Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Final Day

For the last twenty-nine days you NaNoWriMo'ers have been at the keyboard working on your novels. Along with the writing you've done, you've probably stared at the monitor, swore under your breath, hit and held down the backspace and delete keys, and maybe head-desked it once or twice. You've given up reading your favorite books, watching your favorite shows on television, playing your newest video games, going shopping, hanging out with friends, putting cool new apps on your smartphone and a bunch of other personal pleasures. You may have missed a meal or four.

In the process you've thought a lot of things about yourself, your work and writing in general. Sometimes you've loved this craziness of writing a novel. Sometimes you've hated it more than that bully in high school who made your freshman year a nightmare. But most of you reached your goal, and those of you who didn't gave it your best shot.

It's not the wordcount that matters, you know. Nailing that 50K is great, but what really counts is that you went after it.

If you're taking a break now and need a recharge for your creative batteries, go here to watch and listen to a breathtaking tour of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries at the V&A, one of my favorite museums on the planet (about nine minutes, is narrated in English and has some background music.)

Break over? Okay, you've got one more day to write. Get to it, and good luck.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Making Book

Cloth Paper Scissors has debuted a new magazine, Pages, as a creative guide for art journaling and bookmaking. The Winter 2011 issue has over sixty different handmade books and journals, and is simply stunning. I haven't seen this many good ideas in one place since reading Alisa Golden's Making Handmade Books (which they also review in this issue.)

The magazine sectioned projects and articles into Bookmaking, Book Covers, Binding, Inside Pages, Art Journaling and Regulars (editor's page, advertising, supply wish lists, etc.) I think this is smart because often with bookmaking you know what you want for one part but need some ideas for others (I have no problem with making interesting covers, for example, but I definitely need some new directions to try with my pages as foundations. I'm also not especially fond of complicated bindings, and often have the most problems with that part of bookmaking, so I always like seeing alternative binding options.)

Making your own books seems like an old-fashioned concept, but with all the attention and emphasis electronic format is getting, I think it's more important than ever to devote some quality time to writing and creating personal works that can't be uploaded or downloaded, pirated or otherwise become lost to the digital abyss. As art goes it can also be intensely private; something one does out of the deep and abiding love for the physical book.

If you've never attempted making a book, and really want to, this magazine is inspiration on tap. Some of the projects are pretty simple and require materials you probably have around the house; other are more challenging and can teach savvy bookmakers some dazzling new tricks. A few of the projects could be scaled down/simplified for kids to try, and I especially liked how many of the projects features upcycled or recycled materials.

This would also make a great holiday gift for your favorite art journaler, bookmaker or diary junkie; find a pretty tote, fill in with interesting materials and supplies and top it off with a copy of the magazine.

Monday, November 28, 2011

No Cost 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.

ArtWeaver "lets you paint creatively with the help of a huge range of painting tools. You can create sketches from photos or just experiment with colors" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7)

Sign up for free membership at the Cloth Paper Scissors website here and get a free e-book: Exploring Encaustics and Encaustic Art: 4 Free Articles Demonstrating Encaustic Collage and Encaustic Painting Techniques.

FlashNote is "a quick notes manager" and according to the web site: "When you need a rough copy to save or to process some pieces of a text, Flashnote is small, quick and convenient. Press the shortcut-key combination and a rough copy is on the screen in a flash of a second. Press ESC and the program hides. It's that simple. You don't need to find a place for text, to run Notepad or huge heavy PIM. Flashnote is a lightweight notes manager, everything gets done quickly, simply and in a more convenient way." [The designer notes that FlashNote is NOT a Notepad replacement program; but it looks like they have a portable version, too] (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

FreePlane is a "free and open source software to support thinking, sharing information and getting things done at work, in school and at home. The core of the software consists of functions for mind mapping, also called concept mapping or information mapping, and tools for using mapped information" (OS: Designer notes: "Freeplane runs on any operating system on which a current version of Java is installed and from USB")

Whether you have a complicated real life or ficitional family to sort out, the free trial of Gaia Family Tree™ promises to help: "Plug your information directly into the software, and let it build your family tree for you. With its simple interface, Gaia Family Tree™ allows you to create your family tree with a few clicks - no need to be an expert in computers or genealogy" (OS: Windows XP / Windows Vista / Windows 7)

The free express version of MapleXp time-tracking software allows you to "keep track of multiple tasks and categorize how much time you spent working on each of them. Main features of MapleXp include: unlimited number of tasks organized into hierarchical structure, unlimited number of work items (single piece of time spent on a particular task), pay rate for tasks to invoice customers, totals calculated across time and tasks, rich configuration capabilities" (OS: Windows XP/2003/Vista/2008/7)

Pigeonhole Free Organizer "shows you a grid of pigeonholes similar to a spread sheet. Click on a pigeonhole and type in whatever you want - it is saved automatically. When you want to recall the information, just move the mouse over the grid. Whatever you typed into the pigeonhole the mouse is over appears automatically in the viewer window. There are 175 pigeonholes displayed at any one time so you can view up to 175 different pieces of information just by moving the mouse over the grid...... Could anything be easier?" (OS: Not specified, likely Windows.)

PixBuilder Studiois a "free image editing software program for digital photo editing, images processing, and resizing. For digital photo editing, you can use its many professional quality functions. PixBuilder Studio allows you to use the following color management functions: brightness/contrast management, color balance, and levels manipulation. For professional results, you can use the curves function. In PixBuilder Studio, to carry out great, professional looking photo editing, you can manipulate the image with color channels. Layers concept, multi-step undo, gradients and masks support, and text layers support all make PixBuilder Studio a great graphics software program for image processing and creating illustration" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7 (32-Bit/64-Bit)

QT Writer Express can be used "for anything from writing a quick letter to producing an entire book with embedded illustrations, tables of contents, indexes, and bibliographies. QT Writer is a complete and powerful software solution for creating, editing and viewing various types of documents. A number of available features give you a fine degree of control over the formatting of text, pages, sections of documents, and also entire documents. You may also save your documents in a variety of industry standard formats like pdf, rtf, doc, txt, and our own presentation format ssp. Insert special characters, emotional icons, pictures, and images into your writing for a more colourful display of your thoughts and ideas. Create pdfs without any additional software. Use the built-in PDF capabilities of QT Writer to share your work easily and with everyone! Adobe Acrobat is NOT required to create these handy files." [Designer notes that the application is also completely portable.] (OS: Windows 2000 / XP / Vista / 7 / 8)

This is the last week for free access and downloads to my writing how-to e-book Way of the Cheetah, which will be going back into the vault on December 2.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Google Street View Weirdness

I've been using Google Maps with Street View to take some virtual tours of places I haven't visited in a long time to see what's changed. It's fun and a lot cheaper than a plane ticket.

I was virtually strolling around Avignon when I stopped to change directions and saw this (click on image to see larger version):



I know the gentleman on the left there is nothing more than the victim of a camera glitch, but usually the stretchy shadows and echoes vanish once you stop moving the viewer. This time it didn't, so the guy looks like he's melting into the sidewalk. Very Daliesque and uberweird -- and sparked an idea for a cool story that I can't write until I finish all my deadlines so I am now staying far, far away from Google Street View.

Aaron Hobson has a nice collection of beautiful landscapes here; likewise screen-shot while he was playing with Google Street View (like swiped from Gerard over at The Presurfer.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Last Stretch

It's 5:07 am here. My guy has already left for work (it's Black Friday and he works in retail; I might see him again sometime after midnight.) The dogs have been walked, the coffee made, the laundry sorted. Mom will be up in about an hour; the kids in about three. I'm planning pancakes for breakfast. We have a bunch of things scheduled for today for which I will be driver, organizer, or damage control supervisor.

I do not want to be here, awake, out of bed, up, working. It's freezing outside so I'm still trying to warm up after walking the dogs. My eyes are burning, my knee is throbbing, my right shoulder is not cooperating at all and my back is trying to decide how much grief it's going to give me. The sofa and the cuddle quilt I keep there look so good I can't go near them.

I'm tired. Thanksgiving was two days of nonstop cooking, partying and quality family time that left me in a partial coma, and I'd like nothing better than to climb back in my nice warm bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep 'til noon (and worse, my family would let me.)

I'm not going back to bed, I'm up and I have at least one entire hour of silence and solitude for myself. No, I'm going to write, and keep writing until someone needs me to do something else. Then I'll do that, make them happy, and then slip away and write a little more. Repeat that about a dozen times, throw in more laundry, more dogs walks, cooking, tidying, laughing, family time, holiday stuff and that will be my day until sometime around midnight, when my guy finally gets home, I feed him and we collapse together in an exhausted heap.

It's a juggling act on any day, having a full time job and a family and a home, and taking care of all of them. The holidays add extra work along with the joy, most of which can be handled with a decent attitude and thoughtful time management. I do think attitude is everything, and if you can start each day with a good one you won't mind getting swamped, derailed, sidetracked or otherwise frustrated.

The body is a bit tougher. No one is getting any younger, especially me, and then in my case there's my constant companion arthritis. But I've had days when I've literally had to crawl out of bed, my hands like cartoon balloon gloves filled with broken glass, my knee swollen and locked up, my shoulder completely immobile and my back trying to form different letters of the alphabet. On those days, which are becoming more frequent, I spend my first hour icing and soaking and medicating and wishing I was the Bionic Woman, so any day I can walk is a very good day.

You NaNoWriMo'ers are in your last week now, and some of you may be fed up with this whole novel-writing idea. You're tired, you have the holidays swamping you and it's so much easier not to try to do this thing right now. I think we all wish we could dash into some beautiful Better Homes & Gardens office with fresh flowers on the desk, a smiling personal assistant manning the phones, and enjoy effortlessly knocking out two or three chapters in an hour and then spend the rest of the day doing as we please.

Even if you're making millions and have all that cool stuff, the reality of writing is that it's hard work that takes a lot of time, thought and effort. The work doesn't always pay you back for your devotion. You might get something good on the page, you might not. You might finish it, you might not. You might sell it, you might not. This might have been a complete waste of your time . . .

It's not. It's never a waste of time to write. Unless you believe your doubt, which always thinks it's a waste of time. Doubt only has one week left to convince you of this, to defeat you, to stop you, to win. It's probably going to work overtime doing just that. And you may tired enough to listen this time.

I can't tell you how well you've done so far. Your novel may be so magnificent that you sell it to the first editor you sub it to. Or it may be so unmagnificent that you feed it to your office shredder on December 1st. But I can guess that it's probably somewhere in between those two extremes. What you've written is probably okay, has potential, but needs some work. Until you've written your way to consistently producing professional-level work, most first draft manuscripts are like that.

And that's the key, the thing your doubt doesn't want you to know. The only way you get better at this is to keep writing. In most cases, the more you write, the more you figure out, the better you refine your process, and the better you improve your chances of getting published. Give up, walk away, and you never get better, you never refine your process, and you never get published -- also something doubt doesn't tell you (doubt likes to hit you with stuff disguised as encouragement, like Take it easy; no one expects you to do this during the holidays or You can write a book sometime next year, when you're not so busy.)

The truth is you're always going to busy, tired, frustrated, distracted, what have you, and sometimes it is a huge emotional drain. You may not love this writing stuff enough to stick with it. God knows there are easier things to do. You may find something else that is more profitable and gives you more immediate satisfaction. It is okay to quit; I won't come to your house and harass you. I don't know where you live -- but doubt does. Oh, doubt knows everything about you, and absolutely will use it to stop you from writing. Doubt lives for nothing else.

If you love it, if you want it, if it has been your dream and you are willing to work for it, keep going. Keep writing. And show doubt what you're really made of.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Online Writing Ten

Deadline week starts today for me (as well as all you NaNoWriMo'ers out there), so to help you get some writing done while you're online, here are:

Ten Things for the Online Writing

The Bonsai Story Generator takes the text you cut and paste, turns it inside out and upside down, and gives you some new word combos, lines and all kinds of ideas.

The Cut Up Machine over at Language is a Virus takes whatever text you feed it, chops it up, rearranges it and generates new text.

Google Docs allows you to create and edit documents online with their simple word processor; if you're looking for online storage they offer free and low-cost accounts as well (I use and personally recommend this one.)

iNetword is going bye-bye in March 2012, but until then you can use it online for free.

Also at Language is a Virus, the Sentence Builder can give you a hand with line construction.

SpringNote is a free online notebook based on wiki.

Think Free Online Office provides 1 GB of free storage along with online document viewing, editing and collaboration.

Write 100 words at Written? Kitten and an adorable kitten pic pops up as your reward.

Zoho Writer is "an online word processor that allows you to create and share documents online. You need not install any software in your desktop, all you need is just a browser and an internet connection for working with Zoho Writer."

Zoho also has a virtual notebook in beta here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wishing You

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anne

We've lost Anne McCaffrey.

I never had the opportunity or the privilege to meet Anne in person, but she influenced me enormously as an author. I've been reading her novels almost all my adult life, and I've never stopped; this week I'm working on The White Dragon. Over the years I have read editions of Crystal Singer, Restoree and Powers That Be so many times that they fell apart and I had to go get new copies. I also have at least one copy of every book she's ever written. Probably two or three; I have shelves of lending copies.

At the beginning of my career Anne read the manuscript that would become my first published novel, StarDoc. She wrote a beautiful letter with her thoughts about it, and provided a lovely quote for the cover. That's the sort of kindness and generosity that you can only hope to pay forward, because you can never pay it back.

As for me, I'm going to get an early start on Thanksgiving and say thank you, Anne. Thank you for all the amazing novels you wrote, for your kindness to me and so many other writers, and for bringing so much wonder and delight to the world. Your time here was not wasted. And I pray with all my heart that you have a safe journey to the next place, and there dwell in beauty and peace.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sub Ops 5

Apex Magazine webzine has a new editor, and is looking for dark speculative fiction. Length: up to 7.5K, Payment: 5¢/word. No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Humor site Cracked.com is looking for humorous pieces: "Cracked.com is one of the most popular comedy sites on planet Earth. If we feature your content, it will be seen by A LOT of people. We are very, very picky about what goes on the front page, but we'll give anybody a chance. If you're good, we'll pay you. We strive to publish every single great piece of content we get in. If you're a creative person and you can make stuff other people will like to read or watch, Cracked is an All-You-Can-Eat buffet." Length: varies. Payment: "Profit. Meaning, we pay you $50 per article starting out. Once you hit your fifth article, it goes up to $150. There is also a traffic bonus program that pays an extra $50 if your article finishes in the top 10 for the month in traffic." Submissions are pitched publicly via their bulletin board (for which submitting writers must sign up) and then is workshopped/critiqued, Sounds a lot like what Baen was doing with their subs; see guidelines page and related links for more details (and my thanks to Bill Peschel for the heads up on this market.)

Fender Stitch webzine is looking for fiction in all genres, Lenth: up to 4K (prefers 1-2.5K) Payment:: 5¢/word. No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

The Friends of Merril Short Story Contest is now open; it's not stated but it looks like Spec Fic. The contest is not free, either, but the entry fee is $5.00 (CDN) so it's not horrible, and the money goes to their cause. Length: up to 4K. Prizes: First Prize: $350.00 (CDN) and 1 copy of the limited edition booklet containing the winning stories; Second Prize: $100.00 (CDN) and 1 copy etc.; Third Prize: $50.00 (CDN) and 1 copy etc. No reprints, electronic submissions okay, see contest guidelines for more details. Deadline: February 15, 2012

Woodland Press has an open call for their Hills of Fire antho, and is looking for: "...fictional pulp action stories in an Appalachian setting. Submitted stories should harken back to the square-jawed tales of Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett, and Louis L'Amour. Stories can be set in any time period, but must take place in the Appalachian region. Stories involving mountain men, moonshine runners, lawmen, heists, wrestling, soldiers, and outlaws are highly encouraged. Addition of regional history and folklore is also advised. Complex characters should be equally mixed with solid plots and high octane excitement. Submissions should avoid popular action clich├ęs and unflattering Appalachian stereotypes." Length: up to 2.5K. Payment: "five-cents per word (upon publication) plus contributor copy." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: June 30th, 2012.

Monday, November 21, 2011

T-Day Ten

Ten Things to Help with Thanksgiving

DLTK has a whole page here of Thanksgiving-themed activities for kids (I like the printable bookmarks.)

In addition to their annual Turkey Talk-Line® (1-800-288-8372; call weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central Standard Time) Butterball.com has short videos on how to choose, thaw, stuff, roast and carve a turkey.

Melissa Clark has an excellent article here on what cooking and prep you can do before Thanksgiving Day to make your dinner easier to handle.

Cooking Light's Holiday celebration page includes links to a gluten-free menu and vegetarian recipes.

Food Network has their annual Thanksgiving page here, including a recipe for the World's Simplest Thanksgiving Turkey.

Give back: share the bounty with those having tough times by donating non-perishable foods to your local churches, food banks or via food purchase donations at your local grocery store.

Hostess Gifts: if you're having dinner elsewhere this year, the nicest thing you can do is offer to bring something to contribute to the meal. With the turkey taking up the oven most of the day, warm homemade rolls or bread are a nice treat (and can be used with leftovers for turkey sandwiches.) Kids don't always love pumpkin pie, so a batch of Toll House cookies may make you their hero. If you don't cook consider giving your hostess a neat cooking tool, pan or other kitchen helper. A gift card for a meal at your hosts' favorite restaurant is also a lovely way to reciprocate. One year a visiting friend gave us a new set of reusable food containers, which I am still using.

How to Make Edible Fruit Centerpieces

My No Brainer Fudge Recipe (#5 on the list here.) It's the richest and easiest fudge you'll ever make; no candy thermometer required.

For a special dessert I love apple strudel, as it makes a nice, light change from traditional pie. Here's a good recipe from Pepperidge Farm using their frozen puff pastry.

Got any great links for Thanksgiving helps or hints? Share them in comments.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Whatcha Reading?

Now and then I like to do a whatcha reading check and see what books everyone else in the house has going. I do this when they're not home not because I'm sneaky -- well, I guess it's a little sneaky -- but mainly so that so no one tries to plant books they think I think they should be reading. I'm also trying to be sensitive to the fact that apparently it's tough to live with an opinionated writer who will shove a book in their hands without warning (I don't know why these people waste their time whining about getting cool new books when they could be reading them instead, but there you go.)

Mom is visiting for the holidays, and like me she leaves books she's reading everywhere. Today she's working on Carla Cassidy's Rancher Under Cover in her room and Thomas A. Flagel's The History Buff's Guide to the Civil War and the December '11 issue of Woman's Day in the living room. I've noticed she's been reading a lot more Harlequin and Silhouette romances these days, along with her usual nonfic history doorstops. The Civil War is her favorite period, so I'll probably grab Shiloh for her from my Shelby Foote collection. I also want her to read The Icing on the Cake, Alison Kent's reality-based romance, because it's so unique.


Due to an overabundance of school work my daughter has not been reading much at all for pleasure lately, but she's dutifully plowing her way through her latest assignment for advanced English Lit. She's already complained numerous times about how much she dislikes F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (while I try very hard to keep a straight face as I encourage her to keep plowing), so I wasn't surprised to see it thrown on the floor. She was a bit more respectful with her class textbook, which is sitting on her desk. I imagine when she gets home from her latest band competition she'll be diving back into another lit assignment. I might have to make her some sympathy shortbread and pick up the latest volume of her favorite manga to go with them.

My guy reads only for work, and he's been studying this technical manual on energy efficiency controls all week. I know how much he hates to read, so I don't shove books at him. We do discuss local and national news, though, and I might leave a copy of the Sunday newspaper out where he can find it. My college kid is also home, and has started a local job for the holidays. He's been taking extra shifts to beef up his paycheck, and as a result has been coming home exhausted, so I wasn't surprised to see the only reading material in his room was a Shonen Jump magazine. Reading is not his favorite leisure activity, but when he's tired he's more apt to curl up with humor or something light. I'll keep that in mind when I next get to BAM and see if I can find him something short and fun.

As for what I've been reading, we'll head over to my nightstand TBR and have a look. My piles here shift constantly; at the moment I think I've got kind of an interesting assortment, mostly rereads: 11/22/63 by Stephen King; The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman, The Knife Man by Wendy Moore, A Piece of Heaven by Barbara Samuel, Chimera by Rob Thurman, a collection of e.e. cummings's poetry, Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt . . . and see, I am reading a dragon book; there's Anne McCaffrey right up top (I remembered I was once very fond of The White Dragon, so to keep my promise to read more dragon stuff I thought I'd start there with a reread.)

Of all of them I'm probably not going to finish the only new book (King's latest doorstop); that one I'll pass along to someone who is dying to read it but can't afford the hardcover. Since I've been lending my car to my daughter I haven't any books in there, but Daniel Pool is in my purse. Well, not Daniel, but his wonderful book What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. I'm expecting a copy of ClothDragon's Zen revenge rec, Bridge of Birds, next week as soon as B&N.com ships my latest order, and have another list of titles to hunt for the next time I get to the brick-and-mortar BAM. I've got to get there soon, as I definitely need some new reads.

So, whatcha reading? Give us a peek in comments.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blockbuster Ten

Ten Things To Help You Bust Through Writer's Block
(dedicated to L., who requested some ideas)

Change Locations: The space you're writing in may be interfering with your process (and is generally because of bad lighting, uncomfortable temperature, noise, family or co-worker traffic or any other element that distracts you.) To discover if it is, take your work and go somewhere else. Coffee shops are the default, but if you have time check out your local public library, outdoor parks, school media centers, employee break rooms or cafeterias at work, tea rooms, etc. Or ask a family member or friend if you can borrow an empty/spare room or office of theirs to work in for a few hours.

Clean Something: This is a method I use to work out whatever is getting between me and the page that my morning meditation doesn't clear out; I get up and do some housework like fold a load of laundry, vacuum, mop, dust, etc. It improves my mood, helps me keep up with my chores and makes me feel better after the task is done. For really bad writing days I'll stop and go clean an entire room.

Get Physical: If you do some regular type of exercise, try taking a break and working out for fifteen minutes. I have a Tai Chi video tape I pop in the recorder that helps me enormously when I'm too aggravated to write or meditate. If you can get outside that also helps; I've found taking the dogs for even a short walk improves my mood and calms me almost 100% of the time.

Listen to Music: I put together a playlist for every book I write, and when I get mired down I'll listen to one of the songs. This is fun and also can help you focus and visualize; music is one of the most direct methods of finding inspiration. If I'm having a particularly difficult time with a specific scene I'll put on a calming instrumental song and loop it to play over and over until I work out the kinks.

Meditate: My favorite definition of meditation is this one: Prayer is about talking to God; meditation is about listening to Him. There are innumerable methods for and philosophies about meditation, and not all require you to be a person of faith; if you don't believe in a higher power it can simply be a time when you listen to yourself. I meditate every morning, and my method evolved from a technique called the thousand-petal lotus (and here's an article where the technique is explained and used for weight control.) This is a great way to deal with the frustrations that get between you and the page, as well as the most proactive thing you can do to prevent writer's block. Try it; you might find that as little as 10 minutes of meditation before you write can help you disperse a lot of the negative thoughts and energy drainers that might mess with you later.

Pick a Reward: Aka dangle a carrot in front of your nose to get yourself moving. I use books I want to read, music CDs I want to listen to and movies I want to watch as incentives to finish my weekly writing goals, and I always reward myself with something fun when I finish a novel. It doesn't have to be a reward you have to purchase, either; if money is tight you can make your carrot something you love to do at home, such as watching an hour of television, taking a long hot bubble bath or baking a batch of homemade cookies for yourself.

Skip Ahead: If there's a scene you simply can't write no matter how often you try, it may need to percolate a bit more in the back of your mind. To give it time to do so you can skip past it and write the next scene. Be sure to leave behind a note for yourself on what the skipped scene was supposed to accomplish, what characters appear in it, etc. Naturally you can go back to the scene whenever you feel ready to try tackling again, but I recommend giving yourself at least 48 hours before you have another go at it.

Talk it Out: This is a trick I learned while training myself to write by voice. If you go back a few paragraphs or pages of story that you've already written, and read it out loud up to the point where you were stopped by the block, you may find you can keep going and tell more of the story by saying it versus typing it. If you don't own voice recognition software, you can record the new material on a handheld tape recorder or with your computer microphone and a recording program. Then all you have to do is transcribe what you've said onto the page.

Timed & Reward Breaks: You'll need a timer or an alarm of some kind for this one (I use an ordinary kitchen timer.) When you're in writing space and nothing is happening, set the timer or alarm for five minutes and go do something else. You can do anything you want for five minutes. When the bell rings or the alarm goes off, go back to your writing space try to write again for the next fifteen minutes (and don't do anything else; you're just there to write.) If nothing happens again, reset your timer or alarm for five more minutes and take another break. Now here's the reward part: if you write a full page, as a reward you earn a ten minute break. If you write two full pages, you get a fifteen minute break. And if you write until you reach your daily goal, you get the rest of the day off.

Unplug: The internet is a wonderful thing. It's an endless universe of neat stuff waiting to be discovered. It can also be one of the worst distractions a writer has, especially when you're wrestling with a block. To get it out of your way, shut it down, and don't log on again until you've written at least a page of new material. Then get that timer or alarm out and give yourself a reward of ten minutes of internet time, because you deserve it.

Related links: Hack Your Way Out of Writer's Block ~ Overcoming Writer's Block ~ Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block ~ Writer's Block: Is It All In Your Head?

Friday, November 18, 2011

You're My #2

For everyone who has ever loved pencils (colored or otherwise), here's a delightful stop-motion music video about them:

Hudson - Against The Grain from Dropbear on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Winner

I suspect you guys have as much magic as the Publishing Fairy. Your efforts kept me from detonating, and now I have a new list of books to hunt for the next time I hit BAM. On the professional front, I also sold a novel today, and since it was the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2009, that was extra icing on the cake.

Meanwhile, the sparkly one just waved her wand over the magic hat, and the winner of the Zen Revenge giveaway is:

ClothDragon, who recommended Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart (which I will track down and read, too.)

ClothDragon, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to info to LynnViehl@aol.com, and let me know which title you'd like for your BookWish. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Zen Revenge

I've summoned the Publishing Fairy and bullied her into agreeing to give someone a book they want today. It's mostly a selfish thing; an act of Zen revenge to nullify something that I was stuck with that I don't want (long, ugly story.)

I can't go into details without my head exploding. You'll get writer brains all over your browser. You don't mind, do you?

If you don't, in comments to this post name a book or author that makes you happy (or if you're in my boat at the moment, just toss your name in the magic hat) by midnight EST tonight, November 16, 2011. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and grant the winner a BookWish*. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

*A BookWish is any book of the winner's choice available for order online and that costs up to a maximum of $30.00 U.S. dollars (I'll cover any additional shipping costs involved.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Faking It

Eighteen years ago I took an old wooden stool my mom had given me, stripped some pretty horrible avocado green paint from it, and decided to try something. I wanted to paint objects on seat in such a way that they looked real. This technique is called trompe l'oeil, and I thought it would be fun. If it worked it would be a kind of visual joke, to fool someone into thinking for just a second that there was stuff sitting on top of the stool.

At the time I didn't really know what I was doing; I figured I'd simply try. I took one of my dishtowels, an orange, a pear, a rose, and my wedding rings, and arranged them into a still life on the floor. Then I painted what I saw onto the top of the stool.

Obviously the results weren't fabulous. I thought the towel came out okay, but the fruit looked flat and the rose was just wrong. My rings looked especially silly; nothing like the real deal. I was about to scrub off the entire painting when my guy stepped in and whisked the stool away from me. He thought it was beautiful (even back then the man needed glasses) and he wouldn't let me erase what was to me a failure. No, he slapped a couple coats of varnish on it to preserve it. Miffed, I left the stool in his custody and eventually forgot about it.

The other night I couldn't find the folding chair I always use to sit in the garage with my guy (I think one of the kids borrowed it) so I grabbed this stool -- my old ridiculous-looking painted stool -- and dusted it off. It surprised me, to see how vivid the colors still were, and how neat the towel looked. My fruit was still flat, and my rose and rings were still lame, but they were also kind of charming. I'd tried so hard to get it right; I'd even added all the little dimples on the rind of the orange.

Those tiny details fascinated me, and reminded me of who I was eighteen years ago. At that point in my life I'd just started diving into things like quilting and painting and writing. Not because I thought I could be wonderful at any of them, but because not trying meant not knowing, and I wanted to find out what I could do.

I'm still trying to find out what I can do. I'll never be a great painter, but I've learned to be a bit more patient with myself. I'm also more forgiving, and more inclined to keep trying, because in the years since I painted that stool I've learned that I don't suck at everything. I've also discovered that just trying to paint or quilt or write what I see in my head is enough to make it worth it. If something decent comes out of it, that's a bonus. What I thought of as faking it was always an act of courage as well as creation. The delights keep bringing me back to the easel, or the sewing machine, or the keyboard -- and yet, so do the disappointments.

I'm glad my guy didn't let me destroy my failed attempt at trompe l'oeil. I can see now that it wasn't a failure. It was one of countless stops along the journey of living a creative life. If I'd given up there, maybe I wouldn't be where I am now.

Everything you do contributes to who you become. It's okay to get discouraged, to feel inadequate, to want to make your failures go away; it's part of learning. It's when you stop trying that you steal from your future self. So go ahead, try it. Fake it if you have to. Whatever the results, it will probably be one of the most real things you ever do.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Only in Novels Ten

Ten Things Women Do Only in Novels

Are Purseless: Women in novels rarely carry purses. In real life, that's like being a medic without a carry-in. I'm not particularly in love with purses -- I own exactly one -- but I feel unarmed if I go anywhere without it. There are exceptions, of course; my daughter flatly refuses to carry one (something I secretly admire, actually.)

Confront an Intruder: I am amazed at how often women in novels will get out of bed in the middle of the night to investigate the glass-breaking sound out in the living room. Alone, unarmed, drowsy and dressed in my pajamas? I'm going to do the sensible thing and call 911 on the cordless as I climb out through a window and run away.

Dash on Makeup: I don't wear makeup anymore, but back when I did it took at least ten minutes, not the five seconds it takes in novels, to apply. Now there are so many different products I think you need a degree in chemistry to figure out how to use them. Also, women in novels all seem to be makeup experts who always get it on perfectly the first try. I envy this greatly, as I have never gotten it on right the first try.

Eat Indiscriminantly: Calories remain completely uncounted in novel world. Or maybe the food has no calories, or all the women there have incredible metabolisms which allow them to eat anything they want and never gain an ounce. Which is why I want to go live in Novel World. Now, please?

Flaunt Their Scars: No matter what physical or emotional trauma was involved, novel women like to show off their scars. They often dress specifically to reveal them, and have no problem discussing -- with total strangers -- how they got them. This is certainly a healthy attitude, but not a realistic one. Those of us who have noticeable scars usually dress to cover them up so we don't upset other people or have to talk about them.

Have No Allergies: Women in novels are disgustingly healthy in general, and almost always allergic to nothing. I marvel at this, especially during the Spring when most of my female friends are mainlining Claritin just so they can walk outside to get the mail. My mom is so allergic to mangoes simply touching one makes her break out in a rash. I'm the same with ficus trees. It doesn't seem fair.

Never Use Mobiles: Another reason I'd like to go live on Fiction Planet; none of the women who inhabit it are on their cell phones 24/7. In my world I can't escape the mobile phone addicted females; they're everywhere. And the texting while driving. God. Don't even get me started on that.

Wear Any Old Thing to Go Out: Outside the chicklit genre women in novels appear supremely unconcerned with how they dress. They're almost like guys in how little they think about their clothes. Not so in real life; just find yourself an average lady and watch what happens when she has to get dressed to leave the house. Nations have risen and fallen in less time. While you're at it, bring popcorn, a drink and a comfortable lawn chair for the makeup and hair phase of getting ready to go out.

What have you noticed that women do only in novels? Add your observations in comments.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sub Ops

Rob Tucker of the very interesting UK-based Circalit sent me a heads up on three of their current competitions:

Get Your Comedy Sketch Produced by an Award-Winning Director

Ever had an idea for a comedy sketch? Circalit is back once again helping talented comedy writers get their sketches produced and distributed. This time Circalit has teamed up with award-winning filmmaker, Jason Wingard, whose most recent short, “Ben and Jackie” has been short-listed for the Virgin Media Shorts 2011 and the Reed.co.uk Short Film competition. The competition is part of Circalit’s Get your Film Made series. The winning script will be directed by Jason, who has worked alongside fantastic comedians such as Johnny Vegas, and companies such as Channel K, MTV and 2-Entertain. Participants are actively encouraged to collaborate with one another to produce the best, most groin-tearingly funny piece of comedy they can. The deadline is Thursday 16th December, and submissions are being read as soon as they’re submitted - so the sooner you enter the better! For more details, check out: http://www.circalit.com/projects/competitions/jason.

Portal Entertainment and Circalit on the Search for the Writers of Tomorrow ~ £6K Global Writing Competition to Create a Storyworld

Portal Entertainment has announced a £6k global writing competition to create a storyworld: that is, a story told using different types of media across multiple platforms. The winner of the competition will receive £6k to develop their storyworld with Portal Entertainment. The top 5 entries will be given professional feedback from BBC Multiplatform Executive Producer Sarah Clay (Becoming Human, Waterloo Reunited, E20). The deadline for entries is 21st November. For more information please visit www.circalit.com/projects/competitions/immersive.

Chance Encounters: The Circalit Flash Fiction Competition

In partnership with London’s trendiest hangout for creatives, The Hospital Club (www.thehospitalclub.com), and their poet-in-residence, the lyrical prodigy Sabrina Mahfouz, Circalit are extremely pleased to announce a new flash fiction writing competition. Writers are challenged to create a one page story, of whatever genre they please, on the subject of ‘A Chance Encounter’. Sabrina herself will be reading the winning story for an exclusive video-recording and podcast, which will be available on the hospital club website. The winning story will play in the club’s lifts and video screens, and will be plastered up throughout the Hospital Club’s halls for all its glitzy patrons, who include the likes of James Morrison, Kate Moss and Jude Law, to read and enjoy. This is a great opportunity to have your story exposed to a wide and varied creative audience in an original way. The deadline for entries is 1st December. Visit http://www.circalit.com/projects/competitions/hospital for more information.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blade Maker

Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn explains how he made the leap from fiction writer to knife maker (narrated with a few R-rated words, but beautifully told):

Made by Hand / No 2 The Knife Maker from Made by Hand on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Resistance

You NaNoWriMo'ers out there are a week and a half into writing your November novel, and so far I bet it's probably going pretty well for most of you. There were those first couple of days when you started this story -- thrilling, scary as hell, or somewhere in between -- but you got through them okay. You've navigated a few bumps but you've also made some progress. You've probably cheated at least once to go back and read over what you've written, and maybe even tinkered with a few lines. And you may be convinced that because of this you will keep on writing book-length fiction for the rest of the month, if not the rest of your natural life.

Only today or tomorrow or a couple days from now, you'll go to the keyboard, open the novel file, and not want to write anything new. There's this other idea you had, you see, that was so much better. Or you've backread what you've written more than once, tinkered quite a bit, and despite that this story is simply not turning out the way you expected.

It's strange, isn't it? Characters who used to be deep and interesting and fun to hang with suddenly grow a little old and boring. The decision to set the novel in [fascinating place] that seemed so smart now feels a little dumb because you've discovered just how much you don't really know about [fascinating place]. There's that awful plot hole that you didn't see before but you keep braking at or running over. But it's only been a week and a half, and you can scrap these two or three chapters and start over, right?

Writers have different references for this period with the work. We say we're a little blocked, or the honeymoon is over, or the muse is fighting us. We have so many analogies for this point with the work we could probably write a book about them.

The fact is, in most cases, the new and shiny has worn off. What was cool and exciting and kept us at the keyboard until 2 a.m. every night suddenly feels like a job. A job for which there is no paycheck waiting at the end of the week. A job that might be more to way more than we can handle.

Remember the doubt that tried to keep you from writing this book? That almost had you convinced that you couldn't do it. Say hello; it's back. Despite the fact that Halloween is over it's wearing a mask and costume. It isn't interested in treats; it wants only to trick you. It's here to keep you from writing, and what better way that to make you think the work you've done is boring, useless and ultimately worthless?

You don't have to keep writing, of course. You can stop now and start over with another idea. You can take a break from writing for a couple days, maybe a week. You can drop out of NaNoWriMo and promise to do it next year. You can do any of these things; no one will stop you. Certainly not your doubt, because that's exactly what it wants. Like the bully back in school, it's only interested in dumping your work (and your butt) in the nearest trash can.

At present the new and shiny has been long gone from my WIP. I wrote a couple of scenes yesterday that were total yawners. I hated them even as I was writing them. No color, no life, just a whole mess of words that made sense but were about as exciting to read as directions on the back of a shampoo bottle. Try as I might, I couldn't get anything better out on the page. I'm tired of these characters, and I want to do something else. But I have only three chapters left to write, and two and a half weeks until my deadline, and I'll be damned if I'm going to stop now. So I kept writing, got it down on the page, mentally spit on it a few times and finished my writing session. Several hours later, when I opened them back up during my daily editing session, I salvaged what I could and slashed through the rest with a note to rewrite.

Rewrites are fine with me because I know that some days I write nothing but crap. This morning I opened the file and moved on to the next scene, and as it happens I'm writing a lot better today. But even if I wrote another pile of manure this time, I'd do the same thing and keep moving forward until I finish the book. Then, as C.J. Cherryh puts it, I will edit brilliantly.

Writing professionally is an endurance marathon, and this is one of those tough stretches in the process when you find out if you have what it takes to be a successful writer. We don't stop when the new and shiny wears off. Successful writers find ways to avoid or at least stall other ideas distract them from the work. We do whatever we can to shut their door in the face of that no-treats, all-tricks doubt. If something dumps us in a trash can, we climb right back out and keep writing. No matter how much it hurts. No matter how much we don't want to.

So how is it going with your NaNoWriMo? Let us know in comments.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNoWidgets

A quick heads up before I hit the road: I noticed this morning that the NaNoWriMo site folks had finally posted this year's batch of wordcount widgets. Looks like they're for officially registered users only, but all the same a nice variety.

Also, my thanks to everyone who invested in Nightshine since release day. While it probably won't make an appearance on the Times list, the novel performed well on B&N's lists, coming in at #12 on their romance mm and #38 on their overall mm bestseller lists. The e-book sales for this book are particularly strong, too, and altogether made my editor quite happy.

Testing Picasa


Pardon me while I test this new Blogger feature for photos (and yes, I made the steampunk pendant out of an old pocket watch and some parts.) Small image, no alignment.

Medium image, right alignment. If this Picasa thing works out I shouldn't have to code image inserts anymore. I may have to actually thank Google for something.

Large image, center alignment. Large doesn't seem to be very large.

Large image, left alignment. Maybe they're sizing large by comparison to something else. Something that looks larger by comparison, perhaps?


Three covers. Let's see if Picasa stacks them in a row here. (checking preview) Nope.

The new feature works okay, and certainly saves a lot of coding headaches, but I'm so used to resizing and placing my images exactly where I want them that I don't think I'll be using it much.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On the Road

Just a heads up: I'm starting a road trip tomorrow, so any comments you care to leave will probably sit for a while in the approval queue. I'll try to get to them whenever we stop and my kid finds somewhere with free wi-fi (I don't think it will be a problem anywhere but in the mountains.)

I'll be working while I'm out of town, too, and I thought some of you might like to see what I take with me and how I go about being a mobile PBW. A story can be as portable as you want it to be, as long as you think ahead and plan what you'll need for your writing sessions away from home.

The first thing that goes into the writing tote is my novel notebook, which has my synopsis, chapter outlines, character profiles, research data, visuals and so forth for me to reference. This is another reason for making one; it's convenient to take along on trips.

In a pencil case (one hole-punched to fit in the novel notebook) I stock lots of pens and pencils, of course; I never depend on hotel freebie pens.

A blank notebook also comes along for any new notes, writing to-do lists, or other draft material I may need to jot down (a spiral-bound, one-subject student notebook or composition book have prepunched holes in them, so they should fit nicely into the back of your novel notebook binder.)

A laptop, netbook, smart keyboard or other writing tech to use for writing sessions is a given; for me it's usually the laptop, but if my hands are in pretty good shape I also take an AlphaSmart Neo smart keyboard. The Neo is sturdy, doesn't require special hookups, power supplies (mine runs on batteries) or complicated wiring, can be used practically anywhere but in the shower and doesn't offer the distraction of the internet.

A few blank CDs to backup the work I accomplish while away from home also go into the bag. If your writing tech doesn't burn CDs for you, an alternative is to e-mail whatever writing you do each day to yourself, although if you've had any problems downloading e-mailed files I'd use a secondary form of backup as a safety measure -- maybe send a copy via e-mail to a writer friend to hold for you.

I always write up a daily task schedule to make the best use of my time. On the road I might have two or three hours a day to work, so I try to give myself short, manageable writing assignments. On some trips when I have to fly for more than eight hours or drive for more than four hours every day I will pack a print copy of a recently-finished manuscript with me and do a read-through edit each night (you may want to do an electronic version if your airline has weight restrictions or extra baggage charges.)

If I'm going to be staying at the home of a family member or friend, I also bring a lap desk. In the event there is no desk or table in a quiet area for me to use, I can take a chair to a secluded corner and work off the lap desk.

Finally, I take one book to read for pleasure. I take only one because I usually end up visiting book stores wherever I travel and buying at least five or six more.

What do you take with you on your road trips to help with getting some writing done? Do you have any tips on how to be productive while traveling? Let us know in comments.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Scene Focus

Let's pretend this photograph is a scene in a story:



We'll assume that the Renfaire is the setting, the guy on the horse is the protagonist, the guy in the helmet praying is a secondary character, and all those folks in the background is the rest of the cast. As snapshots go I think the action in this one is fairly self-explanatory. All we have to do know is figure out why this is happening.

At first glance things in the photograph do seem a bit busy -- there's a lot to look at. To make the scene more interesting and give it more impact, the first thing I do is narrow the focus and weed out anything that is unnecessary. I do the same thing with a photo by cropping:



Now it looks a little better, although I felt all those colorful folks in the background were also a distraction, so I toned them down as well by making them black and white (and the facial blurriness among the crowd is also intentional.)

My photo now focuses on the two primary characters and what they're doing. But why is the guy on the horse swinging his sword, and why is the other guy praying? Let's take a closer look:



This is the aha moment of the photograph. The protagonist isn't attacking the secondary character; he's taking a swing at an apple on the guy's head. And he's doing that because he wants to . . .



. . . chop the apple in half, of course (and don't ask me how I managed to snap this photo at the precise moment the apple split in two; it was pure dumb luck.)

A scene should illustrate some part of your story as clearly as a series of photographs. When you put together a scene, you need characters, setting, action, and a point to the whole thing. To communicate these to your reader, you need to focus on what is important and enhance that -- while not cluttering up the scene with a lot of unnecessary details.

Here are some scene-focus question to ask yourself (and you can ask these at any time, before you start writing, while you're writing, or when you're editing):

Who's in the picture? Consider how many characters you're showing to the reader in this scene, and determine if they're actually serving a purpose. If they're just standing around do nothing, they're a distraction that can clutter up up the scene and slow the pacing. Put them to work or get them out of the spotlight. You don't have to get rid of all your background characters, but don't shift the reader's focus to them by making them too prominent or colorful.

Who needs to be the main attraction? How are you showcasing the characters who are important in this scene? Are they front and center in your scene, or are they wandering around getting lost in the crowd?

What's happening in this scene? Unless you're writing some abstract literary piece, the reader generally needs to clearly understand the action that occurs. But don't fall in the trap of telling the reader too much via info dumps or As You Know Bob character monologues. When we're watching a scene like this, we don't need to know how much the horse weighs, where it was foaled, the name and home village of the smith who forged the armor, etc.

What's the point? There should be the equivalent to an apple getting sliced in half. It's the reason all of this is happening, and even if you're not ready to come out and explain it to the reader, it still needs to be somewhere in your scene because it is the point.

Got any tips that you want to share on how you keep your scenes sharp and focused? Let us know in comments.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Have at Them Ten

The war between the self-pubbed and the not self-pubbed escalated recently when some ugly words were slung back and forth at the authorial front lines. I won't link to or repeat the most painfully uninventive slapdown that was employed, but I do find the lack of imagination appalling.

It's NaNoWriMo, people. Why aren't we setting the proper example for the next generation? Where is the creativity here? Publicly insulting our peers when they don't agree with us should be something writers do with style (we certainly have no problem in private.)

Honestly, if you can't think of something beautifully rotten enough to throw in the face of your colleague and make them feel instantly inferior, then you should never even attempt to squabble over whose publisher is bigger, whose method of publishing is better, or who is making more money. We do have some standards, you know. Sit down, practice and start building some vicious insult lists. I mean it -- next time you have a tantrum I expect much better name-calling.

To get you started, here are:

Ten Inventive Names You Can Use to Insult a Published Author

Book Bondservant: An elegant volley to hurl at the unfashionably print-obsessed. Works well paired with an estimate of how many trees we've killed, how much ink we've wasted, or the diameter of the crater that is our professional carbon footprint. Bonus points: Use alliteration to work in at least one Borders/brachiosaurus analogy.

Creative Chattel: Can be employed to hurt the feelings on either side. Observe how self-absorbed we artistic types are, mention three better-paying day jobs that aren't as difficult, quote (if available) the Kirkus review for their last novel, and sit back to watch the fur fly.

DIY Drudge: Should be fired off at the self-pubbed during rants about lousy editing, blurry cover art and laundry-list storytelling. Additional ammo: Alert all your pro pals on LinkedIn to attack the drudge for not spending a thousand dollars to hire a professional cover artist.

Fiction Fido: Another name that works well for either side, particularly when either side of Publishing is being likened to puppy mills and pet shops. Pour some additional petrol on the pyre by woofing at anyone who objects to being called Publishing's bitch.

List Laborer: Once reserved for the not self-pubbed, contempt for those who aspire to have a book rank on a prestigious bestseller list no longer has to be unilateral; thanks to the Times you can now hurl this bomb at both armies. Be sure while you do that you emphasize the lists are fixed, the lists don't matter, or that no one with a brain pays any attention to them.

MySpace Menial: Unfortunately we're phasing out this self-promo sneer due to lack of use. Please wait until we compile a new heap of dung for the updated version (working insult title: Facebook Fool.)

Publishing Peon: All-purpose, nicely nasty slingshot that also insinuates just how stupid the not-self-pubbed are for refusing to bask in the joy, freedom and piles of money to be had by becoming digital self-publishing's tart. Fires best from the lofty, virginal position of one who never stooped to sacrifice a single copper to fiction's feudal lords because they foolishly refused to recognize your genius.

Self-pubbed Serf: The flip side of the Publishing Peon, to be used whenever a digital platform publisher screws up, a print-pubbed author strikes a series deal with HBO, or a major publishing house signs Amanda Hocking.

Text Thrall: Until electronic ink technology improves a bit more, best for use against print pubbed. Allude to writers locked in at a conference, chained to a hotel room desk and fed only bread, water and mystery chicken while they struggle through revisions that would never have been necessary if only they'd seen the digilight, and you've got yourself a lovely and colorful putdown.

Writing Workhorse: This one can be thrown at authors on either side, as said authors are overweight, underappreciated, overworked and undervalued. For that matter, why publish at all? Books are a waste of time better served watching American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, or keeping up with that hard-working, endlessly talented, hopelessly romantic Kardashian Humphries Kardashian chick.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Writing Your Dragons

I am not a fan of dragons, dragon fiction, dragon mythology or most anything that involves gigantic scaly winged reptilian beasts that breathe fire. This is mostly because dragons are generally depicted as the blockheads of epic fantasy. Think about it: despite their size, powers and supernatural abilities, fictional dragons are forever sucking up to humans, bonding with them or giving them pony rides during some idiot quest for a priceless artifact that is usually 100% useless to dragons.

Don't worry, dragon lovers, I've already been punished for not showing the proper appreciation and respect. I have to depend on a dragon in order to write, have withstood innumerable online flame attacks, and have a kid who adores dragon fiction, dragon art and dragon jewelry. If I'm not talking to or being yelled at by a dragon, I'm shopping for the damn things.

Since it seems that I will never get dragons out of my life, I've decided to surrender and embrace them. Chris D'Lacey, I'm finally going to read your books. That goes for you, too, Paolini. I will watch all The Lord of the Rings movies (they had dragons in them, right?) and all the others that everyone loves so much: Dragonheart, Pete's Dragon, The Neverending story, Harry Potter #Whatever . . .

Seriously, I don't like the fact that I dislike dragons so much. I used to enjoy dragon fiction back in my younger days, when I got hooked on the Pern novels of Anne MacCaffrey. She rocked the scaly beasts to no end. Dragons are supposed to be cool, and a lot of my friends like them, and my aversion is kind of unreasonable. Okay, very unreasonable. I was the same way with horses for a long time. Spiders, too. So to conquer this negative attitude, I need to educate myself, learn everything I can about dragons, dragon fiction, dragon mythology, and then write a story about them. In which they will not behave like blockheads.

While you're working on your novel, be it for NaNoWriMo or at any time during your writing life, you will encounter something that makes you feel the same way I do about dragons. It can be almost anything involved in storytelling: description, characterization, grammar, dialogue, setting, plotting, etc. It will be something you really don't like already, or for which you acquire an instant dislike. These are your writing dragons.

You can hate them. You can swear at them, rant about them, you can even try to avoid them. And while you're doing that, they won't be going anywhere. Why should they, when they can feed on your creativity and your motivation -- and feed, they do. The bigger and uglier they get, the more room they take up in your head and the more havoc they create on the page.

Example: the love scene. This writing dragon is deeply loathed and dodged by a lot of writers, I think because for whatever reason sex embarrasses them. So they avoid the love scene dragon, which really isn't a problem because there are plenty of great books with no love scenes and zero sexual content. Even in the romance genre, where the love scene is pretty much expected, there are writers who keep that dragon behind a locked bedroom door or fade to black whenever it (no pun intended) arises and have no problem selling books.

That said, if the love scene is one of your writing dragons, I can almost guarantee it will become a problem for you at some point in your writing career. It's like some kind of weird dragon karma. An editor will ask for it during revisions, or you'll get a shot at a love scene antho that pays fabulous royalties, or you'll simply hit a point in a story where you've got no choice but to write at least part of a love scene. Then you're really screwed.

Another example is one of my long-term writing dragons (ironically, one I rarely talk about): dialogue. For the longest time dialogue was the most difficult part of any story for me to write. I couldn't get it to sound natural on the page. In every scene all my characters ended up standing around either lecturing each other about what I thought the reader should know, or doing that awful teaparty chatter (i.e. Hi, how are you? I'm fine, and you? Great. Beautiful day we're having, isn't it? Yes, it is and on and on and on.) No matter how hard I tried I could not get control of my dialogue. It seemed so unfair, too; every other writer I read tossed it out the page so effortlessly while I was sweating out each and every word my characters uttered.

Dialogue is a huge part of storytelling, and I knew I couldn't hate it and be an effective writer. So I focused on it, read everything I could with great dialogue and then analyzed the writers who did it especially effortlessly. Effortless dialogue is almost audible; it sounds like someone talking in your head while you read it.

I paid attention to the spoken word wherever I went. I became a discreet eavesdropper and listened in on conversations, noting not only what people said but how they said it, what tone they used, their word choices, etc. I practiced -- you really don't want to know how many stories I wrote solely to compose dialogue -- and forced myself to keep at it.

Over time I realized why dialogue was such a writing dragon for me: I was trying too hard to control it. For once being organized and thinking out everything in advance was actually working against me; I learned that I needed to let go, not worry about it, and just let the dialogue happen while I was writing the story. It goes against everything else involved my process, but when it comes to writing dialogue, I do my best work when I'm spontaneous.

My method takes time, so if you encounter a writing dragon while you're working on your NaNoWriMo novel, and it's not a huge beast, you can try another approach to (temporarily) get around it. Let's say for the sake of argument that it's a love scene dragon. Since you have only 24 days left to nail your 50K goal, you don't want to spend 20 of them trying to write one love scene. My advice is to skip over it for now. Type a place holder/reminder tag on the page exactly like this: [love scene between John and Marcia.] Then pick up the story at the point where they're done cuddling and write on from there. You will still have to deal with the love scene dragon eventually, but this allows you to get past it for now.

Whatever your personal writing dragon is, don't run away from it. Face it, educate yourself about it, watch how others do it. Then bridle it, jump on it and write it, and keep writing it at regular intervals. With enough time and practice you can work out your problems with it and nullify any power it has over you. I can't promise you'll ever fall in love with your writing dragon, but you'll probably stop hating it so much -- and anything that removes even a portion of negative attitude from your process is going to make you a better writer.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Hodge Podge

For you NaNoWriMoers, author Kris Reisz has a great post up about writing, creativity, and one of a writer's most valuable skills: persistance.

Seventh Sanctum has a fun new generator that gives you a description of a pony. Not impressed? But it's not just a pony, it's a magical legend pony.

A StarDoc reader sent me this link to a ceramic sculpture of the Lok-Teel by TheFinalHikari. It's not only adorable, it's also quite accurate to how I've always envisioned my helpful little mold.

Friday, November 04, 2011

SPAMcam

As always, I reserve the right to make fun of anyone who SPAMs me. This one was particularly clueless:

Dear Lynn,

Uses first name. Must be someone I know.

I'd like to take a moment to congratulate you on your release today, Nightshine.

Okay, not someone I know.

I read the blurb and thoroughly enjoyed the premise. It sounds like a really interesting book.

You read the blurb? Wow. I don't know what to say. The entire blurb? I'm so grateful. What a trooper.

By now, you are caught up in promoting your book.

No, not really. Well, there was that one post down there.

If you are interested in exploring new ways to get the word out, I hope you will consider our new program, [Kindness Duct Tape]. This is not your standard [Kindness Duct Tape]. With [Kindness Duct Tape], you will chat and answer questions from your readers live via webcam.

I don't have a web cam. In fact, I've never had a web cam. Is this some kind of porn? It sounds like porn.

You will be able to give your fans the one thing they want

Jobs? World peace? Self-Induced Multiple Orgasms? (Yeah, I know, but I'm still thinking it's porn.)

--You--

See? I was right. Author porn.

and you can do this at home in your office or on the road in tandem with a booksigning or blogtour.

At home, okay, in my office, eh, but while I'm driving? What if I get pulled over? What do I tell the cop? I'm naked and doing naughty things so I can promote my book? He's never going to buy that, you know. Even if I lie and say I'm on my way to a booksigning (and could you explain why would I drive to do a blogtour?)

We can work directly with you, your publicist, or your publisher.

Aha. Now I get it. What you really want is a threesome. I'm pretty sure my publisher isn't that into me. Or my publicist, assuming I have one for this book. Sometimes I do, if it's a full moon and a slow week in the marketing department.

Our objective is to help you connect with your readers and sell more books!

Sure, that's what they all say before they tiptoe out in the morning with their shoes in their hand and all of my money in their PayPal account. Then the grainy video shows up on YouTube, and I have to do another E! special, and the PETA people start calling about the goats . . . I'm sorry, but it's just exhausting, you know?

If you would like to see a demo on how [Kindness Duct Tape] works, please contact me by email at [Kindness Duct Tape]. I'd be delighted to
show you what we've done for NYT bestselling authors [Professional Kindness Duct Tape] as well as aspiring self-published writers.


Nice line up of award-winning people I don't read. *Yawn* I don't know if I want to see any of them naked and doing naughty things to promote their books, though. Especially [Professional Kindness Duct Tape.] That chick naked would probably give me nightmares for life.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

Actually I did write a response, and sent it to you three times, but it has bounced back every time. Thus I will post it here:

No.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Exotic

Got a nice surprise today in the mail; my first look at the Thai edition of Heat of the Moment, one of my oop Jessica Hall novels:



Thai is a beautiful language, and I wish I could read it, but then, I already know the story.

Our blogpal Vanessa Jaye has a new release this week, Hunter of the Heart, which you can get at Samhain on sale here. If you've been a regular visitor to her blog, this is that wildly intriguing werewolf on a cruise ship story she mentioned awhile back that we were all crazy to read -- and now we can! My thanks to Raine for the heads-up.

Finally, here's a short video by Dmitris Ladopoulos that gives an interesting glimpse into the world of a working carpenter (warning for those who are also at work, includes background music):

The Carpenter from Dimitris Ladopoulos on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Design Your Own

I was picking up some photo paper at Office Depot today when I spotted this printable magnet paper for inkjet printers. This is the kind of product that for years I wished someone would invent, as I love creative magnets and have a nice if limited collection of my own on our fridge. So I bought a pack of 5 sheets and brought it home to test it out.

I will say up front that cost-wise, the magnet sheets aren't cheap. Office Depot charged me $16.49 for a pack of five sheets, which works out to about $3.30 per sheet. Not a product I'd buy for a huge quantity of magnets; you're probably better off going through a printer for those. But for small batches I thought this product would be ideal. Fridge magnets are usually no larger than a business card, so you could expect to fit six to eight images per sheet, bringing the cost per magnet down to about fifty cents each.

Like most standard printer paper, the sheets are 8-1/2" X 11" in size, and about the same thickness as a heavy cardstock. One side is white semi-glossy (like photo paper) and the other is the black magnetized material. The entire sheet feels like plastic, not paper.

There were no particularly special instructions involved in printing; I just popped it in our old inkjet, although the manufacturer does clearly warn not to use it with any other type of printer but inkjet as it may damage the printer. In my photoshop program I put together a random set of my favorite photos in different sizes along with my cover art for Nightshine and sent them to the printer. The sheet came out with beautiful, crisp images that were much better than I expected (note: the instructions do say to wait until the sheet dries before you try to cut it.)



First I put the entire sheet on the fridge to see if it would stick, and no problem there. After a few minutes the sheet dried (I left it on the fridge to dry) I trimmed it using my paper guillotine. One nice side benefit; the magnetized sheet stuck to the metal edge of my trimmer and didn't move or shift while I was cutting it down. I also tested cutting the sheet with regular scissors as well as a rotary cutter; both worked fine and cut through the sheet easily. The individual magnets also stuck nicely to the fridge, and looked like something I might have bought at a store.

As to what you can do with magnets you can design and size yourself, the sky is the limit. Authors, here's a painless way to make promo cover magnets, release schedule magnets, and web site or blog URL magnets to hand out at cons and booksignings (and I find this product far superior to those sticky-backed business-size magnets intended for business cards that everyone has been using for years.)

This product is also ideal for things like fun family photos, inspirational quotes, a list of emergency phone numbers, addresses, contacts or basically anything you want to display on your fridge or other metal surface. Proud moms can take the best of their kid artwork, scan it and make a magnet version that will last a lot longer. The gift and craft possibilities are endless, too. Writers, if you're kicking around title ideas and not getting anyway, you could print out a list of keywords, cut them up and make fridge word clouds with them.

Poets, I don't have to tell you what this product means for us. Finally we can design our very own custom sets of magnetic poetry! I've already begun compiling mine.

Btw, you don't have to have a commercial-grade or expensive printer to use this product. The printer I used for mine is about six years old; a Lexmark all-in-one, and while it's been a nice, reliable printer for us it's really nothing special. The end results were much better than I expected. I'd just make sure you clean and align your printer if you haven't done that in a while, and print out a test page on plain paper first to make sure you've got everything the way you want it on the magnets to save wasting a sheet of the much more expensive magnet paper.

Charlotte Arrives



Nightshine, the fourth and final novel in my Kyndred series, is hitting the shelves nationwide this week.

This is probably one of the most unusual stories I've written in the dark fantasy/paranormal genre, but I had a lot of fun with it. I think those of you who have been following the Kyndred will be pleased with the wrap-up of the series.

A release day is one of the few times I ask my visitors to do something for me. I don't accept advertising or any form of compensation for Paperback Writer, so if you find my blog to be a useful resource, buying my book is a great way to say thanks. If money is tight right now, which I know it is for many of you, you can also show support by requesting a copy of my novel at your local public library.

To buy online, visit these retailers:

Books-a-Million
Barnes & Noble.com
Amazon.com

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ready, Set, NaNoWriMo

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, and as one of your (unofficial) NaNoWriMo torch bearers I'll be sharing ideas and putting up lots of posts and links every week in November in hopes of helping you along the way.

Some suggestions on how to kick off your NaNoWriMo:

Set up a wordcount widget or progress meter (like Another Little Progress Meter, NaNoWriMo Word Meter or one of Writertopia's Progress Meters) on your blog or web site and update it as you complete new work.

Put together a novel notebook in which to keep your outlines, chapters, research notes and/or other story ephemera (for examples and ideas, check out my Novel Notebook; for notebook making freeware try AM-Notebook, Keynote or The Magic Notebook.)

Write a brief (one or two page) outline of your novel idea (try my Ten Point Novel Plotting Template, William Victor's Novel Outline Summary (.pdf) or Writing.com's Blank Novel Outline.)

Find a NaNoWriMo group near you and attend a write-in or other gathering.

Let your online friends know you're NaNoing by displaying one of this year's official web badges (and if you don't have an image account, feel free to use the 2011 NaNo Web Badges I've uploaded.)

One final thought: before I start any new writing project, I take a little time to think, meditate and get my head in the right place. You're always going to have doubts and fears and other ways to talk yourself out of writing a novel (thirty days isn't enough time, you're not that good, it's too much work, etc.) If you can't dispel those anti-NaNoWriMo thoughts with self-confidence, then agree with them. Say yes to all the negativity. It's absolutely right; you can't write a book, it's too much work, there's not enough time, and you're not that good. Then, for the rest of the month, just do it for the hell of it. That way it's nothing important, no big deal, and there's no pressure to be perfect or publish or even finish. You're simply having some fun.

For more ideas on how to dive into writing novel in a productive manner, try reading my how-to Way of the Cheetah, which is free for everyone on the planet until December 1st.