun. That said, we don't have a lot of spare time. So here's a quick and easy game you can play that will spark ideas, get your muse working and maybe even inspire a story or two.

To play the game, you must visit and, using the four generators there, pull three words from each list of results you generate. Then, very quickly and without thinking about it too much, write who or what they are.

Here are mine:


Effenoise -- Records to make your parents swear. Company motto: Turn up the Effenoise.
Silemony -- Like alimony, only your ex pays this company to keep you quiet (there's a whole creepy story in this one.)
Phonevox Corps -- something steampunk, I think. Maybe like the Peace Corp, but they go to third world countries to install the vox, a primitive form of land line communication.


Jeffrry -- The werebeast version of Jeffrey the pest control guy. Not my pest control guy. His name isn't Jeffrey. I promise.
Arakgaret -- I really liked the way this sounded when I said it out loud. An Egyptian deity. The God of Airless Spaces.
Dracass -- Pernish-sounding. Maybe the dragon version of the jackass.


Augustine Hinsch -- Sourpuss. Penny pincher. Dog hater. Priss lips.
Minta Dasilva -- Her dad owned a mining company, and thought he was being funny.
Dhanya Ishida -- Nice and lyrical. Maybe a poet or a samurai. Or a samurai poet.


Ancient Baseor -- Okay, so God coughed up this huge hairball, and then . . .
Gothdustrial Silver -- Ahhhhh. Gothdustrial. I'm in love. I want to live on this planet. Take me there, please.
Terra Floraop IV -- the planet of adorable floppy-eared bunnies who got kicked off earth, or invaded earth . . .wait, I think Spinrad already wrote that one.

If you play the game and want to share some of your results in comments, please do.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writer Dad Ten

Ten Things to Get Your Writer Dad for Father's Day

James Scott Bell's excellent writing nonfic, The Art of War for Writers, may help a writer dad get back on track.

Check out special events at your local indy book store that your writer dad might enjoy. Here's a store in Marin, California that has a luncheon this week with author Anne Patchett plus a signed book for $55.00.

For the writer dad who has not had his brains sucked out of his skull by an e-reader, try a set of Bookends.

I still wince over the title, but Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue ~ English and How it Got That Way is one of those books I always give guys who read and write, and they always love it.

If the budget is tight, you can download tons of free e-books in all the formats you can imagine over at For those writer dads who love SF, I recommend Jay Caselberg's Binary.

Give him the ultimate writer dad outerwear: The I Write T-shirt from InkyGirl Debbie Ridpath Ohi's online shop.

A blank book, notebook or journal encourages writer dad to write, and one that is handmade or artfully altered can provide add some addition inspiration. Currently you can shop over forty-seven thousand journals for sale by independent artisans over on

Buying from Levenger can be extremely expensive, but there are often bargains to be had, too. It's not on sale, but I like this Lamy lightweight Safari fountain pen (which, btw, I found nine dollars cheaper over at WritersBloc here. So do shop around.)

Office Depot gift cards have no expiration date and are shipped to your writer dad for free.

I love Platinum fountain pens, so I also have to mention Writersbloc for their nice, reasonably-priced stock of Plaisirs. They also sell the hard-to-find Platinum cartridges and converters.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

SF Contest

Very few SF writing contests catch my eye, but this one from across the pond sounds decent:

"The James White Award is a competition for original short stories of not more than 6,000 words by non-professional writers. The closing date for entries to this year’s competition is midnight (GMT) January 31, 2012. The winner will be announced at Eastercon 2012 during the BSFA Awards ceremony. It is open to entrants from any country but all stories must be in the English language. The prize for the winner of the James White Award is £200 plus publication in Interzone, the UK’s leading science fiction magazine."

A big bonus is that they don't accept entries from professional writers (aka members of SFWA.) More details can be found at the contest page here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Gumball Wars

Call me a kid, but I absolutely adored the storytelling in this.

Gumball Wars from Scott Thierauf on Vimeo.

Video link swiped from Kuriositas.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


I can't seem to escape the clutches of the evil empire Facebook; one of my publishers just sent me a powerpoint presentation on how to create a Facebook fan page for myself in order to take part in their latest marketing effort, which included these instructions:

In order to obtain a Vanity URL, you must first have 25+ “Likes” on your page.

Aside from the fact that I'm not so vain that I would even consider setting up my own fan page, I'm stumped. Likes? Likes what? My books? My hair? My sparkling personality? I never got the Likes memo. Anyway, I keep reading, and find this:

Spread the word! Friends and family are included! It’s okay to ask your friends, family, and co-workers to “Like” your page.

So they don't think 25 complete random strangers would like my page? Maybe they're right. Only a very few friends I know in real life visit here occasionally, so maybe the rest of you 6,993 people stop by here every day because you don't like me. Go on, tell me, I can take it. I know my Mom still likes me. Sniff.

Kidding. I get what they're trying to do. Fortunately I'm off the hook: according to my kids a fan page for me already exists on Facebook. I can't look at it because (rimshot) I'd have to first join Facebook. But apparently these nice people like my books enough to create a genuine fan page, so that should get me excused from faking one, the thought of which to be honest makes my skin crawl a bit. All's well etc.

Since last year I've also been getting these be-my-friend gems e-mailed to my fan e-mail account every week:

This kind of Facebook SPAM that disturbs me because I know at least one of these people is an author. Not that I think he's a fan or actually wants to be my friend, but I can't even send the professional courtesy of a polite no-thanks unless -- you guessed it -- I first join Facebook.

Which brings me to this practice of using the word friend to connect people via social media. I find it a bit troubling. One of the reasons I never considered using LiveJournal (aside from the fact that I'm not cool enough for it) is because they employ friend as means of linkage coercion. I friend you, you friend me, and we're all friends. My (obviously picky) belief that the word friend should have more meaning than simply the right to use reciprocal links is definitely not in step with the times.

Also, if someone asks to be your friend, they're paying you a compliment, right? Unless they just want a link so they can boost their traffic, in which case, maybe not. Of course if you say no for any reason, you're behaving like a snotty unfriendly jackass, which encourages negative backlash, expecially from those who for whatever reason expect to be friended. Every time I think about the friend thing I give myself a headache.

I realize social media offers many obviously irresistible marketing opportunities. I respect the working writers out there who take the time to do all this stuff, too; frankly I don't know how you guys handle it and keep up with the work. I'm just concerned that it all seems to be heading in a direction that is self-defeating and devaluing.

Thus I will continue to be Facebookless, and do my own thing, and see what happens.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Bruised Muse

A quick heads-up for anyone thinking of mailing something to me via the postal service, UPS, FedEx or any other snail mail avenue: for the time being, please don't. The service that provided the mail-drop I've been using suddenly went out of business, and I am still in the process of making new arrangements. Sorry for any inconvenience this might cause.

This is a peek at bluebird babies batch #2, as the parents of the quadruplets born back in April came back to nest again in the same house. This time they had triplets (at least I think there are three; I'm only seeing a trio of little faces whenever I take pictures.)

I'm impressed by this species, which is not only way fertile but very focused on care giving. Both parents go back and forth all day every day to the nest to bring bugs, check on the youngsters and clean the nest (in my opinion you have not lived until you've watched a father bluebird fly off with a big white pellet of baby bird poop in his beak.)

This is the first deadline week I've had all year where I haven't felt as if I'm trying to keep up with the bluebirds. In part the extra work I did in April and May is responsible for unloading a lot off my schedule, but I'm also making a renewed effort to simplify as much as possible, not sweat the small stuff, etc. It does make a difference in my attitude every time I go to work, although I could use a couple days off to recharge the batteries.

Until I have the chance for some downtime, I've grabbed my first edition copy of Judy Reeves's The Writer's Book of Days to re-read a little each morning. This book always sprinkles a little writing fairy dust on my muse when it's bruised. I know the minute I stomp this final spring deadline I am also heading for the sewing machine, too. I am in great need of doing some serious needlework.

How do you deal with a bruised muse? Got a secret source of writing fairy dust you want to share? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Novel Series Outlining

My newest editor gave me an interesting task last week that I thought I'd share. First, the backstory: In January the editor I'd worked with for the last seven years decided to quit the business. When something like this happens, most writers quietly have a cow (and I admit, for a day or two I had a small calf) but it can also be a good thing. Shortly after the bomb dropped I recognized the sterling opportunity peeking out from under the rubble, and moved quickly to request reassignment to an editor I've wanted to work with for some time -- and got it.

The only pickle still floating in the party punch was what the new editor inherited along with me: the new Darkyn trilogy. Since my new editor hadn't worked on the original series, she doesn't have first-hand knowledge of all the characters, plot lines and world-building in those books. And while I always try to include enough history in every book to keep new-to-me readers from getting lost, an editor needs to know a lot more. When she asked me to write up an overview of the characters and stories from the original series, I jumped right on it.

Outlining an entire series after you've written it might sound easy, but for me it meant condensing over 1700 pages of notes, plots, synopses, character outlines, research etc. into a reference document that someone with no knowledge of my novels could understand and use. Basically I put aside all my notes, wrote up what I would say if we were talking about my books in person, and then edited that first draft down to the simplest details.

A series outline can include, but is not limited to:

A series premise -- the tag or hook line for the entire series.

Titles in reading order

World-building outline -- this is often difficult to summarize, especially if you've built your world(s) from scratch. My advice is to map it out as briefly as you can using broad points to illustrate only the most important elements.

Plot summaries for each book -- to avoid writing full synopses, try to limit your summaries to one paragraph.

Character outlines -- major facts only. You may want to add appearance references (i.e. which book(s) does this character appear.)

There are also some genre-specific details you may want to include, such as a timeline of story and historic events, an explanation of a magic system, family or relationship trees, planetary or technological features, or any element of your invention that contributes significantly in some way to the series. Just remember to avoid getting caught up in TME (too much explanation.)

Depending on what information is needed there are a couple of ways to do a series outline, so it's also a good idea to ask for specifics as to what the editor wants to see. I did, and my editor requested just the major players and their story lines, so I focused my overviews accordingly, and distilled the series down to eleven pages, which I think is pretty decent given the mountain of information involved.

If you're considering writing a series, this is also a good way to figure out your ideas in advance. This comes in very handy when you sell the first novel and the editor asks, "Are you planning to write a sequel or a series?" Having your series outline prepared can even result in an offer for multiple books versus one.

To show you how I wrote my outline, I've uploaded some samples from it, which you can read here (warning, this includes spoilers for If Angels Burn.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Freeware Ten

Ten Things You Can Have for Free

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

Express Scribe Transcription Playback is "Digital Transcription Audio Player Software" that is "free professional audio player software for PC, Mac or Linux designed to assist the transcription of audio recordings. A typist can install it on their computer and control audio playback using a transcription foot pedal or keyboard (with 'hot' keys). This computer transcriber application also offers valuable features for typists including variable speed playback, multi-channel control, playing video, file management, and more: (OS: Win2K, WinXP, Vista, Win7, Mac, Linux)

HandyFind lets you "find words as you type in Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, Notepad, and more. You'll find what you're looking for as soon as you enter enough letters. Don't scroll around. Don't use the Find dialog. Just type where you want to go" (OS: Windows Vista/XP/2000/NT)

InfohesiveEP was "designed to be an easy to use digital content conversion application and ePublisher suite for individuals, publishers, authors, educational institutions, and commercial businesses. Import and Export to a wide range of formats including CHM, HTML, and ePub. Easily create professional level eBooks, Help Files, ePublications, and PDFs with the feature-rich editor. Build trial versions and generate serial numbers so your ePublications are protected from piracy and illegal copying. Superb Outliner functions including drag and drop to easily change the structure of your work, and automated creation of Contents and Index pages. Reuse your favorite layouts by defining your own Outliner Templates. Quickly categorize and recognize Articles according to user-defined Tab labelling. Lifetime Royalty-free distribution of InfoHesiveEP publications: Windows eBook, PDF, HTML, CHM Help File, RTF & more. Powerful onboard search capability. Version backups allow you to quickly revert to an earlier draft. WorkSpace and ePublication encryption and security functions. Create content with rich text, images, links, tables, anchors etc. Create File Items that point to a File and URL Items that point to a remote web address. Drag and Drop functionality. Spell Check and on-board Thesaurus. Extensive InfoHesiveEP Help File" (OS: Win2K, WinXP, Vista, Win7)

MemoMaster serves as a "structured filing system for text information of all kinds that is based on hierarchies. Notes, calculations, tables, forms, pictures, links and files are stored in the Memos. The layout of a Memo database can be created by using folders, sub-folders and Memos in a tree structure. The integrated full-text search allows you to do research quickly and effectively. The usage of MemoMaster is universal. MemoMaster allows you to administer non-fictional texts or useful descriptions, ideas, scrap texts, charges, addresses or recipes. You may also arrange organizational instructions, archive support databases or entries according to date. Create own entry forms with a few mouse clicks only and use them as a database within the database" (OS: Win9x, Win2K, WinXP, Vista, Win7)

Noah is "the first application to free your information from the separate "data islands" of your browser, email client, contact manager, file folders, schedule and RSS feeds. Noah bridges these currently divided data sources and makes it all accessible from a single interface. And your data is always available, online or offline. Emails, website bookmarks, desktop files, contacts, it's all in there somewhere. In Noah you never have to spend hours searching for this stuff again, it's all in one place arranged by date and time. If you can roughly remember when something happened, you can find it with a few clicks, and you will find everything else that was happening during the same day, hour, or minute. Because Noah arranges all of your information automatically, exactly the way you want it" (OS: WinXP)

NotesLogExp allows the user to "take your notes & documents anywhere, no setup, no registration, use on any computer. Use NotesLogExp to store, catalog, manage, secure, search, sort, or export . Notes, documents & various pieces of information, phonebook, tasks, links, are stored in a password protected data base. Items are searched by any field. Internet sites, downloads links, documents, files, pictures, programs, and folders can be stored and opened directly from within NotesLogExp" (OS: Win9x, Win2K, WinXP, Vista, Win7)

Photobie is "an Image Editing software with most features similar to Photoshop plus advanced screen capture and photo frame editing features. With photobie screen capture you can prepare presentation very simply. Photobie has simple user interface. Furthermore, if you have MS Word and other software that create specific graphics or art fonts, then with Photobie you can simply capture it and paste it to any image. Photobie supports multiple-layer image retouching for advanced image editing. Starting at version 2.8, Photobie now supports thousands of Photoshop filter plugins" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

Read This! is "a TTS (Text-To-Speech) engine. It speaks your words! You can make your text become auditory from many languages, furthermore you can save the resulting audio to a Wave file (*.wav) on the disk as well, then use it in your video tutorials, or redistribute it as you like it" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Scribus is "powerful software that helps you create great looking documents of all kinds. It also comes with a lot of support options to help you achieve the best result. There is an enthusiastic and friendly community around Scribus that assists beginner and pro alike through our mailing list, IRC channel, wiki, contracted support, and the bugtracker" (OS: Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X, OS/2 Warp 4/eComStation and Win NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista/2008/7)

The Guide "evolved from the need to have an application that could organize information and ideas in a hierarchical, tree-like structure. Tree-based structures are frequently employed to manage information through a "divide-and-conquer" approach, wherein each level of the tree represents a further level of specialization of the parent-level topic — the best example of this being a book. The Guide is an application that allows you create documents ("guides") which inherently have a tree (which you can modify as you please) and text associated with each node of the tree. The text itself is of the rich-text variety, and the editor allows you to modify the style and formatting of the text (fonts, bold, italics etc). For the initiated, the Guide is a two-pane extrinsic outliner. This concept is similar to mindmapping in some ways" (OS: Win2K, WinXP, Vista, Win7)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

29 Ways

This could be a creativity barometer for anyone out there (warning for those at work, there's some background music):


For those of you who are having problems watching these videos, here's the list of the 29 ways to stay creative as mentioned in the video:

1. Make lists.
2. Carry a notebook everywhere.
3. Try free writing.
4. Get away from the computer.
5. Quit beating yourself up.
6. Take breaks.
7. Sing in the shower.
8. Drink coffee.
9. Listen to new music.
10. Be open.
11. Surround yourself with creative people.
12. Get feedback.
13. Collaborate.
14. Don't give up.
15. Practice, practice, practice.
16. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
17. Go somewhere new.
18. Count your blessings.
19. Get lots of rest.
20. Take risks.
21. Break the rules.
22. Don't force it.
23. Read a page of the dictionary.
24. Create a framework.
25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect.
26. Got an idea? Write it down.
27. Clean your workspace.
28. Have fun.
29. Finish something.

I never do memes, do I? Facebook and Twitter kind of killed the meme, I think. Okay, just this once: if you're looking for something to blog about, copy the video and the list, bold the items on the list that you're already doing, cross off the ones that don't work for you, and star the ones you'd like to try.

Here's my meme version of the list:

1. Make lists.
2. Carry a notebook everywhere.
3. Try free writing.
4. Get away from the computer.
5. Quit beating yourself up.*
6. Take breaks.
7. Sing in the shower.
8. Drink coffee.
9. Listen to new music.
10. Be open.*
11. Surround yourself with creative people. (well, I do virtually)
12. Get feedback.*
13. Collaborate.
14. Don't give up.
15. Practice, practice, practice.
16. Allow yourself to make mistakes.
17. Go somewhere new.
18. Count your blessings.

19. Get lots of rest.*
20. Take risks.
21. Break the rules.
22. Don't force it.

23. Read a page of the dictionary.*
24. Create a framework.
25. Stop trying to be someone else's perfect.
26. Got an idea? Write it down.
27. Clean your workspace.
28. Have fun.
29. Finish something.

Video link brazenly swiped from Kuriositas.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Noun Names

Recently I picked up a mid-series novel (which was not written by anyone who visits here, but we'll let the author remain nameless anyway) that I was pretty interested in reading from a technical standpoint. Often I like to see how other writers handle some problems that are inherent to writing series stories. This one did an okay job with the problem in question; a little on the soft-serv side but not anything that chased me out of the book.

There was one thing the author did have in the story that just about drove crazy me, however: a character with a noun name.

Using a random noun to name a character in a story is a tricky business for a bunch of reasons. Prevalence of use is the first hmmmm on my list; since we got over the sixties there just aren't that many people walking around with names like Dancer, Starlight, Saffron or Journey. Of course noun names make terrific nicknames, and as such I use them all the time, but as proper names? No.

Then there is reader reaction, which can't always be predicted or anticipated. The noun name in this case happened to be something that I personally intensely dislike, so you can understand why I wanted this otherwise very nice character dead by page ten. You can't assume that everyone is going to share your enthusiasm for any noun names you use in a story.

If you are determined to use a noun name, consider having it fit the story as well as the character. A cowboy in a romance named Nevada or Buck would not be as glaring or jarring as one named Neptune or Metro. Also, if you don't know what a noun means, look it up. Peyote may sound cool to you, but it's a botanical from which the hallucinogen mescaline is derived. Not really something you'd want to name a DEA agent.

Other things to consider when contemplating the noun name:

Hateful nouns: Of course there is always some dingbat out there who thinks it's funny to name their child Booze, Wifebeater or Zombie. But most parents generally welcome a child into their lives, and choose a name that has both meaning and love attached to it.

Nouns in other languages: be sure you know what that very cool word you spotted during your European vacation translates to in English. This avoids multi-lingual readers being jolted out of a story by characters whose names mean Vomit, Abortion or Toxic Waste.

Pop culture nouns: What is a fad today will be a joke (or worse) tomorrow. Just ask Pop Rocks Smith, Mood Ring Jones and Cabbage Patch Perkins.

Date nouns: Days of the week and months of the year are probably the least offensive noun names, but often they can become visually confusing for the reader, ala On Tuesday Thursday went to the store or "Do you have an opening in July, April?"

If you are determined to use a noun name for your character, first do a search of the noun to see what meanings and connotations are already attached to it. If any celebrities have used it to name their kids that's usually a sign that it's a terrible choice. Another litmus test is to consider if you would use it to name one of your own children in real life. Whatever objections you think up are probably going to be mirrored by at least some of your readers. If you have a trusted writer friend (aka someone who won't steal the name from you) ask them what they think of it.

One final thought: employing noun names for characters is like cooking with cilantro. Don't expect your choice to be popular with everyone; some people will love it, but others will think it tastes like soap.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Palettes with Color Names

Flickr toy box Big Huge Labs has a very neat color palette generator that not only gives you swatches and codes based on any image you upload, it provides names for most of the colors it swatches (click on image to see larger version):

The generator also allows you to download the swatches " in Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) format for Photoshop or compatible applications":

Finally it also provides sample CSS coding, which looks like stuff you would need if you were using the colors for an online project:

I don't know where BHL is getting these names for the color swatches, but some are quite inventive and make you think in different directions, which can be very useful when you're trying to write description.

Related links:

My posts on how I create Story Palettes and Character Palettes

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Disappointed Book

I'd like to see something like this done in secret with an actual reader and one or more of their books over the course of a year (warning, has some background music):

The Diary of a Disappointed Book from Studiocanoe on Vimeo.

My books live a much more privileged, pampered life. How about yours?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Name Clouds

I have long been looking for a source of names for people of different ages, and I found one surprising source: The Social Security Administration. Using their baby names search engine, I can pull the top 100 most popular names for U.S. boy and girl babies born every year after 1879.

Finding this site also helped me solve another naming problem that frequently plagues me: what to name married couples. First I just pulled the 100 most popular names of their respective gender and birth year and ran two columns side by side, but I wanted to mix them up and see them in different combinations. Which gave me an excuse to go and play with Wordle.

Here's a cloud that contains the most popular boy and girl names from 2010 (click any image to see a larger version):

Here's another cloud, using the most popular names from fifty years ago:

Finally I Wordled the most popular names for babies born in 1880:

The best thing about feeding my potential lists to Wordle is that I can keep switching around the name cloud to get different combinations if I don't like the first results. This would probably work great with pairing first and last names, too.

Btw, for you folks who love to play with words, art and phone apps, Wordle creator Jonathan Feinberg mentioned on his blog a new app called WordFoto which reimages your photos into photo/word art. Although I can't personally test it out (my mobile phone is the throwaway kind that only makes phone calls), I meandered over to the app store and checked the price. It's $1.99, which seems quite reasonable.