Saturday, September 29, 2012


After reading all the entries for the Jump into Journaling giveaway I needed to do a couple of things. First I prayed for a couple of my visitors who are going through tough times right now. I then counted exactly how many not-so-blank journals and notebooks I'd found during my quest. Finally I had a chat with the magic hat. The hat, who knows how I feel about journaling and my visitors, gave me the green light to pick the names this time.

So the winners of the giveaway are:

Everyone who entered the giveaway, which would be Lisa954 ~ Robin Connelly ~ Jane ~ Margaret ~ Sylvia van Bruggen ~ digillette ~ Vicki Orians ~ Elizabeth Greentree ~ Shizuka ~ petite ~ bluebamboo ~clairecherven ~ Jennifer and Jeff ~ traveler ~ Vom Marlowe ~ Diana Troldahl ~ Darlene Ryan ~ Mireya ~ Anne V. ~ Alli Johnson ~ Robin Bayne ~ Nicole ~ shawna ~ wade2121 ~ Battlekitty ~ Lanette

Winners, when you have a chance please send your full name and ship-to info to so I can start shipping these packages out. My thanks to you all for joining in and sharing what you did; when you open your heart and speak with such beautiful honesty, we all win.

Friday, September 28, 2012


See the gorgeous city of Rio De Janeiro as you probably never have in two minutes (some background music, for those of you at work):

A day in Rio De Janeiro from Joe Simon Films on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jump Into Journaling

Journals and notebooks have been my daily writing companions since I was a teen.  In addition to PBW, I keep a personal journal, at least three novel notebooks, one or two series bibles, a photo album, an art project book and a quilting diary.  Now and then I'll also break out my current venting journal (for anger management), my belief & prayer journal (ditto) or my idea binder to contain the overflow.  They're generally messy, overstuffed volumes of things that matter only to me; catch-alls for my creative work and anything else lingering on my mind.  The only exceptions are the journals I write for other people now and then; I try to keep those a little neater for the recipient. 

I think regular journaling or notebooking is a good habit for a writer to develop.  I constantly refer to my novel notebooks and series Bibles as they're invaluable repositories of story history, especially when I'm working on a lengthy series.  As series writers know it's not always possible to remember every single detail from each book; keeping a running record of your ideas, outlines, research, character and plot development etc. from each volume can provide valuable reference info for future installments.

I don't often look back through my personal journals, but when I do it's generally to remind myself of how I've managed some challenge from the past.  By revisiting my personal history I often find new motivations -- and sometimes good ideas -- on how to approach, handle, or resolve a situation in the present.  When there aren't any answers to be had, rereading those old journals help me get a better handle on accepting the things none of us can change.  I always want to fix things, and I get frustrated when I can't, so occasionally I need a reminder that not all problems can be solved.

This quest has given me a whole new appreciation of the ready-made blank journals and notebooks available to purchase -- and so have your comments.  I would never have discovered all the amazing journals published by Chronicle Books without Diana Gillette's recommendation, and look what I would have missed out on:

My quest will continue, too, as there are always new products to be discovered, like these Fantasy Art, Doodling and Life Log journals found during my last visit to BAM:

It takes time to create a written record of anything; preserving it for future generations -- even if it's only for the benefit of your own descendants -- takes more effort.  If you keep at it you get into the habit, though, and after thirty years of creating my personal chronicles it's become so much a part of my daily routine that I don't even really think about it anymore.  In time you will have to think about storage issues -- this stack here represents about six months worth of just the personal side of my journaling -- but that's where technology might actually prove useful, as you can elect to scan your paper journals and notebooks and instead save electronic copies of them.

To help some of you get started I'm having a not-so-blank journal and notebook giveaway today.  In comments to this post tell us how you'd use a new journal or notebook by midnight EST on Friday, September 28, 2012.  I'll draw three names at random from everyone who participates and send the winners one of the journals or notebooks I've found since beginning my quest (you won't know which until it arrives, so it will be a surprise.)  This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not-So-Blank Notebooks

Hunting around for not-so-blank journals made me realize that notebooks are changing, too.  For years writers as well as school kids have depended on the ruled white pages of composition books and spiral-bound notebooks to contain their scribbles; I've used hundreds, possibly thousands of them myself.  Finding new and creative versions of these old standbys delighted me, mainly because I didn't expect to see notebooks change -- but they have, and in wonderfully imaginative ways:

This composition-size spiral-bound notebook has an antique look to it, but the real surprise is between the covers:

Instead of the usual white ruled pages, this notebook has pages printed with four different colors and artistic designs.  What it doesn't have is a single line, so you have plenty of room to write, sketch, mount photos or images and otherwise fill the pages however you like.  From Papaya Art; I got mine for $10.76 at my local art store.

You don't have to shop at an art store to find interesting notebooks; I found these two at Target for under $10.00:

The inside pages of the notebook with the flower cover have light gray dots instead of the usual lines (handy for anyone who wants to work out maps or other types of drawings on a gridded surface) while the Poetry/Art/History composition book offers a more elegant spin on ruled pages:

One trick I'm learning is to look for unusual notebooks in places other than the office supply shops and aisles.  I found this notebook with colored, printed and plain white pages at an art supply store; it's sold as an art journal kit but would work great as a notebook.  While gathering school supplies for my kid, I noticed Crayola had put out various sizes of what looked to be a pretty standard spiral-bound notebook.  Which it is, until you write on a page with the pen provided by Crayola, and bring out the psychedelic colors embedded in every inch of the paper.

If you don't find the notebooks you want to use, you can begin making your own.  Collect interesting papers until you have a nice stack, punch holes in them and place them in folder with grommets or a slim binder, and you've got your own notebook.  If you'd like to spiral bind them, you can have that done at most printing service outlets; Office Depot also has a number of spiral binding machines you can purchase and use at home to put together your own notebooks; I even found a video over on YouTube that demonstrates how one of the them works.

Tomorrow I'll wrap up my quest with one final look at some of the other not-so-blank books I've found and the giveaway I promised, so stop in if you get a chance.  (Those of you who are addicted to notebooks might also like to visit Nifty's Notebook Stories blog to see what other writers all over ther planet are using.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sub Ops Duo

Crossed Genres has an interesting open call for SF and/or Fantasy speculative fiction novellas featuring tales of older women: "We’re looking for speculative stories featuring women of advancing age (late middle age and older). They’re smart, they’re tough, and they have wills of their own. They may be warriors, politicians, adventurers, etc. Even if they are also wives, mothers, wise women or healers, those archetypes must not be their defining characteristics. Their motivations, their driving force, must be their own. Whatever was in their past, they’re not interested in being in the background now. We want stories about women breaking free of suppression; we also want stories of women who’ve been empowered all their lives. We welcome and strongly encourage submissions with underrepresented main characters: characters of color, LGBTQ characters, etc." Length:  17.5-40K (firm); Payment:  "$0.01 per word, plus one print copy & the ebook."  No reprints, electronic submission via online form only, see guidelines for more details.  Deadline:  October 31, 2012

Postscripts to Darkness has a standing open call for "works of short (up to 3500 words) fiction for our soon-to-be twice yearly publication. We are currently open to submissions for volume 4, which will be published in the fall of 2013.  We are open to a variety of approaches and styles, but are interested in original work that pushes and plays with(in) the boundaries of the fantastic, the marvelous, the uncanny, and the horrific. We are not interested in formulaic re-treads of genre conventions, but in work that revises and interrogates the relationship between genre writing and literary experimentation."  Payment:  "As of Volume 4, we will offer fiction contributors $25 per story (payable through PayPal), regardless of length. We will also provide a complimentary pdf version of the book to each contributor. Contributors also have the option of purchasing more copies at a low contributor’s rate (30% off.)" No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Both of these ops were found among the marvelous market listings at

Monday, September 24, 2012

Flea Market Ten

Ever see a silky chicken? Me neither, at least until last weekend. Here's a peek included with:

Ten (Odd) Things I Found at the Flea Market

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I think the magic hat has a weird sense of humor sometimes, as the winner of the Later Reading giveaway turned out to be someone to whom I just sent a package (yesterday, in fact) unrelated to blog stuff:

Shiloh Walker, who wrote: I kept Endurance tucked away for almost a year because I was afraid of what you were going to do to Joey.

Shiloh, you don't have to send me your info, I got it, lol.  My thanks to everyone for joining in.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lemming Writing

I got an e-mail from an yet-to-be-pubbed writer who asked me an interesting question (and gave me permission to post it on the blog): "So if all anyone wants to read is mommy porn, shouldn't I be writing it to better my chances at publishing?"

I (correctly) deduced the phrase mommy porn to mean the particular fanfic-based erotica that has sold so briskly of late, and thought for a while about how to respond. After nearly 15 years in the biz I've seen a lot of trends come and go: romantic suspense, fashion chicklit, vampire romance, vampire brotherhoods, vampire bromances, YA written for adults, and now the mommy porn thing. Likewise I've watched countless writers rush up that cliff of popularity and dive off because they saw a lot of other writers take the jump and thought, "Hey, maybe that will work." In the biz we call it jumping on the bandwagon; I think of it more as lemming writing.

Taking advantage of a publishing trend can absolutely open some doors for you. A couple of weeks ago one of my biz associates mentioned to me that editors were so hot for BDSM erotica that if I wanted it I could probably get a contract within a week. Recently my agent made a similar comment. It took me almost three years of traditional submission to sell my latest series; it would be nice to sell something else in a week. Very nice, in fact. If I could land an offer and bulk up my numbers with a fast seller, it would likely do great things for my other works.

Unfortunately it won't, as I seriously doubt I'll ever write BDSM erotica, mommy porn or whatever you want to call it. I'm not a snob; I like well-written books of any variety regardless of genre. I can write just about anything, too. But I won't be making like a lemming for the same reason I don't publish Westerns, Christian chicklit or political thrillers:  I have zero interest in writing it.

Publishing certainly likes fiction that is riding a wave of popularity, but you need to watch it closely and decide when its trends are most advantageous to you and what you want most to write. For example, I originally pitched my Darkyn novels back in the late 90's, and all I got was a resounding rejection. It was what I wanted to write, but vampire fiction didn't sell much back then, so the bounce was simply a good business decision (not only for the publisher but for me, too; I doubt at the time the series would have lasted past book three.) I shelved the idea and moved on. When the vampire fic trend kicked off six years later, I tried submitting my proposal again and landed a three-book contract in a couple weeks.  By timing this right I also had time to establish my series before the genre became glutted.

This doesn't mean I haven't eyed a few cliffs myself. From time to time I've been tempted by certain trends because some of them were vaguely interesting, and I knew if I researched and focused I could do a decent job of it. It's hard to resist a situation that practically guarantees you'll get an offer in order to find that that one editor among hundreds who wants to buy exactly what you want to write. The way the economy is going I don't blame anyone for going for the easier sell; you do what you have to in order to pay your bills and take care of your family.

Trend-driven writing's major downside has to do with how whatever you publish brands you.  If all you've ever sold is mommy porn, publishers are going to focus on that as your niche, and it will be very difficult to persuade them that you can publish anything else successfully.  It's much tougher for a pubbed writer to sell something different from what they've been publishing than it is for a unpubbed writer.  Also, if your mommy porn doesn't do especially well on the market, those low numbers will make you look even less appealing to a publisher than an unpublished writer; booksellers use those numbers to decide how much they want to order of your new venture (aka not much.)  If you're bright/shiny/new with no sales track record, the buyers can only judge you on the strength of the work.  If you're pubbed, you'll be judged on your numbers.  

You pros out there won't escape this, either.  Involuntarily branding yourself can happen at any time during your career.  The reason it took me three years to sell my latest series is because it's new, fresh, and not like anything I've ever written.  Although I'm an established multi-genre writer, the books I've sold in the highest numbers are all vampire fiction, which is also what I'm best known for writing.  I probably could have sold a new paranormal series any time over the last three years; a half-dozen editors who rejected my proposal actually wrapped up their bounces by asking me to send them a paranormal sub instead. 

If you want to write this mommy porn because it's all you've ever wanted to write, happy days -- this is definitely your time. You're not going to be jumping off a cliff; you'll be pursuing what interests you and possibly what you were meant to write. But if the desire and the interest isn't there, I believe it will show through in the work. A few writers have copy-catted their way to success, but most get swallowed up in the glut at the base of the cliff . . . at least until the latest bandwagon comes along to cart them off to the next one.

Friday, September 21, 2012


This inventive animation is a terrific example of how to tell a story without a single line of dialogue (music and sound effects in the background, for those of you at work):

Destiny from Bellecour 3D on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Later Reading

Last week petite mentioned Bill Bryson last week as an author who makes his readers happy, and I have to chime in on that. I've been a diehard Bryson groupie since the first time I read A Sunburned Country, and I will buy anything the man cares to publish the minute I see it on the shelves. Doesn't matter what it is; if I saw "Bryson's Weekly Grocery List" I'd grab that, too.

I don't read Bill's books right away, however. Most of the time I put them in clear view of my desk and use them as writing carrots (i.e. when I finish a manuscript, I get to read one of them as a reward.) Others I reserve for reading during long trips away from home, or hold onto until I have a bad case of the blues; the old "save it for a rainy day" approach.

In this era of get-it-with-one-click the practice of deliberately saving books for later reading seems to have dwindled to the point of vanishing altogether. While I appreciate the technology that allows us to get most any book we want the moment we want it, I think it's changing a lot of what used to be gleeful anticipation into surly impatience.

I'm guilty of this myself; for about a year I've been waiting/hoping to read an e-book by a favorite author who went indie; I've been checking Smashwords monthly to see if it's released there in .pdf (which I had planned to print out at home, as has been my habit with every indie author e-book I want to read.) For the last twelve months I've been willing to wait, but since my family stuck me with this e-reader and I don't have to wait for a printer-friendly edition anymore I've noticed I've been getting grumpier -- and more impatient -- by the week. It's out in Kindle format, so why doesn't the author release it for Nook? Why do I still have to wait? Maybe I should complain . . .

Before the era of instant delivery I never minded -- or even noticed -- the time it took to acquire books I wanted to read. When I was younger and much poorer I had to sign up on a waiting list at the library, and when the call came that my book was available I was thrilled. If I couldn't find a novel by someone I loved, I used the time as a chance to discover new authors. I used to spend years hunting through used book stores for OOPs editions while slowly acquiring an author's entire backlist. It was a bit like treasure hunting, and I absolutely loved it, especially whenever I found the very last book I needed to complete a collection. So were my trips to the brick-and-mortars, when browsing for titles was always punctuated by the delights of finding new releases I didn't know were coming out.

Saving books I buy for later reading may be the only way to get back a little of that lovely feeling of anticipation, so I've started a Rainy Day Reads shelf in my book room. Marjorie Liu just published Where the Heart Lives, a short story on Smashwords that I've never read; that along with Bryson's At Home are the first two additions.

What books or authors would you put on your Later Reading shelf? Tell us in comments to this post (or if you can't think of any, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Saturday, September 22, 2012. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a signed manuscript copy of Nightbred, my upcoming December release (bound by me in a ring binder, and whether the winner reads it right away or saves it for a rainy day is his/her choice) This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Two Christian YA ops

Abingdon Press is launching a Christian YA line in 2014 and is looking to acquire in early 2013 high-quality books written for 14 to 19 year olds; would especially like to see series books as well as steampunk, medieval fantasy and urban fantasy.  They note on their website that they accept submissions only through agents or from writers who meet with their editors at conferences, so if you don't have an agent you might want to see if you can swing an editor appointment at one of your local Christian writer conferences.

OakTara wants to see Christian YA fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction, medieval fantasy series aimed at boys, issue fiction and teen writers; they are eager to acquire "really good" teen writers and fiction written for male readers.  They do accept unagented submissions, see more about their guidelines for writers here.

(Notes on both of these sub ops were found in the August 27th issue of Publishers Weekly; I chased down the links myself.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writers Visual Dictionary

Because I obviously don't have enough on my plate already, I'm tinkering on a visual dictionary for writers, using photo-metaphors for different aspects of the writing life (sort of like a picture book version of the Devil's Publishing Dictionary.)

Here are some first attempts at entries:

To make it a proper dictionary I need to come up with A to Z terms, and likewise choose one word for concepts like "how it feels to hold your book for the first time" so I've plenty of work ahead.  Still, I think it's a fun way to revisit my photo archives and offer a few chuckles for the folks on Flickr.
Does anyone out there have a writer term they'd like to see me define with a photo?  Let me know in comments.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Freebie 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.

Softology's Anagram Generator "creates anagrams and lexigrams; generates reverse dictionaries; word search function allows wildcard search on dictionary; allows you to see if your phone number spells anything interesting; searches for palindromes; search for words that rhyme with other words. Ideal for song writers, musicians and poets. Includes English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Dutch and Spanish dictionaries; solves Jumble puzzles. Saves all results as txt files for future viewing/editing/printing. Non-encrypted dictionaries allow full customisation of words if required. Manually edited English dictionary trimmed to generate interesting anagrams at a much faster speed" (OS: Windows XP/Vista/7)

Clipboard Master is a "handy utility designed to keep all previous texts, pictures and files copied to the clipboard in a list, for later use. Organize your text modules and snippets and paste them in any Windows program whenever you like" (OS: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/2008/7 [32-Bit/64-Bit])

Chronories is a Mac freeware that sounds as if it writes for you:  "Note down today's most precious information - or let your Mac do the tedious labour for you. Entering your mood, where you've been and what you did is just a click away. Thanks to Chronories, you will never forget writing your diary again. And if you don't have anything to say? Well, Chronories will gather its fraction of the information anyways and fill in that information for you."  [PBW also notes:  I'm not sure what to call it (an auto-journaling program?) but if this is something you'd find useful, do check it out.] (OS:  Designer notes on web site:  "Chronories requires a Mac running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion or Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.")

Compositions is a "a minimalist text editor which allows you to focus on the content. It features a clean white background, and a full screen mode that gets rid of almost all of the interface chrome, leaving just the text on the screen.  Using Snapshots, you can take a snapshot of your document at any time, which is saved with the file and available from any device running Compositions. So if you are planning on making large changes to a document, you can snapshot it before hand, and then if you decide to go back, simply restore to the earlier version.  Using Dropbox, your documents are kept in sync across all your devices. Any time you are finished with edits, or if you want the latest downloaded to your device, you simply tap the sync button and it will do all the work. If any conflicts arise, it will ask you to resolve them, or you can set it to always auto-resolve. And since the app uses Dropbox, you can always visit in a browser to restore a deleted file, or go to an earlier version if needed" (OS:  Mac OS X)

Elefant Software has an entire page of freeware programs here designed specifically for disabled users; includes several mouse-replacement programs like SteadyMouse for users with hand tremors.

Ian Pegler's web site offers some free screenwriting, story boarding and story writing programs (OS: Windows)

Img Transformer is a "free image resizer, converter and image editing application that can work directly from Windows Explorer.  It can open over 30 different image formats.  It also works as a normal Windows application, where the user can select the images to convert from a file browser or via drag and drop.  Easily change the original image size, format, color depth and resolution and apply adjustments such as brightness,contrast,gamma and individually adjust RGB values.  Rotate, flip and resize images in batch mode with a simple right mouse button click - 18 different file output formats are supported including export to PDF.  Images can be sharpened or blurred, watermarked, overlaid with text and converted to grayscale, sepia or negative.  Crop or change the canvas size and the resolution of images.  Settings can be saved as a pre-sets and reapplied to subsequent image transformations.  Before applying changes it is possible to view a preview of the result.  Custom frames can also be added to images in batch mode" (OS:  Windows)

My Daily Digital Journal is a "secure personal journal for everyday inspirational living.  Write your daily thoughts, opinions, and life views in your own journal. It also includes a password login dialog box for keeping prying eyes out of your personal business.  Insert special characters, emotional icons, pictures, and images into your writing for a more colourful display of your thoughts and ideas. The journal also incorporates an auto save feature for your convenience. There is no need to save your work, it is all done automatically. When you run the application for the first time, simply press enter when the Login window is displayed. You may choose your own password in the settings dialog. Just don't forget your password" (OS:  Windows)

Storybook is "a free Open Source novel-writing software for creative writers, novelists and authors. Starting with the plot to the finished book — with Storybook you'll never lose the overview. Storybook helps you to keep an overview of multiple plot-lines while writing books, novels or other written works" (OS: Windows 7/Vista,/XP, Linux)

Writers D'Lite has "just enough functionality to start you on writing that important novel, short-story or article, without any bells and whistles to distract you. Get writing from the first moment you start the application. It has all the important functions and text formatting needed to get you busy. It also has custom page settings for easier viewing of your document. Keep the cursor at eye level for best focus and writing. Full statistics are visible on the status bar, keeping you abreast of your text document as you type. There is also no java or .Net required to run this application, keeping it very small and portable and very useful. It has all the necessary editing short-cut keys for power users. See the blue question mark for more info{F1-key}" (Windows, designer also notes available in a portable version.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Recently while I was poking around the Writers Knowledge Base site, I discovered Mike Fleming's Hiveword, an amazing web-based story organizer that is easy to use, provides quick and easy outlining of scenes, characters, settings and plotlines, and generates terrific compilation lists of the same. In addition to these features Hiveword also stores your work online for you in a private account, so it's like a virtual version of a novel notebook. Here are details on some of Hiveword's different features along with some screenshots (and click on any image to see a larger version):

Your Hiveword account includes a dashboard with all your works in progress arranged by title, along with when they were created, stats on how much work you've done on them, and the last time you updated the info.  For those of you who like me are quantum writers and work on several projects at the same time, this can help you track your progress and productivity on multiple WIPs.

Each story you archive on Hiveword has a main title page where you can record a subtitle, what name you're writing under, and a summary of the story.  Here I've plugged in the summary for my novel crash dummies' book, and the summary area is a great place to work on a draft of your outline or synopsis.

As you compile scenes on Hiveword, it keeps track of them, and generates a list of them for each project.  This is great because you can track how often you switch settings, POV, plotlines and keep track of who appears in what scene.

Hiveword also compiles lists of your characters as you make them up and provides an at-a-glance summary of things like attributes, occupations, motivations, etc.  If you're working on a project with a big cast of characters I don't have to tell you how valuable this is.

The service also compiles lists of settings in the story, as well as a snapshot of your description of them.

There's a button on the settings list page that offers you the option to you generate place names if you need them, and provides maps and links to info about the generated results.  By selecting the "add setting" button you can add any of the results you like directly into your story.

You can also use a similar button to generate random character names, and add those you like from the results to your story.

There is much more to Hiveword than what I've mentioned, so it's worth taking it for a test-drive yourself to see all the features.  Hiveword is so great at helping organize your story info and elements that it's like having your own personal story assistant.  You can use it for other purposes as well, such as outlining those bright, shiny and very distracting new story ideas so you can get out of your head.  For those of you who are series writers, Hiveword would serve as an excellent encyclopedia to keep a running record of your characters, settings, plots and details from every novel.  If you're on the phone with an editor, you can consult Hiveword on details from your book for pitches, editorial discussions or to answer those pesky impromptu questions (like "Hey, what Chapter did Marcia find out John was also the demon thief?")  You pantsers might not have to backtrack through your manuscripts as much if you take a few minutes after your work sessions to record details of what you've already written in a Hiveword file.

The very best thing about Hiveword is that right now it's free* for anyone to use, so you don't have to pay to play with it (and according to Mike Fleming's blog, he's keeping it free for National Novel Writing Month.)  If you're thinking about writing your first novel this November, want to become more organized with ongoing projects, or simply want to play with novel-writing software to see what it can do for you, I highly recommend Hiveword.

*Added: I just learned from the designer that Hiveword is going to be free forever, not just for NaNoWriMo, so one more huge reason to love it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


The winner of the Little Ideas giveaway is:
Freyrryn, who wrote:  I've recently started collecting 'tools' to get back into my old hobby of leather working... mostly small accessory bits and favorite bookmarks.

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Little Ideas

I've gone and fallen in love with Tim Holtz's idea-ology line of art products, which a steampunk-loving friend introduced me to a few months back as inspiration for my jewelry-making as well as my 1K Cards Project.  The line mixes antique, metal and artful grunge themes and materials to create that industrial chic that mixed media artists love, and offers unique materials to play with that I think readers and writers can have fun becoming idea-ologists, too.  And since Jo-Ann has practically the entire line on sale this week for 30% off, I thought I'd share some of what I'm doing with my stash (and you can click on any image to see a larger version.

If you've ever wanted to play with a paper version of magnetic poetry, this pad of chitchat stickers is sheer perfection.  The pad features 1088 tiny word stickers printed with words in a typewriter-style font; you get two sets (six pages total) of the words, half on white and half on grocery bag-brown card stock backgrounds.  I used my pad to compose some ATCs for the project, and found that the words stick very nicely, even to a metal surface.  $4.99 for the pad; I paid $3.49 for it on sale at Jo-Ann.

These metal philosophy tags by idea-ology come in a set of twelve, and feature a single inspirational word along with some numbers so they resemble old fashioned stamped key tags.  They're great for jewelry-making and innumberable art projects; I've already used a dozen to make some steampunk pieces.  If you string them like medals I bet these would make fun awards for any creative club.  I bought another set to use them as anchors for some promotional BookLoops; $4.99 regular price, got mine on sale for $3.49 at Jo-Ann.

I've always looked around for a not-childish set of of mini alphabet flash cards to use with my art projects, and here's one that comes with 72 count (mostly letters but numbers 1-9, too.)  These will help spell out a set of 26 ATCs I'm making to pay homage to back-to-school month, but you can also use them to embellish journal covers and pages, to creatively tab a novel notebook or anything you keep in alphabetical or numerical order.  $3.99 regular price; Jo-Ann has them for $2.79.

If you like the look of vintage film strip, this spool of mini transparent plastic movie frames is beyond cool.  It feels and looks like the real thing, and when used as a border for matted photos or journal pages adds a neat antique look.  I do want to mention that because it's made of plastic this ribbon remains in a curly state (you experienced mixed-media artists probably know some clever way to use a hair dryer or something to solve that) so it isn't very glue-friendly, but I secured my photo border on the ends with double-sided foam tape, which worked fine.  This spool was a gift from my pal, but I checked Jo-Ann's web site and they have it for $3.49 on sale.

What I like most about this product line is that nothing costs an arm and a leg; the materials only look like they do.  For example, with the philosophy tags I can make a dozen cool BookLoops for under $5 (a spool of organdy ribbon from the dollar store + the 12 tags as anchors = $4.49 total.) Tim Holz also has some instructional videos here that show you more creative ways to use some of the other idea-ology products.

I'd also like to share some of the idea-ology wealth, so in comments to this post name a creative way you'd like to use one of these products (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the magic hat) by midnight EST tonight, September 14, 2012.  I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates, and send the winner one set of all the products I've mentioned in this post (the chitchat pad,the philosophy tags, the mini alphabet deck and the movie frames ribbon.)  This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


The Publishing Fairy came through for me again, and the winner of yesterday's BookWish giveaway is:
Deb Salisbury, who wrote:  Nancy Athertons's Aunt Dimity mysteries always make me happy. I reread them whenever I'm blue.
Deb, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info and title of the book you'd like, and I'll get Miss Magic Dust to put her wand to work.  My thanks to everyone for joining in and giving us so many great recs for happy reads.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Lieu of a Post

I had a lousy day yesterday, and I'm not happy with the post I had written to appear today, so to bail me out (again) I've summoned the Publishing Fairy, who has taken pity on me and agreed to give someone who stops in here today a book that they want (she's such a pushover.)

If you'd like to be that someone, in comments to this post name a book or author that makes you happy (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the magic hat) by midnight EST tonight, September 12, 2012. 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.

Also, a note on that last bit -- I am blessed with an amazingly supportive readership, not only here in the U.S. but around the globe.  Keeping my giveaways open to everyone no matter what country they reside is my own little Books Without Borders project -- and a chance to say thanks for that support.  So if you do live outside the U.S. and worry about this, please don't hesitate -- enter the giveaway, and if you win, I will get it to you, no problem whatsoever.

*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, September 11, 2012

Poetry Sparks

Whenever I need inspiration for a particular storytelling task the first place I usually run to is my collection of poetry books.  Great poets have the gift of expressing concepts with the most uncommon words and phrases, and gleaning and recombining fragments from these verses often results in a unique title or story idea.

To try this yourself, pick up a few poetry books at the library, grab a notepad and pen, and start reading.  When you find a phrase that has appeal to you as a title concept or story inspiration, jot it down (and remember to note the author and the title of the poem so you can go back to it, cite it, etc.)  

Here's a list of title sparks I made while reading through The Poetry of Pablo Neruda:
  1. habit of dreams (Joachim's Absence)
  2. fallen night (We Together)
  3. between garrisons and maidens (Ars Poetica)
  4. the moon dwells (Sonata and Destruction)
  5. her dark star (The Night of the Soldier)
  6. I listen to my tiger (The Young Monarch)
  7. garden in the dark (Single Gentleman)
  8. dreaming of bandits (Sexual Water)
  9. the midst of rain (Autumn Returns)
  10. stones of silence (What Spain Was Like)
Habit of Dreams would be a great title for a story about a person with a sleep disorder (or a dream addiction); Fallen Night I'd probably change to Knight Fallen and write about an honorable warrior's tumble from grace.  Between Garrisons and Maidens is a little long but just gorgeous; I could see that titling a story about star-crossed medieval lovers, or perhaps the person who carries their secret messages for them.  Of the remainder, I really love I Listen to My Tiger; that is just begging to be a title of a story about a very ferocious pookah. 

Poetry is also a great place to find story sparks; poets tend to load up their verses with devious imagery and ideas.  If you're in an inspirational lull you might find a word or phrase that spontaneously jump starts your muse.

Here's a list of some story ideas I got while reading through Ranier Marie Rilke ~ Prose and Poetry:
  1. shadow's falling (The Book of Hours)
  2. signs of winter (The Fourth Elegy)
  3. angel gaze (The Seventh Elegy)
  4. Lords of the House of Lament (The Tenth Elegy)
  5. with early death (The Tenth Elegy)
  6. fall of light (The Sonnets to Orpheus, #22)
  7. racks no longer required (The Sonnets to Orpheus, #9)
  8. shade or shine (The Sonnets to Orpheus, #29)
  9. night without objects (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)
  10. those who burned their letters (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)
The two that jumped out at me first were #4 and #10; both instantly inspired story ideas based on the exact wording.  The other eight are more conceptual for me; for example I can imagine a story about the day all the shadows in the world disappear (#1); a freak snow storm in July in one of the hottest places on the planet -- which is about to become the coldest (#2); depending on how you want to interpret the word "rack", a near-future day when all stores, or shoes, or torture is made illegal (#7).

Sometimes when you mine poetry you'll get a mixed bag, especially if you read through an anthology with verses written by many different poets.  Here's a mixed sparks list I put together while sifting through Poetry That Lives Forever:

  1. When his wings enfold (Of Love, Kahlil Gibran)
  2. A whiplash unbraiding (A Narrow Fellow, Emily Dickinson)
  3. Not yet in quiet lie (Daybreak, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
  4. speak silence (To the Evening Star, William Blake)
  5. with spiders I have friendship made (The Prisoner of Chillon, Lord Byron)
  6. too hot the eye of heaven (Sonnet XVIII, William Shakespeare)
  7. all the pleasures prove (The Passionate Shepherd to His Love, Christopher Marlowe)
  8. at sundawn stirred (A Child's Laughter, Charles Algernon Swinburne)
  9. halls of pleasure . . . aisles of pain (Solitude, Ella Wheeler Wilcox)\
  10. the one less traveled (The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost)
Of this group I'd say I could turn #4, #7 and #10 into titles, and the rest into stories.  I'm particularly struck by Dickinson's imagery of a whiplash unbraiding with #2; I can see a really great story idea about an unfair flogging going very wrong unfolding as well.  #5 sounds a bit Renfieldish, but I've written a book about a prisoner who could control spiders (and any other insect near him) and you can have a lot of fun with that kind of creepy superpower.  Swinburne's at sundawn stirred made me think of daylight vampires for some reason; what if you put a spin on the mythology so that they couldn't tolerate the dark?  And Wilcox's halls of pleasure . . . aisles of pain conjures up all kinds of storytelling ideas: the memoir of a gifted opera singer with a perpetual, terrible case of stage fright; a YA about a popular kid becoming the target of a bully; a religious cult who lures in victims with unbelievably wonderful spiritual elation that they must never question, until the day someone does and they find out what really creates all that endless bliss . . .

Getting sparks from poetry is also a great way to break through a writing block; try looking for words and phrases that create instant imagery and resonate on some level with you.  Once you have a list of ten, write out a short premise on what they brought to mind, and then choose one and write one page about it.  If the idea doesn't hold your interest, go back to your list, choose another premise and repeat.  Even if you don't end up with a complete story, it's great writing practice and might help you get past whatever is blocking you.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sub Ops Ten

Ten Things About Submission Opportunities

Just a heads-up for you regular SF story mag subbers, Stanley Schmidt, the long time editor of Analog magazine, has at last retired; the new editor's name is Trevor Quachri.  Mr. Schmidt doesn't know it but he inadvertantly helped me sell three of the StarDoc novels and get the series back into print, so I'm happy to wish him the best of luck with his retirement.

Black Chicken Studios, Inc., wants to find skilled writers to draft text for Devil's Advocate, an upcoming supernatural crime-romance game:  "Writers must be able to write efficient, colorful prose based in a supernatural romance scenario (think the situations of Angel, the wit and verve of Ocean's 11 and the quirky law of Ally McBeal). The game is set in modern day Las Vegas, so consider the time and place when you phrase your writing.  The target audience for the game is teens and adults, so the writing must be accessible. However, writers are encouraged to write in their own voice, as long as their style remains reasonably acceptable considering the era the game-world is set in (edgy, experimental text would be out of character, for example)."  Length:  "Writing assignments will involve Scenes to be featured in the game. Each Scene will consist of 10-20 paragraphs of text, with each paragraph being no more than three lines (NB: Lines, not sentences. We're hoping to keep things tight!) The goal is to keep the prose snappy and engaging."  Payment:  "The pay is $10 per assignment, with each assignment consisting of the creation of 20 events (NB: Not $10 per item written, $10 per assignment of 20 total items)."  For more details and links, see the market listing over at's market forum here
Captive Unicorn Publications is looking for submissions of erotic romance and classic erotica in various lengths to become part of an erotica library/new venture with what sounds like a manufacturer of sexual aid products :  "Works must have a clearly defined plot which results in character development either in a sexual or emotional context, or preferably, both; Sex must be prominent and explicit, with rich descriptions of the characters’ mental and physical experiences; A romantic relationship between the primary characters is high encouraged, but not required; Characters may be married or single and of any sexual orientation; Submissions may not contains: pedophilia, incest, bestiality or necrophilia; Consensual sex only (references to non-consensual sex must be used for character development only and not in the context of the current action); Integration of Liberator™ branded products is acceptable, but not required; when included, usage must enhance the pleasure of the characters and be specifically related to the plot or character journey. References must be subtle, not blatant."  See guidelines for more details, and as I'm not clear on what these products are, do check this one out thoroughly before you submit anything.

The, ah, somewhat grumpy folks at Crowded magazine are looking for spec fic [and please note that my comments are in the square brackets]:  "Science fiction, fantasy, horror, whatever. If you aren't sure what speculative fiction is, google it. Then submit your story elsewhere. This is Crowded Magazine, not Clueless Magazine."  [I love the hostility, don't you?  It practically sparkles.]  Also:  "Most magazines have guidelines describing the fiction they want to see. These guidelines invariably include plenty of editorial chestnuts as to what makes a good story. To be honest, we really don't know what makes a good story."  [Comforting, that.]  "We know what we like when we see it. But we're willing to offer a few nuggets of wisdom that will help propel your fiction through the slush pile and into the magazine:  Speculative fiction is, arguably, a populist art."  [Dude, no one is going to argue with you.  Like ever.]  "We're not looking for the next Faulkner. We're looking for stuff that people would read for entertainment. And, anyway, the slush reading is crowdsourced, so you're better off gunning for the unwashed masses as opposed to a specific editor's fetishes for gender bending or melodrama."  [Editors have fetishes?  Okay, now I want more details.]  "No purple midgets, gay pirates, or unicorns. Actually, that's a lie. If you have a great story about a unicorn-riding purple midget battling a fleet of gay pirates, drop it in the queue. Really. We don't see enough of that kind of thing."  [Now I think he's just toying with us.  Ah, well, maybe that's his fetish.]  "In theory there are no restrictions on profanity, gore, sex, violence, and so on, but in our opinion stories that rely on profanity, gore, sex, etc for their whole effect are unlikely to be any good."  [Right, so no Fifty Shades of Spec Fic.]  "The story must have a speculative fiction element. Note that purple midgets may or may not be considered speculative fiction, but unicorns probably are. Do not submit fan fiction."  [Gotta wonder if the magazine is ever going to be as entertaining as these guidelines for it.]  Length:  20K or less.  Payment: "5¢/word."  No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details and chuckles. has an open call for their special The Journal of Unlikely Architecture publication:  " This will be a single issue of fiction published under the Unlikely Story umbrella in which designing buildings, building buildings, and/or exploring, inhabiting, utilizing or dismantling the buildings themselves feature prominently.  What we’re looking for:  Beautifully-written fiction, characters that grab us by the throats and refuse to let go, worlds that draw us in and demand to be explored…and buildings. Genre isn’t particularly important to us—speculative, mainstream, slipstream, and the unclassifiable tales in between—we’ll read anything; all we ask is that something pertaining to buildings is integral or significant in your story. The building element can be literal or metaphorical, hallucinatory or behavioral or metaphysical, or any combination thereof. Your story may focus on a single building, or a city, but the constructed environment must be crucial to the narrative. Not quite sure what we’re talking about? Think of Gormanghast, Being John Malkovich, House of Discarded Dreams, Talking Heads' Don't Worry About the Government, The Architecture of Desire, Dark City, Fall of the House of Usher, Inception, and Monty Python's Crimson Permanent Assurance. In case it is unclear, we're happy to consider stories involving all manner of purposeful structural elements, such as bridges, dams, tunnels, and tombs of sufficient scope.  There are no barriers as to levels of profanity, gore, or sexuality allowed, but be sure to use them well if you do use them. There is no requirements for bugs in your story for the Journal of Unlikely Architecture; neither is there a prohibition against them."  Length:  "We’ll consider stories up to 8000 words, but prefer stories of 5000 words or less. We’re open to flash fiction and fiction in non-traditional formats, but we do not publish poetry or non-fiction."  Payment:  "We pay 1¢ per word for stories between 1000—5000 words. Stories over 5000 words receive a flat fee of $50. Stories under 1000 words receive a flat fee of $10."  Original fiction preferred over reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.  Deadline:  When filled.

Innsmouth Free Press wants fiction submissions:  "We have a special interest in stories inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, but the Weird in general is our territory. We showcase 5 to 7 stories during February, June and October.  Some stories are solicited. We also hold open reading periods."  Also from their guidelines page:  "We have no restrictions on settings or time periods. Henry VIII’s court, Peru, Imperial China, 1920′s Innsmouth, or modern New York are all fine with us. In fact, we like unusual times and settings. Creative is good.  We accept a variety of genres as long as the story is Weird: historical, SF, horror, satire, dark fantasy, etc. We don’t mind some humor to go with your grim. A little light makes the shadows darker. No erotica please, specially if it involves our friend Cthulhu.  We like reading stuff from and about women and minorities. We have also published stories from many international writers. Submissions in English, French and Spanish are accepted."  Length:  "1,300 to 5,000 words."  Payment:  "Short stories from 1,300 to 5,000 words will be paid 1 cent per word (CAD)."  Note on reprints:  "We will consider reprints, but give high priority to those stories that have not been published on the Internet. When submitting a reprint, please state this, as well the work’s publishing history and confirmation that you retain rights to publish it. Reprints will be paid $25 CAD via PayPal."  Electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Kazka Press has an open call for their At Year’s End: SFF Holiday Stories antho, and is looking for:  "... stories set against year-end holidays (Yule, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Samhain, Bodhi Day, New Year, Chinese New Year, Watch Night, Pancha Ganapati, Saturnalia, The Invincible Sun, etc.); Science Fiction / Fantasy (SFF) themed; Avoid cultural appropriation; Invest us in the story immediately. Five-hundred words is not a lot. Don’t waste 395 words meandering. Get right to the heart of the thing; Remember: these stories don’t need to be about the holiday. They just need to be set against a holiday. We’re much more interested in an engaging story that occurs on Thanksgiving or Chinese New Year rather than a story about those holidays. Just make sure the holiday forms a clear, present backdrop."  Length:  "500 word (or less)" (firm).  Payment: "5 cents a word + 1 contributors copy of each format."  Query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.  Deadline:  November 2, 2012.

Perihelion SF would like to see fiction submissions:   "We are looking for well-written, original science fiction, that is, “hard” science fiction. No fantasy. No horror. No fan fiction. No poetry. Stories do not necessarily have to restrict themselves to robots, rocket ships, and extraterrestrials. However, the science and/or technology must be integral to the story. If you remove the science, the story falls apart, or disappears altogether. If the plot can be easily reconstituted as a western, a swashbuckler, or a bodice-ripper, it is probably not for us, either." [ Ouch; someone doesn't like romance.]  Also from their guidelines page:  "We aren't fixated on political correctness. We don't object to explicit language, violence, or  sexual situations, as long as it is necessary to the plot. We like humor and satire. We really don't care if you are a minority, transgendered, or purple; the story is the focus and not the author."  [Purple authors, you have been duly warned.  Makes me wonder, though, what about the pink ones?  Or the brown ones?  And then there are all those yellow, red, freckled and mixed tone writers, too.  Maybe there's an in for us, but sorry, you purple authors are definitely OUT of the picture.]  Length:  " Stories should be anywhere from 1,000 words to around 7,000 words in length. Those limits are firm, so please do not send us your latest novel. We don't publish installments, so please do not send us Part 1 as a story."  Payment:  "Currently we are paying one cent per word, up to a maximum of $75 per story, on acceptance. This rate will undoubtedly grow as we do."  No reprints, electronic submissions only, see guidelines for more details.

Shimmer e-zine is looking for fiction submissions:  "Unusual and beautifully-written speculative fiction stories with full plots and strong characters. The best way to understand what we are looking for is to read an issue of the magazine. We’re most drawn to contemporary fantasy, and seek out stories with a strong emotional core. We like unusual stories with a fluid and distinctive voice, with specific and original images. Send us your odd unclassifiable stories–though we prefer traditional storytelling mechanics to experimental approaches.  We’re less likely to be interested in sword and sorcery, hard SF, space opera, paranormal romance, and slasher horror, but really, we’ll read anything."  Length: "We like our fiction short – under 5000 words. If your story is longer than 5000 words (and yes, 5100 words is longer than 5000 words) but you believe we would love it, please send us a query briefly describing the story along with the first page of the story."  Payment:  "5 cent per word, minimum $10. You’ll also receive two copies of the issue in which your story appears."  No reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Eggplant Productions is looking for submissions for their Spellbound ezine, a publication aimed toward 8 to 12 year-olds:  "We’re looking for stories involving magic, myth, legend and adventure in a fantasy setting. We’re especially interested in young protagonists and showing girls in a “heroic” role are welcome."  Length:  2.5K or less.  Payment:  "2½¢/word".  Query on reprints, electronic submission only, see guidelines for more details.

Most of these ops were found among the many wonderful market listings at

Sunday, September 09, 2012


The winner of the Get Back to Writing Journal giveaway is:

Marina, who wrote: My desk looks like an unfortunate accident in a craft shop.

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

Saturday, September 08, 2012


The winner of the Get Back to Writing Blog giveaway is:

Gigi, who wrote: I'm contemplating starting a secong blog about the rural life and using it to promote rural communities as the next new place to live.

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

Friday, September 07, 2012

Get Back to Writing Week: Journal

The winner of the Get Back to Writing Week Short Story giveaway is:

Vetta, whose first line was You're no good and neither am I. That's why we deserve each other.

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

This morning I got up at 5 a.m.  Once I'd attended to the first tasks of the day, I retreated to the porch to hang out with the pups and the birds. After meditating for thirty minutes (something that helps clear out the head cobwebs and centers me) I wrote this entry in my personal journal.  Journaling is part of my daily writing routine, and it helped me warm up for composing this blog post. Once this is finished I'll deal with some correspondence, biz stuff, and then tackle the day's fiction work schedule.  I think of it as a cascade writing effect -- beginning with an easy flow and then building on the momentum that creates.

I journal first each day because it's very undemanding writing. I can write whatever I want, in any style I want, and it doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me. I don't have to edit it, polish it or make it presentable. I usually write with my favorite fountain pen, which gives me that lovely feeling of creating art with words.  Personal journaling provides me with daily opportunities to quietly wonder while I chronicle things important to me as a person. In that sense the personal journal can be like your private treasure chest, in which you can store gems of inspiration, pearls of writing wisdom and the beautiful things we craft from our own experiences with the work.

Writing in a journal is writing for yourself, and that offers a bit of creative breathing room.  As a professional my work is always subject to scrutiny and opinion coming at me from all directions: the agent, editors, writer friends, readers and everyone else metaphorically reading over my shoulder. Since I'm a storyteller I don't mind the attention -- naturally the work is meant to be shared -- but having twenty minutes of writing liberty via journaling makes me calmer, more focused and better able to cope with being under the microscope the rest of the time.

Before you dive back into writing fiction after a long break, it can help to open a blank book, notebook or make your own journal, and write for yourself for a time. Whatever caused you to give up the work, as well as why you want to get back to it, could be the perfect place to start.  While I don't think you should use a journal simply to vent 24/7, it does give you the right place to get out any negative thoughts that might otherwise interfere with the work (as well as put you in a better mood to write what you do want others to read.)

There are no rules with journaling, no deadlines, no marketing, no pressure. You certainly don't have to journal every day, nor do you have to tell anyone about your journal.  If you really want to protect the contents, once it's filled you can always destroy it (which I recommend for any journal with contents that for whatever reason you never want to be read by anyone else.)

A journal also doesn't have to be in diary form. I've written a couple that were simply long letters to friends, which I mailed off to them after they were filled. You can use a guided journal as a daily writing exercise workbook, or write your journal as one of your characters (I did one for Lucan from the Darkyn books, and it was not only fun writing in his voice -- excellent practice for dialogue tone, too -- but helped me better understand him.)

To get back to writing by journaling, in comments to this post write the first line of a journal entry you'd make today by midnight EST on Saturday, September 8th, 2012. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a copy of the second issue of Pages magazine, this lovely Peacock blank journal, and a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Get Back to Writing Week: Blog

The winner of the Get Back to Writing Week Poetry giveaway is:

Charlene Teglia, who offered this haiku:

All my kids are sick
I can't get my writing done
Poetry might help.

Charlene, when you have a chance please send your ship-to info to Lynn so I can get your package out to you. My thanks to everyone for joining in, and keep writing those haiku and other poems -- they really do help.

Taking a long break from writing generally makes for a difficult return; trying to go back to it after you've quit writing, unplugged from the internet, and actively avoided your writer friends, NetPubLand, and basically anyone and everything to do with writing is probably the toughest road back. I know because I stopped writing -- and everything related to it -- for a year.

When I quit I was pretty ruthless about it; I shut down my blog, stopped teaching online classes, dropped out of my writer organization, quit going to cons and having booksignings, and even stopped submitting proposals to publishers. To generate some income I went off to work as a bookseller and moonlight as an antique quilt restorer, two things I loved. My old writer pals, however, kept e-mailing to nag me to come back and start blogging and teaching again (in hindsight I probably should have shut down the e-mail, too.)

At the time no one but our family knew that my guy had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I intended to keep it that way. Helping him through his surgery, treatment and recovery was all I cared about; I knew the writing would wait. As for the biz, it could go hang itself.

My writer friends didn't let up, and once my guy was out of danger one of them convinced me to (partially) reconsider my shutdown. While I still felt fed up with the biz, I'd never lost my love of sharing ideas and resources with other writers. I was even writing a little again, too. My friend suggested I start another blog. The idea appealed to me; it would be a way to get in some writing practice and maybe teach while still preserving my privacy. What the heck, I thought, I could write about the real writing life. Maybe five or ten writers would read the thing; we'd all get tired of it in a couple of months and I could finally quit the biz for good.

That was ten years ago, and here I am, still posting away.

Blogging brought me back to writing because it provided me with the motivation I needed to return to a writing routine. Posting every day meant not only writing about writing, but thinking about it again, and letting it back into my life. I didn't have to write much, but as a lifelong journaler I felt an obligation to write something. I also wanted it to be useful, so as not to waste my visitors' time, or at the very least offer them some entertaining content; otherwise why do it?

Gradually I recognized that by blogging I was meeting like-minded people who cared about the same things I did: appreciating the art of story, reading great books, improving the craft, protecting the work and finding new opportunities. These were the other writers I'd always hoped to find but until then never had. Blogging about the writing life turned out to be the writing life I'd dreamed of but hadn't found anywhere else. As epiphanies go, that one was pretty major.

This is why I'm proof that blogging can provide a solid avenue to get back into a writing routine. If you've never tried blogging, try creating one and commit to posting twice a week. If you've neglected an old blog for some time, dust it off and restart it. Try a new blog skin or template to give it a fresh look. If the prospect of going it alone intimidates you, talk to your writer friends about starting a new group blog. You don't have to write about writing; write about anything. Go to a site with blogging prompts or invest in a how-to book with writing sparks. Let people know what's been happening with you, what you've been reading lately or what else grabs your interest. You can even chronicle your journey back to writing as it happens.

To further tempt you to get back to writing by blogging, in comments to this post name a topic you'd like to write about on a blog by midnight EST on Friday, September 7th, 2012. I'll choose one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner unsigned copies of Week by Week ~ a Year's Worth of Journaling Prompts and Meditations by Amber Lea Starfire and How to Blog a Book by Nina Amir. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Get Back to Writing Week: Short Story

Novels are like theme parks, in that they hold a lot of characters, surprises around every corner, neat rides to go on and other cool things to do. As a reader you can spend days wandering around and basking in the excitement of these places.

As a writer, you can do that, too, but you have to build them first.

This kind of fiction construction takes tons of ideas and tools and plans plus all the time it requires to actually gather the materials, put it together, troubleshoot it, polish it up and get it ready for others to enjoy. It's why we call it world-building; writing novels means you really do build a world and everything in it from scratch.

If you've taken a hiatus from writing, the sheer size of that kind of project can seem especially daunting. So can the very good odds that you'll do all that work and get nothing in return. What if you choose the wrong theme for your novel park? What if the cast members are a bunch of boring wall flowers who just stand around and talk to each other about housekeeping stuff? Those doubts and fears often convince writers to put it off until next week, next month, or next year (when -- for mysterious reasons that I've never understood -- it's supposed to be easier.)

To get back to writing after a long break it's sometimes good to start with a project that isn't as long as a book. One option is to write some flash fiction, or a story told in a very minimal amount of words (some folks say it has to be less than 300, but I've also seen it defined as less than 1000 words.) This sort of writing can be a great form for people who want to work in shorter sessions in order to ease their way back into a daily or weekly writing routine. If you're a fast, focused writer, you can probably knock out at least one or two flash fiction stories per day; if you're slower or want to explore the form you still won't have to deal with a lot of blank pages to fill; four is about tops.

My personal favorite go-to short fiction form is the short story. A short story is like a roller coaster in the great theme park of fiction; they can be fast, fun and full of thrills. I've always written them for practice purposes as well as to get a feel for characters and scenes, and I think they're the best way to test-drive characters and novel ideas before I commit to writing a book about them. Both the StarDoc and the Darkyn series were based on short stories I wrote for fun, so for me this kind of writing practice also regularly leads to bigger and better projects.

The easiest subject for a short story is a day in the life of one of your characters (this gives you 24 hours to follow them around and get to know them, so it's a terrific method for exploring your characterizations.) You can write a short story about the worst or best day in your character's life, the day their world came crashing to a halt, or the day their second chance arrived. Likewise your character can do anything in this 24 hours: witness a crime, discover a secret, or win the lottery.

If nothing like that comes to mind, here's one of my personal tricks for writing practice: grab the nearest nonfiction book you love, turn to any page at random and jot down the first sentence you see on the page. The line you write down will be the opening sentence for the story (and just a note for those who may choose to pursue publishing a practice story written this way; you should remove the opening line before submitting, obtain the author's permission to use the line, or footnote it.)

Here's an example: from page 79 of The Medieval Underworld by Andrew McCall:

As was usual then, with medieval justice, a prison sentence meant one thing to those who were rich or influential and quite another to those who were not.

This is a great opening line for a short story; I'd use it to tell the tale of how two prisoners (one rich, one poor) live out one day of their sentence. I'd find a way to have them meet, of course, and hate each other, and then for some drastic reason become dependent on each other in a moment of crisis. I'd find out who they really are beneath the wealth and the poverty; one could be guilty of the crime for which the other was actually convicted. I might have them be in love with the same woman; I might have them fall in love with each other. That one line is just a door opening to endless possibilities.

To get you back to writing via short stories, in comments to this post give us the first line of a short story you'd like to write (or if you can't think of one, just toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Thursday, September 6th, 2012. I'll choose one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner an unsigned copy of Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite how-to books by my favorite short story writer, and a signed-by-me copy of Ring of Fire, a short story anthology which includes A Matter of Consultation by Yours Truly writing as S.L. Viehl. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Get Back to Writing Week: Poetry

A lot of writers are not writing; this I know because it's the most common complaint I hear lately from my fellow scribe pals. Whether it's caused by the demands of life, too much involvement in social media, or some biz-related despair, not-writing seems to be acquiring the dimensions of a plague. But then you can always find a good reason not to write. You can put it off for now and instead deal with whatever is messing with you. Of course you'll get back to it, you tell yourself, maybe tomorrow. Then tomorrow turns into next week, next month, next year, etc.

Sometimes that is what you have to do: stop writing, deal with whatever, and then go back to it. I've done it more than once myself; no judgment here.

I find that the toughest task is the going back after a long time of not-writing. When writing is no longer part of your daily or weekly routine it has to be reintegrated. Since every spare moment we have these days seems to be dedicated to doing something else time has to be made for it. Then there's the picking up where you left off or starting fresh on something new. Often you have to do this with the reason(s) you stopped writing in the first place still hovering in the background, waiting to distract you -- and railroad you -- again.

If you're wrestling with this problem, there are plenty of ways to cope. National Novel Writing Month is less than two months away now, and there is no better time to seriously dive into your writing than NaNoWriMo. Before you commit to producing a novel in a month, however, you might consider dusting off your muse and warming up your writerly muscles by getting back to writing right now. Pick a simple project and get to it: write a poem, a short story, update your blog, start a handwritten journal or research and outline your NaNo novel. Do this, stick with it and by the time November arrives I'll bet you'll have a lot more confidence in yourself and your writing.

In my toughest times with writing I often turn to poetry to inspire and renew me, and of all the poetic forms haiku is my favorite for this. It's brief, it's beautiful and it's fun, and it doesn't require a huge amount of time to practice. Try starting a haiku journal, and commit to writing one new poem in it every day for a week. You can also take your favorite nature photographs and use them as inspiration. If you have a set of magnetic poetry, try writing haiku with it on your fridge. Once you've built up a nice collection of haiku you can use them for other things, too; I've made mine into bookmarks and holiday cards; I've also embroidered them into quilts and added them to artwork for artist trading cards.

You can start getting back to your writing via haiku right now, too. In comments to this post write a haiku (or if you can't come up with one, toss your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner a set of Haikubes and an unsigned copy of Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something at PBW in the past.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Wishing You

Sunday, September 02, 2012

This and That

There is nothing like a fabulous book, except perhaps a fabulous book that ends a streak of bad reading luck. Mine came along last night in the form of A Druid's Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman.

At the moment I'm beginning some research into homeopath remedies to use with a writing project, and I always like to consult the pagans because they know more about herbs and natural healing than anyone. Ms. Hopman is a master herbalist and a terrific writer, and handles what would otherwise be very dry reading with superb confidence. I also liked the simple respect the author has for the Old Ways; she also included very specific warnings on which herbs should not be used by people with health issues, pregnant ladies and so forth. This one is a must-have reference book for your library if you're writing about the practice of herbalism, earth religion, the pagan calendar, or want to learn more about them.

I'm also finishing out my work schedule for the year by planning my online promo for Nightbred, book two in my Lords of the Darkyn trilogy. If any of you bloggers out there would like to have me stop in at your place for an interview, guest post and/or giveaway from November 15th through December 3rd, please e-mail me at In return I can offer your readers signed books as well as some holiday-themed goodies.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Bad Reading Luck

I've been doing a lot of random reading lately, which involves reading new-to-me authors I acquire in an unplanned, spontaneous fashion. While most of the time I'm lucky with this method it doesn't always work 100% of the time. At the dollar store I picked up ten hardcovers, and I'm a third of the way through those, but only Charles de Lint's The Mystery of Grace has held my interest long enough to finish it (and you were right about that one, Di.)

While reshelving some books at home I also found a book by an author I meant to read six months ago that somehow got lost in the shuffle, and tackled that. Decent world-building and interesting characters made me think I had a winner, but the mediocre story and dialogue so inept I was rewriting it in my head by chapter three persuaded me otherwise. I finished that one, but the ending was just as lame as the plot and every word out of the characters' lips.

I also picked up one of those chunky oversize paperback BSLers from the grocery store in hopes that its millionaire author would break my losing streak; great writing, a promising story, but it devolved in the middle into a muddle that never recovered. After I write this post I'm going to start a literary novel because obviously I haven't suffered enough this week.

I don't mind occasionally hitting a run of books that for whatever reason don't appeal to me. For one thing, bad reading luck never lasts forever. There are always plenty more new books out there to turn to, and often starting a new random pile will do the trick. If that doesn't work I know rereading something from my keeper shelves will revive me (Marjorie Liu and Rob Thurman are especially skilled at helping me stomp a reading depression.) And if all else fails, I'll employ what always pulls me out of a slump -- I'll write a story to entertain myself.

The other reason I don't mind reading books that don't work for me is that they always teach me something. The lost-in-the-shuffle book made me realize the importance of not getting completely sucked into your own world-building and characterizations at the expense of the story; something that is quite timely as I'm presently constructing a new series universe and crew. The chunky BSLer has me mulling over middles, muddles and making the story count on every page, not just the first fifty. The dollar store pile is especially fascinating because most of the books are from one publisher and are less than a year old, so I'm getting great insights into what they want to put in print (as well as why their books so often flounder on the market.)

Some books I've read that left me wanting a lot more/better storytelling also energize me. They make me more conscious of the great responsibility of the craft, in that it's not enough to simply write something that makes sense. As writers we have an obligation to give every page our absolute best, every single time we go there. Being bogged down in a bad run of books only makes me more determined as a writer to learn and improve and deliver something worth the reader's time and financial investment.

How do you all cope with bad reading luck? Do you have a sure-fire way of pulling out of a reading slump? Let us know in comments.