Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Preserving Your Online Privacy

I know I'm hitting you with a lot of posts today but this is another heads-up I thought was important to share, especially as today is the last day you can do anything about it.

As of March 1st Google's privacy policy changes will allow it to officially compile, store and use information from your past, present and future online browsing, searches and other formerly private internet activities (they already have tons of stored data on you; this change allows them to use it for their own purposes.)

If you do not want Google to do this to you and your info, instructions on how to clear your Google Browser history and prevent Google from using it in the future can be found here at I used these instructions and they worked fine for me.

Nightborn Savings

I got a heads-up on a very decent deal this morning: B& currently has the print edition of Nightborn listed for $3.99, and according to my reader they are shipping it now versus holding it until release week.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to keep my mouth shut until it's officially March 6th. But honestly, if I can save you 50% on the cover price, I'd rather do that than beef up my numbers during release week. I don't know how long this price will last, so those interested in the savings should check it out soon.

Paperclip Pizazz

If you've ever worked in an office and/or been confined to a cubicle, you've probably made at least one paperclip chain, or you've bent those clips into different shapes. I'm guilty, too; I used to make butterflies out of mine.

It seems other people have been bored enough to experiment with paperclips, as lately I've spotted a number of new spins on the old reliable paperholder:

Numberclips are a set of ten page markers that look and function like paperclips but have number shapes from 0 to 9. I found this set at World Market for $5.99.

Silly Clipz are shaped wire clips sold in themed sets of six, and judging from the suggested use on the packaging are being marketed toward kids as clip-on decorations for their clothing and hat brims. I picked up the Zoo and Myth editions for $1.99 each at CVS.

You can get conversational with your paperclips with Talk Bubble, a tin of 25 caption balloon-shaped clips; $6.99 at World Market.

As to how well they work, Yours Truly broke out some from each package and field-tested them:

The Numberclips are just like straight-forward, large size paperclips; you do have to remember to put the number-shaped part on the front of your clipped items. If you're working on drafts, scenes, chapters or something else you need to keep in a certain work sequence these might be a painless way to mark the sets.

The Talk Bubble was actually a bit heavy with plastic-coated wire that looks about double the gauge of regular paperclips; probably best for clipping sets of sheets versus one page. When I saw these I thought they'd be great for flagging a specific note you need someone else to read.

The Silly Clipz were the hardest to figure out; the company that makes them included their logo as part of the clip which only adds to the layered confusion of wires; these are of a smaller gauge wire than regular paperclips and will likely bend out of shape pretty easily. I'm also wondering why they're marketing them to children as clothing accessories -- maybe hoping to cash in on the shaped rubber band craze of a few years ago? -- but they don't seem like something I'd give a younger child.

My biggest objection to all three brands is that they're are too pricey for ordinary, everyday use. That said, if you have a special project, don't use a huge amount of clips, recycle ruthlessly or are working on a limited project, the pricetag might be worth it to you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Playing with Polyvore

Artist Sheree Burlington has an article in the Spring 2012 issue of Somerset Digital Studio magazine that practically called my name: Designing with Polyvore: Learning to color outside of the lines.

According the Sheree's article, Polyvore is a fashion shopping site that has been gradually inhabited by all sorts of artistic subcultures, thanks to their online editing tool that she and many others use to create collages using keywords to bring up online images.

At first I was a bit dubious -- I'm about as fashionable as the Amish, and shopping sites are usually very limited as to what they can offer the average writer -- but after glancing through the article and reading about how much Sheree had done with it I decided to go and see what I could do.

I was interested in building some character collages, so I familiarized myself with the easy to use, drag-and-drop editing tool, and within a few minutes I put together this collage using random images and a provided template (these are simply screenshots):

I also built this one:

I decided to forget about the templates and just start stacking images, which produced this:

And this:

I did only the most rudimentary keyword searches and simple resizing of the images I dragged and dropped into the editor; you tech-savvy writers out there will likely be able to do a lot more with it. The images are pulled from various sources on the internet (and links to the originals are provided with each image) so if you decide to play with Polyvore's editor I'd advise you employ it only for personal use to avoid copyright issues.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Elsewhere Again

Today I am over visiting and guest blogging at author Shiloh Walker's blog to talk about some stuff you don't know about me and her (she didn't know some of it, either.)

Stop if if you have a chance, join in the fun and you might win this adorable Ganz teddy bear, which is the softest plush wubbie I've ever found, along with an ARC of Nightborn and a real lavender sachet (handmade by yours truly.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Han Would Be Proud

In this completely awesome video Francisco Prieto assembles a Lego replica of the Millenium Falcon from Star Wars and films it piece by piece:

Lego Millennium Falcon Stop Motion Assembly 3d from Francisco Prieto on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Improving the BookLoop

I've been steadily working on improving my most promising bookmark reinvention, the BookLoop, and thought I'd share what I've discovered so far via trial and error.

First the loop component material: I've tried elastic cord, beading cording, silk ribbon, velvet ribbon and so forth, and to date my #1 favorite material for the loop component is 3/8" organdy ribbon, which I buy in fifteen yard spools that are sold as special occasion ribbon. On sale you can purchase it as cheaply as a dollar a spool, and most fabric and craft stores have a ton of it in innumerable colors (and if you don't see it in the ribbon section, try the bridal or flower-arranging aisles.)

I like the transparency, the flexibility and the durability of organdy, which is thin enough to thread through a tapestry needle. It usually retains its crispness and resists fraying even with frequent handling. Also, it knots beautifully and stays knotted.

Although I love to bead, and continue to play with designing beaded anchors, I'd say solid pendants and pendant-brooches have proven to be the most secure and easiest to assemble anchor components. You can thread your cord or ribbon through the stringing opening or loop of the pendant, which is always more sturdy and secure than a jump ring or independent connector. Plaid has a new series of beautiful metal pendants that feature great works of art by masters such as Da Vinci, Klee and Monet; currently two medium or one large Plaid pendant cost $3.00 each at Jo-Anns. I've used some of these for the limited-edition BookLoops I've put together for my Nightborn promo giveaways.

For pendant-brooch combination pieces I feed the ribbon through the pin mechanism as well as the stringing hole for extra support. If you're making a giveaway item with this type of component you might want to remove the pin mechanism first, or at least warn your recipient that there is a pin on the the back so they don't end up sticking themselves with it.

I became very frustrated working with jump rings because they're flimsy and tend to bend back open too easily. Then I discovered double jump rings, which are exactly like the rings used for key chains. They're a bit tough to handle, as their size makes feeding components onto them a bit of a challenge, but it's worth the trouble because once the component is attached the ring doesn't separate under handling pressure, so it won't come off.

I've been looking for interesting and offbeat objects to use as anchors, and one little item I discovered were miniature glass bottles. Here's one I found filled with little bits of golden stone. You can find these at Claire's on their BFF necklaces, but craft stores often carry empty ones you can fill yourself; just make sure you get the ones that have a connector ring attached to the cork or stopper (which you also have to glue in place once you fill the bottle.) Because these are glass and/or choke-sized I don't recommend using them for BookLoops for kids.

I had been searching for a scroll-type pendant or charm for months to use with my Nightborn promo BookLoops without success, and finally decided to make one myself. I tried paper, paperclay and metal with not-so-great results before I went back to beads. I found some very cool color-changing decorated tube beads for the body of the scroll, and stacked two accent beads on either end to give it the look of a scroll. Bottom line, if you can't find what you want, experiment/design/make your own version.

I've also been hunting through oddities for anchor ideas, and finding a lot to inspire me in steampunk art supplies: old keys, dominoes, non-sharp watch components, compasses, loop-backed Bakelite buttons and that sort of thing. For kid-friendly BookLoops I've been playing with party favors, bubble-gum machine toys, miniature dolls and tiny stuffed animals. You can probably find a lot of fun components in junk drawers and the bottom of toy boxes, too.

For my next collectible series of BookLoops, which I'm making as promo items for Nightbred, my second Lords of the Darkyn novel, I decided to go with a seashore theme that relates to the story. I thought about using the pretty shells I've collected for years (and dreaded the thought of trying to drill holes in them) until I found a terrific series of "Sea Life" pendants and jewelry-making components by Blue Moon at Wal-Mart, also priced at about $3.00 each.

I'll keep working on improving my BookLoop. While organdy ribbon is just about perfect for the loop component, it's not really something that would appeal to most guys. I'd like to find another material, maybe some type of thin/plain cording that men wouldn't mind using as bookmarks for their reads.

Since I first came up with the BookLoop a few people have e-mailed me to ask if they can use my design for making personal, promo and commercial versions of their own, and that's all fine with me. I did this for fun, not profit, so please feel free to use the idea however you like (and if you improve on it, I'd love to see and hear about the results.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Post-it Notables

From Center front clockwise:

Post-it Grid Notes: 2 pads of 50 4" X 6" sheets, $3.63. Quilters use grid paper to figure out patchwork designs; I know some writers prefer grid paper for writing, drawing maps and what have you. I like the roomy size of these notepads.

Post-it Label Pads: 100 1-7/8" X 2-7/8" labels in neon pink and green, full-adhesive backing but still removable, $2.99. Often I reuse storage boxes and containers for various purposes from year to year, so removable labels are more convenient. These would also come in handy to mark the front of binders and folders when I recycle them.

Post-it Label Roll: 1" X 700", neon green full-adhesive backing but still removable, $3.14 (clearance price). If the label pads are too short, I can use this to cut the length I need.

Post-it Note Tabs: 20 2-3/4" X 3-3/8" tabbed notes with removable adhesive, $2.69. These are extremely cool. Not only are they tabbed but they have a small lined section for notes. If you hate marking up books, manuscripts or other paper documents during editing these would give you some writing space and mark the page you need to return to (I'm going to use mine for galley corrections; will eliminate the need to make two piles of pages.)

And finally, not Post-it brand, but still neat:

Mead Pagemarker Clips: 24 two-sided paper tab-backed clips, $1.98 (clearance priced). I thought these were a clever spin on the bookmark, as you can write a word or two on both sides and then they'll work as tabs or tabbed dividers without having to put in a whole tab page. Good for marking passages in research books for easy future reference.

All found at Target, which often has much in the way of Post-it coolness.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Today I'm visiting and guest blogging at The Good, The Bad and The Unread to talk about Nightborn and the Lords of the Darkyn. Come over, join in the fun and you might win this neat French-inspired tote, made by Olivia by Design, which includes:

A signed set of my seven novels in the original Darkyn Series
A signed ARC of Nightborn, the first book in my Lords of the Darkyn trilogy
A set of twelve Herman Wu bookmarks
An amethyst crystal bookmark "pen"
A font mug from Author Outfitters
A handmade brooch from Olivia by Design to match the tote

Added: If you'd like a preview of Nightborn, you can read a new/exclusive excerpt from the novel on the GB&U blog here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Story Snaps

While on the road I took a few pictures whenever I saw something interesting. I was behind the wheel for most of the really spectacular scenery, so I didn't get any of that, but I did look around whenever we stopped.

It was too cold for flowers to be blooming, so I was surprised to see these brave beauties opening in front of one hotel. I liked the contrast of the petals against the brick building, and how jarring it was to see such a determined sign of spring in the midst of a lot of stick trees and frozen ground. Reminded me a bit of my cranky rose bush back home, which flowers whenever it pleases, weather be damned. And who planted this, I wondered, and why was only this bush blooming? I wrote all about it in my journal that night, and I think I might play with it a bit more and see what comes out of it.

My mom spotted this rusty old workhorse outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. She claimed she used to have one exactly like it, and launched into kind of a gruesome story about how women back then used to get their fingers caught in the rollers. It made me take a solemn vow to never again complain about doing laundry in my nice new fully automatic washer.

Then I got an idea about a girl doing laundry during the Depression, and how her clothes went into that old washer ragged and threadbare but came out through the wringer as something very different. A play on the old Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, but with a definite Americana twist. I got out my notebook and jotted down a quick outline of the idea before we left.

This is a shot of the window of a guest room I stayed in at a family member's house. It was late afternoon when I took it, and the room was fully illuminated, but the light is different in the mountains. After I had the shot the display on my camera showed this rather spooky view.

If a house is filled with shadows, all the windows might look like this; like portals to another dimension. I love windows because they're the eyes of the house, and they never stop watching the world even when someone draws the blinds. And suddenly for me blinds took on a whole new meaning, and more notes had to be scribbled down.

Not everyone can take a four-day road trip to find interesting stuff to photograph, but you don't have to. Story ideas and writing prompts are all around us every day. This afternoon I saw a license plate on a car at the market that gave me a new character name, as did the name of the little town in Washington state that showed up on a package that came in the mail. It's not so much where you are as it is what you're paying attention to in your corner of the world. You don't even need a camera; just be open to the possibilities, and story ideas will start popping up all around you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I'm back and mostly recovered from road drag (like jet lag, only harder on the lower back.) The weather was not especially great for long-distance driving, and I never again want to navigate my way through the mountains in the freezing rain and pitch-black darkness, but all's well etc.

A couple of months ago I ordered my reward for finishing my latest book, and weirdly enough it arrived a few hours after I turned in my revisions to my editor:

I didn't get a chance to take my kid to see Breaking Dawn part 1 last year when it came out in the theater, and although she's really outgrown the whole Twilight thing I thought we'd watch it together to see [part one of] how it wraps up. I didn't realize I'd ordered the collector's edition, though; I just clicked on the DVD edition that came with a $5 rebate. I like rebates.

When I took the DVD out of the shipping box it felt rather heavy, so I opened it to see if the discs were made out of marble or something. Inside was the usual shot of the star-crossed menage plus a couple of ordinary discs:

But under the pop out wedding scene in the center I found this:

It's a real fake flower from the real fake wedding in the movie; an actual prop from the film. I know this because a certificate of authenticity is also encased in the acrylic holder; I got bogus bud #19124. While it's not especially rare -- going by the numbers there are 157,999 other collector's editions out there -- I admit, I was kind of charmed. I've never before owned an authentic movie prop. My fake flower is a little flat-looking; maybe Bella stepped on it on her way to the altar. Or sat on it at the reception. There was a reception, right? How do vampires have a reception?

Anyway, I showed it to my kid, who also thought it was neat. She was a bit puzzled over the reason for my purchase, though. "I'm kind of over the whole Twilight thing, Mom," she said, "so why buy the movie?" Before I could make an excuse, she wagged a finger at me. "Aha! You never finished reading the last book."

"I've been busy," I told her, and that was true enough. And while I sincerely admire Stephenie Meyer for getting so many teens to read, and wish her all the best and much continued success, nothing on this earth could convince me to pick up that novel again.

The fake flower is pretty cool, though, and I think it shows some true inventiveness on the part of the Twilight marketing team. For diehard fans of any age there's probably nothing quite as exciting as owning a tiny piece of something that is so significant to them.

I've been working on my own modest assortment of promo items for the release of Nightborn. I decided to go with things I love to do (read, quilt, assemble, bead) and use what skills I have in those departments to design, make and/or put together my giveaways. I've also come up with a special Nightborn design of my BookLoop to give away with every book I sign, which makes that a (very limited) edition collectible. And while my promo will never match the plethora and distribution of Twilight fake flowers, I think readers appreciate having a one of a kind item just as much as the mass-produced variety.

What do you think of collectibles for readers? Let us know in comments.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Books Love You

I am heading out of town today on a road trip, so expect me to be scarce for the next couple days. Also, my chances at connecting with the internet will be uncertain at best; any comments you leave here during the day probably won't be posted until after I stop for the night.

Meanwhile, author Kris Reisz has made good on his promise to start a site with stories about life-changing books: Books Love You. He's looking for stories between 200-400 words about the books that have changed your life, more details here. Also, if you have a chance please spread the word about this project, as the more stories are shared, the more we can help others find a book that may change their lives.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fiction Becomes Fact II

As I've mention before, one of the oddest moments a writer has is when real life imitates your fiction.

This one isn't as weird as it is eerie. When I published Shockball, the fourth novel in the StarDoc series, my decidedly grim vision of future pro sports made quite a few diehard enthusiasts angry. No way, I was repeatedly told, could a game as vicious and brutal as shockball ever become a reality (and for the record, I certainly hoped it never would.)

Guess what?

Yeah. Well. Looks like I may have to rethink the whole psychic thing (and my thanks to Jessica of Chevres Chéveres for the heads up and sending me the Tazer ball link.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The eBrush

Published in the June 18, 1881 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper (click on image to see larger version):

Just what made Dr. Scott's Electric Hair Brush such a Marvellous Success!!? Was it producing a rapid growth of hair on bald heads, or ending nervous/bilious headaches in 5 minutes? Was it curing dandruff and diseases of the scalp, stopping premature grayness, preventing baldness and soothing the weary brain? Or was it the cordial indorsements provided by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Rt. Hon. W.E. Gladstone, the Mayor of Saratoga, or the effusive Mr. Pliny F. Smith, who would not take $1000.00 for his eBrush if he could not replace it?

The promises in this ad, which in 1881 probably sounded absolutely believable, are rather astounding. After all the germ of all life is electricity -- says so right on the back of the handsome handle (made of a new odorless composition resembling ebony!) A combination of substances producing a permanent electro-magnetic current which acted immediately upon the hair glands and follicles sounds so important and scientific, doesn't it? And look, actual royalty indorsed it! Had to be the real deal.

Or maybe not.

I'll tell you the secret that made Dr. Scott's eBrush such a success. It was the $3.00 sent in by every hopeful bald, graying, headache-prone and dandruff-ridden person who read this ad and believed it. And when they got their brush and it didn't produce anything but a little static electricity, which is really all it was capable of producing, they still felt the tingle. That little buzz was likely just enough to keep them hurrying to the mirror every morning expecting to see a head full of long, glossy hair.

We all want something, and every now and then some eBrush-type salesman will come along and tell us how we can get it. It will be cheap, easy, and there will be plenty of VIP indorsements assuring us of how amazing it is and how beautifully it works. They make it sound so wonderful because they're compensated to do that, just as this newspaper was paid to run this ad. Trust me, if we're not the ones forking on the three bucks for this secret to Marvellous Success!!, someone else is.

I can guarantee you, the only person Dr. Scott's electric brush really worked marvels for was Dr. Scott. Same goes for every other quack out there selling similar eBrushes.

In a hundred and thirty years, someone will look back at a page from our time, and chuckle over whatever is our version of Dr. Scott's eBrush. They'll talk about how silly we were for believing in such an obvious fraud. And then some of them will slap down their hard-earned credits for something that preys on their hopes, and feeds on their dreams. Because just as if anything sounds too good to be true it usually is, there will always be people just desperate or hopeful enough to believe it's true anyway.

Keep your eyes open, your brains working and check the facts thoroughly before you buy into anything anyone tells you. And please don't base your decisions on what the Dr. Scotts out there are telling you; judge things for yourself.

Okay, not like this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wishing You

Monday, February 13, 2012

Not a Dime 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.

This is extremely cool-looking -- Desktop Shelves turns your screen into a virtual library to help "fight the clutter on your Desktop by organizing files on shelves. A shelf the size of 5 icons holds 20 files" (OS: Mac)

Focus Writer is "a simple, distraction-free writing environment. It utilizes a hide-away interface that you access by moving your mouse to the edges of the screen, allowing the program to have a familiar look and feel to it while still getting out of the way so that you can immerse yourself in your work. Features: TXT, basic RTF, and basic ODT file support; Timers and alarms; Daily goals; Fully customizable themes; Typewriter sound effects (optional); Auto-save (optional); Live statistics (optional); Spell-checking (optional); Multi-document support; Sessions; Portable mode (optional)" (OS: Designer notes: "It's available for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X, and has been translated into many different languages.")

The designers of free photoshop software GIMP have released their latest version 2.6, which is "a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc. GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/7)

In My Diary is "a smart, free personal organizer. The main display is based on a traditional diary format but, although all entries appear as one line of text, each actual entry can contain as many lines as required. Diary entries can be set to auto-repeat at the required interval. In addition to the daily diary, there is also a daily journal facility, a calendar, Address book with flexible labelling system, Anniversary entries and a notes section with links to diary entries" (OS: Designer notes: "It runs on Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, and on Apple Mac (10.4 and above). There is also now a native version for Linux OS or the Windows version can be used and works well running in the Wine emulator.")

Someone out there needed a generator for naming medicines. Here you go.

Designed for family tree huggers but can double as a great organizer for character info, Personal Historian Essentials is a freeware that "contains many core features from the ground-breaking Personal Historian personal and family history writing software. Features: Single-file database format; Support for international character sets through Unicode integration; Integrated backup and restore help safeguard your data; Write unlimited stories; View the list of your stories on screen; Filter the list of stories; Direct RootsMagic import; Direct Family Tree Maker import (version 16 and earlier); Direct PAF import (version 5); Direct Legacy import (versions 3 and later); GEDCOM import; Import text data (tab or comma delimited)" (OS: Windows 7, Vista, XP, and 2000)

Seventh Sanctum has an interesting new generator here that produces names for SF Tarot cards. Yes, that's SF as in science fiction.

Trello is a free online "collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process. A Trello board is some product or project that is under continuous development, though a board can have a variety of uses and mean different things. Boards are made up of multiple lists. Generally, lists on the left are the start of a workflow and lists on right are the end. Lists contain cards. Cards represent the basic unit of a board, for instance: a new feature, a bug, a story lead, a legal case, a client, research for a paper, a potential employee, or a customer support issue. Cards move from list to list to indicate progression. Board members can add themselves to cards, start conversations on cards, create checklists on cards, and so on." (Thanks to our blogpal Charlene Teglia for posting about Trello and sending me over to check it out.)

If you're looking for a virtual version of the magic hat I use for giveaways here at PBW, Virtual Hat might be worth checking out.

WebbIE is "a web browser for blind and visually-impaired people, especially those using screen readers, used since 2001 all over the world. It comes with the Accessible programs, letting you access news and audio on the Internet in a simple and accessible way, allowing you to use podcasts, listen to the radio and read RSS and news with your screen reader or other access solution" (OS: Windows '98, Me and 2000 XP SP3, Vista and 7)

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Gutenberg Invented

I'm bailing on you guys for the next couple of days so I can deal with work stuff and get ready for my next road trip. I will be back once my bags are packed and my desk doesn't look like the Mount Everest of Unfinished Assignments.

If you're fortunate enough to live in or near Houston, Texas you can see what Gutenberg did for mankind at the Museum of Printing History on Clay Street. If not, here's a short film by Danny Cookie featuring Paul Collier, a modern-day Gutenberg at work in the UK:

Upside Down, Left To Right: A Letterpress Film from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

See you next week.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

More Big Huge Labs Stuff

I've been back over at Big Huge Labs looking for some ideas, this time for an art project. I wanted to frame some of my own photos in interesting ways, and decided to try out their Framer generator.

The Framer offers these options to frame any image file you upload:

USA Stamp ~ USA Stamp, no postmark ~ Canadian Stamp ~ Canadian stamp, no postmark ~ Stamp border ~ Stamp border, no postmark ~ Canvas Panels ~ Canvas Panels (portrait) ~ To-do List ~ Autumn Leaves ~ Film ~ Holga 35mm ~ Holga 35mm (portrait) ~ Frosted glass ~ Frosted Glass (portrait) ~ Wood Frame ~ Reflection ~ Polaroid ~ Brushed edge ~ Brushed edge (portrait)Bulletin Board ~ ColorCraft Bonus Photo

It's very simple to use this generator; you just upload your photo, choose a frame style, select the position of your image within the frame, set the background color, choose a date (for the postmark frames) and add a photo credit if desired. Once you click on create, the generator does the rest. Here are some of the framed images I did in a few seconds:

Postage Stamp with Postmark Frame:

Frosted Glass Edge Frame:

Traditional Wood Frame:

Brushed Edge Frame:

They also offer one option that produces a nice organizational helper:

To-Do List:

For those of you who are making your own covers or promo items, this might be a useful online tool to bookmark.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Audio Pre-Order Sale

Nightborn will be my first novel released in audio as well as print and e-book, and Tantor Audio has the CD and MP3 editions on sale for 50% off if you pre-order now. The story will be read by Johanna Parker, who has a lovely voice with amazing range, and who has narrated among many works the audio editions of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series as well as Stephanie Tyler's Shadow Force novels.

Mine is not the only title on sale; there are also other plenty of other audio books featured in the 50% off sale at Tantor's site, from nonfiction on Presidents & Heads of State, Cultural Heritage books in honor of Black History Month, and (just in time for Valentine's Day) lots of excellent romance novels.

I listen to audio books in the car whenever I'm on a road trip, but they're also great when I'm sewing or taking a break on the porch (I can't cook when I listen to books; I always end up burning something.) Audio editions also make great gifts for a commuter or someone who has to travel a lot for work, or simply wants something to listen to other than radio or television.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Visual Fun

Big Huge Labs, home of many fun and useful Flickr toys, has one generator I often use for title and story ideas: the photo fortune generator.

The generator, which provides a random pithy quotation and three random images based on a single keyword taken from the quotation, often produces some interesting combinations. Here are a few screenshots of my results (click on any image to see larger version):

Classic fairytale and fable retelling is a favorite device among fiction writers, and this one seems to hint that there might be more to the story of the goose who laid the golden eggs. Such as, what has that pretty girl been feeding her flock? Whatever is shining in that jar? Might be fun to explore. Title ideas: The Golden Goose Girl, A Light Lunch, Hold What Glitters.

I cringed a little as soon as I saw the first image -- quite painful looking, and reminded me of this guy who came into the ER who had . . . no, I better not tell that story. Anyway, the following two pics added some irony and a wry chuckle to the tableau, especially followed by Plato's silly pronouncement. Title ideas: Good for Evil, Make It Happen, The Spoiler, Forked (and there's a Twilight parady begging to be written.)

The Woody Allen quotation adds a bit more comedy here, but the images tell a different story -- a very engimatic one. The beautiful feline, the bright flower and the hall filled with paintings would make interesting and (if handled correctly) powerful story elements. I'm thinking a thriller or mystery. Title Ideas: What the Cat Saw, Silent Bloom, Torn to Masterpieces.

This was my favorite of all the ones I generated; I love the grinning pup. The sunset (or sunrise) and the fetching young lady all add suggestions of romance, as does the Howe quotation. Title ideas: Loving Enemies, Better Friends, Sunset Smile.

If you don't care for the randomness of this generator but are still in finding inspirational images tailored to your needs, you can head over to Flickr and perform a search using keywords that directly relate to your story. I did one search with the keywords strong, stubborn and warrior and found this amazing but totally unexpected artwork that gave me some new ideas on how to flesh out one of my secondary characters.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Ralan has an open call listing here for an "Apocalypse Story Contest ~ ALL THINGS DOOM ~ Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Apocalypse" [Gotta love the title]: "On Spec has a special story contest for the Apocalypse! We are looking for a variety of engaging "end of the world" theme stories (3,000 to 6,000 words please). The best story will receive $300 and be the lead story in our Fall 2012 issue (said issue to be published, come hell or high water!). Submissions must have "Apocalypse:" in the e-mail title plus the story title (e.g. "Apocalypse: Story Name")." This one is open only to Canadian writers with electronic submission only, entry window is 15 February to 31 March 2012. See Ralan's page and On Spec's sub guidelines link there for more details.

Horror writer Glynn Barrass has an open call for an antho working-titled Steampunk Cthulhu (scroll down to January 14th entry). Since the site doesn't allow right-click copying you'll have to visit it to read the details on what to submit. Ralan has this info: "Pay: 3¢/word +3 copies & discounts. Words: 2k-8k. RT: after DL. Reprints: no. E-subs: ONLY." Deadline: July 31st, 2012 or until filled.

Heathen Oracle has an open call for its Azieran Adventures anthology Artifacts and Relics: Extreme Sorcery and is looking for "heroic fantasy submissions (in the vein of sword and sorcery, sword and planet, dark fantasy, and high fantasy) of up to 10,000 words (query if over 10,000 but I'm very open to the idea of anything up to 20,000 words). The work should prominently feature a powerful artifact or relic, and include strong characterization, a well developed plot, interesting setting, and a satisfying conclusion. Writers who hit upon all of these points will have a greater chance of acceptance. The story should be set on a secondary fantasy world and include original characters/settings and not infringe upon the copyrights of others (therefore fan fiction is not accepted). Content should be no worse than an R rated movie. It may be worth noting that the editor is a fan of the following authors' works from the old (and not so old) guard: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, Karl Edward Wagner, David C. Smith. This should give some indication of the styles and types of stories that would be a good fit for this anthology." Payment: "$50 per story, $25 per reprint." Electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: June 30th, 2012.

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly webzine has opened submission windows in March, June, September and December; they want heroic fantasy fiction and poetry. Length: up to 10K on fiction, up to 30 pages on poetry. Payment: $100.00 for fiction, $25 for poetry, $100 for epic poetry) No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Editor Tim Lieder has an open call for his King David and the Spider of Mars antho, and is looking for "Short stories, ideally between 1000-12000 words. All stories must be based in some way on the Bible stories. I would prefer stories from the book of Samuel (usually edited to be 1 & 2) which is the story about how Israel transitioned from a Judge based society to a kingdom under King David. However any story based on a Bible tale will suffice. Seeking stories in all genres including horror, bizarro, science fiction, fantasy, humor, literary and romance (although if you write a romance between Tamar and Amnon, I'm going to be worried about you and not in a good way)." What he does NOT want: "I have a blog post for the first Bible anthology where I go off on the "do not want" list. It basically comes down to "no preachiness" which is the major pitfall for people tackling these kind of stories. I don't want a story with an agenda - whether it's atheist, Christian or Jewish. Do not set a Sodom & Gomorrah story in San Francisco. Do not send poetry. Do not retell a Bible story from a character's perspective that adds absolutely nothing to the narrative. In the last anthology, I got a bunch of stories that had to stop to tell me that "Jesus is love" just as the fundamentalist Christian axe murder was about to strike. Please don't do that. Also, there are themes covered in the first book (Samson, Witch of Endor, Daniel) that I thought were amazing. If you read the first book and see a story with your theme, your take better be radically different for me to consider it." Payment: $100.00 advance against shared royalties, reprints okay, electronic submissions only. See LJ post for more details. Deadline: March 31st, 2012.

Nameless Magazine accepts submissions year-round and wants dark or straight genre (horror, SF, fantasy, spec fic, etc.) stories and poetry. No fanfic, romance or sword & sorcery. Length: 1.5-9.5K on stories, no length specified on poetry; Payment: fiction - 5¢/word; poetry - .15¢/line. Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Q&W Publishing has an open call for their The Old Weird South antho: "The American South is a haunted place — full of ghost stories, native legends, persistent devils & angels, souls sold at the crossroads, and moon-eyed maidens living in the Okefenokee. The South’s best writers — Faulkner, O’Connor, McCullers — all keep this sense of the otherworldly in their fiction. In this spirit, Q & W Publishers is looking for submissions for an anthology of short fiction and non-fiction that explores the fantastic, eerie, and bizarre side of the American South. Submit fiction and non-fiction pieces between 1,000 and 4,000 words. Pieces should be grounded in the American South (any time period, pre-historic to modern; rural or urban) and should include elements of the fantastic / supernatural that come from Southern history, tradition, or folklore. Generic vampire and werewolf stories aren’t appropriate. While violence, gore, and eroticism may be part of your submission, they should not be the primary focus — let’s keep it more PG-13 than R-rated. Submissions must be previously unpublished. Payment: "$50 per accepted piece. Authors with accepted pieces will also receive one free copy of the published anthology. The anthology may appear in electronic and printed form." Query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline: March 1st, 2012.

Third Flatiron Publishing is "open for business and looking for submissions. Our focus is on science fiction and fantasy and anthropological fiction. We’re looking for tightly plotted tales in out-of-the-ordinary scenarios. Please send us short stories that revolve around age-old questions and have something instructive to tell us as human beings. Fantastical situations and creatures, exciting dialog, irony, and wry humor are all welcome. Stories should be between 1,500 and 3,000 words. Role models for the type of fiction we want include Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur C. Clarke, Dan Simmons, Connie Willis, Vernor Vinge, and Ken Kesey. We miss the days of the great anthologies like Orbit, Universe, and Clarion, so we are going to begin by showcasing some of the best new shorts available today. For each issue, we will also accept a few very short humor pieces on the order of the "Shouts and Murmurs" feature in The New Yorker Magazine (600 words or so). These can be written from a first-person perspective or can be mini-essays that tell people what they ought to do, how to do something better, or explain why something is like it is, humorously. An SF/Fantasy bent is preferred." Publishing schedule: "Short story collection on the theme of 'environmental disaster', deadline for submissions – March 31, 2012; Short story collection on the theme of ‘war’, deadline for submissions – June 30, 2012; Short story collection on the theme of ‘origins’, deadline for submissions – September 30, 2012." No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Tumblehome Learning is open to submissions for "children’s and YA adventure books, mystery books, and biographies that center around science themes. Submissions should be based around real science and be appropriate for somewhere between ages 7 and 17. We accept manuscripts 25,000 to 70,000 words in length, but no simultaneous submissions. Our readers are looking for exciting stories with a little bit of learning along the way. THL readers are fans of “fun facts” they can share with their friends and family. The science fiction in THL books center around real science. The only aliens found in THL books are microorganism fossils found in meteorites." Payment: advance and royalties, query on reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Wily Writers publishes two short stories online per month in podcast and text formats, and looks for "short fiction that falls under the genre umbrella of speculative fiction: horror, fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romance/mystery/adventure" with specific themes each month. Length: 1-4K, Payment: 5¢/word, reprints okay, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details. Deadline for next issue: February 28, 2012.

All of the above sub ops were found among the many marvelous market listings over at

Sunday, February 05, 2012


All the comments for the Many Valleys giveaway gave me a new perspective on the ways we use creativity to heal -- and much to think about, as always.

We put the magic hat back in action tonight, and the winner is:


Nikki, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to address to so I can get this package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The 8-Track Mentality

I just read a vastly entertaining article making the rounds of NetPubLand in which a Big Important Author ridiculed e-books. It seems the evil that is e-books once more threatens the very fabric of our society. Or, at least according to Mr. Big Important, readers are damaging it by wanting e-books.

I really should be on his side. I love print books, and I have a pretty extensive personal library of them. The e-books I purchase are those I can print out at home. Print is my reading preference, hands down. Thing is, I don't expect the rest of the world to limit themselves to writing, publishing or buying only print books to accommodate me. Why would I?

For that matter, why does it have to be either/or -- print book or e-book? I write both, I publish both, and I want both for my readers. I don't believe print will ever become obsolete, but so what if it does? Maybe they'll invent an e-reader that suits me (they've finally got small tablet touchscreens; now all they have to do is something about the weight, the slippery casing, the glare from the screen and all the non-book crap on it.)

Whether we like it or not, the world moves on.

Big Important Author's mistake is that he is clinging to an 8-track mentality in an MP3 world. Think about it -- how often has the way we listen to music changed in the last forty years? 8-track tapes were all the rage when I was a kid, and then cassette tapes came along. The 8-track people were horrified. CDs then replaced cassettes (I was a bit put out by that; I had my entire music collection on cassette tapes. But I got over it eventually.) Now MP3s are replacing CDs, and I'm sure the format will change yet again in my lifetime. As long as I can buy new copies of all my old Coldplay, Linkin Park and Staind albums again, I won't bitch about whatever format they're in.

And despite all these technological changes to how music is delivered to the consumer -- many more changes than the Publishing industry has weathered -- it hasn't damaged the fabric of our society. Music is still here, still wonderful. We still listen to it. Music continues to enrich our lives, and we still love it.

Why would books be any different?

Storytellers have been in business since prehistory. Before there were books we used to sit by a fire and tell our tales to the tribe; do you think any of those storytellers would be pissed to know that their descendants started writing them down on scrolls and carving them into clay tablets? Would they despise the monks who often spent their entire lives working in scriptoriums and illuminating them page by page?

For that matter, how about Gutenberg and his invention of mechanical movable type printing? Gutenberg was the Steve Jobs of his time, agreed? So should he have been roasted over the tribe's fire for his temerity to bring book production out of the Dark Ages?

Anyone who truly belongs to our ageless clan of scribes knows it's the story that's important, not how you tell it, or with what you tell it. It doesn't even matter who tells the stories. As long as they're told, there will be someone who wants to hear them.

I don't want to have an 8-track mentality in an MP3 world, so Big Important Author's tirade was actually good for me. I'm going to get out there and have a look at the latest crop of e-readers. I'll also check and see if there is a better type of monitor for my computer that would allow me to read comfortably from it -- that might be a good compromise. And as the world moves on, hopefully so will I.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Many Valleys

I was reading Art Journals & Creative Healing by Sharon Soneff to get some ideas for my home journals, and for the first time the dedication caught my eye:

"In loving memory of fellow artist and contributor Mary Zakrajsek, whose inspiring faith and impassioned art accompanied her through many valleys and then to her heavenly home."

Aside from this being one of the most beautiful dedications I've ever read, some of the phrases jumped out at me: impassioned art ~ accompanied her ~ many valleys.

Creative people are definitely mountain climbers, but we're also pretty good at falling, too. I never thought of sliding into my black pits of depression as journeying through a valley. Maybe if I could convince myself that's what it is, I could gain a healthier perspective.

The faster the world moves, the slower I want to go. Or rather, I want to go in a different direction -- contrary as always, I guess. This past month I've been doing that every day, creatively and practically, and finding that while it's not always comfortable, it's where I want to go. I'll take whatever trips through the valleys come with it because I think that's how you reach the mountains: not by jumping from peak to peak, but by climbing up and down.

I'm going to give away a brand-new copy of Sharon's book, which along with the dedication has some amazing ideas on how to work toward healing by creative art journaling, both in projects and personal essays by the contributing artists. If you'd like a chance to win it, in comments to this post tell us something creative you do that is healing (or if you can't think of anything, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, February 4, 2012. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned copy of Art Journals & Creative Healing by Sharon Soneff. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

La Toilette du Matin

I am going to bail on you guys today to take care of some work stuff. To brighten your day, here's forty-two seconds of one utterly adorable (and completely silent) critter:

Video link nicked from Gerard over at The Presurfer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ready-Made Promo

Next month I'll be invading making guest appearances on some other blogs in NetPubLand, and for all my visits I'm planning a giveaway as well. I think signed books are always best, but in keeping with my color outside the lines directive for this year I'd also like to do something special with them.

I went to BAM to get some inspiration, and wandered over to the bookmark rack to see if they had any new products. I found four that jogged my imagination in different ways: The Book Holder by That Company Called If; a nifty little man-shaped plastic clip that holds your book open while you read it ($3.99); a foiled and embossed double-sided inspirational bookmark by Vibrant Expressions ($2.99); a Plant Me I'll Grow bookmark by Lil Bloomer that is embedded with annual and perennial wildflower seeds ($2.99); and a neat little box of twelve Herman Yu Flora bookmarks by teNeues ($6.95).

Using a ready-made product as a promo widget isn't anything new; writers have been doing it forever. The weirder the item, the more attention it gets -- I remember one RWA National I went to where one author had parked a basket of real chili peppers in the goody room. I'm not really into the gimmicky promo stuff, so I prefer to build around a product, using something ready-made as a theme for the rest of the promo. Back in December, the snowflake tote I picked up at B&N became the central theme of my holiday giveaway, from the Let it Snow title to most of the bag's contents.

teNeues' box of bookmarks caught my eye because there were a dozen (one for every month of the year), the bookmarks individually were cheap (about fifty-eight cents each) and there's a place for notes on the back of each one (readers who like to keep track of what they read could jot down titles there), there are two of each design (perfect for sharing with a reader friend) and the flower theme is attractive but general enough that I can pair a lot of things with it. For this giveaway I could go with flower seeds and gardening stuff for a floral theme, an all-year theme with calendars and other time management helpers, or a share-with-a-friend theme by offering two of everything.

Some ready-made items can also be a jumping-off point for your promo; you add some items to help with the use of your theme product (such as a gardening guide, a pretty flower pot and a pair of weeding gloves for the bookmark with the seeds embedded in it.)

As a reader I'm most attracted to unusual promo that has a practical purpose. I like things I can actually use, especially when I went to conferences and had a limited amount of space in my suitcases. I love tote bags and I use a million of them, but I've never found one used for promo that was particularly sturdy or had pockets for small items. I passed on most of the custom promo, as even the most attractive cover art on an item becomes quickly dated, and unattractive cover art is just sad.

One final note: the more gimmicky something is, the more leery I become, especially when an item poses more of a hazard than a benefit. The basket of chili peppers I mentioned definitely grabbed my attention, but as someone who frequently cooks with them I know they shouldn't be handled without protective gloves on. So that promo actually backfired; I didn't touch the peppers or take any of the actual book-related stuff parked with them.